Ross McElwee (The Bat Segundo Show)

Ross McElwee is most recently the director of Photographic Memory.

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Condition of Mr. Segundo: Stepping away from the memories.

Guest: Ross McElwee

Subjects Discussed: Walker Percy’s “certification,” Heidegger’s Alltäglichkeit, whether social media and YouTube can capture the essential quality of “everydayness,” patterns and layers of meaning discovered through the act of filming one’s life for decades, whether or not people have the patience to sit through a two and a half hour movie these days, how McElwee’s cinematic voice has altered with Photographic Memory, the use of Ken Burns-like music for a photographic montage, why McElwee decided to look backwards instead of tackling the present, problems in passing on the McElwee legacy, Adrian McElweee plugged into technology at the expense of conversation, patriarchal dissing, the imprecision of father-son parallels, the godfathers of the cinéma vérité movement, recreating the moon shot from Sherman’s March, the pernicious influence of the YouTube confessional, Time Indefinite as the obverse of Photographic Memory, filming a tumor for 72 seconds, why Marilyn Levine was not included in Photographic Memory, whether removing a family member from a film offers the truth about a dynamic, divorce, preserving privacy while remaining transparent, meeting Josh Kornbluth in Six O’Clock News, McElwee making “fiction films,” the middle ground between fiction and truth, Tolstoy’s maxim about novels not revealing everything, Andy Warhol’s Empire, why Charleen Swansea hasn’t appeared in McElwee’s recent films, a rare McElwee complaint about irrelevance, compartmentalizing the home environment and France, an adamant yet insignificant moment about a dish which caused Our Correspondent to question its significance, the future of documentary filmmaking and reality TV, Catfish, whether the marvel of the everyday will be informed by seducing the audience over questions of truth, the hidden rat at the motel in Bright Leaves, marveling over quotidian details, Steve Im in Six O’Clock News, conversation vs. dramatic evening news elements, when it’s easier to have conversations with strangers, the virtues of sitting still in one place, apocalyptic elements in McElwee’s films, being informed by lingering anxieties about the end, the harmful effects of smoking, confronting your own mortality, how Adrian’s presentation has transformed in McElwee’s films, fishing, the world divide between those who have kids and those who don’t, periods in life when kids are delightful, whether most people remember the last names of all their lovers and roommates, McElwee’s early attempts to write fiction, being inspired by limitations, how libertine digital shooting has impacted documentaries, and the dangers of not being selective enough when making am ovie.

EXCERPT FROM SHOW:

Correspondent: I’m sorry I didn’t wear my Opus shirt. I couldn’t find one. I don’t think they even make them anymore. I was expecting you to come in and film me or something.

McElwee: Well, that can be arranged. I’ve got a little camera right here. (picking up iPhone)

Correspondent: Oh, I see. Well, I’ve got mine right here. (picking up Galaxy) So I know you wrote an essay on Walker Percy’s The Last Gentleman, which is very interesting. Because I’ve seen your films and they really make me think of what Percy said about “certification” in The Moviegoer, which of course is taken from Martin Heidegger’s notion of Alltäglichkeit, “everydayness” in Being and Time. This idea where we go about our lives, we’re always sort of reflecting on what the meaning of this is. And he said that it was essential. So I’m wondering. How can the video medium, which you have actually gravitated to for the first time with this film, and social media in our present landscape take into account this notion of everydayness? I mean, this film almost seems to be an argument for and against it. So what of this?

McElwee: That’s a question? That’s an essay! (laughs)

Correspondent: Well, we do essay questions and answers here. It’s sort of similar to your films, I think. (laughs)

McElwee: It is. It actually perfectly complements my whole way of making films. Because it’s a very complex thing that you’re asking of me. And to me, filming the everyday, filming little moments from everyday life, is totally essential to understanding what life as a whole is about. I think it’s somehow not recording of any specific moment of life that leads to a richer understanding or a deeper presentation of the meaning of that particular life. But it’s the accretion of all of these things and the overlapping, the patterns, the resonances of daily moments filmed that resonate with things you’ve already seen before. And I find as I get older, as I film my friends and my family, that I see patterns and layers of meaning that would not have been there if I had just filmed them one time. So I think it’s partially that curiosity about the moment of being in the present. And that’s very, very important to my filmmaking. And yet now there’s also a kind of layering that seems to be happening de facto, which is because I’ve been filming for a long time. I’m led to putting together combinations of shots and scenes and moments that span decades. And I have the luxury of doing that now. Because I’m getting older. One of the few benefits of getting older.

Correspondent: The films have gotten shorter, however. Interestingly.

McElwee: Yeah, that’s partially because people don’t have the patience to sit through two and a half hour films anymore.

Correspondent: I do.

McElwee: Well, you’re not the typical viewer.

Correspondent: Well, the interesting thing, aside from the fact that this is shot on video, is that there are a number of surprises about this film, aesthetically speaking, where it just does not seem like a Ross McElwee film. We have, of course, the photos with the music. And I was like, “Am I watching a Ken Burns movie or am I watching a McElwee movie?”

McElwee: Right.

Correspondent: Or even the fact that you gravitate more towards the past instead of the present.

McElwee: Yes.

Correspondent: You know, if you are altering your voice to fit the needs of what is required today, is it truly a genuine McElwee movie?

