Archive for the ‘filmmaking’ Category

“If your journey is anything like ours, at some point you’ll hit a wall. Festivals will reject your screenplay. Agencies will pass on representing you. Executives are going to tell you no. Then maybe one day, someone will say yes to your script.”
—Screenwriters Scott Beck and Bryan Woods (“A Quiet Place”)
From the forward to my book Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles

Currently is movie theaters is the movie 65 produced by Sam Raimi and starring Adam Driver. It was written and directed by Scott Beck and Bryan Woods. They have been on quite a roll since they were the original writers of A Quiet Place. When I saw 65 last week one of the trailers before the film was for The Boogeyman which will come out in June. It’s based on a Stephen King short story, and Beck and Woods are credited screenwriters (along with Mark Heyman).

Beck and Woods also recently released book Haunt: Screenplay and Filmmakers Diaries, and later this year they have plans to open a movie theater called The Last Picture Show in Davenport, Iowa— so 2023 is looking like a good year for Beck and Woods. Not even including other movie projects they are working on now. They are the poster boys for Screenwriting from Iowa…and other Unlikely Places.

Back in 2007, Beck and Woods were students at the University of Iowa and I had a video production company in Cedar Falls, Iowa our paths kinda of first crossed Saturday April 14, 2007 at the Cedar Rapids Independent Film Festival in Marion, Iowa. They had a long form student film showing in the afternoon called The Bride Wore Blood: A Contemporary Western, and a short film I made called Elephant Dreams played later that night.

A lot has happened in the 15 years since that film festival. I started this blog in 2008 and won a Upper Midwest Regional later that year. Beck and Woods graduated from Iowa and then cranked out screenplay after screenplay, made a few more films, and then had breakout success with A Quiet Place in 2018. I was told by a crew member we had both worked with in Iowa that Beck and Woods had read my blog and so I asked them to write the forward to the book that flowed out of the blog and they were kind enough to do so. While I can’t take any credit for their success, it is cool to look back and have a couple of touch points. And they should give any filmmaker out there a glimmer of hope that if you are from an unlikely place —with talent and hard work sometimes it all comes together in an amazing career.

My short film Elephant Dreams was about an artist from Bosnia who struggled to pay his rent, but he kept on painting until he ultimately found success. And I made up this Bosnian proverb, “Dream big dreams, dream elephant dreams.” Beck and Woods took it up a notch and dreamed tyrannosaurus dreams—and accomplished them!

“For the longest time growing up in Iowa, it felt like it was impossible to figure out. ‘How do you get into the career of your dreams?’ It took a lot of failure and stumbling. We had one foot in Iowa doing industrial videos and one foot in Los Angeles working on graphic design and anything to pay the rent. And in the meantime, writing scripts. We probably wrote five to six [spec] screenplays over a two-or three year period.”
—Scott Beck
Des Moines Register article by Jay Stahl

Cheers to all the elephant dreams out there. We all won’t find the off the chart success of Beck and Woods, but you can find great joy accomplishing antelope or even chipmunk-sized success. As the saying goes, “Start where you are, with what you have.” Then see where it takes you. There are storytellers and content creators needed all around the world.

Scott W. Smith is the author of Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles

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“You don’t learn bull riding except by getting on the bull.”
—David Mamet

Remember the good ole days when people used to ask, “Should I go to film school?” Welcome to 2023, where the Kane Parson version of that question is “Should I finish high school?”

“[T]he 17-year-old creator of The Backrooms YouTube series has been tapped by A24, Chernin Entertainment, 21 Laps Entertainment, and Atomic Monster to direct a feature-length adaptation of the series.
—Christian Ziko, IndieWire

Just six days ago I started what I said was going to be a string of YouTube-centered posts and wondered if I’d lose readers. But I really did sense this groundswell coming. A new way of finding talent and cutting deals. The Kane Pixels “about” page on the @kanepixels YouTube channel has April 12, 2015 as a joining date. (The same year that Casey Neistat began his daily tear on YouTube). That means Parson’s started the channel when he was 10-years-old. He has 2 million subscribers and his videos have received 172,622,065 views. That’s 172+ million views!

The video below is the first one of Parson’s I’ve seen but it’s hard not to see a connection to The Blair Witch Project. Not only does it state that it’s found footage, but the YouTube page states “September 23, 1996” which is just a few weeks from when the filmmakers of Blair Witch began shooting their film. There’s also a hint of A Quiet Place. The original screenwriters of A Quiet Place, Scott Beck and Bryan Woods, met in middle school and started making short films together. By high school, they put together their first feature and showed it to friends at a theater in Iowa.

The Backrooms alone has more than 44 million views—and attention from Hollywood. According Ziko’s article, “The Backrooms movie will be the latest film in the rapidly-growing niche of film adaptations of scary viral Internet stories.”

Playwright and screenwriter David Mamet has often said the only way to learning writing is to put your work in front of an audience and see if people respond. YouTube is just an updated version of finding an audience. Seeing what engages people.

I bet Scott Beck and Bryan Woods (who are credited screenwriters on the upcoming The Boogeyman, adapted from a Stephen King short story) are loving Parson’s directing deal. They also might be thinking, “Man, if we were 17-years-old today we could have been spared a 15-year journey.”

I don’t know where Parson’s lives—but I hope it’s in an unlikely place. That would keep the spirit of this blog. And I don’t know if he’ll graduate from high school this May or June, but I think it’s safe to say that he”lol be getting a film school education this summer when they’ve schedule to shoot. And instead of going into massive debt, he’s going to be getting paid. Win-win.

And another thing that I’ll unpack in the coming weeks is —with 2 million subscribers he’s already making money on YouTube. Even if his first film isn’t a success the press alone will elevate his channel and bring awareness to his work. More followers, more views, more money.

Once upon a time, moms and dads used to be worried that their kids wanted to go to film school. Moms and dads reading about Parson’s success are telling their creative high schoolers (and probably middle schoolers), “Do you need a new camera? Let me help you with that business plan and on your branding deals.” Puts a new spin on the phrase “Invest in your kids.”

Of course, so little is known about (NorCal) Kane Parson that this news could all be a snow job, and how George Lucas is choosing to spend his later years. Even better. I think it was producer Ted Hope who said there has to be a story behind your story.

P.S. A couple of the Blair Witch guys studied under film professor Ralph Clemente. I studied with Clemente down in Miami and he loved those conspiracy shows about the Bermuda Triangle. Those shows were popular in the ’70s, The Blair Witch Project changed the way that Hollywood viewed the internet in the late ’90s, the Paranormal Activity franchise starting in 2007 launching Oren Peli’s career. What’s old is new again.

Related posts:
The Perfect Ending (The day one of Clemente’s former students—David Nutter— won an Emmy for directing Game of Thrones)

Scott W. Smith is the author of Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles

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“I’m a self-taught filmmaker. I never went to film school. I never studied filmmaking. . . . I think Following was the peak of what I was able to do on my own or just with friends using our own resources.”
—Christopher Nolan

“I got my English degree and I couldn’t get into film school, and I just started making my own films on 16mm. And I think that was fortunate for me. I think I was better suited to just making films and leaning from that, than I would have been to learning in a more formal structure.” 
—Producer/writer/director Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight, Dunkirk)

On top of making his own low-budget films, he got a day job to pay the bills.

“I was working in the field of corporate videos. I was doing camera work and sound work for media training sessions. And I actually learned a lot doing that kind of camerawork. Going into an environment, using a couple of lights and setting up fast. You’d figure out how to do something that looked pretty good pretty quickly. That was very much the production methodology that we transferred to film.”
—Christopher Nolan 

In one interview he said he started making 8mm films when he was 7 year old. That’s more than 20 years before his breakout success with Memento in 2000. Just making making and honing his filmmaking craft—despite not getting into film school. A couple years before Memento he finished the 69-minute film Following. It cost $6,000 (mostly for film stock and developing) and took a year to make because the unpaid cast and crew could only shoot on Saturdays because of their other jobs. And they couldn’t even shoot every Saturday because he didn’t have enough money for film.

Step by step.

Here’s the full film.

