I really enjoyed Jeff Lin’s short profile on filmmaker Ang Lee and his long journey to success. Lee worked for six years before he was able to get one of his films made:
Put yourself in his shoes. Imagine starting something now, this year, that you felt you were pretty good at, having won some student awards, devoting yourself to it full time…and then getting rejected over and over until 2019. That’s the middle of the term of the next President of the United States. Can you imagine working that long, not knowing if anything would come of it? Facing the inevitable “So how’s that film thing going?” question for the fifth consecutive Thanksgiving dinner; explaining for the umpteeth time this time it’s different to parents that had hoped that film study meant you wanted to be a professor of film at a university.
Lee kept working relentlessly because he loved the craft and believed in his work:
If you’re an aspiring author, director, musician, startup founder, these long stretches of nothing are a huge reason why it’s important to pick something personally meaningful, something that you actually love to do. When external rewards and validation are nonexistent; when you suffer through bouts where of jealousy, wondering “How come so-and-so got signed/is successful/got a deal/etc?”; when every new development seems like a kick in the stomach, the love of what you are doing gives you something to hang onto.
Vulture has a super interesting interview with director Steven Soderbergh on his retirement from Hollywood. I especially liked this bit on his ability to get films made:
On the few occasions where I’ve talked to film students, one of the things I stress, in addition to learning your craft, is how you behave as a person. For the most part, our lives are about telling stories. So I ask them, “What are the stories you want people to tell about you?” Because at a certain point, your ability to get a job could turn on the stories people tell about you. The reason [then–Universal Pictures chief] Casey Silver put me up for [1998’s] Out of Sight after I’d had five flops in a row was because he liked me personally. He also knew I was a responsible filmmaker, and if I got that job, the next time he’d see me was when we screened the movie. If I’m an asshole, then I don’t get that job. Character counts. That’s a long way of saying, “If you can be known as someone who can attract talent, that’s a big plus.”
“I have a way of filming things and staging them and designing sets. There were times when I thought I should change my approach, but in fact, this is what I like to do. It’s sort of like my handwriting as a movie director. And somewhere along the way, I think I’ve made the decision: I’m going to write in my own handwriting. That’s just sort of my way.”
I don’t know exactly where or when I first came across the work of Hillman Curtis. I have a distinct memory of watching his Stefan Sagmeister film sometime during my senior year of high school. I proceeded to watch the rest oh his Artists Series, each of which left me inspired as I left for college and started my journey to graphic design.
I found myself returning to the films every few months during my first two years of school and having discussions with professors that derived from Hillman’s work. When I dabbled in film a few years ago, his short films were an inspiration. I know a lot of designers feel the same way and it was truly amazing to watch the outpouring of love and memories on Twitter through out the day.
Hillman died today after a long battle with colon cancer. He was 51.
Chapter One. He adored New York City. He idolized it all out of proportion. Eh uh, no, make that he, he romanticized it all out of proportion. Better. To him, no matter what the season was, this was still a town that existed in black and white and pulsated to the great tunes of George Gershwin. Uh, no, let me start this over.
The forgoing of his traditional white-Windsor-set opening credits on a black screen, Woody Allen’s Manhattan opens with a voiceover read by Allen’s character Isaac Davis, while black and white images of city slowly cycle through sets the film up as not just a love story, but as Allen’s love letter to New York.
Being a designer, I’m often interested in the cinematography whenever I’m watching movies. I frequently take screenshots of frames I’m drawn to and have a collection on my computer of some of my movie stills. I’m usually attracted to frames that could stand by themselves as photographs (I’ve written before about one of my favorites, a scene from Eyes Wide Shut.), and am very interested in composition, color, and how they related and add to the story. I thought it’d be fun to share some of my favorites as well as some from films I’ve just recently watched.
Tell the audience there is a bomb under that table and will go off in five minutes. The whole emotion of the audience is totally different because in five minutes time that bomb will go. Now that conversation about baseball becomes very vital. Because now they are saying don’t talk about baseball there is a bomb under there! Now the only difference is, and I’ve been guilty of the sabotage of making a picture but I’ve never made it since: the bomb must never go off.
“I like the idea that the story changes over time even though nothing has changed on the outside. What’s changed is all in my head and has to do with a realisation on my character’s part. And the story can only be told in a particular form. It can’t be told in a painting. The point is: it’s very important that what you do is specific to the medium in which you’re doing it, and that you utilise what is specific about that medium to do the work. And if you can’t think about why it should be done this way, then it doesn’t need to be done.”
In the making of The Godfather, writer and director Francis Ford Coppola kept a massive “prompt book” where he kept all his notes in the development of the movie as well as what would need to go into every single scene so the movie would not fail:
In theatre, there’s something called a prompt book. The prompt book is what the stage manager has, usually a loose-leaf book with all the lighting cues. I make a prompt book out of the novel. In other words, I break the novel, and I glue the pages in a loose-leaf, usually with the square cutout so I can see both sides.
I have that big book with the notes I took, and then I go and I put lots more observations and notes. Then I begin to go through that and summarize the part that I thought was useful. And quite naturally you’ll see that the parts fall away, or that you have too many characters, so you know that you have to eliminate some or combine some. Working on it this way, from the outside in, being more specific as to what you think… then when you finish that, you are qualified perhaps to try to write a draft based on that notebook.
In the case of “The Godfather” I did that, and although I had a screenplay, I never used it. I always used to take that big notebook around with me, and I made the movie from that notebook.
“[I]t has to be said that the movie science fiction of the original Apes era, with its now laughably primitive effects, in some ways benefited from its technical crudeness: the spectacle rarely got in the way of the ideas, and when the ideas are engaging, as they are in the first “Planet of the Apes” and “Escape,” the simple effects function like sketches, indications of some greater, not fully realized, narrative and intellectual architecture. (When the ideas are no good, you get “Plan Nine From Outer Space.”) Spectacle and thought aren’t mutually exclusive, by any means. But we humans are, at this stage of our evolution, mighty distractable: so many bright, glittery things to see, so little time.”
“It’s odd that she has come to represent, for some, a kind of soulless hipster cool, because in July’s work, nobody is cool. There’s no irony to it, no insider wink. Her characters are ordinary people whose lives don’t normally invite investigation. So her project is the opposite of hipster exclusion: her work is desperate to bring people together, forcing them into a kind of fellow feeling. She’s unrelentingly sincere, and maybe that sincerity makes her difficult to bear. It also might make her culturally essential.”