Bret Wood's Efforts and Exploits

An updated guide to film and DVD work.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

While Waiting...

Finished The Seventh Daughter a few weeks ago -- well, can't say "finished," why don't I say "completed a draft with which I am quite satisfied." It is now out there... being considered... by a few different people/places. The process slowly begins.

And I'm here.


As much as I complain about wanting some time to relax and do nothing, I'm just not wired that way. So I've put together a nice little script and plan to shoot a short film in March (circa 3/24-27 if you're interested in crewing). I miss directing so much, and I'm yearning to get back on the set again.

And I'm sticking to my vow not to enter any more of these #-hour film challenges. Don't get me wrong -- I like them, and they helped me put some really interesting stuff on my reel -- but anything shot under those conditions is inevitably compromised. How good can something be if it was written in a few hours, shot in a day, edited and mixed in a day? I think we put together some really good ones in the past, but I want something that isn't hobbled. Instead of cramming everything into one day, I want to spread it out to four days, and allow myself lots of time to finesse the direction. Have the time to properly post it.

If The Seventh Daughter manages to find a backer, I'm going to have to prove my directorial skills to insure that I'm permitted to wear that hat. And that's another reason I'm shooting this new project, tentatively titled Half.

It's in no way related to The Seventh Daughter. I want to show that I can do something more contemporary. It's as dark and twisted as anything in Psychopathia, but hopefully it has a more rich emotional texture. I'd better shut up before I jinx it.

In the next week or so I'll be sending out a couple of announcements. I'm presenting a collection of short films (nothing of my own) at the 2/10 meeting of The Woman's Angle, and introducing a screening of Psychopathia at a 2/12 Dailies meeting. Details to follow.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Ten Bestests

For those who know me because of my DVD work, I just want to give a shout-out to Kino. Several DVDs I worked on this year have made critics' lists for the best of the year:

NOSFERATU made The New York Times's list:

Time Magazine ranked POTEMKIN number five on their list:

There were others, too, but these were the biggies.

Thanks to Kino International for giving me the opportunity to work on these films. As producer, my input included boxcover design, replacing the original-language intertitles with graphically-similar English-language intertitles (they were released as dual-disc editions, so people could see the original-language titles), and all the menu design. In the case of Nosferatu, I supervised the creation of an English language audio track to the documentary, and curated other bonus material. Other people deserve more of the credit: Donald Krim for selecting the films, Brian Shirey for supervising all production, Vince Evans for design supervision, Rob Sweeney for QCing, Ron Heidt for editing, Jason Hodges for translation, Doug Powell and Richard Rivera for DVD authoring.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Earle J. Deems R.I.P.

Just found out from Skip Elsheimer (A.V. Geeks) that Earle J. Deems died last week.

Earle is one of the last instrumental members of the Highway Safety Foundation, and Highway Safety Films, which made the "Death on the Highway" classroom films which were the focus of my documentary Hell's Highway.

Here's a link to his obituary.

Earle's late wife Dottie was also one of the original members of the Highway Safety Foundation, and she was the sister of Phyllis Vaughn (one of its founders). After Highway Safety Foundation founder Richard Wayman left the organization, Earle took over control of the film library and continued making films, sometimes under the banner of Edcom Films. Earle complained that some people thought Edcom meant "Earle Deems Company," when it is actually an abbreviation for Educational and Commercial.

Earle (right) with HSF founder Richard Wayman.

When I approached him to discuss the highway safety films phenomenon, Earle was very cautious and a little skeptical, because the films were a source of some controversy, as was the foundation itself. But over time, I earned his trust and gained his support for the documentary project (he allowed me to use footage from the various films, and provided access to photos, documents, etc.).

Here's an interview I conducted with Earle very early in the project:

Interview with Earle Deems

Earle called me on the phone last summer to tell me that his health was declining... to basically say goodbye. But he hung in there. I occasionally sent him a small royalty check, and I was always a little relieved when the check would come back with his endorsement (in his characteristically shakey hand -- having developed essential tremens after his experiences fighting in the Pacific during WWII).

Earle Deems (sitting) with (l-r) Bret Wood, producer Tommy Gibbons, d.p. Steve Anderson.

When I met him, Earle drove a white Cadillac with the license number DEEMS. One of my fondest memories was having an evening out with him and HSF photographer John Domer, at the Skyway East in Mansfield, Oh (along with my collaborators Tommy Gibbons and Steve Anderson). The Skyway is Mansfield's most swank restaurant, and the maitre d' gave everyone a pack of matches embossed "Earle Deems" when we left the restaurant.

I still have the matches.

Earle Deems on the set of The Third Killer (1966).

Earle was always proud of his accomplishments with Highway Safety Films, but it seems like the organization never got the respect it deserved. Yes, there is some question as to whether it was the most effective and humane way of educating teenagers, but I'm also talking about the historical importance of the films they made. He donated most of the film elements to the Ohio State Highway Patrol, and several years ago I tried to get access to the negatives in order to strike new 16mm prints. Much to my dismay, the people at the OHSP had very little knowledge of the location and format of the elements (even though Earle had a very detailed inventory).

The films have not been properly preserved and, as far as the history of the "death on the highway" movement, the book comes one step closer to being closed, now that its lone guardian has died.

Earle J. Deems
1919 - 2008

Thursday, January 10, 2008

"Orlacs Hande"

Recently I finished producing a DVD of Robert Wiene's Orlac's Hande, or The Hands of Orlac starring Conrad Veidt (the same director/actor team that made The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari). We commissioned a score from Paul Mercer that complements the film beautifully.

As the basis of the DVD, we used a 35mm restoration by the Deutsches Filminstitut. Then we discovered that a 16mm print held by the Rohauer Collection (Douris UK Ltd.) had footage not included in the DF restoration. So we were able to add a couple of minutes to the total running time.

Silent films post 1923 were usually shot with two cameras, so that the studio could create two finished negatives -- one for domestic distribution and one for international. The Rohauer print and the DF print were struck from different negatives, so you can see the identical action from a slightly different angle. In some cases, they used different takes, so the action is different, allowing for interesting variations in the tone of performance. There are also some differences in framing and cutting, so you get some really cool insights into the filmmaking process (and the performance style of the always-brilliant Conrad Veidt). There's a section of the DVD where we offer a lengthy side-by-side comparison of the two versions.

Alright, I know this is starting to sound kind of geeky but I'm into this kind of thing okay?

To help sell Orlac to the masses, I cut a trailer for online promotion.

The Hands of Orlac

Google Video
The Hands of Orlac

Wednesday, January 02, 2008


Just thought I'd post a link to something I recently wrote, about a film to which I am particularly attracted: Benjamin Christensen's Haxan

As some of you know, I occasionally contribute essays to TCM, and this appears on their TCM Underground website. The film synthesizes well with a number of topics I've been exploring, as I finally put the screenplay of The Seventh Daughter to bed (but hopefully not to rest).

I should've posted this early enough that people could actually watch Haxan on TCM after reading this, but the holidays were hectic, and I was a negligent blogger. I guess you'll just have to Netflix it.

I hope to get some cool projects in motion in 2008. But, as a firm believer in the jinx, I refuse to discuss them until they are all but guaranteed to occur.

Hope everyone is doing well.