McElwee: No. Well, I’m not altering the voice because of marketing. There’s no way that I’m doing that. But I think it really is a matter of becoming older. I know, for me, for having kids or at least a son who’s a different generation, I’m starting to wonder, “What is this tension that I feel with my son? And why does this seem so extreme?” And that led me to go back to my own past. And I think in doing so, I did fine. I wasn’t shooting film back then and I don’t have images, moving images, to call upon, to represent what was happening at that point in my life. But I do have still photographs. And so, yes, there’s still photographs in my film and it is the first time I’ve used them this extensively. You’re absolutely right about that. And it’s the first time I’ve used stretches of music the way that I have in this film. Music has been in all my films. It’s diegetic. It comes out of the filming itself and the filming environment.

Correspondent: But the music comes before the voice. Whereas in previous films, the voice has ushered in the music.

McElwee: Yes, that’s true. Although I do….yes, you’re right. You’re right. That’s a different way of using music. But I think I felt that these were raw materials that I had available, which represented what my life was like at that time. Therefore, I had to draw on them. And it did make a different kind of film. Of course, the other large difference was that I’m much older now. And so there’s much more to look back on. So that way does become more “historical.”

Correspondent: Much more to look back on? What about looking forward? I mean, literally. I was shocked watching this movie. Because I was expecting the cross-country quest of some kind. But, no, it really is going backwards towards events that are half a lifetime ago. I mean, why should they define who you are in the present? They certainly haven’t in other films that you’ve made.

McElwee: No. And I think it may be a one time departure. But I feel that I have now earned the right to make whatever film I wanted to make and that was the film I wanted to make. And I think it’s mainly because of what I say in the beginning of the film. It’s that I’m a little stymied by my relationship to my son. And I’m confused by the directions he’s going in. And those directions are somewhat representative of his entire generation. But I’m also smart enough to realize that my father had the same questions about me. I didn’t go to medical school. That’s so puzzling. “Why would you not want to do something that would guarantee you a comfortable and fulfilling life?” No, I wanted to become a filmmaker. What is that all about? He must have really wondered about those things.

Correspondent: But the difference between you and your father, and Adrian and you, is that we have this image you have throughout your films of your father showing how to suture up something and your brother going ahead and participating. You’ve used that repeatedly.

McElwee: Yes.

Correspondent: In this, it’s almost like you’re the hired cameraman for Adrian’s movies.

McElwee: Yes.

Correspondent: It’s not necessarily like the passing of a legacy that Adrian rejects, although Adrian also adopts the filmmaking guise. So is there really a parallel here?

McElwee: Not a precise parallel. But there’s some irony too in there. I become Adrian’s camerman at the end of the film and I think that’s meant to be somewhat humorous. People understand that. I’m doing documentaries and determined to do fiction. Not only that, but I become his cinematographer. So, yeah, it’s clearly a departure for me to go in some of the directions I’ve gone in too. But I think it’s very healthy. Why not try something you haven’t tried before? And I’ve done it. Whether I’ll do something similar again remains to be seen.

Correspondent: Going back to adjusting to recent developments of the last five or six years — smartphones, social media, and so forth — one of our first images of Adrian. He is plugged into his laptop, quite literally. He has the laptop in front of him. He has the headphones. He has this massive cafe drink with a bright blue straw. And you’re trying to say, “I need your full attention.” And he refuses this. And this to my mind — because I saw your film twice. The first time, I was horrified by this. The second time, I actually came to sympathize with Adrian a little bit more.

McElwee: Right.

Correspondent: But I initially thought, “My God, he’s a spoiled brat. Here he is. The great Ross McElwee is being dissed by his own son!”

McElwee: But that’s his job as a son. Is to diss his dad.

Correspondent: Yeah, but diss in that sort of way? I mean, not have a meaningful conversation with you? Because it seems that you clearly establish, especially when you drag out all of your old notebooks and all of your old photos, there’s meticulous ideas that you set down in your youth and he’s frivolously typing away on his computer.

McElwee: Well, see, my father through I was frivolously scribbling away in my notebooks. It’s like so judgmental of fathers to be that way about their sons.

Correspondent: Or viewers to be that way about patriarchal relationships.

McElwee: Exactly. And the other thing that you can say is, “Well, yeah, he’s busy texting and listening to some conversation at the same time. He’s multitasking and he doesn’t even hear me when I ask the question or acknowledge that he’s heard me.” But what am I doing? I’ve got a digital camera on my shoulder. Who am I to criticize him for being wrapped up in his technology when I’m also wrapped up in my technology?

Correspondent: Well, you weren’t in the camera shot. But I’m pretty sure you weren’t holding a beverage. I’m pretty certain.

McElwee: That’s true.

Correspondent: He had more distractions than you going on.

McElwee: Or he’s just more ambidextrous than I am.

Correspondent: (laughs) Ambidextrous. But I mean, you say that it’s pretty much the same thing. But I would argue, given all the additional impediments from Adrian, that it’s not. That your quest into France was a quest for the usual frivolities of falling into weird relationships. I mean, you have the image of your son next to his girlfriend and there are two laptops there. I mean, that’s a fundamental difference that disrupts the parallel. So what of this? Is there? Can you actually adopt a parallel between your own life and Adrian’s?

McElwee: No, of course. It’s never precisely the same from generation to generation. We all know that. And I think the things that you point out visually were stunning to me when I actually saw them through the viewfinder. The two laptops opened at right angles to each other at a cafe table.

Correspondent: You didn’t notice when you were filming? It’s sort of like the rat in the motel [from Bright Leaves].

McElwee: Well, I did notice when I was filming. Because I thought, “Ah! This is the image I’m looking for.” I didn’t tell them to do that. But from the minute I saw this, I said, “I’m going to film this. Because it just seems so appropriate.” But I think it’s unfair to be too critical of Adrian and his generation for being so wrapped up in this technology. Because it’s available. And I was shooting 16mm film because it was suddenly available in a portable sense. You could put these cameras on your shoulder and go into the world for the first time. That was the whole cinéma vérité revolution. You know, my dad didn’t understand any of that. He thought it was crazy. In fact, at the very beginning, so did most funding agencies. Public television. Arts agencies. Nobody got it. That this was going to be something significant. That you could take technology into the world and interact with it on its own terms. As opposed to bringing people into the studio and interviewing them. Or recreating things the way Flaherty did. Directing it as if it were a fiction film. Using people from real life. And, in fact, it took a while for people to understand the possibilities of cinéma vérité. This was before I began making films. Those guys. [Richard] Lecock and [Albert and David] Maysles and [D.A.] Penebaker. They had to fight to get their kinds of filmmaking seen and shown and produced. So there’s always a learning curve for the rest of them.

Correspondent: And I dig all those guys. But the one commonality throughout all that early cinéma vérité is that there is a concern for capturing the human as opposed to cutting reality up into a stylistic mélange that gets in the way of really grasping with life. I mean, you try to recreate that famous moon shot from Sherman’s March in this film, but we see that we have all these buildings and your monologue is there. But the moon is more insignificant on video and it’s populated by all these buildings and so forth.

McElwee: Right.

Correspondent: Clearly you’re aware that this is either fading or this is in competition with the YouTube confessional/YouTube star movement. And so forth. I mean, where do you fit in? Is there a place for you, do you think?

McElwee: In this? Yeah, that’s a good question. I’m not really trying to tailor my films for any particular generation or any particular venue. I didn’t know where this film was going to end up. It was commissioned by French television. But aside from that, I had no idea where it would end up. And even that was an obscure presentation and platform. It was a late night experimental television series. And I was very happy to accept their commission and make this film. But I didn’t know what kind of film it would be. And I didn’t feel like I could tailor it to suit any particular category or any particular audience. And so there’s a way in which perhaps I’m shooting myself in the foot by not really thinking more about where these films are destined and is there a way I can make them more accessible to the younger generation who will then download it from their computers. I just…I can’t think like that. For whatever reason, I’m just driven to make a film because I want to make it on my own terms.

The Bat Segundo Show #491: Ross McElwee (Download MP3)

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The Bat Segundo Show: Miranda July

Miranda July appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #405. She is most recently the writer, director, and star of The Future, which opens in theaters on July 29, 2011.

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Condition of Mr. Segundo: Seeking further bifurcations between art and commerce.

Guest: Miranda July

Subjects Discussed: People in their mid-thirties who are crippled by their own self-judgment, empathy and resentment, workaholicism, feeling paralyzed, kidults and grups, pursuing a project without seeking a larger sociological reach, hats and gloves, the number of characters in The Future that operate as failed artists, July’s theory that most artists are in a constant state of crisis, moments in life when you don’t know what to do with yourself, entering the space of not knowing, outside forces that compel artists, talking moons and crawling T-shirts, nudges from your own security blanket, the relationship between art and commerce, the dry-erase marketing campaign for No One Belongs Here More Than You, the Internet as a commercial medium, Google+, art springing from boredom, anger and addiction, T-shirt puppeteers, screaming out windows, Howard Beale in Network, yelling out windows in real life, girls who bury themselves in the ground, self-enforced endurance rituals, vital methods that emerge from voicing a talking cat, playing multiple roles, sticking with initial intentions, accidental slips, whether July feels any obligation to speak to her generation or a cultivated audience, and the liberation of writing, directing, and performing in your own sex scene.

EXCERPT FROM SHOW:

Correspondent: I want to discuss the fact that you have two characters in this movie who are in their mid-thirties. They are too lazy to leave the couch. They are unable to get their lives together to pursue their careers. When it comes to keeping track of the calendar, they prove negligent — I don’t want to give it away. And they are crippled so much by their judgment that Sophie is very diffident in the very beginning when she’s making these 30 dance videos and Jason keeps his hand permanently on Sophie’s head. So as a guy who is in his mid-thirties and who works very hard, I was interested in these characters. But I also felt somewhat resentful towards these characters. And I can only imagine, in concocting these characters, that you, who have worked quite hard also may have experienced perhaps some resentment towards your creation. And I was wondering if you could talk about this double-edged sword. What did you do to shake off potential resentment towards people who are really not going anywhere in their lives — at least for the large majority of the film?

July: Well, I didn’t — I felt more understanding of them than that. I mean, yeah, I’m really, really productive. Maybe even a workaholic. But I feel paralyzed a lot of the time. And just cause I work a lot doesn’t mean I feel like always deeply fulfilled or that I always know what to do next. Or who I am. So in a way, I took a lot of doubts and fears and put them into my characters and, in a way, to break out of the patterns of some of like, you know, using work in a kind of unexamined way. And yeah it’s embarrassing. It feels kind of awkward to play that role or to give these people time and space. But at the same time, I don’t really want to see a movie about these fantastic people doing everything right and knowing themselves completely. I don’t relate to that either.

Correspondent: Yeah. Well, were you trying to depict a current crisis among many mid-30s types? I mean, some people could make the comparison that it absolutely mimics both the Southern California layabout and also the Williamsburg hipster. That’s one of the virtues of this film. But on the other hand, I’ve been seeing a lot more artists — especially books and now increasingly films such as yours — which are really depicting this kind of kidult phenomenon that was written about in New York Magazine. Was this a concern of yours? Did you study any larger sociological reach along these lines to depict this type of feeling?

July: I never care about the larger sociological reach. I mean, I’m almost entirely concerned with, like, an internal world. And, you know, sometimes I kind of lament that I have to create characters in order to get inside of them. You know, like I just want to start out already in them. And then I hope, if their insides resonate and are through, that I’ll end up making characters that people connect to — whether they love them or hate them, they’ll seem relevant. But I never work from the outside in like that. Yeah.

Correspondent: How do you jump around from putting your hand into the glove versus, I suppose, creating the glove and stitching the sequins and all that? What’s the difference? I mean, do you have to put on two hats? Is it one continuous process?

July: That’s a lot of clothes flying around here.

Correspondent: Yes.

July: Hats and gloves.

Correspondent: Yeah. Well, there is a T-shirt in the movie.

July: And there’s a shirt in the movie. I mean, you’re talking about sort of being inside the movie and making it.

Correspondent: Yes. Acting, writing, directing. Especially some character who has this particular feeling.

July: Yeah, I mean, it seemed like if you were going to make a movie that had a lot to do with doubt and fear, like it might not be a bad thing to have a lot of doubt and fear making it? Apparently, I thought that was a good idea. Because I did. I did have lots of doubts. And when you’re in it, you know, that is part of your job. Is to feel all those things and to believe in them and to not judge them. And then when you’re outside of it, well, it’d be nice if you add some distance. But I don’t really. I pretty much am like method directing. Which isn’t that fun for everyone on the set. Especially when it’s a darker movie.

Correspondent: Why not? Why isn’t it fun?

July: Well, with like the first movie, it was more kinda hopeful and innocent in a way. And I think I embodied that as I was making it to some degree. And the second one, I also embodied. Which meant that I was fairly haunted the whole time and kind of a little bit wishing that I could flee it the same way. Very dedicated and yet still having fantasies about just walking away from the whole thing. The way that my character does. Yeah.

The Bat Segundo Show #405: Miranda July (Download MP3)

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The Bat Segundo Show: Reed Cowan

Reed Cowan appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #341. Mr. Cowan is most recently the director of 8: The Mormon Proposition, which opens in numerous theaters on June 18, 2010.

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Condition of Mr. Segundo: Conducting investigations on Dick Van Pattern’s possible Mormon connections.

Guest: Reed Cowan

Subjects Discussed: [List forthcoming]

EXCERPT FROM SHOW:

Correspondent: I wanted to also ask about the box of secret documents. You don’t actually cite a source. And there’s no indication in the film that you made efforts to corroborate this with the LDS. Or to even contact the names that were possibly on the emails or the memos. I mean, I’m a viewer — let’s say — who is on the fence. I see this. There’s no provenance. Did you make any steps to confirm the provenance? And why isn’t this in the film? I mean, is there some sort of website component here that one can use to find authenticity?

Cowan: I’ve actually met the person with the documents out of the Church offices. Out of the archives. So there was some corroboration that went on there. And also, what a lot of people don’t know is that, during the federal case that’s going on right now, those documents were provided to the case as well. Which led to subpoenas of other documents from the Mormon Church. In those subpoenas, we were able to see that the documents the Church had to hand over correlated with the ones we have. So it’s a matter of court record, from my understanding with the people inside the trial, that they match.

Correspondent: Which court record is this? Which case?

Cowan: In the federal trial that’s going on right now. Perry vs. Schwarzenegger.

Correspondent: Okay. Got it. And speaking of which, I actually wanted to ask you why you didn’t cover Strauss vs. Horton — the three cases that were consolidated into the California Supreme Court. And the Supreme Court upheld Proposition 8. It would seem to me that that’s just as much a part of the story as the Mormon mobilization. And also the efforts to try and take Proposition 8 off the ballot that were again rebuffed by the California Supreme Court.

Cowan: Well, the thesis of our film is “8: The Mormon Proposition.” And so really the onus is on us to prove their strategy, right? And to prove to the audience how it came together, how the strategy was formed. And so we feel like we did that. And anything else is outside of that focus. And, you know, there’s so much here. I mean, you’re right. There is so much here that if the citizenry really wanted to see what’s going on, I mean, you could produce ten, fifteen hours of programming. Just in the federal trial alone. I mean, the fact that they are not allowing the testimony to be televised, to me, is sickening. And could be hours and hours and hours of documentary material that we could obviously add to the film.

Correspondent: Hours and hours of dramatization as well.

Cowan: Sure. Sure. But I don’t know an audience that wants to sit through ten hours of documentary. And so look for the books, I guess. Look for other documentaries. And I hope there are more made.

Correspondent: I’m wondering if you believe that any Mormon can believe in same sex marriage.

Cowan: I do. I know that some of my high profile Mormon friends believe that I have the same rights as they do. And I have the right to claim those rights. It would be surprising, I think, to a lot of Mormons to know that one of the most popular governors in the state of Utah, Jon Huntsman, and his wife Mary Kaye are dear friends of mine. Jon has now been appointed the Ambassador to China by President Obama. And they are very close friends of mine. And Jon Huntsman has gone so far in that state — now a lot of people wouldn’t like that he didn’t come out and advocate for marriage, but he advocated in that state for civil unions. And that was a huge step. And Mary Kaye said to me, “You realize why we took this stand and took the heat. It was because of you and your partner. It was because of our relationship and friendship with you.” So can Mormons get it? Absolutely. Absolutely.

Correspondent: Then I’m wondering why you didn’t profile, for example, Laura Compton, who started that site MormonsforMarriage.com. I mean, that seems to me a decided apostasy in relation to this particular issue. That not all Mormons are some sort of Borg-like collective.

Cowan: Yeah. You know, there were a few who did dare speak out. There were many who were punished in certain ways for speaking out. And that created a culture where they didn’t dare. So people like Laura are heroes. But again, the thesis was to prove “Look, this was their proposition.” It wasn’t the Catholic proposition. The Mormons were the man behind the curtain. And so again, I welcome any documentary who can profile her or the other few, the minority of Mormons who stood up for marriage equality. And continue to do so. And who are now crossing the aisle and seeing where the inequity happened.

Correspondent: Surely deflecting criticisms from the Mormon Church by having someone like Laura Compton in your documentary would have allowed, I suppose, for those sitting on the fence to consider the issue perhaps a little bit more.

Cowan: Maybe she would have provided a light that people could follow. But again that’s not what the film was about. The film was to show the inequity. Because that was the great wrong that happened. And, you know, in an hour and twenty minutes, that’s the time we had. The time we had to try to prove that case.

The Bat Segundo Show #341: Reed Cowan (Download MP3)

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The Bat Segundo Show: Nicholas Meyer

Nicholas Meyer appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #310.

Nicholas Meyer is perhaps best known for his work on Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. He is most recently the author of The View from the Bridge.

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Condition of Mr. Segundo: Ah, listener my old friend, do you know the Klingon proverb that tells us revenge is a dish best served cold?

Author: Nicholas Meyer

Subjects Discussed: Lotus positions, talking back to prescience, writing books when the Writers Guild goes on strike, Samuel Johnson, the origins of The Seven Per-Cent Solution, words as a place of retreat, William S. Baring-Gould, generating “scholarly” commentary, Meyer’s dislike of Sherlock Holmes movies, Watson being portrayed as a buffoon, using the old Warner shield for Time After Time, the unusual opening shot of Time After Time and developing a directorial voice, Stanley Kubrick on the set of Spartacus, on-the-job training about cinematography, directing Ricardo Montalban, making specific choices, directors who don’t know what they want, the importance of understanding actors, finding distinct style with a preexisting Star Trek cast, William Shatner’s concerns on Star Trek II, the Coca-Cola product placement in Volunteers, responding to Ken Levine’s remarks on the scene that ruined Volunteers, Meyer’s problematic metrics with cinematic comedy, Black Orchid, whittling down the original draft of The View from the Bridge, being a script doctor on Fatal Attraction and determining Meyer’s precise involvement with the bathtub ending, calculating a film for an audience and the problems with doing so, how to write a good screenplay with Philip Roth’s source material, the differences between source material and other versions of the story, The Wizard of Oz, arguments about Dickens film adaptations, thoughts on Josh Olson’s “I Will Not Read Your Fucking Script,” The Avengers, and why Meyer’s frequent flyer miles are in the University of Iowa archive.

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EXCERPT FROM SHOW:

Correspondent: You’re sitting in a rather strange lotus position.

Meyer: No.

Correspondent: Do you sit like this often?

Meyer: I’m not lotus actually.

Correspondent: Oh. Not lotus.

Meyer: You can’t see, but, underneath this table, my legs are stretched out in a very conventional position.

Correspondent: I’m sorry I wasn’t noticing your muscular legs.

Meyer: The anti-lotus.

Correspondent: How are you doing?

Meyer: I’m doing fine so far.

Correspondent: Okay. I had a question pertaining to recent events and also pertaining to your work and your tendency to have scripts mirror certain international events. I think, going back to Star Trek VI and Company Business, how real events tended to unfold in relation to those particular scripts. But simultaneously I might argue that you were prescient with one particular character in the Star Trek films. Most recently, as you’ve probably been reading the headlines or seeing various clips, a certain Congressman from South Carolina basically said something to the President. And I couldn’t help but think when that happened, Chekhov saying to Khan, “You lie!” Which I thought was quite prescient of you possibly. But simultaneously, in relation to Chekhov and Presidents, I should point out that Chekhov was able to correctly pronounce “nuclear,” whereas the previous President was not. So what do you attribute this linguistic prescience on your part?

Meyer: Well, talking back to prescience is like one of the weirder things that you can do. And I think the fact that Chekhov addressed Khan so disrespectfully in the well of the Botany Bay obviously qualifies him for a Federation reprimand.

Correspondent: Yeah.

Meyer: Does this address your question?

Correspondent: It sort of does. But it’s interesting that Chekhov could pronounce “nuclear” where George Bush could not. 43.

Meyer: The list of things that George Bush was unable to pronounce. In order to pronounce some of these things, I think you have to conceive of what they are first.

Correspondent: And Chekhov was able to conceive of what they were. I mean, it’s funny that Chekhov was the guy here. This could also have a lot to do with my own particular connections to your work and the larger canvas. But you did bring this up in your book and so I was tempted to infer many things in your scripts that possibly were intended or prescient or seer-like.

Meyer: Well, I think Chekhov’s remark clearly, as far as Congressman Wilson is concerned, is an accident. It was about thirty years before. And there are people who go around saying “You lie!” at the drop of a hat. Chekhov, I think, is more right than not when he accuses Khan.

Correspondent: Yeah. I also wanted to ask — just to go to a general question that isn’t so convoluted or so crazy. This particular book. Was this written during the writers strike at all?

Meyer: Yes.

Correspondent: It was.

Meyer: I write my books when the Writers Guild goes on strike. You’re not allowed to write screenplays. And I usually write it because I have to make money. And Dr. Johnson said a man is a blockhead who writes for any reason except money.

Correspondent: Yes. Well, that’s paraphrasing it a bit. But it’s close enough.

Meyer: Well, I got “blockhead” and…

Correspondent: You got “blockhead” and “money” definitely. Nobody but a fool wrote for money…

Meyer: For anything except for money, yes.

Correspondent: I think I’m mangling it now. Yeah, I’m familiar with that quote. You were a movie reviewer at the University of Iowa. You then wrote press kits for Paramount. And then you wrote The Love Story Story. And then you headed out west to become a screenwriter and what was, of course, this novel that came about. Quite a circuitous route in terms of approaching the inevitable. And so I’m curious why you postponed it for so long over the years. Was there a definitive answer? You say that you’re not an analytical person. But I’m sure you’ve had many years to think about this roundabout way of going to your present profession.

Meyer: Well, I always wanted to make movies from the time I was very young. I never thought much about the writing part of it. Which is interesting, because I’ve been writing since I was five years old. Writing was just something I always did. Words were the place to which I retreated. Sort of instinctively and intuitively all my life. I tried writing novels as a young man and I didn’t like my novels very much. And by the way, neither did anyone else. So I went to California eventually to seek my fortune and try and get into the movie business. And I was lucky. I started to make some progress. And then just as I was starting to have stuff produced, the Writers Guild did go on strike. This was back in 1972 or ’73, I think. And I was sharing digs with a young woman who said, “Well now, since you’re not allowed to write screenplays, you can write that book you are always talking about.” And that book was my fanciful notion of a Sherlock Holmes adventure, in which Holmes met and joined forces intellectually as well as narratively with Sigmund Freud. And there really wasn’t any good reason at that point not to try doing it. I don’t think I was expecting it to add up to much. But it was as much a way of passing the time when I wasn’t on the strike line as anything else.

And so, yes, it became a big success. It was the number one best-selling novel for a while in the United States. And then when it was optioned for the movies, I said, “Yes, I will sell you the option on condition that I write the script.” And the script with all its faults was lucky enough to be nominated for an Oscar. And so that sort of led me to the next level. And the next screenplay I wrote, I said, “Yes, I will sell you the script, but I must direct the movie.” And so I leapfrogged my way into my profession.

BSS #310: Nicholas Meyer (Download MP3)

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The Bat Segundo Show: Atom Egoyan

Atom Egoyan appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #283.

Atom Egoyan is most recently the writer and director of Adoration, which opens in limited release on May 8, 2009. He is also a very friendly and interesting Canadian who does not bite people, but who somehow frightens the MPAA.

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Condition of Mr. Segundo: Pondering whether he is adored.

Guest: Atom Egoyan

Subjects Discussed: Scenes in airports, custom lines, airport security interrogations, passage within cinematic narrative, literal and figurative baggage, detonation devices, comparisons between Adoration‘s Simon and Ararat‘s Raffi, the video camera as a suitcase for memories, family confessions captured on video, making an experience substantial, technology in Egoyan’s films, closed-circuit vs. open-circuit technology, the lack of emotional filtering on the Internet, creating a chat room prototype hat doesn’t exist in reality, Nezar Hindawi, drawing from real-life incidents for ideas vs. cinematic invention, whether a narrative filmmaker needs to be responsible to history, finding the meaning in creches, the violin as a permanent artistic symbol, suggestions that we are now living in a cultural Roman Empire that is now crumbling, embracing an order to a material world, victims and mourning subcultures, the inheritance of tradition vs. new traditions, the excitement of interpretation vs. meaning to interpretation, teaching vs. primordial instinct, giving substance to the gaze of obsession, being driven to trauma, decorative masks and drama, concerns for class, role-playing and therapy, “democracy” and the Internet, shooting in natural locations vs. constructed sets, Chloe, and abstracting characters in a designed space.

EXCERPT FROM SHOW:

atomegoyanCorrespondent: I had a rather funny question. But it’s one concerning your films that I have been obsessed with for some time. And I was pleasantly surprised to see the motif crop up again in Adoration. And that is your propensity to have shots set in airports or custom lines. We have them in the beginning of Exotica. We have them in Ararat with Christopher Plummer.

Egoyan: Felicia’s Journey.

Correspondent: Well, yes, Felicia’s Journey. But I noticed that from Exotica onward, every one word film title of yours has an airport security scene or a custom lines scene. I’m wondering if this is Egoyan house style for a one word title. I’m wondering if it’s a scenario in which you have a particular preoccupation or a concern or an anxiety for airports. What of this?

Egoyan: Well, I think that, first of all, they are the borders where someone asks you, “What are you doing?” And how do you define yourself. And to me, it’s such a fundamental question. I love that idea of having to prove who you are. And I also think it probably has to do with the fact that, at a certain age in my formation, I went through a major airport. The family moved into a new country. And so we must have been grilled by some customs agent. I must have seen my parents break down in the process. I’m just assuming all this. Because it’s obviously is something that has left such a huge impression on me. I actually have gone through some pretty nasty interrogations too at airports. Where you try and answer a question with a joke. Which is never a good idea. And I’ve been whisked away and gone through more intense procedures. So I do think that there’s this moment where, if you take that question really seriously — when someone says, “So what are you doing? And why are you coming into this country?” — you can actually provoke a whole series of responses. Which may not necessarily be helpful or fruitful to getting you into the country, where a very simple response is required.

I can’t really explain it any more than that. It’s just that — and in this film certainly — it’s very stylized. And the whole environment of it is quite dreamlike. But it’s a huge part of the beginning of the film.

Correspondent: I should point out that the very beginning of Next of Kin features suitcases at the airport.

Egoyan: Absolutely.

Correspondent: I mean, is the airport for you what the bathroom was to Kubrick?

Egoyan: Uh, that’s a really interesting way of putting it. I would say that somehow, if I could combine a bathroom with an airport, that would probably be the best place I could situate any scene.

BSS #283: Atom Egoyan (Download MP3)

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The Bat Segundo Show: Tony Stone

Tony Stone appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #271.

Tony Stone is the director, writer, producer, editor, and actor of Severed Ways, a film about Vikings that opens in limited release on March 13, 2009.

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Condition of Mr. Segundo: Unsure of whether he wants to be a Viking or not.

Guest: Tony Stone

Subjects Discussed: The many crew positions that Tony Stone worked, music clearance people who keep weapons under their beds, making a film with seven chapters, how a two week shoot went on for three years, not getting the visuals right the first time, motivations for handheld camera work, accepting art as it is, “Greedo shoots first,” contemporary slang transposed into Viking talk, A Knight’s Tale, how far filmmakers can go in “modernizing” historical settings, the ethics of killing chickens on screen, Ingmar Bergman’s Shame, helpful ways of agitating both vegetarians and meat eaters through cinema, filming a defecation scene, the appropriate constituency of shit for a beautiful shot, Charles Leland’s Algonquin Legends, abstaining from profiling the Abenaki religion, paganism, anarchy, and secular humanism.

EXCERPT FROM SHOW:

tstoneCorrespondent: “This fish is pretty killer.” Well, “killer,” as I understand it, is a recent modifier in the English language.

Stone: Yes, it is.

Correspondent: And I don’t think necessarily that the Vikings were using this or that the Nordic tongue had any answer to “killer.” So why the modernization of etymology here? Is this an inroad point along the lines of the Viking headbanger who likewise appears in this?

Stone: Yeah. It’s that. But it’s also that a lot of the times, you’d watch any period piece or historical film, whether it’s Romans or barbarians or whatever else, they’re speaking in semi-Shakespearean accents in their Old British. It doesn’t really make any sense. And everything’s very formal. There’s no reason why, a thousand years ago, they weren’t just as casual as us and they had their own vernacular. So this is using a piece of dialogue — like “This fish is killer” — is basically more of an accurate translation in my mind. Because you’re taking whatever their vernacular was and putting it into our vernacular. So you understand the tone and the vibe of what they’re actually saying. So I actually find there’s more accuracy in it. And we’ve just been so beaten down by the traditional Hollywood stupidity of how I’m dealing with history in films. So that sort of explains why I wanted it there. And of course, the film is trying to bridge the past and the present. And so it’s maing these characters have mannerisms that maybe the dude walking down the street has. Or whatever else. It’s trying to just not have it be this distant, far off, separate thing. It’s trying to make it more current and now. And it is with us.

Correspondent: But on the flip side, there is a certain point where it becomes ridiculous; i.e., A Knight’s Tale, for example. In which you have the Nike swoosh in the Middle Ages. Do you remember this film?

Stone: Yeah, I do. I do.

Correspondent: I mean, it was totally ridiculous. It was fun. But at the same time, one does not look to this for verisimilitude.

Stone: “The Boys Are Back In Town.” Yeah.

Correspondent: So the question is: how far can you go with this?

Stone: Yeah, that’s interesting. A Knight’s Tale. I forgot about that. It’s been a while. But yeah. They use modern music.

Correspondent: “We Will Rock You.” Yeah.

Stone: Then there’s that amazing part where they’re going back to London. And the Thin Lizzy song comes in. “The Boys Are Back In Town.” (laughs) It’s very incredible.

Correspondent: I mean, if we’re talking about Hollywood stupidity, I’m wondering how…

Stone: Yeah. Obviously, there is a level of absurdness to it. I’m not going to deny it. But I think the film is sort of rebellious in a way. It’s trying to set up a dialogue. I don’t know. But in a way, like I’m saying, it’s sort of modernizing the Viking. Making him a current character. Making him more similar to somebody maybe you know is the idea. I’m just getting away from that wall that’s usually put up in terms of dealing with historical material.

BSS #271: Tony Stone (Download MP3)

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The Bat Segundo Show: Nacho Vigalondo

Nacho Vigalondo appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #254. Vigalondo is a filmmaker who is most recently the writer and director of Timecrimes, a film that opens in New York and Los Angeles on December 12.

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Condition of Mr. Segundo: Searching for future Bats.

Guest: Nacho Vigalondo

Subjects Discussed: What to expect when attending one’s first press day in New York, being isolated from the Hollywood scene by making films in Spain, unexpected attention, Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler, the current speed in adapting comic books, Mark Millar, the Timecrimes remake, the pink bandaged head as an old Universal Horror motif, finding the monster within the movie, writing a script out of sequence, Steven Zaillian, trying not to bore the audience, showing the ridiculous side of the situation, using the best bits of Karra Elejalde’s cinematic career for the different Hectors, the influence of fashion choices upon performance, making a movie work in a natural way, the criticism of “improvisation,” criticizing the reasons behind Chica’s nudity, not explaining everything within a movie, the tendency for music to blare throughout every environment, learning from Hitchcock, practical locations vs. planned sets, and making a timeless movie.

