Thursday, December 18, 2008
Saturday, December 13, 2008
The blog lives! Yes, I know it has been forever (over a month) since my last post, but my new job has been taking a lot of my creative juices. Rightly so, as they are paying me to be the video guy. They even have me blog once a week, which had me using posts I'd normally put up here, there.
The good news is that Lunawebs is more interested in short blog posts that take 10-15 minutes to put up and come from the week's experience. My stuff is usually way too bloated for work (it takes about an hour to typically post something here) so I can actually blog in two places without stepping on anyone's toes.
Anyway, since one of my jobs is to create a YouTube presence for Lunawebs, I've been learning some cool stuff. One thing is that The Tube has recently supported HD video, complete with a widescreen player. All you have to do is upload in 1280 x 720 and YouTube will automagically give you a "play in HD" option to click on.
You can also embed in HD (see the giraffe above) by attaching the mystic "&ap=%2526fmt%3D22" onto the end of your video's URL. It's a great way to make your clips look great. We shoot with consumer-level HD Canon HF100s and they are the perfect camera (read: very affordable at $530) for uploading HD content to the web.
Judge for yourself. Then do it!
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
While poking around on the web the other day I stumbled across a banner ad that touted NBC.com showing the old Buck Rogers TV show from the 80's. I was a faithful viewer when I was a kid and just had to check it out for a trip down nostalgia lane. It was just as I remember it, with every episode from the scant two seasons that it ran (the first was way better than the second).
If you have never seen this show, then you'll probably want to pass. I admit it's pretty awful, but also had a sort of goofy charm and optimism that that you don't get from television anymore. The success of Star Wars spun off a lot of copycats, but Buck was more of a remake of the old serials (which also inspired George Lucas) than a direct ripoff. Rogers was played by the likable Gil Gerard and Erin Gray starred as love interest Wilma Deering. Gerard's career would peak here, while Gray would go on to more success with the sitcom Silver Spoons.
When I went to NBC's site to check out some vid, a clip was featured (seen above) from one of the first season's last episodes. It was the excellently titled "Flight of the War Witch" and Buck was about to "leave the universe". It's a farewell scene between Buck and Wilma, which you'd normally expect to see in a train station, but here it's a spacecraft hangar (no trains leaving the known universe, I guess).
What I found interesting here (and something we should all note in our productions) is how both actors play the scene on completely different levels which turns the whole thing comic. Gray tries to hit her emotions out of the park, even getting the waterworks to flow. Gerard, on the other hand, is so wooden here you want to check him for a pulse. These two are supposed to have chemistry, but because of the way the actors are directed (or not) she comes across as cloying and him insensitive. It's all wrong and made me snicker.
There has to be some balance for this scene to play correctly. Either Gerard has to elevate emotionally or Gray has to underplay. The way it is now, you have to laugh. The cornball dialogue doesn't help and is made worse when one of the leads looks like he'd rather be elsewhere. Good chemistry can cover a multitude of sins, but only if you get your actors to connect properly.
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
This was not an overnight thing. I've known the business owner for many years (and Film Flap has been up for almost two), and he's followed my work for as long as I've had it online. It helped that I sent him a link every time I had something new to watch, and always asked his opinion. It was also a big help (and here's my point) that I had a blog with lots of stuff to peruse, which acts as an online resume that anyone can access at anytime from anywhere with a computer and an internet connection.
Even if you don't blog, having a singular spot for your video content can lead to good things. I have never been one to talk up my work as much as let the work do the talking. I love hearing honest opinions which have often led me to reevaluate and improve. It would be one thing if this was a difficult process, but the most popular video sharing site it the world is stupid easy to use. Are you using it?
Don't waste time. There are so many great tools at your disposal that can help you tell great stories and get them out there. Who knows, someone may even pay you to make crazy videos that you'd make for free anyway. It happend to me.
Thursday, October 16, 2008
Here's the first of hopefully many more "short-shorts" created for Lunawebs. This was shot in about two-and-a-half hours using a Canon Optura Pi SD camera, a Sennheiser ME-66 shotgun mic, and a little Lowel light kit. The actors and the location were local to Salt Lake City and I cut the thing in about two hours using Sony Vegas Pro 8.
Budget: A box of donuts (which I included in the shoot).
Feel free to leave your comments below.
Friday, October 3, 2008
It's that time again. Time for me to get off my butt and do something creative. Fortunately, there always seems to be something demanding my attention that can be a great exercise in the flexing of the creative filmmaking muscles department.
This time my job is to develop monthly viral ads for a local web firm, Lunawebs.com. The owner is a friend of mine, likes my work and has employed me in the past. He has given me a potentially unending assignment and creative freedom up the wazoo. The goal: create any video I want with their logo attached. That's it. I can literally do whatever I please (okay, nothing obscene), affix their logo and spread the thing all over the web (TubeMogul could be a good way to do that) with the intent of driving traffic to the Lunawebs site.
While I do enjoy the creative freedom this give me, it also presented a conundrum. What the heck do you produce when no parameters of any kind are given? Is too much freedom no freedom at all? I was a bit lost at first, but I've finally focused my efforts and will begin to shoot the first of several "wordplays" in the middle of next week. I don't want to go into any detail yet, but I will say that they will (should) be funny, quirky, very short and utilize the microbudget mentality that I'm very fond of. This last part is very important because while my budgets will be micro, I do plan on paying everyone. Even if it ain't much.
So stay tuned. Every new "short-short" will appear here first, then get blasted all over the web soon thereafter. It will be a monthly experiment that should prove beneficial to all involved. Not to mention new things to write about!
Wednesday, September 3, 2008
Registered Mogulers vote on various categories for the nominated films. Middle of Nowhere is up for four awards which include Best Picture, Best Horror/Thriller, Best Special Effects, and Best Technical Achievement. The special effects nom is the most curious as my only effects were muzzle flashes added in post. So far no one who has seen the short has spotted this, so anyone voting would probably wonder why I was nominated in the first place. A true compliment.
I'm not a big fan of open voting in film competitions (they're just tests of who has the largest pool of family and friends), but it's fun anyway. We all make movies because we want people to see them, and the 5 Minute Movie House is a neat (and not to difficult) way to help this happen.
Voting ends on Sunday. No prizes have been listed, but a trip to New York to meet the Mogul Staff and appear in a podcast would sure be cool. Wes? Erik? Steve? Thoughts?
UPDATE: We won! Middle of Nowhere took three of the four awards including Best Picture! It's always nice to add 'award winning filmmaker' to your resume, even if the award is a T-shirt!
Thursday, August 21, 2008
My son was wondering if we could watch that original film, so I checked on YouTube. Sure enough, it was there, chopped into three parts. It stars the great character actor Kurtwood Smith, who is most famous for playing the gruff dad on That 70's Show. Here he is wonderful as Myron Castleman, a poor shlub doomed to repeat the same hour over and over, with memory intact. I also really liked Laura Harrington as Delores, the woman he talks to in the park. The real star is the story however (penned by Stephen Tolkin and Johnathan Heap and directed by Heap), as our hero tries desperately to get out of his one hour prison. Rod Serling would be proud.
Tuesday, August 5, 2008
Planning, of course, is paramount in the no budget world, but this time out I found myself often flying by the seat of my pants and improvising. I was at a real disadvantage not having actually visited my locations, which made it somewhat difficult to plan the shots out in my head. I had storyboarded anyway, but what you see on the stick-figured page is rarely what you get.
Make sure you arrive on set early, long before anyone else.
On my first of two half days of the shoot, I made sure I arrived as early as possible to the bus stop location. This gave me time to look around and plan out my shots more thoroughly. Funny thing, even though I had determined (with the help of my actress and her mother) this spot would work, I decided to drive along the bus route to see if there was something better. There was. The original stop was in front of a church, but just down the road the bus was going to stop in front of a vacant lot. Much better to show the void between the characters that would eventually meet there. A couple of phone calls directed everyone to the new location and we were off.
Sometimes, natural lighting IS really all you need.
I really hate cheap lighting setups. This seems to be a hallmark of microbudget fare, but I want no part of it. When I wrote The Payoff, I knew I only wanted sunlight or ambient lighting to illuminate my subject matter. I did this for two reasons. First, it lends to a more "realistic" feel of the visuals, and it is a lot faster. Time was my enemy on both my shoot days (I had about four hours each day) and had to go very fast. I had written the motel scenes in a room that faced the sun, and thats what I got. Drawing the first transparent curtain acted as diffusion and lit the room nicely, casting soft shadows (or a noir-ish silhouette) on my lead actor.
I was even more fortunate for the exterior shots. We were having a lot of overcast days, and I was praying they would stick around for my exteriors at the bus stop. Sure enough it held just long enough for me to get my shots. I did end up playing tag with the sun, but the more harsh lighting can only really be detected in the last shot where it worked anyway (I like to think of it as the "heaven approves" shot).
I didn't even have a bounce card for either of my shoot days (dumb, I know), but it didn't matter. The lighting looked great and since I used and HDV camera, it was forgiving enough to make everything look really good.
Shooting in sequence can help unmuddle your head.
When I was in the motel room (on the second day), I sort of got lost as to what I needed to get. I had my storyboards, but quickly became disoriented about what I still needed to shoot. As a result, I did something very unconventional: I began shooting in sequence. This easily allowed me to play out my movie in my head, revealing what shots I still needed. It also had me improvising quickly which allowed me to move through my shot list very fast. I never had to repeat anything, and I again got every shot I needed.
Take advantage of items at your location to avoid transporting your own.
At the motel, I knew I wanted some dolly shots. The first long shot in the film is inspired by Hitchcock's Notorious, as well as a tracking shot in the hallway that goes all Vertigo. Since I was in an introductory class and was not allowed a real camera dolly, I opted to use a wheelchair, which can be a nice substitute on a smooth surface. Problem was, I wasn't able to get back to school to get a chair before my shoot days. I banked on the fact that most motels provide wheelchairs for their customers and I was right. This gave me my a dolly that I didn't have to lug around in my car, which saved me setup and strike time. I know I gambled here, but it worked and my film looks all the better for it.
Keep your cast and crew as small as possible.
I know we all dream of the big production and cast of thousands, but I like a more intimate production that is conducive to speed and less stress. The more people you ask to show up increases the odds that more of them will cancel. Pare everyone back to the bare minimum. I think you only really need a DP (which in my case is me) a sound guy, and a grip/gopher. A costume and makeup person is also great, but sometimes you don't need them if you can do that job too (or involve your actors in this area). My actress did her own bruises with the aid of Kara, one of the camera assistants (or grip/gopher in the above scenario).
Place your shoot in between meals and you won't have to feed anybody.
This is a tricky one, but if you are willing to sacrifice time, you can pull it off. Feeding people who work for you for free is very important. You can't expect folks to be at the top of their game if they are weak and undernourished. However, if you can have brief shooting days of four to five hours or less, you can get your work done fast and release everyone. Hold them longer than that and you had better cave with some food or they won't come back. Just make sure you tell them to eat before coming to the set. I know four to five hours won't always work, but if it does (as it did for me), there that much more you saved. Plus, you won't completely drain people and they will remember that as a positive.
When you are put in a box like this, it forces you to be creative and resourceful in ways you probably weren't even aware of when your started. This is a good thing, and will only make you better. One thing I really like about filmmaking is that I learn something from every project that makes me stronger and brings me closer to my goal of doing this for a living. I just have to keep doing it.
Thursday, July 24, 2008
This Joker is Wild
The hype machine has been working overtime on this sequel to the rebooted DC Comics franchise that started two years ago with Batman Begins. Ever since the last scene of that film which teased the arrival of number one Bat Baddie The Joker, fans have been frothing at the mouth. Add to that the apparent stunt casting of Brokeback Mountaineer Heath Ledger and the return of director Christopher Nolan (Memento) , and you've got something worth watching. I'm happy to report that even though The Dark Knight isn't the greatest superhero film I've ever seen, Ledger is definitely the best super villain.
A clown-faced whack job calling himself The Joker (Ledger) is stealing mob money from banks in Gotham City. With an agenda of chaos on his mind, this creepy criminal attracts the attention of Batman (Christian Bale), who may be the only one capable of stopping him. Meanwhile, alter ego Bruce Wayne vies for the affections of former love Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal), who is currently seeing star District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart). All three are on a collision course with The Joker, who wishes to destroy anything that will bring peace to Gotham and crime to a standstill.
Everything you've heard about the late Ledger's performance is absolutely true. His take on the maniacal Joker is excellent, from his disturbing laugh, to the constant licking of his lips, to his love for sharp objects. He really seems to be totally insane, yet smart and controlled at the same time. His introduction perfectly captures how dangerous this guy is, yet punctuates it with a sick joke that you can't help but laugh at ("Wanna see a magic trick?").
Bale and company are all very good, but since Ledger steals every scene he's in, we anxiously await his return. Nonetheless, Eckhart (No Reservations) is strong (and gets stronger) as the ambitious Dent, while Gyllenhaal (Stranger Than Fiction) surpasses her predecessor, Katie Holmes. Backup is provided by greats Michael Caine, Gary Oldman and Morgan Freeman. Even the small parts are well-filled by familiar faces Eric Roberts and Anthony Michael Hall. Nolan must have some kind of pull.
Despite all the acting clout, it's fortunate that there is a compelling, well written story here, that keeps our interest and moves along at a nice pace. The movie has lots of action, but characters are allowed to breathe and develop and we care about what happens to each of them. Nolan also makes it abundantly clear that anyone could live or die at any time. This really ups the stakes and the feeling of tension we get is very real.
My only complaint is that at two-and-a-half hours, the movie begins to feel long. Things develop in the third act that, while compelling, should have been saved for another movie. As a result, The Dark Knight suffers from "too many villains in one movie" syndrome that plagued the previous series. It is still a very good movie, but tighten up this one loose end and I think this film may have eclipsed my favorite superhero flick, the original Superman (1978). As it is now, no suck luck.
Not that anyone will care. This movie is already a guaranteed success, which will mean another sequel. I hope Nolan can continue to raise the bar as he has done here, and we get another thrilling excursion into crime-ridden Gotham City. Batman outfitter Freeman gives us a hint of what's to come when he tells Bale that his new Batsuit is effective against dogs "and cats."
Monday, July 21, 2008
So where have I been for the last two weeks? Why, working on my second project for my Film Production I class, of course! If you thought one month was no time to turn out a narrative, how about two weeks for a documentary? Kind of Famous is the end result, a little chronicle of friend Terry Jeffs and his almost brush with the music big time. Like my last project, no sync sound is allowed, so no on camera interviews are permitted. Voice overs on the other hand...
I'm the first to admit that docs are not my forte. This one turned out pretty good I think, although I wish I would have had Terry express more of his feelings throughout, instead of just at the beginning and the end. Still, I'm happy with the final product.
What do you think?
Friday, July 4, 2008
Here it is, the finished version of my latest short, The Payoff. Remember, the requirements of this assignment were no sync sound (so no talking heads) and you had to have a beginning, middle, and end. On Tuesday I showed it to my class on a big screen (which was very sweet) and Thursday to both my actors. Everyone seems to approve, but you be the judge. Also note that you can click on the HD link to see the movie in a much higher resolution (and bigger frame) than the teeny window above.
Enjoy, and please comment with your feedback!
Friday, June 20, 2008
It is just amazing what original music will do for your images. After shooting and putting my Payoff footage together, I sent off a cut to my composer-friend, Seth Neuffer. Seth and I had worked together on my last short, Middle of Nowhere. It was a great experience, and I was glad that Seth chose to be on board for this film.
Like last time, we established and internet relationship. I sent my final cut to him as soon as I could, and he began returning clips with new music attached. It is a very exciting time in the edit, probably because this is something completely out of my control that just delights the heck out of me every time I get an update. I have been really looking forward to the early morning when I can open my email and find that I have a download waiting from a online file store like sendspace.
The work flow goes like this: Seth sends me a copy of the file I sent him (only with music), I reply with notes and he makes adjustments. It's stupid easy since Seth listens to me and always comes up with great stuff. It's just more proof that you need to find people that are better than you in a given area, then set them free. As long as they abide by what you are telling them (and strong-minded creative folks will always have valuable opinions), you will get results. It's a very satisfying feeling.
Anyway, things are winding down on this project (which is due next Tuesday), and we will have the final music cut on Sunday night. That gives me Monday to put together the final mix (not hard in an almost silent film) and turn it in on time. In class on Tuesday we will start watching all the narratives with the director sitting in front of the class answering questions. On the day it airs in class I will post it here, embedded from Vimeo in HD. See you then!
Days remaining: 4
Money spent: $8
Friday, June 13, 2008
Shooting commenced on The Payoff last Friday, and concluded on Monday. I shot for two half days, between the hours of lunch and dinner. This forced me to shoot quickly, and saved me some money I'd usually spend to feed everyone. I don't really like to do this, but I'm very broke right now, and had little money to spend. The nice thing was that my actors knew this, and had no problem with it. Of course I let them go before they got hungry...
Last Friday we shot all the exteriors that took place at a bus stop. After scouting the intended location (in front of a church), I elected to move down the street where the stop was directly in front of a vacant lot--much more conducive to the story. We shot there for about four hours under an overcast sky. The lighting was excellent until the pesky sun decided to play hide and seek several times. For the most part the sun cooperated, except for one critical reaction shot that I just couldn't seem to get. In the end it was okay, as a rough cut with what I had worked well.
