Saturday 30 June 2012

Common Mistakes Made by Webseries Creators

I was in the process of writing a post about the problems I have observed in web series after web series. And I was planning to complement my ideas with a survey of the many filmmakers I've come across during the last year.

Then I ran across an article written by Yuri Baranovsky, following a stint as a judge at the International Television Festival. I couldn't improve on his work, so...

Things I Beg Web Series Creators to Please Do and/or Not Do - Yuri Baranovsky

As one of the Executive Board Members (EBM) for the ITV Festival, one of my responsibilities is to vote on the winners of specific categories. This year, I was one of the EBMs (what we call ourselves when we meet in our underground castle) to vote on this year’s comedies.
    I don’t get to watch a lot of web shows because, unfortunately, I just don’t have enough time between writing, working and living in underground castles, so watching fifteen or so series in a row was interesting for me.
    The thing I noticed is that many creators tend to make the same mistakes. Which led me to... this:

1. Please stop... the city montage transitions. This is not a necessary element to your series. We don’t need to see cars driving by and people walking on the street. We especially don’t need to see this eight times in a seven minute show. The street montage has been done to death by television for far too long and, if you’ll notice, most series don’t do it anymore. It’s a tired technique and feels slightly off-putting in a new genre. Yes, sometimes it helps a transition, but mostly, it makes your show feel like Dharma and Greg. Stop it, please.

2. Please stop... the drum roll to a scene. You know, that moment when a song finishes and the drummer is like, “I’m going to finish up with a groovy beat, man?” And then you put that drum into your show, usually after a particularly enthralling street montage, and then as the drums hit and end, you cut into the action? Stop doing that. It makes your show feel like a '90s sitcom. I should not feel like I’m watching Saved by the Bell when I’m watching a show in a genre often referred to as “new media.”

3. Please audition your writers. Audition your writers like you theoretically audition your actors or hire your crew. If you’ve never written before and think, “I have a fantastic idea. I’m going to write a full series because ANYONE can write!” then you’re setting yourself up for potential disaster. Or, at least, a bad series.
    Writing is tremendously undervalued in entertainment. I’m not sure how that happened, considering our art was built around brilliant writers (for what is theater, and of course, film, without Woody Allen, Neil Simon, Mel Brooks, Tony Kushner, Shakespeare and others), but at some point, everyone decided that writing is easy and, hey, they’d love to show you the screenplay they just wrote that’s in the trunk of their car and is formatted in Wordpad.
    Writing is a craft. Writers take years to perfect it and “perfect it” is a strong word, because I think good writers never stop learning to write. Just like most people who make a show don’t say, “And I will be the director of photography!” when they have no idea how to turn on a camera, someone who has never written shouldn’t decide he’s going to write an entire series.
    Love your show, respect it, and find a voice that can bring it to its maximum potential.

4. Please... get a sound guy. Or a microphone. Or just put a lot of time into your sound. This was our problem when we started Break a Leg, and it’s a major issue in many of the series I saw. The problem with bad sound is that it can completely ruin all the other good elements – acting seems worse, writing seems worse, cinematography seems worse, so on and so forth. I completely understand restrictions, but be aware of those restrictions when you’re shooting. If you don’t have a great mic, don’t shoot outside, don’t shoot in echo-ey buildings, find places that optimize your sound. It really goes a long way into strengthening the look and feel of a show.

5. Please... get a funny editor. If you’re doing comedy, you need a funny writer, you need funny actors, and, equally as important (and sometimes more important) you need a funny editor. Many a joke is not only fixed but made in the editing booth. An editor editing comedy must have impeccable timing, they must know how long to wait for each beat, they must know when to cut out to a wide because it’s funnier, and, most importantly, they need to know what’s not funny so they can chop it out of there.
    Having a funny editor is almost as important as having a funny writer – so when you’re hiring one, make sure you see their comedy reel. A slam-bam-sexy-reel might be pretty, but it doesn’t mean he can make you laugh.

6. Please stop... with the long opening intro. I get you want to introduce all of your actors. I think that’s great. I’m a huge proponent of giving everyone due credit. But, can you do it quickly? Unless you’ve got big name actors that will make us go, “Ooh, really?” your intro should quickly explain the story in 15-30 seconds (less, less, less is the mantra) and go on to the far more important part of your story – which... is your story.

