Zootopia: It Was A Long Road

Kim Masters, host of the film podcast The Business, interviewed Byron Howard and Rich Moore, the creators of Zootopia, an animated feature released early 2016 that is now nominated for Best Animated Feature Film at the 89th Academy Awards. The film centers on an optimistic bunny, Judy Hopps, who wants to be the best police officer in the civilized world that is the city of Zootopia. Her entire perception of the city changes when she runs into a fox, Nick Wilde, who shows her the ugly side of Zootopia. In this interview the creators discuss the continuous development of the film throughout the arduous process.

Initially, Howard says, the city of Zootopia was much more broken and depressing than in the final version and Nick was the main character, not Judy. The city itself was an important character that the creators felt was too grim. They realized that no one could cheer for the city. It was so unlikable that it beckons the viewer to support Nick’s escape from the city. In the end they changed it to be much more imaginative and bright while still showcasing the darker sides in several scenes.

This and many other changes were made to the film before it was released. They actually spent years on the idea of a tame collar, a device that the predator characters wear that shocks them if they get too excited. They had much support from their animators and the executives when they drafted a scene that perfectly exhibited their vision. However, they eventually decided to scrap this idea because they didn’t feel it was the story they wanted to tell. The scene and the idea eclipsed all of the other avenues they wanted to explore. Personally, I think they realized this idea was too powerful and dark for a younger audience. Even though I think this idea is great, they made the right choice by axing the idea. It allows for subtler political and sociological commentaries, which are more effective when marketing. Older generations can appreciate the political statement of class distinctions from a kid’s movie while children can enjoy the light-hearted comedy without being confused by such an intense display of oppression.

On the point of making drastic changes to a film, Howard and Moore mentioned how difficult it was to not only make these changes to ideas they adored, but also the challenge of breaking the news to their teams of animators and designers who spent years working on these ideas, only to realize it had all been for naught. I think there is a valuable lesson to be learned from these two creators. It is important to look back at the whole puzzle rather than just one piece to see if the film in general is cohesive and exactly what they want to communicate. Sometimes that means making great sacrifices, and I appreciate that Howard and Moore had the maturity to make these sacrifices to create a better film.

Zootopia is one of my favorite films, and this interviewed proved that making a great film, such as this, is a pain-staking process that requires objectivity, not an easy attribute to attain in the creative field. I sincerely hope it wins best animated, although I know that all the nominees are exceptional films.

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Netflix Is Here: It’s Really Not That Bad

In a recent Indiewire article written by Eric Kohn, Netflix is put on the spotlight as a convenient source for film, not only for film viewers, but also filmmakers. This contradicts much of what I personally have seen circulating about Netflix. Many of the articles I read come from cinephiles who “love to hate” Netflix as a medium that destroys the artistic fabric of cinema with its domestic convenience by de-popularizing the experience of actually leaving the house and going to a movie theater, an experience that can alter the perception of a film. While I agree that movie theaters do have inherent value with their majestic enforcement of isolation between the audience and the screen, it was refreshing to hear Kohn argue for the benefits of Netflix. Perhaps I am biased. Netflix capitalizes on the values of a millennial college student: affordability and accessibility.

Kohn references the fears of cinephiles that think, “going to the movies will one day become a rarified experience, akin to the opera or a Broadway play.” Kohn responds to these fears by claiming, “most people got to that point a long time ago.” He makes an excellent point that, more or less, establishes Netflix and other streaming services as a reality of the present and a reality of the future. Simply put, it’s here; get over it.

Kohn defends Netflix’s value to filmmakers as a source to market unconventional films, whether it is avant-garde content, lengthy run times, or budget constraints. He mentions that Martin Scorsese’s newest film The Irishman was signed with Netflix because “Scorsese demands big budgets and expansive running times that make studios quiver with uncertainty…” Netflix caters to a variety of filmmakers, both indie and mainstream. Netflix productions offer an avenue for many filmmakers when it appears they have reached a dead end in marketing.

For those who enjoy going to the theater to experience a film in all of its undistracted glory, Kohn and I both agree with you. The theater experience is a unique one that cannot be replicated at home, no matter how large the projector screen or how loud the subwoofers. It is a thrilling experience that should not be abandoned. Kohn puts these minds at rest when he says, “Certain movies demand an active audience to find them, and in many cases, process them in a large format that does justice to the vision. That screen will always exist. For everything else, there’s Netflix.” Cinema complexes will not go away. They may become less popular, but those who enjoy the lurid experience of the big screen will not be let down.

Ava DuVernay: Hope and Excellence

In The Business, a film podcast hosted by Kim Masters, Masters interviewed director Ava DuVernay about her many projects, including her recently Oscar nominated documentary 13th, a film that sheds light on much of the injustice enacted upon African Americans throughout history that still continues today. Ava DuVernay is the first African American woman to have her film nominated for best documentary at the Academy Awards.

When talking about 13th, DuVernay mentioned that she never anticipated how relevant it would be, considering that the United States has now entered a regime of hard core conservatism, oppression, and fear all directed towards minorities. She said, “13th is now bumping up against this moment in history in a way that’s even more resonant than anything I could have imagined, unfortunately…” When discussing the political weight of the film and its appearance at the Oscars DuVernay mentioned how she is excited to see how this event will allow for the expression of rational, forward-thinking filmmakers on both sides of the aisle (conservative and liberal). She mentioned that this is a point in history that will studied about for years in the text books, so it is of vital importance to be aware.

DuVernay is also working on Disney’s A Wrinkle In Time, which is expected to be released in 2018. This is her largest film yet, at least in the sense of a budget. When asked if this was intimidating, DuVernay asserted that it was like making any other film. She feels relaxed.

DuVernay symbolizes the hope for modern film. She shows talent and a reasoned mind and serves as a champion for not only African Americans, but also women. One can only hope that the film industry can recognize her brilliance and push for more opportunities for women and African Americans. It is clear more excellent stories can be told by minorities. They deserve a chance.

Jack Black Gets Another Chance

In a recent article in The Hollywood Reporter, Rebecca Ford stated that Jack Black is talking with director Gus Van Sant to join his biographical film about John Callahan. The film is called Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot, and it is about Callahan’s life before and after a car accident, which resulted in him becoming a quadriplegic. It focuses on his aspirations to become a cartoonist and the difficulties he faced before his death in 2010.

The subject of the film seems rather intriguing, especially considering that Callahan received much backlash from the community fir some of his “politically incorrect” cartoons. The Hollywood Reporter did not mention which role Jack Black would be playing. However, the role of Callahan has already been bestowed upon Joaquin Phoenix. Needless to say, Joaquin Phoenix and Jack Black is quite an odd cast already. It seems like something people would want to see, if only for the sake of curiosity.

This seems like a dramatic piece, considering the devastating accident that changed Callahan’s life. Personally, I believe Jack Black deserves another chance at a dramatic role. The script and the overuse of CGI limited his performance in Peter Jackson’s King Kong in 2005. However, he was marvelous in Richard Linklater’s Bernie in 2012. Even though he was comedic throughout much of the film, there were a few dramatic scenes where Black shone. Black is a great comedy actor, but I also think there is more than a funny man under the hood. It would be great to see him knock it out of the park in a serious role to expand his acting career.

Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot will definitely be an interesting film. The story seems engaging and dramatic. A combination of Jack Black and Joaquin Phoenix is something most everyone would be curious to see. One can only hope that Jack Black makes the cut and stuns us with a brilliant performance.

New Filmmaker: Chinese Documentary

In the most recent installment of Adam Schartoff’s Filmwax Radio podcast series, Schartoff interviewed Kenneth Eng, a young Chinese-American filmmaker, about his most recent film. Eng recently completed a documentary called My Life In China about his father’s struggle to leave China to build a better life for his family in America.

When talking about the film, Eng revealed that is was a very enriching experience. They shot the film in China, a decision that resulted in mixed feelings from Eng’s father, Yau. Yau had difficulties looking back at what he had sacrificed for his family and abandoning his home country while also realizing that it was the best for his family. Filming in China also had a very profound effect on Kenneth, who admitted that it helped him understand and appreciate his heritage. He says it helped him come to terms with his identity as an Asian-American.

During the interview, Kenneth gave some very wise words. He advised the entire millennial generation to truly appreciate their elders. He feels that parents and older generations have many inspiring stories to tell, but they are often forgotten. Kenneth also said the film was a bonding experience for him and his father.

