Thursday 31 August 2017

Ten Commandments of directing comedy

David Dobkin is a producer and director, best known for Clay Pigeons (1998), Shanghai Knights (2003), and Wedding Crashers (2005).

He is, by his own admission, not a funny guy; yet he has directed many funny films. In order to do that, he had to learn what "funny" was in practice. Here is what he learned, as told to the DGA Quarterly.

1. “Kinda funny” means it's not working

Laughter is binary: It either happens or it doesn’t. As each joke arrives in the course of a film, the cavernous space of the theater is either filled with joy and laughter, or with the quiet of cringing embarrassment. Every time you step to the plate to make a joke you’re going to experience one or the other. “Kinda funny,” or in other words, chuckles and smiles, are basically comedy blue balls: a failure to launch. People pay to laugh, and laugh big.

2. It only looks easy when it works

Comedy, when it works, is light on its feet and has the illusion of complete spontaneity: as if there is no film, no camera. You are standing there experiencing it all in real-time. This illusion, I believe, is why so many people think comedy is easy. (“That actor is so funny!!!”) People tend to disregard comedy as “art,” and somehow downgrade it into a sub-genre of filmmaking referred to as “entertainment.”

3. If it's not funny, you haven't gone far enough

When you make a joke, and it doesn’t land, what happened? In the kind of comedy I practice, which is irreverent comedy, if a joke isn’t getting the laugh, you have not stretched the joke far enough. You need to surprise people with just how far you’ll go. It’s funny when the guys from The Hangover wake up completely wrecked from their first night of partying. It’s very funny when a chicken walks by and we see the hotel room totaled. But it’s fall out of your seat hilarious when we discover a tiger in the bathroom.

4. If it's not funny, you've gone too far

Now, there’s also the place where you’ve gone too far and you lose your audience. You mostly do not see these moments, because they are on the editing room floor. Admittedly, they are some of my favorites. In Kingpin, Woody Harrelson performs a sexual favor on his super gross landlady because he can’t pay the rent. I couldn’t stop laughing. The other half of the audience were covering their eyes, and was very much not laughing. For some directors (and studios), this is too far. For me, if you do this right, the half that are covering their eyes are hopefully still having fun with it, because it’s fun when the roller coaster goes a bit too fast (as long as you’re not tossing your cookies).

5. Great comedy has great drama at its core

The more invested the audience is in your characters and the drama of what they are going through, the more they will laugh at the comedy. This is obvious in films like As Good as It Gets and Tootsie, where we cry as well as laugh. But even in more contemporary work, this commandment applies. In Knocked Up, we all really want to know how the hell this schlubby guy and hot girl, who don’t even know each other, are going to have a baby together. And because we’re invested, when the guy’s father gives him advice that is so shockingly honest and hurtful that it only makes things worse, it is crazy funny. Because life is like that for us, too.

6. Comedy is harder than drama (or so say us who do it)

This is simple. When you are making a movie, oftentimes there may be tension, and even fighting, on set. This is due to many factors: the pressure of time and money, creative disagreements, a clash of personalities … whatever. It’s called “making movies.” When one is making a drama, you can’t tell in the dailies, or final film, that everyone wanted to kill each other. The performances are intense and alive and crackling with emotion. With comedy, if the set is not free and fun and flowing, if the talent feels tight and shut down, what you get are constricted performances. And constricted performances are not funny. That illusion of “easy” we spoke about earlier does not happen. So, yes, it’s harder.

7. You are only as funny as your cast

No, people who do not have funny in them are not funny when they read funny lines. Sorry. Just doesn’t work that way. Seriously, this is the biggest rule of all. You live and die with your casting decisions. Your actors are the heart and soul of the whole thing. Without brilliant actors, you will not have a brilliant film. Great talent makes the magic come alive.

8. You are only as funny as your script

No, the actors don’t just walk onto the stage and make up jokes. Get real. You need a good story with well-drawn characters and solid comedy throughout, just as a start. Without a good script that works at least most of the way, you can’t make movies that work, either.

9. If you're laughing on set, be worried

I don’t know why this is true, but I can attest to the fact that I have laughed my ass off on set during certain scenes, and later found they were not nearly as funny in the edit as they were on set. So, don’t take laughter on the set as a sign of anything. In fact, it can be distracting from what you may need to really make the scene work.

10. You never know what you have until you are done editing

When you get to the edit and watch your assembly, you will want to cry. Almost nothing works. That’s because it’s not a movie yet. It’s an assembly. And the process you go through between that moment and a finished film is where you find out what you really have: the magic you’ve captured, and the magic you’ve missed.

11. You never know what you have until you put it in front of an audience

You didn’t make the movie for yourself, and you will not know what you have until you show it to an unbiased audience. Unbiased means people who don’t know you at all. Too many times people show their friends and think they know what they have, only to get it in front of a real audience and have it destroyed. They laugh, or they don’t. They like it, or they don’t. This is how you find that out. And it’s brutal.
     I know, I know, there are more than ten, but those are the commandments, more or less. And all I had to sacrifice to learn them was my self-esteem, my sanity, my body, my relationships, my family, my childhood, and my manhood. You’re getting them for free.
     But when the lights go out in the theater, and those first jokes start dropping those opening lines of this comedy sermon, and the seats begin to rock hard with laughter that’s louder than bombs ... I smile to myself, knowing all the fun that’s heading our way over the next 90 minutes. At that moment, it all seems a small price to pay.

