Sunday, November 16, 2008

Interactive TV Reinvents Itself!

Event To Remember by Brad Balfour

Thurs, Nov. 20
Networking iBreakfast 7:30-8:30
Presentations 8:30-10:00

CRESA Partners Executive Center
100 Park Ave. 24Fl

Panel moderated by Alan Brody

iTV Converges with Broadband to lead the way.

Remember Interactive TV? Thought that went away? It didn't really, in fact it is has rethought itself and is poised for a major comeback. TiVo leads the way by converging with Broadband, IPTV, on-demand and the predominance of large size LCD TVs.

We still remember the tech crash - and having lived through that, we feel that we should contribute, just as we did the last time round: so we'd like to offer any previous iBreakfast attendee who has lost their job a free iBreakfast. Just drop me an email at and you are my guest. I know that when the economy recovers you will support us well into our second decade.

Those giant TVs are just waiting for a new kind of usage. Since DVRs have proven to be the most sought after iTV application, TiVo and a new generation of IPTV companies are showing innovative ways of putting them to work - promising to drive the digital media industry in fresh directions. This could be a new kind of opportunity for entrepreneurs and tradition media companies alike.

Mark Risis, TiVo
Shelly Palmer, MediaBytes/Advanced Media Ventures
Gary Lauder, Lauder Partners

About the Speakers

Mark Risis is Director of Interactive Advertising Sales for TiVo, Inc. helps advertisers connect more effectively with TV viewers. Mark works with ad agencies and advertisers to create groundbreaking campaigns where viewers interact with :30 spots and explore brands on their terms. Mark and his colleagues at TiVo are defining convergence as they bring digital experiences, interactive content, and even commerce to the living room screen.

Shelly Palmer is the host of "MediaBytes," a daily news show that features insightful commentary and a unique insiders take on the biggest stories in technology, media, and entertainment. He is Managing Director of Advanced Media Ventures Group, LLC an industry leading consulting firm and the President of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, NY (the organization that bestows the coveted Emmy® Awards).

Gary Lauder is the Managing Partner of Lauder Partners LLC, a Silicon Valley-based venture capital firm investing primarily in information technologies. He has been a venture capitalist since 1985 investing in over 60 private companies. He is also Chairman of ActiveVideo Networks, a developer of interactive television technology for cable, IPTV and other forms of internet delivery. Other directorships: Promptu, Integra5 and ShotSpotter. Investments are primarily in television/IPTV technology and WWW arenas.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Pumping Up Jimi Hendrix On DVD

by Brad Balfour

When former Jimi Hendrix Experience drummer Mitch Mitchell died suddenly this November, not only did a crucial witness to a seminal moment in rock history expire but a chapter closed on an era and a sound. His band mate Hendrix defined a rock sound, a guitar playing style and established an attitude that still remains inspirational and awe-inspiring.

Hendrix's discs still sell, tribute bands abound, and museums exist because of him. Now, thanks to the discovery of some long-lost celluloid, a documentary that's both a porn film and funky archive that could be in the Museum of Sex is being distributed by the creative porn empire of Vivid Entertainment.

So it's not like Hendrix ever lost his mojo. In a weird karmic way this DVD adds a new chapter of life to a rock and roll legend. Though Hendrix never needed to prove that his credentials as a testosterone-infused guitar god were authentic, this DVD gives ample proof that he could handle hot hippie babes giving and getting pleasure--and with this set in hand we all can see it's not just hearsay.

Ironically, I also saw Hair this summer, staged outside in Central Park by The Public Theater. Shades of hippie glory; viewing it offered a flashback to another time and to dreams of liberation—love, sex and good pot. Though "Hair," this "tribal-rock musical," was a comparatively PG-13 rated experience, the flash of full-fledged collective nudity stirred recollections of counter-cultural exhalations and my own experiences with women during the time. Lots of hairy pussies and underarms, sweaty bodies and women wearing loose-fitting clothes with little or no underpants and bras. A grand time of jiggly action and equal passion for sex.

Then this DVD was laid on me containing this example of Hendrix legendary long lost sex tapes that were found by a collector at some flea market. Yes it's him—it's got to be—no matter what the Hendrix estate says. And he's having lots of fun with his two brunette, big-boobed companions—one is a curly haired, and curvy; the other has straight hair and unshaven pits.

Nobody has any guilt or seems to be shy before the camera as they dive in on Hendrix or each other. They aren't posing or acting before the camera (well, maybe a little bit) but even so, they're doing everything without shame or any sense of exploitation. And these clips are purely amateur—not like Reality TV or "amateur" vids as they are today.

No doubt Hendrix wanted to have this for his days in the old age home where he could recall fondly all his adventures. Unfortunately he never made it—he died of a an overdose at 27; if not we might have had a whole library of films and videos from him.

Besides the erotic fare of these scant minutes of Hendrix in action, this documentary contains interviews with some of the groupies that knew him and a tale of how the film was found. There are some interesting people that were tracked down and interviewed such as Cynthia Plaster Caster so we can fantasize about them being eaten by Hendrix's oft displayed tongue in their youth as well.

With this DVD and that bit of theater, one can recall that time of sexual liberation and equal opportunity fucking. Just as his music was a soaring expression of freedom, so is this 45 minute DVD--it's not done with intent of fortunes to be made in porn but to express the raw and untrammelled lust of the time. The innocence and simple joy of these three fucking and sucking in a dimly lit bedroom immortalized a love of Hendrix in other ways than sonically.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Actor Daniel Craig Talks About James Bond, "Quantum of Solace" And Saving The World

Feature Interview by Brad Balfour

With terrorism afoot seemingly everywhere, where is agent 007, James Bond, when we need him? Well, he may not be available to save us in all his athletic and dashing glory, but in Quantum of Solace—the 22nd official installment—Bond exhaustingly gives it a damn good try. If he can't defeat the bad guys who pose the threat of corporate terrorism, then he at least exacts retribution for the death of his love, Vesper Lynd (who died in Casino Royale).

Not only is this the most traveled James Bond film ever (they shot in 17 countries), but its star, Daniel Craig, has been talking about it to everyone, everywhere (from TV talk shows to newspapers to a HuffPo vidblogger), and even to a small band of reporters—including this one as well. Though he talked for a prim 21 minutes, Craig spoke fast, packing in as much as he could that would serve his interrogators. But judging by the hard-driving workout this 34-year-old British actor endures as the revamped and rebooted Bond, handling wimpy journo queries was the least of his travails.

While the compact Craig has had his limits tested by this character and the demands of extending Bond's emotional color, Craig still has had other opportunities to apply his actorial skills to characters that offered different challenges, such as the Jewish resistance fighter he plays in director Ed Zwick's Defiance (due out at year's end).

Q: Bond is being reinvented in a different world and time now, so he was cast differently. Is there some—if not a "responsibility"—the possibility to add a fresh interplay with the real world and give the Bond saga more of a mission?

DC: They've always done that to a certain extent. It's just that you have to remain apolitical. I don't think you can start getting into making huge comments about society with a Bond movie. Otherwise that defeats the object, really, because it's a fantasy movie, and as soon as you start giving it worthiness, you're shooting yourself in the foot. But it's going to be influenced.

I like that there is a sort of morality to these movies, and I think you should play around with that. That's interesting. People talk about this movie being about vendetta, and I say it's not. It's actually about the fact that when he gets the chance to shoot the guy in the head, he doesn't. He says, "No. You're coming in." And I know that's ingenuous, because he's shot lots of other people [laughs]. But it's an important statement to make. It's not deep and meaningful, but it's there.

Q: You're born with desirable blond hair and blue eyes—the standards of good looks. Then you're up for this role, and it's, "Oh, a blond Bond? What!?" Did you feel a reverse prejudice?

DC: No, I did not [laughs]. I mean, what could I do? "You're blond, you're too blond." I'm too blond? Someone said to me, "Did you ever think about dyeing your hair" and I went, "God, no."

The whole thing was a nightmare to think about. I couldn't argue... especially when I got older, and started dyeing my hair [for that reason] as well. I mean, a lot of the criticism was directed through the internet, because that's where a lot of people—obviously, for good reason, it's good place to get things off your chest. But I couldn't respond. There's nothing that I could say. I could start my own blog going, "I don't think I'm too blond." But what do you do? You only enter into a crazy world.

Q: It's still going on; on The Today Show they kept saying, "Blond Bond, Blond Bond!"

DC: They're never, ever ever going to get rid of that line. Ah, never mind....

Q: Executive Producer Barbara Broccoli has said you had a hand in collaborating on the script in parts, where the character goes and what he does in these films.

DC: I'm a big Bond fan, always have been. So the idea of introducing, let's say, Moneypenny and Q, into the next movie is very exciting, but I want to give those parts to proper actors, and say "invent it." I mean, because the gags are movie history, to just drop the gags into Bond movies—I don't think it stands up anymore, not with what we've done with the films. So introducing the gags, and the lines, the Bond line, [like] the martini [bit]—I want them in the film, but we need the right to say them.

Having Q and Moneypenny back in—we've got this organization now. We know they're everywhere, we know they're in control of the world, so submarine bases are definitely on the cards. I mean, we can do anything. Because we've opened up this world of fantasy—and it is a fantasy world—as long as we root ourselves in some reality, we can then do what we want.

Q: Was it necessary to enhance Judi Dench's character, M, with more dialogue?

DC: We got a bit more in there. The role wasn't quite as big when we got the first draft of the script. Whether it was me or Mark or whoever, I just thought that we needed to make that relationship solid. She needed to not trust him and think that he failed, but instinctively know that he hadn't. And that little journey that she goes on—she says, 'fuck you, he's my man,' and he feels confident about that. It's that whole mother-son thing—I've got no problem with it, it's all great—more of that, why not?

Q:This movie is populated with great theater actors who know how to build characters and add subtleties that you wouldn't think could be in a Bond movie.

DC: If you get the chance, you give these jobs to the best actors you can find. For me, it cuts my job in half. Acting with Judi Dench, I'm just going to stand there, and I just let her talk. She's phenomenal. She's incredibly skilled as an actress, but she gets a huge kick out of it and enjoys it. Like all actresses or actors I know that have been around for long enough—stars, we call people stars—those that still love what they do, it's always really inspiring. I want to be doing this for awhile yet and be still getting a kick out of it.

Q: Last time you were here [like this] with the film you did with director/producer Matthew Vaughn...

DC: It was "Layer Cake." It's been a few years.

Q: You still look as fit and fine as those days.

DC: Thank you very much [chuckles]. I'm keeping body and soul together somehow.

Q: With that in mind, how much are you like James Bond?

DC: Oh, I'm not even slightly like James Bond. Not even—nothing, absolutely nothing we share.

Q: Does that make him easier to play?

DC: I think we can take him wherever we want to take him. I think that with this movie, the idea was to finish off the story we started with "Casino [Royale"] and now he can be who he [is]—he can be Bond now.

Q: There's a lot of work spent getting in shape for these films, isn't there?

