Mastering FilmPowered by bestselling Focal Press authors and industry experts, MasteringFilm features tips, advice, articles, video tutorials, interviews, and other resources for aspiring and current filmmakers.2016-06-23T18:07:28Zhttp://masteringfilm.com/feed/atom/WordPressTracey Friesenhttp://www.masteringfilm.com/?p=80722016-06-23T18:07:28Z2016-06-23T18:07:28ZA Mini-Blog on the Power of Media to Ignite Change
Excerpts below are from the book Story Money Impact: Funding Media for Social Change, by Tracey Friesen. This series of nuggets and links is designed to inspire those driven to connect art & activism.
STORY Question – What is the immediate power of watching a character facing a moral dilemma?
Elise Pearlstein (Participant Media): If it’s a first-person story it should transcend the specificity of the individual and speak to a larger idea. Some really compelling stories don’t offer a window into something greater. They just exist on their own merits and there’s nothing wrong with that. But when we’re trying to help shine a light on pressing issues in the world, we’re looking for a personal, emotional, specific story – dramatic and compelling in its own right. This is not something that you can force; it should be organic to the story.
MONEY Question: How do you talk to other potential funders about the power of media to affect social change?
Steve Cohen (Chicago Media Project): What we talk about is how film can be a source for both inspiring and igniting people to act. Visual storytelling can be so much more powerful than even the oral or written word. We see film as that version of storytelling, of being the kindling for conversation, and then you add to that an approach for how that film can be used within an impact strategy, and you have the makings of a social reform campaign.
IMPACT Question: What is the difference between a ‘theory of change’ and a ‘call to action’?
Sheila Leddy (Fledgling Fund): A theory of change is how you see change happening and it helps you to build a strategy and vision for how your film can contribute, and who it needs to reach to have that impact. A call to action flows from that strategy but is more tactical. At Fledgling Fund we are drawn towards character-driven films—where you can connect with a character and then you use that character to illuminate a larger issue.
This series of nuggets and links is designed to inspire those driven to connect art & activism.
STORY Question – In what ways are you optimistic about the future of media for social change?
Linda Solomon (Vancouver Observer) – I come from a kind of a philosophy that says that even if I make the tiniest drop of change in my whole lifetime, that’s enough. I do not get attached to the outcome on these things. I don’t see my role as even aiming to make a change when we’re telling stories. My aim every day is to tell a powerful story that people are really going to want to read, and then to put it in their hands. That’s the role of the journalist. Some people get burnt out because I think they’re attached to the outcome, but for me the goal every day is to tell a better story.
MONEY Question – How important is recoupment in your decision making process?
Christie George (New Media Ventures) – We tend to have a policy of not working with any investors who aren’t impact oriented first on the spectrum of impact to financial returns. But as we have grown, we realize that people need way more than money. Many are also motivated by being part of a community. That’s a more valuable, deeper, longer term benefit to the organizations and the investors in the portfolio. This is such a wild west territory. Seeing that there are other people doing it and hearing their stories… All of the reasons why community is valuable are no less true in the context of angel investors.
IMPACT Question – How would you define an ‘impact producer’?
Darcy Heusel (Picture Motion) – People have been doing this kind of work for a while, at places like Participant Media, for instance, but the term ‘impact producer’ is something relatively new. Part of it is recognizing the importance of social impact and marketing of a film. Giving the title of ‘producer’ assigns a very specific role and task to it. Previously people might have said ‘social impact strategist’ or just that ‘I’m working on a social impact campaign’. But really, you’re producing an impact campaign.
]]>0Neil Landauhttp://www.neillandau.comhttp://www.masteringfilm.com/?p=80622016-03-03T15:44:13Z2016-03-03T15:43:18ZExcerpt from an interview with TOM FONTANA: The Man in the HAZMAT Suit
The original trailblazer, Tom Fontana has spent much of his extraordinary 30-year career writing about crime and punishment. Accordingly, I’d be committing a felony by not starting the story of the digital television revolution with him. Not only did he create, write, and produce Oz, the first-ever scripted drama for HBO and indeed premium cable, but he also created the first show for BBC America (Copper), and the first Netflix Original (Borgia).
