All posts by Kent Hill

The Making of: A Conversation with Robert Meyer Burnett by Kent Hill

I love behind the scenes documentaries – always have. What began as 60 minute specials and from there graduating to EPKs (or Electronic Press Kits) have become full-blown features, at times several hours long. And the longer the better I say.

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Robert Burnett has been that guy. The guy behind the scenes. Armed with light-weight equipment and a small crew, he has captured the people who make the magic and the war it is to bring a dream to life on film.

He has been there to witness the making of the multi-Oscar winning Lord of the Rings trilogy. He has seen what it took to orchestrate Superman’s return. He has ventured back in time and brought us wonderful retrospective looks at films like Disney’s cult classic Tron.

But Robert is also a passionate filmmaker in his own right. Having made his own film Free Enterprise, directing episodes of the TV series Femme Fatales along with short films as well. He is a prolific producer having shepherded films like The Hills Run Red and Agent Cody Banks 2. And, just when you’re about to say, “Stop it Rob, you’re just too talented,” he is also an experienced editor; often times chopping his own work, whether it be for DVD special features content or the films he has worked on.

Beneath all of his success, Robert is a massive film lover, citing The Right Stuff, All That Jazz and The Godfather among the countless films he adores.

It was a real pleasure to chat with him about all he has seen behind the scenes, but more so to simply chat movies with a man who knows his stuff. Turns out he loved his time here in the great southern land (Australia), along with our beer and music. It is my hope Rob finds his way back so that I might take him up on my invitation to share a cold VB (Victoria Bitter) and talk movies…

…but until then, enjoy our chat.

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Weaving with Magic: An Interview with Ellis Flyte by Kent Hill

Really awesome it is to interview people who have been a part of the cinematic high water marks of one’s life. But this one was special. Several weeks back my beloved wife, Jennifer, was looking at pictures online from the MoPOP (The Museum of Popular Culture): Jim Henson exhibit. She, as am I, is a fan of the worlds created by Henson and particularly thrilled at seeing Sarah’s ball gown from Labyrinth. She said I needed to track down the costume designer and interview her. So I did. Easier said than done right? Well yeah. I admit, I have had ridiculous luck since joining the crew at podcastingthemsofly.com when it has come to tracking down industry professionals for a chat. During the construction of my anthology trilogy Straight to Video, I had prided myself on getting a hold of filmmakers, some of whom I knew, but many I didn’t. Following that, and in starting my on modest publishing business, I tried to keep the magic going – hoping to secure forewords from filmmakers who were willing to read friend’s books and write introductions for them.

I was so happy to do it this time for my wife, who, while she has tastes that differ from mine, we certainly share a bunch of common cinematic favorites of which Labyrinth is one.

So I am proud to present this brief insight into the life of Ellis Flyte, costume designer on Labyrinth and also part of the creative team that brought us that other Henson spectacular, The Dark Crystal. From humble beginnings, she worked in theater and television but also enjoyed success as a fashion designer in demand. Then there came her work with the Henson Company; on two of its crowning glories. She was also, for a time, married to Henson’s son Brian.

Ellis was very generous to lend some of her time to answer a handful of questions on her contribution to a remarkable film.

So through dangers untold, and hardships unnumbered, I have fought my way here to the castle beyond the Goblin City to present to you, ladies and gentlemen . . . Ellis Flyte.

 

KH: Could you tell us a little of your origins?

EF: In brief, I am Scottish and as a youth spent a lot of time making clothes out of rugs and similar strange fabrics to everyone’s amusement, but primarily wanted to be a ballet dancer. Following a very severe accident I completed my exams at school and left to London to study fashion instead.

KH: What were your creative aspirations? Was working in the fashion industry or film always your dream?

