Monday, March 28, 2011

In Natalie Portman's Defense

That's it! Everyone knows that Natalie Portman didn't do all of her ballet sequences in Black Swan. She's ruined forever. Well, not quite.

Ms. Portman is a brilliant actress and there's nothing wrong with Hollywood bringing in a body-double to perform her most difficult ballet scenes.

The stand-in - American Ballet Theatre dancer Sarah Lane - griped "Of the full body shots, I would say five per cent are Natalie... I do want people to know that you cannot absolutely become a professional ballet dancer in a year and a half no matter how hard you work. I've been doing this for 22 years."

Well note to Ms. Lane, when you're hired to do a job in a film, just do it and shut up!
Hollywood is all about creating an illusion and telling a story, it is a work of fiction and Ms. Portman did not claim to do all of her scenes in the first place.

The bad press is doing nothing to remove any of the shine from her abilities as an actor. Portman worked for a year and half to learn ballet and become more fluid in her movements. That speaks volumes about the dedication she has to her craft and the respect she has for the world of ballet.

In a  noble move to defend Ms. Portman, Fox Searchlight issued the follwing statement:
"We were fortunate to have Sarah there to cover the more complicated dance sequences and we have nothing but praise for the hard work she did. However, Natalie herself did most of the dancing featured in the final film."

Natalie, you did your job. You acted the part perfectly, and we don't care which scenes were you in and which you were not. As moviegoers and film lovers, we subscribe to the story and we release ourselves from expectations that everything we see is real. It's the movies for God's sake.

By Paul Brighton

Sunday, March 27, 2011

How To Choose A Cinematographer for Your Indie Film Project

Choosing a Cinematographer or Director of Photography for your film is like choosing an eye.
Recently, I have been interviewing DPs and have met some interesting guys. Some were late, some never called back, and some were amazing. I'll talk about the amazing ones, and how you can choose someone that will make your vision come to life.

When I met with aDP last week we sat and discussed details about my film from color to tone to lighting. I was impressed with his CV and long list of feature films he'd shot,  from beautifully lighted and shot interiors, to shots where he was literally hanging off a cliff. The guy had done it all. His demeanor was gentle. His smile was sincere. I got a good vibe from him, and he seemed to be someone who might be considerate to a first-time director.

Interviewing someone I consider to be a peer was challenging. Yes. I am the director, and yes, it is my vision, but being generous of spirit and even more generous creatively will ensure I get the best film made. I'm not the kind of Director who will spend time in "Video Village." So, I want a person I can work with side-by-side.

• Choose a person you feel like you can laugh with, watch a movie with and break bread with. If you don't feel at least two of those, you're in trouble! Go with your gut!

• Be generous in the creative process. If you don't like something be sure to say why. If you do like something give praise, if you have a better idea be careful about how you present it. As a Director it is your vision, but the DP expertise is to make your vision happen. Respect goes a long way.

In Filmmaking you either check your ego at the door and be respected, or you can be virtually blacklisted. Since making a movie is like giving birth, the pain can be intense and the process ripe with volatility, nerves and pressure. So choosing the person is (no pun inteded) "paramount" in making your film a successful and pleasant experience.

When interviewing a prospective DP for you film, do the following:

• Be prepared. Come to the meeting with a general outline about your film, but don't be overwhelming and go too deep yet. Remember, the DP not only shoots the film, but he's also involved in location tech, pre-production, storyboarding and even scouting locations. There will be time for all the details later.

• Show artwork, a few ideas, and pass along a treatment or script if you have it complete.
If they're perceptive, even a rough draft is good to wet their appetites.

• Nothing will get a DP on your project more than a good story!

• Explain your situation clearly and truthfully. If you're a first-time Director, say it!
Putting on a BS air about who you are and what you've done is starting off on the wrong foot.

• Ask questions about how they work. Every DP is different. Some like to be involved in everything, some don't. If you have a very low budget some DPs may want to work with you in a different way than they're usually used to. They may whittle down their team if they think they can make due with a smaller crew.

• Don't be afraid to discuss budget. Look, you've got nothing to hide. Chances are you don't have a 3 million dollar budget. If you did, you would have your pick of DPs and you'd be able to choose the people on your team a little more freely. Being honest up front creates good Karma all around.

• Take copious mental notes and listen. Even if you don't use that person, you can learn a lot. What you don't like makes it easier to weed through the things you do like.

Another DP I interviewed just last week was great. He had a great attitude, listened and seemed generally psyched about my story. I think he also loved the fact that I offered to discuss the possibility of cutting him on the profits of the film should it get picked up. Yes, this is a risk for both of us. But I wouldn't be any happier if I couldn't enrich a fellow artist's life. So I believe in giving back and completing the circle. We discussed all types of benefits like his proximity to the shoot, his access to a RED one, which he's been using for years, and a general love of the vicinity we both live in.

• If you love the DP you've interviewed, think about a mutually beneficial payment plan. Something like a deferred payment would work for some people. Or, for instance, if the movie makes a certain amount he/she'll get paid a percentage.

• Offer perks like a percentage of the Gross. This never happens in Hollywood and DPs are keen to this. They know a "Net" profit means no money. So be fair, and come out of the gate with honesty and truth about what you'll offer. This will get them excited about your project. In many cases, if they're used to working on larger budget films, they may never get offered a percentage of a film. It's not common. But in today's world of digital technology and with the advent of cheaper cameras, more and more people are living out their dreams of being a cinematographer and getting into the film industry. Some are good, some are not.

This lead me to my final section: Choice.

How do you know who to use? Who will represent your story the best way possible?
What if you choose the wrong person?

When setting up interviews I trust and hope you have the understanding that doing your homework is key. It is important to understand the DPs style role and camera package, if they even own one. Some DPs like to cast a wide stylistic net, so they own nothing on purpose. As a Director it's your job to know that how the DP is handling the camera is what's most important. Color, tone, 2k, 4k, that comes later.

• In determining which DP is right, you'll have to ask yourself if you love the way the DP moves you through a film or how their reel paints them as an artist. Are you impressed by the sleek movements, the subtle pushes and pulls, or do you like a flashy track-ridin, crane-lovin hotshot?
 For some applications like commercials a lot of intentional movements may be appropriate, for a subtle character-driven story, the camera work may need to be disciplined, controlled and as unobtrusive as possible. Your story can lead you to that decision early.

• The wider the style a DP has the better they are. If you see one style, one look, one camera package, you may get stuck looking like everything else that person has shot. They may work in one or two instances, but overall, the more diverse reels are most attractive to me.

• Go with your intuition. You're going to be spending weeks and months with this person. If something is off, chances are you're keying in on something that you don't like. You may like that he's cheap so you can be easily swayed to making an excuse for that negative feeling. Don't so it! Go with your gut.

When it comes down to it, you'll be going through at least 5 or 10 people before you settle on the one you like, and even then, there's no guarantee they're free when you're shooting your film, or willing to shoot it at your price. Choosing a DP is a difficult and lengthy process. If you're shooting your film in 6-8 months, start talking to them now.

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Good luck with your film!

Written by Paul Brighton
Director/Producer /Writer
"Brilliant Mistakes"

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Film vs Digital Filmmaking: What's the difference?

Through the course of preparing for my feature-length film "Brilliant Mistakes"  in September,  I am stumbling upon a dizzying amount of theories behind the Film vs. Digital debate. Having interviewed several cinematographers during the last few weeks,  I've learned there is no simple way to make a movie, but more importantly, no theory is "right." It's what's right for you that matters.

With an array of varying principals and styles, to the technical whirlwind of information supporting certain theories, it's no wonder most Directors aren't insane, or committed by the time they've released their film. Who can keep up with all the changes, happening as I type?

These days, the idea of using film is alluring. There is a tonality, warmth and appeal to using film that I liken to the audiophile's lust for listening to music produced only on vinyl. Those people believe there is a sonic depth and a dynamic that is clearly missing from MP3s and alike. One theory is that as more and more people listen to music on earbuds or small headphones, they are less in tune with the actual quality of the music, in terms of clarity, tonality, and warmth. Apparently, they are more in tune with how the music is panned or separated in the left and right can. But how can they truly appreciate the music if all the beauty of an instrument, the breath of a flute, or the resonance of a bow as it strikes a string on a cello, are being glossed over. The question is–does that person care? Do they know what they're missing or are they happy with what they have? It is, to an extent, subjective.

Similarly, at a theater, does a theater goer know they're watching a movie shot with a 16mm camera or RED 4K camera, and if they knew the difference would they care? I'll answer this below.

Most multi-plex theaters are not equipped with the latest technology and cannot take advantage of the digital revolution in filmmaking because retrofitting a theater is an expensive proposition in an age where less and less moviegoers are filling the seats.
But in order to grow and keep up, there are organizations that actually help to speed up  that process while setting standards that will usher in a new uniform digital age in theaters.

Digital Cinema Initiatives (, a joint venture of Disney, Fox, Paramount, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Universal and Warner Bros. Studios'primary purpose is to establish and document specifications for an open architecture for digital cinema that ensures a uniform and high level of technical performance, reliability and quality control. Clearly this is not going to happen at your local theater tomorrow.

So, can we attribute this digital revolution in filmmaking to taste, convenience, speed, a digital revolution, or all the above?

Do we collectively like crisper more vivid images. Are we obsessed with having to see the Rachel McAdam's pores? The answer is not necessarily clear.

The digital revolution simply makes it easier for filmmakers to make films, and on smaller budgets. It's clearly a matter of economics for many independent filmmakers, like myself.
Converting film to digital and the whole Telecine process is expensive and time-consuming. So we now have digital cameras that shoot at 24p which approximates the 24 frame flicker we are accustomed to at the theater. We also have speed, ease of use, portability and easy transcoding for editing. That's the up side!

But what digital cameras do to add grain, which is actually not grain , but noise is it mimics what we see on film, and not so great in most cases. We get a sense of warmth and that classic movie "feel" but not because the it's a silver particle being seen on your screen. And that's where purists cringe.
With digital footgae in post-production, we can add all kinds of effects and make things grainier, and because digital media is so easy to work with files can be uploaded to Final Cut instantly and editing can happen much quicker, that's why they're not cringing! In the end does the texture and grain and coloration of your finished project work with the story you're telling? Did you go for a warm and painterly Caravaggio look? Or was it my favorite Edward Hopper?

The question is does the audience care if they're watching a movie shot on an Arri, or RED, or DSLR. The answer is yes, unknowingly.  They don't actually know it, but they walk away from that film with an well-rounded experience, and all of those attributes like clarity, warmth or vividness are part of what made that film work, or not work for that person. How you as a filmmaker or director communicate that is as integral as how good the acting is or how well-written the screenplay was. It's all pat of making a "moving" picture.

A crisp, vivid and super realistic RED camera may not work for a gritty indie film, the way an old Arri or Panavision may. That artistic choice is why certain cinematographers don't own cameras. They want to bring artistry to the craft. And use camera packages that make sense for the story. If they own a certain camera then they may be known by their "look" or style rather than their artistry.

So when making an Indie film about a drug lord in the Bronx, would you use a digital DSLR, or Film? That's a creative decision you, as Director, and your DP will make. It should always be the art that leads you to the decisions you make. You should always work with the story, understand it fully, and immerse yourself in visualizing who the characters are and what story you need to tell.

Truthfully, I'm not a fan of the new DSLR movement. I don't think 1080p will hold up on a large screen the way a RED or an ARRI does, and often times I find the depth of field to be too shallow and the overall look to have a "Photoshop Plug-in" stigma. I can pick out something shot with a DSLR in a matter of seconds. But for certain applications like TV commercials it may be the appropriate package to use. On the flip side, the RED ONE package is 4k and there is a huge amount of information there that you can play with to create an ultra realistic sharp image or even downgrade it to 2k in post. So, the RED ONE is diverse as it is monstrously gig-hungry.  I find Video cameras equipped with a Letus or Shoot 35 Depth of Field (DOF) filter to be way more convincing than a DSLR. They produce a shallow depth of field and grain, and that's the end result. Sure, they're clunky but if you want a real film look without the grain being actual solid state noise, DOF filters are the way to go because they use a spinning ground glass component to create that look, not noise. With those adapters one issue is vignetting, which is a darkness around the edges. Some lower-end DOF filters produce this effect more than others.

Bottom Line:
As a director there are no rules for the type of camera package you use, and there are no rules for the cinematographer you use either. As you get closer to pre-production, this is a time for you to make creative decisions about the movie you're going to make. Shooting a low budget horror film with a DSLR may work for your project, but if you want it to hold up on the big screen and retain a vivid super-realistic quality, you may want to setp up to a RED ONE. If a gritty NYU type film project calls for real film and it's a short or documentary, that may be the way to go because you'll most likely not have 1,800 feet of film to process and digitize.

Film vs. Digital will be a debate that will never have a winner or loser. It's a matter of preference mixed with economics that decides how you ultimately shoot your film. Some choices you will make, and some your check book will make for you!

Good luck with your project!

Written by Paul Brighton
Producer/Director of the forthcoming feature
"Brilliant Mistakes"

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Sir Ian McKellen on Acting

This is actually quiet funny! When I first started watching this I was hoping for something profound then I realized who he was talking to. Funny.

This is Pretty Spot On!

Top 10 Worst Movie Cliches

I find this to pretty accurate with the exception of one or two of them. Which do you think is still a usable cliche? While a bit over-used, I still think the circling camera is still a good camera move.