Tuesday, March 16, 2010

'True Game Changers and What Indies Can Learn From Them' by John Wayne Bosley

One of my objectives is to open up the dialogue here on this Film Courage Blog. I am certainly not the only one on a filmmaking journey. Over the past year, I have been very fortunate to connect with a good number of fellow Filmmakers. Not only have I connected with them, but I have learned from their lessons and insights. For many months I have been meaning to feature writings of those who's wisdom I value. This was on my new year's resolution blog (but as you may know, I have attacked this new year with such fervor that I never finished that blog *smile*)

I have seen Producer
Ted Hope and others taking this approach of featuring guest bloggers. I believe we will see it become a more common occurrence. Whether or not it happens elsewhere, you will certainly see it here.

I am proud to introduce you to Filmmaker
John Wayne Bosley as my first guest blogger. Hhas so often provided me tremendous commentary on Facebook and even here on this blog. John's work includes the film 'Amnesia: The Allan Carter Saga' & the upcoming 'The House.' John is also Founder of RebFest.

John has been kind enough to write this blog for us.

True Game Changers and What Indies Can Learn From Them
Guest Blog Post By John Wayne Bosley

Many Indie filmmakers claim that the game changers in the film biz are things like kickstarter, indiegogo, openindie, VOD or even social media, but these are just tools. It's not the tools that change the game, but what you do with them. When we look at cinema history, we need to see things that truly changed cinema and had a long-term impact on the business. Below are a few examples. They are not an exhaustive list but just examples:

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

Snow White was the first full-length animation film ever created. At that time in cinema history it was considered too expensive to create a full-length animated film and Disney had only a hand full of trained animators at his small studio. What Disney came up with was an innovative process that is now known as "keyframing" (editing, compositing, sound and animation programs now use this technique). The idea was that the master artist would be parternered with one or two apprentice artists for a scene. The master artist would draw the "key frame" and the apprentice or two would draw the less prioritized frames. For instance, in a sequence with a character jumping, the master artist would draw the actual frame where the character jumped while the apprentices would draw the before and after jump frames. By creating scenes in this manner, Disney was able to complete the film

"Snow White was one of only two animated films to rank in the American Film Institute's list of the 100 greatest American films of all time in 1997 (the other being Disney's Fantasia), ranking number 49. It achieved a higher ranking (#34) in the list's 2007 update, this time being the only traditionally animated film on the list. The following year AFI would name the film as the greatest American animated film of all time." (from Wikipedia)

The Planet of the Apes, and Beneath the Planet of the Apes 1968, 1970

Arthur P. Jacobs, former agent for Marilyn Monroe, after his success in producing What a Way to Go!, was given a two picture deal with Twentieth Century Fox. He pitched to them Doctor Doolittle, which was produced and then The Planet of the Apes. Fox was apprehensive of doing Apes because the original script called for a futuristic world with elaborate sets. Jacobs had more scripts written, which eventually had a more primitive world of the apes, which cut down on the budget while still keeping the essence of the story. However, the one main problem the film had was the makeup. Up until this time prosthetic makeup looked cheesy and unrealistic. Instead of giving up Jacobs searched for someone who could pull off the effect. Jacobs found his answer in John Chambers who created a new way of doing prosthetic makeup. Instead of making one piece of prosthetic for a face, he created it in pieces so that they moved. Actors were taught to over act with their face to create more motion in the mask.

"John Chambers had actually tested the ape makeup some time earlier, in the TV series Lost in Space (1965-1968) (another 20th Century Fox production at the time). In one episode, Dr. Smith (Jonathan Harris) and Major West are imprisoned along with an ape-like alien. (from wikipedia)

Jacobs was given a small budget to have John Chambers create a test screening of the makeup and act out a scene. The executives at Fox were finally convinced and the production was underway on a 5 million dollar budget.

The final scene in the film Heston finds the statue of Liberty, half-submerged in the beach sand. The first few shots are created with in-camera tricks with a smaller statue, shot down in such a way to seem bigger. However, the last final shot, a pull-back to reveal Heston's character and the statue, is created by using compositing.

The sequel to the film was made for less than the 5 million that Planet of the Apes was made for. The human characters Brent and Nova enter a post-nuclear-apocalyptic New York City. How did they do that? CGI? No, computer animation wasn't around to create this effect. Instead, the production had people photograph important buildings in New York City, then use a razor blade to cut and deform the buildings to create matte paintings. By doing this, they were able to give the impression that the characters were indeed in this city of the future.

Star Wars IV: A New Hope (1977)

George Lucas was given around a 10 million dollar budget to create his epic space opera. A careful study of the film a viewer can see that the vast majority of it is actually shot in interiors. The death star interiors are intentionally simplistic and shot in such a way so that the audience can never truly tell how many people inhibit the setting. Lucas utilizes the use of matte paintings and model miniatures throughout the film, especially in the death star. The soldiers being masked is a great advantage to the production because they would only need about a dozen extras dressed up as Stormtroopers to pull off the scenes.

Simple composting images like the iconic shot of Luke looking out at the desert of Tatooine with the two suns in the background are simplistic to create, but give it more character.

The Lord of the Rings (2001, 2002, 2003)

To shoot all three movies that make up The Lord of the Rings is an epic accomplishment, but to shoot all three at the same time is even bigger. How can a director pull that all off by himself? He doesn't. Peter Jackson brought on other directors to work with him. He would delegate to each one exactly what he wanted. He would shoot his scene while other scenes were being shot, simultaneously. By doing this, the epic was simplified in the production.

How does he pull off making the huge crowd scenes in the battles? All these CGI-based characters have to have personalities, they interact, battle each other. To do this with each character would be too time consuming. Weta Digital created a solution: make a new animation program called Massive.

El Mariachi (1992)

Yes, I put an Indie, micro-budget film, in this list. Why? Why does this film stand out? Many other filmmakers make films for around $7,000 dollars. 1.) He shot on film stock for $7,000 and it wasn't a film shot in interiors with people standing around talking the whole time, 2.) He utilizes a ton of muzzle flashes and bullet hits throughout the film as characters shoot each other, 3.) It was made in 1992! (nothing under that description was being made in 1992)

Now Rodriguez did break some laws on pyrotechnic issues. You're supposed to have a licensed pyrotech doing the effects. You can mame or kill someone if you do these effects wrong. He actually bruised the actors that were in the film. I've seen photage of people who've been injured by handmade squibs (small explosives used for bullet hits). I would never use squibs now. We have animation and compositing for that.

The point is that Rodriguez made something that defied conventional wisdom and he did it in 2 weeks of shooting with non-actors, with non-conventional lighting and a limited budget. How does he do this? He creates a shot list and a style that cuts down on time. Did I mention the size of his crew? One. Himself.

Calling Cards and Satellites

-Calling Cards

When someone sees your film, it makes a statement about what you can make and make to expect next. Like a business card, what do you want your identity to be? You film is your chance to make a statement. Make the one you want to be remembered for.


Think about each film like launching a satellite into space and keeping it orbiting around the earth. In order to do this a satellite needs to be big enough to stay in orbit and it also needs to go high enough to break the stratosphere. Many films, sadly never make it high enough in impact to be remembered or even noticed at all.

The main focus people have in the Indie film business is the marketing/distribution side. In recent years, Indie filmmakers have complained because the distribution process has left them out in the cold. However, maybe we're focusing on the wrong thing. If you create an innovative, bold, courageous project than the statement it makes will draw people to see your project. Why did people go to see AVATAR when it first came out in theaters? Because of the trailer? Because it was in 3D or IMAX? No, because it was all you heard about it. You want your project to be so great that people can't shut up about it!

The usual slogan I hear with Indies is: cheap, fast, quick. Hollywood is trying to "Up It's Game" and we run with cheap, fast, quick? Supposedly the digital revolution came out in the last decade, yet if the results for Indies aren't revolutonary filmmaking than it's just an upgrade. We should feel empowered by the digital revolution to go out and make the film you want to, not the one you assume you have to.

The usual response I get is: Indies can't do effects. First it's not about effects, but about being innovative. Finding ways to beat the odds. Doing more with less. Second, why can't they do effects? People assume that if Indies do effects that it will look cheesy and unrealistic. That's not true. If you put the right amount of time and care into the effects as you do with the rest of the film they can be realistic.

When I screened my feature film, The Allan Carter Saga Part I: AMNESIA, no one ever left theater saying, "I love the skyreplacement!" because you're not suppose to realize I replaced the blue skies with cloudy skies. Or people coming out of the theater saying, "great matte backgrounds", that would be kind of an odd compliment. The audience is suppose to think that everything was shot in camera. If I got any criticism on AMNESIA it was never the effects. The only effects people thought were in the film was the color design and the helicopters (and the helicopters aren't CGI, well, not entirely). My point is that it is possible!

If Hollywood is "Up-ing Their Game" we need to as well. Even better, we need to knock their socks off! The truth is the magic of revolutionary filmmaking is just inches from our hands with each project we envision. All we have to do is "push the envelope", to grab that thing that is beyond our reach. We need to be bold, daring, defy gravity and change the status quo. The truth is we are only restricted by the limits of our imaginations. It's time for change, it's time for a revolution!

For more on John's work, please visit www.JBMovies.com


Brian said...

Great stuff John...good thoughts

King is a Fink said...

Love the idea that our past projects are like satellites. Way better than my "spinning plate" idea. Great post, John!

Moshimoshineko said...

Great guest post! Totally inspiring, if you don't have the means to do something, find another way to fit your means! GENIUS.

Totally following this blog now, considering I simply stumbled upon it . Great stuff guys. :)

JBMovies said...

Thanks everyone. I will be posting a follow up blog post to this in the near future.

Walter said...

Great article. I would add Rashomon as the quintessential alternate storyline movie. And perhaps Clerks for doing for comedy what El Mariachi did for action, make people forget about the low-budget and enjoy it. - @powerofthrust

Anonymous said...

很喜歡你的部落格風格,期待你的更新! ..................................................

JBMovies said...

I wanted to add a bunch more, but knew this post was getting long. Another film that was on my list was Jurasic Park. They were the first to create CG animals. Unlike CG films today only a certain amount were CG, most were Stan Winston creature effects. But they also did something that is extremely important. They created the first real motion capture points. The put golf balls on the ground. Filmed with stedicam the three people running. Then in post were able to use compositng softwar, to use the golf balls as points to match move and make the animals feel like they were shot in live. Without the ability to match the movement a shot like that, with CG effects added, is not possible. The movement has to match.