Posts Tagged ‘filmmaking’

I’m reading through Ted Hope’s book Hope for Film, From the Frontline of the Independent Cinema Revolutions (the Kindle version which I recommend) and came along this passage that he calls “My formula for the perfect Sundance Film.” I hope you find it helpful. (From pages 78-79.)


1. The protagonist: Center the story around an everyday person, someone the audience can identify with (not a wealthy or an evil type).

2. The plot: The protagonist needs to go through a serious arc, suffer hardship, and then come to some understanding that the audience didn’t expect.

3. Be bold: Show risk-taking in the filmmaking. Make it feel like it may all fall apart, but then save it at the last moment: People should say, “It’s bold.”

4. Be disciplined: If you can’t be bold, be disciplined. If it doesn’t fit the form, cut it out.

5. Own your aesthetic: Embrace, even flaunt, your aesthetic and the limits of your aesthetic. Don’t be ashamed of your limitations. Own your choices.

6. Engage bigger issues: The story has to be bigger than the movie itself and should deal with issues of either class conflict, gender conflict, sexual conflict, or other political issues. How do you comment on the world at large while still examining the minute and particular?

7. Cast: You need to cast a few stars or soon-to-be stars, so it should be an ensemble piece that covers generational conflict. You have the old-name actor you’re bringing back and the up-and-comer whom no one had seen yet, along with actors who can move from TV into feature films.

8. Shock value: It needs some moment of audacity, the kind of thing that people will talk about and that might even shock the uninitiated.

9. The right mix: Have a sense of humor about great tragedy— or find the tragedy in the hilarious. Embrace the cocktail; make it at least feel fresh.

10. Leave them wanting more: Shorter is better; 90 minutes is the new 120 (today, 80 is the new 90). No one ever says, “I wish it had been longer” when they leave the theater.



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The work I did with [writer/director Nicole Holofcener] on the Walking and Talking script would set the template for my standard development process with dozens of filmmakers later. In large part, it starts with a series of questions: How do you find the theme? What do you want the big takeaway from the movie to be for the audience? What do you want them to remember intellectually, and what do you want them to feel emotionally? At a certain point, Nicole came up with this image in her mind: The character Amelia (played in the film by Keener) is holding her friend Laura (played by Heche), who is getting married and starting a new way of life, afloat in the water. That, to me, was a baptismal moment of surrender and passage. It was about loving someone so much that you let her go. And that was the big takeaway of the movie in a single visual and heartfelt instant. But it was a process to get there. Once we found this telling scene, and once the theme of love as loss emerged, we had to make sure that the theme emerged elsewhere in the script.
Producer Ted Hope (The Ice Storm)
Hope for Film (with Anthony Kaufman
pp 65-66

Related posts:
Writing from Theme
Sheldon Turner on Theme
John Carpenter on Theme 
Diablo Cody on Theme 
Ryan Coogler on the Theme of Black Panther 

Scott W. Smith

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As an independent-film producer and an avid fan of ambitious and diverse work in all forms— and as a citizen of the world— I am always excited to keep up with the changing times. But nothing has prepared me for the onslaught of the last few years. 

…The Internet has transformed the business of the arts and how we connect with each other, well beyond our imagination. If Hollywood suits and corporate media higher-ups once determined the majority of our choices (simply by limiting them), we— the audience— are now the curators and the programmers, recommending films and other cultural pleasures to our friends, exchanging playlists, and sharing our opinions on social networks. We can now reach out online and mobilize others to vote both with their feet and their dollars, to act not on impulse, but on the knowledge and experience that comes with a highly connected, digital universe.

…Low-cost digital cameras as well as distribution avenues like YouTube and iTunes are available to nearly everyone, and you can be exposed to the history of cinema or music or just about any art form at any time you want— all for free, or virtually so. So why aren’t we making better creative work? And why can’t we come up with better ways to support the work and help it progress? We can. And by doing it together, we can build it better. With fewer barriers, fewer rules, and fewer conventions, filmmakers— and creators of all sorts— are freer to focus on developing new art forms, expanding beyond current modes, and discovering new ways of accessing and sharing content. We are on the verge of opening up which stories can be told, how they are told, and to whom and where we deliver them. Our ability to interact with films in different environments and in new social multi-user ways keeps changing. Cinema is not a single form or experience, but almost as varied as the artists who create it.

…Independence is the only choice when you’re not necessarily interested in a mass audience, and for the first time ever, we can effectively work outside that structure and specifically address the niches. We are right around the corner of an incredible blossoming of a new and vibrant cinema.
Film producer Ted Hope (in 2014) shortly before becoming the head of Motion Picture Production at Amazon
Hope for Film: From the Frontline of the Independent Cinema Revolutions (pp. 22-24).

Related posts:

In light of today’s post it was fun to revisit two posts that I wrote ten years ago. I was writing in 2008 about a shift in the kinds of ways filmmakers were making films—including SMS Sugarman (2008) by South African filmmaker Aryan Kaganof.