7. Please, for the love of all that is good in this world, cut. Writers, cut your scenes, editors, cut them too. Web shows already have the unfortunate problem of being forced to be short (for some strange reason), it doesn’t help when you have a six minute scene in a seven minute episode that takes place in the same location.
    In a screenplay, a scene should be no longer than 3-5 pages. Sometimes, sometimes you can push it to 7, if it’s climactic or you’re Quentin Tarantino and think that every scene should be 25 minutes long and then everyone should die at the end.
    A screenplay, though, is 90-120 pages long. A web show is, at its best, 10 pages long. Create movement, create a sense of story, don’t stick us into one location, and make the same joke over and over again.
    A very wise man once told me to know when to kill my babies. I’m pretty sure he was talking about my dialogue and not my future babies, and it's good advice.
    Much like a good joke, a good comedic scene is told fast, hits hard, and moves on before you can stop smiling.

... and those are the things that I noticed. By all means, don’t feel like you have to listen to me
in the end, I’m another douchebag making stuff and while we’ve had success, it doesn’t mean that you have to listen to anything I say. I have been doing this for a good while now and, having made all of these mistakes myself, I feel like I have at least some kind of advice to offer.
    But I’m still some guy on the Internet.
    What’s more important is that the work is ever growing and ever getting better, and I applaud every single person who picked up a camera and took the step to make something.
    I very much applaud the effort; I think you should all be proud of yourselves. But I think you should be proud of yourselves for a minute or two, and then I think you should watch your project and say, “How do I make this better?” and do that, infinitely, until you’re dead or have gone insane.
    Good luck and good job.

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Yuri Baranovsky is one of the founders of the production company Happy Little Guillotine Films. HLG Films created one of the first web series, Break a Leg. Yuri and his brother Vlad are currently writing a college textbook called Writing for New Media, to be published by Holcomb Hathaway.

Friday 29 June 2012

Mary had a Little Lamb - Grimm Endings

Mary had a Little Lamb - Grimm Endings is part of a webseries of twisted retellings of the classic fairy tales with... grim endings.

The series is made by J. Sibley Law, the creator of a dozen online television series ranging from cooking shows to animation series to political spoofs to comedy. One of the first YouTube Partners (ever), he is currently launching two networks (TangoDango and Ziz). He is an Official Honoree of the Webby Awards and regularly creates commercials for broadcast (seen on ESPN, etc.). Additionally, he co-founded the NYC Web Series Writers Group for the IAWTV.

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Thursday 28 June 2012

What do movie stars want in a script?

This is a question that gets a run every so often. It usually takes the form of a survey of movie choices made by a handful of super-stars over the previous couple of years. What-kind-of-scripts-did-they-choose, and let's-take-a-guess-at-why.

It's as good a method as any, even if fashions come and go. The screenplays chosen for William Powell and Morna Loy were not the same as those chosen for Rock Hudson and Doris Day, or Meg Ryan and any of her long list of leading men. 

I won't bother you with all the bits and pieces (you can read that on his blog if you want to), but here are his conclusions.
  • You have to ask yourself when writing a script: Is this a role an actor would want to play? I’m not sure we can make any universal conclusions here, but I did pick up on some trends that might help us answer this question.
  • The role has to be challenging in some capacity. True, many of these actors are slapping down product in the middle of the summer where mediocrity reigns supreme, but that doesn’t mean they want neutered down roles. These thespians have gotten to the top of the heap by playing dozens, if not hundreds, of characters. They’re looking for something new and different. Brad Pitt plays a character not only at many different ages in his life, but plays those ages on a reverse timeframe. That’s challenging stuff. Denzel Washington plays a character who rarely speaks, who emotes only with his eyes and his actions. That’s a challenge. DiCaprio operates in a dreamworld where he has imprisoned his wife. Every time he goes into that dreamworld, he’s faced with a sea of conflicting emotions.
  • I think your character needs to be heroic. A lot of these characters are saving other people. I hate to state the obvious, but actors are very egotistical. They want to play God and save others. There’s nothing more heroic than that. Just remember, heroism doesn’t always mean stopping an asteroid from hitting earth. It can mean delivering the last bible across a post-apocalyptic U.S. It can mean committing suicide to have your organs save seven other people. Whether you’re saving a nation or saving others, look for ways to make your characters heroic.
  • Characters should have something going on inside of them, as well as outside. Running around shooting people is fun, but it’s not stretching any acting muscles. You gotta give ’em some toys to play with upstairs. Benjamin Button has an ongoing physical transformation, as well as having to deal with the realities of being different from everyone else. Denzel Washington gets to shred people into sushi, yet must learn to open himself up to others. Tom Cruise gets to fly around on cars, but still must learn to be selfless before he can find happiness. Note how in two of these cases (Cruise and Washington’s) the internal stuff is tied to the character arc, and in Benjamin’s case it’s more of a general internal battle that never arcs. That’s fine. Whether you’re arcing your character, or not, at the very least give them some kind of issue they’re struggling with internally.
  • Look at some of your own favorite actors, the ones you envision playing heroes in your scripts, and break down their last ten roles, like I did here. See if you can find any patterns in their choices. That could be the key to making them say 'yes' to you.