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First posted: 6 March 2014

Wednesday 30 August 2017

How to survive on set without looking like an asshole

Callam Rodya is a young actor, who writes a blog. He is the exception on set, the guy who worries about others, not just himself. 

Here he gives his perspective on the best ways to survive on a film set, without looking like an asshole. It's advice that can apply to more than just actors.

When it comes to film work, actors have it the easiest. Don’t argue. You know it’s true. In case you need a bit more convincing, consider this:
  • We’re the last ones called and the first ones wrapped.
  • There is a team on set whose sole job is to make us look beautiful.
  • They tell us where to stand, where to walk, and what to say, and they even put down little pieces of tape for us and print out our lines on little pocket-sized sheets to make it extra easy.
  • We get to stay warm in the trailer while they’re out there in a snow storm setting up the shot.
  • We usually get paid better.
  • We get all the credit.
Don’t get me wrong, acting is extremely difficult (especially when you try to do it well), and it’s important to respect that. But when you look around at everyone else on set, you have to admit, we’ve got a pretty good gig most of the time.
So, with that in mind, it’s especially important for us actors not be assholes. Chances are good that when you show up on the day, your approval rating among the crew is already pretty low. After all, they’ve been there for two hours already.
To improve your chances of surviving the day without coming across as spoiled, pampered, pretentious talent, here are some tips I have learned to follow religiously:
  1. If you have an early call time in the morning, set 14 alarms. Request a wakeup call. Drink 18 litres of water so you wake up early to take a piss. The worst thing an actor can do is put everyone behind schedule by arriving late on set. I know, because I’ve done it.
  2. When you break for lunch, let the crew eat first. They’re actually hungry. You spent half the morning in the craft truck.
  3. Some actors like to hang out on set even when it’s not their scene to shoot. That’s okay, but stay the fuck out of everyone’s way.
  4. Don’t ask people to get you things. If they offer, sure, why not? But be thankful.
  5. Police your own continuity and remember exactly what you did in the master when it comes time to shoot the closeups. Continuity on set, especially on small projects, can easily get overlooked and it’s a bitch for the editor to create a seamless cut when that glass you’re holding keeps switching hands or moving around the table.
  6. Try to learn everyone’s name as quickly as possible, especially the departments you’re going to be working closest with (hair/makeup, wardrobe, ADs, camera, audio). You’ll come across much more as a decent human being when you can say “Hey, [correct name], the mic pack is digging into my spine. Would you mind repositioning it?”
  7. Hit your marks like a precision airstrike. You’re just wasting a take if you and that focus point the camera assistant marked aren’t going to align.
  8. Learn your lines and be able to do the entire scene in one take. Sure, you might not need to run the whole thing in one shot, but editors usually prefer long takes to 1000 cuts in a scene. Give them the option.
  9. Don’t show up on set wrecked because you went out partying last night. You’re making everyone’s job harder, especially makeup.
  10. Say thank you to everything. EVERYTHING.
  11. Don’t ask the director questions that you could direct to someone else. They are very busy and don’t need to choose which hand you should hold the prop phone in.
  12. Put your cigarettes out in the butt can. Otherwise, some poor locations PA has to pick them up while you’re heading back to your hotel or wherever.
  13. Don’t be a critic. Your makeup is fine. Your hair is fine. Your wardrobe is fine. The camera position is fine. If you don’t like something, respectfully suggest a different option or shut the hell up.
  14. A good director will allow you freedom to massage your lines to make them more natural. But don’t alter the story. Or the character. And don’t go overboard. And don’t add lines just to try and increase your screen time.
  15. Don’t make extra work. There are exactly the right number of people on set and they each have a critical job to do that will keep them busy all day. They’re not bored.
  16. Don’t fuck with set dressing. That “mess” has been positioned deliberately. That is someone’s work.
  17. In between takes, don’t fuck around. You might have a three-minute break but nobody else does. They’re busy resetting.
  18. If you’re one of those “method” or “internal” types, stay in your trailer until you’re called on set. If you can’t do that, don’t snap at the friendly boom op for “pulling you out of your zone” because he asked you if you’ve seen the “Breaking Bad” finale.
  19. Know what the shot is. And if the camera isn’t on you, your performance isn’t important to anyone else except your scene partners. So don’t milk it.
  20. Don’t ask for notes after every take. If the director has one, he/she will tell you. Otherwise, do the same exact thing again.
  21. Ask for another take ONLY if you know you can do better. Otherwise, you’re just wasting everyone’s time.
  22. After you’ve shot the master, and the wide, and the mediums, and are setting up for the closeups is NOT the time to “try something”.
  23. Don’t touch ANYTHING. Not the camera, not the lights, not the props, not the mics, not the storyboards, not the monitor, not the cables. Nothing.
  24. Don’t try to do anyone else’s job. You’re the talent, not the DOP, not the key grip, and certainly not the director. Do YOUR job and your job alone.
  25. Don’t tell the crew that “they are the real stars”. It’s just a stupid fucking thing to say and nobody believes you believe it anyway.
  26. Compliment other people’s work. The lighting is great. That focus pull was unreal. That set looks insane. Yes, you’re good too, but people will be telling you that for months, if not years, after this thing wraps. The others, not so much.
  27. When you’re wrapped, don’t do a blanket “great day, everyone! Thank you!” Go up to each person individually and thank them sincerely for their contribution to a project that, ultimately, will be more about you than them.
The people who work behind the scenes are the most important, the least recognized, and the most shit on in the entire industry. So treat them with respect and try to make their jobs easier.

