Making the Movie

Filmmaking tips, resources, reviews, news and links.

Awards Chase: War for the Planet of the Apes

Last night I had the good fortune to see the last of the modern Apes trilogy at Arclight theaters, followed by a talkback with some of the crew. Writer/director Matt Reeves, actor Andy Serkis, VFX Supervisor Joe Letteri and editors William Hoy and Stan Salfas talked about the three year process of bringing the story to the big screen.

Reeves spoke about how he manages to preserve his vision, even on big-budget studio films. For him, this involves an attitude from the get-go of, “I only know how to make my vision of the movie, not 60% my vision and 40% someone else’s.” He internalizes studio notes as pointing to problems, not necessarily to solutions.

Every time Andy Serkis does an impressive mo-cap performance, there is a push to see him nominated in the acting category. Moderator Pete Hammond played some side-by-side footage showing Serkis performing in a mo-cap suit and the final result with the all-digital character, Caesar. (Letteri noted that, while all the apes are 100% digital, they did use Serkis’ real tears in one scene.) Reeves stressed that it was Serkis’ performance that let the editors do their cut, and it was Serkis’ performance that all of the digital animation was pushed to equal.

The editors spoke about how difficult it was to find the right balance in the VFX versions of Steve Zahn’s performance as Bad Ape where the character was believable instead of cartoonish. The important thing always was to honor the performance of the actor.

I, for one, am on the side of nominating motion capture acting performances alongside the analog ones. Filmmakers have always enhanced actor performances, from makeup prosthetics to a whole array of editing tricks. These days, an editor might use an actor’s body from take 3 and their head from take 6 and their voice from take 9 in a single shot. They might add digital makeup to the point where most of an actor’s face is digitally re-created. Where you draw the line in what should be recognized and awarded as screen acting is not clear. It may very well be that in the future the vast majority of screen performances are more like Serkis’ in the Apes movies.

Well, enough of my soapbox. War for the Planet of the Apes is an epic film — with a great assist from Michael Giacchino’s epic score. Add it to the other two recent Apes films and you have a yet more epic achievement in filmmaking. It’s hard to think of a film where the visual effects technology is so central to telling the story, yet disappears so completely. War for the Planet of the Apes may not reach the promised land of awards recognition, but it looks ahead to a future where such work gets the recognition it deserves.

War for the Planet of the Apes is available on Digital and arrives on 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray on October 24.

Wednesday Links: Ask Jerry Bruckheimer Anything

Jerry Bruckheimer answers questions on Quora – How did Captain Jack Sparrow become such an iconic character? What’s happening with Top Gun 2?

HITCHCOCK / KUROSAWA — THE AXIAL CUT by Cole Smithey

On the Scriptnotes podcast, screenwriters John August and Craig Mazin talk about the vicissitudes of the summer movie box office

Vox: The Kingsman movies’ not-so-secret conservative politics – My brief review of Kingsman 2 can be found on Letterboxd. I was not impressed. The movie was apparently 3+ hours in the original cut. That explains why many parts felt shortchanged. Still, it pleased many fans of Kingsman 1, including my wife.

The Whole Plate: Framing Megan Fox – Whether or not you care about Megan Fox’s character in the Transformers movies, this a textbook lesson in how the visuals of a film can subvert the narrative of a film.

NYT: In New Zealand, a Translated ‘Moana’ Bolsters an Indigenous Language – A great reminder of the power of films to shape and bolster culture.

Newsweek: Netflix, Streaming Video and the Slow Death of the Classic Film – It seems classic movie streaming is migrating secondary platforms like Warner Archive and Filmstruck. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Both of those services can offer deeper and wider classic catalogs by centralizing the audience.

Your Wednesday Links: Venice Reviews Are In!

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

Hollywood Reporter: ‘Shape of Water’: Guillermo del Toro on Why America Needs a Cold War Fairy Tale Today – Pumped to see this.

Variety: Venice Film Review: Downsizing – Lots of good reviews for this film coming out of Venice.

RibbonFarm: A Beginner’s Guide to Immortality – If your life was a movie, how would you like being stuck in Groundhog Day?

BBC News: Has Star Wars reached peak prequel? – Time will tell if Rogue One turns out to be the pinnacle. Somehow I doubt it.

Hollywood Reporter: Summer Box Office Suffers Historic Decline in U.S. – I’m pretty sure it is actually within the normal range of variation. Let’s see what the numbers are at the end of the year.

No Film School: Final Death Comes to Final Cut 7 – RIP. Seems like the Final Cut X transition pushed a lot of younger editors to Premiere. Feature films and major TV productions are still mainly Avid MediaComposer.

SlashFilm: Why Netflix Was The Only Place to Make Scorsese’s The Irishman, According to Robert De Niro

Crash Course Movie Production Series #1

BoingBoing: How to make a good lighting rig with a hamburger box and a flashlight

TrueFilm subreddit: Michael Haneke’s recurring names – Ingmar Bergman did the same thing with his character names: Anna, Karin, Henrik, Marianne, David, Isak.

YOUR WEEKLY WISDOM:

Dunkirk and the Problem of War Movies

Prologue

In 1930, All Quiet on the Western Front won the Academy Award for Best Picture. It is based on the famous anti-war novel of the same name, set during World War I, the so-called War to End All Wars.

The Variety review for the film stated: “The League of Nations could make no better investment than to buy up the master-print, reproduce it in every language, to be shown in all the nations until the word ‘war’ is taken out of the dictionaries.”

Neither the book nor the film prevented World War II.

Bad Wars and Good War Movies

War is by its very nature a high-drama enterprise. The stakes are not only life and death, but the fate of nations. It is natural for filmmakers to be drawn to stories set during war.

However, war is absolutely awful. As the book and documentary series Five Came Back recently showed, filmmakers who have experienced war firsthand are profoundly changed, perhaps even traumatized.

Even filmmakers who never served — say Steven Spielberg with Saving Private Ryan or Francis Ford Coppola with Apocalypse Now or Stanley Kubrick with Full Metal Jacket — are wary of making movies that glorify war.

Continue reading

Wednesday Links: Visions of Another Hollywood

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

Kottke: The infinite auditory illusion that makes the Dunkirk soundtrack so intense (and good) – More on Shephard tones here.

WhatCulture: 10 Mind-Blowing Hidden Clues You Never Noticed In Classic Movies

The Atlantic: How Soderbergh’s Logan Lucky Can Bring Back the Mid-Budget Movie – I thought the trailer felt… different. Soderbergh cut it himself. Or should I say Mary Ann Bernard cut it herself.

NYT Mag: Why Hollywood Is Trying to Turn Everything Into Movies, Even Mindless Games Like ‘Fruit Ninja’

IndieWire: Netflix vs. Christopher Nolan: Why Movie Theaters Have Gotten so Bad – The Hollywood studios should be very concerned about how bad some theatrical presentations have gotten. I can’t believe how dark the projection is at some theaters I’ve been to, and the comment about the buzzing speaker is right on.

SilentMovieGIFs: Before CGI, they used mirrors

MUBI: Ingmar Bergman’s Favorite Films – Victor Sjöström was a mentor of Bergman’s. Here’s a video interview of him talking about their relationship.

Monique Jones: Revisiting Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes Remake

Inverse: Neill Blomkamp Wants to Reimagine Hollywood. He Just Needs Money. – Who do you think is more likely to succeed in re-writing the Hollywood game, Soderbergh, Nolan or Blomkamp?

A Plea to Ignore Rotten Tomatoes Scores


Rotten Tomatoes is a review aggregator website. It was founded in 1998. There were previous sites that did — and still do — the same basic thing, like Metacritic. For lazy journalists, the Rotten Tomatoes score has become a shorthand for quality of a film. Headlines proclaim Wonder Woman 97% Fresh and The Mummy 23% Rotten.

In fact, the method by which these scores are generated is unscientific, arbitrary and ultimately harmful to movie-making. Let’s break it down…

Continue reading

This Glow-in-the-Dark Cinematography Will Have You Straight Trippin’

In a recent thread on Reddit, filmmaker Jonah Haber discussed how he created a simple but striking visual effect:

I bought a roll of glow in the dark paper from Aliexpress and asked my friend to dance in front of it. This is the result of that

Not mentioned but key is the use of a strobe flash. Haber says timing the final hits took weeks of setup.