Related posts:
Lulu Wang’s Day Job Before ‘The Farwell’ (Producing videos for lawyers to be used in legal cases. At the end of that post is also a quote from writer/director Sean Baker who talks about the benefit he got working on corporate and wedding videos after NYU film school.)

Scott W. Smith is the author of Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles

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”I don’t know of a more noble, a bigger deal as a filmmaker than to be a YouTube filmmaker.”
—Casey Neistat

”[MrBeast’s] giving a lot of kids a new path to take, to teach these young kids on how to be entrepreneurial, not just to get a lot of views or become famous.”
—Josh Richards, 19-year-old TikTok creator
2021 NY Times article by Taylor Lorenz

This isn’t really a fair competition since Tom Cruise/Maverick is a real person/movie character and Casey Neistat/MrBeast are a real person/real person—YouTube persona, but I think I can make a point here (especially to young people) about where we’ve been and where we’re heading.

As of today (June 9, 2022), Top Gun: Maverick has made over $300 million at the domestic box office and is pushing $600 globally. And it’s only been out two weeks today. It’s on track to be the most financially successful movie of Cruise’s long and distingushed career. When he turns 60 next month he’s got to be grateful of the run he’s had.

But, I do wonder if he were 19 years old and starting out today, would Cruise head to Hollywood to build his empire or would he head to YouTube? This is where Neistat and MrBeast come in. A 19 year old today would have been born in 2003. Two years after 911, and the same year when Neistat’s first viral video (iPod’s Dirty Secret,) gained attention. They were 2 when YouTube officially launched in 2005. And 11 or 12 when Neistat launch his YouTube channel in 2015. Casey went on a two year daily tear and racking up as many as 77 million views per video on his channel. It made him a very wealthy man, and he earned the nickname the Vlogfather.

Are you with me so far? Here’s the crazy thing,

In 2015, MrBeast (Jimmy Donaldson) hadn’t even graduated from high school. We’re only talking seven years ago! But what MrBeast had done was obsess with his friends about YouTube and what makes videos go viral. And with the threat of his mom ready to kick him out of the house unless he went to college or got a job, Donaldson cracked the code and MrBeast was born. His first branding deal in 2017 was for $10,000. At the age of 23 he is said to now have built a $54 million empire as a content creator. (Or was that just his salary last year? Hard to keep up with these numbers.) His main YouTube channel has 96.7 million subscribers. His studio in Greenville, NC, is one of the largest on the east coast. When Cruise was 24 Top Gun hadn’t hit theaters yet, and MrBeast owns a dang production studio and and is employing I don’t even know how many producers, directors, cameramen, editors, designers, etc., etc.

This is one more perspective, Mr.Beast/Donaldson’s philanthropic out reach has given away more money than most actors and filmmakers will make in their lifetime. He’s the most popular YouTuber in the U.S. (maybe the world) and many of you are thinking—“I’ve never even heard of this guy.” There have been major shifts in production over the years—sync sound in the 20s/30s, TV in the 50s, cable in the 70s/80s, the internet in the 90s/00s—but this shift toward streaming/YouTube/social media in 10s/20s is making this the greatest era in history to be a content creator—and especially for those outside of New York and LA. (MrBeast is based in Raleigh, North Carolina.)

This may be a sweeping generalization, but I think the rock stars of this young generation are the content creators. Young people want to be YouTubers more than they want to be the next Mick Jagger, Meryl Streep, or Spike Lee. And here’s the good news for them—that YouTuber dream is much more attainable. I didn’t say easy, I said obtainable. Lilly Singh talks about working 13 hour days creating content, Neistat when he was doing his daily vlog had a 6 AM to midnight (18 hours) schedule. And MrBreast said forget the 10,000 hour rule, he estimates he has already put 30,000-40,000 hours into his career. (He started obsessing about YouTube before he was a teenager.)

And to that point, this week I finished Casey Neistat’s Filmmaking and Storytelling course. There were 17 people in my group and only four people completed their two films within the 30 day period. Some people didn’t even start the first one. I made a five minute short video in 10 days that I think I worked on harder than any production I’ve worked on in the last 10 days. (I’ll share it later when I can write a post about the experience.) But I am reminded of the book by the legendary graphic designer Milton Glaser—“Art is Work.”

