Friday, September 18, 2009

Always Do The Right Thing.

I am currently on the last stretch of a four-hour Bolt Bus ride from New York to Washington D.C., where I will be visiting my lovely girlfriend, Anne Goode, at The George Washington University for the weekend. I hope to catch a screening over the weekend of Steven Soderburgh's latest film, The Informant!, starring Matt Damon as a corporate executive-turned-whistleblower. The movie looks like a great comedy-drama, and it marks the first movie release of the fall season that I'm eagerly anticipating.

Last night, I attended the live panel discussion Remembering Michael Jackson at NYU's Cantor Film Center, presented by The Clive Davis Department of Recorded Music. Among the many speakers were writer/director/producer Spike Lee, infamous New York Press cultural critic Armond White, and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Margo Jefferson. Although I can't claim to be the world's number one Michael Jackson fan, I was more than excited to see Spike Lee, who is a graduate of the Tisch School of the Arts, and one of my favorite filmmakers. If you click on this link to a story on the Remembering Michael Jackson panel, you can look at thirteen official photos from the discussion, the second of which you can actually spot me in the background if you enlarge the picture.

Even though I firmly believe in respecting the peace and quiet of celebrities, a few fellow film students and I couldn't help but ask Mr. Lee for a photograph as he was waiting for a taxicab outside of the Cantor Film Center. Above, you can see the picture of which I am already very proud (to Mr. Lee's right are freshmen Julie Cole and Jeremy Keller). In the other picture on the right, you will see my hand shaking Mr. Lee's hand after the discussion.

From Do the Right Thing (1989) and Malcolm X (1992) to 25th Hour (2002) and Passing Strange (2009), Mr. Lee has firmly established himself as one of the finest American directors of our time.

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.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

New York University

As you may have noticed, it has been almost two weeks since my last entry. This can be attributed to the fact that beginning college in a place as unfamiliar and complicated as New York City takes time away from writing new posts daily. And, as I have learned over the course of the past three days, classwork must always take priority over journaling.

That being said, I want to express my great affections for New York University and the Tisch School of the Arts. In just two weeks, I already feel as if the city has shrunk, as I am becoming more familiar with Greenwich Village with every passing day. I have a basic understanding of the subway system, and, most importantly, I am comfortable in the environment of Third Avenue North, the great apartment-style towers which hold a large number of NYU freshmen.

Since last week's overwhelming yet incredibly helpful Welcome Week (which included a Presidential Welcome at Madison Square Garden and a greeting from Tisch alum and Rent star Jesse L. Martin), I have seen only one new film, Spike Lee's Passing Strange: The Movie, at New York's IFC Theater with some fellow film students. I would love to devote an entire post to the film, but for the sake of brevity, I will only say this - if Passing Strange is playing in your area, go out and see it immediately. It is one of the best movies Spike Lee has ever directed, and one of the best films of the year.

Speaking of Spike Lee, next week I will be attending Remembering Michael Jackson at the Cantor Film Center, where, according to The Clive Davis Department of Recorded Music, "an exciting panel of scholars, writers, artists and executives will consider the legacy of one of pop music's greatest icons." The panel includes writer/director/producer Spike Lee, Village Voice journalist Greg Tate and New York Press cultural critic Armond White, among many others.

The idea of sitting a few feet away from one of my favorite filmmakers is a thrilling one indeed - so much so that I will be attending the Jackson discussion despite my relative indifference toward The King of Pop's music career. Fortunately, it's an experience that will come around frequently at NYU; already, most of my professors are actors and filmmakers who have worked with the finest people in the business. Professor Peggy Gormley, who teaches my Performance Strategies Lecture, was the producing partner of Harvey Keitel, and she has had large roles in many movies, including Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) and Noah Baumbach's The Squid and the Whale (2005).

The Tisch School of the Arts is hosting a production of William Shakespeare's Othello later this month, starring Philip Seymour Hoffman as Iago. Needless to say, I already have my ticket reserved and the date marked on my calendar.

When I haven't been in class or studying intensely at my dorm, I have been exploring the Maurice Kanbar Institute of Film and Television building on 721 Broadway, which is full of framed movie posters directed by Tisch alumni. Of course, when said alumni includes Martin Scorsese, Oliver Stone, Joel and Ethan Coen, Spike Lee and Ang Lee, among many others, there are literally hundreds of posters in each hall.

Tomorrow, I am planning to catch a screening of Mike Judge's Extract with some other film students after my six-hour Sound Image class. I will share my thoughts on the film in a later post.