Williamstown Film Festival: The Screenplay’s The Thing
By Lisa Green
Its winning formula has kept it a Berkshire fall tradition, but the Williamstown Film Festival is opening its 16th year with an experiment, Project Screenplay, and if you’ve ever considered writing a screenplay (or just happen to have one on hand), you shouldn’t miss it.
The Project Screenplay event, the first festival event on Wednesday, November 5 (Rated R for “Real Good Time”), will be presented in a game show format focusing on the art of the pitch. In several rounds, aspiring scribes pitch the audience and act out scenes and the audience decides who gets the green light. Industry pros will offer tips and advice for the page-to-screen process. First prize is a script consultation from New England Screenwriters and a festival all-access pass.
“We’re the first to do this,” says Steve Lawson, the festival’s executive director. “It was conceived in Cambridge by screenwriter Andrew Osborne. Sandra Thomas, my partner who had been at Images Cinema, heard about it and thought it would be a lot of fun. We’ve enlisted MCLA to be a part of Project Screenplay, which is especially meaningful since this is Mary Grant’s last year as college president.”
Attendees who’d rather watch than write will not be disappointed with this year’s lineup. “The season is strong because it’s very eclectic,” Lawson says. “It’s sort of a smorgasbord. When you have 8 or 9 films, there’s something that will appeal to everyone.”
And, of course, there will be the regular lineup of parties and conversations with celebrity artists. Bringing their star credentials this year will be actress Lili Taylor and her husband, writer Nick Flynn (they’ll be speaking at a lunch); and writer, director and producer Tony Gilroy (screenwriter for the Bourne series and Michael Clayton).
Lawson points out that, unlike some of the bigger film fests, the WFF is a linear festival, meaning no two movies are screened simultaneously. A movie diehard could make every single showing.
“Watching people go from a breakfast event to the cinema is fun,” Lawson says. “It becomes a family. There are no barriers — we pride ourselves that [famous] people are here and that you can talk with them.”
Among the strong lineup:
Match, starring Patrick Stewart as an aging Juilliard dance professor who is ostensibly being interviewed by a woman for a dissertation she’s writing about dance. (“Witty and suspenseful at the same time,” says Lawson.) Writer/director Stephen Belber will be present.
Like Sunday, Like Rain
Like Sunday, Like Rain, was a festival submission and has already been picked up for distribution next year. The film centers around a 20-something struggling musician who becomes an au pair for a 12-year-old cello prodigy. Writer/director Frank Whaley, perhaps better known as an actor (Pulp Fiction, Swimming With Sharks), will be in attendance.
Wild Canaries — A late addition to the lineup, it follows a Brooklyn couple in which one of the pair ascribes to conspiracy theories. When an elderly neighbor dies, they go on a reconnaissance mission and everyone is a potential suspect. Think Woody Allen-New York-offbeat style.
Enjoy this post? Share it with others.
In Its 15th Year, FilmColumbia Branches Out — To Hudson
By Jamie Larson
It’s movie time in Columbia County and this year the FilmColumbia Festival is celebrating its 15th year by expanding its offerings to a venue in Hudson for the duration, October 22-26. Of course, the festival remains centered where it all began, the Crandell Theatre in Chatham and other venues in the town but organizers and film buffs alike are excited about the growth and the opportunity to share more of the year’s best independent films.
“Film Columbia has grown tremendously and coming to Hudson seemed like a natural progression,” says Calliope Nicholas, in her 13th year as festival director. “And it’s an amazing venue. We love the Hudson Lodge [above], and its ballroom seats 200.”
Nicholas says the new location outside of Chatham will expose the already extremely popular festival (in other words, “buy your tickets now!”) to a new audience as well as add convenience for film buffs in Hudson.
The list of offerings this year in films, panels and programming is longer than ever and includes some one-time-only opportunities to see something truly unique.
FilmColumbia always provides a selection of worldwide darlings like Foxcatcher, the true story of a deranged and obsessive member of the Firestone family, played by Steve Carell, who becomes dangerously obsessed with a wrestler, personified by Channing Tatum. Already there is Oscar buzz surrounding Carell’s performance, as well as for the restrictive performance of Michael Keaton as a washed up actor trying to regain professional and emotional relevance while still haunted by his former, career-defining role as the titular Birdman.
