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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.

12.31.2014

CASE STUDIES: The Best 14 End-of-Year Film Industry Lists of 2014

Among the many traditions that befall us throughout the month of December, the end-of-year-lists can not be avoided. Whether we read them or write them, lists are everywhere. Film magazines and blogs partake in that tradition by putting out their best/worst list of films for the year. I have nothing against them, personally, but I wanted to go deeper and probe the news and trends in the film industry for my own list which would be of strategic use to filmmakers and producers. However, my trip to Cuba for the Festival Internacional del Nuevo Cine Latinoamericano and the usual holiday fanfare put to sleep all that. Still, my Catholic guilt insists that I share something with you. Since I did read some really good lists that go beyond the fun but banal topic of what film was the best/worst in 2014, I have compiled them here.  The 14 lists below can either help you understand the industry better, give you a glimpse of where the industry is going, or deepen your love and knowledge for the art, history, technology and techniques of cinema. 

Oh yeah, and why 14? 
To honor the outgoing year, of course.
  1. Let's start off with the bad news for the film business with Ted Hope's the really bad things in film biz 2014.
  2. Now let's revisit Ted Hope and see why it's not all doom and gloom with the really good things in film biz 2014
  3. Moving on to the topic on every one's mind: distribution. Here are 5 distribution lessons the Film Collaborative has learned throughout out 2014
  4. As a lawyer, I take it as my sacred duty to counsel my clients on how to avoid legal disputes. But some disputes can't be avoided; hence, we have Hollywood's top 10 legal disputes of 2014.
  5. Filmmakers, your movie poster is usually the first thing someone will ever see of your film. Don't be generic and rely on overused colors and themes... instead be original and compelling like the best movie posters of 2014
  6. I said I wouldn't post the best/worst films of 2014 but I didn't say anything about posting the ten best films of 1924. Check it out: Bordwell goes back 90 years from 2014 to give us the best films of 1924 and through his analysis shows us why we should still appreciate the beauty and art of silent films. 
  7. 15 ways indie filmmaker's roles will change in 2015. 'Nuff said.
  8. Another Ted Hope article sneaks in (yeah, I like his work), the 10 best articles on the film business in 2014.
  9. The 3 best HD video cameras for filmmakers on a budget. 'Nuff said.
  10. If you can afford it, here are the top digital motion picture cameras of 2014 (essentially, an overview of the higher end stuff). 
  11. It's amazing how something so vital to the success of a film is so easily overlooked but if you're a filmmaker, you should be thinking about sound. Even if you don't know sound or find the thought of just listening to sounds overwhelming it's still a good idea to check out what sound designers considered their favorite sounds of 2014.
  12. The opening title sequence of a movie or a tv show sets the mood and tone, check out these top 10 title sequences of 2014. Then take notes.
  13. Keep taking notes on the best summer movie marketing campaigns of 2014: even a blockbuster can have lessons for low budget indie filmmakers. 
  14. Ok, so I did end up putting a list of best/worst films BUT only because this particular list serves a higher purpose. This list gives you, the filmmaker, a way to get inside the heads of decision makers and film buyers by perusing through the best films of 2014, according to indie studio execs and film festival programmers. At least if you run into one of these people in an elevator, you will have something to engage them with before you pitch your project.
HONORABLE MENTION: A collection of "top 10 list of films" by critically-acclaimed filmmakers, actors, editors and directors.



HONORABLE MENTION: The top 10 emerging technologies of 2014. Especially promising are the screenless display, quantified self (predictive analytics), brain-computer interfaces and the wearable electronics since I can foresee how each of these can impact how filmmakers create content and how audiences engage with them.

and finally...

SELF-PROMOTION PLUG: the ultimate list... THE FILM STRATEGY FILMMAKERS TOOLKIT for every stage of production from development to preproduction to production to post to distribution/marketing.

