REVIEW: The Losers (Sylvain White, 2010)

My direct approach to this DC Comic-based actioner was a bit different than I've taken to any film before. Initially I had next to zero interest, but I read Peter Berg and James Vanderbilt's script in the interest of learning more about various screenwriting styles and became eager to see how the resulting film measured up.

The script makes for an exciting, even riveting read - it's high action for action's sake, led by a dynamic collection of witty characters. It's not unlike The A-Team, but never loses a tongue-in-cheek nature regarding its intended "B" caliber. Frankly, it's impressive just how zippy the script is, as if twice as much was originally written then stripped down to bare essentials. Much would-be exposition is taken as read. Our heroes' origins and villains' motivations, while not entirely breaching fill-in-the-blanks territory, rely on previous knowledge of how these aspects typically develop in similar films. The mentality is clear - all that secondary storytelling just gets in the way of the "boom-boom ka-pow". On the page, the mentality works perfectly.

The final project is stripped further, however, and plowed through at such breakneck speeds the characters are frequently talking over one another, spoiling comedic moments and making an already-simplified plot difficult to interpret. It's a good thing I did read the script, as otherwise I doubt I'd have had any idea what was going on or have cared on some minute level about the protagonists, let alone been able to tell them apart.

Understandable and fitting tweaks were made to suit the production, like a greyhound racing track changing to a cock-fighting ring, but as a trade off certain signature moments ("You know there's a website where you can download MP3s of a donkey farting? How cool is that?" - actually a fair bit of character development in that line, believe it or not) have been traded in for generic ones (basically a bunch of "yo mama" jokes along with "Cats can make over one thousand sounds where a dog can only make ten" in place of our donkey fart).

As for a component not immediately related to script, the cinematography is capable enough. It's of the now-trendy shake-cam variety, but the style is actually warranted while managing to capture the action-oriented end of the scope well enough. Comedic moments are more or less left in the dust. The colors are super-saturated, which winds up hit-or-miss depending on the scene in question.

On-screen talent-wise, Chris Evans is really the sole notable, turning his jaunty character into the only worth remembering. The few times he is focused on, the film is at its best. Otherwise, the cast is stilted, as if they weren't given ample time to read into their roles. The villainous Jason Patric comes off on par with your average student film's lead talent, squandering a potentially hilarious turn.

With my read-first, watch-second order of business for The Losers, the experience was an interesting one, but one of unfortunately unseized potential. A relatively touching epilogue proved I hadn't been completely gypped - something was working on some level - but where this could have (and clearly wanted to) be a franchise, it hardly warrants its feature-length treatment.


HORRORTHON '10: Halloween 2: Director's Cut (Rob Zombie, 2009)

No matter its maturity or lack thereof, sometimes an extreme outburst of emotion is affecting simply for its extremity. For example, in Oliver Stone's Alexander, Olympias' (Angelina Jolie) pained exclamation from her hands and knees following sexual assault from Philip II (Val Kilmer), "In my womb I carried my avenger!" - it penetrates my core every time. Rob Zombie's follow-up to his re-imagining of John Carpenter's Halloween is such an outburst, personified in Scout Taylor-Compton's visceral performance. It is two hours of calculated rage, helpless sorrow and twisted love via celluloid, complete with Zombie's knack for composition and beautifully disturbing parallels.

I didn't care for this one at first, my theatrical viewing having seen few ups and many downs through murky visuals and scattered themes. In general, giving Halloween 2 a second shot proved beneficial in that certain trials faced by protagonist Laurie (Scout Taylor-Compton) are better digested alongside foreknowledge of plot. Now, rewatches can be different, yes, but not better by definition. If following a proper viewing a film necessitates another run as part of its full scope, it's not doing its job to its best, says I. The difference here is what makes the material I revisited a "director's cut". Zombie's post-theatrical, more focused re-tooling helps the proceedings immensely, going beyond simple benefits of remembering what's coming next.

