Author: Ivan Phillips

[Book Review] Crazy Screenwriting Secrets by Weiko Lin

Introduction

A good script can provide the recipe for a good film. Screenwriting itself is a craft which can be attempted by pretty much anyone, but it can be very difficult to master. A decent script can transform or take away from a film’s appeal. While a movie can be universally popular, not every film is internationally successful. While Hollywood system films still dominate the film industry, it is harder and harder to ignore new markets across the world which yearn for something new, something fresh – and I would argue, that it all starts with the script. So, what makes the script of a film interesting? What does it need to achieve? Why does script form the foundation of a film? And how can we bring new and different stories to a international audience?

Crazy Screenwriting Secrets is a book which tackles the question of global film appeal and examines it through a screenwriting lens. It’s written in a comfortable and interesting way, expressing the core practical tenets of scriptwriting. The book also gives an introduction into practices of both Hollywood and Chinese film industries with a thesis of global inclusion – which is one of the reasons why I enjoyed the book so much! Weiko Lin, the author, is a writer and producer who has written major film projects in both Asain and Westen markets. He has also taught at many prestigious institutions including UCLA, Northwestern University and Taipei National University of the Arts. Weiko bridges the gap between the Chinese and American film industries in order to find both an interesting and unique global filmmaking viewpoint.

 

Content: An Universal Outlook With Practical Solutions

Lin organises the book into two parts over five chapters. The technical side of screenwriting covers things like Story Ideas, Characters and the Screenplay, etc. The second part looks into the actual practical side of the craft. That is to say, he looks at concepts such as the U.S. market and how to work within it, as well as the Chinese film industry and its own brand of global appeal. The book goes through the tools that you need in order to write, how to construct a script and how to work in both the Hollywood industry and the Chinese filmmaking industry. It also lays out the craft of screenwriting through explaining various practical elements and discussing how to practically achieve them. He explains what industries standards to use (Final Draft software etc.), methods to conceptualise story ideas and how to present your script in the best way possible to potential buyers.

Weiko also takes the reader on a short trip around the scriptwriting profession- explaining the workflow from screenplay to screen, a couple of managerial agencies that he recommends as well as film schools that he has either been an alumni at or has connections too. It’s not a full list of recommendations or a comprehensive guide for a writing career but it can give you an understanding on what to look for. Furthermore, he briefly touches on legal concepts such as copyright rules for scripts and the Writers Guild of America union which are a small but essential part of a practical real world guide to the craft of scriptwriting.

My favourite ideas of the book must come from the section about the global appeal of Hollywood structure and how it can be used to for maximum effect for ‘universal movies’. Citing examples such as Slumdog millionaire, Brokeback Mountain, Get Out, Crazy Rich Asians, etc . Weiko explains that these films have critical and blockbuster success because of the few things they have in common. They take advantage of a culturally and ethnically inclusive storyline, they don’t preach to their audience and simply put, are good movies! Weiko also briefly mentions the unique aspects of the Chinese film industry, how it is organised, what material can (and can’t) be used in a screenplay and the particulars of Chinese networking. I really enjoyed this section of the book – as alongside this, Weiko also mentions various different examples of recent Chinese films which are critics’ favourites and what is popular in terms of box office appeal. As someone who is very much interested in the emerging Chinese film market, it’s a great opportunity to see what new gems to look out for.

 

Style: A Foodie’s Approach To Film

The book is also blessed with a style which is both easy to digest and refined. It’s is a nice length, and does not go into irrelevant detail – in fact, I could have had a second helping of it! Weiko uses recent and popular film examples in order to illuminate his points about how best to go about organising genre and structure. It also is written in a way which pays homage to its cultural roots as food is used to draw an analogy between it and scriptwriting in multiple, illuminating ways. To put it simply, you can’t have a good three act structure without a decent recipe to make it!

What if you walked into a McDonalds and the Big Mac was missing from the menu? Or it takes thirty minutes to get your meal? The Big Mac is a staple and that’s not the speed you expect from a fast food restaurant. It would be frustrating. The same goes for movies. There is a certain build up and momentum the audience has come to expect from films just as they expect a certain menu, food preparation, and promptness from a restaurant franchise.

Weiko’s passion for both food and film is consistantly used to ground the book in an easily digestable way. Both the Chinese and American cultural and social understanding of film shine within the book to create something unique and global. Finally, it primarily focuses on the essentials which makes it the book an easy recommendation to either beginners or writers from another medium looking for a good introduction into the craft of screenwriting.

