Friday, January 28, 2011

Black Swan and CGI

Thanks to this post from BadAssDigest, we now know that despite being shot on Super 16mm film and having a very raw quality, Black Swan is full of CGI, from the obvious (adding wings to Portman's character) to everything like cleaning up the floor and minor head replacement.

I read an American Cinematographer article on shooting Black Swan and remember them talking about painting out the crew in some of the mirror shots. But I found it really unnerving during the shot of Vincent Castle where the camera moves handheld around him with the mirror in the background and you don't see anything.

It's really amazing to see what is possible these days, even on movies you wouldn't think would have the budget for it.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Dig: Post-Production Part 3

This weekend I was flipping through the (digital) LATimes and saw this Envelope Roundtable: Directors on Directing. I'm always a huge fan of reading about a director's process but in light of the fact that I'm in the early stages of editing Dig this particular section was incredibly insightful:

LATimes: You're all here because your films have been incredibly successful. But I wonder if you actually learn more in failure. Are the more telling learning experiences from something that doesn't work?

Ben Affleck: I feel like all filming for me, directing, is about failure. Every day I go home, "Oh, my God."

Ethan Coen: Yeah, that's terrible, isn't it?

Darren Aronofsky: It's the worst.

Coen: And you kick yourself all the way home — that stuff you could and should have done.

Aronofsky: I think it's a myth that you [get] exactly what you have in mind. You're in three dimensions with weather, atmosphere, technology that has limitations, time that has limitations. And you don't want to control an actor to that extent because it'll just suck the life out of 'em. It's a constant form of improv and you just sort of roll with it.

Tom Hooper: I think it's an extraordinary thing when you watch your first assembly [of the roughly edited movie], the film always has become something slightly different from what you thought…

Aronofsky: The worst day of my life, every time.

Affleck: Way worst.

LATimes: In what way?

Aronofsky: When you watch an assemblage, you just know you're getting drunk that night. It's just a miserable experience. Because you realize you have so much work [to do on it].

Lisa Cholodenko: And you have no idea if it'll ever be there.

Aronofsky: And you really thought you did better work. You thought you did better stuff. And it has nothing to do with the editor. It just takes time and time to refine, because you're so far away from that final mix where you're really putting on that final sanding, the final shellac.

Coen: It's always funny because we cut our own movies and I feel exactly the same way.

I have felt exactly the same way on pretty much every film (and music video) I've directed and edited. And I was very much feeling this way recently while working on Dig. Since I'm editing the picture myself, I have a front row view of all the shitty work I did as a director. Ha ha. I'm seeing all the problems, all the mistakes, all the things I thought I did and didn't and all the things I wish I did. And of course, as I'm seeing all this, I'm saying to myself, "Man, I wish I was in the position of the others directors, where this doesn't happen." But it does happen, to everyone.

This process, what I call the "very depressing first two weeks of editing" happens to me on every project. The problem, more than anything, is a psychological one. I have in my head the work I did as a director, but I'm viewing the work I actually did from an editor's point of view. That is, I can't fully take either position. I can't, as an editor, say "It is what it is, I'll just have to deal with it," (which is the position I had on Dark Prophecy) because I'm still seeing it as a director and kicking myself for all the things I didn't do or could have done better. I'm still wearing two hats.

Slowly, after some very depressing days, the director's hat goes away and I fully commit as an editor, allowing me to make harder choices, and see the picture for what it is, not what I wish it was.

Every director faces compromises.

What about you? Have you shot something thinking it was amazing at the time and then gotten into editing and begun to see all the mistakes you've made? How do you deal with compromise?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

3Questions: Scott Myers - Screenwriter

As part of our continuing 3Questions series, I present Scott Myers, writer of K-9, starring Jim Belushi; Alaska, starring Vincent Kartheisher and Thora Birch; and Trojan War, starring Jennifer Love Hewitt.

As he tells us, " I've been a professional screenwriter since 1987, a screenwriting teacher since 2002, and a screenwriting blogger since 2008.

"As a screenwriter, in addition to the projects listed above, I have written nearly 30 projects for every major movie studio and broadcast TV network.

"As a teacher, I along with fellow screenwriter Tom Benedek, who wrote the movie Cocoon, founded, a unique online educational resource for writers involving lecture-based content courses and writing workshops. In 2005, I won the Outstanding Instructor of the Year Award through UCLA Extension's Writers' Program. I also teach screenwriting at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.

"As a blogger, my screenwriting site was named Best Blog for Aspiring Screenwriters and had over 1.2 million unique visits in 2010."

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

SM: I got my start in the movie business when I co-wrote and sold the spec script "K-9" to Universal Pictures for $750,000 back in 1987. Since that time, I have tracked the spec script market constantly and so have a thorough understanding of Hollywood's lit acquisition and development process, knowledge I share on my blog and in the screenwriting courses I teach.

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

SM: Breaking into the screenwriting trade is difficult. Sustaining a career is even harder. There is enormous competition on all fronts: spec scripts, pitching, OWA's (Open Writing Assignments). Perhaps the biggest single challenge is to find a way to follow the movie market so you stay informed about trends, yet keep a unique voice when it comes to your creative efforts. Living and working in L.A., it's easy to devolve into formulaic writing. One way to keep your career going is by consistently writing stories with distinctive high concepts, compelling characters, and interesting plots with lots of twists.

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

SM: If you're serious about becoming a screenwriter, there are certain things you should do to learn the craft. Here are three of them: Read scripts. Watch movies. Write pages. That should be one of your mantras because in order to become a screenwriter, you need to immerse yourself in the world of movies.

Also unlike when I was first starting out, there are tons of people promoting various screenwriting theories and story structure paradigms. There are essential screenwriting principles you can learn, but be sure you study with the right people, preferably someone who is or has been a screenwriter and thus knows the ins-and-outs of the craft and the business, an educator so that they know how to communicate their ideas effectively, and a mentor so they can help steer you through the writing and rewriting process. That's precisely why Tom and I founded

My final piece of advice: Make sure you start with a story concept that is worthy of being made into a movie. I've read perhaps thousands of screenplays, many of them written quite well, but they have no chance of selling because the story is based on an average or sub-par concept. The best way to come up with a great story concept? Generate a lot of story concepts.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Shooting on Location

This month's American Cinematographer has a great article on Biutiful, the new film from Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (which I have not yet seen) and there's sidebar called "Inarritu on Method." In it, he talks about shooting on location vs. shooting on a stage, saying:

"I don't know if I'm a masochist, but I hate sound stages, and not only because I think they will never represent reality correctly. There's something about the texture, the reality of walls, the smell, the story of them, the vibe. Even if the builder creates sets exactly the same, the sets don't have soul. I think reality can never be matched in that sense. The other reason I shoot all my films on location is that there's something uncomfortable about locations that, in a way, helps everybody feel they are in real territory and not making a film. I like that, and I think it's a very psychological environment."

Other than when I was a camera op on Dark Prophecy, where we shot on the CSI:NY stages at CBS Radford, I've never directed a project that was shot on a stage. Everything I've ever done has been on location. As I've grown as a director and as a storyteller, and come to understand the types of stories I want to tell and the types of films I want to make (especially aesthetically), I've come to really enjoy and prefer shooting on location for the reasons Inarritu listed above.

There's something harder about it, something more challenging that, I believe, embeds itself in the film you're making. Not that shooting something on a stage is easy, but you can move walls, you can change lighting, you can shoot night during the day and day during the night, and so on. There's just something "comfortable" about it and I've learned that I don't like to be "comfortable" while shooting a movie. I want to be challenged, I want to problem solve, I want to have to work around walls and schedule and daylight (even on a film like Dig, where short days fucked us), I think it makes the film better. As many directors have said, most recently Scorsese, "If making a film was easy, it probably isn't very good." There's something about having "gone through it" that embeds itself in the film. (The work of Werner Herzog comes to mind.)

There's also something undeniably real about what you're seeing and that's because it is real. The dust is real, the light is real, the writings on the wall, it has a soul. Personally, I like the challenge of dealing with the issues of shooting a movie in addition to the terrible difficulty making the movie itself.

As you can see from the pictures below, shot on location in the desert of Palmdale during the production of Dig, we were out there, facing nothing but dust and sun. It was a huge challenge, especially shooting during winter where we had maybe 10 hours of daylight, but I loved every minute of it. It was an adventure.

What do you think about location shooting vs. shooting on a stage?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Dig: Post-Production Part 2

While taking a short break from editing each night, I'm going to try and take the time to write up a quick post. I'll never do it if I wait till the end of the night and this, at least, gives you a sense of me in the thick of it.

Tonight is going much better than last night. I'm humming right along, I'm cutting action, things seem to be working better for me and I have a much clearer image in my head of what this is. Like a first draft of the script, it's important that I keep going, relying mostly on instinct and not second-guessing myself too often. This is a first cut, not a final cut, and if I try and perfect things too much it'll take me forever. In essence, this is my vomit cut.

I started by cutting the two scenes I started last night which is mostly non-dialogue action. Do to a few continuity issues it took some time to get the cuts where they needed to be, but I think it's a pretty good rough cut. A little long and there is a chance that I'll need to go back and shoot some pick ups but we'll see.

A big part of this scene in particular is how the scene before it ends (which I haven't cut yet) and the music. Music, during particular sequences, will be a huge part of this film and it's not easy to cut without it, especially early on. Eventually, through time and practice, I figure out the rhythm of the film and can almost hear the music in my head as I cut it. But that takes time to get there. Meanwhile, I'll throw this down, move on, and come back to it as I finesse the cuts.

My goal was to finish that scene tonight. I don't want to push myself too hard (I already find myself taking more breaks than I should) as it's a little like writing at the moment - it's very easy to find an excuse to not do it. However, I finished that fairly early on and have moved onto the follow scene. Again, a heavy action scene, but the one I was most worried about.

It was the scene we shot on Day 01, which took forever to shoot (you'll learn more about this in the production journal) and had me really worried about whether the action would cut together. Fortunately, it's all coming together nicely, and has a narrative flow to it, making it easier to cut the action. My hope is that I'll be able to finish a version of this scene tonight, which would be a nice little surprise.

I'm humming right along.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Dig: Post-Production Part 1

I'm sure you're asking "How can I read about post-production on Dig when I haven't read anything about production?" I promise I'll be writing my production blogs soon but in the mean time I have started edited and for the next couple months you'll have to listen to my insane editing ramblings as I go through this process and share with you what it's like.

Point: I should be editing right now. I'm in the middle of it, the screen's in front of me, and instead I'm typing away. I never really feel like I can write blog posts and yet here I am. Why? It's distracting me from editing.

Okay, so, tonight is officially the first day of editing on Dig. I should be ecstatic right? We shot the film a month and a half ago and I'm just now editing? I must be itching to put this thing together. And I am.

But like any new editing project, I feel like I'm starting over. Like I've never edited a film before. I'm bouncing around, looking at clips, starting to edit scenes and then moving on to something else. Being very ADD about the whole thing. It's a part of my process and I know that but it doesn't make it any easier to deal with my fumbling around like an idiot.

Still, I haven't seen this footage for a month and a half and a part of making this film not suck is shedding the skin I built up as a director and coming back onto this project with fresh eyes, where nothing is sacred, where I see only what was shot, not what I wish I shot.

Having not watched any of this footage for a while I need to reacquaint myself with it, watch thing, find those bits that are interesting and then slowly start to built the film, shot by shot, scene by scene.

