Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Who doesn’t like a good origin story? Here’s one I found recently in Susan Orlean’s book The Library Book. 

[Ray] Bradbury and his wife had four young daughters. When he tried to work at home, he spent more time playing with his children than writing. He couldn’t afford and office, but he knew a rook in the basement of UCLA’s Powell Library, where typewriters could be rented for ten cents an hour. It occurred to him that there would be a fine symmetry if he wrote a book about book burning at a library. Over the course of nine days in the typewriter room at UCLA, Bradbury finished ‘The Fireman,’ expanding it into a short novel. He spent $9.80 on the typewriter rental. 

‘. . .  When he finished writing the book, Bradbury tried to come up with a better title than ‘The Fireman.’ He couldn’t think of a title he liked, so one day, on an impulse, he called the chief of the Los Angeles Fire Department and asked him the temperature at which paper burned. The chief’s answer became Bradbury’s title: Fahrenheit 451. When Central Library burned in 1986, everything in the Fiction section from A through L was destroyed, including all of the books by Ray Bradbury.”
Susan Orlean
The Library Book, pages 104-105

Scott W. Smith

Since I was on the road more than usual this week I had the opportunity to listen to about half of Susan Olean’s bestselling book The Library Book. It’s so well written that I also bought the paperback at the Writer’s Block Bookstore in Winter Park, Florida.  Being an independent bookstore—as well as writing a book—is, to use Orlean’s words, “an act of shear defiance.” It’s important to supports both of those acts when we can.

Here’s a favorite passage of mine from the eighth chapter of The Library Book that centers around the 1986 fire at the the Los Angeles Public Library that “destroyed or damaged over a million books.”:

The idea of being forgotten is terrifying. I fear not just that I, personally, will be forgotten, but that we are all doomed to being forgotten—that the sum of life is ultimately nothing; that we experience joy and disappointment and aches and delights, and loss, make our little mark on the world, and then we vanish, and the mark is erased, and it is if we never existed. If you gaze into that bleakness even for a moment, the sum of life becomes null and void, because if nothing lasts, nothing matters. It means everything we experience unfolds without a pattern, and life is just a wild, random baffling occurrence, a scattering of notes with no melody. But if something you learn or observe or imagine can be set down and saved, and if you can see your life reflected in pervious lives, and can imagine it reflected in subsequent ones, you can begin to discover order and harmony. You know that you are part of a larger story that has shape and purpose—a tangible, familiar past, and a constantly refreshed future. We are all whispering in a tin can on a string, but we are heard, so we whisper the message into the next tin can and the next string. Writing a book, just like building a library, is an act of shear defiance. It is a declaration that you believe in the persistence of memory.

In Senegal, the polite expression to say someone died is to say that his or her library has burned. When I first heard the phrase, I didn’t understand it, but over time I came to realize it was perfect. Our minds and souls contain volumes inscribed by our experiences and emotions; each individual’s consciousness is a collection of memories we’ve cataloged and stored inside us, a private library of a life lived. It is something that no one else can entirely share, one that burns down and disappears when we die. But if you can take something from that internal collection and share it— with one person, or the larger world, on the page or in a story recited—it takes on a life of its own.”
Susan Orleans
The Library Book, page 93

Scott W. Smith

IMG_E6884.JPG

I started these “Postcard” posts many years ago when I blogged daily and was caught up on some production and didn’t have time to write a post. My last several days have included late night edits and early morning shoots, so I couldn’t fit any posts in. But here’s a photo I took from my location shoot yesterday that qualifies for a nice writer’s postcard.

“You get ideas from daydreaming. You get ideas from being bored. You get ideas all the time. The only difference between writers and other people is we notice when we’re doing it.”
Neil Gaiman

Related post:

The Advantage of Boredom
Where Do Ideas Come From? 
The four most important words that every storyteller wants to hear to know their story is working (According to Neil Gaiman)

Scott W. Smith

Here are a couple helpful videos I found online that can help you further understand lens and shot selection in relation to filmmaking.

Also, glancing over at my bookshelf here are some books that can help you understand shot selection.

The Five C’s of Cinematography
Cinematography for Directors
Cinematic Storytelling
Master Shots 
Film Directing Shot by Shot
Film Directing, Cinematic Motion

Scott W. Smith

 

L.A. vs. Washington

Every once in a while two distant and loose threads of my past cross paths. That happened last night in the playoff baseball game in Los Angeles when the L.A. Dodgers played the Washington Nationals.

Nationals’ Howie Kendrick had the best moment of his career when he hit a grand slam home run in the tenth inning to help his team beat the Dodgers, 7-3, in Game 5 of the National League Division Series. High drama.

The National manager, Dave Martinez, went to my high school and graduated two years after I did. I covered his baseball games while working for the Sanford Herald when I was a 19-year-old photojournalist.

MartinezIMG_5638.jpg

After high school Martinez played for the college where I now work, and then went to have a 15 year career playing professional baseball. He then began coaching and won a World Series ring as a coach with the Chicago Cubs. The next year he became the manager of the Nationals. Now in his second year his team with be facing the St. Louis Cardinals in hopes that he can lead the Nationals to their first trip ever to a World Series.(The Nationals along with the Montreal Expos are the only teams in MLB to never play in a World Series.)

Former Dodger great Orel Hershiser is currently a broadcaster with the Dodgers. I saw him pitch at Dodger Stadium early in his career (and when I was in film school) and later in his career against Texas Rangers in Arlington, TX.

For a few years after he retired Hershiser lived in Orlando. I knew his agent Robert Fraley who once negotiated Hershiser’s then high record contract. I also knew the publishers of Hershiser’s book Out of the Blue and one of them asked me to produce a video for an event honoring Hershiser.

As a extra thanks for producing that video in 2000 I was given a signed baseball from Hershiser that I still have in my home office today.

IMG_E6779

Scott W. Smith

 

This is a follow-up to my last post (The George Lucas Directing Class in Under 100 Words) and it’s advice that comes from three Oscar winners. And it has to do with how you as a director capture wide shots, medium shots, and close-up shots in any given scene.

Director Spike Lee says you not only want to hire a talented director of photography (DP), but one who is also efficient. That’s a big part of what is going to help you keep on schedule and make your days. And the lower the budget, the fewer days you have to shoot your film.

And it’s not only the shooting schedule that’s important. Lee says, “Actors come to the set ready to work.” They’ve already been through hair, makeup, and wardrobe so they don’t want to be sitting in their trailers while the DP tinkers with lighting.

Oscar winner Martin Scorsese said that back in the ’80s when he was coming off a lull in his career he had smaller budgets to work. In one case he needed 75 shots in three days, but the budget only allowed for two days so they cut out 25 shots and scheduled to shoot 25 shots per day over the two days they had. The way they kept on schedule was to allow x-amount of time for each shot—10 minutes for one shot, 20 minutes for another, and 45 minutes for a more complicated shot. If they didn’t get what they needed in that time frame, they had to move on.

Oscar winner Jodie Foster drives home the point of how to be efficient in your shooting:

“There are a lot of things that waste time on movies. For example, you have five setups, you have one incredibly wide shot, and the other ones are five little pieces you’re going in for. Your wide shot— you can barely see their mouths move. So please don’t do 25 takes of the entire scene and print them all, and give your actors notes based on this wide shot. You’re probably only going to need one take or maybe two takes. Go in and get the other stuff afterwards and don’t waste all of your time getting the wide shot perfectly. Allow yourself to go in for the other shots.

“With movement very often, when you start a move and you know you’re going to keep this move, you want the beginning of the move and the end of the move. And that means you’re going to be stuck on this shot for the whole thing. If you make that decision that you’re going to keep that shot, then you don’t need those lines for any of the other pieces of coverage. So you don’t need to get everything perfect if you know that you have the money shots or the shots that are really in your head are working. So that’s where a lot of time gets spent, people want everything perfect and they don’t have an understanding of their cutting patterns or their potential cutting pattern. And they heard that old adage ‘Get coverage, get everything. Get every choice you possible have.‘ Large films can afford to not make choices. A little movie—gotta make choices and keep moving on.”
Jodie Foster
Masterclass, Shooting Your Film

So don’t worry about getting every take perfect (it won’t happen anyway), and have a clear vision going into the scene of what you envision the final edited scene to be. Another trick Lee has used throughout his career is to do scenes in one take. Steven Spielberg is a master of the oner–some that are simple and some that are quite complex. (Shots that often involve wide shots, medium shots, and close-ups all in one long take.)

Scott W. Smith

 

 

 

 

Screen Shot 2019-10-07 at 3.29.12 PM

Close-up on Opie (Ron Howard)

Ron Howard has had one of the most amazing careers in Hollywood history. He’s been a  child actor in a classic Tv show (The Andy Griffith Show), a young star actor  (Happy Days), an indie filmmaker (Grand Theft Auto), an Emmy winning producer (From Earth to the Moon), and an Oscar winning producer/director (A Beautiful Mind). He also had the privilege of developing a personal relationship with producer/director George Lucas who directed him in American Graffiti and produced Willow which Howard directed.

So with Howard’s over 50+ solid years of film and television experience here’s a very simple piece of filmmaking advice that I’m calling “The George Lucas Directing Class in Under 100 Words (via Ron Howard).” It’s advice that Howard learned first hand from Lucas, and advice that has always stuck with him and that he shares with others as they set out to direct. Here are 91 words that can change your life:

“George Lucas said no well-written scene has ever gone bad because the director staged it and shot it with a wide shot, a medium, and two close ups. If the scene’s well-written, you can just always fall back on that formula and you’ll have the material you’ll need to go into the editing room. Now, if you have an idea or a visual notion that’s more sophisticated that involves camera moves so be it, but you’re not going to ruin the scene because you shot it in a very simple way.”
Ron Howard
Masterclass, Frost/Nixon Staging Review

I learned about wide shots, medium shots, and close-ups in film school and it was called sequencing. Basically getting the coverage you need in a scene that when you go into the edit room you have a variety of shots that allows you to control pacing, visual interest, performance, and dramatic presentation. Once you become aware of wide/medium/close-up shots you realize that the entire history of cinema is saturated with that basic “formula” to use Lucas’ word. Watch any film from the early silent era through to the most recent release and you’ll see wide, medium, and close-up shots over and over again.

What constitutes a wide, medium, and a close-up is somewhat subject—and there are variations such as an extreme close-ups)  but this will get you in the ballpark.

MEDIUM CLOSE-UP
Screen Shot 2019-10-07 at 3.02.22 PM.png
CLOSE-UP (reversal shot of the medium closeup)
Screen Shot 2019-10-07 at 3.02.39 PM.png
MEDIUM TWO SHOT 
Screen Shot 2019-10-07 at 3.03.29 PM.png
WIDE SHOT
Screen Shot 2019-10-07 at 3.04.00 PM.png
MEDIUM SHOT 
Screen Shot 2019-10-07 at 3.12.05 PM.png
EXTREME WIDE SHOT
screen-shot-2019-10-07-at-3.16.29-pm.png

EXTREME CLOSE-UP (A BEAUTIFUL MIND)
Screen Shot 2019-10-08 at 2.58.13 PM.png

 

Once you become aware of wide/medium/close-up shots you realize that the entire history of cinema is saturated with that basic “formula” to use Lucas’ word. Watch any film from the early silent era through to the most recent release and you’ll see wide, medium, and close-up shots over and over again.

Bigger budget films have tools at their disposal to make very complicated shots (dolly, crane, Steadicam, helicopter, etc) but it still boils down to wide/medium/close-up shots. Even films that where done in one take (Russian Ark) or meant to look like one take (Rope, Birdman) are still a variety of wide, medium, and close-ups.

Watch this evergreen advice played out from an episode of The Andy Griffith Show from the 1960s.

P.S. And wide/medium/close-up is scalable on every kind of production—from the largest blockbuster to the :15 second web spot.

 

%d bloggers like this: