Archive for April, 2011

The last couple of days I’ve caught much of the online feed of the live photography class that Zack Arias has been doing at creativeLIVE which is a pretty sweet set-up. I’ve never seen a live seminar online before so that’s impressive and even more so since it’s free. And given and the fact they even went outside and did some shots on a roof in Seattle (and answered Twitter questions live) is technologically crazy to pull off.

And Aries is one of those teachers that I imagine would be enjoyable to listen to no matter what subject he was speaking about. In the Robert Rodriguez sense he is not only both technical and creative, but also an excellent communicator as well. One of the things that really jumped out at me while he was teaching—that fits what I write about here— is when he spoke about getting into photography in the old era when film ruled photography.

Back then the traditional path was go to photo school, art school, or a 4-year college, then work as an assistant, maybe get  a gig at a lab, and take any photo related job you can and work your way up. That’s the context that Aries said, “The Path is gone.” Gone my be a little strong, but the path is certainly less traveled today—and the weeds continue grow over it. And for what it’s worth, that which was true in photography is also true to some extent in the film & video industry. Though Hollywood features, due to unions,  still hold on to the old path, but outside of Hollywood I think that path has faded to a large extent.

But I remember being in film school and applying for a job at a production company in LA and even though I had made 8mm and 16mm films, and had worked as a photographer, the guy I interviewed with looked at my resume and told me, “Son, it’ll be ten years before you have anything to bring to this company.” Ouch. A talented 21-22 year old today has the opportunity to walk his or her own path like never before.

And it seems like  at least a couple of times a month you hear stories of filmmakers who are finding success walking down their own path.  On the photography side Joey L. is just 21-years-old and not only shot the Twilight movie poster when he was 18, but has shot assignments for Forbes, Warner Bros. Records, and various projects around the world.

To see just what a different game it is these days check out the David Hobby’s interview of Joey L way back when Joey was just 17-years-old. (After doing photography for about a year.) And just to top if off Joey L also has his own DVD photography and Photoshop tutorials and workshops. (And all that success before most of his childhood classmates have even graduated from college. Did I just hear someone yell out, “That’s not fair”? )

P.S.— Another quote from Arias that was interesting was— “There are great photographers who can’t pay their bills.” There is a business side to photography and filmmaking which is often the Achilles’ heel of creatives. You don’t do the things that Edward Burns is doing or make a film like Winter’s Bone—or run a photo studio—without having a sense of business, and/or surrounding yourself with people with a good sense of business.  (On May 1, 2011 Arias will be covering his business practices of his studio—and the little talked about subject of how creatives can balance life and work— on the third day of his free online workshop. Go to creativeLive and click on “live” in the top left corner of the screen. )

P.P.S.—I’m not sure if golfers or photographers are the biggest suckers for buying gadgets to improve their game, but Aries did reveal one on his online shoot that I’ve never seen before called the Saberstrip that if I could buy stock in I would. It’s a Star Wars looking device that is a soft light modifier for small flashes. They might be hard to get through security, or be a little awkward to use if you shoot weddings, but if you’re solo shooting a model on a windy rooftop in Seattle it’s a useful tool that creates a nice look.

Related posts:

Filmmaker as Artist/Entrepreneur

Winter’s Bone (How it Got Made)

Scott W. Smith

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Once upon a time photographers were photographers…now they’re storytellers. Even filmmakers. There’s no question that there has been an explosion of interest in film, photography and video in recent years. Of course, over the last couple of decades there has been various waves of people armed with the latest 35MM & videos cameras to document their child’s most basic childhood experience. The 8mm look is so iconic than it still pops up in movies in Tv shows even though most people no longer shoot 8mm film.

The difference today from the trends of the past is the equipment between amateur and professional is marginal. Jan Jannard, the founder of the RED camera, has said that soccer moms will be shooting with the Scarlet camera—and that will probably be true whenever that camera finally hits the streets. Meaning that a sub-$3,000. camera may out shoot quality-wise a camera that eight years ago cost $100,000.

A couple of weeks ago I met a doctor’s wife who purchased the Canon 7D and like wildfire became obsessed with photography and Photoshop. That’s a great start because you can’t teach passion. Many pros are shooting with the 7D—and I know three college students who own the 7D. Has there ever been a time in film/video/photography when the tools some professionals are using are the same tools that people starting out are using?   I know an architect who took up photography a couple of years ago and quit her architect job and is now a fulltime photographer. Graphic designer Jeremy Cowart got serious with photography just six years ago and is now a much in demand entertainment photographer in Nashville and Los Angeles.

Workshops, blogs, DVDs, and free tutorials on You Tube, an affordable online training (KelbyOne, lynda.com)  have helped fuel the current learning revolution. For creative people in grade schools or retirement homes—or anything inbetween—it’s an exciting time.

I once assisted L.A. fashion photographer Art Pasquali back in the ’80s when there weren’t that many working professional fashion photographers in Los Angeles. I imagine today there are a lot more professional photographers in L.A. than there are Elvis imitators. I don’t know how many are working, but there is a solid base of people doing outstanding work. And even those who aren’t working and don’t even consider themselves professionals are turning out impressive photos and videos.

Many professional photographers and cameraman point out the old expression that “it’s the violinist, not the violin,” that makes the music and they are right—on one level. But just as Photoshop came on the scene 20 years ago there suddenly where a lot more people calling themselves graphic artists. Sure the talent and skill level was all over the place, but overall it opened up the creative field like never before.

I think the same thing is happening in photography and filmmaking. (Don’t forget that everyone starts out a beginner.) I imagine in 10 years we’ll look back on 2011 and won’t even recognize the place. Sure Hollywood films will still be made—time will tell if there are theaters still around to watch them. I think the biggest change will be from people of all ages in all places creating stories. Photos, short films, essay films, feature films—the whole creative world is being turned upside down.

Check out this video by Atlanta-based photographer Zack Arias. I believe it’s the first video he ever made and he shot it on a Flipcam a couple of years ago for ScottKelby.com. Great stuff.

Scott W. Smith

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“There’s just too many interesting things going on now.”
Chase Jarvis

“You’ll be unstoppable if you become technical as well as creative.”
Producer/director/editor/cameraman/etc. Robert Rodriguez

Many times I have mentioned that one of the key mantras when I was in film school in the ’80s was, “You don’t want to be a jack-of-all trades and a master of none.” But one of the things I liked about my educational experiences was being able to take still photos, shoot/direct/edit 16mm films, direct multi-camera Tv productions, write scripts, record audio on a Nagra, and a few other creative disciplines.

Fast forward to 2011 and a man named Chase Jarvis and you’ll find a creative force who is a still photographer, a director, a cameraman, a blogger, an educator, skateboarder, speaker, social networker/marketer, and a host of live internet programs aimed at inspiring creative people. He wears a few hats, and he wears them quite well.

Whatever tribe Jarvis is in I’ve set up my tent there and greatly appreciate his work. I don’t know if screenwriting is on his palette, but I wouldn’t be surprised. What he does have a pulse on is the democratization of the creative process. The people he interviews and writes about in places like Nashville and Atlanta let you know that we are in the midst of a profound change. There is an amazing amount of solid information being shared now that didn’t really happen in a pre-You Tube/blogging world just six years ago.

If you’re unfamiliar with Jarvis check out the following three videos that I found quite inspirational. (The third video is a 39 minute interview with photographer/filmmaker Vincent LaForet who helped kick-start the HDSLR revolution.) You can also follow Jarvis’ blog and find plenty more videos on his You Tube channel.

Related post: A New Kind of Filmmaker  

Content Creators = Distributors

Scott W. Smith

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Long before the Coen brothers collected one of their four Oscars (Fargo, No County for Old Men) and Sam Raimi started directing the Spider—Man franchise the three worked on a little film called The Evil Dead that was released in 1981. Raimi was born in Royal Oak, Michigan and raised in Detroit where he began making 8mm as a kid. While attending Michigan St. he formed Renaissance Pictures with some buddies and made the short film Within the Woods. He then dropped out of school and raised $500,000. from doctors, dentists and real estate people and made The Evil Dead.

According to the Book of the Dead: The Definitive Evil Dead Website, The Evil Dead took two years to make and was shot in Tennessee (Mossistown) and Michigan (Marshall, Gladwin. Hartland, Detroit). Stephen King has said that it is the best horror film of the 80s. Joel Coen is credited as assistant film editor on the film.

“I first worked with Joel Coen on the editing of The Evil Dead. Rob (Tapert) and I drove my car from Michigan to New York, with all our film in the back. We were a little nervous; if you come from Michigan and you drive into New York for the first time, the feeling is unbelievable. It’s visceral…the buildings that well up around you; it’s overwhelming. We pulled up to the studio, and this weird guy tapped on the window, long-greasy-haired guy that I thought was going to rip us off or something. I didn’t want to roll the window down, but he wouldn’t go away…Finally, he said he was the editing-room assistant and he was there to get the film. And that was Joel. Joel and Ethan, who at the time was a statistical accountant at Macy’s, and Rob  and I all became good friends. We’d go out to dinner and movies and write—we we writing other things, even besides Crimewave, back then—and hang out. We were just kids…and we’ve been writing together ever since.”
Sam Raimi
Filmmaking on the Fringe
Written by Maitland McDonagh

So even before this digital revolution kicked off a couple filmmakers from Minnesota and a filmmaker from Michigan made little indie films that put them on the map.

Related post: Screenwriting from Michigan

Scott W. Smith

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The following exchange is from the book My First Moviedited by Stephen Lowenstein:

Joel Coen: “(To make Blood Simple) we followed the example of Sam Raimi. Sam had done this trailer, almost like a full-length version of The Evil Dead, but on Super 8. He raised like sixty or ninety thousand dollars that way, essentially by taking it around to people’s homes to find investors. He financed the movie using a common thing people making exploitation movies had used, which was a limited partnership….So Sam, also told us how to set that up and we did that in conjunction with a lawyer here and then went out and shot a two-minute trailer in 35mm…The trailer emphasized the action, the blood and guts in the movie. It was very short. We had a very effective soundtrack, which was cheap to do.  And we schlepped that around for about a year to people’s homes and projected it in their living rooms and then got them  to give us money to make the movie…If you call people up and you say ‘Can you give me ten minutes so I can present an opportunity to invest in a movie?’, they’re going to say, “No I don’t need this,’ and hang up the phone. But it’s slightly different if you call up and say, ‘Can I come over and take ten minutes and show you a piece of film?’ All of a sudden that intrigues them and gets your foot in the door. That’s something Sam made up wise to which was invaluable in terms of being able to raise the kind of money we were trying to raise…I think there ended up being about sixty-five investors in the movie, most of them in five or ten thousand increments. I think sixty to seventy per cent of them were from Minneapolis.

Ethan Coen: The good thing about Minneapolis is those horrible phone calls you have to make to people you don’t know—you’ve just got their names from whoever. They’re too polite to hang up.

Joel Coen: That’s absolutely true. In New York, they’d just go, ‘yeah, yeah,” and hang up; because the dangerous thing with any salesman is to keep talking to them. (Laughs.)

Note: They raised $750,000. for Blood Simple which was released in 1984. In AFI’s 100 Years…100 Thrills the film was ranked #98. (Just ahead of Speed.)

Scott W. Smith

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“I have written a bunch of scripts that have not gotten produced, much more so early in my career than later. I think that 10 or 12 years ago I decided to try to make that happen, that I wrote fewer scripts that didn’t get made. I do some very conscious things to make that happen. They are not the thing a first-time screenwriter would be able to do. I only do one project at a time. When I start something, I know people I am working with, it’s a project they’re interested in. It also means I can be working for a studio or the executives who will still have their jobs when it’s time to make the film. Developing films with directors, developing films with actors, is a poor percentage play for a screenwriter. If that person happens to not be ready, changes their mind, lost attention, whatever, your script sits there. So I don’t take those jobs anymore.”
Oscar-nominated screenwriter Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton, The Bourne Identity)
Washington Post 2007 Interview 

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Happy Pop Easter

Take this soul
Stranded in some skin and bones
Take this soul
And make it sing
Yahweh, U2

Hallelujah—Bon Jovi


A Portrait of Christ—Photographer/graphic artist Jeremy Cowart 

In The Garden—Bob Dylan

Here Was A Man—Johnny Cash

Amazing Grace—Elvis

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Television Vs. Movies

“I started out in television. My basic training is television. I love the activity of television. It’s fast, there’s a lot to do. It’s a real job, you know? And I like that. I like going to work every day and having a lot of tasks to perform. I think there’s a lot of bullshit in the movie business. People sit around and do a lot of lunch and waste a lot of money. I think it’s a pretty undisciplined business. 

I like the size of television. I like the kind of storytelling that it encourages. And mostly I like the kind of storytelling that it encourages. And mostly…mostly I like the control that I have in television, which I would never have in movies. The movie business is not a writer’s medium—it’s a director’s medium. I’m not a director. I’m a writer. In television, the writer controls continuity and ultimately has the power. For me, being in television means I essentially have creative control of what I do–win, lose or draw.”
Steven Bochco (NYPD Blue, L.A. Law, Hill Street Blues)
10-Time Primetime Emmy Winner
Everything You Might Expect…and More
Interview with Rita Street
Film & Video
, June 1998


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“My life is one of great stillness. I can do almost nothing. I rarely leave my home. So I like to live in my work through very vigorous individuals. And I had that with Seabiscuit and I have that with this wonderful, ebullient, effervescent man, Louis Zamperini.”
Author Laura Hillenbrand
Speaking of her chronic fatigue syndrome and the World War II POW survivor who is the subject of  her new book Unbroken
NBC ‘s The Today Show Interview by Jamie Gangel

And the though Zamperini survived a plane crash, was adrift at sea for 47 days, and beaten and tortured nearly every day of his captivity, this is what he hand to say about Hillenbrand on that same program:

“I couldn’t believe that a woman suffering as she has suffered could be so sweet and patient, you know. And that’s why I sent her my Purple Heart, I said, ‘You deserve this more than I do.'”

Who knew you could win a Purple Heart for writing?

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Starting Small

“We tend to overestimate what we can do in one year, and underestimate what we can do in ten.”
Richard Foster

Often times people have great big dreams for the things they want to write. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I’ve found that most writers who’ve found success at the most basic level tend to have started by taking small steps. In Laura Hillenbrand case it was small painful steps.

She had to dropout of Kenyan College when she was 20 because of an illness later discovered as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. In fact, sometimes even walking to the mailbox had to be painfully considered.

At times she’s suffered from vertigo that left her bedridden and unable to read or write. Over time, through various specialists, she learned to cope with her illness. But before she would go on to write the best selling books Seabiscuit and Unbroken she took one very small step as a writer.

“I wanted to be useful but I wasn’t strong enough for a conventional job. The one thing I could still do, however, was write. Shortly after arriving in Chicago, while watching a video of the 1988 Kentucky Derby, I had an idea for an article on the impact of overcrowded fields on the race. I researched and wrote the piece, then mailed it to an obscure racing magazine. I got a job offer. Fifty dollars per story, no benefits. I took only assignments that I could do from home and wrote them in bed. The magazine never paid me, but my bylines drew assignments at better publications, ultimately earning me regular work covering equine medicine and horse-industry issues at Equus.”
Laura Hillenbrand
A Sudden Illness—How My Life Changed
The New Yorker (July/2003)
As you read Hillenbrand’s own personal story it’s not hard to understand why she writes so vividly about characters who have experienced profound pain and brokenness.

Scott W. Smith

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