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Production Journal

The Film Strategy 5 with Cindy Cowan.

Production Tips

Your November 2016 Calendar for Film Festivals, Screenplay Contests, Fellowships, Labs and Awards.

Case Study

When To Say No To A Film Festival

Case Study

The Full Costs and Income of an Indie Film

The Production / Filmmakers Toolkit

Documents, Templates and Resources for Every Phase of Production.

5.30.2013

SCRIPT TO SCREEN: Fast and Furious 6

Fast and Furious 6 | Justin Lin | 2013 | USA | Format: 35mm | 130 min


Fast and Furious 6 had a monster weekend in terms of box-office but more importantly fans and critics lauded the film for its high-octane humor and its well-directed  action sequences. Director Justin Lin's efforts paid off in a big way and his storyboard artist, Anthony Liberatore, played a crucial role in helping Lin visualize the crucial action sequences and sight gags.  Recently, Storyboards Inc. interviewed Liberatore on his work with Lin and included storyboards from the infamous tank scene.

In the interview, Anthony talks about what it takes to be a storyboard artist, his work methods and process, the importance of developing a shorthand rapport between the storyboard artist and the director.


Below are excerpts of the interview discussing the visualization of the movie, some of Lin's storyboards and the related video of the chase sequence to compare and contrast.  I have added my own comments to the action sequence under the storyboard.
 


Compare with 0:43-0:55 of the video


Compare these scenes to the filmed scenes in 2:44 - 3:50 of the video above.  Note that between the initial conception of the scene and the final edited version there were many things added to this scene.  Key point is that the visualization of a scene doesn't end with storyboards, it only begins with one.

These look like some of the scenes from 4:15-4:45.  Notice the part where Brian avoids a car looks like the part where Roman dodged a car in between 2:35-2:42.  Another Keypoint is storyboards allow you to come up with concepts that you can later mix and match once after considering the practicality and aesthetics of them.

  Excerpts from the interview:

Give us an idea of what your process was like and working with Director Justin Lin?

Justin would give us the broad strokes by describing the overview of a particular scene. As important as the action was, Justin was also very adamant in telling the story of the environment in which these characters populated. He would, at times, call out specific shots he wanted to see. I had the opportunity to fill in the blanks, story-wise, and come up with dynamic angles.


The boards then would go to Justin for final approval. I can say that there were many revisions as locations were constantly changing.

How does working on F&F 6 compare with Fast 5?

Fast 6 was a much more ambitious undertaking than Fast 5. With 5 I was brought on in the middle of the pre-production and was just getting to learn the ropes with Justin. For Fast 6 I was involved very early on, so I had the opportunity to help actually conceptualize some of the gags with Justin.

Are you given a full scene to draw at once, or just different sequences? Is the entire film boarded out or just certain parts of the film?

I was given pretty large scenes to flesh out that consisted upwards to a thousand frames such as the Tank and Plane Scene in Fast 6 or the Vault Heist Scene in Fast 5. I also boarded sequences containing no more than maybe four to five frames. Mostly only complicated action scenes were boarded which is good portion of these movies.

What kind of preparation is needed to board a film like this?

Other than bringing on your “A” game, you have to really be in the mindset of what that story is trying to accomplish. I’ll watch a lot of action films with great car sequences to get me there mentally. You can never watch enough Mad Max to get you into the mindset!

For the full interview and the rest of the storyboards, visit: http://www.storyboardsinc.com/news/archives/1283

5.28.2013

PRODUCTION TIP: BETTER Foods for your Cast and Crew


Feeding your cast and crew is usually overlooked until the last minute. Then on the morning of the shoot there's a mad scramble to get coffee, water, bagels and granola bars.  Now this is understandable, since the director and producer are usually preoccupied with more weighty matters regarding the production.  However, providing food and water is crucial to morale and is even a form of compensation for many who work deferred or on no-budget projects.  Even on studio projects, above-the-line people will haggle over what's going to be on the craft services table.  Forward-thinking producers will plan out what to feed the cast and crew and even go as far as catering to people who have particular tastes, vegeterian preferences or allergies.
 
But what if the food you feed your cast and crew could do more than just satisfy a hunger and thirst.  What if it could improve performance on the set and sharpen their focus to get the job done?  That would be a boon since productions are high-stress, long-hour environments.  

I recently read this Inc. article by Barbara Mendez on foods that boost brainpower.  In it she writes, "Most entrepreneurs are accustomed to long days and hectic schedules. But if you want to make smart decisions for your company, what you put in your body matters almost as much as how many hours you put in at the office."  Replace the word "entrepreneur" with "filmmakers" or "cast" or "crew" and the advice is just as relevant.

