Alexander Film Works

Archive for July, 2011|Monthly archive page

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In Think About It on July 31, 2011 at 7:02 pm

Writing For No-Budget Film (Part 2)

In Film and Related on July 31, 2011 at 5:12 pm

To continue the discussion from the previous post, let’s talk about a few general issues when it comes to writing film.

General Issue #1:  Don’t try to out-Hollywood Hollywood.

Hollywood movies, with their Michael Bay-level budgets, can do a LOT of things you can’t.  To make your own mark, you have to follow the advice of “Wee Willie” Keeler, baseball player from the 1920’s – “hit ’em where they ain’t”.  They do big, sprawling, explosion-laden, non-character-driven extravaganzas; you do intimate, character-focused, emotion-driven stories.

General Issue #2:  Play to your strengths.

If what you write best is claustrophobic, paranoiac horror, then go for it.  If you spin out disjunctive comedy that makes Monty Python or Red Dwarf  look calm and sane, then do it.  Your strengths are just that:  yours.

General Issue #3:  Any amount of money is no substitute for drive and ingenuity.

Did you know that you can make a greenscreen to hang up on an available wall out of things you can buy at a hardware store?  Or that you can make a “car rig” (to mount a camera on the outside of a car) for under $35.00?  Or a camera stabilizer rig (roughly equivalent to a low-level Steadicam[TM] unit) for about the same price?  Let’s face it; if there’s a rig that the big boys use, somebody else has found a way to make it for cheap.  There’s no shortage of ingenuity out there; you can find it on the Web, and adapt it to what you need.  So you can’t let the lack of a flying rig, or a car mount, or some such thing, stop you.

General Issue #4:  Don’t forget the primary ingredient… STORY.

“If it ain’t on the page, it ain’t on the stage.”  That’s the quote, attributed to Shirley Booth, Oscar[TM] winning actress, that you need to remember.  A director can make a bad film out of a great script, but no one can make a great film out of a bad script.  And most of the problems you encounter when you try to film a script can be fixed much more easily (and cheaply) in the word processor than on the stage.  Does your story make sense?  Do the character motivations follow from the events in the script?  Are the questions you pose in the script answered by the end?  More things you need to keep in mind.

General Issue #5:  Illegitimi non carborundum – Don’t let the bastards grind you down.

There are ever so many people who try to bad-mouth anything anyone does, saying “it can’t be done”, or “nobody would pay to see that”, or “nobody cares about that”…  As numerous as these people might be, their combined mass can’t sway the force of one person with a vision – and the drive to see it through.  You can be that one person… so why not do it?  After all, you have as much right to share your vision with the world as Steven Spielberg, or Gus Van Sant, or J. J. Abrams.

So write it down, polish it until it shines, and then get it down on film (or video, or whatever).

You’ll be glad you did, when it’s done.

Shall We Speak Of Bookstores Past?

In It Bugs Me on July 29, 2011 at 7:13 pm

Borders Books, based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, is in the midst of its final sell-off before it closes for good.  This news is sad, but not unexpected… the chain has been in trouble for a few years, but the death knell was sounded when a buyer couldn’t come to terms for purchasing some of the stores.

This chain, along with its surviving competitor, Barnes and Noble, was one of the places where I could be reasonably sure of finding my screenwriting and independent filmmaking magazines, or finding my wife’s dollmaking or jewelry magazines.

The thing is, the confines of a bookstore – be it a big-box Borders or B&N or a small independent store (a breed rapidly heading to extinction) – has always been a friendly, insular place, shielded from the problems of the outside world.  The fewer places like that there are, the sadder I become… hiding places are a resource I don’t want to relinquish.

The smell of newly unpacked books, the feel of shiny cover stock, the sound absorption of rack upon rack of books arranged by category, by author… it’s a natural tranquilizer.

*snif* Makes me tear up just thinking about it.

When the final closure is done, I shall mourn.  But all my tears will by then be dry, for I will have cried myself out.

Ave atque vale, Borders.  I knew them, Horatio…

Budget (Mis)Management, D.C. Style

In It Bugs Me on July 29, 2011 at 4:48 pm

As the deadline for raising the federal debt ceiling approaches, with all the subtlety of a freight train, it seems all that Congress can do is point the Flying Fickle Finger of Recrimination at each other, and bellyache that nobody’s listening to them.
Well, much to their surprise, people are listening… and they don’t much like what they hear.
I know I don’t.
The Tea Party people (mostly Republicans, it seems) are inexorably opposed to any tax increases, or what they deem “tax increases” to be. The Democrats are holding fast against ANY cuts to “entitlement” programs, like welfare, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps (under whatever acronym they’re using now), or assistance to the poor, the disabled, veterans, and other victims of the laissez-faire attitude of the Bush administration.
There seems to be no room for compromise, and no flexibility in the ossified viewpoints of the most vocal Republican and Democratic lawmakers. (Although I don’t know why we still call them “lawmakers”, since making our laws seems to be the farthest thing from their minds.)
There has been rumbling that Congress should be locked in the Capitol, and not be let out until they come up with a plan that has agreement from both houses of Congress, and a chance of being signed by the President. It doesn’t seem to be headed that way, but that’s what America (the non-Congressional, non-lobbyist, non-special interest population) wants.
My opinion? If they can’t come up with a deal, stop paying THEM first. And don’t pay them any salary, benefits, or perks until everyone else has been taken care of, and the country doesn’t have to worry about raising the debt ceiling again for a while.
Oh, and by the way, they should get NOTHING retroactively. The country doesn’t get paid, THEY don’t get paid.
That’s my take on it.

Writing For No-Budget Film (Part 1)

In Film and Related on July 29, 2011 at 3:55 pm

Since I’m approaching the climax of my academic career at Wayne State, and the demands of “real-world” filmmaking will be apparent all too soon, I thought it would be a good idea (or a Good Idea, however you care to put it) to restate the needs of a script for a low- to no-budget film.

After all, you can write War and Peace as a movie, but can you get the money, as well as the other requirements, to film it?

There are certain things I’ve learned from my research, as well as from experience, that will help you along the way to writing a script that you (or somebody else) can film. So, here they are:

  • Write for a small cast – maybe four or five in a sequence max.
  • Don’t write crowd scenes, car chases, or gunfights if you can avoid it.
  • Remember that motion pictures are emotion pictures; if the audience doesn’t feel something, you might as well not have shot it.
  • Make sure you have everything planned out, even if you don’t shoot it that way; remember, failing to plan is planning to fail.
  • Write for locations you can get for cheap (or free, which is even better).

Can you get access to a bar for free? Are you sure? Then setting scenes in a bar is good.

If you can use parts of an office building to shoot, especially on weekends or holidays, setting scenes in an office building is fine.

You get the idea.

Crowd scenes, if you’re doing something outdoors, can cause neighbors to call the police on you. And if you don’t have a permit, that’s NOT a good thing.

Using weapons, even (or ESPECIALLY) prop weapons, can get you in serious trouble. If you’ve detailed the weapons to LOOK real, a police officer can be fooled into thinking it IS real… and if you don’t obey the officer’s instructions TO THE LETTER, they can shoot. They have real bullets.

As for car chases, try to make the script justify doing it in a deserted location, like in the country, out in the middle of nowhere. This helps to avoid the involvement of the police (again), which will save you a world of hassle.

Now, remember, I’m not trying to f*** with your artistic temperament. I’m just trying to give you some information that will make your life easier.

That’s all.

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