Category: Technical Craft

Filmmaker: Are You Handyman Or Contractor

Have you ever had a domestic technical issue? Like a leak, flood or a burnt electric circuit? Or, have you ever wanted a new bedroom closet or a room decorated. Who do you call?  Handyman Or Contractor? It’s a handyman of course. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with a good, old fashioned handyman.

A good handyman can handle a wide variety of jobs around the house. A handyman can even handle some relatively big jobs if given enough time.

But the really big jobs, like a attic conversion or extension or a whole new house you hire a contractor.

Anyone reading this post could become a pretty good handyman. Get a toolbox some basic tools: hammer, saw and drill. Read anyone of the plethora of “How-To Books“. Then watch some online how-to videos, and presto. You become pretty good.

Becoming a contractor is a much bigger deal.

A contractor needs to assemble a team of qualified specialists. A good carpenter, an excellent electrician, a skilled plumber and decorator, and so on. As the owner of the contracting company you also need to know about finance. You need to be able to manage cash flow to keep your employees happy with enough money left over to pay for the timber and nails you need each day for the job. You also need to know about local planning laws. You need a good knowledge of contracts. And you need to understand how to project manage a job from concept to drawing to actual execution.

Handyman Or Contractor

Filmmaking is no different to the construction industry.

You can learn some decent filmmaking practices from books and courses and become a pretty good “handyman” (or “handywoman”) filmmaker.

But building a filmmaking business? That’s like building a house.

You need to learn how to become a filmmaking “contractor.”

How Raindance started

I entered the film industry after leaving art school. I worked for three yers as a runner at the BBC in London. I worked on some of the most iconic British TV shows ever, such as Monty Python, Old Grey Whistle Test and Dr Who.

When I returned to Toronto in the late 70’s I worked as a freelance scenic artist on dozens of movies as a ‘handyman’. I am pretty good at turning a white studio wall into what looks like period barn boards using the decorative paint techniques I had learned in art school.

When I moved back to London in the late 80’s I realised my scenic painting days were over, and for a while ran my own building contractor company in London. It was called The Cheyne Gang. Most of our work was in the Cheyne Walk part of Old Chelsea. The property crash of the early 90’s put paid to that business. And that’s when i opted for a new career as ‘film contractor’ and started Raindance.

It’s taken me a long time to realise that the handyman or contractor expertise I had gained in housing would serve me well as a filmmaker ‘contractor’. And I want to share these “filmmaker contractor” strategies with you.

Questions a Handyman or Contractor need to answer

1.Are you the go-to Handyman? Or the go-to Company?

One freelance option is to become the go-to person. The trick is to become known as the person who can execute certain specific types of work. What’s your specialty? Is it sound? Makeup? Editing?

In the 2019 Raindance Film Festival trailer, we employed a range of handy persons:
Our London HND student Ivory Campbell was the brilliant art director. You’d want to work with her, right? The DOP was the excellent Zoran Velkovic, known for his ability to shoot under diverse and challenging conditions.  Again, another top notch portfolio piece. Jon Campling is a journeyman actor (about to explode to A-list) known for his enthusiasm, his ability to innovate and his distinctive looks. Who wouldn’t want Jon in their piece?

But director Simon Hunter had a vision for a ‘look’ that needed the services of a contractor. He needed a company with enough resources and manpower to execute 19 major special effects shots. And this was beyond the bandwidth or abilities of anyone I knew.

So we found an excellent contractor – a company that was skilled in a wide variety of post-production processes. We Are Tilt is a bunch of strategists, artists, filmmakers, animators, producers, illustrators, writers, coders and creatives.  The interface was between myself and director Simon Hunter on the Raindance side, and senior creative producer Ivor Sims, head of creative strategy Paul Mallaghan and head of motion Stig Coldham on the Tilt side.

These top creatives at We Are Tilt convinced us they could handle anything. And they did. On time and on budget.

2.Can you deliver?

It’s one thing to pitch and get the job. The next is to be able to deliver the goods. If you over promise and under deliver word will quickly spread that you aren’t very good. And your work will dry up fast.

When I first moved to Toronto from London I was desperate for work. Believing myself a reasonable handyman from my experience running the Cheyne Gang I decided to apply for some highly paid work decorating sets at the Canadian Broadcasting Company. At that time there was also the complication of union membership which I didn’t have.

Luckily for me, they were very short staffed, and the day I phoned up was a snow storm and half their normal crew couldn’t make it downtown. Since I could walk over I got the job.

The first task was to hang wallpaper on a row of flats about 100 meters long – something I had never done. I had only ever worked in paint. I told asked an old-timer how they liked their wall paper hung here, and he showed me. Luckily it wasn’t too difficult, and I was onto a ‘handyman’ carer as scenic artist working on 68 feature films and over 700 commercials. And I like to think that I kept getting call after call because I had a reputation or delivering. On time. On budget.

3. Can you promote yourself or your company?

OK. So you have the skills. Or you have assembled a diverse and passionate team. Can you get enough work and money coming in? Can you keep the lights on with enough left over for your humble living expenses?

How do you do that?

You advertise of course. And really the task of advertising both a handyman and contractor use the same basic principals. You need a great social media presence. You spend money creating good images of your work. And you try and get as many people as possible commenting on and commending you for your work.

Fade Out

Understanding whether you want to be a handyman or contractor will enable you to focus on the business, technical and creative skills you need to acquire. I am now going to laud the Raindance film training program’s. Why?
Because at Raindance we don’t teach film making. We make filmmakers. And both kinds of filmmakers: handyman or contractor.

Which one are you?

Filed under: Directing, Filmmaking, Filmmaking Career, Post-Production, Producing, Promotion, Marketing and Distribution, Screenwriting, Technical Craft

The Product Video Hack Nobody Tells Filmmakers

The Secret Hack that Artlist.io is Bringing to You

Video marketing has become vital to the success of a product, and getting the perfect shot can make or break your marketing effort. One of the most critical aspects of a product video is the background of your product. You need It to simultaneously blend with your product’s vibe and be interesting, but not too much so that it will overshadow your product.

One way to create a background is by using a green screen and adding it in post-production, but that can be time-consuming and costly. Other ways include painting a wall, lighting it with RGB lights or using a softbox. You can also attach a colored paper to cardboard and use it as a background.

