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Director Byrd McDonald Unpacks VINTAGE TOMORROWS, His Epic Steampunk Doc

by Quendrith Johnson, Los Angeles Correspondent

That director Byrd McDonald (Haunters) is from Butcher Hollow, Kentucky, birthplace of Loretta Lynn speaks volumes about his path toward the making of VINTAGE TOMORROWS, a documentary about the movement known as Steampunk coming at you on July 19 from Samuel Goldwyn Films. Viewing this film is essential as part of any aficionado’s playlist. In the unpacking of facts as to why the Steampunk community welcomed Byrd as a “maker” of this film, about a very closely held movement, the Bionic Man could be a factor. Well, maybe that’s stretching things, but Lee Majors, another Kentucky connection, was the Bionic Man, who could be viewed as a proto-Steampunk Ambassador. Without the ubiquitous “top hat and goggles” of the genre as we know know it, of course. ObtainShannon16

If you’re starting to get the picture, steampunk is that odd-in-a-good-way intersection between Jules Verne and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Or, to put it more succinctly, steampunk is way beyond the common label of ‘googles on top hats’ and reflects a sentimental yearning for a time when substance and form had a fantastical quality. Think the 1893 Columbian World’s Fair in Chicago, when wizards like Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison wowed the public with electrical power put to practical magic applications in things crafted by hand from steel, wood, and wonder.
VTlogo16To quote the press kit, “VINTAGE TOMORROWS examines the Steampunk movement’s explosive growth, origins, and cultural significance, from its sci-fi beginnings into an aesthetic and DIY movement that influences art, fashion, design and music globally” though “interviews with the writers and artists credited with galvanizing” the term itself. But it also poses “the fundamental question: What does Steampunk tell us about history, community, and our complicated relationship with technology.”

If you’ve checked your smartphone for updates several times during this introduction, this film is for you. And it features pioneering luminaries such as Cyberpunk founder William Gibson (Neuromancer), Bruce Sterling (Gibson’s co-author on seminal steambook The Difference Engine), China Miéville, Cherie Priest, Gail Carriger; graphic novelists Paul Guignon and Anina Bennett, musicians Abney Park and Erica “Unwoman” Mulkey, artist/maker Shannon O’Hare and the Neverwas Haul gang, and “over 20 other denizens of the subculture.”


Byrd McDonald is quick to shoot down the notion that Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes franchise was an early cinematic foray into steampunk, although the film is riddled with echoes of the movement, from gadgets to pop alchemy. “Wild Wild West was like 10 years before that,” he notes, but does not endorse it. “And City of Lost Children is the film most people in the community refer to,” McDonald adds. ByrdonSetVT16La Cité des Enfants Perdus” is the French film translated as City of Lost Children that ignited the maker imagines in the steampunk ranks, but the term was coined in science fiction lore, as you will find out in VINTAGE TOMORROWS.

When Byrd McDonald first “reached out to people, there were a lot of people who were somewhat chilly because they had been approached by mainstream media before, and it never went well. They ended up on TV shows making them look ridiculous. Right now there is a steampunk reality show that makes them look ridiculous.” The fear was that this director would “want to talk about top hats” and accessories of the fashion rather than the cultural aspects. “What really broke down walls was that I was a queer kid,” McDonald shares. “That really opened the doors” because he was coming from an alternative perspective to begin with, plus “I used to do drag,” meaning he understood theatrical performance coupled with identity and a whole range of complex subcultural dynamics. “I really had to hang out with them and show them I wasn’t coming to them with any kind of agenda. I think it would be really hard for someone on the inside of that movement to make a film about that community that the general public could relate to.”

In VINTAGE TOMORROWS, a menagerie of hugely talented makers, thinker-tinkerers, and performers detail facets of their involvement, including the lengths they have gone in crafting personas as well as the bonds they have formed with like-minded individuals — who would not normally band together — but find refuge from the Digital Chill inside the incandescent glow of their imaginations applied to steampunk projects and events. Unobtain16Once displayed at Burning Man, there is actually a retrofitted fifth-wheel trailer contraption, much like a Mr. Toad wild ride house, created by the Neverwas Haul gang. And you can see the play on words there, which is very of the vein this movement has tapped.

Listen to what the filmmaker has to say here in his own words, then watch the film…

Q: How would you encapsulate yourself in Steampunk terms?

Lol!   Ahem….”I think of myself as a brass spyglass through which the curious can observe the world of steampunk.”

Q: What was your impression of City of Lost Children?

