Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Prepping to Make a Horror Film: Insidious 2

Over the weekend, I mustered up the courage to watch Insidious: Chapter 2. I am not an avid horror fan. I'm not a fan of horror at all, actually. Usually I see a trailer and then make a snap decision which is, "Ha! I'm never watching that!"

I have not seen the first of the Insidious movies, but my roommate told me that I didn't have to. Insidious: Chapter 2 is very similar to the first movie and picks up right where the first one leaves off, so she gave me a brief summary.  The first two Insidious films are about the Lambert family, who are connected to the spirit world through one of the sons, Dalton, and his father, Josh. In the first film, Dalton  falls into a coma and is tormented by evil spirits in another realm called The Further. The family seeks the help of Elise Rainier to bring Dalton back to reality. At some point in the movie, Josh goes into The Further to bring Dalton back, but an evil spirit follows him out and continues to haunt the family throughout the second film.

There was a lot that was visually scary, but if I had watched the movie on mute, I'm sure I wouldn't have been as scared. The sound was so powerful. The score sounded like it had a lot of strings; I expected that. But I think what was most scary was the pairing of a quick, jarring sound with a striking or strange image.

This short scene is great for sound design analysis. Specs and Tucker, two ghost hunters, are in the house of Parker Crane, a man who died many years before that is connected to the Lambert family.

This scene is very short, but it's clear the sound sets up the audience to be spooked. The first line of dialogue, "Let's get out of here," is accompanied by silence. Then you hear the floor squeak for a second, until the sound grows and you realize it's coming from the rocking horses behind the guys. The rocking horses rock faster and faster until a little boy runs across the frame yelling "This is my room!" This is paired with a jarring, non-diegetic sound. These non-diegetic sounds inserted at key moments let the audience know what they should be scared of.

Another example of this is when Dalton recalls a dream he had the previous night. At 0:42, a strategic jump cut to a wider angle, coupled with the jarring sound and scary image of the woman in the white gown makes the audience jump. I hope to implement this strategic and classic horror ingredient in our film, Dollhouse.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

A Closer Look at the AD Position

After realizing and accepting my hyper-organizational tendencies last week, I realized that there are certain positions on a production that utilize these skills more often than others. As I previously mentioned, I will be working as the Assistant Director for our production of Doll House. In class Arturo challenged me to learn more about the AD position and think critically about how I could possibly apply my skill set to this position as I try it for the first time. After looking into it a bit, this is what I found. 

One of the primary duties of an AD  is maintaining order on set. This means tracking the daily progress of the production against the overall production schedule. It is imperative for the AD to stay organized and on task, they are essential to keep the shoot running smoothly. An unorganized or uninformed AD would slow production and possibly even ruin time sensitive shooting dates. The AD must have a complete understanding of the script breakdown in order to fully follow the production schedule that they help create, making sure that each scene is shot in an order that makes sense logistically. An AD must also be very good at estimating how long a particular scene will take to shoot; depending on the amount of  action or dialogue a scene that is only half a page may take hours to shoot. 

The AD is also responsible for the health and safety of the crew. As Arturo talked about in class, if someone gets hurt on set, it is the AD that will suffer the consequences. This means making sure each department is taking the necessary steps to secure the set, like ensuring that lights are stable and cords are taped down. 

The AD is also responsible for "calling the role" before filming a scene. This entails calling "Quiet on set" followed by "roll sound" and "roll camera." The call for "action" is usually called by the director, but can be called by the AD at the director's preference.

In more complicated productions, there can be many different ADs, creating a hierarchy of sorts whilst dividing up the many managerial duties that occur at any given time during a production. A production could have a First AD, Second AD,  Second Second AD, Third AD,  and Additional AD. I guess they just sort of ran out of creativity there. 

Along with being organized, a good AD needs to be able to communicate to many (all) of the departments on set, and needs to exhibit good leadership skills to keep everything rolling smoothly along. 

While I'm sure my time on set as AD for Doll House will certainly be a learning experience, I do think that I am ready to give this position a shot. It will provide me with an opportunity to really get involved in the production and put my organization skills to the test. I am looking forward to working with all of the departments and seeing how they all come together on set. 

Casting Call Tips

With our second casting call for Stopover City rolling around I've definitely picked on to some of the do's and don'ts of casting calls. I thought you all would appreciate some tips for your future casting calls...