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First posted: 5 March 2014

Tuesday 29 August 2017

Beyond the Spec Sale: Why you should be a writer and not a screenwriter

I hadn't heard of Sheila Gallien until recently. Then she posted the following on her blog and now screenwriters around the world are talking about it. And her.

Have a read for yourself.

I have spent the last month talking to producers, writers, directors, execs—in short, varied veterans of the film business—trying to get an overview of the business of Hollywood, and I have come away with a difficult picture for aspiring writers of film and TV.
    The over-arching change of the last decade, since the cottage industry of amateur screenwriting launched, exploded, and opened the promise of a six-figure sale to anyone with a keyboard, has been the demise of development. It might have been growing, unseen, at the millennial turn, then felt blows from the Writers’ Strike, the financial crisis, the wooing of production out of Los Angeles, the onslaught of free content, but whatever the cause, the landscape has changed permanently. Even high-end, accomplished writers are finding themselves writing on spec unless they are fulfilling a franchise. Producers are forced to develop material with no support from studios. Many veteran producers have given up producing altogether, or have taken jobs to fortify their passion. The bottom line is nearly everyone is working for free.
    In case you don’t know how it was, while Hollywood was hardly a haven for writers, there were structures in place that supported writers and producers as they developed ideas. I, for example, was employed by 20th Century Fox as the assistant to Bill Broyles while he developed three pictures, funded by the studio, with three different producers. Producers got paid. Writers got paid over a series of developed steps, from early inception to multiple drafts. Those days are almost entirely behind us.

    On the one hand these changes may appear to level the field. Instead of working with a stable of writers who might win assignments based on their work and reputation, the industry is largely looking for completed material they know they can market. The new writer appears to be in as strong a position as the seasoned pro to make the spec sale if it is executed well. But the real truth is that the spec field now includes incredibly talented and prolific writers who have no shortage of good material, can write fast, and can write deep. And, after you sell one, you have to, in many ways, start over again. Sure, you have relationships that will make it a lot easier to get your material read. But not to get paid.
    Others have written more eloquently, both with more and less hope, about the business of screenwriting. I am not here to burst a bubble. I know those of us toiling along with day jobs dream of a respite, or at least of doing a JK Rowling. I believe sales can be made. Of course they are made. I just don’t believe making a sale can be the reason writers write. I would argue that if you are writing just to get paid, you will likely not ever write anything good enough to get made, and you will shortly not be being paid for something you love to do, but something you have to do. (And of course you can be smart and write great cinematic ideas, as opposed to stories about lepers or erotic thrillers about octogenarians.) The truth is after working with hundreds of writers, even those with dollar signs in their eyes, I don’t believe money motivates writers to write, at least not to write with the expanse of imagination required to hold an entire film in one’s mind. I might list freedom, passion, other things that getting paid for doing what you love might afford, but I still think it’s different. And I think it is an important distinction, because we absolutely should get paid for our work, but for the right reasons.
    And so, when someone asks me, as they often do, “what should I write?” “What is Hollywood looking for?” I think they are asking the wrong question, and I will come back to that. My job is to help the writer bring his vision to fruition, to the screen, the page, to see it delivered. If I could create a sale each time, I would dance in the streets, but a power greater than myself seems to have hold of that department. The truth is that the spec sale has become nearly chimerical, novel advances are all but gone. So we have to ask, if real money is such a long-shot, and it is, what on earth are we writing for? What is the dream?
    Back in the day, the dream was to publish the Great American Novel, or, I might argue, the Great 20th Century Novel. Writers strove to be among the esteemed and rarified few who had something transcendent and original to say, in a way that moved and transformed the world, and whose utterances, whose completely unique and profound point of view, might instigate an awakening, start a religion, or at the very least change the English speaking world’s perspective on life, the universe and everything. Oh, Steinbeck, with his tender, piercing and bloody rendering of the guts of American life. Or Hemingway, his mirror so glaring and uncluttered, the rawness is almost unbearable. Or Kerouac, grabbing onto the rushing, searching, breathless voice of god and godless and connection and change and agony and possibility. The chance to be the voice of a generation. To start a revolution. These are the unspoken drives of a writer. Or to explode a secret, use an undreamt of phrase to capture a banned thought, something so private and unseemly, like Jong coining the phrase “the zipless fuck.”
    The point is, the quest was about perspective, about seeing the world in such a way that we stood in awe of that vision, because it was so TRUE, and because it had never been said that way before, and because our humanity was deepened and we felt in a rush to express all that WE knew about life, all that we have felt, because it is so important, to us, to everyone. We were, we are, driven, to use Joseph Campbell’s assessment of the compulsion of people to tell stories, to bring the elixir to the people, if we have found it.
    Then the movies came, and they were magnificent. They made us laugh and cry and took us on journeys that transported us through all of our senses to other places, though truly we never leave the theater, we are only driven within. And we love the popcorn movies and the ones that we forget about but are glad we saw, because we love to be entertained, but those are not the ones that make us want to write. Those might be the ones that make us think we can write. That maybe we can’t write Chinatown, or Citizen Kane, but we can certainly write movies as good as these others, forgettable and entertaining and not bad at all (in fact we can certainly write better ones).
    Then there are THOSE movies. The unspeakably great. The ones that blow us apart and leave us panting and that we either cannot speak about or cannot stop speaking about, that we give awards for and watch in a kind of secret sacredness because something is revealed that we know but did not know we knew until we saw it. It might be just one scene, but it blows the world and everything we knew apart and yet when we see it we recognize, THAT is the thing. We know that we knew that we knew and we feel it for one fleeting moment through our whole DNA, and it changes us, because we have seen it, and it has been exposed. Perhaps these moments are personal. They are like a crystallization of character or an epiphany or a catharsis in theater but they are a revelation of the whole human experience. Perhaps they depend on your sophistication, your experience, your mood, as you come across them. I can name the ones that never leave me: the slaying of the ox at the end of Apocalypse Now, where I suddenly, viscerally knew for certain, at 17 years old, that we brutally slaughter each other and we are all one and that horror lives inside of me. Or that moment in Life is Beautiful, when the father is translating the German nightmare of the concentration camps to his young child through humor and the entire barrack holds up the shield and the lie to protect the holy innocence that is our birthright and our nature, the deepest and most profound love we have for each other, that is unwavering even in the face of unspeakable evil. Each moment like this is as blazing and searing as something that has happened to me. Because everything that happens to everyone happens to me.
    There are the beautiful, funny, whole movies that connect us to our humanity a little more gently, like Forty Year Old Virgin and American Pie and Bridesmaids and Legally Blonde and Little Miss Sunshine. And there are big broad romps and beautiful spoofs where we get to laugh at our foibles and the airs we put on, or just play like children and talk about farts and laugh and forget there was anything ever besides Raisinets and sticky seats.
    There are still, every year, so many good movies, despite the energy of the economy, the terrible spec market. I have come to be a fan of all movies, because each of them is a triumph over the impossible, hundreds of people committing, facing and overcoming their fears, to bring a vision to the screen, however imperfect, however short of great. Hundreds of millions of dollars, the sweat and passion and commitment and life of every person involved over a period of years that contributes to this fantastic wobbling monument that is a movie! I am not a movie snob. I am a movie celebrator. Because I know what can happen to me when they get it right, even for just a few moments.
    And so I come back to the eternal quest, why do we write, because we have something to say. When I talk to writers, all of them, all of us, have something secret and strong and powerful to reveal. No one wants to write an okay story. No one has only an okay story inside of them, though they may be trying to settle for one. Even if it’s just a simple, funny story, it comes from a place that captures a side of humanity, of their human experience, that they need to reveal.
    Last night, I met an Aussie waiter at a beachside restaurant on Maui. He was gorgeous, with a villainous smile, built like a triathlete, funny as hell. He played all night with the ladies, tossing out jokes and flirts, in good taste for an Aussie, most of them ending with the promise of a beer. I happened to walk out with him to our cars which were parked a long way away, and, as we walked, I asked him the question I always get, “how did you end up on Maui?” “I met a guy,” he said, and while I was trying to absorb this, wondering if this swaggering Aussie could have fallen in love with a man, which is how I ended up on Maui, he launched into his story, which he managed to convey in its entirety in less than two minutes, how a broken heart had driven him to California, where he met and married the most beautiful girl in the world. He worked in sales but couldn’t stand being confined so tried his hand as a waiter, and made such an impact, a “guy” offered him a job selling timeshare on Maui, not the least bit concerned that he knew nothing about it. He went home to his wife, a triathlete and holistic health expert, to ask her what she thought, and she started packing right then and there. They lived in paradise, in mad love, until one day they were making love and he found a lump in her breast. The first doctor said it was nothing, and the second revealed that she had Stage 4 breast cancer. He stayed by her side for the agonizing journey of her fight, sent her ashes to sea on Valentine’s Day last year, which is why, it turned out, he had just returned from a trip to the coldest place he could think of during Valentine’s 2014, and why he worked two jobs, so he didn’t stare at the walls all night and miss his wife. WHAM.
    I went to sleep thinking of him, of his love, of his loss. I woke up thinking of them. As he told his story, his beautiful face, the mask of the villainous smile, was slowly transformed by his love and his grief. And after a long silence, because I could not even respond, the shift of my judgment and his true character being so brief, he said, “I am a better man because of it. At least that came of it.” And he talked in genuine wonder about friends who commended him for sticking by her side, who later divorced, and how he could not imagine how you could stop loving your wife. Ever. I can see him in my mind’s eye, the light drizzle coming down, the streetlight, his strength and consuming grief and the light of her wrapped all around him and I don’t have words to express what he felt, or what I felt.
    But Jesus I wish I did. And that is why I write. Because I need to remember that I am wrong all the time, that I am shallow and I am MISSING it. Because I see someone or something and think I know what it is, and then, the beating heart of this beautiful man is bleeding on the street, and, beside it, all the pain of the world, and there is nothing I can do and I am filleted alive, in that tiny moment, with him. Nothing I can do. Nothing we can do. Maybe that is part of what makes the stories that dig into our souls. That there is NOTHING we can do, except stay alive, and live here with him. “I am a better man because of it.” Nothing I say could matter, and nothing I could do. Except I might have fallen to his knees and offered him anything for taking me to mine. I would not want to walk into his fire, could not imagine withstanding it, and yet I am so grateful that he opened his palms and let me see the flames, even if it is just because he cannot help it. I can’t describe why, except that I know somehow I have looked into the eternal and the holy and I am blessed.
    And so we write. Perhaps to render these moments, perhaps to withstand them. This is why we love to laugh, desperately need to laugh. Why perhaps we need horror, too, because the agony of our own lives, or our loved ones, is too great to bear unless it is in disguise. And we write to know that we are in the brotherhood and sisterhood and that dammit we are not alone.
    So I cannot think of how to answer the question of “what should we write” or “what is Hollywood wanting to buy?” It will change, and changes, and Hollywood will buy what is least afraid of, in the moment that it presents itself, and the opportunities that will make it possible, and if you can solve THAT algorithm, I wish you nothing but success.
    The real question, for me, is “What do people need to see?” What do we NEED to see? And this is where the business of movies is so brutal for screenwriters, because we have the hundredth monkey effect, and hundreds of thousands of creative, driven, writers are spinning ideas all the time, pulling down from the great unconscious what we need to see, to withstand, to survive, to flourish, and they are stories that might be similar. They might be overlapping. They might have exactly the same subject or close to the storyline, and then the writer’s heart and spirit are shattered when the competing project gets made, and it is NOT their movie. And it’s hard to say which is worse, when it is good, or not good, but it is not yours.
    And THIS is why you need to write more than screenplays. This is why you need to access your work, who you are, all that you, personally know, to brand yourself as a writer, a real writer, of screenplays and also other forms. You cannot allow yourself, creatively, to be attached to a spec sale, because then you stop writing what people need to see, and you start writing what you think Hollywood will buy, and you might win that lottery, and I will take you out for a drink, but you also might die in the process and spend your life, like an addict, trying to reach that next sale.
    You should write prose, whether it is fiction, or non-fiction, or memoir, so that you train yourself how to use words. So that you can let your mind run and your sentences fly and try to keep up with your thoughts and follow them to crazy places, then learn to edit and wrap back around and make it all make sense. You should write prose to learn to get rid of adverbs. To find JUST the right word. To crystallize your voice. To find a better word than crystallize, which I have already used once and surely does not belong twice in a short essay. To feel okay about a fragment if it fits your rhythm. To know that you are writing a fragment.
    You should keep writing screenplays, and you should write TV pilots and series and learn about the relentless structure of TV writing and the power of its characters.
    You should write poems to learn the art of distillation, to use the charge of every word, to learn to crush and unveil a moment, a truth, a feeling.
You should write songs to learn how to tell a story in pictures, in a compressed and powerful form, to feel rhythm and to feel the shock of melody in your head, no matter if it’s good.
    You should write plays, even short plays, and get people together to act them out, so you can hear when a scene goes thunk, and how changing the order of the words will help, and why your scene doesn’t do what you think it does, or why it does.
    But keep writing, just keep writing, drink of it deeply in different forms, turn it on end, and things will happen. For one, you will be there when the fucking great moment comes. You will have chops. You will have your fingers on the keys. You will be able to write a poem that is true by the poet in your screenplay or feel the rhythm of a montage, and you will be able to write a gorgeous pitch letter, after fifty drafts, that is distilled and brutal or funny and pops because you will know how to use words. You might touch the heart of some exhausted young assistant who has managed to hold onto her dreams of making great films because she loves art, even if her boss is screaming at her and her colleagues are trying to seem smarter than each other because they want to succeed, and they are afraid they will not. There just might be something about you that is different.
    At any rate, you need to keep your fingers on the keys, your index cards in your pockets, your voice memos set to record and you need to keep capturing what is important and keep writing because you are the only one that knows your stories, and we all need you now more than ever.

The Player (1992)

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First posted: 23 February 2014

Monday 28 August 2017

"Hey Jude"

1967. A Fistful of Dollars was released. Ronald Ryan was hanged for a crime he didn't commit. The Six Day War altered the map of the Middle East. Elvis and Priscilla got married. Pink Floyd released Piper at the Gates of Dawn. Che Guevara was executed. Hair opened off-Broadway. The Beatles released Magical Mystery Tour. The first heart transplant took place in Cape Town. Harold Holt disappeared. And I played Under-15s cricket for the first time, to the absolute indifference of the world.

Meanwhile, The Beatles continued to make experimental promotional films for their songs; what today would be called 'music videos.' Here's an example:

First posted: 20 February 2014

Sunday 27 August 2017

Movie Title Breakup

Here's something a little different.
A couple breaks up with each other (via the use of 154 movie titles). 
   Woman - Jenn Lyon
   Man - Ryan Hunter
   Waitress - Maggie Ross

First posted: 19 February 2014

Saturday 26 August 2017

"Academy Award Winning Movie Trailer"

Okay, so it's been around for a while, but I couldn't resist running it straight after yesterdays' Sundance trailer.

How to make an Academy Award Winning Movie Trailer.

First posted: 31 January 2014

Friday 25 August 2017

"Not Another Sundance Movie"

Here's the trailer for a non-existent movie. Not Another Sundance Movie sums up all the best film festival cliches in a quick three-minute trailer, saving you from having to slog through hours of indies.

Starring such indie favorites as “young ethnic girl that’s guaranteed to be nominated for an Oscar but not win” and a reinvented” Michael Cera, Not Another Sundance Movie will move you to tears with its gritty-yet-uplifting portrayal of poor folks, crying women, vintage pickup trucks, and clarinets. So many clarinets.

Written by Molly Fite, Susan Mandel, John Ott, Autumn Proemm & Chris Punsalan.
Directed by Chris Punsalan. Photographed by: Chris Punsalan & Stephen Mader.

Starring Molly Fite, Dan Banas, Todd McClintock, Samantha McLoughlin and Lucy McLoughlin.

(I thought the Clapping Orphans Choir of Detroit really made this trailer.)

First posted: 30 January 2014

Thursday 24 August 2017

Allergy to Originality

In this animated Op-Doc by Drew Christie, two men discuss whether anything is truly original — especially in movies and books.

Written, directed and illustrated by Drew Christie; presented by The New York Times Op-Docs.

In creating this Op-Doc animation, I copied well-known images and photographs, retraced innumerable drawings, then photocopied them as a way to underscore the un-originality of the entire process.

My film is chock-full of unlabeled images that make cultural, artistic and literary references. Additionally, the two main characters are modeled to look like the Russian filmmakers Andrei Tarkovsky and Sergei Eisenstein. I hope this piece is at least unoriginal in an original way or perhaps even originally unoriginal.
  ~Drew Christie
An official selection of the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.

First posted: 29 January 2014

Wednesday 23 August 2017

The Birth of Cinema and Continuity Editing

Cinema began as a novelty - projecting dancing shadows on a screen of simple every day scenes. But through the contributions of talented artists, a new cinematic language of editing emerged.

John Hess traces the development of editing from the Lumiere Brothers through Georges Méliès, Edwin S. Porter, and D.W Griffith.

First posted: 22 January 2014

Tuesday 22 August 2017

Disney: Copy Paste

I know this has been around for years, but it doesn't get old.

Why reinvent the wheel if you don't have to, right?

First posted: 16 January 2014

Monday 21 August 2017

Screenwriting advice - Sheldon Turner

Sheldon Turner is the prototype for the smart, brash, ambitious young screenwriter - only he's also got a law degree from NYU and has had his fiction published in The New Yorker

Turner broke through with his script for the remake of The Longest Yard, starring Chris Rock and Adam Sandler. He has since worked on Up In the Air and X-Men: First Class, among others. 

Sheldon has insane discipline, writes longhand, and boycotts email. He figured out how to work the system, and he's got more witty axioms for how to play the Hollywood game than a Tropicana craps dealer at 3:00am. But you'll just have to hear Turner talk to get it.

First posted: 13 January 2014

Sunday 20 August 2017

Akira Kurosawa: On filmmaking

Akira Kurosawa's career spanned nearly 60 years. He’s best known for his samurai epics, such as RashomonSeven Samurai, (which inspired The Magnificent Seven and Last Man Standing), Hidden Fortress (which inspired Star Wars), Yojimbo (which inspired A Fist Full of Dollars, among others), SanjuroKagemusha, and Ran (which reworks King Lear).

The following video is organised into 10 chapters. This list shows the subjects Kurosawa discusses and the time each section commences.

Chapter 1: Background   (0:00)
Chapter 2: Screenplays   (13:50)
Chapter 3: Storyboards   (19:19)
Chapter 4: Filming   (24:32)
Chapter 5: Lighting   (31:16)
Chapter 6: Art Direction  (37:21)
Chapter 7: Costumes   (43:17)
Chapter 8: Editing   (47:30)
Chapter 9: Music   (54:57)
Chapter 10: Directing   (63:09)

First posted: 11 January 2014

Friday 18 August 2017

Screenwriter's Lecture - Julian Fellowes

Acclaimed screenwriter Julian Fellowes found success later in life, carving out his niche in British period dramas for Film and Television. His international hits include Downton Abbey and Gosford Park.

Featuring interviews with Hugh Bonneville and more.

First posted: 23 November 2013

Thursday 17 August 2017

Ridley Scott on filmmaking

Ridley Scott has produced eighty movies and directed over thirty of them, including some all-time classics:
Alien (1979), Blade Runner (1982), Black Rain (1989), Thelma & Louise (1991), G.I. Jane (1997), Gladiator (2000), Black Hawk Down (2001), Matchstick Men (2003), A Good Year (2006), American Gangster (2007), Body of Lies (2008), and Robin Hood (2010).
Here is a rare chance to hear him speaking about filmmaking.

First posted: 6 January 2014

Wednesday 16 August 2017

10 Golden Rules of Moviemaking - Eli Roth

Eli Roth is a producer, actor, writer and director. And dedicated to his art. The guy made over 100 short films before he graduated from high school!

Here is some wisdom he laid down for MovieMaker in 2009.

