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“Perseverance has kept me going over the years. Things rarely happen overnight. Filmmakers should be prepared for many years of hard work. The sheer toil can be healthy and exhilarating. Although for many years I lived hand to mouth — sometimes in semi-poverty — I have lived like a rich man ever since I started making films. Throughout my life I have been able to do what I truly love, which is more valuable than any cash you could throw at me. At a time when friends were establishing themselves by getting university degrees, going into business, building careers and buying houses, I was making films, investing everything back into my work. Money lost, film gained.”
Filmmaker Werner Herzog (who was a welder in a steel mill before making films)
Werner Herzog: A Guide for the Perplexed
Conversations with Paul Cronin
via Maria Popova at Brain Pickings

P.S. If you want to see perseverance in action watch Fitzcarraldo (1982) written, directed and co-produced by Herzog. Then follow that viewing with the Les Blank documentary Burden of Dreams on the making of Fitzcarraldo.

Related posts:
Filmmaker Les Blank (1935-2013)
Orson Welles at USC in 1981 (Part 3) “Anybody who goes into film has to be a little crazy. And has to be ready for every kind of disappointment and defeat.”—Welles
Bob DeRosa’s “Shortcuts” — “There are no shortcuts. There is only hard work. Perseverance….”—DeRosa
Iowa Kutcher on Jobs/Work “I’m convinced that about half of what separates the successful entrepreneurs from the non-successful ones is pure perseverance.”—Steve Jobs

Scott W. Smith

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“Breaks will come to the young film-maker, but unless he possesses at least rudimentary knowledge they will be of little use to him. Recently I saw a film made by a twenty­ one-year-old, Steven Spielberg. It was twenty-four minutes of film called Amblin, produced for around $17,000. It rocked me back. He displayed an amazing knowledge of film-making as well as creative talent. He was signed to a director’s contract by Universal. Even at twenty-one, he was ready when the break came.”
Actor, writer, director (and one time USC professor) Jerry Lewis
The Total Film-Maker (1971)

Related posts:
John Ford’s Advice to Spielberg
Filmamking Quote #21 (Spielberg)
The Next Steven Spielberg
Raiders Revisted (part 1) “What we’re just doing here, really, is designing a ride at Disneyland.”—Spielberg

Scott W. Smith

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“Simplicity makes bet­ter film: master, medium, choker. At least, men like Chaplin and David Lean think it does.”
Jerry Lewis
Referring to camera shots; master (wide shot with all the actors), medium (shot of actor or actors from the general area around the waist up), and choker (close-up shot of actor from the neck up). See Empire’s post on 30 camera shots to see the wider variety of shot options.

Joe Mankiewicz once said, ‘A good director is a man who creates an atmosphere for work.’ To me, that’s what it’s all about. You start out by giving actors a million-dollar hug. You don’t use them and later on start hugging them.”
Jerry Lewis

(The videos here aren’t of Jerry Lewis but are FilmSkills videos that I thought fit pretty good in this post on directing.)

“The actors must know how the scene is being covered. If not, they may spit out everything in the master shot, which is the comprehensive coverage.

If you tell the girl that you are making a master of the boy and girl, followed by a single of the boy, a single of the girl, and a tight two, she’ll save something for the snug stuff. She won’t let the tears go in the master. She’ll whine a lot in that one, which will be matchable, but then sob it out in the close shots.

I speak from personal experience. If I’m going to go facially, visually crazy I won’t do it in a head-to-toe shot. Neither will I dance my best in a close-up. A professional actor’s experience lets him know how to pace himself in the coverage of a scene if that coverage is explained to him.”
Actor/Director Jerry Lewis
The Total Film-Maker (Notes from his teaching at USC film school

“I doubt any other industry, or art form, has as many breakable rules. My camera setup is right; the next direc­tor’s is wrong. Or we’re both right and wrong. What mat­ters is the material and what has to be shown. There are no ground rules: no rules to say you must pan if a man walks around a table; no rules to say the camera has to move in any direction. You may pan and then throw half the pan away and cut to a cat. It is, absolutely, the director’s choice.”
Jerry Lewis

