Nope, not my Barbarella

A few readers have written in asking about the announcement by Dino De Laurentiis that he intends to make a new Barbarella. Specifically, will he be using my script?

As far as I can tell, no. The rights to my script are incredibly murky–it was a shared project between Warner Bros. and Fox 2000, based on a different comic book than the one used in the original movie. When the deal fell apart, it became something of an unadoptable orphan. (Back in 2004, I wrote about my long history with the project.)

From all appearances, this new project is starting from scratch. My agent asked around about it, and heard it described as more of a female-oriented Matrix. I’ll be keeping on an eye on it, and if it does make it into production, I’ll feel safer putting my script up in the Downloads section for all to see.

Music of The Nines

Alex Wurman, the composer for The Nines (as well as many other great scores, including March of the Penguins and Confessions of a Dangerous Mind) has posted five tracks from the movie on his website.

Of them, “Cold Turkey” is probably the most interesting without a visual to go with it. The “Knowing Theme” is notable because of a unique logistical problem: it plays on-camera, so Alex had to write this primary melody for the movie months before we started shooting.

Will there be a soundtrack album? Quite possibly. In addition to Alex’s score, the songs are pretty great. Julianne Jordan was our music supervisor. (She also did the soundtrack to Go.)

What is independent film?

How do you define an independent film?

— Lee Myers
via imdb

Classically, an independent film was one that was made outside of the conventional studio system, be that Hollywood, Bollywood or Pinewood. But with the rise of the “independent” labels of the major studios, such as Fox Searchlight and Paramount Vantage, that distinction is pretty much moot. Also, consider that the last three Star Wars epics were made independently (by Mr. George Lucas). Any movie with fast-food tie-ins really shouldn’t qualify, in my opinion.

I’d argue that the term “independent film” should be reserved for talking about the movie itself, rather than how it was financed.1 There’s a reason the word “independence” so often shows up in proximity to “revolution” — a shared spirit of frustration, anarchy and apple-cart-upsetting. From their conception, independent films aren’t just made outside of the studio system. They are made in opposition to the studio system, with its relentless need to round off the corners and soften the blows. And in standing against the status quo, independent films help to change it.2

Of course, my proposed redefinition of independent film can’t accommodate many of today’s darling indies, which mollycoddle their audiences with a careful recipe of quirk, warmth and family dysfunction.3 Just the very term “indie” seems to embody that spirit of fuzzy cuteness. I would call on filmmakers to start feeding their movies after midnight, and let their vicious little monsters roar.

  1. I propose labeling conventional movies “dependent films.” Try it. It’s fun.
  2. Think the early years of Miramax, with the first movies by Soderbergh, Tarantino and others.
  3. I blame THE FULL MONTY.

Jennifer Lopez on Parade

I was unprepared for the volume of mail I got wondering what had happened to the weekly Parade feature. Sorry. I was busy premiering a movie. But that’s really no excuse. Walter Scott manages to write a weekly column despite not actually existing.

Today’s questions originally ran in the January 28th, 2007 issue of Parade.

Q The buzz on Jennifer Lopez’s upcoming movie, El Cantante, isn’t so hot. Her clothing line, JLO by Jennifer Lopez, also is struggling. Why is she slipping? — Alexandra L., New York, N.Y.

A Because she’s months behind on her payments. Jenny, it’s $10,000 per month for favorable mentions in Parade. Not per year. Maybe you’re getting us confused with one of those other rags (like Newsday, uggh), but look through the contract, hon. We’d love to do a nice puff piece like “Jennifer Lopez shows you hidden Miami.” James Brady already has his cursor blinking. But just in case, we have freshly written “questions” ready to hit you from all sides. Let’s start with the A’s: Affleck, Adultery and that Ass of yours. Don’t make us get alphabetical. You’ll be dead by the E’s.

Q I was surprised to learn that singer-songwriter Phil Collins is dating a TV journalist from New York City. Who is she, and what happened to his wife? — Jill Clayborn, Phoenix, Ariz.

A Really, Jill? How surprised were you on a scale of one to ten? A seven, maybe? It is pretty shocking when a former rock star splits from his third wife. Our advice is to take the rest of the day off from work. Build-A-Bear will have to get by without you.

Q Montel Williams wears a black diamond bracelet. Does it have special meaning for him? — Rosie Davis, Seattle, Wash.

A No.

