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Archive for the ‘filmmaking’ Category

In light of my last post (Waiting to Be Great) I thought I’d gather 10 quotes on low-budget filmmaking that I found scattered throughout this blog over the years. I hope two or three inspire you on your filmmaking journey:

“My token advice [to aspiring filmmakers] is do it—make your own stuff. Whether it’s short films or whatever you can do, my advice is make your own stuff. I’m a real believer in preparation meets opportunity. When this opportunity (to write Bridesmaids) came along I really had been at this a long time…I was really prepared when this came along. I’m just a firm believer in ‘just do it.’ If you build it, he will come.”
Annie Mumolo 

Oscar-nominated screenwriter of Bridesmaids
Script Mag Podcast with Jenna Milly

“My example was Robert Rodriguez. In an interview he’d said, ‘Take stock of what you have and work with that. I had a bus and I had a turtle, so I worked them both into the script!’ I thought, I can get my hands on a convenience store…So I went home, and got my job back at the convenience store, fully intending to shoot the flick there. And I started writing like mad. I guess the first draft of it was about 164 pages, pretty long, so I handed it over to my friend Vincent. I was like, ‘What do you think?’ And he was like, ‘It’s really good. I think you should do it.’”
Kevin Smith
My First Movie
Edited by Stephen Lowenstein
page 76-77

“We’re in the midst of a digital revolution that allows you to shoot, edit, and distribute your films for virtually nothing. You have the possibility of creating a You Tube sensation…When I talk to student filmmakers, I tell them ‘Read as much as possible. Write as much as possible. Go read (director) Robert Rodriguez’s book Rebel Without a Crew. Get the mistakes out. Write bad. Direct bad. Learn how to tell stories as you do. Find that short film that says exactly who you are and the stories you want to tell. Make it and submit it to the festival process and realize that you may be great, you may be terrible. You won’t find out until you try to get other people to judge your work.’”
Jason Reitman
Orlando Sentinel
December 2009

“The industry is moving toward the big and the small. I think studios will always want a few of the high-budget high-profile projects. And there will be more and more of the micro-budget stuff. Everything in between is getting cut back, the marketing costs and production costs are too high, they don’t make sense in a world of YouTube, video games, cable programming, etc. By all means, try to make your way to one of those big-budget projects. But also take time to write and produce on the micro-budget scale, because that’s where we’re all going to live in a few years.”
Oscar-nominated screenwriter Terry Rossio (Shrek)
Interview with John Robert Marlow (Published 12/2010

“What’s different now than when I started is you can make your own stuff now. It’s cheap enough that you can film your own movie, edit your own movie, and distribute your own movie if you want to. If it’s a big production you’re going to have to deal with compromise if you’re lucky, because you need a lot of resources. I always recommend keeping it small enough that you can maintain that control. Because even if you win the lottery and somebody buys your thing you’re not going to be happy with a lot of the compromises that are going to take place. It’s too painful. You have to counter balance that with how much heat it’s giving you or how much money you’re getting when you’re starting off and getting your foot in the door. But now I think more and more people are getting their foot in the door by doing really good work on a small scale. And then scaling up as people are looking for fresher voices.”
Producer/writer/director/Actor Jon Favreau (Iron Man, Chef)
The Q&A with Jeff Goldsmith

“At this moment, anyone who dreams of becoming a filmmaker is lucky indeed. For the first time in the history of cinema, filmmaking does not need to be a capitalist enterprise. You no longer need millions of dollars or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. You are no longer beholden to someone writing a check. It no longer needs to be a business. it can be your artistic expression…Now you can buy a consumer-model digital camera and the image looks great…You can even shoot a pretty good-looking movie on your smartphone and then edit it on a laptop…You can post your film on YouTube, Vimeo, and any number of digital platforms and slowly build your audience.”
Edward Burns
Independent Ed

“When I meet with recent film school graduates, I remind them that whatever happens next in the industry won’t be something my generation does. It will happen among the 20-somethings, the narrative entrepreneurs who figure out how to make the next great thing. Rather than seeking permission to work in the existing industry, they’ll make their own.”
Screenwriter John August
What’s wrong with the business

“I wanted this movement to be like the French New Wave, in which directors told different types of stories and used the language of cinema a little differently, with smaller cameras on real locations.
Gary Winick (1961-2011)
Tadpole director and founder of InDigEnt