P.S. Keep in mind that cameras have gotten smaller (and cheaper) than when Charlie Chaplin and David Lean were making films, and when Lewis published The Total Film-Maker in 1971. So film shooting has evolved in some ways were you have films that are shot almost totally hand held, movies where since it’s being shot digitally that even rehearsals are recorded and sometimes find their way into the movie, more movies where multi-camera shots are used on scenes. Even lower budget movies can employ drone shots, and Go Pros and DSLRs tucked away in places you could never have traditionally put a 35mm Panavision or Mitchell camera. Does the medium shot still rule like it did when John Ford was shooting? That’s a good question. But as far as saving time and money on the set, it’s hard to be the simplicity and dependability of a medium shot.

Related posts:
Garry Marshall’s Directing Tips (Part 1)
Garry Marshall’s Directing Tips (Part 2)
Garry Marshall’s Directing Tips (Part 3)
Garry Marshall’s Directing Tips (Part 4)
Garry Marshall’s Directing Tips (Part 5)
Garry Marshall’s Directing Tips (Part 6)

Scott W. Smith

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“There were times when [actors] went off somewhere and I’d look them in the eyes and they’re not looking at me. They’re pointing their eyes at me, but they’re looking at a broad over there or a guy over there. They wouldn’t listen. And I finally gave them one shot on the behind and they were very good after that. So it was just a gag, but it worked for me.”
Director Jerry Lewis on using “The Not Listening Stick”

Jerry Lewis directing with "The Not Listening Stick"

Jerry Lewis directing with “The Not Listening Stick”

“Actors are a strange breed of people. They are all nine years old. They stop at nine. If you want to attempt to un­derstand actors, read a quote from Moss Hart’s Act One: ‘The theatre is an inevitable refuge of the unhappy child, and the tantrums and childishness of theatre people are not either accidental nor a necessary weapon of their profession. It has nothing to do with so-called ‘artistic temper­ament.’ The explanation, I think, is a far simpler one. For the most part, they are impaled in childhood like a fly in amber.’

Locked like flies in their million-year-old amber, they are all different, wearing different costumes, giving dif­ferent portrayals at different times, yet basically they are all alike-nine-year-old children.

Speaking now as an actor: tremendous ego is involved and we tend to believe that whatever weaknesses we have are justification for our neuroses. That’s childlike. If the actor were truly adult, in that strict sense of definition, he could not act. He’s standing up there because of needs. He must express himself, be heard.

A director, whether he’s a Wyler or a student film­ maker, cannot run on to the set and yell, ‘Hey, watch me, I’m going to show off.’ That is what actors do. That is the actors need. He’s built that way.”
Writer/director (and one time USC professor) Jerry Lewis
The Total Film-Maker (1971) 

home-alone-movie-

 

At the end of his chapter on actors, Lewis adds, “I have never known a professional actor who did not re­spond to kind and fair treatment, plus a little spoon-feed­ing. Aside from being flies in amber, actors are very human.”

Related Post:
“Never lie to an actor”—Paul Haggis
“No Dogs, No Actors” Hollywood c.1908
Sweeping the Floor
Really Good Writing & Acting “It’s a little cliché, but I’ve learned that you can’t make a movie that even works, much less that’s good, without really good writing and really good acting.”—Ben Affleck
Film Collaborating, Mismatched Souls & Pizza Making 

Scott W. Smith

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“I’ll tell you what I did to become a film-maker. I had this drive and I was curious.”
Jerry Lewis
Actor, producer, director, writer, composer, etc.

“You’ll be unstoppable if you become technical as well as creative.”
Robert Rodriguez
Writer, producer, director, editor, cameraman, composer etc.

“Where do you start? There’s no Monopoly board. No Start. Do Not Pass Go. I think you start out by just being there, and being curious and having the drive to make films.

More important: make film, shoot film, run film. Do something.
Make film. Shoot anything.

It does not have to be sound.

