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Getting My Foot in the Door


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#1 Gage Eggleston

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Posted 07 August 2011 - 02:05 PM

Well, I'm 16 years old. When I was about ten I realized I had a strong interest in film and cinematography, not just the final result but how it was made.

A few weeks ago I finished the script to my first fifteen minute short. The only problem is, I have no idea how to proceed. I don't have the skill to draw storyboards and shot lists seem to confuse me. I had trouble breaking down the script.

Even if I do manage to get aforementioned tasks done, I am currently trying to get the correct gear. My budget for the film is about three hundred dollars, most of which will have to go into the equipment, seeing as I have none. I'm going to use can lights for lighting and build a DIY dolly system, but I need suggestions for a good camera.

The script isn't very ambitious in terms of actors and locations. It stars two men, one in his forties and the other in his seventies. It takes place entirely in a two hotel rooms. The problem is, with a dirt budget such as this, I don't know where I can find and pay the actors, or where I can get the location. I was thinking of going to a local playhouse for the actors, but I'm worried they won't take me seriously for my age or require payment. I also can't pay for a hotel room. Any suggestions?

Finally, even if I were to shoot this film and be proud of it, I don't have any idea how to get into the film business. I live in a small town and don't know any big names. I can't afford to go to a film school. The only idea I have come up with is to submit films to film festivals to get my name out there.

I know for a fact that film is my passion and I want to do it for as long as I live, but would it be remotely possible to have that job and still be able to pay my bills?

Sorry for such a long post, but I have a lot of questions. If you can answer even one, it is greatly appreciated. :D

Gage
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#2 Justin Hayward

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Posted 07 August 2011 - 02:42 PM

Hi Gage,

This is a great movie to watch for inspiration...

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1278480/

It's streaming on Netflix, I believe.

Most important is that you practice. I think you can find a cheap camera at Best Buy for like two hundred and fifty bucks. If you can't afford to hire actors, use your friends and family. If you can't afford hotel rooms, put that script aside and shoot something that takes place in a location you don't have to pay for. If you can't afford an editing program, try editing in camera. (That's when you shoot one shot, and pause the camera when you want to cut, then record when you want the next shot to start (I made hundreds of movies like this when I was your age)).

You'll make lots and lots of mistakes, but that's good. You'll learn what not to do the next time, and your work will get better and better.
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#3 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 07 August 2011 - 02:51 PM

Gage,
You start where we all start, at the beginning. Small things, never having exactly what we need, struggling to get a shot off.
Now you've got a script, which is fantastic, but you need to then ask what you want to do. It sounds more like you're aiming to be a director/writer, as opposed to a cinematographer. This being the case, you should look for other people your age, 2 or 3 maybe, who are also interested and pool resources. See if your school has some kind of AV club, or even who has a simple camcorder. Forget all the big budget gizmos and toys for now. Focus, instead, simply on telling a story through images and edits and framing. For that you don't necessarily need a dolly or the like. Hell, when I did one of my first "films," I had a VHS Cam-corder and 2 buds and some BDUs from an Army Surplus store. We filmed and did an in-camera edit, for a Highschool, I think, project, and then later on figured out we could plug in a keyboard to a VCR and "dub over" music... live!
From working with nothing, learn how to solve problems you run into, and if you have specific ones we can all help here, of course.

$300 isn't really anything. You'll spend that much just feeding people on sets... and getting coffee and bottles of water after a day or so. I would spend to the time you do have now, saving up money, reworking the script as needed, looking for people who are willing and able to help out in future (crew/cast/locations) and wait until you're honestly ready to shoot the film to shoot it. Don't rush into things, you've plenty of time.
Till then, read up on books and watch films. Deconstruct how they are shot. How the wide shots go into the close ups and the inserts (google and wikipedia and ask here questions you have). Then try to look at lighting and composition not just in films, but in still photographs and paintings. I also recommend looking at light in any environment, when you see something interesting, lighting wise. Look at it. Figure out what it is that makes it look that way, and save it for later.

As for making a living in the industry. Sure, you can. It isn't easy, and not everyone who tries makes it. But I can guarantee you that if you don't try you won't make it. Also, always learn from whatever mistakes happen. We all make them; more often than I think we'd like to admit.

If there's anything I can do for you, too, don't hesitate to ask! This is quite the helpful forum, so welcome! Hope over to this thread: http://www.cinematog...showtopic=52264 and get reading ;)... Also, I'd like to add the book "Shot By Shot." by, Katz, I think. Good book, quite useful.
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#4 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 07 August 2011 - 02:59 PM

Breaking down a film into shots can seem daunting but just tackle it in small chunks and you'll get through it. It's an act of imagination first, just like the writing, you can have to try and see the movie in your head in terms of shots, cutting rhythm, pacing, mood, etc. It doesn't have to be nailed down to the tiniest degree, you just need to know the broad strokes.

Whenever I'm stuck as to how to cover a scene, I try to see it as either a subjective or an objective experience -- i.e. am I in the head of the main character and are details revealed as the main character sees them, or am I observing the character, documenting his actions, his behavior, etc.?

Obviously most filmmaking is a mix of the two approaches, but it's a good starting point. You can first mentally try the subjective approach, ala Hitchcock -- shoot the character's face, and shoot his POV, and intercut the two -- POV and reaction, over and over again. That's one approach.

Another approach, more objective, would sort of Kubrickian -- create and establish a space and let the character move around it, observed at some remove emotionally by the camera.

Whatever approach you take should be justified dramatically by the themes of the script and the emotional and narrative needs of the scene.

You may be better off just shooting one short scene from the script, just for the practice. You can fake a hotel room in a number of bedrooms. It's just for practice anyway.
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#5 Matthew W. Phillips

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Posted 07 August 2011 - 03:27 PM

Breaking down a film into shots can seem daunting but just tackle it in small chunks and you'll get through it. It's an act of imagination first, just like the writing, you can have to try and see the movie in your head in terms of shots, cutting rhythm, pacing, mood, etc.


David, not trying to thread jack but since you mentioned it, I wanted to ask...

In your experience, is it more common for the Director to make the shot list or the DP, or a combination of the two?
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#6 Gage Eggleston

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Posted 07 August 2011 - 03:36 PM

Thanks for the fantastic replies, guys. Now that I think about it, my priorities were a little out of order so now I know how to get the basics down.

Once again, thanks guys.
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#7 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 07 August 2011 - 03:55 PM

David, not trying to thread jack but since you mentioned it, I wanted to ask...

In your experience, is it more common for the Director to make the shot list or the DP, or a combination of the two?


It's really the director's responsibility but many will collaborate with the DP, sometimes even with the editor as well, and some storyboard artists can have a lot of input.

My preferred method is to meet with a director for a few hours every day and talk through every scene in the script, then I'll type up some notes, either as a partial shot list or just a reminder list of ideas, then give it to the director. But some directors prefer to work out the shot lists themselves, often the night before, and only share it at the last minute. Some don't even share the information, the list is just for themselves.

The main argument for creating shot lists before the shooting day is to warn other departments, so that they know in advance that the director needs a certain prop or piece of camera equipment. It doesn't do a director much good if he only decides the morning of the shoot that he needs a crane and one isn't in the package, or that he needs a false window on some c-stands to fake a certain POV shot, etc.

But some directors feel that knowledge is power, so by holding all the info and only doling it out on a "as need" basis, they somehow have more control over people. Or they don't want to be judged against the shot list or storyboards in terms of what they did or didn't get accomplished that day.

I like shot lists for the simple reason that it's a quick way of seeing if the volume of work listed for the day is achievable or if the shot design has to be rethought in order to get the number of set-ups down, or parts of the scene have to be rescheduled to a lighter day. Shot lists allow an AD to rebalance a schedule to match the volume of work better because otherwise they only have the script descriptions, page count, and personal experience to make a guess as to how much time to allot to each scene.
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#8 M Joel W

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Posted 07 August 2011 - 04:20 PM

I don't have much else to say since I'm not qualified to advise would-be directors (I am a would-be director), but David's advice about placement of the audience, and particularly Hitchcock vs Kubrick (though I would say Kubrick is more "authorial" than simply objective--he offers a strong point of view on the action, his own) is super, super important and very insightful. Don't think of the camera as a camera, but instead think of the camera as the audience. How would you feel watching a scene from a foot away? Would you feel different if you were across the room? How do you want the audience to feel? Before even thinking of shot scale (which can be determined by focal length or camera placement, so don't just think about one or the other) or coverage, think of the audience's (and the filmmaker's) ongoing relationship to the subject matter. A close wide angle shaky cam can feel very exciting, like you're right there in the action--maybe good for a war movie or something. A distanced telephoto shot could make the same subject matter feel more tragic, appropriate for a different war movie. A push-in can bring you closer to a character's psychology, increasing your sympathy for them or signifying a realization. Who gets the POV shots? Are there zooms? If so, are they motivated by a character focusing in on something (Raimi-esque) or the director indicating that you should look at it (more Kubrickian?)? How much does the audience know relative to each character? How does that make us feel about each character and thus change our experience of the story?

Everything--sound, shot scale, camera placement, camera movement, range of narration (what we know relative to different characters), "look," etc. guides our experience and is primarily predicated on how much knowledge and emotion we share with our characters. We could do a POV/CU cutting pattern and we would be very close to a character. That's an effective thing to do if you want to empathize with a protagonist. Or do you want to study the scene? Or something in between? How do you want to inform the audience's experiences--though blocking, shot choice, sound, camera movement? There's a ton of stuff to think about and to work with.

There's a story there. You can tell as much or as little of it as you want, you can have it be on screen or off screen, in back story or in real time, and you can tell it from any perspective (one character's, another character's, a broad objective perspective, the director's perspective, which might have a moral message or query)--you can modulate however you want between all these choices, most directors do. When most people start making movies, they shoot everything--they just want to get a record of the story on screen. The art of filmmaking is choosing what to show, what to hide, what to imply, and from what perspectives and subjectivities to do so, which then dictate formal stylization.

To start, you would do well to get everything on screen in the first place. Write a script, write down the story beats that you need to show to make the story clear, make some storyboards, and shoot. Just get some practice. And watch movies (this is step two for me as I work toward directing more shorts--more watching and learning) and see how it's done. The processes will inform one another. Also check out this book:

http://www.amazon.co...o/dp/0960371818

The Bordwell/Thompson intro to film books are good academic texts, worth checking out, too. There are some okay cinematography and directing texts, but those subjects are so broad it's hard to write about them, imo.

Most people don't direct a film, if at all, until they're in their 30s. So you have time to practice. There are jobs in the industry other than director, so you can work your way up, or do something else and save up for film school. Just keep watching, making, and thinking about movies.

I should follow my own advice...

Edited by M Joel Wauhkonen, 07 August 2011 - 04:25 PM.

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#9 Gage Eggleston

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Posted 08 August 2011 - 06:09 PM

Excellent and helpful reply, Joel. Put a whole lot of things in my head I hadn't considered before. Sometimes I don't really appreciate the thought that goes into each shot and angle. :P
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