Friday, August 31, 2007

Blog Salad Friday on 8-31-07



Creating a Movie with Web 2.0
Here's a very handy post that focuses specifically on resources on the web that can help you make your movie from square one. This group of links from Read/WriteWeb covers everything, and could make your journey that much easier by eliminating much of the legwork. Aspects of production include Writing, Raising Money, Casting, Location Scouting, Shooting, Editing and Distribution. Not just for the rookie, this list could send you to a resource or two you didn't know were available. Very helpful.

The Big Dummy's Guide to Viral Marketing
So what exactly is this viral marketing thing, and how can I use it to my advantage? Kuanhoong.com delves directly into this phenomenon, and provides an excellent primer on the subject, complete with video examples. It also covers the benefits of this marketing technique, as well as tips on creating your own viral sensation. Directly applies to those who want to promote their film online, and how to alert the masses about your work.

The Kuleshov Effect
FreshDV had a great post recently about some basic film theory, that is remarkable in it's simplicity and effectiveness. It's the Kuleshov Effect, which basically employs an editing trick of a reaction shot to different cutaways and how it affects the viewer. Change the cutaway, and the meaning of the reaction is changed. A great demonstration from Alfred Hitchcock is provided, as is a little history. A good refresher on a classic technique.

Film Foray - Lay Siege to Hollywood!
Here's a great idea: pitch your movie ideas online and get lots of good feedback. Film Foray allows users to do just that, by providing a pitch, a synopsis, and as much visual information as they want to provide. It looks like a kind of idea think-tank, where writers can formulate concepts which could lead to some very valuable collaboration. My only reservation is that putting good ideas on the net could lead to theft, but I'll leave that risk up to you.

The Art of Exposition
Mystery Man on Film has been publishing an excellent series about exposition in movies. They take mainstream movies we've all heard of and give both good and bad examples of what works and what doesn't. There's lots of good stuff to be learned here that you could apply to your own screenplay. As Ben Franklin once said, "a wise man learns from other's mistakes, a fool learns from his own."

How to Build a Big Effing Gun
Those zany dudes at Indy Mogul are really starting to grow on me. Not only do they provide great tips on constructing helpful movie gear (a couple of weeks ago I mentioned their rain machine), but they do so in a light hearted, goofy style. Their video instructions are not only well made, but have a great sense of humor and timing. Witness the "duel" sequence for their latest blueprint about making a large sci-fi prop--it's dang funny! They didn't have to go to all that effort, but they did, which says they love this stuff as much as I do.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Scene Gems: Remembering Sammy Jankis in 'Memento'



Director Christopher Nolan is known right now for reinvigorating the Batman franchise (with the next installment coming in December), but he broke away from the pack with the neo-noir thriller, Memento (2000). Starring the always wonderful Guy Pearce, this film dove head first into the broken mind of its protagonist with an ingenious script, twisty plotting, and well-drawn characters. It's one of my favorite films, and has remarkable replay value.

Leonard Shelby (Pearce) is a man of unsound mind. After interrupting a robbery attempt, he is beaten and his wife killed. Since the attack, he can no longer form short term memories. He tracks his wife's killer via a set of clues that include annotated Polaroid pictures, and tattoos of information covering his body.

One of these tattoos on his left hand reads "remember Sammy Jankis". This scene delves into Sammy's (Steven Tobolowsky) history of memory loss, and how former insurance investigator Leonard inadvertently forced Sammy's wife into what became a deadly test of honesty. It's a heartbreaking sequence (which means much more in the context of the film) and may seem tangential. It's very important subtext, however, as we figuratively and literally see that Sammy and Leonard could be the same person.

This type of paralleling is one of the things that makes this movie so great. I haven't even touched on the multiple timelines (one moves forward, one backward) that are employed, which help you to related to a guy who can't form memories, but doesn't confuse you--a real credit to Nolan. Then there's the mystery of the killer, the great supporting cast of Joe Pantoliano and Carrie-Ann Moss, the flashbacks, the dialogue, and on and on.

Memento can be appreciated and viewed a number of times to get the full weight of what is really happening. Not everything is explained, but left to the viewer to sift through the clues and determine what is real and what may be the product of Leonard's condition. A masterpiece.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Turn Your Cell Phone Off Now, Idiot!



After yesterday's post about using a cell phone to videoblog, I went looking for cell phone created content. I didn't really find anything worthwhile (except for a video contest where you had to use your cell to shoot a thirty-second short), but I did find something else worth posting about.

Another connection between cell phones and movies is the annoying jerk(s) that don't turn their phone off during a theatrical feature. We have all experienced this, and no one likes it. Personally, I find it very rude when someone even checks their phone for any reason (text message, time, missed call, etc.), as it always lights up and pulls your eye from the screen. Recently, when I went to see 1408 with a friend, some moron not only let her cell phone ring, but answered the thing! When the movie got loud--she talked louder! Urge to kill rising...

