According to Paul Schrader, the screenwriter behind Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, your movie should have 45-55 events.
In the commentary track for The Last Temptation of Christ, Schrader talks about his method for adapting the 600+ page novel of Nikos Kazantzakis into a 90-page screenplay.
I tried to winnow it down to 50 or so essential things. I think in most movies somewhere between 45 and 55 things actually happen, apart from entrances and exits and so forth.
Director Martin Scorsese, on the same commentary track, says it took Schrader 4 months to complete his first draft of the screenplay. If this sounds fast, consider that Taxi Driver is said to have been written in under a month - the first two drafts in just 10 days.
Fans of Joss Whedon and fans of Shakespeare will be pleased to see the first screen version of The Bard's best romantic comedy Much Ado About Nothing in twenty years. Unlike Kenneth Branaugh's excellent 1993 version, this one chooses to emphasize the darkness of the Claudio/Hero subplot. In doing so, it provides some new insight into the text (and shows a side of Whedon that perhaps fans of The Avengers will find surprising).
Our bickering Beatrice and Benedick are Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof. These actors, it happens, were the inspiration for the production. Whedon regularly holds readings of Shakespeare at his house, and when he saw these two in the roles, he knew he wanted capture them on film. Denisof knocks it out of the park when it comes to the physical comedy, but I did not go for his manner of bombasting out blank verse. Acker, on the other hand, was totally convincing with the comedy and as a tough woman with a soft spot for her ex-lover. Acker's Beatrice also has a nice chemistry with niece Hero, played by the stunning Jillian Morgese. Morgese and Fran Kranz (who plays Claudio) did the best I've ever seen at making this Othello-lite sub-plot about puppy love and rash jealousy convincing. Whedon's added scene, of Hero observing her own funeral (you need to know the story), helps a great deal with this, as does Clark Gregg's convincing portrayal of her father, Leonato.
The villains, Sean Maher (as Don John) and Riki Lindhome (as a female Conrade) made next-to-no impression. Their fellow conspirator Borrachio (Spencer Treat Clark) gets a nice turn, playing some credible contrition when confronted with his dark deeds.
Nathan Fillion, as local sheriff Dogsberry, and his bumbling night watch played by Brian McElhaney and Nick Kocher (YouTube's BriTANick) are very funny. In case you were wondering if the movie was truly low budget, Whedon said that Brian and Nick had to pay for their own flights in to be in the movie. Whedon also shot the whole movie at his house and had his actors provide their own wardrobe.
So yeah, a little less than he was working with with Avengers or even Dr. Horrible's Sing-a-Long Blog. He also did his own score and some of his own editing. Whedon says he chose black and white photography because he thought of the story as a "noir comedy" in the vein of Sturges, Wilder or Hawks. Frankly, I didn't get this vibe. I feel more like it was chosen because, with actors providing their own wardrobes and using his own house as set decoration, it simplified the art direction. One need only choose for texture rather than color.
So where does this movie fall? Is it a goof, a lark, a slum scrum by some top professionals? Or does it stand with the great cinematic Shakespeares? I'd have to say somewhere in between, more toward the former end of the scale. This one is for the true fans. (The only line Whedon changed involves the word "Jew". He did not, however, change the "Ethiope" line.) As a true fan, I (guilty) enjoyed the heck out of it. My buddy who saw it with me -- and who is not familiar with the play -- was thoroughly confused, and hated the movie. I'm sure to him, my praises are much ado about nothing.
MORE: Great IndieWire interview where D.P. Jay Hunter talks about the run-and-gun approach to shooting Much Ado.
In his commentary track on the DVD for O (Two-Disc Special Edition), a re-telling of Shakespeare's Othello set in a modern high school, actor/director Tim Blake Nelson reveals some of the tricks he learned from Terrence Malick while working on The Thin Red Line.
The best of them, in my opinion, is to try doing takes where the actors don't say their lines. Have them act it out completely with looks and identical blocking. This can be intercut with the dialogue version of the scenes, to use where a look can say as much as a line. Nelson reveals that he used this trick on the scene where Martin Sheen's coach character loses his temper in front of Hugo, played by Josh Hartnett, and wrecks his desk.
