Monday, May 17, 2010

Watch: House Finale

Be sure to check out the House finale tonight at 8 PM on Fox. The entire episode was shot using the Canon 5D and Canon lenses. You can see a teaser of the episode above, essentially the first three minutes.


Friday, May 14, 2010

Short Film: The Raven

Thanks to dropping costs and rising advancements in cinema technology (Red One, Canon 5D, and so on) as well as a renewed interest in the short film format (thanks to YouTube and Vimeo) we’ve seen a recent surge in extremely well made short films popping up all over the Internet.

One of the most successful was Neill Blomkamp’s Alive in Joburg, which eventually became District 9. The above film, The Raven, is a pretty fantastic little short and looks amazing. I have a few issues with the story, the scenes towards the end are a little repetitive and could have probably been cut without much loss to the overall film, but this is nonetheless a solid piece of filmmaking. If nothing else, you could see this scene happening in a movie.

Made on what is rumored to be a relatively small budget, shorts like this just goes to show you what kind of technology the micro-budget filmmaker has at his disposal.

Which is exactly why I've begun work on my own short film. Though it won't really utilized visual effects (I'm just not that type of filmmaker) seeing these shorts has really given me the bug and helped push towards developing a new short. (The last one I shot was nearly four years ago.)

I enjoy seeing the resurgence of the short film and being a participant in it.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

3Questions: Ryan Jaffe - Screenwriter

As part of our continuing 3Questions series, I present Ryan Jaffe, writer of the 20th Century Fox film The Rocker.

HBAD: So, tell us, how did you get your start?

RJ: I graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1996, and moved here immediately after. I started in the mailroom at Industry Entertainment, then was promoted to work for producer Nick Wechsler, whom I assisted for almost four years. I left to write, took several detours in the process, including working as a reader for ICM and even quitting the business altogether for a year. But I still had the bug and came back, where a spec that never sold titled "The High Road" earned me many meetings with producers and studio executives and led to a two script deal at 20th Century Fox. The first pitch I sold them was called "The Rocker," which was made three years later. Peter Cattaneo directed and Rainn Wilson and Christina Applegate starred. I have sold several other TV shows and screenplays. Currently I am in the midst of writing a movie about the life of musician Jeff Buckley.

HBAD: What are the most difficult challenges you've encountered on your career path?

RJ: To be honest, every step is difficult and every success brings a whole new set of challenges. I think the present state of the film business may present the greatest challenge. Studios have trimmed back development significantly and there's simply much less work to go around. These days, it seems you have to write a great spec, with talent already attached before the studios decide to put any money towards it.

HBAD: What advice would you have for someone just starting out in this business, looking to get into the position you're in?

RJ: There are three things that I would advise to any aspiring screenwriter: The first, though it may seem counterintuitive, is to not write something that you think will sell, but something that shows how well you can write. Write about something you know, people you know. It still needs to read like a movie, but it doesn't have to be X-MEN or some huge franchise to get you noticed. You are much more inclined to get attention with your first script if you are writing great characters, and usually the characters that you can write best come from the people you know best.

Second, learn how to take a note. So many aspiring writers think they know what's best for their screenplays and are very sensitive to criticism. There are a lot of smart people in Hollywood who know what they're talking about and the writers that find success are usually the ones that are willing to hear their notes. A good rule in terms of receiving notes is that if you hear the note more than once, chances are you should take it.

Third, don't submit something, especially in the beginning, unless it's great. This is by far the biggest mistake aspiring writers make. It's an almost impossible task, because most people think their stuff is good, their best friend said it's good, they're anxious to put their great script out there, and they want to make a million dollars. The system is built for most people outside the system to fail. When they submit a script, it usually enters at an entry level reader's desk and must pass through several levels before it reaches the desk of someone that can actually make a decision for you. If your script is going to get all the way to that decision maker, it better be great. If it's not, you will receive a nice call or letter saying that "your script was great, but just not for us," and it will disappear from that recipient's radar forever. That avenue of opportunity, as far as that script is concerned, will be closed. I can't tell you how to figure out when your script is great. The best I can offer is to a) find a couple trusted people that are smart and will be brutally honest with you, and b) rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. I wrote eleven drafts of the script that got me all of my initial work, and it still needs improvement. Your intitial introduction to the film community needs to be special.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

3Questions: Jeff Crocker - Visual Effects Coordinator

As part of our continuing 3Questions series, I present Jeff Crocker, the Visual Effects Coordinator for CSI:NY.

