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“We didn’t do any color filtration….”
Cinematographer Phedon Papamichael on shooting Ford v Ferrari

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Ford v Ferrari: To get that golden look (without filters or visual effects), you have to shoot at the golden (or magic) hour

Avatar and Titanic director James Cameron once said that the problem with filmmaking is there is “never enough time or money.” While I was reading this morning about the making of Ford v Ferrari that Cameron quote popped into my mind.

When I lived in LA in the eighties there was a remote area just outside of the edges of the San Fernando Valley called Agua Dulce.  Because it’s still in LA County (yet very unlike most of LA, movies like Blazing Saddles and 127 Hours were shot there. I did some rock climbing and photography there. Fast forward 30+ years and the surrounding area is no longer remote. That poses some challenges to those wanting to shoot there.

They filmed parts of Ford v Ferrari in what is known as the Antelope Valley at Willow Springs International Raceway, near Lancaster/Rosamond/Palmdale, CA. An area now with a population of over 300,000 people. (I believe that’s what director of photography Phedon Papamichael calls Agua Dulce.)

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“At Agua Dulce, because of noise restrictions, we could only shoot until 10 p.m. — and since it was late summer, we couldn’t start rolling on our night work until 8 p.m.. So each day we’d have a two-hour window to complete our night work.”
Phedon Papamichael
American Cinematographer
“Lap of Honor” by David Hearing
December 2019, pages 40-42

If a $100 million budget has limitations (or $200 million in Avatar‘s case) then the chances are pretty good that you will not have enough time or money on the productions you work on. So what do you do? You embrace your limitations. It’s one of my favorite concepts: Embrace your limitations.

So all those beautiful sunset shots you see in Ford v Ferrari were shot in just two hour chunks.

On the director’s commentary of Rain Man, Barry Levinson talks about how they only had a few hours to shoot the sequence where Tom Cruise teaches Dustin Hoffman how to dance in a high dollar hotel suite overlooking Las Vegas.

The DP for the Levinson directed The Natural (1984) was Caleb Deschanel.  A film that had many exteriors filmed in the early morning or late afternoon hours when the sun is golden.

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Decschanel also shot The Right Stuff which Papamichael said was an inspiration to him on Ford v Ferrari.

Another way of embracing you limitations is to know what you need to sell the shot. Years ago I shot an interview with a surfer in Atlantic Beach, FL. We were shooting an interior shot with the beach in the background. We had an HMI Joker light so we were able to not have the exterior background blowout. But it was a hazy day and small one-foot waves, so it was hard to tell we were at the beach. We embraced our limitations and simply propped up a colorful surfboard outside framing it behind her and it help sell that we were at the beach.

Scott W. Smith 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Following yesterday’s post Writing is Work ..., I thought it would be a good time to revisit a post from 2012. It’s based on the phrase/book Art is Work that I first heard about from artist Gary Kelley when I lived in Iowa:

“If graphic design has a grand master, then Milton Glaser is Michelangelo.”
Chip Kidd Talks With Milton Glaser

“I started out copying Walt Disney, very early, and then invented comic strips.”
Milton Glaser
Author of Art is Work and designer of the “I ‘Heart/Love’ New York”  logo

P.S. As of today Milton Glaser (called “The godfather of modern design”) is not only still alive and kicking at age 90, but I believe still goes to work in his studio in New York City. A book he’s fond of is Rules for Aging by Roger Rosenblatt.

Related posts:

Frank Gehry on Creativity (Second all-time read post on this blog.)
Stephen King’s Double Wide Trailer (Could be subtitled “Writing is Work.”)
Billy Wilder on Writing “(Writing) is blood, sweat, and tears, believe me. ”
Art & Fear
Off-Screen Quote #15 (Edgar Degas)
Screenwriter’s Work Ethic (tip #2)

Scott W. Smith

 

“I know for myself, it’s important to write every single day. I meet a lot of young writers and I say do you write everyday, and they say, no, I write when it strikes me. I don’t know, I suppose that might work for some people—I’m not really the one to say—but it never would have worked for me. So much happens sitting at your desk when you don’t have an idea. So many things can happen, but they’re not going to happen unless you’re at your desk. So you need to sit there, and not have the internet, and see what happens. You just have to do the work. That means not going to the party. It means people are really going to think you’re a drag. . . . I’ve meet so many people who say I really want to write, but I work all day. So did I. You work all day and then you come home and write. If it means that much to you, you’re going to find the time to do it.”
Writer/speaker David Sedaris
Masterclass (Lesson 3), Turning Observations Into Stories

David Sedaris graduated from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1987 and worked various odd jobs (including cleaning houses) until Ira Glass called him one day and wanted him to read Santaland Diaries (an essay Sedaris wrote about being one of Santa’s helpers at Macy’s). Sedaris was 35-years-old when it aired on December 23 , 1992 on NPR’s Morning Edition.  That lead to an ongoing gig with This American Life, and eventually his books being published and his speaking engagements.

Interesting things don’t happen “out there,” they happen right where you are in your day job. (All the better if it’s an odd, odd job—like being an elf.) Your job is to make observations with your special writer glasses and write them down in your diary. At least, that worked for Sedaris.

Related links:
David Sedaris, Ira Glass and 25 Years of “Santaland Diaries”

Scott W. Smith 

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This is part of the answer Lulu Wang gave when asked what her takeaway was from the success of her film The Farewell. 

“People don’t have to go to the movie to see plot. It’s about connection. And the question that I ask myself for most of The Farewell was not about plot—like what are they going to do? Or who’s going to chase who? Do they tell her or not tell her? That’s not really what it’s about. What drove me to tell the story was how do you say goodbye to somebody that you love, whether they know or don’t know [that they’re dying]? It’s impossible to say goodbye, so what do you do? And I think that’s the way I always want to approach films. That no matter how big a concept it is, what’s the question that it’s exploring? Maybe it’s not important to find the answer, but people are clearly hungry for content that asks the question that they themselves are asking, or maybe they don’t even know they should be asking, right? But it satisfies this desire just to explore, to talk about things—talk about talk about the difficult things—and that’s what art does.”
Writer/Director Lulu Wang (The Farewell)
THR podcast interview with Scott Feinberg

Here’s a scene from The Farewell that shows the connection between Billi (Awkwafina) and her grandmother Nai Nai (Shuzhen Zhao):

Related Post:
It’s the Relationships, Stupid! A Heart to Hart Talk Talk About Movie Endings with Lindsay Doran and Moss Hart

Scott W. Smith 

Before writer/director Lulu Wang made an international splash this year for her movie The Farewell, one of her day jobs was producing videos for lawyers to be used in legal cases.

“I was basically going to people’s homes – you know, people who had been severely injured, people who, oftentimes, their injuries weren’t visible to the eye, you know, which meant a lot of brain damage cases. I would go into people’s homes and just interview the – you know, the client and sometimes their family to better understand the extent of their injuries.

“So we – it was called a day in a life video, and so you also would – I would include footage from before the injury occurred and – to see, you know, what they were capable of, what their dreams and aspirations were. And sometimes it would be as mundane as just shooting this person trying to make breakfast, you know, because if this client walks into a courtroom and gets on a stand, you wouldn’t necessarily be able to determine what the extent of their injuries are by just hearing them talk. You might think, well, maybe they’re not the brightest person, but, you know, they seem fine to me. But you would – if I, you know, was with them, watching them make breakfast, they would take the eggs out and then go back to the refrigerator and go grab eggs and forget where they put the eggs. You know, there’s all of these little nuances of how the – of how brain injury affects a person’s day-to-day life that I had to show.

“So there was that. I did some class action cases as well. . . . I found it very fascinating. It was very difficult, too, you know, because you meet somebody for, you know, 10 minutes, and then you’re in their home and you’re asking them to open up their lives to you. And I – you know, I was usually there by myself, maybe with one other person who was helping me set up the camera and maybe a light or something.

“But you know, there’s a lot of stories, and it – I think it also helped me to really stay grounded because no matter what fictional story I was working on, I was still doing this at the same time.”
Lulu Wang
NPR interview with Terry Gross

And in various interviews Lulu Wang has done, here are some other life experiences that show the trajectory of her career before making The Farewell. 
—She was born in China, and moved to the United States (Miami) when she was six.
—She went to a arts conservatory high school where she was a good enough pianist that her teachers thought she could have a career playing the piano, but she didn’t have enough passion for music. (New World School of the Arts in Miami is also where playwright and Oscar-winning Moonlight screenwriter Tarell Alvin McCraney went to high school.)
—She earned her four year degree from Boston College, where she only took one  photography class and one filmmaking class. But she did well enough in school that she was accepted into law school on a full scholarship. But she didn’t have enough passion for law to continue that route.
—She moved to Los Angeles and because she could speak Mandarin Chinese ended up doing translation work on the film Rush Hour 3.
—She made some short films, and also shot some bar mitzvah videos.
—In 2016, her story What You Don’t Know was part the radio broadcast This American Life. She got an option to write the screenplay version that eventually got produced with her directing and debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in January.
—The film was released in the United States in July.
—Last night Awkwafina won best actress at the Gotham Awards for her lead role in The Farewell.

P.S. After graduating from NYU film school, Sean Baker (The Florida Project) worked on wedding and corporate videos, and explains why it’s good training for filmmakers.

“I was lucky enough to land a job right out of school with a small publishing company that put me in charge of their AV work. So basically I was producing a lot of corporate type videos. I was interviewing authors. Traveling all over the states just to interview them to put together a little EPK [Electronic Press Kit]. But that’s good work. It pays the bills. And I would suggest anybody who’s striving to become a filmmaker to at least stay within the AV world. Because you’re practicing on a daily basis. And even though you think this isn’t me being creative, it is. It really is because you’re still framing shots, you’re still editing, you’re understanding the technical side of things.”
Sean Baker
No Film School podcast interview

Scott W. Smith

 

My go to movie at Thanksgiving is Pieces of April (2003), written and directed by Peter Hedges 

Here are some post I’ve written about it over the years:

Thanksgiving with ‘The Florida Project’ and ‘Pieces of April’

Pieces of April (Part 1)
Pieces of April (Part 2) 
Pieces of April (Part 3) 
Pieces of April (Part 4) 
Pieces of April (Part 5)
Pieces of April (Part 6)
Pieces of April (Part 7)

Scott W. Smith

Last night my wife and I went to the Toledo restaurant at Walt Disney World to celebrate our wedding anniversary. The restaurant is on the top floor of the recently opened Gran Destino Tower at Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort. If you’re ever at Disney World in Orlando and want an ideal place to eat and watch the fireworks then I’m not sure you can do better than the 16th floor of the Toledo.

It was a great experience and it once again reminded me of the words of Walt Disney on reflecting on all they had done, “… I only hope we never lose sight of one thing, it was all started by a mouse.”

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Related posts:

Screenwriting Quote #53 (Walt Disney)
Walt and Walter in KC
Imagineering with Walt Disney

Scott W. Smith

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