New Networking Sites for Filmmakers

There are two new networking sites for filmmakers, both geared toward matching up filmmakers looking for crew with talent looking for work.

Cast and Crew Call is a simple site where freelancers create profiles describing their skills (actor, cinematographer, editor, etc). Freelancers can post videos portfolios and specify whether they’re willing to work unpaid gigs or only paying ones. People looking for talent in their area contact them through the site.

Creative District is a more ambitious site, geared toward creating a community of filmmakers. Filmmakers create profiles and list projects they are working on and what positions they are trying to fill. Other members can apply for the jobs. You can also “follow” specific filmmakers. The site is new and has room for improvement (for example there is as of this writing no clear way to contact a member other than applying for a job they’re offering), but the site is updating with improvements fairly regularly. They are also currently offering monthly $5000 grants to worthwhile film projects.

They’re both new sites, and it remains to be seen whether they take off or whither away, but let’s hope they succeed as much-needed alternatives to Craigslist.

Cast and Crew Call

Creative District



Screenwriting 101: Goals and Obstacles

Goals and Obstacles

Most screenwriters have at some point come across the standard formula for writing screenplays. It goes something like this:

Good scripts involve a protagonist striving for a goal against obstacles. The obstacles get bigger and bigger as the movie goes on.

Additionally, the protagonist has some kind of personal growth that needs to be achieved, which has left the protagonist in a kind of emotional stasis at the beginning of the film. In the end, the protagonist must achieve this personal growth in order to overcome the final, greatest obstacle and accomplish the goal, or fail to change and lose.

Furthermore, a good screenplay is divided into three acts and there are specific milestones you should reach at specific points in each act. For example, in the first act, there is an Inciting Incident that disrupts the protagonist’s normal life. About halfway through the second act, there should be some kind of twist: things are not what they seem, or a friend betrays the protagonist, or a major new obstacle is thrown into the mix, etc. In the third act, right before the protagonist achieves his goal, there should be a moment when it appears all is lost. Conversely, if the protagonist eventually fails, there should be a moment when he appears to succeed.

I could go on, but you get the point. Some of this just boils down to common sense. The three-act structure is just a way to say that a film has a beginning, a middle, and an end. The Inciting Incident another way to say every story has to start somewhere.

But I hope you can see how limiting this formula is, as if there is only one type of story that can ever be told. A dogged adherence to this formula is one of the reasons for the bland sameness of so many mainstream movies; they all follow the same rhythms, the same plot beats, the same character arcs.

There is one essential truth to be taken out of all of this: a good story involves a character striving against obstacles towards a specific goal.

This is the heart of drama. It keeps the audience involved and drives the narrative arc forward.

But how this plays out doesn’t need to follow any standard formula. There are so many more possibilities. Let’s take a look at three classic films and see what lessons they have for us.

Citizen Kane

In Citizen Kane, the specific goal that pushes the story into motion is the journalist trying to find the meaning of Kane’s last word “Rosebud.” It’s through his interviews with the people who knew Kane that we see the mosaic of Kane’s life story. But the journalist is not the protagonist of the story; he has no personal arc that allows him to achieve or fail at his goal; his search does not provide the emotional momentum of the story; and the eventual answer does not provide the audience with the ultimate solution to the puzzle of the film, but is simply a small piece in it.

The search for the meaning of Rosebud is the framing device that gets the audience into the story. Important, yes, memorable, yes, but not the spine of the movie.

2001: A Space Odyssey

What is the main goal this movie? Answering the mystery of the monolith? This is more a goal of the audience than the characters. The prehistoric ape-men of the first section aren’t interested in answering the question. Dr. Floyd in the second section is, but the astronauts aboard the Discovery during the third and main section of the film, don’t even know about the monolith. Their main goal is to stay alive when their life support is entirely in the hands of a malfunctioning super-computer that wants them dead.

This struggle for survival makes up the largest section of the movie, but in a 140 minute movie, this narrative arc isn’t even introduced until 50 minutes in, and the problem is resolved with 25 minutes left in the film, so only about half of the film involves this story and the entire last act does not. Again, it’s an interesting and memorable element that keeps the audience involved, but it’s not what the movie is about. No single character goal provides the spine of the picture.

The Godfather

Even a movie like The Godfather, the most traditional of these three movies in terms of narrative, only tangentially follows this formula. I had a writing teacher who suggested that the specific goal of this movie is the Corleone family trying to stay out of the heroin business. This sets the main action of the film in motion, but it’s not what the heart of the film is about. The film is about many other things: capitalism and crime, the cost of loyalty to a corrupt family. Coppola himself says that when he was making it, he identified the main theme of the film as “succession” and referred back to that theme whenever questions arose in the production. The film is far more than can be summed up by a single specific goal.

In each of these films, you can see how giving characters specific goals to achieve and throwing obstacles in their way drives the story and keeps the audience engaged. Whether in overarching goals for an entire film or smaller goals for individual scenes, this is the heart of drama.

