Aug 18, 2009

How To Write A Blockbuster Movie

The biggest question of all, when it comes to making your own film, is how do I write a movie? This may seem an overly simplified question, but whatever idea or story you are working on, this question keeps coming up. Even through the shooting process, you are wondering to yourself, "Is this interesting? Is the story working? Is there suspense? Is the story clear? Are the characters intriguing? Is this plot point clearly identified? Will the audience be engaged? Will they be confused?"

It goes on and on. I'm not going to spend time on how to choose an idea or a theme that intrigues you. For this article, I'm going to assume you have one. If you're like me, it comes to you when you're thinking of something else, or you read or see something and you think, "That is a great idea. I can see that as a film." The more visual the idea, the better.

There are many schools of thought on how to write a story. It goes on and on. Someone will say it takes months, but then you read in an article that writer/director John Hughes wrote his scripts in a weekend. It all depends on who you are and how well you've thought out your story. I'm sure James Cameron takes many months. John Hughes takes a weekend. Time is inconsequential. If you are ambitious, you can write quickly, and do rewrites later. As Neil Simon says, it's all in the rewrites. Don't worry about the early drafts. Expect them to be crap. But finish them. Finish them.

After film school, and reading hundreds of books, I can advise a few shortcuts that are actually, sincerely helpful. This is the list:

Read "The Writer's Journey", by Christopher Vogler. (It will break down why stories work, on a mythical/dramatic level. Very inspiring, with lots of film references and plot breakdowns of "Wizard of Oz" and other classical scripts.)

Read "The Art of Dramatic Writing", by Lajos Egri. (Recommended by many filmmakers, an indispensable guide to building your story around the main character and escalating the drama as the story unfolds.)

Watch "Power of Myth" series, as presented by Bill Moyers and Joseph Campbell (available for instant download on Netflix). Campbell is George Lucas's hero and mentor. This is in-depth, cerebral, heavy stuff, but incredibly inspiring. I watch it every few years and always learn more. Filmed at Skywalker Ranch.

Read any book about the writers/directors you love and their creative process.

Watch you favorite films in the genre you are writing for and break them down into an outline, scene by scene, and noting the time in the film that each event occurs (which would correspond to the page number of the script, in theory).

These are the most helpful and inspiring books and videos that I have read in my lifetime, and all more inspiring than anything I learned at film school in New York. There are many other books that people plug (like the Syd Field books), but I'm not going to recommend those, because as a writer, those books analyze storytelling from the outside in. In other words, they analyze the stories after they are written, instead of looking for processes by which they were written. When writing a story, I have found I'm more interested in materials that talk about writing from the "inside out". In other words, how to turn an idea into a story, and how to revise it once I've got a sketchy idea.

I hope these guides help you. Good luck to you on your writer's journey.


Aug 10, 2009

$70 Zombie Movie Gets Distribution

For those who didn't hear this news back in May, I thought it was definitely worth mentioning here where we talk about making independent films and doing them on our own dime.  Mark Price shot a film(on digital video) in London called COLIN that created quite a buzz at the Cannes film festival in May.  It was a zombie movie he shot with friends that created quite a stir.  The film was recently acquired for release by Kaleidescope Entertainment.  The most surprising fact of this tale is that Price quoted the entire budget of the film as being $7o (U.S. funds)!  

Now, to be honest, there has been endless web speculation about whether it was really that cheap to shoot, but the fact of the matter is, even if it cost more than that, it was cheap.  It was not millions, or hundreds of thousands, or probably even tens of thousands.

Mark worked at a private taxi firm for 18 months while he put his film together.  How in the world can you make a film for $70?  Price uses the Robert Rodriguez approach and gets all of his friends together to support the film in whatever way they can, and only pulls out his wallet when it's absolutely necessary.  

He used web social networking sites (which here in the states would be Craigslist, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) to recruit actors and crew and asked everyone to bring what they needed to the shoot.

The plot of COLIN centers around a man who is bitten by someone, dies, then rises from the dead.  Price said he was inspired by DAWN OF THE DEAD, but wanted to tell the story from the zombie's point of view.  He told all his friends he would make this film, and do it with almost no budget.

As for what he spent $70 on to make the film, Price's answer is a crowbar, video tapes, and coffee and tea for the crew.

Aug 8, 2009

Where To Sell Your Scripts and Screenplays

You've finished a script, and you want to sell it.  Time to market it.

If you aren't interested in producing/directing your own scripts, there are some websites where you can add your script to a database, usually for a small membership fee (it's often free for short film scripts).  The scripts are then viewed by producers and production company reps looking for new material.  If they see something they like, they will contact you to option or purchase your script.  

The websites describe their success rates, and it's definitely worth a shot.  The sites claim to have many producers and distributors looking for product, and they promote their recent sales in their free newsletters.
To your success....

Aug 7, 2009

How To Color Correct Your Movie

After the shooting is done, the editing is finalized, you need to pat yourself on the back. This is a major accomplishment, since many would-be filmmakers never finish the editing process. They watch their footage, realize they can't make it perfect, make their "vision" come to light, and they subsequently give up. But not you! You've got a final cut, and if you're smart, you've tested it on some samples of your intended audience. Not just your friends. A few people who don't know you, who will tell you the truth, and ideally, people who represent your intended audience, whether they are the Michael Bay 12-year old boys or the high-brow and endearingly neurotic Woody Allen crowd.

Now there are a few stages your film still needs to go through to be festival-worthy. Color correction (color timing) of the footage and sound clean up/mixing.

For color correction, I can recommend one book that cleared the fog: "The Art and Technique of Digital Color Correction", by Steve Hullfish.

Color correction tools are easy to come by now, with the progress of home computer apps and digital technology. Enjoy this! The world at your fingertips! You can color-time something you shot on your front lawn and make it look like a scene from "300". A decade ago, this was not possible -- you had to shoot on film and take it to the lab. Now you can test everything on Final Cut Pro, After Effects, etc.

Color timing comes down to several basic adjustments to your footage. The white level (how hot your brights are), the black level (how dark your darks are), and the most creative level -- the midrange. With these three adjustments, you will have a great looking picture (if the footage you shot has some range).

The next stage is where you can adjust colors and start to get really artistic, monkeying with saturations, crushing the blacks, or saturating everything to look like an old Ectachrome movie from the '60s, shot on vacation at the beach somewhere, with deep blues and bleeding reds.

Have fun. Do not underestimate the power of "post" (post-production). Do try to get the best footage you can while shooting, but tools at your color-correcting fingertips these days are a godsend. You can run your own film house now and make beautiful images limited only by your imagination.

One other tip: Save jpegs off the web of painting, photographic stills, and film stills that inspire you. When you are color-correcting your film, consult these, and something may jump out at you and inspire you in the scene you are working on. Don't be afraid to get crazy and try new things. Save multiple versions of your film cut if you are nervous.

B. Nathan