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Posts Tagged ‘Red camera’

“Dating you is like dating a StairMaster.”
Erica Albright (Rooney Mara)
The Social Network

INT. COLLEGE BAR — NIGHT

Two young people sitting at a table talking and drinking beer.

MALE: I can’t believe it’s three minutes shorter than American Pie.

FEMALE: The movie?

MALE: The song.

FEMALE: What are you talking about?

MALE: The opening scene in the movie is five and a half minutes long, and the song is eight and a half minutes long.

FEMALE: What movie?

MALE: The Social Network.

FEMALE: Your point?

MALE: Eight thirty-three.

FEMALE: Eight thirty-three what?

MALE: Technically that’s how long the song is. Eight minutes and thirty-three seconds.

FEMALE: No one cares.

MALE: It’s one of the most popular songs ever.

FEMALE: No one cares that it’s eight minutes and thirty-three seconds long.

MALE: Do you want to order some food?

FEMALE: No.

MALE: Movie scenes are usually only between one and three minutes long.

FEMALE: Listen to me—No one cares.

MALE: Screenwriters care.

FEMALE You’re obsessed with screenwriting. You have screenwriting OCD. You need help.

MALE: Screenwriting leads to a better life.

FEMALE: Really? Name one screenwriter who’s happy?

MALE: I didn’t say they were happy.

FEMALE: Can we talk about something besides screenwriting?

MALE: Did you know that they did ninety-nine takes of that opening scene in The Social Network?

FEMALE: How is that even possible?

MALE: They shot it over two nights.

FEMALE: Two actors, ninety-nine takes? That’s crazy. Wait. I thought we weren’t talking about screenwriting.

MALE: We’re not. We’re talking about directing.

FEMALE: You are insane.

MALE: You should be a little more supportive. If I get in I’ll be taking you to parties and you’ll be meeting people you don’t normally get to meet.

FEMALE: You’d do that for me?

MALE: Of course. We’re dating.

FEMALE: Well I have news for you, we’re not.

MALE: Not what?

FEMALE: Dating. Bye, bye Mr. American Pie.

She’s gone. He’s left there with his beer. Alone—without a friend in the world.

The End

Director David Fincher not only did 99 takes of the opening scene in The Social Network, according to the movie’s screenwriter Aaron Sorkin he didn’t even yell “print” until the 30th take. Think of that— 99 takes of a scene that on paper is slightly over eight pages. Imagine what it took for actors Jesse Eisenberg and Rooney Mara to pull off that scene from a sheer energy level.  (But I’m guessing that was the point, exhaustion and exasperation. You could hear one the actors saying to Fincher, “Acting for you is like working with a StairMaster.”)

Of course, they were shooting digitally on the Red Camera so there really was’t anything to “print,” but terminology tends to have a long shelf life in the film industry. (Like it will be the “film industry” long after film technically disappears.)

Fincher and director of photography Jeff Croneweth not only shot digitally, but they shot that opening scene with multiple cameras. It’s doubtful that in the history of cinema that there ever was a single scene shot on film with multiple cameras for 99 takes. The film costs alone would be outrageous. (But I’ll have to go back and check the records on Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate.)

But that opening scene of The Social Network is brilliant. It’s a simple scene that is full of complexity. It reveals character, theme, and meaningful conflict, and sets the tone for the entire movie. I think that as soon as they finished editing that movie that they should have sent it directly to the Smithsonian.

We’ll see what the Academy thinks tonight at the Oscar awards.

Related posts:
Aaron Sorkin on Theme, Intention & Obstacles

Movie Cloning (Aaron Sorkin)

Writing “The Social Network (part 1)

Writing “The Social Network: (part 2)

Screenwriting Quote #42 (Aaron Sorkin)

Scott W. Smith

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“You’ll be unstoppable if you become technical as well as creative.”
Producer/director/editor/cameraman/etc. Robert Rodriguez

Most of the people who have seen The Social Network are not even aware that it was shot digitally on the RED camera. Nor do they care. But back in 2003 when someone talked about shooting a feature film with an HD camera they were seen as somewhere between suspect and delusional. (This was four years before the RED camera would even be released.)

But way back in July 2003, Robert Rodriguez gave a talk at the Cary Grant Theater at Sony Pictures Studios on his experiences of shooting Once Upon a Time in Mexico with the Sony F900*—a HD camera that George Lucas had introduced to him;

“One of the benefits of being outside of Hollywood—one of the reasons I think like this (shooting digitally) has to do with the fact that I don’t live here. Because (in Texas) you’re so removed you get to examine (how films are made) and say, ‘That doesn’t really make sense for us out here. Let’s do what makes sense.’ And you find a whole other way of shooting.  And that’s one of the best things you can do for yourself even if you work here (LA). Try to get a birds-eye view of things and really question it and you’ll start coming up with different ways of doing things that work.”
Robert Rodriguez

Hat tip to Go Into The Story for posting the videos of Rodriguez’s talk.

