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'm sure now, and 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: Nov 9, 2017
  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 feed back into the writing. After all, who would write a rapid-cut montage had they not seen one before?
     
    Last edited: Apr 12, 2017
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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 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 Captain Captain

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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 because they are arbitrary (they're not) or that you know better, or 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: Nov 9, 2017
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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.
     
    Last edited: Nov 6, 2017
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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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  15. Maurice

    Maurice Vice Admiral Admiral

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    So, I hope GSchnitzer won't mind me momentarily revivifying this corpse thread for a moment, but I thought I'd nudge this dormant thread with this little video my friend and fellow filmmaker/maker Gil Poznanski made of me as the subject for his weekly Makers Monday (hey, it's Monday now in Melbourne!) series (Doug Drexler was a subject some weeks ago [link]). No Trek stuff in it, but if you want to see what I look and sound like at 1am with a LaserGraphics film scanner running behind me, here's your chance.

     
    Last edited: Oct 15, 2017
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  16. Maurice

    Maurice Vice Admiral Admiral

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    CUTTING ON/AROUND DIALOG

    I've in the past cited the "cut on blinks" approach espoused by editor extraordinaire Walter Murch (link to that post), but always cutting on a blink or cutting when someone finishes a sentence can feel mechanical and awkward.

    Beginners tend to cut dialog right between one line and the next, which also feels mechanical and doesn't jive with how we watch a conversation in real life. Let's say our characters are Pat and Terry. Here are two examples of doing a "split edit" in which the picture and sound are not cut in the same place.

    Pat is saying something provocative, so a listener might turn their gaze before Pat finishes in anticipation of Terry's reaction. On film we do the same thing, so the picture cuts before the sound, and we hear the tail end of Pat's zinger over Terry before Terry responds.

    This is called an L cut in which the SOUND from the first shot overlaps the PICTURE of the second.

    | <—picture cut
    sound cut—>|
    or​
    | <—cut to Terry
    Pat finishes line—>|
    When observing a typical conversation we don't always know when one speaker is finished speaking, and so we don't turn our gaze until another person starts speaking. So, while we watch Terry talking our gaze doesn't shift until Pat interrupts or chimes in and draws our attention. Film replicates this by having the sound cut to Pat before the picture does.

    This is called a J cut in which the PICTURE from the first shot overlaps the SOUND of the second.

    picture cut—>|
    | <—sound cut
    or​
    cut to Pat—>|
    | <—Pat starts speaking
    These are examples of what are called "MOTIVATED" cuts, because when to cut is motivated by the dialog and action and audience anticipation or reaction.
    1. We cut picture early when we anticipate something coming
    2. We cut picture late when we react to something unexpected
    I looked around for examples and found the split edit techniques as the second item in this video about three mistakes beginning editors make. Hope it's useful (the whole video might actually be useful, actually).
     
    Last edited: Nov 6, 2017
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  17. Maurice

    Maurice Vice Admiral Admiral

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    So, for any who are interested in this stuff, here's an album of photos from a one-day shoot I did yesterday at The Producers Loft in San Francisco, where I've shot several projects over the years. I realize most fanfilm makers don't have access to a space and gear like this, but I thought some of you might find the behind-the-scenes photos interesting.

    We were shooting a "limbo set", basically an empty space with no defined walls (think "The Empath" or the realm of the "Prophets in DS9, or endless prison void in THX-1138), so we used a bank of overhead lanterns and two Chimera LED Lightbanks (which we were able lower from the grid instead of using C-stands).

    Here's a link to the full album of photos.

    And here are a few of them..
    [​IMG]
    Me checking with some crew as the cast is ready for a blocking run-through, hence the scripts. We're shooting on a "limbo set" (empty set with no definition).


    [​IMG]
    Overhead lanterns light the cyc, while two drop-down lights from the grid hit the talent. Slated and ready for action.


    [​IMG]
    Another angle, where you can see on the monitor what the actual frame is. The white floor actually goes all the way to where the camera is, but is covered with carpet to prevent scuffing until such time as we need to see more of the floor. It also helps deaden echoes off the smooth floor surface.

    Likewise, the heavy black curtains do double-duty, cutting off both sunlight from the studio windows and acting as sound blankets to deaden echoes on set and deaden sound from the other parts of the stage (craft services is in the kitchen area behind the curtains to the right).


    [​IMG]
    My sound guy, Phillip Foster, has some sweet over-the-shoulder boom action. We're using "beach" (sandbags) to make sure the wobbly prop doesn't move. If you've seen the recent "Grammarly" commercial "Extreme Knitting" (LINK to commercial) you'll recognize epically bearded actor and videogame voice-actor Erik Braa, who I use whenever I can.


    [​IMG]
    Me setting up the limbo game prop just before a take. The fellow to the left is Beau Christian Williams—who some longtime fanfilm watchers might recognize as Artim Ibanya from the Hidden Frontier series—who I met last year through Nick Cook, and whom I was happy to bring in and give a role where he could stretch.


    [​IMG]
    It's a wrap for one actress (left) and our makeup artist (right), who just happen to be sisters. I'm the ham in this sandwich. Sucks to be me. ;)
     
    Last edited: Nov 8, 2017
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  18. Maurice

    Maurice Vice Admiral Admiral

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    So, here's the film we shot at The Producer's Loft Studio as seen in the photos above. We literally made this in 4 days, start to finish, including the scriptwriting.

    It's certainly not a fanfilm, but a lot of what I've talked about in this topic is on display here. We focused on character, theme, and storytelling. Even though it's very dialog driven, there's some visual stuff going on in terms of blocking and movement.



    First a little background: about the project.

    About a month ago I was thinking of what to do for my upcoming (now just passed) birthday, and it came to me that what I wanted to do was do a Rooney Garland story: find a barn and put on a show. Okay, not quite so MGM, but since making film is like my favorite thing, I decided to do my own equivalent of a 48 Hour Film Project type contest. The only "presents" I wanted were my filmmaking associate friends and other friends to give me their time to make a short subject. In that way, I could give something back to all of them, since they get a finished film to show off.

    My buddy Vic offered me use of The Producer's Loft Studio for a day, so I started to think of what could be shot in the facility in a low-friction manner (read: easily). The studio features an insert stage with a white cyclorama and a roll-down greensceen, as well as a fully equipped kitchen designed for shooting cooking shows, etc., and there's even a huge pipe organ (being restored) opposite the cyc, which I toyed with using because it looks so amazing, but I quickly decided to shoot only on the white cyc for a few reasons.
    • I hate working with greenscreen, and I didn't want to waste any of the 54 hours I allotted for myself messing with compositing.
    • Once a cyc is lit you don't really have to change the lighting because you are typically shooting "in" towards the back of the set: effectively one angle. Doing this would make the shoot simpler to stage (less grip gear needed). It would also be easier to shoot because instead of moving the camera around I could change "angles" by moving the talent around relative to it.
    • All this would maximize actor-in-front-of-camera time and performance instead of technical stuff.
    • The challenge. Never shot anything but a music video on a limbo set (meaning a set that is not set, just an empty boundless nothing: think "The Empath").
    The way my mind works (frighteningly) is that when I hit on a concept I sort of "pun" my way around it. For instance, I once turned the phrase "the almighty dollar" into "the almighty collar" and wrote a whole script about a character who embraces an idiotic religion that worships dogs. Likewise, here, the moment I thought "limbo set" I thought about people trapped in a limbo, and the title "The Limbo Set" has echoes of things like "the jet set". From there it was a simple jump to making the setup not about people being literally trapped in a confined space (a la "Five Characters In Search Of An Exit"), but a set of characters whose lives and relationships are stuck in a sort of limbo, people unable to act to get themselves out, and then what does "out" mean? Alone or together?

    Finally, that word-association led me to what I hope is a thematically unusual mechanism for escape.

    I'll talk about some specific technical stuff and production realities and how I designed this to make limitations a strength in the next post. Hopefully this will all be useful to some of you.
     
    Last edited: Nov 10, 2017
  19. CorporalCaptain

    CorporalCaptain Admiral Admiral

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    I really enjoyed "The Limbo Set." Easily both more entertaining and more thought-provoking than much of what's on TV.
     
  20. Maurice

    Maurice Vice Admiral Admiral

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    Shucks. That's nice of you to say!