Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Yr2 Week 3 (Wed 23 Oct -- Film and Innovation)

So today's seminar began, or rather didn't, with a quick go over of the left over shorts from last week; I came up, again, and my short wouldn't play, AGAIN. However, I had already posted it up on facebook and went down well, and I promised Guy I would send him an email with it later in the day. But anyway, moving right along, we turned to today's main subject: pitches for our art films in teams (on top of Hana and Catherine, Gergo was a last minute addition to the team, which was dubbed 'Mixed Nuts' (in honour of the much loathed Steve Martin film from 1994)). However, Hana was not present and Catherine was a little behind, so it fell to me and Gergo to go up, in front of every one, and blather out our ideas, which included:

  • A piece where the two projectors would move, following people wearing white t-shirts upon which, the images would be projected. Sort of a take off of the 'Man with the Mirror' piece that Guy showed us a few weeks back.
  • A two screen piece where two individuals would debate, as if they were in the room together, timed to each other responses and pauses.
  • A piece a projector would project seemingly identical images on both sides of a sheet of polythene, but then the images would 'split' apart i.e. a ball would become two balls, a bird would fly off in two directions, a car would rive off in two directions etc.
To add some more fuel to the creative fire, afterwards, Guy showed more multi-projector/screen pieces, such as Mike Figgis' Timecode (which cuts between four different cameras in real time)m some pieces by Zbigniew Rybcznski (9 screens, each of which connect in some way to another i.e. a bus will drive out of one, and then reappear elsewhere on another screen) and Robert Anderson's Untitled (The Bed Piece) (Where two people are projected on top of abed, and then each one comes and goes on it, never interacting w3ith the other, and creating a ghostly effect).

And with that, time was up and our last session, for the time being, with Guy ended. Next week, we were to begin working with Helen once more, but on a more Post-production oriented side of things. To cap off, once again, it was interesting seeing the different ideas and approaches people took to this project, which though challenging, has been very stimulating and certainly goes against a lot of what we have been used to when it comes to film making. As for the ideas, I like the ones we have thus far, though I feel we could work on them more and try to some interesting and unusual directions, as well as figure out how we can shoot the material needed practically (especially the last one, which relies heavily on symmetrical objects).

Yr2 Week 3 (Tues 22 Oct - Producing and Directing)

In today's lecture, we watched the feature film debut of Ben Wheatley, Down Terrace (2009), a quasi kitchen sink crime-dark comedy about a small family of criminals and their mishaps, which lead to some very grisly results. The film had a really rapid production schedule and very limited finances, and the latter definitely shows on screen, since most of the film is set inside the family house, moving out about only three, brief times over the film's entire runtime. Further, there are numerous 'double ups' among the cast and crew, with the lead actor, for example, also serving a co-writer and editor.

And on the note of production, we then discussed the four phases of it:

  1. Development - Writing the script, deciding the production strategy, finances, pitching etc.
  2. Pre-Production - assembling the team and actual resources needed (cast, crew, props, costumes, sets, locations, effects, makeup, food, permits etc)
  3. Production - Just get cracking, already!
  4. Post-Production - Editing, sound mixing, music, color grading and then, marketing and distribution.
After running through that, we then got into pairs and deconstructed Down Terrace in terms of how we could pitch the film (story, characters, style and hook):
  • The story tells of a small family of criminals and their mishaps, which lead to some very grisly results, but is more focused on the day to lives than overblown set pieces or violence.
  • We have a druggy, anecdote-spouting father, a whiny adult son who thinks he's tough but still lives with his parents and a mother who seems all but indifferent to the violent and dangerous lifestyle of the two men.
  • It's Guy Richtie (major gangster and crime films) meets Edgar Wright (comedies that often genre-bend and have a taste of the dark and macabre to them)
  • It a very different take to a lot of the Scorsese-Tarantino style films out there, looking at criminals more in the terms of everyday people than these big, over the top characters.
And that was that for the day. Not a terribly tremendous amount to comment on, since it was retreading a lot of previous ground, and was more of a refresher session than really moving in a new direction, but I understand why they threw this one in. I am very much looking forward to meeting Mr Wheatley, and now having seen this and Sightseers (2011), his little dark comedy about caravans, I think we're in for something truly special.

