The Bluebox Office

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Scott Beck & Bryan Woods' weekly blog about movies, entertainment, and anything related to Bluebox Limited Films.

Halloween Movie Picks: Scott Beck


The Shining, The Birds, AlienIn anticipation of Halloween (as well as our upcoming iTunes release of IMPULSE), Bryan and I have asked our cast and crew to each compile a list of their three favorite scary movies. Look for regular updates from the rest of the team over the next couple weeks. My personal picks are below:

1) THE SHINING: What's scarier than discovering a monster under your bed?... it's discovering that a family member has turned into an axe-wielding maniac. Kubrick's use of an ultra-wide 9mm lens -- combined with the vast hotel set and bright lighting -- delivers an atmosphere that defies horror film conventions and creates paranoia around every corner of the haunted Overlook hotel. I love absolutely every detail of this film, from Al Bowlly's "Midnight, the Stars and You" to the incredible maze climax to the final frame of Jack Torrance frozen in a July 4, 1921 photograph. For my money, the is the masterpiece of all horror films.

2) THE BIRDS: What could have been the plot for a horrid 1960s B-Movie is turned into one of the strongest horror-apocalypse films ever, all thanks to Hitchcock. One of my favorite scenes (which Shyamalan tried to emulate in THE HAPPENING) is when the townsfolks congregate in the local diner and spout their theories on why birds are attacking. But we're not given a definitive answer, and frankly, it's not necessary... because some of the most horrifying things in life are left unexplained.

3) ALIEN: While Kubrick played in the light with THE SHINING, Ridley Scott played in the dark to great effect. Who can forget the incredible suspense when Tom Skerritt's character hunts through the spaceship's tunnel for their intruder, only to casually turn his flashlight down a corridor... which gives us the biggest fright of the film. And I remember as a kid, watching the John Hurt chestburster scene and thinking "How cool is this?" while I simultaneously dreaded the nightmares I'd have that night. Fun fact: Veronica Cartwright plays one of the terrorized spacetruckers in this film and was terrorized as a child sixteen years earlier in THE BIRDS.

HONORABLE MENTION - DUEL: Haven't we all had nightmares about semi-trucks running us down? Spielberg captures this intrinsic fear through this 90-minute white-knuckle drive.

Last movie Scott watched: NETWORK (Sidney Lumet)



Halloween Movie Picks: Bryan Woods


Rosemary's Baby, Poltergeist, The ExorcistIn anticipation of Halloween (as well as our upcoming iTunes release of IMPULSE), Scott and I have asked our cast and crew to each compile a list of their three favorite scary movies. Look for regular updates from the rest of the team over the next couple weeks. To kick this series off, here are a few of my favorite screams:

1) ROSEMARY'S BABY: As funny as it is scary. Polanski's masterpiece takes one of the most familiar and beautiful gifts known to mankind (child birth), and makes it terrifying. It answers a very simple question with cold logic: What if you had the anti-christ cooking in your stomach for nine months? Career best performances from Mia Farrow, John Cassavetes, and Ruth Gordon. Demands your attention from the first frames of city scape layered under hot pink titles and the "la la la la" of Krzysztof Komeda's indelible score.

2) THE EXORCIST: No one ever talks about "the scariest movie of all time" as the "best character piece of all time". Perhaps they should. Friedkin's most memorable movie is just like many of his most forgotten: documentary realism portraying people with problems. In this instance a priest questioning his faith after he loses his mother to a terminal illness, and the bedridden girl who's got a bad fever. It's not directed like a horror film. No cheap gags with closing mirrors or hissing cats. Real people, real problems, real scary.