It does not have to be titled.
It does not have to be color.
There is no have to. Just do.
And show it to somebody. If it is an audience of one, do and show, and then try it again. That is how.

It sounds simple.
It’s not. Then again, it is.”
Producer, director, writer, actor Jerry Lewis 
Prologue to The Total Film-Maker

Keep in mind those words were first published in 1971 when making a film meant literally shooting and editing film.    There were hard cost to buying and developing film even if you owed or borrowed a camera. But in the digital age today it’s easier than ever to “Do something” and to “Shoot anything.”

I just shot an edited a promotional project for a talent agency and looking back the only hard cost involved was a few gallons of gas. While the cost of gas has risen greatly since 1971 (when the average gallon cost 36 cents) the cost of shooting something and showing it to an audience has dropped considerably.

Maybe not a feature film full of CGI, with the most expensive acting talent, and the latest equipment—but if you’re resourceful and driven you can do something today—as in this very day— for less than a tank of gas. It may just be you producing, directing, writing, shooting, editing–even being on camera—and that’s okay. “Do something” even “If it is an audience of one”—i.e. “The Total Film-Maker.”

“Charlie Chaplin was the first great total film-maker.”
Jerry Lewis

To round out this post, let’s go back to Lewis— “I believe that the quickest way to find out your capacity for being a total film-maker is to determine whether or not you have something to say on film.”

P.S. If it helps, filmmaker Robert Rodriguez started out making videos of his family for his family. Today the producer/director/editor/cameraman/composer/actor/etc. is the epitome of The Total Film-Maker.   Somebody at the Austin Film Festival, South by Southwest, or the Aloma Drafthouse Cinema in Austin needs to arrange Robert Rodriguez interviewing Jerry Lewis before the 88-year-old Lewis makes his final stage exit.

Related Website: Justin Bozung has a site called The Jerry Lewis Internet Archive; A Research Hub Dedicated to the The Total Film-Maker—Mr. Jerry Lewis.

 

Related Posts:

Start Small…But Start Somewhere
Creative Learning 2.0
Overnight Success
The Path is Gone
A New Kind of Filmmaker
One Benefit of Being Outside of Hollywood
The 10-Minute Film School (with Professor Rodriguez)
The Rise of Storyteller with Cameras (It’s okay to create “a thousand layers of garbage”—it’s part of the transformative learning process.)

Scott W.Smith

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One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight
Schlemiel, schlimazel, hasenfeffer incorporated
Laverne & Shirley theme song

schlemiel: an inept clumsy person; a bungler; a dolt 
schlimazel: a chronically unlucky person
Words flow from Yiddish/Hebrew/German words

Jerry Lewis is a one-man hero with 1,000 faces.

Some people first think of Jerry Lewis as the actor, director and co-writer of The Nutty Professor (1963)—where he played three characters in one movie. Others think fondly of his 45-year run as the host of the Muscular Dystrophy Association Labor Day telethon, some think of him as the side kick of Dean Martin, and yet others recall his role in the Martin Scorsese directed film The King of Comedy (1982) which he co-starred with Robert De Niro.

But few think of Lewis as a real life college professor—so real that one of his students was George Lucas. From 1967 to 1977 he was an Adjunct Professor at the USC film school.

In 1971 Professor Lewis published a book called The Total Filmmaker which has long been out of print and copies are on sale at Amazon go for as high as $999.99.  But since earlier this year the excellent website Cinephilia and Beyond has a PDF of the book available for free. 

Today I’ll start a run of posts taken from that book. Here’s lesson one:

“I do not know that I have a carefully thought-out theory on exactly what makes people laugh, but the premise of all comedy is a man in trouble, the little guy against the big guy. Snowballs are thrown at the man in the black top hat. They aren’t thrown at the battered old fedora. The top-hat owner is always the bank president who holds the mort­ gage on the house, or he’s a representation of the under­ taker.

In the early days, working night clubs, I learned that taking a pratfall in a gray suit might get a few laughs. But I had to get up quickly and start another routine. Take the same fall dressed in a $400 tuxedo and I could stay on the floor for a minute. They would howl when the rich guy took the tumble.