However, there is a simple, cost-effective way to create different types of backgrounds, and it will not require you to compromise on the quality of your video. We recently used this hack when we shot our Life of an Indie Filmmaker commercial. As you’ll see, the result was seamless 

The Basics

The essence of this hack is creating a beautiful background for your product shots using a TV screen or a computer. Just open an image on that screen or create one with a graphics software. We like to use Photoshop, but you can choose whichever you prefer. Now that you have your screen background, just place your main object in front of it and there you have it – the perfect background for your product.

You can get super creative with different backgrounds or keep it simple with a solid color. To add glare to your shot, place your object on a reflective surface. If you want to enhance your glare, use a spinning platform like a lazy Susan.

The big plus of using this technique is the beautiful backlight you’re getting from the screen. The obvious drawback is the limited space you have to work with. 

To get the best results, we highly suggest using a tripod and a focal length of 35mm lens or up. Don’t forget to make sure to adjust your camera shutter and frame rates to avoid any flickering coming from the screen.

Beyond Product Video

You can also take this hack to the next level and get super creative with it. In the ad we shot, we used this hack to recreate a realistic subway car without actually leaving our studios.

First, we built a set wall of a subway car with a window in the middle, orange plastic chairs, a metal pole, a map and a few stickers to make it as real as possible. To tie everything together and make it look like a real, working subway car, we needed to fake the passing view from the window and make it look like the car is in motion. 

The obvious choice would have been to use a green screen, but we decided to go a different route. We created a looping background in Cinema 4D and played it on a TV screen which we placed behind the window. That helped us create realistic reflections from the car window with minimal post-production work. It also saved us time and money that we would have spent on gear for lighting a green screen.

To bring everything to life, we moved around an HMI light simulating the lighting of a moving subway while we physically rocked the whole set back and forth.

That’s a Wrap

So, if you’re doing a product video and you want to avoid post-production work or prefer not to deal with a green screen, use a TV or computer screen. You will be amazed by the result. 

Until next time, stay creative.

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Filed under: Filmmaking, Post-Production, Technical Craft

Zoom Vs. Dolly Shot: What’s the Difference

If you have something to do with the filmmaking world, you must have watched the recent informative video by Ryan Connolly from Film Riot. He talked about the dolly camera movement and zoom lens. 

Being a cinematographer, whenever I am watching TV shows or movies on the channels I have been provided by my Spectrum streaming, I am always examining the shots. I must say each filmmaker has their own taste when it comes to creating shots. These two motions look very similar but they are unique in their own ways. Therefore let’s discuss each in detail and learn the difference between the two shots. 

The Zoom Shot 

Zooming in is like magnifying what you are seeing. You don’t come close to the object or person, you just magnify the view without changing your physical location. To get closer, you zoom in and the object looks larger in the frame. As you get farther, you zoom out and the object starts looking smaller. In both cases, the camera remains at its initial position. 

Optically bringing an object further or closer to one’s view using a zoom lens somewhat resembles the forward and backward technique in the dolly shot. However, there is an obvious difference i.e. there is no parallax in lens zoom. 

The zooming technique is used when we want the viewer to focus on something in the frame. Hence, we make it view visually larger or smaller. 

The Dolly Shot

In the dolly shot, the camera or the lens doesn’t zoom in or out. The camera’s physical placement changes. If you are already familiar with what a dolly is, it would be easier to understand how a dolly shot works. Dolly is a platform that moves along a track. You are supposed to mount the camera on top of it. When you want to take the dolly shot, you make the cart travel closer/farther away from the person or object on the screen. The camera is pushed along with it. 

The process of moving closer is called dolly in and the process of moving away from the object is called dolly out. Along with moving the camera towards or away from the subject, you can also move it up/down, left/right or alongside the trajectory. With this technique, the audience feels as if they are physically moving within the scene. Dolly shot makes it look 3 dimensional because parallax is involved.

The camera can be moved manually or it could be automated using sliders operated by electronic motion control. When you are moving the camera manually, there are no brakes, you have to intervene to make it stop. There is also a technique called 360 Dolly shot that orbits around the subject by creating a dramatic parallax between the subject and its background. This technique can be seen in TV series Lost.

Combining Dolly and Lens Zoom

Dolly and lens zoom can be combined as well. There are many films in which these two techniques are used together. Jaws and Vertigo are two of the famous ones.

The camera moves forward and zooms out, and when it moves backwards, the lens zooms in. This technique is also known as push-pull and dolly zoom. The size of the subject in the frame remains the same whereas the scale of the environment is altered. You can slide the camera sideways and or zoom in or out. This creates an impression of moving on curved tracks. It’s just one example, the possibilities of using the dolly zoom technique are endless! 

How to Choose Your Shot

It’s totally up to you whether you want to use zoom or dolly shot independently or together. Director Luca Guadagnino did an interview with The Film Pie and explained that he prefers zoom shots. There have been a handful of films from the 70s and 80s that used traveling shots. This technique was used to save money and avoid scenes where one had to put a track down and push the camera long. That wasn’t just expensive, it was very time-consuming. Zoom becomes a short-cut for many filmmakers. Movies like The Innocent and Death in Venice had many zoom scenes.

Then, there are filmmakers who use the zoom technique for opposite reasons. A great example is set by Stanley Kubrick in the movie The Shinning. Zoom was used to express the subject strongly. 

Therefore, it actually depends on what you want to portray and what you are shooting. That determines which lens to use. It is quite fascinating for me. Over the holidays my movie sessions on Hallmark channel would be from a different perspective now – I will be noticing where they used the dolly and zoom shots. 

I hope it is clear what emotions these movements convey. Now, it will be easier for you to decide whether to incorporate zoom or dolly in your next shoot. 

Filed under: Filmmaking, Technical Craft

Music Videos Directed By Auteurs

Last week, Netflix released a 15 minute IMAX short film/music video Anima, starring Thom Yorke and featuring three songs from his new album of the same name. Directed by none other than Paul Thomas Anderson and shot by the great Darius Khondji, it’s something to behold. It’s also pretty significant that Netflix has commissioned what is essentially a music video by a filmmaker known more for his artistic value than commercial draw. To celebrate the release of Anima, here are some examples (by no means a definitive list) of great music videos directed by auteurs. Music videos, while not bound so much by narrative, are an opportunity for top film directors to experiment visually, and in some cases create incredible images that might never make it to the screen elsewhere. 

