Friday 31 October 2014

Second best?

Charles Haddon Spurgeon once said, "Any fool can go first. It takes an uncommonly wise man to go second."

This story illustrates his point.

When Colin Higgins was a student here (UCLA)— before Silver Streak, before Foul Play, before his great successes—he entered the Goldwyn competition hoping to win first prize. First prize in that era was $4,500. And in that day, you could actually live pretty comfortably in Los Angeles for a year on $4,500. That was his dream, to win $4,500 so he wouldn't have to have a day job. But alas he only won second prize, which was $2,500. And so that meant he had to supplement his income with a day job.
   He went to work for a swimming pool cleaning company. And the very first pool that he's cleaning is in the flats of Beverly Hills—great big, fancy house. As he's vacuuming the pool, sitting under a beach umbrella at the pool is a guy who clearly owns this house and he's reading a screenplay. They got to chatting, and Colin tells him about this script that won the Goldwyn prize. And this producer agrees to read it, and ends up producing it. It's Harold and Maude. So you just have to stay open to the surprises. You have to be in the stream of things.
                                             ~Richard Walters, Tales from the Script

Thursday 30 October 2014

Northern India

This is footage that Jacob Schwarz captured while in India. Locations featured include: Agra, Udaipur, Jodhpur, Khichan, Jaipur, and Delhi.

Wednesday 29 October 2014

Harry Shearer performs Richard Nixon

This is one for those of us old enough to remember the original. Harry Shearer inhabits Richard Nixon in the pilot episode of a verbatim comedic re-creation of Nixon's Presidency. The series is called Nixon's The One, and includes Nixon's previously little known - and surprising - words to the CBS camera crew, which Shearer uncovered using advanced audio restoration techniques.
   For the rest of Nixon's The One, Harry Shearer and his co-writer, Nixon historian Stanley Kutler, combed through thousands of hours of the legendary Nixon audio tapes, and re-enacted word for word the best moments as if filmed by a hidden camera.

Tuesday 28 October 2014

'Song of Joy'

Here is a flashmob with 100 people from the Vallès Symphony Orchestra, Amics de l'Òpera and Coral Belles Arts choirs.

Strap yourself in, turn the volume up, and soak in a bit of cultcha, mate.

Monday 27 October 2014

Satoshi Kon - Editing Space & Time

Tony Zhou says,
Four years after his passing, we still haven't quite caught up to Satoshi Kon, one of the great visionaries of modern film. In just four features and one TV series, he developed a unique style of editing that distorted and warped space and time. Join me in honoring the greatest Japanese animator NOT named Miyazaki.

Sunday 26 October 2014

Dance like no one is watching

Here's a pre-school tap dancer who does it all to her own beat. She made up her own routine to 'Broadway Baby' and gave it everything.

Saturday 25 October 2014

Interview with Danny Hill

Danny Hill is an American photographer and filmmaker, who lives in Champaign, Illinois. He is the writer, director, producer and editor of the web series Downtown, and he broadcasts an interview/chat show called Almost Intimate.

Where were you born, and where did you grow up?

I was born in Champaign, Illinois and grew up in that same area.

What kind of a family did you grow up with?

I grew up with a large family, with several siblings and cousins, etc.

Where did you go to school?

I went to school at Urbana High School

When did you first take an interest in movies?

I've loved movies since I was 6 or 7 years old.

What was your first paying job (in any field)?

My first paying job was cleaning and caring for a neighbor's dogs.

You make a living by doing photos, music videos, etc., for local artists, actors, businessmen. Have you photographed anyone famous?

I have photographed a few local names. Some are models, and local actors. Most recently I've done portraits for business owners and aspiring screenwriters.

So far this year, you’ve released five episodes of the web series Downtown. What was the impetus for you to tell this particular story?

I had a simple urge to create. I didn't plan on making a groundbreaking show or a great show, I simply wanted to make a show. Something inside of me told me that I needed to do 'more'. So I did.

How many episodes of Downtown do you anticipate making?
Danny Hill in Downtown (2014)
Downtown's first season will have it's finale on October 29th. After that, I will air the entire show on local cable channel UPTV and am heavily considering doing a Season 2 of the show, with new cast and locations. The second season would have about 8 episodes.

Is there a large group of people interested in filmmaking in Champaign, Illinois at present?

There are some. There are a few university and college groups that do a lot of work. Roger Ebert was from Champaign as well, so it's an okay film scene, but I started my own company because I felt there wasn't enough.

How did you find the people you needed, the support group necessary, to make Downtown?

Some of the cast and crew were friends who often asked me about being a part of what I do. They knew I was into film and was very serious about it. Others were found through Craigslist. I use that a lot to find and gauge talent/crew.

What do you wish someone had told you about filmmaking when you were starting out?

I wish someone would have told me that there's more to the creation of a film than buying a camera and having an idea. I wish someone would have told me that it is problematic to hire friends for large roles in a film.

What are your ten favourite (favourite, not ‘best’) movies of all time?
West Side Story (1961)
The Good, The Bad & The Ugly (1966)
Beowulf (2007)
Strangers On A Train (1951)
Seven Psychopaths (2012)
For A Few Dollars More (1965)
The Dark Knight (2008)
Once Upon A Time In The West (1968)
Antz (1998)
Inglourious Basterds (2009)
What’s next for Danny Hill?

I am currently in pre-production for my upcoming summer film entitled Holly. As well as continuing my interview show Almost Intimate and working on other small projects.

Friday 24 October 2014

Justin Zackham on 'The Bucket List'

I got to the point where I was actually getting kind of disgusted with myself, because I wasn't writing much, I wasn't writing well, and I had just sort of fallen into this laconic malaise. One day, I woke up and I was lying in bed thinking, "I gotta get my shit together." And I got a piece of paper and I wrote at the top: "Justin's list of things to do before he kicks the bucket: Get a film made at a major studio. Find the perfect woman, convince her that I'm not a schmuck, get her to marry me." I tacked it up on the wall, and then gradually it sort of faded into the wallpaper. About two years passed.
    I was in a book store one day, and I don't know what happened. It was like, "Pow!" I sat down and I tore blank pages out of a couple of books, and I just started writing.

I wrote the whole story of The Bucket List. Ultimately the story is these two guys have their own list of things that they wanna do with the short time they have left, but the one thing that's not on either of their lists that they're both missing is a true friend. They find that, and that's what the movie is about.
   I wrote it very quickly, just in a few weeks. I gave it to my agents and they said, "This is great, but nobody's going to buy this."
    Normally your agents will send a screenplay to one producer with a deal at each studio. We sent it to fifty producers, and forty-eight said no. Two of them said, "We don't think anyone's going to buy it, but we think it's really good, so we'd like to give it to studios." All the studios said no, but one of the producers said, "I really think if you get this in the right hands, this could get done." They said, "Given any director in the world who you'd want to shoot this, who would it be?" I was like, "Rob Reiner's made some pretty good movies."
    So they sent the script to his agents at CAA, and three days later he calls up: "Hello? I've read thirteen pages of this thing, and if it's okay with you, this would be my next movie." He and I worked on the script for probably a total of six months, off and on.

   I had written the movie with Morgan Freeman's voice in my head. Rob got Morgan's number and called him up and said, "Hey I've got this script you should read." A week later, Morgan said yes. You know Rob Reiner already said yes, and now I get Morgan Freeman—it was just ridiculous. We'd been talking about who would play the other character, and Rob and I weren't sure. Morgan said, "Jack Nicholson and I have talked about always wanting to work together, and if I had a bucket list, working with Jack would be on that list." What are you gonna say to that?
   Rob had worked with Jack on A Few Good Men, and obviously that had turned out pretty good, so we sent the script to Jack, and a week later, he called: "Yeah, I'll do it." I had separated myself from any notion of reality at that point, and I still haven't come down.
   The greatest twenty-four hours of my life was September 3, 2006. I got married in New York. The next morning, I woke up at five, kissed her goodbye, got on the plane, flew to Los Angeles, and drove up to Jack's house. I walked in and sat down at his dining-room table, and there was me, Morgan Freeman, Rob Reiner and Jack Nicholson. Rob started to read the stage direction, and the minute the two actors talked to each other ... goosebumps. It was absolutely the most indescribale feeling. It was perfect.

   Crazily enough, it was a year to the day after I went out with the script that we started principal photography—and that just doesn't happen. That will never happen again to me.

Justin Zackham, as quoted in Tales from the Script: 50 Hollywood Screenwriters Share Their Stories

Thursday 23 October 2014

Tips on producing a lo-budget film

This post was written by Matthew Helderman of Buffalo 8 Productions and first appeared on the No Film School blog. Buffalo 8 was founded by independent film producers and media entrepreneurs Matthew Helderman and Luke Taylor. They offer feature film, commercial production and post-production facilities in-house, and have produced over thirty feature films ranging from $100,000 budgets to $8M budgets with the average project settling around $1M.

