Making the Movie

2Dec/140

Stick true to the stories you want to tell: An Interview with Thad Nurski

thad_nurskiI recently saw some test footage for a short film that knocked my socks off. It combines blacklight makeup and costumes to create an otherworldly, almost bio-luminescent visual effect unlike anything I've ever seen. And its all done in-camera!

The film is to be called "A Dimly Lit Room" and the writer/director/editor, Thad Nurski, is currently raising funds on IndieGogo to shoot the project. Check out the pitch video to see some of the stunning test footage:

I interviewed Thad via email about how he created the effect, his fundraising strategy and his cinematic influences. Read on...

Making the Movie: Tell me a little about who you are and how you came to filmmaking...

Thad Nurski: I was born and raised in Missouri. I had a big imagination as a kid, and I would dream up elaborate worlds when playing with my toys, drawing photos, or writing short stories. I loved to come up with these elaborate worlds and display them -- some way, somehow -- even if it was just talking to people about them. Film caught my imagination very early on. I remember as a kid watching the distinct visual worlds of Beetlejuice and Sleeping Beauty. They really stuck with me, and I was fascinated by them and what they were showing me. In Beetlejuice, the practical effects took me aback, and the gorgeous animation of Sleepy Beauty drew me in. I remember at the end when Aurora’s dress keeps changing from pink to blue and blue to pink. It was all so visual and I loved it. That type of storytelling was very visceral to me, it stuck with me. At a certain point I said very early on, “I want to do that, I want to make films,” and I've never looked back.

As people will see when they watch your Indiegogo video, the plot of "A Dimly Lit Room" is top secret. But what can you tell us about the project without spoiling anything?

I have been rather illusive about the specifics of our short, but I wouldn’t say it’s top secret. When people have reached out to me and wanted to know more, I have told them. However, a lot of people have told me they enjoy the mystery of it all and don’t want to know more, that they want to wait for the finished film. [If that's you, reader, skip ahead. - JO] Without giving away too much, I can explain our story like this...

Our protagonist, Asher (John-Michael Carlton), meets our antagonist, Persephone (Jamie VanDyke), in a gloomy room where Asher learns that what surrounds him will directly affect his future. A simple conversation with Persephone teaches Asher that his existence is in jeopardy with grave consequences to follow if he does not solve his situation before it is too late.

The movie is based on a series of revelations; the more you get into the story, the more that is revealed, and all of these revelations lead to our final climatic moment.

Most people have compared the premise of our film to a very famous Ingmar Bergman film, which is a wonderful compliment, but our films are not at all alike. They just have some similar tropes. When people have read my script, the nicest feedback I receive is that they didn’t know where it was going and they were compelled to keep reading because they wanted to find out what was going to happen. So generally we like to sell the mysterious nature of our film, because that is what people enjoy when they read the script.

These makeup effects look amazing. Talk about your makeup and camera tests and how you arrived at these surreal, dramatic visuals.

(more…)

11Nov/140

Movie Review: Begin Again (Society of Composers talkback screening)

Begin Again posterSpecial review from filmmaker & musician Ukelilli. Enjoy. -jo

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Last Friday, my husband and I were lucky enough to get into a Society of Composers and Lyricists (SCL) screening of Begin Again, a film from this summer directed by Joe Carney, the director behind Once. (As you will recall, Once was the sleeper hit musical from 2006 that introduced the world to The Frames' Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová. It was then workshopped into a play and became a multiple Tony Award winner in 2012.)

Any-hoo, I had a lot of interest in seeing Begin Again. A) I love Mark Ruffalo and typically like Keira Knightley. B) I also happen to be a fan of British comedian James Cordon and Yasiin Bey a.k.a. Mos Def, who portrayed two of the supporting characters. And C) I liked Once a lot, plus I can rarely resist a musical of any kind. So yeah, totally the target audience.

The movie was very sweet! There were some great quirky moments -- for example Ruffalo's 'Dan' orchestrating Knightley's character's song in his mind -- and some beautifully-edited scenes (the opening sequence, the creation of the songs for 'Gretta's' new album, the "what's in your iTunes" montage when Ruffalo and Knightley are wandering around the city listening to Stevie Wonder's "For Once In My Life" a.k.a. one of my most favoritest songs ever). And, on top of that, it really made me miss New York!

