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Posts Tagged ‘Steven Soderbergh’

I’ll continue my run of posts on Hamilton Monday. But today I want to post a couple videos that Apple just dropped featuring writer/director Damien Chazelle (La La Land, Whiplash).

A couple of years ago I did a presentation at a college and was asked what camera I was excited about most. I knew they were to hear me say one of the Arri or Red camera but I said the iPhone. I had just shot a multimedia project that included everything from a traditional video camera, a Nikon DSLR, a Go Pro, and an iPhone7+.

I loved the simplicity of shooting stills and videos on the fly with the iPhone. (Plus I was using the DJI OSMO stabilizer and the FilMic Pro app so I was pretty blown away by the imagine.

Judging from the looks in the room back in 2007, I had just made a filmmaking faux pas. But I feel vindicated by what’s transpired over the last three years. Chazelle’s videos are just the latest to get some attention. But one more reminder that it’s the filmmaker with vision that’s more important than the camera used.

Twenty years ago I saw these changes coming when I was doing a shoot in Pennsylvania. The year before I had done a traditional DigiBeta SP shoot hiring a three person crew out of Pittsburgh. But because of budget restrictions I was working as a one-man band on this shoot and had rented a Sony PD-150 for a couple hundred dollars. I remember reading the camera manuel on the flight, and trying to wrap my head around the menu. Most film and videos cameras up until then were pretty straight forward.

But the year before, The Blair Witch Project came out and helped change expectations. There were a whole bunch of indie films that were hitting around then shot on digital video cameras. One of my favorites (that I’ve written about several times over the years) is Pieces of April (2003). That film still holds up well today because of the writing and performances.

When the Panasonic DVX 100 camera out one of my cameraman friends couldn’t stop talking about the 24P film look he was getting out of it. In 2003, I purchased a DVX100 and slowing watched as others adopted a new way of doing things. A few years later the switch to HD footage took over. Around 2009/2010 DSLR cameras became an indie favorite, and in 2015 Sean Baker released Tangerine and really showed the world what could be done with an iPhone,

Inspired by what Baker did, Steven Soderbergh shot Unsane (2018) and High Flying Bird (2019) on an iPhone.. I’m not saying that the iPhone is the greatest camera in the world—and neither Baker or Soderbergh used one on their latest films—but it’s earned a seat at the table.

And film school should be the last place to snub their noses at iPhones. What better way to have students cranking out footage than using an iPhone? Make a one minute film day one. Fail, learn, and then make another film.

Scott W. Smith 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“To make a good film, to write a screenplay, is surprisingly hard. It shouldn’t be that hard. You’re really creating a diversion for people for two hours. But because of the length—it’s almost like writing a villanelle, or one of those forms that has so many requirements, that to hit the marks you need to hit and to express something is incredibly hard. And the result is there are a handful of people who know how to do it.”
Oscar-nominated screenwriter Paul Attanasio (Donnie Brasco, Quiz Show)
The Dialogue interview with Mike De Luca

Screenwriter Paul Attanasio, like screenwriter Sheldon Turner, came into the film world not through film school but through law school.  He also says he was not “one of those clerk in a video store” kind of guys, but that his writing is based in literature. After graduating from Harvard Law School he turned an internship with the Washington Post into a four-year stint as a film critic.

I’m not sure how he made the jump onto the filmmaking side, but he had the advantage of being mentored by Oscar-winning writer/director Joseph Mankiewicz (All About Eve). His first produced screenplay (Quiz Show) was directed by Robert Redford, his second film Disclosure was directed by Barry Levinson and starred Michael Douglas and Demi Moore, and his third film (Donnie Brasco) starred Al Pacino and Johnny Depp. He had two Oscar-nominations right out of the gate. A pretty good start, huh?

In the ’90s Attanasio also made his mark in TV when he created Homicide:Life on the Street (based on the book by David Simon) and from 2002-2012 he’s credited as executive producer on House M.D.

Here’s a glimpse into his writing process:

“I’m a late convert to outlining. I used to really try to know where I was going to end up and feel my way through it. And [Steven] Soderbergh when we did The Good German said, ‘no, why don’t you outline.’ And I was at the point where my process had gotten so amorphous—it wasn’t quite as amorphous as my friend Alvin Sargent—but it was semi-amorphous. And I said, “Okay, I’ll try that.” And it’s good. It’s like having a road map on a family trip. What happens is the kids have to go to the bathroom, you leave the road, you see something interesting, you go to it, then they’re hungry and you go there. But then when you have to get back to the highway, you know where the highway is, or at least you have a general direction to find your way back to the highway. Writers who stick rigidly to an outline, and never go up those blind alleys aren’t real writers. But on the other side of it is if you’re collecting scraps of paper you can take a long time to write a screenplay.”
Paul Attanasio
The Dialogue interview with Mike De Luca

P.S. Here’s part of Attanasio’s 1987 review of the movie Hoosiers;
“In Hoosiers, director David Anspaugh and screen writer Angelo Pizzo have taken the tired ‘go for it!’ dramatics of a David-and-Goliath story and revived it with the fervor of real experience. Hoosiers demonstrates that it’s not the tale but the telling, for beneath the cliche’s lies a rich and detailed portrait of a time, a place and a way of life.” (I’m pretty sure that should be “beneath the cliches” or “beneath the cliche” but who am I to correct the Washington Post or Attanasio? Anyway, you get the idea of what he was saying. My guess is his years reviewing films was Attanasio’s substitute film school.)

P.P.S. Paul’s brother, Mark Attanasio, is the principle owner of the Milwaukee Brewers Major League Baseball team. Talented family.

Scott W. Smith

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‘Boyhood’

“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. “
Steve Soderbergh on April 27,2013
Conclusion to his State of Cinema talk
San Francisco International Film Festival

For the last month I’ve tried to find an angle to write about Richard Linklater’s film Boyhood. After writing the last two posts about Steven Soderbergh I decided that Soderbergh’s State of Cinema  talk last year was my anchor. I don’t know if Soderbergh loved Boyhood, but I think it fits his criteria from last year that “somebody out there somewhere is making something cool.”

Linklater shot the Boyhood over 12 years with the same actors in Austin, Texas. That’s pretty cool just by itself. Linklater said that he’d been compelled to make a film about childhood, but was having trouble finding the moment he wanted to explore so he’d given up on the idea of a feature film on the topic. But he sat down to write something and that’s where he captured the magic.

“I was just going to write an experimental novel or something, and the hands go to hit the keyboard and this idea comes fully formed. Like, ‘What if you filmed a little bit every year? And the kids just grew up, and everyone just aged—why can’t you make a move like that?’ So that’s the fun part. The tough part was it’s such an impractical crazy idea—the mechanics of it. Not to mentioned getting it financed.”
Writer/director Richard Linklater (Boyhood)
Flim4video interview

And even if Soderbergh didn’t love (or even see) Boyhood, plenty of people did. It received 100% from the top critic on Rottentomatos.com.  On boxofficemojo.com they have the $4 million film making over $37 million worldwide since its July release.

Boyhood wraps up today a more than a month-long run (often to sold out crowds) at the Enzian Theater here in Orlando, so obviously the film struck a chord beyond the art house crowd.

There’s an Amy Hempel quote I read in an article by Blake Butler a while back that sums up part of what I think fascinates viewers of Boyhood, “The more literal you are, the more metaphorical people will think you are being.”

P.S. I was producing and shooting a video project after I saw Boyhood that required using a young talent hitting a baseball off a tee and blowing out birthday candles and decided to take a still photo of the talent that captured the spirit of boyhood and what it means to be seven years old.

DSC_8685web

© 2014 Scott W. Smith

Related posts:

Screenwriting from Texas
The Day the Field of Dreams Burned
Difficult + Changing Times = Whiplash

Scott W. Smith

 

 

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“We now live in a time of endless possibility. More has been learned about the treatment of the human body in the last five years than was learned in the previous five hundred.”
Dr. John W. Thackery (Clive Owen) referencing the year 1900
The Knick, The Eulogy from episode 1

“I think it’s not so much about the format of the stories that we’re going to tell, as filmmakers — it’s about the way it’s going to be consumed. That’s what’s going to be changed.”
Michael Sugar of Anonymous Content and Steven Soderbergh’s manager
IndieWire interview by Anne Thompson

The Knick

When Steven Soderbergh announced his retirement a while back it was just from making feature films that were theatrically released—and maybe paint a little bit. Last month Cinemax began airing The Knick directed by Soderbergh who is also one of the executive producers.

Set in New York City in 1900, The Knick stars Clive Owen and is a look at the early (dramatic and bloody) days of modern medicine. Soderbergh was going for anti-nostagic in tone. (Keep in mind that human life expectancy back then was 47 years.)

“At no point do you look at this and go, ‘Wow, it must have been really great to live in 1900.'”
Steven Soderbergh
Wall Street Journal interview by John Jurgensen

Jack Amiel and Michael Begler wrote the wrote the initial episode (and are the show’s main writers) that pulled Soderbergh away from his painting to jump back in the directing chair.

Related post:
‘State of Cinema’ (Soderbergh)

Scott W. Smith

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“I’m not saying I’m like, ALLOWED to do this.”
Steven Soderbergh (on going Jack Sparrow with a Spielberg classic) 

IndianaB&W

Can you spot what’s different about Indiana Jones?

I know it’s now officially Fall, but the Screenwriting Summer School is still in session on this blog. Today’s class with be led by Professor (producer, writer, director) Steven Soderbergh (whose dad really was a professor at LSU in Baton Rouge). And now Soderbergh can add pirate (for “educational purposes only”) to his resume—and the results are fabulous.

In fact, I’ll go as far as saying what Soderbergh did is my favorite film related article/video I’ve seen all year.

Yesterday on his website Extension 765 he posted an edit of Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) where he shifting the color to black and white (it looks great) and replaced the sound with a music track, rumor has it, done by Trent Reznor.

Now why would Soderbergh go to all the trouble? Why would Soderbergh mess with a classic? Why nix the John Williams Oscar-nominated score?

Simply to explore the old film school truism (at least that’s where I learned it many years ago) that you should be able to watch a film without the sound and still know what’s going on simply by the visual storytelling.

Visual conflict & key light via hot poker pulled from a fire.

Visual conflict & key light via a hot poker pulled from a fire.

According to Soderbergh the new score “is designed to aid you in your quest to just study the visual staging aspect.” Worked for me. I watched the whole new Raiders version by the other Steven S. last night from 10PM to midnight and think it’s an instant classic. (And I’m guessing will be instantly abhorred by others.)

Raiders does hold up well without dialogue, but then again I’ve seen it a few times so I’m not the best judge.

Speaking of judges… It’s a little ironic Soderbergh just lifted an entire Paramount film since on his website under Privacy and Terms it states; “Unauthorized use of the Contents is expressly prohibited by law, and may result in severe civil and criminal penalties. You might want to look up the word SEVERE, if you’re thinking about screwing with us.”

I’ve wondered if Tony Zhou’s excellent Vimeo account would be taken down because he makes his filmmaking points using many movie clips. I’m not a copyright lawyer, but my understanding is You Tube and Vimeo is a little beyond the means of educational purposes in a classroom. Often times I link to movie scenes found on You Tube that hit on points I’m trying to make, only to find out later that they’ve been pulled because of a copyright violation. I welcome any lawyers to clarify this area, because it is a direction I’d like to head for this blog in 2015.  Regardless, better catch Soderbergh’s Raiders ASAP in case Paramount makes him take it down soon.

Related posts:
‘Story Telling Without Dialogue’ (Tip #82) “IF YOU PRETEND THE CHARACTERS CANT SPEAK, AND WRITE A SILENT MOVIE, YOU WILL BE WRITING GREAT DRAMA.”—David Mamet
Show, Don’t Tell (Tip #46)
Writing “The Artist” (Part 1) “I thought making a silent film would be a magnificent challenge.”
Garry Marshall’s Directing Tips (Part 7) “The reaction to the action is critical.”—Blake Edwards via Marshall
Directing Tips from Peter Bogdanovich  “Silent looks between people—to me, that’s what movies are about.”—Peter Bogdanovich

Soderbergh Related Posts:
Steven Soderbergh is Platformagnostic
Fast & Furious—Steven Soderbergh
“State of Cinema” —Soderbergh
Sex, Lies, & Mr. Bill (Screenwriting from Louisiana) 

