Carla Marcantonio is an Associate Professor of Film and Television Studies and a scholar of transnational/global cinema. Carla’s articles and essays have appeared in collected editions as well as in journals such as Social Text, Women and Performance and Cineaste. Her new book, Global Melodrama: Nation, Body, and History in Contemporary Cinema is available for purchase on Amazon.
You just joined the SFTV faculty. What drew you to LMU, and how are you enjoying L.A.? Before arriving at LMU, I was teaching in an English Department, an experience that I really enjoyed. Yet, the prospect of being able to bring my teaching and research into the context of a film school ultimately lured me here. I have the somewhat romantic notion, which hopefully will turn into a reality, that my teaching can inspire aspiring filmmakers to make films that are cognizant of the history of film as well as critical approaches to film. I don’t think that the critical study of film is antithetical to filmmaking, but rather the opposite: I think an understanding of film history and criticism can inform films and the stories written for film in interesting ways. I was also attracted by LMU’s commitment to social justice. I think that film has often been a tool used to raise awareness of the world, or, at the very least, it provides us with access to lived realities that we otherwise would know nothing about. My own research interests, which delve into melodrama, neorealism, gender/sexuality studies and biopolitics, were already implicitly addressing issues of social justice.
I have to confess I was not so sure how I would like Los Angeles! I was used to East Coast cities like New York and Washington, D.C. but I am really liking it here. The first thing I cannot complain about this winter is the weather: it’s been a nice respite from the East’s frigid cold! (Though impromptu snow-days can be nice too).
Tell us about your new book, Global Melodrama: Nation, Body, and History in Contemporary Film. Melodrama is a fascinating genre, protean and thus complex to define. For me, one of melodrama’s most interesting facets has to do with its link to the national imaginary. In other words, melodrama has been a short-hand form for helping narrate and represent the kind of community that any given nation imagines itself to be at any one point in time (this is true even when films are about the past because such films tell us as much, if not more, about the present in which they were made).
Given how skillfully the melodramatic mode has met the task of narrating/visualizing the nation, my wish to write the book departed from a desire to understand how melodramatic narratives have adapted to a geopolitical landscape where globalization is now a dominant reality. The reason this is interesting is because globalization places certain central paradigms of the nation in crisis: its dependence on a clearly demarcated territory (i.e. globalization drives the notion that we now live in a borderless world) and, given the rise of new technologies that have expanded the capacity for communication, it organizes transnational communities that can often supersede the centrality of the national community (think of diasporic communities, for example). Given how closely allied melodrama has been with the national imaginary, the book explores how certain directors worldwide have re-adapted the mode in order to be able to narrate and represent this new, global reality. In doing so, the book also revisits, in order to reformulate, some of the central paradigms that have defined what we understand as melodrama.
The book makes broad claims on the basis of close-reading films that I take to be paradigmatic. My hope is that its methodology can be tested on other films and put to broader use. For example, my last chapter elaborates the deep connection that exists between neorealism and melodrama, something many film scholars acknowledge, but, because it seems that they should be in opposition to each other (i.e. melodrama as the opposite of realism), it is a connection that is underdeveloped and that, in my opinion, could continue to be explored.
One of the chapters in your book explores two films by Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar, Talk to Her and The Skin I Live In. What draws you to his work and how he has influenced your career? If I think hard about it, the truth is that my turn to want to study film is very much influenced by my experience of watching his films. The first of his films I ever saw was Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. I was still an undergraduate student and, at the time, a biology major. I had never seen anything like it. I remember being particularly struck by the film’s color palette, its humor and its storytelling capacity. But it was not until much later that I eventually decided to take up film as a subject in school. I never missed any of his films from that point on, and wanting to understand them always led me in interesting directions. I followed up on any reference he planted. It was through tracking these references that I first learned to appreciate film history: if there was a reference to a Cukor film, I would watch it. When there was a reference to Autumn Sonata, I would watch that too, and so on. Almodóvar is not just an accomplished filmmaker, he has an astounding understanding and appreciation for all film. I came to value how he “riffed” on these references in original ways. You could hardly bump into a more well-versed historian: be it about genre, a particular star, a director, a composer, you name it. This is part of what also draws me to his work, which is as entertaining as it is encyclopaedic.