The realities of producing a $1million (and below) feature film

We’ve seen budgets shrink, projects come and go and expectations shattered or met with disappointment during the process.
   Through our experiences we’ve gathered and built a manifesto for the do’s and don’ts of making low budget projects. Some are obvious, others are elements we picked up after handfuls of wrong turns.
   We’ve even written a full 50 page eBook on the subject that has provided insight for the indie community (linked here).
   All in all — we broke it down into three key successful elements:

Overhead — figuring out the right equity, debt, pre-sales structure will make or break any project.
Negotiating — an ability to contain costs and logistics through negotiations is the key to successful maneuvering.
Hiring — with strong department heads and a great cast – a weak project will be better, a mediocre project stands a chance at being decent and a strong project will explode with possibility.
Each of these principles begin day one—from the first steps of development through the delivery of the final DCP materials—overhead, negotiations and hiring choices will more often than not dictate the success of a film.
   Producing a film successfully depends on a great story, a great team and a strong execution. The following outline breaks down these necessities. 

1. Development

Once you’ve found a story and script you’re excited about, make sure that it has been written for your budget. If you’ve raised $500,000 and the story requires period-piece locations, background, wardrobe and set pieces, chances are the project is not feasible.
   However, if tailored properly any story can be told for any budget—relying heavily on overhead, negotiations and hiring structures.
   With your script in hand, you’re now ready to breakdown the elements. Meaning, using MovieMagic Budgeting and Scheduling (the industry standard applications) to outline the shooting schedule, cast logistics and line item costs for the project.
   A line producer is the experienced and professional member of most teams who performs these tasks, which take roughly 4-5 work days to perfect, given the intensive specificity required.
   Working with your line producer (and/or sometimes the 1st AD) to perfect these elements, you’ll want to group together locations, cast shoot days and speciality equipment or FX (steadi-cam, rain, children, animals, etc…) to contain costs and simplify the process.
   With approved breakdowns from your line producer (again, assuming that you’ve hired well for this crucial role), you’re ready to begin approaching talent and financiers.
   Attachments (the process of adding talent–actors and actresses, as well as a director) to projects has changed. The global economy has continued to reshape how each industry functions and the film business is no exception.
   While the media is full of $100M+ blockbusters making a select few actors and actresses very wealthy, there is a plethora of talent with strong bankability available and interested in more independently driven projects in the lower budget ranges.
   Use your strengths as leverage, whether your experience, your team or your great story. (Refrain from overselling how “amazing” your project is and remember that those words are uttered thousands of times a day in Los Angeles.) Approach talent with confidence in the understanding that attachments are difficult in the early stages.
   A great tip here is to utilize “agency packaging” whereby you find a talent agency which represents a strong roster of talent (more than 5-7 members of their roster able to fit into your casting wishes), and incentivize the agency to come on board to support the film by piecing together multiple roles or “packaging the film”. This grants both a financial and long term incentive for the agency that otherwise would perhaps have passed on the opportunity as too low budget.


With interested talent willing to offer LOIs (letters of intent) stating they will commit to the project once financing is completed, you can approach your investors.
   For 99% of filmmakers, this is the most difficult portion of the process. Orson Welles famously quipped that he “spent 90% of his time raising money to make movies and only 10% actually making movies” and this isn’t far from the truth.
   As an investor and as a speciality financier in other businesses, we’ve seen both sides of these struggles.
   Film is speculative. Getting the first money in is difficult, because there is no telling when the project will get made, let alone earn you a return.
   And vice versa—being the last money in often requires an investor to act within a single week to close a deal—which is too hasty and rushed for traditional investors.
   Here are some ways to offset the risk and please your investors from day one.
  1. Have some skin in the game early on, with either some equity you’ve scraped together from family, friends and colleagues, or your own cash.

  2. Understand the necessity of finance—meaning, respect an investor enough to offset their capital injection through “soft money” (pre-sales, debt, tax credits, etc..)

