Archive

Author Archive

Podcasts: Shows that Can Help Your Filmmaking

October 25, 2011 Leave a comment

Podcasts have become a pretty big part of the mobile entertainment generation. Instead of being pinned to radio stations, we can now listen to shows on a subject of our choosing. This, of course, includes the world of filmmaking.

There are several podcasts that are worth listening to, but these are the select few that I never miss to keep me up on the filmmaking world.

The Business Side

A weekly breakdown of what’s new in the world of entertainment, Showbiz Sandbox covers everything from film to broadway. Check this one out for some interesting insights into the most up-to-date entertainment information.

http://www.showbizsandbox.com/

Writing

The official podcast of screenwriters John August and Craig Mazin, Scriptnotes offers a fantastic insight into the business of screenwriting. Not only that, it offers practical advice on how to write, and how to work inside the Hollywood system. This is a must listen for writers.

http://feeds.feedburner.com/scriptnotespodcast

General Filmmaking

There is probably no more comprehensive filmmaking podcast than the Digital Filmmakers Podcast. Featuring interviews with professionals from the industry, the podcast teaches editing, storytelling, cinematography, and every other aspect of the industry. Best of all, it hails from FilmmakingWebinars.com, home of great free webinars for filmmakers.

http://www.filmmakingwebinars.com/digital-filmmakers-podcast/

Movie Reviews

Sometimes you just want to hear people review some of the biggest movies in Hollywood. For this, look no further than Now Playing, the movie review podcast. The fun repor makes this an entertaining podcast regardless of if you’ve seen the movie or not.

http://nowplayingpodcast.com/

Honorable Mention

While Scriptnotes may be the most relevant business oriented podcast for writers, there is no more intriguing than The Q&A with Jeff Goldsmith. Goldsmith is the former editor of Creative Screenwriting Magazine, and has interviewed some of the most legendary writers in film. Check out his back catalogue for several episodes you won’t want to miss.

http://www.theqandapodcast.com/

What are some of your favorite filmmaking podcasts that I may have missed? Share your thoughts with the community in the comments! In another article I’ll cover some of the best podcasts overall you should be listening to.

Zac Hogle is a writer/director who has worked on several nationally broadcast series and documentaries. You can follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/zhogle.

All images and videos are the copyright and property of their respective holders. No infringement is intended.

Advertisements

Fall-en TV Shows: The Greatest TV Shows to Not Make It

September 29, 2011 3 comments

While I focus mainly on movies through this site, I don’t want to ever give the illusion that TV isn’t a priority of mine. With that in mind, I thought the launch of the fall season would be the perfect opportunity to go through a few of the great TV shows that haven’t made the cut in the past, and a few of my personal favourites.

We can see a lot of styles defined and improved in failed television series, whether the players involved were writers, directors, actors, or filling any other job on set. It’s always an interesting study to watch the evolution of a creative professional through their work, and many of the best have early failures that helped create the style they are known for now.

Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (2006-2007)

Before he was known for writing The Social Network (2010), writer Aaron Sorkin was best known for his television work, including the hit show The West Wing (1999-2006). Mostly forgotten, however, is a little show he created called Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.

The Cast of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip

Running only one season, Studio 60 premiered the same season as the comedy favorite and similarly themed 30 Rock (2006-Present) and debuted to massive fanfare. Truth be told, the pilot episode from Studi 60 is one of the finest television scripts I have ever read (the script was titled Studio 7 on the Sunset Strip), and is one of the most engaging and exciting pilots I have ever seen. Take the opening scene. In the scene Wes Mondell (Judd Hirsch), a play on SNL creator Lorne Michaels, loses his battle with the network to air a controversial skit. What follows is television gold.

Through this opening alone, you can see the famous Aaron Sorkin ability to write dialogue. Not only does Wes Mondell’s speech set up the entire premises of the series, but the subplot involving Cal Shanley (Timothy Busfield) beautifully sets up the play of the Studio 60 family against the network brass.

All this goes without even mentioning the main protagonists in the series: Jordan McDeere (Amanda Peet), the new president of the NBS network, Jack Rudolph (Steven Weber), the Chairman of NBS, and Danny Tripp (Bradley Whitford), a former AD on Studio 60 who has returned to produce and direct the show. Each of these characters are well developed and intriguing to watch as they evolve over the course of the season.

Matthew Perry from Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip

The one character I have purposefully avoided until now is Matthew Perry’s Matt Albie, former staff writer who has returned to the show with Danny Tripp to co-produce and be the head writer. This is the show that sold me as a lifetime Matthew Perry fan. Matt Albie is a well-written character, but Matthew Perry’s portrayal takes the character to the next level. Interestingly, this Matt Albie’s main issue is that he doesn’t have any true issues outside of recurring love interest Harriet Hayes (Sarah Paulson). He doesn’t have a drug issue, at least to begin the season, but brings that pressure upon himself due to Danny Tripp’s recurring drug addiction. His pressure is to write an amazing show every week, but he also takes on a lot of the pressure from Danny Tripp’s side of the show. The play between these two characters, and how they both come together to create one functioning human, is one of the hilights of this series.

Matthew Perry and Bradley Whitford

Stella (2005)

The Cast of Stella

A Comedy Central show that was tragically short lived, Stella was born out of a live comedy troupe starring comedy mainstays Michael Ian Black, Michael Showalter, and David Wain. This is one of the all-time great examples of perfectly  non-sequitur comedy.

Never knowing what twist was coming next, and not wanting to, Stella is a great example of how to let your restraints go. To use a phrase I use frequently with The Muppet Show (1976-1981), Stella is completely unbridled creativity. Look at when Michael, Michael, and David decide to grow their own vegetables in their apartment, or when David assassinates Michael Ian Black as he is running for building president.

Sadly, I wasn’t able to find any clips from the TV series on YouTube, but there is a plethora of their stage work and short films available on the internet.

Firefly (2002)

The nerd in me comes out when speaking of this beloved sci-fi series. Creator Joss Whedon has struggled to find a show with the same staying power since his days on Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003) and Angel (1999-2004), but just before both went off the air he had a show that rivaled them in quality.

Following the crew of the Firefly-class ship Serenity, Whedon perfectly blended the genres of Western and Science Fiction in this show. That is a feat not to be taken lightly as others have tried and not been as successful, namely this year’s Cowboys & Aliens (2011).

The hallmarks of this series are the same as from previous Whedon classics. Witty dialogue and excellent action can be found throughout, with just the right dose of humor. What sets this apart is the language used in dialogue, and how it matches the setting. Not only is the Western jargon spot on, but it is infused with Chinese dialect, creating a unique world in the future when America and China are the only two superpowers to survive.

Nathan Fillion as Captain Malcolm Reynolds

All of these are fantastic series’ that I can’t recommend watching enough, what are some of your favorite cancelled shows? Or what are your favorite moments from the shows mentioned above? Leave your thoughts in the comments!

Zac Hogle is a writer/director who has worked on several nationally broadcast series and documentaries. You can follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/zhogle.

All images and videos are the copyright and property of their respective holders. No infringement is intended.

Categories: TV, Writing

Served with a Twist: Great Twists in Film History

September 13, 2011 2 comments

One of the most popular things to do for a student filmmaker is come up with a great twist ending for their film. While this technique can work, I’ve always been  a proponent of building a solid story to begin with. If a twist grows naturally from that, then so be it. We’ve seen a large number of student films and indie films that try to pigeon-hole a twist into a story that doesn’t need it, though. An unnecessary twist can serve to disorient or even upset an audience, and that isn’t what you want.

With that in mind, I thought it would be fun to take a look back at some of the great twists in film history and see how the filmmakers behind them implemented them without upsetting or disorienting an audience.

The Sixth Sense (1999)

The hallmark of a great twist is one that changes, but does not detract from, subsequent viewings of the film. A twist that ruins repeated viewings is a twist that may be worth rethinking.

