Making the Movie

Filmmaking tips, resources, reviews, news and links.

Wednesday Links: Awards Season Precipice

Most of these links come from the @makingthemovie Twitter stream. If you’d like to see them as they come, follow us on Twitter.

Criterion: Jean-Claude Carrière’s Collaborations – The most amazing screenwriter you’ve probably never heard of. His career has involved working with marquee directors from multiple countries and pushing the boundaries of movie storytelling. The Tin Drum is a personal favorite.

Art of the Title: Ruthless People (1986)

NYT: This Time (on Manchester By The Sea), Kenneth Lonergan Has the Last Say

Dan Golding: A Theory of Film Music – A YouTube video essay which makes a good case for judging film scores on something other than originality.

Go Into The Story: The “Own All The Lottery Tickets” Strategy for Selling Screenplays

THR: The Netflix Backlash – A sign of Netflix’s power: creatives and agents who are afraid to go on the record with criticisms

Now You See It: Why Jump Scares Suck – YouTube essay. Not as negative toward jump scares as you might imagine.

FiveThirtyEight: Men Outnumbered Women 2-To-1 In 2015 Movies. What Gives?

SlashFilm: The Oceanic Story Trust For ‘Moana’ – Cultural sensitivity is really hard work. But it pays dividends.

The Film Stage: Docs that blur the line between fact and fiction

YOUR WEEKLY WISDOM:
There’s something to be said for Paul Newman, Robert Redford & other stars with good taste who used their clout to greenlight great scripts.

Movie Review: As I Open My Eyes

As I Open My Eyes starts as a coming-of-age story about an aspiring singer Farah (Baya Medhaffar), going through a very recognizable teen rebellion against her mother. The mom (real life singer Ghalia Ben Ali) doesn’t want her daughter hanging out late at night with boys, drinking and playing in a punk band. The dad, who is often away on travel, just wants to make peace.

But this small story of a Tunisian family conflict widens as the film goes on, playing out against the wider political rebellion of the Arab Spring. Farah’s band discusses how far they can push their lyrics, and find they are drawing the attention of government informants.

as-i-open-my-eyes_credit-kino-lorber_3

This is debut feature of director Leyla Bouzid, who co-writes with Marie-Sophie Chambon. It has played at Tribeca, Toronto and Venice and opens today in New York City and on Sept. 30th in Los Angeles.

The performances are a bit raw in general, but the film is held together by Medhaffar, who feels all the feels of a young girl embracing love and life. The warm, expressive cinematography, by Sebastien Goepfert, is also a highlight.

Movie goers who like musical films, films with a strong female point of view and films that show what everyday life is like in a police state are strongly urged open their eyes to this film!

Truffaut’s Room 813: On Hidden Messages and Self-Homage

truffaut-hitchcockI watched the documentary Hitchcock / Truffaut this weekend. It is about a book of the same name, a book of interviews that Francois Truffaut did with Alfred Hitchcock. It is also about how the book lofted Hitchcock’s critical reputation and influenced a generation of filmmakers, including David Fincher, Wes Anderson and Richard Linklater.

But the documentary sadly didn’t touch on Hitchcock’s importance to Truffaut. Truffaut’s earlier French New Wave films like Jules and Jim and The 400 Blows are his more frequently seen and discussed movies. Perhaps you can throw in Day for Night, his reflexive movie about the making of a movie, which won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film in 1974.

But if you care to delve deeper into Truffaut’s filmography, you’ll see that made several films in the style of Hitchcock. And like his idol, Truffaut had certain obsessions to which he turned again and again.

Let’s begin with The Soft Skin (1964). This controlled, formalist film about a man who turns his life upside down over his love of a flight attendant comes right in the middle of Truffaut’s radical New Wave period. Yet the film is Hitchcockian. Truffaut eschews the loose plotting and jumpy edits for the deliberate pace of Vertigo. The camera’s interest in characters is balanced by attention to talismanic objects, like a mistress’ hotel key: room number 813.

I might have thought nothing of this number, had I not soon after watched Truffaut’s ultimate film, Finally, Sunday (aka Confidentially Yours, 1983). Again the number 813 appears — almost twenty years later! — this time as a room that must be rummaged for clues in a murder mystery. What could possibly be going on?

I knew that Truffaut had a mischievous streak of quoting his own films. In both The Soft Skin and Day for Night, a stray cat wanders into frame, eating from the room service tray left by lovers outside a motel room door. And “Do you believe women are magic?” seems to have been Truffaut’s favorite pickup line. It recurs in his Antoine Doinel movies, and in Day for Night, and in The Man Who Loved Women. These are but a few examples. His films are Talmudic with self-homage.

The mirrored room 813 made me think of Stanley Kubrick, who pulled a similar stunt with the CRM-114 device in Dr. Strangelove. For the keen of eye, it returned as Serum 114 in A Clockwork Orange. I thought of A113, the Cal-Arts room number that has become PIXAR’s favorite Easter Egg, along with the Pizza Planet Truck. And speaking of vehicles, there is the station wagon that David Fincher’s art director carried over to Fight Club from The Game. And I thought of the Wilhelm Scream, a sound element that has become an inside joke as filmmakers echo it from film to film to film.

But something seemed different about Room 813. It was just an intuition, but I kept searching… Continue reading

Your Wednesday Links: Secret Uses of Uranus

Most of these links come from the @makingthemovie Twitter stream. If you’d like to see them as they come, follow us on Twitter.

Page from Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove notebookKottke: Dr. Strangelove’s Secret Uses of Uranus – This post is about more than just the proposed titles for Dr. Strangelove. It also looks into Kubrick’s original vision for the film:

1. The story will be played for realistic comedy – which means the essentially truthful moods and attitudes will be portrayed accurately, with an occasional bizarre or super-realistic crescendo. The acting will never be so-called “comedy” acting.

2. The sets and technical details will be done realistically and carefully. We will strive for the maximum atmosphere and sense of visual reality from the sets and locations.

3. The Flying sequences will especially be presented in as vivid a manner as possible. Exciting backgrounds and special effects will be obtained.

The Verge: Making of Kubo and the Two Strings video

Medium taste.io: 30 Actors Consistently in the Best Movies – Could this be a measure of the taste of the actor, or of the actors management team?

Abe Davis Research on YouTube: Interactive Dynamic Video – I’ve posted tech like this before, where a computer registers tiny changes in a video and can amplify them. Very cool to see how it is developing.

Richard Brody in The New Yorker: “Marnie” Is the Cure for Hitchcock Mania – A nice thought-provoking essay. Marnie is certainly an odd duck of a Hitchcock film. I’m not sure Sean Connery, Alfred Hitchcock or the female screenwriter, Jay Presson Allen, took the same view of the marital rape scene that Brody finds so compelling. And if it is sexual violence that reveals the true “sick” Hitchcock, then Frenzy is probably the more revealing film. Still, the theft sequence is one of Hitchcock’s best suspense set-pieces, and that’s saying something.

Autostraddle: We Messed Up – A feminist website apologizes for Sausage Party review praising lesbian (bisexual?) taco. Much fun has been made of the vocabulary of identity displayed in this post, but I would not be surprised if this is the direction film criticism is headed. Younger audiences seem to be more interested in how identity is constructed (and deconstructed). Hollywood needs to start seeing its movies the way audiences see them.

Hollywood Reporter: What’s Behind China’s First Scary Box-Office Slump

Cracked Podcast: Movies That’d Be Way Better With One Small Change

Premium Beat: 19-Year-Old Director shoots with RED’s 8k Helium Camera

Nature: Cinema audiences vary the chemical composition of air by broadcasting scene specific emissions

YOUR WEEKLY WISDOM:
The screenwriter invents the impossible; the director makes it possible; the editor makes it credible; the studio makes it edible.

Tips on Film Acting from Michelangelo Antonioni

Antonioni directs actresses Monica Vitti and Lea MassariDirector Michelangelo Antonioni sent shockwaves through the cinema community in 1960 with a film called L’avventura. It’s movie that’s impossible to summarize, but it made international stars of its cast. The lead actress, Monica Vitti, earned a BAFTA and a Golden Globe. Every performer in the film is at once naturalistic and yet seems to be hinting at a larger symbolic meaning beyond a bare story about rich, beautiful Italians filled with ennui.

In a bonus feature on the Criterion Blu-ray, actor Jack Nicholson (who worked with Antonioni in 1975’s The Passenger) reads an essay with the director’s thoughts on film acting. Here are some of my favorite tips from “Reflections on the Film Actor”…

‘The film actor should arrive in a state of virginity.’

“The more intuitive” the actor’s work, “the more spontaneous it will be. The film actor should work not on the psychological level, but on the imaginative one.” As the essay puts it at the very outset, “The film actor need not understand, but simply be.”

‘It is not possible to have a real collaboration between an actor and director.’

Antonioni, as with his characters, sees a fundamental gulf of understanding between actors and the director. It’s not the director’s job to explain anything, except of a “general nature, about the people in the film.” He sees the process as adversarial, with the director trying not to “reveal his intentions” but rather “stimulate, within the actor, certain innate qualities” of which the actor is themself unaware. “One can almost trick an actor by demanding one thing, and obtaining another.”

‘The actor is an element within the image.’

Like Hitchcock calling his actors ‘cattle,’ Antonioni seeks to use a performer as a means to an aesthetic end. “A modification of [the actor’s] pose or gestures is a modification of the image itself.”

And it is not only visual. The tone of voice an actor uses must be woven into a larger tapestry of sound:

The voice is a noise, which merges with other noises in a rapport which only the director knows. It is therefore up to him to find the balance or imbalance of these sounds.

This might sound dismissive of an actor’s talent, but Antonioni closes his essay with praise for actors who ‘exploit their innate intelligence’ to stay humble, spontaneous and truthful without needing any direction at all. “When this happens, the actor has the qualities of a director.”

I can find no credit for the translation or the source of the essay. If you are an Antonioni scholar or work for Criterion and know more about this fantastic little digression on the art of film acting, drop us a line.

Wednesday Links: Smart People Like Trashy Films

Most of these links come from the @makingthemovie Twitter stream. If you’d like to see them as they come, follow us on Twitter.

Telegraph: Lovers of trashy films are ‘highly-educated cultural omnivores’ – One of the smartest podcasts, The Flop House, is about dumb movies. This jibes with my experience. People like Tarantino can be simultaneously fans of French New Wave and schlock-sploitation.

Speaking of Quentin Tarantino, here’s his review of There Will Be Blood. He’s spot on that Paul Dano’s performance is outmanned by Daniel Day Lewis’ mesmerizing turn.

Birdman: Long Takes (or The Unexpected Influence of Max Ophüls)

Esquire interviews Clint Eastwood and son, Scott – Some good filmmaking wisdom on display from the Man with No Name.

Mashable: Here’s the genius trick ‘Jungle Book’ used for natural light

Kevin Smith reacts to a hater of his new film, Yoga Hosers (video)

A supercut of 400 fourth wall breaking moments in movies

Quentin Tarantino’s “SUICIDE SQUAD” (Parody video)

Phillip Bloom: How the same spot can look so different with a bit of repositioning!

Brendon Marotta: Can Movies Change Your Testosterone Level?

YOUR WEEKLY WISDOM:

In Defense of Suicide Squad

suicide-squad-imaxBill Simmons, on his HBO show last Wednesday, felt comfortable calling Suicide Squad a “bomb” before the movie even opened. If you haven’t been paying attention, you may be surprised to find out that it broke the August box office record this weekend, and is apace to become the third-highest grossing film of the year.

Simmons, then, could only be referring to the critical panning that the film has received. As of this writing, it stands at 26% on the Tomatometer. I’ve talked in theory about the critical group-think that sites like Rotten Tomatoes engender, but rarely have I experienced it.

However, on Sunday I went to watch this expected “bomb” and found not only a competent comic book film, but one that is pushing cinematic and cultural boundaries. The prevailing narrative on this film needs some pushback.

If you’re going to continue reading, the first thing you must acknowledge is the possibility that critics can get it wrong. Pauline Kael famously had to reverse course on Bonnie & Clyde, when it became clear that she was out of step with the youth culture.

I’m not saying Suicide Squad rises to the level of a cultural phenomenon like Bonnie & Clyde, but something is definitely happening that the critics are missing. Look at the age demographic split in the Cinema Scores:

CinemaScore crowds under 35 gave Suicide Squad an A- (76%), while 46% females gave it an A-. The pic also earned an A with the under 18 demo (28%). […]

But Suicide Squad‘s weaker grades were with the middle-age folks with 25-34 year olds (22%) and 35-49 year olds (17%) giving it a B. (Deadline)

The movie is also performing well with audiences of color, who we know are not very well represented among the plurality of older, white critics.

There is a great deal to enjoy just on a surface level with Suicide Squad. There were plenty of laughs in my audience, and even negative reviews have been citing the charismatic performances of Will Smith and Margot Robbie. (They often overlook the best performance, in my opinion. Cast someone other than Viola Davis as Amanda Waller, and the film would fall apart.) The smeary rainbow, pop-punk aesthetic carries from the opening titles to the brilliant character makeup designs to the sets to the visual effects.

I am not a personal fan of the heavily-tatted, graffiti-tagged style of underground art. (Is it the older white male critic part of me?) Yet I can appreciate when a major motion picture sticks to its guns and puts that style in the faces of the audiences. And this design sensibility carried through to the marketing of the film as well — which seems to have done its job spectacularly well, opening the film huge against exceedingly negative word of mouth.

