New Interview - The Collective Podcast

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Peter Chung, Monday, 15 August 2016 21:27 (seven years ago) link

Better version available here:

It's shorter, but all the content is intact. Just missing all the "umm"s and annoying verbal ticks.

Peter Chung, Wednesday, 17 August 2016 13:45 (seven years ago) link

Thank you for sharing this, Peter! It's always good to hear more from you. I can't say I'm a fan of the host ("Do you believe in love?" What!?), but he served as a nice foil at least. Apparently he did some of the computer interface effects for Prometheus, and I did enjoy those.

I particularly liked hearing your thoughts on Prometheus, which I've always enjoyed but have struggled to explain exactly why. It's been a particularly difficult position to articulate in the face of all the backlash against it. For me, too, the image of the tentacled creature bursting through the door and wrestling the engineer into submission was my favorite image in the film, and the most frightening scene. Your description of the movie as a nightmare was spot-on. Maybe this is why I enjoy it—I like David Lynch and David Cronenberg in part for the same reason.

Matt Rebholz, Sunday, 21 August 2016 16:38 (seven years ago) link

The point I was trying to push is that the artists' motive for creating art is to enable the viewers' act of finding meaning. My discussion of Prometheus illustrates exactly how, for the viewer, the experience of art triggers creative trains of thought. The act of discovering meaning is the aim of art (not the delivery of specific moral messages). Regardless of how one feels about Prometheus, I wish to encourage such a posture in consuming a piece of fiction.

I could have gone on in much greater detail about Prometheus, but I didn't want the subject to take over the interview. Since you're interested, I'll elaborate. As a formerly devout God-believer, the movie provides an intricate thought experiment that follows very accurately the mindset of the faithful. That is what I meant by saying that I'd never seen a major commercial movie tackle this theme.

I often listen to podcasts, debates and audiobooks while I draw, especially from the recent spokespersons for atheism. Hitchens, Dawkins, Harris, Dennett, but also Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Richard Carrier, Michael Shermer, Steven Pinker, Lawrence Krauss and the very entertaining Robert M. Price. In these debates, the one theist argument that I used to actually accept is the one positing that God must be the origin of human life’s purpose. Not the source of life’s existence, but its purpose.

The characters in Prometheus are on a mission to discover not the answer to life’s origin, but of its purpose. The question of whether someone created human life is not the mystery. The question is: what for? Then, when Shaw realizes that the creator planned to eliminate human life, there is the added question of: why destroy us? According to religion, these questions are precisely the ones that humans have no right to ask God. And God has no obligation to answer.

Some critics of the movie have complained that the story never answers these questions. But it’s that lack of answers that makes it such a perfect expression of God’s absolute power and his mystery. God created man. God condemns man to eternity in hell. This unanswerable mystery is the central subject of thousands of years of theology. Christianity is entirely built on it.
The Engineers’ method for killing humans is particularly cruel, which suggests that the plan is for more than mere destruction. It’s punishment.

What I love about the final battle between the face hugger and the Engineer is that the creature is the child of a miraculous birth (remember, it’s Christmas) who ends up being mankind’s savior. Octopus-Jesus. It neutralizes the Creator, who would have carried out the plan to destroy human life. In a twisted irony, David, by tainting Charlie’s drink (on Weyland’s order) brings about the means for the preservation of Earth. The most epic showdown in the history of film.

Peter Chung, Sunday, 21 August 2016 19:02 (seven years ago) link

On Prometheus as mythology: The crew are like mythical explorers on a quest to the top of Mt. Olympus, or the gates of the celestial kingdom with the hope of a relationship with their God and Creator. The nightmare starts when they reach their goal only to discover that the God they'd worshipped and believed in turns out to be a monster. Which many people realize when they study their sacred texts, causing them to abandon their faith.

Peter Chung, Sunday, 21 August 2016 19:17 (seven years ago) link

Thank you Peter, I really like your interpretation.

By the way, thank you so much for mentioning Playtime at the tail end of the podcast. Somehow I'd never heard of this amazing film. I watched it last weekend and was mesmerized -- an instant favorite. Since then, I've been suggesting it to everyone I know!

Matt Rebholz, Friday, 26 August 2016 03:00 (seven years ago) link

Peter, does the edited version do anything to improve the interviewer's seemingly distracted tone and typing in the background (only listened to first few minutes so far)? Question is half flippant and half serious. (Or maybe you were the typer!)

Ever see Altman's Three Women?

J.P. McDevitt, Monday, 29 August 2016 04:26 (seven years ago) link

All the content of the edited version is the same as the unedited. The pauses and "umm"s have been removed, and it's 25 minutes shorter. It's a much smoother listening experience.
Ash's distracted tone, I think might be due to some of my answers being outside his expectations and he's unsure of my meaning. The same goes for my own hesitancy, faced with his questions.

I often meet and talk with artists in this field who have an intense focus on technical craft and process to the exclusion of everything else. Wanting badly to make a film, then being indifferent to whether or not it reaches an audience, makes no sense to me.
Film exists as a medium of mass communication. That is why the activity of filmmaking exists in the first place. There are artists who get so enamored with the laborious process that they forget this.

I love Altman's films from the 70s. Three Women is one of his best. There are films that have a huge impact on first viewing, but I find little need or desire to return to them. Altman, R. W. Fassbinder, Almodovar and Mike Leigh are directors I like, but don't ever re-watch. Perhaps one thing they have in common is they are all very process-driven. Their films are the by-products of a creative process they are exploring.

Peter Chung, Monday, 29 August 2016 15:30 (seven years ago) link

Love the love for Prometheus — and there's a shared feel between Aeon Flux and that film. (The dream-like not-quite-rightness, in the best possible way.) Prometheus feels more of a piece with / belonging in the same universe as Blade Runner, and I imagine the backlash wouldn't be nearly as bad if it weren't for expectations of an Alien prequel as a no-nonsense genre film. And thank you for further elaborating on existence vs. purpose here.

In the interview you offered to share your syllabus — would it be possible to share it here?

nikola, Tuesday, 30 August 2016 16:30 (seven years ago) link

I can't post my course materials here. But here's an excerpt from my course summary.
It will give you an idea of what I mean by things a good director needs to know how to do.
I hand out weekly assignments for each student to complete for the following week when we critique them in class.
This one is one of the most effective, and if you've watched Aeon Flux, you will have seen used in every episode.

Class 6 - Temporal Context. The “loaded” image:
Assignment: impart an unexpected emotion, meaning or train of thought to an innocuous image by a preceding sequence of shots.

It's not hard to prompt tears of sorrow from an audience by showing a scene of someone crying. It's neither surprising, enlightening, nor interesting. On the other hand, imagine if you could move an audience to tears by simply showing them a pair of shoes.
One of the most potent capabilities of film as a narrative medium is the ability to load an image with whatever meaning you want it to carry. The power of the loaded image is that the connection to its meaning occurs entirely in the viewer's mind. You, the filmmaker, have the magical ability to make it happen. If you do it well, the way you do it will not even be noticeable. The viewer will feel that she knows something without fully understanding how. Ask yourself how you know things in real life. Some knowledge you gain by being told. But I'd venture that the most heartfelt convictions are the ones you reach by your own power of deduction.
If your character feels lacking in individuality, try to find a way you can load up something innocuous with some specific meaning known only by that character. She will immediately become unique and special. The thing can be an object, a person, a relationship, a physical gesture, or a line of dialogue. The operative mechanism is time. You can first show an object's true function, followed by its innocuous presence in a later time and context. Alternatively, the object might first be shown casually, then revealed later to have had a function which changes the meaning of its earlier appearance.
For me, the dialogue method is the least preferred. A commonly used plot device is information that gives away a character's guilt. A criminal says something unwittingly that reveals he has knowledge he shouldn't have. By being verbalized, it is foregrounded, loses its mystery, and reveals itself as a ploy by the storyteller.

Peter Chung, Tuesday, 30 August 2016 19:26 (seven years ago) link

"Ask yourself how you know things in real life. Some knowledge you gain by being told. But I'd venture that the most heartfelt convictions are the ones you reach by your own power of deduction."

Thank you, Peter. That's very illuminating.

nikola, Wednesday, 31 August 2016 16:07 (seven years ago) link

Haven't quite finished it yet, but some thoughts. Some of this may be repeat content from me.

1) What you say about younger audiences being more literal-minded with regards to story rings true, though I'm not 100% convinced it's youth as opposed to just changing times. 45 year olds are happily binging Netflix shows with no ambiguity as well.

I believe that the TV series Lost and the national conversation around it had a profound impact on how people (and yes, in this case especially younger people) approach art. It was hugely popular, and for years the creators assured everybody that the resolutions to all of the mysteries were completely plotted out in advance, and that there was a scientific explanation for every seemingly supernatural occurrence in the show. People latched onto this and generated massive, well "researched" theories, thousand-page forum discussions, etc. They were promised a logical, literal, and complete explanation for everything, and even though this turned out to be a lie, the principle has stuck. (The show is not worth watching btw)

Further, Lost had character flashbacks in every episode for the first few seasons, encouraging people to believe that we always need "backstory". Nerd culture (which sadly has become close to mainstream with regards to film and television) is now full of people demanding more "backstory" and explanations.

2) You address the purpose of art. (Again, I may have gone on this rant already.) It's very chique for people nowadays to say that the purpose of art is to "evoke emotion". This is moronically narrow. I'll sometimes bring up that while that can be a valid purpose, it can also teach you something about the world, teach you something about other people, teach you something about yourself, reveal "deep human insights", etc. (They'll often double down at this point and insist that "evoking emotion" encompasses the things I mentioned.)

How exactly do you mean that it's to enable the viewer's act of finding meaning?

3) I'd recommend Three Women to anyone reading. It's definitely "Fluxian", though not on the very surface. And I mean that in a stronger way than that it's "surreal". It reminds me of at least one specific episode of Flux.

J.P. McDevitt, Sunday, 4 September 2016 08:32 (seven years ago) link

You state that art "can also teach you something about the world, teach you something about other people, teach you something about yourself, reveal "deep human insights", etc. Those are opportunities for discovering meaning.
I think that you are saying what I'm saying in different words. I just wouldn't use the word "teach", as I don't believe an artist is usually in a special position to educate or enlighten the audience. And it suggests a didactic motive.

Viewers get hooked on searching for a message, or more commonly, to untangle the threads of a fictional plot to satisfy their need to know "what happened", and in the process do not examine their own minds in the act of turning their perceptions into pattens of meaning. They don't realize that the singular version of events that ends up on the screen does not contain any special "canonical" authority. It is one of many options that was chosen during the production process, and is regarded by the author or director to be an adequate vehicle for whatever idea (or meaning) it is intended to convey. The fictional detail is arbitrary and interchangeable. It can be replaced with another detail and the story's meaning does not change. The point is to see the meaning, not the fiction.

The more stories you write, the more you come to realize what an artificial device conventional fictional narrative is for organizing human events. Our lives, either individually or collectively, comprise many overlapping narratives. A series of events in one''s life out of which one has found special meaning often becomes the source of a writer's narrative. But the choices a writer makes about what is and isn't relevant to the story is very much like how a painter or composer decides when composing a canvas or symphony. That is what I mean by describing story as another aspect of a film's form rather than its content.

It's why I think a lot of filmmakers I most admire eventually abandon conventional narrative altogether. Antonioni, Tati, Fellini, Kubrick, Lynch, etc.

Peter Chung, Sunday, 4 September 2016 21:18 (seven years ago) link

Here is another excerpt from my course summary, from the introduction. I describe what I claim is the primary task of a filmmaker. My course is aimed at aspiring directors:

The goal is to understand how to load images with subtext--that is, imbue them with intended meanings. Why is this important? Whether you care to look or not, every piece of visual information in the world contains multiple potential meanings. Every image, even if it is of a mundane physical object, is not merely an image of a thing, but of an implied event. Who put it there? How did it come to be made? How will it be used? It is in the act of reading meaning into images that the viewer's thoughts and feelings become engaged. That is always your goal: to prod, provoke, entice, seduce, intrigue, surprise, delight your viewer. And if the viewer's engagement with the work is sufficiently complex, that discovery of the mind's own workings may even supplant the text itself (the story, the narrative content). Sometimes what makes a film (or story) valuable is the altered way it makes you think rather than the particulars of its plot. The connections occurring in the viewer’s mind and heart are something real, after all, while the fictional events on screen are not. As a filmmaker, you have the power to trigger startling trains of thought and to make feelings spring from unlikely places. That is about the most I can hope to offer my audience.

Peter Chung, Sunday, 4 September 2016 21:34 (seven years ago) link

Very interesting interview.

Are you familiar with the literary critic Harold Bloom? His views seem to be similar to yours in that he values aesthetic quality over socio-political messages. He promotes reading literary masterpieces to enrich one's cognitive faculties and overall knowledge of the world. He's derided for his criticisms of what he calls the Schools of Resentment, which are the critics and theorists who are primarily concerned with the socio-political agendas of artworks. He is of the mindset that political correctness should not factor into assessing the quality of a work of art.

Man From the Machine, Saturday, 17 September 2016 05:33 (seven years ago) link

I've never read Harold Bloom, but from your description, I'd agree with his stance.
It's a conclusion that many authors and artists reach in the search for purpose in their work. If you write fiction, you should soon realize that the outcome, and therefore the moral message of your story is completely arbitrary. It's up to the whim of the author, and can't carry any polemical authority. If Ayn Rand wants to push a political view, she makes the hero of her story reap the rewards of adopting her way of thinking. But that's just how she decides what she wants to make happen. It demonstrates nothing.

"There are gentle souls who would pronounce Lolita meaningless because it does not teach them anything. I am neither a reader nor a writer of didactic fiction... For me a work of fiction exists only insofar as it affords me what I shall bluntly call aesthetic bliss, that is a sense of being somehow, somewhere, connected with other states of being where art (curiosity, tenderness, kindness, ecstasy) is the norm." Vladimir Nabokov

Peter Chung, Saturday, 17 September 2016 20:58 (seven years ago) link

I take in works of fiction as thought experiments. It's why I'm drawn to speculative fiction in particular. Prometheus and Aeon Flux operate on this principle. You begin by accepting a speculative premise as being true in the world of your story. You play out the imaginable scenario of what must follow and you often find that commonly held assumptions will result in surprising consequences. But here's the crucial point of confusion for many readers and viewers. The particular fictional outcome is not the message/ point of the exercise. That is arbitrary. The train of thought that one's mind takes along the way-- that is not arbitrary, and that is the thing in a work of fiction that is not fictitious. That experience is real.

Peter Chung, Saturday, 17 September 2016 21:43 (seven years ago) link

I'd like to expand on a point I tried to get to during the interview, but which will probably leave listeners wondering what I meant:
What a film is about and what the film's story is about are two different things.

This is a big part of why so many viewers are stuck in viewing films in a literal-minded way.
Film conveys its ideas as an experience of an event. An experience of the senses.
This point is different from the point about metaphorical reading, and is hard to convey in words.
I will use the AF episode "Tide" to illustrate.

First, watch "Tide", 4 mins.:

What is the story of this short film? Fortunately for us, the Sad Geezer's Guide provides a very literally written summary (which takes longer to read than viewing the film):

