A Filmmaking Blog | VashiVisuals Blog
Cinema is a visual art form. It is universal and ubiquitous. The same images and stories flash by inside a darkened theater as they do inside your living room. Films enthrall us. They are spellbinding. They are magical. The spectacle of seeing moving images for the first time is something never forgotten. The first film I saw was JAWS at a drive-in theater in Canada at the age of 4. I’m still petrified of sharks. Thanks Spielberg!
For a long time…the camera did not move. It was planted on a tripod and the action played out in front of it. After a while, it began to pan, tilt, dolly, zoom and crane. Now it Steadicams, slides, floats, MŌVIs, flies, goes handheld or can be mounted to any and every moving or stationary object. There are no limits to how or where you can shoot from. This freedom comes with a consequence. Just because you can…doesn’t mean you should. Camera movement is most effective when it serves the story and enhances the narrative. This is easier said then done. It requires thought and planning.
In March 2014, I began work on the sequel to one of the most unexpectedly popular films of 2013. SHARKNADO hit the Syfy network on July 11, 2013. In the classic B-movie Hollywood style of Roger Corman…The Asylum delivered a cult film that was both embraced and reviled. Bottom line…a lot of people saw the movie. 7,000,000 watched it in the USA alone. It’s rated 82% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes and has a 3.3 rating on IMDB. So apparently it’s both good and bad? What does that mean? I have no idea. I saw it and loved it.
The sequel is coming July 30th, 2014.
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!