Friday, July 11, 2008

Interview With A LAMBpire - Alan Bacchus

What motivates us to write our thoughts down in cyberspace? Do all bloggers share the same passion for their subjects? To answer these questions, we must ask more, so in conjunction with the LAMB, I present the first Interview With a LAMBpire.

Alan Bacchus writes Daily Film Dose, giving you a dose of his film reviews everyday. I am a regular reader to his blog and when I had the opportunity to interview a fellow LAMB, Allan was the first choice. He was very obligating and friendly and we spoke over the phone for about thirty minutes. Based in Toronto, he takes his love of cinema very seriously, allowing it to permeate every day of his life. How, you may ask? Read on…

On your blog its says that you’re a filmmaker, critic and a writer. What’s you education in that, what’s you background?

I have a degree in economics, that’s where I started off, going into the world of business. And then, I kind of knew that I would eventually go back to film school and start a career in the film industry, so I worked for about a year and a half in the business world and then I quit my job, and went to film school, in Vancouver. That was many years ago, eight years ago. After then, I just got into the film industry, making my own short films, working for a production company and getting experience. So I didn’t actually start writing or start considering myself a writer or a critic or a blogger or anything like that until relatively recently. I was just a filmmaker exclusively until recently.

Your reviews are always very well written. They’re never too opinionated. To me, they’re very intelligent, while being accessible. The one critic who comes to my mind in those terms is Roger Ebert. Is he one of your influences?

Definitely Roger Ebert for sure, I’ve been reading his stuff for years. I saw The Happening a couple of days ago and I was writing my review of it today. And then I read Roger Ebert’s review of it. My review doesn’t even compare. His is several notches above mine. He hit the nail on the head. Exactly what I thought, we have the same opinion of the film. He just hit it on the head in ways I couldn’t. So, he’s definitely the top bar for me of film reviewers. And then, also, the reviewers at Variety, Justin Chang. I read Variety and here in Toronto, I read the Toronto Star, checking out the reviews of film.

The name of your blog says it all, Daily Film Dose. How do you do it every day?

How do I do it everyday? Basically, I do it the day before and post it. I’ll do it in the evening, I’ll do a first past, it will take me maybe half an hour, forty five minutes, depending on whether I’m feeling it, whether the words are flowing. And the day of in the morning, I have a regular full time job, I work for the Canadian Film Centre, so in the morning, before I go to work, I’ll polish it off and post it. Usually, I watch some movies during the week, but most of them are on the weekends and just keep it in my brain throughout the week and then when it comes to writing the review, it will still be relatively fresh. But I also have a few guest reviewers every couple of weeks or so, I’ll give myself a break and have a guest reviewer write something for me. But, for the most part, it’s just keeping it going and so far, I haven’t had too much writer’s block. Every once in awhile I will and then I might rely on one of my guest reviewers to write something for me. People have asked me, do you write a bunch on the weekend and post during the week? Nope, for the most part, it’s one a day. I’m literally writing one a day.

I love the variety of your posts. The first three days of June are Viva Zapata! How She Move and Vince Vaughn’s Wild West Comedy Show. How do you decide what to write about?

I love variety, that’s one of my reasons why I wanted to start is that I wanted it to be kind of random. In fact, one of the inspirations was Roger Ebert’s column, his great reviews column where once a week he would review a great film whether it’s a 1920’s silent film or a film from the Eighties or something. I liked how there was a bit of randomness each week. Whatever he thinks is great will go on there and I first started writing great reviews for what I thought were great movies and I realized I’m quickly going to run out of great movies, so I sort of expanded it to any sort of movie I see. I purposely tried to keep it fresh, so it’s not as predictable. I do a lot of new releases and new release DVD’s. That’s sort of the nature of what I see. But, I try to shake it up and I do like reviewing the old movies because its stuff people haven’t seen before and it’s rediscovering old classics. It sort of broadens my own cinema viewing experiences, by watching and reviewing different films all the time.

One of the things I really like and admire about your reviews is that you can get a sense of what you like without be condescending, but even in movies you don’t think are very good, you always seem to find something to like about them.

