Thursday, December 27, 2012

Looking for Mr. Coffee

This little (and I mean little) film just got into it's first festival the other day and I thought it would be cool to post it here.  Not only to sing the praises of it's editor, the very bearded and quite dangerous Tim Moyle and the vocal talents of Gary Mahmoud and his lady-friend Bonna Tek, but because this film is a great example of a story that I thought was zigging, when it was actually zagging.

I set out to shoot this as no more than a lens test with a set of loaner Zeiss primes - the same I used to shoot the Urban Dictionary series.

First, a confession.  I LOVE percolator coffee.  More than French Press, more than Clover coffee (thanks for fucking that up Starbucks) more than just about any other method.  But I don't love waiting for it to brew in the morning in a semi-catatonic state.  So before I go to bed, I set a timer to automatically turn on the percolator at 6AM and voila, my coffee is brewed by the time I stumble into the kitchen with any one of three screaming children.  Someone once said they were so tired in the morning they needed coffee just to be able to make coffee (I stole that one immediately, BTW) and so in presetting my percolator, I've become the cleverest man I know.  I'm the Sir Edmund Hillary of Mount Cleverest.

Now, My friend Leslie has an incredibly sexy bakelite percolator, and I have a standard Farberware plug-n-perk.  I thought a funny idea might be to see what happens in the morning when the percolator is alone, brewing quietly - what are it's thoughts, it's dreams?  I decided for the sake of this test that it's fantasy was more or less the coffee equivalent of late-night Cinemax.

And so the footage was shot, the lenses performed beautifully and the project was shelved while life rolled in like an avalanche.  Then one day Tim - a former student - who had cut a different project in class with equal skill, asked if there was anything he could dig into.  The rest is milk and sugar - except this:

He made a movie out of the footage that not only did I not intend, but that I never even saw i the footage!  To my further discredit, everyone who's seen it also sees it the way Tim did!  So it only goes to show that you can plan something, shoot something and think you have a simple story about two percolators getting interrupted while having hot-brewed quickie-sex, when what you really have is some nit-wit drinking coffee ejaculate while the satisfied percolator sits and laughs, waiting for his next victim.

Tasted like coffee to me, though now that you mention it, a little heavy on the cream...

Looking for Mr. Coffee or The Dirty Dream of Your Coffee Machine or What your Percolator's Really Brewing
Director - Josh Apter
Editor - Tim Moyle
Farberware - Gary Mahmoud
Coffematic - Bonna Tek

Sunday, October 14, 2012

On F-words and Perfect Circles

One sunny Spring day when I was in fourth grade, our class was in the home stretch of a  project involving Amarican Indians (which apparently could be said with much less of a PC red flag going up as when I write this now).  Some of us made miniature clay pueblos from the sticks and mud by the creek, others fashioned arrows or spears - more out of an interest in pointy, hurty things than a concern for historical accuracy - and others wrote stories about life in the time of the Native Americans.

That's about all I remember on the class assignment front.  Memories that old come in a hazy collage of bell bottoms, bad haircuts and spontaneous erections.  In fact --

Oh, FUCK!!

That's how abruptly and clearly this moment lives on -

Sam Tyler striding into class with his beautifully painted Pueblo figurines, proud grin eager to share -- and then his foot catches the rug, whose duct-taped corner finally breaks free after years of neglect, to fulfill its destiny which is clearly to trip Sam Tyler, and send his figurines crashing to the floor.  They explode into dust, Sam's face a twisted knot of horror and shock.

"Oh, FUCK!!"  He screams.  Then he realizes, looks up, and scans the room.  He covers his mouth, as if more filth and random expletives will keep shooting out if he doesn't.

But it's too late, it's out there - and our collective nine year-old ears bleed.  

Not like I hadn't heard the word.  But to hear it spoken with such immediacy and authority was completely new.  This wasn't the four-letter, dirty word, "guess what this means" kind of use.  Not at all.  Sam Tyler, poor figurine-less bastard, gave context and life to this linguistic bomb, this king of all swears  (you saw A Christmas Story, so you know how bad it is).  He used it not to giggle about birds and/or bees, or to stick his toe in the risky waters of "going blue,"  No, Sam Tyler saw months of hard work and the thrill of presenting something beautiful to his classmates, slip out of his hands.  What else could he say?


One snowy Winter, few years later, my family went on a vacation and this word again reared it's ugly head.  My cousins, my sister and I were all set to bunk in the basement of a rented cabin.  The adults - as I understand so clearly now - wanted an entire floor between their lives and ours.  Closing a door and saying, "good night" was like flipping a switch in a stretch limo, like seeing the thick glass partition rise, shut tight and divide generations for a few sacred hours.

But there was a catch - a mouse was loose in the basement.  We heard it, we SAW it and in a mass thumping exodus to the living room, we called on our parents to protect us.  

Somewhere in the house was a mousetrap.  Again memory selects the facts but not the context.  I just know I watched my father sitting on one of the fold-out cots in the basement.  He carefully strains to set the spring-loaded --- SNAP!!! 

Right on his thumb!! 

"AHH, FUCK!!!"

And that word again.  Perfect.  Sharp. No other word to describe the surprise and pain on the man's beet-red face.  He looks at us kids.  Our hands over our mouths like Sam Tyler before.  Suddenly, the doors of discipline are blown off.  How could this man expect us NOT to use a word that he just used (so perfectly) himself?  "Never say that word, ok?" he said as he shook his hand out climbing the stairs.  He used to say things like, "Do as I say, not as I do," but suddenly that once meaningful dad-ism lay dead, snapped in a trap that can never be reset. 


One Summer night - a few weeks ago.  My wife and I, now with a brood of our own, come home late carrying our two youngest like snoring potato sacks and our 8 year-old a teetering zombie in the kitchen.  Like he's waiting for permission to collapse right there on the floor.

I put our two year-old in his crib.  He's a light sleeper but I think he's still down.  Should he wake up, I'm looking as another hour of feeding and singing and rocking and not doing all the grown up things I need to too before work in the morning. 

I lay him down - still asleep.  I tiptoe out of the room - almost there.

And because my ankles are these ridiculous old hollow chicken bones, on the last step out of the room one of them cracks - POP!  And I close the door behind me knowing what's coming.  I sigh resigned at the inevitable and walk into the kitchen as I hear it - the plaintive bleat of my little boy - killer of all gown-up time.

"AW, FUCK!!"

And my groggy son is still standing there.  Though not so groggy anymore.  The circle now complete, and I am Sam tripping into class and my dad nailing his thumb.  It's too late.  It's out there.  I haven't the heart to explain or excuse the word, but I wonder what he makes of it.  Now he's sure it's as bad as he thought, and as I walk him past his brother's room (who ironically fell right back to sleep) I lean in to him and whisper, "You probably shouldn't have heard that." 

We both laugh a guilty, giddy little laugh and a threshold is broken. 

I tuck him in and think of Harry Chapin, who could've written a great song about f-words and perfect circles.

This one comes close enough:

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Holy franchise finale, Batman!

Some thoughts about The Dark Knight Rises, having just seen it this afternoon on a long-overdue, Summer-time work-hookey treat. If you haven't seen it yet, you must have as many or more children than I have, but maybe you want to read something else...

Just to get it out there first, TDKR (I can't pull that off) is everything a huge blockbuster ought to be - and in many ways much more. I expected to not like it and most of what I heard going in was tepid at best, but in the end I couldn't imagine leaving the theater wanting any additional explosions or gunshots or bizarre plot twists or exposi-montage (that's not a word) flashbacks, or seat-thumping bass-heavy sound design. It's escapist entertainment at its broad-strokiest and I thank it for taking me out of the white noise of real life so thoroughly for a decent two and a half hours (more if you count the previews! Side note after "The Hobbit" preview my friend sitting next to me says straight to the screen, "Just take all my money now…")

 So just a few things I remember thinking while watching the movie:

  • Bane comes off as a dime-store Lord Humungus and makes me miss Heath Ledger. 
  • The flashback shot of an unmasked Tom Hardy for two seconds was more effective than that fleece-wearing blow-pop in the other two hours. 
  • Liam Neeson says the word "Taken" during one scene and I can't help A) thinking of the "Taken 2" preview that played before the movie and B) feeling like it was intentional. (Side note #2, same friend turns to me after said "Taken 2" preview and says "Taken 2: Return to Taken Island.") 
  • The soldier on the 59th Street bridge being named "Parker" was not an accident. Spidey!! 
  • New York, can't phone in a cameo as Gotham - it's just too New York dammit! And is not the best place to stage lots of buildings and bridges exploding - not sure there will ever be enough time to make that ok even digitally. 
  • Someone should tell Anne Hathaway that her safe-cracking glasses look a LOT like cat ears when they're flipped up. 
  • Mentioning the Bat's auto-pilot feature that many times does two things. It makes you aware that it's not working and Batman is screwed, and it makes you realize that it's actually going to work and that he's not screwed. 
  • Alfred mentioning his European vacation cafe fantasy does two things. It lets you know that at the end of the movie, the vision will come true (hello Syd Field!) and and it makes you think "Inception" might break out in the middle of a Batman movie.
  • Even fleece lollipop Bane deserved a better death then a point-blank hit from the Batpod - which until I just looked it up I thought was called the Batcycle - which is actually one of the lamest rides in the entire history of Batman.
  • In retrospect, Matthew Modine should have stayed home. If Gordon told you to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge, would you? 
  • I thought because of the lack of blood, maybe Matthew Modine just passed out and peed hisself. 
  • Bane must be on a liquid diet? Protein shakes? Wheat grass smoothies? Cannot figure out how the dude eats… 

In spite of the above, or maybe because of it, the movie really stuck to my ribs. I welcomed Christian Bale's raspy Batman voice (which he uses when he's talking to himself as batman!) with great enthusiasms, and the expertly engineered, character-development-free script by the Nolans kept me glued to my seat long after the urge to pee reached almost incontinence levels (fine, I peed myself right after Matthew Modine).

I could not imagine a better way to spend a rainy Friday afternoon and I could not imagine a better way to end this post than with the possible theme to the U2 scored Batman musical, "Batman - Turn off the Dark Knight."

Good tune, but you may want to close your eyes- it ain't pretty...

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Hello, my name is Bill...

Please go see "Bill W." an amazing documentary about the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, now playing in theaters in NY, LA and cities all over the country.  Here's my rambling reason why -

How many times do you go see a movie, only to have completely forgotten it by the time you get home? Hell, I'm so conditioned to the disposable, assembly-line, Hollywood horseshit that the notion of being truly entertained, or gratified, or enlightened, or educated, or shaken up  - as this film shook me up (and down) - that I hardly know how to recognize the fleeting phenomenon when it hits me.

Now, this isn't something Peteandjosh do everyday.  We're far too jealous and petty to celebrate the work of other filmmakers.  It's so much easier to bask in the schadenfreude of a shitty review about a film you have baseless contempt for than it is to just experience art for what it is and what possibilities it may hold - 'cause if you try hard enough, even the worst offenders of copycat, second-rate sequel-cinema have something to offer.

But you hardly have to try at all to get what "Bill W." has to give.  It's a story that flows so confidently through a life so complex that in the hands of lesser filmmakers it could easily have become a soap box of twelve-step slogans or worse still - a simplification and lionization of a man who was a true hero for insisting throughout his life that he was mo more than a common drunk.  

I'll admit, I know the filmmakers behind the work.  The directors and the editor and their assistants spent the better part of two years tuning this machine in the corner office of Manhattan Edit Workshop.  They were the first real film to cut amidst the daily chaos of my school, and though I had some anxiety around our ability to accommodate them, over time it became an easy fit and they became more than just tenants - they became easy team to root for.  

Kevin Hanlon (Co-Dir/Producer) and Patrick Gambuti Jr. (Editor/Co-writer) screened the film in a few stages of its evolution to my students and welcomed the feedback that followed - sometimes mixed but hopefully always constructive.  To bear occasional witness to a process as sacred as story, for a story as sacred as Bill W. is an experience I won't soon forget.

Then, yesterday, to walk a group of students to the Quad Cinema and treat them to a proper screening of the finished film, followed by a discussion with the film's director - well, I'll just say that sometimes the day job shows its perks more than others.  

Bill W. as a film is boldly honest and intimately emotional, deftly cinematic and genuinely entertaining.  While leading you through an epic journey of Bill Wilson's lifelong struggle with alcohol and with himself, his failures and victories both as a person and as the somewhat reluctant leader of an institution as momentous as AA, the facts never overpower and the man always shows through.  Perhaps one of the most interesting things I left feeling was that while AA members may have an obvious interest it this movie, it's appeal requires nothing more than a desire for a solid story with great characters - a simple want  for a movie you'll remember long after you get home.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Padcaster?

I was going to start this post by apologizing to my blog for nary a word in almost four months.

But that would not be the whole story…

A few weeks ago, I composed an epic-comeback of a new years post, a tome to end all internet tomes - apology included and everything!

Then, with the twitch of a pinkie, the post was cleared.  Then in all of Blogger's autosave glory, the cleared field of utter deletedness was saved.  No more post.  No more tome.

Took a few more weeks just to get over that one, and I almost threw it in until last week - a busy one where I shot a 20 camera music video (an FCP experiment), pulled the trigger on a new feature film project with Pete (more on that later) sold my old camera and bought a new iPad.

The new iPad may not seem petandjoshmakemovies-related, but it is.  And here's how.  Since 1993, I've been desperately trying to force video to look like film.  Not an easy task, considering the flat, soap-opera wonder that was analog or digital video, but at $200 per minute to shoot 16mm (not to even bother with the cost of 35) it was just not going to work.  I'd never be able to improvise and experiment with a film camera burning through that kind go dough.  So we got our telephoto lenses and zoomed all the way in and barely made our backgrounds fall out of focus.  The 53rd Calypso was our first attempt to shoot video for film, and thanks to the good people at "filmlook" in Burbank, you could almost fool some people.  NOTE: The dean of NYU at the time thought I shot on 35mm film, so it couldn't have looked that bad.  Here'a a washed out trailer that's about fifteen generations off the original.  If nothing else it was Edward Norton's first film ever (dude wasn't even SAG):

Peter despised video, and I agreed with him, but the difference in cost was simply a no-brainer.  So, on we went though the DV revolution, and the 35mm lens adapter phase and even shot more film here and there too - 

Cut to eight years and over twelve films later and we might finally have something real.  I'm not saying the DSLR craze is totally justified, but it's hard to deny the results.  The whole Urban Dictionary series is being shot on a Canon 5D Mark II and I'm still amazed by the look.

Now enter the iPad3 - the New iPad as Apple calls it - and we suddenly have full 1080p High Definition video in a device that's not only a camera, but an editing system (iMovie & Avid both have iPad Apps) and a method to distribute your finished work to Youtube or your blog or twitter or all three at the same time!  Complete vertical video integration all in a convenient serving tray…

So I can't resist trying to push the iPad and see what kind of film-like results it can achieve.  Completely by accident, I began shooting, cutting & distributing interviews with the iPad 2 at a convention I attended in  Las Vegas last year.  It was quite an eye-catcher and resulted in this video:

Since then, I've been working on a simplified video rig for the iPad.  I figured even with the crappy camera in the iPad 2, it was still worth it as an all-in-one interview machine.  I called the little movies "Padumantaries" and dubbed the rig, "The Padcaster."  Needless to say I am overjoyed at what Apple unveiled a little over a week ago.

And this is what Pete and I shot on the iPad 3 with the latest "Padcaster" prototype,  a 35mm lens adapter and some other goodies too.  A little test on the first day of Spring and some good news for people like us, who've been desperately trying to force video to look like film:

Finally, since my last deleted post was going to end with a resounding bang of the Who singing "Won't Get Fooled Again," I can't help but sign off with this one.  It's just the same but absolutely, insanely and amazingly different.