Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘The Blair Witch Project’

“When you can have a positive effect on people’s lives and help them reach their dreams, that is the best reward a teacher can have.”
Ralph Clemente

“A teacher who can arouse a feeling for one single good action, for one single good poem, accomplishes more than he who fills our memory with rows and rows of natural objects, classified with name and form.”
Goethe

ralph-in-his-office-pano

Ralph Clemente in his Valencia College office/Photo by Don Burlinson

Earlier this month filmmaker and educator Ralph Clemente died only three weeks after finding out he had  pancreatic cancer. He was a professor of mine at the University of Miami and known for his infectious inspiration—and Arnold Schwarzenegger-like accent.

In the late eighties he helped start the film program at Valencia College in Orlando where he and his students would have a hand in producing 47 feature films. Over the years the program allowed students to work with Oscar-nominated actresses Julie Harris and Ruby Dee, and Oscar-winning director Robert Wise (who also edited Citizen Kane). Steven Spielberg once called the program, “one of the best film schools in the county.”

Clemente actually had the distinction of being part of the inspiration for a couple of the filmmakers who would go on to make The Blair Witch Project, as well as just this past November having a small part playing a woodman in Game of Thrones

That Game of Thrones episode was directed by David Nutter who was also Clemente’s student at Miami. Clemente produced Nutter’s first feature Cease Fire (which starred an up and coming actor named Don Johnson) which helped launch Nutter’s career that’s included directing gigs on The Sopranos, The X-Files, Entourage, and Band of Brothers. Clemente and Nutter remained friends over the decades so I wasn’t surprised that he hired Clemente as an extra on the set of Game of Thrones shot in Ireland.

(Note: For the younger DSLR crowd, and those totally unfamiliar with Nutter or Clemente, as Vincent Lafort continues making the transition from photographer to filmmaker he’s recently been shadowing the Primetime Emmy-winning Nutter on production sets. It’s all one big interconnected tribe.)

Clemente was born in Germany and actually had his first acting role at the age of two. He moved to Florida as a teenager, studied acting, ending up serving in the Army, before going on to work in TV and film and landing at the University of Miami as filmmaker-in-residence for ten years.

What a life, right? But his legacy is the film program at Valencia which just earlier this year had a 20th Anniversary film festival to celebrate some of the films he and the school helped get made including Sealed with a Kiss which he directed from a script written by his wife Emily.

What sets the Valencia program apart is its early vision. In the late 80s, Disney and Universal built film studios in Orlando, and enough features and TV shows were being shot here (Parenthood, From Earth to the Moon, Passenger 57) that it looked like the promises of central Florida becoming Hollywood East were more than hype. But what there wasn’t a lot of was support personnel grounded in the area— grips, gaffers, camera assistance, etc.

Greg Hale, one of the producers of The Blair Witch project, went through the Valencia film program and more recently worked as an assistant director on The Avengers and Django Unchained. Producer/Director Ben Rock was also a student of Clemente’s:

“One of the best lessons 
Ralph teaches is that production should be fun…My best memories of Valencia are of Ralph, working the set, joking around, telling stories, keeping everybody’s morale up.”
Ben Rock
Vitae Magazine

Clemente always encouraged his students to take chances and I remember editing a student project at Miami where I risked using a Willie Nelson song (Nelson wasn’t quite as hip in Miami in the 80s as he would be with hipsters in Miami today) and it turned out Ralph loved Nelson’s music and would later use one of his songs in a feature he produced.

In college I also remember going to Mardi Gras in New Orleans with a couple of friends on one long weekend road trip but made it back in time for his class on Monday. When I told him I was just off a 12-hour drive to make the class he laughed and told me my grade just went up.

I don’t know how many hundreds or thousands of people Clemente touched in his life, but he was one of the good guys. In fact, Ralph also had students work on public awareness projects including Make-a-Wish, Health Care for the Homeless, and His House Children’s Home (for abused and neglected kids) which helped raised awareness, donations, and resulted in some adoptions.

