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!

Invisible Ink- Simplicity

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on April 12, 2011

In Invisible ink Chapter 2 we are introduced to the Seven easy steps to a better story.  In this post I will not be repeating the “seven easy steps”. To hear about them please buy the book. The underline point Brian McDonald was trying to make in the chapter however was a good one. He expressed his frustration with writers who usually try to create a overly complicated story.

What makes for a overly complicated story is when the writer tries to bring more plot into the story then what is actually needed. Simplicity is usually key when developing a story. Your job is to not lose the audience on the ride you are taking them on. You entertain the audience not through creating a twist at every corner but rather digging deeper into the story you do have no matter how simple it might be. You can have the most complicated plot imaginable, if you do not create a connection with your characters to the audience however, nobody will go along for the ride.

One of the masters at creating a connection between audience and character was Walt Disney. Hardly any Walt Disney movie was heavy in plot. He had simple beginnings, middles, and ends in almost all his movies. What Walt cared about was the connection between the audience and his characters. Walt was one of the first to push the cartoon industry into developing character personalities. In some of Disney’s first full length animated films, such as Pinocchio and Bambi, the first half hour involves hardly any plot at all. He just allows us to be introduced and get connected with his characters.

At the beginning of Pinocchio we are introduced to the cynical Jiminy Cricket and see him observe Pinocchio being turned to life. The whole movie is character driven. Walt does not do anything without the purpose of helping us understand Pinocchio more. The story line is simple; a toy puppet who wants to become a real boy. The first act consists of us understanding the toy maker Geppetto’s wish to have a real boy and seeing Pinocchio come to life to potentially fulfill that wish. The second act consists of Pinocchio’s wrong turns in his pursuit of becoming a real boy. The third act is about Pinocchio finally realizing his mistakes and setting out to save his father from Monstro, the whale. As a result Pinocchio sacrifices everything. The blue fairy comes and revives Pinocchio and turns him into a real boy creating the happily ever after ending.

Let me break it down for you. In the first act we are introduced to the environment and the characters. As Brian McDonald puts it, “It tells the audience everything they need to know to understand the story that is to follow”. In the second act the story actually begins. Everything should be cause-and-effect based on what happened at the end of act one. In Pinocchio the end of act one was hearing Pinocchio’s ambition to earn the right to become a real boy. The second act consists entirely of the mistakes Pinocchio makes in his efforts. If you are thinking it in visual terms, the second act consists of the climb to the top of the mountain.

The third act is when the character makes it to the top of the mountain only to find out he needs to face a dragon in order to survive. In Pinocchio’s case it was a whale. The third act begins at what ever point sets off the chain reaction for the climax of the picture. In Pinocchio you can say the third act begins when Pinocchio sets out to find his father. After defeating Monstro the whale and saving his father there is one scene showing Pinocchio being turned into a real boy and Jiminy Cricket closing the book to a happily ever after ending. As McDonald says, the key is to not have too much story after the climax of the film, just enough to let us all know life goes on.

The Pinocchio story was not overly complicated. As I said before, Walt was an expert at simplicity in his plots. However this does not mean the movie was easy to make. Disney and his artists worked very hard to figure out the meaning behind the stories he was telling. Creating meaning is actually the hardest part of storytelling. We as storytellers need to have something relevant to say.  I will touch up more on this subject in my next Invisible Ink post.

Instead of putting extra time into making a story more complicated, find ways to simplify it. Simplicity is key. What the audience wants is an interesting world to explore and characters to get to know. Understanding this is crucial. Plot can often get in the way of these things.

Just like the drawing on the top of the post, you must get rid of all the lines that are not necessary for telling the story you want to tell. With the medium of animation in general the filmmaker’s job is not to create a realistic replica of life. The filmmaker’s job is to simplify until all we see is a few lines that describe the characters and environments on screen. This simplicity allows the audience to follow the characters’ movements more easily and not get distracted by the backgrounds. Storytellers could learn a lesson from the medium of animation. All animation is, is a few lines that move creating the illusion of life. All storytelling is, is a few words put together in order to let our imaginations run free. Too many lines or too many words can ruin it all.