Q Producer/writer David E. Kelley (Ally McBeal, The Practice, Chicago Hope) has disappeared from TV. What’s happened to him? — Nadine Lester, Greenwich, Conn.

A I can understand your worry. After a decade of simultaneous Emmy-winning shows, Kelley is currently running a single program: Boston Legal, which my staff tells me is actually written in Japanese and quickly translated by Babelfish. I can only presume the reason for Kelley’s slacking off is that he suddenly realized that he’s married to Michelle Pfeiffer, and he should hit that while he can.

Q A while back, you said Ben Affleck was interested in running for office. Is he ready to take the plunge in 2008? — Larry Kramer, Los Angeles, Calif.

A Yes. Sources tell us he’s planning a campaign for PTA secretary at the prestigious Crossroads School, but won’t officially announce his intentions until his daughter is old enough to walk.

Q I heard that Reese Witherspoon now makes $15 million a picture. Is she really worth that much? — Harley S., Santa Fe, N.M.

A Reese Witherspoon is worth her weight in gold. Guesstimating she tips the scales at 50 kilos, and with gold trading at $20,800/kilo, that would put her worth at just over $1 million. The extra 14 million is for spunk. And don’t forget that Oscar!

Q I see that Richard Pryor’s daughter, Rain, wrote a biography of the late comedian. Is it a “Daddy Dearest” book? — Tricia Guthrie, Lambertville, N.J.

A I’ll let you know after this month’s book club meeting. I just hope everyone’s actually read it this time, unlike the last meeting, when Sally Jansen tried to fake her way through Barak Obama’s book. Honestly, if she didn’t make amazing brownies, we would have cut her loose months ago.

Q Two-time U.S. bronze medalist Angela Nikodinov is now touring with Smucker’s Stars on Ice. What caused her two-year absence from skating? — Mike Anderson, Syracuse, N.Y.

A The ill-conceived “Skippy Peanut Butter on Ice” tour. Five skaters died in that debacle.

Q With the Taliban making a comeback in Afghanistan, how much help can we expect from President Musharraf, our Pakistani ally? — T.D., Boston, Mass.

A Finally. Thank you for asking a question that makes use of Walter Scott’s decades of experience in Middle East affairs. The answer: more than a smidgen, less than a heap.

MTV Overdrive on The Nines

MTV Josh Horowitz from MTV News wrote in to point out that The Flash business wasn’t the only thing they ran from our Sundance interview. In fact, the full version, now up on MTV Overdrive, succeeds in making both Ryan and me sound coherent, which is no small feat.

Here’s what you can’t see in the video:

  1. Ryan is sick with strep throat.
  2. I’m wearing a Daring Fireball t-shirt. (You can see it in some photos from that day.)
  3. There are about 30 people just off camera, being occasionally shushed.

Josh was a good interviewer, honestly, so I’m sorry to harsh on him for The Flash business. I soon hope to have comic book news of my own to avoid discussing.

Sundance, expanded edition

Throughout the week, I’ve been trying to convey the Sundance experience with the Twitter feed, but there’s only so much one can communicate in a sentence or two. So I thought I’d fatten out a few entries to give a better sense of how Sundance really went.

  • Checking through the itineraries and packing lists. Do I take a printer?

I didn’t, but it would have been a big help. We had to keep relying on itineraries printed out before we left, even though dates and times were continuously changing.

The publicists needed 100 copies of the production notes. We printed and copied them in Los Angeles, not realizing that 100 copies of a 20-page document is a pretty heavy box. It would have been smarter to make the copies in Park City.

  • Marveling that the gate agent in Burbank exclaimed, “John August of The Nines?” when she scanned my ticket. She had me sign it.

This was weird. It was so out-of-the-blue that I signed my “check signature” rather than my “poster signature.” Can I confess that I have no idea why anyone would collect signatures? Why not just ask for a lock of my hair? (If I had hair, granted.)

Or, “Pardon me, would you mind if I took a scraping of your skin? I’m hoping to clone you one day.”

  • Picking up rental SUV. Increasing carbon debt substantially.

I needed something fairly big for hauling around cast and family. What’s weird is that I never drove it. My up-at-Sundance assistant Tim became my de facto driver, which was terrific. He could drop me off and pick me up as needed, saving the massive hassle of trying to find a parking spot in the super-crowded little town.

  • Mooching wireless access.

