Author: Jack Picone

Our 2018 BAFTA Predictions

While the Oscars are still a few weeks away, the 71st British Academy Film Awards are finally upon us. The ceremony will be hosted by Absolutely Fabulous star Joanna Lumley on February 18, at London’s famed Royal Albert Hall.

The BAFTAs are one of the major award shows of the season. Because so many actresses, actors, and filmmakers come from the United Kingdom, the nominations and winners often overlap with many of the Golden Globe and Oscar categories. However, because the Academy is made up of different voters, sometimes the results can be wildly different.

Here then are the nominees for some of the major categories, along with our best guesses at who will be taking home the BAFTA award bronze mask statue this weekend — though like always, anything can happen.

The BAFTA Award
Leading Actress
Annett Bening – Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool
Frances McDormand – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Margot Robbie – I, Tonya
Sally Hawkins – The Shape of Water
Our Predicted WINNER: Saoirse Ronan – Lady Bird

While Margot Robbie is considered the favorite for the Oscar in this category due to her stellar performance in the wildly enjoyable I, Tonya — the story of Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan isn’t as much of a cultural milestone outside of the United States. This may give the edge to Irish actress Saoirse Ronan, star of Lady Bird, a film with near perfect critical acclaim.

Leading Actor
Daniel Day-Lewis – Phantom Thread
Daniel Kayluuya – Get Out
Jamie Bell – Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool
Timothee Chalamet – Call Me by Your Name
Our Predicted WINNER: Gary Oldman – Darkest Hour

It’s hard to bet against Daniel Day-Lewis, especially in a thoroughly British role that may also be his last. But Winston Churchill is about as legendary as you can get in Great Britain, and Oldman’s performance as the Prime Minister in his finest moments has already won several awards.


Supporting Actress

Allison Janney – I, Tonya
Kristin Scott Thomas – Darkest Hour
Laurie Metcalfe – Lady Bird
Octavia Spencer – The Shape of Water
Our Predicted WINNER: Lesley Manville – Phantom Thread

While Day-Lewis may not win, his co-star Lesley Manville certainly has a good shot just for being able to go head-to-head with him in several scenes, matching his intensity and emotional subtlety every time.

Phantom Thread

Lesley Manville in Phantom Thread

Supporting Actor
Christopher Plummer – All the Money in the World
Hugh Grant – Paddington 2
Willem Dafoe – The Florida Project
Woody Harrelson – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Our Predicted WINNER: Sam Rockwell – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

There’s a lot of momentum behind Sam Rockwell this season for his complex performance as a bigoted cop in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. That momentum might be too much for any of the other very talented actors in this category, including co-star Woody Harrelson.


EE Rising Star Award

Daniel Kaluuya
Florence Pugh
Josh O’Connor
Timothee Chalamet
Our Predicted WINNER: Tessa Thompson

Daniel Kaluuya made a huge splash with his haunting starring role in Get Out, but we’ve got to give the edge to Tessa Thompson, the talented American actress who is quickly becoming an A-list movie star thanks to her scene-stealing performance in Thor: Ragnarok.

Tessa Thompson

Tessa Thompson

Editing
Baby Driver – Jonathan Amos, Paul Machliss
Blade Runner 2049 – Joe Walker
The Shape Of Water – Sidney Wolinsky
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – Jon Gregory
Our Predicted WINNER: Dunkirk – Lee Smith

The editing in all of this year’s nominees was impressive, but Dunkirk’s style was a crucial part of the narrative — telling the evacuation of Dunkirk in three distinct timelines cut back-and-forth. The epic World War II film will probably come away with at least one award this weekend, and odds are it’ll be this one.


Special Visual Effects

Blade Runner 2049
Dunkirk
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
War For The Planet Of The Apes
Our Predicted WINNER: The Shape Of Water

The Shape of Water is essentially a classic romance tale, except one of the romantic leads is a computer generated seven-foot fish creature. By making the character not only believable but emotionally relatable, the special effects team for The Shape of Water more than proved they’re worthy of this year’s award.


Cinematography

Blade Runner 2049 – Roger Deakins
Darkest Hour – Bruno Delbonnel
Dunkirk – Hoyte van Hoytema
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – Ben Davis
Our Predicted WINNER: The Shape Of Water – Dan Laustsen

Blade Runner 2049 is a dark horse in both the Special Effects and Cinematography categories for its fully realized portrayal of a near-future America, but The Shape of Water will probably come ahead in both. The film is a visual marvel in multiple ways, and slides between multiple styles and genres with ease.


Adapted Screenplay

Armando Iannucci, Ian Martin & David Schneider – The Death Of Stalin
Matt Greenhalgh – Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool
Aaron Sorkin – Molly’s Game
Simon Farnaby & Paul King – Paddington 2
Our Predicted WINNER: James Ivory – Call Me By Your Name

Paddington 2 is a smash success and both Aaron Sorkin and Armando Iannucci are screenwriting legends, but Call Me By Your Name manages to adapt the 2007 novel of the same name in a way that preserves all its raw emotion that audiences can’t help but be affected by.


Original Screenplay

Jordan Peele – Get Out
Steven Rogers – I, Tonya
Guillermo del Toro – The Shape Of Water
Martin McDonagh – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Our Predicted WINNER: Greta Gerwig – Lady Bird

Gerwig is making history as only the fifth woman nominated for a Best Director Oscar, and her film Lady Bird is easily considered one of the best of the year. It’s had a tougher time at the BAFTAs, so if the overall film gets recognized it’ll have to be here for its remarkable screenplay.

Lady Bird

Lady Bird

Animated Film
Loving Vincent
My Life As A Courgette
Our Predicted WINNER: Coco

All three films are visual works of art, but it’s hard to bet against Pixar and their soulful, supernatural masterpiece about a 12-year-old boy trapped in the land of the dead.


Documentary

City Of Ghosts
I Am Not Your Negro
Icarus
An Inconvenient Sequel
Our Predicted WINNER: Jane

Primatologist and anthropologist Jane Goodall is a hero and legend to naturists and to her fellow Britons alike. Jane, the 2017 documentary about Goodall, has already picked up several festival and critics awards and will probably get the BAFTA as well.


Outstanding British Film

Darkest Hour
Death Of Stalin
God’s Own Country
Lady Macbeth
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Our Predicted WINNER: Paddington 2

There might not be anything more loved and more British than Paddington 2, a film with a rare 100% fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes. While all of the other nominees could win as well, especially Irish playwright Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards or the Winston Churchill drama Darkest Hour, the world really needed an adorable teddy bear in a raincoat —again— and Paddington 2 delivered.

Paddington 2

Paddington 2

Director
Denis Villeneuve – Blade Runner 2049
Luca Guadagnino – Call Me By Your Name
Christopher Nolan – Dunkirk
Martin McDonagh – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Our Predicted WINNER: Guillermo del Toro – The Shape Of Water

The Shape of Water leads the BAFTA nominations with twelve total — and it takes a masterful director to bring all of these nominated elements together into a fantastical tour-de-force. Guillermo del Toro already picked up a Golden Globe for his efforts, and while his competition is stiff, he’ll most likely pick up a BAFTA as well — even if the film falls short in other categories.


Best Film

Call Me By Your Name
Darkest Hour
Dunkirk
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Our Predicted WINNER: The Shape of Water



It cannot be overstated just how important the Second World War is to modern Britain, and both films in this category dealing with the subject —Dunkirk and Darkest Hour — do so in masterful ways. For different reasons, Call Me By Your Name and Three Billboards have connected with and sparked conversation for their audiences. But The Shape of Water has a slight advantage over its competition with its overwhelming amount of nominations this year, as well as its perfectly executed fairy tale with just enough of a twist to make it unique. It doesn’t hurt that avid movie buff Guillermo del Toro also managed to make the film a love letter to cinema. Look for this film to take home the biggest BAFTA of them all.

The Shape of Water

The Shape of Water

Super Bowl Sunday: Innovative Ads That Have Changed the Game & What You Can Learn From Them

Apple’s “1984”

There’s two types of people that watch the Super Bowl—those who want to watch football, and those who want to watch the commercials. Either way, that’s a lot of people—the NFL’s championship game is typically highest-rated event of the year, and 19 of the top 20 most watched TV broadcasts of all time are all Super Bowls (the M*A*S*H finale being the only exception at #9.)

It’s hard to stand out from the crowd of countless ads that have aired in the previous 51 games, though dozens have managed to become iconic—including the dancing Pepsi bears, the Budweiser frogs, and the screaming squirrel.

But only a few commercials have actually changed the game when it comes to advertising or filmmaking, introducing new concepts and employing out-of-the-box techniques. By doing something unique and influencing future spots for years to come, these game-changing ads are lessons in themselves.

Here’s five such Super Bowl ads, and what you can learn from them:

1. Apple’s “1984”

“1984” is possibly the most famous commercial of all time, Super Bowl or not. Released the same year as both the Summer Olympics and the 1984 cinematic adaptation of George Orwell’s dystopian novel “1984,” it was a relevant short film that audiences easily identified with, and introduced Apple’s Macintosh desktop PC, which would shortly go on to revolutionize the home computer lifestyle.

The commercial, while signifying major change, was also a short film — a dark, moody, science fiction epic directed by the perfect person for the job, Ridley Scott. Scott was fresh off his own dark, moody, science fiction epics “Alien” and “Blade Runner.”

To this day, the “1984” commercial is a testament to spectacle — influencing countless advertisements that went very, very big to make themselves heard.

Apple's "1984"

Apple’s “1984”

2. GoDaddy’s Teaser Ads

GoDaddy, the company that web hosts and sells and registers domains, doesn’t typically offer highbrow advertisements; indeed, they’ve gotten a lot of flack for tasteless, sexist commercials on more than one occasion. Several of these have been rejected for the Super Bowl, so GoDaddy’s marketers came up with an innovative solution — using their 30 seconds of Super Bowl time to advertise their full-length, real commercials online.

By playing teasers of their actual ads, GoDaddy made a name for itself purely on buzz, while also incorporating social media into advertising well before most of the industry had caught on to the Internet’s potential in such regards. While their actual content was nothing worthy of emulating, this unique innovation has led to an entire industry of “commercials for the commercials.”

3. Coca-Cola’s “Mean Joe Greene”

One of the earliest iconic Super Bowl ads came in 1979, though it had already premiered a few months earlier before making a splash during the big game. This Coca-Cola ad featured NFL star “Mean” Joe Greene chugging a bottle of Coke in the halls of a football stadium before tossing his towel to a 9-year old fan.

The heartwarming moment was a perfect storm of Americana, celebrity, and — of course — football. By using a celebrity most of the television audience already idolized and combining it with a cute kid and some good ol’ fashioned sentimentality, the advertisement formed the basis for countless imitators, including other Coke ads.

If a commercial can give you a warm, fuzzy feeling, the “Mean Joe Greene” ad argues, then maybe so can the product it’s advertising?

"Mean" Joe Greene

“Mean” Joe Greene

4. Nike’s “Hare Jordan”

Michael Jordan was as famous for his TV commercials as he was for his basketball skills, but the “Hare Jordan” spots that advertised his Nike-brand Air Jordan sneakers took marketing to a whole other level. By appearing on screen with an animated Bugs Bunny in modern-day “Looney Tunes”-style shorts, Jordan changed yet another game.

Cutting edge special effects and combining live action with animation was typically only seen in the movies (and in the latter case, only very rarely.) By putting money and unique visuals into their advertisements, Nike proved the investment could be worth it. The ad first hit the Super Bowl in 1992, when computer-generated effects were just hitting the mainstream but were still a rarer, more expensive option than traditional hand-drawn animation.

The ad ended up being a harbinger of the special effects-heavy commercials that would follow in the next two decades as CGI became cheaper and easier to implement. A Super Bowl doesn’t go by these days without several CGI-assisted commercials, but Nike’s hand-drawn/live action combo “Hare Jordan” can be considered the grandfather of them all (and the predecessor to Jordan and Bugs Bunny’s feature-length collaboration, “Space Jam.”)

Michael Jordan & Bugs Bunny

Michael Jordan & Bugs Bunny

5. Doritos’s “Crash the Super Bowl”

For 10 years, the Doritos approach to their Super Bowl ads was to hold a “Crash the Super Bowl” contest, where anyone could film and submit their own Doritos commercials. The winner of the contest would have their amateur project aired for TV’s biggest audience.

The ads were highly successful. By opening up their commercial pitches to millions of amateur filmmakers, Doritos also had way more choices to choose from than any advertising firm could offer. And audiences could connect to the DIY-style low-budget ads — it was a democratic solution that showed that anyone could potentially be seen or heard.

Aspiring filmmakers, advertisers, and just funny people who liked Doritos instantly had a shot at the big time. In the age of YouTube and Instagram stories, Doritos’s “Crash the Super Bowl” campaign couldn’t be a more relevant, decentralized way of telling stories — even if those stories were selling Nacho-flavored tortilla chips.

Doritos "Crash the Super Bowl"

Doritos “Crash the Super Bowl”

 

Interested in learning the skills to make your own Super Bowl commercial one day? Check out NYFA’s filmmaking program here.

9 Stages of Pre-Production

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The first day of shooting on a movie set is never the first day that film is being produced. Days, and sometimes weeks, months, years, or—in the case of James Cameron’s “Avatar” or Terry Gilliam’s “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote”—decades can go by from the beginning of a film’s inception to when cameras just start rolling. The production and subsequent post-production processes of a movie can be shorter, longer, or about the same, but neither can exist without pre-production—the work that goes into a film before any images are recorded.

Pre-production, like the filmmaking as a process as a whole, is complicated and can be daunting for independent filmmakers. Here are nine stages—each with their own subdivisions of tasks and labor—that should be included in your pre-production process if you want to ensure a steady, fruitful film shoot from day one.

Finalize a Shooting Script

While movies are magical, they don’t come out of thin air. Even before the pre-production process starts, you need an idea, and often a fairly polished screenplay to work off of. But when it’s crunch time, you need to finalize that screenplay and convert it to a shooting script—one that reads for the director, cinematographer, and camera crew as well as it does for the actors. Tweaks and whole scenes may be edited, added, or deleted at anytime (sometimes even in post-production!) but for the most part your shooting script should be ready to shoot by the time the director first calls action.

Storyboards & Shot Lists

Storyboards & shot lists go hand-in-hand with shooting scripts—creating a visual interpretation of the screenplay for the director and cinematographer to reference and prepare for. While some directors know exactly what they want in their hand and can draw it themselves, usually storyboard artists are hired to bring the story to life. Once a film is seen—even in black-and-white sketches—it comes alive in a way that the entire crew can see and gives them a concrete vision to strive for.

Find the Right Crew

While some crew positions might already be attached or recommended for a project, and other positions, like your writer and storyboard artist, could be hired very early in the process—you should work to get the entire team rounded out before pre-production gets too involved. After all, these are the women & men who will be carrying out a lot of these tasks, and the sooner they are involved in the creative process, the more valuable their input will be. All of filmmaking is a collaboration—not just the shooting!

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Location Scouting

You may need to tailor your storyboards to your location or vice-versa, so finding them early is key. Many hands-on producers & directors may want to do this themselves, but often the smartest thing to do is hire a professional location scout who already has locales in mind or knows how to find original ones perfect for your script. If you’re shooting in a studio or soundstage, you’ll want to find the right one early and make sure it’s not booked before you can lock it in—treat them as you would reception halls for your own wedding! Finding real world locations early is just as important because you’ll want enough time to process the necessary permits & paperwork.

Create a Proper Budget (and Stick to It!)

By now you should be finalizing your budget, to make sure you can find the gear and afford the locations you want to use. Sometimes this is the professional thing to do; sometimes it’s the necessary thing to do because you’re not working with any credit or financial backers willing to give any more than they already promised. This is never the most fun part of pre-production, but very often it’s the most important.

Choose Your Gear

Are you shooting digitally or going old school with some 16mm film? Or are you saving money and shooting the entire film on your iPhone? Once you have the answers to these questions you can acquire your gear—often from a rental house. After your first film you may establish a relationship with a particular rental house and can negotiate discounts and figure out just exactly what your budget will allow when it comes to peripheral equipment. Maybe you can afford that ultracool fog machine after all!

Clear That Red Tape

Once you know what gear and locations you want, you’re going have to get into the paperwork—namely, permits and insurance. Permits are required from municipal governments to shoot on public property and location agreements are typically needed for use of private homes—especially if you’ll need to move furniture or equipment around or repaint the walls after the shoot, etc. You’ll also need insurance to protect yourself in the event you or one of your crew members accidentally do damage to the location or your rented film equipment. Finally you may need to cover your crew and cast as well—better safe than sorry!

Find the Right Cast

With your dominos falling in place you’re going to need to finally decide on your cast—this could feel impossible, no matter how many actors your audition. You might be frustrated you can’t find the perfect person for the role you envisioned in your head, or maybe you found two equally brilliant performers and you’re pulling your hair out trying to decide between the two. Either way, auditioning early and often and even employing a casting agent to find even more performers, possibly from outside your locality, will go a long way towards giving your movie the perfect cast.

Rehearse, Rehearse, Rehearse

Sometimes finding the perfect cast could make a filmmaker overconfident, leading them to put too much responsibility on their cast to be self-sufficient. Actors need their director just as much as the crew does, and working with them both one-on-one and as an ensemble is a vital part of the pre-production process. Holding table reads and rehearsals weeks before shooting will ensure that when the camera is ready to the roll, your cast will be giving the performance your movie truly needs. This extra time before the shoot also allows the cast to develop a genuine chemistry that will not go unnoticed by your audience.

These are just nine simplified stages of a complex, multifaceted pre-production process. Often these steps will be done simultaneously and in any variety of orders. Just remember that if you’re confident and prepared you can get through any hurdle and tell the story you’ve always wanted to tell. New York Film Academy offers courses in production and filmmaking with the overall philosophy of learning by doing—so the best way to get through pre-production is to learn the skills first and then master them with experience and resolve.

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Star Wars Sequels 101: How Do “The Last Jedi” Filmmakers Build On “The Force Awakens?”

[NOTE: This isn’t spoiler heavy, but if you still haven’t seen “The Last Jedi” and you want to go in cold Porg-y, er… turkey, you should bookmark this for later. Also, what are you waiting for? Go see it already!]

The_Last_Jedi_poster

“Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi”, the most anticipated movie of the year (and then some), has finally come out and now critics and fans can scrutinize each and every individual moment for decades to come. But besides who Force-choked who and which CGI creature will be the hottest new toy, “The Last Jedi” answered a more technical question for film buffs—what did Episode VIII do to build on Episode VII?

While “Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens” isn’t really an original movie in itself—in fact it’s the (obviously) seventh movie in the series—it did hit a reset button for Star Wars in numerous ways. So it’s easy to see how “The Last Jedi” is a direct sequel to “The Force Awakens” more than it is the eighth movie in the Skywalker Saga.

And sequels normally get a bad rap, though “The Last Jedi” is in good company considering “The Empire Strikes Back”—another middle chapter in a Star Wars trilogy—is considered by many to be the greatest sequel of all time.

So how, from a filmmaking perspective, did “The Last Jedi” build on “The Force Awakens?” Here’s just a few, broad examples:

Production Design

Hollywood titan J.J. Abrams was lauded for his direction in Episode VII—namely because he responded to the artificial looking CGI-heavy prequels by bringing grit and texture back to Star Wars. A full, beat-up Millennium Falcon was built for the movie, which was shot often on location and fully built sets as opposed to large swaths of green screen. This dirtier, rougher version of space is kept in the look of “The Last Jedi”—whether on Luke’s isolated island or the remote planet covered in dusty red salt. If you can feel an image you’re really only seeing, the filmmakers are doing their job.

Film Score

It’s pretty much a given that any new Star Wars film needs to retain the iconic themes John Williams first wrote in the 1970s, but to stand out on their own these movies should offer new melodies we’ll be able to hum to. “The Force Awakens” introduced us to “Rey’s Theme” as well as “Kylo Ren’s Theme”, strong motifs that hold up alongside classics like the “Imperial March” and the “Binary Sunset/Force Theme.” “The Last Jedi” is a little scarce on completely new soundtrack entries—though it does have a motif for new character Rose—but it recalls the best music of “The Force Awakens” throughout, using it in several powerful scenes between Rey and Kylo Ren. As the story progresses so does their relationship, and the mixture of their themes accentuate this narrative.

Screenplay – The Story

One of the criticisms of “The Force Awakens” was that it imitated the original trilogy too much, failing to set itself apart. However, a benefit from this was that it created a broader simple story of heroes vs. villains that “The Last Jedi” could then develop and subvert. Now that the audience is familiar with the characters, screenwriter and director Rian Johnson was more free to complicate the narrative, jumping around between solar systems and even including flashbacks, a cinematic technique that’s rare for the Star Wars series. Like famous sequels before it, including “The Empire Strikes Back” and “The Godfather Part II,” a more complicated story gives more thematic weight and allows for more emotional nuance for the audience.

Screenplay – The Characters

The narrative wasn’t the only thing complicated in this sequel. Now that Episode XII allowed us to know the new characters in the series, we can find out more about them in more subtle ways. Rey was a mysterious loner who discovered enormous power in “The Force Awakens”; here, she learns how to grapple with such power and we see how shaped she is by never knowing her parents. Kylo’s internal conflict is made more real and evolves from broad angst to a scared child who thought his uncle was going to kill him in his sleep—that would mess anyone up! Even more minor characters, like Supreme Leader Snoke, benefit from the foundation “The Force Awakens” built. In the previous film, Snoke was quickly painted in a hologram as an ominous villain. In “The Last Jedi,” we see just how overwhelming his power in the Dark Side of the Force can be, as well as his knowledge of and hatred for original trilogy protagonist Luke Skywalker. By inferring more backstory, it places characters like Snoke more firmly in the world and makes their actions more palpable and believable.

Casting

“The Force Awakens” was notable in its diverse casting—bringing more women and minorities to a genre of filmmaking historically dominated by white men. “The Last Jedi” continues this tradition by introducing the characters of Rose & Paige Tico, played by Vietnamese-American actress Kelly Marie Tran and Vietnamese actress Ngô Thanh Vân, respectively. It also introduces Vice Admiral Holdo, a complex leader of the Resistance played by Academy Award nominated actress Laura Dern. Seeing Laura Dern and the late Carrie Fisher—two women over 50—play powerful leaders making heroic wartime decisions—is something rarely seen in Hollywood blockbusters, but something that needs to be seen more and more if cinema is to remain culturally relevant. If the upcoming, untitled Episode IX wants to retain its worldwide audience, it needs to continue this tradition of casting people and faces from every corner of the globe.

Laura Dern & Carrie Fisher

Laura Dern & Carrie Fisher

No, Not Lenny!: 5 Ways The Simpsons Can Keep Harry Shearer

The many characters of Harry Shearer

Simpsons fans around the world woke up this morning to news that veteran comic actor Harry Shearer may be leaving The Simpsons at the end of this season. While a vague tweet is hardly confirmation, fans have known for years now that it was only a matter of time before someone from the core cast left before the show had run its insanely long course. Shearer has been the most vocal of cast members about the show’s record-length run and a decline in quality that has riled fans since the late 90s and even spawned entire podcasts.

