May 12, 2015 / J. Ott / Comments Off on Book Review: Compound Cinematics: Akira Kurosawa and I, by Shinobu Hashimoto
Compound Cinematics: Akira Kurosawa and I by Shinobu Hashimoto, translated by Lori Hitchcock Morimoto
Legendary Japanese screenwriter Shinobu Hashimoto’s memoir is drenched in nostalgia. There is nostalgia for the train stations in Tokyo and the post-war neighborhoods which they evoke. There is nostalgia for the pine forest of his youth, where he would go to cry when his parents were unkind to him, every tree of which was torn down to aid in Japan’s futile war effort. And most of all, there is nostalgia for the personalities of the Japanese film industry in the 1940’s and 50’s — chief among them: Akira Kurosawa.
Hashimoto was the sole disciple of director and screenwriter Mansaku Itami, a leading light in 1930’s Japanese cinema. Though Itami died of tuberculosis before his time, he had plans for Hashimoto — at that time a salaryman for a munitions concern who spent his free time screenwriting.
Itami’s designs lead to Hashimoto’s screenplays falling into the hands of Kurosawa and his producers. Kurosawa immediately recognized the potential of one script, which would go on to become Rashomon. Hashimoto’s third screenplay, another collaboration with Kurosawa (and this time adding Hideo Oguni, another ace screenwriter of the era) became the classic film Ikiru.
Writing advice from one of the great screenwriters
The memoir goes in depth into Hashimoto’s writing process, and it all stems, he says, from his mentor Itami’s emphasis on themes: Continue reading
May 10, 2015 / J. Ott / Comments Off on Your Weekend Viewing: Rare 1963 interview with West Side Story director Robert Wise
Wise talks about the difficulty choreographer Jerome Robbins faced in creating a vocabulary of dance moves for the (relatively for that time) realistic New York streets. Wise was immensely concerned with the setting. He also talks about the idea of opening the film with epic helicopter shots of the city.
They shot on a street that had been condemned and abandoned (to build the present-day Lincoln center). They were able to make a deal with contractor to hold off on tearing it down so they ended up with a very authentic New York street as their own private backlot.
The DSLR Filmmaker’s Handbook: Real-World Production Techniques, 2nd Edition
Sybex: A Wiley Brand
by Barry Andersson
MSPR: $49.99 USA/$59.99 CAN
I read a lot of filmmaking books for this site. While I love the geeky, detail-oriented books, I’m always also on the lookout for a well-rounded filmmaking book that provides a useful overview of all aspects of filmmaking. In Barry Andersson’s DSLR Filmmaker’s Handbook, I have found just such a book.
While the title is not inaccurate — the book does indeed orient toward making films using DSLRs, or Digital Single Lens Reflex cameras — it would actually be of great value to any beginning filmmaker, regardless of what camera they plan to use.
That’s because Andersson and his Wiley editors have done a great job explaining and illustrating the basics of filmmaking: topics like camera stabilization, camera motion, lighting, sound and data management.
The section on camera settings is very good, and contains information on calibrating the color on your camera which I have not seen elsewhere. As someone who is constantly updating lens advice, I have to acknowledge that the info in this book is super-solid and better-organized than I’ve ever managed to do.
The emphasis is definitely on Canon DSLRs over those by Nikon or Sony or other companies. While you might expect this to be a drawback, I actually see it as a plus. Continue reading
Cassavetes later said that [novelist Edward] McSorley taught him the three most important things he knew: 1) that character was more important than plot, and that the most important thing of all was to present characters truthfully; 2) that the artist should not explain or define too much, or “do too much thinking for the audience,” but that the story should “evolve, so that people could understand it only gradually as it went along;” 3) that “style is truth” and all that really mattered was that every scene should be as true to life, truthful about the characters and their real feelings and behavior, as possible.
I post this video not only because it’s a nice example of using animation to bring voice-over to life, but because it also applies to the life of an independent filmmaker.
Any aspiring filmmaker has chosen a life where they value art over the traditional material signs of success. There will be a tiny few who are co-opted (or allow themselves to be co-opted) by Hollywood and who get the fancy cars and the ridiculous houses.
But no clear-headed filmmaker is going in with that in mind. The art is the metric, and sometimes it’s nice to have a reminder of that. Whatever other people may think of your status, you can have the satisfaction of knowing you are working toward something a lot more fulfilling and a lot longer-lasting than a BMW.
This little doc was my favorite part of the touring Stanley Kubrick art exhibit which passed through LA a few years back.
After watching it, perhaps you’ll agree with me that it’s a tragedy that these useful lenses, so carefully chosen as tools of filmmaking, are instead touring the world as artifacts behind glass.
As a former magazine photographer, Kubrick had a deep understanding of not just how lenses would photograph a scene — dark, light, deep, shallow — but also every element of composition.
His camera positions are so artfully chosen. For example, the demonically-foreshortened low angle on Jack Nicholson when he’s trapped in the storage room in The Shining. Or there’s the story of the young Kubrick pulling rank on experienced d.p. Lucien Ballard in The Killing. Kubrick asked him to switch lenses for a long tracking dolly shot. When told switching lenses would mean Ballard’s lights were in the shot, requiring him to re-light the whole scene, Kubrick stood his ground. Ballard could change lenses or he could start looking for a new job.
Regular visitors will notice a new look to the site. You may even notice changes day-by-day. The goal is to have a fresh, mobile-friendly layout and to constantly tweak it to make it better. Sorta like editing a film.
Right now I’m experimenting with the well-reviewed Hemingway theme. In addition to looking better on phones and tablets, it should also do a better job of handling video and large images.
It’s going to be a work-in-progress and things are going to break. Or display in weird and funky ways. Your comments and requests are quite welcome during — and after! — this process. Let me know what you think!
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