"Here are seven foods you should add to your regular diet if you want to keep firing on all cylinders. These foods may not make you smarter, but they'll help you stay sharp and think clearly..."  The craft services table should be filled with
the following snacks; flax, blueberries, nuts and seeds, and dark chocolates.  Instead of getting pizza or Chinese food for lunch, make or buy meals with salmon, eggs, and dark green leafy vegetables.  For 13 more foods, click here

Foods like these can keep you and everyone else sharp and focused on the set.  These are better alternatives to the usual orange-juice-and-bagels-on-the-table set-up.   A well-fed crew is not just a happy crew, it's a productive crew.


If you can think of any other brainpower boosting foods that would be good to have on the set, share them on the comments.

5.25.2013

CASE STUDY of VOICE-OVER, an award-winning short film

 
I-will-not-tell-you-whose voice leads us through three extreme situations that are actually the same… Will you survive?


Voice-Over is an award-winning, global-spanning short film directed by Martin Rosete, written by Luiso Berdejo and produced by Koldo Zuazua, Sebastian Alvarez, and Manuel Calvo.


"A short film on an epic scale, its main feature is the titular voiceover. The clearly agitated narrator informs you that the astronaut on the screen is you. And you’re in trouble. You see, you’ve crash-landed and your pressurized suit will only keep you alive for a limited amount of time. But before your air runs out, you’re whisked away to a totally different scenario. And then, with a similar race against time counting down, it happens again. Each scenario is gorgeously shot, making for three mini-action movies in one. But it’s the denouement that will have you cheering. Writer Luiso Berdejo is much more famous for his involvement with the horror films REC and REC 3: Genesis but here he is able to cover the sweep from epic to intimate in 10 short minutes.  

Voice Over may not have had the largest budget for a short film ever, but it sure looks it. The production was so complex that it took four different production companies (Kamel Films. Encanta Films, Volcano Films, and Kowalski Films) from different regions of Spain to bring it to life. Almost every shot looks complicated, and many different people contributed, from VFX technicians to makeup artists to stuntmen and divers." ~~ James McNally for Short of the Week

The main production strategy has following six lessons to impart: (1) create a unique and gripping script (2) make that script complex and challenging but shootable; (3) consider all the possibilities and test things out  before deciding on the type of shoot; (4) take the time out to plan and find the best, talented crew possible; (5) motivate that crew to make magic; and, (6) have a credible Kickstarter campaign to raise funds and promote the work.

STRATEGIC LESSONS

WRITE A SCRIPT THAT GRIPS YOU IMMEDIATELY. I love films that meander and take their time to put you in the story.  Taste of Cherry, Katzelmacher and The House of the Devil are three features that many would consider slow-starters and take their time to develop the mood, visuals, themes and atmosphere that pay off at the end.  But that is a luxury that a feature has over a short film. The usual hallmark of a good short film is how quickly it grabs your attention and makes you care about the protagonist (I know there are exceptions with some types of art films ~~ but even those have their way of grabbing your attention, using intellectualism, surrealism, impressionism, expressionism, shock, cruelty or some other type of visual art reference).  The Voice-Over script works because it immediately shows the protagonist in a serious dilemma (it's life or death!) and we wonder how, and if, he can survive.  (On an aesthetic note, I think the use of French for the voice-over was brilliant because it adds a je-ne-se-quoi... cinematic flair appropriate to a film that references cinematic tropes). Martin and his producers knew that this would be an engaging and entertaining film to watch.

CREATE YOUR SCRIPT WITH AN EYE TOWARDS HOW YOU CAN SHOOT IT.  Luiso Berdejo wrote an ambitious script and Martin Rosete immediately visualized it upon reading it.  The difficulties of shooting immediately presented themselves with the fact that it would require large amounts of time and money on make-up FX, visual digital FX, production design, camera work (including underwater camera work) and extensive post production.  The producers even considered shooting it as animation, at one point.  

BUT it's easy to overlook what made the impossible possible for Martin and that's that the script had ONE lead actor for all the major and complex scenes, two supporting actors for one easy-to-shoot scene, and no dialogue except for the titular use of voice-over.  These 3 points simplified the scheduling and rehearsing and allowed the producers to focus the budget mainly on the FX, camera work, production design and editing.  The ambition of the script was immediately apparent and makes the final short stand out but the point is to match that ambition with a realistic  way of making that ambition reality.

CONSIDER THE POSSIBILITIES AND TEST THEM OUT.  The script seemed so difficult to shoot at first that many thought Voice-Over could only be done as an animated film.  But Martin, Koldo and Luiso knew it could be done in live-action. To ensure a live action, they did two important things. They engaged 4 production companies (Kamel Films, Volcano Films, Encanta Films, Kowalski Films)  each headquartered in different regions that were vital to the shoot. This allowed Martin to access people and equipment that had already established relationships with the companies prior to his arrival.  And they worked closely with a storyboard artist, DP Jose Martin Rosete (Martin's brother), FX specialists and art designers to test textures, contrasts, colors, and visuals to get a fix on what the shoot needed and what could be taken out.

TAKE YOUR TIME TO PLAN, FIND THE BEST TALENT YOU CAN.  Martin worked on Voice-Over for over a year from development to distribution.  He was able to lock down major talented crew starting around April of 2011 and all throughout summer.  The 2 week shoot began on September 26 and wrapped around October 11.  Post-production followed and included Kickstarter to raise funds for editing, FX work and color correcting.  Martin locked picture in January of 2012.  Allocating the time to shoot allowed Martin to visualize, test and prepare for every important and difficult stage in the production.

More importantly, it allowed him to attach some of the best production people working in Spain and abroad.  People like 1st A.D./co-producer, Manu Calvo (who has worked with Pedro Almodovar, Isabel Coixet and Benicio del Toro); Chano Alvarez (head of Volcano Films, the key man if you want to shoot on the Canary Islands); digital effects supervisor, David Heras of USER T38; special FX make-up, Pedro de Diego; and, lead actor, Jonathan D. Mellor

For many filmmakers it's not going to be easy to be able to get top talent like Martin did, BUT that doesn't mean one shouldn't take the time to plan and still try to find the best talent they can get within their means.


SHOW APPRECIATION AND MOTIVATE YOUR CREW AND THEY WILL WORK WONDERS FOR YOU.  Read Martin's Voice-Over blog and watch the making of documentary (see link below) and you will find a sincere appreciation for ALL of the crew who contributed to the making of the short.  For Martin, it wasn't just about appreciating the actor, the lighting or the FX, it was about the contribution everyone made, whether they were the PA or the producer.  It was a mutual feeling as the crew threw themselves to the task of making a great film because they believed in the story.  This was crucial especially since some of the crew had to work for free or deferred.  It's no wonder that for Martin and the crew, this production will always be one to remember.

USE KICKSTARTER TO FUND AND PROMOTE THE FILM.  On December 4, 2011 after getting an award for a work-in-progress version of Voice-Over at the Gijon Film Festival, Martin got on Kickstarter to raise additional funds to complete the short.  It was a good idea to wait until the completion of shooting and being awarded a prize before setting up a Kickstarter campaign because it gave Martin's production legitimacy.  Many Kickstarter campaigns fail because they don't convince potential crowdfunders that it's worth the money to contribute, especially when the filmmaker is unknown, has shoddy work or is trying to raise an exorbitant amount. However, when people see what you've done and that it has "legs" to go further, people will jump onboard enthusiastically.

Kickstarter was also a way to generate buzz.  Voice-Over is a Spanish film made for film-lovers all over the world.  As one of the premier crowdfunding sites in the world, Kickstarter allowed Voice-Over to reach an American audience and a global audience for the first time before it even made it to any (non-Spanish) international and American film festivals.  That built a buzz which helped carry it to over 100 awards and festival screenings.

To watch Voice-Over: https://vimeo.com/58150375

Behind the scenes on Voice-Over: https://vimeo.com/54857750

Visit the Voice-Over website for more info.

5.24.2013

PRODUCTION JOURNAL: Darren Aronofsky on Pi



Pi, also titled π, is a 1998 American surrealist psychological thriller film written and directed by Darren Aronofsky. It is Aronofsky's directorial debut, and earned him the Directing Award at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival, the Independent Spirit Award for Best First Screenplay and the Gotham Open Palm Award. The title refers to the mathematical constant pi.   Like most of Aronofsky's films, Pi centers on a protagonist whose obsessive pursuit of ideals leads to severely self-destructive behavior.

Pi was written and directed by Darren Aronofsky, and filmed on high-contrast black-and-white reversal film. It was produced on a sufficiently low budget of $60,000, but proved a financial success at the box office ($3,221,152 gross in the U.S.) despite only a limited release to theaters. It has sold steadily on DVD.  ~~ Wikipedia
File:Piposter.jpg
Excerpts from director Darren Aronofsky's diary:

January 31, 1996 Back From Sundance '96
Just got back from Sundance. My birthday is twelve days away. It's amazing how quick time spins by. I'm getting older and I'm not making films. Sundance was a blast. I saw a lot of people from my industry and I was truly fused with the independent spirit. Let's go make film. 

Friday April 5, 1996 Retreat
I am in the country at my college roomate's parents' place. It's nice and I am about to embark on the first draft of π. In many ways this is the most important week of my life. I feel a little weak but I must move ahead. This most likely will be the first film I make. It's not that bad. It's only taken me five fucking years to make my first feature after SS. These are the rules for this draft: 

1. Always move forward. If you have a problem type through it.
2. Only take a break after something good happens on the page or you accomplish a goal.
No breaks for confusion -- (type through it).
3. Ten pages a day minimum.
4. Only go back to add something. Do not remove contradictions, just make a note.
5. Do it. Suffer, live, cry, struggle for one week. You'll feel like a million bucks by the fifteenth.
6. Have fun.


September 13, 1996 11 AM Busyness
Associate Producer Scott Franklin came up with "the scheme to end all schemes." We've been asking every person we know for $100. We drew up a clever letter and searched our rolodexes. The letter is doing well. People seem positive and we've already brought in over a grand. Anything to get it done. 

DAY ONE 10/14/96 THE SHOOT BEGINS
Starts with the circle. The entire crew and cast joined hands and we all formed an economic and artistic partnership. A socialist collective. I made a speech from my soul. I thanked all and offered everyone a chance to take risks, a chance to make π there own, a chance at a meaningful collaboration. I almost cried. My mom did. She's craft services. We shoot -- no more excuses. 

Monday October 21, 11:40 pm End of Week One
Week one ended hard. We did the hallway in Joanne Ovadia's building. We didn't have landlord permission and it gave everything an edge. They are Hasidic and we were filming on a Saturday so we secured little interaction. There was a vicious Hurricane outside and it coincidentally rained out the first game of the World Series, Yanks vs. Braves. I'm glad the series is on but it may also cause a problem. The fact that the Yanks are getting their asses kicked means less baseball interest from the crew. More focus.
The day was a long one and was almost 20 hours. Hard. Matty had a vicious headache attack. But, he stuck in there. 

After wrap I had my ceremonial cigarette and then I got a beer at Capt. Walters a couzine bar in Sheepshead Bay. My mind was racing with the compromises I had to make. Film is about compromises. It's so hard to get everything. It's a thin line between weighing what is positive and what is negative in this world. What hurts the film and what is important to get. Very confusing. 

Today started well but we really slow down in the afternoons. After lunch is always a bitch. It takes forever to get set-ups.


October 22 11.25 DAY EIGHT DONE
Saw dailies today for the first time. Must say they looked really contrasty. This film definitely looks unlike any feature I've ever seen. It is very wild. All blacks and whites but many of the images look like beautiful stills. It really is a beautiful looking movie. I know now how to look at the images

I've shot 14,000 feet which is two fifths of my entire load. I'm terrified. Ratio will drop for dialogue coverage. It has to. 

Gotta save film. 

Shot inserts today. High Contrast means we need many Close-ups. Cut the masters. Go for Close-ups. 

11/6/96 1.30 am
Today was by far the worst day as well as one of the worst days of my life. It started with Headache 3. A stunt intensive scene. Many special effects and we are unprepared. Maraffi tells me he's got a new job starting tomorrow. Shit is pent up. Then, there's Sean's performance. I'd love to attach all the negativity to Sean's outstanding work, but truly it would be a lie. The day started off badly. I was ill prepared. My fault. Sean was amazing. Absolutely overwhelming. 

I started to heave and barf and sob and pass out. I begged for life, the film, everything to end. I was dying. My heart was super fast, my mind cluttered, I was ready to sob. I don't know why. I was fed up and the anger was pented. I was lost and confused and depressed.16 hours later we got most of the day. I owe a few tight shots. Oh well.

Tuesday 5.11 am
One of our longest days just ended. Day started Monday at 8 am, it is now the next day time 5.11am. That makes it 21 hours and the entire crew ain't in bed yet. 

We destroyed Euclid tonight. Shot it in a wide to be safe and that may have been a mistake. Shit looked a bit weak from above but the flashes really helped. Chris B.'s technology has been extremely helpful.
Eric leaned hard on me for going late but it is the last week and now is not the time to compromise.
Sean and I had friction. I did not pay enough respect to his headache performance at the head of Euclid destruction shot. He jumped on me and was pissed off for most of the day. During the Devi scene I knew I had to bring him down. The scene needed it. He was all over the place and fighting me. He wasn't trusting me. I told him to stop fighting me. He wouldn't. Then, I told him that we had the same intentions to make a great film and that for that to happen he needed to trust me. He finally calmed down. I had him take several breaths and then right before we filmed I had him hug Samia. I let the sound roll, then the camera, then the slate, then I called for places. And then action...nice take. 

Thursday 11/14/96 6.32 AM
All nighter. Went pretty well. I dreaded most of the night probably because I hate this scene. The gun and Marcy's desperation just seem so over the top. Pam was real good tonight she nailed it. I made a mistake by making her first scene the difficult one of the speech. It threw her off and she told me how hard it was for her to jump right in it. She was really out of energy tonight but she summoned a lot from somewhere and really did some very nice stuff. 

Something about Wednesday night: I operated the camera for most of the night, except when Matty fell, and I realized in order to do that you must be very rehearsed. Reason: It's so fucking hard to focus on 4 actors, frame and light all at once. One actor, no moves, I can handle but moving all around was hard and I'm sure my hesitation will show. 

