Archive for the ‘Basics’ Category

Advice to Young Filmmakers

Wednesday, January 15th, 2014

I recently received a request for some advice from a young filmmaker in Kansas City who’s conducting informal interviews with people in the industry. As I wrote my reply, I thought I’d publicly share her questions and my answers:

-What advice would you give to young filmmakers, fresh out of school, who are looking to start in the industry?

Don’t wait for permission—from funders, programmers, production companies, etc.—to make your movie. All the tools you need are within your reach. Great stories have been told with Fisher Price cameras. You can make a moving film with nothing more than clear film leader. It’s not about the camera. Or the actors. Or the budget.

Make something people want to watch. Try to tell uncommon stories. Don’t imitate other filmmakers—try to make something the world needs, a story only you can and must tell. As Rainer Maria Rilke told a young writer who looked to him for advice, if you don’t wake up in the middle of the night yearning to make your work, then you should probably consider another vocation.

-Is it difficult to build contacts/connections when you are just starting out?

If you have lots of money or went to a fancy film school, it might not be. But generally speaking, building a network requires a lot of work, a lot of sweat, and a lot of rejection. Ten years into the business, I feel I’m just now getting a foothold on a network of my own. It’s very possible, but roll up your sleeves.

-How do you begin to make connections?

Start in your own backyard—meet people with common geography, interests, ideas…Go to as many film festivals as you can afford. Meet other filmmakers who are doing work you respect and admire. Better yet, meet other artists—musicians, writers, visual artists, and so on. They can help to inspire you and, sometimes, help you with your film in a more direct way.

Be good, gracious, and kind to the people who find their way into your life. One of the best connections that has helped me to date was with my college study abroad advisor. I sent him postcards from all the countries I visited in college. Years later, he was repping a musician whose work I wanted to license for my first documentary.

Get a producer—they are excellent network builders. Consider following really great blogs. Try starting here or here or here. Read. A lot. The internet provides opportunities for learning and developing a network well beyond where you might live or be able to travel.

-How important/vital do you think these connections are in the industry?

Filmmaking is a collaborative venture, so by the very nature of the art and business, you need other people. Particularly, filmmakers rely on programmers to lend a stamp of legitimacy to their work and to get it in front of bigger audiences than one can get without them.  I believe the most influential network a filmmaker can have is among programmers and critics.

-What are some common mistakes you see young/new filmmakers making?

Derivative work. Work without soul. Pretty but vapid pictures. Unabashedly and unnecessarily violent films. Films that only make us more asleep, less in touch with the world and people and concerns around us.

Doing it for the money. If you’re in it for the money, there are much better, faster, and more reliable ways of getting rich. So don’t do it for the money. In fact, you’re probably going to need a day job.

I make films to wake people up, to change lives—that is where I set the bar for whether or not a film should be made.

-What are some of the most difficult challenges you face when working on a film?

Every film is a tiny miracle. It is harder to do than you will probably ever be able to explain to anyone who wasn’t there. We all have our war stories for every film we make. I think it’s actually better to not know what those challenges will be or just how damn hard it’s going to be, otherwise you might not do it. So, this is one area of life where naiveté is actually a blessing. Hang onto it for as long as you can.

I once heard Jonathan Demme say, it doesn’t matter if you’re 19 or 91, with each film you’re a first-time filmmaker. So, with each film, let yourself be a newborn.

15 Essential (and Inexpensive) Tools for Wardrobe, Hair, & Make-Up

Friday, October 28th, 2011

Filmmakers love to talk about tools. The blog-o-sphere is rampant with posts about cameras, lights, and cinematography accessories, but despite all the attention on achieving great looking films from an equipment/technology standpoint, there is far less discussion about low-fi ways to make your film look like a million bucks via attention to wardrobe, hair, and make-up.

I’ve recently jumped on the Mad Men bandwagon, catching up on the last four seasons. Whether you love or hate this show (a quick look at the Mad Men Wikipedia page will give a sense of the heated debates this show has provoked among critics), it’s hard not to be in awe of its production values, in general, and art direction, in particular. While probably no one reading this post has the budget that Mad Men does, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t attend to art direction with the same care.

Both as a film festival programmer and as a university instructor, I have seen how, all too often, art direction (much like sound design!) is neglected in first films and student films. It’s easy to spot an amateur effort when gangsters are wearing Converse One-Stars (yep, I’ve actually seen this) or an MRI machine is made out of cardboard (After Last Season, anyone?).

A single post can’t address the complex and time-consuming process of art direction–how to do it, how to do it well, and how to do it on a budget–but assuming art direction is receiving at least some of the attention it needs in your production, here are fifteen of my favorite inexpensive tools–none of them should run you more than $25–to help get you through the inevitable wardrobe, hair, and make-up emergencies:

  1. Fanny Pack — While these might conjure memories of bad ’80s fashion or annoying tourists, a good art director has essential tools on her at all times (without needing to run to find her tool bag) and needs her hands free. And, unlike decades past, you can find cute and functional fanny packs these days. Try Natural Life for styles with flair or Mountain Smith lumbar packs for a more muted look. All of the supplies/tools below should fit into your pack.
  2. Downy Wrinkle Releaser — Wrinkles are a continuity nightmare, and on a DIY set, lugging and plugging in a clothing steamer or iron isn’t practical. This spray works best on cotton or cotton blends; avoid using it on delicate fabrics (e.g. silk, satin).
  3. Mini Lint Roller — Keep hair, link, and other fuzzies off of clothing to help preserve continuity.
  4. Mini Sewing Kit, with needle/safety pins and mini scissors. — Fix rips, tears, or buttons right on set. In a pinch, borrow some gaffer’s tape to repair a seam–I’ve created makeshift curtains on set with fabric and gaff tape alone.
  5. Seam Ripper — If you have never used one of these before, prepare to be amazed! Seam rippers are specialized tools–something between a razor blade and scissors–with a very pointed tip and sharp base. Unlike scissors, the tiny point can be easily threaded under a stitch for easily cutting out seams without hurting the surrounding fabric or causing holes. Remove an annoying clothing tag, lengthen a hem, or deconstruct a garment in seconds!
  6. Flexible Body Measuring Tape— You’d be surprised how often you can use this, either for wardrobe measurements or on loan to the camera department for focus pulling and actor marks when they’ve forgotten or misplaced their measuring tape.
  7. Instant Stain Remover (such as Tide To-Go mini) — This really works on stains caused by foundation, lipstick, and coffee — three common art emergencies. I prefer the stain remover pens to the wipes, as they don’t rub the stain into the fabric.
  8. Clear Medical Tape (and/or double-sided Fashion Tape) — Medical tape is sweat-proof and nearly invisible on skin–great for taping lavs to bare skin or securing clothing straps. Fashion tape comes in pre-cut double-sided strips and is great for invisibly holding clothing in place.
  9. Mini First Aid Kit with Blister Cushions and assortment of travel size packs of Acetaminophen/Ibuprofen/Aspirin/Pepto Bismol/Bug Repellant/Sunscreen — The producer should have a full-blown first aid kit on set at all times, but I like to have supplies of my own for the unexpected emergency situation or when that kit is out of reach. Blister blocker band-aids are amazing for stopping blisters but can also be used to protect skin from irritation from mic packs or other costume nuisances. Having pain killers and stomach ache cures on hand is essential for keeping talent and crew happy. I also like to keep Hot Hands available for cold mornings on set.
  10. Assorted Bobby Pins — Having a few sizes and colors (gold for blonds, black for brunettes) will help hold stray hair in place, pin back clothing, etc.
  11. Sharpies — I use black to cover scuff marks, silver for writing on black gaffer tape, and red for when I need what I’m writing to be seen! You might want to get the mini sharpies that can be tied to lanyards for instant access around your neck.
  12. Concealer, such as Max Factor Pan Stick , to cover blemishes. This pan stick will also cover tattoos fairly well (if airbrushing isn’t in your budget–ha!) and the price is right. A shine reducing, translucent powder is also make-up’s best friend.
  13. Hand Sanitizer — Alcohol based ones double as stain removers and can take out ink stains fairly well.
  14. Breath Mints or Gum — Again, the talent will love you for this.
  15. Super Glue — I recommend a few of the mini tubes for situations where tape won’t do.

If you’ve got other art tools you can’t live without, please let me know in the comments!

Attending to wardrobe, hair, and make-up comes with less glory (and, perhaps, on the positive side, ego) than that of Cinematographer or Director, but it’s no less responsible for making the difference between a successful film and an unsuccessful one. It can make the story world credible or incredible, real or surreal. What’s more essential than that?

UFVA 2011 – DIY: Distribute It Yourself

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011

I’m moderating a panel today at the University Film & Video Conference in Boston. The panel’s called, “DIY: Distribute It Yourself.” My other esteemed panelists are Bart Weiss, Caitlin Horsmon, and Ashley Maynor.

As part of the panel, I’m giving a talk on social networking and film distribution. Among other things, my talk suggests that there are (at least) ten questions you should ask of yourself as you start to think about social media with regards to any film project. Instead of asking my audience to remember (or write down) those ten questions, I’m posting them here:

Am I trying to connect with my audience for one film (or issue) or for a body of work?

Who are these audiences?

What makes me/my work distinctive, especially to my audience?

How might I use social media to manage expectations of my work?

Where do my audiences congregate online?

What style/forms of communication does my audience trust?

What modes of communication would be most useful between me and my audience?

What do I want people to do after seeing my work? (e.g., take political action, buy my DVD, change a behavior, etc.)

What and how much do I want to share — of my project, and of myself?

How much time can I commit to working on promotion and distribution via social media ?

 

Also, at the end of my talk I’m sharing a few excellent resources with regards to social media and/or film. Here they are:

Think Outside the Box Office — both the book and the website

Friends, Fans, and Followers by Scott Kirsner

Tribeca Film Social Media Toolkit

Workbook Project

Social Networking Sites and Our Lives – The Pew Internet & American Life Project

Big Boards

Mashable

UPDATE (from Ashley):

The blog post I mentioned in my presentation, by Ted Hope, which is still relevant for those with films without distribution, can be found here. If you want to follow his blog, it’s now hosted at Indiewire here.

FCP X User…. or Ex-FCP User? Some thoughts.

Tuesday, June 28th, 2011

For the most part, this is not a review of FCP X. If you must know, I’ve used FCP X a little bit and I like its sleek interface and speed but, even more, I miss a lot of Final Cut Studio’s functionality, particularly Color. If FCP X matures into something more professional (i.e., more robust editor, plus a truly sophisticated color grading tool) I might embrace it. If it doesn’t, I will embrace something else.

The biggest problem for me, and for many others I suspect, is that I don’t know where it’s going and what it will become.

What’s been most puzzling in the aftermath of the FCP X is that so many people outside the professional production community — journalists, software developers, consumer video hobbyists, etc. — have tried to serve as apologists for Apple even though they have little experience editing professionally (i.e., for works that are publicly exhibited in broadcast, theatrical, or home video environments).

So, instead of reviewing the program in depth, I want to add my $0.02 to the ongoing FCP X debate by trying to articulate very clearly why I and others are frustrated with Apple and — yes — why we’re considering switching.

In the Q+A format below I try to address these (sometime maddening) comments.

Let me point out that the comments to which I’m replying are composites or, at times, actual quotes (marked with asterisks) of comments I’ve found in news articles, message boards and elsewhere. And if you don’t believe me, Google them.
(more…)

Prepare to Lose Everything: Use SuperDuper and SMARTReporter

Monday, May 16th, 2011

As I mentioned in my last post, hard drive failure is a virtual certainty. It’s going to happen to every drive, eventually. The trick to not having your day (or your life) ruined by such and event lies in a) having an up-to-date backup and, if possible, b) being as prepared for drive’s failure as possible.

To this end, here are two resources to help you and me be prepared for the inevitable:

SuperDuper. If you don’t know of this application, prepare to meet your new best friend. It clones hard drives. Reliably. A limited version is available for free. For under $30 you can buy the fully featured version, which allows you to schedule backups and does smart updates (i.e., it copies even faster). I’ve used SuperDuper for years and see no reason to change as long as it works but, as an FYI, Carbon Copy Cloner does similar things and is donationware.

SMARTReporter.  This nifty application checks on the SMART (Self-Monitoring, Analysis, and Reporting Technology) status of your hard drive to see if it has any problems. It is, as the folks at Corecode note, a kind of “early warning system” to notify you (by email, alert, etc.) of a possibly impending hard drive crash. Useful stuff, particularly if you’ve not run a backup recently. The one hitch: SMART technology does not work with USB and FireWire drives. All the more reason to schedule backups so they’re always up-to-date.

In my experience, I have found that a drive’s likelhood to fail is directly proportionate to its need to work on a given day. One example: On the day I was set to drive to 200 miles to a post house to do the final output of Quick Feet Soft Hands for television broadcast my raid, storing all of my Final Cut Pro and Color files failed. Thankfully, I had an exact clone and didn’t skip a beat.

Suggestions for further reading:

How Do You Make a Filmmaker Cry?

What to Do When Your Hard Drive Goes Soft