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Posts Tagged ‘George Lucas’

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Close-up on Opie (Ron Howard)

Ron Howard has had one of the most amazing careers in Hollywood history. He’s been a  child actor in a classic Tv show (The Andy Griffith Show), a young star actor  (Happy Days), an indie filmmaker (Grand Theft Auto), an Emmy winning producer (From Earth to the Moon), and an Oscar winning producer/director (A Beautiful Mind). He also had the privilege of developing a personal relationship with producer/director George Lucas who directed him in American Graffiti and produced Willow which Howard directed.

So with Howard’s over 50+ solid years of film and television experience here’s a very simple piece of filmmaking advice that I’m calling “The George Lucas Directing Class in Under 100 Words (via Ron Howard).” It’s advice that Howard learned first hand from Lucas, and advice that has always stuck with him and that he shares with others as they set out to direct. Here are 91 words that can change your life:

“George Lucas said no well-written scene has ever gone bad because the director staged it and shot it with a wide shot, a medium, and two close ups. If the scene’s well-written, you can just always fall back on that formula and you’ll have the material you’ll need to go into the editing room. Now, if you have an idea or a visual notion that’s more sophisticated that involves camera moves so be it, but you’re not going to ruin the scene because you shot it in a very simple way.”
Ron Howard
Masterclass, Frost/Nixon Staging Review

I learned about wide shots, medium shots, and close-ups in film school and it was called sequencing. Basically getting the coverage you need in a scene that when you go into the edit room you have a variety of shots that allows you to control pacing, visual interest, performance, and dramatic presentation. Once you become aware of wide/medium/close-up shots you realize that the entire history of cinema is saturated with that basic “formula” to use Lucas’ word. Watch any film from the early silent era through to the most recent release and you’ll see wide, medium, and close-up shots over and over again.

What constitutes a wide, medium, and a close-up is somewhat subject—and there are variations such as an extreme close-ups)  but this will get you in the ballpark.

MEDIUM CLOSE-UP
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CLOSE-UP (reversal shot of the medium closeup)
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MEDIUM TWO SHOT 
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WIDE SHOT
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MEDIUM SHOT 
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EXTREME WIDE SHOT
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EXTREME CLOSE-UP (A BEAUTIFUL MIND)
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Once you become aware of wide/medium/close-up shots you realize that the entire history of cinema is saturated with that basic “formula” to use Lucas’ word. Watch any film from the early silent era through to the most recent release and you’ll see wide, medium, and close-up shots over and over again.

Bigger budget films have tools at their disposal to make very complicated shots (dolly, crane, Steadicam, helicopter, etc) but it still boils down to wide/medium/close-up shots. Even films that where done in one take (Russian Ark) or meant to look like one take (Rope, Birdman) are still a variety of wide, medium, and close-ups.

Watch this evergreen advice played out from an episode of The Andy Griffith Show from the 1960s.

P.S. And wide/medium/close-up is scalable on every kind of production—from the largest blockbuster to the :15 second web spot.

 

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“I saw the beginning of the sixties as a real transition in the culture, because of the Vietnam war and the things we were going through, and I wanted to make a movie about it.”
Director George Lucas on American Graffiti

“References to Modesto abound in American Graffiti, right down to the Ramona Avenue address where Carol lives and where Lucas grew up. The cruising loop, Mel’s Drive-In, Burger City  … the radio station—all have real-life antecedents in the crowded nighttime streets of Modesto in the late 1950s and early ’60s.”
Dale Pollack
Skywalking:The Life and Films of George Lucas
(American Graffiti was shot primarily in San Rafael north of San Francisco)

“I wasn’t thinking about [American Graffiti] when I was writing [Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood] but when I made the decision that I can use these [1960s KHJ] commercials—I can use this DJ stuff, we created a really interesting thing in the movie and I can kind of duplicate big chunks of that on the sound track album. And then that brought to mind American Graffiti— we can definitely do this. And then upon realizing that I realized how much the film had actually been influenced by American Graffiti between like characters in cars driving around all day seemingly aimlessly. Right down to the fact that Margaret Qualley’s Mason character Pussycat could be Suszanne Summers in the T-Bird. The girl [Richard Dreyfuss’ character] keeps seeing all over town. …But the thing is that ended up being a seminal album for me when I got it because I had just really started listening to oldies radio—that was during the 50s revival in the 70s—so I’m only like 13. I hadn’t even seen the movie. So  I’m loving the American Graffiti soundtrack on its own. I didn’t see the movie until it was re-released after Star Wars which was like ‘78.
Writer/Director Quentin Tarantino
Soundtracking, Episode 155, podcast interview with Edith Bowman 

You could also argue that the Margaret Qualley character in Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood is closer Mackenzie Phillips’ character in American Graffiti. The underage girl  that ends up driving the Modesto, California strip in cool guy Paul Le Mat’s hot rod.

