Monday, February 28, 2011

It Happened in The Valley...Foiled by the Façade

We joked about snow falling on our upcoming Picnic in Bedford Falls, but we didn't think the weather gods would unleash the white stuff on us as we journeyed to Casablanca. 

Despite the epic weather in random parts of The Valley, a small group of us ventured to Van Nuys to view the remains of the airport hangar used in the final scene of Casablanca. Unfortunately for us, the hangar was under wraps...literally! Now officially part of the Airtel Plaza Hotel, the iconic movie set is being restored and renovated for use as a special events location. We plan to make this trek again, and next time we promise to call ahead to make sure we can tour it properly.

Even though, as our title suggests, we were foiled by the façade, all was not lost. We met in the Clipper Club Lounge, modeled after the world-famous Long Bar at Raffles Singapore (home to the Singapore Sling), which is reminiscent of Malayan plantations of the 1920's with oversized chairs, soft lighting, and a comfortable atmosphere.  What made it better was that the Clipper Club Lounge has a DAILY Happy Hour from 4pm to 7pm, with $4 beers, wines, well-drinks, and $6 small plates. The food is far from exotic, but it was good. Our group shared an order of sliders, chicken fingers, and avocado egg rolls. Buyer be warned, the avocado egg rolls are mostly chicken with a hint of avocado. Still, all was devoured and nothing was bad.

While it may take a while for us to truly enjoy Cocktails in Casablanca, The Valley Film Festival will definitely use the Clipper Club Lounge as a base for networking mixers. What's not to love about a weekend Happy Hour and free street parking? As always, we hope you'll join us.

Jane Russell, Valley Goddess, Dead at 89

Jane Russell, Van Nuys High
The world may remember her as the iconic sex symbol that she became, but The Valley Film Festival will always remember Jane Russell as the Valley Girl she was.

Miss Russell grew up in the heart of The Valley, graduated from Van Nuys High in 1939 (coincidentally, the same alma mater of fellow goddess, Marilyn Monroe, and legendary actor, Robert Redford) and went on to make the (818)...then known by its telephone exchange name, STate 78...very proud.

To read more about her life and death, please visit LA Observed- a great blog run by the masterminds behind The San Fernando Valley: America's Suburb - or LAist, another great blog we frequent often for all things local!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Filming in the (818)...Need a Ghost Town? We Found One!

If you didn't already know, The Valley Film Festival is a huge fan of regional production. VFF encourages all filmmakers to look at their backyard a little differently and find something other than, well, a backyard. 

Have an industrial setting and in need of factories complete with railroad tracks? Follow your nose down San Fernando Road. Perhaps your film calls for an orange grove? Head south on Oakdale, off Ventura Blvd., in Woodland Hills and there you'll find acres upon acres of citrus trees. Maybe you need something a bit more metropolitan? Check out Studio City's hustle and views. Looking for east coast fall foliage? A drive down Burbank Blvd. (west of Sepulveda) can double as the Vermont countryside with a little imagination.

While on an official VFF mission (more to come on that later), we found what could easily double as a ghost town, or even an atomic site, in North Hollywood...Valley Plaza. 

Once home to over 120 storefronts, anchored by Sears, J.C. Penney, and Thrifty, this was the busiest open air mall west of the Mississippi River in the 1950's and 1960's. Today, this 23-acre parcel on Victory Blvd., between the 170 freeway and Laurel Canyon, is almost empty. 

Sears is holding its ground in the plaza on the north side of Victory, but the south side of the plaza is boarded up and begging to be a location in your next film before it's totally demolished for the sake of redevelopment. 

Quick! Put your thinking caps on, start writing, and grab your camera. For some inspiration, we found a great site that chronicles the rise, fall, and (potential) rebirth of Valley Plaza, and we took some photos too. 

Let us know if you end up shooting at Valley Plaza or if you know of any unconventional locations nestled in the great (818) we should talk about.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

“An Independent Woman: An Interview with Indie Producer Amy J. Moore”

Part of the VFF’s commitment to independent film is to promote and exhibit the work of talented women like Amy J. Moore. Amy is an innovative Emmy-nominated producer and cultural activist who has successfully created and implemented worldwide programs and independent productions to inspire social change. The first female president of the University of Michigan student body, Amy has gone on to win the George Foster Peabody Award, an NAACP Image Award, and the American Film Institute’s TV Program of the Year award.

Her most recent credit is The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, a series which aired on HBO and BBC. She is currently developing "Amani: The Shadow Warrior," a new African superhero universe targeted globally to young men to reinforce the necessity of taking responsibility towards justice and wellbeing. As a fledgling acquisitions assistant, I first met Amy in the mid ‘90s, when she was the Senior Vice President, Head of Production at Unapix Entertainment. Unapix specialized in the home entertainment market, with an occasional low budget theatrical release, during what I remember as the quixotic heydays of independent film. I have had the good fortune to call her a friend and mentor ever since, and want to share with you her fierce and fearless outlook on independent producing.

MV: How and when did you discover Ladies’?

AJM: The first book in the Alexander McCall-Smith series, The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, hadn't been published yet when I discovered it. I was the CEO of the first black empowerment film company in South Africa called New Africa Media Films and I was on the lookout for material that had a resonance with Africa, not particularly South Africa, because I didn't want to do apartheid movies, but rather wanted to get under the skin of the emotional content. What it felt to be a South African or an African at that particular time. I like movies that inform us about living, not about dying. Most Hollywood movies are about entertaining special effects and violence. Anyway, it was August 2000, a cold bright blue winter South African day, and I sat reading, trying to catch up with a never-ending pile of script and book submissions. I read No. 1 Ladies’ in one sitting. Towards the end--when I got to a description of the main character, Mma Ramotswe as mother, Africa, wisdom, understanding, good things to eat--I knew that I wanted to make this movie.

MV: Why did you fall in love with the story and when did you make the commitment to yourself that you would invest the time and personal capital in fighting for it?

AJM: The level of a commitment is always a crucial thing for me. I'm not the one-night-stand type of producer. I don't go to parties and try to attach my name to anything that's walking. I don't network nor look for things to jump on or put my name on. To me, that's not producing. It takes me an enormous amount of time but I like to grow projects myself. So when I look at material or germs of ideas, I always ask if I can spend ten years of my life on a particular project. Is my passion at that moment worthy of ten grueling and miserable years of my life? Most times the answer is no. I remember once looking at No. 1 Ladies’ and saying, "Well ... if it were a child I had given birth to, I'd be walking that child to first grade now." We still weren't in pre-production.

MV: When approaching producers to work on your project, what was your strategy to get them involved and keep them involved? How did you woo them?

AJM: I don't woo. I focus purely on the content and try to get that right. Then I present it saying, "You're stupid if you don't do this." No one believed Anthony Minghella would write and direct No. 1 Ladies’. I was always - like - well of course he will. He’s not an idiot. Naivety well placed is a virtue in our business.

MV: When you get producers involved who are more established and powerful, how do you prevent your voice from getting overwhelmed? How do you preserve your voice and vision for the project?

AJM: I could say pick your partners carefully - but no one ever does. I try to build in pockets of influence through increasing the quality of my contribution. My attitude is to contribute and to make that contribution worthy of persuasion and influence. I firmly believe this. And it's a bunch of baloney because the egos will always run you out of town. I have structured influence around raising the money too. At the end of the day, you become the one they reluctantly invited to the pick-up football game because you own the ball but nobody wants you on their team. It's really difficult and there are all sorts of bad behaviors out there.

MV: How much should a junior or first-time producer get compensated in relation to the more "name" producers who come aboard the project? What is an equitable amount in terms of work put in versus what their "name" might bring to a project?

AJM: I don't believe in the names. It's all rubbish. If a rose were not called a rose would it still smell as sweet? I think so. I think that one of the big problems in the industry is the attachment of 25 billion producers. It deflates the value of what we do. Where's the essence? Name-only producers are not even one-night stand producers. They should be ashamed.

MV: When did you see the light at the end of the tunnel?

AJM: I'm hoping it will be this year sometime.

MV: What were some down moments when the project had stalled or you thought it might never come to fruition and how did you overcome them?

AJM: Well, I drank a lot. I put on weight. I came back to New York (from South Africa) and looked out the windows and turned up the air conditioning while everyone outside was having fun and frolicking at the local café called Edwards. I watched Oprah and wondered what had happened to our society. I got her on that day she gave all those cars away. I did a theatrical show in New York called Drumstruck that was a huge success and I called Sydney Pollack every day and he phoned me back, leaving jolly messages on my answering machine. I sank my teeth in and I did not let go. I sank my teeth into every aspect of the project and tried to play everything off that center.

MV: Is there ever a time to call it quits on a project? When does perseverance cross over into the realm of unproductive obsession?

AJM: If you don't have the rights to something or can't get them but need them - then give up. If you're bankrupting yourself - something I've seen people do - don't do it. If absolutely everyone says the same thing about your material - - I always wanted to make a remake of Graham Greene's Our Man in Havana but change the scenario to having the main character, instead of being a Hoover salesman, be a film producer who is making an imaginary film in a third world country. I suppose that's because I have been that character, puttering away, making imaginary films in third world countries. Of course, the people I can't abide by are the ones who are passionate, passionate, passionate about their projects - I read and comment and spend time with ideas - and then one day, they turn and say, "Oh ... I'm not doing that now." Why did I waste my time?

MV: Are there moral victories in trying to get a project produced that ultimately never comes to fruition? What lessons or value can be salvaged from a project that fails to launch?

AJM: If you're really producing, not just putting your name on something - then a well-timed failure that doesn't destroy you, can really help you to learn. Think of Roger Corman and all the opportunities that he gave to our leading filmmakers of today. Those were "failures" but the guys got to practice, practice, practice. Film stock is so expensive that it's hard to practice anymore. One of my favorite movies is Zorba the Greek. He makes this contraption purely for the joy of making the contraption. I think of that movie a lot. There’s a lot of joy in that movie which is really about the joy of doing. Hollywood's got to get back to the doing not the talking.

MV: How did you convince the author to let you acquire the rights and adapt the story?

AJM: He called me. He had known of my work in Africa. He offered me the rights over the phone and I said no. I insisted on flying up to Edinburgh to see him, knowing that optioning somebody's work is on par with taking over their baby.

MV: What were the main obstacles in selling a script with an African female as the main protagonist to an American creative team for an American audience?

AJM: The creative team was so good that there were few obstacles in the selling of the material. The adaptation itself was difficult. The place depicted in the books was not the place of reality.

MV: Is having international appeal more of a requirement now than ever before?

AJM: The US market still drives the business, like it or not. Having a good idea is the biggest requirement now more than ever before.

Matthew Valentinas is an entertainment lawyer and literary manager who travels between Boston and Los Angeles.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

It Happened in The Valley...Here's Looking at You, Bedford Falls

When The Valley Film Festival was first founded, one of the main reasons was to correct cinema history. Sort of. For instance, when you think of the classic films Casablanca and It's a Wonderful Life, you think "Hollywood" when you should be thinking Burbank, Van Nuys and Encino...The Valley!

When Isla's plane takes off, leaving a broken-hearted Rick behind on the airstrip in Casablanca, it wasn't from the comforts of the Warner Bros. lot like the rest of the Burbank...but what is now the Van Nuys Airport. The hangar featured in the film has been somewhat preserved and can be viewed from the parking lot of the Airtel Plaza Hotel.

More impressively vexing is that the entire town of Bedford Falls created for It's a Wonderful Life, lies underneath residential homes and Balboa Park in Encino. There, on the corner of Burbank and Balboa Blvd.'s is the former site of the RKO Studio Ranch. We always knew the iconic film was shot in Encino, but where exactly always remained a mystery. Thanks to Van Nuys Boomers for doing the research before us.

For our February and March historical outings, we propose the following:

February 2011: Cocktails at the Clipper Club Lounge where we can view the remains of Casablanca

March 2011: Picnic in Bedford Falls. Pack your lunch and/or bring something to share. VFF will stake out an area just for our friends and we'll toast to all we're grateful for.

Exact details TBA. Please feel free to suggest a specific date and time, or an April outing!

Sundance 2011 ~ Just Another Manic Monday (Day 5)

My final musings from Park City sat in draft status for almost 10 days. Oops! 

While my posts may seem a bit vapid, I promise others are working on less dull round-ups of their time in Park City. We'll give you some juicy bits with more film reviews shortly. Promise!

In the meantime, I spent my final day hopping from one event to the next, talking up The Human Race and Death of a Fluffer. Stops along the way included the Sundance Co-Op (where I ran into Cindy Baer, VFF06 Morbid Curiosity, working the Canon room) followed by lunch at what has become this festival's "Old Faithful" --- The Sundance Channel HQ.

Ashley Cozine and I had some time before the FIND party so we dug out the Flip HD and mapped out a two-minute short about a woman who lost something and is on the search. The idea was to rely heavily on Ashley's love & ability to rock the physical comedy world. Mid-way through our shoot, we stumbled upon the oddest site ever...a bank of trees with nothing but shoes hanging from them. We're not talking a handful of pairs, we're talking HUNDREDS! This opportunity was too good to pass up and we shot an improvised piece currently titled I Love Stephen.

The temperature was dropping fast at this point, so we dove into 501 Main for a bowl of chili...a minute after Demi Moore, Ashton Kutchner and brood had left. And that's ALL our bartender and waitress and the entire staff talked about while we were there. Sigh.

At the FIND party, I met Eddie Schmidt, Board President, IDA, and one of the producers behind Troubadours which screened at Sundance. Troubadours follows the rising music scene at L.A.'s Troubadour Club in the 60's and 70's and will be at the Laemmle Sunset 5 in February.  Check it out! Eddie was also very kind to give me his ticket to Perfect Sense later that evening.

After FIND, Ashley and I caught the tail end of the UCLA party. We were there for literally 5 minutes, before they kicked us out, but in that short time, we ran into VFF friend (and Entertainment Attorney) William Vu who generously gave Ash his ticket to Perfect Sense.

We regrouped at Robert Redford's ZOOM for dinner and drinks. There, we met up with Hila Shani, Kate Logan, Tanya B., Tobuscus and Frank Moens from the Docville Film Festival in Belgium who rounded out our social donut. And, Robert Redford joined us too. OK, maybe from 5 tables away, but he was in the room and we have the picture to prove it.

Finally, another movie! David Mackenzie's Perfect Sense. From the synopsis, I was expecting a dark love story between a scientist (Eva Green) and a chef (Ewan McGregor) evolving during her research into his loss of smell. Not even close.  It's the end of the world as we know it and first one loses their sense of smell, followed by taste, then hearing, and finally vision. It's a heavy, it's intense, it's raw, it's fantastic! I loved that Eva & Ewen's characters were such pricks (or, as Eva observed, Mr. & Mrs.. Asshole) in their everyday lives and relationships, but that they managed to find the good in themselves through each other. This is definitely worth a watch (cinematography and music are beautiful) but be warned, if you're like me do not have plans for's an emotionally exhausting experience and you'll want to be alone...or with loved ones. And if you're familiar with David Mackenzie's other works, you'll pick up some familiar themes...I saw a bit of Mister Foe myself. Follow Sweet on Sigma for updates.