City of Lost Children is my favorite expression of steampunk in cinema, though some people might argue the film fits better under the “diesel punk” umbrella. It’s one of the most hallucinatory films I’ve ever seen. I probably love it most because it’s a mash up of horror, surrealism and steampunk.  It’s dripping with dystopian dread, but in the center of the darkness beats a very sentimental heart. It’s a gorgeous, frightening and incredibly moving film.

Q: Do you think the vintage clothing crowd and the Chitty, Chitty, Bang, Bang crowd merged into Steampunk or has it been subtext in Western culture since Da Vinci?

I don’t think I’ve ever thought about whether the 1400’s informs anyone about what steampunk is. Though I suppose DaVinci’s being remembered as one of the forefathers of mad invention could actually make him an extremely distant ancestor of the maker ethos.

One of the things that I found so intriguing about steampunk is the great number of avenues people took on their way to discovering it (or in some cases, discovering they already fit well within it).

In the course of interviewing so many people, we found some who really did start out as vintage clothing enthusiasts, and others who were tinkerers in their sheds who, perhaps subconsciously, were channeling the spirit of invention that Da Vinci is frequently associated with.

I think that when steampunk is at its best it combines all of those things together, creating fantastically costumed characters who are also capable of building wondrous objects. And perhaps that is why we were so drawn to groups like Obtainium Works, who are a great example of a group of people who encompass both sides of the coin.

Q: What’s the most odd/wild/unexpected aspect you learned while filming this community?

I met a lot of polyamorous steampunks.  I mean, a lot. VTLady16

 Here’s the brief history of this film from the distributorsVINTAGE TOMORROWS began its festival journey at San Diego ComicCon in 2015, released globally July 19, 2016 on VOD and digital by Samuel Goldwyn Films.  The film is currently available for pre-order on iTunes. According to Peter Goldwyn of Samuel Goldwyn Films: “We live in a world of mass-produced product yet everyone is looking for individuality.  VINTAGE TOMORROWS showcases uniqueness of character and creativity in a fascinating world that brings the past as well as the future together in a refreshing and entertaining format.” Filmmaker Byrd McDonald stated:  “Our documentary VINTAGE TOMORROWS showcases the amazing minds and artistic creations of dozens of individuals in the steampunk community.  We are overjoyed to be partnering with an indie-doc champion like Samuel Goldwyn Films.  Their expertise in distribution will help bring this vital and relevant cultural movement to a global audience.”CoreyRaygun16

Don’t miss a chance to experience steampunk’s close-up via this film. It may draw you in to become part of the movement. Incidentally Byrd said he’d also noted the addition of Digerati to the mix, with Arduino and Raspberry Pi enthusiasts on board. Which means steampunk is set for a 2.0 in its ever-changing shape-shift toward the mainstream. Meanwhile, director Byrd McDonald will be working next on a “feminist interpretation of Chainsaw movies.” Find out more about Byrd from Porter Panther, and see Vintage Tomorrows screening schedule, downloads and more possibilities online here.

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From Punch Cards to Stunt Hacking to Alex Gibney’s ZERO DAYS & Symantec’s Eric Chien on Stuxnet

by Quendrith Johnson, Los Angeles Correspondent

You have to hand it to filmmaker Alex Gibney (GOING CLEAR), he has taken on everything from Eliot Spitzer’s political downfall to the Enron debacle to Lance Armstrong’s doping to soft-money “super-lobbyist” Jack Abramoff to Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson, not to mention Nigerian music legend Fela Kuti. So it comes as no surprise that Gibney goes from wrestling Xenu to rattling the NSA’s cage with ZERO DAYS, his new “thriller” documentary about cyber-warfare phenom Stuxnet. ZeroDaysPoster16Released by Magnolia Pictures, Participant Media and Showtime, ZERO DAYS screens in theaters July 8, also on demand at Amazon Video.  Gibney’s doc defines Stuxnet as “self-replicating computer malware (known as a ‘worm’ for its ability to burrow from computer to computer on its own) that the US and Israel unleashed to destroy a key part of an Iranian nuclear facility, and which ultimately [mutated] and spread beyond its intended target.”

If that’s not enough to get your smartphone wiretapped, who knows what is? And that’s why this doc is really tricky: it names not only names, but Nation States. Plus it lets us know that among the three probable classes of cyber-attack originators, nation-states are the most dangerous. The two other classes being: cyber-criminals, and hacktivists.

