Friday, September 28, 2007

Blog Salad Friday on the 28 of September, 2007

Who Does What on a Film Set
FreshDV has posted a great comprehensive list of who's who on a movie set entitled "Production Jobs and Responsibilites". If you have ever wondered what the heck a Best Boy (or any other position) does, now you can find out. I doubt that any of us will ever use a crew this big, but it is a good resource to nail down what needs to be done by what person, and what you should call them in the credits. Broken down by department.

Building a Simple Green Screen
WesScog over at the Indy Mogul Forums (Mogulville), has put up a good, simple tutorial about creating your own chromakey with cheap and available parts-slash-paint. The Scogger built his for about $14, but he scavenged the wood for the frame. If you try it with new wood it looks like it will cost you a whopping $20-25. Well worth it if you do a lot of keying. Not my favorite effect, but it has its place.

Vehicle Boneyards: Several Creepy Places
Here's a fascinating post from deputydog, that has nothing to do with filmmaking, but the mere image will conjure up all kinds of story ideas. Take the Bay of Nouadhibou, Mauritania. At one time, if you greased the palm of the harbor authority enough, you could dump your old ship there, without the fees of having to do it legally. Now there are over 300 derelict ships parked there, waiting for a scary story to be born. Can you imagine how many dead bodies are hiding in those ships? Would you spend the night in one?

Rouge's Fear Factor
Speaking of spooky, Julie Gray over at The Rouge Wave gives some good tips about what makes a good frightening screenplay. She critisizes lame writers who don't really try, but depend on the director to flesh out their vision. She adds, "make sure to have fun with it, get gross, get scary, really deliver the horror of the experience with your words." It sounds like you should make the very experience of reading the experience, and not a hope that it will someday be scary when put to screen. Good idea if you want to get others excited about your project.

Podcast Roundup
"This Conference is Being Recorded" - Lance Weiler interviews Sarah Jo Marks of At Risk Films. She is a consultant, producer's rep, film festival programmer and more. While her forte is documentaries, she hits on one very important truth that we can all benefit from: "Anyone can distribute their own movie." She also hits on some good ways to use the press in your favor, how Netflix can get people to see your work, and don't forget the internet...

Good luck on your shoot this weekend...

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Simplify Your Filmmaking Life

I just read a post over at Zen Habits that outlines Ten Things You Can Do Today To Simplify Your Life, and was inspired. Filmmaking is a long, tough process and would be so much more enjoyable if much of the fat could be trimmed from the process. The following list is just a few ideas I had that might help us all to streamline our workload, make us more efficient, and better serve our creative creature. Less time being frustrated means more time in a positive, thought-provoking place.

Shoot Tapeless
I hate capturing and logging tape, and I think most others do as well. It's time consuming, it's boring, and nothing is worse than a hiccup on some captured shot that forces you to do the whole stupid process over again. Cameras exist right now that let you shoot video that is recorded directly to a file, eliminating the whole hassle. My favorite of these are cams that record to cheap SD cards, like the Sanyo Xacti VPC-HD2. It's very portable, it shoots in HD, has many manual features (including an external mic jack), and is less than $600. It's not a top of the line camera, but it appears to be good enough for the simplified shoot.

Use a Laptop
My desktop gave up the ghost awhile back, and I haven't missed it. My lappy is a go-anywhere filmmaking machine, and I've cut almost all my stuff on it, including a weekly TV show. Write, edit, render and upload! All from the small space on top of your legs. You can even use it to fulfill my first point of a tapeless dream, using any camera. Run your firewire cable from your camera right into your laptop and capture live! To avoid tethering yourself right next to your DP, get a long cable from Markertek.

Use Minimalist Lighting
Notice I didn't say NO lighting, or just available light. Even a bare bones light kit is a must, as you need light to capture video (especially with unforgiving low-end cameras). I'm a big fan of the noir directors of the 40's who were influenced by German expressionist cinema. The use of just a few lights (some used only one) can be very effective and affordable. Even basic three-point lighting (key, fill, back) is just that--three lights. Carry around a big poster board for a reflector, and your set. Of course it takes skill to use any lighting setup, so remember to practice, practice, practice!

Stick with a Small Core Crew
Instead of trying to rally a new group of volunteers each time you want to do something, how about using the same people over and over? Let them master a skill and keep using them to do it. Resist the urge to keep adding people to your staff, even if they are free. The more folks you have to get to a location at any given time only gives you a bigger headache to fret over. Make sure you treat your "family" with respect so they'll keep coming back, and don't forget to give them something for their efforts--like a decent meal.

