Category Archives: Film Making

Well, Now I’ve Done It…


I’m very good at dreaming, but I have to admit that I’m less good at putting those dreams out there. Significantly less good. Does that sound familiar to you? I hope not, but if you’re like most of my friends and just about everyone I’ve ever met, it probably does. So, I’m going to guess you know what I’m talking about.

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I think that deep down, or maybe not even so deep down, we all know that this is true. But we doubt anyway. Why? I could try to answer that, but I won’t, because right now I need to focus, not on the problem as I usually do, but on the solution. Because I find myself in the unusual position of having put something I care about out there in the public sphere, and now I have to see it through.

It happened the way these things usually do. An opportunity presented itself at just the time I was able to take advantage of it. That’s right. Opportunity knocked, and I answered.

It would have been so much easier to pretend that I wasn’t home. But the knocking this time was especially hard to ignore.

Axe scene from The Shining with Shelley Duvall.

The axe-weilding harbinger of opportunity splintering the calm of procrastination came in the form of the latest incarnation of the Telus StoryHive Competition. Telus is a Canadian national Telecommunications giant that has come up with a brilliant way to procure new media content while at the same time supporting content creators who don’t normally have easy access to traditional methods of funding (read independent artists). A couple of times year they invite digital creators in Western Canada to submit proposals for Music Videos, Web Series or, in this case, short films. If they like your project and if you can demonstrate strong internet support, they’ll write you a cheque for $10k to make it a reality, no strings attached. That, as they say, is one hell of an axe. Okay, no one’s ever said that, but you have to admit that it is.

And Telus just happened to put out the call for 10 minute short films right when I had just come up with what I thought was a great idea for a 10 minute short film. All I needed was the money. How could I turn this down? Quite easily, if personal history has taught me anything at all. I can’t tell you how many opportunities I’ve walked away from in my life, for one simple reason:

Doubt [dout]
noun
1. a feeling of uncertainty or lack of conviction.
“There is considerable doubt that anyone will give two hoots about anything that Mark Kandborg thinks is worthwhile.”
synonyms: uncertainty, unsureness, indecision, hesitation, dubiousness, suspicion, confusion; More. MUCH more…

verb
1. feel uncertain about.
“I doubt my ability to do the job”

I’m sure you’ve heard of it. But this time, for whatever reason, doubt failed in it’s mission to cripple. It missed the tackle. It did it’s best, but I was still standing. And I went for it. They say, those wise people we like to ignore, that once you’ve made a decision, things tend to begin to move, almost of their own accord.

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Exactly. I mean, not literally, because the universe is a faceless and heartless collection of atoms that doesn’t care about the Andromeda galaxy’s imminent collision with our own, so it certainly doesn’t care about my little project. But figuratively, because once you’ve really made a decision, certain actions are bound to follow and those actions have consequences which tend to make things real, fast. And I had made a decision to submit a project which absolutely terrified me.

It terrifies me first because I really care about it, but mostly because I simply do not know if I can pull it off. See, I suffer from the common desire to seek the path of least resistance. I don’t like resistance. It makes me feel funny. But really, it makes me feel doubt. Because I forget that hard is usually better, that easy almost always leads nowhere, that taking the easy way is really just boarding a train at Okay and riding it mindlessly till you get off at Not Great.

The path of least resistance for me is doing something I know I can do. I know I can make a traditional film about guns or the mob or any of a number of traditional short film subjects, and I know that any of those choices will dictate every detail from approach to structure to tone. It’s a formula, and it’s one that I’m very comfortable with. So this time I said no to formula and yes to fear.

I want to make a live action film about a mouse, a cat and a bird where the characters are all played by grown ass men and women wearing animal costumes. There. I’ve said it.

I want to tell a story where irony sits atop irony to reveal even more irony. I want to challenge my audience by making something new, something even I haven’t seen. Because that’s what I admire in others: The willingness to stand alone, to build something without certainty. To have faith.

I want to tell the story of Munchie Mouse, a Candide-esque character who’s innocence allows him to see beauty and wonder in the most unlikely places. Which I believe means that he sees the world around us for what it really is, a fairy tale.

Munchie Mouse 1920x1080 title card

We’re so lucky to be alive, to be experiencing new things, to be able to see beyond the darkness (and the doubt) through to the possibilities, by “squinting real hard”, as Munchie would say. Because I truly believe that the only way forward for our civilization, in this confusing time of distrust, judgement and outright paranoia is not to lash out, nor to ignore what’s all around us… but to have the willingness to see the good in people, in life… to actively seek out what Lincoln so beautifully described as the better angels of our nature, both in ourselves and in others.challenge_accepted

But I can’t do it alone. StoryHive is a competition, after all, and as such will rely on Votes, Likes, Shares and Tweets to help determine if this little story deserves to be told.

