Alexander Film Works

Posts Tagged ‘film’

Conventions, Science Fiction, and Me…

In Just Because..., Think About It on January 24, 2013 at 11:02 pm

One of the two remaining science fiction conventions in the Detroit area was this past weekend.  ConFusion, the younger of the two, had its thirty-ninth iteration; the new con committee, volunteers all (as true fannish conventions are), decided to forego one-day memberships – good from midnight to midnight on one of the three days of the convention (Friday, Saturday, or Sunday).  This seemed to be a big mistake to the old-timers in the area, but they weren’t consulted.

They also moved from the hotel in Troy they had been using for the past eight or ten years (the exact number escapes me) to another down in Dearborn.  Again, this seemed to be a mistake to the experienced conrunners, but again, they weren’t consulted.

This is, unfortunately, the way things go with fannish conventions… every new con committee insists on reinventing the square wheel.

I have been a fan long enough to both shrug at these occurrences, and to wish that they didn’t make the same mistakes the last six committees have.

I have “pubbed my ish”, as they say… several editions of my fanzines scopus:3007 and Lightning Round are available on efanzines.com.  I have been active in con committees off and on since 1987, including working on Worldcons (the World Science Fiction Convention, the annual gathering of fans from around the world).  I have been involved in costuming,  bickering about whether a Worldcon bid should be made for Detroit (our last successful bid was for 1959), and many other fannish discussion gatherings.  My wife Megan and I have become slightly involved with steampunk (I have pictures from the 2012 World Steam Expo, where we were vendors), and have listened intently to “filkers” (science fiction folk singers, whose name came from a typo in a program book back in the day).

I look with pride at my autographed copy of Warhoon 28 (the omnibus collection of Walt Willis’s fannish writings, published in bound mimeograph form by Richard Bergeron), value my friendships with such luminaries as Mike Glicksohn (Fan Guest of Honor at the first Aussiecon), Fred Pohl (who should need little introduction), and George R. R. Martin (whose acquaintance I owe to both Mike Glicksohn and my wife Megan).

But the “traditional” fannish values of yore seem to matter little to the generation currently running things… General cons, where everything is on the agenda, is falling victim to specialized cons, such as “steampunk”, costuming, gaming, media, and even a couple of cons honoring the “old school” fanzines of yore.

This Balkanization of fandom may just lead to its eventual demise, but I hope not.

They Don’t Know Jack…

In It Bugs Me, Just Because..., Roughly About Films on September 17, 2012 at 9:00 pm

The leader of Hezbollah has been crying that the United States should pass laws to quash the piece of trash video that some hack Coptic Christian made, making fun of the prophet Muhammad, calling him a womanizer and a pedophile.

This shows an absolute lack of knowledge of the American way of doing things.  The government has absolutely no input as to who can make a film, or write a book, or post to the Internet… they also have no jurisdiction over the Internet, except as to the violation of copyright.

The people in the Middle East who assume (a mistake) that nothing can be made or publicized without the consent of the government do not understand democracy or free speech.  They have NOTHING to say about it, unless it violates a law of the United States.  And no law can be passed by Congress that criminalizes something retroactively; this is the “ex post facto” clause.

These people seem to think that we operate under the same sort of restrictions as their authoritarian governments that disappeared in the dawning of the “Arab Spring”. They are completely surprised and disbelieving that we could live in such anarchy; they don’t seem to realize that we not only expect it, we glory in it.  The unrestricted nature of our creative society, the pride in the lack of controls, is a uniquely American thing… something we tend to take for granted, but is unique in the world.

We are free to speak as we will… we can disrespect officials of our own government, heads of religions, blaspheme against our own god, other people’s gods, or what those who profess atheism hold sacred.  We can ridicule our own beliefs, other people’s beliefs, or anything else that strikes our fancy.

We can tell the leader of Hezbollah to go take a long walk off a short pier… we can tell the people of Egypt, Lebanon, Yemen, and the other places having a cow to take a flying leap at a rolling donut.  Our government has no control over creative people… thank Ghu, Foo, Roscoe, and whoever else.

I am just sick and tired of it.

The Avengers Initiative… Sounds Like A Plan To Me

In Film and Related, Just Because..., Roughly About Films on May 8, 2012 at 5:36 pm

My Dearly Beloved Wife and I got home a couple of hours ago from the theater, having seen The Avengers.  We were both extremely geeked out, watching the story, the effects, and the acting.

This movie was the first one we’d seen in a theater in quite some time (something on the order of ten years or so), and the new theater complex we went to, the Emagine Theaters, is quite a place.  This one also has a restaurant, bar, and bowling alley in the same building (it may not seem like a good fit to you, but it’s a big draw here, outside Detroit).  It’s clean, the screens are bright, the stadium-style seating is comfortable, and they don’t use the disinfectant/cleaning products that send the both of us into asthma.

