Veronica Mars and Big Data

16 03 2013

Last post I talked about how Netflix‘s anytime-anywhere model will inevitably change the way that networks do business in the future — giving viewers a chance to watch as many episodes as they want, when they want to.  Now, if that wasn’t enough, along comes “Veronica Mars” to shake their previously solid ground a bit more.

For those of you who never watched it (and that includes me) “Veronica Mars” was a television series from 2004-2007 starring Kristin Bell and produced by Rob Thomas. According to the ever-reliable Wikipedia, Bell plays Veronica,

a student who progresses from high school to college while moonlighting as a private investigator under the tutelage of her detective father. In each episode, Veronica solves a different stand-alone case while working to solve a more complex mystery.

Smithsonian Mag illustration about Big Data

Okay. I’m probably not the target market for this thing.  But it had its fans.  Not a bazillion of them, but a bunch of them (Thomas estimates about three million).  When Thomas decided to write a feature film based around the series, they got excited.  Not excited enough to convince Warner Bros to fund the film (they had produced the series and, I would assume, controlled the copyright) though. So the movie was never made.

Until this year.

In what I can only assume was a brilliant stroke of marketing savvy, Thomas approached Warners with the proposal that, if he could raise $2,000,000 outside, they would finance the film. But the brilliant stroke here was that he wasn’t planning on getting the money from a financier.  He said he would get the money through Kickstarter — from the very fans who would, therefore, presumably pay money to go see the film in the theaters. (Except for some high-priced donors, most pledgers don’t get a movie ticket. At best, they get a DVD or Blu-Ray, not enough for most fans to stay away from the theater, I’d venture.)

If he could raise enough fan interest to finance the film, would they agree that there was enough fan interest for them to support its release? Here is what he says happened:

I met with the Warner Bros. brass, and they agreed to allow us to take this shot. They were extremely cool about it, as a matter of fact. Their reaction was, if you can show there’s enough fan interest to warrant a movie, we’re on board.

Well, duh.  This is kind of a no-brainer, once you agree to think outside of your normal box.

The story that you’ve heard reported is that they raised the money.  Faster than any project had ever raised money on Kickstarter. In fact, as of today, they’ve raised over 3.4 million.

But the real story isn’t that they raised the money, it’s why Warners agreed to let them make the movie at all.  There are two main reasons, both of which should make for an interesting change in the way the studios do business.

First, the production cost.  They agreed to distribute a movie that was made for about $2,000,000.  Let’s assume that they raise twice that and put most of it towards production (a low-budget production, as far as the film union – IATSE – defines it is under five million dollars).  That is still probably the cheapest film Warners will make all year — unless Superman and The Great Gatsby and Hangover – Part III turn out to be a lot cheaper than I think. Understand, this is not a film like a Sundance movie that they pick up for distribution. This is a film that they already own the rights to.

This is their movie. They couldn’t get it any cheaper. Oh, they’ll probably have to give up some big profit participation points — what we in the business call “Monopoly money.”  And, if Thomas and Warners are smart, the company will cede a crap ton of creative control, and let the creative team make the movie their way.

If all of those things really happen, this is a sea change in the movie financing and distribution game. A major studio producing a movie for practically no money and letting the filmmakers make it for the people who they see as the film’s fans.

And they can do that because of the second reason – the research has already told them that they can probably make money on this.  And that research was called Kickstarter. And here’s where this story overlaps with last week’s story about Netflix.

The New York Times did a piece on how Netflix decided to finance the expensive House of Cards. Because the company delivers its programming through computers, rather than over the air, they have access to loads of data about how we watch our media. They knew that a lot of people liked movies with Kevin Spacey. They knew that a lot of people liked movies directed by David Fincher (even though he didn’t direct all of the episodes, he directed the first two and his name was on every episode in the Netflix pages for the series). They knew that a lot of people liked the British version of the show.

This is what’s called Big Data — making sense of enormous amounts of data. And the sense that Netflix made of it was that an American version of this series starring Kevin Spacey and directed by David Fincher would probably have a built in audience. As the Times put it “the ability to see into the future is the killer app.”