There is a sea of change coming and I will write more about that this month.

But one thing remains the same, Ray Ban Wayfarer sunglasses still look as cool today as they did in the 1950s and musicians and actors started wearing them.

Scott W. Smith is the author of Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles

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”Just do it. Make something. Put it out there and if it is good, it will be noticed.”
—Director Joseph Kosinski

Director Joseph Kosinski is going to remember June 2022 very fondly. He directed Top Gun: Maverick which has only been in theaters for a week and it’s already made over $300 million. And in a couple of weeks, his Spiderhead comes out on Netflix. How did go from growing up in Marshalltown, Iowa to directing a Tom Cruise blockbuster movie? I’m glad you ask.

According to this Time-Republican article, he moved to Mashalltown at age 5 and graduated from Marshalltown in 1992. He did his undergraduate work at Stanford (mechanical engineering) and master’s work at Columbia (architecture). Smart cookie for sure, but where did film come into the picture?

His skills in computer graphics opened the door to working on commercials and short films. And he started writing a short story called Oblivion —that grew into the 2013 film Oblivion starring Tom Cruise.

“I have come to appreciate the freedom I had while growing up in Marshalltown, being able to ride my bicycle around and going to movies at the Orpheum. Having lived in Manhattan for 10 years and now the Los Angeles area, the freedom was special.”
—Joseph Kosinski
Hollywood director comes home by Mike Donahey

Related posts:
Marshalltown #56 (Marshalltown) Photo of Orpheum where Kosinski saw Raiders of the Lost Ark as a kid in 1981.
Once Upon a Time… in Iowa (Jean Seberg)

Tron: Legacy (Part 1)

Scott W. Smith is the author of Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles

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”I think I did pretty well, considering I started out with nothing but a bunch of blank paper.”
—Steve Martin

”Embrace your environment and try to seek out a handful of ideas. . . You don’t need to live in New York for that to work. Find interestingness in your own life ”
—Casey Neistat

The above Casey Neistat quote reminds me of the time when I lived in Cedar Falls, Iowa and drove by a grain silo in the winter with a small group of people ice climbing up it. I thought it was interesting, but I didn’t pull over and spontaneously start shooting footage. I missed a golden opportunity at spontaneous filmmaking. At least someone did a short doc on the unusual activity. Interestingness 101.

This post has a little bit of a back to the future aspect to it. After all, silent film great Charlie Chaplin was known in his silent film days for getting an idea and going outside that day with some actors and shooting footage for a short film. That’s a long way from Titanic where James Cameron (and his crew of hundreds) spending years planning, shooting, and editing that hit movie.

But have you ever challenged yourself to create something in a week or two?

When last was started, I hadn’t even begun the Casey Neistat 30-day filmmaking and storytelling online class, and now I feel like I’ve wrapped my head around spontaneous filmmaking. (I was very fortunate to find an interesting character.) Here’s how last week went down.

Monday, May 9:

I watched Casey’s first message about how he just walks out onto the NYC streets looking for ideas to explore. (“Whenever you step outside here, you’re just kind of hit in the face with stories. And I think that’s true for wherever you call home.”) He’s looking for potential stories that will be compelling and emotional. It could be the noise of a chop saw and how the incessant noise of the city makes it difficult to get clean audio for his video, or wondering what it’s like to buy a counterfeit hand bag in Chinatown. It took me about 20 minutes to come up with four ideas to explore for my first project;  Brutalist architecture, my dog, my old Panasonic HVX 200, and kayaking. I decided on kayaking because it seemed like the most contained topic. There wasn’t a story yet, but I figured I’d at least get some good visuals. I knew that beauty shots alone wouldn’t be interesting, but it was a start. 

Lesson 1: Just start. I’m reminded of the Goethe quote, “In action, there is power, grace, and magic.” Or the more well known Nike ad campaign—”Just Do It.”