EF: My first employment during college evenings was in theatre in the costume department which I thoroughly enjoyed. Both fashion and costume would be the two key passions for most of my life, and I worked in many great theatres, contemporary dance studios and television. However I was to become more celebrated in those years as a fashion designer, working from my living room in South London, and selling through Liberty and Browns and Harvey Nichols. Later on in my career I would also design and dress actors, singers and celebrity as well as my collections. Both are really all-consuming creative lifestyles with very little time off but you love it so I have no problems with this!

KH: How did you come to work for the Henson Company?  It must have been so incredible to work with Jim Henson; he seems to have been such a vital spark, a creative genius?

EF: I had taken a television job which was coming to an end and I saw an advert to work in film, so I went along for an interview. You can imagine how astonished I was to be asked if I had ever worked on puppets. My first job was as an assistant to Polly Smith, working on the extraordinary “Dark Crystal”. This was of course a Jim Henson film and also the concept of Brian Froud, where I and a large team of the best artists and technicians worked together in various departments creating the special effects vital to the end result. Long hours but so much fun. We shot the film at Elstree.

Following the release of Dark Crystal six of us were asked to design the “Dark Crystal fashion collection” of gowns based on the movie characters which turned into another totally new and exciting project! So as you can see I had already met the genius Jim Henson and loved working in their company!

KH: Tell us about your experience on the production of Labyrinth? Sarah’s masquerade dress in Labyrinth, indeed all the costumes you did, were based on concepts created by you along with Brian Froud?

EF: Labyrinth was considerably later and a joy to be chosen for the position! Yes it is a Jim Henson film and once again the Conceptual Designer was Brian Froud.

He brought to me many sketches of costumes from which my job would be to create and realise the ideas and also introduce new detail or interpretation. My first responsibility would be to David Bowie and to Jennifer Connelly, and then to the surreal costume ball. It has to be said that I employed a large team of people from  pattern cutters and sewing technicians, screen print and dye specialists, special effect creators, jewellery designers and make-up and hair stylists, amongst others, and it is due to their continued hard work, originality and independent skills that we came to the finished product!

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KH: Did the final costumes mirror the concept drawings or we’re the altered as filming commenced, and material did you use? The dress now seems yellowed in photos from the MoPOP exhibit,  is that purely due to age or was that the way it was lit during filming to lend it the ethereal quality of the sequence?

EF: Sarah’s ball gown took a lot of sampling and camera tests to achieve! We wanted her to look like an otherworldly princess and very different to the others at the ball. The ethereal effect was achieved by many secret devices including layers of lace, lame and rainbow paper, spray paint and broken jewels, and then the entire ballroom garments were distressed to look as if they had been dancing forever! Hemlines were broken down and dust was sprayed into the creases – the masks also present a sinister look to the event don’t they? The fabric choice for the ladies was chosen to give depth and colour and also for movement as you say, although of course all dresses were crinoline underneath.

KH: What was your favourite costume to design and which costumes were the most challenging to not only create but to realize in a finished garment?

EF: The ballroom sequence was a terrific challenge but I really enjoyed all of it, my two favourite costumes in that sequence were probably those for Jennifer and David’s jewelled velvet tail coat. The trickiest pieces were most of David’s as they were designed to be highly original and didn’t always transfer from sketch to actual garment! A leather jacket with a special effect finish was particularly tricky but we got there in the end! Plus we had a load of laughs with the stretch trousers over various cod-pieces. We also tried many different hair styles and make-up effects before Jim and Brian made their final selection! To realise the characters and then have the creative freedom to add or expand my ideas is a costume designers dream and when it works it is really wonderful! It was a huge task to put it all together plus detail of jewellery, accessories and hair pieces but I loved the way it was shot.

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KH: Labyrinth is a treasured film of my youth. Looking back at the film and the experience, how do you see the work and the film today?

EF: I think Labyrinth was ahead of its time as was Dark Crystal.

KH: What aspects of costume design do you enjoy the most and do you feel that costume design is an underrated element in films, attaining the recognition it deserves?

EF: To design costume there are so many dynamics – you have to enjoy the ability to multi-task!