“I think there’s a slight trend toward embracing new cinema, non-Hollywood blockbuster cinema. It’s not erupting, but because of the Internet, I think people have more of a chance to get buzz going on alternative cinema, so I think it’s hopeful out there.”
David Lynch

“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.”
Filmmaker Robert Rodriguez
Interview with Tim Ferriss

Related posts:
The 10 Film Commandments of Edward Burns
Shooting a Feature Film in 4 Days
Shooting a Feature Film in 1 Day
Shooting a Feature Film Over Dinner
Shooting a Feature Film in a Coffin

Scott W. Smith

 

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“You have so many opportunities now….We’re in a new frontier.”
Screenwriter Diablo Cody
Juno Has Another Baby (Emmy)

“You absolutely can make movies. The idea of having a career in the movie business is very, very different ”
Writer/director John Sayles (Lone Star, Sunshine State)

Diablo Cody poses backstage after winning an Oscar for best original screenplay for Juno at the 80th annual Academy Awards in Hollywood

Apparently it’s Mike Birbiglia week. After three days of pulling quotes from Mike Birbiglia’s interview with Tim Ferriss, I was surprised yesterday to hear Birbiglia interviewed by Craig Mazin on Scriptnotes.

What jumped out to me on his interview with Mazin was a brief exchange that hits at the the core of what I’ve been blogging about since 2008 after former University of Iowa grad Diablo Cody hit the screenwriting scene with Juno.

Mike Birbiglia: I’ve been traveling around the country with Liz Allen who coached our improv team in [Don’t Think Twice] and she does these free improv workshops at these [indie film] theaters, and I speak about how improv is related to my process as a director, writer and actor. And the thing I say is I would highly recommend people make something. If they’re living in Austin, or Iowa City, or Chicago or anywhere, and feel like you have something to say or a story to tell—we’re in an era where you can shoot something for nothing. And if you don’t believe me, go on Netflix and watch Tangerine [a film shot on a iphone that played at Sundance] and you’ll go, “Oh, that can be a movie? Holy cow. ”

Craig Mazin: You’re 100% right. But I wouldn’t suggest necessarily for people to start making things so that you can become famous and sell those things. Make them as part of your education. You don’t have to show them to anybody. If you make something of your own thing and hate it, you’ve learned so much.

MB:I did that in college. I shot a short film called Waiting to Be Great.

CM: —It’s still waiting?

MB: Yeah, it’s still waiting. It’s really not done. In the edit we kind of gave up on it at a certain point. We showed it to friends. It was just terrible. They said, “Nice try.”

So while you’re waiting to be great—just make something. It doesn’t even have to be good.  Have you ever seen Quentin Tarantino‘s first feature film? There’s a good chance you haven’t. I’m not talking about Reservoir Dogs, but the lesser known My Best Friend’s Birthday. A film that reportedly took four years to shoot and of which only 36 minutes survive due to a fire. (The first cut was 70 minutes and never released.)

I can’t recall Tarantino even talking about My Best Friend’s Birthday, but I imagine friends at some point told him, “Nice try.”And I’m pretty sure it played a key part of his education in becoming two-time Oscar-winning screenwriter Quentin Tarantino.

As you’re waiting to be great, just make something. It won’t be Juno, and it won’t be My Best Friend’s Birthday, but it will be a heck of an education. And it will be your vision that you helped create with a small team of people.

P.S.. And to round out yesterday’s post Bad Script, Good Pizza, Great Feedback you can add Frank Oz, Nicole Holofcener, Greta Gerwig and Mazin to the list of people Birbiglia had over to his place for script readings of Don’t Think Twice.

Note: Liz Allen coauthored the book Improvising Better: A Guide for the Working Improviser.

Related posts:
How to Shoot a Feature in 10 Days
Shooting a Feature Film in 4 Days
Shooting a Feature Film in 2 Days
Shooting a Feature Film in 1 Day
Shooting a Feature Film Over Dinner
The 10 Film Commandments of Edwards Burns
Writing for Low Budget Films
Filmmaking Quote #44 (John Sayles)
Filmmaker/Entrepreneur Robert Rodriguez
Start Small…But Start Somewhere

Diablo Cody related posts:
The Diablo Cody–Damien Chapelle Connection
Diablo Cody Day
The Juno-Iowa Connection
“Keep Your Head Down” “You will be a big deal for about ten seconds.”-Cody

Quentin Tarantino related posts:
Tarantino Gumbo Soup Film School
“When you have a big flop…”
“What I’m really here to do…”
“The way I write…”

Scott W. Smith

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While Frank Capra is best known today for making It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), his three Oscar awards came from three films he directed during The Great Depression; It Happened One Night (1934), Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), and You Can’t Take it with You (1938),

“From Mr. Deeds on my films were pretty much alike. I mean the same things kept cropping up. But they were not just escapist films. Love thy neighbor is a very deep-seated quality in the human race. It’s something that unless we can get more of that into our everyday lives we’re just going to go down the rat hole.”
Three-time Oscar-winning director Frank Capra (1897-1991)
1971 Interview

Since this is a political season in the United States, I’ll pick a clip to show from his 1939 classic Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (for which Brookfield, Missouri-born screenwriter Lewis R. Foster won an Oscar for writing). 

The origin of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington was the short story The Gentleman from Montana also written by Foster. According to Life magazine that short story was loosely based on the early career of Burton K. Wheeler, a Senator from Butte, Montana “who was attacked and falsely indicted when as a freshman Senator in the 1920’s, he fought corruption in the Presidential administration of Warren G. Harding.”

P.S. Many years ago I saw a billboard—for I think the TV show Melrose Place— that read “Loving thy neighbor is cool.” While provocative, I don’t think that was quite what Jesus had in mind when giving the great commandment to love God with all your heart, soul, and mind and, “you shall love your neighbor as you love yourself.”

Related Posts:
Filmmaking Quote #27 “I made mistakes in drama. I thought drama was when actors cried. But drama is when the audience cries.”—Capra
Bedford Falls vs. Pottersville
Earning Your Ending (Tip #76) Edward Burns on It’s a Wonderful Life
Writing from Theme
More Thoughts on Theme
It’s a Wonderful Prison 
(“Shawshank is basically It’s a Wonderful Life in a prison.”—Frank Darabont)

Related link:
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington article by Turner Classic Movies 

Scott W. Smith

 

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“One of the best films about American life that I have ever seen.”
Roger Ebert on Hoop Dreams

Tonight in Chicago Kartemquin Films has a public gala at the Harris Theater as part of its 50th anniversary celebration. Congratulations to the Kartemquin team and “Hoop Dreams” director Steve James for producing quality films and being a light upon the path.

The quote below is taken from a longer Q&A from The Criterion Collection:

TCC Question: Was there a particular reason you chose to make movies in Chicago, rather than New York or Los Angeles?

Steve James: When I was going to leave grad school, I was married—still am—and I floated the idea of maybe going to New York, and my wife just did not like that idea; it seemed too intimidating to go there. Los Angeles was a possibility, but I wasn’t particularly interested in L.A. I knew I wanted to do this Hoop Dreams idea, and I knew New York would be a good place, but I knew Chicago would also be a good place to do this story because of the tradition of basketball in this city. I liked the idea of coming to Chicago; I didn’t know much about Chicago, but a big part of my motivation for coming there was I needed to go some place where there was an industry and a way to make films.

Seeing Hoop Dreams at the Enzian Theater when it was first released in the mid-90s was one of the most moving experience I’ve eve had watching a movie. Steve James and his team spent 7 or 8 years making that documentary, so if you’ve never seen it I encourage you to see it and celebrate the work Kartemquin Films has been doing for 50 years.

Cheers—

Related posts:
Screenwriting da Chicago Way 
Friday Night Hoop Dreams

Scott W. Smith

 

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“I was really beginning to question if I’d ever catch my proverbial big break. I drifted away from film work and started applying for police jobs.”
Chris Sparling, Buried screenwriter

“(Chris Sparling) went directly from struggling indie director to successful Hollywood scribe when the screenplay for his horror thriller Buried was picked up, cast with a major up-and-coming star, and thrown before the cameras in just six months. And now it’s receiving its U.S. première at the Sundance Film Festival.
Melissa Silvstri
Filmmaker Magazine Winter 2010

You can’t get more minimalistic than Buried (2010). And while it was shot over 21 days with Rodrigo Cortés directing— it could have been shot in a 1 to 4 days. Granted it wouldn’t have been as good, but it could have been.

And from interviews back around the time Buried was purchased between three and four million, it sounded like an ultra low-budget film was what screenwriter Chris Sparling was originally after. (He had little success in distrubuting his short films and one low-budget indie film.)

“Stealing a page from Hitchcock’s playbook, I decided on writing a story that takes place entirely in one small location. In my case, this was inside an old, wooden coffin.”
Chris Sparling

Two of the most well-known films in Alfred Hitchcock’s playbook that embraced limitations were Rope and Lifeboat.

Sparling was asked in an interview with Carson Reeves at Script Shadow, “How many scripts had you written before Buried? Which script did you realize that maybe you were getting the hang of it?” Sparling said, “Before Buried, I think I’d written about nine or ten features and two TV specs. Truth be told, it didn’t start to click for me until about my seventh feature script.”

Ryan Reynolds plays a  U.S.  contract driver in Iraq who is attacked and placed in a coffin with a flashlight, a cell phone and a lighter and must find someone to pay a million dollar ransom or he’ll soon die. A primal survival story reminiscent of low-budget success stories of past years; The Blair Witch Project, Open Water and Paranormal Activity. 

If you’re interested in low-budget filmmaking with a contained story elements read the Buried screenplay and study he movie. A nice bookend to Buried is 127 Hours. 

Related posts:
Ticking Clock (#103)
Conflict-Conflict-Conflict

Scott W. Smith

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Shooting a Feature Film Over Dinner

“I wrote [My Dinner with Andre] with a friend of mine, Andre Gregory—which was also set in the rubble of a decaying city. I played a writer who struggled to find a way to survive.”
Writer/Actor Wally Shawn

Okay, this one is a cheat. While My Dinner with Andre (1982) is a film that takes place over a dinner conversation, it certainly wasn’t simply shot over dinner one night.

My last three posts were about shooting feature films in 4 days, 2 days, and even a 1 day, so My Dinner with Andre crossed my mind. I didn’t recall how the Louis Malle directed film was shot so I did some reading and discovered that the actors performed the dinner conversation script 17 times in front of an audience. It was heavily rehearsed.

So it could have been shot over dinner. Especially in the digital age. Much like David Fincher and his team did for the opening of Social Network. Many takes with many cameras. In the case of My Dinner with Andre, I read where it was shot single camera film style over 16 days.

I couldn’t find a trailer of My Dinner with Andre, but I found this clip. It’s a dialogue driven film and worth discovering/re-discovering for filmmaker interested in making a film that is intellectual in nature.

The Criterion Collection of the film appears full of extra interviews so I imagine a great resource for those of you looking to write and make a film with extreme limitations.

P.S. An interesting aside that I’m not 100% sure about is while I lived in Cedar Falls, Iowa I was told that back in the ’70s Wally Shawn lived in Cedar Falls for a time. I was told he played in the local symphony and dated a professor at the University of Iowa down in Iowa City. And that part of the original inspiration of My Dinner with Andre was either a downtown restaurant or the historic Black Hawk Hotel on Main Street. Again. I don’t know if any of that is true, but it made for good folklore.

Scott W. Smith

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“What appealed to me on a purely human level, was that this director respected everyone equally, regardless of their rank, status or role in the process.”
Cinematographer Tilman Büttner
(On Russian Ark director Alexander Sokurov)

The last two posts were about shooting a feature film in four days, making a feature film in two days, so why not follow that up with a film that was shot in one day?

It’s been done before. And not just as an exploitive low-budget horror film following the trap-a-group-of-friends-in-a-house model.  Roger Ebert said Russian Ark was, “one of the best-sustained ideas I have ever seen on the screen.”

Back in 2002, I was in Chicago on a production and got to see Russian Ark when it was first released. It was playing at the Music Box Theater (built in 1929) which made it all the more special.

It was shot at the Heritage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia by cinematographer Tilman Büttner in one 90 minute take using a Sony 900 on a Steadicam and an external hard drive.

It was directed by Alexander Sokurov who reportedly had a total cast and crew of 4,500 people to pull off the amazing feat. So there was a lot of behind the scene work to pull off the one day shoot. But if ever there was a true “director’s cut” it Russian Ark.

Hitchcock did a similar idea on Rope (1948) but was limited to ten minute takes due to the limitations of shooting on film. He was inventive to attempt to hide the edits. And if Russian Ark was shot today they would easily be able to seamlessly digital stitch scenes together (which is what they did on Birdman).

Granted you may not have a place as grand as the Heritage to shoot in—or 4,500 people helping you—but you can make a feature film in a day. But to what you can, with what you have, wherever you are. You know, be creative.

Let me know if you pull that off.

And for a little extra inspiration here’s the entire documentary In One Breath about the making of Russian Ark.

Scott W. Smith

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