EXCERPT FROM SHOW:

nacho-vigalondoVigalondo: When you’re writing a script, sometimes the script is put into a nightmare. Sometimes, it’s giving you some gift. And in this case, when I was writing Timecrimes, I found a monster inside the story. But the story itself gave me the monster. I needed someone with a hidden face, with a scissors on the hand. So I found out that the story was building a monster. A monster that had these classical resonances, as you are telling. So I feel so fortunate. Because when you have a monster in your movie, the movie gets better most of the time. Every movie with a monster is better than the same story without the monster. You can apply this to all the other — to every example. I don’t know. If Million Dollar Baby had a monster, it would be a better film.

Once you find a monster inside your film, well, in my case, it’s something you have to celebrate. For two reasons. It’s a monster that sounds like a Universal classic film monster. And at the same time, it’s a pretty cheap Halloween costume. If the people like your film, they can disguise as the big mummy with little money on the bandages and the scissors. So if you want to dress like Freddy Krueger, it’s more expensive than my monster in my film. So it’s like giving something to the people. In depression times, giving cheap monsters to the people is something I really appreciate. (laughs)

BSS #254: Nacho Vigalondo (Download MP3)

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The Bat Segundo Show: Mike Leigh

Mike Leigh is the filmmaker behind Naked, Life is Sweet, Vera Drake, and, most recently, Happy-Go-Lucky, which is currently playing the New York Film Festival (among many others) and opens in the United States on October 10.

Condition of Mr. Segundo: Too unhappy and too unlucky.

Guest: Mike Leigh

Subjects Discussed: Vocational symmetries within Leigh’s films, Oscar Wilde, looking at a community, bad teachers, Leigh’s considerable frustrations about Poppy being “too happy,” the difficulties of filming Poppy’s jewelry, audience members misperceiving details, the confusion over Scott being a taxi driver, Bechdel’s Rule, depicting women who aren’t in relationships, the duty to portray life, Leigh’s problems with semiotics, collaborating with cinematographer Dick Pope, feeling the buzz of a visual instinct, devising Naked‘s opening shot, getting an Ozu fix, pursuing the issue of technology, flamenco dancing, MySpace, drawings and investigating domestic violence, “En-ra-ha,” Aleister Crowley, gloomy bookstore employees and literary references, shooting in High Definition, and film financing.

EXCERPT FROM SHOW:

Leigh: But as to the jewelry as a symbol of cyclical anything, I don’t know whether I’d go along with that one.

Correspondent: Okay. Well, fair enough.

Leigh: (laughs) Nice try.

Correspondent: Well, let’s talk about another possible symbol. The back pain that she experiences. This to me suggests that here we have Poppy moving forward as her specific identity — “happy-go-lucky” — and yet there is this pain in the back. And, of course, she laughs it off while she’s at the chiropractor’s office. But the thing that’s fascinating about this to me is that, well, this is behind her. So it’s almost as if she has her blinders on. She’s so focused in on moving forward that she doesn’t notice what she’s feeling in the back. And I’m wondering again how much one should read symbols into these particular choices.

Leigh: I think as we progress into this conversation — I think you are plainly a fundamental, unreconstituted, top-rate intellectual. Which I’m not. I think it’s fascinating, your analysis. But I think it’s a load of old rope. Basically. And I can’t go along with it at all. I mean, the fact is, she gets a bend in the back because she pulls her back when she’s trampolining. And it happens to be her back because that’s what she pulls. The back muscle. I think what’s more interesting about that unfortunate thing that happens to her, which gets fixed by an osteopath, not a chiropractor…

Correspondent: My apologies.

Leigh: No, no, you couldn’t, you know. But I think what is interesting, I’ve found, is that, you know, a lot of people — this has nothing to do with your question, but it’s talking about the same part of the film.

Correspondent: Sure.

Leigh: The same aspect of what happens to Poppy. You know, people are conditioned — mainly, courtesy of Hollywood — into the inevitability that something terrible is going to happen. And a number of people have thought, “Oh! She’s got cancer of the kidneys! That’s what this film is about!” Partly because the last film I made was about an abortionist. The fact is that it’s not about that. People say, “Well, couldn’t something terrible happen to her in the film?” And then you think of that. And you say, “No. Because that’s not what it’s about.” Of course, this could become a film about a woman who dies of cancer of the kidneys. But so what? That’s not what it’s about. It’s about somebody who giggles at stuff and is positive.

Correspondent: You also quibbled in another interview over people identifying Scott as a taxi driver instead of a driving instructor.

Leigh: Yeah, people say “that scene with the taxi driver.” I mean, it’s amazing. The number of people everywhere — here, in Paris, in London, in Berlin, and we’re talking about international fests — who call him a taxi driver. And it’s very curious. It’s as though this is a film about an airline pilot and people are calling him a doctor. It’s very strange.

Correspondent: I mean, I’m wondering. Could it be the way that you actually shot him? Because I know that you and Mr. Pope actually used lipstick cams to get…

Leigh: No, no. Come on. You cannot construct any correlation between how the film was shot and the fact that, for some reason, people call a driving instructor a taxi driver. You really can’t do that.

Correspondent: So it’s the audience’s problem. Not yours.

Leigh: No, no. It’s just a weird thing. I mean, I don’t think it’s even a problem. It’s just a strange quirk. But I don’t think anything should be made of it really.

BSS #238: Mike Leigh (Download MP3)

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