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Tag: Filmmaking

Editorials

Five Great Films About Filmmaking

August 27, 2019

Filmmakers love making films about filmmaking and while there may be some self-aggrandisement going on, many of these films are brilliant. Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood is the only the latest.

Spoiler Warning – contains mild spoilers for A Cock And Bull Story, Hail Caesar!, Adaptation, For Your Consideration and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.

A Cock and Bull Story (2005)

A Cock And Bull Story (youtube.com)

This is one of my favourite films and one that should be far more famous. Directed by Michael Winterbottom and starring the wonderful Steve Coogan and Rob Bryden, the film is part adaptation of the supposedly unfilmable book The Life and Opinions Of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman and a fictional glimpse into the making the film. Steve Coogan and Rob Bryden play versions of themselves (as well as characters from the book) and the comic chemistry between the two is amazing. Whether it’s Steve demanding his shoes be built up so he will tower over Rob or the argument between Steve and Rob about what they should call Rob’s part (both agree it’s not a cameo) the battling of egos is endless. We see the annoyed experts brought in for their expert opinion only to be ignored, Gillian Anderson whose part in the film expands or contracts depending on Coogan’s insecurity and Winterbottom himself makes an appearance discussing with others what the “point” of the film is, or perhaps what is the point of any film.

Hail, Caesar! (2016)

George Clooney in Hail Caesar! (IMDb)

The Coen Brothers loving tribute to the Golden Age of Hollywood is perhaps not their best film but is certainly lots of fun. Studio fixer Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) constantly runs around sorting out problems ranging from poorly timed pregnant starlets to kidnapped leading men. It is an exhausting job.

Despite having a strong ensemble two actors particularly shine. First, there is Channing Tatum as Burt Gurney, an all singing and dancing musical superstar (I couldn’t help but think Tatum’s talents are wasted in 21st Century Hollywood). Then we have Alden Ehrenreich as Hobie Doyle – an actor who is brilliant as a cowboy but has to turn his hand to more subtle acting, leading to one of the funniest scenes in Coen Brothers history as Hobie struggles to get his words right.

While there are numerous stories going on in the film Mannix has several meetings with a potential employer – Lockheed, offering him more money and more opportunities but would involve him working for a company who spends a lot of time building stuff to end the world. There is an interesting struggle in Mannix about not only what is the right job but what is the right thing for him to do.

Adaptation (2002)

Adaptation (rogerebert.com)

It’s easy to forget that there was a time when Nicolas Cage was considered a great actor and this, in my opinion, might be his best performance. Cage plays both Charlie Kaufman and his twin brother Donald Kaufman and is essentially about Charlie struggling to write a movie. It’s important to know that Adaptation is written by the real Charlie Kaufman (there is no real Donald) about his struggle to adapt the book The Orchid Thief. Charlie is a successful writer but Donald is more laid back and enjoys life more, fitting in easily whereas Charlie struggles in social situations.

Charlie’s problems with writing the screenplay goes so far as to stalking the writer of the book, played by Meryl Streep, and taking the famous Robert McKee story seminar- only to be lambasted by McKee. These attempts at improving the screenplay have mixed results at best.

For Your Consideration (2006)

For Your Consideration (IMDb.com)

After going after rock music, folk music and…dog grooming Christopher Guest turned his eye to Hollywood. For Your Consideration is the bizarre story of the film Home For Purim and how “Oscar buzz” turns attention on the film and its actors. Guest assembled many of his regulars with great performances from Parker Posey, Fred Willard and especially Catherine O’Hara.

This slim possibility of success throws the production into chaos as egos begin to grow and changes start to be made to the film to make it more accessible.

Not only does the film focus on the myriad problems of making a movie but also the ghastly world of Hollywood entertainment journalism and reminds you that the people who will celebrate you one day will laugh at you the next.

The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou (2004)

Bill Murray in The Life Aquatic (hobbydb.com)

Bill Murray plays aquatic explorer and documentary filmmaker Steve Zissou who lives in a typically eccentric Wes Anderson directed world. The film focuses Zissou following on from the death of his close friend and colleague at the hands of a “jaguar shark”. Zissou’s next film will be about him hunting down and killing the shark and by his own admission is purely for revenge.

Zissou is down on his luck and the glory days of his films are far behind him with many people seeing his own new as nothing more than cashing in on the death of his friend. Thrown into the mix is the son he never met, Ned (Owen Wilson) who suddenly enters his life, and journalist Jane Winslett-Richardson (Cate Blanchett) as well as annoying money men, pirates and an extremely irritating rival explorer the far more successful Allistair Hennessey (Jeff Goldblum).

So, why make a film?

Most of these films show filmmaking as an exhausting, frustrating and difficult enterprise with the possibility of making something good or that bears any resemblance to your original idea as remote. So, why bother? Because you just might make something great.

Also Read: Androids And The Actors That Play Them

Editorials

Can We Predict How Likely You Are To Succeed As An Actor?

June 24, 2019

It’s likely that almost everyone has dreamt of being an actor at some point, maybe there are a few aspiring actors reading this now. A recent report by researchers at the Queen Mary University in London tried to work out how likely someone is to become a successful actor. Using IMDb and looking at actors from the birth of film in 1888, all the way up to 2016. It claims this model can predict if an actor or actress has had their most productive year with 85% accuracy, as well as shedding some light on the realities of how likely an actor is to stay in work.

Most actors are “One hit wonders”

Peter Ostrum, who played Charlie Bucket in "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
Peter Ostrum, who played Charlie Bucket in “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” retired from acting after his one role (Paramount Pictures, 1971)

The study looks at 1,512,472 actors and 896,029 actresses and the number of credits they had each year of their careers, (a year without any credits, still counts, but scored a 0). “One hit wonders”, actors whose career spans only a single year, are the norm in show business rather than an exception, with around 69% for males and 68% of females falling into this category- over half of both the groups studied. Further analysis shows that while women are more likely to have a career that spans more than one year, it is often a shorter career than for males, which suggests a gender bias in men’s favour.

Work leads to more work

Johnny Depp (left) frequently stars in Tim Burton’s (right) films ( images2.fanpop.com)

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the study also found that getting roles increases the likelihood of future job opportunities. So while some mega stars have got discovered, the best route is to get a job, which inevitably leads to contacts and recognition, leading to more jobs, it’s all a big loop. Producers and directors often have a pool of actors and actresses they will reuse for subsequent films, like Christopher Nolan and Tim Burton casting Michael Caine and Johnny Depp respectively.

This creates a “rich get richer” effect, where famous actors are taking multiple roles while others are still trying to get their first credit. This is nothing new, however, the study does suggest that the circumstances regarding an actor “making it” are rather arbitrary and unpredictable, with no discernible pattern to success, meaning that actual acting talent may be less of a factor than networking when it comes to a successful career. Additionally, the career length is no indicator of activity. For example, Leonardo DiCaprio regularly takes breaks from acting, sometimes with a 2-year gap between roles, but has still managed to maintain a successful career since it began in 1979.

Actors have “hot” and “cold” streaks

Daniel Day-Lewis has had several cold streaks, mainly due to retirement (IMDb)

A “hot streak” refers to an actor having lots of credits over a short span of time, usually a couple of years, whilst a cold streak is a few if any roles. The study claims that both actors and actresses, experience hot streaks, where they work more based on if they worked the year before, interspersed between long cold streaks, where they work much less, if at all that year. These streaks of employment match findings with other creative and science industry jobs.

The biggest of these hot streaks, an actors’ “peak” (the year in which they have the most credits) takes place towards the beginning of their career, with an average peaking at around two and a half years from their first role, before experiencing a steady decline.

Conclusions

The main takeaways from this study strongly imply that most actors will be a “one hit wonder” with their career likely to span just one year. It also indicates a gender bias towards males, as the data shows that they on average have more credits each year and are active for longer, with just 2% being able to make a living out of the profession, whilst the number of actors compared to available roles means there as many as 90% unemployed at a time.

The more credits an actor gets, the more credits they are likely to get in future, as the industry works on a “rich get richer” scheme, with well-known actors being offered more work than newcomers, making it extraordinarily difficult to break into the industry. Actors usually peak around two and half years into their career, although this can vary based on how active they are, with their career coming in hot streaks with lots of work, followed by longer cold streaks, with little to no work. Perhaps most worryingly, their careers seem to show a steady decline after their peak.

Also Read: Great Scenes With No Dialogue

Editorials

Advice For First Time Independent Feature Filmmakers

January 10, 2019

Making your first feature film is a pivotal milestone for a filmmaker. From getting the right cast to working with the right producer, it can be a very daunting task, particularly if you’re working with a limited budget. So, we spoke to filmmakers who have independently completed their debut feature film to get practical advice on what to do when making your debut independent feature film. Here’s what they said…

Dom Lenoir (Director / Producer) – Winter Ridge (2018)

The right mindset & getting into cinemas.

Don’t let anyone tell you what you can’t achieve, set yourself a goal for the film you want to make and something that sets you on fire with passion and then comit to making it. Half the battle is just making a pledge with yourself that whatever happens you will keep going, every time you hit an obstacle you just take it one at a time and eventually you’ll have a film. And build yourself the infrastructure of a film before you even think about asking for money, when its ready to go and all you need is the funds then you are in a good place for investment.

Getting into cinemas isn’t nearly as hard as people think. The attitude is that if you don’t have Tom Cruise in your film it won’t fill seats, but you can target areas you have a base and market single screenings yourself and a lot of cinemas are receptive if you can guarantee some seats filled.

Winter Ridge (Trailer)

Winter Ridge is available to download and stream across all major platforms.

Jamie Noel (Writer / Director) – Lie Low (2019)

Getting the right location & filming with smaller crew.

Once I came to terms with the restrictions of a smaller crew and minimal kit, I was free to focus on the benefits. Sure, I couldn’t afford an Alexa, or an expensive lighting set up but by shooting with available light, a documentary size crew, a Sony A7s and a hand-held gimbal, we suddenly were so much more flexible and agile. We were able to capture more takes and grab coverage and cutaways on the fly, something that would normally add hours on to the schedule. Embrace your limitations, they will end up being the best ally you have.

Working on a micro-budget, very little was certain. It was especially hard to lock down locations. We had to stay malleable and adapt quickly when the ground shifted. Our main location changed weeks before shooting, this not only changed things in regard to the logistics of the production but also in terms of the tone of the film. You just have to run with it, every location will have something to offer if you’re open to it and fortunately, in the end, our final main location turned out to be a real gem.

Lie Low (Teaser)

Lie Low will be screening at film festivals later this year.

Andy Collier (Co-Writer / Co-Director / Producer) – Charismata (2018)

When is a script ready & raising money for your film.

I think you should never stop working on [the script]. Good actors should bring their own takes to a script right up to shooting (which may or may not be improvements but working through them is always valuable). The better question is when is [a script] ready to use as a basis for fundraising? That’s a “piece of string” question but I think you need to be 100% happy that you have a very solid script in terms of all of story arc, structure, characterisation/slick dialogue, themes, motifs. The structure is a huge one… rightly or wrongly, a huge part of the gatekeeping side of the industry (financiers, prestige talent agencies) is focussed on BeatSheet-type analysis so it will help you if the script broadly conforms to that so that reading it satisfies their expectations.

Two methods for UK producers [For raising money]:

  • Package the script with a well-made lookbook (or at the very least one sheet) and a sensible business plan starting from sales projections given your genre and attached cast, and reverse engineer the budget to hopefully ensure break-even… and take that to the main markets (AFM, Cannes, Berlinale) and get meetings at the booths of as many sales agents, distributors, financiers as possible. And expect to get a lot of very encouraging responses in person that will 99.9% of the time fizzle out to nothing.
  • Get the same package and try to get rich individuals to invest, using EIS or SEIS as a sweetener. Finding rich individuals can be difficult if you don’t know any, but angel investors or equity crowdfunding platforms can be found on the internet. Depending on where you shoot, there are often soft money schemes available. In the UK, HMRC will reimburse you 20% of audited UK spend, provided you get all the necessary admin done properly. Soft money can’t be used for production or usually even post-production budget (it takes a long time to arrive)… but it’s valuable for back-end costs etc.

Charismata (Trailer)

Charismata is currently available in the U.S and will be available in the U.K later this year.

Sheila Nortley (Writer / Executive Producer) – The Strangers (2019)

Things to consider in pre-production & post-production.

I’d say one of the key things to consider in pre-production is post-production. You’d think it goes without saying but when filmmakers are first starting out a lot of the focus is on just getting through the shoot and getting the footage. It’s so important to get your post-production team in the loop as early as possible so that they’re not having to fix problems which could have been avoided but rather the shoot has been shot and delivered in a way which is not only the most efficient and convenient for them to be able to crack on but also the best way for the film overall. This also includes budgeting properly for post and not going ridiculously over budget during the production and then trying to cut corners later.

'I'm a writer, a mother, a Muslim'

Sheila Nortley says she's a 'born and bred Londoner' with roots in Ghana. She spoke to us about her latest film, The Strangers.

Gepostet von BBC News Africa am Montag, 13. August 2018
The Strangers (Behind the scenes – BBC)

The Strangers will be screening at festivals later this year.

Mark A.C Brown (Writer / Director) – Guardians (2018)

Choosing the right producer & working on a limited budget.

On Guardians we had no money so my choice of producer was based on getting someone not for raising money but for their ability to use the resources we had at our disposal. So Fred Fournier was the man. We had worked together on many short projects and he had worked in several different capacities on each from sound, script supervisor, continuity, camera and editing. And he did a few of the scores. So his knowledge of and ability to communicate with pretty much every department was invaluable, saving us time, money and a fair amount of embarrassment for me as I knew very little technical stuff at the time of shooting.

Guardians (Trailer)

Guardians will be released on Video on Demand later this year.

That concludes our advice from filmmakers! Look out for updates regarding the films featured. Big Picture Film Club would like to thank all of the filmmakers involved for their contributions.

Editorials

Unsane and the iPhone Revolution

September 4, 2018

Steven Soderbergh (Director of Traffic, Ocean’s 11,12,13, and Magic Mike) won an Oscar for Traffic in the year 2000. Recently the Academy Award rated Best Director decided to make a new movie. It’s called Unsane. Genre wise this is a bit of a thriller and stars Claire Foy who won a Golden Globe for Best Actress with her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II in the 2016 Nextflix show; The Crown. Back to Unsane; where Claire plays the main protagonist (Sawyer Valentini) who gets committed to a mental institute. This is full-blown spoiler territory now so I’ll stop here, but to be fair, the title is a dead giveaway and did I mention this movie was filmed on an iPhone?

Why would an A-List Hollywood Director, film a movie on an iPhone? Well because Steven Soderbergh (SD) is not your typical A-Lister. In an interview with Hey U Guys Steven Soderberg said it was a creative choice, as he saw the iPhone 7Plus as being a small capture device which gave him a flexibility he couldn’t get from a bigger device.

It seems the iPhone was instrumental in pulling off certain shots in this movie. So instrumental, that Soderberg also said he’d use the device again in the future! Well if It’s good enough for him, it must be good enough for us, right?

iPhone vs Arri

So now that we’ve realised we have a Hollywood capable film camera in our possession right now, it kind of begs the question: What do we actually need from a movie-making machine and what’s the difference between the iPhone and a proper film camera? There are actually many things to consider when choosing your capture device for video production: resolution, frame rates, audio bit-rate, sensor, lenses, how the camera reacts to light.

At the time of writing, a popular film camera used in Holywood is the Arri Alexa. This camera could be considered an Indusrty Standard and has been used to film movies like The Avengers, Drive and a million other huge titles. Let’s take a brief look at how that compares to the iPhone used to film Unsane.

iPhone 7Plus Vs Arri Alexa
Resolution: 4K (30 fps)  Vs 2K (60 fps)
Frame Rates: Up to 60 fps Vs Up to 120 fps
Audio: 44.1KHz Vs 48 KHz

Potato Jet did a video review which shows that although the iPhone can produce good pictures, it really doesn’t compare to the might of the Alexa. You’ll lose something in terms of quality, but then you’ll gain in terms of mobility and It’ll be great for your budget.

iQuality

With filmmaking being an art, it’s always difficult to debate whether the increasing pixel count of the new technically superior digital cameras are actually producing better images than those of analogue film cameras. Does sharper and more crystal clear actually mean the story will look better? We’ve gone from grainy black and white pictures, to full-colour Standard Definition, all the way up to 4K and beyond. But someone out there will tell you they prefer the way a vintage Alfred Hitchcock movie filmed on a Mitchell BNC looks, compared to the sharp and polished 4K look you get from a modern Red One.

iMovies

Rage (2009) may have been the first major theatrical release shot on smartphones and there’s been a number of notable smartphone movies since. #STARVECROW is the world’s first selfie movie and Tangerine was filmed completely on the iPhone 5s. This iMovement has picked up pace since it’s inception in 2010 and now the iPhone Film Festival judges received over 2000 submissions in 2017. IndieWire has some interesting movies in their iMovement list if you want to find out more about this sub-culture.

iGear

Dougal Shaw (Senior Video Journalist at the BBC) decided to delve into iPhone videography himself and his kit list included the following: iPhone 6S Plus, Filmic Pro App, some sort of rig to stabilize the phone, a collection of lenses, a tripod, a microphone and a computer with video editing software. All of this is so much cheaper than getting a pro Arri Alexa setup!

iMoney

The fact that Steven Soderbergh did shoot a movie on an iPhone, is proof that you don’t need a huge budget to film a movie. Having said that, there’s a lot more involved in shooting a movie then just having a camera and pressing record. Also, the budget for Unsane was pretty low for a Hollywood movie, at $1.5m. But that’s astronomical in terms of a low budget indie production. Unsane only made $10.7m in the Box office, which is Soderberg’s lowest grossing movie by far. I wonder if a better camera would have equated to better box office sales?

iDirector

If iPhone’s are so great, do you need to bother buying a camcorder or DSLR? This is where personal preference comes in. Me personally I know how things can go wrong with technological devices and I prefer to have separate bits to do specific jobs. The thing is sometimes we’re short on space (so we buy a printer and scanner 2 in 1). Sometimes we’re short on budget (so I bought an all-rounder DSLR instead of a camera excellent at taking stills and a separate video camera). Using your iPhone all day to film movies will drain your battery and constant charging will shorten the lifespan. Steven Soderbergh has years of experience, a team of professionals and a million dollar budget. His iPhone movie would be awesome but I doubt you could get the same results. If you’re asking me could I film a movie on an iPhone? The answer is yes. Would I? No. But Steven Soderberg did.

Check out the trailer for Unsane. The full movie is available to purchase on Youtube now.

Editorials

Artificial Intelligence: The New Art of Storytelling?

July 10, 2018
Robot Writing

Storytelling is one of the oldest forms of communication. It is how we handed down the ancient myths and legends and how lessons have always been taught. Before written words, stories were communicated through pictures or symbols. Stories help to stimulate our imaginations and, perhaps most importantly, build a relationship between the storyteller and their audience.

The same can be said for media texts; they are stories which the writers and directors feel need to be shared and they have particular ideas about how these tales should be told. These decisions are influenced by numerous factors including environment,  personal experience and emotional ties.

So is the emerging trend of using Artificial Intelligence (A.I) taking away the personal touch that writers, directors and editors bring to a production? Or is this simply the direction that the film industry is moving in and we just need to get on board or get left behind?

AI has been used in other areas aside from the film industry to help predict the success of a piece of work. Wattpad is an online program and app which currently has 65 million users worldwide. People are able to publish books via this website and it has seen some become bestselling authors. Sounds brilliant, but where does AI come into it? The website uses ‘plot-analysing software which is able to determine which subjects and content have previously been successful, profile audiences and basically create the perfect plot for a target audience -all a user has to do is write the book to fit.

One person who did just that is Beth Reekles, author of the highly successful book ‘The Kissing Booth’ which she published at just 15 years of age. In 2013 she sold the film rights to Netflix and it is now one of the streaming sites most popular searches.

Wattpad now has its sights set on the film industry with its additional creation, Wattpad studios, and aims to continue its successful use of artificial intelligence.

Jack Zhang’s company, Greenlight Essentials, uses a specially created algorithm to discover which plot will be successful based on existing lucrative productions.

Greenlight used this strategy to come up with a script for a new horror called “Impossible Things” – they made the trailer for just $30 and it accumulated 2.3 million views on YouTube. Needless to say, potential investors quickly showed an interest.

Surely though, this reliance on computers is sapping the feeling from the scripts being created? That’s one thing artificial intelligence is yet to master: emotional intelligence.

This possibility was tested when director Oscar Sharp and Ross Goodwin, a New York University AI researcher used a ‘recurrent neural network’ (that helpfully named itself Benjamin) to create a sci-fi script called Sunspring. The machine was fed scripts of existing sci-fi success stories including classics like Ghostbusters and more recent offerings such as Interstellar and created its own script in a similar way to predictive text on your smartphone. (The term “predictive” implies that creativity isn’t a crucial factor here!)

The result? A script that consisted of completed, coherent sentences individually yet, when these were put together, it all started to go a bit downhill! The film created looks professional and the actors played their parts well but these aspects had nothing to do with artificial intelligence, highlighting that human influence is surely a prerequisite of a successful production.

Zhang agrees and feels that the creativity is still the most vital aspect of storytelling stating; “If you give 50 screenwriters the same [plot] elements, they’ll still come up with 50 different screenplays.” This seems to be the crux of the issue; artificial intelligence can help in the creative process prior to production by looking at what elements have proved successful, although even that could take away from the next surprise hit.

I’m sure Zhang won’t mind me saying that he sums it up perfectly:  “[A.I] is like a compass, but someone still needs to sail.” Based on Sunspring, I don’t think scriptwriters have too many stormy seas to navigate just yet!

 

 

Editorials

Will Virtual Reality (VR) Films Ever Takeoff?

March 23, 2018

Much has been said about how Video-On-Demand services like Netflix have changed the movie industry over the last years, with Netflix and Amazon Prime being key plays leading the charge. Cheaper technology has also allowed for a lower barrier entry for filmmakers – even Steven Soderbergh’s new film, Unsane, was shot on an iPhone! Although the technology is still maturing, tech companies are investing heavily in Virtual Reality (VR), will this be the next area the film industry can capitalise on?

VR in Games

VR currently has a 90% public awareness, according to YouGov. Further indicators of early mass adoption of VR can be seen in the gaming industry. VR Systems saw a 23.5% year-on-year rise in 2017, cracking the £100m barrier for the first time. Currently, 6% of the British population own virtual reality headwear; At the equivalent time after widespread release, wearables had 4% penetration and tablets had 3%. The gaming industry has led the charge in this area with PlayStation VR, Oculus Rift & HTC Vive making up the vast majority of sales and with more game developers working on games specifically for VR growth in VR games looks to be strong moving forward.

The major film studios have been a lot slower to adopt VR as a way to exhibit films. However, VR  is used as a medium to create immersive experiences based on a film title, rather than actually making a movie to be watched via VR. In this instance, particularly with horror films like The Conjuring 2, a VR based experience acts as a great promotional tool to complement a wider marketing roll-out.

Should We Expect a Breakout of VR Films?

A current problem is that currently there simply aren’t that many platforms designed for VR films – particularly feature-length ones. Currently Video-on-Demand powerhouses Netflix & Amazon Prime do not support VR, however tech giants Facebook & YouTube have enabled 360 VR videos to be uploaded onto their platforms. This makes the two social media platforms a key testing ground for wider adoption of films in VR.

Many more experimental independent filmmakers have begun to explore VR as a method of producing short films. The Invisible Man (shown below) is an example of how the medium can be utilised to produce a compelling film.

 Moving Forward

Since its inception over 100 years ago how we experience film has remained largely unchanged, however, what we have seen through television/VoD services, as well as 3D cinema is complementary user experiences running parallel to traditional cinema. At least in the immediate future what seems most probably is that VR will simply add another dimension to the ways we can experience the “moving picture”. With new technology, new ways to creatively exhibit films will surely soon follow.