Wednesday 27 June 2012

Nora Ephron: 1941-2012

Nora Ephron was born in New York City. Her parents, Henry and Phoebe Ephron, were also screenwriters. Nora modeled her self-deprecating and deadpan writing style on Dorothy Parker. She majored in political science and wrote for the weekly newspaper at Wellesley College, from which she graduated in 1962.

She then worked briefly as an intern in the White House of President John F. Kennedy. She moved to New York and became a mail girl at Newsweek
for a year. In 1966, as a reporter for the New York Post, she broke the news that Bob Dylan had married Sara Lownds.

While married to Carl Bernstein in the mid-1970s, at her husband and Bob Woodward's request, she helped Bernstein re-write William Goldman's script for All the President's Men, because the two journalists were not happy with it. The Ephron-Bernstein script was not used in the end, but was seen by someone who offered Ephron her first screenwriting job, for a television movie. 

Nora Ephron enjoyed international success with the hit When Harry Met Sally... (1989), a romantic comedy directed by Rob Reiner, starring Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan. The success of Sleepless in Seattle (1993), co-written with younger sister, Delia, established Ephron as Hollywood's foremost creator of romantic comedies. In her film Julie & Julia (2009), she told the parallel stories of famed food writer Julia Child and of a contemporary Manhattan woman who sets out to cook her way through every recipe in Childs's classic Mastering the art of French Cooking.

She was married three times, to writer Dan Greenburg, to journalist Carl Bernstein of Watergate fame, and to screenwriter Nicholas Pileggi (Goodfellas, Casino, American Gangster.)


Some articles by, or about, Nora Ephron at The New Yorker

"Show of Hands"

Wanna make a film, but you've got no actors? Improvise.

Show of Hands is a new webseries, starring... hands.
Bob Bobopko wants to get famousso he's gonna show Hollywood he's got chops. When Betty Bobopko leaves the house, she assumes that her husband is watching their young son. But as soon as she's gone, Crazy Cousin Eddie arrives to help Bob "get famous," by making their own internet series. Buddy ends up in a sticky situation.
Here's Episode 1.

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Tuesday 26 June 2012

Why Screenwriters and Filmmakers Fail

Elliot Grove is a Canadian-born film producer who founded the Raindance Film Festival, the British Independent Film Awards, and Raindance.TV. He has produced over 150 short films, and five feature films; he teaches writers and producers in the UK, Europe, Japan and America; and has written three books which have become industry standardsRaindance Writers' Lab, Raindance Producers' Lab Lo-To-No Budget Filmmaking and 130 Projects to Get You into Filmmaking.
From all that we can deduce that he knows a few things about filmmaking. Here are some of his thoughts on why people fail in at screenwriting and filmmaking.

I was sitting around contemplating the careers of so many of my friends and acquaintances, when I had a moment of clarity: Why not write up the mistakes and pitfalls so many filmmakers and screenwriters fall into? I know I am going to get into a lot of trouble here. You might not like or agree with me—and that is totally fine. I might even offend you. That is not fine, and I am apologising in advance. Perhaps you’d rather not read Why Filmmakers and Screenwriters Fail…

1. Their Screenplays Don’t Tell Stories

One of the most common failings with films submitted to the festival is that they lack structure. If there’s no story, people won’t watch it. This applies to documentaries as well as fictional narratives. The best  documentaries have a strong story with a beginning, middle and end. Try to condense your story into one or two lines which are at it’s heart, and link everything you write back to that.

2. They Don’t Clear Music Rights

You can’t put someone else’s music in your film without their written permission. If you do, you are in breach of copyright laws in every single country of the world.

3. They Don’t Understand Social Media

It’s a whole new world out there, media-wise. Get a firm handle on what you need to do to build a following of people for you and your film.

4. They Don’t Move With The Times

The films that people love to watch are groundbreaking, either with regard to topic or techniques used. Films like Blair Witch and Paranormal Activity have inspired many filmmakers and played on trends of the time.

5. They Don’t Have a Marketing Strategy

Successful filmmakers can visualise the film buyer and distributor of their film BEFORE they make it. And more importantly, they visualise the marketing honcho.

5. They Don’t Network

It’s a people industry. If you don’t talk to that person sitting next to you, how do you know whether they could be the producer/director/writer you’re looking for?
    You need to meet people and get to know them. They may not be able to work on your project, but they might know someone or they might be able to give you the advice that will solve your problem.

6. They Don’t Make Films/Write Scripts

Practice makes perfect. If you can’t make a decent film for $200, no one will believe you can make a decent film for $200,000. If you can’t write a short script, no one will commission you to write a feature. No matter where your talent lies, start filmmaking.
    Get together with a few mates and film something on someone’s mobile phone. Then, with whoever still wants to do it, make another. And another. Your first mobile phone film may not have been Oscar-worthy, but with a couple of films under your belt you’ll be rapidly improving. There’s no better way to learn how to make films than by making films.

7. Don’t expect handouts from government

The government has slashed arts funding over the last five years and we can expect even more cuts as money is channeled ever elsewhere. Do not rely on government funding. Use social media, use contacts, and use your initiative.

8. They Don’t Train

Everyone makes mistakes when they’re starting out, but you can minimize these by talking to people who have already made them. Film theory won’t help you when you’re learning to make films, but listening to people with practical filming experience can. They’ve done it before and they can give you hints which will help you avoid some of the nightmares that first time filmmakers often face.

9. The Favourite Wine of Failed Filmmakers

“We can’t make a film, or write a screenplay because…” Don’t make excuses. Make Movies. Write Scripts.

10. They Say ‘But I don’t know how anything works’

If it’s something that you need to know, find out! There are loads of classes available and hundreds of websites with hints about every aspect of filmmmaking, from special effects to directing.

11. They think “I’ll fix it in post”

With all the advances in post production technology, you can now do almost anything in post. And with software getting cheaper all the time, it’s easy to rely on it to fix our mistakes, but don’t be fooled. Whether you’re dubbing the audio or getting rid of a boom in shot, fixing stuff in post should only be used as a very last resort. If there’s any way that you can fix it during production it will almost always work out quicker and easier than sorting it in post. If you get everything as good as it can possibly be, then post-production will be a calm and stress-free process.

12. They Break The Rules

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for breaking the rules when it helps a story. Crossing the line to cause confusion or disorientation often works and, let's face it, rules are made to be broken. To break the rules successfully, you need to understand why the rules are in place, and you need to do it deliberately. If you accidentally cross the line it will look amateurish and it will pull the audience out of the story.

13. They Alienate Their Crew

The words "please" and "thank you" cost nothing, yet so many people forget them. If you’re making a low budget film, the chances are that most, if not all, of your crew are working for nothing, because they love your project, so be nice to them. Try to get them decent food and decent coffee. When you’re frustrated that the sun has gone in on that perfect shot, don’t take it out on your DoP. When a train goes past, just as you’re filming a pivotal moment, don’t take it out on your sound engineer. It’s simply good manners.

14. They Don’t Get Permission to Film on Location

The rules on where you can and can’t film in most big cities are notoriously complicated. It mostly depends on which area you’re filming in, and how much disruption it will cause, but it’s best to do your research well in advance of filming. The last thing that you want is to have your schedule disrupted because you suddenly discover that you cannot film somewhere. You’ll also need to make sure that you have permission to film on any private property, and be clear on whether your location is private or public property.

15. They Don’t Consider Other Opinions

If you show someone your script and they have constructive criticism, don’t ignore it—you may not agree, but consider whether it will improve your script. The same is true if someone on your crew has another idea of how to achieve an effect. People who have worked on different projects will have different approaches to a problem. Make sure you give someone’s idea full consideration.

16. They Believe Their Own Press Kit

Being narcissistic is part of the artistic personality. One needs a certain amount of arrogance as an artist. How else does a painter know where to put the brush? Sometimes, however, one’s judgement gets clouded and you need to recognise this and be open to criticism.

Monday 25 June 2012

"Then and Now"

Having a bad day? Cheer up, things could be worse. Let me show you how...

Then and Now is a short documentary about the 2011 Japanese tsunami. It was directed by Paul Johannessan.
In Ishinomaki, Japan, survivors of the devastating earthquake and tsunami reflect on their experiences and tell us about the reconstruction and their hopes for the future.
The film is currently in the running for an award. If you like the film and want to vote for it, click here.

Sunday 24 June 2012

Funding films in a changing landscape

The Filmmakers Collaborative is a Boston-based non-profit organisation. A couple of weeks ago they hosted a series of panels and discussions under the banner of "Making Media Now: Thriving in a Changing Landscape." Anthony Kaufman wrote up the exercise for IndieWire under the heading of The 7 Things You Must Know to Thrive in a Changing Media Landscape

#1 Every project should have a Kickstarter page.

Project websites are so 2007. After Kickstarter came onto the scene and spurred a crowdfunding revolution, all media creators need to consider a Kickstarter site as a crucial starting point, both for funding and audience gathering.
     Bill Lichtenstein, producer/director of The American Revolution, a documentary about a Boston radio station, advises filmmakers to have some donors in your back pocket to save for the last minute to push a project over its Kickstarter goal; he also suggests sending updates to donors to make them feel they're a part of your campaign and targeting all web traffic to your fundraising page. And while Kickstarter projects aren't anything new anymore, he suggests hiring a publicist to promote it.

   -- Wikipedia Comparison --  

#2 "Digital turns dollars into pennies." Be prepared for it.

At a panel titled, Reframing Distribution: Times are a Changin’, consultant Brian Newman spoke the above dictum, a terse assessment of the changing economies of scale in the new digital realm in which $10,000 advances become $100 royalty checks.
     "We can no longer think about creating a revenue scenario that has the same amount of money, but drawn from different sources," agreed Crowdstarter's Paola Freccero. "When you add up iTunes, Cable VOD, et cetera, it doesn't add up to what buyers used to pay upfront."
     Newman said the magic budget number for an independent project is $300,000, "unless the money is grant money that doesn't need to be paid back," he said. "You have to shoot on very little so that when you make little [money] back it'll cover what little you spent."

#3 Create a demand.

Media makers should start marketing the minute they start a project. If they seek help from financiers and other supporters to get something off the ground, they should also ask for help when it's complete to spread the word.
     "Marketing is about creating demand," said Freccero. "And if you don't have something that has inherent demand, you need to create it. And I think the way you create demand is that you start giving it away for free. And the more people like it, the more people start talking about it." While it may sound counterintuitive, Freccero says that once word gets out and people start asking for a project, "then you can start charging for it."

#4 There are not enough distributors, so be willing to experiment.

There are some 50,000 movies submitted to film festivals worldwide, according to Newman; there certainly aren't that many conventional distribution slots. Filmmakers need to educate themselves on their options and be willing to experiment with a wide variety of distribution approaches, platforms and strategies. While traditional distributors and audiences are dwindling, some projects are particularly suited to nontraditional distribution, such as documentaries with clearly identifiable and reachable target audiences.

#5 Create contexts for the emergence of the unexpected.

According to Jesse Shapins, co-creator of and associate director of Harvard's metaLAB, successful media projects today should allow for a space where new and surprising elements can organically develop from them. Shapins cited Zeega's website and broadcast series Mapping Main Street as an example, which not only produced radio segments for National Public Radio, but also allowed contributions from everyday readers.

#6 Audience participation should be encouraged, but it is also authored.

Participatory culture strikes a delicate balance between audience involvement, but not to the point of utter chaos, according to Shapins. He advised media makers to "create structures for people to succeed in contributing" that go beyond simply adding a button on a website that says, "Share your story."
     For Mapping Main Street, the public was asked to contribute photos, videos and audio stories about their own Main Streets. But one has to be careful with crowdsourced projects. Creators have to create a simply designed and tightly controlled framework in which contributions will be part of the project, said Shapins. "There's this idea that everyone is a great storyteller," he said. "It's total bullshit."

