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Distant Worlds & Disseminating Information: The Fox Winter 2011 TCA Press Tour – Feature

Fox has always been at the forefront of trying new accents in terms of tonality within the broadcast structure taking changes on more edgy material that might hit or miss with audience depending on its structures. With some its new intensives including the long awaited “Terra Nova”, ambition plays heavily within the mind.

“Terra Nova” from the mind of Steven Spielberg and shepherded with the help of former Trek powerhouse Brannon Braga has the mythology and scope to create TV’s next big breakout show. Pace and breathe though can be hard to maintain unless the story structure is both inventive and mysterious, luminous yet tightly controlled.

Braga begins with the thought asking “can utopia be built?” and “is it practical?”. From the beginning with Spielberg, he says it is “ingenious what this guy comes up with”. In regards to the looming questions of production snafus which has plagued the series for months, Braga offers the fact that they only had one staff writing change because “it was taking longer than usual to mount this thing”.

The concept behind the show, as explained by Braga, is that there are pilgrimages to another world through a gate. Stephen Lang (late of “Avatar”) is first person back. He and others have been sent ahead to construct a town. The series picks up when there are 1000 people in the colony and 100 more coming through with every jump. The gate itself only opens every couple months. The myth as to how the portal was discovered is insinuated but the backstory points to a natural unearthing.

When he was helping wrap up “24”, he was aware of the project and that a script existed by Craig Silverstein. They wanted to get it up and running which obviously is credit to Spielberg. Braga says that it is the closest project he has worked on to “Star Trek” but that the series translates to him as “personally on a visual level using advanced technology in a primordial world”.

Alex Graves, who directed the much scrutinized pilot but also directed the “Fringe” pilot, jokes that part of the terror of having Steven Spielberg on your team is that he watches everything you do. In terms of shooting, he says that it took them a while to decide on Australia adding that “when you read the story, you could see what was coming”. He says that three hours after they got off the plane, “we started to see what could be in the show”. The location had caves, mountains and plant life. He says that what was good for the development of the pilot was that it took time. The crew was drafted as if they were going to war finding the best feature people they could. The show, he points out, is built and ready to go. He commits to the point that “this is not Lost” adding that “this is made for a massively broad audience…for everyone…everyone from my kids to myself to a gamer”.

Stephen Lang, who played the military baddie in the uberhit “Avatar”, plays Frank Taylor, one of the first humans to go back. He says, in terms of “Avatar” that “my scars are internal” saying that “people do come up to me and say ‘I really hate you'”. He adds jokingly that he takes the subway so he doesn’t make a scene. He points to the fact that with the worldwide impact of television, “Terra Nova” might have bigger impact than “Avatar” which is hard to imagine though he paints this project as “very different”.

Taking a very different spin by comparison is “Traffic Light” which based on the concept of people in cars and the comedy ensuing from that interaction to daily life in a comedic fashion seems a bit daunting.

David Hemingson, one of the exec producers, says that creating alot of the “live” feeling in the car with the cast has to come from improvisation. When they first wrote it, the problem was seeing if the actual “car scenes” would work. Unlike in studio car shots, these are done on the streets on actual process trailers. This was done “to create a dynamic and encourage conversational naturalism” though he admits he is prone to parking tickets.

Bob Fisher, one of the other exec producers with the writing team as well, explains that they started writing to that kind of naturalism in general. The first step was deciding that the car would be a material component of the show though they wanted to keep them short. They cut between the action in three cars consistently. The first bit ends with Nelson Franklin, who plays Adam, being pulled over. The irony is that when you do a car scene the coverage is surprisingly good although the actual reality of being on a process trailer is that you are constantly breathing fumes.

Nelson jumps in stating that “a good portion of our show works because the banter we have on show is because we are generally friends off camera.” His character Adam, he admits, is trying to be the best friend by trying to catch up with his buddies during errands. The delivery he explains was unconventional but its effectiveness “wasn’t even a question”.

“Breaking In” is a new half hour comedy using a tech-fueled ensemble that seeks to blend some of the esrtwhile spy hijinks of “Chuck” with Christian Slater’s own short lived hour dramatic “My Own Worst Enemy”. In using the shorter format, the hijinks of the intended endgame might resolve better than those before it.

Slater, for his part, is always ready for the challenge. He admits that the Oz whom he plays wasn’t as flushed out as it needed to be which called for refinement. This character heads Contra Security, and as Slater puts it, “he has his hands in alot of pots” though he does describe the guy as “an eccentric”. He continues that Oz know what the outcomes of a certain course of action will be from the start which allows to plan to do “illegal things legal”.

Seth Gordon, one of the creators, was the man behind the documentary “King Of Kong”. What interested him was this growing underground community of hackers but seeing it as a new office situation because of the evolution of ideas it presents.