I don’t like to ask for help. I mean, I’m Danish, after all, stoic to a fault. It’s like that old joke about a Dane’s last words: “I’m fine”.

But I need your help if I’m going to take this to the next step, which is to face my fears and actually make this thing.

If you want to help, for the sake of curiosity if nothing else, here’s how you can do it:

  1. Vote! You can vote for Munchie Mouse and the Land of Dreams once every day for the next week by going to the Munchie Mouse StoryHive Page (there’s a 60 second video for you to watch if you’d like). You can share the project from there, too.
  2. Like the Munchie Mouse Facebook Page (you can also invite others to like it).
  3. You can follow Munchie Mouse on Twitter and he will follow you back, I can almost guarantee it. He’s just that way.

There. That’s it. I’m going to do something really uncharacteristic now, and say that…

I care about this.

No turning back now.

Time to put my money where my mouse is.

Munchie

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How Christopher Nolan Broke My Heart and Punched My Brain


“There’s a new name for fatuous, unforgivably ignorant, misguided and arrogant film making: Interstellar. Never has my intelligence been more acutely insulted. Christopher Nolan continues the tradition of schlock he began with Inception and carried through The Dark Night Rises. Hey, Nolan, news flash – we’re not all idiots.” – Signed, Clawing My Eyes Out

Okay. Maybe the above Facebook post was a little… heartfelt. But in my defence, my heart actually felt wounded. Like I’d been jilted, three times in a row. By the same person. Maybe I was angry at myself for expecting more. But damn it, I wanted there to be more. I thought he could change.

Don’t get me wrong. Nolan’s style is breathtaking. He really likes to show us things upside down, but still. His ideas and concepts, equally laudable. And Inception wasn’t so bad, really, which is why I say his descent merely began there. But for me, there were little things in that film which heralded the coming of what I see as Nolan’s disregard for his audience – like how he states as a central point of fact early on that jostling a subject while they are ‘dreaming’ will wake them up. Makes sense. I’ll buy that. But then, in the film’s pivotal scene, he has a van full of subjects sleep soundly through a wild high speed car chase and stay sleeping as they GO FLYING OFF A BRIDGE. Apparently, he doesn’t even have the respect to suggest that maybe they’re not being jostled too badly, an obvious, if suspicious, out – instead, he repeatedly shows their heads being yanked back and forth in slow motion closeups while remaining blissfully asleep. This is ignoring the logic he has already set up, all in service of an action scene with memorable visuals. Not cool, Chris. Not cool.

Tumbling

But that’s not enough to indict the whole enterprise, and to be fair, I don’t. I leave that to others. However, I do feel that Inception tries to get all ‘deep’ while failing to muster anything more interesting or insightful than any high school kid might manage after smoking a couple of bowls. One big missed opportunity there, Nolan, and not enough for me. If I want a mind f**k with some art and intelligence, I’ll watch David Lynch. He never leaves me wanting. Confused, but never wanting.

Nolan’s disregard for both basic physics and the intelligence of his audience continues in the Dark Night Rises, but he takes it up several notches. I won’t even bother listing the problems with that movie here. Although I especially love that criminal mastermind Bane sacrifices a flunky to insure that the right amount of bodies will be found in the wreckage, but he doesn’t seem to think finding the plane’s wings kilometres from it’s fuselage might raise an eyebrow or two.

dark-knight-rises-trailer-full-plane-heistNo, I’ll save the bulk of my energy here for nolan’s self-proclaimed ‘scientifically precise’ Interstellar (which should first of all actually be called ‘Intergalactic’ since all of the travel is between planets and between galaxies, but NOT between stars). I would need far more time than you’re probably willing to invest right now to really get into it, but good lord. It’s hard to even choose between highlights. Or lowlights. Let’s set science aside for a moment and deal with some very basic problems. Like how many times does cowboy pilot Cooper ‘switch to manual’ during this movie? How stupid is that? And why does the NASA appointed astronaut (and an engineer, by the way) and instrument of humanity’s only hope not bother to ask how wormholes work until he’s just about to fly into one? And seriously, a folded piece of paper? Ok, now he gets it [face palm].

This is a Wormhole

I guess this makes sense to a filmmaker who gives us a world where scientists can send hibernating scientists and robots with strong AI to Saturn and through an Einstein-Rosen Bridge ten years ago but when it comes to plant biology, well, if the corn stops growing, humanity will simply starve (what’s the beer they’re drinking made from, by the way? Just curious. No, really).

