A Dreamer Walking

Free Film School!

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on August 4, 2014

I am sad to announce I am taking a blog break. I know it probably looks like I already took a blog break. I mean come on! I was on such a role for a while posting a paper every week or less for several months. But then summer came. The time I was supposed to be the least busy I ended up doing a bunch of things. Only half of the stuff I ended up doing was really productive, but the bottom line is I have really let down the few followers I have for this blog and I do apologize for that.

So I will be taking the rest of the month off and then try to maintain a post a week from the beginning of September to the foreseeable future. I thought I would leave you guys however with a bunch of links to really productive information and study material for those interested in the foundations of film and storytelling.

Filmmaking:

  • Cinephilia and Beyond: This might be the most valuable resource out there for all things film. Cinephilia is on a unstoppable mission to find as many interviews, articles, and documentaries on filmmaking around the internet. If you have a particular filmmaker in mind just do a search on Cinephilia’s site and you will most likely find a huge archive of information. P.S. you should also follow Cinephilia on Twitter!
  • DP/30: My advice is for you go get a pen and paper and start taking notes on interviews. David Poland has been able to accumulate hundreds of hours worth of interviews of some of the biggest names out there. His subjects range from actors, writers, directors, and sometimes a popular Cinematographer or Editor. Because of the length of his interviews (majority of them going 30 min or longer) Poland is able to go into much more depth then an average interview has time for. Poland studied filmmaking in collage and has a deep knowledge of it’s history which only helps raise his interviews to another level.
  • The Treatment: Elvis Mitchell is yet another great interviewer who is determined to go beyond the common insights a writer or director gives in most of their interviews. You can also find Elvis’ more recent interviews free on iTunes.
  • 35 MM: Here is a Vimeo group that collects tones of Vimeo videos dealing with film. These are a little more hit-or-miss but there are certainly some gems worth looking into.
  • Steven Benedict Podcast: How this guy isn’t known by every cinephile out there is beyond me. Though considerably short compared to other material I linked to, Benedict is a true student of film and gives deep insights on each one of the movies he goes into. My suggestion is you download his podcasts on iTunes and listen to them while on your way to work or something.
  • [micro] TUTORIALS: Here you can find a vast archive of film production tutorials. [micro] is determined to provide you with a wealthy amount of free information to get started in digital filmmaking. Their subject matter ranges from pre-production through post-production and will give the beginning film student many hours worth of material to study in order to make his or her first film.

Animation:

  • Deja View: This is the sight of the famous animator Andreas Deja. His knowledge of animation history (especially Disney’s history) is superb. As the lead animator for classic characters like Jafar from Aladdin, Scare from The Lion King, and Lilo from Lilo and Stitch its obvious he has a vast understanding of the principles of animation and with everyone of his posts he goes into more and more detail about those principles and the animators responsible for creating them.
  • Temple of The Seven Golden Camels: The author of this blog, Mark Kennedy, is a storyboard artist for Disney Animation. Unlike most animator blogs I visit, Kennedy is determined to go into detail about the nuances of telling good stories. His focus usually is storyboarding which basically means he goes into all kinds of different principles of animation- staging, costuming, action, design, etc… Though sometimes long winded it’s obvious Kennedy knows his subject matter and he provides valuable insight in each one of his posts.
  • Splog: Sadly this blog hasn’t been updated since February. However, I am sure you will find enough in the archives to keep you busy for several months. Michael Sporn and his artists give a much more well rounded example of the history of Animation and many of the blog’s posts go into great detail about well known and long lost pieces of animation through out it’s rich history.
  • Podcasts: Rather then pick one of these I thought I would just link to several of them. Here are several valuable podcasts on animation I have listened to through out the years. Each one features interviews of people working in the field of animation and are quite valuable for anyone interested in going into the field themselves. I will post the links to their sites but the majority of the podcasts can be found also on iTunes. 1. The Animation Podcast 2. Spline Doctors 3. Speaking of Animation 4. iAnimate.

Writing:

  • Writing Excuses: Each fifteen minute podcast carries a wealth of information about writing and story structure. The podcast is also extremely entertaining and quite humerus. The four hosts are all well known authors and have a great chemistry with each other. They are usually able to cover a lot of ground with the little time they have. The podcast has also been around since 2008 and thus has a huge archive. I suggest you subscribe to their iTunes page; they post a podcast consistently every week.
  • The Q&A with Jeff Goldsmith: Here you will find interviews all kinds of writers across the medium of film. Jeff Goldsmith is a wonderful interviewer with a great upbeat attitude. Best of all is he knows story and the questions he asks are always informative and allow us deeper into the creation process. His lengthy archive can be found on iTunes as well.
  • Scriptnotes: John August and Craig Mazin are two established screenwriters in Hollywood and every week come out with a full hour long podcast covering all things writing. The two personalities work wonderfully with each other and they also at times have guests who share their personal insights on how to be a screenwriter in the daunting world of Hollywood. Not only do these guys have good screenwriting advice they go into the politics of working in Hollywood. Here is the link to their iTunes page.

Film Criticism:

  • The /Filmcast: This is one of the most enjoyable podcasts I listen to weekly. The hosts, David Chen, Devindra Hardawar, and Jeff Cannata are all bonafide film geeks who love talking movies. David Chen is one of the best hosts out there; someone who can just be himself while keeping a strong grasp on the conversation so it doesn’t get out of hand. I listen to these guys more for entertainment, but occasionally they can provide some fantastic insight on the film premiering that week. And due to their “What have you been watching?” segment I occasionally hear about a really interesting film I would never have discovered on my own. The best way to listen to these guys is via iTunes.
  • Filmspotting: This is the modern day version of Siskel and Ebert. Though maybe not quite as oppositional and competitive the two hosts, Adam Kempenaar and Josh Larsen, do a wonderful job expressing their thoughts on the latest movie of the week. Rather then go with the typical blockbuster Adam and Josh usually concentrate on more Independent films. A common visitor of the podcast is the famous critic Michael Phillips who was also a common visitor on Roger Ebert’s Ebert Presents show. The show is now known for ending with their top 5 list which allows the audience in on just how vast these critics knowledge of filmmaking is. This is by far the podcast with the largest archive, just recently celebrating it’s 500th episode. This is also a great podcast to listen to on iTunes.

Well there you have it. These links have turned out to be invaluable in my pursuit to becoming a great storyteller. It’s just a small example of how much you can learn for free outside the realm of a collage. I hope you enjoy and feel free to leave a comment if you have links to more valuable filmmaking resources!

Akira Kurosawa – Director – Kagemusha

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on June 1, 2014

Kurosawa #1

This might be the most beautiful shot I have ever seen of Akira Kurosawa’s. And believe me there have been plenty of beautiful shots in this old legend’s career. Kagemusha (1980), which means “shadow warrior”, is chock full of great shots. The movie is Kurosawa’s third venture into filming with color and I believe his best. It is pretty amazing this is only his third film made in color since it was made in 1980 and Kurosawa had been making movies since the 1940’s. Those who don’t know Akira Kurosawa is a director from Japan and considered one of the greatest filmmakers to grace this earth. His movie Seven Samuri (1954) is hailed by many to be the greatest movie ever made.

With the movie Rashomon (1950) Kurosawa was able to put the cinema of Japan on the map after the movie won Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival in 1951. The movie was one of the first time a filmmaker ever shot with the lens looking directly at the sun. Before this many thought film would burn up if you shot directly at the sun. However, after Rashoman the sun became a big theme in Akira Kurosawa’s work.

Getting Kagemusha made was extremely difficult. Kurosawa painted hundreds and hundreds of storyboards. He knew almost every shot of the movie before he even started shooting. He was just waiting to get backing for the project. Sadly at this time in his career the film industry in Japan was at a all time low and many considered Kurosawa to be passed his prime as a filmmaker. Thankfully however two successful young filmmakers from America, George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola, stepped in and helped finance the picture. This might have suggested to Akira Kurosawa there was some hope for the next generation. Though his industry might have given up on him, there was dedicated group of young filmmakers from the 60’s and 70’s who considered Kurosawa a legend in the realm of filmmaking.

In some ways I feel this shot is melancholy in nature. The troops in shadow look tired and defeated. Where during 1950’s Rushomon Kurosawa shot directly up into the sun that was in the middle of the sky, the sun now is setting representing and end of a way of life. Yet, the picture’s beauty is overpowering and the image of troops marching onto battle is quite inspiring. The deep oranges you see in the picture don’t feel like they represent doom as much as it represents a sort of beautiful momory Kurosawa wants us to keep a hold of.

Akira Kurosawa was a huge admirer of John Ford and Ford was known as the king of the master-shot. Ford told a very young Steven Spielberg that if he could learn why a shot is better when the horizon line is on the top of the screen or at the bottom of the screen instead of in the middle, you might just become a good filmmaker. As you can see Kurosawa places the horizon line at the top of the screen. There is no vast open space in this master shot. The world once full of possibilities is now coming to a close. This is an end of an age. In the movie it represents the ending of the Samurai. However, for Kurosawa I believe it means the moving on of an age in filmmaking. His light is about to go out, there are only a few more movies left in him.

Toy Story 3 – Film Study – Color and Lighting

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on May 25, 2014

Toy Story 3 #1

Many call it the last great Pixar movie. I personally think Toy Story 3 is a fantastic completion of a wonderful trilogy. And, though you could make an argument Toy Story 3 is a little repetitive and less original then the first two movies, I think the film stands out as the most visually bold film of the trilogy. Simply put, Pixar was running on all cylinders when they made this film. From the refined Pixar storytelling skills to the huge advancements in technology Toy Story 3 was able to expand its universe while keeping a firm grasp on what made the first two films so loved by the first generation of Toy Story fans.

Let’s talk about the color pallet used to tell the story of Toy Story 3. Toy Story has had a  distinct pallet from the beginning. The colors are usually extremely saturated and there are few scenes where you see the whole gambit of the color wheel. Instead, each scene usually consists of one to three key colors to establish an atmosphere. The goal isn’t to be subtle with the colors, but rather use color to drive the emotional arc of the movie. With Toy Story 3 the brilliant art director Dice Tsutsumi took the helms of this beloved franchise and gave us a pallet of colors unmatched in animation. He was in charge of creating the color script for the movie, which consists of dozens of impressionistic paintings plotting out the general emotional arc of the movie through the use of color and lighting (check out part of his color script here). Dice Tsutsumi said, “The color script sets the tone of the film: how color and atmosphere and lighting will carry the story and the characters throughout the film”. The color script is started towards the very beginning of pre-production and isn’t finished until lighting for the movie is finalized. I believe Toy Story 3 is the best example I have ever seen of the emotional impact color and lighting has on a film. The actual images you will see here comes from the final film. The director of photography for Toy Story 3 was Kim White and she and her team were responsible for bringing Dice’s paintings to life. Animation is the ultimate collaborative medium. The sad part is though most of the artists go unnoticed. So, though I will mostly reference Dice Tsutsumi and Kim White in this post the results you see are made possible by the whole Toy Story 3 team. I am using eleven images from the film. As Dice said in an interview, “One of the things Ralph (the original Toy Story art director) said was to pick ten or fifteen key moments and see if you can describe the color flow of the movie with just those images”. This is my attempt to describe the color flow of the movie with just a few handfuls of images.

Toy Story 3 #3

Most will recognize this shot from the intro of the film. As you can see there is a complementary color scheme at work here, blue and deep orange/brown. Not only does this really make things stick out, it establishes Woody and his owner Andy’s relationship. Andy has always been represented with blue in the Toy Story movies. Woody is dressed in mostly worm colors and is a cowboy which makes this terrain fit perfectly with his character. He also has blue jeans which connects him visually to Andy. The shot here comes from a high stakes adventure taking place in Andy’s imagination. There is a tremendous amount of open space. The creators want to create a world here where you believe anything is possible (I mean come on, there is a huge Pig Ship taking up a chunk of the screen). We are at the height of Andy and Woody’s relationship reflected vividly through the deep saturated blues and oranges. Through out the film you see Art Director Dice Tsutsumi save deep colors for solid emotional connections.

Toy Story 3 #5

This is defiantly Andy’s room, reflected by the overwhelming amounts of blue in the image. The moment takes place after Andy has grown up and is about to go to college. The colors are less rich then the last frame and Woody doesn’t seem to belong as much. Woody and the rest of the toys’ marginalization is seen in specific and broad strokes. The Buzz Lightyear poster is mostly covered up in the corner. Woody is the only toy in sight. And, the stars representing Andy’s childhood are almost completely covered by posters and other “grown up stuff”. One other thing I want to point out in this image is the outside colors. The bright green colors you see from the outside actually look much more inviting then anything we see inside. This green actually represents someone we will meet later on in the film.

Toy Story 3 #9

Wow look at the difference here. This looks like a place where toys belong. Here is the first of several images I will post of the Nursery, where most of the movie takes place. The next few images will express just how much control the Pixar artist have over the power of lighting and creating atmosphere for a scene. Andy’s toys left Andy’s house and found themselves here in Sunnyside Daycare. This is the first time the toys are introduced to this nursery where in just a few minutes kids will come and play with them. Andy’s toys are excited because this will be the first time in years they are played with. You can’t get much more inviting then this. It’s clear the artists want to create an attractive environment for audience as well as  the toys. Look at the designs of the objects you see in frame. I guarantee you the nice comfy chair and beanbag were strategically placed to help soften the imagery. Round designs are always more inviting then designs with sharp angles. We also see Director of Photography Kim White use soft lights to create an inviting environment. There are no harsh shadows and the nursery almost seems to glow. An analogous color scheme is at work here, ranging from light red to light green. There are no deep colors either, which might be a sign from the creators that though this is an inviting environment it has little depth to it. Unlike with Andy there are no owners in a nursery. As inviting as this might be within minutes the nursery seems to be transformed into a completely different environment.

Toy Story 3 #12

Yes this is the very same place you saw in the last frame. Look, you can see the nice soft chair and beanbag at the top of the frame. However, they don’t look as inviting now for some reason. This moment in the film takes place after the toys have been brutally played with by toddlers who Andy’s toys quickly realize are not old enough to handle them properly. The environment goes from a paradise to a foreign wasteland. The feeling of uneasiness is only enhanced by the extreme angle director Lee Unkrich’s uses. He places the camera so it looks directly down at the setting. We are not used to seeing images from this kind of position and it helps to established the discomfort of the situation. The toys are meant to look pathetic from way up here; as if the environment has completely overpowered them. Also, check out the lighting. There are no more soft lights in this image. Harsh shadows stream across the frame making for a much more menacing composition. And finally, we get to the color. The shades of red do more then anything in terms of changing the environment to a uninviting place. Red has always been used to represent danger and destruction and we are only getting a taste of it compared to what we see at the climax of the film.

Toy Story 3 #15

The nursery has gone from an unfriendly environment to an out-and-out prison. This shot is from the same environment as the last two yet looks like a completely different location. This is an example of the power animation has to push lighting to extremes in order to enhance the emotional impact of a scene. The character Andy’s toys once thought was good, Lotso, has shown his true colors and locked Andy’s toys up. Look at the light source here. The shadows are extremely defined and most of the color is actually sucked out of the picture. There are no round objects in sight and the picture is framed from a straight on angle which helps create a formal mood. It’s as if all the humanity has been sucked out of the Toy Story world and all we have left is a evil pink teddy bear who is determined to stay on top. So where is our hero? Where is WOODY?!

Toy Story 3 #11

There he is! Woody was picked up by a girl from the nursery named Bonnie. Just like the original nursery image, this feels like a inviting environment. Again Kim White uses soft lights to take away the shadows. Here we see a pretty broad analogous color scheme at work with a good amount of green. Wait, didn’t I talk about the color green before? That’s right! This is the character I was talking about earlier. Through out the movie Bonnie is represented by the color green and her room reflects this. However, Woody can’t stay in a wonderful place like this when his friends are stuck in a daycare prison. He returns to the daycare and helps break Andy’s toys out of Sunnyside. The problem is he doesn’t find himself in any better of a place.

Toy Story 3 #20

Well shoot! This takes place toward the climax of the film and art director Dice Tsutsumi begins to use monochromatic color schemes. Doing this he is able to overwhelm the image with a singular mood. Woody and the rest of Andy’s toys find themselves at the dump and director Lee Unkrich pushes the imagery to the max in this sequence. The lights shoot directly into the face of the audience. Unlike in Sunnyside we no longer have the claustrophobic feel of a prison, rather we get a wide angle shot of trash as far as the eye can see. It’s a different kind of hell we find ourselves in. The yellow green gives the environment a sickly look and we are deeply worried for Woody and the rest of the toy’s well-being.

Toy Story 3 #22

Well, things haven’t seemed to get any better. Woody and the rest of the gang are looking into an inferno and there seems to be no way of escape. The screen is completely devoured by red. In fact, the red light source is so strong it has seemingly changed the toys colors to shads of red. This shot represents the most dyer situation in the movie. Director Unkrich doesn’t want anything to get in the way of our connection with the toys here. He uses a shallow focus and makes sure there are no distractions in the background. There is only one light source in this shot and it is completely overpowering. The creators want us to think this might be it for the toys. The sequence is sort of a rebirth for Woody and the rest of the toys. In this moment all of them embrace each other and are ready for the next chapter in their lives.

Toy Story 3 #24

Lets just thank the gods the next step wasn’t incineration. Woody and the rest of Andy’s toys survive and are taken by Andy to Bonnie’s house. Here we see Andy giving Bonnie his toys. Andy is in his classic blue clothing and the rest of the frame is consumed by Bonnie’s green. We can see the storytellers are embracing Bonnie here by using deep green colors. We see just as vivid of greens as we did blue at the beginning of the movie. The visuals are supporting the idea of the passing of the torch. Andy’s story is done but we have new adventures to look forward to with Bonnie. This is beautiful imagery. It almost feels as if we have been transported into a wonderful memory. For the last time Andy plays with Bonnie and his toys before he leaves. His blue fits wonderfully with Bonnie’s green.

Toy Story 3 #26

The movie ends with this shot. I think it is a wonderful salute to Andy’s story. A blue sky filled with clouds is what the very first Toy Story movie opens with and it’s only fitting we end with it as well.

Pete Docter – Director – Up

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on May 20, 2014

Up #3

Few companies can tell their stories better visually then Pixar. Specifically director Pete Docter puts a huge amount of time towards figuring out how to tell his stories in visually rich ways. Animation is a unique medium in terms of visuals because it is less bound by reality. In fact, it’s when trying to make an animated movie look like live action film when filmmakers get into a lot of trouble (just look up the term the uncanny valley or read about director Robert Zemeckis’ misfires in motion capture). Pete Docter maybe more then any other director I know has embraced the power of animation. Each one of the characters in his movies are designed not based on realism but emotion. He wants the audience to understand who his characters are just by looking at them. Docter then creates a world that supports the inner conflicts of his characters. He uses design, music, and color schemes to say something about the story he is telling.

Lets take a look at this shot from Pete Docter’s Up. This is the beginning of the first act of the film. We had a very touching prelude where we watch Carl and his wife Ellie grow old together. This moment is about life after Ellie, yet we can still very much feel her presence. Docter and the other Pixar artists used simple shapes to represent both Ellie and Carl. With Ellie the circular shapes were used and with Carl the shapes are rectangular. The creators also used violet purple to represent the presence of Ellie. In the scenes we see her in she is usually wearing some kind of violet clothing. The badge she gives Carl as a kid is also made from a bright purple bottle cap. The color lingers through out the film including in this shot. You can see light shines on half of the bed Ellie used to sleep on. There are just the smallest hints of violet in the light, cast on the bed and wall behind. Notice the table and lamp on Ellie’s side of the bed, they both have a circular design. There is also Ellie’s picture bordered by a round frame.

This is a wonderful introduction to the post-Ellie Carl. We are introduced to him in a very unglamorous way. I mean you usually are not shown characters just waking up from sleep. Docter wants to hit the audience with a hard dose of reality after the touching marriage montage we saw just before. We immediately feel restricted with this shot. If you watched the movie in 3D you would notice the extra dimension just added to the feeling of being confined. Notice how none of the light touches Carl. The little touch from the sunlight outside is not meant for Carl. Rather it’s a reminder of Ellie’s absence. It is kind of tough to have the marriage montage just before and then be introduced to an empty half of a bed. From here and through out most of the rest of the film Carl will wear very subdued clothing. However, what really adds to Carl’s closed-off demeanor is his shape. Quite literally everything about him is square. From his unrealistically large square head, to the rest of his body, and the objects surrounding his side of the bed, everything has a rectangular design to it representing Carl’s fatal flaw of being disconnected with the rest of the world. Heck, his bed cover even has a square design. The bottom line is Pixar’s Up will be studied for years to come because the creators made sure every composition spoke to the meaning of the story. This is the only time we see Carl’s bedroom in the movie, yet the artists took the time to deliberate over every detail you see. I guarantee you even the fact that the picture of Carl is slightly tilted was intentional and done to contribute to the story. Now that is what I call dedication.

 

Tom Hooper – Director – The King’s Speech

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on May 15, 2014

Hooper #2

Now this is how you frame a King!…. right?

Actually I would not say this shot is meant to be kingly or flattering. The direct opposite really. It is well composed but the intent is to dwarf Prince Albert and reflect his defeated emotional state. Director Tom Hooper said this wall we see behind Albert was the best set piece in the whole movie. During this production they spent millions on creating sets and were able to shoot in some fantastic locations like St. James’s Palace and the Hatfield House in Herfordshire, England. Yet, this wall seemed to give Hooper the most inspiration. Everything you need to know about the Duke of York is represented in this shot.

First lets focus on Prince Albert. He is dressed in very subdued clothing. Hooper is literally hiding Albert’s true colors. Heck, the king hasn’t even bothered to take off his coat. At this moment he is being interviewed by the speech therapist Lionel. It’s obvious Albert doesn’t feel comfortable. He takes up as little space as possible and he is sitting in a slouched position – a very improper posture for royalty. Albert has come to Lionel to see if he might help him with his speech impediment and inability to talk in public. The framing is a reflection of his speech problem. The prince seems to be engulfed by the wall. Hooper wants to communicate the idea that Albert is alone and dwarfed by his speech defect. The speech defect is represented by the wall. Talking in a position like this makes Albert’s words feel hollow. The wall is meant to be distracting, as if The Duke is hardly worth noticing. In this picture Hooper is setting up how much Prince Albert needs to grow in order to become the king so many of us remember from the History books.

Roman Osin – Cinematographer – Pride & Prejudice

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on May 15, 2014

prideand & prejudice

Okay, so I am posting this pretty much because I consider it one of the most beautiful shots I have ever seen. It really is a shame this was the only time Roman Osin teamed up with Director Joe Wright. The whole movie is filled with stunning imagery. Joe Wright more then any other director I have studied seems interested in using all the elements in the frame to tell his story. Usually he concentrates on relating his main characters with curtain elements or color schemes. With Atonement (2007)Joe Wright represented the main character Briony Tallis with the color White. There was also Briony’s sister in the movie, Cecilia, who was constantly symbolized by the element of water. In his latest movie Anna Karenina (2012) the much more unstable title character, Anna, was represented through a stream of lush colors depending on her mental state. For Pride & Prejudice the main character Elizabeth Bennet – the one you see on the ledge here -is constantly represented through earthy colors.

This image shows Elizabeth completely in here element. She is surrounded by rich browns and yellows. The sky even seems to carry some of those yellows and the blue is subdued so it doesn’t distract from the theme. This image also clearly expresses Elizabeth’s rebelliousness; I mean seeing she stands on the edge of a cliff. The beautiful thing is all the elements, such as the colors and the wind, are embracing her. Notice how both the horizon line and edge of the cliff points us directly to Elizabeth. I feel this shows Elizabeth’s independence and unwillingness to be tamed. It says everything we need to know about who she is and that is just illustrates some fine visual storytelling.

Jeff Cronenweth – Cinematographer – The Social Network

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on May 10, 2014

The Social Network

This comes from my favorite David Fincher film The Social Network (2010). The cinematographer of this film, Jeff Cronenweth, is probably one of the few cinematographers in Hollywood who can handle Fincher’s perfectionist style of directing. Fincher has worked with a handful of cinematographers through the years and only Cronenweth has lasted more then two movies with him. With this movie Fincher wanted to take away the glamor of the picture. He was very strict with the extra lights he allowed Cronenweth to use. He wouldn’t let him spend more then twenty minutes to get any one scene lit in fact (a very short time for Hollywood films). This is not to say The Social Network is a bland film. I believe it is quite beautiful. However, the beauty comes in the way Fincher and Cronenweth frame their shots and the way the camera moves. The films color scheme is subdued and most of the scenes have a dark atmosphere to them. There literally is only one handheld shot in the whole movie. For the most part Fincher and Cronenweth gave the film an almost technical smoothness. You could easily say the style of filming was a direct reflection of the main character Mark Zuckerberg. He is a genius who shows almost no emotion on the outside. His actions are almost more mechanical then human and their is a sort of darkness that is simmering in the background of his character. The main score used for the movie is also a reflection of Zuckerberg. It has a simple beautiful melody playing in the foreground while an unstable beat plays in the background. The farther we go in the story the more the beat overwhelms the simple melody.

The reason I am using this shot is because I think it perfectly expresses the key conflict in the movie. In the foreground we have Mark Zuckerberg. His head is turned away from the camera. As I said before, his emotion is deeply hidden inside himself so even if the camera was on him we would probably not get much more from him then we do now. The focus of this shot is Mark’s friend Eduardo. Usually when framing the main character of the shot the director places him to the left of right third of the frame. Rarely in a movie do you see a character framed directly in the middle. However, this is exactly what Fincher and Cronenweth do with Eduardo. This creates an uneasiness that goes perfectly with the way Eduardo is feeling. Also look at the strong light source being used. There is nothing lighting up the right side of Eduardo’s face. The light is doing the opposite of glamorizing, it is showing a character who is distraught and signifying Eduardo’s views on the other characters. The characters are not wearing any vibrant colors and the environment is subdued in order to allow the audience to easily focus on what Eduardo is saying. The last important peice of this shot is Sean in the background of the shot. There is a reason Sean is placed on the dark side of Eduardo’s face. He is looming over Eduardo just as he is in the context of the movie. The filmmakers could have placed Sean farther to the right of frame but they want to squeeze both Mark and Sean in on Eduardo to create an almost claustrophobic feel. It also looks like they went with a long focal lens in order to sandwich the background with the foreground.

Steven Spielberg – Director – Saving Private Ryan

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on May 4, 2014

Spielberg #1

Saving Private Ryan is one of Steven Spielberg’s greatest films. This film revolutionized the war and action genre . It brought a grittiness to the World War II scene not seen before in cinema. There is no attempt by Spielberg or Cinematographer Janusz Kaminski to glamorize the action depicted in the movie. In fact, Spielberg and his crew worked extra hard to take away the glamorization of war in the the film by showing the drastic consequences of the fighting. They made us feel as if we were in the midst of the battles taking place and they forced us to witness the casualties along with the successes of war. Spielberg wasn’t afraid to linger on the moments most audience members would like to bypass. We saw soldiers with limbs blown off. We observed characters die slow deaths. And most importantly we were made to care about most the characters who ended up making the ultimate sacrifice. After watching a movie like Captain America: The Winter Solider I get the feeling the only characters who are allowed to die in today’s blockbusters are the characters who have no sentimental value to the audience. The heroes in the pictures are always going to make it through no matter how bad the scenario gets. They need to for the sequels, right? However, the problem with this lack of consequence is we begin to stop caring. No matter how great the visuals the suspense has been taken away because we know everything will be fine in the end.

Now back to Saving Private Ryan. I wanted to concentrate on this moment in the film because I believe Spielberg does something here few directors are capable of doing. He has the patience and faith to slow things down. This scene takes place towards the very end of the movie. These two characters, Captain Miller and Private Ryan, are listening to music and having a casual conversation about home life. Slowly during the conversation we forget about war and the improbable situation the soldiers are in. Instead, thanks to a superb performance by Tom Hanks and Matt Damon, we are transported back home. Spielberg doesn’t use flashbacks; he has faith in his actors. He gives Damon’s character the time to relate a fun story about when he last saw all his brothers alive. Private Ryan is only introduced towards the end of the second act of the movie, but this moment allows us to completely buy into his character and root for his success.

The visuals you see in this frame actually make for a good contrast of the story Private Ryan is telling. There is no questioning these two characters are soldiers in the middle of a war. The costuming, scenery, and body language all say as much. I love how Captain Miller looks more battle weary then Private Ryan. Ryan just looks a little more headstrong then Miller – where we see Miller sitting back Ryan sits forward. The story Ryan tells is also upbeat where in the past when Miller told about his background it was told in a more somber tone. All this is setting up the last act of the movie. Spielberg is allowing the story to breath before he throws us into the climax of the film. After Ryan’s story is done everything has been set up. We have had time to take a break from the war scene. The connection between Miller and Ryan has been set. And we the audience have a new found appreciation for Ryan and the kind of guy he is back home. This scene just goes to show Spielberg understands if we don’t care for the characters it doesn’t matter how magnificent the action is we will simply not invest.

 

Danny Boyle and Simon Beaufoy – Screenwriters – 127 Hours

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on April 29, 2014

Danny Boyle

I am not posting this to talk about how great of a visual it is. Although I want to point out really quickly how director Danny Boyle is using the rule of thirds in the way he frames this piece. The main character Aron is placed perfectly at the right third of the frame and his eyes are at the top third of the frame which is considered the most pleasing visual placement a character could be placed. Our eyes go to him right away. The digital camera screen also represents another framing device to focus us.

The reason for posting this image is to talk about how brilliant of a writing device Aron’s digital camera was for telling the story of 127 Hours (2010). For those who don’t know 127 Hours is a movie based on a true story about Aron Ralston who got his arm wedged between two rocks in the Utah Canyons. Most of the movie takes place with just Aron trying to get out of the nasty situation he found himself in. This kind of situation sounds very un-cinematic really and would be a hard sell for a studio to finance. The only reason Danny Boyle and writer Simon Beaufoy were able to get the financing is because they had both just earned a huge box office an Oscars for their last movie Slumdog Millionaire (2008). This movie could have easily have become boring in a hurry. Most of it revolves around just one character who is stuck in one place. Audiences usually rely on changing environments and character interactions to boost their interest. Danny Boyle and his crew needed to find a way to keep this situation interesting and let us know what is going on inside Aron’s head. Where in most situations the audience can get a clue about the psyche of a character through how he or she interacts with other characters Aron is by himself. Thus in comes the digital camera.

The digital camera is actually an item the real Aron had when he got stuck. The writers Danny Boyle and Simon Beaufoy were able to see some of the videos Aron had shot from his time stuck in the canyon. However, Boyle and Beaufoy were less interested in re-shooting exact footage of what Aron shot and more interested in using the digital camera as a tool to tell their story. During the movie Aron begins to turn on the camera periodically to give updates of his situation. We are first exposed to Aron’s more practical side. He explains how he has tried to get out, how his body is feeling, and how much water he has left. After a time Aron begins to go inward. He begins to talk about how stupid he was to not leave a note for where he was going. He begins to explore the idea he might not get out alive and uses the camera to express some of his regrets and say his final goodbyes. By doing this we get inside Aron’s head and are able to track his arc. The more malnourished Aron gets the more vulnerable he is with the audience. When he is giving his updates Aron is staring the audience directly in the face. The term used when a character does this is breaking the fourth wall. By doing this a special connection is created between the audience and Aron. The brilliant thing is the writers found a way to break the fourth wall without making us feel their main character is addressing an alternate universe like you see in most movies where they break the fourth wall – such as House of Cards and The Wolf of Wall Street.

Beaufoy said they would not be able to tell the story if they didn’t have Aron’s digital camera. The logs Aron makes serve so many different purposes. We also see the camera’s battery slowly going down suggesting there is only a limited time Aron has left. The great thing about movies like 127 Hours is it forces you to think outside the box. The goal is to allow the audience in so they can feel they are part of the Story. With Aron’s digital camera we were able to see Aron at his most vulnerable. It just goes to show working with limitations can be the inspiration for the most creative solutions.

Martin Scorsese – An Observation – Character Studies

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on April 23, 2014

Scorsese #2One of the reasons movies like Goodfellas, Taxi Driver, and his latest The Wolf of Wall Street rub audiences the wrong way is because of director Martin Scorsese’s determination to not show the big picture. What Scorsese is interested in is the individual perspective. Almost all his films revolve around an individuals point of view and Scorsese is unwilling to leave that point of view for sentimentality or political-correctness. He has faith his audience will bring a broader perspective to the films they are watching, but Scorsese is focused on showing a world seen through the lens of his flawed characters. This is what makes Scorsese’s movies so interesting.

The first Scorsese film I chose to watch when I started studying him was Taxi Driver (1976). After seeing the movie I couldn’t believe how frustrated it made me feel. “Gosh”, I thought, “they said this guy was a good director!” What I saw was a completely unlikable character, in Travis Bickle, with little arc. I first thought I just picked the wrong movie. However, after watching Raging Bull (1980), The Aviator (2004), and Shutter Island (2010) I found the same problems arose: the characters were all hard to warm up to and there was little to no character growth. In fact, one of my first papers on Scorsese revolved around the problem I had with the lack of arc in his films (check out the paper here).

After listening to many of Scorsese’s interviews and commentaries I began to realize he was never interested in movies about characters who ended up overcoming their flaws and winning the day. I don’t believe Scorsese felt capable of telling many of those kinds of stories in an authentic way. Most of Scorsese’s movies don’t revolve around huge life altering events that send his characters on specific adventures. He is actually known for his lack of interest in narrative driven films. And, though I still hold to my point I made years ago about Scorsese not having much of an arc for his characters, I have come to realize that has never really been his intent. What he wants us to see is the effect a changing environment has on his unwavering characters. Again and again in Scorsese films we observe characters who are unable to change and adapt to the shifting world around them.

We see the characters in Scorsese’s films show their inability to adapt to a changing world in many different ways. In Gangs of New York there is Bill The Butcher. From most accounts audiences considered him the most interesting and colorful character in this Scorsese epic. Bill deals with a the world around him by demanding it stay the same. The story takes place in the city of New York during the Civil War. This represents a huge evolution in the United States, yet Bill refuses to acknowledged it. He tries his hardest to keep New York the same way it has always been. He ruthlessly undermines newly elected officials and continues to hold onto his hatred towards immigrants and African Americans. Bill represents the old New York. I believe this character most resonated with Scorsese because he also fell in love with a New York (the place he grew up) which has since gone away.

In the movie Goodfellas change is dealt with in a completely different way. The main character of the movie is gangster, Henry Hill, and unlike Bill The Butcher he is not in a position where he could force his environment to stay the same. The first half of the movie shows us exactly why Henry is the kind of guy he is. We see how enticing life as a gangster can be. Scorsese brilliantly displays the glamor, excitement, and power that comes with gangster life and then he pulls the rug out from under Henry. Soon the struggle for power puts friends against friends. Henry’s luxurious lifestyle and excessive amounts of money get him into drugs and allow him to support mistresses which in turn brings more chaos to his life. He soon finds he can’t support the glamorous life he and his wife have grown accustomed to and things begin to crumble around him. Though you can’t say Henry’s lifestyle ends up benefiting him in the end, there is no attempt to show Henry having regret for the life he lived. He doesn’t seem to feel remorse for cheating on his wife and helping to cover up the murders of several people. At the end of the story we see his situation change dramatically but he is no different.

If you enter a Scorsese movie wanting to see characters come to their senses or pay for their crimes I am afraid you will be disappointed. The latest Scorsese film, The Wolf Of Wall Street, is proof of just how little Scorsese cares about appeasing his audience byshowing any kind of justice or redemption. The protagonist of the film is one of the most despicable men you will ever see, Jordan Belfort. The film revolves around a team of stockbrokers, lead by Belfort, who cheat, lie, and double cross their way to the top of the Wall Street food chain. The film is based on a true story yet not even a second of the film is focused on any of the many thousands of people Belfort ruined because of his scams. Instead we are are exposed to an excessive amount of drug use, prostitution, and partying. Many asked what the point of the movie was. I don’t think Scorsese had a particular message he wanted to send. However, I think he made the movie because he wanted to get into the head of someone who could do such damage without thinking twice about it. Scorsese didn’t show any of the victims of Belfort’s schemes because Belfort didn’t care about his victims. As I said at the top of this post, Scorsese is relying on his audience to bring a bigger picture to his movies.  His job is to show us an unflinching example of what goes into the mindset of a character like Jordan Belfort. Scorsese isn’t interested in having us like Belfort, but rather he wants us to understand him. Like the movie or not Wolf Of Wall Street produced a huge amount of dialogue about the corruption of Wall Street. This dialogue was generated because of Scorsese’s unwillingness to create false sympathy for the character of Belfort and because of Scorsese’s ability to let us see through the eyes of such a corrupt character. The movie forced us inside the head of a man few of us would ever care to know in the real world.

Scorsese is completely focused on transporting his audience inside his characters head. In fact, what almost all Scorsese films have in common is they are deep character studies. Scorsese wants his audiences to be consumed by his characters. And once we are in his characters heads, he refuses to let us out. We end up seeing the world of Scorsese’s protagonists rather then the world we know. In the commentary for Taxi Driver the film professor Robert Kolker talked about how we don’t know what is real or not in the movie because Travis Bickle isn’t seeing the world in a realistic way. The same could be said to an even greater degree for the movie Shutter Island. (SPOILER) At the end of Shutter Island we learn the whole story we just watched isn’t real at all but was simply imagined by the protagonist, Teddy Daniels (END OF SPOILER).

Scorese’s focus on the psyche of his characters is obsessive. Scorsese wants us to question what we thought we knew about people in this world. Repeatedly he refuses to give us characters we can completely root for or against. Instead he shows his audience a much more colorful world, filtered through the eyes of his protagonist. We can see ourselves being entranced by the same demons that send people like Travis Bickle, Howard Hughes, and Jordan Belfort into madness. And, we are never given any easy answers as to how to fix their problems. Instead we are made to come up with the answers for ourselves. In many ways it would be easier for Scorsese to create an out for himself by giving into the audiences desired outcomes for the characters in his films. But it is by forging his own path and taking an unflinching look at the people he concentrates on that Scorsese has become one of the most admired filmmakers in the world.