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Posts Tagged ‘Walter Murch’

Once upon a time…back in the 80s while in film school I did some assisting for a fashion photographer in L.A. and I noticed that his digital Minolta digital light meter was easy to use and asked a teacher at school why film people didn’t use a digital meter. He said the Spectra light meter (that you had to add slides to and make calculations) was the standard for the industry.

Today Spectra light meters are digital, but that’s when I first realized how slow Hollywood is to change. In the 90s as non-linear work stations for audio and video editing started to gain ground there was much debate in Hollywood in the role of this technology. Flat bed film editing systems (Steenbeck, KEM, Moviola) were the standard in the industry for decades and many said that would never change.

AVID made a splash at the 1989 National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) basically saying that the future of video editing was about to shift dramatically. There were plenty of scoffers but within a couple years a small number of feature films started to be edited on the AVID and by the mid-90s there were dozens being edited on the system that was said would never replace traditional film editing. In 1996, the first film to be edited on an AVID (The English Patient) won an Academy Award for editing (Walter Murch) and also won best picture. Today almost all feature films and TV programs are edited on an AVID or some other kind of digital non-linear editing system.

The evolution and demise of traditional film and sound editing was actually a fairly slow process because it was expensive at first, untested, and required a new way of doing things. (Plus the streamlined techology of the editing process threatened jobs making it not real popular in some circles. ) I first worked on an AVID in 1994 and instantly loved the way you could try new edits without having to use a splicer and tape.  But not everyone agreed with the new way of doing things, and unless he’s recently changed Steven Spielberg still edits the old school way and it’s worked out pretty well for him.

Cameras have been a little slower in changing over to the digital side. Many independent filmmakers embraced the digital cameras instantly because it eliminated the high cost of film and its related expenses. And just like on the editing side many have said that tradition film cameras would never be replaced. The image of a 35mm film is beautiful and once again that has been the way that movies have been made for over 100 years.

But as the digital cameras improve in quality more and more directors and cameramen and making the switch to the digital cameras. And not just for costs. Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones was shot with the Sony F-900, Slumdog Millionaire was shot with the Viper camera, and both Arri and Panavision also have digital cameras. It’s getting harder and to deny the digital shift taking place. But the somewhat affordable RED camera is causing the most excitement for independent filmmakers around the country.

David Fincher came up through the ranks working at ILM and directing music videos before going on to direct Alien 3, Seven, Fight Club, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Buttons. He is currently shooting The Social Network (about the founders of Facebook) which was shot on the digital Red EPIC camera. Here is what he said recently about digital cameras totally replacing film cameras;

“The writing is on the wall. If you don’t believe me, I have some stock in Kodak I’d like to sell you, because this is just not the way motion pictures are gonna be made three years from now.”

For a more technical explaination here is the cinematographer of that film had to say;

“To say that RED and the new Mysterium-X Sensor is impressive is tantamount to saying that Napalm is a little itchy. The sensor’s increased resolution is an obvious bonus but the expanded latitude especially at the high end and the dynamic color range makes this camera a tremendous asset to any cinematographer’s arsenal. The Mysterium-X’s amazing ability to handle both mixed color temperatures and low light situations affords us exciting opportunities to push the boundaries of our craft.”
Jeff Cronenweth, A.S.C.

The chances are good that wherever you live in the United States there is at least one RED camera nearby. You write the script, he or she shoots the film (shoot the digital will never sound right), and see what happens. And, of course, there are plenty of other cameras out there  that can do a solid job. But the day is coming where at least from the technical side the same cameras used on Hollywood features will be commonly found in your neck of the woods.

Scott W. Smith

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“I’d wake up at night with the smell of the ball park in my nose, the cool of the grass on my feet… The thrill of the grass.”
Field of Dreams
Shoeless Joe Jackson

Yesterday I wandered over the Iowa state line into Omaha, Nebraska to watch the final game of the 2008 College World Series. The Georgia Bulldogs played the Fresno State Bulldogs.

That’s the first time in my life I’ve ever seen two teams play that have the same mascot. What are the odds?Probably a little worse than getting a script you’ve written made. Since every screenwriter is an underdog there are a few things every screenwriter can learn from the game of baseball.

In the end the Bulldogs from California won the school’s first ever baseball national championship. One sports announcer proclaimed it “one of the greatest stories in sports history.” I don’t know about that but those Fresno St. ‘dawgs were true underdogs. They lost 12 of their first 20 games and finished the regular season only 32-27 but somehow won when they needed to and ended up in the College World Series where they were ranked dead last.

No team had ever come from the last ranked team to win a national championship…until last night. As I said about this year’s Super Bowl, if it had of been a movie you would have said it was full of cliches. But everyone has a dream.

Before we get to screenwriting I want to go back to 2003 where Chris Moneymaker changed the face of poker playing when playing in his first tournament he began as an unknown and turned $39 into a $2.5 million winning purse.

“I got lucky along the way. I also bluffed a lot during this tournament, but somehow I got away with it.” 
Chris Moneymaker

The screenwriting equivalent may be Diablo Cody who won an Oscar for her first film script Juno. These are rare cases, and it is important to have a real understanding of how difficult it is to have a screenwriting career or even get one of your scripts made. But it’s also important to know that Hollywood needs good scripts because the Hollywood system needs good movies.

I found this little nugget of information in Joe Eszterhas’ The Devil’s Guide to Hollywood:
Director Phillip Noyce: “I realized that the Hollywood system–based as it is on the employment of branch offices all over the world promoting and selling movies–is totally dependent on a continual flow of product, and it’s been set up to promote that product into the hearts and minds of people all over the world. In essence, movies represent marketing opportunities for Hollywood.” 

That should encourage you in your writing. And keep in mind:

“The only essential requirement to launch a successful screenwriting career is a terrific script.”
                                                                                     Cynthia Whitcomb

The Fresno St. baseball team, Chris Moneymaker, and Diablo Cody are a group of talented people who were all considered underachivers before their breakthroughs. And what do you do until that breakthrough? You keep dreaming and you write scripts and continue to find key people to read your scripts.

When former baseball players Logan Miller and Noah Miller dream to play professional baseball failed they turned their attention to screenwriting and filmmaking. Once they wrote their first script they cornered actor Ed Harris at a film festival where he was receiving an award and he agreed to read the script. Last year that film, Touching Home (which they also directed and star in) was completed with Ed Harris playing the Logan brothers father.

Editor Walter Murch said this about the film:  “With its crisp photography, concise editing and excellent use of sound, I found Touching Home to be a thoughtful and emotional exploration of the forgotten corners of the American Dream.”

Driving back home today I made a slight detour to Winterset, Iowa which is where The Bridges of Madison County was shot and where John Wayne was born in a house not far from where Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep did scenes together in downtown Winterset.

And if that’s not enough, George Washington Carver lived in Winterset for a while where the former slave was encouraged to attend college which he did, both Simpson College and Iowa State Agricultural College where in 1891 he became their first black student and would go one to earn a Master’s degree before going on with many agricultural discoveries.

George Washington Carver and John Wayne are two more examples of coming from a small town before finding global success.

P.S. I noticed on TV’s at the stadium that Orel Hershiser was calling the game on ESPN. In my Cedar Falls office I have a signed baseball from Hershiser for a project I helped produce for his retirement celebration. It’s also worth noting, before Hershiser became a World Series MVP he played minor league ball in Clinton, Iowa and when he played for the LA Dodgers manger Tommy Lasorda gave him the nickname “Bulldog.”

I really don’t make this stuff up, you know?

 

Word and Photos ©2008 Copyright Scott W. Smith

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