All 16 entries tagged Filmmaking

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October 19, 2005

An Insight On Clint Eastwood The Director

According to William Goldman, Clint Eastwood … well, I guess the best term to describe him is efficient. No fuss. No worrying or getting anxious – just know what you want and try and achieve it, simply. At least that's the impression I get from reading the book.

Script meetings – short and to the point.

Rehearsals. Well, apparently, sometimes what he does is to tell the actor to be prepared, just go through his lines or whatever, they're busy setting up the shot. What the actor doesn't know is that, that IS the shot. (I don't really know how that could work, at least not for an independent … what happens when the actor mumbles his lines … we can't afford ADR …)

Interesting insight. I should probably do something similar. Say I want an actor to stride pass the camera – but I don't want him to lose his unique stride, since that is what I hired him for (except that he doesn't know it … behaviour like that, mention it and it's gone). So I just tell him, see that camera there? Now don't look at it. I want you to walk past without looking at it. Try and act normal. Do what you normally do. Hell, I'll walk with you. If you want, just use me as a point in front of you to concentrate on. So we walk – and of course, the camera is running.

Easy.

First, though, we need a script. (Fgrjfsghmsh …)

Speaking of the script, I think I figured out now what is the 'spine' in my story that Goldman keeps referring to. It's the fact that Jeremy should leave university – he doesn't belong here. Problem is this, when I started with the idea Jeremy has always been a character who's jaded with uni life. Recently, with the decision to change his personality into someone more acceptable to the audience, i.e. someone who's not introverted, who may hate academic stuff but is very much 'in' in terms of other aspects of uni life – how can one supply a reason why he doesn't belong in uni?

Anyway, a couple more anecdotes about Eastwood. He goes into a cafetaria, and – Goldman emphasised this – gets in line for his tray. He then goes to a table and has his meal, just like anybody else.

I believe what has kept Eastwood … on top all these years is somehow (he) has clung to the truth: that in spite of all (his) fame, in spite of our millions of spins towards (stars like him), they are just like anybody else.

And when Eastwood was directing Gene Hackman …

… Hackman and I are talking and then Eastwood comes over. … Eastwood says, quietly, "We're ready for you, Gene." Hackman leaves us and Eastwood says how much he loves working with Hackman. I ask why Hackman in particular. "Because I never have to give him direction," Eastwood replied. "I like working with actors who don't have anything to prove."

Agreed.

P.S. – I just want to stress that this in no way demonstrates that I really really really admire Clint Eastwood. I've barely seen his films. What this shows is that Willliam Goldman really really really admires Clint Eastwood.


October 18, 2005

Two Rules To Being A Great Film Director

I once quoted Yasmin Ahmad quoting a Thai director about what it takes to be a great director, where the answer was script and casting.

Turns out that the director George Roy Hill (Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid) said the exact same thing more than twenty years ago. (Taken from William Goldman's Adventures In The Screen Trade.)

The principle job of a director is to first get his script and get it right and get it playable and get it almost foolproof. Then his job is to cast it as perfectly as he can. If he does those two things, he can phone in the direction, because it doesn't make any difference, his work is eighty percent done.

I have a feeling he wasn't the first to have said it.

Script and casting.

Script and casting.

Script and casting.

Script and casting …


Film Reality

As the mind continues its stubborn silence, I decided to have a read on one of the most widely read books on Hollywood – William Goldman's Adventures In The Screen Trade: A Personal View Of Hollywood. Goldman was one of Hollywood's top writers - he wrote such classics as Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid, All The President's Men, The Princess Bride, Misery and A Bridge Too Far, and his experiences told here are certainly interesting and revealing as to how Hollywood spins around itself.

So anyway, he was telling of the making of A Bridge Too Far, directed by no other than Britain's Sir Richard Attenborough. It was a movie he was very proud of, because he was proud of his work, because Attenborough was the nicest person he's worked with, because none of the stars (and they had 14 in the film) misbehaved, because he had one of the most daring producers working for him – and because the film did so well everywhere around the world. The film basically tells of one of the most heroic WWII tales involving British soldiers – the Battle of Arnhem. Unusually other parts of the world got to see the movie first and word of mouth was really good.

Goldman was sure his own countrymen would love it.

US film critics thought the movie was incredible and unbelievable. In the perjorative sense. They didn't like it.

Now, reality in films are different from reality in, well, the real world. When you're watching reality in film = reality in real world … of course, you'd be watching a documentary. You can't really tell stories through a documentary … not in the same way a movie does that job at any case. Besides, that's not the point for a documentary.

What this points out is the fact that there is such a thing as reality in films, and it is something that every writer and director must pay attention to. Note that that doesn't mean all films have to be film-realistic. Take Charlie's Angels or Lord Of The Rings, for example. It isn't realistic. We all know it. But it doesn't matter.

But it does matter a lot when you are trying to re-enact a historical or biographical story (though not limited to those … dramas and even comedies need film reality to work sometimes). You can't have planes flipping over a few times stylistically when telling a true story. (Wait … that happened in Pearl Harbor … my bad …)

The problem is, that old cliche 'truth is stranger than fiction' can be true, and when that happens – your audience just refuses to believe what's happening onscreen.

The fucking audience refuses to believe what the filmmakers are telling them in a story. And they don't like the story for that.

Another example: Apollo 13. In the director's commentary, Ron Howard told about how film critics refused to believe certain scenes in the film, most prominently the scene where Marilyn Lowell loses her wedding ring in the shower on the very day the mission is to take flight.

But it happens to be true.

And Apollo 13 happens to be, in my opinion, the most faithful film adaptation of a real life event.

Fucking film critics.

Now, relating that to the story I'm writing. How real do I make it? In a way it doesn't matter, coz, well, I'm doing a drama about student life in uni. And then there's the physically impossible element of everyday being different. I don't have to be realistic, do I?

But I want to be. I'm beginning to realise that I'm a serious perfectionist when it comes to writing scripts (how long that will last, I dunno … inevitably writers crack when producers blackmail them to write something they want or be fired/lose money). And for this one, my first one, the stakes are all that much higher – it is an indication of my style, my personality, the kind of product I produce.

And I've decided that the story must seem real, at the very least, so that to differentiate it from all other student productions. It's about planting a real life (but likable) character in a situation that has a probability of happening of exactly nil.

So I do have to think about reality in film. And to realise that it's different from reality in the real world. At the moment, that sounds like it means I can't write anything unusual.

But, things that are unusual are what makes stories interesting, unexpected.

I feel like my hands are tied.


October 11, 2005

Bob Zemeckis Won't Shoot An Establishing Shot

I extracted this from WORDPLAY's article about the Point Of View.

The important thing … was the notion that Robert Zemeckis thought point of view was such a crucial issue. "Oh, yeah," they said. "Bob won't even allow an establishing shot in one of his movies. He'll ask the question — who's seeing it from that spot? Who's point of view are we showing?"
The concept blazed through my mind. Robert Zemeckis … won't shoot an establishing shot. The venerable establishing shot … How many times have you or I blithely dropped in one of those … and Robert Zemeckis wouldn't shoot it. Wow.

And there was I worried all this while because every single filmmaking book mentions the establishing shot as something so inherent and necessary it's an abomination to not want to shoot it.

Still, no eureka moment yet. Am I going to finish this screenplay or not?


The Off–Screen Movie

Okay, so I was reading some articles written by Terry Rossio (who regularly collaborates with Ted Elliott on such movies as Pirates Of The Caribbean, Shrek, The Mask Of Zorro, Aladdin … basically some of the best fun movies in recent times) in his website WORDPLAY. There are lots of things that you can learn from people who've made it and do good work like him, of course, but the one thing that he comes back to a lot, is this …

The off-screen movie.

One way to make a movie that engages the audience, is to have the movie 'start' at every change of scene. Or in more understandable terms – don't show the audience everything. Create a sense that there is so much happening, a lot that we don't see on-screen, that the audience struggles a little to find out what it is they are watching as the scene progresses.

Interesting insight.

Also a nail on the coffin on my story. Sigh.


Eureka! And Then … What? Nothing.

Okay, so, about 24 hours ago, I had a eureka moment. It's one of those rare things that happen in your life, when things suddenly click in your head and you feel this thing building up inside you (one of the side effects being joy). A great idea is born, and you can't contain it – you have to tell people, and you do, and you make sure you don't lose it. You suddenly have a disregard for everything else – I really wanted to get down to selecting that RAE topic … with the eureka moment happening, I said fuck it. Fuck RAE.

What's the idea? Well, by completely changing the personality of the protagonist of the story, I remove the problem of having to develop the boy-meets-girl scene in the middle of the film, and I allow for different things to happen that is potentially more exciting. This also means I now have a character that the audience will like, that makes him easier to sympathise with – rather than a potentially boring character who whines. Besides that, I change the fundamental theme of the character into Guy Who Loses Everything That He Uses To Mask His Vulnerabilities.

So I'm in this head rush, and I'm trying to push myself further – what else can I do with this? What new scenes are there? And I thought of a couple.

And then the damn thing closed up. And I'm still in a head rush, which isn't doing me good.

You see, problem is, in a screenplay, one eureka moment is not enough. And the act of waiting for the next one always mystifies me. I mean, it's all inside me head – and I have to wait for it? What the fuck is that?

So now, I solve one problem, but potentially untie many of the connections and associations that I have formed before. What to do next? How shall the character proceed?

I need to keep in mind all the things I wanted to keep in mind when I committed myself to doing this film – that is, to make a movie that is not cliched, that is somehow mainstream, that is low budget yet still compelling, that which its primary function is to engage the audience emotionally and, as I've been saying to the people I've met regarding this project – that makes the audience jealous of the character and want to go through this experience as he did.

Time is running short. My deadline is Week 5. That is less than three weeks away. When is the next eureka moment coming? Two weeks?

So screwed.


October 10, 2005

Films, The Filmmaker, And The Audience

Remember I said that the audience is the director's (filmmaker's) worst enemy?

This is an interesting discussion of that, plus other issues. Interesting read.


Fucking Screenplay

I still can't complete the screenplay. This is the truth.

So now, I'm trying my best to write a story that is at once realistic yet right. Realistic in the sense that I want to avoid contrived situations, that is, avoid setting up situations and traps for the character to fall into. I want the randomness of life to be felt in the story, the way life sometimes throw us unexpected things, or don't throw us anything at all when we want it to throw something at us. Right in the sense that the story is nevertheless always engaging, that the audience is willing to sit through (if only for just one time), that the audience feels everything I want them to feel, that the ending achieves the highest level of perfection – an ending that is at once unpredictable yet inevitable.

How do you reconcile the two? I only just realised I'm trying to write white and black into the same position. Not white and black into the same story – into the same position. White and black existing at the same time. People will point at it and one will say it's white and the other will say it's black and both will be right. Capish?

And how about that romantic subplot? That is so crucial to the story – I can't write it. I just can't. It's an impenetrable wall. Should I dump it? And replace it with what? What else can make a guy go crazy more than losing love, or at least the potential of it?

And what of the process of sliding into depression? Oh I've been through lots of those. How to write it such that the audience doesn't go bored? That they don't say – why the fuck is he so fucking depressed? Lighten up, man! I would HATE it a lot if the audience thinks that during the movie. Yet it would be my fault if I don't make it clear, why and how he gets depressed.

And the beginning half that I've written. Yes, I'm reasonably satisfied with it. But it's not there yet. I mean, it's an okay screenplay - but I'm fucked if I'm aiming for an okay screenplay. You're asking for too much, people say. Screw you, says I - it's my movie. Alexander the Great never stopped at Persia. You're not Alexander the Great, people say.

Then I'm definitely screwed, says I.

I once told a filmmaker friend of mine – the audience is the director's worst enemy. Yet the audience is who we make movies for, who will make us happy with their cheers and praises. (And just as suicidal with their thumbs-downs and brickbats.)

I wish I knew how to complete the screenplay. Now.


October 06, 2005

Of Quantum Physics And Filmmaking

The following is an excerpt from the book The Conversations: Walter Murch And The Art Of Editing Film by Michael Ondaatje (author of the book The English Patient). The book is highly recommended for anyone seriously interested in filmmaking. In the meantime though, I just want to pull out an analogy that Walter Murch used to describe the difficulty of filmmaking.

"John Wheeler, a quantum physicist, was a young graduate student of Niels Bohr's in the 1930s. Wheeler is the man who invented the term 'black hole'. He's an extremely articulate proponent of the best of twentieth-century physics. …

"Anyway, he thought up a parlour game that reflects the way the world is constructed at the quantum level. It involves, say, four people: Michael, Anthony, Walter and Aggie. From the point of view of one of those people, Michael, the game that's being played is the normal Twenty Questions – Ordinary Twenty Questions, I guess you'd call it. So Michael leaves the room, under the illusion that the other three players are going to look around and collevtively decide on the chosen object to be guessed by him – say, the alarm clock. Michael expects that when they've made their decision they will ask him to come back in and try to guess the object in fewer than twenty questions.

"Under normal circumstances, the game is a mixture of perspicacity and luck: No, it's not bigger than a breadbox. No, you can't eat it. … Those kinds of things.

"But in Wheeler's version of the game, when Michael leaves the room, the three remaining players don't communicate with one another at all. Instead, each of them silently decides on an objec. Then they call Michael back in.

"So there's a disparity between what Michael believes and what the underlying truth is: Nobody knows what anyone else is thinking. The game proceeds regardless, which is where the fun comes in.

"Michael asks Walter: Is the object bigger than a breadbox? Walter – who has picked the alarm clock – says, No. Now, Anthony has chosen the sofa, which is bigger than a breadbox. And since Michael is going to ask him the next question, Anthony must quickly look around the room and come up with something else – a coffee cup! – which is smaller than a breadbox. So when Michael asks Anthony, If I emptied out my pockets could I put their contents in this object? Anthony says, Yes.

"Now Aggie's choice may have been the small pumpkin carved for Halloween, which could also contain Michael's keys and coins, so when Michael says, Is it edible? Aggie says, Yes. That's a problem for Walter and Anthony, who have chosen inedible objects: they now have to change their selection to something edible, hollow, and smaller than a breadbox.

"So a complex vortex of decision making is set up, a logical but unpredictable chain of ifs and thens. To end successfully, the game must produce, in fewer than twenty questions, an object that satisfies all of the logical requirements: smaller than a breadbox, edible, hollow, etc. Two things can happen: Success – this vortex can give birth to an answer that will seem to be inevitable in retrospect: Of course! It's the —-! And the game ends with Michael still believing he has just played Ordinary Twenty Questions. In fact, no one chose the —- to start with, and Anthony, Walter and Aggie have been sweating it out, doing these hidden mental gymnastics, always one step ahead of failure.

"Which is the other possible result: Failure – the game can break down catastrophically. By question 15, let's say, the questions asked have generated logical requirements so complex that nothing in the room can satisfy them. And when Michael asks Anthony the sixteenth question, Anthony breaks down and has to confess that he doesn't know, and Michael is finally let in on the secret: The game was Negative Twenty Questions all along. Wheeler suggests that the nature of perception and reality at the quantum level, and perhaps above, is somehow similar to this game.

"When I read about this, it reminded me acutely of filmmaking. There is an agreed-upon game, which is the screenplay, but in the process of making the film, there are so many variables that everyone has aslightly different interpretation of the screenplay. The cameraman develops an opinion, then is told that Clark Gable has been cast in that part. He thinks, Gable? Huh, I didn't think it would be Gable. If it's Gable, I'm going to have to replan. Then the art director does something to the set, and the actor says, This is my apartment? All right, if this is my apartment, then I'm a slightly different person from who I thought I was: I will change my performance. The camera operator following him thinks, Why is he doing that? Oh, it's because … All right, I'll have to widen out because he's doing these unpredictable things. And then the editor does something unexpected with those images and this gives the director an idea about the script, so he changes a line. And so the costumer sees that and decides the actor can't wear dungarees.

"And so it goes, with everyone continuously modifying their preconceptions. A film can succeed in the end, spiralling in on itself to a final result that looks as if it had been predicted long in advance in every detail. But in fact it grew out of a mad scramble as everyone involved took advantage of all the various decisions everyone else had been making.

"On the other hand, the film can break down, too. Some inconsistency – emotional or logical – can pose a question that nothing in the 'room' – that is to say, the film – can answer. The most obvious of these failures is the micasting of a lead character: his presence in the film poses a question that's inconsistent with everything else. But films can ultimately fail for much more subtle reasons – death by a thousand cuts: the interference of the studio, bad weather, what the grip had for breakfast that crucial morning, the fact that the producer is going through a divorce, etc. All these things are in complex ways encoded into the body of the film. Sometimes for good, and the film is enriched by the process. Sometimes not: then it's aborted, abandoned during production; or stillborn, finished but never released; or released, fatally handicapped, to dismal reviews and no business.

"This comparison of filmmaking and Wheeler's game goes some distance, I think, to answering the perennial question: What were they thinking when they made that film? How did anyone ever think that could work?

"Nobody sets out to make an unreleasable film. But the game of the film can pose questions that its creators finally can't answer, and the film falls apart as a result.


September 25, 2005

The Advert

INTERESTED IN TAKING PART IN A FILM PRODUCTION?

Iíve been wanting to film a story Iíve had in mind for the last two years. Titled The Lives of Jeremy Wakeham, the basic premise is about a uni student who wakes up to a different life each day. Contact me if you want to find out more.

Will it take up a lot of your time and effort? Definitely. So you will need to be (a) passionate (b) talented (c) ideally both.

Objectives?

  • To try to produce a film with a minimal budget and a minimally experienced cast and crew, and still end up with a film that looks professionally done.
  • To give everyone who has no track record a chance to gain experience and possibly use this as a calling card if they are interested in pursuing a career in filmmaking.
  • To get myself into film festivals (there are 600 around the world).

AS OF THIS MOMENT I NEED

  • A Producer
  • A Writer

If youíre interested in any other roles, whether cinematography or scoring or acting, youíre welcome to come talk to me as well.

Contact me at 07761 765 120 or jmcgarmott@hotmail.com (e-mail & MSN).

PS Ė Iím not going to lie to you. I'm not going to tell you that this will be fun and exciting and easy. I can tell you it will be all of that when the film is done.


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