Rooftop Serenade – Short Film


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Shot on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, Rooftop Serenade is about an unusual and fortuitous meeting between two people (Gretchen MacLane and George Vlachos) on the roof of their building.

The soundtrack features the voices of Holly Leavy and Thomas W. Campbell, and original music by Mr. Campbell. Rooftop Serenade was shot on a single roll of Kodak reversal film with a Bolex camera and is two minutes and twenty five seconds in duration.

Update 1: 
I recently found the 16 mm master of this short film so will be producing an HD ProRes HQ version, based on a film to PRoRes transfer made through Color Lab.

Update 2: The HD transfer of Rooftop Serenade played at the Extremely Shorts Film Festival in Houston, Texas in early June, 2015. It played at the Carnegie Museum of Art, in Pittsburgh, in July. Stills from the original shoot can be found here.

The film can be seen here.  The password is: west

 

Spirit Guides – Craft Bartending

This is the trailer for a recent documentary, directed by Jesse White, that I co-edited. The film gets deeply into the world of craft drink making, a throwback to the pre-prohibition days of creative and quality bartending.


For more about Jesse and his film you can go to: http://jtwhitefilms.com

Oscar Bohórquez Musical Profile – Strad For Lunch


This is the profile and interview portion of a 64-minute music documentary “Strad For Lunch” that I recently edited and helped to shoot and produce. The film, directed by Marianne Hettinger, is about the US concert recital debut of the young German born violin virtuoso Oscar Bohorquez . In the performance which took place on March 7th, 2012, he plays a very rare Stradivarius violin. The concert took place at the WMP Concert Hall in New York City, with an all-Argentinian program of works by Ginastera, Ugarte, Beytelmann and Guastavino.

For more information about the director and/or the film, which includes a multi-camera live performance, go to:   http://www.mariannehettinger.com/rom-com-films-with-dance.html

Compliance – Film Review

On August 14, 2012 I moderated a Q&A after the National Board of Review screening of Compliance with director/writer Craig Zobel and actress Ann Dowd. It was a relaxed and fun conversation, moving fluidly between considerations (and implications) of the material and discussion of technical, acting and logistics. It’s a film that stays with you so I have finally gotten to write about it. I was thrilled to learn on Wednesday, December 5 that the NBR had given Ann Dowd the best supporting actress award. It was a nuanced and disturbing performance – Dowd created a character who was a “good” person drawn into orchestrating the systematic humiliation and psychological destruction of an innocent young person.

Originally published on the web site of the National Board of Review

Compliance
A film by Craig Zobel
Film Review by Thomas W. Campbell

Compliance may be the most unnerving non-horror film released this year. Based on a true story, it is one of those films that truly benefits from the seemingly ubiquitous tagline. Watching it you can’t believe that the main characters would be willing to play so deeply into the hands of another person – but they did. And numerous and well-known social experiments (and historical events) have proven that people having been doing so for some time.

Compliance is the second film written and directed by Craig Zobel, who founded the successful and funny flash animated web site homestar runner in 1996 with Mike Chapman. Famously resisting offers to turn it into a television show, he directed the dry and well-acted independent comedy The Great World of Sound in 2007. Great World, which stars John Baker, Keen Holliday and Pat Healy, is a funny and slightly melancholic look at two salesmen who travel across the south peddling record deals that are ultimately bogus. Despite the obvious signs (Baker’s sleazy record executive being the most obvious) the characters played by Holliday and Healy struggle to retain their faith in the services they are peddling. Because we empathize with them we also hope that, against all odds, the dreams they are selling might somehow be real. It is a strong debut for Zobel with a theme that offers interesting parallels to his latest film.
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A Discussion with Film Composer and Performer Makia Matsumura

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Makia Matsumura in a recent silent film performance

Thomas W. Campbell

After finishing college and moving to New York I saw my first silent film in a movie theater, probably at the Bleecker Street Cinema where I was working at the the time. Even more memorable were the occasional silent film screenings at the Carnegie Hall Cinema with live accompaniment. Silent films were never really silent and here was a link to the past, to the time when movies were performed by musicians who, at their best, really understood the art of the live cinematic experience. The Carnegie Hall Cinema is probably where I first saw Lee Erwin, an elegant man then in his late sixties, accompany a silent film. He played at least once a month, and did so with such dedication, precision, and joy that he seemed to lift the films from the past and deposit them directly into the theater. But the real revelation was hearing him perform on the huge pipe organ of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. The precision and power of the massive organ and its towering tubes was like an adrenaline injection straight into screen.

These memories flooded back to me when I learned that Makia Matsumura, who I had met within the context of her band m2duo (a collaboration with violinist Machiko Ozawa), was performing for silent films. I was intrigued. Since 2003 she has accompanied silent films in Japan and Italy, and began, in 2008, to play in the United States, including at numerous theaters and museums in New York. She also scored the soundtrack for the Kino International DVD release of the 1923 Frank Loyd feature Within the Law. Makia first began performing at the Walter Reade Theater at Lincoln Center in 2010 and, on September 8 and 9, 2012 she performed in the Film Society of Lincoln Center series “Capturing the Marvelous: Ukranian Poetic Cinema”. Both films were classics by Alexander Dovzhenko: Zvenigora (1927) and Earth (1930). We met in the busy Indie Food and Wine Cafe at Lincoln Center before her accompaniment of the screening of Earth. Makia was gracious enough to discuss her work before crossing the street and sitting at the piano to play for an audience eager to turn back the clock to the days when films were silent but the music that accompanied them was anything but.

Thomas – What is it like to prepare for each of the films? This will be the second film that you perform this weekend. What is the preparation process like to prepare for the performance?

Makia – This time I was lucky to see the film beforehand so obviously I could learn how the story develops, what the background will be, what the visual tone of the film will be. How the story would proceed, is it an action narrative, slow paced, like that. It helps a lot to have that information. Depending on the film I might do some research. If a movie is set to a certain historic period, if there is a dance hall scene or something that might call for a specific reference to a certain type of music, then I might do some research. I might not play that exact referential piece from my research, but it helps me to get an idea as to what kind of music could go with the film.
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Robot and Frank – Film Review

On Monday, July 30, 2012, I had the wonderful experience of leading an NBR Q and A with actors Susan Sarandon and Frank Langella following a screening of Robot and Frank. They were joined by the young filmmaker Jake Shreier, who was directing his first feature, and writer Chris D. Ford, who was also having his maiden feature experience. Each enjoyed discussing the evolution of characters from script to real-life, the experience of production, and the implications of robots in our near future. Of all the filmmakers and actors I have had conversations with, Langella stands out as one of the most compassionate and thoughtful. Some of it may have been his commitment to the role, which is the mark of a professional. But he is also unusually attentive, thoughtful, and funny.



Robot and Frank
Directed by Jake Shreier
Review by Thomas W. Campbell
Originally published on August 17 on the website of the National Board of Review.

 

Robot and Frank, set in a small affluent upstate new york town, is the first feature by director Jake Schreier and the story is built around a fascinating premise. Taking place in “the near future,” the film explores the dramatic possibilities of a relationship between a man who may be losing his mental bearings and a household robot. Frank Langella plays Frank, a loner who has sheltered himself into a small country house and is determined to get by on his own. He is especially dismissive of the two people who try, in their own ways, to help – his son Hunter (James Marsden) and daughter Madison (Liv Tyler). Madison is a world traveller who occasionally checks in with short video communications from far off lands while Hunter, who lives within a long driving distance, has lost patience with his father’s declining state. Meanwhile Frank’s life is becoming more chaotic, his house is a mess, and he seems to relate to only one person – a helpful librarian named Jennifer, played by Susan Sarandon. Sarandon makes much from a relatively small role, creating a warm and believable small town character who seems protective of Frank, even allowing him to lightly flirt with her. Jennifer is also facing a transition as the quaint library is being taken over by a young, rich, and very stylish man (convincingly played by Jeremy Strong). Jake is drenched in the quasi-religious fervor of a mission based on modernism and new technology. One day Frank steps up to the reference desk and is befuddled to confront, instead of Jennifer, a short squat robot  – effectively a refrigerator-like appliance with an eagerness to assist him. Later, when confronted with his son’s plan for an automated caretaker, a white robot the size of a small teenager with a blank face and helpful personality, Frank refuses to cooperate. True to the buddy-film genre, there is a gradually developing relationship about to unfold.

The screenplay, by Christopher D. Ford, is based on a short film he made in graduate school and it hits home in a number of ways: it addresses the encroachment of technology into all aspects of our lives, explores the question of how close to human the computer mind can become, and, most succinctly, gives Langella the resources as an actor to confront memory loss, old age, isolation, and the will to rise above his circumstances. Although it is not an action story the narrative moves forward in physical ways that often do not rely on dialogue.  The first thing we see, for instance, is a man in a dark room, slowly searching through drawers and desktops, peering through the shadows with a small flashlight, his half-hidden face seeming to look for anything of value to steal. But our perception of the moment is suddenly clarified when the “prowler” picks up a photograph and examines it closely. It is him (Frank) as a younger man, with his arms draped around a young man and a young woman. He is jolted by the image and we, the audience, realize that Frank is a man in conflict with his own mind.

The story plays the generational card quite effectively, pitting Frank and Jennifer against a young and encroaching world that seems intent to use technology to marginalize and ultimately replace them. She is experiencing the demise of the classical library profession, having been displaced by a work robot, and he’s been left by his family alone in the house with a metallic walking talking computer. This unlikely bond between two seemingly very alone people, will develop in surprising ways as the plot develops.

Peter Sarsgaard’s robot voice is very effective and grows on the viewer as it begins to endear itself to Frank – he sounds a lot like Hal from Kubrick’s2001, but more mellow, friendly and helpful. Not much more high tech than the unnamed robot (played by Bob May) in the 1960’s TV series Lost in Space, Frank’s robot (also unnamed) is a played by Rachel Ma, who performs inside the the costume as though it were a giant puppet. Programmed to assist Frank in every way, the robot first annoys him but then begins to get his attention with healthy meals and good advice. The narrative kicks in when Frank’s troubled past and his confused present intersect with his recognition that he can exploit the robot’s abundant skills and desire to help. There is an inevitability to the relationship that develops between the lonely senior citizen and his quaint mechanical assistant. After a series of capers that are both comic and moderately suspenseful (one involves the “liberation” of something valuable from the library that Frank touchingly and wrongly thinks will endear him to Jennifer), the story elevates the emotional stakes when it becomes apparent that Frank’s accomplice is also becoming his friend.

Langella’s enthusiasm and dedication to the role of Frank lifts the film on his broad and skilled shoulders and makes everything else feel real and believable. His portrayal of a man who is proud, aging, and struggling with memory loss is pitch perfect. An actor who has excelled on stage and screen for almost fifty years, Langella knows how to create a character in front of the camera with subtlety, nuance and conviction. There is nothing to pity or feel sorry for in the character he creates. On the contrary Frank’s ingenuity and self-sufficiency, combined with the slowly evolving acceptance of the robot as a useful and desired companion, can be seen as a hopeful celebration of how we can embrace the journey into old age – and still have fun.

Robot and Frank will play well with older audiences – but it is probably not a film that younger people will be drawn to. The robot, endearing but intentionally retro, does not have the flair of a CG creation. It has no special powers, no laser weapons, and feels more 1940’s than futuristic.  Though written, directed and shot (the workman-like cinematography is by Mathew J. LLoyd) by thirty-something filmmakers the perspective on generation Y is humorously (and refreshingly) dark. If there is cinematic justice,Robot and Frank will find its niche and do well, especially in relation to the film’s low budget. It is opening in New York City at the Paris, a boutique theater that caters to the film’s demographic and should be a good place for it to develop word of mouth enthusiasm among thoughtful film goers. Robot and Frank is a fine debut by Jake Schreier, who really knows how to let Frank Langella take over a role.

Thomas W. Campbell

ParaNorman – Film Review

On July 24, 2012 I had the great pleasure to lead a question and answer session with directors Sam Fell and Chris Butler following the NBR screening of their new film ParaNorman. They are not kids but their youthful excitement and creative energy was a testament to the many years of dedication and love that each has devoted to the craft of animation. Before beginning the Q and A they were thrilled to hear about the advertising for the film I passed on 42nd street on the way to the theater. During our talk they discussed some of the more difficult technical achievements of making the film, were open and receptive to every question from myself and from the audience, and ultimately made everyone in the room sit up and appreciate the mystery and magic that movie making can be.


ParaNorman
A film by Chris Butler and Sam Fell
Review by Thomas W. Campbell
Originally published on August 17, 2012 on the National Board of Review web site.

Stop-frame animation, says British director Sam Fell, is a long and complicated journey that finally pays off when life is brought to something that should not have it. Teaming with writer and co-director Chris Butler, Fell has brought energy, style and great storytelling to the screen with ParaNorman, Laika studio’s follow up to Henry Selik’s 2009 Coraline. The roots of the story go back to Butler’s childhood, in which he, like the main character in the film, was bullied by older kids. He longed for escape and finally found it in classic horror films, especially any film with zombies and other flavors of the undead. For over a decade Butler played with the premise of a boy who was “different”, mixing youthful experiences with his love of scary films before coming up with the opportunity to see his script turned into a feature length animation.ParaNorman is a wonderful mix of storytelling and technology – it has a retro feel that can be traced back to the classic animation technique of stop-frame (known as stop-motion in the U.S.) and the witty and familiar setup of the story. The story takes place in an Eastern town known as Blithe Hollow, which, like Salem, Massachusetts, has become known for infamous witch trials three centuries ago. Norman (Kodi-Smit-McPhee) is a misunderstood high school student who happens to be cursed (and blessed) with the ability to see ghosts – and the ghosts are as responsive to him as he is to them. Norman’s “difference” is established from the start.The film opens with a scene from a low-budget horror film before revealing Norman pinned in rapture in front of the television. We meet his parents, mom with an improbably large derrière and dad with a belly that gravitationally should make it impossible for him to move forward without tumbling to the floor. Both are tired of Norman’s eccentricities and just want him to be “normal”. But Norman is anything but, as we soon learn in what at first seems to be a regular stroll down the town’s main street. As the young man walks along, greeting some neighbors, being ignored by others, it is clear that he really is somewhat odd. He pauses to talk to a bit of roadkill before pressing on. Then, as he walks towards us, the camera begins a slow movement that accelerates as it swings 360 degrees around him until it lands in an over the shoulder position that finally reveals his point of view on the world. We experience life as Norman sees it – one in which the departed are sharing their “lives” in the same space as real people. And they are also sharing it with Norman – he jokes with a woman parachutist who is “just hanging around” in a tree with a broken branch through her chest, meets a peaceful hippy who must have had an overdose, and greets a tommy-gun toting gangster with cement feet. Later we will see an owl fly across screen with a six-pack plastic holder around its neck and meet a dog that has been sliced in half but still enjoys a happy jaunt around the backyard.

Three views from a display of the actual Stop-Motion puppets and sets of ParaNorman, seen at the Loews AMC on Broadway and 68th street in Manhattan during the initial release of ParaNorman.

Butler has said he was also inspired by the animated television series Scooby-Doo (Where are you?), which brought together a team of very unlikely young people to fight the ghosts and monsters of the world. For his story he wanted the “team” to make sense and for the audience to believe that they could be allies. Norman is befriended by Neil (Tucker Albrizzi), a pudgy boy who is also alone and picked on by Alvin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), a dim-witted kid who’s sole purpose in life seems to be to make Norman’s existence an unhappy one. Meanwhile his sister Courtney (Anna Kendrick) can barely believe that she has such a brother, only acknowledging him when she meets and goes gaga over Mitch (Casey Affleck), Neil’s buff older sibling. Thrown together by the unfolding curse that hangs over the town dating back to the celebrated witch trial, this is the team that will have to learn to work together or face the wrath unleashed by the walking dead.

ParaNorman mines humor from a well-crafted script and inspired (and flawless) visual execution. Borrowing from the rich history of slapstick comedy, the filmmakers create a number of hilarious scenes worthy of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin. One standout sequence involves the death of a strange old man named Mr. Prenderghast (John Goodman), a book that might contain the secret of preventing the plague of zombies, and Norman’s attempt to wrest it from the deceased man’s hands. In the town itself are many appropriately weird characters (an oppressive theater director who gets caught with beauty clay on her face when the zombies attack, a bizarrely overweight policewoman who just wants to kick some butt, a boy scout who transforms into a lethal zombie hunter) that ultimately create more trouble for Norman and his friends than do the zombies.
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