» Author Archive

Description image

standard-gauge-still-2When I was nine or ten years old, and not busy seeing movies I was way too young to see (thanks, indulgent parenting!). I haunted the film section at my local bookstore, buying scripts, biographies of my favorite directors, books on technique and craft — it didn’t really matter so long as it was film related. Sometime in the mid-90s, this indiscriminate process resulted in my discovery of the classic, Feature Filmmaking at Used Car Prices. The author, Rick Schmidt, had written it several years before, and its premise was that for the average cost of a used car (around $6,000) it was eminently possible to make a feature film. Recently, I reread the book, and there’s no time like the present to catch up with the past, so put on your jodhpurs, grab a megaphone, and let’s make a movie, what say? More »

Description image

TruffautHitchcockIn 1962, French filmmaker, critic, and so-called “Father of the New Wave,” François Truffaut, carried out a series of interviews with Alfred Hitchcock at the latter’s Universal Studios’ office. At the time, The Birds was in post-production, and Truffaut, who had kick-started the French New Wave movement with his debut feature The 400 Blows, had just directed his third film, Jules et Jim. A key founder and proponent of the so-called auteur theory, which stated, very roughly, that the best films can be seen as the work of one sensibility, Truffaut saw Hitchcock as a prime example of this theory in action, and their approximately 12 hours of discussions served as the basis of his influential study of the director, HitchcockNow you can listen to their conversations for free online, as well as peruse the book, with its hundreds of amazing stills and transcripts of their discussions. More »

Description image

lightbulb_headThere is a common fallacy regarding creativity, mostly to be found among those who fancy themselves creative but never seem to complete any work. It goes back all the way to Plato, who said, and I’m really paraphrasing here, that unless you were a little touched in the head, you had no hope of real artistic genius. The idea that one must have a little madness in their soul to be truly creative is, in a sense, true, but if it’s not bulwarked and protected by an effective process, routine, and work ethic, your work is unlikely to live up to its potential. Check out this video, where filmmaker and Webby Awards founder Tiffany Shlain shares her 10 steps to creativity, and learn how routine can make you more creative. More »

Description image

MartyWhat is story? What is plot? What is the sound of one hand clapping? Who knows? While story and plot might seem, at first, to be synonymous, in fact they are two different things entirely, and if you’re a beginning screenwriter or filmmaker, it can be tough to sift through all of the contradictory information that’s out there in the ten billion screenwriting books to figure out which is which and why. It’s a tricky question, but never fear, because that cinephile unrivaled, Martin Scorsese, is here to straighten matters out. In this video, he breaks down the difference, and we give some helpful (hopefully) background info to help you create your next masterpiece. More »

Description image

rear-window-12Editing is one of the most mysterious aspects of filmmaking. Through skillful manipulations of still images, it’s possible to create illusions of unity in time and space, and what’s more, make these illusions elicit emotion from an audience, whether tears, laughs, or screams (and sometimes all three at once). Alfred Hitchcock was a master of editing (and everything else in the realm of cinema), and nowhere is his editing skill, as well as that of editor George Tomasini, more on display than in his classic, Rear Window. Watch this video and see Hitch explain (in his inimitable and entertaining way) the key element of film editing that he turned into much more than a technical device in his 1954 classic. More »

Description image

eyes-wide-shutWhen it was released in the summer of 1999, Eyes Wide Shut was easily the most anticipated film of the year. Starring the biggest movie star in the world and his wife, it was the first film in 12 years for Stanley Kubrick, who had not given an interview since 1987, on the occasion of the release of Full Metal Jacket. Kubrick, who was known to famously change his work even after its release, was rumored to be still working on the film when he died, to the point where what was released was not the film he intended. He also couldn’t supervise the marketing campaign, which sold the movie as a sexy romp, but just ended up freaking people out. Now, 15 years later, with the movie back in the public consciousness, is it time for a reappraisal, and to ask whether the Eyes Wide Shut we saw was what Kubrick intended? I dunno. Let’s see! More »

Description image

199742.tif99% of everything ever written in the history of the world was written by hand, but today, almost every word starts its life on a screen. This is even truer in the case of screenplays, where programs like Final Draft make quick work of complex margins. And with penmanship becoming a dying art and decades of talk about “the paperless office,” there is no denying we are definitely heading towards a society where paper communication is a thing of the past, even if that day is decades away. Yet there are demonstrable benefits to writing longhand, and if you find yourself in a writing rut, or are just looking for a new way to look at things, then a pen (or maybe even a typewriter) might be just what you’re looking for. More »

Description image

The Ludvico TechniqueStory is, at its core, a metaphor for how to live. We live vicariously through the characters we see on the page or the screen. So it follows that if you’re creating characters, they should be as real as possible. That is, of course, easier said than done, and a weak or unbelievable character can kill a screenplay or movie regardless of the plot (experimental film excepted). So what can be done? For writers, an understanding of psychology and human nature are vital in order to see people as they are, making it possible to make up people who are more like people than like characters. More »

Description image

SuspectsAh, the 90s. Rollerblades. Bill Clinton. A time when moguls like Harvey Weinstein jetted out to Sundance and handed out fat distribution/production deals to filmmakers who were  barely able to legally buy beer. One of these lucky young tyros was Bryan Singer, whose 1988 short, Lion’s Den, led to a feature that went to Sundance, and that led to The Usual Suspects, which led to everyone losing their mind in 1995. Check out this behind the scenes documentary on that classic crime film, and see how story and filmmaking can trump budget. More »

Description image

SOTLWhen it was released in 1991, director Jonathan Demme’s adaptation of Thomas Harris’ Silence of the Lambs, starring Jodie Foster and featuring an unforgettable performance by Anthony Hopkins, changed the rules of how horror could be presented in mainstream film; the Oscar-winning classic’s reverberations continue today, while the Hannibal Lecter money train keeps on rolling. This 90-minute documentary on the inside story of the Silence of the Lambs shows just how all the right elements came together to create a modern classic. More »