The other trick Nelson said he used on the movie O ... Read more...
After Earth joins Oblivion -- with This is the End and World War Z soon to join -- in this summer's apocalyptic film club. It's directed by the iconic M. Night Shyamalan and stars Will Smith and his son Jaden. M. Night Shyamalan is known for creating suspenseful plots in mysterious worlds, so he seems like a perfect fit for After Earth, but does his first film in three years live up to its promise?
After Earth follows a father and son, played by Will and Jaden Smith, after they have crashed on an Earth that was evacuated by the human race over 1000 years ago. The young and inexperienced son must leave his injured father behind as he searches for help and a way off of the planet, trying to avoid being eaten by animals that have evolved to kill humans.
A French company called Patador Prod did this cool music video for Professor Kliq's "Plastic and Flashing Lights".
On the Patador Prod website (Flash required) you can view more films with their hand-made stop-motion animation aesthetic. It's all in French, so I can't tell if there's more information on how the film was made. Thankfully, the filmmakers did link some behind-the-scenes photos on the Vimeo page which show some of the techniques.
As you can see - pretty simple set-up using a miniature stage and a DSLR on a jointed arm. Here's an X-sheet, which shows the frame counts for various events:
I'm guessing by the large gaps that much of the movement was improvised but aimed toward key beats or sounds. Pretty cool. Magnifique!
The filmmaker Juan Carlos Pineiro Escoriaza (J.C. to his friends) had a hit with Second Skin, a documentary about the world of MMO gaming. Now he's hard at work on his second feature, Know How -- an exposé of the US foster care system that is also a musical(!). J.C. generously took time to answer some questions via email about the film, his low-budget filmmaking methods, the perils of distribution and how he puts a passion for social change into his work.
Making the Movie: How did you first become interested in filmmaking?
JCPE: Movies have defined me as a person since I was so young, I can’t remember not being interested.
My very first video camera was a rejected Christmas gift that my father received from my mother. Instead of taking it back to the stores, she gave it to my brother and I to play around with. Embarrassing videos of me from when I was 8 years old all the way through college are all in a big box at home. I think there’s even a recording of me talking about wanting to be a director when I was in the 5th grade.
While it was exciting making shorts with friends, I think what drove me to fall in love with cinema were my parents and their enthusiasm for foreign films; we’d buy weeklong passes to local film fests and go nearly every day. Movies have defined me as a person since I was so young, I can’t remember not being interested.
MTM: Your first feature, Second Skin, was a documentary about World of Warcraft that wound up being a hit at the South By Southwest (SXSW) film festival. How did you connect with the festival? What has been the life of the film afterwards?
JCPE: Second Skin was a true passion project. I went into massive credit card debt, borrowed from friends and family, and made the film at all costs. There’s something reckless and exciting about that, it makes needing a win that much more essential, and so you’re willing to move mountains. (If you’re lucky, so are your friends.)
The producers and I didn’t go out willy nilly either, we sat and strategized, built momentum with our audience, and released a massive (for our means) grassroots marketing campaign. Things that seem really normal now. However, back in 2006-2008 we were breaking some new ground and generating a lot of buzz. Its success really resides inside gamer culture itself, and the attention they drove toward the movie. Word of mouth spread over two years of filming, blogging, interviewing, and so when the picture was ready to be birthed, the audience was already there with us.
I can imagine that you’re wondering how this all relates to SXSW. Well, I think having a built-in audience was a big deal, and it was a perfect fit for the film/tech/music festival. Even in 2008, the interactive part of the fest was taking over, and this picture lent itself to that group of folks.
In all other respects, we connected the same way everyone does, we submitted and prayed and wrote worried emails to the festival programmers, exercised every resource we had. We actually weren’t accepted immediately. I received a call from an incredibly smart programmer in early January who asked me to cut the film by 15 minutes in two weeks, and if he liked what I’d done he’d accept the movie. That was a tough couple of weeks! I’m glad he liked it.
MTM: What did you learn about distribution with this film? Anything you would do differently, knowing what you know now?