In the case of Veronica Mars, Thomas was able to use a smaller version of this Big Data to make his case to Warners that a successful Kickstarter campaign would increase the likelihood that they could “see into the future” and predict the film’s success.  If the film didn’t have enough supporters to finance their small budget then it was unlikely it would have enough viewers to fill a movie theater.  If they raised the money, it was a good indication to Warners that they could fill theater seats and get some ancillary income in their usual way.

As I said before — well, duh.

It’s a great test case for crowd prognostication (as opposed to crowd financing — this was never really a case of crowd financing). And I am positively agog with the possibilities for the future. What would happened if the script ideas and cast for Jack the Giant Slayer were floated on something similar to Kickstarter?  If they could convince (oh, let’s say) 20,000,000 people to kick in a few bucks they would have proved that there was 400,000,000 dollars of potential box office out there. That would not only give them confidence to move forward, but would also suggest a budget somewhere south of what they did pay for it.

What if television ideas were floated this way?  Would we have fewer turkeys like Pan Am?

I don’t know, but I think that’s it’s an interesting way to help filmmakers — large and small — test out concepts. Not every film or show is going to be able to do this. I can’t imagine what BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD would have done in a system like this. On the other hand, it was made for only two million.

But it is an interesting way to look at the future of programming and arts.  Watch out Neilsen!!

Advice On Boldness From The Best

20 12 2010

Interview with Danny BoyleDeadline Magazine gets mailed to me because the studios take out ridiculous “For Your Consideration” ads and my membership in both the Academy and A.C.E. makes me desirable — at least for eight weeks or so every year. I like reading some of the articles, especially because they do interviews with people who they consider Oscar contenders — every issue focuses on a different category.

The latest issue is about directors and there are two interviews with interesting quotes — one from Danny Boyle, director of the stunningly directed 127 HOURS, and Alejando Gonzalez Inarritu, director of the haunting BIUTIFUL.  Both of them give advice to filmmakers about following their passion. Interestingly, I think this is great advice to anyone who is working on a piece of art — whether as a director, producer, actor, editor, cinematographer, sound designer or whatever.

In Mike Fleming’s interview with Danny Boyle, the director says:

“Beyond persistence, the only advice I ever give to young filmmakers is, ‘Don’t be shy in the way you tell a story. Be bold.’ There is that great quote, ‘Boldness has genius in it.’ People forgive you many things if you remember that.”

Fleming interviews Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and he says:

“We are not machinery. These things are individual expression, themes with original ideas. We may fail sometimes, but we attempt to move things forward.”

There are many types of boldness — in your work and in your work life — and both are rewarded (though to different degrees, depending on circumstances).  The boldness that Boyle talks about is obvious in his own films. And, yet, Inarritu hints at something much more. We are not machines and we often cannot be held back. But to push on our own envelopes require a boldness that is quite scary at times.

I remember when I was a music editor, back in New York City.  I was doing rather well, and had developed a reputation that was getting me offers on some great films – SOPHIE’S CHOICE, FAME, THE COTTON CLUB and more. I was having a great time and working with top notch people, but I had always wanted to edit picture.  I was extremely comfortable as a music editor, but I thought I wanted more.

It took some large degree of boldness, prompted by my wife, to give up the security (and, let’s be honest, the ego) of being a top-notch music editor. It meant starting back at the bottom. It meant admitting that I wasn’t the best at what I did — far from it. It meant giving up some financial security. Ultimately, it meant moving from New York City to Los Angeles.

But those first steps led me to where I am today — and very happy at being here.

That same kind of boldness is what makes directors like Inarritu and Boyle so exciting to watch. It is what clearly inspires the directors who admire the most — Stanley Kubrick, Francis Coppola, Jean-Luc Godard (I just saw BREATHLESS again, on a big screen in New York, and it is a stunning piece of work, even today when that sort of filmmaking has been done to death), Hal Ashby and several more. Because the reality is that there are more than enough people out there who are willing to do “just enough” to be good.  But it takes an ability to move outside your comfort zone to exceed.