I don’t like to be a cynic. I think I trashed 10,000 B.C. It was a terrible movie, but I’m going to re-review it. I just got it on DVD and it’s still a terrible movie but, in hindsight, there is something that is so ridiculous about that movie that is kind of fun. If you can find something fun in something that’s completely stupid, there’s something enjoyable about that. It also really depends on the environment that you see (it in). I saw In the Name of the King, the Jason Statham movie. That’s a terrible movie, but I saw that at the After Dark Film Festival here in Toronto, in a theatre with a bunch of hard core genre geeks trying to see a crappy B movie. It was hilarious, people were cheering and laughing at the bad parts, unintentionally, but it was still fun. Part of that cinema experience was being part of that thing. It also depends on what environment and what kind of mood you’re in. I don’t really like to be a cynic and another reviewer is Harry Knowles, if you read his little things, even bad movies, he’ll say something good about them. I don’t think it’s healthy to trash things completely, because it does take energy and creativity to make even a bad movie. So, I try to find a little something good in everything.

Is that like the Total Recall feature posting you did?

That’s just fun. I just had fun with that one because I just saw it recently and it’s so ridiculous. Also, with that movie, it’s a different era. If that movie was made today, it would have a different feel. Someone compared it to the new Rambo movie and that’s a good comparison because Rambo in 2008 isn’t the same as Rambo in 1988. But watching Total Recall took me back to the first time I saw it in 1990. I was just shocked.

Not to get off topic, but one of the things about Rambo, is that is a hard ‘R’ rating. Most of those 80’s franchises like Die Hard and Terminator have turned in PG-13 entries, but I have a lot of respect for Stallone keeping it old school Rambo.

I think he financed that largely out of the studio system, I think he shot it in Bulgaria or something. It was largely private financing, so he had a bit of economy in how he did it. I think that was a relatively low budget, apart from himself, there weren’t any stars, you shoot with a Bulgarian crew and next thing you know, you got a twenty million dollar movie. I think that’s probably how he got that, if he went back to whomever, he may not have that same freedom. Kudos to him for financing that film. After so many years out of the game, to come back and he directed that too. It’s pretty top notch production value and stuff. And that was a good cinema experience too. That final act where heads are exploding and machine guns, that was laughter for the crowd!

I really like your feature postings and they were actually the first things I started reading off your blog.

Those are tough because a review just kind of pours out of you, but it takes a lot of research involved for a feature posting. I would like to do them more often, but every few weeks is really what I can do.

How do you decide what becomes a feature posting?
Like Spike Lee Vs. Steven Soderbergh was one of my favorites, where do you get your ideas?

I like lists, I think lists, I don’t consider myself a great writer, or even a good writer, but lists are a good way for me to organize my thoughts, so that’s usually the starting point. For Spike Lee and Steven Soderbergh, it was easier for me to write an essay about those two filmmakers just by literally comparing one movie to another that were similar in genre and age. Also it’s very accessible for a reader, quickly glancing at something in a list very quick, you can just see all the items and not necessarily read everything if you don’t have time to read everything. Sometimes it’s a movie I watch that something will just pop in my head, like hey I got an idea. I watched A Passage to India, David Lean and I was like that’s his last film and that’s a really good film for a last film. And I was thinking what other great directors ended on a high note like that? And there’s actually not that many. So, I was thinking of doing another, Great Last Films of Great Directors. For Spike Lee, I think it was when I watched When The Levees Break and I was like, Spike Lee does not get the respect he deserves! Someone needs to hype him up a bit, so that’s why I did that.

It’s strange to hear you say that you’re not a good writer, because you have a book!

The book is very easy to do. I stumbled upon this website called and it’s just a way of self-publishing a book. It’s certainly not published. I didn’t have to pitch the project to anybody. I just uploaded all my postings to this website and downloaded the software. I just decided to, it’s like an ego project. Nobody has bought the book except me. It’s also very expensive. I just thought it was really cool. Hopefully, I’ll wind up making it like a yearly, annual thing so next year I’ll have another book, maybe a few years down the road, I’ll have a whole volume of my entries. It’s also still as raw as the blog itself, still got typos and little grammatical errors I missed over the period that I haven’t caught yet. I don’t think I can be in Barnes & Noble, it’s just a fun thing to have on my shelf right now.

You now run two blogs, Daily Film Dose and Canadian Film Dose?

I work in the Canadian film industry. Anyone who works in the Canadian film industry has their own neuroses about how to get our own films out into the world and give it more publicity and press and have it make more money. I decided to create a sister site which wouldn’t be too onerous on me, because I’m basically just transposing the same entries over to the other site. I figured over the years as I review more Canadian films it will be kind of a go-to place for people interested in Canadian films. It also came as a necessity because there aren’t any Canadian film blogs that I know of. There are no Canadian fanboys! I figured I’d try to start a trend and have a resource for people to read about films that aren’t from a newspaper or journalist or traditional critic.

Can you tell me more about the Canadian film industry, because as far as I know, and I’m sure many Americans think that Toronto and Vancouver have a thriving film industry?

We have all the infrastructure and this is something that’s been debated within the Canadian film industry for years. Canadians don’t get to see the films that we make, because, we don’t know why. Maybe they don’t have enough publicity or maybe it’s the big Hollywood films that are taking up the theatres here. No one really knows why. Some people say the quality isn’t there, some people say the theatre chains aren’t programming Canadian films. That’s never going to be solved by what I’m doing. I’m just sort of helping the cause.

The Canadian film industry is obviously very small compared to big brother next door. We have the little man syndrome, where we’re always comparing ourselves to the big guys and thinking, what can we do to break into that market? Obviously the American market is the gold standard for the world. Any filmmaker is trying to get US distribution for their films, Canadians as well. There are different opinions as to what the Canadian film industry should do, if they were to collude and work together and get our films out there to a bigger international audience. Or whether we should be making more accessible films, which are comparable to Hollywood blockbusters or we should continue making our niche films that sort of define Canadian culture in a good way. Films of Atom Egoyan and David Cronenberg are very auteur driven and there are few films that are actually for the mass audiences. A film like How She Move is one of those films which was financed entirely in Canada, shot within Canada, but doesn’t feel like a Canadian movie. It looks like Step It Up or like one of those dance films, a good crowd pleasing film, which it is. That’s the sort of conundrum that’s continually going on internally here. No one really has the answers. But, I do believe that the films we make are in the three million, five million dollar range which is very small. When I do my top ten list of the year, I legitimately have one or two Canadian films that are in there, in the top ten. I think the quality is there, just got to find a way to get people to watch them.

I work for an organization called the Canadian Film Centre and it’s kind of like an advanced training institution for Canadian filmmakers. Kind of like the AFI. My department that I work for is called the Feature Film Project and we make low budget feature films for first time filmmakers. We have a budget range of about half a million dollars and I am the coordinator of that department. So, that’s what I do.

How did you find out about the LAMB?

I was looking up ‘the long take’ because I was Googling it, I was looking to see if anyone else had done any entries about long takes. I realized there was an actual blog called The Long Take, so I was like ‘Oh! I got to check this out!’ I was surfing around there and got connected to the LAMB and just found it. Creating this network of like minded bloggers is really cool.

Are there any other blogs that you read regularly?

I developed kind of a partnership with A Penny in the Well. That’s Andrew Wells, he’s a blogger from Missouri. He started commenting on my blog and I started commenting on his and we sort of continually write on each other’s blogs. A couple of months ago we actually collaborated on the posting I did of Ridley Scott’s many director’s cuts in his career. He wrote half of that and I wrote half of that and we posted each half on each other’s blogs. He’s sort of my blogger compatriot and so we always just razz each other on each other’s blog and support each other. He is definitely one of the main blogs that I read.

Any future plans for the Daily Film Dose?

I’m doing an interview with Bruce McDonald. He directed this new movie called Tracey Fragments with Ellen Page. That will be my first interview. I’ve never done an interview before. I’m curious to see how that will go and if that works out, if that’s a good venture for me, I’ll try to seek out more filmmakers to interview and create a new sort of section to the blog.

No comments: