Experimental New Murder Documentary

In this week’s edition of The Business with hostess Kim Masters, Masters interviews Australian director Kitty Green and discusses her most recent documentary Casting JonBenet. The documentary shows people auditioning for roles in a movie about a 1996 murder case that is still unsolved. The film focuses on the actors’ reactions to the real life case.

Green reveals that she never intended to make a reenactment of the 1996 case of JonBenet Ramsey, but the film sort of shifted that way. She was inspired by people’s reactions to the murder, so she decided to focus on that. Many of the actors could relate on a personal level to the case. Because she held the auditions in Boulder, Colorado, the scene of the crime, many actors there remembered the case clearly and had personal experiences with the Ramsey family. Other actors could relate to different murder experiences in their lives. The actors reveal very personal experiences in the film. Green made sure to alert the auditioning actors that their stories would be used in the film.

Green did research on the JonBenet Ramsey case, but it wasn’t really important to the film she was making because it focused on others’ perspectives. The information about the case is intriguing, but for this film, Green did not need to extensively research the case in order to pull off the effect she envisioned.

This is an incredibly unique concept for a documentary, and it looks like it will be worth watching. As Green states, “JonBenet Ramsey is a framework for a broader experiement.” A very self-aware documentary, Casting JonBenet challenges the conventions of traditional storytelling.


Amazon Helps Indie Films

Many see the new streaming giants, like Netflix and Amazon, as companies that suffocate the creativity and purity of cinema because they crank out films at such high velocity. Also, many believe that films should not be viewed in home, as cinema was intended to be viewed at theaters, on large screens in a public area, away from home life interruptions. However, Christ O’Falt at Indiewire explains how Amazon is attempting to reignite the true creative passion for indie cinema.

Amazon recently announced that it will finance the films of three major indie production companies: Bona Fide Productions, Le Grisbi Productions, and Killer Films. Ted Hope, the head of motion picture production at Amazon Studios, wants to bring back the creative integrity of the 90’s indie film movement and support directors with true artistic vision. Hope has had a long career in the indie film sector, and he wishes for Amazon to help fund quality films.

In his article, O’Falt claims that “Hope has made Amazon the anti-Netflix” because he pushes for the movies he finances to premiere in theaters and other locations before coming to the Amazon Prime streaming service. Many film scholars appreciate this idea because it is an appropriate compromise between people who believe cinema should be attached only to large public area and those who wish to view the film in their house on a streaming service. The films hit theaters first, and then the home.

Amazon may be defying expectations of the streaming service giant. Hope has voiced his appreciation for indie film and is taking steps to make it relevant and pure again.

Wheatley’s Dark Side

In this week’s edition of The Business from KCRW, Ben Wheatley discusses his newest film Free Fire. Backed by A24, this film centers on a 1970’s arms deal gone awry between member of the Irish Republican Army and a South African gunrunner. While the film packs in a lot of violence and action, the trailer also reveals that the film is intended to be quite comical as well, featuring characters that spout out witty quips in-between gunfire.

Wheatley has been making movies continuously ever since his debut in 2009, Down Terrace. His films can be a bit polarizing as they feature lots of violence and action. Free Fire is similar in nature. In fact, Matt Holzman, host of the KCRW podcast The Document, described the film as the third act of a typical action film with all of the action taking place. The majority of the film is concentrated on the shootout.

Wheatley explains that most of his films have a dark aspect to him because both he and his wife, Amy Jump, who writes and edits his films, are very pessimistic individuals, and his storytelling just tends to involve death and violence. He is not making a statement. He simply sees the world in a dark perspective and decides to make films with a grim tone, though adding some humor here and there, placing the films in the category of dark comedy. Wheatley even admits, “I want to make a film where no one is killed, but I just can’t yet.”

Wheatley is making films that truly reflect his paradigm, and that is true artistic integrity. His struggle seems to be more about finding new stories that are different from his other films rather than stressing about financial risk or critical reception. Even if one does not like his films, it is hard to disrespect someone with conviction. The premise of Free Fire may be very dark, but one look at the trailer shows that it will also probably very funny and incredibly entertaining. It was released last Friday, and I am eager to see Wheatley’s twisted sense of comedy and humanity on the big screen.

Denise Di Novi On Opportunities For Female Directors

Anne Thompson reports for Indiewire that yet another voice is championing more opportunities for female directors. Recently, Denise Di Novi’s directorial debut, “Unforgettable”, was released in theaters, and according to Thompson, even though it was not a huge success at the box office, it will not inhibit Di Novi’s ability to direct future studio films.

Thompson informs that Di Novi had a long career as a very capable producer for the major studios, and when it came time to make “Unforgettable” she convinced Warner Bros to hire a female director for the project. After a slew of options came and went, Warner Bros actually picked her to direct the film. The film only made $4 million during its opening weekend, which hardly made up for the $12 million budget. However, Thompson asserts that Di Novi will have another chance to direct a major studio film because Di Novi has proven herself as a competent member of the film industry. Thompson relays Di Novi’s explanation for the lack of female directors: “…studios aren’t sexist so much as scared.”

Di Novi knows that the studios are all concerned with risk. She also realizes that it may be small and slow, but the tide is turning, and women are being given more films to direct little by little, like Patti Jenkins directing the new “Wonder Woman” film. She says that studios are taking risks on new female directors, and that is where the change advocating female cinematic talent starts.

Di Novi is completely right when it comes to the increase in opportunities for women in film. More avenues are opening up for them. The pace is very slow, but I am optimistic that more women will be able to direct Hollywood films in the future. But let’s hope that the box office sales are kind to them. Otherwise, the change might be shut down before it has time to evolve.

Egyptian Comedian Gives Hope

Kim Masters of The Business introduces listeners to an incredible story about an Egyptian doctor who became a comedian. Bassem Youssef was a heart surgeon in Cairo who had an interest in political comedy. He became popular on Youtube, and then eventually accumulated an audience of 30 million viewers on his own Egyptian television show. When some of his comedy started to criticize the Egyptian government, the government forced him out of the country, which is why he came to America, the home of many of his favorite comedies, especially The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

Sara Taskler, a producer of The Daily Show, joined forces with Youssef, and she decided to direct a documentary about his life entitled Tickling Giants, which tells Youssef’s story in Egypt. Now Youssef is seeking employment in Los Angeles, attempting to writ and act.

Youssef’s story is a testament to the civil liberties that many Americans take for granted. America may be under a very rightist administration currently, but the stations and shows that criticize that administration are still up and running, and are given the opportunity to provide political satire. This may, of course, change in the future, as the state of the nation is incredibly volatile at this point. If nothing else, Youssef’s story shows how one can keep enduring. Even though he left his home country, he is persevering in the American entertainment market and showing people all around that people with conviction and devotion to the truth will never die out.

Another Writers Strike

It looks like there is going to be another writer’s strike on the Hollywood horizon. Jonathan Handel of The Hollywood Reporter informs that the WGA (Writer’s Guild of America) convened a meeting on April 18th in which the members discussed the issue of whether or not to cease writing for major studios until they received proper compensation. According to posts on social media platforms, like Facebook and Twitter, from several members of the WGA, there was a definite sense of solidarity. The votes on this topic are coming in and will be announced in the next couple of weeks, on May 1st or shortly thereafter. The anticipated result is a “yes” to going on strike if the writers do not see an increase in financial compensation.

Many doubt that the studios will comply with the requests of the WGA. According to Handel, the studios were most recently reported as willing to give $180 million while the WGA is asking for around $535 million. This is a large gap that the studios are unlikely to close. That being said, a writer’s strike may begin in just a few weeks, which could mean a rocky time for films and television series. Handel contends that this action may drive viewers away from major films and cable stations and into the arms of more independent media online. One can only foresee a decrease in quality on popular media, which happened during the last WGA strike in 2007-2008.

The Problem With Binge Watching

In this week’s addition of The Business, Kim Masters showcases David Lindelof, writer of the television series The Leftovers, who talks about the last season of this show. The show focuses on a select few who have survived some type of global catastrophe, leaving only 2% of the Earth’s population. Lindelof, who has had success writing many other television shows, including the critically acclaimed series Lost, urges viewers and critics alike to not binge watch the season. He realizes this is much easier said than done, and he even admits that he is guilty of binge watching shows as well. However, he points out some issues with binge watching, which is a frequent habit for many people in our world of media consumption.

From a creator’s point of view, he finds it almost disappointing that people rush through his shows so quickly. It implies that they perhaps did not take a moment to savor and analyze the aspects of one episode. Rather, binging feels like a race as opposed to enjoyment of story and art.

He also mentions that a sense of anticipation has been lost with this new phenomenon of binging. There is no excitement for the next episode because there is no waiting involved. He compares it to a “Christmas morning feeling.” That sense of wonder and suspense is completely dissolved in an age when people can just go to the next episode instantaneously.

Unfortunately, binging has now become almost a necessity if one wants to stay relevant in the world of film and television. He mentions that he once binge watched Stranger Things in order to feel like he had cultural cachet as a writer. This pressure to be “in the know” is common amongst many cinephiles and television viewers, which continues the process of binge watching. Lindelof wants to enforce a “prescription” method, at least for viewing the last season of his most recent show, The Leftovers. He aims to have people “take one a day”, like a dosage of medication in order to fully appreciate the story.

While I have also indulged in the binging trend so popular with many shows on Netflix, I must agree with Lindelof, at least for a few shows. Some shows, like dramas, should be spaced out over a longer period of time rather than clicking on the next episode instantaneously. It allows for fans of the shows to communicate about possible outcomes in future episodes and the artistic analysis of one single episode. When watching shows at such a rapid pace, it is easy to forget or neglect some of the artistic flourishes from the directors and cinematographers. Lindelof has some great advice for binge watchers, and one can hope that viewers will follow that advice when watching his latest triumph, the third and final season of The Leftovers.

Ron Howard Directs Political Film About White Underclass

Indiewire writer Yoselin Acevedo recently reported about a new film being directed by Ron Howard. The film is an adaptation of J.D. Vance’s successful memoir, Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis. Howard and his team at Imagine Entertainment were moved by this piece about the social and economic struggle faced by Vance’s family as white, lower class citizens. Acevedo informs that the film is sure to comment on the position of Vance’s family and many like them as being key to Trump’s presidential victory.

As the title of Acevedo’s post implies, this film may ruffle a few feathers because it deals with socioeconomic issues and its effect on the current political conditions in the United States. Trump has been a controversial figure ever since his appearance as a presidential candidate, in large part due to his racist comments. A film focusing on white issues may make some people angry, as many claim that white issues are masking larger atrocities occurring in other racial and religious spheres, like black, Asian, and Muslim communities.

However, the film might also add an interesting perspective and provide information to the socioeconomic factors that precipitated the current state of affairs in the nation. Ron Howard seldom produces a poor film, and whether it agrees with people’s personal political views or not has no effect on its cinematic value. Of course, this is all a moot point until the film is actually finished. Personally, I am looking forward to it, as I am a fan of Howard’s previous work, and if nothing else, it may enlighten me and many others as to what is happening around the country and why.

Rob Long: Sitcom, Strike, and Political Peace

In this week’s edition of The Business with Kim Masters, Masters interviews Rob Long, the current executive producer show runner for the CBS sitcom Kevin Can Wait. Long mentions how he was suddenly called in to fix the show after some personality disputes on set and a lack of a unity as far as the creative direction of the show is concerned. He makes sure the show stays on track and that everyone is working in the same direction. He has succeeded in bringing Kevin Can Wait to the #1 comedy on CBS.

Long also talks about the writers strike developing in the Writers Guild of America (WGA). In a world where television is changing, and even more so recently, Long hopes their demands will be reasonable. While he sympathizes with their plight, he also realizes that the landscape is changing, and demands like increased pay on residuals, is just not practical in an age where stuff like Netflix original series is becoming more popular. He hopes they will focus their efforts on reasonable requests that can abide by the reality of the current television industry.

Long also talks about his life as a conservative in Hollywood. Contrary to popular assumption, he has actually not received much flak for being openly conservative in this predominantly liberal area. He finds that people in Hollywood are very open-minded to his conservative views. He says his political beliefs have had a hand in helping him make successful decisions in television. Long also did not seem to mind that much of the material he works on has a left-wing agenda. He is very relaxed about it and accepts it with much dignity.

Tobey Maguire’s Directs His First Film

Michael Nordine at IndieWire recently reported that former Spiderman actor Tobey Maguire will be shouting through a megaphone for his directorial debut of Jo Nesbo’s 2015 novella “Blood on Snow.” The adaptation revolves around Olav, a hit man, who is asked to kill his boss’s wife because of her infidelity. Further information from Sam Barsanti at the A.V. Club revealed that Olav soon discovers amorous feelings for his boss’s wife and then must form an alliance with a rival crime lord to protect his new love interest from his boss.

The story itself is moderately unique, but the real interest for me is the fact that the Hollywood actor is actually directing a feature film. Maguire has been branded as Spiderman and has been given little recognition for his other acting roles in films like Pawn Sacrifice and Seabiscuit. It will be very interesting to see how this film is received. While it will probably not change Maguire from an actor to an acclaimed director overnight, it might open the door for him to direct other films and cement his versatility in the film industry. It is always encouraging seeing people with acclaimed film positions, like directors, writers, or actors, try different roles and expand their artistic horizons.

As someone who thoroughly enjoyed Maguire’s performance in the Spiderman trilogy, I sincerely hope he does a great job directing Blood on Snow, and I hope it is received well. The film will show if he is as versatile as I hope.