One of the Greats: Steven Soderbergh's OUT OF SIGHT

Every now and then I like to write a small review on my “Great Films” list.

OUT OF SIGHT (1998) | Dir: Steven Soderbergh | Writer: Scott Frank (based on a novel by Elmore Leonard) | Editor: Anne V. Coates

Writing a smart, tightly-paced crime/thriller/comedy is tough. Finding or developing chemistry between the lead actors is even tougher. Steven Soderbergh deftly accomplishes an incredible feat by forming a world in which lines are not firmly drawn in the sand, and the characters are so vibrant and alive.

One can visit IMDB.COM for the plot, so I won’t rehash it here. Rather, I applaud Soderbergh’s and editor Anne V. Coates’ approach to the non-linear editing, overlapping dialogue and use of freeze-frames (see video below). Somehow, every time I view the film it seems fresh and daring. Most American filmmakers would shy away from the use of freeze-frames in the middle of a scene, but this dares you to understand the need for its incorporation. After all, it’s such a story that two contrasting leads Jack Foley (George Clooney) and Karen Sisco (Jennifer Lopez) and their, seemingly opposite beliefs, that calls for this sense of rhythm. This film definitely influenced my editing style and inclinations.

This was the movie that put Clooney on the map as a legitimate star. Not well received at the box-office (and pre J-Lo days), reexamining this now invites you to understand human complexities, long for the unattainable love and appreciate those who are in your life.

Magic Moment: From the elevator, Jack Foley waves to Karen Sisco even though she -- and a whole team -- are on the hunt for him.



'Schermann Song' in William Martell's 'Act Two Secrets' book

I'm an avid reader of screenwriter William Martell's BLUE BOOK SERIES on screenwriting. So color me shocked and totally humbled that today I discovered he included a section on HOW DO YOU WRITE A JOE SCHERMANN SONG in his book ACT 2 SECRETS. He uses the film to give examples of how to create conflict with characters, escalate dilemmas and move the story forward through song. Martell even admits to crying twice while watching the film.

He writes:

'Joe Schermann Song' has a classic love triangle story with great songs and all the gritty real bits left out in Hollywood films. At times the film seems like Woody Allen's ANNIE HALL in the way it looks at relationships in a very real (and complicated way). The film manages to be both a big fun musical and an Indie film where things don't always end happily ever after - which is what makes it a stand out.

And he says this about the song number 'Moth To The Flame':

These dilemmas are often explored through song and dance - like the great audition number where both Evey and Summer sing the same song and we cut between them...and they even manage to do a great split screen duet! They end up singing on either side of Joe as he accompanies them on the piano in the audition room. This is a great musical number that dramatizes Joe's dilemma - and takes the audience inside the character so that *we* wonder which he will choose...and either way he's screwed.

So honored. Thanks Bill.

This is a show stopper thanks to the amazing live performances (no lip syncing going on) of Christina Rose and Debbie Williams and Joe Schermann's fierce piano playing.

Oh and people ask me how I did the transition the shot from Christina to Debbie and back again in the opening minutes (when the camera tracks behind the judge's head - see video around 00:26). It was an extremely difficult in-camera trick that I did manually with my slider. Without any motion control device I was just estimating where the camera framing would end up on what vocal...and I only got it right twice. Out of at least 12 takes, the shots in the film are the only ones where I nailed the timing.

You can view all the rest of the musical songs by clicking over to my VIMEO page.

3 Scenes That Affected My Life

In continuing the series of calling out a few scenes I’ve seen in my lifetime that truly stand out, here are 3 more. These are not simply scenes I remember — they truly had a profound impact on me and on how I view the art of filmmaking. 

This one is music and montage driven and how it can move a story forward.

TOOTSIE (dir. Sidney Pollack) – even as a kid I loved this moment. At first you may think it's just a superficial romantic montage, capturing those first innocent moments. But watch closely and you'll notice there's something deeper going on. Pollack structures it so brilliantly so that we're watching two people falling in love with OTHER PEOPLE.

WRITTEN ON THE WIND (dir. Douglas Sirk) – the first time I saw this film was in college. The juxtaposition of editing, the cross-cutting and use of music over images was pretty revolutionary to me. I hadn't really seen it used so effectively before and in such a violent manner. Mind blown.

PLANES TRAINS AND AUTOMOBILES (dir. John Hughes) – the images and flashbacks were used so effectively here that even as a teen I was so moved. I felt the power of a real friendship on display with perfectly timed cross cutting and the sublime score working together. In particular, it's when Steve Martin laughs to himself is what sticks with me to this day.

3 Scenes That Affected My Life

In continuing the series of calling out a few scenes I’ve seen in my lifetime that truly stand out, here are 3 more. These are not simply scenes I remember — they truly had a profound impact on me and on how I view the art of filmmaking.

Fair warning. We're gonna have minor spoilers here.

REAR WINDOW (dir. Alfred Hitchcock) – my parents showed me this and it's one of my top-ten all time faves. This moment made me lean forward and tell Grace Kelly to get out of there. Never had I felt such anxiety from seeing a film. I felt just as helpless as Jimmy Stewart. When Raymond Burr looks up at us across the way...jaw dropping. To be able to create such a visceral feeling, yup truly a master at work.

THE THING (dir. John Carpenter) – I saw this film at a friend's sleepover when I was in third grade (gotta love going to someone else's house to sneak in a horror film when you're 10). This film is full of great moments...but this sequence...oh man this sequence! The moment when his fucking chest caves in shocked the hell out of me. It blindsided me with a slap of fear and being disturbed all into one.  I can't recall feeling that way about a movie before seeing this film.

THE BREAKFAST CLUB (dir. John Hughes) – Seeing this clip brings back great nostalgia for me. I bought a used VHS from the video store across from my junior high (snuck off campus with my buddies to do it -- and talked the clerk into letting me purchase it, as this was before videotapes were sold cheaply to the public). When I saw the movie for the first time, it was just perfect. So relatable. So funny. So touching. And then this scene happened. So fucking romantic. It's stuck with me to this day on wondering how I'd ever be able to create something like this...not only a moment like this, but the actual feeling that fills my heart when I see it. It's all about a perfect budding romance. The what ifs. And all done with music and very little words.

HOW DO YOU WRITE ABOUT HOW TO WRITE A JOE SCHERMANN SONG?

That's the title of a new article featuring an interview conducted by Ian Crabb (a huge SCHERMANN SONG fan out of the UK). It's an email roundtable discussion with actors Joe Schermann, Christina Rose, Mark DiConzo, Debbie Williams, composer Ken Lampl and myself.

This was a blast to do -- and covered so many topics about making the movie that this is just Part 1.

"The film world has been awash with musicals lately. They’re certainly order of the day. But this is unlike one you’ve seen before. Real people, real situations. It’s as close to real life a musical can get. I hate cross-referencing, but imagine ONCE having a one night stand with WARRIOR. And you know what? It’s purely magical.

With a group of such exceptionally talented people there was really very little work for me to do. I just asked the questions and let them talk to each other. I was hoping for a “roundtable” kind of feel to this piece, like everyone was just shooting the shit in the same room."

I can't thank Ian enough. It's people like him keeping our movie alive that makes doing all this crazy filmmaking stuff worth while.

Click here to read the interview.

 

Top 21 Films of 2013

My list comprises of any film that I've seen for the first time in 2013.  These are not necessarily the "best" of anything -- rather they were films that brought cinematic joy to me by inspiring and entertaining.  I've listed a #1 title for 2013 and one from any other year.

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