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kottke.org posts about film school

A Keen Analysis of the Influences on Inception

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 28, 2020

Ten years on from the release of Christopher Nolan’s Inception, Andrew Saladino of The Royal Ocean Film Society smartly traces the key influences of the film, rejecting the simplistic notion that Inception is just a rip-off of Paprika or The Matrix. Instead, he delves into long-standing themes in science fiction and other genres that Nolan is able to synthesize into something new. (Remember, everything is a remix.)

Also, kudos to Saladino to getting through an entire video on the ideas that influenced Inception without making an inception joke or reference, e.g. “Dark City incepted Nolan into including malleable architecture”. Clearly I could not have resisted.

How Slow Motion Works

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 27, 2020

The kids and I were talking about how slow motion video works the other day, so I was happy to see this new video from Phil Edwards detailing how the technique works and its history in cinema, from Eadweard Muybridge to Wes Anderson and from Seven Samurai to The Matrix.

I am an unabashed fan of slow motion; you can check out dozens of slow motion videos I have posted over the years, including this video of Alan Rickman dramatically drinking tea.

Bong Joon-ho’s Extensive Storyboards for Parasite

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 01, 2020

Parasite Storyboards

Before he begins filming any of his movies, director Bong Joon-ho draws out storyboards for every single shot of every single scene of the film. From an interview with Bong in 2017:

I’m always very nervous in my everyday life and if I don’t prepare everything beforehand, I go crazy. That’s why I work very meticulously on the storyboards. If I ever go to a psych ward or a psychiatric hospital, they’ll diagnose me as someone who has a mental problem and they’ll tell me to stop working, but I still want to work. I have to draw storyboards.

For his Oscar-winning Parasite, Bong has collected the storyboards into a 304-page graphic novel due out in mid-May: Parasite: A Graphic Novel in Storyboards.

Drawn by Bong Joon Ho himself before the filming of the Palme d’Or Award-winning, Golden Globe(R)-nominated film, these illustrations, accompanied by every line of dialog, depict the film in its entirety. Director Bong has also provided a foreword which takes the reader even deeper into the creative process which gave rise to the stunning cinematic achievement of Parasite.

The book has already been released in Korea, and Through the Viewfinder did a 5-minute video comparison of the storyboards with the filmed scenes for the peach fuzz montage scene (and another video of the flood scene).

Amazing. That’s a whole lotta film school packed into five minutes of video.

Sight & Sound: The Cinema of Walter Murch

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 27, 2020

From Jon Lefkovitz, Sight & Sound is a feature-length documentary film about the legendary film editor and sound designer Walter Murch, who edited and did sound design for films like The Godfather, Apocalypse Now, and The Conversation.

This feature-length documentary, viewed and enjoyed by legendary film editor and sound designer Walter Murch himself (“The Conversation”, “Apocalypse Now”), was culled by Jon Lefkovitz from over 50 hours of Murch’s lectures, interviews, and commentaries.

That’s the whole film embedded above, available online for free. Here’s the trailer in case you need some prodding. I haven’t watched the whole film yet, but I’m definitely going to tuck into it in the next few days.

See also Worldizing — How Walter Murch Brought More Immersive Sound to Film.

Worldizing - How Walter Murch Brought More Immersive Sound to Film

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 31, 2020

I love echo - any kind of reverberation or atmosphere around a voice or a sound effect that tells you something about the space you are in.

That’s a quote from legendary film editor and sound designer Walter Murch. In the 70s, he pioneered a technique called worldizing, for which he used a mix of pristine studio-recorded and rougher set-recorded sounds to make a more immersive soundscape for theater audiences. He used it in The Godfather, Apocalypse Now, and American Graffiti:

George [Lucas] and I took the master track of the two-hour radio show with Wolfman Jack as DJ and played it back on a Nagra in a real space — a suburban backyard. I was fifty-or-so-feet away with a microphone recording that sound onto another Nagra, keeping it in sync and moving the microphone kind of at random, back and forth, as George moved the speaker through 180 degrees. There were times when microphone and speaker were pointed right at each other, and there were other times when they were pointed in completely opposite directions. So that was a separate track. Then, we did that whole thing again.

When I was mixing the film, I had three tracks to draw from. One of them was what you might call the “dry studio track” of the radio show, where the music was very clear and sharp and everything was in audio focus. Then there were the other two tracks which were staggered a couple of frames to each other, and on which the axis of the microphone and the speakers was never the same because we couldn’t remember what we had done intentionally.

How 1917 Was Filmed to Look Like One Long Continuous Take

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 15, 2020

1917 is the latest in a string of one-shot movies, where the action is presented in real-time and filmed to look as though it were done in one continuous take. This video takes a look at how director Sam Mendes, cinematographer Roger Deakins, and editor Lee Smith constructed the film. In this interview, Smith & Mendes say that the film contains dozens of cuts, with shots lasting anywhere from 39 seconds to 8 & 1/2 minutes. My favorite parts of the video are when they show the camera going from hand-held to crane to truck to cover single shots at a variety of speeds and angles. It’s really impressive.

But — does the effect work to draw the audience into the action? I saw 1917 last night and was distracted at times looking for the cuts and wondering how they seamlessly transitioned from a steadicam sort of shot to a crane shot. Maybe I’d read too much about it going in and distracted myself?

Spotlight and the Difficulty of Dramatizing Good Journalism

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 22, 2019

For the lastest episode of Nerdwriter, Evan Puschak reviews the history of movies about journalism and shows how the makers of Spotlight (and also All the President’s Men) show the often repetitive and tedious work required to do good journalism

I loved Spotlight (and All the President’s Men and The Post), but I hadn’t realized until just now how many of my favorite movies and TV shows of the last few years are basically adult versions of Richard Scarry’s What Do People Do All Day?

Speaking of, watching this video I couldn’t help but think that David Simon1 faced a similar challenge in depicting effective police work in The Wire. Listening to wiretapped conversations, sitting on rooftops waiting for drug dealers to use payphones, and watching container ships unloading are not the most interesting thing in the world to watch. But through careful editing, some onscreen exposition by Lester Freamon, and major consequences, Simon made pedestrian policing engaging and interesting, the heart of the show.

  1. Puschak shared a quote from Simon near the end of the video and Spotlight director Tom McCarthy played the dishonest reporter Scott Templeton in season five of The Wire.

The Fantastical Flying Machines of Hayao Miyazaki

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 07, 2019

Riffing off a remark made by Guillermo del Toro that a director’s output is all part of the same movie, Andrew Saladino of The Royal Ocean Film Society looks at the many airships in Hayao Miyazaki’s films. What does the director’s continued use of flying machines tell us about filmmaking, technology, and everything else he’s trying to communicate though his films?

Pixar’s Fake Real Cameras

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 03, 2019

Pixar is always trying to push the envelope of animation and filmmaking, going beyond what they’ve done before. For the studio’s latest release, Toy Story 4, the filmmakers worked to inject as much reality into the animation as possible and to make it feel like a live-action movie shot with real cameras using familiar lenses and standard techniques. In the latest episode of Nerdwriter, Evan Puschak shares how they did that:

As I learned when I visited Pixar this summer,1 all of the virtual cameras and lenses they use in their 3D software to “shoot” scenes are based on real cameras and lenses. As the first part of the video shows, when they want two things to be in focus at the same time, they use a lens with a split focus diopter. You can tell that’s what they’re doing because you can see the artifacts on the screen — the blurring, the line marking the diopter transition point — just as you would in a live-action film.

They’re doing a similar thing by capturing the movement of actual cameras and then importing the motion into their software:

To get the motion just right for the baby carriage scene in the antique store for TS4, they took an actual baby carriage, strapped a camera to it, plopped a Woody doll in it, and took it for a spin around campus. They took the video from that, motion-captured the bounce and sway of the carriage, and made it available as a setting in the software that they could apply to the virtual camera.

Now, this is a really interesting decision on Pixar’s part! Since their filmmaking is completely animated and digital, they can easily put any number of objects in focus in the same scene or simply erase the evidence that a diopter was used. But no, they keep it in because making something look like it was shot in the real world with real cameras helps the audience believe the action on the screen. Our brains have been conditioned by more than 100 years of cinema to understand the visual language of movies, including how cameras move and lenses capture scenes. Harnessing that visual language helps Pixar’s filmmakers make the presentation of the action on the screen seem familiar rather than unrealistic.

  1. Q: How do you know when someone has recently visited Pixar?

    A: Oh don’t worry, they’ll tell you.

How Alfonso CuarĂ³n Uses Long Takes in His Films

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 17, 2019

Filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón has become the modern director most associated with the long take. In this video, The Royal Ocean Film Society takes a look at the long shots in his films, from Great Expectations to Gravity to Roma and considers how his approach evolves over time and what separates them from the use of long takes as “an obnoxious mainstream gimmick”.

All of the sequences discussed in the video are available to watch in full length here.

(I looked up Cuarón’s filmography and noticed he’s only directed 5 films in the past 20 years and only 8 total. I would have guessed more.)

How All the Iconic Star Wars Sounds Were Made

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 02, 2019

Ben Burtt was the sound designer for the original Star Wars trilogy and was responsible for coming up with many of the movies’ iconic sounds, including the lightsaber and Darth Vader’s breathing.1 In this video, Burtt talks at length about how two dozens sounds from Star Wars were developed.

The base sound for the blaster shots came from a piece of metal hitting the guy-wire of a radio tower — I have always loved the noise that high-tension cables make. And I never noticed that Vader’s use of the force was accompanied by a rumbling sound. Anyway, this is a 45-minute masterclass in scrappy sound design.

See also: how the Millennium Falcon hyperdrive malfunction noise was made, exploring the sound design of Star Wars, and This Happy Dog Sounds Like a TIE Fighter.

  1. Burtt was the sound designer for the Indiana Jones trilogy, E.T. (he got the voice from an old woman he met who smoked Kool cigarettes), and did the voice for Wall-E. He’s also a big reason why you hear the Wilhelm scream in lots of movies.

How Animators Created the Spider-Verse

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 25, 2019

2018’s most visually inventive movie was Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. In this video, Danny Dimian, Visual Effects Supervisor, and Josh Beveridge, Head of Character Animation, talk about how they and their team created the look of the movie.

Two of my favorite details of the movie were the halftone patterns and the offset printing artifacts used to “blur” the backgrounds and fast-moving elements in some scenes. Borrowing those elements from the comic books could have gone wrong, it could have been super cheesy, they could have overused them in a heavy-handed way. But they totally nailed it by finding ways to use these techniques in service to the story, not just aesthetically.

Oh and the machine learning stuff? Wow. I didn’t know that sort of thing was being used in film production yet. Is this a common thing?

Update: Simon Willison did a Twitter thread that points to dozens of people who worked on Spider-Verse explaining how different bits of the film got made. What an amazing resource…kudos to Sony Animation for allowing their artists to share their process in public like this.

How Ian McKellen Acts With His Eyes

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 22, 2019

In the latest episode of Nerdwriter, Evan Puschak examines how Ian McKellen does a lot of heavy lifting with his eyes, especially in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. On his way there, I really liked Puschak’s lovely description of the physical craft of acting:

Part of that craft is understanding and gaining control of all the involuntary things we do when we communicate — the inflection of the voice, the gestures of the body, and the expressions of the face.

P.S. Speaking of actors being able to control their faces, have you ever seen Jim Carrey do wordless impressions of other actors? Check this out:

The Jack Nicholson is impressive enough but his Clint Eastwood (at ~1:15) is really off the charts. Look at how many different parts of his face are moving independently from each other as that jiggling Jello mold eventually gather into Eastwood’s grimace. Both McKellen and Carrey are athletic af in terms of their body control in front of an audience or camera.

Quid Pro Quo: The Three-Act Structure of a Thrilling Scene from The Silence of the Lambs

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 14, 2019

Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs is one of the finest psychological thrillers ever made. In the episode of the always-illuminating Lessons from the Screenplay, the team analyzes a scene from the film with Hannibal Lecter and Clarice Starling that demonstrates how effective scenes follow the same three act structure as entire movies/books/stories do.

The Lessons team also did a podcast episode about the differences between the screenplay for the film and the book that inspired it.

Lessons from the Brilliant Screenplay for Groundhog Day

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 05, 2019

Using screenwriter Danny Rubin’s book How To Write Groundhog Day as a guide, Lessons from the Screenplay examines how the protagonist in the Bill Murray comedy classic is forced by his circumstances to undergo the hero’s journey and emerging at the end having changed. This passage from Rubin’s book sets the stage:

The conversation I was having with myself about immortality was naturally rephrased in my mind as a movie idea: “Okay, there’s this guy that lives forever…” Movie stories are by nature about change, and if I were to test the change of this character against an infinity of time, I’d want him to begin as somebody who seemed unable to change.

We’ve all seen movies where the change the protagonist undergoes does not seem earned and it makes the whole movie seem phony and hollow. One of the things that makes Groundhog Day so great is that a person who starts out genuinely horrible at the beginning transforms into a really good person by the end and the audience completely buys it. At any point along the way, the story could very easily jump off the rails of credulity, but it never does. A nearly perfect little movie.

A Short History of Women Film Editors

posted by Tim Carmody   Nov 02, 2018

For No Film School, Joanna Naugle breaks down the history of women editing film, a role women dominated in the silent and early sound era (when film editing was seen as 1) tedious and 2) like sewing), only to have men take over when the job became more visible and lucrative. Still, there’s a slew of famous and should-be-famous female editors, or rather, famous film edits that were usually made by a woman who’s better known in the industry than outside it. Special attention is given to Thelma Schoonmaker, Anne V. Coates, and Dede Allen, among others.

What made Darth Vader such a visually iconic character

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 26, 2018

Darth Vader was only on screen in the original Star Wars movie for 8 minutes and for a little under 34 minutes in the whole original trilogy. In the latest Nerdwriter episode, Evan Puschak examines how the cinematography of the films (particularly Empire Strikes Back) helped make Vader into an iconic character despite such little screentime.

Today seems to be movie villain day on kottke.org: see also this morning’s post on Black Panther’s Killmonger.

How Black Panther created an empathetic antagonist for the hero

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 26, 2018

What makes a good movie villain? In this video, Lessons from the Screenplay discusses what I thought was the best and most interesting aspect of Black Panther: the empathetic villain in the form of Killmonger.

Killmonger is a great example of how an antagonist can challenge the hero not just through confrontation and violence, but by representing something that affects the hero emotionally.

Rather than pitting T’Challa against some “generically evil” villain, the filmmakers gave him a true foil that both he and the audience could empathize with. And by the end, Killmonger actually changes T’Challa’s mind on the central issue in the film and it felt earned.

The problem with action scenes in DC movies

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 05, 2018

In his latest video, Evan Puschak compares the action scenes from Marvel and DC superhero movies and shows how DC comes up short. Some don’t appreciate all of the humor packed into Marvel’s films, but the DC movies take themselves WAY too seriously. And don’t even get me started on Zack Snyder — outside of 300, his take on action is not good. It’s not a coincidence that Snyder didn’t direct Wonder Woman, the best of the DCEU films in terms of action (and everything else).

See also the problem with action movies today and why are action movie trailers sounding more musical lately?

Lessons from the Screenplay: the influences and cleverness of Black Mirror

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 04, 2018

In this video, Lessons from the Screenplay examines what makes one of the best episodes of Black Mirror, USS Callister, so effective and entertaining.

The USS Callister episode of Black Mirror is a bit of an anomaly amongst the nineteen episodes of the series. It cleverly introduces the antagonist in an unconventional way, brings the premise of an old Twilight Zone episode into the near future, and manages to constantly be doing multiple things at once.

His second example of how the show does multiple things at once, which occurs right at the end of the episode, is excellent.

The influences of Call Me By Your Name

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 22, 2018

In this episode of the Nerdwriter, Evan Puschak imagines a film school class that studies the influences of Call Me By Your Name, which include a pair of Merchant Ivory films, A Room With a View and Maurice. One of the best love stories I’ve seen in recent years, Call Me By Your Name is one of those movies I’m waiting to watch again after some time, saving it like the last chocolate in the box.

Seeing with your ears, the importance of sound design in film

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 25, 2018

Using a scene from Steven Spielberg’s Munich that features very little dialogue, Evan Puschak shows how much sound design contributes to the feeling and tension of a film. I love the two head fakes Puschak does with the sound at the beginning of the video. It’s like, oh wait, he fooled me a bit there, so I need to pay more attention.

How extensive editing rescued Star Wars

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 20, 2017

The first version of Star Wars that George Lucas showed publicly (to Steven Spielberg and Brian De Palma) was, as Spielberg later related, a mess. This video from RocketJump shows how Lucas and the film’s team of editors, particularly George’s then-wife Marcia Lucas, recut the film into the classic it is today. The beginning of the film was extensively reworked — some scenes were cut and others moved around to give the story more clarity. In other spots, small cutaway scenes were added to improve the flow, to explain plot details without expositional dialogue, and to smooth over rough transitions. And the drama of the end of the film was totally constructed in the editing phase by using off-screen dialogue and spliced-in scenes from earlier in the film.

There are greater examples of editing in other films, but Star Wars is such a known entity that this is a particularly persuasive take on just how important editing is in filmmaking. (via fairly interesting)

“Stuntmen don’t get laughs”, the silent comedy of Jackie Chan

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 06, 2017

In this video, Bradley Dixon argues that Jackie Chan belongs on the Mt. Rushmore of silent comedy, along with Harold Lloyd, Buster Keaton, and Charlie Chaplin. Like those three legends of the silent film era, Chan uses simple stories, stunts, visual humor, ordinary props, and practical effects to connect with his audience on a non-verbal level.

See also Every Frame a Painting on how to do action comedy, Buster Keaton and the Art of the Gag, and silent film special effects revealed. Oh, and just for fun, Mad Max vs. Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin’s time traveller.

The movement of David Fincher’s camera is a surrogate for your eyes

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 18, 2017

This is a really keen observation by Evan Puschak about the camera movement in David Fincher’s films: it mimics your eyes in paying attention to the behavior in a scene. The effect is sometimes subtle. When a character shifts even slightly, the camera keeps that person’s eyes and face in the same place in the frame, just as you would if you were in the room with them.

Ridley Scott talks about when Rachel and Deckard meet in Blade Runner

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 20, 2017

Ridley Scott’s favorite scene in Blade Runner is when Deckard meets Rachel in Tyrell’s office. In this video, he breaks the scene down and highlights some of the most interesting aspects of the production.

In all my films, I’ve been accused of being too visual, too pretty, and I’m going, well, we are dealing in pictures so how can I be too visual?

A man got to have a code

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 12, 2017

In a multi-part series, ScreenPrism will be looking at the codes and values of some of the main characters in The Wire. The first installment is about Jimmy McNulty, who is “good po-lice” but also doesn’t always take personal responsibility for his actions (“what the fuck did I do?”).

One way to deconstruct a movie, using There Will Be Blood as an example

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 26, 2017

Evan Puschak takes us behind the curtain at the Nerdwriter a little bit and shows us that one way to deconstruct a movie is by counting the number of cuts. If you do this with PT Anderson’s There Will Be Blood for example, you’ll notice that the average scene is quite long compared to most contemporary movies, which makes the viewer pay more attention to each cut.

The 12 signature characteristics of a Christopher Nolan film

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 21, 2017

This short video from ScreenPrism details the 12 things you’ll find in a Christopher Nolan film, from non-linear storytelling to moral ambiguity to ambiguous endin…

My favorite observation in the video is that Nolan films his movies from the subjective point of view of his characters, so that the viewer often only knows as much as a characters know, which turns the audience into detectives, trying to unravel mysteries alongside the characters.

If you enjoyed that, ScreenPrism has also made a longer video that takes a more extensive look at Nolan’s career patterns and influences.

Tension-building in the great first scene of Inglourious Basterds

posted by Jason Kottke   May 09, 2017

Lessons from the Screenplay takes a look at the opening scene from Inglourious Basterds and dissects what makes it so suspenseful. The scene, which is one of my all-time favorites, shows SS officer Hans Landa showing up unannounced at a French farmhouse and sitting down for what starts off as a little chat with a farmer, a Monsieur LaPadite. With just a calm conversation and gestures, Landa ratchets up the tension in the scene, paving the way for an explosive climax.