Be the next Mozart of Filmmaking….

bolex and me

I’ve so far I’ve shared my likes, dislikes, and my advice on making a film. I myself am not a good example on how to do things.  If anything I’m a good example of getting it done, and what I mean by that is producing a product.   You have to realize when your talking to anyone about making a film they’ll look at you like you have 6 heads. It is an understatement to say that most people just don’t get it.  Why? It’s a simple question. Why go through the pain of writing, financing, and shooting your film when maybe the odds are that you’ll never make any money at it, and you’ll struggle at getting it seen.

I have to argue that in today’s world you have a better shot at getting your film seen then ever before.  How you ask?  Easy it’s all about social media and how big YOU can push you’re own story through the gate keepers at studios.  Make no mistake I am being very sarcastic when I say it’s easy.  It’s anything but easy, yet it is being done.   Good stories and good films get seen.  How they get seen is all up to you.  I am no master at knowing how to do this, and it would help if you knew people who did.   The distribution business has changed radically in the past few years.  Sometimes if you make an impression and get some buzz going through the festival circuit or even on-line studios may begin to notice you.

I have had NO luck doing that personally.  Maybe because I didn’t want to give my baby away for free.  I always felt that if anyone wanted to distribute my film they would make an offer.  But that is naive.  There is a whole lot of content out there.  Many of different degrees of quality.  I have looked down at films shot on video because I felt the technology wasn’t there yet.  Also the quality of those films (shot on video) were not of the same quality of films shot on film.  That is no more the case.  I can attest to seeing some really good films shot on digital.   Just peruse YouTube, and you’ll find some.

Listen if you’re hot on making a film of you’re own do it.  Simple.  Test the waters.  Use friends and relatives when doing you’re initial foray into filmmaking.   Make a couple of shorts and post them.  The more you do the better you get at it.  No really it’s that simple.  We are our own gate keepers.  We put limits on ourselves for what ever reason, and those reasonings can be multiple.   Life can get complicated at times.  Life is short and there are a lot of things people go through that sometimes gets in our way of what we want to do.   Don’t beat yourself up if the circumstances don’t happen for you right away.  Plan, write, read, and meet other creative people like yourself.  In numbers there is strength.  Just get out there and experiment.  No actors or you’re time limited?  Try the avant garde  Anything goes there.   We all need to do something we enjoy, and NOT finding the time is on you.  It’s you’re passion GO FOR IT!

Don’t let the naysayers get you down.  Stymied from lack of talent?  Check out the local art scene in your area.  I bet you’ll find some great talent there.  You just need to look hard enough.    Can’t pay people?  Well make it easier for people to act and participate in your opus by feeding them, and/or maybe paying for their travel.  If their your family they’ll understand, and if their not they’ll thank you for the opportunity to participate.  The one thing you should NEVER do is lie.  Don’t lie to people about your project.  I never did.    When I finally had the resources or partial resources I jumped in and went ahead and focused on finishing the film.  It took awhile to finish the film.  The editing and the sound mix took awhile, but I found people who could help me, and it didn’t turn out too bad.  Even today I still want to re-scan the negative and do an HD version of the film so I can distribute it myself via the web.   I always thought my movie was one of those dime store novels you picked up at news stands or airports, and watched while killing time via you’re phone.  We’ll see how that goes in the future.

Remember YOU’RE the one person who can set yourself back.  I’ll still keep trying myself, and hope that I have the privilege & opportunity to make another film.  But don’t forget to live also.  Go out with friends, fall in love, and do things that make you happy.  Don’t be all too consumed by being that filmmaker.  If you have the itch go scratch it.  Start making films with your phone.  Don’t underestimate yourself.   I’ve taught young children how to tell stories, and they seem naturally gifted in doing so.  Especially in todays world where media dominates a lot of their lives.  I’ve taught kids for 10 to 20 minutes, and they figured out how to put clips together and create a story from those clips.  The hardest thing is to teach what is the idea or subject you want to convey.  I have had teenagers ask me what should I talk about or do?  I’ve given them the same answer always and that is to write what YOU know.  What is it that you are passionate about? Let it flow from what interests you.  Again when you invest in your passions an idea is born, and from there it’s off to the races.  We are conditioned to emulate Hollywood, and TV, but it doesn’t have to be that way.  I find that in young children, and in teenagers the norms are challenged, and if you show them other works unlike what they see in mass media they really get excited about their ideas.  It’s also a great way to learn collaboration which filmmaking is.  So no matter your age, or where you come from you should not feel inhibited by your ideas.  Experiment, and play with different forms and different media.  I really believe that we are on the cusp of a breakthrough in media, and it is not only technology that is driving this but the different ways we use and see media now.

I keep on coming back to what Francis Coppola said about moviemaking:

Now go on and start being that new Mozart of filmmaking like Mr. Coppola says.  He believes it, and so do I.

Akira Kurosawa…

seven_samurai_1

I first came to know Kurosawa’s work back in college.  It was after seeing a couple of his films that I really began to have a deep appreciation for the mans work.  I believe it was “Seven Samurai” which was the film that made me really sent me into overload with Kurosawa’s films.  When a friend and I went to a 4 hour screening of the new
re-mastered “Seven Samurai” I finally got to see what an epic film it really was, and how masterful Kurosawa was.   From that point I was obsessed in seeing as much of Kurosawa’s films as I could.  I grew up in New York city, and back in the day before even video tape became pervasive there was the Film Form, the Paris, or the Village East where you could see many older films from such filmmakers as Kurosawa.  Take a look at this short sequence in “Seven Samurai”.  The composition is amazing, and the action is startling.  I heard that the effect of the blood was an accident and that Kurosawa left it in.  A happy accident, but one that makes the scene so much more powerful and visceral.

In the next clip you can see how Kurosawa edits another fight scene.  Notice the absence of music to heighten emotions in the viewer.  Kurosawa was famous for using the slow motion death, but when he used slow-motion it was to let the audience really feel the sting of the finality of the last blow.  The audience feels it and not by forcing it on us through music, but in silence.  Each death in Kurosawa’s films is one of finality.  Bad guy or good guy it did not matter.  It is this that makes Kurosawa’s films a unique viewing experience.

These are only two examples of what I call the Kurosawa effect.  Kurosawa used the visual to his benefit, and silence sometimes was much louder then any music he could come up with.  That’s the problem with today’s media.  It feels like filmmakers need to telegraph it’s emotions to their audiences.  Take a look at any TV show or film.  The filmmaker has so much contempt for the audience he or she feels that they need to force the emotion on us.  Kurosawa never did that.  He had too much respect, and he had a command of the visual that elicited strong emotions in his audience.  That’s what I took away from his films, and he that’s why I became obsessed in seeing all of his films.

And if you are thinking Kurosawa did only epics in a grand scale you would be wrong.  His films such as “Dreams“, “Ikiru, and “One Wonderful Sunday” are examples of his masterful technique.  I encourage all to seek them out and learn from a truly gifted filmmaker.

I feel one entry is not enough for Kurosawa, so I will probably do a second part where I try and delve a bit deeper into his technique, and his other work.  Till then check out some other blogs that go in-depth of Kurosawa’s technique.   The one below is one that is exceptional in explaining Kurosawa’s editing technique.  Lewis Michael Bond is exceptional in his analysis of various types of films, and he does a fantastic job here with Kurosawa.  I encourage anyone who is a serious cinephile to go watch his videos.  You won’t be disappointed.  Mr. Bond also has a Patreon site if you would like to support his Cinema Cartography.

Format …

I shot my film “Deadly Obsessions” on 16mm.  The question being why?  In my defense for me it was the professional way to shoot the film.  I could have shot it digitally, but then I would have been locked into a process in finishing it digitally, and the one thing that concerned me was “obsolescence”.  If I shot in digital I would have to post digitally, and I knew I did not have the money for that.  I had read and watched “the Blair Witch Project” and other productions like “the Last Broadcast”, and thought I really liked how they were created yet I did not think that digital video was the way to go.  Since I shot “Deadly Obsessions” there has been advances in digital filmmaking, and now I would say that if you have limited resources digital is the way to go.  But back then when I was planning my film I was thinking of films that were shot in 16mm like “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer“, “Clerks“, “El Mariachi”, “Pi“, “Evil Dead“,”She’s Gotta have It” and even “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre“.   I had trained on 16mm, and liked it a lot.  I also knew that whatever format is dominant in the future I know having a 16mm negative would be to my advantage.  Everything now is HD, and though I shot in 16mm I can scan the negative and create an HD product.  This of course is an expensive proposition, but worthwhile, and at least I don’t doom my project to obsolescence.

In order for me to finish on 16mm I had to edit on 16mm.  I found an old 6 plate Steenbeck editor someone was selling not far from where I lived.  Getting the Steenbeck  home from where I bought it from was a herculean effort.  I enlisted my Uncle and even the guy I bought it off from to help me get it into the apartment.  I already had reel to reel rewinds, and a syncing block, so I could sync up my magnetic track and work-print.  By editing on film the big advantage for me was that I knew going into this that the film would be completed after a few years.  I had a day job and had to work.   On my time off I edited my film.  This also provided me enough time to save more money for the mix, the negative cutting, and the answer print.  It was from the answer print that I made a copy of the film on Beta digital tape which is where I made my DVD’s from.

Now I’m not going to say that I felt exhilarated at editing the footage this way because of the tactile sensation of handling my film.  It was stressful, and I felt like a dinosaur.  Cutting and splicing shots and effects was the only way I knew how to finish the film with the budget I had.  I occasionally went out with my Nagra recorder and recorded sound effects that I would later lay into the sound effects track of the film.  For me it worked.  The only sound effect that I purchased was a shotgun blast.  The rest of the effects were all created by me going out and recording it.  Just like John Travolta’s character in the film “Blow-Out”.   I have to say I used everything I was ever taught and even learned a few new tricks.  One of those tricks was videotaping my footage off the Steenbeck, and then digitizing that footage into my computer where I edited it on Premiere.  It was there that I could go quicker and see several different cuts before I attacked it on the Steenbeck.  I do not shy away from technology.  I embrace it, and use it to my advantage.  I am amazed at seeing how now students use digital editing to their advantage.  But in the end editing is editing.  No matter what you use and how you go about it the rules to editing still apply, and as always rules are sometimes meant to be broken.  The French New Wave and Sergei Eisenstein taught us that.

To sum up. I used what I had.  If you have a prosumer camera I’d say go ahead and shoot your film.  Do some tests and push that piece of equipment as far as you can.  It’s now easier to create your own film then it was in the past.  No excuses.   Remember how do you want to show this film?  There are great digital projectors now that project a fantastic image.  Most theaters now do project digitally, so all you need is a Blue-Ray disk and your set, and Adobe Premiere does a great job at creating  one, and there is now Adobe Premiere Rush for content creators.  Go ahead and use what you have or what you can get your hands on.  Format is important, but necessity is the mother of invention, so no excuses.  Go make that film.

  • A big thank you to my wife Phyllis who took the pictures of me.  Alway my best cheerleader and partner in crime.