Sunday, 20 August 2017

Akira Kurosawa: On filmmaking

Akira Kurosawa's career spanned nearly 60 years. He’s best known for his samurai epics, such as RashomonSeven Samurai, (which inspired The Magnificent Seven and Last Man Standing), Hidden Fortress (which inspired Star Wars), Yojimbo (which inspired A Fist Full of Dollars, among others), SanjuroKagemusha, and Ran (which reworks King Lear).

The following video is organised into 10 chapters. This list shows the subjects Kurosawa discusses and the time each section commences.

Chapter 1: Background   (0:00)
Chapter 2: Screenplays   (13:50)
Chapter 3: Storyboards   (19:19)
Chapter 4: Filming   (24:32)
Chapter 5: Lighting   (31:16)
Chapter 6: Art Direction  (37:21)
Chapter 7: Costumes   (43:17)
Chapter 8: Editing   (47:30)
Chapter 9: Music   (54:57)
Chapter 10: Directing   (63:09)

First posted: 11 January 2014

Friday, 18 August 2017

Screenwriter's Lecture - Julian Fellowes

Acclaimed screenwriter Julian Fellowes found success later in life, carving out his niche in British period dramas for Film and Television. His international hits include Downton Abbey and Gosford Park.

Featuring interviews with Hugh Bonneville and more.

First posted: 23 November 2013

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Ridley Scott on filmmaking

Ridley Scott has produced eighty movies and directed over thirty of them, including some all-time classics:
Alien (1979), Blade Runner (1982), Black Rain (1989), Thelma & Louise (1991), G.I. Jane (1997), Gladiator (2000), Black Hawk Down (2001), Matchstick Men (2003), A Good Year (2006), American Gangster (2007), Body of Lies (2008), and Robin Hood (2010).
Here is a rare chance to hear him speaking about filmmaking.

First posted: 6 January 2014

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

10 Golden Rules of Moviemaking - Eli Roth

Eli Roth is a producer, actor, writer and director. And dedicated to his art. The guy made over 100 short films before he graduated from high school!

Here is some wisdom he laid down for MovieMaker in 2009.

Although I’ve only directed three features (and a bunch of short films, including a fake trailer and a fake Nazi propaganda film), I have worked in one capacity or another on nearly 150 different film productions. Even when I was the guy getting coffee or standing on the street in zero-degree weather, asking homeless crack addicts to please keep their voices down, I was always learning.

By the time I stepped onto the set of my debut feature, Cabin Fever, at age 28, I had 10 years of production experience. I knew how to run a set. More importantly, I knew how to run the set of a low-budget, indie film. All three of my films, though widely distributed, were made independently for a total combined budget of $16 million.  

So my golden rules are for moviemakers who cannot afford to shoot more than 24 or 40 days, or do more than one or two takes; they’re for moviemakers who have to shoot every day as if it’s their last ever, because if they don’t make their day, the whole film will fall apart.

1. Get as much on-set production experience as possible before directing. If you want to be a doctor, you don’t just buy some surgical tools, show up at the hospital and ask who needs surgery. Yet most movie fans think that because they know movies they can direct. Boy, are they in for a surprise.
    Coming up with shots is easy. It’s how you make the scene work when your actor’s in a bad mood or the neighboring building won’t stop construction—that’s directing. And the only way you can know how chaotic it can be is by working on sets.
    Work in any capacity you can and make yourself indispensable. You will see every mistake in the book, and you’ll learn as much from the bad experiences as the good ones. You’ll see what happens when a director doesn’t have a clue about what he or she’s doing or what happens when he or she gets focused on one idea that clearly isn’t working. You’ll see what’s possible to accomplish in a day and you’ll see how one small error in set dressing can bring the entire production to a halt.
    Making movies is so much more than coming up with shots. You are running an army and the only way to understand how to best run that army is by working your way up through the ranks. And yes, even Quentin Tarantino worked as a production assistant and shot an unfinished feature before he made Reservoir Dogs. You won’t spend the rest of your life getting coffee if you’re good, and you never know how those experiences will pay off on your own films years later.
When Joey Kern got glass blown in his eye on the set of Cabin Fever, we had an ambulance on standby, an on-set medic, a photo double ready and a whole other list of shots to get that didn’t include him so that we could film while I figured out how to rewrite the story around his injury. That kind of preparation for worst-case scenarios can only come from on-set experience.

2. Keep your eye on the donut, not the hole. This is a golden rule David Lynch taught me; it was his one piece of advice for me before I made Cabin Fever. I tell it to all my actors and crew members and we use it as a mantra during the shoot.
David told me:
“Eli, man, the only thing that matters to the audience is the information recorded in front of those 24 little frames per second. That’s the donut. All the other bullshit—the drama, the backstabbing—that’s the hole. And if you’re not careful, you can get sucked in. Your job is to keep your eye on what matters.”
When the union came to North Carolina and illegally threatened our Cabin Fever crew members until they signed union cards, which then sapped all our money halfway into our shoot, we raised more money and kept going. Actors will fight, they’ll sleep with each other, their agents will drive you crazy, and, if you’re not strong, you can easily get sucked into all of that stuff that never winds up on the screen. Your job as director is to not just stay focused on the end product, but to continually motivate everyone to do their best by keeping them focused on the end product, too. And it works. All my cast members still repeat it to me in David Lynch’s Midwestern twang: “Eye on the donut, not the hole.”

3. Hire really attractive stand-ins. Crew members are horny. They get frustrated that it’s not the 1980s anymore and that there are sexual harassment laws that prevent them from hitting on every girl at work. But movie sets are still kind of fair game, a place where people can openly flirt. But crew members often won’t hook up or have a “locationship” because they work with each other again and again. That’s where the stand-ins come in.
    The stands-ins are crew, but they’re not necessarily there every day. And if they’re the ones standing there for 45 minutes while the crew sets up the shot, everyone wants to look cool. People may say this is sexist, but it’s very basic human psychology: When you have pretty girls on set, the boys behave. Period. You’d think it would whip them into a frenzy, but it’s the opposite. When there are no girls on set, that’s when they’re at their worst.
    On Cabin Fever we had two attractive actresses and it became a real problem. (We were in the woods with 30 guys and two girls.) After the first week, we hired a bunch of female production assistants and the boys calmed down (we didn’t have money for stand-ins).
    On Hostel and Hostel: Part II, I made sure that I had beautiful stand-ins and the crew loved it. They were always so happy; they just wanted to take a moment to look cool and feel like girls were still interested in them. They’ve learned not to go after cast members because they’ll get in trouble with the producers or a jealous director (ahem), so the stand-ins keep them happy. A smile from a pretty girl goes a long, long, long way.

4. Have an equal balance of guys and girls. Sorry, it does matter. Film sets are a close replication of overnight camp: You’re there for eight weeks, you live together, eat together and do activities together. It’s not school, but you still have to be there. And at the end, you all say you’re best friends and that you’ll stay in touch forever, but then you don’t ever talk to each other until the next film.
    It’s so similar that you’ve got to build your crew like a co-ed camp. It makes everyone happier to come to work if there are more possibilities for hookups.
Now, I wouldn’t pick your key crew members this way—go with the best DP, production designer, costume designer, editor, etc. But get a good balance of attractive, friendly assistants for the various departments. Even if they’re not so good at their jobs, somehow their presence gets others to work harder. It’s kind of a tradeoff. I am not advocating hiring bimbos or himbos, but think of your crew like a dinner party guest list: You’ll want something for everyone. People work a lot harder when they are happy to be at work.

5. Attach a shot list to the sides. Every morning people get the sides and they read through what we’re shooting. But I always attach an extra sheet with a typed list of shots.
    I have my coverage shots and then my “Time-Permitting” shots. It’s usually about 25 to 35 shots—an ambitious list—but not so overwhelming that people think it’s not doable. And as the day goes on, the crew members start to cross off their shots. Then they see how much they’ve gotten done by lunch (and you can see which shots you can combine, what’s necessary and what’s extra).
    You can tweak stuff, but when crew members see they only have four or five shots left, they move faster. They see that you have a focused plan and they feel even more involved in the process, which gets the best out of people.

6. Have good catering. The crew will revolt if the food is terrible. A well-fed crew is a happy crew. Also, make sure craft services has healthy food. You can fill it up with junk food, but I usually set up two tables—one healthy and one filled with crap. That way your actors and your grips are happy.

7. Ready, Aim, FIRE. Do not be afraid to fire crew members or actors. I have fired a major crew member on every film I have made, and it was always the right thing to do. You have to be very careful and confident that this person is not doing his or her job, but you are running an army and you need the troops to respect your authority. When they tested me on Cabin Fever, I fired half my grip and electric department and promoted a best boy I liked to gaffer. Those who stayed were amazing for the second half of the shoot and all the other crew members snapped to.
    On Hostel, I fired my costume designer (who was a friend of mine) and everyone else worked their asses off because they saw that no one was immune if they were not going to do their jobs. It’s never fun, but if someone’s really wrong, not doing their job or not respecting your authority, get rid of them immediately.

8. “Thank You.” Learn those words in whatever language you are shooting and use them at the end of the day. They go a long, long way. You’re paying people (or not) to do a job, so it should be expected of them to do it well. But it’s very important to let them know you appreciate it, too.
    At the end of the day, what creative people want most of all is to feel valued; to feel that their input on your project made a difference and that you appreciate it. Thank them and tell them what a great job they did, how audiences are going to love it because of what they added to it. I thanked every crew member on Hostel in Czech and Slovak, and then learned how to say “good morning,” “enjoy your lunch” and “cut!” They had never experienced an American director who didn’t treat them like “the locals” and they really went the extra mile for me.
    I was a PA on many films and I always remember who was nice and who wasn’t. I remember how hard I worked for the ones who said “thank you.”
    The same behavior goes for screaming: If you’re going to have a temper tantrum, you better pick your moments. The crew will put up with it once or twice, but then they’ll become immune. You will not gain their respect by screaming at them, you will gain it through your ability to execute a well-organized plan and communicate your appreciation for their hard work. Screamers just get ignored and crews work slower to piss them off once the yelling becomes funny, which usually happens on day two.

9. Rock out between set-ups. Quentin does this on his sets and I started doing it on Hostel. Have some really good music ready between set-ups and rock out to it with the crew. They’ll get the shot set up faster. It’s amazing how much a crew can get done in one AC/DC song.

10. The easiest rule to forget: Have fun. From the time I was a kid wanting to work on sets my parents always told me, “Enjoy the journey.” When you’re standing out in the freezing rain yelling “roll” and “cut” for 16 hours and getting paid $90 a day, it’s kind of hard to have a good time. But if you can find joy in those moments and in the fact that you’re actively pursuing your dream, then you’ll really enjoy it.
    Directing is a very, very stressful job; the entire world changes for you. Everyone treats you differently because now you’re suddenly “in charge.” The stress and loneliness can destroy you,but you’ve got to learn to enjoy it, no matter how bad things get—no matter what happens—and still retain that inner joy of being a kid, living your dream.
    You have to have fun or what’s the point? And sometimes you need to be reminded of that. So go out for crew drinks. Laugh and share playback on the monitor with everyone when you’ve filmed a great kill. And do that extra take for fun, even though you know you’ve got the shot, just for the love of making movies. Directing can be the greatest job in the world, but only if you let it.
First posted: 4 January 2014

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Billy Ray: Tricks of the Trade

Here's a great little interview from Mike De Luca's The Dialogue series.

Billy Ray is the writer of Color of Night (1994), Volcano (1997), Hart's War (2002), Flightplan (2005), Breach (2007), State of Play (2009), The Hunger Games (2012), Captain Phillips (2013), and many others. When he talks about screenwriting, it's obvious he knows what he's taking about.

First posted: 20 December 2013

Monday, 14 August 2017

Everything is a Remix

Kirby Ferguson is a New York-based filmmaker, and creator of dozens of comedic short films, which have received over four million views on the web.

Three years ago he put out a four-part documentary in which he argued that everything is a remix, and that all original material builds off of and remixes previously existing material.

The following video is all four parts of the documentary, and two supplements, glued together into a single video. Such a format may be better for a "lean and watch" mode as it does not require switching between videos and removes some duplicate content. It also removes Kirby's foreword from the end of parts one through three leaving only the one at the end.

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First posted: 16 December 2013

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Busby Berkeley and the Coen Brothers

I've been watching Busby Berkeley movies lately and noticed something interesting. The Coen brothers must have been big fans. Take a look at some comparison shots from The Big Lebowski:

The Big Lebowski (1998)

The shot where the Dude floats between the dancers' legs was the subject of a practical joke during filming.
One or two of the dancers got the idea that we should all wear outrageous, over-the-top pubic hair coming out of our panties underneath our skirts, so they approached the hair/wardrobe department who obliged us with black curly wigs, which we tore apart and shoved in our panties, hanging out the sides like a jungle. So, there is Jeff, laying underneath the first girl in the line-up and he starts smiling, thinking to himself. 'Somebody's not taking care of business.' As he rolls past the first few girls and sees that we all weren't 'taking care of business', he is now laughing out loud, and the ladies are trying to stifle our laughter, which also makes it difficult for us to balance in heels with a wide straddle. One of the Coens cuts the take. No one knows what's going on except the dancers and Jeff. So the dancers flash the choreographers and they fall on the floor laughing. But the crew and the Coens still don't know what's going on. So we all turn to them and flash them. The crew laughed, but Joel and Ethan were not amused. One of them said something to the effect of, 'million-dollar-a-day set, people, let's get going.'
                                                                                          ~Dancer Jamie Green
42nd Street (1933)

No one floats between these girls' legs, but they didn't have the equipment to shoot that back in 1933.

The Big Lebowski (1998)

Saddam's shoe tower...

42nd Street (1933)

... had a predecessor in 1933.

The Big Lebowski (1998)

A scene of dancers making patterns in a circle....

Dames (1934)

... has numerous counterparts in Busby Berkeley musicals. This one is from Dames, a film once listed as one of the Coen brother's seven favourite films.

The Big Lebowski (1998)

The Dude makes an entrance...

Gold Diggers of 1935

... much like another made in 1935.

The Big Lebowski (1998)
The young lady being tossed in the air from a circular blanket at a beach party...

Dames (1934)

... has a parallel in this shot in which another young lady appears to fly out of a circle of her peers.

Three women fly up to the camera, followed by a fourth who is carrying... wait for it...

Dames (1934)

... a bowling ball!

Believe it or not.

First posted: 15 December 2013

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Screenwriter's Lecture - Scott Frank

In this lecture, Scott Frank (Get Shorty, Out of Sight, Minority Report, The Wolverine) illustrates the importance of opening scenes, the challenges his craft encompasses and how, ultimately, "it's all about the words".

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First posted: 14 December 2013

Friday, 11 August 2017

When to go for a pee during movies

There's an app for that! Oh, yeah. Perfect for old men needing frequent comfort stops. RunPee buzzes in your pocket when a boring bit is coming up in a film, so you can go to the toilet without missing anything.

The following is an extract from The Guardian article: Running times: when to go for a pee during classic movies
Even the corniest summer blockbusters now regularly clock in at two-and-a-half hours. So perhaps it should be no surprise that RunPee, an iPhone app advising film viewers when to step out for a wee, is a runaway success. Start the app when you sit down to watch a film, and it will buzz in your pocket when a boring bit long enough for a loo break is coming up. The app was launched in 2008 by American developer Dan Florio and has attracted positive testimonials from stars including Rashida Jones and Stephen Fry. Hugh Jackman says it was recommended to him by Anne Hathaway.

Updated regularly, RunPee already recommends two wee-appropriate moments each in new releases. Yet even classic movies allow for a quick sprint to the loo and back.

The Godfather
Just after he has helped to whack his former protege Paulie in the car, capo Peter Clemenza cooks for the Corleone family’s made men. If you nip out after the line “Take the cannoli”, the most you will miss is Clemenza’s meatball recipe. To many Godfather fans, this scene is a classic that settles for ever the question of whether to add sugar to tomato sauce. But it was a creation of director (and legendary gourmand) Francis Ford Coppola, and does nothing to advance the plot.

Casablanca is a mere 102 minutes, but if you still can’t make it through without a pit-stop, then go at minute 59, just after Ilsa and Laszlo have failed to get a pair of exit visas from fez-sporting kingpin Ferrari. You’ll miss a bit of inconsequential business at Rick’s bar, albeit with some world-class repartee between Bogey and a twinkly Claude Rains. Be sure to get back before Laszlo comes looking for Rick’s hidden letters of transit.

The Shawshank Redemption
Andy has just done a spell in solitary. Red has failed to win freedom at his latest parole board hearing. It’s time for a montage. Leave the room when Andy gives Red a harmonica. You will miss Red returning the favour with a Marilyn Monroe poster, followed by a section about Andy securing funding for a prison library and some light banter between the inmates about a copy of The Count of Monte Cristo (another prison break classic) by “Alexandra Dumbass”.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Jean-Pierre Melville

There is an interesting article in The Guardian at the moment about the films of Melville. Here's an extract.
Melville is celebrated as a poet of lowlife crime and a master of style, the creator of a Gallicised American tough-guy aesthetic taken from the 1930s Hollywood gangster movies that he adored. Well into the 50s, 60s and 70s, Melville kept creating criminals and cops in snap-brim hats and trench coats, long after it was realistically plausible to do so, until it became an almost surreal mannerism. It is no accident that one of his most famous on-screen acting appearances is as Parvulesco, the fictional writer being interviewed in Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless. Melville was the epitome of a certain type of style worshipper. He gave you the tough guy with the gun and the girl – the two things that Godard said you needed to make a film.

But it was more than that. Melville’s attitude to lawlessness was crucially created by the second world war. Born Jean-Pierre Grumbach, he had been a teenage fighter in the French resistance; he kept his codename “Melville” (in homage to Herman Melville) in professional life after the war, and never forgot a simple, brutal lesson about his countrymen: it was the rebels, the outlaws, the tough guys and the subversives who were temperamentally suited to be soldiers of the resistance. The instinct of the bourgeois law-abiding citizens – those obedient, nose-clean nine-to-fivers who just wanted a quiet life – was to collaborate with the Nazis. The criminals were the good guys.

Read the full article here: Jean-Pierre Melville: cinematic poet of the lowlife and criminal.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Ron Howard: on Filmmaking

Ron Howard was a child actor (Dennis the Menace, The Andy Griffith Show, Happy Days), who has appeared in almost eighty TV shows and movies. Then his hair fell out, so he made the jump to feature film directing (Grand Theft Auto, Cocoon, Willow, Apollo 13, Cinderella Man, The Da Vinci Code, Frost/Nixon, Rush, etc.).

He was interviewed by BAFTA recently, where he talked about his experiences as a filmmaker.
You know directors, some of them — some of us are sweethearts, some of us are jerks, some of us are talkative, some are very quiet. None of that really matters very much — although, you know, I always think it’s nice to be decent to people, but that’s me. It’s not imperative. The big thing is taste — taste and judgement. That’s what it’s all about.

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First posted: 20 November 2013

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

David Lean

David Lean (1908-1991) is rated the greatest director of epics of the last century, yet he only directed nineteen films. And what films they are. Spielberg routinely watches Lawrence of Arabia (1962) to glean inspiration before starting on one of his own.

Other great David Lean films include:  Brief Encounter (1945), Great Expectations (1946), Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), Doctor Zhivago (1965), and Ryan's Daughter (1970)

Brief Encounter (1945)

Bridge Over the River Kwai (1957)

Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

Doctor Zhivago (1965)

The following is a three-part documentary on the filmmaking style of David Lean.

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First posted: 26 November 2013

Monday, 7 August 2017

"The Melville Variations"

Jean-Pierre Melville (1917-1973) was born Jean-Pierre Grumbach, in Paris. He took part in the French Resistance during World War II and adopted, as a nom de guerre, Melville (after Herman Melville, the American author), which he retained as a stage name afterward.

The short film which follows is a meditation on a selection of themes and motifs from Melville films, put together by Cristina Álvarez López & Adrian Martin:

Thirteen variations for thirteen films, accompanied by the musical theme composed by François de Roubaix for Le Samouraï (1967): the cinema of Jean-Pierre Melville condensed into a series of motifs that travel from movie to movie, reiterating and transforming, finding their full meaning only when they are put into relation. A non-exhaustive collection, but filled with recognisable images that clearly obsess this filmmaker.

1. Jef Costello’s second murder in Le Samouraï, Maite’s devastating death at the end of Army of Shadows (1969), the shooting of Mattei and Vogel in Le cercle rouge (1970) or—the most paradigmatic example of all—of Maurice, Silien and Kern in Le doulos (1962). It is the matter of a rule with few exceptions, a pattern that is rarely broken: whenever Melville’s characters are not holding an empty gun, they almost always shoot twice. The second shot seems like a tragic echo of the first; when we put these scenes in series, they form a strange, musical choreography, a dance of death. 

2. In the metaphoric title of his first feature film, it is evoked in its silence; in When You Read This Letter (1953), it is presented in gorgeous black and white, like a set whose wild bountifulness competes with the agitated passions of the characters, and even robs the foreground from them; in Army of Shadows, it amounts to a nocturnal, Allied raft that swallows and spits out a phantom submarine; in the opening of Un flic (1972), it is a clear, diluted blueness, a swirl of wind, rain and waves that fiercely crash against a dike, prefiguring the tormented destiny of the characters … The sea is a powerful presence in Melville’s cinema, and the director revels in cataloguing its chameleonic transformations, showing it in all its diverse states. 

3. “Any other man stops and talks / But the walking man walks” (James Taylor). Melville’s heroes walk, always alone, in a determined, pensive, unbroken, but never hurried or troubled way, keeping their inner thoughts to themselves. They measure out their destined itinerary in the steps they take, and Melville plots his mise en scène likewise. He respectfully and patiently films this action in many ways: from a static position, in a panning shot, backwards tracking, lateral tracking. The action exists, too, to reveal the carefully chosen fragments of urban space: by a bridge, along a tunnel, back streets, main streets.

4. Shoes—like gloves and overalls—constitute the work uniform of Melville’s men; they are not part of the same style/image code as the hats and coats. The shoes, moreover, have a specific purpose: they are for robbing places (bank, house, casino, train), not for making a kill-hit. So they are designed, and used, to ensure absolute silence on the job: a ballet of noiseless steps. Where hats, hairstyles, cigarettes and other indices differentiate Melville’s men, these on-the-job shoes—always the same kind—blend them, indistinguishably and interchangeably, into a perfect working unit.

5. In his famous interview book, Rui Nogueira asks Melville about the white gloves that Jef uses when he is about to fulfil a murder contract. The director declares: “They are editor’s gloves”. This affirmation—in the guise of a playful but categorical mise en abyme—immediately suggests the self-conscious dimension of his cinema, as well as the fine, ironic sense of this creator obsessed with the thematic of destiny and tragedy. Melville’s response is that of a grand conjurer, displacing the magic proper to cinema into the world of the fiction. Because, in fact, when the heroes of Le doulos, Le samuraï or Le circle rouge slip into their white gloves, they too are playing with the linear chain of events, erasing characters from the frame, altering the arrangement of the pieces, and splicing fragments together without leaving a trace.

6. After the car, the train is the most important means of transportation in Melville’s cinema. In Le cercle rouge there is the scene of the spectacular escape from a guarded prison, and in Un flic an elaborate heist that takes up one-third of the film. In Les enfants terribles (1950), a train carries the siblings off on their one and only adventure outside the house where they are usually secluded; and in When You Read This Letter, a train functions as a death machine, secretly guided by the protagonist’s desire. In these two films, united by their central roles for women, both heroines are found in a surprisingly similar gesture: they wipe their hand across a train window, as if it were a windshield, in order to demist the glass.


7. A truly Melvillian image: a shot filmed from outside a car, with its front or side window acting as a reframing device. Sometimes, when the car stops, the camera remains static, and tension builds through waiting. At other times, the image is transformed into a paean to the artificiality created by those rear projections, old-fashioned but always lovely, that allow us to observe the illusion of movement and the unreal telescoping of different layers. In some of the films (Le samouraï, Le doulos), it is a purely poetic image—the characters trapped within, as the raindrops slide down the window’s exterior—that emanates something at once indifferent yet claustrophobic, beautiful yet cold. 

8. The trademark of Melville’s much-remarked Americanism is his love of ritzy nightclub settings—usually built in and around his own home/film studio. Their titles take the American rather than the French possessive form—Martey’s, not Chez Martey—and they each have their special showgirl choreography inside. Almost all these places—with the exception of The Cotton Club—blares the name of their owner (Santi, Ricci, Simon …); and that owner is either associated with criminals, or a criminal himself. Melville, a master at making so many Parisian street locations seem interchangeable and almost dull backdrops to the intensely focused action, reserves his showbiz fanfare for character’s entrances, and the lit-up entranceways, into his proudly invented clubs.

9. We find, especially in Bob le flambeur (1956) but also in Les enfants terribles, Leon Morin, Priest (1961), Le doulos and Army of Shadows, the black and white squares of a chess board, transformed into a scenic pattern for the design of floors, walls and other elements of the décor. A graphic model that might be incidental, or could have arisen purely because of a particular period’s fashions—but which can hardly go unremarked, since it anticipates, almost subliminally, “some of the constants accumulated by Melville’s cinema: symmetrical trajectories, opposed characters, and strategic mobility.

10. In the recent Companion to François Truffaut, Arnaud Desplechin observes that the hardest thing to incorporate in a movie is a newspaper: if it’s too real, too specific, too politically partial or slanted, it risks throwing the story (and the spectator) off-course. Inserts of newspaper items are central to Melville’s cinema, and are completely integrated into his universe: brutally factual announcements of crimes and deaths (‘fatal accident’, ‘bloody hold-up’, ‘sensational jewel theft’), comprising headlines, text and an occasional mugshot—the identity of the newspaper itself rarely matters, or figures. Plot intrigue, at these moments, is flattened out to the indifferent, ephemeral level of daily news reporting—while also marking, in this long-gone, pre-digital media sphere, one of the few ways in which information travels, to criminals and law enforcers alike.

11. “If to direct is a glance, to edit is a beating of the heart.” Godard said it well (in 1956), but every director gives the immortal shot/reverse shot exchange of glances their own, powerful inflection. The exchange of looks in Melville captures the two, stark poles of the intersubjective logic that structures his entire cinematic universe. There is the cold, blank look (of Alain Delon, especially): the look that can be returned, but never penetrated, and that provokes a short-circuiting of desire (Le cercle rouge). Then there is the look that signals an abysmal turning-point, the complete suction of power out of one character and into the other: such is the crucial moment in Le samouraï, when Jef glimpses the woman who now holds the key to his tragic destiny; or also the charged ending of The Silence of the Sea (1949), where the heroine’s look marks almost a surrender to the German officer, putting an end to their war. Then there is a bonus: the strange, permutational, vertiginous free-play of looks between  a threesome of characters in Un flic: this is an uncontrollable histrionics of the look, which seems to mime suspicion and doubt, when in fact everyone involved has always known more than they appear to know.

12. Characters seeing their image in mirrors form dramatic instants of pause, of punctuation, in Melville. On one level, their meaning is conventional: they signal moments in which characters truly see—or have a chance to grasp—themselves. But the pictorial insistence of this motif, plus Melville’s mania for tracing frames within frames for such portraits of stillness, suggests something graver and more secretive: a gesture in which his characters are both monumentalised and immortalised, even if only fleetingly, and in the perfectly domestic, banal prop of a piece of glass above a sink.

13. Synecdoche, Melville: a man is his hat. His heroes are normally never apart from their hats (which they wear so perfectly, so elegantly); if they ever do part, whether through the heroes losing them, leaving them behind, or somehow being separated from them, it is a certain sign of approaching death. In Le samouraï, the moment that Jef leaves his hat but does not take his check number signals that he will never be coming back for it; likewise, in Le doulos, the unlucky number of 13 placed into the ribbon of a headless hat spells doom for its former wearer. In the end, there is only ever the hat: mute, static, frozen, inhuman.

First posted: 15 November 2013

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Allan Loeb discusses screenwriting

Allan Loeb is the guy who wrote Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, Things We Lost in the Fire, 21, and Just Go With It, among others.

Here he talks about mistakes he sees young writers make, and some of his experiences as a screenwriter.

First posted: 14 November 2013

Saturday, 5 August 2017

10 tips for screenwriters

Tony Gilroy is the guy who wrote Dolores Claiborne, The Devil's Advocate, all the Jason Bourne films, Michael ClaytonDuplicity, and State of Play, among others.

He was a speaker at the recent BFI Screenwriters' Lecture Series in London, where he spoke with Alison Feeney-Hart and shared the following personal insights into the art of writing Hollywood movies.

1. Go to the movies

I don't think there is anything you can learn from courses or books. You have been watching movies since you were born. You have filled your life with narrative... and food. It's already way down deep inside you.

Going to the movies, having something to say, having an imagination and the ambition to do it is really all that is required. You can learn how to do anything.

2. Make stuff up but keep it real

This is imaginative work - screenwriters make things up. Everything I have in my life is a result of making things up. There is one thing that you have to know that is a deal-breaker - human behaviour.

The quality of your writing will be directly related to your understanding of human behaviour. You need to become a journalist for the movie that is in your head. You need to report on it; every scene has to be real.

The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

3. Start small

Big ideas don't work. Start with a very small idea that you can build on.

With Bourne I never read any of the books; we started again. The very smallest thing with [Jason] Bourne was, "If I don't know who I am and I don't know where I'm from, perhaps I can identify who I am by what I know how to do." We built a whole new world around that small idea.

You just start small, you build out and you move one step after the next and that's how you write a Hollywood movie.

4. Learn to live by your wits

My father was a screenwriter but it's not some pixie dust creative family thing. I learned from watching how hard he worked and learned about the tempo of a writer's life - you have to live by your wits.

If you are living with someone who lives by their wits, it seems normal to you, it doesn't scare you as much and you understand the rhythms of it.

Michael Clayton (2007)

5. Write for TV

It's getting harder and harder to make good movies. TV is where the ambiguity and shades of reality live, it's where stories can be interesting.

A lot of writers are very excited about TV right now and it's a writer-controlled business. When writers are in control, good things happen. They are more rational, they are hardworking, they are more benevolent.

Every time writers have been put in charge of entertainment, things have worked out, so with TV maybe we will see a writer-driven utopia.

6. Learn to write anywhere, anytime

I have an office at home, I've written in a million hotel rooms, I can write anywhere now. My whole goal is to want to be at my desk.

If the writing is going well, I don't want to quit. I'm older and wise enough now that if something is going well, I don't stop. I call and say I'm not coming home for dinner and just keep going.

More than anything else, I want to want to go to my desk and to not be afraid of going to work.

Duplicity (2009)
7. Get a job

I spent six years tending bar while I figured out how to write screenplays.

If you want to write, if you are a young writer and nobody knows you, find a job that pays you the most amount of money for the least amount of hours, so that you have the most amount of time left over to write.

You want to live some place where you have some sort of cultural connection and can see as many films and be around as many people as possible. You want to be some place where you can just write and write and write.

8. Get a life

If you don't have anything to say and if you haven't done anything except see a bunch of movies, then what's the point? You can only write what you know about and that will either limit you or open the possibilities to everything.

Be interested in lots of things and stay interested. My knowledge is very wide and incredibly thin. It's much more interesting when journalists and cops and doctors and bankers become screenwriters than 20-year-old film students.

There are some exceptions, of course, but if you don't have anything to say, then why are you here?

State of Play (2009)
9. Don't live in Los Angeles

I don't think there is any reason to live there, I think LA is probably very bad for you. It's a bad place to feed your head.

In LA you are driving around all the time, surrounded by people who are making you depressed. I don't think Hollywood really helps a young writer feel any sense of romance about their life.

Even if it's a delusion, you want to feel special when you go to work in the morning.

10. Develop a thick skin and just keep going

I have assumed both positions of the Hollywood Kama Sutra - top and bottom.

It's very important to be able to handle rejection. I think one of the reasons writers are shy is because we are all very suspicious of our own process because it fails so often.

It's no different from being a novelist or a composer or a painter. When you get rejection from the outside world, you either move on or you don't.

But I think the hardest times are all the days when nothing happens and everybody who has ever written anything knows what I'm talking about. A great day of writing tops everything.

First posted: 6 November 2013

Friday, 4 August 2017


Kathryn Bigelow narrates a sequence from her film, Detroit, showing the motives from behind the camera. 

In this scene, we have John Boyega as Melvin Dismukes, a private security guard who finds himself caught up in the chaos of the 1967 Detroit Rebellion. With the city under curfew and the Michigan National Guard patrolling the streets, three young African American men were murdered at the Algiers Motel.

Here's a trailer for the movie.

Thursday, 3 August 2017


Over the years there have been many magazines with a focus on Hollywood and the movies. One such was the Italian journal, Cinema, which championed film as an art form. It contains articles by future art cinema icons, such as Michelangelo Antonioni.

However, no film or publication exists in a political vacuum. Just look at the masthead and see the name of Cinema’s editor-in-chief: Vittorio Mussolini, son of the nation’s dictator Benito Mussolini.

Primi Passi – "First steps" in Italian – from January 1940, features actresses Luisella Beghi, Silvana Jachino (Juliet of the Spirits), Maria Denis (La vie de bohème), Alida Valli (The Third Man), Laura Nucci (A ciascuno il suo) and Oretta Fiume (La Dolce Vita).

The magazine Cinema followed the doings of the American film industry throughout the War, and offered "news regarding arrivals of films from America." Twenty-two films (almost six month's supply at a rate of one-film-a-week) were listed in February 1940. They include:

The Cowboy and the Lady (1938), Wuthering Heights (1939), They Shall Have Music (1939), The Real Glory (1939), Raffles (1939), The Young in Heart (1938), Made for Each Other (1939), The Duke of West Point (1938), King of the Turf (1939), The Man in the Iron Mask (1939), There Goes My Heart (1938), Topper Takes a Trip (1938), Captain Fury (1939), Zenobia (1939), Stagecoach (1939), Trade Winds (1938), Winter Carnival (1939), The Forgotten Woman (1939), Ex Champ (1939), East Side of Heaven (1939), Newsboys' Home (1938), Service de Luxe (1938), and Three Smart Girls Grow Up (1939).

Back issues of this magazine, from Oct 1939 to Jun 1940, are available online here, courtesy of the Media History Digital Library at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

First posted: 4 November 2013