Last night was a big night for "The Envelope" - a publication established four years ago by the Los Angeles Times - to focus solely on all the Oscar hoopla when it ceremoniously arrives on our doorstep at the end of each film year.
Although "The Envelope" is a mainstay insert throughout the year (with a slim version featured each week) the 1st full-scale edition for the 2009 Oscar Awards will be unveiled this coming Thursday (collector's bill-of-fare?).
The Landmark Theatre screening turned out to be a bit of a coup for the publishers, too.
After all, in addition to wowing audiences with a screening of "Fantastic Mr. Fox" a couple of days ago (and treating film buffs to an enteraining Q & A session with gifted director Wes Anderson (with actor Jason Schwartzman in tow. Story link below) the aggressive team downtown managed to squeeze in a preview of the highly-touted Sci-Fi thriller "District 9".
The handsome creative team (director Neill Blomkamp & screenwriter-wife Terri Tatchell) were on hand to respond to questions at the end of the credits much to the delight of die-hard fans.
But, there was a lot of excitement in the plush Theatre surroundings before that highlight moment arrived.
Theatre-goers were taken by surprise when they found themselves being filmed for a "streaming video" that the LA Times staff were capturing in real time to feed back to their highly-rated (ever-expanding) web portal.
Yes, once-crusty old newsmen - who used to hammer out features on old stand-up Remingtons or IBM typewriters - are now blossoming online in the technologically-advanced era of laptops, computer-speak, and muti-rich media.
At heady events like those ushered into the local cinema last eve, journalists rubbed shoulders with the power elite who tirelessly oil the Hollywood dream factory day-in and day-out (a far-cry from reporting off-the-cuff on the sidelines of the industry while holed-up in a stuffy office somewhere).
There may be a danger in that, though.
When there is too much stardust in the eyes, it is wholly possible that even the movers and shakers at a powerful media hub, are likely to be too blinded by all the razzle-dazzle (unduly influenced) for their own good sake.
Surely you will concur that the question of ethics in journalism is bound to rear its ugly head in the event a media outlet intentionally jumps into bed with a sponsor (or the subject of a profile or feature story).
Ah, dashed hopes and good intentions!
Robert Horn, a columnist at the paper who pens articles on film and the industry in general, fielded a number of insightful questions the filmmakers way which rustled up a lot of useful fodder.
For this fly-on-the-wall outfit, at least!
Yes, I ventured into enemy territory (the competition?), half-expecting a dollop or two of flack (or at least a nasty sideways-glance or two).
But, guess what?
I was welcomed into the fold with open arms instead!
In sum, all things considered (and in view of the voluminous number of credits that crawled aross the screen for twenty minutes or so at the conclusion of the film) the well-received thriller (with a sinister plot twist Sci-Fi fans will gleefully mull over) appears to have been quite the collaborative effort.
The husband and wife team were the major creative forces behind the $30 million Tri-Star release, though.
Some industry-insiders may recall that Blomkamp was in the throes of directing the big-budget studio offering "Halo" (with Peter Jackson of "Lord of the Rings" fame at the helm) when it was axed just six months into production.
"District" was on the shelf for a dozen years or so before the opportunity surfaced to develop it into a full-fledged studio release.
Originally, the fantasy yarn set in the far-off future, was a short insightful film titled “Alive in Jo’burg".
In the words of director Blomkamp:
"Jo’burg was purely messing around on an artistic level. So, I was aware of the fact that I had worked on it like a piece of artwork and shelved it. Never once did it occur to me that I was doing it to try and make a feature film out of it. I don’t even know why that didn’t occur to me at the time. It just didn’t. So I put it on a shelf.”
The Chicago Times reported as follows:
“District 9” is easily one of the most daring, inventive, and original films of the year, a thrill ride through a talented new filmmaker’s unique vision of an alternate universe where the aliens haven’t just landed, they’ve been here for years."
The film opens with news reel footage twenty years into the future.
Blomkamp revealed to the Chicago Times writer that he purposefully left a lot of unanswered questions about the aliens including where they came from, why they’re stranded here, and even the name of their species.
For me, this was the most troubling part of the film, because it was sloppy (didn't make any logical sense at times) and poorly executed.
In spite of these flaws in reasoning, Blomkamp insisted:
"The back story for [the aliens] was worked out. Going forward, what happens next, I don’t know. I have no idea. But, going backwards I do know.”
One of the actors - a childhood friend (Sharlto Copley) - was a revelation in an interview that was conducted elsewhere on the media trail.
Copley disclosed that all of his dialogue was improvised, for instance.
“There’s a script but Neil works within a structure,” noted Copley.
”This is what needs to happen in the scene - go there, evict the guy, pull the guy outside, go inside and see the computers.”
"And then, I’ll work with Jason and improvise and keep throwing stuff, throwing different options. Physically, you’ve got to be aware of where you’re moving for continuity. Once we get something down, then I can change the lines, but try and be IN the shack at this point in the scene so that it will cut with other runs. It was a fascinating filmmaking process. It was very different from the way people normally do it.”
The articlate well-spoken Blomkamp (except for the occasional expletive deletive tossed in now and then which underscored his passion for the medium) is not that "commercially" motivated, by the way, when it comes to filmmaking.
During the thought-provoking Q & A session at the Landmark Theatre, he noted for the record, that his creativity was always triggered by the artistic possibilities of a project and was not swayed by the temptation of the root of all evil (money).
Even at this juncture, when a scene onscreen last night begged a sequel and untold riches in its wake, Blomkamp was keen on maintaining his integrity.
"I never thought of a sequel. Even so, I am starting a project that will tie me up for two years, so a sequel would have to wait 'til that film is wrapped."
Bomkamp - who has had the good fortune to be blessed with fawning patrons tossing alot of moolah his way ($100 million for the ill-fated "Halo" and $30 mil for "District') - is reluctant to be seduced by the charms, excesses, and glamour of Hollywood also.
Probably because he is a fellow Canuck.
We are such a sensible lot!
Of course, there are always the deep pockets at the National Film Board to fall back on, in the event of impending disaster.
When Horn quizzed the down-to-earth director about his influences in the film arena, there was no hesitation when it came to responding.
"James Cameron. Aliens is my favorite film."
As to the creative team itself, it was pretty much a give-and-take, with the young happily-married couple.
Each drew from their own experiences in South Africa (where the film is set).
In one instance, a conflict arose in respect to one character slated for development.
When Tatchell hatched up the idea for an alien child to be featured in the main plotline, Neill didn't warm up to the scenario too easily.
In fact, the director wanted to nuke him for dramatic relief.
The audience roared!
Tatchell admitted, somewhat sheepishly, that she felt a fool when it was pointed out at one screening that there appeared to be similarities between District 9 and a well-known Steven Spielberg project.
"You know, the one about the child who wants to go home," she giggled.
Horn piped up wickedly.
"I expect it did not escape the attention of Spieilberg's lawyers!"
Yeah, it smacked of E.T. a tad.
Surprisingly, Blomkamp is quite budget-conscious.
When developing the alien creatures for the screen, for example, he was keen on facilitating materials less-senstivie to the light which would be cheaper in the overall scheme of things.
The studios are going to love that kid, just betcha!
*A review of District 9 follows in a day or two.