Bret Wood's Efforts and Exploits

An updated guide to film and DVD work.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Back to Church?!

Alright... I realize that those who don't know me might be confused about Rapture. Why is the guy who made Psychopathia Sexualis making a short film about a Pentecostal preacher?

Oh ye of little faith.

I don't want to go into a lengthy explanation of the film -- I'm going to post it online in a week or two, so you can see for yourself -- but suffice it to say, it does not offer a conventional view of charismatic religion. It does not make fun of the religion, either. I think it's pretty honest, actually.

However, it does make some observations about that particular denomination... for example, the way fear is used to coerce people to salvation.

And of course... I wrestle with my usual philosophical demon ... and explore the strange ways in which sexual desire manifests itself under the yoke of repression.

Nuff said.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Another 48 Hours

Just finished a virtually sleepless weekend of sweating, worrying, writing, discussing, directing, eating and editing. Yes, it was time for the 48 Hour Film Project. For those not familiar with the 48, it is a national competition (though we undertake it strictly as an exercise) in which teams of filmmakers make an eight-minute film within a 48-hour period. To insure that the films are created from the ground up, teams are assigned certain elements that must appear in the film: prop, line of dialogue, character and genre.

To producer Tracy Martin and myself, it's an annual test... just to make sure our production skills are staying sharp. Rather than just gathering a few friends and shooting in the backyard, we assemble a full-scale production team, and run everyone through the wringer within that two-day process. It guarantees a great-looking end result... but it infinitely complicates the process of making the film.

This year was particularly grueling, because the scale of production was bigger than ever... and we didn't go into the project with a head full of stand-by ideas. When I handed out my script Saturday -- the day of the shoot -- at 5:00 am, it was... one might say... spare. Heads were scratched... looks were exchanged. "This is it?" was asked. I would mutter an excuse and duck out... to find a secluded spot and curl into a fetal position.

Back it up a minute. Let me fill in a few details. We're allowed to secure a location in advance of the Friday 7:00 pm starting gun. Tracy was scouring the area for a nice large location with lots of visual possibilities. For a while it looked like we were shooting in a jail/prison... but that space was not available at the time of our shoot. Then Tracy called and said, "I got a friend who has a church. Do you want to just shoot there?"

"A friend who has a church." How does she do these things? Who does she NOT know in this town? I shouted "Sold!" and the first piece of the puzzle fell into place. Between that point and the starting gun, I tried to think churchy thoughts... mentally revisiting the Pentecostal services of my childhood (Chattanooga's Woodmore Church of God, where my mother was the organist).

I wanted to explore the idea of fear and desire... two huge ingredients of a charismatic church service.

I re-read some of my treasured Jack T. Chick comics. Those not familiar with Chick need to get their souls to his website pronto: Chick Publications. My personal faves are: Somebody Loves Me, A Demon's Nightmare, and Bewitched?. Then I re-watched some of my favorite church-themed films, those created for the ministries of Estus Pirkle: The Burning Hell and If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do?. They, more than anything else, influenced my mind on that fateful weekend. Let me just pause to say the Estus Pirkle films are SUBLIME, especially if you grew up in that kind of environment. I tried to watch Marjoe again, but UPS didn't get it here fast enough. Anyway, enough backstory. I had some cultural references... the cauldron was starting to bubble... but it didn't have time to cook.

My first reaction, when we drew the genre "martial arts," was sheer panic. But upon a little meditation, and some consultation of reference guides as to what exactly "martial arts" means... it actually helped bring a story into focus. I didn't want to make a karate movie, that much was obvious... so I thought back on some of my favorite Honk Kong films -- such as Tsui Hark's Zu: Warriors of the Magic Mountain. These are martial arts films, but with a more spiritual foundation (Buddhism). And, since my son is a Star Wars fanatic, I thought about the Jedi -- that they are true martial artists because their powers lie in a mixture of spiritual centeredness, mind-control and precise physical combat skills. Reverend Horace Lovejoy... Jedi. It started to click...

The starting gun sounded.

I may not have had a script, but I had something even more valuable... the confidence of an extremely talented cast and crew. They had faith that this peculiar sketch of a screenplay might work. Others didn't bother reading the script. They just went with it. Everyone threw in their own ideas.

Saturday around 7:30, Bruce Bennett showed up with audio files of the music he had prepared with Paul Mercer. He arrived in his 1970 GTO. Pam and Erica (makeup team) slapped some brylcreem on his head, Sean (costume guy) threw a mechanic's shirt on him, and Bruce made his screen debut (and so did the GTO).

The cast was amazing. They totally saved the day. Anne Towns stars as Hope (one thing I was clinging to at that moment), a frazzled mom who is taking her child (Michael DiNardo) to church. She is received by two friends of hers from the high school days: Faith (Sarah Falkenburg) and Vanessa (Shelby Hofer). They sit in on a sermon by the visiting evangelist Reverend Lovejoy (Daniel Burnley). But then we filled the congregation with a supporting cast of local actors. I've worked with most of them before, and I gotta say, they are dedicated, hard-working, talented and are always popping with great ideas and instincts... even when they've been sitting around for nine hours... make that eleven hours... waiting to be called. But when the altar call came... they responded. Permit me to offer special thanks to three very talented, always reliable actors whom I've worked with in the past: Jim Adams, David Doerrier and Sally Shornick. They gave me their day, they shared their talents. But because of the unpredictable nature of the shoot... and the equally unpredictable variables of editing... they are virtually unseen in the film. I mean, you see them... but only their backs and shoulders. I know... actors are used to being cut out of films... but I am particularly sorry that their roles were diminished... because it was such a challenging day. It was primarily my own fault for not better planning the shots in relation to the editing to happen later. Please work with me again.

