Making the Movie

Filmmaking tips, resources, reviews, news and links.

Blu-ray/DVD Review: Private Property

Cinelicious Films continues to do yeoman’s work in rescuing movies that live on the fringes of legend. You’ve probably never heard of Private Property (1960), a seemy psychodrama, because it was too risqué (for the time) to get a release in the US. However, thanks to the work of Cinelicious and UCLA Film Archives, this lost gem is back in a big way.

Perhaps the current ‘hook’ of Private Property is that it was the debut of cult actor Warren Oates (Two-Lane Blacktop), who as near as I can tell emerged fully formed as a vaguely-threatening oddball. He plays one of a pair of drifters who settle in an empty Los Angeles canyon house and interrupt the idyllic life of the young couple next door.

The other lead is Corey Allen (Buzz from Rebel without a Cause) and he steals the show. He’s a manipulator and slick liar, both with his ostensible friend (Oates) and with the fragile housewife Ann (Kate Manx). Writer/director Leslie Stevens would go on to a long and successful television career (The Outer Limits), but watching Private Property, it is easy to see that he could have gone another way. The film reminded me very much of another director’s early Pinteresque psychosexual thriller: Roman Polanski and Cul-de-sac. The John Cassavetes/Faces resemblance is also quite strong.

For my money, however, the number one reason to see the film is Continue reading

Wednesday Links: Advice from Brad Bird

An excellent video essay from Kees van Dijkhuizen Jr. It uses snippets from various Brad Bird commentary tracks to build a picture of the director’s philosophy of storytelling and animation.

Toronto Star: Like the video store era, cult movies may be destined to become extinct – I doubt the premise of this. What movies are in the cult cannon may change, but cult movies as a phenomenon seem to be here to stay. What’s interesting is that certain movies you might expect to be cult, like Moonlight, Deadpool or Mad Max: Fury Road have proven to be mainstream.

How Straight Outta Compton pulled off “The Pool Shot” – YouTube video, contains boobies and drug use. My favorite ‘how they did that shot’ video remains this one, from The Raid 2.

It took three cameramen, one disguised as a car seat, to pull off one of the camera shots from Raid 2's car chase/fight

FiveThirtyEight: ‘Doctor Strange’ Ends The Sibling Rivalry Between Superheroes And Magic

Marginal Revolution: An economist breaks down how to choose and assess the movies you are watching

Business Insider: Paul Schrader interview on ‘Dog Eat Dog’ and casting Nicolas Cage

Imgur Album: Directors Merged With Their Most Iconic Characters

5 Great Political Movies to Watch This Election Eve

1. The Candidate

Robert Redford plays Bill McKay, a liberal lawyer who reluctantly makes a quixotic run for Senate under the guidance of a political Svengali played by a be-bearded Peter Boyle. McKay is the son of a popular governor, but his relationship with his father is so strained, there is a danger his dad will endorse his opponent. The best part of the film is seeing McKay pulled between speaking his mind and speaking political platitudes, how gradually and subtly the system perverts his initial idealism until his community organizer friends are ready to disown him.

Rent on Amazon, iTunes.

2. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

This Frank Capra-directed film is the Ur-text of political idealism. Jimmy Stewart plays an out-of-his-depth senator who finds himself leading a filibuster against the forces of “graft and corruption” in his home state. Although it made filibusters seem like an awesome and essential part of American democracy, we have to forgive this movie. Jimmy Stewart is just too likable!

Rent on Amazon, iTunes.

3. Recount

The made-for-HBO film entertainingly captures the seesaw battle over votes in Florida in the 2000 Presidential election. The Gore team’s leader (Kevin Spacey), is an apathetic political hack at the beginning but finds his passion in his desire to see every vote count. The Bush team’s leader (Tom Wilkinson), is a genial man who knows how to play hardball. And then there’s Laura Dern as Katherine Harris, a bizarro performance in honor of a real bizarro American character. Even though I knew how it ended, I was massively entertained by the process. You really believe it could go either way.

Streaming on HBO Now, HBO Go.

4. Primary Colors

A thinly-fictionalized account of Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign, based on the novel written by Anonymous (later revealed to be Newsweek reporter Joel Klein). John Travolta in drag plays Bill Clinton and Emma Thompson of all people plays Hilary, sorry Jack and Susan Stanton. If you’re looking for the real thing, check out the documentary The War Room. There has probably never been so much access, both fictional and real, in one presidential campaign.

Rent on Amazon, iTunes.

5. Dave

In the great tradition of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, the movie Dave asks the question: what would happen if a normal person got unexpected political power? Kevin Kline plays the titular Dave, who is an exact look-alike for the President, who happens to have landed in a coma. A dark faction installs Dave in the hopes of keeping the President’s condition under wraps — and also implementing their own agenda. However, Dave has other ideas, including maybe falling for the First Lady, played by Sigourney Weaver. This is the kind of movie where your accountant friend can balance the federal budget overnight fueled by nothing more than some good, crunchy pickles. Dave was written by Gary Ross (Seabiscuit) and directed by Ivan Reitman and it will take you back to a kinder, gentler time in American politics.

Rent on Amazon, iTunes.

Book Review: Writing for Green Light

Writing for the Green Light: How to make your script the one Hollywood notices
by Scott Fitzpatrick

Writing for the Green Light is not like other screenwriting books. In the first place, the author, Scott Fitzpatrick, is not a screenwriter. He is a distribution company executive.

The first advice he gives is to forget about the craft of screenwriting. Forget about writing something artistic. He suggests sticking to well-worn genres: The Family Christmas Dog Adventure, The Woman-in-Peril Thriller, The Family-Safe Teen Romance, The Creature Feature, The Aging Name-Actor Comeback Action Film, The Young Boy Action Avdenture Film. I almost threw the book across the room.

If you’re trying to be commercial, why not horror movies? Why not low-budget based-on-a-true-story dramas? Well, luckily I kept reading, because Fitzpatrick has answers. His suggested genres are more valuable. A screenwriting career is about making money as a screenwriter, not as a waiter or barista.

What this book provides that no other screenwriting book does (nor my expensive NYU Film School education did) is a practical guide. There are good, useful tips for breaking in and starting a career as screenwriter.

Smart Advice for Novice Screenwriters

Fitzpatrick tells you to forget about query letters and agents and screenplay competitions and focus on making a product that is already selling in the B-movie market. Don’t write eight bad spec scripts to hone your craft when a guy on Craigslist will pay you $500 to hone your craft on his bad script!

Truly, this is not advice for people who want to get into screenwriting for the love of cinema. This is the book for people who want to get paid to write. With Fitzpatrick’s method, you must be willing to start at the ground floor and work your way up. You must be willing to explore some hoary, old genres. You have to write fast!

If for nothing else, I recommend this book for a smart articulation of the perspective of people in the industry who buy scripts. A-level Hollywood content may offer some additional genres, but in a lot of ways the attitudes are the same. Fitzpatrick has solid advice on pitching and on focussing on the work that pays — writing — and not the work that doesn’t (query letters, contract negotiations).

Recommended.

Full disclosure: This review is unpaid but a copy was provided by the publisher.

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

YOUR WEEKLY WISDOM:

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

YOUR WEEKLY WISDOM:
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

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

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