 

Conclusion

Weiko Lin is a writer with a deep passion for film and food, which is reflected in the book itself. It combines the cultural footprint of his background with a lifetime of valuable experiences for a tasty and unique approach. While other screenwriting books may be more detailed or have more in-depth examples, this is a great start for a script-writer looking to write in a style which takes advantage of the increadly successful hollywood story construction and a global outlook on filmmaking.

If you are interested in learning more about scriptwriting or just want to learn more about film, please take a look at our short courses section on our website. Currenty, we are running a few things geared towards writing in film such as the weekend Script Analysis for Directors course, the weekend Script Supervision Masterclass and a 5 part series on scriptwriting starting at the end of July.

Filed under: Book Review, Filmmaking, Filmmaking CareerTagged with: , , , , ,

Understanding Post-Production with Lawrence Jordan

In Los Angeles last weekend, the 1st ACE TechFest took place, which is a festival for post-production and those interested in editing in the LA area. Featuring talks by industry professionals and editing software companies, it’s a great opportunity for people in the area to be able to see the up and coming technologies being developed in the editing field. One veteran editor, Lawrence Jordan has worked on over 45 feature films and television, as well as running his own course in editing and post-production called Master The Workflow. I was fortunate enough to be able to talk to him over Skype about the festival, his course, how one gets into the field of editing in the first place and what it takes to succeed!

 

IVAN: Thanks for reaching out and agreeing to me interviewing you. It’s fantastic to be able to talk to someone who has worked in the industry for such a long time with such an obvious passion for the craft of editing and post-production. I would like to start by asking you about the difference between these terms; for me editing is a term which is distinct in terms of a visual specialisation, while post-production is a catch-all term for editing, sound, vfx etc. Would you say that’s accurate?

LARRY: Yes, I think it is very accurate. The world of post-production is a very broad spectrum and it’s growing all the time with the development of new tools and technologies… Editing is the specific task of managing the content and creating stories. In my particular case, thematic or comedic stories that will play in the feature film or television format. So post-production involves everything from ingesting the film, preparing it for an editor, editing. As well as the other departments that you work with, such as sound, visual effects, music, colour correction, finishing, mastering and preparing for delivery.

IVAN: I wanted to ask you about skills and qualities that you might want to look for in someone who wanted to get into editing. Do you think that it can all be taught or is there a particular aspect of editing which is an inbuilt talent?

LARRY: I think that it’s both. You can have an instinctual talent towards the creative arts, and… might have a more natural inclination towards editing than someone who might gravitate towards a more left-brain field. I do think that the skill of editing can be taught and anyone who has the attachment to film can get good at editing over time. The actual editing, the creative part is a whole other side of the editing field that quite often we don’t even discuss. I like to believe that we discuss it particularly in our course. We teach about the interpersonal relationships between the directors, the producers, the rest of the crew as that’s a very big part of being an editor. You have to know how to work with the rest of your team in a diplomatic way because you work with a lot of creative individuals and as an editor, you’re not running the show. You’re providing a service to the director, producers and of course the studio. So there’s an art to that and I think that’s something that people don’t get a lot of information about when they’re looking at becoming a professional editor.

IVAN: I was wondering if you could tell me a bit more about Master The Workflow and if you think that the course that you created is a kind of alternative to a more traditional film school experience?

LARRY:  I would never discount a film school education. It’s a wonderful thing to have the ability to spend three or four years or so studying film, studying filmmakers and learning storytelling, as it’s invaluable. However, film editing is a craft and a trade. There are very specific steps that transpire in the film editing process and there’s also a well-established path to becoming a film editor. Again, this isn’t true in all cases, there are people who become film editors, maybe teaching themselves how to edit, then somehow meeting a director who sees their work and boom they’re on their way. Unfortunately in Hollywood, the studios are reticent to hire people without some kind of track-record of credits, so you obtain these credits by working your way up the ladder. You become a post-production PA, show your drive, passion and dedication and you’ll become an assistant editor. Then depending on the kind of relationships that you can develop with your editor… sometimes that editor sees your abilities and says… ‘here, I’ve got too much on my plate, you take this thing and give it a shot’. They go over the material with you, and give you notes and it’s really a sort of dry run of what you’ll actually be doing when you become an editor with a director. I would say that’s the kind of path that happens the majority of the time but… there are all kinds of exceptions to the rule.

IVAN: I would like to move on to how someone gets into a career in editing. Is it still a case of ‘It’s who you know, not what you know’, are there alternative ways of getting know or getting interesting projects?

LARRY: It’s changed a lot since I got into the business and it used to be, not just in editing but all the crafts, it really was – ‘do you a relative or contact which can get your foot in the door’? It was kind of a closed network. Of course, with digital technology it’s put the power of editing and cinematography, for that matter, in so many more people’s hands. So the industry has had to adapt and open the doors to a much larger group of people, and also by necessity because so much more content is being created… So the whole thing is really is going where the work is, going where the filmmakers are, so of course that’s Los Angeles, New York, London, Sydney, ‘where are the films being made’? If you want to work on long form dramatic projects, features and television. We like to believe that… our course is a real specific set of instructions that will teach you the workflow as it is practiced in on feature films and television. I’ve made over 45 films and television shows, Richard Sanchez who I co-developed the course with, has worked with over 20 shows. It’s an interesting contrast between Richard and I because he came in through a program which allowed people who have not traditionally been able to get their foot in the door and he’s done exceptionally well. He was most recently the visual effects editor on Catch-22, the mini-series produced by George Clooney, and he didn’t know anyone in the business but through networking and his desire to become a film editor he was able to do it. So it’s networking, it’s going to industry events, it’s being on the specific facebook groups and other internet forums, where you’re going to build your network. Unfortunately it doesn’t happen overnight it’s a slow process, but the older I get the more I realise that it’s not such a slow process, it’s just the path of someone’s career and I’ve been doing this for 40 years, I’m still making new contacts, I’m still learning new things and I still have a passion for film editing and filmmaking in general. I get a thrill when I get a project which I’ve just done coming of Netflix, and that’s the kind of thing you need to have, to not get demoralised because things aren’t happening as possible, you just have to stay creative and figure out what’s your next step.

IVAN: I can imagine. There must be distinct challenges when it comes to just organising what each person does and making sure it all runs on time.

LARRY: Well, the film industry has evolved into a fairly specific workflow… The way it’s traditionally organised and the way I work is I have a first assistant who’s like my right hand person who will filter out all the tasks which need to be done to all the rest of the assistants and quite often to the other departments. I’m usually in the bunker with the director trying to cut the film and that can be quite time consuming in itself. So, for example, my first assistant will start out doing the dailies, doing production, getting the material to cut scene by scene. It’s just like a tree, it grows out from there. Once visual effects start coming in, there’s a visual effects editor… they’ll be assigning tasks to the assistant to help them be sure that the workflow continues to move forward. Then there are other tasks when there’s such a huge workload. For example, the film that I’m working on for Netflix has over 200 hours of source material for a 90-minute film. There’s just not enough hours in the day for one assistant to manage that amount of material. Plus, having to make outputs for the studio, for producers, the director and managing all that takes a lot of people power.

IVAN: Moving on, I wanted to congratulate you on upcoming talk at the ACE TechFest. One of the fantastic things about the film industry, as you were saying before, is that we’re almost fuelled by these new developments and new changes in the industry as it is an essential part of the way films and TV are made. Are there any new applications or developments that stick out at you at the festival and what can young people interested in editing expect to find there?

LARRY: The ACE TechFest was created as a way for people working in the Los Angeles area to get an inside track on what happened at the NAB show at Las Vegas, because a lot of us don’t have a week or so to take off and go find out about all the new fantastic technologies and toys. So the folks over at ACE decided to hold this conference at Universal Studios this weekend to let people know whats happening… Avid will be showing a completely revamped version of their media composer, which is the primary tool of the majority of editors in Hollywood. Adobe will be there showing all their new tools, they’re making a lot of inroads in features and television… they haven’t been the industry standard for a long time but adobe has some great product and really want to meet the needs of editors. Blackmagic will be there. These are the major sponsors and then there will be some other new technologies about how editors can be working remotely. There’s a new company called Evercast, which was developed by an editor and I think that’s something that we’ll see more of on the horizon, as that’s just the way things are going. People work in all different parts of the world, and editors are in one place, and directors are in another place and production is in another place, so I think remote editing is an interesting thing. Editing in the cloud will be an interesting thing to see a little more about.

IVAN: Great, I just have one last question. Are there any particular projects or moments in your career that stick out to you as highlights?

LARRY: Well, there are so many. And there are as many as an assistant editor as there are as an editor. I’ve worked with so many talented directors and producers. As an assistant I worked on Back to The Future, my boss won the academy award for supervising sound editor. Going to Amblin studios, screening the film and having Steven Spielberg come in after the first cut is a thrill that I’ll never forget. Another experience as an assistant was working on War of The Roses for Lynzee Klingman, (academy award winning editor) and Danny Devito was the director and he was such a fun guy to work with and just made the experience, and it was such a hard experience! We worked a lot of hours and it was a complex film and Danny would install a lunch table in backyard where we were working and he would put in a Cinzano umbrella on top and order food Italian food from New York delis. And as an editor, cutting a film for Kiefer Sutherland and being in the preview and still back the film days and hoping that the splices wouldn’t fall apart and there are so many experiences that I can’t remember them all.

IVAN: Well thank you for your time, good luck with the release of your new Netflix film as well as your talk at ACE TechFest!

 

*This interview has been edited for brevity and time constraints

Filed under: Filmmaking, Filmmaking Career, Interviews, Post-Production, Technical CraftTagged with: , , , ,

[BOOK REVIEW] Secrets of Screen Directing, By Patrick Tucker

Meeting Patrick Tucker is an experience that you will never forget. He is a tutor at Raindance and is teaching masterclasses on directing and screen acting. A master of his field, he has directed over 200 theatre plays and around 200 television programmes for over 40 years, and he has taught screen direction all around the world for a large period of his life. His expertise in the theatre has given him a golden touch for getting the best out of his actors. As well, his prowess with the camera itself comes from an early background in physics.

When I took my very first class at Raindance (a very enjoyable Saturday Film School), he arrived as a guest lecturer to educate us on the most effective way to use our actors in front of the camera. He is a man who taught us as a consummate professional, as well as being highly entertaining. I am very happy to be able to review his book Secrets of Screen Directing as through it, I have picked up many tips and ideas for film direction. As someone who constantly reads about cinematography and working behind the camera, it is a fantastic advantage to be able to learn more about filmmaking from the adjacent viewpoint of a director (and a skilled one at that!).

 

Patrick Tucker, Hands-On Directing

Content

The content of the book itself concerns the skills and attributes needed by directors to get the best results possible for their work. Going from planning, to production and editing, this book focuses on the craft of storytelling, the career of a director and much needed practical problem solving methods. For example, the book’s introduction discusses a foundational truth of filmmaking: that the concept of truth can obscure the artistic and dramatic tension of the screen. Rather, Tucker expresses that an excellent artist bends the truth to fit their means. Furthermore, he discusses the importance of counterintuition in order to find more effective practices in screen directing. However, these discussions are just settings for the main course! Throughout the book, Tucker explains how to use the 180-Degree rule effectively, how to create and perform different types of shots, getting the best out of the cast and the crew on a shoot, as well as working well with an editor, plus much much more.

Throughout the book, Tucker expresses all of these complex concepts using common sense ideas weaved together with varied examples from cinematic history. He also uses handy diagrams and examples to further illustrate his points. While these are simple drawings, they are an easy guide for understanding the set-up of shots, how they are achieved, cutting from one shot to another, and other practical functions. The book has a wide range of examples from film/television and most are cited with a time code pointing to  the scenes relevant to the chapter. This is very useful if you feel the need to do additional research on the topics that are discussed in the book. There is also a brilliant appendix which outlines phrases and ideas that will be useful for those starting out in the industry or simply need to learn more about the technical details.

 

Patrick Tucker Hands-on Directing

 

While the book has an obvious focus on screen direction, Tucker discusses how to work with DOPs and other crew members. Unfortunately, there is a little less information on the relationships between crew and director that I would have personally liked, compared to the information about how to direct actors. However, it is also possible that there is simply not enough space in the book to be able to talk about every little idea that a director must learn in order to be an effective filmmaker. Furthermore, I also understand (especially considering Tucker’s perspective) that this is the director’s burden- that you can’t expect to always be friends with your crew and you must know when to be a tough taskmaster, or just “a good Mummy to them all (the producer, of course, is Daddy)”.

 

Final Thoughts

However, the positive aspects of this book far outweigh any small gripes. It focuses on immediate and simple solutions – it is a great resource for filmmaking students, early career directors and amatuers looking to find more out about the role of directors. The combination of experienced advice and practical examples has created a fantastic guide. One which is both a great handbook for screen directing, and an interesting exploration into filmmaking.

 

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The Cinematography of Drive (2011): Light, Shadow And Composition

Hello, I’m Ivan! I’m the new intern here. I am very interested in cinematography and would love to show you some fantastic examples of the art. This week I would like to talk the 2011 film, Drive directed by Nicolas Winding Refn.

https://film-grab.com/2012/07/01/drive/#jp-carousel-9202

The director of photography for the film was Newton Thomas Sigel. He has been working in his field for more than 40 years. Futhermore, he has helped create the visual style for films such as The Usual Suspects (1995), X-Men (2000) and Bohemian Rhapsody (2018). His cinematography has been a massive influence on the superhero, crime and war film genres. This understanding and experience of the rules of cinematography are exemplified in Drive. It is a fantastic study into creative lighting, thoughtful composition, economic shot and camera usage. Therefore, film is a must watch for anyone who wants to see fantastic practical application of skilled cinematography. Before I go into more detail, please have a watch of this short scene in which some of the movie’s core photographic aesthetics are laid out.

One of the things that I find most impressive about this scene is its ability to form meaningful narrative progression without dialogue. This is in part because of the composition of each shot! Notice as well the slow-motion from shot 6 through to shot 8 as it dims the light in combination with the kiss. Through camera action and disjointed rhythmic editing in 26 shots, a story beat (of the main protagonists romance) is established, followed through and completed.

Deep Shadows and Bright Lights

Preparation and planning of lighting in scenes was essential to create the dreamy look of the film. The urban environment of the L.A. night-time setting has a fantastic atmosphere, with dots of neon piercing the darkness of the city perfectly representing the film’s lighting philosophy.

In many interior shots and exposition scenes, a stylised lighting system is used, which often suggests emotional reflections in the characters. This system priorities deep shadows and bright lights to create high contrast ratio lighting in certain scenes.

https://film-grab.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/25.jpg

The lighting system transforms even the most dry exposition scenes into something quite interesting as every facial expression and reaction is given a dramatic twist.

Moving onto the action set pieces, the three car chase scenes in the film stand out for multiple reasons as all require radically different lighting scenarios. Lighting gels and other LED uses were designed by the camera department to be used on car bonnets and dashboards without being particularly visible. Other cameras were set up in fixed camera positions in order to avoid re-shooting costly stunt scenes.

Shot Economy and Camera Usage

The film was shot primarily on an Arri Alexa. While shots on car dashboard and hood are Cannon 5d MII and Iconix HD-RH1 (because of their smaller size). Prime lenses were used for the car interiors, as it allows for a bit more light to get into the camera compared to zoom lenses. Placement and shot amount was also very important to provide coverage for a shoot with a limited amount of time to pre-produce and film.

https://film-grab.com/2012/07/01/drive/#jp-carousel-9214

Speaking to the ASC, Sigel explains that he “was intrigued by the look I could get shooting available light downtown”. The Arri Alexa was used for its ability to shoot high ISO exposure without producing much noise. This was essential for having a large dynamic range of light in the nighttime shots.

Compositional Theory: Opposites and Reflections

One more important aspect of the film is its use of composition. Using both sides and the top/bottom of the frame to show information acts as a quadrant system for the film. It also shows off the complex shot divisions while telling the audience much more than what can be said through dialogue.

Tony Zhong expresses this well in his Every Frame a Painting video: “The director, by emphasising different quadrants, can create shots that are both tightly composed and weirdly unpredictable.”

Final Thoughts

Drive is an accomplished piece of work from a fantastic director working alongside a pro cinematographer with 40 years of experience. The director, Refa has gone on to make some very interesting films such as the Neon Demon (2016) and Only God Forgives (2013). Seigal brought his artistic intuition and professional experties to express the director’s vision of a modern L.A. mythology.

If you enjoyed reading more deeply into the art of cinematography, you may be interested in some of Raindances’ courses on the technical processes of filmmaking. Interested in learning more about using DSLR cameras? We have just the course for you! How about exploring the mysterious practise of editing? There is a brilliant editing basics course for that. If you want to learn the foundations of cinematography from a fantastic and experienced cinematographer we have a basic course coming up soon!

Sources and Thanks:

The Raindance team!

‘Drive’: The Unexpected Urban Western – Jessica Fowler

Shot by Shot Podcast: The Perfect Shots of ‘Drive’- Film School Rejects

Photo stills of Drive (2011)

Interview from Oct 2018 ASC- Road Warriors interview with Newton Thomas Sigel and Nicolas Winding Refn

Technical specs info for Drive (2011)

The Warm Light of a Dark Day: The Cinematography of ‘Drive’- Chris Magdalenski

Filed under: Directing, Filmmaking, In Our OpinionTagged with: , , , , ,