Thursday, December 20, 2007

I Am Legend

Will Power

Richard Matheson’s book 'I am Legend' was published in 1954 and is now available in three film versions. The first starred Vincent Price and was called The Last Man on Earth (1964), the second featured studly Charleton Heston and was dubbed The Omega Man (1971). Now we get yet another incarnation with Will Smith that uses the original (and most cryptic) title of the novel. While I wasn’t thrilled to learn I was getting yet another remake in 2007, I am Legend is a very good movie, a thrilling, scary, heartfelt, sci-fi survival tale. It’s one of my favorite films this year.

Robert Neville (Smith) seems to be the only survior of of world wide plague triggered by a mutated cancer cure. Now he wanders the once busy streets of New York City looking for food and something to do. With only his trusty dog Sam and an assault rifle by his side, he hunts and gathers by day, then locks himself in his fortified house at night. This is due to fact that dawn brings out horrible mutant-zombies that seem to have only one thing on their fevered minds: kill Neville. Still dedicated to finding a cure for this disease in the city he was responsible for, Neville continues his work to save the human race. But can they be?

Let me first say that for this movie to work, the lead has to deliver or everything dies. Will Smith is on screen for the entire film, and he is great as protagonist Neville. He conveys the intensity and pathos of a guy who has lost his family, his world, his mission, and some of his mind dealing with the void left on a planet virtually devoid of human life. It’s a crushing setup, and Smith is up to the challenge. There is one moment where Neville must perform a horrific task, and the camera lingers on Smith’s face when he does the deed. It’s a heartbreaking yet necessary moment, and he owns it.

Director Francis Lawrence (Constantine) slowly dials up the suspense, and never lets up all the while flexing his cinematic skills in this well crafted tale. There are several sequences that feature no dialogue (what Hitchcock called “pure cinema”) but play out completely as visuals. This makes complete sense in a world with no one to talk to, but there is conversation. Neville talks to his dog, makes video log entries, and has flashbacks to the day Manhattan was locked down. This all makes complete sense, and I welcome these silent passages that allow visual storytelling instead of the screenplay telling us what we already see.

I am Legend is a very scary film, despite the over dependence on CGI. There is a great sequence when Smith chases his dog into a dark building, and we hold our breath (but understand) why he goes in. Another features the great visual device of a slowly narrowing shaft of light that is barely keeping three mutant dogs at bay while a wounded Neville crawls back to his vehicle. Palpable suspense can be done, but is hard to maintain (see 1408 and The Descent), but I am Legend follows through all the way to the end.

The least impressive element some of the computer generated trickery. When the filmmakers use it to show a New York that is abandoned and slowly being reclaimed by nature, they really succeed. Tented skyscrapers, weed-infested streets, and a destroyed Brooklyn Bridge all look very convincing. Rubber-faced, super human zombies and digital day-for-night don’t fare so well. It’s always been hard to intermingle fake creatures with real ones, and apparently it still is. This doesn’t derail the movie, but I would have preferred not being taken out of the experience every time I noticed a cheesy effect.

What really does work is the human element. Smith’s character is well developed as the film plays out, and the screenplay by Mark Protosevich and Akiva Goldsman makes him very real. We like him, we root for him, and we want him to survive and succeed in his mission to find a cure. This ain’t just a drama, however, and there are lots of entertaining elements of action, suspense and horror to please just about any fan of viscera. I am Legend is an intelligent sci-fi tale, a story with ideas and subtext that will get you thinking all while it’s scaring the hell out of you.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Cinema Salad on December 14, 2007

Lessons Learned from Filmmaker Eric Escobar
PrepShootPost has a great list of ten things that Eric learned from his recent short film experience. They are all good and cover the technical as well as the practical. My favorite is probably the first, which is a lesson I keep having to learn over and over: "Don't do everything yourself". Also check out other entries in Eric's series which include Preproduction, Day One Done, and Wrapped.

ProLost Holiday Gift Ideas
Stu Maschwitz has posted a list of gifts for that filmmaker that has (or wants) everything. At the top of the list is Stu's own wonderful book, The DV Rebel's Guide. I recently received a copy for my birthday, and I'm having a swell time learning from Stu's many pages of experience. I've just started, so I can't post a full review, but I will in the future. Also on the list is the little camera that could, the Canon HV20.

Ten Things a Marketer Should Know about Online Video
[Courtesy Camcorder Info] Another top ten list checks in with Kevin Nalts helpful post over at his blog, Will Video for Food. There he shares his success and tips for creating that viral video that will sweep us into our own fifteen minutes of fame. Lots of valuable information here that can help us create that viral clip that will draw people to our own websites--that feature our movie, of course.

MicroCinema Scene on Hiatus
Fellow low budget resource MicroCinema Scene has mysteriously vanished, with only a filmmaker graphic and the tease "We'll Be Right Back" remaining. I like MCS, and have linked to them several times for good information (and forums) that they provide. As expected, blogger and filmmaker Christopher Sharpe is up to no good during his break from maintaining the site. As revealed in a comment on this blog, he is producing Skeleton City, a new web series that looks interesting to say the least. I look forward to the series, and the return of MCS.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Cinema Salad for a Date that will Live in Infamy

I apologize that the salad is pretty sparse this week, but I'm still on paternity leave and getting around to blogging duties has proven pretty tough. My time is taxed between helping with the baby, managing my twins, and helping my wife recover. I still managed to find some good links, but original content has suffered greatly. Please bear with me, and things should return to normal soon enough. Enjoy!

Awesome Footage Via Sony EX1 and Letus Extreme
FreshDV shares some great links to what can be achieved with a nice camera and equally nice 35mm lens adapter. UK Director of Photography Philip Bloom married these two devices together and the results are quite spectacular. The resulting shots look amazing, and are yet another testimony of how spectacular imagery can be had for relatively little cost. Okay, so the EX1 is a $7000 camera, but the Letus Extreme (and others) can be attached to smaller, more affordable HD cams like the Canon HV20. This opens up a lot of possibilities for the rest of us.

Mystery Man Shares Gaggle of Screenwriting Links
Speaking of sharing some great links, Mystery Man on Film does so ad naseum. The topic is screenwriting, and there is a ton of stuff to peruse here. Since writing a great script is the foundation for making a great movie, it would behoove all us micros to check out this great list, and click a few times. I just wish I could compile such link love as well as the Mystery Man. It's an impressive feat in and of itself.

Will Smith's Steps to Success
Entertainment Weekly published their list of the fifty smartest people in Hollywood recently, and Mr. Will Smith ranks a very respectable fifth. His is the only entry where the subject gives a list of how they succeeded, and Mr. Smith's list really applies to all us filmmakers. It may seem somewhat generic (you could probably use this list for just about anything), but it is inspiring coming from someone as likable and successful as the Fresh Prince. My favorite tip: "Work your ass off." The Editblog also spotlights two editors who made the list.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Cinema Salad on Friday, November 30, 2007

Scorsese Does Hitchcock
[Courtesy HD for Indies] This is very cool, and something I would love to see more of. In this short within a short, director Martin Scorsese claims to have found four pages from a lost Hitchcock project entitled The Key to Reserva. He then decides to film what he has in Hitch's style, and the result is a really fun homage that you should all check out. Watch for the nods to many of the Master's films, and how close it actually looks like one (although Hitchcock's camera moves were never this clean). Don't touch the pages!

More Fake Webbery for Film Promotion
[Courtesy Cinematech] I've seen this before, and I think that creating fake web sites that back fictional aspects of your film is one great idea. I liked the one for Shoot 'Em Up, but this one for Pixar's Wall*E is way more in depth, and must have take quite a bit of effort to assemble (and I would expect nothing less from Pixar). Despite it being a Flash site (which we learned awhile back is a new no-no), it is a nice touch to help the literally virtual film fit into the real world.

Five Improv Techniques That Can Help You Direct
Copyblogger has a guest post from Nathania Johnson, who is the wife of fellow microbudgeter Josh Johnson over at Carolina Flicks. In the post, Nathania outlines several techniques she has learned as an actor that could help you as a blogger. Well...those same methods could help out quite a bit in our favorite pastime--filmmaking! My favorite is probably "Valuing Emotional Integrity over Audience Response". Read them all for a good primer in making your movie better.

Brightcove Cutting off Uploads--Shades of the Future?
[Courtesy Camcorder Info, Online Video Watch] Here's some unhappy news, that could be a signal of high-bandwidth video sharing vanishing in the near future. Come December 18, Brightcove will no longer let the unwashed use their high quality video distribution channel for custom content. They will be using their service for bigwigs only, with the rest of us left out in the cold (though previous uploads will remain). There are other alternatives, but this was a nice service (which powered sites like Web Serials) that will be missed.

Creativity to Spare: Avoiding Bad Audio
Here's a great episode from Chris Bailey about one of my pet peeves concerning crappy sound. There are few things that will cheapen your production faster than awful, hollow sound coming from the built-in mic on your camera. You've heard it before, the bouncy, echoing junk that sounds like your actors (or you) have a bucket over your head. Chris goes into great detail about fixing this problem, along with examples of how the improved audio sounds. It's all common sense, but if you are unaware, please heed these instructions. You will never regret it.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Please Stand By...

Hey folks, just a note to let you know that I haven't fallen off the earth, been eaten by a rabid tree sloth, or had my memory erased. No, life just took hold of me, and has been pulling me every which-way, with the blog here falling to the bottom of the priority ladder. I had my kids over for the holiday, and another (Gwyneth) arrived healthy and happy. We've all been trying to readjust, and as much as I love it, filmmaking has been temporarily brushed aside.

That's not to say I haven't been lurking. There is always lots going on, and I hope to be back in full swing within a few days. When I started this blog a year ago, my goal was to post five days a week, which I did for quite awhile. I've trimmed that back to about to or three times, which helps me to only post quality content and eliminate filler. I hope that this blog has been useful to you in the past and will continue to be into the future.

Comments have been a bit sparse, so I'd really like to open them up for input. What can you suggest to make Film Flap better? What do you like? What do you dislike? What would you add if you were me? Have you checked out the T-shirts? I'd really appreciate any help you can offer, as this blog should be just as much for you, the reader, as it is for me, the writer. The goal is still the same: make good movies for a song, and make good money doing it.

Please speak your mind!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007


Mock Disney

When I first saw the trailer for Disney’s Enchanted, I was only mildly amused. While animated Disney material is more than ripe for skewering, how good could a parody be coming from inside the Mouse itself? The idea of plopping animated characters (and their equally animated sensibilities) in the real world is a good one, but could it be any good as a non-satire? It’s true that Enchanted doesn’t have real teeth, but what is does have works very well, largely due to a good script and a wonderful performance by lead Amy Adams.

Disney cartoon character Giselle (Amy Adams) is looking to marry the man who can give her “true love’s kiss”. With the support of all of her animal friends, she awaits the magical moment that her dream comes true. When stalwart Prince Edward (James Marsden) hears her song, they unite and arrange to get married the next day. Evil Queen Narissa (Susan Sarandon) has other plans, however, and sends Giselle plummeting toward a land where “no one lives happily ever after”--the real New York City. Once there, Giselle befriends kind divorce attorney Robert Phillip (Patrick Dempsey), who takes her in despite her odd demeanor. With Prince Edward and the Queen’s stooge Nathaniel (Timothy Spall) in hot pursuit, will true ever get its due?

Amy Adams (Fast Track) is absolutely splendid here, and she jumps into the role with both feet, bringing an energy and wide-eyed enthusiasm that is infectious and charming. She owns this movie, and I was constantly amazed at her daffily intense performance. The other cartoon characters come to life are all good--but she darts about lilting about on feet of air as if she really did come from a Disney cartoon. It’s perfectly convincing, and she really does deserve an Oscar nomination (which would be her second) for the magic she creates here.

I also really liked the fact that the Patrick Dempsey character is not just a one-dimensional love interest thrown in because the story needs one. The script (by Bill Kelly) really pays attention to him, giving him development, his own comic situations that pay off, and real substance. Dempsey (Freedom Writers) lives up to this, and he’s easy to relate to, even in this extraordinary situation. I loved his reactions when he realizes he’s trapped in a musical number. Very funny.

And the whole movie is very funny. It takes advantage of Disney by having access to great animators (giving the setup very good 2D art), copyrighted material (listen for the Muzak playing in Dempsey’s office), and the right to mimic original characters (Narissa looks a lot like Malificent from Sleeping Beauty). The smart script also has a lot of fun with various scenarios, such as when Giselle assumes everyone is kind, and a valiant Prince who is always swinging his sword in every New Yorker’s face.

If the movie stumbles, it’s in the climax that the filmmakers probably felt they had to do, no matter what. It features a lot of action, and a big CGI monster, which doesn’t work at the level the rest of the film does. It’s big and loud, and just not as funny as what preceded it. Comedy of this magnitude rarely works (Ghostbusters is an exception), especially in a film where the small moments hit the laughs out of the park. The final ball would have been a great ending, but oh well. It was still kinda neat.

Enchanted is a fun movie, with Disney literally poking fun at itself and the medium that has endeared it to millions over the years. They have a good time (notice I didn’t say take shots) with musical numbers, talking animals, cloaked villains, and simple heroes. It’s melodrama to be sure, but it’s light hearted, silly, enjoyable and funny. Enchanted is what every family film wants to be, a great time for kids, with lots of asides that will make adults want to come back for another viewing. And Amy Adams.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Digital 3D is Pretty Cool

Since I had to review Beowulf this month, I reasoned that I should see the "flat" version that most people would go to. I hadn't had many pleasant 3D experiences in the past, and who would pick that over a conventional viewing anyway. I changed my mind when a local critic recommended the new-fangled Digital 3D, so I went for it. I'm glad I did.

When I bought my ticket, the first thing I noticed was the extra two bucks you have to shell out for the polarized glasses. This was good news in that the glasses are of high quality (opposed to the cheap red/green paper crap) and work well. The specs are oversized, which allows those who already wear glasses (me) to watch comfortably. The Ray-Ban Wayfarer inspired design doesn't hurt either.

I asked the box office guy if they had to install anything special for the 3D effect and he told me it was a built-in feature of the new digital projectors. This is impressive, as manufacturers are obviously forward thinking this technology right into the multiplex before there is even a demand for it. Something special must still be done to the film, but with the delivery device already in some theaters (with more to come), you're going to be seeing much more of this technology.

After too many commercials, the cue finally came on the screen to put the glasses on for some 3D trailers. Wow. The effect was impressive and ads ran for a Brendan Fraser live action adventure (Journey to the Center of the Earth) and a concert film (U2 3D). It looks like this process may be around for awhile, with mainstream fare such as this and big directors like Steven Spielberg and James Cameron getting involved.

As for the effect in a feature length film, it was amazing. Spears protruded from the screen, vistas had real depth, and characters existed on their own planes (not to mention more effective "boo!" moments). A real sense of scope was created, and the effect integrates seamlessly into the story, instead of feeling like just a gimmick. I think it helped that this was a fantasy, as the 3D helped the already fantastic imagery to feel that much more otherworldly. It does demand more from your brain, but doesn't give you a headache the way the old glasses did. Another perk was that Beowulf was actually a good movie to boot.

When 3D tried coming back in the 80's, it was a complete washout. You had incredibly bad movies (Comin' at Ya, Metalstorm, Treasure of the Four Crowns) that seemed created only to cash in on a fad. Now we've got quality filmmakers and refined technology that can transform this old idea into a storytelling enhancement that really works. As for the glasses, they are yours to keep when the film is over. Pop the lenses out and give them to your kids, I always say.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Cinema Salad on Friday November Sixteen, 2007

No More Flash Movie Websites
Brian Chirls wins the post of the week with his excellent diatribe covering how Flash is not your friend when it comes to promoting your film. He makes perfect sense with points about non-searchability, dependence on coders, and lagging load times for slower computers. Since first impressions are everything, I encourage all who have a movie site to take Brian's advice (he gives some great alternatives) and don't be a "Flash" in the pan.

Dimmer Boxes
Full brightness control over practical lighting is very important to get the proper exposure or mood. Self Reliant Film has a great post about this very topic and how to obtain your own off-the-shelf dimmer boxes. Of course, they aren't made for movie lighting, but half the fun of this DIY stuff is finding things that aren't supposed to work, and making them work anyway. Fade to black...

Rebuilding Hollywood in Silicon Valley's Image
Blogger Marc Andreessen has a great commentary about how the writer's strike is expediting the shift in the Hollywood distribution model. He notes how the bottleneck of the powerful few who control all the outlets will dissolve into a large group that resemble dot-com startups. He's talking about you and me, people. Folks who can create content, own all the rights, and have access to the same huge distribution network--the internet. A well thought-out, important read.

Microfilmmaker #25 is Out
The filmmaking webzine returns with another online issue full of goodies. The article that jumps out at me this months is an in-depth review of Aiptek's little HD cam, the Go-HD. I've been very interested in these tapeless cams, as they are small, inexpensive, and fast. I've been wanting a "fast cam" like this for all those spontaneous shots. Sadly, as reviewer Tom Stern points out, this camera sucks. Also worth noting is another great editorial by Jeremy Hanke, this time covering "15 Minutes of Fame" and a production nightmare.

Renart Films Podcast Interviews Susan Buice
I don't know what rock I've been under, but I just discovered the Renart Films Podcast, and it's great. Hosted by filmmaker Daniel Schechter, this is a lively interview that is not over the phone (the typical setup), but in person! This time Four Eyed Monsters co-creator Susan Buice is the subject, and it's the only interview I've heard with Susan sans cohort Arin Crumley. It's a good listen and Susan covers a lot, including the myth of the film festival that leads to a good distribution deal. Also listen for the trivia section where Daniel quizzes the guest about things relating to her movie. I'm a fan after one episode.


( in 3D)
Eye Popping, but not for Kids

CGI is an interesting beast. Used properly, it can be a convincing effects vehicle, and has completely supplanted traditional 2D animation in mainstream animated fare. These movies (Ratatouille, Bee Movie) are still kid centric, zeroing in on the largest and most popular demographic available. Some have ventured into more mature fare (Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within), but none have gone as far as Beowulf, the newest computer animated film from director Robert Zemeckis (The Polar Express). This is a bloody, sexy (and misrated) flick that remakes the classic Anglo-Saxon adventure poem into a very watchable, exciting epic. If the 3D version is available to you, go see it--it ups the experience that much more.

A nasty, gruesome giant known as Grendel (Crispin Glover) is terrorizing a small kingdom in sixth century Denmark. Grendel’s exposed eardrum is overly sensitive to the Danes’ merrymaking, and he attacks viscously when the pain becomes unbearable. King Hrothgar (Anthony Hopkins) offers half his kingdom’s gold to anyone who can slay the beast. This summons the warrior Beowulf (Ray Winstone) and his men, intent on destroying the monster and collecting the reward. While Grendel is a formidable foe, his mother (Angelina Jolie) must also be dealt with, and may prove to be more than even the mighty Beowulf can handle.

Beowulf is a good movie that overcomes it’s supposed gimmick and really goes somewhere. The story, while altered from it’s literary roots, is effective and exciting, especially in the first act. The Grendel stuff is really intense and his grotesque appearance (he almost looks inside out) only adds to his fearsome demeanor. The movie does drag a bit in the middle, but then picks up again with another monsteriffic showdown that doesn’t quite equal what came before, but adds viscera all its own. My only complaint is that Beowulf is the least developed as a character. We just don’t get to know what makes him tick like those who surround him.

The “performance capture” technique of digitizing real actors works pretty well, and the A-list talent is recognizable under their digital makeup. True, there is a little rubberiness to their appearances, but if you think of this as stylized and not photo realistic (which isn’t the intent), it becomes easier to accept. Sometimes movement looks strange, but this is true of any animation and not just the silicon variety.

Someone at the MPAA must be getting a kickback, because there is no way this is a PG-13 movie. Blood gushes here just as freely as in any recent horror movie, and when Water Witch Jolie pops up out of her liquid lair, she is barely coated in a gold sheen that covers about as much as a wet T-shirt. I was shocked at what was present here, and must warn you parents that this isn’t a movie for children. I’m fine with it being more of an adult movie, but wish the rating reflected that.

I saw Beowulf in Digital 3D, and the effect was spectacular. Wide shots had real scope, weapons protruded from the screen, and people and objects inhabited distinct planes--all with no headaches from the polarized lenses. The fantasy bend of the story is only aided by this presentation, and I highly recommend it. While the movie is an entertaining ride with some good drama, the 3D adds that extra layer that makes it a must-see that you can only get by visiting a properly equipped theater. I highly recommend that you do.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Do Accidents Tamper with your "Fifteen Minutes of Fame" Karma?

When you work on live television broadcasts, things will always go wrong. The worst part about live is that when the wrongness happens, your entire viewing audience will notice. The "best" part is that when you goof off with a studio camera, be prepared to be on the air whether you want to be or not.

This very thing happened to me yesterday on our station's locally produced talk show. Sam (last name withheld) the hand held operator was shooting me (the stage manager) just before the tease that would send us to commercial break. It was all in fun when--oops! The technical director punched the wrong camera (Sam's), putting my mug up on the air for the whole state of Utah to see. I'm sure some head scratching went on as I looked into the camera and nodded approvingly (not to mention what that lower-third banner had to do with me).

Complete disaster was averted as I did nothing embarrassing. When a camera points your way, it's always tempting to do something idiotic that you assume only your coworkers in the control room will see. Nose picking, funny faces, or even the proverbial middle finger can end up in a phantom shot such as this (never from me, of course), but luckily, not this time.

So, does this cut into my inevitable "Fifteen Minutes of Fame" that Andy Warhol said comes everybody's way? I know it will happen, and I hope it will center around some film I've made and not a tragedy or scandal. Do the Karma Gods make note when even the most infinitesimal exposure takes place, despite your every effort to avoid it?

I guess only time will tell. Stay tuned to this blog to see how much "fame-time" gets subtracted in the near future.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The "Suspension of Disbelief" is Downright Amazing

I don't think there are many people living in civilized nations who haven't grown up with the movies. It is so integral in our culture in one form or another (VHS, DVD, TV, multiplex) that we have all had lots and lots of exposure to it. Even if the average person on the street knows nothing about making films, I'd bet many of them know how films are made.

This leads me to ponder the first thing you learn in even the most rudimentary film class: the suspension of disbelief. This is the effect of being swept up in a story you know is fake. Even if you are the most jaded, cynical, critical curmudgeon, you can still be affected by a movie that is crafted well. How is this so?

Even boiled down to its component parts, a movie can somehow convince us that what were seeing is reality. Take any typical sequence. I think it's safe to say that everyone knows that all those shots are different setups, shot at different times (sometimes months or years apart), in a different order than what we are seeing. String them together and we eagerly swallow it as a realtime experience. Why?

This is what completely fascinates me about film. The fabrication of the simplest conversation (two shot, closeup, over-the-shoulder, etc.) is totally convincing. We think (or just want to think) that we, like the camera, have just covertly peered into some secret world. Continuity errors (like a prop that moves between shots, or a dipping boom mic) may alert us that what we're seeing is totally manufactured, but we don't care. If it's done well, we still buy it.

I realize that going to or watching a film is a proactive effort on our part to be entertained, so we are more forgiving. Even if we don't like the movie, we accept the structure the filmmakers have laid out for us to follow. When we are engaged, we are putty in their hands. Performances (again, chopped up), cinematography, music (coming from where?) and sound effects can sway our emotions in any number of directions. It's a powerful thing.

This effect is definitely a lure to all those endeavoring to create their own work. We all know how we felt seeing something great, and like any creative type, want to create that feeling in others. When we observe it working (like when an audience jumps), it's immensely satisfying. It's the thrill of sanctioned manipulation, of precious time donated to you for a chance to show your stuff. Even if they hate it, they'll probably believe it. Incredible.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Film Flap T-Shirts: Maybe Paris Hilton will Wear One?

While I don't currently have a movie that I'm promoting (dangit!), there is a blog here that could benefit from a little merchandising. Why? Well, a little real-world advertising is always good, and I like the idea of creating filmmaker-oriented stuff that I would like to see. It helps the blog, kicks a couple of bucks in my direction, and hopefully makes people laugh.

I've wanted to do this for awhile, but mostly connected it with movie promotion, so I resisted. Now, with various internet sites that do all the heavy lifting, all you have to do is register, create a store, upload artwork, and presto! You've got product! It's very simple, and you control the markup. I went with Printfection (Cafepress was a letdown), and have had a good experience so far.

The first t-shirt is now available, which should make anyone familiar with screenplay format giggle. It starts at $16.99 (depending on color), but I am only getting $2 of that. I didn't want some ridiculous markup that would prevent everyone from buying one, but also wanted a small profit (and web addy on the back) that could help the blog and potentially fund future projects. I prefer this method over a donation widget, since you get something out of it as well as I.

Chances are I won't do a whole lot of business, but it's good practice for the movie promotion thing, and is very painless--plus, you get a shirt no one else has! Look for a new tee every week (check the sidebar), and convince your celebrity friends to wear one on TV. C'mon, I'd do it for you...

Tell me what you think--comment below!

Friday, November 9, 2007

Blog Salad Friday on November Nine, 2007

CTS Episode 12 - Free Public Domain Footage
Informative video blog Creativity to Spare has released their latest episode which covers the use of public domain stuff and where to get it. I wrote a similar post awhile ago myself, but Chris Bailey offers up a video version, which is always more fun (and visual) and focuses on more short form stuff. For those of you who need some free content to work with (such as in a music video), Chris points us in the right direction.

10 MPH DIY Manual
The creators of indie doc 10 MPH have chronicled their homebrew effort of distribution and released it on their website for free (or 99 cents for a printable version). They cover all sorts of good stuff from a theatrical tour to DVD releasing to digital downloads. If you plan on distributing your movie on your own, you need to read this. One good piece of advice they give is to just keep on going, keep pressing forward and keep making films.

YouTube releases Multi-file Uploader
[Courtesy Read/Write Web] If you want to get attention for your movie, you gotta use YouTube. They've just made things simpler with a multi-file uploader for Windows (sorry, no Mac version yet) that will allow the streamlining of getting your stuff up and running. They have also increased the memory limit of video to one gigabyte which is the good news. The bad news is there is still that dang ten minute time limit. An entire feature could be uploaded at high quality with at this size, but not this length. When YouTube fixes this, watch out world...

A Pair of Handy Instructables
Instructables always has lots of cool homemade stuff on their site, and occasionally we filmmakers can use some of them. This week I came across a couple that many of us could use on a film set. The first is another substitute for a squib (an exploding blood packet) that uses air pressure instead of explosives, and is a refinement of the typical garden-sprayer effect we commonly see. The second is a DIY 'power bar' that turns one outlet into four. Always handy in those limited power plug scenarios.

Lance Weiler on ARG Netcast
[Courtesy Cultural Hacker] In a switch of sorts, the host of "This Conference is Being Recorded" (my favorite podcast), filmmaker Lance Weiler, is himself interviewed about his movie release tie-in Alternate Reality Game, Hope is Missing. More than just a marketing tool, Weiler talks at length about is process and how sees ARGs as a whole new art form that stem from his movie making skills. It's a good listen, and if you had no interest in ARGs before, this podcast may inspire you to check them out.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

What Does the Writers Strike Mean to Us?

Today I received an email from Bill Cunningham who runs the excellent DISContent blog that I have linked to many times. He was alerting me (an others on his list) about a recent post of his supporting the men and women writers who are currently on strike, and why we should support them. I completely agree, and it made me think about how a big union strike affects even the very low budget filmmaker.

When we grow up, we may be in the same boat.

I think it's safe to say that we would all love to make a living in some sort of entertainment capacity, such as film directing. While that may be a long shot, perhaps we'll have a chance to be a writer of some sort. If we make it to the big leagues, we will become part of the Writers Guild and our current events then could mirror current events now. Don't tell yourself "that will never be me, so why support them", when it very well could be. Someday.

There is actually something very similar injustice (although on a much smaller scale) happening at the TV station that I work at. We have a popular news website that that management is encouraging everyone to blog and upload clips to. No compensation is offered, just the promise of a potentially higher bonus. Sorry, you're not going to make money selling ads to a site that I contribute to, with nothing coming to me. It's just greed, and an attempt to cash in on loyal employees.

It's an opportunity to promote your own online content, in direct competition to those greedy networks.

If you have a project you can put online as a complete film or serial, now is the time to do it. If the strike goes on into next year (like I think it will, giving strikers more power) and all shows go into reruns, people will be looking around for some alternatives. How about your movie or show? Timing such as this could really propel your content into the stratosphere. Make good stuff, and promote, promote, promote! I just wish I was ready for such an endeavor.

It's an opportunity to do the right thing.

This is a no-brainer. Fellow artists are only asking to be paid for a new revenue stream that networks have been making lots of money exploiting. Without writers, all networks would be filled with reality and talk shows, and no one would watch. Think of your favorite shows, past and present. Would they exist without writers? Nope.

Bill has abstained from watching any online content backed by network or cable outlets. I vow to do the same, and encourage all who read this to support their creative brothers and sisters with a similar non-action. Truth be told, I was only watching Bionic Woman online anyway, so I don't have much to miss out on. The writers, however, have been missing out for quite a while now. Let's help make sure that it doesn't continue.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Mistress, Filmmaking is Thy Name

You need me.

Only I can fulfill your need to express yourself, to bring those feelings from the bottom of your soul to fruition. You'll obsess about what I can give you, about what only I can satisfy. You're desire to use me is only eclipsed by your desire to enhance me. To make my image more beautiful, and my words more eloquent.

You'll give me whatever I want.

All of your money will be spent on me. Whatever I desire will be provided by you, and you'll hold nothing back. You'll scrape and dig and discover new ways to pay me what I want to fulfill you. Nothing is too precious to sacrifice. Nothing is too expensive. Nothing is out of reach, because you will get it for me, if I so desire.

You'll spend all of your time with me.

Sleep means little. You'll stay awake for hours on end to give me what I want, all night long if necessary. Every spare minute will be devoted to me, until your spare minutes will be used solely to sustain your life. I will be preeminent in your thoughts, I will be your entire stream of consciousness. I will be your subconscious, your everything.

I will consume you.

Without me you are nothing. Your life is mine to spend how I see fit. You'll say what I tell you to say, when I tell you to say it. My thoughts are your thoughts. Your mind belongs to me, your passion is me. I will dictate, and you will follow. I will lead you by the cord of expression that can never be detached, a cord you have given me willingly.

Any questions?

Friday, November 2, 2007

Bee Movie

More Like a ‘C+’

About a year ago I started seeing teaser trailers for the new animated feature, Bee Movie, starring Jerry Seinfeld. This live action teaser had Seinfeld in an actual bee costume and Chris Rock dressed as a mosquito. The two then found themselves on a larger than life windshield, dodging huge wipers, water sprayers and wind machines. It wasn’t very funny and went on too long. Luckily, the actual movie is funnier and isn’t live action, but still suffers from a scatterbrained plot and not enough laughs.

Honeybee Barry B. Benson (Seinfeld) has just graduated from his three day stint in college and now has to choose a career. Distraught about working in the same job for the rest of his life, he takes a sojourn from the hive where he meets a human, Vanessa (Renee Zellweger). After she saves his life, Barry breaks a cardinal bee rule: don’t talk to humans. Once this barrier is broken, Barry has a friend for life. Things get complicated when Barry notices how bees and their sacred honey have been exploited for the human race, and vows to sue.

Seinfeld (The Thing About my Folks) co-wrote Bee Movie, and it has a lot of his trademarks. His observations about the hive and drone existence (much like is stand-up act, or TV show) is funny and compromises the better first third of the movie. Since this is a feature, however, there must be a plot (unlike his stand-up act, or TV show) that develops and Bee Movie flies in all directions once Barry embarks on his weird quest to rid the world of exploited honey. The story goes from observations of life, to romantic comedy, to court procedural, to environmental commentary. It’s too much, and several movies could have been made from all this material. What we get is a big, unfocused mess.

Thankfully, we do laugh. There is one hilarious payoff concerning Barry daydreaming about Vanessa that is almost worth the price of admission. The always reliable Patrick Warburton (Underdog) is on hand as with his trademark bass delivery that is just funny all by itself. I also liked the satirical stab at the efficiency of the hive and the fact that honey is used for everything from fuel to swimming pool filling. That windshield bit from the teaser returns (with an animated Chris Rock), only this time it actually works.

While the animation is serviceable, Dreamworks ain’t Pixar. After being spoiled by years of the Pixar standard, you may find yourself wondering why everything looks so flat, even on a big screen. The colors are bright and everything is cleanly rendered, but it feels more like a comic book than a movie. I guess this could pass as some sort of statement on boring conformity, but I want to be thrilled by what the animators can do and not just pacified.

Bee Movie is not a bad film. It tries really hard, and sometimes succeeds, but can’t quite chew what it bites off. While Seinfeld worked the ‘show about nothing’ dynamic to perfection on TV, a workable story seems to be more elusive. Oh well. Maybe next time.

Blog Salad Friday on November Two-th, 2007

Another Lesson in Viral Moving Marketing
Perhaps some of you have seen the trailer for "Cloverfield", the grainy hand-held shot story of what starts as a New Year's Eve party and ends with the head of Lady Liberty careening down the streets of New York. No one really knows what the film is about (a monster movie is a safe guess), but its vague nature has folks looking into all corners of the internet to find out. Film Threat follows one such obsessive, and give more evidence of how you can work fans into a froth with odd websites and trickled-out information.

Canon HV20 Sweeps Camcorder Info Select Awards
The excellent videocam review site Camcorder Info has published their list of the best of 2007, and it's no real surprise that Canon's mighty mite, the HV20, is the clear winner. Grabbing honors for Best Under $1000 (Currently $833 at Circuit City!), Best HDV, Best High Definition, and Camcorder of the Year, the HV20 must be a good camera. Okay, so I've been tooting my horn about this gizmo for awhile (see posts here and here), even if I STILL don't own one yet. I think it's safe to say that this is the best deal for filmmakers who want a good (great?) camera, but can't spend a lot. Hey! It even sports the now-elusive microphone input.

Ed Burns' Purple Violets going on iTunes instead of Theaters
[Courtesy CinemaTech] Can't find a distributor for your movie? Who cares! The way things are turning on the web, we may see more films (which could find a theatrical release) debuting on your local computer screen instead. Fairly famous actor/director Ed Burns (The Brothers McMullen, She's the One) couldn't get someone to bite on his new film, Purple Violets, so he's going to sell the whole thing on iTunes come November 22. Whether it works or not is really irrelevant. What is, is that even big shots are paying attention to the power of the web--shouldn't we?

Longer-Form Serial Irving Renquist Debuts on Web
[Courtesy Microcinema Scene] I'm always excited about someone else using the serial format on the internet, especially when they try something new. Irving Renquist, Ghost Hunter follows the exploits of young paranormal detective Irving, and is more character-driven than you first might think. With weekly episodes of 30 minutes instead of the usual 5-10, it will be interesting to see if people will watch (or the filmmakers can sustain) a micro budget production for that length of time. I like the website a lot, which is looks great an includes something I've wanted to use, but have been beaten out again: a countdown clock to the next episode.

The Projection Booth: 31 Days of Zombie!

Here's a neat series that ran through the entire month of October, covering a specific sub-genre (zombie flicks) of a specific genre (horror). Now, I am not really a fan of all things zombie, but I can appreciate good writing and film analysis and this series has a ton of both. I believe we should cling to anything that can help us be better filmmakers, and this series is not only helpful, but fun to read as well. No matter what you think, good movies exists in all genres, and if you have never seen any of these films, I'd recommend you check out the granddaddy of them all, Night of the Living Dead (1968), and you'll quickly recognize how many other films it has influenced.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

'Alien' Trailer Shows Us How to Create Our Own

I think it's pretty safe to say that Ridley Scott's Alien belongs on just about everyone's top ten list of horror films. The 'haunted house in space' story of a rag-tag group of blue collar space truckers who unknowingly bring aboard a hostile organism has been imitated countless times since its release date in 1979. I actually prefer James Cameron's space-action sequel, but there's no denying the power and authenticity the original had to scare the crap out of you.

It also had some very effective marketing in the form of one of the greatest movie trailers of all time. I remembered it was pretty good, but finding it again on YouTube allowed me to study it, and realize that it has become what all action/horror trailers follow today. Even on our smaller level, crafting a great trailer can be the viral push you need to attract a lot of attention, and the Alien trailer is a good template. For example:

The Use of Elements Not in the Film
One thing that everyone seems to remember is the cracking egg. While there were alien eggs in the film, they looked nothing like the chicken egg featured in the trailer. Oddly textured and sitting on a strange landscape, this was a bizarre image (also featured on the movie poster) that seemed to contain something terrible waiting to emerge. The light coming out of the inevitable crack helped cement this notion. We also get music that is creepy and haunting, again something found nowhere in the actual film.

Build Up to an Explosion
When the egg cracks, the imagery changes (notice the visual link between the lights) and we get that distress signal wail sound that immediately gets under your skin. Random shots from the movie are flung at us, which don't really tell us anything, but do convey a lot of dread. We see closeups of faces, space explorers searching a foreign environment, and Sigourney Weaver running for her life. Just when things build to a head, all hell breaks loose and we get faster cutting, apparent violence, and alarming screeches of what we assume is the terrible Alien of the title. It's incredibly effective.

Silence and a Great Tagline
Then all goes quiet and we get a extreme wide shot of space centered on a tiny ship with the unforgettable line "In space no one can hear you scream." Wow.

And there you have it, the perfect recipe for the horror-thriller trailer. Remember to pick the most visual elements of your movie, create some new ones, slap them all together with an overpowering score and nail the coffin shut with some great writing. And don't go over two minutes. You don't need to.

Happy Halloween...

Friday, October 26, 2007

Blog Salad Friday on Mock-tober 27, 2007

No Whiners!
A few weeks back I posted about a great editorial from Microfilmmaker concerning criticism and how to learn from it. Gregory Conley over at Your Video Store Shelf has a running "conversation" with an emailer who ain't too thrilled about some of his video reviews. After responding once, the perturbed dude came at him again, so Greg posted again. It's more good evidence that you better develop a thick skin if you want to release your work to public scrutiny. There will always be bad reviews (no matter what the budget), so get used to it, and respect the opinions of others. Just because they may not like your stuff doesn't mean they're brainless clods.

Fangs for Everything
With Halloween upon us, I thought you might like a couple of links to cover a very popular appliance that don't cost much, but can have a striking cinematic effect: Fangs. Make Magazine has a video or text tutorial on creating some tooth fakery that is matched to your very own choppers. If you don't have the time to go the DIY route, check out the inexpensive Scarecrow Tooth Caps. They look pretty good and will only set you back fifteen bones, er dollars.

The Close Up Blog-a-thon Comes to a Close
The House Next Door's excellent blog frenzy is over, and there is now a wealth of great film analysis to pore over. The theme was the close up, and so many folks responded, you could construct a textbook out of all the great contributions (here's mine). If you haven't checked it out yet, please do. You can only grow as a filmmaker by reading about this very personal camera angle.

Tiffany Shlain on "This Conference is Being Recorded"
Lance Weiler interviews filmmaker Shlain who has the breakthrough honor of getting her indie short The Tribe on iTunes as a paid download (which is the number one downloaded short right now). iTunes has been resistant to do this in the past, so this is great news for all you content creators out there. Shlain talks about her successful short, how she got it on iTunes, and her plans for the future. I love her positive attitude and consistent energy. A good listen.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

How the Netflix Eight Rules for Success Can Help You Become a Better Filmmaker

Last week I read a blog post over at Pronet Advertising called Learning from Netflix's Rules for Success. It basically took the Netfilx mission statement and related it to becoming a better blogger. It was a good post, and I did learn from it. I also saw value in applying it to movie making purposes. Not only the Netflix stuff, but the Pronet comments as well.

The following is my own take on how we can use the "Netflix Eight" to make our productions even better.

1. Netflix Delights People

Surround your project with quality talent, who are better at their given job than you are. This will discourage micromanaging (which keeps your crew happy), and allow you to focus more on directing. The ultimate delight will come from your audience when they see, and are impressed by, the final product.

2. We're democratizing movie distribution
Think about new ways to get your work out there. Create an online serial that will keep viewers returning to your site for weekly or daily updates. Make your creations available for download to various devices and portable platforms.

3. Values Matter
Whatever films you make, don't compromise your own ideals (say, for the quick buck) because at the end of the day, you are the one who has to live with yourself. Don't expect those you work with to live up to your standard if you can't--so don't be hypocritical. Have standards of respect on the set to create a creatively beneficial environment and everyone will work harder for you.

4. Rules annoy us
"Think outside the box" is a tired expression, but don't be afraid to try new things. It's the revolutionaries that break down barriers and open new avenues. Leaders and pioneers have more clout (which translates to more opportunities) than fans than followers.

5. We pay well
Even if you are working with no budget, remember that the volunteers on your movie have great worth. Feed them, praise them, and enthusiastically help them when they ask for it. When the money does finally come in, reward them for their years of dedication by hiring them at a generous rate.

6. Consistently outstanding people
Hold auditions for actors, and seek out the best technicians. Your film is only as good as its weakest link. Don't let that weak link be in a position that you were too lazy to fill with the best person available.

7. We love movies
You gotta love this work. It is so hard, and takes such a toll, your passion has to be greater than the adversity that will be heaped upon you. Keep pressing forward and remember that these things have been done by lesser individuals than you. When you're done, the satisfaction you feel will be so much greater than the struggles to achieve it.

8. We're creating an amazing future
With the revolution in internet distribution upon us, we are all at the cusp of something really amazing. Create the best work you have within you, and market the hell out of it. Get thousands of eyes to view your stuff, and get them to talk about it. You will guarantee that you will be doing this for many, many years to come. And that's the dream, isn't it?

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

YouTube Drops Bomb, Renders Account 'Permanently Disabled'

Well, it finally happened. After being warned by the YouTube brownshirts that I had better cease uploading copyrighted material or face account deletion, they made good on their threat. Those of you who read this blog know that I would occasionally post entire scenes from mainstream films, then comment on what I felt made them great. First my clip from The Truman Show got bumped. Then it was Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. Finally, my bit from October Sky sent management over the edge and they suspended my entire account.

What bugs me about this whole process is how everyone who "offends" gets lumped into the same category. If anyone is falling into "fair use", it's me. I don't alter the clips in any way, showing them in their entirety for the purpose of comment and criticism. The law is supposed to allow me to do that. Unfortunately, I'd have to go to court to prove it, and in this case, that would just be a waste of time and money. This blog did get traffic from those clips (which will be missed), but it ain't worth a court battle.

I have already setup another account, but I will no longer be putting anything remotely copyrighted in it. I will probably continue to post Scene Gems (I think they are valuable, and they get me thinking as well), but will host them somewhere else, like dailymotion. When posting my original stuff, I'll still go with The Tube. You can't ignore the potential millions of eyeballs that site can bring you. That would just be bad business.

I do wish that the folks at Google would review "offenses" on a case-by-case basis, and not just treat everyone with the same swift justice. I know they are just covering their butts and avoiding a lawsuit from the studios, but it's too bad that copyright law can't be used by the little guy the way it was intended. And I'm not the only one who thinks so.


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