Archive for the ‘filmmaking’ Category

”I’m a fast typer but I’m slow at ideas. Most of my scripts have taken probably about seven years between writing and getting made.”
—Oscar winning screenwriter Taika Waititi (JoJo Rabbit)

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”The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”
—Mark Twain

This past weekend I went to a movie in a movie theater for the first time in over 14 months. I saw A Quiet Place II—and so did a lot of other people. The movie pulled in over $57 million to top a healthy Memorial Day weekend box office that signaled that the movie going experience still has a place in American culture.

Writer/director/actor John Krasinski—and all of Hollywood— breathed a sigh of relief. Hopefully, it was a positive turning point in a world previously shutdown by COVID-19.

And here are a couple of videos on Krasinski directing the original A Quiet Place that you may not have seen before.

Scott W. Smith is author of Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles (original co-screenwriters of A Quiet Place wrote the introduction to the book)

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“You like race horses? I love ‘em. Beautiful, expensive racehorses. You are looking at six hundred thousand on four hoofs . . . I bet even Russian Czars never paid that kind of dough for a single horse.”
Jack Woltz (John Marley) in The Godfather
Screenplay by Mario Puzo & Francis Ford Coppola

The first film director that I think I was ever aware of was Francis Ford Coppola. I was in middle school when other students were talking about a movie featuring a scene with a severed horse’s head. Being 11-12 years old I didn’t see The Godfather in theaters in its original release—but I learned the name Francis Ford Coppola.

Everything before in my world was about actors— as in, “It’s a Paul Newman film.” When I saw Apocalypse Now (1979) in theaters just before my senior year of high school I was mesmerized. I’d just never seen anything like it. Coppola got a lot of press back then for going over budget and possibly going out of his mind. (The doc Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse is required viewing for any filmmaker.)

Then I was in film school when The Outsiders, Rumble Fish, and The Cotton Club came out—and that’s when I also got caught up on The Rain People and The Conversation— cementing him as one of my favorite directors. Plus he’d written the Oscar-winning screenplay for Patton, was a producer on American Graffiti, and an executive producer on Koyaanisqatsi so he’s always been a giant in my book.

But here’s what the five-time Oscar winning producer/director/writer has to say about his career that’s spanned seven decades:

“My father [composer Carmine Coppola] was always struggling with his career. I was said to him, ‘Are you as great a composer as Beethoven or Mozart?’ He said, ‘Well, no, I’m not.’ I said, ‘Are you the worst?’ He said, ‘No, I’m certainly not the worst. There are many worst than me.’ So I said, ‘You’re somewhere between the worst and the best, and that’s a wonderful thing.’ That’s how I feel about myself. I don’t see myself as a big deal or a big shot. Even when you hear me talk about myself in relation to other filmmakers, I’m proud that I’m one of the group of filmmakers who are important in my generation. To me, it’s not vital to be considered one the five most important; I just want to be somewhere between the best and the worst. And that’s where I am, let’s face it. Compared to the greats, I’m a second rate film director, but I’m a first-rate, second rate director.”
— Producer/writer/director Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather I, II, III)
Haute Living, “Francis Ford Coppola: Protecting His Legacy During The Pandemic” by Laura Schreffler
October 15, 2020

Coppola may be the only person in the world that would call Francis Ford Coppola a second rate film director. But in a business that has no shortage of oversized egos, it’s is refreshing to hear someone so prolific speak so humbly. Same guy who bought a small vineyard in Napa Valley and hoped to make some wine for friends and family—and ended up building a wine empire with The Francis Ford Coppola Winery.

P.S. The first chapter of my book is on conflict, because conflict gets our attention. Horse’s head= conflict.

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

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Last year Matthew McConaughey starred in The Gentlemen looking every bit a movie star.

But last year—while making The Gentlemen— he was also Professor of Practice and teaching the class Script to Screen (RTF 367Q along with Scott Rice) at the University of Texas. Here’s a small part of the syllabus for the class held in the spring of ’19.

