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3 Films That Affected My Life (Endings)

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 all about the ending of a film. ***SPOILERS AHEAD!!***

THE FLY (Dir. David Cronenberg) - this film came out when I was in junior high -- and girl crazy. So when I saw this, I was all caught up in the romance and destroyed by its heartbreaking ending. What's funny is I really didn't care for Jeff Goldblum's character (Seth Brundle) -- until the very last minutes of the film, when he puts the shotgun to his head. So fucking tragic. I didn't want him to die. I wanted them to live happily ever after. And after it happens, there's no extra 5-10 minutes of unnecessary epilogue bookend shit. It just fades to black. The story is done. What an epic way to end this masterpiece.

LOST IN TRANSLATION (dir. Sofia Coppola) - Just when you think you're going to see another romance film, comes along this amazing gem. We want our leads to connect, and be together; and yet know it can't happen. So how do you end the film? The way Coppola does it (and according to some reports with the aid of Bill Murray's improv), it doesn't get any better. It's understated. Not so tragic. And in fact, it's hopeful.

THE THING (dir. John Carpenter) - It would be remiss for me to do an entry like this and not mention a Carpenter ending. His downbeat (yet hopeful) endings totally blew my mind as a kid. There was never anyone really riding off into the sunset -- and at an early age, I really dug his bleak storytelling style. It rang true. I could pick a ton of endings from his films (PRINCE OF DARKNESS, ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13)...and, of course, this one. So simple. So powerful. So open ended. Love it. 

The best part of a Carpenter ending is when it CUTS TO BLACK. Sadly, I couldn't find any video to let you experience that exact moment. Here's the closest I could find.

BLOW OUT (dir. Brian De Palma) - Okay so I'm cheating this time by sharing more than 3 films, because I can't mention a John Carpenter ending affecting me tremendously without mentioning how a 'De Palma CUT TO BLACK ending' is just as chilling and influential on my life. And none more powerful than this one. It wasn't happy. We are left devastated. Then the last scene happens which just crushes you. And then it ends.

I couldn't find a video clip of the ending...here's a shot from it. It's worth seeing the entire film anyway. 

Travolta's best performance happens in this scene.

For me, seeing BLOW OUT began a life long obsession with De Palma and how his CUT TO BLACK ending just fucking smacks you in the face (in the best of ways). It's very rare for me to experience such a visceral reaction to and ending as much as a De Palma film....save for Peter Weir.

Ok, cheating some more with 2 more films, since we're talking about Peter Weir now.

Peter Weir endings are fascinating. They can be both up or down, but again, his films end with some visceral, deeper punch to the gut. His movies really grab you by the collar and make you experience them. Both of these profoundly wrecked me: one with inspiration (DEAD POETS SOCIETY)...the other with hopelessness (GALLIPOLI).

DEAD POETS SOCIETY (dir. Peter Weir)

GALLIPOLI (dir. Peter Weir)

3 Scenes That Affected My Life (Opening Scenes)

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.

Some great advice I've heard about filmmaking is open strong and close strong. Everything else in between can be forgiven. And to some extent, this is true. I have a lot of favorite films that I dig simply because of their amazing opening or closing sequences.

Today I'm going to talk about openings.

TOUCH OF EVIL (dir. Orson Wells) – I saw this in the only formal film class I took in college, which was actually an English elective (Film as Literature). When the professor talked about a long, tracking shot...I really didn't know what he meant until we watched this film. From that moment on, I was obsessed with them. This may not be one of my favorite films, but it definitely was the one that got my mindset into the actual craft of filmmaking.

THE PLAYER (dir. Robert Altman) – Because of the 'Film as Literature' class (mentioned above), I was now on the lookout for tracking shots. So when when I read the reviews/critical acclaim THE PLAYER received,  every article also kept mentioning the amazing opening "one long take" scene. I was just salivating to see it. I heard that THE PLAYER was going to screen at my monthly college film series (yup they screened films off 35mm projectors at Kane Hall - Room 130, it was glorious) so I bought my ticket and eagerly awaited the screening.

It was my first Altman film. And since I was fascinated with movies (this was before I knew I wanted to be a filmmaker), I geeked out over all its film references that were included.


ADVENTURES IN BABYSITTING (dir. Chris Columbus) – Ok, I'm sure that opening a film with someone just dancing and singing along to a music track had been done before this one, but never as endearing as Elisabeth Shue doing it. And now, this style has been copied so much it may actually dilute how truly wonderful this one is. And it is wonderful.

The Female of the Species...

As my post-production team continues to work on the edit, sound design and score for UNNERVED; and having produced the hell out of Erik Reese's DEAD BULLET on location in Nevada/Arizona finally behind me...I now have the time and, more importantly, the inspiration to begin writing my next feature film script.

There were a few false starts with other stories this year. In fact, it always seems to take working on 2-3 scripts before I realize those aren't the films I want to do (yet). So those drafts go back into the drawer and I tinker with more notes/ideas and dive into watching the films I love (see below) until one idea emerges; and it becomes clear on what I need to write and direct next. And that film is called CAPTURE MY HEART. Well...that's what the idea was called back in the summer of 2013 when I first toyed with it. I've since changed the title but will keep it under wraps for now as it may change again.

With every film project I tackle, I like to set challenges. I never like to just repeat what I've done before, which you can probably tell by my filmography. For the past few years I've been gravitating more and more towards seeking out (and preferring) films featuring strong female characters. Films are just more interesting when they're in the mix. So in my latest script, I plan to have lots of them. By "lots" I mean more than I've ever handled before, so this challenge excites and terrifies me to no end because I'm not talking about just "the wife" and "the girlfriend" roles. Fuck that.

This script will be a dark, twisted, sexy romantic drama/comedy ensemble. With real women. Real men. Real people.

Here are just a few films inspiring me as I begin the writing process:

NASHVILLE (dir. Robert Altman) – this brilliant musical performance and subsequent breakdown first had me mesmerized, then stunned and uncomfortable. I just love this moment in the film.

FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH (dir. Amy Heckerling) – So candid and authentic. When I first saw it, I'd never heard girls talk like this.

KRAMER VS. KRAMER (dir. Robert Benton) – when Meryl Streep nods "Yes" -- it's heartbreaking. You feel she's full of love, regret and is simply...real.

INTERIORS (dir. Woody Allen) - this is a lesser seen Woody Allen film that I rank among his very best. 3 sisters and a matriarch who rules them all. It's unlike any of his other works and it's one strong performance after another. Diane Keaton actually is much more interesting (possibly unlikeable as well) in this film and her performance for my money is better than in ANNIE HALL.

Geraldine Page is just marvelous as the clinically depressed and mentally unstable mother of 3 daughters -- and wife to a husband who has just told her he's leaving her for another woman. Talk about a subtle powerhouse performance.

OPENING NIGHT (dir. John Cassavetes) - Gena Rowlands commands the screen with this character who is holding on to her acting career as best she can as she deals with aging. An utterly unforgettable performance of a complex (both strong and weak) woman.

ATAME (TIE ME UP! TIE ME DOWN!) (dir. Pedro Almodovar) - Such a twisted movie. And yet through it all, you just fall in love with Victoria Abril as 'Marina' -- as complex and fully realized character as they come. She's damaged. She's sexual. She's brave. She's vulnerable. She's real. And because of this I still remember her 20 years later.