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Everything posted by copax7

  1. Favorite Directors

    Hi Maxine, Thanks for your question. I have to qualify my answer by saying that I don't really have any favorite directors per se. I have my list of favorite films and, oddly enough, there are just a few that are directed by the same person. There are a number of directors who consistently do great work (Billy Wilder, Preston Sturges, Frank Capra, Vincent Minnelli, Arthur Penn, Alfred Hitchcock, Richard Donner, John Ford, etc.) but I wouldn't call any of them my favorite director. So, with that in mind, here are just a few shining examples of great directing: “Love Letters” – William Dieterle “Song of Bernadette” - Henry King “Inherit the Wind” – Stanley Kramer “Lust for Life” - Vincente Minnelli “The Miracle Worker” - Arthur Penn “Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore” - Martin Scorsese “Sunset Blvd.” & “Some Like it Hot” - Billy Wilder “Day the Earth Stood Still,” “West Side Story,” & “The Sound of Music” – Robert Wise This is a list of some of my favorite films and just the tip of the iceberg. I think the common thread through all of these films, however, is that they contain great (and believable) performances that paint "heroic" characters in an appropriately stylized context. Now, you may not call Saint Bernadette a heroine, but in the context of the story (and in the way it is told) Jennifer Jones's characterization realistically projects someone who upholds her "truth" against very difficult odds. The same can be said of Kirk Douglas's performance as Van Gogh. It is clear to me that the directors in all these films fully know their subject AND have a clear (and passionate) point of view about it. There's nothing wishy-washy about their approaches to the characters or the way in which they visually tell their stories (whether you agree or disagree with their choices.) I happen to agree with their choices (which is why they are among my favorite films) but, more importantly, this clarity of vision and style is the most significant thing a director can bring to a project. As to women directors, there are a number of them (I know more who are in television than in film) and one--Ida Lupino--made some very good films. Martha Coolidge is a contemporary female director and she made one of my favorite films, “Ramblin’ Rose.” Perhaps there are a lot less women directors because it was typically considered (by many in the profession but not by me) a “man’s role,” a role that demands everyone in the cast and crew look up to them (much like the president of the United States!). I’m not a historian and I don’t know the ratio of women to men in the directing field at any given time. However, it’s safe to say that we haven’t seen as many women directors making the same caliber of films as male directors have been making overall. I must confess that I don’t know the reason for this. When I was at NYU film school (which, in those days, was specifically geared toward training the students to become directors), almost half the class was made up of women. Many of them had as much (or more) talent than some of the men in the program. As of now, only a few of those women have gone on to work in the film industry and even fewer within the directing profession (most are producers, editors, etc.). I suspect, if you asked the women who did not go on to become directors why they didn’t, you would get many different answers and these answers probably wouldn’t be related to being a woman. Like any career, it’s defined by personal choices and success is dependent on a variety of variables (of which gender is rarely relevant these days). So, finding out the reasons why there is a smaller bastion of women directors could make a good topic for an article or book. Cheers, Michael Paxton
  2. Screenwriting

    Hi, I'm very sorry for the delayed reply, but I had a few writing deadlines to meet this week. It sounds like you've done a lot of work reading up on screenwriting techniques and that you have a solid foundation of experience in the filmmaking process. I'm not familiar with "The Screenplay of Literature" and I have to admit that I'm not an authority on all the books on the subject that are out there. I did listen to the McGee course and found some helpful ideas/principles there. I also used a book called, "How to Write a Movie in 21 Days" by Viki King (where she puts forth her "Inner Movie Method" and how to write "from the heart") once. It was somewhat helpful in jump-starting the writing process and had some good things to say. Ultimately, I haven't found (nor have I looked too hard for) a book or course that is a foolproof, be-all and end-all to writing scripts. Ayn Rand's "The Art of Fiction" (and, even, "The Art of Non-Fiction") has more valid and essential things to say about writing than most things I’ve come across. So, I’m afraid I’m not much practical help here. I just don’t subscribe to the fact that certain things have to be developed by certain pages, etc. I believe that a story (for the motion picture medium) can be successfully told in a linear or non-linear fashion, and can build in an infinite number of ways on the page. It doesn’t mean that following those tried and true rules devised by the various writing gurus won’t work; it just means that you can successfully write “outside the box” as well. As long as you understand and know how to develop character and story properly, a unique “template” for a script can emerge. That being said, I do want to comment on your understanding that “…the screenplay is merely a blueprint…,” etc. Although I do think that the “script as