Tuesday May 10: 

Woke up at 5 A.M. so I could shoot my kayak in the water at sunrise. (That wasn’t the plan, but my puppy was my alarm clock.) Because the iPhone doesn’t handle dynamic range well, I knew the actual sunset would not be the best shot because the sun blows out. My best shot was about 30 minutes before sunrise at a boat ramp. It’s when the sky is the most dramatic as it’s transitioning from darkness to light. I finally was in the water around 6:45 and about 10 minutes into my trip I came up on a guy named Blake fishing on a dock, and he changed the direction of my entire concept. He’s a Full Sail University student originally from Louisiana and knew a thing or two about alligators. He instantly became my main character, and alligators became my focus. I interviewed him with my iPhone while sitting in my kayak as he stood on a dock where I found him fishing bathed in the early morning light. (He was the only person around the lake the morning I went out.)

Lesson 2: Don’t pass up the obvious. I paddled by Blake at first, but then an imaginary, miniature Casey Neistat popped up on my shoulder and told me, “Ahhh, you might want to go back and interview that guy.” Glad I did or my concept would be dead in the water. 

Wed—Saturday May 11-14

I shot more beauty footage around the lake, and looked for gators. 

Lesson 3: The little Joby GorilliaPod Magnetic tripod comes in very handy when shooting with an iPhone 13 ProMax from a kayak. Holding any kind of camera on kayak has a built in threat of dropping your camera in the water, but the Joby clamp and magnetic thingy gave me a measure of security.

Sunday May 15

Before going out to shoot a sunset Saturday night, my wife said to be careful because it was gator mating season. I’d forgotten that fact. On Sunday, it hit me that I could make that my hook to the story. So I recorded myself on-camera saying, “Is it dangerous to kayak in Florida during gator mating season? Let’s find out.”

Lesson 4: Because you’re continually developing your idea, your brain is like a pinball machine. You just have to recognize when you hit the sweet spot. I needed something that I could hook a viewer within the first 10-12 seconds. The promise of a premise is the way people talk about it in developing features and TV shows.

I’m currently listening to the Dave Itzkoff audio book Robin on comedian/actor Robin Williams who had off the chart talent as a spontaneous performer. But Williams admittedly could not translate that skill into a traditional style of writing a script.

“To be funny in print is a very hard thing for me to do. I can do it in performing, because it’s straight up—kaboom! But when I sit down at the typewriter I feel like an autistic child.”
—Robin Williams

So if you have ideas you want to explore, but have trouble sitting down and writing a story, explore some more spontaneous ways to create. Casey Neistat and Robin Williams are examples of people who work/worked best spontaneously on the fly.

Some screenwriters dictate to someone writing down their ideas, and some people audio record themselves. There’s no one size fits all way to create. You don’t have to just sit (or stand) at a computer. In fact, you don’t even need to have a computer. Quentin Tarantino, Spike Lee, and Woody Allen hand wrote some of their most beloved and award-winning screenplays. Judd Apatow wrote a screenplay on his phone during downtime from meetings and working on another film. While some resort to using notes on their phone or even emailing themselves ideas, there are several screenwriting apps for you phone or iPad/tablet. I bet there is someone in the world right now that is working on a feature film just spontaneously shooting actors with a smartphone.

The history of this blog owes a debt to spontaneity. Especially, when I was blogging daily I just had to jump in the water and start swimming. Even today it might just be a quote or something that serves as a nub for me to pick at until something more fully formed emerges.

Here are a couple of frames that are quick glance the video I shot last week. While I could have shot this with an Alexa camera and had a boom operator and sound team on a pontoon boat nearby, it wouldn’t fit my zero budget spontaneous experiment.

Now that I think about it, this style of just jumping into a story before it’s fully formed reminds me of the five years I participated in the 48 Hour Film project where you make a short film from beginning to end in 48 hours. I enjoyed that process. And the fringe benefit was I got to work with a great team of people all who volunteered their time, and each each with one some kind of award.

P.S. Much of the traveling I’ve done over the years I would classify as planned spontaneity. It’s a phrase I started using about 20 years ago when I backpacked across Europe with my wife. I had an overall idea of the countries we’d hit, but no real plan what days we’d be where, so we didn’t book any hotels or rooms. My wife (and others) thought I was crazy. But we did have a Rick Steves travel book, so we had a general idea when we’d go next. It was easily one of the best trips of my life. But buried within the spontaneity was years (decades?) of unofficial planning and dreaming to that the trip. Those that were close to Robin Williams said that what often came out as 100% spontinaity was stuff he had be thinking about a while. I’ve been wanting to do a kayaking story for about two years, so while it was a spontaneous decision last week—it was in the back of my head for a while.

Related posts:
Spontaneous Filmmaking with Casey Neistat

Scott W. Smith is the author of Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles

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”Seek out interestingness.”
—Casey Neistat

It’s not like Casey Neistat and I are hanging making films together, but yesterday I started his online filmmaking and storytelling class. It’s not a sponsored thing either. Just taking it to pick up how he does what he does so well. Part of his secret sauce is spontaneous filmmaking. Just walking outside and seeing what he finds interesting. Or in the case of the above airplane video—find what inside is interesting. That video shot mainly in an airplane seat has 77 million views to date, so there’s quite a few people who find what he does quite interesting.

But it doesn‘t have to be an expensive seat or an exotic location. He first got wide recognition for doing a video complaining about getting a ticket in NYC for not riding in the bike lane. His idea of spontaneous filmmaking is to just go hunt for a basic idea around you and see what unfolds. No overthinking it. No meetings to kill it. (Most of the productions I’ve worked on over the years are fairly well planned out. After a discouraging meeting once, an art director friend quipped, ””How many meetings does it take to kill a good idea?”) So for the first assignment for his class, I looked around me and came up with four ideas from my home, work, and commute. Please help me decide which would make the best spontaneous video.  

1)    Brutalist architecture—think concrete:

Orlando, Florida is not known for its architecture (beyond Cinderella Castle at Walt Disney World). A while back I worked on an educational video of a college professor lecturing on Brutalism and it opened my eyes to an architectural style I didn’t understand. In fact, a building considered by some the ugliest in town (the Orlando Public Library) is an example of Brutalist architecture. I think there’s something to explore there since Brutalist buildings are scattered around the world.

2)    Sugar our puppy:
Getting a 9-year-old rescue dog is a setup for heartbreak. But Ginger made it thankfully to 14 and died in 2021. A little over a year later we made a spontaneous decision to get a puppy and it’s been wild two months. Puppies grow up quick so I’ve already shot a lot of videos and stills of her I could use.

3)    My old camera:
Casey stresses looking for ideas close by, and as I watched him talk I literally glanced to my left and two feet away was a box for an old Panasonic HVX 200 that I think I bought new 14 or 15 years ago. Loved that camera. I haven’t shot anything with it in years, but can’t quite come to terms with selling it (it’s worth maybe $200). Again, part of the concept of spontaneous filmmaking is not starting with a well formed three act structure. You just have a catalyst to get started. That camera helped pay a lot of bills for a few years. I don’t know what the ending would be, but the start of that video could just be memories of shooting with that camera.

4)  Kayaking through COVID:
I’d wanted to buy a kayak for years (even used a demo once), but didn’t think I’d have enough time to ever really use it. There are a lot of lakes and waterways in Florida, but time is a more limited resource. But I bought one the second month of the lockdown, and while working at home and a hybrid model for the last two years has provided me the opportunity to kayak over 200 hours in the last two years. This lake photo was taken this morning just after sunrise. Then it was off to the studio to edit. The best of both world.

So which one of these concepts would be more interesting to you to watch?

P.S. Here’s a trailer for the class. I’ll let you know what I think of it when I’m done. But I’m optimistic out of the gate. When I was much younger, I once asked for a refund after the first day of a three day production workshop I took. (As was the policy.) I felt like they covered ground I already knew. An older and wiser production friend told me, “Scott, you don’t go to workshops to learn everything—you go to learn a handful of things you didn’t know so that you can do what you do better.” That was (and still is) great advice. After that, every workshop or seminar I’ve gone to (or video watched) is an opportunity to pick up a few things. And, now that I think about it, that’s probably part of the foundation of this blog. Sometimes I’ll listen to an hour or two podcast interview just looking for that one fresh and interesting thing I can hold on to.

