Saturday, 25 October 2014

Interview with Danny Hill

Danny Hill is an American photographer and filmmaker, who lives in Champaign, Illinois. He is the writer, director, producer and editor of the web series Downtown, and he broadcasts an interview/chat show called Almost Intimate.

Where were you born, and where did you grow up?

I was born in Champaign, Illinois and grew up in that same area.

What kind of a family did you grow up with?

I grew up with a large family, with several siblings and cousins, etc.

Where did you go to school?

I went to school at Urbana High School

When did you first take an interest in movies?

I've loved movies since I was 6 or 7 years old.

What was your first paying job (in any field)?

My first paying job was cleaning and caring for a neighbor's dogs.

You make a living by doing photos, music videos, etc., for local artists, actors, businessmen. Have you photographed anyone famous?

I have photographed a few local names. Some are models, and local actors. Most recently I've done portraits for business owners and aspiring screenwriters.

So far this year, you’ve released five episodes of the web series Downtown. What was the impetus for you to tell this particular story?

I had a simple urge to create. I didn't plan on making a groundbreaking show or a great show, I simply wanted to make a show. Something inside of me told me that I needed to do 'more'. So I did.

How many episodes of Downtown do you anticipate making?
Danny Hill in Downtown (2014)
Downtown's first season will have it's finale on October 29th. After that, I will air the entire show on local cable channel UPTV and am heavily considering doing a Season 2 of the show, with new cast and locations. The second season would have about 8 episodes.

Is there a large group of people interested in filmmaking in Champaign, Illinois at present?

There are some. There are a few university and college groups that do a lot of work. Roger Ebert was from Champaign as well, so it's an okay film scene, but I started my own company because I felt there wasn't enough.

How did you find the people you needed, the support group necessary, to make Downtown?

Some of the cast and crew were friends who often asked me about being a part of what I do. They knew I was into film and was very serious about it. Others were found through Craigslist. I use that a lot to find and gauge talent/crew.

What do you wish someone had told you about filmmaking when you were starting out?

I wish someone would have told me that there's more to the creation of a film than buying a camera and having an idea. I wish someone would have told me that it is problematic to hire friends for large roles in a film.

What are your ten favourite (favourite, not ‘best’) movies of all time?
West Side Story (1961)
The Good, The Bad & The Ugly (1966)
Beowulf (2007)
Strangers On A Train (1951)
Seven Psychopaths (2012)
For A Few Dollars More (1965)
The Dark Knight (2008)
Once Upon A Time In The West (1968)
Antz (1998)
Inglourious Basterds (2009)
What’s next for Danny Hill?

I am currently in pre-production for my upcoming summer film entitled Holly. As well as continuing my interview show Almost Intimate and working on other small projects.

Friday, 24 October 2014

Justin Zackham on 'The Bucket List'

I got to the point where I was actually getting kind of disgusted with myself, because I wasn't writing much, I wasn't writing well, and I had just sort of fallen into this laconic malaise. One day, I woke up and I was lying in bed thinking, "I gotta get my shit together." And I got a piece of paper and I wrote at the top: "Justin's list of things to do before he kicks the bucket: Get a film made at a major studio. Find the perfect woman, convince her that I'm not a schmuck, get her to marry me." I tacked it up on the wall, and then gradually it sort of faded into the wallpaper. About two years passed.
    I was in a book store one day, and I don't know what happened. It was like, "Pow!" I sat down and I tore blank pages out of a couple of books, and I just started writing.

I wrote the whole story of The Bucket List. Ultimately the story is these two guys have their own list of things that they wanna do with the short time they have left, but the one thing that's not on either of their lists that they're both missing is a true friend. They find that, and that's what the movie is about.
   I wrote it very quickly, just in a few weeks. I gave it to my agents and they said, "This is great, but nobody's going to buy this."
    Normally your agents will send a screenplay to one producer with a deal at each studio. We sent it to fifty producers, and forty-eight said no. Two of them said, "We don't think anyone's going to buy it, but we think it's really good, so we'd like to give it to studios." All the studios said no, but one of the producers said, "I really think if you get this in the right hands, this could get done." They said, "Given any director in the world who you'd want to shoot this, who would it be?" I was like, "Rob Reiner's made some pretty good movies."
    So they sent the script to his agents at CAA, and three days later he calls up: "Hello? I've read thirteen pages of this thing, and if it's okay with you, this would be my next movie." He and I worked on the script for probably a total of six months, off and on.