Yr2 Week 3 (Mon 21 Oct - Screenwriting the Short Film)

Today in the lecture, we examined that most tetchy and temperamental of genres, Comedy. Comedy is one of three genres genres across all entertainment and media that depends on a direct outcome (the other two being horror and action), in this case: laughter. Comedy can be classed in one of four categories:

  • Superiority: The teller of the joke/gag asserts superiority, or the audience can assert. It's a little like mystery, since it deals with the witholding of information.
  • Incongruity: The coming together/contrasting of ideas i.e. puns
  • Ambivalence: Jokes about grey areas in society/taboos, often playing on the desires within all of us i.e. sex, marriage issues etc.
  • Release: Releasing tension i.e. setup and then the payoff, again often using jokes centered around taboos, though a little less sharp
In fact, on the note of the last one, jokes often work in 3s - setting, pattern and then the subversion/payoff, and through this, as mentioned before, we can discuss and express a lot of ideas that we wouldn't mention in normal, 'civil' conversation, and so comedy has both a subversive and conservative quality, and can play on both emotional (low brow humour, slapstick, bodily functions, things that can an instant reaction) and intellectual (wit, things that require a little more setup and thought than just slamming a custard pie in someone's face or farting) levels.

To further bring these points home, we asked to get into pairs and tell each other a joke. Frankly, given the early time of day, we all struggled and fumbled trying to think of something, and some just went for the obvious staples (knock, knock, why did the ...) and well, gorans and embrassed chuckles ensued.

Moving along, we then watched some examples of how to achieve this in the short fil form, starting with the Lumiere brothers' piece Le Jardiner et le Petit Espiegle (1985), where an old man is watering his garden, and a boy steps on the hose. Obvious punchline ensues, and incensed, the old man chases the boy, and proceeds to smack him. This one has all 4 elements (Superiority, as we know what is happening to the hose, Incongruity as the short balances the thing, the boy and old man being the butts of both gags, Ambivilance since we want to see what happens to both characters and how, in particular, the boy gets his comeuppance, and finally Release, in this case, literally with the hose).

Next up was Desserts, a more surreal short where Ewan McGregor, as an angler, strolls across a beach, and finds an eclair. Tasting it, he then proceeds to eat it, only to be hooked and reeled into the sea (presumably, by fishes or perhaps even mermaids). Here, we have a reversal of roles (the fisherman is fished, and the use of an appealing food item (eclair) instead of worms for fish), which sort of goes back to the superiority element, since the film knows, but not the audience, as well as Release, since we find out why the eclair was there.

Then, we were asked to come up with a one page joke, much as Desserts did: mine was to have a man walk towards a modern art-style arch, seeing some dropped money. However, when he grabs it, the arch comes down on him like a giant mousetrap. Sort of live action Looney Tunes/Tom and Jerry with a Monty Python/Terry Gilliam tinge of darkness.

Next up to the plate was The Short and The Curlies, a short by iconic British film maker Mike Leigh, famous for his improvisation-heavy approach to film making. Here, we follow a group of four characters; a hairdresser, a pharmacist, a young man who tells cheesy jokes and the hairdresser daughter, and their day-to-day lives, especially how the boy and the young pharmacist being a relationship. The jokes and often humourous writing here often deal with intimacy, making frequent references to sex and genitalia, and the film as a whole seems to be a jab at the superficiality of people in relationships, given that the young man seems, at first, irritating and not particularly attractive, but grows on the girl and us during the film.

For the penultimate feature, we watched a late 90s offering from America, George Lucas in Love, which essentially told the origins of the original trilogy (this was before the prequels came out) in the style of Shakespeare in Love. A lot of the humour here came from the little background jokes and references sprinkled throughout the film (various students resemble Chewie, Vader, R2 and C3PO, and there is a teacher resembling Yoda) as well as the final gag with takes a direct cue from the original three in that Lucas and the girl are brother and sister. Finally, we watched a breif clip from Seth MacFarlane's Family Guy, which was a scene where Peter tries to throw a dead frong out of a window, and the bjoke comes from how many times he lazily tries to throw it out,l never attempting to pick it up with his hands but using the box in different ways.

Then, in the seminar, we began to share the memory we were asked to write down in a sort of narrative-descriptive from, among the group: Mine was my Grandmother's funeral (circa 2008) -

It was up on a little hill, and the air was frigid, but not in a mildly irritating 'city cold', but in the type of cold that drill.s into your bones and really makes you shiver all over. There was a little white church on the hill, surrounded on all sides by Spanish tombs, which differ from other ones since they are built upwards, in levels. We walked in side, the sounds of sobbing ringing all around me while burnt incense wafted about in the air like another phantom. As we laid here to rest, as as tears streaked down me and my mother's faces, it gave me a realization, a sense of how fragile human life is and how easily someone can pass on, regardless of how much we love them, and that in some ways, we never fully appreciate them until they are gone.

