Nikki Smallwood Filmmaker Interview

AN INTERVIEW WITH THE AWE-INSPIRING, NIKKI SMALLWOOD


Hi Nikki! Welcome! Could you tell us a bit about yourself? Give us a brief introduction!

Currently I’m an Administrative Professional by day and a film maker on the side. I have been involved with film and theater in some manner since the early 1990’s. My first encounter was in front of the screen as an actress. My first major role was as a bully in an after school industrial film for the New Jersey Department of Education. Moving forward I’ve booked various roles in the Washington DC area with local commercials, background for a few award winning series, various indie films and Theater plays. Although I enjoy singing and acting, I also enjoy writing and in the last few years decided to get into the production side of film. I started as a production assistant helping with everything from making runs to gaffing. I then moved into various roles in the Art Department with make up, special effects make up and set design. Then I started to write scripts shorts and features.

Nikki Smallwood Filmmaker Interview

Where are you located?

Maryland, USA

Nikki Smallwood Filmmaker Interview

What is a quote that summarizes everything you’re about as a filmmaker?

“If you’ve written a script, you are now a screenwriter.”

I think it helps to get your mind right.

What inspired you to start creating films?

I was over the rat race of trying to get noticed on screen, but I loved the art and craft of making films. I wanted a way to still be in it, and finding a way to get on sets working for free was my way in. It was hard work but I loved every minute of it.

Who most inspires/influences you currently and why?

Black women film makers, such as Ava DuVernay and others. I just want to be like them when I grow up.

That’s amazing to hear. What would you say is your favorite film of all time?

Dirty Dancing

What is your favorite film genre and why?

Horror. Mostly ghost stories. Because I’ve had so many ghost encounters growing up. I like hearing that there are others who’ve experienced the same thing and that I’m not alone.

As a creator, what do you find to be the thing that most drives you?

Imagination. I love how ideas and dreams about “what if” can take me in so many directions. And if it entertains and interests someone, it gives me a little sense of gratification, even if it’s just one person.

What is your absolute dream in life?

To be a successful writer/director. I’m a little private so fame is not something I crave, but I would love to be able to consistently make films and become somewhat known for making good films.

Nikki Smallwood Filmmaker Interview

What work do you take the most pride in at this point in your career?

My short Before the Underground Vol. 1 – Rit. It was my very first writer/director debut. It was so low budget so it started off pretty ruff, it’s my baby and I’m proud of it. It can only go up from there.

Nikki Smallwood Filmmaker Interview

What has been the most challenging project you’ve been a part of?

Shooting Vol 1 of Before the Underground. Because it was low budget I was filling other hats besides Directing. I think as a Director, that is all you should be working on because you need that synchronicity with your cast and crew. It was hard.

Nikki Smallwood Filmmaker Interview

What was the most valuable single lesson you learned in completing that project?

To get more funding so I could hire more people and pay people.

An interview with Shivaan Makker

What has been the most fun thing you’ve done in your career so far?

I loved doing MUA and special effects make up, especially blood, bruises, cuts, burns, scars, scrapes etc. I’m not a gory person but it doesn’t bother me. I had a lot of fun playing with people when I tried out new things.

Who is one person that you hope to work with and why?

Ava DuVernay. I’d like to watch her move and take notes.

Nikki Smallwood Filmmaker Interview

Is there anyone in particular that you’d like to thank and/or shout-out in this interview?

I’d like to thank Mauricio Ventura a very talented Cinematographer, Sandra Camargo a very talented Director. They have both helped me tremendously not only with various projects but also personally. I’d also like to thank Dr. Kinley for being who he is.

Thank you so much for being a part of The Film Festival Network Community, Nikki! We can’t wait to see what you do next.


Be sure to keep up with Nikki online and stay tuned for incredible work to come!


Interview With DJ Remark

An Interview With The Incredibly Talented & Passionate Filmmaker: DJ Remark

Interview With DJ Remark

Hi DJ! Could you please tell me about yourself? Give us a look at your story! What got you here?

I’ve been in and out of the film scene since 2010. I was in a few low (read; “no”) budget films as an actor and maintained contact with friends I made during filming ever since then. I’ve always been a movie nerd and I came up in stage acting and improv. Most of my acting career was made during high school as well as a few local community theater shows. I got a “real job” and up until 2018, spent my life clocking in and out of a career I was less than in love with. It was then I decided I was going to stop being safe and take a risk on filmmaking. I decided I liked telling stories better than being in them so I bought a bunch of cheap gear and wrote my first short film.

From then, the bug really bit me and I’ve been dedicating all of my free time to filmmakng ever since.

Where are you from?

Akron, Ohio

What is a quote that summarizes everything you’re about as a filmmaker?

“Everything worth doing, is hard.”

Which is a summation from a longer quote by Teddy Roosevelt, one of the more interesting American presidents.

Interview With DJ Remark
Portrait of President Theodore Roosevelt seated in garden, circa 1910s. (Photo by Fotosearch/Getty Images).

What inspired you to start creating films?

