The orgiast: an interview with Joe Dante (part one)

Dante in 2009

  • Dante in 2009

This weekend director Joe Dante will be in town to introduce three of his films, each of which comes from a very different phase of his career. On Saturday Dante will host a screening of his first film, The Movie Orgy (1968), at the Nightingale. An epic found-film collage originally designed as a happening for college campuses, it represents Dante’s love of old movies and American kitsch in general in its purest state. On Friday he’ll be at the Music Box to introduce a midnight screening of Gremlins 2: The New Batch, made during the height of his success as a studio filmmaker, and a 9:30 PM screening of The Hole, a 2009 horror comedy that was produced independently. Last week I spoke with Dante—along with local programmer Gabe Klinger, who organized the screenings—about these three films. I knew it was going to be a good interview when Dante told me he’d been a fan of the Reader since the 1970s, and, sure enough, he proved an engaging and gracious subject. Following the jump is the first part of our conversation, which concerns The Hole, shooting in 3-D, and the challenges of working for Hollywood studios. I’ll post our discussion of The Movie Orgy (and Dante’s gratitude to Schlitz Beer) tomorrow.

Ben Sachs: How did this event come to be? What made you decide to show these three particular films?

Joe Dante: The event started out with just The Movie Orgy and Gremlins 2 because [Gremlins 2] is one of my favorite movies that I’ve done. Then I found out that The Hole, which has been on the shelf for a couple of years, is about to open theatrically in Atlanta and on Video on Demand in September. So I got the idea to call the company and ask if it was OK to run The Hole here in Chicago as the midwest premiere.

Why has The Hole been held up?

Dante: It’s really my fault. When I was engaged to shoot the movie, I convinced the producers to [let me] shoot it in digital 3-D. And they did their due diligence; they checked around to see what the competition was [for 3-D movies] and how many theaters could show it. But this was four years ago. A lot of theaters hadn’t converted [to digital projection] yet… We also didn’t realize when we were making the picture that this new fad of fake 3-D [movies shot in 2-D but retrofitted in post-production] would be coming down the pike. So now there were all these previously unannounced major movies that were suddenly in 3D. And they took up all the theaters, all the air in the room. And our little picture with no movie stars found itself standing at the gate with no screens available.

This sort of built up for a while. [The producers] tried to find a distributor and that fell through; and before you know it, people were, like, “That’s an old movie. We don’t want to show it.” So it just missed its chance—largely, because it was in 3-D. Now, ironically, the version that will be playing in Chicago is not in 3-D.

What do you think of the film in 2-D?

Dante: The only time I’ve seen it in that format was when I was editing it. I’ve never actually sat through an entire screening in 2-D. I think it will be fine, but it was really intended to be a 3-D movie—and you don’t make a 3D movie quite the same way you make a 2-D movie. Cutting is particularly different in 3-D, because you have to watch for a lot of optical issues.

Gabe Klinger: I heard that when you shot The Hole, you used 3-D screens to visualize [the finished product] as you were working.

From The Hole

  • From The Hole

Dante: Yes, we could see it in 3-D while we were shooting, so it was easier to make adjustments. You could do a certain amount of the stereopticon work right there on the set, placing objects either further away or closer to the camera.

Was that your first time working in 3-D?

Dante: No, I had made a film called The Haunted Lighthouse for Busch Gardens Entertainment, which is a theme park, and that was in 4-D. Now, 4-D is the same as 3-D, except that they also drop water on you, in the great William Castle tradition. It was shot in a 70-millimeter process—we shot it on two 70-millimeter cameras strapped together. That gives you a wonderful image, but, on the set, [the rig] is like a Buick. You need, like, eight grips to move it. And it’s also really loud, so you have to loop the whole picture. It’s a technology that I think is no longer in use today.

I take it that the Red allowed you to shoot more freely.

Dante: Digital 3-D is a huge leap forward from film 3-D—and I say this as a big fan of film 3-D. I saw those movies when I was a kid, and I’ve gone to all the 3-D festivals here in LA. But there are inherent problems with the technology. The film isn’t steady in the gate [of the camera]. It weaves when you’re shooting the movie and it weaves when you’re projecting the movie. So it’s difficult for your eyes to stabilize the images. With digital, everything is rock-steady; so the depth-of-field and the sharpness of the image are much more reliable. When used correctly, it’s the best we’ve ever had.

Do you have any favorite 3-D movies?

Dante: My absolute favorite is Dial M for Murder, because it’s essentially a photographed stage play. But its use of space is so much more sophisticated than the early attempts of throwing rocks at the camera. Ironically, by the time that picture was finished, 3-D was dying out—particularly among what was known as the “class trade.” So when that picture opened, the grosses were low until they got rid of the 3-D print and created a 2-D print; then the grosses went up. It sounded the death knell of a fad that people had, A, grown tired of, and, B, suffered from seeing in improper presentation.

As for my other favorites, there’s a movie called Inferno, which is about a guy who’s dropped into the desert to die by his wife and her lover; Robert Ryan’s in that. That makes tremendous use of the desert space. And, of course, The Creature From the Black Lagoon is a great 3-D movie because any 3-D movie with no horizon line means the filmmakers have the opportunity to take the contents of the screen and put them right in the third row.

The Creature From the Black Lagoon

  • The Creature From the Black Lagoon

You’ve been associated with special effects for a long time—pretty much since Gremlins in 1984. Do you find that the effects have shaped your working methods?

Dante: Those [Gremlins] movies were both defined by the limitations of the technology at the time. There are things we would have loved to have [the Gremlins] do that we couldn’t have them do. By the time of the second movie, the technology had improved to the point where we could show Gizmo’s whole body—so we could have him walking and dancing—and we had a Gremlin who could talk. Those developments opened the door for a lot of new jokes.

I think the reason why there hasn’t been a third [Gremlins movie] is that now, with the advent of CGI, there’s really no structure to what you can do. Anything’s possible. But if anything’s possible, then everything’s possible.

Klinger: You did end up working with CGI on Small Soldiers and Looney Tunes: Back in Action.

Dante: In a way, Small Soldiers is like “Gremlins 3″ and Looney Tunes is like “Gremlins 4.”

Klinger: Looney Tunes seems to have a lot in common with Gremlins 2 . . .

Dante: Yes, it does. Because it’s a cartoon movie, it’s a gagfest. Not having a particularly strong story, it just goes from gag to gag and location to location. It’s not a particularly compelling narrative, but, of course, that’s not where the charm of the movie is supposed to lie.

Klinger: How was making those films different from making Gremlins 2? Effects technology changed a lot in the decade after you made that movie, as did studio filmmaking on the whole.

Dante: Well, the new technology actually makes things much easier. I mean, if Looney Tunes had been done at the same time as [Who Framed] Roger Rabbit, it would have been the same nightmare that Roger Rabbit was. All of those on-set things that had to be done and animated over, we didn’t have to do any of them. With the advent of CGI, you just shoot the background, and then the CGI people come in.

On Small Soldiers, we were planning to use a lot of Stan Winston’s puppets—he had made some very elaborate puppets that could do a lot of things. But in practice, we found it was much simpler and cheaper to let the CGI people do the work after we’d shot the scenes. So, I would say, it’s one-third puppetry and the rest CGI in Small Soldiers, even though the original idea was to do mostly puppetry.

From Looney Tunes: Back in Action

  • From Looney Tunes: Back in Action

By the time we got to Looney Tunes—because the characters are cel animated—we would shoot each scene three times. First we’d rehearse with a stand-in—a “stuffy,” we called it. Then, we’d shoot the scene without anything in it; then, we’d shoot the scene again with this mirror ball in the shot which shows the computers where the light sources are. Then the animators would go to work and put characters into the frame. The problem with that movie came when the studio [executives] started to get tired of our jokes and wanted us to change them. But, of course, the animation is done to the voices and not the other way around. It was difficult trying to convince them that you don’t just bring in 25 gag writers and try to write a joke that’s short enough to put in somebody’s mouth.

Did you really have 25 gag writers on Looney Tunes: Back in Action?

Dante: Yes, even though there’s only one credited writer.

What’s that like?

Dante: It’s not fun.

Ascendant Engineering Solutions to Present New Gimbal Technology at AUVSI Unmanned Systems North America 2012

AUSTIN, TX–(Marketwire -08/07/12)-
Ascendant Engineering Solutions (AES) is in Las Vegas this week exhibiting at the AUVSI Unmanned Systems North America 2012 Conference. Along with profiling AES’s contract engineering services to this key, target market, AES will be presenting multiple, recently developed ‘gimbal’ stabilized platforms for both defense and film industry applications.

While at AUVSI, AES is leveraging SBIR Phase II contract to develop MSGLPS (Miniature Stabilized Gimbal Laser Pointing Systems) prototype for small UAVs that was awarded on July 26, 2012. The target platform for this payload is hand tube launched UAVs used in military surveillance applications. AES is actively soliciting interest from Tier1 DoD contractors that are interested in supporting this Air Force program. This gimbal represents a leap in capabilities over existing small UAV payloads by including a 1.064µ Laser, a SWIR Imager, a EO/Visible Sensor, and a Target Tracker… all in a 3″ diameter X 4″ high stabilized platform. Similar, larger systems are used by the military across the globe, where image sensors, targeters, trackers are deployed in small to large manned and unmanned aerial vehicles.

AES will also be profiling in their booth a gimbal system that was developed for an AES client, Cineron, for use in the film industry. This gimbal provides the leading edge capability to carry Red Epic/Scarlet cameras on a stabilized platform underneath 6′ long remote control helicopters used in Hollywood and the film industry for capturing aerial footage.

The conference is produced by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems (AUVSI), the world’s largest nonprofit organization devoted exclusively to advancing the unmanned systems and robotics community. The AES team is positioned at Booth number 5128.

In 2011, AES ( was widely praised for its introduction of the Small Arms Weapon Shock Simulator (WSS), a product purchased by the U.S. Army as well as other branches of the military and government contractors.

Company officials are equally optimistic about the MSGLPS platform, which will profiled in front of more than 8,000 attendees and 500 exhibitors from more than 40 countries.

“AUVSI Unmanned Systems NA 2012 is a great stage as an entry point to further our reach into defense and commercial applications for our gimbal systems,” said Jon Noeth, co-founder and President of the company. “Given the fact that AES-developed gimbal systems have already been deployed in select situations and continue to exceed expectations, we anticipate to expand on our success moving into 2013.”

The WSS and the company have been featured in articles in Design World, the Austin American-Statesman, and KVUE, the local ABC affiliate in Austin.

About AES

AES was founded in 2004 by six partners, each bringing a different area of engineering expertise to the field. They believed that by integrating their diversity of knowledge, they could open up new avenues for collaboration and innovation. So they envisioned a new kind of engineering firm, one that embraced a culture of cross-disciplinary interaction and research. Drawing on 100 years of combined experience, the founding partners transformed that concept into a successful engineering firm, and AES was born.

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Keira Knightley: One of Hollywood’s epic beauties

Keira KnightleyKeira Knightley

As the trailer for Keira’s latest movie, Anna Karenina, splashes across the Internet, we are reminded of how flawless Knightley’s skin, hair, face, okay everything is. Though Keira has breathtaking looks, her teeth are not perfect, which we like about her. Of course when you have cheekbones like that, you could have a mouth full of Chiclet© teeth and few would notice. While Keira’s beauty is era-spanning, we suspect our foresisters were a big chubbier than Keira since they mostly ate, sat, ate, sat, ate, sewed, ate, played the piano and ate.

scarlett JohanssonScarlett Johansson

Her face is angular and delicious, as Sprockets from SNL would say. Her cheekbones look genetically engineered and it’s just not right that her lips, chest and her a** are voluptuous. Where’s the justice in that? There isn’t any. When you can put a checkmark by every beauty feature that women covet the world over, you can play any role, from any time period. In fact, you can sit in front of a movie camera for two hours, do nothing, and it would still be a blockbuster. Scarlett proved this in The Other Boleyn Girl when she made all of us wish that floor-length bodice-busters would come back in style. Oh well. Maybe she has a large, unsightly, hairy mole on her back or perhaps she has an extra toe. We can only hope.

gwyneth PaltrowGwyneth Paltrow

Guinevere, oh Guinevere. Even Gywneth’s name has a medieval royalty ring to it. With her lithe figure (how we love to hate her for that) and her natural, makeup-free beauty (yep, we love to hate her for that, too), she’s another effortless beauty who can play the girl next door or William Shakespeare’s love. “It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night like a rich jewel in an Ethiope’s ear.” Whatever the hell that means. All we know is Gwyneth was meant for the big screen — yesterday, today and tomorrow.

kate winsletKate Winslet

We don’t know if it’s the British accent, the perfectly oval face, the porcelain skin or that romance-novel red ringlets she used to wear that gave Kate such a Victorian aura. Whatever it is, she looks like she should be ruling a kingdom of adoring subjects. We will forever love her for her sassy portrayal of Rose from The Titanic, especially when she popped off and said, “I see you had that undertaker of a manservant follow me,” and “Oh stop it, Mother. You’ll give yourself a nosebleed.” That’s our Kate — feisty and forever fabulous.

Cate BlanchettCate Blanchett

This Cate transcends time and place with her doe-eyed, highbrow loveliness. Long hair, short hair, blonde hair, red hair — it matters not what Cate does, she never loses her regal and supreme queenly countenance. Let’s hope casting directors for the next Phillipa Gregory movie remember Cate when it’s time to hire cinematic royalty.

Images courtesy of

Guillermo del Toro: ‘Pacific Rim’ Is NOT Japanese Monster Movie Homage; No 3D

guillermo del toro pacific rim

Many people who’ve been following development on Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim have pointed out the surface similarities to popular anime series Neon Genesis Evangelion. Del Toro’s film pits building-sized robots called Jaegers (controlled by two soldiers who must form an intimate melding of minds, to work in unison) against gargantuan monsters known as Kaiju, who invade Earth through an inter-dimensional rift.

The original Pacific Rim script draft penned by Travis Beacham (a co-writer on Clash of the Titans) has been retooled to better fit del Toro’s interests, according to the fan-favorite filmmaker of Blade II, Hellboy, and Pan’s Labyrinth. Furthermore, del Toro announced at Comic-Con that Pacific Rim does not reuse archetypal monsters from mythology, anime, or Japanese monster cinema (Godzilla movies, being the obvious example).

We’ve nonetheless been operating under the assumption that Pacific Rim serves as a direct homage to those old-fashioned monster films, borrowing stylistic elements and rejuvenating tired tropes from the genre (similar to what Quentin Tarantino does). Del Toro informed Hero Complex that’s not the case, saying:

“I felt there was a chance to do something fresh, something new that at the same time was conscious of the heritage, but not a pastiche or an homage or a greatest hits of everything. One of the first things I did is make it a point to not check any old movies or any other references. Like start from scratch.”

Beacham’s intent, of course, remains open for interpretation, as it’s possible the screenwriter’s original artistic vision was that Pacific Rim would be closer to a live-action NGE movie. Del Toro is renowned for crafting some of the more memorably twisted and demented screen creatures in recent film history; with Pacific Rim, he hopes to maintain his originality while paying respect to the Kaiju sub-genre (and not just copying what’s been done before).

Spanish-language site Uruloki spoke recently with del Toro, where the director elaborated on his intention to produce Kaiju that only loosely imitate the traditional designs featured in Japanese pop culture (while also delivering a final film that’s very much its own beast):

“At [the table for ‘Pacific Rim’] were very clear ideas-for example, have the appearance of the Kaiju, admitted to some extent the idea of “man in disguise” or “man in suit” that is vital to the genre. Sticking to the “species” of Kaiju classic admitted in genealogy (the Kaiju flying the Krusty, the Bug, The Reptile, etc, etc) and try to get their textures and morphology were rooted in very real hipertexturas animals but combining textures, textures monumental, almost geological. In every movie I try to bring someone new. And in every project I bring a team member who is making his first big movie and his first feature film because it always brings a fresh perspective. What we do ask is that people do not derive ideas from films already made. I ask you to express what is theirs.”

Charlie Hunnam and Rinko Kikuchi in Pacific Rim

Charlie Hunnam and Rinko Kikuchi in ‘Pacific Rim’

Del Toro spoke at Comic-Con about some of the tricks he pulled with the camera lens while shooting Pacific Rim, in order to give the CGI-heavy proceedings a more grounded and realistic feel. The filmmaker relied on RED EPIC cameras during production (the same tech Peter Jackson’s using for the Hobbit trilogy), but explained to Collider why he never considered either native or post-converted 3D a viable option:

“Originally there was a discussion that took a long time to overcome that was to make the movie 3D. And I didn’t want to make the movie 3D because when you have things that big… the thing that happens naturally, you’re looking at two buildings lets say at 300 feet [away], if you move there is no parallax. They’re so big that, in 3D, you barely notice anything no matter how fast you move.  ”To force the 3D effects for robots and monsters that are supposed to be big you are making their [perspective] miniaturized, making them human scale.”

Taking everything del Toro’s saying into consideration, Pacific Rim should easily feel like one of his films, above all else. That’s very much an encouraging (if not downright exciting) thought, given the quality of del Toro’s previous cinematic output

Pacific Rim opens in U.S. theaters on July 12th, 2013.


Source: LA Times, Uruloki [via JoBlo], Collider

NASA’s rover ‘Curiosity’ on key mission lands on Mars

NASA`s rover `Curiosity` on key mission lands on MarsZeenews Bureau

Pasadena, California: After 350 million miles of travel through interplanetary space, NASA’s Mars rover ‘Curiosity’ landed on the Red Planet shortly after 0531 GMT (11.01 am IST) on Monday.

Dubbed as the biggest scientific mission of the decade, it took an epic 8-1/2 months for the Curiosity to make the arduous journey from Earth to Mars.

Immediately after the Martian late afternoon landing inside a vast, ancient impact crater, the rover sent the first pictures. “It’s the wheel!” exclaimed one of the NASA scientists on seeing the picture of one of the wheels of the rover. Other scientists at Mission control at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory near Los Angeles were seen hugging each other for having achieved what seemed impossible.

Another picture arrived soon, a high resolution image showing the horizon and dust particles on the camera.

Also, a video camera aboard the rover will capture the most dramatic minutes for the first filming of a landing on another planet.

The signals from mars are being relayed via Odyssey satellite to earth as the red planet is on the far side of the Sun from Earth, 154 million miles (1.7 astronomical units) away.

The atmospheric pressure on Mars is about 1/100th that on Earth. It is made of carbon dioxide (95.3%), nitrogen (2.7%) and argon (1.6%). Surface winds are typically up to 20 miles per hour, with gusts up to 90mph.

NASA`s rover `Curiosity` on key mission lands on Mars

Seven minutes of terror

The complicated landing for the Curiosity rover was so risky that was been described as ‘seven minutes of terror’ — the time it took to go from 13,000 mph (20,920 kph) to a complete stop.

Curiosity During the entry, landing and descent phase, the nuclear powered rover was assisted by 76 pyrotechnic charges that were fired to release weights and the parachute.

The Curiosity shed twin 75kg tungsten weights near the surface to get aerodynamic lift – to glide to the surface rather than risking a hard landing.

The most sophisticated mobile science lab ever sent out of Earth’s atmosphere, the spacecraft, encased in a capsule-like shell, flew on auto pilot and was guided by a computer packed with pre-programmed instructions.

What’s Inside the Rover

The rover, formally called the Mars Science Lab, is equipped with an array of sophisticated chemistry and geology instruments capable of analyzing samples of soil, rocks and atmosphere on the spot and beaming results back to scientists on Earth.

One is a laser gun that can zap a rock from 23 feet (7 meters) away to create a spark whose spectral image is analyzed by a special telescope to discern the mineral’s chemical composition.

Mars is the chief component of NASA’s long-term deep space exploration plans. Curiosity, the space agency’s first astrobiology mission since the 1970s-era Viking probes, is designed primarily to search for evidence that the planet most similar to Earth may once have harboured the necessary building blocks for microbial life to evolve.

NASA`s rover `Curiosity` on key mission lands on Mars

NASA officials told reporters at a pre-landing news conference Sunday that the spacecraft was functioning properly as it sped toward its target.

Curiosity carries 10 science instruments with a total mass 15 times as large as the science payloads on the Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity. Some of the tools are the first of their kind on Mars, such as a laser-firing instrument for checking elemental composition of rocks from a distance.

The rover will use a drill and scoop at the end of its robotic arm to gather soil and powdered samples of rock interiors, then sieve and parcel out these samples into analytical laboratory instruments inside the rover.

To handle this science toolkit, Curiosity is twice as long and five times as heavy as Spirit or Opportunity. The Gale Crater landing site places the rover within driving distance of layers of the crater’s interior mountain. Observations from orbit have identified clay and sulfate minerals in the lower layers, indicating a wet history.

The landing site was 154 million miles from home, enough distance that the spacecraft’s elaborate landing sequence had to be automated.

Curiosity returned its first view of Mars, a wide-angle scene of rocky ground near the front of the rover. More images are anticipated in the next several days as the mission blends observations of the landing site with activities to configure the rover for work and check the performance of its instruments and mechanisms.

“Our Curiosity is talking to us from the surface of Mars,” said MSL Project Manager Peter Theisinger of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. “The landing takes us past the most hazardous moments for this project, and begins a new and exciting mission to pursue its scientific objectives.”

Over the first week, Curiosity is to deploy its main antenna, raise a mast containing cameras, a rock-vaporizing laser and other instruments, and take its first panoramic shot of its surroundings.

NASA will spend the first month checking out Curiosity. The first drive could occur early next month. The rover would not scoop its first sample of Martian soil until mid-September at the earliest, and the first drilling into rock would occur in October or November.

Because Curiosity is powered by electricity generated from the heat of a chunk of plutonium, it could continue operating for years, perhaps decades, in exploring the 96-mile-wide crater where it has landed.