Not to spoil the ending, but Begin Again had a very different 'happy ending' than a typical Hollywood film. I liked it: it works and it left me feeling good. I wonder if they could've done without the tag during the credits, or perhaps they could have worked it in differently. I don't know -- hopefully you've all seen it or will, so let's jump to the composer Q&A.

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5Nov/140

Your Wednesday Links: 70mm is Hard Work Edition

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

FilmDrunk: An IMAX Projectionist Shows What It’s Like Preparing A Massive 70 MM Print Of ‘Interstellar’

Movie Title Typos - Cartoonist Austin D. Light brings a Reddit thread on mis-spelled movies and brings it to life.

BBC Health: Watching stressful films can endanger weak hearts

No Film School: Afraid of Recording ADR? Don't Be! This Sound Tutorial Will Show You How

New York Times: Hollywood Ending Near for Orson Welles’s Last Film

Medium: The Evolution of the Rom-com

Hollywood Reporter: Jill Soloway: How a Detour Into Indie Filmmaking Led to Amazon's 'Transparent'

Chg: HDTV Manufacturers: Please STOP making "smooth motion" the DEFAULT setting on all HDTVs.

David Bordwell analyzes the plot of Gone Girl - See also Making the Movie's review.

YOUR WEEKLY WISDOM:
"The enemy of art is the absence of limitations." --Orson Welles

4Nov/140

Movie Review: Nightcrawler

nightcrawler-posterNow that the bright light of summer has receded, the worthy films are slinking out from their dark holes. From the slick surfaces of Gone Girl to the virtuosic staging of Birdman. And joining them is the creepiest dark hole dweller: Nightcrawler.

'Nightcrawler' is slang for independent news gatherers who listen to police scanners and vie to be first to shoot video of scenes of murder and mayhem. Those looking for a movie about a teleporting mutant or worms used for fishing will be disappointed. Instead, a sallow, sunken-eyed Jake Gyllenhaal plays the titular role. And he makes it iconic. A petty thief with a gift for gab and unscrupulous self-improvement, Gyllenhaal's Lou Bloom quickly finds he has a hidden talent for the gruesome job, not least of which is figuring out how to sell the footage to the highest bidder.

The fearmongering bloodlust of local news is an easy target, and while Nightcrawler often invokes Network in its dark vision of a media landscape devoid of ethics, it is the capitalist system that is the film's real target. Characters again and again sell their bodies and their souls to make a bargain with small-business owner Lou (short for Lucifer?) Bloom.

Written and directed by a Gilroy (Dan), produced by a Gilroy (Tony) and edited by a Gilroy (John), this film might make me think twice about attending their family Thanksgiving. As skewed as the view is toward business dealings, someone knew how to make a deal on the producing team. For a reported $10M this film has some tremendous talent, not least cinematographer Robert Elswit, who makes Los Angeles at night shimmer like firelight over a storm-tossed ocean.

Acting standouts besides Gyllenhaal include Riz Ahmed as Rick, the quasi-homeless "intern" hired by Bloom, and Rene Russo as the struggling local news producer Nina. The best thing about the performances is how they sell Gilroy's script. You feel filthy after watching this film, but then you realize the real world isn't much cleaner.

22Oct/140

Your Wednesday Links: The Coming Superhero Surplus

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

ScreenRant: Over 40 DC & Marvel Movies Will Hit Theaters In The Next 6 Years - Is there any scenario where the public doesn't burn out on superhero movies? Already the Spiderman franchise is showing fatigue. I think Marvel has demonstrated demand for franchises that involve loosely-connected stories in the same world. We already knew franchises like Pirates of the Caribbean, which involve one-off or interlinked adventures of the same characters, were popular. Hollywood has long dined out on sequels, from Chaplin's Little Tramp movies to the Thin Man series to, yes, Aliens and Terminators and Batman and Superman and even Jaws the shark.

Canon PR: Canon Introduces The World's Longest 4K Ultra-Telephoto Zoom Lens For Large-Format Single-Sensor Cameras - The 50-1000mm motorized CINE-SERVO comes in EF and PL mounts. If you're going to buy one lens...

Quora: What is the one film that changed Hollywood the most?

Go into the Story: The ‘shortening’ of movie scenes - I hate when people make blanket pronouncements that could be easily tested by data. Scene length can be sampled and tested both on the page and as edited. But let us grant it. Even so... so what? I would not be surprised if, in any storytelling medium -- including stage plays -- as audiences get more familiar with the mechanics of the medium, the storytellers are able to 'shorthand' more and more.

SlashFilm: How to Shoot a Nightclub Scene Using Almost No Money and see also No Film School: 5 Things You Should Think About After You Pass on Your Distribution Deal for more tips from the same $6,000 film.

Vulture: Is This a Clip From a Trent Reznor Score or a Household Appliance?

YOUR WEEKLY WISDOM:
"Simplicity of approach is always best." - Charlie Chaplin

21Oct/140

Award-winning Short “Flesh Computer” Now Online

Ethan Shaftel on the set of Flesh Computer"Flesh Computer" -- the weird and amazing sci-fi short we profiled earlier -- is wrapping up its festival run and is now available to view on Vimeo.

In honor of the web premiere, I asked writer and director Ethan Shaftel to give us an update on how the film fared fest-wise, and what he's learned...

Filmmaker Ethan ShaftelWhen my feature Suspension hit festivals in 2008, the landscape was very different. The internet wasn’t as central to the experience of production and exhibition yet, basically because speeds were not high enough for handling large video files routinely. There was a lot of DVD-burning and -mailing involved. On the post side, many tape formats were still in use for masters and copies — which means a lot of expense at post houses and dubbing companies to make professional formats for festivals or distributors.

Entering your film into festivals is easier now, since almost all have gone to online screeners instead of mailing in DVDs. The problem is that it's hard to decide which festivals to enter and which not to enter. With entry fees ranging from $20-60 a pop, you just can't enter everything and stick to a reasonable budget. I've been going to festivals with my films since I was a teenager, so I have festivals I’ll enter because of a history there. Others I just select case-by-case, usually because I would like to attend in person or they are close by where family, friends, or collaborators live and I know they would go if the movie is screened there.

I have some ambivalence about film festivals. There are so few that are game-changers for a project. I’ve never been to any of those festivals with my work. But I do genuinely enjoy festivals and in some cases have met long term collaborators only because of attending them. I think the key is to think of them as something for you as much as for the project, something to celebrate the movie after all the work you’ve put into them.

In terms of distribution: since "Flesh Computer" is a short film, no other distribution besides putting it on Vimeo was ever a goal. I just can’t conceive of a distribution “opportunity” for a short that is worth the trade off of having the film seen by far fewer people, or having it be much harder to find online. The deterrent effect on the online audience of having to pay for a short film (or maybe anything) is totally disproportionate to the actual amount you might charge — you could charge 25 cents and the views would fall off as steeply as if you charged $2.99. So what’s the point? Getting a quarter per view of the much smaller audience is not going to get you anywhere, and it’s not why you made the short in the first place. Short filmmaking is not a profit-making venture on it’s own. It’s only a business decision if you consider it an advertising cost for yourself as a filmmaker or media professional, which is perfectly legit. But mostly it’s a passion to make a particular film.

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Flesh Computer is also currently being featured on the Short of the Week website. So hop on over there to learn more about how it was made.

8Oct/140

Movie Reviews: Birdman and Gone Girl

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Birdman is my favorite film of the year so far. Right out of the gate, it is 100% manic energy. The gunfire bursts of drumming mixed with the half-cocked sneers at Hollywood, Broadway, and the whole enterprise of entertainment hooked me immediately. Sure, the masterful use of "seamless" editing is showy, but it's the kind of showy that a great stage show wants and deserves.

Of course, the pace can't always sustain. To wit: the first scene where Amy Ryan's character showed up was when the tone started shifting a bit more serious, and I found myself disengaging a bit. Emma Stone's eyes sure are preternaturally ginormous...

Not that a daydreaming, meandering mind isn't welcome in the film, which is almost certainly meant to emerge from the inner thoughts of Michael Keaton's washed-up movie star, Riggan Thompson. I guess it would be gauche to call Mexican-born director Alejando González Iñárritu's approach magical realism? In any case, the script -- by Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris and Armando Bo -- is some kind of unique blend of realism and surrealism. It shouldn't work, but it works like gangbusters.

I went to a screening sponsored by the Editor's Guild, so I had the good fortune of hearing top gun Stephen Mirrione and longtime colleague Douglas Crise talk about the process of making the film. (Mirrione took the lead during pre-production and at the end phase of post, and supervised throughout. Crise, it seems, did the bulk of the cutting.)

Mirrione asked Alejando to shoot the rehearsals (which were done with Emmanuel "Chivo" Lubezki and the cast mostly in the same locations). This allowed the editors to make comments like "that line is redundant" or "I would probably go to a closeup of Ed Norton here". So the reason the pace is so rapid, even though the takes are long, is that the "editing" was front loaded, as much as possible, before shooting. The sound team was also allowed to rehearse microphone placement, allowing for clean sound in many locations where booms were impractical.

Crise and Mirrione were cagey about where the cuts were hidden, but they praised Lubezki's smooth camerawork (much of which was hand-held and digitally stabilized) and the actors' ability to sustain long takes. They were also cagey about the meaning of that final shot, turning the question back on the audience. "How did you interpret it?"

I'll tell you what I think. SPOILERS AHEAD! (more…)

8Oct/140

Your Wednesday Links: Went Girl

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

Rolling Stone: 'Gone Girl' Author Gillian Flynn: 'I Killed My Darlings' - It sounds like the film was a rather faithful adaptation. Except that the book was less misogynist, because you could get inside Amy's head. Or more misogynist, because you got more of what was going on in Amy's head.

The Hairpin: Patriarchal Parody: The Rom-Com Logic of David Fincher - My review of the film will be forthcoming, but until then, know that I agree with many (but not all) of the points raised in the SlashFilmCast discussion.

iO9: How To Turn Star Trek Into The Next Marvel Movie Universe

HomeMedia Magazine: Redbox Instant Was Doomed from the Start - and on a related note, Drew McWeeny's rant on why Marvel's universe is "driving Hollywood crazy"

Hollywood Reporter: Hollywood Salaries Revealed, From Movie Stars to Agents (and Even Their Assistants)

YOUR WEEKLY WISDOM:
People will say, "There are a million ways to shoot a scene", but I don't think so. I think there're two, maybe. And the other one is wrong.
-David Fincher

OLD POSTS UPDATED:
Your Weekend Viewing: The Ocean Brothers - replaced bad link

29Sep/140

Movie Review: Believe Me

official-movie-poster-for-believe-me-in-theaters-and-on-demand-starting-sept-26-2014Believe Me is a sharp, thoughtful film about a group of college students who start a fraudulent ministry. When Sam (Alex Russell) sees how willingly Christian congregations will part with their money, he devises a fake charity and recruits his three frat brothers, Pierce (Miles Fisher), Tyler (Sinqua Wallace) and Baker (Max Adler).

There is some good-natured poking at Christians, especially their love of free-trade coffee, but the film does an admirable job in walking the very thin line between being insulting to Christians and being pro-Christian propaganda. Because of the fine performances by the four would-be charlatans, Johanna Braddy (as the inevitable love interest), Christopher MacDonald (as the ambiguously ethical leader of the touring ministry they are piggybacking on) and Nick Offerman (in a brief but memorable cameo), the characters are allowed to speak for themselves, not for a particular religious perspective.

The film was shot in Austin in just 20 days. Kudos to DP John W. Rutland. The film looks stylish and polished; I find it hard to believe this is director (and co-writer) Will Bakke's first feature.

There are a couple times where I might've made different story decisions. The flashback tease at the open doesn't actually pique my interest in the story, as I think it was meant to. Some of the montages go on longer than needed to make their point. While it lacks the edge of a festival darling, it's edgier than most films which satisfy mainstream sensibilities. All in all, this is a promising debut for Bakke and has put some new young actors on my radar. Believe it.

Believe Me opened in theaters and on demand on September 26. It is rated PG-13. Official website here.

26Sep/140

Your Weekend Viewing: The Ocean Brothers

Some nicely-done underwater photography. No VFX needed.

[via CPN]

UPDATED 8 Oct 2014 with new YouTube link. (Original Vimeo link pulled down.)