Tuesday, May 15, 2007

It's about Passion

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I was sitting watching the series "Entourage" on HBO, and a piece of dialogue stuck with me. It was when a producer tells the main character on how he got into the business. He explains to the character that he lacked the passion others had for the craft. Earlier in the show the main character tells his manager that Hollywood is all about power and not making films. People buy scripts that they have no intention of making. I've heard of such things, and I've never really worked on a high budget film, but I've talked to a lot of directors and producers, and they do say that it's a frustrating business.

And there's the rub. I've been a crew member on several low-budget films, and a multitude of commercials. Long hours, and low pay were the norm. Some commercials payed okay, but I was part of the agency who made it, so you could say I was an agency employee on several commercials.

Passion. I know you hear about it, and talk about it when we're talking about films, or film making, but the reality of film making is that sometimes you run out of steam. Life wears you down, and the everyday minutia of living can make a person lose that spark. I don't think we admit it in public, and that a lot of us sometimes just put on that game face and go out there and try and pretend that nothing is wrong. It catches up to you eventually, and it can happen at anytime in your life, so I don't look at a people and judge them on their experience, but instead on how happy they are.

In the late 80's I had the chance to go to Hollywood and see the town up close. I was only there for a little while, but I did see what the biz is really like, and I was miserable. I was homesick, and just wanted to head home. Tired of sleeping on floors, and being treated like dirt I went home with my eyes wide open, and a bit of a chip on my shoulder.

The fundamental question I have to ask myself these days is "why?" Why do I want to make movies. Do I have illusions of being famous?, or is it financial? After all I know the score, and I know how they play it. Movie making is a crap shoot, and if you saw the odds against you you would turn tail and head back and vow never to whisper the words film making again.

So why do it? I'll tell you I've always liked movie making. I love the illusion it gives, and the stories it can un-spool on the screen. Film making to me has always been something I've revered because when the stars do align, and things come together just right a great film can be made, and that's the magic of it.

When I was a young teen I was exposed to the teachings of Roger Larson. Who is Roger Larson? He was the man who formed a film club called "Young Filmmakers" in New York city. They were located in a run down area on the lower East side. I remember going there and getting off at the Bowery street station. This was back in the late 70's and early 80's, so NYC was still a bit run down. The Bowery station was a magnet for the homeless, but I did manage to visit Larson's club, and really enjoyed it. It was the first time I met people who were interested in filmmaking and some who were closer to my own age. Because of the distance I didn't go as much as I liked, but I fell in love with 16mm there, and by doing my own thing in Super-8 I was teaching myself the fundamentals of filmmaking. It sustained me through my teenage years.

Roger Larson even wrote a book which is way out of date but still holds special memories for me. It was called "Young Filmmakers", and I checked it out more times then I can count in my high school library. From there I learned about books by Lenny Lipton, and others that were tech manuals for Super-8 film making. So you can see why film making is a special thing for me. Filmmaking is not a cry to be famous, but a need to be heard. Some write, others draw I make films, and it's what I love to do. Unfortunately making a film takes a lot of energy, money, and time. One can't really do it all, and actually make a good product. Unless you're an animator, and then time is what you have.

Right now it's about getting back to the simplicity of making a film. Gathering a few individuals and cranking out a film over a week-end or two. Impossible you say? How can anything significant or good come out of something done so quickly? Well I'm here to say it can, and I just need to get my ass in gear and start looking outward for people who share my vision. I may not be able to offer lots of money, but I can offer good story lines, and some compensation. As for now it's time to sit down and write stories and see what sticks.

I don't know if I'll be able to get it all done because the grind does have a way of catching up. There is the family, work, your health, and just plain life which moves on, and doesn't stop. I need to simply get back to enjoying the craft of filmmaking like when I was a young man and not worry about the rest. Wish me luck I'm going to need it!

Thursday, May 10, 2007


Okay nothing fancy here. Just a quick brain dump. I still struggle to figure out what this blog is all about. The only thing I wanted in here was writings about cinema, and making films. I had the opportunity to finally see "Four Eyed Monster", and I liked it of sorts. I'm not a big fan of twenty-something angst films, but I did enjoy it, and was impressed with the film making skills of it's creators (Susan Buice & Arin Crumley) . That's as glowing a review as I can give. I still think people should buy the DVD, and check it out. Support true indie filmmakers!

While watching it I became increasingly interested at the subject matter. The filmmakers made it a personal film, and it works for them. I've been thinking about my own personal stuff, and feel that maybe I just need to do something about that. So no more fictional stuff for now. I've decided to turn the camera in-ward, and see what's there. Maybe it's therapy, or maybe it's just something that I want and need to say.

Hitchcock said movies are like life with the boring parts cut out of them, but maybe those boring parts are where the meat is. I think I've learned that cinema isn't all about dialogue. It's about images. The dialogue comes secondary. It's time to mine some real emotions, and real events.

So consider me on the couch, as I see what makes ME tick, and why if at all it should be interesting to the rest of the world.

