Wonder Woman has opened my eyes.

So, I was listening to the Wonder Woman episode of The Story Toolkit podcast, and I have to say it was a major eye opener. The episode itself is about the Wonder Woman movie, and during the show the host Bassim al-Wakil laid out something I had no idea about, but which makes absolute perfect sense.

You see, I found the Wonder Woman movie a mess in terms of storytelling, theme and kind’ve in general, and Bassim not only helped to explain exactly why, but he also taught me something about how Hollywood is now making films I didn’t know. In particular, Bassim outlined that the way they’re making these big tentpole movies has changed, largely due to the heavy levels of effects involved and the limited time they have to make them.

In short, since they only have a year to make these films, what they’re doing is coming up with a rough outline for the film, figuring out what the big setpiece sequences are going to be, and then beginning work on those before the script is actually completed! Why is this important? Well, he used Wonder Woman as a good example.

He pointed out that the big setpiece action sequences have little to no dialog in them, and then none of what is in them refers to anything outside that particular setpiece sequence. In other words, in a scene like Wonder Woman crossing no man’s land, the whole story of that sequence is all within that sequence and doesn’t actually connect to anything else in the film. This is because, for all intents and purposes, it is a little self-contained mini-movie within the larger film, and the same for the other big action sequences. It HAS to be this way, because they didn’t know what the final script it would be put into would look like.

Then, he noted that the scenes in between the big event scenes are all packed to the gills with exposition. Like, solid wall-to-wall characters filling in the story, because that time spent in the effects scenes is basically wasted screen time that is only connected to the main story through characters. They are attempting to tell the story of the movie during the cracks between the big event effects scenes, which makes it awkward and forced.

For those of the video game generation, think of the big effects scenes as the parts would be playing, and the exposition scenes as the pre-rendered cut scenes and you’ll have the right idea. The movie is literally a series of action scenes with the story bits just there to connect them all together.

So what? You might ask. What’s the big deal?

The big deal is that in a good and well told story, everything in the movie from the scenes, to the dialog, to the actions, to the costumes and sets and everything else is there for the purpose of telling and enhancing that story. There is a clear theme being developed, and subtext to the story that the audience reacts to, and which helps to build a connection between the characters and audience.

Think of it as the difference between Team A, professional basketball team who train and play together, and Team B, a bunch of professional players from different teams stuck together for the purposes of the game. While Team B might have some amazing players, it will never be as good as Team A because there won’t be any unity the way they play. Team A work as a unit, while Team B will always be individuals playing their own game and not coordinating with each other.

The current crop of big event Superhero movies (and effects movies in general it seems) are all Team B. Uneven collections of individual sequences that may or may not work well together, and which lack focus and coherence.

This really struck home when I thought about the recent Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2– when it came out, I think it was my friend Jack who pointed out that you could literally take the major sequences of the film and stick them up on YouTube as individual videos and they’d work perfectly fine. Yes, there was a big story idea there surrounding them, but they worked fine by themselves, and didn’t have to be watched as part of a greater film for the most part. The end result was a flat and uneven movie that did have enjoyable parts, but which really didn’t work as coherent film built up around setups and payoffs within the story.

This is as opposed to Guardians of the Galaxy (Vol.1) which has a clear story being told from start to finish that for the most part links together and has a dramatic through-line you can follow. Likely because, unlike it’s sequel (or Wonder Woman) it had sufficient pre-production time to plan things out before it was produced.

This also explains why the earliest set photos and videos from the next Avengers film were all indoor alien sets and green screens with the major cast members there for filming. They were making all the major effects sequences first, and then would do the parts which fill in all the details later. And who knows if they had a script finished at the time they started it or not? Civil War clearly didn’t, looking back at it and how uneven that film is as well. (Spiderman wasn’t even part of the film when Civil War went into production, for example.)

Now, maybe I’m exaggerating how bad this is for film, after all, these are meant to be big bland blockbusters designed to wow audiences with their visuals more than their deep character arcs. However, I don’t consider this a good development because while it might not be why the last few Marvel movies have been so flat and uneven, it certainly isn’t helping matters. And now that I know what to look for, I think my enjoyment of these films is probably going to take another dip.

Thanks Bassim! 😛

Rob

Tom Cruise on The Nerdist Podcast

After having seen the amazing film Edge of Tomorrow on the weekend (go see it, now!) I noticed the Nerdist podcast had an interview up with Tom Cruise and so I decided to give it a listen. I’d heard Tom was an incredibly nice and gracious guy in person, and this podcast totally confirmed that. It’s a great and very personal chat between him and The Nerdist crew, which mostly focusses on his experiences in the movie industry and his thoughts about film-making in general. Given that he’s been in the business 34 years, he has quite a bit to say, so it’s worth a listen for that alone.

But, what this Podcast really made me realize about Tom is that he really isn’t that smart. In fact, I would say in terms of intelligence, Tom is a completely average guy, and if anything might even be a little dense. He’s a guy with a pretty face, a bit of charisma, and average brains who lucked out and got into the industry with his raw talent, and you know what? He knows it.

But, Tom has three things going for him that made him the star he is today- 1) he’s got an incredible memory, 2) because he doesn’t understand easily he’s extremely curious, and 3) he’s an astoundingly hard worker. He asks questions constantly, he remembers everything people tell him, and he puts that knowledge to work for him- and this is how he’s become the man he is today. He’s the perfect example of what one can achieve with hard work and a good attitude, and I have to say I admire that quite a bit. I may not be a fan of his religious choices, but this interview really made me respect him as a person and as an artist.

He also said something that stuck with me, a bit of advice Paul Newman gave him while filming The Colour of Money– “Just ignore all the white noise and do what you do”. Don’t worry about what other people think or say, just be true to yourself as an artist and be the best you can be. The world (and internet) is filled with people advocating causes and screaming about a million things, but we as artists need to just focus on making art which is true to us and our experiences. If we try to do what everyone around us wants, we’ll just go crazy or get nothing done.

Sage advice for an artist of any age or time.

Rob

Shooting Indie Style!

ShootingIndieStyleCover
I put together this guide for my students to help them with their film projects in my media class, and now I’m making it available to anyone who wants to get more out of their mobile phone’s video camera. This is a collection of tips and techniques that covers all parts of the film-making process, from planning, to production, and even editing. Of course, it’s not just for mobile phone filmmakers, this book will help any beginner who’s looking to up their game, so if you’re thinking of making a film, check it out!

Available now on Kindle and Smashwords (ePub) for 99 cents!

Rob

Application of the Rule of Thirds

Fun and catchy short musical tutorial about the Rule of Thirds.

Better Photographic Composition – Beyond the Rule of Thirds

Fascinating lecture on photographic (and artistic) composition. If you’re an artist most of this probably won’t be new to you, but for a newbie like me it’s really interesting stuff. Applicable to everything from CGI work to filmmaking.

Stupid Indie Tricks- You’re holding your phone wrong when taking video.

The Film Artist demonstrates an alternate way to hold your phone when taking video that I’ve never seen before. I tried it, and it seems to improve the stability of my iPhone when I’m filming, so give it a try and it might work for you too!

via Steady iPhone 4s on Vimeo.

On Filmmaking

The more I study about filmmaking, the more I’ve come to realize it’s about preparation. It’s about that hundred little things you do before the camera ever rolls that make the difference between something that looks amateur and professional. From the script, to blocking, to proper writing, to finding the right people, to costuming- all of these and so much more are what you see on screen without realizing it. I’d almost say it’s a 90-10 ratio- 90% prep, and 10% filming, and the more you up the filming and lower the prep, the worse your production will be.

La Nuit de l’Alchimiste

Jaw meet floor.

The work of amateur filmmaker Mael Sevestre is amazing. I just stumbled across him tonight on Vimeo, and now I am totally in love with his style. You only need to watch the short 3-minute film below to understand why. It packs more power than most things far longer. (It’s in French, but there’s very little dialog, so it’s not an issue.)

La Nuit de l’Alchimiste from Mael Sevestre on Vimeo.

The making of (sorry, only in French)

La Nuit de l’Alchimiste – Making of from Mael Sevestre on Vimeo.

Framed – an iphone 4S short story

The iPhone 4S was more reovlutionary a camera than most people realize. It really did allow people to wander around with a good quality videocamera in their pockets. While still not equal to a professional camera, it does allow for some impressive work in the right hands and right light. This touching and haunting very short film is one such example…

via Framed – an iphone 4S short story on Vimeo.

Stupid Indie Tricks: Shooting Night Scenes with Cell Phone Cameras

There is a very simple rule- Cell phone cameras and night shots do not mix well.

The realities of the situation are simple- the smaller the aperture of your camera (the hole light goes through into the sensor), the lower the quality image will result because it’s getting less light for the sensor to work with. Newer cameras can actually compensate quite well if there’s a fair amount of light (a well-lit urban environment, for example), but what if you need to shoot a scene that happens in the middle of a cornfield at night?

Well, generally you have two options if you’re not trying to do the “found footage” thing. (Where the audience will just accept the unnatural presence of the camera light because they know it’s a camera.)

1) Shoot at night, but bring a bunch of filters to use over your lights.

This can work, but it will require a lot of effort and likely expensive equipment.

2) Play with your camera’s settings to trick it into simulating night shots, like this guy does…

This guy’s tricks would work well with Filmic Pro for the iPhone. You’d first lock White Balance on something bright orange, and then lock the exposure setting on something bright. You might have to play with it a bit, but then you’d be able to shoot bright scenes during the day and have it look like a passable night shot.

3) Shoot during the day, and make it look like night in post-production.

Because we’re talking about cell phone cameras here, this third one is probably your best bet when trying to capture footage that should technically be impossible to do with your equipment. Whether it’s characters walking through a forest at night, sneaking through a house, or taking a moonlit stroll, this is the way to do it.

So let’s talk about how.

First, there are a few rules to shooting “day for night” scenes.

  1. Shoot on a cloudy day. (This reduces the chance of reflections that might indicate that it isn’t really night in the shot, and also makes your job easier in general.)
  2. Avoid shooting the sky as much as you possibly can. (Try to frame your shots so that as little of the sky is in the shot as you can possibly manage.)
  3. Avoid reflective surfaces like windows, water and anything else that might reflect the sky and ruin the effect.
  4. Make sure you shoot in as high a resolution as you can, because you want the room to be able to manipulate the image without worrying about a bit of degradation.
  5. If you have the option to shoot it using color correction presets, shoot with the camera set for very warm light conditions. (Tungsten Bulbs, for example) This will cause your camera to naturally make things more blue while you’re shooting (to compensate for the warmth of the bulbs) and make your job even easier. But you probably shouldn’t do the exposure trick from #2 as well.

That said, you can and should be using a fairly normal lighting setup to make sure that your subjects are well lit and clear. You want the sharpest and best possible image so that you have more room to play with in post-production.

Once you’re done filming and take it back to the editing room, you can then fire up video editing software and get to work. In short, you’re going to be playing with the contrast and colors to try and give the footage a blue tint that simulates night without making it took dark. Remember that we’ve actually be trained by movies and TV to interpret a strong blue tint  as representing low-light/night conditions (yeah, the pros are also using this technique). So, since your audience is already taught to interpret it that way, go ahead and use it!

Poking around, you can find tutorials on YouTube to do this for almost any video editing software out there. I use Adobe Premiere Pro CS6, but I actually found this tutorial for Adobe Premiere Elements to be one that produced the results I liked better than the CS6 tutorials I saw.

Here’s a more complex version for Adobe Audition Pro CS6, which you might like better than I did…

Of course After Effects can also do it. This guy below is doing it manually, but I understand there are a number of pre-sets you can download out there for free which will also do it instantly if you can find them.

Sony Vegas apparently has this effect as a preset under Color Curves, according to this video…

And for you Mac users, there are tutorials for iMovie…

and Final Cut Pro.

I hope this helps!

Happy filming!

Rob