One Robert Rodriguez trick I employed was using my zoom lens to rapidly change shots that would be edited later. In The Payoff, two different characters exit the bus at the same stop, but in two different scenes. Since the bus would only arrive at our stop hourly, I put both actors on the bus at the previous stop (at the church) and had them exit separately. The first take was the best with the bus hitting it's unknown mark perfectly, and me shooting wide, then closer as my first actor exited. When he left the frame, I repositioned for my actress, then went very tight as the bus pulled away. It was a great way to get more than one shot with minimal bus fare and limited time.
On Monday I shot all my interiors in a real motel that was provided to me by a friend (Yes! I love connections). We shot everything using light coming in from the motel window and from the hallway lighting for the tracking shots. This looked pretty good, probably thanks to the fact that I was using the nifty Sony FX1 HDV camera. I've never shot in HD before, but always want to now. It's a great and detail rich medium.
So there you go. Shooting is over, and I already have a rough cut (using Vegas Pro 8) that I've sent to my composer for scoring ideas. The ultimate compliment came from my wife who saw only the last scene, teared up and said "I think this may be your best work." My actors (Bus Riley and Morgan Long) deserve a lot of credit for that comment. They were wonderful.
Days remaining: 11
Money spent: $8
Saturday, June 7, 2008
Anyway, the only cast member I had set was Natalie Dallimore (pictured), who I had worked with before on an unfinished short entitled Blackout. She is a good actress and also does makeup and hair, which nicely kills two birds with one stone. She suggested I try friend Antonio Lexerot (for the father), whom she respects as an actor. I contacted him but he felt too young to play 50-ish and recommended one Bus Riley. Bus accepted, and suggested Morgan Long to play the daughter. I did manage to meet with her yesterday. Movie cast.
When I secured a shooting date (today) that both leads could make, Natalie couldn't (she was going to play the "woman in car" role). After trying to scramble to find a replacement, I just wrote that part out of the script (sorry, Nat). I'm running out of time fast, and can't afford to reschedule, so I have to adjust.
I did like the fact that Bus told me that he and Morgan could find someone, but decided to just go in a slightly different direction. It will save time and stress to just use Bus by himself and not worry about another person. Morgan will do her own makeup, so there you go.
Shooting starts today in three hours...
Days remaining: 17
Money spent: $0
Friday, May 30, 2008
Anyway, I thought it might be educational to post my progress on this assignment which may help others who are trying to do something similar. I also hope to get feedback from you, which can only help me to be a better filmmaker. The due date is June 24, so I had better get cracking.
The other criteria for this project is that you have to shoot it yourself, you can't star in it, and it can't be over five minutes. I have no problem with the first two items, and there is no way I even want to approach the five minute mark. I just don't have the time to craft a film of that length. I want my story to be about three minutes, which is will still be tough, but doable.
The first thing I needed was an idea and one came to me while getting out of the shower. Oddly enough, the bathroom is a place I often get inspired and this time was no different. I wanted to do something more character driven and less plot-heavy than my previous work, and I think I hit on it with Payoff, a short story that plays like the tail end of a prodigal daughter tale.
I wrote a first draft of the script pretty quickly, and it came in at just over two pages. It's all action (of course), which may mean that it plays longer than written. I should be able to get my three minutes with ease.
Read the screenplay for Payoff...
Please click on the above link, and feel free to give me your input below. My schedule is pretty compressed (casting and shooting next week), but I am always open to good ideas. I've had pretty good collaborative experiences when shooting, but have resisted this at the writing phase. Now's your chance to make a difference! Tell me what you like and why! Tell me what sucks and why! Just make sure you tell me!
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
Not Quite a King
Three years ago, I had an unexpected surprise in viewing the first film of Disney's The Chronicles of Narnia series, based on the C.S. Lewis books. I didn't expect anything above decent, but what I got was spectacular. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe became my favorite film of 2005. Now comes the next tale, Prince Caspian, which reunites almost all the same talent to continue the saga. While equally impressive in scope, this sequel suffers from a weaker story and underwhelming villain.
One year has passed since the Pevensie children unexpectedly left their beloved world of Narnia. Summoned back for unkown reasons, they discover their former home now an ancient ruin. 1300 Narnian years have passed in their absence and an evil king now reins. The true heir to the throne, noble Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes), has fled to avoid being murdered at the hands of his wicked uncle. It is the prince who has magically called the Pevensies to save Narnia and return it to it's rightful citizens. With the odds against them, they must form an alliance and find the only one who can save them all: Aslan.
The look of this film is simply breathtaking. Returning director Andrew Adamson and his new cinematographer Karl Walter Lindenlaub (Georgia Rule) have crafted a vivid canvas full of epic scope and lush detail. When the kids first return, they arrive on sparkling beach with water that looks so inviting you can almost smell the salt water. The forest is rich and very green, and the fields of battle are majestic and deep as far as the camera can see. It's all very impressive.
The CGI work is again excellent. With many a mystical creature filling this universe, they all appear realistic. From warrior centaurs to flying gryphons, it all comes across well. Aslan again projects himself as the regal Lion, the spiritual leader who we really believe is there (Liam Neeson's voice work doesn't hurt, either). There is a spectacular dream sequence where Lucy envisions flower petals carried upon the wind that form human shapes and faces. Beautiful.
All of the actors playing the Pevensie kids return, with only young Lucy (Georgie Henley) showing signs of growing up. I love these characters, and they have such good chemistry together that I could watch them for hours on end. Henley still steals every scene she's in, but I also liked the fact that older sibling Susan (Anna Popplewell) has feelings for the Prince and is no longer a kid, but a budding young woman. Another character I really enjoyed was the dwarf Trumpkin (Peter Dinklage), who's sarcasm is much larger than his tiny body should allow.
So why the so-so rating? As much as I found to like about Prince Caspian, I had almost as many dislikes, which I am disappointed to report. A large part of this is the story--it's just not that interesting. While Lion had a great slow-brewing plot that culminated with an exciting battle sequence, Caspian seems to just be about the battles themselves. There are more of them, but they are without tension or drama. I was bored during most of these segments (with the exception of Susan using her bow to great effect), which became bigger as the movie went along, but never seemed to get better or more engaging.
Another gaffe is the bland villain. King Miraz (Sergio Castellitto) is not very menacing, and never generated any worry inside of me for our heroes' fate. Add to that the very lucid memory of Tilda Swinton's wonderfully evil White Witch from the first film (she makes a cameo this time), and the letdown continues. In any kind of thriller you simply must have a great baddie to initiate jeopardy, but the limp one we get here doesn't do the job.
I really wanted to like Prince Caspian. I love those kids, and the world Adamson and company have created is a vision to behold. It may be unfair to compare it to the far superior first film, but even on its own merits, this movie comes up short. And I haven't even brought up the sword-wielding mice...
Monday, May 19, 2008
Prolost just turned me on to this excellent micro-budget trick that should be in everyone's quiver. To get a smooth dolly or low angle crane move, simply shorten the front leg of your tripod and push or pull while tilting. It's stupid simple, but can yield some very professional results. Check out the video above for some very convincing examples. Sure, you still need a tripod, but you own one of those anyway, right?
Monday, May 12, 2008
"You have to be very, very, very good at film making to entertain people for 90 minutes with string and a webcam."
Click on the link and read what others are posting (and Clive's responses) for a very informative read. $1k rocks!
Tuesday, May 6, 2008
Did we really need another superhero movie? We seem to be inundated with them as of late, and while some do the job well (the Batman reboot, and the Spider-Man series), most have fallen pretty flat (Daredevil, Hulk, Fantastic Four and its sequel). I grew up reading my share of comics from the Marvel universe, but haven't been as excited about the latest villain-smasher as in previous years. When I heard that ol' Metal Head was coming to silver screen, I was mildly interested. When I discovered Robert Downey, Jr. was going to play lead Tony Stark, I was very interested. Fortunately, they really got it right this time--Iron Man is a very good movie in almost all categories.
Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) has it all. Brains, money, women, all the booze he can drink, and the most powerful weapons manufacturing corporation in the world. While showing off his latest creation in the Afgani desert, he is abruptly captured by a terrorist army armed with his products. Locked in a cave with the man who saved his life, he must build his latest missile from spare parts or face certain death. Stark has other plans, however, and learns that he must give back to all the lives he has indirectly taken over the years. He shuts down weapons production and creates a high-tech suit of armor that gives him super powers. But will his own company and partner Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges) sit still for such radical action? Does Tony Stark care?
This is a great story that flies in the face of just about every rule we've been taught about movies of this ilk. Instead of already being a straight arrow type, Stark is a selfish man of the world, who has a change of heart. He's not a mutant of any kind, but creates his powers through the ability of his creative engineering chops--he's a DIY Superman. He even lacks the typical alliterative name that we usually associate with superheroes (personal assistant and love interest Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) does have one, however). The film carries this theme right down to the last line of dialogue which lets us know this ain't your mom's comic book movie. I love it.
All the characters are well-devleoped, but this is Downey, Jr.'s movie. He is so good here, bringing a snarky likability to the shallow-turned-deep Stark that you totally root for him. He fights not only the obvious baddies, but also the corporate America he helped create. A great script from the writers of Children of Men, fleshes Stark out and gives him lots of funny dialogue (As he gets in an Army vehicle: "I'll be here in the Funvee, while you're back in the hum-drumvee"). Who better to cast as Stark than a guy who himself has turned his life around?
There are three relationships in the movie, but two are critical and effective. Stark and Potts have several great moments, including a potential kiss on a balcony and another where she must perform impromptu surgery on him. It's funny, tender, intense, and perfect. The second involves Bridge's character and he is wonderfully sinister here. I've never seen him play someone this dastardly before, but he nails it. Every comic book movie needs a great villain, and Iron Man has one, thank you very much.
Of course you gotta have action, and director Jon Favreau (Zathura) gives us just enough to keep us happy. Iron Man flies, shoots repulsor beams from his palms, micro-missles from his forearm, and can take out hostage-holding bad guys with one shot. The CGI work really excels, looking realistic enough to suspend our disbelief and keep us in the movie. My only qualm is that while the action is good, it doesn't blow your socks off. Considering how high the bar was set by the rest of the film, I was hoping for more, but didn't really get it. This is just a minor knock on an otherwise excellent movie.
In my book, Iron Man ranks right up there with (but doesn't surpass) the very best of superhero cinema, the first Superman (1978). It's got a unique, well-acted character in Tony Stark, an engaging plot that never feels boring, good relationships, and decent action. It fulfills every requirement of the genre and then some. It sets a very high standard for the rest of the summer, and here's hoping that's a good omen rather than all downhill from here.
Monday, May 5, 2008
One of the best is the goose-bump inducing Speed Racer which looks visually stunning and super exciting (let's hope there's a story to go along with all the flash). Here's what I saw:
This trailer made me want to test drive the nearest sports car and stomp hard on the gas pedal. The tempting thrills presented in these few minutes were immediately dampened by this laughable commercial from Lexus:
This typical slo-mo car ad, quickly became a joke due to unfortunate placement. What about this boring spot makes you want to drive their fancy car? Not much. I want a Mach 5 instead! I wonder if it comes with a white helmet...
Monday, April 28, 2008
The filmmakers (co-directors Adam Browne and Brendan Choisnet, and producer/writer Daniel Nayeri) have struck a bargain with the indie music site Amie Street, to snag a bit of cash. If you sign up via the Cult link, you get two bucks of free music credit, and the movie makers also get two bucks. Not bad. Sign up for three dollars, and the boys get one buck, charity gets two more, and you get to download the movie to your computer.
This last part is important, because YouTube's compression on Cult is so bad, it almost makes the film unwatchable. I'm not sure if it's due to the length of the project, or just poor encoding choices, but it is a problem. Fortunately, the quality of the movie still comes through, but the pixelating and picture breakup is really an issue. I was tempted to go ahead and get the $3 download, but felt the film wasn't great enough for me to revisit. If you do, you should spend the three bones, as anything will be better than what you get on the Tube.
This is also the second time that a full-length indie has come to YouTube with some sort of collaborative deal that bumps some coin back to the creators. Remember Four Eyed Monsters? Arin and Susan's deal with Spout (sign up through the FEM link and they get $1) was a first, and gave some incentive (they took in over $40,000), which we can see with Cult.
I love the idea of putting an entire film on the web (and especially YouTube, which millions of people visit), but wonder about the viability. As mentioned above, the video quality has to be better. A crappy picture will take you out of the mood quickly, and you'll lose your audience. So far, the number of views are at 17,000 plus, but how many of those watched the entire movie? Again, I'm not sure if this is an YouTube issue or not (FEM looked pretty decent, as I recall), but has to be fixed. I'd be infuriated if my movie looked like that to a worldwide audience.
Size also seems to be an issue. The tiny screen on the Tube is okay for short stuff, but generates eye strain for long periods. Go full screen and it looks like your watching through a fish tank. Recent history has proven that folks will watch movies on a small screen, but iPods have a razor sharp image, something we don't get here. Check out what director David Lynch had to say about his films viewed on a screen the size of a postage stamp. Pretty funny.
No one has been able to breakout with a giant web-based hit yet. I am always encouraged by resourceful filmmakers who keep trying new things to get their work out there, and try to make a buck. It will happen, and I can't wait to see whatever product drives millions of people to their computers (or set-top boxes) to watch it. It's very exciting, and it's most definitely the future.
Thursday, April 17, 2008
Even if you shelled out full retail ($599, packaged) Vegas Pro 8 would be worth every penny. The good news is that I found a smokin' deal from B&H Photo Video (one, if not THE most reputable online equipment house) that gives you a Vegas Pro 8 CD for $129. I was looking to upgrade (which would cost $249), but opted for this instead, and I'm glad I did.
There are some disclaimers. This is only the installation CD (authentic, with legit serial number) sans any paper packaging, extras, or documentation. Adequate instructions can be found within the 'help' menu inside Vegas, so this is inconsequential, especially if you already know the software. Also be aware that this is only the Vegas editor, and doesn't include DVD Architect, Sony's authoring program. I have never liked Architect (I much prefer DVDlab), so this also wasn't a problem. You still get the excellent audio suite, including 5.1 surround mixing, and the Dolby Digital encoder (which used to be a separate purchase).
The CD contains the 'a' version of the software, and upon installation, I was informed that 'b' was available. The most current version of Vegas now sits happily on my new laptop, fully functional.
Another bummer is that B&H is about to go on holiday, being closed from Friday, April 18 to Sunday April 27. All orders received after 9:00am today will be shipped after they reopen. This will just mean you'll have to wait an extra week (you can still place an order), but if you're like me, waiting sucks.
Vegas Pro 8 is really an awesome product. I love using it, and for the super cheap price of $129, you can get a professional level product that costs the same as the entry level stuff. For me, it was a no-brainer.
Just thought I'd let you know.
Monday, April 14, 2008
While the digital revolution seems to encourage more green screen and compositor use, let us not forget the value of a really good location. They can add depth and mystery and authenticity that you could never get from something faked inside a computer. One of my favorite locations was in the back of a local record store. The owner had an archive of albums that went floor-to-ceiling and created hallways of music. These halls were so narrow that I had to use a wide angle lens, but the result was pretty great. I wish I could show it to you, but it went off line when Youtube went Nazi on me.
Getting a good place to shoot can really up your production value. In theory, you can find and use the same places that the pros do, as long as you strike some deal with the owners. Guerrillas don't use permits, but asking nicely will often get you what you want (get them to sign a release). Most people outside of large cities still think it's pretty neat that you're making a movie. Just don't trash the place. Your reputation will follow and catch up to you.
If there is no substitute for what you want, you can always be sneaky. It's a common story that filmmakers will pull up, hop out, shoot, and take off. I've done it as well. There was a snow-covered graveyard that I wanted to use once, but the management wanted some outlandish fee. I noticed that on weekends the office was closed, so that's when we shot the scene. We didn't take long, and were never harassed. I don't want to encourage trespassing, so use your best judgment. No shot is worth being shot at.
Movies tell stories using pictures. Even though locations are the backgrounds of the tales we tell, they can mean a lot to what you're trying to convey. You'll know the right place when you find it. It will just feel right, and look even better.
Friday, March 28, 2008
Even in the so-called "no budget" movie there is one area you had better address with some cash or you may find yourself alone on the set one day. That key category is food. You have to feed your people. They have to eat. Film shoots are notoriously long, and humans will run out of energy (and get cranky) without some kind of fuel to keep them going. Do not cut this corner, or no one will want to "work for free" again.
Make sure you ask the cast and crew what they like. A happy cast and crew is a better cast and crew, and you will be rewarded for the attention you give to your people. Some may even have special needs (like vegetarians) and may not be able to eat the bowl of pork rinds you feel is adequate.
I realize that most of us can't afford catering. Shop the discount stores, or really plan ahead and (gasp!) cook the stuff. If you aren't the cooking type, ask mom or your wife. They fully support your movie making habit, right? I prefer a somewhat healthy menu over candy and grease, but something to eat is better than nothing.
I had to learn this lesson the hard way (of course). On one of my first short films shot in my apartment, I thought nothing about food. I'm usually high on adrenaline and eat very little since I'm always busy. Since no one else shared in this particular food group, people started raiding my pantry for snacks. They found what they wanted, but when it was all over, I was hungry and the cupboard was bare. Never again, I thought.
Even if you have no money to pay your people, you had better find some way to feed them. Otherwise, you will not only be known as the "low-to-no budget" director, but also the "cheap and torturous" one.
Friday, March 14, 2008
In a recent Renart Films Podcast, host Daniel Schechter interviewed Josh Alexander, writer of Backseat. It was a good interview, but I find it alarming at the time it takes to get even a low budget film completed through traditional methods. Josh wrote his script in 2000, and the final product is just now getting a limited release in theaters. That's EIGHT YEARS for one film! Granted, it's not all Josh did in this time period, but wow.
I'm definitely an old school guy when it comes to movie making. I like good lighting and dolly shots. I like preparation and well thought-out sequences. I hate sloppy technique and lazy shortcuts. I'd rather go slow than fast, but never have that luxury if I want to get everything done on everyone else's donated time and resources.
I think the perfect model falls within a one year time frame. Take six months to complete your web series, or narrative, or whatever and document the whole process while you do it. Put those documents on the web ASAP, generating interest about your final product. Build some buzz via social networking or real world press however you can. Put a countdown timer on your blog or site showing the time remaining to your project's release, and make sure you do something cool when that timer hits zero.
Spend the next six months promoting the crap out of your widget. Focus on getting as many eyeballs on your movie and don't get distracted with another project.
I realize this isn't possible for everyone. It's not possible for me, either. Many of us have day jobs and families and lives we try to juggle in order to get those images out of our heads and onto a screen, no matter how small. I do think it is possible, and could be very rewarding and creatively expanding to be working on a new full-length whatever on a yearly basis. Take your time, but use your time wisely and get it done, so you can move on to the next challenge. It can be done (even by me).
Monday, March 10, 2008
We’ve all had at least one of “those” jobs. They involve a series of mundane tasks, and almost always feature interaction with the general public and their associated dregs. The pay is low and the desire to move on is high. This common scenario is ripe material that everyone can relate to. Drop Box is an attempt to capitalize on one very familiar setting (a video store) by mixing in someone not so mudane or typical: a national celebrity. The result is a mixed bag low budget effort that kinda works, but is undone by story contrivances, a confined location, and an abrupt ending.
Incognito pop star “Mindy” (Rachel Sehl) accidentally returns homemade sex tape to a local video rental store. Once cynical clerk Tom (David Cormican) finds out, the game is on, and Mindy will stop at nothing to get the tape back and save her career. Will Tom give in to her demands, or sell this Golden Goose on eBay?
Let me first say that it is always a nice surprise to see a microbudget movie that cares about the way it looks and sounds. With YouTube desensitizing everyone to a lack of quality, I am grateful that writer/directors Anesty and Spiros Carasoulos put real effort into lighting and cinematography. Drop Box looks really good. Shot selection is impressive despite a few self indulgent angles from the bottom of bags or behind clothing. The sound has a few issues (some sync problems, ambient noise cutting), but is only mildly distracting.
The problems begin on the conceptual level of the scripting and the confines of the story. Drop Box is set entirely inside the video store, and if you are going to go this “one location” route, your writing had better be fantastic, since we are essentially watching a play transpire. Well, this film has some good pacing and funny dialogue (Mindy: “What’s a good romantic comedy?” Tom: “There aren’t any.”) but can’t sustain itself imprisoned in that store (the repetitive musical cues didn’t help either). I so desperately wanted them to get out so the story and characters could breathe, but they never do (even at the end, which would seem to present that opportunity).
When the setup is presented, I had two questions. How does someone who claims to have sold “50 million albums” escape the omnipresent paparazzi to go visit a podunk video outlet? Then, when Tom refuses to give her the tape, where was her bodyguard or other entourage member that could easily beat Tom silly? Drop Box bites off more than it can chew with this scenario, and I never really believed it.
The script comes from the Kevin Smith School of Frank Sexual Talk, with a lot of profanity and conversations about male and female body parts (the store has a porn section, so we get to hear a lot about that). It’s a bit much, but never sinks to the level that Smith often goes to. Some of it is funny, but I often felt like Mindy was being victimized by Tom who comes across as more of a stereotype to her thee dimensions. I also felt cheated by the ending, which is set in motion with an unbelievable event--then just ends.
The acting trickles down from very good to passable. The leads are excellent, with Cormican and Sehl trading verbal barbs with verve and chemistry. Cormican almost plays Tom too well, as the script paints him as a know-it-all jerk. I liked his performance, but didn’t care for him much as a character. Sehl is just plain electric, transforming her bitchy teen queen into someone you really care about. She has a very honest face, and her delivery feels genuine. The rest of the cast is hit-or-miss with child actors who come across like amateurs to great bit parts like the the psycho customer played by Cameron Sheppard (“Watch your mouth--and your back.”).
The DVD is the bare bones variety, with nothing but the film included. This is a real missed opportunity, as I would have loved to have seen some interviews with Cormican and Sehl, as well as some behind the scenes stuff. I always enjoy watching what the filmmakers went through to frame their project (which is often more interesting than the film itself), but here we get nothing. I was informed by email that every cent of the budget went into the production, but how much could a director’s commentary cost? Maybe next time.
Drop Box is a curious mix that never quite worked for me. The acting is the highlight with Rachel Sehl proving she is one to watch. The filmmaking is good, and I would watch another movie from the Carasoulos camp. I just hope their next flick is not so crass, has multiple locations, and knows how to end itself.
Friday, March 7, 2008
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
Here's what you'll need for this project, most of which I found at the dollar store:
1 wire mesh pencil cup (with mesh bottom)
1 piece of 1/2" PVC pipe scrap cut to length of cup
2 medium length rubber bands
2 hose clamps
The cup cost $1 and the clamps came in a variety pack of twelve that also cost $1. The elastics came in a wonderful bag labeled "One pound of rubber bands" (also $1) that I have used for many a project. I already had the 1/2" PVC scrap laying around, but even if you buy a ten foot length it will only cost $1.50. Cutting the PVC is a real pain unless you get some ratcheting pvc cutters, which I highly recommend. PVC pipe has so many great uses (it's sometimes call "the Tinkertoys for adults") that these cutters are a wise investment. Get them for a scant $2.49 at Harbor Freight Tools.
The first thing you need to do is remove the bottom mesh of the pencil cup. I first tried cutting it out with small wire cutters, but found that pushing down on the mesh would break it free rather easily.
