“Jim Thompson, Silk King,” Newly Remastered with DVD Extras, Is For Sale

July 29, 2015 § 4 Comments

"Jim Thompson, Silk King"/Copyright 2015 Hope Anderson Productions

“Jim Thompson, Silk King”/Copyright 2015 Hope Anderson Productions

It was my first film, the culmination of years of planning and research as well as my reason for becoming a documentary filmmaker. “Jim Thompson, Silk King” is the story of an American architect-turned military officer who found himself in Thailand at the end of World War II and stayed. Within four years, he made an industry out of Thai Silk, transforming a local handicraft into an international success that lifted 10,000 or so impoverished weavers into prosperity. At the same time, he put Southeast Asian art on the world map by amassing a superb collection of sculpture, paintings, bronzes and china. A few years later, he rescued Thai vernacular architecture from extinction by designing a landmark house in the Bankrua section of Bangkok. (Today the Jim Thompson House is a museum, the second-most visited tourist destination in the Thai capital.) Thompson’s two decades of non-stop achievement in Thailand ended abruptly in 1967, when he vanished without a trace while walking in the Cameron Highlands of Malaysia. It’s an unsolved mystery that remains potent and troubling nearly fifty years later.

The 2015 edition of “Jim Thompson, Silk King” has new music and narration as well as two new DVD extras, one about Jim Thompson’s pre-war architecture in America and the other about my experiences since finishing the original version in 2001. Also included is my 2004 interview with his friend Catherine Bodenstein, a conversation that sheds considerable light on his disappearance.

To order the DVD, please go to http://hopeandersonproductions.com/?page_id=3361

Silence Is Your Answer: Ghosting and the LA No

July 25, 2015 § Leave a comment

Recently the New York Times published an article on ghosting, the phenomenon of ending a friendship or romance by simply halting all communication. The person in question vanishes, becoming a ghost.http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/26/fashion/exes-explain-ghosting-the-ultimate-silent-treatment.html
Various readers wrote in to say this was merely “radio silence” with a new name and the added slight of blocking the ghostee from Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. But I saw it as the social extension of the established and often abrupt entertainment industry practice that signals the official end of interest in a film project or (in the case of actors) person. It’s called the LA No.

I experienced it firsthand in the 90s when, unbeknownst to me, my then-boyfriend showed my novel-in-progress to an agent. Not only did the agent love it but he immediately started casting the movie version: I can see Johnny Depp as the brother! I was baffled and flattered, and then more baffled when the agent stopped returning my boyfriend’s calls. He was never heard from again, so I don’t know what drove his initial enthusiasm, or its demise. (For unrelated reasons, I never finished that novel, though I’ve since written another–more on that later).

Soon after I moved to Beachwood Canyon, my realtor told me about a couple of his clients. They had been living together for two years and were planning to marry and start a family, hence the house hunting. Then the man simply cut off all communication with the woman, who had no idea why: there had been no signs of discord. There was just total–and, as it turns out, permanent–silence.

Over the years I’ve been ghosted by two women, both single friends who ceased to communicate once they were married and had children. Having supported both their marriages, I was pained that this could happen without a word of explanation, much less an argument. Gradually I came to understand that they had no use for a friend who had been close to them in their most discontented single days. Clearly I reminded them of the past, so I accepted it and moved on.

Much to my surprise, I recently ran into one of these women at a wedding, who behaved as if nothing had happened and no time had passed. However, when I pointed out my son, a man she had last seen as a 10-year-old, she was visibly stunned. “Is that his girlfriend?” she asked. “No, his wife–they’ve been married almost five years,” I said. Perhaps she expected a wedding announcement, but it was her silence that precluded it, not mine.

The Folly of Great Expectations: Two Hollywood Stories

July 20, 2015 § Leave a comment

It's Not An Omen/Hope Anderson Productions

It’s Not An Omen/Hope Anderson Productions

Recently a friend of mine told me this story and said I could write about it, as long as I didn’t name names: A foreign writer-director with a single non-prize-winning festival feature under his belt flew in for a series of meetings about his two unproduced scripts, which he said could be made for $1 million and $10 million, respectively. The meetings were so positive that he assumed it was just a matter of deciding which to do first. Good luck with that, I thought. But what really got my attention was his assertion that the $1 million project would be ideal for an international movie star I’ll call Mr. S.

There are few certainties in life, but one of them is that Mr. S–who a few years ago was named the world’s most profitable actor by a professor of statistics, based on his film’s grosses minus his salary–is not going to make a $1 million film, let alone one by an obscure foreign director with no track record. Nevertheless, the director assumed Mr. S would jump at the chance. He was also looking forward to his next trip to town and another round of (no doubt) encouraging meetings.