Here’s an example from just my first day in the class. Since Casey doesn’t start with a fully formed idea, while he shooting and walking around his mind is churning with not only the shot he needs for Act 1, but what ideas are there for Acts 2 & 3. Because even though it starts out loosely constructed doesn’t mean he plans on just letting the idea meander. He wants to stick the landing.

”The ending is always the hardest part of any story told. The ending has to be a bow that ties the whole thing together. . . .Without an ending you don’t have a story.”
—Casey Neistat

While that is well said, it’s not exactly a revelation. But what is a revelation is Casey’s success was built on starting videos without even knowing where he was heading. That’s pretty hard to pull off if you have a crew and a budget. But he could pull it off flying solo or with a friend or two. If you’re unfamiliar with Casey check out his film for Nike from 2012 that started without a plan other than basically let’s fly around the world until the budget runs out.

Related posts:

Work hard and be brave —Casey Neistat

Filmmaking is a Sport—Casey Neistat

Do What You Can’t—Casey Neistat

Scott W. Smith is the author of Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles

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”Film will only become an art when its materials are as inexpensive as pencil and paper.
—Jean Cocteau

In regard to the above quote, the iPhone 13 Pro isn’t as cheap as a pencil and paper—but it is cheaper than the supplies I’ve seen in some art studios. Oscar-winning director Steven Soderbergh shot High Flying Bird a few years ago on an iPhone 8, so these cameras should be taken seriously. (Granted he had a $2 million budget, but it’s a film to study to see how he used the iPhone to his advantage. Tangerine was made for a lot less and with an even older iPhone. ) The 13 Pro Max is a huge step-up from previous iPhones because it can shoot 4k in ProRes, has a cinematic mode for select focus, and three lens selections.

Here’s a couple videos that show you the potential of the newest iPhone featuring the direction of Oscar-winning director Kathryn Bigelow and cinematographer Greig Fraser (who just won an Oscar for his cinematography on Dune: Part One). I hope there are film schools out there (even high schools) that are using the latest iPhone to make feature films this year. Producer Ted Hope said that if he was running a film school he’d require everyone to make a $1,000 feature because the lessons learned would be tremendous. Of course, you don’t even need to go to film school to make a $1,000 feature. You just need a $1,000.

I think in May, I’ll start exploring that concept some more.

P.S. High Flying Bird can been seen on Netflix.

These are the kind of accessories being made for the iPhone today.

Scott W. Smith is the author of Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles

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”I don’t know what lens do—don’t know what an f-stop is.”
—Producer/director/writer Judd Apatow


From the above quote by Judd Apatow, you can gather that not every filmmaker is a Robert Rodriguez or a Steven Soderbergh who can not only produce, direct, and write—but also shoot and edit. Especially if you don’t have the comedic chops of Apatow, understanding lens and f-stops is an important step on your filmmaking and content creation journey. And it’s easier to learn the technical aspects at 15 or 20 years old verses when you’re 30 or 40 years old. (If for no other reasons that you have more time and less demands when you’re younger.)

Being able to shoot their own footage was an asset to writer/director Sean Baker (The Florida Project) and writer/director Lulu Wang (The Farewell) before their feature film careers took off. Baker shot EPK (electronic press kits) and Wang shot legal/medical interviews to pay the bills. Even if you never shoot your own stuff, there is a benefit to understanding the basics of cinematography. As a symphony conductor once told me, “A conductor doesn’t need to know how to play every instrument, but he [or she] needs to know what every instrument does.”

There are so many ways to learn about cinematography online these days. (And you really can do wonders with an iPhone.) Here’s a recent video from Sareesh Sudhakaran at the Wolfcrow YouTube channel that is informative on apertures.

I’ll add other videos to this post as I think will be helpful without overwhelming you. But here are four excellent videos produced by StudioBinder that cover overviews of aperture, ISO, shutter speed, and lighting.

But if you wanted to spend a little money to do a visual deep dive check out Shotdeck.

Related post: Lens, Light, Location (The Lesson That Took Took Chris McQuarrie 25 Years to Articulate)

Scott W. Smith is the author of Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles

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