April 23, 1997 4.40 PM
Eight days until May 1, so I awoke at 8 am after a four hour sleep and called Oren to declare we were on emergency. We need to finish the first cut by May 1 otherwise we are in trouble. 

Peter Broderick of the IFC saw the trailer and read our press and was very interested in the film. He wants to see an assemblage. The IFC has a finishing fund and the 50g's we need isn't much for them. 

Sunday June 8, 1997 8.50 am
OK. We are cooking. Eric feels it too. Cutting so that days are forgotten. Time is forgotten. Amazing. Always thinking about how to conquer the film. How to win. How to understand it and edit it and make it better. 

Sean asked me what the film is about. My answer: ONE. 

OK: So I told Sean that the White Void scene has me whipped. That I'm scared to face it. The fact of the matter is that I am ready to do it. I'm gonna cut that motherfucker and make it work. 

Worked on VO with Sean. Very hard stuff to get right. Very tedious but we got very far. We really came up with some good stuff. Sean was hard at times to work with but ultimately it is me. I get frustrated and I need to have patience and to relax. It is a very meticulous process post-production and you need to work at it. 

After Sean left I spent the rest of the day logging his stuff. Avid is dope.

6/11/97
How many people helped us on this film. How many names are gonna be in the credits? There are 80 people who gave us $100. There's gotta be 200 names in the credits. Amazing. 

I know we will get the thirty seven thousand dollars to finish this. 

We've spent a fortune already. Spike Lee B&W. Jim Jarmusch B&W. Scorsese B&W. Kevin Smith B&W. Kubrick B&W (he doesn't count). 

B&W is the way to learn. It's the way to figure out the world. 

For Aronofsky's Pi production diary, in full, complete with pictures and more, go to: http://www.pithemovie.com/diary.html

SCRIPT TO SCREEN: Start Trek - The First Contact storyboards by James Mann

Star Trek: The First Contact | Jonathan Frakes | 1996 | USA | Format: 35mm | 111 min


5.22.2013

PRODUCTION TIP: How to find time to write and shoot


Most filmmakers don't have the luxury of ONLY working on production projects 24/7.  They have families to tend to, businesses to run, bosses to please and other non-film/video things that keep them away from their passion project.  It's even harder for those who couldn't even make it to film school but have a burning desire to shoot a story of some kind.  The thing is that the only way to become that filmmaker who is working on production projects 24/7 means you HAVE to find time to make that passion project NOW so that it opens those doors for you. You can buy all the  screenwriting and filmmaking books in the world but you will only improve and make it to the top if you write and rewrite alot of screenplays and shoot lots of stuff.  

But you're busy with family, your main job and life, right?

So how do you find time to do the time-consuming tasks required for writing, developing, producing, shooting, editing and/or distributing your production?

Here are 10 tips.
  1. Have a plan. Start from where you want your production to end up (On Youtube? At a festival? To be sold as direct-to-DVD? etc) and work backwards to your story idea.  Think like a general and plan a strategy with blocks of time and tasks for every phase from development to pre-production to production to post-production to distribution and marketing.
  2. Create time blocks and concrete doable tasks and stick to them.  Break up overwhelming or complex tasks into parts.  Be flexible and check them off as you go to give you a sense of accomplishment that you're making headway on your production.
  3. Free time = Film time.  Use your free time on your way to, during and from work to handle certain production tasks like writing, scheduling, budgeting and even editing (on your laptop).
  4. Get up early.  Most productions are short term projects.  So you can set your alarm up early during this short term to do things like write, produce or edit your project. 
  5. Have a team.  Even having one other person to split tasks with will take the burden off your shoulders and increase the chances of your production being completed. BUT make sure it's someone who knows their stuff or is willing to learn with you AND is committed to the project, as well.
  6. Work in sprints.  Except for shooting which usually requires a full-day's commitment, work in sprints of 1-2 hours with breaks as opposed to trying to find that one day to cram it all in.  You will get farther with sprints spread throughout a period of time then making excuses to find that one day to do it all.  Btw, even the shooting phase can benefit from this concept; aim to have as little shooting days as possible but with enough time to shoot it right. 
  7. Manage your expectations.  If you're just writing a script, you can make it a sci-fi fantasy feature incorporating tons of special effects.  If you plan on shooting it, you better have powerball lotto money.  Otherwise, it's just not happening. Money aside, it's not a project you can do on a limited schedule (If you're going for a D-movie Ed Wood type of look, then maybe you can do it).  So, if you know you're busy and don't have the money and time to splurge on a film, then manage your expectations and do a project like a short or a music video with your limited budget, cast and crew.  It's better to have a completed project you can actually SHOW then an incomplete project you can only DESCRIBE.
  8. You can make magic with the mundane.  Think you need to have special fx and lots of crazy action to make a great production? While it would be nice to have, fx and action are very time-consuming.  But you're reading this precisely because your time is limited.  And although ALL productions require an investment of time, invest in something simpler. You can do amazing things with a little imagination and a simple story.  See this video, this, or Peluca (the Napoleon Dynamite short).  Keep the story simple, locations minimal and cast small and you can invest more time into fixing the script, rehearsing or creating great production design.
  9. Weekends are for shooting.  Most cast and crew are available on weekends, holidays and days if you give them advance notice.  You might even be able to squeeze in an all-nighter or two to actually shoot something.
  10. Go see screenings at festivals, museums and indie theaters, regularly.  Yes, you can watch great movies on netflix, hulu, mubi, amazon, youtube, and vimeo   (and you should) but going out to watch films in festivals, museums and indie theaters on a regular basis will inspire you to make your production, teach you some things and let you support a fellow filmmaker who was probably in your shoes too.

