Filmmaking

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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One plus one equals three. It’s a fascinating idea in its simplicity and in its wrongness, but it’s the key to Ken Burns‘s work. According to the iconic documentary filmmaker (and sometimes Community homage subject), that’s the math that adds up to his storytelling success. The director is now the subject of a short documentary (because art has a sense of humor) from Sarah Klein and Tom Mason called Ken Burns: On Story (via The Atlantic). In it, they ask the central question of storytelling’s nature, and he answers with a little fuzzy math. Check it out for yourself:

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With a giant pile of movies to his name, Steven Spielberg has the considerable honor of being the only filmmaker who makes entertainment that’s massively popular, critically acclaimed and decade-enduring. It’s an illusive triumvirate. His fundamental success is owed to a lot of things, but principle among them is his childhood sense of wonder and magic – a sense he’s never let go of. His childhood was also spent with a camera in hand. From Jaws to Close Encounters of the Third Kind to Indiana Jones to The Color Purple and Empire of the Sun and Jurassic Park and Amistad and Schindler’s List and Munich and, and, and…he’s been a prolific, skilled presence in the filmmaking world for going on 5 decades, and he’s done so by spanning genres, tones, and subjects. So here’s a bit of free film school (for fans and filmmakers alike) from a little kid who hid under his bed after watching Bambi.

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There are few directors that had a career like Billy Wilder‘s. There are probably none that reached his level of skill and notability while staying as diverse as a storyteller. The man did drama and comedy with equal acuity, but his dominance of filmmaking almost didn’t happen. Born in what is now present-day Poland, Wilder left for Paris during the initial rise of the Nazi party in Germany and soon left for the States. He got out early, yes, but it’s difficult to think about the magic he’s delivered without being reminded that but for a few years he may have found himself a victim of the fear-mongering and murder that befell European Jews at the height of Hitler. Fortunately, he did get out and did go on to craft some of the best scripts and movies of the era (and, you know, of all time). His breakout was writing the hilarious Best Picture nominee Ninotchka; success he translated into a fruitful writing/directing career which produced a truckload of notable classics like Double Indemnity, A Foreign Affair, Lost Weekend, Sunset Blvd., Stalag 17, Some Like It Hot, The Seven Year Itch, The Apartment, Witness for the Prosecution, Sabrina and more. The man was seriously prolific. With six Oscars and a ridiculous list of incredible films under his belt, he’s a perfect director to take a few tips from. So here it is, a bit of free film school (for filmmakers and fans alike) from a legend.

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This post is probably not what you think. There are no LOLCats, no Rage Comic stick men bellowing about the superiority of The Dark Knight and Inception. It’s not really a love letter to modernity. But it’s also not Sight & Sound‘s decennial Top Ten List. That prestigious publication has done great work since even before polling critics in 1952 to name the best movies of all time. They’ve recreated the experiment every ten years since (with filmmakers included in 1992), and their 2012 list is due out soon. However, there is certainly overlap. The FSR poll includes only 37 critics (and 4 filmmakers), but we’re young and have moxy, and none of us were even asked by Sight & Sound for our considerable opinion. That’s what’s fascinating here. The films nominated by those invited by S&S have the air of critical and social importance to them. They are, almost all, serious works done by serious filmmakers attempting to make serious statements. This list, by contrast, is the temperature of the online movie community in regards to what movies are the “greatest.” The results might be what you expect. But probably not.

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In his review of Mean Streets, Roger Ebert claimed that Martin Scorsese had the potential to become the American Fellini in ten years. It probably didn’t really take that long. Scorsese is a living library of film, but he isn’t a dusty repository of knowledge. He’s a vibrant, imaginative creator who might know more about movies than anyone else on the planet, and that makes him uniquely qualified to be both prolific and proficient. Over the course of his career, he’s created indelible works bursting with anger, violence, fragility, care, and wonder. Never content to stick with one story mode, he’s run the gamut of styles and substance. So here’s a free bit of film school (for filmmakers and fans alike) from our American Fellini.

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Apparently it’s okay to run a business and have fun and express passion doing it. You don’t have to hate every waking second of what you’re doing to make a living – even if you’re not making a profit. We reported last summer on the dangerous prospect of a lawsuit against Smile ‘Til It Hurts: The Up With People Story director Lee Storey which attempt to prove that documentaries are for education and not entertainment. That distinction would change their IRS tax status and mean that documentary filmmakers who never get their work distribution or make money (read: many of them) would not be able to write off the production costs as a deduction. All of that sounds ridiculous (and way too dry and boring to start thinking about) but the implications were clear: documentary filmmaking would be severely injured by the ruling. Fortunately, it’s time to celebrate because Variety is reporting that the IRS just lost their lawsuit against Storey. Our long national nightmare is finally over.

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From On the Town to Royal Wedding to Singin’ in the Rain, Stanley Donen revolutionized movie musicals by making them truly cinematic. Instead of being anchored to the theater stage, he tossed those anchors away and set his ambitious sights on filming a musical in the largest city in the country (impossible!), using camera work to aid the story (crazy!) and challenging old ideas. That, and the fact that he just turned 88 this month, make him our Movie Icon of April. Let’s celebrate his work together. Download Episode #131

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Stanley Kubrick has appeared in the credits for at least 17 films since his death in 1999. How is that possible? There’s a ton of people thanking him and making movies about him. His influence stretches even beyond his impressive body of work. The infamous control freak has taken us to the Overlook Hotel, to a War Room where there’s no fighting, on an odyssey in space and beyond. He’s an indelible part of the film conversation who had a rare gift for challenging conventions while embracing components of traditional commercial filmmaking. Last Friday’s Short Film of the Day was a hint at which director this column would take on next, so here it is: a free bit of film school (for fans and filmmakers alike) from a chaotic mind with a gorgeous eye. Or, as Kirk Douglas put it, “a talented shit.”

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Calling in from a dirty van somewhere in the American south, Darren Bousman speaks with the kind of quiet calm that has seen the heights of horror success and the self-made sweat of passion projects being wrung out in the system. It’s half electricity, half exhaustion. His latest flick 11-11-11 hit DVD yesterday, and watching the film, it’s easy to climb inside the writer/director’s own struggles with faith and depression. He’s a remarkably open filmmaker, sharing his personal feelings (no matter how dark) with his fans, never sparing the emotional details. Fortunately, it’s that incredibly candid spirit that comes alive in this conversation. From the bloodiness of the Bible to why 11-11-11 wasn’t his finest hour to the thrills of taking his Devil’s Carnival on the road, Bousman is as blunt as they come. Download This Interview

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Perfectionist. Demanding. Hard to work with. David Fincher is a man who hates his own brand but is secure in his own reputation. Of course, it’s a little bit easy when that reputation includes stunning movies and a mind that can operate at an auteur speed in the high-occupancy Hollywood studio lane. He’s a (mostly) accessibly genius, which is rare and which means that we as fans and filmmakers can learn a lot from him. Fortunately, he’s as free with his advice as he is with his nightmarish visions. Here’s a bit of free film school from a living legend.

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This is the fight of the generation. The proliferation of technology, the cost and the spread of “democratic filmmaking” have propelled digital to the forefront, threatening to end 35mm as a platform. As more theaters convert wholly to digital projection and “projectionists” only understand how to press a button to make the movie work, the 100-year-old medium of preference is losing out. Which is why Christopher Nolan gathered the most prominent filmmakers together to watch 6 minutes of The Dark Knight Rises. As Gendy Alimurung writes in an absolute must-see article in LA Weekly evocatively titled, “Movie Studios Are Forcing Hollywood to Abandon 35mm Film. But the Consequences of Going Digital are Vast, and Troubling,” Edgar Wright, Michael Bay, Bryan Singer and a host of other notable names were brought in for the “ulterior motive” of Nolan’s plea to save 35mm. Now, he’s fighting with ink. In the latest edition of the DGA Quarterly, the master filmmaker has some lofty words for 35mm and a strong dismissal of change for change’s sake.

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Alfred Hitchcock was born in the 19th century but gave birth in the 20th century to the age of modern filmmaking. Famous for his wit, inventive appreciation of the macabre, and a firm belief that suspense involves bringing a victim out from the shadows into the light he crafted the kinds of movies that made you care about characters even while reaching for your cholesterol medication. He also has a lot to teach. To fellow filmmakers and fans alike. Which is why we’ve chosen him as the first teacher in a new series of weekly articles where master movie-makers share their insights. Throughout his life, Hitchcock was candid about his methods and philosophies (amongst other things he flung around freely). Here’s a bit of free film school from a true visionary.

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Aural Fixation - Large

Song placement plays a very important role in a film – a song can make you feel happy, sad, nostalgic or make you laugh. Scores can certainly do the same thing, but sometimes a well-placed song works better than any composed piece could. However this tact rarely applies to horror films, especially when leading up to a climatic moment or a jump scare. You can usually sense when these moments are coming – the score becomes ominous, (or even drops out completely) causing your heart beat to quicken as you sense something terrifying is about to be revealed. These moments are almost always driven by score and rarely (if ever) feature a lyric-filled song. And this choice makes sense since lyrics would probably distract from the suspense of the moment instead of drawing it out and, in turn, drawing you into the horror. For horror films, songs with vocals are usually left for party scenes or if a character on screen happens to be listening to the radio, but they are rarely placed within the scene to underscore it. It raises a great question: can a pop or rock song fit into these pivotal moments and have the same effect? Or is this strictly a score or silence choice? I spoke with composer Kurt Oldman who is well-versed in the world of horror film scoring having lent his style to the creepy scores for Killer Holiday, Babysitter Wanted and Neighbor to get his perspective on this idea, how he approaches scoring horror films […]

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In 1989, James Cameron explored the fictional deep in The Abyss, and when he dove nearly 7 miles into the Mariana Trench, he unfortunately didn’t meet any gooey alien-like beings, but he did beat a solo dive record and figuratively witnessed a different world inside our own. But hasn’t that always been the job of a good storyteller? To witness and share other worlds within our own? Cameron is a visionary storyteller, and we have a lot to learn from him even as we enjoy his movies. Here is his TED Talk from 2010 where he discusses his unreal worlds and his limitless curiosity – something that seems incredibly relevant right now.

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Aural Fixation - Large

After exploring the lack of ladies when it comes to the world of composing, I decided to go directly to the source and ask a composer who is currently (and actively) working in the business, and who also happens to be a woman. Miriam Cutler is best known for her work in documentaries such as Thin, Lost in La Mancha and Ethel (which recently premiered at the Sundance Film Festival back in January.) I spoke with Cutler not just about her background in music and composing (which is both impressive and extensive), but also about her perspective on the industry as a whole and as a woman working in it. While there may not be many well-known female composers at the moment, they are certainly on the rise. With veterans like Cutler paving the way, it sounds like many composers coming into the industry now are not just men, and it will be interesting to see how this change affects and influences future film scores.

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