Wednesday, 20 September 2017

James Cagney and Bob Hope

This great dance and comedy routine is taken from The Seven Little Foys (1955). Who knew Bob Hope could dance?


First posted: 10 May 2014

Monday, 18 September 2017

A Celebration of the American Silent Film

This is an excellent look at the silent pictures and the stunts that made the early movies so successful. It includes interviews with many of the stunt performers of the time including Harvey Parry and Yakima Canutt. Narrated by James Mason.


First posted: 4 May 2014

Sunday, 17 September 2017

The powerful tool people forget when pitching

Minda Zetlin is a business technology writer and speaker, co-author of The Geek Gap, and president of the American Society of Journalists and Authors. She is a regular contributor to Inc.com and Inc. magazine
     She recently attended the National Publicity Summit to see what it was like to be on the receiving end of the pitches. Here is her report, as published in Inc. magazine. It is not aimed at screenwriters, but you'll be able to translate the key points with a little thoughtfulness.



It was an educational afternoon. I learned that being on the receiving end of a pitching event is much less nerve-racking but much more wearing than being the one doing the pitches, because no sooner is one brief pitching session finished than someone arrives for the next one. I met about forty people, some of them authors with interesting concepts that I was happy to hear about. But to my surprise, almost no one who pitched me used what I've found to be the most powerful tool in these settings.

That tool is asking questions.

All of the people who pitched gave a description of their product or concept and why they thought it would appeal to the readership of this column, and then they waited to hear what I thought about it. None of them asked what kinds of stories I was looking for or what kinds of topics appealed most to my readers.
     Admittedly, they had only a very short time (less than three minutes!) to sell me on their ideas, and I'm sure they thought there wasn't much time for back-and-forth. But even in the shortest of pitch sessions, asking questions is a powerful and smart thing to do. Here's why:

1. You'll break the pattern of endless pitching.

A rhythm develops when you step or sit in front of someone and launch right into a spiel. Pausing to ask a question or two breaks that pattern in a good way and gives the person you're pitching a short breather from the onslaught of sales pitches. And because so few people think to ask questions in this setting, your pitch session is likely to stick in your prospect's memory.

2. You'll engage your potential customer.

"The sexiest sentence in the world is: 'Talk to me.'" A colleague of mine with a very successful track record from pitching events told me this once, and it's really stuck with me. Asking people what they want shows that you care about what they want. And most people are more open to transacting when they feel cared about.

3. You can better match the prospect's needs.

Years ago, I met with an editor from CreditCards.com at a pitching event. I had a set of pitches about the credit card industry all ready to go, but early in the conversation, I asked the editor what she was looking for. The answer surprised me: offbeat and unusual topics.
    I didn't have one of those prepared, but I had recently been given a debit card that my bank printed while I waited and that had no raised letters or numbers. I pulled it out of my handbag and showed it to her, and asked if she'd be interested in a piece on these weird flat debit cards. She was, and her company has been a regular client ever since. If I hadn't asked, I wouldn't have known to pitch that topic and might never have landed that first assignment.

4. You won't seem in a rush to make a sale.

Veterans of pitching events all know it's extremely rare for a deal to be completed in a meeting just a few minutes long. Your objective should be to make a connection, one you can follow up later on outside of the hullabaloo of a pitching event. Asking questions signals your intention is to build that relationship rather than just make a quick deal.

5. You'll be better able to continue the conversation.

If all you've done is pitch your product or idea, then the only follow-up you're able to send is more information or a written sales pitch for that same product or company. Asking questions opens up many new possibilities. If you learn, for instance, that the person you're pitching is interested in some newly released technology, you might send an article on the topic with a note reminding your contact of your meeting. Building that kind of relationship puts you in much better shape to make an eventual sale.

6. You'll gain a competitive edge.

Looking for a way to stand out from the crowd? Many people making pitches try to make an impression with a little schwag or a slickly produced piece of literature. I like schwag as much as the next person, but to be honest, asking questions and getting to know what a prospect really wants will make you stand out much more in that person's mind than a gift of the latest cute gadget. Especially because no one else is doing it.

7. You'll make the pitch about the potential customer or investor, not you.

This is the most important reason to ask questions during a pitching session. You came to the event with one goal in mind--to sell your product or gain investment for your company. But the person sitting across from you has his or her own agenda, which may involve buying products or making investments but is certainly not the same as yours. Asking questions lets you quickly focus your interaction on fulfilling the person's needs, not yours.

And that's the quickest way to make a sale.



First posted: 2 May 2014

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Notes on Notes

Brad Riddell once taught a BFA Thesis Class at USC, which consisted of six very talented men and women, each about twenty-one years old. These writers had been in classes, workshops, and at parties together for three years. Over that time they had dated each other, broken up with each other, fought and loved each other, and at one point, when the script notes started flying, the tension popped and things got personal. He ended class immediately, called his fellow professional writers, other professors, as well as the managers, agents, producers and executives he knew, all in an effort to codify a set of principles for the process of giving and receiving notes.

These are
Brad's rules, as he wrote them in Script Magazine. He applies them, as best he can, in every creative setting involving script notes.



1.  Note givers should always begin with what they like about the work, even if it is just a single image or turn of phrase. It’s important that the good things are reinforced. We are not coddling writers; we are reinforcing and appreciating what is working so that it doesn’t get tossed.

2.  Don’t just point out problems when giving notes, but try to offer solutions with each note you give. Barring that, attempt to be as specific as possible about what is troubling you. Whether in features or TV, “working the room,” thinking on your feet, and collaborating with others to solve problems is an essential business skill. Resolving problems will get you much further than simply calling them out.

3.  The writer is interested in what you took from the material, so give him/her your interpretation and your thoughts. Questions like, “Why did you write this scene?” or “What was your intention?” shift the onus away from you. Do the work of forming a well-reasoned opinion for the benefit of the writer.

4.  Delivery is everything. Beginning a note with, “What I need to see is…” or, “You need to…,” often alienates the writer. Foster a tone of “what if” or “maybe.” Offer possibilities, not absolutes. When giving notes, do your best to remove emotion from the discussion. Be helpful, remain invested, but be as objective as possible. Avoid sarcastic, superior, and condescending tones. Such deliveries imply judgment. Receiving notes is never easy. We almost never feel good after getting notes. Do not exacerbate this problem for the writer by delivering your thoughts with an attitude.

5.  There is great benefit in riffing or brainstorming in the room. However, talking to talk, or talking in order to seem as if you are smart when you have nothing truly helpful to say, can cause dangerous digressions, waste time, and make you look inconsiderate, unprofessional, and unprepared. Better to keep listening, keep thinking, and wait until you have something clear and helpful to say.

6.  When receiving notes, a writer should employ a poker face. Looking demoralized and defeated, or acting wounded and depressed will not change a producer or agent’s mind about what they read, and it only makes you look weak. Getting angry is even worse. No rolling of eyes, scoffing, or grunting. Writers must strive to be objective about their own work. You want your story to be better. A note is not a setback, it is an opportunity to improve. Defending your material with an answer to every note comes off as uncooperative, insecure, and precious. Writers are inherently insecure people, but you must set aside fear, tuck away your ego, and listen for ways to make your movie better. The goal is to put a poster on the wall. There are always fights worth fighting, but make sure you’re not just fighting for fighting’s sake.

7.  Readers are your audience. They are visualizing a movie in their minds as they read your script. You cannot argue with the audience in a movie theater, therefore, you should not argue with your readers. They feel what they feel. Attempting to prove yourself right or someone else wrong – be it as a note taker or a note giver – simply wastes time and hinders efforts to make the script better. When receiving notes, you should be listening. You may disagree with what you’re hearing and choose to disregard it, or ask to discuss it further. That’s fine. You may also express your point of view, but arguing gains you nothing. Take the note, be grateful, and move on. If you are giving a note that is not well received, be the bigger person, consider it his/her loss, and move on.

8.  It’s not unusual for writers to develop a sense of the readers whose sensibilities match their own. This is okay! You can’t please everyone, and much of workshopping is determining what to take and what to leave. Some writers paint themselves into a corner by taking all notes, which can be as dangerous as taking none. Use your discretion.

9.  After receiving script notes, do not panic. It is wise (unless you are being pressed by a severe deadline) to leave the material for a day or two. You will find yourself in a better, more objective frame of mind to work, and therefore feel more creative when it’s time to rewrite. Large issues at the note table usually seem less daunting once the swelling has gone down, emotions have subsided, and a more distant perspective has been gained. Your logical, problem-solving brain can’t function until you’ve found a bit of peace.

10. Know when to say when. Unless you are being paid, this is your story. At some point, you have to shut out the noise and remember why you are writing this script, what it means to you, and what you want it to be. Always trust your gut first. Brains are tricksters, but guts tell the truth.



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First posted: 1 May 2014

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Akira Kurosawa - On editing

Here we have the final battle scene of Seven Samurai (1954). In an effort to better understand Kurosawa's technique, Phil Baumhardt made this analysis video, then added a commentary for the benefit of others.


First posted: 30 April 2014

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Hollywood's Golden Age

Here's a documentary about locations in Hollywood and Beverly Hills during Hollywood's "Golden Age".


First posted: 27 April 2014

Monday, 11 September 2017

'Citizen Kane'

Almost from the moment you take a serious interest in film, you start coming across references to Citizen Kane (1941). You can't avoid it. It's on every list of great films. Argue, if you will, about which is the greatest, but Citizen Kane is on your list somewhere.

All this adulation causes newbies (typically young people) to cringe when they finally get to see the actual movie. Shock! Horror! It's in B&W.

 
The trailer for Citizen Kane is less a sales pitch than a mystery. It shows plenty about the people behind the making of the movie but nothing from the actual film. Based solely on the trailer, you don’t know what Kane is about, short of being about a shadowy, complicated character called Kane.

Welles wasn’t just being cagey for the sake of building audience interest. He was trying to head off a fight. Though Welles publicly claimed that Kane was not about media baron William Randolph Hearst, you can hardly blame the tycoon for feeling otherwise. Hearst was a newspaper magnate with a showgirl mistress who built himself a preposterously opulent castle. Citizen Kane is about a newspaper magnate with a showgirl wife who built himself a preposterously opulent castle.

Hearst did everything he could to stop the movie’s production – and he could do quite a lot. When he failed to kill the picture by pressuring the studio, he pressured theater owners. He used his media empire to slander Welles – using the director’s complicated personal life as tabloid fodder and even implying that he was a Communist. Hearst’s campaign to discredit Welles was so successful that when the director’s name came up during the 1942 Academy Awards, it elicited boos.



If you want to get a sense of just why Citizen Kane is revered then check out this exhaustive documentary below about the film.


First posted: 24 April 2014

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Top 10 Tips - Roger Deakin

Roger Deakins is the director of photography on films such as The Shawshank Redemption, A Beautiful Mind, No Country for Old Men, True Grit and Skyfall. He's won more than 60 awards for his work, including three Baftas, and was last year presented with a lifetime achievement award by the American Society of Cinematographers.
    Here are his top ten tips for becoming a successful cinematographer, taken from the BBC News Entertainment and Arts.



1. Get some life experience

A cinematographer visualises the film and is a director's right hand on set. I studied photography and then went to the National Film School in England and got into the business that way, but there are all kinds of ways of getting in.
     I think it is more important to experience the world, really. You can't learn cinematography and you can't copy it. The job is just your way of looking at the world. Maybe that sounds a bit pretentious, but I think life experience is always more important than technical knowledge.

2. Be picky

I'm picky about the sort of material I want to work with, always have been. But usually I'm drawn to scripts that are about characters, I don't have a love of doing action movies.
     It is really important to choose which projects you are going to work on carefully. You are going to be on a film for a long time. I've just come back from Australia working on Unbroken with Angelina Jolie, which she was directing.
     It's six months of time and investment, but very worthwhile. I enjoyed it completely, but it was a hard shoot. You work long hours, often you're working six days a week and you are away from home. There are certain kinds of sacrifices you have to make.

3. Choose your collaborators carefully

My relationship with the Coen brothers goes back a long time. We just sort of hit it off and we're good friends, so I'd do anything with them.
     I loved working Sam Mendes on Skyfall, I probably wouldn't have done a Bond movie with anybody else. He had a different take on it and I think that film was far more character driven and that's what drew me to it.
     I turned down working on the next Bond film. I was really torn. I would have loved to work with Sam again but I just didn't feel I could bring anything really new to it. I'd really like to see someone else have the opportunity.

4. Take your time making decisions

My wife James travels with me when I'm working on a film. We've been married for over 20 years and she has been incredibly important to my career. We always talk about what projects are coming up and make the decisions together.
     We like the same kind of movies, we rarely disagree, we just talk things through. Deciding which projects to work on is something that you spend quite a long time considering. I'm very lucky to be in a position that means I can be a bit choosy these days.

5. Don't just copy others

It's no use just thinking you can just learn how to light and copy the best. We all find our own ways of doing things and our own sense of lens choice, composition and the way you move the camera. You can tell one person's work from another quite often, you know.
     So I think it's important to develop as a person. You have to develop your way of being. Otherwise, what are you doing? It's no good just copying, learning a technique and doing it. That's not very interesting, apart from anything else.

6. Understand the importance of lighting

I remember a fellow cinematographer talking about Shawshank and saying, "Well that was really nicely shot but there was no lighting in it."
     We actually shot most of the film in a prison that was absolutely black - I used a huge amount of light to create the look, more or less every shot, even some of the exteriors were lit! So it was a reverse compliment really, because there was a major cinematographer thinking it was shot with natural light when it wasn't!
     So, on the one hand, you need to light a space so you can see the actors - but, more than that, you are creating a mood, you are creating a world for those actors to inhabit and for the audience to get submersed in. Lighting is one of the most important aspects of any great film.

7. Don't cut corners

When you are on a film, because it takes so much time and you are often doing a 12, 14, 16 or even 18-hour day, you're often tired and so sometimes the temptation can be to do something a bit quick and cut corners, but then you regret it.
     Any time that you do something and think, "Oh well, that will be alright even if it's not as good as I can do," you always regret it later. If anything stands out as being untrue within the terms of that movie, then the audience's experience of that world is jolted, they are taken out of it.
     What you do lives on forever, as they say. It's important to persevere, because it's the people who persevere who go on to create something unique.

8. Keep up with new technology but remember the storytelling

You have to keep up with new technology, it all changes rapidly. Film stocks change, techniques like steadycam come along, we've got cranes now and aerial helicopters that can do all sorts of things and gyromounts so you can move the camera in all sorts of ways. We have digital technology now and 3D has come back.
     Technology is changing all the time, but for me nothing has changed in the sense that you are still telling stories by the use of light, the use of a frame, the way you move a camera. I'm still hoping to be part of telling stories about people and the way we are. So, to me, technology is important, but it's only in the background, it's a means to an end, it's like the paintbrush.

9. Wear something you are comfortable in

I cut my own hair. My hairdresser died when I was eleven. He was a really nice man and I didn't have anyone else, so I started cutting my own. I know it sounds silly, but I really don't like people fussing, frankly. It's only hair.
     I've got a really comfortable pair of cowboy boots and I wear blue jeans and a white shirt every day, including today. When I was working in England I wore a black shirt but now I'm in America, I wear a white one.
     I've got 10 white shirts and three pairs of jeans so that when I get up in the morning, I don't have to think about what I am going to put on. I can be dressed and out the door in ten minutes. It's a silly thing but it's like I'm getting ready for work and putting on my uniform.

10. Learn to put things to one side

I've been fired off a movie a couple of times and that's pretty horrendous. When something like that happens, you've just got to look at it and realise it's not necessarily about you. I haven't got a particularly thick skin, but it is important to be able to put things aside.
     Some films were very hard and at times you kind of struggle and you are in conflict with other people to get the job done. But overall, I wouldn't have done anything else. I loved those experiences if only because at the end you actually feel satisfied that you've managed to create something.
     I don't know what's next. I'm hoping to get back with Joel and Ethan and do something with them, really. I love my life and my career so far and I think I've got plenty more to do.




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Saturday, 9 September 2017

Christopher Walken on Gene Kelly

Christopher Walken has appeared in over 120 movies and TV shows. Before he was an actor, he was a dancer. Here he tells us a little bit about screen legend Gene Kelly.



First posted: 19 April 2014

Friday, 8 September 2017

5 Skills Not Taught in Film School

Brenna Erickson is a film producer/screenwriter, who owns a film company called Em.K. Productions. Her first feature film, Anatomically Incorrect was released in 2011.

These simple practical steps toward becoming a more efficient filmmaker were first published by Raindance New York.




There is a LOT of work that goes into filmmaking and when you are working with bare bones equipment and production staff, there are just some things you need to know how to do. These are the things I know how to do, or have had to learn.

Be Prepared!  Boy Scout Rule.

1) Survival Training/Basic Tools


So far, in my personal experience, the most important skills for filmmaking can be learned either through the Boy Scouts or Military Basic training. Learn how to tie knots, start a fire, the buddy system, how to not get lost in the woods, leadership skills, the ability to solve problems creatively, and organize a team of people are all ESSENTIAL skills when on set. 

My essential basic toolkit always contains the following:


Yes, I am a female filmmaker.  And, yes, I have my own personal toolbox that comes with me to set. Every shoot.

Your toolbox should contain the following:

1) a cordless drill (for screwing stuff in place)
2) hammer (for making sure nails don’t get loose, or adjusting where pictures and mirrors are hung to reduce camera glare)
3) wrench set (basic taking apart things or putting them back together)
4) screw driver (for when your drill won’t do the trick)
5) duct tape (It fixes everything.  No really. It’s first aid, car repairs, plumbing, lighting, fixing clothing, hanging temporary pictures, ghetto-rigging anything... I’m not kidding.  If you can’t afford Gaffers Tape, have 2-3 rolls of duct tape at all times and you almost don’t need anything else.)
6) box knife (for cutting things, like tape)
7) extension cords (more than 1.  And 2-3 power strips to power your lights, camera, monitor, laptops, and phone chargers)
8) gloves (for holding lights, or for when it’s a cold shoot)
9) pliers (for bending or straightening wires, pulling nails, etc)
10) safety pins (wardrobe) and clothespins (for holding gels)
11) plastic tarp (for protecting floors when you are throwing messy things around, or for creating shade in a scene for your actors aren’t squinting)
12) paint brush (for touch-ups on set in case the paint chipped during transportation)
13) a blanket and/or a sweatshirt  (to keep the actors/actresses warm and happy)

And when there are props to build, you should know how to use a circular saw, a nail gun, and a paint roller/tray.

Having these skills qualify you as a competent adult human being.

2) First Aid


Being able to do basic first aid comes in useful, especially when making films out in the woods. Being able to put a splint on a sprained finger, having band-aids, tweezers to remove that bee stinger. And I hope you never need to know the correct way to tie a tourniquet.
    All of these prepares you for the Worst Case Scenarios in filmmaking.
    Always keep some bandaids in your wallet so you have them on hand when actors get blisters or Make-up burns themselves on a hair straightener. Or a PA cuts themselves with the sandwich knife.
    It’s just common sense. You can also use them to fix some wardrobe problems.

3) Sewing


Please learn how to sew.  If a costume rips while on set, you need to be able to sew the button back on.  At the very least, learn how to safety pin it back together so it doesn’t show. Learn the basic stitches, how to thread a needle, and how to replace buttons, hooks and eyes, and do some basic fitting and tailoring.  If you are buying costumes, knowing how to fit them to the actors always improves the overall look of the film. Especially for emergencies on set.
    It’s better to be prepared  than needing to stop filming for a wardrobe malfunction!

4) Cooking


Nothing says “I love you for working for free” to a film crew like bringing them home-cooked meals or cupcakes.
    A fed crew is a happy crew, and if you can’t afford craft services, it’s actually cheaper to make food yourself and bring it to set rather than buying McDonald’s for everyone. It’ll be healthier and taste better too!
    Personal Story: One of my brilliant actresses met us on set, coming straight from work. She hadn’t had time to grab dinner and was thrilled when I opened up a tupperware full of steaming hot chicken, broccoli, and rice. She did a beautiful performance and was very appreciative and easy to work with.
    Cooking is a nice gesture to thank people for working for free.  It reminds them that everyone is a team, and the Director and Producer are there to make sure everyone is happy and taken care of.

5) Communication


Being able to communicate effectively will make organizing everyone on set easier and keep expectation realistic.  Knowing your way around Social Networking sites are a bonus because you can find crew members, and promote new projects more easily, as well as build up an online reputation.  This makes distribution easier as well.
    After you have mastered all of these skills, you are officially a Jack of all Trades, or just a very very useful Filmmaker.



First posted: 16 April 2014

Thursday, 7 September 2017

The History of the Movie Trailer

Some people consider them the best part of the movie going experience - the Movie Trailer. Take a look at the evolution of the "coming attractions" from simple silent film splices, through the template style of the Golden Age of Hollywood, through Auteurs and finally into the Blockbuster era.

Presented by John Hess of FilmmakerIQ.com.


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First posted: 12 April 2014

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

"Dance Now" - Christopher Walken

HuffPost Movie Mashups are a collection of videos celebrating cinematic tropes and themes, and are a part of the larger Huffington Post internet news, blog, and video community. 
Before becoming a film star, Christopher Walken initially trained as a musical theater dancer at the Washington Dance Studio. But unless you've seen every one of Walken's movies—and there are a lot of them—you might not realize just how many times he has danced on screen. The man loves to dance. Here is a music video of him dancing his way across the silver screen and into our hearts.

Below is a complete list of the films used in the video:

Roseland (1977)
The Deer Hunter (1978)
Brainstorm (1983)
Pennies from Heaven (1981)
The Dead Zone (1983)
A View To A Kill (1985)
At Close Range (1986)
Puss in Boots (1988)
Homeboy (1988)
Communion (1989)
King of New York (1990)
The Comfort of Strangers (1990)
Sarah, Plain and Tall (1991)
All-American Murder (1991)
Batman Returns (1992)
Skylark (1993)
True Romance (1993)
Wayne's World 2 (1993)
A Business Affair (1994)
Pulp Fiction (1994)
The Prophecy (1995)
Search and Destroy (1995)
Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead (1995)
The Funeral (1996)
Suicide Kings (1997)
Mousehunt (1997)
New Rose Hotel (1998)
Blast from the Past (1999)
Sleepy Hollow (1999)
The Opportunists (2000)
Scotland, Pa. (2001)
Joe Dirt (2001)
America's Sweethearts (2001)
The Affair of the Necklace (2001)
Poolhall Junkies (2002)
The Country Bears (2002)
Undertaking Betty (2002)
Catch Me If You Can (2002)
Gigli (2003)
The Rundown (2003)
Man on Fire (2004)
Envy (2004)
The Stepford Wives (2004)
Around the Bend (2004)
Wedding Crashers (2005)
Romance & Cigarettes (2005)
Domino (2005)
Click (2006)
Fade to Black (2006)
Man of the Year (2006)
Hairspray (2007)
Balls of Fury (2007)
$5 a Day (2008)
The Maiden Heist (2009)
Stand Up Guys (2012)
A Late Quartet (2012)
The Power of Few (2013)



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First posted: 9 April 2014

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Dave Van Ronk

I've been reading The Mayor of MacDougal Street recently, which is Dave Van Ronk's memoir of the folk music scene in Greenwich Village in the 1960s. The Coen brothers borrowed many of the incidents that happened to Van Ronk during that time as a structure for their character of Llewyn Davis, though they have been at pains to say that the personalities of the two are widely different.

Dave Van Ronk (1936-2002) was one of the founding figures of the 1960s folk revival. He was a pioneer of modern acoustic blues, a fine songwriter and arranger, a powerful singer, and one of the most influential guitarists of the '60s, he was also a marvelous storyteller, a peerless musical historian, and one of the most quotable figures on the Village scene.

The Mayor of MacDougal Street is a first-hand account by a major player in the social and musical history of the '50s and '60s. It features encounters with young stars-to-be like Bob Dylan, Tom Paxton, Phil Ochs, and Joni Mitchell, as well as older luminaries like Reverend Gary Davis, Mississippi John Hurt, and Odetta. I enjoyed The Mayor of MacDougal Street and would recommend it to anyone interested in that period in American culture.



Here is the Making of video for Inside Llewyn Davis.

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First posted: 2 April 2014

Monday, 4 September 2017

Wes Anderson: A Mini Documentary

Paul Waters is part of Brown Elephant Creative, a media production house which has worked on high profile in-house and consumer based media projects with a diverse clientèle, including several Fortune 500 companies.

This short film is the sort of thing Paul does in his spare time.


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First posted: 1 April 2014

Sunday, 3 September 2017

18 Things Highly Creative People Do Differently

Carolyn Gregoire recently wrote an article for The Huffington Post called 18 Things Highly Creative People Do Differently.



Creativity works in mysterious and often paradoxical ways. Creative thinking is a stable, defining characteristic in some personalities, but it may also change based on situation and context. Inspiration and ideas often arise seemingly out of nowhere and then fail to show up when we most need them, and creative thinking requires complex cognition yet is completely distinct from the thinking process.
    Neuroscience paints a complicated picture of creativity. As scientists now understand it, creativity is far more complex than the right-left brain distinction would have us think (the theory being that left brain = rational and analytical, right brain = creative and emotional). In fact, creativity is thought to involve a number of cognitive processes, neural pathways and emotions, and we still don't have the full picture of how the imaginative mind works.
    And psychologically speaking, creative personality types are difficult to pin down, largely because they're complex, paradoxical and tend to avoid habit or routine. And it's not just a stereotype of the "tortured artist"—artists really may be more complicated people. Research has suggested that creativity involves the coming together of a multitude of traits, behaviors and social influences in a single person.
    "It's actually hard for creative people to know themselves because the creative self is more complex than the non-creative self," Scott Barry Kaufman, a psychologist at New York University who has spent years
researching creativity, told The Huffington Post. "The things that stand out the most are the paradoxes of the creative self ... Imaginative people have messier minds."
    While there's no "typical" creative type, there are some tell-tale characteristics and behaviors of highly creative people. Here are 18 things they do differently.




1. They daydream.

Creative types know, despite what their third-grade teachers may have said, that daydreaming is anything but a waste of time.
     According to Kaufman and psychologist Rebecca L. McMillan, who co-authored a paper titled Ode To Positive Constructive Daydreaming, mind-wandering can aid in the process of "creative incubation." And of course, many of us know from experience that our best ideas come seemingly out of the blue when our minds are elsewhere.
     Although daydreaming may seem mind less, a 2012 study suggested it could actually involve a highly engaged brain state—daydreaming can lead to sudden connections and insights because it's related to our ability to recall information in the face of distractions. Neuroscientists have also found that daydreaming involves the same brain processes associated with imagination and creativity.

2. They observe everything.

The world is a creative person's oyster—they see possibilities everywhere and are constantly taking in information that becomes fodder for creative expression As Henry James is widely quoted, a writer is someone on whom "nothing is lost."
     The writer Joan Didion kept a notebook with her at all times, and said that she wrote down observations about people and events as, ultimately, a way to better understand the complexities and contradictions of her own mind:
     "However dutifully we record what we see around us, the common denominator of all we see is always, transparently, shamelessly, the implacable 'I,'" Didion wrote in her essay On Keeping A Notebook. "We are talking about something private, about bits of the mind’s string too short to use, an indiscriminate and erratic assemblage with meaning only for its marker."

3. They work the hours that work for them.

Many great artists have said that they do their best work either very early in the morning or late at night. Vladimir Nabokov started writing immediately after he woke up at 6 or 7 a.m., and Frank Lloyd Wright made a practice of waking up at 3 or 4 a.m. and working for several hours before heading back to bed. No matter when it is, individuals with high creative output will often figure out what time it is that their minds start firing up, and structure their days accordingly.

4. They take time for solitude.

"In order to be open to creativity, one must have the capacity for constructive use of solitude. One must overcome the fear of being alone," wrote the American existential psychologist Rollo May.
     Artists and creatives are often stereotyped as being loners, and while this may not actually be the case, solitude can be the key to producing their best work. For Kaufman, this links back to daydreaming—we need to give ourselves the time alone to simply allow our minds to wander.
     "You need to get in touch with that inner monologue to be able to express it," he says. "It's hard to find that inner creative voice if you're ... not getting in touch with yourself and reflecting on yourself."

5. They turn life's obstacles around.

Many of the most iconic stories and songs of all time have been inspired by gut-wrenching pain and heartbreak—and the silver lining of these challenges is that they may have been the catalyst to create great art. An emerging field of psychology called post-traumatic growth is suggesting that many people are able to use their hardships and early-life trauma for substantial creative growth. Specifically, researchers have found that trauma can help people to grow in the areas of interpersonal relationships, spirituality, appreciation of life, personal strength, and—most importantly for creativity—seeing new possibilities in life.
     "A lot of people are able to use that as the fuel they need to come up with a different perspective on reality," says Kaufman. "What's happened is that their view of the world as a safe place, or as a certain type of place, has been shattered at some point in their life, causing them to go on the periphery and see things in a new, fresh light, and that's very conducive to creativity."

6. They seek out new experiences.

Creative people love to expose themselves to new experiences, sensations and states of mind—and this openness is a significant predictor of creative output.
"Openness to experience is consistently the strongest predictor of creative achievement," says Kaufman. "This consists of lots of different facets, but they're all related to each other: Intellectual curiosity, thrill seeking, openness to your emotions, openness to fantasy. The thing that brings them all together is a drive for cognitive and behavioral exploration of the world, your inner world and your outer world."

7. They "fail up."

Resilience is practically a prerequisite for creative success, says Kaufman. Doing creative work is often described as a process of failing repeatedly until you find something that sticks, and creatives—at least the successful ones—learn not to take failure so personally.
     "Creatives fail and the really good ones fail often," Forbes contributor Steven Kotler wrote in a piece on Einstein's creative genius.

8. They ask the big questions.

Creative people are insatiably curious—they generally opt to live the examined life, and even as they get older, maintain a sense of curiosity about life. Whether through intense conversation or solitary mind-wandering, creatives look at the world around them and want to know why, and how, it is the way it is.

9. They people-watch.

Observant by nature and curious about the lives of others, creative types often love to people-watch—and they may generate some of their best ideas from it.
     "[Marcel] Proust spent almost his whole life people-watching, and he wrote down his observations, and it eventually came out in his books," says Kaufman. "For a lot of writers, people-watching is very important ... They're keen observers of human nature."

10. They take risks.

Part of doing creative work is taking risks, and many creative types thrive off of taking risks in various aspects of their lives.
     "There is a deep and meaningful connection between risk taking and creativity and it's one that's often overlooked," contributor Steven Kotler wrote in Forbes. "Creativity is the act of making something from nothing. It requires making public those bets first placed by imagination. This is not a job for the timid. Time wasted, reputation tarnished, money not well spent—these are all by-products of creativity gone awry."

11. They view all of life as an opportunity for self-expression.

Nietzsche believed that one's life and the world should be viewed as a work of art. Creative types may be more likely to see the world this way, and to constantly seek opportunities for self-expression in everyday life.
     "Creative expression is self-expression," says Kaufman. "Creativity is nothing more than an individual expression of your needs, desires and uniqueness."

12. They follow their true passions.

Creative people tend to be intrinsically motivated—meaning that they're motivated to act from some internal desire, rather than a desire for external reward or recognition. Psychologists have shown that creative people are energized by challenging activities, a sign of intrinsic motivation, and the research suggests that simply thinking of intrinsic reasons to perform an activity may be enough to boost creativity.
     "Eminent creators choose and become passionately involved in challenging, risky problems that provide a powerful sense of power from the ability to use their talents," write M.A. Collins and T.M. Amabile in Handbook of Creativity.

13. They get out of their own heads.

Kaufman argues that another purpose of daydreaming is to help us to get out of our own limited perspective and explore other ways of thinking, which can be an important asset to creative work.
     "Daydreaming has evolved to allow us to let go of the present," says Kaufman. "The same brain network associated with daydreaming is the brain network associated with theory of mind—I like calling it the 'imagination brain network'—it allows you to imagine your future self, but it also allows you to imagine what someone else is thinking."
     Research has also suggested that inducing "psychological distance"—that is, taking another person's perspective or thinking about a question as if it was unreal or unfamiliar—can boost creative thinking.

14. They lose track of the time.

Creative types may find that when they're writing, dancing, painting or expressing themselves in another way, they get "in the zone," or what's known as a flow state, which can help them to create at their highest level. Flow is a mental state when an individual transcends conscious thought to reach a heightened state of effortless concentration and calmness. When someone is in this state, they're practically immune to any internal or external pressures and distractions that could hinder their performance.
     You get into the flow state when you're performing an activity you enjoy that you're good at, but that also challenges you—as any good creative project does.
    "[Creative people] have found the thing they love, but they've also built up the skill in it to be able to get into the flow state," says Kaufman. "The flow state requires a match between your skill set and the task or activity you're engaging in."

15. They surround themselves with beauty.

Creatives tend to have excellent taste, and as a result, they enjoy being surrounded by beauty.
    A study recently published in the journal Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts showed that musicians—including orchestra musicians, music teachers, and soloists—exhibit a high sensitivity and responsiveness to artistic beauty.

16. They connect the dots.

If there's one thing that distinguishes highly creative people from others, it's the ability to see possibilities where others don't—or, in other words, vision. Many great artists and writers have said that creativity is simply the ability to connect the dots that others might never think to connect.
In the words of Steve Jobs:
    "Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn't really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That's because they were able to connect experiences they've had and synthesize new things."

17. They constantly shake things up.

Diversity of experience, more than anything else, is critical to creativity, says Kaufman. Creatives like to shake things up, experience new things, and avoid anything that makes life more monotonous or mundane.
     "Creative people have more diversity of experiences, and habit is the killer of diversity of experience," says Kaufman.

18. They make time for mindfulness.

Creative types understand the value of a clear and focused mind—because their work depends on it. Many artists, entrepreneurs, writers and other creative workers, such as David Lynch, have turned to meditation as a tool for tapping into their most creative state of mind.
     And science backs up the idea that mindfulness really can boost your brain power in a number of ways. A 2012 Dutch study suggested that certain meditation techniques can promote creative thinking. And mindfulness practices have been linked with improved memory and focus, better emotional well-being, reduced stress and anxiety, and improved mental clarity—all of which can lead to better creative thought.





First posted: 22 March 2014

Saturday, 2 September 2017

The Soviet Theory of Montage

Here's another in the series 'History of Cutting' by John Hess.
Building on the works of D.W. Griffith and the development of "continuity editing" in early film history, Soviet silent filmmakers would pioneer new innovative ideas about editing that moved film from an extension of theater into a mature and powerful artistic medium.



First posted: 14 March 2014

Friday, 1 September 2017

Sam Mendes’s 25 Rules for Directors

The Roundabout Theatre Company honored Sam Mendes recently, at the Hammerstein Ballroom in Manhattan. There were speeches (inevitably), including one by Sam, in which he tried to share with other directors things he's learned along the way. Here are twenty-five of them.

  1. Always choose good collaborators. It seems so obvious, but the best collaborators are the ones who disagree with you. It means they’re passionate, they have opinions, and they’ll only ever say yes if they mean it.
  2. Try to learn how to make the familiar strange, and the strange familiar. Direct Shakespeare like it’s a new play, and treat every new play as if it’s Shakespeare.
  3. If you have the chance, please work with Dame Judi Dench.
  4. Learn to say, “I don’t know the answer.” It could be the beginning of a very good day’s rehearsal.
  5. Go to the ancient amphitheater at Epidaurus, in Greece. It makes you realize what you are a part of, and it will change the way you look at the world. If you’re an artist, you will feel central, and you will never feel peripheral again.
  6. Avoid, please, all metaphors of plays or films as “pinnacles” or “peaks”; treat with absolute scorn the word “definitive”; and if anyone uses the word “masterpiece,” they don’t know what they’re doing. The pursuit of perfection is a mug’s game.
  7. If you are doing a play or a film, you have to have a secret way in if you are directing it. Sometimes it’s big things. American Beauty, for me, was about my adolescence. Road to Perdition was about my childhood. Skyfall was about middle-age and mortality. Sometimes it’s small things. Maybe it’s just a simple idea. What if we do the whole thing in the nightclub, for example. But it’s not enough just to admire a script, you have to have a way in that is yours, and yours alone.
  8. Confidence is essential, but ego is not.
  9. Theater is the writer’s medium and the actor’s medium; the director comes a distant third. If you want a proper ego trip, direct movies.
  10. Buy a good set of blinkers. Do not read reviews. It’s enough to know whether they’re good or they’re bad. When I started, artists vastly outnumbered commentators, and now, there are a thousand published public opinions for every work of art. However strong you are, confidence is essential to what you do, and confidence is a fragile thing. Protect it. As T.S. Eliot says, teach us to care, and not to care.
  11. Run a theater. A play is temporary, a building is permanent. So try to create something that stays behind and will be used and loved by others.
  12. You are never too old to learn something new, as I reminded myself, I learned to ski with my 10-year-old son, of course, who did it in about 10 minutes, and I spent four days slaloming up and down, looking like a complete tit. But, don’t be scared of feeling like a complete tit. It’s an essential part of the learning process.
  13. There is no right and wrong, there is only interesting, and less interesting.
  14. Paintings, novels, poetry, music are all superior art forms. But theater and film can steal from all of them.
  15. There are no such things as “previews” on Broadway.
  16. Peter Brooks said, “The journey is the destination.” Do not think of product, or, god forbid, audience response. Think only of discovery and process. One of my favorite quotes from Hamlet—Polonius: “We shall, by indirections, find the directions out.” 
  17. Learn when to shut up. I’m still working on this one.
  18. When you have a cast of 20, this means you have 20 other imaginations in the room with you. Use them.
  19. Please remember the Oscars are a TV show.
  20. Get on with it. Robert Frost said, “Tell everything a little faster.” He wasn’t wrong.
  21. The second production of a musical is always better than the first.
  22. Learn to accept the blame for everything. If the script was poor, you didn’t work hard enough with the writer. If the actors failed, you failed. If the sets, the lighting, the post, the costumes are wrong, you gave them the thumbs-up. So build up your shoulders, they need to be broad.
  23. On screen, your hero can blow away 500 bad guys, but if he smokes one fucking cigarette, you’re in deep shit.
  24. Always have an alternative career planned out. Mine is a cricket commentator. You will never do this career, but it might help you get to sleep at night.
  25. Never, ever, ever forget how lucky you are to do something that you love.


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First posted: 13 March 2014

Thursday, 31 August 2017

Ten Commandments of directing comedy

David Dobkin is a producer and director, best known for Clay Pigeons (1998), Shanghai Knights (2003), and Wedding Crashers (2005).

He is, by his own admission, not a funny guy; yet he has directed many funny films. In order to do that, he had to learn what "funny" was in practice. Here is what he learned, as told to the DGA Quarterly.




1. “Kinda funny” means it's not working

Laughter is binary: It either happens or it doesn’t. As each joke arrives in the course of a film, the cavernous space of the theater is either filled with joy and laughter, or with the quiet of cringing embarrassment. Every time you step to the plate to make a joke you’re going to experience one or the other. “Kinda funny,” or in other words, chuckles and smiles, are basically comedy blue balls: a failure to launch. People pay to laugh, and laugh big.

2. It only looks easy when it works

Comedy, when it works, is light on its feet and has the illusion of complete spontaneity: as if there is no film, no camera. You are standing there experiencing it all in real-time. This illusion, I believe, is why so many people think comedy is easy. (“That actor is so funny!!!”) People tend to disregard comedy as “art,” and somehow downgrade it into a sub-genre of filmmaking referred to as “entertainment.”

3. If it's not funny, you haven't gone far enough

When you make a joke, and it doesn’t land, what happened? In the kind of comedy I practice, which is irreverent comedy, if a joke isn’t getting the laugh, you have not stretched the joke far enough. You need to surprise people with just how far you’ll go. It’s funny when the guys from The Hangover wake up completely wrecked from their first night of partying. It’s very funny when a chicken walks by and we see the hotel room totaled. But it’s fall out of your seat hilarious when we discover a tiger in the bathroom.

4. If it's not funny, you've gone too far

Now, there’s also the place where you’ve gone too far and you lose your audience. You mostly do not see these moments, because they are on the editing room floor. Admittedly, they are some of my favorites. In Kingpin, Woody Harrelson performs a sexual favor on his super gross landlady because he can’t pay the rent. I couldn’t stop laughing. The other half of the audience were covering their eyes, and was very much not laughing. For some directors (and studios), this is too far. For me, if you do this right, the half that are covering their eyes are hopefully still having fun with it, because it’s fun when the roller coaster goes a bit too fast (as long as you’re not tossing your cookies).

5. Great comedy has great drama at its core

The more invested the audience is in your characters and the drama of what they are going through, the more they will laugh at the comedy. This is obvious in films like As Good as It Gets and Tootsie, where we cry as well as laugh. But even in more contemporary work, this commandment applies. In Knocked Up, we all really want to know how the hell this schlubby guy and hot girl, who don’t even know each other, are going to have a baby together. And because we’re invested, when the guy’s father gives him advice that is so shockingly honest and hurtful that it only makes things worse, it is crazy funny. Because life is like that for us, too.

6. Comedy is harder than drama (or so say us who do it)

This is simple. When you are making a movie, oftentimes there may be tension, and even fighting, on set. This is due to many factors: the pressure of time and money, creative disagreements, a clash of personalities … whatever. It’s called “making movies.” When one is making a drama, you can’t tell in the dailies, or final film, that everyone wanted to kill each other. The performances are intense and alive and crackling with emotion. With comedy, if the set is not free and fun and flowing, if the talent feels tight and shut down, what you get are constricted performances. And constricted performances are not funny. That illusion of “easy” we spoke about earlier does not happen. So, yes, it’s harder.

7. You are only as funny as your cast

No, people who do not have funny in them are not funny when they read funny lines. Sorry. Just doesn’t work that way. Seriously, this is the biggest rule of all. You live and die with your casting decisions. Your actors are the heart and soul of the whole thing. Without brilliant actors, you will not have a brilliant film. Great talent makes the magic come alive.

8. You are only as funny as your script

No, the actors don’t just walk onto the stage and make up jokes. Get real. You need a good story with well-drawn characters and solid comedy throughout, just as a start. Without a good script that works at least most of the way, you can’t make movies that work, either.

9. If you're laughing on set, be worried

I don’t know why this is true, but I can attest to the fact that I have laughed my ass off on set during certain scenes, and later found they were not nearly as funny in the edit as they were on set. So, don’t take laughter on the set as a sign of anything. In fact, it can be distracting from what you may need to really make the scene work.

10. You never know what you have until you are done editing

When you get to the edit and watch your assembly, you will want to cry. Almost nothing works. That’s because it’s not a movie yet. It’s an assembly. And the process you go through between that moment and a finished film is where you find out what you really have: the magic you’ve captured, and the magic you’ve missed.

11. You never know what you have until you put it in front of an audience

You didn’t make the movie for yourself, and you will not know what you have until you show it to an unbiased audience. Unbiased means people who don’t know you at all. Too many times people show their friends and think they know what they have, only to get it in front of a real audience and have it destroyed. They laugh, or they don’t. They like it, or they don’t. This is how you find that out. And it’s brutal.
     I know, I know, there are more than ten, but those are the commandments, more or less. And all I had to sacrifice to learn them was my self-esteem, my sanity, my body, my relationships, my family, my childhood, and my manhood. You’re getting them for free.
     But when the lights go out in the theater, and those first jokes start dropping those opening lines of this comedy sermon, and the seats begin to rock hard with laughter that’s louder than bombs ... I smile to myself, knowing all the fun that’s heading our way over the next 90 minutes. At that moment, it all seems a small price to pay.



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First posted: 6 March 2014