Truth be told, my biggest inspiration was sitting at my desk one day, getting fatter and more depressed about seeing the next 50 years of my life blow by doing the same thing over and over again. It was just hitting me really hard that I spent so much time in theater, graduated from a broadcasting school, and spent so much time in performing arts just to be working at a desk that I had to make a change. Other inspirations which are no less significant, are my parents, my middle school drama teacher Wendy Duke, my high school drama teacher Kathy Fisher, my best friend and writer Jason Orr, and all the movies that I love and want to pay homage to in my own films.

Who most inspires/influences your style and specific execution currently and why?

The two directors who have done the best to scare me other than the old Masters of Horror are Mike Flanagan and David Sandberg. Mike Flanagan’s technique is amazing to me and I try to emulate him as much as possible. His movies are some of my favorite modern horror; Oculus, Hush, Gerald’s Game, and Doctor Sleep are just fantastic pieces of cinema. Sandberg as influenced me in different ways other than visually. His approach to directing and his creative problem solving as well as his commentary on being a creative while suffering with anxiety, a trait we both share, helps the dream of becoming a successful filmmaker just a little more real.

Besides those guys, 80’s horror and neon noir aesthetic inspire the look of my films. I’m still working on ways to implement those aesthetics but I think the more I do the better I’ll get until I have a full realized vision where you can point to a piece of work and go “That’s a Remark film”

What is your favorite film of all time?

Since I absolutely have to answer this question without picking a genre, I’ll say The Lord of The Rings.

As a creator, what do you find to be the thing that most drives you to succeed? We like to use this portion for others to learn from you!

My love of entertaining. No matter what it is, I love to entertain people. Seems like a simplistic answer but when you get down to it, filmmaking is for other people as much as it is for you. You should tell stories and make movies you want to see, but also keep in mind other people are going to watch what you create looking for entertainment value. I think the best films serve both the creator and the audience.

What is your overall dream in life?

To be comfortable. There’s a lot of ways you can interpret that as filmmaking is a pretty hectic and chaotic environment, however, I believe if I’m able to find the point of equilibrium where I’m both creatively and financially “comfortable” that is where I’ll consider the dream “achieved”.

Interview With DJ Remark

We also had the pleasure of reviewing your outstanding new film: What It Takes

 

READ OUR OFFICIAL REVIEW OF "WHAT IT TAKES"

What was your role the creation of the film?

Director/Editor

Who wrote the script?

Jason Orr

What is the film’s genre?

Horror Noir

Interview With DJ Remark

That’s an amazing genre. Could you give us a logline?

Vic lands an interview to become a vampire.

What inspired the way that you went about executing this project?

There were a few things I wanted to try with this film. I wanted to have some shots that I pulled from the popular horror videogame Resident Evil. There’s a shot that looks high, wide, and tilted, which is the one that we ended up using as we were quickly running out of time at the location to play with the angle in other shots but I’m happy with the way it turned out. Being in the middle of the pandemic we also wanted to think of a way we could have as little cast and crew as possible in as few locations as possible. We ended up being able to have more crew than anticipated by the way we used wireless monitors and transmitters for video and audio. I would actually have liked to see a bird’s eye view of what we all looked like standing in every different room of the house other than where the action was taking place. It was quite an experience.

What was the most difficult part in the process of creating this film? How did you overcome it?

Shooting it in a weekend. We took all day Friday, Saturday, and Sunday and even into the nights to finish this. We overcame by having our schedule tight and both cast and crew being professionals. Vince, Angelia, and Samantha, the actors, were all very successful in assuming their characters. I really had very little directing to do as they all just very naturally performed to their characters. The crew were all amazing. My first AD, Christopher Thomas, was my favorite crutch as I leaned on him the most during production. Setup and cleanup were lightning fast and you can see for yourself the result of their professionalism in the film.

What was the most fun part of this entire production?

All of it. Honestly, everything from conception, to pre-production, to production, to post, and now on the festival circuit. Being a short film, I didn’t think it necessary to withhold the film from the public so it could run in festivals. I’ve been (pretty) careful to make sure the festivals I have been submitting to don’t require premiere status, and so far so good, I’ve only been disqualified from one for that reason.

What is the single greatest lesson you learned along the creation of this particular project?

That I still have so much to learn. I don’t think I’ll ever stop learning about filmmaking and that’s exciting to me. Every new project teaches me something and makes me better at something, whether it’s directing, editing, writing, or planning meals for the shoot (never, EVER neglect feeding your cast and crew. EVER.) there is always something that I can learn. For this it was in the editing room. I edit all of my projects and I had never worked with BRAW before. It was a challenge to find the right plugins and codecs to get BRAW and Premiere to play nice with each other but I eventually made it work and now I’m a better editor for it.

Take a look at the film’s official poster! 

Interview With DJ Remark

Fortunately for our readers, DJ Remark’s amazing film is publicly-available and free to stream! We’ve attached the entire short below. It’s a must-watch, folks! Be sure to share it too.

 

Is there anything else you would like us to know? Or any final thoughts / things you’d like to share with our readers?

