Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘filmmaking’ Category

From Scotland to Sundance

“[John Maclean] told me the idea, showed me the script, and then told me he wanted to shoot it on a mobile phone. I thought, ‘Hm, this guy, he’s an original.’ And so that experience went well, and then it was like okay, let’s shoot another short with the aim of getting financing for a feature film.”
Actor Michael Fassbender (X-Men, Inglourious Basterds) on making the short film Man on a Motorcycle (2009)

“I studied Drawing and Painting at Edinburgh Art School and The Royal College of Art in London. After graduating I formed The Beta Band with a couple of friends. I made many of the music videos, which were very DIY and tried to be short films in style and a great training ground for film making with little to no budget.”
Writer/director John Maclean
Indiewire/Meet the 2015 Sundance Filmmakers

Since my last post (Bob Dylan & Your Filmmaking Career) was a mixture of music, filmmaking, and being from places far outside the Hollywood system I thought I’d point out a great example of someone from Scotland who’s making a great go of it recently.

Scottish filmmaker John Maclean’s IMDB credits actually begin in 2000 for a song on the soundtrack of the well regarded film High Fidelity.  He made some videos with a couple of bands he was in through the 2000s (what he calls his film school), and in 2008/09 he wrote and directed a short film called Man on a Motorcycle using a smartphone to shoot with four actors. (One of those actors happened to be Michael Fassbender who gave Maclean one day of shooting.)

That went well enough that Maclean and Fassbender made a second short film, Pitch Black Heist, which won a BAFTA award.

That led to writing and directing his first feature film Slow West (again with Fassbender) which  was the Grand Jury World Cinema Prize winner at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival. Back when I started this blog, Screenwriting from Iowa…and Other Unlikely Places, in ’08 who would have bet that there would be a filmmaker from Scotland that year who would make his first short film using a cell phone and just six years later end up a Sundance winner? (And to make those odds worse that that film would be a historical western set in Colorado and shot in New Zealand)

If you want to get a glimpse what shaped Maclean into a filmmaker beyond studying drawing and painting in college and being in bands for a decade here’s the answer when asked what filmmakers inspired him :

“The work of Carl Theodor Dreyer, Bresson, Brunuel, Carpenter, Allen , Spielberg, Scorsese, Bergman, Hughes, Kurosawa, Denis, Herzog, Wilder, Altman, Cassavetes, Hitchcock, Lynch , Polanski, Leone, Tarkovsky, Lumet.”

P.S. Since Maclean mentioned Bresson it trigger a memory that I think it was either an interview with screenwriter Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver) or in his book Transcendental Style in Film where he mentioned watching Bresson’s Diary of a Country Priest once a year. It’s not only where you’re from that gives you a unique voice, but the kinds of movies you ingest.

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

“Try to disconnect the idea of cinema with the idea of making a living and money.”
Francis Ford Coppola 
Who said art has to cost money? 

“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

As I write this post both Mad Max: Fury Road and Avengers: Age of Ulton are currently in theaters so why have I spent two weeks writing posts about indie filmmaker Edward Burns? It’s because my focus has always been on the outsider. To use a well traveled line, it’s about those who’ve “taken the road less traveled.”

And if you succeed that road may take you to the larger production hubs of Los Angeles or New York City, but I’m really interested inspiring people anywhere in the world in telling their stories. As I’ve said before, that could be a filmmaker in West Des Moines, West Africa or someone just east of the Hollywood sign in West Covina.

I love reading blogs & books, and listening to podcasts, from those on the inside of Hollywood. There are many great insights from those people and over the years I’ve tried to find the most helpful ones and pass them on here.

If you dream of winning the spec script lottery by writing one of the under 200 spec scripts that will be sold in Hollywood this year—great. Dream of being a LA screenwriter on assignment—go for it. There are many talented writers doing that very thing and making a very good living. (Though fewer than you probably think.)

But there is a tertium quid—just to drop what little Latin I know.  A third option if you will. And that’s where Edward Burns comes in to point the way for the outsiders out there—wherever you live. (Burns launched his filmmaking career by shooting parts of his first feature in parents house on Long Island—and he relaunched his career my making three micro budget features. )

“You can learn how to make movies and tell stories by making movies and telling stories. Please don’t listen to the naysayers who complain that we have a glut of movies, that there are too many people making movies and telling stories. Has anyone ever complained about too many poems, songs, or paintings? Because of these technological advances, you are now no different from the kids who keep writing songs on their guitars until they figure out what makes a good song, or the painters who keep throwing colors against a canvas until they realize their vision. Think about that kid from Hibbing, Minnesota, who picked up an acoustic guitar and changed the way we look at the world. Do you think this songs could have been written if Bob Dylan needed to please a money man? Not very likely. That could be you and your camera.”
Writer/director/actor Edward Burns
Independent Ed; Inside a Career of Big Dreams. Little Movies, and the Twelve Best Days of My Life
page 220

Burns’ TV program Public Morals is scheduled to debut Aug 25 on TNT. The executive producer is Steven Spielberg (can’t get much more inside Hollywood than that) and has been a dream project that Burns has had for at least 20 years. It takes a little time sometimes—even if your first film cleans up at Sundance as Burns did with The Brothers McMullen back in 1995.

P.S. I’m not the biggest gear head out there but when you have cameras like the Blackmagic URSA Mini camera hitting the market—a 4K camera for under $3k—it’s kind of astounding to think where production has come in just the last 10 years. If you don’t shoot or edit yourself, I’m sure with a little creativity you can meet some shooters and editors in your area to help get your short films, indie features, experimental films, and long and short form documentaries made. And remember what Austin-based filmmaker Robert Rodriguez said in a post about The Total Filmmaker;  “If you are technical and creative you will be unstoppable.”

Related Posts:

How to Shoot a Film in Ten Days
Off Screen Quote #22 (Bob Dylan)
‘Shelter from the Storm’ (Dylan)
Screenwriting from Duluth
The Outsider Advantage
The 10 Minute Film School
The 10 Film Commandments of Edward Burns
“Don’t try and compete with Hollywood.”—Ed Burns
Screenwriting & the Little Fat Girl in Ohio (2.0)
A New Kind of Filmmaker   “One of the benefits of being outside of Hollywood…”
Revisiting ‘Highway 61 Revisited’ (2.0) Which includes this passage:

Dylan spent most of his youth in the mining town of Hibbing in northern Minnesota. A group of close-knit Jewish people from Eastern Europe drawn to opportunities in the area known as the Mesabi Iron Range. (See David Mamet’s connection to storytelling and Eastern European Jews.) The ore from the area once made the small town of Hibbing very wealthy. But by the time Dylan (then known as Robert /Bobby Zimmerman) was a teenager in the 1950s the mining town’s heyday was over. But it was fertile ground to listen to blues and country on the radio and learn to play the piano and guitar. Dylan graduated from Hibbing High School in 1959.

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

Films That Inspired Edward Burns

“I decided to go back and look at movies that had turned me on to filmmaking back in film school. I wanted to revisit the films and stories that inspired my dreams in the first place. Here’s a few: Antonini’s L’Avventura, De Sica’s Terminal Station [Also known as  Indiscretion of an American Wife], Truffaut’s The Man Who Loved Women, Rohmer’s My Night at Maud’s, Godard’s Contempt, Bergman’s Smiles of a Summer Night, Scorsese’s Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, Cassavette’s Husbands, Spike Lee’s She’s Gotta Have It, and a lot of Woody [Allen].

“I had forgotten what small and personal films these giants had made. These were intimate character studies told with humor, honesty, compassion, and pathos. I was looking for inspiration and I found it. I was recommitted to telling smaller stories and making personal films. Fortunately for me, and any of you who want to make your own movies, these types of films don’t require a big budget. Right now, with the camera available to us, the technology, the fact that everything is better, easier, and cheaper today than it was fifteen years ago, the resources are available for virtually any budding filmmaker to go out and make a movie.”
Filmmaker Edward Burns
Independent Ed: Inside a Career of Big Dreams, Little Movies, and the Twelve Best Days of My Life

Below are clips, trailers, and related interviews to the movies that Burns referenced—as well as the 2010 movie Burns made (Nice Guy Johnny) to return to his early filmmaking roots :

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

“For your first screenplay, what I’m going to ask all of you is to think about your favorite films and what genre they are. Whatever that genre is, I want you to write that kind of script. If you don’t like murder mysteries, don’t write murder mysteries.”
Robert McKee
(Words that inspired filmmaker Edward Burns before he launched his career)

“I thought about what films I loved the most, I instantly knew the answer: Woody Allen movies. So I said to myself, ‘All right, I’m going to write whatever that genre is; whatever Woody’s genre is, that’s what I’m going to write.'”
Edward Burns

Back in 1995 filmmaker Edward Burns won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival with his debut film The Brothers McMullen. In his new book Independent Ed he recounts what led to that success giving assists to various college classes, Syd Fields’ book Screenplay, The Foundations of Screenwriting, Robert McKee’s story structure seminar, and working as a production assistant on Entertainment Tonight (ET) where he also found time to crank out “four or five screenplays” that didn’t get sold or produced.  After all that, he finally had an epiphany.

Then one day it hit me. What was it about The Last Picture Show and Marty and The 400 Blows that made me want to be a filmmaker in the first place? They were honest. They felt like they were written by people who had lived those stories. Then I thought about the story I had lived.

The Irish Americans were a big part of New York culture. They were an important in my New York City. And having grown up in a tight-knit Irish American family, surrounded by similar families, my world revolved around this community and culture.

I said to myself, “That’s what I’m going to write. These guys are going to be Irish. And they’re not going to be just passively Irish. I’m going to make them aggressively, nostalgically Irish.”

The sudden clarity I had was stunning. Woody Allen wrote and directed about the Jewish American New York experience; Martin Scorsese wrote and directed films about Italian American New York experience; and Spike Lee was writing and directing films about the African American New York experience. All these guys had carved their own niche. I had been asking what mine would be. Now I knew.
Director/Actor/Writer Edward Burns
Independent Ed: Inside My Career of Big Dreams, Little Movies, and the Twelve Best Days of My Life
Page 17

Related Posts:

Shrimp, Giants & Tyler Perry
‘Super Serving Your Niche’
Finding Your Voice
Syd Fields (1935-2013)
Can Your Identify?
Telling Our Own Shadow Stories )”I see shadows all of the time in my work—things from my life.” Robin Swicord)
Emotional Autobiography (“My work is emotionally autobiographical.” Tennessee Williams)

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

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

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

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

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

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

 

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

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

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

The short answer is talent and hustle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

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

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

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

JerryMaguireLamps

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

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

JerryMRainFrig

Here’s how the much of scene played out:

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

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

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: