Wednesday, January 30, 2013

screen links

---Bonobo: "Cirrus"

---The Screen Poetry of Terrence Malick

---The Apocalypse

---the NRA stands and fights

---the Pulp Fiction oral history

---"Was it helpful to read Pauline Kael’s work when I was growing up? Absolutely. For a teenager who was beginning to look at movies as something other than just entertainment, her reviews were really interesting. But at a certain point, it’s not useful anymore. I stopped reading reviews of my own films after Traffic, and I find it hard to read any critics now because they are just so easily fooled. From a directorial standpoint, you can’t throw one by me. I know if you know what you’re doing, and, “Wow, critics”—their reading of filmmaking is very superficial. Look, nothing excites me more than a good film. It makes me want to make something good. But I have certain standards, and I don’t grade on a curve. If you want to be a director, I’m going to treat you like I treat everybody. So it’s frustrating when critics praise things that I feel are not up to snuff." --Steven Soderbergh

---"I played a prostitute who died.  Her life was sad and awful." (via @nathanielr)

---Google's "human right's activism disguised as mapmaking"

---Shortest Film

---John Belushi's screen test

---"Most action movies stink. They’re the back porch of filmmaking, and they’re not very well done at all." --Walter Hill

---Voice Over

---Christoper Nolan's and Rian Johnson's top 10

---PBS on the untouchable Wall Street leaders and drones

---trailers for Mood Indigo, Upside Down, Inside Llewyn Davis, Reality, War Witch, The Power of Fewand The East

---"It turns out, the film was just too controversial. With pundits and bloggers debating Zero Dark's stance on torture — does it make a correlation between 'enhanced interrogation' and the discovery of bin Laden, or is it simply realistically depicting something that did happen somewhere, at some point? — the praise for the film's artistic merits began to get lost. People either forgot that they liked the movie on technical grounds or simply were afraid to say it, at risk of wading into the heated political debate and being excoriated for liking a problematic movie. It became significantly less trendy to like Zero Dark Thirty in the weeks leading up to the Golden Globes, and the film has suffered because of it. No one is turning tail and saying that it's a bad film, it's just become something vaguely taboo. You can like it, but not too much."

---the origins of Gangster Squad

---Eric Schmidt discusses "The Next Five Billion"

Saturday, January 26, 2013

"You gotta pay attention to the signs": 10 questions about Silver Linings Playbook

1) When Tiffany (the excellent Jennifer Lawrence) cries out that she's "just the crazy slut with a dead husband," laughs dementedly, and then swipes all of the dishes off the diner table, is she making a reference to Jack Nicholson's famous restaurant scene in Five Easy Pieces (1970)?

2) When Pat's father (Robert De Niro) weeps in front of his son in remorse for "not spending enough time" with him when he was growing up, should the viewer be thinking that De Niro should feel remorse for appearing in New Year's Eve, Little Fockers, Meet The Fockers, and The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle?

3) Similarly, did director David O. Russell have Chris Tucker as Pat's crazy friend Danny reappear randomly in the film just because he knows we are happy to see Chris Tucker in a movie at all?

4) Given the dance contest at the end, couldn't someone have found some occasion for Pat to say "Nobody puts baby in a corner"?

5) I don't come from a sports-related family, so I don't get all of the movie's talk about characters having "juju" in relation to the next Eagles football game. Pat Sr. thinks of his son as a totem of luck for the Eagles. Isn't that all simply associative magic?

6) When confronted with his older brother Jake's (Shea Whigham) snotty sense of superiority, Pat (Bradley Cooper) says "I've got nothing but love for you brother." Later, in a climactic scene, director David O. Russell positions a picture of Jesus behind Pat. Does Russell mean for the viewer to make a connection between Pat and Jesus, and isn't that precisely the kind of association that manic people make?

7) In one scene, Pat throws a copy of Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms out of the window. At another time, Tiffany throws a copy of William Golding's Lord of the Flies out of her back door. Does Silver Linings Playbook have something against literature?

8) Isn't a bit convenient how Russell keeps using the same meet-cute device of having Pat bump into Tiffany while running?