"A large key at the end of a rope is lowered into a socket housed on a platform by the sea. A gunshot is fired by Aeon and knocks the key stopping it from locating into the platform socket. (are you with me so far? )
She then runs into an elevator on floor seven. Trevor is there with a woman dressed in red. He is hiding close to the door. As Aeon enters he selects all the floors on the elevator panel and rushes out. Aeon spots him and quickly grabs him back. The door closes. Aeon points a gun at him demanding the key he is holding.
Trevor defiantly throws the key behind some pipes. Aeon goes to retrieve it and we see that the key ring has the number two marked on it. Unfortunately, Aeon is only able to retrieve the key, the key-chain is trapped behind the pipe. She therefore does not see the number. The blonde woman revives herself but does not interfere with Aeon ( a wise move ).
The door opens on floor number six and Aeon gives a gun to the woman and runs out. A man fires at her but he misses and Aeon places the key in the keyhole of a door (marked six ) . The key doesn’t fit. She makes her way back to the elevator shooting at the bloke and also the large plunger shaped key on the platform. The plunger thingy wobbles and is unable to locate into the holder on the platform.
Inside the elevator, Trevor tries to encourage the woman come closer . Aeon returns and handcuffs Trevor to a nearby bar. The elevator reaches floor number five. Aeon rushed out and repeats the same exercise as before. The bloke shoots, misses, the key doesn't fit in the door and the plunger on the platform wobbles after being hit by one of Aeons bullets.
She is clearly pissed off by this and when she gets back to the elevator, she takes her frustration out on the woman who was left guarding Trevor. Aeon pushes her out of the way and thumps Trevor viciously. She also manages to retrieve the key tag. I don't know if she actually sees the number however since she places the tag back behind the pipes. As the door opens on floor number 5, Aeon gestures to the woman guarding Trevor, to get the key tag herself. Then she runs out and is as unsuccessful in opening the door marked 4 as she was with door marked 5.
The woman however, doesn't do as Aeon asked. She grabs hold of Trevor and kisses him passionately.
As Aeon returns the woman dives for the pipes and turns round to face Aeon with a ' couldn't find it ' gesture. Aeon brushes past her (licking a strand of her hair provocatively as she passes ). She gets the key-tag herself and in a strange gesture of solidarity the two women knock each other's guns together. The elevator stops on the third floor.
Aeon repeats the same futile actions as on the other floors ( despite knowing that she is on the wrong floor ). The woman guarding Trevor is seen sucking his nipples (!!) and Trevor is enjoying every bit of it! Aeon doesn't bother to try the key in the door because she notices that it's the wrong floor. She does however stop the plunger from locating in its platform socket with another accurate shot.
She returns to the elevator to find the woman nibbling Trevor's chest. She moves out of the way as Aeon points her gun at Trevor. The woman pushes Aeon and points her gun at her. She fires but finds that there are no bullets. She throws the gun at Aeon and it hits her in the face, knocking her back against the wall where she suffers a seemingly fatal head injury. Blood gushes from her head.
The woman takes the key as the elevator opens on the second floor and rushes out. This time the guard/agent that was firing at Aeon is hiding behind the elevator door. As the woman rushes out, the guard/agent enters and shoots Trevor. He rushes out and fires at the plunger stopping it form coupling with the platform socket. The woman opens the door with the key, takes out a container and walks back to the elevator.
She finds that Trevor is dead and says, (there's compassion for you! ). She opens the container to find a sort of large cup. She discards the cup and runs out of the elevator that has by now, landed on the ground floor. She runs to the platform to find that the guard/agent is standing by the platform socket as the plunger is located there. Too late. The woman is left alone. The woman tries to jump on the socket platform but fails to do so as the little platform rises. As it does so a plug (which looks exactly the same as the one that the woman discarded in the elevator ), lifts and water comes up from the hole. The platform stays above water, but the building behind, sinks leaving the woman stranded."

Unless you view the film, the above transcription of the "story" will be hard to understand, and even if one manages to follow it, it does not in any way convey the meaning of the piece. The film can only be understood as an experience of sight, sound and duration.

"Tide" is an extreme example, but in fact, the same principle applies to all films, to a greater or lesser degree. People spend all their effort in picking out "plot holes" in the story, and that is missing the point.

Peter Chung, Saturday, 17 September 2016 22:52 (seven years ago) link

The guy at Sad Geezer's Guide who wrote the above added a comment at the end of the summary:
"And this strange episode ends. Can't say it is one of my favourites; except for the nipple sucking that is."

That comment, plus the fact that he went to the trouble of writing the transcription, tells me that he was hoping to find the point of the episode by examining its story.
But no, the "story" of this film, and in all good films (and I consider "Tide" the best representation of what I was trying to do with AF) only exists as a framework that allows the viewer to have the real experience of discovering potential meanings. That is what the engaged mind is doing when encountering art. It is not escapist and it is not didactic.

Peter Chung, Saturday, 17 September 2016 23:08 (seven years ago) link

So, if I'm understanding correctly, to you a good film wouldn't be one that promoted a particular ideology, but one that put the viewer in the mindset to come to their own conclusions on a given subject. Not by giving answers, but by raising questions in such a way as to provoke the viewers into seeking out answers through their own interpretations. This certainly comes across in AF.

I have some questions.

What do you think of movements like the Latin American Third Cinema?

From Wikipedia: "Third Cinema rejects the view of cinema as a vehicle for personal expression, seeing the director instead as part of a collective; it appeals to the masses by presenting the truth and inspiring revolutionary activism. Solanas and Getino argue that traditional exhibition models also need to be avoided: the films should be screened clandestinely, both in order to avoid censorship and commercial networks, but also so that the viewer must take a risk to see them."

These films are made solely for political agendas and inspiring viewers to bring about political change. So in your view does this make them not art, but propaganda? People involved with movements like Third Cinema have a definition of art that contrasts with your own. It is one that is more concerned with presenting the masses with a singular truth which is dictated by the artists. They would group your work into Second Cinema, which they seem to criticize for being the products of narcissistic artists.

Are there any authors or specific novels that you would say had strong influences on your development as an artist?

Do you associate your works with any particular artistic/philosophical movements?

Man From the Machine, Sunday, 18 September 2016 03:01 (seven years ago) link

I've had no exposure to the work of the Third Cinema movement, so I cannot offer meaningful comment. Sometimes artists can produce works that transcend their conscious intentions. Usually, I find that ideologically driven artists attempt to elevate the importance of their work by imbuing them with important pro-social or political messages out of some anxiety over appearing narcissistic. For me, such work usually has just the opposite effect. By declaring their own importance, the artist's narcissism is amplified. Often these artists lack the talent or creativity to create works that hold up without the imprint of their message. A lot of bad art has been justified in the name of social relevance. Barbara Kruger and Art Spiegelman come to mind. The praise for their work is for the perceived relevance of their messages. As works of art, they are mediocre.

To those who would call decadent the production of works with no clear moral agenda, I would argue that the cultivation of independent thinking has an absolute intrinsic value.

Peter Chung, Sunday, 18 September 2016 03:52 (seven years ago) link

In the field of animation, Frederic Back has received every award and accolade there is. I want to go on record here: I can't stand to watch his films.
They are the epitome of pretentiousness, combined with an insulting refusal to allow the viewer to think for themselves, announcing with incessant declamatory narration how we are to think and feel at every moment.

Peter Chung, Sunday, 18 September 2016 04:39 (seven years ago) link

On J.P. McDevitt's statement:
"It's very chique for people nowadays to say that the purpose of art is to "evoke emotion". This is moronically narrow."
(chic, not chique, sorry.)

On this point, I agree there's widespread misunderstanding. From my view, when you say a work of art "evokes emotion", that is not a description of its purpose, but of its method. In practice, filmmakers are never willing to let it go at that. It's similar to saying that the purpose of a film is to "entertain". Which is like saying that the purpose of a book is "to be interesting". Being interesting or entertaining or evoking emotion are ways of engaging the audience, of getting them to pay attention. That is why I make the distinction between entertainment and escapism. Entertainment is subjective, and is the means to achieve an ulterior end. You can make your film entertaining as a means of more effectively delivering a moral message, or to more effectively enable escapism. As I say in the interview, neither of those goals are what motivate me. To generate meaning is what interests me, but at other times the aim of an artist's work might be therapeutic, psychedelic or spiritual.

Peter Chung, Wednesday, 28 September 2016 10:08 (seven years ago) link

one month passes...

Man, it’s great to log in and see new thoughts from Peter Chung after all this time.

I hadn’t watched Prometheus before this interview. Having seen it now, I came away with a slightly different interpretation of the Engineers and their motives… to me, they represented an encounter with a completely alien value system. Rather than the Engineers hating humans or wanting to punish humanity, they seemed to be indifferent to human life; they had a scientific curiosity, and wanted to move their experiment to its next stage. We saw how they were willing to sacrifice themselves in order to create new life; probably they felt the same way about sacrificing humans. Of course from our perspective we’d see it as hatred, just as Shaw did.

The squid-like creature represents the fear and mystery of the unknown. The Engineer is the exact opposite: a statuesque, alabaster giant, he represents unwavering faith and certainty in one’s worldview. I think it’s significant, too, that David’s plot to conceive the creature stems from a mistake… Weyland ordered David to speed things up, but he wouldn’t have given that order if he’d been aware of the living Engineer from the start.

I see Shaw’s decision to travel to the Engineers' world as curiosity winning out over faith. The old world and its certainties are dead, and the only way to live on is to embrace uncertainty. Whatever the character might say about keeping her faith, the subtext seems pretty clear to me.

I was never a Christian, though, so I’m coming to the movie with a different set of baggage.

Blair Gilbreath, Tuesday, 8 November 2016 03:00 (seven years ago) link

Mr. Gilbreath... Thanks for posting.

My friends who are fans of Prometheus all have different reasons why it affected them.
I doubt that my own view is shared by most.

I'll be posting an update on my current project soon. Big, unexpected development, which has required that I leave my teaching job.

Peter Chung, Tuesday, 8 November 2016 08:21 (seven years ago) link


illegal economic migration (Tracer Hand), Tuesday, 8 November 2016 08:31 (seven years ago) link

In terms of political moviemaking, I was really taken with the Mexican sci-fi film Sleep Dealer. All of the major concerns of cyberpunk fiction — the blurring of the lines between man and machine, likewise between countries and corporations; the effect of new technologies on social stratification, and vice versa; and the changing definition of citizenship in a globalized future — were represented, from the viewpoint of cross-border US-Mexico labor relations. Maquiladoras meet The Matrix.

Whether it suffers from being didactic, I really couldn’t say. But it’s definitely worth a look (and perhaps, given current American political rhetoric, has acquired new relevance)

Blair Gilbreath, Wednesday, 16 November 2016 05:29 (seven years ago) link

Overly didactic, that is.

Anyway... looking forward to it, Peter!

Blair Gilbreath, Wednesday, 16 November 2016 05:36 (seven years ago) link

This is the film Ash Thorp, the interviewer, was making at the time of the interview.
We talk about it during the latter part.
I pressed him on what he was trying to communicate by making it.
(Like I do with my students)

Peter Chung, Friday, 18 November 2016 06:37 (seven years ago) link

three weeks pass...

"Ask yourself how you know things in real life. Some knowledge you gain by being told. But I'd venture that the most heartfelt convictions are the ones you reach by your own power of deduction."

When judging works of art or films, this is the most important test. It's why I feel comfortable claiming certain works superior to others, even though it seems there are always those (including university professors) who hold onto the idea that everything is subjective in art. That everything goes; that we can never say that one approach is better than another. That as long as the audience is affected in some way by a work, that we cannot devalue that experience. Such a view either disagrees with the statement above, or discounts it.

The standard I uphold is that good art enables convictions to arise in the heart and mind of the viewer. It stimulates the imagination to reach understanding by your own powers of deduction or insight.
Films like Contact and the work of Frederic Back are engaged in corralling their audience. Their intentions may be high, but the method of their art is not.

Peter Chung, Sunday, 11 December 2016 19:41 (seven years ago) link

Since you've given a slight opening to take a shot at Pixar, I will take it.

I was listening to a theme park podcast, and those guys of course love Pixar. One of them spoke in awed tones about how Pixar's story creation process is now a well-oiled machine. They have a writing team that knows exactly how to churn out stories that hit the right beats (working from an instructional tome of some sort I'd imagine), including for example making you cry at something in the first few minutes "even when you shouldn't yet".

He was speaking of this largely as if it were a positive thing.

Btw Peter, the liberal podcast Chapo Trap House had an MTV guest on last week and they discussed Aeon briefly, very positively. Nothing insightful, but positive talk.

J.P. McDevitt, Monday, 12 December 2016 07:37 (seven years ago) link

It's appropriate that you'd bring up Pixar as I'm currently preparing a project with the same target audience and aim for popular appeal.
The strategies used by Pixar and Disney are the result of a lot of calculation and some cynicism, but it's inevitable in that studio environment. Filmmaking, especially animated filmmaking, is the art of simulating spontaneity. Stories, scenes and characters are heavily scripted, prefabricated down to one 24th of a second. The problem (not solved) is in making it all appear as if it's all happening naturally without the guiding hand of a director and animators. It seems that mainstream audiences don't mind being led by the nose if it allows them to have a shared experience.

Just yesterday, I finally watched the ending of Disney's Tangled for the first time (for research). Over months, I've only been able to see about 10 minutes at a time before having to switch to something like Drive Angry to flush out the treacle in my head. If the defense is that a movie like Tangled isn't aimed at me, I'd say that's true, but neither is Kiki's Delivery Service, but I have no problem watching Miyazaki without feeling like gagging.
It seems that every viewer has their own boundary when it comes to directorial manipulation. I consider The Sound of Music to be one of the finest films ever made. I have friends who find it unbearable.

I still hope to do my Aeon Flux animated feature some day, but it has to be on my own terms. I've got scenes written that will kill you. (Heh)
The autonomy to take risks will come. I'll say more about that soon.

Peter Chung, Monday, 12 December 2016 17:34 (seven years ago) link

As always, thanks for sharing your thoughts here Peter. It's interesting that you mention the Sound of Music—another of my favorite directors, Todd Solondz, said it made a big impact on him as a child. I don't think I've ever properly watched it as an adult, maybe I should change that.

And thanks for the Flux tease! The thought of more Aeon out there somewhere (even if only on paper at the moment) is a thrilling thing.

Matt Rebholz, Tuesday, 13 December 2016 02:43 (seven years ago) link

I've always loved the Sound of Music, which I grew up with at a time when it caused a world wide sensation. Young people today may not comprehend this. It played literally for years in theaters. I saw it for the first time while living in Kenya in '65. When I started attending school in Seoul in 1970, it was playing in Korea and all the kids knew all the songs in Korean, and we'd sing them in music class.

Today, looking past the nostalgia, I am in awe at the very high level of craft involved in every aspect of its production, and I can understand its ability to affect audiences of all ages and backgrounds. The great Ernest Lehman and Robert Wise deserve a lot of the credit apart from the usual appreciation for the cast and Rodgers and Hammerstein. (Compare it to the awful recent live TV version of the musical.) The innate qualities of Maria's character are seamlessly woven into the drama such that their cumulative effect makes the twist (her marrying the captain) satisfying, natural, inevitable, yet surprising all at once.

Peter Chung, Tuesday, 13 December 2016 04:05 (seven years ago) link

As a younger filmmaker, intense and violent scenes, especially in horror movies and thrillers often used to excite and inspire me. You could see how the director was plying his skills, and it would make me want to try to get a rise out of my audience by applying such tricks. Young directors often start their careers doing horror (including Robert Wise) for that reason.

Today, I look at a scene like the dinner in the Sound of Music, when Maria gently and graciously sets the whole table of kids bawling, and I'm floored by the guts and confidence it would take to pull that off. (Both the writing and directing.)

Peter Chung, Tuesday, 13 December 2016 04:32 (seven years ago) link

All while managing to make the scene funny for the audience at the same time, I might add.

Peter Chung, Tuesday, 13 December 2016 04:35 (seven years ago) link

My tolerance for unearned emotional manipulation is quite low, although I cried on Thanksgiving Eve from Planes, Trains & Automobiles and I'm not annoyed about it.

A recent new favorite was Lord Love a Duck, going easily into my top 30 or so. Was lucky enough to see it in a theater, but if you must:

(Cashmere sweater scene is unbelievable.)

Haven't seen Sound of Music since I was a kid, and will be unfortunately missing the chance to see it theatrically in a few weeks. I'll get to it eventually.

I'd be in on Aeon Flux crowdfunding for at least $1,000.

J.P. McDevitt, Tuesday, 13 December 2016 08:06 (seven years ago) link

Looking over this thread, I saw that I never answered this question:

"Are there any authors or specific novels that you would say had strong influences on your development as an artist?"

I get asked this every year by my students. My answer is one I've given on these boards before. The Trial by Kafka. Jealousy by Robbe-Grillet. Pale Fire by Nabokov. Over the years, I've read (or have tried to read) a lot of science fiction too, but it always come back to these three authors. ( I've given up on trying to slog through Neal Stephenson and Iain M. Banks.)

On writing for film, Dashiell Hammett has taught me the most. Many of my students say they would like to learn to be better at story. Not how to use words, but how to construct narrative. I tell them just to read everything written by Hammett. It isn't a lot. He has five (short) novels and several collections of short stories. Without even trying, at the end of the exercise, you will know everything you will need to write for the screen. Your brain will have acquired a mode of thinking in terms of plot mechanics and structure. That includes clear and concise character motivation.

One of the projects I worked on developing right before Aeon Flux was an animated feature to be based on Hammett's comic strip, Secret Agent X-9. The project was never made, but some of the plots from the AF series were directly inspired by Hammett. Utopia or Deuteranopia? was influenced by Red Harvest. Ether Drift Theory had elements from The Glass Key. The Glass Key is the best of his novels, and was adapted closely for the Coen Brothers' best film (IMO), Miller's Crossing.

In the Glass Key, the hero must allow himself to commit morally questionable actions, including an apparent betrayal, for the sake of an ultimate goal that would save his friend and redeem himself. The simulation of immoral actions, however motivated, end up having unforeseen internal consequences, in spite of a positive objective outcome. And since that ultimate goal is far from guaranteed, making the stakes not just death, but false condemnation.

Peter Chung, Thursday, 22 December 2016 11:53 (seven years ago) link

These are the two worst emotionally manipulative devices in the Disney / Pixar formula. And the reason I can't watch them.

1. One of the main characters dies. Dead as a doornail. The scene is played to wrench maximum distress from the character's friend and the audience.
Then, without fail, he/she comes back to life and everyone's happy again. The whole meaning of sacrifice is rendered moot. Many superhero movies and JJ Abrams are also guilty. I wonder if audiences still even fall for this crap.

2. The two main buddy characters have a falling-out due to a misunderstanding or disappointment. Depressing break-up scene followed by crisis of confidence. It all looks hopeless, they give up.
Last minute rally where they decide they don't hate each other really. Through working together, they prevail. I'd like to see, just once, characters who are mature enough to keep working together in spite of emotional injury.

Peter Chung, Monday, 26 December 2016 14:25 (seven years ago) link

This kind of thing is bad form, but I will mention it:
I deliberately played against trope #2 in Firebreather. In my mind, I believed you could wrench greater and more genuine admiration for a character if he rose above emotional injury and stayed loyal.

Duncan's friends, both Kenny and Jenna reject him at a crucial moment. Duncan gets angry and sulks for exactly one minute. He returns and saves those who rejected him, even calling them his friends. It's the emotional high point of the story. I'd imagined it as a stand-up-and-cheer moment and a feel-good scene for the audience. As it plays, it is actually a deeply sad moment, which makes him a stronger hero.

Peter Chung, Monday, 26 December 2016 14:41 (seven years ago) link

One more thing. This is mostly a shot at Disney.
Third act reveal of who the real villain is - it's always the one who first appears warm, friendly and helpful to the hero.
Zootopia, Wreck-It Ralph, Frozen, Big Hero Six.
(Currently living with eight-year old.)

Peter Chung, Monday, 26 December 2016 15:22 (seven years ago) link

"One of the main characters dies. Dead as a doornail. The scene is played to wrench maximum distress from the character's friend and the audience. Then, without fail, he/she comes back to life and everyone's happy again."

Ugh, yes, this always annoys me when it crops up (Guardians Of The Galaxy, I'm looking at you.)

Although something I find just as irritating are the stories that take the opposite tactic, where a major character is shown to have been dead all along and only a dream, hallucination, or memory of another character. I'm really getting tired of this plot device; in the films that resort to it, it's always used for either a cheap twist, or to convey some pseudo-profound moral like "it's good to let go of the past."

(Penguindrum subverted (maybe sidestepped is a better word) this particular trope; just one reason why I adore that show.)

I think of commercial animated and CG-fest live action films as rides. They're safe, well-made, and sometimes a lot of fun, but when the ride is over, that's it. I loved the visuals in Your Name, fr'ex, but I haven't had any strong feelings about Your Name since watching it, and in retrospect it's a totally forgettable film.

There's a recent anime series, From The New World, that did leave a strong impression on me. I can't give it an unqualified recommendation -- it takes the taste for post-Evangelion bleakness to unprecedented levels -- but it managed to knock the emotional stuffing out of me, while at the same time playing against many of my expectations. It wasn't an easy watch, but it stayed with me afterwards like few other shows have.

Blair Gilbreath, Tuesday, 27 December 2016 05:26 (seven years ago) link

The most irksome aspect of the resurrection device is that the character doesn't seem to have had his consciousness altered in any way by the experience of dying.
In both Mission Impossible 3 and Star Trek Into Darkness, Ethan and Kirk both DIE and return to life like it's something they do like washing their hair. In MI3, he just picks up where he left off in the middle of a gun battle.
These aren't near-death experiences, which in real life, change a person's perspective on everything they believed in. They are cheap gimmicks by a storyteller to make the audience admire their hero for putting everything on the line. Except they didn't.

Peter Chung, Tuesday, 27 December 2016 14:00 (seven years ago) link

Well, in the case of Star Trek, it is a franchise that routinely kills off and resurrects its characters.

And hey, it's cool not to be affected by shit. That's the American way.

Backpedaling here: Mulholland Drive used the exact trope I claim to hate, but that film is a work of genius. I guess the difference is that it earns the right to its "twist", instead of forcing it to score cool points.

Blair Gilbreath, Wednesday, 28 December 2016 15:27 (seven years ago) link

two months pass...

While working on a story about finding meaning in a finite existence, I am struck by a brief moment in Prometheus. It's in the midst of the climax, so it passes almost without notice, but it's remarkable.
The captain, Janek, offers to pilot the ship himself, suggesting that his two crew mates could live for up to two years on the lifeboat. They choose not to live, implying that they would find such an existence pointless. It's a poignant moment in a story about a man's quest for immortality.

Peter Chung, Friday, 17 March 2017 21:56 (seven years ago) link

six months pass...

