Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Ya'll Take It Easy Now. This Isn't Dallas, It's Nashville!

Is there any better moment during film school than gathering around with seven or eight fellow student filmmakers and screening one another's short films? Granted, I didn't bring along my best work (I had to settle for screening some of the stuff I've posted on YouTube, which seems to drain the quality away from even the best-looking prints). But even still, it was a great time for all involved, a collective feeling of inferiority after each person screened their work, and a small bit of pride after being complimented on yours.

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to watch two very different films. The first was Mike Judge's Extract, starring Jason Bateman and J.K. Simmons, which I saw at New York's Angelika Film Center on Friday night. I was thoroughly entertained by Judge's slight but very funny dark comedy, which again showcases Jason Bateman's likability as an actor. Will I remember Extract very well after the fall movie season? Probably not, but it's far superior to most other current wide releases.

The second film is Carol Reed's underseen Odd Man Out (1947), which is the first in Reed's masterpiece trilogy, followed by The Fallen Idol (1948) and The Third Man (1949). The movie, which has been playing this month at New York's historic Film Forum theater, stars James Mason as an IRA operative in Northern Ireland. The film owes much of its power to the supporting cast, most notably F.J. McCormick and Robert Newton. Roman Polanski observes that this film may be superior to The Third Man, and he may be right.

Today, character actor Henry Gibson died at the age of 73. Although he was known best for his comedic routine on Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In, I will always remember him for his memorable performances in Robert Altman's Nashville (1975), John Landis' The Blues Brothers (1980) and Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia (1999). Interestingly enough, his birth name is James Bateman - he changed his name to Henry Gibson as a play on the name of playwright Henrik Ibsen.

For my Storytelling Strategies instructor Ezra Sacks, I recently had to complete a challenging student background sheet for him. The sheet consisted of questions you wish a teacher would ask you in order to get to know you - not your name, not your hometown, not your favorite color - but questions which might actually hint at your character. Here are my answers.

1. What is your favorite "undiscovered" movie?

My favorite “undiscovered” movie is a film that, upon it’s initial release in 1995, was certainly highly lauded and appreciated. Today, however, I know very few people who have seen the movie, and there are even fewer critics who recall the film as one of the best movies of the 1990s. The film is Mike Figgis’ Leaving Las Vegas, and perhaps the movie hits such a nerve with me because my father died from alcoholism when I was eleven years old. The movie is more than a tragic romance between an alcoholic and a stripper, however; with great, moving performances from Nicolas Cage and Elizabeth Shue, the film is a transcendent study of two very lonely people.

2. What is your favorite "undiscovered" book?

My favorite “undiscovered” book is actually a play – Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me by playwright Frank McGuinness.

3. What is your favorite "undiscovered" band?

My favorite “undiscovered” musical artist is Alejandro Escovedo, a great artist from the Austin area who is known locally and somewhat nationally (at least enough to have a terrific live duet with Bruce Springsteen), but is not yet the household name that he hopefully will be soon.

4. Write a biography of yourself highlighting those things that you feel are most interesting and/or unique.

I started acting and filmmaking on a small scale when I was six years old. When I was eleven years old, I began working as the official film columnist for The West Austin News, where I conducted personal interviews with directors as varied as Peter Farrelly and John Lee Hancock. Eventually, my love of movies led to the creation of my own website,, which I created in the seventh grade to document my film reviews and essays. In the eighth grade, I began serving as the official film columnist for Austin Family Magazine, where I still write monthly film reviews today after five years of service.

I starred in 23 plays at Austin High School with The Red Dragon Players, more than any other student in the theatre department’s one hundred year history. I won fourteen UIL acting awards in three years – six Best Actor awards, eight All-Star Cast awards – an Austin High record, in addition to starring in Over the River and Through the Woods, which won the State Championship for theatre in 2009. I am also the only student to win two James R. Burton Awards for Best Actor, both in 2007 (as a sophomore) and in 2009 (as a senior). I was inducted into Austin High’s Maroon Society, an honor bestowed on five Austin High seniors as the outstanding 1% of the graduating class. I served as the President of The International Thespian Society, Secretary of National Honor Society, and Entertainment Editor of The Austin High School Maroon newspaper. I was the winner of the 2008 Austin English Speaking Union Shakespeare Contest, and performed at Lincoln Center in New York City as one of the sixty best actors in the nation. My original play The Certifiable advanced to the finals of the 2008 Young Playwrights Inc. National Playwriting Competition as one of the 25 best plays in the country. In 2008, I studied at the University of Southern California in the Summer Screenwriting Seminar under Professor Ron Friedman. In high school, I qualified for Nationals in both Duet Musical and Monologue, and studied at the New York Film Academy in their Digital Filmmaking Workshop. In short, I love acting, writing, and directing, and it is very hard for me to choose one over the other.

5. What do you want to accomplish in this class? What knowledge do you want to leave with?

In this class, I want to learn how to write screenplays that are complex without being needlessly complicated. I want to learn how to write within a solid narrative structure that still allows creative freedom for the screenwriter. Most of all, I want to learn how to write scripts that are built on equal amounts of character and conflict, without one taking away from the other.

6. Who is your favorite screenwriter?

My favorite screenwriter is Paul Schrader; his masterful scripts for Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976), Raging Bull (1980), The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) and Bringing out the Dead (1999) alone place him in a very special category for me. I also love screenplays from Joel and Ethan Coen and Robert Towne.

1 comment:

  1. I like your answers, man. It really showcases the unique guy you are. I'm really excited to see some of the stuff you write too! Send me anything you do. I'd love to see whatever comes out of the experience you have in that class.