Here’s an idea for the UT Radio/Film/TV program: Why not create a MasterClass-like production of Matthew McConaughey leading a class and sell it for $99? It’d be a big seller and it would give some students/recent graduates a project to produce.

P.S. In the past week or so I’ve listened to McConaughey read/perform his book Greenlights and at least seven one-hour interviews that he’s done on various podcasts. I wish there was a Matthew McConaughey app that changed all audio books to McConaughey’s Texas drawl.

Related posts:
Matthew McConaughey’s Red Lights, ‘Greenlights,’ and Forced Winters
Matthew McConaughey Reaches the End of His Rope

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

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“I would never write about someone who was not at the end of his rope.”
—Novelist Stanley Elkin

Over the weekend I listened to more than four hours of interviews with actor Matthew McConaughey. (The Joe Rogan Experience, The Tim Ferris Show, and WTF with Marc Maron). McConaughey was promoting his new book Greenlights and I’ll admit that I dig half of what he says and the other half I don’t fully understand—thoughts that requires time to ponder a little more. It’s like some kind of mystic Texas wisdom somewhere between a bumper sticker and prophecy.

One of key things I locked onto was when McConaughey said romantic comedies were like casual Saturdays, but in dramas “there’s no roof, there’s no basement.” Romantic comedies are flip flops, shorts, and sunny days. We need those, especially after a stressful week. (Or during a stressful pandemic.)

The highs and lows are more compressed in romantic comedies, and the stakes are most often a version of will the guy get the girl, or the girl get the guy. But the stakes in the best dramas are dealing with the end of the line. A crushing life/career blow or possibly a life or death situation. (And without being melodramatic.)

“That’s what’s great about dramas— the basement of your lowest base levels of pain, and rage and everything, it’s as low as an actor [wants to go]. It’s up to me. It’s up to me and that character. I can as far deep as I want to go. Now the ceiling of joy, of life—the vitality of that—is as high as I want it to be.”
—Matthew McConaughey
WTP with Marc Maron podcast

You want to know what that low-low looks like? Here’s a scene from Dallas Buyers Club where McConaughey (as Ron Woodroof) is—to use Elkins’ phrase—at the end of his rope. In the first ten minutes of the film Woodroof learns he’s HIV positive and the doctors estimate he has 30 days to live. This is day 29.

Zero words of dialogue, one Oscar Award for Best Actor.

Dallas Buyer Club was written by Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack, and directed by Jean-Marc Vallée. It won three three Oscars total including Jared Leto’s supporting actor role.

P.S. Here’s McConaughey explaining to Joe Rogan what it took for him to physically prepare for the role in Dallas Buyers Club where he dropped 50 pounds off his normal weight.

Related post:
40 Days of Emotions (Reflects on 40 days of posts I wrote on emotions in movies.)
Storytelling Without Dialogue

Scott W. Smith is the author of Screenwriting Brass Knuckles

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“We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do what is right.”
—Martin Luther King Jr.
Letter from a Birmingham Jail

Here are rare words from a Hollywood producer that could be accompanied by a Hammond organ:

“It may sound pretentious, but what I believe I really teach are values. Film is the conduit, the medium—not the message. I try to imbue my students with a strong desire to search out meaningful themes on pertinent, life-affirming subjects, to be true to and trust their own values, and to harness and hone them within the commercial film and television world; to value their hearts as much as their brains; and to be aware of the larger world, which can only enhance their chosen field and more importantly, their own lives. There can be meaningful work outside of the commercial mainstream. I encourage my students to pursue their dreams and to not be afraid of trying to inspire, to lead, to exalt. I passionately believe in the transforming power of beauty and art. Life is more important but, happily, art and life can be conjoined. How you live your life is more important than what you do in life.”
—Producer Lawrence Turman (The Graduate)
So You Want to Be a Producer
Page 10

Can I get an amen?

