Archive for December, 2012

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Lights, Camera and Lots and Lots of Action!

December 23, 2012
For a 30-something, this is a familiar nightmare...

For a 30-something, this is a familiar nightmare…

I grew up in the 80s and early 90s which means I’m part of the so-called “video generation.” As opposed to kids in the 70s who grew up with broadcasted TV as their proxy parent du jour, I had a VCR and lots of tv-recorded and pre-recorded tapes to wear out in it. And if there wasn’t something on broadcast-tv, taped-tv or shop-bought-tape to watch, there was always the rental option. It’s a wonder my eyesight is as good as it is…

Our local video rental store had a monthly subscription deal- rent what you like for as long as you like- and my dad, knowing a good deal when he saw one, signed up and rented anything and everything that video store had over the course of the next few years. As a result, I saw a huge range of movies during this time, but like most teenage boys, I grew up on a steady diet of action flicks. Arnie, Van Damme, Steven Seagal… If they kicked people, fired guns and blew shit up I probably watched it courtesy of Jumbo Video Rentals. When I started training in martial arts at the age of 14, I focused more on the kicky-punchy action movies- starting with the US efforts (where gun-toting heroes occasionally spin kicked a slow motion witty retort) all the way to the Hong Kong martial arts flicks (where somersault kicks are a recognised means of communication).

For me, these movies were a great source of inspiration for my martial arts training- from them I learnt spinning kicks, jump kicks, the kip up, some acrobatics and several styles of kung fu… but they were also the source of my interest and skill in filmmaking.

When I was 19 I borrowed my dad’s camcorder and started filming my friends and I training in martial arts. As kung fu film fans, it didn’t take long for these training sessions to evolve into fight choreography. Initially, the filmmaking side of things was retardedly simple- a single camera on a tripod (or other handy level surface), static wide shot, everything in the scene. And of course, while the choreography was fine and dandy, it didn’t work because the filmmaking part of the equation didn’t sell the techniques or push the story. So I started looking at action movies with an eye to picking up how to shoot and edit them (the mere idea of editing being something I’d never even thought about prior to this!).

Over the next couple of years, my friends and I shot a number of short films/fight scenes, often with a dumb, contrived almost-plot bookending things. But, daft though they were, these learning experiences were what taught me the basics (and in some cases, the not-so-basics) of filmmaking craft:

  • I learnt how to use and maintain the line of action and the 180 degree rule because in a fight scene losing track of who’s where can be disastrous.
  • I learnt about keeping a certain amount of visual difference between consecutive shots so that when you cut between them the compositions don’t jar.
  • I learnt the importance of cutting on action to preserve motion and continuity. I also learnt to use double cuts and overlapped cuts (where a few frames of the action is repeated in the second shot so your eye perceives the fast movement as smooth and continuous)- things that a lot of editors never pick up at all.
  • I learnt to use camera placement and composition to give strength, speed or power to a performance- things that are also used in dialogue scenes and visual sequences alike.
  • I learnt how to use slow motion- in particular, how to use it with standard and undercrank speed to create a strong effect.
  • I learnt about inserts, cutaways, overlapping audio, spot effects, the importance of music and how to create basic titles and graphics.
  • And I learnt to see the film in my head before I shot it because if you’re dealing with potentially injury-inducing takes you don’t want to waste time shooting stuff you’re not going to use.

It was only when I went to college and started to study this stuff properly that I learnt to use some of these techniques in a more normal filming situations like dialogue scenes, silent storytelling and ensemble sequences.

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So why have I bought this up? Because I’ve been watching a lot of action movies recently- including such awesome soon-to-be-genre-classics as Indonesian fight flick The Raid: Redemption and big explosion-fests like The Expendables 2. I’ve also been re-watching all my 80s & 90s straight to video movies and John Woo bullet ballets. And they’ve reminded me how much I loved shooting action and how distinctive that sort of work is. Looking at my directing career now, if I had some quality action on my reel it would look great for my job prospects. A cool action film might also get me some recognition at festivals- necessary if I’m to land an agent. I know I can direct great drama and character pieces and with a skilled and enthusiastic crew produce something I can be proud of- all I need to do now is bring that same production value and skill to an action flick.

So that’s what I’m planning next year- a high quality short film with a distinctive style, witty characters, a cool story and lots of gun-toting, high-kicking, squibs and gun flares, slow-mo bullet ballet, balls-to-the-wall action sequences. On a budget of fuck-all.

Wish me luck!

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Little Victories, Big Picture

December 9, 2012

Getting into any creative industry is tough, that much is obvious. And making any kind of headway is difficult, particularly when the goal- getting paid to direct drama- seems so far away from where you currently are.

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So you try to break it down into a to-do list of sorts: complete these tasks in order and you’ll get your prize. But sadly, life isn’t like a quest in Skyrim and you’ll often find that these lists have an impossible task in them somewhere. For instance, the accepted wisdom in the 90s and early 2000s for a director was to

1) Make a film, short or otherwise
2) Send it to festivals
3) Get offered directing work from producers who saw your film.

Aside from it being bullshit, there are several flaws with this series of events. Firstly, there are a number of steps that go before number 1- not least of all “find/write a good script” “work with talented people” and “push past the real life struggles.” Secondly, there are way too many festivals to blanket cover all or even some of them- the odds of getting in and gaining from the exposure are not good. But the big one, the elephant lurking in the darkened corners with a luminous party hat, is the fact that there is a massive Grand Canyon of logic to Evil Kinevil between 2 and 3…

What if no producers see your film?
What if some did but they didn’t like it?
What if they have no work to offer?
What if the only work they have to offer is porn?

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It’s like the underpant-stealing gnomes in South Park- the gap in process between stealing underpants and profit makes the whole shebang dubious. A lot of “ifs” and the only “but(t)s” are doing the talking rather than being on seats (I know, dubious pun, but give me a break…). There just aren’t any concrete A to B paths to pursue with some degree of reliable likelihood. And vaguely reliable paths are something you really need in this game. It’s just a shame they don’t really exist- certainly not in a three point success plan kinda way.

Which is where the “Little Victories, Big Picture” plan comes in.

My mate Chris and I came up with the idea as a way of taking the pressure off things yet still working towards the goals we have in mind. Every day try to achieve a Little Victory- some small objective that inches you ever closer to your Big Picture goal. It might be something small like “reply to that email” or “check TalentCircle for jobs,” or it could be marginally bigger like “write some more of that screenplay that keeps rattling round your head.” Essentially every little easily-achievable task chips away at the distance between you and the bigger objective.

So I’ve been doing the following things recently:

  • I’ve signed up to pretty much every film job site going- FilmCrewPro, TrafficLightTV, ProductionBase, ShootingPeople- and created a profile on the ones that do profiles.
  • I check and apply for directing gigs on the above sites every day.
  • I’ve joined a local media marketing network (whatever that is!) and, if all goes well, should start seeing some work come in from it.
  • I’ve changed my day job role to something less stressful where I don’t get shouted at by idiots all day and can actually think like a filmmaker when I leave the building.
  • I’ve redesigned and had printed off new business cards. Ones that advertise me rather than my company and have my mug on it so people remember who they were talking to. They’ve also got a QR code on the back which makes me a very smug bastard.
  • I’ve started working on treatments and scripts for several projects that, if they come to fruition, will look quite distinctive on my CV.

All these things are adding up to me increasing my visibility and profile as a director. The big thing I’m aiming towards at the moment is getting an agent, but there are lots of little things I can do to make that more achievable- like make some distinctive work and get some festival credits and client testimonials. The big Big Picture is making a living directing drama but if I just focus on that I’ll likely fail to get there.

Because if you focus on the big things, you’ll find impassable gaps between where you are and where you want to be. Focus on the little things, but keep the big thing in sight and the big thing will start to feel much more attainable.

Little Victories, Big Picture.

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Nothing says victory like a stereotype jumping insanely.