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Posts Tagged ‘directing’

This is a follow-up to my last post (The George Lucas Directing Class in Under 100 Words) and it’s advice that comes from three Oscar winners. And it has to do with how you as a director capture wide shots, medium shots, and close-up shots in any given scene.

Director Spike Lee says you not only want to hire a talented director of photography (DP), but one who is also efficient. That’s a big part of what is going to help you keep on schedule and make your days. And the lower the budget, the fewer days you have to shoot your film.

And it’s not only the shooting schedule that’s important. Lee says, “Actors come to the set ready to work.” They’ve already been through hair, makeup, and wardrobe so they don’t want to be sitting in their trailers while the DP tinkers with lighting.

Oscar winner Martin Scorsese said that back in the ’80s when he was coming off a lull in his career he had smaller budgets to work. In one case he needed 75 shots in three days, but the budget only allowed for two days so they cut out 25 shots and scheduled to shoot 25 shots per day over the two days they had. The way they kept on schedule was to allow x-amount of time for each shot—10 minutes for one shot, 20 minutes for another, and 45 minutes for a more complicated shot. If they didn’t get what they needed in that time frame, they had to move on.

Oscar winner Jodie Foster drives home the point of how to be efficient in your shooting:

“There are a lot of things that waste time on movies. For example, you have five setups, you have one incredibly wide shot, and the other ones are five little pieces you’re going in for. Your wide shot— you can barely see their mouths move. So please don’t do 25 takes of the entire scene and print them all, and give your actors notes based on this wide shot. You’re probably only going to need one take or maybe two takes. Go in and get the other stuff afterwards and don’t waste all of your time getting the wide shot perfectly. Allow yourself to go in for the other shots.

“With movement very often, when you start a move and you know you’re going to keep this move, you want the beginning of the move and the end of the move. And that means you’re going to be stuck on this shot for the whole thing. If you make that decision that you’re going to keep that shot, then you don’t need those lines for any of the other pieces of coverage. So you don’t need to get everything perfect if you know that you have the money shots or the shots that are really in your head are working. So that’s where a lot of time gets spent, people want everything perfect and they don’t have an understanding of their cutting patterns or their potential cutting pattern. And they heard that old adage ‘Get coverage, get everything. Get every choice you possible have.‘ Large films can afford to not make choices. A little movie—gotta make choices and keep moving on.”
Jodie Foster
Masterclass, Shooting Your Film

So don’t worry about getting every take perfect (it won’t happen anyway), and have a clear vision going into the scene of what you envision the final edited scene to be. Another trick Lee has used throughout his career is to do scenes in one take. Steven Spielberg is a master of the oner–some that are simple and some that are quite complex. (Shots that often involve wide shots, medium shots, and close-ups all in one long take.)

Scott W. Smith

 

 

 

 

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Here’s a quote from back in 2013—a few years before Greta Gerwig made her directorial debut with Lady Bird. (A film that just won Golden Globe awards for Best Motion Picture-Musical or Comedy, and Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture.)

“[Directing] was never something I realized I could do for a long time, and I don’t know why exactly, but I just never thought that I would be able to or that I’d never be any good at it, and I think I no longer believe that. …To be honest it’s a lame excuse, but it just seems very male, and it seems like it was just something that men said they wanted to do in college. I didn’t really know any women who said they wanted to do it. It wasn’t until really being out in the world and meeting filmmakers like Lynn Shelton and Lena Dunham and Liz Meriwether, who’s a writer, and Diablo Cody, and there’s so many of them that I didn’t know them. And it wasn’t until meeting them that I think, in my 20s, that I had built up a reserve of confidence and a feeling like it’s not just a boy’s club.”
Greta Gerwig
Miami NewTimes interview with

Related post:
The Fox, the Farm, & the Fempire
Woman of Steel
Lena Dunham, Sundance, & Iowa
Winter’s Bone (Debra Granik)

Scott W. Smith

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Actor Harry Dean Stanton grew up on a farm in Kentucky, served in the Navy and was stationed in the Pacific during WWII, studied at the Pasadena Playhouse, once recorded a song with Bob Dylan, was a roommate of Jack Nicholson before they both became name actors, and acted along side Paul Newman and Marlon Brando.

Stanton started in theater and his first IMDB credit is for Inner Sanctum in 1954. He’d go on to become one of the great character actors working on Cool Hand Luke, The Godfather II, Escape from New York, Repo Man, Paris, Texas and when he died ten days ago at age 91 his film Lucky was playing in theaters.

He had a film and TV career that spanned  over 60 year and over that time worked with the a who’s who of great directors including Francis Ford Coppola, Sam PeckinpahJohn Milius, Wim Wenders, Arthur Penn, Norman Jewison, and David Lynch.

On a podcast interview with Marc Maron Stanton was a man of few words, but I did think there were a few nuggest in there including this brief exchange:

Marc Maron: What makes a guy a good director?
Harry Dean Stanton: Leave the actors alone. 

P.S. Two films I’d recommend of Stanton’s if you haven’t seen them are Paris, Texas written by Sam Shepard and The Straight Story (which mostly takes place in Iowa). I haven’t seen Sophia Huber’s documentary Harry Dean Stanton: Partly, but it’s on my short list.

Related posts:
Sam Shepard (1943-2017)
David Lynch in Iowa

Scott W. Smith

 

 

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“I’m very lucky that I had a movie that allows me to do something as enormous as staging what at that point was the largest sporting event in American history. And at the same time investigate small emotional moments like when Howard loses his son.”  
Seabiscuit writer/director Gary Ross

ScriptSea

Recently I re-watched Seabiscuit (2003) again and found a great interview on the DVD extras where the director/screenwriter Gary Ross explains how he broke down an auto accident scene which becomes a “pivoital point” in the movie.

The movie set-up is about moving forward into the future. Americans at this time have moved into the age of the automobile. A young boy (around age 12) decides to have an adventure and take his father’s car down river to go fishing. The following quotes are all from Gary Ross and the sections in italic are from his notes:

“What I like to do when I develop a shooting plan for the movie is sort of take the early parts of the prep to do it privately.  And at that point I’m sort of pretending that someone else wrote the script and I’m interpreting it. The shooting plan can encompass a lot of things—it can be the way I see the lighting. It can be performance notes. It can be blocking notes. It isn’t just as dry and clinical as a shot list. When I make these notes I’m still connected to the emotional intentions”

(Sc#67.) SERIES OF INSERTS. Fishing pole insert. Rafters. INSERT loading the tackle box. Showing his purpose now- pleasing his father. Getting ready. (All the material that will be scattered across the river bottom later…

“I understand that I’m using these inserts to set up something for later on.”

Last insert is the key in the ignition. His hand fights with the gear shift. It should probably be up shift to emphasize his shortness, craning over the dashboard. 

SeabiscuitCar

(Sc#74.) Whizzing by on the road. His car one way. The Logging truck the other. Yeah. That would work great. 

“(Laughing) I don’t know that it will work great, but I’m sort of talking to myself saying, ‘Yeah, that’s a good idea. Keep going with that.'”

Let’s not show the collision. Let’s allow that to stay in the imagination. Let’s show perspective—into Howard’s perspective at that moment. Getting a phone call [about his son being killed in an accident]. The moment of the accident is not as important as the news of the accident.

SeabiscuitRunning copy

Howard racing toward the camera. The world has gone quiet now.

“I think it’s important to say what you’re going to do with sound before you shoot something. Because the sound and picture are so completely fused. Sometimes the loudest things are a distant or silent scream…Those things obviously turn into a shot list, which is more dry or clinical, but when you have both things they enhance one another. One is almost the emotional roadmap to be able to read the other.

I did find a online version of the clip here but was not able to embed it into this post. Great to watch to understand the whole context. Consider it a solid free five-minute film school lesson that shows the intentionality of an Academy Award-nominated movie and screenplay.

And yet one more reminder of the importance of emotions in filmmaking.

Related posts:
Seabiscuit Revisited in 2008
Writing ‘Seabiscuit’ On writer who also wrote Unbroken.
Shelter from the Storm (‘Unbroken’)
Big’ Emotions (Another Gary Ross written screenplay.)
The Creature from… (Ross’ father—Arthur A. Ross—was also a screenwriter.)
‘It Take Guts To Be a Screenwriter’ (Gary Ross quote.)
40 Days of Emotions
Writing ‘The Godfather’ (Part 3) Includes a video showing the shooting book Coppola put together to shoot The Godfather. 

Scott W. Smith

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“Simplicity makes bet­ter film: master, medium, choker. At least, men like Chaplin and David Lean think it does.”
Jerry Lewis
Referring to camera shots; master (wide shot with all the actors), medium (shot of actor or actors from the general area around the waist up), and choker (close-up shot of actor from the neck up). See Empire’s post on 30 camera shots to see the wider variety of shot options.

Joe Mankiewicz once said, ‘A good director is a man who creates an atmosphere for work.’ To me, that’s what it’s all about. You start out by giving actors a million-dollar hug. You don’t use them and later on start hugging them.”
Jerry Lewis

(The videos here aren’t of Jerry Lewis but are FilmSkills videos that I thought fit pretty good in this post on directing.)

“The actors must know how the scene is being covered. If not, they may spit out everything in the master shot, which is the comprehensive coverage.

If you tell the girl that you are making a master of the boy and girl, followed by a single of the boy, a single of the girl, and a tight two, she’ll save something for the snug stuff. She won’t let the tears go in the master. She’ll whine a lot in that one, which will be matchable, but then sob it out in the close shots.

I speak from personal experience. If I’m going to go facially, visually crazy I won’t do it in a head-to-toe shot. Neither will I dance my best in a close-up. A professional actor’s experience lets him know how to pace himself in the coverage of a scene if that coverage is explained to him.”
Actor/Director Jerry Lewis
The Total Film-Maker (Notes from his teaching at USC film school

“I doubt any other industry, or art form, has as many breakable rules. My camera setup is right; the next direc­tor’s is wrong. Or we’re both right and wrong. What mat­ters is the material and what has to be shown. There are no ground rules: no rules to say you must pan if a man walks around a table; no rules to say the camera has to move in any direction. You may pan and then throw half the pan away and cut to a cat. It is, absolutely, the director’s choice.”
Jerry Lewis

P.S. Keep in mind that cameras have gotten smaller (and cheaper) than when Charlie Chaplin and David Lean were making films, and when Lewis published The Total Film-Maker in 1971. So film shooting has evolved in some ways were you have films that are shot almost totally hand held, movies where since it’s being shot digitally that even rehearsals are recorded and sometimes find their way into the movie, more movies where multi-camera shots are used on scenes. Even lower budget movies can employ drone shots, and Go Pros and DSLRs tucked away in places you could never have traditionally put a 35mm Panavision or Mitchell camera. Does the medium shot still rule like it did when John Ford was shooting? That’s a good question. But as far as saving time and money on the set, it’s hard to be the simplicity and dependability of a medium shot.

Related posts:
Garry Marshall’s Directing Tips (Part 1)
Garry Marshall’s Directing Tips (Part 2)
Garry Marshall’s Directing Tips (Part 3)
Garry Marshall’s Directing Tips (Part 4)
Garry Marshall’s Directing Tips (Part 5)
Garry Marshall’s Directing Tips (Part 6)

Scott W. Smith

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“I want to do things that are very outside of the box, and I want to do movies that no one else can do.  If someone else can make the movie that I’m making, then I shouldn’t do it.  I want to make these films that I think other people would be scared to do.  I don’t think anyone can go off and make a rock opera.  I think it’s a very specific niche, with what it actually takes to do one of these things.  For me, I’m very proud of the fact that I can actually say that I’m the guy who can do that.  When is the last time that these types of things were released?  It was back in the ‘70s.  There was Jesus Christ Superstar, Tommy and The Rocky Horror Picture Show.  That was the last time these things were put out.  Now, in a couple of years, I’ve gotten two of them put out.  So, they’re not for everyone, but they’re for me.”
Writer/Director Darren Lynn Bousman
Collider interview with Christina Radish

One of those rock operas (Repo! The Genetic Opera) was panned by the Los Angeles Times, but years later The Hollywood Reporter said the movie, “Could become the next Rocky Horror Picture Show.” A niche market for sure, but remember the advice of Tyler Perry to Edward Burns about , “Super-serving your niche.”

You can check out Bousman’s website and blog at www.darrenlynnbousman.com.

P.S.  At Stephen Susco’s Full Sail Q&A last week he gave a shout-out to Bousman (director of Saw II, Saw III, Saw IV) who in 2011 was inducted into the Full Sail Hall of Fame. Here’s a bonus quote by the writer/director originally from Overland Park, Kansas:

I didn’t have Hollywood connections, I didn’t know anybody, I just refused to take no as an answer. One of the most important things about being a filmmaker is that you have to believe in yourself. There are two types of people when you get out into the entertainment industry, those who wait for that knock at the door, and those that go out and kick it open. I was one of those guys who kicked it open.”
Darren Lynn Bousman 

Scott W. Smith

 

 

 

 

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“My recipe for making movies has always been to give an audience two or three really top-notch scenes in every film and to try not to annoy them the rest of the time. If you can do that you will have made an entertaining picture.”
Producer/director Howard Hawks (Red River, Sergeant York, His Girl Friday)
Talk at Chicago Film Festival
via The Movie Makers: Artists in an Industry by Gene D. Phillips

Here are two memorable scenes with Howard Hawks connections. The first is from the film The Big Sky (1952) which Hawks directed, and the second film is Scarface (1983) directed by Brian DePalma from a script by Oliver Stone.  After seeing the original Scarface (1932) which Hawks directed, Al Pacino set theings in motion to star in a modern retelling of the story.

Scott W. Smith

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