kottke.org posts about film school

"How do you know when to cut?"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 10 hidden edits in Alfred Hitchcock's RopeMay 11 2016

Rope is a 1948 film by Alfred Hitchcock that appears to be shot in realtime using one unbroken take.1 But since film camera magazines at the time could only hold 10 minutes of film, there are actually ten cuts. Five of these cuts were carefully disguised and the other five occurred every 20 minutes or so during reel changes when the movie was shown at theaters (and which don't appear seamless when you watch the movie all the way through on DVD, etc.). This video shows all ten cuts (spoilers, obviously).

  1. Well, I just now figured out that the title has two meanings: it represents the murder weapon and the unbroken narrative. Clever, Mr. Hitchcock.

The cinematic influences of Beyonce's LemonadeMay 02 2016

From Nelson Carvajal, an examination of the visual influences of Beyonce's Lemonade visual album, from Pipilotti Rist to Terrence Malick to David Lynch.

The biggest influence present in Lemonade, is that of the great Terrence Malick. Imagery from his films To The Wonder and The Tree of Life (in particular a standout sequence involving a bedroom underwater) definitely inspired a lot of the overall tone of introspection and spiritual reflection that Beyoncé is striving for here. One of Lemonade's directors, Kahlil Joseph, shot B-roll on Malick's To The Wonder, so the impressionistic style of filmmaking has obviously carried over.

See also What to read after watching Beyoncé's 'Lemonade'.

How to end a movieApr 28 2016

Using 12 Angry Men, Psycho, The Godfather, and Gone Girl as examples, this video shows several different ways to end a movie. And so, spoilers.

The off-kilter cinematography of Mr. RobotMar 29 2016

Using traditional cinematography, characters are not usually confined to the bottom third of the screen, crammed all the way in the corner, or placed right at the edge of the screen, looking offscreen. But rules are meant to be broken and the director of photography for Mr. Robot uses these unconventional shots to tell the audience about what's happening on the screen.

P.S. Season 2 is coming in July.

P.P.S. I love that episode titles for season 1 are modeled after the filenames of pirated videos on BitTorrent: eps1.0_hellofriend.mov, eps1.4_3xpl0its.wmv, eps1.7_wh1ter0se.m4v, etc.

P.P.P.S. Tony Zhou of Every Frame a Painting doesn't like the framing in Mr. Robot, called it a gimmick. I'm ashamed to admit that I didn't even notice the unusual framing when I watched it. I am flunking out of internet film school, aren't I? :(

The importance of character entrances in moviesMar 04 2016

Just by watching how characters are introduced in movies, you can learn who's important, what someone is thinking, the film's theme, or a character's flaws.

The Mindblowing Special Effects Used on CarolMar 01 2016

Mad Max, Star Wars, and Ex Machina have gotten all the VX press this year, but the special effects in Carol are off the chain, yo! I had no idea Andy Serkis played Rooney Mara's character in certain heavy VX scenes.

Side-by-side comparisons of movies and their remakesMar 01 2016

A quick three-minute look at how the same scenes were filmed in movies and their remakes. Includes scenes from Oldboy, Psycho, The Ring, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Cape Fear, Planet of the Apes, Carrie, and Solaris.

Just what is Crispin Glover all about anyway?Feb 28 2016

For his series on character actors called No Small Parts, Brandon Hardesty profiles the incomparable Crispin Glover. (via waxy)

The Coen brothers: shot, reverse shotFeb 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.

The rich meaning in The Lord of the Rings orchestral scoreFeb 19 2016

Howard Shore, composer of the orchestral score for The Lord of the Rings, uses leitmotif to help tell the story, in the form of recurring thematic musical phrases that accompany certain actions, places, or characters. For instance, there's a Shire theme that plays when the hobbits are central to the action but which becomes less important as their physical distance from the Shire increases. Wagner famously used leitmotif in his Ring cycle and so did John Williams in Star Wars...Vader's theme is a good example.1

  1. This has me wondering: has anyone done a close "reading" of the music in The Force Awakens? I bet the placement of some of the musical themes give clues as to the Force sensitivity, parentage, and origin of some of the characters that we're wondering about.

Left-to-right character movement in moviesFeb 17 2016

In film and video, which way the characters move across the screen affects how the viewers think about those characters. Generally, left-to-right movement is viewed positively while movement the opposite way is viewed more negatively. In the video, they mention a piece Roger Ebert wrote on How to Read a Movie, which is worth a re-read even if you saw it here many years ago.

Movie references in The SimpsonsFeb 11 2016

From Celia Gomez, a supercut of some of the most notable movie references from The Simpsons. The Simpsons came out when I was 16 and while I loved it immediately, the show started making a whole lot more sense after I watched The Godfather, Taxi Driver, Citizen Kane, and Dr. Strangelove in my 20s. Lots of Kubrick in the Simpsons.

The importance of composition in cinematic storytellingJan 26 2016

In this video, Lewis Bond shows how the composition of movie scenes can not only result in beauty, but can reveal relationships and convey meaning.

Why The Prisoner of Azkaban is the best Harry Potter movieJan 14 2016

Evan Puschak, aka the Nerdwriter, explains why the third movie in the Harry Potter series, The Prisoner of Azkaban, is the best film in the series -- spoiler: because Alfonso Cuarón -- and why that matters for the young fans of the series: for some, it's their first exposure to good filmmaking.

Editing as Punctuation in FilmJan 12 2016

Riffing on Kathryn Schulz's piece about the five best punctuation marks in literature, Max Tohline explores how editing in film can function as punctuation to separate or join together characters, shots, and ideas within movies.

"What a film director really directs is the audience's attention."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.

Star Wars Minus Star WarsDec 17 2015

Star Wars Minus Star Wars is a video essay on the original film that doesn't use a single shot, sound, or snippet of music from the original movie. Instead, it strings together scenes and sounds from movies that influenced George Lucas in making the film and also from movies that have been influenced by Star Wars.

It's impossible to overstate the impact of Star Wars. Its arrival in theaters on May 25th 1977 marked the end of one chapter in film history and the beginning of another. It's a hinge on which film history swings. Upon its release, critic Pauline Kael derided the film as "an assemblage of spare parts-it has no emotional grip... an epic without a dream" Twenty years after its release critic Roger Ebert remarked that the film "colonized our imaginations, and it is hard to stand back and see it simply as a motion picture, because it has so completely become part of our memories."

They're both right. Star Wars succeeded because of its roots in film history and mythology, and its influence over generations of filmmakers can be felt in countless works that came after it. For better or worse, Star Wars engulfs the past and future of moviemaking.

That was super-fun to watch. See also Where did Star Wars come from? and Paul's Boutique Minus Paul's Boutique. (via @tonyszhou, who calls it "the best Star Wars video essay ever")

Update: This might be even more impressive. John D'Amico made a full-length shot-for-shot remake of Star Wars using material that influenced (or may have influenced) Lucas in making the film. Very cool.

(thx, jim)

Behind the scenes of The Grand Budapest HotelDec 03 2015

"DVD extras" is a phrase that's rapidly receding in the pop cultural rearview mirror, but YouTube is chock full1 of them for many popular movies and shows. Here are a few behind-the-scenes looks at Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel.

Bonus video: how to make a Courtesan au Chocolat from Mendl's:

  1. "Chock full" is another antique phrase, although I bet people will still be using "chock full" long after "DVD extras".

What went wrong with The Hobbit movies?Dec 01 2015

In this video about the making of The Hobbit movies, members of the film crew, including director Peter Jackson, admit that they didn't really have a good idea of what was going to happen in the movies until they were on the set filming and that they made a lot of it up as they went along.

The above clip is from a behind-the-scenes video on the Battle of the Five Armies Blu-ray, and it features Peter Jackson, Andy Serkis, and other production personnel confessing that due to the director changeover -- del Toro left the project after nearly two years of pre-production -- Jackson hit the ground running but was never able to hit the reset button to get time to establish his own vision. In comparison, he spent years prepping the original Lord of the Rings trilogy, and on the Hobbit things got so bad that when they started shooting the titular Battle of Five Armies itself they were essentially just shooting B-roll: footage of people in costumes waving around swords, without any cohesive plan for how the sequence would actually play out. (A choice Jackson quote: "I didn't know what the hell I was doing.")

No idea why they would release a video like this which pretty much admits that the movies weren't as good as they should have been. I mean, they still made a crap-ton of money at the box office (a combined $3 billion worldwide), so happy ending for them anyway I guess?

Buster Keaton and the Art of the GagNov 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.

Sound designing a lifeOct 28 2015

The Foley Artist a charming short film on how a Foley artist would sound design a day in an ordinary life. Running hands through spaghetti noodles stands in for hair washing, a spray bottle sounds like rustling sheets, that sort of thing.

See also this fascinating short documentary about what a Foley artist does.

An ode to movie propsOct 28 2015

Rishi Kaneria examines the use of props in movies, from the sled in Citizen Kane to the oranges in The Godfather to the cardboard box in Se7en. A transcript is available here.

When used like this props become more than just objects. They become symbols. A symbol that represents a friendship. Or a marriage. Science. Or God.

A prop can be a symbol of reality. Or Illusion. Of the future. Or the past.

And the same prop can symbolize childhood in one film...but death in another. But death can also be symbolized like this. In the Godfather, Coppola associates death with something unexpected: oranges. This isn't the kind of thing that's in the foreground of filmmaking. But it's there if you're looking for it.

View from the Overlook: Crafting 'The Shining'Oct 26 2015

From 2007, a 30-minute documentary on the making of Stanley Kubrick's The Shining. Includes interviews with Jack Nicholson, Steven Spielberg, and Sydney Pollack.

The subtle ways in which Pulp Fiction visually inspired Breaking BadOct 23 2015

There are a few shots in here that are generic to many movies but many others have the feel of definite homage. See also this list of similarities from a couple of years ago.

The moment when Walt spots Jesse's escaped hostage on the road is very reminiscent of the moment when Butch sees Marcellus. The scene where Walt chooses the weapon to kill someone looks exactly like the scene where Butch wonders what to use as he comes back to rescue Marcellus. In one scene Walt is forced to visit his home and there is a great chance someone is waiting there to kill him. Sounds familiar?

What makes a Miyazaki film a Miyazaki film?Oct 16 2015

Lewis Bond takes a look at the work of master filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki and what sets him apart from other makers of animated movies, including his work's realism and empathy.

The Good Dinosaur: "A Stunning Masterpiece"Oct 09 2015

Charlie Jane Anders of io9 has a great preview of Pixar's upcoming film, The Good Dinosaur, including some juicy details on how the film was made. Because the film uses many big landscape shots, which would have been impossible to render in a timely fashion using their usual processes, the filmmakers needed to come up with another solution. They ended up using real topographical data and satellite images to render the landscapes.

Enter the U.S. Geographical Survey, which posts incredible amounts of topographical data to its website-including the height above sea level of all of the land features, and lots of satellite images. So Munier and his team tried downloading a lot of the USGS data and putting it into their computer, and then using that to "render" the real-life landscape. And it worked: They were able to take a classic Ansel Adams photograph of the Grand Tetons and duplicate it pretty closely using their computer-generated landscape. And with this data, they could point a digital "camera" anywhere, in a 360-degree rotation, and get an image.

Hitchcock/TruffautSep 30 2015

Kent Jones has directed a documentary on the 1962 meeting where a young François Truffaut interviewed a seasoned Alfred Hitchcock about his films (the output of which was a beloved book). As the narration from the trailer says, "[Truffaut] wanted to free Hitchcock from his reputation as a light entertainer", to which Peter Bogdanovich adds, "it conclusively changed people's opinions about Hitchcock".

In 1962 Hitchcock and Truffaut locked themselves away in Hollywood for a week to excavate the secrets behind the mise-en-scène in cinema. Based on the original recordings of this meeting -- used to produce the mythical book Hitchcock/Truffaut -- this film illustrates the greatest cinema lesson of all time and plummets us into the world of the creator of Psycho, The Birds, and Vertigo. Hitchcock's incredibly modern art is elucidated and explained by today's leading filmmakers: Martin Scorsese, David Fincher, Arnaud Desplechin, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Wes Anderson, James Gray, Olivier Assayas, Richard Linklater, Peter Bogdanovich and Paul Schrader.

Truffaut's recontextualization of Hitchcock and his work reminds me of the point Matt Daniels recently made about younger generations deciding how work from older artists is remembered in his post about timeless music:

Biggie has three of the Top 10 hip-hop songs between 1986 and 1999. This is a strong signal that future generations will remember Biggie as the referent artist of 80s and 90s hip-hop. And there's No Diggity at the top -- perhaps it's that glorious Dr. Dre verse.

Hip hop heads will lament the omission of Rakim, Public Enemy, or Jay-Z's Reasonable Doubt. It's a depressing reality that exists for every genre and generation: not every artist will be remembered. The incoming generation will control what's relevant from the 90s and carried into the future, independent of quality and commercial success. For rock, that might be Blink-182. For electronica, that might be Sandstorm.

Take Star Wars as another example. I've had conversations recently with other parents whose young kids are really into the series. The way they experience Star Wars is different than my generation. We saw Episodes IV-VI in the theater, on VHS, and on DVD and then saw Episodes I-III in the theater accompanied by various degrees of disappointment and disregard. Elementary school-aged kids today might have watched the prequels first. They read the comics, play the video games, and watch the Clone Wars animated series. To many of them, the hero of the series is Anakin, not Luke.1 And Generation X, as much as we may hate that, there's not a damn thing we can do about it.2 Unless... there is... another... (via subtraction)

  1. Thanks to Anil or David for this insight...I can't remember which one of you said it.

  2. You know, the Anakin-as-the-true-hero view has its merits, despite how it was presented in the prequels. Anakin was a good kid who fell because he couldn't handle the power given him but, in the end, was redeemed by the actions of his children. That's a solid heroic narrative arc. And, glad you noticed, it ties neatly into what I'm trying to say about younger generations rehabbing older ones.

Vancouver Never Plays ItselfSep 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.

The effect of choosing and changing aspect ratios in filmSep 16 2015

The aspect ratio of a movie can have a significant effect on how the scenes in the movie are perceived by the viewer. Changing the ratio during a movie (as in Interstellar, The Dark Knight Rises, etc.) can be an effective way to signal a thematic change.

Children of Men: Don't Ignore the BackgroundSep 15 2015

The Nerdwriter takes on Children of Men, specifically what's going in the background of Alfonso Cuarón's film, both in terms of references to other works of art & culture and to things that push the plot along and contribute to the tone and message of the film.

Making NemoSep 03 2015

From 2003, a 25-minute documentary (plus a few extras) on how Pixar made Finding Nemo.

How far does Pixar go to get a movie made correctly? Far. For instance, everyone on the Nemo team got certified in scuba diving. (via @drwave)

The art of sound in the moviesAug 28 2015

Skip Lievsay is one of the best sound designers in the business, having won an Oscar for his work on Gravity and worked on such films as Goodfellas, Silence of the Lambs, Do The Right Thing, and all of the Coen brothers' movies. Jordan Kisner recently profiled Lievsay for The Guardian.

It is a central principle of sound editing that people hear what they are conditioned to hear, not what they are actually hearing. The sound of rain in movies? Frying bacon. Car engines revving in a chase scene? It's partly engines, but what gives it that visceral, gut-level grist is lion roars mixed in. To be excellent, a sound editor needs not just a sharp, trained ear, but also a gift for imagining what a sound could do, what someone else might hear.

Why movie CG sucks (except that it doesn't)Aug 04 2015

Are computer generated special effects ruining movies? Freddie Wong says no; CG is so good these days that we only notice it when it's bad and in bad movies.

My biggest concern with CG is with unrealistic camera movements, e.g. like when the camera is following Spider-Man swooping all over NYC. I can't not notice it and it almost always takes me out of the experience, which is the opposite of what I want. (via @tonyszhou)

The origin of sci-fi movie soundsJul 24 2015

From Aaron Reese at Hopes&Fears, a piece on sci-fi movie sound effects. It's chock full of interesting tidbits, like where King Kong's chest-beating sound came from:

Initial attempts hitting a fixed kettle drum with paddled-drumsticks didn't work, with Spivak saying the sound wasn't "fleshy" enough. An experiment beating the floor failed as well. So Spivak decided to beat one of his assistant's chests with drumsticks instead, saying "If wood will not take the place of flesh, then let's use flesh." Sure enough, this was the sound used for production.

The stabbing noise in Psycho is a knife plunging into a melon:

In a recording studio, prop man [Bob] Bone auditioned the melons for Hitchcock, who sat listening with his eyes closed. When the table was littered with shredded fruit, Hitchcock opened his eyes, and intoned simply: "Casaba."

And my favorite, from Terminator 2:

In Robert Patrick's T-1000 prison break scene, the robot phases through the cell bars with a slurpy metallic sound. Oscar-winning sound designer Gary Rydstrom revealed the effect was achieved by a simple solution from the sound of dog food being slowly sucked out of the can.

See also a short video tribute to the sounds of Star Wars.

Ultimate commentary on Raiders of the Lost ArkJul 23 2015

If you are a fan of Raiders of the Lost Ark -- and who isn't? -- then this is your holy grail: a feature-length commentary on the movie by Jamie Benning that includes seemingly every tidbit related to the film, including deleted scenes, audio commentary from the cast and crew, behind the scenes video, and much more. An incredible resource in understanding the film.

Benning has also done similarly excellent commentaries for Jaws, Star Wars, Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi. (via @drwave)

How the legendary Chuck Jones became a great artistJul 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.

Inside the Making of Dr. StrangeloveJun 25 2015

Inside the Making of Dr. Strangelove is a 45-minute behind-the-scenes documentary about Stanley Kubrick's kooky masterpiece (and one of my two favorite movies).1

And speaking of Kubrick, director Marc Forster is making a trilogy of films based on Kubrick's script for The Downslope, a movie about the Civil War. *tents fingers* Interesting...

  1. The other is Rushmore.

In praise of chairsJun 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...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 movementMar 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 SnowpiercerOct 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?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 doOct 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 moviesAug 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 silenceJun 30 2014

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

(via dot info)

How to do visual comedyMay 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)

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