All Films Are The Same

Regardless of the budget, all film sets have the same problems; big-budget films just solve them more expensively. The same kinds of questions have to be answered by the filmmakers. There are millions of decisions that have to be made at each step along the way. With a bigger budget, acclaimed craftspeople, and an experienced crew, problems might be solved with more money, expertise, or artistry, but the basic dilemmas are still the same. The same questions arise no matter the budget or the film medium.

• Where is the camera going to be placed?

• What are the angles and camera movements that best tell this story?

• What and where is the light source?

The film set, whether it is in a studio with 70mm film or on a street corner with a handheld digital video camera, poses the same problems for the actor. Where is the camera, where is the light, and what am I supposed to be doing while the film is rolling? If you begin thinking of it in these practical terms, it's much easier to take the pressure off and adjust, whatever the circumstances. If you think of it as Jodie Foster does, as a blue-collar job, you can easily place your concentration on the practical problems of the moment, rather than on the imaginary successes and failures of the future.

^ There are three phases that a film goes through once the decision has oi been made to shoot a script. Some form of each of these stages must take ™ place to create the finished film. The actor is mostly involved in the shoot-< ing phase of the film, when photography takes place, but may be called in „ as needed at other times.

PREPRODUCTION

The planning stage of the movie. The locations are scouted, the crew is hired, and the major part of casting is done. A production office is set up that becomes the headquarters for the film. All special equipment is ordered; problems and travel plans are discussed. The shooting schedule for the movie is planned, and the different departments meet to find out what the demands on them will be. The more meticulously a film is planned, the better everything else will go once shooting starts. Aside from the casting process, an actor may be called in for hair, makeup, and costume tests during this period. If you are very lucky, rehearsals might even take place during this time.

PRODUCTION

The period of time in which the photography of the film actually takes place. The average feature-length film takes about six to eight weeks to shoot. The production office is still the main headquarters through which all information flows. Obviously, this is the phase that involves the actor.

POSTPRODUCTION

Sometimes referred to as "post." This is the assembly of the material that has been photographed into what eventually becomes the finished film that we see. This includes the editing, the sound mix, special effects, and sometimes the shooting of additional scenes that the director now feels are needed to complete the film. The actor may be called in for these scenes or for looping, which is filling in dialogue in a studio synced to your own screen image.

There is, of course, another phase: the distribution and marketing of the film, which eventually brings it to the viewer. This phase is not covered in this book, although the actor may be called in to promote the film for pub- g licity purposes. -s

STUDENT FILMS I

Let's take a look at the different types of film projects, starting at the begin- cq ning with the student film. Everyone has to start somewhere, and film school |

is where many filmmakers start. It's not a bad place to begin acting in front of ^

a camera, either. You can think of student films as a sort of scene class for ^

screen acting. Many people teach film acting with a single video camera on a ^

tripod, but there is a limited amount that you can learn from that. In fact, some ^ of what you learn from such an experience will not translate onto a set and into the film medium. I think that student film projects are a great place to work for a variety of actors. cq

• It's a good place to start if you are a novice actor or have never acted in films.

• It's a good place for actors who have been away from the business for a long time and want to start working again.

• I think it can also be a good place to hone those elements of your technique that you have not been satisfied with in your previous film work.

A student film is made by someone in film school who is making the film as part of the school's curriculum. There are many different levels of these projects and it's always a good idea to know what level and type of project it is before you get involved. There is almost never payment; it's usually meals, transportation, and a copy of the tape. The meals will be bagels or peanut butter and jelly, the transportation usually an overcrowded secondhand car, and the tape (a copy of the film on VHS) may prove to be much more difficult to actually get into your hands than you ever could have imagined. That being said, these projects can be a lot of fun, very creative, and you might be lucky enough to create a lifelong friendship that will translate professionally later in your career. You are usually truly appreciated for being a participant, even if your director has no idea what to say to you as an actor. After all, you are really part of his dreams coming true.

Following are some different types of student projects you might encounter. Most film schools are four-year programs for undergraduate or two- or three-year programs on the Master's level. Obviously, the later the year, the more proficient the student.

THE PRODUCTION CLASS PROJECT

Film schools have production classes, where the students learn all the jobs of the film crew as they shoot small projects. Usually, these are assignments with an instructor present during class time. In the second or third year, the production class starts to bring in actors from the outside; before that, the students shoot each other. It's usually a simple exercise, like coming into a room, or a small scenario, lasting a minute or two of screen time. The shooting of such a project takes about six hours. <h The actor is usually responsible for her own clothing and makeup, all of which has been discussed and agreed upon beforehand. There isn't a great ¡u deal of pressure to perform, because the emphasis of the production class is o- on the techniques of filmmaking, not on the performance and direction of i the actor. It's a good place to start if you have never been in front of the camera, because you can become accustomed to being on the set and start to decipher the crew positions. The atmosphere is generally very relaxed, because everyone is just learning what to do. You can also learn a great deal from the instructor if he lectures during the process. Call the school directly to inquire about how it finds actors for production classes.

THE FIRST-, SECOND-, OR THIRD-YEAR FILM PROJECT

These are small films that each student is required to make in order to proceed to the next level. As you might guess, they can vary widely, depending on the talent and maturity of the student. These projects could take place anywhere and are shot by the student director and his classmates. They are usually about ten to twenty minutes in length. They could be crude or elaborate, depending on the creativity and the finances of the director. Sometimes the scripts can be lovely, dealing with daring subjects and issues. However, because these are student projects, the script may not be realized as clearly as you might desire. The time involved often exceeds expectations (this happens on all films), so you have to be prepared for that. Obviously, the later the year, the more experienced the student. As an actor, you can use the projects to:

• See how your technique responds under the duress of the set and the seemingly tedious repetition of multiple takes.

• Understand why relaxation and concentration is so important.

• Begin to learn about the importance of lighting and how you work with it.

• Try out your ideas about creating a character for the screen.

• Take chances in your acting that you might be afraid to risk in a more professional and high-profile setting.

Ask to view the raw footage (the rushes) of your various takes, so that you can learn from them. You must promise to be quiet and not interfere with decisions of the director if you are permitted to do this. c

THE THESIS FILM

The thesis film is the final project of the undergraduate film student before graduation. This is the project that every student filmmaker hopes will be his or her passport into the profession. This film is meant for the public, ¿q and film schools exhibit them in a theater around the time of graduation.

A thesis production can be very close to making a real movie, and if you have a lead role, it could be a sizeable time commitment. I would suggest asking the director if you could see some of his previous work, and then make the decision if you want to be involved or not. His work doesn't have to be perfect, or commercial, but it should exhibit some ability to tell a story and have a point of view. These are often cast through the traditional avenues of casting directors and the trades, or from the pool of people that the director knows and has worked with before.

THE GRADUATE THESIS FILM

A graduate student's thesis project is the crown jewel of student films. These films are usually quite developed, since the students are more mature and have studied a great deal. They are usually clearer about what they would like to say in film. The professors at the graduate level are often famous filmmakers who mentor the students through their films.

Martin Scorsese attended New York University's first graduate film class. His thesis project was a sixty-five-minute piece called Bring on the Dancing Girls and starred Harvey Keitel. It wasn't well-received, but it showed he had promise. Two years after he graduated, an instructor of Scorsese's from NYU put his own money into the film and convinced him to go back and rework it. After six months of rewrites and the addition of new scenes, the film was renamed Who's That Knocking at My Door, with Harvey Keitel again starring. It took five years for this process to complete itself. Scorsese made a sequel to it several years later called Mean Streets, starring Harvey Keitel and Robert de Niro.

There is no way of telling if the student director that you begin to work with will turn out to be a director of the caliber of Martin Scorsese or if your relationship with him will be as satisfying and lasting as the ones he developed with Keitel and especially with DeNiro, but one always dreams. I would suggest watching Mean Streets to see the work of a young, talented director at work telling a story that he knows well with actors whom he loves. It will help you to train your eye to gauge the work of other beginning directors.

Film Making

Film Making

If you have ever wanted the secrets to making your own film, here it is: Indy Film Insider Tips And Basics To Film Making. Have you ever wanted to make your own film? Is there a story you want to tell? You might even think that this is impossible. Studios make films, not the little guy. This is probably what you tell yourself. Do you watch films with more than a casual eye? You probably want to know how they were able to get perfect lighting in your favorite scene, or how to write a professional screenplay.

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