Category Archives: Film

My Columbia Graduation “Speech”

columbia speechAt the Columbia School of the Arts Graduation Ceremony every year, the Chairs of the four programs (Film, Theatre, Writing and Visual Arts) get the opportunity to make some short remarks prior to handing out the diplomas to their students. This tradition has developed into a good-natured competition.

After doing a rather traditional speech my first year as Chair of the Film Program, I found myself being jealous of the other Chairs, as they were able to organically incorporate their disciplines into their speeches. The Chair of Writing delivered something quite poetic, the Chair of Theater was very theatrical, and the Chair of Visual Arts worked with props to make a do something, well, visual. I felt left out.

Over that summer, I got the idea to make a film that would be my speech, and I recruited a group of students to work with me on it over the next academic year. They did a fantastic job and only made one creative mistake…which was casting me in the lead.

The video we made was a hit at graduation that year, and I decided to keep using it since the audience would be different each year. That was also the reason I never posted it anywhere…until now. Since this was my last year as Chair, I now feel like I can share it with the world.

There are many inside jokes in it, so don’t be surprised if some of it doesn’t quite make sense. Also, you should know that the video ends with me entering Miller Theater, which is where the ceremony takes place. When it goes to black, you have to picture at that moment, a spotlight hits the podium on stage and there I am.

So here here is my graduation “speech” for all to see.

I would like to thank the many students and alums who collaborated on the film, especially the Producer, Rachel Brenna; the Director, Jennifer Gerber; and the writers, Nicole DiMasi, Michael Piech and Keola Racela. And thanks to the members of the faculty and staff who were brave enough to participate. This was very much a collaborative effort, and an example of why collaboration is at the center of what we do in the school.

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The Good & the Bad of 2014 in the Movies

10 Best ListEvery year I get an email from Indiewire inviting me to submit my 10 best list for inclusion in its survey of industry-types. And every year I miss the deadline because I feel like I haven’t seen enough of the films yet. But as anyone who follows me on Twitter knows, I’ve been assiduously plowing through as many of the films released this past year as possible, which, when added to those I’ve seen at the various festivals I attend, now add up to enough to feel I can share my list with a clear conscience. It’s also my chance to offer up my thoughts in slightly more than 140 characters.

I must add that this list is alphabetical even though I could easily have ranked them, because as a voting member of the Academy, BAFTA and the PGA, I am sworn to secrecy about my actual votes. So without giving anything away, here are my top 10 films of 2014.

BOYHOOD

This film is a case of profundity created through simplicity. Linklater’s 12-year stunt pays off by adding a level of subtext that deepens the experience. As we watch the actors age on screen, the film has a documentary-like impact that make us feel our own passage through time, and as such makes the film far more moving than its simple plot would have earned in a more traditional narrative. I would put it in the category of being more “special” than truly great, but it’s an amazing achievement.

FORCE MAJEURE

When I saw this film at Cannes last year, I was completely smitten. I was recommending it to everyone I saw, describing it as “Scenes From A Marriage” meets “The Shining.” From the opening images of the film, the mood is portentous and unsettled, and from there it veers from surprising turn to even more surprising turn, from near tragedy to a sort of droll Scandinavian comedy. Beneath it all, it’s a touching portrait of how sometimes the people we are closest with are the ones we know the least. (more…)

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Michael Hausman and Milos Forman – The Dream Collaboration

A few years ago, as part of the Columbia University Film Festival, we had an event honoring the longtime collaboration of Producer Michael Hausman and Director Milos Forman. Forman was the first Chair of the Columbia MFA Program, and Hausman has been teaching at the school since the very beginning. In a way, their collaboration is emblematic of the way films are made at Columbia, where producers and directors are creative partners. In keeping with that spirit, a group of students led by Director/Producer Mike De Caro and Co-Producer Jennifer Gerber, decided to capture the event and edit it into a short film.

Enjoy!

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In Memory of Richard Brick

The following are the remarks I made earlier today at the Memorial for Richard Brick, which was held at Columbia University.

Richard BrickI would like to share a few words about my colleague, my mentor and my friend, Richard Brick.

Some people are born with the exact personality traits for a specific vocation. Richard Brick was born a Producer. His long-time course at Columbia was titled “Pre-Production.” The central pedagogy was that the only way to avoid disasters was to anticipate them, and to have a Plan B, a plan C and so on. In other words, plan for the worst. It was not just a class to him, it was a philosophy of life. He lived his entire life in a constant state of Pre-Production.

My first encounter with Richard was in 1987, when I received a cold call from him, asking me if I would like to teach a course at Columbia. He was the newly installed Chair of the Film Program at the time, and he was sitting in on every class that was offered in the program to evaluate its effectiveness. He determined that the class in Marketing & Distribution wasn’t working and he wanted a quick fix. It was a perfect Richard Brick moment. See a problem, fix it. Never having taught before, I said yes, and thus, in one stroke, Richard had set me on the road to a teaching career that I never anticipated. (more…)

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Kicking off Art House Convergence 2014

Just finished my kickoff speech at the 2014 Edition of the Art House Convergence. I’ve been asked to share the text, so here it is:

Is everybody ready to converge? Alright!

Last night I was asked by a number of you if today’s presentation would be a continuation of what I did last year, and the answer is no. One trip down memory lane is enough, and I feel like I got that out of my system.

But I am going to start out with a look backwards.

When I first started out in the Film Business, I learned a couple of very quick lessons that were in no way related to film, but were in every way related to business.

First, I learned that Business is dominated by people who are driven, sometimes myopic, and willing to do almost anything to succeed.

The second thing I learned is that the Film Business, specifically, is driven more by ego than by profit. After all, it has never been a predictable, scalable business in the traditional sense that allows for believable projections and charts with any sort of certainty. So who is drawn to such a business when far more money, far more predictably can be made elsewhere? The answer would be those people who somehow convince themselves that they know better than everyone else, or that they’ve come up with some kind of system to beat the odds. (more…)

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Keynote at TIFF Filmmaker Bootcamp – 2013

The folks at the Toronto Film Festival have just posted my keynote from their annual Filmmaker Boot Camp, a sort of retreat where they prepare filmmakers for their experience at TIFF. This is the second time they’ve asked me to do this, and given that Toronto is one of my favorite festivals, I’m glad to be of service.

The information I presented is a summary of some presentations I’ve made in my classes at Columbia, and at various other events. It’s a quick overview of the current marketplace, followed by some specific strategies one might use to navigate a festival like Toronto, and to make the best of the experience. I hope those of you who couldn’t be there will find something useful in it.

Feel free to chime in with your thoughts. (more…)

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“Making Waves” at the Berlinale

For those of you who have commented that film schools need more training in marketing and distribution, take a look at this video about a program that I helped to create with Ben Gibson of the London Film School. “Making Waves” took place at the Berlin Film Festival this past February. Several Columbia students participated along with students from  The London Film SchoolLa Fémis (Paris), the dffb (Berlin), ESCAC (Barcelona) and the UNATC (Romania). The students worked in international teams and were assigned a film from the Berlin Market and a territory. It was enormously successful and we hope the program continues in future years. Check it out below… Comments after the break… (more…)

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More About Don Rugoff and Cinema 5

Film Comment, May/June 1975In my speech at the Art House Convergence, I talked a great deal about Don Rugoff, who was a crazy, arrogant, difficult genius, and was my first boss in the movie business. Given the impact the man had on the business, it astounds me that he is almost a forgotten figure at this point. Reid Rosefelt wrote about him back in 2011, and ignited my urge to share more of what I knew about the man. So for those of you who would like to know more about the history of independent film marketing, here is a bunch of material to chew on.

This first piece is an audio recording of a seminar that Don did in 1976. It was moderated by Julian Schlossberg, who at the time was a VP at Paramount and had a radio program called “Movie Talk.” You’ll notice that during the Q&A, some of the questions from the audience were not intelligible, so whoever put this tape together dubbed them in. This is a fascinating glimpse into Don’s way of looking at the distribution business, the exhibition business, and mostly about his unique take on marketing specialized films. This was the school I went to, where I learned just about everything I’ve used throughout my career. (more…)

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Guest Blog: Russ Collins Responds to Steven Spielberg

Last week, a lot of eyebrows were raised when Steven Spielberg, of all people, predicted the ‘implosion’ of the film industry. Russ Collins, who is the head of the Art House Convergence among the many hats he wears, wrote the following as an email to the art houses across the country. With his permission, I am reprinting it in it entirety as a guest blog. It’s a must read for anyone contemplating the state of the film industry.

By Russ Collins,
CEO, Michigan Theater – Ann Arbor
Director, Art House Convergence
Artistic Director, Cinetopia Festival

CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE IMPLOSION KIND

I am not a doom and gloom guy. However, it is tempting for older cinema artists (like Steven Spielberg and soon to retire artists like Steven Soderbergh or maybe it’s just filmmakers named Steven!) to see gloom in clouds of change. Change is hard. It frequently makes us feel discouraged or unfairly challenged. The shifting sands of change can cause us to see threats everywhere and feel the world as we know it will end.  However, maybe we feel this way because it’s true. The world as we know it will indeed come to an end because change is the only constant, and creativity in art, business and all things is frequently born from what might appear to be destructive forces brewed from dynamic change. It is a defining story of living; a baseline truth, an ever repeating cycle of human existence that the Hindu religion represents so effectively in the story Shiva, whose joyous dance of destruction celebrates the cycle of creation, preservation and dissolution. (more…)

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Barbra – An Appreciation

Chaplin AwardLast night’s presentation of the annual Chaplin Award to Barbra Streisand for her film work was a fascinating reminder of what a polarizing and beloved figure she was and remains. As the years fly by, her fans have lost none of their adoration, while many people I spoke to at the event were either too young to remember that Barbra had anything to with film, or too arty to have any appreciation for her body of work. For those in latter two categories, it is worth pointing out some of the reasons that Barbra remains such a huge cultural icon in spite of not having produced much work at all in the last few decades.

First of all, there is the VOICE. At the tribute, Streisand went out of her way to say that her primary goal as a kid was to be an actress. Her singing was just a means to an end. It was her way in. This piece of information should not be surprising to anyone who followed her early career, and became even clearer when watching the clips from her early films. More than that amazing voice, her talent was in the emotion she brought to a song, making her arguably one of the greatest interpretive singers of all time.

But there was something more. (more…)

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