All entries for Thursday 08 September 2005

September 08, 2005

Quotes To Keep In Mind

For an example of a demotivational quote, see this.

Moving on, I do think quotes are helpful at encouraging us, keeping us optimistic in the face of near-inevitable defeat, giving us foolish hope that even as everything seems to be falling apart we can still get there. In the event that we do get there, we'll know that hope isn't as foolish as we thought it was – and there's nothing more euphoric than to have been through hell and find out that you've been proven right.

Sometimes though, quotes are good at shooting us down and helping us see a more truthful picture. Like this first one from me:

Filmmaking isn't a democracy. It's more like a dictatorship.

Let me get this straight – I mean it. Film studies students might want to bring in jargon such as 'the auteur theory' but that's not the point. I think the director is king – all the cast and crew are there to serve his vision, and his vision only. If other people cut in, the film will likely end up incoherent. (We know how that worked out for Hollywood when studio execs enter the picture.) The last thing a director with his hands full of decisions to make needs is a crew or cast member throwing tantrums coz the director wouldn't accept their ideas, or decides not to use their contribution.

That does not, however, mean the director doesn't listen to what people have to say, or thinks he can do everything. Adam Smith's division of labour applies very much in filmmaking.

This next one by Malaysian filmmaker Yasmin Ahmad is what motivated me to finally begin the project, and I hope you think about it too.

I'm constantly approached by aspiring young filmmakers. … They come in various shapes, sizes and colours, of course, but I generally place them in one of two categories: those who genuinely love film, and those who love the IDEA of being into film. And I can tell which category they fall in, just by asking one simple question: "Have you shot anything yet?" If their answer is no, then I instantly know that they fall in the second category.

She also quoted this Thai director, Khun Nang, who, when asked what separates a good director from a regular one, replied,

Anyone can direct a film. If you gave her a good cinematographer, even your mother can direct a film. Just point the camera at some people and tell them to act and say something. But to be a good director, you have to do TWO things. ONE, sort out the script. Work and work at it, change it and rearrange it, until you are quite confident that the way you tell the story will move people in the end, and long after the film is over. TWO, choose the right actors. Once you have got these two things right, my dear Yasmin, the film will direct itself. End of lesson.

Let me emphasise that. Great script + Talented actors = Easy Directing Job.

I've also collected a series of quotes and advice from people involved in the industry – unfortunately, for some of them, I've forgotten who quoted what. But I think they're important to keep in mind. Here goes:

When I think about moments in movies that I have loved, itís always about an actor revealing himself or herself. Collaboration between actors and a director can be as exciting and rewarding as creative filmmaking gets. … All filmmaking interaction must remain fluid, open to discovery and surprise, if a film is to come alive.

– by Anthony Minghella, director of The English Patient & Cold Mountain

Whenever you hire somebody, thereís always a fear that theyíre not going to really see what you see. You might as well be on a lifeboat, because if that person is not understanding what youíre seeing, youíre dead, you know? You are relying on them, no matter how domineering you may be. They bring you back stuff they can do that you canít do.

– by Kimberley Peirce, the director of Boys Don't Cry

Itís not about being arbitrarily interesting. Itís not, oh, does that look good? Is that an attractive colour or shot? None of that matters. Itís, is it right?

Bear in mind, the director is the boss and who I listen to. Heís the storyteller.

The one thing you really have to develop is the ability to let go of things.

Iíve learned a long time ago that I cannot talk somebody into liking something. I save myself a lot of trouble and just figure out why they donít like it, and try it again.

– by James Newton Howard, film score composer of Batman Begins, Collateral, and all M. Night Shyamalan films

Music can express what the storyís characters are not willing to express, or are unable to express. Music can supply an emotional rail, so to speak, for the film. Do not reiterate what is already on the screen.

– by James Newton Howard

ĎHow did you get these great people here?í ĎOh, itís easy, I just try to hire people smarter than myself.í

The Perils Of Filmmaking

No, you won't sail off the ends of the world and fall into the mouth of an open-jawed space monster (according to illustrations, all it seems to do is swallow ocean water). But there are many potential setbacks along the way, and any one of them is capable of shutting down the entire production at any one point and bring about heartbreak. The later that happens, the more the number of people who felt like they've wasted their time, the more people felt like they wasted their time.

The following lists those potential setbacks particular to this film venture … as I was saying to a friend of mine …

  • Warwick doesn't have a filmmaking culture – it's not something common.**
  • Hence, no apparent talents, equipment, technical expertise. (No offense to WTV, theirs is a different kind of thing …)
  • The first draft may not excite people enough to want to participate. No crew and no cast.
  • Can't get a producer (one who doesn't bail out halfway through screaming 'this is too difficult' or 'your movie sucks') or a writer (one who can write something that gives me wow moments … and remain subservient).
  • Can't generate enough awareness about project, hence not being able to pick talented/passionate crew. Film becomes lacklustre.
  • Can't generate enough awareness about project, hence not being able to pick talented/willing-to-throw-oneself-wholeheartedly-into-role actors. Film might as well not be made.
  • Managed to assemble a satisfactory cast and crew – but film is too difficult to be made. (You don't know why yet.)
  • Managed to assemble a satisfactory cast and crew – and then they learn that NO ONE GETS PAID. They vanish quicker than the speed of sound.
  • Can't get the camera I want coz I can't afford it.
  • Got the camera I want, but cinematographer has no clue how to utilise it to make it look film-like.
  • No one knows how to do the lights.
  • Sound person gives me crappy audio.
  • Production manager messes up the schedule or the budget.
  • Hold on a sec – we may need funding, and we haven't even gotten that yet. And absolutely no clue how to get it.
  • Might need to get filming permits.
  • Might need to get a lawyer.
  • Can't get rights for the song I want in the middle of the movie.
  • Or, rights obtainable but too expensive at £50,000.
  • The film shoot doesn't go as planned coz Adam cancels and Eve drops out and Tom and Dick and Harry have to postpone coz they have an engineering assignment to deal with, thus screwing up with the schedules. (Inevitable.)
  • I have to fire someone due to incompetence or incompatibility. And that turns out messy.
  • Even more basic – I find out that I actually suck at this job.
  • I can't find a composer who can give me Thomas Newman-esque music … instead gives me crappy, cheesy synths … or the boring piano … or the dreaded electric guitar.
  • Editor won't finish it on time for film festival submission and for us to begin revising for final term exams.
  • Editor finishes – but the film is not good enough to warrant conversion into 35mm.
  • The film is surprisingly good but no one has the kind of funding to convert into 35mm at ?£45,000.
  • We make it this far and, well, turns out the movie sucks after all. Our potential careers all go down the drain and we go back to our boring old lives.
  • Somewhere along the line somebody pedantic finds a reason to sue us.
  • Film succeeds admirably, and then we receive our grades and half of us got 2:2s or under. (Actually if this film succeeds I couldn't give a flying fuck about the degree.)

And there you go. My friend went 'wah …', and said that perhaps I should start with something smaller. I said no. But you can see now why I procrastinated for 2 years.

By the way, do read this article about what makes independent films suck and what we need to do to rise above 'just another boring indie'.

** FYI, a famous Hollywood director did graduate from Warwick. His name is Paul WS Anderson, and his last film was Alien vs Predator. Go figure.

The Project Begins


My name is Sebastian Ng. The things you need to know about me are: that I'm Malaysian, and that films are my life. They affect every aspect of my mind, my personality, the way I make decisions. Friends are sometimes terrified of talking to me coz films are all I talk about. One time Films & Admin Officer for the Warwick Student Cinema, a few of my friends begin to wonder whether I would actually go into filmmaking. Especially considering the fact that I study Econs.

Well, the story that none of my friends know is this (... they know now). For the past 2 years I've been working up a story in my head. It began with a song that kept me in a hallucinatory mode for a week, and a dream sequence as a starting point, and eventually it was expanded, elaborated, changed, added, omitted, put aside for 'more realistic/filmable ideas', brought back to help fuel daydreaming sessions, and so on …

At the end of the last academic year, I decided that I no longer have the luxury to procrastinate. Yes, this is an idea for a film, and it has come the time to decide to either make it or not. The choice is obvious – try or regret.

So I've spent the entire summer holiday trying to prepare a first draft of the script. That leads us to this point.

As of this moment, the first draft of the script will be done soon. And when I go back, I will need to start the process of development and pre-production. It is either the beginning of a new life … or a blip in the timescale of a lifetime of failures of my harebrained projects.

If you're interested to find out what happens throughout the process of the making of this film, do stick around. If you read this, well, it means the project is still alive.

September 2005

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