You must understand the person you are dressing and their bodies, their favourite parts and their insecurities so that you can give your personal touch and increase their confidence and happiness and never disturb their performance. Also it is important to know how and where to shop for everything from highly individual/ period costume /unusual accessories/ to ordinary base cloth! And then to know how to work many different effects from any base or other fabrics and add the knowledge of what works on-screen in terms of colours, textures and finishes. I enjoy all of this, regardless of the project, and I have been lucky enough to have worked on many very different projects! Each one is challenging in a different way and a lot of research is required before you start. I do think costume is valued especially when it is well done! It is as important as the script or storyline and should help to identify a character, whatever the circumstances. It is now beginning to receive the acclaim it deserves.

KH: Have you ever been approached or would you consider putting out a book of your work?

EF: The book – that seems to be a constant question. I have had several magazine features but not yet a book on my fashion and film work.

 

There you have it. I was just as surprised to get in touch with Ellis as I was to have her participate in this interview, so, I send a big thank you.

I would like to add that the questions for Ellis were prepared by my wife and I was thrilled at her response to the answers. This one’s for you baby and I am here always…

…should you need us.

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20 years in the making: An Interview with Steve Alten by Kent Hill

 

Sometimes good things take time. Still, it is rare that Hollywood, being in possession of what it believes is such a ‘hot property’, would allow said property to languish in the depths of development hell. Especially for 20 years. But that is exactly where Steve Alten’s bestseller has been in residence. That, of course, is about to change.

 

Yes ladies and gentlemen (and in case you haven’t been following the story) next year Alten’s leviathan shall rise and finally arrive at a cinema near you. I have long been fascinated with the journeys  movies take on the road to the big screens on which we witness them. Some of these films never arrive, some appear in a confused and unfinished form. Others are the victims of too many cooks and most are a product of the machine.

For the films that don’t make it, (see great documentaries like Lost in La Mancha and Jodorowsky’s Dune (though Gilliam seems to have at last remedied this)) their journey is often as intriguing, if not more so, than what the final product might have been. But with MEG, the powers that be have what is a potentially massive franchise on their hands. So, why the wait?

 

The fates are strange and fickle. Steve Alten’s bestseller was optioned before it was complete, but it has taken the better part of two decades to arrive. I found this story intriguing, mainly because this was not some sort of artsy passion project or some grand tale of ridiculous hubris. No, what could have been, and what we may yet experience, might very well be the next JAWS? And while Spielberg’s film is by its nature a far more intimate piece; the shark menaces a small community and finally three men set out to kill the beast, MEG is something we are definitely going need a bigger boat for. A really BIG boat for!

 

Thus Steve Alten agreed to have a chat with me about the origins of his book’s long gestation toward its screen adaptation. What he relayed I found fascinating, and still believe it could become a great extra feature or a terrific stand-alone documentary of the ride this big shark movie as taken. But, like most fans, I am just grateful that with each passing day, we finally are at last drawing closer to the MEG movie’s premiere. Of course the real relief belongs to the creator. In many ways it has been worse for him, he having served on the front lines, he having been present for each false start and each heartbreaking hurdle. I have agreed to catch up with Steve before the film’s premiere next year. As the hype builds and teasers and trailers and all the ads  bombard our senses, what brings me pause and makes me smile is the thought of Steve Alten waking the red carpet, entering the theatre, taking his seat . . . and enjoying the movie…

…as I hope you will enjoy this.

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Beneath a sky so full of Sharks: An Interview with Anthony C. Ferrante by Kent Hill

 

It would be easy for me to simply sit here and wax lyrical about my love of SHARKNADO okay – real easy. But to do that does a disservice to one of the major components of its success, and that comes in the form of the director at the helm of the franchise; (now moving into its 5th installment) the dynamic Mr. Anthony C. Ferrante.

 

It was 2014. I was at work on the sequel volume to an anthology whose content was the collected author’s visions of their ultimate B movie. Anthony was prepping SHARKNADO 3 at the time for release. Still, I managed to get a hold of him to write the foreword for that book, and subsequently, the release of the book and SHARKNADO 3 fell in pretty close succession.

 

The desire to make movies and equally the passion for them, strikes one out of the blue. Anthony was not yet in his teens when that voice inside us all called out to him, and from that point forward, he knew making movies was exactly what he was going to do.

Now like I said earlier, to simply classify him as the SHARKNADO GUY, is to be completely unjust. Anthony is a renaissance man of the highest order. This writer, director, producer, sometimes actor, make-up effects artist, songwriter, comic book author – the list is longer than the list of cameos in the SHARKNADO franchise thus far.

But as you will hear, some of the best training Anthony received during his journey, was while writing for the likes Fangoria and Cinescape Magazine. For it was during this time that he was tasked to cover films being made in the local area. So he found himself hanging out on the sets of movies and getting to witness first-hand, all the the stuff they don’t teach you in film school.

 

It was this and the do-with-what-you-got attitude he cultivated while making his early films in his home town that has enabled him, or perhaps, weaponized him for the career he has enjoyed and one that continues to flourish. It is this shooting-from-hip type filmmaking that lends his work a frenetic energy. Fittingly you might say, he is the right man for the job at hand when it comes to the wild, bombastic and beloved lunacy that is the SHARKNADO franchise.

But beneath that,  I think we are witnessing a great filmmaker on the rise. A man whose talent and skill will I hope be utilized to its full potential. Anthony C. Ferrante may indeed be the antidote these tired, Hollywood tent-pole movies are sorely lacking.

But enough to this. GO, GO, GO, GO, GO, GO, GO – listen to this interview, and don’t forget to tune into the upcoming SHARKNADO!

Robot Cops, Giant Bugs and Big Snakes in the Jungle: An Interview with Ed Neumeier by Kent Hill

 

 

I remember vividly the first time a saw RoboCop. Watching it with the cousins in my bedroom and my mother walking past, hearing a flurry of coarse language, then sticking her head through the door to see what we were viewing. My cousin Rick, was good at putting spin on such incidents, so that we might avoid reprisal and be allowed to keep the movie going. Needless to say, that first time, I was pretty much doing what Rick told my mother I was doing – I was waiting for RoboCop to show up and not listening to the foul language at all. Well, maybe just a little.

Then we have Starship Troopers for which I blew off a lecture at university to go see. The prospect of this large-scale, B-movie flavored extravaganza was too good to pass up. I walked out of the picture exhilarated and so glad I skipped an hour long spiel on The Trojan Women to partake in this, the third time a director named Paul Verhoeven had blown my joyous, cinema-obsessive brains out.

 

But there’s another character responsible for this pair of uber-cool films and that is their scribe, Ed Neumeier, who as a young man wanted nothing more than to make movies. He, at that time his his life, had had his own mind blown when he learned that in his home town of Marin County a man named George Lucas was making movies. “It is possible,” he said to himself and thus took off for California. Once there, after finishing college, spending time as reader for the studios and a short time as an executive, he had an idea for a story that would eventually become a cinema classic. He joined forces with another filmmaker by the name of Michael Miner and together they got down to writing RoboCop.

 

The film would go on to become a phenomenon, spawning two sequels, a remake, and TV series and even an animated series (and a it-looks-really-cool documentary, RoboDoc). The film gave Ed the start he was looking for and introduced him to the director (Verhoeven) with whom he would mount his next assault at cinematic glory. It would take place beyond the stars on planets menaced by giant insects in their hundreds and thousands. Based on the Robert Heinlein novel of the same name, Ed would bring his love of science fiction and personal blend of humor and action to Troopers, and, for the second time, he and Paul were on a winner which would have sequels, Troopers 3 which he himself would direct, as well as animated films, Traitor of Mars is set to be released, comics and games.

 

Yes folks, Ed Neumeier is indeed a world builder and he’s working in the movie business and living the dream. He is cooking up a new film, and we that have grown up watching and loving the movies he has thus far penned, (yes, I kinda like Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid) look forward to see where this talented screenwriter is going to take us next. Whether it be alien bugs, cyborg cops or those oversized killer serpents you don’t want to have lunch with, I think it’s a pretty safe bet to say, we’re in good hands.

Here he is folks, the man, the one and only . . . Ed Neumeier.

 

Too many Cowboys and not enough Aliens: An Interview with Scott Mitchell Rosenberg by Kent Hill

The dreams we have when we are children don’t often materialize into reality. We make-believe we are the heroes of the books, comic books, films that we hold dear. They inspire us to move forward; to go on and build new worlds. We stand on the shoulders of those giants so that we might become gods – the creators of fantastic realms and legendary heroes. That flame we carry within us during those early years, often falls prey to the winds of change. It is ever whipping across the fabric of our dreams, trying to collapse that once impenetrable shield of our imaginations.

Now, there are many who simply let that flame flicker in the wind until it finally sputters out. They put aside childhood wonder and move on. But, then there is the few, the happy few, the small band of us that for whom such a notion is not only unacceptable, but impossible. Our dreams are that which fuels us. Our dreams are our lives. Scott Mitchell Rosenberg is one of these dreamers. His childhood games of cowboys and aliens have become so much more than fun and plastic ray-guns. He told me he ‘stumbled’ into the movie business, and the journey to bring Cowboys & Aliens to the big screen was not unlike pushing a boulder up a hill using only your nose.

Lucky for us his nose held up, otherwise he might not have been there for the gathering of such illustrious talent, both in front and behind the camera, that would merge to bring Scott’s graphic novel creation to life. With the likes of Ron Howard, Brian Grazer, Steven Spielberg, Robert Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof and John Favreau, it makes me think of the fabled Dream Team of ’92 that boasted Jordan, Bird and Magic. Combine those ingredients with Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and the new Bond (Daniel Craig) – along with an impressive supporting cast which featured Dano, Brown, Carradine, Rockwell and Wilde – the live-action treatment Cowboys & Aliens would receive is something of a marvel.

I told Scott that my initial viewing had been sullied by a bad day, but subsequently I was able to go back and re-watch it with fresh eyes. I admit that I prefer the extended cut to the theatrical release, but really,  when you break it down, I just really love Cowboys & Aliens and have done so since I read the comic when it first came out. It was a real thrill to finally sit down and chat with its creator, a great gentleman and I feel in some ways a kindred ‘creative’ spirit. For this movie speaks to those out there that of course (A), love a really cool movie but also (B), those creative few, those happy few, that band of dreamers still reaching for the stars. Let the journey of Scott Rosenberg be an example to you. Don’t quit, toughen up your nose and give that boulder hell!

Enjoy…

Don’t you want to know about Transformers 5, dude?

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Well, turns out Merlin was a bullshit artist and no wizard at all. Turns out he had him a lot of help from the Transformers who, as we learn from this movie, have been with us a lot longer than the 80’s.

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Now, bearing in mind I’ve not seen Dark of the Moon and Age of Extinction, ‘cause, while the first outing was okay, the second was just plain old big dollar dumbshit; it didn’t inspire me to keep up with the franchise. Nowadays though I find myself a father and thus have an excuse to be found at such films like The Last Knight and still be able to maintain my image.

But, while TLK is the same brand of BDD that saw my interest in the Transformers franchise diminish – this entry is a return to form. It is on par with all those great Michael Bay comedies of 90’s and early 00’s. With films like The Rock, Armageddon, Pearl Harbour and The Island – so Transformers 5 is bombastic, ludicrous, but also a bloody good laugh.

We team up with ‘The Legend’ Marky Mark, in a world that has too many Transformers. Bummer! So many in fact that there is a force set up to police and also destroy them – should the Cybertronic shit hit the fan.

 

After a round table prologue that justifies the films subtitle, we are straight into the guns and explosions along with kids doing things they shouldn’t, like hanging out in forbidden areas. Here we meet an orphan girl, who doesn’t really have much of a part to play other than pull the heart strings occasionally and be smart-mouthed in contrast. With Prime (Optimus) floating in space like the bear Lou Ferrigno’s Hercules knocked into orbit, the Autobots are bored shitless. They hang out in Marky Mark’s junkyard, waiting for the plot to catch up with them.

Megatron is hiding out too. He is after the ‘fabled’ weapon. It is Merlin’s rod, given to the so-called sorcerer by the medieval Transformers. The whole plot surrounding this feels ripped off from The Fifth Element. You remember – a weapon that was originally entrusted to humanity to keep until a great evil returns and it is needed once more?

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Anyways, Megatron is not opposed to negotiations. He meets with a team of lawyers to have ‘his crew’ released, and those brainy military cats are content to let him have his way because their plan is to have the Decepticons do the dirty work and lead them to the mysterious staff of legend.

Oh, and the planet is getting horny! (But more on that later.)

 

So the Decepticons track down the Autobots and they fight. Hey, it’s what they do. Marky Mark has inherited an amulet from a crash-landed ‘old’ Transformer back during the kids being naughty in the forbidden area sequence. Megatron wants this thing too. So fighting and chasing ensues. (This adds to a nice little joke when Marky Mark is asked if he (SPOILER!!! BEING THE LAST KNIGHT) is chaste. Okay – so I laughed at it.)

Then there’s polo. And I don’t mean Marco. Enter the British Megan Fox – smart and beautiful and very late for work.  She hangs out, in her spare time, at her mother’s house where a bunch of old ladies sit around, drink and play cards. All the while they taunt Brit-Fox for not having a boyfriend.

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Anthony Hopkins is in this flick too. The narrator who actually shows up as an eccentric earl and the last surviving member of the Witwiccan order and has his robo-butler go fetch Marky Mark as well as ‘he likes the French accent’ Hot Rod (who, if you remember that great animated Transformers movie from when we were kids, became Rodimus Prime) round up Brit-Fox to have them round to the castle for tea and some long-winded exposition. We get to hear Hopkins say dude and dickhead in this movie, which are a couple of high points, and his robo-butler has some chuckle-worthy moments  adding, or should I say making the lofty expository scenes more epic with his mad skills on the pipe organ along with his choral-like singing ability.

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But all this cannot forestall the impending doom that shall be visited upon the earth by an evil Transformeress who makes Prime her bitch as she nears the planet looking to tear humanity a new one.

Marky and Fox leave Hopkins to go break into the Prime Minister’s office while they dive down into the ocean’s depths to grab Merlin’s rod. Evil Optimus shows up, ruins everything, and is about to go all the way over to the dark side when Bumble Bee pulls a Silent Bob, bringing him back into the fold. Megatron is as horny as the Earth (SPOILER!!! We are really piggy-backing on Unicron) for the impending destruction that will occur when he hands over ‘the rod,’ which he has taken to the evil Transformeress.

It’s time for the BIG CLIMAX!

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I thrilled at the notion of Hopkins versus Megatron – but it was momentary. At this point of the film the laughs sputter out, except when the think-tank boys decide they’re the ones who can conjure up a Hail Mary to save the world using the power of physics. But no, that’s a job for Prime and the Autobots; and that cool dragon Transformer-thing which you get a little of at both battle-bookends of the movie.

T5 is a grand, dopey comedy. I may have been the only one laughing in the theatre, but people today I find take this stuff  and themselves far too seriously. I suppose if you sit by the (Michael) bay long enough, you’ll start thinking this way. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and The Last Knight is funnier than what meets the eye…

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As always, happy viewing.

THE DUDE IN THE AUDIENCE.

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