Description image

Ingmar BergmanIngmar Bergman is one of the giants of cinema, to the point that some images from his films have become so iconic as to make up a visual shorthand, possessing an allusive quality (the Knight playing chess with Death comes to mind.) The Swedish filmmaker directed over 40 narrative features and documentaries, both for film and TV, in his 61-year career, and was also a prolific theater director. In 1975, he sat down with students from the American Film Institute, and now a 40-minute audio recording of their conversation is available online. It’s a remarkably open and candid talk from a master director, and required listening for any fan, student of cinema, or lover of movies. More »

Description image

ScannersScanners, David Cronenberg’s 1981 film that defies explanation (you really have to see it, as any synopsis will sound kind of ridiculous; I’ll give a really half-baked one shortly, though) is justly famous for not only its mind-bending narrative, but its torrent of effects, including one scene where, well, a guy’s head explodes. Check out this video and see how they did it! More »

Description image

unproduced-screenplaysIn the 80s, the joke was that everyone, no matter what they did during the day, had a screenplay to hawk. With Joe Eszterhas getting millions for scribbling the plot of One Night Stand on a cocktail napkin, and Shane Black writing Lethal Weapon at the age of 26, what didn’t look like hard work looked good to lots of people. Much of this can be laid at the feet of one Syd Field, whose Screenplay took thousands of years of dramaturgical what have you and condensed it into a friendly set of easy-to-follow rules that helped spark the screenplay goldrush of the 80s. Yet the number of working Hollywood screenwriters stays the same, roughly, from year to year. So what, then is the secret? Is there even a secret? You’ll have to read until the end to find out. (Suspense!) More »

Description image

reservoirIt’s no secret that Quentin Tarantino is a fan of the violence, what with all the shooting and the stabbing and the cutting (I mean, his first claim to fame was an artfully choreographed sequence whose culmination was the severing of an ear, set to the mellow sounds of Steeler’s Wheel.) Now, Vanity Fair has prepared a helpful infographic, showing all of the deaths that have taken place in the master of mayhem’s films, from Reservoir Dogs to Django Unchained.  Not surprisingly, there’s a lot of them. But just how many?  More »

Description image

historyShocking as it may seem, there was a time before movies (I know, crazy). But there was; though they dominate our lives today and shape all of the media we consume, narrative motion pictures (I’m talking about movies that, though they may be artful, see themselves as entertainment rather than art”) have only been around for a little more than a century, which, in time terms, is not that long. But now, because you are lucky enough to live in the future, you can watch this video from CineFix that tells the history of the movies (and Hollywood, where many movies live) in ten minutes. So, cool kids, put down your hoverboard, grab some Sunny D, and check it out! More »

Description image

appointments-of-dennisBy 1988, Steven Wright, known for his deadpan delivery of non sequiturs, paraprosdokians, as well as all manner of logical and linguistic disjunctions, had established a unique brand of stand-up comedy. What many don’t know is that he is also an Academy Award winning filmmaker, honored for his 1988 short, The Appointments of Dennis JenningsA low-budget, half-hour, absurdist black comedy, it is must viewing for any fan of Wright, indie filmmaker, and this goes double for indie filmmakers looking to make their first shorts; it’s a clever object lesson in filmmaking economy. Dennis Jennings is a great window into filmmaking, storytelling, and an intelligent approach to both.  More »

Description image

walterwhite_tonysopranoA few months ago, I wrote a post called The Story of Story, which attempted to explain, in as simple a way as the subject can bear, the roots of narrative structure, and specifically, how these roots were planted several thousand years ago, in ancient Greece, and have been passed down through the works of Aristotle. Today, I’ll begin with a sort of riddle: what do David Chase, creator of The Sopranos, and Vince Gilligan, the mad genius behind Breaking Bad, have in common? That’s easy enough, you say. Well, then, what if I asked how they differed? It’s not an impossible riddle, but its answer just might be the key to the next story hurdle you have to surmount. And it might be closer than you think. More »

Description image

vimeo-logoEveryone and their mother is getting in on the VOD game, and for some time, Vimeo has been positioning itself as a way for indie filmmakers to get their content to viewers and see a profit; they’ve just introduced new bells and whistles for filmmakers and content creators, including several new features for their PRO users who distribute content using the service, including a revamped dashboard and more in-depth metrics to help creators see where their work is selling. Check it out and see what Vimeo’s VOD could do for you and your film. More »

Description image

f100pickpocketIf there is a patron saint of French cinema, surely it must be Robert Bresson, considered, after Renoir, the greatest of 20th century Gallic filmmakers. Jean-Luc Godard, no slouch himself in the French director’s department, once observed that, “Robert Bresson is French cinema, as Dostoevsky is the Russian novel and Mozart is the German music.” High praise indeed. A new video supercut from Kogonanda for the Criterion Collection focuses on the director’s inimitable use of gesture in his films. Plus, the director’s own notes on cinematography and cinema. More »

Description image

high-and-lowWhile trying to think of something germane, pertinent and well, interesting, to say about the video essay which supplies the ostensible topic for this post, I happened upon a fact, which appears at the end of what I am about to start talking about,  but which I am going to lead with, and bear with me, okay? So this is a video documentary (essay, really) which teases out the connections between Alfred Hitchcock’s work and Akira Kurosawa’s 1963 crime flick, High and Low. The connection I chose to start from (in a roundabout way) is as good a point as any, I think, for a discussion of Hitchcock’s possible influence on Kurosawa (and everyone) without sounding too, too pretentious and/or lame. Hopefully. You’ll be the judge! More »