Fan Filmmaker's Primer

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

  1. BeatleJWOL

    BeatleJWOL Commodore Commodore

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    Not sure how useful this is in fan film terms, but there's a great Vanity Fair video with Marvel screenwriters Stephen McFeely and Christopher Markus talking about the process of screenwriting, from outline to functional first draft to finished product.



    They also mention a book by screenwriter Syd Field,
    Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting as a great reference.
     
  2. Maurice

    Maurice Maurice, the ATARI CX5200 Premium Member

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    Kinda more the subject of the Fan Film Writer's Primer thread. You might want to share it there.
     
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  3. Maurice

    Maurice Maurice, the ATARI CX5200 Premium Member

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    FAKING IT AKA PRACTICAL TRICKERY ON-SET

    One quick things I forgot to mention re Ragnar the Rat (see this post) was a simple trick we used regarding the golf ball. The contest the film was made for required all the films to use a golf ball as a prop, and we saw lots of films attempt to show people being hit by one either by not showing it but showing the aftermath or by lightly lobbing the balls at the talent in a way that would not hurt, and frankly doesn't look convincing. In our film we wanted the ball to ricochet right off one character's head and bounce off several other items, and we wanted it to look convincing without doing any damage or resorting to visual effects.

    In the finished film our golf ball bounces off the actor's head, hits a light fixture and bounces off an urn before dropping behind a box (click here to see it).

    How we did that was to doctor a dozen white pingpong balls with black markings to match the actual golf ball. That allowed us to flick them, fast, right off the actor's forehead probably 25 times in rapid succession until one to bounced upwards at the desired angle. Since pingpong balls weigh next to nothing and could really do no harm we could bounce them off anything we wanted without worrying. Since they're moving fast you can't tell what they are, but it's all in-camera with no effects and no editing trickery required. As it happened, they had to slow down the shots to make the ball register because of how fast it was moving, but they'd shot it at a high frame rate for that reason.

    I love practicals. :)
     
    Last edited: Nov 1, 2019
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  4. Maurice

    Maurice Maurice, the ATARI CX5200 Premium Member

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    NOTE: Accidentally posted this in the Writers Primer. Moving it here where it belongs!


    Composition


    I’ve on a number of occasions mentioned the oftentimes poor shot composition in many fanfilms, so here I will use a few screengrabs to illustrate a common issue fan filmmakers should learn to keep an eye out for.

    “Big Sky” shots

    These are shots where there’s a lot of empty space above the heads of the people in frame. It most commonly is the result of the natural tendency to want to center the head of the subject in the shot, and oftentimes the eyes specifically. But that really only looks good in closeups, and even there it’s usually best to aim at the center of the face proper, not the head.

    I see this a lot in both snapshot photography and amateur films. Here’s an example from the 2018 Potemkin Pictures short, “The Beast”. Many of the shots in this are fine, but this oft-returned-to master shot is a great example of “big sky”.

    [​IMG]

    Notice how the heads of the three figures at the back are all lined up across the frame center, so the upper part of the frame is dominated by a bunch of static screens which tell no part of the story. Big Sky, indeed. Worse, the lead is pushed down into the lower third and the helmsman and navigator are distractingly cut off at the bottom and corner of the frame. It’s a badly composed shot.

    I’m going to assume the camera is as far back as it can go in the set, and that the camera it was shot with has only one lens and can’t go any wider. So how do you fix it?

    The simplest answer would be to just tilt the camera forward a few degrees so that the captain’s face is just above center, like this:

    [​IMG]

    Which is a much better composition because it puts the dominant figure in the center of the frame and gets rid of the extraneous static set above.

    The one thing that would remain awkward is the helmsman’s face half out of frame. So to fix that you’d move the camera slightly laterally to either get his face fully into the right side of the frame or get him entirely out of the frame. If he has lines, he needs to be clearly in, if not, he can go out. But given the overall symmetry of the frame, it would have been a better balance to have both the helmsman and navigator fully in the frame, bracketing the captain.

    The hard-learned trick when framing a shot is forcing yourself to look at the overall composition, and not just at the subjects that are the focus.
     
    Last edited: Dec 29, 2019
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  5. Bixby

    Bixby Captain Captain

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    well said Maurice...I'd like to add another shot that drove me bananas in another fan film a few years ago. IIRC, it was in a Starship Farragut episode, but don`t quote me on that...This was the last shot from early in the episode on the bridge. So the main characters do all their exposition and prepare to head out to the turbolift.
    Here is where the problem was: they ended that scene with a wide shot of the bridge with an elevated camera, the two (?) main characters in the far back as they enter the turbolift. The two go in the turbolift, the doors close...the shot should at least have cut there, right? Wrong, the shot lingered still for a few seconds more and I was thinking something else was going to happen...then nothing did...
    First problem is, the director should have either placed the camera deeper into the set so that the two important actors would have filled the frame as they exited the bridge set (because THEY are the important part of this scene, we should have been shown their faces and emotions as they head out). The second problem was keeping the scene going when there is no need to is just wasting precious seconds that would have been better served elsewhere.
    It annoyed me because it just appeared to be to give non-speaking extras a bit of camera time...but that doesn`t do your production any favours..
     
  6. CorporalCaptain

    CorporalCaptain Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    My guess would be that the Potemkin shot is framed as it is to show, or to show off, the monitor graphics above the stations.

    I would further submit that this is an example of the kind of thing determining fan film values: focusing on the sorts of things that Star Trek fans are assumed to think are important at the expense of film language. "You can't reframe the shot, because it would crop the graphics." Etc.
     
  7. Maurice

    Maurice Maurice, the ATARI CX5200 Premium Member

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    As I said above, the graphics don’t communicate anything. They’re just wallpaper.

    The characters in the background have dialog, my guess is they were centering the vertical on their heads and not paying mind to the overall frame.
     
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  8. CorporalCaptain

    CorporalCaptain Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    The shot is centered on the stations, not the people, is the main point I'm making.

    I wasn't claiming that was a good thing.

    edit - Framing the shot properly would require the discipline not to show something (part of the set, in the case the graphics) that people on the project had worked to create.
     
    Last edited: Oct 31, 2019
  9. Maurice

    Maurice Maurice, the ATARI CX5200 Premium Member

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    Don't make me draw a line through the exact center of the frame. lol
     
  10. CorporalCaptain

    CorporalCaptain Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    Seriously?
     
  11. Maurice

    Maurice Maurice, the ATARI CX5200 Premium Member

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    What part of "lol" suggested I was serious? :D
     
    Last edited: Nov 26, 2019
  12. USS Jack Riley

    USS Jack Riley Captain Captain

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    This is why I like reading your posts here Maurice. You don’t just explain how it should be done. You explain WHY it should be done, which makes it usable in more than just the one setup. Thanks for keeping this going!
     
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  13. jespah

    jespah Rear Admiral Moderator

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    That is a weird shot. To show off the graphics, set, etc. I imagine the camera can pan around, once. Then move onto concentrating on the characters.
     
  14. Maurice

    Maurice Maurice, the ATARI CX5200 Premium Member

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    Yeah. To be fair many fan filmmakers are doing it for fun (which is as it should be) and I suspect basically just point the camera without really studying the frame. But this is why I created this topic in the first place: to show how to make the films better with some really basic techniques and just a modicum of forethought.
     
    Last edited: Nov 1, 2019
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  15. Maurice

    Maurice Maurice, the ATARI CX5200 Premium Member

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    I've quite a number of times talked about the practical experience I got doing a bunch of 48 Hour Film Project contests. Back in 2009 after I'd done my 3rd and 4th ones (one in Portland the other in SF) @Ryan Thomas Riddle interviewed me in September—the weekend of WonderCon, when it was still in San Francisco.

    Here with his blessing is the text of that, for those interested in what these contests are like and what I had learned from them.

    Fast-Track Filmmaking with the 48 Hour Film Project

    (original title: "How the West Was Won in 48 Hours")


    Ryan Riddle June 14, 2010

    When writer/director Maurice Molyneaux drew “musical or western” for last year’s 48 Hour Film Project, he knew he did not have a minute, or an hour, to waste. In two days, come hell or high water, he had to have a completed film from script to final edit. But Molyneaux hadn't just blown into town on a horse and a prayer. This was his fourth outing. He had already selected his location long before he knew he had to have a character named Claude Green who was a guitarist, a hat for a prop, and the line of dialogue, “I believe anyone can change.” That night, Molyneaux and his writing team banged out the script for Stagecoach in the Sky, a western set aboard the Short Solent flying boat at the Oakland Aviation Museum.

    The year of his tale is 1949. Newsreel announcer Claude Green (played by James D. Shelton, VI) has gumptions about being a singing cowboy. So he sets out for the wild, wild west on the City of Cardiff where he finds love, cuts cards with the notorious Phoenix Phil, and becomes a gunslinger far sooner than he expected.

    Deciding on the location weeks in advanced saved Molyneaux’s hide on this shoot. He got the idea while watching one of last year’s entries, whose junkyard location was chosen before assignments were handed out.

    “I realized that was smarter,” Molyneaux said. “I spent a lot of time running around saying that if I got this thing, I could shoot at this bar or if I got this thing, I could shoot in Golden Gate Park. But that made a lot of ‘if then, if then, if then.’ If I found one location that I can use for anything, I’d live with it no matter what genre I draw.”

    It also locked the production into a time period. “We didn’t know what [the genre] was going to be, but the time [frame] of the plane would be the late '40s and early '50s,” Molyneaux said. “Instead of pushing the envelope, I boxed myself in further. That no matter what, even if we got cell phone as a prop, we’d make it work in the late '40s.”

    Stagecoach isn’t the Short Solent’s first appearance on camera. It’s been featured in several student films but its most famous appearance was as the Pan Am clipper in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

    Not My Day Job
    The 48 Hour Film Project, kicking off again Friday, June 18, got its start when co-founder and filmmaker Mark Ruppert wanted to know if it was possible to shoot a film in two days. In 2001, he gathered a team in Washington D.C. and successfully produced a “watchable film.” Now the project is in nearly 80 cities worldwide. The best film in each city goes on to the award ceremony Filmapalooza for a chance to win a grand prize of $3,000. San Francisco first participated in the festival back in 2003.

    But this isn’t the only film competition out there. There’s also the San Francisco-based Seven Day Film Festival, where filmmakers have one-week to make a short. And for those who want a greater adrenaline rush, there’s Film Racing. Instead of a week or 48 hours, crews in some 20 cities—including here—have 24 hours to get it in the can.

    According to this year’s local producer Elena Cruz, the 48 Hour Film Project has all types of filmmakers, ranging from high school amateurs to professional production companies. Even people who have no desire to make films for a living get in on the act—one team went under the moniker, “Not My Day Job Productions.”

    “It’s a random assortment of people which keeps it interesting,” Cruz said.

    Molyneaux’s association with 48 Hour Film Project began in 2007 when he worked on his friend’s entry up in Portland, Oregon. Having had a strong desire to write and work in film all his life, he jumped at the chance to help write his friend’s short.

    However, the shoot was plagued with difficulties, including rearranging the schedule and script to accommodate the loss of actors and locations. “You either buckle under that pressure or you do it. You have a time limit. It forces you to finish or you don’t. You have to come up with whatever [is necessary] to get you there. I love that process,” Molyneaux said. “In the end, I don’t think I’d been happier in my life, doing all this crazy, creative stuff on the fly. It sort of confirmed: yes this is something that I want to be doing.”

    Molyneaux’s 2008 entry had its fair share of troubles. He stayed up for nearly 39 hours, which caused him to make small mistakes during filming. Instead of sleep the night before, he took his huge writing team’s ideas and turned them into a workable script. This year’s solution: a writing team of three.

    “Narrowing it down not because people didn’t have good ideas or weren’t valuable but it was one of those production decisions based on the time it takes to get everybody together,” he said. “Every minute I’m losing the time I can work on the script or the sleep I need to get to shoot the next morning at 7:30. It’s all about problem solving. Every second is problem solving.”

    Cruz agrees. “With such a tight deadline, there’s no time to toss ideas back and forth or try different things. Every person on the team should have a specific role and stick with it,” she said.

    Beg, Borrow, and Steal
    Molyneaux is a 20-year veteran of the video game industry. Working with constraints isn’t foreign to him. A lot of games he worked on were licensed properties and he had to stay within the specifications provided by the license holders. One time, Molyneaux circumvented the licensing department to get the materials he needed to complete a project.

    “That’s the producer thing where you have to beg, borrow and steal. Lie and cheat. Anything to get what your people need,” Molyneaux said. “So this year I took all that experience video game producing and said, ‘How do I make sure this 48 hour shoot goes as amazingly smooth as possible?’ Then I can focus on the acting, the cinematography, the editing and making a good film.”

    Once he got the initial notice for this year’s project, Molyneaux gathered his posse—a crew of 28 people—over the course of eight weeks. He even did a dry run with his writing partner to see if they could generate ideas that would fit a plane locale for all the possible categories. Of course, those ideas were junked since the rules state that the creative work—including writing—has to be done within the allotted 48 hours.

    However, one rule states that technical preparations can be done beforehand. Taking advantage of that rule, Molyneaux and his cameraman studied the layout of the plane in the weeks before the shoot. This helped them cut down the amount of time wasted on set-up.

    Molyneaux kept his cast and crew well informed every step of the way. For instance, the moment he knew they were doing a western, he called composer Matt Levine. While the script was being written, Levine was researching western themes and motifs. The script was emailed the next morning and Levine wrote the music while the crew was filming.

    In fact, everyone on the crew worked in parallel. As one scene filmed, the other actors would run lines and block their scenes. This made it faster to shoot scenes and move on to the next. This efficiency is something Molyneaux took from a truism coined by visual effects legend Doug Trumbull: "It's not the time it takes to take the takes that takes the time, it's the time it takes to talk between the takes that takes the time”

    Off Into the Sunset
    The crew’s hard work and Molyneaux’s preparations paid off. The film tied for runner-up for “Best Film” and took home awards for “Best Costumes” and “Best Sound.”

    Now Molyneaux is looking to do a “sweetened” version of Stagecoach to enter in other film festivals and this might be his last 48 Hour Film Project. He wants to take his experiences and move on to greener pastures.

    Gaining experience seems to be the goal of the project. “Most of the filmmakers say they had no idea how much work it would be—they also get a new perspective on the importance of teamwork,” said Cruz. “So basically, beginning filmmakers are getting a realistic view of how films get produced. It’s a lot harder than you think.”

    Molyneaux has some parting advice for any rascal considering entering the contest. “Finish something,” he said. “Even if it’s crap, you learn something in the process getting from the beginning to the ending. There’s that sense of completion, knowing that you can do it. You make a few 48 hour films and they’re flawed, but you completed it and you learned from it. You learned you could do it.”

    [​IMG] My joke sketch on Ryan's interview notes about a certain fanfilm that was stuck with its final act unrealized in 2009.
     
    Last edited: Nov 26, 2019
  16. jespah

    jespah Rear Admiral Moderator

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    Finish something! Wise words, my friend.
     
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  17. Maurice

    Maurice Maurice, the ATARI CX5200 Premium Member

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    ACT-ING

    I've typically avoided the subject of Acting in this topic because it seems more of the people engaged here are behind-the-camera types, but I ran across this Long Ago (November 11th 1981) interview with Ian McKellen where he talks about something I point out about about amateur actors all the time: not knowing what to do with their hands, and the difference between acting on stage and for cameras...something which shows up all the time in fanfilms that recruit stage actors who often (understandably) don't quite grok the difference.


     
    Last edited: Dec 30, 2019
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  18. Bixby

    Bixby Captain Captain

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    That clip reminds me of actors like Humphrey Bogart from the 40s, and he had no idea what to do with his hands which is why you saw him lighting up a cigarette and smoking so often during his movies
     
  19. jespah

    jespah Rear Admiral Moderator

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    How interesting. This is something I noticed (and experienced) as a high schooler in plays. No one knew what to do with their hands. It was the people who were better (some of whom now do it professionally) who did.
     
  20. lurok

    lurok Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    I've shown this to film and theatre students, who even in the first 5mins go: 'oooh...that's how you act on camera'
     
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