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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