And So We Bid 2015 Farewell…

This year is quickly coming to a close. Pretty soon 2015 will be a mere memory. This is a great time of the year to look back at all we’ve accomplished and all we wish we could’ve done. It’s time to make some New Year’s resolutions so that we can better ourselves in more than one way. There were a lot of great films that came out this year, and 2016 should be another great year for film as well. I know I am looking forward to the wide release of “Knight of Cups” (I am a Terrence Malick fan!), as well as the horror film “The Witch” (I don’t really like horror films, but this one looks like it could be an exception).

I will be posting some big announcements sometime at the beginning of 2016, so be sure to keep a look out for that! From Filmmaker’s Reel to all of you, I hope 2015 has been good to you and I wish you all the best for 2016! Let’s watch more movies, make more movies, and most important; have one hell of a ride doing it!

 

 

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It Was a Dark and Dreary Day (Pt. 2)

The shoot started off on the wrong foot. The location was too noisy when we were going to start, so we couldn’t film right away. I turned this into a positive and had us rehearse and block the scene for an hour or two. When things had quieted down we got to work. It was slow (i.e. line feeding), but we managed for several hours and got the shots we needed. The first real hurdle we had to face was the makeup situation.

I had two people work on makeup for that scene. They were downstairs trying to make fake blood. To this day I am not sure what happened. We followed the directions and everything, but the blood just did not come out right. It was chunky in spots, but mostly had the consistency of water, and a pink color instead of dark red. It just wouldn’t work for what we needed it for. We were able to use some of it for the bullet wound on my actor, but for the squib it just wouldn’t have worked (mostly because the color was way off, we could barely even call it red!).

At the end of the day, however, this was probably a good thing. We never wound up using the blood spray device I made for a couple reasons. First off, we couldn’t stain the walls. This was an actual apartment with an actual landlord who didn’t even know we were filming there. I definitely did not want my director of photography (who lived there) to get in trouble. On top of that, the blood just wasn’t the right color. We also had never used this type of device before and it just wasn’t going to work in the space that we had. I tried everything I could to make it so we could use it. I even tried rewriting the scene. In the end, however, I just used a digital blood splatter effect that I added during the editing phase.

We got through it! We wrapped close to 5:00 p.m. and then all went out to dinner. It was a very long day with a lot of hurdles to overcome. I tried my best to turn each little mistake, each little hurdle into a positive. As a result, spirits were kept up on set and the people there believed in what we were doing every step of the way. The final scene was not nearly what I wanted. I did the best with what we had, but the final scene was less than desirable. If I could go back and do it again, I would have scouted the location way beforehand like I had originally planned to do. It was a great learning experience, however, and a great memory that I will forever cherish.

Remember, even on your most stressful days, to enjoy what you’re doing. There is going to be a lot of back breaking work, a lot of mistakes, and a lot of hurdles you’ll need to jump, but just remember why you’re doing it. I make films to tell a story, to express myself, but I also make films to have fun. If there was no fun in it, why do it at all? There were many moments that could’ve put a real damper in our work, but we turned each of these negatives into positives. Some of the most frustrating elements of that day are now some of my favorite memories. It may have been a dark and dreary day, but we sure had one hell of a blast!

It Was a Dark and Dreary Day (Pt. 1)

Almost two years ago I wrote and directed a short film. The first half was some of my best work up to that point in my life. The second half…not so much. I had a lot of fond memories, however, of the production of that film. Specifically, the longest shoot day of the production schedule.

On that day in April, we were supposed to film from roughly 8:30 A.M. to about 5:00 P.M. with a break for lunch in the middle. Looking back on it, that was the most fun day of the entire shoot. At the time, however, it was one of the most stressful. We were about to film in a location we had never been to before, which meant we would have to block the scene as it happened, (something I do not recommend at all). There was also to be a special effect shot involving a homemade squib for a blood splatter effect. It was going to be a long, long day.