  3. Bring more to the table than just a script and a cast.
    Have the ball rolling with the tax credit, and signs you’re working to finance the pre-sales. That will show an investor you’re serious and capable. Removing as much speculation as possible will provide your investors with a level of security they’d highly appreciate. Strategize with a bit of equity, a bit of tax incentives, and pre-sales cash-flow (which your investor can provide helping both you and their return) and you’ll be in the best spot possible.
Build your audience before you get into production.
   This phrase has become the go-to statement for the grass-roots and mid-level festival films over the past several years.
   Social media gives you an ample opportunity to organize your following—whether you raised donations on Kickstarter, signed an actor with a 1M+ Twitter following or have a director coming off a TV gig—use whatever you have in your corner to gain traction and steam.
   Snowballing this momentum into a domestic distribution deal and additional opportunities for attachments and financing is a huge factor — but ultimately investors and distributors look to “proof of concept” like campaigns to assure that there is a valuable relevance at stake in the project.
   This of course stems from and leads to the overall sales strategy for the film—which can also be reviewed in our SALES eBook linked here.

2.) Pre-Production Line Producer

Once you’re geared up and organized you’ll want to hire the team leader for the project, the line producer.
   The line producer will file the entity (LLC), open the financials with the producers (bank account, checking, payroll oversight), file necessary union paperwork (SAG, IATSE, DGA), and bring on his team to begin the heavy lifting of the project.
   Great films stem from tremendous preparations and the line producer is the captain leading the team into battle.
   Again, this is very abbreviated, The full versions are available in the eBooks. 


With a few key attachments and some capital (equity and debt) attached to the project, you’re ready to begin filling out the rest of the cast.
   A casting director and packaging agency offer the best possible scenario for great cast selections, based on the relationships that casting directors hold. Additionally, attachments from casting directors bring weight for distribution and further cast members wanting to join the project. 


Once again relying on your ability to negotiate and call in favors, you’ll begin scouting locations.
   On these lower budget projects you’ll want to cluster your locations, find studios/standing sets that can double and triple as locations, and even look for further ways to simplify your shooting schedule.
   Company moves (literally moving your team from one location to another), causes issues—time, financial, energy, stress—that can be avoided through preparations and compromise. 


Again when renting equipment, props, vehicles, catering, etc., you’ll rely heavily on your ability to negotiate.
   Using independent owner/operators (individuals who will both supply equipment and work on the film) will give you leverage to haggle over final pricing.
   These negotiations over locations, rentals, purchases and casting will save you endless money and time, if you’re able to perfect the needs and realities of your project. 


Refers to the process of beginning to truly assess the spending of the project, to begin distributing the necessary documents (stripboard schedules, crew lists, preliminary call sheets, etc.) and to begin holding the necessary meetings required for pre-production.
   Again, focusing on pre-production is huge and will lead to the most successful shoot possible.

3.) Production and Wrap Out 


If you’ve focused and executed well enough during pre-production, the production period (while still stressful and full of fires to put out) will be more about managing and overseeing expectations and personalities than anything else.
   Low budget projects tend to get stressful because everyone is wearing multiple hats and working crazy hours for little money, but if you manage these elements in pre-production you can avoid pitfalls. 


The specifics for the financials (petty cash, check requests, actualizing and hot costs/daily reporting) are reviewed in the eBook, but the general gist is that the daily oversight will require checking in with department heads to assure that spending is properly allocated, workers are getting along and feeling comfortable in the stressful setting, and that respect is being had across departments.
   The more organized a production is before it heads into principal photography, the easier wrap out will be. This is the process of making returns, accounting and actualizing the final spending totals, creating the production binder (detailed in the eBook at length), and reviewing next steps with the financiers.

4.) Post-Production Schedule

Early on (best to be done before production), you’ll want to set out hard dates for editorial through delivery. These dates will often not be met, as low budget production is often side-tracked by workers needing to take other gigs to supplement their incomes, but they provide the necessary structure to finish a production. 

Crew hiring

Just like production, post-production success comes from great hiring. You don’t need to know how to do everything, you just need a great team with experience and confidence to deliver your film. 


When done correctly, you’re able to sit back and monitor the progress, without having to get crazily involved in each tiny detail. 


A choice can be made early on if editorial will begin during or after production. In our experience, it’s best on lower budget projects to be assembling while shooting, in order to give the financiers, director and team involved a chance to see where things stand. Also, should you need to adjust elements or re-shoot/add additional shots, you’ll catch this much earlier than if you waited to edit until production wrap.
   The necessary deliverables (sound, VFX, titles, DCP, exports, chain-of-title/legal filings) are all detailed thoroughly in the eBook which, if interested, we’d suggest reading for further information.

Wednesday 22 October 2014

The Evolution of Movie Dance

Here are the 100 greatest dance scenes, in the opinion of Mewlists.

The full list:

1. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse - 1921
2. Our Dancing Daughters - 1928
3. 42nd Street - 1933
4. Flying Down to Rio - 1933
5. The Little Colonel - 1935
6. Top Hat - 1935
7. Swing Time - 1936
8. A Day at the Races - 1937
9. The Wizard of Oz - 1939
10. Fantasia - 1940
11. Hellzapoppin' - 1941
12. Stormy Weather - 1943
13. Broadway Rhythm - 1944
14. Anchors Aweigh - 1945
15. It's a Wonderful Life - 1946
16. The Red Shoes - 1948
17. Royal Wedding - 1951
18. Singin' in the Rain - 1952
19. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes - 1953
20. Seven Brides for Seven Brothers - 1954
21. It's Always Fair Weather - 1955
22. Oklahoma! - 1955
23. The Fastest Gun Alive - 1956
24. Jailhouse Rock - 1957
25. Funny Face - 1957
26. El bolero de Raquel - 1957
27. Damn Yankees - 1958
28. Party Girl - 1958
29. The Sound of Music - 1959
30. Never on Sunday - 1960
31. West Side Story - 1961
32. Band of Outsiders - 1964
33. My Fair Lady - 1964
34. Zorba the Greek - 1964
35. Mary Poppins - 1964
36. The Jungle Book - 1967
37. The Producers - 1968
38. Sweet Charity - 1969
39. Young Frankenstein - 1974
40. The Rocky Horror Picture Show - 1975
41. Saturday Night Fever - 1977
42. Grease - 1978
43. All That Jazz - 1979
44. Airplane! - 1980
45. The Blues Brothers - 1980
46. Urban Cowboy - 1980
47. Fame - 1980
48. Flashdance - 1983
49. Risky Business - 1983
50. Monty Python's The Meaning of Life - 1983
51. Footloose - 1984
52. Breakin' - 1984
53. A Chorus Line - 1985
54. Girls Just Want to Have Fun - 1985
55. White Nights - 1985
56. Ferris Bueller's Day Off - 1986
57. Dirty Dancing - 1987
58. Moonwalker - 1988
59. The Little Mermaid - 1989
60. Beauty and the Beast - 1991
61. Strictly Ballroom - 1992
62. Scent of a Woman - 1992
63. Reservoir Dogs - 1992
64. Addams Family Values - 1993
65. Swing Kids - 1993
66. Pulp Fiction - 1994
67. True Lies - 1994
68. Muriel's Wedding - 1994
69. The Mask - 1994
70. Showgirls - 1995
71. Shall We Dansu? - 1997
72. Romy and Michele's High School Reunion - 1997
73. Titanic - 1997
74. Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery - 1997
75. Dance with Me - 1998
76. She's All That - 1999
77. Road Trip - 2000
78. Center Stage - 2000
79. Billy Elliot - 2000
80. Save the Last Dance - 2001
81. Moulin Rouge! - 2001
82. Chicago - 2002
83. Grind - 2003
84. Kung Fu Hustle - 2004
85. Napoleon Dynamite - 2004
86. Shall We Dance? - 2004
87. The 40-Year-Old Virgin - 2005
88. Clerks II - 2006
89. Little Miss Sunshine - 2006
90. Take the Lead - 2006
91. Hairspray - 2007
92. Spider-Man 3 - 2007
93. Stomp the Yard - 2007
94. Make It Happen - 2008
95. Slumdog Millionaire - 2008
96. Step Up 2: The Streets - 2008
97. Tropic Thunder - 2008
98. (500) Days of Summer - 2009
99. The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus - 2009
100. Black Swan - 2010

Tuesday 21 October 2014

Edward Gough Whitlam: 1916-2014

Some time during the middle of the 1960s, I suddenly realised that the existence of a program of National Conscription in Australia, combined with the apparently endless war in Vietnam, meant that I was probably doomed to be mangled or killed on a foreign shore, for no particular reason. I was uncomfortable with the prospect.
   The tangible outworking of my discomfort was that I joined the local branch of the Australian Labor Party. (Yes, "Labor" is spelt without a 'U' in this context, due largely to the involvement of failed American gold miners in the establishment of the Party, way back when. All other
Australian usages of the word require the 'U'.)
   I happened to be living in a small country town in the heart of 'Black Jack' McEwan's electorate, which consistently recorded the lowest vote in the country for the ALP. The significance of this is that the local party was dispirited, members were few and mostly inactive, and a friend and I were free to appoint ourselves to whatever roles we desired. As such we became Delegates to the ALP National Conference held at

