Monday 27 February 2017

Peter Lorre

A documentary on the life of Peter Lorre.

Sunday 26 February 2017

Creating the Ultimate Antagonist

Heath Ledger’s performance as The Joker is universally celebrated—and with good reason—but there is more to the character than his excellent performance. In this video Michael Tucker analyzes what makes The Joker the perfect antagonist for The Dark Knight.

Saturday 25 February 2017

Isao Takahata

Today's subject is the idea of a story filter or lens. Often utilized through genre, this idea is sometimes the very best method at getting to the heart of what your story is really about. So, let's explore that ideabut rather than through genrethrough animation. And let's use the work of one of the of form's greatest contemporary directors as our example.

Friday 24 February 2017

Thursday 23 February 2017

How To Film Thought

Evan Puschak walks us through an episode of Sherlock to open up the method used to convey thought.

Wednesday 22 February 2017

When Harry Met Sally

When Harry Met Sally takes the conventions of a classic from-hate-to-love story and flips them on their head, creating a unique and charming film.

Tuesday 21 February 2017

The Immersive Realism of Studio Ghibli

Studio Ghibli has consistently created the most compelling animated films I have ever seen, in part due to their immersive realism. Despite the fantasy and magic, Ghibli's films consistently feel tactile and realistic. In this video essay, we explore how Studio Ghibli consistently achieves immersive realism in their films.

Monday 20 February 2017

Edward Hopper's 'Nighthawks'

Evan Puschak takes us on a study of a famous painting.

Sunday 19 February 2017

Film Noir: The Case for Black and White

Black and white has a gorgeous look in film. Let's take a look at Film Noir to see what it can do better than color and study how the techniques of black and white filmmaking continue to influence modern filmmaking (especially Breaking Bad).

Saturday 18 February 2017

David Lean's Scene Transitions

Despite whatever presets there are in Premiere, scene transitions are not limited to wipes, fades, or dissolves. Let's examine the work of David Lean and see what unique ways we can find of cutting picture and sound together to make transitions really shine.

Friday 17 February 2017

Wednesday 15 February 2017

Gene Wilder

"On stage or in the movies I could do whatever I wanted to. I was free."
~Gene Wilder, March 2007.

Tuesday 14 February 2017

Every Best Cinematography Winner (1927-2016)

Here we have clips from every Academy Award for Best Cinematography from 1927 to 2016.

Monday 13 February 2017

The Master: How Scientology Works

Evan Puschak walks us through the Scientology elements to be found in the film The Master.

Saturday 11 February 2017

Where to Find Visual Comedy

If you watch a lot of film essays, then you've probably heard the complaint that visual comedy is something of a lost art nowadays, with most mainstream comedies opting instead for jokes done strictly through dialogue and improv. So, let's look back at one of cinema's greatest visual comedians and see where he found his visual comedy.

Friday 10 February 2017

Thursday 9 February 2017

Camera Movement

Without camera movement, films would be all static play and no fun. The way the camera moves says more to us than just a show-off of technical tricks. Directors, throughout the years, have implemented their own unique camera styles to best tell their stories on-screen. These are just some of the top moves in film history, so far.

Wednesday 8 February 2017

Interview with Chance McClain

Chance McClain is a busy guy. He is an author, radio program director, playwright, musician, songwriter, singer, and filmmaker, who lives in Houston, Texas.

He is probably best known as the writer of the Yao Ming song (more about that later), but he's done a lot of other things.

I met him on Twitter and was soon fascinated to read about his career. I figured others would be interested as well, so I asked him some questions.

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

I was born in Houston, Texas, and grew up here as well. I bounced around a few colleges in Texas before joining the Army and serving from 1994-1997 as a light infantry medic. During this time I lived near Seattle, Washington. After my military service I moved back to Houston where I have remained. My growing up is still a work in progress.

•  What kind of a family did you grow up with?

I grew up in a typical American family. You know, divorced parents, craziness. I married young and remain happily married with two kids. My son (Noah) is 16 and daughter (Abbey) is 12.

•  Where did you go to school?
I went to the University of Texas on an academic scholarship, full of hope and ready to take on the world. I barely made it two semesters. I bounced around a few different colleges before joining the Army at 20 years of age.
   When I graduated high school, I really enjoyed both playing football and stage performance. I initially started my major as RTF (radio-television-film), but prior to starting school was convinced to switch my major to general business. I was a horrible general business student and it took me over a decade to right the ship and get into the industry where my passion rested.

•  What was your first paying job?

My first traditional job was at a large waterpark in Houston, when I was 16. Splashtown, USA. I worked at the tube rental facility and it was fun. There were lots of students from my school that worked there in the summers, so it was basically a three-month party that paid minimum wage. 

   My first ‘career’ type job was soldiering in the Army. I had a lot of fun, but it wasn’t for me. During my twenties I hopped around several jobs doing everything from loan officer for a mortgage company, to industrial uniform sales, to working in the oil industry as a downhole drilling tools salesman. 
   During all of these ludicrous jobs, I filled my spare time recording music, mostly silly songs. I was still passionate about sports, so many of my songs were parodies, or originals, about local or national sports stars. 
   In 1999 my favorite basketball player was a 6’10” forward, a bench player for the Houston Rockets named Matt Bullard. I wrote a song glamorizing him and sent it in to a local sports radio station. They played it on the air. What a rush! 
   From there the Rockets heard it and asked permission to play it in the arena, when we made a shot or a good play. What a larger rush hearing 16,000 people sing along with a goofy song I recorded! 
   Flash forward four years and I had songs played in arena for all the professional teams in Houston, and I was working as the creative director of a sports radio station. From there, things just kept getting weirder and better.

•  You were a ‘Jock’ in high school, yet you wrote songs from an early age. What was the first song you ever wrote?

Wow. I think the first song I wrote was called ‘It’s Cold’. I had learned to play a boogie-woogie on the piano. Basically, it was the chord progression of Jerry Lee LewisGreat Balls of Fire. I would stand at the piano and bang that out, singing about how cold it was in the room where I was singing.

   Later, in the summer, I wrote a stellar follow-up called ‘It’s Hot’. I think there were ‘It’s Raining’ and ‘It’s Dark’ versions mixed in there as well. My young mind was apparently limited to observational songwriting. I just wanted attention and I got it, so it was effective. And super corny. The first songs I recorded were with a dear friend of mine, and called ‘Oh, My Little Girl’ and ‘Have Faith’. This was 1989 and they were synthy New Order/Erasure pop awesomeness. At least I thought they were, back then. I have mp3s of them, and now crack-up listening to our pretentiousness.

•  You had success writing and directing the internet musical Horrible Turn (2009), the unauthorized and unofficial prequel to Dr. Horrible's Sing Along Blog (2008), What did you learn from that exercise?

Oh my word. What did I learn? Horrible Turn was my equivalent of a college education in filmmaking. I knew nothing about the technical aspects of making a movie. I didn’t know what an over-the-shoulder shot was. I didn’t know what focal length was. I didn’t know what three-point lighting was. I didn’t know what a skateboard dolly was. And I had no concept of story. Three acts? Huh? Arc? Isn’t that the boat with the pairs of animals? And I did not know the first thing about organizing people, places, and things. 

Horrible Turn: ... make a blunder and you'll never see the wonder of... Australia!
I wrote Horrible Turn because I loved Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog but had so many questions about all of the wonderful characters Joss Whedon had invented. Why was Dr. Horrible bad? Why did people like Captain Hammer when he was so douchey?
    So I wrote it as a musical play. While sitting in a sake bar with a buddy, we decided to change it into a screenplay. Google and YouTube were my friends. I discovered Celtx, the collaborative screenplay software. I discovered the importance of a filmic look, which guided me to Letus lens adapters.
    I cashed in my 401k, bought a camera and a bunch of gear, found friends and neighbors willing to go on an adventure, and made a movie.
    At the time, I was on the board of directors of a community theater, so I had access to stage actors who could sing. I worked at a radio station, so I had access to a recording studio. Basically, I had all of the resources to make a musical within arm’s reach, and, together with my friends, we decided we could do it.

