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? 
Examples:
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)

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Making Short Films - Episode 1 - The Story



As a short filmmaker (well, not really that short - I'm 5 foot 5 inches tall) - I thought I'd post a blog series on what I've learned firsthand about making short films. 

First you need a story.

Where do story ideas come from? Everywhere! 

A book, a movie, a trip, a walk, a conversation, an article, a TV show or commercial, a dream, a child, a pet, an image, a word. 

Just be open to ideas. Grab one that interests you and then ask yourself "what if" questions. Follow the trail to it's logical (or illogical) conclusion:

What if a kangaroo could talk?

What if a doll was alive?

What if a boy found out he was from a different time?

What if a scientist discovered an invisibility formula?

What if a girl found magic shoes?

What if a man was buried alive?

What if you were locked in a jail cell in a ghost town?

Once you have an idea, see where it goes and  create a story with a beginning, a middle and an end.

Next post: Episode 2 - The Screenplay



Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Searching for "5 Flights Up"


Recently my lifelong pal, Alison, and I were looking for a DVD of the movie "5 Flights Up" starring Morgan Freeman and Diane Keaton. 

We are avid fans of both actors. We had watched the film a few months ago and loved it. It's the story of an older couple in NYC who are selling their apartment because it's five flights up and has no stairs. The problem is, they've lived there over 40 years and it's home. The husband is an artist and the wife is a retired teacher. They have no children so they lavish their affection on their little dog, Dorothy, who is sick and needs surgery. The story takes place over a couple of days as they deal with a realtor and open houses. In the middle of all this, an alleged "terrorist' is creating havoc in the city and the authorities believe he has a bomb on the Brooklyn Bridge. 

This is not an action film. It's a smart, clever comedy with a meaningful message about love and relationships. 

Needless to say, we both wanted this film for our collections to watch on those quiet afternoons as we escape the chaos of the world while we drink our coffee and eat our chocolate. It's one of those movies you can watch over and over (like "You've Got Mail," "The Proposal" or "The Devil Wears Prada").

Soon after watching it, I bought the DVD on amazon, but Alison wanted to buy it here in town. So the journey began. 

We started at Target. No luck.
The mall. Not there either. 
Kmart. Nope.
Walmart. Zip.

We called it a day. Alison later told me she went to Sam's Club and struck out. She finally had to order it online. 

The funny part was, when we asked the sales people at all these stores if they had the movie in stock, none of these 20 to 30 somethings had ever heard of it. They looked at us like we were aliens from outer space. 

You would think Morgan Freeman (Batman's right hand man) and Diane Keaton (comic actress extraordinaire) would be on the Hollywood radar. I suppose a well-told story with witty dialog and interesting characters is not enough.

I'm not surprised. The world is changing. It's faster and more furious than ever. But I am grateful that filmmakers are still creating simple, beautiful films.

In the words of Meryl Streep from "The Devil Wears Prada": That's all.  

Friday, July 29, 2016

The Film Club Project


Ever since we won the Cheyenne Shoot-Out Filmmaking Festival in 2011, Susan V. and I have been tossing around the idea of organizing a film club in Cheyenne. 

The purpose would be to encourage local and regional filmmakers and share resources and knowledge about the amazing world of filmmaking. 

This week I was inspired to give this idea serious consideration. First of all, is there interest in something like this in the community? 

I have a cadre of actor friends who are involved in community theatre and who have also volunteered their time and talents in my own films. But they are not necessarily filmmakers. 

What would the club entail?

Support and encouragement for filmmakers by providing resources to help with their projects, whether they need help providing actors, production assistants, information on upcoming film festivals, workshops on lighting, directing, sounds, location scouting, legal issues, fundraising, and more.

It would also be fun to have get-togethers like movie-watching parties or field trips to film festivals.

I would appreciate your comments and suggestions about starting a club/group like this. What worked? What didn't? What would you do differently? 


Friday, July 22, 2016

Novel and Screenplay


I had an interesting conversation with my son yesterday about writing screenplays. Lucas is a husband, father and genius software developer. He's also a gifted blues/jazz pianist.

Like me, he enjoys learning new things and tapping into his creative side. He's been interested in learning to write screenplays and asked me for wisdom and guidance. (That's the cool thing about being a mom and a writer. Just sayin'.)

We discussed the differences between the novel and the screenplay formats. He thought it would be helpful to read a novel and then read the screenplay adaptation of the story. 

At first I thought he should read an original screenplay and not an adaptation, but the more I thought about it, I agreed that he was right. I suggested he read Peter Benchley's novel "Jaws" - and then tackle the screenplay, also written by Benchley along with Carl Gottlieb. This film is a perfect example of excellent storytelling. 



The novel is captivating. The first chapter thrusts you into the world of this shark. The reader experiences everything the shark experiences and we become one with it. We share its view of life in the deep and what it needs to survive, which is its primary purpose.

The story tells of three characters and their personal relationship to the shark - Brody, the police chief who escaped the stress of being a big city cop to live in a peaceful island community. Ironically, he fears the water. Hooper, the scientist who is obsessed with sharks and goes after the shark for glory and fame. And Quint, the rugged fisherman who sees this shark as an enemy he must defeat, exacting vengeance on his fellow soldiers who were killed by sharks in World War II on the USS Indiana. The relationships among the three men and with the shark is what makes this story so compelling. 

The screenplay shows that Benchley kept key elements of the story, and with Gottlieb's screenwriting skill, they transformed the novel into the perfect blueprint for Spielberg's film.

Whether you're writing a novel, a short story, a screenplay or a stage play, its ALL ABOUT THE STORY! If you don't have a good story, you don't have anything.

I'm looking forward to seeing what Lucas comes up with for a story idea for his screenplay. We always have fun brainstorming story ideas together.   


Thursday, June 16, 2016

TV Dads

In honor of Father's Day, I would like to give a "shout out" to all the wonderful TV Dads from my childhood.  These dads were pretty amazing. They dealt with problems big and small. But most of all, these dads loved their kids, no matter what.

Happy Father's Day!

Jim and Kathy
Father Knows Best (1954-1960)
Jim Anderson played by Robert Young
KIDS: Betty, Bud and Kathy




Ward and Wally
Leave it to Beaver (1957-1963)
Ward Cleaver played by Hugh Beaumont 
KIDS: Wally and Theodore "Beaver"




Mark and Lucas
The Rifleman (1958-1963)
Lucas McCain played by Chuck Connors 
Lucas's job: Rancher
KID: Mark




Little Joe and Ben
Bonanza (1959-1973)
Ben Cartwright played by Lorne Greene
Ben's job: Rancher
KIDS: Adam, Hoss and Little Joe





Andy and Opie
The Andy Griffith Show (1960-1968)
Andy Taylor played by Andy Griffith
Andy's job: Sheriff
KID: Opie




Steve and Chip
My Three Sons (1960-1972)
Steve Douglas played by Fred MacMurray 1960-1972
Steve's job: Aeronautical Engineer
KIDS: Mike, Robbie, Chip and Ernie




Mike with kids 
The Brady Bunch (1969-1974)
Mike's job: Architect
Mike Brady played by Robert Reed
KIDS Greg, Marcia, Peter, Jan, Bobby and Cindy


Who are you favorite TV dads?


Wednesday, June 8, 2016

The Rifleman and Books




I was visiting my dad on his acreage in Oklahoma last week. He lives in the country and doesn't have a satellite or cable TV. He uses an antenna to get TV reception.

One of his favorite shows is "The Rifleman" so we watched the show everyday day while we were there. I remember watching it on TV when I was a kid. It's about a widower in the Old West named Lucas McCain and his son, Mark. Lucas is handy with a rifle and he and Mark work the ranch.  

On one episode, the school hired a new teacher from "back east." The teacher was a prim and proper gentleman and wasn't used to the ways of the West. He and Mark did not get along. Mark's friend ruined the teacher's book by putting blue berries in it and slamming the book closed. Mark was blamed for the prank and his father found out.

Lucas told Mark that it was wrong to ruin a book. Books are precious and hard to come by. He also told him that everything you learn from a book you will be able to use sometime in your life.

I have found this to be true. I have always valued books. They have enriched my life. 

If only all kids had a dad like Lucas McCain.