film

Heroes: Kevin Smith

One thing I’ve begun to notice when bringing up my favorite directors is that people always seem to nod in approval when mentioning The Coen Brothers, Edgar Wright, Spielberg, Nolan, Abrams, but every so often when the name Kevin Smith is uttered, often alongside Tarantino, about twenty to forty percent raise an eyebrow, or their face contorts into a look of questionable reasoning. Now, I know the man is not everybody’s slice of pie, but I believe he’s one of the best, if not most well known, indie filmmakers that made it. He’s a goddamn sage of the indie film community for Christ’s sake! So, here’s my defense for Kevin Smith’s place on my mantle of inspiration.

One of the main reasons his films caught my attention in college was because he was doing something palpable with filmmaking. In my wide eyed early ambitions of deciding that film was something I wanted to do Kevin Smith’s work made it seem possible. Were the laughs somewhat childish, yet adult in content? Yes. Did I laugh every time Jason Mewes found a new way to incorporate the word “Fuck” into every other sentence? Yes, yes I did. In fact it was the first Clerks that really truly opened my eyes to the fact that if you wanted to make a movie, all you had to do was gather some well trusted close friends, find a decent location, and have at it!

After I became acclimated to Smith’s directorial style I found his Q and A series of videos starting with “Too Fat for 40” and seemingly immediately after came “Burn in Hell Kevin Smith”. Those two specials motivated and inspired me more than I could even imagine, because now not only had I seen his work and thought “I think I can do that” there was the former beloved Mute telling me, “Anybody can do this, Hell if I can do this, You can do this!” His encouragement of art was astounding, world breaking to me, but not in a negative light, it merely broke my perception of a world where only connected studio backed directors like Spielberg and the like were allowed to create magic behind that coveted curtain of movie making.

The next big moment of surprise from Kevin Smith for me came in the form of “Red State”. Here was a movie that was tonally, stylistically, and creatively different from anything he had done before. The fat guy from jersey did indeed have another ace up his sleeve, he had become a chameleon in his work, proving to me that if you are passionate enough and pour your heart and soul into something you can chase your heart’s fancy. That you can change and not be locked into an accepted version of you for the rest of your life. That was a powerful message to me. You don’t have to fit into the box that everyone expects you to fit in, if you simply accept yourself and follow your imagination with a vigor and unrelenting fervor, you can succeed, even if that success is a bunch of radical church nuts kidnapping teenagers in the middle of nowhere to cleanse them of their sins. I didn’t say success was measured by the amount of “fucks” you get out of a movie, cause if so Smith would have four oscars, just short of Scorsese, cause really, “Wolf of Wall Street” had a lot of “fucks”.

I haven’t even mentioned the podcasting phenomenon, his ruling of the social media that is twitter, his complete knowledge of Star Wars and Batman, or how he goes out to film fests, film schools, and everywhere in-between to talk about film, inspire new and upcoming filmmakers, and probably tell a joke or two about the gooey origins of every human being that we all so lovingly don’t want to mention in public. The man is a force to behold within the last five to eight years, he “quit” film, then found some inspiration of his own and came back into the fold. Not everybody went to see “Tusk”, the box office numbers proves this. But I did. Was it my favorite Kevin Smith movie? No, but it wasn’t horrible, and hell I had fun going late at night with friends to a totally weird monster flick. We had a good time with it. The most important part though was that Smith chose to make a movie that he was creatively invested in. Because of “Tusk” we’re now getting a sequel to “Mallrats” and a third “Clerks” movie. This, I am okay with. Not to shut down the True North Trilogy either because I’m quite looking forward to “Yoga Hoosers” and “Moose Jaws” in particular.

So Kevin Smith will be around for awhile creating more stories. Whether he will hit the highs of his original works or not is up to the future, but personally I’ll enjoy the ride as it happens. I’m glad to have the guy around, it just proves a good indie director’s merit and gumption can keep him around for the long haul. Oh and for the record, my favorite movie of his is “Dogma”, it’s just wonderfully written and was an excellent chapter in the book of his works. Write on Silent Bob, write on.

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Heroes: Jim Henson

This may seem like a curve ball to some of you, but Jim Henson is a major inspiration to me, and here’s why. Jim Henson is who I want to be when I grow up. A successful yet humble man that oozes optimism and serenity. I may have lost all the cynics out there from this point on, but that’s okay, to each their own. I’ve always been more of a lover than a fighter anyways. This idolization goes beyond permeating positivity though.

“I know that it’s easier to portray a world that’s filled with cynicism and anger, where problems are solved with violence. What’s a whole lot tougher is to offer alternatives, to present other ways conflicts can be resolved, and to show that you can have a positive impact on your world. To do that, you have to put yourself out on a limb, take chances, and run the risk of being called a do-gooder.” -J.H.

Henson was a man of steely determination, and he stuck to his ideas and ideals throughout his career. His beginnings were in local television in rural Maryland when he was still in high school. He wanted a job there so badly he went and asked for one, they ended up turning him down, but on his way out he noticed a wanted ad for a puppeteer. So he went to the library and read up on puppeteering, made a few crude puppets, came back and said “I’m a puppeteer now, will you hire me”? and they did. That was the miracle of Jim Henson, determined but never bossy, always at work on another project, but never in the doldrums about it.