A particularly challenging thing about Dig is the enormous about of footage we shot and that pretty much every take was shot with two cameras. So, it's a lot to go through. And rarely is the action a series of "building shots." What I mean by that, is that the action takes place in one area, and I shot the shit out of that one area, so during any give line, I have 10 options, five of which are from angle A and the other five from angle B. For any given moment in the film, there are just a lot of options and it takes time to look through it all and decide which is the best one.

I'll probably be doing this all week, slowly starting scenes, abandoning them, going on to another, trying to find my groove. Once I do, I'll be off and running.

Meanwhile, I'll continue my floundering tonight.

Needless to say, the footage looks great.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Watch: Discovery Channel's 'Movie Magic'

I've been waiting for Discovery Channel's series 'Movie Magic' to come out on DVD for years. I grew up on this show and it's what got me interested in filmmaking to begin with. I remember taping a bunch of the shows on VHS to rewatch and even ordering a latex mask kit from a theatrical store in order to make my own masks (never did).

Nonetheless, it's a still a fascinating look at the special effects used to make films. Watch the first ten episodes below (minus the 2nd ep, which can't be embedded). Thanks to /Film for posting this.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

That's a Wrap: 2010

2010, both personally and professionally, has been an amazing year. Huge opportunities came my way, many of which have yet to fully pay off. I thought I would take a moment to break it down for you.

Joshua Caldwell

That is, the "me" side of the professional success. For the last couple years, I've often measured my how well I did each year with how much I got done creatively, factoring in scripts written, videos shot, etc. I always felt lousy, like I was falling behind, when I didn't have two scripts written and completed per year, when I hadn't shot anything for a while. But sometimes that's okay. Regardless, 2010 was a very busy year for me on my road to writing and directing and I've laid it out below:

Tim and the Space Cadets - Superhero Music Video

Though it was shot in October of 2009, I didn't finished editing and coloring 'Superhero' until the new year and it wasn't released until February. All in all, it was a lot of fun to work on and turned into a very successful video. You can watch it below:

Mateo - 'Get To Know Me' Music Video

Again, though it was originally shot in 2009, the music video for the single 'Get To Know Me' by Mateo wasn't released until 2010. A combination of live footage shot as part of his "Live at Swing House" DVD and personal tour footage shot by Mateo himself, the video I directed and edited, has gained massive traction, especially after VEVO picked it up on their YouTube channel, giving it nearly 400,000 views so far.

Feature Comedy Screenplay

Many of you following this blog remember that the first half of the year was all about this new script that Travis and I were working on. Since we started working on it after I started writing this blog, I wanted to give you a glimpse into the process of writing a screenplay from the beginning while collaborating with producers. Then, around May, I stopped writing about it. Why? Well, after about nine months of work, and three drafts of the script, the producer thought it best to part ways. I won't go into details about our response (let's just say we disagreed as to where the lack of quality was really coming from) but we ultimately stopped working on the script and found ourselves directionless. We had just spent nine months working on the project, had nothing to show for it expect a 75% of the way there 3rd Draft and didn't know what to do next.

The one thing we realized though (and this something I'm going to post about soon) was how much that situation sucked and how much we didn't want to go through it again. We had worked with an amazing producer on Glory Days (Blitzed) who really understood how to make a script better and found that not be to the case on this project. I think had Travis and I been given the opportunity to do what we wanted to, even as just a foundation, the script would have been a much bigger success.

We're still deciding what to do with the script but may sell it back to the original producer. We'll keep you updated. But this situation did lead us to a bigger project this year, one I'll talk about in a minute.

Blitzed (formerly Glory Days)

Well, after two years of fits and starts we finally settled on the fall to go out wide. Much of the time was spent trying to get a star attached, which in this town, in this climate, was just not a possibility, despite the conditions. Pretty much everyone who read it, loved it (so they tell us) but of course, no takers.