I’m currently working on my first feature film which is a horror anthology. We’re in the script writing process now but I wanted to take what I’ve learned from making short films and apply that to make a feature length. The approach is to treat the feature like four different short films and schedule everything as if we’re making four separate projects that tie into one big one. Seems obvious, but I think spelling it out makes it seem a bit more real.

KEEP UP WITH DJ ONLINE:



Interview With Shivaan Makker

An Interview With The Horrifically-Brilliant Filmmaker, Shivaan Makker

Hi Shivaan! Tell us about yourself! Give us a brief introduction

I like anything with violence as it relates to real life. I also go by Sullivan McGuffin.

Recent Works:
Room 203 (2014)
2 Brothers (2016)
Pastiche (2020)

Where are you located?

Los Angeles, California

What is a quote that summarizes everything you’re about as a filmmaker?

The more successful the villain, the more successful the picture.

-Alfred Hitchcock

What inspired you to start creating films?

My father and Alfred Hitchcock.

Who most inspires/influences you currently and why?

Alfred Hitchcock and Stanley Kubrick because they crafted the art to extremities. As directors, they really expanded film beyond the proscenium arch. Everytime I watch their filmography, I always learn something.

What is your favorite film of all time?

Psycho

What is your favorite film genre and why?

Thrillers. They always put us in danger without really doing it.

As a creator, what do you find to be the thing that most drives you?

I like to bring forth the darkness that exists in this life and needs to be acknowledged.

What is your absolute dream in life?

In a world where violent crimes occur, I want my films to educate the audience so that they can be forewarned of such horrors.

What work do you take the most pride in at this point in your career?

My latest, Pastiche!

An interview with Shivaan Makker

CLICK HERE TO READ OUR OFFICIAL REVIEW OF PASTICHE

What has been the most challenging project you’ve been a part of?

Making Pastiche was challenging because of all the violence. To an extent, the actors were getting beat up. Keep in mind, their safety was our priority.

What was the most valuable single lesson you learned in completing that project?

Camera blocking is key to any master shot.

An interview with Shivaan Makker

What has been the most fun thing you’ve done in your career so far?

According to the make up artists, we used the most amount of blood. That was fun.

Who is one person that you hope to work with and why?

David Cronenberg because he knows horror and violence.

An interview with Shivaan Makker

Is there anyone in particular that you’d like to thank and/or shout-out in this interview?

I thank my father everyday and I’ll thank him here too!

Thank you so much for being a part of The Film Festival Network Community, Shivaan! We can’t wait to see what you do next.

Thanks for having me!

Be sure to check out the incredible trailer for Pastiche by Shivaan Makker!

Pastiche Trailer from Sullivan McGuffin on Vimeo.

KEEP UP WITH SHIVAAN MAKKER ONLINE:



Pastiche - Film Review

PasticheBy Shivaan Makker Short Film Review

This short film from visionary director Shivaan Makker is an exercise in the home invasion, thriller genre. Complete with creatively intense motives to the violence taking place in them, Pastiche is a must-watch for fans of the genre.

Ever since “A Clockwork Orange” premiered in 1972, the discussion related to violence and if the depiction of it onscreen can be entertaining, artistic, or just plain sadistic. The topic has only become more and more complex, as so much incredibly cinema has come from this genre. It’s a topic of discussion that this short film, consciously or not, raises for the viewer, quite beautifully. And it’s something people continue to debate over. In order for violence to work as frightening as the real thing, we need context and we need to feel something for the characters in the story. This is to say that heightened violence, like say, the John Wick films exist in a different world than ours. They are not meant to replicate it except as mythic grand standings. But in movies such as 2008’s The Strangers, or Michael Haneke’s Funny Games, the context and the purpose are radically different. And this is something Pastiche seemed to be well-aware of, handling a semi-meta context pretty incredibly.

Now, as far as context goes, in Pastiche, the main culprit behind the home invasion is a boy who obsessed over the violent fantasies of “A Clockwork Orange” to the point of perhaps dreaming about one day doing what the character of Alex in that movie (the iconic and terrifying Malcolm McDowell) does to an elderly couple. But in Pastiche the boy also seems to be fixated on villains like Buffalo Bill in “Silence of the Lambs” without any moral compass whatsoever as to Clarice’s or Hannibal Lecter’s analysis of such behavior. In Pastiche, the boy sees such deeds as worthy of imitating and indulged in, and things are further made worse by an indolent mother and a physically abusive father who chastises the boy while the camera repeatedly cuts to and from a figure of Christ on the wall and the boy’s seeming terror and yet slight look of pleasure meanwhile.

Pastiche By Shivaan Makker

As far as the protagonists go, we have a middle-age couple with a teenage son living with them. But what strikes the most from the first scene is that the father is reading some news related to school shooters and Columbine-like massacres. This point is never raised elsewhere in the story except for the moment when the boss storms in and in pure David Mamet fashion, fires the protagonist for looking at gross news on the internet and falling behind on his job.

The mother, on the other hand, is seen as quiet and domesticated, and understanding to the point of extreme benevolence. And the son, the first victim of the home invasion, registers as lazy and  a bit distracted.

Pastiche By Shivaan Makker

When things go down and the home invasion takes place, things become very intense very quickly. The violence shown is restrained at times, but other times it’s immensely graphic. Specifically, in the most upsetting moment of the short-film, when one character is abused with a glass bottle. It is truly brutal, in a beautiful cinematic-horror type of way.

All this to say, most impressively, Pastiche is a insightful, competently-made independent short film. The lack of subtlety regarding the abuse and torture have a real sense of beautiful exploration and curiosity to them. Something that comes from a modern, avant garde minded creator.

Pastiche - Film Review

There’s a real hint of brilliance in a few specific, distinct moments within the film. Whatever one’s social commentary that arises from watching Pastiche might also contribute to the ongoing discourse of violence and the media, and more importantly, how we frame and contextualize acts of violence within a social and cultural structure.

Beyond the incredible work by director Shivaan Makker, Kudos to the actors, as well. This was a very difficult performance, I imagine, and every scene felt so real because of it. The cinematography and set design is definitely commendable in terms of color palette and overall feel, as well. The music, though at times revealing a bit too much too soon, comes around and helps frame the traumatic events under a more defined light, with a more extreme impact.

The thematic aspirations Pastiche put forward were compelling and often, successfully horrifying. This film is not for the faint of heart. But the Kubrick-esque style and curiosity within the film are a must, if you’re a fan of invasion-based terror.

We very much look forward to seeing where Shivaan Makker goes next!

 


ALSO

We had the pleasure of interviewing director Shivaan Makker.
Click the button below to go read that interview now!

READ INTERVIEW

What It Takes - Film Review

What It TakesBy DJ Remark Short Film Review

An atmospheric vampire story disguised as a job interview lies at the center of this short film directed by DJ Remark and written by Jason Orr.

As a man steps out of a car near a suburban house under the cold moonlight, he is soon greeted by a female assistant in dark clothes and pale skin. She leads the man inside the empty house.. And after a spoken preamble regarding the rules for the following interview, the man enters  into a dark room with only the eerily-beautiful moonlight seeping in, silhouetting a table and two chairs.

“What It Takes” is both incredibly refreshing and intriguing. The conversation between the main character, Vic (played by Vincent Sarowatz) and the Vampire (played by Angelia Green) is a stripped-down, yet moody piece of dialogue, almost feeling like a one-act theater play. With a carefully-lit and craftily blocked second and third act. Both the cinematography and the cutting enhance each shot and it feels precise, and the narrative beats flow well between the branching points of the conversation that also poses as job interview. Things do get bloody at a certain point, as they tend to, when we are talking about the creatures of the night and the music they make.

The vampire genre in films has such a long story of both adaptation and new variations of a similar archetype of this dark monster needing both blood and company. Whether it is through the lens of the Victorian era like Universal’s Dracula from the 1930s. To the more modern takes on the genre regarding loneliness and alienation that range from “The Lost Boys” to “Only Lovers Left Alive”. Vampire stories can truly be eternal because of how they adapt in both scope and context to the times they are written or created in. They can reflect both the artists behind them as well as the existential concerns of the day or rather night. They are flexible and ever-renewing, when done right.

“What It Takes” does a great many things right! It’s easy to see how much of a labor of love this film is. They clearly have fondness for the vampire genre and it shows in the care of each shot and the way the tone is maintained throughout most of the film all the way to its conclusion. There are many lovely flashes to other familiar stories, from the Renfield character in Bram Stoker’s immortal classic to the ever-reaching influence of roleplaying games like Vampire The Masquerade’s many editions and iterations. And yet it is the queen of vampire literature, Anne Rice who most came to mind as the dialogue progressed and the seductiveness and sensuality gave way to a more monstrous side regarding mankind and the vampire kin.

The film utilizes a reworked, familiar tradition of giving prominence to the suburban protagonist while it being juxtaposed with the vampire as a hunting and ruling class undertone. We follow with our protagonist as he becomes angry, to boot, regarding his emasculated existence and his true motives for applying to this special kind of job interview. He truly feels his hardships are second to none and he is truly deserving of this dark gift that the Vampire Lady holds for him. It brings to mind some of the same interesting observations in regards  at Rice herself regarding the treatment of vampires from a more distant and privileged angle regarding the choice of protagonist and the amorality it entails. The writing and pacing of the story allows this dynamic to work in a very compelling way.

In conclusion, “What It Takes” make its beautiful mark by sheer craft and atmosphere. The conversation that is the main course of the film is held tight by both editing and directing, and the actors deliver their lines with sustained emotion and glee, allowing for some semblance of relatability. So that when all is said and done, it is more than a welcome addition to the gallery of vampire stories that have been a part of our unconscious collective since the early days of storytelling.

“What It Takes” manages to both enthrall us and celebrate, darkly, the aesthetic and thematic pleasures of vampires. And that’s always a welcome note in the music the children of the night doth make.

We very much look forward to seeing where DJ Remark goes next!


ALSO

We had the pleasure of interviewing filmmaker DJ Remark.
Click the button below to go read that interview now!

READ INTERVIEW

Female Filmmakers, Sony Wants to Give You $8K in Cash & Gear for Your Next Project


Sony’s Alpha Female+ is hellbent on lowering gender disparity in film and helping you shoot something cool.

In 2018, Sony launched the Alpha Female line. Now in 2021, they’ve added a “+” to the newest iteration of their lady-creatives residency, which comes with more grants for more filmmakers.

Who is this for? Female filmmakers over 18 who live in the United States or Canada. (And also female photographers too, but we won’t hold it against them.) How do you get the cash and gear? You send in some details about who you are and a description of your next video project. If you are one of the 12 filmmakers selected, you’ll get $8,000 in cash and gear!

Why this grant?

“In a year of firsts for everyone, we had several of them too, not the least of which was the launch of Alpha Female+, the latest evolution of our Alpha Female Creator-in-Residence program that began in 2018,” explained Sony’s Michaela Ion.

“If you’re new to Alpha Female, here is the view from above: Our lives are richer when we can see the world through different perspectives. In the photography and video industry there’s a substantial disparity in gender and minority representation, which means some perspectives don’t see the light of day and we’re the poorer for it. Alpha Female was created to help close the gap and make our industry an environment where all voices have an opportunity to thrive.”

Check out the contest video here.

Sound interesting? Let’s take a look at what’s at stake in the prize breakdown from Sony:

  • A $5,000 grant to fund a specific, well-defined project
  • A full-frame Sony camera and lens (value of $3,000+) to shoot your project
  • A one-year full Adobe Creative Cloud All Apps subscription, courtesy of our friends at Adobe (value of $636), to edit your project
  • A one-year Sony PRO Support membership and a training session with a Sony Pro Support expert so you can make the most of your gear
  • The opportunity to have your project featured on AlphaUniverse.com and Sony Alpha social channels

If this sounds exciting to you, let’s dive into the rest of the details.

First off, the deadline is May 2, 2021.

Secondly, here is the list of the three main criteria for submission from Sony Alpha Female+.

  1. An introduction video about yourself on Youtube or Vimeo. According to Sony, the big requirement here is that you are on-camera and not doing a voice-over.
  2. A proposal describing your project. You have 500 words to explain how you would use the money and gear for a project that can be completed within one month
  3. A video reel of your work.

If you feel like you need more info to put together your application, there is even a free workshop about the grant on April 15. According to Sony:

“The Alpha Female+ contest is an opportunity not to be missed. Join us to learn about the program, the 12 grants, and how to make the most of your application. Get live answers from the program leader, as well as Artisans Brooke Shaden and Tomayia Colvin, and previous grant winners.”

Just visit the Alpha Female+ page to sign up. If you have multiple ideas, know that you can apply once a month with a new idea. And applications are open until the final grant is awarded!

If this sounds like something that might fit, check out all the grant guidelines and FAQ, and then apply at Sony Alpha Female+ here.

If you do apply, good luck!     



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Style as Substance in John Boorman's 'Excalibur'



When Excalibur (1981) begins, Uther Pendragon (Gabriel Byrne) lies dying in the mud. The magician Merlin warned him that granting his wish would have consequences; that one night with Igrayne, the wife of his newly-won ally, would come at a price. As promised, Merlin arrives to collect Igrayne and Uther’s child: an infant of infinite promise, a future king who will succeed where his petulant father failed. With Igrayne’s shrieks ringing in his ears, Uther follows Merlin into the woods, begging for his son and blind to the ambush lying in wait.

Torn off his horse, Uther lands face-first in a polluted creek; the legendary preface of Arthurian legend dragged quite literally into the mud. The imposing spikes of Uther’s armor lock him firmly into the earth. Blood pools from the crease in his shoulder plate, flowing freely like a crimson tributary into the muck. It is a beautiful and brutal image: a deep red plume streaming out from a once-glimmering suit of armor. The whole scene is bathed in an emerald glow, an otherworldly colored gel that casts this upsetting moment firmly into the realm of myth.

Excalibur John Boorman Uther Death

This contrast — of fantasy and ferocity — is the beating heart of Excalibur. It’s a tension that not only defines the film’s production design but the narrative journey of Arthur himself: a feature-length give and take between a gilded legendary past and the harsh realities of the very history it mythologizes.

In many ways, Excalibur is the favorite child of sword and sorcery movies, a genre that lived, and ultimately died, in the thrall of its own spectacle. These films envision medieval legend, myth, and heroes through a gold-flecked prism. From Dragonslayer (1981) to Ladyhawke (1985), the genre boasts living prog-rock album covers less concerned with historical accuracy than the look and feel of fantasy itself. Excalibur was not the first of its kind. But it is, at least to me, one of the genre’s essential and most influential texts. And reckoning Excalibur’s central thematic tension — this stylistic and narrative cacophony of grit and glamor — is key to understanding what makes the film so magical.