I've read the Glass Key and a handful of Hammett's short stories based on your recommendation Peter. I greatly enjoy the shorts especially (and not just because one of the chase scenes takes them on my street and literally right past my current apartment!), and I'm seeing part of what you're getting at. There's no puzzling over why such and such is happening, except to the extent that there's usually an overall mystery. Similarly, there's a short clip of Trey Parker and Matt Stone (South Park) that became "famous" where they say essentially that all of your key story beats/scenes/sequences/whatever should be connected by a "THEREFORE" or a "BUT", and not an "AND THEN..." (

I've taken all of this into account while writing a screenplay - it's fascinating to say "no wait a minute, this wouldn't be happening - why would the character do this?" and then either figure out why the character would do it or change/cut the scene.

It's also improved how I watch films. On Friday I saw Ferris Bueller's Day Off again for the first time in well over a decade (maybe two), and was highly critical of it for the first 2/3rds. Besides Bueller being a jerk, there are bad motivation, character, and story problems. Their Chicago trip is a series of short episodes largely there just to deliver little gags. Later on the motivations get articulated better, the final third is strong with purpose and momentum, and in retrospect you can forgive the earlier lack of clarity. But I can't help but think that with a couple of weeks of script work it could have been even better. It could be as simple as re-shuffling where and when you expand on the motivations, and connecting the city trip with a few extra lines - have the maitre'd at the fancy restaurant offer them complimentary baseball tickets, for example, or have the infamous school dean character (Jeffrey Jones) more actively on their tails rather than setting him up for one mistaken identity gag.

J.P. McDevitt, Monday, 25 September 2017 05:33 (six years ago) link

The reason The Glass Key had the impact it did was because I'd first read Red Harvest, The Maltese Falcon and The Dain Curse. All of which are more "classical" narratives. The Maltese Falcon has been so influential over the years that you have to imagine being a reader at the time it was published to truly appreciate it as the source of so much that has since become standard narrative strategy. Since you have read The Glass Key, watch Miller's Crossing, one of the best film adaptations of a novel I can think of.

I can't argue that Stone and Parker have found a way to be very prolific and successful by following their path. I have personally never watched anything they've done.
I suppose that for me, the greatest realization I've had is that it isn't the story that matters so much as how you tell it.

Thanks for sticking around. I am (honest!) going to be making a major announcement here soon.

Peter Chung, Saturday, 30 September 2017 18:12 (six years ago) link

The biggest hurdle I have found in getting colleagues and students to understand cinematic storytelling (or drama) is that it must be approached on two levels simultaneously. It isn't enough to convey the story. That is the big picture. At the same time, the story must be embodied in scenes that are engaging on their own, regardless of the plot they serve. It is the attention a director pays to constructing scenes that is crucial to engaging an audience.
The scene must serve the story. That is understood by any director. What many do not grasp is that the story also exists to provide a pretext for a good scene. This is a big part of my complaint about Oshii's GITS.

Conventional wisdom is that general audiences watch films or TV for the story. But that is really only half of the film's task. Generally unspoken is the audience's desire to witness well directed scenes.
A script exists to provide a director with something to direct. If the directing is masterful, an audience will be satisfied, though they may not fully understand why.
It's like the question of whether the brain's purpose is to serve the stomach, or is it the stomach's purpose to serve the brain?
Is the director's job to serve the script, or is it the script's job to serve the director? It is both at once.

Peter Chung, Thursday, 5 October 2017 06:15 (six years ago) link

It's dismaying to see major productions in which the director has made no effort to crafting engaging scenes. Somehow they think that the job need consist of no more than having characters sit around and deliver expositional dialogue. Some recent examples come to mind. David Yates' Harry Potter movies, Francis Lawrence's Hunger Games sequels, animated DVD features of DC comics characters, most Japanese animated features, especially CG films like Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV and Captain Harlock.

Peter Chung, Thursday, 5 October 2017 06:43 (six years ago) link

Heh, I'm glad you made these two follow-up posts, as I wanted to ask exactly what you answered.

For a long time I was on the side of "the story is just BS, the in-between is what's interesting", but I've come around to the value and importance of both.

J.P. McDevitt, Thursday, 5 October 2017 08:13 (six years ago) link

Another recent interview, which was intended as a process-centered discussion on the title sequence. I ended up spouting off a lot of what I've been posting here one these boards.
Drew Neumann also goes into a lot of detail about his working methods. Thanks, Drew.

All of this discussion in work done so long ago would be sad - but....!

Peter Chung, Thursday, 5 October 2017 15:18 (six years ago) link


Looking forward to reading that later, had been wondering about Drew as well recently.

J.P. McDevitt, Thursday, 5 October 2017 16:49 (six years ago) link

Two questions, not particularly interesting ones:

1) Is a Blu-Ray of the AF series in the cards anytime soon or should I just go ahead and get the DVDs, which I never owned?

2) I haven't seen The Demiurge in 10+ years and remember almost nothing about it. Read the script you've posted first, or rewatch and then read?

J.P. McDevitt, Friday, 6 October 2017 04:10 (six years ago) link

1) Get the DVDs, then buy the Blu-Ray if it ever gets made. There are no current plans for it, but it could happen, though not for years.

2) Read the script first. When I wrote it with Steve DeJarnatt, I pictured a very different film than what resulted. Of all the episodes, this is the one I'd love to go back and totally redo. Howard Baker worked hard on it, but, there were censorship restrictions that prevented it from being as intense as it should have been. Especially act one.

Peter Chung, Friday, 6 October 2017 05:26 (six years ago) link

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