The War of Attrition: Part 2

Be sure to start with Part 1.

Is There Life After Film by Julie MacLusky, Peter Dowling continues:

“I think as a writer you just have to keep on writing, stretching your self and trying to grow. You often hear people say, ‘You have to write the most un-commercial thing you can to prove to people that you’re a good writer,’ but I just write what I like and would want to see myself.

There are clearly a lot of talented people out there who haven’t yet made it—but it’s a war of attrition. Maybe they weren’t ready when their opportunity came along. An opportunity will probably come along again, and they must just keep writing. Good material—you often hear it, but it’s true—will find its way. This business is built on looking for good material. They’re not out there to keep you away. If you’ve got a good script, somebody will get hold of it, read it, like it, but it—it’s just the nature of the business.

I really think it’s just staying power. People who get disillusioned give up, and then I have to question how much they really wanted it in the first place? I’ve known now for over twenty years what I wanted to do. I remember at eighteen meeting people who were at university in England and they said, ‘What do you want to do?’ and I could tell them. But if I asked them, ‘Well, what do you want to do?’ and they were doing some kind of business degree, they didn’t know, but they had an income figure in mind. I always knew I wanted to make movies and it’s not about the money. I say if you do what you love and you’re successful at it, the money will come.”

I can certainly relate to Peter. Filmmaking is something I’ve longed to do since I was 13. My advice to myself and other filmmakers: Write something.

Begin to write stories. Take short one act plays and turn them into ready-to-shoot screenplays (while making all the changes you want). Take moments from you life and turn them into screenplays. Write the ordinary. Write the fantastic. Write the dream you dreamt as a child.

Regardless of whether you want to write: write something!

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The War of Attrition

In the final paragraph of her introduction to her book Is There Life After Film School: In Depth Advice from Industry Insiders, Julie MacLusky writes:

“When I set out to conduct these interviews, I wondered if those who succeed have any personal qualities in common, or particular routes to success. I found that they did share a realistic idea of the business they were getting into, which was married to a fierce determination. They were also prepared to do their time in lower paid jobs and earn their experience the hard way. And finally they were prepared to keep going when others might have chosen to give up. Screenwriter Peter Dowling told me he believes success is down to a war of attrition. Thus, if you graduate from a class of thirty-two screenwriters, and five years later only two of you are still writing, your odds will be greatly improved by the reduction in competition.”

One dictionary defines “attrition” as a reduction in numbers usually as a result of resignation, retirement, or death. Another word that comes to my mind is cutthroat.

Peter A. Dowling shares writing credits with Billy Ray on Flightplan (2005), a Hitchcockian thriller starring Jodie Foster. Is There Life After Film School? was published in 2003 by Continuum.

Julie MacLusky is Assistant Professor of Screenwriting at Chapman University. Several of her short stories have been published in anthologies, and she has also written and produced documentaries for BBC Radio.

Contiune to part 2.

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Service with a Smile

Everyone knows that it takes money to make a movie and money to pay the bills. If the bills aren't paid, it becomes even more difficult to get a movie completed. With that in mind, I find myself at my day job. I work in the IT department of a small, private college in the Twin Cities area. I answer the phone, I field questions and requests, and sometimes when I'm sitting in front of a phone that isn't ringing. . . I find time to read a book. The book that was available to me today was Delivering Knock Your Socks of Service [Revised Edition, 1998 and now in it's 4th Edition].

"It's a must-have tool for everyone in customer service!"

--SUCCESS Magazine

Now, you might be thinking to yourself, "I'm working behind the camera so I don't have to deal with people" or "I could NEVER work in customer relations". Those statements may very well be true, but I'd like to encourage you to take on the attitude that is "knock your socks off service."

Hollywood is known for its cold, albeit sexy, shoulder. Regardless of whether your dream is working in Hollywood or making a poignant social commentary (I'm sure you know what Mike I'm talking about), the glue that will make your ideas stick is positive relations with people you cross paths with.

The image of the rude, total diva director (in my mind) has to be a myth. Of course I know of film students who function in this way. My hypothesis is that those are the next great waiters and waitresses of our generation.

Tom Peters, Management guru, says:

"Customers perceive service in their own unique, idiosyncratic, emotional, irrational, end-of-the-day, and totally human terms. Perception is all there is!"

This statement rings true in my mind.

When a crew assembles, try to imagine in your mind how your co-crewmembers might perceive you. They will probably perceive you as a human being and judge you based on how much experience they perceive you have. This does not mean that you should blow your own horn and pad your verbal resume (e.g. "This is a much smaller production than I'm used to working on" or "this director has no direction, unlike all of the other directors I've worked with over the years…"). Honesty gains trust.

"Researchers consistently find that it costs five times more to attract a new customer than it does to keep one you already have."

When assembling a crew, sometimes there are only one or two people to choose from. This can be frustrating on small, independent productions, but it is important to keep the crew together.

Imagine this horror: the Director of Photography is fed up in dealing with a storm of egos and walks off the set. It will take five times more (energy, money, love, emotion, waffles, donuts, coffee, bananas, etc) to attract a new D.P.

When the shoot is finally done and another "baby" comes out of (p)reproduction, do you really want to assemble an entirely new crew?

Can't we all just get along?

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Friends Get Films Made

Recall for a second the story of Damon and Pythias from Greek mythology. According to a Greek legend: when Pythias was sentenced to be executed Damon took his place to allow Pythias to get his affairs in order; when Pythias returned in time to save Damon the king was so impressed that
he let them both live.

NO, I'm not trying to make paint a grand metaphor where the Producer is King, Director is Pythias, and the Assistant Director/s is/are Damon. That's not the point (and I cannot stand working with those snobs... unless said snob has notable honors and/or deep pockets).

