Monday, April 16, 2012
A friend of mine wrote on his blog recently about essential films every cinema fanatic should see. See the link above. Although his list is excellent, it isn’t comprehensive in my opinion. For one thing, where’s the category for Screen WRITING? This vital foundation of any good film is usually overlooked, but one thing is certain: without a good script you can never make a good film. It is written.
To correct the imbalance a little, I thought I'd add my favourite films from a scriptwriter’s point of view. The films I will mention will obviously deal with the writing aspect of film, especially the uber-meta aspirations of Charlie Kaufman’s Adapatation, which deals a distortion or two of Writers dealing with Writing itself.
Charlie Kaufman takes this same theme a step too far in my opinion in his directorial debut, Syndechdoche, New York, which I enjoyed to some extent. It should be watched by serious film writers just as an experience of how to almost lose the plot. However Adaptation is a much stronger film in my opinion, dealing as it does with a single episode of writing to meet a deadline.
Short Cuts, the Robert Altman early 90s film, deals with a multiple-protagonist script. It was one of the first films to attempt a multiple-protagonist story in quite such a self-conscious way. It doesn't quite pull it off as it takes far too long to reach its conclusion. But it's a fascinating experiment into the multiple-protagonist genre. Crash, the Paul Haggis film a decade or so later, succeeds far more in maintaining the inner dynamics of a self-contained plot with a multiple-protagonist masterpiece dealing with a single theme: racism. Crash may be accused of being a bit obvious at times, but hey, you can't have everything.
The Player is another piece of Robert Altman magic, and in this one he doesn't overindulge in endless takes with celebrities. Okay, he does a bit, but his strong storyline about a writer who is ditched by a studio exec is brilliant. There are all sorts of in-jokes, starting with the opening 8 minute shot which is a homage to Orson Welles' 3 minute plus super-obvious set-up opening shot of A Touch of Evil. Film buffs will love it, as will writers who will enjoy seeing that sometimes even a callous movie exec can be outsmarted by a clever scriptwriter.
Speaking of Orson Welles, one has to mention Citizen Kane. So I've done that now. Let's move on.
Now for more modern films in which the scriptwriting is quite simply sublime. Little Miss Sunshine is a joy from the first frame to the last. It’s also a superb example of the multiple-protagonist genre without beating the viewer over the head with it. This script was written by Michael Arndt. Who, I hear you cry? That's what I'm talking about! Scriptwriters seldom get the credit they deserve.
Then there is Alan Ball's equally sublime American Beauty. Seldom have so many depths been plumbed in so short a time. No pun intended. This film consists of absolutely brilliant writing, creating characters which stay with the viewer forever. A modern classic if ever there was one.
Lastly, I'm going to end with two biopics which explode the genre of biographical film making. The Life and Death of Peter Sellers is a work of sheer genius. Based on the book by Roger Lewis, screenwriters Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely create a surreal, yet terrifyingly real, portrait of a man without a character of his own. It is quite exceptional and the film is a masterfully written one.
Another biopic I think is superbly well-written is La Vie En Rose. Written by Olivier Dahan (the director - oh and I can bet, from my experience with a “hands-on” director, thereby definitely hangs a tale) and screenwriter Isabelle Sobelman, this film recreates the world of a human being's psyche in an extraordinary way. The flashbacks and flashforwards are done so unobtrusively that one feels as if one is living the life of La Mome's herself. It is simply another modern classic.
Finally I'll end with a screenwriter's director. David Mamet's name is synonymous with films such as Glengarry Glen Ross and Oleanna but for me, his take on being a writer in Hollywood reaches comic proportions in the film State and Main. See it to know what it's really like to be a scriptwriter on a big Hollywood blockbuster. Brilliantly funny and extremely well written.
There are a few older classics that deserve mention. Forgot to say that Casablanca is one of those beautifully scripted films which endures and doesn't date. Thanks to scriptwriting brothers Julius J. Epstein and Philip G. Epstein, from a script by Howard Koch and Casey Robinson who remained uncredited.
And we can't leave out North, by Northwest, written by Ernest Lehman. Actually, this opens the door for all the Hitchcock films, such as Psycho and others. That makes me think of more perfectly written films from that era and I might go on forever. But I'll stop here and just say that it's such a pity that the names of the writers of most of these films, unless they are directed by the writers themselves, remain unknown to the majority of movie-goers.
Monday, February 20, 2012
Drum-roll please! Our first cast announcement for the day: The role of Jimmy will be played by Cobus van Heerden. See his second audition here of Jimmy in Detention Barracks, using the heart-wrenching lyrics of Jonathan Handley’s song, Overdosefontein.
Wednesday, January 11, 2012
Friday, December 16, 2011
Crowd-Funding/Sourcing – Is this the new way to make your movie?
I was lucky enough to encounter Peter Broderick at the Producer’s Forum at the Durban Film Mart this past weekend. He was talking about crowd-funding/sourcing. Peter is President of Paradigm Consulting in the United States, which helps filmmakers and media companies develop strategies to maximize distribution, audience and revenues. He has been an advocate of the ultra-low budget feature film movement and is a passionate advocate of digital film making.
The following piece is put together from notes I made during his impressive presentation at the DFM.
Crowd-sourcing/funding is a concentric way to make money but it is vital that you think of your AUDIENCE before you start you funding campaign. Remember that you have to do everything you can, use every marketing tool in the book, to create AWARENESS of your project. Broderick quoted some examples of how to do this:
• One producer incorporated a number of educational grants into his funding campaign so that the charity aspect of his drive could be emphasised and used to generate goodwill.
• Another successful group put their trailer online and invited people to remix it.
• A woman who wanted to fund her around-the-world yacht trip offered different rewards for certain amounts of money. If people donated $10, she promised them a Polaroid photo taken along her journey. $50 earned them a coconut sent from one of her destinations, and so on.
• Jennifer Fox, who crowd-funded her very personal project called My Reincarnation, sent personal thank-you letters to every single person who donated funds, from the smallest amounts of money to the largest sums.
• Some producers offered Co-Producer Credits for a certain amount of Euros.
What is most important, however, is that the website you create to raise funds has to be FUN and encourage people to come back to the site. The more visitors you attract, the better your chances of raising funds. Don’t fall into the trap of making your website nothing more than a press-kit. NOTHING is more boring than the unchanging dynamic of a press-kit site. Broderick emphasised that it is imperative you keep the following in mind when creating your crowd-sourcing website:
• Fewer words, more PICTURES
• Rich VISUAL content relating to the movie
• Content must be constantly UPDATED – i.e. it must be dynamic
• Harness VIEWER’S INPUT in some way – people want to contribute
• Website must be PERSONAL and written in the first person
• A good VIDEO documenting the journey of the project is a must
• HUMOUR wins the day every time
• Utilize SOCIAL NETWORKING SITES to create awareness of your project
The filmmaker must give actual information about the project on the site. Remember, piracy isn’t your prime concern here but obscurity is. Broderick showed a video example from a Spanish project which raised its funds through crowd-sourcing. The project was called The Cosmonauts and used humour and youthful energy to introduce the genesis of the film to the future audience. He also quoted an example of Neil Gaiman’s The Price which used social networking sites, such as Twitter and Facebook, especially utilizing the #BoingBoing hashtag to create awareness and to raise funds for production.
Broderick referred to a project created by self-confessed Finnish “nerds” who wanted to make a feature which was a spoof of Star Trek. They wrote a rough outline and put the rough draft online. This soon attracted a writer. They then asked for people to contribute special effects skills. In the end, 3000 people across 300 countries contributed to this project which resulted in a 108 minute feature called Star Wreck. 30% of all the images contributed to the film were donated by people around the world who were happy just to be associated with the project. They all received screen credit. The project cost 23 000 Euros in total. The makers of the film knew their audience. They appealed to a niche core audience of like-minded “nerds” such as themselves who would be delighted to contribute to a project they believed in. The final product is free to download but the makers of the film earned 20 times their original budget in revenue through DVD sales. Remarkably, even though everyone could download the film for nothing, people still wanted to own their own copies, especially if the film contained their names listed in the credits.
Another production which used crowd-sourcing successfully was an animation feature produced in Australia about global warming called Coalition of the Willing by Simon Robson. Twenty different companies produced different segments of the film which was made in thirty different sections. Even though each section has a different style, the film fits together as a cohesive whole.
Broderick emphasised that the best way to get people to support a project is if they contribute to the making of the project in some way. It allows them to feel part of something as large as a film.
Broderick spoke at length about host websites such as www.kickstarter.com and www.IndieGoGo.com both of which provide a platform to host crowd-sourcing/funding projects. Both sites set dates for budget targets to be reached. Kickstarter takes a certain percentage of the income as payment but IndieGoGo doesn’t.
Advice for a successful crowd-sourcing website:
• Write the website in the first person to build awareness of the film
• Create a vision for the website that may be bigger than the film
• The website must take on a life of its own
• Make things you can sell that relate to your film
• Create some sort of payback for visitors either through allowing them to download video streams or buy DVDs to related topics or even buy books on your site if they are of similar topics. (Broderick suggests you buy goods wholesale that you can sell retail on the website)
• Try to come up with give-aways or incentives to encourage donations
• Remember your objectives for the site are to build AWARENESS of the project and to RAISE MONEY. Bear this in mind at all times.
Broderick closed the seminar by referring to one of the first ever cases of crowd-sourcing. The first Oxford English Dictionary was a literary example of the crowd-sourcing. People came together from all walks of life to contribute words to this enormous literary work. It is almost certain that none of them was paid.