So, we decided to go out to the town with in the fall, but first we had to change the name. Why? Well, at this point, a number of people had read the script and more than likely, coverage was written about it. Because of that, it was probably in companies submissions systems. If someone at an agency gets a script, they'll often check to see if it's already been submitted and if coverage was written, thus saving themselves from reading a script they don't have to. (Correct me if I'm wrong.)

Change the name and you force people to read it again. :-) But seriously, it gives it a sense of freshness. You don't want readers saying "Wait, haven't I read this one?" and then skipping it. Our producer put together a list of people to take it, which included major studios and prod co's with studio deals. And we sent it out. Without agency support (I am not repped) we could only do much. Suffice to say that a number of the places have read it and while they didn't want to buy it they are interested in meeting with us. Others, we're still waiting to hear from.

Odds are, we won't sell it, at least, not now. It's a tough market out there, even for a script that we feel is as good as Blitzed.

The let down of not selling Blitzed combined with the disappointing experience on the other script threw Travis and I into a funk. Faced with "What's next?" we weren't really sure. But there was a project we had kept coming back to and had finally cracked the story.


Faced with having spent enormous amounts of time and creative energy on scripts and having nothing to show for it (after all, what is a script but a blueprint for a film) Travis and I decided it was time to something that would satisfy us creatively and leave us saying "We did it." And that was to write and producer Dig a short film we had been developing for the last couple years.

Personally, I was also ready to direct something. I hadn't directed a narrative in a long time, almost five years and was itching to do something. I don't really need to go into it, as I've covered and will keep covering it's progress but working on this project has been an amazing experience and we're only halfway done. We still haven't even started editing yet, something I hope to begin this week.

Dig has certainly been a highlight of 2010 and I'm sure Travis would agree. The greatest part, I feel, has been the fact that we created something, from beginning to end. It's not languishing in any one phase (like a screenplay) but it's real. We had great actors in it, great talent behind the camera and we now have something to show for it.

This has forced Travis and I to really sit and discuss what it is we want to do and what we want out of this career. This is a topic I'll cover in another post soon but the experience we went through on Dig certainly opened our eyes to new opportunities and made us wary of some of the more traditional routes out there that just don't seem open to newbies anymore.

Dare to Pass

An equally important reason for why 2010 ended up being such a great year was my employment and involvement with Anthony E. Zuiker's production company Dare to Pass. As the creator of CSI, Anthony is responsible for the biggest, most successful franchise in television history. The opportunity to work for him (and, after almost a year and change of being unemployed, to be PAID to do it) was a dream come true.

One of the biggest opportunities came with my involvement, from initial development (though mostly as a notetaker) all the way through release, with Dark Prophecy: A Level 26 Thriller,the follow up to Anthony's first Digi-novel, Level 26: Dark Origins.

In addition to helping develop the book, I also co-produced the cyber-bridges. During production, I got to operate the B-camera and once we moved into post I served as the Editor on the project. It was the first time I edited such a significant project and it was a huge amount of fun. Getting the chance to sit down and go through cuts with Anthony, to improve on scenes and have Anthony love it, and to not only see a project like this through to release (getting the chance to work very closely with composer Bill Brown, sound mixer Aaron Levy and color correctionist James Cohan) but to also be trusted to do so, was a huge "win" for me this year.

This and Dig were definitely the highlights of my year and it opened significant doors to new responsibilities and opportunities within Dare to Pass. On the Friday before break, Anthony promoted me to Creative Direct of Digital Media to help oversee the digital side of the company, including the third Digi-novel, iPad app development and more.

Needless to say, with all that happening in 2010, I can't wait to see what 2011 has in store.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Exploring New York's Undercity with the 5D

Check out this video made by videographer Andrew Wonder and Urban Historian Steven Duncan as they explore the "Undercity" of New York: Subway tunnels, lost Subway stations, the 'canal' that gives Canal St it's name, and more. Shot with the 5D in the middle of the night it's a fascinating look at part of a city most people have never seen before.

Monday, January 3, 2011