Anyway, there have been some humorous 'turn your cell phone off now' clips that have appeared online. The one from a doctored Star Wars sequence is probably the most famous, but I came across a compilation from The East Lansing Film Festival that I thought was pretty good. It is posted above for your viewing enjoyment. My fav is the one about the kitten (very simple and darkly funny), but they are all examples of creative minds at work.

Here's hoping we heed the movie theater gods and depose the cell phone idols...unless you have to send a clip to your blog of course!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Video Bloggling with Veeker: The Crappiest Video in the Least Amount of Time

For some reason I feel the strange urge to go beyond the still image and make a spot on this blog for a video window. Here I can post random thoughts about movies and movie making that may have no place in the written word, but thanks to the web can be posted anyway. They will be short (under a minute, I promise), and hopefully will give anyone interested in movies another reason to come take a peek at the site. I suppose it's vain to engage in this sort of thing, but isn't blogging vain anyway?

Actually, my main purpose for this was to have an outlet for quick movie reviews. While I write monthly reviews for The Nettle Magazine, then archive them at the end of every month, I wanted another way to do quickie reviews that were more timely, and could be cranked out rather fast, while not stepping on The Nettle's (or my good friend, editor David Congreave's) toes. If I found a suitable way to do this, I could leave little video bits about a variety of movie topics, and not just reviews. As long as it fit into the Film Flap Filosophy, I think it could work.

A major part of this would have to be a fast delivery method. I don't have the time to sit down and shoot, capture, edit and upload even small video clips. No, it would have to be virtually instantaneous, and with no post production. Of course, my friend the production value is sacrificed quite a bit with this method, but for this specific purpose (lightspeed video blogging), I think it's okay.

What am I referring to? Why, our buddy the cell phone! All new phones have built in cameras now. The picture quality of stills from these little gizmos is decent, but the video is pretty horrible. I realize moving images must be compressed (so I'll try not to move much) into a small space, but that's the nature of the beast. I'm not going to make any features this way, but I can shoot and send through Veeker, making posting here on the blog almost immediate. It's that easy.

So I hope you like this new little feature. It's simple and fast and I can get those pesky thoughts out of my head that may not have any place anywhere else on the blog, but could still be beneficial to somebody. Somewhere.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Another Sci-fi Web Serial: 'Afterworld'

Web serials are becoming more and more prevalent on the internet. Long-spanning stories told in small bits seems to fit right in to the short attention span of the average net viewer. The latest I've come across is a nifty series dubbed Afterworld, which tells the story of a man who suddenly and inexplicably faces a world without technology and the disappearance of almost all its inhabitants.

Afterworld tells a somewhat familiar story (so far it reminds me of The Omega Man, Dark Angel, and La Jettee) in an unfamiliar way. Sort of an animated graphic novel, we see a lot of CGI still imagery mixed in with animations created with with Poser and After Effects software. There is a constant voiceover from main character Russell Shoemaker, along with a great moody soundtrack. Best of all, the screenplay is well written, and we get interesting situations with good dialogue. I also appreciate the voice talent which is well done, most notably the lead played by Roark Critchlow.

The story is very episodic (webisodic?) with our hero trying to get back to his home in Seattle, Washington. Along the way he tries decipher clues about the world's present state and what caused it. He must also stay alive--a chaotic planet is a dangerous place.

Afterworld has it's own excellent website that provide a bunch of extra goodies to flesh out the story. The best of these is a journal with notes and drawings that clue us into Russell's thoughts and feelings. There are CGI heads of all the characters, which you can move in 3D space. I also like the interactive map that lets you track Russell's progress, and links to the episodes that take place in that location. All this is a wonderful way to immerse any fan interested in the series.

Episodes are scattered all over the web, but strangely, most are not on the Afterworld website. Nope, Bud.tv has the most episodes (thirty), and you'll have to register there if you want access to them. There are reportedly 130 total chapters, so we have quite a ways to go to follow Russ and his quest to find his family and figure out this global mystery.

Afterworld is one of the best web serials that I've found thus far. The material is intriguing, the production value is high, and the presentation is unique. I admit that I miss real actors, but if this thing takes off, you know there will be a movie or TV series in the works. And then a video game, a book, action figures...

Friday, August 24, 2007

Blog Salad Friday: August 24, 2007

Time to push aside the single for a dose of the many. There is always lots of stuff to pore over, much of which I can't seem to put into a feature article. Even if I can, here's a look at what was out there this week that I didn't get to write about. Ground pepper, sir?

Finding a Composer for Your Film
Here's an interesting idea. Ifusician invites filmmakers to upload clips from the movie they want to score. Musicians can then match tracks they've created to your visuals, and you can select the one that works best. You can then contact the composer to further develop the relationship. This could be the start of something really great, bringing together two groups that really need each other. It may not pan out for you, but couldn't hurt to try either. The site seems in its infancy, but I can see this getting really huge.

A New Web Serial: Afterworld
Here's another twist on the web serial that is becoming more and more pervasive. This time it's a combination of animation and graphic novel sci-fi story called Afterworld, which follows a man after technology stops working and the entire planet seems to have vanished. There are 130 episodes that clock in at an ADHD length of 1.5 minutes--perfect for the iPod crowd. I watched a couple and they are pretty good (sort of reminded me of the french film, La Jettee). I'll be writing more about Afterworld next week.