This PG-13 movie also manages to get in several scenes portraying a sexual dominance/submission relationship (Harley Quinn / Joker) including a scene that hints at partner-swapping. Just as with the “surprise” popularity of 50 Shades of Grey, large swaths of the culture are baffled, if not completely overlooking the text, never mind the subtext.

These ideas of dominance and submission can also be seen in desire of The Enchantress to have humanity bow before her, and most clearly in the relationship of Amanda Waller to pretty much every character in the film. At one point she says she believes in leverage, not loyalty. Her idea of an unequal relationship is one based on non-consenting control. It’s a clear thematic opposite to Harley / Joker’s mutual suicide-pact pledge.

I don’t think anyone should go and write a PhD thesis about it, but it shows there are deeper levels at work beyond the pretty-ugly surface of the film.

Perhaps thanks to Kevin Feige as a mostly autonomous benevolent dictator, Disney Marvel does a great job having the films in their franchise achieve a broad consistency of tone from filmmaker to filmmaker.

The Warner Bros. DC films (save the Dark Knight trilogy) have been maligned for being more dour and serious in their approach. But it’s an obvious good idea to try to differentiate themselves in the marketplace from Disney Marvel. We already have Disney Marvel.

Sure, the powers at Warners haven’t yet gotten this tone to work with the character of Superman. But I can’t fault them for trying. And here, when the heroes are villain anti-heroes, it seems to work a lot better. There is a scene in a bar in this film that is surprisingly emotional, perhaps because it allows the characters to acknowledge some real demons in their pasts.

Much was made about the film being re-tooled in post production to match the tone of Deadpool or Squad‘s own popular initial teaser trailer, cut by the company Trailer Park. But after seeing the film, I’m inclined to believe the director, who said reshoots were done to add action, rather than quips.

If there is a Deadpool tone, it is with the Harley character. And that was already her character. I think this film has its own tone. It’s a blend of anarchy and morality, more dangerous than a Disney or Fox Marvel film, and far more emotionally sincere.

More likely any late edits reshaped a slow first half of the film into a more dynamic series of quick trailer-like character backstories, allowing the plot to kick in earlier and leaving room to add more action in the second and third acts. It may not be the type of movie storytelling we are accustomed to outside of Guy Ritchie movies, but it more than works in service of this film.

As with any film, reasonable people may differ in what they emphasize as qualities worthy of praise. I found the good parts of Suicide Squad quite worthy, and the bad parts easy to overlook. (There is nothing like the “Martha” moment in Batman v. Superman, for example.) Put aside reports of studio meddling or multiple editors and simply watch the final film as if it was intended to be the way it is. I found it to be a strong artistic statement wrapped in the costume of high-quality popcorn entertainment. I never asked or expected more from a superhero film, and in this case I was not disappointed!

5 Easy Tips for the Indie Filmmaker

Maria Frostic - Main Iceberg LagoonMaking great movies isn’t a walk in the park.

For small filmmakers, it’s about more than just budget concerns–Kickstarter has, in some ways, solved that problem–so what else affects the production of a movie? From casting to building a team, the small details are what reap big rewards down the road, So keep this checklist in mind next time you’re planning a project, and you’ll be more successful!

1. Make your ambition work for you, not against you.

When it comes to low-budget movies, they don’t have the money, they don’t have the A-listers, and, most of all, they don’t have the equipment — so how can they compete?

Aesthetics that require a Steadicam or setting up a track for a dolly shot can take a lot of time out of your tight schedule. Save the 10-minute sweeping vistas for Joe Wright and pick a style of filming that complements your final goal and is also doable on your budget and with the team you have. There are great indie films and shorts available on YouTube and Vimeo like “Writer’s Block” and “A Film About Walking in Slow Motion” to learn from. Watch some festival-winning films or shorts at your budget level to get an idea of ways to work on a shoestring.

2. Casting makes a difference.

There are plenty of great films out there that have no-name actors in them; in fact, almost all big actors started in small films. What does this mean for a low-budget film? You can get by without big names. What you can’t afford is to have not-great talent.

Put in the time early to locate and audition promising talent. Getting a casting director can actually be one of the more affordable options, because having a well-cast movie does wonders for production value. Don’t be afraid to alter script or story elements to take advantage of the unique talents of your cast. And always give the edge to an actor who is hungry. If you’ve assembled a cast of actors dying to be discovered, you’ve got a great recipe for success.

3. A good script will win you the big points.

Those blockbusters that make a ton of money in the summer (I’m talking to you, Thor) are not about the script; they’re about the special effects and the big stars. For a movie that doesn’t have those two, it can seem a little daunting–until it’s not.

A great script (and great, unknown screenwriting talent) can put a film on the next level and make a viewer forget the shortcomings that a small-budget film can have thanks to an enthralling story.

4. Always shoot a safety take.

“One more for safety” can be a joke on movie sets, but in many instances that extra take can save a film when the video hits the cutting room. After long days of shooting (and low-budget independent films always have long days of shooting), everything is going to start looking good. But the cost is always more to go back to a location and fly the actors back months later. Better to spend a few more minutes while you have everything assembled. Play it safe!

Pro-tip: Also shoot during the day whenever possible. Great lighting can get expensive at night, and shooting in empty locations in the after hours can as well. So shoot in the day, and shoot when places are open for regular business. Sure, you might get crazy ladies in the background of your shots at the grocery store, but at least it’s authentic.

5. Make sure your team is in it for the long haul.

Small films can have the money curse; no matter how much heart is poured into them, everything can come to halt at the last drop of a penny. Prepare your team from the beginning for potential setbacks because every film has them. Inexperienced crews are less likely to expect setbacks and the ones who are most likely to encounter them. Make sure to psyche them up, and also be sure to have “rain cover” — a plan B for when a location falls through or an actor comes down with food poisoning.

If you’re concerned with how your filmmaking crew will pay the bills while you’re working on your project—and you’re aware that paying the rent is a big deal for everyone—you can build in adjustment room in your shoot schedule to compensate, and it won’t totally derail your timeline.

Movies are more than just a way to express an idea; they express how we see the world. Keep these tips close to heart, and remember that in the end, good movies can get good financial backing and go from nothing to something in a split second. Just look at Napoleon Dynamite.

Cassie Phillips is a culture junkie and entertainment nerd, working behind the scenes on film sets and covering them for local internet and news outlets. She hopes these tips on what indie filmmakers should consider before starting their next project will help more small films get financed, get made, and get famous.

Image credit: Maria Frostic – Main Iceberg Lagoon" (CC BY 2.0) by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Wednesday Links: Best Movies of the Year So Far

Most of these links come from the @makingthemovie Twitter stream. If you’d like to see them as they come, follow us on Twitter.

AV Club: Best Movies of the Year So Far – A pretty good list. Reminds me of tons of movies I still need to see. My personal favorite of the year so far remains Hunt for the Wilderpeople.

TechCrunch: MIT made a movie screen that brings 3D to all seats – without the glasses – This is still a long way off. In some ways, the rest of the world is ahead of the US, because they are willing to wear glasses. I heard recently that 3D is the norm in China, for example. Consumers there expect it over watching “flatties”. TechCrunch also had a cool story on how BB-8 works in The Force Awakens.

Need some desktop wallpaper? Check out these movie collages.

The Playlist: The 50 Best Animated Films Of The 21st Century So Far

FCP.co: Best practices for ingesting camera footage and managing media in Final Cut Pro X

FiveThirtyEight: ‘Ghostbusters’ Is A Perfect Example Of How Internet Movie Ratings Are Broken – Take it from me, a white guy: there are too many white guys reviewing movies to be giving a fair picture.

Cinemablend: To 3D Or Not To 3D: Buy The Right Ghostbusters Movie Ticket – I echo this review. I saw Ghostbusters in 3D. The movie was funny and the use of depth was fantastic. There were lots of great 3D gags — proton beams busting through the screen frame, and even Ecto 1 driving through the canyons of NYC felt extra fun. They gave that sequence massive depth and it underscored the excited feelings of the Ghostbusters.

Script Mag: Crowdfunding as Networking

IndieWire: Charlie Kaufman On Freedom, The Future, And The Failure Of Anomalisa – For the record, Anomalisa is no failure.

YOUR WEEKLY WISDOM:
“A work of art doesn’t exist outside the perception of the audience.” — Abbas Kiarostami

OLD POSTS UPDATED:
Free Paperwork: Documents for Filmmakers

Your Weekend Viewing: The Heart-followers

Enjoy this gorgeously-photographed short documentary about a family who lives off the grid. Their hand-built house is beautiful, cocooned in a glass geodesic dome allowing for a year-round vegetable garden.

And it doesn’t hurt the picturesque quality of the location that it is far enough North to have nights with the Northern Lights scintillating above.

I can’t find any information on the equipment used to shoot it. If I had to guess, the filmmakers probably had a DSLR with some nice fast primes and a tripod, and then made use of the ample natural light.

This is a great example of how you can let the atmosphere created by the subjects of a documentary create the entire tone of a piece.

A website for the film can be found here, and yes, it has English translations.

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