The condo we were staying in didn’t have internet access of any kind, so the best we could do was piggyback on the nearby Marriott’s wireless network, which was frustratingly inconsistent. Far too often I’d spend five minutes trying to get connected, only to give up and read web pages on my Treo.

I’m certainly not faulting Marriott; it’s not their responsibility to offer their non-guests Internet access. But as I would look at the list of other password-protected networks in range, I promised myself I would leave a second well-firewalled port open on my own networks. And it seems like there’s an opportunity for wireless providers to reach outside of Starbucks and start providing hubs wherever people are likely to gather, like a ski resort.

  • Checking in with the Sundance folks. Putting faces with email addresses.

There are zillions of behind-the-scenes people who keep Sundance running, and to the person they were terrific. Assistant/driver Tim works for the institute in Los Angeles, so it was helpful that he was already a familiar face to them.

  • Buying snow pants for the baby.

It’s discouraging to pay $40 for a piece of clothing she’ll wear three times in her life. But those pants let her run around outside, which was essential for all of our sanity.

  • Figuring out how to make clip DVDs, and silently cursing those who said, “No, everything is still on beta. Seriously.”

While it’s easy to rip a DVD, it’s much more difficult to snip and assemble just the pieces you want and have it look good when burned again. Software like Handbrake specializes in making video fit on an iPod, but I never got the footage to look decent when put back to DVD.

  • Listening to Ozomatli warm up, right outside my window. This is gonna be loud.

I really like the band. I would go see them again. But the inescapability of it made those four hours a feat of endurance.

  • Wondering if the two-story tent for the UTA party is structurally sound. And if Heather Graham knows she dropped her purse.

The only reason we got into the party — as opposed to the hundreds of others freezing outside — was that my agent escorted us in. We even made it to the upper-level VIP area thanks to Ryan, who used his star power to overwhelm the poor girl responsible for keeping the cool kids separated from the rest of us. (Ryan is a cool kid, yet fights for the side of good.)

After, say, 15 minutes of staring down on the gathering masses who didn’t have charming stars to pull them upstairs, I realized that (a) my drink was dissolving the Saturn-sponsored cup I was holding, and (b) that I was having a lousy time. The bouncers had no idea how we were supposed to exit. It had apparently never occurred to them someone might want to leave. The place was an industry roach motel.1

  • Meeting with producers to divvy up the tickets. A lot of little Sophie’s Choices.

Sundance gives you a set number of tickets for your movie, plus the option to buy an additional number. (The exact quantities depend on the venue.) We knew going in that we wouldn’t have enough to accommodate everyone we were expecting, so we urged friends and family to sign up for the online ticket lottery.2

I abdicated all authority for rationing the tickets to my producers, who in the end were able to accommodate just about everyone, including Doug Liman, who showed up moments before the screening. I hadn’t seen him since Go, so it was an odd but appropriate place to catch up.

  • Suggesting that if you’re going to tonight’s screening, please ask a question in the Q and A. 15 bonus points if you use the word “paradigm.”

In the end, no one got the 15 bonus points. Several reader/admirers did come up after screenings to confess they couldn’t figure out a way to incorporate the magic word.

  • Loving that random pedestrians gawk at Ryan, knowing he’s somebody but not sure who. “He was in The Notebook.”

This was on Main Street, which is the nexus of all that is unholy at Sundance. On Sunday afternoon, we had to walk up and down Main Street, visiting all the photographers for magazines and agencies. While the photo shoots themselves were painless, the process felt a little Devil Wears Parka, all bustle and schwag, with coffee and liquor always at hand.

At one of the storefronts, Ryan and I did a short interview for MTV news. The minute it was over, Ryan predicted that all they would use was speculation about whether or not he was going to be The Flash, a movie that doesn’t exist and to which he’s not attached. Sadly, he was right. Non-existent comic book movies trump everything, apparently. I need to remember that.

  • Getting sick of people asking, “So are you nervous?” Answer: Increasingly.

This is one of those un-answerable “When did you stop beating your wife?” questions. If you say yes, then the response will be, “Oh, you shouldn’t be nervous. It’s going to go great!” If you say no, then prepare to hear, “God, I would be. Eccles Theater is huge!”

Here’s my advice to readers whose friends or loved ones have movies premiering at a festival: tell them how good they look, even if it’s a lie. One false compliment will do more to ease nerves than hours of verbal reassurance.

  • Watching lights dim.

