Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Inspirations from the Dark (part three)

(As we continue our preproduction process on "NOIR" with casting and storyboards, here's Part 3 of our little backstory of how the project was inspired…  )

My next Film Noir experience came with Orson Welles's 1955 classic, "Touch of Evil." Another movie I saw on television when I was young and again, another movie I watched under false pretenses.  

You see, Charlton Heston was the star and I was a big fan of Heston, having already seen him in
"The Ten Commandments" and "Planet of the Apes… "

But this movie "Touch of Evil" was different. First off, the title was totally misleading - there wasn't just a touch of evil, there was a whole lotta evil!  

And even Heston didn't look like Heston… 

He was a Mexican!  

Which I bought into about as much as I did 
David Carradine playing a Chinese Immigrant in the classic 70's TV show, "Kung Fu." 

But I digress, back to our feature…

From the very first frame, "Touch of Evil" was strange and weird.  It played like a black and white nightmare, but at the same time had a dark-all-too-real feel about it.  It was dirty and sweaty and it was shot in these bizarre wide angles I'd never seen before… 

Like it wasn't a movie at all, but a subconscious stream of distorted images woven into a quilt that threatened to smother you at any minute .

And you couldn't trust anybody.  Not even our hero, Charlton Heston, who irresponsibly keeps leaving his beautiful bride (played by Janet Leigh) alone so that she can be brutally victimized by the movie's villains.

Poor Janet, between "Touch of Evil" and "Psycho," the girl just couldn't get a break during this period. 

First time I saw "Touch of Evil" as a kid, I remember I never really understood what the hell was going on. I only knew it was wrong, wrong, wrong!  

But still, it stuck with me.  The way the shadows and light worked together to create this foreboding imagery of dread haunted me. 

Orson was the king of the single take. Scenes are blocked and shot in such a way that you'll see a variety of compositions and emotional beats - for minutes at a time - all without a single cut away. And like any great magic trick, you won't even notice.

That's what's so impressive, that it's so effortless, which shows what a genius Orson Welles really was. When you think of the precision timing of the actors and their performances and the cameraman smoothly following the action and pulling focus all in concert with each other for almost an entire scene, you have to really appreciate the effort.

Imagine getting through a five minute take and an actor flubs a line at the very end or the camera goes out of focus? Now you have to go all the way back to square one and start all over again. Talk about pressure! But the end result is a seamless almost documentary feel to the whole movie. You feel like you're walking along side of these people.

And of course, that brings us to the famous single shot that opens the movie where we see a bomb planted in the trunk of a car and we watch as a couple hop in and drive around town crisscrossing paths with our hero and his wife on a leisurely stroll. A shot that would be damn difficult to do today with all the CGI, technical gizmos and smaller cameras we have now, but imagine doing it over 50 years ago without special effects, when cameras were the size of a Smart Car. Amazing to think that the artistry of that shot was marred by the addition of credits running over top of it in the original theatrical version - "Thanks Studios for that one!… 'Blasphemy!' I say."

The tension of that scene is palpable and follows the Hitchcock rule of suspense perfectly - Forget the element of cheap surprise, if you really want the audience to be on the edge of their seats, show them the potential danger beforehand but never to the characters onscreen.

Which now brings us to the inspiration of our film, "NOIR." 

My co-writer/co-director, Greg Bradley, and I had similar memories of these movies and like many other people, including our producer, Gerald Nott, these films had a major impact on us. 

And the more we kept talking about them, the more we kept saying, "Wow, wouldn't it be great to do a movie like that again?"  

But God forbid if you ever mentioned it to your reps or a studio exec. It was like a dirty, little secret we had to keep to ourselves, because if we did, the immediate response was…  

"Oh, you guys… You're so funny!… Really… Seriously now… what do you really wanna do?… What? You are serious?… Have you gone absolutely Pete-Tong insane? Don't you wanna make money? Who wants to see movies like that anymore? Going to our blockbuster graph here on the wall, we have no Film Noir movies to reference… Next thing, you guys will wanna do a Western!" 

"Well, now that you mention it…"

So in the land of broad-based-tentpole films where everyone likes to say "No" to anything outside of a super-hero film - let alone to anything unique - we were giving the studios a million-and-one ways to kick us out of their offices. 

"It's a period piece - Strike one!…" 

"What? You wanna do it in black and white? Are you nuts? - Big friggin' strike two!… "

"And you wanna call it, NOIR? A title that most people don't even know how to pronounce? - Oh, hell no! Get the f**k outta here!… Strike three!!!"

And every time we would mention the idea to the powers that be, the notes would be the same… 

"Great story! Real Scary! Now if you can just update it to modern day or maybe the future - yeah, everyone likes the future, change it to color and even better - 3D, and change the title to something like "The Dark" - something easy to remember? You do that, you might have something."

Writer/Directors: Gregory J. Bradley & Lee Anthony Smith
But the problem was… that wasn't the vision…
If we did that, it would be just like any other
slasher-monster movie out there. 

Their response… "Exactly!"

Then you start to realize that with the present attitude in Hollywood, you couldn't get a movie like "Raiders of the Lost Ark" or "Roger Rabbit" made today. And you wanna know something?… That really sucks!

And the more we thought about it, the more it nagged at us. "There's something here. We just know it. Those story and style elements that had such a great effect on us and others who had seen them…  There was something primal about them…  something universal…  something that if we could just tap into it…  update it for audiences of today, but keep the essence of what worked back then… 

We could create a whole new genre - The Retro Horror/Thriller." 

"Pretty ambitious I know, but if you don't aim for the bleachers, why even bother getting up to bat, right?"

But at the same time, we thought...  "Yeah, but who the hell were we going to get to listen to us?"  And then like Kevin Costner in the "Field of Dreams," a little voice said to us, "Build it and they will come…"

And that…  is when we saw the light.

(to be continued…)

(Featured in photo above - Writer/Directors: Gregory J. Bradley & Lee Anthony Smith.)

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