Posts filed under Movies

The Godfather of Modern Films Wants to Save the Industry - Part One

Note: The following is a first-hand account of my experience meeting film pioneer Douglas Trumbull in early 2015. This story and interview has been posted with his permission. This is part one of a three part series.

It's a chilly day in January, about three hours outside of Boston, Massachusetts. Forget Siri or a GPS - meticulous directions have been given to me as my destination is not easily accessed, nor is it within range of cell phone service. One wrong turn could lead to being lost in a mountain range. I'm no stranger to mountains, but this is my first time in the Boston area and the Turnpike is a strange and foreign land. Truth be told, I'm sure that a traffic ticket will be waiting for me on my return to Los Angeles as I drove through the "EZ Pass" gate without having an EZ Pass, so the necessity to pay attention to the provided directions is key.

The excursion is all in the name of an adventure, a once in a lifetime opportunity. A golden ticket visit to the secret compound of one of the most influential filmmakers of all-time: Douglas Trumbull. His name might not be familiar to some, but Trumbull is one of the pioneers of modern special effects, having worked with Stanley Kubrick on his ground-breaking 2001: A Space Odyssey of which their influence can still be felt to this day. He is the man responsible for adapting the USS Enterprise to the big-screen for Star Trek: The Motion Picture. He created a future unlike that ever seen in Ridley Scott's Blade Runner, and his directorial debut Silent Running heavily influenced works including George Lucas' Star Wars.

I'm on a mission on behalf of Warner Home Video as we work on a documentary for the Gravity: Diamond Luxe Edition. The project was and is one of my favorite pieces of work to date, mainly because it granted me the opportunity to talk to several of my heroes including Ron Howard, John Dykstra, and Dennis Muren about a topic that we all love. But little do I know that Trumbull is going to be kind enough to spend the better part of the day with me, to show me everything he's been so hard at work on out on his farm. Quite literally to open the doors to his playground and give me a personal tour of his most recent work.

Arriving at the destination, I attempt to pull into the long drive way leading to an expansive farm. My snowtire-less rental car has a bit of difficulty on the long and steep driveway, completely covered in shade and thus also completely covered in a coat of black ice but upon a successful third attempt to ascend I pull into Trumbull's farm house. It's an idyllic atmosphere for a kid born in rural Colorado: a farm house, a barn and stable, and open area as far as the eye can see. While George Lucas' Skywalker Ranch is a meticulously recreated vineyard style compound, you would never guess that some of the most revolutionary technology is being developed within the very much functional and working farm. Chickens cross over the dirt driveway in front of you, the soft crunch of a thin layer of snow under your tires is the only other sound heard in a peaceful and serene atmosphere. As I exit the rental car, the farm house door opens. Emerging are Douglas himself and his wife Julia to greet me. Their warmth and welcoming demeanor is akin to visiting family back home as we meet in person for the first time. Trumbull's enthusiasm is infectious as we wait for my camera crew to arrive in a second car and he takes us on a quick tour of his farm. First up, he takes us into his office where he has a breakfast spread waiting. A film and book library on the top floor impresses us and my Director of Photography and I start talking about camera angles to set up for our interview in that room. But Trumbull informs us that we're not to film there. There's a far better location suited to filming that we'll get to: first, coffee and breakfast. The all-business Hollywood approach is gone, replaced with the personal touch of a film fan. We chat films, visual effects, and our shared love of how everything works as we eat. With breakfast finished, the tour continues.

Trumbull takes us into a small barn where miniature models and soundstage sets are fabricated. First up is a large barn that deceptively hides his combination sound stage and prototype 3D theater. The state of the art stage is completely camera-ready, a green screen cyc surrounding a lighting grid. Sitting next to it is a stadium seating theater with a curved screen at the front. Adjustable and movable panels surround this prototype theater as Trumbull explains that he can change any and all of the viewing conditions of this theater instantly: the height of the seats, the curve of the screen, it's all in the name of creating the perfect 3D viewing experience.

(On left: a very awe-stricken Troy Benjamin, at center: Douglas Trumbull, the purveyor of a brand new life for the theatrical experience showing off his masterpiece.)

(On left: a very awe-stricken Troy Benjamin, at center: Douglas Trumbull, the purveyor of a brand new life for the theatrical experience showing off his masterpiece.)

The tech-head in me is completely in awe of the theater setup. I can only describe it as if being a car aficionado in one of the legendary garages of a well-funded collector with several rare and exhilarating pieces all on display. Much as a gear-head would have their breath taken away with the prospect of taking one of the cars for a spin, Trumbull says the interview can wait and to take a seat. He wants to personally do a demonstration of his Magi 3D system for myself and my crew.

He begins by giving us a bit of a precursor to what we're about to see: the modern cinema experience is dying. The communal experience of attending a movie in a cinema has given way to watching films on streaming services like Netflix or even on mobile devices. The surround sound and in-home viewing technology has advanced that many people prefer watching films in the comfort of their own home theater rather than shelling out $15+/ticket to watch the latest release among an audience that can't stop looking at their Snapchat feed for 90 minutes in a darkened theater. The good news is that technology allows filmmakers to tell any story that their imagination can deem worthy. The bad news is that the current climate usually relegates those stories to a smaller screen.

And it is here that Trumbull's grand vision enters the story. He wants to get audiences back into movie theaters by giving them something that absolutely cannot be replicated at home. Something so compelling that you wouldn't want to watch it on your 3.5" iPhone screen.

Trumbull hands us all active 3D glasses of his own design, makes sure that all the batteries are charged and the glasses are in sync, then takes a seat in a tech booth behind the theater seats. With the touch of a button a blackout curtain surrounds us, closing us into the theater space. The lights dim and a film that Trumbull shot and directed plays. It's a high-frame rate, 3D feast for the eyes. Some of the best 3D that I've ever seen without ghosting, without strange motion blur, without losing brightness or exposure after putting on the glasses, and without the nauseating side-effects that plague some of the worst 3D experiences. Simply put, Magi eliminates all of the major and common complaints of 3D movie-going audiences. For myself and my crew, it takes some adjustment at first. We're trained and used to the 24 frames per second projection in theaters to replicate the film projection look. Unlike when you visit a friend's house and they have the fluid motion on their LCD television turned on, it doesn't have the "soap opera" effect. The motion is smooth and fluid, without feeling fake or jarring. The demonstration film ends with a sign hanging in front of you that's so realistic, I would swear that Trumbull pushed another of his automated buttons on the console to drop a real sign from the rafters. Alas, he did not. The effect of his 3D is just that impressive. In fact, it has completely ruined 3D elsewhere for me. I've seen a few films, even with laser projected IMAX technology behind them. But none have come close to the viewing experience I had that day.

Sufficiently blown away by what we'd seen, we start setting up for the interview in the soundstage space. Chatting all the while about how Trumbull can do everything here at his farm, including planning, shooting, post and of course, projecting the film that we just watched. It's my dream, to live in the country but to have a completely self-sufficient film studio where I could spend my days fine-tuning everything. Trumbull's enthusiasm never fades as he watches us set up for the interview, quizzing my excellent local Director of Photography Michael Mulvey on his camera of choice and why he chooses to shoot on that particular model.

Finally, with all of our lighting in place, and a little help in setting the shot from Trumbull himself, we're ready for our interview. Little did I know, what should have been a twenty minute conversation on the evolution of how space and space travel has been depicted in films would turn into one of the most engaging discussions I've ever had in the film industry.

Tomorrow: The Interview.

Marvel Cinematic Universe Guidebook in Stores Today, Citizen Jane in Theaters Friday!

2017 is shaping out to be pretty darn hectic. I'll attempt to do my best at keeping shameless self-promotion to a tolerable minimum. But this week's a big one.