9) Given the complex political ambiguities of David O. Russell's excellent Three Kings (1999), wherein an American soldier gets tortured by a Kuwaiti who obliges him to drink motor oil, why couldn't David O. Russell have made Zero Dark Thirty?

10) Given Pat's frequent talk of resisting negativity, his tendency to say lines like “Most people lose the ability to see silver linings even though they are always there above us almost every day," how does Russell manage to not make a schmaltzy sentimental mess of a movie? How does Silver Linings Playbook manage to succeed in spite of its glib treatment of mental illness and its cheesy romantic comedy conventions?

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Zero Dark Fox News

---Zero Dark Fox News

---the Zero Dark Thirty File

---When Jessica Chastain says "They [the CIA 'enhanced' interrogators] actually received--in our film--no success from those interrogations. They didn't get anything that they used, so I find it really confusing why they would say it's pro [torture]," one should keep in mind this scene from the film.

---"We are immersed into an overwhelming environment in Zero Dark Thirty, just as we are in all of Bigelow’s films. But in this case, the environment is the numbingly anonymous one of Big Data, of the numbingly repetitious accumulation of “information” (whether by torture, surveillance, physical search, or collation of records), and of instantaneity (the annihilation of duration) mediated through video screens and telecommunications technologies.

As I was watching Zero Dark Thirty, I found the relentlessness with which all this was depicted almost unbearably intense. I’ve never seen (or heard) so powerful a depiction (or better, I should say, so powerful an enactment) of entropic dissolution and decay. All meaning, and all feeling, was draining away before my eyes and ears, without even the prospect of any sort of negative finality or conclusion." --Steve Shaviro

---"But I was surprised at what I saw. We’ve got the go-it-alone gunslinger, Maya, whose past is murky and future is vague. She’s Clint Eastwood’s 'Man With No Name,' re-imagined as a twenty-something woman. She gathers up a posse, heads out, and kills the bad guy. Then she leaves. Because she’s not actually Clint Eastwood, she cries a little. You expect to see someone chasing the C-130 shouting, 'Shane, come back!'

In reality, cowboys don’t work as targeters. (But they do ride with a large posse that helps with more than the gunfights. This 10-year hunt involved hundreds of people with several people at the core.) More often than not, effective intelligence—including the effort to find Osama bin Laden—is the result of sustained, collective efforts that spark moments of intuition among a pool of experts and processes, not individual hunches that compel monumental effort." --Nada Bakos

---"'The sad truth,' writes Karen Greenberg in a disturbing analysis 'is that Zero Dark Thirty could not have been produced in its present form if any of the officials who created and implemented U.S. torture policy had been held accountable for what happened, or any genuine sunshine had been thrown upon it.' In that case it would have been like making a film about a gangland murder as viewed by the police -- a crime that in real life the police went after -- but showing it in the film as if all the police on the scene had watched and done nothing. Such a film would stand exposed, and the falseness would draw general comment.

Yet regarding the American torture of prisoners, our leading officials said it was wrong, but then did nothing to back their saying so, nothing to prove that we believed it was wrong. The movie if anything endorses an attitude akin to the new president's: acceptance (with distaste) of a new policy of official ban supported by no accountability. For that is the status quo, and Zero Dark Thirty has this curious contradiction at its heart. Whatever can be absorbed into the story of the successful killing now qualifies as a necessary step toward the killing." --David Bromwich

---"Bin Laden wasn't defeated by superheroes zooming down from the sky; he was defeated by ordinary Americans who fought bravely even as they sometimes crossed moral lines . . ." --Kathryn Bigelow

---Run Hide Fight

---The Story of Change

----"Someone must have slandered Josef K., for one morning, without having done anything truly wrong, he was killed by a Predator drone." --Teju Cole

---Moonrise Kingdom's interactive screenplay

---Transmedia Synergies

---"My prediction is that the underlying rates of depletion will continue to fight the recent production gains in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world until they soon come to a standstill, eventually swamping even heroic efforts.

Steadily rising energy costs and decreasing net energy yields will simply not be able to fund the future economic growth and consumptive lifestyles that developed nations are depending on (and that developing nations are aspiring to). In fact, the persistent global economic weakness we've been experiencing over the past years is an expected symptom of the throttling constraint decreasing net energy places on growth."  --Chris Martenson
 
---R'HA

---trailers for Emperor, Red 2, Upstream Color, The Power of Few, Sellebrity, The Best Offerand Mud  

---“In every sense of the word, a noir film is a film of death.”

---the 2013 Oscar best picture nominees

---"But the beverage industry, dominated by Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, and represented by the American Beverage Association, has exercised its might against this public health initiative in ways reminiscent of the tobacco industry when it came under attack in the 1950s. The beverage industry argues that such taxes are “discriminatory” in singling out one category of food, that taxes would not work, and that government should not tell people what to eat. The tobacco industry said taxes would not work (they did work — tremendously well) and that government should stay out of people’s choice to smoke." --Kelly Brownell

---the Motion Picture and Television Technical Database

---Memorize

---"If Facebook thinks you’re doing a recruiting query, for instance, it will present a few facts about each candidate’s work history on the results page. If it senses you’re seeking a hookup, you’re more likely to see relationship status and location. Most significantly, each result has a little search button — which means you can conduct further searches on that specific person, business, or group, letting you parse whatever information that target has shared on Facebook and permitted you to see."

---behind the scenes of Lincoln

---Joe Dante discusses The Trial and Lady from Shanghai

---"Anything that has been digitized is not private, and that is terrifying."  --Moby 

---"About three years ago, Randy Moore, a struggling screenwriter living in Burbank, had an out-there idea: what if he took a tiny camera and, without asking permission, began shooting a narrative movie at Disney theme parks?

Moore had been visiting Disney World in Orlando with his now-estranged father since he was a child, and he’d also begun taking his two children, then 1 and 3, to Disneyland. He thought that juxtaposing all-American iconography of Mickey Mouse with a dark scripted tale would be cinematic gold, or at least deeply weird.

So with the help of an extremely small Canon camera and some very game actors and crew, the director began shooting a movie guerilla-style. . . .

What’s remarkable about all this is that, in watching the film, one doesn’t get the sense of a guerilla-filmmaking exercise. There are numerous wide shots, and scenes luxuriating in classic Disney images. It looks as if it was made with the full cooperation of the company, which of course it wasn’t.

'To me this is the future. Cameras in your hand. Cameras in your glasses. Anyone can be shooting at any time. And I think it will explode,' Moore said."  --Steven Zeitchik

Monday, January 14, 2013

privatized links

---Gangster Culture in the Movies

---Moonrise Kingdom's letter-writing montage

---How Motion Pictures Became The Movies 1908-1920

---The Avengers visual effects featurette

---Zero Dark Thirty accepts without hesitation or question the importance of this unconstitutional detention policy as crucial to the torture program. From the very first days of the war on terror, the US government rounded up individuals globally and began to question them brutally. Whether they actually had information to reveal, whether the government had any concrete evidence against them, they held hundreds—in the end, thousands—of detainees in US custody at secret CIA black sites worldwide, in the prisons of allied states known for their own torture policies, at Bagram Detention Center in Afghanistan, and of course at Guantanamo, which was the crown jewel of the Bush administration's offshore detention system.

Dan and Maya themselves not only travel to secret black sites to obtain valuable information from detainees, but to the cages and interrogation booths at Bagram where men in those now-familiar orange jumpsuits are shown awaiting a nightmare experience.  Bigelow's film repeatedly suggests that it was crucially important for national security to keep a pool of potential information sources—those detainees—available just in case they might one day turn out to have information." --Karen Greenberg

---behind the scenes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer

---"this is going to mean 1362 bookstores disappearing from the American landscape — less than two years after 686 Borders stores disappeared."

---"'Well we can fly where we want, we can shoot where we want, because we can."

---Brakhage

---The Thirty Nine Steps


---"I’d like to make two points here. First, we sometimes mistakenly think of 'film criticism' as something that is performed exclusively in the journalistic/cinephile domain of film culture, while academics devote themselves to 'theory' or 'history'. This isn’t quite true: In reality, there is a lot of good, in-depth film criticism written by scholars. To take just a handful of examples, think of Tom Gunning on Lang; Joe McElhaney on Minnelli and Hitchcock; Dan Morgan on Godard; Steve Shaviro on ‘pop cinema’; David Bordwell on Ozu; or James Naremore on Welles and Kubrick. These folks are (or were) all full-time academic scholars.

Second, I think the potential for mutual learning and cross-fertilization of work between the academic and journalistic domains is immense. But there are barriers to entry on both sides. For journalists, it is knowledge of academic specialized language and of the traditions (and the histories of those traditions) of various schools of thought that have animated writing about movies. For scholars, it’s sometimes a tendency to read and cite other scholars almost exclusively, rather than looking to journalistic outlets or the fertile, fast-transforming landscape of Internet film criticism.

Similarly, when I read journalistic film critics in newspapers, magazines or on the web, I often find myself wishing that they would cultivate, even if modestly, an ongoing familiarity with scholarly work. There is one indispensable website that makes this activity much easier than it once used to be: scholar Catherine Grant’s Film Studies for Free, which posts vast amounts of scholarly (and other) work available in open-access form on the web. Bottom: I think that today, journalists and academics have less reason to not be acquainted with and inspired by each other’s activities and writing than ever before."  --Girish Shambu

---trailers for Beyonce: Life Is But a Dream, 42, The Pirate Bay, TranceGoogle and the World Brain, and Wrong

---"decreased air quality, insect-borne diseases, and 'threats to mental health' are all on the docket for the coming decades."

---Hollywood: Allergic to Originality

---"If you come out, others condemn you for politicizing your private life (read: making them uncomfortable) but if you don't you contribute, however non-malevolently its intended, to the repression and the homophobia that flourishes through societally-condoned ignorance."  --Nathaniel R.

---behind the scenes of The Grandmaster

---"We need to take information, wherever it is stored, make our copies and share them with the world. We need to take stuff that's out of copyright and add it to the archive. We need to buy secret databases and put them on the Web. We need to download scientific journals and upload them to file sharing networks. We need to fight for Guerilla Open Access.

With enough of us, around the world, we’ll not just send a strong message opposing the privatization of knowledge — we’ll make it a thing of the past.

Will you join us?"  --Aaron Swartz

Monday, January 7, 2013

Video production class weblog: Day 3, 2013: Battle Royale with cheese

"Always remember: Steven [Soderbergh] is a genius. Everything he says, does, ingests, and secretes is Art. Trying to make him conform to standard ideas of behavior will only harm his Art and result in police intervention. The degrading humiliation and diminished sense of self you will experience is part of Steven's desire to break you out of your stagnant uninspired existence, which is not Art.  Get off yourself. Get onto Steven."

"On The Last Samurai . . . crew members were forbidden to look Tom Cruise in the eye on set."  --both quotes from page 318 of Sharon Waxman's Rebels on the Backlot

Now, after the third day of my Interim filmmaking class, I should point out that things are likely to get a bit loopy as the week goes on.  I am tired.  I just ate a dark chocolate Creme de Pirouline Artisan Rolled Wafer. I have been blessed with an extraordinarily perfectionist two groups of students who worked for four hours plus on their action videos before pitching and arguing over their longer narrative ideas at 3 in the afternoon.

At 8:30 am, Olivia Keyes lectured the class about all aspects of film production. In her fourth year as an undergrad at USC, she tends to accept any film work that she can find. She's trying to get certified at operating a Steadicam later in the spring, and she told stories about people getting busted for filming train tracks without permission, about being told to erase her digital footage by a policeman, and about how Kevin MacLeod has the best royalty-free collection of music on the internet. She spoke of various Kickstarter and Indiegogo campaigns that she has initiated for film projects, and she showed a knife fight action film where someone accidentally broke her thumb. After the lecture, she then rushed back to Columbia, but she will return tomorrow for an interview about what one does with a Media Arts degree these days.

Then, for the next five hours (not including lunch), I walked back and forth across campus between the two groups as they shot an outdoor western involving a bottle fight on the lawn and a more noirish indoor poker game that erupts into a brawl. Some quotes I wrote down from the bottle fight:

"Flattery will get you nowhere, Otis. I ain't even gotten started yet."