the St Kilda Town Hall in 1971. I was shocked to discover that the Conference wasn't much more than a fashion parade. (I was 17 years old at the time. Make allowances.) We were treated to displays of black-suited eloquence by such friends of the working man as Bob Hawke and Don Dunstan, but the unquestioned star of the show was one Edward Gough Whitlam.
   Like most Australians at the time, I had no idea that Gough was an actor. Yes, indeedy. And sympathetic to the idea that Australia should have its own film industry. The Australian film revival of the 1970s only really took shape after Gough became Prime Minister. His government established the Australian Film and Television School and the Australian Film Commission, which led to a resurgence of the Australian film industry, later dubbed the Australian New Wave.
   Not only that but Gough appeared in some of the films that his innovations had made possible, and helped unleash 'Dame' Edna Everage on the world.

Edward Gough meets Bazza McKenzie in Barry McKenzie Holds His Own.

Edward Gough meets Edna Everage and dubs her a 'Dame,'
in Barry McKenzie Holds His Own.

And to round things out, we can listen to that speech, one last time.

Seeking new and unique voices

Universal Pictures are offering an Emerging Writers Fellowship for "talented screenwriters who have the potential to thrive, but don’t have access to or visibility within the industry."
Those chosen to participate in the program will work exclusively with the studio over the course of a year to hone their skills. During this program, fellows will be given the opportunity to work on current Universal projects as well as pitch original story ideas. In addition to working on writing assignments, the fellows will receive industry exposure by:
- Participating in filmmaking workshops and studio seminars
- Receiving mentoring from established filmmakers
- Networking with top literary agents and managers
- Meeting with production development executives
- Attending screenings and premieres
Fellows admitted into the program will be hired under a writing service agreement and must be committed to working full-time for one year. Additionally, Universal Pictures has the option to extend a fellows’ contract for a second year.

You can find the eligibility criteria, details about the selection process, application forms, and frequently asked questions HERE.

The Emerging Writers Fellowship Application will be available beginning at 12:00 p.m. (PST) on Tuesday, Oct. 21, 2014.

Monday 20 October 2014

The longest single shot in Raiders of the Lost Ark

Vashi Nedomansky is a film editor, born in Czechoslovakia, who defected with his parents at the age of four. He grew up in Toronto and Detroit before settling in Los Angeles. He is known as the editor of Sharknado 2: The Second One and An American Carol. Vashi was a professional hockey player for 10 years. He says,
This 101-second shot from Raiders of the Lost Ark is the single longest shot from the film. Using motivated camera movement, staging actors in different layers of depth and then altering the actor closest to camera... Steven Spielberg and DP Douglas Slocombe crafted an emotional scene with no cuts whatsoever.

Sunday 19 October 2014

Freddie Mercury and Luciano Pavarotti duet

Here is duet between an unlikely pair, Freddie Mercury and Luciano Pavarotti. This is one continuous performance from start to finish, shot in one take, using two cameras. No audio has been cut or replaced. The “Pavarotti” harmony for "Vincero, Vincero!" was added afterwards. The man working the magic is Marc Martel.

Saturday 18 October 2014

First act turning point

Linda Aronson is an English-born, Australian playwright, scriptwriter, comic novelist and screenwriting theorist. Her book, The 21st-Century Screenplay, is the leading text on how to write non-linear films. She teaches screenwriting to professionals everywhere, and is on a speaking tour of Europe, which will culminate in appearances at the London Screenwriting Festival on 24-25 October.

The following is drawn from an e-mail Linda sent out last September. 

The first act turning point is a vital element of all stories, whether linear or nonlinear. It’s not an academic thing, it has a purpose. It is hugely important. Films that are perceived to have failed in their second act—in their middle—are films that don’t have a good enough first act turning point. They haven’t created enough of a problem for their characters, so there’s not enough story to fuel the rest of the film.

I’ve often said that the first act turning point is a surprise, that turns into the obstacle, that drives the rest of the story (that’s the Smiley/Thompson model). I also say that the first act turning point tells you what the film’s plot is ‘about’, as in ‘my film is ABOUT an actor who dresses up as a woman to get a job in a soap opera’ (Tootsie).

Another good way to think of the first act turning point is that it’s like the turntable on a railway line. It turns the engine of the film round and points it in a very specific direction—a direction which comes as a surprise, often an extreme surprise. For example, I’ve already mentioned Tootsie, so let’s look at how it works.

We start to watch a film that’s all about a very good actor who’s so difficult to work with that he can’t get an acting job. He’s obviously going to have some kind of adventure, maybe to do with being an actor, maybe not. Then suddenly, this man is dressed up as woman and getting a job as female character in a soap opera! Hello? We have swiveled in a logical but utterly surprising direction. In Thelma and Louise two women go off on holiday, stop for a drink—and suddenly they’re murderers on the run. Again, the film has swung in a completely different although logical direction, a direction that gives us the film’s real story.

Your railway turntable/first act turning point has to take your story on an interesting journey to somewhere even more interesting, or like the train, your film will come to a halt or go off the tracks completely. Unless you have that turnaround, that swiveling, that surprise, it will be predictable. Some films have a more striking first act turning point than others—the lesser the surprise at the first act turning point, the ‘quieter’ the film, the more ‘art house’.

Often when people say a script is more suitable for a telemovie, it will be because it doesn’t have a surprising first act turning point. I’m not saying that such films are bad—they can be very very good indeed. It’s just an observation of what is causing the ‘quiet’ and ‘art house’ effect. As a writer you need to know what creates a quiet ‘art house’ story and what creates something less subtle.

How to pick a good first act turning point

To know whether your first act turning point will work, check it against
successful films. Does it tick all the boxes that are ticked in those films (art house or otherwise)?

Box 1. The first act turning point is what the film is ‘about’ in terms of plot. 

Box 2. The first act turning point is a physical surprise that turns into an obstacle that creates the whole story. 

Box 3. The first act turning point is an entry into another world. 

Box 4. The film’s climax answers the question raised by the first act turning point. 

Let’s try the check list with the film Tootsie. The first act turning point is when Dustin Hoffman walks down the street disguised as a woman to get an acting job in a soap opera.

Tootsie is about ‘What happens to a man who dresses up as a woman in order to get a job in a soap opera’. (Tick Box 1).

The first act turning point is a surprise, that turns into an obstacle, that drives the rest of the film. (Tick box 2).

The first act turning point puts the protagonist into a new world—the world as experienced by a woman. (Tick Box 3)

The film’s climax answers the question raised by the first act turning point of: ‘How is a man who dresses up to get a job in a soap opera going to get out of that one!’ (Tick box 4).

Arguably, the first act turning point is the most vital structural element in the film. So much depends on it!

Friday 17 October 2014

Harry Potter: It All Ends

This is a video from a while back that I had made during the build up toward the final Harry Potter film. It is a visual recap of all the installments of the series.

Thursday 16 October 2014

Northern Soul - the film

'Northern soul' was the the biggest underground music scene the UK ever spawned. It was a craze that took hold in the north of England in the 1970s, and was all about the music, the clothes and some flamboyant dance moves. A DJ-led movement at the tailend of the British mod scene, it focused on rare recordings released on obscure labels.
   And now there's a film, directed by Elaine Constantine (
who began her career taking photographs in clubs before working for magazines such as the The Face, i-D and Vogue). The film tells the story of two working-class teenagers from an industrial town who discover northern soul in 1974. 
   Constantine had been trying to get the film made for several years. She was turned down by all of the arts funding bodies. Her attempts to attract private investors failed, so Constantine and her husband remortgaged their home and spent all their savings on the project.
   To teach the young actors, as well as hundreds of extras, to dance to the music in the film, she and a few of her friends set up a monthly club night in a room above a pub in Islington, north London. After each session she would post footage online to attract new dancers and by now their Facebook channel has almost 50,000 followers.
“We needed to populate the club scene for the film. Kids started coming to the dance sessions, and then their friends. Lots of them would go, ‘What was that you played last week, can we get a copy?’ and ended up buying vinyl and DJ-ing themselves. It was really like the youth club situation that I came through when I discovered northern soul.”
It was expected to be a short-run release of a niche movie, but a wave of social media interest is turning it into a nationwide success beyond the dreams of its creators.
   The film was planned to screen at a few selected venues, but there has been a surge in demand fed by social media sites. Cinemas have been overwhelmed with requests to show it. More cinemas are being added through Ourscreen, an online platform that allows film fans to influence their local cinema’s programme.

Here's a video from 2011, showing one of the Dance Clubs run to find dancers who could be part of the film. The videos played a big part in attracting the interest of young people.