The first collected volume of the Marvel Cinematic Universe Guidebook is out today. Additionally, a feature film I co-produced called Citizen Jane: Battle for the City hits theaters and on-demand this Friday. Talk about two different projects releasing in the same week... but hold onto that thought, we'll come back to that. They might be more connected than you think.

Let's start with the Marvel Cinematic Universe Guidebook. My part in the book was small, but I was honored to be a contributor to the original monthly releases and can't wait to have this 192-page collection sitting on the shelf. The first hardcover volume collects the encyclopedic entries for the original Iron Man film through Thor: The Dark World. The famed OHOTMU (Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe) team was incredibly gracious and kind to let this newbie tag along, and I learned so much working with them. I can't recommend this book enough to both die-hard and casual fans alike. It'll be available starting today in local brick and mortar stores, Barnes and Noble (and on Nook!), and of course via Amazon (and on Kindle!). Volume 2 won't be far behind, with a December 2017 release date and pre-orders already available.

Next up, Citizen Jane: Battle for the City. About two years ago, I jumped onto good friend Corey Reeser's staff at Altimeter Films to help he and Matt Tyrnauer wrap up several projects. The first feature film release of those projects is Citizen Jane. This is a documentary that focuses on urban planning and a question of how a city should grow and function. It explores that question through the two very different viewpoints of Jane Jacobs and Robert Moses. It's a fascinating subject and the film gives a great primer to the uninitiated (like me). I've been proud to be a part of the post-production process. It was incredibly challenging to see the film through finishing, mix and delivery, and I've also been part of the social media team. A theatrical run starts April 21st, and the film is also available via on-demand through IFC Films. For more information, check out the Altimeter Films website here.

You might be thinking, "Troy, that's very cool but why are you lumping these two things into one post?" The answer could be chalked up to sheer laziness. Or the fact I'm on a deadline and pressed for spare time. But check this out - - I'm about to blow your mind. Granted, I've since learned that I'm not the only one who has noticed this connection. But just the same, I'll explore it. Ready?

I bet I can connect our documentary film about Jane Jacobs and Robert Moses' battle over city planning to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

In the first season of the Netflix Daredevil series, Wilson Fisk (played by Vincent D'Onofrio) looks to rebuild the neighborhood he loves in the image of his choosing. Hell's Kitchen, where he grew up, has been overtaken by crime, slums, and affordable housing. Which makes it a desirable locale for two lawyers on their own who do a lot of work pro-bono for those in need like Matt Murdock and Foggy Nelson. But Fisk would love for the grime to be torn down and replaced by shiny and more modern, high-income yielding property. Fisk believes what he's doing to be just, even though his methods and underground connections are highly questionable.

In one of the most terrifying moments of the first season, Fisk breaks into the home of reporter Ben Urich. He attempts to explain himself to Urich, pleading that he's not the bad guy. He just wants what's best for the city that he loves. As he sits ominously in the darkness, the production has very explicitly chosen to highlight a crucial part of set decoration over his shoulder: the seminal biography on Robert Moses, The Power Broker. The speech he gives to Urich could be right out of Moses' own testimonial found within the pages of the biography.

Sure enough, if you watch our documentary Citizen Jane: Battle for the City, Robert Moses believes what he's doing to be right. That there's a cancer in his city. He wants to tear it out so that the city can heal. And, one would imagine, to prosper financially. Though the comparison stops about there, there is one further piece to the connection here:

In Citizen Jane: Battle for the City - Robert Moses is voiced by none other than the great Vincent D'Onofrio himself.

For a much more thorough examination, the New Republic wrote a great article at the time of the production that I've since discovered. The author also goes so far as to compare Jane Jacobs to Daredevil. I won't cover that ground, as it might retread on my prior examination that Jane Jacobs is a bit like RoboCop. The New Republic article is a fascinating read that I highly recommend, especially after you view the new documentary as a primer.