But c’mon, for the rest of us workaday non-security-classified folks out there, it is a little difficult to fully grasp the “Olympic Games”-scale virus unleashed on Iran’s nuclear power facility — as detailed in Alex Gibney’s documentary ZERO DAYS via expert interviews — without some backstory on the issues involved. In a moment, Symantec’s brilliant code-cracker Eric Chien who is featured in this film with his boss Liam O’Murchu will chime in, for now let’s rewind the digital clock to analog times for some perspective.

Clear your mind, take a breath, and think about the technology issues from a long angle. Think about the progression from English mechanical engineer Charles Babbage (1791-1871), who with assistance from mathematician Ada Lovelace (1815-1852), came up with the first mechanical engineering computer, the Difference Engine, as a starting point. Mechanical computing (i.e.; tabulating polynomials, i.e. figuring out huge numbers calculations) in the Industrial Age leads to punch cards that control looms in the textile industry. This hold-over method, punch cards, remains in place even up until the 1980’s as analog goes 100-percent digital. A fast-forward timeline means punch-card key machines to vacuum tubes with wires to British polymath Alan Turing (1912-1954), who in the 1940’s added to the war effort by not only “cracking” the German U-Boat message encoder, Engima, but understood and foresaw the possibilities for “large scale digital technology” via the encrypted telephone messages between Churchill and Roosevelt. That said, all the elements are in place to usher in the world of cyber attacks. Consider the sabotage possibilities in the first punch-card driven looms.

If you’re familiar with “spook hardware” such as the Enigma and its US/UK code-breaking counterparts from WWII, ZERO DAYS scope is an easy leap. You just need an update on the acronyms and players we now face in Cyberwar. Cyber attacks, cyber terrorism, and all other penetrations into our enterprise-grade technology require counter measures — only now we’re talking software, or code, and the stakes are world-breaking with the nuclear weapon card in play.

Another helpful insight before seeing ZERO DAYS is the US’s relation to the Shah of Iran. Because before he was deposed, the Shah of Iran received the first piece of their nuclear technology from the US, in support of power generation. The Christian Science Monitor did a round-up once that put dates on the whole mess. “In 1967, under the ‘Atoms for Peace’ program launched by President Eisenhower, the US sold the Shah of Iran’s government a 5-megawatt, light-water type reactor… the foundation of Iran’s nuclear power program.” The Shah reigned from Sept. 16, 1941 until Feb. 11, 1979, when he was toppled by the Iranian Revolution. However questionable the Shah’s regime was, it’s axiomatic that something would go wrong once the largely secular world of his rule fell into theological hands as the 1980’s began.

Next things go from theological to zealot by US estimations, and then there’s Sept. 11, 2001. Allegations are Iran is inching its way toward the “bomb,” because it’s not a huge stretch from power-reactor fuel to weapons-grade material. You can see why the US Government would consider cyberwar in the wake of 911, especially since the hardware and software for their nuclear program comes mostly from the West (read: a way in via upgrades to the tech). Plus, would anyone ever find out? Someone high up likely gambled on the wrong side of “No.” So malware was secretly engineered, somewhere, to attack the centrifuges at Iran’s Natanz facility. Alex Gibney’s take on it is, “I started out making a small film investigating ‘Stuxnet…’ What I discovered was a massive clandestine operation involving the CIA, the NSA, the US Military and Israel’s intelligence agency Mossad to build and launch secret cyber ‘bombs’ that could plunge the world into a devastating series of… attacks on critical infrastructure, shutting down electricity… this science fiction scenario…”

That’s Mr. Going Clear for you, outing the whole gamut of international players from “three-letter agencies” to nation states. Gibney steps into the lion’s den, where most of us would shiver and recite the Cowardly Lion’s “I do believe in spooks, I do believe in spooks” from the Wizard of Oz. But then you talk to someone like Eric Chien, Technical Director of Symantec’s Security Technology and Response division, who was among the first handful to discover and name the Stuxnet virus, and it becomes clear that the message of ZERO DAYS is not rehashing old news about the perils of technology.

Although it is public record that Belorussian engineer Sergey Ulasen was the first responder to report the then-unnamed Stuxnet virus as a BSOD (Blue Screen of Death) reboot over there in the Iranian nuke-related nest of computers; the message of this film is really about the knowledge gap between policy makers and digital purveyors, who, at the speed of technology, will reshape the world for us if we don’t watch out. 2016-06-28 11.17.02In person, Eric Chien is incredibly personable, a youthful exemplar of next-generation digital professionals (read: Not Nerds) in business casual attire with stand-up bangs and a friendly, open demeanor. He twists his wedding ring briefly, the only sign that being nervous is normal under the weight of the controversial topics involved. Then Chien uses his outdoor voice, launches into a patter that suggests he is used to briefing Subcommittees and Fortune 100 clients on the in’s and out’s of tech topics, which he does in real life. “We make Norton Anti-Virus,” he begins, to kind of define Symantec. He also apologizes that colleague Liam O’Murchu couldn’t make it. “He had his hands on it first,” Chien adds, meaning Stuxnet.

“Normally what we do, day-to-day, is we look at the latest (cyber) attacks. About one million a day. A lot of it is handled through automation, which automatically create fixes for them. When we come across some big attacks, we share (with stakeholders)” pieces of the code for others to monitor or give feedback on. “Recently someone tried to transfer $1 BN from the Bank of Bangladesh,” he said. This discovery brought back some similarities to the adrenaline of the Stuxnet discovery. It’s fascinating to watch Eric speak frankly and transparently from the super-secret cyber-crypto world where “pen tests” — penetration tests of security systems — make these reverse-engineers just as tricky as their malware-making counterparts. “You never want to roll out your own crypto,” he corrects. “You really want it to be peer-reviewed.”

Chien will let slip a few telling details that demonstrate how John le Carré his day job is, like “when you have black motorcycles, wearing all black following you, behind you, you start to wonder.” Or, on why Stuxnet wasn’t part of the Snowden leak, he casually mentions, “Edward Snowden didn’t leak this because those files are stored on a different server.” Then, ironically, Chien says he is not under an NDA (non-disclosure agreement), because “we don’t have a two-tiered system. We share this information with our clients… we would never work for hostile nations.”

This charming ambassador of tech will also note that ‘zero-day’ is a term that basically means the virus is discovered at the same time the vulnerability is revealed that makes the exploit even possible. (Think of it as a hole-in-one golf shot, but nobody knew there was a hole there until the ball hit. Now you’ve got two problems.)  “Stuxnet had not one, but four zero-days in it,” Chien emphasizes, “even one zero day is rare, but four?” This is how “we knew nation states must be involved.” But breaking the code, finding out what this virus was supposed to do “was the needle in the haystack. I mean it had a (kill) date in it, but it was not easy to figure out.” Then Symantec’s wizard recites that oft-quoted refrain that while most attacks take his team about “three minutes to crack, this one took three months.”

“Liam (O’Murchu) is the first one who picked it up. I then pulled it as well.” The first approach was “What is this thing? Is it trying to like hold my computer for ransom? Steal some documents?” But the most impactful theory was covert espionage. “As we began to rip (the code) apart, we saw that it was (targeted at) Siemens PLC.” PLC stands for programmable logic controller, which, from Siemens controls functions for a very specific piece of hardware, in this case the rotating nuclear centrifuge at Natanz in Iran. “We ordered the exact same model of PLC. We were expecting something the size of a mini-frigerator. But when the box came, it was the size of a book!”

There’s something admiring in the way Eric Chien describes the puzzle pieces from the dark side that Alex Gibney has detailed in ZERO DAYS. “The code was perfect, there were no errors in it, that’s how we knew it was a nation state,” Chien admits. “The way Alex incorporated the exact pieces of code (from Stuxnet) at exactly the right moment it is being discussed on screen really impressed us.” By “us” Eric Chien means the super smart people working on encryption, the white hats.

When pressed, Chien adds that most technology-related movies and TV projects are “ridiculously inaccurate,” but not ZERO DAYS. Or the USA Network TV show Mr. Robot, which he admits to watching, a huge endorsement.  But if you ask who his favorite hackers are, Chien demurs. “Today it’s just stunt hacking, I don’t find that interesting. Doing something just so you can show you can do it. Like hacking a PLC to show you can do it.” Then he pauses, “you know Captain Crunch? I liked him.” Captain Crunch (a/k/a John Draper) was Steve Jobs‘ favorite hacker, the guy ‘who stole from Ma Bell’ back in the old days of blueboxing by “whistling” analog tunes into a phone receiver to fool the network into thinking it was a digital tone to allow free long distance. Then if you ask: ‘Do you think smart people will take over the world, since there is such a knowledge gap with policy makers?’ Symantec’s distinguished engineer will smile, and come back with “the world is not a meritocracy,” as if the concept of brains over brawn has been debunked throughout history.