Drinking a Bottle of Corn Liquer-1I mean, if they’ve figured out how to feed the world’s population on nothing but corn, surely they know enough to fix the ‘blight’ problem.

Maybe the engineers could’ve put aside some money for biological research (they can freeze people, for god’s sake. And why do that? So that the scientists don’t get bored on the way to Saturn?) by not building a centrifugal spacecraft completely unsuited for interplanetary travel just so that the scientists in hyper-sleep could have the illusion of gravity. Why? Because a centrifugal ship is gimmicky and saves the filmmakers a bucket load of money in production doing all the weightless effects of a serious movie like Gravity (which had its own issues, but still). And because then the All American farmer/pilot can once again ‘switch to manual’ and execute an impressive maneuver in an obligatory action sequence. Of course, the centrifuge design isn’t just expensive and completely unnecessary for the mission, it’s also problematic, as the astronauts discover once they’re already in space. 

Dramamine?

“I think we have some dramamine.” You think? And Dramamine? Really? What is this, the 1940’s? No. It’s some time in the second half of the 21st Century. Maybe that lady scientist has some in her purse.

Of course, the motion sickness problem, the one that apparently wasn’t dealt with in the simulations they obviously didn’t bother to train on as a matter of course for any trip into space by anybody, won’t be too bad as long as they don’t design the spacecraft with an absolute shipload of goddamn windows for absolutely no reason.

Windows 2

Oh, and how about transmitting GPS coordinates via a smattering of binary lines on a floor? Does anyone involved in the making of this film know how either GPS coordinates or binary code work? Apparently not. In which case it seems perfectly reasonable to take the ‘quantum information’ from the interior of a black hole and translate it into Morse Code. What!?!

Here Are the Coordinates in Binary

Then there’s the question of ‘Them’. A bewildered Cooper asks, understandably, who ‘They’ are. No idea? Alrighty, then! Let’s go! Not only is this pretty important question not answered, given much weight or even, as far as we know, investigated by the scientists… it’s hardly even mentioned again. Sure, ‘They’ offer a handshake upon arrival which no one seems particularly concerned about. But what’s the deal? What have ‘They’ done to even warrant their mention in the first place? Put the wormhole in place? What’s the compelling reason to assume that? Because an Einstein-Rosen Bridge (none of the scientists call it that because we’re too stupid as an audience to handle it, I guess) can’t exist naturally? Oh, I guess all of a sudden everyone understands what is and is not possible on the very fringes of speculative physics. So therefore ‘they’ did it, but we don’t try to contact them or figure out what their deal is as we face species annihilation. Of course, the bigger question is… why would you build the launch pad twenty feet from your boardroom?

Engines in the Boardroom

Do I even bother, now with the science? Like the simple fact that planets don’t (can’t) orbit black holes without a star? That without a star this little planet would be anything but ‘earth-like’. That any planetary object close enough to a black hole to experience meaningful time dilation would be torn apart in an instant by gravitational forces? That the accretion disk (so beautifully rendered in 3-D!) is a result of every bit of mass in the vicinity being pulled right through the planet into the black hole? That this would include enough X-rays and other forms of radiation to be instantly fatal to any form of life, space suit or no?

Whiteboard

“See, if we land on the sun at night…”

How about that waves hundreds of metres high can’t exist in less than a metre of water because they would need a trough of equal depth (forgetting what havoc the gravitational attraction implied to pull these waves in the first place would wreak on anyone on the surface) to exist at all? I could go on and on. And on (and on) without even getting into the terrible dialogue, the ridiculous characters…

Brilliant Scientist

“I am totally convincing as a brilliant scientist. And I am so terribly lonely that I am going to kill the only three people in the galaxy. Oh, wait.”

…or the ploddingly obvious plot ‘twists’, but I’ll stop.

Not before I ask one more question, though: Ok, Nolan, so ‘love’ travels across time. Then, uh… doesn’t ‘hate’?

I know that many people simply like the movie and don’t care about any of the things I’ve touched on here. And that’s valid. I guess I’m just not that forgiving. Maybe it’s because I can’t help picturing a scene like this one: Consulting physicist Kip Thorn clears his throat, nervously. “Excuse me, Mr. Nolan, but it, uh, just doesn’t work like that.” Nolan turns to his accountant. “How much am I making for this?” The accountant whispers something into the director’s ear. “That’s what I thought,” he says. Looking the physicist in the eye, he shrugs. “Fuck ’em.”