So there you have it. Two seemingly unrelated thoughts melded into one. What's next to shamelessly plug? In September, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. fans will be able to get their hands on the fourth installment of the Declassified series. October is going to see the release of a fun book that I can't quite talk about yet (but is up for pre-order for those with fine-tuned investigative skills). And December, as mentioned will be the second hardcover collection of the GMCU!

And in 2018, I'll attempt to hibernate to recover.

Jane Jacobs, Robert Moses, and RoboCop

In a city, plagued with poverty, crime, and blight, a corporate entity looks to cut away the cancerous tissue and rebuild a newer, more modern city on top of it. The old city is viewed as broken. The new sleek and sculptural city will provide public housing for those displaced while also building towering skyscrapers that will print money for the top 1%. One hero will emerge to fight for the people, to stand up against the corporate greed, and rally the people to stand up for the city that they live in...

RoboCop.

It's funny, it occurred to me in the shower this morning that a project that I'm working on about the legendary New York City Power Broker Robert Moses and his grassroots activist rival Jane Jacobs, is the exact same plot to the 1987 sci-fi Paul Verhoeven classic RoboCop.

In Post-World War II New York City, the wealthy looked to destroy the slums of New York City, its inhabitants be damned, and replace it with new top-down planned infrastructure with super-highways running throughout. Everyone is in their pocket down to the cement mixers that are pouring the foundations.

In RoboCop, evil corporation OCP looks to replace the entire city of Detroit with its vision of a streamlined and clean future that they call Delta City. They put everyone in their pockets, right down to the police force that's charged with keeping the city safe and crime free.

Jane Jacobs looked around her and saw what was happening. She rallied the people to save public spaces like Washington Square Park and stop the building of a Lower Manhattan Expressway from completely eviscerating part of Manhattan. One woman, who was dismissed as a mere "housewife" went toe-to-toe with the powerful figure head and won.

RoboCop, though he was part man and part machine and under the operating protocols of OCP, saw what was happening, fought his programming, and stopped the construction of Delta City. One officer, dismissed as a mere beat cop inside a heavily armored suit, went toe-to-toe with his own creators. He fought the stop-motion ED-209 to battle his way to the top of OCP headquarters and stopped the head of the corporation.

Take a look at OCP's vision for Detroit, MI replacement Delta City...

And look at these real life people at the 1939 World's Fair looking down on Corbusier and Robert Moses' vision of the future city.

Oh my god, now that I'm thinking about it... Robert Moses actually even kind of LOOKS like OCP Chief Operating Officer, Dick Jones! Dude, now I would totally pay to see a strange alternate reality sci-fi version of New York City's history where this all went down.

What's the point of this? Well, point of fact it's mainly to make two people laugh. Yes, this article was written for an extremely targeted audience. But I guess you could say it's also a strange correlation of art imitating life. Topics that were relevant in terms of city planning and the people who inhabit the dense city were at the forefront in the 1930s, they were in our minds in the late-1980s, and it's still relevant today.

That actually sounded intellectual, boy I really pulled that off. Especially considering that most of this was just an excuse to Photoshop this image.

Posted on April 15, 2016 and filed under Movies.

Back to the Future Day Checklist - UPDATED!

This article has been updated with all the reveals and festivities!

The 30th Anniversary of Back to the Future has been in full-swing all this year, but (for good reason) many of the releases and events have been fixated on the date that Doc takes Marty into 2015 - just two days from now: October 21, 2015. 

With so many product releases, events, videos, and announcements coming in one week, and in some cases one day, I wanted to accumulate a list of all the things that have caught my eye that I'll have to be quick on the draw to either purchase or investigate and absorb. So here's all the stuff I'll be watching when the clock strikes midnight on Back to the Future Day.

