Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The ARKOFF Formula, Part 2: 'Revolutionary Scenes Get Talked of'



'The ARKOFF Formula' was a model B-movie mogul Samuel Z. Arkoff (1918-2001) designed all his films around. This old post by Bill Cunningham brought this paradigm to my attention, and it has great value for microcinema filmmakers. This is another part in a series of articles elaborating on this formula. Also see Part 1, 'Action Them 'til They're Dizzy', Part 3, 'Kill Colorfully and Often', Part 4, 'Tell the World about Your Picture!', Part 5, Fantasy is what Audiences Spend Money for' and Part 6, 'Foreplay is as important in Dramaturgy as in Bed'.

 'R' is for Revolutionary
One of the best things we can do for ourselves as filmmakers is get people to remember our work. A viral effect is created when someone sees what we've done and tells someone else about it. Even better is when when get them to talk about something in the movie that they had never seen before. Now your film is branded as "that movie with cool thing X in it". If someone is drawn to your film because of X, imagine what would happen if that person finds another X? Not only is this good movie making, but great marketing, which is at least half the equation for success.

Create a Striking Character
One thing I've been noticing in the last year is that filmmakers are using characters with an arresting image that forever associates them with the film. Last year's Head Trauma had a mysterious hooded figure, and this year's Sex Machine has a guy with different colored arms and bandaged head. These figures remind me of other stunning characters/images such as Michael Myers in Halloween (1978) and Frank the Rabbit in Donnie Darko (2001). When you hear those titles, those pictures instantaneously pop into your head. All these characters have their faces covered, making them mysterious and sinister (and great on a poster), another lesson we can learn.

Cast Up and Comers

Wouldn't it be great if an actor from your film went on to fame and fortune? Can you imagine what that would do to your film's sales? When casting, make a real effort to find real talent. Don't just use your family and friends (unless they are destined for fame), but audition actors and try hard to find truly talented people. Spotting a future star is a gift in and of itself, but if you notice someone with that sparkle, get them in your movie! Even if they are not right for the part they are reading, give them another role, or make another, but don't let them get away. Your movie will be that much better with them in it, and if they go on to the big time, you will really benefit.

Use Innovative Camerawork
I'm sure that when Arkoff said "Use some new photographic devices" he was referring to a gimmick such as "Shot in Insane-O-Vision!" or something of that ilk. That's okay if you're going for cheese, but what about the rest of us? Make your movie unique by shooting a sequence (or sequences) in a unique way, that will set your film apart. Even if it is just one really cool shot, it will get remembered. One thing (among lots) that I really admire about Alfred Hitchcock is that he used extreme technique when it was needed, and not for the whole movie. It was this contrast that made the cool stuff stand out. Think of Psycho (1960). Would that shower scene have worked so well if the whole movie had been shot in rapid-fire mode? Okay, so that's shooting and editing, but you get the idea.

Do Something Neat in Post
There are sooooo many tools available in the post production phase that can help your project to stand out. Aside from good editing, you can accent your piece by tinting the footage in various ways, bleeding the color out, or accenting others. Figure out what the mood of your movie is, then highlight that theme with a post-production sheen. Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004) had an amazing look of retro-luminosity. In my own short, Sweet Music, I bled most of the color except for reds which foreshadowed a woman in a red dress. With our current toolset, your choices are practically limitless.

The bottom line is make sure there is something 'new' and exciting for people to take away from your film. It will make their experience better, not to mention yours, when the good feedback (attached to dollar signs) comes rolling in.

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