Documentary and Animated Film: Making Documentary

David K. Irving believes that documentary is an exciting form of filmmaking. One of the most exciting things about documentary is that it’s about the truth, and he thinks that’s important. The truth can be very scary. Getting personal and close to the truth is a very rewarding experience for any filmmaker, in David’s view. The major difference between documentary film and narrative film is that documentary films are usually built during post-production. You do a series of interviews. You come up with a script. You find all the images that you want. But ultimately, it’s based on what images, stories, and interviews you do have in the editing room. David thinks that the documentary often takes shape in the post-production phase. He says this is very different from a narrative film. Much preproduction can be done in terms of identifying what the shape of the film will be the better. In post-production, it’s a question of realizing that vision. Documentaries are very exciting because they all happen in the moment. David personally feels there are many different kinds of documentaries. “Cinéma verité, for instance, is a wonderful form of documentary,” says David. He thinks Ken Burns did a terrific job covering the Civil War and baseball to introduce this kind of documentary into the mainstream in American cinema. He thinks it’s become a very popular format for people to enjoy films. And for David, the major point of documentary film is the same as narrative film. Both types of film have to tell a story. He’s seen many documentaries that were just a series of interviews and images where there was no edification. There was no climax. The better documentaries are the ones where when you finished watching it, it feels like it’s the end of the story. [Please embed:]

Alternative Distribution and the Future of Film & Television: Digital Media Analytics

KIMBERLY ALEAH: As a content creator, data is one of the most powerful tools that you have at your disposal. Ultimately, when you make something, you want to make sure that you’re getting it out in front of as many different eyes as possible. What I do when making a piece of content from a creative standpoint, is always start with the fact that we need a hook. We need something that’s going to add something different to the larger cultural conversation. This is because when you’re on the internet, there’s unfortunately a lot of other stuff to compete with. Once I have that hook that we’ve used from pre production, production, editing, all the way through the development process, we have to figure out where we’re going to put it. This is when data comes into play, because data allows you to profile your audiences. That can look like a number of things. For one, you want to find out when people are consuming content. Are people consuming content on Monday, Wednesdays, and Fridays at noon? Are people consuming content on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 6:00 PM? Another thing you want to ask yourself is – what is my target audience? Am I going for school age children? In which case, maybe I want to publish stuff before the school day starts at 8:00 or after the school day is over at 3:00? Is my audience younger professionals? In that case I might want to wait until they get off from work. Is my audience more based in New York than LA? What does that day look like for them? Just asking all the different questions about who an audience is, what type of content they want to consume, when they want to consume it, and then lastly, on what device, is important to effectively reaching them. Are they consuming content on a smartphone? Are they consuming the content on a desktop computer? Across different age demographics, you’ll find that for the 13 to 18 window, a lot of that is vertical video. When you’re a creator, it might incline you to consider shaping your piece so that it plays a little bit more aesthetically for a phone. It’s just thinking about all the different questions of who the audience is, what time they consume their content, where they are consuming their content, and lastly the ideal duration. Duration is one of the most powerful aspects of data because it lets you know that not only is an audience engaging with content, but they’re sticking with it. They’re watching for more than three to five minutes. They’re watching the full 12 to 15 minutes. This is where you find your strongest audiences, because you’ve made something that they find interesting. If you’re already starting with something on your phone, and you’re doing it with a group of diverse individuals, and throwing it into this larger ecosystem, it’s not only going to inspire other people to share your work, but it’s also going to inspire you to create new things that you didn’t think of originally. And so for me, I love smartphones, which are very on brand for millennials. It really is one of those things that you have as a tool in your pocket to tell stories instantaneously. When we talk about these larger social movements that are happening, there’s a reason that a lot of the stimulus, a lot of the incidents that start those movements were recorded on phones. They’re so much more accessible. They just let everyone have an immediate voice that doesn’t have to be mitigated by a traditional development room, a traditional studio process. A lot of the bureaucracy gets skipped, and a lot of the content making gets put first.

Alternative Distribution and the Future of Film & Television: Theaters: Our Once and Future Temples

What does the future of cinema hold? I have often been beaten up over the last 10 years. Therefore, I’ll be very shy to say what I ought to say. You know my guess. I can tell you what I hope it will be, because we’re witnessing a television take over, streaming services take over the theater business unless you’re a big tent-pole movie. We need to think about what we want for the theater industry in the future. The streaming television industry is booming because they produce great and digestible content, a user-friendly format, great funding, and plenty of resources. These factors negatively impact the film and television industry, which makes it difficult for traditional theaters to sustain their industry in the future. I believe in the theater. I believe in human nature working as a society. However, we must employ the mentality of a ritualistic temple to maintain human nature in society. I refer to it as a temple because many of us don’t attend a physical church or a temple anymore. We need to go to the movie theater. I’m not hallucinating. We, as a group, go to a place, preferably a dark house. We’ll speak freely, a heart-to-heart communication so that we enter an abstract world, forgetting reality. But you get down to the truth. I think that’s something. When you walk out, life is different. You are inspired. It’s more than entertainment—it’s spiritual as well. I don’t see how you can get the same effect sitting at home watching television, going to the bathroom, and resume watching. It’s different. I think of the ritualistic event presented in a black box, where you’re sitting as a group, as a congregation. I think from day one in the cave; the cavemen spoke of how to hunt lions over a campfire. People become absorbed into storytelling and togetherness. I still believe in the theater. However, I think it needs an upgrade. It’s hard to compete with television. If you want people to schlep into a big place, but have safety issues, then at some point it will cease to be. I don’t know how much theater can survive. Everybody’s going through a difficult time. My thoughts are immersive, so we can experience with a group of people. You’re inside a movie instead of watching it from outside. The movie has its own language, 2D film, whatever, but it’s something bigger than life, with fine quality. Like when I was young, and I’d see a Hollywood make a movie. No matter what they do, we go see it. You have a choice in this. Those days are probably harder to get back. It’ll be taken away by television, and unfortunately, sometimes iPhones. But in theater, you must make something good, very special. And some of them will be immersive.

Cinematic History: An Art, a Technology, Culture: Capturing Movement

“When talking about film history, you have to begin to think about what cinema is at its core. Cinema or motion pictures is an image that moves,” Alrick Brown explains.” “As soon as man could see, he started interpreting stories, looking at the stars, differentiating shapes of objects, naming constellations. As soon as a kid could, they probably were drawing images with sticks and dirt.” Early cave dwellers used image paintings in caves to communicate. Later, the Egyptians used hieroglyphics to tell their stories and preserve histories. Those symbols and images were a prelude to film’s beginnings. Over a century ago, the Lumiere brothers and Thomas Edison’s company, experimented and found ways to make images move, creating motion pictures. Gomez-Rejon’s film tells how film history and Edison, others are joined by history “I made a film recently called The Current War: The Director’s Cut. I wanted to show how filmmaking and electricity were invented at the same time,” comments Alfonso Gomez-Rejon. It started in the 1870s with beautiful studies in film motion by Eadweard Muybridge. They were done, I think, with twelve cameras. That evolved into William Dixon and Edison working together on the kinetograph and kinetoscope. Next came, the Black Maria, Edison’s film production, considered to be the first film company. Remember, at this time in history film was still a novelty. But then we see it progress. The Lumiere brothers (Auguste and Louis Lumière) have the first kind of commercial film screening. Georges Méliès starts doing narrative storytelling, but it’s still very theatrical with a fixed camera. “Everything evolves again with Edwin S. Porter’s, The Great Train Robbery. This film, with its illusion of uninterrupted time caused by innovative (for the time) camera cuts and pans, is like the beginning of modern film language, or film vocabulary,” states Gomez-Rejon. It’s fascinating to see their work and how it’s been interpreted by film industry types throughout the ages. Certainly, these films spoke to me. ###

Cinematic History: An Art, a Technology, Culture: Fundamental History of Film

[Please embed:] “Fundamentals” means understanding the basics. For filmmakers, that means understanding where film has come from. Film is only a little more than 100 years old, but it includes literature, photography, drama, theater, dance, and music, all rolled into one art form. It’s a very powerful tool. If you want to be successful in this field, it’s important to know what’s come before. When you stand on the shoulders of those giants, you yourself can become a giant in the field. Knowing the history of film will teach you what works and what doesn’t work, and that will make you a better filmmaker. For instance, if you want to pitch a story, you might reference a film. Sometimes, these references can help you communicate an idea to somebody else. Sometimes it’s hard because you don’t want to sound derivative, because hopefully you’re moving the medium by doing some original work or interpreting. It depends on what kind of filmmaker you are. Still, you can connect to previous films to develop your style. Someone who expresses themselves with a camera should learn from previous films, just like an author would want to know literature to see how other voices interpreted certain feelings. When you make these connections, you can find a kindred spirit in a ghost of the past. It’s sad that people in this industry don’t love history as much as they should, because we are artists. There’s always a struggle between art and commerce, but it is important to know everyone that came before. There’s always something beautiful to learn from film history. Consider the originators of the montage, colors in film, Avant Garde film, documentaries, and music. They’re all telling a story. By looking back, you can move forward and stay current. You’ll hear new voices, learn from them, and be humbled by them.

Cinematic History: An Art, a Technology, Culture: Groundbreaking Films

“Being a student of film since I was 12 or 13-years-old, I just loved films,” says Sam Pollard. “Learning film history was very inspirational and informative in the shaping of my career. I would say anyone who wants to understand the evolution of film history, should first look at two groundbreaking cinema filmmakers.” One early director’s contribution to filmmaking “First, is D.W. Griffith. Though politically I have issues with some of his films, specifically Birth of a Nation, Griffith revolutionized narrative storytelling.” Griffith, with his camera operator, Billy Bitzer, figured out that film was about more than having master shots. It was also about medium shots and using closeups to enhance a scene’s dramatic actions. It was about the interaction between characters. He also created cross-cutting, parallel editing. These techniques let filmgoers see story, characters and action occurring in one place, before cutting to a storyline happening in another time and place—parallel action. Eisenstein changed film editing forever Another seminal filmmaker in the evolution of film is the work of Russian filmmaker, Sergei Eisenstein. “Eisenstein’s film, Battleship Potemkin, specifically its Odessa Steps scene, was groundbreaking. It had revolutionary editing: from a political perspective, a social perspective, and from a cinematic editorial perspective,” Pollard remarks. “This film is a must watch for anybody who wants to understand film editing and filmmaking—to watch the Odessa Steps scene repeatedly. I still am inspired and informed by that sequence. “ Another filmmaker who was very revolutionary for being very experimental but also engaging was Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera. Dziga Vertov was Russian, like Eisenstein. If you have the opportunity to watch Man with a Movie Camera, you’ll see he takes you sort of behind the scenes, so you see him, the filmmaker, making a film. This was revolutionary not only back in the 1920s, but still today in 2020. Very important filmmakers: Eisenstein, Vertov, Griffith. Great American filmmakers after the silent era “When we got to the world of sound, where audio became important, some filmmakers really stood out. But first, before talking about these films, one of the other silent filmmakers who stands out, and whose films I just rewatched, is Charlie Chaplin,” says Pollard. “Chaplin’s sense of cinema, how he created emotion and character. It wasn’t with a lot of frills but just so dramatic and great. If you go back and watch Modern Times and City Lights, the guy was a revolutionary filmmaker. But again, when you got to the 1930s, after the silent era was over, you had filmmakers like Alfred Hitchcock, John Ford, and George Stevens. These American filmmakers. Influential filmmakers from around the world “Later, though by the time I got into the film industry, I understood that it wasn’t only American filmmakers who were important but there were European filmmakers, too,” says Pollard. Filmmakers like Ingmar Bergman, Robert Bresson, and Jean Cocteau. “There were also African filmmakers, like Ousmane Sembène from Senegal. Yasujirō Ozu and Akira Kurosawa from Japan. Satyajit Ray from India.” All of these international filmmakers were very revolutionary, with a real understanding of how to create personal, emotional cinema. ###

Developing the Screenplay: A Story’s Structure

In general, people tend to use a three-act structure when telling a story. A beginning, middle and end are used to tell the story accurately and in a compelling way. We’ll start by setting the premise and describing the “big thing” that happened to kick-off the story. We’ll also describe the big challenge that has occurred because of the big thing. Then we will move into the middle of the story where we will describe how we go about trying to solve the problem. Then finally, we’ll end with the conclusion and how we solved the problem. Perhaps we’ll include a cliff-hanger if a secondary problem occurred, but overall, the conclusion would wrap up the big thing and big challenge that was outlined in the introduction. The beginning is always the introduction to the world of the story and the obstacles. There are usually several different kinds of obstacles that balance each other out. There will be interpersonal obstacles, which are points of tension between people, and then environmental obstacles, like the geography of the story. It’s important for obstacles to be balanced. Too many interpersonal obstacles and your story will feel like a soap opera. And although many interpersonal obstacles allow the story to go on for years and years, and works for a soap opera, it is usually not a great strategy for a feature film. The middle will contain both stakes and obstacles, and how the character overcomes the various challenges that they are met with. Finally, the conclusion will typically be the final battle with the ultimate opponent. The battle that will determine whether the main character will get to the goal or not, whether they will live or die, whether they will get the girl. It’s important to note that your main character can only be as good as your ultimate opponent. Oftentimes, your opponent can be a broader issue like racism, sexism, or any other kind of ism. The key is that the opponent is really pressing down. These are the main pillars of putting together a feature film script.

Developing the Screenplay: Activity: Writing a Script for your Capstone Short Film Project

[Please embed:] For a capstone film project, the right scriptwriting software makes a big difference. For example, you might use Scripto, which was created by screenwriter Rob Dubbin. Rob designed the software to keep things simple. “When I was at the Colbert Report, we were working our tails off trying to collaborate with each other,” Rob explains. “You would write scripts in the morning, and you’d expect to be done by the time Stephen rehearsed the show in the early afternoon. That’s a really tight schedule, and it’s a challenge to keep information in sync between departments.”  Rob created Scripto “to be like Google Docs for TV shows.” Writers can work together on scripts, store them on a shared folder system, and plan a show. Plus, producers can know right away if a prop has been added or cut. They can learn about major changes immediately. With large organizations like the Colbert Report, this kind of communication helps. “It takes up to 200 people to make a show,” Rob points out. “The tighter the communication, the better the show is. More people like working there because you don’t have to sit over someone’s shoulder to type.” So, why didn’t Rob and his team just use Google Docs? “In television, the format of the scripts is so important,” he explains. “Being able to collaborate on this very specialized form of document is essential. It creates one shared nervous system for the entire television show to work with.” Scripto doesn’t just work for television writers. In fact, it uses two script formats. One, of course, is the studio format. This format works best for news reports and late night shows. The other, however, is the screenplay format. “You would use this format if you were writing a short film, long film, comedy, or drama,” explains Rob. Film students could use this format to simplify their capstone projects.

Developing the Screenplay: Characters

When anyone makes a film, it’s because they have something that they want to say. But as a writer, as a director in the film industry, you have to make sure that you’re not spoon-feeding that message to the audience. If you do, it won’t land in the same way,” explains Kimberly Aleah. Digging deep-building realistic characters for authentic storytelling “So, for me, the thing that I do to make sure I’m not doing that—I start with real characters. I know everything about them. “ “I know where they grew up. I know if they were bad at math in elementary school, how that affects them in their modern life when they’re calculating tips at restaurants.” “I know where and what day of the week they get their hair done. I know if they quit their first job. I know what their grandmother got them for the last holiday,” says Aleah. You have to know so much, so many specifics about your characters. Because if you start with real characters, and you put them in real places and let them interact organically, you’ll always end up seeing some of those truths you originally wanted to convey. “You have to really know them intimately—that makes them real people. Once you have real people, you can put them in real environments. The conversations and events that happen between your characters in these environments are the conflict that drives your story.” Naturally, if there are things that you wanted to say, you’ve already embedded those different elements in the characters. They’ll naturally present those truths. Using research to make your characters’ world more believable “Another technique I use to ensure I’m keeping these characters grounded, and that the story sounds authentic is to do my research. For example, I have this film that is set at a university, it’s about hazing.” “What other films exist out there like this? What TV shows exist in that ecosystem? What’s been done? Which elements of these characters could be contributed to stereotype? How do I avoid that? “I think about this especially because when you’re presenting diverse narratives, and characters that historically in the American media landscape have been presented so two-dimensionally—I consider ways I can avoid stereotypes, or tropes. How can my script still present some of the conflicts that those characters are facing—problems, unfortunately, that a lot of people still can relate. I think about that push and pull. How to universally represent this experience, but also how to let a character exist as an individual. “A living, breathing person really comes from, you know, writing multiple versions of the script. I really find dialogue is an immensely powerful tool because when you’re writing multiple versions of the script, you begin to hear a character’s unique voice,” Aleah ends. ###

Developing the Screenplay: Improvising and the Script

During the early stages of a project, actors can improvise. If anything good comes out of the improvisation, that work may be put into the script, or simply kept in the notes for later. So when I’m doing a movie like The King of Staten Island, the writers– Dave Sirus, Pete Davidson, and I— work on the script. On that project, we spent a couple of years writing the script together. Then we had auditions. Pete read with an enormous number of the people. That was a way for him to play and improvise and figure out who his character was, and to hear a lot of interpretations of the other characters. We tried to cast the movie as early as possible, so that we could bring all the actors and actresses into our collaboration. We did early table reads and rehearsals. In the rehearsals, first, we would do the scene as written, then we would play and improvise. Based on that, we wrote our revisions. Then, we would do another rehearsal. So we kept feathering in stuff from these creative sessions into the script. When we get to the shoot, we have all of these ideas. We’ve rewritten the scene as best as we can, but we also have six or seven versions of it from improvisations. We’ve circled all the lines of dialogue we wanted to remember. Maybe there are several completely different versions of the scene we might want to play with. So, for me, when I get to the set to do a scene, I’m not just shooting the script, I’m also trying to create a loose situation where I can reintroduce some other ideas that we like. And then, at the very end, say to the actors, let’s just play. We just have to get from this idea to that idea. Let’s just feel it out and see if we can come up with something on the spot. Some days we don’t. Some days we like the script and believe what we have works. Other days, we realize that what we have doesn’t work at all. We go back to the notes to see what else did we did in rehearsal. What are the fresh ideas. And sometimes we get a computer out and we rewrite the scene on the spot.