IDW

UPDATE: My goodness, where is my head - before I published this the first time I completely forgot one of the most exciting things releasing! The new IDW Comic! Said to take place in between the cracks of the films, telling the side-stories and points of view that you didn't see on screen, the new comic book is going to be fantastic. And it doesn't hurt that it's the same creative team as IDW's Ghostbusters comic which is always top-notch. - 2nd UPDATE: Demand for the comic has been so high that it's already been announced that it's heading to a second printing.

Pepsi Perfect

The Pepsi in super-cool futuristic bottle deemed Pepsi Perfect will be going on sale for a limited run on the 20th. Details on where and when it'll be on sale are still a bit sketchy and everyone has been told to stay tuned to Pepsi's various social media outlets. / Twitter - UPDATE: The Pepsi Perfect bottles flew off the "shelves" of Amazon and Wal-Mart within a matter of 20 minutes. Unfortunately didn't pick one up.

Toyota

Toyota has been running several promos (including a meticulously easter egg filled Statler Toyota ad) that lead us to believe that the Toyota truck that Marty McFly coveted might also be pined after by modern drivers in 2015. Their preview website shows Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd sitting at a diner discussing what the second Back to the Future film got right about modern 2015 and teases a big announcement on the 21st of October. If only it was an announcement that Toyota had purchased the intellectual property rights to DeLorean and the cars might be readily available again. / Toyota - UPDATE: Toyota is using the below short film to help announce their new hydrogen fuel cell inspired by Back to the Future and Mr. Fusion.

DVDs and Books

A new anniversary set (yes, the fourth or fifth time I will have purchased the Back to the Future trilogy on disc format) is being released this Tuesday that includes a few new bonus features as well as the entire run of the animated series. There will apparently also be a brand-new short film featuring Christopher Lloyd as Doc Brown on the set. A great Ultimate Visual History book is also hitting shelves on Back to the Future Day. Both of which I've pre-ordered and can't wait to receive.

We're Going Back

If I hadn't have just plunked down a ton of cash for VIP tickets at the Cinespia Hollywood Forever cemetery screening of the first two films, I'd absolutely have picked up tickets for the festivities that the crew at We're Going Back have been putting together. Enchantment Under the Sea dances, screenings in Clocktower Square on the Universal Lot, and Hoverboard lessons... it would have been an outstanding four day nerd summer camp (in the fall) that would have been great. If only. / We're Going Back

Puente Hills Mall

To that point, apparently the We're Going Back folks have set up a recreation of the Twin Pines/Lone Pine Mall in the parking lot of the Puente Hills Mall here in Los Angeles. A Doc Brown Enterprises truck has been parked in the lot for a couple weeks and the Twin Pines Mall signage apparently just went up a couple days ago. Hoping to get out there and snap a photo or two in full Marty regalia if at all possible this week.

USA Today

Apparently USA Today has something special planned for their October 21, 2015 release. Perhaps a lenticular cover for an accident at the Clocktower? Perhaps something else? / USA Today - UPDATE: USA Today's website has been redesigned to mirror its counterpart in the film. Do not believe the print edition has any differences.

Nike

For YEARS, Nike has been teasing the "Air Mag" release that will include power laces. For a Team Fox charity event, a select number of display collector copies (without power laces) were released several years ago for the 25th Anniversary and still sell for exorbitant amounts on eBay. There was (yet another) leak earlier this year saying that the company was looking to release real retail power lace versions of the Air Mag later in the year, but those have all but disappeared like Marty's siblings in a photo. Stay tuned, maybe an announcement from Nike is coming on Wednesday? / Nike - UPDATE: Michael J. Fox Tweeted out a drawing/letter that he received (see below) from Nike which leads us to believe that a second wave of Nike Mags are on the way (with power laces) to be used as a fundraiser for Team Fox and their research to fight Parkinson's. Details still forthcoming, but safe bet the shoes will once again seek a pretty high price tag.


Posted on October 19, 2015 and filed under Movies.