Thursday, August 28, 2008

Burden of Dreams

I finally got to watch The Burden of Dreams by Les Blank. It documents Werner Herzog making Fitcarraldo in the middle of the Amazon, risking everything, including the lives of those around him. One, of many, dangerous ordeals undertaken by Herzog in the making of the film involved actually moving a steamship over a large hill in the middle of the jungle without using any special effects and very little equipment. I highly recommend it (another film with a similar theme is Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmakers Apocalypse).

Some Wernerisms from it:

"If I abandon this project I would be a man without dreams and I don't want to live like that. My life begins and ends with this project."

"I'm running out of fantasy. I don't know what else can happen now."

There is a priceless interview, made after Herzog had spent years in the jungle trying to complete the film, during which a somewhat dazed Herzog rambles on about how the jungle is nothing but "fornication and death."

The Criterion edition also has the extra short (also by Blank) Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe. This documents Werner cooking and actually eating his shoe in payment for a lost bet. Herzog had challenged Errol Morris, then living in the San Francisco Bay Area, by saying that he was not "brave enough" to actually complete a film and that he would eat his shoe if he ever did. Morris completed Gates of Heaven and Herzog flew to Berkeley for the premiere and ate his entire right shoe (except for the sole) in front of the audience (after cooking it at Chez Panisse). The short is also available online here.

If anyone is feeling particularly generous, there is also a nifty 6 dvd box set of documentaries and shorts by Herzog.

I'll talk more about Les Blank, George Kuchar, Kurt McDowell and other Bay Area filmmakers, in a future post. My brain nearly explodes trying to imagine a San Francisco Art Institute filmmaking class in the early 1970's taught by George Kuchar with Errol Morris as a student.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Human Light Stand

There is truth in what Eric Escobar says in this post. Shoot with cheap equipment, often and then some more. What to add? Here are some opinions:

Filmmaking is hard work. Really hard. And you need to become proficient in at least one skill. Yes, it's really important to understand the soup to nuts of filmmaking but, it is inherently a collaborative process. No one person (with the exception of animation) can sustainably create films on their own. The goal is to develop relationships with people to work with whose skills dovetail with yours. Or switch roles when you work on each other's films. But at some point you are a director, writer, producer, electrician, grip, script supervisor, assistant director, sound mixer or a combination of them. You can't be great at all of them.

What is a "filmmaker?" It's a generic term that describes someone involved in the filmmaking process, from industrials to webisodes. If you talk to people who really are making a living doing this, trying to find work, they're going to want to know what are your specific skills, right now.

No matter what type of work you intend to create I think it's good to get work on sets with professionals. You will learn 100X more than you ever learned in film school. There is nothing like the sight of the grips coming in like a SWAT team to re-rig a room in a couple minutes because the shooting schedule has changed at the last minute. You learn discipline and develop the physical and emotional endurance and learn the skills to help you make your film end up looking the way you want it. You will also learn how to work in a team and how to treat a crew (especially important if you're trying to get people who know what they're doing to work for free). You will also be 20X ahead of the competition when you learn what a script supervisor does and why you must have one. Once I started to work with people who were really good at what they did I understood how important it is to surround yourself with people as hard working and dedicated as yourself.

Everyone I know who is in film works incredibly hard. I admire every last one of them. They're out there working 12-14 hour days outside in the desert or on a soundstage with 50K of lights up. They eat, sleep, work, dream filmmaking. In their free time they hang out with their film friends to network and talk. Nearly every person who makes a first feature never makes a second. I think it is important to have a long-term plan and commitment. But you also need to have a way to support yourself. And if it's not in film or complementary to film, it can ultimately drag you away from it. My observation, by no means definitive, is that making your way is a process. The harder you work, the more you put yourself out there (and don't internalize the rejection) the more likely you are to last. Yes, you may be a genius but sometimes you just might need to just be a human light stand.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Nifty visual tool for converting light color accurately

This chart (it's a pdf) is a visual tool for converting light precisely by using mired units. The left side is for using gels and the right side is for using camera filters to acheive the same effect. It's brilliant. Especially if you're the kind of person who wonders how to convert high pressure sodium light to match cool white fluorescents. Yes, we do exist.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

French Maid TV

This hot off the presses of the LA Times, a story about webisodes and an accompanying photo gallery showing "Behind the Scenes" on a French Maid TV webisode shoot.

The internets, the new frontier, the future of entertainment. On the positive side, they've cut out virtually all the dialogue on this show.

The only thing that always pops in my brain when I hear the word webisode, is the time when I heard a development executive enthuse about how cheap they were to produce and that you could get "kids who live at home to work for $50/day." I still have not heard one sustainable financial model (besides Google/YouTube or aggregators) for the webisode as an alternative model to just streaming TV over the web with commercials. If anyone has, please contact me.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Linear, Log & Exposure Explained

I highly recommend Stu Maschwitz's blog Pro Lost. This is one of the clearest explanations of the difference between log and linear and how it relates to exposure.

Stu is the creator of the Magic Bullet products and one of the co-founders of The Orphanage (check out his IMDb). His posts are clearly written and usually quite interesting. He also advocates for low-budget filmmaking (especially when the alternative is not filmmaking).

Monday, August 4, 2008

Death and Restoration

The computer with my film data files died today. Hopefully nothing happened that fried the hard drives because my original files and backup were on separate drives (lesson 1: always keep a back up in a separate location) on the same computer. Here's the thing I ordered that'll hopefully get me out of this mess:

It connects to any internal hard drive (outside of the computer), gives it power and converts it to a USB 2.0 interface. It's a good tool for a filmmaker to have anyway. Internal drives are really inexpensive and you can use them for project file archives, rather than using more expensive drives in enclosures. Just plug them in, fill them up and stick them somewhere (ok, two places) safe.

With any luck at all, I should be able to hook this mess up to either of the drives and transfer the data to my new data drive. If not, I've lost all of my film files. Ack.

Recent film work

I've been pretty busy lately. A couple of weeks ago I was Director of Photography on a short film shot up in Oakland called "Ticket to Change."

The quality of the photography can largely be attributed to the heroic efforts of Karen Abad and Michael Baca. The whole film can be seen here.

Last week I shot a spec commercial for a director with whom I enjoy working a great deal, so it was a pretty pleasurable experience. It was also a funny concept. I'll post a link when it's completed.

I am also doing pre-production on a documentary that I hope to start shooting in September. It will hopefully be one in a series that I have planned. There will be much more about that in the coming days....

Saturday, August 2, 2008

L.A.'s Loss

If you're lucky, when you're in school you get a teacher who helps you pull together concepts far beyond the boundaries of the class. I had that experience with Deron Overpeck while taking survey Documentary and Narrative film classes at LACC. So I had mixed feelings when I heard that he was leaving California for a tenure track position at Auburn University. Happy because he absolutely deserves to be on the tenure track at a major university. But also disappointed because people like Deron really add to the discussion about what film is and it just seemed right to me that he was in Los Angeles.

Besides teaching an excellent overview of the development of cinema as an art form, he also managed to clearly address the structural market issues and how they helped drive that development. He always treated student comments with respect, no matter how distant they seemed from the subject at hand, and always tried to find some truth from their input that was applicable to the topic.

My advice to cinema students at Auburn: study hard and bring extra pencils, erasers and blue books. You'll get as much as you put into his classes.

Hollywood Joke

O.K. I heard this from a person who has an IMDb listing that's a full page long.

In Hollywood, what's the difference between your friends and enemies?

Your friends stab you in the chest.

Do I look like Mother Theresa?