Although I’ve only directed three features (and a bunch of short films, including a fake trailer and a fake Nazi propaganda film), I have worked in one capacity or another on nearly 150 different film productions. Even when I was the guy getting coffee or standing on the street in zero-degree weather, asking homeless crack addicts to please keep their voices down, I was always learning.

By the time I stepped onto the set of my debut feature, Cabin Fever, at age 28, I had 10 years of production experience. I knew how to run a set. More importantly, I knew how to run the set of a low-budget, indie film. All three of my films, though widely distributed, were made independently for a total combined budget of $16 million.  

So my golden rules are for moviemakers who cannot afford to shoot more than 24 or 40 days, or do more than one or two takes; they’re for moviemakers who have to shoot every day as if it’s their last ever, because if they don’t make their day, the whole film will fall apart.

1. Get as much on-set production experience as possible before directing. If you want to be a doctor, you don’t just buy some surgical tools, show up at the hospital and ask who needs surgery. Yet most movie fans think that because they know movies they can direct. Boy, are they in for a surprise.
    Coming up with shots is easy. It’s how you make the scene work when your actor’s in a bad mood or the neighboring building won’t stop construction—that’s directing. And the only way you can know how chaotic it can be is by working on sets.
    Work in any capacity you can and make yourself indispensable. You will see every mistake in the book, and you’ll learn as much from the bad experiences as the good ones. You’ll see what happens when a director doesn’t have a clue about what he or she’s doing or what happens when he or she gets focused on one idea that clearly isn’t working. You’ll see what’s possible to accomplish in a day and you’ll see how one small error in set dressing can bring the entire production to a halt.
    Making movies is so much more than coming up with shots. You are running an army and the only way to understand how to best run that army is by working your way up through the ranks. And yes, even Quentin Tarantino worked as a production assistant and shot an unfinished feature before he made Reservoir Dogs. You won’t spend the rest of your life getting coffee if you’re good, and you never know how those experiences will pay off on your own films years later.
When Joey Kern got glass blown in his eye on the set of Cabin Fever, we had an ambulance on standby, an on-set medic, a photo double ready and a whole other list of shots to get that didn’t include him so that we could film while I figured out how to rewrite the story around his injury. That kind of preparation for worst-case scenarios can only come from on-set experience.

2. Keep your eye on the donut, not the hole. This is a golden rule David Lynch taught me; it was his one piece of advice for me before I made Cabin Fever. I tell it to all my actors and crew members and we use it as a mantra during the shoot.
David told me:
“Eli, man, the only thing that matters to the audience is the information recorded in front of those 24 little frames per second. That’s the donut. All the other bullshit—the drama, the backstabbing—that’s the hole. And if you’re not careful, you can get sucked in. Your job is to keep your eye on what matters.”
When the union came to North Carolina and illegally threatened our Cabin Fever crew members until they signed union cards, which then sapped all our money halfway into our shoot, we raised more money and kept going. Actors will fight, they’ll sleep with each other, their agents will drive you crazy, and, if you’re not strong, you can easily get sucked into all of that stuff that never winds up on the screen. Your job as director is to not just stay focused on the end product, but to continually motivate everyone to do their best by keeping them focused on the end product, too. And it works. All my cast members still repeat it to me in David Lynch’s Midwestern twang: “Eye on the donut, not the hole.”

3. Hire really attractive stand-ins. Crew members are horny. They get frustrated that it’s not the 1980s anymore and that there are sexual harassment laws that prevent them from hitting on every girl at work. But movie sets are still kind of fair game, a place where people can openly flirt. But crew members often won’t hook up or have a “locationship” because they work with each other again and again. That’s where the stand-ins come in.
    The stands-ins are crew, but they’re not necessarily there every day. And if they’re the ones standing there for 45 minutes while the crew sets up the shot, everyone wants to look cool. People may say this is sexist, but it’s very basic human psychology: When you have pretty girls on set, the boys behave. Period. You’d think it would whip them into a frenzy, but it’s the opposite. When there are no girls on set, that’s when they’re at their worst.
    On Cabin Fever we had two attractive actresses and it became a real problem. (We were in the woods with 30 guys and two girls.) After the first week, we hired a bunch of female production assistants and the boys calmed down (we didn’t have money for stand-ins).
    On Hostel and Hostel: Part II, I made sure that I had beautiful stand-ins and the crew loved it. They were always so happy; they just wanted to take a moment to look cool and feel like girls were still interested in them. They’ve learned not to go after cast members because they’ll get in trouble with the producers or a jealous director (ahem), so the stand-ins keep them happy. A smile from a pretty girl goes a long, long, long way.

4. Have an equal balance of guys and girls. Sorry, it does matter. Film sets are a close replication of overnight camp: You’re there for eight weeks, you live together, eat together and do activities together. It’s not school, but you still have to be there. And at the end, you all say you’re best friends and that you’ll stay in touch forever, but then you don’t ever talk to each other until the next film.
    It’s so similar that you’ve got to build your crew like a co-ed camp. It makes everyone happier to come to work if there are more possibilities for hookups.
Now, I wouldn’t pick your key crew members this way—go with the best DP, production designer, costume designer, editor, etc. But get a good balance of attractive, friendly assistants for the various departments. Even if they’re not so good at their jobs, somehow their presence gets others to work harder. It’s kind of a tradeoff. I am not advocating hiring bimbos or himbos, but think of your crew like a dinner party guest list: You’ll want something for everyone. People work a lot harder when they are happy to be at work.