After this, we were given our assignment for the following week: create a quick pitch for a short film/short film script. It had to be about 2-3 minutes in length, and discuss the story, characters, style/genre, and the 'hook' that would bring people in. To close today, we certainly had a lot of laughs, both intentional and unintentional, for reasons good and well, not so stellar, and it made for a very enjoyable lesson, one of the most so far in the course, I'd say. However, it was the seminar that really struck me, since everyone really opened up about a lot of darker, less pleasant material, and it gave me a greater respect for my classmates, both as creative mind but also as fellow human beings, since it takes some serious courage to talk about things like rape, near death and actual deaths, gangs and robbery. I salute you all from the bottom of my soul, ladies and gentlemen.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Yr2 Week 2 (Fri 18 Oct - 7D editing workshop)

Continuing off from yesterday, we went into DMW 2 and began looking at how to edit for the 7D, a camera which has not left the best of impressions frankly. Quickly going over some of tech info from yesterday, a couple of new points were also raised with relation to video quality ad specs:
  • The video is compressed down to H.264, which is more a delivery (viewing) format than one for editing, with a fairly limited colour range (8 bit information/256 shades of colour)
  • The 7D uses CMOS sensors, which aren't quite fast enough to capture the whole frame i 1/25 of a second, so it takes partial images instead (this is why you get distortion when the camera moves i.e. Rolling Shutter). Simply put, it scans and dumps the images taken onto the card.
  • The format for editing this is called ProRes LT. (MPEGStreamclip for FCP7/10 will transcode the footage to this automatically, and 7DNXHD for AVid is similar).
Then, we discussed the workflow for editing a camera like this one:
  1. Sync external sound and video up (this can done with a secondary program called Plural Eyes)
  2. Top & Tail it!
  3. Export to ProResLT
  4. Look for rolling shutter
  5. Fix said shutter in After Effects and re-export
  6. Do colour correctio
  7. Edit like normal
  8. Secondary grade/Final Touches
  9. Export back to H.264 (for vimeo ad web. Otherwise, keep it in ProRes for projection).
We did a miniaturized version of said workflow on FCP10 with a piece of footage from Heinemann's short The Ice Cream Van, where a man reprimands a boy for missing the van and that he should be 'quicker' next time. Unfortunately, my computer had a few 'hiccups', so I couldn't quite finish the whole edit, but the process felt natural enough, and Plural Eyes was a definite aid and timesaver. To cap off, it's refreshing to get back into editing again, an area that I've always felt comfortable in, but my sentiments on the 7D have not changed: I still prefer to use other equipment.

Yr2 Week 2 (Thurs 17 Oct - Producing and Directing workshop)

In today's workshop, David showed us this year's main course camera, the Canon 7D (the company often praised for its lens quality & variety, a feature I can attest to with my last year experiences with the Canon 550D). Naturally, as with most non-industry cameras, the slight drawback lay in that these cameras were designed more for stills than video (more on that tomorrow) the video being a dump of the image on the preview screen.

What followed was an intesely tchnical walthrough the main features of the camera and its features. While I won't say it's overwhelming or overcomplicated, without hands on contact, it was a little bit difficult to fully grasp everything (more on that later). However here are the essential points raised:
  • Shooting to be done in 1080 HD/25 FPS, since that is the PAL video standard (NTSC is 720)
  • Unlike other cameras we've used, this one use a compact flash card as opposed to the smaller ones more commonly used, and these are a little more expensive and have less sorage than their smaller counterparts. The ideal one to use is Extreme or Extreme Pro.
  • Never pack the lens in an area of direct sunlight or dust, as this can damage it (the former can do real harm to the sensors).
  • The F Stops signal your exposure levels, dictated by the Aperture (how open the lens is).
  • Shutter speeds affect the number of frames captured (25 is standard, 50 is for slow motion and 12 is for fast motion). The ideal setting for this camera is 0:1/3 stop.
  • The ISO is the sensitivity to the light in the shooting area. The ideal for the 7D is 0:1/3 stop.
  • Depth of field is how much of the image is in focus (background, midground and foreground), and can be measured in thirds (1/3 for the front and 2/3 for behind).
Afterwards, in went off in groups of four and had a go with the 7D, shooting a handful of little scenarios on a sheet given to us by David (often dealing with pulling focus, tracking, the different exposure levels and how that creates certain effects). To put it mildly, I found the 7D cumbersome, especially compared to its predecessor, and the lack of a hands on during the main tutorial really hurt our ability to work with, as we ate up a lot time trying to get all the features set up correctly (the white balancing in particular, being far simpler and more effective on the 550D), and the menus I found unhelpful and a little cryptic, since many features shard qualities and roles, so it become a little irritating (again, a hands on try would've smoothed over a lot of the 'bumps' here).