New Cinema Screenwriting (Part 1)
New Cinema Screenwriting (Part 2) 
Cocaine Cowboys & the Future of Film (A post I wrote in November 2009 after watching my first film online.)

Scott W. Smith

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When I make my new film, I’m not just competing against Poultrygeist. I’m not just competing against the new Mel Gibson movie. I’m competing against the whole history of cinema. You sit here in your home and say, ‘Well, next on my Netflix queue I have this Kurosawa film, this Fritz Lang film, the fourth season of South Park , and I have Slither by James Gunn.’ I have all these things I want to watch. I’m competing against the history of cinema. So why are you going to watch my movie tonight instead of those? I need to give you the access. I have to give you the ramp trail to get you to the wheel and make you content to keep running around. Okay, so that’s not the best metaphor…

As a new filmmaker, you have to recognize, that’s your job. You have to build the ramp to get us to watch the movie. You have to get us to say, ‘Kurosawa may be one of the greatest filmmakers ever, but tonight I’m going to watch Joe Blow’s $20,000 debut film.’ And that can happen; you can win that nightly battle.
Longtime indie producer Ted Hope (and now head of production at Amazon Studios) in 2010 
Sell Your own Damn Movie! by Lloyd Kaufman with Sara Antill
(via Masteringfilm.com)

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Producer/screenwriter Brian Koppelman on his podcast asked indie producer Christine Vachon about what advice she had for young people today making their way into the entertainment world.

Christine Vachon: Stop calling yourself a filmmaker. Call yourself a storyteller. Call yourself a content maker. Start looking at everything as all the different ways, all the different platforms, all the different methodologies of telling your story and getting it out of there. And don’t confine yourself to one almost archaic form. Now young storytellers will come in and say, ‘This is my series idea,’ ‘This is my long form series,’ ‘This is my episodic series,’ ‘This is my web series’—

Brian: And you’re open to all that stuff?

Christine: Absolutely. A good example is Z: The Beginning of Everything— the series we did for Amazon—Christina Ricci brought us the book and said I want to partner with you. I want to play this role, but I’m open to what it could be. So we talked through what’s the film version, what’s the mini series version?

Brian: How do we tell this story in a way that we actually get the money for it and then sell it in the right way that finds some kind of an audience for it?

Christine: That’s right.

P.S. Speaking of Amazon, here’s a link to their submissions guidelines. Next week I’ll run some posts on indie producer Ted Hope (The Brothers McMullen) who is now the head of motion picture production for Amazon Studios.

Related Posts:

Filmmaking Quote #36 (Being Platformagostic)
Kevin Smith is Platformagnostic
Steven Soderbergh is Platformagnostic
Don’t Wait for Hollywood

Scott W. Smith



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Here’s writer/director Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird) hitting on a theme that’s been central to this blog for ten years.

I’m interested in cinema representing places that don’t usually get representation. I think cinema is one of the better documenters of place. When I go to movie theaters  and I see a world that I haven’t known, or haven’t been a part of, but it feels known intimately by the people who made there’s something—it’s like a visceral experience you get through the screen…I think audiences can breath a certain amount of truth through the screen…So setting [Lady Bird] in Sacramento was a big part of writing it, and starting to find the story. And it’s not only movie I want to make in Sacramento. It’s place I know and I love, and I think you shoot things that are close to you with more care and love than you would a place that means nothing to you.”
Greta Gerwig
Slate’s Represent podcast #70

Here are three movies with a distinct sense of place from Texas to Tokyo with a stop in Denmark.

Scott W. Smith

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“Just keep swimming, just keep swimming.”
Dory in Finding Nemo

While today won’t be the release of the book based on this blog, I’m getting closer to a release date. And since today is the 10th anniversary of starting this blog, I thought I’d at least share with you the artwork done by Predrag Capo for Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles. (More on that process and working with 99 Designs in the coming weeks.)

Way back in 2008, just a few months after starting this blog, I wrote a post called Screenwriting & Brass Knuckles. And as I went through the 2,500+ posts over the past decade, imagery from that post is what I decided to build the book around.

Also, a year ago I announced my intentions to end this blog on the 10th Anniversary— Yeah, that’s not going to happen. While I’m still working on shifting gears, there are several reasons to keep this train on its current track throughout this year.

While I wish I had more fanfare, those are my two big announcements for the day.

I plan on finishing my master’s degree in Digital Journalism and Design from the University of South Florida, St. Petersburg in December, and then have things in place in January of next year for some kind of creative new direction. (Perhaps start a podcast or pursue more speaking opportunities. If you have some ideas shoot me an email at info@scottwsmith.com .)

In the meantime, thanks for stopping by today—and thanks to everyone who’s kept coming back year after year. It’s still a blast to sift through interviews and pass on information gleaned from writers and filmmakers from around the world. I hope there’s been a post or two that has helped you on your own creative journey.

P.S.  Expect to see more posts this year on global cinema in my attempts to carve a new path.  And if you’ve never done it, check out the excellent work being done at Cinephilia and Beyond. 

Scott W. Smith

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