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!

J. Edgar- Review

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on November 13, 2011

J. Edgar is a fantastic portrait of one of the most powerful men of the 20th century. The film spans more then five decades, yet the filmmakers seem to express exactly what they want without anything feeling rushed. Leonardo DiCaprio’s portrayal of J. Edgar Hoover is in my opinion the greatest performance of his life. He walks the delicate line between the image the public knows Hoover as being- a stuck up man set in his principles, and the J. Edgar hidden away from the public eye- a man deeply conflicted between a need to please a unbending authoritarian mother and wanting to follow his emotions for his life long companion Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer). The movie has and will be criticized for not being as thrilling or as epic as the public seems to think the name dictates. Yet, I am pleased Clint Eastwood showed restraint and let us get to know J. Edgar on a personal level rather then following the endless amount of speculation and exaggeration that comes with such a private and powerful figure.

Clint Eastwood’s delicate use of special effects transports us back to the 1920 and brings us through the 1960’s beautifully. Eastwood’s simplistic old school way of using the camera compliments these time periods. We are given a clear and rich environment for the story to take place. The film starts with J. Edgar in the 1960’s expressing his past in a favorable light, dramatizing events he took part in and putting himself into events he was never part of. When showing Edgar’s side of the story Eastwood creates noir look. The FBI is at times portrayed in the typical Hollywood light, far more dangerous and suspenseful then it usually was. However, the goal was never to thrill us with a bunch of gun fights between the FBI and the Mob. Instead, we are given a clear cut portrayal of how Edgar and the FBI rose to power.

It quickly becomes apparent that Eastwood is telling two stories of Edgar’s past, the one Edgar dictates to the young author who is writing his memoir and the more personal story of his relationship with his mother and Clyde Tolson. We begin to see Edgar’ flaws- how awkward he is with woman and how paranoid he is with those who don’t see eye to eye with him. Early in the movie Annie Hoover, played by Judi Dench, burdens her son Edgar in the only flashback of him as a child when she tells him, “you will rise to be the most powerful man in the country”. Annie is Edgar’s driving force. Judi Dench does a lot with little screen time. She represents a woman who was not given the opportunity to have power of her own so is living her life through the accomplishments of her son. Even at her deathbed she pushes Edgar to be strong and not give in. Annie bluntly forbids Edgar from indulging in his true feelings for his right hand man Clyde Tolson. This creates a tension between the two men that is carried all the way through the film. The chemistry between DiCaprio and Hammer is magnificent. The heart of the film is a love story between two men forbidden to express publicly their true feelings for each other.

J. Edgar is a story about a very flawed man who created a magnificent organization. It is easy to admire Edgar’s drive for excellence in this film. He is constantly refining the FBI, making it care more about order and the preservation of evidence. We see Edgar’s constant struggle with presidents in his career. The only president we actually have the benefit of seeing at any length however is Richard Nixon, played by Christopher Shyer. We also see Edgar interact with Robert Kennedy, played by Jeffery Donovan. Both actors portraying these two historical figures do a poor job. Richard Nixson is played as a stereotype rather then how the president would actually behave. Donovan’s unnaturally slurred Boston accent was a huge distraction and stopped me from connecting to his character. Yet, these two characters do not play huge roles and so do not interfere with the overall story.

In no way does the movie excuse J. Edgar’s blemishes. Hoover has a relentless ego that hurts his relationship with everyone around him. If he is questioned Edgar immediately assumes his opposer does not have America’s best interest at heart and begins to investigate him or her. He shows little affection for his life long secretary Helen Gandy (Naomi Watts) and is quick to accuse Clyde Tolson of not supporting him. Yet, with all the flaws we see in J. Edgar, there is a humanity few could have expressed as well as DiCaprio. The nuance of Dicaprio’s performance lies in the scenes when he is either alone or with people he trusts, where we can see the turmoil in J. Edgar’s heart. Most of Edgar’s inner feelings are expressed through looks rather then dialogue. We see a conflict in his mind when he is spies on President Kennedy, listens to his mom’s instructions, and when Clyde reveal the truth about who he is and what he really did in the 1930’s and 40’s.

Clint Eastwood’s simplistic piano score is perfect for this movie. His music was much more personal then a fully orchestrated score would have been. The movie does a fantastic job of jumping back and fourth between the 1960’s and 30’s-40’s. We are able to see the consistency of Edgar’s routine contrasted with the changing times. We see the relationship Edgar and Clyde have as old men and then are shown how they built their relationship. One distractions in the film was the old man makeup for specifically Armie Hammer. As a old man in the 60’s Hammer looks like he is wearing a mask that almost completely prohibits his ability to express emotion with his face. There are a few times where a little more expression would have done a world of good. Yet, the chemistry between the two actors overcomes this flaw and the last scene with Edgar and Cylde is one of the most touching scenes Eastwood has ever created.

Clint Eastwood is the master of underplay. His subtle touch to this Edgar story is what made this film work.  Eastwood embraced the eloquent screenplay of Dustin Lance Black and allowed his actors to dictate the direction of their characters. With his magnificent ability to trust the material and actors Eastwood gives us a film that is devoted to showing the heart of a deeply complicated man. Every scene increases our understanding of who J. Edgar is and the conflict that drives him away from those who love him and toward his ambitions to create a safer America. J. Edgar Hoover is loved and hated by many, this film does not take a side. Instead, it gives us insight to a man who thought he was untouchable.

Failure!

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on September 24, 2011

Film is a tricky medium. There is no formula on how to make a successful movie. You could think you did everything right and can still get bashed at the box office and by the critics. Worse yet, you can think you are giving your project all you got and still be personally disappointed with the final outcome. We work in a medium where failure is just part of the business. As filmmakers it is important to embrace failure. We all make mistakes and we all make pieces of art that we are not as proud of. We can learn from our mistakes and use the criticism of others to create a even better film the next time around. However, this doesn’t stop the fact that criticism usually hurts. As filmmakers we are asked to express our hearts with the images we put up on screen, yet people usually don’t think twice about criticizing us if what they see doesn’t match their standards. It is important to know when to stick to your guns even if you come out with something that is not accepted right away. There have been many great films that were hardly noticed until many years after their release. In the film business “failure” is sometimes up for interpretation. One man’s trash can be another man’s treasure.

One of the reasons I am so interested in studying the past and listening to extra features and interviews on other movies is because I want to learn from their experiences. I am not interested in just the good parts of filmmakers careers. I am just as interested in the low parts of people like Frank Capra, Walt Disney, and Steven Spielberg’s careers. If I can learn from their failures I won’t need to make the same mistakes myself. Looking into a lot of successful filmmakers lives is usually a very humbling experience. They almost always have one or two movies that were not very good. Even the directors themselves talk about regrets in their careers. It is important to understand how popularity can cloud a filmmakers judgment. Steven Spielberg has talked several times about how easy it is to stop working for the story and start working for the audience. When you stop thinking about what you want and start thinking about what your fans want you need to think about changing professions, Spielberg warned at Inside the Actors Studio.

Just because a movie fails in the box office and with the critics does not always mean it was a bad film. Great movies like Bambi, Citizen Kane, and It’s A Wonderful Life, were all bashed publicly when they first came out and were not recognized right away by the critics as being the masterpieces we see them as now. For both Orson Welles, director of Citizen Kane, and Frank Capra, director of It’s A Wonderful Life, the immediate failure of their masterpieces represented a fall from glory in their careers. Welles was never given complete control over a film project again and Capra seemed to lose his inspiration for the big screen. Neither of these filmmakers could have done much better in the creation of their films. However, we can still learn from their failures after the fact. Because Orson was never willing to work with Hollywood and create a more commercially oriented movie, he was never given as much artistic freedom again. Frank Capra allowed the worlds disappointment for It’s A Wonderful Life effect his creativity. There are times where we are going to need to kiss some butt in order to get more artistic freedom. And, there are times where we will be shunned by the public and still need to push on.

If we truly believe in the movie we have made, we will be willing to listen to criticism. We can only learn from failure if we understand the reason behind it. I personally don’t understand why many directors are not willing to listen to critics. Usually the critics who are getting payed to judge movies know something about filmmaking. I have found critics like Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times), Todd McCarthy (The Hollywood Reporter), and Drew McWeeny (HitFix), have informed and thought provoking opinions to why they like or dislike a movie. I don’t agree with everything they say, but they do give me a perspective I would not have without them. There are many people in this world who claim to know the right way of doing things and use that as an excuse not to be open to anyone else. This does not represent a confidence in their personal opinion, but rather a insecurity of potentially being wrong.

Ignorance will corrupt creativity. You must understand other perspectives if not for the sole reason to know why you stand against them. Usually the critics and the public can inform you about your film and show you it’s flaws better then you can. It is possible to get so consumed with your work that you can’t see the big picture. You might fall in love with a scene because you know how difficult it was to shoot. However, the audience comes in not knowing anything about production. They don’t care how hard it was to shoot the scene they just care about how it contributes to the story.

The bottom line is, it’s crucial to understand criticism and failure. Sometimes the failure is your fault, sometimes it’s not. Don’t let it destroy you. Remember, you need to play by the rules of the film business at times. We don’t make movies just for ourselves, we make them for everyone to see. Failure can build up strength in a filmmaker. Convictions are more often built through failure then they are through success. Hollywood will be angry if you give them the finger, but sometimes that is exactly what you need to do. Don’t do it out of ignorance. Be willing to listen and learn. But, what is just as important is being willing to stand on your convictions, even if some might not understand.