Fontana was also showrunner on the groundbreaking police series, Homicide: Life on the Street. He and longtime producing partner, Academy Award winner Barry Levinson, together with credited creator Paul Attanasio, adapted the series from the book Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets by Baltimore Sun reporter, David Simon. Simon wrote for Homicide, and then went on to create one of the greatest series of all time: The Wire.
Both Fontana and Levinson felt that Simon’s gripping, nonfiction book, rich and expansive, would work better as a TV series than a movie. The only catch was, Levinson had no interest in making a traditional network procedural, in which a crime is committed in the teaser, and by the end of the episode the perp is brought to justice. Problem solved. Neither Fontana nor Levinson wanted formulaic. Both wanted to explore the gray areas, where there are no easy answers. There was a caveat: in order for Levinson to commit to a series, he wanted to make the first-ever police procedural with no gunplay, no car chases, no pat resolutions. Fontana told him: “That’s impossible. Let’s do it!”
Years later, in the series finale of Oz, when a mysterious package arrives at Oswald Penitentiary containing the deadly chemical anthrax, chaos ensues. Everyone is evacuated. Even death row inmates are loaded onto buses. Free at last, at least temporarily. Then the hazardous materials task force enters the prison to mitigate the disaster. If you look closely at the first responder, the man in the HAZMAT suit, that’s Tom Fontana, making his first and last cameo. It was a fitting grace note for such a landmark series, emblematic of Fontana’s entire career: an artist not afraid to take risks.
Whether he was battling network censors for permission to use the word “testicle”—in an episode about a patient battling testicular cancer on St. Elsewhere; depicting a severely homophobic inmate showing mercy to a suffering terminal AIDS patient through euthanasia; or injecting a surreal, Greek chorus-like, omniscient, wheelchair-bound narrator on Oz, Fontana is always a courageous, inspirational, provocative storyteller.
Neil Landau: You made the first-ever drama series for HBO, BBC America, and Netflix. You’re going to be the lead interview in my book. Another first. How about that?
Tom Fontana: It should also be noted that Barry Levinson and I did a series on the WB1 [The Bedford Diaries] and we were the last drama series on the WB. So we don’t just start networks, we also get networks canceled.
NL: [laughs] Well, yes, rarely. But it points to your willingness to take risks and break new ground.
TF: I appreciate your saying that. I think part of it is, I get these sort of crazy, half-assed notions in my head about trying something that I’ve never done before. I pitched variations on prison shows to all 4 of the broadcast networks, and they looked at me like I had gone completely insane.
NL: You also bring your game. If the door opened and you weren’t able to create such high quality programming that sustains, that would be the end of that.
TF: You’re absolutely right. I do think that if someone is going to take a risk on me, I have an obligation to do the very best that I can and really cause as much trouble as I can.
NL: Chris Albrecht took a chance green-lighting Oz as the first scripted drama for HBO and if it didn’t work—who knows? Maybe they wouldn’t have continued making original series.
TF: I carried the weight of that the whole first season, because I kept thinking to myself, “If I fuck this up Chris is going to say to the next guy in the door, ‘I trusted Fontana and I got screwed for it, so I’m not trusting you.’ ” I feel good about the fact that I didn’t screw it up and David Chase [The Sopranos] was the next one through the door.
NL: He didn’t screw it up either.
TF: Neither did Alan Ball [Six Feet Under].
NL: You were ahead of your time, not afraid to disrupt conventional expectation. In Oz, for example, as soon as things calmed down in prison, as soon as a character became comfortable, your instinct, which proved right, was to kill somebody off, or throw a curveball which replicated the feeling of a real prison. Dangerous, claustrophobic, unpredictable. You liked to continually shake things up and keep your audience on edge. You always challenged us, when for the longest time TV existed to reassure us.
TF: That’s right. In the past, the goal was to reinforce the sensibilities that we were all hoping were true, but obviously both turned out to be more fictional than any TV series we watched. As more and more sort of lies in society got exposed, the writers were allowed to have more freedom.
STORY Question:What story ingredients do you think directors should try to hold sacred?
Michelle van Beusekom (National Film Board of Canada): What resonates most strongly with me is emotion. That’s what draws people in, and then ideally they’ll become really interested, passionate, outraged, or whatever the desired range of emotions is about what they’ve just seen, and that sparks their interest. But if it’s just information, the risk is that it’s not going to touch people in their hearts, and it’s just not going to hold their attention and have an impact.