Raiders Related Posts:
Movie Cloning (“Raiders”)
Raiders Revisited (part 1)
Raiders Revisited (part 2)
Raiders Revisited (part 3)
Raiders Revisited (part 4)
Scriptnotes’ 100th Podcast

P.S. I’ve been getting a few hits from a Malibu Screenwriting group that’s having a meet-up tonight (9/23/14) in Westlake Village. The were following a link to my 2008 post Screenwriting & Exposition. For what it’s worth, Indiana Jones saying, “I hate snakes” at the start of Raiders is exposition. Plus a nice set-up that will have a bigger payoff later in the movie. For that group here’s another post you may find useful, “Exposition is BORING unless…”

Scott W. Smith

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 “I knew I didn’t want to make it like a normal narrative film where it’s all about story.  I wanted it to be more like a meditation.”
Pawel Pawlikowski
Collier interview by Shelia Roberts

ida_poster-620x353

“The real inspiration for how [Ida] looks was my impatience with cinema, where the vein of cinema is going. I wanted to make an anti-cinema film where there are no pointless camera moves, no pointless close-ups. I’m not emotionally excited by the power of cinema’s tricks anymore. Maybe it’s my personal midlife crisis. I’d love to see something that was calm and meditative, where you suggest more than show, where each kind of shot has some kind of density and tension, not just in the drama and the acting, but in the visuals, and where acting and image and sound are all part of the same thing. When I watch most films, with some exception, I always ask myself: ‘Why is the camera moving? Why is there a close-up now? Why does this have to be handheld now?’ It was a way of purifying, getting rid of habits, and doing something really simply. Looking at a picture, contemplating it, while not really reading the emotional charge. But staying away from the kind of cinema rhetoric that I’m finding myself more and more impatient with. Maybe it’s my last film, like a farewell to my career—although I don’t have much of a career.”
Pawel Pawlikowski (Director/co-writer Ida)
Interview in Film Comment by Violet Lucca

Just about a year ago, in my post State of Cinema’, I quoted filmmaker Steven Soderbergh from his talk at the 2013 San Francisco International Film Festival where he said, “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.”

As those words were spoken, Pawlikowski was somewhere in Poland working on Ida. I don’t know if Pawlikowski ever watched Soderbergh’s talk, or if Soderbergh has seen Ida—but I’d like to think that at some point those two will be sitting together in a cafe in Warsaw, or a bar in Baton Rouge, talking about cinema.

“I never made films like kind of career moves, like making this film in order to make that film in order to end up in Hollywood. ”
Pawel Pawlikowski

Ironically, Pawlikowski is now scheduled to direct Godzilla vs. Spider-Man. Kidding.

P.S. I know a little more about anti-heroes and anti-piracy than anti-cinema, but a quick Internet search connected a short list of filmmakers some associate with anti-cinema; Yasujirō Ozu, Andy Warhol, Lars von Trier, and Carl Dreyer.

One film that resonates with Ida is Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928). A film where Roger Ebert said, “To see Renee Maria Falconetti…is to too look into eyes that will never leave you,” and Pauline Kael said, “Perhaps the finest performance ever recorded on film.”

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 The Third Man is one of the best, if not the best, non-auteur films ever made.”
Writer/Director Peter Bogdanovich (The Last Picture Show)

The Third Man was never written to be read but only to be seen. Like many love affairs, it started at a dinner table and continued with many headaches in many places, Vienna, Venice, Ravello, London, Santa Monica.”
Screenwriter Graham Greene
‘The Third Man’ as a Story and a Film
NY Times—March 19, 1950

Towards the end of the Orson Welles Q&A at USC back in 1981 there is this brief exchange which says a lot about going to great lengths to get the right shot.

Audience member: An actor friend of mine once told me that he thought one of the great moments in film is in The Third Man when the light falls on you and you’re revealed —

Orson Welles: —”Oh, it is one of the great moments. (The USC audience laughs and applauds.) Remember I didn’t direct it, Carol Reed directed it. And do you know that we had that set built on another stage, and every afternoon for five days at the end of the day’s shooting we went and shot it again until Carol had it exactly the way he wanted it. Because he knew it was the key moment of the movie.”

I couldn’t find that scene online, and that’s just as well. If you’ve seen it you know what’s being talked about. If you haven’t seen it, you should (and not online). But I did find the classic short “cuckoo clocks” monologue by Welles that is often quoted from the movie. And a couple other related videos including a full audio commentary of The Third Man by Steven Soderbergh (Traffic ) and Tony Gilroy (The Bourne Identity). And I should at least mention that The Third Man—which is listed at number #94 on IMDB’s Top 250— was written by the novelist, playwright and screenwriter Graham Greene (but even he admitted, “the popular line of dialogue concerning Swiss cuckoo clocks was written into the script by Mr. Welles himself.”)

Scott W. Smith

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“Odd lead performances be damned, [Bubble] is not only an underrated gem, but yet another masterpiece found within Soderbergh’s historic filmography.”
Joshua Brunsting, Criterioncast 

Today on re-post Saturday I decided on one where Oscar-winning director Steven Soderbergh (Traffic) talked about directing non-professional actors because it’s a nice match for the post earlier this month where Alexander Payne’s talked about working with non-professional actors in all his films—“Nebraska”—Take 1 (Casting Farmers)— and because I finally got around to seeing Bubble last night—the movie Soderbergh referenced. (The 2005 offbeat film has never been easy to find, but it’s currently available on Netflix.)

Here’s the original post from October 2011 on one of the early HD features released in theaters:

It’s not usual for directors to use non-professional actors from time to time, but Steven Soderbergh took it to extreme for his 2006 film Bubble—the entire cast was non-professionals actors. I was reminded of that film today when I drove through Parkerburgh, West Virginia & Belpre, Ohio were Soderbergh shot Bubble. Soderbergh, who directed and shot the film, said that he found that non-professionals tend to do their best work in the first or second take before they start becoming self-conscious of their performance. Here are some other thoughts he had on the experience to help you in working with non-professional actors:

“I didn’t ever want to be in a situation of giving non-professional actors marks, you know, and be in a situation where they had to repeat a precise physical activity to accommodate where the camera was.

“So I was always working from the performance out and making sure that I had the camera in a place that could capture what they were doing without me having to tell them, ‘Hey, don’t lean over here. I need you to walk up to this mark. Don’t sit in that chair.’ I wanted them to do whatever they were going to do, and then I would find a way to have it play out in the frame.

“One of the things I like in the film is this guy, this detective, who’s a real detective who works in Ohio, he just had a quality that I thought was really fascinating, you know. It’s just impossible to fake, and especially in the interrogation scene, that was a single take, two cameras running, and watching the two of them as this scene developed was really interesting, watching his cadence slowly start to shift as, you know, the wheel starts to turn a little bit and watching her start to get more and more upset and more nervous. It was really fascinating.

“What we did was we just gave him the factual information that he would have from that alleged murder scene. I didn’t tell him what to say. I didn’t tell him how to question her. I didn’t tell him when to, you know, pull the trump card. I just said, ‘Do this the way you would do it,’ and she had no idea of what he was going to do, and so it was really interesting to watch.”
Steven Soderbergh
ABC Interview  

Colemon Hough wrote the screenplay for Bubble (with a large amount of improv from the non-professional actors).

Scott W. Smith

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“I don’t want to bring this to a conclusion on a down note. A few years back, I got a call from an agent, he said look ‘Will you come see this film? It’s a small, independent film a client made. It’s been making the festival circuit and it’s getting a really good response, but no distributor will pick it up, and I really want you to take a look at it and tell me what you think.’ The film was called Memento. So the lights come up and I go alright, ‘It’s over. It’s over. Nobody will buy this film? This is just insane. The movie business is over.’ It was really upsetting. Well fortunately, the people who financed the movie loved the movie so much they formed their own distribution company and put the movie out and made 25 million dollars. 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. ”
Steve Soderbergh
Conclusion to his State of Cinema talk
San Francisco International Film Festival
April 27,2013

To encourage somebody, somewhere to make something cool that we’re all going to love is what this Screenwriting from Iowa…and Other Unlikely Places is all about. Thanks for reading.

Scott W. Smith

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