There were many obstacles, however, that stood in our way of accomplishing that scene. For starters, some of my actors didn’t know their lines. This wasn’t a case of missing a few lines and improvising around them; this was a case of them never even looking at the script! I can’t entirely blame them, they weren’t actual actors, but feeding lines on set can become tedious and bothersome rather quickly!

I didn’t know it at the time, but some of my actors were also hungover from the night before! If I had known that at the time, I may have blown a gasket! Luckily, they didn’t tell me until almost a year later and we’ve laughed about it ever since (including the lack of line memorization). All these little things that slowed down production have actually become inside jokes between the cast, crew, and myself.

One thing that stands out in my memory of that day’s shoot was the rain. It was a dark and dreary day. Clouds hung about all day long. It rained for quite some time in the middle of the day. I had to take some of the cast & crew in my car to get from our set to where we were having lunch. Unfortunately, I own a small car, so we started putting people way in the back where there were no seats! It was a bumpy ride for them, I am sure of it! It was little moments like these that still make the memory worth remembering. Despite all this, we still had a lot of work to do that day.

(More to come; including all the issues we encountered during the actual filming of the scene…)

Networking

If there is any industry that uses networking to the Nth degree it would be the film industry. Networking in general is important no matter what field you are in. The more people you know, the better. In film it can be even more important. Theoretically you could conceivably make your first film without doing much networking, but you’d only be making things hard on yourself. The key is to network. Get to know people in your field, and people who will be able, and willing, to work with you on future projects. There are some steps you can do to make this easier.

First, you can join a club or a society. If you’re in college and there is a Film Club of some kind on campus, join it! It will be a wealth of resources. Not only will you probably have access to filmmaking equipment of some kind, but you’ll also be with likeminded people who want to make films too. Help them with their projects so that they help you with yours. It’s a give and take scenario and it works wonders. If you put effort into their project, they will do the same for you. If you’re past college, look to local cities or towns where there may be film societies you can join. There may be a small fee, but you’ll get opportunities to network with people. You’ll get the opportunity to brainstorm ideas you have and learn about what’s going on in your community. Not only that, but they probably have fun film screenings, newsletters, and film themed parties too!

The more people you meet that have a passion for film, the better. You never know who they know. Maybe that filmmaker you met last Friday at the monthly networking dinner knows someone who handles actors. Once you network with that one filmmaker you now essentially have access to his connections. It is LinkedIn in the real world.

Speaking of LinkedIn, you may as well create a profile and try to join filmmaking groups on there as well. You’ll be able to meet people in your field over a greater distance, and open your circle of contacts even more. Although, I would still recommend to network in real life first, nothing can beat the face to face interaction.

All this being said, everything I’ve mentioned here works in any field. If you’re a writer, an engineer, a painter, a teacher, or anything else you can think of; networking can only benefit you, it can never hurt you. A connection doesn’t work out? No big deal, you’re in no worse position than you were before you tried. Take the risk. It’s better than not taking the risk and wondering later on; what if?

The Vault; Volume 3

It’s time for another volume of The Vault! Since it’s the holidays, I decided to add a couple holiday favorites to the list, in addition to some newer films and some older films. My personal favorite film is also included in this installment. Each are important in their own way, and I hope if you haven’t seen some of them to check them out! Also, just a side-note, the final two films in this volume are in the public domain and are freely accessible online. Alright, now on to the list!!

  • A Christmas Carol (1984)

Considered by some to be the definitive adaptation of Charles Dickens’ classic Christmas tale, this is one of my favorite interpretations. George C. Scott plays Scrooge and it follows the original story very closely. Despite being a made for T.V. film, it packs a punch for what it is. The atmosphere matches each section of the story perfectly. You can bet that the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come is one of the creepiest incarnations made. It doesn’t try to be anything other than what it is; a realistic adaptation of a classic Christmas tale. If you want to adapt a piece of literature into a film, here is a good example of it done right.