Kenneth’s interview was very inspiring, showing listeners that he has a passion for film, and that this film has had a profound impact on his relationship with his dad and the definition of himself. With such passion and sincerity, it is safe to say that Kenneth will have many more wonderful films in the future.

German Film Budget Increase: Good or Bad?

Ed Meza posted to Variety about an increase in the German film fund. According to his article, the German Federal Film Fund (DFFF) has increased its budget to $80 million in an effort to attract international filmmakers, especially Hollywood productions, to shoot in Germany.

This decision by the German government proves that film is a powerful art form. Its popularity has economic and political consequences. Everyone wants a piece of the Hollywood pie. While this incentive to film in Germany is primarily beneficial, one must also wonder if it inadvertently harms independent cinema and foreign cinema.

Shooting Hollywood films in international locations allows the world to expand their knowledge of unfamiliar areas. However, the main intent of the DFFF is to attract Hollywood rather than independent films, and this further reinforces the concept that Hollywood should get special treatment. While many cinephiles are aware of the indie scene and art films, a great many are not. This is most likely due to the fact that many believe Hollywood is the only cinema.

Yes, I believe this budget increase is beneficial and a positive change. However, the intent of the decision raises a few questions. This article also mentioned that another increase in the DFFF budget was planned for 2018. Hopefully, it will encourage indie filmmakers to participate in the filming of beautiful locations in Germany.

Indie Is Only Hope For Women

In the February 1st podcast episode of The Frame, host John Horn interviewed Dr. Stacy Smith about the gender gap in the film industry. She further discusses the issue that has troubled the industry from the beginning: females in the film industry, particularly female directors, are not given the same opportunities as males. Although she sees this as a major problem, Dr. Smith does have an optimistic view for the future of women in film. The indie film sector showcases more diversity in film, bringing in not only female directors but other minorities as well, like African American and Asian American directors, at festivals like Sundance. She sees hope that people will be more inclusive in their hiring practices so long as people are trained to search for a multitude of perspectives other than the white male.

The fact that women are still severely underrepresented in the film industry is absolutely baffling. Dr. Smith is right. Change is only possible if the studios change their hiring practices. According to Smith, studio executives automatically think of a white man when they think of a director. Women have important, captivating, and creative stories to tell, but the American populace is denied a chance to see those stories.

The indie sector seems to have more integrity than the studio system; perhaps it is because indie is not as concerned with profits. Putting a female director in charge of a movie that has hundreds of millions of dollars invested in it seems too risky to studio executives. In their eyes, it is better to play is safe with a male director because it has worked in the past. Maybe the indie sector will give women more opportunities to produce films with critical acclaim and attract the attention of the big studios. However, the current state of events is not treating women fairly, and until women are given more chances to prove their talent in cinema, it will, unfortunately, likely not change.

9/11 Character Film Looks Incredible

In a recent Indiewire post, Vikram Murthi wrote about a new film called September 12th. According to Murthi, this movie captures the lives of two strangers who have their flight from LA to New York grounded on the morning of September 11, 2001 as a result of the terrorist attacks on the world trade center. Through unexpected circumstance, they end of traveling to New York in a van and connect with each other through folk music.

September 12th seems to be a character film highlighting the human spirit’s persistence to survive in the midst of tragedy. This film seems to diverge from many of the other Hollywood films about the September 11 terrorist attacks, which seem to sweep up audiences in a sense of nationalistic pride. September 12th appears to focus on the beauty of humanity as two strangers share a bond through something as simple as folk music, rather than lamenting and documenting the tragedy of the attacks, even though I’m sure there will be much pain in this film. It is impossible to mention that day without grief.

Most of this film will probably take place in locations outside of New York as the pair travels, another unique choice when making a film around that infamous day. This, again, focuses the attention of the film on the people, not the event.

Perhaps this film is a message for modern America. Despite much of the troubles that plague much of society, this world will still survive because people will always find hope and joy in the small things in life, like folk music. Perhaps this film is also promoting traditional folk music, a genre of music that often gets overlooked in such a fast-paced, pop and techno oriented America.

Of course, all this is speculation until the film is unveiled. Murthi reports that September 12th premieres tomorrow, February 3, 2017 at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, and it will be director David Heinz’s debut feature film. This film seems incredibly promising.