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Posts Tagged ‘The Angry Filmmaker’

“For those of you who have seen Living in Oblivion (the best movie about making a movie), there is a wonderful scene that’s repeated throughout the film of various crew members sniffing the milk container on the craft services table after they’ve poured themselves a cup of coffee. Everyone makes a face, puts it down and walks away. That’s just one little jab pointed at all those filmmakers who don’t take care of their crew in the simplest ways.

Living in Oblivion is a great film that should be required viewing for anyone who wants to make a feature. You will laugh at the stuff that goes on, but just about every low-budget shoot I have ever worked on had at least one of those elements happen. I think the movie is a documentary. It’s a good way to avoid pitfalls. I walked out of the theater feeling like I had worked with half of the crew portrayed in the movie. If you want to make movies, see it.”
Kelley Baker
The Angry Filmmaker Survival Guide; Making The Extreme No-Budget Film (part 1)
Page 149-150

P.S. Living in Oblivion was written and directed by Tom DiCillo, who was the cinematographer on Stranger Than Paradise. If you haven’t seen that film, check it out because it’s a great example of “embracing your limitations.” Each scene in the black & white film written and directed by Jim Jarmusch was shot in one-take master shots.

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Fueling Your Imagination (Jarmusch Style)

Scott W. Smith

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Over the years I’ve learned to wear quite a few hats; producer, director, writer, cameraman, editor, etc.—but one thing I have little experience in is sound design. Thanks to The Angry Filmmaker, Kelley Baker, I know a lot more today than before I met him two days ago.

Years ago, I had one class is film school where the teacher showed us the George Stevens’ classic A Place in the Sun. When it was over he asked us questions like, “What sounds do you associate with the Elizabeth Taylor character?” and “What is going on in the background noise for Shelly Winters’ character?” None of us had a clue. We talked about sound design and then watched parts of the film again and I began to understand the details that went into a well crafted film. Though it’s been a big gap, what I learned from Baker took up right where that film professor left off.

Baker stopped into my office Monday as a quick pit stop on his way from Wisconsin to St. Louis. He watched a short video I’m on the tail end of production on and offered some wisdom on sound design and added that I should cut it the whole thing by a minute. A minute? It’s only four minutes long. A minute is 25% of the almost finished video. Later that night (just before midnight) 51 seconds had been painfully edited out and it’s a better project for it.

Baker is a USC film school grad, an independent feature filmmaker, and was sound designer on several high profile features including Good Will Hunting, Finding Forrester, and My Own Private Idaho. That’s a pretty good resume.  These days he spends a lot of time doing film seminars and passing on what he’s learned over the years to other filmmakers. (I’ll get into why he’s the Angry Filmmaker in later posts.)

But today I want to touch on one scene Barker sound designed for Good Will Hunting. It’s the scene where Will (Matt Damon) gets into a fight. Watch the linked clip and then read Baker’s comments below. (If you really want to dip your toes in sound design, first watch the clip without sound and then ask yourself how you would design the scene, Then listen to it with sound before you read Baker’s comments below.)

Baker told me that he asked director Gus Van Sant what he wanted for the fight scene thinking he might want big punches like those found in Raging Bull. Van Sant simply told him, “I want Revolution Number 9.” That’s the Beatles song off their White Album and what Van Sant was saying was he wanted chaos.

Baker goes into more detail on his educational DVD Sound Design For Independent Films saying;

“We already agreed that the fight would be from Matt’s point of view—all the audio for the fight…You’re going to hear church bells, you’re going to hear birds, happy little birds, and you’re going to hear kind of a choir…There’s a lot more going on, but those three kind of stand out. And you have to think, “This is a fight, what am I hearing happy birds for? Why am I hearing church bells? What’s the whole deal with the choir? It’s easy. As a young man Will Hunting was beat up and knocked around and dumped on by all these foster parents and he talks about it in the movie.

The only time he’s ever happy and at peace with himself is when he’s fighting. When he’s beating the crap out of somebody. So to him to some extent—and this is only in my logic perhaps—it’s the happiest time for him when he’s invloved in a fight and he’s winning. That’s why you get happy birds, that’s why you get these religious type sound effects because he is at one. He is at peace when he’s in the middle of a fight.

Is anybody in the middle of watching the movie going to say, ‘Listen there’s a choir, he’s at one with himself because of his horrible childhood”? No, nobody’s going to say that. Are they going to pick up on it psychologically? I hope so. That’s the idea. I’m trying to tell you more about characters through sound and sound effects.”

Now watch the clip of the Good Will Hunting clip again. You may be a writer, not a sound designer, but look at the detail that professionals (including directors, actors,  editors, directors of photography, wardrobe, set designers, sound designers, etc.) are looking for clues on how to best bring your story to life.

And just for good measure listen to the Beatles Revolution Number 9 to see Van Sant’s original reference point for the fight scene sound.

Scott W. Smith

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Yesterday I was fortunate to have lunch with The Angry Filmmaker (Kelley Baker ) and  Jon Gann, founder of the D.C. Film Alliance, as they journeyed from doing a film workshop in Madison, Wisconsin to meeting with filmmakers in St. Louis. I’ll write more about what I learned about filmmaking over yesterday’s lunch (and it was a lot) later this week, but for today let me sum it all up in one word—”Stagecoach.”

Kelley and Jon noticed as they pulled into Cedar Falls fresh from a morning stop at the Field of Dreams in Dyersville) that the 1939 John Wayne/John Ford film “Stagecoach” was on the marquee at the Oster-Regent Theatre on Main Street. No, movies don’t take that long to get to Iowa (though many good ones never get here), but it was part of the theater’s 100 year celebration.

On Sunday afternoon I gave a short introduction to the classic western film and that info I learned meshed very well with Kelley’s own views on filmmaking and that is simply that filmmaking is a process that is best learned by doing. If you’ve read this blog much you’ve heard illustration after illustration of writers and filmmakers who simply learned their craft by writing script after script and making film after film.

And the same was true for John Wayne and John Ford. While Stagecoach is #63 of AFI’s list of the greatest American films ever made and #9 on their list of top ten westerns. The film was nominated for seven Oscars and won two. It did not win for best picture  because 1939 was one of the greatest years for films in the history of cinema.

Stagecoach joined Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Wuthering Heights, Ninotchka and The Wizard of Oz in losing the best picture Oscar to Gone with the Wind. Victor Fleming also won best director for Gone with the Wind.

But Stagecoach was the go to film for Orson Welles before he made Citizen Kane (1941). In fact, Welles not only watched the film 40 times, but when once asked who his favorite three film directors where said, “John Ford, John Ford, John Ford.” For what it’s worth, both Citizen Kane and Stagecoach did mediocre business at the box office when released.

But the more fascinating thing to me about Stagecoach from this blog’s perspective is that for both John Ford and John Wayne it was about the 90th film each had made. Of the 180 films between the two made before 1939  most people today wouldn’t recognize but one or two films. (John Wayne called his pre-Stagecoach films “poverty westerns.”) A good deal of those films where two-reelers that were 20-50 minutes in length. Though the popularity of these shorter films that played along side feature films died out in the mid to late 1930s, they proved to be a great training ground for actors and filmmakers since the beginning of film history in the late 1800s.

And if the 10,000 hour rule is true then the greatest benefit for actors and filmmakers today in working on short films is the learning process.  What does the Angry Filmmaker have to say about short films?

“If you make a feature without having made a short film, you’re an idiot. Filmmaking is as much a craft as it is an art form and a business. First and for most you have to learn your craft.”
Kelley Baker
The Angry Filmmaker Survival Guide

These days it really doesn’t take much time and money to get some friends and some equipment together and make one to seven minute films. And there are plenty of film festivals to enter so you can collect some awards and this little thing called the internet for your films to perhaps find an audience and make a name for yourself.

If John Wayne can go from being born in little Winterset, Iowa to becoming one of the greatest on-screen legends via doing 13 years of  “poverty westerns”— just maybe there is some magic in just in the process of doing little things well until greater opportunities come your way.

P.S. And just because I delight in making odd connections, The Angry Filmmaker (who’s really a gentle soul from what I can tell) is from Portland which happens to be where writer Ernest Haycox was born and died. Haycox wrote 300 short stories and 12 novels and  of who Ernest Hemingway once said, “I read The Saturday Evening Post whenever it has a serial by Ernest Haycox.” Haycox’s short story Stage to Lordsborg was what screenwriter Dudley Nichols based based his script Stagecoach.

P.P.S. The movie Stagecoach was also John Ford’s first film to be shot in Monument Valley. Though I’ve been all over the county that area is one place I’ve missed and is in my top five place I want to see. I dream of staying at The View Hotel on the Arizona/Utah border someday. As John Ford found out, there is some beautiful land out there in flyover county.

Scott W. Smith


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Once upon a time (1978) in a land far, far from Hollywood (Utah) a film festival popped up that eventually became what is considered today as the granddaddy of film festivals in the United States—the Sundance Film Festival. I imagine 30 years ago if you asked most people if they wanted to go to a film festival in Salt Lake City a common answer would have been, “Why?’.

Of course, having Robert Redford involved didn’t hurt visibility, nor did the decision in 1981 to move the festival to Park City, Utah. And since that is a ski resort town they also moved the festival from the summertime to the winter as a way to make the festival more glamorous to the Hollywood crowd. Those changes all worked. And the festival that was originally started to increase filmmaking in Utah and highlight regional independent filmmaking has become a two-week suburb of Los Angeles full of celebrities and paparazzi.

So where do you go these days to see small, independent, regional filmmakers? Well, honestly, if you’re not making a film try next door because somebody there is probably between writing a script and editing the film. Small film festivals are everywhere as cities now see it as a marketing advantage—a way to seem with it.

But I want to tell you about a little film festival that is located in one of my favorite areas in the country—The Fly Way Film Festival began in 2008 and is held in late October in Pepin & Stockholm, Wisconsin.  (It’s going on right now.) The two small villages on Lake Pepin (part of the Mississippi) while not large in number are a located in a beautiful area that has no shortage of artists. And begin located an hour and a half south-east of Minneapolis makes it not so remote.

This year 35 feature films and shorts will be show through this weekend. I met the director Rick Vaicius last month while sailing on Lake Pepin. One of the things I like most about the festival is they don’t charge an entry fee for filmmakers. I think that probably sets them a part from most (all?) film festivals right out of the gate. I don’t know if they’ll become the next Sundance (or even want to be), but I think it’s a festival that should be on your radar because what every filmmaker needs is a few cheerleaders in their corner.

And speaking of cheerleaders, Kelley Baker, The Angry Filmmaker, will also be speaking at the Fly Way Film Festival this year.

As a taste of this year selections… Ballhawks is a documentary by Mike Diedrich that is narrated by Bill Murray. The film will be show tomorrow (10/23/10) at the Fly Way Film Festival and Diedrich will be on hand at the showing. (For those of you in Texas, the film is also showing this week at the Austin Film Festival.) The film is about  a little known aspect of Chicago Cubs baseball that happens just outside Wrigley Field. Diedrich says it’s, “A story about hope, exuberance, shattered dreams and picking up the pieces to move on.”

Vimeo doesn’t play well with WordPress so click here to watch a trailer of Ballhawks.

Oh, and one for the trivia books. Pepin, Wisconsin happens to be the town that Laura Ingalls Wilder was born just outside of. (Before she wrote Little House on the Prairie, her first book was Little House in the Big Woods about the Pepin area.)

One more example of big things happening in small places. (Not to mention Bob Dylan playing here in Cedar Falls, Iowa on Sunday.)

Scott W. Smith

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