Sunday, May 15, 2016

How to Make a Short Film: Explaining Your Vision

How do you, as a filmmaker, communicate your vision?

Epic pose with "Kelly" star Rachel Kyle

One of the most important things that a director does when trying to make a short film or any film is communicate his vision. Quentin Tarantino said: As a director ... Your job is explaining your vision. Your job is articulating … what you want on the screen.” If you explain to everyone well what your film is supposed to look like, feel like, be like, then they know how to use their unique creative talents and expertise to make that happen. (A phenomenon I also discuss here.) You don’t have to micromanage every detail for things you don’t know. Like costume design. Do I know the best way to make costumes? No, I do not.

In case you doubted...

But how do you, a budding filmmaker, explain your vision to your team?

The best way I’ve found, as a filmmaker, is use two things they already know. This is actually a very common way to “pitch” films to producers. Sky High was called Harry Potter meets The Incredibles. The Martian was called Castaway in space.

Along with the inevitable Die Hard everywhere combinations

My first short film Kelly vs The Philosophers had such an odd story people had a hard time getting it.

“So it’s an action-comedy about a college student who fights the phantoms of various philosophers she’s studying for class.”

Totally blank expressions.

So I changed tactics. Since it was a video-game eque action comedy and my college was big on classical education, I added this to the pitch.

“It’s like Scott Pilgrim vs The World at our college.”

“Ohhhhh, that sounds really cool!”

Right away that helped me with pre-production. My chief editor Benjamin Capitano made a night of it and went to Midtown Comics and looked through a bunch of Scott Pilgrims and other comics. Then we spent a night watching the movie again. There was popcorn and laughter in the apartment. I can neither confirm nor deny Scott Pilgrim battle reenactments. 

We take our work seriously (Ben, left. Me, right)
This was also helpful with my costume designer, Megan Ristine. Once she knew we were going with a  Scott Pilgrim vibe, she was able to lend her experience to making the outfits believable but over the top—authentic, but with character. The actors also knew where to ground their performance on the realism scale with less coaching. We had such a fun time with it together, laughing about the concept and everyone throwing their own ideas into the pot.

Megan Ristine in her element.

This is the best part as a filmmaker: when you’re all on the same page with the film, it’s not just your vision anymore. It’s all your vision you’re sharing together. Everyone wants to make this movie, not just you. That’s how real communities are formed that last a lifetime. And that is one of the best things you can have when you make a short film, or any film at all.

Cast and crew photo. Left to right: Taylor Pope, Jennifer Verzuh, Joshua Shabshis, Hope Epperson, Megan Ristine, Rachel Kyle, EC Hannah, Alex Foley, Bryce Lewis, Brian Stewart, Josh Simons, Lara Jane

Friday, May 6, 2016

Why Being a Filmmaker Might Mean You Don't Like Captain America: Civil War

Does being a good filmmaker mean you won't enjoy films like Captain America: Civil War?

Four years ago, I was about to enter college, I hadn't I started being a filmmaker, it was then I saw what is still one of my favorite films: Marvel’s The Avengers. Now, this year I am about to graduate from college and just saw Captain America: Civil War. A massive disappointment to me. Just like Batman vSuperman. Is it me or is it them?

On the one hand, I think I’m holding both to a consistent filmmaker standard. I've always been super critical of my superhero movies. I hated Spider-Man 3 and Iron Man II and III I am a longtime superhero fanboy and loved Marvel’s the Avengers because it was faithful to the comics: Superheroes being superheroes, bickering, fighting each other, then fighting the common threat. Captain America: Civil War was nothing like the comic book Civil War. The comic book was a dark story about two good men on opposite sides who so believe they’re right they are willing to do whatever it takes to stop the other. Stories that tell deep stories in a compelling way are important to me and I think the superhero genre is capable of doing that and it's sad they aren't. 

But on the other hand, maybe I’ve just changed as a filmmaker. The difference between then and now is that fans and critics agreed that Spider-Man 3 was bad. But critics and audiences love Captain America: Civil War. Yet I don't. Like I’ve written about elsewhere, I have been told by my friends with increasing frequency that I am always disappointed in movies. The first of the Avengers films I was excited at a giant love-letter to superheroes. Have my standards for filmmaking become so high that I can’t enjoy normal movies?

If so, maybe it's worth it. In the past four years I've really grown as a filmmaker. I've made great short films that I'm proud of (like Kelly vs the Philosophers). I've changed as a person. That's what you expect when you go to college.

You may like Captain America: Civil War. But regardless, I think the lesson for aspiring filmmakers is that if you really have the high standards you need to make great films, you’re going to be disappointed in a lot of movies along the way. Which is going to be rough, because we want to make movies because we love watching movies. And it makes it harder to watch movies.

I wanted to love Captain America: Civil War just as much as I loved Avengers all those years ago. But if it means I become a better filmmaker it’s worth it.