Scary Short Film Fest, Presented by Wes Craven – Film in 30 Seconds

March 3rd, 2014

We decided to make a last minute entry into http://www.studio360.org/crowdsourcing/extra-credit-scary-short-film-fest/results/ which is the Scary Short Film Fest (presented by Wes Craven, famous for movies such as Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream) – after reading this and finding out that we had one afternoon to put it together, we decided to take up this challenge. While a lot of entrants looked at the haunting backdrop of music with an ambient edge of fear to it, and cryptic notes in blood, we decided to take the more comedic angle of horror (after all, Scream was more comedy if anything)!

Its got an element of humor, horror, stereotypes, references, odes and homages to, double entendres, you name it. And its black and white, 30 seconds and all done today from 5pm. Couple hours later, the audio was synced, the clips cut and the short film entered into the contest. And here it is….. “Math 101 – The 30 Second Tutorial“.

Not bad for a quick 30 second film. Though I do have an earful of chocolate syrup / blood. I guess that’s what you have to go through in order to make a short film in less than a day. On the next day, write a screenplay – here’s how to do that in a day!

The Scorsese Rule, screenwriting version!

February 23rd, 2014

If you’re looking to write a script or make a low budget film – there are several rules you have to follow. It’s a bit of a shame when considering film as an art form overall. Why should one follow certain rules as a result when expressing creative freedom?  Well if you’re looking to make money and sell the script, you’re doing it for someone other than yourself. Its work. Its someone else’s rules.

Let’s look at it from a screen-writing side first.

1) Length. If you have this amazing idea and it’s a 3 hour epic of 180 pages (assuming the rough page to minute 1:1 ratio that people use), it could be the most profound thing ever. However, if you are not a big name that’s established in the industry or related to one, it will never get looked it. Too much of a risk, too intimidating for those readers perhaps.

martin-scorsese-1

2) Direction. Unless you plan on being the director too and funding the thing (in which case, why are you even reading this, were looking at you Mr. Scorsese) don’t be too keen on writing about how it should be shot unless it is 100% vital to that scene overall. Describe the background short and sweet and to the point. Be sparse with close-ups at best.

3) Dialogue. Yep, no long speeches here except maybe near the end. Make every bit of dialogue count. You know those moments where a random scene pops up in your head and the dialogue sounds great and you can’t wait to write that down for your new script? Well good luck finding a place for it to fit. Maybe spare it for another idea? Sure. Most of the time you won’t ever use it.

taxi-drive-directed-by-scorsese-but-not-written-though

4) Character hooks

They need hooks. They need a style of dialogue, a style of movement and a quick but unique way of visualizing them. Sure, your goal is to let the actor/actress run with this, but it’s up to you to establish that. If you can switch out names in your script and no one notices, you’ve done that big mistake where all your characters seem a blur.

And…. How are your characters different? Whether positive or negative. Why did we just spend the last two hours watching them? Yes many movies now have that open ending which screams “sequel”. This is painful for one. Also this is for big budget films often based on things like comic books or previous hits. But you will need to set an level of connection from start to finish with each character. Known often as “character arc“.

three-act

5) The Three Act Structure.Yes that’s the image above, courtesy of rule in screenwriting for rookies. And veterans. Even Scorsese, sometimes – though unlike you, he can do this.

And what’s the climax?  Good vs. Bad, sounds so cliché, but that’s how it goes. What’s the incident that gets things going early on? Raise the conflict within the first few pages. Not the story about it, not the background fluff, what is this truly about?

5b) More importantly. Page 1.Yes, I’m going to end with the start. Page one has to have a hook. Yep, right away. Capture the reader on page one. You hear about how people decide within 10 pages? That was likely written 10 years ago. 1. Page 1. Get straight to key dialogue and scenes that tell the story. Yes, it’s not ideal, yes its why there’s a trend of movies that flow like that; and yes you might not want to do this -well after you make it big, you can do whatever you want.  Or just write it out anyway.  Cause you’re in it truly for yourself, right?  If so, then you truly are an artist.

As for Scorsese, not sure why the pun was intended.  Some of his movies are my all time favorites. Some not so much. But it seemed fitting to call some of these elements the Scorsese rule. Cause he can do 3 hour movies if he wants. I certainly can’t.  Directing version (which perhaps is more fitting) to come soon.

Movie Critics and Audience Viewers Never Think Alike

January 28th, 2014

Is it just me, or has the gap between critics and regular viewers become wider than usual? Movies that critics love, viewers find disappointing. Current examples include Wolf of Wall Street, Her, 12 Years a Slave. All of these were loved by Critics and given 5 stars very frequently. But by the public… mediocre, ripped into by many, deemed overrated. The exact opposite is true for the likes of Lone Survivor (which viewers particularly loved) and Ride Along, yes the one with Kevin Hart and Ice Cube.

The latter is what tends to make money (Grown Ups 2 being an example you often hear, critics hated it, yet it banked $120+ million). Perhaps Hollywood has the average human mentality and preferences understood as a money making blueprint after all. They like silly comedies that let them forget their days otherwise and the theme of underdogs overcoming in conflict, particularly war movies in the US (less so in other markets).

I looked around the web for a bit, to see if it was a “is it just me” moment. As usual with the web, those moments are quickly crushed. There are some interesting comments and analysis of this so called gap, one that was worth a read was this one on the NY Times – not just as a post itself, but the user comments (which perhaps is a biased audience and publication in itself, but that’s another post).

Some of general consensus included a bit of bias for both sides such as:

- Reason for the discrepancy is that the public writes reviews for movies they LIKE more often than for ones they don’t. (hmmm…. totally not true, public love to complain actually)

- Most moviegoers watch a film to enjoy it for what it is, and don’t necessarily mind formula or cliche dialogue. These films are comfortable escapes. (yes, that I agree with)

or

- Just because the masses seek easy and cheap movies to wash away their daily routine does not make them better movies (similar to above, and often mentioned in this way).

- It’s basically an intelligence gap! (ouch, as if you never found a bad song/movie/restaurant/bar/person/etc to be good)

- Imagine that Michelin food critics were required to rate all restaurants, including fast food chains, airport concessions, etc. (ha, amusing analogy), which went well with…

- Just because McDonald’s is convenient and easy and cheap it doesn’t make it a good meal (um, but movies aren’t cheap these days).

- The conversation should be less about the difference between expert-popular taste, and more about why the people no longer value expert opinion (not quite, there may have been a gap all along, they just openly disagree in places you can see nowadays such as online)

Look further back and you find another open debate at Screenrant - which kicks off with:

- “Opinions are like armpits – everyone has them and some of them stink,” so the old adage goes. This phrase rings doubly true when it comes to movie critics and their reviews of films.

There’s more analysis of the top flicks that experienced this large disparity (both ways) at The Guardian and I’m sure there’s often many articles and discussions about this, the more I look, the more I ask people, etc.

Perhaps this post is guilty of catering to users (viewer equivalent on the web) rather than experts. I’ve covered the point, the topic at end, cited examples and trends instead of digging too deeply into my own thoughts and put some one-liners that sound all too familiar in context. Hmmmm, I feel like I’ve got the movie formula down pat now.

In the end, see what you want to see. I used to get annoyed when people went to see movies that I thought were pointless (e.g.: most sequels and remakes, rehashed romcoms, overdone war movies, etc). But these days I get it. Movies are entertainment. Paraphrasing what a friend of mine says about indie film making in general – sure, you want it to be an art, but if you also want people to like it and you want to make a living out of it, you have already compromised.

Let us know what you think. Does it even matter what viewers or critics say, and why its often the opposite of one another?

Top 10 Football Movies

January 20th, 2014

Ahhh, Superbowl hype week, where one has to wait two weeks for the big game, and the first week is just a load of trash talking (Richard Sherman had a head start and got on it right at the end of the game yesterday) and commercial build up. So why not spend the days leading up to football big game by watching movies. Here are ten of the best football movies, in no special order, though number 1 in my book is……

1) Any Given Sunday: 1999: Still my favorite football movie to this date. Yes, its a bit overdone at times. But its got a real edge to it too, whilst Lawrence Taylor’s acting done quite well (though disturbingly real in his “life after football” speech).

2) Remember the Titans: 2000: I didn’t really like this the first time I saw it, as it felt like a Hollywood blockbuster about team camaraderie during times of separation – where winning takes it all in the end. Then you realize there’s nothing wrong with that.

3) Big Fan: 2009: Film about an obsessed NY Giants fan in Staten Island who has no life otherwise, calls sports radio repeatedly at night (hey, I heard it got another caller a job doing shows there), finds he favorite player and finally meets him, but not in the ideal way. Not that this list is in any order, but perhaps being a NY Giants fan helps.

4) The Program
: 1993: As you may have seen from the DRE blog, 90′s movies are a weak-spot for me. As a kid I had more time to watch movies and tend to remember them for more that what they are.

Of course now-a-days, you can just find them online (full length movie below!). This one has that “Straight off a tape” authenticity. Despite that, it does touch base ahead of its time on topics such as NCAA bribery.

5) North Dalls Forty: 1979: You think some of this life that some of the NFL players lead now is new? Here’s a movie that depicted this in the 70′s, starring Nick Nolte.

6) Rudy: 1993: Ru-dee, ru-dee. Based on a true story and while not a big box office winner, it still gets plenty of showing on cable TV to this date.

7) The Waterboy: 1998 – Great football comedy. Its an absolutely stupid movie, but that’s the point. Take it for what its worth, its an Adam Sandler movie. But I found this to be one of his more amusing ones – couldn’t name one since though!

8) Friday Night Lights: 2004: Bonus points for director Pete Berg who last month stated there will not be a sequel to the original movie that spun into a TV miniseries. I have never actually seen the series that happened after, but this list is about movies.

9) Necessary Roughness: 1991: not the recent TV show but the 1991 movie with a 30 year old rookie called in on an otherwise mediocre team, the story line won’t surprise you. But its got a lot of familiar actors in it even some I forgot were in this. It’s a dumb comedy of old and see the reference made earlier regarding the 90′s.

10) League of Denial: 2013: Time to get serious though. The game hits hard. The fans love it but the players get the worst of it in many cases. Even the big names are not immune. This documentary reminds us that the biggest story about the sport is the sport itself.

It may even change how some people view football. It didn’t in my case, as I think its not exactly a new discovery on how such hits can cause harm….but it did slightly change how I view the NFL and how it put business first and players last.

Any one we missed out on, let us know and we’ll try and check it out at least. Knute Rockne: All American? Never seen it. Blindside, Jerry Maguire, yeah we know those, but it wasn’t top 10. Brian’s Song, well that one is technically a made-for-TV movie, but will have to check that out sometime soon regardless. Have a great Superbowl wherever you may be watching it from.

So You Want to Make Movies (Part 1)

January 13th, 2014

A couple of years ago I had a mid-life crisis. I was feeling a lack of meaning and that I had a lot more to contribute to life than what I was giving. I always knew that hidden underneath the layers of bitterness from working jobs I hated and the beer gut I put on over the years that I have a voice that is unique, powerful and needs to be heard. I decided that I wanted to pursue the one true passion I have in life and produce movies.

No, you probably never heard of me. Hell, even some of my closest friends have never heard of me. Even after reading this article, you probably will still be unaware of my existence. But the fact is that I got together with people who wanted the same thing: we wanted to make movies. And so we did. No, you won’t see our shorts as nominees at the Oscars. Yes, we made some mistakes and need to improve. But our movies are out there, forever. This all happened simply because we wanted to make movies and we made it happen. That simple.

First let me say this: do not waste your time and money going to film school. Why should you get into colossal debt so you can hear Professor Hoity-Toity Thompson give you 1,001 reasons why Citizen Kane is the greatest movie of all time because the NY Times critics or whoever film farts says so? If you want theory, go to the library and take out theory books or look up theory stuff on the internet. Better yet, form your own theories merely by watching all kinds of movies. Unless the courses are teaching technical skills such as camera operations or sound recording, save time and money and find a way to get onto a set and learn from the pros.

Film Set

For years I had let myself become intimidated by the stigma that comes with starting a film career: not finding work because I don’t have a film degree, finding work but it’s not steady, finding work but not getting paid for it or getting paid very little, struggling to make a living, arrogant film people squashing your pipe dreams of becoming the next great director. These thoughts must be controlled or overcome in order to achieve your goals. Whether you have the stomach to take on these challenges will tell you whether you have the desire to last in this business. I find that it’s best not to think, just do!

Once you decide to jump in, unless you have skills with a camera, lighting or sound recording; you will most likely have to get started as a production assistant. While it may not be the most glamorous work, it can be an opportunity to get experience and network with people for future work. It all depends on how you approach it. Chances are you will not get paid for your first few PA jobs. That is the unfortunate reality. Try to look at it as an investment for potential paying work in the future. If you stay the course, those paying jobs will come.

How do you go about getting on a set? Stay tuned…

New York City Film Festivals

December 18th, 2013

I was asked what some of the key film festivals in New York were. My first thought was that there are now quite a lot. Then I did some research. Couldn’t really find a good list, so I started to compile one. Learned that there are way too many. So here we go, with dates if available and links as I find them.

Astoria Long Island City International Film Festival
Athena Film Festival February 6-9, 2014
BAMcinematek Presents: Migrating Forms Film Festival December 11-17, 2013
Brooklyn Film Festival – May 30-June 8, 2014
Brooklyn Girl Film Festival
Brooklyn Short Film Festival – June 12-13 2014
CineKink NYC: The Kinky Film Festival February 25-March 1, 2014
City University Film Festival
Crown Heights Film Festival
Film Comment Selects February 17-27, 2014
Fusion Film Festival March 5-8, 2014

Gotham Screen Film Festival & Screenplay Contest

International Film Festival Manhattan
Manhattan Film Festival
Manhattan International Film Festival February 28-March 2, 2014
Native American Film and Video Festival
New Directors/New Films March 19-30, 2014
New Filmmakers New York

New York African Diaspora International Film Festival

New York Asian Film Festival
New York City International Film Festival
New York Film Festival
New York Indian Film Festival
New York International Children’s Film Festival March 7-30, 2014
New York Jewish Film Festival January 9-24, 2014
New York Polish Film Festival
New York WILD Film Festival January 24-25, 2014
NY Disabilities Film Festival March 6-11, 2014
NYC Downtown Short Film Festival
NYC Independent Film Festival – Oct 2014
NYC PictureStart Film Festival
Queens World Film Festival March 4-9, 2014
Rooftop Films
SOHO International Film Festival NYC
the Art of Brooklyn Film Festival
Tribeca Film Festival – April 16-27 2014
Tropfest 2014
Williamsburg International Film Festival
Winter Film Awards February 27-March 1, 2014
Zero Film Festival

Thats a lot of festivals for films. Let us know if we missed anything, and we’ll try to build a list so that they’re all in one place, you know, in case someone is looking on line for the same info I was?!

Carrboro Film Festival 2013 Recap

November 29th, 2013

The 8th Annual Carrboro Film Festival

It was truly an honor to have our first short ‘Alphabet Soup’ be selected at this year’s Carrboro Film Festival (the 8th annual film festival at Carrboro). Kudos to Nic Beery and his staff for expanding to two days and two venues. It was a great event for the community and a wonderful gathering of North Carolina filmmakers and enthusiasts.

Here’s what I took away from it and some favorites:

SHORTS ARE THE FUTURE OF FILM/VIDEO: There’s more to it than the fact that there is an ADHD epidemic. Short movies allow for more experimentation and creativity. Features have appeal because that is what we all grew to accept what ‘real’ movies are. You don’t see Tom Cruise in a little 10 minute short! But who can afford to see a Tom Cruise movie these days anyway? As prices go up at the box office and content continues to decline, shorts will continue to get more attention from the average moviegoer.

Here are my five favorite shorts from the festival:

THE CRANE WIFE by Daria Dorafshar (animation) – After saving a wounded crane and nursing it back to health, a poor man is visited by a beautiful woman with a talent for weaving. Based on a Japanese folk tale.
https://vimeo.com/42100012

THE POSSUM DROP (documentary) by Mindy Keeley – The New Year’s Eve traditions of a town in the Blue Ridge Mountains are being threatened by PETA who feel that lowering a possum in a box is inhumane. Hilarious!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H0ISVP8LjA4

HELPLESS (narrative) by Christene Hurley and Evan Scott Russell – Leah confesses her true feelings for Chayse in the school library while unknown malice lurks in the hallways. Chilling and powerful.
https://vimeo.com/74379060

LUMINARIS (narrative) by Juan Pablo Zaramella – In a world controlled and timed by light, an ordinary man has a plan that could change the natural order of things. From Argentina.
https://vimeo.com/24051768

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KEN LOVE (stop motion) by Catherine Chao – A lonely doll travels around NYC looking for love and finds it but now must carry a deep, dark secret. (Sorry, couldn’t find this online, so if anyone knows where it is, please let us know.)

Hopefully this will be the first of many film festivals we will be a part of!

Top 10 Movie Filming Locations in New York City For Those With Low Budgets

October 31st, 2013

Sure there are loads of articles that talk about top locations to film in NYC, and the five boroughs are filled with great locations depicted in many a classic movie. However, as nice as filming in Harlem, East Village or Tribeca can be (as per many a movie listed on articles such as http://www.nyfa.edu/students/resources/filmmaking-in-new-york.php), its not ideal from a DIY perspective. In fact filming in most parts of Manhattan is getting tougher by the day.

So here are 10 great scenic locations for filming in New York, for those that might not have a big budget and can’t afford to close off Times Square on a Thursday night or seal off Avenue B at 2am without wondering about who will stray onto the set.


Our DIY semi-guerilla Top 10 NYC film locations, in no special order.

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1) Maspeth – Other than the Diner scene in Goodfellas, Maspeth isn’t exactly a top location for many, in fact one thing that is great about it is most people have no idea where it even is.

But in a midst of warehouses and cemeteries, perched atop a hill that gets great views of the city and some highways, many city street scenes can be cut here. Especially if you’re looking at shooting something with a retro feel, the few buildings and homes in the warehouse area can sure take you back a few years if you make sure to avoid the cellphone towers. And best of all, rarely will pedestrians or cars interrupt your scene.

2) Red Hook - Even if you live in Brooklyn, Red Hook can be a tough place to get to. That’s the best part. Great city views, open streets and old fashioned buildings have made this part of town start to become more popular for filming.

Unfortunately the big hollywood companies have started to see this too, for example the upcoming “Winter’s Tale” starring Russell Crowe, Will Smith, Jennifer Connolly and Colin Farrell was shot here in late 2012, despite it being one of the worst hit neighborhoods by Sandy not too long prior. In fact Sandy was the theme of the recent 2013 Red Hook film festival – http://www.redhookfilmfest.com/html/festival.html

3) Outer parts of Astoria – Astoria used to be known as “that Queens neighborhood”, people heard of but no one went to. That seems to have changed drastically in recent years and setting up a quick shot in Astoria is a lot harder these days. Unless you hit the edges, such as the western parts near Vernon Boulevard or above the Grand Central Parkway where a few empty blocks still rein.

4) Northern Greenpoint – I guess you could say similar about Brooklyns equivalent in Greenpoint, the home of the dreadful G train that never used to even have a person on it. Greenpoint has a more warehouse and empty lot feel, particularly in the northern parts of the area. And on the western side, you can get a good Manhattan backdrop.

5) East Williamsburg (north of Bushwick) – One of the last standing of the old warehouse neighborhoods (along with the one above) still in some ways, though many an overly priced loft conversion has invaded the hood. Still, this area is not too crowded… yet and there are many locations where transitions to and from outdoor building scenes can be pulled off quite well.

Staten-Island-IMG-20110708-00066

6) Various parts of Staten Island – A modern day timewarp! Full of historic houses and hard to find locations, there are a lot of visual opportunities here. Of course some of the more popular locations include Snug Harbor, http://www.snug-harbor.org/event-rental-2/ – home to many big name films and tv shows and likely not at a cheap price.

7) Long Island City - This might be falling off the list soon, as they have piled on a ton of new high rise apartment buildings in the area, which is a shame. However, a lot of them are still empty or under construction and make a decent urban backdrop if you pick the right spot. Plus it has another good city backdrop and there are still a few empty roads around the area. Works well for subway track backgrounds too as the area by the 7 overland and Queens plaza undergoes a clean up, as well as some still unbuilt areas near Hunters Point and Skillman Ave.

8 and 9) Pelham Bay Park & Flushing Meadow park – Moving away from neighborhoods, here are a couple of parks that are easier to pull off than say Central Park.

One thing worth mentioning is that permits for filming in New York City parks used to be free until Bloomberg’s administration changed things in 2010. The permit now costs $300 and is on a per movie basis. Note that the city said it would waive the initial fee if a low-budget production could demonstrate “unreasonable hardship.”

The form does require you get insurance and send a copy of the scene/script/etc

Info about the 2010 change – http://www.crainsnewyork.com/article/20100427/FREE/100429865

Somewhat contradicting the 2007 change:
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/28/nyregion/28film.html

But to be specific – it means you do not require a permit so long as you just have a camera and a tripod. However, the minute you want to bring lighting or dolly tracks or any other such equipment to the street or the park, you definitely need a permit.

That said, a bit of daytime work with limited resource in Flushing Meadow, which is always surprisingly empty but scenic on a sunny day, and you’ll be able to pull it off. The bigger the operation, the bigger the risk though.

10) Morningside Heights - It was tough to include any Manhattan locations for this, and frankly even this one has blown up in recent years, such as noted in articles like http://northattan.com/2011/12/16/video-hottest-spot-for-film-scouts-the-union-theological-seminary/ from a couple years ago.

The article itself has an interesting quote too: noting someone in the NYC film department as saying “Only for parking privileges, or a light generator or light stands do you need a permit. Even a lot of students film without permits. We cater to everyone.” And indeed there are a lot of scenic old city spots to film here.

And of course, you have to use your judgement. If you have a lot to risk, a lot of cast and equipment, you may want to get it written up properly. But like with any interior location, it doesn’t hurt to ask. Some places are a bit stuck up and even somewhat extortionate about letting you do a low-budget or no budget flick on the cheap, but at the same time, many places will be ok with it too.

Let us know how it goes. We’ll keep you posted on the same.

Halloween Movies That The Kids Like

October 31st, 2013

trick-or-treat-Halloween-candy

Double header of posts today, and about time too. Anyway, whilst on this Halloween evening I had to help someone out with trick or treat visitors. So I figured I’d make this of some interest too. If the kids wanted candy, they had to answer my survey style question. The question was, what is your favorite Halloween movie? Everyone got candy, don’t worry, the question was for research purposes!

The kids ranged from 5 to 15 for the most part, but it was the more 10 and older bunch who had quick answers – in many cases just blurting them out with a “ok ok, now gimme the candy” style follow up. From this study I learned that if I timewarped and asked kids 10 years ago, or asked myself and perhaps my school class back in my own childhood, not much has changed.

There are no new halloween movies that have revolutionised things for this audience, which was a bit of a disappointment. Here are the responses I got today.

- Nightmare on Elm Street
- Friday the 13th (referred to often as the Jason movie or “Freddy vs Jason” in particular)
- Scream (and its sequels, quote “all of them”)
- Halloween (but no one knew which one, though some kids blurted out “the original”)
- Chucky (which I assume is “bride of chucky” or the “Childs play” series)

Certainly no “kids movies”, no Potter, no Monsters Inc, etc. It was a lot like the list at Box Office Mojo, which I guess makes sense in some way, also since in some cases the elder sibling or parent had a influential vote too – http://www.boxofficemojo.com/genres/chart/?id=slasher.htm but it got repetitive after a while. Still it was interesting to see what they all liked. And when I asked why? Not because they were scary. It was generally followed by “Come on, just give me candy”! Scary stuff indeed!

Carrboro Film Festival 2013 – Official Selection

October 23rd, 2013

Great bit of news from the Carrboro Film Festival 2013, as one of our short films was an official selection.

Carrboro Film Festival 2013

Looking forward to seeing the line up and being at the festival on November 24th and 25th. Starting to get more involved on the NYC side of things too, and while we were too late to submit anything, did check out a friends film the other day, as well as a few other shorts at the Crown Heights Film Festival.

So hopefully we’ll get more involved on that side too in the near future, but from the NC State side, we’ve got our own film selected there – one that in fact was filmed in Carrboro earlier this year. More info to come soon, exact schedules not announced yet but should be a good weekend anyway.