Once the bottom of the cup is removed, check the edge for straggling bits of metal that someone (like you) could cut their fingers on. Get some needle-nose pliers (I used the Gerber multitool that I always carry) and pull them off. I'm all for expending blood and sweat on a shoot, but tying up loose ends like this will save you some.
Next, lash the PVC pipe to the cup vertically using one of the rubber bands. Then, using a marker that can be seen against the color of your cup (I used a yellow crayon), make a pair of short lines where the pipe meets the cup. Do this at the top and the bottom.
Remove the pipe and use your wire cutters to cut a path where your marks are.
Feed the hose clamps through the newly opened holes. This will take a bit of work and may deform the clamps, but don't worry.
Run the pipe into the clamps, and tighten. The clamps will wrap around the pipe and the pierced cup and reform into shape.
Finally, wrap a rubber band around the cup twice, so you have two bands next to each other. Do the same with the second band, placing both in an "X" formation in relation to the PVC. This will suspend your mic nicely in the center of the pencil cup.
And that's it! Run your mic through the center of both pairs of bands, attach the mic clamp to the PVC, and you are well on your way to cleaner sound, unmarred by any noise your boom op may make as they reposition themselves. The only thing else I might do is spray paint the PVC black so the whole thing matches and looks more professional.
Friday, February 22, 2008
The idea of seeing the same event from different points of view is very compelling. What appears to be one thing to one person, can be seen as something totally different to someone else. This method of storytelling was pioneered by the late Akira Kurosawa in one of his greats, Rashomon (1950). Since then it has been done numerous times, and now we get it again in Vantange Point, which involves the retelling of an apparent assassination plot seen from too many different pairs of eyes, none of which we really care about.
U.S. President Ashton (William Hurt) is attending a “War Against Terror” summit in Spain. Upon approaching the pulpit to speak to an outdoor crowd, he is gunned down from a nearby building. A muffled explosion is heard, then an enormous one rips through the plaza. The event is retold through five different points of view: A TV director, a secret service agent, a videotaping bystander, the President himself, and the terrorist mastermind behind it all. But what really happened?
This method of revisiting the same incident can be interesting when done right (see the short-lived TV series Boomtown (2002) for a good example). The problem here is that it’s used to cover the fact that this is a short film padded out to ninety minutes. After ten minutes or so, everything “rewinds” and we go back to the beginning. The filmmakers use this effect every time we switch perspectives, and it gets annoying fast. Equally as annoying is that not one of these characters we ride along with is fleshed out enough to generate one iota of sympathy. Why should we care what the truth is?
The cast is peppered with veterans (Hurt, Sigourney Weaver, Dennis Quaid, Forest Whitaker) and they are always good, but the script gives them nothing to work with, and paints their characters so thinly that we hardly know them. Quaid is the Secret Service guy that once took a bullet for the president and is now just getting back into service. We get about two lines of dialogue (and one brief flashback) that explains this, but we never get a real sense of how messed up he’s supposed to be. Quaid plays it very intense, but it’s a waste of his ability when he’s not allowed to bring us into his torment.
The movie also breaks it’s own rules. We get the rewinding thing about five times and then it is suddenly dropped, and the story plays on in real time. Huh? Why did we bother seeing things from different eyes only to resort to a conventional narrative? Does this mean the whole film could have played out this way? Probably. What it says to me is that the “switching perspectives” is so much of a gimmick that even the writer didn’t trust it to carry the whole film.
The devil is always in the details and Vantage Point screws a lot of them up, too. The TV director never says “take”. Secret service guys shoot warning shots into the air, then into a crowd of people. A female terrorist hesitates to kill someone she hardly knows, then flippantly kills one of her own comrades. The final scene plays out around an event so unbelievable from what went before that it generated an audible moan from this reviewer. In a good movie, stuff like this is forgivable, but not here.
Some things in Vantage Point did work for me. It was somewhat exciting, and I really liked things that were taken in different ways by different characters (a threatening grasp of a woman by a man is misinterpreted as a passionate embrace). The action was also well done, despite being a little too Bourne-ish. It was never dull, and clocked in at a tight hour-and-a-half.
Vantage Point is an okay movie that squanders its nifty premise, under develops its characters, and doesn’t play fair. It’s a so-so diversion that will quickly be forgotten as you exit the theater. For a more satisfying experience, try Rashomon. Try Boomtown. Skip Vantage Point.
Thursday, February 21, 2008
From Here to Awesome is an online community whose sole purpose is to get your movie out into the world. It's been founded by four filmmakers who have experience in self-distribution, and are eager to not only pass on their knowledge, but help us to do the same thing.
In this video segment, they touch upon a classic myth of the festival system: getting into a prestigious festival will garner you a distributor and a wad of cash. The reality is just the opposite, with "sweat distribution" the only real way to make your low budget masterpiece pay off. I enthusiastically support this philosophy, and will be sharing FHTA videos with whenever I can.
Be sure to check out their site, and get your movie involved!
Monday, February 18, 2008
I'm usually not one for horn-tootin', but it's always nice to see your work appreciated. I submitted my last short film to a simple contest being held over at Indy Mogul. They just ask for a link to a movie you've made, with the main requirement being that it clock in at under five minutes. My movie won, and is now featured on IM's blog, hosted by Wes Scoggins, who said some nice things on this forum page.
Be sure to read the comments as well. It's always interesting to see what people think, and even more so when the subject matter leaves a lot to interpretation. The intentional vague and open-endedness of this piece gets people debating, and I like that. It's also good for hiding plot holes and continuity issues which could be explained away by what is (or isn't?) apparently happening here.
The 5 Minute Movie House is a cool idea for any filmmaker with their stuff already uploaded somewhere. It's stupid simple to submit (just provide a link and basic information), and there is a new winner every Sunday. You don't win anything other than the honor, but it does get more eyes on your stuff, and isn't that what we all want anyway? Click here for the complete rules, and enter today!