Posts Tagged ‘Filmmaking’

LA or not LA

Posted: April 29, 2012 in Uncategorized
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Howdy, Outlaws! It has been a minute since last we interfaced. Don’t worry, folks, I am still outlawing all the live long day!

I wanted to talk to you today about Los Angeles. Why does it feel like film outside of LA is all furtive and clandestine, but every jackass in this city with a camera is a real filmmaker? In other words, do you have to move to LA?

There are three things to consider:

First, the sheer volume of projects. There is a ton of crap being made in L.A. and there is a ton of crap being made outside of L.A. The odds that something is good are the same, as far as I have seen, which is, I’d say, about ten percent. Ten percent of all film being made is worth seeing. And of that ten percent, maybe ten percent is really awesome. Those proportions are the same no matter where you live.

No matter where you live, you have to get involved in as many projects as you can to hone your skills and build a portfolio that other people, people with money, will respect. But if you live in, say Hollywood, Florida, as many projects as you can may be two or three a year, whereas in LA, as many as you can is two or three a month. There is a benefit to being in the heart of so much sheer volume. The more you work, the better you get. So you have more chances to get better in LA.

But the Los Angelinos are so much more arrogant. In the outside world, if someone says they are shooting a television pilot, everyone assumes it is on spec, unless that person goes out of their way to show that they have a channel of distribution set. In LA, everyone assumes that everyone else is shooting a real television pilot. It’s kind of insane, too, because the number of rich narcissists self-funding projects out here is WAY higher. So you have to take into account your tolerance for douche bags.

The third point, and one I will stand behind, is that it doesn’t matter where you live. If you work hard and have talent and never give up, you will get somewhere. May not be where you planned to go, but it will be somewhere. And by work hard, I don’t mean, for a month and then forget about it. I mean, every day. Every single stinking day. No matter where you live, you have to push.

If you don’t have the drive, there’s nothing you can do, no where you can live, that will make up for it.

Love on the Range

Posted: January 5, 2011 in Independent film
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I want to talk this week about love scenes. Why now? Why not wait two months for Valentine’s Day? You are so bossy. Because I feel like it. That’s why.

Anyhow, many movies have love scenes. Some of them are more graphic than others, but the reasons that one is classic and others are forgettable has nothing to do with the amount of flesh involved. I am actually against most movie sex scenes, as they mostly ring false (that weird scene in Underworld) or are over glamorized  (can anyone say Top Gun?) and are usually require the story to stop while the screen gets gauzy and guys lean forward and look for nipples.

But I have come to see three things as crucial to making a love scene powerful.

1. Delay. That’s pretty obvious, but every so often, someone believes it is a rule they can break. But a movie that begins with characters getting together can’t have as it’s payoff that the characters get together. When romance is a subplot,  there doesn’t have to be as much delay, but the more delay, the more tension. And the relief of tension is an emotional experience for the audience.

2. Sound. Specifically, the sound of breathing. This is a little cinema trick that I have seen others use to great effect. The sound of breathing can’t be loud and obvious for this to work. Just audible.

When a scene is gearing up to love scene, when the two character’s eyes lock, bring up the sound of breathing. Only one character’s breathing will do. Usually filmmakers use the actress’s breathing, but it shouldn’t matter.

What happens is that the audience will subconsciously start breathing in rhythm with the breathing that they hear. It’s a wonderful side effect of being so close to our mothers’ lungs in utero. We don’t even realize the comfort it gives up to breath at the same rate as another person. This is also true of heartbeats, but harder to use in film.

So as the scene progresses, speed up the rate of the the breathing, and your audience will breath faster, and they will feel viscerally the increased intensity which leads to a good love scene.

3. Hunger. For a really good love scene, I recall the acting advice one Jimmy Stuart followed. He was told, in order to look lovelorn, to eat less and imagine the beloved as a thick juicy steak.

He did some decent love scenes with a side of baked potatoes.

Why does this work? Why is love related in some way to hunger, and the object of affection in some emotional way equivalent to the best meal you ever had? Do I really have to answer that? Really?

So the next time you are putting together a love scene, try some of these tips. At the heart of the love scene is the emotion, not the actions. Love is one of those things that have been done so often all the standard actions are cliche.

Good thing that cliche still works fine in real life.

Discouragement.

It is a part of every filmmaker’s life. And if it isn’t, I don’t want to know. It’s a part of mine. A big, monstrous, energy sapping part.

Discouragement can come from any step in the process. Discouragement can come when fund raising doesn’t go how you hoped. Or when production suffers major setbacks, or if Post takes FOREVER, or when you show it, audiences don’t respond how you hoped, or you show and there is no audience.

Things aren’t going to go how you planned. And if you plan for things to not go how you planned, things will find a new, unexpected way to go not how you planned. It’s a buckin’ bronco ride, and the winner is the person who hangs on till the end.

But you might get kicked in the face a few dozen times along the way.

So today I want to talk about three ways to cope with film making discouragement.

  1. Have someone who thinks you are great.

When you get out there, you are going to run in to a lot of people who don’t care if you are alive.

Some people respond by saying, “Oh, yeah! Then I will care twice as much!” That just makes you arrogant. And it doesn’t help, unless you’d rather be hated than anonymous. Then it’s perfect.

A better way to swallow all the “I don’t care” the world throws at you is to have someone in your life who thinks you are pretty swell. Not a swell filmmaker. Not a sycophant or a fan. Someone who thinks you are swell person. A friend or a partner. Someone who you can spend time with and get all your person-ness back from the beast.

  1. Only control what you can control.

Making a movie is all encompassing. There’s the long shooting days, the never ending needs of this that and the other. And you can get all encompassed into things you can’t control or contribute to. Sitting behind the sound engineer while he works isn’t good for you and it isn’t good for him.

So say the serenity prayer now and mean it, before you get yourself so messed up you end up in AA. Lots of film types end up with addictions. I’d guess this is why.

  1. Get away for a while.

This isn’t always possible, when you have deadlines or a bunch of money is on the line, but say you are doing something low budget, and the timetable is as long as it takes to get it done cheap, and you’ve been concentrating on it for over a year. Do you know what that does to a person? Craziness is what it does.

If there is no deadline, don’t kill yourself over it. Yes, you want it done as fast as possible, so that the rewards of having done it can replace the pains of having to do it, already, but if you wear yourself emotionally thin, will it ever get done at all?

Take a break. Time away helps you collect enthusiasm, and when you run out of money, enthusiasm is the only fuel left.

 

Light up the campfire and pour a tin cup of boiled coffee, it’s time for the harrowing tale… of SCENE 16!!! Ooo, I’m scared already. Look at my arms, look! Goosepimples!

I first met scene 16 when I was writing the script for The Making of Iridium Consequence.  It was just  a flutter of an idea, a pleasant sparkle back then. Little did I know the monster it would grow to be.

It’s a movie about a movie, and all the things that can go wrong when well meaning newbies make movies.

Scene 16 was about all the things that ruin a take. I thought it would be funny (silly me) to stack those scene ruiners into a building series of mayhem.  Ha ha.

So the scene, as written, seemed like it was going to be funny. It was seven pages long, but with two or three laughs on each page. And then we shot the scene. And it took an entire day, but we were entertained while we shot that. And that seems to me to a good indicator: if It makes us laugh while we are shooting, there must be something there that can make other people laugh, too.

So then I edited the rough cut. And scene 16 had grown. Seven written pages should have been seven minutes. But scene 16 was not content with seven minutes. Scene 16 wanted more. It wanted ten minutes, twelve minutes. It was a bloated monster. And watching it, it was decidedly NOT funny. It was slow and awkward and blindingly repetitive. The discussion of cat fights that should have been bizarrely inappropriate and hilarious was dull water cooler talk. The frustrated reactions were muted. It felt like years of screen time passed, and that everyone should give up and go home.

It’s just the rough cut, I told myself. It will get better. I didn’t know how. I just knew that it must.

So I handed off to Will, and he tackled it first because it had clearly become the biggest problem in the whole movie. And Will attacked it with a machete, hacking through the blobby arms of scene 16 like Indiana Jones being attacked by sharktopus.

He sent me the cut. “It’s so much better,” he said, wiping the sweat and sharktopus guts from his brow. “And now, it is seven minutes.”

But I made the mistake of watching it alone, in the dark, that dead husk of a scene. And that was awful. Because the scene was better. And it was still nowhere near good.

Oh, I wept. Oh, the pain. Oh, scene 16, you glorious monster! Why must you kill me? What had I done to deserve scene 16?

But Will and I gathered our forces. We controlled our gag reflexes, and watched it again. And again. And again. And we formulated a plan.

We would attack again. We would hack more viciously that before. I said, “five seconds of screen time for  each joke—and nothing more.”

“You’re crazy!” Will said.

“Maybe I am. Maybe what we need is a little more crazy.” And I arched one eyebrow.

And Will said, “Fine. But I’m taking my whip this time,” and returned to the fray.

It was a butchering like nothing ever seen before. And when he emerged, scene 16 was a svelte three minutes long.

I was nervous. He pushed play.

And miraculously, out of the sharktopus remains rose a strong, kicker of a scene, so different from scene 16, it’s hard to call it scene 16 anymore. Now that scene 16 is beautiful, I think I will call it Larry.