Thriller – John Landis

 

The most famous music video of all time. What else? John Landis, director-colossus of the late 70s and 80s, behind Animal House, Blues Brothers, An American Werewolf in London and Trading Places, directs this zombie-fuelled music video for the King of Pop. A gleefully metafictional comedy horror, Jackson and his girlfriend play out classic horror tropes in layers of movies-within-movies and nightmares, including a werewolf transformation and a zombie awakening. The zombies are pretty good dancers though.*

Bad – Martin Scorsese

Already the director of Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and The King of Comedy, Scorsese decided to collaborate with Jackson in 1987 with the longform ‘Bad’. It stars Michael Jackson alongside a young Wesley Snipes. It’s really a short film at 18 minutes long, and has a lot of dialogue with fluid scene cuts and narrative progression enveloping the actual song. Scorsese’s trademark camera movements are at play, initially in a blue washed monochrome, and then suddenly jumps into high saturation colour as Jackson switches from good school boy to “bad” boy.*

Karma Police – Jonathan Glazer

Jonathan Glazer is probably the one director on this list who might not be considered by everyone to be an auteur. But Sexy Beast and Under the Skin form an incredibly important part of British cinema, and have a pretty distinctive style while doing so. Radiohead used Glazer to direct ‘Karma Police’ in 1997, and he chose a desolate road in Middle America to shoot a fidgety yet eyes-glazed-over Thom Yorke to chase a man running in front of the car, only for a gas leak to enable the man to set the car on fire. It has strong imagery and pretty amazing cinematography, almost exclusively with a point-of-view camera in the driver’s seat of the car. 

Try – Paul Thomas Anderson

This Michael Penn music video is one very long take down an even longer (like ridiculously long) corridor. Paul Thomas Anderson utilises the Spike Lee staple “double dolly” shot, seen most recently at the end of BlacKkKlansman. Here the camera is dollying, but Penn himself is also on a dolly, so that it seems he is floating across the floor. What’s cool about this one in particular is that PTA pulls the rug from under us and breaks the fourth wall, actually revealing Penn to be on the dolly. The corridor keeps going on thanks to changes of direction and clever camera movement, and Penn travels through different scenes along different parts of the corridor. It comes together in an impressive one-take music video that in intricacy almost rivals the opening shot of Boogie Nights. Plus it’s got a cameo a pretty good cameo by Philip Seymour Hoffman as a soundie, but unfortunately not as Scotty J.

Across the Universe – Paul Thomas Anderson

Paul Thomas Anderson has directed some magnificent music videos. Another honourable mention might be Fiona Apple’s ‘Fast As You Can, where PTA seemingly changes the lens multiple times mid-shot as a train comes racing into a subway station. His best one, though, has to be the Fiona Apple cover of ‘Across the Universe’. A stylish black and white single take (or two) follows Fiona as a 50s set diner (from Pleasantville) is ransacked around her. It’s beautifully staged and executed as the camera seems mesmerised by Apple and forgets about the carnage around her. It’s pretty hard to figure out how she’s singing (and spinning) in time while everything being destroyed behind and in front of her is in slow motion, but that’s the cost of watching a master have the freedom of a big budget music video to play with. Spot the cameo from PTA regular John C. Reilly. 

Weapon of Choice – Spike Jonze

Spike Jonze has done a lot of music videos and adverts through his prolific career, and even has a WatchMojo video dedicated to his top ten music videos. Here is one that really shows his directorial skill, and shares similarities in its crazy weirdness to his feature films like Being John Malkovich. It stars Christopher Walken as a bored concierge who decides to dance (and fly) in the middle of the night in the Marriott Hotel in LA. Because, you know, it’s Christopher Walken, and he’s actually a professionally trained dancer. It won 6 MTV awards as well as being ranked ‘Best Video of All Time’ in 2002 by VH1.

Six Days – Wong Kar-wai

One of the most distinctive and idiosyncratic directors alive, and certainly one of the most influential, Wong Kar-wai’s style seems perfect for the music video medium. Parts of Wong’s films, like the Dinah Washington/Toy Airplane scene in Chungking Express, the final scene in Happy Together, and just about the whole of In The Mood For Love, use music as centrepieces of their scenes, almost as key to the story as the characters themselves. What would Chungking Express be without ‘California Dreaming’, or Happy Together without…, well, ‘Happy Together’? Here Wong teams up with regular DoP Christoper Doyle to shoot this video for DJ Prayer in 2002. It’s even filled with references to the number 426, a nod to Wong’s upcoming film at the time, and sort-of-sequel to ITMFL, 2046. It kind of feels like a Wong Kar-wai showreel, as he throws in all his staples; hyper stylish martial arts, people looking in lots of mirrors and a woman lying on a bed sensually (although presumably in a lot of pain as she gets a tattoo). It also features his signature style of quick cuts, fast, off-axis camera movement, step-printed slow-motion and neon-drenched lighting.

Honourable mentions:

‘Vogue’ (Madonna) – David Fincher

‘I Just Don’t Know What To With Myself’ (The White Stripes) – Sofia Coppola

‘Come Into My World’ (Kylie Minogue) – Michel Gondry

‘Paper Bag’ (Fiona Apple) – Paul Thomas Anderson

‘Here With Me’ (The Killers) – Tim Burton

*By including ‘Thriller’ and ‘Bad’ in this list, we’re considering the work of the directors and their cultural impact, and it is not an endorsement of the musician’s proclivities.

Filed under: Directing, Filmmaking Career, In Our Opinion, Technical Craft, Web ContentTagged 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: , , , ,

6 Iconic Hairstyles That Will Never Be Forgotten

Beyond acting, clothing, make up and hairstyle are a large part of character interpretation. Carrie Fisher, Audrey Hepburn and a lot of other actresses and actors launched popular styles by playing iconic characters. If these styles were surprising at the beginning, most of them became fashion along the years. Whatever they are, these hairstyles were copied, changed, and revisited by people of all over the world for decades. If people know these characters, it’s partly because of the iconic work of their hairstylists. Their haircuts gave them credibility and made the roles unforgettable, because years later, we can’t forget them…

 

Permanent Curls – Grease (1978)

Christine George and Charlene Murray (hairstylist and hairdresser) designed this style composed of height and volume that made Sandy Olsson (also known as Olivia Newton-John) remarkable. Who never dreamt to have the same blonde curls in the 80’s? Today, curls are still in fashion – and seem to be perennially fashionable – but the watchword “The bigger, the better” is over. Things had changed during these 40 years: now, hair doesn’t touch the sky and curls don’t rise so much. Permanents look more natural than 80’s ones, with wider and more curved curls.

 

Flat bob (and the lock!) – There’s Something About Mary (1998)

End of the 90’s, beginning of the 21st century… The time of long hair is over! The bobbed hairstyle is back, and Cameron Diaz (who plays the role of Mary) contributed a lot to the bob cut becoming fashion again. We all remember her hair lock – that never became fashion, fortunately! Let’s mention the key hair stylists who designed it: Voni Hinkle and Gunnar Swanson.

At the present time, the bob cut has a lot of variants: short, long, angled, or curly among others. More appreciated by middle-aged women a few years ago, now this hairstyle is worn by ladies of all ages and has become a trendy hairstyle, probably thanks to Lucy Hale and Emily Ratajkowski.

 

Bun – Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)

Nellie Manley designed this hairstyle for Audrey Hepburn. In Breakfast at Tiffany’s she wore her hair in a king-size but refined bun. She often added some jewels on her bun, the “chic detail” that made it a legend. We can say that she was one of the first (and not the last) to wear it on red carpets. 58 years later, the bun is always worn by a lot of women and it never goes out of fashion. This is clearly the most generalised hairstyle, thanks to its many variations: French twist, loose bun, low bun updo… Women can wear it on any situation, which makes the success of this hairstyle.

 

Double bun – Star Wars (1977)

The double (big) bun of Princess Leia was made by the hairstylist Pat McDermott. This hairstyle had been inspirited by the one of “Hopi” women, a Native American tribe, recognised for populating North America – and especially the Arizona state – from the 18th century, and who became known during the 20th century thanks to photography. These Hopi women are very involved in tribe social life, they have more power in society than men, and were enlisting men during the Mexican Civil War: the director George Lucas found these personality traits interesting for the character of Leia.  Carrie Fisher – who played Leia – confessed that the hairstyle took two hours every morning (and said she used to sleep in it at the same time, and woke up pretty!). But she also added that she didn’t really like this hairstyle. If some women do wear a double bun, we haven’t seen it that big for a while!

 

Red hair – The Fifth Element (1997)

At the time of its release, The Fifth Element was the most expensive European film ever made, with a budget of $90,000,000. Luckily, Luc Besson’s movie found a real success. The main actress, Milla Jovovich, playing the role of Leeloo, wears an acid orange blunt-cut bob. Even if there are a lot of other uncommon hairstyles in the movie, Leeloo’s is the most impressive one. Richard Ward took care of Milla Jovovich’s hair during the shooting. But a set secret is that Milla’s hair became damaged by the colouring process, and she had to wear a wig in some scenes to protect it. We couldn’t say that this hairstyle inspired a lot of people (expect maybe punks), but for sure it made the character – and the movie – unforgettable.

 

Pigtails – The Addams Family (1991)

The Addams Family – directed by Barry Sonnenfeld – is the film adaptation of the 1964 same-titled series, based on Addam’s cartoon characters. So, as you can guess, the Addams family has persisted for years ! The little “Wednesday” performed by Christina Ricci, Addams’ daughter, has strange – and dark – hobbies. Apart from her black clothes contrasting her pale face, her hairstyle is the key detail of the character. Wearing dark middle parted pigtails, her look has become unforgettable. Designed by Christopher Shihar, it inevitably reminds us of the schoolchild cliché, as a lot of pupils wear pigtails on their uniform.

Filed under: Acting, In Our Opinion, Technical Craft, UncategorizedTagged with: , , , , ,

Painting With (limited) Light

Whether you’re new to filmmaking or a seasoned veteran you’ve found yourself on a poorly budgeted set. Sometimes this is a matter of circumstance. A client doesn’t have enough money to shoot what they have in mind, but you’ve taken the gig regardless. Sometimes a poorly budgeted set happens by accident. Inexperienced producers exist and we must forgive them for learning! Regardless, the job of a director of photography is not to wish. It is our job – as the late John Alton A.S.C. has put it – to “[capture] bits of light at rest on things of beauty”, no matter how mangled and mutilated the budget may be.

Take the set of Honest Work (2019) for example. In lieu of the Dakota Film Dash, midwest directors of photography Joe Greening and I teamed up to do two things:

1. Get some hands on experience with the RED Camera operating system.

2. Make a great looking film.

With a RED Raven rental gobbling up a whopping 80% of our budget, Joe and I decided to spend half of the remaining $400 on combo stands to give us some versatility. Our studio has four LEDs on hand, but making them work was going to be a stretch. C-stands would allow us to reach across the set and get those low-power lights as close to our actors as possible. Director Steven Warkel wrote a script that called for a dingy office belonging to a stoner private detective as well as a concert venue filled with “twenty or more people.” Having some versatility with our lights would be key. The remaining $200 went to the costume department.

From day one, we knew it was going to be a “just make-it-work” filmset. Planning accordingly from the start helped us hit the ground running.

We stacked our shoot to get the hardest scenes out of the way early in production With a nine day deadline for screenings, we gave ourselves three days of principal photography. By front-loading our shoot, we would be able to see whether the most difficult shots would work, and if not, leave writer/director Steven Warkel some time for rewrites.

Our Kit:

Two (2) Aputure Amaran Bi-Color LEDs of 600 watt tungsten equivalence

Two (2) Neewer Bi-Color LEDs of approximately 350 watt tungsten equivalence

Four (4) Light stands

Two (2) Combo stands

The Big Show

Our first day on set ended with the most difficult challenge: lighting a lounge to look like a concert venue. It was important for our setup to account for twenty-five members of the crowd as well as the band, but most importantly, give some emphasis to our supporting and lead actors.

The venue lended itself to a DIY concert feel, which we played to our advantage. There was no need for elaborate concert lights, strobe lights, or color changing lights. We just needed for the majority of the crowd to be lit well enough that we wouldn’t have to push our camera into dangerous levels of ISO.

It’s important to note that we are lighting for the edit, not for the camera. While the scene may look great through the camera’s LCD, we will not be doing the editor any favors by dimly lighting a scene. Instead, we wanted to create ratios of dark to light with all indexes partially exposed throughout. The ratio depends on the scene, in this case a concert. A very low-key lighting setup was in order which was great, because we would only have to reach minimal exposure levels in our shadows. 

Using our two strongest lights as key lights, we backlit the band. This cast quite a bit of light onto our crowd. Due to the lights proximity, the movement of the band in front of the lights gave a great texture of moving light on the crowd. Big-time happy accident, and something we loved. Four small practicals (concert lights the venue supplied) gave enough fill on the band to bring their levels up to a “good-enough” place.  

While the key lights were doing a great job of reaching most members of the crowd, the back couple rows of people were falling into some pretty muddy shadows. We bounced the remaining lights off the low-ceiling. This brought the rear of our crowd of twenty-five to pretty great levels. We knew Steven would be placing his supporting characters on the near side of the crowd (in relation to the camera) which meant any fall off on the far side would create a pleasantly dark backdrop for our well lit antagonist. 

For our lead character’s entrance into the venue we placed a lamp near a ticket vendor which served as our key (we’ll call this our practical). Since we were doing a reverse-dolly with our lead as he marches towards the crowd, we wouldn’t have to show the concert. This freed up a couple of lights. Our Aputure was put to use as a key light for the first half of the shot, motivated by and color-matched to the practical. We then placed a 600w Aputure with a soft box right behind our final camera mark which would become our new key as our lead found his final mark. This was motivated the light behind the band. A flag, wielded by a grip was waved in front of the 600w to simulate the crowd moving in front of the light.   

As we moved into coverage of the confrontation that ensues between our protagonist and antagonist, things became easier. Motivated by the concert lighting, the Aputures were used to short-light the actors, while the Neewers were bounced off the ceiling for a soft fill light. Again, our main concern was to bring overall levels up so that we wouldn’t have to push our camera beyond 2000 ISO.

Mastering the Master Shot

Networking in the film world is incredibly important. In the case of Honest Work, it landed us our strongest location. Our protagonist – the cheapest private detective in town – spends his working hours in his office/garage/possibly his home (it’s not canon, but it’s probably canon). Luckily, Al Schirado – leading actor – rents a shop with some of his friends. They had already turned the space into a Wayne’s World-esque hangout spot. It was a perfect location for a broke, stoner detective to call home.

We knew we wanted to create something that had the essence of our favorite detective films of the 1950s/60s. Deep shadows, and heavily motivated, dim lighting. We began by lighting for the master shot because our lack of equipment made lighting for a wide-shot the most difficult. This would afford us the luxury of knowing in advance the limits of our lights and allow us to  set a bar for lighting ratios. That is, we’d know the contrast between highlight and shadow on our scene. With this baseline, we were able to match our lighting from a closer proximity once we moved into coverage.

For our motivator, we  placed a 60w practical lamp in the center of our shot. This would effectively short-light both our lead and supporting actor throughout the master and coverage. This light was supported by a 600w Aputure on a combo stand with a soft-box placed beyond the supporting actor.

At this point, the scene was looking like something out of the Godfather. Which may have been great, but Honest Work falls more in the category of comedy than heavy, gangster film.

In support of the motivating practical, another 600w Aputure was boosted on a light stand with a flag on a combo stand to shape it. This casted a nice glow off the back wall. The bounced light did a surprisingly great job softening our shadows.

From there, we took a look at our ISO. Remember, lighting is designed to look great in the edit, not necessarily the camera. While our overall levels were looking good on the deep end of our  scene, we didn’t have much detail showing in our foreground shadows. Our 300w Neewers were set to either side of the camera and directed across the scene to softly light the oppositely-seated actor. This brought our actors’ camera-side levels to nearly our desired lighting ratio. Since we knew we weren’t going to live on the master-shot, the lighting would be solid enough to establish the scene.

But What’s the Point?

The point is go out and do it! And more importantly, to do it well! There are no excuses for poor lighting designs or uninteresting compositions. The equipment you own will not define the film you make. As a director of photography, it is especially easy to fall victim to the “if only I had better equipment” mentality.

Fortunately, for all of us aspiring cinematographers, there is no piece of equipment that will tell a story for us. If there was, I imagine most of us would be out of jobs. It is up to you to master the equipment at hand and push it to its very limits. Every set, in some way or another is a “make-it-work” set. It’s about getting creative and solving problems with what is available. If you can’t do that then you probably won’t be able to create a masterpiece with a massive budget. As a director of photography, the goal is always to paint the best possible image any way you can.

Filed under: Filmmaking, Filmmaking Career, Technical CraftTagged with:

[BOOK REVIEW] Shoot Like Tarantino: The Visual Secrets of Dangerous Storytelling

Ask anyone for a list of the most prolific and artistic filmmakers, and Quentin Tarantino will most likely be on it. His work is so distinctively identifiable that anyone who views one of his films will instantly recognise it as his. In addition to the artistic use of violence on display throughout his works and his way with characters and dialogue, the way he shoots his scenes puts an unmistakable “watermark” on each of his films.

“A huge part of Tarantino’s storytelling comes from his screenwriting and the way he directs actors, but he has such an advance understanding of screen language that he’s able to tell stories more efficiently than most directors.”

In Christopher Kenworthy’s guide, Shoot Like Tarantino: The Visual Secrets of Dangerous Storytelling, Tarantino’s tricks for elevating tension and action are exposed for the reader’s pleasure. Kenworthy, the author of the best-selling Master Shots books, chooses to dive into the visual techniques of Tarantino by analysing some scenes from several of his famous films.

Kenworthy makes a point to say that he didn’t try to learn any background information regarding the scenes he chooses to include. He didn’t want to read about other theories; he just wanted to analyse the scenes as they are and truly discover the technical aspects behind the shots. He also realises how easy it can be to be sucked into the entire film and gloss over the scenes in question, so he recommends that readers switch off the sound and take in only the visuals.

Before jumping into the first scene, Kenworthy makes sure to disclose the fact that the book will undoubtedly spoil the movies for those who haven’t seen them. Nothing is worse than overhearing a spoiler-filled conversation about a film you were dying to see or scrolling through Twitter only to find that the “twist” ending is no longer going to be one for you. Kenworthy understands this, and he is insistent that readers actually watch the films first before reading the book.

Getting to the actual “meat” of the book is where it gets fascinating. Readers can choose to go the traditional route and read it from start to finish or they may choose to bounce around reading only the chapters of interest. But filmmakers who need this book as a source of inspiration for building unbearable tension in a scene or including a deliberate anticlimax are those who benefit most. They can choose to read only the chapters that address these techniques and quickly get back to shooting their film.

For example, if a reader really wanted to know how to film a group conversation, they can turn to page 105 and read up on how Kill Bill: Vol 2 featured a perfect one. Kenworthy makes it super easy to understand the details that make each scene work by including stills so readers can clearly see what he is getting at.

In the case of Kill Bill: Vol. 2, he breaks down the famous flashback chapel scene. This scene, which has been shown in glimpses throughout the film, isn’t meant to be a surprise. It’s meant to be a culmination of what the viewer already knows is inevitable. The art of this scene comes from the interaction between the characters and how they are placed.

“When two groups are talking, shoot the main characters from several positions, but shoot the minor characters from one angle. This will help the audience identify with the main characters.”

By following this method, the audience will feel closer and more connected with the main character, while the characters shot from one angle feel more distant and disconnected. The way this scene was shot put an emphasis on showing the characters in what may seem to be a normal situation, but slowly building a sense of unease. The unease is heightened with the introduction of a new character.

“When you’ve established a group conversation and dynamic, cutting to an additional character who interrupts the flow of the scene can increase the sense of impending doom.”

Kenworthy’s analysis of this particular scene is just one example of what is found in the book. There are great insights to be read and any filmmaker who wishes to even embody an ounce of Tarantino’s mastery can benefit from the information found inside. By no means; however, are the scenes in this book meant to be copied. They are provided only to serve as a starting point or a source of inspiration.

Shoot Like Tarantino: The Visual Secrets of Dangerous Storytelling is a great resource for filmmakers looking to improve the visual impact of their scenes. It allows filmmakers to understand how certain scenes succeed in their efforts and how they can shoot their own. Once a filmmaker reads this book, their ability to craft their own great scenes should greatly improve. And who knows? They may just become the next Tarantino.

Filed under: Book Review, Directing, Filmmaking, In Our Opinion, Technical CraftTagged with: , , , , , ,

20 (Yes, 20!) Soundtracks You Haven’t Heard But Really Should’ve

Music is an essential component of cinema; an auditory counterpoint that can enhance, contradict, or elevate any scene or image.

But of course you already know that, it’s why you clicked on the link. Or perhaps you clicked it because it’s something of a challenge. ‘Twenty soundtracks I haven’t heard’, I hear you grumble, ‘not likely’. And, you know what, maybe it isn’t. These aren’t really that obscure, and even if they were, there’d be a few of you who’d still defy that peremptory title. What would you have me do? Entitle it ’20 Soundtracks You May Have Heard Already But There’s a Decent Chance There Are At Least a Few You Might Not Be Familiar With’? A more honest title, but I’m not sure we’d be having this conversation (interaction? Address?) if I’d gone with it. What’s important is that we’re all here now. All sounds are added some powerful EQ Music that is sometime new in old time, we can say it was just surprised. Use these EQ apps for iPhone for modification is the sound quality, That will only change in output but not in the song. That becomes trends now. and Popular choise of music. Enjoy the music:

1. Le Mepris, Georges Delerue

To kick off the list, here’s a piece you’ve either never heard, or you’ve heard it far, far too much. Godard’s Le Mepris (which moonlights as Contempt in the Anglosphere) is a film defined by its beauty while at once constantly resisting its own elegance. Georges Delerue’s score is lush and melancholic, its strings searing and its melodies precious, sad. Only Godard decides to repeat this score incessantly throughout – beauty becomes banal. It is a little similar to the Mamas & the Papas tune that repeats in Chungking Express. The same song, once symbolizing love and affection, becomes irritating and blaring when played too often. The substance is the same, only you are different.

2. Mishima, Philip Glass

Philip Glass is a well-known name in the world of minimalist composition, and for good reason. His repetitive, arpeggiated melodies seem to contradict their formalist and academic nature in building to truly moving swells, connoting an intensity and a ferocity that even Wagner might want for. In Mishima, he is at his most remarkable, with a soundtrack that builds on a single theme throughout, modifying instrumentation, timbre, and arrangement as according to the furcated narrative of the film. The Kronos Quartet perform with enviable precision, building to a conclusion that matches the intensity of the accompanying film. For those who haven’t seen it: very intense indeed.

3. The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover, Michael Nyman

Another minimalist with close ties to cinema, Michael Nyman’s collaborations with the idiosyncratic Peter Greenaway have been particularly fecund. Operating in the perhaps oxymoronic subgenre of ‘baroque minimalism’ (as according to me), Nyman makes use of dense and brassy textures to create a warm and organic sound despite the mechanical repetition at the centre of his musical technique. His sound might be less precise and clarion than Glass, but the emotive impact of his work is not. ‘Memorial’, the below track, communicates all the grandiloquence of a Handel piece, churned through the cyclic and enmaddening reel of a minimalist structure. The saxes croon, the cellos rumble.

4. , Nino Rota

If the harsh and consuming mien of minimalism is coming to grate, enter its funnyman uncle. Nino Rota, superlative composer known best for his soundtrack to The Godfather, is perhaps more notable for his extended collaboration with Italian madman Federico Fellini. While Fellini is renowned for his arthouse cinema, often moving, often funny, his love of the circus is perhaps his most recognizable trait. twists this love into a striking surrealistic conclusion, in which its protagonist sees all the characters of his life marching to the beat of Rota’s clownish score. A wonderful consummation of the absurdity inherent both in Fellini’s cinema and life itself.

5. Macbeth, Jed Kurzel

For a slightly more contemporary entry – Jed Kurzel’s sorely overlooked score for Justin Kurzel’s sorely overlooked 2015 adaptation of Macbeth. Like the film, it is towering and expressive, forgoing subtlety in melody or structure for swelling crescendos and atavistic tone. Its strings bend and declinate much as the film’s titular hero, a creeping evil inherent in dissonant chords.

6. Jackie, Mica Levi

A year later, Mica Levi’s score for Jackie took on a similar approach. However, where Kurzel’s score is direct, even simple, Levi prefers interweaving tones and uncomfortable, discordant structures. Her strings move at an unsteady largo, each rise and fall somehow furtive, suspect. Much like Jackie’s own disturbed and fractured narrative, the music is insecure and wandering. Bright woodwind becomes piercing and incongruent, and an unsettlement pervades all.

7. Napoleon, Carl Davis

Strictly speaking, (most) silent films don’t have a soundtrack. Hence the name. Some did, however, have a score, but most of these are long lost to the cruel vicissitudes of time. The result is a lot of surviving silent films without a lot of surviving music. The solution? New composition. In doing so there are two modes of working. The most popular is imitative – an attempt to recreate the conditions of the typical silent score. Carl Davis is perhaps the master of this form, his soundtrack for Napoleon meeting the original’s technical needs (a scene featuring a hurdy-gurdy), conforming to 1920s style by and via constant quotation of classical music (especially Beethoven, who long admired Napoleon), mixed together with original themes of his own. The below track is largely Davis’ own contribution; that it stands so tall besides the luminaries of orchestral composition is high praise indeed.

8. Man With a Movie Camera, The Cinematic Orchestra

Alternatively, a modern silent film score might reject the old for the current and contemporary. New life for old blood. The Cinematic Orchestra’s soundtrack for the superlative Man With a Movie Camera could be described as such, invoking nu-jazz and downtempo music against a film that far predates either. The breakbeat drumming and pizzicato ostinatos suggest a pace and activity equalled by a film that, despite its age, has never lost its footing.

9. Good Time, Oneohtrix Point Never

Keeping contemporary for a moment, pace and energy might also be the bywords of Oneohtrix Point Never’s progressive electronic score for The Safdies’ Good Time. An acid-soaked neon-toned declivity into criminal incompetence, the film’s tenor is met by its score: bassy, distorted, and high pulse. Where the film sometimes slows, the music makes up the slack, ensuring a tension that builds until it can build no more.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BgkqMVPcru8

10. Aguirre, Popol Vuh

Oneohtrix Point Never is a popular and acclaimed musician beyond his dip into film scoring – the same is true of Popul Vuh. Exponents of krautrock and neoclassical new age, they are another long-term collaborative act, in this case with the singular Werner Herzog. Their score for Aguirre is perhaps an example of two artists peaking simultaneously; it is ethereal, otherworldly – a choir of synthesised voices that give form to the abstractions of power and madness deep in the Amazon rainforest. The music creeps subcutaneous, its substance an atmosphere of implacable mystery, of alien grandeur.

11. El Cid, Miklós Rózsa

Returning to more traditional soundtracks, Miklós Rózsa is a name all film music connoisseurs would surely recognize. A multiple Oscar-winner and one of Hollywood’s most celebrated composers in his day, his reputation has sadly waned in recent years, whereas those he influenced – not least Lawrence of Arabia‘s Maurice Jarre – maintain their lofty station. In El Cid, Rózsa proves the height of his talent, with sweeping and truly epic composition that more than equals the scale of Mann’s towering medieval vastity. A heroic, virtuosic, and magisterial musical achievement.

12. Alexander Nevsky, Sergei Prokofiev

On the theme of historical epics, Eisenstein’s (in)famous Alexander Nevsky, his first sound film. And what luck it was sound – the score is composed by none other than Prokofiev, one of Russia’s greatest composers. More than a curio or lesser work, this soundtrack is remarkable throughout, combining Russian folk music, choral chants, and the conflagrating bombast of a full orchestra to accompany the sinisterial Teutonic knights and their defeat atop the ice of Novgorod. Incredibly loud, occasionally unsettling, always exciting; a battle in its own right.

13. Nebraska, Tin Hat

The sound/fury of Rózsa or Prokofiev is all well and good, but listened to for protracted periods can result in tachycardic heart and pulsating pate. For those who need to unwind, there is little better than Tin Hat’s relaxed score to Nebraska, which combines elements of chamber jazz and folk to provoke a homely, rustic, and soothingly organic sound. A clarion trumpet leads in the track below, a piece warm and inviting, though one that equally suggests the journey at Nebraska’s centre.

14. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Nick Cave & Warren Ellis

Of a similar timbre, if darker tone, is Nick Cave and Warren Ellis’ score for the film whose title I’ll type out again for exercise: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Little work out for the fingers there. Built around a series of repeating motifs, Cave/Ellis’ soundtrack is simple in arrangement but moving in texture, capturing the fading light of a cruel man and the mythic anti-romance of his life with suiting tragedy. Like the scores of Phillip Glass, it is built around developing themes: earthy bass and plaintive melody rising to efficacious crescendo.

15. Underground, Goran Bregovic

More earthy, less plaintive. Underground, the unhinged masterwork of Emir Kustarica, is a film enmired in Balkan detail. Not least the soundtrack, which embraces the inescapable energy of Balkan brass. Played with a drunken virtuosity and woozy swagger, the below track can hardly be imagined severed from its original context – even by those who haven’t seen the film. A Yugoslav bar, boisterous men, proclivitous drinking, fighting, dancing, more drinking. Good lark all round.

16. Hana-bi, Joe Hisaishi

Better known for soundtracking some of Studio Ghibli’s finest works (Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke), Joe Hisaishi has a storied career beyond, and just as good. In one of his many collaborations with pulp/family director Takeshi Kitano, Hisaishi again examples his melodic abilities, combining soft woodwind with swelling basal strings. His music dives and climbs in these modes, one contrapuntal to the other. Met with the lush orchestration typical to Japanese orchestral scores, it is little less than enrapturing.

17. The Thin Red Line, Hans Zimmer

Hans Zimmer might seem the strangest inclusion on this list. Not only is he Oscar-feted, but perhaps the most popular film composer around. But his very best soundtrack seems lost in the heavy bass of his more recent work – it is The Thin Red Line, Terrence Malick’s third masterpiece, in which Zimmer would best show his quality. The below track is an exemplar of the Zimmer style – the melody is in the bass, the arrangement is simple yet moving, the crescendo grand, noble, if touched with dejection. But it is in this crescendo’s relative brevity – and its contextual relevance on screen – that the score reveals its strength. It is in the build and the fall, less than the peak, that the vertiginous centre is made most clear. The coda, a yearning violin section, then reflects on that which it consummates. Like Malick’s film – a moment beyond the bombast of war.

