Friday, October 30, 2009

With Or Without, You Laugh Track You

Discovered the YouTube sub-genre of adding laugh tracks to serious/intense movie scenes yesterday. Some, including THIS ONE from 'The Dark Night' amused me much...but Friday Fun worthy is the following gem using a scene from 'Pulp Fiction'. Winner!

(Also very entertaining is THIS SCENE from 'Friends' without the laugh track...awk-ward)

Because it makes me smile.

H/T Matt MacLennan

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Horror The Horror & Scaring Up A Scary Score...Again

More reprints with slight updating, as Halloween week continues.

Paranormal Activity scared up over 20 million at the box office last weekend, proving once again that public appetite for 'horrific' fare still reigns supreme, especially when All Hallows Eve approaches. Also in the spirit of Halloween, my tweenage son and I watched Will Smith's I Am Legend on Friday night.

Bad idea.

Now I am old and jaded, so it didn't do much for me (not to mention an abundance of CGI which, however well it's done, always tends to push me out of a movie as opposed to draw me in), but it freaked my son out. A lot. He's since woken up from nightmares, and when awake hasn't stopped talking about it - ("...what if world got wiped out by virus?" "...what if a virus turned us into flesh-hungry zombie-like creatures?"). What if. What if. Gak.

I will admit I feel a little guilty for subjecting him to it (even though he was the one who said: "Let's watch something scary!")

"I Am Legend", like most contemporary horror films, isn't 'original'. The story is adapted from a 1954 sci-fi novel by Richard Matheson, which has been filmed twice before, as "The Last Man on Earth" (1964), and "The Omega Man" (1971) starring Charlton Heston.

And I do remember "The Omega Man". Oh yes. It freaked me out when I first saw it...probably around the same age as my son is now. And like him, I didn't even see it in a theatre but on late-night television, and it still freaked. Of course, checking it out now, it seems pretty cheesy...but way back when...Omega Man...."shiver".

Sticking with 'when I was younger', the two movies constantly referenced as well-made pictures that also managed to scare the crap out of the audience were "The Exorcist" and "Psycho".

No argument here...but when I eventually saw them, I'd either heard too much already or my expectations were too high, and I felt let down. I wasn't 'fugged up'.

"Jaws", on the other hand, freaked me out quite a bit, but most wouldn't really categorize it as a horror movie. The first "Halloween" and "Friday the 13th" and "A Nightmare on Elm Street" all had their moments, but they were just good candy-coated popcorn...tasty in the moment, but generating very little of the residual 'wake up screaming covered in sweat later that night' factor.

No, the two that really did it for me it were John Carpenter's "The Thing" (1982)...

...and Ridley Scott's "Alien" (1979).

I suppose one could debate whether they are 'horror movies' in the classic sense as well, but I would say so. At their core they're 'trapped in the house with a monster' movies...relentlessly suspenseful and tension-filled...and they succeeded in achieving horror's highest score - they scared the bejesus out of me.

Now, onto some soundtracks that helped make those movies even scarier...and not surprisingly, a lot of the most hauntingly memorable scores are from a lot of the same films.

First rule seems to be LOTS of minor keys...major notes or chords, not so much.

Next, refrain from resonance...add plenty of dissonance.

Then bring on the cacophony...leave the harmony on the shelf.

And finally, a LOT of repetition...drilling it into your head over and over...this is scary...this is scary...this is scary...

As for classic horror movie soundtracks, there's the obvious ones..John William's Jaws... the theme from The Shining... Bernard Herrmann's score from Psycho...Mike Oldfield's theme from The Exorcist... Krzysztof Komeda's score from Rosemary's Baby ...Jerry Goldsmith's The Omen ...

But even though clearly influenced by Oldfield (in the case of Halloween) and Berrmann (in the case of Friday the 13th), for me the two most memorable have to be from the 'original' modern slasher films...

John Carpenter's theme for 'Halloween':

...and Harry Manfredini's theme for 'Friday the 13th':

Ki ki ki... ma ma ma ma

Ki ki ki... ma ma ma ma


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Manipulation, Anticipation, and 'The Bus'

Nice post from Lee A. Matthais at The Last Reveal about 'What's Scary...?' when it comes to film making. A taste:

So, the real question is whether the manipulation positively serves the story, whether it positively serves the audience. If said manipulation acts in service to the filmmaker’s intentions, and they are artistically reasonable and ethical as evidenced by a generally satisfactory result, then such manipulation is valid and acceptable. Notice that I did not say the result had to achieve its ends through honesty. Deception is an axiom in art. The question, rather, is, “Does it serve the work effectively and to the benefit of a satisfactory audience experience?” So, while there is bad audience manipulation, all audience manipulation isn’t bad. As we’ve said, all communication is manipulation. The operative term, then, is “mutually-positive”—for the story, and for the audience—manipulation.

Scary movies succeed for the same reasons all movies succeed: they satisfy their audiences. Audiences aren’t satisfied by ever-larger explosions, ever-more diabolical torture devices. They are satisfied by having their expectations exceeded, by being happily or thrillingly surprised, by being entertained, not shown new technology. They’re satisfied not by the quantity of blood, but instead by the quality of the experience.

So, how to achieve said quality? It’s a well-known principle that fear is far worse before the fearful event than it is during. That implies that what goes on in the audience’s mind is far more powerful than what goes on before its eyes.

The piece is primarily about the making of scary movies as opposed to the writing of them (I'm still trying to come up with that magic tip list that assures us when a screenplay reads scary it will also play scary on the screen, as opposed to always being dependent on 'the execution'), but is still an entertaining and educational post.

Read the rest HERE.

Twisting And Turning...Again

In the spirit of Hallowe'en, I'm going to revisit an old post (updated slightly) and talk about writing the mystery/thriller TV screenplay.

First, decide whether your mystery is "open" (meaning the viewer knows whodunit from the start), or whether it is "closed" (meaning we the viewer find out what or who the killer is the same time that the hero does).

Paraphrasing Lee Goldberg from the Mystery Readers Journal:

An open mystery works when both the murderer, and the viewer, think the perfect crime has been committed. The pleasure is watching the hero unravel the crime, and find the flaws you didn't see. A closed mystery works when the murder seems impossible to solve, and the clues that are found don't seem to point to any one person, but the hero sees the connection you don't and unmasks the killer with it.

According to Goldberg, 'Columbo' mysteries were always open. In more recent television shows, we see open mysteries on 'Law & Order: Criminal Intent', even 'Heroes' and 'Dexter' are open to some degree, and a lot of the 'X Files' were open mysteries (as in we usually knew 'who' or 'what' was up to no good, we just didn't know 'how' they were doing it)....but just about everything else on network TV these days are closed mysteries or a mix of the two (as in they start closed, and then open up). The CSI's, the Law and Order's, Medium, Criminal Minds, Cold Case, Bones...even more dramatic shows like House and Lie To Me are all structured around a closed mystery.

Some shows (like House) will hold off solving the mystery and revealing the killer (or disease) until almost the very end (Act 5, or is it Act 6 these days?), but most shows reveal the killer/'monster either at the mid point or by the end of act 3 so the hero can 'catch' whoever or whatever the bad guy is. (I say whatever because I'm primarily experienced in genre mysteries (sci fi, paranormal, etc.) where the bad guy can be a bad 'thing'.).

And when it comes to constructing the plot for good genre mysteries (like X Files; Buffy; Angel; Firefly...and today you've got Supernatural; Smallville; Warehouse 13; Sanctuary; even Chuck, etc.), there is one question always be asked:

What is it...what is it really.

(In the case of procedurals and investigative mystery programs like 'Veronica Mars' or 'Castle' or 'Bones', the mantra becomes: Who is it...who is it really.)

Take that tip to the bank, baby.

We put this principle into practice constantly on 'The Outer Limits', 'Earth: Final Conflict', and 'Psi Factor' (as in, if it looked like a werewolf wreaking havoc, it damn well better not turn out to be a werewolf). And we studied and learned from the master, Joss Whedon.

Whedon (Buffy, Angel, Firefly, Dollhouse) and his disciples execute this principle to perfection in their shows. It was always a closed mystery, and would usually remain that way until the mid point or end of the third act. If you thought Buffy was losing her powers and Giles was out to harm her, it would turn out that Giles was preparing his Slayer for a rite of passage test set for her 18th birthday. Or if Buffy thought swamp creatures were eviscerating members of the school swim team, the reveal would be that the swimmers were actually turning into creatures themselves because of all of the steroids the coach was feeding them.

What is it...what is it really.

Of course, this is just one aspect to telling a good mystery story. To take it to the next level, you also need to pick an overall theme to flesh out the episode. Whedon would take something dramatic like 'honesty is best policy' or 'believe in yourself' and let the character conflict drive the drama in conjunction with the unfolding mystery. Yet he always kept you on your toes, and tended to not only play the 'what is it...what is it really' card in the overall story, but even within individual scenes.

Here's the opening from his pilot for the 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' TV series...



The buildings of the affluent Southern California school gleam darkly in the moonlight. We TRACK about the campus – it's deserted.

TRACK through the halls. Nothing.



We track along the wall, past the maps and drawings tacked up on it, past the window, which SHATTERS in our faces!

It's just a single pane, knocked in by someone's hand. It unlocks the window and slides it up.


The intruder is a college age BOY, a timid GIRL beside him. She looks about nervously.

Are you sure this is a good idea?

It's a great idea! Come on.


As they climb in. She peers around some more as he shuts the window behind them.

You go to school here?

Used to.

It's nice.

It gets better. Come on.



He leads her through the back of the school theater and


which is lavishly dressed as an over-sized alley set: a huge wooden fence, trash cans, etc. It looks suspiciously like the set of CATS. She wanders through it a bit.


Suddenly the curtains open, revealing the empty auditorium, and the foot lights come up. The boy has worked all this from the side of the stage. He comes up to her.

Cool, huh?

I'm sure we're not supposed to be here…

He moves to kiss her, but she turns suddenly, real fear crossing her face.

What was that?

What was what?

I heard a noise.

It's nothing.

Maybe it's something…

Maybe it's some Thing…

That's not funny.

He looks about them. The place is dark shadowy. She cowers behind him.



There's nobody here.

Are you sure?

I'm sure.


She bares HORRIBLE FANGS and BURIES them in his neck.



Simple. Clean. Effective. And with a Twist. A nervous girl is led into a school by a horny boy. It's late at night. It's a little creepy. He's a little creepy. We're nervous. We're concerned for her well-being. And it turns out he's the one we should have been concerned for. A perfect example of good 'what is it...what is it really' mystery story-telling, from the man who had Buffy the vampire slayer fall in love for the first time with...a vampire, of course (albeit one with a soul).

Not to over simplify things, or to suggest that there's not more to it all than this...but you'll be a lot further ahead in the mystery game if you begin with...

What is it...what is it really.

SONG&ARTIST? - "Romeo was restless, he was ready to kill.
He jumped out the window cause he couldn't sit still.
Juliet was waiting with a safety net.
He said "Don't bury me cause I'm not dead yet"..."

Monday, October 26, 2009

Talent Assumed Of Course

A NICE SUMMARY HERE of a panel on TV Development at the Austin Film Fest starring “Lost” co-creator Damon Lindelof, “Freaks and Geeks” creator Paul Feig, and late-night comedy writer Chuck Sklar.

A taste:

On writing “safe”: “Nobody knows what safe is,” Lindelof said. “If anybody knew, there would be no pilots and no failures. People are always asking me, ‘Do you have another “Lost” in you?’ That completely ignores that (‘Lost’) was a fluke. People are always saying something is the the next ‘blank’ to create an illusion of safety.

“The public and television executives all say ‘we want something new,’ but (the executives) anesthetize it — make it the same,” he added. “If you can get your pilot made without compromise you’re good.”

“Really be original, don’t be beholden,” Feig said. “Don’t mute your voice; write what you’re passionate about. If they love the idea, it blasts through. (TV executives) are not ultimately creative people, but they know what they want, and they want good content.”

On casting: “We did not have a script when we started casting (‘Lost’); we just had an outline. Yunjin Kim came in to read for the character of Kate … we just had to create a character for her. We made a suit tailored to the body. That’s entirely different than pulling suit off the rack and trying to find most perfect fit. If I ever do another TV show I’d do it the same way.

Feig talks about a youngster coming in for an audition. “Smart show runners go, ‘this kid is so great, there’s nothing in the script that’s so good that we can’t change it’. It makes it easier to write the show. You need the blueprint, but then you need to be open to the human beings who are bringing it to life. There’s nothing worse than the inflexibility of saying, ‘well, this is how I heard it in my head’.”

On opportunity: “Every great success story has 2 things in common: right place, right time — also called luck, which you have no control over; and you knew somebody — that you do have control over,” Lindelof explained. “I was in LA for 5 years building up my network of somebodies. Talented is the other important part, of course.”

Of course.

Be original. Be flexible. Be passionate. Be adaptable. Be talented. Be lucky. Easy peasy.

Good Monday morning TV stuff. Go. Read. Now.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Too Much Secrets

I enjoy Christopher Nolan's films, AND I prefer to know as little about a film before it's released...but the production of Nolan's latest effort, Inception, seems to be taking the 'secrecy' thing a little too far. From Empire:

The Los Angeles leg of Christopher Nolan's none-more-secret sci-fi Inception is underway and Sir Michael Caine, one of the esteemed names on the call-sheet, has defied the omerta to reveal a snippet or two on his role in the movie.

"I play a professor who's teaching a guy science," Sir Michael told of us of his fourth Nolan collaboration. "It's Leonardo diCaprio. He's going off to do a science project and he speaks to me before he goes."

While the great man wouldn't elaborate on exactly what that project involves (and we're not expecting frog dissection) he had warm words for his co-star's performance. "Leo is great. I've had a day with him [in London], he's wonderful."

Veiling proceedings in a covertness not seen since the heyday of Secret Squirrel, Nolan is keeping even his cast members in the dark on how the plot, set "within the architecture of the mind", will play out. Say Caine: "They wouldn't let me read the script. I only got my pages. They're all very secretive!"

Wouldn't let the cast read the script? Puh-leaze. I know film making is ultimately just the editing together of a series of out of sequence shots/scenes, and the whole should be greater than the sum of those individual parts, but that shouldn't mean you don't let your actors see how their part fits into the whole, as it were.

Is this because we now live in a time where too many people live to spoil? Or a successful writer/director taking the adage "Just trust me" a little too far...

Trailer looks cool though.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Twerps, Twits, And Tweets

TV Eh has complied a very comprehensive list of Canadian TV types on Twitter...very nice of Diane and well done as can CHECK IT OUT HERE if you're interested.

And yes I'm on there, but still not sure why yet. Twitter is a great place to pick up breaking news or links to interesting articles...or read a funny quip or exchange jabs with colleagues....but the information overload can be somewhat overwhelming. And it can be a little intimidating knowing what to 'tweet' exactly if you're not particularly clever or amusing or don't have a show to promote. But you know me...always willing to try something new, even if just to figure out its pros and cons, or learn that it's not for me.

Tweet on!

If He Catches You You're Through

Friday Fun arrives via the imagination of Seth MacFarlane and a 'What if...?' As in, what if Wile E. Coyote actually caught the Roadrunner, then what? That coyote's really a crazy clown, that's what. (NSFW)

Because it makes me smile.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Funniest Things On TV Indeed

If you live in Canada, you've probably seen them. No, they're not any new sitcom or comedy program, but the 'usually aired back-to-back' ads from the TV networks and the Cable companies where they attack each other over whether the cablers should have to pay a fee-for-carriage for local programming to the casters....or the casters can charge fee-for-carriage for local programming to the cablers, depending on your perspective of course. 'Local' is the operative word here...a word that generally just means 'news' for the most part, and is getting misused and misrepresented here way more than not when you consider the reality of our Canadian "with loads of American shows and hardly any homegrown programs" television landscape.

Bill Glisky from the Belleville Intelligencer has a nice article on the topic:

That's because the funniest thing on television right now is a commercial. Two of them actually. And neither is intended to be funny; they just are.

The commercials in question are those pitting big cable companies against big television stations. Some stations have taken to regularly running them back to back, which adds to the amusement value.

The ads in question are based on the claim by Canadian television stations that cable stations should be forced to pay for "local" programming since they charge viewers a fee to provide cable service but don't pay anything for the programming itself.

The cable networks counter they shouldn't be forced to pay the television stations anything, in part because those stations already make lots of money through advertising, and that the television stations are simply seeking a government bailout.
Basically its two groups who between them make more money than anyone watching the commercials will see in their lifetime trying to win public support so they can either make more money or spend less.

Read the rest of Glisky's take HERE.

I'm not posting these ads with the intention of picking a side or a winner...there are no winners here, just losers.

First you have the Cable Companies fake 'man in the street' ad:


Then you have the Broadcaster's 'ominous highlighted words' ad:

Funny too! What's also amusing is they ask you to "Join the conversation" at their website, yet they recently disabled comments on all of their 'articles' since the majority of them were critical of the campaign so there's not really much of a conversation going on.

They both play like those cheesy cheap smear ads you see during an election campaign. Butcept we, the consumer, don't actually get to elect 'the candidate' we believe in or support, as in there is no 'vote'...the casters and cablers are really just lobbying for CRTC sympathy for when they all gather for a hearing next month to try to hash out a solution...again.

Nope, we just have to watch and bear it. But hopefully we can also muster up a grin, because when you stop and look and listen and think about it all, it is pretty funny.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Two-Handers, Dirty Singles, And Half Apples...Again

I talked about this last night in the screenwriting class I teach...and it's still a good post, so I'm reprinting it. Again.

When you first walk onto the floor of a film set, your ears can get assaulted by a barrage of unique jargon and bizarre turns of phrase. And if you do ever get the opportunity to watch and observe, take advantage of your perch to listen...and learn.

It could save you a lot of embarrassment down the road.

First, there are many names for shots: a dolly shot (also known as a moving shot or if following two actors conversing, a 'walk and talk'); zoom shot (also known as squeezing or feathering in); a high and wide shot (also known as the 'big and funny'); a low and tight shot (also known as 'up their noses' or 'an X Files shot'); a medium shot (also known as a waister or 'cowboys'); and a loose close up (also known as a single or 2 T's or 'tits up')...

There are obviously many more but for the purpose of this post we'll stop there.

Here's an example of a single...

...and a 'dirty single'.

A dirty single (also known as an 'over the shoulder') is when your shot focused on a character but the edge of frame is 'dirtied' by the back of the other actor.

When I walked onto my first real location to direct with an actual experienced crew and 1st A.D. (First Assistant Director) at my side, it was trial by fire. I'd made some student and short films, but had very little professional set experience. I nervously described to the crew what shots I had in mind, but sensed I wasn't communicating them very well. People were staring back at me, blankly. I looked to the 1st A.D. for help.

He stepped up and loudly announced something like: "Alright everyone, listen up. We're looking this way. First up we got a two-hander here at the desk with a little move into a dirty single...since it's free maybe squeeze off one more in tighter...then roundy roundy and get complimentaries on the other side with a quick pop on the computer after the talent goes for lunch. Two set ups...five shots...and we're done."

And then he turned to me and nodded. I feigned a smile but was thinking....what the hell did he just say? What the hell are we supposed to be doing? And why is everyone else nodding like they understood him?

The crew began to work and I quietly pulled the 1st A.D. aside to ask for a translation.

As he explained it, when you have a scene with just a couple of characters, it's generally described as a two-hander. If it's on a dolly, it's moving...and from what he'd heard me describe, it sounded like the shot moved from a wider establishing angle to an over the shoulder of one of the characters - in effect, becoming a dirty single. While we're there and the angle is already lit (and therefore free), we should zoom in tighter and cover scene again. Then we tear down the lights and dolly track and move around (roundy roundy) behind the character we focused on in the first set up, and shoot 'complimentary' sizes on the other character. Lastly, I wanted a closeup of info on the computer screen on the desk, so we'd get a quick insert (pop) on that once we'd finished with the talent (actors). Simple, eh?


I remember telling a girlfriend about the scene I was shooting the next day wherein "...I had to get a two-hander with some dirty singles." She thought I was making porn, perhaps even performing in it myself.

There are also many names for things: flags (black cloth in a rectangular frame used to block or shape light); C-stands (flexible stands that hold flags); HMI's (lights that use an arc lamp rather than an incandescent bulb); a peewee (a small 'doorway' dolly); marks (spots on the floor where actors need to stand); and apple boxes (boxes of varying sizes used for leveling, propping, and mounting)...

Again, that's just the tip of the iceberg (here's an excellent Film Industry Terms Dictionary should you wish to know more), but again, for the the purpose of this post...

Here's what apple boxes look like and how they are labeled. Full apple, half apple, quarter apple, and a pancake (1/8 apple).

You probably can see where this is heading, but I forge onward.

Right after I graduated film school, I moved to Toronto just to hang out for a while. After a few weeks, I went around to all the commercial houses and dropped off a resume looking to get some P.A. (production assistant) work. And a few days later I was hired onto a big car ad. It was a three day prep and three day shoot. I think it paid $50.00 a day.

As a P.A., you are at the bottom of the food chain. You are first in and last to leave. In prep you're a helper and a gopher - you photocopy and distribute paperwork, get coffees and lunches, go pick stuff up... I'd been in Toronto less than a month and was asked to drive from Adelaide and Church up to an equipment house in North York to pick up some camera lenses or something. I grabbed a map and left the office. It was my first time driving in the 'big' city. According to the map, Yonge Street seemed to be the straightest cleanest route, so off I went.

Now anyone who knows Toronto knows Yonge St. is like the longest street in the world. And they know about the Don Valley Parkway. I did not. Over an HOUR later I finally arrived, and found two angry messages waiting for me (this was a pre-cell phone world) from the PM (Production Manager) wanting to know 'where the hell I was' and 'to pick up lunch for everyone at a deli back down on Front Street, pronto!'

Welcome to P.A. Land.

Anyway, first day of production arrives. We all travel up to a rural area around Orangeville to begin shooting. I felt kind of beat up after my stint in the office and was determined to make a good impression and become an asset rather than a liability.

I pushed my way into the circle gathered around the Director, who was also the DOP (Director of Photography), as the first shot was discussed. It was a drive by of the 'hero' or picture vehicle on a country road. They were talking about 'looking this way' or 'looking that way'...then they decided upon one but wanted the shot to be low to the ground so I heard the Director call for 'two half apples and a pancake.'

Not needing to be told twice, I turned and raced over to the craft service (food and snack) table. Without hesitation I asked the cook if there were any pancakes left over from breakfast as I grabbed an apple from the fruit basket and promptly cut it in half. The cook was still staring at me confused when I asked her again for a pancake. I made an exasperated sound and turned to run back to the camera.

The crew was still gathered around as I pushed my way through to the Director and proudly held out my sliced pomme: "Here you go, sir. Two half apples, just like you asked for."

You could've heard a pin drop.

Then the Production Manager (my nemesis from the office) finally starts to snigger: "Geez...he thought you meant real apples...oh my friggin' god."

As it slowly dawned on everyone else, they started to laugh, and point, and laugh some more.

I spent the next two days out in a field raking up bags of leaves to spread on a road for the car to drive through and send them sexily flying into the air.

I never P.A.'d again in my life...not so much from being unable to live down the humiliation, but because it showed me that if I wanted to write and direct television, picking up lunches or raking leaves wasn't the highway to that destination...or my highway at any rate.

So I went to work at a video store.

But I never forgot what a half apple was.

SONG&ARTIST? - " Life's like a road that you travel on
When there's one day here and the next day gone
Sometimes you bend sometimes you stand
Sometimes you turn your back to the wind..."

Monday, October 19, 2009

More Shorts Stuff

Came across the trailer and some reviews of a new twenty minute short film entitled Remote that sounded good. It's from Canadian Marc Roussell, and just picked up "best short" at THRILLSPY Film Festival in Washington, D.C..

"On a cold February night, Matt loses his cable signal during a severe snowstorm. He's left with channel after channel of static, until he comes across a station that is the mirror image of his apartment, but 30 years in the past. He soon discovers that he can communicate with Justine, the young woman residing in the apartment on the television. As the two get to know each other, Matt discovers that Justine died on that very night 30 years ago. Does he have the power to change her fate?"

I haven't screened the entire film, but I like what I've seen so far...clean, simple, effective.

Reading about 'Remote' reminded me of Canadian director Vincenzo Natali's (Cube) short film effort , Elevated. Hard to believe that was like, 12 years ago...but it definitely got Natali noticed and even some TV series directing work.

Completed in 1997, the 17 minute film brought Natali and fellow Canadian filmmaker Karen Walton (Ginger Snaps) together to create a tense thriller that took place entirely in the confines of an elevator. More specifically, the film is about two people, Ben and Ellen, who are thrust into adventure when all of a sudden, Hank, the blood covered security man of the building rushes into their elevator, claiming that there's a dangerous alien-like creature in the building.

Relive the claustrophobia of 'Elevated' HERE.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The C Bump

Friday Fun with a remixed Mr. Stephen Colbert ladies and gentlemen! Gonna bump all night long...hit it!

Because it makes me smile.

ps last night's 'The Money Shot: Going Dow On It' -clip 1, and 'Mayo-lution' clip 2, were priceless.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

I Don't Feel Like Dancing...

....after reading Uncle Jim's interpretation of the Canadian Media Fund industry consultation session in Toronto yesterday... all about it HERE, though if someone had a different perspective of the proceedings I would love to hear your takeaway (as I'm sure Jim would too...he's a reasonable man).

Need a pick-me-up....I know, Stephen Colbert. He makes me feel like dancing.

Oh yes. Dancing now.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Short Film Writing 101

So many of the websites and how-to-do books out there focus on the writing or making of the feature length film. But truth be told, writing and making a feature is such a daunting and overwhelming undertaking first time out. So here are some resources for writing and making the short film.

From Karen Gocsik and Serguei Bassine, the writer and director of the short film, Because of Mama.

In a short film, there's no time to develop an elaborate plot structure. In fact, as we noted earlier, some short film makers fear time constraints and so eschew story entirely. They make films based on situation, not story. Generally, these films are ironic: they show characters in unusual situations that are resolved through some final "twist."

Story is different. Stories evolve when characters want something, are blocked from having it, and resolve the matter in some way. In a story, characters don't simply find themselves in ironic situations. They grow. They change. The structure of the film is based on this growth. However, in the short film, the character's desire has to be made clear very early in the film. The obstacles have to arise almost immediately. The road to resolution has to be well-plotted and well-paced. If you manage all of this, you'll have produced a successful short screenplay.

And a good place to start is HERE, a website devoted to the creating of and making of the short film 'Because Of Mama'. And after perusing the advice layed out by the filmmakers in the sidebar, you can read the STEP OUTLINE, then read THE SCRIPT, and then watch the finished production of the film HERE.

One caveat...I didn't think Because of Mama was a particularly stellar effort when all was said and done...but it's a decent short film, and a lot can still be learned from the film and the filmmakers.

Also worth checking out is The Lunch Date. Again, not a home run in my books, but still decent plus a transcript of the screenplay is HERE. And you can watch the finished film below:

I still think one of the best short films I've seen recently is The Black Hole.

Simple, clear, effective...a clever idea with a good ending not to mention nice execution and it looks great...all the necessary elements for a successful short film.

Monday, October 12, 2009

My Neighbour's Wife Has Been Kidnapped!

It turned into an Alan J. Pakula weekend for me for some in I ended up screening three of the director's mystery thrillers from the mid 70's; Klute, The Parallax View, and All The President's Men, 'the paranoia trilogy' as they've come to be known. And as much as part of me hates being an old fart and talking about the good ol' days of movies and how they don't make films like they used to...they really don't make films like they used to.

All three are open mysteries (more or less)...we know the ending or the killer or the bad guys from the beginning, yet they still 'thrill' to this day. All three have great scripts with fantastic cinematography (Gordon Willis) and terrific actors (Dustin Hoffman, Robert Redford, Jane Fonda, Donald Sutherland, Roy Scheider, Warren Beatty...c'mon!), but where they really shine is in the direction by Mr. Pakula. And the shine isn't because of the ways we've come to praise direction today: flash, bang, smash, boom, bang, razzle, dazzle...but rather Pakula's ability to exercise restraint; create tension and suspense and drama through pause, effect, understatement, and quiet; and the near absence of any music and/or film edits and cuts.

From The Parallax View, Warren Beatty suspects the worst is about to happen to a plane he's travelling on and quietly strives to resolve the situation without drawing undue attention to himself.

From Klute, Jane Fonda is confronted by her stalker and the movie's killer after he traps her in a dressmaking factory (SPOILERS + just a bit of that creepy score off the top - 'shiver')...

And one of my favourite movie scenes of all time, Redford catches a break in Woodstein's quest to uncover the puzzle of Watergate...while on the phone...filmed in a one-sided oner.

There's a beat, around 6 minutes into the scene, where Dahlberg tells Redford that he gave the money to Maurice Stans...and it must have been SO tempting to punctuate that moment with a big music sting. I mean, it was the payoff, the climax as it were, to the entire shot...c'mon! And yet, Pacula didn't. He just let it play. Perfect. And even though it's all one shot with a slow zoom in, it's still 'directed', albeit unobtrusively, with a split diopter lens keeping the left and right side of the frame (foreground/background) in focus reinforcing the motif of visual claustrophobia.

There's a quiet confidence in direction like this that you just don't see anymore. Or there are directors today capable of directing this way, but the companies and the studios won't let them or don't want them to. And that's really a shame, really.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Well, Will It?

Deirdre McMurdy had some fun this weekend and writes up a nice piece about the on-going battle between the Canadian Broadcasters and Canadian BDU's (Cable/Satellite Providers)...a battle that reached embarrassingly childish proportions on Friday with their dueling press releases (first the BDU's, then the Broadcasters).

So here's the 411: The broadcasters, who used to fight all the time, have now become frenemies. They've formed an awesome clique that's, like, totally ragging the cable companies that carry and distribute their programming. They say the cable companies like Rogers and Shaw and Videotron should pay them something for the programs they've been getting for free. The cable companies are LOLing that and have become BFFs to push back. They say they'll pass that new cost on to consumers directly. OMG!

The official name for this whole issue is fee-for-carriage, although the two sides have tried to put Lip Smacker on it and put it into a more consumer-friendly package. The broadcasters call it a "Save Local Television" campaign (because they can't afford to support local tv stations unless they get more cash). The cable folks say it's a "TV tax." And they're throwing down on each other all over Twitter and Facebook.

They've been fighting about it for years: This fall, the federal regulator, the CRTC, is going to hear them squabble over who started the fight for the third time. Every single time this happens, it costs the broadcasters (who say they're pretty much broke) and the cable companies hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal and lobbying bills. This time around, that tab includes the price of aggressive advertising and marketing campaigns as well. And it costs taxpayers in terms of the time and effort of the CRTC staff.

Read the rest of the article HERE. I enjoyed it's playful tone and nice recap of the state of all things Broadcaster/BDU...though she never really answers the question posed in the title of the piece: 'Will "TV Tax" Save Canadian Television?'

Well, will it?

Friday, October 09, 2009

What About Friday Night?

A Friday Fun special from Play It Again, Sam: Woody Allen on dating...including 'misreading the signs', 'drinking a quart of bourbon a day', and of course, "that's quite a lovely Jackson Pollock...what does it say to you?"

Because it makes me smile.

p.s. make your own Jackson Pollock painting on your computer screen HERE...pretty cool!

Monday, October 05, 2009

Good To The Last Frame

A lot of people thought the best part of The Hangover was the end credits, with its montage of photos depicting what really happened that night. For me, that montage was simply the right way to end the film...because wondering what really went down throughout was what made the movie work, but we still wanted to know the truth. Anyway, it got me thinking about cool closing credit sequences.

In the same way a cool opening title sequence can draw you in and set the tone for a film, a unique or clever closing credit sequence can be a perfect exclamation point on a movie-going experience. The Art of The Title Sequence has a great article HERE on the making of the closing credits of Pixar's WALL-E.

Jim Capobianco’s end credits to Andrew Stanton’s “WALL·E” are essential; they are the actual ending of the film, a perfect and fantastically optimistic conclusion to a grand, if imperfect idea. Humanity’s past and future evolution viewed through unspooling schools of art. Frame after frame sinks in as you smile self-consciously. It isn’t supposed to be this good but there it is. This is art in its own right. Peter Gabriel and Thomas Newman’s song, “Down to Earth” indulges you with some incredibly thoughtful lyrics and, from the Stone Age to the Impressionists to the wonderful 8-bit pixel sprites, you are in the midst of something special.

Watch the sequence HERE and see for is pretty remarkable.

I'm one of those 'stick around until the end of the credits' kinda guy anyway, but some faves that made it extra pleasurable to stay until the the lights came up include Apocalypse Now (they blow stuff up!) , The Matrix (they go swoosh!), Finding Nemo (they swim around!), This Is Spinal Tap (they be funny!), Se7en (they scroll down!)...

Big Honourable Mentions have to go to High Fidelity (they're so snazzy!):

And Almost Famous (they're so sentimental!):

But for me, Pixar's A Bugs Life still wins hands down. I mean, bloopers have been an end credits staple for like, ever (see Cannonball Run)...but bloopers with animated characters....pure genius.

Mmmm...good till the last frame. Did I miss any?

Saturday, October 03, 2009

The Wilhelm Scream....It's Everywhere!!!!

I like useless little bits of TV and movie trivia, like this list of top 10 sound effects we all recognize, compiled over at Listverse, including the Wilhelm Scream.

The Wilhelm scream is a frequently-used film and television stock sound effect first used in 1951 for the film "Distant Drums". The effect gained new popularity (its use often becoming an in-joke) after it was used in Star Wars and many other blockbuster films as well as television programs and video games. The scream is often used when someone is falling to his death from great height.

Watch, listen, and smile...

It's remarkable to me how I won't recognize recycled sounds in movies and TV shows, but will almost always notice a reused piece of music score in a trailer for a new movie or TV series and call *fail*.

Still don't know why its called the 'Wilhelm' scream though.

Friday, October 02, 2009

The Art Of Prank War

This one's been around a while, but only this week did I see the latest installment in the years long prank war between two employees, Amir Blumenfeld and Streeter Seidell. You have to go to the link, and start at the bottom if you've never viewed the escalation from innocent office hijinx to stadium-sized humiliation before, but the Half Million Dollar Shot is priceless prankage. Friday Fun worthy for sure.

Go watch the fun unfold HERE.

Because it makes me smile.