Making the Movie

Filmmaking tips, resources, reviews, news and links.

On What Makes a Movie Rewatchable

My perspective on movies changed dramatically once I began working in the world of editing. The editor of a movie watches and rewatches dailies, then a scene, then a sequence, then the entire film. Over and over. And over.

As this happens, there is a tendency for shots to get shorter and shorter. I’m not just talking about cutting scenes or lines that are redundant to the story. Frames at the start and end of shots seem superfluous the more you watch, and are constantly being shaved off.

As you become familiar with material, you need to see less and less of a shot (or the action conveyed in the shot) to track the story. Hence the editor trims. Or the director makes the editor trim. Or the studio executives make the editor trim. (Studio executives are also notorious for changing out jokes that work because they are sick of hearing them — not thinking of the audiences who are coming to it fresh.)

For this reason, and because once editing became digital, the labor cost of trimming a few frames off a shot became almost nothing, today’s average big studio movie is paced to be more re-watchable than watchable.

It has been tuned for consumption by a team of people who are accustomed to re-watching the film over and over, who are already familiar with those frames and moments that are removed. This is a side effect of how modern movies are edited, and perhaps not as much a creative choice as you might think. Audiences have become accustomed to this telegraphic aesthetic as normal film grammar, which only reinforces it further.

Of course, many top editors are aware of this problem. Walter Murch, editor of The Conversation and Talented Mr. Ripley, says of watching dailies:

I sit there with a laptop with the screen turned off, and as each shot goes through, I type whatever random thoughts occur to me about the material. […] You only see something for the first time once, and your reaction is very important.

Preview audiences can help restore focus to the experience of first-time viewers. But ideally, filmmakers would also like feedback on what makes a film better the second (or third or fourth…) time around.

On re-watch, the viewer has time to appreciate the finer points of the craft: set design, costumes, music etc. and how they all contribute to the effect cast by the film. Filmmakers often hide ‘easter eggs’ — little surprises and inside jokes, for those paying close attention. Animated films, particularly PIXAR’s, are notorious for this.

While there is nothing wrong with intentionally making disposable entertainment, I believe most filmmakers would rather make a film that has qualities of rewatchability. But, beyond tight editing, what are those qualities, and how can you achieve them?

Continue reading

Wednesday Links: There are no rules in filmmaking

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

Filmmaker Mag: “The Kind of Overlapping Mess That Bob Loves” – Joan Tewkesbury on Writing Nashville

Playlist: Martin Scorsese’s New Edit Of ‘Silence’ Now Runs Less Than 3 Hours – So pumped to see this. The film has been more than a decade in the making.

Never Give Up! – An inspiring essay from Jack Handey

Bad With Money With Gaby Dunn: Difficult B***h – Great podcast interview with filmmaker Lexi Alexander. For more movie podcast fun, listen to the wrap up of SlashFilm’s Summer Movie Wager

IndieWire: Sound The Death Knell (Again): A Brief History Of The Death Of Cinema

Nerdwriter: How To Use Film Titles Creatively (YouTube)

Kottke: The coolest sneakers in movies – Hands down, the Zissou New Balances for me. Nice sneaks!

Variety: Amazon Video Direct Top-Performing Content Partners – Note what kinds of movies perform the best. It’s not always big-budget, well-known content.

Deadline: Producer Brian Grazer: How His Firing Led To His Big ‘Splash’ – Where Brian is comforted by astronaut Jim Lovell, “You know, I never made it to the moon either.”

Criterion: Matías Piñeiro on Reimagining the Rhythms of Shakespeare


Wednesday Links: Drama Through Action

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

Seven Samurai – Drama Through Action: A video essay by Lewis Bond

See also LA Times: ‘Seven Samurai’ is the film gift that keeps on giving

Reddit thread: Best horror film built on non-cheap scaresSynechdoche, New York comes to my mind. Also on Reddit: Which streaming service has the best selection of quality recent movies?

Cracked: 7 Types Of Violence You’re Picturing Wrong Thanks To Movies

Take Me To Your Cinema: Disney Animation: The Multiplane Camera & The Spirit of Innovation (video)

Collider: Marc Forster Gets Candid on Making Quantum of Solace with No Script

SlashFilm: Ranking the Movies of Director Peter Berg: Plenty of Handheld Chaos & Full Hearts – Not criticizing the ranking, but I actually enjoyed Battleship. So if that’s your worst movie…

Hollywood Reporter: Hollywood Salaries 2016: Who Got Raises (and Who Didn’t), From Movie Stars to Showrunners – Very fascinating, but take with a grain of salt. I wonder about the sources for these things. Why not give a range of salaries, as surely there are? Are we to believe agents make more than studio heads? Who has the real power, then?

FiveThirtyEight: Some Like It Bot: How AI Is Getting Better at Entertaining US

Screen Crush: A Small Issue at Movie Theaters Is Becoming a Major Problem

Dennis Cooper: 47 legendary films that were never made

Martin Scorsese’s list of 39 “foreign” films to get you started:
List of Martin Scorsese recommended foreign films

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

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.


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 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

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?


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!

« Older posts

© 2016 Making the Movie

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