#7 Quality is the #1 driver.

For a moment, forget marketing, budgets and participatory platforms. Remember: If it isn't great, no one will want to see it. The ultimate leveler, quality separates the wheat from the chaff. Ultimately, it is still the most important aspect of creating a film, a documentary, a YouTube series or a transmedia project. It has to work. It has to be effective. And if it doesn't, no amount of crowd-funding, audience aggregation or viral marketing will do a damn bit of good. Unless, of course, it has cats in funny costumes.

Friday 22 June 2012

Interview with Levi George

Levi George is an Adelaide-based writer, director, animator and illustrator. He is Creative Director at Awesome Fighter Animation and one of the makers of the Livin' with Steve webseries.

Levi popped up on the blog after we ran an episode of Livin' with Steve, so I took the opportunity to ask him some questions.

*  Are there any famous artist/illustrators who have especially influenced you? 
Well to be honest I didn't design the characters in Livin' With Steve, they were created by my talented friend Tim Cannan. A lot of people compare our drawings to Jhonen Vasquez or Jamie Hewlett though, and I know he's a big fan of each of them.

What training or mentoring have you received?
In 2011, when I had finished all my studies, I did a four month internship at the Peoples Republic of Animation. The people there have been great mentors and friends to Tim and I since we were in High School. They have been very helpful when it comes to planning productions and being creative in general.

What was the first paying job you ever had?
I was a shelf stacker at Coles. I remember being terrible at it.

What was your first job in the film business?
The People's Republic of Animation gave Tim Cannan and I a gig animating some mobile phone screen savers for the Big Pond Adelaide Film Festival in 2007. I suppose that would be my first official industry gig.

*  What was the best advice you were given at the start of your career?
"Always write for yourself." It's hard to write something that you don't believe in and make it good. It's much easier to write from your own voice and create something you have some emotional attachment to.

Many older people are puzzled by the zombie craze. What attracts you to the subject?
I think for many young people the idea of a Zombie Apocalypse is a fantasy. Lots of friends of mine talk about a Zombie Apocalypse like it would be the greatest thing to ever happen. My generation has always known this very safe and secure world where we have instantaneous access to anything we want. In some ways the idea of having all that taken away and living in a survival-of-the-fittest world would be a way to prove our worth, probably more to ourselves than anyone else. That's my opinion anyway.

What has been your experience when dealing with the South Australian Film Corporation?
They have been great. I met Kate Jarrett while I was studying at the Australian Film, Television and Radio School. When we were looking for funding for Livin' With Steve she was very helpful, she always chased us up when she found an opportunity for us, and really believed in us. 

Livin' with Steve
How do you decide what projects to work on? Is it purely a question of available funding?
The group of people I work with are very funny and creative people. We usually come up with our own ideas and develop them. We do a lot of commercial work in Animation and Design to pay ourselves, but our short films are almost always a labour of love. In the case of a series like Livin' With Steve though, it's very important to me that we find enough funds to stop the crew from starving to death. I think asking struggling artist to work on your project for free really takes advantage of people's good nature. It should only be a last resort.

Do you have any ambition to go to the USA and work for Pixar or Disney?
At this stage in my career I'm more interested in working on my own ideas. Pixar sounds like a great place to work though. I heard they have a cereal bar.  
[True. Check it out.]

What big project are you working on at the moment?
I've been talking about making an animated series for children since the start of the year. We've started brainstorming ideas but I can't say to much about it at this stage, it's still early days.

Will there be a second season of Livin' With Steve?
I hope so. I have some good ideas for a second season and I'd love to return to the characters some day. The more people watch it and share it, the more likely we will be able to make another season.

Livin' with Steve
You teach 2D animation at UniSA. How many people are interested in studying animation in Adelaide?
I'm not teaching there this year, but seems like a lot of people are interested in animation. Only a handful really follow it up into a career. It's such a fun thing to learn, but it's hard to commit so much time to learning it properly. I think a lot of people find it intimidating and quit. The people who stick to it for a long time are usually the ones who want it the most though.

*  If you could recommend just one filmmaking advice book to a newcomer, what would that book be?
I know everyone says this, but The Animator's Survival Kit, by Richard Williams, is a must have for any aspiring animators.

* Name ten of your all-time favourite movies.