Aside from those and a few other indie tent poles like The Imitation Game with Benedict Cumberbatch, FilmColumbia’s eclectic lineup ranges widely from under the radar to obscure to quirky to abstract.
“Personally, I’m really looking forward to seeing Timbuktu” says Nicholas of the prescient drama by seminal African filmmaker Abdarrahmane Sissoko. Set in Mali, the story focuses on a family trying to survive in their once diverse city when it is invaded by Jihadists who then impose extreme Islamic law.
Nicholas also highlights a documentary on the menu, Red Army. It’s a clever look at the story left untold about “the miracle on ice” Olympic hockey game when scrappy American players defeated the evil Soviet super-team. Red Army tells the story of the real human members of the Soviet team through their anxiety- fraught existence as near-literal weapons of the Cold War and what their lives became after they failed their empire. This is recent history and interviews with the players and others involved in the events cast a new light of compassion on this much-discussed moment.
Jean-Luc Godard’s Goodbye to Language 3D may just be the most anticipated film at the festival by those who travel in circles where these types of things are anticipated. Called no less than “the most original voice in world cinema” by festival promoters, Godard, now 83, has produced a 3D movie like no other, layering words, images, sounds and ideas to show how language in all forms fails us. The film, we are told, is about all that and perhaps also serves as a love letter to his dog.
On Sunday, October 26 FilmColumbia will also host a local filmmakers program at 11 a.m. at the Hudson Lodge, showing short films like Hector is Gonna Kill Nate, from Columbia County resident Ari Issler. There are two offerings from Hudsonians: The Lady of Larkspur Lotion by Sergio Rico and Crazy Assed White Boy, by David McDonald, who will also lead the filmmaking panel at 1 p.m. following these and other local shorts.
The support of local filmmaking is as important to FilmColumbia and its host organization, the Chatham Film Club, as the movies on screen. To that end they’re offering two chances—one in Hudson on Saturday and in one in Chatham on Sunday—for local screenwriters to attend a screenwriting panel with actor Scott Cohen. The word “panel” doesn’t give the opportunity justice, as working and prospective local screenwriters will have the opportunity to workshop their pieces. Cohen, along with local and NYC actors, will be available to do live read-throughs of 5 to 10 pages from participants’ scripts, followed by audience discussion. While certainly a bold prospect for any artist, it’s a real and exhilarating exercise that is as fun to watch as it is informative for the writer.
From Sundance to Hudson, FilmColumbia is bringing together the best in independent films and filmmaking once again this year. The festival is as relevant and vibrant as ever and the new venue in Hudson should serve as a most elegant theater… and proof that Columbia County knows movies.
Enjoy this post? Share it with others.
Michael Lindsay-Hogg: Author And Director Shows, But Doesn’t Tell
Michael Lindsay-Hogg photo by Lisa Ticknor.
By Robert Ayers
Many artists use ambiguity in their work, but the City of Hudson is about to gain a new resident whose whole life story is shot through with intrigue and uncertainty.
Michael Lindsay-Hogg (born 1940) is definitely not the son of Orson Welles. Or perhaps he is. His memoir. Luck and Circumstance (published a couple of years ago by Random House), manages to say both things. A lot of well-connected people — friends of Welles and Lindsay-Hogg’s mother Geraldine Fitzgerald, among them — say he is, and so do the New York Times and Wikipedia for that matter, but his mother always maintained that he was not. Perhaps we should have the courtesy to believe her.
In any case, there is an awful lot more about Michael Lindsay-Hogg to interest us. By the time he was 24 he was directing Ready Steady Go!, the weekly show that introduced pop music to British television viewers. Not much later he was making the Beatles’ first pop videos (before the term had even been invented) and shortly after that he directed their movie Let it Be, which traces the group’s gradual implosion. It is usually remembered best for the sequence when the Beatles play “Get Back!” on a London rooftop, which is probably among the most celebrated bits of pop music footage ever shot. It was Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s idea.