Haley Joel Osment in The Sixth Sense

I thought it made sense to start with the film that ushered in the modern era of film twists, M. Knight Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense. This film was the first one for my generation that left you wanting to revisit and see if you can pick up the clues leading to the twist. In the film Bruce Willis plays Malcolm Crowe, a child psychologist who is recruited to help a young child, Cole Sear, played by Haley Joel Osment. The issue plaguing Sear? He sees dead people.

Bruce Willis in The Sixth Sense

An exciting and intriguing film ensues, leading to the startling conclusion that Dr. Malcolm Crowe himself is actually dead, having been killed in the opening scene of the film. The twist alone is excellent and adds a new layer to the film, but the rule that the film establishes makes the film worth revisiting. In any scene where a ghost is present, the color red is also present. Any scenes where there are no ghosts, the color red does not appear. This simple rule allowed viewers to revisit the film to try and catch where the color red appeared in the film.

Psycho (1960)

It would figure that the original master of suspense would own one of the original great twists. Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho was a thriller for the ages for a number of reasons. The moral ambiguity of its first kill (many people seem to forget that Janet Leigh’s Marion Crane had just stolen $40,000), and the frightening nature of Anthony Perkin’s Norman Bates are just two of the reasons this film stands the test of time. The reveal of the, at the time, terrifying twist leaves an indelible mark on the viewer.

Norman's Mother in Psycho

Throughout the entire film we assume that Norman Bates, owner of the Bates Motel, is an innocent trying to keep his insane mother at bay. While his mother is never clearly seen, the audience is treated to her outline in windows and silhouettes, and several instances of her voice talking with Norman. It isn’t until the climactic chase, when Lila Crane (Vera Miles) enters Norman’s home, that we discover his mother has been dead for years. Instead of his mother in the window, we discover his mother’s skeleton dressed as if she was still alive.

Anthony Perkins in Psycho

It turns out Norman has developed a schizophrenia and is living both the life of Norman, and the life of his mother for her. Every time we hear mother’s voice, it is actually Norman calling out. By the end of the film, Norman is lost as his mother takes over Norman’s body.

Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

Say what you will about the recent Blu-Ray release, or the prequel trilogy, but there is no denying that The Empire Strikes Back is a fine example of moviemaking. It leaves you with a positive outlook for the rebels, but further recollection leaves you realizing the good guys got their butts handed to them for the entire film.

Mark Hammill from Empire Strikes Back

It is also home to one of the most famous twists of all time, a twist that has embedded itself into the fabric of pop culture. People who have never seen a single Star Wars film know this twist well.

This is one of the most important twists in film history. Not only did it change this film on subsequent viewings, it changed the entire Star Wars series. The original film could never be watched in the same way again, and it added a new dimension to the following four films. In fact, thanks to this one moment, George Lucas was able to make the prequel trilogy to focus on Anakin Skywalker, effectively shifting the franchise focus from Luke to Vader.

Darth Vader in Empire Strikes Back

These examples show us an excellent use of twists, ones that grew organically from the story. I doubt Hitchcock started with the twist and built Psycho out from there. It all comes back to basics, know your story. If your story involves a twist, then that’s great. If it doesn’t, don’t try to force one in. It hurts your story, and can make you look like you built an entire film around one twist. What are some of your favorite twists? What are some of the ones that are so terrible you can’t help but love them? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

Zac Hogle is a writer/director who has worked on several nationally broadcast series and documentaries. You can follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/zhogle.

All images and videos are the copyright and property of their respective holders. No infringement is intended.

Categories: Movies, Writing

Take a Break: Rest Even for the Wicked

August 30, 2011 Leave a comment

As I get back from my wedding, and a mini-honeymoon after, I thought I would take a few minutes to expound the virtues of one of the most overlooked rules in the industry. It is important to work hard, and to turn down as little work as possible when you’re starting out. But equally as important is to take a break.

It can be a scary thing when you’re breaking in, especially if you have some momentum going. But it’s important to realize that, as long as you leave everything in good standing, work will always be there for you when you get back. A break can be just as important to your career as work can be, so there are a few things to remember:

1) Don’t Think About Work

This is your first and foremost rule, and it can be a tough one. Try to seclude yourself as much as possible from things that make you think about work. Maybe that means you don’t watch TV or see a movie for a week, or maybe you have the ability to turn off your brain when you’re not working. Either way, don’t think about work.

2) Stay Away from Technology

I’m as much of a tech geek as anyone but when it comes to getting a real break, technology is the enemy. Turn off anything that is going to be receiving work emails or calls so you can give you brain a real break.

3) Stay Away from Work Folk

They may be some of your best friends, but the point of this break is to get away from the industry. You can still get a decent break with work friends, but inevitably the conversation will turn to work, and that is not what you want. For a total recharge live in seclusion with people that aren’t in the industry.

Obviously these rules are guidelines as much as anything, but if you try to follow them you should come back refreshed and ready to tackle all the challenges the industry offers. You’ll be better off, as will the people hiring you, for you having taken the break.

One more important note: while I’m condoning severing ties for your break, I’m not condoning letting commitments slide. Be sure that everything is in good order before you take your break, and that everyone that needs to know is aware you will be out of the loop. If you just up and disappear, you’ll come back relaxed and you’ll stay that way since you’ll have nothing to work on.

Zac Hogle is a writer/director who has worked on several nationally broadcast series and documentaries. You can follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/zhogle.

All images and videos are the copyright and property of their respective holders. No infringement is intended.

Categories: Breaking In, Industry

Hook them Early: The Importance of an Opening Scene

August 2, 2011 2 comments

One of the most important moments in film is the opening scene. Ending scenes, plot twists and other elements all leave the lasting impression, but you only get one opportunity to hook an audience. If you don’t grab them with your opening scene, then you’ll be fighting an uphill battle the rest of the way.

But it’s important to make sure that the opening is dynamic as well. If this scene is only a hook, then the audience doesn’t become engaged with the characters or story and you’re starting from square one the instant the scene ends.

Poster for Bridesmaids (2011)

By looking at Bridesmaids (2011), we can see a fantastic execution of an opening scene. I will try to avoid spoilers, but by choosing this style of scene to open the film, Bridesmaids tells us several things about the film itself. We learn Annie (Kristen Wiig) never seems to get what she wants. We learn the most important man in her life is a self-obsessed misogynist. We learn that the type of humor in this film will not appeal only to women, much to the delight of the men in the audience. All of this comes to us while still hooking the audience with a hilarious opening scene.

Kristen Wiig and Jon Hamm in Bridesmaids

If you want to look back further, we can find several examples of excellent opening scenes.

A lot of people forget what began the recent trend of superhero movies. Early films like X-Men (2000) generally get the credit, but you can trace it back further to the success of a little Marvel film called Blade (1998). Blade was also home to an excellent opening scene.

By watching this scene we learn the entire premise of the film. There is a vampire menace, and they are luring humans to their deaths. The only person that can protect the humans is Blade (Wesley Snipes). It also sets up the action style coming in this film. While the intro isn’t an in depth character study as in Bridesmaids, the opening from Blade sets up the actioner nicely.

One of the most famous examples of an opening scene is possibly the least informative as to the nature of the film. When Quentin Tarantino broke onto the scene with Reservoir Dogs (1992), he introduced Hollywood and the world to a new style of dialogue. Instead of traditional exposition, Tarantino had his characters discuss a completely unrelated issue in the opening scene. What resulted is a film conversation still remembered to this day.

[NOTE: I am aware the above video is having trouble playing on iOS devices, unfortunately it is the best version of the opening I was able to find.]

Tarantino’s opening offers a glimpse not into the lives of the characters, but into the psyche. The conversation about Madonna’s Like A Virgin (1984) shows us the characters varying ways of interpreting the world. When Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi) refuses to tip the waitress, we learn that he is a selfish man who is not afraid to put his well-being ahead of others. This theme plays out when Mr. Pink runs out with the diamonds at the end of the film, a last ditch effort to save himself.

What are some of your favorite opening scenes? What scenes fell flat, despite being attached to good movie? Leave your thoughts in the comments!

Zac Hogle is a writer/director who has worked on several nationally broadcast series and documentaries. You can follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/zhogle.

All images and videos are the copyright and property of their respective holders. No infringement is intended.

Categories: Editing, Movies

How to Build Your Film: Character versus Concept

July 19, 2011 Leave a comment

One of the hardest things to do as a screenwriter, or any writer for that matter, is to remember where the emphasis of your story should be placed. Frequently you’ll come up with a great new concept, something you’ve never seen before. It’s Twilight (2008) meets Robocop (1987), and you know the audience will eat up this new mashing of genres.

What if Bella was torn between Edward and...

...this man?

Every writer is different, but for me the concept always comes first. It’s the world where everything takes place, and provides the backdrop for your story. The thing that becomes difficult is moving past the concept. You have a world, Twilight meets Robocop, and you have a story, a robot that is half man hunts vampires to protect humanity and unwittingly falls in love with one of those who he hunts. What you don’t actually have are characters.

Yes, you know the names of your characters at this point and what they need to do to move the story forward. What you need to do now is delve deeper and discover who your characters are, and what they want. No matter how great your concept, people won’t attach themselves to your film unless you give them characters they can care about.

Johnny Depp and Orlando Bloom in The Curse of the Black Pearl

Look at a film like Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003). When the film was initially released, it was the first mainstream pirate movie in a very long time. Fans of the genre flocked to theatres to take it in, but mainstream audiences weren’t enthralled with the concept of pirates on the big screen. What did enthrall audiences was the portrayal of the characters. Geoffrey Rush as Barbossa, Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Swan, Orlando Bloom as Will Turner, and Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow. Excuse me, that’s Captain Jack Sparrow. These were deep and layered characters, each the hero of their own film, and each vividly portrayed on film. To support our main cast, an equally vivid cast of supporting characters was created, ensuring our attention through the course of the film.

While Jack Sparrow steals the show, it's characters like Barbossa and Elizabeth Swann that give depth to the film.

These characters helped make Black Pearl the massive success that it was, but what of a film with underdeveloped characters? That very issue can take a surefire hit and turn it into a flop. A film like Highlander II: The Quickening (1991) demonstrates this.

Poster for Highlander II: The Quickening

Taking over from the original cult classic Highlander (1986), The Quickening almost immediately destroys the mythic and characters that were set up in the first film. Gone is the tortured soul of Connor MacLeod, as it turns out he’s actually an alien. This bizarre recharacterization not only loses sympathy from the audience, but actively destroys the characterization from the previous film, leaving even fans of the series without a straw to grasp at.

Connor MacLeod's carefully crafted story is turned on its head in the Highlander sequel.

But how do you give depth to your characters? Once I’ve determined my concept and story, I sit down and write character bios for everyone in the film. This lets me delve into the character, focusing on them instead of the script as a whole. With the understandings I gain from that process, I can move on to actually crafting my screenplay.

But there is no right or wrong way to create a screenplay. How do you get to the root of who your character is? Leave your thoughts in the comments!

Zac Hogle is a writer/director who has worked on several nationally broadcast series and documentaries. You can follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/zhogle.

All images and videos are the copyright and property of their respective holders. No infringement is intended.

Categories: Writing

Lovable Losers: How to Create A Sympathetic Protagonist

July 8, 2011 Leave a comment

While I was in Chicago last weekend, I was able to take in my first Chicago Cubs game at Wrigley Field. The entire place was ripe with history, and the lack of a scoreboard let you know that this park was meant for baseball. Not spectacle, not show, but baseball, the American pastime.

Wrigley Field

Of course, while thinking about that history it’s hard to not remember that the Cubs haven’t won a World Series since 1908. But that legacy didn’t seem to put a damper on the fans at all, as everyone showed up to root on the Cubs against the hated cross-town rival White Sox. Naturally, this translates perfectly to film.

Chicago Cubs Logo

As an audience we all want to cheer on the underdog, the lovable loser. All successful protagonists have been a loser of some kind, whether they be a loser in love, business, or any other facet of life. When creating a protagonist, it is essential to set up that they are the underdog in some respect and have something they need to change in their lives. Otherwise, why would we cheer them on?

R.P. McMurphy

Jack Nicholson as R.P. McMurphy

In One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975), R.P. McMurphy is the quintessential loser. To avoid a jail sentence for battery and gambling, he decides to take the ‘lesser’ sentence by feigning insanity and ending up in a mental institution. However, the plan backfires as he ends up under the care of the brutal Nurse Ratched, and begins to sympathize with the fellow patients.

Louise Fletcher as Nurse Ratched

A classic arc, we can clearly see the growth of the character of R.P. McMurphy. He begins as a loser for being completely narcissistic and working only for his benefit. We root for him to grow and change because we can see the persecution and terrible conditions the patients are living in. McMurphy’s growth is complete when he performs the selfless act of sacrificing himself for the others, ending up in electroshock therapy. The R.P. McMurphy we knew is gone, literally.

Butch and Sundance

Robert Redford and Paul Newman in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

There is perhaps no greater overthinkers in film history than Butch and Sundance from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969). Legendary for their ability to rob banks and trains, they are losers not because of themselves, but because of the world around them. Times change, and they are having a hard time keeping up. As the law gets closer and closer Butch hatches his final plan: leave America for the greener pastures of Bolivia. Even significant other Etta Place realizes this is a bad idea and leaves Bolivia, stranding Butch and Sundance. In a final act of desperation, Butch and Sundance take on the entire army of Bolivia.

The Final Shootout

The case of Butch Cassidy is an example of a character with a need to evolve and change, but the complete inability to. Where R.P. McMurphy evolved to his sacrifice, Butch fights right until the end. We root for Butch for nostalgic reasons, cheering for a simpler time. We root right alongside him, but we know he cannot win. Nothing can stop the tides of progress, and Butch and Sundance pay the price for that.

Jake and Elwood Blues

Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi in The Blues Brothers

I would be hard pressed to not end a Chicago inspired blog without using the example of two of their native sons. From The Blues Brothers (1980), Jake and Elwood are struggling to pull their lives back together after Jake ended up in jail. The characters already know they need to change their lives, but they’re not sure how. Instead of getting on the right side of the law, they end up staying right where they were, but on a ‘mission from God’ instead. In an increasingly rare twist in modern film, Jake and Elwood find religion in their own quirky way, and they take to their new task the same as they used to take to crime. They get the band back together and lead us on one of the wildest road trips to ever hit film. In the end their faith ends them right back where they started, Joliet prison.

Car Chase through a Mall in The Blues Brothers

Another example of characters fighting against changing times, Jake and Elwood embody a bygone era. The rhythm and blues days are gone, but that is all Jake and Elwood know, so they keep ploughing forward, even getting their friends to buy into their illusion. The charade keeps up despite stolen bookings, and an increasingly large hoard of police on their tails. This lack of a change, however, is a change. Unlike in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Jake and Elwood have a reason not to change. They need money to save an orphanage, and this gives us cause to root for them through the entire film. It also gives us and the characters cause to accept their arrest at the end of the film, with their mission having been completed.

All in all, we always cheer for the underdog. The term ‘loser’ may be harsh, and may not apply to all characters, but the rule holds true. Characters need to have something to change internally before they can be sympathetic to an audience.

How do you craft a sympathetic ‘loser’ protagonist? What are some of your favorites? Leave your thoughts in the comments!

Zac Hogle is a writer/director who has worked on several nationally broadcast series and documentaries. You can follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/zhogle.

All images and videos are the copyright and property of their respective holders. No infringement is intended.

Categories: Movies, Writing
%d bloggers like this: