Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Production Diaries from India

Hey folks, I'm currently in India shooting a documentary, so the tone of my blog is going to change for the next three months. I'll be keeping a daily production diary which I'll be posting on the films's blog But I'll be posting highlights here too. Hope you enjoy!

Namaste ;)

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Trailers like no other

I love some of the the creativity that can be found on Youtube. Give a random punter an editing programme and they'll sometimes amaze you.

One of my favourite trends is Youtubers taking the piss out of Hollywood by cutting new trailers for existing films. Here's a little top 5:

Number 5: Disney's 'Mary Poppins' takes a sinister tone:
'Scary Mary'

Number 4: What ''Top Gun'' was REALLY about (I suspect this was inspired by a rant from Tarantino)

Number 3: It's all in the name. The Ring

Number 2: A blanket slating of the Oscars: Trailer For Every Oscar-Winning Movie... Ever

Number 1: There really was no contest. 'The Shining' as 'SHINE'

Sunday, March 21, 2010

More on the theme of "Dreams-and-following-them"

I thought I'd share the story of Steven Spielberg's rise to success. I'm not the man's number one fan or anything, but I love this story because it illustrates the power of the individual to create opportunities. As they say: "A real man makes his own luck". Props to Spielberg for having the courage and imagination to do it.

Steven dreamed of being a movie director from childhood. He began amateur films with a primitive camera when he was still a child and the dream never subsided.

How Spielberg broke into Universal Studios is a legend in the movie industry. He took the Universal Studios Tour, an attraction that enables visitors to get an inside look at the movie business. Visitors ride around the studio lots on a tram. Steven sneaked off the tram and hid between two sound stages until the tour ended. When he left at the end of the day, he made a point of saying a few words to the gate guard.

Day after day, he went back to the studio for three months. He walked past the guard, waved at him, and he waved back. He always wore a suit and carried a briefcase, letting the guard assume he was one of the students with a summer job in the studio. He made a point of speaking to and befriending directors, writers and editors. He even found a vacant office, took it over and listed his name in the building directory.

He made it his business to get to know Sid Sheinberg, then head of production for the studio’s television arm. He showed him his college film project, which so impressed Sheinberg that he put the young man under contract with the studio.

His first full-length film, The Sugarland Express, received critical acclaim and won a best screenplay award at the 1974 Cannes Film Festival. Unfortunately, it did not do very well at the box office.

His big break came a year later when he discovered the book Jaws. The studio had already decided to produce Jaws and had chosen a well-known director to film it.

Spielberg desperately wanted to make this movie. Despite the financial failure of The Sugarland Express, his self-confidence had not diminished and he persuaded the producers to dismiss the chosen director and give it to him.

It was not an easy assignment. From the beginning trouble beset the production. It ran into technical and budget problems. However, when Jaws was released in June 1975, it enjoyed twofold success: it broke box office records, and the critics loved it. Within a month of its release, the film had taken in 60 million dollars at the box office, an unheard-of amount at the time.

Over the next few years, Spielberg directed several movies, including the popular Indiana Jones series. He later directed Jurassic Park , which would also become – at its time – the most successful movie in history, the third Spielberg film to break the record. It also brought in over one billion dollars in gross receipts, toys and other merchandise.

Spielberg continues to pursue his dreams. When he and two other Hollywood moguls created their own production company, they called it ‘Dreamworks’.

(taken from "Think and Grow Rich" by Napoleon Hill which, incidentally I'd really recommend reading if you have a burning desire to be successful in whatever field you're in.)

Friday, March 19, 2010

Great little resource for any film production files you may need:

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Follow your dreams

I remember my school journals from when I was a teenager. Between the pages reserved for 40 weeks of homework there were little snippets of wisdom. Every week was framed by a quote from someone like Goethe or Ralph Waldo Emerson, and at intervals a couple of pages were devoted to inspiring poems.

I still remember one of these poems:

"Follow your dreams wherever they lead,
don`t be distracted by less worthy needs...
Shelter them, nourish them, help them grow,
Let your heart hold them down deep where dreams go."

The irony of printing a poem like that in a school journal didn't register that with me as a teenager. Back then I didn't see the education system the way I see it now: a funnel that promotes one dream, and one mode of success.

When we were younger we all had dreams and visions of where our lives would go. We indulged in them, we fantasised, but we were not encouraged to take them seriously. (In fact, I distinctly remember scribbling out the word "dream" in a friend's journal, and replacing it with "dick". Evidently I haven't matured much since then, cos' that still makes me laugh ;) )

We grow older quickly. We become adults with paths and responsibilities, but our unfulfilled dreams don't die. We feel them at the back of our minds, nagging us. We plough ahead and don't entertain these ideas of what our lives might have been. But every now and again, in moments of stillness, they surface, and drive us mad.

I am so honoured to say that, difficult as it is, I'm following my passion. But sometimes I wonder how it happened. I wasn't an "artist" growing up, so it never even occurred to me that I might be creative (even though I wrote poems, stories, songs, played instruments and sang). No one in my family is in a creative field, and I wasn't encouraged to pursue one. I always knew I wanted to create stories that touched people, but what gave me the impetus to pursue this shadowy path?

I think it's because I never stopped dreaming.

"Follow your dreams pursue them with haste;
Life is too precious too fleeting to waste...
Be faithful, be loyal, then all your life through,
the dreams that you follow will keep coming true..."
~ Larry S. Chengges

Do it.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Edit Sweet - I stand corrected!

I had a mini-rant the other day about how the judges of the Oscars tend to overlook the skills of great editors, and just lump "Best Editing" in with "Best Picture". However, an editor friend of mine had a different perspective on it. He basically said that the reason "Best Editing" and "Best Picture" go hand-in-hand is BECAUSE the edit is so crucial to the overall quality of the film. This I totally agree with. He explains things really well here, so I'm giving him a little guest slot today ;) Thanks Catalin!

I actually don't fully agree with this. For me, it makes sense that the editing and the picture wins. I believe that (in fiction) pictures get their full potential through juxtaposition, ie what comes before, what come after, what is being referenced in the film later. This is very much about editing, so editing defines the nature of the pictures and vice versa. It is like a symbiosis. I am not talking about merely technical achievements (nowadays with the right kit and money anyone can produce stunning shots). I mean how pictures speak to the audience, how they tell a story intellectually (what we see) and emotionally (what we feel). And this, is determined by the way they are put together. Simple example: the cross-cutting scene in "Seven" when Pitt and Freeman investigate the case in different locations (library/home): the camera is more than just beautiful, it describes the character to us in a very empathetic way, plus creates a personal POV that the audience feels (we have learnt far earlier that the two characters a diametrically opposed). But these aspects of the cinematography come to light by being edited together. Through the excellent cross-cutting, those low/high angles, those blue/orange tones and those nice tracking shots (vs still shots) get a new level of meaning. So, when storyboarding the director thinks in terms of cinematography and editing in tandem, and if one turns out to deserve an Oscar, chances are the other skill will, too.

It is a whole different issue with documentaries, especially on-the-fly docos. Those might have crap cinematography, but the editing might be brilliant. I think they should actually introduce an Oscar category "Documentary editing", so that these poor people get some recognition. That's our fate: Edit brilliantly, and no one talks about you. Make one mistake, and every one jumps on you. Anyway, I like working in the background. Maybe that's my "feminine" side :-)

Catalin is an editor / film maker / lecturer, and you can see his work at

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Wise words from the founder of Apple

I first read Steve Jobs' words of wisdom five years ago, and they had a significant impact on me. I hope you find them as inspiring as I do.

Click here to watch:
The man behind the apple.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Was it really a great day for women?

Yesterday I kept hearing how Katherine Bigelow (every time I say her name I giggle) winning the academy award for Best Director was a landmark in women's rights. But was it really? I'm not so sure.

Firstly, what is this supposed to represent exactly? That films are now being judged by their calibre, and not the gender of the creator? Or that there are an increasing number of female directors in this undeniably male-dominated sphere, and therefore they have more chance of being recognised for their achievements?

Let's take a look at some of the facts.

Since the Oscars began in 1928, there have been four female nominees for Best Director: Lina Wertmüller for "Seven Beauties" (1976), Jane Campion for "The Piano" (1993), Sofia Coppola for "Lost in Translation" (2003), and Bigelow herself.

In another male-dominated area - Cinematography, a female director of photography has never won, and was only nominated for the first time in 2008! (Maryse Alberti for "The Wrestler", and Mandy Walker for " Australia" were both nominated that year. Robert Elswit won it for "There Will Be Blood")

And let's extend our scope slightly. Ang Lee is the only Asian (and non-Caucasian) to have won Best Director (for "Brokeback Mountain", 2005). No Afican-American has ever won the award.

Do these imbalances indicate that the film industry is sexist and racist? OR, are they symptomatic of a society which is still imbalanced?

I'm choosing to go with the latter. I have been in the industry for nearly 6 years, and I have never felt patronised for saying that I wanted to direct. What did hold me back was being more submissive and less able to bulls**t than my male counterparts. When you want to direct, or be a DP, you're in the limelight. You need to exude confidence at all times. This attitude creates opportunities that allows you to take your career to the next level.

I've spoken to many women about this, and they agree with me that its more common for men to have this ballsiness. This isn't the film industry's fault. It's because of how we are conditioned.

Which is why I think women excel in areas of film that are more behind-the-scenes. Take Editing as an example. This is an area of film that many women go into. I trained as an editor for several years, and I can say first hand that it's a safe, contained environment. You don't need to command respect in an editing suite with your personality - your talent does the talking. In the Oscars, women have been nominated for Best Editing since the award started in 1934 (Anne Bauchens for "Cleopatra"). Thelma Schoonmaker (who worked on many Scorsese films) has received three awards and six nominations, making her the second most coveted editor in the world (after Michael Kahn, who works with Spielberg).

Of course, there's also the matter of content. To generalise - men and women are interested in different things, and a creative person explore themes and topics that are of interest to them. But we live in a society that is still largely run by men. Is it possible that women deal with topics or themes that are more of interest to women, and this is why they're not celebrated? Bigelow's film has been critically acclaimed, but it is about the war in Iraq. The protagonists in "Seven Beauties" are soldiers. "Lost in Translation" is a story about love, between a washed-up oldish man and a beautiful, creative younger woman..!

If more women are being nominated for being directors, perhaps it's not because the industry is changing. Maybe women are. They are recognising some of the personality qualities they need to succeed in this industry, and they are learning to tell the stories they want to tell, in a way that appeal to both genders.

All in all, I don't believe that this Oscar means anything for women. It's a bone. What's more encouraging is that woman have been nominated twice in the last decade. I think we can only say it's a great day for women when this becomes a regular occurrence.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Edit sweet

Every time the Oscars come around, it annoys me that they don't judge the editing of a film on its own merit. The film that wins "Best Picture" tends to also win "Best Editing".

It's as if the jury don't really understand what editing involves, and they just throw the award at the most likely candidate. Overly cynical of me? A quick bit of research shows that the last time that the awards were given to two separate film was nearly 20 years ago! (In 1981, 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' won Best Picture, and Robert L. Wolfe won best editing for 'On Golden Pond'). A more in-depth look shows that roughly 2/3's of the films that have won "Best Picture" have also won best editing.

This is just one of the many reasons I object to the Oscars. The fact that it always seems rigged to make some sort of political or social statement is another. But that's a whole other rant.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

'Rough Cut'

I recently started a pretty pervasive fund raising campaign for my latest documentary. Part of it involved writing a letter asking for donations, and sending it to ALL of my contacts.

I had a lot of mixed feelings about trying to raise money in this manner. It's a last resort and I was worried that I was going to piss people off. No one likes being asked for money!

But film makers are famous for using any means possible to raise money for their films. "Beg, borrow, and steal" takes on new significance if you're in the film business! It was shortly after sending the letter, that I came across 'Rough Cut'. Until then, I had never heard "brutally murder" thrown into the equation.

'Rough Cut' is a documentary about two independent film makers who plotted to murder one of their wives in order to clear debts they had accrued whilst making a low budget horror film. And they went through with their plan.

Suddenly I don't feel so bad for asking friends and family for 50 bucks.

Watch 'Rough Cut' here and share your views.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Other Seven Wonders of the World

A group of students was asked to list what they thought were the present "Seven Wonders of the World." Though there were some disagreements, the following received the most votes:

1. Egypt's Great Pyramids
2. Taj Mahal
3. Grand Canyon
4. Panama Canal
5. Empire State Building
6. St. Peter's Basilica
7. China's Great Wall

While gathering the votes, the teacher noted that one student had not finished her paper yet. So she asked the girl if she was having trouble with her list. The girl replied, "Yes, a little. I couldn't quite make up my mind because there are so many."

The teacher said, "Well, tell us what you have, and maybe we can help."

The girl hesitated, then read, "I think the 'Seven Wonders of the World' are:

1. To see
2. To hear
3. To touch
4. To taste
5. To feel
6. To laugh
7. And to love."

The room was so quiet you could have heard a pin drop.

A gentle reminder -- that the most precious things in life cannot be built by hand or bought by man.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Star Wars in Concert..?

Much as I love the "Star Wars" trilogy (the prequels didn't happen, okay?), this scares me slightly:

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