At around the same time he directed the legendary Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus, which, apart from a uniquely revealing performance by the Stones, features The Who, Jethro Tull, Marianne Faithfull, and a supergroup fronted by John & Yoko and Eric Clapton. Though it was shot in London in 1968, the movie was not released until 1996 when it was shown at the New York Film Festival to great acclaim. Like many other things in Lindsay-Hogg’s life, the reasons for its long disappearance are still shrouded in mystery, but he admits it’s a movie that, “I still have a very soft spot for.”
“It has a poignancy to it,” he continues. “When you’re 28 you can’t imagine you’ll ever be 70, nor can you imagine that some of the participants in the movie will soon be dead — in Brian Jones’ case in only five months, in Keith Moon’s in less than ten years, and in John Lennon’s in twelve years — because everybody seemed so incredibly alive, and so in the moment. There wasn’t any future, there was just now.”
So now Lindsay-Hogg wants his new neighbors to see it. On Friday, August 8, he’ll be at Basilica Hudson not only showing the long-suppressed classic, but also (courtesy of The Spotty Dog Books and Ale) reading from Luck and Circumstance and answering questions. Quite how straightforward his answers will be remains to be seen, but he is a legendary raconteur and the evening genuinely makes the not-to-be-missed category. He has plenty to talk about: his directorial stage credits include Agnes of God on Broadway and the original production of Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart at Joe Papp’s Public Theatre. He also directed Running Mates with Diane Keaton and Ed Harris for HBO, and wrote and directed The Object of Beauty, which starred John Malkovich and Andie MacDowell.
Then the next day we get the chance to see a side of Michael Lindsay-Hogg that is far less celebrated when BCB ART (also in Hudson) opens his exhibition of paintings and drawings, You Game? I’m Game. Pictures have always had a special significance for Lindsay-Hogg, as he didn’t learn to read until he was nine he could only follow stories in the frames of comic books. He has drawn all his life, but it was only recently that his wife encouraged him to buy some canvases and paints “to see what would happen.” The results are as intriguing as anything else he’s ever made.
He doesn’t begin a picture with a clear idea in mind. “Images will change as I’m doing them,” he says, and “I like to be surprised.” Of one untitled painting he can only say that the ringmaster figure might have something to do with photographs of Mick Jagger in Rock and Roll Circus that he had nearby, and that the figure on the right looks rather like Mandrake the Magician whom he remembers from those old comic books. Other than that, he says, “What’s going on between these characters, I don’t know. I’m quite happy for the viewer to figure it out. Or to not figure it out, perhaps. It’s just as interesting for the viewer to say what it means as for me to say what it means.”
A virtuoso of ambiguity indeed.
Michael Lindsay-Hogg film screening and reading
Friday, August 8 at 8 p.m., $10
Basilica Hudson, 110 S Front Street, Hudson, NY
You Game? I’m Game. art opening and reception
Saturday, August 9, 6-8 p.m.
BCB Art, 116 Warren Street, Hudson, NY
Enjoy this post? Share it with others.
Carl Sprague’s Concept Illustrations Come To Life In ‘Grand Budapest Hotel.’
Sprague’s concept drawing for the hotel model in The Grand Budapest Hotel
By Jeremy D. Goodwin
It was a bit chilly to be out dodging paparazzi.
Carl Sprague was in Görlitz, Germany last winter, on the set of Wes Anderson’s latest essay of beguilingly affected cinema, when an anonymous bomb threat (later seen to be a hoax) sent the cast and crew out to shiver on the street.
“We were shooting this funny scene where all these army officers are half-undressed, jump out of their hotel rooms and start firing their guns. Everyone fled the building and went out to the street, including all these poor extras in their underpants,” Sprague recalls, before mimicking the avalanche of whirring camera shutters that accompanied the assembled paparazzi’s efforts to take their best shots at the exposed actors. There was particularly good hunting, with Adrien Brody, Jude Law, Bill Murray and many other household names among the cast.
Sprague at home (Photo: Jeremy D. Goodwin)
Sprague sits in his Stockbridge living room on a bright winter afternoon as he recounts some more-pleasant events during the shoot, including bowling expeditions with the cast (“Jeff Goldlbum turned out to be a very impressive bowler,” he recalls with admiration), or anytime Anderson looked over Sprague’s shoulder, as he sketched out his proposal for a set model, and offered approval.
Anderson, of course, is famously preoccupied with design aesthetic, including the obsessively detailed sets that articulate the carefully curated world of his imagination — a familiar but disorienting place, where oceanographic documentaries are received at lavish premieres like the magnum opera of auteurs, and there’s good swimming to be had at the 375th St. YMCA.
Sprague was concept illustrator for Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, sketching out designs for key elements like the titular hotel’s façade, seen above. (The film did remarkably well in its initial, limited release, and opens locally at Great Barrington’s Triplex Cinema and in Pittsfield at The Beacon Cinema on March 28.) He did the same for Anderson’s previous film, Moonrise Kingdom; their relationship began with the director’s 2001 breakthrough The Royal Tenenbaums, for which Sprague was art director.
Sprague is on a hot streak. After Budapest, he was brought on as concept illustrator for the eventual 2014 Best Picture Oscar-winner 12 Years A Slave. The Anderson connection is a particularly fashionable one, but Sprague cut his teeth on the sets of a couple fairly well-known folks named Spielberg (Amistad) and Scorsese (The Age of Innocence), both of whom employed him as assistant art director. He even wound up onscreen in Budapest, securing an acting credit as Distant Relation (seen in costume below) in a will-reading sequence.
Sprague’s concept drawing for the dock set in 12 Years A Slave
The glitz of these types of film shoots is certainly fun, but he has a freer hand over the look and feel of a production when he works closer to home, in the theater. Sprague is familiar as the set designer for innumerable productions at Berkshire Theatre Group, Shakespeare & Company, Oldcastle Theatre and elsewhere. He’s clearly an adaptable guy when it comes to this stuff; he was even production designer for Gregory Crewdson’s signature series of conceptual photographs, Beneath the Roses. (For that project he built some sets at MASS MoCA, where Sprague Electric Company once ruled the roost.)
Though his family goes back awhile in the Berkshires, this Sprague spent his childhood on the Upper East Side, summering in Lenox before his family moved back full time when he was 12. He wasn’t satisfied with just one concentration as an undergrad at Harvard, so he earned a double major (in film and philosophy), graduating magna cum laude.
Wearing his actor hat (literally) on the set of The Grand Budapest Hotel
His brother Kevin is well known locally as the marketing/design guru of Studio Two. But Carl cuts a lower profile, quietly dispatching to movie shoots when not working at his drafting table at home, where he lives with his painter wife Susan Merrill, their three corgis, and a slightly claw-happy cat.
It’s particularly satisfying, he says, to work on projects where he’s truly telling a story through his work. He confirms something we’ve long suspected from looking at the onscreen results: Anderson has particularly specific tastes when it comes to art design. “He’ll tell you what he wants,” Sprague explains, “and he’ll tell you if you’ve gotten there or not, and then he’ll keep on tinkering with it absolutely right up until the moment it shoots. With Wes’s stuff, everybody — from the production designer down to the standby prop man — is really working to execute his vision. He really is driving the train.”
He’s seen other approaches. On the set of Amistad, Sprague remembers the extensive prep work that went on before its legendary director arrived on-set. “When he arrived, it was sort of like the world-famous heart specialist who walks into the room at the moment the surgery is supposed to be performed. He stretches on his gloves,” he says, mimicking the gesture, “and the whole staff is lined up with all the instruments all clean and perfect, the patient all draped and ready.”
But Sprague was stunned to watch first-hand as the maestro’s personal touch transformed a scene into something indelible. “Then there’s a little fog, and Mr. Spielberg pulls together a little crowd of actors and they’re walking up into this courthouse, and you suddenly think — ‘Oh my gosh, this is one of those archetypal Spielberg images.’ The whole picture falls into place, where every little piece is just right.”
