Monday, 31 December 2012

2012 Movie Posters

Notebook, the digital magazine of international cinema and film culture, has published its annual opinion of the best movie posters for 2012.

To the right is the Japanese version of Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. To the left is the American version. The Japanese poster was included on the list for the color palette of its title treatment, paired with those line drawings of fish, the Aladdin’s lamp below the pull-quote and a perfectly placed exclamation mark. (You'll need to see the original article to appreciate those details...)

The poster below, for Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, consists of a great photograph and some perfectly chosen type. The photograph, by the great iconcolastic Chinese artist, Ai Weiwei, is priceless and tells you all you need to know about his attitude.



You can see the full poster selection here.

Sunday, 30 December 2012

New Year's End

BioShock is a first-person shooter video game, released in 2007. Set in 1960, the game puts the player in the role of a plane crash survivor named Jack, who must explore the underwater city of Rapture, and survive attacks by the mutated beings and mechanical drones that populate it.

New Year's End is a fanfilm written and directed by Jared Potter, and starring Caleb Roth, Grant Potter, Kasey Ball and David Maultsby.
 
Preceding the events of BioShock 1 and 2, this short gives a look at a very significant event in Rapture’s history. In the lowest parts of the city, a small group of splicers have something planned that will change the course of Andrew Ryan’s vision of utopia.
You don't need to know the game to enjoy the quality of this short film.



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Saturday, 29 December 2012

Beegie Adair

And now, apropos of nothing, other than the rapidly vanishing holiday break, here's some music to write by, played by Jazz legend Beegie Adair.
    Beegie Adair was born in Kentucky in 1937. She has been playing piano for some seventy years, and is one of Nashville's most recognized and respected jazz musicians.
    Beegie lives in Franklin, Tennessee, with her husband, Billy, an associate professor of jazz studies at the Blair School in Vanderbilt University. She is a Board & Faculty member of the Nashville Jazz Workshop and performs regularly in Nashville, TN.

   Here's Sentimental Journey, with the The Beegie Adair Trio: Beegie Adair, Roger Spencer & Chris Brown



Just for something different, here's the Beatles song, Can't Buy Me Love.



This track is the Japanese pop classic, Sweet Memories.



Last one. A staple of romantic comedies and appearing in movies generally since 1950, including Sabrina (1954), The Cheap Detective (1978), Bull Durham (1988), Natural Born Killers (1994), French Kiss (1995), Something's Gotta Give (2003), The Bucket List (2007), WALL-E (2008), X-Men: First Class (2011) and Monte Carlo (2011): the Edith Piaf classic, La Vie En Rose


Friday, 28 December 2012

A Gentlemen's Duel

A Gentlemen's Duel is a short animated film made by Blur Studio.

Blur Studio is an American visual effects, animation and design company. Blur created all the space sequences in James Cameron's 2009 blockbuster film Avatar, and produced the trailers for LucasArts' Star Wars: The Old Republic and Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II, as well as the opening title sequence for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
 
A seemingly innocent tea party is transformed into mega technological mayhem when two imperious aristocrats compete for the affections of a lady.

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Thursday, 27 December 2012

Jeff Buckley - "Hallelujah"

Singing a quiet one on a gentle morning—Jeff Buckley. Despite dying in 1997 at the age of 30, his work remains popular.

Here he is performing the Leonard Cohen song, Hallelujah.

"Hallelujah" was released by Leonard Cohen in 1984. At first the song had limited success, but in recent years it has been performed by almost 200 artists in various languages.

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Charles Durning: 1923-2012

Charles Durning was an American actor who appeared in over 200 films and TV shows. He was born in Highland Falls, New York, the second youngest of five children. His mother was a laundress at West Point, and his father was an Irish immigrant who gained U.S. citizenship by joining the army.

Durning served in the U.S. Army during World War II, where he was awarded the Silver Star and three Purple Heart medals. He participated in the Normandy Landings on D-Day, being among the first troops to land at Omaha Beach. Durning was wounded, transported back in England, recovered, and arrived back at the front in time to take part in the Battle of the Bulge.

He got his start as an usher at a burlesque theater in Buffalo, N.Y. When one of the comedians showed up too drunk to go on, Durning took his place. He studied acting at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York. The school dismissed him within a year, and he went from job to job, from doorman to dishwasher to cabdriver. He boxed professionally for a time, delivered telegrams and taught ballroom dancing. Every so often he landed a bit part in a play.

His big break came in 1962, when the founder of the New York Shakespeare Festival, invited him to audition. It was the start of a long association, in which he was cast, often as a clown, in 35 plays. His big break with the movies came when he was cast in The Sting.

He died of natural causes in his home in the borough of Manhattan. Durning and his first wife had three children before divorcing in 1972. In 1974, he married his high school sweetheart, Mary Ann Amelio. He is survived by his children, Michele, Douglas and Jeannine.


The Sting (1973)
Dog Day Afternoon (1975)
Tootsie (1982)
Dick Tracy (1990)
State and Main (2000)
O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)
To close, here's Charles Durning speaking at a National Memorial Day Concert in 2007. (Tom Hanks goes first and sets the scene.) 



Tuesday, 25 December 2012

It's Christmas Day!

What do you want for Christmas? 

Me, I'll settle for a quiet life. Not everyone gets one of those.

And, for an Xmas celebration, here is a short film made by a student filmmaker in Paris, Walter Elias Teddy. When Santa Claus gets into the Matrix... 




Monday, 24 December 2012

Book review: "Ink Spots"

Brian McDonald is the author of Invisible Ink, and The Golden Theme. He is an award winning screenwriter who has taught his craft at several major studios, including Pixar, Disney and Industrial Light & Magic. His award-winning short film White Face has been shown all over the USA.

I had the privilege of conducting an interview with Brian back in January, 2012. If you haven't read that, you should. 


Since 2005, Brian has been writing one of the best blogs in the business: The Invisible Ink Blog. He started that as a way of helping get his first book, Invisible Ink, published. The international success of Invisible Ink has now led to the publication of Ink Spots


________________________________________________________________________

Ink Spots is a compilation of the best posts from Brian's blog. It's a small book, divided into three sections. The first deals with things he has learned over the years, the second with the craft of screenwriting, and the third is a collection of observations about classic films.  

I have provided a few sample quotes from each section, to give you a taste of the book.

Things I Have Learned

There are a dozen posts here, many of them regarding the How of learning or thinking generally, or of learning about screenwriting specifically. There are anecdotes, especially of mistakes made and lessons learned.

  • If you have a Batman story and you can turn it into a Superman story, it isn't a very good Batman story.
  • Understand that plot and character are linked.
  • Don't be afraid to be bad at this for a while.
  • I have never understood why people think it takes great craftsmanship to confuse and/or bore people.
  • The truth is that it is very hard to make yourself understood.
  • My friend Pat Hazell talks about talking to writers starting out who are obsessed with getting an agent. His response is always, "What do you have for them to sell?" It's amazing how often they have nothing.
  • If you think this business is a way to get rich quick, you are in for a world of heartbreak.
  • Some of the longest films I have ever seen are short films.
  • I am constantly amazed when talking to younger film students that they have seen almost no classic cinema.
  • People who study physics still study Newton and Einstein. Those who came before still have something to teach us.

Thoughts on Craft

There are another twenty-six posts in this section.
  • It's amazing what happens when you rid yourself of the burden of being original.
  • "Where do we get screenplays?" may sound like an innocent question, but what it really says is that the person is unwilling to put any effort into learning their craft—not even the effort it takes to type "screenplay" into a search engine.
  • If you want to sell something for a million dollars, you have to do a million dollars worth of work.
  • If you want to write screenplays, you have to read screenplays.
  • The primary job of a storyteller is to tell the story clearly.
  • Almost all stories have a lesson at their core—sometimes a small lesson, sometimes profound, but almost always a lesson.
  • No first act equals no emotional involvement.
  • This idea of being clear often frightens my students. They don't want to point out the obvious. But what is obvious to them may not be so obvious to the audience.
  • A professional magician friend of mine confirmed my observation that scientists and skeptics are the easiest to fool.
  • The so-called reluctant hero is a hero, while the fearless hero is a cartoon.
  • A character who has fear but confronts it will feel more real to an audience, even if that character is actually a cartoon. Look at Finding Nemo.

Movies I Like

This section contains a dozen posts about classic films. Paper Moon (1973), Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), Shadow of a Doubt (1943), Sunset Boulevard (1950), It's A Wonderful Life (1946), The Apartment (1960), Tootsie (1982), 12 Angry Men (1957), Norma Rae (1979), Jaws (1975), and Planet of the Apes (1968). Brian McDonald discusses those things that separate classics from the rest.
  • Films today don't make you feel as much as they make you think. We seem to have made a collective decision that thinking is better than feeling. But sometimes the emotion of a situation is the truth of a situation.
  • As a rule, films that make us think are respected while those that make us feel are beloved.
  • Selflessness has been the mark of a hero as long as human beings have told stories.
  • What makes (Billy Wilder) so good? No fat. Everything matters. He is always advancing plot, character, or theme—sometimes all three.
  • Many modern-day filmmakers are trying hard to be noticed. The shots are there to be noticed. The characters are there to be noticed. The editing is there to be noticed.
  • You are not the master of your story but a slave to it. You must do what it needs, not what you want.
  • The audience could see that Yoda was a puppet, but they were so interested in this unusual character that they allowed themselves to be "fooled" into believing he was a living, breathing being.
  • In recent years, we have spent a lot of effort trying to make creatures look more real. Maybe they do, but they don't feel more real. No one cries when they die.
  • No matter how much better technology gets, it will not improve on good story-craft. Make your characters live on the page and they will live on the screen.
  • If you call yourself a student of film and don't make yourself familiar with Charlie Chaplin's work, you are doing yourself a disservice.
________________________________________________________________________

Ink Spots is a thinking book. It's all about what makes for great screenwriting and great films. If you're looking for sensational anecdotes and explosive Hollywood gossip, you'll be disappointed.

If you haven't read any of Brian McDonald's previous writings, I'd suggest you start with Invisible Ink. If you know that book, and have been writing for a while, Ink Spots is the kind of refresher that will return you to your own writing reinvigorated and with a sharper focus.
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Sunday, 23 December 2012

Unforgettable... Peter Sellers

I've been immersed in Brian McDonald's latest book, Ink Spots. More about that tomorrow, but a theme Brian repeats in the book put me in mind of this 1974 interview. In it, Peter Sellers, the late, great, demented Peter Sellers, is talking to Michael Parkinson.

The principle Brian has been drumming into me (no pun intended) has been about the need to set up a story properly. He complains that a lot of modern "action" films skip over the boring stuff, where an audience can get to meet and like a protagonist, and jumps straight to the car chases, explosions and mass killings, where all the fun can be found.

Brian compares this to doing a magic trick without bothering to set it up first, or telling the punchline of a joke without setting it up first.

Brian does magic tricks; so does Peter Sellers, and Woody Allen, and Terry Rossio, and many other writers. If you want to write a thriller, learn some magic tricks first; they will help you with the skill of misdirecting an audience.
In the nine minute clip that follows, Sellers complains about the Churchill Centenary (Winston Churchill, 1874-1965), then in full swing in Britain; does a magic trick with a red scarf; then talks about why he quit being a drummer. That's the story I wanted to show you here. He starts with, "Well, it's a very dreary business being a drummer, or any musician doing gigs, really, around the country."

Listen carefully to the story that follows.



Unforgettable... that's what you are.

Okay, you want to hear the rest of the interview. It's a classic, so enjoy.





Saturday, 22 December 2012

"Super Knocked Up"

We all have our problems, even super villains.
Kick-ass super-villain Jessica James gets a huge surprise when she wakes up in bed next to her greatest nemesis: superhero Captain Amazing!
Super Knocked Up is a webseries, written and directed by Jeff Burns, and starring Natalie Bain and Mark Pezzula.



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Friday, 21 December 2012

Interview with Jordan Kerfeld

Jordan Kerfeld is an award-winning filmmaker, writer, and artist from Kansas City, Missouri. His films have appeared in film festivals and curated screenings around the globe and on PBS. He is a graduate of the University of Missouri-Kansas City, where he received seven awards for his journalism and short films. He is currently studying for an MFA at the University of Texas. Jordan works as a video editor and producer. I first came across him when he wrote a guide to editing short films, which was reproduced around the world. _______________________________________________________________________

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

I was born in the midwest and grew up in and around Kansas City, Missouri. I moved to Austin, Texas, two years ago to pursue my MFA in film production at UT-Austin.

•  What kind of a family did you grow up with?

I was profoundly lucky to grow up in a stable household, and looking back I'm very inspired by our family. My dad owns a small business of his own and my mother considers herself "a domestic engineer," who insists I should have been a lawyer because I like to argue. I have a younger sister, Alyssa, who is studying to be a nurse. They're all amazing.


•  When did you first take an interest in films/stories?

When I was young I loved wearing out VHS tapes of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Back to the Future. I had a tendency to wear out the same movie instead of exploring a wider range of titles. 
   As I got older I took a liking to cartooning and short story writing. It wasn't until my undergraduate years at the University of Missouri-Kansas City that I was shepherded by my professors to marry those passions with film. After making a few shorts I found myself completely committed to it.

•  What was your first paying job?

My first paying job was working in an office that manufactured and sold plaques and trophiesaward type items. I spent a hot Missouri summer putting together trophies for little league baseball players!

•  Your first film, Fingers (2008), shows a deep sensitivity to mood. Tell us how you came to make that.

There's something that's liberating and slightly insane about making a short film when you have no idea what you are doing. Fingers was my first narrative effort. It literally came about because the small film program I was in had acquired its first HD camera in the spring of my graduation. I desperately wanted to experience HD and had several visual images I wanted to explore in a film.
   I got access to the camera, put together my ideas in an outline form, and hit the street. I learned so much by doing. It's a bit of a visual tone poem, and was thrilled to see it play in Germany, Paris, and a half-dozen festivals in the U.S. Sometimes I wish I could regain that recklessness and passion in my own work now. It has some qualities of a "choose your own adventure" book. I love what interpretations people have projected onto the film. 


A scene from Fingers (2008)


•  Your current project, Tears at Dawn, revolves around a man with specialist military training. How did the story originate, where did you find an actor who could carry the action, and how can we get involved in the project?

I wrote a thirty page script in Spring 2012 and, over the summer, whittled it down to 13 or so. I think Tears At Dawn is unique and kind of quirky, while blending the high-octane kinetic quality of action films. The story borrows from films like The Searchers, Taken, and Hardcore, films about men trying to recover their child and restore their families. 
   I thought it might be interesting to frame the film younger and be more about a sibling relationship than the traditional paternal/child relationship. I think recent action cinema lacks people of color as well. I thought casting would nearly be impossible, but I met with Aaron Alexander on set of my friend Deepak Chetty's film, and found a brilliant talent. He's a great actor, martial artist, and fight choreographer, and he will be perfect for this project. I'm so lucky to have someone who is so passionate and professional—I've never been this excited about making a film before!
   We recently shot an improvised fight scene teaser on the ARRI Alexa camera—which is the same model that lensed the new Bond film Skyfall. We have an indiegogo page and are looking for help before we start shooting. Every dollar counts and makes a huge difference! If you like the scene and our last film Housebreaking, we hope readers will consider helping our cause. The donation period ends soon! 

A Hitchcockian shot, employed by Brian De Palma, in Bonfire of the Vanities (1990).
•  Who has had the most influence on you as a filmmaker?

In the past handful of years, Brian De Palma ranks at the top. He is often dismissed as a wannabe-Hitchcock, but as far as visual storytelling strength and audacity goes, there's no comparison for De Palma BUT Hitchcock! He really exhausts the cinematic language in a very powerful and visceral way. I think his films are brilliant. 

•  What are three things you wish someone had told you about filmmaking when you were starting out?

- Mood, tone, and an engrossing story should be prioritized, just as highly as making pretty visuals. 
- Embrace what you don't know. Every film you make will offer important lessons. You're never going to fully "figure it out." 
- Being a director is like being the mayor of a town. Take care of your people.


Yes, I did! It's been bizarre how people are noticing my graphics work. A publishing company out of New York approached me last October about contributing a portrait I created of Walter Sobchak and the Dude. My publishing credits have been growing quite rapidly in the past six months. I was also humbled and grateful to be featured in the July-August 2012 issue of Moviescope Magazine, where I was allowed to share my thoughts on editing short films, which I feel require a different discipline and approach than features. (On Adelaide there's a post where y'all describe it). 


•  Do you have any dreams of working in Hollywood?

Absolutely. Audiences are everything to me, and any opportunity to be in a place where I can reach a larger audience is one I'd gladly take. I work as an editor by trade and it's a deep passion of mine. Even if I am unable to have the privilege of directing, I hope to have opportunities in the post production.

•  If you could recommend just one filmmaking advice book to a newcomer in Adelaide, what would that book be?

I Was Interrupted: Nicholas Ray on Making Movies.

Nicholas Ray was in the studio system and "went indie" before people understood what that meant.
   I'm always hungry to learn more about communicating my vision with actors and his book offers excellent, personal essays and transcripts about how he worked. It's not a "guide-book" or "how-to," but I took great pleasure in reading it.
 


•  Name ten of your all-time favorite movies.

In no particular order:

Penelope Ann Miller in Carlito's Way (1993).

•  What's next for Jordan Kerfeld?

I am shooting Tears at Dawn this spring and am developing a few projects on the side. This is my final graduate film at UT-Austin and I'm throwing all of my energy and ambition into the project for the next 6 months.
   I also have a slate of shorts to edit in the spring. I'm excited about more opportunities to help directors communicate their ideas. In the Fall I will be editing my first feature film for my friend/therapist/filmmaker Andy Irvine. On his last short film, I recorded production sound and edited 13 hours of material into a final 7 minute piece. The short
(Hearts of Napalm) is an official selection for the Slamdance Film Festival this winter in Park City, Utah. 

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Thursday, 20 December 2012

"Pigeon: Impossible"

Pigeon: Impossible is an animated short film made by writer/director Lucas Martell. The film took nearly five years to complete and represents his first attempt at animation. 
"When the project started, it was mostly an excuse to learn 3D animation, but by the end of the project I had spent so much time reworking and polishing the story that I just wanted people to laugh."
The end-result is a hilarious six-minute romp through the streets of Washington D.C. as our hero fights to save himself, and the world from the chaos reigned down by a hungry pigeon. Breathtaking visuals and a sweeping soundtrack showcase the work of nearly one-hundred talented artists and musicians, and the film stands as a testament to what can be accomplished by a team of dedicated volunteers working for the love of their craft.
A rookie secret agent is faced with a problem seldom covered in basic training: what to do when a curious pigeon gets trapped inside your multi-million dollar, government-issued nuclear briefcase.


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Wednesday, 19 December 2012

The original animated "Superman"

Max Fleischer was the founder of Fleischer Studios, and a major pioneer in both the creative and technical development of animated films. His first invention, in 1915, was the Rotoscope. He filmed his brother, dressed in a clown suit, then drew, frame by frame, over the filmed action, creating more life-like movement. Coming home from their day job and working nights in Max's living room, it took the brothers a year to produce one minute of film, but the look of animated cartoons had changed forever.

The Rotoscope was only one of the more than 15 patents Max Fleischer held on his inventions, many of which significantly advanced the technology of early film and animation. He was a true pioneer in the film industry.

Fleischer's 'Bouncing Ball' sing-along Song Car-Tunes series began in 1924. These were the first sound cartoons ever made, preceding Disney and others by four years. They featured popular entertainers of the day, including Rudy Vallee, Cab Calloway, The Mills Brothers, Louis Armstrong, and Ethel Merman.

By 1929 the studio name officially became Fleischer Studios. This coincided with the start of the Great Depression, a time when people sought escape from their problems by going to the movie houses.


Betty Boop, Fleischer's most famous creation, was born during this time. Betty first appeared in Dizzy Dishes in 1930. Her flirtatious persona was inspired by the flapper look, and the most famous female stars of the day (including Mae West).

By 1932, Betty was the star of her own series. She had become the first animated screen siren, and the unrivaled star of Fleischer Studios.

In addition to animating their own characters, Fleischer Studios animated and brought to life two other famous characters created by others that had previously existed only in comic strips—Popeye the Sailor (1933) and Superman (1941).

The Superman films are known for their visually stunning animation. The first in the series, Superman, was nominated for the 1941 Academy Award for Best Short Subject: Cartoons. Here it is:



Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Filmography 2012

Here's the year 2012 in film, thanks to Genrocks and Filmography. I didn't think it was as good as Cinemageddon 2012, though, so I have linked that as well, below.

Actually, I kept changing my mind, so maybe not. You be the judge.


And here's Cinemageddon 2012, thanks to Christopher Sherwood, who describes himself as "an editor/filmmaker (living) near Los Angeles. Also an adventurer/idiot/philosopher."




Monday, 17 December 2012

"Northwest Hounded Police"

Frederick Bean 'Tex' Avery (1908-1980) was a descendant of Judge Roy Bean and Daniel Boone. He was an American animator, cartoonist, voice actor and director, best known for producing animated cartoons during The Golden Age of Hollywood animation. His most significant work was for Warner Bros. and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios, where he created the characters of Daffy Duck, Bugs Bunny, Droopy, and Screwy Squirrel.

Avery's cartoons became known for their sheer lunacy, breakneck pace, and a penchant for playing with the medium of animation and film in general that few other directors dared to approach. Avery's first short released by MGM, The Blitz Wolf, an Adolf Hitler parody, was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Short Subject (Cartoons) in 1942.

Avery's most famous MGM character,
Droopy, was a calm, little, slow-moving and slow-talking dog who still won out in the end. The character was initially nameless. He would not be called "Droopy" onscreen until his fifth cartoon, SeƱor Droopy (1949). In the cartoon that follows, Northwest Hounded Police, Droopy's last name is given as "McPoodle".


Sunday, 16 December 2012

Callie Khouri on screenwriting

Callie Khouri was raised in Texas and Kentucky by her doctor father and mother. She went to university to study landscape architecture, but switched to drama. She moved to Los Angeles in 1982 to study at the Strasburg Institute, then worked for a commercials production company as a receptionist before taking a position with them as a music video production assistant. While working at the office, she began work on what would eventually become Thelma & Louise (1991), writing the script in longhand at home and then retyping it on the job.

Here's her story of how she came to write Thelma & Louise.



Saturday, 15 December 2012

"Interglobal Trading Fund"

Interglobal Trading Fund is the pilot of a webseries made by Anne Lower, the Princess Scribe of screenwriting blog fame. 

The show is being screened on Continuum, one of the new YouTube channels, run by Stage 5 TV. It is part of a test program—several pilots are being run and the one with the highest number of clicks gets to hang around and become a fully-fledged webseries. You remember the way Jules put it in Pulp Fiction
                      JULES
Well, the way they pick the shows on TV is they make one show, and that show's called a pilot. And they show that one show to the people who pick the shows, and on the strength of that one show, they decide if they want to make more shows. Some get accepted and become TV programs, and some don't, and become nothing.
It's Anne's birthday today, December 15, so I decided to celebrate her pilot. Your part is to click on the Play button below, and help rack up the count. 

What's the show about?
The Interglobal Trading Fund (ITF) is a shadow operation that serves global governments and conglomerates. Recruits have their memories erased and are trained as assassins, to be sent back in time to complete “transactions.” When XIII (Thirteen) is assigned a second jump in the one day, contrary to protocol, things don't go as planned...
So, the hitman is called Thirteen, not Jules, but you get the general idea. Now click...



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Friday, 14 December 2012

6 Filmmaking Tips - Rian Johnson

Rian Johnson is an American writer and director. He won a Special Jury Prize at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival with his debut feature, Brick, and has received a lot of media attention recently over his latest film, Looper.

In what has been described as "a bit of free film school," here are some tips provided by a man who built his own time machine.
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Read Great Stuff That Has Nothing to Do With Anything You’re Writing


I’m in that phase right now where I’m fishing for the next idea, so this is the first tip I thought of. But it’s applicable at all points in the process, I think. When I’m looking for inspiration, in addition to looking at sources that line up with my idea, I try to cast my net wide and into weird waters. If you’re working on a western, read a biography of Einstein, or, if you’re working on a horror movie, dig into some Jung, or a history of the French revolution, or some Tolstoy short stories. Anything that sparks your interest, and as far afield from your own idea as possible. Because when you’re reading a book that has nothing to do with your movie, and you hit that one paragraph that somehow miraculously has everything to do with your movie, it’s like striking gold. That’s the kind of unique inspiration that can really start things up.

Listen

One of the things I’ve tried to get better at in the whole process is listening.  I grew up making short films with friends, and coming into features I was used to controlling every aspect of the process, story boarding everything, and dictating the movie I had in my head. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, I think you need a movie in your head, and having a clear idea of how that movie will work and what to do to get it there is obviously essential. But I’m also learning that my most important job on set is to be present, to be in the moment, and, if something new presents itself, to be open to that. That sounds really obvious I guess, but I’m a slow learner. So I do my storyboards, I have my plan. But I also show up ready to listen, watch and observe, and to react.


Joseph Gordon-Levitt, in Brick (2005)

Make As Many Movies As Possible

When I graduated high school, I had made about 80 short movies, and 78 of them were unwatchably horrible. Dumb skits with friends, action scenes with GI Joe figurines, fart jokes and tv parodies and half assed videos on “Hamlet” and “Brave New World,” to get out of writing book reports. Nothing that will ever see the light of day. But in making those 80 dumb videos, I learned more than I did in four years of film school.
    I was getting used to having a camera in my hands, finding shots, and forming a (crude) visual language. I was goofing around with editing, with sound, putting things up against each other, and testing how malleable everything was. Doing a bunch of it, even if it was bad, was the key to it becoming something I could start refining. The camera in my iPhone is a million times better than the Hi8 camera I lugged around back then, and I would have killed for iMovie. If you’re in high school right now and want to make movies, you should be doing it.
    Right now. Stop reading. Go.


Try Film

This tip is is specific to October 2012, so if you’re reading this in the future, you can probably skip it.
   Film is going away. Quickly. We’ve shot all three of our movies on 35mm film, and in film school we made our student shorts on super 8mm and 16mm. I know that it’s expensive, I know it’s a pain in the ass. But it’s something that will be totally gone in 10 years. So I’m saying try it. Shoot it while you can. If you’ve only shot digital, get ahold of a super 8 camera and make at least one short on it. If you’re making a short film with a budget, stretch a little and shoot 16mm.
   First off, it looks so much cooler than digital. Second, this is sort of last-days-of-the-dodo time, nobody can say how much longer we’ve got with film, and you owe it to yourself to experience the sewing machine whirr of a camera turning over, the smell of the stock when you load it, and that weird magical thrill when you get it back from the lab and realize you’ve got an image.

Adrien Brody and Mark Ruffalo, in The Brothers Bloom (2008)
Watch The Criterion Collection

Blindly choosing a movie I know nothing about that’s been vouched for by somebody (or by a great DVD label, like Criterion here in the states or Masters of Cinema in the UK) is one of my favorite things to do. Sometimes it leads to muted appreciation, sometimes to flat out boredom, but when something grabs you and engages you it opens up not just a new movie you love but a new director and maybe genre or period you’ve never explored. It’s important to keep discovering.

Don’t Chase the Market

When I was trying to “break into the business” (I’m not sure why I put quotes around that) every once in awhile I’d get frustrated and say “Well, hell, X is really getting lots of attention this year, I should do one of those.” Then I’d make an X, whether it was a parody short or an action screenplay or whatever, and of course it would be derivative and not very good, and I would realize I’d wasted a chunk of time making something that didn’t get me anywhere.
   At the end of the day, the movie that got me noticed was something that nobody was asking for—a bizarre high school detective movie—but it was 100% mine. It was my individual voice, and it was something I cared deeply about. I think the biggest “breaking in” (man I did it again) lesson I learned is to not concentrate on breaking in, but to focus inward and just work on your thing. Cultivate what you care about and what’s unique to you. That’s what has the best chance of breaking through the clutter, and even if it doesn’t (because who the hell knows in this business), that’s what you care about and what matters.
   Making a short film that you’re proud of, and you feel is true and honest, that 200 people see on YouTube, is more fulfilling (and in the long run more productive) than chasing someone else’s dream, on any scale.