How dabbling in movie making changed how I watch movies.

This post originally appeared on 8/22/2015 on my other blog.

I worked on an independent film once. I even got paid. Before that I’d volunteered on some productions and also been very involved in my college’s film club. I still miss the acting and writing–even the costume design–and think about ways to get back into it.

However, this post isn’t about that.

The summer between my Junior and Senior year I worked as a Script Supervisor on an indi production. (I even have a page on IMDB. It’s basically nothing but my name…but hey, it’s there.) Between that and some experiences writing and working on student films, I don’t watch movies the way other people do.

I’m the person hunched over a pile of papers

I learned a lot that summer. I can’t say I’m running to L.A. to be a script supervisor, but it was a good experience. There is usually one “scripty” per film–sometimes two if there is a second unit. The scripty is the right side of the director’s brain. I was responsible for keeping track of each and every shot the director wanted, and making sure he got each shot he wanted. I was responsible for recording the technical details for each shot (like, the lens, the zoom, the height of the camera, its distance from the object, etc) and also the time stamp of each take (we didn’t have a real digital clapper). I was also responsible for continuity photos (pictures taken of the set before and after a take). Was the glass half full, or three quarters full at that particular spot on the actor’s line?

Yeah. Mind boggling details. You have all caught mistakes in movies. Forgive the scripty, please.

The nice thing was that I was the only person who got to tell the director what to do. The bad thing was that there was only one of me so I had to be on set the entire time. I could only take a break if everyone was.

running through my camera logs

Let’s just say chocolate covered espresso beans were essential to my lucidity. Buckets of vitamins and supplements are probably the only reason I didn’t die of the plague halfway through production.

In the film club I wrote, directed, produced, and acted. (I like the writing and acting best). My senior year I also tried my hand at writing an adaptation (book to radio drama). My entire view of movie-making and the book-to-movie process changed.

-As an art, movie making is collaborative. One person can wear many hats, but most of the time you need a lot of people from just about every skill-set you can imagine; attorney, accountant, business manager, mastermind, artist, writer, carpenter, make up artist, talent scout, actor, camera man, lighting specialist, event planner, caterer…the list only goes on. Artists often dream of the silver screen, but I wonder how many business managers set out to navigate the massively risky and varied waters of movie production?

low budget teleprompter

Movies are stressful. There is a lot on the line, and there are a lot of artsy people trying to share a vision. This is why chains of command are wildly important.

Movies fail for thousands of reasons. Movies succeed for thousands of reasons. Most movies don’t pay for themselves and studios are kept afloat by the blockbusters than knock it out of the park.

Every film shoots a lot of scenes that will not make it into the movie. The extras on the DVD? Just a sampling. Most of them are cut for a good reason. Some are cut just for time constraints. You wouldn’t believe what we do for time constraints.

Timing is everything. The Wizard of Oz and The Princess Bride bombed in the box office. They became cult classics after they were released on home video. The TV show Firefly is another example of late blooming success.

Adaptations are freaking hard to do. When I watch a movie that came from a book, I judge it as a two hour summary of a 300 page book. I do not judge the movie by the book, nor the book by the movie. The only exception to this is The Princess Bride. Having seen the movie and read the book, I can say I love both for basically the same reasons.

Medium matters, pacing and suspense techniques that work in the book will necessarily look different when translated to a visual production.

Part of what makes adaptations so hard is the perspective of the book–IE, the first person limited knowledge of The Hunger Games posed an extreme challenge to the film makers. They probably could have made a better movie (or one that conveyed more of the facts of the story) if they had treated it more like a third person omniscient. I think they figured that out and the rest of the films in the series were much better. I think I may even prefer them to the books. Most stories are written in limited omniscient or first person, and most movies are told in omniscient or limited omniscient. However, you can get a heck of a lot more detail and character development in a book than you can in a movie. Witness the 6 hour BBC Pride and Prejudice vs. the 2 hour Focus Features Pride and Prejudice. I think both films are excellent adaptations given the time restraints.

Yes, movie making is a ton of fun. Most people do it because they like it. Despite the crazy-go-nuts hours and conditions. Believe me, the crew doesn’t do it for the money.

Basically, having an understanding of how it’s done, how much money things cost, and how much effort goes into a production, I have a lot more grace for the movies I watch. That doesn’t mean that I think they should get away with laziness or sloppiness or weak stories…it just means that I get it.

Suicide Squad and company

justice_league_the_new_52_by_fmirza95-d7vm29b

Well, Zorro and I watched Suicide Squad and Batman vs Superman over the weekend.

I have a lot of thoughts skittering about, so for my own sake I’m writing them down.

I grew up watching Teen Titans and the Batman/Superman Adventures, Justice League, and Justice League Unlimited. I haven’t read a single DC comic book. But I’ve read pages here and there on Pinterest 😉

I know the whole “my disguise is glasses frames” thing is really thin, but why on earth does Lex Luther know EVERYTHING about EVERYONE???

Also….why is the Bat mobile tricked out with machine guns? Batman is a detective and a crime fighter, and he has this thing about guns. Yeah, he doesn’t use them. I can forgive the trippy dream sequences, because they were a worst case scenario and he would be horrified he was using guns. But really now, we’re messing with core Batman principles here. Things that set him apart.

While we’re on the topic: I would really like to see Batman the Detective more. DC’s movie people seem to be stuck on Batman the Superhero Goes To War, when not everything needs to be about the end of the world or the end of Gotham.

I could also here go on a rant that the reason Superman works is because he’s just a good guy trying to do good things…from what I heard about the Superman movie, they messed with that. It seemed like Batman v Superman was a lot of back pedalling to address the things everyone hated about the Superman Movie, and also to introduce Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Aquaman, and was that Cyborg? Very much a transitional film.

Also, these heroes hallucinate a lot. And there are random montages and things that really do not make sense. Yes, I caught the blurb from future Flash trying to warn Batman about someone (presumably Superman, but we don’t actually know that) but it was mostly just mystifying.

We all know why Superman figures out who Batman is, but Batman is never shown putting any thought at all in figuring out Superman’s identity (contrast: the Batman/Superman adventures, they get that hurdle out of the way pretty quickly) and why on earth does Lex Luther know everything about everyone??? 


Speaking of Lex. He talked about his father so much I wondered if they were trying to imply that he was bald Lex’s son. But I guess since he goes bald at the end he must be THE Lex Luther. Except he’s not. He’s not the genius business tycoon who is essentially Bad Bald Batman–this Lex truly felt more like a Joker or Scarecrow character.

There isn’t going to be much left in the world if they keep destroying cities at this rate. I mean…Metropolis has been devastated. They made it a point in Batman v Superman to say repeatedly that the city had been (magically) evacuated and the bulk of the fight was in a huuuuge abandoned dockyard…which is now much flatter than it used to be. It was almost entertaining how they were very, very careful to say that about each fight location.

And Suicide Squad…Midway City got a little devastated (by the bad guys, at least) and the US military got a serious beating around the world. We’re talking fleets and bases are gone now. Just gone.

So I feel like they are sort of trying to tone it down after the audience reaction to that Superman movie…but they aren’t actually succeeding a lot.

So. Suicide Squad. I actually liked it. I know, right? Amanda Waller was definitely Amanda Waller, lifted perfectly out of the animated world and brought to life by Viola Davis. It seems that DC’s live action predisposition to darkness has finally found a home in villains. Deadshot is an intensely likable assassin perfectly played by Will Smith, Harly Quinn is extremely well done, Boomerang was entirely unnecessary to the plot, and Joker…well…Joker….he wasn’t as important as Jared Leto seems to think. I feel that the mad clown might just be doomed as a live action villain. I appreciated Heath Ledger’s version of Joker–the Joker you weren’t actually sure was mad–but I wish they would take a hint from the animated series and tone down the disturbing stuff. I think that I am mostly stuck on his torture of Harley (since they also appear to have a love you just want to root for, which is so uncomfortable) and his teeth. And how the actor misapplied method acting and was a truly impressive jerk to his co-stars. Something that was really unnecessary on so many levels I’ve lost count.

**Edit: I should add that Killer Croc was a fun character to have around. He’s one of the villains utterly overlooked by live action Batman flicks, perhaps because he’s so simple. (Ever watched the “Almost Got ‘im” episode? So good!) And Angelo’s fire character was a great foil for everyone else, and a refreshing and unexpected glimpse of someone with nothing to prove, just things to atone for.)**

But Suicide Squad, and the recent trailers for Wonder Woman and the teaser for the Justice League….I have hope. I might actually enjoy the next few DC movies. That would be so nice…

Introductions

I write stories. That’s the big thing.

I also draw. I’ve got some art and a variety of products for sale on Redbubble.

Horses are my other hobby. Hobby…life passion…you know…I’m a pretty serious horse geek and over the past few years have been learning a lot about retraining mature horses. It’s a blast.

I like to cook–convenient since we have to eat–and enjoy style, so all these things will trickle out onto the blog now and then. Most often, though, it’ll  be geeky movie stuff and horse stuff. I would love for you to hang around!

If you want to read my fiction stories you should check out Zare Caspian and follow along.