5.19.2013

PRODUCTION JOURNAL: Werner Herzog on Fitzcarraldo


Fitzcarraldo is a 1982 film written and directed by Werner Herzog and starring Klaus Kinski as the title character. It portrays would-be rubber baron Brian Sweeney Fitzgerald, an Irishman known as Fitzcarraldo in Peru, who has to pull a steamship over a steep hill in order to access a rich rubber territory. The film is derived from the real-life story of Peruvian rubber baron Carlos Fitzcarrald.

The story was inspired by the real life Peruvian rubber baron Carlos Fermín Fitzcarrald; in the 1890s, Fitzcarrald did bring a steamship across an isthmus from one river into another, but it weighed only 30 tons (rather than over 300), and was carried over in pieces to be reassembled at its destination.

In his autobiographical film Portrait Werner Herzog, Herzog has stated that the film's spectacular production was partly inspired by the engineering feats of ancient standing stones. The film production was an incredible ordeal, and famously involved moving a 320-ton steamship over a hill without the use of special effects. Herzog believed that no one had ever performed a similar feat in history, and likely never will again, calling himself "Conquistador of the Useless". Three similar-looking ships were bought for the production and used in different scenes and locations, including scenes that were shot aboard the ship while it crashed through rapids, injuring three of the six people involved in the filming.

Casting of the film was also quite difficult. Jason Robards was originally cast in the title role, but he became ill with dysentery during early filming and, after leaving for treatment, was forbidden by his doctors to return. Herzog then considered casting Jack Nicholson, and even playing Fitzcarraldo himself, before Klaus Kinski accepted the role. By that point, forty percent of shooting with Robards was complete, and for continuity Herzog was forced to begin a total reshoot with Kinski. Mick Jagger was originally cast as Fitzcarraldo's assistant Wilbur, but due to the delays his shooting schedule expired and he departed to tour with the Rolling Stones. Herzog dropped Jagger's character from the script altogether and reshot the film from the beginning.

Klaus Kinski himself was a major source of tension, as he fought virulently with Herzog and other members of the crew; a scene from the documentary My Best Fiend depicts Kinski raging at production manager Walter Saxer over trivial matters, such as the quality of the food. Herzog notes that the native extras, contrary to Kinski's feeling of closeness to them, were greatly upset by his shows of anger. In My Best Fiend, Herzog says that one of the native chiefs offered, in all seriousness, to murder Kinski for him, but that he declined because he needed Kinski to complete filming. In one scene, when the crew is eating dinner while surrounded by the natives, the clamor the chief incites over Fitzcarraldo was, according to Herzog, his exploiting their hate of Kinski.

Locations used for the film include: Manaus, Brazil; Iquitos, Peru; Pongo de Mainique, Peru; an isthmus between the Urubamba and the Camisea Rivers, Peru at -11.737294,-72.934542
~ wikipedia




From the journals of Werner Herzog during the shooting of Fitzcarraldo

Camisea, 15 April 1981

Hunters had gone out and brought back rodents the size of guinea pigs, which the women roasted on a wooden spit, fur and all.  They looked like rats but were tasty.  During shooting yesterday, the Campas were distracted, shooting with arrows at something on the slope.  I ran over and saw that they had shot a snake.  It was pinned to the ground by several arrows, which it snapped at.  We quickly filmed the scene, and once the poisonous animal had been killed we went back to work.

Iquitos, 13 May 1981

On the flight from Camisea to Pucallpa I saw in the west, toward the mountains, dramatic cloud formations such as I have never seen before.  In the jungle great loops of rivers glittered like gold, and in the sky all the doomsday mythologies were playing themselves out.  In a few spots it was raining, causing double rainbows to form.  The sky flared up across its entire expanse, and in the clouds battles were raging, with lighting darting towards the earth like swords.  The edges of the most distant clouds glowed like angry, seething ore, with black mountain ranges welling up around them, and above them red cloud banks glowed bloodily.  Stormy, glowing, primeval lights passed over the forest, drawing veils of dark and orange-yellow rain with them.  Everything was being transformed ceaselessly into ever-increasing ecstasy, and the horizon lit up in a pulsing madness of beauty.  As night fell, it drew everything down with it.  The last revolt against the darkness was fearsome and bloody and grisly; far, far off in the distance the cloud mountains writhed as if suffering cramps.  The last sun poked its fingers into wounded, bleeding towers of clouds.  Then, all of a sudden, everything was extinguished.  In the darkness lightning flickered without pause.  I had almost stopped breathing, and knew that I had seen what hardly any human being had ever witnessed.

Camisea, 6 June 1981

At night I am even lonelier than during the day.   I listened intently to the silence, pierced by the cries of tormented insects and tormented animals.  Even the motors of our boats have something tormented about them.  

The first attempt to tow the ship did not go well, but at least we filmed the failure.  After a few meters, the ship tipped and got hung up, and I heard the mighty steel cables in the block and tackle creak strangely and make unhealthy  sounds.  Finally one cable, as thick as a man's arm, snapped, having heated up internally from the strain.  It lay smoking on the ground.  At the point of breakage, I could see that the inner strands were glowing bright red.  The ship gently slid backward, and it looked good, even if that does not help us much.  The main actors in our disturbing drama, surrounded by the indifferent jungle as our audience, are no longer human beings but the steel cables, the Caterpillar, the winches, the tree trunks, the mud, the river, the rain, the landslides.

Camisea, 7 June 1981

Heavy downpours caused the river to rise so much that it lifted the ship, and the tree trunks we had slid underneath it were in danger of being washed away.  Thick clumps of debris have washed up around the ship, decaying caña brava stalks, brush, leaves, branches.  A landslide occurred between the two most uppermost turnstiles on the slope.  I saw no reason to get upset, we went back to my hut and let the raging rage, though I knew that all it would take to break me was a few more of these gasping absurdities with which nature lashes out at me in my weakened state.  But I refuse to bend as long as I am not bent.  I had missed the blows on an empty pot that summoned us to lunch, and Mauch [the cinematographer] stopped by, after he had eaten his fill, and asked me whether I thought being a martyr would stop the rain.  That was not my intention at all, and I found some food keeping warm on the stove and the huge thigh bone of a bull, still full of marrow.  After that I fell asleep, worn out for no particular reason, and upon waking discovered that the malevolent weather outside had worn itself out as well.  I wondered whether by sleeping I had averted misfortune.  In the face of the obscene, explicit malice of the jungle, which lacks only dinosaurs as punctuation, I feel like a half-finished, poorly expressed sentence in a cheap novel.  While hauling away a mud-smeared, uncooperative steel cable, one of the Indians farted from the effort with such force and duration that it sounded amid the roaring vulgarity of nature like the first indication of a human will to impose order.  In my imagination my wishes carry me away to a place where people fly over over church towers, church towers over cropland, ships over mountains, and continents over oceans.

Camisea, 4 November 1981

We had chosen two camera positions: Mauch with a handheld; Klausmann very close to the ship, squeezed into a corner of a little spit of land from which the only escape route was straight into the water.  But his position remained risky, because once the ship really started to move it could conceivably tear down the earth berm and plow him under.  We conferred about this for a long time.  Raimund, the lighting man, and several Campas posted themselves above his perch, ready to pull him up and out of the danger zone.   For myself, I tried to find a somewhat higher lookout, from which I could see both cameras, as well as the position of the bulldozer.  I had visual contact with both Walter and Tercero.  In case something unforeseen happened, I could warn the cameraman below me in time.  In fact the ship did initially veer toward the earthen berm by the camera, and I saw Raimund leap to the other side of the camera to get it out of the way, moving it toward the water, while the Campas held themselves in readiness to rescue Klausmann.  But Tercero managed to get the ship swung back in the other direction. Once half the ship was in the water, it keeled over so breathtakingly to the side, against the current, that it seemed inevitable that the boat would capsize and sink. As if it were tossing and turning in a confused, chaotic fever dream, the ship heaved from one side to the other.  I lost sight of the Caterpillar, which had bravely jammed itself under the tipping boat, so I ran around the ship, out of range of the camera.  As I did so, my bare feet came down on the razor-sharp shards of a broken beer bottle, which the Indians had left lying in the mud after their nocturnal fiesta. I noticed that I wa bleding profusely, and that there were lots of other shards flying around.  Rushing on, I was paying more attention to the broken glass than to the ship, which I assumed was a goner.  By the time I had reached the other side of the ship, the Caterpillar had already stuck its blade with brute strength under the ship's hull, with the result that the railing, which was almost scraping the ground , was crushed with a terrible crunching sound, but the ship, by now almost entirely in the water, righted itself.

