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Archive for September, 2015

Game of Thrones broke a huge Emmys record at Sunday night’s ceremonies. With David Nutter’s win for best director of a drama series, the HBO show snagged its tenth Emmy this year, the most any series has ever won in a single year.” 
Eliana Dockterman, Time, September 20, 2015
(Game of Thrones would finish the night with 11 Emmys)

“What am I doing up here?”
David Nutter
(How Nutter began his Emmy acceptance speech)

It was the perfect ending. Perfect and poetic. I’m not talking about a movie or a TV show, but about yesterday—and about a life. And what made it really special is no one wrote the ending, it just happened in that mystical way where things align together perfectly. It was an ending that filmmaker/film teacher Ralph Clemente would have appreciated if he hadn’t died earlier this year, but one that happened because he lived.

When David Nutter was a 20-year-old music major he had a big dream—to be the next Barry Manilow. Nutter’s musical dreams died before he graduated from the University of Miami. But he also found a new dream in 1980 when he took an 8mm filmmaking class with Prof. George Capewell.

Then Nutter found a filmmaking mentor with Clemente, who Capewell had hired as filmmaker in residence at Miami. After graduating from Miami, Nutter launched his career when he directed the 1985 feature Cease Fire (starring Don Johnson), which Clemente worked on as an associate producer.

Fast forward 20 years to last night when Nutter accepted a Primetime Emmy for directing the Game of Thrones episode, Mother’s Mercy. A remarkable accomplishment because we are in what has been called the modern golden age of television. At the end of his acceptance speech Nutter said, “Thank you to Ralph Clemente, the man who taught me the most.” One little sentence made for the perfect ending.

Earlier in the day there was a tribute at Valencia College in Orlando for Ralph Clemente, where Clemente started the film program in the late ’80s. He would help students work on 47 feature films through a film program that he helped designed. Valencia College President Sandy Shugart spoke at the tribute about how Ralph taught him about vision, saying Clemente was like a gardener who could taste the fruit before he planted the seeds.

And Ralph Clemente planted a lot of seeds. Inspired a lot of people.  At the tribute they played a video of Nutter talking about how Clemente was not only his teacher and mentor but also a father figure. He also said that he changed is life because he ended up marrying the au pair that Ralph and his wife Emily had when they were raising their sons in Miami. Nutter said that he regretted not being at the tribute, but if he won an Emmy he’d be sure to mention Ralph—and that’s exactly how it went down. Fruit from seeds planted 35 years ago.

Ralph Clemente Tribute at Valencia College

Ralph Clemente Tribute at Valencia College

Several people at the tribute mentioned affectionately how Clemente was a schmoozer.  He was a positive people person who got people on board with his vision. I wish I had a quote of his I could drop in here to show how that helps in the filmmaking process, but since I’ve been running Robert Rodriguez related posts all month I’ll hand it off to him to talk about the salesmanship side that is often needed with the creative and technical side of filmmaking:

“If you go to an actor and say, ‘hey, I’m a filmmaker and I’m making a low budget movie and I kind of need a marquee to kinda help sell it. I can’t pay you very much. And it’s probably going to be a lot of work, but do you want to be in it?’ you’re only thinking about yourself , and they’ll be like, ‘No, get the hell out of here.’ Because all you’re taking about is what you do and how you do it, which is I make low budget movies. Yeah, so what, that means ya got no money. Instead I always start with why. I go to [the actor] and say, ‘I love what you do. I’ve always been a big fan—I believe in creative freedom. I don’t work with the studios, I work independently. I’m the boss, it’s just me and my crew. It’s very creative, ask any of your actor friends. They’ll say go have that experience, you’re going to feel so invigorated. I shoot very quickly and you’ll be out [quickly]. Robert De Niro in Machete was out in four days. While you’ll be on your next movie for six months, you’ll be on my movie for four days, and it’s going to be the most fun you’ve ever had. And your performance is going to be really freeing, that’s why I do it. How do I do it? I work very independently. I have very few people on my crew and we do multiple jobs. We do it with less money so we have more freedom. Do you want to come make this movie?’ And they’ll be like, ‘Yes.’ Because it’s all about what they can do. What they can bring to it. How it’s going to fulfill them.”
Filmmaker Robert Rodriguez
Tim Ferriss interview

Clemente wasn’t in it just for himself. He knew he could only do the kinds of things he wanted to do by helping people do the things they wanted to do. Win-win. I was part of the Miami film program during the Clemente era and know that he poured himself into students. So yesterday wasn’t the end of his legacy. There will be students of his that will take what they learned from him and pass it on to others they work with in that circle of life kind of way.

Link to donate to the Ralph R. Clemente Scholarship at Valencia College.

P.S. Back when I had a production company in Iowa I worked with Josh McCabe while he was still in college and tried to pass on what I knew to him in the few years we worked together. (I wrote about him in the 2011 post How to Get Started Working in Production.) Today Josh works in production in Denver, Colorado and just this weekend got married. Congrats to he and his wife Ashely.  He never met Ralph Clemente, but I hope I passed on a few things to him I learned working with Clemente that helped make him the creative producer/shooter/editor he is today.

Josh&Ashley

Photo by Jon Van Allen

Related posts:
Ralph Clemente (1943-2015)
‘It has to move me.’—David Nutter
Insanely Great Endings Screenwriting insight from Michael Arndt

Scott W. Smith

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“I couldn’t be prouder of Grindhouse, I couldn’t be prouder of both of our films [Planet Terror and Death Proof], but it was the first one I’d had that was a flop. It didn’t shake me as far as my feelings for the movie, it did shake me to think I may never have a hit again. ‘Cause actually when you have a big flop, you almost can’t imagine ever having a hit again. They’ll never show up again….Frankly, we were also a little cocky. We’d gotten used to going into uncharted territory—you with Sin City, me with Kill Bill—hacking our way through and people following. We kind of thought they’d follow us anywhere. And, no, they won’t follow you everywhere. We needed to give them a little bit more of a reason—a little bit more of an understanding. All good. But I felt like my girlfriend had just broken up with me, but my girlfriend was the planet earth…I was coming off of a flop, I had to prove myself. It made me want to tame myself. I wasn’t quite so f’ing sure about myself. I really had to make this into a movie…I wouldn’t be surprised if 20 years from now Inglourious Basterds is the one they talk about the most.”
Writer/ Director Quentin Tarantino
Interview on The Director’s Chair with Robert Rodriguez

Tarantino received Oscar-nominations for both writing and directing Inglourious Basterds which made over $300 million at the box office worldwide. He then followed it up three years later with Django Unchained for which he not only won his second Oscar, but it became his biggest box office hit making more than $400 million worldwide.

Related posts:
Tarantino Gumbo Soup Film School
‘What I’m really here to do’—Tarantino
‘The way I write’—Tarantino

Scott W. Smith

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“Once you actually start thinking about directing if you look at something like The Good, the Bad and the Ugly or Once Upon a Time in the West—well, that’s directing. You can literally see what the director does and the way the characters enter frame and exit frame, and the way the camera does it’s thing. It’s almost like a directing school. It doesn’t mean you have to direct like that, but it shows you what directing is, shows you cinematically.”
Quentin Tarantino
The Director’s Chair interview with Robert Rodriguez

Filmmaker Quentin Tarantino is an interesting amalgamation the American South, Southern California, and somewhere in the vicinity of the South China Sea.

Had Quentin Tarantino gone to film school in the early ’80s he would have been fed a steady diet of acceptable film history and told the proper directors who should be admired and studied. And it would have been a solid list of the usual suspects; Hitchcock, Welles, Ford, Bergman, Godard, Chaplin, Capra, Truffaut, Stevens, Huston, Bunuel, Griffith, Lubitrsch, etc.

Or he could have followed in the wake of the giant filmmakers of the 70s; Lumet, Pollack, Altman, Coppola, Bogdanovich, Allen, Polanski, Herzog, etc. (Though I seem to recall an interview where Tarantino said Bogdanovich’s They All Laughed was one of his favorite films.)

But in the words Tarantino he didn’t go to film school “he went to films.” With an appetite that sometimes included the old masters (Kurosawa/Hawks/Wilder) and the new ones (Scorsese/De Palma/Kubrick), but more than likely seemed to be the slightly off-beat or obscure; Mario Bava (Black Sabbath), Jimmy Wang Yu (The Chinese Boxer), Sergio Leone (A Fistful of Dollars), Joseph Sargent (White Lightning), Jack Hill (Coffy), Bruce Lee (The Way of the Dragon), Sergio Corbucci (Companeros), Dario Argento (Tenebre) and Chang-Hwa Jeong (Five Fingers of Death). 

Everything from blaxploitation movies, spaghetti westerns, anime, and martial arts films. In other words, movies that were not usually included in most film schools—and if they were it would have been in a derogatory way. Then toss in this Tarantino quote/revelation,”One of my favorite books of all time is Larry McMurtry’s All My Friends Are Going to Be Strangers. It’s a very influential book to me. I always use it as an example of what I’m trying to do.”

It’s a gumbo soup mixed in the south of somewhere unique. Of course, not everyone appreciates Tarantino’s movies—and he’s fine with that:

“I don’t make movies that bring people together. I make movies that split people apart.”
Quentin Tarantino

Before Tarantino and Roger Avary won an Oscar for their work on the Pulp Fiction screenplay the two worked together at the video rental store Video Archives in Manhatten Beach, California and also together as production assistants. In an interview on The Director’s Chair with Robert Rodriguez, Tarantino explained his limited production experience before directing Reservoir Dogs.

PA Credit

Tarantino: “Frankly I identified with the PAs on the set [of Reservoir Dogs] more than anyone else because we were all about the same level of experience. The only sets I’d been on where I worked was I was a PA on the Dolph Lundgren exercise home video. So that was my only working job, where I was actually part of a crew. But it’s one thing to say, ‘Hey, I want to make a movie’ and then somebody going, ‘Ok, we’re going to take a chance on you.’

“…The only training I’d ever done was as an actor. I knew that would be one of my strengths… I wasn’t all about the lens and the lighting and all that stuff that a lot of film students at the time were. What I could do was put a bunch of actors in a room, and get the best out of them. And rehearse the scene and get them to the right kind of pitch.

“…We had a two-week rehearsal [on Reservoir Dogs] and we’d chewed the rag on the material so much, and they were so ready to go it gave me confidence. I knew I was the best person to do this movie. I knew this material better than anybody else knew it. And these guys really respected me. They wanted to make my movie. It was diving into the material that gave me confidence. I was ready to do it.”

Rodriguez: I can’t imagine a more confident person than you, so to hear you say that should give people some kind of consolation if they feel nervous about a step they are going to take. You should feel nervous, you should feel some fear. You are embarking on something that is worth your time.

Tarantino: But if you’re doing a piece that’s your answer. Get to know that piece [that script]. There was nobody better than me to tell that story… Everybody else on the set could know a whole hell of a lot more about filmmaking than I did—and they all did—but I knew this material better than they did.”

Related posts:
‘What I’m really here to do”—Tarantino
‘The way I write’—Tarantino
‘It’s Good Not to Follow the Herd’

Scott W. Smith

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“As proud as I am of my movies, I think writing has become more, and more, and more, and more important to me. That first real flash of excitement is always when I’m writing something that should go this way, and all of the sudden inspiration happens and it goes somewhere else. And I’m party to it. And I didn’t expect it to happen, it just happened. And I’m like, ‘Oh, that’s real talent, That’s what happens. That’s what real writers do.’ In the case of Jackie Brown and I have to be careful how I say this, because I absolutely love Jackie Brown [adapted from Elmore Lenard’s Rum Punch] it’s one of my best movies. And I have deep affection for it. But having said that, I don’t think I was put on this earth to adapt other people’s novels. I think I was here to face to the blank page, and pull stuff out of me. Find whatever story or genre I want deal with and just do my own little version of it. But I was there to start from nothing. And then at the end have a finished movie. Starting with that pen and that blank piece of paper. That is my journey, that is my heart of darkness, that’s what I’m really here to do.”
Two-time Oscar-winning screenwriter Quentin Tarantino
The Director’s Chair interview with Robert Rodriguez

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“The way I write is really like putting one foot in front of the other. I really let the characters do most of the work, they start talking and they just lead the way. I had heard that whole speech about the Sicilians a long time ago, from a black guy living in my house. One day I was talking with a friend who was Sicilian and I just started telling that speech. And I thought, ‘Wow, that is a great scene, I gotta remember that.’ In True Romance the one thing I knew Cliff had to do was insult the guy enough that he’d kill him, because if he got tortured he’d end up telling him where Clarence was, and he didn’t want to do that. I knew how the scene had to end, but I don’t write dialogue in a strategic way. I didn’t really go about crafting the scene, I just put them in the room together. I knew Cliff was going to end up doing the Sicilian thing, but I didn’t know what Coccotti was going to say. They just started talking and I jotted it down. I almost feel like a fraud for taking credit for writing dialogue, because it’s the characters that are doing it. To me it’s very connected to actors’ improv with me playing all the characters. One of the reasons I like to write with pen and paper is it helps that process, for me anyway.”
Two-time Oscar-winning screenwriter Quentin Tarantino
Creative Screenwriting interview with Erik Bauer

Writer/Director Quentin Tarantino sat down with writer/director Robert Rodriguez on The Director’s Chair and talked about the creative process. Tarantino grew-up with a fascination for movies in the way some kids have playing sports. It was an obsession. After dropping out of high school, he stumbled upon writing while taking an acting class when he was 19 or 20 years old. (Keep in mind that this was the early ’80s before everyone had cable Tv, VHS machines, or the Internet. And when Tarantino’s income was sub-$10,000 per year, so he wasn’t buying plays and scripts. He used his lack of resources—and lack of going to film school— to his advantage.)

“I always had a good memory, so I would see a scene from a movie and I would just remember it. And I’d go home and write it from memory. And anything else I couldn’t remember or anything good I came up with in the meantime, I’d add it into the scene—because it was just my scene. And little, by little, by little I started adding more, and more, and more to the scenes. And that was me learning how to write dialogue—or just realizing I could write dialogue. And I never took it seriously until a member of the class, a guy named Ronnie Coleman, [said], ‘Quentin, you’re really good. You’re as good as Paddy Chayefsky.’ ‘What do you mean I’m as good as Paddy Chayefsky?’ ‘Well, we did that scene in class from Marty and you just wrote it down—you gave me this handwritten scene from Marty. And it included this entire monologue about a fountain. Well, I actually have the original Paddy Chayefsky script and there’s no monologue about a fountain. That was completely added by you. You added an entire monologue to it. And it was just as good as the Paddy Chayefsky stuff.’ And somebody saying something like that to you actually got me to taking in seriously. That maybe I did have a talent for that.”
Quentin Tarantino

It’s important to also realize that means he was writing for at least a decade before he sold his first script—True Romance.

P.S. And because I like quirky little connections, one of the teachers Tarantino studied with was James Best. Back in the late 80s James and his wife Dorothy opened The James Best Theater in Longwood, Florida (an Orlando suburb) in hopes of getting on the ground floor of training actors for what was marketed as “Hollywood East.” James said in an 1988 Orlando Sentinel article, ”This will be the new Hollywood. We want to train Floridians so they can get jobs.” Things didn’t turn out that way, but I did move from L.A. back to my hometown of Orlando in ’88 and my wife actually had the lead roll in Goldilocks and the Three Bears performed at The James Best Theater. Gotta love those odd connections. (If there’s a Hollywood East today, it’s in Atlanta where over 40 movies and TV shows were being shot in Georgia last month.)

Related posts:
Analytical vs. Intuitive Writing “To tell you the truth, I try not to get analytical in the writing process.”—Tarantino
How to Write a Screenplay in One Day Basically Tarantino used a variation of this method in writing his acting scenes.
Tarantino & Truth
The Django—Silver Linings Connection
Screenwriting Quote #134 (Chayefsky)
Tarantino on Leonard

Scott W. Smith

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Robert Rodriguez & Green Screen Magic

“When you’re saying you want to be a filmmaker, you’re saying you want to communicate.”
Robert Rodriguez
Project Green Screen, Episode 1

Last Friday I went to a brief 9/11 memorial and ended up treating the day blog wise as a Holiday or weekend when I don’t normally post. But I did think back to where I was when I first heard news of the planes hitting the Twin Towers in New York,  Pennsylvania and D.C. I was in the middle of a production in a small studio with about 30 people present. (To date it’s the only day of production I’ve ever been on that was stopped and people sent home.)

So on Friday September 11, 2015, I was in a very similar small studio setting up for a green screen shoot. While having this cyc worked on earlier in the month I got to meet scenic artist/painter/foreman Jan Wittman who’s worked on the Florida productions Dolphin Tale (Clearwater), Magic City (Miami Beach), The Glades (Everglades). In the Tim Ferriss podcast with Rodriguez, Rodriguez stresses keeping a diary of people you meet because sometimes you end up working with them 5 or 10 years down the road.

IMG_1480

And since I’ve dedicated this month to be posts related to filmmaker Robert Rodriguez, it made sense today to look at how he has used green screen productions in some of his films. Sin City (2005) jumped to my mind because I believe it was all shot on a green screen.

“The best way I could describe the sound stage would be like working on a Playhouse 90 set […]There was a real dock, there was a real staircase, the cars were all real, the props were all real; other than that it all had to be imagined. It was all just a big green stage.”
Bruce Willis on working on Sin City

Here’s a short video that gives a behind the scenes look at how Rodriguez and his production team pulled off some of the green screen magic. (BTW—a quick Google search will show some pretty solid examples of you low-budget filmmakers using green screens backdrops and DSLR cameras. I bet at least one feature has been done in someones garage or basement using their own formula of green screen magic.)

Scott W. Smith
Bruce Willis woking on Sin City

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“Sometimes the only way across the river is by slipping on that first rock—that’s the way there.”
Producer/writer/director Robert Rodriguez (on failing and moving on)

Several years ago (in a pre-GPS time) I was on a video shoot in Cape Town, South Africa and was told by a local advice that I’ve often found helpful. He said that if I got lost while driving to “Follow the oil slick.” (That line of oil left by cars on a well-traveled road.)  And that advice has actually helped me in the States when I’ve gotten disoriented while driving in unfamiliar places. While that advice can help you avoid dead ends, it can also lead you to traffic jams (different kinds of dead ends) because you’re heading where everyone else is going. Here’s filmmaker  Robert Rodriguez to offer an alternative to having a career path of following the oil slick.

“It’s good not to follow the herd. Go the other way. If everyone is going that way, go this other way. Yeah, you’re going to stumble, but you’re also going to stumble upon an idea nobody came up with… It’s lined with gold over there because nobody goes that way—it hasn’t been picked clean yet. And you’re going to stumble upon something. You’re going to stumble a few times, but you’re going to consistently stumble upon an idea no one’s come up with by going that way. I’ve always been that way. If everyone is going that way—like they know what they’re doing with purpose—I don’t know what I’d doing. I’m just going to go this other way. At least it’s a new frontier.

“I always found success that way. I found success by just going the opposite way. If there’s too much competition over there—if everyone is trying to get through that one little door—you’re in the wrong place. I hate saying that. At film festivals people say, ‘How do we break in?’ Well, the problem is you’re at a film festival. Nothing wrong with film festivals, but everyone else here is trying to get through that same door, and they’re not all going to fit. You gotta think bigger than that. There’s less competition up there.

“I always wanted to get into TV but instead of going and competing with everyone else trying to get on 7PM on NBC on a Friday night—own a network. You know how many other people are trying to own a network? Nobody! You’re competing with no one. When [El Rey Network] was up for grabs there were 100 other applicants. Now, that sounds like a lot, but out of the whole country—a hundred? Really? How many actually had a solid business plan and vision for something that could be implemented? Probably five. So you’re competing with the top five instead of the top 20,000 trying to get on NBC Friday or Saturday night. “
Filmmaker Robert Rodriguez
Interview with Tim Ferriss

P.S. Speaking of driving…here are two tips that promote efficiency and safety. UPS truck drivers avoid making left turns and the USPS encourages its drivers to avoiding backing up.

Related posts:
‘Take a Risk’—Coppola
J.K. Rowlings on the Benefits of Failure
‘Don’t try and compete with Hollywood’—Ed Burns

Scott W. Smith

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