How to run a successful casting call
  • Casting Location
    • The location needs to be in an comfortable environment with ample room for actor to prepare prior to auditioning.
  • Advertise Casting Call
    • Promote your casting date on all social media (Facebook, Twitter, and the film webpage)
    • Promote via posters *literally post them everywhere*
    • Expand promotion outside of school, send mass emails and contact actor agencies.
  • Choose Scenes for Actors to Read at Casting Call.
    • Look for short scenes that involve the character interacting and illustrate a range of emotion.
    • Have more than one scene available for reading.
  • Make a schedule
    • Rent Location for casting, and if needed equipment before hand to avoid any potential conflicts
    • Extensive time block. *you want to avoid making the actor feel rushed.

  • Distribute information sheets to actors
    • At the end of each audition, you should provide the actor with an information sheet that contains the following:
      • outline the days of production
      • contact information for them to fill.
  • Extra Tips for Casting Day!
    • Be knowledgeable of script and all deadlines
    • Have a script available. I recommend 1 electronic copy, and 2 hard copies.
    • Have a script breakdown and character descriptions *actors will appreciate more context of their character prior to auditioning
    • Have a camera ready to record the audition
    • Have a sign in sheet posted
    • Provide refreshments and snacks to leave a professional and lasting impression.

Monday, September 28, 2015

On set experience – THESIS weekend 1

The past few weeks I have been working tirelessly on the production design/art direction of my close friend’s thesis film. I am working on this film because a. he asked me to do so back in May and b. it is one of the “on-set designs & experiences” for my independent study in production design. This was (and still is) a serious work in progress for me, since I had never been the key designer on a project until now (someone else had always been telling me how to dress the set and it was their designs). But my friend the writer/director has always been behind the camera, so he didn’t have a super specific vision of what he wanted for the design, it was more of the colors and lights he wanted; the rest he let my imagination run wild.

Even though principal photography was this past weekend, my part started weeks ago, starting with the breakdown of the script to learn more about the characters, in addition to determining a color palate, and figuring out which props & costume I need. Then I joined the location scout process, which included looking at various churches, apartments, and bars. This part was/still is tough for me because I was unable to go to all the original scouts due to other commitments. Thankfully for the apartment scenes I was on the original scout, so storyboarding and planning the design was easier. Planning this upcoming week’s shoot has been more difficult because I haven’t seen all the locations in person—only photos for some of them!

From September 25th-27th  we filmed the interior of the characters’ loft- a location that we scouted & secured all the way in Rochester, NY. Keep in mind, this was not even a real apartment (it was a studio that the producers rented on craigslist from this 24 year old who runs a sound recording business) so there was 1 bathroom with no shower, and we were staying there for 3 days and 2 nights!!! Can’t you smell the sweat just thinking about 17 people in a hot apartment for 3 days? (because I certainly will never forget the smell).
me on a giant ladder hanging makeshift "walls" from the ceiling...Innovation at its finest.
Also, I look like I'm descending from production design heaven.

We arrived on Friday evening (I felt like such a soccer mom driving 4 people PLUS all art things in my Rav4) and I immediately got to work. First, I took pictures of everything in the studio so I could put it back the exact way I found it. Then, i took everything off the walls, and moved all furniture I wasn't using to the part of the loft that we weren't filming in. Then I put up the "walls" for the main character's bedroom--there was no real bedroom so we cheated walls with dark blankets (trust me, it looked super dope). Then I set up the design for the computer "room", living room, and the "bedroom". The whole thing took about 5 hours and by the end I was WIPED out. But then we woke up at 6:30 AM the next morning and the set was dressed & ready to go!! We filmed on Saturday from 8 AM to 10:30 PM and Sunday from 8 AM to 1 PM, then it was time to break down the set. That part was difficult because I was exhausted from the weekend's events and it was sad to take apart the set! (Got plenty of pics though, and of course it was all captured on camera for the film ha). 

Overall, I’m really happy with the way my work has turned out so far. With conjunction of the DP, lighting department, and director of course, we were able to accomplish a very beautiful visual for every shot. I’m super excited for this weekend’s shoot, and of course, the final product of the thesis film!

Friday, September 25, 2015

360 Degree YouTube Video

Apparently I've been living under a rock at the bottom of a well for the past few months because I have only just discovered that YouTube now supports 360 videos. What does that mean you ask? It means this:

Watch it on your phone if you'd like your mind to be blown more than it currently is.

If you're like then this video probably melted your brain all over your keyboard. I had no idea that 360 degree camera's even existed let alone be a technology that would be supported by a company as colossal as google. After a bit of googling I found that there are quite a few models of 360 camera's available to the tech savvy consumer:

There's the Ricoh Theta, a device that looks as pretentious as it sounds, and costs around $350.00 which with tax included I think we can all agree is the price level equivalent of a terrible pun.
Next coming in at a bit depth of 4 pixels is the Kodak SP360. Priced at $300.00 it may look like an interesting tool to add to ones cinematic arsenal. It also looks like a muffin from the future which is all I've every wanted from a camera.