12.05.2014

SCRIPT TO SCREEN: Andrei Tarkovsky - A Compendium

ANDREI TARKOVSKY: BAM Cinematek just wrapped up a 2-week run of The Sacrifice and I've been on a Tarkovsky bender watching his films on Hulu. But I'll be the first to admit that when I first started watching his films (Solaris), I was confused. I didn't understand what was going on and the pacing was not what I was used to for a sci-fi film. But the power of the film's sounds and imagery remained deep inside me and I couldn't stop wondering about what I saw and the hauntingly beautiful images that appeared throughout the film. As I watched more of his films, the more I realized that Tarkovsky's films are a rich meal of visual poetry for those willing to savor his cinematic flavors. It is no wonder why he is worth the time to listen to when it comes to creating art.

Even if you haven't watched all of his works, you have probably heard of him and his influence on cinema. To get a glimpse of his genius for creating visual poetry, watch this short collage of his works, Tarkovsky: Life as a Reflection.


VIDEO ESSAY - Tarkovsky: Life as a Reflection from Nelson Carvajal on Vimeo.

Advice on Directing (excerpt)



A Message to Young People (excerpt)


Lessons on Directing (short analysis)



Behind the scenes footage of "The Sacrifice"- directed by Michael Lesczczylowski (1988).


A Poet in the Cinema (1983)



A BBC Arena Production, broadcasted in 1987.


Tarkovsky's list of 10 favorite films (1972)
The fruit of his internal deliberations reads as follows:
  1. Le Journal d’un curé de campagne (Robert Bresson, 1951)
  2. Winter Light (Ingmar Bergman, 1963)
  3. Nazarin (Luis Buñuel, 1959)
  4. Wild Strawberries (Ingmar Bergman, 1957)
  5. City Lights (Charlie Chaplin, 1931)
  6. Ugetsu Monogatari (Kenji Mizoguchi, 1953)
  7. Seven Samurai (Akira Kurosawa, 1954)
  8. Persona (Ingmar Bergman, 1966)
  9. Mouchette (Robert Bresson, 1967)
  10. Woman in the Dunes (Hiroshi Teshigahara, 1964)

12.02.2014

PRODUCTION TIPS: 10 Film Questions That Will Make You a Better Director

How many times have you asked someone about a movie and they just said, "It was great!" or "It sucked!"? More times than you can count, I'm sure, in fact we all do it, even the person who writes a dissertation on the brutality in millenial horror films and French art cinema. There is nothing wrong with that per se since we don't always have the time or the interest to analyze a film. 

BUT as budding filmmakers and lovers of cinema, it is worth the time to dig deep into a film that moves you to love it or hate it. We have all heard the stories of film directors who never went to film school but just watched tons of movies and learned everything they needed to know about directing and storytelling from that. Legendary screenwriting teacher, Syd Field, always recommends watching movies as part of his way to teach screenwriting. Advising filmmakers to watch movies to become better directors is nothing groundbreaking but it bears repeating.

However, what is rarely taught is HOW to watch a movie.

While you never really had to go to film school to become successful in film, you did need to have storytelling talent, luck (or connections) and an ability to understand the language of film. Many directors learn that language intuitively and many others learn it in film school but any director worth their salt will admit that they are always watching movies to always stay learning.

Because the ultimate strengths of a film are its story and how it's told, I like to focus on the elements that build the story cinematically most of all when I study a film. It is a time-consuming process so I only recommend doing this on good or bad films you really wish to breakdown and learn from but trust me it is worth doing if you want to grow as a director.