blueprint” metaphor is a good one, saying that the screenplay is “merely a blueprint…” contradicts the very concept of what a blueprint is. Consider the building for the Manhattan Bank Company that Howard Roark is asked to “adapt” for a more publicly acceptable “look.” Roark is not asked to change the blueprint or the principles upon which the building would be built, only the way the building looks (its façade). The clients know the value of Roark’s sound designs—they’re innovative and they WORK. It’s the same with a script; if the theme, story, characters, dialogue, etc. are successfully integrated, the script is a blueprint that WORKS. A script is not only the concept and design of a film—it is the essence of it. Therefore, in my mind, a script isn’t “merely” anything; it is ESSENTIAL to a film’s identity (whether that identity was achieved by many collaborators, marketing executives, head of studios, or by one screenwriter). Regardless of how many (or who) has written a script, the quality and caliber of that script is solely dependent on the author(s)’ ability to communicate a theme and tell a story in a way that is compelling and entertaining. This entails creating all the elements necessary to do this—characters, dialogue, historical context, etc.--in a way that best serves the theme and story. Therefore, I would say, that to the extant a writer does a good job of writing a script and how much of that same script is preserved through to the editing process (and handled appropriately by the director), the movie will retain the script’s identity (and quality). However, going back to the Roark example, even though his blueprints for the bank would remain intact and only certain aesthetic elements would be altered, he still rejects the commission. The aesthetic designs were originally included in his blueprints and considered essential to his vision of the building. Roark knows that the changes would destroy the INTEGRITY of the building (even though the building could still be successfully built with an inappropriate façade). Likewise, a screenplay--as the essential foundation of a film--is subject to the same threats to its integrity. Since a screenplay is not a film until it is produced and directed onto the screen, there are many things which can alter the way the film will “look” (and “sound”) by the time it becomes an actual film. But, if the script remains in tact (that is, with all the plot points, transitions, characters and dialogue) when it becomes the film, the film should retain the essence of the script it was based on (the blueprint). This becomes more difficult to achieve when executives, actors, agents, and/or whoever else has the power to interfere throw their two cents into a script that they did not initially conceive (and probably don’t really understand). I think this is the model of the kind of script “…that will be revised over and over again by others (or their suggestions) until it fits into a marketable template” that you mention. As we’ve seen many times, this can prove to be fatal. More often than not, it just creates a mediocre script (and, ultimately, motion picture). The director, the actors, cinematographer, composer, etc., can always add to or detract from what has been written on the page. But it’s the director (above everyone else) whose responsibility it is to ensure that the vision of the script is retained. The director guides the cast and crew to make real what the script has already accomplished on paper (and “in theory,” so to speak). Of course, you could maintain all the elements from a wonderful script and the film might still end up betraying the essence of its blueprint (just as an inferior building can be built from brilliant blueprints if the plans are not followed properly). Neither the building, nor the film will live up to its potential (or stand the test of time). Sadly, the “marketable template” process you refer to is a process that many studios have adopted as the way to make their movies. I don’t recommend or respect this process, as I think it places arbitrary (and artificial) demands on films. Writing by committee based on the current marketplace is not my idea of a proper artistic process, and all you need do is look at the caliber of many of the films that are made today to see the results of that process. [Having worked for Disney when they didn’t do the “writing by committee” thing (“The Little Mermaid”) and when they did it completely (“The Lion King 1 ½”), I saw the difference between the two processes played out first-hand.] Well, I guess I went off on a tangent and didn’t give you any sources to go to for help! I’m truly sorry about that. Here’s hoping that there are some really good screenwriting source books or software out there and I just haven’t stumbled upon them yet. Regardless, I wish you continued success on your journey through the screenwriting and movie-making process. Cheers, Michael Paxton
  3. Screenwriting

    Hi, Before I give you any recommendations for screenwriting references, may I ask which school/department you're in at NYU and what courses you are taking? Since I went to NYU graduate film, it may give me a clue as to how to help you appropriately augment your studies. When I was at NYU film school, their writing department was abysmal. It was indeed a "visual medium" school and we were expected to just write "from the heart" stories that would be visually appropriate for film. Little emphasis was put on any real "process" of screenwriting. Things may have changed, however, and I'd be better equipped to help you if I had some context with regard to your current background in screenwriting and your studies. Off the cuff, I have to say that many of those formulaic theories (touted by the "big guns" you've read already) are fine and helpful--especially if you're writing a formulaic piece. However, it's not the only way to go about writing a script and the steps that are outlined shouldn't be taken too literally in every situation. Also, it would be helpful to know if there are certain areas of screenwriting you are having trouble with (if any). That, too, could steer me in the direction of some different--and more relavant--sources for you. Sincerely, Michael Paxton
