Saturday, March 3, 2018

Churchill ROCKS

I haven't been to the cinema in a long time, nothing lately has captured my fancy. Until "The Darkest Hour."

I actually went to see it twice! So why did I enjoy it so much? That's easy:

1. I am a WWII history buff. This movie takes me there in spades.
2. I've always admired how England stood against Hitler, the last bastion of Hope for Europe. It was exciting to see the drama played out in film (Chamberlain's weakness vs. Churchill's determination). 
3. Superb acting by entire cast, especially Gary Oldman as Churchill.
4. Breathtaking cinematography throughout.
5. Setting and costumes - perfect beauty and historical accuracy.
6. Script/Story - wonderful to see the desperation of Churchill and the pressure to negotiate with Hitler by the War Cabinet. Makes one wonder what would have happened if Churchill had conceded. I can't imagine the horrifying result!

Because of this movie, I was inspired to do some reading on one of my favorite topics - the Resistance during WWII. So many wonderful stories of Christians saving Jews during the Nazi regime. One book in particular that captured my soul is "Things We Couldn't Say" by Diet Eman. I've also enjoyed Corrie Ten Boom's "The Hiding Place," and "The Diary of Anne Frank."

Is there a movie you've seen lately that has inspired you?

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Columbo and Jessica

I've been on a mystery kick for the last few weeks, watching Columbo and Murder She Wrote reruns on the Hallmark Movies and Mysteries Channel. I'm freaking out at Columbo's deceptive brilliance and Jessica Fletcher's classy detective work.

Columbo aired from 1971 to 2003.

Murder She Wrote aired from 1984 to 1996.

Columbo's glass eye is super cool. He wears a raggedy trench coat, smokes a cigar and drives a French Peugeot. He has dog named "Dog" and he's always talking with affection about his wife, who never appears on the show. (Reminds me of Fraiser - no one ever saw Maris). 

As a homicide detective for the Los Angeles Police Department, Columbo doesn't appear on the scene until after the murder has taken place. This first half hour shows the murder, the motive and how the murderer covers up the crime. When Columbo arrives on the scene, the audience already knows who the killer is, but the fun is seeing Columbo put the clues together and outsmart the murderer, who totally underestimates the unassuming detective.

As for Jessica,  an amateur detective who also writes mystery novels, she always happens to be in the right place when a murder is committed. She hails from a small sea coast town in Maine called Cabot Cove. A murder usually happens when Jessica is visiting her nephew, Grady, or one of her many friends. She discovers clues along the way that lead to the murderer's identity and the motive. 

Watching these old TV shows, I get a kick out of seeing well-known actors is guest roles. George Clooney, Bryan Cranston, Linda Hamilton, Wayne Rogers, John Astin, Leonard Nimoy, William Shatner, Robert Vauhgn, Anne Francis, Tyne Daly, Vera Miles, Lee Grant, Faye Dunaway, Ruth Gordon, just to name a few.

I've become a fan of detective shows and I'm glad these classic TV shows are still around. Do you have any favorite TV detective shows? (And don't even get me started on "Sherlock"! I'm a Superfan!)

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Longmire: It is what it is

Just finished a Netflix binge-watch of Longmire. The new season starts next month and I wanted to refresh my memory. 

Like all Longmire season endings, this one left us with a cliff-hanger. 

Malachi Strand and his henchmen left Henry Standing Bear tied to the ground facing the sun on the Crow reservation where "no one can hear him scream." 

Vic is pregnant.

Cady shot a white man on the Rez and has been adopted into the tribe.  

And Sheriff Walt Longmire is facing a civil suit for the unlawful death of Barlow Connally. If he loses, his land will be taken and used for a resort.

So you see, there's a lot going on and I'm waiting to see how all this works out. 

Friday, June 9, 2017

Audrey Hepburn in Burlap

I became a fan of Audrey Hepburn when she appeared in My Fair Lady (1964). I didn't see the film when it was first released (I was only 7 years old then), but it played at our local cinema in 1971 when I was 14 - and at that age Audrey Hepburn made a lasting impression on me. 

The film was spectacular - glorious setting, costumes, music. I was mesmerized. So what if Audrey didn't actually sing. She lip-synced beautifully. It was magical. As a result, Audrey charmed herself into my heart wherein she still resides (forgive my flowery language, I've just finished reading Jane Eyre). 

Over the years I'd seen her more popular films, Roman Holiday (1953) with Gregory Peck, Sabrina (1954) with Humphrey Bogart, and of course Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961) - her signature film.

In each of these films it was a delight watching her. She's not the best actress, but the camera loves her. She is a fashion icon and always appeared elegant and stylish. I had always thought, "Audrey Hepburn is so stunning, she would look beautiful in a burlap sack!" 

Little did I know that she actually appeared in a film wearing a burlap sack! The film was Green Mansions (1959) with Anthony Perkins. Audrey plays the part of Rima, a beautiful, mysterious girl that lives in the jungles of Venezuela. And she wears the same hideous burlap sack through out the film. 

I don't know why anyone would think this was a good role for Audrey. People want to see her in beautiful clothes, acting pert and complicated and spunky. Not slithering around in a burlap sack wearing a long-haired wig. 

As for the film itself, it is the absolute worst on every level. Fake sets, boring script, lame plot. Audrey is not the best actor, so she had absolutely nothing to work with to make it even the slightest bit interesting. The only good thing about it was seeing Anthony Perkins, who did a fairly good job. But every time I saw him on screen I thought, "Norman Bates in the jungle."

So glad Audrey didn't do another burlap sack movie!

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Binge Watching and Other Random Thoughts

Binge watching has become a thing. Who would have believed something like this could be possible...watching a TV show that typically would have taken years to watch on "regular" TV and now you can see entire seasons in a matter of weeks (or even days). 

Back in the 80s when we got our first VCR, it was mind-blowing thinking that you could watch almost any movie you wanted whenever you wanted. 

Special effects on TV shows have become equal in quality to feature films and are more cinematic than ever. 

This TV evolution is somehow effecting society, but I can't put my finger on exactly how. It seems that attention spans are getting shorter and shorter...people want what they want right NOW! There is no this attitude leaking into other areas of life? 

Perhaps this "computer age" is triggering a retro movement. People want to create things with their hands, they want to read a real book, write on real paper, build real things, unplug from the Matrix. I have seen it both ways, and while I enjoy the high-tech life, I'm finding that I'm deriving more pleasure from the simple things.  

I'm checking out books at the library instead of downloading a book on my Kindle. I'm drawing with paper and pens rather than creating on an ipad. I'm even watching the old movies, which lately are better by far than anything coming out today in the movie theatre.

One good thing about the tech age we live in - anyone can be a filmmaker. With a computer and a video camera (or even a cell phone), films can be made and there is an audience. The power now belongs to the people, not just the filmmaking elite. That is a good thing. 

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Episode 6 - Post Production

Welcome to the final segment of the series. 

Post-production is what to do after shooting is completed. 

1) Editing software - I use Sony Vegas Movie Maker, but there are many other video editing programs. Good films have been created just by using a phone. Today everyone can make movies, which is a good thing!

2) Music - Whether to use music or not depends on what kind of film you are making. Music effects the mood of the film. Even no music at all sends a message. Just be sure to have copyright permission unless you are creating your own music.

3) Credits - Give credit to actors, tech crew and anyone else who contributed to your film, whether through time, talent or finances. Be thankful. Film is a collaborative can't do it alone.

4) Promotion - In today's social media universe, your film can be viewed by anyone. Start a YouTube or Vimeo account and get involved in the filmmaking community.

5) Contests - Check out the various short film festivals and contests. This is another way to get your film seen and to network with the filmmaking community.

Now start making your film! Ready, set, GO! 

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Episode 5 - Actors

Sometimes when I write a film script, I have certain actors in mind. These are people that I know and have worked with before. So my story is built around my cast.

Other times, the story comes first and I don't think about the actors at all. But sooner or later, I will have to deal with casting.

If you are paying actors, then you could have auditions and can be more selective. But if your actors are volunteers, then you have other issues to deal with. Volunteers have commitments, such as jobs and families, so you have to work around their schedules. You will have to be flexible on days you can film. If they aren't professional, you may have to work with them on learning their lines, etc.

Here are some tips about working with actors on your short film:

Communication. Let the actors know what the story is about and what motivates their characters. Knowledge is a good thing. It also inspires them to think of ideas to enhance the story and their roles. Film is a collaborative effort after all.

Be flexible. Some actors like to go over a scene several times with different ways of performing the scene. You never know what can come from this - it could be truly magical.

Listen to the actors. They may have good ideas for shooting a scene or saying their lines.

Bring food. Feed them, water them, and watch them flourish. This is especially important if the actors are volunteers. It's a great way to show your thanks.

Be mindful of their personalities. Some actors need a lot of detailed direction. Others can fly by the seat of their pants with amazing results.

Be respectful.

Be thankful. Afterward, send them a card of thanks or a token of appreciation.

Build relationships. Having a group of actors that you have worked with before makes the process more efficient because you know what to expect. They are more relaxed because they know what to expect from you.

If you are not an actor yourself, take some acting classes. It will help you as a director and a filmmaker. 

Next time - Post Production

Friday, October 28, 2016

Episode 4 - Location

Location! Location! Location!

As a filmmaker, I am continually inspired by my surroundings. Often, a location will give me an idea for a film. 

Location itself is a story waiting to be told. If I'm walking on a trail in the woods, I might imagine a paranormal creature lurking in the dark. Or I'm sitting in a coffee shop and imagine a woman telling her friend about her new job as caretaker of Alcatraz.  

Here are a few tips for filmmakers regarding location.

1. Do a drive by or a walk through - Look at places that are visually interesting and capture the mood of your film. Look at color, light and space. Visit the location at the time you would shoot that scene, whether day or night, or both. 

2. Interiors - A suburban home? Haunted house? Apartment? Office? Restaurant kitchen? Supermarket? Elevator?

3. Exteriors - Grave yard? Football field? Park? Playground? City street? Swimming pool? Farm?

4. The shorter the film, the fewer locations should be used.

5. Get permission to use privately owned businesses or property. A location release is a document that states the terms of use. 

6. When scouting your location, keep in mind the equipment you will need. Lights, camera, sound, etc. For example, a room with no windows will need special lighting. If you're outdoors, the wind may cause a problem with sound. 

7. If it's a public place, keep in mind the time and day of the shoot to account for crowds. For example, there might be more people in the park on a Sunday afternoon, than during a week day. 

Monday, September 26, 2016

Episode 3 - The Screenplay (Part 2)

Welcome to Episode 3 of Making a Short Film. This segment is part 2 of writing the screenplay. 

For me, writing the screenplay is the best part of filmmaking. I enjoy creating a story and imagining what it will look like as a film. The following guidelines should get you thinking about the nuts and bolts of screenwriting. 

Format: You need to format your screenplay according to industry standards. This is easy, just get a book or look online to read about proper screenplay formatting.

Write for the Camera. When writing a screenplay, you should spend more time writing down what the viewer is seeing rather than what the characters are saying. MORE action, LESS words.  
Action. The screenplay is written using present tense and action words. For examples:

DO NOT WRITE THIS: Gertrude was sitting on the couch eating a ham sandwich.
WRITE THIS: Getrudes sits on the couch and eats a ham sandwich.

DO NOT WRITE THIS: Andy picked up a rock and threw it at the dog.
WRITE THIS: Andy picks up a rock and throws it at the dog.

Length. Your screenplay will average about 1 minute per page. This is calculated using 12-point Courier font, which is the industry standard.

Read. During the process, get some friends together and read scenes out loud. This will let you know how the dialog sounds so that you can make adjustments. 

Resources: My favorite screenplay writing resources are Blake Snyder's "Save the Cat" books. 

Next time we'll discuss the Location

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Episode 2 - The Screenplay (Part 1)

If you've never written a screenplay, my first suggestion is to watch one of your favorite films and take notes on the following: 

What is the mood or genre of the film? Comedy, Horror, Romance, Adventure, War?

What is the opening scene? What happens?

How does this scene connect to the next scene?

Note the tension in every scene. Tension is not necessarily "conflict" but it can be. 

Who is the Main Character and how does the writer/filmmaker get you (the viewer) to like him? What makes you want to root for this character?

What does the Main Character want? What is her goal? What is the thing that drives her to action? 
In Jaws - Brody wants to kill the shark
In Rocky - Rocky wants to go the distance with the champ
In North by Northwest - Thornhill wants to find out who's after him and why

What is the inciting incident? This is the incident that begins the story and there is no turning back for the Main Character. In The Wizard of Oz, the inciting incident was the tornado that lifted Dorothy's house and landed in Oz. Now the story begins - she must get back home (which is her goal). She must find the Wizard of Oz and then she must kill the Wicked Witch of the West (the story/the journey).

How do the supporting characters and events help move the story forward?

Next episode: The Screenplay (Part 2)