And, returning to show what we had, that concludes this workshop for the day. I really don't have much of a conclusion, since I already expressed my sentiments on the camera and how the workshop went, and I have to say, this has been one of the least enjoyable session so far, and a few small tweaks would've really gone a long way. If you ask me, I'll be sticking to my Pentax or a classmate's 550D over this.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Yr2 Week 2 (Wed 16 Oct - Producing and Directing seminar & Film and Innovation)

Continuing off from yesterday's lecture, the first seminar of the day actually began to go over what had gone wrong on Gilliam's film. Some of the points raised included:
  • Insufficient funds for a project of this type and scale (a fantasy film with an ensemble cast)
  • The weather constantly turning on the cast & crew (and messing with insurance, since these events are classified as 'Acts Of God)
  • Actors not on set or even in the same country as the film was prepping, thus great increasing the difficulty in preparing adequately (a humorous example being a horse that was supposed to push Johnny Depp forward, but because he wasn't there, on the day of the shoot, the horse did squat)
  • Shambolic hierarchy (throughout the film, the team are disorganized and pointing fingers at each other over the various problems afflicting the production)
  • Lack of faith among the crew, many commenting multiple times on the challenges, some absurd, on making a film like this with what they had.
And from that, we asked ourselves 'Who was to Blame?' - The main people at fault here were the various levels of producers, whether it was raising inadequate finances, selecting horrible locations (like an echoey soundstage) or simply in it for the prestige of having a big name like Gilliam under your belt.

Leaving that behind, we moved to main point of today's seminar - what film were we going analyze for the essay, and why? My choice is Michael Cimino's infamous epic western Heaven's Gate (1980), which has very much become a nightmare scenario for film producers, with notorious stories of overspend, waste of film and constant retakes, animal abuse during the battle scenes and above all else, loss of control by the producers, who were unable to stand up to Cimino's rampant perfectionism and swelling ego. The advantage of having this type of film to analyze if primarily its age (30 years) and as a by-product, the sheer wealth of material available that talks about the film and its many problems (including a documentary available on Youtube called Final Cut: The Making & Unmaking of Heaven's Gate).

Later, we had the seminar for Film & Innovation, where we showed off our shorts to each other, and got feedback: my team's, however, couldn't be shown due to some technical bugs, but it was later posted to the MDX Film Facebook page for all to see, and it seemed to have gone done well. The short is available here on my Vimeo page:

Afterwards, we watched some other art shorts from professionals on UBU.com, in order to help generate some ideas for our own pieces (A 2 projector piece for exhibition). Some of the shorts shown included:
  • Me/We, Okay, Gray by Eija-Liisa Ahtila - a 3 screen work, which loop and show different parts of the film
  • If 6 was 9 by Eija - Another three screen piece, where the narrative jumps between the screens, with occasional continuity between them
  • Twenty Six (Drawing & Falling things) - unlike the other two, this one is more humorous, a sort of artistic Looney Tunes where two men interact with objects and/or each other, often leading to playing with perspective.
  • Sthory by Michael Snow -  a two screen piece where the images overlay, creating a sense of depth
  • The Sandman by Stan Douglas, another two screen work, notable for its one continuous shot panning across a room as a man narrates
With that, we were asked to go off, in groups, and come up with a proposal for next week. To evaluate today, we covered some more interesting ground in both fields, especially in the latter, since we now know what standards we have to live up to when we make our own work. Furthermore, in the former, I chose Heaven's Gate in order to ensure I could write something really meaty, given how documented the whole production was, and would give me a lot of material to write a solid piece (further bolstered by David's claim that last year's group delivered poorly) and I very much look forward to the challenge ahead.

Yr2 Week 2 (Tues 15 Oct - Producing and Directing)

In today's screening, which watched the documentary Lost in La Mancha (2002), which detailed the hectic, disastrous production of Terry Gilliam's (Brazil, 12 Monkeys, Tideland) aborted re-imagining of Miguel Cervantes' Don Quixote, The Man who Killed Don Quixote. The film was to star Jean Rochefort as the eccentric knight, and a Pre-POTC Johnny Depp (though he was mildly well known for Edward Scissorhands and Sleepy Hollow at this time) as his aide, a man transported from the future and whom is mistaken for Sancho Panza, and was to be shot in Spain, with a $32 million budget. However, poor communication between team members, nervous investors, Rochefort's declining health and horrible weather ultimately cut the project very short, and the film was abandoned (Gilliam would go on to do Brothers Grimm, a film also plagued by production problems and fights with the producers).

After, in the lecture, we began to discuss the film and what had gone wrong, specifically, what does a producer do on a film like this:
  • Oversees the whole thing for a four phases (Development, pre-production, production, post-production)
  • Funding (finding investors, using the name onboard both in fron and behind the camera to entice people)
  • Dealing with equipmen/location and getting things booked
  • Pulling together the crew needed
  • Having a contingency/'safety net' in the event something should go wrong at any point during production
  • Marketing and distribution of the finished film
  • Keeping the crew and cast happy (good food, accommodation, hours, pay etc.)
  • Ensure the film actually gets made, on time and on budget
We then quickly discussed the chain of command on a feature like this one:
  • Producer (depending on circumstances, the executive producer will technically be above,  but as far as the main production goes, the producer is 'top cat'. He should ensure the director feels secure, and has a 'safety net' available if something goes wrong, thus ensuring a good producer-director relationship).
  • Associate Producer/Line producer (responsible for the main day to day tasks and needs of the production)
  • First Assistant Director (more of a producer than director, he answers to the producer, serving as his 'eyes' on the set)
  • Second AD (This is more of an office job, dealing primarily with paperwork and call sheets)
  • Third AD (He directs a lot of the background action i.e. extras, since the director has his hands full with the main players)
  • Production Assistant
And from there, it branches out into all the other departments (Props, Sets, Art, Sound etc.), something we will get into in future weeks, I imagine. Unfortunately, we ran out of time, and so the discussion of the actual errors of 'La Mancha' will be left for tomorrow's session. As a sort of mini-assignment, we had to go away and think of a film to analyze in relation to the Producer-Director relationship.