10 Questions to Ask of A Film to Become a Better Director
  1. What are the main external conflicts and dilemmas of the film?
    • This is the stuff that loglines and trailers are made of. A protagonist after something or someone and blocked by an antagonist is the primordial template for many stories in film today. 
  2. What are the main internal conflicts and dilemmas of the film?
    • This is where the character's inner battles and motivations come into play and where we learn the deeper reasons why a character can or can not achieve what they want.
  3. Does the objective narrator of the film have a "personality?" If so, what kind is it? Is it an active or a passive one?
    • As director and teacher, Nicolas Proferes, states "the narrator is the camera" and there are 6 things you can do with it:
      • Cut to another angle.
      • Change the image size.
      • Depict a depth of field.
      • Put it into motion.
      • Change the focal length of the lens.
      • Change speeds, or stop the motion altogether with a freeze frame.
    • The camera as narrator can be objective and present scenes and shots in a third-person, "straightforward" way. Or the camera can be subjective and use its power to give the audience access to the interior life or perceptions of a character. Most films tend to mix objective and subjective narration.
    • The personality of the narrator/camera is imbued with a director's style and accomplished directors develop distinctive styles that we recognize immediately in their film's personality. The camera can be curious, omniscient, lyrical or playful. Think of how quickly we recognize Wes Anderson's whimsical style or Spielberg's humanist style or Bunuel's surrealist style in their films even when we don't know they directed it.
    • Finally, the narrator can be active or passive. If it's active, the camera constantly interprets the meaning or consequences of an action for us. If it's passive, the camera remains distant and is satisfied letting the audience merely watch and figure it out.
  4. If the main character's POV is used, how does the director use it? How often? When How?
  5. How are transitions used? Which of the following 6 types of transitions dominate? 
    • Cut.
    • Fade In/Out.
    • Dissolve.
    • Wipe. 
    • Masking
    • Real Time. 
      • Technically, this not a transition in the sense that one shot is replaced with another like the first 5 BUT it is a transition in time where the beginning shot changes over time and the actions within the frame, no matter how slight, replace the beginning shot with the end shot.
  6. Do main characters have a strong and memorable entrance? Are they comical, dramatic, suspenseful, sensual, etc?
  7. Does the art direction / production design do more than set the period and mood? Does it serve as a metaphor for the characters or the themes?
  8. Does the film possess the traditional dramatic structure found in most Hollywood and indie films or does it diverge and adopt a differing storytelling structure? If so, what is that structure?
    • Traditional dramatic storytelling structure in cinema is based on Aristotle's analysis in his Poetics and is composed of the following:
      • Exposition.
      • Rising action.
      • Conflict.
      • Falling action.
      • Denouement, resolution, revelation or catastrophe.
  9. What particular scenes or sequences stand out? Is it because of the staging, the music, the camera, the lighting, the acting, the sounds, the editing, or some combination of all or any of these?
  10. Can you breakdown how those particular scenes were done?
    • Put your thinking cap on, take a sheet of paper and draw a simple floor plan where you lay out the camera set-ups for that scene.
    • For extra credit, try to figure out what lenses, lighting, sounds, and acting methods went into creating that scene.
Unlike pencilling or guitar playing, the costly nature of filmmaking means it is difficult to constantly hone and improve your directing skills without having the money, equipment and people available to make films. However, you can use your time on the viewer's chair to improve your directing skills by actively engaging with the film and answering the questions above.


12.01.2014

PRODUCTION JOURNAL: Chris Cooke's BBC Director Diary part 3

I am ill and tired as usual, as regular watchers of these video diaries will know already.
My flat has a small and unhealthy ergonomic triangle that is bad for me when I am writing at home. I sit typing only two feet from my refrigerator and two feet from my sofa, fags and remote control... my routine seems to be: Type and smoke; walk to fridge, make sandwich; walk to sofa; chill out and smoke and watch some film or other while eating, smoking, etc... lie down and think up new script-based idea. Er, that's it! It's all the exercise I ever get. And it's bad for me.
Anyway, that's what I've been up to. Every time I read some other director's diary they've just been to Hollywood for a meeting, or are in transit to New York for a meeting, or are crossing the Gobi Desert for research or are holidaying in Milan with a famous actor or something. Me? I am getting fat typing in Nottingham.
"I MAKE WHAT ARE CALLED 'SMALL' FILMS"
Well, I have met some famous people and been abroad as well you know! But not often and not that it matters: I make what are called 'small' films, the type that are diagnosed as "rough and ready", "personal", "regional", or "bleak"... but most often I am considered parochial and "British". I think people should write what they know, at least then they're being honest.
Anyway, the DVD of One For The Road has been released and I am interested to find out who is buying it. Steve and I are continuing to get on with the Wrestling film, World Of Pain (as it is called at the moment), and Helen and I are busy rushing out a new outline of our incredibly bleak comedy road movie about belief, nihilism, and grief. FilmFour are keen for a rewrite on that one and enthusiastic about our wrestling opus. So things are moving forward faster than ever.
This new video diary deals with the Americanisation of British cinema (sounds better than it is!) and writing what you know, writing for your friends... again it's all about collaboration and making things with the tools we have around us.
See you again next time.