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kottke.org posts about Tony Zhou

Silence, a new film by Martin Scorsese

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 23, 2016

It’s been three years since The Wolf of Wall Street and Martin Scorsese is finally coming out with a new film. Based on the novel by Shusaku Endo, Silence is the story of a pair of Jesuit priests who travel to Japan in the 17th century to find a third priest and to convert the Japanese to Christianity. Adam Driver, Liam Neeson, and Andrew Garfield star.

Two years ago, Tony Zhou made an episode of Every Frame a Painting called Martin Scorsese - The Art of Silence.

Since Scorsese has been working on making Silence for over 20 years, Zhou’s video must have been a little wink to the director’s true fans.

We Work Remotely

Incredible iguana/snake chase scene

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 07, 2016

The year’s best action sequence isn’t in a Marvel movie or prestige TV drama, it’s from the first episode of Planet Earth II, which aired in the UK over the weekend. In it, a group of snakes chase a small iguana, which seems at the outset to have a tiny chance of escape.

Good god, that was thrilling. We might have a new champion.

Update: I love Tony Zhou’s cut with the soundtrack from Mad Max: Fury Road (with temp music, he says). Be sure to watch to the end.

(via @philnicklin)

Why does blockbuster movie music all sound boring and the same?

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 13, 2016

The series of Marvel movies — X-Men, Avengers, Spider-Man, etc. — is the highest grossing film series of all time but the films’ music is largely forgettable and bland in a way that it isn’t in Star Wars, James Bond, or Harry Potter. In this video, the Every Frame a Painting gang explores why that is: partially a trend toward movie music not designed to be noticed and also the use by directors of temporary music that unduly influences the final score. All the Marvel movies run together for me (aside from Guardians of the Galaxy, which had distinctive music in it, I can’t recall a single scene from any one of the more recent films) and perhaps the music is one reason.

There’s a follow-up video to the one above composed of clips of movies played with their temp music followed by the same clips with the final music, which is nearly identical.

They’ve also started a Twitter account highlighting the influence of temp music on final scores.

These videos have me wondering…was Carter Burwell’s score for Carol influenced by temp music, specifically Philip Glass’ score for The Hours? This interview in Rolling Stone and the FAQ on his site suggest not:

It’s his ability to make music that compliments a scene rather than eclipse it that has made him an invaluable creative partner to filmmakers who work in such intense melodramatic registers, and Burwell is emphatic that his scores aren’t responsible for all of the emotional heavy-lifting. “As a listener, I do not like being instructed,” he says, emphatically. “It riles me when the music tells me something before I can figure it out for myself. In fact, I enjoy the discomfort of not being sure how to take something.” It’s the reason why he loathes listening to the temp music that directors often attach to rough cuts in order to point composers in the right direction.

But the similarities are there, so who knows?

Update: I forgot to mention that Stanley Kubrick ended up ditching the original score written for 2001 and sticking with the temp music, which were the classical compositions by Strauss et al. that we’re so familiar with today.

Update: In a video response, Dan Golding shows how temp music is not a recent Hollywood obsession…even the famous Star Wars theme was greatly influenced by temp music:

He questions that the pull of temp music by contemporary directors and composers is sufficient to explain why movie music is now so uninspiring:

Film music is an embrace of rampant unoriginality, and to think about how film music works, we need to think of new ways to talk about these questions, rather than just saying, “it’s a copy”.

Golding pins the blame primarily on technology but also on composers and filmmakers drawing from fewer and less diverse sources. Interestingly, this latter point was also made by Every Frame a Painting’s Tony Zhou in a recent chat with Anil Dash, albeit about originality in video essays. A lightly edited excerpt:

My advice to people has always been: copy old shit. For instance, the style of Every Frame a Painting is NOT original at all. I am blatantly ripping off two sources: the editing style of F for Fake, and the critical work of David Bordwell/Kristin Thompson, who wrote the introductory text on filmmaking called Film Art. I’ve run into quite a few video essays that are trying to be “like Every Frame a Painting” and I always tell people, please don’t do that because I’m ripping of someone else. You should go to the source. When any art form or medium becomes primarily about people imitating the dominant form, we get stifling art.

If you look at all of the great filmmakers, they’re all ripping someone off but it was someone 50 years ago. It rejuvenated the field to be reminded of the history of our medium. And I sincerely wish more video essayists would rip off the other great film essayists: Chris Marker, Godard, Agnès Varda, Thom Andersen. Or even rip off non-video essayists. I would kill to see someone make video essays the way Pauline Kael wrote criticism. That would be my jam!

ps. Also! Hans Zimmer — composer of film scores for Gladiator, Interstellar, Inception, The Dark Knight, etc. — was the keyboard player in the Buggles’ Video Killed the Radio Star music video. WHAT?!

“How do you know when to cut?”

posted by Jason Kottke   May 12, 2016

I think this might be my favorite Every Frame a Painting yet: Tony Zhou explores how a film editor does what she does. Or as he puts it, “how does an editor think and feel?” The point about emotions taking time is especially interesting, as is the accompanying comparison between similar scenes from The Empire Strikes Back and Ant Man.

Emotions take time. When we watch people onscreen, we feel a connection to them. And that’s because we have time to watch their faces before they speak and time to watch them afterwards. Editors have to decide, “how much time do I give this emotion?”

