Category Archives: filmmaking

Todd Solondz and “Happiness” – 21 March 2008

Managed to get tickets to Tisch Asia‘s exclusive screening of Happiness and Q&A with director Todd Solondz.

Solondz was here for a week to mentor the Tisch students. Naturally his work was shown (at the Tisch Open House we saw a little stand outside their screening theatre advertising Welcome to the Dollhouse), and Tisch kept Happiness for the final screening at The Picturehouse.

Solondz really looks geeky. Balding, with graying hair and a paunch. That evening he wore a short-sleeved light blue shirt paired with khakis. Most memorable were the pale yellow Chucks Taylors on his feet, the oversized thick plastic glasses on his face, and the plastic bag all the way from NYC’s The Strand bookshop in his hand — Woody Allen as if he’d come of age in the 90’s.

Todd Solondz at The Picturehouse - 21 Mar 2008

Solondz was good-humoured and self-effacing. The harshest thing he said was an oblique remark concerning a student’s decision to shoot an experimental film here – why spend so much time and money to come here in the first place?

Filmmakers needed to be observant — “everything is material.” His life wasn’t any more interesting than anyone else’s. No traumatic past either. Singapore was extremely interesting to him as an outsider, and he saw lots that that Singaporeans tended to tune out or ignore.

Solondz commented that he was fortunate to have gotten this movie made. An actor’s union (sorry couldn’t catch the acronym) had cautioned against the script, probably because of the paedophilia and child rape references.

Luckily, Solondz was popular after the unexpected success of Welcome to the Dollhouse. He managed to get the backing of a senior studio exec, and knew that this was pretty much the only chance he would have to get Happiness made.

Solondz’s direction was minimal. He concentrated on setting the “atmosphere” and let the actors do their work. Solondz also noted that he didn’t have a problem with the child actors. Natually their parents were involved from the start, but the kids seemed to understand, in their own way, what was going on in the script.

For example, in the scene where the rapist confesses his actions to his son, Solondz didn’t ask the child actor to cry, but somehow that emerged through the takes, as both actors played off each other (consciously or otherwise). Solondz had great footage, but unfortunately discovered in the lab that it was unusable. He had to reshoot the scene 2 weeks after.

Solondz also expressed a preference for writing and editing to directing. To him editing was like writing but with footage.

About the movie

Solondz’s good at scripting awkward situations based on everyday encounters, highlighting the little lies people tell each other everyday to get by. Clever, sharp dialogue but characterisation spotty e.g. Trish, Helen characters are caricatures.

He also expounds a cynical view of love, sex and inter-personal communication. Sincere bonds are few and don’t last long.

What’s I particularly like about it are the strong performances from overlooked actors, especially Dylan Baker. Some of the actors have gone on to do well in TV (e.g. Lara Flynn Boyle, Camryn Manheim). Seymour Philip Hoffman’s the only one who eventually made the A-list after Capote, years after. And the trivia nut in me wants to point out Ben Gazzara who starred in Saint Jack.

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Incidentally, is Hoffman the only actor to appear on two movie poster drawn by comic book artists? Hoffman is prominent in the poster for Happiness, illustrated by Daniel Clowes (Ghost World), and he appears on the poster for The Savages (earlier post)

What happens after the movie is made?

Radio Station Forgot To Play My Favourite Song is a documentary on Singapore rock circa 2003, shot as a final year project. It’s up on the internet now — available for all to see.

Part I:

(To be honest, I’m generally not as enthusiastic about rock/alternative music. I think our musicians are as good as any in the world, even better, but I’m not crazy about any music “scene”, local or foreign. I pick and choose – a few singers, the odd duo or trio. Anyone with solid lyrics and a pleasing arrangement.)

Wanted to highlight the saddest part, from the blog of one of the ex-documentarians:

The 3 of us have always enjoyed the compliments over the years but its also a little sad that none of us are within even sniffing distance of the hotshit rockumentarians we were 5 years ago – in fact we’ve all joined the SYSTEM and are civil servants now. If there were still anything remotely creative and edgy left in us, it probably would’ve been shat out of us by now. Sadly, we’re fading away instead of burning out. At least we still try to have our weekly beer sessions, which had its beginnings in RSFTPMFS’s preproduction stages.

Which reminds me of another postscript (post-mortem?):

The people who won the big awards in the NYU festival that year haven’t done much better than I have. I now live in Hollywood, as do many of my classmates from NYU. We all work day jobs to pay the bills, we all write screenplays in our free time. We get together and read one another’s screenplays sometimes. We go out for drinks and complain about our jobs and ponder whether any of us will ever direct another film.

Deep down we all still believe we will be making films again sometime soon. But the truth is time is passing and film school is receding into memory. And a few thousand more film school graduates move into town every year and compete for the same directing jobs.

written by Tom Edgar, a co-author of Film School Confidential. His and his co-author’s stories are here on their website.

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NTU’s Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information has teamed up with the National Museum to screen some very much older Singapore films from the 60s.

Featured are films which had reigned Singapore’s golden and most prolific film-making period:
P. Ramlee’s Seniman Bujang Lapok
Salleh Ghani’s Tun Fatimah
B. N. Rao’s Sumpah Pontianak
Hussain Haniff’s Hang Jebat

To add on, Perspectives Film Festival will also screen Singapore’s first Chinese-language film, Lion City by Yi Sui! Despite being our debut Chinese-language film, Lion City is rarely seen with its last appearance being 3 years ago at Screen Singapore 2005!

You’d think that a “school of communication and information” would come up with a better website, but here it is.

Most of these movies were made before Singapore became a nation-state of its own. Back then, almost everyone thought of themselves as “Malayan”. How meaningful is it then, to appropriate these movies as part of an ideal Singaporean film past?

Randomness #520F

Whew! The Japanese Film Festival‘s over.

If you missed this year’s movies and the Q&A sessions with director Ichikawa Jun and actress Yoshiyuki Kazuko (who seriously looks like she’s 50 and not 70+), Stefan has taken very detailed notes.

Q&A with Ichikawa Jun

Q&A with Yoshiyuki Kazuko 

I may not always agree with his opinions or like his writing, but I genuinely admire his diligence. The man’s a true movie fan.

So what if this rumour that Google might be developing a virtual world isn’t true? Bet the folks up on Mountain View are working on something similar anyway.

More interestingly, judging from the slate of apps that Google already has — especially Google Earth and Google Maps — maybe their virtual world will do what none have so far: integrate both the real and virtual — bring us closer to augmented reality.

But with one company controlling almost all this tech… that’s scary. Some possible glimpses into a Google-dominated future from Bruce Sterling and Cory Doctorow

This is not a painting of Ophelia — it is a picture of Elizabeth Siddal dying of hypothermia.

Ingmar Bergman R.I.P.

The end of an era. From the Guardian film blog:

Was Bergman in touch with the European mind of his generation? Perhaps he simply was the mind of his generation. Of the great post-war directors, he was the one who shouldered the burden of moral questions: is there a God? Is there a God who is exists, but is absent? Should we behave as if God exists, if we suspect he doesn’t? If he is merely absent for some unknowable millennial span, then how should we interpret this indifference, or this rebuke? And why, finally, does anything exist at all?

The Last Wayang – 31 Aug

Was browsing the pamphlet for the upcoming Singapore Art Show (which btw comes with special post-its attached) when this event caught my eye:

The Last Wayang

Situated at the disused Capitol Theatre, The Last Wayang provokes a reflection on Singapore’s old films.

Date: 31 Aug
Time: 7pm – 12am

I emailed NAC for more info:

The Last Wayang is a project helmed by Lasalle Masters students and graduates. It consists of video projections on the facade of the disused Capitol Theatre. One projection is of stills of old film posters, and the other is an MTV style video.

Below is an excerpt of the project description from the artists “The video comprises of [sic] images of past films and how they have contributed to the flourishing local films of today. The highlights will be done in a trailer / MTV superimposition to apply this contradiction of nostalgia and modern times. “

I often wish the Capitol would reopen as a cinema.

(earlier posts about the Capitol)