Author: Zeke

No Man’s Sky Review: An Emotional Roller Coaster

No Man’s Sky: a game with 18 quintillion planets, all of which are unique and fully explorable.

It’s quite the tagline, and thanks to some extremely impressive tech demos and convention appearances it’s little wonder that No Man’s Sky has generated an unprecedented amount of hype over the past year.

To put the scale of this thing into perspective: the number of grains of sand on the Earth is estimated to be around seven quintillion. That’s not only beaches — think all the world’s deserts, too. Now double it, and add in a few quintillion more for good measure.

That’s how many individual planets there are in No Man’s Sky.

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But, of course, scale doesn’t necessarily mean depth of gameplay. Close parallels can be drawn between No Man’s Sky and Elite: Dangerous, which is similarly gigantic but has been criticized as having gameplay that feels a mile wide but an inch deep. (At least during early stages of development.)

So let’s get down to business. While the PC community chewed its fingers down to the bone waiting for the Steam release on August 12, we’ve joined the legion of PS4 players who are already planet hopping. Here’s our review of No Man’s Sky, and a tour of the emotional roller coaster you’ll be on during the first hour of play.

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That Minecraft Feeling

Remember that feeling of giddy excitement and curiosity you had the very first time you played Minecraft?

Of course you do. We all do. It was one of those seminal moments in gaming for many of us, and we can happily confirm that the first 10 minutes of No Man’s Sky lives up to that exceptional sense of wonder given to us by its predecessor.

And, like Minecraft, very little is explained to you in No Man’s Sky. You’re stranded in a strange new world, and left to figure things out for yourself.

This leads to…

Utter Confusion

What am I doing? Where am I supposed to go? What’s all this stuff? Am I supposed to collect it?

Who knows. Certainly not you.

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But slowly and surely, you start to put all the pieces together and figure out how to repair your semi-broken ship. You’ll see what’s needed, and begin setting out across your own unique starting planet to gather it all.

And that’s when you’ll be hit by the first sense that you’re really, really small.

Abject Wonder

The sheer expanse of the game slowly starts to dawn on you, which comes with a wave of both wonder and terror. Much like staring out at our own Milky Way here in the real world, there’s something a little unsettling about realizing just how miniscule the scale of you and your operations are in context.

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And just as you get to grips with the enormity of your own world, your mind will creep back to the fact that there are 17,999,999,999,999,999,999 more floating around above your head.

And you’ll get to explore a tiny proportion of them …

… right after you fix this stupid spaceship.

Boredom

The grind is strong with No Man’s Sky, and once the initial wonder has worn off that’s when ennui sets in. (It does start to become obvious that it’s all algorithmically generated after a while).

You’ll plod around mindlessly collecting … well, stuff. Will you need the stuff later? Can the stuff be traded? At this stage, it’s a mystery.

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Despite there being a lot of stuff — some of it living and roaming around — there’s not a whole lot to interact with. And very little interacts with you. One of the problems here is that it’s quite easy, and not a lot threatens or interrupts your endless grind.

Except the “survival” aspect. Which brings us onto …

Annoyance

No Man’s Sky is billed as both an exploration and survival game. Unfortunately, in its present state the latter gets in the way of the former.

The exploration aspect is hugely enjoyable and very thrilling on a deep level, so it’s somewhat annoying to have all the fun jarringly interrupted by the constant need to top up your carbon or whatever. It gets mundane fast, and never eases up.

The exceptionally tiny inventory is also frustrating, and you’ll find yourself grinding to a halt often as you have to spend a few minutes rejigging everything in your quest to get spacebound.

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Once that ship is up and running, however …

Mind-Blown.

That sense of excitement and wonder you felt at the very start of the game? That’s nothing compared to the emotional suckerpunch that hits you when you leave your starting planet for the first time.

The sense of scale really is every bit as awesome, in the truest sense of the word, as has been hyped for all these months. It’s an unprecedented marvel, and to think that it was achieved by an indie game design team of just 10 people is nothing short of staggering.

It may not be living up to the hype right now — and really, how could anything live up to the hype that has surrounded No Man’s Sky? — but there’s a real sense that the excitement for the very idea and potential of this game is justified.

No Man’s Sky: Closing Thoughts

Typical first-day bugs abound. There’s a lot of room for improvement, and at times it feels more like a tech demo than an actual game. A better balance (and more variance) in gameplay elements is needed, and perhaps slightly more structure would help.

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But as you first break through the atmosphere and experience first-hand the scale and beauty of No Man’s Sky, you’ll smile to yourself.

This is probably going to change everything.

Have you had the chance to play it yet, or had you eagerly awaited August 12 for the PC launch? Do you agree that it’s a game changer, or see it as simply a weak Minecraft-in-space?

Share your thoughts in the comments below. See you at the center of the galaxy!

The Real Dogs Behind 10 Iconic Canine Roles

Who’s a Good Boy? The Real Dogs Behind 10 Iconic Canine Roles

There are more than a few bizarre national holidays out there. Take National Punctuation Day, National Miniature Golf Day, or Beer Can Appreciation Day, to name a few.

But here’s an odd holiday we can get behind: today is National Dog Day.

In homage to our canine pals, we’re looking back on 10 of cinema’s most famous pooches — as well as what became of them after the cameras stopped rolling.

No dogs were harmed in the making of this post.

10. Rin Tin Tin

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Arguably the first canine superstar, Rin Tin Tin starred in a grand total of 27 Hollywood movies – more than any other dog on this list – and dramatically increased the popularity of German Shepherds following his silent movie career throughout the 1920s.

What Happened to Rin Tin Tin?

He enjoyed one heck of a legacy.

Only three real-life animals have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame – Strongheart (also a silent-film era German Shepherd), Lassie and Rin Tin Tin.

He nearly got an Academy Award for best actor, too, at the very first Oscars ceremony. “Rinty” received the most votes in 1929, but the panel overturned it and gave Best Actor to human being Emil Jannings instead.

Rinty died from natural causes at home in 1932, and was buried in a bronze casket by owner Lee Duncan in his backyard. Following the sale of that home, Duncan had the casket exhumed and placed in the famous Parisian pet cemetery Cimetière des Chiens et Autres Animaux Domestiques.

The current “official” Rin Tin Tin is directly descended from the original and is the 12th generation, while other dogs from the bloodline are often trained as service dogs for children with special needs. Rinty could hold is own as #1 on most lists, and we put him at #10 in our list just so you would see this pioneer of dog cinema first.

9. Grayfriar’s Bobby

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While perhaps not the most widely known, Bobby is easily the dog with the most legendary backstory. He featured in the 1961 Disney flick, which was based on a 1912 novel by the same name, which in turn was based on a real story from the 1800s. But that’s not the only thing that makes him special…

What Happened to Bobby?

The enduring story is that the original Bobby the terrier faithfully sat by his master’s grave in Edinburgh – regardless of weather – for 14 years.

While the original Bobby was eventually interred in an almost shrine-like grave just outside of Grayfriar’s Cemetery and near to his master, we had to dig really deep to find out what happened to the dog who played him in the Disney interpretation.

Intriguingly, film Bobby’s life was shrouded in mystery. Records suggest that the acting dog was gifted personally by Walt Disney to of one of Scotland’s most famous police constables, William Merrilees, on the strict instruction that Bobby was not to be shown publicly except for charitable causes.

A silent short hidden deep within the National Library of Scotland suggests that Merrilees donated the dog to a nursing home for children with disabilities, though whether or not this was staged is unknown — just like Bobby’s true fate. If you, dear readers, have any knowledge of Bobby’s whereabouts or complete story, let us know in the comments below!

8. Marley

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The Labrador that made us cry buckets during “Marley & Me.”

What Happened to Marley?

Which one? There were 22 different dogs playing Marley, primarily because the film covers a span of 14 years in the life of the titular dog (that’s 98 dog years!).
The good news is that there’s a good chance many — if not all — of them are still living happily. The same cannot be said for any other canine icon on this list, however.

Sorry.

7. Cujo

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The first of two Saint Bernards on this list, and definitely the most evil of the two.

What Happened to Cujo?

Five different Saint Bernards were used during production alongside one mechanical head replica and — slightly less impressively — a man in a dog costume.

Despite the terror that unfolds on screen, the dogs themselves were useless at being scary; they had to have their tails tied down during filming to stop them from wagging happily (a notable gaffe shows this during one scene). And a Rottweiler had to stand in for numerous scenes because wranglers simply couldn’t get the Saint Bernards to look anything other than happy to be there.

The main dog featured sadly suffered an untimely death due to an infection during post-production, and the names of all the dogs who appeared in Cujo have been lost in the fog of time. If you happen to see any of these mystery Cujos, run for cover — and then let us know all about it in the comments below!

6. Buddy

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The sporty Golden Retriever behind the American/Canadian comedy “Air Bud” (and its many sequels).

What Happened to Buddy?

Art imitated life with this one, since the real-life Buddy was also found in a poor state before being adopted and taught numerous sports. In this movie, Buddy learns basketball, and each subsequent spin-off sees him master a different sport.

Buddy only acted in the original movie, for which he was nominated for a Kids’ Choice Blimp Award. Shortly after filming, he lost his right hind leg due to cancer and died from complications the following year, aged 10.

5. K-9

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The titular dog, Jerry Lee, who teamed up with a cantankerous cop (played by James Belushi) to take down a drug ring.

What Happened to Jerry Lee?

Forty dogs auditioned for this role but none of them were deemed suitable, so the crew flew out to West Germany and bought a litter of four for a whopping $10,000. Animal trainer Karl Miller (who also worked on “Cujo” and “Beethoven”) had just three months to train the pups for this movie. While three of the dogs went on to work in the film, it was the one known as Rando that had top billing. At the time, Miller stated, “The typical dog knows 10 or 15 commands, but Rando has anywhere from 125 to 150 actions he can perform. Anything the scriptwriters dream up, Rando can do.”

Nothing is known of Rando’s later career, but his performance was one of a lifetime. The New York Times declared that he’d upstaged Jim Belushi.

Ultimately, however, they were both upstaged by…

4. Hooch

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Of “Turner and Hooch” fame, the French mastiff who helped Tom Hanks in of his earliest movies — essentially the same cop-dog duo story as K-9, except this one fared better both critically and at the box office.

What Happened to Hooch?

Born in a Wisconsin dog kennel, Hooch (real name Beasley) was one of three dogs purchased for the movie’s production.

The fictional dog died at the end of the movie (for which an exact replica was created) while the acting talent lived to the ripe old age of 14 (98 in dog years!).

3. Toto

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Dorothy’s famous Cairn Terrier companion during the 1939 classic “The Wizard of Oz.”

What Happened to Toto?

Fame went to his head. Kinda.

Terry the dog had his name officially changed to “Toto” following the success of the movie. And he was not only paid a salary, but earned far more than some of the human crew! Terry received $125 a week, while the Munchkin actors received around half that.

Toto went on to act in 13 different films and even has an “autobiography.” A permanent memorial was constructed in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in LA after his original grave was destroyed by freeway construction in the late ‘50s.

2. Beethoven

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The gigantic ball of destruction central to the plots of eight different Beethoven movies (can anyone remember beyond the second?)

What Happened to Beethoven?

Introducing the world at large to the Saint Bernard breed, Beethoven was the canine actor’s real name. The dog was trained by Eleanor Keaton, none other than Buster Keaton’s widow. No wonder he was so good at slapstick comedy! 

Beethoven passed away not long after the second movie, though it’s reported that all of the dogs involved in the franchise were bred by Keaton.

1. Lassie

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The queen of movie dogs, who also dominated TV and radio too (as well as spawning a thousand memes).

What Happened to Lassie?

The female Lassie was played by a male collie, Pal, and heralded by the Saturday Evening Post as having had “the most spectacular canine career in film history.”

It nearly went a different way, however. Pal auditioned with 1,500 other dogs for the Lassie role, but the part originally went to a prize-winning collie — while Pal was recruited for stunts. During a difficult scene involving a complex river swimming routine, Pal stood in for the lead and nailed it in one take. The crew were so impressed (the director had “tears in his eyes” during the sequence) that Pal was handed the lead, permanently.

Pal died aged 18 in 1958, which hit lifelong trainer Robert Weatherwax exceptionally hard. The heartwarming news? Pretty much every subsequent portrayal of Lassie has been carried out by Pal’s direct descendants.

And, before we go, we can’t forget the original Benji!

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Alias: Higgins. Higgins the dog actor rescued from Burbank Animal Shelter as a puppy by trainer Frank Inn, and went on to become perhaps the most recognizable canine in the ’60s and ’70s. He worked closely with his master for 14 years and enjoyed an amazing 17-year lifespan. That’s 204 in dog years!

Good dogs, one and all. Have we missed a famous movie dog off this list that deserves celebrating? You know what to do – we’ll see you in the comments below!

Marketing Your Podcast: 7 Newbie Mistakes

Marketing Your Podcast: 7 Newbie Mistakes 

How do you attract new listeners to your podcast and increase downloads? There’s a myriad ways to do this and their effectiveness depends hugely on the type of podcast content you’re producing, but there are some surefire pitfalls that’ll likely see you never move out of single digit listener figures…

… today, we’re looking at some of the most common mistakes both amateur and pro podcasters frequently make.

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For the purpose of this post, we’re going to go ahead and assume that you’ve already begun posting episodes and have a dedicated podcast website to promote (if not, the most popular free podcast hosting sites to check out are Podbean, Libsyn, Podomatic and Buzzsprout.)

1. Not Putting Your Podcast On iTunes

Apple has long had the monopoly on podcasting — and that isn’t likely to change anytime soon. While there are plenty of other services to tap into that listeners favor over iTunes, you’re hamstringing yourself if you don’t play ball with the big daddy.

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The main reason podcasters don’t upload to iTunes is that they’re daunted by the complexity of it all. In reality, it’s surprisingly easy to get listed; most hosting services automate this process, but even if you’re doing it manually, Apple has released a step-by-step guide that doesn’t take long to follow.

Once you’re on iTunes, don’t forget to urge your listeners to leave reviews. Common consensus is that this is the main metric Apple consider when it comes to placing your podcast prominently on the store.

2. Not Putting Your Podcast Anywhere Else

Because iTunes is only the first step.

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Having your own podcast website as a one-stop shop for all the episodes is fantastic. But the problem with relying on your website alone is that unless you do extensive SEO work, your website won’t do much to put itself in front of the eyeballs of anyone who isn’t already looking for it.

Sites like YouTube and Soundcloud, on the other hand, do much more. Although an element of luck is involved, reproducing the podcast there at least creates the chance that the sites’ algorithms will auto-suggest your content to new people. If you’re looking at other sharing platforms, you’re missing a trick. Try to hit as many platforms as possible.

It might seem counterintuitive to diffuse the podcast across numerous places, but a listener is still a listener — and a decent portion of people will follow the description links back to the original source, i.e. your main website.

This point leads us neatly onto…

3. Depriving Your Listeners of Follow Options

We’ll be the first to admit that it can feel like a bit of a chore maintaining increasingly numerous social channels and making sure a podcast works for all devices, but in this day and age it’s extremely important to cater to all potential listeners.

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Just expecting people to revisit the website to see if there’s any new content won’t work. People want notifications.

A working RSS feed is essential, and you’ll hopefully already be on iTunes. But don’t neglect Android users, and bear in mind that some people still prefer to get their notifications via old-fashioned email.

A quick way of doing this? Simply use the following code courtesy of Blubrry.com – just remember to add your own podcast url:

Android:

<a href=”http://subscribeonandroid.com/YOURPODCASTURL/” title=”Subscribe on Android”><img src=”https://assets.blubrry.com/soa/BadgeLarge.png” alt=”Subscribe on Android” style=”border:0;” /></a>

Email:

<a href=”http://subscribebyemail.com/YOURPODCASTURL/feed/” title=”Subscribe by Email”><img src=”https://assets.blubrry.com/sbe/EmailBadgeLarge.png” alt=”Subscribe by Email” style=”border:0;” /></a>

Both of those will generate a little button that listeners can click on and get instant notifications via their method of choice. Add these to the website’s sidebar (along with your RSS and iTunes links) and they’ll have plenty of options to keep up-to-date with new episodes.

4. Making Your Podcast’s Concept Convoluted

Very few people want to hear someone monologuing for an hour without any structure (and one-person podcasts are rare, as we cover further down). So it’s especially important to have a strong hook if you want to snag a listener’s interest and stand out from the crowd.

This hook doesn’t need to be a “gimmick,” per se; it could be a niche topic that few other podcasters are addressing, or a novel concept for the format.

Whatever you do, make sure you can explain it in one sentence — much like a good book or film. “Two women review classic film noir movies” is strong; “two women watch old movies while drinking beer and talking about the news that happened last week” isn’t.

5. Not Investing in Your Podcast’s Audio Quality

Given that podcasting is an audio-only medium, it’s surprising how many podcasts currently active feature extremely low-quality audio. Needless to say, very few (read: none) of them ever make it into charting positions.

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Don’t be one of them. A good mic is obviously important, but don’t skimp on quality headphones either. If you’re listening back to the podcast on your laptop or phone speakers while editing the episode, you’ll never get a good handle on the levels without great headphones.

To go above and beyond in the quest for audio quality, you may want to also invest in an above-standard hosting package that offers more than the standard free packages available through most services. You’d get more control, a dedicated .com address, and greater analytics insight. But if your production value isn’t up to scratch to begin with, a fancy hosting package would be putting the cart before the horse.

6. Failing to Capitalize on Collaborations

There’s no quicker way of growing a new podcast from scratch than to collaborate with other podcasters. Once you’ve got a few stellar episodes under your belt, many low-level podcasters will be delighted at being invited onto your show, and hopefully the offer will be reciprocated.

As you grow, you’ll be able to set your sights higher and hook up with podcasters that have bigger listener-ships. Just don’t spam, for heaven’s sake. Aim to form meaningful connections with podcasters operating within the same niche. And you’ll probably want to invite guests to your podcast at least once every episode to add a little spice and keep your content engaging.

7. Dropping off Schedule

Not posting episodes of what is supposed to be a weekly podcast for weeks on end is anathema to growing your audience, and it’s hard to regain momentum again after a hiatus.

Sounds obvious, but it comes as a result of something that isn’t obvious: podcasting is time-intensive.

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Many newbies go in thinking it’s as simple as turning on a mic, hitting record and uploading the results online. The truth is that coordinating recording windows with guests or co-hosts, detailed editing, writing show notes, and maintaining the infrastructure of the podcast takes time.

So don’t promise too much going in. You can always ramp up the frequency of episodes further down the line, but it’s detrimental to drop back from what your listeners expect.

But don’t be disheartened. There’s never been a better time to get into podcasting, and when it goes well it’s hugely rewarding.

Best of luck, and don’t forget to let us know what you’re working on in the comments below!

Venice Film Festival Spotlight on: Giorgio Pasotti

With the 73rd Venice Film Festival rapidly approaching, it’d be remiss to waste the opportunity to highlight a familiar face on the scene: former NYFA acting alumnus Giorgio Pasotti, acclaimed Italian actor and former European martial arts champion.

While Pasotti is now a highly celebrated actor in his native Italy and beyond, it wasn’t originally something he’d set out to become. In fact, it was the film industry that came knocking on his door, far away from home.

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At the young age of just six, Pasotti’s father – a martial arts expert – introduced him to karate and wushu, and young Giorgio quickly took to the discipline, achieving the highest rank in the Chinese martial arts. This lead him to seek out further training in the Far East where he refined his skills further, eventually moving to China permanently in 1992.

The plan was to carry on pursuing martial arts. Yet fate, as it often does, had other ideas.

The Rise of a Dragon

A year after Pasotti’s relocation to China, a small production company based out of Hong Kong was searching in vain for a classically good-looking Westerner who also displayed extreme prowess in karate. Luckily they found then-20-year-old Pasotti, who agreed to take on the challenge of playing an American who was destined to become a shaolin monk.

“Treasure Hunt” was released in 1993, and did well enough to attract Pasotti further work with “Two Shaolin Kids in Hong Kong” and “Dragon Fury II.” Despite further offers and the underground success of these kung fu titles, Pasotti felt that his time in China had run to a natural close and made plans to return to his native Italy.

The acting bug, however, had bitten, and Pasotti’s homecoming took a surprising turn.

Pasotti’s intention was to focus on martial arts. He  became a member of the Italian Wushu Team and won numerous international events. Yet it wasn’t long before the pull of acting lured him to yet another part of the world; with his established sporting career giving him greater freedom of movement, Pasotti set his sights on Los Angeles.

From East to West

It was here that Pasotti pursued a new passion, enrolling in the New York Film Academy’s Los Angeles campus to study acting at a formal level. The driven performer managed to keep up with martial arts while simultaneously working towards his acting degree.

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The rest, as they say, is history. Following an intense program of training, Pasotti returned to Italy as a NYFA graduate and immediately began climbing the ladder to stardom, becoming an in-demand actor in not just film (winning the Shooting Star award at the 2004 Berlin Film Festival) but also on television, theater and in music video. As if that weren’t enough, he’s also turned his hand to directing with the 2004 short, “The Never Say Goodbye.” Pasotti has also supported important causes by directing awareness ads for HIV prevention.
Given that Pasotti’s hometown of Bergamo is only a couple of hours away from the City of Bridges, it’s perhaps no surprise that he’s regularly seen at the Venice Film Festival — and this year is no exception.

The Festival Begins

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The New York Film Academy is proud and honored that Giorgio will appear for a rare Q&A as our special guest at NYFA’s student showcase in the 73rd Venice Film Festival. Pasotti will speak about his career after NYFA, introduce the screenings of five exceptional short films, and take questions in an informal reception during the event.

This invitation is extended to anyone who’s in the Venice area on September 1, 2016 — and there’ll be plenty of opportunity to network with the industry and press in attendance at our cocktail hour between 1:15 to 2:15 p.m.

Of course, the stars of the show will be the five filmmakers featured during the event, spanning the gamut of genres from animation to documentary.

See this post for more information regarding the event and the films being shown. We hope to see you at the Excelsior Hotel on Sept. 1!

The Evolution of Seth Rogen: From Teenage Comedian to Superstar

Seth Rogen is on something of a winning streak, and it seems that just about everything the Canadian-born comedian touches of late turns to gold. 

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Having come out of the gate swinging with strong performances in Judd Apatow’s “40 Year Old Virgin” and “Knocked Up” — two of the highest-rated comedies of the 2000s — Seth Rogen’s career has gone from strength to strength as he further flexed his acting muscles and also added to an impressive list of writing, producing, and directing credits.

Given that he has also branched out from comedy in recent years, it is even more impressive that Rogen’s career is an accidental one. Initially he made a name for himself on the Canadian comedy circuit during his teen years, and was so successful that he became the main breadwinner of his largely-unemployed household by the age of just 16. As a result, he didn’t want to pursue any career other than stand-up comedy, remarking: “As soon as I realized you could be funny as a job, that was the job I wanted.”

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All this raises the question of how exactly Seth Rogen ended up blazing his current the trail. With his latest movie “Sausage Party” killing it from both a commercial and critical standpoint, we’re taking a look at the selected works that got him where he is today.

“Freaks and Geeks” (1999-2000)

While the NBC show was short lived and cancelled after only one season, it has since become a cult classic, launching the careers of numerous then-child actors. Linda Cardellini, Martin Starr and Jason Segel all got their start on this fan favorite.

As did Seth Rogen. “Freaks and Geeks” not only served as his debut acting gig, but also his first credit as a staff writer. Even more important were the connections he made on the show. The two went on to form an enduring friendship and working relationship, collaborating on the ultra-subversive “The Interview” in 2014.

The show also put Paul Fieg and Judd Apatow on the map, the latter of whom saw huge potential in Rogen and took him under his wing. “Obviously, I can’t stress how important Judd’s been to my career,” Rogen said in a retrospective 2009 interview.

“Da Ali G Show” (2004)

From one cult series to another, Rogen managed to land a staff writing position on the highly acclaimed Sacha Baron Cohen breakout series “Da Ali G Show.”

It was little-known that a young Canadian-American was working on a quintessentially British show, but it’s an important road mark for Rogen’s career; he went on to receive a Primetime Emmy Award nomination in conjunction with the other show writers.

This was all before Seth Rogen became a household name, a process which really began with…

“Knocked Up” (2007)

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“Whenever I see an opportunity to use any of the people from ‘Freaks and Geeks,’ I do it,” said Judd Apatow, who reassembled a lot of the old gang for his first-ever feature. “It’s a way of refusing to accept that the show was canceled. In my head, I can look at ‘Knocked Up’ as just an episode of Seth’s character getting a girl pregnant. All of the movies relate in my mind in that way, as the continuous adventures of those characters.”

Knocked Up” went on to become selected as one of the 10 best movies of the year by the American Film Institute, with Rogen’s lead performance in particular being singled out for praise.

“Superbad” (2007)

Few were convinced that another Rogen/Apatow outing would reach the same bar set by “Knocked Up,” yet “Superbad” raised the bar even higher.

The movie also propelled Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Michael Cera, and Jonah Hill into further stardom. Not bad for a screenplay that Rogen co-wrote when he was 13.

“Horton Hears a Who!” (2008)

This film kick-started Seth Rogen’s prolific voice acting career. The “Kung Fu Panda” franchise followed, along with “Monsters vs. Aliens” in 2009 — as well as the job of voicing the main character, Paul, in the Simon Pegg movie of the same name.

“The Interview” (2014)

Following the successes of “Superbad,” Rogen teamed up once again with Evan Goldberg to work on an idea they’d had a good five years prior: a subversive comedy involving one of the world’s most notorious living dictators.

While critics were polarized by the screenplay (involving an assassination attempt on Kim Jong-Un, changed following the elder Jong-Il’s death in 2011), this film is a notable point in Rogen’s career. He was the creator of a movie that almost triggered an international crisis, with threats of war and terrorism prompting an industry-wide discussion on the nature of free speech and political commentary. Sony was forced to pull the theatrical release.

“Steve Jobs” (2015)

In the critically acclaimed biopic of Apple founder Steve Jobs (not the Ashton Kutcher version), Seth Rogen showed the world he could act outside of the comedy sphere with his portrayal of Steve Wozniak. It’s an exceptionally multi-dimensional performance, and the real-life Wozniak reportedly felt honored to have been portrayed by him.

“Sausage Party” (2016)

And now we come to “Sausage Party,” Rogen’s latest foray into subversive comedy  — a project where many of the names mentioned above come together again for a Pixar-esque adventure that is firmly for adults. (And yes, the trailer above includes very NSFW language.)

The idea of an R-rated animation isn’t particularly new; 1974’s “Fritz the Cat” was one of the first. Yet it’s not something that has seen widespread adoption, and “Sausage Party” is the first R-rated CG animation. That said, with the runaway success of this movie and the likes of last year’s “Dead Pool,” we’d be very surprised if this doesn’t become a cinematic trend in years to come.

Rogen himself has stated that he “has ideas” for future R-rated animations, currently under active consideration by Sony.

One thing is for certain: we’re keenly anticipating the next trick up Seth Rogen’s multi-faceted sleeve.

How to Write a Killer Spec Script That Sells

Write first, sell later.

That’s the mantra of a spec scriptwriter.

The practice of writing a spec – or “speculative” – screenplay in the hopes that it’ll later become optioned has quite the precedent; and at certain points in cinema history, it even drove the entire industry.

“Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” was one of the first instances of an original spec script sale, going for $40,000 in the 1960s. That’s equal to $2.7 million in today’s money.

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“Good Will Hunting” earned $675,000 for then-unknown Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. “American Beauty” and “Thelma & Louise” picked up $250,000 and $500,000 respectively.

While the market for spec scripts is in a slight trough at the moment, it’s predicted to return in force — so it pays to get ahead of the game.

The Benefits of Working Spec

Spec scripts can be a quick way to a substantial payday. Generally, the script will be forwarded to a number of buyers who are likely to be interested (usually handled by an agent), and if all goes well a bidding war ensues. This is the best possible scenario, because the amounts of money slung around can get insane.

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Widely circulating the script can be a double-edged sword, though; if it fails to garner interest, it’ll be on record as a script that the entire industry passed on. As you can imagine, it’s then very difficult to do anything with it at that point.

But not all is lost! If the script is good but just not quite marketable enough, it could lead on to some lucrative assignment work.

In short, even if your spec script doesn’t get optioned, there’s no finer way of getting your name out there. So let’s focus on how to maximize your chances of nailing it.

1. Presentation

Needless to say, it’s the substance of your script that’ll attract a sale. But it’s the presentation that can kill that sale before a studio even flips the cover.

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Nothing screams “novice” more than a fancy binder, non-standard font, a writer’s Twitter handle and copyright notices all over the title page, and a multitude of pictures and artwork. Refrain from using anything other than 12-point courier and include only the title, your name, and email address on the title page.

If you really can’t quell the burning desire to jazz it up, print it on heavy weight paper. That’s as far from standard as you should venture.

2. It’s ALL About Page One

Conventional wisdom tells us we need to grab our readers within the first few pages of a script.

With a speculative script, it’s more like page one.

As mentioned in our previous post on Billy Wilder’s screenwriting tips, you not only need to “grab ‘em by the throat and not let go,” but you also need to do the following before you get to the bottom of the first page:

  • Establish genre.
  • Set the tone.
  • Introduce your protagonist.
  • Convey their problem and/or objective.
  • Describe the time and place of the journey’s start.

Not only does all of that need to happen in the opening page, but also each and every element needs to be established in an enticing way.

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How this is achieved entirely depends on your individual story, but it’s worth saving the above checklist and referring to it often. If you miss any of those beats, then revisit, rewrite and revise.

3. Don’t Chase Trends

Ask any producer what their biggest bugbear is when it comes to vetting unsolicited scripts, and it’s likely to be the weary feeling of getting yet another vampire script.

Replace vampire with zombie, superhero, young adult, space noir or whatever else might be the trend du jour.

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There’s a big difference between keeping your eye on the market (which you should definitely do as a writer) and trying to rehash whatever was big last summer. There are two very good reasons why you shouldn’t do this: first, it will put you in a huge slush pile with competitors who are doing the same thing, and secondly, if something’s already big you’re probably too late to the game. Executives are planning for what’s going to be big in a couple of years (which is how long it takes to move from optioning a screenplay to getting it into a theater), not what was popular in the last couple of years.

Plus, chasing trends is soul destroying for most of us. And that brings us onto the last, and possibly most important, point:

4. Focus on Writing, Not Selling

Just because the end goal is to get the script optioned (ideally for a decent chunk of change) doesn’t mean that you should put the cart before the horse.

A good script is a sellable script, and everything you learned at screenwriting school is still true; avoid lengthy exposition, define clear character motives, establish strong tone and plot, and make sure your structure is tight.

Writing a great story and making sure it displays your heart and soul is its own reward, but also makes it infinitely more sellable by its very nature.

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In short, never forget the spec script mantra:

Write first, sell later.

Unpacking Billy Wilder’s 10 Screenwriting Tips

Few screenwriters have the pedigree of Billy Wilder, renowned as one of the most creatively gifted filmmakers of American cinema’s Golden Age.

As well as being the first person in history to win an Oscar as a producer, director, and writer for the same movie (“The Apartment”), he’s also the mind behind film noir classics such as “Double Indemnity” and “Sunset Boulevard,” as well as the iconic comedies “The Seven Year Itch” and “Some Like it Hot.

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Clearly it’s worth listening when he imparts advice on screenwriting.

Luckily for us, in Cameron Crowe’s book “Conversations With Wilder,” the legendary filmmaker gave a list of ten tips on screenwriting that we think everyone should not only learn, but memorize.

His tips are short, sweet, and profound, so let’s take a deeper look!

Billy Wilder’s Ten Screenwriting Tips Examined


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1. “The audience is fickle.”