The Simpsons was just recently renewed for at least two more seasons, and it’s hard to imagine the show continuing on without trademark characters like Mr. Burns, Ned Flanders, Dr. Hibbert and Lenny (no, not Lenny!) While it can theoretically continue, it just wouldn’t seem right for a Shearerless Simpsons.

As students are challenged to do at our producing school, we’ve decided to conduct a thought exercise using real world cases and hypothesize 5 ways The Simpsons and Harry Shearer can find a happy middle ground and keep him and his beloved rogue’s gallery of Springfieldians (and Rigellians) on the show. One option not included on this list is raising his salary even higher than the millions he already takes in a year, as the salaries of the rest of the cast would also then need to be raised, and the only thing keeping The Simpsons still on the air is that it is profitable. Another option is just ending the show with Shearer. While this makes sense, the show has already been renewed and frankly nothing short of nuclear war is ending the sitcom’s run anytime soon. A third option we simply won’t consider is letting Shearer sail off into that good night, because a Springfield without Principal Skinner is a Springfield we cannot stand.

Harry Shearer with Ned Flanders and Mr. Burns

1. Reduce His Role(s)

Harry Shearer has been around a while (it’s been over thirty years since Spinal Tap!) so you can’t blame the guy for wanting to relax and enjoy his mill-diddily-illions. But maybe he can still come in here and there so that Springfield still seems full of his characters and the world continues to feel whole. A Smithers line here and a Reverend Lovejoy joke there can go a long way. We may not get any more Mr. Burns-centric episodes, but there’s already been about fifty—we can probably get by without more.

2. Make It Easy For Him

The cast still get together for table reads so writers can hear the script out loud and alter the drafts accordingly, a tradition that the show has held on to since the late 1980s. Maybe the producers can compromise and let Shearer sit them out, having another cast member or someone else fill in for the table reads. Also, with the millions the show generate, they can probably afford otherwise absurd accommodations, like setting up audio equipment in Shearer’s house. He can record his lines from anywhere in the world and never even have to put on his pants. That beats any pension plan we’ve got!

3. Pay Him More Than Money

A Mighty Wind Poster

So clearly throwing money at Harry Shearer wouldn’t work, if he is truly willing to walk away from Fox’s cash cow. But Fox still has something Shearer doesn’t necessarily have—broadcast power. Maybe as part of his contact they can agree to greenlight and commit to a passion project of Harry’s—a movie, television show, live act, anything. He has the money to make these on his own but he can’t necessarily distribute them to the masses as easily. Maybe he wants A Mighty Wind sequel? We sure do!

4. Use the Power of Editing

If Shearer is indeed gone for good, perhaps we can still salvage his characters. After 26 seasons and 600+ episodes, there are probably hours of deleted scenes and outtakes including his roster. Maybe scenes in new episodes can be written about this additional footage, incorporating a Flanders line from 1996 that never saw the light of day. Also, catchphrases like Burns’ “Excellent!” or Dr. Hibbert’s chuckle could be replayed and used. It’s cheap but we’re desperate here!

5. Cast “Harry Shearer”

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Supposedly if Shearer does leave, an option Fox is considering more so than eliminating his characters all together (or, God forbid, killing them off in-universe with some kind of boogie woogie superflu) is replacing Shearer with other voice actors. This seems sacrilege (Lunchlady Doris has never been the same since beloved voice actor Doris Grau passed twenty years ago) but it does seem to be a better option than Springfield with a reduced-population. There are certainly very talented voice actors and impersonators who can come very close to imitating cartoon voices, even if it takes a small team of actors to replace one very talented man. It’s not ideal, but if Harry Shearer ultimately does call it quits, we might be very grateful for Sheareresque replacements.

The Best Cinematography: The Life And Work Of Andrew Lesnie

Cinematographer Andrew Lesnie with his Oscar

Oscar-winning cinematographer Andrew Lesnie died of a heart attack on April 27, 2015. While relatively young at 59, his work in the film industry was monumental and will leave a lasting impact that will continue on for generations.

Lesnie was born in Sydney, Australia in 1956. While attending film school in Australia, he worked his first professional gig on the Richard Franklin film, Patrick, as an assistant camera operator. After graduating, Lesnie worked as a cameraman on a TV magazine show, allowing him to shoot constantly in a wide variety of locations and situations, helping him hone his skills as well as learn cinematography techniques and tricks.

Sheep from Babe: Pig in the City

From there, Lesnie found ample work in Australian films and television, building up a steady and solid resume. His big break came in 1995, with the release of Babe, the family-friendly film starring a talking pig. Scripted by Australian filmmaker George Miller, Babe was a smash hit and in turn brought Lesnie a heap of fame. He later went on to shoot its sequel, Babe: Pig in the City, as well as the Sandra Bullock romantic comedy Two If By Sea.

However it was his collaboration with New Zealand filmmaker Peter Jackson that immortalized Lesnie’s contribution to film and showed the world his own unique “cinematographer’s eye.” He was selected to shoot the game-changing Lord of the Rings trilogy. Pre-production for the films lasted several months, as Lesnie worked closely with Jackson to plan and construct the trilogy’s elaborate sets, as well as plan work out the films’ trickier shots. These included playing with perspective and other cinematography tricks to faithfully and realistically capture the significant size differences of the trilogy’s fantastical characters. To aid this process, Lesnie and Jackson used computer previsualization programs to accurately plan the necessary frames and angles.

Return of the King

Lesnie was also instrumental in crafting the trilogy’s trademark color scheme, a palette of earthy browns and greens that helped turn Middle Earth into one of the most grounded, lived-in cinematic worlds this side of the Star Wars galaxy. To achieve the look of the films, Lesnie shot on film, using tungsten-balanced stock and a variety of Arri cameras, including the Arriflex 435, Arriflex 535, and ArriCam Studio 35mm, all paired with Zeiss Ultra Prine Lenses.

Not only gigantic financial successes and a pop culture phenomenon on the level of Star Trek and Star Wars, the Lord of the Rings films were critically adored as well. The third entry, The Return of the King, won all eleven Academy Awards it was nominated for, tying the all-time record for wins. Lesnie picked up a Best Cinematography Oscar for his efforts on the trilogy.

His career did not end with the Oscar, though. The monumental success of the original Lord of the Rings trilogy brought Lesnie a wealth of fame and accolades. His projects that followed expanded in scope, including Peter Jackson’s afterlife drama The Lovely Bones and epic remake King Kong. Lesnie also served as director of photography for the blockbusters I Am Legend, The Last Airbender, and Rise of the Planet of the Apes, in addition to reuniting with George Miller as part of the live action unit for Happy Feet.

Ian McKellan and

When Peter Jackson signed on to direct The Hobbit, Lesnie came aboard as cinematographer. Like its Lord of the Rings predecessors, the film was expanded into another trilogy, yet—filmed a decade later—proved to be a totally different beast. The Hobbit trilogy was not only shot digitally, on the RED Epic camera, but also in 3D. On top of that, it was shot at a rate of 48 frames per second, as opposed to the usual 24, practically unheard of for major motion pictures. By shooting and screening at the faster frame rate, motion blur was greatly reduced—giving the film almost a video-like feel—which theoretically helps the brain process 3D easier and make it more enjoyable to watch. Shooting in a radically different format meant lighting and even framing differently, as stereoscopic cameras were used with dual lenses.

While The Hobbit trilogy wasn’t as unanimously revered as the original Lord of the Rings films, it was hard for anyone to deny the incredible visuals Lesnie produced. His final film was The Water Diviner, starring Russell Crowe, and the industry and movie buffs alike must mourn the loss of work he will no longer provide. However, the footage he did manage to shoot during his time will not be forgotten and his work will inspire generations of cinematographers and filmmakers for decades to come.

5 Ways Film School Makes You a Better Screenwriter

Typewriter keys

While some people are naturally great storytellers, or can strike up a conversation with just about anyone, writing can seem as foreign to them as flying a helicopter. Others seem to be born ready to write, naturally gifted with a pen or a keyboard. For either group, film school is a great tool to perfect—or just introduce—the skills needed to be a strong screenwriter.

Whether you’re a student who wants to focus on directing, editing, or other behind-the-camera skills, or someone who wants to draft the next great screenplay, film school can provide you with numerous advantages.  And if you’re one of those natural-born writers who’s been gifted with screenwriting skills, you might be surprised to find what classes can even offer you. Here are just five examples of how film school can help you become a great screenwriter.

Deadlines

Clock hands

Some writers thrive on deadlines, unable to get their gears turning until the clock is ticking and a draft is due at midnight. Others see deadlines as giant chains shackled to their creativity, hindering them from any productivity. However, film school, like Hollywood itself, lives and dies by deadlines. Being forced to write, even when you don’t feel like it, is a gift unto itself. Most writers agree that quantity leads to quality, and deadlines, if anything, produce quantity. You may not want to get started, but once you do you’ll find yourself surprised at how hard it is to stop.

Re-writes

If you’re the picky type of writer who abhors deadlines, there’s a good chance you’re equally repulsed by re-writes. A lot of writers start off writing because it’s fun—once it becomes a duty, it loses its flavor. Re-writing can taste just as stale, considering you’ve already brought to life the world and characters you intended. If writing is the creative, fun part then re-writing is the laborious, begrudging part. By forcing you to constantly re-visit and re-write your screenplay, film school makes you put in the work you may not want to, but ultimately rejoice in. Suddenly that world you had so much fun sketching in broad strokes has become a fine-tuned masterpiece ready to be put on screen.

Collaboration

If you went to film school to learn to direct, produce, edit or other filmcrafts other than writing, you may get frustrated when you’re forced to script something for yourself. After all, most of Spielberg or Scorsese’s great films were someone else’s drafts—why should you be any different? However, getting a feel for the craft of writing will help you in whatever aspect you choose to work in down the line. Knowing where a scene started on the page will only help you bring it to life on camera. Conversely, if you intend to primarily be a screenwriter, learning the other crafts will inform you how to put your words to page in a way that will best facilitate their filming down the line. Filmmaking is a collaboration through and through, and screenwriting is no exception.

Expanding Your Worldview

Working with other film students isn’t just essential to learning the art of collaboration—it will also expand your worldview. Chances are the high school and lower grades you’ve attended consisted mostly of students with the same background as yourself. Going to a film school with a diverse body of students, especially schools like the New York Film Academy with undergraduates and graduates from all over the world, offers you a window into numerous worlds and lifestyles. Even passively working and socializing with an eclectic group of artists and students will broaden your characters, themes, settings, and writing in general. That’s something no book or YouTube video can ever hope to gift you.

Learning the Rules to Break the Rules

Many writers and filmmakers fancy themselves rebels and trendsetters—not bound by the rules of everyone else. Maybe they’re right. But rules can never be effectively broken until they’ve been mastered. When conventions are shunned in writing and filmmaking in a thought-provoking and progressive way, it is because they are being used as a tool by the artist. Rules shouldn’t be broken for their own sake—they should be molded and made into something new. A statement is being made merely by changing the form—how effective that statement is depends entirely on how the form is changed. Film school teaches you the way other writers and the industry craft a screenplay. Once you’ve mastered that, playing with the conventions will be easier and more meaningful.  Simply put, it’s up to you what to build and how to build it. Film school gives you the best tools and materials to start building.

Check out our screenwriting programs at the New York Film Academy today!

The Best Documentaries – Nine Films of Alex Gibney

Alex Gibney

On the short list of current documentary filmmakers that can create a world of buzz with a new film, Alex Gibney is near the top. Born in New York City in 1953, Gibney went to film school after getting his bachelor’s degree from Yale University. The son of a journalist and stepson of a Reverend, his films often show great concern for finding the inherent truths of their subjects, while also possessing a moral compass that orients Gibney’s relationship to both the subject and the audience. The following are nine documentaries from Gibney’s filmography that illustrate the work he’s done for the form.

1. Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room

Based on the 2003 best-seller of the same name, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room depicts and analyzes the Enron Corporation’s headline-making collapse due to massive corruption at the highest levels and the epic scandal that followed. Gibney’s film, released in 2005, includes interviews with Enron executives and other employees, as well as stock analysts and reporters, including the book’s authors, Bethany McLean and peter Elkind. Released in 2005, Enron was nominated for an Academy Award and won the Independent Spirit Award for Best Documentary in 2006.

2. Taxi to the Dark Side

Gibney didn’t win the Oscar for Enron, but he did the following year for Taxi to the Dark Side, which documents the horrific story of an Afghan taxi driver tortured and beaten to death by American soldiers while in prison. The film broadens its subject to the American policy on torture and enhanced interrogation and, by interviewing political and military experts on both sides of the issue, examines the ethics of torture as well as its effects on pop culture and its relation to the Geneva Convention.

Taxi to the Dark Side DVD cover

3. Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson

Released in 2008, Gonzo tells the story of groundbreaking journalist/author Hunter S. Thompson, using interviews with friends and family to add insight into the enigmatic writer’s life. The documentary was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance and the WGA’s Best Documentary Screenplay award, and is one of the few documentaries with a Grammy nomination, for its album notes co-written by Johnny Depp and Douglas Brinkley.

4. Freakonomics

The Freakonomics movie was four short documentaries packaged together, all based on stories depicted in the best-selling book of the same name by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner. Each documentary had a different director, including Morgan Spurlock, Eugene Jarecki and Rachel Grady. Gibney directed the second segment, “Pure Corruption,” which concerned match fixing in Sumo wrestling, a scandalous yet prevalent feature of the Japanese sport. Freakonomics premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2010.

5. Casino Jack and the United States of Money

Released in 2010, Casino Jack tells the story of Jack Abramoff, the D.C. lobbyist who went to prison for orchestrating a massive bribing scandal involving him and several lobbyists, politicians and congressional staffers, including a Congressman and two White House officials. While focusing on Abramoff, a conman and schemer, Gibney takes a broader look at the corruption embedded in the nation’s capital and its inner workings.

Casino Jack and the United States of Money

6. Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer

At first glance, Client 9 seems to be another of Gibney’s intensive looks at political corruption at the highest levels. While that is certainly an important component of the film’s DNA, Client 9 is a more personal look at one individual, former Governor of New York Eliot Spitzer, whose meteoric rise and White House aspirations collapsed under his epic prostitution scandal. Client 9 premiered in Spitzer’s home state at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2010.

7. We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks

Gibney again tackles the darkest corners of the current political climate, but rather than taking a broad view or a specific look at an individual, he takes focus on an organization—WikiLeaks. The documentary covers the history of WikiLeaks and the context that led to its creation, including a 1989 hacking of NASA and a timeline of WikiLeaks’ major whistleblowing efforts, culminating in Chelsea Manning’s leak of classified war footage and documents. A story about WikiLeaks and a story about its founder, Julian Assange, go hand-in-hand, but Gibney interviews several people, including Manning, and uses previous interview footage of Assange himself.

We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks

8. Finding Fela

Gibney narrows his focus again to a single individual for Finding Fela, offering an intimate look into the fascinating life and career of musician Fela Kuti. The documentary premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in early 2014.

9. Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief

Currently airing on HBO, which produced the film, Alex Gibney’s Going Clear is adapted from Lawrence Wright’s book of the same name. Once again Gibney tackles a powerful institution and the controversy that surrounds it—this time the Church of Scientology. Gibney uses provocative footage of Scientology conventions and meetings, and interviews prominent ex-Scientologists, many either famous or former high-ranking members of the group. Gibney also includes footage from one of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard’s rare interviews. Before airing on cable, Going Clear premiered at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, continuing Gibney’s streak of event-filmmaking.

Scientology church from Going Clear

Interested in telling stories of your own? Check out our documentary school programs today!

The Best Cinematography: A Look At Birdman

Michael Keaton in Birdman liquor store

By the end of this year’s Academy Awards, Birdman winning Best Picture wasn’t much of a surprise. Earlier in the ceremony, it had already picked up Oscars for Best Screenplay, Best Directing and Best Cinematography. The Cinematography award went to the film’s director of photography, Emmanuel Lubezki, giving him a record-tying two Oscars in a row in the cinematography category. Lubezki had won the year before for the stunningly shot Gravity.

Like Gravity, and other films Lubezki shot, including Tree of Life and Children of Men, Birdman is known for its long takes—single, seemingly unedited shots of several minutes or more in length. In fact, Lubezki and writer/director Alejandro González Iñárritu worked very hard to make Birdman seem like it was shot entirely in a single, continuous take. This was achieved by combining several long takes and making their transitions as hidden and seamless as possible. For the most part, it was successful, and is considered a major factor in Birdman’s considerable award season praise.

While the film used camera tricks and illusion to make Birdman seem like a two-hour-plus single take, it still involved several long shots that are incredibly difficult to film in a practical setting. According to Lubezki, most shots are around ten minutes in length with the longest take around fifteen. Even a single one of these takes would be considered a daunting and possibly unnecessary task in a production.

How did the Birdman team (Birdteam?) pull this off? With lots of practice. A proxy set resembling the labyrinthine backstage hallways of the St. James Theatre—where Birdman is set—was built in Los Angeles before filming began. It was there that Iñárritu and Lubezki blocked out each shot, playing Birdman’s jazzy, drum-based score in the background to help set the tone. By plotting and practicing each long take, the filmmakers were able to figure out how and where they could hide their shot transitions, as well as get an idea of where to stage their actors and place their lights. They realized for the more difficult shots, visual effects would be needed to help with the transition.

Zach Galifinakis and Michael Keaton in Birdman

Shooting and combining these takes were assisted in the mobility of the Steadicam, which Lubezki employed throughout filming. The cinematographer has become well known for his intense handheld shots, and Birdman was no different. He personally operated the camera for many handheld shots and relied on veteran Steadicam operator Chris Haarhoff for Steadicam shots, working with him and directing him in real time to better capture the improvisational production of the film and respond to the actor’s movements and unpredictable natural lighting. A 2nd AC would also follow the operator for some shots to spot necessary camera moves.

The cameras used in Birdman included the Arri Alexa and, for the handheld and Steadicam shots, the Alexa plus. The Alexa M was used for some remote and extreme handheld work, using a custom-built backpack holding an external recorder, its batteries, and a wireless transmitter. The primary lenses used were Leica and Zeiss Master Primes. While many cinematographers would avoid using extremely wide lenses for close-ups, Lubezki, considered a master with wider lenses, did not hesitate to use the Zeiss Master Prime 12mm and similarly wide lenses even for tight close-ups in the claustrophobically shot film, creating many memorable and intimate images.

Michael Keaton shirtless in Birdman

Camera movement wasn’t Birdman’s only technical feat. Iñárritu did not shy away from using strong colors like red, blue and green to enhance the drama of the film. Blue and red were used in particular on stage in the play-within-the-movie. Scenes shot outside, with the theater exterior just yards away from Times Square and a memorable scene in the heart of Times Square itself, meant the filmmakers had to work around New York City’s omnipresent artificial lighting.

Lighting proved particularly tricky considering the long, varied takes—without the safety net of cutting, Lubezki had to hide his lights out of frame very carefully. In typical cinematic shots, not only do cinematographers take pains to hide the physical lighting equipment and cables out of frame, but also must maintain the angle of their source within a camera move—shadows or other lights could betray the artificial sources if a shot is not blocked and choreographed correctly. During Birdman’s long takes, with shots often showing 360 degree angles of the set, maintaining this lighting continuity was an epic struggle.

Not only did Lubezki find the right placement for his lighting equipment, he had his grip team constantly move them during the shot, with the lights dancing just out of frame and moving along with the actors, Lubezki, and the camera operator. They would move not only heavy, superhot lamps but also the gels and diffusions bouncing their light and shadows, all to maintain the illusion of a natural source within the shot. This needed to be done for every single take of nearly every single shot in Birdman.

Naomi Watts in Birdman

To minimize lighting equipment and allow for what Lubezki called “a ballet” of hustling and shifting crew members, Lubezki pushed the Alexa to a ISO of 1280 with the aperture open wide. By making the camera more sensitive to light in this way, Lubezki reduced the need for larger and more elaborate lighting setups, giving the camera, actors, and crew more freedom and room to move around within each tracking shot.

Lubezki and Iñárritu also employed the use of lens flares to add visual texture to Birdman. By having lens flares on the film’s copious wide-angled close-ups, Lubezki was able to soften the image, lowering the contrast and making the actors’ more intimate scenes prettier and more emotional.

Simply put, Birdman was more than just a string of gimmicky long takes. If the Oscar for Best Cinematography was given on a purely technical level, Birdman would be more than worthy of it. If the Oscar was awarded based on artistry and how beautifully shot a film is, then Birdman would be more than worthy of it. The Oscar, however, is given based on a combination of both these qualities. Birdman was more than worthy of it.

MIchael Keaton Emma Stone Birdman hospital scene

Interested in shooting movies one day? Check out our cinematography school classes today!

13 Simpsons Scribes Who Became Hollywood Screenwriters

The Simpsons celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary as its own sitcom recently, continuing its record as the longest running primetime sitcom in television history. Since that inaugural pilot, a Christmas special about the Simpsons finding their family dog, there have been over five hundred fifty episodes of the show. Lots of episodes means lots of screenwriters, many of whom are fresh out of screenwriting school, and The Simpsons’ writers’ room has been a revolving door of some of Hollywood’s top talent since day one.

Conan O’Brien got his start writing Simpsons episodes. Judd Apatow and Brad Bird worked as story editors for several years. The following thirteen writers of Simpsons episodes went on to script some of Hollywood’s biggest movies. Not included on this list are the multiple writers of The Simpsons Movie. Also not included are successful screenwriters like Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, who co-directed The Interview, who were invited to write a Simpsons episode after their big break. Most of these thirteen cut their teeth on the classic series before using that resume booster to land a feature gig, for better or worse.

The Simpsons Oscar selfie spoof

1. Wallace Wolodarsky

Together with Jay Kogen, Wolodarsky wrote several of the series’ classic episodes during The Simpsons’ first four seasons. On his own, Wolodarsky later wrote the Rainn Wilson comedy The Rocker, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days, and the hit animated film Monsters vs. Aliens.

2. Jon Vitti

Jon Vitti has written the second largest amount of Simpsons episodes, a whopping twenty-five, most of them during the series’ earlier, golden era. His animation roots came in handy when he moved on to writing features. Vitti scripted both live action/CGI hybrids Alvin & the Chipmunks and Alvin & the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel and wrote the in-production Angry Birds movie, a CGI adaptation of the wildly popular video game.

3. Jennifer Crittenden

Jennifer Crittenden also wrote for The Simpsons during its glory years, and has racked up several Emmy nominations throughout her prolific career in television. She also made the leap to the big screen, co-writing the romantic comedy What’s Your Number? starring Anna Faris and Chris Evans.

What's Your Number movie poster

4. Mike Reiss

Together with Al Jean, Mike Reiss not only wrote for The Simpsons but was also its showrunner for two seasons during the height of its critical praise. After creating The Critic and other series, Al Jean returned to The Simpsons where he has been showrunner ever since. Reiss tried his hand at animated features, writing the screenplay for Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs.

5. Don Payne

Don Payne co-wrote over a dozen episodes of The Simpsons from 2000 – 2013 with his writing partner, John Frink, namesake of the show’s resident nutty scientist. Payne moved on to writing blockbuster superhero films, including My Super Ex-Girlfriend, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, Thor, and the story for its sequel Thor: The Dark World. Tragically, he succumbed to cancer in 2013, and his last episode for The Simpsons, “White Christmas Blues,” was dedicated to his memory.

Thor movie poster

6. Ken Levine & 7. Dan Levine

Ken Levine and David Isaacs were already veteran TV writers when they scripted episodes of The Simpsons. In addition to working on 1980s classics Cheers and M*A*S*H, they also wrote films Mannequin 2: On the Move, and the Tom Hanks, John Candy comedy Volunteers.

8. Larry Doyle

Larry Doyle wrote seven episodes for The Simpsons, as well as the Ben Stiller comedy Duplex and Bugs Bunny feature Looney Tunes: Back in Action. However, he’s probably best known for his novel I Love You, Beth Cooper, for which he also wrote the screenplay adaptation.

I Love You Beth Cooper movie poster

9. Brent Forrester

Brent Forrester is another veteran of TV comedy, having written for The Ben Stiller Show, King of the Hill, and The Office, which he also produced and directed. He also scripted four of The Simpsons’ classic episodes around the same time he wrote his only feature—The Stupids, starring Tom Arnold. He’s currently working on a screenplay for Mindy Kaling, The Low Self Esteem of Lizzie Gillespie.

10. Joshua Sternin & 11. Jeffrey Ventimilla

Joshua Sternin & Jeffrey Ventimilia wrote two of The Simpsons more famous episodes before moving into Hollywood features. Together the pair have scripted the Ben Affleck holiday comedy Surviving Christmas, The Rock vehicle Tooth Fairy, the live action/CGI hybrid Yogi Bear and the computer animated kids film Rio.

The Tooth Fairy movie poster

12. David H. Steinberg

David H. Steinberg is the exception to the rule on this list, having written mostly movies and only one episode of The Simpsons, which first aired this year. Before that, he scripted American Pie 2 and its direct-to-video sequel American Pie Presents: The Book of Love, as well as the similar-styled comedy Slackers.

13. David Mandel

David Mandel got his start writing for the 1990s’ other sitcom classic, Seinfeld, but also co-wrote an episode of The Simpsons. He’s also scripted the big-budget adaptation of The Cat in the Hat starring Mike Myers, as well as Eurotrip and Sacha Baron Cohen’s controversial feature, The Dictator.

The Cat in the Hat movie poster

How To Self-Distribute Your Film

Kevin Smith speaks at Comic Con

Filmmaker Kevin Smith has had success exploring new means of self-distribution, including touring his film Red State.

Producing and filming an independent movie is laborious work, though not impossible. And while bringing your vision to life outside the studio system might seem difficult, you’ll find it’s exponentially harder to get that vision to the masses. There’s a reason there is a huge industry dedicated entirely to distribution—the dissemination of movies in formats of all types. Doing it on your own is almost impossible.

However, with technological improvements and the decentralization of the Internet, more and more artists have turned to self-distribution. Some have it easier than others. Comics like Louis C.K. and filmmakers like Kevin Smith have found success putting distribution in their own hands, but they also benefitted from built-in audiences and closer sources to financing. If no one has ever heard of you, let alone your movie, you’re in for a serious undertaking. Here are some tips to help you along the way.

1. Get Attention

While streaming and video-on-demand are growing in popularity, booking movie theaters is still vital for most unseen movies to get seen. If you haven’t picked up a distributor after major festival screenings, it’s probably up to you. Your first goal should be to find a talented graphic artist who shares your vision. Make art—posters, flyers, etc.—for your film that catches the eye while also conveying its tone or mood or theme. You’ll also need a skilled editor to craft a movie trailer that will get your movie noticed. Art and trailers aren’t just necessary for social media or buzz, they will also grab attention in theater lobbies and as windows to your film on streaming websites. Most importantly though, they’ll help you raise money.

2. Get Money

Distribution is more expensive than you would probably guess, and depending on your production’s budget, could actually cost more than it did to make the movie. Renting theaters and paying for prints and ad materials rack up big costs. You may also find the need to hire assistance even if you’re distributing on your own. Use platforms like Kickstarter and more traditional grassroots campaigns to raise initial startup cash. Use your sweet trailer and posters to make people want to get involved. Find those interested in what you have to say or patrons of the arts or wealthier citizens who would like to see their name in the credits!

3. Get Ads

You’ve got the art and you’ve got the money to make prints so it’s time to get the word out. Theaters want ad materials well in advance because if people aren’t seeing your movie, it’s costing them money too. Ideally you could keep them in good shape and reuse them if you’re moving from city to city, but it’s hard to keep perishable material safe in the hands of strangers. You’ll probably just have to pay for more copies, so be prepared. And remember to get them early.

Movie theater lobby

4. Get Social

Social media is the best way to gain buzz around your film. Use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram—anything you can get your hands on that will get your story to the masses. Share your trailer and your cool poster. Post photos from the set or from your tour or time at festivals. Post your thoughts, even if unrelated to the film, just to keep your name and the name of your project in the air. Also, use your networks to find your audience. What cities or types of people seem to gravitate towards your project? When you self-distribute your distribution is limited—that makes efficient targeting very important.

5. Set Good Dates

Choosing the right release dates for your theatrical and online releases are key. You want to avoid the Fall and early Winter because the films with awards season buzz are already hogging the spotlight. You’ll also want to avoid sharing dates with major releases that are going to suck up all the audience, or, conversely, release concurrently with a film you think will turn off your potential audience so they’ll see yours instead. Counter-programming is a vital tactic used by distributors—if everyone is seeing the new sci-fi blockbuster, your low key drama would make a great alternative. And don’t forget to think small. If you’re doing one- or two-time screenings, choose Mondays and Tuesdays, days when an audience isn’t likely to be doing something else.

6. Go On Tour

Touring with your film may seem old school—it was originally done to save money on costly film prints, and has fallen out of fashion as digital prints have made distribution cheaper. But it’s a great way to focus resources and meet your audience in person, forging a stronger connection. Use social media and your art to keep locals in the know and go city-by-city, staggering your dates while building word of mouth.

Limited releases

7. Do Q&As

If you’re touring with your film, don’t just make it a series of run-of-the-mill screenings. Organize a Q&A, talking to your audience after the screening. Guest speakers make screenings more exciting and give people more incentive to come out and see it. You can also engage better with your audience and learn from them, increasing your buzz as well as teaching you how to better target a larger crowd

8. Stream

Once you feel your theatrical run has run its course, you should get your film online to stream. You can also make home video releases on DVD and Blu-Ray, though the format is quickly falling out of fashion. Distributing online later in the game is smart because it prevents potential piracy and forces people to come out to the theaters to see your film first. However, once you do go online, you’ll reach a much, much larger audience, especially considering all those who wanted to see your film but weren’t in the cities of your release. You can post on sites like YouTube, which isn’t as discriminating as companies like Netflix or Amazon, though it may give your film a less “professional” demeanor. But it’s a start.

9. Team Up

If you can’t make headway with the big companies like Netflix and Amazon, there are interesting and innovative organizations and companies you might have better luck with. Groups like Indieflix and Createspace back your film with screenings and streaming and help raise awareness of your project. Some, like Indieflix, have models that allow you to get paid for each minute your film is streamed. For self-distributors, organizations like these are becoming a must.

10. Be Prepared to Work

If all this sounds like a lot of work, it’s because it is. You may be physically and emotionally drained after finally getting your project on film or video, but if you’re going to distribute yourself you have to prepare for a great deal more effort. There’s a reason those with cash will pay someone else to do it for them. But if you’re an artist with no other choice, you’ll have to muscle through it. It’s not all bad though—self-distribution allows you to connect with your audience in a way many filmmakers never get to. And what’s making art and movies if not an attempt to connect?

2015 Oscars: A Look At The Documentary Short Subject Nominees

Oscar statue

The Documentary Short category often gets overlooked during the hype and blitz of the Academy Awards, but the films nominated for the Oscar are almost always powerful and important. Because they are cheaper to finance than features, documentary shorts often tackle subjects that are obscured from mainstream media, or tell deeply personal stories that resonate with a humanity that can be lacking in the movies of the other categories.

Documentary Shorts can come from career filmmakers or those making their first project after studying documentary filmmaking in film school. This is the first nomination for all of the producers and directors up for the Oscar this year. Their subjects are varied but united in their compassion for mankind, from thousands of war veterans to the life of a single infant. Here is a look at the other works these filmmakers have made before their shot at the golden statue.

Ellen Goosenberg Kent and Dana Perry – Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1

Documentary Short Subject Nominee Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1

Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1 chronicles the crisis center that handles military veterans, which account for 20% of all suicides in the United States each year. In addition to directing Hotline, Ellen Goosenberg Kent has directed the documentaries One Nation Under Dog and No Dog Left Behind, as well as TV docs Wartorn: 1861-2010, Alive Day Memories: Home From Iraq, The Addiction Project, The Music in Me, Too Hot Not to Handle, Middle School Confessions, and Brett Killed Mom: A Sister’s Diary, among others. She has also produced Real Sex for HBO.

Producer Dana Perry has also produced Sex: The Revolution, Paramedics, and Motown 40: The Music is Forever. She had directed Top Ten Monks, Boy Interrupted, The Drug Years, And You Don’t Stop: 30 Years of Hip-Hop, and VH1 Presents the 70s.

Aneta Kopacz – Joanna

Documentary Short Subject Nominee Joanna

Joanna tells the heartbreaking story of a mother facing a terminal disease who writes a blog for her young son, hoping to impart some lessons and wisdom before she passes.

This is the only film credit Aneta Kopacz has to date, though she was given special thanks in the credits for Get Low, starring Robert Duvall and Bill Murray.

 

Documentary Short Subject Nominee Our Curse

Our Curse is a Polish film directed by Tomasz Śliwiński, whose child was born with a very rare and incurable disease known as the Ondine’s Curse. He chronicles the struggles he and his wife have caring for their sick baby and the toll it takes on their own lives. He and his wife, Maciej, have no other credits but the making of this heartbreakingly personal film.

Gabriel Serra Arguello – The Reaper (La Parka)

Documentary Short Subject Nominee The Reaper

The Reaper tells the story of Efrain, who’s worked in a slaughterhouse for 25 years, gradually changing his worldview on life and death. Director Gabriel Serra Arguello has worked as the AC on Tiempos Felices and the cinematographer on Año Nuevo and Xinantecatl.

J. Christian Jensen – White Earth

Documentary Short Subject Nominee White Earth

White Earth takes place in North Dakota during an oil boom that is attracting many people looking for employment in a harsh economy. Unfortunately the winter proves even harsher. The film documents the struggle of an immigrant mother and her three children facing the situation head on.

J. Christian Jensen often acts as his own cinematographer, and has shot and directed documentary shorts including Between Land and Sea, Solitary Plains, Alpha & Omega, and Out of Body.

Any winner this year will be deserving of the prize. Check out our looks at the nominees for Best Cinematography, Best Original Screenplay and Best Documentary Feature.

The Best Cinematography: Exploring The Light And Dark In Pan’s Labyrinth

Eyeballs in hands in Pan's Labyrinth

Pan’s Labyrinth is very much a Guillermo del Toro film. The 2006 historical fantasy is loaded with the Mexican filmmaker’s pet themes, and includes creatures and designs personally conjured up by del Toro and bearing his signature style. The look, in particular, of the film helped bring to life perhaps the purest version of del Toro’s vision.

The director of photography tasked with putting this vision on screen was Guillermo Navarro, who succeeded enough to win the Academy Award for Cinematography for his work. Navarro is a Mexican cinematographer whose credits include Desperado, From Dusk til Dawn, The Long Kiss Goodnight, Jackie Brown, Spawn, Stuart Little, Spy Kids, Zathura, Night at the Museum, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, and Pacific Rim. He is known for his use of vivid blues and yellows that dominate his images. Having worked with del Toro before on the Hellboy films and others, he was a perfect choice to shoot Pan’s Labyrinth.

The Crew & Camera

Pan’s Labyrinth was also nominated for Best Foreign Language Film, its production being 78% Spanish and 22% Mexican. Because Pedro Almodóvar was shooting Volver at the same time, much of del Toro’s Spanish crew was unavailable to work on the shoot. He and Navarro had to put together a film crew with mostly strangers and inexperienced workers, and had no idea what to expect. It ended up working wonders for the team. Since the crew wasn’t set in their habits, Navarro was able to use them any way he saw fit. This was a great benefit considering the American grip & electric system they used in Mexico was much different from the system European crews were accustomed to.

Shooting in Spain also afforded the crew a 5 ½ day work schedule and a slower working pace, which allowed Navarro the time to set up scenes and shots in a more deliberate fashion. Principal photography was wrapped in three months.

Navarro went to Spain with his own Moviecam Compact cameras that he owned and used for all of his shoots, as well as his personal Arri 435ES lenses. Two lines of Zeiss lenses were used, Ultra Primes and Variable Primes, depending on what the shot called for.

A lot of the film’s equipment was homemade from Spain. Navarro got a lot of use out of a small crane nicknamed the “puchi,” appropriated from the English “push in.” The crane allows a single operator to move the camera in a variety of ways with great freedom. Navarro grew very fond of the tool, even purchasing his own for his work in LA. He often operated it himself during the shoot, with his frequent and trusted collaborator Jaromir Sedina simultaneously wielding a Steadicam. When a scene required more camera height than the puchi could provide, Navarro opted to use a taller Technocrane. For some of the tight, heavily forested areas where it was hard to find room for lights, the crew used a sausage-shaped illuminated balloon that could float over the set and light it from above.

Sergi López as Vidal in Pan's Labyrinth

Light & Dark

Navarro used three film stocks—Vision 250D, Vision2 500T, and Vision2 200T, depending on what was being photographed. The crew shot a lot of day for night, especially in the forests where it was very difficult to artificially light. By underexposing these scenes three to four stops, Navarro not only created night, but gave it an eerie presence that fit the film’s fantasy elements. He purposefully kept lighting effects that could only be attained with sunlight, which jarred the image when it passed itself as night, creating an aura of experimentation one might usually find in cinematography school.

Because of the awkwardly-shaped spaces of the fantasy sets, Navarro had to be creative with his lighting, finding places to put his lamps that also didn’t disrupt the image. A lot of light was strictly attained by bouncing it into the set. For certain scenes, the crew also drilled tiny holes into the walls of the set and placed little lights into the spaces. In the tunnel of the giant frog scene, Ofelia’s face was lit with a fiber-optic light attached directly to the camera.

For much of the film, Navarro used more darkness than actual light, using his lamps and bounce boards to bring just enough of the image out of shadow. Del Toro and Navarro are of very similar minds when it comes to the use of darkness, and Pan’s Labyrinth was the perfect project for their style. They frequently took advantage of modern film stocks’ ability to be highly sensitive to light. While they used an abundance of shadow, they still needed to carefully add a lot of light to make sure the highlights they wanted to show came through. The crew learned that for many scenes, they couldn’t even go by the light meter, as they were so far down in the F-stop range that it was irrelevant to measure.

Making it even more difficult was that the crew was using a digital intermediate and high-definition dailies, where contrast isn’t as defined as it will look on film. The crew had to rely on del Toro and Navarro’s gut intuition, and place faith in the fact that they knew what they were doing and weren’t permanently obscuring the beautiful imagery of Pan’s Labyrinth in shadow. Fortunately for the audience, their gut intuition was right.

Encountering a creature in Pan's Labyrinth

2015 Oscars: A Look at the Nominees for Best Original Screenplay

Oscar Statue

From birds to boys to everything in between, the Best Original Screenplay nominees for this year’s 87th Academy Awards are a diverse, intriguing mix. Most of the writers up for the Oscar have competed for the award before, so it’s anyone’s game. Here is a look at some other works by the Best Original Screenplay nominees and what led them to their Oscar-nominated screenplays, essential reading for any screenwriting student or aspiring screenwriter.

Birdman – Written by Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr. & Armando Bo

Birdman movie poster

While this is the first Oscar nomination for the other writers of Birdman, writer/director Alejandro G. Iñárritu was previously nominated for Best Writing and Best Directing for his 2006 film Babel and is up for Best Directing and Best Picture this year.

He has also scripted his upcoming film The Revenant, starring Leonardo DiCaprio. AGI has also written his film Biutiful with Birdman co-writers Nicolás Giacobone and Armando Bo and all four nominees are currently scripting the upcoming Ed Helms television series The One Percent for Starz.

Boyhood – Richard Linklater

Boyhood movie poster

This is Richard Linklater’s fifth Oscar nomination, counting his nods for Directing and Best Picture for his 12 years in the making masterpiece, Boyhood. He was previously nominated for Before Midnight and Before Sunset, which were in the Adapted Screenplay category as they are based on Linklater’s original screenplay, Before Sunrise.

He’s also written most of his own films, including Slacker, Dazed and Confused, The Newton Boys, Waking Life, Fast Food Nation, A Scanner Darkly, Bernie and his upcoming effort, That’s What I’m Talking About.

Foxcatcher – E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman

foxcatcher__span[1]

This is Frye’s first nomination and Futterman’s second—he previously got the nod for his work on Capote.

Frye is a veteran screenwriter, having scripted films since the 1980s. His credits include Something Wild, Amos & Andrew and an episode of HBO’s Band of Brothers. He was also script consultant on Lars Von Trier’s experimental film Dogville.

In addition to Capote, Dan Futterman has written for the television shows In Treatment and Gracepoint.

The Grand Budapest Hotel – Screenplay by Wes Anderson; Story by Wes Anderson & Hugo Guinness

The Grand Budapest Hotel movie poster

While this is Hugo Guinness’s first Oscar nomination, Wes Anderson has received five others, including his nods this year for Directing and Best Picture. His other nominations include two other Original Screenplay nods for The Royal Tenebaums and Moonrise Kingdom and a Best Animated Feature for The Fantastic Mr. Fox.

Anderson’s other screenwriting credits are exclusively for his own directed films, including Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, The Darjeeling Limited, and again for The Fantastic Mr. Fox.

Hugo Guinness’s story credit for The Grand Budapest Hotel is his only writing credit to date, but he also did art and voice acting for The Fantastic Mr. Fox.

Nightcrawler – Dan Gilroy

Nightcrawler movie poster

This is Dan Gilroy’s first screenwriting credit, though he has been writing for Hollywood since the early 90s. His brother is successful screenwriter and director Tony Gilroy. Some of Dan Gilroy’s credits include Freejack, Chasers, Two for the Money, The Fall, Real Steel, and The Bourne Legacy.

Check out our other pages for a look at the careers of this year’s Best Documentary Feature nominees and Best Cinematography nominees.

 

2015 Oscars: A Look at the Best Documentary Feature Nominees

Oscar Statue
This year’s Oscar nominees in the Best Documentary Feature are an eclectic group—producers and directors of varying levels of experience. Their films are just as diverse, although all share a voice that says something powerful and critical to the human experience, a must for any documentary vying for the Academy Award. For students and aspiring documentary filmmakers who wish to learn more about the craft of documentary filmmaking, here is a look at those who might go home with the golden statue in an important yet somewhat overlooked major category.

Citizenfour – Laura Poitras, Mathilde Bonnefoy and Dirk Wilutzky

Citizenfour movie poster

Citizenfour unravels one of the biggest stories of the decade—Edward Snowden and the NSA’s controversial surveillance program. This isn’t director Laura Poitras’s first time at the big show—she was previously nominated in the same category for My Country, My Country in 2006. She’s also worked on Exact Fantasy, Flag Wars, Oh Say Can You See, and The Oath.

Producers Mathilde Bonnefoy and Dirk Wilutzky haven’t had the honor before—this is the first nomination for both. Bonnefoy has worked primarily as an editor, cutting Hollywood thriller The International and European cult hits Run Lola Run, The Princess and the Warrior,and Heaven. Dan Wilutzky was production manager on Bowling for Columbine, which won the Oscar in 2003.

Finding Vivian Maier – John Maloof and Charlie Siskel

Finding Vivian Maier movie poster

Finding Vivian Maier investigates the enigmatic life of private photographer Vivian Maier. This is the first Oscar nomination for John Maloof, but for good cause—to date, this is his only film credit. Maloof is actually a Chicago historian and collector, drawn to the life of Vivian Maier after discovering thousands of her negatives in an auction.

Co-director Charlie Siskel does have experience in documentary and producing, however. In addition to producing several Comedy Central programs like Tosh.0, Review, Crossballs,and Important Things with Demetri Martin, Siskel was also a producer on Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine. In addition, he also assistant directed and was production manager for the Bill Maher documentary Religulous.

Last Days in Vietnam – Rory Kennedy and Keven McAlester

Last Days in Vietnam

Last Days in Vietnam chronicles the chaotic, tragic American evacuation of Saigon at the end of the Vietnam War. This is the first nomination for both director Rory Kennedy and producer Keven McAlester.

Rory Kennedy is a prolific documentary producer, having produced Bobby Fischer Against the World, Ghosts of Abu Ghraib, Street Fight, and many others. She also directed Ethel, a documentary chronicling the life of her mother, Ethel Kennedy, wife and widow of Robert F. Kennedy.

Keven McAlester has produced and/or directed doc features and shorts including The Fence, You’re Gonna Miss Me, The Dungeon Masters, and Dance with Me.

The Salt of the EarthWim Wenders and Juliano Ribeiro Salgado

The Salt of the Earth movie poster

The Salt of the Earth documents Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado, who’s focused a lot of his work on the poor and suffering. Producer Wim Wenders is no stranger to the Academy Awards, having been nominated twice before for documentary features Pina and Buena Vista Social Club.

Wenders is also a prolific director in fiction, having directed films as Wings of Desire, Until the End of the World, The Million Dollar Hotel and Paris, Texas.

The Salt of the Earth’s director, Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, has also worked on Paris la métisse and TV documentary Nauru, an Island Adrift. This is producer David Rosier’s first film credit and nomination.

Virunga – Orlando von Einsiedel and Joanna Natasegara

Virunga movie poster

Virunga tells the story of the battle between those tasked to protect the nature and inhabitants of Virunga National Park, a refuge for endangered mountain gorilla, and those who seek to profit from the oil lying underneath the park. This is the first nomination for both Orlando von Einsiedel and Joanna Natasegara.

Von Einsiedel has produced several documentary features and shorts, including Aisha’s Song, Little Voice Big Mountain, Superbob and Radio Amina, as well as two episodes of TV doc Earthrise. Natasegara is also a prolific director and producer, having produced documentaries Ministry of Truth and The Price of Kings series, which she has also directed.

What Does Amazon Studios Mean for Hollywood?

Jeff Bezos at Amazon Studios announcement

 

This week, corporate juggernaut Amazon.com announced it would be producing feature films for theatrical release, a huge if not all-that surprising move for the company and its ambitious leader, Jeff Bezos. With Ted Hope as its creative chief, Amazon Original Movies plans to release up to a dozen features a year, making it a perfect case study for any producing student. In many ways, it’s a match made in heaven—Ted Hope is a wildly successful indie producer who also delivered a guest lecture at the New York Film Academy, and Amazon has a very popular streaming service that can distribute the films to homes after their big-screen runs. While movies traditionally took several months to transition to home video, and more recently, up to a year to streaming services, Amazon can have its movies prepped and ready to stream on Prime Instant Video a month or two after their initial release.

Pitches & Pilots

While their announcement that they’ll be producing their own movies is huge, Amazon Studios itself is nothing new. It actually launched in 2010 as an online platform to develop and crowdsource original content. Amazon made a loud call for aspiring writers, directors, animators, editors, storyboard artists and other artists to come together and make movies. Writers could submit spec scripts, treatments and pitches, and by doing so, automatically option their work to Amazon for free. Amazon instantly made these works public and anyone else was allowed to tweak or completely rewrite these works. If the end result was strong enough, Amazon would package and sell the project with a set commission for the original creator as well as anyone who worked on the successful draft.

This system was both innovative and controversial. Many writers claimed the company was taking advantage of artists who had no power and not many options. In many ways they were right, but it also offered opportunities to artists who felt they had nowhere left to turn. Amazon also held contests with large financial prizes as incentive for filmmakers to willingly give up the rights to their work. While Amazon Studios had a buzzy beginning, receiving and crowdsourcing thousands of spec scripts, it never really shook Hollywood in the way many insiders expected.

In retrospect, Amazon Studios may have just been a first step in a long-term plan Bezos had in his head all along. Amazon eventually started focusing its crowdsourcing on television pilots, and in 2012 began production on a slew of original pilots it planned to stream on its still-nascent Prime Streaming. While most of these pilots were from established writers, directors and actors as opposed to the undiscovered talent its Studios originally sought to promote, it was still a big step both for the company and Hollywood. Amazon’s Prime streaming service had finally come-of-age and established it as a firm and equal competitor of Netflix. Its initial pilot season was successful and Amazon has continued to release original content in televised form, winning critical praise, Golden Globes and even recently scoring a landmark deal with Woody Allen.

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From Small Screens to Big

With its foray into TV a definitive win, it’s only logical for Amazon to try its hand at feature films. By self-producing content, it not only makes the question and price of streaming rights a nonissue, but allows the company to get the content into homes as quick as possible, a genuine advantage in an socioeconomic climate where many Americans would rather watch new films at home than at the movies. While Amazon could theoretically release the film day-and-date with theaters, giving consumers the option to stream a new release immediately, it has opted for a 4-8 week delay.

This may seem counterproductive to their interests, but is a shrewd move and could end up reaping big rewards. Netflix, Amazon’s biggest streaming competitor, has also announced its plan to produce its own movies to distribute, also following its success in self-producing television content. However, unlike Amazon, Netflix plans to release its movies, including four Adam Sandler features and a sequel to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, the same day as their theatrical releases. After all, Netflix has the most to gain from streaming a brand new movie.

But theater owners disagree, and are still a powerful force to reckon with in Hollywood. They have been fighting instant on-demand tooth-and-nail as it obviously hurts box office and their own profit margin. Many have threatened Netflix that they would not screen their productions in protest. While this could cost the theater chains money, they have many other movies they can show, and it will hurt Netflix’s potential income on its produced content. Since Amazon is giving theaters a month or two head start to play their films for an audience unwilling to wait for it on demand, theaters will more likely show their films on more screens, making bigger profits for both parties.

The Reign of the Movie Studios

Amazon’s deal with the theater chains could give it a big edge on Netflix and position the company to become a powerful studio in Hollywood. But it will take a lot of luck and smart business for it to stand with the giants of Hollywood—the major studios. Almost all of the films to come out of the Golden Age of Hollywood came from five major studios and a few smaller ones. Today, the majority of content to hit the big screens still only come from the Big Six, three of which were part of the original Big Five—Warner Brothers, 20th Century Fox and Paramount. Universal and Columbia have grown from that era as well, with only Disney being the relative newcomer in the pack.

Indie films are considered independent because they are not produced by these major studios (though the studios’ power is so broad they may end up distributing independent productions.) These studios are nearly as old as Hollywood itself, forming a powerful dynasty that has been nearly impossible to shake. Some production companies have come close, taking a sizable portion of the market, though they still are dwarfed by the Big Six. These include Lions Gate, MGM (a former Big Fiver), CBS, and Dreamworks, which was created by the some of the most powerful men in Hollywood, like Steven Spielberg. But even with history, popularity, insider knowhow and a lot of money on their sides, they haven’t challenged the major studios in a revolutionary way.

So the question is, if Amazon Studios keeps to its plan and starts producing films, can it reach the level of Lions Gate or Dreamworks? An even bolder question is: Can it join the Big Six?

The Big Six studios

Is Amazon the Next Major Studio?

As long as Amazon keeps up with its plan, it’s more than likely to become at least a minor contender in Hollywood. Its foray into television has proven that it has both the creative and financial prowess to handle original content. Cracking the Big Six is a very big deal. Only Disney has been able to do so in almost a century of Hollywood business and politics, building its empire on an ambitious founder and a lovable cartoon mouse.

Amazon doesn’t have Mickey, but it does have Jeff Bezos, who has shown at every chance that he is as ambitious as Walt Disney. Bezos and his company also have billions of dollars, from a wide-ranging empire. Netflix might be the bigger streamer, but it doesn’t come close to Amazon in income. Practically no corporation does. When Bezos sets his mind to something, he usually becomes an unstoppable force with unlimited resources driven toward that goal. Under his guidance, Amazon has practically invented modern online shopping and revolutionized reading and the literary industry with ebooks and the Kindle. If there’s a company that can transform Hollywood permanently, it’s Amazon.

Then again, there’s the Fire Phone. Sometimes Amazon doesn’t get it right. But while the Big Six have been dominant for decades upon decades, the medium has more-or-less been the same the entire time. We’re living in a new millennium, in a new world. 20th Century Fox and its brethren may have been the rulers of the 20th century, but the 21st century may end up belonging to forward thinkers like Bezos, and innovative mega juggernauts like Amazon.

The Best Cinematography: A Look At 2015’s Oscar Nominees

Oscar award

The Academy Awards nominations for 2015 are out and as usual there’s a mix of powerhouses, underdogs, surprises, and sure things. For the Best Cinematography  category, the list of nominees ranges from potential Best Picture winners to foreign films with few other nods in other categories. If you are looking to better understand the craft of cinematography, the work of these six cinematographers offer a fantastic supplement to in-class studies.

Here then is a look at the careers of the six cinematographers up for the Oscar.

1. Emmanuel Lubezki – Birdman

Michael Keaton in Birdman

Emmanuel Lubezki is no stranger to the Academy Awards, having earned six other nominations, including for Gravity, which earned him his first Oscar last year. Lubezki is of Russian heritage and was born and raised in Mexico, and has collaborated on several films with Alejandro González Iñárritu, Alfonso Cuarón, and Terence Malick. He was also nominated for his work on The Tree of Life, Children of Men, The New World, Sleepy Hollow and A Little Princess.

Other credits include the indie film Twenty Bucks, Reality Bites, The Birdcage, Meet Joe Black, and The Cat in the Hat. He has two upcoming films with AGI and Malick.

2. Robert Yeoman – The Grand Budapest Hotel

Pink boxes in The Grand Budapest Hotel

Robert Yeoman is an American cinematographer and a first-time Oscar nominee. He has shot every live-action film of Wes Anderson. He’s also DPed Drugstore Cowboy, The Wizard, Dogma, The Squid and the Whale, Yes Man, Get Him to the Greek, Whip It, and Bridesmaids.

His next film will be the upcoming Melissa McCarthy comedy Spy.

3. Lukasz Zal and Ryszard Lenczewski – Ida

Scene from Ida

Polish cinematographers Lukasz Zal and Ryszard Lenczewski are thirty-three years apart in age and have never collaborated before their work on black-and-white foreign-film darling Ida, but they clearly bring out the best in each other as this is the first nomination for both of them.

Zal has worked mostly on documentary features and shorts, including Joanna, Arena, and Paparazzi. His upcoming film is The Here After. Lenczewski has DPed Intermission, Margaret, and My Summer of Love.

4. Dick Pope – Mr. Turner

Timothy Spalling in Mr. Turner

Dick Pope’s work on Mr. Turner earned him his second Oscar nomination—the British cinematographer was also nominated in 2006 for The Illusionist. A frequent collaborator of Mr. Turner director Mike Leigh, Pope’s credits as director of photography include Secrets & Lies, The Way of the Gun, Nicholas Nickelby, Vera Drake, Me and Orson Welles, Happy-Go-Lucky, and Bernie.

5. Roger Deakins – Unbroken

Scene from Unbroken

Is this Roger Deakins’ year? So far, he’s always been the bridesmaid, with a staggering 12 nominations for Best Cinematography and not a single win. The English DP is a frequent collaborator with the Coen Brothers and has been previously nominated for shooting Prisoners, Skyfall, True Grit, The Reader, The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford, No Country for Old Men, The Man Who Wasn’t There, O Brother Where Art Thou?, Kundun, Fargo, and The Shawshank Redemption.

Other credits include Doubt, In Time, The House of Sand and Fog, The Village, A Beautiful Mind, Dead Man Walking and Sid and Nancy. His next film will be another Coen Brothers effort—Hail, Caesar!

In addition, a portion of the film was shot on the Village Roadshows Studios lot shared by the New York Film Academy Australia on behalf of Screen Queensland.

Who do you think will take home the gold? Let us know in the comments!

How To Make The Most Of Pre-Production

A producer’s job is never finished, even after their movie has a definitive, final cut. But it does have a start—at the very beginning of pre-production, the work on a film before principal photography. And a smart producer will make sure they are making the most of this crucial time from day one. Especially when dealing with low budgets, every decision and every penny count. Here then are 12 things a producer can do during pre-production to best ensure a smooth, worthwhile film.

Money and film

1. Start Saving Money

This applies to the producer, the director, and anyone else with a personal stake in the production. In a world where many artists and filmmakers live paycheck to paycheck, saving up a decent sum of money can take a long time, so start as soon as you know you have a project somewhere down the line. By saving up enough to cover at least a few months of rent and bills, you can then focus full time on the project without having to work a day job. You’ll also probably need some start-up cash to get the ball rolling on your project, just to get it to a point where you can start wooing investors.

2. Hire a line producer if you’re not micromanaging the budget

Film budgets, even for low-budget independent films, are both vitally important and incredibly complex. Unless you plan on having total control over the budget yourself, you will most likely need to someone to manage it for you, creating a proper breakdown of all costs and resources to the letter. Not only is this key to keeping track of a complicated film set, but essential to convincing potential investors that you have your head on your shoulders and are running a professional, competent project.

3. Hire a Lawyer

Find a lawyer willing to work within your budget, and willing to work for your budget. Having someone who knows their stuff, legally speaking, will help prevent any unforeseen expensive disasters when it comes to contracts, agreements and other paperwork.

4. Pick your format

Obviously, shooting digital is far cheaper than shooting on film these days. Choosing what you’d like to shoot—HD? 4K? 48fps?—as early as possible will help you start setting your budget sooner and more accurately. Choosing a more outdated format has its advantages as well; many production companies, film schools and individuals have stockpiles of outmoded technology they will be willing to give away at a sizable discount. If you are willing to put up with the extra costs and insist on shooting film, finding supplies of older stock can also save you a lot of money. Older film is typically grainier than fresh stock—but that could be just the look you’re going for.

Film reels

5. Find your equipment

As with your format, finding equipment at a discount will go a long way toward reducing costs. You may choose what type of camera to use based on what is best available. You can work out a deal with a school you’ve attended or worked at, or go in on rental (or purchased) equipment with another production, or have a business front the money in exchange for producing an industrial or commercial video for them.

6. Find your crew

Obviously you and the director want to find a crew that will best realize the vision of the project. However, sometimes it pays to be practical. A lot of freelancing DPs and sound techs will own their own equipment. If you’re torn between two candidates, it might be smart to go with the one who can save you some money. Negotiating salary is also a key step in this part of pre-production. Even if someone is the best, if they’re asking for money you don’t have, sacrifices might have to be made.

 7. Find your casting director

Casting directors know what they’re doing, and it’ll take a load off your shoulders to have someone doing the grunt work of finding your perfect cast. More importantly, a casting director with a solid reputation will look great when you present your project to investors. (This also applies to finding your DP and crew.)

8. Storyboard!

It might seem odd to focus on storyboarding in the middle of non-creative pre-production work, but storyboarding will help with a lot more than setting the look for the film. Having a strict, detailed sense of what you’ll be shooting will help you get exactly what you require, whether its locations, lights, props, etc., and save you from having to spend money on extraneous elements you may never need. It will also keep you tight on schedule as you move shot to shot during production because producing rule #1 is and will always be Time = Money.

Walt Disney presenting a storyboard

9. Get you insurance and permits out of the way

Acquiring insurance and permits can lead to a lot of red tape; it’s best to get it out of the way early. That way, if you hit any paperwork hiccups, you can have them resolved well before production starts, preventing any delays.

10 Find a caterer

This may seem trivial and silly, but it’s anything but. It’s indicative of an entire part of filmmaking that often gets overlooked—the little things. Finding a person or business to feed your crew may seem like a low priority when dealing with permits, insurance and expensive equipment rentals, but your cast and crew need to be fed, and if you overlook it until the last minute, any number of things can go awry. Giving yourself time to find the right caterer—someone close by, someone with a broad enough menu—will also help you find the best bargain available.

11. Lock your location

Get a great location scout. Get several, if you can. Look everywhere so that you know you didn’t miss the perfect spot that gives you everything you want for the lowest cost. Don’t just take into account how it looks on screen. Keep in mind traffic patterns, noise issues, potential problems with permits and insurance, and importantly, its distance to your crew, equipment, and, of course, your caterer. Travel costs rack up. Lock your location as early as possible so you can work on all of the above steps well before production gets underway.

12. Nail your lookbook

Your lookbook, or investment packet, should be as thrilling and as exciting as your project. Convincing potential investors to risk their own money on your artistic vision is a tough sell, and by hiring a graphic designer and offering as professional a lookbook as possible, you’ll show these investors you mean business. It can’t just look pretty, though—what’s inside counts as well. That’s where talented names—whether it’s your crew, your actor, or your casting director—come into play. And if you have everything else listed above taken care of—if you show your investors you’ve even considered the caterer—they will be much more likely to trust you with their money.

A catering table

 

 

 

 

10 Great Websites To Download Movie Scripts

A script in a typewriter

If you want to write movie screenplays, you need to read movie screenplays – it’s just as essential as batting practice for professional baseball players. Reading in general is important, whether it’s novels, comics, or the backs of cereal boxes—even if you’re not paying attention, your brain is remembering hundreds if not thousands of subtle connections between language and storytelling.

Reading screenplays provides an added benefit—allowing you and your brain to see proper formatting in action. It’s also vital for aspiring screenwriters to see the difference between how scenes play out on the page and how they play out on the screen. Finally, while proper screenwriting adheres to a very rigid format, it’s extremely useful to see how various writers work within those rules and even use them to their advantage. Even if you know exactly what you’re seeing, your brain is actively learning and your subconscious is absorbing more and stronger information with every script you read.

By reading screenplay after screenplay, you will get a sense of how you can write your own.

Here, then, are ten websites that allow you to download professional movie scripts. Start clicking and start reading today—if not for your own sake, at least do it for your brain’s.

1. IMSDB – Internet Movie Screenplay Database

http://www.imsdb.com/

IMDB has proven a valuable resource for researching movie crews, casts, and trivia. IMSDB is just as useful for those looking for screenplays of all kinds and genres.

2. Go Into the Story

http://gointothestory.blcklst.com/free-script-downloads/

Go Into the Story is the official blog for The Blacklist, the screenwriting community famous for its annual top ten list of unproduced scripts. One useful feature of Go Into the Story is its bank of downloadable movie scripts.

3. Drew’s Script-o-Rama

http://www.script-o-rama.com/snazzy/table.html

The titular Drew has been sharing scripts with curious readers and writers for almost two decades now, and has a vast library from which to choose from. A great benefit of Script-O-Rama is that it holds several drafts of certain movies, an invaluable resource for those who want to see how a Hollywood film evolves in the writing process.

4. Simply Scripts

http://www.simplyscripts.com/movie.html

Simply Scripts has a wide, diverse library that also includes plays and non-English screenplays. It’s also constantly updated, providing scripts to current movies such as Interstellar and Foxcatcher.

5. AwesomeFilm

http://www.awesomefilm.com/

AwesomeFilm is another resource with dozens of scripts you can download with a single click, alphabetized for easy searching. If you’re looking for a screenplay to read, this site is, well, awesome.

6. Screenplays For You

http://sfy.ru/

Screenplays For You is a clean, smooth website with hundreds of scripts. You’re more than likely to find something from the genre you need—its library boasts everything from low-key award-winning dramas like Sideways to action blockbusters like Avatar.

7. The Daily Script

http://www.dailyscript.com/movie.html

The Daily Script offers a ton of screenplays in a very simple, easy-to-navigate layout. It keeps things homey for the typical screenwriter, even using Courier New as its primary font.

 8. The Screenplay Database

http://www.screenplaydb.com/film/all

The Screenplay Database is another useful resource with a large choice of scripts to choose from. If you’re interested in a certain type of film, the website also allows you to search its library by genre, to better allow you to window shop and find something you didn’t even know you were looking for.

9. The Script Lab

https://thescriptlab.com/

The Script Lab comes in handy if you’re looking for more recent screenplays. Its front page divides its library into the three most recent years of releases, so if there’s something from 2014 you’d like, for instance Birdman or Boyhood, this is the website for you.

10. Movie Scripts and Screenplays

http://www.moviescriptsandscreenplays.com/

You’ve got to love the straightforward title. Movie Scripts and Screenplays gives you exactly what it says, with a long list of manuscripts that you can also directly find with its search function.

All writers know that reading great material is an essential part of honing and building your craft. But if you’re ready to take the next step in developing your skills as a screenwriter with the most hands-on, intensive training in the world, check out NYFA’s screenwriting programs.  Looking for a long-distance way to take your writing to the next level? Check out NYFA’s online screenwriting program options.

The Best Documentaries: The Films Of Patrick Creadon

Bill Clinton doing a crossword puzzle in Wordplay

Patrick Creadon is an American documentary filmmaker, well-known for his movies on puzzles, education, and the economy. Born in 1967, Creadon started out as a child actor in Chicago, a career that included a leading role as Tom Sawyer in a made-for-TV film co-starring Anthony Michael Hall and Cynthia Nixon. By his early 20s, Creadon was shooting and editing for the acclaimed PBS series The 90s and eventually moved to L.A. where he earned a masters in cinematography from the AFI Conservatory. In 1997, his student film, Tendrils, was nominated for a student Academy Award. He worked as a cameraman and producer for several broadcast and cable networks before moving on to documentary features.

Wordplay

Wordplay movie poster

Creadon made a name for himself as a documentarian with his very first feature, Wordplay, in 2006. Wordplay is about crossword puzzles, and specifically, the New York Times crossword. The film is divided into roughly two parts. The first half of Wordplay focuses on master puzzlemaker Will Shortz, the editor of the Times crossword and long-time co-host of NPR Sunday Puzzle, as well as veteran crossword constructor Merl Reagle and several other puzzlemakers.

The film also interviews noted celebrities who have proclaimed their passion for puzzle solving, including Jon Stewart, Ken Burns, the Indigo Girls, Bob Dole, and President Bill Clinton. Other puzzlers who play in nationwide tournaments and have become renowned for their skills are featured as well; the film focuses on four in particular.

The second half of Wordplay concerns the annual American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, where the best of the best compete for a $4000 prize and the bragging rights of the country’s greatest crossword solver. The film was shot during the entirety of the 2005 ACPT and shows the mental as well as physical trials and tribulations of the competitors.

Wordplay was a critical and commercial success, grossing over three million dollars in domestic box-office, making it one of the most profitable documentaries of all time. It also managed nominations for Best Documentary from the National Board of Review, the Critics’ Choice Awards, and the Sundance Film Festival. A lighthearted romp and especially well received by audiences, the film even had enough cultural cache to inspire an episode of The Simpsons, guest starring Shortz and Reagle.

I.O.U.S.A.

I.O.U.S.A. movie poster

Creadon followed Wordplay with a documentary about a decidedly more serious subject matter, I.O.U.S.A., although he managed to keep a tone that wasn’t too maudlin, despite its release on the heels of the recession. The film partially profiles former Comptroller General David M. Walker and follows Walker and Robert Bixby, director of the Concord Coalition, travelling cross-country to discuss the national debt and its potential for disaster. The trek, which journeyed from community to community, was dubbed the “Fiscal Wake-Up Tour.”

Bixby and Walker describe four aspects of the American economy: savings, budget, leadership, and the balance of payments. The documentary premiered at Sundance in 2008 before a unique event where it was simulcast across the country in 350 theaters and then followed by a live town hall meeting that included luminaries like Warren Buffett. Creadon hoped to get the very important yet relatively unknown issues about the national debt across to everyday citizens, and screened the film in college campuses and community centers throughout and after the 2008 presidential election. The film was even screened for members of Congress at the Library of Congress.

I.O.U.S.A. was well received, making Roger Ebert’s Top 5 Docs of 2008 as well as earning a Critics’ Choice Award nomination and Sundance nomination for the Grand Jury Prize. Creadon followed the film with a book, which expanded on the documentary and elaborated on the statistics and details featured on screen.

If You Build It

If You Build It movie poster

Creadon’s most recent documentary was 2013’s If You Build It, which followed a radical high school program in Windsor, North Carolina, part of the poorest county in the state. Chip Zullinger, the Superintendent of Bertie County, brought in two architects to design a curriculum for the high school. They created what became to be known as Studio H, and aimed to teach students how to design and build with their hands.

The students collaborated and built a farmers market pavilion for their community over the course of sixteen weeks. Better yet, it was designed by the students as well, a first for the nation. Zullinger aimed to give the students an education that enriched and empowered them as well.

Creadon’s film, whose title is derived from the famous Field of Dreams quote, screened at the Newport Beach Film Festival’s Art, Architecture and Design Series and was critically well received, continuing the filmmaker’s three-for-three hot streak of acclaimed documentaries.