But beyond that, formula is just formula. The arcs stories can take are as endless as all the variations of the human condition.

Always make your films breath with life and imagination and daring.



Production 101: 5 Directing Tips From An Editor

I’m writing some posts offering tips to filmmakers from the perspective of an editor.

Today I want to talk about a few things directors should keep in mind. I’m going to avoid basic concepts like the 180-Degree Rule that are taught to every beginning filmmaker (and can be violated these days as audiences get more sophisticated, if done smartly).

1. Give the Editor Something to Cut Away To.

I’m a big fan of the single take scene. If you have the time and money to make sure you get one or two perfect takes, or if the single take is essential to the aesthetic of the scene, that’s great. But in general, it’s important to give the editor as many option as possible. Especially in low-budget and independent filmmaking, where you might not have time to persist until you get that one perfect take, it’s dangerous to shoot an entire scene expecting it to be a single continuous take in the edit. If there’s a problem with the performance or a camera mistake that wasn’t noticed on the set, or even if you just change your mind in the edit, you may be stuck with no good options. Even if it’s just the proverbial cat in the window, give the editor the ability to piece together a scene from different takes.

The basic idea is that you want to have as many options in post as possible, given constraints of time and budget.

2. Don’t Yell “Cut” Too Quickly.

I once edited a film where one non-professional actor consistently broke character the instant the last line of dialogue was finished, looking at the camera, or smiling nervously, or just relaxing his pose. This made it hell too edit. You should always give yourself a little time after the last line to smooth transitions to the next scene or the next shot, in case it’s needed.

But there’s another reason to keep the camera rolling after the dialogue is completed. Good actors know how to stay in character until they hear “cut.” If you keep the camera running after the prepared conversation or action is over, you can sometimes find amazing moments of vulnerability and honesty. These little moments, when the actor doesn’t have anything rehearsed but hasn’t “broken” the scene, can yield gems that raise the emotional resonance of a scene. In the same way, those moment at the beginning of the take, after the camera starts rolling but before the action starts, can yield beautiful, even profound moments.

Don’t miss out on these opportunities to add richness and depth to your actor’s performances.

3. Make Sure Someone is Acting as Script Supervisor.

The Script Supervisor plays an important role that’s often neglected on low budget productions. The Script Supervisor does more than just check for continuity problems (which hand the actor is holding the cup with, whether a door is open or closed in each shot). The Script Supervisor also keeps careful track of each line of dialogue and which angle it’s been shot from. I once edited a scene where two characters moved with complex blocking throughout the room. On set, the crew lost track of things, and a crucial line by the lead actress was never shot with the camera pointing directly at her, so we had to use a shot of the back of her head for that line. We made it work, but an attentive Script Supervisor would have caught this on set and made sure the shot was gotten.

On low budget films, you don’t always have the luxury to have someone on set who’s sole function is Script Supervisor, but it’s important to assign someone this task and make sure they know how to do it. And it shouldn’t be the Director or Cinematographer. They have way too many other things on their plate to do this well.

4. Learn to Communicate Your Ideas, Then Trust Your Editor.

I’ve sometimes worked with inexperienced directors who insisted they wanted to “sit it on every editing session.” I usually decline this type of job.

Inexperienced directors who want to do this either don’t trust their editors and want their editors to simply be their hands running the editing software, or they haven’t thought through their ideas for the film well enough to articulate them to the editor.

Having two people in the room also means every decision will have to be discussed, argued over, decided jointly, even the simplest decisions that were going to be made one way regardless. This will more than double the amount of time it takes for the edit.

The better course of action is to hire an experienced and creative editor whom you trust, communicate as precisely and articulately as you can your vision for the film, and then let the editor work through to a rough cut. Once the rough cut is done, you can productively work as closely with the editor as you want, either through notes, or by sitting in on the sessions.

But unless you really are an experienced filmmaker who has a mature understanding of the art of the edit – and have the budget to pay the editor to spend twice as much time getting to rough cut as you would otherwise – trust your editors to do the job you hired them for.

5. Know Your Footage.

I’ve worked with directors who, when they want a take replaced with another, will tell me exactly which take they like better. “Don’t use take 4, use take 2.” I’ve also worked with directors who’d say, “I don’t like that take, can you find a better one,” without any explanation of what they didn’t like or what they’re looking for. The first note can take me a minute or two to implement, the second might take me 25 minutes, and I still might not find something that satisfies the director. The more you know your footage the more precise you can be when giving notes.

Again, it all comes down to learning to communicating your ideas clearly and effectively.



Production 101: 5 Tips For Getting Good Sound

I thought I’d write a couple of blog posts offering tips to filmmakers from the perspective of an editor.

Today I want to talk about the importance of good sound recording.

Great sound is just as important as great cinematography. Actually, I might go further and say that great sound is more important than great cinematography.

This may seem counter-intuitive, since we’re always told film is a visual medium, but, trust me, nothing will ruin the audience’s experience faster than bad sound. If voices are muddy and conversations are hard to follow, if the sound isn’t natural and clear, the movie will seem amateurish and pull the audience out of the story.

The thing is it’s not that hard or expensive to get the sound right. Great sound recording is a lot cheaper than great cinematography, but low-budget films often skimp on even the little cost it takes to make sure the sound is done right.

1. Hire a Professional Sound Recorder

Hire someone who knows how to monitor the sound, how to set lavaliers and booms, someone who will have the confidence and experience to stop a shot if there is unwanted background noise, a plane in the distance, the beeping of a truck backing up.

2. Hire a Separate Person to Work the Boom.

Operating the boom and monitoring the recording is a two-person job. The boom operator doesn’t need to be a super-experienced professional, but does need to be someone on the ball and engaged in the work, someone who can work with your professional recorder to make sure you are getting clean dialogue recording.

It’s far more expensive to go into a studio and do ADR (Additional Dialogue Recording) in post than to pay a PA to operate the boom. It’s even more expensive to have the entire budget of the film wasted because bad sound has irreparably damaged the film.

3. Always Use Lavaliers on Noisy Locations.

You’d think this would be a given, but many low-budget productions don’t follow this absolutely essential rule. It can be very difficult, even impossible, to filter out unwanted background noise in post without the actor’s voices sounding very artificial and processed. If you are recording in a noisy location, a windy day outside, a city street, indeed anyplace except a sound stage where you have absolute control over the sonic environment, make sure you use lavaliers (body mics) if at all possible, in addition to boom mics. Don’t rely on just one or the other. Use both.

4. Don’t Record MOS (Without Sound).

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve worked on projects where footage was shot without sound because the director was sure on-set sound wouldn’t be needed, maybe because it was going to be part of a montage, or there would voiceover narration over it, or it would be part of a musical sequence. But you can’t always anticipate what your needs in the edit will be, and I often find myself having to fake on-set sound with foley and sound effects. A good rule of thumb is: if the camera is running, record sound too, if at all possible.

5. Don’t Forget to Record Room Tone.

Room tone is the background, ambient noise of the location: machine hums, wind in the trees, traffic from outside, whatever is going on there. It’s very important to record this for 30-60 seconds on every location. Make sure the cast and crew are quiet when recording.

Room tone can be essential in post to patch inadvertent problems in the recording. If there is unwanted background noise during the shot or some dialogue that needs to be cut, it’s easy to do if you have room tone. I’ve been in unfortunate situations where I had to manually loop a second or two or room tone taken from brief gaps between lines of dialogue because there no one recorded room tone on set. These short loops can sound very artificial and create real problems that take time and money to work out.

Realizing the importance of good sound and taking a little care and consideration for it in production can make all the difference in both the ease of post-production and the final quality of the film.



My Interview with Filmmaker Ela Thier

I conducted an interview with independent director and producer Ela Thier on raising money for films. She’s posted the five-part interview on her blog, Healing from Capitalism.

Ela offers a lot of good advice to filmmakers on fundraising for small and micro budget films.

Here’s the first part. Check out the rest at her site.

On Raising Money for Films.

Ela is also a great teacher who’s inspired a lot of independent artists in New York City and around the country. She offers workshops on Producing, Directing, Acting and Screenwriting through her website The Independent Film School.



Digital Production Buzz

dpb-logo2

I’ve just discovered a great podcast everyone involved in independent film should know about. It’s called Digital Production Buzz, and it’s a wonderful mix of interviews about the latest in filmmaking technology and interviews with independent and micro-budget filmmakers about the creative process.

It’s hosted by Larry Jordan and Mike Horton. Jordan and Horton are both well-known Final Cut Pro gurus, but the great thing about their podcast is that it doesn’t just focus on technology. A typical show may start with an interview with the head of a technology company about their latest post-production software, then go on to an interview with a playwright about the writing process, then a micro-budget director about how to work with actors. Larry Jordan especially asks really good questions and it’s always an informative and eclectic mix of topics.

Check it out: Digital Production Buzz



The Art of Dreaming Soundtrack Released

AoD Soundtrack

Our brilliant composer Lenny Gonzalez has just released his soundtrack to The Art of Dreaming, featuring the ethereal and mysterious music that added so much to the impact of the film. He’s remixed some of it and included some out-takes for a unique musical experience that stands on it’s own, apart from the film.

It’s available on iTunes and Amazon. You can find it through his website Changofeo.com. You’ll also find more great music he’s done for previous FBMT productions. Check it out!



My Editing Career

You may not know this, but in addition to being a writer/director of my own films, I also work as a freelance editor.

I’ve worked for many talented filmmakers, including Jenna Payne, Boman Modine and Sammina Sammi. Right now I’m finishing up work on a short called Loss by writer/producer/actress Jessica Kaplan, and directed by Dave Carroll.

I’ve just updated my Editing Reel page, you can check it out here:

My Editing Reel

Keep me in mind when you need an editor for your next project!



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