I actually had a toy similar to this when I was younger. It was a small piece of glow in the dark fabric and a small little strobe (think disposable camera size flash) where you would create “shadow art” with it. I recently visited my parents and was reminded about it when I was there and thought it would make a cool video!

The shadow-capture effect is haunting, at least for me, evoking as it does the etched shadows of Hiroshima. Haber said he was mainly inspired by a Jon Hopkins music video. It also uses dancers and negative space, but in a way I’d say is less fluid:

Some other commenters chimed in with a Soft Bullets music video that’s in a glow-in-the-dark vein:

I love the idea and the execution! Not only is glow-in-the-dark photo paper readily available from craft supply stores, but also glow-in-the-dark paint and even makeup. What that brought to my mind is Thad Nurski’s short film “A Dimly Lit Room” which uses blacklight-reactive makeup to create some hypnotic low-light visuals. “A Dimly Lit Room” just had its premiere at Dances with Films in Los Angeles. I hope it will be available online in full soon. In the meantime, here is the teaser:

Even with a medium as old as film, people are creating new visual effects. I have to think that as low-light cinematography gets better and cheaper, we’ll start to see more exploration of filming with alternative light sources. Who’s afraid of the dark?

Wednesday Links: The Week of Wonder

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

What Does Wonder Woman Actually Represent? – A comic about the history of the super-heroine by Lucy Bellwood and Sarah Mirk.

A look inside the world of film editing – Imgur album

Business Insider: Hollywood is fighting Sean Parker’s movie-streaming startup – People have tried this idea many times before. Theatrical distributors will never give up the current window release pattern unless it stops working for them. In a funny way, Netflix is doing straight-to-home cinema stuff yet no one is talking about it. The very excellent Sundance film I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore has been virtually buried by getting a Netflix distribution.

Potato Jet: iPhone 7 vs Arri Alexa

Boing Boing: A countdown made from countdowns in movies

“‘My mother would believe horror pictures are close to porn.'” – Deadline’s Peter Bart on the new horror producers.

MEL Magazine: How The Internet Killed the Teen Sex Comedy – I don’t think the genre is dead, per se. It just needs some new filmmaker to figure out how to make it relevant in the age of Snapchat, and the filmmakers who can do that don’t have a lot of access to mainstream cinema… yet.

FT: Last year, 150 filmmakers called on camera makers to build encryption into their products. They continue to resist.

The Independent: Personal Shopper‘s Olivier Assayas interview

Reuters: Facebook to become another Netflix? – Facebook plans to produce its own video content. It’s interesting since facebook has been trying to challenge YouTube with user uploaded (I won’t say ‘user generated’) content. YouTube has had its own challenges when it came to creating short-form original content. Meanwhile, Netflix is picking a fight with distributors. Amazon is looking better-and-better-positioned for the near future of exclusive online content.

YOUR WEEKLY WISDOM:

— Source: The World of James Bond by Jeremy Black (review copy)

Wednesday Links: The Fall of King Arthur

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

Vulture: How did King Arthur: Legend of the Sword happen? – This is apparently a case of many visions for the IP, or intellectual property. Sadly, the vision that the final film settled on is a total mess. You’ll find my spoiler review on Letterboxd.

Dafne Keen’s Logan Audition Tape with Hugh Jackman

Deadline: Hackers Holding Disney’s Latest ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ For Ransom – Oh, the irony!

Reddit AMA: Lloyd Kaufman, President of Troma Entertainment and Creator of The Toxic Avenger

Real or Fake 4K – Is that disk you’re buying really UHD quality? For the time being, the answer is ‘usually not.’ Most major Hollywood films are still mastered in 2K, not 4K.

Philly.com: In playing Mantis, Pom Klementieff Keeps Laughing Through The Pain – Interesting side story for the Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2 breakout actress.

5 Highlights from ‘The Godfather’ 45th Anniversary Reunion

Macro Room: The swirling beauty of colored ink in water (video) – Stay tuned to see the filming setup.

True West Magazine: Kurt Russell spills the beans on who really directed Tombstone – I wonder if there aren’t quite a few movies where actors, writers and producers took over directing but declined to take the credit.

The Summer Movie Season is Upon Us – It’s time for The /Filmcast Summer Movie Wager podcast

YOUR WEEKLY WISDOM:
“Most [screen]writers, when I’ve pressed the question, usually admit, finally, that they don’t want to be writers. They just want to write — and not even in a general sense of wanting to sit down somewhere and scribble for a living. They want to write because they have something to say.” — Robin Mukherjee, The Art of Screenplays

Why Movies Will Be The Literature of the Future

WaitButWhy has long, very long article about the coming future of brain-to-brain communication. It’s great, but it’s long. Maybe read my short essay first…

Okay, still here? So what seems to be happening in the world of neuroscience is that machine-brain interfaces are The Next Hot Thing. Eventually this will lead to people who are wearing devices that turn thoughts into computer code and vice versa. Actually, it is already happening with devices like cochlear implants that let deaf people hear and tongue electrodes that let blind people see.

What I’ve taken away from this vision of the future is that words, especially written words, are in trouble. The auditory cortex and the visual cortex are among the best understood parts of the brain, and the likely entry point for an advanced “wizard hat” machine-brain interface. Hmmm, what form of communication do we already have that’s audio-visual…?

Movies! That’s right, in many ways we cannot fathom how the people of the future will communicate with each other. But at least until the deeper parts of the brain are understood, they are probably going to be sending the future equivalents of movie clips back and forth.

It may be immersive, VR-style movie clips. But it’s going to be audio-visual. Which means people with superior audio-visual skills, a.k.a. filmmakers, are only going to rise in status. Filmmakers are going to be on the forefront of pushing this new form of communication. Filmmakers are going to be creating the brain-movies that will become our shared culture.

That future may mirror the present we are experiencing. Just like today we can still watch a black & white film and be moved to tears — “Zuzu’s petals!” — the flat, low-resolution, non-brain-enhanced films of today should still be able to move future generations, even after the written word has been made obsolete.

Obsolete? Yes. Imagine any text you encounter being performed by a digital Meryl Streep. Or, further in the future, an understanding of what the text means simply being implanted as a memory. When the machine attached to your brain can read text — in any language — your brain will have no need for the long, difficult process of learning to read.

So the machines attached to our brains are going to be turning any text we encounter into audio-visual information. Perhaps this bodes well for Hollywood’s great stockpile of unproduced screenplays. It definitely bodes well for filmmakers who are willing to have their own storytelling intelligence modeled as the artificial intelligence that will be doing the translating.

You’ll be able to send an A/V ‘thoughtgram’ to your friend in the style of Ingmar Bergman or Mira Nair or Busby Berkeley. These thoughtgrams won’t require actors, production designers or really anyone else, just a clear imagination. The American version of the auteur theory will finally be true. Thoughtgrams will have just a single “author,” like the written literature which gave the French originators of the Auteur Theory such paroxysms of inferiority.

Or will they have a single author? With a wizard hat allowing you to network with other wizard hats and various flavors of Artificial Intelligence, perhaps the movies of the future will still be collaborative in much the same sense they are today. A thoughtgram writer’s scenario will be taken up by a thoughtgram producer who will hire talented thoughtgram actors, directors and audiovisual technicians to complete it.

Fan edits of thoughtgrams will compete like memes. Anyone out there who thinks they have a better ending to the latest Marvel story can simply think it into existence and send it out. Then someone else can improve it. And so on. It may become much more like ancient literature, say the oral tradition around the Homeric epics. No longer is there one single author or version, simply a tradition that is constantly evolving and being adapted to the audience and the concerns of the generation.

The films of today will most definitely seem stodgy. But they may provide the kernel for whole libraries of updated variations in the new wizard hat medium. After all, stories have been around in many forms throughout the ages, and the great ones have persisted. There’s no doubt, in my feeble, unaugmented mind, that they will continue to persist.

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