One of the expressions of this tension is in the film’s music. At times, Trevor Jones’ original score indulges in the expected medieval pan flutes, hurdy-gurdies, and monkish drones. At others, it is knowingly Wagnerian, unsubtle, grandiose, and, in a word, epic. Indeed, many of the film’s most memorable musical moments are outright samples of Wagner’s work. The title credits announce themselves with Siegfried’s explosive dirge from Die Götterdämmerung, which bookends the film as the dying Arthur is shepherded to Avalon. The prelude to Parsifal appropriately accompanies the conclusion of Percival’s (Paul Geoffrey) quest for the Holy Grail: a transcendent sequence that uses Wagner’s ethereal strings to underscore Percival’s political epiphany that the land and its king are one. Another prelude, from Tristan und Isolde, fittingly serves as the leitmotif for a doomed tryst: the love affair between Guenevere and Arthur’s most trusted knight, Lancelot.

Excalibur Split Diopter

And yet, for all its sound and fury, Excalibur’s soundtrack falls silent during scenes of violence. Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana blasts as Arthur and his knights ride through a blossoming apple orchard to their climactic face-off with the incestuous abomination Mordred. But the soundscape of the fight itself is far more honest about the barefaced realities of battle. Instead of triumphant horns and exalting choirs, we hear the rattle of cumbersome armor, the anguished cries of wounded soldiers, and the constant clanging of metal weaponry. In these moments of genuine brutality, from the storming of Leondegrance’s castle to Lancelot’s honor-bound duel with Gawain, the score falls back, and the horror of medieval conflict comes into clear and distressing focus: legends are, as Uther’s death reminds us, built on rivers of blood.

Excalibur stretches across a lifetime, from Arthur’s adolescence to his final moments as an old man. And while it is initially jarring to see 35-year old Nigel Terry play a teenager, by keeping the actors consistent as the characters age, the film can create a startling visual contrast between eager, idealistic youths and their calloused older selves. Arthur’s bright eyes dull as the weight of his legendary purpose ravages his body. Lancelot’s festering guilt twists his cherubic curls into a madman’s mane. And, perhaps most jarringly, Perceval’s bright, clear face grows gaunt and world-weary after fruitless decades of search for a fabled relic that may not exist.

This visual shift playing out before our eyes on the countenance of our heroes’ faces extends to the film’s color palette. The lush, earthy hues of Arthur’s youth are marked with verdancy and promise. The moss entombing Excalibur’s hilt seems almost iridescent, as though it too were benefiting from the uncanny emerald that endlessly glimmers in the mythical blade. Likewise, the formation of Camelot and the fabled round table is vibrant, like a living stained glass window. Everything (and I do mean everything) glitters an almost dream-like effervescence that dances in suits of armor, cups of wine, and bridal veils.

Then Arthur’s reign begins to rot. The film’s Eden-like forests become dark and oppressive, and slowly, the color drains from Arthur’s court. In the final frame of Camelot’s prosperity, Arthur lies unconscious in a chapel, bathed in magenta, steam rising where the mystical bolt of lightning struck his chest. We fade to black, and when we return, the world is saturated, stricken too, it would seem, by the sickness that now grips the land.

The first act’s saturation now appears solely in the sorceress Morgana’s (Helen Mirren) domain, who wields visual splendor like a venomous serpent hoping to hypnotize her prey. Here, color takes on a corrupted aspect,...



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BTF Media Unveils Chilean Social Uprising Docuseries 'El Estallido'


Chile’s BTF Media has unveiled its next project, “El Estallido,” a six-part docu-series telling the story of young psychology student Gustavo Villaroel, who lost both of his eyes after being shot twice with rubber bullets by the Chilean police while participating in the social uprising in Santiago in October 2019. In anticipation of pitching the series at this year’s MipTV, BTF has released a first international teaser featuring Gustavo and his brother Enrique.

Hernán Caffiero, director and producer of 2018’s International Emmy-winning “The Suspended Mourning,” will head the series with executive producers Ricardo Coeto and Francisco Cordero. “El Estallido” will enlist academics, analysts and experts in social behavior to examine the circumstances which lead to the massive demonstrations that overtook the entire country in 2019.

Key to the series’ narrative is the relationship between Gustavo and Enrique, with Enrique narrating the series, as he does in the teaser. The history of the brother’s family will be juxtaposed with the recent history of Chile as a whole, unveiling decades of social discord reaching back to the era of Pinochet’s brutal dictatorship and how it affected ordinary people, and leads to the 2019 uprising. Variety talked to Gustavo Villaroel.

Your story is one of the most emblematic of the Chilean social outbreak, reaching international visibility and support. Why did you decide to tell your story and be part of this series? How did you meet Hernán?

I think it is necessary to make cases like mine visible, especially in a country like Chile. I think justice doesn’t work otherwise, and that is why the international attention, especially from a series like this, is crucial to let us know everything that happened in Chile, and what continues to happen in the wake of the October 18 protest.

In the last few months, I have spoken with several Chilean filmmakers about productions that were made in the hope of inspiring social change. What kind of impact do you think this series can have and what are your hopes for possible changes it can inspire?

That’s my hope too. My simplest expectation is to let people know what happened here, and then hopefully pressure for justice will follow, not only for me but for everyone involved.  I insist, it is necessary for the Chilean people to be certain that justice will be done. Unfortunately almost half of the causes of human rights violations were closed and archived because of lack of progress, and I feel that international pressure is needed to move things forward.

We know that the series will examine Chilean history to better understand the events that occurred in 2019. What kind of repercussions do you think the Pinochet dictatorship has to this day?

It’s like a still-open wound precisely because there was never justice for the violations committed, which meant that wound could never close. That’s why projects like this are necessary. They seek to give visibility to what happened so as not to make that same mistakes again. That’s also why we are doing this project with Hernán so soon after the events it discusses.

This series is proposed as a critique against the actions of the Chilean police, with experts arguing that the organization acts under the same logic of the dictatorship. Do you think this series can contribute to the debate and reflection regarding the need to reform the police?

I think it’s important that the actions of the Chilean police be addressed in depth, with advice from experts. I also think it is clear that important protocols have not been complied with within law enforcement, because we have a militarized police force which continues to act as it did in that era. So yes, I do think we need to reform or completely rebuild a new law enforcement system.

Some months ago, Chile held a historic vote in which it was decided to update the country’s Constitution. What do you think will happen? What would you like to see change in your country?

There are great expectations about what may come from the process of establishing a new constitution, and I believe foremost among them must be basic human rights such as the right to water – it should belong to the public not to private companies – education and health. These are basic issues that are not guaranteed right now in Chile. And of course, what we are talking about with this series, that a new police force with more democratic values must be created separate from the legacy of the dictatorship. There are so many things that must be addressed, but for me these are paramount.





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'Godzilla vs. Kong' Finally Gives Humans a Place in the MonsterVerse


When will the humans learn to hold hands and sing "Kumbaya’" with the monsters? 

Godzilla vs. Kong hit theaters and HBO Max this past Wednesday, and it delivered exactly what we expected from two mega-monsters beating each other up. For the first time since the start of the pandemic, I feel like a major blockbuster has been released. I’ve never felt closer to normal than I did while watching two monsters become BEF (best enemies forever). 

This is the fourth installment to Legendary’s and Warners’ MonsterVerse, and it is off to a rather well-received start. Looking a little closer at the films, the ever-changing relationship between humanity and the giant monsters had me thinking: how are we any different from the monsters? 

Profound, I know. 

But, when I watched Godzilla vs. Kong, I noted that I had a lot of sympathy for Godzilla and King Kong. Maybe it's the fact that Kong can admit that he feels fear or that Godzilla is probably tired of having to save the Earth over and over again. Perhaps this feeling I have comes from the shifting roles of humans in the film. Their role as the antagonist or weak being to being cooperative and accepting (for the most part) has impacted the films in a major way. 


'Godzilla vs. Kong'Credit: Legendary Pictures

Sorry, Avengers—Godzilla and Kong are Earth’s greatest protectors

In Godzilla and Kong: Skull Island, the humans don't do much besides try to take down the poor Titans before realizing that they aren't evil. 

Then, Godzilla: King of the Monsters gives humans a bigger role outside of antagonist or protagonist. The humans in this film are guided by their own ideas of how the Titans are affecting their lives. Monarch goes full Heisei-era by using a flying fortress called the Argo that follows Godzilla and the other Titans across the globe. The Titans are not a threat as much as they are cleansing the planet, and the humans must accept that they are not the most powerful beings in the universe. 

As IGN puts in its breakdown of humans in the MonsterVerse, neither destruction nor control was ever an option for humans, and it takes nearly wiping out most of humanity for them to realize this.

The Titans are beyond human ability, and it really takes three movies to establish this. In the end, Godzilla takes out the "false king," Ghidorah, whose corruptive force causes the other Titans to destroy the Earth they were initially protecting, and he roars into the heavens as the other Titans bow down to him with the promise of healing the Earth—which they do.

What about the humans? Well, they realize that they have no hold on Earth. They are no longer the biggest or baddest thing to walk the planet, and for some people, that idea doesn’t sit well with them. With this idea of Godzilla and the Titans being protectors of Earth rather than humankind’s doom, Godzilla vs. Kong takes this message and adds to it with a deep dive into the compassion of both Godzilla and King Kong.

In Godzilla vs. Kong, Godzilla's out trying to stop humans from becoming their own destruction (again), while Kong was out soul searching against his will because Hollow Earth has a potentially groundbreaking power source that could be used by Apex Cybernetics. 

Then, Mechagodzilla enters the chat. 

Humans are the true antagonist

When I saw Mechagodzilla, I was excited yet nervous. I was getting major Batman v Superman vibes the entire time, but the team-up of the two Titans to take down the man-made monster had me on the edge of my couch.

Although there is debate about who won the initial fight between Godzilla and Kong (I strongly believe Godzilla won), nothing was better than watching an epic two-on-one fight to the death. 

But I am not here to focus on Godzilla or Kong—back to the humans.

Humans in this franchise have a hard time finding their place. The problem was partially solved in Godzilla: King of the Monsters, but Godzilla vs. Kong establishes their place a little better. The people at Apex Cybernetics believe that the Titans are going to bring nothing but destruction and chaos to the world, and want to take them out through their own monster. Then, there are the people of Monarch who want to give the Titans a place to roam freely without the constant threat of humans. Humans play both parts of murder and martyr. 


Millie Bobby Brown as Madison Russell in 'Godzilla vs. Kong'Credit: Legendary Films

The wonderful part of Mechagodzilla’s existence is that it exists because of humans, but outgrows them almost immediately. Since Ghidorah’s consciousness possesses Mechagodzilla, the monster becomes its own being and wipes out those who try to control him.

He becomes a manifestation of humankind’s fear—the inability to control something that has defeated them time and time again. This helplessness against a mostly peaceful monster that humans feel in the MonsterVerse will inevitably be their doom. 

In short: mankind is always on a path to self-destruction. Titans are just here to stops us from being dumb while occasionally punching each other in the face for dominance.  

It’s safe to say, without the humans in these movies, there would be no story. Whether they are helping and destroying, their action is necessary for the movie to move forward. Eventually, humans will learn to live in harmony with the Titans, but when that happens, the MonsterVerse will need a new enemy. 

But what does this mean for Kong and Godzilla? I assume they’ll team up again when humanity tries to take back the title of the protector of Earth, but with no news of the fifth installment to the MonsterVerse being released yet, it’s hard to say what the future has in store. 

What do you think is coming next in the MonsterVerse? Let us know in the comments!     



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Art Directors Guild 2021: “Mank” and “Tenet” Top Winners - Full List


David Fincher’s “Mank” and Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” were among the winners at the Art Directors Guild Awards on Saturday night — both are also Oscar nominees for best production design.

In a hybrid ceremony, the ADG (IATSE Local 800) awarded 11 categories across television, film, music videos and commercials.

Other winners included, “Da 5 Bloods” (Wynn Thomas), and “Soul” (Steve Pilcher).

In the television category, “The Mandalorian: Chapter 13: The Jedi,” “The Queen’s Gambit,” and “What We Do in the Shadows: Resurrection” were all recognized.

Comedian JB Smoove, co-star of HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” served as the evening’s host, entertaining a global audience. Nelson Coates, ADG president, and Mark Worthington, art directors council chair, presided over the awards ceremony.

“I’m grateful we were able to share our open awards event with all of our members, their families, friends, and coworkers this year,” producer Scott Moses said. “The show was designed to celebrate the resilience shown by our guild and the entire industry as a community in a year unlike any other in our lifetime. The work recognized here represents the best of the collective skills within the ADG to bring stories alive with limitless imagination.”

Lifetime achievement awards were presented to outstanding individuals in each of the guild’s four crafts. Emmy-winning production designer Stuart Wurtzel (“Hannah and her Sisters”) received the ADG Lifetime Achievement Award and John Eaves (“Captain America: The Winter Soldier”) was honored by the Illustrators and Matte Artists (IMA) Council. Scenic Artist Patrick DeGreve was honored by the Scenic, Title and Graphic Artists Council (STG) and Set Designer Martha Johnston (“Dunkirk”) was awarded by the Set Designers and Model Makers (SDMM).

Find the full list of winners below.

Period Feature Film

“Mank” (Production Designer: Donald Graham Burt)

Fantasy Feature Film

“Tenet” (Production Designer: Nathan Crowley)

Contemporary Feature Film

“Da 5 Bloods” (Production Designer: Wynn Thomas)

Animated Feature Film

“Soul” (Production Designer: Steve Pilcher)

One-Hour Period or Fantasy Single-Camera Series

“The Mandalorian: Chapter 13: The Jedi” (Production Designers: Andrew L. Jones, Doug Chiang)

One-Hour Contemporary Single-Camera Series 
“Ozark: Wartime” (Production Designer: David Bomba)

Television Movie or Limited Series

“The Queen’s Gambit” (Production Designer: Uli Hanisch)

Half-Hour Single-Camera Series

“What We Do in the Shadows”- “Resurrection,” “Collaboration,” “Witches” (Production Designer: Kate Bunch)

Multi-Camera Series 

“Will & Grace” – “Accidentally on Porpoise,” “We Love Lucy,” “It’s Time” (Production Designer: Glenda Rovello)

Short Format: Web Series, Music Video or Commercial 

Harry Styles: “Falling” (Production Designer: François Audouy)

Variety, Reality or Competition Series 

“Saturday Night Live” – “Host: John Mulaney + Music: David Byrne,” “Host: Adele + Music: H.E.R.,” “Host: Dave Chappelle + Music: Foo Fighters” (Production Designers: Keith Raywood, Eugene Lee, Akira Yoshimura, N. Joseph De Tullio)

Variety Special
“Black Is King” (Production Designers: Hannah Beachler, Carlos Laszlo, Susan Linss, Miranda Lorenz, Brandon Mendez, Rika Nakanishi, Ethan Tobman)





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