18. The Last Emperor, Ryuchi Sakamoto, David Byrne, and Cong Su

Written by pop genius-cum-composer Ryuichi Sakamoto (of Yellow Magic Orchestra fame), with additional contributions by post-punk legend David Byrne and traditional composer Cong Su, the soundtrack to The Last Emperor is this list’s sole Oscar winner. And in a rare twist for that venerable organisation, a deserving one. In the below track, a simple melodic line is accompanied by an arpeggiated bass, before another melodic line incurs. It is rhythmic, forthright, if occasionally abrupt, and reflects the various competing and colluding lines of imperial deceit on which the film is set. A pleasant meeting of content and form.

19. Kagemusha, Shinichiro Ikebe

The filmography of Kurosawa is long entwined with that of the Western. A fan of the oldschool American films of the 40s, they inspired his own burgeoning cinema, which in turn inspired the Western revivalism taking place in the West at the time. There were two remakes, one authorised (The Magnificent Seven, after Seven Samurai), one not (A Fistful of Dollars, after Yojimbo – the lawsuit following enriched Kurosawa more than any other of his films). This West/East communication met its peak with Kurosawa’s late-period Kagemusha. Based on the life of the Japanese warlord Takeda Shingen it failed to achieve sufficient Japanese funding, but production was rescued by George Lucas (his own Star Wars deeply influenced by Kurosawa, especially The Hidden Fortress) and Francis Ford Coppola. More than Western backing, the film also features a soundtrack of distinct Western heritage. Its lone, almost mariachi trumpet calling into emptiness toward the close is perhaps as close to Morricone as a Japanese composer ever got. An excellent soundtrack, and film, often lost in Kurosawa’s enviable back catalogue.

20. Dead Man, Neil Young

To close the list out, another Western of sorts, albeit different in sound and content. Jim Jarmusch always has something of a musical current running through his cinema – Tom Waits starred in Down by Law, and Iggy Pop has a cameo in Dead Man itself. The soundtrack is true to this theme, featuring a score by Dadrocker extraordinaire Neil Young. A simple acoustic guitar lays the groundwork, before a distorted electric enters, overcome by its own reverb. The traditional, undone by emerging, loud technology. It’s like a Western itself. Only despite the effects-laden sound, a melody is still decipherable, the delicate acoustic and growling electric playing in concert. Despite Young’s proven talent, this direction was unexpected, and totally welcome.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fi-S9lrnLZ8

Filed under: Film History, Filmmaking, Technical CraftTagged with: , , , , , , ,

6 Ways to Open a Crime Film

Crime films are often defined by their slow-burn pace – a powerful opening is an easy way to keep an audience engaged through the sleuthing to come.

1. Spione

Fritz Lang’s silent films often end well and start well (usually with something of a dip in the middle), and Spione might be the finest example. In this crime-spy thriller, the first few minutes are electric. Documents are stolen, politicians are assassinated, a sinister mastermind revealed. A tone of conspiratorial worry and fear is immediately established at a pace the rest of the film has no hope of keeping. But it doesn’t need to – we are already enraptured.

 

 

2. Vertigo

Saul Bass was one of the most acclaimed visual artists of the 1950s, and for good reason. His iconic posters are inseparable from the films they represent, and more than that, his contributions to the title sequence is inimitable. Vertigo begins with psychedelic spinning mandalas, which grow and grow until the audience are subsumed within them. Bernard Herrmann’s score is hypnotic. We then cut to a hand grabbing a rung – a rooftop chase. Our hero, Jimmy Stewart, leaps across to an adjacent building only to botch his landing, holding on by his fingertips. As he looks down, a dolly zoom (the first of its kind) wretches the stomach and establishes the film’s title. An immediately gripping action sequence that contextualises the film to come.

 

 

3. Infernal Affairs

Spione opens with haste, but even Lang can’t compete with the sheer economy of Infernal Affairs. The opening credits notwithstanding, the film establishes the film’s fundamental premise within a lightning 5 minutes, detailing the training and then detraining of an undercover officer. Where the Hollywood remake (The Departed) is something of a slovenly beast, Infernal Affairs wastes absolutely no time – though it never quite truncates its narrative to the same intensity as in its first few minutes, the high pace is there to stay.

 

 

4. Tokyo Drifter

“I’ll ask you once more, for the third and last time: don’t get me mad.” Seijun Suzuki, master of the Japanese B-movie, is a director of distinct style. Though his films were at the time relegated as cheap and frivolous – largely Yakuza flicks – the sheer verve of his direction sees them become much more. Tokyo Driver, perhaps his pulp masterpiece, opens assuredly. It begins in a stark, ultra-high contrast monochrome – the blacks inky, the whites so bright as to bleach out all detail.

A former Yakuza man restates that he’s out of the game; men attack him, but he doesn’t retaliate. An extreme close up on a mob boss, and then a cut to colour: a man in a yellow jacket caught against a pitch backdrop firing his pistol, with reddened muzzle flashes. Immediately we know this will be a film of gaudy and exciting form, a film about revenge, about a man wronged. “Knock him down three times, then he’ll rage like a hurricane.” Prophetic words – and enticing.

 

 

5. Touch of Evil

Regarded not only as one of the finest openings of a crime film, but of all films, Touch of Evil is an exemplar in establishing atmosphere. Shot in a single, complex sequence shot, the camera opens close on a bomb. We see it planted in a car, and then follow this car as its unbeknownst occupants drive it toward the Mexican border. The content of the scene is relatively simple, but this simplicity becomes dread when combined with the knowledge of imminent disaster and the inescapable nature of the long take. This is a scene that functions on the basic requirements of suspense as according to Hitchcock – let the audience know what the characters don’t. A powerful opening to one of Welles’ greatest films.

 

 

6. Sexy Beast

Sexy Beast opens on a shot of the sun, then panning to the purple-burnt body of a rotund Ray Winstone sunbathing by a pool. The kind of image that sears itself into the mind alone, though after intercutting with shots of his wife driving toward his Mediterranean abode, it takes on a surreal dimension. From the cliffedge rolls an enourmous boulder, which scarcely misses Winstone’s eponymous (?) character and is subsumed by the pool. The comedic, somewhat leftfield, and doom-laden foundation of Sexy Beast explicated in a few minutes. Not to forget the best needle-drop of the lot – ‘Peaches’ by The Stranglers.

 

 

If you’re interested in writing crime, be sure to sign up for our Crime Writing from the Trenches of Hollywood Masterclass by Hollywood-based crime writing consultant Jennifer Dornbush.

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