But... they did get to listen to a rousing sermon by Daniel Burnley. In the script, it just said, "SERMON" and "ALTAR CALL." I took this to Daniel. He offered me a kindly smile... took up his Bible in one hand... raised a handkerchief in the other... and all heaven broke loose.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Comstock Films on PSYCHOPATHIA

PSYCHOPATHIA is trickling out into the blogosphere. On Thursday, May 18, Tony Comstock posted an insightful essay about the film at Tony Comstock's Blog.

After he wrote the piece, Tony and I talked about PSYCHOPATHIA at some length, and discussed the degree to which the Victorian mindset (especially in its view of heterosexual reproduction-oriented sexuality) persists today... in politics and to some degree in our own minds.

Be sure to check out the site for Tony's company, Comstock Films. Tony has made (and continues to make) a series of artful yet provocative films that challenge the conventional represenatations of sex on screen.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Southern Screen Report

I should've posted this a long time ago -- the first official story published about the production of Psychopathia Sexualis. It appeared in the print version of Southern Screen Report and is downloadable as a .pdf (it's the November 19, 2005 issue).

Illustrated Films’ Feature
Raises Eyebrows

By Pamela Cole

ATLANTA,GA — Prostitutes,lesbians, slashers,and shadow puppets all feature in the latest endeavor from Illustrated Films, Psychopathia Sexualis. Does this sound like an adaptation of a 19th century medical book to you? Well,it is. “I‘ve always had this interest in the bizarre,” said writer/director Bret Wood, explaining what lead him to an 1880 medical study by Austrian psychiatrist, Richard von Krafft-Ebing. (Cue the heavy German accent.) Wood was researching films from the 1920s and 30s for another project when he came across colloquial references to the psychiatrist. “As in,‘this is too weird for Krafft-Ebing’,” he said with a grin.

Of course,that tempted him to read Krafft-Ebing’s classic work, Psychopathia Sexualis (Latin for psychopathy of sex). The book, largely discredited today, is considered to be the landmark study that established most modern beliefs (and prejudices) surrounding sexuality. Even before Freud was warning us about cigars and slips of the tongue, Krafft-Ebing dared to expose society’s sexual aberrations in a way that claimed to be a medical study, but ended up being mostly sensational and voyeuristic. Everyone wanted to see a Krafft-Ebing lecture — it was the 19th century equivalent of the modern peep show.

The Illustrated Films production team of Wood and Producer Tracy Martin has brought Krafft-Ebing’s work to life in their film of the same name. The feature is built around Krafft-Ebing’s famous lectures, where the good doctor discusses the more interesting cases in his book: it contains 238 tales of “sexual perverts” including lust murderers, vampires, necrophiles, lesbians, nymphomaniacs, sadists, and masochists. (Nice reading, if you have the time.) Wood adapted 20 of the case studies for the film, selected mostly “by cinematic value.” “Some of the scenes are verbatim from the book,” he added..“I remember reading it and thinking, this would make a great film. The cases were like short stories, which gave us lots of flexibility in production. We could just shoot the stories we could budget, and we weren’t locked into certain actors in case we lost somebody. It was a really good approach, shooting something with lots of little stories.”

Rumors had the budget as high as $13 million for this period piece, which was shot in 25 days, mostly on weekends, over....

To read the rest, go to Southern Screen Report.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Walking on the Wilder Side

Life isn't all Psychopathia, you know. Even aspiring filmmakers have day jobs. Well, this one does, anyway.

I'm just finishing a project that I'm very excited about. Several years ago, Volker Schlondorff (The Tin Drum) made a three-hour interview-format documentary on Billy Wilder called Billy, How Did You Do It? I've been entrusted with the task of reworking the epic documentary into a compact 70 minutes (for American television). Retitled Billy Wilder Speaks, it will air Thursday, June 22 on Turner Classic Movies (consult local listings for details).

The documentary's pretty amazing. Imagine sitting at Wilder's desk for more than an hour while he gives you lessons in filmmaking, reveals fascinating details about the making of his films and his clashes with the studios, skewers Hollywood's pomposity, and constantly spits out the screenplay-worthy wisecracks.

I've always liked Wilder's work, but to be honest, I was always troubled by the melancholy cloud that hangs over so many of his films. Kiss Me, Stupid and The Apartment are great comedies... but they're also heartbreaking in ways that are not easy to define. There is a sense of lovesick yearning that pervades The Seven Year Itch and Some Like It Hot and lingers well after the movie has ended.

In Schlondorff's documentary, Wilder talks about how films shouldn't be neatly stitched up at "The End." The story should be resolved, but the viewer should be left with the sense that the characters' lives will continue... and they will live on beyond the closing credits. He resisted the impulse to nail the narrative shut at the end of the movie... and maybe that's why he and so-screenwriter I.A.L. Diamond ended some of their films with very unromantic, unsentimental last lines (as if refusing to cave in to the neat, tidy meaningful ending). "Kiss Me, Stupid." "Shut up and deal." "Nobody's perfect."

Once you become aware of that dark lining of malaise, you learn to savor it, because it's truthful, it's affecting and it's something that cannot be found in Hollywood pictures (then or now). I agree with him that love is not about happiness and laughter, but about anxiety and desire and trying to reach a point of emotional security in someone else's company. Movies that try to sell you on the idea of "Happiness ever after" are pure bunk.

I guess that's why I like the non-traditional romantic films best -- like Carol Reed's The Third Man or David Lean's Brief Encounter. Significantly, neither of these is a Hollywood picture and both of them deprive the would-be lovers of a blissful union. You watch them over and over, thinking, "Maybe this time..."

But no.

Anyway, check out the Wilder documentary. I'm privileged to have worked on it.