Distribute in Cyberspace
With the explosion of online video sharing, it's obvious that the internet is the place to go to get people to see your work. I believe we are moving toward a media-less world anyway (note the iPod), and it costs nothing to distribute. DVDs will be around for awhile, and somebody will always want a hard copy, but the web is the present and the future of getting your stuff out there. Making money doing this is still a puzzle right now, but I'm betting these things will work themselves out in the next few years.

Remember that simplification doesn't have to mean a crappy end result. You should still use a tripod, hold auditions for casting, and use an external mic. The idea is that you get rid of the unnecessary, and focus. This blog is all about doing a lot with a little, and I think we can all benefit from a little organization and reassessment of what it will really take to get page to screen.

Any other ideas? Leave a comment!

Monday, September 24, 2007

'City Lights' Reaffirms Why I Go to the Movies

I had a pretty cool experience Friday night. There was a revival showing of two Charlie Chaplin films, at the Capitol Theatre, the most reputable venue in the state of Utah, where the biggest touring shows play. On this night, however, they were showing the short Easy Street (1917), and the very famous City Lights (1931). Admission was only 25 cents, and the crowd it drew was substantial.

It was amazing to see what kind of crowd would show up to see a 76 year-old silent movie. Every demographic was represented. There were men and women, young kids and elderly folks, and just about everybody in between. There was no targeting of a specific group. The target audience was all groups. And they all seemed to be there. But would they enjoy this old classic?

I can't remember the last time I went to a movie with an audience that was this involved in what played out on that huge screen. They laughed and cheered, oohed and aahed, and generally reacted to just about everything. It was really magical. It didn't matter that the film was an antique of the cinema with only organ music to accompany it. What mattered was that it was an involving story with characters that you cared about. Oh, and was very funny, too.

I had never seen City Lights, and it deserves all the accolades heaped upon it. Chaplin was at his peak at this time, and he had mastered several things that set him apart. Harold Lloyd (Safety Last) was an amazing athlete, and Buster Keaton (The General) had incredible scope to his jokes, but Charlie Chaplin and his Tramp character had sympathy. You cared about him, and when Chaplin went to a closeup, it was always at the right moment.

As I sat in that theatre, watching this time capsule, I thought about what it must have been like in 1931. It was the time of the Great Depression. There was no internet, and television wouldn't be part of mainstream life for another twenty years. People went to the movies to forget their problems and be entertained. They went to see City Lights, as some sort of temporary relief from their own troubled lives. Is it really any different today?

Friday, September 21, 2007

Blog Salad Friday on September 21, 2007

Free Screenwriting Software Celtx Updated
The popular and mulitplatform Celtx has just received an upgrade. Aside from a face lift, you now get a documentary dual column AV script editor, a radio/podcasting audio player, dual dialogue, index cards and more. Although I've never actually used it yet, Celtx is pretty impressive. It costs nothing to use it and is just one more great tool at the no-budgeter's disposal.

Merchandising! Merchandising!
Concerning a panel discussion at the IFP Filmmaker Conference currently going on in New York City, our friend Bill Cunningham cut to the chase about how 31% of the revenue scored by indie hit Four-Eyed Monsters was from merchandising. This is very important to anyone promoting their movie, or hoping to make a little coin off of it. I think every project should at least generate a poster, a t-shirt, and a ball cap. There are various ways to do this, but as Bill stresses, 31% is too high a number to ignore.

The Low-Budget Pitch for Shoot 'Em Up
Here's a nifty way that a low-budget technique could score you a big-budget deal. Writer/director Michael Davis pitched his action-comedy Shoot 'Em Up by animated the main sequences via quick and dirty pencil drawings. Here he gives us a glimpse at some of them, and teaches us that even rudimentary filmmaking can lead to bigger and better things. Even if you're not an animator, you could probably pull of what Davis has here. What better way to get people interested in what you are doing, than a cheap looking cartoon that is still exciting?

Demand for Online Commentary Crashes Servers
The Editblog recently reported that director Darren Aronofsky recently posted a commentary track for his film, The Fountain, online. So many folks tried to download it that the servers went belly up, and the file was pulled. Film freaks have been making their own online commentaries for years, posting them online and synching them to DVDs. A program like Sharecrow can help you do this, and give you a place to find commentaries others have uploaded. Who needs Darren? We've got the internet!

Ten Mental Blocks to Creative Thinking
Copyblogger posted a very useful item that can help any creative type to be more creative. While the post trounces the familiar "thinking outside the box" label (instead, it denies there is a box), it gives some most excellent tips about getting those brain juices flowing. The crux seems to be to break rules and go against what is "normal" and you will find that elusive whatever-it-is that you need to emerge from your creative shell. It's a good list to post on your bathroom mirror to ponder when you can seem to get to that creative place. Read it!

Podcast Roundup
This Conference is Being Recorded - Lance Wieler interviews documentary filmmaker Hunter Weeks. Weeks' first film is 10MPH, which is the story of crossing the U.S. on one of those Segway gizmos (the top speed is the title of the movie). Weeks hit the festival circuit, had a DIY theatrical run, and is distributing online, both DVDs and digital downloads. Lots to learn here if you are planning something similar.

Your Video Store Shelf - Gregory Conley chats with filmmaker Michael Raso who heads low budget outfits like Pop Cinema and Alternative Cinema. While Raso's content tends to lean more toward the adult market, there's always something to learn from someone making movies for a living. Best anecdote: explaining to police that a fake storefront for the "Wank-O-Rama" is for a student project.

Have a great weekend! Monday I'll report back on something that doesn't happen much in Salt Lake City. A revival showing of Chaplain's City Lights, in an actual film print. I'm very excited.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

'Goodnight Burbank' Pokes Fun at TV News

Of all the web shows that I've come across, one category that seems underrepresented is comedy. That is no longer the case with the discovery of Goodnight Burbank, a well done laugher that takes aim at the ripe target of local TV news broadcasts, and for the most part, hits its targets.

The idea is very simple. What goes on in a TV studio when the talent tosses to video? Or a live shot? Currently working in television news, I can fully attest that anchors say the darndest things. Goodnight Burbank capitalizes on this "down time", showing what can happen off camera. It goes a bit outlandish sometimes, but can also catch you off guard for a great belly laugh. And that's what matters.

Written by Hayden Black (who also co-stars), it's obvious this guy has some experience in television. His bio on the site discloses his experience in television marketing, but the show reveals his time spent (at least observing) in the studio. He cleverly hones in on mispronounced words, bickering talent, and dorky conversations. All of which go away, of course, when then cameras come back on.

While technically simple (everything is shot in front of a greenscreen (or chromakey if you're in the biz), the actors do a good job, and play well off of Black's crisp writing. I really like this show and recommend you check it out. It's great news that this "little show that could" is doing well and is fun to watch, while the bigger budgeted, star-laded, network-sourced Back to You is getting panned. It just goes to show that the little filmmaker with the big idea can do what the big boys sometimes can't.

Also note the website. Not only is it well designed, but there is a lot of stuff to do there, from forums, to archives, to anchor "bios", to behind the scenes info. The idea is clear: provide lots of content and the user will have more reason to hang around. It's the "special features" effect. A good tip for anyone creating a site for their creative projects.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Stella Artois: Marketing a Fine Beer with a Very Cinematic Website

Hey, another first for Film Flap! Someone actually contacted me about a web promotion, and asked me to check it out! Matt, representing French beer brewer Stella Artois, shot me an email about this blog, saying I "have a nice easy way with prose and the sometimes irreverent tone is spot on". After all that flattery, how could I refuse his invitation! He even sent me some swag! I could really get used to this.

Anyway, I was allowed a sneak peek (everything should be live today) at the new Stella Artois website, which uses a combination of classy cinematics, smooth animation, and detailed minigames to keep the visitor busy, all while teaching about a fine beer and what makes it that way. It's a very immersive experience that is worth investigating, even if you never plan on pressing a beer glass to your lips (like me). There is something here for any web marketer, and if you plan on getting the word out about that film you're making, this site could give you a lot of ideas.

Half the fun of the Stella Artois site is the Alternate Reality Game feel of it all. There are some basic instructions, but much of the time you are figuring it out as you go. As you enter the history section (Le Courage), you are presented with five minigames in which you are given a task to accomplish, but not told how. Some simple mousing around will solve all your problems, but these CGI-live action composites are so fun, you may want to screw up just so you can see what happens. You'll also get educated on this history of this fine beverage (although what is fact and fiction is up to you to dechiper), and where it came from.

If you are looking for more of a challenge, you can find that in Le Defi (Challenge a Friend), which pits your wits against a Rube Goldbergian trap that keeps you from your beloved beer. Here you'll have to solve a series of puzzles in order to have access to a glass of Stella Artois. Some are easy, some are hard, but all use excellent computer animation and sound to enhance the experience. Very well done.

My favorite game is the "Pour a Perfect Stella Artois" segment that puts you in the character of a stranger walking into a bar. You ask the barkeep for a Stella Artois, and he merrily commends your choice. You must then guide him in the various steps to creating that perfect combination which includes glass, pouring angle, slicing off the head, and more (don't turn your back on him). If you get confused, you can always review "The Pouring Ritual" for help, but it's a lot more fun to watch the bartender and customer react to your different choices.

There is also a multimedia section that will let you run through all of the Stella Artois TV spots, and they are also well done (you can see where the website gets its inspiration). I don't know anything about this beer, but judging from the way it's promoted (everyone apparently really wants one), it must be fantastic. All the spots are in French, but watch the body language and the facial expressions of the actors, and you'll get the idea.

I really like this kind of promotion. Stella Artois obviously spent a ton of cash developing games, hiring actors, and composing set pieces. Every dollar (Frank?) is up there on the computer screen, and it's impressive. It's a testament to what can effectively be done with this medium, and an inspiration to others who might want to do the same.

Monday, September 17, 2007

When a Blog Blows Up in Your Face

As some of you may have noticed, Film Flap was down over the last half of Friday, all of the weekend, and much of today. There was some kind of error at Blogger, and since it was the weekend, nothing changed. I sent an email every day, but as with any free service, there wasn't someone I could drag out of bed and exclaim, "I'm paying you a lot of money--and for what!" Nope, I was stuck until Monday (today), when I hoped that my many plea-filled emails would be heeded.

The good news is that they were. Blogger did come through. I guess my wheel was squeaky enough that it got greased. I was a little worried as I have read stories of people losing everything on Blogger and not having any real recourse (you get what you pay for). I was comforted over the weekend as I could access my account and see all my content, I just couldn't see the blog. I'm glad that's over.

The bad news is that even a hiccup like this can take a huge bite out of your traffic, small as it may be. Check out my Feedburner number. Last week it hovered around 60, and today it reads 23. In four days I lost over half of my RSS subcriptions. That sucks! They may quickly return (you will return, won't you?) or they may not. Either way, I've got some rebuilding to do.

If this ever happens to you, I suggest you do what I did, and bug the heck out of someone, with at least an email a day. While it's hard to find, Blogger's "report a problem" email link can be found. Click here to access it. I also put URGENT! in the address line as often as I could remember to. I don't know if that helped, but the problem is fixed. My guess is that it would have been fixed faster if I didn't have the weekend to contend with, but I'm grateful nonetheless.

Of course, if you want to pay for server space, you'll probably get results even faster. It's a good idea for serious bloggers anyway (I'm just stubborn and cheap), and might be easier to get a hold of an actual person who could help you with your problem. Blogger (owned by Google, remember) offers no customer service number, and even that email addy is elusive. Good luck.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Blog Salad Friday on Nine-Fourteen-Oh Seven

Hello RSS Subscribers! As of this writing, you are the only ones who seem to be able to see this blog. There's some weirdness happening at Blogger that has sent Film Flap into a wormhole somewhere. Type in the address or click on a link to the page, and you'll get some "redirecting error" nonsense. This really stinks (and I hope it will be repaired quickly), but I've decided to post anyway, so someone will still get something! Consider yourselves special...

Fake Blood 101
There's a real good chance that somewhere in your low budget efforts, you're gonna spill some blood. It's very visceral, and even a little blood can make a point. So where do we get the oozing red stuff? Our gory friends at Urban Chillers have handed out three very good recipes, including the kind that an actor can put in his mouth (mint flavored--yum!), or spew from it. Much more practical than burglarizing a slaughterhouse for prom night.

Hitchcock Basic Film Techniques
I'm a big fan of Hitchcock, so any time I come across a page about his techniques, you're going to see it here. This page has the intriguing subtitle of "How to turn your boring movie into a Hitchcock thriller..." There is a ton of good stuff here, from filmmaking basics, to stuff that the Master Suspenser pioneered. Some may seem like commonplace stuff, but it wasn't back in the day. Very educational.

Anatomy of a Viral Sensation
Pronet Advertising delves into what makes something go viral, in this case the clip concerning poor Miss South Carolina and her comments at the Miss Teen USA Pageant. Since it has been a focus of this blog to deconstruct viral stuff for the purpose of film promotion, this is very important. Read and watch (and shake your head in disbelief), then file it away for the day when you'll need to explode onto the web with some kind of viral marketing strategy. It could be of great use.

Filmmaker's 25 New Faces of Indiewood
I normally don't care about "up and comers" lists like this, but there is a lot of relevance here for those trying to make a film with little or no money. Besides being a very interesting cross-section of filmmakers with different backgrounds, notice the dollar amounts of those films mentioned. Many of them hover around the $10,000 mark, which means these folks are just like us. Maybe you'll be on this list next year...

See you next week, and hopefully the Film will be Flapping normally--are you listening Google?!

The Brave One

Jodie’s Got a Gun

Jodie Foster has got to be one of the most careful of actresses. Her movies tend to be several years apart, and they feature interesting premises, with a strong leading role for her. The problem is that, aside from her, they tend to be pretty average, as evidenced by Panic Room (2002), and Flightplan (2005). Inside Man (2006) was her best movie of late, but she only had a bit part in that one. Now comes The Brave One, a Death Wish (1974) remake that almost works, but shortchanges the viewer with a uncharacteristic subplot and unbelievable ending. A near miss.

Radio personality Erica Bain (Foster) is riding a crest of elation. While walking with her fiance (Naveen Andrews) in Central Park, the two are accosted by a group of thugs, who end up beating them both severely. She recovers slowly, then buys a handgun to try to feel safer. After using it to defend herself, she begins to change into someone who courts danger in order to exact revenge on those she feels deserve it. Police detective Mercer (Terrence Howard) is hot on the trail of this vigilante, and begins to befriend and suspect Erica. Will his bond with her prevent him from the inevitable arrest?

The center of this film is, of course, Jodie Foster, and she is always good. Her Erica is a woman who gets knocked down from an idealistic pedestal and has to force herself to even walk outside. She is shattered by her experience, and illegally buys a gun because she feels she won’t survive past the thirty day wait for a legal one. I really liked the scene where she tries to read her copy on the air, freezes, then embarks on a tangent of new awareness. She sells it, and we buy.

Neil Jordan (Breakfast on Pluto) is a strong director, and I liked what he did with a lot of this material. When Erica tries to leave her apartment, the camera tilts and dips and makes us uneasy. His use of slow motion is excellent (especially on select close ups of a reacting Foster), and shows restraint when it is really needed. I think he practices too much restraint is in the park attack (which sets her motivations for the whole movie), cutting to a video camera one of the thugs is using. It’s lessens the detail of what’s happening, when he should be rubbing our face in it.

Two glaring problems really derail The Brave One. One is a subplot that concerns a criminal that Mercer has been trying to arrest for three years. It takes too much time away from Erica, then leads her to do something completely out of character. It’s a waste of film and should have been cut. The second is the baffling way Mercer acts at the end, almost causing me to yell “What!?” at the screen. It makes no sense, would have my cop brother-in-laws enraged, and just doesn’t fit what has gone before.

It’s a close call, but The Brave One misfires. Foster and cast are good and Jordan guides things well, but a misconstrued plot development and lame ending really hurt things. It could have and should have been a tighter, tauter, more compelling film. Instead, we get this one.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Scene Gems: Gyllenhaal Gives Up Dream for Hard Labor in 'October Sky'

October Sky (1999) is Joe Johnston's best film (The Rocketeer comes in second), a sweet, nostalgic true story about Homer Hickam (Jake Gyllenhaal) and his dream of going into space. In the 1950's this was a pretty radical idea, but when the Russians put Sputnik in orbit, it became a national mandate.

This film perfectly captures that era in the small mining town of Coalwood. Just about everyone born there ends up in the mine, with the exception of a small few who escape via sports scholarships. Homer's chance comes in the form of winning the state science fair through his newfound passion of rocketry. Of course his coal miner father (Chris Cooper) scoffs at all of this, but even his ridicule doesn't deter Homer's course. It's a very inspiring piece.

In this sequence, Homer's dad has just been injured in a mining accident, and the mantle of responsibility falls on Homer. It's his worst nightmare, but we admire his desire to the right thing, sparing his older brother giving up his way out. His school teacher (Laura Dern) is disgusted by his choice, but his principal (Chris Ellis) issues his limp support with "you have nothing to be ashamed of."

Finally, Homer enters the mine, and we see Johnston nailing the point home. As Homer looks up through the jail bars on top of the elevator, we see the night sky. Upon closer inspection, Homer sees Sputnik fly by quickly, and then disappears. The lift descends and Homer goes with it, into his own personal hell.

This scene is shot perfectly, and Gyllenhaal's face is the perfect mirror for our anguish for him. Mark Isham's score is suitably melancholy, and hits all the right notes with a violin that really pulls at our strings. This sequence is indicative of the entire film--moving, poignant, and effective.

Monday, September 10, 2007

'Its All in Your Hands' Lets the Viewer Dictate the Story

Here's a neat twist on the Internet serial that I've come across lately. Remember the old "Choose Your Own Adventure" books? They would read like a normal book and then come to a fork in the prose that would allow the reader to make a decision for the main character(s), spinning the story off in a direction influenced by that choice. Several of these junctions would appear, and as a result, there were more than a few places you could go. It was a lot of fun backtracking and finding all of the different endings that were possible.

Some enterprising folk have taken that idea into the web serial realm at the literally-named It's All in Your Hands. There you can choose from one of four series that run short episodes ending with a choice for the viewer. All the shows are different in type, creating something for everyone. There's a thriller, a sci-fi fantasy, a romantic comedy and a mystery. The only thing really separating them from the aforementioned book series, is that you have to respond while the episode is current to help decide which way the story goes.

The one that seems to be getting the most attention is Satacracy 88. This story centers around a woman named Angela (Diahnna Nicole Baxter) and a drug that everyone is taking to make them "smarter and stronger". The plot thickens when it becomes apparent that the drug is more about mind control, and Angela is some kind of programmed hitman. What are those strange visions about, and what is reality here? I've watched three episodes of Season One (Two is already going), and have to admit it is pretty compelling.

If you have an idea for a series of this type, you can even "pitch a show" via a link at the bottom of the page. This is a cool way to link filmmakers together, but I have to wonder if you would be giving away the farm here. There are obvious ads (and requests for more), with no indication of what would be shared with the content providers. Of course, this would most likely be shared in the pitching phase if it exists at all. I guess you'll have to try it to find out.

Overall, this is a cool idea to get people involved and returning to your story. If you had a hand in which direction the plot would go, wouldn't you return to see how it played out? Wouldn't you tell your friends? It's unfortunate it can only be done within a specific time slot, but it's also an incentive to get involved so you won't be left out next time.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Blog Salad Friday on IX-VII-MMVII

Rob Ager Analyzes The Road Warrior
Wonderful self-taught film scholar Rob Ager has just released another of his film examinations on YouTube. Rob is great at creating a mashup of the film studied, then laying down his own excellent commentary. I wrote about him a few months back, then subscribed to his YouTube stuff, so I'd immediately be aware of his next offering. This time, it's George Miller's sci-fi action classic The Road Warrior (1981), starring a very young Mel Gibson. Just watch the above clip and get ready to learn about subtext in filmmaking. Part two can be found here, and a text version on Rob's site (which hasn't added the video for some reason) is available as well.

Another DIY Underwater Camera Housing
It seems like we get one of these every month, but this one looks sturdy and is fairly cheap to build. If you must shoot in a watery setting, this could really save you a ton of dough. Basically made out of a water jug, you press record on your camera, slap it in and go. This one even has a water alarm! Detailed instructions and several video clips round out a very thorough Instructable.

Microfilmmaker #23 is Out
The online mag Microfilmmaker has a new issue and is chock full of features, tips and reviews. This issue tells us how to make a DIY "Fig Rig", a rain machine (which was posted here as well), and fake blood, which is always handy. There is the usual reviews of short films, and software which includes the latest version of Flash and Lightwave. Always worth perusing.

Bullet Proof Baby is a Viral Ad
Now this is what I'm talking about. The seemingly "realistic" site Bullet Proof Baby, is really just an ad for New Line's Shoot 'Em Up, which opens today. The site looks like a company built around protecting your child in a hail of gunfire, but if you look closely, Clive Owen's mug is looking directly at you in a movie ad. The site is very well done, and is one more way to market your film. I like the humorous video clip as well, but someone should tell "mom" to tuck that assault rifle closer to her body when she's "firing".

Podcast Roundup
Your Video Store Shelf - This week Gregory Conley interviewed older-school filmmaker Courtney Joyner. He's been around the direct-to-video world quite awhile, having directed for Full Moon Pictures and American World Pictures. He's got lots of stories to tell, and Greg is entertaining as usual.

FreshDV - In part one of a three-parter, Kendal Miller interviews 1st Assistant Cameraman Bob Sanchez. Bob gives some great info on mostly focus pulling, which may be out of the scope of most low-budgeters that read this blog, but still worth listening to. When the time comes and your rig can do true depth-of-field, Bob's advice will come in handy.

3:10 to Yuma

Bad Men, Good Movie

The Western has been out of vogue lately. Ever since Clint Eastwood made Unforgiven (1992), it seemed to be the final chapter on this once-popular genre. While I’m not a huge fan of stories like this, I’m glad when well made ones come along. 3:10 to Yuma is one of these good ones, a slow-brewing tale of desperation, loyalty, and murder. It’s worth seeking out in this typically dismal month of September.

Outlaw Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) has just committed his twenty-second robbery against the Southern Pacific Railroad, killing everyone who stands in his way. While taking his time with a pretty girl, he is apprehended with the help of local rancher Dan Evans (Christian Bale). He needs money fast to save his parched land, and agrees to help transport the deadly Wade to Yuma, Arizona to catch the train that will take him to prison and a hangman’s noose. With Wade’s gang pursuing, the motley crew of locals will need all the help they can get to meet their deadline.

One thing I really liked about this movie is the slow, simmering plot. Nothing feels rushed here, but plays out at the perfect pace. This allows us to get to know these people, and worry about their outcomes. There is action to be sure, but it feels at the service of the story, and not the other way around. This generates real tension, as these outgunned men creep toward their destination with death right on their heels.

The casting is perfect. Crowe (A Good Year) is suitably oily and charismatic, but he’s also likable. Still a killer, he has sympathy for Evans in his dire circumstance. Bale (The Prestige) is just as good, and as he often does, completely disappears into this rancher who just wants to save his family and their livelihood. He’s gaunt and leathery, and says more with his intense look than any dialogue. I also liked Logan Lerman (Hoot) as Evans’ son (who looks a lot like a young Christian Slater), William. The arc of their relationship is an important part of the story, and they go well together.

In fact, this is really a movie about the different relations these men have with each other. Wade grows to respect Evans, but doesn’t understand his lifestyle choice. Evans seems to distantly admire Wade, but can’t agree with his methods. Father and son are at odds, then bond. Wade enjoys his gang (who see him as some sort of god) and what they bring him, but secretly hates them all. It’s these levels that elevate what could be just another western to something far more interesting.

Oddly, where the movie seems to stumble is in the action sequences. They aren’t nearly as involving or inventive as the rest of the material. They just seem to be there because that’s what the genre requires. Due the strength of everything else, this doesn’t wreck the film, but is a curiosity nevertheless.

3:10 to Yuma is an immersive and compelling piece that plays more like period drama than shoot-em-up western. It has more depth than your typical movie of its kind, and with the exception of the action, is very satisfying.

Shoot 'Em Up

What’s Up, Glock?

Shoot ‘Em Up is yet another action movie in a year filled with action movies. What sets this one apart is that the violence is so over the top, the set pieces so ludicrous, the acting so hammy that you have to take notice. It’s as if an adult cartoon had come to life and was playing out on the screen before you. With the best genre title since Snakes on a Plane, Shoot ‘Em Up knows what it is, and embraces its excesses so much, it’s hard not to like. The problem is that the best cartoons of this ilk are shorts, while this one runs on for eighty minutes.

After the mysterious Mr. Smith (Clive Owen) comes to the rescue of a pregnant stranger, he ends up delivering her baby in the midst of a shootout. When she is killed, our hero and baby flee with hitman Hertz (Paul Giamatti) hot on his heels. Enlisting hooker/mother/lover, Donna (Monica Belluci) to take care of the kid, Mr. Smith must get to the bottom of why this baby is a target, all while dodging Hertz’ hail of gunfire. Is there really a conspiracy, or just lots of faceless goons to mow down?

Shoot ‘Em Up doesn’t have much of a plot, but neither do the cartoons it tends to emulate. The first time we see Owen (Children of Men), he obnoxiously chomps on a carrot (his snack of choice), and even utters Bugs Bunny’s most famous one-liner. Giamatti (Lady in the Water) is obviously a bespectacled Yosemite Sam, complete with out of control goatee, and constant scenery chewing (“Guns don’t kill people--but they sure help!”). Digital animation is all over the place, coming in the form of bullet hits, spraying blood, shattering glass, and disturbing baby expressions. The only thing it lacks is the Warner Bros. logo.

Then there’s the action. There is gunplay in warehouses, between cars, in a gun factory, in mid-air, and most memorably, during sex. Bullets fly all over the place. Bad guys drop. Smith somehow survives. And eats more carrots. The orgy of violence is so pervasive, that it gets old pretty fast. With the exception of the sex scene, we feel like we’ve seen all this before. What saves it is the humor. We are so far over the edge that it becomes slapstick, and forces a silly grin on your face. It’s a parody of all those action movies that foolishly take themselves seriously.

Shoot ‘Em Up is kind of a guilty pleasure. While it’s “fun”, it’s also very adult in nature, and more than earns it’s R-rating. There is nudity and blood and profanity and some real twisted stuff. It’s kind of an exploitation movie with big stars and a sick sense of humor. If any of this is your bag, then you’ll feel right at home with Shoot ‘Em Up. Just shut off the logical lobe of your brain and remember that what your watching is a thinly veiled comedy. Bugs would like it.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Contest Limbo: Where Your Video Goes to Die

With the final end of the Steven Spielberg/Mark Burnett reality show/ratings loser, On the Lot, I thought I'd click on my entry one more time to see what the site was now like. Much to my surprise, a full screen graphic appeared congratulating winner Will Bigham, and all those who participated. A final phrase at the bottom read, "That's a Wrap!". Ten seconds later, I was unceremoniously escorted to Fox's main website, displaying all of their current programming.

I guess they are trying to forget about the show as soon as possible, but this quick move into oblivion seems unfortunate. Every link to that site that referenced a short film is now dead. All the forums are gone. The original shorts featured on the show are most likely lost forever (I don't foresee a DVD release). I understand why Fox would want to wash their hands as soon as possible, but terminating the whole site? It seems extreme.

Another Black Hole moment I had recently was the checking of a short of mine that I had entered into a contest at that I wrote about awhile back. The top ten vote-getters from every month would be entered into a finals round in the month of December. Whoever got the most votes then, would win $50,000. Since it was all vote-driven the idea must have been that entrants would be telling everyone and their dog about thier movie, driving traffic to thier site. You could also buy ad space promoting your film.

Well, Briobox is just plain gone, with only a 404 message left in its wake. This is probably a good thing anyway, as a rereading of the rules revealed that anyone entering gave away all rights to their project. My guess is that they were getting worried about the $50k in prize money, so they just bailed. At least On the Lot followed through.

I guess the lesson here is the old "Buyer Beware". When dealing with a bunch of faceless folks behind the keyboards, you never know what you're gonna get. Hopefully Will Bigham gets a good feature out of the deal, since I can't watch any of his shorts anymore.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Reliable Always Trumps Flashy

Ugh. I tried to get a post out this morning, but I was spending all my time trying to change my little video player into something more versatile. While I like Veeker, there are several things that it does not do, that I need to really make this experiment work. They are:

- allow others to upload cell phone videos
- allow others to upload video files
- display the most recent video full screen

Today I found Cellblock, another service that I thought would do all those things and more. Actually, it did all those things, but dropped the ball miserably in other areas. Get this:

- auto plays the most recent video, and plays all entries
- defaults to mute, which can be changed, but due to the above--annoying!
- lip sync on video is off

Yep, that last one was the clincher. How can I possibly run a blog about any level of filmmaking, and have lip flap? Even if my source is the crudest form of video, if the sound ain't right, I deserve ridicule. So out went Cellblock, even if I spent all morning getting it to work. It just wasn't worth it.

Veeker may be simple, but it works. I still want to find a player that will allow others to contribute, fits in the sidebar, and is reliable. Veeker is solid, but feature deprived. Suggestions to the company have gone unanswered, and considering it's still in the beta stage after a year, I wonder if it will be supported much.

If any of you out there know of a video player that suits my needs, please tell me! I'm trying to make this blog better, and would greatly appreciate your help. Besides, where else can you rant about movies with a slew of others, and have it all in one place? Let's make it here, folks!


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