MONEY Question:How can we all better understand impact funders?
Geralyn Dreyfous (Impact Partners): The ability to align missions and amplify the current investment of a philanthropist or a foundation is one of the most exciting new areas being explored: “strategic alignment.” There are just so many ways when we all approach foundations to try to think about what are their goals, what is in their long-term strategic planning, what are some of the outcomes they want in the field and spheres of influence that they’ve invested in? They’re starting to see media as a more strategic investment.
IMPACT Question: Please explain the value of impact measurement.
Beadie Finzi (BRITDOC): We are actively encouraging evaluation. Why? Because we believe filmmakers need to better communicate the extraordinary impact their films are having in the world. Secondly, they need to be able to evaluate that to secure new funders and maintain existing funders. If I’m going to ask a grassroots or leading campaign organization to partner with me, then I need to demonstrate what the project might deliver that their own army of experts, campaigners, lobbyists or researchers can’t deliver?
STORY Question: Is there one story element that for you is the most important?
Elise Pearlstein (Participant Media): When I’m evaluating material, I’m looking at who the characters are and what they’re engaged in. The most interesting characters tend to be in the moment of something happening to them, not past tense. Sometimes it can be really fascinating to explore recollections and memory, but there’s nothing better than being able to film somebody in the midst of action.
MONEY Question: What first drew your attention to the value of documentary film?
Steve Cohen (Chicago Media Project/ Impact Partners): Impact Partners was my entree. I was always involved in grass-roots and advocacy organizations, and I certainly had the love for film, but I didn’t necessarily have an avenue that brought them both together. IP is a group of like-minded people who are spread out all over the country and have the desire to be involved in supporting impact strategies towards social change and have an orientation towards film and media as a tool for that.
IMPACT Question: What advice do you have for filmmakers in sourcing and approaching other partners?
Sheila Leddy (Fledgling Fund): If you are looking at nonprofit partners it’s really important to focus on the mutual benefit—not just how they can help you but how the film/campaign can help them, how it might reinforce their message, how it might help them broaden their own base, reach new audiences. It’s best not to lead with Can you send my film out to your list?, but to really think about creating authentic partnerships where you’re figuring out what the alignment is between the goals of these non-profit organizations and your own film and goals.
STORY Question: What to you are essential story ingredients for documentaries?
Mark Achbar (The Corporation): I ask questions. Is it new? Are you telling me something I don’t already know? I’m always grateful for that. Are you going to tell it in a way that’s novel? Are you going to advance the form? Is it well-written? … Do they show me something in a way that I hadn’t thought of it before? And are they considerate of the audience? By that I mean, if they’re introducing a new set of ideas or a new analysis, are they presenting it in a way that somebody else hasn’t?
MONEY Question: What advice do you have for filmmakers about approaching possible funders?
Cara Mertes (Just Films): Research your potential donor. Can they be a partner in your project and if so, how? Try to understand their needs and interests to the best of your ability and identify where you and they might have common ground. Assume these people are knowledgeable about their area, professional and committed. They want to identify partners for their work as much as you want to identify support for yours. If they can’t help, see if they can open the door to others who can.
IMPACT Question: What is the connection between the David Suzuki Foundation and Dr. Suzuki himself (and impact)?
Andrea Seale (Deputy CEO): Achieving an environmental mission is very difficult. In the last few years we’ve realized there is a great need for us to engage the public more deeply, really finding ways for individuals to get involved. We’ve been making a lot of effort to build up, care for and encourage a community of individuals. Whereas before our focus may have been on decision-makers or politicians – a smaller group – now we consider our “audience” to be much larger than ever before.
When director Paul Verhoeven looked to convince studio executives that a story about a war between mankind and vicious ‘Arachnid’ insects should be greenlit, he turned to Phil Tippett. The visual effects supervisor, known for his work on George Lucas’ Star Wars films and on Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park, helped craft a gruesome computer generated bug test that ultimately gave Starship Troopers the go ahead and cemented Tippett’s reputation as one of the go-to creature effects supervisors.
Above: The Starship Troopers test that gave the film the greenlight
Indeed, having seen the finished product, George Lucas said Starship Troopers was a film Tippett had been born to do. “I was always trying to get directors to chop people’s heads off and squish people—George didn’t like to do that kind of stuff, but Paul did,” Tippett says.
And it was a key moment in another way, too, for the supervisor, having come from a world of practical effects that very quickly shifted to digital after the success of Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Jurassic Park (it was on Jurassic that he was originally going to provide stop motion dinosaurs). But Tippett adapted to this new digital realm with full gusto first on Jurassic and then with Starship Troopers, where his studio employed sophisticated CG techniques and even hand-operated stop-motion-like digital input devices to help create the bug animation.
The Starship Troopers spread as featured in ‘Masters of FX’.
When I talked to Tippett, who I had chosen as one of 16 visual effects supervisors to feature in ‘Masters of FX’, he generously gave his time to recount stories from Starship Troopers and from his contributions to other seminal effects films The Empire Strikes Back, RoboCop, Jurassic Park and The TwilightSaga. The visual effects supervisor’s eventual credit on Jurassic Park as ‘Dinosaur Supervisor’ has long been the source of much humor for fans who suggest that, given the many deaths in the film at the hands of the dinos, Tippett actually didn’t do a very good job supervising them. Of course, Tippett actually attributes the credit to Spielberg’s ‘showmanship.’ “ILM, for example, got credit for full-motion dinosaurs and that was designed not to indicate one way or the other how it was done,” Tippett says. “Steven didn’t want attention called to the technology. He just wanted the magic of seeing dinosaurs and the audience coming away and not thinking how it was done.”
Phil Tippett works on a stop motion figure from one of his personal films.
With that comment in mind, I was determined in ‘Masters of FX’ to not focus wholeheartedly on the technology behind some of the greatest visual effects in recent history, but on the artistry behind the work instead. In particular, though, I felt that the supervisors I had included in the book were responsible for so many key ‘moments’ in film history. Moments such as the mesmerizing Stargate sequence seen in 2001: A Space Odyssey or the image of a star destroyer flying over the audience in the first Star Wars. Moments like the appearance of a water tentacle in The Abyss, the shape-shifting cyborg in Terminator 2 or the rampaging T-Rex in Jurassic, which Tippett had helped to create.
Those last three films are in fact often identified as the game-changers in visual effects that then lead to even more advancements on the big screen with movies like Titanic, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Avatar, Transformers and Life of Pi, again all films that the effects supervisors included in ‘Masters of FX’ contributed to.
Of course, not all the effects covered in the book are digital ones. Practical effects and miniatures from the Bond and Batman films, plus animatronics and make-up effects in the Terminator movies, and even work completed using optical compositing techniques are all covered in ‘Masters of FX’.
It was incredible too, that James Cameron, a director who had worked with more than just a few of the supervisors I talked to, agreed to contribute one of the forewords to ‘Masters of FX’. For me, hearing his commentary on the art of effects and its part of the filmmaking process served as a great summary of the industry and was a highlight of putting this book together.
I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it.
John Bruno – Ghostbusters, The Abyss, True Lies, X-Men: The Last Stand
Chris Corbould – Goldeneye, Die Another Day, The Dark Knight Trilogy, Inception
Richard Edlund – Star Wars – Episode IV: A New Hope, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Ghostbusters, Multiplicity
Scott Farrar – Back to the Future trilogy, Minority Report, Transformers, World War Z
Paul Franklin – Pitch Black, The Dark Knight Trilogy, Inception
Karen Goulekas – Godzilla, The Day After Tomorrow, 10,000 BC, Green Lantern
Ian Hunter – The X-Files Movie, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises, Inception
John Knoll – Mission: Impossible, The Phantom Menace, Pirates of the Caribbean, Pacific Rim
Robert Legato – Apollo 13, Titanic, The Aviator, Hugo
Joe Letteri – Lord of the Rings, King Kong, Avatar, Planet of the Apes, The Hobbit
Dennis Muren – Return of the Jedi, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Jurassic Park, AI: Artificial Intelligence, War of the Worlds
John Rosengrant – The Terminator, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Jurassic Park, Iron Man, Real Steel
Phil Tippett – The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, RoboCop, Jurassic Park, Starship Troopers, The Twilight Saga
Douglas Trumbull – 2001: A Space Odyssey, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Blade Runner
Bill Westenhofer – Babe: Pig in the City, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, The Golden Compass, Life of Pi
Edson Williams – X-Men: The Last Stand, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Social Network, Captain America
Ian Failes is a journalist with visual effects trade publication fxguide.com. Based in Sydney, Australia, Ian has a background in law, but found his passion watching and writing about films and visual effects.
Many successful digital and viral entertainment marketing campaigns develop content that first, creates mystery around a passion topic or project; and second, rewards audiences by making them feel special or in the know. The powerful tension between these emotions has an amplifying effect. It’s accomplished first by providing teaser content that asks as many questions as it answers to create pent-up audience demand; and then, by releasing desired content and clues in a drip-feed to sustain the demand. This places superfans in the position of having content or information first. They share because their tribe will be interested and because they want to show they’re in the know.
So, you must reverse-engineer your content. Design a carefully-orchestrated narrative around it and decide how, to whom, and when to tell your story. Seed “Rabbit Holes” or clues to connect audiences to a story universe or simply deliver ongoing project news. Use online content to reveal a character’s POV, deliver production news, or release poster art, teaser trailers, or preview Web sites to flesh out an intriguing fictional or non-fiction narrative. This technique works well as a teaser campaign for films, TV programs, and games. Over time, the narrative takes shape on both digital and traditional media and your audience helps sustain the storyline’s momentum.
Anne Zeiser is a critically-acclaimed producer and media strategist who has stewarded iconic series for PBS, produced news for CBS, managed national brands for marketing firms, and founded Azure Media, which develops transmedia projects on air, online, and on the go that fuel social impact in communities, in schools, and in capitals. With media partners from PBS and the BBC to Miramax and Sikelia Productions, Zeiser has successfully launched and marketed film studios and media organizations, feature and documentary films, television series and specials, mobile games and apps, and online video and media communities.Zeiser is a member of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, a board member of the Filmmakers Collaborative, and an adjunct professor at Emerson College. She contributes to the Huffington Post and has been a featured speaker at American Film Market, Making Media Now, AFI Docs, StoryCode, World Congress of Science and Factual Producers, and the Asia Society. Follow Zeiser at Twitter: @azuremedia and Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/anne-zeiser/
The shoot-out scene is memorable not only for its violence, but also for a sense of ambiguity in it. This ambiguity pervades the whole movie, largely due to Schrader’s refusal to shine any solid light on Travis’s past or motivations—the viewer can only guess, follow clues, and interpret why Travis behaves the way he does. In this scene, the ambiguity comes from the combination of a gritty realism with stylization that elevates it to the dreamlike (or perhaps, more accurately, the nightmarish). Through a combination of techniques, Scorsese conveys the horror and ugliness of the situation, as well as the deranged state of mind of its protagonist.
Partly, this is due to De Niro’s performance, combined with the way Scorsese shot it. Travis wades in as a hero saving Iris, but it’s hard to view the scene in a heroic light. The murders are not perfectly executed—Travis is shot almost straight away—and the wild and clumsy violence is emphasized by disorienting camera angles, which also highlight the dark, claustrophobic corridors and stairwell of the seedy hotel. There’s also the slow-motion factor: the violent scenes were shot in 48 frames to the second, double the usual 24, so when this is projected at the usual speed the action comes out in slow motion. Scorsese explained this decision:
“[We] wanted him to look almost like a monster, a robot, King Kong coming to save Fay Wray. Another thing: all of the close-ups of De Niro where he isn’t talking were shot 48 frames to the second—to draw out and exaggerate his reactions. What an actor, to look so great up against a technique like that! I shot all those shots myself, to see for myself what kind of reaction we were getting.”
The lack of music through this sequence is one of the brilliant aesthetic decisions that draw the horror of the scene to its full potential—the repeated cries of “I’ll kill you! I’ll kill you!” and Iris’s whimpers stark and unavoidable against a backdrop of silence. But some of the decisions were made purely for practical reasons: the color in this scene was desaturated in order to bring the movie’s rating down from an X to an R. The filmmaker says this was “just something I pulled out of a hat” but he was pleased with it:
“Actually I wanted the whole picture to be that way… It took us some doing, but I liked it a lot. It gave it more of a tabloid feel. Maybe more of the film should have looked like that.”