To cap off, seeing Man of La Mancha' really rung home the point that, for all of the talent in the world, if the team isn't ready, the whole can collapse just as easily as many lesser, studio-gun type projects, and though it was certainly amusing (hardly a shock, given Gilliam's background as an ex-Python), it also had a tinge of sadness to it, not just because the project never got off the ground, but that this kind of affair could happen to me or anyone else on a film at a moment's notice. As for the second half, it served as a nice refresher from the areas that we had discussed last year, but that was about it. Really, it's a shame we didn't get time to talk about the actual subject we were meant to be discussing, but hey, goes to show you don't need to be a big budget film to get derailed(!)

Monday, 21 October 2013

Yr2 Week 2 (Mon 14 Oct - Screenwriting the Short Film)

In today's lecture, we looked at Personal Experience, and how that can be of use when writing and making films. To really set the stage, we looked at some work from the famous Swedish film maker Ingmar Bergmann, who himself had a very troubled life (growing up in a strict, religious household, going through a number of marriages, suffering from depression and even being committed to an insane asylum for a while.) We first looked at his television miniseries Fanny and Alexander, which was in part based on Bergmann's childhood (specifically, the opening scene where the boy fools around the house when no one is around). Notes of the scene include:
  • Very sparingly used dialogue, which adds a little realism, since we tend not to talk much when alone.
  • Emphasis on sound, whether its the horses outside, the chimes of the clock, the lack of ther people around the house etc.
  • Lots of close ups, emphasizing the objects the child plays with, as well as, again, the lack of activity around him.
  • The toy theatre in the opening (a nod to Bergmann's own childhood, since he had one).
  • The magic lantern (another part of Bergmann's childhood, in fact, he traded some toy soldiers for one at the local toy shop).
Then, we watched an excerpt from another Bergmann's film, Hour of The Wolf, which owes in part to an event from Bergmann's childhood, where his friends locked in him in a mausoleum with a female corpse. The scene in question involved the lead, played by Max Von Sydow, going up to the corpse of his dead lover, which seemingly returns to life and mockingly laughs at him. Some of the observations I made here include:
  • Black & white film, and by and large silent, allowing the surreal, almost nightmarish imagery to take centre stage.
  • Other corpses seemingly wake and laugh at him too, which may be a reference to how Bergmann's grandmother would humiliatingly make strange noises during love scenes at the cinema.
And on the note of recalling the past, we then moved on to the core theme of the session;
What Gives Experiences Value?
Some of the ideas thrown out by the group when asked included:
  • Can't be taught, so it has to be told to be conveyed unto others.
  • Gives us a personal perspective/uniqueness on a certain area or subject.
  • It can inspire us to do better, based on good or great experiences.
  • The sheer range and contrast of experiences can make for a broad pool from which to draw influence, inspiration and ideas for stories.
  • They can involve common/universal/transcendent themes and emotions i.e. joy, rage, ire, guilt, forgiveness, redemption, aspiring to do better, greed, want, lust etc.
We then watched the short film Barrie the Barber, from Wales, a black and white piece about a small town barber, who seems to be caught in a self delusion, such as believing he is physically fit when he has a bad cough and smokes/drinks, and in the end, going outside to the sunlight (the only time in the film, since the rest of the time it's either raining or set indoors), he comes to a sort of realisation about the whole thing (a typical stopping point for shorts, when a major change is about to occur to a character that could be explored in a longer feature).

And capping off with some quick points and discussion (revising the concept of dramatic irony, talking about the four basic emotions (anger, sadness, happiness and fear) and how they differ from feelings, since the former are more like 'primary' colours, which can be mixed to form the latter, which are more complex), that concluded our morning lecture.

Moving on to the seminar, first, we were asked to get into pairs (in my case, threes) and share the stories we had prepped over the blast week, and get feedback: my story dealt with a Latin American youth who works in a video store, and ends up meeting and befriending a new teacher, and together they work on a screenplay and get it made into a feature, though not without some tensions and difficulties, especially the youth's social inabilities.

The feedback was that, on the positive side, I had written it well, clearly and concisely, however, on the other hand,l the ending was a bit rushed, and perhaps the conflict between the two needed some work. Afterwards, we asked to form a circle (of sorts, given the small size of the room) and think about one memory from the past, then one that was significant in the last year, and then take someone else's: 1. Picking vegetables with my grandmother as a small child. 2. My nephew passing away, only a few months old. 3. Getting diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. Some of the memories from the rest of the group included:
  • Being mauled by a pitbull
  • stealing cigarettes from a corner shop
  • Having a baby
  • Being born in Greece and often bullied
  • Being betrayed by someone close
  • Witnessing violent fights between parents
  • First day at college
  • Being madly in love the past summer
  • Playing with Dad and siblings in Kenya
Then, as our last major exercise of the day, we quickly went over the parameters (guidelines) for story design when it comes to short films, quickly going over elements such as character focus vs interaction (who they are vs how they interact with others), character vs object/decor (the mise en scene, and what we can tell about them from that), simplicity vs depth (how much detail and how far you can go), economy vs wholeness (how much is needed to make it work, and what can be trimmed/cut), image vs sound (pretty self explanatory) and consistency vs surprise (what the audience expects, and how can we play with them).

For our assignment, we had to go away and describe a memory from our past, that changed us in some way, in 300 words. To conclude, today got into a lot of the 'meatier' aspects of writing, and the personal aspect has a special relevance today, given the popularity of the 'Based off a true story' film nowadays, Paul Greengrass' Captain Philips being a recent and popular example. Furthermore, the latter session' activity of sharing memories was a real eye opener, and it gave my classmates a lot more dimension and courage, since a lot of what they admitted was extremely personal, and it says a lot about their character and will that they were willing to share this with their classmates, and that truly touched me in a way that I haven't been within an educational environment in a long time. I salute you people, and David Heinemann for putting it together.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Yr2 Week 1 (Thurs 10 Oct - Producing & Directing workshop)

In our first workshop for this part of the course, dubbed 'Total Film', we were tasked, as groups of 5, to look at the production of a script (by Heinemann) from the perspective  of directors and producers, and what would be necessary for such a feat.

After we had gone off and had a read through of the script (which dealt with a young woman coming to terms with past, specifically her boyfriend turned killer. In all frankness, I thought the premise had legs, but the dialogue was overwritten and drew too much attention to itself), we returned and began sharing our thoughts with Eddie and David, who noted them up on the whiteboard. The points we came up with regards to the challenges involved included:
  • NEVER assume anything, also research it and know for sure, since you might get into a right pickle otherwise when the times come for the shoot.
  • Really sell your idea to a producer when pitching it, and let them know what the 'heart' of the story is, and why that might make it appealing.
  • The parameters - look at the big picture, and then worry about the little details, otherwise, you'll give yourself a million and one headaches over nothing.
  • Locations- how many and when (time of year, required weather, travel distance, recces with location manager, permits, taxes on certain areas)
  • Length - this will dictate how much is spent, since the shorter it is/ the less may be needed and vice versa.
  • Cast - how many people, ages (children having special laws for shoots), scheduling and fee (the bigger the name, the more money they may want. This also extends to extras, if needed.
  • Crew - any specialists required (effects people, designers, construction people etc.) Like cast, this can determine the costs involved.
  • Special equipment - special cameras, tracks, greenscreen, special lights etc.
  • Props/costumes - when is it set, how many people, are there stunts involved (necessitate multiples for the same costume), materials etc.
  • Marketing/Distribution - who is it made for/target audience, and how will you reach them (television, direct to dvd, theatrical limited or wide release).
  • Deadlines -  can each element of the production be done by a certain time (usually, the release date)?
  • Safety - any explosions/stunts/practical effects involved, and if so, the people needed (co-ordinators, effects artists, choerographers etc.)
Afterwards, we quickly went over how a script is divided up after it's been 'locked' (into eights, with 6 lines=1/8) and how the elements needed are broken down (on a separate sheet where different colours signify different needs i.e. costumes=red, props=yellow, vehicles=violet etc.) before we were given our group assignment:to go off and research an aspect of the production, and all the costs involved (cameras, props, actors, locations etc.), as well as for each of us to take a part of the script (about 2 pages) and break it down in the manner mentioned above.

To close off, the opening session certainly threw us into the deep end quickly, and really asked us to rack our brains for every possible thing that could remotely be a problem for production, as well as also getting us into team work not long after just getting back, and, getting into this part of the course. That being said, Eddie and David were very thorough and clear with their thoughts, and didn't sugarcoat it when we didn't step up to the plate, and I really admire them for that, and it will prove a valuable asset for the rest of this undoubtedly challenging course, and we're more than aware of how high the stakes are for us to deliver something great.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Yr2 Week 1 (Wed 9 Oct - Film and Innovation)

Today's introductory session for Film and Innovation was devoted to Performance and Film, our lecturer being visual/film artist Guy Sherwin. We began by quickly going over the basics of the course (our final assignment will be split between 50% practical and 50% written/research based work.) In part, our later work would involve the use of the double screen technique (two projectors), allowing us to play with form and dimension, especially how space is used. But more on that when we get to that session in the future.

Returning to this one, Guy showed us a collection of art shorts that detailed various pieces where film and light where used to create certain imagery and effects, including some of his own work from various exhibitions. Some of the really interesting ones included:

  • Point Source by Tony Hill, where a wire frame was moved around a light source, change the size and depth of the shadow cast.
  • Take Measure by William Raban, where he measured a reel of film, cut it when it reached the screen, and then played the rest through the project, the footage onscreen counting the feet from screen to projector as it played.
  • Horror Film by Malcolm leGrice, where, using three different projectors with different coloured filters, he was able to change the tint, size and number of shadows on the screen cast from his own body, sometimes causing them to cross or split.
  • Reel Time by Annabel Nicolson, where film strips go through a sowing machines, get punched and then project on the screen in a continous loop.
  • Paper Landscape by Guy, where he paints on a sheet of polythene, as he does so, the film projected is revealed.
  • Man with Mirror, also by Guy, where, as the title implies, he uses a large mirror to reflect and refract the projected film, which also has him holding a mirror, creating a strange optical illusion where sometimes, you forget which Guy is real.
  • Ten Drawings by Steve Farrrer, where through drawings lines on top of the film stock and then projecting it, he was able to make what Guy referred to as 'visual sound', creating a sound almost akin to white noise, with little beeps and boops here and there, depending on the size.
  • Light Music by Lis Rhodes, where through alterations in the images, specifically size of the shapes, she was also able to create the aforementioned sounds.
For assignment, we had to go off, in groups of three and make a quick short, in one take, where something happens, that changes our view of what the object is, and I chose to team up with Gergo and Harry. To cap off,this session was pretty illuminating and quite fascinating: since I primarily am interested in, and much of this course is in did dominated by, story-oriented film making, it's interesting to just look at the medium as a medium, and seeing this work serves as a pretty potent reminder of why, and how a lot can be achieved with little and with very simple ideas, when you boil them down.

Yr2 Week 1 (Tues 8 Oct - Producing and Directing)

Today's introductory session for Producing and Directing began with viewing over a series of shorts made by the previous, some of whom, came in and discussed the production and origin of the films, and we ourselves had to think about the challenges involved. The films were:
  • Gunpowder and Nail Polish - A documentary on a young woman who is a hunter in the Scandinavian tundra, and how she survives out there. Challenges: Travel (and the expenses), the weather & climate (snow and freezing temperatures), Night shoots, making and matching the subtitles to what's being said on screen.
  • Cookie -  a darkly comedic short centering on a group of inept mobsters who have to nab a guy with a certain type of cookie. Challenges: Hiring and working with actors, hiring out locations (fast food shop, warehouse), vehicles (a van), writing and rehearsing a script, hiring a composer.
  • I Am Only Starting - A teenager's life is ruined when he is blackmailed on Facebook. Based on true events. Challenges: Subject material and handling it, tone (not making it light), writing and rehearsing a script, actors, hiring a composer.
Afterwards, they, along with David and Eddie, went over some tips for the coming '2900 experience': like be forward thinking and don't wait until post production to have a full grasp of the story, 
  • make what YOU like and want, otherwise it won't feel genuine or lively. 
  • Have good team morale
  • communication is vital, and must be clear
  • don't bloat, and stay on the point of your film
  • have good production values, so it doesn't feel cheap.
Then, our lecturers went over the core details of what was ahead (our final  result would depend on both a critical analysis, as well as our actual short film) and showed us our timetable (which they say they have revised a number of times, in part, due to the expansion on campus with the Archway students.) Closing thoughts; the challenges will certainly be interesting, given that this piece will be more complex and detailed than what we had done last year in any of our prior pieces, and since we are also studying Screenwriting, we have to make sure everything correlates and can be applicable and makeable, without being lazy or cheap, which will be an incredibly fine line to cross, but I have faith in my classmates and teachers. All I can say right now is; let's not mess this one up!

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Yr2 Week 1 (Mon 7 Oct - Screenwriting the Short Film)

Today marked the first day back at Middlesex University after a rather generous holiday of about four months(!)

From 9-11am, we had our first lecture with the two Davids (Cottis and Heinemann), who went over the basics of the module and what to expect in the coming months:learning to write a screenplay for a short film, that we would produce later in the course, and all the stages of making a script as good and professional possible (idea generation, development, pacing, dialogue, rewrites etc.).