The premiere itself went great. All my fears of the tape breaking were for naught. Geoff Gilmore introduced the movie, and set just the right expectation: this is a challenging, potentially frustrating film. (Subtext: This isn’t LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE.) I thanked but didn’t name the people in the credits, and gave a special shout-out to the husbands/wives/partners/roommates of filmmakers who make it possible to do our thing.

The Nines isn’t a comedy, but the first section in particular has a fair number of jokes. Jokes that a director completely forgets are jokes until he sees them with an audience. So that was heartening. There are also a few jolts in the movie, and with more than 1,000 people in the audience, the gasps were substantial. Also cool.

Having screened the movie with an audience before, I knew to anticipate a certain uneasy quiet afterwards while viewers pondered what they just saw and whether or not they dug it. I was worried the crickets would persist through the Q & A, but to my relief the questions came quickly. One hearing-impaired viewer asked about Elle Fanning’s character using sign language. I found myself remembering the real reason I made that choice for the character: so she wouldn’t have as much dialogue.3

One guy asked how I felt about Jesus. This was a recurring motif in the three Q & A’s I did. The movie takes a metaphysical turn at one point, and viewers inevitably try to look at it through their own personal philosophical-religious lens. By all means, that’s sort of the point. But trying to peg the movie to any one set of beliefs is only going to be frustrating.

And as for Jesus, I never met him, but I have to say I prefer his early work.

  • Floating outside my body, listening to myself answer questions.

Monday was all about press interviews. Usually, they’re a grind, and you find yourself repeating the same 10 sentences over and over. But partly because of the nature of the movie, reporters asked more interesting-slash-challenging questions than they usually do.4 Whereas I usually become a question-answering robot, this time I felt fully present — and yet, floaty. I heard myself being more eloquent than I expected, given four hours of sleep. Or maybe the lack of sleep was making my blathering sound coherent only to me.

  • Keeping silent on issues that would make Whitney Pastorek happy.

Whitney Pastorek is the writer who was incredibly effusive in her teary-eyed love for the movie. There were a couple of self-identified superfans up on the mountain, and while everyone likes to be told their movie is genius, there’s a dark side. Praise is like sugar. It gives you this hit of energy, but twenty minutes later you’re hungry for more.

Between Google Alerts and the publicity office, we were soon getting a steady stream of the split opinions we anticipated. There were raves and excoriations, and like a fool, I read them all. Did I go into the festival knowing that some people would really dislike the movie? Yup. Did that offer any consolation? Nope.

The particular issue that would make Whitney Pastorek happy would be an announcement that we have a distributor, and I can’t say anything specific on that subject as of blogtime. But Whitney, from me to you, stay strong.

  • Gabbing with Leonard Maltin. Yup, I know him.

Film critic Leonard Maltin is best known for his work on Entertainment Tonight, but he also hosts the weekly 466 screenings of new films at the USC School of Cinematic Arts.5 It’s basically a Q&A with an alumni filmmaker. I’ve brought three movies to his class, and he’s always been a pleasure, even when he clearly didn’t like a film.

I ran into him in front of the Egyptian theatre, where I was trying to meet up with a reporter whom I’d missed earlier. Leonard and I exchanged hellos and happy festival wishes. (He hadn’t seen The Nines.) I said goodbye, only to find him on the same tiny plane back to Burbank. Awk-ward.

And that was my Sundance. I still don’t feel I’m really home. I keep reaching for my festival badge, which has hung around my neck for all my waking hours. But I was ready to come back. After a week of puffy parka-ville, I can walk outside in just a t-shirt. That’s huge.

  1. The Nines’s afterparty was in the same space the following night, with about one-fourth the people, which made it much better. That and the fact that I had just premiered a movie, and many people were telling me I rocked.
  2. A fool’s errand, as it turned out. I don’t know a single person who got a premiere ticket that way.
  3. In my defense, I didn’t know we’d get Elle Fanning, who is not only dramatically capable, but can imitate David Caruso.
  4. Typical press junket question: “When you heard Johnny Depp was playing Willy Wonka, how exciting was that?” Your answer is clearly supposed to begin, “When I heard Johnny Depp was going to be playing Willy Wonka, I was incredibly excited because…” Because it meant that eight months later I’d get to sit in a cramped hotel room with you, Tom, feigning interest in this charade of journalism.
  5. Still getting used to the new name George picked. I like it, though.