Tag Archives: Filmmaking

The Hollywood War Machine

Top Gun: Maverick performed some “best of the best” box office maneuvers when it opened Memorial Day weekend and continues to do well. The original film proved to be as much a recruitment commercial as popcorn movie… and this sequel’s premiere aboard an aircraft carrier, Midway (now a museum ship), hints that this newest film will perform similarly.

Over 30 years later, he still feels the need for speed.

As a cinemaniac who’s seen more than a few military-themed movies over the decades, Hollywood’s connection to the U.S. military is not a surprise, nor is the nuance. That’s one of the reasons I appreciated the nuance in this article by Alissa Wilkinson for Vox, exploring the past, present, and future of how the military works with filmmakers.

One of the aspects I appreciate about the article is how it goes through some of the filmmaking choices of working, or not working, with the military and how it’s not a good or bad thing: it’s really about what story you’re trying to tell.

And, as many film historians naturally know, Hollywood has close ties to the American military and has sought to seek to tell both the story of American service men and women, but more broadly, Why We Fight. The book and Netflix series, Five Came Back are well worth checking out.

Why the Spice Flowed the Way it Flowed in Dune

While it seems that not everyone liked the latest screen version of Frank Herbert’s seminal sci-fi novel Dune, it’s the first film in a long time that I finished watching and wanted to immediately watch again. I’m up to seeing it five times now, so it’s safe to say I’m a fan (I find much to love in the other two screen versions as well, but that’s for another post).

One of the most striking aspect of this version is the now Oscar-winning visual effects, which is something that Jourdan Aldredge goes into over at the site No Film School. Specifically, he talks a lot about that tool filmmakers frequently call upon when they need something fantastical: green screens.

Dune did not use green-colored screens nor even the older school blue screens. It used sand-colored screens.

If you, like me, went, “Whaaaaaaat?” you can check out the article mentioned above and also go directly to this video essay explaining what they did:

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Screenwriting through the David Lynch Lens

Last week, I posted a few videos about David Lynch and how to hook yourself an idea or two.

Well, as you might expect, I plowed through a number of Lynch videos at the same time, in part because the two I shared last week are just about the nature of getting ideas.

But, in fact, the first video I watched was a piece asking Lynch about his screenwriting process… and since it’s just over two minutes, it’s actually easy to re-watch as you realize at the end how many little nuggets of experience he puts in there.

All the ideas of process could easily be fleshed out into whole seminars (and I imagine the gentleman who introduced Lynch to the “note card” idea does just that in his classes), but it’s good to think of.

Incidentally, I am more of a “plotter” than a “pantser” — and back when I was more analog than digital, I absolutely did the note card method and still do it as I outline albeit via Workflowy. However I think in terms of altitude. Some “note cards” remain at the 50,000 foot view and that’s all I need. Some need more detail. Some get so much detail, I have to break them into separate cards so that the flow gets articulated well.

But that’s likely a discussion for another time. Back to Lynch. I’ve now shared several short videos, so here’s a compilation of a bunch of interviews which gives you 10 screenwriting tips… though since it’s Lynch, it’s really more ideas and approaches to screenwriting versus bland specifications.

I like all the ideas presented. For one, I think he nails why film is such a powerful medium, since it can deal with abstraction so powerfully. I also like his notion of what writer’s block represents and how he rejects suffering as a necessary component of being an artist. There’s also some great stuff about how to tap into your own creativity. Hope you all have a creative week.

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Where do Ideas come from? David Lynch Edition

The post from the other week about how hard hobbies are to schedule time for made me think of something I recently saw regarding how to generate ideas… and from a man generally known for having some out-of-the-box type ideas: David Lynch.

As many of you might know, I love using Workflowy, including for capturing ideas. I mean, I love the habit of always carrying around an old-school notebook to jot things down in –and I do have a number of those– but I have to be honest: the ability to jot things down AND link to reference URLs and videos has proven very useful (to say nothing of revising whatever notes or lists I have on the fly based on new ideas).

But whether in print or electronic, my general approach is similar to something I read about author C.S. Forester‘s process in The Hornblower Companion, where he mentioned ideas were like timbers that sank into the sea of his mind until they had enough barnacles (details) to pop back up again and be used for writing (note: this works for writing only, it will not aid the construction of seaworthy vessels).

David Lynch doesn’t employ a timber analogy, but water still plays a role:

I love the idea of tempting ideas to come to you… and in many of his interviews and talks, he’s mentioned being in good health, having slept well, and so on, is a better way to find ideas and be creative — which I appreciate because I’ve long disliked the “starving/suffering artist” stereotype.

Now, while the video above is interesting, the one below uses animation to be a bit more “Lynchian,” where he also directly addresses the suffering silliness.

So go out and catch yourself an idea.

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The New Paradigm of Film Distributors Really Not Caring About Their Films

If you read last Wednesday’s post about standardization of suck that is the McDonald’s ice cream machine, you hopefully felt a little irritation — assuming you believe in truth, justice, and lovely intangibles.

Well, alas, I have more fuel for the ire fire, which I have a special interest due to my connection to filmmaking and knowing many a fellow indie producer who is either in this position or about to be.

Now, if you’re like me, you find this more than a little annoying. I mean, any indie filmmaker understands they need to wear multiple hats, often at once, to get their film completed and out into the world. But it really shouldn’t be too much to ask that people whose livelihood is based on your movie making money for them to care about, not the movie, but how to make sure that money maximizes money for them.

It reminds me of Patton Oswalt talking about having passion for the industry you’re in whether it’s running a comedy club booking stand-up comics or, say, distributing films. Enjoy the industry you’re in on one or more levels. There are so many other jobs you could do if you don’t care about this one. And I like that the discussion that especially when it comes to artistic and creative pursuits, it’s about being a fan and a ‘connoisseur’ of whatever the pursuit is… and you can be a fan at any budget level (some of that discussion begins at the 16:28 mark, but the whole interview is great).

While Deverett would possibly empathize, it’s clear he’s accepted this is the way things are, even if it’s more than a little irksome. In fact, if you watch his whole 4-hour interview or even some of the other segments, he points out all sorts of irksome aspects of the industry when it comes to film distribution. Film distributors in many cases are ripping filmmakers off. Brazenly. He even documents how he went after some “whoops” missing money from some of the territories a film of his was being distributed in. And he documents why is was so hard to do and holding people accountable is hard, expensive, and therefore unsustainable — this assessment from a lawyer and former film distribution professional!

So I won’t say, “Go forth and storm the barricades!” But I do want to give voice to that ire in the hopes that someone somewhere will figure out a way to beneficially disrupt a part of the film industry that seems to be doing its level best to standardize the suck.

Bringing the Real and the Imagined Alive: Remembering Michael Apted

Apted at the Peabody Awards in 2013 (Photo: Anders Krusberg)

When you talk with your filmmaking peers, it comes as no surprise they have always have a few filmmakers they follow closely, perhaps someone who isn’t necessarily a household name… or even necessarily an art house movie theater name.

Michael Apted was one of those filmmakers for me. He died at the age of 79, earlier in January (I’m just getting to writing this post now). You can read obituaries and remembrances from the BBC, the Guardian, Variety, and NPR among others.

One part of his career you see mentioned again and again is the Up series, documentaries made at seven-year intervals looking at a particular set of Britons starting in 1964. It has become –as I recall one reviewer putting it– “a time-lapse film of human lives.” It’s simple, straightforward, and extraordinary.

Apted continued to make fiction and non-fiction films for the rest of his career… and the fiction films included a James Bond spy film and an installment of the Chronicles of Narnia. His filmography is rightly described as “eclectic.” And with a background in both anthropology and theater, with a love of films and history, you can perhaps begin to see why he was one of the filmmakers I followed.

For those of you who have seen my biennial Favorite Films sort, none of his fiction films ever make it into my top 50 and –by virtue of me wanting each feature to stand on its own– that eliminates the Up series from competition (its heft comes from the whole package after all). But I would be hard pressed not to find something interesting an energizing about every single one of his movies. In part, I think it’s because he always finds ways to bring forward truth in the fiction.

Nowhere is this more on display for me than the natural double-feature of Incident at Oglala and Thunderheart. The former is a thought-provoking documentary about shootings and subsequent trials at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in 1975. The latter is Hollywood mystery thriller with Val Kilmer, Sam Shepard, and Graham Greene, among others, oh so clearly inspired by the real events, but distinctly different.

There are always bits worthy of note in all of his films. For instance, in 2001’s Enigma, you get a good breakdown of how codebreaking actually works versus the typical “hack the Internets” silliness sometimes on display in films.

Still from 2001’s Enigma (cinematographer: Seamus McGarvey)

So while my biggest disappointment is how the Up series will continue or end (something several people are now wondering), there are plenty of other films, big and small, I was hoping might pop up there.

Time to revisit some films…

Warner Bros. Decides to Upend Theatrical Releases

Just shy of two weeks ago, Warner Brothers decided to drop a bombshell by saying that all their 2021 films would simultaneously go onto their streaming service, HBO Max, along with theaters, as reported in industry publications, Variety and Hollywood Reporter.

Some of the 2021 film slate (photos courtesy of Macall Polay/Warner Bros.)

This announcement broke a certain segment of the Internet the Thursday it dropped because –shockingly– Warner Bros. evidently didn’t let any of their producing partners know.

And that’s a big deal, not simply from being courteous to your business partners, but there are hundreds of millions of dollars at stake since a big way production companies and above-the-line people get money is through profit participation in the theatrical ticket sales.

Now, Warners evidently wants to mitigate this by generously estimating what the ticket sales might have been and paying the profit participants thusly as they’ve done for the director and star of Wonder Woman 1984.

Of course, this may mean money is left on the table as far as directors, stars, and producing partners are concerned –to say nothing of potential problems with existing contracts. Director and lover of the big, big screen, Christopher Nolan is reportedly furious. And the director of the new version of Frank Herbert’s epic saga is absolutely incensed — in part, fearing that this move might tank the possibility of this kicking off a proper Dune franchise (a lot of books have been written in this series).

If you know The Business, a weekly news show about the entertainment industry led by veteran report Kim Masters, you might expect they have something to say about it and they do.

The week of the announcement, they devote much of the opening segment to it (where it really drives home how much Warner Bros. did not tell anyone this was coming). And the episode this past weekend is all about it.

We knew there would be more and more of shift to streaming in the next few years, but what falls out from this attempted unilateral shift by the Bros remains to be seen.

More on Getting Back to Set

Earlier this week, Cirque Du Soleil announced it was filing for bankruptcy and Broadway said it was going to be shuttered until January 2021. It’s grim for folks in the entertainment industry.

Still people are trying to figure out how to get some productions back in gear, especially film and TV. Last week, I shared some guidance the film industry has been working on.

This week, catching up on Scriptnotes, I heard their late May roundtable about getting back on set which I figured would be useful too.

Short version? It’s not a bad time to be in animation.

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Happy Centennial, Ray Harryhausen

Somewhere in the Heavens, and in glorious Dynamation, Ray Harryhausen is celebrating his 100th birthday.

There’s nothing I can say that can surpass what many, many, many people in the film industry can say about Ray Harryhausen, so I’ll simply link to two videos. The first, a tribute made on his death:

The second, a review of all his creatures, set to music you know you want to do stop action animation dancing to:

Guidance for Filmmaking in a COVID World

Starting last Friday, Hollywood began starting to tentatively resume work since basically all major productions shut down.

Read all the guidance and take it slow, people.

This does mean a fair number of changes, from face masks for audience members to ending buffet meals on set. The industry has created a pretty detailed white paper (note the link is a PDF) that covers recommended actions from personal hygiene to food on set to particular production concerns.

For those of us that aren’t major studio productions, this is still good information to bear in mind.