Or it is the tramp, the underdog, causing the rich guy, or big guy, to fall on his ass. In this respect the sources of comedy are a simple matter of who’s doing what to whom. They include, of course, what the comedian does to him­self.

Chaplin was both the shlemiel and the shlimazel. He was the guy who spilled the drinks-the shlemiel-and the guy who had the drinks spilled on him-the shlimazel. In his shadings of comedy, and they were like a rainbow, he also played a combination of shlemiel-shlimazel. In Mode­rn Times, diving into six inches of water when he opens the back door, which is one of the great sight jokes in com­edy-film history, he does it to himself.”
Jerry Lewis

P.S. In an interview earlier this year on The Talk the 88-year-old Lewis said he began writing at the age of eight and that the idea for The Nutty Professor was to do a comedic version of  Jekyll and Hyde. (Either the Robert Lewis Stevenson novel The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde or one of the many movies based on that book.)

Scott W. Smith

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‘I love the script I wrote for Erin Brockovich. But even more, I love the movie. I love what it started as, and I love everything that was added to it by all the bright, talented people who came onto the project after me.”
Susannah Grant
Erin Brockovich: The Shooting Script (Newmarket Press)

“Film is, of course, a collaborative art and yes, sometimes those collaborations are like shotgun weddings of mismatched souls; the whole thing goes awry and everyone walks off in a huff vowing never to talk to each other. That can definitely happen.

“But what can also happen is that you end up working with enormously gifted collaborators whose input elevates your writing above and beyond what it would have been had you just been working on your own. Nora Ephron had a great analogy for this, and since I wouldn’t dream of trying to improve on Nora Ephron I’ll simply paraphrase her. She likened it to making a pizza.

“She said the screenwriter makes the dough, the sauce and the cheese and says ‘look I made a pizza’. The director comes along and says ‘hey that’s a great pizza, I wonder what it would be like if we added some pepperoni’. And you add the pepperoni. And then a couple of actors come along and they say ‘you know what else would be really good – some tomatoes and maybe some peppers’. And it goes on like that.

“I have been very lucky to have had some great condiments added to my pizza over the years. I want to share with you one of my favorites, it’s a scene from Erin Brockovich.”
Oscar-nominated screenwriter Susannah Grant (Erin Brockovich)
2013 BAFTA and BFI Screenwriters’ Lecture Series
(Below is the scene–from 0:00 to 2:21— Grant showed at her lecture. And the quote below is how she drove home her point.)

“Okay, arguably not a poorly written scene. However Aaron Eckhart’s falling to his knees and then on his face at the end, to me, is my favorite moment in the [movie] and that was all him. That is what you get when you work with [talented] people.”

I don’t know if the idea to have Eckhart fall forward came from Eckhart, the director Steven Soderbergh , Richard LaGravense who did uncredited work on the script, or someone else on the crew—but it was a super way to visually show how he’d been shot down by the no nonsense Brockovich. And a nice way to tie up the scene with a touch of humor.

BTW—I found this article where Nora Ephron talks about collaborating and pizza making and gives the flip side of the story, which is sometimes the ingredients added make the pizza worse.

P.S. Last year George Johnson writing in Slate reflected back on the now 20 year old events surrounding PG&E and Hinkley, California stating:

“The Erin Brockovich incident, one of the most famous, is among the many [environmental contaminants] that have been debunked. Hexavalent chromium in the water supply of a small California town was blamed for causing cancer, resulting in a $333 million legal settlement and a movie starring Julia Roberts. But an epidemiological study ultimately showed that the cancer rate was no greater than that of the general population. The rate was actually slightly less.”

The truth is out there somewhere.

Related posts:
David O. Russell on Characters & Theme “I always look for amazing characters who I find are fascinating, charming, flawed, romantic and in trouble.”
Writing ‘Erin Brockovich’
Emotional Autobiography (2.0)
Scriptshadow Secrets Touches on character introductions with Erin Brockovich as a good example.

Scott W. Smith

 

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