There are a few more interesting models I've found that I won't go into detail on , but I will say this: The death of the frame is neigh all hail the future muffin.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Can You Pay Our Bills?

*cue this song.

The reason I've been getting so involved in our story and constantly editing it is for two reasons. (1) I want it to be as good as it can be (obviously); and (2) I want that Pendleton grant!

Everyone in our group agreed that Dollhouse would be a low-budget film. However, having some grant money would be very helpful. I think that if we want to be a serious contender for the grant, we need to have a grammatically flawless script, which is why I've been working with Theo to edit it. Last fall I took Developing Story Narratives with Julie Blumberg, so I have a good amount of experience editing scripts. I also brought our textbook for that class, The Hollywood Standard by Christopher Riley, back to school with me specifically for moments like this.

After about five drafts (and help from Anna), we've created a story that is more compelling and interesting than it was a couple days ago. Tomorrow it should be ready for storyboarding, which is super exciting.

How we would use our money:
  • Gas money - to transport talent, crew, and gear ($30)
  • Craft services - food for cast and crew for a 3 day shoot ($70-$100)
  • Production design - printing photos, props, room/house decor ($30)
  • Wardrobe ($20)
  • Gaffing supplies ($25)
  • Emergency fund - for when we inevitably have situations to deal with that are unpredictable ($40)


Total - $245

I am rounding up to get these estimates, so we may not end up using all of the $245. Any leftover money would be used to submit our film to festivals.

Hopefully our submission goes well and we're awarded some grant money. The next step is for us to focus on pre-production and prep everything that we can.

Use of Music in FIlms

What would a film be without music. Nothing. Well okay, it would still be a series of images that make up a story, but it really wouldn't be that good. A film can be absent of dialogue, or color, and it can still be a great film. However, without music, a film cannot be great.

 Music is the thing in films that evoke emotion. Music is what is going make you cry or laugh or get that really warm feeling when things turn out the way that you want them to. Music can really enhance the cinematic experience.

The score is what can take a film from good to iconic. There are some scores that have transcended our respect for music in films, here are some of the best film scores in my opinion.

To Kill A Mockingbird

Jurassic Park

Back to the Future
Harry Potter

Danger 5

Danger 5 is an Australian comedy series that is absolutely hysterical. Every aspect of the show makes me laugh. The actors, the set, the script, even the lighting. It is all over the top and over done.

This show is no Breaking Bad when it comes to looks. Everything in the show is done to look cheap and corny. While I understand that this is an approach that most people would hate I think that the show can be views as a good learning tool for students studying film. The show capitalized on low budget... to the extreme. The establishing shows are almost always hand made models, and this is a very cheap way to give a show a very interesting feel. It doesn't work if everything in the film is meant to be taken seriously but not all film needs to be so serious.

Danger 5 is still fun to watch even though it doesn't have crazy animation and locations, and I think that this is something that everyone can learn from. Also its available on Netflix... so check it out

The Use of Color

So I've been thinking a little bit about color this week. As an editor, this is something I need to consider when getting ready to finish the final product, as the color can alter the feeling of a scene completely. This technique has been used many times throughout the years, and is used in the majority of movies and tv shows, whether you initially notice it or not. For instance, ever notice during certain scenes in Breaking Bad, the primary color in focus is yellow?

That's because throughout the show, they have used this shade in scenes where tensions mount. Or have you noticed that in The Matrix, the majority of the movie is green?
These subtle, yet noticeable, details help to create a certain mood which the director is trying to convey. This is why is horror movies, you will see lots of blue coloring, due to the melancholy nature of the color, or grey in post apocalyptic movies. The use of color is really just as important as any other aspect in creating the mood you are going for, so going forward it's always a good idea to consider it. After all, a regular scene can become something special when more meaning is put into it.

My Favorite Place On Campus

This semester I'm working as talent coordinator for VIC radio, which is by far the best job I've had. (Even though we only get paid about 5 hours a week.) Some of my responsibilities include training and air-checking our talent, creating the permanent and weekly schedule, attending all of our exec and gen staff meetings, all while creating a welcoming presence to our new DJs.

Chris and I awkwardly Emceeing at Apple Fest.

The station manager and I updated our training program to be implemented this semester. I was really proud of our work, even if it was just adding a short orientation to the training, I believe it made the newbies feel a lot more confident and excited (instead of clueless and terrified) to join our station. A few other goals I have for the semester is to make short tutorial videos and a VIC handbook.