Kurt Vonnegut said once, and this is not a direct quote but it is something I remember reading in an article about him that a movie should leave the audience awed. That they should come away from the film with an up-lifted attitude because life itself was and is so harsh. Otherwise what's the point? I think that's a very interesting thought.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Lighting 101

The above video is an exercise we had to do in film school. I was required to shoot something in the daytime, and make it look like night time. My professor liked the results, but I didn't like the beginning of the film. Naturally I used hard lighting to give the picture some defined shadows, but what I should have done is light the background a bit. My friend Jim is lite, but the background falls into darkness. I shot it with a film stock called 7294. Kodak has discontinued the stock, but the stock that comes close to it today would be KODAK VISION2 500T - 7218. I rated the stock at 400 ISO, and I overexposed the negative by a stop and 1/2. Negative film likes saturation. Don't underexpose, or you'll get mud. I've actually overexposed footage three stops and gotten a good picture, but I'd only do that on a night time shoot. Most of the times I've exposed one and half stops, and I've always come out with a nice rich negative that the lab can play with. I should have placed a light on a dresser in the background or better yet a practical in the shot. I would have gotten separation of the background, and I think the shot would have worked better.

I did this later when you see the thief (me) entering the window. I put a practical with a special bulb in it, and lite it from the side. All windows were blacked out. I used a black tarp on most of the windows, and the doorway. It was a fun little exercise, and it taught me a little more about faking a shot.

When shooting film watch you're latitude. That's what screwed me in the beginning shot. If you have a scene and the foreground is let's say F4, and you're background is 1.4 there is going to be a drop off into darkness in you're scene. Light the background a bit. A cheap way is to put a practical in the shot too. Get a lamp that burns at the same temperature as you're lights off camera or you'll have a hard time with color temperature. I've sometimes cheated when I didn't have a proper bulb for the practical, and the color timer at the lab fixes it for me. It's a cheat, but one worth knowing. If you do this have a color chart before you're scene, so the timer can correct properly. Another exercises was shooting day-for-night scenes, and I never liked the results of shooting a day-for-night scene, but it can be done if you need to.

I shot Deadly Obsessions with Vision 2 Kodak 320T, and liked what I got on that. We actually lite the scenes with both practicals, and Arri lights. Check my kgbproductions.com for the details if you like. Hope this helps.

*The above video was taken from the workprint and has a bit of a greenish tint. The original footage does not, and if I was going directly from the negative you wouldn't get that grain or that greenish tint. In fact that would make an interesting experiment now. I may just do that. I just need to find the negative.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Kicking the Tires!

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You know how we can get so caught up in technology, and want to figure out the best way to do things, and then we just get lost in it? Well that happens to me. When I started my film "Deadly Obsessions" digital video wasn't around. Non-linear editing was only seen on higher level productions because they were expensive. I remember seeing my first Avid, and even editing on a machine called the "Cube". I knew that the only way I was going to make a film was the old fashioned way, and that was edit on film. I even found a 6-plate editor, and bought it off a fellow filmmaker. Transporting that puppy was hell. I had to have my uncle come over to get it into the apartment that we lived at the time, but it worked and served me well. I should have gotten my work print edged numbered after I synced up the dialogue to the picture, but a well skilled mixer saved me. His name was Tom Agnello, and he is one of the greatest film technicians this side of the Mississippi. given more time, and money "Deadly Obsessions" would be a bit different no doubt.

Okay so I was talking about technology. Now it's all about DV, or better yet HD. I know for a fact that if anything a producer needs to shoot in HD, or make room in the budget to up-convert to HD later in post for the DVD. Companies look at that now and see that as a plus. Soon most homes will be equipped with HD sets, and for a producer to ignore this he or she would have to be a total moron.

I'm aching to do something. I work with DV all day at my job. I'm fortunate that way, but I don't really like the medium. It's compression sucks, and the 4:1:1 rate seems inferior to anything else I've ever shot which is mostly film. So it brings me back to the debate of film or DV, and what to do. I've seen some really nice films shot in DV that look stunning. Of course there was a lot of post work involved, and that's something I hate. A film professor always told me that if you have to fix it in post you did something wrong in production. He is right. Fix it in post is a phrase I've heard a lot in my career. Sometimes you have no choice. Once you have momentum on a production you try not to stop for ANYTHING. You stop, and you do so at you're own peril.

I like DV and HD a lot. You can make some beautiful shots with it, but that's not the point is it. Filmmaking is about telling the story. Not beautiful shots. I would beg to differ on that opinion since I'm a lover of cinematography, but sometimes you work with what you have and shoot the story to enhance the feel and look of the story.

I've been getting lost in the tech stuff, and forgot about the story. I've embarked on a series of experiments and want to see how it all pans out. Testing the waters you might say. I've been way too silent, and way too apathetic about filmmaking. I need to flex that muscle, and I need to get the old imagination in gear. Which brings me back to the tech stuff.

I've got some film stock, so why not use it. I'll edit on my PC, but why not use what I have. I'd really like to try the HD, but there are so many variables, and the cameras are a bit pricey. I refuse to buy a camera, and then in a few years have it become obsolete, or for that matter incompatible with my editing software. I'll also be mixing up formats, and seeing how that plays and looks. Believe it or not I have some Super-8 cameras I like to try out. Yes that's right Super-8. Check out Pro8mm web site. Their a good resource for that, and they have you shooting negative film on Super-8. What I'll be shooting I really don't know, but I'll figure it out. It's time to play, and see what I can do. That's why the title of this piece is "kicking the tires". It's what you do when you're going for that new ride, and seeing if the vehicle is sound enough for the journey. So as Antonio Banderas said in "Desperado" "let's play!"