Percentage budgeting is idiotic

Some of you may have heard of George Lucas. He’s the guy who wrote and directed the first Indiana Jones and Star Wars movies. He’s one of the few writers, directors, or filmmakers full stop who makes it to the Forbes list.

Well, his breakthrough film was a little “coming of age” film called American Graffiti.  In that, the actors joke that there was no budget for chairs.  Joke?  Maybe there really was no budget for chairs.  According to the editor, most of the sound budget, pretty much the entire sound budget, went to songs.  According to some internet sources, the cost of licensing the songs cost 90k, out of a 777k budget.  That’s more than 10 percent of the total budget.

For his next film, Star Wars, the music cost a little more, but it was a much smaller percentage of the overall budget.  According to Den of Geek, the score for the first Star Wars film cost about 100k, or less than one percent of the total budget. Continue reading Percentage budgeting is idiotic

5 films shot in the director’s home

With recent scandals, we normally suspect a movie made in the director’s home. When the director is alone, it doesn’t matter whether the audition is in an office, an auditorium, or a hotel room, but hotel room usually seems suspect.

Let’s return to a more innocent time, when many directors didn’t have bad intentions, they just didn’t have large enough bank balances to rent a location.

1. The Brothers McMullen : Edward Burns (1995)

A few microbudget films really start the director’s career. You might say Brother’s McMullen was one of them, it shot Ed Burns through to the stratosphere as an actor.

Reportedly made for 40,000 in the director’s home, it was liked by Ebert, and one of the darlings of the microbudget scene in the 1990s.

Burns wrote, directed, acted in, and co-produced this film.  Others who share his surname were also involved.  Hey, when the budget is this low, you’ve got to save money somehow.

2. Smiling Fish and Goat on Fire (1999)

A similar budget to Brother’s McMullen, if not as famous.  Roger Ebert liked this film, even if you might not have heard of it.  He says that it received a standing ovation at the Toronto film festival, and gives it praise.  (He’s not normally a fan of films this low budget, or shot in the director’s home.)

The director co-wrote this film with the two stars, perhaps giving them credit for improvisation.

3. Going Shopping: Henry Jaglom (2005)

This film seems to have heavily influenced “He’s not That Into You”, with the interview style of non-characters and extras talking about shopping predating the other film’s interview style of non-characters speaking about relationships.  And, Going Shopping must have sold well on DVD, because it’s fairly easy to find second hand.

Okay, so this film doesn’t appear to be set in a house, when you have a mansion like this, you can make your shed look like a clothing store, and your garden look like a park.  But, watch the making of if you don’t believe me, this is all based on the director’s property.

The director co-wrote this film with the star.

4. Paranormal Activity: Oren Peli (2007)

One of the most famous microbudget films made by a nobody, this horror film inspires millennials to make their own movies.

The Oren Pei wrote, produced, directed, edited, and shot this film.   He’s uncredited with set design, because hey, I guess he decorates his own room.

5. Much Ado About Nothing: Joss Whedon (2012)

The same year that Joss Whedon directed “Avengers Assemble”, he adapted Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. He said that the budget was so low, that it had to be shot in black and white.  This critically acclaimed, microbudget Shakespeare movie was shot in his house, and starred his friends and neighbours. Of course, he has a huge house, and has some pretty experienced friends and neighbours.

Should the director get a screenplay credit?  Well, he gets one, because he adapted Shakespeare’s original script for the screen.

Lesser known films

The films above seem to have been written by the director, or by the director and the stars, or the director wrote and starred in the film.  We don’t have as much information about these other films, but they seem to be similarly low-budget, with writer-directors.  Here are some lower profile films that seem to be shot in the director’s house.

Multiple Maniacs (1970)

Is it in John Water’s apartment?   I’m not sure.   – weird movie though.  This guy went on to create Hairspray, but most of his films were for a cult (meaning small but loyal) audience.

Chronicle of a Disappearance (1996)

Not entirely shot in the director’s house, but partly there. A strange film from a Palestinian perspective.

Amateana (2012)

Short film, shot in the director’s house. The director’s names is Lud Mônaco

Four Twenty (2012)

The entire film was shot in the director’s house.  Or, so claims the IMDB page.  I’m not sure if you can see this film anywhere.

Rita Dove: An American Poet (2014)

Partially filmed at the director’s house. The readings at the end readings were recorded at the director’s house.

Dara Says (2014)

Most of this film was shot in the director’s and producer’s living room, in the course of a month.  A half day in the kitchen, and a couple of days in the dining room.  They played two of the film’s three characters and edited it along with the crew of two.  A stunt director arrived for a day and a half so the director could do his own stunts.

The entire house is probably smaller than one room of the other films, but oh well.  The budget of the crowdfunded feature film was tiny too, with the crew’s salaries paid for by a Jobs Growth Wales scheme.

Don’t worry if you haven’t heard of this film, we might not have heard of it either if we didn’t create it ourselves.

Screenwriting is the most competitive profession in the film industry

Reading the trades, I discovered that only about 1100 writers worked on films in Hollywood last year.  Sure, more than that worked on TV, but most elite members of the WGA only work about one year in three (if at all).  And, when they do find work, their pay is still less than many less glamorous roles.

(I know Squanto.  You were unemployed long before I made that discovery.) Continue reading Screenwriting is the most competitive profession in the film industry

The use of Flashback in Amazing Grace

Amazing Grace (dir. Michael Apted, written by Steven Knight) seems to be the first major film to depict the life and activism of Wilfred Wilberforce. I was reluctant to write any review because I’m not sure of the historical accuracy of Wilberforce’s life. However, from a creative point of view, I find the use of flashback interesting.

Many biopics, from made for tv movies to big budget blockbusters, use flashback as a creative device. At one extreme you have The Iron Lady, where almost every other scene is the elderly Thatcher remembering her rise and fall. Then there’s the TV movie like Coco Chanel, where flashbacks are used intermittently to show a character still in her prime remembering how she got where she was while preparing a show.

The classic, however is a film like Gandhi (Dir: David Attenborough, writer: John Briley, 1982), where we start at the death of the main character, then tell the story in sequence, introducing the protagonist just before that fateful first decision is made. But, all these devices open a story toward the end of the story, not in the middle. Continue reading The use of Flashback in Amazing Grace

It takes more than 100 days

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Top of Wellington Monument, Pen Dinas, Penparcau

2 years ago, I witnessed the re-enactment of the battle of Waterloo.  Thousands of talented volunteers from around the world walked through the footsteps of Napoleon, Wellington, and Blücher, and their allies and armies.

Although we didn’t have the best seats on the field, it was wonderful that so many dedicated re-enactors, or living historians, brought history to life for us.  If you missed it, you should have been there. Continue reading It takes more than 100 days

3 ways to work with a writing partner

Ptara logo above wordcloud artwork

Or, “Three Ways to Collaborate on a Screenplay.”

A lot of people offer advice to screenwriters. We don’t. We write scripts in house, produce our own stories, and provide services to film production companies. So, screenwriters are not our target market.

So far, apart from a few student projects where working as part of a team was part of the grade, I tend to write alone.   I’m not looking for a writing partner, and unless I were hired to work as part of a team I don’t know if I’d work with one.

However, if you do write screenplays, and you have found your writing partner, I can tell you what seems to work for others.

1. Taking turns.
I found this one reading Joe Eszterhas’s autobiography. He did this with a friend and said it was a lot of fun. The resulting film wasn’t one of his biggest hits, but oh well. Taking turns is as simple as it sounds: One writer writes one draft, then sends it to the other writer for the next draft, bouncing it back and forth until they’re both happy with the final result.
2. Alternating scenes.
I also read a book by two comedy writers who’s movies I enjoy, called “writing movies for fun and profit.” I laughed at Ben Garrant and Thomas Lennon’s films (the Pacifier, Night at The Museum, even Balls of Fury), but their scripts were much better than that book. Some jokes just have to be performed to make sense, I suppose.

Anyway, since the book is mostly written tongue in cheek (their films grossed a billion worldwide perhaps, but they’ve only seen a tiny fraction of that), I can’t be sure that this is really their working method, but it might work. First, you sit together in a room, and rack your brains until you come up with an outline. Then, each writer writes a scene for part of that outline. They claim the outline is the hard part. After you’ve written the odd scenes and your partner the even scenes, you switch and polish off the other writer’s work.

3. Lyrics and rhythm.
I often hear teacher of music composition express doubt that creative collaboration is possible. When confronted with great collaborators, they assume one artist wrote the lyrics and the other composed the melody, or something like that.
This can work in musicals, as illustrated in Topsy Turvy, and sort of reflects the way the famous 1930s Wizard of Oz was written.With a non-musical script, it’s a little more tricky. But, it can be done. French films have two kinds of writing credits, one for the story line or treatment, and one for the writer who does the dialogue.

Now, before you approach me or anyone else with one of these, consider that all work best if you know your writing partner well, or if you have an existing working relationship with the writers. Do you share the same taste in films and stories? Do you have a story that you both want to tell in the same way? If you’re not on the same page, it probably won’t work.

Also, unless you’re both loaded, you’ll probably need some money to sustain yourselves while writing, or extra patience while your partner tries to find time to write. The reality is multitasking celebrities usually get ghost writers to write for them, and even a full time screenwriters would normally take 3 months, 6 months, even a year to complete a script. The mythical stories about someone writing a draft in three days leave out all the months that went into preparing that first draft and the additional months that went into writing the more careful second draft.

Design of audio-visual creative works.

Ptara logo over historical image of men working at Sevastopol.You might have a great graphic designer, an artist at your company, who can draw anything that you can imagine. You may have someone else who is handy with the camera, and creates videos that look and sound amazing. But, sometimes simply looking good is not enough. Sometimes, you need images that fit a strategic context, that make sense within a whole, and that tell the message you want to convey. Sometimes, you need something that is interesting to watch, and sometimes you need more than that.

You don’t always need to design an audio visual work.  Here’s a video that was unplanned, shot and edited within a day:

It works well enough for footage for a news story, but not much else.

Ptara can help you design a video that does what it’s supposed to do.

Screenplays

Are you looking to develop an original script?

Ptara’s a script writing services include writing outlines, treatments, and fixing dialogue to a good first draft.  By first draft we don’t mean that we just send you a rough set of words, but we work on the script until we feel it’s ready.

 

Apocalypse Now Redux: review

Walter Murch, yes the Walter Murch, travelled all the way to Aberystwyth to take questions on his film, Apocalypse Now.

Okay, so Murch was only the sound stylist, right? An editor, not a director, star, screenwriter or even a producer. Producers take home the best picture award, directors get to be thought of the auteur, actors get famous, screenwriters can say they thought it all up, but without people working below the line there’s only so much you can do.

Continue reading Apocalypse Now Redux: review