This blog is the overflowing of the good influences in my life and part of that DNA is my time spent with Clemente in Miami. And just to come full-circle, since January of this year I’ve been producing projects at Valencia College and while my tools are not film and Moviola’s anymore, what I learned from Ralph Clemente transferred well to digital cameras and non-linear editing. But beyond the technical aspects and production tips you commonly learn in school, Clemente had an upbeat spirit that was less common.

Related Links:
Ralph Clemente: Valencia film pro inspired good stories, Orlando Sentinel
Filmmaking is a Team Art  Friend Oliver Peters who edited four of Clemente’s features remembers working with him.
Valencia Mourns Loss of Filmmaking Legend Ralph Clemente 

P.S. “Ralph R. Clemente Scholarship” at Valencia Foundation, 1768 Park Center Drive, Orlando, FL 32835 or complete online donation form by selecting the Designation “Ralph R. Clemente Scholarship” at donate.valencia.org.

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

“I’ve had to convince the studio that I know this is not a $20,000 Alexa package, but I’ll challenge you to tell the difference once I’m done grading this footage.”
Daniel Myrick on shooting a film with a camera smaller than an iPhone

BlackMagic

Where’s the camera?

You want to know something really scary this Halloween? Writer/Director Daniel Myrick (Blair Witch Project) shot his latest film Under the Bed with a camera smaller than most video camera monitors. Smaller than even some of the lens used with it. There’s a reason it’s called a pocket camera. The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema is 5 inches long and weighs just 12.5 ounces. What’s also small is the price—$995. Trick or treat?

Sure you have to add a lens and an SD card before you can use it—and a few more professional accesories to use it in the manner that Team Myrick did to shoot Under the Bed—but a sub-thousand dollar camera to shoot a feature film that doesn’t look like—ah, cough, cough, The Blair Which Project—forgetaboutit.

The film won’t be released until next year, but I just read an interview with Myrick about the film over at No Film School.

“We used the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera, much to the surprise of a lot of people. I had purchased one when they first came out and was really impressed with the latitude they offer, and their compactness. There was just a lot to like about the basic image sensor. It certainly has its foibles with accessorizing and things like that, but nothing that can’t be overcome. The image sensor itself was producing 12-bit RAW right on the SD cards and simultaneously spitting out 10-bit ProRes from the connector — on a little camera not much bigger than a cigarette pack, which was very exciting. I said this could be a good fit for the kind of movie I’m shooting, which is very low budget in a very contained space — I don’t have sets where I can fly walls away and back the camera off and that sort of thing.”
Daniel Myrick

P.S. I think the Blackmagic Pocket camera would be perfect for the “Little Fat Girl in Ohio” that Francis Ford Coppola predicted was on her way to becoming the new Mozart.

Related posts (on low-budget filmmaking):
The 10 Film Commandments of Edward Burns
“Don’t try and compete with Hollywood.”—Edward Burns
Making a $5,000 Feature
Filmmaking from a Coffin (Buried)
Edward Burns ‘Newlyweds’ (Part 2)—Think of yourself as an indie band.
Sputnik, Sundance & Kevin Smith
Paranormal Screenwriting Activity

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood…(Part 6) Touches on why I think The Blair Witch Project was really the beginning of a new form of cinema (in part because one of the cameras they used was a consumer Hi8 camera).

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

“This is our generation’s Sputnik moment.”
President Obama
State of the Union Address 1/25/11
(Referencing the Soviet’s rocket launch in 1957 which fueled the USA in the space race.)

“The piece of advice that Walter Gretzky gave (his son) Wayne Gretzky was this…’don’t go where the puck’s been, go where it’s gonna to be.’ The philosophy was simple, if you puck chase you’re always going to be behind the game…You want to be the person that’s where the puck’s going to be.”
Filmmaker Kevin Smith
Sundance 2011

Back in the good old days of 1994 filmmaker Kevin Smith sold his $27,000 film Clerks at Sundance. A year later Edward Burns’ $25,000 film The Brothers McMullen was sold. Both Smith and Burns have continued carving out careers since that time and if you want to see which way the wind is blowing take a look at the direction they are heading as independent filmmakers.