Podcast Roundup
"This Conference is Being Recorded" - Lance Weiler interviews two festival programmers, Doug Jones and Matt Dentler. If you are trying to get into a fest, or just want to know how these things work, this is an invaluable listen. Lance asks some very good questions (as usual), especially about myths surrounding festivals and what filmmakers should know about what they aren't.
"Your Video Store Shelf" - Gregory Conley interviews Fangoria managing editor Michael Gingold. The two chat about the state of horror films (which Fangoria exclusively covers), what's out now and what's coming out of interest. I really liked his comments about The Invasion, which I had to review recently.

Subliminal Movie Marketing
Film Threat has a clip from "police evidence" (scroll to the bottom of the page), that inserts a frame that alludes to what looks like a movie sequel. I'm not going to give away what I think it is, but this is another way to get the word out about your upcoming movie, without actually saying what you are doing. If the clip goes viral, people will figure it out and you will have that many more eyes clamoring to see your film. I had a similar idea for my yet-to-be-written thriller (minus the sublimea), but someone beat me to it of course. Sigh.

See you next week.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Is Filmmaking a Young Person's Game?

As some of you may have noticed, I had no posts for Tuesday or Wednesday. This was due to me taking a couple of days off to have fun with my kids. We had a great time and I had no room for the blog in that two day span. I've tried very diligently to maintain a schedule of one post every work day (and have succeeded for the most part), but sometimes life gets in the way of your dreams.

These events led me down another train of thought. Can family and filmmaking exist in the same space, especially if it's not your livelihood? It's one thing if you're married and childless, but once the kids start coming, your time for making or even thinking about movies is significantly decreased. How can you possibly make those things work together?

Don't get wrong, I love my family and adore my kids. I can't imagine life without them, and love to come home to those incredibly beaming faces. I have a job that gives me lots of down time to work on things such as this blog, but a feature film needs more than just downtime to complete. It's a child in its own way, and needs care and attention and lots of time to flourish.

I'm am no longer (and haven't been in quite awhile) in a position to live out of my car and make movies. It will take lots of extra effort and planning and sacrifice for me to succeed as a filmmaker. I know I can still do it, and am driven to tell these stories. It's a desire, a passion, even an obsession to some degree. It's been over a year since I shot my last narrative, and I'm getting antsy to do another.

I guess my point is that if you are thinking about trying your hand at movie making--start now. The longer you wait, the harder it will get. Experience is a great teacher and the more stuff you can do will only serve you in the future. Focus all your energy on a project, finish it, then start another. Building your reel will help in getting others to assist you and could get you a job.

"So at what age do you give up on your dreams?", someone once asked me. Well, filmmaking isn't like sports, you don't have a physical prime that limits your abilities. You can make movies well into your elderly years, if you really want to. For me, the satisfaction I get from a completed project is so good, that I never want to give it up. Do you?

Monday, August 20, 2007

Scene Gems: A Quiet Moment from 'Saving Private Ryan'



Does Steven Spielberg really need an introduction? If you asked anyone on the street to name a film director, my bet is they'd pick Steve. He's made so many critically acclaimed and popular films, he's a household word. I'm a big fan also, not only because he has made great movies, but that he keeps on making them. He doesn't seem to ever let up and has raised the bar so freakishly high, he does deserve every accolade he has, as well as those he missed out on.

Saving Private Ryan (1998) is one of my all time favorites, and not just because of the intensely realistic battle scenes. Those are incredible and filled with raw power, but it's the smaller, intimate moments that contrast of the loud ones, helping to make it more of an experience and not just a movie.

This scene is the perfect example of this. In in, Capt. John Miller (Tom Hanks) and his men rest before another day of searching for Private James Ryan, the only one of four brothers left alive after D-Day. The men have already been through some hellish fighting, and here they make small talk, crack jokes, and remember home. It may seem like just filler between battles, but it serves a much bigger purpose.

This is classic character development. There is little action, but a lot of words and interaction. We get to know these men a little better, which makes us care more when they move into harm's way. They laugh and cry and run the gamut of emotions. It's a great scene.

Also notice the way Spielberg stages things. They are hiding out in an abandoned church, but it feels more like a tomb. All the men whisper, and their voices reverberate like they're inside a crypt. There are lots of vertical bars and pillars, insinuating a prison, especially when Wade (Giovanni Ribisi) tells the story about his mother. He is totally boxed in. As are they all, trapped in what could be their very last mission.

Friday, August 17, 2007

The Invasion


Attack of the Podless People

What do you do when you’re completely out of ideas? Why, remake a classic of course! The Invasion is the third remake of Don Seigel’s great Invasion of the Body Snatchers released back in 1956. There was the similarly named version in 1978, then the truncated Body Snatchers in 1993, and now the back end of the title gets lopped of and we get just The Invasion. Despite several attempts to “reimagine” the standard plot, this film feels very, very tired.

After a Space Shuttle seemingly takes a Kamikaze dive into the atmosphere, strange things begin to happen after the wreckage is discovered. People are starting to act weirdly stoic and lack emotion. Others complain their loved ones aren’t their loved ones. Psychiatrist Carol Bennell (Nicole Kidman) starts to notice the same thing from her ex-husband, and becomes alarmed when she can’t find her son, whom she just left with him. Soon it becomes obvious than an extraterrestrial epidemic is altering human DNA during sleep and converting them into invaders bent on infecting the entire planet.

While attempting to update the story, the filmmakers really drop the ball by removing elements that made its predecessors so good. Specifically, the pods are gone. In the previous movies, large pods were placed close enough to a sleeping person to “copy” them, while the host would never wake up. This is a gross misstep, as the pod visual is a powerful one, representing a perverse fetus that takes on all the attributes of its “parent”. Now we just get goo that covers the victim’s face, and soon after they have changed. Lame.

Secondly, they cast Nicole Kidman as the lead. I’ve liked Kidman (Fur) ever since I saw her in the excellent micro-thriller Dead Calm (1989), and she is a good actress. Unfortunately, it’s painfully obvious that she’s just had some plastic surgery, and if anyone looks alien in this movie, it’s her. I had a difficult time getting behind a heroine who looked more synthetic than anything that came from space. Her collagen-injected lips were especially noticeable and reminded me of Meg Ryan’s distracting pucker in Proof of Life (2000).

Anyway, back to the story. Since this is pretty familiar territory, I hoped there would be something to set it apart from the pack, but it goes by the numbers and never deviates. There is little suspense and the aliens act stupidly (like standing still and allowing themselves to be shot) and are easily fooled, making them very nonthreatening. A few things work (the baddies vomit in your face to transmit the pathogen), but most don’t, including the too-fast and tone-wrong ending.

I like sci-fi, and wanted to like The Invasion. It’s a classic genre formula that aliens who look just like us are trying to take over, and sleep deprived characters are easy to be sympathetic toward. Much like these invaders, however, The Invasion is a cheap clone of the original item, and not a very good one at that.

Blog Salad: A Plethora of Link Love for the Weekend



It's been over a week since the last episode of Blog Salad, so I thought I'd share the group of links that I've compiled since the last post. I also like the idea of doing the Salad on Friday, which is a good "wrap-up" for the week. HD for Indies used to do this with their "blogwad" episodes, but since they don't anymore, I feel fine ripping them off--er, using their idea.

How to Make a Rain Machine
Let's face it, rain looks cool. A standard noir element or metaphor for tears or rebirth, it can greatly enhance the mood of your movie. In the current issue of Student Filmmakers, there is a great article on constructing your own gadget to supply rain, but I can't show it to you (maybe you could come over). Fortunately, I found an online version from the kooks at Indy Mogul that costs $50 and seems to work well. Any effect that makes your actors miserable is worth doing I always say.

Top Ten Things Every Filmmaker Should Know Before They Start
HD for Indies has an excellent post that every filmmaker can benefit from. Gathered from a panel discussion in Denton, Texas, this list is mostly common sense, but it's amazing how often that eludes filmmakers. Read and learn. My favorite: "Understand how to appeal to distributors".

Why You Should Change Your YouTube Thumbnails
Usertainment shares a short but sweet article about changing the thumbnail (extracted from the exact middle of your video) that YouTube sticks you with when you upload something. It's a simple process, but there is some good psychology discussed about why it's important.

Recording Authentic Sound Effects Around the World
Rob Nokes over at Sound Dogs has put together several videos of him recording live sounds. While a bit on the boring side, it does emphasize something very important about sound effects. Always record live sounds, rather than relay on a library. Your sound will always be more believable, and lend realism to your project. It's a painstaking process, but well worth it.

The David Lee Roth Guide To Legendary Marketing
Want a lesson on how to market your movie? Copyblogger has a fascinating post about rock legend David Lee Roth and what he has done to solidify this status. The guy just knew how to sell himself (some would say sell out), and ingrain his persona in the minds of the fans. Filmmakers could learn from this kind of bravado, in getting their movie out to those who would want it. It's interesting how much of this stuff applies, even if it has nothing to do with film.

Online Video: The Complete Picture
Thinking about creating some kind of content for the web? Pronet Advertising has a nice chart covering what type of material is the most viewed on the internet. I found all of this very interesting since I'm targeting my next feature this way. The crux seems to be that shorter content is king, and the viewing of full length features are at the bottom of the list.

Podcast Roundup
"This Conference is Being Recorded" - Lance Weiler interviews Liz Rosenthal, the producer of Marsipan, a serialized stop motion animated show. Liz talks about producing a show out of her house and the challenge of reaching an world wide audience.
"Your Video Store Shelf" - Greg Conley interviews filmmaker David DeCouteau, a low budgeter who has made a career at cranking out films at an alarming rate. David talks about targeting specific audiences (in this case the gay community), and the success that he's had doing it.

Women in Film
Finally, something a little different. The enterprising YouTuber eggman913 has created a morphing montage of famous female films stars beginning with Mary Pickford and ending with Halle Berry. It runs about two-and-a-half minutes, and features quite a few famously beautiful faces. How many can you name?

Thursday, August 16, 2007

How to Write a Movie for the Sci-fi Channel in Six Easy Steps

A couple of weeks ago, Bill Cunningham relayed a Retromedia Forum post from writer-director Steve Latshaw. A wealth of good info, Steve lays out the basic screenplay structure looked for from Sci-fi Channel producers. Here's the basic rundown (click on Bill's link for more details):

1. Seven act structure
2. First act is 17 minutes, preceeded by 3 minute hook
3. Remaining acts 8-15 minutes, with cliffhanger
4. Simple concept
5. Fast pacing
6. Fast ending

My first reaction to this was, "Why would I want to write for Sci-fi? All their orginal movies are terrible!" I still think their movies suck, but also feel this is a fantastic opportunity for anyone who wants to hone their skills and potentially get their foot in the door as a writer. I know I could write something at least as bad, and possibly better than their usual fare. Even if I can't, it could be a potential sale (even if Sci-fi doesn't want it) that would net me a credit and a decent chunk of change.

I'm still saving the script I want to produce for myself, but came up with a pretty good genre knock off while in the shower (insert joke here) the other day. I'm going to crank it out in the next couple of months and see what I can do with it. I'm not saying that this will be an easy process, or that any idiot (like me) can do it, but passing on the idea wouldn't be wise. Selling one script would get me out of debt, and could create that question we all want to hear: "What else have you got?"

So check out Bill's post (and the rest of his blog), there is a lot of good stuff there. If you want to hear more from Mr. Latshaw, go to Greg Conley's Your Video Store Shelf and listen to the accompanying podcast.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Monday, August 13, 2007

Ten Ways To Make Your Movie Great, From Ten Who Have Made Great Movies

Since I have spent quite a bit of energy and words on rambling about marketing a finished film, I'd like to backtrack. I'm about to start working on a feature-length script, and a nagging question has led me to today's post. The question is "what makes a good movie?" We all have our own ideas about this, but I'd like to give some space to ten people who have already been there. The following are ten quotes from ten masters of film, from whom we could learn a lot as we are formulating our own ideas. I don't care what kind of movie you want to make, this is all good advice.

Casting is 65 percent of directing.
John Frankenh
eimer





A good movie is three good scenes and no bad scenes.
Howard Hawks





The more successful the villain, the more successful the picture.
Alfred Hitchc
ock





People have forgotten how to tell a story. Stories don't have a middle or an end any more. They usually have a beginning that never stops beginning.
Steven Spielberg



Don't be too clever for an audience. Make it obvious. Make the subtleties obvious also.
Billy Wilder




A special effect is a tool, a means of telling a story. A special effect without a story is a pretty boring thing.
George Lucas




What scares me is what scares you. We're all afraid of the same things. That's why horror is such a powerful genre. All you have to do is ask yourself what frightens you and you'll know what frightens me.
John Car
penter


A good film script should be able to do completely without dialogue.
David Mamet





I steal from every movie ever made.
Quentin Tarantino






Technique is of less interest than character and story.
William Friedkin





If these people are unknown to you, click on their photo for a complete filmography courtesy the Internet Movie Database. Much more than words can be divulged from their collective body of works, and I recommend watching their films. Like any art form, expression is a form of exposure, and you lay yourself bare and hope for affection, but brace for attack. You may not like all or any of the films from these directors, but we can all learn from them.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Film Flapper D.L. Walker

Here's a pic of me setting up my camera. I worked as DP on this shoot, as well as acted in it. This was for a seven part web based project called The Diamond.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Promote Your Movie or Else

Today on the direct-to-video blog Your Video Store Shelf, author Greg Conley relays this eye-opening quote about the nature of marketing by DVD distributors concerning their low budget acquisitions:

Far too often filmmakers listen to distributors when they talk about the incredible advertising that will be done for their film, not knowing that every company embellishes; some more than others. To these naive low budgeters, there’s no purpose in seeking out promotion from smaller avenues because they feel the larger bases are covered. As a result of this, along with a variety of other factors, there is not a single word written on the internet about many of the movies you can rent at Blockbuster.

This is very telling and seems indicative of the shell game that occurs in this business. Distributors are here to make money (that's why it's called "show business" and not "show art" a film teacher once told me) and they need content to sell to video store chains. Since that first sale of tens of thousands of units is their goal, they don't need to market at all. All that does is cut into their profit margin. Some companies obviously do promote releases, and other obviously do nothing.

Filmmakers, on the other hand, desire marketing because they want lots of people to know about the movie they killed themselves to make. Even if your film lines the shelves of video rental stores across the nation, who cares if no one sees it? I suppose it is a feather in your cap to say you've been distributed, but if you have nothing to show for it, how do you go about making another one?

While I'm a big believer in the self-distribution model, it really doesn't matter how you distribute if you can manage to get the word out. However you do it (and there are lots of ideas here on this blog), buzz creation will lead people to seek out your film and watch it. Get lots of people doing this and they will talk about it, possibly motivating others. It's the domino effect.

Creating good word of mouth can also provide leverage for a better deal when meeting with a traditional distributor. Don't get starry-eyed just because someone has power to put you in a ton of stores. You have what they want and need. If all your efforts mean nothing to them, go somewhere else (and let them know that is your intent). There are lots of fish in the distribution sea. If none of them meet your requirements, do it yourself.

If you are hoping that going traditional will save you a lot of work, guess again. It's more than apparent that if you don't promote your movie, no one else will. Filmmaking is hard work. Don't let it be in vain by dropping the ball when everything is "done." Continue to work hard pushing awareness and you will be rewarded. Stop, and you will have little to show for it.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Blog Salad: Green Eye for the Lapse Fly

It's time to toss filmmaking ingredients together and add dressing in this week's edition of Blog Salad. You'll learn all kinds of stuff to clean out your system and take another step toward that body (of work) you've always wanted! Not served in a wooden bowl, but tasty nonetheless...

Up, Up and Away
Need some crazy aerial footage? Don't fork out thousands to rent a helicopter--attach your camera to a small glider. Okay, so you're really attaching one of those RiteAid camcorders (you weren't planning on sending your DVX100 up there, were you?) that records to internal memory, but who cares? This instructable from Ohm shows you how to cannabalize the wee recorder for your own nefarious shots. Once attached, it's into to wild blue yonder. Sample video included. Crazy!

Time-Lapse Panning and Scanning
If you're a fan of time-lapse photography and want to be able to pan or tilt your shot while recording, then you'll like this nifty mount and tripod for your digital SLR still camera. While the software isn't yet written to be controlled by a computer, there is an external controller that should let you get the footage you want. The YouTube video is a commercial as well as a demo, and it's pretty informative. The cost is also low, as $68 (for the motorized head and tripod) sounds pretty reasonable for this sort of thing.

Microfilmmaker Goes Green
The latest issue of Microfilmmaker is out! This informative web magazine always has lots of features, tips and reviews for any DV shooter out there. This month, the focus is on chromakey use, and there is plenty to digest. Several software titles are examined, and even instructions on how to build your own green screen. While I'm not a huge fan of keying (it often looks fake and is pretty easy to spot), it does have its uses and the information presented here in one place is nicely done.

Groovy Like an Eyeball
Cool blog Groovy Like a Movie has just posted a nifty effects clip they have prepared for a client. It's pretty simple, but could have lots of use for those in the narrative world. I like effects like this that aren't overly complex, but have a real impact when used in the proper context. I can see this effect in a horror film or psychological drama where the eyes are literally the window to the soul. Thanks, Brent!

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

YouTube Pulls First 'Scene Gems' Video--More Pulling on the Way?



Today was a first for me. I opened up my email box and was greeted by the ominous 'Video Removed: Copyright Infringement' from our friends at YouTube. This was one of my 'Scene Gems' clips that I have uploaded to show off cool clips from films that are not usually highlighted. Every clip has a link to this blog to further expound on why the clip has merit. I don't make any money, I don't alter the content, and I offer it up for comment. I thought this obviously fell under fair use, but I guess not.

Now, if you click on the clip (found here), you get an ominous red message that "This video is no longer available due to a copyright claim by Paramount Pictures Corp." I've seen messages like this before, where the Orwellian corporation is specifically named as the wielder of the iron hand.

I had heard of crazy-popular clips being banned, but didn't think any of mine had enough traffic to warrant attention. Paramount must be on the warpath, since that clip (from Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow) probably had less than a thousand views, while my clips from Gattaca and Aliens have over five thousand views and remain unmolested.

Something else I noticed today was a post from Usertainment Watch about a very interesting article in Esquire. That magazine feature showcases a guy named Bob Tur, who covered the L.A. riots after the Rodney King verdict. He was the helicopter pilot that captured the violence in the streets (such as the Reginald Denny attack) that would play on news stations nationwide and later find its way to YouTube, whom Tur is currently suing along with Viacom for copyright infringement.

The title 'The Man Who Could Kill YouTube' is pretty presumptuous (online video isn't going away anytime soon), but it is a compelling read. As the law gets sorted and sifted and things finally settle, we will definitely see a changed landscape to what we have now. The Wild West of the past was finally tamed, and it's only logical to assume that the Wild West of the present will follow suit.

Monday, August 6, 2007

On Directing Actors: You Don't Have to be a Jerk



This past weekend my wife was watching a TLC reality show called The Model Life, and I ended up watching it with her. It's another competition in the America's Next Top Model vein, where runway beauties vie for their big break. You'd think a show like this would be as compelling as watching grass grow, but it was better than expected. Unlike Top Model, these girls were from all over the globe and it was pretty fascinating to see what they had to endure, and what I learned as a filmmaker.