This is a definite advantage.

Joss Whedon, whose prior credits include Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, and the movie version Serenity, and who has said in interviews that he’s a major comics geek, collaborated on the script and directed, and the result is a comic book movie that doesn’t read like a dumbed-down version for mentally challenged people.  The dialogue is wonderful, such as this exchange between Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner):

Widow:  This reminds me of Istanbul.

Hawkeye:  Our memories of Istanbul are very different…

I will put it as simply as I possibly can.

SEE.  THIS.  MOVIE.

Okay?

The Continuing Fight Against Murphy’s Law…

In Just Because..., Roughly About Films on March 23, 2012 at 5:04 pm

…Otherwise known as filmmaking.

We (my team and I, the assistant director) did a shoot last weekend for our “capstone project”, the major project of our capstone class, written and directed by our team leader, Caleb.  (The reason he’s the director is his project was chosen in the class voting, and the writer of a winning project directs his/her script.)  We also are due to shoot this upcoming weekend (tomorrow and Sunday).

One description of the roles of Caleb and I went as follows:  Caleb is the man with the “big picture”, the overriding artistic vision.  I’m the one standing behind him with a whip and an axe, delegated to get things going and to keep them going in the necessary direction.

Maintaining focus is something that has to be done in order to work efficiently and effectively.  Since I have some short-circuiting in my neural net (also known as ADD), this can be a problem for me.  The answer I’ve found is to double down on the active part of the concentration… however hard that might be.

And it can be hard… trust me.

I’ll have more to say after we shoot this weekend… be here.  Aloha.

(Cheesy Jack Lord voice optional.)

What We See, What We Hear

In Roughly About Films on January 17, 2012 at 2:47 pm

This being the start of a new category for this blog, “Roughly About Film”, I’ll be discussing several things that have at least a peripheral connection with film and filmmaking.

How close I come is up to you to judge.

This term, hopefully my last at Wayne State University, is focused on my “capstone” class, Techniques of Film and Video Production.  We get to work on three fifteen-minute (or so) videos shot by the class on the Communications Department’s spanking new Canon 5D DSLR cameras.  These units are supposed to be the “cutting edge” units used in the “real world” today.

I’ve got my quibbles about this, but that’s not relevant to the class itself.

We are supposed to be using Redrock Micro 35mm lens adapters, which give a more “cinematic” shallow depth of field, allowing rack focusing, image highlighting by focus (or lack thereof), and a more cinematic “feel” to the finished footage.

I think that if you want your finished footage to look “cinematic”, you should shoot with a film camera.  Because of the expense, the difficulty of getting quick processing of film nowadays, and, well, the expense, this is not being done.

Go figure…

If it were up to me (and you can bet your tochis it’s not), someone who owned their own equipment could use it to shoot whatever they were going to shoot for the class.  I mean, if you’re comfortable with the equipment, you’re going to use it well, right?  You can get more out of it than you can with something you don’t know much about.

Well, that’s enough about that… on to something a little more pleasant.

***

The silent film The Artist won three awards at the Golden Globes… which was a surprise, and a pleasure.  Jean Dujardin, the lead, won Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy,  the musical score by Ludovic Bource won in that category, and the  picture itself won Best Picture, Musical or Comedy.

A black and white silent picture winning awards in the early years of the Twenty-First Century is a remarkable achievement, especially since these pictures haven’t been made since the early days of the Twentieth Century.

Something to think about, n’est-ce pas?

***

There’s been a great deal of talk that I’ve read of in the trade press that I can get; the word is flying about that “FILM IS DEAD”.  The three biggest manufacturers of motion picture cameras are producing no more new models; Panavision, Aaton, and Arri have confirmed they stopped producing new film cameras.

I’m morally certain, however, that the Russian factories that produced the inexpensive 16mm and 35mm cameras one might still find on eBay are still in operation.  It wouldn’t be like those budding capitalists to abandon a niche market like that.

I’d have to put more research into it, though.

Sometime again, friends!

Quick Poll…

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.

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.

Summer Hiatus – Why It Doesn’t Exist

In Film and Related on May 31, 2011 at 4:00 pm

Well, seeing that tomorrow is the first of June, and “summer” (such as it is, here in the midwest) has arrived, many among you will be enjoying your two and a half to three months off from school, or your two to three weeks vacation during these middle months of the year.

Not me, though.  I have far too much to do… clean and empty the house, try to get my financing together for fall semester at university, get my vehicle ready to make the treks to campus when Fall starts, possibly get a summer class going in July, and maintaining my composure despite everything Life tries to throw at me.  (And, don’t be fooled… Life throws beanballs.)

Still and all, it’s not a bad thing, this frenetic preparation… it keeps you from obsessing over your own problems.

“Write and shoot” is my new mantra for Fall… it’s what I will need to be doing.

You will be hearing more about this.

Al B.

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