Hear no Evil good

If you want big ideas that are handled properly, do yourself a huge favour and watch Sunshine, 2001 A Space Odyssey (again, I hope), Coherence (NOT Divergent or Convergence, for the love of god) or Timecrimes, just for starters. You’ll see, I hope, that while it’s not easy, it can be done.

I’m incensed, clearly, that someone with the power and resources of Christoper Nolan chooses not to make the effort, or simply doesn’t care. I don’t like being talked down to. Actual good ideas, well thought out and presented, can not be replaced by throwing out words like ‘quantum’ and ‘relativity”, nor by the endless repetition of a Dylan Thomas poem.

Frozen Cloud

“What was that?”

“Frozen cloud…”

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Soul Murdering Question # 1: Am I Any Good?


jean-luc-picard

Before I get to the subject at hand, I’d like to send a shout out to all of those who read “One Minute Film School” and were moved to follow my little page because of it. The flood of comments it received was amazing, and the degree to which that post seems to have resonated with readers was as startling for me as it was  gratifying. All of this, as you can probably imagine, means a lot.

Thank you all.

*   *   *

There was one comment in particular, from fellow blogger Nichole Eck, which has really stuck with me. So much so that I’ve decided to devote this post to the question she posits. Her comment starts out innocuously enough:

I have the same inability to kill people’s dreams, no matter how unrealistic or misguided! Even if I sometimes think that the sooner they get over their dreams and move on, the better (lest they end up like Willy Loman). I especially liked this observation of yours: “If you’re any good, someone will notice, believe me. If you’re not, please stop.”

It’s this next part that haunts me:

Do you know of any guidelines that can help people realize if they’re not “any good” at something? Is it just the test of time? (i.e. It’s been three years, and no one’s noticed; it must be time to stop.”)

Now, I don’t know whether Nichole’s final line is merely a hypothetical example, or something more. But I can’t help wondering if she’s referring to herself here, that she’s at a crossroads, unsure of which blinker to switch on. For this reason, and because I believe her question is as central to the artistic pursuit as it is universal, I can’t in good conscience write another post without at least addressing it. Especially since I think I may have some answers.

*   *   *

“How will I know?” – Whitney Houston

The-gorilla_-the-thinker

So, how will you know? The simple answer is, you won’t. The slightly more complicated answer is, you just will. But the only useful answer is, it doesn’t matter.

Let me unpack these for you.

#1) You won’t. Why? Because you can’t. The quality you seek to identify in yourself is relative. It’s subjective. And it’s a moving target. Remember how you can’t know an electron’s position AND velocity at the same time? It’s like that. It’s also a lot like another potentially soul crushing question, this one asked by far too many women throughout their lives: Am I pretty? Like talent, “prettiness” is something you can spot and even, horribly, quantify in someone else. But, not in yourself. Ever. You’re too close. You’ve got too much at stake. Objectivity flies out the window.

This is why we turn to outside indicators, usually in the form of human beings, for answers. In theory this can be of some help. If a girl is constantly being hit on by strangers and told that she’s amazing, for instance, she can be fairly sure where she stands on the ‘attractiveness’ scale. In much the same way, an artist who is praised, critically acclaimed and, well, hit on and told that they’re amazing can be fairly sure where they stand on the ‘any good’ scale. But there are problems with this ‘external indicator’ approach which have probably already occurred to you.

First of all, very few people are enough of a knockout or a genius to generate such a powerful response to their looks or their talent so, statistically speaking, you’re probably not one of them. Don’t worry, neither am I. Also, you can never be sure what’s motivating a human to do or say anything, and they’re as likely as not to change their minds up or down in ways you can never predict. And we all know there will never be a true consensus. Some people hate Shakespeare. Even the Dalai Lama has enemies.

Consider people who are famous for being famous. It probably feels for those basking inside that fame bubble that there can be no question about their looks and/or talent. They’re famous! And they’re almost certainly wrong. Compare that situation to Van Gogh’s, who was tremendously undervalued as an artist in his own time. In short, trying to gauge something by another’s opinion, no matter how tempting, is as futile as trying to get a handle on that electron. You’ll simply never know.

#2) You just will. Well, thats interesting. Seems like I’m completely contradicting everything I just said, doesn’t it? Not exactly. I’m just approaching the question from another angle, in another way. What would you say if a close friend asked you “How do I know if I’m really in love?” I’ll tell you what I’d say. “You’ll just know. If you’re not sure, if you even have to ask the question, you’re not”. Harsh, isn’t it? But I think it’s the truth. You’re not stupid. Trust your gut.

The problem with this approach, as easy as it may sound (it’s not) is that for your answer to have any validity, you have to apply some rigorous introspection, soul searching and, worst of all, you have to be completely honest with yourself. Yikes. It takes courage to get under your own hood and really look around, and it takes even more to be willing to accept what you find.

Some people are in love with the idea of being in love. Similarly, a lot of artists are in love with the idea of being an artist. But as philosopher and Starship Captain Jean-Luc Picard once observed, “Wishing for a thing does not make it so”.

35781610Look, maybe your desire for talent outstrips the degree to which you actually have it. There’s no shame in that. But someone in love with love who spends their life with the wrong person is wasting much. Spending your life pursuing something you blindly hope you’re good at is equally tragic. And there’s probably something you’d be far better off pursuing, something you really do have a talent for.

#3) It doesn’t matter. I can almost hear how pissed off you are at me right now. If it doesn’t matter, why even bother talking about it? Because you’re going to think about it anyway, that’s why. So I thought we could explore some ways to think about it together. But, ultimately, it just doesn’t matter. This is good news!

tumblr_m4pbbjvRt71rvzvq4o1_500What I’m really saying here isn’t just that the question is meaningless, which it is, I’m saying that even if an omniscient deity or a post-singularity supercomputer could tell you definitively if you were any good or not, it wouldn’t make much difference. Why? Because you are not your art.

Your art is your art. It is outside of you. You create it, and either it is valuable and interesting or it isn’t, but whether you’re ‘any good’, especially at this one moment of all possible future moments, is not what matters. Who cares whether you’re a good car maker, that’s just ego. Do you build good cars? You make your art, your art doesn’t make you. Remember that. And the most important word in that truism isn’t ‘you’, it isn’t even ‘art’. It’s ‘make’.

“Is the art that I make any good?” Now there’s a question.

And I’ll try to answer it in my next post.

Aloha

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One Minute Film School


Stop Watch 1
Today, I had a fella send me this message on LinkedIn:

Hi Mr. Kandborg. My name is *****. I have a story idea that I would like to direct and was hoping if you would like to work with me. I been trying to get in touch with producers but have no luck. Please let me know.

Typos aside (I certainly hope they’re typos), rather than dismiss the request out of hand as vague, incomplete and, well, odd, I decided to offer some suggestions since countless numbers of them were percolating in my head, unbidden. I’ve subsequently decided to post them here because I feel they may have some universal value to aspiring film makers everywhere.

Hi, *****. Sorry to hear that you’re having trouble getting in touch with producers. Maybe you aren’t being clear with what you’re looking for. You say you have an idea. Do you have a script? It’s unlikely that any established producer would be interested without one. As I like to say, having an idea for a movie is like having an idea for a painting. “Flowers!” Doesn’t mean much.

sunflowers-1888

vsBad Flower

If you don’t have a script, write one.

If you don’t know how, learn.

If you have no talent for writing, find someone who does.

If you have a script and no one wants to produce it (because really, why should they?), produce it yourself.

If you can’t raise a lot of money, make it for a little (I know of features that were made for $5,000).

If you can’t raise any, write something else, either something better, something cheaper or something shorter. Maybe all three.

If you want to direct a movie, direct a movie. It’s never been easier.

If you’ve already directed one, direct another.

If you’re any good, someone will notice, believe me.

If you’re not, please stop.

I hope this helps. Good luck. And remember: if you want to work in the circus, you’d better get used to crazy people, anxiety and the smell of shit. Embrace the shit.

All the best,

Mark

Tiger

I’ve thought all of these things when confronted with the boundless (and borderline insane) blind enthusiasm of one aspiring filmmaker or another who has, usually inadvisably, appointed himself the next Tarantino simply because he really likes movies, even though he may not be able to articulate, like, why. But I’ve rarely said them. Partly because I’m fairly sure they don’t really want to hear any of it, but mostly because I can’t bear to see the dreams of a fellow human being, however misguided, recoil and disintegrate before my eyes like a vampire hit by a sunbeam.

And I find nothing kills a crazy dream faster than a brush with reality.

Which is why I like to keep mine tucked away safely in the dark. On the few occasions where I’ve found the courage, or more accurately the hubris, to actually ask for a reality check like my new friend *****, the subsequent slivers of light have mottled the surface of my fragile, sacred passenger just enough to render me mute, confused and ultimately, immobile.

So the surprise here is that my advice to ***** is really advice to myself.

M-fritz-lang-6250_5

Maybe this time I’ll have the wisdom to listen.

[NOTE: If this or any of my previous posts have encouraged you to think a thought (or hear a Who) you might otherwise have not, go ahead and comment, share or subscribe. Go on…]

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