Category Archives: Technique

WHAT INSPIRES YOU – Part 12 featuring Ben Wheatley

It’s been a while since I’ve stumbled across these funny forays into the Criterion Collection‘s backroom.

Director Ben Wheatley gets to dig into the Blu-ray collection in this one. I haven’t seen his KILL LIST or HIGH RISE, but our cinematographer Shane Daly continues to champion KILL LIST for its unorthodox structure. It keeps rising up on in the queue (which gets reshuffled or over-stacked based upon recommendations… most recently Tarkovsky’s STALKER was added to one of the top spots… from way down in 50s).

I’m still a huge fan of Blu-ray over streaming because I don’t like the color and contrast reproduction in most streaming services — even Netflix’s 4K. They is still and unacceptable amount of compression that is greater than a Blu-ray’s compression.

And it’s fucking impossible to easily and accurately rewind a movie from a streaming platform, which is sort of critical when you’re looking at a film with a filmmaker’s eye.

Story Construction – Pixar’s 22 Writing Laws

pixar logo story telling at its best
Pixar logo

We’re not the first to post Pixar‘s 22 Writing Laws and we certainly won’t be the last, but bare in mind — it is always good to review story fundamentals to stay sharp.

Jazz giant John Coltrane would practice scales EVERY DAY for hours, why? To keep his craft at the utmost sharpness. In the film & TV game, the competition is entirely too fierce for one not to strive for the very best each and every time. And the Pixar Brain Trust has an unbelievably impressive track record of winners at the box office and at Oscar time. And each PIxar film’s success came down to an impressive, driving story.

As Bryan Tracy advises: find out what the best are doing and do what they do.

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Hearing Your Draft Read Aloud

One of the things that weigh on screenwriters is the number of people who actually read your material. Unless it’s getting made, perhaps 30 people TOPS will read the work you’ve spent countless hours on. Such is the vagaries and frustrating aspects of the business.

What is doubly irksome is a screenplay isn’t a work that is supposed to be “read”, it’s a document that is designed to be performed and to marshall resources and personnel so it can be filmed.

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Color’s Power and Potential

What makes color have an impact in cinema?

How it’s used.

Why it’s used.

What subtextual value the filmmaker assigns to a given color.

What specific color palette is used.

Filmmaker’s Color Tools

In cinema, color comes in two forms – light and production design (which includes costumes, hair, make-up, props, and set design); top-of-their game filmmakers utilize both to fit the characters and the themes of their stories.

There’s a fascinating and informative book called “If It’s Purple, Someone’s Going To Die” by Patti Bellantoni. She dissects how color is employed in a film’s production design to elevate, spotlight, or suggest various themes, emotions, and foreshadowing.

The Vimeo video below will give you an idea of how certain directors have implemented some form of color theory in their work.

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When cinematographers strive for the “ugly”

On Roger Deakins’ Instagram, he recently posted a quote from the incomparable Conrad L. Hall: Connie used to say he wanted his films to look ugly, to capture something that we [cinematographers] shy away from [beautifully lit images] in making movies. Ugliness can have a certain beauty as well. There’s a strange dichotomy going on there.

What is Ugly Cinematography?

What Hall was championing is eschewing the most flattering and revealing lighting set-ups; withholding visual information is just as important as withholding narrative information. And “ugly” cinematography by a Deakins or a Hall or a Libatique or a Debie won’t be ugly-ugly (which for most means poorly composed and lit), but where harshness overrides the glamor.

Take a look at this clip from IN COLD BLOOD (shot by Hall) and notice the high contrast lighting doesn’t illuminate Robert Blake (yes, that Robert Blake) in a way that makes him look agreeable or even handsome. But the beauty of the image is sublime.

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Birthing RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK

When you watch a film that you absolutely fall in love with five minutes in, and you know it’s going to change the way you appreciate “movies” from then on out, when you sense in your gut that “movies” will become “cinema”, and you are destined to become a “cinephile” and to sacrifice a typical existence for one that is constantly seeking the brass ring of cultural immortality through cinema… you probably, at some point, ask yourself — many times over and over — how did those guys create that piece of entertainment?

For us, it was RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK.

Indiana Jones and his swashbuckling tale of derring-do exploded upon the cultural landscape in the summer of 1981 and irrevocably changed everyone’s expectations and appreciations for the action-adventure film. It gave George Lucas his second extra-lucrative franchise… and gave us the man in the hat with the whip.

raidersofthelostarkThe thing is, we are by no means unique in regards to our love and appreciation for this movie. RAIDERS’  impact can’t be overstated, and not just with us.

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Large-Format Cameras and Lenses

The other day my brother Alex and I were talking about large-format cinema cameras and what makes that acquisition format special, considering that the Oscar-winning film THE REVENANT used the Alexa 65, and just prior to that DP Robert Elswitt, ASC photographed the underwater vault sequence in MISSON: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION with the same camera. He needed the highest resolution and frame size for the extensive CG work required to pull off that amazing, high-tension moment.

Large-format cinema, primarily 70mm films from the late 50s through late 60s have always fascinated me, starting with LAWRENCE OF ARABIA.

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MAD MAX FURY ROAD Audio Supercut

MAD MAX: FURY ROAD… the action film throwback that ratchets the genre forward. So much has been said about the extensive use of center-framing and how that helped keep the action easily understood by the editor and the viewer, so this isn’t about that. It’s about the wonderous sound design of the film… the soundscape that keeps you enveloped in the fever dream George Miller created.

Zackery Ramos-Taylor put together this awesome supercut of the MAD MAX: FURY sound effects.

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Controlling the Aspect Ratio

The bulk of this article comes from Benjamin B’s article in The ASC magazine, entitled THE ELASTIC FRAME, any remarks or additions have been marked in blue.

In our current age of digital projection, the projection aspect ratio is subject to change at the will of the filmmaker, giving the filmmaker unprecedented control of how he or she wants to present their work on what canvas.

The aspect ratio of a film the “canvas” in which we filmmakers compose our images.

Let’s take a look at the options and their history.

1. Film-Projector Gates
2. Digital Projection
3. Biutiful (2010)
4. Anamorphic is not 2.40
5. Mommy (2014)
6. The Elastic Frame
7. Tradition and Innovation

Addendum:
11 35mm and 70mm Aspect Ratios

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1. Film-Projector Gates

In the days of film projection, aspect ratios were defined by pieces of metal. In film cameras the gate is the window that lets light through to the negative. Gates have a slot for sliding hard mattes, thin pieces of metal that narrow the window to a desired aspect ratio. (Hard mattes were more frequent in European cinema than Hollywood, where producers demanded open gates to have the option to do minor reframing). Many (but not all) film prints were also exposed with metal mattes that blocked light, putting black around the intended image frame.

Film projectors were outfitted with metal gates that matched the aspect ratio of the film, though these gates were often slightly bigger than the target aspect ratio; for example, some theaters used 1.66 gates for 1.85 films so as to be sure to not impinge on the image.

In traditional 35mm, aspect ratios could be changed by optical printing, but it was a complicated process. Note also that prints of anamorphic films had squeezed images, and required changing the projector lens as well as the gate so as to unsqueeze the image optically during the screening.

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