Ton of Charlie clips online

Reader Francois just pointed out a large selection of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory clips hosted at IESB. I’m sort of surprised Warner Bros. made so many available, but they all look authentic and authorized. (CUT TO: Me furiously deleting any reference to their existence after WB says they’re not allowed.)

Presumably, these clips are intended for broadcast stories and reviews, but video is video, even if it’s Windows Media Player. Have a look.

I don’t think any of these really show the movie at its best, so if you have any inclination to simply wait for the actual movie, well, trust your instincts. But I know you’re going to watch them anyway, so here are the standard disclaimers. Some of the clips are dry (that is, without the real music in the background), while others are somewhat weirdly edited for length or other reasons. (Such as the abbreviated “Parlor Trick” clip, which omits much of the Oompa-Loompa song.)

There are also filmmaker clips, including one from yours truly. The interview was conducted almost a year ago. I had completely forgotten about it until last week, when I had to sign off on the special features for the DVD. Bonus points to any reader who can figure out where the interview was conducted.


I didn’t get here on my looks

The summer issue of Written By magazine is out, and the cover story is about my involvement with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

First the good news. The story by Mark Olsen is terrific, everything I could have hoped for. Often with reporters, you hold back a bit, because you’re nervous about being misquoted or misrepresented. But I told Mark the truth, and he put it in context really well. I’m much obliged.

The bad news: Counting the cover, there’s four photos of me, only one of which doesn’t make me shudder. The photographer, Mark Hanauer, did his best. I can’t fault him. But I don’t know if any magazine story can withstand four photos of a screenwriter.

Part of the trouble was the “wacky” mandate. The magazine wanted big colors, with swirls of candy and chocolate. I was a good sport and ate the candy bar, even though in the back of my head, a voice was saying, this is not going to turn out well.

I’ll listen to that voice more in the future.

The other inescapable fact is that I’m not a model. As I’ve gotten older, my vanity has receded to the point where I really don’t mind having my picture taken. Not giving a shit makes the process much easier. It doesn’t, however, guarantee good results.

For the record, the one photo in the article I like is page 14-15, with me standing beside the lollipops. It perfectly illustrates what I’ve learned about having my picture taken: distance is my friend.


New videocamera

Play

Samsung CameraIn preparation for both the Charlie press junket and my impending fatherhood, I bought a new videocamera. I already had a Sony DV camera, but small as it is, I never end up bringing it along with me. It’s overkill for what I want, which is mostly posting little clips on the web for friends and family.

I ended up buying the Samsung SCX105L MPEG4 Sports Camcorder, which, as the name implies, records to digital mpeg4 files rather than standard DV tape. The camera itself holds 40 minutes or so, but can be expanded with Sony Memory Sticks.

It feels really good in the hand. It’s a little fatter than an iPod, with a rubberized coating. The screen is bright and sharp, and the menus are intuitive, even if the controller is a little wonky. (It’s two-way, up and down, which doesn’t really work with the slide-show interface for navigating between clips.)

The video quality is fine. I wouldn’t shoot a feature on it, but you could certainly use it for an experimental short. I can’t find anything in the documentation to say how many frames/fields per second it records, but it definitely has that somewhat-stroby, Saving Private Ryan feel to it.

Here’s a full-sized clip (QuickTime, 7.6MB) that shows the look.

The sound is not great. The microphone is tiny, and the speaker is usually right under where I keep my thumb.

It doesn’t work natively with iMovie. Instead, you have to put the camera into USB 2.0 mode, dig through some folders, and yank out the applicable clips. (I’ll probably build an Automator workflow to do that.) But you can then drag the clips into iMovie without any trouble.

Final Cut Express is more of a hassle. It wants to re-render the clips almost constantly. I’m sure there’s a way to pre-convert them to a more friendly format, but I haven’t really experimented with that yet.

So would I recommend the Samsung camera (or one of its tapeless compatriots)? Somewhat. The video is certainly better than you can get from a camera phone, which is the nearest real competitor. I strongly suspect Apple will come out with an equivalent product in the next year or so, with a better interface and better integration. But for now, it’s a promising idea that works surprisingly well.

To repeat: this is not the camera to buy to shoot your 18th century whaling epic. If you’re interested in using video for filmmaking, definitely check out Mike Curtis’s HD for Indies blog, which covers all the mid-range cameras and issues in abundant detail.


Back from the Charlie press junket

Bahamas PlaneThis weekend, I travelled to The Bahamas for the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory press junket. For those who aren’t familiar with the term, a press junket is a two or three day period during which the stars and filmmakers of a movie meet with the press (both domestic and international) to answer questions about the film. Since most of the U.S. media is based in New York or Los Angeles, press junkets are usually in one of these two cities.

Which begs the question, why the hell was the press junket in The Bahamas?

Answer: Johnny Depp. He’s currently shooting the sequels to Pirates of the Caribbean down there, and since he’s The Guy on the Poster, Warner Bros. decided to fly everyone to The Bahamas so he could participate.

The event itself was at the Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island. I’d never been to the Caribbean, but I’ve been to Vegas plenty of times, so here’s my best analogy. Take The Luxor, exchange the Egyptian theme for a vaguely Mayan one, add in Mandalay Bay‘s shark tanks, and put the whole thing on a pretty beach. It’s only an hour-and-a-half from Florida, so that’s your target audience.

I ended up spending a whopping 20 hours in the country, so I don’t feel qualified to comment on anything about The Bahamas beyond the fact that everyone I met was friendly.

As for the press junket itself, my job was to sit next to producer Richard Zanuck and answer questions from three different groups of journalists, all of whom had just seen the movie at a special screening. Then I did an on-camera interview for a VH-1 special.

In all, I travelled about 18 hours for less than three hours of actual work. Was it worth it?

Hard to say. I honestly don’t know if a single quote of mine will appear in any of the stories about Charlie. I try to say honest and witty things, but given a choice between me and Mr. Depp, a reporter will always use his quotes. I knew that going in. And for most of the longer stories about the movie, I do in-person or phone interviews, which are most easily done from Los Angeles.

However, I think it’s important that the screenwriter show up for junkets. My being there hopefully reminds journalists that the movie was written before it was shot. Far too often in the entertainment press, the only mention of the screenwriter is to lambaste a (supposedly) dreadful script; in success, we’re invisible. At least for a few sweaty hours in The Bahamas, I was part of the story.


Deciding which parents get to visit the factory

Charlie Tour GroupI have a question about your upcoming film, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. What made you decide to have each child bring only one guardian to Wonka’s factory, and how did you choose which one would go?

–Michael
Daphne, Alabama

In Roald Dahl’s book, each of the four rotten kids (Veruca, Violet, Augustus and Mike) brings both of their parents on the tour of the factory. Charlie only bring Grandpa Joe, for reasons that are never entirely clear. According to the rules on the Golden Ticket, he’s allowed to bring two parents, but he doesn’t.

When Tim Burton and I first sat down to talk about how we were going to adapt Dahl’s book for the screen, the two-parent issue was one of my first questions. In addition to being a little unfair to Charlie, having each of the rotten kids bring both parents presented a lot of problems.

With a book, the reader can conveniently forget that Mrs. Teavee hasn’t said anything for a long time. In a movie, however, that character is always going to be on-screen. Which means she needs to be doing something, saying something. She has to interact with all the other characters in the scene, who in turn have to interact with each other, which steals focus from Charlie, Willy Wonka, and the rotten kids.

Basically, twice the parents means everyone gets half as much to say and do.

So we quickly decided that the rule on the Golden Ticket would be that every kid gets to bring one parent or guardian. No fuss, no muss.

Then the question becomes, which parent goes with which kid?

In my mind, piggy Augustus got that way because he had a mother who equated food with love. So Mrs. Gloop would be the first parent. We don’t learn much about her except that she and her husband own a sausage shop in Germany.

Violet Beauregarde claimed to be the world record-holder in chewing gum, so we decided to make her hyper-competitive, her ego stoked by sports mom Ms. Beauregarde, herself a former baton champion. We never say anything about Violet’s father.

Veruca Salt is a daddy’s girl gone wicked, manipulative and bossy. So it only made sense for her to bring her father, a British nut baron.

Finally, there’s Mike Teavee. In Dahl’s book, he’s obsessed with TV westerns and shoot-em-up cop shows. Updating it a bit, we gave him violent videogames and a well-meaning but completely over-his-head father, who is literally bullied by his son.

Even with just these four characters, it took work to find enough for everyone to do and say. In the Chocolate Room, for instance, we have to keep track of Willy Wonka, Charlie, Grandpa Joe, Augustus, Mrs. Gloop, Violet, Ms. Beauregarde, Veruca, Mr. Salt, Mike and Mr. Teavee. That’s eleven characters, not counting the Oompa-Loompas. If we’d added four more parents to the scene, we’d probably still be shooting it.


Organizing reality

Yesterday, the WGA announced plans to begin organizing writers working on reality television shows. Unlike writers working on traditional dramas or sitcoms, these writers haven’t been covered by the guild, which means they receive no health insurance, no residuals, and no set pay minimums.

As WGAw president Daniel Petrie put it in the press release:

The secret about reality TV isn’t that it’s scripted, which it is; the secret is that reality TV is a 21st-century telecommunications industry sweatshop.

Most readers of this site are familiar with one kind of writing when it comes to film and television. It happens on three-holed paper, with uppercase scene headers and neatly indented blocks for dialogue and parentheticals. But the truth is that much of the work a professional writer does in Hollywood takes on other formats: treatments and beat sheets, outlines and season patterns. Even in non-reality shows, a lot of the writing takes place before you type “FADE IN:”. So it’s a mistake to confuse “unscripted” with “unwritten.”

Many of the people who the WGA would like to organize are currently called producers — which is the norm in television. Be it The Simpsons or The Sopranos, many of the writers in television are called producers of some stripe: Executive Producer, Co-EP, Supervising Producer. Despite the title, there’s no doubt they’re writing. Every episode says “written by” or “teleplay by.”

In reality TV, there’s usually no “written by” credit. But it would be a mistake to think there’s no writing.

In addition to the obviously-scripted moments (someone has to tell Jeff Probst what to say), every episode needs writers to figure out what the hell the story is. Yes, video crews will capture the action, and a team of editors at Avids will ultimately cut the footage together, but the decisions about what actually happens in a given episode fall upon the writers, who have to tease plot, character development, comedy and tension out of hundreds of hours of “real life” taking place.

These people are, in fact, organizing reality. Which is why they deserve to be able to organize under the WGA umbrella. You can read more about the situation here.

UPDATE: After reading a note left in the comments section, I don’t want to understate the role editors often have shaping the “what happens” in reality TV. They’re often performing functions that would normally be the purview of writers; the question is, why aren’t they being compensated for it?

Formatting a reality show proposal