Posts Tagged ‘filmmaking’

“I always found that the harder a place was to get the more I enjoyed going there.”
—Jimmy Chin
(Who lived out of his car for six years as a mountain climber on his way to being an Academy Award winning filmmaker.)

Somewhere in a shoebox is a photo of me 15+ years ago in Georgetown, Colorado standing next to a restored late ’60s/early ’70s Ford Bronco that has always been my go-to dream vehicle. For whatever reason that boxy two door SUV just hits me in an emotional spot.

I guess that old Bronco hits a spot with a few other people because last week Ford unveiled their updated version of the Ford Bronco—and it looks similar to the design of the one that’s 50 years old. (An larger echo if you will.) And to top it off, they hired rock climber and self-taught photographer/filmmaker Jimmy Chin to help with the branding of the Bronco. Yeah, that’s a pretty good marriage.

Chin co-directed and co-produced Free Solo (featuring climber Alex Honnold) which won Best Documentary Feature at the 2019 Oscar Awards.  It’s been a few decades since I really got excited about a new vehicle. (No disrespect to Tesla.) But, yeah, that new two door Ford Bronco has me dreaming about returning to Georgetown, Colorado in my own Bronco someday.

P.S. Here’s a photo I took during my 6:45AM commute this morning. I think that new Bronco would transport my Kayak quite well.


Related post: ‘First Man’ vs. ‘Free Solo’

Scott W. Smith 


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“What I’ve learned to do, probably really in just the last couple of films is to regard music and dialogue as very much one in the same. Dialogue is just as musical as music is a language. And by thinking of dialogue in musical terms, thinking of dialogue in terms of something that  conveys an emotion rather than information. It has changed they way that I write scenes. When I find myself writing something that is purely informational, if I can’t inject it with something like conflict, humor, tension, suspense, drama—especially conflict—then I know that what I’m doing is writing is information. And information is the death of  emotion. The biggest lesson I learned between Rouge Nation and Fallout was how to articulate that.  Somebody asked me about writing exposition and what was the secret to writing exposition and without thinking I said that ‘information is the death of emotion.’” Thinking about dialogue as a delivery device for emotion. That’s not to say it’s a character expressing emotions. There’s nothing less emotional than watching a character experience an emotion. What you want is the audience experiencing emotion through that character. That really changed the way I wrote dialogue. They way that I wrote exposition.”
—Writer/director Christopher McQuarrie  (Top Gun: Maverick)
The Inside Pitch interview with Christopher Lockhart 
(starting at the 1:55:02 mark)

P.S. Starting on August 1, I’m going to begin a string of posts on Hamilton which is a prime example of blending music and dialogue in what I found to be an emotional story.  If you haven’t seen the play or the taped version on Disney+ at least get the 10 day free subscription to check it out.  I look forward to exploring what Lin-Manuel Miranda created what is the best production I’ve seen this year.

Related posts:
40 Days of Emotions
‘Exposition is BORING unless…’
Mysterious Minimal Exposition from ‘A Quiet Place’ and ’Sicario’
Cary Grant & Exposition (Tip # 38)
Screenwriting & Exposition (Tip #10)
Cody on Expo
10 Solid Exposition Examples 
Dialogue as Music (Aaron Sorkin)
‘I’m in the feelings business’—Brian Grazer 

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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“Any writer that’s listening to me right now, you’ll gain a lot more knowledge by studying editing than you will by studying screenwriting. Screenwriting is something inside of you, it’s what you’re going to do. It’s going to be dictated by so many other things. Watch how movies are built. That’s where it really comes together.  Watch how movies evolve through the process of editing.”
—Writer/director Christopher McQuarrie (Mission: Impossible—Fallout)
The Inside Pitch Facebook live interview with Christopher Lockhart

Of course, the catch—22 is how can you watch a movie be edited unless you”re working on the movie? Here are to three places to start:
1) Read the post: How Great movies are Made (and Why ‘The Godfather’ was Once a Pile of Spaghetti in the Edit Room) 

2) Watch this video featuring Water Murch who was ADR supervisor on The Godfather.

3) Watch The Godfather once again.

4) Buy these books on editing:
In the Blink of an Eye: A Perspective on Film Editing by Walter Murch

The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Film Editing by Michael Ondaatje

P.S. If you know if some resources showing how a movie evolves in the editing process send that info my way. If I recall correctly, the original script for Annie Hall and the finished film are one of the best examples of being radically different creations. A movie salvaged in the editing. It went on to win four Oscar awards including Best Picture and Best Writing.

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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“We have to be on the outside so we can see things other people can’t see and tell those stories. Don’t follow. Set trends. Lead us. Tell your stories or help others to tell theirs in your ways. A culture needs its creative people to tell its story, to reflect itself, and to reflect what’s happening to us. To give us perspectives and images about who we are and where we’re going and where we might go. And without those reflections, without those stories, a culture dies. Or at least it gets shallow and meaningless and starts remaking movies from ten years ago because they’re too frightened to make anything original.”
–Screenwriter Richard LaGravenese (The Fisher King, Freedom Writers)
2011 Emerson College Commencement Address

Scott W. Smith

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“A good character always has a crisis lurking inside them like a ticking time bomb. Once I’d decided who the characters would be in Little Miss Sunshine, it was just a matter of figuring out when those crises would happen. You also want those crises to happen in ascending order of importance. It all fell together pretty easily in the outlining process. The only really noteworthy choice I made, I’d say, was to kill off Grandpa at the midpoint, rather than hold off until the end of the second act. I hate seeing characters die in the late second act or early third act—it’s just such a clichéd time for a character to die. There’s a lot more shock value in a midpoint death, because audiences aren’t used to losing a major character that early in a movie.”
Screenwriter Michael Arndt
Little Miss Sunshine
MovieMaker interview with Jennifer M. Wood
February 3, 2007

Classic character from The Shining with a “crisis lurking inside ”:



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This video by Toy Story 3 screenwriter Michael Arndt is one I return to often. It’s so well done. Just click on the “Watch on Vimeo” and enjoy.



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He had a home, love of a girl
But men get lost sometimes as years unfurl
New York Minute 
Written by Don Henley, Danny Kortchmar, and Jai Winding.

The original spark for The Fisher King (1991) was screenwriter  Richard LaGravenese seeing two men crossing Third Ave. in Manhatten late one night. It triggered in his mind a bond between a handsome man and one who was mentally challenged. Informed by the book He: Understanding Masculine Psychologythis excerpt from The Moment with Brain Koppelman podcast covers how LaGravenese developed his idea.

RICHARD LAGRAVENESE:  “[The Fisher King] was the first script I’d ever written by myself, so I didn’t know what I was doing in term of structure. So the first [draft] was a really dense version that was really pretentious and heavy-handed, and he was a cab driver-philosopher kind of guy. And he sees this homeless man and at some point takes him to Vegas because he realizes he can make from from him. And I saw this ad in the Times about a movie named Rain Man that was being made—and it was almost exactly the same story. So I threw it out and keep the two characters. 

Then I tried like a sitcomy version of it where the Jeff Bridges character was an heir to a rubber magnate and he had to marry off this cousin of his or else he wouldn’t get the inheritance. And that was a terrible version, and I threw that out. And I kept the character of the cousin which was Lydia. So I got one thing from that. 

And then the third draft of it, I was driving in the morning and listening to Howard Stern and I went “Oh!”—and that clicked in. And suddenly it started to build itself.

KOPPELMAN: And when did you come up with that idea, “A selfish person  who commits a selfless act”?

LADEAVENESE: It was around that part when I was listening to Howard Stern I decided [the Jeff Bridges character] was a shock jock.

Have you had an idea, started a screenplay, or actually finished a screenplay only to learn of a similar story to yours has been made? Of course you have—  join the club. My first screenplay was called Walk-On about a walk-on football player. I was told by several people in the mid-80s that they’d never heard of a walk-on football player and that it was a fresh concept, but sports stories don’t sell. Six or seven years latter Rudy got made. The story about a walk-on football player, and now considered one of the most popular sports films ever made.

The real lesson from LaGravenese is when he found out his original idea was basically Rain Man, he pivoted. He picked up the pieces (two characters) and wrote a new version. That idea failed, so he picked up the pieces and put them in his little red wagon and carried them to his third version of his script which not only got sold, produced, but brought him an Oscar-nomination.

P.S. And it was not only The Fisher King script that evolved over time,  Howard Stern has evolved from his shock jock persona from the ’80s. Here’s a video where he sets up Don Henley singing a melancholy version of Boys of Summer.  (You can put Henley’s albums in the bin marked Understanding Masculine Psychology.)

Scott W. Smith



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“I love the idea of catching ideas. And they’re out there, millions and millions of ideas, and we don’t know them until they enter the conscious mind. And then we know them. And we see them and hear them and feel them. We know the mood of them, even if it’s just a small fragment of what could be a whole film or a painting or whatever. We fall in love with it for some reason. Something inside of us says, ‘This is a great idea for me.’ And then you write that idea down on a piece of paper in such a way that when you read what you wrote, the idea comes back in full. . . . I do equate catching ideas with the thing of fishing. You have to have patience. And I say a desire for an idea is like bait on a hook. So you are desiring or focusing. It could be daydreaming. Even when you’re walking around or moving about or talking, part of your mind is desiring ideas.”
—Filmmaker David Lynch (The Elephant Man, Twin Peaks)

Related links:
Where Do Ideas Come From? (A+B=C)  
Inside the Breaking Bad Writers’ Room and How Bad Ideas Can Lead to Good Ideas
Postcard #182 (“You get ideas from being bored.”—Neil Gaiman)
Filmmaking Full of Magic & Ideas 

Scott W. Smith 

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