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Archive for December, 2014

“The world will break your heart ten ways to Sunday—that’s guaranteed.”
Pat (Bradley Cooper)
Silver Linings Playbook

“Next year all our troubles will be miles away.”
Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas lyrics
Frank Sinatra version featured in Silver Linings Playbook 

Here’s a little 2-minute video I put together today sitting in a hospital bed on Christmas day, based on the theme and a Christmas scene from Silver Linings Playbook (written & directed by David O. Russell) :

Related Posts:
Broken Wings & Silver Linings
Screenwriting Quote #177 (David O. Russell)
The Greatest Gift The short story that became the classic Christmas movie It’s a Wonderful Life.

P.S. Countdown to 2000th special post on January 22, 2015—12 posts.

Scott W. Smith

 

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Christmas & Cancer

“If you don’t die of thirst, there are blessings in the desert.”
Author Anne Lamott/ @ANNELAMOTT

Hail the heaven born Prince of Peace
Hail the Son of righteousness
Light and life to all He brings
Ris’n healing in His wings
Christmas carol lyrics of Hark! The Herald Angles Sing

The first time I cried watching TV was during the original Brian’s Song (1971) movie, when Gale Sayers (Billy Dee Williams) said, “We just got word that Brian Piccolo is – that’s he’s sick, very sick….” I was ten years old and while I didn’t understand the word cancer, I understood the words very sick.  Then four years after Brian Piccolo died, my Aunt Marilyn also died of cancer.  More tears.

Over the years I’ve shed more tears as I’ve watched friends of mine battle cancer. Now it’s my turn. The cure rate for my type of cancer is high (80-90%), but today I go into the hospital for my second round of chemo and my fifth week of radiation. It’s all been rather surreal—almost like I’m an old school method actor doing research for a role.

I debated whether or not to write anything about it here or not, but decided to do so because I’m going to take about two weeks off from posting. And instead of just reposting some articles, I thought that since views dip during the Holidays that I’d just take my first break in seven years of writing this blog. I’m looking forward to hitting the reset button in more than one way in January.

Spending Christmas day in a hospital is not ideal, but I’m certainly not the first person to do so—and I’m thankful that it’s something I’ve never had to do until now.  And on the positive side I imagine it’s a festive, colorful, and even cheerful time to spend in a cancer center. I’m actually looking forward to keeping my writer’s hat on embracing the whole experience this week.

Granted it’s much easier to do when your oncologist is upbeat about your prognosis and treatment, but I’ve met upbeat and positive people in the last month who’ve been told they have less than five years to live. Those people inspire and encourage me. If you’re one of those people, keep telling your story. Because life tends to be like a good drama; we’re either in a crisis, coming out of a crisis, or heading into a crisis. Chances are good that even if you don’t have cancer, there’s something else funky going on in your life that you’d rather not be dealing with.

“People go to the movies when they’re sad.”
Don Draper’s son in a Mad Men episode

Conflict and emotion are two of the drums I often hit on this blog because that’s what drives both movies and life. And I’m on season five of Breaking Bad right now and I think one of the reasons it’s considered by many as one of the greatest TV shows ever is it’s a show full of conflict, emotion and crisis after crisis. Just like the Christmas classic It’s a Wonderful Life—except Breaking Bad has a higher body count.

Happy Hanukkah and Merry Christmas—

P.S. Countdown to 2000th special post on January 22, 2015—13 posts.

Related posts:
40 Days of Emotions
Everything I Learn in Film School (Tip #1) on conflict
Tension=Attention

Scott W. Smith

 

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“Stop making the same, safe, soul-less movies and TV shows.”
Part of a memo from the Sony Pictures leak

“We have a new paradigm, a new reality, and we’re going to have to come to real terms with it all the way down the line.”
George Clooney on the Sony hack and canceling of The Interview release
Deadline Hollywood December 18, 2014

Did you get the memo? If not, maybe that’s because the Sony hack was reportedly 100 terabytes of information. A massive tidal wave of information that if was just in paper form would probably take a lifetime for one person to read it all. (Among the information is said to be 47,000 social security numbers.)

My first thought when I heard the news (with a group called Guardians of Peace taking credit) was something an old boss of mine used to repeat often—”There are no secrets.”

I’m waking up, I feel it in my bones
Enough to make my systems blow
Welcome to the new age, to the new age
Welcome to the new age, to the new age
Radioactive lyrics

I do believe that—as George Clooney basically said, and as the Carpenters used to sing— “We’ve only just begun.” Now an unnamed person or group (many believe connected to North Korea, though the government has denied) has taken the next step and threatened further damage to Sony Pictures if they released their movie The Interview—a comedy about a mission to kill the leader of North Korea—and any moviegoers who watch the film in theaters. The December 25 film release has been canceled.

Welcome to the new age, to the new age
Welcome to the new age, to the new age

There has been much speculation about how the leak—and last month’s shut down of Sony’s website—could happen without some Sony—or former Sony—insider. (To paraphrase Shakespeare, “Hell hath no furry like an employee scorned.”) Perhaps we’ll never know the intricate mysteries behind the hack, but some of the information from it has been interesting.

My favorite line being a plea to, “Stop making the same, safe, soul-less movies and TV shows.” And this extended thought:

“Perhaps it’s a generational thing, but I’ve been disappointed with the content of some of the films we’ve been producing lately. I don’t think people who know me would consider me a prude, but the boorish, least common denominator slate strikes me as a waste of resource and reputation. ‘I think the mirror should be tilted slightly upward when it`s reflecting life — toward the cheerful, the tender, the compassionate, the brave, the funny, the encouraging, all those things — and not tilted down to the gutter part of the time, into the troubled vistas of conflict’—(actress/philanthropist) Greer Garson 1990. I think that quote could be adapted to apply to the base elements of some of the films we produce.”

I’ll leave to authorities to sort out the legalities of the hack, and to the pundits dealing with the ramification of Sony Pictures canceling the December 25th release of The Interview. But my charge to all screenwriters and film and TV producers is, “Stop making the same, safe, soul-less movies and TV shows.”

Of course, one could say Sony didn’t take the safe road producing a film that depicts the killing of the leader of North Korea. And I’ll defend Sony Pictures all day long with its AMC productions Mad Men and Breaking Bad. Neither of which were the same, safe, or soul-less. I don’t know the date of the “soul-less” memo—maybe it’s what led to taking a chance with creators Matthew Weiner and Vince Gilligan.

And lastly, while I haven’t seen it yet, there doesn’t appear to be anything safe or soulless about Sony’s recent release Whiplash, written and directed by Damien Chazelle.

P.S. Countdown to 2000th special post on January 22, 2015—14 posts.

Related Posts:
‘Mad Men’ Diet & Workout
Breaking Bad’s Beginning
Jerry Maguire’s Mission Statement

 Scott W. Smith

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“I used to call what we do when we light for movies ‘poetic realism.’ A scene should look real, but it should also have poetry. When we light something in a movie, we sometimes want it to look better than life. Sometimes we want to exaggerate a little bit to get the point across. We might make early-morning sunshine coming through a window extremely light, even sparkling. On its own, the eye probably wouldn’t see that light that way, but perhaps we want the audience to not just see the brightness, but also feel it. When you light to tell a story, you don’t want to simply duplicate what the eye would see in that situation, you also want to create a feeling. We all see a  lot of detail in shadows, but when cinematographers light a dark scene, we often let the shadows go completely black. Would all the detail the eye sees be more interesting than exaggerating the feeling of darkness?…It’s almost imperative that you overdo some things a little bit in order for the audiences to perceive what they’re seeing as real. And that’s okay, because audiences are used to seeing things that way in movies! Moonlight is a perfect example — it never looks in a movie the way it does in reality. Real moonlight is very subtle, but in movies it usually ends up looking somewhat blue. And the real moon doesn’t reflect the amount of light that artificial moonlight has in movies. Sometimes you have to use a sort of impressionistic technique to get the point across, and if you do that well, audiences are very willing to accept ‘movie reality.’”
Oscar-winning Vilmos Zsigmond Director of Photography (Close Encounters of the Third Kind)
ASC Interview with Jon Siberg

Let me add that one of the real cinematography cheats of the moonlight spilling into homes—especially when people are sleeping—is not the color or the illumination, it’s that the curtains are usually open in movies and television programs. I’ve walked and driven  through many neighborhoods in my life and I’d guess that 95% of the curtains/blinds are closed at night. And in real life the only reasons you’d leave your curtains open in your bedroom when you sleep is if you want to wake up at sunrise and/or to a beautiful view.

And since in my last post I said that Janusz Kaminski was born in Poland, I should mention Zsigmond was born in Szeged, Hungary.

Related Posts:
Cinematography Cheats #1
10 Cinematography Tips (Roger Deakins)
How to Get Started Working in Production (2.0) Where I found a quote about Zsigmond after he immigrated to the United States first found work in Los Angeles as a technician in a film lab and also as a home portrait photographer.
Start Small…But Start Somewhere

P.S. Countdown to 2000th special post on January 22, 2015—15 posts.

 

Scott W. Smith

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“I can make three bad movies and still make movies.”
Janusz Kaminski on the career longevity of a cinematographer verses a director

How does one go from being born in Ziebice, Dolnoslaski, Poland to being the Oscar-winning right hand cinematographer of director Steven Spielberg?

The short answer is talent and hustle.

At least that’s what I gathered from reading and watching various interviews with Janusz Kaminski who shot Saving Private Ryan, Schindler’s List, War Horse, Lincoln, Munich as well as other Spielberg and many other non-Spielberg projects.

Kaminski also used his weakness to his advantage. Because he was an immigrant to the United States he felt like English as a second language might create some communication barriers if he chose to be a director or writer while in film school so he focused on shooting.

And shooting a lot. While a student at Columbia College Chicago (82-87) he says he shot between 30-40 student films. That’s a lot of films. Especially since that was back in the day where I imagine we’re talking narrative and documentary films actually shot on film not You Tube-ready videos that are shot and edited in a day.

Being foreign he said also made him strong on non verbal storytelling. Another advantage Kaminski had growing up in Poland during a communistic regime is the only American films he was allowed to see where ones that showed a disillusioned America—meaning a heavy dose of 70s films like Taxi Driver and The Panic in Needle Park.

(An America he says he didn’t find when he first came to the United States and still hasn’t seen. When he arrived in the USA the country was in the middle of a fitness craze.)

He made a demo reel from his student films and landed an independent feature film in Hollywood. He also spent a year at AFI one year and started working for Roger Corman’s company New Horizons shooting what he says were exploitation films and silly movies with men running around in rubber suits and crime suspense.

And here’s one more little gem I can pass on that Kaminski did to set himself a part from everyone else. He said he once interned on a film shot by John A. Alonzo that starred Tom Hanks.

I think that film was Nothing in Common (1986) which makes sense because I believe that was shot in Chicago during the time Kaminski was going to college. But he didn’t take the formal route to get the internship. He simple saw a film being shot, jumped a fence introduced himself to Alonzo. As Christopher Lockhart has said— when you see a shot take it.

You can bet he learned a thing or two about lighting and running a crew from the man who was the Oscar-nominated director of photography on Chinatown.

It was the TV movie Wildflower (1991) Kaminski shot that caught Spielberg’s eye and led to their longtime beginning with Class of ’61 followed by Schindler’s List (1993).  Schindler’s List by the way takes place in Poland during World War II. Circle of life stuff.

Both Spielberg and Kaminski won Oscars for their work on that movie.

P.S. These days–as was true when I was in film school— it’s easy to see people getting caught up in technical jargon when discussing filmmaking. I love Kaminski’s answer to a question just a couple years ago at a film festival.

Question:- When you’re looking at an image do you go with the philosophy of adding light to get the image or subtracting to take away to get the image?
Janusz Kaminski“I have no idea…I don’t know how it happens.”

It’s all about capturing the magic. And you do that making film after film…and maybe jumping a fence or two.

Related Post:
Ida’ (My favorite film this year was shot in Poland.)
Cinematography Cheats #1 Kaminski’s work on Jerry Maguire

P.S. Countdown to 2000th special post on January 22, 2015—16 posts.

Scott W. Smith

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Cinematographers are a bunch a liars and cheaters. Screenwriters, too. In a good way, of course. It’s all part of the job.  Just doing their part in creating a world of make believe.

For instance, Jerry Maguire didn’t really exist. Sure there were composites of real people he was based on, but he was a fictional character out of the cranium of writer/director Cameron Crowe.

Look at the screenshot below of Jerry Maguire (Tom Cruise) and what do you see? Can you see how cinematographer Janusz Kaminski lied and cheated to help bring that character to life?

JerryMaguireLamps

“If there’s a lamp most of the time the light would come from that lamp. It doesn’t mean that I would actually use that lamp to illuminate that scene because it’s just not sufficient enough to give [enough] illumination, but I would motivate the light sources by [using] existing lighting sources on the set. And, of course, if the drama of the existing light was not sufficient for the story I will totally abandon the practice of being realistic and just be dramatic with the light. I would just go for  go with non-realistic light sources to make the movie more interesting in terms of the storytelling.”
Two-time Oscar-winning cinematographer Janusz Kaminski
(Saving Private Ryan, Schindler’s List—and Jerry Maguire)
Interview 

So in that well-known Jerry Maguire mission statement scene Kaminski does various things to make the scene visually interesting. He turns all the lamp lights on (even turn one on its side on the ground) in one shot, but in another place he turns all the lights off and allows what supposed to be exterior light (streetlights?) to stream in with rain pouring off the windows creating patterns on the walls, and in another place he uses an open small refrigerator to help illumine the scene. All to make it visually interesting and to meet the writer/directors expectations of a character having an epiphany .

JerryMRainFrig

Here’s how the much of scene played out:

Related Post:
Jerry Maguire’s Mission Statement
10 Cinematography Tips (Roger Deakins)

P.S. Countdown to 2000th special post on January 22, 2015—17 posts.

Scott W. Smith

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“We hit it off on Schindler’s List and never stopped working together. I just think [Janusz] is the best cameraman I’ve ever worked with in my entire life.”
Director Steven Spielberg

“I want to make movies where I can express myself to visuals.”
Cinematographer Janusz Kamisnski (Saving Private Ryan)

“It looks kind of effortless when you’re seeing [movies] on the screen, but it’s a really complicated process. Especially in that opening scene [of Saving Private Ryan]. We had to lay down the mannequins, we had to lay down the explosives, we had the complicated scenes where people are catching on fire—the safety was essential because you don’t want anybody getting hurt. You can have all that technology—yet at the end you want to evoke emotions. It’s all about emotions, you know? ‘Cause you get really amazing films made by directors who have great technology and [yet] you just walk away and you are not moved emotionally.”
Two-time Oscar-winning cinematographer Janusz Kaminski
Big Bear Lake International Film Festival Q&A

While Kamiski’s own long list of films shot is impressive (Schindler’s List, Lincoln, War Horse, Amistad, Le scaphandre et le papillon, Jerry Maguire, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly—to name a few) he was asked last year by Christy Lenire “What are five of the most beautifully photographed films you’ve ever seen?” his short list follows:

_ “The Conformist” (1970): Bernardo Bertolucci’s dramatically stylized commentary on 1930s fascism, starring Jean-Louis Trintignant of this year’s best-picture nominee “Amour.” Kaminski’s reason for choosing it: “Use of color and light.”

_ “In Cold Blood” (1967): Based on Truman Capote’s pioneering true-crime book about a vicious family murder that took place in a small Midwestern town. Kaminski praised its “visual metaphors.”

_ “Citizen Kane” (1941): Well it’s … it’s “Citizen Kane.” Kaminski chose it for its “angles and drama within the composition, also within the frame.”

_ “The French Connection” (1971): The classic crime thriller starring Gene Hackman as a detective on the trail of a major drug smuggling ring, it won five Oscars including best picture. Kaminski appreciated the film “for the action and realistic representation of New York.”

_ “Empire of the Sun” (1987): A Spielberg movie that Kaminski didn’t shoot, actually. Allen Daviau, a previous collaborator of his in the mid-’80s, received an Oscar nomination for the visually lavish film, featuring a young Christian Bale. Kaminski enjoyed its “use of color and light.”

Related posts:
40 Days of Emotions “Emotion is your screenplay’s lifeblood.”—Karl Iglesias
Filmmaking Quote #27 (Frank Capra) “I made mistakes in drama. I thought drama was when actors cried. But drama is when the audience cries.”
Cinematography & Emotions
Cinematography & Emotions (Part 2)
Editing for Emotions
Pity, Fear, Catharsis (Tip #69)

P.S. Countdown to special 2000th post on January 22, 2015—18 posts.

Scott W. Smith

 

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