   I had written the movie with Morgan Freeman's voice in my head. Rob got Morgan's number and called him up and said, "Hey I've got this script you should read." A week later, Morgan said yes. You know Rob Reiner already said yes, and now I get Morgan Freeman—it was just ridiculous. We'd been talking about who would play the other character, and Rob and I weren't sure. Morgan said, "Jack Nicholson and I have talked about always wanting to work together, and if I had a bucket list, working with Jack would be on that list." What are you gonna say to that?
   Rob had worked with Jack on A Few Good Men, and obviously that had turned out pretty good, so we sent the script to Jack, and a week later, he called: "Yeah, I'll do it." I had separated myself from any notion of reality at that point, and I still haven't come down.
   The greatest twenty-four hours of my life was September 3, 2006. I got married in New York. The next morning, I woke up at five, kissed her goodbye, got on the plane, flew to Los Angeles, and drove up to Jack's house. I walked in and sat down at his dining-room table, and there was me, Morgan Freeman, Rob Reiner and Jack Nicholson. Rob started to read the stage direction, and the minute the two actors talked to each other ... goosebumps. It was absolutely the most indescribale feeling. It was perfect.

   Crazily enough, it was a year to the day after I went out with the script that we started principal photography—and that just doesn't happen. That will never happen again to me.

Justin Zackham, as quoted in Tales from the Script: 50 Hollywood Screenwriters Share Their Stories

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Tips on producing a lo-budget film

This post was written by Matthew Helderman of Buffalo 8 Productions and first appeared on the No Film School blog. Buffalo 8 was founded by independent film producers and media entrepreneurs Matthew Helderman and Luke Taylor. They offer feature film, commercial production and post-production facilities in-house, and have produced over thirty feature films ranging from $100,000 budgets to $8M budgets with the average project settling around $1M.

The realities of producing a $1million (and below) feature film

We’ve seen budgets shrink, projects come and go and expectations shattered or met with disappointment during the process.
   Through our experiences we’ve gathered and built a manifesto for the do’s and don’ts of making low budget projects. Some are obvious, others are elements we picked up after handfuls of wrong turns.
   We’ve even written a full 50 page eBook on the subject that has provided insight for the indie community (linked here).
   All in all — we broke it down into three key successful elements:

Overhead — figuring out the right equity, debt, pre-sales structure will make or break any project.
Negotiating — an ability to contain costs and logistics through negotiations is the key to successful maneuvering.
Hiring — with strong department heads and a great cast – a weak project will be better, a mediocre project stands a chance at being decent and a strong project will explode with possibility.
Each of these principles begin day one—from the first steps of development through the delivery of the final DCP materials—overhead, negotiations and hiring choices will more often than not dictate the success of a film.
   Producing a film successfully depends on a great story, a great team and a strong execution. The following outline breaks down these necessities. 

1. Development

Once you’ve found a story and script you’re excited about, make sure that it has been written for your budget. If you’ve raised $500,000 and the story requires period-piece locations, background, wardrobe and set pieces, chances are the project is not feasible.
   However, if tailored properly any story can be told for any budget—relying heavily on overhead, negotiations and hiring structures.
   With your script in hand, you’re now ready to breakdown the elements. Meaning, using MovieMagic Budgeting and Scheduling (the industry standard applications) to outline the shooting schedule, cast logistics and line item costs for the project.
   A line producer is the experienced and professional member of most teams who performs these tasks, which take roughly 4-5 work days to perfect, given the intensive specificity required.
   Working with your line producer (and/or sometimes the 1st AD) to perfect these elements, you’ll want to group together locations, cast shoot days and speciality equipment or FX (steadi-cam, rain, children, animals, etc…) to contain costs and simplify the process.
   With approved breakdowns from your line producer (again, assuming that you’ve hired well for this crucial role), you’re ready to begin approaching talent and financiers.
   Attachments (the process of adding talent–actors and actresses, as well as a director) to projects has changed. The global economy has continued to reshape how each industry functions and the film business is no exception.
   While the media is full of $100M+ blockbusters making a select few actors and actresses very wealthy, there is a plethora of talent with strong bankability available and interested in more independently driven projects in the lower budget ranges.
   Use your strengths as leverage, whether your experience, your team or your great story. (Refrain from overselling how “amazing” your project is and remember that those words are uttered thousands of times a day in Los Angeles.) Approach talent with confidence in the understanding that attachments are difficult in the early stages.
   A great tip here is to utilize “agency packaging” whereby you find a talent agency which represents a strong roster of talent (more than 5-7 members of their roster able to fit into your casting wishes), and incentivize the agency to come on board to support the film by piecing together multiple roles or “packaging the film”. This grants both a financial and long term incentive for the agency that otherwise would perhaps have passed on the opportunity as too low budget.


With interested talent willing to offer LOIs (letters of intent) stating they will commit to the project once financing is completed, you can approach your investors.
   For 99% of filmmakers, this is the most difficult portion of the process. Orson Welles famously quipped that he “spent 90% of his time raising money to make movies and only 10% actually making movies” and this isn’t far from the truth.
   As an investor and as a speciality financier in other businesses, we’ve seen both sides of these struggles.
   Film is speculative. Getting the first money in is difficult, because there is no telling when the project will get made, let alone earn you a return.
   And vice versa—being the last money in often requires an investor to act within a single week to close a deal—which is too hasty and rushed for traditional investors.
   Here are some ways to offset the risk and please your investors from day one.
  1. Have some skin in the game early on, with either some equity you’ve scraped together from family, friends and colleagues, or your own cash.

  2. Understand the necessity of finance—meaning, respect an investor enough to offset their capital injection through “soft money” (pre-sales, debt, tax credits, etc..)

  3. Bring more to the table than just a script and a cast.
    Have the ball rolling with the tax credit, and signs you’re working to finance the pre-sales. That will show an investor you’re serious and capable. Removing as much speculation as possible will provide your investors with a level of security they’d highly appreciate. Strategize with a bit of equity, a bit of tax incentives, and pre-sales cash-flow (which your investor can provide helping both you and their return) and you’ll be in the best spot possible.
Build your audience before you get into production.
   This phrase has become the go-to statement for the grass-roots and mid-level festival films over the past several years.
   Social media gives you an ample opportunity to organize your following—whether you raised donations on Kickstarter, signed an actor with a 1M+ Twitter following or have a director coming off a TV gig—use whatever you have in your corner to gain traction and steam.
   Snowballing this momentum into a domestic distribution deal and additional opportunities for attachments and financing is a huge factor — but ultimately investors and distributors look to “proof of concept” like campaigns to assure that there is a valuable relevance at stake in the project.
   This of course stems from and leads to the overall sales strategy for the film—which can also be reviewed in our SALES eBook linked here.

2.) Pre-Production Line Producer

Once you’re geared up and organized you’ll want to hire the team leader for the project, the line producer.
   The line producer will file the entity (LLC), open the financials with the producers (bank account, checking, payroll oversight), file necessary union paperwork (SAG, IATSE, DGA), and bring on his team to begin the heavy lifting of the project.
   Great films stem from tremendous preparations and the line producer is the captain leading the team into battle.
   Again, this is very abbreviated, The full versions are available in the eBooks. 


With a few key attachments and some capital (equity and debt) attached to the project, you’re ready to begin filling out the rest of the cast.
   A casting director and packaging agency offer the best possible scenario for great cast selections, based on the relationships that casting directors hold. Additionally, attachments from casting directors bring weight for distribution and further cast members wanting to join the project. 


Once again relying on your ability to negotiate and call in favors, you’ll begin scouting locations.
   On these lower budget projects you’ll want to cluster your locations, find studios/standing sets that can double and triple as locations, and even look for further ways to simplify your shooting schedule.
   Company moves (literally moving your team from one location to another), causes issues—time, financial, energy, stress—that can be avoided through preparations and compromise. 


Again when renting equipment, props, vehicles, catering, etc., you’ll rely heavily on your ability to negotiate.
   Using independent owner/operators (individuals who will both supply equipment and work on the film) will give you leverage to haggle over final pricing.
   These negotiations over locations, rentals, purchases and casting will save you endless money and time, if you’re able to perfect the needs and realities of your project. 


Refers to the process of beginning to truly assess the spending of the project, to begin distributing the necessary documents (stripboard schedules, crew lists, preliminary call sheets, etc.) and to begin holding the necessary meetings required for pre-production.
   Again, focusing on pre-production is huge and will lead to the most successful shoot possible.

3.) Production and Wrap Out 


If you’ve focused and executed well enough during pre-production, the production period (while still stressful and full of fires to put out) will be more about managing and overseeing expectations and personalities than anything else.
   Low budget projects tend to get stressful because everyone is wearing multiple hats and working crazy hours for little money, but if you manage these elements in pre-production you can avoid pitfalls. 


The specifics for the financials (petty cash, check requests, actualizing and hot costs/daily reporting) are reviewed in the eBook, but the general gist is that the daily oversight will require checking in with department heads to assure that spending is properly allocated, workers are getting along and feeling comfortable in the stressful setting, and that respect is being had across departments.
   The more organized a production is before it heads into principal photography, the easier wrap out will be. This is the process of making returns, accounting and actualizing the final spending totals, creating the production binder (detailed in the eBook at length), and reviewing next steps with the financiers.

4.) Post-Production Schedule

Early on (best to be done before production), you’ll want to set out hard dates for editorial through delivery. These dates will often not be met, as low budget production is often side-tracked by workers needing to take other gigs to supplement their incomes, but they provide the necessary structure to finish a production. 

Crew hiring

Just like production, post-production success comes from great hiring. You don’t need to know how to do everything, you just need a great team with experience and confidence to deliver your film. 


When done correctly, you’re able to sit back and monitor the progress, without having to get crazily involved in each tiny detail. 


A choice can be made early on if editorial will begin during or after production. In our experience, it’s best on lower budget projects to be assembling while shooting, in order to give the financiers, director and team involved a chance to see where things stand. Also, should you need to adjust elements or re-shoot/add additional shots, you’ll catch this much earlier than if you waited to edit until production wrap.
   The necessary deliverables (sound, VFX, titles, DCP, exports, chain-of-title/legal filings) are all detailed thoroughly in the eBook which, if interested, we’d suggest reading for further information.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

The Evolution of Movie Dance

Here are the 100 greatest dance scenes, in the opinion of Mewlists.

The full list:

1. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse - 1921
2. Our Dancing Daughters - 1928
3. 42nd Street - 1933
4. Flying Down to Rio - 1933
5. The Little Colonel - 1935
6. Top Hat - 1935
7. Swing Time - 1936
8. A Day at the Races - 1937
9. The Wizard of Oz - 1939
10. Fantasia - 1940
11. Hellzapoppin' - 1941
12. Stormy Weather - 1943
13. Broadway Rhythm - 1944
14. Anchors Aweigh - 1945
15. It's a Wonderful Life - 1946
16. The Red Shoes - 1948
17. Royal Wedding - 1951
18. Singin' in the Rain - 1952
19. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes - 1953
20. Seven Brides for Seven Brothers - 1954
21. It's Always Fair Weather - 1955
22. Oklahoma! - 1955
23. The Fastest Gun Alive - 1956
24. Jailhouse Rock - 1957
25. Funny Face - 1957
26. El bolero de Raquel - 1957
27. Damn Yankees - 1958
28. Party Girl - 1958
29. The Sound of Music - 1959
30. Never on Sunday - 1960
31. West Side Story - 1961
32. Band of Outsiders - 1964
33. My Fair Lady - 1964
34. Zorba the Greek - 1964
35. Mary Poppins - 1964
36. The Jungle Book - 1967
37. The Producers - 1968
38. Sweet Charity - 1969
39. Young Frankenstein - 1974
40. The Rocky Horror Picture Show - 1975
41. Saturday Night Fever - 1977
42. Grease - 1978
43. All That Jazz - 1979
44. Airplane! - 1980
45. The Blues Brothers - 1980
46. Urban Cowboy - 1980
47. Fame - 1980
48. Flashdance - 1983
49. Risky Business - 1983
50. Monty Python's The Meaning of Life - 1983
51. Footloose - 1984
52. Breakin' - 1984
53. A Chorus Line - 1985
54. Girls Just Want to Have Fun - 1985
55. White Nights - 1985
56. Ferris Bueller's Day Off - 1986
57. Dirty Dancing - 1987
58. Moonwalker - 1988
59. The Little Mermaid - 1989
60. Beauty and the Beast - 1991
61. Strictly Ballroom - 1992
62. Scent of a Woman - 1992
63. Reservoir Dogs - 1992
64. Addams Family Values - 1993
65. Swing Kids - 1993
66. Pulp Fiction - 1994
67. True Lies - 1994
68. Muriel's Wedding - 1994
69. The Mask - 1994
70. Showgirls - 1995
71. Shall We Dansu? - 1997
72. Romy and Michele's High School Reunion - 1997
73. Titanic - 1997
74. Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery - 1997
75. Dance with Me - 1998
76. She's All That - 1999
77. Road Trip - 2000
78. Center Stage - 2000
79. Billy Elliot - 2000
80. Save the Last Dance - 2001
81. Moulin Rouge! - 2001
82. Chicago - 2002
83. Grind - 2003
84. Kung Fu Hustle - 2004
85. Napoleon Dynamite - 2004
86. Shall We Dance? - 2004
87. The 40-Year-Old Virgin - 2005
88. Clerks II - 2006
89. Little Miss Sunshine - 2006
90. Take the Lead - 2006
91. Hairspray - 2007
92. Spider-Man 3 - 2007
93. Stomp the Yard - 2007
94. Make It Happen - 2008
95. Slumdog Millionaire - 2008
96. Step Up 2: The Streets - 2008
97. Tropic Thunder - 2008
98. (500) Days of Summer - 2009
99. The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus - 2009
100. Black Swan - 2010

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Edward Gough Whitlam: 1916-2014

Some time during the middle of the 1960s, I suddenly realised that the existence of a program of National Conscription in Australia, combined with the apparently endless war in Vietnam, meant that I was probably doomed to be mangled or killed on a foreign shore, for no particular reason. I was uncomfortable with the prospect.
   The tangible outworking of my discomfort was that I joined the local branch of the Australian Labor Party. (Yes, "Labor" is spelt without a 'U' in this context, due largely to the involvement of failed American gold miners in the establishment of the Party, way back when. All other
Australian usages of the word require the 'U'.)
   I happened to be living in a small country town in the heart of 'Black Jack' McEwan's electorate, which consistently recorded the lowest vote in the country for the ALP. The significance of this is that the local party was dispirited, members were few and mostly inactive, and a friend and I were free to appoint ourselves to whatever roles we desired. As such we became Delegates to the ALP National Conference held at

the St Kilda Town Hall in 1971. I was shocked to discover that the Conference wasn't much more than a fashion parade. (I was 17 years old at the time. Make allowances.) We were treated to displays of black-suited eloquence by such friends of the working man as Bob Hawke and Don Dunstan, but the unquestioned star of the show was one Edward Gough Whitlam.
   Like most Australians at the time, I had no idea that Gough was an actor. Yes, indeedy. And sympathetic to the idea that Australia should have its own film industry. The Australian film revival of the 1970s only really took shape after Gough became Prime Minister. His government established the Australian Film and Television School and the Australian Film Commission, which led to a resurgence of the Australian film industry, later dubbed the Australian New Wave.
   Not only that but Gough appeared in some of the films that his innovations had made possible, and helped unleash 'Dame' Edna Everage on the world.

Edward Gough meets Bazza McKenzie in Barry McKenzie Holds His Own.

Edward Gough meets Edna Everage and dubs her a 'Dame,'
in Barry McKenzie Holds His Own.

And to round things out, we can listen to that speech, one last time.

Seeking new and unique voices

Universal Pictures are offering an Emerging Writers Fellowship for "talented screenwriters who have the potential to thrive, but don’t have access to or visibility within the industry."
Those chosen to participate in the program will work exclusively with the studio over the course of a year to hone their skills. During this program, fellows will be given the opportunity to work on current Universal projects as well as pitch original story ideas. In addition to working on writing assignments, the fellows will receive industry exposure by:
- Participating in filmmaking workshops and studio seminars
- Receiving mentoring from established filmmakers
- Networking with top literary agents and managers
- Meeting with production development executives
- Attending screenings and premieres
Fellows admitted into the program will be hired under a writing service agreement and must be committed to working full-time for one year. Additionally, Universal Pictures has the option to extend a fellows’ contract for a second year.

You can find the eligibility criteria, details about the selection process, application forms, and frequently asked questions HERE.

The Emerging Writers Fellowship Application will be available beginning at 12:00 p.m. (PST) on Tuesday, Oct. 21, 2014.

Monday, 20 October 2014

The longest single shot in Raiders of the Lost Ark

Vashi Nedomansky is a film editor, born in Czechoslovakia, who defected with his parents at the age of four. He grew up in Toronto and Detroit before settling in Los Angeles. He is known as the editor of Sharknado 2: The Second One and An American Carol. Vashi was a professional hockey player for 10 years. He says,
This 101-second shot from Raiders of the Lost Ark is the single longest shot from the film. Using motivated camera movement, staging actors in different layers of depth and then altering the actor closest to camera... Steven Spielberg and DP Douglas Slocombe crafted an emotional scene with no cuts whatsoever.