Only You Can Prevent a Location Fire

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Team sports, like cinema, are often home to unsung heroes who toil in obscurity while the higher-profile players make passionate speeches on the awards stage. Location managers/scouts can definitely be counted among these “shadow warriors” that operate under radar while still being extremely vital to the success of any production.

By the time the cast and crew have arrived on a location set, location managers have already made contact with proprietors, checked security, electricity grids, parking spaces, logistics, informed neighbors, and dealt with all the other minutiae that most people take for granted. This work may seem somewhat routine and straightforward, but it is everything but.

Depending on the location you may be dealing with a listed building (historically protected under a heritage act), a lived-in house where the residents remain even during shooting, a high-value property, or even a location with specific conditions like a halfway home, hospital, or university. All of these locations come with their specific challenges, but as far as the crew is concerned there are a set of very basic rules to follow that will minimize any potential issues.

There is nothing worse than burning a location. Burning means ruining the relationship with the owners or operators of a given location by being disrespectful, reckless, or generally inconsiderate of the environment that has been put at your production’s disposal. Burning a location will not only hurt your reputation and create an unpleasant atmosphere in general, you are potentially destroying further opportunities for yourself, and possibly worse, you have stunk up a location for everyone in the business from now on.

Burning a location can happen very easily, even without bad intentions or lack of professionalism. Maybe you forgot to plug back the fridges (that you had unhooked for better sound) at a soup kitchen location and end up spoiling precious food that was meant to feed homeless people. Maybe you forgot to drop sound blankets on the hardwood floor of a posh house or apartment and your grips and gaffers have scrapped the floor because they didn’t feel like taking their boots off every time they come in from the truck. Trouble can spring from anywhere if you don’t take precautions.

These things will happen even if you and your team prepare, so try to cover some of these basics in your pre-prod meetings or pre-shooting general announcements:

1. Respect the location as if it were your beloved grandmother’s house, a church, or a museum. Consider the crew, the shoot, the people who live or operate in the location on a regular day, and if all else fails, remind the crew that individuals can and will be held financially liable for recklessness. Injury or fatality is another potential danger.

2. Think about your fellow filmmakers who might one day have need of that location. You are an ambassador for the art of cinema and you should act accordingly, especially if you live in a small city where word gets around. Think about your reputation as well.

3. Consider the incredible sensitivity of your shooting schedule and what potential distractions can develop if the location is compromised by recklessness and neglect. The last thing you want is a screaming match between your AD, location manager, and proprietor as the crew looks on. Shoots have been shut down completely in this manner.

4. Assign someone, if you can afford it, to set-security to help out here-and-there while keeping an eye on the well-being of the location. They can look out for potentially dangerous obstacles, clear out clutter or garbage, and direct foot traffic in a way to minimize any chance of damaging the space.

5. No matter how tired you are at the end of the shoot, call all hands on deck for a full location check and wrap-up sweep for any remaining garbage, forgotten phone chargers, clothes, etc.. The place should look like you were barely there, if at all. It’s a small gesture but it will pay off in dividends in the long-run.

Happy shooting.

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The Horror

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Many theorists believe that there exist a set number of possible plots for any given story. The number of possibilities will vary somewhere from 7 to 20, but the main idea is that every novel or film inevitably follows one of these core concepts regardless of how they re-arrange the details.

Logic dictates that to attain any semblance of originality in storytelling today, one is better served focussing on their unique perspectives rather than trying to re-invent the proverbial wheel. This is perhaps the reason why modern storytelling seems to have veered significantly toward character-driven plots where the individual perspective/experience may provide a far fresher canvas of possibilities than the continual revisiting of man vs nature, man vs man, and other redundant scenarios.

That is not to say that we don’t crave the classics; if the track record of cinema and art in general has proven anything it’s that nostalgia never goes out of style. We love to see the medium challenged from time-to-time, but audiences will generally want a steady stream of the kind of stories they already know. There is a warm, fuzzy feeling we get from knowing that the next hour or two will be spent alongside a rugged hero that will be put to the test, but ultimately send the bad guy tumbling into a chasm with a well-placed one-liner and a devastating karate kick. It offers a kind of satisfaction akin to booting up a video game you’ve already played through a dozen times; it’s really about being in control.

Horror films, perhaps more than any other genre in cinema, rely on a very fundamental and repetitive set of directives that haven’t changed very much since their inception. The formula has been played with considerably, but the basics remain strikingly the same; the key is addressing mortality and the fragile nature of the human body/spirit. This is a prime example of a type of storytelling that does not need to be re-invented so much as infused with more character-driven plots that surprise and challenge the medium.

Horror films have unfortunately been in decline for some time now, mass-produced and diluted into tween exploitation schlock cinema with endless sequels and prequels. Even good exploitation horror in the tradition of Wes Craven’s The Thing or Hellraiser has been supplanted by hollow, mediocre franchises like Paranormal Activity and SAW that do little beyond serving up the same tepid soup of tropes and cliches with few discernible elements of originality or substance.

All is not lost however; the advent of the HBO-led television renaissance, that has been yielding potentially the most worthwhile storytelling in recent memory, is breathing life (or death?) back into the horror genre with breakthrough series like American Horror Story, Penny Dreadful, and host of other chilling series that seem to be getting back to basics. Many of the tropes and cliches can be found in these shows as well, but the style and finesse of some of these programs proves that you can go home again, hit up all the familiar spots along the way, but somehow discover entirely new frontiers of terror and entertainment.

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Can Laughter Cure Bad Cinema?

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It is tempting today to let oneself slip into a state of apathy with regards to the dire condition of big-budget filmmaking. All the evidence seems to suggest that we live times of shallow artistic bankruptcy where the box office is concerned. The big studios and their sponsors have it all down to a science; release three-four blockbusters in the summer, start dropping Oscar-bait in the fall, and sprinkle the dead months with every piece of pandering soulless garbage you have left (basically Wayans/Sandler films).

Are things worse then ever? Perhaps, but there is one tremendous silver lining to the never-ending stream of mindless drek that flows into theaters year-after-year; there has never been a better time for comedy. From memes, to animated gifs, to parody videos, to animated spoofs, to youtube supercuts, it seems like no shred of content is now safe from satire. Live events in particular have become a real joy to behold with any oddity or sidestep (usually shelved under the common perils of live broadcasting) instantly being converted into something incredibly funny. Film parodies are legion now, with entire youtube channels existing for the sole purpose of editorializing, reviewing, and demolishing bad films in the most creative ways possible.

It’s exciting to see is just how sophisticated some of these online jesters are, now no longer content with simply throwing their thumbs up or down. The extent to which some films are deconstructed can also be astounding. Seventy-minute reviews of Phantom Menace, fully-produced alternate endings for films accused of botching their third acts (a rich universe in itself), the complexity of this satire has reached territories bordering on the scientific and philosophical.

Mediocrity, it seems, can sometimes be the father of incredible wit.

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Immortal Cinema

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Cinema cannot exist without mechanical or digital technology, but what is the impact of technology in film itself? Films often serve as society’s unofficial historical records with their emphasis on current events, trends, and prevailing ideologies (or the rejection thereof). The futuristic science-fiction of the 1950’s, for instance, gives us much more insight into the 1950’s themselves than any truly sensible portrait of thing to come.

Films have always had this power; to illustrate what the current dialogue is in a given society. Even present-day exploitation films like Sharknado and Snakes on a Plane will provide, years from now, valuable information about what we were thinking about during the first two decades of the new millennium, or at least an idea about the things that made us laugh.

The point is that in a technologically-driven society it is useful for a filmmaker to be conscious of how technology occurs in his/her work because it will communicate a story of its own, beyond the plot itself. Technology talks, it has an audible voice and you need to make sure that it is serving your story, not limiting or railroading it by being topical.

The Usual Suspects (1995) is an excellent example of this phenomenon. Most people remember the climactic ending of the film where the Verbal Kint leaves the police precinct as Agent Kujan and his associate are left to ponder the dubious testimony he has given. The tension is built in this scene through a series of cuts showing the FBI agents looking over the police portrait of Keyser Soze from a surviving witness while Kujan begins to suspect that something is not right. The police portrait is then faxed from the hospital to a neglected machine in the police precinct and haphazardly picked up by Kujan and his fellows as the terrifying realization sets in about Soze’s true identity. Verbal meanwhile is given ample time by this process of portraits and faxes to clear out and make his getaway. How would this scene have played out in 2014 with instant picture messaging? What about a decade from now?

Technologies are rarely timeless and very unpredictable when it comes to what we as a society decide to embrace and what we leave behind. If you want longevity for your story then make sure the focus remains on what is fundamental in the plot. By gambling the climax of your story or crucial turning points on specific technologies, you run the risk of become dated within a matter of months. Think about what is at stake for your characters, about the human drama behind all of the artifice and pour your energies into cementing that core.

While we used The Usual Suspects as a case-study, the fact is that it is a classic now, remembered fondly by all who have seen it and never derided because of it’s glaring early 90’s feel. The story is organic, human, fundamentally timeless.

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How Criterion Collection Brings Movies Back From the Dead

Michael Hession and Nicholas Stango
for Gizmodo / 2014
Music: Twinkie by Podington Bear

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Christmas Time

Shot by Christoph Kunze and Oliver Seiler
Edited by Christoph Kunze
Cameras: Canon 60D, Canon 550D
Lenses: Sigma 10-20mm, Tamron 17-50mm
Gear: Dynamic Perception Stage Zero dolly, Velbon DV-7000
Editing: Adobe After Effects, SNS-HDR Pro

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Escape

Escape by Kenny Mosher won First Place in the Light Iron REDuser 4K Portrait Contest at The NAB Show on April 15, 2012.

Directed by Kenny Mosher
Assistant Director: Jon Schindler
Music by: Pat McInnis
Special thanks to saa
A 2012 Showdown Visual Production
showdownvisual.com

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City Lights

from Colin Rich

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Youtube & Cinema, Part II

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Key points from the previous entry:

– Youtube views do not equate “good” or “bad” content, they represent exposure or the “bait value” of your material.

– Traditional hallmarks of quality in filmmaking such as strong storytelling/acting or compelling technical execution do not carry as much weight in the low-fi, anything-goes-anyone-can-play universe of Youtube.

– Length/runtime is a crucial to a Youtube video’s success due to short attention spans and limited ability of the average viewer to absorb and process data.

There are other factors at play as well when engaging a Youtube public, probably too numerous to list here, and some that are only now coming to light. Take the fact, for instance, that Youtube is only a part of the viral equation of a runaway hit online. Youtube, it seems, is not always the starting point of a success story, but rather the go-to purveyor of the viral content. If it’s hot it will be uploaded to Youtube, or end up being viewed by the masses there, regardless of where it originated.

The question is then, for the purposes of adapting traditional filmmaking to the Youtbe-sphere, how do you optimize your film/content to maximize your chances?

First, get your hands on a Youtube/Social Media ninja. This person will not only bring you up-to-speed on the new rules of the game but become a crucial new component of your filmmaking post-production team. Beyond couseling you on the best digital formats, runtimes, and other new realities of the digital online realm, this indivudal will help you set up your Youtube Channel and tailor it to your needs. They will help you pick out tags, key words, proper titles, and see to all the other little details that will make a difference in terms of your film’s exposure. This individual may also help you navigate the legalities/copyright pitfalls that get videos pulled for a variety of obscure reasons.

Second, consider your release strategy. Is your project a concise one-shot deal project that needs to communicate a specific idea or two? Maybe your content is much deeper and requires the story to play out on a longer timeline. It is strongly suggested here to consider making it a web-series as you wil be able to serve up your sophisticated dish in small bite-size portions that may even win you a faithful audience.

Third, to tie it in with the last point, realize that Youtube and its competitors offer a filmmaker something absolutely unique and incredibly powerful that traditional models could not sustain; you can hold on to your audience and actually build communities around your content that may support and remember you for your entire career instead of having to re-build your core every time.

Youtube & Cinema

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Youtube is changing the world. It exists now as a kind of internet-within-the-internet, a zone of pure creativity, expression, communication. It’s a 24/7 global channel that is everything to everyone everywhere, a platform that thrives literally on anything that you feed it. Youtube has kept music videos alive, breathed a new life into comedy, and most relevant to today’s topic, given new life to independent filmmaking and videography.

While Youtube has launched its share of amateurs and underground artists it has had an even more interesting effect on trained filmmakers and semi-professionals; this video platform also functions as a perpetual project-pitching stage where low-budget wonders and indie video artists can shine in front of millions without any industry or major studio backing.

This is perhaps Youtube’s most intriguing and game-changing aspect because it challenges the traditional cinema business model that Hollywood has, in a sense, forced upon the viewing masses for generations. Big studios still hold dominion over the box office due to the grandiose industrial nature of that platform, but it would be hard to dispute what phenomenons like Youtube have done to upset this once-implacable regime. The Youtube generation is starting to call the shots in terms of what banks and what does not, and the nexus of their power can be distilled to one very basic element: pure, unfiltered choice.

Youtube has gone from a grungy web-version of the 80’s local public-access channel (where everyday people could produce super-low-budget community-based variety shows) to a self-sufficient pocket universe that hosts everything from prank videos to massive international trailer premieres. For filmmakers this has shifted the landscape in a dramatic way, perhaps to the point of creating confusion and sometimes overwhelming them with possibilities.

The first and biggest point of confusion for someone issuing from a more classical filmmaking/tv tradition is understanding Youtube’s “views” system. After over five decades of studio-controlled/vetted programming that audiences simply had to sit through (in addition to mind-numbing advertising), award ceremonies that still to this day do not reflect what the audience actually wants, (let alone reward), Youtube’s über-democratic content-rating system can come as a shock to a newcomer.

Kanye West music videos averaging the same amount of views as teenagers vloging about their makeup tips, badly pasted together fake trailers of comic book films that don’t exist standing shoulder-to-shoulder in popularity with hugely anticipated video game announcements; Youtube trends can simply not be understood in traditional terms. Even clever marketers who have begun to dissect and try to understand the Youtube-sphere cannot predict with any real accuracy what will go viral next.

This can be a frustrating but revelatory situation for a filmmaker. First you have to realize that what you traditionally consider “good” or “bad” in film/content does not really apply anymore. Not only are you facing a monstrously-discriminating, film educated, and often fickle audience of millions, but even the most meticulously assembled and directed film may now fall completely on deaf ears and blind eyes if it does not properly circulate the Youtube nebula. Meanwhile, watch views climb into the tens-of-millions when a cute girl in a low-cut top decides to record weekly videos on her phone on how to make Justin Beiber’s cupcakes (queue forehead slap).

Production values have also become a non-factor in the success of content on Youtube. Sweeping vistas, tastefully composed shots and masterful cinematography will win you the love of Vimeo users, but prepare to see your video fall into obscurity against a super-cut of actor Sean Bean’s characters being murdered throughout his filmography, or a montage of Russian dashcam mishaps.

Another key factor, perhaps the most telling of Youtube’s departure from the mainstream, is its emphasis on length. With its videos being consumed largely at work, at parties, and in transit, the length of your video will likely make or break its success. Attentions spans have suffered greatly in the past two decades, and if nothing else, the sheer overflow of media in everyday life has rendered the average viewer justifiably incapable of absorbing traditional quantities and runtimes. Perhaps there is a bright side to this: content has to be more focussed and meaningful if you want to make an impact.

To be continued..

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Idiots

A tale by Big Lazy Robot VFX
Music and sound design by Full Basstards

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The Gift

Directed by Carl E. Rinsch

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How to Make a Fan Film (and not get shut down)

Venom Fan FIlm

Fan films are quickly becoming a phenomenon on the internet with a host of amateurs and professionals producing some of the most interesting independent cinema out there right now. Whereas fans films were once the sole domain of diehard fans, today they have also become a kind of a training ground for young filmmakers and a fun place to experiment for the more experienced ones. With every year it seems that fan films are getting bigger and better and some are even launching the careers of newcomers, propelling them into the big leagues. Clearly the fans want to see more fan films judging by the massive views and attention from giant media outlets like Variety and The Hollywood Reporter, and there seems to be no shortage of enthusiastic artists to produce them.

There has been one nagging problem in the making of these films that has yet to be properly addressed; the very controversial broad topic of violation of intellectually property rights. It would be fair to estimate that for every successful fan film out there, perhaps 3 or 4 per year brutally collide with the legal realities of borrowing licenses/trademarks/copyrights from giant entertainment conglomerates.

While companies like Lucasarts have shown a surprising (and business-wise brilliant) tolerance to fan films, even going so far as to publicly embracing them online, others like DC and Marvel have had the odd nasty reaction to certain fan-made projects. Some would say that to make a fan film (with any kind of solid production quality) is to reach into the lion’s cage and to tempt fate, but is it really that simple? Are these companies arbitrarily shutting down these fan productions as they come across them or is there a recipe for these disasters?

I believe there is.

Here are some of the items I have identified as “project killers” in my fan film-making experience :

1. Thou shall not under any circumstances make money: This is perhaps the ultimate commandment of making a fan film that will see the light of day. Even with the benefits and loopholes of fair use laws, selling or profiting from your fan film is just the most basic way to scuttle your ship and even run the risk of heavier litigation later on. Crossing this line can be done with all the best intentions. Maybe you figured you could get a little compensation for yourself and your hardworking crew for all those long hours of blood, sweat, and tears. Maybe you wanted to cover the cost of the dvds/posters you printed for your fans. It’s a bad idea from any angle for the simple reason that you are generating revenue directly or indirectly with of a license that you do not own.

Accept right now that making a fan film will mean a personal or private investment, time and money, and remember that even fully sanctioned films don’t make their money back in the big leagues. As far as raising funds for a fan film through crowd-funding, that’s a bit of a trickier subject that I will cover some other time, but I will say that this is also a pretty bad idea unless it is done with utmost care and respect for the property holders.

2. Thou shall not make it look “too close” to the real thing: Mike Pecci can probably relate the most to this issue as it was the main focus of the cease & desist letter that his team was served by Marvel just days away from releasing their high-profile Punisher fan film, The Dead Can’t Be Distracted. There is such a thing as having your fan film look too much like the real thing, and holders of the copyrights have an understandable concern that their properties might be confused with the artistry of a heavy-hitter like Pecci. This case was a particularly unfortunate one as, if you read Pecci’s insightful journal about the rise and fall of the project, the filmmakers even managed to receive the blessings of the original writers and artists on whose works the film was based. Pecci recounts the numerous endorsements and approvals he’s secured from the authors, but ultimately hitting a solid concrete wall of Disney’s legal department.

The lesson: Make sure your fan film does not cross the line in terms of look/aesthetic by looking too much like the real thing. It may sound like a strange rule to respect but it’s called a “fan” film for a reason. This doesn’t mean necessarily that your work has to be sub-par or purposefully brought down in quality, only that it should try to avoid that red zone. Typical fan film micro-budgets and limited resources can be your friend in this regard.

3. Thou shall not attempt turn a successful fan film into a series: Look at it from the license owner’s point-of-view; even if you were lenient toward a first fan film by a young enthusiastic group of filmmakers and did not take legal action, now these same people are planning on putting these out a regular interval, every time risking to damage your intellectual property. Can you really blame a company for erring on the side of caution and shutting you down? This is not the same thing as making more than one fan film in a row, but rather committing publicly to borrowing a license and using it for your purposes indefinitely. Not the best approach.

4. Thou shall not make any claims about continuing or expanding on officially licensed content: A group of fan film producers recently ran into this problem with their project. While it is likely that the true nature of WB’s shutdown of this endeavour was focussed on the 100k the group was trying to raise to create a series (point 1 and 3), the studio also very likely became concerned by the fan film’s claim to “continuing and expanding” upon the already officially established Nolan Batman Trilogy. While this would have been a fun project to see, there were just too many aspects to Legacy for Warner Bros to take issue with legally.

The lesson: A fan film must remain squarely in the realm of fan fiction and should avoid overly-direct links with officially produced works by the license holders. With video game-adaptations there is a little more wiggle-room seeing as how you are riffing on a set story/game world, but caution is still advised. You have to walk that fine line between homage and originality and always keep in mind that you are playing with someone else’s property.

There are probably other things to consider when making fan films in order to protect them from the chopping-block, but avoid these major areas and you should be in the clear. I’d love to hear any other ideas and suggestions as well on this subject, particularly from anyone that has dabbled in fan films or is thinking about taking the plunge.

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The Hollywood Writing Process (The Verge)

Published on 21 May 2012
Screenwriter and producer Damon Lindelof sits down with Josh Topolsky to talk about Prometheus, Lost, sci-fi, and viral content.

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The Punisher: No Mercy (Fan FIlm)

https://www.facebook.com/ThePunisherNoMercy
https://twitter.com/NoMercyFanFilm

An original short fan film based on the character created by Gerry Conway, John Romita Sr, and Ross Andru, Frank Miller (Elektra), and property of MARVEL (Disney).

Screenplay by Davila LeBlanc and Shawn Baichoo.

Expect no deals, no compromises and no mercy in this fan-adaptation of Marvel’s foremost anti-hero, The Punisher! In “The Punisher: No Mercy” Frank Castle pursues his dark crusade of brutal justice against criminals who prey on the innocent. They may think they’re above the law, and they may be right, but they’re not above punishment, they’re not above HIM.

Starring:
Shawn Baichoo http://www.shawnbaichoo.com/ (Assassin’s Creed Series, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Outlast) as Frank Castle/The Punisher
Amber Goldfarb http://ambergoldfarb.com/ (Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag, Assassin’s Creed 3: Liberation, Helix, Being Human, Lost Girl) as Elektra

Directed by J. Ambrus https://vimeo.com/user2954516
Cinematography by Jean-Maxim Desjardins https://vimeo.com/jmdesjardins
Original Film Score by Shayne Gryn http://www.shaynegryn.com/

Also Starring:
James Malloch http://www.jamesmalloch.com/ http://jamesmalloch.tv/
Giancarlo Caltabiano http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0130733/
Kristina San http://www.imdb.com/name/nm5019958/

Produced by:
Shawn Baichoo http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1064687/
Amber Goldfarb http://www.imdb.com/name/nm2916096/?ref_=fn_al_nm_1
Gregory Bowes http://www.chimeragames.ca/

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