"I was trying to smirk confidently."

"Quit looking conscious!"

"The Hunger Games is the Battle Royale with cheese."

I enjoyed assisting Black Wings Studios with the art of properly knocking a thug out with a karate chop before returning to Acetate Flame Entertainment as they carefully broke a Martinelli's Gold Medal Sparkling Apple-Raspberry 100% Juice bottle under a tree with a rock. After their director roundly ignored one of my suggestions about blocking the next to the last scene, we finally retired to the classroom for the pitches.

We listened to various story ideas: one concerned a scientist who masters the ability to go back and forth in time across the span of a week. He eventually develops a relationship with a cactus. Another story had an "omnipresent being" who plants clues across various epochs for a mere human to decipher. A World War I veteran suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder who either gets cured or commits suicide or both. Lastly, tiny aliens inhabit most of humanity except for four people. If an alien decides to exit a particular person's body, then the unlucky human goes into a coma.  That last pitch included a scene where 50 comatose extras lay in a row across the front of the school campus.

After much discussion, we finally settled on two story ideas:

1) The government has now genetically programmed everyone to fall in love with a carefully prepared mate. Unfortunately, our heroine does not fall in love, and soon she finds she must escape the compound.

2) A young man desires to join a Poetry Club, but he must first endure three bizarre vicious challenges. When he unexpectedly survives those tests, he arrives at the old and labyrinthine Poetry Club Theater downtown. When he enters the building, a large Poetry Club member is reading a newspaper by a locked door. He contemptuously refuses to believe that the applicant has passed the indoctrination. After much intrigue, the applicant enters into another room where he finds various Poetry Club members representing different poetic movements--Confessional, Cavalier, Pastoral, Fireside, Imagist, Harlem Renaissance, Beat, Metaphysical, etc.--and they all actively resist his membership in the club. They can't believe that he even had the gall to enter the building. Finally, after he manages to penetrate several rooms further inside the increasingly David Lynchian theater, the applicant comes across one oddly friendly member who cheerfully lets him into the Club's inner sanctum (the camera doesn't follow). We then hear high-pitched screams through the walls.     

Sunday, January 6, 2013

second screen links

---Man 

---guns and celebrities

---Apollo Robbins and the art of the pickpocket

---Kill Bill: The Female Archetype vs. The Goddess

---"Enter Justin Bieber. In his new single “Beauty and a Beat,” Bieber ups the ante on Prince by declaring he’ll 'party like it’s 3012 tonight.' At face value that augury is a life-affirming vision. We humans shall persist through each and every supposed demise. Lo, a thousand years into the future, we’ll still be partying. But Beiber misses an incontrovertible fact about the future of our planet and our species: If we make it to the year 3012, the world will be completely and utterly horrifying.

Over the course of the coming centuries, the sea levels around the world will rise, drowning most coastal cities, especially those in the so-called “developing world,” which have contributed the least to climate change. The rest of the world will be ravaged by continually strengthening super-storms that will destroy oceanfront property in Provo, Utah. Meanwhile, the quality of air, soil, and water on the planet will continually degenerate, as our supplies of coal and petroleum are burned out entirely, and nuclear power continues to prove even more of an environmental disaster than the supposedly dirty sources it was intended to replace. And every charismatic politician, non-governmental organization, weepy liberal public relations campaign, and Potemkin wind farm will be completely powerless to stop this death march so long as profit remains the bottom line for the human race.

As the delicate global ecosystem that gently nourished the ascent of humanity begins to crumple, basic resources will disappear. Noxious air, brackish water, and nearly indigestible food will become commodities for which we risk our short, cancerous lives to procure. Wars that begin between governments over resources will rapidly degenerate into a war of all against all, as states lose their ability to provide basic services and repress populations." --Jarrod Shanahan

---“Only those who are capable of silliness can be called truly intelligent.”

