Saturday was an eventful day at LIIFE. It started off with a breakfast and discussion panel regarding the good, bad, and ugly of independent filmmaking. More than anything, it was really a session in which many of the filmmakers discussed their own personal experiences while making their films. It was interesting to hear some of the stories, but save for a few comments here and there, it wasn't a particularly educational session.
However, the following session, featuring JT Petty (screenwriter of many films and video games, namely Splinter Cell) and Lauren Paul Kaplan (screenwriting teacher at Columbia, NYU, and the New School) made for an interesting discussion on screenwriting. The two men certainly provided a great deal on what writers could do better (brevity being one of the most important pieces of advice that they bestowed) in addition to techniques and practicing tools. But likely the most interesting aspect of the discussion was when the two men stated that stealing was a great way to become a better writer. They literally told everyone to find a film we like, and basically write the script with a few personal alterations. Obviously, this is nothing new to anyone who has followed the arts closely. Igor Stravinsky famously said, "Good Composers borrow; Great composers steal," and since practically every Hollywood script is based around Joseph Campbell's "Hero with a Thousand Faces," these statements surely shouldn't surprise. But it was clear that some audience members were astonished and kept asking questions on the subject. Many times, Kaplan and Petty were forced to redefine what they had said in attempts to avoid making it sound like they were advocating outright plagiarism. But the ultimate takeaway message was to simply copy other people's ideas and suit them to our needs. Copy how other screenwriters write certain events in order to assimilate them into our writing styles. Copy a scene by scene outline to get a stronger sense of structure. Once we live and breath the rules, they are easier to manipulate and break. It was a great discussion filled with sound advice and interesting thoughts.
As for the films, we went to two blocks. One was mostly documentaries while the other emphasized narrative films. Both sessions had their gems.
4. "Blackberry Stains" by Robert Hackett
This film tells the story of two young friends. One of the boys commits suicide and it is left up to the boy to discover the dark secret that led his best friend to such a horrific end. The film takes us to an extremely dark family history that may seem like a retread at times. However, Hackett tells the story in a non-linear fashion, putting the puzzle together slowly and conservatively. He never reveals to much information and leaves a great deal up to the audience's intelligence to piece together the untold information. It was truly a wonderful manipulation of the short film medium.
3. "Defining Beauty: Ms. Wheelchair America" by Alexis Ostrander
This full-length documentary followed a group of women competing in the Ms. Wheelchair America beauty pageant The pageant was for, you guessed it, women living out their lives in wheelchairs and emphasized them not as models, but as role models. The story was extremely compelling with great insight into a group of people that do not get the respect and attention that they deserve. The film traverses the full gamut of emotions from devastating to jubilant to hilarious.
2. "Burma: An Indictment" by Jeremy Taylor
The biggest eyeopener of the day had to be this short documentary on the atrocities going on in day to day Burma. I was not particularly well-versed in the subject, but was sure motivated to learn more after watching this piece. At times unwatchable, this is the ultimate example of advocacy filmmaking and it is quite explicit the risks and dangers that the filmmakers took in dedication of their cause. Not only is the end product powerful, but the dedication by the filmmakers is not only astounding, but admirable. Tremendous.
1. "The Shoes Maketh the Man" by Tareck Sursock
A student film from the New York Film Academy shot in the heart of Los Angeles, this film portrays the fickle nature of American culture at its most hilarious. Prepping for a multi-million dollar client, accountant Alessandro runs into trouble when one of his perfect shoes gets scratched. What ensues is a hilarious romp of a man trying to do his best to preserve and improve his appearance in preparation for his big break. The film looks spectacular. The performance by Pasquale Cassalia as Alessandro is unforgettable. Sursock nails the intricacies and stereotypes of Italian culture to perfection during a phone conversation between Alessandro and his Italian mother. The other major player in the film, a homeless man, adds a great foil to Alessandro and the final plot twist is so satisfying in so many ways.