  • In Cold Blood (1967)

This film, directed by Richard Brooks, is based off the bestseller written by Truman Capote, which in turn was based off true events in the 1950s. It tells the story of the killing of an entire family in Kansas, 1959. You don’t find out the truth until the end of the film, which I think makes for a very intense, well made film. We find out the motives of the killers, and we find out exactly what went down. Brooks makes us wait, however. I think it works well. It keeps us on the edge of our seats throughout the film until the end when we realize everything and how it exactly happened.

  • It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

One of the most beloved holiday films wasn’t even considered a holiday film when it was first released in 1946. Frank Capra’s tale of second chances is now considered a classic, but when it was released it was a commercial failure. This film, now shown around Christmas, is well made (I wouldn’t expect anything less from Frank Capra), and has a great message; we are all important in our own ways.

  • The Tree of Life (2011)

I had to include this film in a Vault post before the end of the year. Why? It’s my absolute favorite film of all time. I was fortunate enough to see it in theatres when it was released in 2011. It is not a film for everyone, I must admit, but for those who give a chance it can be something magnificent. There isn’t much of a plot, but I believe the lack of a plot actually creates its own story. The film is rich in symbolism and emotion. You can tell it is close to the heart of its writer and director Terrence Malick. This film showed me that there is more than one way of telling a story, that there is more than one way to make a film. The classical soundtrack, the juxtaposition between symbols, and the overall atmosphere is breathtaking. I could write an entire article on this film, but I’ll save that for 2016.

  • A Trip Down Market Street (1906)

This film doesn’t really contain anything that a filmmaker would need to know to construct their own film, but it does contain an incredible look into the past. This is one continuous 13 minute shot of travelling down Market Street in San Francisco, just about a month before the infamous earthquake in 1906. The camera itself is strapped to the front of a trolley train as it travels down the street. You are transported into a different time. A time that was just over a hundred years ago. Despite it being the equivalent of strapping a camera to the hood of your car and driving through your hometown, this film enwraps you and you will surely watch all the way to the end.

  • A Trip to the Moon (1902)

Georges Méliès is one of the most important figures in cinema history. He experimented with special effects for most of his career while simultaneously creating some of the most entertaining short films of the silent era. If you’ve ever seen the film Hugo (2011), you’ll know a little bit about his work. Definitely his definitive work, A Trip to the Moon features the iconic image of a rocket ship sticking out of the face of the moon. This is one of the first fantasy films, and also features a great insight into how people fantasized about the moon at the turn of the century. There are a lot of special effects, and the film is a lot of fun too.

Camera Movement and its Relation to Film Theory

Film Theory can be a daunting subject to dive right into. I remember studying it in college, and some of the theories went over my head the first time reading them. I think it had more to do with the translations (a lot of them were being translated from French to English), than with the actual content of the theories in question. Once I re-read the theories and had it explained to me, it all made crystal clear sense.

Something I noticed, however, is that camera movement factors into a lot of different film theories. Sometimes it is directly connected and sometimes it isn’t. Since a lot of theory focuses on how scenes are constructed, camera movement is integral to its understanding. Some theories don’t deal with how scenes are constructed, or at least not directly anyway. Take the auteur theory, for example. This theory, in its most basic form, stipulates that the director of a film is the author of the film, and therefore has a certain style that resonates throughout all their works. This theory is focused on the director, but it should also be understood that the technical aspects of the films in question are also a large part of the theory.

Camera movement is a crucial element to any film. Camera movement can help us identify with a character. It can help us understand the psyche of a character. It can also help us establish the atmosphere and style of a film. Handheld camera movements signify a dream like atmosphere, or a documentary-style atmosphere. In contrast, a long, smooth dolly shot will signify a more structured reflection of life, a more calming atmosphere. Of course, all these rules are made to be broken, but generally speaking these are good guidelines.

Camera movement can help us while dissecting film theories. It also helps us to try to figure out what the director was trying to say with a specific shot. It gives us greater insight into a film. Nothing in a film is done just for the sake of doing it. Everything means something. If we enjoy reading a book multiple times to learn something new each time, then let us also view films multiple times so that we can dig deeper and learn something new each time as well.