A Dreamer Walking

Foundations

Posted in Personal Philosophy by Jacob on May 30, 2010

I have been going over all my major story ideas and writing a paper on each of their foundations. I think that is is crucial for you to have strong convictions on what your films foundations are in order to make a good movie. There many good filmmakers out there, some who are very talented when it comes to cinematography, action sequences, music, and acting. But, if you do not have strong story foundations your film will not last.

Conviction is key to making a good story foundation. I have found that my stories are strongest when I am able to draw from real life. I have many convictions in life that I think is essential to express in my films. In no way am I asking anyone to be “preachy”, but do not make the mistake of being shallow. You need to be able to respect your audience, being “preachy” would not show much respect at all, you can not go about having your character telling the audience what exactly to think. However, being shallow is showing just as little respect, I have a duty as a filmmaker to not undermined my audience intellect.

I think it is important for me as a filmmaker to give the audience something to think about. I do not want the first thought after watching my movie to be, “What should we go get to eat?”. I want my films to make people think, make them ask questions and see stuff in a different light. All this happens if you have strong foundations. I have stories that deal with discrimination, addiction, and loss. I must do my research on these issues, I must be able to find places in real life to draw from so that I truly have something to say about these issues. Strong foundations are not easy to come by, it takes a lot of effort. However, your story will only be as strong as your foundations.

Detail

Posted in Personal Philosophy by Jacob on May 29, 2010

I am sorry for not getting a post up in the last few days. I am in the middle of a project that I am doing for a few friends of mine who are graduating from high school.

Working on these projects reminds me about how important it is to commit to detail in your work. I am referring to the extra work it takes to make a project go from mediocre to great. I admire many people from the past who have committed to detail in their work. Walt Disney and his artist were huge on detail back when they got into film. During the making of Snow White Walt Disney looked over every frame of animation not once but more like fifty times. There was a room called the “Sweat Box”, where each animator would bring Walt his work and Walt would critique the hell out of it. At times, Walt would tell his animators to do the animation all over again. That means several months of work was thrown away at times, in order to make better animation that told the story more clearly.

Detail is often forgotten now a days. The thought process is, “How can we get the quick buck?”. The only problem is that detail is what makes a work unique. I realize that I might be taking twice as much time as a normal person in order to get this project done, but I have also come to realize that it is the paying attention to details that make a project last. I am not as concerned about how much time it takes, as long as I am making my project be the best it could be.

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Timing and Spacing

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on May 22, 2010

I wanted to just share a very cool link on animation. This link consists of Aaron Hartline and Victor Navone talking about two of the main principles of animation, timing and spacing. I am not huge on becoming a animator, but I consider this information vital to film making in general. These guys are two top Pixar artists and the principles they teach in this session are basic to animation and useful to any film student. Please check out the link.

Animation Mentor Webinar- Give meaning to movement: Timing and Spacing

The Brain Trust

Posted in Film and Filmaker Studies, Personal Philosophy by Jacob on May 18, 2010

Pixar has this small group called The Brain Trust. This group consists of the  Pixar directors and a few of their best artists. The Brain Trust is one of the greatest reasons why Pixar is on the top of the pedestal when it comes to animation and storytelling. The success of Pixar does not come from one man’s mind, it comes from the best of several master filmmaker minds, all of whom have their own unique qualities when it comes to making a movie.

Every 3 to 6 months each director at Pixar has to show the project he or she is working on to The Brain Trust. After showing the film (in its unfinished form) The Brain Trust tears the film apart in the form of critique. The Brain Trust is brutally honest on what they think of the film they are critiquing. The fact that the director might have been working on the projects for a few years now is irrelevant. The fact that the director showing the film might have already won several awards in the past is irrelevant. The fact that one of the suggestions might be (and has been in the past) to restart the project from stage one is a suggestion the director must be able to take seriously and be able to handle. “You need to leave your ego at the door”, says Pete Docter, the director of Monsters Inc. and the Academy’s best picture nominee UP.

Pete Docter talked about the power of The Brain Trust and how important it is to have fresh eyes look at your project every once in a while, especially when you are in the middle of a four or five year project. Usually the director gets so involved with his or her film that he or she loses perspective. Once you hear a joke for the hundredth time it stops being funny.  Because the director knows the story he is telling in such depth it is easy for him to assume the audience knows more then they do. The Brain Trust helps bring perspective to the people who are in the middle of a project. They see the film with new eyes, catching the things that either are not explained enough or over explained.

One of the keys to The Brain Trust’s success is the ability to openly criticize. The people critiquing the film must not feel that they will be punished if they say something wrong or say something too extreme. The Brain Trust needs to come to each other at a even playing field. No matter the kind of success one person might have had from another each director and artist needs to be open to what the other person is saying. Ego can very easily get in the way especially with the success Pixar seems to have had. The Brain Trust is a true test of humility.

Another key to The Brain Trust’s success is the control that the directors have for their films. Even though the director and his or her team must be open to The Brain Trusts comments, it is the director that has the final say to what stays and what goes out of his or her film. Brad Bird, director of The Incredibles and Ratatouille, has a much different style of filmmaking then someone like Pete Docter. Both directors can look at something from a very unique angle, both might have great ways to communicate a curtain idea, it is the job of the director who is in charge of the project being shown to figure out what works best for the story and what doesn’t. It is the directors personal vision that is the driving force for a Pixar movie. This is what makes Pixar a director driven studio.

The main key to The Brain Trust’s success is the ability to put story first. Both the director showing the project and the Brain Trust needs to have their first priority be answering the question, “what is best for the story?”. As popular and critically acclaimed as some of the members of The Brain Trust are they have not yet forgotten that they are servants to the story they are trying to tell.

It is amazing to see a group of people from completely different backgrounds and with completely different styles of film making, come together to help each other succeed. It is hard to look at a movie with unbiased eyes and criticize it. It is even harder to open yourself up to criticism. But, through the power of constructive criticism you can accomplish things that seem to be impossible, as Pixar has already proven.

(The Picture consists of five of the key people in the Brain Trust. They all have either directed or are in the process of directing Pixar films. From left to right, Brad Bird, Andrew Stanton, John Lasseter, Pete Docter, and Lee Ulrich)

Color Scheme

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on May 16, 2010

I am getting into photography. this is one I did a few days ago, I am huge on messing with photography in photoshop. Right now there is not much depth in meaning in my pictures, but I am learning a lot. I am really concentrating on framing, color scheme, and contrast. In this picture, I thought it was interesting how the blue light cast a pink/orange light on the wall. They are two opposite colors on the color wheel and make for a very interesting picture. I also like how my friends silhouette seems to balance the colors. I hope I am able to post more photography soon.

Joy of a Boy

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on May 14, 2010

After doing so many serious pictures, I decided to go with a fun one. Inspired a bit by Norman Rockwell’s style of painting, I did this watercolor. The shirt and the background are all cold colors, making the face and hair (worm colors) pop out really well. The eyes really seem to pop out as well because they are surrounded by worm colors. This painting is supposed to make you think of a childhood memory. It is a good representation of the joy of being a boy.

Fiddler on the Roof

Posted in Movie Reviews by Jacob on May 11, 2010

Fiddler on the Roof was a gamble especially during the time that it was made. The late 1960’s and early 1970’s was not a good time for big production films, Fiddler on the Roof was actually one of the only big production films being made at the time. The task of making a movie out of a stage play musical is easier said then done. There are many elements the director and writers need to work through in order to make the transition feel natural. When shooting the movie, Norman Jewison, the director of Fiddler on the Roof, ran into several problems with  the weather while shooting on location. There was a point in the process of making the film where Norman stopped shooting entirely because the weather was not doing what he wanted. This in turn made the MGM studio very frustrated with Norman because they were losing a lot of money.

Through the frustrations and hurdles of the making of Fiddler on the Roof came one of the greatest musicals ever made. Fiddler on the Roof will be one of those movies that I look to for inspiration before embarking on my own films. I think that the combination of powerful music, heartfelt characters, and touching story created a masterpiece that will be enjoyed for generations. Fiddler on the Roof is a movie that has reached through the test of time and cultures to become a classic in every sense of the word.

I think the heart of Fiddler on the Roof was driven by a great director. Norman Jewison was no veteran at making films. He had made less then a dozen in his career when asked to do Fiddler on the Roof. Norman freely admitted that he was no expert in the technique of filmmaking. However, Norman Jewison was an expert in the emotion of filmmaking. The characters and story is what Norman knew was going to connect the audience to the film. Even though Fiddler on the Roof was vast in scale and music it was driven by the characters and story. Norman wanted the music to push the story forward, he used the detailed sets and exclusive locations he had at his expense to bring a better emotion and reality to the story.

Norman might not have been an expert at the technique of filmmaking, but he assembled a team around him who were the best of the best at what they did. Norman had Oswald Morris as the cinematographer, who had just been nominated for an Oscar for his work on Oliver Twist (he won the Oscar for Fiddler). Two of the best illustrators in Hollywood, Harold Michelson and Mentor Hubnor, were brought on by Norman to story board the movie. Norman saw the talent of John Williams and brought him in to take the classic Fiddler on the Roof stage play music and adapt it to the big screen.

John Williams did a fantastic job adapting and conducting the Fiddler on the Roof music. Norman and John did most of the recording of music before filming the movie so the actors and rest of the team could use the music as inspiration and a blueprint of how to act while doing singing and dancing in their scenes. Every night before shooting Norman would listen to the music and get inspired. He said that he used that time to figure out what he wanted for the next day, so when the next day came around he already knew what he was going to shoot and what he wanted from his actors.

Norman tried to bring a reality to the music by not having many professional dancers and not having the dance routines completely rehearsed. Norman wanted each dance to look like it was made on the spot, he wanted the musical numbers to flow to and from reality smoothly so it looked like the songs were just another part of the culture.  Norman tried to get away from the theatricality of the stage play by having his camera men get in the middle of the dances so the dancers were limited in space and needed to improvise with what they were given.

Behind all the dance numbers and acting there was passion. The songs are memorable because the actors performing them were passionate about what they were doing and believed in the songs they were singing and dancing to. The music helped us relate to the characters and culture we saw on screen. Norman was not Jewish but he did do a lot of research on the culture he was trying to represent in his film. The movie takes place around 1910 in Eastern Europe  in a small town. The movie concentrates on the Jewish people in the town most of whom are consumed by traditions. The movie is about the breaking down of traditions where the main character Tevya is mae to test some of his strongest principals and beliefs out of love for his daughters and their happiness.

Both young and old could relate to the breaking down of traditions. The audience was able to relate to both the young and old characters in the movie.  In this movie we are allowed into the core of the main character Tevya. Tevya literally talks to us, the audience, immediately getting us involved with him as a character and the story he is in. We see the genuine relationship that Tevya has with his God, where constantly he shows faith by talking to Him through the good times and bad.

The Fiddler in Fiddler on the Roof, represented a symbol of the Spirit of Tevya and the rest of the Jewish people. Through out the film we see the Fiddler playing his violin, seeing if Tevya will still allow the music to bring him life. The Fiddler is a great representation that you can still allow your spirit to live through even the worst of times.

Norman Jewison said that when you are in charge of a movie you need to attack it like a lion, with conviction and courage that everything you are doing is RIGHT! Norman needed to tell his story, and trust in his emotions to what was right for the film. Topol, the actor who played Tevya, said that Norman would literally show you if he liked what you were doing on screen or not. If the performance was truly funny, Norman would laugh. If the performance to Norman was truly touching, he would show it through tears or excitement.

In the making of Fiddler on the Roof, Norman Jewison followed his convictions and his voice was heard. We were told a very personal story where we got emotionally involved with the characters around us. The movie made me take a look at the other side. I needed to see the older generations thought process and convictions just as much as my younger generations. Fiddler on the Roof allows us to see the world in a different light and it gives us hope that through even the hardest of times our spirit can still dance to the music of life.

Looking Ahead

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on May 10, 2010

This is a Portrait of myself I did about two years ago. I made it for my mother. I created three other portraits for three other good friend’s mothers as a present for graduation. My mother of course likes this one the most. I think it is a good representation of where I was at that time and sort am still at now.

I like the way the eyes turned out.  The mouth was a bit disappointing. I for some reason have a hard time with mouths. I think the blues really balance the picture well.

Sequels

Posted in Personal Philosophy by Jacob on May 5, 2010

What do I think of Sequels?

That is actually a question I have been trying to answer for a few weeks now. I started thinking about it while watching the Pirates of the Caribbean “Trilogy”. I really liked the first Pirates movie, the other two left me extremely disappointed. The writers freely admitted that they were not planning for sequels when writing the first Pirates movie, they really tied things up thinking that was the only story for Pirates of the Caribbean that they were going to tell. The reason they made the next two films was because the first movie was extremely popular and the higher ups (executives) knew they could get a easy profit from sequels.

Sequels can be a success but only if you are making the sequels for the right reasons. The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise did not seem to have a good enough reason for making a sequel. The real story seemed to already be told in the first movie. “Do I have another story to tell with these characters?”, should be the question we, as filmmakers, should ask ourselves before embarking on a sequel. Because Hollywood is a business first, the question often asked is “Can we make more money with this franchise?”, if the answer is “yes”, then no matter if they have a good story or not, they will try to make another movie.

Sequels have been given a bad rap because most of them have business men in the forefront of getting them made, rather then actual artists. When you start to put actual artists, who have good stories to tell, in charge of  sequels (or any film for that matter), you begin to see some powerful results.

Good Directors know that story is the key to making a film a success. Look at Christopher Nolan and what he has done with the Batman franchise. Christopher is the co-writer and Director of both Batman Begins and Batman Dark Knight. With both of the movies the executives for Warner Bros (the business men) allowed Christopher and his team to have creative control and the time that they needed to make the movie good. Christopher did not tie things up in the first movie, instead Christopher left more room for his characters to explore in the second film. Christopher made it clear that he would not make a sequel unless he had a story, so Warner Bros waited for him and his writers to create one. Because they were willing to wait, and because Christopher  had creative control, the Batman franchise made a magnificent sequel that has been hailed by fan and critic alike, as being just as good if not better the first movie.

The key to good movies is story, you must have a story that you are dieing to tell if you are going to make a film. Sequels are no exception, there have been very creative people who I think have made very bad sequels because they were not putting story first. Look at the Indiana Jones franchise as an example. George Lucas and Steven Spielberg are some extremely creative people who were the reason the Indiana Jones franchise was such a success in the 1980’s. I personally think that the Indiana Jones movie made in 2008, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, was a huge disappointment and it was not nearly as popular public wise. I felt that they relied on old tricks, we saw most of what Indiana did in the fourth movie somewhere in the last three movies. There was nothing more that they seemed to want to say about Indiana Jones, that they had not already said before.

Spielberg’s, Lucas’s, and Harrison’s (actor who played Indiana Jones) greatest reasons to make the fourth movie, was because they had a huge amount of pressure from fans and because they wanted to get the old Indiana Jones team back together. Neither one of these reasons are good enough to make a sequel.

There never seemed to be the idea that there was another story to tell. Steven and Lucas had a very hard time creating the fourth story, they freely admitted that they did not really have one in mind when committing to the fourth movie. Even though their reasons for making a fourth movie were admirable, they were not good enough. The Indiana Jones legacy will suffer because they allowed a less creative sequel into the franchise.

I think the main reason why most sequels are worse then the first, is because the executives/business men, with little to no creative upbringing, start to control the franchise. We do not see as much control in the original story, because most executives realize they know very little about creativity. But, if a film is a success, the business men in charge think all they need to do is give the audience the same kind of thing except “BIGGER AND BETTER”, thus they throw more money at the franchise while giving them limited freedom and limited time to get the movie done. However, extremely creative people can also make bad sequels if they forget about the main reason for making film.

Story is what needs to lead every film. Sequels must be made because there is another story to be told. Sadly, because Hollywood is a business, concentrated mainly on popularity and profit, story will often be abused. When story is abused, the Hollywood business loses out on popularity and profit. The best business move for Hollywood to make, is giving the creative license to the artist and the artist using that license to make the story become the best it could be.

Good Stories = Good sequels

Giving Your All

Posted in Personal Philosophy by Jacob on May 4, 2010

I have been researching Christopher Nolan and his philosophy on the making of the Batman movies. For movies like Batman Begins and Batman Dark Knight, Christopher gave everything he had. He did not hold back. Christopher used what ever he could think of to make the story be the best it could be.

Because Christopher and his team gave it their all in the first two Batman films, should we be scared that the third movie movie will not be as good? I mean many people have asked, how can they possibly top themselves? Christopher has even admitted that he has a hard time doing sequels because he gives it his all the first time around. Should we as filmmakers be afraid then, that if we give a movie our all early on, we will always be disappointed afterword because we might never be able to “top ourselves”?

I think one of the greatest mistakes that filmmakers make when making a sequel or even just going on to their next project, is that they always want to “top themselves”. The movie they are working on needs to be bigger and better then the last movie.

Nobody should make a movie in order to top their last one. I as a filmmaker want to make another movie for one main reason, because I have another story to tell. If I have another story to tell with the same characters I used in the last film then by all means I will make a sequel.

We should make movie’s based on wanting to tell another story. In the first Batman movie, Batman Begins, Christopher and his team wanted to tell a story about Bruce’s (Batman) fears and how he could use that fear against evil, for good. In Batman Dark Knight,  the story was about Bruce’s rage and how far can he (along with Gotham) be pushed before he looses control.

In the Batman movies so far, the filmmakers pursued the main themes of the story. If a action sequence or scene in general did not pursue those main themes/purposes of the story, they were cut from or not even put into the script. The filmmakers did not hold back, but they based what they did on the themes of the movie.

As long as you have a fresh new point to make in a movie you should give it your all and not think of holding back for the next film. Give it your all in each film you make, just make sure you stay true to the story you are telling and have something new to say.