Fast forward to 2010 and you can see that Rodriguez is still evolving technically. Click here to see the music video Like Romeo and Juliet that Rodriguez shot with two Canon 7D cameras.

*Note, to show how quickly the technology is changing…a Sony F900 (which if I recall correctly, cost new in the $100,00 range) today can be had for around $10,000—or about the same amount of a pimped out Canon 5D these days. (Sort of like the Canon 7D Rodriguez is holding in the above photo.)

Related post: The Outsider Advantage

Scott W. Smith

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“I had been thinking about this project for a long time.  As a camera fanatic and a product builder, this was something I seemed destined to do.”
Jim Jannard on developing the RED camera

Today the folks over at RED announced plans for the release this year of their RED EPIC camera.  To date RED cameras have been used on over forty feature films including The Informant! starring Matt Damon, District 9, and David Fincher’s The Social Network. What’s amazing about that if you don’t follow such things is the RED Digital Cinema Camera Company hasn’t even existed for five years.

Jim Jannard founded the compnay in 2005 and when he released the specs for his newly designed camera many laughed. Jannard didn’t come from a Hollywood background or with lots of camera experience. What he did have was passion and vision. As well as some cash, investors, and  business expertise that included running and founding a company he used to own; Oakely sungalsses.

He pulled together a team of expert engineers and designers and the like to make something special.

“We needed a bunch of guys who were inventors to come up with entirely new ways of getting to the finish line.”
Jim Jannard Wierd magazine

His new RED  company began taking deposits for the camera in 2006. At the 2007 NAB convention they released footage that (Lord of the Rings) director Peter Jackson had shot on the yet to be released RED camera. The footage stunned a lot of people and it caused a backlog of orders.

“There’s talent on the streets, kids with ideas who have stories to tell and never get a chance. Up to now, they’ve been limited to tools that confine their stories to YouTube.”
Jim Jannard

Maybe Jannard and his team haven’t changed Hollywood yet, but the fact they are even mentioned at all in an eight part series (so far) on an overview of film history shows the potential they have to change the future. Keep in mind that the company has been in business less than five years and has only been selling cameras for a couple years now.

But its combination of high quality images and low costs to own many have said it is the film blow for films to technically still being shot on film.

“This is the camera I’ve been waiting for my whole career: jaw-dropping imagery recorded onboard a camera light enough to hold with one hand. I don’t know how Jim and the RED team did it–and they won’t tell me–but I know this: RED is going to change everything.
Steven Soderbergh

Soderbergh’s last few films have been shot with the RED camera.

Scott W. Smith

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Once upon a time…back in the 80s while in film school I did some assisting for a fashion photographer in L.A. and I noticed that his digital Minolta digital light meter was easy to use and asked a teacher at school why film people didn’t use a digital meter. He said the Spectra light meter (that you had to add slides to and make calculations) was the standard for the industry.

Today Spectra light meters are digital, but that’s when I first realized how slow Hollywood is to change. In the 90s as non-linear work stations for audio and video editing started to gain ground there was much debate in Hollywood in the role of this technology. Flat bed film editing systems (Steenbeck, KEM, Moviola) were the standard in the industry for decades and many said that would never change.

AVID made a splash at the 1989 National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) basically saying that the future of video editing was about to shift dramatically. There were plenty of scoffers but within a couple years a small number of feature films started to be edited on the AVID and by the mid-90s there were dozens being edited on the system that was said would never replace traditional film editing. In 1996, the first film to be edited on an AVID (The English Patient) won an Academy Award for editing (Walter Murch) and also won best picture. Today almost all feature films and TV programs are edited on an AVID or some other kind of digital non-linear editing system.

The evolution and demise of traditional film and sound editing was actually a fairly slow process because it was expensive at first, untested, and required a new way of doing things. (Plus the streamlined techology of the editing process threatened jobs making it not real popular in some circles. ) I first worked on an AVID in 1994 and instantly loved the way you could try new edits without having to use a splicer and tape.  But not everyone agreed with the new way of doing things, and unless he’s recently changed Steven Spielberg still edits the old school way and it’s worked out pretty well for him.

Cameras have been a little slower in changing over to the digital side. Many independent filmmakers embraced the digital cameras instantly because it eliminated the high cost of film and its related expenses. And just like on the editing side many have said that tradition film cameras would never be replaced. The image of a 35mm film is beautiful and once again that has been the way that movies have been made for over 100 years.