Here Wilder was referring to the practice of chasing trends, or what you think the audience wants. But you’ll never be able to successfully predict this, and will probably drive yourself mad trying.

It’s much easier to simply write the story you are interested in. If you do so with heart and soul, audiences will be attracted to your work — and you get the satisfaction of knowing you did it your way (to coin Sinatra).

2. “Grab ‘em by the throat and never let ‘em go.”

Pick five of your favorite movies, and we can guarantee they’ve all got killer opening scenes that make you want to stick around to see how the rest of the story plays out.

You should approach your own script in the same way. Don’t spend 19 minutes building up to an explosive scene on page 20 – put it right there on page one. You’ve got the rest of the script to drip feed exposition!

3. “Develop a clean line of action for your leading character.”

We’re talking about arguably the most important part of a script: motivation (which also inspires conflict).

If your leading character doesn’t have a very apparent objective and a plan for attaining it, it’s difficult to expect the audience to care about their actions. And we’ll take the liberty of extending Wilder’s tip to say that, ideally, every character you introduce should have a clean line of action.

4. “Know where you’re going.”

An extension of the previous point: the concept of “mapping” your plot is crucial to avoid your characters wandering off their clear lines of action. If the characters appear to forget their purpose, chances are the audience will too.

No matter how you map your intended journey – whether on note cards or just doodling all your ideas in one place — make sure that you do it.

5. “The more subtle and elegant you are in hiding your plot points, the better you are as a writer.”

As any screenwriter knows, there are a very finite number of story types (some say seven). And all fiction is based on these.

Whatever the precise number of story types, it is true that you’ll frequently rely on formula while crafting your screenplay — whether it’s the hero’s journey, a Faustian debt that must be paid, or some other trope.

Counterintuitively, the audience actually wants to see these stories played out in a uniform way (that is why we’ve been telling beat-for-beat identical tales for generations), but they don’t want to be made aware of it. This is why it’s essential that, although the rhythm of the plot may be predictable, the notes themselves often come as a surprise.

6. “If you have a problem with the third act, the real problem is in the first act.”

This is one of the most valuable of Wilder’s tips because it’s one that even experienced writers struggle to identify and fix.

The third act almost always features the resolution of key story points, and brings character arcs to their natural conclusion. If strong foundations aren’t set in the first two acts (and particularly, as noted, the first), then this resolution will feel either contrived or unsatisfying.

Once again, solid mapping during the writing process is a great defense against this all-too-common problem.

7. “A tip from Lubitsch: let the audience add up two plus two. They’ll love you for it.”

A simple concept, but a tricky one to master on the page. Think Christopher Nolan, and you’re on the right track!

8. “In doing voice-overs, be careful not to describe what the audience already sees. Add to what they’re seeing.”

Love them or hate them, but sometimes a voice-over is the perfect choice for moving the plot forward … as long as it does just that.

If you get stuck, try using the voice-over describe the emotional states of characters or hint at upcoming events. These are both things that are tricky to communicate via other methods, but which add greatly to the audience’s immersion.

9. “The event that occurs at the second act curtain triggers the end of the movie.”

Ideally: the more explosive the event (figuratively or literally), the better. The audience is often in a lull at this point of the movie, so a large, crucial event that acts as a catalyst for the satisfying conclusion can help “grab ‘em by the throat” once more.

10. “The third act must build, build, build in tempo and action until the last event, and then — that’s it. Don’t hang around.”

Very, very few good movies have multiple or non-distinct endings. The Coen brothers have turned it into something of a hallmark for their work, but it’s not wholly advisable to try and follow in their footsteps.

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When you arrive at the end, stop.

Now get out there and put Wilder’s gold into practice.

The Real “Suicide Squad:” 7 Cinema Bad Guys We Can’t Help But Love

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The wait is over.

“Suicide Squad” has hit the theaters, and while the initial reviews are looking less than favorable, it’s undoubtedly the biggest coming-together of lovable rogues for one single movie.This got us thinking: what is it about certain bad guys that we’re drawn to. And which in cinema are the most endearing?

Today we’re not just talking antagonists with likable qualities, but bona fide bad guys who you can’t help but want to see win.

  1. Dr. Hannibal Lecter (The “Hannibal” Franchise)

It’s an exceptional feat of writing to make an audience root for a murderous psychopath who thinks nothing of turning a flautist’s liver into pate and serving it to dinner guests.

In theory, we should despise Dr. Hannibal Lecter as the monster that he is. But due to his limitless charm, willingness to help the story’s underdog (Clarice Starling), and the gleeful delight he takes in torturing characters we also dislike (Dr. Chiltern, Paul Krendler, and Mason Verger, among others), it’s hard not to feel like he’s on our side.

We’ll ignore “Hannibal Rising.”

  1. Gru (“Despicable Me” franchise)

Animated features rarely switch up the notion of good guy/bad guy. More often than not, it’s very clearly defined which characters are “evil” and which ones we should be rooting for as an audience.

“Despicable Me,” on the other hand, places a classical super villain in the role of the protagonist –and to great effect. There is a more super-villainy super villain in the form of Vector, which frames Gru as a good guy in a relative sense and gives him someone to work against. But throughout the movie, Gru is very much intent on being the most typical bad guy on the planet.

Until, of course, his sensibilities change in the third act, giving Gru a story arc that follows The Hero’s Journey beat for beat.

  1. The Firefly Family (“Devil’s Rejects” and “House of 1000 Corpses)

Make no mistake about it: the Firefly family are terrible, terrible people whose sadism and penchant for violence is utterly horrifying.

But paradoxically we want them to kill the dumb kids, and we definitely want them to escape from the rather unlikable Captain Wydell. In the universe Rob Zombie crafted across the two movies, their tale is one of outlaws sticking it to the man. Horror aside, it becomes something of a buddy road movie, and one which those with a strong stomach are invited to enjoy.

  1. Jareth (“The Labyrinth)

If you can think of another baby-kidnapper who is more enigmatic, charming, and likable than Jareth, we want to hear about it in the comments.

Rest in piece, David Bowie.

  1. Patrick Bateman (“American Psycho)

Like many of the other entries on this list, Patrick Bateman doesn’t have many redeemable character traits going for him. Not only is he a serial killer, but he’s a vain, materialistic investment banker.

Ultimately, however, we take a perverse joy in watching a man live an anarchic life and indulging in whatever whim takes his fancy.

  1. Alex Burgess (“A Clockwork Orange)

From one anarchist to another, Alex Burgess (or DeLarge in the novel) is similar to Bateman in the sense that he eschews all social convention in favor of simply doing whatever he pleases: in Alex’s case, it’s spreading his own brand of “ultraviolence.”

But above it all, he’s sophisticated and charming – and even recognizes that not everyone should act like him, lest society completely collapse. He’s a complicated and endearing one-off, and for that we delight in his unruliness.

  1. The Joker (“The Dark Knight”)

Closing off with arguably the greatest interpretation of the greatest super villain of all time: Heath Ledger’s The Joker.

Bateman and Burgess have nothing on the Clown Prince of Crime. He not only displays zero affection for organized society or even the notion of “good and bad,”  but he’s obsessed with forcing others over to his way of thinking.

A common thread here is that we secretly enjoy watching people act outside of “the rules,” and nobody does it with more flair and drama than The Joker.

Any we missed? Head on down to the comments and let us know your top super villains you can’t help but love…

… and your thoughts on “Suicide Squad” if you’ve seen it!

The Perfect Storm of Game Design: How Did Pokémon GO Become so Popular, So Quickly?

If you went back in time, even just by twenty years, and told the first person you met that one day millions of people would suddenly start running around their neighborhood looking for imaginary creatures with their mobile phones, they’d suspect you’d gone nuts.

And who could blame them? Who could have possibly predicted the future in which something like this would be a reality:

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But here we are, and we’ve barely even begun. Pokémon GO is performing better than any game designer could ever dream of, and it’s not even been out a month. This phenomenon is borderline immeasurable in its scale – not only has it done the impossible by beating Candy Crush and Mobile Strike (by a huge margin), but its become more popular than Snapchat, Tinder and even Twitter.

Rightfully so, every game designer and developer on the planet is now staring, mouths agape, at the figures and wondering how to emulate this kind of viral insanity.

There’s no telling where the apex is yet, but it’s certainly not too soon to at least begin examining the ingredients of this recipe, because it’s undoubtedly one that will be discussed at game design school for quite some time to come.

1. Innovation and Accessibility

Augmented reality is a new thing, but it was a little slapshod in the early days of mobile gaming – usually added as an afterthought – and the technology instead got put to better use in the health and fitness niches of app development.

Pokémon GO, on the other hand, is the first to put AR at the center of the gaming experience in such a big way. Coupled with the fact that you go from download to chasing Pokémon in less than two minutes, it’s of no surprise that the sheer novelty has gotten players deliriously excited.

It’s almost like it had to happen sooner or later–it was just a question of who would be the first to make a viral AR masterpiece. That someone was Niantic.

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2. Provenance… and even more accessibility

Building a strong franchise pays dividends for game designers further down the line, but it’s also a double-edged sword.

When the universally applauded Witcher 3 came out, many people who were unaware of the series prior to its release asked “Do I need to play the first two games to understand Witcher 3?”

Luckily the answer was ‘not really’, because otherwise it could have turned off thousands of potential players who didn’t want to wade through two lengthy predecessors just to get up to date. A fine balance was struck between furthering the lore for fans of the series and serving as an accessible point for new players to jump in and pick up the backstory as they go along.

While Pokémon may be less literary in its roots than The Witcher, its history is even more extensive – nearly a thousand episodes of the cartoon show, eighteen movies and seventeen games (if you include GO itself.)

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That’s a hugely intimidating canon for anyone new to the series, but Pokémon GO reassures all newcomers that the slate is clean and the objective is as clear as it is singular: gotta catch ‘em all.

A game that is inviting – from the design to the branding – is a heck of a lot easier to market. And that brings us neatly on to another point…

3. Adults are Playing It

This sounds like a flippant point, but it’s an important one.

Historically, and without wanting to denigrate adult players who have enjoyed the series so far, Pokémon has always been seen (at least from the outside looking in) as a ‘game for kids’; that game your younger brother played while you pursued more ‘serious’ games like Magic: The Gathering.

That’s a hard misconception to overcome, but what better way to breach that perceived age divide than to have near countless numbers of adults suddenly join the craze?

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It’s self-perpetuating marketing, and moreover…

4. The Marketing Does Itself

You see everyone reading 50 Shades of Grey on your daily commute, and you wonder what you’re missing. You see everyone playing the Dark Souls 3, and… well, nothing.

You don’t see them, because they’re behind closed doors.

On the other hand, one of the key stories of Pokémon GO is the sheer number of people giddily running around the streets in the search for rare Pokémon. Even from the NYFA offices we’ve been watching – with no small amount of amusement – people zipping past the windows with their phones outstretched, pausing only to talk to other trainers, and when lunchtime rolls round, we tend to go out and join them for an hour.

This kind of visibility is what has truly pushed Pokémon GO into a league of its own in terms of viral success, above and beyond even the likes of multi-million dollar enterprises such as Candy Crush and Mobile Strike [LINK TO OTHER ARTICLE HERE.] Indeed, the latter had to spend vast sums of money in advertising just to get where they are, while Pokémon GO has relied primarily on its own self-generating interest.

By proxy, people running around the streets playing a video game naturally leads to some interesting headlines in a way that sitting at home does not. A lot of it is positive: the mental and physical benefits of roaming outdoors, the uptick for businesses listed as Pokestops, and the increase in visitors to cultural attractions.

Admittedly not all of it great – reports of muggings have been frequent, as have accidents and even a couple of grisly discoveries – but it has helped the game completely saturate the media, nonetheless.

Some of the images people are encouraged to take using the in-game camera are very shareworthy, too…

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Even the most reckless of gamblers wouldn’t put a bet on how far or how long this phenomenon with stretch, but it’s almost certainly changed the landscape of mobile gaming forever, despite its young age.

Over to you guys. Do you have any thoughts on the design of the game itself? Do you think the hype is justified? Let us know your experiences with Pokémon GO down in the comments…

… in the mean time, happy hunting!

 

The Top Ten Highest Grossing Mobile Games (And How They Got There)

At this point, you may have heard of a little mobile game called Pokémon GO. It’s doing rather well and is gaining a bit of popularity?

But while Pokémon GO is busy redefining everything we know about mobile gaming and the revenue potential thereof, it stands on the shoulders of giants. Over the past half decade, we’ve seen more than a few games go on to gross more money than stockbrokers would dream of earning in a lifetime.

Here’s the current top ten, and today we’ll be looking at them with a simple game design question in mind: how did they get so successful in the first place?

Highest Grossing Free-to-Play Games, Examined

Chart placements may vary if all platforms are considered, but for consistency we’ve stuck to the US App Store data as of 15 July 2016.

And bear in mind that the revenue isn’t the amount the app has earned over its life time, but per day.

Yikes.

1. Pokémon GO

Revenue: $1,635,048
Days on App Store: 9
Publisher: Niantic Inc.

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How it Got There: Needless to say, even at this very early stage in Pokémon GO’s life it has become a global phenomenon the likes of which gaming – mobile or otherwise – has never seen before. Its insane performance is down to a perfect storm of factors, which we discuss in more detail here.

2. Mobile Strike

Revenue: $1,271,560
Days on App Store: 246
Publisher: Epic War Llc
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How it Got There: Advertising as aggressive as a napalm firestorm. Mobile Strike was one of the first free-to-play app games to have gotten on board with TV advertising, coupled with an A-list endorsement by none other than Arnold Schwarznegger. If you haven’t seen Mobile Strike’s marketing campaign in action either on screens or across promoted social media ads, you’re probably on board the International Space Station.

3. Game of War – Fire Age

Revenue: $865,409
Days on App Store: 645
Publisher: Machine Zone Inc

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How it Got There: Having never strayed far from the highest grossing game spot since its release in 2014, Game of War has maintained its throne in very much the same way as Mobile Strike: sheer advertising bucks and celebrity endorsement.

$40 million was thrown at the game in 2014 and included a campaign with a very scantily-clad Kate Upton (since replaced with Mariah Carey.) In terms of return on investment, the developers came good – players spend a whopping $550 on average in the game, compared to just $87 typically spent a year in other titles.

4. Candy Crush Saga

Revenue: $442,296
Days on App Store: 1338
Publisher: King

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How it Got There: Before Pokémon GO came along, Candy Crush Saga was pretty much the first game anyone would name when you mentioned the phrase ‘addictive mobile game.’

While aggressive advertising is once again a big factor in Candy Crush’s app store dominance (particularly in the far East and with a clever spot in Psy’s then-to-go-superviral Gangnam Style), it’s the addictiveness that has really pushed the game to stratospheric heights.

And it’s literally addictive. By combining simple, accessible game mechanics with a perfectly sloped difficulty system as well as a reward system that physically releases neurochemical dopamine in the player’s brain, it’s a model of game design, which many developers are scrabbling to implement in their own apps.

5 and 6: Clash of Clans and Clash Royale

Revenue: $321,783 and $271,718
Days on App Store: 1043 / 136
Publisher: Supercell

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How it Got There: Arguably, it got there because it got there first.

Supercell’s two Clash titles aren’t wholly dissimilar to Mobile Strike and Game of War and they all share the same winning formula, but Clash of Clans beat them to the punch by a good couple of years. The fact that the gameplay is generally lauded as a good game and that the developers have kept on top of updates has helped keep it near the top ever since.

7. DoubleDown Casino & Slots

Revenue: $238,166
Days on App Store: 669
Publisher: DoubleDown

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How it Got There: Let’s face it, it’s a straight-forward gambling app – this essentially operates on an ‘if you build it, they will come’ philosophy.

Being installed nearly 20,000 times a day, most of the success here lies in the fact that DoubleDown have succeeded where similar apps have failed: making a real-money gambling app that abides by Apple’s strict policies while still delivering a slick user experience for the player.

Or perhaps we’re reading into it too much, and they may have simply been lucky with keyword searches. The app’s full name is DoubleDown Casino & Slots – Free Vegas Games, Win Big Jackpots, & Bonus Games!

8. Candy Crush Soda Saga

Revenue: $202,003
Days on App Store: 612
Publisher: King

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How it Got There: See above.

9. CSR Racing 2

Revenue: $174,150
Days on App Store: 15
Publisher: NaturalMotion

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How it Got There: While it may only stand at No. 9 on the highest grossing apps chart currently, this is exceptional given how recently it was released (rivaled only by Pokémon GO in growth) and it did peak at No. 1 in its first few days.

CSR Racing 2’s success can be largely attributed to the performance of its predecessor, which got healthy showcase promotion at the 2012 WWDC and went on to take a gigantic $12 million a month shortly afterwards.

10. MARVEL Contest of Champions

Revenue: $154,910
Days on App Store: 583
Publisher: Kabam

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How it Got There: The developers can thank the Chinese.

While a game based around a brand as strong as Marvel is almost always guaranteed to do well, it was only when Kabam carefully redesigned the game to appeal to the Chinese market and released it there in late 2015 did the game really take off. The lesson for game designers here? Don’t neglect your potential foreign markets!

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In conclusion, the take-home message for game designers looking to make a financial success from their work is this: there’s more than one way to skin a cat, but there are also proven tricks that seem to work every time, too.

Then again, Pokémon GO has completely changed the landscape of mobile gaming in less than a month.

 Whatever happens from here, it has certainly thrown the Meowth amongst the Pidgeys.

Dog Eat Dog: The Sleeper Hit of Cannes 2016?

While there’s always something to get excited about when it comes to Cannes, 2016 in particular feels like a bumper year.

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The promise of further Studio Ghibli collaborations are heralded by The Red Turtle. Director Andrea Arnold, one of Britain’s finest exports of late, looks set to break the US market with American Honey. Even the staunchest of cynics have been won over by the latest trailers of a Spielberg-helmed, live action adaptation of The BGF.

And amongst surefire smashes like Money Monster and Nice Guys premiering at Cannes 2016, there are more than a few potential sleeper hits that have piqued our interest, too.

One such low-key title that isn’t garnering quite as much press as Clooney or Gosling’s respective outings – but is no less full of promise – is the novel adaptation of Dog Eat Dog

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… and here’s why it might be the biggest success story of Cannes 2016, as well as the flick that potentially restores two careers to their former glory.

Schrader Meets Cage: A Collaboration Made in Heaven?

As the closing film for the Director’s Fortnight section of the festival, Dog Eat Dog is a tale of a crime going horrifically wrong as a baby kidnapping scheme by two crooks slowly falls apart.

Naturally we won’t spoil anything, but let’s just say that if it’s anything close to the Edward Bunker novel of the same name, it’ll be a hugely engaging emotional rollercoaster.

But more interesting still is that it might serve as a turn of good fortune for two of the people involved.

Paul Schrader (who directed, co-wrote the screenplay and stars in the movie) has long been an industry favorite. Precisely forty years ago at the Cannes festival, his breakout script for Scorsese’s Taxi Driver won the Palme d’Or and a string of similar hits followed over the decades.

Unfortunately however, Schrader’s winning streak became derailed after spending the ten years struggling to finance feature films. He finally overcame this by embracing crowdfunding for 2013’s The Canyons, but production became a nightmare; as lead star Lindsay Lohan underwent a highly publicized struggle with addiction, filming became fraught with problems and Schrader himself claimed Lohan did little to support the movie.

Ultimately, along with intense arguments about how the film should be cut, it ended up as a flop.

It goes without saying that this is a huge shame given Schrader’s pedigree, but if Dog Eat Dog proves to be as good as it looks, it should hopefully put Paul Schrader back on top. Where he belongs.

But given that this is a crucial movie for the director, it’s perhaps odd that he should choose to put Nicholas Cage in a leading role. It is not the first time the two have worked together, and it didn’t go well the first time around (though through no fault of Cage’s):

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And it’s not that Cage isn’t a highly engaging actor and one that can effortlessly steal scenes (not always for reasons he might intend), but his name alone has become exceptionally volatile at the box office. While capable of soaring to great heights, his filmography of late has become increasingly stranger and the misses seem more common than the hits.

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As such, it’s heartening to see Cage playing what looks like a ‘straighter’ role in a more conventional thriller. With a bit of luck it’ll also signal a return to form for him, and there’s every chance that it will given Cage can be a phenomenal actor when there’s a skillful director channeling his manic energy. Paul Schrader could well be that director.

So, could this be the big sleeper hit of Cannes 2016? The first signs look good…

Dog Eat Dog: The Early Reviews

At the time of writing, we’re within an hour of the film’s premiere credits rolling and already journalists at Cannes are beginning to post their reviews.

On the whole, it’s being hailed as a fresh twist on the classic crime story, and stylistically on-point. Both Nicolas Cage and Willem Dafoe are starting to get great write-ups of their respective performances, and the only common criticism is that Schrader himself slightly slacks in the acting department (at least in comparison to the two leads.)

It remains to be seen whether or not this momentum snowballs and becomes a critical moment in the careers of both Cage and Schrader, but this is definitely one to watch in amongst the post-Cannes hubbub to follow this coming week.

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In the mean time, we welcome your thoughts – could this be a make-or-break movie for the parties involved? Are you planning on seeing it the second it gets a release date, or will you wait for the DVD?

See you down in the comments below!

Legalities Of Drone Filming

Establishing shots have gotten a lot easier, grander in scope and, moreover, inexpensive thanks to the advent of drone filmmaking.

Long gone are the days that you’d have to hire a helicopter to get that perfect aerial shot, but the laws regarding drone filmmaking are yet to catch up. Given it’s a topic that comes up frequently amongst our filmmaking school students as they embrace drone technology, today we’re going to delve into the specifics.

Drone legalities

And the overview is quite a snappy one. In a nutshell:

– Do not fly above 400 feet
– Give way to all other aircraft
– No drones weighing more than 55lbs
– Do not fly within 5 miles of an airport (without first getting approval from air traffic control)
– No flying near people or stadiums

All well and good, and really, the above constitutes common sense (and as far as we know, there aren’t any filmmaking drones that weigh anywhere near 55lbs—the heaviest we could find is the $150,000+ Phantom 4K Flex drone clocking in at around 30lbs).

But one line that the FAA issued in recent times has caused quite a bit of head scratching and frustration:

“The aircraft should be flown strictly for hobby or recreational use and not for payment or commercial purposes.”

Huh?

Obviously, this is of concern to a filmmaker looking to produce a movie that they’ll ultimately sell or show for profit. So what gives with this little rule? Why does your financial situation have any kind of impact on drone flight safety?

Section 333

There’s a lot of literature issued by the FAA on this topic, but to boil it all down, the authority has deemed it necessary to draw a line in the sand when it comes to commercial drone piloting—i.e for-profit filmmakers—because that would come under “civil operating,” and unless the distinction is made there, it means that anyone and everyone could technically self-certify their own unmanned aircraft and commandeer the skies without limits.

Essentially, it’s to avoid unregulated chaos but this does add some extra red tape to us as filmmakers since a Section 333 exemption is required. Applying for one is a rather lengthy process and the average reviewal takes around 120 days—not hugely practical when you’re trying to get a production in the can.

The good news is that there is a lot of pressure being put on the FAA to relax its rules when it comes to filmmaking, and the recent news that it has just granted a blanket exemption to a handful of Hollywood companies suggests it’s considering this.

A Note on Locality & Privacy

As you can probably imagine, locality plays a big part in what is and isn’t permitted. You can fly a drone at 100ft in the middle of Death Valley to your heart’s content and not get into any trouble, but flying in around The Mall in Washington is prohibited and comes with some hefty fines for doing so.

Also, as a responsible filmmaker you’ll want to observe social etiquette and respect the privacy of the public i.e. no flying or filmmaking over or near private property (and even some public land prominently displays ‘no drone zone’ posters, which should be observed.)

Recent Developments

However, the landscape seems to be quickly changing, with two recent developments occurring this month. Firstly, the FAA issued a hefty $1.9 million fine against an aerial photography company that had been flying drones through crowded airspace in New York City and Chicago without permission. And just this week, the Obama administration announced plans for the FAA to start a drone registration program just as the holiday season begins, when drone sales are expected to rise significantly. While details of the plan are still being ironed out, it will effect hobbyists as well businesses.

In conclusion, as the regulation of drones continues to evolve, be sure to keep up to date on all drone-related news, always exercise your common sense, and look up local FAA guidelines and prohibitions where you are (and adhere to them!)

Learn more about the School of Cinematography at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.

5 Great Camera Drones for Aerial Cinematography

Film-grade camera drones have never been more accessible, with the price points for even high definition aerial filming rigs quickly becoming attractive not only to professionals already in the industry but also to cinematography school students and even hobbyists.

With a dizzying array of options to choose from, today we’ll be taking a look at some of the best filmmaking drones on the market today from a variety of price points. And be sure to check out our post on getting started with aerial cinematography.

All prices are approximate at the time of writing—be sure to hit the HD settings on each YouTube player to see the demo footage at its best!

DJI Inspire 1

Price: $2,800
Weight: 2935g
Drone Specs: 18 minutes maximum flight time, 48mph top speed, 4500m altitude, 5m/s ascent speed
Camera Specs: 4k video at 24 FPS, 12.4 megapixels, 100-3200 ISO range for video

It’s easy to see why the DJI Inspire 1 has become the go-to, professional grade drone for 4K aerial filmmaking. As well as packing an impressive set of specs, the gimbal-mounted, super-high resolution camera allows for a fine degree of control over the shooting angle.

For those who are a little divided over the price, it’s worth noting that the Inspire 1’s design is modular so it can be easily upgraded further down the road without having to buy a whole new drone.

DJI Phantom 3 Advanced

Price: $999
Weight: 1280g
Drone Specs: 23 minutes of flight time, 35mph, 6000m altitude, 5 m/s ascent speed
Camera Specs: 2.7k at 30FPS, 12.4 megapixles, 100-3200 ISO range for video

The Phantom range of aerial drone cameras have become something of an industry standard, and the third iteration strikes a good balance between cost and quality. The Phantom 3 comes in two flavors—the “advanced”and the “professional” below, which ups the specs at a higher price point.

DJI Phantom 3 Professional

Price: $1259
Weight: 1280g
Drone Specs: As above
Camera Specs: 4k at 25FPS / 2160p at 30FPS / 1080p at 60FPS

For an extra $259, the Professional version of the Phantom 3 will give you greater resolution and framerates without sacrificing any of the maneuverability.

Parrot Bebop

Price: $500
Weight: 420g
Drone Specs: 22 minutes of flight time, 29mph, 6m/s ascent speed, 200m altitude
Camera Specs: 1080p recording with a 14 megapixel fisheye camera

Lightweight and extremely zippy, the Parrot Bebop is a smart choice for those who want HD stabilized video without having to spend a king’s ransom—there are cheaper drones out there (and even some lesser-priced models in the Parrot range)—but the Bebop gets the balance right and is one of the best drones you’ll find for $500 or under…if you can live with the slightly limited operating range.

Phantom Flex 4k Drone

Price: $110,000 and up
Weight: About 13 kilograms
Drone Specs: Unknown, but it can lift a cinema camera.
Camera Specs: 1,000 FPS at 4k and up to 3,000 FPS at 720p (in five second bursts). Stores 2TB of RAW data.

We’ve covered the more budget-end of the drone filmmaking spectrum, so now let’s look at what is currently the most expensive (and impressive). Clocking in at over 30lbs once the camera and lenses are installed, the Phantom Flex 4K is less of a drone and more of an aircraft. The price tag is eye-watering, but the footage speaks for itself:

Learn more about the School of Cinematography at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.

Coen Brothers: 5 Essential Filmography Highlights

Welcome, one and all, to a brand new series here on the Student Resources portal.

Each week, we’ll be taking a look at the essential titles from a particular director…or in today’s case, a directing duo. While by no means a definitive list of career highlights, we’ve picked out a select few titles that either chart the finest moments of their career or go underappreciated in the face of their more popular titles.

Either way, they’re all great places for the uninitiated to start with a director’s back catalog and for hardcore fans to revisit. And so, without further ado, we’ll begin with two brothers who have more universally-acclaimed movies to their name than most directors have movies. Presenting:

The Coen Brothers: 5 Essential Filmography Highlights

Coen Brothers

Blood Simple (The Beginning)

Joel and Ethan Coen‘s very first flick arrived with little fanfare when it was released back in 1984 and only grossed $3 million at the box office, but from a critical perspective they came out the gate swinging.

Blood Simple was, and remains, relentlessly brutal in its violence and extremely biting in its comedy. At its heart lies a tale of contract killings, subterfuge, and mistaken identity; really, all of the great stuff that we came to expect from a Coen movie.

Must Watch If: You want to watch two incredible filmmakers perform magic on a budget.

Fargo (The Crime Thriller)

From the most obscure to possibly the most-watched and celebrated of the Coens’ back catalog to date. The 1996 thriller has had a new lease of life recently thanks to the adaptive TV series of the same name (which we’re happy to report is as excellent as it is true to the original.)

In summary, a demure and well-mannered policewoman is tasked to solve a grisly murder case which has taken place in the frozen outback of Minnesota—an area in which, frankly, not a lot else usually happens. As she gets closer to piecing together the story of this kidnapping gone wrong, things take more than a few interesting turns for all the people implicated.

The virtues of Fargo are too numerous to name here, but suffice to say that it’s a cinematic masterpiece that excels as an offbeat comedy, murder thriller, and portrait of idiosyncratic rural America all at the same time.

Must Watch If: You’re a student at our cinematography school because seriously, shooting a movie with this much blinding snow and managing to keep a balanced meter is worthy of admiration.

Burn After Reading (The Oddball Comedy)

So admired is their directing that it is reported that a few A-list actors are willing to drop everything and commit to a Coen Brothers production at the drop of a hat (hence the repeated appearance across the filmography from the likes of John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, and John Turturro, amongst others.)

Burn After Reading assembled a similarly familiar cast of Coen favorites, and given that each character was written specifically with its actor in mind—with the only exception being late addition Tilda Swinton—the resulting movie was exceptionally tight in both the writing and performance departments, even by Coen standards.

A chain-of-events caper of increasingly stupid mishaps, and a uniquely strange comedy to treat yourself to.

Must Watch If: You want to see Brad Pitt, George Clooney, and John Malkovich act out the most sublimely idiotic characters of their respective careers. No understatement; Clooney referred to it as the apex of his ‘Idiot Trilogy’ for the Coens (having appeared in similarly dumb roles in two prior movies) and Brad Pitt was initially baffled as to how he was going to portray a character as dense as his.

The Big Lebowski (The Cult Classic)

At the heart of many Coen screenplays is a simple premise: take a strange (and stragely compelling) character, then throw him into an even stranger situation.

The Big Lebowski is just that. On speed.

A perfect storm of all the Coen Brothers’ finest regular collaborators, a victim of mistaken identity goes on a quest to have his rug replaced by his millionaire namesake. Hilarity ensues, and highly-quotable one liners are spawned.

Must Watch If: You love a good rug.

No Country for Old Men (The Western)

As featured on our previous list of excellent book-to-film adaptations (along with True Grit), No Country for Old Men is the product of over two decades of experience from two filmmakers who started off strong and only got stronger as the years went by.

Based on the Cormac McCarthy novel of the same name, this is superb source material handled brilliantly and featuring some career-defining performances from Javier Bardem, Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, and Woody Harrelson. A real jewel in the crown of an already impressive filmography, and essential Coen Brothers viewing.

Must Watch If: You want to see the show-stealing Javier Bardem playing an even cooler villain than he did in Skyfall.

Got any other favorite Coen Brothers’ titles that we haven’t listed here amongst the essentials, or disagree with any of these entries? We want to hear from you—let your voice be heard in the comments below!

Image Source

8 Essential Book-To-Screen Adaptations Every Screenwriter Should Watch

When in screenwriting school, you’ll likely at some point discuss the process of adapting fiction for the screen, which we’ve talked about at length in this space. This time, we’re going to look at some of cinema’s best examples of big screen fiction adaptations.

There are, of course, more incredible book-to-screen adaptations than we could possible hope to list here, so for the sake of brevity we’ve excluded the blockbuster franchises we all know and love—namely, the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Harry Potter and The Hunger Games. We’ve also excluded adaptations from the works of Philip K. Dick and Steven King, which could fill lists all on their own!

So, without further ado…

8 Essential Book-To-Screen Adaptations Every Screenwriter Should Watch

No Country For Old Men (2007)

Book: Cormac McCarthy’s novel of the same name (2005)
RT Film Score: 86%

One of two entries on this list based on a Cormac McCarthy novel (See The Road) and the first of two hat-tips to The Coen Brothers (True Grit), No Country For Old Men is a powerhouse in terms of both the performances therein and the moody, grim vibe spun carefully throughout. A modern day Western par excellence.

Life of Pi (2012)

Book: Yann Martel’s Life of Pi (2001)
RT Film Score: 87%

After languishing for a decade in development hell, Ang Lee finally did justice to the superb Booker Prize-winning book of the same name (and we can’t imagine anyone else who could have done quite the same job.) If you get the opportunity to watch it in 3D, do so. As well as being a great example of a book—not least one that was widely considered ‘unfilmable’—but it’s also a better example of the third dimension used to great effect.

The 39 Steps (1935)

Book: The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan (1915)
RT Film Score: 98%

While only loosely based on the source material, The 39 Steps is not only one of the finest thrillers ever made but also helped cement a lot of ‘Hitchcockian’ elements which would come to define the director’s career and put him on the world stage. Numerous further adaptations have followed over the decades, including a hit Broadway play.

Matilda (1996)

Book: Matilda by Roald Dahl (1988)
RT Film Score: 90%

There are a number of Roald Dahl adaptations we could have included here (the original Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, for one) but Matilda was the surprising hit that is worthy of a special mention. For everyone wondering what happened to the adorable child star Mara Wilson (who also did an amazing job in Mrs. Doubtfire and Miracle on 34th Street), she quit acting shortly after Matilda and is now focusing on writing fiction herself…and thus, the circle is closed.

Forrest Gump (1994)

Book: Winston Groom’s Forrest Gump (1986)
RT Film Score: 72%

So great was the success of the Forrest Gump movie that it has almost eclipsed the fact that its origins lay in literature. Forrest Gump is a uniquely charming cinematic gem and one of the best movies of the 1990s. To say this endures as one of Tom Hanks’ finest performance in a filmography as impressive as his is a high accolade indeed.

The Road (2009)

Book: The Road by Cormac McCarthy (2006)
RT Film Score: 75%

In amongst a slew of post-apocolyptic movies released around the same time, The Road snuck in on limited release but ended up becoming an essential watch. Stripping back the usual high-budget flair of the genre, this Cormac McCarthy adaptation concerns itself solely with how the unspecified ‘event’ has ravaged the emotions of the two protagonists. The result is a very grim and highly charged movie, which doesn’t pull its punches.

True Grit (1969 & 2010)

Book: True Grit by Charles Portis (1968)
RT Film Score: Original 90%, Remake 96%

A superb book that went on to produce not just one, but two excellent slices of Western cinema. Both the original (which earned John Wayne his only Academy Award) and the 2010 Coen Brothers’ remake featuring a great performance by Jeff Bridges are well worth watching, regardless of whether or not you think you like Westerns.

Babe (1995)

Book: Dick King-Smith’s The Sheep-Pig (1985)
RT Film Score: 97%

A cutesy family movie with talking animals and an oversaturated color palette? On paper, it should have been absolutely atrocious, but thanks to its pitch-perfect handling and the amount of heart poured into it from every department working on that movie, it ended up being an unadulterated delight…

… the sequel, not so much.

Got any personal favorite book-to-screen adaptations that we haven’t mentioned here? There’s certainly many more that we could have covered here—drop your suggestion down in the comments below!

 

Cinematography Hacks & Toolbag Essentials No DP Should Be Without!

Cinematography is a highly complex field that relies just as much on sheer intuition as it does technical prowess, with many cinematographers spending years if not decades honing their eye for what constitutes as a great shot. As one of our graduates from cinematography school put it when asked about the best piece of work she’d done: “I don’t know. I haven’t filmed it yet.”

The quest for the best can also see a cinematographer having to invest in some pricey equipment along the way, though you’d be surprised at how much money can be saved with only a little makeshift ingenuity (resulting in everyone else on set gazing on in awe at your clever yet effective tricks).

With this in mind, scroll on to discover some of the toolbag essentials every cinematographer should carry with them…as well as a few insider secrets that many overlook!

Cinematography Hacks & Essential Tools

Cinematography hacks

Tape. We’ll get the tape thing out of the way first, which is by far the most obvious entry on this list but one which cannot be overstated: you’ll need tape. A lot of tape. Pack as many rolls as you think you’ll need, then throw an extra couple in your kit bag…then add another for good measure.

Wheelchair Dolly. Want a quick and cheap way of getting steady shots without the use of extensive tracking? You need to get yourself an inexpensive, secondhand wheelchair.

Obviously the shots aren’t going to be quite as steady as if it was on a track and you may require some stabilization, but there’s no denying that the resulting footage is pretty spectacular when compared against the cost (especially given that you can get lightweight, foldable wheelchairs for next to nothing on Craigslist sometimes). For reference, the above shot in Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless was achieved using a wheelchair dolly, assumedly without any stabilization whatsoever. Not bad, huh?

Ivar Side Unit. You’re probably wondering what the heck an ‘Ivar side unit’ is, and what has it got to do with cinematography? Not a lot, really – it’s a $13 side unit from Ikea:

Ikea dolly track

What’s relevant about it is that with a little bit of modification, it makes for a superb makeshift dolly track for those occasions where a wheelchair doesn’t cut it—thanks to Romain for this one! You can see how he’s done it here.

A Bag of Rice. As a good director of photography, you’ll have stands and clamps and tape to secure just about every piece of equipment going…except for that one thing you forgot about that you just can’t stand up straight on the day. But don’t fear—a pound of rice loosely filling a bag can serve as a resting cushion for your camera or pretty much anything else you need to stabilize.

Vaseline. Need a soft focus filter? Simply smear a light amount of vaseline over otherwise clear glass, and you’re good to go.

640px-Plastic_tubing

Flexible PVC Piping. It’s a little bulky, but given the amount of times this stuff will save your bacon, you won’t regret throwing some in the back of the car (you’ll want to pre-split some of them for ease of inserting things into them).

Velcro Straps. Gaffer tape is one thing, but many DPs overlook the power of a simple velcro strap – a multipack of brightly colored straps is a quick alternative to tape, and is far easier and less messy to undo after you’ve finished a shoot. Particularly good for cabling!

army knife

Swiss Army Knife. Don’t just pack a box cutter and assume that’ll do. Invest in a decent Swiss army knife and you’ll truly be ready for any eventuality.

Knowledge. This may sound glib, but more important than having the best gear on the planet is knowing how to use the stuff. After all, a $500 camera in the hands of someone who is intimately familiar with it can usually achieve far better results than someone with a full RED camera rig and a thousand filters but no idea how to use them…

… but hey, that’s what cinematography school is for!

How To Option The Film Rights For A Book

Spotted a great book which hasn’t been made into a film yet, but really needs to be? Are you the filmmaker or producer for the job who can adapt it into a killer screenplay and execute it well?

If so, today we’re going to discuss a little bit about the process of optioning—i.e. acquiring an exclusive agreement for the potential to buy the film rights—and how to get through the process with the right way and with as little fuss as possible.

But first, a very common question regarding film rights themselves:

Do I Need To Obtain Rights if the Film is Not For Profit?

Yes. A thousand times, yes.

Even if you’re making your film solely ‘for the love’—and really, there’s no better reason! – you’ll still be on the wrong side of copyright law regardless of whether or not you make a single dime off your work, or don’t even sell it in the first place. Consider buying a novel, scanning it page by page, and uploading it to a publicly-viewable blog: even if you gain no revenue from doing so, it’s still damaging to the original writer and a poor idea all round.

This all said, you’re extremely unlikely to receive letters from a lawyer if it’s a very low-key film to be seen only by your close circle of friends or peers at filmmaking school, but the risk is still there nonetheless – nine times out of ten, if you politely explain the nature of the project to the rights holder, given that they’re content creators themselves they are likely to freely give you the green light (and peace of mind!)

For anything intended for broadcast from beyond closed doors, here’s how you go about optioning the film rights for a book.

Figuring Out Who Owns the Rights You Want to Option

This is naturally the first step in optioning film rights, and is usually very simple: film and TV rights are nearly always reserved by the author themselves and not the publisher, as is commonly believed (except in very rare cases). As such, a quick call to either the author or their agent will put you on the right path.

Before you reach out to them, however, search the U.S. Copyright Office to verify that the copyright for the book itself is in the system and that the rights you’re looking to obtain haven’t been assigned to someone else already.

If you do happen to find any conflicting entries, that’s sadly the end of the line (short of waiting for the option period to lapse and hoping the holder doesn’t exercise them in the mean time).

But if you’re looking good, it’s time to take things forward!

Approaching the Agent/Author

The first thing you’ll verify here is that A) Yes, you are speaking to the rights holder or an authorized agent on the rights holder’s behalf (never just assume), and that B) The rights you’re after are indeed available.

From that point, it’s up to you to pitch a proposal to them—we’ll get on to price in just a moment, but firstly (and sometimes more importantly) you’ll need to consider how long you’d like the option period to last.

One year is rarely long enough to get your production team and screenplay together and ready to go, so try to organize at least one if not two extension periods of the same length of the original at around the same price as the original…

… and speaking of which:

Setting the Price

The onus will be on you to make them an offer they can’t refuse without breaking the bank.

So, what’s a fair price? Unfortunately, there’s no blanket answer to this.

If you’re after the film rights to J.K Rowling’s next book, you’ll have to have very deep pockets (and great connections) indeed….

But if the book is by a talented yet relatively unknown author, you may be surprised to find that the price tag is $0.

Remember that you’re only paying for the exclusive option to buy the film rights at this point, not buying the rights themselves (that’s another story altogether). As a result of this it may be the case that the author is keen to hitch their cart to your wagon in the hopes that you come through with the cash and hit movie at a later date, though naturally a little bit of money involved is their way of giving you the financial incentive to not let the option period lapse!

Do also bear in mind that the cost of optioning is nearly always deducting from the final rights purchase (though extension payments probably won’t be).