Michael himself is practiced and pitiless from two years of roughing it like a mountain man after Zombie's first outing with the killer. His mere presence, often in a tight, inescapable space, is a virtual guarantee of sudden and brutal death. All the while a theme introduced briefly in the first film carries on - of peace and merriment elsewhere in spite of isolated horror immediately threatening us. We are reminded that Michael is a man as opposed to an enigma.

Defying slasher trends, Halloween 2 also provides its cast, peppered with "that guys", with adequate fleshing out before tearing that flesh from its bones. This is not a movie to be watched with a sick grin, as here we empathize with our victims and their acquaintances. Zombie has always shown a mind for unschmaltzy sentimentality in the face of vicious evil, going back to House of 1,000 Corpses' father character, Don Willis (Harrison Young). That mind may well be at its least forgiving and most successful here. Zombie continues to honor his predecessors, though, through such nods as the repeated smashing of a stripper into a somewhat symbolic mirror, just as a nurse was repeatedly splashed into boiling water in the original Halloween sequel. Furthermore, Zombie exemplifies his love of German Expressionism through several bold dream sequences.

I'm glad to have returned to Halloween 2 and found a piece I admire in spite of prior disappointment. This film carries more depth and and points of interest than a great number of its contemporaries, and may well be the most ambitious slasher of its decade. For being dominated by darkness, it features an occasionally pleasing use of reds and blues. Its key performances are great, including those of the warm and concerned Brad Dourif and Malcolm McDowell as a loose-cannon Loomis. Overall, the experience feels more like a visual version of Rob Zombie's music than anything else the auteur has done (apart from a handful of his music videos, of course).

Extra Factoid: The band featured in the film takes its name, Captain Clegg & the Night Creatures, from Hammer's title switcheroo on their adaptation of "The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh", which I detailed earlier in the Horrorthon.


COMBO-REVIEW: Iron Man/Iron Man 2 (Jon Favreau, 2008/2010)

Who said there's anything wrong with a little escapism? In the early-to-mid-20th century, alongside cartoons and newsreels, brief vacations from reality ran prior to feature presentations: film serials. Many of these were based upon comic strip characters like Flash Gordon (popularized in celluloid by Universal's 1936 serial) and comic book characters, such as Fawcett's Captain Marvel and Marvel's Captain America (adapted by Republic Pictures in 1941 and 1944, respectively). Later in the century, the comic names would warrant feature presentation and now, in the new millennium, those features are bigger than ever. Superman, Spider-Man, the X-Men... love 'em or hate 'em, they're the kings of summer, and right now the shiniest crown (appropriately) belongs to Iron Man.

Heroes of this breed are often pitted against national enemies as a quick route to audience sympathy and subsequent escape-easing. Superman and Flash Gordon have notoriously battled communism as represented in Russian and Chinese villains. In 1963's "Tales of Suspense #39", Stan Lee introduced our man in the iron mask, Tony Stark, as a prisoner of pre-war Vietnamese terrorists. In holding, Stark constructs a suit of body armor, which he uses to conquer his communist captors. A weapons manufacturer and dealer, he fits the political propaganda platform better than any number of contemporaries as he not only directly addresses the issues, he provides a modicum of balance to what is typically handled in biased fashion.

For Jon Favreau's 2008 film with fast-talking, nonchalant Robert Downey Jr. in the title role, Stark's jungle jail is updated to a cave in war-torn Afghanistan - a contemporary symbol the majority of us will instantly recognize as the embodiment of scum and villainy. In this way, over two years on from its release, Iron Man already feels dated - a relic of wartime under George W. Bush.

Seeing a relative few action sequences, the character-driven Iron Man is focused on developing an accessible and relatable man as opposed to a superhero, but that man's adversaries are not awarded similar care. The true baddie is only revealed in act three, making up for lost time by spouting rigid, expository one-liners in the midst of a computer-generation-heavy freeway brawl. This is not dissimilar to the same year's Incredible Hulk, which abdicates its abominable antagonist's more compelling characteristics in favor of CGI things clobbering one other. The twist is blatantly foreshadowed and, following rumination, even seems fitting when Stark's naïveté is considered, but it lacks intrigue and leaves us on a lackluster note.

2010's sequel is more loyal to Stark's premiere adventures in "Tales of Suspense", our villain throughout being the Russian Ivan Vanko as portrayed through the menacing presence of Mickey Rourke. Anti-"Ruskie" sentiment an obscured memory or, more likely for Marvel's target audience (myself included), a nonexistent one, Vanko's key purpose is as Stark's foil. He is introduced to us not a prisoner, but still a wronged man in relatively similar conditions to those of Stark's oppressive cave of heroic origin. Favreau depicts Vanko's suit construction as a mirror, even replicating certain memorable shots from Stark's initially crude process. In many ways it's easy to see where Stark could have followed Vanko's same life path were he raised differently.

For the most part, Iron Man 2's action is impressively choreographed and executed before aesthetically pleasing backdrops. Tangentially, as much as I love Don Cheadle it is unfortunate to see him assume supporting character Col. Rhodes' duties in the talented Terence Howard's stead due to salary complications. Howard's line, "Next time, baby" from part one has become a sadly unfulfilled prophecy. Sadder is the further devolution of Scarlett Johansson from the early decade's blossoming actress to today's walking pair of T&A, but I digress.

So how come our knight in hi-tech red and gold armor doesn't quite breach qualities beyond "satisfactory entertainment"? In Iron Man, Favreau is more interested in subject matter as opposed to capturing that matter in interesting ways. A shot of an Audi R8 is cool because the car is cool - not because of how the cinematography compliments it. Slap on some AC/DC and we're done here. With Iron Man 2, the Favs seems to have humbly assessed where his first effort could have improved and amplified his game, but he is given precious little to work with. This sequel is surprisingly well-woven in spite of a sagging midsection, but instead of a free-standing blockbuster it ultimately comes off like a segmented story arc in a line of comics - a mere building block in the stairway to something bigger and more profitable (in this case, The Avengers). Where Favreau is bulking up, the material he's presenting is on a diet.

Now, I'll openly confess that in this case I, myself, could be an answer to my opening query. Initially I didn't fairly consider Iron Man's escapist quality. Where typically I appreciate farcically exuberant excursions from reality (as recently evidenced by a positive reaction to G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra), in 2008 I was still bitter from Sam Raimi's drastic changes to my beloved childhood hero, Spider-Man, and in 2010 I was gravely discouraged by reports Marvel was depriving Favreau the time he needed to fulfill his sequel's aspirations. Fact is, though, the movies may not be technical or artistic achievements but they are culturally relevant icons that whisk us away to colorful abandon. Sometimes, particularly when deep investments aren't demanded of us, that's enough to be passable.

In the comics-as-movies department, Marvel is mounting an epic feat. As their heroes have become marquee fare, though, they could stand to graduate from their serial roots and provide extra care to each project as an individual entity. Here's hoping Favreau keeps his eye on the ball and Iron Man 3 is allowed to breathe.


HORRORTHON '10: Captain Clegg (Peter Graham Scott, 1962)

Adapted from Russell Thorndike's literary series about a town that thrives on bootlegging, Hammer Studios' Captain Clegg was originally to be titled "Doctor Syn". The name was changed so not to conflict with Disney's own impending adaptation (a three-part miniseries ultimately titled The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh). Hammer had also planned an adaptation of Richard Matheson's "I Am Legend" named "Night Creatures", but canned the idea upon warnings it would likely be banned in England, leaving an unfulfilled promise to the United States for a "Night Creatures" film. For a quick solution, they re-branded Clegg yet again for Stateside release.

Hammer often has an interesting way of handling their protagonist/antagonist angles. More often than not we are in the realm of the antihero. While the characterization creates seemingly clear lines between who we are intended to side with and who we are intended to scorn (no matter how righteous they may actually be from an objective stance), the favored side rarely wins out. Is this a lesson? Is it cruelty? Whatever the case, Clegg's handling here is a bit more careful, as where it does play with the line in spite of an otherwise clear good/bad division, it comes off overall as a moral fable. The story, though loaded with captivating but ultimately extraneous subplots, could easily be boiled down and told in the style of Aesop.

Clegg is a thoroughly entertaining and seamlessly woven tale rife with distinct and colorful characters. On a list of favorite non-franchise Hammer, I'd place it close to the top, just shy of The Hound of the Baskervilles (which features the best Cushing performance I've seen thus far) but still munching The Devil Rides Out's dust. It also holds the honor of being only the second Hammer to actually frighten me a bit, as I found its "marsh phantoms" to be quite creepily well-accomplished (the first to frighten was the aforementioned Devil Rides Out, which features a truly marrow-freezing depiction of Satan). With much of the focus on story progression and suggestion, there aren't too many punches to throw, but the ones we do encounter certainly aren't pulled.


HORRORTHON '10: Halloween 2 (Rick Rosenthal, 1981)

Typically, slashers for me are pure fun. They're classified as "horror", but, at least where I'm concerned, that's just a broad umbrella the nearly fool-proof slasher formula falls under. Let's talk characters. Jason's a badass to be sure, far and away my favorite of his sort, but scary he is not, even prior to his antihero turn. Freddy was silly before he made the much-complained-about jokester transition and his ever-mutating mythos is too confusing to make me cower. Leatherface, Harry Warden... disturbed and brutal, but I ain't quivering. That's where Michael Myers stands apart.

Michael is more "real" than any aforementioned slasher brute. He's practically your next-door neighbor. In spite of having three Michael movies I've yet to see, I can confidently say the character's most defining moment comes in the climax of the 1979 original. His mask is briefly removed and we glimpse not a grizzled, deformed, burned or decaying ghoul, but an average-looking twenty-one-year-old who even seems a bit startled, himself. Through this and his expert lurking, he is the only movie killer of his breed to instill fright in my bones.

Halloween is without question a (perhaps the) quintessential slasher. The only aspect that doesn't gel with me is the motivation. Michael, who at the age of six murdered his sister, escapes a mental facility to massacre babysitters... simply because he's pure evil and that's it. So with prior knowledge that survivor-girl Laurie Strode would be revealed in this second outing as Michael's sister, though aware of originating director John Carpenter's adamant disapproval of the studio-demanded development, I was excited to see the "this time, it's personal" terror lay siege and bring Laurie's quaint world crumbling even further to the ground.

Director Rick Rosenthal (who would later bust a rhyme with 2002's Halloween Resurrection), working from a Carpenter script that picks up immediately where its predecessor left us, smoothly maintains a familiar Halloween mood. The fear is perpetual, the scares organic. Rosenthal's blocking and almost constant camera movement indeed build to jolting release, but the flow is carefully resigned enough to be immersive without tugging up our obstructive horror firewalls. Subjectively, there's all the more reason to be scared this time, as well, because Michael has gone full-on sadistic. At least four victims meet their ends through perversely creative methods that pry our jaws wide open.

The film is not without lowlights, however, and as contrary to Carpenter's negative sentiments regarding familial developments as I thought I'd be, the first major issue comes straight from that Michael/Laurie sibling revelation. I may not have entirely bought Michael as "pure evil and that's it", but considering how the deepening of his overall motivation is handled, I've gotta side with Carpenter - he would have been better off staying simple. Thing is, the twist is an afterthought. It's lobbed in almost as a non-sequitur. Never once does it even impact the events. it's just... kinda there.

And how's this for some blasphemy: I prefer Malcolm McDowell's re-imagining of Dr. Loomis to Donald Pleasence's showing here. Pleasence seems to simply go through the motions. I don't mean McDowell's version of the character had more going on due to Rob Zombie's mostly respectable (and, in the case of that sibling deal, superior) expansions to Haddonfield's horrorverse, which he surely did, just that that more recent performance had more behind each line than Pleasence's had here.

Where I can't call Halloween 2 perfect, I won't hesitate to label it a fantastic example of the American slasher. It may falter with a misfired twist, a lack of enthusiasm from Pleasance and a smattering of sloppily executed plot points, but overall it meets and exceeds every mark that should be expected of it. It's a dream-like, giallo-esque and worthy follow-up to its prior. Perhaps most importantly though, it's scary as hell.


FILM: The Making of American Spirit (2007)

My father, Tom Stoup Sr., worked at the Hyde School's Bath and Woodstock campuses for many years and found their patriotic performing arts shows so memorable he wanted to bring the idea into the new millennium as the new headmaster of CDS' upper school. Toward the end of the 2006/2007 school year I was commissioned to film two days of rehearsals for the Carrollwood Day School's ambitious production of "American Spirit".

As with Prep Ball later that year, I used the relatively bulky Sony DV bestowed upon me by cousin Doug Stoup of IceAxe Expeditions. Being the sole individual behind the piece with only a brief amount of allotted time, I really had to devise my camerawork to be both creative and comprehensive. I'm not sure I ultimately succeeded, and some shots are quite shaky, but if I missed something it was gone for good - no mulligans - so overall I am extremely pleased with how it all turned out.

More than anything, this film is for the people it is about - the students and teachers involved in bringing "American Spirit" to the stage. In that regard it was extremely successful, as returning to the school to showcase the finished product brought laughter, tears and awe, defining the experience for the participants. It's a pity I never got my hands on footage from the actual production to work in somewhere, because admittedly the enthusiasm on display here is low. The students pulled together before the big day, though, and the resulting show was truly one for the CDS history books.

Most additional landscape and nature footage was filmed during my time in Yellowstone National Park in 2006, with one shot coming from a post-Yellowstone road trip to Astoria, Oregon. Originally I was kicking around the idea of an angsty, pseudo-existential docu-drama about my amazing year out West, but with that pipe dream punctured, this repurposing works swell.


HORRORTHON '10: Frankenstein (J. Searle Dawley, 1910)

Edison Studios, named as such only for being owned by The Edison Company (Thomas himself allegedly had nothing to do with it), created the first cinematic version of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus in 1910. The film, shot in three days in the Bronx, opens with a statement declaring itself a "liberal adaptation", and that it most certainly is. While traces remain of Shelley's utterly fascinating tragedy about an obsessive and romantic doctor's experimental exploits, Edison's Frankenstein seems on its own agenda. This take vaguely establishes a metaphysical connection between its title character and his monstrous creation, suggesting that without the doctor's mental capacities for evil, the experiment's result might have been an ideal person the likes of which humankind had never seen (so, basically, Tom Cruise). In this regard the film is decent in and of itself, but the drastic changes and simplification of certain complexities to simple "evil" prevent me from respecting it as an adaptation (even a liberal one) of one of my most beloved novels.

1910 is, of course, before D.W. Griffith began making feature-length material that would introduce the world to new narrative ideas and, naturally, Edison's Frankenstein reflects as much. The vast majority of scenes are accomplished through singular wide masters with title cards before each to explain impending events.  The one stand-out is the creation scene, which cuts between the doctor's point of view (pictured above) and a wide of his laboratory. The creation effect itself - the growing of flesh on a progressively mobile skeleton - is terrifyingly well-accomplished.

For decades following the studio's dissolve in 1918, Edison's Frankenstein was actually considered lost. It only resurfaced publicly in the late '70s when collector Alois F. Dettlaff, who had purchased a dilapidated copy from his mother-in-law in the early '50s, realized its rarity and ordered a 35mm preservation copy. Only on March 18th of this year was the film (now public domain, as are all films created prior to 1922) once again made available to the masses. Its deterioration is obvious as the entire piece is clouded with dirt and overexposure, but nary a frame is indeterminable.

So, in short, Edison's Frankenstein is an interesting short film in its own right with a smattering of memorable moments, but as an adaptation of Mary Shelley's literary masterwork it is an oversimplified insult. I imagine some simplification was the result of how concerned financial backers reportedly were about their audience's physical or mental tolerance for certain subject matters at the time, but altering Victor Frankenstein into empathetic evil that shares a vital bond with his creation's mentality? That's a skull-scratcher.


FILM: Anything for Mom (2004)

At some point over my beginning months at Full Sail in 2004, I joined Ouellette brothers J.P. and Beau's 48-Hour Film Festival team. For insurance that entries were indeed constructed within the allotted forty-eight hours, genres and props were assigned to each team. We received "buddy comedy" and a cheap, floral lawn ornament.

Zipping from apartment to apartment, we developed our idea, gathered props, scouted locations and stockpiled coffee. Leticia Moran provided equipment, Joeseph Price handled camera and directing was shared between J.P. and Brian Mulder. Though these somewhat clear positions were in place, we all got a fair amount of creative and technical input. To help us keep reigns on the unscripted narrative, we filmed chronologically.

The completed piece (edited by Don Osborne) was shown along with thirty to forty other submissions on one of City Walk at Universal Studios' largest screens. It was exhilarating and nerve-racking to see work I contributed to in a theater. It was relieving to hear people actually laughing at it! We did not receive any of the festival's awards, but on our way out we overheard plenty of positive chatter about "that brothers movie with the flower".

FILM: Thursday the 12th (2004)

Of the classes I took at Full Sail, digital cinematography is the one I'd most like to audit were I in a position to do such a thing. Though the school's curriculum never facilitated individual projects, instead opting for creatively compromising group structures, "DC" allowed for the most freedoms and was led by memorably exuberant instructors. We got to choose what crew positions we wanted and collaborate as we deemed fit to develop our short.

Between round-table brainstorms at Denny's and Gator's, I offered a mockumentary idea about a wannabe professional wrestler who can't get a break. Eric Davis, a fan of '80s slashers (in good company with myself, Andrew Eaton and Scooter Finley), saw my idea and raised it with one of his own - a similar mockumentary about a struggling professional, but instead of a wrestler, a Jason Voorhees type killer. I got out my laptop and started writing straight away.

Something I always love to brag about regarding this film's production is Tom Savini's personal message of encouragement. Savini was giving a seminar for students and I was lucky enough to speak with him one-on-one for a few minutes. He thought our concept was great (I'll bet he loved 2006's Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon) and positively stressed that we remain focused on humor over horror.

Story creator Eric Davis himself portrayed our killer, beneath a mask of his own tailoring. Other crew members filled supporting cast positions while we brought in the radiant and talented Kimberly Miller to play a prime target with Jill Blondel and "Arizona Mike" (whose real, full name we never learned) in smaller roles. We filmed over what I believe was the course of four days, the four directors each taking one of those uniquely challenging days to spearhead. Shane Alder headed up interview segments, Sandra Gabretti handled the chase, Andrew Eaton took lead of the extra-heavy club scene while I locked down the (now closed) Village Inn for a late night shoot.

In the editing room I paired off with friend Justin Tomaszewski who, soon after, mysteriously disappeared (dude, if by some random happenstance you're reading this, drop a line!). The key factor designating our cut from others was our exclusion of a chase scene in favor of a blooper (for anyone interested in comparison, Andrew posted his cut here). We felt the blooper temporarily misled our audience while simultaneously establishing that a camera crew was invested in following this killer's exploits, but I think most viewed it as a careless post-production oversight (we were almost docked a grade before explaining ourselves).

By close vote, our cut (embedded below) was selected to be shown at Winter Park's Enzian theater with other groups' films as part of a digital cinematography mini-festival. Thanks in most part, I'm sure, to the confusing editing decision, the film was the only to leave sans award certificate, but I don't regret a frame of it.


FILM(S): Rock Candy/Previous Engagement (2004)

In 2004 at Full Sail, a writing class group consisting of myself, Taneeka Adams, Mario Davis, Leticia Moran and Justin Moran-Duquette collaborated to write Bulb, a short screenplay about a reclusive literature fanatic (loosely based on Stephen Root's portrayal of Milton Waddams in Office Space) braving customer service calls and a visit to a department store in attempt to repair his custom reading lamp. Our screenplay was not selected for development as one of the class' final projects (those selections being The Partner and Disposable Loan Shark), but we went on to enter an online 48-Hour Film Festival with new ideas - Rock Candy from Justin (pictured far-left) and Previous Engagement from Leticia (who, as she did for Anything for Mom, provided equipment) - opting to split the festival into two 24-Hour projects. I took the writer's chair, bringing on Kaci Machacyk (pictured near-left) to co-write Engagement, providing a female perspective (Kaci, who plays the female character, also provided an original song for the introduction and credits sequence).

For Candy, we took to Orlando's Orange Blossom Trail in search of sketchy, run-down buildings. We found the abandoned coin laundry and spent probably two hours shooting, uninterrupted, under Leticia's direction and camera operation. I recorded the character's narration under Justin's direction after the fact. Oh, and the vehicle Mario rolls up in at the end is my beloved 2003 Neon. We never heard back from the festival coordinators after submitting this one.

For Engagement, we filmed at Leticia's house under Justin's direction and camera operation. The shoot probably lasted between three and four hours. Kaci and I, just as we did for the writing process, paired up to edit the piece. Though Kaci's father is an open-minded fellow, we did edit a sex-scene-free version to show him. After submitting this second film, the festival coordinators uploaded it to their website for public viewing and voting.

The films themselves aren't glowing examples of great cinema, nor do they represent pinnacles of my output from my time at Full Sail, but I'll be damned if they weren't the most fun to make. I was a key member of a mutually respectful group of like-minded people, we made what we wanted to make and we had a load of fun doing it. Much of the great pleasure on a film set comes not only from the world you are presenting through the lens, but also the surrogate family you create with your cast and crew. For only being in the thick of production for forty-eight hours, we definitely experienced that great pleasure.

FILM(S): The Partner/Disposable Loan Shark (2004)

Anti-buddy-cop tale The Partner (starring Tom Hudkoski and Kevin Campbell, who some may recognize from 2009's 5-Hour Energy commercials) and Weekend at Bernie's homage Disposable Loan Shark (also starring Campbell) are resulting projects from the final classes of my time at Full Sail University in 2004 - 16mm and 35mm, respectively. For these classes, my group of around fifty students split in two. The group with which I was not involved created the Raising Arizona reminiscent Mahalo (also starring Hudkoski) and the sleek, demonic Less Than Nothing (yet again starring Campbell).

The screenplays were selected from a pool of smaller groups' respective output from a preceding writing class. They were required to have two interior sets and one exterior location and were judged based on how well we "pitched" them in a somewhat realistic scenario. The one I headed up, Bulb, about a hermitical literature fanatic who must venture out to a department store to replace the bulb to his custom reading lamp, did not make the cut. Collaborating extracurricularly with the same group, however, I did create 48-Hour Film Festival entries Rock Candy and Previous Engagement, the latter of which was selected for online presentation by festival judges.

For 16mm projects at Full Sail the crew rotates positions, each student working each position for at least three shot set-ups. For 35mm, in spite of being equal-paying students, we are required to interview for our desired positions as part of a résumé writing class. So, out of around fifty students, only four receive the opportunity to direct their final project. Even if you don't want to direct, the chances you'll land your desired position depends entirely on how wide interest in that position is spread amongst your group. I wound up as art director and, for what it's worth, I'm proud of my pre-production work on Loan Shark as, along with production designer Sandra Gabretti, I created on a very limited budget a domestic interior that has inspired many a skeptical look from audience members upon learning the bulk of the film was not filmed on location.

As for the editing process, the group would again divide into smaller groups of two or three students. Each time I paired off with Brian Wilcox. The embedded videos do not represent our editorial contributions, which have all but entirely deteriorated over years trapped on DVD (these here are from Samantha Bledsoe's Vimeo channel), but I'd hazard the cut of The Partner here is better than the one we worked on, even if ours did have a unique take on the progression of events and a bit of appropriately-placed vocal tweaking at the finale. Our version of Loan Shark was focused on mounting intensity, where most other cuts, such as the one here, played primarily with the (obviously intentional) humor of it all.

As Full Sail films do, these (or, at least, the instructor-determined best cuts) played on City Walk at Universal Studios' largest screen as part of a one-day graduation event.