Saturday, October 10, 2015


Excerpts from Open: An Autobiography by Andre Agassi

Page 8
"It's no accident, I think, that tennis uses the language of life. Advantage, service, fault, break, love, the basic elements of tennis are those of everyday existence, because every match is a life in miniature. Even the structure of tennis, the way the pieces fit inside one another like Russian nesting dolls, mimics the structure of our days. Points became games become sets become tournaments, and it's all so tightly connected that any point can become the turning point. It reminds me of the way seconds become minutes become hours, and any hour can be our finest. Or darkest. It's our choice."

Page 154
"How lovely it is to dream while you are awake. Dream while you're awake, Andre. Anybody can dream while they're asleep, but you need to dream all the time, and say your dreams out loud, and believe in them."

Page 213
"I'm on Becker's side of the draw. If everything goes according to Brad's plan, I'll face Becker in the semis. Then, Pete. I think: If only, when we're born, we could look over our draw in life, project our path to the final."

Page 265
"After dinner Mandela stands and gives a stirring talk. His theme: we must all care for one another - this is our task in life. But also we must care for ourselves, which means we must be careful in our decisions, careful in our relationships, careful in our statements. We must manage our lives carefully, in order to avoid becoming victims. I feel as if he's speaking directly to me, as if he's aware that I've been careless with my talent and my health."

Page 294
"I'm in the round of sixteen at the French Open for the first time since 1995. My reward is Carlos Moyá, the defending champion.

Not to worry, Brad says. Even though Moyá's the champ, and real good on the dirt, you can take away his time. You can bull-rush him, stand inside the baseline, hit the ball early and apply pressure. Go after his backhand, but if you have to bring it to his forehand, do it with purpose, with heat. Don't just go there - drive it hard up Main Street. Make him feel you.

In the first set, it's me feeling Moyá. I lose the set fast. In the second set I fall down two breaks. I'm not playing my game. I'm not doing anything Brad said to do. I look up to my box and Brad screams: Come on! Let's go!

Back to basics. I make Moyá run. And run. I establish a sadistic rhythm, chanting to myself: Run, Moyá, run. I make him run laps. I make him run the Boston Marathon. I win the second set, and the crowd is cheering. In the third set I run Moyá more than I've run the last three opponents combined, and suddenly, all at once, he's cooked. He wants no part of this. He didn't sign on for anything like this."

I loved this book. I think it'll became one of my faves, and its probably the one of the best autobiographies I've read so far.

There were moments I really enjoyed and that made me laugh. Primarily Agassi's crush on Steffi Graf and his courtship of her, and how he and his team would talk about her day and night and help him strategize. It was great fun to read.

It's also clear that Andre has very loyal people around him. And that Andre is so very, very human. One of the best athletes in the world in his time yes, but very human.

I can get very inspired by athletes, primarily by tennis players. When I watch them play, I understand that they got to where they are through pure hard work and dedication. Day in, day out, year after year after year, they keep at it. They have to condition their body and mind constantly. They inspire to get my head straight and put the work in that I need to do for my own craft.

What I like most about Agassi, and also about my fave player, Andy Murray, is that both have been through so many mental struggles, and they survived, and thrived even. Their struggles affect their game. But they were able to fight through and succeed. Murray is at a similar place to where Agassi was before he started winning slams again. I hope Andy, like Andre, is also able to pull through and claim trophies again.

If you're a tennis fan, read Open.

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Effie Brown, Project Greenlight, NYFF Live panel "New Hollywood?"

With the sort of filmmaker I am (woman, poc, etc, etc) I follow the discussions and debates on the lack of diversity in the American film industry. In the last month or so things have really kicked up with the #damonsplaining diversity on Project Greenlight, and his more recent tone-deaf and hypocritical statements in saying that gay actors shouldn't out themselves. Matt Damon, I used to be a fan, but no more. And I'm not the only one.

While I'm no longer a Damon fan, Goddamn I am a newly-minted Effie Brown fan. I am so, so happy she is holding things down on Project Greenlight. Her presence as the ONLY poc in the room in those meetings, and usually also the only woman, shows in stark light the racism and sexism that's at play everyday in the industry. Every damn day. Project Greenlight has become so engrossing this season precisely because we're getting to see the real rubbish that happens behind the scenes. In how people don't respect Effie and try to circumvent her, do her job for her, that she knows how to do and is doing, in claiming that she has a temper, etc etc. Its rubbish, but Effie knows what's up, and she'll do her job and she'll also be the one who makes sure not everyone on set is white.

The contestant winner Jason Mann is just awful. Extremely entitled, clueless, who won't compromise on anything and who will play dirty to get what he wants, such as complaining to Matt and Ben about his producer and not getting to shoot on film. In episode 4, they are one week away from shooting, and they have no locations, and no cast. I haven't made a feature yet but even I know, that's a recipe for disaster. When I'm making a film, I wanna be as prepped as I can be, and that includes knowing my locations inside out, and getting my cast ready. You can't just throw in your actors at the last minute. Actors make your film. Without actors, you have no damn film. Put your cast together and spend time with them, making sure they know their characters. To me, when you're directing, you're directing the camera, and the actors. Directing the camera means working on everything that's in the frame, but you also gotta direct your actors, coz if they fall apart, so does the film.

So what does Jason do a week away from shooting? Ask again if he can shoot on film instead of digital. Forget making a shotlist, or even choosing a location for a shotlist, forget having a cast - nope, this brat wants to shoot on film. As if shooting on film, is going to make everything magical.

I'm not the only who dislikes Jason. Here's the AV Club:
"It’s a fascinating dilemma. Is The Leisure Class really going to look so much better on film that it’s going to be worth it for Jason to risk not getting the shots he needs? Shooting on video saves time anyway, so with two extra days to shoot he’d be much more likely to have the time to set up the shots he wants, light them to his specifications, and so on. In other words, there’s more to the “look” of a movie than simply the format it’s shot in. By choosing film, Jason isn’t necessarily making the choice that will result in a better-looking movie.

Unsurprisingly, though, he does choose film. Also unsurprisingly, Effie thinks he’s made the wrong choice, saying “he’s not interested in serving the film if he’s giving up more days.” That remains to be seen, but only if Jason actually chooses a location to shoot in. Again he sidesteps Effie, as well as location scout Alison, and goes out to look at a house found by the production designer, Cecil. It would have been interesting to see how this played out if Jason actually liked the house, but he doesn’t, so it just sort of fizzles out. Still, Jason is not doing a great job of creating an atmosphere of trust with his crew so far. Finally, he has to pick somewhere to shoot, so he settles on the Douglas Fairbanks house they could have chosen weeks earlier.

This gets to the heart of why, even for those of us inclined to side with the director over the suits, Jason is so hard to root for. It’s not just that he’s unproven and we basically have to take his talent on faith, but that he comes off as so ungrateful for all the concessions he has gotten, even saying at one point, “We’re already so compromised.” Think of one of the rare times Jason didn’t get his way, back on day one when he wanted to fire Pete Jones. Now he finds Pete so indispensable, he balks when Pete has to leave the project as scheduled because his contract is up. If he was wrong about Pete, maybe he’s wrong about other things, too, and maybe he should be a little more open to listening to the people who are more experienced. That’s not compromising your artistic integrity, it’s giving yourself a better chance to succeed. With the cameras about ready to roll, we’ll soon see if Jason’s stubbornness can survive an unforgiving feature film production schedule."

Because of Effie Brown I went today to the NYFF 53, NYFF Live "New Hollywood?" panel at the Lincoln Center. The presenter said this panel came about because of the recent eruption that #damonsplaining caused. There have been endless articles and panels about the lack of racial and gender diversity in the film industry, so I wondered, what am I going to get out of this one? But I went coz of Effie. I sat in the middle of the second row, because I wanted to be visible, and I got smiles from Effie Brown and Susan Lewis. :-D

I thought this blog post was just going to be notes I posted from the panel, but I'll just point out a few things that were said:
- The panelists said something I had been thinking, which is that the TV landscape today is much more inclusive than the film world. There are far more women/poc/queer characters on TV, both network and online, than in film, and behind the camera TV is more inclusive as well, think of the showrunners. I'm using the word inclusive rather than diverse, because "diverse" is played out and exasperating for many people. TV still has a ways to go of course but its much further along than film. One of the panelists remarked that film might become more like theatre, a rarefied art form for white people. Sigh.
- Social media is actually a gamechanger. Studios and major figures can't get away with their crap as much anymore, because they get called out on it. Recent examples are of course, the Damonsplaining, as well as  Aloha, and the James Bond author calling Idris Elba too "street" for the role.
- The international market might become a bigger play. Studios might try to get more foreign locations/actors/stories - on the flipside though its been long said that studios think only films with white male leads get tickets sold abroad. However, Fast and Furious 7 made over a billion $.
- A white guy who's made a little film will get hired to make a massive feature. It happens all the time. All the time. A woman? Practically never. Even a woman with a great track record. White guys get chances, the rest of us, don't.

Further comments on the panel are posted here by the Guardian. 

I'd like to zoom out though. Yeah, there aren't enough women in film here. The racism and sexism in the American film industry mirrors what we see in society at large. But I know there's more than one film industry. In the Arab world and in South Asia, there are many women writing and directing films, calling the shots. There's still not enough, but the numbers are better than here.

And the problem of not enough women behind the camera starts at a young age. Over this past summer I was an instructor at a summer youth filmmaking camp in Tribeca, consisting of middle-schoolers. The program I was involved in, had each kid write and direct their own film in one month. There were about 20 kids, split into 3 groups, I had seven kids in my group. Out of those 20 kids, there were 4 girls. 4, out of 20. These kids, were given an incredible opportunity at such a young age, to write and direct their own short film, with good equipment. To be artists, to be visionaries, writers, directors, filmmakers. And yet there's 4 girls and 16 boys. Why? Were other young girls discouraged from participating? And if so, why?

This gender discrepancy I saw in front of me, mirrors the industry at large, and it showed to me, how this gender bias starts at a young age, with all of us complicit.