JCPE: Hah. I learned everything I know about distribution from Second Skin. Before that I didn’t really understand the business or how movie deals really worked. I’d read some books on the subject, but nothing prepares you like real life experience though. There’s something about reading a contract when it's your entire project on the line that makes it immediate.
If you’re going to sell the film, some major takeaways are to make sure your MG [minimum guarantee] makes sense to you. Keep an eye on the payment schedule in reference to distribution milestones, don’t worry too hard about 1 or 2 percent on royalties, and try not to lose that much sleep over all of it. I nearly drove myself mad the first time out. Finally -- and probably most importantly -- make sure you believe in the people you’re selling the movie too. Whether it’s a big or small company, you have to know that they’re in it for the right reasons, and that they’re going to do right by you.
That was my experience in 2008 and lots has changed since. Self-distribution is more enticing than ever before, there are more ways to get your content out there, and there are better ways to have an indie picture succeed. If you’re worried and can’t find somebody you think will give it real TLC, there’s nothing like committing to its success with your own blood, sweat, and tears.
Making movies can be a 'get rich quick' kind of thing if you’re insanely lucky. However, for most people -- including myself in this instance -- it ended up being about the journey. I didn’t really know that at the time, and took some hard knocks learning that the dream wasn’t going to be as easy to attain as I’d initially thought.
JCPE: They weren’t specifically all filmmaking experiences; I mean I did what every other indie filmmaker does, I suppose -- watch lots of movies, do some commercial work. I produced tech docs for Vice, read potential scripts I could helm and I left the production company I’d helped build and pinned my dreams on.
Amidst some tumult, looking for some direction in life, I started volunteering at Streetwise Partners (a mentoring program for young adults) and going to UCB improv classes. I’ve always thought I had keen ear for listening and understanding others, yet in both cases I felt completely enlightened afterward. It led me to rethink where I was going and why I was doing what I was doing.
So, I started looking at the potential to do good, be good, and have fun while doing it. I wrote something that became my own little mantra: I am here on this earth to be a vessel for change. To fix the social inequities I perceive in our world. I use my love and willpower to create tangible change.
From that point forward, I founded a non-profit called White Roof Project to curb climate change, and created a little marketing piece to fundraise for a foster care film that seemed like a great project to direct.
MTM: Which brings us to Know How. Tell me more about the origins of your latest project.
JCPE: Each year a group of foster care youth discover a non-profit called the Possibility Project. These teenagers are chosen to participate in the program based on their desire to create a better world. They come together for one year to share their stories. They learn to create change for themselves and their communities. They also create an original musical from the stories of their lives.
I actually went to one of their first shows when I was in high school, and after college volunteered to shoot some of the productions. I fell out of touch with them once I started directing my first feature. And then, in 2010, I got a call from the founder requesting a meeting. They wanted to make a movie.
The project felt like a great one to be a part of. I’d get to work with foster care youth to tell their stories for the screen and then have them star in the film itself. It also sounded incredibly challenging, high risk, and unlikely to get funded. So we started by making a short fundraising piece for the film; rather than focus on it as a motion picture, the pitch was based on youth development and creating change with a national conversation. A day after the musical premiered on stage, we had a few major donations come in that allowed us to move forward -- and so what originally was unlikely became very real.
I co-wrote and directed the film, in collaboration with foster care youth. The film is written and acted by them, about their real lives and we've been working on it for now nearly three years. I’m just rounding the corner on post-production.
MTM: I understand you've just launched a Kickstarter to help with post-production on the film. What is your strategy for reaching your funding goal?
JCPE: We did just launch a Kickstarter [link], and I’m really excited to finally be so close to finishing the film. We’re looking to raise $25K after nearly three years of production all that's left is the color correction, motion graphics, pieces of the score and sound design/mix. Our strategy for raising the funds is to drive excitement through our networks, email campaigns, reach out to news media, keep our community on Facebook and Twitter involved, and grow that core fan base we need begin taking social action.
This short has been making the rounds this week. It's a great example of how a documentary can re-purpose archival audio and illustrate with slick visuals and graphics.