Bret Harrison, who plays the lead Cameron Price, says that the approach to the character has to be about more than him being smart which is reflected in his awkwardness. Cameron’s safety zone resided in college where he feels safe which balances to the idea that any other place becomes a challenge.

Fox continues to approach the programming game with a variety of elements, the most intensive in years being “Terra Nova” because of its investment but with smaller shows like “Traffic Light” and “Breaking In” in specifying to concept, they have ability for some breakout shows.

Cultural Missives & Cinematic Visions: The 2010 Newport Beach Film Festival – Feature

The concept and execution of the Newport Beach Film Festival continues to flourish even within a circuit that is seemingly falling within itself. The festival does this through a lack of tributes instead using it to highlight different cultural nights through the various consulates in LA. It is ingenious but also sets the sights of the confab more than likely community-wide instead of national. This however does not seem to matter since many of the filmmakers make their way in many instances. Unlike the neighboring Santa Barbara Film Festival which also takes place in an affluent area, Newport Beach’s Film Festival has a different aura which allows for a different functionality.

Films #1 The first array of films introduce an aspect of psychology from different angles whether it be mental health, espionage or simple sociological interaction.

“Ward No. 6” follows a reversal of fortune within a Russian mental institution based on a story by Chekov. The essence of the perspective is at the heart of the story which trails the ideals of what the Soviet system believes true. A doctor loses his perspective when a young man, replete with the issues of existentialism, becomes consumed by the system despite his own awareness of it. The film is study in methodical represiveness. Despite a slower pace predicated on letting the actual life permeate into the viewer, some of the thoughts ring true. A dancing sequence occuring after a emotional transferral becomes intensively more poignant because of the mental cross section that the viewer is allowed to witness.

L’Affaire Farewell“, as as part of the French spotlight, uses angles of “The Russia House” but with the advantages of a more taut storyline. The narrative uses the aspect of a misplaced accountant who happens to have exasperated ties to the French government. When he is approached by a high Soviet official responsible for dessimating the intelligence of the KGB in its cold war with the United States, the perspective becomes skewed. What is inherently interesting is the European perspective of the Cold War replete with Fred Ward playing Ronald Reagan with definitive vigor. The Gipper was a posturer but more than likely a hawk behind the scenes. The eventually persuasion of Gorbechev is meant to liken itself through this one man’s act of treason. However the reason he does it is because of his love of his country and the feeling of it being eaten from the inside. The aspect at one point of the French go-between sitting underneath a table because his house is bugged and looking at plans for the Space Shuttle (the movie is set in 1980) gives the progression a sense of modernism but also one of history. The eventual resolution and the pace at which it flows is adequate yet distinctly forceful. Shot with a resolute motion and stillness at the same time, it retains a look of a film shot in the late 90s despite its very recent production.

“Electra Luxx”, a more than resembling sequel to last year’s “Women In Trouble” premiered at SxSW 2010 with some technical problems. Upon watching the inference of its continuing portrait of retiring porn star, the inventiveness is not encompassing despite the obvious enthusiasm of Carl Gugino. Fanboy fodder than she is because of her involvement with Robert Rodriguez and Zach Snyder, the film is most respects comes beneath her. Its eclecticness is moderately underwhelming. The reality is that, while watching the film, it became very obvious that it had been seen before. The previous “Women” is specifically too identical and the visual style underwhelming. While certain points of motivation like the always inventive Joseph Gordon Levitt and an odd cameo by Julianne Moore shows a thought process in motion but without an overwhelming style. Place effectiveness of cast in the hand of Paul Thomas Anderson, these ideals become something more while this incarnation of Sebastian Guittierez comes off as simply mediocre.

Films #2 The second plethora of films works on the aspect of situations and people being not what they seem in any matter of perspective.

“Chameleon” follows a con-man who quite reflexively falls in love with a mark he is seeking to syphon from. While the “Scoundrels” list works to a point, the formulaic progression does not behoove the need. Aided by his abetting friend, this representative “Sawyer”-character lies his way through distinct situation able to turn motivations on a dime. The crux of the piece is mediated on a double cross of a girl who needs an operation to continue dancing professionally but cannot convince her penny pinching father who is emblazoned in his thoughts of society. Subtle jabs at humor like a hospital patient who knows who the guy is but no one believes him are fruitful but ultimately overworn. Certain lengths the man must go to in order to protect his identity seem false and overdone despite the ultimate resolution, which despite good production value, comes off as trite.