Sprague has paid his dues, translating other directors’ visions into reality. But he wants to turn his attention next to a long-simmering project of his own — a film adaptation of Edith Wharton’s Summer, which he aims to direct.
You can safely say he’s learned from the best.
Enjoy this post? Share it with others.
The Hollywood Horses of Amenia
By Sarah Ellen Rindsberg
In Winter’s Tale, the current film based on Mark Helprin’s gripping novel, a white horse plays a prominent role. Until his recent move to the west coast, when this equine wonder was not appearing in all his equine splendor in one role or another, he was an Amenia resident.
Listo on the set of “Winter’s Tale.” Photo courtesy Cari Swanson.
Listo is one of the many horses trained by Cari Swanson and Rex Peterson of Swanson Peterson Productions at Windrock Farm on Bangall-Amenia Road. The firm is known in Hollywood for training riders and horses for films and TV. Swanson and Peterson also conduct training for private individuals and horses in Amenia as well as in clinics nationwide and around the world. But it is their work for TV and film that has made them arguably the most popular horse trainers among the star set.
The roster of horses and actors they have worked with is as impressive as the list of Oscar winners. The Horse Whisper, The Black Stallion, Hidalgo, Secretariat? Swanson Peterson provided and trained those horses. Viggo Mortensen, Ed Harris, Jeremy Irons, Matt Damon and Penelope Cruz, among others, have been the riders/trainees.
Winter’s Tale star Colin Farrell (Peter Lake) rode Listo in several scenes of the movie. “Listo and Colin had a great rapport,” Swanson says. Unlike many actors, Colin does have some riding experience. “He’s very comfortable on a horse and has tremendous balance.” Co-star Russell Crowe (Pearly Soames) also came equipped with some riding skills practiced on his ranch in Australia. (This expertise aside, stunt doubles usually perform the jumping and running scenes.)
Sometimes the actors come to the Amenia facility for training. Colin Farrell and Jessica Findlay Brown (Lady Sibyl of Downton Abbey) came to Windrock Farm when preparing for Winter’s Tale. Dan Stevens (aka Matthew Crawley of Downton Abbey) also came to prepare for his role in the upcoming film A Night at the Museum 3. (Herein lies one of the reasons these two beloved Downton characters had to perish during the series: other projects awaited and their presence was required in Amenia.)
The actors clearly appreciate the outing. “They love the farm and the opportunity to train in the facility without the stress and pressure of the set,” Swanson says.
Ang Lee and Swanson on the set of “Taking Woodstock.” Photo by Ken Regan.
Directors, too, have appreciated Swanson’s work. During a shoot for Taking Woodstock, shot in northern Dutchess and Columbia counties, director Ang Lee lamented, “Why can my horse hit his mark every time and you actors cannot?”
Both Swanson and Peterson have decades’ worth of experience in training. Swanson, a dressage trainer and competitor, grew up on a horse farm in Ohio, and recalls that she was “always trying to teach my horses tricks.” Peterson got his start in the movie business working with Glenn Randall Sr., who trained the famous Trigger.
Cari Swanson and Rex Peterson. Photo by Kathy Landman.
If they’re not on a set, coaching horses to feign a charging attack, play a dying horse or jump off a ferry boat, they’re back at the farm, training horses and riders in multiple disciplines: Western riding, dressage, jumping and driving.
When RI catches up with Swanson (not on horseback thank goodness!) she is enjoying the leisurely pace of St. Bart’s, having recently wrapped up participation in The Knick, a ten-part mini- series for HBO. Clive Owen and Juliet Rylance are featured in this period drama focused on the story of the Knickerbocker Hospital in New York at the beginning of the 20th century. Swanson, in costume (but not on screen), drives carriages during several scenes, taking the equines through their paces as she often does, before actors take the reins. When filming for season two begins, Swanson will return to the set.
As a child, Swanson was given free rein to bring horses into the house. It’s a practice she continues today in her effort to acclimate them to working in nontraditional equine settings that Hollywood requires. On location, they’re not in Amenia anymore.