•  Why the choice of Australia for Horrible Turn?

There was a line in one of the songs in Dr. Horrible in which Neil Patrick Harris, while daydreaming about how "evil" he will be, offers the line: 'I'll hand her the keys to a shiny new Australia'. I'm not sure why the Brothers Whedon went with that line, but it was awesome and I fixated on it. I decided to open Horrible Turn with a little insight into why the character was such an Australiaphile.

•  What’s the story with Kristin Massa? Her 'Australian' accent wobbles a bit, but it’s not bad.

Kristin Massa is an amazing talent. She showed up at a casting call and blew us away. There was a friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend situation where we had a girl from Sydney in town for a week of shooting, and she helped with the accent as well. She was actually in the film, as one of the students in the Math competition. Kristin is an impossibly talented young lady and she did all of the accent work on her own. We were nervous that actual Australians would laugh at us, but I think Kristin did great.  [She slips into posh English occasionally, but is spot on most of the time. Ed.]

•  Your most successful song has been The Yao Ming Song, in honor of the Chinese basketballer Yao Ming. It has been played on radio across America, in China on television (before Yao Ming's games), and at Houston Rockets’ home games. How did that one song change your life?

That is a very astute observation. It really did change my life. It is bizarre that a cheesy song would have such a massive impact on my life, but it did.

   I thought of the song while driving to work at an oil company one day. That night I was in the studio recording a jingle for a jewelry company. As an afterthought, I asked my recording partner, Kevin, if we could squeeze in a recording of The Yao Ming Song. We spent maybe an hour on it.
   The following day I dropped off a CD at the same radio station I mentioned before, and they played it. The NBA season had not even started yet, but Yao Ming mania had. The song was played on the radio station every time his name was mentioned. When the season started, the song was a part of the Rockets game operations arsenal. It was catchy and corny, and the Rockets fans got into it.
   One of my favorite memories was the first time Yao played against the Lakers and their Hall of Fame center, Shaquille O’Neal. The Rockets asked me to perform at halftime. Keep in mind that all of my musical escapades had been in the studio. This was the first time I would be performing live, and it was in front of 16,000 people. It was an ESPN and CTV (Chinese Television) game. Prior to my walking out to sing the song, the director of game operations told me that ESPN and CTV had elected to carry the in-arena feed of me, singing... meaning literally hundreds of millions of people would see my performance.
   After that, there was a USA Today article, ESPN stories, CNN... people all over the world were singing this goofy-ass song. This was in the heyday of file sharing, peer-to-peer sharing, and basically pirating music. I made the song available to a popular Rockets fan site, never thinking about monetizing it. Oops. The song was available to everyone and seemingly everyone grabbed it.

•  Your biggest songwriting venture has been the stage musical Kissless. It took you all the way to the New York Musical Theater Festival in 2011. Tell us how you came to write a stage show.

Horrible Turn had an awesome premiere at a historical 500-seat movie theater in Houston. It was a packed house and everyone had a big time. At midnight that night, we made the film available for free online on YouTube and Vimeo (It’s still there at
   After that, at about 1AM we were back at the same sake bar. I looked at the people that were still standing and said, “That was fun. Let’s do it again.” They laughed at me. No way in hell they were going through that mess again.
   It turns out that the insanity of making a feature, with no training or professionals, wasn’t as enjoyable to them as it was to me. So I was on my own.
   This was November of 2009. Before I could get started on whatever was going to be next, the press decided they kind of liked Horrible Turn, despite its flaws. We were nominated for a Streamy Award and enjoyed going to L.A. for the Awards during the summer of 2010.
   This reinvigorated my urge to create things. I had a couple different ideas floating around in my head and my favorite was about a misfit girl and jock boy falling in love. In March of 2011 I wrote a draft of a screenplay called Goth Chick. In April I changed it to a stage play, because nobody wanted to make another movie with me.
    I was having trouble finishing it, so, to motivate myself, I submitted the script and about half of the songs to the New York Musical Theatre Festival. I had no expectation of being admitted. This was a prestigious festival and I was nobody. In the early portion of the summer, I had cobbled together a cast and mounted a staged reading of the show, now called Kissless. It was during a rehearsal that I got word that Kissless had been accepted.
   This set a lot of chaos into motion. We cast the show in Houston, raised $167,000 and in the fall a cast of 28 talented Houstonians travelled to the Big Apple to put on Kissless six times at the Off-Broadway Theatre at St. Clements. This was another ‘holy crap’ moment for me.
KISSLESS: An awkward misfit is forced to live with an uber-jock and his quirky family over summer break. An inconvenient love develops, threatening the rigid social structure of Forest Glen High School. 

•  You made a feature length film of Kissless. What’s happening with that?

Upon returning from New York, I set to work immediately on keeping Kissless alive. It wasn’t necessarily a Broadway-type show. It was teen-oriented, slightly immature, and raw. At the time I didn’t see it going on to a traditional path. I felt like schools and community theatres would like the show, but did not know how to let them know about it. 

   So I decided to take the best of both worlds, stage and screen, and film Kissless in a new way. Along with my business partner, Patrick, we posted a nebulous casting call in Backstage Magazine. It basically said we were looking for non-union musical theatre actors willing to move to an undisclosed small town location for 5 weeks to film a musical. Despite the cryptic nature of the casting call we received over 2,200 submissions. 

In March of 2012, we were back in New York auditioning 140 actors. By April we had identified our cast. A dozen New Yorkers, four people from a local Texas university, and a few people from Houston, including my son, Noah. He was to be an understudy to a Goth character, but the boy who had the role was cast in the national tour of Tom Sawyer, so my son was elevated to a principal role. He was money, by the way. 
   We elected to do the movie in the small town in the Texas Panhandle, where my partner has an engineering firm. We wanted to be sequestered to focus on the show and bring a splash of weird into Borger, Texas. A dozen New Yorkers showed up in July and we had a blast putting on the show. I indicated that we took the best from both worlds... we had cameras at the back of the house for master/establishing shots and then did alternate takes with close ups and mediums. We did some handheld shots. Some dolly shots. Some jib/crane work was done. The final product is a truly unique experience to watch. Presently we are marketing the material to schools and community theatres around the country to license and perform the show. It is an exciting project.

•  You were an extra in the movie Pearl Harbor (2001). How did that come about?

June of 2000, there was a story in the Houston Chronicle about a feature length film looking for extras with military experience.
   Hey! I was in the Army once! 
   I went to the cattle call and was selected. 
   Filming was slated for July 19-21. My wife was pregnant; my daughter was due on the 22nd. We didn’t take any chances, we did what any normal parent would do. We induced early.
   Actually, my wife did the inducing. I was just kind-of there. Abbey was born on July 18, and I was an extra in a movie.
   In hindsight we should’ve waited. But it was fun being the first person in the crow’s nest of the Battleship Texas in three decades.

•  Who has had the most influence on you as a filmmaker and song-writer?

As a songwriter I am greatly influenced by the harmonies and song-structures of The Beatles. Abbey McClain was named after Abbey Road, the studio of The Beatles. I am also heavily influenced by 1970s and 1980s country music.

   As a filmmaker, I am a bit of a simpleton. It is not popular amongst the indie film scene to admire the people that I do, but without shame I love James Cameron. He is a genius. To do what he has done, after starting as a miniature-model maker at Roger Corman Studios, is nothing short of a miracle. I am also fascinated by, and enamored with, anything and everything Pixar.
   My dream dinner would be John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, Joss Whedon and James Cameron. If I could include dead people then we would welcome Walt Disney and Steve Jobs. If you are curious, we would eat barbecue.

•  What are three things you wish someone had told you about filmmaking when you were starting out?

1. Story is all that matters. Everything else is secondary. A great story, shot poorly, can still be great, but a crap story, shot beautifully, is crap. And either way, your name is affixed to it forever.

