A Filmmaking Blog | VashiVisuals Blog
Self-funded, low budget, indie filmmaking is wonderful for the creative and artistic freedoms you are granted as you strive to tell the story and share it with others. You are the filmmaker, the studio, the investor and the distributor. This great power comes with great responsibility and heavy consequences. I’ve spent the last 5 years of my life working to finish a feature film entitled…THE GRIND. The literal and figurative irony does not go unnoticed…but it also drives me to complete my mission.
One of the famous unwritten rules in “Hollywood” is never invest your own money. I’ve broken that rule for 5 years as I’ve invested both a shit-ton of money and time to finish the film and release it to the world. My roles on this film are: executive producer, DP, editor, colorist, composer and sound mixer. I had been hired to do these jobs on previous feature films, but never all on one film.
Before I dive in, here’s 5 years of editing encapsulated into one image…the final timeline.
The murder of Marion Crane is one of the most iconic and memorable scenes in film history. In 1960, Alfred Hitchcock shocked the viewers by killing the lead actress only 30 minutes into PSYCHO. The scene took 7 days to film in December of 1959. Of the 77 camera set-ups captured that week…only 51 shots were used in the final edit. The shower scene is a master class in filmmaking and displayed an advanced style in both editing and visual style.
It has been studied and analyzed ad infinitum by filmmakers, cinephiles and scholars…but what I find interesting about the shower scene is how ‘un-Hitchcockian’ the angles and editing are compared to almost all his other work. This is no doubt due to the contributions of legendary graphic artist Saul Bass who created the 48 storyboards for this scene.
In 1965, Sidney J. Furie directed the spy thriller The Ipcress File starring a young Michael Caine. Producer Harry Saltzman used the same core production team he employed on Dr. No (1962), From Russia with Love (1963) and Goldfinger (1964). Editor Peter Hunt, Production Designer Ken Adam and Composer John Barry gave this film a stylized, signature look and sound…one that was the antithesis of James Bond. Furie and Czechoslovakian cinematographer Otto Heller redefined their visual vocabulary by deciding to shoot as much of the film as possible through obstructions or foreground objects. They did this on 100 separate shots.
In the past, a large foreground object usually meant it was the focus of the scene.
Furie and Heller made every foreground object a ‘framing device’ that actively composed the shot. This technique was used to both reveal specific story elements on screen and also to visually express the claustrophobic and unsettling tone of the film. What could have been a gimmick (if used once or twice) instead became a creative cinematic tool that was used 100 times during the film.
In the video below, I have compiled all 100 instances where the “frame within the frame” technique is used in The Ipcress File. Some are subtle and some are audacious. This style was considered so arrogant by Billy Wilder that he famously said “Furie couldn’t shoot a scene without framing it through a fireplace or the back of a refrigerator”. I think it is stunning, refreshing and effective. Read more…
The Dolly Zoom is a camera shot made famous in Alfred Hitchcock’s VERTIGO (1958). It was invented by cameraman Irmin Roberts to visually convey the feeling and effects of acrophobia by zooming in with the lens while simultaneously dollying the camera backwards…or vice versa. Since 1958 it has been used hundreds of times in motion pictures…sadly most of the time only as a trick shot. Filmmakers often use it because it looks cool, has direct cinema lineage to Hitchcock and they love to point out it’s in their film. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. This post is about the WHY not the HOW.
The Dolly Zoom is only effective (and curiously invisible) when it visually amplifies the internal emotional mindset of a character’s critical story moment.
When Scottie (James Stewart) battles his fear of heights and looks down the staircase in Vertigo…the viewer sees a visual representation of his mental fragility and shares his POV. It’s unsettling, disturbing and true to the moment. Hitchcock uses it not as a gimmick shot…but as pure cinema. You FEEL what the character feels and understand how difficult it is for him to climb those stairs…all by proxy of a perfectly choreographed camera shot.
Zombie Night is a horror film directed by John Gulager (Feast, Pirahana 3DD). It stars Anthony Michael Hall and Darryl Hannah as a couple who must survive as the undead roam wild through the streets of Los Angeles. I was the colorist on this film and I wanted to share all 2050 shots I graded chronologically.
All 17 images below can be clicked and viewed at full screen resolution.
By viewing all the shots in their natural story progression…you can visually digest the color palette and patterns used to carry the narrative to its ultimate resolution. Zombie Night was shot on RED cameras and I graded the 4K RAW files in Davinci Resolve. The entire color grade was completed in 10 days. In an upcoming blog…I will share my workflow and tips on how I efficiently managed and graded the 2050 shots below. With hard deadlines and no room for errors…it’s crucial to balance the creative and technical aspects equally. Read more…
ARGO won the 2013 Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Writing and Best Editing. The film details the rescue of 6 U.S. diplomats from Tehran in 1979. The CIA created a fake movie production based in Los Angeles and sent CIA agent Tony Mendez into Iran with fake scripts, storyboards and paperwork.
Here are some of the actual documents used in the rescue operation
that was run by the CIA under their “Studio 6 Productions”.
VashiVisuals launched in January 2013 and to celebrate our first anniversary…I wanted to share the 6 most popular posts of the last year. The 6 posts are a combination of tutorials, free assets, film history and videos calculated by total pageviews from the 70 posts I cranked out in 2013. These VashiVisuals posts were picked up and featured on: PetaPixel, Indiewire, Gizmodo, Devour, Slate, OpenCulture, NoFilmSchool, BusinessInsider, FilmmakerIQ and other amazing websites. Have fun exploring these posts and get ready for even more awesomeness in 2014!
James Avery has passed away. I had the honor of working with the Gentle Giant on a feature film I produced, shot and edited. The director Jhon Doria got James for 2 shooting days, but his role and scenes were critical to the story. James was the consummate professional, physically imposing (6 foot 5 inches) and the owner of a booming laugh that erupted frequently between takes. It was during these breaks in shooting that he regaled us with tales of his 4-year stint in the US Navy during the Vietnam War and for his love of Shakespeare and poetry. Warmth and kindness radiated out from him in waves. Even whilst confined to a wheelchair for his role…he owned the set and our hearts.
On the last day of shooting, out of nowhere, James launched into ‘The Merchant of Venice’ and became the Prince of Morocco. I was luckily rolling camera and captured an intimate moment – a moment I have not shared with anyone. Now seems like the best time to share it and show a side of James Avery you might not have been familiar with. He was a classically trained actor and a member of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Read more…
A film editor will often sift through hundreds of hours of footage shot for a project. These images flash by at 24/25/30 frames a second and the gold nuggets needed to tell the story must be mined from these mountains of digital or celluloid assets. In documentaries, still images or photographs are needed to propel the tale forward as moving images may not have available to convey certain elements or events. Thanks to Ken Burns and others…it is now commonplace to animate an image and make it come alive as if it were moving.
There is yet another approach to effective filmmaking that uses still images. By incorporating a vast amount of still images…a film editor can build the narrative and evoke emotions by juxtapositioning these images to tell the story. Just like editing moving images…the pace, choice of shot, and resonant emotional effect of still images are all critical to achieve success. It can often take much longer to build a sequence this way as more imagery is needed and every image must be perfect for that one moment on screen. On top of that…one ill-placed visual can break the flow created and destroy the fragile house of cards being built. When done well…it is a magical and invisible effect. Here are 3 amazing examples that exemplify this technique and show all filmmakers the possibilities of editing still images. Read more…