The Coen brothers: shot, reverse shot

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 25, 2016

In this installment of Every Frame a Painting, Tony Zhou examines how the Coen brothers shoot characters in their films close up with wide lenses to created empathy and comedy.

“What a film director really directs is the audience’s attention.”

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 05, 2016

From Tony Zhou comes another episode of Every Frame a Painting. In it, he uses Bong Joon-ho’s Memories of Murder to explore ensemble staging, how movies can direct an audience’s onscreen attention when many people are on the screen at the same time, and why a director would want to do that.

Buster Keaton and the Art of the Gag

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 23, 2015

For the latest installment of Every Frame a Painting, Tony Zhou examines the artistry and thought silent film master Buster Keaton put into the physical comedy in his movies. I used to watch all sorts of old movies with my dad (Chaplin, Keaton, Laurel & Hardy) and had forgotten how good Keaton was. If you’re anything like me in wanting to head down a Keaton rabbit hole, Zhou recommends starting with the first short film he directed and released, One Week.

See also Studs Terkel’s 1960 interview with Keaton, a video showing Keaton’s use of symmetry and center framing (Wes Anderson, Kubrick), Every Frame a Painting episode on Jackie Chan, and The Ultimate Buster Keaton Collection, a 14-disc Blu-ray box set.

Vancouver Never Plays Itself

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 21, 2015

In the latest installment of Every Frame a Painting, Tony Zhou talks about the different techniques filmmakers use to make shoot locations like Vancouver (Zhou’s hometown) look like New York, India, Chicago, Shanghai, and San Francisco in the finished films.

How the legendary Chuck Jones became a great artist

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 16, 2015

Tony Zhou is back with another installment of Every Frame a Painting. In this one, he examines the evolution of Looney Tunes animation master Chuck Jones and how his approach and style changed as his career progressed.

I love Looney Tunes. In my mind, Duck Amuck and Rabbit of Seville are some of the finest images put to film. Related: watch Chuck Jones draw Bugs Bunny and the 11 rules of making Road Runner cartoons.

The Dissolve dissolves

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 08, 2015

Bummer, film site The Dissolve has shut down. They burned bright for a short time.

For the past two years-well, two years this Friday — it’s been our pleasure to put up this site, a site founded on and driven by a love for movies, alongside a company with passion and talent for creating thoughtful, important work. Sadly, because of the various challenges inherent in launching a freestanding website in a crowded publishing environment, financial and otherwise, today is the last day we will be doing that. We’ve had this opportunity thanks to Pitchfork, which has been incredibly supportive of our vision. We couldn’t have asked for a better partner.

I’ve linked to a few of their things over the past few months, and the quality was always high. Tony Zhou has collected a few of his favorite pieces from the site.

In praise of chairs

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 03, 2015

Tony Zhou of Every Frame a Painting looks at the use of production design in movies. Specifically chairs. Chairs can tell you something about the world the film is set in, the characters who use them, or a specific situation.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 02, 2015

For the one-year anniversary of Every Frame a Painting, Tony Zhou goes meta and talks about how to structure a video essay, using South Park and Orson Welles’ F for Fake.

Happy anniversary EFAP!

Akira Kurosawa, a master of movement

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 23, 2015

New Every Frame a Painting! In this installment, Tony Zhou shows how Akira Kurosawa used movement in his films to terrific effect.

Showing character choice in Snowpiercer

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 31, 2014

A new short episode of Every Frame a Painting, in which Tony Zhou talks about how to show character choice in movies without using dialogue. His main example is Snowpiercer. Spoilers ahoy.

Who Wins the Scene?

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 16, 2014

Tony Zhou’s excellent series on filmmaking, Every Frame a Painting, has become a much-watch for me. Here’s the latest one, a short look at a single scene from Silence of the Lambs in which Zhou asks: Who Wins the Scene?

What David Fincher doesn’t do

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 03, 2014

Tony Zhou of Every Frame a Painting looks at the constraints David Fincher chooses to operate under while shooting a film. For instance, he very rarely uses hand-held cameras.

The last half of the video featuring a breakdown of how some of Fincher’s scenes were shot is fascinating.

Texting in movies

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 20, 2014

From Tony Zhou, A Brief Look at Texting and the Internet in Film.

Michele Tepper wrote about Sherlock’s display of texts in 2011.

The rise of instant messaging, and even more, the SMS, has added another layer of difficulty; I’m convinced that the reason so many TV characters have iPhones is not just that Hollywood thinks they’re cool, but also because the big crisp screen is so darn easy to read. Still, the cut to that little black metal rectangle is a narrative momentum killer. What’s a director trying to make a ripping good adventure yarn to do?

The solution is deceptively simple: instead of cutting to the character’s screen, Sherlock takes over the viewer’s screen.

And just today, a trailer for Jason Reitman’s Men, Women & Children, which movie seems to consist entirely of texting and social media interaction:

(via @tcarmody)

Scorsese’s silence

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 30, 2014

Martin Scorsese uses silence very effectively in his films. Tony Zhou explains:

(via dot info)

How to do visual comedy

posted by Jason Kottke   May 27, 2014

Using Edgar Wright as a positive example, Tony Zhou laments the lack of good visual comedy in American comedies and provides examples from Wright’s films (Hot Fuzz, Shaun of the Dead, etc.) to show how it’s done properly.

Hot Fuzz is one of my favorite comedies…the scene Zhou shows of the Andys sliding off screen and then quickly back in consistently leaves me in stitches. (via digg)