My friend, an industry veteran and truth teller, said Listen, everyone will be very nice and nothing will happen. Because that’s the way it works here: they kill you with encouragement. TV depictions of Hollywood offices that feature insults, yelling and occasional violence (see “Entourage” and “Californication”) notwithstanding, the norm is polite enthusiasm. And why not? It doesn’t cost anything to be nice. Also, no one wants to be the idiot who passed on the Next Big Thing. But when the encouragement ends, as it inevitably does, it’s not with hard truths but silence. My friend predicts the foreign director will keep returning for meetings until he runs out of money.

My other story of great expectations concerns the same friend and myself. Twenty years ago, we tried to option a first novel by an obscure foreign writer. My friend had access to European funding, I wanted to write the script and we both loved the book, yet the novelist refused our money, turning it down without a counter offer. Why? Because she saw her novel as a major motion picture directed by a big-time Hollywood director whom she favored because he was her countryman. Never mind that her novel was a small, character-driven story with a female protagonist and a Soviet-bloc setting, or that the big-time director was at the end of his career. She was convinced it would be a blockbuster.

Unsurprisingly, the film never got developed, let alone made. I have no idea of what happened to the novelist, but from time to time my friend will say, “Why don’t we try to option it again?” “Forget it,” I always answer, since by now it would be a less relevant period piece, as well as much more expensive to make. Besides, she had her chance.

He Directs, She Directs: Two Films From the LA Film Festival

July 9, 2015 § Leave a comment

Bryan Greenberg and Jamie Chung in "It's Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong"

Bryan Greenberg and Jamie Chung in “It’s Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong”

The contrasting fortunes of male and female film directors are much in the news these days. Thanks to studies by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media http://seejane.org and Women in Film http://www.wif.org it’s no longer possible for executives to shrug off the fact that male first-time directors often get hired to direct studio films while comparable female directors struggle for independent financing. A bright spot in this wildly unequal equation is TV, especially Netflix and cable channels, whose original programming has provided new opportunities for women directors.

None of this was particularly on my mind when I got tickets to two films, one written and directed by a man and the other written and directed by a woman, at the recent LA Film Festival. But because they were like night and day in quality, I couldn’t help wondering how the two directors would fare in their next projects.

I’m not going to name the male-directed film, but it got a big, well-publicized screening at the festival, complete with a director Q & A, and featured some interesting actors. Also on the plus side, it was shot on film and boasted a number of long shots, which are increasingly rare now that everything is made with television in mind. Unfortunately, neither the director nor the DP really knew how to use film–or cameras, for that matter. The advantages of film weren’t evident on the screen, and there was some whipsawing, nauseating camerawork. There was also a glaring misuse of split-screen. As anyone who has ever seen a Doris Day-Rock Hudson movie knows, a split screen is called for when the characters are talking on the phone to each other or doing parallel activities in different locations. But here the director split the screen for two versions of the same shot: one taken from a great distance and one from relatively close by. It was baffling, and it didn’t work. Then there was the sound, which my viewing companion, a distributor, called terrible.

On to the script. There were long Tarantino-esque speeches without the wit, and bursts of David Lynch-ian mystery and violence without the inventiveness. Oddest of all was the lack of clothing on almost all the actresses, and not just the ones working in strip clubs. One woman not only answered the door to a total stranger while bottomless but proceeded to have a long, half-naked conversation with him. Afterwards I overheard a young woman in the ladies’ room sum up the moviegoing experience: “None of those girls had any pants on!”

Fortunately the second film couldn’t have been more different, both in its scope and execution. First-time director Emily Ting made a self-assured debut with “It’s Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong,” a love story reminiscent of “Before Midnight.” The story concerns two chance meetings between Ruby (Jamie Chung), a Chinese-American visitor to Hong Kong, and Josh (Bryan Greenberg), an American banker and longtime Hong Kong resident. During their first meeting, Josh escorts Ruby, who is lost, to her destination. The two strike up a flirtation as they walk and talk, but nothing comes of it because Josh has a serious girlfriend. The second chance meeting takes place a year later, when the two meet on the Star Ferry. Ruby, now living in Hong Kong, is engaged to be married, while Josh has quit his banking job to be a writer, a career change that has strained his relationship with his girlfriend.

Beyond the pitch-perfect script and the charm of the two leads, I was impressed by the technical aspects of the film, which was shot entirely at night in busy public places in Central and Kowloon. Because I was born in Hong Kong and have visited many times since, I know how challenging it was to shoot and record sound amid the omnipresent crowds. (Strangely, most Hong Kong movies and TV shows feature eerily empty public spaces, cleared of people and probably shot at dawn, to create an aspirational and unreal atmosphere.) Despite the many obstacles, everything was done beautifully, lit by neon and recorded by lavaliere mics. As for the script, Richard Linklater has nothing on Emily Ting. “It’s Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong” has some distribution in place, and I hope it gets the audience it deserves.

In comparing these two films, I’m not saying that men make big movies and women make small ones–Richard Linklater and Kathryn Bigelow, among other directors, prove that’s not the case. But I believe that if a woman director had made a movie with as many mistakes as the first one, it wouldn’t have been accepted by a major film festival, let alone been given a splashy premiere.

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