After a quick rundown, we began with the meat of the session, discussing structure. We began by going over the most common one, the Three Act structure, using Macbeth as a template to refresh ourselves:

  1. Status Quo (The world as it is, unchanged) - War in scotland, Macbeth fighting for Duncan
  2. Inciting Incident (The tilt/change to status quo) - Witches' hail Macbeth by three titles, predicting what he will become i.e. ultimately, King of Scotland.
  3. First Act Climax (One way door/no turning back) - Macbeth kills Duncan
  4. Act 2 (Longest part/complication of events/protagonist continues pursuit of goals) - Macbeth's reign, Banquo is murdered
  5. Act 2 Climax ('here We go'/For happy ending-lowest point of protagonist and vice-versa) - Macbeth revisits the witches, is told three things (beware Macduff cannot be killed by man of woman born, burnam wood comes to Dunsinane), has Macduff's family slaughtered
  6. Act 3 (Confrontation/Final battle) - Macbeth's battle, killed by Macduff
  7. Scene A'ffaire (obligatory scene)
  8. Denouement (Wrap up/ending)
We also briefly discussed the fact that not all stories follow this structure, some going for more or less (in our case, most short films tend to be one or two acts, given the limited time available). To further drive this point home, and to go onto the next discussion, we watched the 1989 short film 'The Lunch Date', where a middle class woman misses a train ends up going to the station diner and ordering a salad. However, she erroneously assumes that a homeless black man is eating it (turns out it was on a similar looking table in a little bit visual trickery, the difference being her bags on the seat), and tries to intercede, though he merely carries on. Irritated, she starts helping herself to the salad along with him, and after, he buys them both coffee.

Once finished, we began discussing what the film's ideas were, both in terms of script and in terms of the execution. Some of the points thrown out by my peers included, but not limited to:
  • The people she engages with during the course of the short are all black (the man who slams into her, causing her to lose her train, the homeless man at the cafe and then another homeless who is begging, but she ignores), implying some type of racial and social commentary (they are all poor/working class, while her furs, accent and bags mark her as someone higher up).
  • The black and white film both creates a 30s/40s aesthetic and also highlights the aforementioned idea.
  • The irony that a poorer man was willing to share his food, even spend his money, for a stranger, yet she was not willing, in the end, to spare a cent for the other homeless. Pissbly also poking fun at the conventional 'Hollywood' ending, where everyone learns their lesson and becomes instantly better. In reality, people take much longer, or don't learn at all.

Then in the afternoon, from 3-5, we had our first seminar with David, and began to discuss at greater length what we had seen earlier, though this time, in terms of its construction; there a number of elements foudn that makes a script, regardless of length, and certain criteria and really help make the difference between quality and mediocrity. Some of the guidelines and tricks involved include:
  • Being pithy: Minimal description. Let the directors and the rest of team/cast have a say and allow room for interpretation and experiment.
  • The script is a blueprint, a production document from which everything else springboards off of, and can build.
  • Be to the point and avoid overworking or indulgence without a reason or rhyme.
  • Always write in present tense, since the film is running & shooting continuously (as it happens). This applies even to flashbacks.
  • Scripts use a very systematic layout i.e. Margins, Caps for first uses of character names, spacing, 1 page of script usually equates to about a minute of screen time, always start with 'Fade In' at the top (regardless of what ends up being the start in the final product).
  • NEVER put in camera directions, since this the job of others, and not the writer.
  • Keep dialogue simple and to the point. Avoid or writing or constant speeches/rambles.
  • NO scene numbers. This for later when the script is locked down, adn schedules have been arranged.
Moving along, we then drew up a quite spider diagram and began noting what we thought made for a good short film, and how to avoid certain cliches or traps:
  • Structure- be efficient and clear if you choose to have one. Usually, structures take two forms: Journey (self-explanatory) or 'ritual occasion' (where something happens to the protagonist ala Scorsese's After Hours (1986))
  • Pacing- cut 'fat (unneeded material) and keep things steadily rolling along.
  • Have your protagonist be well defined, usually through little visuals things, as the Lunch Date managed to pull off, for example.
  • Everything is important: dialogue and plot must be concise and have weight/significance, otherwise it's just padding.

As our last exercise, we were then asked to each, using a simple idea generating exercise, create a character from various traits, as announced by David H. (i.e. name, colour, age, background, wants, job etc.)
I came up with the following:
  •  Male, 23, Latin-American, Name is Juan.
  • Works at a rental store, lower class, lives in an apartment in a city, has certain 'tics'/eccentric behaviours.
  • Dreams of film making, has relationship/socialisation difficulties due to behaviour
  • seeks relatability and understanding from others.
Our assignment for the week was to go away, and type up a 300 word story outline based on what we had created. To summarise the first day back, it went rather well and smooth, and never felt overwhelming, as if cramming in too much information. The project sets up a lot of interesting possibility, and having done writing many a time in my free time, this gives me an opportunity to really refine and hone my skills, not to mention really write proper, professional scripts which, given my set of talents, may be the better route into the industry for me. I really look forward to working with the Davids, and I'm excited for the future.