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“I’ve had to convince the studio that I know this is not a $20,000 Alexa package, but I’ll challenge you to tell the difference once I’m done grading this footage.”
Daniel Myrick on shooting a film with a camera smaller than an iPhone

BlackMagic

Where’s the camera?

You want to know something really scary this Halloween? Writer/Director Daniel Myrick (Blair Witch Project) shot his latest film Under the Bed with a camera smaller than most videocamera monitors. Smaller than even some of the lens people are using it. There’s a reason it’s called a pocket camera. The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema is 5 inches long and weighs just 12.5 ounces. What’s also small is the price—$995. Trick or treat?

Sure you have to add a len and an SD card before you can use it—and a few more professional accesories to use it in the manner that Team Myrick used to shoot Under the Bed—but a sub-thousand dollar camera to shoot a feature film that doesn’t look like—ah, cough, cough, The Blair Which Project—forgetaboutit.

The film won’t be released until next year, but I jest read an interview with Myrick about the film over at No Film School.

“We used the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera, much to the surprise of a lot of people. I had purchased one when they first came out and was really impressed with the latitude they offer, and their compactness. There was just a lot to like about the basic image sensor. It certainly has its foibles with accessorizing and things like that, but nothing that can’t be overcome. The image sensor itself was producing 12-bit RAW right on the SD cards and simultaneously spitting out 10-bit ProRes from the connector — on a little camera not much bigger than a cigarette pack, which was very exciting. I said this could be a good fit for the kind of movie I’m shooting, which is very low budget in a very contained space — I don’t have sets where I can fly walls away and back the camera off and that sort of thing.”
Daniel Myrick

P.S. I think the Blackmagic Pocket camera would be perfect for the “Little Fat Girl in Ohio” that Francis Ford Coppola predicted was on her way to becoming the new Mozart.

Related posts (on low-budget filmmaking):
The 10 Film Commandments of Edward Burns
“Don’t try and compete with Hollywood.”—Edward Burns
Making a $5,000 Feature
Filmmaking from a Coffin (Buried)
Edward Burns ‘Newlyweds’ (Part 2)—Think of yourself as an indie band.
Sputnik, Sundance & Kevin Smith
Paranormal Screenwriting Activity

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood…(Part 6) Touches on why I think The Blair Witch Project was really the beginning of a new form of cinema (in part because one of the cameras they used was a consumer Hi8 camera).

Scott W. Smith

“Here’s the beautiful thing about theme, it’s the underlying message that kind of unifies the story…Even if you don’t write from theme I know the reason why a lot of you are sitting down and putting the time into [screenwriting] is you have a way of looking at the world that you want to communicate to people…Just like dialogue needs to have subtext and not be on the nose, you never want to be on the nose thematically. You don’t want to be didactic, you don’t want to be preachy, it’ll put people to sleep. It’s not what people expect from drama. Drama is about emotion…In Star Wars Luke has to shoot the Death Star, he has to shoot something down a little hole—blow up the Death Star. And he’s got a chose in front of him, he’s got the force—’Use the force, Luke’—or he has a computer. Now the computer technology isn’t just like [basic] computer technology, it’s the technology that built the Death Star—which is pretty powerful stuff. So when he chooses the force and he’s successful, you get this theme; ‘Humans, intuition is more important than technology.'”
Filmmaker/teacher Jim Mercurio  ()
Complete Screenwriting: From A to Z to A-List DVD course

Related Posts:

Writing from Theme
David O. Russell on Characters & Theme
Obligatory Scene=Story’s Theme
Scott Frank on Theme
Shane Black on Theme
Sheldon Turner on Theme
Theme=Story’s Heart and Soul
Michael Arndt on Theme
Sideny Lumet on Theme
More Thoughts on Theme

Scott W. Smith

“You want to frustrate expectations, but you also want to break clichés in a surprising way. So in Hoosiers instead of benching the good player and putting in the bad player, [the coach] benches the good player and there’s no one to replace him. They play with four players instead of five.”
Filmmaker/teacher Jim Mercurio ()
Complete Screenwriting: From A to Z to A-List DVD course

Below is the Hoosiers scene (written by Angelo Pizzo and directed by David Ansaugh) where  the star basketball player isn’t listening to the coach (talk about frustrating expectations) but to those in the crowd all is good because that player keeps scoring. The coach takes him out of the game, and a few moments later when another player fouls out of the game the coach defies the expectations of everyone else in the building (well, maybe not Dennis Hopper) by not letting the star player back in the game. He deals with the dilemma by chosing to play with four players instead of five.

P.S. So the next time you have a guy run out of bullets, before you have him throw his gun at the person chasing him ask yourself what would Coach Gene Hackman (or screenwriter Pizzo) do to defy/frustrate expectations.

Related posts:
Hoops, Hoosiers, & Hollywood
Postcard #14 (Hickory, Indiana)
Storytellers from Indiana
Movie Cloning (Avoiding Cliches)
Chaplin on Embracing Cliches

Scott W. Smith

 

 

Opening Image=Theme

Citizen Kane is the film that made me want to become a filmmaker.”
Oscar-winning director William Friedkin (The French Connection)

No Trespassing

“I think the opening image is usually about theme. And the question you might ask is what comes next? Character? Setting? Tone? Genre? Well, I don’t think that’s the right question to ask because there’s no perfect answer. I want you to think about your images and your sounds in your opening in order that you’re doing two or three things at once. In Citizen Kane we immediately get the castle, we get Xanadu. But is it just location? No way. We see the animals so it’s like a zoo, and a cage to suggest some kind of prison—and it’s dark. And there’s a NO TRESSPASSING sign at the gate and the camera’s going over that as we come in to discover the rosebud moment. So we know this movie thematically and storywise is going to be about trespassing on someone’s life and kind of digging in. So you see it’s not just about location. A great movie can never spend three minutes on this and three minutes on that, it’s got to being doing all of this at the same time.”
Filmmaker/teacher Jim Mercurio ()
Complete Screenwriting: From A to Z to A-List DVD course

P.S. I’m sure someone has written a nice article about opening movie shots (or at least opening scenes) and how they tie into the theme of the film. If you know of one put it in the comments or shoot me an email at info@scottwsmith.com . And if you have a favorite opening image that ties into the meaning of the film let me know as well. The open images of the movie Witness being about community has been well documented. One could even say there are two communities at odds in that movie. The crooked, violent police community and the pious, anti-violent Amish community. The goal of one community is to kill the Harrison Ford character while the goal of the other community to preserve his life.

Related Post:
‘The Greatest Film Ever Made’
‘Study the Old Masters’—Martin Scorsese
Stagecoach (2.0) The John Ford film that Orson Welles watched 40 times before and/or during the making of Citizen Kane.
Screenwriting Quote #166 (Joseph McBride) McBride manually typed an entire copy of the Citizen Kane script while a student in college.
Screenwriting Quote #38 (Orson Welles) “I want to give the audience a hint of a scene. No more than that…”
Theme=What Your Movie is Really About
Writing from Theme (Tip #20)

Scott W. Smith

One Clear Dilemma

“The choice between good and evil is really no choice at all.”
Robert McKee

Back on the first day of summer I wrote a post called the Screenwriting Summer School where among other things I pulled quotes from The Dialogue Series that was on You Tube. Since the full interviews of that series have disappeared online I think this month I’ll round the summer school (summer lasts longer in Florida—it was 85 degrees today) with some quotes from Jim Mercurio’s Complete Screenwriting: From A to Z to A-List DVD course.

“I believe characters boil down to pretty much one clear dilemma. A dilemma is a choice between two equally good things or two equally bad things. Like in The Godfather, Michael the very good thing: to not be a criminal, to not be in the Mafia, to unlike his family stay outside of it, that’s pretty good right? However you know what’s also good? Saving his family from complete destruction, ‘cause once his father dies Sonny and Fredo aren’t going to do it, right? So he has a choice. You can look at it as a hard choice, I don’t want to be a criminal  but I don’t want my family to die. But either way it’s a choice he doesn’t want to have to make. “
Filmmaker/ consultant Jim Mercurio ()

Related post:
DAVID MAMET’S BOLD MEMO (?) “QUESTION:WHAT IS DRAMA? DRAMA, AGAIN, IS THE QUEST OF THE HERO TO OVERCOME THOSE THINGS WHICH PREVENT HIM FROM ACHIEVING A SPECIFIC, ACUTE GOAL.”

 

 

“I learned a technique from a guy many years ago, a working backwards technique. So I start with the question, How do I want the audience to feel? And I write that answer, I want the audience to feel like their life has value. Okay. I draw an arrow down. How do I visually see that happening in the movie? The bad guy, the old drunk gets a medal as a saint. Then I work backwards from that. What’s the scene that culminates that? Oh, he gets honored at a kid’s saint ceremony in a Catholic school. Then you just go, what precedes that? I start with this working backwards process, so in very broad strokes, I just start to kinda feel it out. I don’t have to do the whole script, but you know, I have to know where I’m going in order to get there… Then, once I’ve done that to where I feel good about where I’m headed – granted I usually just do the third act, ‘cause that’s where you wanna know where you’re heading – I then outline scene to scene going forward…This is pretty detailed, pretty much every scene, just a one-liner. So and so does this. So and so does that, a one liner…I write the longhand the first draft, and it’s abbreviated – I write one line of action. I don’t believe in a lot of description. Then I start the dialogue. I then get to the computer, and I type through. As I’m typing, I’m editing, so now I’m on the second draft, which is great. So when I’m done, and type THE END, I have basically a second draft, which is way better than the first draft on paper ‘cause now I’ve had time to think about it, digest it, and check it, and work it through.”
St. Vincent writer/director Theodore Melfi
WGA, West interview by Dylan Callaghan

“How many actors are so unlikable and loveable in the same moment? That’s Bill [Murray].”
Writer/director Theodore Melfi (St. Vincent)

“When you have a character as disagreeable as Vincent (Bill Murray), if you can keep him disagreeable, even when he becomes agreeable, you have done the job. Because you and I ultimately both know how the movie’s gonna end. Period. We might not know exactly how they’re gonna get there, we might be surprised along the way, but ultimately, you don’t go sit down and watch a movie called The King’s Speech and think that the King is gonna stutter in his last speech. We all know watching a movie called St. Vincent, that Vincent is gonna end up being the kid’s saint. This is not a thriller. To me all movies are about the journey to get there…This movie to me, basically, in one word, is ‘value.’ How we have a value, and we think we have a value as human beings. We all have a value and that value is equal. Over time, the prostitute has a value, the single mom has a value, the old drunk has value, the Catholic priest has value, the kid has value.”
Theodore Melfi
WGA, West interview by Dylan Callaghan

P.S. Saw St. Vincent this afternoon and enjoyed it throughly. One of my favorite films of the year. Strong writing and great casting, with Murray at the center as a man at the end of his rope—and in real life heading for an Oscar nomination.

Related posts:
Postcard #74 (Bill Murray)
‘Lost in Translation’ Golf Scene
End of the Rope Club (Oscars ’14)

Scott W. Smith

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