In one parting quote, Chien remarks “there’s something to be said for obsolescence. Because when Russia tried to shut down (the grid) in the Ukraine, their technology was so old, they could actually go to each site and crank it back on by hand.” That’s not in ZERO DAYS, but Nitro Zeus is. So now you’re armed with enough information on the backstory to grasp the enormity of ZERO DAYS. A must-watch, Gibney’s newest premiered at the Berlin Film Festival and opens July 8. To find out more, visit the official site here for screen times and venues.

 

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Alex Gibney Has ZERO DAYS, a Stuxnet Doc, on Deck for July 8

SCREENMANCER CYBER/FILM ALERT: Here’s what we know so far — Magnolia Pictures, Participant Media and Showtime will release ZERO DAYS in Theaters, on Demand, on Amazon Video, and on iTunes July 8, 2016. ZERO DAYS is directed by Alex Gibney, the fanatically precise director who helmed STEVE JOBS: MAN IN THE MACHINE and won an Academy Award for 2008’s TAXI TO THE DARK SIDE.

Here’s a Screenmancer First Look

Directed and Written by Alex Gibney

Starring: Colonel Gary D. Brown, Eric Chien, Richard A. Clarke, General Michael Hayden, Olli Heinonen, Chris Inglis, Vitaly Kamluk, Eugene Kaspersky

Official description below…

Alex Gibney’s ZERO DAYS is a documentary thriller about the world of cyberwar. For the first time, the film tells the complete story of Stuxnet, a piece of self-replicating computer malware (known as a “worm” for its ability to burrow from computer to computer on its own) that the U.S. and Israel unleashed to destroy a key part of an Iranian nuclear facility, and which ultimately spread beyond its intended target. ZERO DAYS is the most comprehensive accounting to date of how a clandestine mission hatched by two allies with clashing agendas opened forever the Pandora’s Box of cyberwarfare. Beyond the technical aspects of the story, ZERO DAYS reveals a web of intrigue involving the CIA, the US Military’s new cyber command, Israel’s Mossad and Operations that include both espionage and covert assassinations but also a new generation of cyberweapons whose destructive power is matched only by Nuclear War.

For more info: click here.

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Kate Beckinsale Is For Fangirls Too In “Love & Friendship,” Whit Stillman’s A+ Austen Romp

[From Filmfestivals.com, by Quendrith Johnson, Los Angeles Correspondent, Opens May 13.]

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“It is a truth universally acknowledged” that Jane Austen (1775-1817) will be source material in the foreseeable forever, but it is actually surprising that director Whit Stillman (Last Days of Disco, Metropolitan) has so nailed her work in his new film Love & Friendship, that lead Kate Beckinsale should be Oscar-worthy for 2016.

And while giddy Fanboys still own Beckinsale for her sleek, sexy turn in the “Underworld” franchise, she is now property of Fangirls too. With her head-spinning role as Lady Susan Vernon, she creates a designing widow built on stellar speeches.

Based on Austen’s lesser known novella “Lady Susan,” basically a collection of letters outlining a virago and manor marriage-wrecker, Stillman has culled a character for Beckinsale that is not only a must-see but a must-see-again. (He also wrote a companion book “Love & Friendship, In Which Lady Susan Vernon Is Entirely Vindicated,” just to drive the point home for readers.) This is a tale spun from whip-smart mannered language and overlapping laugh-lines.

Chloe Sevigny (Mrs. Alicia Johnson) is also fantastic as the American ex-pat “exile” and coconspirator in manipulating the hapless gentleman in this romp. Tom Bennett is a scene stealer too, as Sir James Martin, an affable oaf with a substantial income to be “divided” wisely by the seemingly powerless women of this period who turn out to be power-brokers. A shotgun marriage of Amazon Studios and Roadside Attractions, this film is set for a May 13 release, and Stillman literally raised completion funding himself with some of the same investors from his Academy-Award nominated cult hit Metropolitan. For now, here’s Kate Beckinsale and Whit Stillman on which roles Kate loves most, shooting in 27 days, how real-life over-the-top women are just over-the-top. Plus a bonus item: why Whit Stillman hates Stanley Kubrick.

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KATE BECKINSALE: Before we started shooting, I kept harassing Whit for a locked in shooting draft. Because I had that notion of, you know, when you rehearse a play, quite often like Shakespeare, you tend knowing the lines. He was very coy about that. Then I realized he likes to change it up on the day. So that can be quite challenging on this than it can be on some.  It’s a great, big speech, that gets moved around, it’s like a mental agility test. By the end I was pretty sure I didn’t have Alzheimer’s.

I really am attracted to characters that people don’t write that often, which are women who are — not necessarily someone you’d want to go on holiday with for two weeks — but that you are fascinated watching because they are difficult and tricky to watch. Lady Susan is just ruthless. They need someone to cheer them up. Whit is very good at writing this. He’s very allergic to Acting with a capital “A.” So he picked actors that are nuanced. Even the broader parts of the movie, Tom Bennett. He arrived with a complete character. Whit is very dignified and rather diffident and acutely aware of nuance and stuff like that. He can be quite brutal in his direction sometimes. He’s not shy of saying ‘I really don’t like that.’ But he says it so eloquently, and he’s usually right, so… we were pretty much on the same page.

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We were shooting in Dublin, February and March. Make-up was about 30 seconds, and hair was a bit longer. It was actually getting dressed that took the longest. Underneath, it was really cold, we all had thermal underwear, long leggings, so you really were like this stiff snowman baby kind of wheeled out of your trailer like Hannibal Lecter on that thing (a stretcher).

When I was sent the script, I remembered when I had done Emma, there was a fashion at that time of people writing in the style of Jane Austen, and I thought that’s what Whit had done. But it seemed atypical of a romantic literature heroine. I kept thinking ‘when is she going to get punished, when is she going to die?’ But in fact, she sort of gets every single thing she wants. I was sort of thrilled by that. Then reading the novella afterward, (Lady Susan) was even more extreme with her daughter, and we had to tone it down a little bit.

It’s my absolutely favorite thing (sharp comedic roles), then the thing I was doing as an experiment (“Underworld”) took off. I think people are used to seeing me with a machine gun. So it’s been an interesting journey, like a little bird in a birdbath, back to normal.

I’m definitely not like Lady Susan, she’s not interested in being a parent. Not a natural mother. Her daughter, if anything, is more of an inconvenience. I think if Lady Susan were transplanted to now, she would not be rushing to have a child. She’s got a fairly strong narcissistic streak which makes her entertaining, but not an ideal parent. I think, in terms of not judging her, as a woman it was a very constraining period of time especially if you’re an intelligent woman. You’re not expected to get a deep education, nor a fulfilling career, and your whole livelihood depends on marrying a man who has money, so that’s a very different situation. So, it seems to me, Jane Austen must have expressed some of her frustration through writing this kind of larger than life character. Which makes it seem very progressive now, but it speaks a bit to what she was facing.

(Drops her phone) I have two phones, like a drug dealer. One’s for England, one’s for here.

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I was always worried about the other people in the scenes, especially in the interior scenes. There were quite a few days, it was actually me banging on for 30 minutes, then the other person would have one line. And then I’d go off again. I thought ‘one of these actors is going to fall asleep,’ I’d be embarrassed, but they weren’t. It was lovely to have a chance to have a relationship with Chloe that wasn’t me bullying her and being mean, like we were in Last Days of Disco (also directed by Stillman). I love to see female relationships I like that, it’s not that common, but they just completely approve of each other. They approve of each other; they’re not in competition. The real love story is us, our friendship. There’s a complete lack of judgement and acceptance. Chloe’s character says so many times ‘well, nobody deserves you,’ as if it’s a fact. There’s something nice about seeing that female friendship, although they’re plotting terrible things and not being very nice. I love seeing that.

Whit Stillman, Being Himself & The Film’s Director-Auteur-Novelist

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WHIT STILLMAN: [He begins our interview with a this curveball…] You look like my sister. Hello, sister, hello Linda. [The redirect question was “how did you handle so much dialogue?”]

Well there’s was a lot more dialogue, before. This is a very relaxed adaptation. It was very relaxed, but a very long process. Like taking everything from (Jane Austen’s) letters, like a deck of cards. I did a very long version, and trying not to go back to the novella, just working from the script. Before it was close to being a film script, it was a reading experience. In the adaptations a lot of the comedy tends to get lost or left, but I think there must be some kind of deep character story in Austen that must be good to adapt (to any time period). Because when I read the novella, I thought it was really funny, like an Oscar Wilde play, but I wasn’t sure there was a good story. But I think that if people keep bringing it forward, changing the time period into a Clueless or a Bridget Jones Diary, there must be a deep story dynamic.

Kate can do this funny, egoistical over-the-top character. The first thing I saw her in was Cold Comfort Farm (adapted from the book) by Stella Gibbons. Kate was great in the movie. It’s sort of based on the novel “Emma.” Lady Susan is sort of malicious Emma.

I find dominant women characters over-the-top really funny. I mean I know some women like that. Then I realize they are just over-the-top. Lady Susan is so manipulating and self-confident and funny. You sort of like her more than the Emma character.

Kate and Chloe come at (acting) from very different directions. So they approach it really differently, but they end up coming together. I think people underestimate Chloe, because to listen and react to funny lines and not make it oppressive is very accomplished. Chloe has that ability to exist in space with her lovely eyes and her lovely expressions, it’s very relaxing. They are really, really disciplined. One reason we finished a day early, 26 days, is because Kate would just do her lines, no problem at all.

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[Bonus: Stillman talks about the music, soundtrack for “Love & Friendship.” The temp track first put in was a classical track with echoes from Stanley Kubrick’s “2001.”]

I have a strange relationship with Stanley Kubrick, because for a while he was the filmmaker I most hated. I remember my best friend and I going to see 2001, ‘a space odyssey,’ isn’t it? And we hated it. That was the first time I saw a director’s name in the credits. My friend said ‘Stanley Kubrick, you’re a marked man.’ Our Sound Editor had first put in Sarabande from Kubrick. One of the challenges we had was to get the music of Barry Lyndon (1975) out of our film. That first big scene, leaving Langford, the editor first put in (George Frideric) Handel’s Sarabande from Kubrick. Finally I found (Henry) Purcell’s Funeral March of Queen Mary; it worked really well, the drums. Then people say ‘oh Kubrick used that in Clockwork Orange.’ We couldn’t escape Kubrick.

Love & Friendship from Amazon Studios and Roadside Attractions open May 13, and watch for it to be nominated for Best Actress, Screenplay, and Film for Award Season 2016. The website is here for full cast and screening locations.

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Why SPOTLIGHT Is Front Runner, #OscarsSoWhite, The Big Five & A Contentious Award Season

by Quendrith Johnson, Awards Intelligencer, 1/19/2016 (pick-up)

If Oscar-winner Sean Penn can go interview El Chapo, then the state of journalism really is in trouble — oh, never mind, this is just indicative of how movie people perceive and interpret the craft of journalistic writing and reporting. A cocky Penn goes on Charlie Rose to call out those who ‘don’t think I’m a real journalist,’ while having committed a de facto ethical violation of the profession by grandstanding for Rolling Stone with a fugitive, mass-murdering, drug Lord.
SpotlightBut, if turnabout is fair play, most journalists would happily take a shot at starring in his next straight-to-video motion picture. But what are we really discussing here, writing, reporting, The Death of The Media, The Rise of The Internet? Nope. This inelegant segue leads directly to our Oscar front runner for Best Picture, SPOTLIGHT. This movie is about a crack team of Boston Globe reporters who, in 2001, finally broke the priest sex-scandal story that dethroned Cardinal Law. And it will be winning a lot of awards this season. But, Dear Reader, please be advised it has very little to do with journalism. It has to do with Hollywood’s payback for all those religious types pointing a moralizing finger at the movie business for decades, when behind closed doors these same ultra-pious folks were involved in covering up a scandal of worldwide proportions that has damaged the lives of countless families and their small children via sex abuse by the clergy, resulting in about a billion dollars in payout settlements.

SPOTLIGHT LACKS RUFFALO’S “POLAR BEAR”

And, the movie is deserving, although Mark Ruffalo’s brooding thumbs-in-the-belt-loops portrayal of hunching amped journalist Michael Rezendes is not his finest work. (See: Infinitely Polar Bear for what should have been his nominated actor turn.) In SPOTLIGHT, Michael Keaton does a low-key (Oscar-spurned from last year) version of Michael Keaton as team editor Walter “Robby” Robinson of an investigative team that includes a fantastic Rachel McAdams’ performance as real-life reporter Sacha Pfeiffer. Liev Schreiber plays the incoming managing editor Marty Baron who kicks over this hornet’s nest. Baron assigns the story to Spotlight for investigation, and delivers one of the X-Men alum’s best career performances as an understated powerhouse. Schreiber and staff answer to another amped hyper-real impression of a journalist, that of Ben Bradlee Jr. (John Slattery). Wardrobe is a big winner here as the khaki’s and blue oxford shirts are true to the breed of these New England journalists, played spot on by Brian d’Arcy James as reporter Matty Carroll. And for full disclosure, having written for The Boston Globe in 2001 myself, let me state for the record this is a winning portrayal of their newsroom, accurate down to the cubicle configuration at the time.

