The "How I Did Kickstarter" Series [Flixist] by Alec Kubas-Meyer

Wherein I consider my life decisions
Wherein I discuss asking for money
Wherein I call out people without a vision
Wherein I explain my writing process
Wherein I talk about about filming myself
Wherein I think about how much things cost

During the month of September, I ran a Kickstarter with my friend Gerard Chamberlain. The two of us were funding a martial arts short film called Reel, which we co-wrote. In order to drum up some outside buzz, I decided to write a series of articles explaining the process for Flixist, going through each individual step of setting up the project page. Pitch text here, pitch video below:

I wrote the pitch text and continue to write the periodic backer updates. I put a whole lot of words into this project, which is cool because it combines my two favorite things (which are writing and filmmaking, in case you didn't read my "About" page).

I considered writing something for this blog, and I actually started a draft, but I never got around to finishing it. I was too busy doing everything else, and this thing gets maybe 10-20 hits a day. I also don't promote it particularly well, but that isn't the point. Point is: We reached our goal. I don't know that these articles played much of a part in that success, but I don't consider it time wasted. If anyone can learn from the things that we did, I'll be happy. Kickstarter is about community, about giving to others and getting some cool things in return. I wanted to do my part to keep that going. 

Video games aren't movies (and people need to accept that) [The Daily Beast] by Alec Kubas-Meyer

Wherein I insult an entire industry in an attempt to make a point.

I pitched this immediately after reading that Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare director Glen Schofield had compared his newest game to Hollywood. I was offended by the comparison, not just because what he said was totally wrong, but because it didn't make sense. As someone who writes about both film and video games, I can understand the desire to compare one to the other, and there are certainly times where comparisons are appropriate, but while they may look similar, the two media are so fundamentally different that it's not worthwhile to consider on anything more than a superficial level.

This goes beyond what I talked about. Case in point, I recent played a demo for the upcoming PlayStation 4 game Until Dawn. The person giving the demo didn't say much to me, but to the person who played it next, she made the point that there were various people from Hollywood involved in its production. And while playing it, I could tell that they were going for that "cinematic" vibe that makes David Cage games so... polarizing. Using fixed angles and camera movements that resemble crane or dolly shots, I found myself watching as the camera dropped and swooped as I walked back and then reversed itself when I moved in the opposite direction. It was legitimately ridiculous to see, and it's a problem that's unique to video games. The game clearly assumed a certain level of interaction in order to keep functional pacing, but I wrestled with the controls against the camera and ultimately broke the tension throughout.

This is a direct result of the game's attempt to replicate the cinema experience, and the project is worse off for it. The verdict is out on the writing (which the article linked here spends a whole lot of time talking about), but I'm not expecting a whole lot. I look forward to the day when I can expect quality writing from a game the way I do a film.

But we're not there yet.

Review and Analysis of James Ward Byrkit's Coherence by Alec Kubas-Meyer

Coherence-James-Ward-Byrkit-Cropped.jpg

Wherein I try not to spoil a film and then spoil it hardcore.

For a long time, I'd considered the idea of "Review Companions" over at Flixist. When I took over as Reviews Editor, I made a decree that a previous feature, Deep Analysis, was dead. In fact, that was how I opened my new Reviews Guide. And I did this because I believed (and continue to believe) in the worth of Reviews as Analysis. On some level, it's about the blurry line between "Review" and "Criticism," but it's really about allowing writers the freedom to write reviews as analysis. 

So why, then, would I need a Review Companion? When I want to avoid spoilers. You see, every time I write a review I have to decide if I'm going to spoil it, and to what degree. Sometimes, I go right for the third act and just get it over with. Other times, I don't even want to discuss a film's basic premise. That was the case with Coherence, because the film's fundamental premise is a spoiler. But I fell in love with the film, and I had to write something about it, so I was at a crossroads: Do I analyze the film the way I want to, or do I write something without spoilers in the hopes of getting people excited about it? Enter the Review Companion, which allowed me to have my cake and eat it too. I very rarely do straight-up analyses of individuals films, because I don't often find going too deep into any particular movie all that interesting. But Coherence was an exception, both because it was a fascinating film that made me think about a whole lot of things, but also because it's exactly the kind of film that I want everyone to see. Usually films that get the most in-depth analyses are films without much mass appeal, but I think everyone can get something out of Coherence, and I wanted (and want) everyone to see it.

Also, this was pretty cool:

Bothered about Gravity's Cinematography win [Flixist] by Alec Kubas-Meyer

Wherein I claim that Gravity's visual brilliance is technically superior but actually inferior to its competition.

This one I did two days ago to coincide with my blog from earlier this week. But while here I wanted to make some grand statements about acting awards, on Flixist I said some things that people are much less likely to agree with, at least certain people.

I don't think Gravity deserved to win Best Cinematography on Sunday, because so much of its beauty comes from post production rather than the camera. It's a sort of pretentious argument, but Best VFX and Best Cinematography categories are different, so why are they being treated the same? Life of Pi was even worse, because it didn't have the impressive long takes to sorta justify its win. That movie was just all CG.

But without all of the work in post, nobody would have looked at Gravity over, say, 12 Years a Slave, which did equally brilliant things with long takes (if not more brilliant). The fact that that film got snubbed is truly ridiculous.

Tom Hooper deserved a Razzie for Les Misérables [Flixist] by Alec Kubas-Meyer

Tom Hooper as Anne Hathaway in Les Miserables

Wherein I deconstruct Tom Hooper's Les Misérables line by freaking line.

I love Les Misérables (the stage musical). Love it. And I was super excited for Tom Hooper's adaptation of it, because every single bit of news leading up to the release (no 3D (back when that was a thing), singing live on set, new song written by the original writers) excited me more. But when it came out, reviews were mixed and I realized that I should temper my expectations no matter what. That way I could be pleasantly surprised, but I wouldn't be horrendously disappointed.

That was a good decision.

At the time, I liked the movie... sort of. In retrospect, I really didn't. There were so many places for things to go right, and basically none of them did. It was nothing short of a travesty. So, as someone who spends a large portion of his time listening to the Les Mis soundtrack, I felt I was in a pretty good position to explain why Tom Hooper's directorial decisions hurt the best musical out there.

I am generally of the opinion that adaptations should be judged on their own merits, but when two lines are flipped around, breaking the rhyme scheme for no reason, then it loses that privilege. Sometimes it's even a single word that's replaced that changes the context not just of a scene, but of the entire movie for the worse.

And that's completely ridiculous.

So I complained about it in excruciating detail (and there was plenty more to say that I did not). Because Tom Hooper deserved a Golden Raspberry a whole lot more than the guy who made Breaking Dawn Part II.

A (book) review of Film Crit Hulk's SCREENWRITING 101 [Flixist] by Alec Kubas-Meyer

Screenwriting 101

Wherein I try to pretend like I know how to write book reviews.

I like screenwriting. I like it a lot, because it marries two of my biggest passions: writing and film production. I don't particularly like reading books about screenwriting, though, because I've taken classes on it and skimmed through some and found that a lot of them either say exactly the same thing or radically contradict each other and don't really help me. I'd rather write than read.

Enter Exception A. Film Crit Hulk's SCREENWRITING 101 should be required reading for every human interested in fiction writing of any kind, whether that's screenwriting, novel writing, or tweet-based microfiction. The first two-thirds are philosophical and conceptual, and they apply the "Why" rather than the "How." And when it focuses on the why, it's basically magical. Whoever Film Crit Hulk actually is, he's a freaking genius, and if I get the chance to meet him, I am going to hug him.

The radiation poisoning would be worth it.

A review of The Raid 2: Berandal [Flixist] by Alec Kubas-Meyer

Wherein I admit to not having seen every movie ever made.

The Raid 2: Berandal is the best thing since the pyramids. In fact, you look at a timeline of history, Berandal may as well be the ninth wonder of the world.

Am I being facetious? Yeah, a little bit, but seriously: Berandal is incredible. I saw it at a press screening in New York last week. I learned about the press screening about 14 hours before and was officially given access two and a half. Not being in the city, I rushed like a bat out of hell and made it on time. And I'm extremely glad I did, because the following two and a half hours were mindblowing.

I have a particular affinity to martial arts films (I'm making one myself; true story), so impressive fight choreography excites me in a way few things do, and The Raid 2's choreography blows basically everything else that has ever happened completely out of the water. The point of these "Greatest Hits" things is to add context, but I really just wanted to gush about The Raid 2 some more. For a bit more context, I actually did a video for Flixist about the extremely high score I gave it, what that score means, and why it deserved it. I've embedded that below, so you can watch that if you're curious. And whenever Berandal comes to a theater near you, see itYou'll be glad you did.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q7CjuJsuwwk]

A review of the Xbox One [The Daily Beast] by Alec Kubas-Meyer

Xbox One

Wherein I am legitimately surprised by how much I like the Xbox One.

E3 2013 was weird. Like, really weird. Nintendo's non-conference was fine; Sony's conference was great; and Microsoft's was... really not. When Giant Bomb reported the policy shift, everyone was shocked because of the hubris the execs had displayed during the show, but it kinda seemed like too-little too-late. I mean, they wanted to take away our used games (or at the very least regulate them). The family sharing thing could have been cool, but we can't know, because nobody explained it. The message was all over the place. So when it came time to actually look at these consoles critically, I was against the Xbox from the start.

But you know what? That thing, when it works, is legitimately amazing. I love my PlayStation 4, but its fundamental operation is less exciting. Only problem is that the whole thing feels like it's not done.

The headline I pitched for the Xbox review was "A beta look at the future of video games," and I stand by that statement (although more like video game consoles, even if Forza 5's Drivatar system is really cool). The first big update for the system is coming soon, theoretically adding stability as well as a couple of other features, and that would be great, because it's not the most stable console in the world.

I got the system about a week and a half before launch so I could really take the time to understand its little quirks. In that time, it underwent no fewer than five big updates and possibly even more. We would get emails telling us when things would finally be unlocking, what was and wasn't working at any given moment, and when the day came, it still didn't feel totally ready. Some things (like the achievements page) are clear step backs, while others (suspended game states) are just totally fantastic. When it all comes together, it's awesome. When they don't, it's extremely frustrating.

I got into a couple of debates with my editor about the focus of this article. To him, the Kinect was the story, because it's creepy and crazy and fascinating; but to me, it was the whole thing. So the headline (over-the-top, as these things tend to be) reflects the Kinect while the text serves as more of a straight review. It was cut down a bit and a little more emphasis was put on the Kinect, however. And I can understand why, because that thing has made one of my friends flee from the room when she saw that it could see in the dark.

I'm looking forward to the Xbox One in two years, when the kinks have been basically worked out and it's the system it should have been on launch day. There will almost certainly be a solid game library backing it up, and it'll be a (nay, the) machine to own. But it's not there yet.

I went in truly ready to hate the system, but Microsoft showed me you can't judge a book by its press conference. Even so, we'll see if lessons have been learned by June 10, when E3 2014 kicks off.

A review of Beyond: Two Souls [The Daily Beast] by Alec Kubas-Meyer

Ellen Page

Wherein I tell Ellen Page that she makes for an amazing rebellious teenager.

The first official video game review I ever did. Unlike every other review I've done, though, this one actually started as an interview. Ellen Page starring in a video game is a reasonably smart marketing tactic, because it's the kind of thing that will get non-game-centric outlets to talk about it. So it was actually a film PR company that I've worked with numerous times on Flixist that reached out to The Daily Beast (but not Flixist) about interviewing Page. My editor accepted and put me on the job. I requested a copy of the game (I hate going into interviews blind) and received it in time to marathon it over the weekend.

As with any Quantic Dream game, I found myself extremely conflicted by the experience. On one hand, it does some legitimately cool stuff with the way it lets players influence the story... but it is also poorly written and has generally mediocre gameplay mechanics.

But I like what David Cage and co. tried to do, especially how the story changes without people realizing it. Problem is? Nobody realized it, so people claimed that you couldn't impact the story while unknowingly impacting it the entire time.

(Awkward.)

Wherein I talk about how a game crash led me to see a genius moment. [Destructoid]

Let's be clear: your actions, even small ones like letting go of the analog stick for a split second, can have pretty serious consequences. It won't always, and the big fire scene at the end of "Homeless" is undoubtedly one of the biggest. (Another, bigger one: I failed to get Jodie out of her confines to play a scene that apparently takes place at a bar. Pressed the wrong trigger. Oops.) Anyone who says otherwise is straight-up wrong.

That being said, those consequences likely don't mean much to the greater narrative. But they're there, and many of them are actually invisible, so good on Quantic Dream for that... and pretty much only that. There's a whole lot that the game does very wrong, and it will be interesting to see if the power of the PS4 can help David Cage write better scripts.

The YouTube aesthetics of Leviathan and Room 237 [Criticwire] by Alec Kubas-Meyer

The-Shining-and-also-Room-237

In which I bite my tongue and spend 1,300 words not hating Leviathan.

The original draft of this story was 2,000 words. It was also not very good. Back in 2012, I was given the awesome opportunity to take part in the inaugural New York Film Festival Critics Academy, put on by Indiewire and the Film Society of Lincoln Center. It was a fascinating experience to be sure, and I learned a lot about a lot of things. The most important thing I learned, though, was just how great it is to have an editor. Seriously. It's awesome.

As part of the Critics Academy, members had to write seven stories for multiple outlets: three for the Criticwire blog on Indiewire, three for the Film Society of Lincoln Center, and then one elsewhere. (Unfortunately, two of my articles were never posted to filmlinc. I was told the following year by a member of the second CA that the one that was posted was used as an example of what they should be doing. So that was cool.) This was the first one I wrote for Criticwire, and definitely the most interesting of the three. But although I think it's an interesting topic, the thing that really made it for me was the experience of being edited. Matt Singer, formerly of Criticwire and currently of The Dissolve, responded to the first draft and told me to cut it by 500 words and better integrate the two films into the thesis (it was a little bit of intro, first film, second film, conclusion). I was obviously somewhat annoyed, because that's what happens when you're told that fully 25% of what you've written is unnecessary, but having to edit yourself so heavily is a great thing. It teaches you to figure out where you're too verbose and how to cull your language to best get across your point.

In short, it teaches you to do everything that I don't do on this blog. Funny, that.

But the biggest change he made was to the tone, and I can understand why: I hate Leviathan. It's one of the worst films I've seen in my entire life, and the love that so many of my peers and colleagues have with it continues to baffle and depress me. It's awful. Awful awful awful.

Wherein I recommend playing in traffic over watching Leviathan.

But if you read that article on Criticwire, you would never know that the intensity of my hatred for that film has become a running joke among my non-critic friends (fortunately, a couple of my critic friends generally agree with me, but with a bit less passion). You can tell that I wasn't particularly impressed by it, but the depths of my feelings were checked at the door. It's not a review, but that doesn't mean I didn't get in a few jabs at the film's fundamental failings. I'll probably talk more at length about Leviathan in some future article, because that movie is truly a horrible, awful thing that should be wiped from existence. Or maybe I'll spare myself the agony. We'll see.

(I also talked about Room 237, which is basically just a feature-length YouTube doc that got a theatrical release.)

Wherein I fail to say anything interesting about Room 237.