And Once You’ve Got the Option in the Bag…

Congratulations on your new opportunity. It’s now time for the real work to begin.

Do check out the rest of our tutorials and how-to’s over on the main student resources hub if you need any pointers on a particular aspect of the production, but above all, don’t rest on your laurels…

… the clock is ticking, and you’ve got a great movie to make!

Learn more about the School of Screenwriting at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.

Computers Killed the Video Star: Did CGI ruin SFX?

It’s an argument as old as the hills. Did the advancement of ubiquitous CGI kill the art of moviemaking, and has it rendered many of the old school methods of visual effect creation obsolete? Moreover, has CGI sold us down the river as audiences, and taught us to accept digital fakery?

It’s fervent and important for both cinema lovers and those trying to find the right balance at producing school, since it’s widely accepted that terrible effects—be it CGI or traditional—can severely hamper an otherwise great movie.

Today we’ll be looking at both sides of the coin with an unpacking of:

CGI vs. Traditonal SFX: The Common Arguments

CGI vs VFX

“Traditional Effects Look Better than CGI!”

There are many examples that people commonly point to and say, “Man, this scene really benefits from the realism; I’m glad they didn’t use CGI to do Benjamin Button’s makeup, and that they made an actual Iron Man suit for Robert Downey Jr. to wear during scenes when he’s not flying around.”

Nope. That’s all CGI, too.

The only suit Robert ever wears on the set of an Iron Man flick is a green screen suit, and 95% of the aging affects in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button are achieved with CGI, not makeup artistry. Sandra Bullock wasn’t suspended by expert rigging in amidst of generated scenery in Gravity—for much of the film, Bullock herself was composited into the scene.

In short, we tend to credit a lot of CGI successes to traditional SFX, and give a lot of bad rap to CGI when it goes wrong.

Which Really Ages Worst?

There’s a common charge against CGI that it ages a lot quicker than traditional effects. We’ll probably need a few more decades of cinema before we can say either way whether or not this is the case. At the moment, however, it depends on which examples you cherry pick—The Mummy Returns is a classic example of terrible early CGI, but Gladiator and Terminator 2 still hold their own all these years later.

Similarly, the traditional animatronics behind the original SFX may have aged beautifully, but nobody can claim the Ray Harryhausen-style effects preceding it are convincing to anyone (despite how innovative they were at the time).

CGI Has Created a Whole Industry…

Speaking of movies that have aged well, Toy Story would never have existed without advancements in computer animation, and arguably nor would the slew of evermore-impressive animated features which have come since.

Pixar_-_front_gates

Of course, the argument from the other side is that the prevalence of CGI has created a massive over-saturation of family animations and bombastic action flicks; but a counter to this could be that the industry needs these revenue-pulling staples in order to fund traditional (and more subtle) movies.

This leads us neatly on to…

Job Creation and Destruction

If a thousand-strong crowd can be shopped into a stadium, what’s the point of hiring extras? If Benjamin Button’s face can be manipulated with digital effects, why bother recruiting a makeup expert?

The pervasiveness of automata replacing human labor is something that is concerning to just about every industry. In Hollywood, CGI partly replaces many roles such as set creation, modeling, makeup artistry, stunt work, armory and pyrotechnics. All very worrying for those struggling to find work in an already cutthroat industry.

FilmCrew

In the latter cases, however, one positive aspect of CGI is that it can serve to reduce danger on set. It has also created brand new fields of work that never before existed—data wranglers and software developers, for instance. Though it’s unlikely that the amount of work created by CGI exceeds the amount of jobs it makes redundant.

CGI is Hard to Act Opposite

Sadly for the CGI supporters, this one is hard to refute given that countless actors and actresses have spoken up regarding the challenges of acting in heavily-computer generated environments (and especially when acting opposite characters who literally aren’t there during the shoot).

Worse is that to the viewer, the mixing of live human actors and CGI creations usually looks a little disjointed in the final cut, ruining the suspension of disbelief that enhanced effects should bolster, not detract from.

If there’s any consolation here, it’s that this merging is getting more and more seamless as time goes on, and acting opposite CGI is now a standard, so whether you are in acting school, or a seasoned performer, this is something you should be prepared for.

Over to You…

As we can see, there’s no straightforward answer as to whether or not CGI is, on balance, a force for good in the field of moviemaking. There are a lot of good arguments on both sides.

Where do you stand on CGI vs. traditional SFX? Any strong opinions on either, or arguments we may have missed? Let your voice be heard in the comments below!

7 Essential Photography Hacks and Tips

Great photography comes as a combination of two factors: having an eye for a great shot, and knowing how best to achieve it.

Attending photography school and practicing on a near-daily basis is by far the best—and quickest—road to gaining both of these innate skills, but it never hurts to have a few tried-and-tested photography tricks and hacks under your belt…

… and here’s seven good practices and secret weapons every photographer should have in their arsenal.

7 Essential Photography Hacks and Tips

photography tips and hacks

1. Check Your Perspective

If you want to instantly become a better photographer with just a single thought, try this: whenever you’re about to take a shot, simply ask yourself: “Is there a better perspective here?”

Each and every one of us spend our lives looking at the world from eye-level, so taking photos from this same perspective isn’t actually bringing anything new to the table. As such, seek to mix things up a little by getting as low or as high as you possibly can from your subject; it won’t actually improve the shot in all cases, but it’ll help you get out of your creative zone and eventually you’ll get an instinctive eye for opportunities in which elevation and angle can make a big difference.

2. Pinhole Camera for Less

Pinhole camera

Pinhole photography is very underrated and great fun to play with—want to get started in less than two minutes? Simply drill a 5mm hole through the center of a spare lens cap (obviously not while it’s attached to the camera!) and you’re good to go.

3. Soft Filter Vaseline

Need a soft focus filter in a pinch? All you need is a little bit of Vaseline (or other petroleum jelly-style product.) Just smear a very small amount over the surface of the lens, and you’ll get a very interesting, ‘vintage’ style effect. If the thought of glopping up your lenses makes your hairs stand on end, the same effect can be achieved by coating a piece of clear glass or plastic with the stuff and placing it in front of the lens for less mess!

4. Switch Up Your Medium

If you really want to get your creative juices flowing, try shooting subject matter that, as a photographer, is as-yet alien to you. Know how to capture a steaming dish of hot soup every time? Take your existing knowledge and shoot macro landscape photography instead. Always work in color? Try black and white for a stretch.

photography hacks

Breaking old habits is the name of the game, and finding any way of forcing your mind to think in new ways in order to achieve a great shot will have crossover benefits to your photography discipline of choice.

5. A Little Foil Goes a Long Way

Aluminum foil is your friend. Nothing can help eliminate ugly shadows and dull shots quite like it—well, save for investing in a lot of extra lighting.

Careful positioning of a board wrapped in foil can make a huge difference, and you don’t even need to get crafty—a $5 car windscreen reflector will do exactly the same job.

6. Master Bokeh

bokeh photography

The bokeh effect isn’t one you’ll want to overuse, but learning the ins and outs of how it’s achieved will simultaneously improve your knowledge of lens differentiation and aperture. Plus, it just looks amazing, particularly when it comes to portrait and micro shots.

7. Read Your Camera Manual

We know, we know: sitting down and reading your camera manual from cover to cover isn’t exactly thrilling, but you’ll be surprised at how little you knew about your own camera’s functionality—even if you’ve owned it for years—by the time you get to the back page. We’ve said it before and it bears repeating: a cheap camera in the hands of someone who knows it intimately usually beats out a $5,000 behemoth operated by someone who is clueless as to its settings.

man-camera-taking-photo-photographer

Got any other surefire photography tips and hacks that you’ve found to have dramatically improved your own work? Don’t be shy—drop a comment in the box below!

Contemporary Trends in Cinema: 2015 Report

Over at our cinematography school, we regularly chat with filmmakers on the topic of contemporary trends in cinema—what’s hot right now, what is likely to trend in the future, and what’s already had its day.

There’s been some great discussion so far, and we figured it would be useful to summarize the observations here. Presenting:

Contemporary Trends in Cinema: 2015 Report

Contemporary cinema trends

Aerial Footage

We’re seeing a lot more aerial footage being incorporated into final cuts as of the last couple of years, particularly for establishing shots. Why? Simply because drone technology has become more accessible and affordable, with aerial devices capable of shooting at even 4k resolutions available for a shade over the $1,000 mark.

It can certainly add a lot more production value to an edit for relatively little cost, though it’ll be interesting to see if its usage frequency will plateau in years to come once it really becomes commonplace or increases as the technology continues to advance.

Subdued Lighting

Particularly over the past year, it seems to be a strong contemporary trend for cinematographers to pare down lighting rigs and keep things simple and soft, with as few lighting sources as possible (and often a heavy reliance on using solely natural and ‘golden hour’ lighting.) The use of backlighting is also in a period of waning at the moment.

When practiced to the extreme, this can give a very moody effect to the resulting filmeither intentionally or unintentionallybut this hugely depends on the color palette and saturation used in conjuction (more on this below.)

Otherwise, it’s a contemporary trend which was, in all probability, born out of a need to soften some of the harsh edges which ultra-high digital footage can suffer from; either way, it’s a welcome break from the ultra-complex lighting dynamics that were necessary with some film stock of the past.

Subdued Color

As well as subdued lighting, we’re also seeing an increased use of subdued color in film (particularly with regards to desaturation and muted color design.) Two excellent examples of this aesthetic used to great affect can be seen in this year’s Ex Machina, and last year’s brilliant Her:

This seems to be a pervasive trend not just in film, but also advertising too:

And once you’ve noticed it, you’ll spot it numerous times across the span of a single commercial break!

The Rise of Handheld Shots

Cameras are getting less unweildy, and jib/dolly setups are becoming more plentiful and functional. As a result, it’s not a huge surprise that handheld footage is currently trendingthis rise to ubiquity seems to have coincided with the release of the MoVI M10 rig back in 2013, offering increased stability while still allowing for the organic feel of shooting handheld:

Expect more handheld and steadycam footage going forward, with ever-more impressive results being achieved as new rigs and systems hit the market.

Shallow Depth of Field

While the swing between ultra-shallow and ultra-deep depth of field is something that alternates from era to era, we’re currently in the midst of a shallow depth of field glut (so much so, it’s gotten to pandemic levels as of late!)

The current boom has been, in part, ushered along by the market introduction of cameras with gigantic sensors (such as the Canon 5D MkII) making it very easy to achieve the look with or without telephoto lenses. When done right, it looks stunning and can add a good dose of realism to the shot… but we’re also seeing it overdone as of late, so be sure to use the technique sparingly.

Noticed any other contemporary trends in cinematography over the last few years, or any newly emerging trends that you think are set to dominate the next few? We want to hear your thoughts—head on down to the comments below and let your voice be heard!