The film is credited to "The Glossary" - a collective out of Los Angeles. They have a fancy website that's well worth checking out.
It looks like they've been doing a brick business making book trailers, which is a new and exciting territory for filmmakers. Right now, most of the book trailers I see are terrible. But I fully expect that in a few years, we'll look forward to book trailers like we do the movie ones.
With the release of The Great Gatsby, I thought it would be a good time to take a look back on the career of The Glossy Aussie, Baz Luhrmann. This screenwriter/director began his career with the so-called "Red Curtain" trilogy -- a group of films in collaboration with the screenwriter Craig Pearce that reveled in their own theatricality. He followed them with two ambitious Hollywood-style historical spectacles, the aforementioned Gatsby and a paean to his home nation, Australia.
Which of his films are worth watching? Which should you watch first? For a range of opinions, I reached out to filmmakers Yfke van Berckelaer (her Vimeo) and Micah Baskir (aka MTB, aka Jeddy Rice). For good measure, I also surveyed musician Lillian Parker, aka Ukelilli. What follows is our own personal rankings of Luhrmann's all-singing, all-dancing filmography.
Premise: Scott Hastings has been training in ballroom dancing since the age of six with his eye on winning the Pan-Pacific Grand Prix. But his deployment of some non-sanctioned moves in an early qualifier causes a crisis with his partner Liz (Gia Carides), his mum (Pat Thomson) and the sport's most influential judge (John Hannan). Tara Morice plays the homely Spanish girl Fran who believes in Scott's new moves and teaches him some moves of her own.
John says: The acting and directing choices in this film are campier than I normally prefer. The story is almost ridiculously crude (the Pan-Pacific Grand Prix is one-step removed from the Catalina Wine Mixer in Step Brothers as a plot-important event that's rammed down your throat) and yet... And yet this movie wears its heart on its sleeve, and the heart is in the right place. This is a great introduction to Luhrmann's no-holds-barred approach to storytelling, and the only place you can see how creative he can be with a limited budget.
Yfke says: In general I am a big fan of Baz Luhrmann's work. He has a style all of his own and that's rare these days. Also, if I can quote my brother on this, "Any male director who can rock two pigtails ranks high in my book!" In this first feature, Luhrmann shows how great he is with combining music with images and his uniquely explosive directorial style. We've seen many versions of the Cinderella story and yet in his hands it once again feels totally new.
MTB says: For me this is the most forgettable film Baz Luhrmann has made. I swear I've seen this film at least five times and remember next-to-nothing about it -- except my lackluster reaction. Like many of Luhrmann's films, people cherish it deeply. So, curious, I re-watched it to determine what magic I'm missing. With Strictly Ballroom, I can confidently say: nothing. For a man who uses style for substance, this just doesn't have any of either for me to care about.
Lillian says: I saw this several years ago and don't remember it AT ALL. Seems kinda strange for a Baz Luhrmann movie. I don't think anyone would ever call this man's work easily forgotten... I don't remember disliking it. I really want to rewatch -- it might land higher up than Romeo + Juliet then. But without the advantage of a recent viewing, I'll have to put it at #4.
What don't you do?
With the movie The Game, director David Fincher had a tricky task: how to maintain the audience's trust while also manipulating them. In a commentary track on the Criterion edition, he talks about his approach to this twisty tale of a businessman (Michael Douglas) who finds his life overrun by a mysterious game.
Here's the tricky thing. You're making a movie. And the audience knows-- You have control over everything somebody sees and hears for two hours. Every single thing. And the audience knows that you can show them anything. I mean, you know, you've got computers and you can make Tyrannosaurs Rex eat a car. So they know you can do anything.
So the question is: what don't you do? Not what do you do.
Every time you go to a closeup, the audience knows subconsciously that you've made an editorial decision. You've said, 'Look at this; this is important.'
Well in a movie like this where everybody's lying, you can run an audience ragged by showing them things that are supposedly important. Because everything that is a closeup is important, whether it's important or not. When you cut to a closeup of somebody's face, you're going in for a reason, you're doing it for a reason.
He goes on about the effect of psychological effect of closeups on an audience: (more...)