2. Be exceptional. For years I would make a song or a commercial or a short film or a feature length musical or anything, and immediately post it on the internet because I wanted the immediate response. I would put out products that were not professional, but good enough to get a chuckle. I wish I had had the patience to wait and hone before releasing. Now I don’t want anybody to see anything, unless it is as exceptional as I am capable of making it. If the creation doesn’t exceed my threshold of acceptability, it stays on the shelf, perhaps forever. 

3. Yoda was right. “Do... or do not. There is no try.”
    If you have a task and your goal is to ‘try’ to do it, you are destined to fail. Trying implies incompletion.
    Set out to do things. We didn’t try to make Horrible Turn. We did it.
    If I had applied numbers 1 and 2, it would have been better, but at least we did it.
•  If you could recommend just one filmmaking advice book to a newcomer in Adelaide, what would that book be?

Without question nor hesitation, if I was to recommend one book it would be Invisible Ink, by Brian McDonald. I did not discover this gem until last year, but have since bought no less than ten copies as gifts. My copy is dog-eared, highlighted, circled, smeared and smudged. I have it with me at all times. When I write I refer to it constantly. Even when writing a 60 second TV commercial, I try to incorporate elements from the book. I have corresponded with Mr. McDonald. He is a gentleman and completely accessible.

•  Name ten of your all-time favorite movies.

The Abyss (1989)
Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001-03)
Star Wars trilogy (1977-83)
Finding Nemo (2003)
Airplane! (1980)
The Matrix (1999)
Les Misérables (2012)
Anchorman (2004)
The Breakfast Club (1985)
Jaws (1975)

Yao Ming is a retired Chinese professional basketball player who last played for the Houston Rockets in the National Basketball Association (NBA). At the time of his retirement, he was the tallest player in the NBA, at 2.29 m (7 ft 6 in).

Yao was selected by the Houston Rockets in the 2002 NBA Draft. He was named to the All-NBA Team five times. He reached the NBA Playoffs four times. He is one of China's best-known athletes. His rookie year in the NBA was the subject of a documentary film and a book titled YAO: A Life in Two Worlds. He represented China at the 2000 and 2004 Olympics, and was national flag-bearer in 2004.

Here is the Chance McClain song that greeted him whenever he scored for the Houston Rockets.

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First posted: 17 January 2013

Tuesday 7 February 2017

Why Germans Can Say Things No One Else Can

“We’re hugely dependent on language to help us express what we really think and feel. But some languages are better than others at crisply naming important sensations. Germans have been geniuses at inventing long – or what get called ‘compound’ – words that elegantly put a finger on emotions that we all know, but that other languages require whole clumsy sentences or paragraphs to express…”

Monday 6 February 2017

Super Bowl ads 2017

Here are a few selected Super Bowl ads for this year, with the Coen Brothers leading off with one for Mercedes. And, no, they're not funny, except for the Melissa McCarthy one. Sorry. Funny seems to be out of fashion.

And then there's this...

... which bears a suspicious similarity to my favourite short film.

Sunday 5 February 2017

How Alfred Hitchcock Blocks A Scene

Evan Puschak provides a great analysis of Alfred Hitchcock's story-telling technique in the film Vertigo.

Saturday 4 February 2017

Lessons for the No-Budget Feature

In the late 1980s and 1990s, there was a great movement in independent cinema of no-budget filmmaking that was the beginning for some of the most successful and popular filmmakers of the modern day. Let's take a look at five features from that movement and see what lessons we can learn on how to make a great film with as little money as possible.

Friday 3 February 2017

Thursday 2 February 2017

Story Meets Style

In Moonrise Kingdom, Wes Anderson’s style is the perfect match for the story. He uses details to create a believable world, establishes the rules of this fantastical story, and creates a tone that forms a connection between the audience and the characters of Suzy and Sam.

Wednesday 1 February 2017

Jim Uhls: Screenwriting lesson

Jim Uhls is a playwright and screenwriter, best known for his screenplay for Fight Club (1999), an adaptation of the Chuck Palahniuk novel, which is considered a great example of how to successfully adapt an "unadaptable" book.

In this interview he tells how he got that job. I was especially interested in his tactics for winning over the director.

First posted: 13 January 2013