Rush Night. The doors were PACKED.

One thing I really love about the job is getting to know our new DJs. I didn't feel as welcomed my first few semesters on the station, and it was mostly because of the exec. staff at that time. Since then I've always wanted the position so I could make a difference to those newbies and all of our staff. 

Honestly it makes me so proud to see our DJs grow and really find their voice. Since I'll be going to LA this spring, it always makes me super sad in realizing this is my last semester with VIC. I've met some of my best friends here doing radio and we really are our own little family.  I've been involved since freshmen year by picking up shifts, volunteering at events, emceeing and working on my own DJ personality. Now that I'm on exec staff I want to leave VIC knowing I made a huge positive impact for future semesters of playing 'the best of what's next.'

Making our "hipster" rush night video.
*cough cough* If you ever want to listen in, my shift is Wednesday from 12-2pm as well as my specialty show, Under the Covers, Friday from 4-6pm. You can listen on, itunes and coming soon we'll have our own app! 

Learning to Drive

I spent my Saturday evening getting my indie film fix by seeing Learning to Drive at Cinemapolis. Most movies I see there are very well done, but frankly this one make my film student mind go completely ~~~beserk~~~! It is a dramedy about Wendy (Patricia Clarkson, Shutter Island) a middle aged Manhattan woman who after her husband divorces her, takes driving lessons from Darwan (Ben Kingsley, Schindler’s List, Shutter Island). It was not completely horrible, (Clarkson and Kingsley both gave good performances) but there were production flaws that did not enhance and in some cases, kind of ruined the production.

For one, the cinematography was kind of crappy. There were very few creative shots, and many were badly framed. And in every scene where they were in the car (there were a lot) there was always this awful glare on the windshield. Every time there was this type of scene it was so off-putting because the sound was perfectly audible but we were watching from outside the car??? Also, it seemed like the editing done by Thelma Schoonmaker (The Departed, Wolf of Wall Street) was more salvaging than getting to do creative cuts and all that jazz.

A major thing I found quite jarring was the the story itself. A lot of the themes were very scattered and I felt that there were unnecessary scenes that did not further the storyline along at all. The problem was definitely in the screenplay, because both Wendy and Darwan's reactions were so unrealistically calm whenever she was driving. As someone who learned how to drive once upon a time, I truly felt that the stakes were high enough for the amount of fear she was feeling, because I was in that position once too. Wendy would also go into these flashbacks/hallucinations of her ex husband & father talking to her while she was driving. It's as if the writer was forcing symbolism into the story when it was frankly, a little over the top. The part that really irked me was when there was a really weird will they, won’t they? moment toward the end when Darwan asks Wendy out (even though they were just discussing his marriage) and she rejects him and simply moves on with her life. And then the movie ends with her driving off into the distance????? So overall a very jumpy plot and quite confusing.

Overall, it was a cute movie, but I definitely wouldn't see it again.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Beauty of Sitcoms

One thing I really miss about high school or back when life was easier freshman year is the precious time I had to enjoy watching my favorite sitcoms. Not that I don't have the time anymore, but being all grown-up, I use my time a little bit differently. However, if I am ever feeling sick or down in the dumps and know I have some time to spare, my go-to cure is sitcoms, sitcoms, sitcoms. Whether its That 70s Show, Parks and Recreation or How I Met Your Mother, I know any one of these series is sure to lighten my mood right away.

What I love the most about sitcoms is the unique character personalities. On most shows of this genre, there are usually a group of 5 or more friends or characters within an environment that have very distinct traits. For example, in How I Met Your Mother, Barney is the player, Ted is the hopeless romantic, Marshall is the kind, sentimental one. On That 70s Show, Kelso is the airhead, Jackie is the "popular" girl, Donna is "one of the guys", Hyde is the rebel and Eric is the innocent, nerdy one. It is interesting when such different personalities are put together in these shows because it makes for interesting character interactions and is often the cause of conflict which makes for an entertaining storyline. A specific example that I can think of is in That 70s Show when Jackie and Hyde secretly date behind Kelso's back. Hyde hates Jackie throughout the whole show, but then is suddenly attracted to her one summer. They have conflicting personalities which causes problems at first, but ultimately leads to intimacy.

Another thing I love about sitcoms is the simplistic story lines and the length of the episodes and seasons. Because it is a light-hearted genre, story lines are often resolved within one episode rather than over the course of an entire season as in a drama. It is an easy genre to pick up and watch whenever you feel like, not really requiring much of a commitment. However, I guarantee you usually will get hooked. Sitcoms frequently last for more than 5 seasons (at least the really good ones). Netflix provides a lot of the best options including what I mentioned above and others such as Friends, 30 Rock and The Office. If you're looking for a good show to binge-watch, sitcoms are definitely your go to genre.

Running wild for the film Wild.

Over the weekend I decided to watch the 2014 film Wild starring Reese Witherspoon and directed by Jean- Marc Vallee. The film Wild illustrates Cheryl Strayed's journey to spiritual fulfillment and a better self. Cheryl Strayed decided to take an untraditional route to recovery by hiking the 1,000 miles Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) alone. The trail runs through California, Oregon, and Washington almost touching the Canadian border (according to the film). In awe, the hike is extremely difficult and dangerous due to the fluctuating altitudes, weather, and exposure to wildlife and overall isolation. Strayed's memoir was almost entirely made to be a great film, and a great film is exactly what it was!

Reese Witherspoon's performance had an exceptional performance as Strayed. She presented the torments and overall emotional damage and perseverance Strayed carried throughout her hike. I appreciated that Valle incorporated the aspect of femininity in the film. Noting that the PCT predominately was male dominated and the fact that Strayed not only hiked it alone but completed it was phenomenal and definitely worth mentioning. In the film Witherspoon starts off with an enormous back pack filled with a lot of things that she expects she’ll need but really doesn’t. That moment, although a bit comical, is actually a sign showing that Strayed was prepared to hike the PCT. Gradually over time she begins to learn how to keep herself going, and along the way make the back pack lighter by getting rid of the unnecessary stuff.

The back pack is very much a symbol of the spiritual and mental weight that Strayed carried around from so many years after the death of her mother, her ill childhood, heroine addiction, and over all damaging path as an adult. As she hikes through the PCT she mentally is dealing with all her demons and overcoming them in an edgy way. That is represented by her slowly lightening the weight of her backpack throughout the hike.

I want to compliment the way the director Vallee decided to go about representing Strayed’s demons. He replicated the how when someone is alone they are often times flooded with unwanted thoughts—like when we lay down to sleep after a long day we often think about the bad points or something that bothered us days ago. Vallee represents this by using flashbacks in the film, almost as if every time Strayed overcomes or approaches a new demon she has a flashback on a particular incident. At times it was her mothers death from cancer, or her mothers joyful, uplifting attitude while singing in the kitchen. Other times it was her husband’s disappointment in her addiction and inability to commit to solely him. I must say that there are a lot of strong images of addiction and promiscuity in the film but that is what makes it raw and uncut—relatable to the audience.

I was often times very emotional throughout the film, and completely consumed by it. The film Wild runs a bit under 2 hours total but is definitely a great watch. I recommend it to you all.

Here's the Trailer:

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Binception: The Post Production Struggle.

I am a very organized person. My room is impeccable, my backpack is laboriously and strategically packed to optimize convenience, my calendar is color-coded, and I always know what is on my schedule for at least the next few days in advance. This organization carries over into my post production work, which is one of the reasons I think I initially gravitated towards the post process. 

I edit out of Premiere, which allows for an immense amount of organization as well as customization. You can arrange the window panels in any conceivable way, customizing the size and location of every window and tool imaginable. and don't even get me started on the bins. I LOVE bins. I have bins for everything. I have bins for my clips. I have bins for my sequences. I have bins for my bins. My Premiere projects are complete Binception.

So far, I have only found use for my obsessive organization within the post production process, however, in this class I am trying to push myself and  be involved more with the pre prodoction and production aspects of our projects. At first I wasn't sure if I could find a role that suited my organizational skill set, however, on Monday we watched a short interview that described the Script Supervisor/Continuity position, and I think I found what I've been looking for. Having never been a script supervisor on a project before, I cannot say whether I would actually  like this position, but just from the short clip we watched, I could see a lot of overlap from my post production skills.

Notes from a 'scripty'

Basically, the script supervisor is responsible for keeping the project alive during the production process, which involves a significant amount of work in pre production through script breakdowns, which ensures that the production, which is often filmed out-of-sequence, always makes verbal and visual sense. It also requires an intense attention to detail, making sure that actors motion and wardrobe stay continuous throughout different shots, ensuring nothing will break the moment of the film. The script supervisor gets to work with many different departments on set, making sure each is doing their job correctly and consistently between takes. 

 That being said, I will be working as the Assistant Director during our project for this class, but I still think my organization and attention to detail will certainly come into play, whether it is from script breakdowns,scheduling, or general on set management. Either way, I am excited to take a step out of the dark editing room and into the light during the production process.