AND NOW A MOMENT FOR SPIKE LEE & AMPAS

In the final analysis, perhaps the real winners for SPOTLIGHT this season will be the real-life survivors, who are vindicated as adults with regard to what happened to them as children. But this movie is headed into a very contentious award season.CherylSpikeOscarYesterday Spike Lee issued an Open Letter to AMPAS President Cheryl Boone Issacs, via the media, that pretty much said (in his initial caps here): “How Is It Possible For The 2nd Consecutive Year All 20 Contenders Under The Actor Categories Are White?” Spike Lee ranted after he thanked The Academy for his Honorary Oscar from May of 2015, of course. The email from his camp hit inboxes early in the morning, and when you saw the Subject Line, as a journalist, you instantly realized the biggest impact this would have would be in quite possibly forcing Chris Rock (who’d already called the Oscars “the white BET” awards) to quit his contract as Show Host for The Academy. (Imagine the hashtag BlackJobsMatter… sigh.)

For Chris Rock, a poignant stand-up comedian, there can be nothing worse than hosting hypocrisy on the scale of 1 Billion-plus viewers. Adding to his discomfort, Jada Pinkett Smith, also a seat filler no-show with Spike Lee, called for an Oscars Boycott. While David Oyelowo, and many others have cited the lack of diversity, next thing you know, AMPAS leader Cheryl Boone Isaacs was pressured into releasing a statement in response to Spike Lee’s letter. Isaacs basically puts a lot of rhetoric around the stark fact that most of the nominees are white males this year. The Best Director nominees are all white men, for example. There’s a very cringe-worthy aspect to AMPAS jumping into the fray in a tit-for-tat Open Letter war, when the facts speak for themselves in terms of the demographics of nominees — and you don’t have to be a journalist to do the math on the multi-cultural or gender percentages. Here’s just a cringe-inducing excerpt: “I am both heartbroken and frustrated about the lack of inclusion. This is a difficult but important conversation, and it’s tie for big changes.” Which haven’t happened yet, apparently, but “The Academy is taking dramatic steps…” (read: “fart in a stiff wind” as the Coen Bros would say.) to add insult to injury, The Academy posted this to Twitter, which just looks bad, because Spike Lee is right, 20 categories, all white (mostly male).

Speaking of women, minorities and diversity, Suffragette (women’s rights), Grandma (about abortion), Chi-raq (anti-gun violence), Straight Outta Compton (anti-thug life), and other important “message” pictures besides SPOTLIGHT got side-lined this year. Lily Tomlin starring in Grandma and Jane Fonda starring in Youth were two American grand dames with pictures for consideration, but mighty Charlotte Rampling with her quiet and elegant performance in 45 Years trampled both of them for an elder-nod nomination. In case you’ve forgotten what a very fine actress Rampling is, her filmography beckons. Meanwhile, another quiet performance in this contentious year made it forward: Saoirse Ronan in Brooklyn is a remarkable coming of age portrait that (don’t place any bets, please) will likely win Best Actress over Brie Larson in Room and the Great Cate Blanchett in Carol. Brooklyn is one of those solidly made features that The Academy loves because it portrays a real role model of emotional maturity in its subject (read; in contrast to our grasping consumerist American vanity-chasing youth culture).

LEO, YOUR OSCAR MIGHT GO TO FASSBENDER? NEVERMIND!

And what about Leonardo Di Caprio in his 12-times nominated The Revenant, the alleged front-runner? In keeping with our journalist theme, Dear Reader, the front-loading of nominations is one of the oldest Award Show tricks in the book. In most cases, the ruse works because it is an implied winner — yet the most nominated is very rarely (check the stats) the most winning, unless it is a sweep like Silence of the Lambs (1991). LeoAcademyMemeThe insider term is The Big Five. In a sweep, the awards are 1) Best Picture; 2); Best Director; 3) Best Actor; 4) Best Actress; 5) Best Screenplay. Only two other films besides Silence of the Lambs have made it, 1934’s It Happened One Night, and 1975’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. So, while everyone is buzzing about The Revenant and Will Leo Finally Get an Oscar, the diversion works to have SPOTLIGHT comes from shadows as Best Picture. (Don’t place any bets, just keep it in mind.) Note that The Revenant can’t sweep because it has so few women in it, that Best Actress is off the table from the get-go. That’s all for now on Oscars 2016, but stay tuned for more coverage here at Awards Intelligencer (www.awfj.org) as this controversial year continues…

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