A few months ago Burns’ self-produced Nice Guy Johnny (for again $25,000) and released it on iTunes. And earlier this week Kevin Smith announced that for his latest film, The Red State, he will not be selling the film at Sundance, but instead self-distributing the film first taking it on the road to large venues across the county where he will be speaking after showing the film.

His rational is he has a large fan base that follow his podcasts, Twitter feeds, etc. and he (or a studio) doesn’t need to spend $20 million advertising the film. We’ll see how it plays out. But it’s a good indicator of where the puck is heading for one group of filmmakers.

If you wanted to pinpoint indie film’s modern Sputnik moment I think it’s fitting to point to 1999 when The Blair Witch Project showed Hollywood the power of the internet. More than 10 years later we live in a digital world that has altered the music industry and now well into altering the film and Tv industry.

Five years ago we were watching poor quality short videos on You Tube and today you can stream feature films in high quality directly to your computer or TV via Netflix or the like. It’s no surprise that the last Blockbuster video store in my area announced this month that it was going out of business (following Hollywood Video stores that are long gone).

If independent filmmakers can raise their own money, make their own films AND can control the distribution—that is truly independent filmmaking. It’s a new game for filmmakers everywhere—from LA, to Iowa, and even the former Soviet Union. Heck, I can even see hockey great Walter Gretzky making his own films with his actress wife Janet Jones. (Still remember her role in The Flamingo Kid.)

The old Hollywood expression was it takes an army to make a film, these days you just need a camera—and an army of Twitter/Facebook/You Tube followers interested in the stories you tell. (Some of them won’t just be watching your films, but helping you raise funds as well.)

P.S. Speaking of Sundance & the Internet, I received a form email today from Oscar-winning director Kevin MacDonald saying, “Today we are unveiling Life in a Day at Sundance for the film’s World Premiere. I wanted to take this opportunity to thank all of you for participating in this extraordinary experience….” I was part of the You Tube community who on July 21, 2010 submitted one of the 80,000 clips that they were gathering for a 90 minute film. (Edited down from 4,500 hours of footage. So close. I can always say, “I was this close to having a film in Sundance this year”.)  It will be interesting to see the final film.  Here’s a teaser:

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

“I learned a lot about the process of filmmaking and that if you’re totally persistent and want to follow through with something, you’ll get it done.”
Oren Peli

For Halloween day I’ll step away from my Once Upon a Time in Hollywood posts to interject an update about the movie Paranormal Activities. The seven day results fro Friday October 23 through Thursday October 29 had Paranormal Activities number one at the box office.   I wouldn’t call it paranormal but that is highly unusual. Especially for a movie that opened five weeks ago and had yet to have a number one week.

That’s the power of word of mouth and a great marketing plan.  On halloween night the film will also pass the $70 million mark. Keep in mind that the budget has been said to be between 10,000-15,000. No typos there. Less than most used cars. I saw the movie this week and they keep the budget down by shooting in just one location (the writer/directors house) and using just four actors (two of which are on the screen for just a couple minutes). And one of the actors doubled most of the time as the cameraman using just  a $3,000 video camera.

So the film made for $15,000 bringing in $70 million in the box office according to several sources is now the new box office record holder as the most profitable movie ever made. Ever. A film made by the  39-year old Oren Peli, a first time filmmaker who was born in Israel and living in San Diego. (Passing the decade old record set by The Blair Witch Project.)

I’d like to say it was in the spirit of what I’ve been writing about for two years hear at Screenwriting from Iowa. Something big happening by an outsider to the Hollywood film industry. The only problem is there wasn’t a screenplay written—at least in the traditional sense.

“There was no dialogue. There was only an outline of the story, the actors never received any script. They didn’t know about anything they were getting into. All they knew is they were going to do something about a haunted house and basically discovered everything as they were shooting. There were no lines for them to follow. Everything was spontaneous.”
Oren Peli
shocktillyoudrop.com

The film was shot in just seven days in 2006, but took 10 months to go through the 70 hours of footage. The first version of the film was made in 2007 and several different versions were completed and tested a various film festivals. The film hit the jackpot when a DVD found its way to Steven Spielberg. DreamWorks picked up the film first with the intention of Spielberg remaking the film but then it was decided that that wasn’t needed. Like The Blair Witch Project hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent to enhance the film that eventually made the theater. But essentially it’s the film Peli made for $15,000.

They did a masterful of using social media, most notably Facebook, Twitter and MySpace. While the success of Paranormal Activities is off the charts and against all odds, I think you will see more of its ilk in the future. Not just horror films, but films in general where lovers of film tap into the resources that are out there and make a film that finds an audience. I’ll talk more about those resources tomorrow in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood… (Part 9).

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

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



Read Full Post »

The movie Paranormal Activity continues to be that little film that does mysterious things in the dark. The sub-$15,000. budget film averaged $25,000 per theater last weekend. (The number one film in total box office revenue had just under $9,000. per.) Much has been written about the film that was shot in 2006 with some friends over a seven day period, took ten months to edit, and two years to get distributed before earning $30 million in its first three weeks in the box office.

Oren Peli, 39. is the writer/director of the film and was recently interviewed by Peter Hall at Cinematical:

Peli: By trade, I am a software programmer, so I never really had any experience with movies before. I started out with Paranormal Activity.

Hall: So this was your very first stab at filmmaking?

Peli: Yes, pretty much, I never even made shorts or anything like that.

Now while while Peli apparently didn’t have a background in filmmaking, according to the L.A. TImes,  he did start his first software company when he was 16 so I guessing he’s a pretty smart and creative guy. (And in one interview with Rick Fiorino Peli talks about spending a year in pre-production.)  Another way of thinking about it is it’s been about a 25-year creative  journey for Peli. And once Steve Spielberg and Dreamworks got their hands on the film who knows what was the actual budget of the film being shown in theaters these days.

But like The Blair Witch Project it doesn’t matter. What matters is a handful of people got together at the writer/director’s house and took a $3,000. camera and made a film that people are flocking to see and when its worldwide run is completed will probably make over $100 million.

While the movie’s success is not normal—it’s not unheard of, and like I pointed out in my posts last year New Cinema Screenwriting (part 1) and New Cinema Screenwriting (part 2)—this is a growing trend.

Oct 30, 2009 update: According to The Wire Paranormal has now passed The Blair Witch Project as the most profitable move to date.

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

When Ed Burns came on the scene in 1995 with his film The Brothers McMullen he was the independent hero of the year. That film was made in the $25,000. range with a loan from his father who was tired of hearing Burns complain about his screenplays not getting made.

The Brothers McMullen won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival in ’95 and went on to make over $10 million, which was very impressive until 1997 when The Blair Witch Project with an original budget around $35,ooo grossed well over $100 million.

But Burns has outlasted The Blair Witch gang in the long run. He’s not only directed nine features but he’s picked up work acting in movies and TV shows including Saving Private Ryan. Because his style of writing is more in the style of Woody Allen he’s a little off the radar because his films tend to be dialogue driven films.

But he continues to build his career brick by brick and find innovative ways to distribute his films. In 2007 he became the first filmmaker maker make a feature straight-to-iTunes release. You can hear an interview with Burns speaking about that film, Purple Violets, on NPR. In that interview he talks about the drop in art house audiences over the years due to TiVo, My Space, You Tube and the other ways that people are finding entertainment these days.

So I thought it would be good to go back and look at a quote from Burns about his life before The Brothers McMullen found its way to Sundance and before he found himself acting in a Steven Spielberg movie.

“I wrote seven screenplays that nobody wanted. I’d turn on the light, and there would be thousands of cockroaches. But that was the least of my concerns, because we also had mice and rats.”

Echoing again the process it often takes finding your voice and for your words to make it to the screen. Finding the audience to watch those words on the screen is a whole different process altogether. The good thing about Burns’ commitment to his style of writing and filmmaking is I think his best work is yet to come and he’ll probably be making films into his 60s & 70s.

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: