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Archive for May, 2011

The Birds

“I have never known birds of different species to flock together.”
Mrs. Bundy (Ethel Griffies)
The Birds (Directed by Alfred Hitchcock)
Daphane Du Mauier (story), Evan Hunter (screenplay)

Today I saw something that I had never seen before. Last week I mentioned in passing the we had a bird nesting two feet from our back door. Well, today I saw one of them fly for the first time in its short life.  On Sunday we noticed that the sleeping quarters for three baby robins was getting tight. Monday morning there were only two in the nest with no sign of the third. This morning around 6:45 AM bird #2 was out of the nest and perched on a ledge getting the courage to fly (sort of like mama bird is doing in the above photo I took yesterday).

Bird #2 would lean forward and then back up. He or she would then flap their wings a little and I just knew I was going to see history in the making. I kept looking in the yard to see if any cats had wandered into the area. The coast looked clear. I wondered if the bird would just quickly fall on the deck and then struggle to get off the ground before any predators came. To my amazement after a 15 minute debate the bird finally jumped, dipped down a little but then soared upward and was gone.  Later I heard that the third bird flew away as well.

Like an indie film, the success rates of these birds surviving through the next year are not great. But I was glad to see this drama played out and—at least for this part of the story— all appears to have gone well. The nest got built, the eggs were laid, successfully guarded from danger, the birds were hatched, and now they’ve learned to fly. Since this kind of thing has happened everyday for thousands of years, it’s not exactly and epic story—but then again since it’s the first time (and perhaps the last time) I’ve watched that sort of drama unfold before my eyes I thought it was pretty cool.

My wife and I even went to see the new animated film Rio that just happens to center around a domesticated exotic bird in a small town in Minnesota who never learned to fly and ends up on an adventure in Rio de Janerio.  It’s a fun film with the voices of  Jesse Eisenberg, Anne Hatheway, Jamie Foxx, and George Lopez.

And to check out a visually stunning documentary check out the 2002 Academy-nominated film Winged Migration (shot on seven continents over three years).

Scott W. Smith

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Flags of Our Fathers

It’s been a windy Memorial Day here in Cedar Falls, Iowa and I couldn’t help but stop and take a picture of the American flags blowing at the local AMVET Post this morning.

“Heroes are something we create, something we need. It’s a way for us to understand what’s almost incomprehensible, how people could sacrifice so much for us, but for my dad and these men, the risks they took, the wounds they suffered, they did that for their buddies. They may have fought for their country but they died for their friends. For the man in front, for the man beside him, and if we wish to truly honor these men we should remember them the way they really were, the way my dad remembered them.”
Author James Bradley
Flags of Our Fathers

Photo ©2011 Scott W. Smith

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Six days ago I shot an interview and B-roll footage with Nevada Morrison in Waverly, Iowa. Yesterday Morrison had a monster day winning the 400-meter dash at the Division III national track meet in Delaware, Ohio. According to the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier she also “placed second in the 200, anchored the 4X400 meter relay to its sixth consecutive national crown and ran on the third-place 4X100 meter squad.” She helped her school, Wartburg College, place second in the nation.

The above photo of Morrison is a screen grab from the Panasonic AF 100 using the Olympus 14-140 lens.  This is not a retouched photo from a still camera, just a frame taken from the video and tweaked a little for color correction. What should stand out from a production standpoint is the shallow depth of field—the blurred background.

That is part of the film look that has been so elusive in the past with the lower chip video cameras. When the Canon 5D hit the streets a couple years ago it raised the bar for sub-$5,000 cameras. Without getting too technical, the AF 100 has a sensor roughly the size of the Canon 7D making these kinds of shots possible.

I’ve had this camera for almost two months and love it. It’s not uncommon to see it reviewed at the bottom of the list of new cameras. But as the expression goes, “A number without a reference is meaningless.” After this year’s NAB the list that the AF 100 was being compared to was the RED Epic camera, the Arri Alexa, and the Sony F3. (See Vincent Laforet’s blog.)

Those cameras are all great. Problem #1 is two of those cameras really aren’t widely available, and #2 they are quite a bit more expensive than the AF100—about three to fifteen times higher in costs. So if price (and availability) are an issue for you—and you’re in the market for a camera then take a good look at the AF100.

Of course, I’ll admit that I should be the poster child for these smaller Panasonic cameras. I jumped on board the DVX 100 back in 2003 really excited about its 24P film look. And over the years I migrated up the food chain buying and shooting well over 1000 hours of footage (and six shorts films) with the Panasonic HVX 200 and the HPX 170. (The DVX camera opened the door to a couple overseas shoots and the regional Emmy I won in 2009 was shot with the HPX 170 recording to P2.)

I’m comfortable not only with the price and look of the AF 100, but I very familiar with the menu layout. And as a long time Nikon shooter I am able with an inexpensive converter to use my old Nikon Ai lens. Sure, there are limitations to this camera, but I do prefer shooting with it than the DSLR cameras (I’ve shoot with the D90, 5D & 7D). The four biggest reasons for that are:
1) No need for external audio recording system
2) Built-in ND filters, vectorscope, waveform
3) Ability to check focus while shooting (and I’m not a big auto focus guy, but the auto-focus on the Olympus lens really can save your butt in certain situations—because manual focus can be tricky).
4) I’m old school—started shooting 16mm with the Arri SR and an Eclair NPR— so I simply like looking down a traditional viewfinder when shooting. 

When you’re shooting productions as a one-man band (as I’ve often done since moving to Iowa years ago) those four factors are very important. So I’ll concede that the AF 100 can’t match the quality of a RED, F3 or Alexa…but at a street price of under $5,000—forgetaboutit. The AF 100 rocks. 

I’m sure Panasonic is pleased just to see it mentioned in the same breath as those more expensive cameras. Think of  it as a Division III school competing against a Division I school. It’s not going to win, but its nice just to be in the same race with the big dogs.

Congrats to Nevada Morrison on her fine performances yesterday. Earlier this month Morrison and her 3 other running mates set an all-time Division three record at the Drake relays. Like I keep saying there’s a lot of talent in these fly-over states.

Scott W. Smith

 

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“One lesson I’ve learned in Hollywood is that right out of the gate a screenplay will be judged solely on its concept or premise…I test the market every time by pitching my premise to a group of trusted friends. If these friends seem confused or even lukewarm, then it’s back to the drawing board.”
Screenwriter Chandus Jackson
Howard University grad & University of Michigan (MBA)
2007  Walt Disney/ABC Writing Fellow
(And former finance manager, investment banker, Army Captain)
Quote pulled from Now Write! Screenwriting
Edited by Sherry Ellis & Laurie Lamson 

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Milieu (Tip #49)

Milieu is one of those words where you just feel smarter tossing it around. And since the word has its origins in French it rolls off the tongue nicely and can give the typical American a bit of international flair.

Of course, it can also come across as pompous and make you sound like a goofy Peter Sellers character. But it’s a great word that according to Merriam-Webster means, “The physical or social setting in which something occurs or develops.” One thing that fascinates me about Facebook photographs (new and old) is the stuff in the background; the cars, the buildings, the books on the shelf, the neighborhood, the stuff on the walls, etc. There is so much information there to learn about the milieu of our Facebook friends.

Here is how the director of The Caine Mutiny used the word milieu 26 years ago in relationship to screenwriting;

“Most people accept what they see much more readily than what they hear. Attention to class mannerisms and the style of dress can be of more value in establishing a character’s background than taking the easy way—through dialogue or flashback. And actors will welcome the challenge and the opportunity to enrich their roles.

“Another rich vein which rewards working is the description of a character’s immediate milieu. The kind of quarters a person lives in, its state of order or disorder, the quality and taste of its adornment, are all signs which carry cinematic potential. Does your protagonist hang classics on his walls, or center-folds? If he is rich and can afford to display originals, are they good or are they tripe, avant-garde or traditional? If he is poor and can afford only magazine reproductions, what is their content quality? As you can see, the milieu can indicate character and financial state without a word of dialogue.”
Edward Dmytrk
On Screen Writing  

Can you think of a favorite scene that uses milieu well?

Related posts:

Show, Don’t Tell (Tip #46)

Show, Don’t Tell (Part 2)

Scott W. Smith

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“Just what does ‘four-quadrant’ mean? It’s a movie that appeals to all four main demographic groups—young and old, male and female.”
Jim Cinile
Meet the Four Quadrents

“Brief definition of a 4Q Film: The film that appeals to all four quadrants, or demographic groups. They’re broad and will be enjoyed by males over 25, males under 25, woman over 25, and woman under 25. These are the four target marketing groups. They’re universally themed and marketed internationally. Titantic, Harry Potter, The Incredibles, and Juno, are examples of 4Q films.” 
Kriss Perras Running Water
The Four Quadrant Film vs. New Media 

“It’s a gobbledygook term that means the same thing as ‘appeals to everyone.’”
Found on an Internet forum at Done Deal Pro 

The ABC’s of 4Q filmmaking are:
A) Any Pixar film  
B) Bruckheimer (Pirates of the Caribbean)
C) Cameron (Titanic & Avatar)

And for good measure here are the DEF’s:
D) Disney
E) E.T. —The Extra-Terrestrial
F) Forrest Gump

Scott W. Smith
 

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As I approach my 1,000th post on Screenwriting from Iowa, I find myself wondering if I should just stop at 1,000. But then I stumble upon something fresh, new and different and it inspires me to take my car a little further down the road. See what’s in the next village.

Today that comes in the form of a quote from the director Darren Lynn Bousman, who made many of the SAW movies. Darren was born and raised in Kansas, and after making several short films at Full Sail in Orlando he spent a few years kicking around L.A. before things fell into place for him:

“I was fired from every job I had in Los Angeles… I became Tara Reid’s assistant (on the movie Van Wilder).  And it was always like ‘Darrell, Derrick, Devin,’ — she never knew my name, and my job was to like hold her cigarettes and Pepsi at all times. Eventually I was fired from that job.  I was at the point when I had no money. I took a side job at J-Crew doing sh*t—I hated my life. I’m like, ‘you know what, I’m going to write a script and I’m not going to stop until this thing gets made.’  And so I wrote this script called The Desperate.  I sent it out, no one would read it.  Because you get in that Catch 22 in Hollywood, where you have to have an agent or no one’s going to read it.

“My way to circumvent that catch 22 was, I made up a fake management company. I had letterhead made, and I had a friend of mine answer the phones. And so, I was an assistant at the time at an agency, and my job was to read the scripts that came in.  And what I did was change the title of my screenplay and made it by a different person.  Then I had it come through this fake agency that I had created and I put a message out to all the other assistants, ‘This is the best f*cking thing I’ve ever read…’

“And by that point, I had heat, because all the other people were like, ‘Oh, Darren read this thing, he thinks it’s great.’ And long story short, this screenplay ended up getting bought by the people who made the Saw film.”
Darren Lynn Bousman 
(Director of Saw II, III & IV)
Adam Carolla’s podscast
Via FilmDrunk
via a Tweet by UNKScreenwriter        

Note: The Desperate didn’t get made, but it opened the door for Darren to talk his way into directing SAW II.

Scott W. Smith 


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