DC: Yes, it is—it's dreadful. It's seven days a week of obsessive behavior. It's not healthy. It's something we really need—keeping fit's good—but so is drinking, and eating, and enjoying life.

Q: Does it amuse you, that though your chief nemesis smokes, drinks, is rail-thin and doesn't look very healthy, he puts up quite a fight? Meanwhile you were working out every minute of the day to stay fit.

DC: I was, I was. There's narcissism involved, and I'm sorry, I'd be lying to you if [I said] there wasn't. They said, "there might be a scene where you're taking your shirt off" and I [thought], "Hmmm, I should get in shape then."

I love the casting of Mathieu [Amalric] because in fact that was a great thing. And the fight at the end, I could squash him like a bug. But actually, it's about his character and the fact that he's just waving his arm around and that plays into it. I mean, there's something about having someone like that—Mathieu wields power really well. There's a great line about walking out with your balls in your mouth, and with your successor smiling over you... He delivers just bang-on.

Q: There's this feeling that you were a lot more reticent to talk to press until these films came out and you were settled into it. Now you've gone into the whole marketing thing.

DC: I knew that when we made Casino, we had made a good movie. That's all I could do. Beyond that, I had this reputation for being anti-press, and "Oh, he won't talk to the press," because I saw no reason why I needed to be out there and self-promoting myself.

Well, when it came to Bond, they asked me, "Are you going to do press?" and I went, "Of course I am." I mean, I can't get all Greta Garbo about it. You cannot say "James Bond" and 'I want to be alone'. They spent how-many-millions of dollars on a movie, and I go and hide away from selling it. That completely made no sense whatsoever.

Q: People have asked a million times before, how many more of these Bond films are you going to do? and you point out, "Well, I've got two more in my contract."

DC: So I'm nearly there [chuckles].

Q: There a certain shelf life to playing Bond—you get punished playing this character—so I can't help thinking that you must say "How much longer am I going to do these things?"

DC: God yes, I think so. There is some quote from Harrison Ford which I love, and particularly now it makes much more sense. It's something about his knees going. And we do it until we do it, and we make it as safe as we can. But I'd genuinely love to do another one. I mean, I had surgery on my shoulder this year, which is a long-term thing, that I ripped out when I was doing this movie, and it's crazy. I've seen more doctors this year for stupid things, like stitches and cuts and things like that, than I've seen in the past 20 years of my life. But you know, it really is part of the job. As long as it's still coming across and it's real enough and entertaining enough, I'll continue doing it.

Q: Instead of doing one big franchise, you might have ended up in two if "The Golden Compass" had been more successful. In some alternate universe you might be talking about playing Lord Asreal in "The Subtle Knife." As an actor—Is that strange when you don't know which film is going to be the real winner or not?

DC: I made two movies: this one, which is seeming to become a success, and "Casino Royale," which was a huge success. Before that, box office was just not on my agenda. Well, it is, yeah, but it was [to make] a little big movie. It was never about the money it would make, it was about making the movie. And that's the way I've always made movies.

If I'm sitting there with the director in a cinema, and I've looked at it and gone, "Wow, we made it! We made it into a cinema!"—that was my criteria. So the whole idea of whether or not a movie's made millions and millions and millions of dollars is still, for me, an anathema. I still can't quite relate to it.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Director Danny Boyle Wins With "Slumdog Millionaire"

Feature Interview by Brad Balfour

British director Danny Boyle is one of those filmmakers (much like iconic director Martin Scorsese) who makes movies that generate a buzz—just because his name is attached to it—regardless of its stellar cast. Ever since the 52-year-old Boyle made "Trainspotting," a story of a group of shambling Scottish drug addicts, his kinetic, crazy-quilt visual style combined with an ever-twisting storyline has a defined a sort of contemporary filmcraft. That approach was employed with subsequent films like his hyper zombie thriller, "28 Days Later," the sweet-hearted "Millions" and the dark apocalyptic sci-fi tale, "Sunshine."

Now with "Slumdog Millionaire," Boyle has not only has applied his signature visual and storytelling attack to a classic rags-to-riches teen tale but has located it in one of the most crazy-qulit locations of all time, the Indian mega-city of Mumbai (formerly known as Bombay). And at a time when grappling with the clash between local culture and the new globalism is a necessity, a film like "Slumdog Millionaire" comes in handy as an aid to understanding a 21st century world.
Add Image
With the help of a full Indian crew, Boyle tells the tale of slumdog teen Jamal Malik (Dev Patel) who becomes a contestant on the Hindi version of "Who Wants to be A Millionaire?"—something he does in an effort to find his true love, Latika, who is both a high class whore and an ardent fan of the show. With Oscar-talk buzzing in the background (the film won the People's Choice award at this year's Toronto Film Festival), Boyle talked with a small set of writers in anticipation of the film's release.

Q: As a stranger to India, how was it making a film that's a portrait of this incredible country?

DB: You obviously feel a lot of responsibility. You worry about yourself as a westerner. I didn’t want to make a film where westerners go around India, or anything like that. But still, you are a westerner.

I just wanted to make it distinctively and subjectively as possible, so you felt like you were looking at it from the inside. One of the dangers of India is that it has that "wow" factor where you go, “Look at that!”

It feels like you’re using it as some kind of thing to just stare at, and they hate that. We did these film tests at the beginning, and it was a bit like that. There’s a danger with cameramen. For a cameraman to shoot in India is a dream come true.

Photographically, it’s the place for coffee table books. So it is a danger for cinematographers, because they go, “Wow! The colors!” I didn’t want that. I wanted to be hurtled into it.

I love action movies, even the bad ones, because there’s something about why films are called "motion pictures." It’s where it all began when our ancestors sat there and saw motion, moving. And I really believe that about films. There’s a kineticism about them that’s wonderful; they shouldn’t always be a reflective medium. It doesn’t suit reflection.

I remember meeting [actor] Tim Robbins. I was trying to get him to play this part in a film. It was a really good part but he said he wouldn't do it. I said, “I can’t understand why you won’t do it.”

He said, “Because he dies at the end.” I said, “What?” He said, “Nobody remembers anyone who has died.” And it’s true.

You just move forward; it’s all about forward motion. And I tried to bring that to it, really. Bombay feels like it’s living in fast-forward anyway.

Q: So then how did you, Danny Boyle, come to do "Slumdog Millionaire?"

DB: They sent a script. The agent said it’s a film about "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" And I said, “What?!”

My agent wants me to do American films. He’s always trying to get me to do a film here, but I never do. And then I saw screenwriter Simon [Beaufoy]’s name on it. I’d never met him, but I thought, "I'd better read at least five pages of it. "

As soon as I read 10 pages of it… You know when you’re going to do something. I doesn’t always happen, but sometimes you just know. And you shouldn’t wait until you get to the end, because when you get to the end all the realities of filmmaking kick in: how will we cast? Will we be able to raise enough money? Who will distribute it? All that.

Q: Your films are known for their kinetic charge, for the frenetic editing and the wonderful shots that you get. When you read the script, did that start bubbling up right away? Is that what you see? Do you have a vision?

DB: It’s very difficult to describe; it sort of vibrates. There’s a great screenwriter named David Benioff—I read this screenplay he wrote the other day; it’s excellent. A piece of skilled screenwriting, and yet you don’t feel that vibration yourself, personally about doing it. And probably, the stuff you do is probably not technically as good as this screenplay. But for some reason it vibrates.

I remember with "Trainspotting," when I read the book [by Irvine Welsh]—I can virtually quote it verbatim—I remember reading that first page and thinking: "we’re going to make this." And that’s just one page. I remember thinking that. You have these instincts. I remember meeting Freida [Pinto, who play the adult version of Jamal's love, Latika] for this and thinking, "I bet that’s her."

You don’t get that for everybody or everything, but when you do get it, it comes naturally. It just pops. You should always follow that instinct because there’s something there you don’t really understand fully, and that’s a good thing. ‘Cause you’ll find out about it when you’re making it. It’s funny like that; I can’t explain it anymore than that—that’s the truth. It’s not more complex than that, or more cunning than that or anything.

Q: I was amazed to see how you applied your style to this film. At first I didn’t see how it made sense; then it did. When did you know you could apply the Danny Boyle style to this movie? How did you figure out how it worked?

DB: A lot of it’s the script. Beaufoy did an amazing job. The book is rigid. The book is like 12 chapters, 14 chapters, and each chapter is a question and answer—and it’s like a series of short stories. It would never have worked as a film like that. What Simon did was this very clever thing where he fed the material in early, so sometimes you got the answers way before even the question was asked. Sometimes you didn’t; you had to wait. And it makes you feel very intelligent—it made me feel intelligent, and I always love that [laughs].

You feel it, and you start to see it. We went as soon as we were there and walked through areas of Bombay. There’s nothing to look at, really. There’s no architecture, just people. And you’ve got to like people, and I do like people a lot. If you like that, you’ve got plenty of them. A billion people live there, and that enough for a plant, never mind quite a small country, really. That’s where you get your energy from.

Q: You had the great makings of a documentary with the wild scenarios and experiences that came from this.

DB: There’s a guy who shot the whole time, and they say it’s very good. I haven’t seen it yet, but they’re getting it ready for the DVD. There are so many stories, and yet what matters, more than anything, is your attitude. You have to go in with the right attitude. You can’t control it.

Directors are really about control, and that’s one of the things you try to do all of the time: control experience, capture it. And you can’t do that there. It’s like trying to stop the sea; forget it. You’ve just got to plunge in and go with it. And it’s a lot of risk taking. You’re not certain that you’ve got stuff—you have to wait till you get back. Actually, you’ve got a much greater result than you thought you had.

Q: Co-director Loveleen—what was that about?

DB: She was the casting director, Loveleen Tandan, who did an amazing job. It was quite a big cast, and I didn’t know anybody, virtually no one. And I realized that I needed her on the set. She wants to be a director as well, and she can do it, you can tell. It wasn’t just for the kids—who only spoke Hindi—it was for everything, really. And I could test things against her, culturally, and stuff like that. When I knew I wanted to make a mistake, do something incorrect, because you do do that—films have their own logic which isn’t applicable to the country necessarily. Then I sent her off to do the second unit.

The second unit had been shooting very badly, and then I realized, I should send her out with it… As soon as I sent her out with it, the stuff that came back was like fantastic. So we called her "co-director" because she deserves it. [She] and the first assistant director, this guy called Raj Acharya, and the guy that did the live sound, Resul Pookutty—they were very special for the film.

Q: What did you do to balance the grim moments with the happier parts?

DB: It’s very difficult to answer that question because you don’t think about things like that till you talk to journalists. Then journalists come up with things like that; then they come up with things that connect films. But you don’t think like that when you’re making them. Well, I don’t anyway. I don’t think, “This bit’s so tough. How’s it ever going to fit with the happier here.” You try to make each bit as intense an experience as possible. And if they don’t go together, you’ll probably never see the film.

Q: There’s an intuitive sense of what’s balanced?

DB: Yeah, and I think a writer writes like that intuitively as well. You also, for me anyway, you love variation; and that suits India because there are such extremes. And I love that sense of hitting a different note in a film. That’s one of the reasons I love music in film because you can often have a tone of a film that’s just similar or too flat, and you can pop it with music. And it just suddenly feels like a different film. It’s one of the wonderful ways music works.

There’s lots of ways you can work on it, but without intellectualizing it. It’s weird doing these kinds of conversation because you become aware of things like that. I always worry about doing things like that because you can carry these conversations over the next film. But you don’t; you have a kind of amnesia. It’s weird—you also have amnesia about the realities of filmmaking, about how difficult it is sometimes. You never consider that. You think: that’s great! Let’s do this.

Q: You used M.I.A.'s song “Paper Planes” during that train sequence; it was heard everywhere this summer.

DB: I know. I came back from work one day, I’d been editing, and my daughter said, “You should see this trailer.” She’s 17—she spends most of her time on Japanese websites downloading illegal copies of "The Office." “You should see this,” she said. “It’s really good. It’s a really good use of ‘Paper Planes.’” I thought, oh no; but it’s a great trailer.

We’ve got a lovely remix of it, too. I met [singer M.I.A.], because originally she’s from London; she's Sri Lankan [by heritage]. She lives here [in New York City] now. I called her in to see the film, because I like the musicians to see the film. And she liked the film a lot. She's a very smart girl—she gave me a couple of really good notes, which you don’t get from people—really good notes. Then I phoned her up to do the rest of the music, and she’s a big fan of [soundtrack composer A. R.] Rahman’s. When she was a kid she worshipped him.

Q: Did you make changes based on her notes?

DB: Yes I did. We were chatting and she said, “Do you want me to say a couple of things?” because she was very complimentary. She said, “We don’t really know how he got on the show. How did he get on the actual show?” And I hadn’t really answered that question.

Often times you get very bad notes from people. Someone who sits there, who’s from another world completely—this hip-hop, cool New Yorker she is now—she’s really smart.

Q: Were there specific films—either Bollywood ones or just films about India—that you looked at before or during production?

DB: Not so much on this film. I don’t know why.

Q: Do you do it on other films?

DB: Yes, definitely. Usually, when we have these conversations, I’ll mention the kind of films.

Q: Did you do a lot of historical research?

DB: Yeah. The main book I read, the only book you need to read, is [Suketu Mehta's] "Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found." I read that all the time, and part of the time I thought I was adapting that, and not "Q and A" by Vikas Swarup, the book we were actually meant to be adapting.

I’m a bit worried about [author] Vikas Swarup seeing it. He’s seeing it soon. I’m a bit worried about a) him not liking it, b) him suing us [laughs]. So my main research was, I guess, that.

But when I got there, there were three films that I had never heard of that I did watch that did influence the film in some way. One’s called "Satya," and it’s as good a film I’ve seen. It stars and is written by our police constable, the guy who tortures [Jamal]. He’s called Saurabh Shukla. He’s an amazing writer, and a terrific character actor.

There’s another film called "Company," a film about gangsters in Bombay. And another film called "Black Friday" which is about bombings in Mumbai, made by a young guy called Anurag Kashyap, a fantastic film made with very little money, but is a really good film. They were like inspirations while we were making this film. It’s good to know that it’s not all Bollywood musicals. It’s not [only] the kind of standard stuff that they do.

Q: What was it about novice actor Dev Patel that made him Jamal?

DB: I met all these guys in Mumbai, and the casting was done in Mumbai. I met loads of them, and they're really talented young guys there. But if you want to get in the movies in Bollywood and you’re 18 or 20, you’ve got to be able to get a shirt off.

They stand under waterfalls in Switzerland and they do these song and dance moves, and they’ve got to be ripped. And they're all like beefcake, and you know when guys can’t put their arms down cause they have all this muscle mass? They're 18; they're only just beyond kids—and their heads are really small. They haven’t put any weight on their heads. So you’ve got these tiny little heads and big bodies; that was just wrong for the film.

Jamal's an underdog; he’s supposed to be a guy who apparently has nothing. So, my daughter said, “You should see this guy in 'Skins'.” It’s this [television] program we have in the UK; it’s quite a racy program. I watched it, and he played a fairly small comic part in it, but he was very good, I thought. He was great, very serious in the craft.

And he had that… well we didn’t always agree about stuff. We fought a couple of times, which is good, because, honestly, I have a bit of a reputation. And he was prepared to say, “No, I don’t think that’s right. I don’t think I should do it like that.”

When you get that, it’s good. If they just do what you tell them, it’s kind of one dimensional in a way. They’ve got to take it over themselves—that's a lead actor. He’s got that. He’s stubborn. That’s good; that’s what he had.

And Jamal’s like that: nothing’s going to stop him, whatever it is... That scene when he jumps in the shit, that’s his character. His dream is to have Bachan's autograph and nothing will stand in his way. He’s a bit like that.

Q: Was it important to have that connection between the three different actors [who play Jamal at the ages of 8, 12 and 18]?

DB: Yeah. It’s tricky because if you find one person, you might not find someone else that look like each other. Mostly you just hope the audience will just go with it. That they’ll just accept. It’s great to have some kind of connection between them. We had to all together in rehearsal—I tried to get them to copy each other’s mannerisms. I wanted it to feel coherent.

Q: How did you find the children in the movie; were they from the slums?

DB: The performances weren’t difficult because they’re all really good actors. The kids there love acting. They say, “Do you want the look? [laughs]" Once you get them to understand the world that they’re in, they're terrific. They don’t feel a separation between themselves, and film. It’s like here—film is a natural part of life. It is in India as well. Everybody’s been to the cinema, and all the time. Even seven year olds have seen lots of stuff. Finding them was really down to Loveleen [Tandan, the co-director in India].

Initially the film was written completely in English. When we got there, and saw the seven year olds who spoke English, it didn’t work because they’re not that deft with English at seven and eight. They get better when they get into their teens, and it wasn’t really working, so [Loveleen] said, “We should really do it in Hindi.”

I thought, what is Warner Brothers going to say? She translated it. She adapted it, because you can’t literally translate it. As soon as we did it, it suddenly came alive. It felt so real. So I rang Warner Brothers, and said, “We’re going to do the first bit in Hindi with English subtitles.”

Q: They dumped the movie.

DB: That was for different [reasons].

Q: So what happened with Warner Brothers?

DB: When they closed Warner Independent, we were just one of a number of films that [were in limbo]—we were shot; we were edited; we were very far down the line when we heard [about that]. And you just thought that’s going to be it. We won’t get theatrical release. In the melee, there are so many casualties in the process, we’ll wind up on DVD, especially because we don’t have a star in it. It’s got no platform, no profile, nothing. I remember thinking about what I learned in India, and I thought, "it’ll be okay. Just go with it, we’ll see."

And then things began to happen. We got to make shuffling noises at Telluride and Toronto [film festivals]. Suddenly the studio goes, "What? What was that shuffle noise?"

Then you get a couple of journalists sniffing around it. John Hall at the LA Times was sniffing around it. And that makes the studio go, "What? What?" And then, to give Warner credit, they showed it to Fox Searchlight, which they shouldn’t have done technically because if you’re going to show it, you should show it to all the buyers. But they showed it to him because they thought if anyone could release this film—a third of which is in Hindi [laughs]—it would be him. And he picked it up and ran with it, and here we are.

Q: What led you to put this Bollywood ending on it?

DB: If you’ve lived and worked there for eight months, if you live and work in Bombay, you can’t leave without a dance [laughs]. You can’t. It would be like making a film about America without a motorcar. You just can’t do it. It would be wrong. It would be so fake.

The key thing was whether we should put it inside the film linked to a question, or whether we put it at the end of the film, as it is. So we decided to put it at the end of the film to celebrate [Jamal and Latika’s] love. It’s not actually a sendup of Bollywood. It’s genuine, absolutely genuine. Their love of movies, and love of dancing, and their love of song is something to be absolutely celebrated, even though we may not be able to watch some of the films.

Q: Did you have any trouble with ratings [for "Slumdog Millionaire"] here?

DB: Yes, it’s an R. They said it was because of the intensity. There’s nothing we can do about it.

Q: Is there a message you want people to get out of this? I know after "Millions," kids were inspired to raise money to build wells in Africa. Is there something you want people to do after this or take inspiration from it?

DB: I think when you elect Barack Obama, the world’s going to become a bigger place again. That’s all you get from doing something like that. You’re not there to teach anybody anything; you’re there to learn about yourself. These people that live in slums are extraordinary—so generous, so resourceful. I want it so it will be something that they’ll like, really. I hope they get to see it on a pirate copy somewhere [laughs].

Q: Will we ever see your much-missed "Alien Love Triangle" come out?

DB: It’s sort of beginning to become a bit more visible. They showed it at this little cinema in Wales, in the UK—the smallest cinema in the UK—they have twelve seats. It was an old railway carriage, and this guy converted it thirty years ago into a cinema. He was retiring it, and closing it. He asked if we could show it as its final film, and they did. They showed it. Kenneth Branagh, who’s in it, went along—I was in India—to present the film. I think that’s a sign, that hopefully, it will appear somewhere soon.

Q: Is there anything else in the pipeline?

DB: Nothing at all. I tend to work on one thing only at a time. It drives my agent mad.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Clint Eastwood Becomes A Changeling

Feature Story by Brad Balfour

An avowed Republican in Hollywood is nearly as rare as as the giant Komodo Dragon—and they've had the spiteful bite of one as well. But with Barack Obama's victory, they've made themselves pretty scarce since election day.

Hell, even a straight-shooting, no bullshitter like Clint Eastwood—long known as a registered Republican who supported Richard Nixon's campaign in 1968, who has since made forays into politics (he won a term as mayor of Carmel in 1986 and has been on the the California State Park and Recreation Commission from 2001 to 2008 and the California Film Commission)—distanced himself from the Republicans before the election. At a recent press conference that Clint Eastwood gave at this year's New York Film Festival—where Changeling, his latest directorial effort, premiered as the centerpiece—it was uncanny how even he wanted to emphatically clarify his position away from them.

Of course, that wasn't the only interesting thing he had to say about himself and his film. So with a little juggling and a few delays, here are the comments from this 78-year-old grand master of directing and acting—the man who defined so many cinematic archetypes from the hard-boiled, hardened cop (Dirty Harry) to the laconic gunslinger with a heart (the Man With No Name from Sergio Leone westerns). This Oscar-winning director (Unforgiven) and longtime actor is also a jazz musician and composer as well.

Given that Changeling deals with out-of-control authorities drunk on their own power, the film has a very current political tenor. Starring Angelina Jolie as a mother searching for her nine-year son, she is given the wrong kid when he is returned by corrupt L.A. police officials; she's then carted off to the looney bin when she protests. Once freed by a crusading minister after it's revealed that a serial killer may have abducted her son, she succeeds in bringing down the authorities who have done her wrong. So Eastwood's remarks remain particularly telling.