Wednesday 15 October 2014

'Grey Skies (Over Collingwood)'

Admit it, you've never heard of the band Strange Tenants. They are Australian 'ska' legends, formed and led by duel vocalists and prolific songwriters, brothers Bruce (singer, trumpet player and 'RudeBoy' on Nicks) and Ian (singer and keyboards) Hearn. As one of the biggest Australian bands of the 80s, these boys toured with the likes of Style Council, UB40 and U2 between 1982 and 1986.

This reworking of Grey Skies (Strange Tenants's classic urban reggae song first recorded in 1983) appears on their new 6-track EP Coventry Via Kingston.

Written by Ian Hearn, Grey Skies is about the Tenants' hometown—the inner Melbourne suburb of Collingwood (the spiritual home of the Collingwood Football Club)—where several band members have resided at one time or another and four generations of the Hearn family grew up. The song is about a typical modern inner city urban environment (and could just as easily pertain to many such environments around the world), going through changes as generations come and go, and new migrants arrive to reside in the high rise public housing apartments.

Facebook  |  Website  |  YouTube

Tuesday 14 October 2014

Chase Jarvis - Time management

Self-taught professional photographer Chase Jarvis did a morning Q&A over Coffee where he answered one question that concerns all of us: How do you take time for yourself?
Facebook  |  Twitter  |  Wikipedia  |  YouTube

Monday 13 October 2014

David Fincher - And the Other Way is Wrong

“There’s a million ways to do a David Fincher video." 

Tony Zhou says, "No. Just two. And the other way is wrong."
For sheer directorial craft, there are few people working today who can match David Fincher. And yet he describes his own process as “not what I do, but what I don’t do.” Join me today in answering the question: What does David Fincher not do?

Saturday 11 October 2014

What is composition?

Press Play deliver an excellent discussion on the elusive subject of composition.

Friday 10 October 2014

5 Tips for first-time filmmakers - Jon Stewart

This list has been doing the rounds. It comes from an article written by Dana Harris, the editor-in-chief and general manager of Indiewire.

Jon Stewart is a writer, director, producer and actor with decades of production experience, who is best known for his work on The Daily Show. Which is to say, he'd done a lot of TV but was a filmmaking rookie when he took on directing Rosewater. Here's his advice for first-time filmmakers.

1. There are many things you don't know. Know that, and find people who know better.

"I think the smartest thing that I did was recognize my own ignorance. It was a really crucial aspect of being able to rely on the experience and competence of department heads and people that really did know what they were doing and had done it before. And also I think by being aware of it, it kept me vigilant." "It's not like what's out there right now, I don't look at that and go, 'Yes! Perfection!'" - Jon Stewart

2. Learn to recognize when it’s not going well. This will happen a lot.

"You’re in a scene and it’s not working. So within that, I think what you learn is you can’t walk away until it’s working and whatever that may entail—whether that means rewriting it, whether that means changing the dynamic of the scene, all those types of situations. It’s kind of a constant battle of trying to correct what you did wrong. The entire process is. I remember the early sequence of his family story was pictures kind of appearing and disappearing as we explained it and that occurred after he had been arrested, so it’s a much different placement and the scene where he’s walking in the streets of London was much more of a West to East kind of transitional scene. And it just wasn’t working. And I was done shooting.”

3. Learn how to adapt. You will have to do this a lot.

"So, what I ended up doing was looking at the reflective surfaces of the London walk and taking the images and just placing them there and moving them forward in the movie. So it’s a constant process of evolution. I could go back in there right now. It’s not like what’s out there right now, I don’t look at that and go, ‘Yes! Perfection!’ I’m still going, like, ‘Fuck, I could have shot that from the other direction. And the light would have been right and it just would have worked.’”

4. Don't think about it too much. Sometimes it's better not to know.

"In some ways, thank goodness I did not know what I was getting myself into because I probably wouldn’t have. Momentum in film is everything. And momentum can be broken at almost every stage of the process. So, unless you are single-mindedly and tenaciously pursuing that momentum, you will lose it. And at any point in that process and you lose it, it’s kind of over."

5. Don't expect this to seem like a reasonable thing to do. It's not.

"In the middle of the script process, you will come up with obstacles that are seemingly unsurpassable and that momentum can easily be broken because something’s on television or you wanna do other shit or enjoy your life. Then once you have that script, it’s got to go out and try and get someone to finance the production of it. So, at each turn your forward momentum toward getting it made can be very easily dissipated. So you have to be a bit singleminded about driving that and there’s a lot of opportunity to not. There's always going to be those moments."