Tag Archives: film

Grazie, Dino

On my first trip out to Los Angeles, I was armed with one name and one meeting: Martha De Laurentiis. Martha and her husband, Dino, ran The Dino De Laurentiis Company out of the former Hitchcock bungalow on the Universal Studios lot. On the day of our meeting, Martha took an hour out of her busy, pre-production schedule to given me advice, make some phone calls, and supply me with more names. She became my mentor. Though I didn’t end up staying in California, Martha and I continued to stay in touch.

During my annual visits in July, it became a tradition to stop by Martha and Dino’s for lunch or dinner and a birthday toast — Martha’s and my birthday are three days apart. Dino would sometimes join us. Our conversations would run the gamut from movies (Italian, American, Japanese, it didn’t matter where they came from, just if they were worth watching) to books, to my former boss and his latest project. Dino would speak mainly in Italian, throwing out a few english words for my benefit. He was sharp, listened to everything and didn’t miss a trick.

One year I asked Martha for a list of Italian films to watch, starting with the neo-realists. In reply to my email, I received a syllabus worthy of a grad school film class. Three years later, I am nearly finished with the list. I’ve discovered some of my favorite films through their recommendations, including L’avventura and Dino’s own heart-breakingly beautiful, Le Notti di Cabiria:

When I traveled to Italy for the first time, Martha and Dino sent me off with a seven page list of where to go/what to do/see/eat in Rome. My family called it The De Laurentiis List and we never deviated from it. We went to some fantastic off-the-beaten path places, in both the heart of the city and the upscale suburban areas, where we ate and drank alongside Romans. We saw Italy through the eyes of an Italian rather than a tourist. In a sense, they gave me the gift of their city. It was one of the best presents I have ever received. Whenever someone I know travels to Italy for the first time, I send them off with a copy of The De Laurentiis List — the best form of re-gifting there is.

This past July was the last time I saw Dino. I went up to the house to meet Martha for lunch and our birthday toast. She was running late. Dino was there, sitting in the darkened living room watching the World Cup on a large screen. I joined him. “Who are we rooting for?” I asked. Dino looked at me. “You don’t follow football, do you,” he half-asked me, pretty much knowing how I would answer. “No, not really.” “Orange,” he said. “We like orange.” Orange was Poland. They were winning. Dino and I sat watching, he broke the silence by occasionally muttering in Italian at the men on the screen, until a player from the orange team head-butted the ball into the goal. Dino let out a cheer as the announcer yelled: “GOALLLLL, GOALLLLL, GOALLLLL!!!!” We watched the replay of the shot, then a replay of the replay. Martha walked in shortly after and I left Dino to cheer on the orange team alone. Our lunch that afternoon was punctuated by background noises: Dino shouting at the TV; the announcer’s “GOALLLL, GOALLLL, GOALLLL!!!” When the game finally ended, Poland had won. Dino was happy. And Martha and I toasted to another good year.

‎”When you are born and when you die…who knows? I don’t know for what this pebble is useful, but it must be useful. For if it’s useless, everything is useless. So are the stars!” – La Strada


Monday’s Watch, Listen, Read

Watch

As evidenced by last Monday’s post, I have a bunch of cool friends doing really awesome things — all of which seem to be happening during the month of September. Galt Niederhoffer is no exception.  Galt is a writer/producer/director and one of the co-founders of Plum Pictures. She’s truly one of my inspirations.

Three years ago, Galt and I met up for lunch. That day, she had just learned St. Martin’s Press was picking up her second book, THE ROMANTICS, and that she was pregnant with her second child. It was truly a day of celebration. We toasted over sandwiches and water. Then, when we went to pay the check, found out a mystery man had already paid for us. We never discovered the identity of the man, but he added a little excitement and intrigue to a convivial lunch.

A year later, we were standing on Chelsea rooftop toasting the publication of THE ROMANTICS. Shortly after, Galt started writing the script based on her novel and, just last year, she was behind the camera directing her film adaptation of THE ROMANTICS. This also happened to be her directorial debut. I cannot imagine how mind-blowing it is to go from the very, very beginning of an idea’s gestation to sculpting the entire journey, by hand. I again raise my (virtual) glass to Galt. To romantic notions, second books and first times, dreams come true, and the greatest feeling of satisfaction. All hugs, my friend.

Listen

This pick comes from the Top 25 Most Played songs on my iTunes. Paul Simon is one of my favorites. He’s more than a musician, he’s a storyteller. Each song is its own short story. Simply beautiful.

Read

To be honest, I have a love/”meh” relationship with Jonathan Franzen’s writing. I like it, but I also really want to edit him. His descriptions are both incredibly detailed and incredibly wordy. It sometimes drive me nuts to read long, drawn-out prose. However, the heart of the story always gets me in the end.

When I attended Franzen’s reading at the Union Square Barnes & Noble last week, his wordiness irritated me a little less than when I read THE CORRECTIONS eight years ago. Either I’m growing up or becoming immune to his overuse of nouns, verbs, and adjectives. Whatever it is, I hope it gets me through the entire book.

An Open Letter From One of Your 51 Percent

After reading Manohla Dargis’ piece in the New York Times and her subsequent interview with Jezebel.com, I felt the need to write the following open letter to the heads of all the feature film studios in the United States.

Dear Sirs (+ the one madam co-chair):

I would like to introduce myself. My name is Ashley, I am one of your customers. One of your 51 percent, to be exact. Ironically, I’m also on the cusp of two age brackets that seem to allude you. Being 28 years old, I’m just edging past your “Twilight” audience and will soon hit your 35+ when-its-a-hit-it-must-be-a-fluke audience. Not only am I one of your customers, but I also happen to be one of you, albeit a very low-level one of you. I feel this puts me in a unique situation, I know your audience because I am your audience; AND, because I’m somewhat of an insider, I’ve struck upon a solution to your problem. A solution that will make you even more money than you’re making now. I’m talking Twilight, The Dark Night, and Mamma Mia kind of money. Believe-it-or-not, it’s not as hard as you think and it’s actually something you know how to do already: make movies. But not just any movies; movies that 51 percent of your audience can relate to and which feature the work of those members of our 51 percent who make their careers in feature film.

Don’t get me wrong, I know you get cross-over audiences. I’m just as likely to see a romantic comedy as I am the next Bourne movie, but I’m even more likely to see a Bourne movie directed by Kathryn Bigelow. I’d probably even go back for seconds if you decided to expand Julia Stiles’ character or give Joan Allen’s more of a back story. Like Bourne, I want to know what taunts them, what makes them tick and what makes them want to find Jason Bourne (because, let’s face it, it’s beyond just their professional duty at this point).

I like stories with style and substance, but I also like action, chase scenes and even my fair share of violence. My favorite movie is “The Silence of the Lambs.” “SOTL” is a great example of how to make a movie that grabs 100 percent of your adult audience: follow the hero’s journey. In this case, the hero just happens to be a 5′ tall heroine and her unlikely leading man is a serial killing cannibal. There’s blood, guts, gore and most importantly, STORY. Both men and women alike invest in these characters because we learn what makes them tick. But women have an extra investment in this particular story (this is the reason why we go back to see it again, recommend it to our friends, buy it, download it, etc.) we see ourselves up on the screen, a lone woman among men in an elevator. Every woman has experienced that moment, just as every woman’s secret desire (like Agent Starling’s) is to save the world.

I also like my romantic comedies to be smart. Yes, I do like to see pretty things and pretty people on a screen, but I’m not an idiot either. I’d trade in a beautiful set and a character’s designer wardrobe for a really good story. Make more movies like “When Harry Met Sally.” Those characters had a story and they had great conversations about things we all discuss at dinner parties or over the phone with friends. Many elements of the script came from actual conversations between Rob Reiner and Nora Ephron. And guess what? That movie appealed to men as well. Why? Two reasons: 1) They saw themselves in Billy Crystal: he is the every man and he got the girl; 2) Insight into women. Yes, we sometimes fake orgasms. Now you know.

The “Buddy Movie” (now recoined as the “Bromance” or “A Judd Apatow”) We, the 51 percent of your audience, have only one of these movies to stick a flag in and call our own: “Thelma and Louise.”  This movie was made in 1991. Oh, wait, there was another female buddy movie! In 2002, producer Cathy Konrad put out a hilarious flick (penned by Nancy Pimental) called “The Sweetest Thing.” I was in college. I saw it two times on opening weekend with seven other female friends. It still remains the closest we’ll ever get to “The Hangover” for women. Speaking of which, if  “The Hangover” was pitched with an entirely female cast, it would never have gotten made. Though I have no doubt there would have been an audience for it — made up of both genders.

The drama (aka “The Oscar movie” or “The Meryl Streep”). In their current state, these movies have a slightly better shot at appealing to me and my fellow 51 percenters because they feature more screen time for women (usually women who can no longer wrinkle their foreheads, but that’s a different letter for another day). The funny thing about these movies is that they’re rarely directed and/or written by women. Though I love men who can write wonderful parts for women (hello, Michael Cunningham), they are not women, and, as such, they will always leave the character with an unexplored territory. It’s one thing for a woman to be mysterious, but another thing to leave 51 percent of us knowing there is so much more to the story that needs to be told. “The Hours” has a great scene which touches upon this, when Clarissa Vaughn talks to her daughter about a moment in her youth:

“I remember one morning getting up at dawn, there was such a sense of possibility. You know, that feeling? And I remember thinking to myself: So, this is the beginning of happiness. This is where it starts. And of course there will always be more. It never occurred to me it wasn’t the beginning. It was happiness. It was the moment. Right then.”

Contained within those lines are two potential movies for two generations of women, “the sense of possibility” movie, reaching audiences from their late teens – 30s, and “the moment looking back” movie, for the 40/50/60 female audience. I want to know what that woman sees as both a 20-something and then as a 50-something woman. Romantic comedies offer shades of these moments as well, though they are even fewer and farther between.

I believe women go to rom coms and dramas because they crave any glimmer of seeing their lives reflected back at them, no matter how fleeting of a moment it may be. We women store up a mosaic of these moments and play them back in our minds when we need them. A “greatest hits” if you will. They are our touchstone, our reminder that we are seen, we are remembered; we do serve a purpose. But wouldn’t it be even better if we didn’t need a highlights reel? If the marquee at our local theaters advertised movies where we saw ourselves and our husbands/boyfriends/friends/girlfriends/teens depicted by someone like us who knows the way we think, the way we see, who gives us not “women’s movies” but movies from our perspective? And, maybe even a woman who gives us male viewpoints just as dramatically or funny as the Michael Manns or Judd Apatows of the world, but from a fresh perspective.

I am one of your 51 percent. And, I am also your colleague. I want to see a reflection of myself on a screen just as much as I want to see my name in the credits. I am a part of both sides of this letter. And, I will keep moving forward both from my seat and on a set, until my voice is heard. Because when it finally is, there will be 51 percent of the world’s population behind it. I hope you start listening.

-Ashley Van Buren