5. Attach a shot list to the sides. Every morning people get the sides and they read through what we’re shooting. But I always attach an extra sheet with a typed list of shots.
    I have my coverage shots and then my “Time-Permitting” shots. It’s usually about 25 to 35 shots—an ambitious list—but not so overwhelming that people think it’s not doable. And as the day goes on, the crew members start to cross off their shots. Then they see how much they’ve gotten done by lunch (and you can see which shots you can combine, what’s necessary and what’s extra).
    You can tweak stuff, but when crew members see they only have four or five shots left, they move faster. They see that you have a focused plan and they feel even more involved in the process, which gets the best out of people.

6. Have good catering. The crew will revolt if the food is terrible. A well-fed crew is a happy crew. Also, make sure craft services has healthy food. You can fill it up with junk food, but I usually set up two tables—one healthy and one filled with crap. That way your actors and your grips are happy.

7. Ready, Aim, FIRE. Do not be afraid to fire crew members or actors. I have fired a major crew member on every film I have made, and it was always the right thing to do. You have to be very careful and confident that this person is not doing his or her job, but you are running an army and you need the troops to respect your authority. When they tested me on Cabin Fever, I fired half my grip and electric department and promoted a best boy I liked to gaffer. Those who stayed were amazing for the second half of the shoot and all the other crew members snapped to.
    On Hostel, I fired my costume designer (who was a friend of mine) and everyone else worked their asses off because they saw that no one was immune if they were not going to do their jobs. It’s never fun, but if someone’s really wrong, not doing their job or not respecting your authority, get rid of them immediately.

8. “Thank You.” Learn those words in whatever language you are shooting and use them at the end of the day. They go a long, long way. You’re paying people (or not) to do a job, so it should be expected of them to do it well. But it’s very important to let them know you appreciate it, too.
    At the end of the day, what creative people want most of all is to feel valued; to feel that their input on your project made a difference and that you appreciate it. Thank them and tell them what a great job they did, how audiences are going to love it because of what they added to it. I thanked every crew member on Hostel in Czech and Slovak, and then learned how to say “good morning,” “enjoy your lunch” and “cut!” They had never experienced an American director who didn’t treat them like “the locals” and they really went the extra mile for me.
    I was a PA on many films and I always remember who was nice and who wasn’t. I remember how hard I worked for the ones who said “thank you.”
    The same behavior goes for screaming: If you’re going to have a temper tantrum, you better pick your moments. The crew will put up with it once or twice, but then they’ll become immune. You will not gain their respect by screaming at them, you will gain it through your ability to execute a well-organized plan and communicate your appreciation for their hard work. Screamers just get ignored and crews work slower to piss them off once the yelling becomes funny, which usually happens on day two.

9. Rock out between set-ups. Quentin does this on his sets and I started doing it on Hostel. Have some really good music ready between set-ups and rock out to it with the crew. They’ll get the shot set up faster. It’s amazing how much a crew can get done in one AC/DC song.

10. The easiest rule to forget: Have fun. From the time I was a kid wanting to work on sets my parents always told me, “Enjoy the journey.” When you’re standing out in the freezing rain yelling “roll” and “cut” for 16 hours and getting paid $90 a day, it’s kind of hard to have a good time. But if you can find joy in those moments and in the fact that you’re actively pursuing your dream, then you’ll really enjoy it.
    Directing is a very, very stressful job; the entire world changes for you. Everyone treats you differently because now you’re suddenly “in charge.” The stress and loneliness can destroy you,but you’ve got to learn to enjoy it, no matter how bad things get—no matter what happens—and still retain that inner joy of being a kid, living your dream.
    You have to have fun or what’s the point? And sometimes you need to be reminded of that. So go out for crew drinks. Laugh and share playback on the monitor with everyone when you’ve filmed a great kill. And do that extra take for fun, even though you know you’ve got the shot, just for the love of making movies. Directing can be the greatest job in the world, but only if you let it.
First posted: 4 January 2014

Tuesday 15 August 2017

Billy Ray: Tricks of the Trade

Here's a great little interview from Mike De Luca's The Dialogue series.

Billy Ray is the writer of Color of Night (1994), Volcano (1997), Hart's War (2002), Flightplan (2005), Breach (2007), State of Play (2009), The Hunger Games (2012), Captain Phillips (2013), and many others. When he talks about screenwriting, it's obvious he knows what he's taking about.

First posted: 20 December 2013

Monday 14 August 2017

Everything is a Remix

Kirby Ferguson is a New York-based filmmaker, and creator of dozens of comedic short films, which have received over four million views on the web.

Three years ago he put out a four-part documentary in which he argued that everything is a remix, and that all original material builds off of and remixes previously existing material.

The following video is all four parts of the documentary, and two supplements, glued together into a single video. Such a format may be better for a "lean and watch" mode as it does not require switching between videos and removes some duplicate content. It also removes Kirby's foreword from the end of parts one through three leaving only the one at the end.

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First posted: 16 December 2013