The point is this, when you are working on a film with friends the moviemaking process becomes movie magic. Everything seems to come together faster and the results are more pleasing to everyone involved. The viewer can tell if friends worked together to create a film. Friends fall in love with the story together.

So, find your friends a make a movie this summer!

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Finding Fulfillment in Failed Films

Are you a person who is able to find fulfillment in crappy films?

Here's what Alex Billington has to say:

Too many people are caught up in the idea that their “time is wasted” when a movie is terrible (and then they walk out), but I'll enjoy it anyway, as much as I can, and just take in the cinematic experience more than anything.

Obviously we can argue endlessly for years about how to fix and improve the current theatrical situation, but that won't eliminate every bad movie, and that won't always fix every problem. I just take the cinematic experience for what it is, and enjoy it.

After Sundance I've been getting out to every last film festival I can, just because I love seeing these hidden gems and terrible creations. To me, it's never a waste of time. The way cinema used to be was that no one complained and just went for the heck of it, even if it was bad. That post is a great outlook on some time passed, but memories not forgotten.

Here is a related post to Alex's article:

Eventually I realized the unappealing conditions in the theatre were conducive to enjoying incredibly bad movies - I would go down there with friends on $2.50 Tuesday without having consulted the listings first. We would look up at the marquee, determine the worst film playing that night, and buy tickets. We saw Justine Bateman's Satisfaction using this method - it was showing on two screens and one show was sold out; for our showing we had the place to ourselves, in one of the theatres in the basement. It was like a private viewing.

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How to write a Thank You Note

From Esquire Magazine:

A good thank-you note is a clear and ruddy piece of prose. There are only two moves involved. First you remind the person what you are thanking them for. Then you tell them why. That's it. You sign off, sure. And you might throw in an extra sentence or two for a laugh or a private joke. But it's mostly a chop-chop exercise: two solid, sincere sentences, each touching on the heart of the matter. It isn't all that tough.


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Have an attitude of gratitude

A Little Gratitude
How to change the way the world sees you, one thank-you note at a time

By Tom Chiarella

I don't really care when people say thanks. Open a door. Thanks. Hand someone a stapler. Thanks. Push a button on an elevator. Thanks.
That's just chatter. Meaningless interaction. Broadly speaking, hearing thanks five dozen times a day might be seen as an anthropological indicator of some sort of social ordering, like cryptic head tilts between sparrows on the lip of a gutter. It's often an anonymous interaction. I can live with that. I can even participate. That doesn't mean I have to care when some thirty-one-year-old salesclerk at Restoration Hardware, who didn't take the time to use hair gel that morning, says "Thanks" as I walk out of the store having bought nothing at all.

Three days ago, I stepped out of the way so a three-year-old could caterwaul past me in the soup/chili/potted-meats aisle at a grocery store, knocking cans off the shelves as he went. I could have horse-collared the little jerk, but I figured it was none of my business. His father galumphed around the corner, smiling, tilting his head, turning his palms up at the apparent zaniness of life with toddlers. "Thanks," he said.

But why was he thanking me? There wasn't any gratitude to be had in that moment. I'd done nothing for him. Mostly, I got the sense that he was using the thanks as a kind of wink, as in "You know how it is."
And most of the time, that's all people mean when they say thanks casually. They mean: I could have done it myself or My boss wants me to say this or I appreciate the tip, but this isn't what I plan to do for a living. There isn't really any gratitude in those exchanges. But when we use a thank-you as a how-do-you-do, we take all the air out of being grateful, creating a world in which gratitude has no currency.

Being grateful matters. A good thank-you -- a real thank-you -- means something. It is notable, memorable, important. A meaningful thank-you reveals the evolution of a friendship; it declares what we value, making one party certain that the other party notices and cares about the quality of human transactions in the world around them. But every verbal thank-you, even a sincere one, risks being forgettable. No, there is only one way to really thank someone: You have to write it down. You gotta write a thank-you note.

I always appreciate a thank-you note, but I've never been particularly good about writing them. I have let so many kindnesses pass, so many gifts and gestures drift by, so many sweaters made by my aunt or books sent by my father pile up in the corner, that I am ashamed.

So I decided to get serious with my thank-yous, taking a month to let no kindness pass. I went to the stationery store, bought a hundred cards and a decent pen, and took a month to write thank-yous for everything that happened to me, to everyone who did anything for me.
This time it wasn't so much about what this would get me or how this would bend the world in my favor. I was adopting a karmic ritual, which, over time, might actually benefit all parties.

I decided to be aggressive. A hundred thank-you notes in a month. How much real kindness was there in a single day after all? I figured three per diem would do it. It seemed likely that I would have some lousy days, some days when nothing was worth noting.

But then I wrote ninety-one in the first week.

Could I write a thank-you note to everyone who opened a door for me, or picked up something I dropped, or handed me a Sweet'N Low in a coffee shop? At first, that was what I was after, the attempt to use thank-you notes like a giant caliper, taking measurements on grace and kindness in the world around me. I wrote to a dozen baristas, two clerks at Wal-Mart, a state trooper, a spate of department secretaries at work, waiters, waitresses, bartenders, a guy who sold me a pair of tires, friends, acquaintances, clerks from whom I bought Christmas presents at the mall, the parking attendant at that mall, and three different newspaper writers. That was just the legitimate, hardcore thank-yous, the ones for which I had a name and an address. I also sent dozens to anonymous people at coffee shops, dressing-room attendants at Old Navy, customers in long-evaporated lines at bakeries, operators in the distant offices of toll-free numbers.

I had my rules. I would not use e-mail to thank anyone. An old-school, proper thank-you note is a card selected for that purpose. I chose ones that said thank you right on the front. I didn't do any drop-offs, either -- no notes stuck in mailboxes at the office, no cards slipped under doors. I wanted the notepaper, the method of delivery, the construction of the letter, even the selection of the postage stamp, to imply consideration on my part. More to the point, I wanted to consider those aspects of the process.

I got some answers. A woman from Best Buy called to thank me for the note in which I thanked her for the help with buying a refrigerator.
"Selling appliances is a pretty thankless job," she said. I told her I hoped it would score points with her boss, thinking maybe there would be a kickback for me in the form of a discount. "Oh, I quit that job,"
she said. "I'm in St. Louis now. I'm going to be a minister."

But overall, this just didn't work. Letters came back unopened. My handwriting got worse with each repetition. I began to realize that thank-you notes, like their verbal counterparts, should not be broadcast indiscriminately like grass seed. I had made the mistake of treating the thank-you note as something easy and casual, vaguely tossed off, rather than something timely and considered. After week one, I started to make some choices, finding real moments from the day before.

Every morning I took three cards and set them down in front of me. I was back to my original formula. Now that I wasn't keeping a running list of every event on my Day-Timer, when I didn't force myself into a frenzy to cover every possibility, I found that I was in a sort of buyer's market each morning; I had plenty to pick from. I wrote my therapist, and a biologist I spoke to at a New Year's party about books he was reading, and my departmental assistant. I thanked my brother for the football he sent my son for Christmas, the one we played catch with until our fingers were dead from cold. I thanked people for parties, for lunches, for jars of jelly dropped on my porch over the holidays.

I've never been very good at this whole daily-reflection thing, but if I ever gave it a real shot, it was while I was scratching out these notes. Time passed differently. I began to look at the day as a series of opportunities for thankfulness rather than obligations to a calendar. The discipline of the writing gave me a morning ritual beyond a cup of coffee and the blathering of SportsCenter. I started, for the first time in years, to work on my handwriting. The morning didn't tear by the way it usually does. I found that I could sit there and reconstruct the prior day by thinking of the faces of the people I met, the tenor of the things they did, and the places in which I met them. With each day, I could remember more about each day that passed.

One day, toward the end of my experiment, I was called into my boss's office and pretty much told my time was up. They couldn't offer me the terms I had been working under any longer, and they wanted things to change, whether I wanted them to or not. As I sat there, my head filled with anger. I could think of three people I blamed for this.
Then more. Jealous, petty, careless people, each of whom had declared, without saying as much, that they no longer wanted to watch my back.
Thanks, I wanted to shout. Thanks a lot. But I knew by now that no one would hear. I wasn't being fired; I was being dared to quit.

The next morning, as I set the notes down in front of me, I expected I'd be able to think of little else except my imminent demise. When I looked at the blank notes, my new memory kicked in. The day hadn't been that bad. One guy had lent me a book on pigeons that I liked very much already. I'd also received a large discount on a poker table I wanted. I had plenty to write about. I wanted to write my boss, too. I felt like I had something to say.

I started in, because I knew I could. The discipline told me this
much: Gratitude requires some measure of humility. I didn't quit, or tell him to fuck off, or ask for another meeting. I sidestepped my anger and thanked him for his time. It turned out to be all he could offer me, and I told him I was glad to know that much. Knowing that -- really understanding it on a level I could reach only by sitting down to write the note -- made it easier to consider what had passed, and what might still be to come. I was grateful for that.

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Lots of Links for Filmmakers

Please, start here:

The Vision:
IFP Minnesota envisions a world where expression through images is valued and encouraged. IFP Minnesota is the Center for Media Arts that supports and promotes the work of artists who create screenplays, film, video, and photography in the Midwest. From novice to experienced media artists, IFP MN provides ongoing programs and services to ensure that your voice is seen and heard.
If you live in Minnesota, these links will be more beneficial.

Photography Resources:

American Photo
Camera Arts -
Lenswork -
Minnesota Center for Photography - - -
Vision Quest -

Companies + Vendors - Photography:
DigiGraphics/Photos Inc. -
National Camera Exchange & Video -
Photo Warehouse -
Technophobia Consulting -
West Photo -

Filmmaking Resources:
Altered Esthetics -
American Accolades Screenwriting Competition -
AMPAS Screenwriting Fellowships -
Chesterfield Writers' Film Project -
Cinema Revolution -
Corporation for Public Broadcasting -
Creative Capital -
FilmFestivals Entertainment Group -
Filmmaker Magazine
indieWIRE -
Internet Movie Database (IMDB) -
Minnesota Screenwriters' Workshop - -
Movie Bytes -
Chan Poling, Composer -
Todd Syring, Composer -
University Motion Picture Club -
Winnipeg Film Group - -

Companies + Vendors - Film/Video:
Cinequipt -
Innovative Business Products -
Kodak -
Lights On Minneapolis -
Pixel Farm -

Bush Foundation -
Independent Television Service (ITVS) -
Jerome Foundation -
Metropolitan Regional Arts Council -
MN State Arts Board -

Media Arts Organizations:
Asian Media Access -
Digital Pictures -
Directors Guild of America - -
IFP - -
Intermedia Arts -
Minnesota Center for Photography -
Minnesota Film & TV Board -
National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture -
Northern Guild -
OverExposure -
Springboard for the Arts -
Writers Guild of America -

Film Threat - -
IndieFilmmaker -
The Numbers -

Business Plan Resources:
Business Plan for Films -
Understanding film financing and writing business plans -
Business Plans for Film & Movie Projects -
Business Plan FAQ -
Sample BP Summary - Article on business plans -

Film Schools: -
Film School Confidential -
Full Sail -

Theaters and Festivals:
Atomic Midnights at St. Anthony -
Cinema Slop -
Cinema Treasures -
Drive-In Theaters in MN -
Egofest Short Video Film Festival - –
Flaming Film Festival -
Free Range Film Festival -
Heights Theatre -
Inside Film Online -
Landmark Theatres Minneapolis -
Minnesota Film Arts (Oak Street Cinema/Bell/MSPIFF) -
Riverview Theater -
Sound Unseen -
Square Lake Solstice Film Festival -
Twin Cities Black Film Festival -
Walker Art Center -

Thanks to IFP MN for the list of links! []

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Finances, Film, and YOU

If you expect to be trust with a budget for a film (short or otherwise), you need to be in control of your finances.