You’ve actually worked quite extensively with the filmmaker as his interpreter. How did that relationship come about? It was pure serendipity. I was a graduate student at NYU when Sony Pictures Classics was looking to hire interpreters. I was approached by a friend of a friend who knew I was bilingual and that I studied Almodóvar’s films. I first worked as a interpreter for Javier Cámara for Talk to Her, [and] that’s when I first met Almodóvar. But it wasn’t until Bad Education that I began translating for him. I now am lucky to have done so through is last film, I’m So Excited!. My work with him happens primarily during the interviews that he grants when he comes to the U.S. for the premieres of his films. Though I am not a professional translator, I think the fact that I am a student of film and that I know his films so well ended up making me a good fit to be his interpreter. I have learned a lot about what drives the plots of his films while listening to his interviews, which has then also provided me with interesting avenues to pursue in the academic work that I do.
What are the top three films you recommend every film student watch? Well, the first two films that came to mind immediately were Vertigo and Metropolis. You cannot be a student of film and not have seen these films. Then, for spot number three, I begin to have a debate that includes about ten films or so, films that I love for one reason or another. Vertigo and Metropolis are both visionary films for very different reasons. They are films whose basic premises filmmakers have returned to time and again. In some odd way, one could even argue that Vertigo is a modern version of Metropolis. A woman resembling herself is at the center of both of them, both films deal with, among other things, obsession and loss: themes near and dear to a myriad of cinematic stories. For example, you cannot wholly comprehend Blade Runner without Metropolis (and that’s just one of so many science fiction films for which this could be said); Nor can you appreciate Mulholland Drive without Vertigo (nor without Sunset Boulevard, for that matter). And, speaking of Almodóvar, one could argue that Talk to Her, Broken Embraces, and The Skin I Live In are all informed by Vertigo in some way.
I would argue that Metropolis is the film that effectively turns the Frankenstein myth into the kind a story worthy of sustained cinematic inquiry – it has as much to say about the cinema and its technological transformations as it does about the ages-old trope of human beings wanting to play God. Vertigo has begun to surpass Citizen Kane for the title of “best film ever made” – and not that I put a lot of stake in such things, but if pushed to do so, I would agree. The reason being is that Vertigo with its themes of simulacrum, creation and re-creation, has more to say to our present moment: a time when the creation of digital images makes us all the more aware that reality itself can be made to order.
Other films that I like because they move me deeply are: Talk to Her, Chungking Express, The Spirit of the Beehive, Hiroshima, mon amour, Sunrise, and La Jetée. A movie that I never get bored of watching is Now, Voyager. Gilda is another favorite. It’s hard to just pick three!
As a 25-year old combat medic in the U.S. Army with a successful career, Daril Fannin (Screenwriting M.F.A. – 2016) decided to retire his uniform and pursue his dream of writing for film and television. After being accepted to every graduate school he applied to, he chose to attend SFTV’s Screenwriting program. Nearly three years later, he’s hosting and creating content for All Warrior Network.com and has already been named one of Variety’s “Students to Watch.”
Screenwriting Professor Stephen Duncan recently spoke to Fannin about his career change and what Vets bring to the creative industry. Duncan should know: he served in the U.S. Navy and is co-creator and executive consultant for the Emmy-winning series Tour of Duty (1987-1990), which is set during the Vietnam War.
Stephen Duncan: I read in your bio that you were raised in a sect of Christianity that condemned movies and TV, and that you didn’t actually see any movies until the age of 17. How did this shape your writing and the decision to become a screenwriter?
Daril Fanin: To be fair, I did see a few movies as a child. My “ungodly” grandparents had a TV. So, when we would go to their house, we could watch Disney movies that she recorded on VHS and a few Saturday morning cartoons. But my family didn’t own a TV or go to the movies. At 17, my childhood theology was debunked and then the The Matrix happened…it was a total mindf*ck. I didn’t know that I wanted to be in the film industry at that point, but when I saw Neo rise from the globs of amniotic fluid and unlock himself from the Matrix, I knew I was hooked.
You didn’t pursue a career in Hollywood right out of the gate; instead, you joined the Army after high school and became a combat medic. What motivated you to enlist? I enlisted at 17 after reading a book called Dustoff about a helicopter pilot in Vietnam who would evacuate wounded soldiers from the battlefield. I wanted to be on the front lines to help the injured survive and see their families again.
During your time in the Army you had a successful career. Why did you decide to leave? After winning the Non-Commissioned Officer of the Year Award for the state of Tennessee, my chain of command encouraged me to get my commission. I had been writing for a couple of years at that point and decided to study screenwriting while working toward my degree. I had also moved from a front-line medic position to an administrative position. It didn’t take long for me to realize that I loved writing more than filling out Department of Defense forms. I was honorably discharged at the end of June 2014, and my wife and I moved to L.A. the next week.
How has your experience as a combat medic influenced you as a writer? When I joined the Army, I was [a] 135lb kid who didn’t believe in himself, have a voice or understand the world that he was in. Being a medic built my confidence because I was good at it. It also helps that I can pen things that others have never experienced. I know what it’s like to shoot an automatic grenade launcher, apply a tourniquet, start an IV, perform an arm-bar. That experience definitely gives me a distinct advantage when writing action. Oh, and the characters you meet in the military. The Army’s full of weirdos like me!
That is a big advantage – one of the ways I was able to break into the entertainment industry was by drawing from my own experiences and perspective of the military. Are there other skills that you learned in the Army that you feel are translatable, and will help you in your career as a screenwriter? The Army has a warrior ethos – I will always place the mission first. I will never accept defeat. I will never quit. I will never leave a fallen comrade. Learning to set priorities, define an objective and do whatever it takes to meet those goals is crucial to a career in an ever-evolving industry. You also have to remember that you’re a part of a team…I think sometimes writers forget that filmmaking is a collaborative process.
Why did you choose SFTV’s graduate screenwriting program over other programs? Associate Professor Beth Serlin [laughs]. Seriously, though…I was accepted into every M.F.A. program and Beth was a huge influence. But besides having a great advisor, LMU stood out in three ways:
- LMU’s staff focuses on helping the students develop relationships within the industry like no other program — and third year mentorships are just a few examples.
- LMU helps you develop a body of work and LMU sets up pitch meetings at the end of graduation.
- LMU is a Vet-friendly school that offers the post 9-11 Yellow Ribbon Program to help offset the cost of tuition.
Oh…and the campus is exquisite. You could recruit people just by taking them on a walk out by the bluff. On a clear winter day, you can see the sprawl of the city from Malibu to the snow capped mountains in the east. Instant registration!
You’re currently a writer/host/content creator for All Warrior Network.com. Tell us about this experience. Right after moving to L.A., I began to intern at MUSA Media (military consultants who have worked on everything from Transformers to HBO’s show The Brink). They had just recently partnered up with TV4 to create a channel for the military community. My producers wanted to do a show that we could write and shoot on a very tight schedule (4-6 hours each episode) that basically recapped the military entertainment news of the week. But, when it came time to shoot the thing, we didn’t have an actor. I was “volun-told” to host the show, and the rest is history.
Do you feel there are important things about GIs and Vet’s experiences that can be communicated through TV and film? It sounds cliché, but the men and women in uniform experience the extreme in ways that others can’t begin to imagine. I know a man who lay in the streets, broken and bleeding while his Team Leader (scalp ripped to the back of his head) asked him if he was okay. He said, “Yeah,” because he wasn’t dying. That’s a perspective most first-world people don’t understand. It’s the kind of experience that thousands of warfighters bring home and then deal with. And, in my experience, people tend to forget that these military members are people too. Post-Traumatic Stress is something we have turned a blind eye to, even while the V.A. has been reporting for years that 22 Veterans kill themselves everyday. That’s just one aspect of Vets’ experiences that I hope I can bring to the forefront and humanize for those who can’t imagine being in that place.
Find out more about Daril Fannin by visiting his website here.
When you think about some of TV’s hottest and most anticipated shows, alumnus James Wong’s ‘83 credits are certainly on that list. The writer/producer just finished writing and directing a new episode for a limited series of The X-Files, which debuts in January, and his multiple Emmy-winning show American Horror Story premiered October 7 with the new season “Hotel,” featuring Lady Gaga among a slew of returning cast including Angela Bassett, Kathy Bates, Sarah Paulson and Lily Rabe. James spoke to SFTV Communications Manager Julie Porter about his work, his inspiration and what he’s currently watching.
You recently completed the new The X-Files for FOX. The show was a huge phenomenon. How did working on this series shape your career? Up until The X-Files, I had been doing mainly dramatic shows like 21 Jump Street, Wiseguy and The Commish. The X-Files allowed me to work in a genre I had always been interested in. When the show began, there was a program called The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. that was supposed to be the big hit that season. There were no expectations that were placed on The X-Files and we had the ability to make the show we wanted. That gave us the freedom to tell different kinds of stories without a lot of pressure from the network. And in success, it gave me confidence to know what I wanted to do was also what the audience wanted to see. And being nominated for an Emmy for directing The X-Files made it possible for me to direct my first feature Final Destination.
What is it like to work on a series that has been on a 13-year hiatus? It felt like I was coming home again. We shot in Vancouver during the years I worked on the show, and we returned there this time. I saw a lot of crew that I had worked with for many years. Of course, working again with David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, Chris Carter, Glen Morgan and Darin Morgan was a treat. Honestly it felt so familiar and comfortable; it was as if there wasn’t an interruption. Everybody looked older, which is startling because nobody felt that way. In terms of content, I don’t think The X-Files suffers by comparison to anything on the air today. It was a groundbreaking show back then, and the storytelling stands the test of time.
You wrote one of the most talked about The X-Files episodes, “Home,” which was the first episode to receive a viewer discretion warning for graphic content and was called “one of TV’s most disturbing hours” by Entertainment Weekly. Can you give us any tidbits about what to expect from the new season—will there be any recurring characters or themes? There will be characters coming back from the past. But this show doesn’t dwell on the past. It recognizes what had come before, but the stories we tell will move everything forward. Some of the issues left unresolved will be addressed. That’s pretty much all I can divulge. We are not shy about graphic content or subject matter, but The X-Files had never been about doing stories for the sake of shocking anyone.
The new season of American Horror Story “Hotel” is set around a series of brutal murders near the mysterious Hotel Cortez in Los Angeles. What is the process for deciding the story line behind each new series? The inspiration comes from writer/producer Ryan Murphy. Each season, Ryan and the writing staff will discuss possible arenas to set the new iteration of American Horror. Once an area is decided, then a lot of research will go into the specific topics we want to explore. Characters are created to populate the show. One of the advantages we have is the returning cast – we can write to specific actors knowing what their strengths are and how they want to be challenged. The next step is just the hard work of creating story and finding surprising ways to seduce our audience.
Many of the projects you work on have a pretty significant cult following. Can you share any fan stories? I am grateful for all the attention my work has gotten from fans. And genre fans are probably the most intelligent, and fervent fans out there. They are passionate about the work, and that can rub both ways – being loved and being hated. That kind of attention certainly keeps you on your toes. The beginning of The X-Files also coincided with the beginning of the popularity of chatting about the show after it aired. They were called newsgroups way back in the infancy of the Internet. I remember monitoring and talking with fans about the show and soon began to realize that a lot of fans were upset with Scully – the skeptical character on The X-Files. That feedback actually led us to write “Beyond the Sea,” the episode where Scully and Mulder change roles. For one episode, he became the skeptic and she the believer.
How did you become interested in working in the sci-fi/horror genre? I read a lot of sci-fi as a kid, not so much horror though who doesn’t love Stephen King. My interest in the genre is entirely related to telling great stories. You can’t watch The X-Files pilot without being intrigued and excited about the possibilities that show offered to tell unique stories. That was my entre into the genre. My inspiration comes from the mysteries that are all around us. Every day, things happen to people that are seemingly unexplainable, it just takes a little skewing of perspective to make that into a genre story.
You have worked on feature films but you primarily work in television, and now with companies like Netflix there are a lot more opportunities in that realm. What advice would you give current film students on how they can use their education to prepare them for the new frontier of content creation? Originality has and will always be the key to being successful in the business of TV and film. The burgeoning opportunities afforded by the new outlets will only place a greater focus on original content. The education that Loyola Marymount University provides will become a foundation that you can draw from as you enter the business. It’s not just the technical aspect of filmmaking that is important, learning how to learn, being curious and fascinated by the world, and developing a point of view are the hallmarks of a liberal arts education – those are the keys to creating original content. Believe it or not, my Religions of the World class helped me craft stories and create characters. My Philosophy class taught me how to look at issues from different perspectives. That’s the preparation everyone in the film school can benefit from as they go into this fertile landscape of being content providers.
What are you currently watching? Anything my wife wants to watch. But we both love Game of Thrones. Homeland. Walking Dead. Modern Family. And though it hasn’t aired yet – American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson will be amazing.
Loyola Marymount University School of Film and Television has appointed three new professors: Associate Professor of Film and Television Studies Carla Marcantonio, Assistant Professor of Production Shane Acker and Distinguished Professor of Film Arthur Dong.
Carla Marcantonio is a scholar of transnational/global cinema and joins SFTV’s Film and Television Studies Department as Associate Professor. Her articles and essays have appeared in collected editions as well as in journals such as Social Text, Women and Performance and Cineaste. Her book, Global Melodrama: Nation, Body, and History in Contemporary Cinema, is forthcoming this fall. The book investigates how contemporary film melodrama helps map new temporal, spatial and embodied territories in response to globalization. Professor Marcantonio’s scholarly work on Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar has lead to her serving as his translator for the past decade. This work has taken diverse incarnations from interpreting during interviews at the New Yorker Festival, New York Times Talks and the AFI Fest as well as during development workshops for the adaptation of Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown to Broadway. She also translated the pre-production script of Broken Embraces. She was previously on the faculty at George Mason University where she was Assistant Professor of Film and Media Studies in the English Department. Professor Marcantonio received her PhD in Cinema Studies from New York University in 2007.
Award-winning director, animator and designer Shane Acker joins the Production Department as Assistant Professor. He brings over 15 years experience working in the entertainment industry and has held academic positions at Loyola Marymount University, University of Southern California, Gnomon School for Visual Effects, American Intercontinental University and University of California, Los Angeles. As an MFA student at UCLA, Professor Acker wrote, directed and animated the 11-minute short 9, which premiered at Sundance in 2005, garnering numerous awards including a Student Academy Award, the “Best in Show” at the 2005 SIGGRAPH Electronic Theater and a student Emmy. That film was nominated for an Academy Award in 2006 and was subsequently made into the Focus Features 2009 feature film of the same name, produced by Tim Burton and Timor Bekmambetov. It marked Professor Acker’s directorial debut. His additional credits include Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (animator), Total Recall (previs artist) and Oz the Great and Powerful (senior previs artist). Professor Acker received his MFA in Animation from UCLA in 2005, and a Master’s degree in Architecture from UCLA in 1999.
Arthur Dong has been appointed to the newly created position of Distinguished Professor of Film. He will draw upon his expertise to help create an MFA documentary filmmaking program. Professor Dong has taught documentary film at numerous institutions locally, nationally and internationally. His films have been theatrically distributed throughout America and featured in hundreds of festivals worldwide. His awards include an Oscar nomination, a George Foster Peabody Award, three Sundance Film Festival awards, the Berlin Film Festival’s Teddy Award, Taiwan’s Golden Horse Award and five Emmy nominations. He has been selected as a Guggenheim Film Fellow, a Rockefeller Media Arts Fellow, and honored with the Pioneer Award from the Organization of Chinese Americans, with two consecutive GLAAD Media Awards (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation), and the OUT 100 Award from OUT magazine, which was presented to him “for waging a one-man anti-violence project with his documentary on convicted murderers of homosexuals, Licensed to Kill.” His critically acclaimed films include Coming Out Under Fire, Forbidden City, USA; Hollywood Chinese, and most recently, The Killing Fields of Dr. Haing S. Ngor. Professor Dong’s book Forbidden City, USA, based on his film, won the 2015 American Book Award and the Independent Publisher’s IPPY Award. He has served on the boards of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Film Independent, Outfest and the National Film Preservation Board at the Library of Congress. Professor Dong earned his BA in Film from San Francisco State University and holds a Directing Fellow Certificate from AFI.