But as the digital cameras improve in quality more and more directors and cameramen and making the switch to the digital cameras. And not just for costs. Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones was shot with the Sony F-900, Slumdog Millionaire was shot with the Viper camera, and both Arri and Panavision also have digital cameras. It’s getting harder and to deny the digital shift taking place. But the somewhat affordable RED camera is causing the most excitement for independent filmmakers around the country.

David Fincher came up through the ranks working at ILM and directing music videos before going on to direct Alien 3, Seven, Fight Club, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Buttons. He is currently shooting The Social Network (about the founders of Facebook) which was shot on the digital Red EPIC camera. Here is what he said recently about digital cameras totally replacing film cameras;

“The writing is on the wall. If you don’t believe me, I have some stock in Kodak I’d like to sell you, because this is just not the way motion pictures are gonna be made three years from now.”

For a more technical explaination here is the cinematographer of that film had to say;

“To say that RED and the new Mysterium-X Sensor is impressive is tantamount to saying that Napalm is a little itchy. The sensor’s increased resolution is an obvious bonus but the expanded latitude especially at the high end and the dynamic color range makes this camera a tremendous asset to any cinematographer’s arsenal. The Mysterium-X’s amazing ability to handle both mixed color temperatures and low light situations affords us exciting opportunities to push the boundaries of our craft.”
Jeff Cronenweth, A.S.C.

The chances are good that wherever you live in the United States there is at least one RED camera nearby. You write the script, he or she shoots the film (shoot the digital will never sound right), and see what happens. And, of course, there are plenty of other cameras out there  that can do a solid job. But the day is coming where at least from the technical side the same cameras used on Hollywood features will be commonly found in your neck of the woods.

Scott W. Smith

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Once Upon a Time in Hollywood …1999-2009

While Titanic has been the pinnacle of the Hollywood blockbuster there has been a somewhat quiet movement in the film industry which came into prominence in 1999.

The use of video came on the scene in the 1950s its claim about the death of film were greatly exaggerated. Fifty years later those claims are starting to resurface.

In 1995 Sony released the Sony VX1000. The first digital video camera that independent filmmakers got excited about. Lars von Trier jumped on the digital bandwagon in directing and shooting the feature film The Idiots with the Sony VX1000 which he showed at Cannes in 1998.

As digital filmmaking became more popular the debate continued over whether this was really filmmaking since film was no longer being used. I remember being at a film festival in the ’90s when a New York filmmaker stated that he didn’t make videos, he made films.

Then this little hybrid movie came along in 1999 called The Blair Witch Project that was a game changer. Shot with a mixture of 16mm film and a consumer video camcorder (Hi8 I believe) Daniel Myrick, Eduardo Sanchez, Robin Cowie, Gregg Hale made the film for $35,000. that went on to make in the ballpark of $250 million worldwide. It still has the record for box office income against production costs. (We’ll see if Paranormal Activity beats it. A film inspired by The Blair Witch Project.)

When film historians look at the shift in the film business I think they will look at The Blair Witch Project and 1999 as the most important year for change. The Blair Witch filmmakers were not only from outside L.A. (they met in Orlando), not only found great success making a film shot in part on video, but they used the Internet to market the film in a whole new way.

Because I was living in Orlando at the time I like to point out they the Blair Witch filmmakers pointed out that Ralph Clemente who heads up the film program at Valencia Community College was a great inspiration to them in making a different kind of film. I studied with Clemente when he was teaching at the University of Miami film school and was happy he got a special nod.

The list of films made digitally grew and grew. In 2000, Spike Lee chose to shoot most of his $10 million dollar film Bamboozled with the Sony VX1000. In that same year Academy-award winning director Michael Figgis released a DV feature Timecode. Also in 2002 Steven Soderbergh shot the DV feature Full Frontal and Jerry Seinfeld was executive producer and featured performer for the DV documentary Comedian (2002).

Another landmark film was released in 2002, Aleksandr Sokurov’s Russian Ark— a film that was shot digitally in one take. I saw Russian Ark in one of those grand old theaters in Chicago and I really thought it was a perfect mix of the past and future coming together.

What was different about Russian Ark from the DV features is it was shot on a high-end Sony HD camera. The quality difference between DV and 35mm is great when projected on the big screen. And films up to that point used DV for a variety of reasons usually related to budgets. Russian Ark reached new heights by shooting a type of film that not only couldn’t physically be shot on film (due to the nature of film loads being limited in time) but the quality for the average viewer was matched on the screen.

Also in the year 2002, Gary Winick’s  who directed Tadpole (shot with a Sony PD-150 DV camera) won the Best Director Award at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival. Sundance used to have a policy that said they only took films made on film. No videos allowed. The world was changing.

“I could have shot Tadpole on 35mm, and would it have been a better film? I don’t know. Would I have gotten that cast? I don’t know. Part of the reasons for the cast wanting to be in the film, besides the material, was that they were all interested in working in DV, which I presented it to them as this hybrid between the theater and film. And also, I only need you for two weeks and not two months.”
Gary Winick

In 2003 Peter Hedges (known for writing What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?) released the DV feature Pieces of April starring Katie Holmes.  It won many awards at film festivals and actress Patricia Clarkson was nominated for an Oscar. I love that film and it shows how a story and talent can overcome some technical deficiencies. Hedges pointed out in interviews out that financing had falling through a couple times before when it was budgeted for film so the $150,000 film would not have been made without shooting on DV.

In 2004 the InDigEnt produced November starring Courteney Cox and shot with a $4,000. Panasonic DVX 100 DV camera by director of photography Nancy Schreiber who won best cinematography for the film at the Sundance Film Festival.

Also in 2004 at Sundance Morgan Spurlock earned the Directing Award for Super Size Me and the documentary Born into Brothels won an audience award, both of which were shot on digital video cameras. Brothels beat Super at the Academy Awards. So in less than a decade digital video made some incredible inroads winning international awards and finding audiences.

Here’s what I wrote in a post last year called New Cinema Screenwriting:

So in less than a decade digital video made some incredible inroads winning international awards and finding audiences. You can sit around and argue all day about how film is superior to digital video, but folks the train has left the station.

And the standard def DV video cameras have now been replaced by digital High Def cameras that in the right hands can give a wonderful look. The crazy thing is these are cameras in the $5,ooo dollar range. And they are not being used on just low budget features. The Panasonic HVX 200 was used on the $30 million film Cloverfield.

But let’s not forget Paranormal Activity that is purposely meant to look like an amateur video and as of this writing has made over $60 million at the box office.

Yes, this is the point where I bring out the visionary trunk monkey Francis Ford Coppola (the grandfather of the digital filmmaking movement) who had this to say back in 1991:

Coppola was right on track. But can you imagine if he would have said that “some day some little fat girl in Ohio is going to make a film with her cell phone camera….”—the response might have been, “Yeah, right when we’re flying around like the Jetsons.” Yet, in 2005 a feature was shot using a cell phone. Today there are several cell phone film festivals around the world.

Coppola recently made and released Youth Without Youth shot digitally with the high-end Sony F900. The Sony camera (along with the Viper camera) are reaching quality levels that match film resolution. But the biggest talk about the digital filmmaking seems to center around the Red Cameras and we’ll address that in Part 7.

The film verses digital debate is coming to an end.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood…(Part 7)

Scott W. Smith



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“Ohh Nooo!!!”
Mr. Bill

“You could make a really good-looking movie right now for ten grand.”
Steven Soderbergh

The other day I saw Mr. Bill in a commercial and I realized I hadn’t seen him in many years. That took me back and I somehow I ended up looking at screenwriters from Louisiana because that’s where Mr. Bill’s creator Walter Williams is from and now lives.

The New Orleans native discovered Super-8 film when he was 17 years old. According to the Mr. Bill website he began making comedy films that were shown in local clubs and bars and he ended up with his own UHF TV show.

In the pre-You Tube days of 1975 Saturday Night Live put out a call for home movies and Mr. Bill debuted on Saturday Night Live in 1976 and ran until 1980. (Williams was eventually hired by Lorne Michaels as a staff writer.) The years ’76-80 were the early golden years of the program with a cast that included Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Chevy Chase, Jane Curtin and John Belushi.

Mr. Bill and his supporting cast Mr. Hands and Sluggo were quite an inspiration to me in those years because they were my high school years. One of my first films in Annye Refoe’s creative writing class featured my version of Mr. Bill. I don’t remember the story line but I do recall the obligatory destruction scene where Mr. Bill is standing in front of the door as the entire class leaves for the day flattening Mr. Bill. “Ohh, nooo!!! (My art teacher mom had to make a few Mr. Bill’s for the stunts.)

It was that class that set me on course for film school and an over 20 year career in production. Looking back on the years ’76-80 there was an eclectic mix of inspiration for a young creative mind:  Star Wars (77), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (77), David Lynch’s Elephant Man (80), Rocky (76), Raging Bull (80), Woody Allen’s Annie Hall (77), Saturday Night Fever (77), Grease (78), Animal House (78),  Apocalypse Now (78) Kramer Vs. Kramer (79), Norma Rae (79), …And Justice for All (79), Breaking Away (79), Halloween (78)Being There (79), The Great Santini (79), Silent Movie (76), Silver Streak (76), Heaven Can Wait (78), Mad Max (79)  along with those movies I probably saw at the now defunct Prairie Lake Drive-In Theater–Smokey and the Bandit (77), Up in Smoke (78) and The Kentucky Fried Movie (77).

Mr. Bill is an American icon from the 70s and it’s nice to see him (and Williams) kicking around 28 years later. Williams has not only directed Mr. Bill in spots for Lexus, Burger King and Ramada Inn but in non-profit efforts to help restore the wetlands in New Orleans.

In 1978 there was a 15 year-old over in Baton Rogue, Louisiana who began to make animation and short narrative films (perhaps inspired by Mr. Bill’s success) who would go to make his mark in 1989 writing and directing and shooting sex, lies, and videotape. (Winner of the Palm d’Or at the ’89 Cannes Film Festival some credit the film with starting the modern day independent film movement.)

Steven Soderbergh went on to win an Oscar for best director for Traffic (2000). (That same year his Erin Brockovich was also nominated for best picture at the Academy Awards. That’s called having a great year.)

Soderbergh has done an amazing job of making big budget features with actors as such as George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts, and then turning around and making a DV feature like Bubble with amateur actors in Ohio and West Virginia. (Though from what I’ve read, it’s not a favorable outlook on small town America.) His next two films, Guerrilla & The Argentine (on Che Guevara) were shot with the new revolutionary RED camera which shoots digitally –no film or tape. (Am I the only one who thinks it’s ironic to make a film on a Marxist leader with a camera called Red?)

Now that I think about it, do we really need two more films on Che Guevara? From a guy who was executive producer on Syriana? (Justifiably cynical at best, anti-American at worse.) It’s good to be reminded in film critic Andrew Sarris’ review of Syriana that despite this countries problems, ” The world is too full of people who’d kill us (Americans) for the shoes on our feet.”

We need counter-cultural writers and filmmakers who challenge us (even our capitalistic & materialistic faults that helped bring on the mortgage crisis), but do we need to make socialist, marxist, communist, dictators, and/or terrorist our heroes? (And I’d bet that there are more than one pro-Taliban scripts floating around Hollywood.)  But I do look forward to seeing what the RED camera footage looks like on the big screen and I’m sure Benicio Del Toro performance as Guevara will be worthy and increase sales of Che Guevara t-shirts.

Politics aside, Soderbergh is also unusual in that he is the director of photography on most of his films, and sometimes the editor as well.  I think he and multiple creative hat wearer Robert Rodriguez will be the inspiration and model for filmmakers of the future.

Anne Rice, novelist and screenwriter of Interview with the Vampire, was born in New Orleans which is where many of her stories take place. Novelist and essay writer Walker Percy (The Moviegoer, The Second Coming) spent his last forty plus years in Covington and most of his stories take place in Louisiana.

Ernest J. Gaines  whose A Lesson Before Dying was nominated a Pulitzer Prize and made into a TV movie is a writer-in-residence at the University of Louisiana at Lafaytte.

Other well-known writers with a Louisiana connection are Lillian Hellman (The Little Foxes), Stephen Ambrose (writer of Band of Brothers and consultant on Saving Private Ryan), and Tennessee Williams (A Streetcar Named Desire).

John Kennedy Toole after years of publishers rejection won the 1981 Pulitzer Prize A Confederacy of Dunces over a decade after committing suicide. Truman Capote (Breakfast at Tiffany’s, In Cold Blood) was born in New Orleans but belongs more to Alabama where he grew-up.

On the production side, Louisiana has been aggressive over the years in making movies in the state:
The Apostle
Southern Comfort
The Big Easy
Dead Man Walking
The Cincinnati Kid
Live and Let Die
King Creole
Tightrope
All the Kings Men

Even Shreveport is getting into the action according to an USA Today article last month titled “Hooray for movie locations outside Hollywood.” According to writer Alexandyr Kent, Shreveport has attracted “at least 18 projects in 2008, totaling more than $200 million in production budgets, and more than 80% of that will likely be spent in Louisiana.”

Shreveport is where Katie Holmes filmed Mad Money and where Josh Brolin was arrested in an incident outside a bar in July while there for filming Oliver Stone’s W. (No, Stone didn’t use a RED camera.)

To learn more about the film industry in Louisiana contact the  Louisiana Film & Television Office of Entertainment Industry Development and Louisiana Movies Blog.

Copyright 2008 Scott W. Smith

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