The scene in question was a bikini shoot with the girls modeling in front of a white background, which totally isolated them in the picture. No background to blend into or complement them, they were left literally bare to the camera, with only their talent to rescue them. You really felt how exposed they were, but the real terror came in the form of the woman directing the shoot.

Just behind the photographer was an older woman in charge. She was pretty merciless with her comments, and when she wasn't getting what she wanted, she let them know, sending one running to the bathroom in tears. This must be why even these gorgeous women have esteem issues. When someone in an authority position criticizes them (and not constructively), they crack. Being practically naked makes them even more vulnerable, and more sensitive to attack.

Watching that, I thought about the relationship of trust between actor and director. You are asking your talent to go to a fictitious place in their mind, in unfamiliar surroundings and in front of total strangers who could be invading what is normally a personal space. Not to mention what the alien-like camera must feel like watching their every move. In other words, this isn't a normal environment, and can be extremely uncomfortable.

When all goes well, it's easy to maintain order. When nothing goes right (and there are always problems on a shoot) tempers will flare, and you feel like you're going crazy. So what happens when on top of all this your talent doesn't deliver the performance you need? When everything is finally working, your actor screws up or is uninspired. Now what?

I'm a director who likes to work with actors. I want them to do well. Their performance is a reflection on me and my movie. If they are not doing what I want, I have three options. I can (a) freak out and demand they give me what I'm "asking" for. (b) Do nothing and hope they improve with subsequent takes. And finally (c), pull them aside and do a one-on-one to help them get to where they need to be.

In my humble experience, freaking out is never an option, especially if you want to keep making movies for little or no money. Who would want to go through that for mere meals and copy? Doing nothing will just make you angrier and imply to the talent that what they are doing is fine--another bad idea. Only you can figure out how to help your actors in a given situation, but communicating with them (away from a potentially embarrassing scenario) is the only way to do that.

Remember, acting is a hard job. Show your talent respect (hey, you picked them for the role), and they will respond. Work productively with them and they will work productively with you. I realize that all directors are control freaks. They have to be. But you don't have to be a jerk about it. And if anyone runs crying from your set, you'd better be the first one to follow them.

Friday, August 3, 2007

The Bourne Ultimatum


Shake, Rattle and Roll

The summer is winding down, but it wouldn’t be complete without another three-quel. This time its the Bourne franchise, with plucky Matt Damon cutting his way through killer operatives in order to find out his true identity. Shaky-cam director Paul Greengrass returns with his nauseating “style” that he brought to the table with the moderately entertaining entry The Bourne Supremacy. While it stumbles a bit at the start, I have to admit that I got involved in The Bourne Ultimatum, despite Greengrass’ manic storytelling.

Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) is still on the run. When he notices a London newspaper is printing articles about him, he contacts the reporter in an effort to learn more about his own murky past. The agency is still trying to gun him down, however, as new government weasel Noah Voson (David Strathairn) takes his best shot. Bourne has an ally this time in former nemesis Pamela Landy (Joan Allen), who may be able to help him, but at what cost?

I liked The Bourne Ultimatum, which has a lot of action and just barely enough character interaction to keep the story interesting. The movie missteps at the start by throwing you into the violence with no exposition, but once it calms down and we relate with what is going on, it becomes much easier to root for Bourne once again.

Director Greengrass (United 93) has got to be one of the most obnoxious filmmakers working. His constant jittering of the lens and fast cutting works too well (sit at the back of the theater to lessen the effect). It’s distracting to say the least, but I have to admire his bravado. Like the Jason Bourne character, Greengrass goes insane, giving us crazy-fierce action sequences (with one fantastic fist-fight) that are almost beyond belief in their audacity. He does manage to keep the reins on this filmed riot, however, which is impressive.

Then there’s Damon at the center, who continues to play this guy as driven, smart, and ruthless--but he’s no longer a killing machine. This time out he’s more compassionate toward those trying to plug him. He only kills one guy (after using a hardcover book as a weapon), and that’s in a do-or-die scenario.

Damon gets excellent backup in the form of Allen (The Upside of Anger) and Julia Stiles (The Omen), both reprising their roles from the previous films. Allen is always good, but I really liked Stiles this time out. She is sympathetic toward Bourne, but I am pretty sure she was thinking about something more than just goodwill when she was staring at him like that.

If anything is lacking here, it’s a really sinister villain. Strathairn (Fracture) is okay, but he’s no Chris Cooper (seen in the first film), who you loved to hate. Despite this oversight and the lack of exposition at the beginning, The Bourne Ultimatum is a good action yarn that succeeds at what it sets out to do: rock your socks off.

Siskel & Ebert & Roeper On Demand

As some of you may know, a major influence on my views of film was the televised ramblings of Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert. When I was much younger I started watching PBS' Sneak Previews for the movie clips. After a short while, it became obvious to me that I was interested not only in the movies being featured but in the opinions of the two very opinionated hosts. It was a great primer and led me in the direction of filmmaking.

Now, I don't watch the current incarnation of the show all that much. Siskel passed away in 1999, and Ebert can no longer speak due to life-saving surgery. This leaves Siskel replacement Richard Roeper with guest hosts, which just isn't the same. The Siskel and Ebert dynamic was so great because it often became so heated (witness the Full Metal Jacket review for an example). Watching those two go at it was pretty dang entertaining, and a testament to their passion for movies.

The good news is that there is a new video archive of all the Siskel & Ebert (and Roeper) stuff from 1985 on up (the previous ten years didn't survive). There is some great video in there, but for me, it's all about walking down memory lane. The site is supposed to expand with previous video specials, and there is already one there that spotlights Martin Scorsese. All the videos have been bookended with new animation and a nice graphic depicting which thumb went in which direction.

This is a great idea, and hopefully we can see more shows of non-series television available for all those who want to see them. It's just another step closer to the VOD (video on demand) world that is inevitable. Very cool.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

What Movie Making Software is in Your Quiver?

There is a lot of great software out there that can aid us all in the making of great content. Over the past few years that I've been trying to make a go at this stuff, I've returned again and again to some essential files that I don't want to live without. If you are unfamiliar with any of these, check them out as they may help you as much as they have helped me to get better and better at this crazy dream. The best news is that despite the fact that all these programs but one will cost you something, they all have free demos that you can try out.

Sony Vegas, $500
I started using EditDV which transmogrified into Cinestream and was subsequently sold and dropped as a product. This led me to look around for a new editor and I found a great one--Sonic Foundry's Vegas 4. Sonic Foundry (who also made Acid Music and Sound Forge) was bought by Sony, who now continues to develop this fine editor. Simple to use and reinforced with a second-to-none audio toolset (it can easily double as an audio editor), Vegas is awesome. Full of features and laid out well for even a small laptop, this mainstay is what I use on every project.

DVDlab PRO, $245
Vegas comes with DVD Architect, but I never liked it much. This led me to find something better and I did with Mediachance's DVDlab PRO, a homebrew program that reverse engineered the DVD standard. You can do anything with this program (subtitles, extra audio tracks, mulitple angles, etc.), but what makes it shine is ease of use and intuitiveness. It's not for everyone, but if you know how to encode your files properly outside of DVDlab (Vegas does it), then this little beauty will satisfy all your authoring needs.

Rough Draft, FREE
I've written quite a few scripts with this simple word processor with a screenplay mode, and it works well. It's a pretty stripped program with practically no script writing features, but it gets the job done. Just hit the tab key to place your cursor for action, dialogue, character, or parenthetical. That's it. I've been longing to try Celtx, another free program that is supposed to be great, but Rough Draft is still pretty dang useful to me.

MPEG2VCR, $35
If you ever have the need to do something cool (like mashups, or commentaries) with ripped DVD files, this program will let you. It is the best mpeg editor that I have come across that lets you edit and trim files (down to the frame) on your drive, as well as separate audio and video and put them back together. A feature I love is that it won't reencode the mpeg if it doesn't have to (like after simple cutting), saving you gobs of render time. I originally paid $250 for this program (to work with ReplayTV files) and it still would be worth that much.

Scenealyzer Live!, $34
While Vegas has a good video capture utility, this one is better and I can use it without booting up my large editor. Simple and easy to use, you can capture with scene detection as well as do time lapse from a tape or a connected camera! I also really appreciate the alerts the program provides (graphically) to let me know if and where my captured file is getting dropped or corrupt frames.

EffectsLab Lite, $109
For simple effects work without the need for something huge like After Effects, you may want this program as much as I did. Specifically designed for the DV filmmaker who needs muzzle flashes and lightsaber effects, ELL is a bargain. I bought it to use on my short Middle of Nowhere, and the results were amazing. With optical and particle effects included as well, I can see I'll be using this program on many many movies in the future.

Okay, now it's your turn. What programs are a must in your toolbox? Please share with us!

Film Flapper Elver Loho

That's me on the set of a short parody we did for a big Estonia IT blog (which I co-founded). The picture was taken by the lead actor, so please excuse the streetlamp growing out of my head.

Elver's blog: Miscellanea 2.0

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Call to All Filmmakers: Send Me Your Production Photos!

Scott Eggleston directs a scene from Middle of Nowhere, while the crew (Doug Clift and Russ Hansen) ponders the wonderful paycheck they are about to receive.

In an effort to make Film Flap a little more relevant to the low-to-no budget community, I have a proposition for you all. Send me a production photo of a project you are currently working on or just completed, and I will post it here along with a link to your website or blog. I can't guarantee you'll be deluged with traffic, but maybe it will help develop a sense of community as we become more aware of each other and what we are doing.

I've started by posting a shot from my last short movie, Middle of Nowhere, which I'm sure you're all tired of hearing me prattle on about (hey, self promotion, man!). It doesn't have to be a great shot, but hopefully it shows you doing something cool with a camera or yelling at your actors. You can send me as many pics as you please, but I'll probably just pick one.

Film Flappers Unite!