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Thursday 21 June 2012

Where Good Ideas Come From

If you're a writer, what you need above all else is a good idea to write about. Something new; something fresh, exciting, inspirational.

But where do these ideas come from? The search for the "how" of great ideas has been going on for quite a while. Steven Johnson is an American popular science author and media specialist, who has written a bunch of books.

Here he tells us what he knows about where good ideas come from.

    Website    Wikipedia    

PS:  I love his idea of "a space where ideas could mingle". That's what screenwriters' groups are all about. If you don't belong to one, it may be time to start looking.

Wednesday 20 June 2012

"The Telegram Man"

Most people these days have never seen a telegram. The last one I received, telling me I was being offered a job in the Public Circus, was delivered to my home in North Carlton in 1974.

The Telegram Man is an Australian short film, directed and produced by James Francis Khehtie, and starring Jack Thompson, Sigrid Thornton and Gary Sweet.
During the long years of World War II, Australia's small farming communities paid a terrible price. In the rural towns of New South Wales, one family each week discovered that their son or husband or brother or father would not be coming home. In the throes of such grief, one seldom considers the man who delivers the news.
The film has already won a stack of awards, but it's up for another. If you like this film and want to vote for it, click here.

Tuesday 19 June 2012

"New Boy"

New Boy is a short film from Ireland. It was winner of Best Narrative Short at the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival and nominated for an Academy Award.
A young African boy with a haunting back story starts school in Ireland, and finds out quickly exactly what it means to be the new kid.
New Boy was written and directed by Steph Green. The boy, Joseph, was played by Olutunji Ebun-Cole, who had a small part in Casino Royale (2006). 


Monday 18 June 2012

The tricky art of trailer-making

This one's a quick trailer for an old Jerry Seinfeld movie, called Comedian (2002), a movie I never saw.

The trailer is worth watching because it raises a lot of questions about trailers.

"No, I like it in here."

The real voiceover master was Don LaFontaine (1940-2008). He was known as "Thunder Throat" and "The Voice of God." He was also the guy who invented the line, "In a world where..." He recorded those words thousands of times, having made over 5,000 trailers.

Don LaFontaine: One man, in a land, in a time, in a world... All his own.
Here's his story in his own words.

Here's some other people's stories, as well.

Okay, so I'm a sucker for a good trailer. Here's one manufactured from the Vandelay Industries sequence of Seinfeld.

And just one more, the thriller, Hello Newman.

Sunday 17 June 2012

"The Critics"

Most budding screenwriters have been subjected to one or more lectures about the evils of using dialogue in screenplays.

"Show, don't tell," they say. Notice, they say, they don't show their advice.

Well, now we have some people taking that advice seriously. Two film critics, no less. Here they can be seen silently discussing the merits of silent movies.

So sit back and silently enjoy the sight of David Denby and Richard Brody critiquing The Artist and the lost art of cinema before sound.

Saturday 16 June 2012

"Henri, Le Chat Noir"

Time to brush up on your French. 

Henri, the black cat.

Yep. Very good, except it misses the existentialist tenor of the piece.

Now for the short film, by Will Braden of Seattle. Tu
rn the sound up a bit...

Oh, wait. There's a second Episode?

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Friday 15 June 2012

22 Story Lessons... from Pixar

Emma Coats is an animator who works for Pixar. Although she is a relatively low-level employee, she listens when the serious story-people talk. And when she hears something good, she writes it down. 

Early last year, she tweeted a series of “story basics”—guidelines she learned from her more senior colleagueson how to create appealing stories. In May 2011, the Pixar blog (The Pixar Touch) published a story about Emma's lessons

Some of the Pixar crew, hard at work
For those who missed them first time around, here are Emma's twenty-two Lessons.  
(Note:  I was interested to see Brian McDonald's story outline method included on the list.)
  • You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.
  • You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be v. different.
  • Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about til you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.
  • Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.
  • Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.
  • What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?
  • Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.
  • Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.
  • When you’re stuck, make a list of what WOULDN’T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.
  • Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it.
  • Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.
  • Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.
  • Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.
  • Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.
  • If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.
  • What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.
  • No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on—it’ll come back around to be useful later.
  • You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.
  • Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.
  • Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d’you rearrange them into what you DO like?
  • You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can’t just write ‘cool’. What would make YOU act that way?
  • What’s the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.

To finish, here's The Beauty of Pixar.