How to Name Your Movie: The Lawless Land of Movie Titles

The titles of films often result from hours of deliberation in which highly-paid professionals toil in studio marketing departments. After pulling a name from the magic marketing hat, they attempt to gauge the appeal, potential brand equity and even longevity of title before christening a multimillion dollar proposition with it. In the world of independent filmmaking, the process is a tad less cynical but often no less grueling.

The Odyssey of Lawless

Consider the titular odyssey of the name ?Lawless,? which is now successfully appended to the Shia LaBeouf and Tom Hardy Depression-era bootlegging flick. Originally, the film took the name of its source material, a novel titled ?The Wettest County in the World? before briefly flirting with ?The Promised Land? and then finally a distillation of its original title, ?The Wettest County.?

None of these titles sat right with the producers, however, who preferred the less descript but more broadly marketable ?Lawless,? which works better internationally where the stateside booze slang ?wet? means little more in translation than being moist. Continue reading “How to Name Your Movie: The Lawless Land of Movie Titles”

I declare myself Sonoma Valley Film Commissioner

Pray tell, is it “campaign” or “champagne” season? I always get those two confused, seeing as corks tend to pop around voting booths, at least when I’m around. You see, I’m a political demigod – I learned long ago that true power, like crap, is taken not given.  Or, at least that’s how I imagine it. Everything I know about politics I learned hanging around the office of a “West Wing” producer, where the Emmys were so abundant they were handed out as door prizes for dropping by.

Similarly powerful producers overran Sonoma last weekend. They were part of an envoy dubbed “Guild and Grapes,” a program that brings members of the Producers Guild of America to wine country. Though their collective credits could crash IMDB, the Internet Movie Database (mine could too but only because of the viruses), it fell upon me to act as Sonoma County’s de facto emissary to the motion picture industry. I exhibited such intimacy with “Schmoozing and Boozing” that one might conclude they were family relations of mine from the old country.

My charge was to lead the producers through various locations where film had been shot in Sonoma County. This included pit stops at Potter School in Bodega where Hitchcock shot the “The Birds” as well as a few favorite locations in Petaluma (“American Graffiti” and “Peggy Sue Got Married” but not “Howard the Duck”). In the Valley, we were kindly hosted by Kunde Family Estate (replete with private barrel tasting), the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art (with a fine greeting by executive director Kate Eilertsen and wines provided by Muscardini Cellars poured by the man whose name is on the award-winning bottle) and cave dinner at Nicholson Ranch, catered by Victoria Campbell of Brick and Bottle. A fine time was had by all. The only starlet who stormed off the set was moi, seeing as I was late for Sonoma International Film Festival alumni Abe Levy and Silver Tree’s on-set soiree during the shoot of their feature “Lawless.”

This is what I learned about film producers when they are not in their natural habitat – A) It’s extremely easy to get a green light when the glasses are full of red (the motion picture version of my life will be coming soon to theater near you); B) Other counties, states and countries offer rebates and incentives to film productions because they tend to be large, unwieldy users of resources for which they happily pay. They’re sort of like tourists but fatter, hungrier and require many more beds.

Though I don’t believe those minding the budgets of our local governments, let alone our citizenry, would cotton to the notion of wooing a Hollywood bankroll with taxpayer cash, it does behoove us to attract big spenders to the area. Executed correctly, a virtuous loop could develop wherein productions beget additional productions by virtue of our inherent hospitality and scenic locations, duly depicted on the silver screen. It’s like there paying us to make a commercial for Sonoma, which, by the way, I have yet to see – done right.

Dig this – Sonoma County hasn’t had a film commissioner as such since the last century (though the Sonoma County Economic Development Board’s executive director Ben Stone and Colette Thomas do an admirable job with film-related biz, as does their colleague Kevin Lopeman at the county’s Permit and Resource Management Department). This astounds me. In fact, it rallies me to political action: I hereby declare myself Film Commissioner of Sonoma Valley. So there.

As your newly (self)appointed film commissioner, I will endeavor to bring both studio and independent productions to the Valley, get heads and beds and turn restaurant dead days into humming commissaries. Local actors and artisans rejoice – their film permits will be contingent on your employment.

Now, if you contest my appointment or believe you could do a better job (insert haughty laughter), it’s yours. Now, get me permission to shoot my transmedia epic, “Winos” on the Plaza and a tax rebate for the privilege of doing so. Or you’ll never do lunch in this town again. Now, where’s the champagne?

Daedalus Howell receives commissions of film for the Future Media Research Lab at

The Aviary Soars to the Silver Screen

Photo by Abe LevyThe Aviary, the only film about flight attendants penned by an actual flight attendant, premieres at 8 p.m., THIS Friday, July 22 at the Lark Theater in Larkspur. The feature film was produced and written by Sonoma County native Silver Tree, a flight attendant on a major US carrier the past five years — and, in the interest of full disclosure, a pal with whom I’ve occasionally discussed the merits of our mutual friend Charles Shaw.

Directed by Tomales-raised Abe Levy (another buddy of Shaw’s and mine), The Aviary was shot throughout the Bay Area and stars Lara Philips (Road to Perdition) as Summer Pozzi, a flight attendant unwittingly stationed in San Francisco where she must live with a cadre of airline personnel that includes fashion chameleon Portia, catty malcontent Kate (Rachel Luttrel and Claire Rankin, respectively, both of whom currently appear in Stargate: Atlantis) and male flight attendant Lucas (Michael Gilio of the acclaimed independent film Quick Stop). Summer’s dreams of marrying a captain takeoff when she is pursued by hansom pilot Julian (Josh Randall late of NBC’s Ed, currently appearing on Scrubs). Matters get complicated, however, when Lucas also sets Summer’s heart aflutter.