Q: As a noted Republican, former elected official, and supporter of John McCain, what are your thoughts on the election?

CE: My mortgage just went down the tube [laughs]. I haven't been very active in politics. Yes, I started out as a Republican in 1951, when I was a young 21-year-old in the army, and I wanted to vote for Dwight Eisenhower, because he, like all politicians, was promising something, and he promised to go to Korea and end the Korean War.

But the Republican Party, as [with] the Democratic Party, have changed dramatically since the 1950s, and so I've drifted towards a more libertarian point of view. It never really got going as a party, but just the idea of, "Let's leave everybody alone, and not over-regulate," was very appealing to a guy like myself who came up in the 1930s and watched my parents struggle through the Depression. And nowadays of course, everybody's promising everything because that's the only way you can get elected. It's kind of perverted politics, as far as I'm concerned.

Whether Mr. McCain or Mr. Obama... what ever happens there, who knows... there are promises going on there too of what people will do and what people won't do, and it's very confusing. But yeah, my wife and I are both Libertarian; she was a Democrat and I was a Republican, and we both met in the middle somewhere.

Q: Both this film and Million Dollar Baby deal with female protagonists rebelling against a very male-dominated society. Prior to this, your earlier films were involved with very male-centric cinematic universes. So what triggered this change in adopting the female perspective?

CE: It just got very feminine in here [laughs]. I know I've done a lot of action films in my early days, but I've always been curious about these stories. I remember doing Bridges of Madison County some years back, and that was a story written from a man's point of view. The book was a story of a guy who's a photographer, and he drifts across the country, and he meets a war-bride, and the writer in that case took the woman's point of view, so the screenwriter actually had a better take on it than the novelist.

But I don't know, every story has its demands, and I think women have had a much more uphill battle than men had, so it becomes a more dramatic situation. It's like Million Dollar Baby, with a woman who's destitute, and broke, and wants to make something of herself in the world.

Q: There are moments in the film that have a very powerful, contemporary resonance, almost as if, while you're talking about a specific case from 1928, these issues and themes have a very strong pertinence today, especially concerning corruption, and the way the powerful justify the use of corruption.

CE: Yeah, well there's definitely a correlation to corruption of today, as it was then. And it's the egos of the police department, and they can't be wrong, and we see that happen nowadays very often, and if you can make that connection to what's happening today, then that's a good thing. At the same time, you don't want to leave the vernacular and the character of that time.

Q: Why did you want to turn the actual historical incident into a film?

CE: I didn't know too much about the incident, and was surprised that I hadn't heard about it because it was such an unusual event. Historically, Los Angeles has had some crazy situations, but this one was very unusual.

I didn't know anything about it until I read the script, but the writer [J. Michael Straczynski] did a very interesting thing: he took all of the clips from the Los Angeles Times and The Herald -- newspapers of that day -- and pinned them on the back of every page [of the script]. It came to life as a very horrible time, and he did a very interesting thing by taking the story of a woman, as opposed to the story of a crime.

Q: The period detail was very impressive in Changeling -- in particular, the use of vernacular which captured the feel of the way people lived in the 1920s. How did you accomplish this?

CE: The writer had a pretty good take on it. I was born in 1930, and since I was raised through the '30s, the vernacular is still fresh in my brain... somewhat [laughs]. But anyway, I guess I can remember my parents were very young when I was growing up, and you listen to it, and you know what people said then, and how they were much different from what they are now.

To do a 1928 film in Los Angeles, or any city really, but especially Los Angeles because it's changed so much over the years and wasn't a very centralized or big city, compared to New York... Things have changed a lot. So to go back and do that is very difficult, and it takes a lot of scouting around, and good art direction.

Q: Did you shoot all of the exteriors in Los Angeles?

CE: Yeah, we shot everything there. And we found neighborhoods that were still antique, and we antiqued them some more. We'd go into a neighborhood that's rundown and we'd ask people if we could use their neighborhood, and then we'd fix their house, and make it look like a new house that's from 1928.

Q: The character played by John Malkovich -- the crusading, muckraking preacher -- was intriguing. Was he based on an actual historical figure or is he an amalgamation of several people?

CE: These figures all existed. It's actually a true story. Detective Ybarra [Michael Kelly], he existed; Malkovich was a Presbyterian minister [Rev. Gustav Briegleb] who had a church down by the Coliseum in Los Angeles -- that church is no longer there -- but he was very much of an activist, and he had a radio show that he broadcast. He loved high-profile cases, and he had a big deal against the LAPD, so he had quite a few cases that he did this with.

And when the Christine Collins case became very high-profile he jumped in, and became very helpful in encouraging her, because women at that particular time -- they were much more reticent about being outspoken, so you can imagine how uphill it was against a predominantly male police department and political establishment.

Q: Because of the sensational aspects of the story, how did you avoid melodrama?

CE: Los Angeles was sort of glamorized years ago in film noir, but sometimes reality is much more interesting than fiction, and the melodrama just comes out of the reality of the situation. It sort of harkens back to films that we grew up with -- films like Gaslight where people are trying to bend your [woman's] mind, and tell you things that aren't really as they are.

And that's exactly what the LAPD tried to do with Christine Collins. They convinced her to the point where they had pictures of her sitting there smiling with this young child that doesn't look anything like her child. And then they put her in the psychopathic ward just because they figured they'd get her out of the way. They didn't have the information age that we do now with TV and the Internet, so one can't imagine how many cases were swept under the table.

Q: What were some of the major changes between the story we see onscreen and the real story?

CE: The story you see onscreen is the real story, but the writer J. Michael Straczynski took it and concentrated on the woman's point of view, and what happened to her. There's a few things left out. If you read the material on [the serial killer] Gordon Stuart Northcott [Jason Butler Harner], it's just horrendous. It's very hard stuff to read, because the guy was such a deviant, and the whole family was rather inbred -- or they seemed that.

It's kind of a tough story to get a line on. I was surprised [that Straczynski] took the line he did, but it was great that he did that, because then the detective story and the unraveling of the mystery all comes later on. [Collins] gets all the way up to where she's put into a psychiatric ward before we even start on the story of what happened to the child.

Q: And what was it like working with Angelina Jolie?

CE: [Grimaces] I forgot... [laughs]. Very good. I didn't know Angelina very well before doing this. I had met her on a few occasions, but I always thought of her as a very interesting actress, a very good actress. And in recent years of course she's had so much publicity, being on the cover of every possible publication in the world here, and you start taking it for granted. A lot of people get on the cover of magazines and it doesn't necessarily mean they're talented but in her case, she is really talented. And she's the most prepared actress -- or certainly as prepared -- as any actress I've ever worked with.

She came in with the material in her mind, with an attack on the character, was very amenable, and you could shoot almost immediately, which was something I like to do. I like to catch somebody before they have a chance to think about it too much; like they haven't spoken the words so many times that it's flat, and there's a subliminal thing where you look in their eyes, and it's the 10th or 20th time they've done it... you try for it in the early moments when they're still reaching for it and still trying to figure it out, but she's very amenable to that. And she does have the most striking face that one could imagine.

Q: You got some great performances from the actors you cast as the cops, the serial killer and the kids; how was it working with such fine young actors?

CE: Well, it's a great thing. That's one of the reasons in my senior years I stay behind the camera, and let the younger people out there take the ball and run with it. It's a great pleasure these days to watch the talent come along. I'm always amazed at how good some of them are at such young ages, because it took me forever to say my own name [laughs].

Q: And then there's your role as composer of the film...

CE: Well, he does exactly what the director wants [laughs]. When you're making a film you start living with it, and I find myself sitting down and figuring out a sound or melody that would go with a film, or a particular period. It's not brain surgery, you just kind of feel it along.

I wrote a theme for Unforgiven years ago, and I wrote that long before I made the film. I just sort of felt like a guy would be playing a guitar somewhere with a very lonely feel, and I wrote that, and developed it later on. This one I wrote a lot of times as we were editing the film.

Q: Do you contemplate giving up your own acting career in favor of directing?

CE: Well I thought about it after watching all those young actors, but since this picture was completed this year, I've done another film in which I performed in, even though I said I wasn't going to do that anymore.

I started saying that a few years ago: "I don't think I'll act anymore and stay behind the camera," and then Million Dollar Baby came along, and I liked that role. And I said, "Well I'll do this role, because I think I'm right for it." And then I did another one which is called Gran Torino [Eastwood plays a disgruntled Korean War vet] which we just finished and is in post-production now. It's with Warner Brothers, and it comes out in December.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

New Technology Product Go Round-November 08

Product News by Brad Balfour

One of the great things about covering entertainment, and film in particular, is the tech toys that come across my desk--or I should say, my virtual desk, via the internet and e mail. By the time I understand one set of ways to evaluate equipment, some thing new comes along that changes my valuations. So I am going to throw in some choice pocket-sized devices this time around.

Now take these cool little ear bud holders I have to play with. These wacky looking BudFits insure that your iPod and iPhone earbuds won't fall out during even the most demanding physical activities ( and we won't say what those could be!). They maximize your comfort by eliminating the need to wedge the funky earbuds in your ear canals. Let the music rock through extreme sports or intense workouts. Retailing for $8.99, they come in three Colors - Frosted Clear, Stealth Black, and Vanilla White.

Lest I forget any support products for Apple and its family, I made sure that I wrote about a cool product for the iTunes ecosystem—including PC, Mac and iPod® applications: The iWOW™ adaptor for iPod that SRS Labs, a leader in surround sound, audio, and voice technologies, has released. This is an accessory that attaches seamlessly to iPods, bringing this latest iWOW solution to these highly popular portable music and video devices.

The adaptor attaches to the iPod and delivers a thrilling and immersive music and video listening experience. Utilizing SRS audio solutions, this device restores the audio cues that are buried in the original source material so music and video files sound the way they were originally meant to be heard on your iPod—with remarkable depth and clarity. With a simple push of the button, users hear the amazing difference in music, videos and podcasts.

The immersive 3D audio, ultra-clear definition, and deep, rich bass will make users say “WOW!” after just one listen. SRS iWOW for iPod works with all iPods featuring a 30 pin connector, starting with the iPod classic, iPod nano 3G, and more.

Then there's this fine little device known as The magicJack. It's a PC accessory that enables you to make unlimited local and long-distance calls to the US and Canada for FREE from anywhere in the world. All you need is a broadband connection.

The magicJack is only $40 for the device and first year of service and $20 each year after. It's small (about the size of a matchbox), so very portable. Once plugged into the USB slot of the computer, you're ready to begin making calls within moments. Actual communication can be conducted by plugging a traditional hand-held phone into the free side of the magicJack (the most recognizable and familiar scenario) or by using any audio setting on the PC, such as a speaker and microphone, headset, etc. Now that's cool!—and I love how it defeats the corporate phone beast.