P.S. The layers of Once Upon a Time go on and on. Mackenzie Phillips is the daughter of John Phillips  who wrote the songs on the  Once Upon a Time … soundtrack.Twelve Thirty recorded by the Mama’s and the Papa’s which he was a part of, and California Dreamin’ with Michelle Phillips (the Jose Feliciano version was used in the movie).

This isn’t the place to dive deep into the connections between John Phillips, Terry Melcher, Roman Polanski and Charles Manson, but let’s just say there’s no prince in shining armour in that group. I prefer Tarantino’s “fable”—as he calls his movie.

Scott W. Smith

 

 

 

 

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“We tend to overestimate what we can do in one year, and underestimate what we can do in ten.”
Richard Foster
(Quote often attributed to Bill Gates, but I believe Foster wrote the line years before Gates wrote or said it.)

Screenwriter Dana Fox was 2 for 2 when she followed her career trajectory question to Rob McElhenny on Scriptnotes episode #299 with a question to writer/director Rian Johnson about his career trajectory that led to writing and directing Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

“I was never good or smart enough to get industry work before I made my first movie. I basically wrote Brick right out of college and essentially tried to get it made through my 20s. I didn’t make it until I was 30, but the whole time I was trying and kept almost getting there and it kept falling apart. But I was working some really wonderful jobs like I worked at a preschool for deaf kids for a while, I worked at the Disney channel producing promos for like Bear in the Big Blue House—really good jobs but nothing that was like I was making money doing what my sights are set on. So when I started doing it it was starting with this really personal thing and then I was very, very lucky and able to just kind of keep doing it.”
Writer/director Rian Johnson

It’s also worth pointing out that Johnson graduated from USC film school (same school Star Wars creator George Lucas attended) where he made short films, and continued to make short films after school. When he finally got Brick made for $500,000 it won the   the Special Jury Prize (For originality of vision) at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival, and won Best First Film at the Austin Film Festival in 2007. He then followed that success with The Brothers Bloom (2008), Looper (2012), and directed the  Ozymandias (2013) episode of Breaking Bad, before given the Star War reins. A good example of being persistent and building on small successes that brought him to the intergalactic stage.

Scott W. Smith

 

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“It’s a difficult time in the [film] industry at the moment. There’s a lot of changing over that’s happening, and there are a lot of very bright young people who want to get into it.”
Director John Schlesinger in 1969
Same year Midnight Cowboy was released for which Schlesinger won an Oscar for Best Director
Quote from the video below titled The Secrets of Legendary Film Directors (includes Kurosawa, Bergman and Fellini)

Remember that 1969 is the same year that Easy Rider hit movie theaters.

Peter Biskind’s book Easy Riders, Raging Bulls (and the Kenneth Bower doc of the same name) recounts how many of those very bright young people (including Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Peter Bogdanovich, Dennis Hopper, Peter Fonda, and Francis Ford Coppola) changed the film industry–and makes the case for them saving the industry.

Now 45 years later Lucas and Spielberg are the old guard and just last year spoke publicly to film students at USC about the difficult and changing times of the film industry.  Lucas said, “The pathway to get into theaters is really getting smaller and smaller.” And Spielberg went as far as saying there could be an “implosion” or “meltdown” in the film business due to megabudget movies failing at the box-office simultaneously. Steven Soderbergh in his State of Cinema Talk last year added that cinema was under “assault” by studios (with the support of audiences).

In the late ’20 with the advent of sync sound in movies, along with the depression, there was a lot of concern in the movie industry about the changing times and technology. In the late ’40s and early ’50s with the spreading growth of television in homes there was much concern in the film industry about the changing times and technology. In the ’80s it was cable TV and VHS tapes that people feared would keep people away from movie theaters.  Most recently concerns have shifted to the Internet, videos games, and pirating. Changing times have a way of, well, changing. Constantly.

So here we are back to the future—difficult and changing times. And yet, you can still copy and paste Schlesinger’s 1969 words—”there are a lot of very bright young people who want to get into it”—and drop them in 2014.

And Soderbergh understands that some new young filmmakers (and new visions of old filmmakers) are going to emerge and find an audience.

“So whenever I despair I think, OK, somebody out there somewhere, while we’re sitting right here, somebody out there somewhere is making something cool that we’re going to love, and that keeps me going.”
Steven Soderbergh
Keynote address at the 56th San Francisco International Film Festival

At that moment somewhere in Teaxs someone was working on something cool. As Soderbergh was giving that talk Richard Linklater was editing his newest film Boyhood that premiered at Sundance Film Festival last week.  Indiewire called the film ‘groundbreaking” and making “cinematic history” because the movie was shot with the same young actors 3 or 4 days a year—over the course of 12 years.

