Making the Movie

Filmmaking tips, resources, reviews, news and links.

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Wednesday Links: The People vs. Screening Room

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

Fast to Create: How 6 Great Proof-Of-Concept Shorts Spawned Feature Film Deals

Vox: The worst movies with the biggest box office – Michael Bay’s Transformer films are, statistically, the biggest lightning rods. I will not defend them, but Armageddon is also on the list. And that’s definitely the fault of the critics.

The Memory Palace tells the incredible true story of MGM’s lion (podcast)

The A.V. Club: The villain gap: Why Soviet movies rarely had American bad guys

Movie Mezzanine has an in depth article that starts by exploring the dearth of female directed films on boutique labels and goes much deeper… “For a while, Warner refused to sub-license and instead took the cheapest shortcut in releasing films: they threw a bunch of titles on VOD platforms without doing any restoration work on them. This is why sub-licensing is so important. If you give DVD distributors a chance to beautify a beloved classic, everyone benefits: the studio, the DVD distributor, and cinephiles alike.” Also read Criterion’s response

Slant Magazine: 100 Essential Films – The list is from 2003, but it’s been going around this week. Lots of provocative and interesting choices for alternative ‘classics’.

City Absurdia: The Phantom Menace: the Most Influential Film of the Nineties? (Video)

Deadline sat down some Hollywood lawyers to talk about The People vs. OJ Simpson, but they also addressed the movie industry:

ZIFFREN: I’ll give you some startling numbers. In the United States, one-third of the populous does not see one movie in a theater in a year. One-third.

DEADLINE: I’ve heard that figure before and I always find it hard to believe.

SINGER: You think it’s too high?

DEADLINE: I think it’s too low.

SINGER: I agree with that. I think it’s more than a third.

GLASER: It’s high.

ZIFFREN: The next step is of the remaining two-thirds, there are roughly more than half of the remainder who go to one to five movies a year. Eleven percent of the populous buys 52% of the tickets.

GLASER: That’s interesting.

SINGER: That’s amazing.

ZIFFREN: Here is the real problem. The problem is those are not the 18 to 24 year olds. They’re older. So we’re losing the core audience. That’s the problem with the movie business.


Wednesday Links: Critical Kryptonite

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

Deadline: How Batman V Superman will turn a profit despite the critical kryptonite – See also Vulture’s speculations on what Lex Luthor’s plan was meant to be, exactly. And the SlashFilmcast had a healthy 2-hour discussion of the film, the first part of which is spoiler-free.

Hollywood is overwhelmingly left. Perhaps there’s discrimination after the fact but creative areas are almost always heavily left. Police, military, engineering, there are certain things that are more conducive to minds predisposed to conservatism.” – Economist Tyler Cowen has a wide-ranging discussion with sociologist Jonathan Haidt, which touches on political attitudes in creative fields.

Nerdwriter: How Alfred Hitchcock Blocks A Scene

FiveThirtyEight: The First ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’ Was The Blockbuster Nobody Saw Coming

Scorsese didn’t get to be Scorsese just from watching so many movies. He studied movies deeply. And he learned by making movies.

Movie Review: Batman v Superman

Batman vs Superman early teaser posterI hope it’s not just the contrarian in me, but I rather enjoyed Batman v. Superman: The Dawn of Justice. I certainly entered with diminished expectations, and I was not surprised to find the movie crammed with vestigial appendages. The first thing I would excise are the dream sequences.

But I might keep the lyrical evocation of young Bruce Wayne’s childhood traumas. Yes, we’ve seen it before, but never quite like this. Director Zack Snyder has been unfavorably compared to Michael Bay, but I might favorably say that he matches Bay’s gift for glossy imagecraft. All those pearls dropping in oh-so-slow motion, you know.

There are films like Watchmen and 300 where Snyder’s imagery is nurtured by a well-balanced script (if not by assured acting). Here, writers Chris Terrio (Argo) and David S. Goyer (Dark City, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises) seem to struggle against what the title promises for too long, then brush through it too quickly, eager to arrive at a baffling CGI slugfest.

Perhaps that is what all these critics are throwing rotten tomatoes at. Well, physician, heal thyself. Star Trek Into Darkness had some equal preposterosities, but JJ Abrams still got the keys to the Star Wars franchise. I suspect the critics had out their knives, or kryptonite spears, from the start.

Let’s enter the spoiler zone to speak of plot points good and evil. Continue reading

Your Weekend Viewing: Stop-Motion Laundry Gets “Shiny”

Check out this creative use of stop-motion animation. Surreal, hilarious, and also a great reminder: I have to do some laundry!

One of the writer-directors, Daniel “Cloud” Campos, has a Wikipedia page. And so does the other, Spencer Susser. Susser is a member of the Australian film collective Blue Tongue films, hence the weird VHS-style car chase logo that opens the short. Campos has a pretty extensive dance and choreography career, which explains how the movement in this mini-musical got to be so well-choreographed.

I’m also a fan of the sound design, which helps sell the parts of this world we can’t even see.

Wednesday Links: Is YouTube Still Creator-Friendly?

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

The Film Stage: Watch a 2.5-hour documentary on the life and career of Stanley Kubrick

WaPo’s Alyssa Rosenberg argues Pain & Gain explains this year’s election

Vox: Zootopia and racism – Also, what’s up with Mike Yanagita in Fargo?

We Are Mel: Can IMDb’s ratings be trusted?

Jacknjellify: Why We’ve Had to Stop Animating on YouTube – It’s always been nearly impossible to make a living from YouTube videos, even if you have big numbers.

After the Fine Bros. debacle, and the shift to YouTube Red, I’m starting to wonder if YouTube is still friendly to small-time creators.

The Verge has some background on the complaint system issues, which I don’t think would have been allowed to fester so long if YouTube’s strategy hadn’t been so star-focussed of late. At first it was old media stars. Then it shifted to homegrown stars. But either way, YouTube has moved away from its ‘long tail of video’ origins. From a short-term business point of view, it makes sense. They lose money hosting unpopular, un-monetized content. However, there is no emergence of viral hits from the masses without the masses. When you have kids who have spent years of their lives creating original content for peanuts, it would do well to respect them enough to keep them buying tickets in the internet fame lottery.

Blu-ray Review: 2 Films by Agnès Varda starring Jane Birkin (Jane B. par Agnès V. & Kung-Fu Master!)

Agnès Varda has been overshadowed by other filmmakers of the French New Wave like François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard. This pair of films, rescued by the new label Cinelicious Pics, make a great argument for what a mistake that has been. Fans of beautifully-presented, groundbreaking movies — such as the US’s Criterion Collection or the UK’s Eureka! Masters of Cinema Series — will want to take a good look at this double-disc set.

Jane B. par Agnès V.Agnes-Varda-and-Jane-Birkin

The first film, Jane B. par Agnès V. (1987), was Varda’s followup to her acclaimed Vagabond (1985). It’s a strange hybrid of documentary, short film, philosophy and feminist cultural criticism. I found it far more successful (and watchable) than any of Godard’s formalist experiments in the last several decades — and yet it was never released in the United States. Perhaps it was because it was ahead of its time. It still feels, in many ways, ahead of its time.

The project began when Varda struck up a friendship with the actress, model, singer and 60’s and 70’s icon Jane Birkin. Continue reading

Your Weekend Viewing: A Video Essay on The Fountain

Movies with Mikey lets us know — on no uncertain terms — that The Fountain, the mind-bending Darren Aronofsky film from 2006, has been misunderstood:

I haven’t seen the movie in a while, but I remember a sort of poetic ambiguity that recalls 2001: A Space Odyssey. Stanley Kubrick understood that a certain amount of ambiguity in the interpretation of a film left room for the audience to write some of the story:

I didn’t have to try for ambiguity; it was inevitable. And I think in a film like 2001, where each viewer brings his own emotions and perceptions to bear on the subject matter, a certain degree of ambiguity is valuable, because it allows the audience to “fill in” the visual experience themselves. In any case, once you’re dealing on a nonverbal level, ambiguity is unavoidable. But it’s the ambiguity of all art, of a fine piece of music or a painting — you don’t need written instructions by the composer or painter accompanying such works to “explain” them. “Explaining” them contributes nothing but a superficial “cultural” value which has no value except for critics and teachers who have to earn a living. Reactions to art are always different because they are always deeply personal.

Not that a filmmaker shouldn’t always have a clear idea of what the movie means. But being open to the audience having other interpretations is one storytelling strategy. It certainly works for filmmakers like Andrei Tarkovsky or Terrence Malick.

In this past year, a movie like Ex Machina might be a good example. The story is seemingly simple, but the amount of interpretations it has generated is enormous. What other films do you feel have been misunderstood? What do you think about the use of ambiguity in cinematic storytelling?

Wednesday Links: Oscars 2016 Hangover

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

Marty Baron: Why the Globe’s Spotlight reporting matters & why the @SpotlightMovie matters… – You can also read my take on why Spotlight won the Academy Award for Best Picture.

Go Into The Story: Download 46 movie scripts from 2015 including all 10 Best Screenplay Oscar nominated movies – Short of writing screenplays, the best way to learn is by studying the current masters of the craft.

AskReddit: What movie scene gives you chills every time? – I think of “Ansi Nisi Masa” in 8 1/2 or the St. Crispin’s Day speech in Branagh’s Henry V. The current top vote getter on this Reddit thread is the docking scene from Interstellar – an outstanding combination of editing, music, performance, sound design and much else, say what you will about the rest of the film.

SlashFilm: Gods of Egypt Director Alex Proyas Hates Film Critics – Keep in mind, this is a filmmaker whose career was helped enormously by critic Roger Ebert championing his film Dark City.


Oppenheimer’s latest documentary, The Look of Silence, is currently on Netflix, by the way.

Making ‘2084’ – The $40 Greenscreen Sci-Fi Short Film

Making-2084-Before-AfterIt’s awesome that filmmaker Taz Goldstein made a funny and high-quality short film using a greenscreen in his living room. That would be enough. But he’s also put out a series of videos showing how it was done!

The short is called 2084 — yes, it’s set one century after Orwell’s 1984. Taz shot it in his “cramped living room, with a one-person crew, and a budget just south of $40.” I take that $40 to mean in additional outlays for 3D models beyond the resources he already had on hand. The software, camera, lights and greenscreen involved would be more. But still, it’s impressive.


To see how it was done, watch the short play side-by-side with the raw greenscreen footage:

Next, take a gander at this tutorial where Taz demonstrates how he was able to animate the short using an After Effects plug-in called Element 3D:

Taz has also helpfully posted links to all the software and 3D model websites mentioned in the video on the Vimeo page. Check it out. It’s better than a donut thing!

Making-2084-Taz-Behind-CameraUPDATE: I asked Taz about how much of a time investment it was to make. Believe it or not, this 3 minute short has been 20 years in the making:

The short is based on a 20 year-old sketch. Yes, really. Byrne Offutt wrote and performed the sketch at the Acme Comedy Theater in Hollywood back in 1995. I loved it, and wanted to turn it into a short film, but we didn’t have the resources back then. Flash forward 20 years. I was learning to use Element 3D, and realized it would be a great tool to create 2084… and I could learn how to use the software while making the short. Byrne and I revised the original script to make it more contemporary. The re-write was very quick since the sketch was already very well established. Byrne liked my contributions and insisted I take shared writing credit, but really, it was mostly Byrne.

We shot it in about 6 hours, in my living room. I’ve attached a couple other images of the shoot, if that helps. By the way… the three donuts in the movie doubled as craft service. :)

Post[production]… well, that’s another story. It SHOULD have taken me about a month to do all the animation, but it took considerably longer for 2 reasons: 1. I was in production most of the year (and hardly had any time off), and 2. I had no idea what I was doing in the software. All in all, post was spread out in tiny chunks over the course of a year. It that made me crazy. Next time, one month or bust.

Why did Spotlight win Best Picture? (Oscars 2016 recap)

Crop of the hands of Oscar winners from Spotlight hold their trophiesLast night’s Academy Awards were entirely self-flagellating on the subject of race, but they probably had to be. The #oscarssowhite protest was viewed as an existential threat to the Academy, or at least to its prestige, and I heard a rumor that ABC (who airs the Oscars) had called the Academy and said: you have to do something.

Which they did, with their proposal to change membership rules, and with the way the telecast was presented. Not that it helped the ratings, which were reportedly down 6% from last year’s already low number. ABC’s producers had a couple of camera mishaps, but they kept the show moving.

Host Chris Rock surprised no one by attacking the race issue at full throttle in his opening monologue, and the numerous presenters of color seemed aimed at balancing the palette — knowing the winners would be mostly pink of pigmentation. Sadly, there was a racial tone-deafness to a joke about Asian kids (one with a Jewish name) being the best accountants at Price Waterhouse Cooper. And a cameo by Stacey Dash sailed entirely over the heads of anyone outside the bubble of Black Twitter.

It was gratifying to see the Chilean short film winners and director Alejandro González Iñárritu holding hardware. I suppose we might have a conversation about how ‘whiteness’ applies sometimes but not other times to people whose backgrounds are Latin American. Then again, The Revenant‘s B-story featured indigenous Americans — the only real Americans, whatever politicians might say.

But it was not The Revenant‘s lot to ultimately triumph, despite Iñarritu winning Best Director and Leo “finally” getting his Best Actor win. It was Spotlight that took home the big trophy, even as Mad Max: Fury Road, save for a surprise win from Ex Machina in VFX, swept the technical categories.

Why did Spotlight win Best Picture?

Spotlight had been considered the front-runner for much of the Awards season, but some late wins by The Revenant and The Big Short in guild awards had made observers think it’s star was on the wane.

However, beyond the fact that it was a quality film that had always been in the conversation, I think there were a few factors that put it over the top. First, it is known that the Academy’s largest block of voters (by profession) is actors. Spotlight truly shines as an ensemble.

Second, the Best Picture vote uses a preferential ballot system, whereby being a second or third choice of many voters helps in a year like 2015, where competitors like The Revenant and Big Short were both loved and loathed. Spotlight was pretty much liked by all.

It is a well-made picture, through and through, and a paean to journalism as a profession. Like The Big Short, it presents an era of very recent history that is already long gone. Yet Spotlight‘s focus is on a chapter we can bathe in a warm glow of nostalgia: newspaper reporters comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable. It is a writerly drama (as evidenced by it’s only other award, Best Original Screenplay). And of course, it has been a rallying point for Catholic abuse survivors.

Resonantly, the best moment of the show was when Lady Gaga was joined on stage by a group of sexual assault survivors. Her song lost to a James Bond song, but it will go down in history as one of the most powerful musical performances ever broadcast.

There were no shortage of causes trumpeted on the Kodak stage, and #oscarssowhite eventually became one with a chorus that included climate change, LGBT rights, and Pakistan’s culture of honor killings. And that, really, is the Academy and the larger world of filmmaking shining at their best: celebrating the art, and also its power to change lives.

The Academy voters couldn’t have picked a better film than Spotlight to represent these ideals, often strived-for but rarely so firmly held.

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