Years later, people don’t remember Stanley Donen’s crappy films. They remember SINGING IN THE RAIN, because of its boldness. HIGH NOON is remembered for its stunning characterizations, use of music and montage and its sheer boldness in design. I don’t profess to know what will last from among this year’s crop of films. But my guess it will be more along the lines of INCEPTION than HOW DO YOU KNOW? (sorry for that catty comment, but you know what I mean).

Just a guess.

As an artist, you owe yourself a chance to be both responsible and irresponsible, at times. Boldness for boldness’ sake is not a virtue, but fear isn’t either.

2 10 2010

The death this week of Arthur Penn, the great film, theater and television director, brought back some memories. I worked as a music editor with him on three films – FOUR FRIENDS, TARGET and DEAD OF WINTER and felt him an amazing collaborator, along with his long-time sidekick Gene Lasko, and a gentle man.

One of the first things I learned from him, though, has very little to do with music, but everything to do with how films grow organically and how none of us can know everything.

Craig Wasson, Michael Huddleston and Jim Metzler from FOUR FRIENDS (Courtesy Festivalblog)

It was on the set of the film FOUR FRIENDS, which we shot in the Chicago area. One of the very first days of shooting was a night shoot in which the four high school friends, living in the mid-1960s, met in the middle of a suburban street, approaching each other from opposite sides of the street.

Arthur, who by this time had directed ten films (including the amazing works BONNIE AND CLYDE, ALICE’S RESTAURANT, MICKEY ONE, and THE MIRACLE WORKER), a few TV movies, and something like three dozen episodes of television shows, set up the first master shot so that it followed three of the characters as they danced down the street playing the New World, until they stopped — out of breath.

As the music editor on the film, one of my responsibilities on the film was to work with the four actors so they knew their musical parts (we were recording live, even though we would eventually replace the music in post) and could play it together. I watched as Arthur set up that first wide shot, and worked it until we got it done. We followed two of the characters down the street, as they played a bit from Dvorak’s New World Symphony on their instruments with the other two — who were off camera for most of the shot. Eventually, the camera (which was on Garrett Brown’s Steadicam) moved to the center of the street as the shot turned into a four shot, with the four friends playing to each other. (I should mention that Jodi Thelen’s character was named Georgia, and they all had a major crush on her in some way — hence the choice of the piece by screenwriter Steve Tesich).

After getting a good take on that first master shot, Arthur proceeded to line up the camera for the first piece of coverage. He and the d.p. (Oscar winner Ghislain Cloquet) walked around for a bit with their director’s viewfinders, setting up the shot until Arthur finally looked up and told the first assistant director, Cheryl Downey, that he had actually set up the first (Steadicam) shot incorrectly. Instead of ending up in the middle of the street pointing to the four characters, he really should have ended up with the camera on the sidewalk, pointing to the opposite side of the street for the characters’ four shot.

In other words, the shot we had spent forever setting up and getting would have to be redone.

Arthur looked around, apologized to the crew, and we all went out and prepped for the revised master shot.  Which we got in record time. Happily.

Now, the point that I’m making isn’t that even a director of Penn’s stature can make a mistake. We are all human, and we all can make mistakes. No, what I’m pointing out is that the genius of Arthur leading this crew and allowing himself the ability to discover the best filmmaking approach as the film develops.  Despite an amazing career, a great cinematographer, and a professional crew surrounding him, Arthur learned something about the scene and wasn’t afraid to take his lumps in front of the crew as he admitted it.

He learned as he shot. And that is an amazing ability. In my book THE FILM EDITING ROOM HANDBOOK, I said it myself (I believe in the first or second edition). I have never had a job in which I didn’t learn something. When I get to the place where I stop learning, it’s time to quit.

There was another time when I found myself amazed at something that Arthur did on that film. We were shooting a scene in which a group of high school students, in an auditorium, stormed the stage during an Army recruiting speech, singing “Hit The Road Jack.” We were shooting coverage onto the audience and Arthur put the camera on a very short dolly track and as the students came up to the front of the stage he pushed in ever so slightly. It didn’t look like much on the stage where we were all standing behind the camera. In fact, it didn’t even look so impressive the next night when we all watched it in dailies.