3) POLTERGEIST: I saw Spielberg's answer to THE EXORCIST for the first time four years ago. I say "Spielberg's" even though I subscribe to the theory that Tobe Hooper directed the film. But Spielberg's fingerprints are so clearly visible over every frame (reinforced by reading his early treatment and script for the film) that Poltergeist calls into question the validity of "the auteur theory" as we have come understand it in recent years: "the director as author". I found the film to be such a beautiful, simple, and well executed slice of horror in the home (later imitated by THE SIXTH SENSE, THE RING, and PARANORMAL ACTIVITY), that I immediately looked around and asked, "Has anyone seen this film!?!?" To which the masses replied, "Yeah, we caught in the 80s, because we had a normal childhood." I was late to the party, and for that reason, I give Poltergeist special consideration.

Last movie Bryan watched: PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3 (Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman)



Defending Netflix & Qwikster: Are We Really That Spoiled?


NetflixThere's been too much uproar about the recent Netflix price increase and the subsequent creation of Qwikster. Are we really so spoiled that these services seem expensive?

Don't you remember the 90s or the early 2000s, where you had to pay for each individual rental? This month alone I've watched 57 movies on Netflix streaming. In the 2000s, 57 rentals would cost me close to $170 at Blockbuster. Instead it cost me $7.99.

And in regards to Qwikster -- yes, I agree it's inconvenient to split your queue list between different companies. But let's go back to 2000s again, when we also had to use different companies -- if Blockbuster didn't have a new release in, I would go to Hollywood Video. If Hollywood Video didn't have it in, I would go to Movie Gallery. And this search would require driving and tons of time. So is it really that inconvenient to click on the Qwikster website, select your DVD, and have it delivered to your front door? Plus, the fact is, Qwikster hasn't even launched yet, so Netflix may hear your cries and integrate a smart queue system between their two companies.

There's also been complaints about Netflix's lack of streaming content. If that's the case, then I'll give you about 200 recommendations. There's a ton of gems buried in their streaming service for taste ranging from "A Night at the Roxbury" to "Le Cercle Rouge". In fact, I have so many movies on my Instant Queue that I'll probably be dead before making it through the entire list (apologies to Soderbergh's "Che", but you're just too damn long!).

And if you're still disappointed by Netflix and they don't have the movie you're looking for -- then you're probably not that far from a Redbox. They're everywhere. Personally, I only have to walk 2,112 feet (it takes eight minutes at a leisure pace).

Bottom line, I realize no one likes paying more bills and more money per month, but Netflix is cheaper than cable. It's cheaper than a movie ticket. It's cheaper than pretty much any monthly service you can think of.

So I'm not going to bite the hand that feeds me entertainment.

Last movie Scott watched (on Netflix): The Hudsucker Proxy (Coen Brothers)



RIP Charles Manatt


Charles ManattThere are many people that have helped Bryan & I immensely throughout our journey as filmmakers. Unfortunately, one of these great people passed on Friday.

Back in 2006, Bryan & I received a development deal with MTV Films. Consequently, we were diving head first into contract negotiations with a major studio. And at that time we were juniors in college and I only had taken one law class (that I didn't do too well in....). Anyway, we needed help with this contract. Desperately. A good friend of ours, Doug Miller, had an idea... so he got in touch with a good friend of his -- Chuck Manatt.

Among numerous other titles, Chuck Manatt was the national chairman of the Democratic National Convention, an Ambassador to the Dominican Republic, an attorney, and the founder of Manatt, Phelps and & Philips, a powerful law firm with such clients as Coca Cola, U.S. Bancorp, Time Warner, Sony Pictures and The Eagles. And he also was an Iowan that maintained his roots.

When Doug spoke with Chuck about our deal, he took kindly to us two Iowa boys. Chuck graciously connected us with one of his firm's LA-based entertainment attorney, who took us on as clients and was an incredible help in navigating the politics and hurdles of contract negotiations. Bryan & I are very happy to say that we are still with the firm today.

Chuck Manatt passed away on Friday at the age of 75. He left behind an incredible legacy, in which he greatly contributed to significant political issues and social needs. And while his contribution to Bryan & myself is certainly minor in comparison, it will always be monumental to us.

To read more about Chuck Manatt, you can read this article at the New York Times.



Two French Films for Americans with ADD


In the age of Netflix, it's all too common to have an instant queue of 200 films that you're never going to watch. In my case, I tend to add a bunch of foreign Criterion Collections to my list, only to have them sit for years while I ashamedly consume Speed and Die Hard for the 20th time. Hey, it's the American way, right? But I'm catching up on my queue and saw two films that delivered the same enjoyment as any great American blockbuster. And here's the big twist: they were both French! Oh mon dieu!

Here they are -- two films that were so incredible that I absolutely had to share, in case any of you have made the same mistake I did of waiting to watch these masterpieces.

Man Bites Dog.... if you're a fan of "American Psyco", you'll probably dig this one:

The Wages of Fear.... if you're a fan of Hitchcock or films of the Speed variation, here's your French counterpart:


Last movie Scott watched: The Rules of the Game (Jean Renoir)



2011 So Far...


Although we've been absent from the Bluebox blog for months, we've been keeping incredibly busy with various productions (hence our disappearance). While we can't say much yet, here's a quick visual of where we've been so far in 2011...

January

February

March

April

Last movie Scott watched: Source Code (Duncan Jones)



Making IMPULSE, Pt. 18: Wrapping It All Up


Company 3And so we've spent the better part of the year (or rather the entire year) exhaustively recapping our production course on IMPULSE. As far as I'm concerned the keyword there is "exhaust", so for fear we overstay our welcome, let's wrap this up...

So what's happened since our visit to Skywalker up until now? First of all, IMPULSE was selected to premiere during the closing night screenings at the 2010 LA Shorts Film Festival in July. We had originally submitted a rough cut with temp. audio, crappy visual effects, and no coloring, so we were humbled that they saw through the many pockmarks. This also meant that after finishing our mix at Skywalker, we had to race to finish our coloring so we could get a final cut to LA Shorts.

Coloring was completed in one day at Company 3, which is basically the digital intermediate equivalent of Skywalker... we had an incredibly gracious and talented team work on the project there, including DI producer Cory Hamilton, David Feldman, and colorist Jeremy Sawyer. That night, we walked out of the coloring suite with our final film in hand... finally, after a year in the works.

LA Shorts FestOur premiere at LA Shorts took place on July 29th at the Sunset Laemmle 5 in West Hollywood. We had a great turn-out, with Chris Masterson in attendance (with his posse of 20+) and even a few Iowans.

In November, IMPULSE made its European premiere with an invitation to the Sofia Independent Film Festival in Bulgaria, where it played along a select line-up of films such as Academy-Award Best Picture Winner The Hurt Locker, Oscar-winning short The New Tenants, and the Coen Brothers A Serious Man. That same week, IMPULSE made an appearance in our home state of Iowa in a non-competitive screening at the Wild Rose Film Festival; while neither Bryan nor I could make the festival, we were thrilled to have our Iowa cast and crew in attendance.

Finally, last month, IMPULSE secured Bryan & I representation with Madhouse Entertainment (who just yesterday had 4 scripts on The Black List). This relationship will open doors for us, so that we can hopefully continue making more projects.

So where do we go from here? It's no secret that the Internet is the new avenue for film distribution. And now we're currently working on some options so that you can see IMPULSE online in early 2011. Stay tuned for updates. In the meantime, here's a full recap of the IMPULSE journey...

PRE-PRODUCTION
Pt. 1: Thoughts from the Cast & Crew
Pt. 2: Scott's Journal, May 2009
Pt. 3: Scott's Journal, June 2009
Pt. 4: Bryan's Journal
Pt. 5: Scott's Journal, July 2009
Pt. 6: Scott's Journal, August 2009
Pt. 7: Scott's Journal, September 2009
Pt. 8: Scott's Journal, October 2009

PRODUCTION
Pt. 9: Production Day One
Pt. 10: Production Day Two
Pt. 11: Production Day Three
Pt. 12: Production Day Four
Pt. 13: Production Day Five
Pt. 14: Production Day Six

POST-PRODUCTION
Pt. 15: Editing & Scoring the Picture
Pt. 16: Thoughts from the Composer
Pt. 17: Our Trip to Skywalker Ranch
Pt. 18: Wrapping It All Up

Last movie Scott watched: The Polar Express (Robert Zemeckis)



Making IMPULSE, Pt. 17: Our Trip to Skywalker Ranch


Our recap of IMPULSE production continues as we venture north to the legendary Skywalker Ranch for our post-production sound process. Also included below is a brief Skywalker Ranch featurette.



DAY ONE

There was first a 7-hour journey from Los Angeles, one that crossed such quintessential California landmarks as Santa Barbara Wine Country, the winding Pacific Coast Highway, and the Golden Gate Bridge. Yet all of these sights paled in comparison to our destination: George Lucas' Skywalker Ranch in Marin County, California. The Ranch is basically the Willy Wonka factory for movie nerds or Star Wars fans; it's a 4,700 acre dreamland of cinematic history. As Bryan & I ventured down a dangerously curvy road for the last 7 miles of our trip, my heart was pumping much harder than it should for someone with high blood pressure. We reached the correct address and an anonymous gate opened. Turning in, we were immediately greeted by a baby deer feeding from its mother, confirming our suspicions that this is truly the Happiest Place on Earth (sorry, Disneyland).

Past the cattle and vineyards, we arrived at the Tech Building where we would be spending the next three days. We were greeted by our wonderful friend and Sound Designer/Supervising Sound Editor Mac Smith, who led us on an impromptu tour of the building. Movie posters past and present lined (literally LINED) the walls, including my personal favorite... a looming poster of For a Few Dollars More. Mac brought us back to our mixing pod (the Alfred Hitchcock room), which was across the hall from neighboring projects such as Let Me In, the upcoming Mel Gibson film The Beaver, and the Avatar Special Edition DVD. Inside we finally met the most talented and dedicated Sound Editor/Re-Recording Mixer/Skywalker Up-And-Comer Nia Hansen.

Now let me deviate for a moment, to highlight Mac & Nia's credits and tell you how cool they are...

Mac Smith has been at Skywalker for 10 years and over that time has become an integral part of the Skywalker Sound team -- in just the last two years, he has worked on such huge films as the upcoming TRON: Legacy (Sound Effects Editor), Toy Story 3 (Assistant Supervising Sound Editor), A Christmas Carol (Sound Effects Editor), and UP (Assistant Supervising Sound Editor). And not only that -- he must be a hell of a family man: he skipped his invitation to the Oscars this year because he'd miss his son's birthday. Mac knows his storytelling inside and out and possesses vast cinematic knowledge, which is helpful both in sound design and also in those moments when you're taking a break and just want to talk about movies obscure and recent.

Nia Hansen is a relatively new addition to the Skywalker fold, but is so deftly talented that all of her co-workers told us "she's the one to watch". Her passion not only lies in sound, but in storytelling, which greatly informs her skill. She's already worked with some of Skywalker's best and brightest (probably because she is one of them too!). Her passion is obvious and she will stop at nothing to mix, edit, and record the RIGHT sound... just take a look at this article on her work for How To Train Your Dragon.

Continuing on our timeline, we spent the first afternoon and evening going through the work that Mac & Nia had completed prior to our visit. We were pleasantly impressed by their artistic decisions and concepts based on our conversations. After hashing through several overarching notes, we were already done for the day... but not before running into somebody that Mac introduced simply as "Randy"... as in two time Oscar-Winner Randy Thom, a frequent collaborator of Spielberg/Zemeckis/Shyamalan/etc.

DAY TWO

Today would be our busiest day, in which we would run through IMPULSE numerous times while finding, creating, and perfecting every sound moment in the film. In some spots there was less work to do while, in others, we had theoretical and artistic discussions about certain choices. Possibly some of the most difficult work came when listening to a variations of a specific sound twenty times over; in these instances, it was a challenge to discern the minute differences in range and dynamics, usually resulting in taking a break and returning later to the moment with fresh ears. We worked long and late for the entire day, but never did it feel like work; it was simply too much fun. To top off the night, we were treated to a preview screening of M. Night Shyamalan's (and Skywalker Sound's) The Last Airbender in the glorious Stag Theater which, as you can guess, is about as good as it gets in terms of sound quality. Mac went out of his way to get us into the screening, knowing that we're big Shyamalan fans. Thanks, Mac!

DAY THREE

We started the day off with a bang... screening IMPULSE in the Stag, where we had just watched Airbender the night before. Our sound mix was fairly set, and it would be a true test to hear the film in an actual theater, versus a smaller mixing room. Needless to say, it was an emotional experience to watch your labor of love in a world-class theater. We had a posse of Skywalker folks that graciously sat in on the film, and it was a humbling experience to screen our small film with guys who work solely on the biggest movies of the year. Afterward, there were some tweaks to be done, and then we finalized both the 5.1 and the stereo mix. Over lunch, Mac & Nia took us on an extended ranch tour, which included a stop at the Main House (where George Lucas keeps an office) where we got to ogle at original props from Indiana Jones, Star Wars, and numerous film awards including Lucas' Oscars.

While we were wrapping up the remainder of the mix, Mac introduced us to the folks mixing a film next door... David Fincher's The Social Network. This team consists of such pros as Ren Klyce, Michael Semanick, David Parker and others who have made their mark on numerous masterpieces. These guys, especially Ren, are sound heros to us, as we constantly look to their work as inspiration for telling stories with sound (watch the Panic Room 3-Disc Edition special features). This encounter and our entire mixing experience set Bryan & I further into a trance-like state that kept us energized on the long, long ride home to LA.

We owe our friends Mac, Nia & the rest of the Skywalker team (HUGE thanks to Phil Benson & Josh Lowden) a first-born child for such world-class treatment. Our experience at Skywalker was possibly the most fun we're ever had in the filmmaking process, and we can't wait to go back.

Skywalker Ranch
The Main House and vineyards in the foreground. Yes, Skywalker has its own wine.

Skywalker Ranch
Mac & Nia mixing in our pod room.

Skywalker Ranch
The four of us outside on the steps of the Technical Building.

Skywalker Ranch
Me + Eastwood.

Last movie Scott watched: The Big Chill (Lawrence Kasdan)



There's A First Time For Everything


This week, Bryan & I reached another stepping stone in our careers, as we signed with talent management company Madhouse Entertainment. You can read the full press release here, but it's an exciting moment for us.

During times like these, it's fun to look back and see where you've been and where you came from. In this instance, we'd like to share one of our first films ever. Produced in 1998 for a seventh grade class, we present to you The Sleepover.

Last movie Scott watched: The Blair Witch Project (Daniel Myrick & Eduardo Sánchez)



Making IMPULSE, Pt. 16: Thoughts from the Composer


Our recap of IMPULSE production continues as we feature a guest blog from composer Corey Wallace about the scoring process. Also included below is a brief scoring featurette.



ABOUT COREY WALLACE
Corey WallaceAlthough initially an engineering student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Corey Wallace began full time music study after scoring his student film. After graduating in 2008 with a BM in Music Composition, Corey continued his film scoring studies at USC’s Scoring for Motion Pictures and Television (SMPTV) program, graduating in the spring of 2009. Since leaving USC, Corey has scored 3 independent feature length films and has continued to work on high profile USC projects. In 2010, Corey was one of 12 composers selected as participants in the prestigious ASCAP Television & Film Scoring Workshop.

THE APPROACH TO SCORING IMPULSE
My approach to scoring IMPULSE, as with any film really, was to find the reason for having music in the film. Over time, music’s role in film has broadened and become more objective, while tastes among filmmakers, composers, and audiences vary widely. From a creative standpoint, I try to find what’s missing on the screen and fill that void with music. Sometimes this void is a simple lack of forward momentum that is extremely important in a linear, time-based medium, and the void can be as complex as conveying deep emotions for the characters.

IMPULSE is less than 20 minutes, and furthermore, it’s the last twenty minutes, so we’re supposed to feel a summation of someone’s life and care for him as if we’ve known him our entire lives. This is no easy task for a feature length film, let alone a short. The job of the music is to connect the audience with the visuals instantly. The opening shot reveals the Earth as seen from outer space, a beautiful spectacle indeed, but the significance of the shot is open to interpretation. This brings Jerry Maguire to mind, another movie that starts with a shot of the Earth from space. However, before revealing the blue planet, we hear the intro from The Who’s "Magic Bus", immediately conveying excitement and fun. With IMPULSE, it’s important that the audience immediately knows there is a looming terror.

As for our main character, the story follows his journey as he rushes to an unknown destination. We don’t know why or where he’s going, but we must care, and we must want him to get there, and we must feel the disappointment, heartache, and terror with every obstacle in his path. If we don’t care, then why are we watching? My goal was to ensure that we understand this journey despite the sparse dialogue and unexplained events surrounding him.

THE PROCESS OF SCORING IMPULSE
The key, as discussed above, is to get a firm grasp on the drama and the intended story to tell. I mentioned the role of music being objective, but a common role is to clarify dramatic intent. Where music comes in, goes out, and plays to a specific style or tone, it can really steer the drama (or comedy). I always ask to watch a film first by myself in order to make these decisions as both a fresh, objective audience member and as a composer. This way, when meeting with the director and producers, I can compare my experience with their intentions, and sometimes this guides musical decisions. For instance, when David (played by Chris Masterson) takes the found guitar case to the creek, he opens it and imagines opening his first guitar: unwrapping the box, pulling it out, running his fingers over the strings. I saw this as a beautiful flashback and I wanted to play out the emotions of the flashback with music. Scott and Bryan were more concerned with the present, understanding his anxiety and nervousness. He obviously needs a guitar, and this was perhaps his last chance to get one before the end.

THE VISION TO SCORE IMPULSE
Originally, I saw the music as playing largely against the scene. We agreed to this approach through the spotting session and first 3 drafts of the score, and while this was a good approach, it was ultimately not the best approach. We decided that the film was lacking a certain urgency and drive, and instead of deviating from the action/thriller music to make way for the emotional theme, we decided to keep the music driving forward. While we don’t hear the emotional motivations for the main character through music, we feel his intensity and need to go forward no matter what. The original intent of the music was to make the film a character piece and comment on the visuals. However, since the visuals and story are intentionally vague, the music was best suited to clarify instead of comment. The final music gave the story a linear arc that focused on the present instead of relating to the past.

THE CHALLENGES OF SCORING IMPULSE
One challenge facing the music of IMPULSE was writing the main theme 6 months prior to scoring the film! Chris Masterson needed to play the guitar theme on set, so once the theme was written, it was set in stone going forward. As with many film composers, I’ve become very comfortable and accustomed to letting the visuals inspire me musically. Going off of the script and conversations with Scott and Bryan, all I could do was write a few options and let them picture it in their film. Out of my versions, they unanimously picked the same one, and it wasn’t until 6 months later, after viewing the film with my first draft of the score, I heard the words, “Now I know we made the right decision with that theme”. (Phew…)

THE FINAL SCORE OF IMPULSE
I am extremely happy with the mix. We were fortunate enough to mix in a beautiful 5.1 facility and really dial in the precise sound for the theatre. I’m also fortunate that I was able to get the budgetary support to not only use some live musicians, but a 32 piece orchestra. I keep mentioning low budget, but this film had the highest music budget per minute of music that I’ve ever worked on. These days, it is all but too common practice to settle for the use of synthetic instruments, and I’m very happy that I got to work with such knowledgeable filmmakers that understand how live music can help their film.

As stated in earlier blogs, this working relationship was 7 years in the making, and I’m thrilled we finally got a chance to see it through.

Last movie Scott watched: The Social Network (David Fincher)



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