Charlie Valentine“, by comparison, takes its tale of chicanery and dastardly deeds and places it front and center. Shot on the Red with a bit of dexterity and wit but ultimately suffering from its own genre roots, the film nevertheless has heart and cahones. Premiered at last year’s Cannes film festival in the market, Raymond Barry, one of those crony old timers that was made for the gangster genre plays in tandem with one of the current leads of NCIS: Michael Weatherly as his son. The angles work well and the acting is not bad though at times by others overplayed. Steven Bauer, forever associated with his character in “Scarface” (not a bad legacy by the way) plays a heavy with a dead eye. The ending ratches itself bloody in many respects as a homage to the earlier film with a bittersweet ending that works correctly in the identity of what the picture is.

“Leslie My Name Is Evil” goes in the complete other direction with a tale of a sweet young girl who gets pulled into the world of Charles Manson as one of his disciples of evil. While inherently abstract in many of its progressions, its visual style and acting elements though perhaps misplaced have a misshapen brilliance at times to them owing much in the way to “Natural Born Killers”. The opening credits sequence beyond anything brings to mind an essence of political irreverence as well as the over the top sex scenes and courtroom antics. Ultimately, uncommercial in its presence, the film nevertheless pushes buttons, which especially in our economic climate show how certain lambs can be lead astray.

Sophie’s Revenge” is a paradox of sorts: a romantic comedy of high production value from China. Zyi Zhang, known for her dramatic turns in “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and “Memoirs Of A Geisha” goes almost full vaudeville showing an angle of her almost as the Sandra Bullock/Julia Roberts of her country. The key that is interesting to see is the way the different value systems and an almost studio system style is in place. How much and how little was affected by the censor boards is not known and that mystery is part of the enjoyment. Also owing alot in the self reflexive style to “Bridget Jones Diary”, the sugar coated resolution plays to good feelings but also to an underlying sentiment about the necessity of morality, chivalry and respects to elders in a modern world.

Films #3 The third inclimation of films works more to the identity of women and their perspective of events within the context of certain familial structures but with different resulting perspectives.

Christina” is an anomaly but every bit wonderful in how it is pulled off. Set in literally one room in post World War II Berlin, it is a performance piece that is at times both overwrought and at others utterly poignant. Literally almost a stage piece between three actors and good enough in its current state to be worthy of PBS, the actors including an almost unrecognizable Stephen Lang (the bad guy in Avatar) are utterly effective in creating a visual story with hardly any visuals other than the backgrounds in the house. It is at times quite a feat that is not as obvious until later in teh story. Granted the back and forth of the psychology almost straddles the suspension of disbelief at times, the balance of the emotional daggers struck between the charcaters are at times vicious and utterly cold and then the next moment tender, which was the ability of Shakespeare at times. This piece is an exercise in many forms but an effective one that should be both shown in classrooms (because of its ability to create an intense film without sex, gore or much language) and adapted into a stage play because of its showmanship. It was the best use of the festival venue by far at the festival.

“Bride Flight” is a little more broad in its inference of the transformative experience of the female experience. Set mostly in the 1950s around the women aboard the KLM flight that won an around the world race from London to New Zealand, the ideals of family versus happiness paint a picture of lost opportunities. Most seem to revolve around a man who becomes the vortex of affections but ultimately missing of his ultimate vision: a son who could have continued his legacy as a vitner. While not epic in any sense, it allows an interesting psychology and what is said and not said. The ironies play to the hilt especially with the running dialogue of a woman who cannot bring to bear a son that ultimately is not hers. The progression might sound convoluted but actually plays simply which is part of the film’s charm.

Parties While the arena experiencing Newport this year was distinctly shot, the party circuit, again helpfully perpetrated by various co-ventures with various consulates, allowed for an interesting progression. While less intimate than some of last year’s shindigs, the idea was inclusion.

A block party held within Fashion Island to celebrate the French Spotlight film “L’Affaire Farewell” enjoyed the interaction with local clothing boutiques setting up Absolut bars inside their retail centers while a central court fountain side bar kept the masses entertained.

The Asian Party held to celebrate the vibrant cinema scene of that scene was held at the nearby Red 10 Nightclub on MacArthur. Unlike last year’s more intimate sushi fueled shindig, the invention here was much more sensational with a full performance production outside the entrance giving a grand welcome.

Inside, while the blood red interior buzzed with techno and Perrier, the setback involved was a lack of hearing necessary for adequate networking which is the backbone of such a festival.

By comparison, on a side note, the centrally located VIP/Filmmaker Cinema Lounge inside Fashion Island, buoyed by an array of drinks and snacks including Hansen Soda and was undeniably the central spot to work and interact which is the main proponent of any such event.

The 2010 Newport Beach Film Festival continued to show its prowess as a well programmed and inventive film festival using its proximity to LA in terms of a cultural mecca to great effect in the programming of location specific film. In keeping the event less celebrity driven, the intent is to keep the festival vibrant while not breaking the bank and keeping the local backers both enthused and active in this affluent community by the sea.

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