Filmmaking

Joss Whedon

No matter how big he wins, he will always be our underdog. Joss Whedon, the writer who cut his teeth on Roseanne and started cult phenomenons like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, seems perennially boned over by The Man who secretly placed a glass ceiling on his mainstream success. That is, until he Hulk smashed through it this summer. For some, it may seem strange to check out filmmaking thoughts from Whedon, since he’s only directed three feature films (one of which has only been at festivals so far), but his success rate across mediums is unreal and his particular talent peerless. Serenity was and is a fan factory while The Avengers found the impossible sweet spot that satisfied fans and the financiers. Not to mention his screenwriting career and Oscar nomination. So here’s a bit of free film school (for fans and filmmakers alike) from Joss the Boss. Maybe we’ll learn who actually calls him that.

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Paul Thomas Anderson

By now, a large amount of people have been able to see The Master and to build a few sandcastles with Paul Thomas Anderson. The director has grown from a young man fascinated by the nondescript buildings with porn being shot inside to a formidable creator, exploring twists on religion and family. He’s got film fans in his palm, which makes every new project he releases an event movie. But he still remembers to wait until the coffee is poured. So here is a bit of free film school (for fans and filmmakers alike) from a 70mm heavyweight.

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Werner Herzog

Werner Herzog got shot by an air rifle in 2006 during an interview with the BBC. He, of course, continued the interview and declined to get the police involved because, you know, they would have overreacted by trying to apprehend the shooter. Unsurprisingly, this happened shortly after he pulled Joaquin Phoenix from a crashed car on Sunset Boulevard. To look at his work, you have to look into a colorful life – the details of which approach folklore – because there’s often a clear connection between the two. The best example? When he was doing location scouting for Aguirre, Wrath of God and cancelled a plane ticket that would have seen him inside a turboprop that was struck by lightning mid-air with only one survivor. We all have stories of narrowly avoiding danger, but few are as dramatic as that, and almost none of them result in a movie being made. Yet that’s what Herzog does. He makes movies. So why not make Wings of Hope where you focus on the only woman to survive a plane disintegration that you should have been in? Why not push a giant boat up a mountain if that’s what the script demands? Why not eat your own shoe? So here’s a bit of free film school (for fans and filmmakers alike) from the mad man of Munich whose last name means “Duke.”

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Monty Python

While they’re probably most famous for their television show (unless you worship Monty Python and the Holy Grail more (and unless you worship Life of Brian more)), the group made up of Eric Idle, Graham Chapman, Michael Palin, John Cleese, Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam was arguably the most influential and revolutionary comedy group of the 20th century. Fortunately, all of them continue to work in a ton of different entertainment and educational fields, except for Chapman who became incredibly lazy after his death. They only made 2 narrative features together, but both made a massive impact, creating a kind of cultural shibboleth for people that got it and people that didn’t. They’ve influenced countless other comedians and made a mark by blending absurdity with thoughtfulness and intelligence hiding behind people in duck costumes. So here’s a bit of free film school (for fans and filmmakers alike) from the friends of Gwen Dibbley.

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Frank Darabont Walking Dead

There’s only a 7 year gap between Frank Darabont delivering A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors and delivering The Shawshank Redemption. He wrote the script for the first and wrote and directed the second, but how ridiculously awesome is that combination? Darabont started out as a production assistant for the 1981 Linda Blair-starring Hell Night, which is as schlocky good as it gets, and has gone on to build an Oscar-nominated career based on his keen ability to adapt excellent books into excellent films. He’s probably also a great guy to grab a beer with. So here’s a bit of free film school (for fans and filmmakers alike) from the man who gave us the #1 film according to over 800,000 IMDB users.

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Tony Scott

This is a celebration. It’s come about because of a terrible situation, but it’s a celebration nonetheless. It’s undeniable that Tony Scott affected the filmmaking world at large. Perhaps it wasn’t a revolution or a primordial yawp of a momentum shift, but he opened doors for commercial directors in a big way, continued to innovate when he could have been settling in, and he refused to keep still. Or to keep the camera still. Seriously. Guy did not like a static camera. He gave us absurdity that we took seriously (Top Gun), action films that hopped across genre lines (like The Last Boy Scout) and gut punches that we’re still taping up (Crimson Tide, True Romance, and more). Here’s a bit of free film school (for fans and filmmakers alike) from a rebellious director/producer who will be missed.

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Sylvester Stallone Directing

Sylvester Stallone is the man. An incredible intelligent writer/director and a savvy actor with chops far beyond the action genre that kept him caged for more than a few years, he’s crafted several profound characters that have stuck in our collective conscious for decades. It’s also awesome to watch him leap from an exploding mountain while splaying bullets everywhere. Nominated for two Academy Awards, he’s that rare mix of storytelling brains and aggressive brawn that defies stereotyping. So here’s a bit of free film school (for fans and filmmakers alike) from the erudite artist known as Sly.

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History of the World Critic

“Asking a writer what he thinks of critics is like asking what a fire hydrant feels about dogs.” No one has portrayed that Ann Landers quote better (or more directly) than Mel Brooks in History of the World: Part 1 in the sketch where a caveman critic pisses all over a newly envisioned cave drawing. Not only is the relationship between creator and critic as old as man, it’s also always involved urination. On the most recent edition of the Scriptnotes podcast, screenwriters John August and Craig Mazin discuss the looming spectre that is The Critic – a terrifying boogeyman for some, a knock-kneed weakling to others, and a complete non-entity to more. “Well this isn’t going to endear me with many critics,” begins Mazin (who recently explained the depressing state of screenwriting as a career to Reject Radio listeners). “I don’t care. I do not care. I don’t write movies for critics; I write movies for audiences. My entire focus is on what the audience thinks of the film.” The thing is, that outlook does endear him to me. That may sound counter-intuitive coming from a critic, but it’s an excellent mindset to have as a creator. Here’s why.

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Charlie Kaufman

Charlie Kaufman is crazy, but he’s not that crazy. This according to Charlie Kaufman. He also can’t tell you how to write a screenplay, which is the frustrating truth straight from the Oscar winner’s mouth. After all, if writing were like putting together something from IKEA, we’d all have golden statuettes. Meaningless gold statuettes. Kaufman is the kind of writer that challenges convention. From Being John Malkovich to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind to his directorial debut Synecdoche, New York, even his titles aren’t typical. He’s thoughtful and careful, but most of all he’s a daring explorer tracking through uncharted terrain hoping to find something special but not necessarily hoping he’ll blaze a trail to it. He’s also got a lot to say, so here’s a bit of free film school (for fans and filmmakers alike) from a totally sane crazy person.

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John Ford

John Ford is The Western. Instrumental in elevating the genre and crafting more iconic films than can fit in a saddle bag, the director had a filmmaking career spanning 63 years and managed to make eye patches cool on top of building a legendary resume. Sporting four Oscars (for How Green Was My Valley, The Grapes of Wrath, The Informer and The Quiet Man), Ford saw the work of a filmmaker as a way to make a living, a job not to be seen through romance or puffery. Still, it’s impossible to overstate his influence. If you could ask David Lean, Martin Scorsese, Stanley Kubrick and other masters who inspired them, they’d all bring up Ford’s name. The directors we all look up to, look up to him. So here’s a bit of free film school (for fans and filmmakers alike) from the man who made Jimmy Stewart play Wyatt Earp so audiences wouldn’t go to the bathroom.

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Last Chants for a Slow Dance

Editor’s Introduction: With his first feature in 1974, Jon Jost launched a filmmaking career that can be proudly described as fiercely independent. His work has been seen at festivals all over the world, the MOMA in New York, AFI Film Theater in DC, and the UCLA Film Archive in LA. He’s made dozens of short films and dozens of features, although his most famous are probably All the Vermeers in New York and The Bed You Sleep In (for which he won respective awards at the Berlin Film Festival). And he continues to make movies at a furious pace. Normally we comb interviews and quotes for this feature, but for this entry, Jost himself contacted us with the desire to share a few tips. So, it’s with great honor that we present a bit of free film school (for fans and filmmakers alike) from an American indie icon. Now, in his own words (and with his own tough love)…

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Christopher Nolan

Born in July of 1970, Christopher Nolan was always sort of made for Summer. As an adult, that promise has been fulfilled with blockbuster spectacles in the hot months, but it all started when he was a child. It was then that he picked up the drug that became an obsession for the rest of his life: a Super 8 camera. The result of those early ambitions and the study of storytelling in college led him to create shorts, build a feature in Memento that drew acclaim, and to embark on a studio career that has blended intelligence with popular culture. He’s invaded our dreams, altered a genre and made magic. So here’s a bit of free film school (for fans and filmmakers alike) from a man who is waiting for a train…

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Yorgos Lanthimos confounded and excited fans with Dogtooth and he returns to theaters this summer with Alps – the story of a group that begins a business where they impersonate the recently deceased in order to help the mourning cope. In this interview with Landon Palmer, Lanthimos discusses toying with identity and death while giving an eye into his filmmaking process (and describing the difficulty in marketing a movie while trying to maintain its mysteriousness). Download Episode #140

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Michael Haneke

Earlier in the year, Michele Haneke became the 7th director in history to win more than one Palme d’Or at Cannes. The record for most Palme d’Or wins is now a seven-way tie. The writer/director’s work is often enigmatic or experimental, but he’s also crafted stories that plumb the dramatic depths of loving relationships and extensively explored the beauty of music. From The Seventh Continent to Love, he’s made us question our role as viewers, challenged concepts of freedom and security, and did it all by making entertaining films. Some of which involve pig slaughter. So here’s a bit of free film school (for fans and filmmakers alike) from the man who turned Jean-Luc Godard’s most famous quote upside down.

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Aaron Sorkin Syracuse

Aaron Sorkin gave us a counter-programmed President, and now he’s trying to imagine what the world of the press should have looked like over the past two years. Perhaps most known for creating TV shows like The West Wing and Sports Night, he’s also an Oscar winner who’s written 6 excellent films, starting with A Few Good Men. His resume is one thing, but even it can’t really encapsulate why he’s an important figure in filmmaking. That’s more ephemeral, the kind of thing that comes with making a distinctive name for yourself through a particular style. There’s no denying that Sorkin’s writing can be picked out of a line up, and that’s one of the major reasons he’s become such an intractable part of popular culture even while rising above its lower regions. Here’s a bit of free film school (for fans and filmmakers alike) from a man who can handle the truth.

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Nora Ephron on Set

Nora Ephron‘s film career – despite three Oscar nominations and credit with re-inventing an entire genre – somehow doesn’t get the legendary status that it probably deserves. She only wrote and/or directed a few more than a dozen movies, but in those films she delivered iconic characters that achieved a sense of honesty that few filmmakers are even brave enough to approach. She fought myopic views about her sex to build fame as a journalist, an essayist, a novelist, a screenwriter and a director. She got started in screenwriting because everyone else was writing scripts, her film school was being on set with Mike Nichols, and her work made a huge impact on popular culture and faked orgasms. So here it is, a bit of free film school (for fans and filmmakers alike) from a comedy genius.

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Daniel Stamm‘s A Necessary Death is like a shot of whiskey that’s easy to pour but not easy to drink. His directorial debut (which won him the job for The Last Exorcism) follows a film student making a documentary about a man preparing for, and going through with, his suicide. It’s difficult territory to be certain, but it’s handled with grace, humor, and more than a few touching moments which make the horror of the inevitable and the twisting emotions growing in the film crew that much harder to handle. It’s an excellent movie, and Stamm joins us to delve deeper into its creation (and audience’s reactions). Download Episode #138

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Ridley Scott on Alien Set

Of the directors we’ve covered in this feature, Ridley Scott might be the most forward. He’s brash an unorthodox, and when speaks, you get the sense that he threw his filter in the trash years ago. At this point, brass buttons are well-deserved. Alien, Blade Runner, Black Rain, Thelma & Louise, Gladiator, Kingdom of Heaven, Black Hawk Down, and a popcorn bucket-full more prove the man’s vision as a storyteller. A movie fan from a young age, Scott first found success as a commercial director. His first flick, The Duelists, was hailed at Cannes but made it to few screens beyond. It was a science fiction journey featuring a seven-member crew woken from stasis to explore a strange signal that made him a major name, and this weekend he dives back into that world with Prometheus. So here’s a bit of free film school (for fans and filmmakers alike) from a bloke from South Shields.

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Wes Anderson

Oh, Wes Anderson. Some have already gotten to see his latest film, Moonrise Kingdom, and even more will see it as it opens wider this weekend. Without seeing his name on the title cards, it’s easy to spot as one of his projects. The auteur has developed a look and feel all his own – usually constructed by primary colors, detailed set design, Britpop, and Bill Murray. This Texan who often lives in France is idiosyncratic in his storytelling, but he’s also unafraid to put his personal demons onto the screen (in as twee a way as possible). From Bottle Rocket to Rushmore to Fantastic Mr. Fox, his work is usually ridiculously rich and infinitely quotable. So here is a bit of free film school (for fans and filmmakers alike) from the son of an advertiser and an archeologist.

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Filmmaking Tips from The Coen Brothers

There are a lot of stories about colleagues and reporters asking Joel and Ethan Coen questions only to get the same exact answer from both (or to get one finishing the other’s sentence), so it seems at least plausible that they’d both agree on all these tips – no matter which brother they came from. Joel Coen got his start as an assistant editor on Fear No Evil and The Evil Dead. He and his brother then partnered for their first movie without the word “evil” in the title, Blood Simple., which rightly launched them to prominence where they’d go on to craft Raising Arizona, The Big Lebowski, countless other modern classics and a trophy case for all their awards. All of this fulfilled a childhood dream of making movies that started with a Super 8 camera and a hobby of remaking what they saw on television. So here’s a bit of free film school (for fans and filmmakers alike) from two young masters who think exactly alike.

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published: 04.19.2014
A-
published: 04.19.2014
B+
published: 04.18.2014
C-
published: 04.18.2014
C

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