But, several months later, when I saw the scene as editor Barry Malkin had cut it, as I was smoothing out the music for a screening, that short little dolly move took my breath away. Even on my tiny 35mm Moviola screen.

FOUR FRIENDS came and went relatively quickly, but I learned several things about learning from Arthur Penn on that movie — I learned to question my own assumptions — that shot that I was sure wasn’t that impressive turned out to be just right. And I also learned how to act when something I learned changed my thinking in front of my collaborators. It’s never too late to learn, I learned. It’s only when we stop learning that it comes “too late.”

Collaboration and Why The Auteur Theory Is Bull

10 08 2010

I’m going to admit right here at the outset that I know that I’m distorting the “auteur theory” here, but I’m just doing what most people think that theory says. Ask anyone, even our amazing film students at USC, what the “auteur” theory is, and they’ll tell you that it’s about the supremacy of the director in terms of guiding the vision of a film.

In fact, as I understand it, the auteur theory really says something much more interesting – that, over the course of a number of films, a good director imbues each film (no matter how different) with a recognizable point of view. The difference between an auteur and a journeyman director — common in Hollywood in the Sixties when that French theory came to prominence — is that each film of an auteur becomes inextricably intertwined with that director’s style, vision and personality. A “work-for-hire” director has no such distinctive stamp. In that theory, Michael Bay is as much an auteur as John Ford.

So, the auteur theory really talks about subtleties that are much more visible in retrospect. To some degree, they can’t be consciously added in at the outset. Yet, this theory has somehow become the torch by with which less talented directors tend to destroy their films, as they consciously attempt to force their “personal vision” onto each of their films.

That’s what I understand about the auteur theory. But now I’ll ignore that knowledge go with the second definition – that it’s about the directing imposing a vision on a work.

That auteur theory is bull.

These thoughts were raised by a question that someone asked me on Twitter a little while ago: “How do you deal with a director who has incredibly idiotic ideas?” the questioner asked. Implicit in that question was a second one: “And what do you do when that director forces those dumbnesses onto you?”

I’d like to address that question by looking at it from another angle.

Jeannette Catsoulis New York Times review of Robert Rodriguez’s film SHORTS is Exhibit Number One for me. This is a film in which a number of children live and learn in a town whose main company, Black Box Industries, manufactures one product – the Black Box – which she describes as “a strange, multipurpose gadget that resembles an ebony Rubk’s Cube and can serve as everything form a cheese grater to a solar panel.”

Catsoulis, who didn’t much like the film, boes one to say:

“Concocted by Robert Rodriguez, a kind of filmmaking Black Box (he wrote, directed, edited, produced, photographed, composed some of the music and supervised the visual effects), “Shorts” feels underwritten and overdressed.”

Aside from the fact that I have never particularly liked most of Rodriguez’s films (most of which seem to me to suffer from a love of technique and use shortcuts to character), it seems to me that Catsoulis is accusing the director here of falling in love with his own voice and his own work. It’s an Emperor’s New Clothes sort of story, in which no one wants to tell the King that he’s nearly naked.

[As an aside, Manohla Dargis — in the same paper — off-handedly (and quite nastily, I thought) makes a similar claim on Quentin Tarentino’s last film, INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS, when she says:

“He has also turned into a bad editor of his own material (his nominal editor, as usual, is Sally Menke,” a comment which manages to insult both the film and a fine editor at the same time (Menke’s been doing this long enough, and worked with enough people, to not take a job if she knows she is going to be treated like a mere pair of hands)]

Directors, listen to me hear — it’s impossible to make a film by yourself. Not every idea you’re going to have is good, and not all good ideas are going to come from you. The best comments I’ve gotten from directors are when they turn to me after viewing my Editor’s Cut and say “Wow, there were some things in there that I never would have thought of myself. Thanks.” Of course, that doesn’t mean that we’re going to use those ideas, but it does mean that the director’s creative juices are going to be kicked up a notch and there will new and better ideas flowing very shortly.

And that is the ideal way to work with any creative person: come to the table with an idea (the “thesis”), let that person come up with a different idea (the “antithesis”) and then to let those two opposing notions contribute to a third, usually better, idea (the “synthesis”). Directors who feel that they are the sole auteurs of their work, and are too afraid or guarded to open up to other ideas, will generally miss out on those “third, usually better” ideas, and their work will suffer. (I talk about this in the latest episode of the podcast that I do with Larry Jordan — 2 Reel Guys — in the episode on Collaboration.)

That’s why the more roles that a creator takes on, the more the work will usually suffer. Being a writer/director is dangerous enough. When you become a writer/director/editor the combination is almost always disastrous.  I’d venture that John Sayles solo films, for instance, were never as good as when he worked with an editor. Even the vaunted Coen Bros have suffered when they edited their own work.

It’s a problem that I’m continually fighting among those talented students at USC. I’d rather they learned how to talk to an editor to bring their ideas to the fore, than edit their film themselves. Simplifying the communication process, in this case by eliminating the editor, doesn’t make for a better film. Creating a common language (such as the one I talk about in my book THE LEAN FORWARD MOMENT) does.

So, to get back to the Twitter question, “How do you deal with a director’s stupid ideas?”

In my opinion, the first thing to realize is that those ideas might not be stupid ideas at all. The fact that they seem stupid to you may say more about you than about the director. You might be jealousy guarding an idea of yours that you’d be better off questioning. Just as we want our directors to be collaborative, it is important for us (as editors) to be open to those “antithesis” ideas.

The second thing to realize is that, even if the ideas are stupid (“Can’t we take every other shot and turn it upside down?”), most directors who have done their homework are coming up with ideas because they are missing something. They aren’t getting the emotional kick from a scene that they wanted. They might not understand a character’s motivation the way that they feel is necessary. Or they might not feel tension or energy or humor. Or, there is more confusion by the end of a commercial than they desire.

The problems are myriad (haha, a very subtle HEATHERS reference there) but the psychology is the same. Unless the director is a complete moron, every idea and question that they have comes from some place. It is the job of the editor to dig below the question/comment and figure out what it is that the director (or producer or showrunner or whoever is in charge of the vision) really wants.

And the third thing is that if the director really is a complete moron, I’d take a look at yourself and ask why you took the job in the first place. I know that there’s always rent that you have to pay, but if that’s the deal that you’ve made with the devil, then you’ve got no business complaining about idiot directors. Life is too short to be working with people who don’t fill you up with artistic and/or emotional fulfillment.

(adapted from an old blog entry on another site)

Filmmaking, Critics and Sound

1 08 2010

A recent podcast from the makers of /film called, oddly enough, /filmcast (you can pronounce the “slash”) gets into the varied opinions and passions around the movie INCEPTION (which I recommend you run right out and see even if you hate it — it’s fascinating filmmaking, even with its faults). Critics David ChenDevindra Hardawar, and Adam Quigley are joined by New York Press film critic and professional curmudgeon Armond White, who argues that INCEPTION was a horrible, shallow, inadequate piece of crap by a filmmaker who shows none of the talent that someone like Michael Bay showed in TRANSFORMERS 2.

I’m not here to argue with his point of view, or anyone’s for that matter.  Though White would strongly disagree, I believe that (at its best) film watching is a visceral experience as much as an intellectual one and, as such, can lead to great divergence of opinions.  There is no absolute right and wrong if a film is really working.

White went to Columbia University’s School of the Arts, receiving his MFA there. This gives him the cudgel that he uses to slap around a mesmerized and overly polite Chen. In fact, he tells all three of these Internet film critics, that he feels that Web film criticism is mostly uninformed and shallow, and that everyone who calls him or herself a film critic should be trained in the profession.  “Professional film critics,” such as himself, it seems, cannot be questioned by people who haven’t been to film school and taken courses where they sit with a Moviola (I’ll deal with this comment in a little bit) so they can examine films frame-by-frame. According to Wikipedia, White calls himself a “pedigreed film scholar,” without much definition of what he means by that broad statement (that statement can be found in a short, not particularly interesting, piece on him in Macleans, a more interesting and substantial read is a New York Magazine piece on him).

Now, I’m not here to support or bash White — plenty of much better writers, who are much more familiar with his work, have taken their shots already. But two comments that he made on /filmcast, as he argued against INCEPTION’s value as a film, strike me as immediately calling into question White’s qualifications, MFA and his “pedigree” claims aside (aside from the obvious one I mentioned above — that he still thinks that the Moviola is a viable tool to examine films frame-by-frame.  Where has he been for a decade?).

Read the rest of this entry »

Rules For Beginning Filmmakers

25 06 2010

Michael Kammes, over at the aptly named, has a great post from a column that he wrote for POST Magazine. It’s basically a list of all of the stupid stuff that young filmmakers tend to do in their interviews for jobs. It’s definitely worth a read for everyone because he points out some really basic concepts that many new filmmakers — either DIYers looking to get hired on something that will pay the bills, or students just fresh out of school having never really been out in the Real World — just simply haven’t had the opportunity to learn.

What is his number one?

Be on time or early. I am absolutely amazed at how little this is followed. Yes, I know there is traffic. Yes I know there is rain. But that means nothing to the person who has 5 meetings after the one with you. Show respect to them and their project. Be on time or early.

That is also one of my pet peeves. It is completely true that someone who shows up late one day on a set is rarely asked back for a second day. There are pretty much no excuses which are acceptable. I’m convinced that that’s why there’s the food truck (the infamous “Roach Coach”) on set bright and early — way before call time. They say it’s to make sure that crew members don’t wander off looking for breakfast, but I think it’s because so many of us leave so early to avoid being late to call time that we end up getting to set pretty early.  And, therefore, need to put something in our mouths to distract us.

If you’re working on a big film, then holding up a shoot is costing tens of thousands of dollars each hour. If you’re working on a low budget film, then holding up a shoot is stealing coverage from the director. If I’m not at a mix because I’m late, I can’t contribute to it — including the note that the director may have given me at midnight one time that only I know about.

Besides, it’s damned rude.

Another very wise rule from Mr. Kammes:

Understand the processes outside of your concentration. What you work with is a direct result of what the previous department did; just as the next step in the post process relies on you doing things correctly. Someone will mess a step up – and you need to be able to track it down. [Emphasis is mine.]

That’s what collaboration is all about. Those of us who have worked in editing are usually the people who work with the end credits. As a result, we know better than most, just how many shoulders we stand on in order to do our jobs well and look great. So, it’s better to understand just what the lab printing process is, or the pulldown changes that the sound department needs to incorporate into their work. That way, when we talk to them we show that we care about what they need from us in order to do their job well.  And we can gain their respect. That respect means a lot more to them than how smart we are, when we have to call them in the middle of a tough day of shooting to ask them to re-send some paperwork, or to discuss a potential problem.

So… scoot on over to Michael’s Scott’s site to get some smart talkin’.

Telling Stories Without Getting Hung Up in Technology

16 06 2010

2 Reel Guys - a videocast from Larry Jordan and Norman Hollyn

The biggest thing that attracted me to teach at USC full time, when I started there eight years ago, was the fact that the Dean told me that our mission was not to teach better toys (though we certainly have to teach technology) but to teach better storytelling.

I don’t know a single filmmaker who thinks that their job is to play with technology. Ask any cinematographer, editor, sound designer, production designer, actor, producer, director, etc. what they do for a living — and they’ll tell you that they’re storytellers.

So, it’s been a great disappointment that there is about fifty times more web content about what buttons you’d push then why you’d push those buttons. Sure, I learn a lot from video tutorials — I watch them all the time. I learn a ton from casts like Film Riot and Avid Screencast, as well as videos from Larry Jordan, Ripple Training, Lynda and more. But it pained me that there is so little out there about why you’d use a certain lens to tell a story, what costume designers do to help a script, how silence and sound work to push the meaning of a script, and more.

About a year ago, Larry Jordan (FCP guru, trainer and co-host of the necessary-to-listen-t0 show The Digital Production Buzz) and I were talking about working together, and it occurred to me that, together, we could create just such a videocast. Now, Larry is way more comfortable in front of a camera than I am, but I’ve been doing teaching and speaking for years, and had developed a number of very teachable concepts about story construction that I’d written about in my book THE LEAN FORWARD MOMENT. Surely, we could pool our overlapping talents and come up with something that could help fill that gap.

Well, thanks to the support of Avid Technology, we’ve been able to do just that. We’ve already shot, and are finishing, 20 episodes of a new videocast called 2 Reel Guys in which we talk about the concepts of the Lean Forward Moment in storytelling. Each episode deals with a different aspect of how to use the initial storytelling concepts that we talk about in the first two episodes. Some of the concepts that we deal with (in 6-10 minutes each) include: how to work with actors, how sound design and camera techniques can help enforce the story that you want to tell. We’ll talk about editing, costume design, collaboration and much much more over the run of the series (which will hopefully go beyond these first 20). Starting yesterday, we’ve released the first two episodes of 2 Reel Guys, and we’ll unleash a new episode every two weeks — on the first and the fifteenth of each month. It’s the start of something which is quite exciting to me — bringing the concepts that we’ve been working with and teaching for years — to you; all for the low low cost of nothing.

That’s right. You can leave your wallets at the door (or on your night table, whichever is safer).

Give it a try and leave comments on our website.

Help Me Interview 5 Great Editors

7 06 2010

This coming Friday night (June 11, 2010), I’m going to be running the opening night panel at EditFestNY enititled “The Lean Forward Moment” (try and guess where we got that title from) during which I’m going to be interviewing five great editors: Michael Berenbaum, A.C.E. (Sex and the City 1 and 2), Joe Klotz, A.C.E. (Precious, Junebug),  Andrew Mondshein, A.C.E. (Remember Me, Chocolat, The Sixth Sense),  Susan Morse, A.C.E. (Manhattan, Hannah and Her Sisters), and Andrew Weisblum, A.C.E. (Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Wrestler).

Now, here’s where you can get involved.  First off, if you’re in the area, register for this two-day event.  It’s going to be well worth your while and, honestly, with the discounts for students, or many user groups (both FCP and Avid) you’ll more than get your money’s worth — cocktails on Friday, pizza and beer on Saturday, along with some great panels.

But here’s another way that you can involved.  I am going to ask each of the panelists to show a scene from a film that influenced that filmmakers, and then all six of us are going  to talk about it. Here is a preview (the first look — never before announced) at what you’ll see if you’re there:

  1. Michael Berenbaum is showing the opening sequence from ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, directed by Sergio Leone and edited by Nino Baragli in
  2. Joe Klotz is showing an early scene from DOG DAY AFTERNOON, directed by Sidney Lumet and edited by Dede Allen in 1975
  3. Andy Mondshein is showing the last scene from BONNIE AND CLYDE, directed by Arthur Penn and edited by Dede Allen (again!!  how fitting) in 1967,
  4. Sandy Morse is showing the opening of THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY, directed by Julian Schnabel and edited by Juliette Welfling in 2007,
  5. Andrew Weisblum is showing the “birth of the hula hoop” scene from THE HUDSUCKER PROXY, directed by Joel Coen and edited by Thom Noble in 1994.

Whether you’re going to be at EditFestNY or not, what I’d love for you to do is submit questions for these editors.  I’ll select a few and ask them for you.  What is it that you’d like to know about that scene or how it affected each of these editors.  You can submit the questions here, or tweet them to me on Twitter.  My name there is @schnittman.

Meet Editors, Talk Editing, Have Cocktails

30 05 2010

One of the difficulties that many up and coming editors face in this age of DIY has to do with social connections.  With the size of editing crews down to the bare  minimum, it is hard for people to learn from other editors, and much harder to meet with people who might be able to help them improve their skills and job prospects. When I was starting out, back in the Stone Age of editing (I often joke that I cut my first film on a flip book), I apprenticed for a few years, stood next to some really great editors as an assistant for some years after that, and only then did I start editing. It was a fantastic way to learn all of the skills needed in an editing room — technical, aesthetic and political.

Now, I’m not romanticizing those Good Old Days. The idea that my students (and thousands of You Tubers) don’t have to wait eight years to start editing something on their own is pretty great, considering that they’ve grown up surrounded by edited material in a way that I did not. And my students, for better or worse, have spent 3-5 years experimenting with the form and developing great skills.

Still, the chance to meet and hear really fantastic editors talk about their craft is never to be passed up, as is the chance to have some drinks and pizza with them.  Which is why I am heartily recommending that those of you within driving distance of Manhattan on June 11-12 register today for the upcoming EditFestNY.  This is a 1-1/2 day meetup of editors where we are going to discuss our craft.  There are panels galore, with editors such of features and television, fiction and documentaries.

It starts off on Friday June 11 at 7:15pm with a panel that I am thrilled to be moderating (called with the editors Michael Berenbaum, A.C.E. (Sex and the City 1 and 2), Joe Klotz, A.C.E. (Precious, Junebug),  Andrew Mondshein, A.C.E. (Remember Me, Chocolat, The Sixth Sense),  Susan Morse, A.C.E. (Manhattan, Hannah and Her Sisters), and  Andrew Weisblum, A.C.E. (Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Wrestler).  I’m asking each one of these editors to show a scene from a film that inspires them in some way, and the entire panel is going to talk about the clips.  It should be a huge blast.

To get more information about this two-day event (including the guests) and to register, just click on the link at A.C.E., which is sponsoring the event along with the Manhattan Editing Workshop.  Discounts are available for students and for members of a ton of user groups (including any Avid or Final Cut Pro user groups — and since membership in LAFCPUG, for instance, is free you can get the $100 discount just by signing up).  The event promises to give you great access and knowledge all in one friendly weekend — and there’s drinks on Friday night, and pizza and beer on Saturday, so how can you go wrong?

How We Learn and Why We Resist It

4 05 2010

When I first started teaching at USC’s film school some eight years ago a much much wiser person than me told me that there were several things I needed to know in order to teach well.

First, not everybody’s learning curve is the same so you can’t teach  a concept only once. In other words, since everybody is going to learn at different times, you’ve got to structure your teaching so the same thing is taught in several places in several ways because you never know when a student’s teachable moment will be. To most effectively teach many people you need to structure your teaching so you’re teaching concepts from many different perspectives at many different times.

Allied with this is the fact that most people (and this applies particularly to teaching artistic concepts) really learn something only when they need to learn it. It’s why I’ve always believed in project based learning. I can talk about pre-lapped audio all I want, and I can show you examples of it until the cows come home. But most of us aren’t going to really learn it until we need to do it in our own editing in order to push the energy at a cut. I don’t know about you, but I rarely read manuals until after I’ve started playing with a piece of software. Most of my students don’t want to learn how to change the opacity of an effect until they realize that they don’t like the effect that they’ve just created and need to change it. If it can get better with a tweak to the opacity then they will really remember that setting forever. If they don’t need to tweak the opacity, all I can do is bore them with instructions.

The second thing I was told (and this goes with the first points I think), is that you need to tell your audience what they’re going to learn before you teach it, let them know what they’re learning while you’re teaching it, and remind them what they’ve learned after you’ve taught it. It’s reassuring to the learner to understand that there is a new concept being taught and that they’ve learned it. It also gives them three chances to figure out how this new concept works for them.

Third, all teaching is really about entertainment. Most people don’t learn things just because you tell them they need to, any more than they’re going to like swallowing medicine that’s good for them. They have to be involved in the process, and that often happens when they’re entertained in that process. Mary Poppins said it (or sung it, to be precise): “Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.”

I was thinking about these thoughts as I began playing with the latest version of Avid Media Composer — 5.0. It’s not available to everyone right now, but there are a few advantages to running the editing track here at USC, and seeing some software in early stages is one of them.  You’ll all get to play with it soon enough, and you can certainly see enough videos about the new features (there’s one on the Avid web site, and another from a German media site) but one of the most interesting points about the new version is that it changes some of the interface, partially in an attempt to make it more Final Cut Pro-like in that it allows for more direct manipulation of the tools right within the timeline without jumping into various modes.

Naturally, there are editors who are already not liking it.

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