The film features music by Santa Rosa-based musician Josh Staples of bands The Velveteen and The New Trust. Both Levy and Tree will be in attendance at the premiere to introduce The Aviary, which will be followed by a Q&A. Cast members will also be present at the screening as will I (look for the guy drinking from the brown bag and repeatedly telling ingenues “You know, baby, I am the co-producer”).

Tree began writing her script when temporarily furloughed following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

“When I was a junior flight attendant I was really dazzled by the lifestyle — I read all the books, saw all the movies, bought all the tchotchkes. But after the initial buzz I realized that most of it was garbage. It in no way reflected the way life at 30,000 feet is. Especially the movies,” explains Tree. “The movies about flight crew up to this point have all been horrible caricatures that poke fun and ridicule. There’s a place for that too, don’t get me wrong, but reality needs to be represented as well.”

Levy, who directed the feature film “It’s Alright Ma, I’m Only Trying,” which premiered at the Mill Valley International film festival in 2000 and later went on to the Los Angeles Film Festival, was happy to be working locally, shooting in San Francisco, Santa Rosa, Petaluma, Sebastopol.

“The Bay area is a great place to shoot. People here aren’t jaded like they are in Los Angeles where I often work. Here, they still have a sense of wonder when it comes to the movies,” says Levy. “This is a great boon for productions that are flying under the radar, because everyone wants to help, and even if you get caught shooting where you probably shouldn’t be shooting, they’ll usually be nice and let you get away with it anyway.”

Indeed, the independently-produced film redefined the meaning of “guerilla filmmaking.” Shot with a shoestring budget, the production made use of the flight benefits Tree accrued as a flight attendant to shoot locations that would otherwise have been impossible to visit.

“We shot in so many locations it makes the head spin. We actually shot in Los Angeles and New York City the same day on one occasion. Not to mention a couple of shots on the way,” recalls Levy, who also clocked time in Chicago, New York and Hawaii while directing the film. Tree, who also served as production designer spent sometime behind the camera as well.

“There were times when I had to shoot some shots without the rest of the crew. Since I’m always flying around the world it made getting shots in certain places very inexpensive for us,” recalls Tree. “Abe taught me how to use the camera and I just strapped it to my roller bag. I did some pretty difficult shots in Paris where we needed my arm to be in the shot, but I had to operate the camera as well, plus I had only ten minutes to catch the Eiffel Tower while it sparkled for midnight,” she explains. “My crew bag has double zippers so Abe rigged a hidden camera in it for some of our trips. We got some amazing footage that way, things that would have cost us tens of thousands of dollars — we got for free.”

The filmmakers are excited about premiering The Aviary at a local venue.

Says Levy, “After all the globetrotting it took to make The Aviary it’s good to be home.”

The Aviary premieres at 8 p.m., Friday, July 22 at the Lark Theater, 549 Magnolia Ave., Larkspur. For more information about The Aviary, visit For ticket information and additional screening times go to

Of Love and Layovers

Photo by Abe LevyThe Aviary, the recently released feature film lovingly crafted by my pals Silver Tree and Abe Levy (writer and director respectively) is proving to be the “little plane that could.” Inspired by Silver’s experience as a flight attendant, the duo has created a romantic comedy that both takes wing and remains grounded in what truly makes a flight attendants’ world go ’round — even when they’re 30,000 feet above it.

Expertly directed by Levy (for the love of god, man, how many films is it now?) The Aviary is a marvelous ode to those airborne angels of the aisles, who, we are reminded in this charming peek at their here-there-and-everywhere lives, are more than over-ogled dispensers of peanuts and little bottles of booze.

Online DVD sales from the film’s official website ( ) are in steep ascent, creating an upsurge of interest that bodes well for an upcoming engagement at the toney Lark Theater in Marin County later this summer (more on that as it comes).

Industry forums are abuzz with good word and suggest the film will continue to soar. One message board wank, however, had the audacity to claim that he had seen the DVD and called into question the film’s authenticity and whether or not Silver was a real flight attendant. This, of course, took a tremendous flight of fancy on his part seeing as, at the time, the DVDs hadn’t even been shipped yet.

This groundling probably learned everything he ever wanted to know about flight attendants from other airline-themed, ahem, films that lacked The Aviary’s verisimilitude and rightfully crashed and burned.

“Soul Plane” came and went, or more specifically went all over itself. “The Terminal” lived up to its name and was D.O.A. at the B.O. “View from the Top” was an Al Qaeda plot that was accidentally made into a movie. And what of the German gem “Die Kessen Stewardessen” (mysteriously translated as “Flying Sex” when released stateside )? Nein, I say, nein.

The ONLY movie about flight attendants penned by an actual, real deal, working flight attendant is The Aviary (if I’m wrong you can give my co-producer credit to Mitch Altieri).

This fact was not lost on critic Christopher Lee (no, not the Sith) who raved in JumpSeatNews, an online hub for flight attendants, “This is a wonderfully entertaining movie and I couldn’t help seeing The Aviary as a celebration of F/A life. And we all need that now. We need some fun to revisit why we do what we do.”

Here, here.

The review is reprinted in its entirety here

Purchase The Aviary here

Up, up and away