  4. An Atlas Shrugged Movie

    Betsy, I don't have much to say about the recent press releases about the "Atlas" movie (I've only read one--in "Variety"). It's exciting to think that a movie will be made and that people who have major credits ("Ray") under their belts is a good sign. I know nothing else about the project or the people behind it. The mention of Pitt and Jolie doesn't disturb me as much as not knowing who they will select to direct and who will end up completing the script (I think they mentioned that James Hart's version is not the finished product). All in all, it's a real crap shoot, as they say. Miracles happen in Hollywood and good films do get made--even if it is a rare occurrence. I guess we should just think positively about it without getting our hopes up. And, let's face it, it's going to take more than a good movie to change the state of the world we are in. So, even if it is a perverted mess (which it could very well be), it will not change what Ayn Rand has written or created. Certainly, a movie that dramatically, realistically, and movingly portrays the story of "Atlas" would make a big difference in awareness and in exposing Ayn Rand's books to people (especially the young who are not completely corrupted by their education or upbringing). Let's hope that this becomes the case. As for the "ideal" movie, that would require discussing my own standards of what I require in a movie for it to be successful. This would take much too long to discuss here in detail, so let's just say (in broad terms) that it would be a movie that takes ideas seriously--not only in the script but stylistically (i. e., through the direction of the visuals, the sound, the acting, and the editing) as well. In other words, a movie that is consistent from beginning to end with its source material and the principles upon which it was "built." These are the times I wish Howard Roark were real--and that he were a director instead of an architect! As for someone "like me" doing it, I can only comment on whether I would want to be doing it. And the answer is YES! Cheers, Michael
  5. Academy Awards

    Betsy, Thanks for your question. Here are some of my thoughts on some of the films that are nominated in various categories this year. Since there really isn’t the space here to do a proper analysis or review of any of these films, I offer this in the spirit of just sharing quick estimations of the films I have only seen once. With the exception of "Brokeback Mountain"—the film that will most assuredly win Best Picture—I am not going into any detail. Also, since I personally know some of the filmmakers whose films I am mentioning, I want to say that despite the fact that in some cases I did not care for the work at hand, I know them to be talented filmmakers in their own right. That being said, here’s what I have to offer: This year, for me, I was haunted by the lines from "A Tale of Two Cities": “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way . . .” Certainly, it was the best and worst of times when it came to a number of widely heralded films. "Brokeback Mountain" and "Capote" are the best examples of this. Both are technically superior, serious films that failed to move me very much, if at all. "Brokeback," an overblown, nicely acted, anything BUT love story, just did not ever add up for me as a movie. One reviewer, Jeffrey M. Anderson, in his review, “Molehills and ‘Mountain’,” put it this way: “Virtually everything that has been written about Ang Lee's 'Brokeback Mountain' calls it a groundbreaking piece of work, mostly because it's the first film to marry the Western with a gay romance, but also because it comes at a time of great controversy for gay couples. Unfortunately, these honorable intentions are not enough to make 'Brokeback Mountain' a great movie, or even a good one. Though it may be a radical idea to combine two such opposing genres, the actual result ought to have some merit, and the movie is too tame and too clumsy to be worth much outside its 'groundbreaking' status…. Lee botches the all-important setup with his ham-fisted direction. Rather than using the mountainside itself as a physical, visual playground for the men's lust, Lee simply shoots a series of pretty postcards…. Lee instead aims for something mythic, along the lines of 'Titanic,' and fails to get at the basic, ground level human element. Since Lee has neglected to build erotic tension, the big sex scene lands flat. The boys simply jump on one another while spending a chilly night together in a beat-up tent. It's a rough, angry pounding, and it's more terrifying than it is romantic or erotic, as if Lee himself were afraid of the scene…. In 'Titanic,' the lovers occupied a cozy center spot within a large, historical disaster, and director James Cameron could further the story by juggling back and forth between the two. In Brokeback, Lee is plunged into a single storyline with no interesting background; he responds by hammering the same notes over and over…. Of course, these criticisms fly in the face of popular opinion; 'Brokeback Mountain' is a booby-trapped film, designed to appear like an Oscar winner, and to be viewed without question….” In addition, after the initial mountain sequence ends, we're catapulted (very slowly!) into “skipping-stone” mode, with just the hairstyles, graying mustaches and poorly applied makeup to tell us how much time has passed. Despite the long running time (134 minutes), "Brokeback Mountain" can only manage to capture highlights and very few (and in my mind, essential) details of the lives of its characters. For instance, when Ennis cannot connect with his growing daughter, it means very little because we have no idea who she is as a character. Ironically, for a film that is being touted by everyone as a great step forward in legitimizing gay relationships as a proper romantic choice for some people, it’s a film that never examines the urge to be gay, the personal experience of being gay, or whether the love between two men can and should be considered the same as the love between a man and a woman. Of course, these are not questions that the writer or the director are interested in. We already know their stand from the very outset. One reviewer (Fernando F. Croce) also stated that, “ …Lee can't tell the difference between criticizing oppression and turning out an oppressed work. The time-spanning narrative might as well have ended in 1982 with the release of "Making Love," because that's about how far back the movie sets gay cinema.” However, for the sake of argument, let’s say that all the filmmakers really wanted to do was make a convincing love story between two characters that happen to be men. Even in that narrow context, what we are presented with is a bond that is, as far as we are shown, carnal at best. Never do we see any kind of “spiritual” connection between these two men. To be specific, the incidents that we are shown (and the emotions that are revealed in the scenes) leading up to the two men sleeping together, simply don’t make sense (which, incidentally, is also true of the short story upon which the movie is based). Nor did I understand why the characters are both able to (and clearly choose to) lie to themselves and to everyone they know. Ang Lee’s less-than-linear approach to revealing such important tidbits did not serve this story well in my mind. Another reviewer (David Poland) echoed my sentiments in this regard as well: “My huge objection to this film is that it answers the questions it chooses to pose with great ease and alacrity. The harder questions are not far from the surface. And if this weren’t a gay romance, we would expect those questions to be answered…. The only circumstance that really stands in <the lead character’s> way is the fact that the film starts in 1963. Never mind that Stonewall took place in 1969 and this dusty duo is still whining about their tragic fate into the late 1970s. They are, after all, in the west. But for me, this dramatic excuse that seems to want to excuse the lack of choice made by these two very strong, very focused men, is a complete cop-out. If these men want to be together so badly, why not risk it? The West is, pointedly, the home of Matthew Sheppard and Brandon Teena. The threat of violence, not any of the moral issues of being in a marriage in which there is real love and tenderness or really considering one's person choices. In fact, I am a little shocked to think back to the idea that sexual preference is, for at least one of the characters, his central driver. The frustration for me as a viewer is that the movie doesn’t have the courage to really examine that issue. We do get the classic ‘he’s secretly gay, so he makes his wife flip over on her belly’ shtick. But is he demanding anal sex? What is it about the male-on-male sexual experience that has so bewitched these men? We don’t know because it’s all too precious to really discuss or even to explore in any meaningful verbal way. The more I think about the film, the more frustrating it gets. Jake Gylenhaal’s character, when off on his own, comes across a sexually aggressive woman. Great. How does this play into his secret life? Is she a willing partner at first and then turned off by more demands? Does their sex life tail off after she gives birth? Is it good but not enough...bad because it’s a girl? What is he looking for?…. And, damn it, lines like, 'You just don’t know how much I need it!' don’t turn the trick. And the argument that it is still a dangerous world for gay men even in big cities, but especially in rural areas, doesn’t make me feel like the story was well told, but more so that it would have been a real challenge and far more compelling to put this film in modern day. Do you think it is easy for men to come out now? Do you think cowboys like riding with gay counterparts now? My God, even after getting a divorce, one of the characters can’t move forward into this life. The last 15 minutes or so of the film does, in a quiet way, <try to> bring the perspective of the other characters into play... finally! But too little, too late.” Ultimately, the film’s log line says it all: “Love is a force of nature.” Well, then, romantic love has now been reduced to a tornado watch or a deadly virus that spreads without the desire or ability to stop it. Lovely. Plus, all the political jargon we hear daily about the fact that this film has done what no other film has done is, frankly, a falsehood. Maurice did it much bigger and better almost twenty years ago. But in 1987, the timing was against that stronger, deeper, more passionately told gay love story. The world (i.e., the political landscape, audiences and the media machine) was just not ready for it. And that’s the way it goes in the film business. As for "Capote"--a movie that never really gets off the ground for me--it is a film that comes off as a story told in “highlights,” with some eloquently shot details thrown in on occasion. Scenes always seem to start in the middle of something and end before they should. Too much happens off screen for my taste and we’re supposed to just “get” that Capote was incredibly funny, clever and tortured by his job writing “In Cold Blood.” While putting in a good "estimation" of Capote, I never really knew what was going on in Philip Seymour Hoffman’s head in any given scene. Catherine Keener was wasted (what, in fact, is she nominated for?). With the exception of the killer’s performance in the scene where he recounts the murders, nothing much resonated after the credits rolled. "Mrs. Henderson Presents" is a choppy, bad attempt at telling a poignant story through one silly event after another. It came off as a never-engaging collection of hokey bits. "King Kong" is a hodgepodge of some amazingly good and bad elements. I liked Kong, the score and some of the effects. Too long, too muddled (and generically anti-man in it’s message), it failed to make much more than a stirring statement for not bringing large, wild animals to the Broadway stage (I mean, what were they thinking?). "Narnia" was extremely well done for the most part and an involving ride. Unfortunately, the pacing was a menace in some sections of the film (especially where the religious metaphors were being played out). Utilizing too many shots at certain moments and taking too long to get to the next important event sometimes slowed the momentum of the story and diluted the cinematic hold the film had on me. But, as a children's book come to life, I was impressed (albeit more than moved) by this big, lush movie. I have not seen "Munich" or "Good Night and Good Luck." As for some of the “best times” this year: "Crash" is a riveting film and one that was, at first, difficult to watch. But once I got past the “impending violence” feeling of the initial scenes, I thought that this film had a lot to say about racial prejudice and the power of those convictions in the face of death. Everything from the cinematography to the score made this, I think, one of the best films of the year. "Memoirs of a Geisha" is undoubtedly my favorite film experience of the year. One of the best written, acted, shot, and edited stories in a long while. Beautifully paced and directed. I did not read the book upon which it was based, so I cannot comment on whether it was successful as an adaptation. But as a movie experience, I cannot recommend it enough. I also thought the score worked magnificently with the visuals. "Walk the Line" is a fine movie with some powerful and sharply drawn performances (Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon are stellar). Not a perfect film, it has a lot going for it (and that’s from someone who’s not a fan of Johnny Cash’s music). The father/son relationship was not resolved enough for me (and I don’t mean in terms of a happy ending). But the relationship between June Carter, Cash, and his addiction was movingly drawn. There is a terrific little speech delivered by Cash’s first producer (Sam Phillips) early on in the movie that was better than anything written this year. "Constant Gardener" is another very well done film, with a complex script and a compelling story. Add in a stirring score, terrific cinematography, editing and great performances (especially by Rachel Weiz) and it’s a worthwhile experience. "Transamerica" is a good story with some memorable performances. A little “chintzy” on the production side, overall I found this an interesting film with some very good acting. All in all, it’s a very satisfying little movie. Cheers, Michael
  6. Film school or DIY?

    The only advice I can give to a beginning filmmaker is to examine your experience and needs. When making a decision as to whether to go to a film school or to take the DIY approach, there are a number of questions I think you should ask yourself first: 1. Are you a self-starter and do you follow-through on projects no matter how tough things get? 2. Do you have any artistic experience or predilections? Do you consider yourself a creative person? 3. Do you have any knowledge about the filmmaking process? 4. What is your purpose for wanting to make films (to be a director, writer, producer, a combination of any of these)? 5. What kind of film are you interested in making as your first film? 6. How are you set financially? Could you afford to raise money for a film independently? There are others, but these are the ones that immediately come to mind. I really do believe that this decision will depend on an individual's situation and who they are as a person when they are having to make it. When I decided to go to film school, I had been a philosophy major in college and was, for the most part, an introverted, analytical person. Also, although I had been very artistic as a child (with drawing, painting, and playing musical instruments), I never thought of film as an art form or had any idea how a film was made. I had made a few short "movies" with a super 8 camera in high school and taken a few film theory courses in college, but the whole endeavor still seemed rather abstract. Therefore, the idea of jumping into the actual making of a film would have been ludicrous. Film school was the perfect venue for me to learn about the craft and to "come out of my shell," so to speak. I sorely needed to learn how to communicate with people on a different level than I was used to in order to make movies. Not to say that my philosophy background didn't come in handy--it was necessary. But, there are additional skills that I needed to be a director (which was what I wanted to be). Financially, film school made better sense for me as well. I was not financially well-off and needed the student loans and, eventual scholarships, to get by. Making movies back then was expensive (some costs are less now because of what the digital world can offer a filmmaker). So, for me, film school was a pretty good place to make my way. Obviously, if you answered most of the above questions positively, then you may be better suited to doing your own film right out of the gate. If you're good at raising money (or have the money on your own), then you've got a leg up. Of course, this doesn't mean that you will make a good film. That will depend on your knowledge and abilities in all the areas you will be tested in. Some people are self-taught, some are better when they are steered in the right direction. Personally, there are areas in filmmaking that I was actually self-taught. Others, I learned through a professor or listening to another director speak about his or her work. Other areas, I learned the way professionals or professors claimed things are done and then decided to do it my own way anyway. It's a mixed bag. Finally, whether you want to be a writer, director or producer will also dictate whether to go to school and/or which school you choose to go to. Some schools are better for writing, others are better for directing. You could read a book and learn how to produce by just making a film. Again, all sorts of ways to do it that will depend on who you are and what you want. Well, I hope I've shed some light on the topic for you. Remember, too, that I went to NYU film school in the '80s and I have no idea what their program (or the other schools' programs) are like today. They may have changed significantly. If it gives you any indication of how helpful NYU film school was to some of us, Ang Lee ("Crouching Tiger" and "Sense and Sensibility") was in my class and Spike Lee was a year ahead of me. Most of the people that I went to film school with are working in the industry in some capacity. And for all of them, there are probably just as many who never went to school and are just as successful in the industry. Whatever your decision is, I wish you good luck! Michael Paxton
  7. Sarah Bernhardt bio-pic?

    Betsy, I’m sorry for taking so long to respond to your questions. It’s been a busy couple of weeks! I first encountered Sarah Bernhardt when I was 12 years old. I was in the school library one day looking for someone interesting to write a book report about. Purely by accident, I came across a biography about the “Divine Sarah.” (This was right before I discovered Ayn Rand and quite some time before I thought of pursuing a career in theater or film.) I was immediately taken with Bernhardt’s life, simultaneously struck by her fortitude in the face of great opposition and her magnificent success as an actress and businesswoman. Mesmerized, I read the biography straight through in one sitting. Since, for some reason, we were not allowed to remove certain books from the library at the time, I had to go back again and again to re-read the biography. I simply wanted to relive the great moments in Bernhardt’s life, a life that I thought was more amazing than anything I had ever heard about before. Abandoned by her mother as a child and brought up in a convent, she had a rage to be noticed and not to be taken for granted. She never took “no” for an answer and never allowed anyone to dismiss her. She simply refused not to be taken seriously. As an actress, she was often plagued by stage fright. But a rage within her always came to her rescue and resulted in an uncanny passion to “go on,” no matter what. Whenever ridicule or fear threatened to defeat her, she mustered a powerful determination to prove all those who doubted her or wished her to fail wrong. Above anything else, she had a confidence in her ability to move an audience to the extreme heights and depths of human emotion. She was a passionate valuer, and she flung love at her family, her lovers and audiences alike with the ardor of a warrior. A tenacious and industrious spirit, she had a great admiration for art and for human achievement (she directly supported the making of films when the art form was still in its infancy). Coming into her own in the late 1800s, she operated in a man’s world as an equal and fought to be accepted on her own terms, creating nothing less than a spectacular career in the process. She performed many tours all over the world (including Europe, America and Asia), traveling great distances to reach her public (which was unheard of at the time). Adored by audiences everywhere, Victor Hugo requested that she alone play the leads in his plays, Ruy Blas and Hernani. She even played young male heroes while in her late seventies. And all this in spite of the fact that she had to perform immobile on the stage for the last seven years of her life (due to having one of her legs amputated after a backstage fall and an injury to her knee resulted in gangrene). She was a strong woman by any standards, and achieved worldwide fame despite often being criticized by her peers and the society at large. Whenever she was criticized, she said, "Yes, yes, I should do it again, quand même, in spite of everything, if they dared me again! And I shall always do what I want to do!” Quand même! (“in spite of everything and everyone”) was her motto—and it was how she approached every performance and business endeavor she engaged in. Although her stage performances are lost forever, her acting legacy is still written about to this day. It was this indelible impression that Sarah Bernhardt made on audiences that has stood the test of time and made her name synonymous with “dramatic” acting. (It was only much later that “Sarah Bernhardt” grew into an adjective to describe anyone who was over-acting--an unfounded description of her legacy and a misnomer). Years later, when I was directing, it was Sarah Bernhardt’s approach to her performances that I would accept as a standard when I worked with actors. In fact, Sarah Bernhardt was my inspiration for Kay Gonda in “Ideal” (even though it was Greta Garbo who inspired Ayn Rand). I wanted Janne Peters’ characterization of Kay Gonda to make audiences believe she had the same powerful impact on her fans as Sarah Bernhardt did. As to the current project, I hadn’t thought of making a film about Bernhardt until a few years after A Sense of Life was completed and a friend of Jeff Britting’s asked me to work on the idea. I began by doing extensive research--reading her autobiographies and the numerous books that had been written about her. Then I worked out a theme and an outline for what I wanted to do. Shortly thereafter, I pitched my ideas to Ellen Burstyn--one of my favorite actresses--who wanted to play Bernhardt. Ellen was pleased with the approach to the project and wanted to see a script in order to move forward with the film. Unfortunately, I had to put writing the script on hold when financial constraints necessitated that I move to Australia for two years to produce a film for Disney. That job and the subsequent jobs I took after returning to the U. S. were so all-consuming that it wasn’t until recently that I began to work on the script again in earnest. My approach to telling Sarah Bernhardt’s story differs from “A Sense of Life” in that it is not a documentary, but a drama focussing on one segment of Bernhardt’s life. The story is told from the perspective of a young man (a playwright) who actually knew Sarah Bernhardt in her later years until her death in 1923. However, my approach to the subject is the same as it was in telling Ayn Rand’s story in that I will be accentuating the qualities I believe to be the essence of Bernhardt’s character in order to project what I think her life and work meant. More broadly, it is a story that explores and validates the value and importance of the acting profession. That is, what it means to be a great actor and it’s purpose and relevance to human existence. As Meryl Streep once said, (I’m paraphrasing here) “…acting is giving voice to people who cannot speak for themselves—and it is a profound responsibility.” Giving that voice reality and breathing life into a character demands tremendous skill and dedication. I think, now more than ever, the fervor and seriousness with which Sarah Bernhardt approached her vocation (like Ayn Rand did with her writing) needs to be made visible in today’s disposable culture. I am not aware of Ayn Rand ever mentioning Sarah Bernhardt. It is unlikely that Ayn Rand would have been in a city at the same time that Bernhardt happened to be touring (Sarah’s last performance on the stage was in Paris in 1922). Ayn Rand may have seen one of Bernhardt’s silent films (she starred in eight silent films, the last of which was released in 1923), but I would have to check Ayn Rand’s movie diary to see if she indicated this. In any event, I doubt Ayn Rand would have been too impressed with Bernhardt’s screen performances. I am told Sarah Bernhardt’s acting style did not translate well to those films (I haven’t seen them, so I am reserving judgment until then). I hope I’ve answered your questions. Best regards, Michael Paxton
  8. Coming Attractions?

    Jasen, Thanks for your question and for your interest in my work. There was a point at which Winona Ryder's agent was interested in "Ideal" as a property for her (before she started shoplifting!). Unfortunately, I was not considered an "A" list director (a category that would include people like Martin Scorsese and Mike Nichols) and her agent did not want me involved or attached to the project. Concurrently, however, I was shooting scenes from "Ideal" (with Janne Peters as Kay Gonda) and was planning to integrate those scenes into "Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life." Ultimately, the "Ideal" portions of the film were removed from the documentary in the interest of time and sat on a shelf for a number of years. Recently, however, I resurrected these scenes for inclusion in the Collector's Edition DVD of "A Sense of Life." The Bonus Material disc in this set features all the scenes from "Ideal" that were filmed, as well as, an extensive photo gallery from the shoot. The new DVD edition is readily available at the Ayn Rand Bookstore and I hope you will take the time to check it out. As for future projects, I am still pursuing making "Ideal" into a feature film (the scenes that were filmed for "A Sense of Life" cover only about one third of the actual story) and have written scripts for "Good Copy" and "Her Second Career" as well. I've written a '40s-style musical for film and have begun writing a bio-pic about the great French actress, Sarah Bernhardt. As I've said previously, these projects are all in script form only--there are no development deals or actual productions in progress for them at the moment. Even though I work as a producer in 3D animation, I continue to work toward my goal of making another film of my own. As soon as I can make that a reality, I'll be sure to let the Forum know! Thanks again for your interest, Michael Paxton
  9. Sense Of Life in Spanish

    Alan, Sorry for the delay in answering your question. Yes, the Mike Wallace interview was great and I was very happy that someone had the good sense to do kinescope versions of the show (since video did not exist in those days). I did not have access to the Johnny Carson interviews because--as far as I (and Johnny Carson) are concerned--they no longer exist. Mr. Carson sent me a personal note to tell me how sad he was that these shows were erased by NBC in the late '60s (I think they were recycling tapes so they could record new shows over them and save production costs). At any rate, I could not locate any of these shows and would have absolutely used them if they existed. Of course, it might have been too much for the budget of the film since NBC was one of the more expensive licensees that I had to deal with. Their "Tomorrow Show" clips were quite expensive to license for the film. Regarding additional footage from "A Sense of Life" that is available--there are a few interviews that wound up on the cutting room floor. However, I really don't think they are worth sharing with an audience. I pretty much put everything that was worth seeing in the Collector's Edition. Of course, it would be great to actually cut the negative and do a real sound mix/score for the "Ideal" scenes and the bonus interviews someday (to make them look and sound better), but that would cost a bit of money to do. Perhaps that will happen with a "Restored" version of the movie and bonus material in the distant future. Unfortunately, I do not know the identity of the woman seated behind Ayn Rand at the hearings. We aren't sure who would be seated in that section of the room (journalists? politicians? secretaries?). Watching that footage used to crack me up because I thought she looked like Edith Head, the costume designer, and not unlike the Edna character in "The Incredibles". Michael Paxton
  10. Original Work

    Nicolaus, Yes, I have "plans" for an original movie in that I have a number of scripts that I intend to make into films. Unfortunately, I work in animation production to make my living and it hasn't allowed me much time to devote to getting these projects off the ground. Independent filmmaking has become much more expensive, risky and competitive in recent years, so I have found it difficult to get funding for projects. Plus, the demands of making "A Sense of Life" (the original movie, companion book, soundtrack and, most recently, the Collector's Edition DVD) have limited my ability to devote time and start-up funds to new projects while I continue to work full time on studio funded, animated movies. However, I am in no way giving up. At the moment I am working on a musical that is a throwback to the Hollywood musicals of the '40s and a drama based on Sarah Bernhardt's life in the theater. Neither of these scripts are overtly Objectivist in content, but since I am writing them and intend to direct them they will certainly come from an Objectivist viewpoint. In addition, I have written scripts for full-length movie versions of Ayn Rand's "Ideal," "Good Copy" and "Her Second Career." None of these projects have funding or are in any stage of production at the moment (or even have prospects of being in production). I'm plugging away at making that happen, nevertheless. As far as knowing anyone else who is making an Objectivist related film, I think I read somewhere that a film adaptation of "Anthem" was in the works and that some independent company is still attempting to make "Atlas Shrugged" into a feature film. However, I do not know the status of these projects or if the people involved are Objectivists in any way. Other than that, I am not aware of any films being made from an Objectivist viewpoint. It doesn't mean that they don't exist, I just don't know about them personally. At any rate, let's hope there are others out there in the film industry who are working to create such projects. We are sorely in need of them! Cheers, Michael Paxton
  11. Sense Of Life in Spanish

    Alan, Just found out that the email for Jon Gerrans at Strand Releasing has changed. It is Thanks, Michael
  12. Sense Of Life in Spanish

    Hi Alan, Thanks for your question and for your comments on "A Sense of Life." I'm always glad to hear that the film has moved people. Unfortunately, in regard to a Spanish version of the film, we do not have a foreign distrubutor at the moment. We did have one for a number of years but they did not do a very good job. I do recall that they claim to have licensed the film to play on Spanish television, but I'm not sure this truly happened. With overseas film distributors, it is difficult to monitor their activities. The good news is that the contract with that distributor has expired and the foreign distibution rights are now available. Strand Releasing (the US distributor) has talked with me about handling the foreign market for the film as well, but I think they are unsure of the demand in other countries for the documentary. I would suggest that you email or write them and share with them your thoughts on how much interest there would be for the film in your country. This may inspire them to get the film released to Spanish speaking territories. Their contact information is: Strand Releasing, Attn. Jon Gerrans, 6140 W. Washington Blvd., Culver City, CA 90232-7465, (310) 836-7500 (email: In the meantime, I will pass on the information to them as well. It can't hurt to let them know that Ayn Rand is now being read more and more in other countries. Thanks again and here's to Ayn Rand's books being read all over the world (not to mention, a little film about her life being seen right along with them as well!). Cheers, Michael Paxton