Perhaps the only thing more surprising than that paragraph being written by a Hollywood producer, is that Turman thought it was important enough to be included in the first ten pages of his book. And (at least when the book was published in 2005) Turman says that the very first seminar/lecture for students at The Peter Stark Producing Program at USC focuses on ethics.

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

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StudioBinder dropped a video today (Learning to Light) with Oscar-winning cinematographer Roger Deakins (1917, Blade Runner 2049) that is outstanding. They’ve been cranking out great videos for years, so if you’re not familiar with them check out their YouTube channel (which to date has over 250 videos).

Below are three StudioBinder videos featuring Deakins.

P.S. And Roger Deakins also has a podcast now called Team Deakins. Maybe start with the episode featuring writer/director Joel Coen.

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

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I’ll continue my run of posts on Hamilton Monday. But today I want to post a couple videos that Apple just dropped featuring writer/director Damien Chazelle (La La Land, Whiplash).

A couple of years ago I did a presentation at a college and was asked what camera I was excited about most. I knew they were to hear me say one of the Arri or Red camera but I said the iPhone. I had just shot a multimedia project that included everything from a traditional video camera, a Nikon DSLR, a Go Pro, and an iPhone7+.

I loved the simplicity of shooting stills and videos on the fly with the iPhone. (Plus I was using the DJI OSMO stabilizer and the FilMic Pro app so I was pretty blown away by the imagine.

Judging from the looks in the room back in 2007, I had just made a filmmaking faux pas. But I feel vindicated by what’s transpired over the last three years. Chazelle’s videos are just the latest to get some attention. But one more reminder that it’s the filmmaker with vision that’s more important than the camera used.

Twenty years ago I saw these changes coming when I was doing a shoot in Pennsylvania. The year before I had done a traditional DigiBeta SP shoot hiring a three person crew out of Pittsburgh. But because of budget restrictions I was working as a one-man band on this shoot and had rented a Sony PD-150 for a couple hundred dollars. I remember reading the camera manuel on the flight, and trying to wrap my head around the menu. Most film and videos cameras up until then were pretty straight forward.

But the year before, The Blair Witch Project came out and helped change expectations. There were a whole bunch of indie films that were hitting around then shot on digital video cameras. One of my favorites (that I’ve written about several times over the years) is Pieces of April (2003). That film still holds up well today because of the writing and performances.

When the Panasonic DVX 100 camera out one of my cameraman friends couldn’t stop talking about the 24P film look he was getting out of it. In 2003, I purchased a DVX100 and slowing watched as others adopted a new way of doing things. A few years later the switch to HD footage took over. Around 2009/2010 DSLR cameras became an indie favorite, and in 2015 Sean Baker released Tangerine and really showed the world what could be done with an iPhone,

Inspired by what Baker did, Steven Soderbergh shot Unsane (2018) and High Flying Bird (2019) on an iPhone.. I’m not saying that the iPhone is the greatest camera in the world—and neither Baker or Soderbergh used one on their latest films—but it’s earned a seat at the table.

And film school should be the last place to snub their noses at iPhones. What better way to have students cranking out footage than using an iPhone? Make a one minute film day one. Fail, learn, and then make another film.

Scott W. Smith 







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Christopher Lockhart’s two hour interview with writer/director Christopher McQuarrie— that was originally shown on the private Facebook group The Inside Pitch— is now on YouTube.

Here are two filmmaking lessons from the Mission: Impossible writer/director McQuarrie (the second which he said took him 25 years to articulate):


“I didn’t understand lens on my first film, and I never had one discussion about lens on the film. I do not I do not know a single shot  in my first film—what lens it was shot on. I can guess it now because I’ve developed an eye for what lens are. Once you’ve determined who the audience is, the next most important conversation to have is about what is the lens? On my first film I never discussed the lens once. On Mission: Impossible Fallout, I had 3,000 setups in that movie. I had more setups than two Harry Potter movies combined. There was not one setup on that movie where the first conversation we had didn’t have the lens. We talked about the lens every single time. And what you need to think of when you think of lens. You can look up focal length. You can look up the rule of thirds. You can look up lighting. You can read all that stuff—all those books are so tedious and so boring, and I don’t understand them. And they’re really, really hard. Here’s what you need to do: when you look at a lens, look at the number on the focal length on the lens. Whether it’s an 18mm lens right up to, say, a 150 mm lens. The number on the lens signifies the amount of intimacy that that lens provides. And the more intimacy you want to put into the scene, or a line or a moment, the higher that number goes. And the more you want to stand back from the action the lower the number goes. . . understanding that principle when I was 20-years-old would have gotten me where I am a lot fast.”


“The other thing I want you to do is I want all of you to go out and take photographs. And I want you to do it with you phone. And what I want you to do when you’re taking the photograph is I want you to think about three things and only three things; lens, light, and location. And when you take a photograph and look at it and go ‘Why don’t I like this photograph?’ It is because one of three things, or all three of those things, are not in sync. And remember that you can almost always alter one of those three things. You can either change the light, you can change the location, or you can change the lens. On most iPhones now you can sort of pretend to change a lens. What we don’t understand when we’re first starting out, and what most people don’t tell us, they don’t make us aware of those things. They don’t make us aware of light. And so what happens is we look at the picture and we can’t understand why when we’re taking the picture that it doesn’t look like what our eye sees.. . . . So what you want to do is stop looking at the world through your eyes, and start looking at the world through the lens. If you don’t tell the lens what you want to see exactly, the lens will show you what it sees approximately  . . .  The first lesson in photography is just an awareness of those three things: lens, light, and location.”

Here’s an example of that from a photo I took last week with my iPhone. (Straight out of the camera with zero post production.)
Lens: I used the 2x (telephoto) on my iPhone 7 Plus to compress the tree in the foreground and the sunrise in the background.
Light: I knew the sunrise was at 6:41 so I had to be in position in my kayak before then. I also knew that the small sensor on the iPhone doesn’t actually handle the blinding sun well so I wanted to capture the sun just before it breaks the horizon. And because the camera want to expose for the tree in the foreground instead of the bright background, I had to use the slider to bring the exposure down. This would silhouette the tree which was the effect I wanted.
Location: Since I started kayaking four months ago I was familiar with the best places to shoot the sunrise. This cypress tree is my favorite location because I knew where I could position myself to get the best composition of the rising sun and the tree with Spanish moss to make it visually interesting. I was fortunate to get the clouds as they add extra visual interest. Perhaps the trickiest part was positioning myself on a kayak to be at the right place just before the sun shined through. There was less than 30 seconds to get the shot I wanted to get where the lens, light, and location came though.  The only thing that would have made it better was if I would of had Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) kayaking in the frame between the tree and the horizon. If Tom ever wants to make the two and a half hour trip from Clearwater to Orlando I’m up for a reshoot. (Seaplanes can land on the lake.) I’d even break out my Nikon for that.


Light, Lens, Location

Related posts:
I did go to film school so I’m not bored by all the technical aspects of cinematography. Here are some posts I’ve written about the subject over the years:
Wide, Normal, and Telephoto Lens Explained & Other Cinematography Resources 
The Five C’s of Cinematography
Cinematography for Directors
Cinematic Storytelling
Master Shots 
Film Directing Shot by Shot
Film Directing, Cinematic Motion
Oscar Winning Cinematography ( 1927-2016)
Cinematography (Overview)
Cinematographer Allen Daviau (1942—2020)
Cinematography Cheats #1 (Jerry Maguire)
‘It’s all about emotions’ Cinematographer Jamusz Kamunski
10 Cinematography Tips (Roger Deakins)

Scott W. Smith 

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“Prep is the movie you want to make. Production is the movie you think you’re making. And post is the movie you made.”
—Writer/director Christopher McQuarrie (Mission: Impossible—Fallout)
The Inside Pitch Facebook live interview with Christopher Lockhart

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