And winning the Grand Jury Prize, Dramatic and the Dramatic Audience Award at Sundance this year was the personal film  Whiplash written and directed by Damien Chazelle. A film that explores dedication to one’s art.  Whiplash’s executive producer Jason Reitman called it,  “Shine meets Full Metal Jacket.”

Whiplash—the word, as in severe head jerk—is a good metaphor for the difficult and changes times following the digital revolution. Changes that have transformed the film industry (if I can still use the word “film” ), but changes that have also brought new opportunities.

Scott W. Smith

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“I think ultimately, when broadband comes. that there’s going to be a lot of entertainment that will be run through the Internet, and I think that’s going to be a big factor in the near future.”
George Lucas in April 2001
Interview with Joe Rice

Over the weekend I was preparing to pare down my film library and flipped through the book Digital Cinema: The Revolution in Cinematography, Post Production, and Distribution by Brian McKeran and found that Lucas quote.  It’s amazing what’s happened in less than ten years since that book was published in 2005.  In fact, when Lucas made that comment about entertainment running through the Internet You Tube was still a few years away from being launched, there were Blockbuster video stores all over the United States, and Netflix was still a decade away from announcing it was getting into the original content business with House of Cards starring Kevin Spacey.

Makes me wonder what what the world will look like in ten years. Just maybe it will look a little like this nugget I used in Screenwriting Outside L.A. 101:

“I think that the Internet is going to effect the most profound change on the entertainment industries combined. And we’re all gonna be tuning into the most popular Internet show in the world, which will be coming from some place in Des Moines.”
Steven Spielberg to Katie Couric on the NBC today show in 1999

We’re not there yet, but there are things happening in unlikely places all over the world. I’ve been saying for years that an unlikely place could be West Des Moines, West Africa, or just east of the Hollywood sign in West Covina. But since Spielberg mentioned Des Moines let me give you two examples of what I’ve seen happening there.

When I lived in Iowa I was DP on a short film where I worked with actor Brendan Dunphy. One of the sharpest, smartest, most talented, nicest and best looking people I’ve ever worked with. Check out his website if you looking an actor who looks like Tom Cruise did around age 30.  And if his looks and my praise don’t intrigue you, how about knowing that he’s a trained entomologist who when not acting or writing plays works with bugs at Iowa State University in Ames. (See article Acting Bug by Carole Gieseke.) You’re going to see more of Dunphy in the future either in Hollywood or on the Science Channel—if not from some Internet show in Des Moines that Steven Spielberg produces. (Never bet against a guy from a small town in Iowa, with Hollywood looks,  who’s also performed Hamlet on stage.)

Brendan Dunphy

Brendan Dunphy

Dunphy was also part of the team (along with Paul David Benedict, Scott Siepker) that produced Iowa Nice that received over a million views on You Tube. (It also helped them land gigs with ESPN producing videos with the same snarky–but less profane– humor.)

And back in 2005, a group of filmmakers in Des Moines did win in 2005 Best Film at the 48 House Film Festival for their short Mimes of the Prairie. (Second place was a film from San Francisco and third place was a film from Paris.)

P.S. Greatest missed opportunity in Internet entertainment?  “ [In 2000] We offered to sell a forty-nine-per-cent stake and take the name Blockbuster.com. We’d be their online service.”  Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix in The New Yorker article Outside the Box, Netflix and the Future of Television by Ken Auletta. At peak in 2004 Blockbuster had 9,000 stores, at the end of last year closed all but 50 franchisee owned stores (in Texas and Alaska), and shut down their mail-order service. The reason ?

“Blockbuster ran through a series of owners, investors and managers as it struggled to compete with Netflix’s mail-order DVDs, cable’s video-on-demand, Redbox’s vending machines and streaming services online. Blockbuster not only failed to reinvent itself; it also neglected its stores, which grew shabby and increasingly reliant upon sneaky late fees.”
Al Lewis, Wall Street Journal 2013 

Recommended reading at least once a year: Who Moved the Cheese? by Spencer Johnson. Especially for anyone in the film/video/photography business.

Related Posts:

The Prophet Ben Hecht
New Cinema screenwriting (part 2)
Putting the Bust in Blockbuster (written in 2010)
Screenwriting and the Little Fat Girl in Ohio (2.0) The prophet Francis Ford Coppola

Related Links:
Des Moines, where regular folks can live the rich life, NBC Today
The Best Places for Business and Careers, Forbes
(Des Moines tops the list in 2013)

Scott W. Smith

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“The Indiana Jones story started before I started working on the screenplay for Star Wars. When I was thinking of doing a sort of modern fairy tale couched in sort of a Saturday matinée serial vernacular I was thinking about all of the great things I can do. And obviously one of the subjects that came up was to do it in outer space, and do it sort of like Flash Gordon. And the other idea I had at the same time was really to do it about an archeologist who goes around finding ancient artifacts that have sort of a supernatural flavor to them. And both of them would be kind of a serial not-stop action kind of adventure. I decided to really go with the space idea and I put the archeologist on the shelf to gather dust. Then I connected with Phil Kaufman, who’s another filmmaker up here in San Francisco, and he got very excited about it and we started working on it for about three or four weeks. He had the idea of making the sort of supernatural sacred object that we were looking for the ark of the covenant.”
George Lucas

P.S. A must read for any screenwriter and filmmaker is the transcripts of the Raiders of the Lost Ark story conference between George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and Lawrence Kasden. (I think it was why the Internet was invented.)

Movie Cloning (“Raiders”)
Raiders Revisited (part 1)
Raiders Revisited (part 2)
Raiders Revisited (part 3)
Raiders Revisited (part 4)
Scriptnotes’ 100th Podcast (Touches on episode 73 that was on Raiders of the Lost Ark)

Scott W. Smith

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“Indiana Jones is a master class on how to start a movie. It is a master class.”
Craig Mazin

Congrats to John August and Craig Mazin on their 100th podcast episode of Scriptnotes. They recorded that episode at the end of July and in either episode 100 or episode 101 (the Q&A with the live audience at that event) both August and Mazin said that one of their favorite episodes was where they did an entire episode on Raiders of the Lost Ark.

And if you’ve never listened to an episode of Scriptnotes before Episode 73 is the place to start. I’ve listened to at least 20% of their 100 podcasts and Episode 73 is a gift to the screenwriting community. Here you have two working screenwriters doing something interesting in the world podcasting that I’m not aware has ever been done before—and that is elevating the role of screenwriter to podcasting celebrity.

Throughout film history screenwriters are notorious for being in the background. Sometimes not even in the background but banished to a galaxy far, far way. Again, historically speaking screenwriters have often not even been welcomed on the sets and locations of movies being shot from scripts they wrote.

So while it’s rare to see a screenwriter on a late night talk show, perhaps Scriptnotes signals a new way where screenwriters can have their voices be heard. And Scriptnotes is finding an audience beyond just screenwriters as it’s mentioned somewhere on episode 100/101 that some of the Scriptnotes podcasts have exceeded 200,000 listeners. I don’t think August or Mazin at this point in their career are interested in going the Kickstarter/Indigogo route like Spike Lee or Rob Thomas to fund a film, but if they wanted to their podcast gives them a wonderful platform to build on.

I’d love to see other podcasts pop up where perhaps older and retired screenwriters talking about movies and their writing experiences and challenges. But Scriptcast is great in part because you have two working screenwriters taking the time to talk about the craft and business of Hollywood screenwriting. Keep in mind that both men had a very good February this year.  Frankenweenie, which August wrote, received a Best Animated Feature Oscar nomination and Identity Thief, which Mazin wrote, had two weeks at the number one box office position here in the states on its way to a world-wide box-office gross of more than $170 million.

Their Raiders podcast came out in January. Check out the podcast or the trandscript.

“Everything that the movie [Raiders of the Lost Ark] is about is going to happen in the first ten pages. The tone, the characters, their weaknesses, their strengths, their internal flaw, the promise of what the movie will be, the spirit of the adventure, the rules of the world — everything is not only packed in perfectly, but it’s packed in interestingly and dramatically. It is a master class on how to begin a movie.”
Screenwriter Craig Mazin
Scriptnotes podcast, episode 73

And while I’m passing out thanks, why not thank Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Philip Kaufman, Lawrence Kasdan and anyone else involved in helping bring Raiders of the Lost Ark to life.

Now August and Mazin take Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat to the whipping post in episode 100, but if you’d like to see how Snyder’s principles breakdown Raiders check out the The Raiders of the Lost Ark Beat Sheet.  Lastly, if you’re in Orlando tomorrow (8/4/13) you can see Raiders of the Lost Ark at the Enzian Theater—one of my all-time favorite theaters to watch a movie.

P.S. I first read about the now legendary Raiders of the Lost Ark story transcript with Spielberg, Lucas, Kaufman, and Kasdan back in 2009 on Mystery Man of Film’s post  The “Raiders” Story Conference.  Anyone ever find out who the Mystery Man on Film was?

P.P.S. It may take a few years but I expect to see an indie film someday based on that Raiders story transcript.

Related Posts:
Movie Cloning (“Raiders”)
Raiders Revisited (part 1)
Raiders Revisited (part 2)
Raiders Revisited (part 3)
Raiders Revisited (part 4)
Lawrence Kasdan’s Rejection/Breakthrough
John Ford’s Advice to Spielberg
Filmmaking Quote #2 John August)
Filmmaking Quote #21 (Spielberg)
Filmmaking Quote #22 (Lucas)

Scott W. Smith

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