Kennedy, Anderson, and Linklater: the Best of the Best

I got the oscarsrather excited for the Oscars this year as it was the first year I’ve actually paid attention to and done minor research on the nominees, but after the show and all of its almost four hour splendor, I couldn’t help but feel that something just wasn’t quite right.

Most of the hard-core film buffs I know have threatened time and again to steal the Oscars away from me by telling me it’s all a joke, it’s all about money, about who you know, and not about the art at all. Nonetheless I have persevered in my child-like faith that the Academy Awards mean something more. That there’s some kind of magic to the red carpet and the pretty lights and the conglomeration of beautiful, talented individuals that meet up every gloomy February to make people’s dreams come true and honor the Best of the Best in filmmaking.

I don’t know what happened this year. I don’t know how I began to see through the curtain of pretense that suffocates the Oscars like a too-heavy cloak, but it’s really all a joke. How can someone be ‘best’? How can two completely different films like Wes Anderson’s the Grand Budapest Hotel and Richard Linklater’s Boyhood ever be put in the same category as even remotely comparable?


The way the show is set up, to give actors and actresses more time to speak then sound editors or foreign filmmakers, and to give Lady Gaga more time than either of the two is just…I don’t know–ludicrous?

Thankfully, my Oscar experience did not begin yesterday with the Red Carpet, but rather on January 30th, when I met Rory Kennedy after a screening of her Academy-Award nominated documentary, Last Days in Vietnam. My experience continued over the next few weeks as I attended screenings in Santa Monica and Hollywood where I was lucky enough to breathe the same air as Richard Linklater and Wes Anderson and see them speak in the flesh.

Here is a very BRIEF account of what I learned from them:

What I learned from Richard Linklater: Money is nice. Texas is better. Texas AND money is the jackpot. In other words, own who you are and make films where you want and about what you want even if it means a smaller budget.

last days in vietnam

What I learned from Rory Kennedy: There’s a time for research and structure, and then it’s time to put the notes down and just be present with the subject, to look into their eyes and see more then just the story you’re trying to pull from them, to cry, to laugh, to be present.

What I learned from Wes Anderson: The satisfaction is in the art, not in the praise.

Interviewer: “Your film is nominated for Best Picture. How do you feel?”

Anderson: “Mm, well it’s great to get nominated for an Oscar…What do people say normally?”

I also learned that what appears to be a fault can end up being what makes you stand out.

“Plot’s never been considered my strongest area…”

Wes’s lack of story and flow is what some viewers absolutely love about his films.

the grand budapest hotel

This was Post-Oscar Monday with Sara. Until next year!


Rollin’ with Nolan: An Interstellar Interview

InterstellarChristopher Nolan is 44 years old. He was born in London to an advertising copywriter and a flight attendant/English teacher. He started making films when he was seven and decided to make a career out of it when he was eleven. He’s written and/or directed the critically acclaimed and commercially successful films Memento, the Dark Knight Trilogy, Inception, and Interstellar. His films have grossed over 4 billion dollars and have received 21 Academy Award nominations and 6 wins. He has four children.

Just like his films, Christopher Nolan’s interview with Rian Johnson at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica left me with more questions by the end of the discussion than I originally began with. Regardless, I am so incredibly grateful to have been just a few yards away from Nolan, listening to him talk about the creative process behind Interstellar, and about his views on life and film in general.

Nolan On Set

Nolan is known for the sociological and philosophical themes wound throughout his action and science fiction films. From his interview on Saturday I learned that the foundations of Interstellar lay in the idea of the relationship between father and child. Nolan admitted that while his previous films have left more up in the air, Interstellar is him laying the cards down and saying what he thinks a bit more–about love and the father-child relationship–the responsibility of a parent to his kids. As well as lots of thematic and technical talk, Saturday’s interview was full of fun facts about the creation of Interstellar:

  • Nolan planted 800 acres of corn specifically for the film. “We actually made money on the corn,” Nolan laughed.
  • Nolan didn’t tell Hans Zimmer what Interstellar was about when asking him to compose the music. He doesn’t use temp music so he told Zimmer to take a day and compose around the idea of the father child relationship. The music from the film is what Zimmer composed on that one day.
  • So much detail went into the spacecrafts in an attempt to make them tactile, to make them feel not so foreign and like humans would inhabit that space. Many of them were built full sized and enclosed.
  • Nolan researched the Dust Bowl and agricultural calamities because he felt that Interstellar‘s story was “something people might try and dismiss as improbable” but something he wanted to give a feeling of reality.
  • Matt Damon was cast very specifically as Dr. Mann and not put on any of the posters so that when he popped up in the film, audiences would feel that perhaps everything would be alright from that point forward–it’s Matt Damon after all!

Aero Theater

Christopher Nolan is a big proponent of filming on and projecting with real film stock. On Saturday I got to see Interstellar in 70 mm which was really interesting. Nolan said that when film is projected this way it’s part of the magic of movies and makes them more like a live performance. It’s scientific fact that film gets better resolution than digital and that film movies lack quality only when projected with poor prints and on poor projectors. But the possibility of sub-par distribution of films doesn’t sway Nolan. “I don’t think you should ever make a film for the bad theater.”

Two questions he answered:

What informs his views on metaphysics?

“Fiction. People who explain these things not as straight philosophy.” And also the process of making each film.

What’s the industry like for aspiring filmmakers? Welcoming? Cold?

“It’s a mixture of both.” But it comes down to this: “It’s not the camera, not the film format, it’s the distribution and the advertising. You need tenacity, luck, and a break. “Have a script and be ready to go if you can get that chance.”

Perhaps Nolan isn’t the most optimistic or encouraging person I’ve heard speak on filmmaking, but I appreciate his honesty. Nothing of importance ever comes easy and he sure told it to us straight: Be persistent, be lucky, and be ready when the luck comes.

You have to wonder, are you ready?

I Know Why the Free Bird Cries: How to be Remembered

Today free birds all over the world are crying over the loss of an incredible woman.

A little over 86 years ago, a baby girl named Marguerite Ann Johnson was born in St. Louis, Missouri. The world would later know her as Maya Angelou—the poet, author, and world-shaker.

Writing from the very city in which Maya Angelou was born, I can’t help but think about how many lives have been changed by her, and how it all started right here. This woman, who was raped when she was seven, who became everything from a cook to a prostitute to a civil rights activist, who was friends with Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, who wrote seven auto-biographies, who won a Grammy for the poem she performed at Bill Clinton’s inauguration, was one of the most accomplished and respected women who’s ever walked the planet. And in the tenth grade, I fell in love with her poem, “Caged Bird” (http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/178948) and was inspired by the truth that she spoke. It was for this reason that I was incredibly grateful and honored to have a ticket to hear her speak on May 9th of this year.

Unfortunately, a couple weeks prior to her speaking engagement at Pepperdine University, an email was sent out to ticket-holders saying that she was sick and unable to travel–doctor’s orders. Today, just a month later, the world celebrates her life while mourning her passing. So while I never did get to hear Maya Angelou speak in person, I’d like to take this time to share some thoughts on why this “cool person” will be remembered long after her death and how you can be too.

There are some people in this world who desire fame and fortune and others who want to lay low, keep it simple, and be happy. Today, I’m not going to address either of these people. Today, I’m writing to the people who want to make a name for other people, and as a result, perhaps make a name for themselves along the way. It is these people who will truly be remembered.

In an article on CNN.com, Oprah Winfrey said this of Angelou,

“She was there for me always, guiding me through some of the most important years of my life. The world knows her as a poet but at the heart of her, she was a teacher. ‘When you learn, teach. When you get, give’ is one of my best lessons from her.”

I’ve always thought of Maya Angelou as an artist first, but this is not what she’ll be remembered for. Maya Angelou will be remembered for the truth that she spoke, and the lessons she sharedit just so happens these truths and lessons were wrapped in beautiful poetry.

Maya Angelou was a teacher and a mentor. Her life wasn’t easy, but her struggles gave her wisdom, and she chose to share her wisdom with us.

What have you been given that you can share? To whom much is given, much will be expected. (Luke 12:48) You may not think you’ve been given a lot, but if you’re reading this, you have.

What skill do you have in abundance that you can teach? What youth can you mentor? Which new coworker can you give helpful advice to?

Mentoring means that the struggles you’ve persevered through were not in vain. This weekend at a seminar called, Creating a Dynasty, I learned that the words you speak are seeds—good and bad, and that these seeds grow into trees that bear fruit—good and bad—and that this fruit contains even more seeds—good and bad.

So today, we are free birds with the power to plant seeds that will become huge trees, with the opportunity to share our words with others. Maya Angelou used her words to impact the world. What will you do with yours? If you know why the caged bird sings, what are you going to say to free him?