---The Wholly Family

---Disney's Most Notorious Film

---Caroline Champetier's work on Holy Motors

---"The so-called second screen, where there is content and viewer interplay between devices, exists already, but it will be pushed into the center stage at some point in 2013. Yes, there should be an Apple TV next Fall, but other industry players like Intel are coalescing around this area too. And you know what? It won’t be some kind of split screen where your Twitter feed will follow along with the show, like some kind of Mystery Science Theater. Oh, sure, it may be that in its most uncreative examples. What will make the second screen transformative will be when its creative potential is enabled via SDKs to individual developers who will disrupt conventional viewing in ways we can’t even imagine. Think of how mash-ups, remixes, and fan-made parody videos have changed the face of short filmmaking, and now imagine similar experiments applied to streamed live content. Start thinking about how your creativity can flow into this space now instead of waiting for the mega-corps to define it for you." --Scott Macauley

---a deleted scene from Looper

---Monsieur Verdoux

---"In the 48 years since their pioneering book was published, Wise and Ross's invisible government has triumphed over the visible one. It has become the go-to option in this country. In certain ways, it is also becoming the most visible and important part of that government, a vast edifice of surveilling, storing, spying, and killing that gives us what we now call 'security,' leaves us in terror of the world, never stops growing, and is ever freer to collect information on you to use as it wishes." --Tom Engelhardt

---the pop culture references in Tarantino's films

---a plane crash on a Moscow highway

---making Gangster Squad

---"If you were a US leader, or an official of the National Security State, or a beneficiary of the private military and surveillance industries, why would you possibly want the war on terror to end? That would be the worst thing that could happen. It's that war that generates limitless power, impenetrable secrecy, an unquestioning citizenry, and massive profit."  --Glenn Greenwald

---the beginning of Warm Bodies

---Una Furtiva Lagrima

---trailers for Dead Man Down, John Dies at the End, and 8 Ball 

---"Marty’s character [in Apocalypse Now] is coming across as too bland; I tried to break through it. I always look for other levels, hidden levels, in the actor’s personality and in the personality of the character he plays. I conceived this all-night drunk; we’d see another side of that guy. So Marty got drunk. And I found that sometimes, when he gets drunk, a lot comes out. . . I didn’t tell him to smash his hand into the mirror."  --Francis Ford Coppola

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Video production class weblog: Day 2, 2013: Blue Man Rising

This video production class has gone so well, I'm becoming superstitious. Something has to go wrong sometime, but thus far my main worry have been over finding the right length stereo audio cable at Best Buy. The class has divided up into two 6 person groups, and they cheerfully shot and edited two practice videos yesterday. Our guest alumnae/filmmaking guru, Ryan Gonzalez, showed up a little late to make a class presentation since the students had already wandered off to work on their two shoots, so I ended up interviewing him about how his expertise in filmmaking helps with his skills in computer programming. A sample from the interview:

Me: Any tips that you would give to other students in terms of filmmaking or how it might tie in with your work in computer programming?

Ryan: I think the key point is to not box yourself into one particular creative endeavor. If you want to know how to make a website or a film, learn about how other creative people do their work. Learn how a chef creates mise en place, his process of cooking. Learn about how a woodworker carves his pieces. Learn from any place that you can, any creative industry, and just take the things you can apply to your own field, and not to be afraid of trying something new. Be everything. Just make things.

Me: And that strikes you as the best kind of career choice?

Ryan: I think the future is of people who build everything.

Me: What do you think about monetizing in terms of this range of skills?

Ryan: If you can build something that's actually valuable to people, and that's definitely a hard thing to do, to find things that matter. If you can do that, you're going to be fine financially. I'm doing pretty well, for a college student.

Me: How does that work in terms of doing school work?

Ryan: If you care about something, you'll find a way.

After we spoke, we walked back across the cold but brightly sunlit campus to find one class group working on "Blue Man Rising," which concerns an alien-like creature in a bright blue morph suit learning how to walk on two legs (on earth?) after using all fours.  For whatever reason (a desire for social acceptance?), he steals a dress and a wig from someone, puts them on, and then finds that her female friend can't tell the difference, so they walk off together. With his newly blond hair, he turns back to the camera and gives a thumbs up. The film weirdly incorporates gender-switching/ alienation/theft, but at least it does have a kind of happy ending.

Later, over lunch at a Chinese buffet restaurant, my assistant and I prepared a brief lecture on screenwriting techniques (written on the notes app of my iPhone). When the class met in the early afternoon, we started the discussion by screening one of the better written student films entitled Lacuna. Shot about four years ago by Olivia Keyes (who will join the class next week), Lacuna concerns a woman who blanks out after finding her would-be boyfriend kissing another woman in front of a coffee shop one evening. She spends the next school day learning that he's missing, and that faculty and parents are concerned about him, but he (in ghostly form) ends up guiding to her to the crime site where she had murdered him with a hammer the night before. "Lacuna" refers to the gap in her memory that the film gradually fills in. I then gave the class these screenwriting tips:

1) Every scene needs to have a revelation or twist. There needs to be a reason or multiple reasons behind each scene.

2) People like seeds that grow into plants, small details in early scenes that become important later on.

3) Character is more important than plot. You only tend to care about a plot after you start caring about a character. My assistant spoke of Sucker Punch (2011) as an example that fails to give the viewer any reason to care about any of the characters.

4) Lead characters have a goal, and the screenwriter finds ways to block them.

5) Students should prepare relationship charts that explain how the different characters feel about each other.

6) Montages can be a crutch to mask a lack of proper character development (usually established through dialogue).  The occasional montage can be fine (I brought up the makeover montage in Clueless (1995)).  Still, music should mostly be used to enhance scenes. (I've had filmmaking groups who only wanted to shoot musical montages.)

7) Strive to create a character arc.

8) You want the viewer to care, to participate in an emotional ride.

9) Many movies include a romantic subplot, just as Lacuna does.

10) I finished with the caution that any of these tips can (and should) be broken in an original, challenging film.  They are meant to be general guidelines.

This coming Monday, students will shoot their action videos (a "bottle battle," and a fistfight over a poker game) before pitching three longer story ideas in 25 words or less to the rest of the class.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Video production class weblog: Day 1, 2013

"Making a movie is really a kind of play."--Nobuhiko Obayashi, director of House (1977)

Once again, for the fifth year in a row, I began an Interim video production class today with twelve students (four retaking the class from last year), two nice DSLR cameras (including a new Canon t2i), several assistants, and only ten full days to work with. What are some of the new things in the creative mix?

1) A colleague showed me a Call of Duty app where you can have short videos of family members blown up by various large weapons.  

2) The new iMovie editing software helps you produce a travel video trailer that incorporates music and graphics that can make you look as if you lived an Indiana Jones adventure. Back in the day, the Pinnacle editing software used to cause our Dell computers to freeze up, leading to all kinds of last minute nightmare deadline situations. With the iMovie software and two new iMacs, that never happens anymore.  

3) The relatively new DSLR cameras have greatly improved the photographic quality of the class videos. Even though we use decent external microphones, I still wonder whether students should use audio recorders like the Zoom H4N portable one.

Tomorrow, students will start shooting their first practice videos.  One will concern a guy who finds that he likes to wear a dress. I forget what the other one is about: a bottle fight in a field?  Today, soon after the entire school practiced an armed intruder alert drill, one newly formed filmmaking group (without any sense of irony that I could see) considered shooting a gun fight in a reading room.

Some beginning questions that I hope to answer over the next few days:

a) Will the students find a location as cool as the antebellum mansion that we used last year for a horror film?

b) What happens to college students who graduate with a major in film?  A colleague told me that a family member of his with that degree ended up working at a General Nutrition Center recently (not the right answer). I plan on interviewing a couple senior film majors, asking them what career paths they plan on following, and what they recommend for new graduates.

c) Can the students rig up some new boom microphones with PVC pipes?

d) Can we use new apps in our smart phones to help with the video production? Which ones?

e) Can we use Wells Root's book Writing the Script: A Practical Guide for Films and Television to help with the screenwriting?

As usual, I have no idea what will happen, what kind of oddball random living room I will end up sitting in, what kind of dark alley will lead to bloody death. I have seen students fight with various implements in the dark basement of the local museum. A local policeman once volunteered to help one group with a murder scene. One year, I hung out with a gang for hours as they shot scene after scene of a young man laying on the cold suburban street in his pajamas after getting "run over." What will the students think up this year?