I did not even feel my bleeding foot.  The ship meant nothing to me -- it held no more value that some broken old beer bottle in the mud, than any steel cable whipping around itself on the ground.  There was no pain, no joy, no excitement, no relief, no happiness, no sound, not even a deep breath.  All I grasped was a profound uselessness or, to be more precise, I felt I had merely penetrated  deeper into its mysterious realm.  I saw the ship, returned to its element, right itself with a weary sigh.  Today, on Wednesday, the fourth of November, 1981, shortly after twelve noon, we got the ship from the Rio Urubamba.  All that is to be reported is this: I was involved.

~~ The Paris Review, Spring 2009
  

A short scene of the ship being pulled up the mountain to music by Popul Vuh.

SCRIPT TO SCREEN: Taxi Driver storyboards by Martin Scorcese

Taxi Driver | Martin Scorcese | 1976 | USA | Format: 35mm | 113 min


PRODUCTION TIP: William Friedkin on the most important thing



"The most important thing that I think the director does is choose his material.  That's the single most important thing you do.  In other words, how are you going to spend your time for the next whatever it is?  In my case, on The Exorcist, it was 2 years, which is excessive.  But generally, on a feature film these days, it's anywhere from 6 months to a year. So number one, it's what are you going to do? What do you want to do? That's the most important decision."
-- William Friedkin

5.15.2013

CASE STUDY of ¡Libérate!, a public service announcement (PSA)





¡Libérate! (Free yourself) is a "call to action" social marketing campaign using film and fashion and urging the community at large to let go of the heavy burdens that accompany homophobia.  Juntos Construyendo, a subset of the Latino Commission on AIDS, funded the production of the PSA.  Hector L. Torres III, my co-producer on the PSA, wanted to do something different from the typical PSA that bores its audience.  We came up with a simple but artistic idea for a PSA that treats homophobia as an affliction that affects the homophobic as much as the homosexual.  Hence, the need for both the homophobe and the homosexual to liberate themselves so that all people in the community can heal and grow.  Here's a teaser:


The main production strategy was to shoot something artistic and ambiguous unlike your typical PSA.  To do so, our creative concept had to overcome a tiny budget, a small cast and crew and a short amount of time.

Elements of the Strategy

KNOW YOUR VISION AND PURPOSE FOR SHOOTING BUT BE FLEXIBLE TO ADAPT.  Even though time was of the essence, Hector and I came up with about 5 different concepts that we wanted to shoot.  They could all be done with our tiny budget and crew but they required varying degrees of post production work.  We finally nailed our concept, finalized our budget and selected our cast.  However, recent videos surfaced using a crucial effect we wanted to do and we didn't want to seem to "jump on the bandwagon" so we cut it out.  It changed the concept but because our concept was flexible to begin with we were able to adapt and keep the essence of the PSA intact.

NO MATTER HOW SMALL YOUR BUDGET OR HOW SHORT YOUR SCHEDULE OR HOW SIMPLE THE SHOOT, PREPARE A BUDGET, SCRIPT BREAKDOWN, SCHEDULE AND STORYBOARD. It would be easy to argue that with a 1-day, 1-location shoot with a small cast and crew and a tiny budget we could afford to skip filling out production documents like the budget, schedule and storyboards. But for a no-budget production they are vital.  They not only organize your efforts and keep you on a realistic track but they expose you to things you might have overlooked or reveal solutions you didn’t expect. The budget and the schedule speak for themselves. More specifically, the storyboards and breakdown sheets helped us decide certain pieces of wardrobe and visualize how the PSA would play out so that we could pick the shots that would flow best.  It also allowed us to imagine how we would use the dolly and what shots were most important to set up in case we ran out of time.

IF YOU CAN’T DO A TEST SHOOT WITH THE CAMERAS DUE TO BUDGET REASONs, WATCH CAMERA COMPARISON TESTS ONLINE.  We couldn't afford to rent the cameras for a test shoot and we were undecided between going with the Canon 5d Mk III or the Sony NEX-FS700.  Luckily, the web afforded us the ability to watch camera tests:

We would have preferred doing our tests ourselves but this was the best second option and it helped us go with the Sony camera.

TAKE TIME TO MEET WITH YOUR CO-PRODUCERS AND OTHER MANAGEMENT STAFF  TO DO AN AFTER-ACTION REVIEW.  In the military, the after-action review (AAR) is "a professional discussion of an event, focused on performance standards, that enables soldiers to discover for themselves what happened, why it happened, and how to sustain strengths and improve on weaknesses. It is a tool leaders and units can use to get maximum benefit from every mission or task."  Meeting with Hector allowed us to assess what went right and what went wrong, what we could've done better and what we did right.  Discussing it and hearing someone else's perspective was invaluable which be invaluable on my next production.

To find out more about: ¡Libérate!

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