As he describes it, "There are three of us in the VFX department and I basically run the administrative side, while running back-up artist on some of the more basic VFX shots. I breakdown the scripts and go to production meetings with our VFX Supervisor, Brad Powell, where we talk with the producers, director, and assistant director about how we’ll shoot certain shots. Then I sit with our editors, discuss each episode’s effects shots, order them from our post-house, organize all the raw footage and then distribute them to the rest of the VFX crew. If we need some additional help from secondary effects shops, I’ll generate bid requests and get quotes to pass by our producers, then make sure these hired guns stay on task and on schedule. Finally, if Brad or Chris Hagerthy, our senior effects artist, is busy, I’ll go to set and supervise visual effects shots for first unit or insert unit."

HBAD: So, tell us, how did you get your start?

JC: I started lighting toys on fire and filming it when I was thirteen. Inspired by movies like Star Wars, The Rocketeer, and Who Framed Roger Rabbit, I loved special effects of all kinds- puppets, miniatures, practical gags, opticals, matte paintings, pyrotechnics, and stunts. I grew up in Palos Verdes, a suburb of Los Angeles, so I was lucky to be near a lot of the action. When I was 16, I applied for internships at Paramount and TriStar, and a number of special effects houses and was rejected from all of them. When I was 17, I spent a summer working with Chris Hagerthy at Live Wire Productions, a local visual effects company that was doing some great work on film, TV, and commercials. Scott Simmons, the owner of the company, taught us a lot about 3-D modeling, compositing, and basic animation. Chris and I would take the stuff we learned and spend weekends with friends shooting our own Star Wars movies or Starship Troopers adaptations. We would load our high school video book reports with computer graphics and elaborate compositing as a means to distract our teachers to how little we knew about the material and it worked.

When I was 18, my friend hooked me up with Rob Schrab, a cult comic book writer/artist, who was finishing his first short film, a gonzo, Japanese influenced, sci-fi live-action cartoon, “Robot Bastard.” I immediately called Chris and we set to work on crafting a stylized look to match Rob’s colorful, exciting movie.

And while I worked my way through film and television production, I was always letting people know that I loved visual effects and was capable of adding a little more visual flair to their projects. I worked for free whenever I could, always believing that the experience was more important than any monetary compensation, which I figured would show up eventually. These days I am lucky enough to work almost exclusively in visual and special effects, whether it’s make-up effects, practical puppets, or blue/green screen compositing, I get to do a little of everything.

HBAD: What are the most difficult challenges you've encountered on your career path?

JC: That’s a great question, and there isn’t an easy way to answer. To begin with I would say, “Focus.” When I was younger, I knew I wanted to work in visual effects and special effects. When I got out of college and started working in production, I found lots of jobs that I wanted to excel at, “Oh! I can be a production manager!” “Oh! I would make a great puppeteer!” “Ah! I’m going to build animatronics!” “I bet I would be a great editor!” I consider myself a pretty talented guy in most respects, especially when it comes to artistic endeavors and working with my hands, plus I like to be in charge because I work hard to set a good example for my team. It wasn’t until I got focused on that original goal, that I knew exactly what needed to be done and started feeling fired up.

Additionally, something that challenges me now and will continue to be a challenge is education. There is always something more to learn, something new coming out. As a visual effects artist, I have to keep up with new compositing techniques, the latest software, what others in my field are doing; I have to have a good basis in traditional art as well as an understanding of photography and lighting. And then you learn all of that and suddenly everything changes and now everyone wants to shoot stereoscopic 3-D. I was lucky enough to grow up learning on computers, and so I’ve got a nice foundation, but that doesn’t mean I will always be on the cutting edge. You’ve got to keep up, whether it’s by reading, staying involved within a community, or better yet, being the person that designs and leads the way into a new realm.

HBAD: What advice would you have for someone just starting out in this business, looking to get into the position you're in?

JC: Start talking to EVERYONE you possibly can about what you want to do. Make sure everyone knows what you want to do, because you never know how people can help. Also, there may be skills that you need that you never considered. Certain aspects of effects employ math and physics (miniatures), while others require a detailed knowledge of anatomy (like animation), and still others require that you know carpentry and welding (practical, mechanical effects).

Furthermore, with IMDB, Cinefex (the predominant VFX publication), Google, Twitter, so many working professionals are immediately accessible and most of those people are willing to answer your questions and give you some advice. Talk to as many people as you can and start making relationships with as many professionals as you can. Ask if you can send them some of your work and get some notes.

Finally, you’ll hear this a lot- you have to just start doing it. Do you want to be a puppeteer? Build puppets and start being a puppeteer. Find out about every type of puppet there is, the famous puppeteers, puppet schools and classes. Do you want to be a computer modeler? There are open-source modeling programs, like Blender, with international online support that you can start modeling with tomorrow morning.

Live it. Breathe it. And before you know it, you’ll be doing it.