“I don’t resent working long hours. I shouldn’t- I’m the one who set up my life this way. I love to work. It’s the thing that I get the most satisfaction out of and its probably what I do best. Not that I don’t enjoy days off. I love vacations and loafing around. But I think much of the world has the wrong idea of working. It’s one of the good things in life. The feeling of accomplishment is more real and satisfying than finishing a good meal- or looking at one’s accumulated wealth.” -J.H.

Above all else, the man just seemed thankful to be part of the experience of life. How do you think Kermit turned out to be the way he did? As you can see, a large part of Jim ended up in the portrayal of Kermit. Henson’s philosophy on life tended to bleed into the ways the characters “lived” in their own world, often reflecting this peaceful pacifism in the decidedly “British” humor of the numerous characters.

“I spend a few minutes in meditation and prayer each morning. I find that this really helps me to start the day with a good frame of reference. As part of my prayers, I thank whoever is helping me – I’m sure that somebody or something is – I express gratitude for all my blessings and try to forgive the people that I’m feeling negative toward. I try hard not to judge anyone, and I try to bless everyone who is part of my life, particularly anyone with whom I am having any problems.” -J.H.

Jim Henson’s approach to life means a lot to me because of its potency, and yet its simplicity. Often he had to fight to debate the legitimacy of his work and the meaningfulness behind it and as someone who has an urge to step into the world of creativity I can understand that debate with others, family, friends, the gatekeepers. The people that always ask why. In the end, just give them a why not? As we all know he eventually convinced enough of us that some stories just need to be told in felt. In the end Jim Henson fought for what he wanted to do, worked hard when he was able to, and never took any of it too seriously. That is why he’s one of my heroes.

“Life’s like a movie, write your own ending. Keep believing, keep pretending.” -Jim Henson (1936-1990)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jim_Henson

http://www.evancarmichael.com/Famous-Entrepreneurs/590/Jim-Henson-Quotes.html

http://muppet.wikia.com/wiki/It%27s_Not_Easy_Being_Green_%28book%29

http://www.azquotes.com/quote/751310

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Heroes: Edgar Wright

Within this subsect of my (possibly everchanging) blog, I intend to put a spotlight on the people that make me want to pursue my dreams more so than anyone else in the movie-making business. For my first entry I chose a director that has been in the spotlight in the last year regarding his once future film “AntMan”. First off, I admired Wright’s work before this whole “AntMan” hubbub. “Shaun of the Dead” is easily my favorite zombie movie and “The World’s End” might be in my top ten favorite films. It’s that good, really it is. I adore his work so much because it reflects the reality of what I want to do, that its possible to succeed if you work very hard and pour your soul into it. Yes, sometimes a quip with a zombie, or an invading alien robot deserves a little bit of heart. Taking a step back to our pint sized superhero flick though, Wright clearly isn’t just making movies just to get a foot in the door with the larger world of newly accepted geekdom. He had a vision with that character and Marvel wanted to do it in a specific way, and I respect the man for stepping back when he knew he was no longer making his “AntMan” film.

Such is what happens when big money and properties come into play. But I also understand Marvel’s point of view as well, at this point they have a formula, one that they intend to keep cashing in on. As they should, but not all director’s fit into a formula. Wright leaving Marvel to pursue other creative opportunities keeps me in mind of the ever present battle of creative control in the studio versus the indie filmmaker. This is important. It comes down to how you want to define yourself as an artist when writing or directing your films, and somewhere along the line you have to decide how much control you’re willing to give up for a multitude of reasons. Better pay, being part of a larger integrated system, bigger toys, bigger sandbox etc. This isn’t to say I’m against studios or studio made films, but this argument does matter though when considering creative freedom.

At the very least I’m glad what we got out of all of that was a fairly good superhero flick to add to Marvel’s vault of success. Wright’s presence can be felt throughout the flick and who knows, maybe that’s why it felt more personal and (pun intended) smaller than its big blockbuster brother that preceded it this summer. In fact between the Avengers sequel and “Antman” I personally got more out of the latter than the former. Expectation may be the culprit to blame most here though. With “Antman”, I was just hoping for it to be fun and a bit self referential in its wildly apparent silliness, which I got in spades. “Avengers: Age of Ultron” was entertaining enough, but ultimately didn’t reach the height of the first movie, and really, who could blame them? The first “Avengers” was a milestone in the genre.

I think I’d have to side with Wright if I had been in his position though, if only because I long to be the kind of involved director that writes his own material and is very much “down in the trenches” of film-making. Maybe it’s just because I’m young, have hardly any film-making experience, and haven’t grown into the culture as of yet, but I’d like to believe in the power and integrity of the indie filmmaker. Until then I’ll be heavily anticipating Edgar Wright’s next piece, because if his cornetto trilogy is any indication, Wright is the fine wine of indie genre film-making and he’s only going to get better!