Fan Filmmaker's Primer

Discussion in 'Fan Productions' started by Maurice, Dec 9, 2010.

  1. Maurice

    Maurice Vice Admiral Admiral

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    This post may seem negative at first. But stick with it. You'll see where I'm going is a happy place.

    BREAKING RULES


    One thing I hear a lot from novice filmmakers are rationalizations for breaking rules, especially where cinematography and editing are concerned.

    I've said it before and it's worth repeating: most such rules are there for a good reason, usually because they make intuitive sense to viewers, or from a production sense, as in they make shooting and editing the film in a coherent fashion easier.

    The reality of breaking rules as a beginner is this: it rarely works. In fact, it almost never works. This because novices are not experienced enough to understand what the rules are let alone assess the negative impacts of breaking them.

    Okay, sure, when Orson Welles went to RKO he questioned everything, and this got the people he was working with—notably cinematographer Gregg Toland—to consider if they could do things differently, resulting in the groundbreaking and still influential Citizen Kane. But Welles is the last man beginners should look to as a model. First of all, because he's Orson Fucking Welles, wunderkind and enfant terrible. Second, he had tons of stage and radio experience to draw from as a writer, director and actor before landing at RKO. Thirdly, once at RKO he had the genius of Toland and an army of professionals at hand who could implement or improve his good ideas and explain things to him the WHY of the rules, thus he could make educated decisions about which rules to break and when. RKO was his education.

    Chances are, you're neither Wellesian nor have a Toland on hand. I sure don't.

    So, yes, you can defiantly or ignorantly Cross The Line, disregard Directional Continuity, forget the 30° Rule and throw away continuity cutting in all your films, but without understanding the why of those rules, or thinking about the consequences of ignoring them, chances are 99% that the results are going to be RUBBISH, little more than a collection of beginner MISTAKES which only hurt your work. Yes, there are occasional novices who reshape the field via innovation, but, like a lotto ticket, chances are most people aren't a winner.

    Now for the light at the end of this tunnel. I write all this not to slap people down and imply that they're doomed to not be able to innovate. On the contrary, I say all this as a means of setting up HOW one goes about becoming a successful rule-breaker, as ably illustrated by the video below. It concerns the French New Wave and how and why its practitioners broke rules and why their rule breaking was successful. Hint: most of them were students and critics of film who understood the history and language of cinema in such detail that they could push the envelope because they knew that envelope inside-out.


     
    Last edited: Mar 20, 2016
  2. Duane

    Duane Captain Captain

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    Hi Maurice, I watched it the day you posted and even enjoyed it. I'm not a "behind-the-camera" guy so I'm not really your target market. Still, very interesting.
     
  3. Maurice

    Maurice Vice Admiral Admiral

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    Thanks, Duane. My comment was in reference to a message which appears to have since been deleted.

    Personally, I think understanding how things work directorially, cinematographically and editorially are all valuable to anyone who wants to make movies, even writers. Scripts sometimes suggest visual or editorial approaches, after all, and understanding various techniques can feedback into the writing. After all, who would write a rapid-cut montage had they not seen one before?
     
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  4. Duane

    Duane Captain Captain

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    Maurice, interesting that you mention a montage. The second half of my script (the half you haven't seen) has my main characters building a brick wall to serve as protection. A montage is the only way I can imagine shooting this as the process of building the wall needs to appear to take a lot of time and effort. Sadly, I've seen a lot of montages that try this and fail miserably. Maybe you can point out a great example?
     
  5. MikeH92467

    MikeH92467 Vice Admiral Admiral

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    Maurice, I think your insights are valuable to anyone who would like to better understand the filmmaking process, whether they want to make films themselves, write scripts, work behind the cameras or simply enjoy them as more sophisticated viewers.
     
  6. trynda1701

    trynda1701 Commander Red Shirt

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    Interesting video, Maurice. As always, your thoughts are appreciated.

    Although, can you tell me, why is the young lady waving the scissors about like that?:crazy:;)
     
  7. Maurice

    Maurice Vice Admiral Admiral

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    There's no standard method for writing a montage. Practically every script I've seen that does one has it written in a different way. Sometimes it's a list of shots in sequence, other times it's a description like...

    WALL BUILDING MONTAGE
    Sequence of fast cuts illustrating our heroes building the wall which may be their only defense, intercutting shots of brick forming and baking, grout mixing, the foundation being laid, barrowloads of bricks being brought to the wall site, intercut with shots of the characters doing all of these activities, each expressing through action and body language their individual attitude about the work and their confidence or concerns about the chances of this being their salvation. Throughout we see the wall get broader and taller.

    FINAL SHOT is the completed wall, which looks simultaneously impervious and about to fall down.

    END MONTAGE​

    Can you tell I've written stuff like this? ;)
     
    Last edited: Mar 22, 2016
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  8. Duane

    Duane Captain Captain

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    Very helpful. Thanks.
     
  9. Maurice

    Maurice Vice Admiral Admiral

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    An addendum to my previous entry about breaking the rules. In short, this is about....

    WHY THE RULES ARE THE RULES

    This is not likely to be popular amongst fan filmmakers, whom experience has demonstrated have little interest in or regard for many fundamentals of filmmaking. But the more I thought about my post about Breaking the Rules, the more I realized that I was doing no one any favors by ducking the cinematic elephant in the room. So, permit me to explain Why The Rules Are The Rules and why you break them at your peril.

    Cinematography and editing are not arbitrary, albeit they may seem like such to the layperson. Most of the "rules" are there because they work, and, dare I suggest it, because on a fundamental level they connect to how we view the world in real life.

    Imagine you are seated in a diner and observing two people across the aisle in an booth opposite your own. When those people look at each other there is an eyeline. From your POV She looks to the right to see He, and He looks left to look at She. Once that's been established you don't even need to see both participants to know whom they are addressing. If She's eyeline changes, goes up or out towards you or back over her left shoulder, you know she's not looking at He. This is The Line in the real-world.

    Your eyeballs and eyelids are both a lens and a moviola. We rack focus to zero in on what is important. We lean in to see small details, back to get the big picture, and stand on tiptoes to see over obstructions. These are analogous to our changing focus, our jumping from the big picture of the establishing shot to the important detail of the insert We are selective in our focus; the periphery blurs, and we see only what we want or grabs our attention.

    The camera is you.

    Even basic editing is analogous to how we see things in real life. Hell our eyeballs literally do "cuts" for us, as we typically shut our eyelids when we shift our gaze or change focus or even when we have a new thought. First you see She and He and where they are in the diner (establishing shot); then shift focus (cut) to the two of them to the exclusion of the room (two-shot), blink as you shift your gaze (cut) to zero in on She when she starts talking (single), blink and shift gaze (cut) to watch He when he replies (single), etc.

    The moviola is you.

    People's orientation and eyelines relative to one another do not change instantly. It's why a cut across The Line feels wrong whereas a camera or character move across The Line doesn't feel broken, just as if you walked to a different position or if He got up and moved to sit alongside She, because the Line gets established anew; the change must be shown else it chafes against our life experience and it jars.

    Al of this illustrates why the basic rules exist, why they smell right, and why it feels wrong on some primal level when they are broken, especially when broken in an arbitrary manner. It's how we see the world. It's why crossing The Line feels wrong. It's why jump cuts feel broken. It's why traditional continuity cutting works.

    The Rules Are The Rules because they work.

    In conclusion, there's nothing wrong or stultifying or creatively stifling about following the rules. Take the time to learn the fundaments of your craft and use them to your advantage. Don't fall prey to the dilettante's delusion that rules don't matter or apply to you or that the don't because your choices are "artistic".

    If the rules are good enough for Kubrick or Speilberg or Wise or even JJ Abrams, they're good enough for us, too.
     
    Last edited: May 25, 2016
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  10. JE Smith

    JE Smith Lieutenant Commander Red Shirt

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    Wow, just watched a S5 episode of Game of Thrones that had some major-league line-crossing. Proof that even the "big boys" screw up sometimes.

    I even found the clip, the boo-boos start at 1:45. The dumb thing is, they could easily have flopped the footage of Jorah -- there's no insignia or detailing about his clothing or haircut that would have given it away.

    It won't let me embed the video. Just search for "Game of Thrones 5x06 - Tyrion tells Jorah about his father Jeor Mormont"
     
    Last edited: Mar 27, 2016
  11. Maurice

    Maurice Vice Admiral Admiral

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    This links out to it even if it won't play here.

    Yeah, that scene is a mess.
     
  12. Maurice

    Maurice Vice Admiral Admiral

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    SOUND TRUMPS PICTURE

    This has been stated a number of times upthread, but sound is the Achilles Heel of most fan productions (weak scripts aside). Absent or inadequate sound deadens a scene. Poor sound utterly undermines it.

    Here's a silly little example of how much sound makes the scene. The following is an animation I created as part of a live-demo (meaning played live at trade shows) for a long-extinct company's animation package. The animation was one of several prospective MTV station I.D. bumpers I had toyed with submitting to that network. The animation software had very limited sound capabilities: namely it could play a single sound file at once. Given this was a DOS program, the size of said files was also rather limited, ergo, as originally done the sound work was incredibly spare.

    I recently reconstructed this animation to add to my reel, but for the reel I decided to do a proper sound mix, because the lack of sound and the poor quality of the sounds in the original really hurt the piece. The animation plays twice in the video:
    • first is as it was originally done in 1992
    • second is the audio remix (and about a dozen frames of tweaking to the animation)
    Notice how much more alive the full soundtrack version is.


    A filmmaker friend of mine once told me "even silence has a sound" in movies, and it's true. You need something in the background, at least room tone (the subtle ambient sound in a room) to keep the audio track alive. Notice how "dead" the first version of the animation feels because it's mostly silent with nothing at all on the audio track.

    Also notice that in the first instance the same sound is used for all the footsteps, whereas in the second each footstep is slightly different. As such the first sounds mechanical but the second doesn't. This demonstrates why it's important to have a large sound library or to custom record foley to go with the action.

    Sound trumps picture, indeed.

    Next time I'll talk about some things fan filmmakers can do to make their film's soundtracks work for their film instead of against it.
     
    Last edited: May 30, 2016
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  13. Hudson_uk

    Hudson_uk Lieutenant Commander Red Shirt

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    Trying to decide if that was so blatant there was a reason for it. Can't be sure though.
     
  14. Maurice

    Maurice Vice Admiral Admiral

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    HOW TO STAGE...

    In this instance, the subject is visual comedy, but much of what he says here is true for filmmaking in general. Visual interest is important, so don't be lazy.

     
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