Starving artists: Listen up! Here is all you need to remember when it comes to personal finance.

Grow Your Income, Not Your Lifestyle

Please read closely: Earning more money won't make a bit of difference if you don't save it or apply it to paying off your debt. Many people fall into the trap of "the more you make, the more you spend." It's a vicious cycle that will keep you living from paycheck to paycheck regardless of how high your salary is. The bottom line is that you've got to grow your income, but not your lifestyle if you want to make financial progress.

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Premiere Reviews Grindhouse

I'm looking forward to seeing Grindhouse. Here's what one review says:

So finally, is this three-hour-plus extravaganza is a genuine formalist coup, or just a case of indie moguls indulging their favorite sons in an elaborate in-joke? That's a question a review can't really answer. I must say, as much as I enjoyed much of it, I hope Grindhouse doesn't start any trends. Exploitation cinema is combustible stuff that only highly trained professionals should be permitted to play with.

— Glenn Kenny

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Looking For Film Books

As a student filmmaker, don’t spend money on books until you’ve read them first. If you like what you read, then ask someone to give it to you as a gift. Check them out your school library, public library, or through interlibrary loan systems.

There is a lot of great stuff online, but there is still something about sitting back and reading words printed on paper that you can run your finger along.

Listening to podcasts and reading websites (including this one) should be supplemental to your film education. Watching award-winning films should compliment your reading.

Books should be your primary source for information. Why? The writers had to go through a long process to get their book published. It’s been edited and often times include really useful illustrations.

Blogs like mine are just resources. Sometimes filmmaking blogs include anecdotes. Stories of shoots gone wrong can be great to learn from, but experiencing it firsthand is so different from reading about it. If you are serious about filmmaking, you’re going to need to hit the books.

Be intentional about your film learning.

Apply what you've learned by making a short film.

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Expensive Pad vs. Moleskins

While reading John August’s blog, I came across a post about a special screenwriting pad.

“Buying one 80-page pad will cost you $22 with shipping, roughly five times more than the Ampad pads I use. But my pads merely have horizontal lines, whereas the Everybody’s Write pads have a special grid system for lining up various formatting elements. The non-reproducible blue lines disappear when you photocopy them — but then again, non-existent lines disappear just as well.”

Here's what the official site says:

Dustin Paddock, screenwriter for Fox Network's popular TV program ‘House’ calls the Screenwriter's Initial Draft Pad the ‘Lexus of legal pads for screenwriters’!”

I wouldn’t mind have some of these laying around my room. They look a little big to carry around in my breast pocket. I guess I’ll just have to save up and buy a moleskin. My Treo 650 just isn’t hip enough for the hipsters.

On a slightly unrelated note, I think I need to move to Seattle.

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zoom z00m ZOOM

Jeremy Vineyard, in his book Setting Up Your Shots: Great Camera Moves Every Filmmaker Should Know, says:

"The focal length of a camera lens determines the distance that that camera can 'see.' Zoom lenses allow the focal length to be gradually changed. With a zoom, the frame may transition from a wide shot to a close-up without ever moving the camera.

The zoom is considered an unnatural technique
because our eyes aren't able to incrementally change our focal length. Because of this, zooms are often used for effect.

A very slow zoom can be a subtle alternative to a dolly movement in locations where there is no room to rig a dolly and track. A very fast zoom--a whip zoom--can be used to draw attention to an object in a scene. (Page 7)"
There is an editing effect that puts the zoom to good use.

When you want the viewer to pay attention to a certain object, building, or person, a filmmaker might consider using a cut zoom in.

"Cut zoom in is a technique that adds emphasis to an otherwise static shot. This technique usually has three stages: a very wide shot, a wide shot, and a medium shot. The distances for each shot can vary, but the basic idea is that, for each cut, the camera suddenly 'jumps' forward towards the subject being viewed.

To soften the effect, the camera can slowly zoom forward during the sequence."
A cut zoom in sequence of shots can consist of a non-moving camera and cut to increasing larger shot sizes. Another way to incorporate a cut zoom in is to film a slow zoom and cut out enough frames so that when played back, the camera appears to make "jump cuts". You can also do the opposite of this which would result in a cut zoom out.

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Five Common Short Film Mistakes

Mikael Colville-Andersen British-Danish is a writer/director based in Copenhagen, Denmark. He has written and directed several short films, including the award-winning short Breaking Up. He has also written, directed, and starred in a feature film, Zakka West.

I somehow found his blog 16:9 Cinematic Filmblog and scoured through the posts until I came to one entitled, “Five Classic Mistakes Made by Short Film Directors”.

Here they are with my thoughts as a novice filmmaker.

1. The intro or set-up is too long.

"In far too many shorts you sense that the director felt the need to establish character, time, place, mood, etc. A waste of time. The short film is an excercise in brevity. Get right to the central question, right to the heart of the conflict. In dramaturgical terms, start with the first plot point."

This is such a hard thing to remember. I constantly find myself getting bogged down in the details. The premise of the story should be established in a few opening shots. Remember the old adage: show, don’t tell? Well, it’s especially true in a short film.

2. No clear protagonist.

"It's a short film. There's no room or time for a buddy film or a cast of thousands (or even three). One crystal clear protagonist with one crystal clear conflict, please."

Your protagonist needs to have clear motivations throughout the story arc. It’s a short arc, but make it hard for your protagonist. He will be making decisions throughout the course of the short, those decisions need to have motivations.

3. Too much dialogue.

"It's a short film! Not a Shakespearean monologue. Tell the story with as little dialogue as possible and tell the story with images... it is film after all."

Again, show...don’t tell. And please, don’t resort to using the F-word to make your characters more “bad-ass”.

4. Too many stories.

"What's it about? It's about the protagonist and his/her conflict. Not the protagonist's best friend's subplot. One straight, red line from start to ending. Stick with one story."

I’ve heard many people relate to short films to jokes. There needs to be a clear story ending with a punchline.

Johnny, George, and Bert were driving along in their pickup

when they saw a sheep caught in the fence with its hind end up in the air.

Bert said, "I wish that was Sharon Stone."

George echoed, "I wish it was Demi Moore."

Little Johnny sighed, "I wish it was dark . . . "

If* that joke was turned into a script for a short film, you’d only need 3 actors: Johnny, George, and Bert.

* (This particular joke probably wouldn't lend itself to an award-winning short film.)

5. No story.

"Even worse than number 4 and, unfortunately, seen much more often. No story at all. If you can't figure out what a short film is about after a few minutes, then it's not a short film."

A short film should not be a montage of images. It’s not an experimental film. Tell me a story in a short amount of time. And don’t just tell me the story, show me the story.

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Documentary: The War Tapes

I admire the way Director Deborah Scranton made her feature film directorial debut.

"February 12, 2004, I received an offer from the New Hampshire National Guard to embed as a filmmaker. I called the public affairs officer and asked if I could give cameras to the soldiers instead. He said yes—but it would be up to me to get soldiers to volunteer to work on the project."

"I told them we would do this together. We would tell the story—their story—and go wherever it took us, no matter what. Ten soldiers volunteered. Zack Bazzi, Mike Moriarty, Steve Pink, Duncan Domey and Brandon Wilkins were the five soldiers that filmed the entire year. In total, 21 soldiers contributed to the project."

"Each soldier was given a one-chip Sony MiniDV Camera, tripod, microphones, various lenses, and piles of blank tape. My communication with the soldiers varied: some simply shot footage and turned in their tapes, while others communicated with me regularly via instant messaging and email. Tapes on average took two weeks to get from Iraq to New Hampshire."

"I believe the power of film, image and sound, is in its ability to evoke empathy. If war negates humanity, then film—especially film that shows war from the inside—can ensure that even when we fight, we hold on to and bear witness to our humanity. We found a way in this film to smash through that wall. We found the possibility of empathy in the middle of war."

From her About page:

"Director Deborah Scranton made her feature film directorial debut with the award winning THE WAR TAPES, which premiered at the 2006 Tribeca Film Festival and won Best Documentary Feature. THE WAR TAPES grew out of her locally acclaimed World War II television documentary, STORIES FROM SILENCE, WITNESS TO WAR – and her own commitment to using new technologies to give people power in creating their own media, and tell their own stories."

"Declining an offer in 2004 from the New Hampshire National Guard to embed herself as a filmmaker in Iraq, Scranton instead gave the soldiers cameras and trained them as cinematographers. Scranton directed THE WAR TAPES using email and near-perpetual instant messaging with the Soldiers with Cameras to answer questions, share techniques, and explore stories with the soldiers as they filmed their very personal experiences."

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I love all the Punks

I’m not talking about punk rockers, I’m talking about Cyberpunk, Steampunk, and now: Clockpunk!

Wikipedia says:

The suffix -punk appears in the names of a number of genres of speculative fiction. Other genres without the suffix may also be related.

Da Vinci Automata is a Blog on the Clockpunk genre of Science Fiction.

Here's a recent post entitled: Introducing Clockpunk:

Clockpunk is a genre of science fiction similar to Steampunk (some people even consider clockpunk to be a sub-genre of Steampunk). Clockpunk can be divided into historical and non-historical Clockpunk. Historical Clockpunk explores how the world would have turned out if certain technological developments that occurred later had happened in the Renaissance and or certain inventions in the time of the Renaissance were created on a mass scale in the time period.Non-historical Clockpunk is set in settings similar to the Renaissance but on alternative worlds, planets etc. The suffix punk is actually misleading but the name has stuck just as it has stuck in the case of other sub-genres of science fiction that were inspired from Steampunk. While there is sometimes overlap between Clockpunk and the fantasy genre, for the purpose of the current blog we shall try to keep these overlaps separate.

I’d love to someday make a ‘punk film. Either cyberpunk or steampunk. Wikipedia lists five primary -punk genres:

  • Biopunk - set in present or in a future time, where genetics have advanced significantly

". . .including timepunk—a general term covering any historical variation on steampunk— or more specifically, bronzepunk (steampunk set in the Bronze Age), classicpunk (steampunk set in Ancient Greece or the Roman Empire), stonepunk (steampunk set in the Stone Age, as seen in The Flintstones) and clockpunk (steampunk set in the Renaissance)."

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Join me on Virb

Remember that hip new social network I gave out invites for a few weeks ago? Well, it launched and went public today. Virb is geared more towards the arts-oriented crowd (music, etc), or so it seems. Similar to MySpace, bands seem to be taking over Virb, as exemplified by this Fall Out Boy page. At any rate, it’s nice to see MySpace will have some (better looking) competition. Oh and music on profile pages doesn’t and can’t autoplay - take that MySpace!

You can add me as a friend if you'd like:

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Documentary Film Statement of Fair Use

This is a must-have download!

Documentary filmmakers have created, through their professional associations, a clear, easy to understand statement of fair and reasonable approaches to fair use. Fair Use is the right, in some circumstances, to quote copyrighted material without asking permission or paying for it. It is a crucial feature of copyright law. In fact, it is what keeps copyright from being censorship. You can invoke fair use when the value to the public of what you are saying outweighs the cost to the private owner of the copyright.

Click here to download this useful handbook, written by veteran filmmakers to help other filmmakers understand some instances where using copyrighted material without clearance is considered fair use.

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Sound is HARD

"Whichever method you use, you need to eliminate as much noise as possible from your location. Turn off all fans and air conditioners to reduce airflow. Close all doors and windows. Unplug the refrigerator (hint: leave your keys in the refrigerator so you remember to plug it back in when you’re done). Try and get the neighbors to turn off their radio. In short, it must be SILENT."

Be sure to check out all of the great posts on I Go To Film School So You Don't Have To.

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Intriguing Site: The Clapperboard

This is one filmmaking resource site that really intrigues me. It's design is very minimalistic with a white background and black text. The links are all contained within the paragraphs.

A new section of the website that is hidden away covers the topic of screen writing.

". . .I do know the film makers I admire all have one thing in common – they all got started by just writing a script, then begged, borrowed or stole a camera to shoot their film. Everyone has to start somewhere, and with the advent of affordable digital video, there has never been a better time to start learning the techniques of film making."

Explore this website and post any interesting finds in the comments section below.

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How long is a short?

I attended the Fearless Filmmakers Screening Event at The Oak Street Cinema last week and walked away with a lot of information to think about. During the Q&A session someone from the audience asked, "How long should a short be?" The answer to this question assumes we are talking about short films that will be uploaded to a video sharing site.

Melody Gilbert noted the explosion of shorts online. iTunes Music Store is currently selling Sundance short films on for $1.99.

"We are in the Wild West," according to Julie Rappaport of Smokin Yogi Films. Both the panel and I agree. There are no rules or conventions set in place. It's a great time to be a filmmaker.

Some might claim that 1-2 minute videos are best for the low attention span of an internet viewer. In all actuality, the sweet spot might be more around 6-7 minutes for a really great story that is shot and edited well.

Ryan Wood, of Fear of Girls fame, stated that pacing is more important than length.


It's all about pacing.

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Groundhog fails to see his shadow

Okay, so he didn't "fail" to see it. It just wasn't there.

"On February 2, Phil comes out of his burrow on Gobbler's Knob - in front of thousands of followers from all over the world - to predict the weather for the rest of winter."

"According to legend, if Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter weather. If he does not see his shadow, there will be an early spring."

". . .
On this Groundhog Day we think of one thing.
Will we have winter or will we have spring?

On Gobbler's Knob I see no shadow today.
I predict that early spring is on the way."

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Beautiful Ray Harryhause Tribute Page

Chinese Jetpilot has a great Tribute to stop-motion master Ray Harryhausen page up. You can browse and view short clips from the films he provided special effects for. I highly recommend this site to any Harryhausen fan.

"Groundbreaking visual effects designer Ray Harryhausen refined and elevated stop-motion animation to an art. His Dynamation technique of matting animated creatures into live-action settings revolutionized the use of stop-motion animation in visual effects."

"Ray was a master of his medium, applying skills as diverse as sculpture, illustration, painting, optics, history, and acting. Take any of his best-known creatures - The sword-fighting skeletons in Jason and the Argonauts, the Cyclops from The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, or Clash of the Titan's Medusa, for example. Ray conceived and designed each shot; sculpted, cast in latex around an articulated metal armature, painted and detailed the stop-motion puppet; staged and lit a miniature set of his construction; and infused it with poetic animation. Lacking any practical pre-visualization tools, he knew if a shot succeeded only after the film was developed. He executed his shots single-handedly, working months at a time, in tiny converted storefront studios."

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Avid versus Final Cut: Round 1

Entering the ring in this corner is Apple's underdog champ, Final Cut Express HD.And in the other corner, the heavyweight, Avid Xpress Pro.

Let's get ready to rumble!

Avid steps up and delivers three quick punches to Final Cut's gut.

“Work quickly and accurately”

“I wouldn’t use anything but Avid to work on a low-budget documentary. On these types of projects, I need a tool that will allow me to work quickly and accurately, not waste time rendering sequences and, most importantly, not lose my media. When dealing with so much footage and a budget that doesn’t allow me to burn time searching for clips and rebuilding sequences, using something like Final Cut Pro would have been too volatile and risky. Avid is the way to go, it manages my media, works intuitively, and allows me to focus on the story.”

Jeff Groth
Editor, So Goes the Nation

“Editing so easy”

“An Avid [system] makes editing so easy, and while it’s wonderful to have this ability to explore concepts and to have it accessible to so many people, I believe strongly that editing is not about randomly putting things together to see what will work; [rather] it’s about having a very constructed view of something. Then - what the Avid [system] does - is help you construct that story, as opposed to experimenting your way into it. I think of editing as a storytelling process conceived from a defined point of view and told in a linear way, where not one edit should be out of place and where each edit is integral to the whole.” Read Joseph’s story

Joseph Kahn
Filmmaker, Commercial and Music Video Director

“Affordable and adaptable”

“I’m a true believer in the [Avid Xpress Pro] system, especially on lower-budget projects because it’s affordable and adaptable, whether it’s Mac or PC.

I like that I can work on the Media Composer Adrenaline [system], then go home and work on my laptop [using Avid Xpress Pro software], and go back again to the higher-end systems quite easily.Read Meg’s story

Meg Reticker
Editor, Come Early Morning

If you agree or disagree with any of these statements, let us know in the comments!

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A Glossary of Film Terms

I'd like to share with you a glossary of film terms I came across while looking at different film related sites. It comes from the Foutz Studios page, but the true origin of the glossary is unkown. If you know where it originated from, please let me know.

Here are some of the defintions (it's a 45 page document):

Best Boy
Whether male or female, a best boy, or second electric, is a chief assistant lighting electrician who works with the gaffer.

The Director is responsible for interpreting and translating the shooting script, and directing the actors. The Director works closely with the DP to get the visual qualities and character for the project desired by the producer.

The Gaffer is the chief lighting electrician on a production.

Line Producer
A producer responsible for overseeing and coordinating the critical everyday functioning of a production.

Location Mixer (Location Sound Mixer, Sound Recordist)
The chief sound recordist who mixes and records sounds on location. The mixer determines optimal microphone type and placement, balances the levels from different input sources, directs the boom operator, and keeps a sound log or report.

Low-key Lighting
High contrast lighting design in which the key light provides less of the proportion of the overall illumination of a scene, allowing areas within the frame to fall into semidarkness or even total blackness, accentuating what remains visible. Low-key lighting is used for works reliant on drama, horror, mystery, intrigue, and suspense.

A reference to the arrangement of all the visual elements within the frame.

Motion Capture
A method of recording the movement of an actor or object and automatically reapplying that movement to a 3D model for computer animation. There are two methods: 1) Magnetic: The use of magnetic "markers" on various points of an object so that its movement can be recorded magnetically. 2) Optical: The use of optical "markers" (usually ping pong balls) on various points of an object so that its movement can be recorded optically.

A sequence of brief scenes or still shots juxtaposed to quickly establish a mood, narrative, or setting.

Post-Production (Post)
The phase of a projects completion which ensues after the principal photography is finished – including sound and picture editing, addition of effects, foley work, transfers, printing, etc.
Here is the direct link to download the glossary.

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Thank You Fuel My Blog

I'd like to take the time to welcome readers from Fuel My Blog. Kevin has chosen this blog for blog of the day today.

For those of you who haven't added your blog to the "great wall of blogs", now is the time to do it. Spots are filling up fast and nothing beats free traffic.

Thanks again Kevin and everyone involved with making Fuel My Blog a success.

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What's a long tail movie?

The phrase "The Long Tail" was first coined by Chris Anderson. In a post on his blog, Long Tail 101, he explains this theory.

"The theory of the Long Tail is that our culture and economy is increasingly shifting away from a focus on a relatively small number of "hits" (mainstream products and markets) at the head of the demand curve and toward a huge number of niches in the tail. As the costs of production and distribution fall, especially online, there is now less need to lump products and consumers into one-size-fits-all containers. In an era without the constraints of physical shelf space and other bottlenecks of distribution, narrowly-target goods and services can be as economically attractive as mainstream fare."
Certain independent films are becoming increasingly popular among the specific demographics they appeal to. These are sometimes referred to as special interest or niche films (think gay/lesbian films or documentaries that would interest a small group of people). A more recent post explains How to make a Long Tail movie.
"Long Tail markets emerge when the cost of production and distribution fall dramatically. Digital production and distribution did that for music five years ago and they're doing it for amateur video now, thanks to camcorders and YouTube. But what about classic filmed drama, from the TV serial to movies? . . . Combined with the new low-cost distribution channels, from DVD to digital downloads, all you now need to be a filmmaker is talent."
The post includes samples from "The DV Rebel's Guide" by Stu Maschwitz. Rent a smoke machine or use dry ice to achieve a stylized look.
"What's amazing about filling a room with smoke is that in person it seems so stupid and obvious. But look through your viewfinder and something magical happens. Through your camera, you don't see smoke. You just see a scene that looks more like a movie. Smoke is one of those dirty tricks that really works. It makes things seem larger than life. It gives your images depth. It gives light a physical presence in your film. And perhaps surprisingly, smoke can actually light your scene for you."
Many amateur film makers want to know how to make their digital video look like analog film. The first thing to do is shoot you film in 24p. The second thing to do is work on getting the lighting right. Extra smoke in a room can really change the look of the video you shoot.
The DV Rebel cannot pass a glass elevator, or an open-air escalator, or a tire swing, without pondering how it might be used to create a smooth establishing shot. I once made a dolly shot in an airport by resting my camera on the rail of a moving pedestrian walkway. If you can ride it, it's a dolly. If you can ride it up and down, it's a crane.
Shaky video is usually always considered amateur video. Films are shot using dollys, cranes, and steady cams (See the poor man's steady cam post). Keep the motion in your video smooth and avoid using zooms.
Time is your greatest advantage over the Hollywood big boys. If they want it to rain, they rent rain towers at hundreds of dollars per day and make it rain on the day they need it to. A week later it rains for real and they lose a day or move to a cover set. You just wait for the rain and shoot on that day -- and your free rain looks way better than their million-dollar rain! The DV Rebel melts down time and re-forms it into production value.

Your father might have said "time is money." When it comes to guerrilla filmmaking, you'll need to give up your time to save money. It's going to take longer to complete a film when you are still learning how to best make a film. By reading books like The DV Rebel's Guide and filmmaking blogs like this one, you'll have an advantage when it comes time to shoot your film.

Anderson mentiones that Kevin Kelly reviewed "The DV Rebels Guide" in his latest Cool Tools. The samples from the book came from a Cool Tools e-mail and should appear on the CT site soon.

UPDATE: Kevin has updated his page to include his review of DV Rebels Guide.

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Is Shyamalan a microbudget filmmaker?

Could The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, and Signs all be made under a microbudget? They could if they didn't feature big name stars and cut down on post production costs. The locations in the films could have been moved elsewhere. The strength of the story comes primarily from a strong script. The second scene of Unbreakable is a horrific train wreck. An accident that we never actually see.

Scott Spears says:

"What I love about Night's movies is that he is basically making dramas and then dropping a high concept on them. Here's a breakdown of the high concept vs. the low concept:

"The Sixth Sense": A kids sees dead people. No, that's not the real story. It's about grief and accepting death.
"Unbreakable": A guy finds out he's a superhero. Nope. It's about realizing that surpressing your abilities to please somebody else will ultimately destroy that relationship and upon re-finding your strength, you become whole again.
"Signs": A family reacts to an alien invasion. Not really. It's about a minister re-finding his faith."
Focus on the drama and interaction between characters. Use tension to capture the audience's attention. Don't try to be overly flashy unless the story absolutely requires you to be. If that's the case, save the story until you have a bigger budget.

Scott Spears is an Emmy Award winning Director of Photography with 14 features under his belt.

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IMDb's Ask a Filmmaker

"Welcome to 'Ask a Filmmaker,' a column devoted to your questions and concerns about the filmmaking process."

This is an unbelievable goldmine of information. Ask a Filmmaker started as a column on the Indie section of IMDb in June of 2000. With an answer posting every couple of days for the last 7 years, well, I'll let you do the math. I'm too busy mining the archive for useful information.

The contributors are writer John August, director Penelope Spheeris, and cinematographer Oliver Stapleton.

"Submit your questions to Ask a Writer, Ask a Director, or Ask a Cinematographer, then tune in daily to see what the pros have to say."

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Adobe Premiere Elements Trial

"Adobe® Premiere® Elements 3.0 software makes creating and sharing impressive home videos a snap."

You can Order an Adobe Premiere Elements tryout DVD by mail. After filling out the form, it'll take six weeks for delivery of your tryout DVD. The DVD also contains a trial for Adobe Photoshop Elements.

If you can't wait six weeks, you can download a 30-day Premiere Trial.

To download software trials, you will need to register to become a member of the Adobe website. "As a member, you will have access to trial downloads, hundreds of free product extensions, and special community areas."

Supported import/export formats include:

  • MPEG-1, MPEG-2, MPEG-4 (import only), H.264, DV, AVI, Windows Media, QuickTime, JVC Everio MOD (import only), 3GP, ASF (import only), WAV, WMA (import only), Dolby Digital Stereo, PSD (import only), JPEG, PNG (import only), DVD
System requirements (Windows® only)
  • Intel® Pentium® 4 or Intel Celeron® 1.3GHz processor (or compatible processor with SSE2 support); dual-core processors and those with Hyper-Threading Technology supported; Pentium 4 3GHz processor required for HDV
  • Microsoft® Windows® XP Professional, Home Edition, or Media Center Edition with Service Pack 2
  • 512MB of RAM; 1GB required for HDV
  • 4GB of available hard-disk space
  • Color monitor with 16-bit color video card
  • 1,024x768 monitor resolution
  • Microsoft DirectX 9 compatible sound and display driver
  • DVD-ROM drive (compatible DVD burner required to burn DVDs)
  • DV/i.LINK/FireWire/IEEE 1394 interface to connect a Digital 8 or DV camcorder, or a USB2 interface to connect a DV-via-USB-compatible DV camcorder (other video devices supported via the Media Downloader)

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Download Avid Free DV for Editing

Avid Free DV is feature-streamlined, standalone software designed to give a user the opportunity to explore the Avid editing application.

Windows XP OS, 933 MHz Pentium III or any Pentium 4 or any Pentium M processor, 1 GB system memory (1.5 GB recommended).
Mac OS X 10.3.4 or OS X 10.3.5 667 MHz or faster G4, 1 GB system memory (1.5 GB recommended)

* Please Note: Newer versions of Mac OS X 10.4.x not supported with AvidFreeDV (until further notice)
These requirements are the same as those for Xpress Pro so that upgrading is made "easy". You may or may not have success running Free DV on slower machines.

Avid Free DV software is provided "as is." This means Avid does not guarantee this software's compatibility with any particular computer system, or various components installed on it. Avid Free DV should not be installed on a system with an Avid product already on it. Doing so could cause issues with the performance of both.

Here are the features:

2 Video Tracks / 2 Audio Tracks
2 Video/2 Audio Layers

Editing Tools
Drag-and-drop Editing
Insert, Overwrite
Superimpose, Fit-to-fill
3-Point editing
Roll, Ripple, Blade

Real-time architecture
16 Customizable Real-Time Effects
2 Real-Time Streams

Compositing & Effects
Basic compositing
Basic Keyframeable Filters & Effects
Avid Title Tool

Input Output Options
DV FireWire Capture
DV Scene Extraction
Timecode Display
QuickTime (MOV) encoding

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Download Open Office 2

I have been using Open Office applications for at least 3 years and am most impressed with Open Office 2. This is a full featured office application suite with many potential uses for independent filmmakers. You do not need to buy any software and the same suite can be installed on all of your crew's computers. It will open any Microsoft Office document and can save files in PDF format.

Writer can read all your old Microsoft Word documents and save your work in Microsoft Word format for sending to people who are still locked into Microsoft products.

All the individual programs are installed in one single installation of the suite.

Writer Writer
A full featured word processor. [Replaces MS Word]

Spreadsheet Calc
A powerful spreadsheet with all the tools you need to calculate, analyse, and present your data numerically or graphically. [Replaces MS Excel]

Presentation Impress
A way to create effective multimedia presentations. You can export your presentation as a Flash file which will allow you to post it on the web.
[Replaces MS PowerPoint]

Vector drawing tool Draw
Lets you produce everything from simple diagrams to dynamic 3D illustrations.

Database Base
Lets you manipulate databases seamlessly. This could be used to keep track of props, actors, budgets, locations, or any other detailed information required for production. [Replaces MS Access]

Mathematical function creator Math
Lets you create mathematical equations with a graphic user interface or by directly typing your formulas into the equation editor.

Mac OSX users can try Neo Office which is based on Open Office.

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