2018 was a milestone year and one I will remember fondly. It was the year I embarked on my filmmaking journey.
I had a goal in 2018 to do something related to filmmaking every single day. This is something I've carried on to 2019 so far. Between watching, reading, writing, shooting and editing my biggest challenge is to not spread myself too thin. I have been making my way through Mark Cousins', Story of Film: An Odyssey. A comprehensive documentary series which covers the evolution and innovations in filmmaking throughout its history. I love that it is not so Hollywood centric and highlights the success and influence of women and other pioneers from around the world.
I also treated myself to a multi-region Bluray player. It turns out that geographical regions are still a thing which I find quaint in the digital era. Thankfully, a Chinese made $99 model bought from BigW has enabled me to watch a bunch of movies from the Criterion Collection. Satyagit Ray's Apu Trilogy is on my list (I loved Pather Pachali). Recently, I watched, Akira Kurosawa's, 'Seven Samurai'; a masterful film in so many ways. A wonderful story with every frame a picture and an example of how the different elements of filmmaking can be interwoven in such a sublime and elegant way. In the era of streaming, I've enjoyed watching the classics on physical disc and appreciating the special features, none more so than the commentary attached to 'Seven Samurai'. I plan to do the same with Kurosawa's film, "Rashomon".
In 2018, I entered the short screenplay I wrote in school, 'Call Me Lina' , into the Screencraft Short Screenplay contest and opted for coverage which was helpful. I didn't expect it to go anywhere as far as the contest was concerned but was surprised and happy to learn that it made it to the top 25. I enjoy screenwriting but it is a lonely, all encompassing pursuit and having my work acknowledged in some way has given me the impetus to keep going.
In addition to fatherhood, my focus in 2019 will be screenwriting and I hope to write at least a couple of shorts and a feature. To that end, I've been doing more watching and reading than writing so far in 2019. Below is a list of film related books which I've read or plan to read.
I hope you find a nugget of inspiration to pursue your own creative projects; here's to a creative and collaborative 2019.
“A good score should have a point of view all of its own. It should transcend all that has gone before, stand on its own two feet and still serve the movie. A great soundtrack is all about communicating with the audience, but we all try to bring something extra to the movie that is not entirely evident on screen.” -- Hans Zimmer (Interstellar, Gladiator, The Dark Knight, The Lion King)
In the 1950s film journal, Cahiers du Cinéma, film critics Jacques Rivette, Jean-Luc Godard, Claude Chabrol and François Truffaut discussed the concepts and ideas that would lay the groundwork for arguably, film’s most influential period, the French New Wave. The self-styled 'Young Turks’ created an independent, accessible form of filmmaking which embraced a 'mise-en-scène’ grounded in the reality of day-to-day life in post-war Paris. In so doing, they eschewed big budget productions and the prevailing consensus of what constituted a 'quality’ film. Central to the French New Wave was 'auteur theory’, the idea that unique and creative films are born not through a studio driven, predetermined formula, but by the director’s own vision, philosophy and style. The empowerment of the director as the creative force, led to the disruption of existing conventions and the introduction of innovative editing and cinematography techniques which left an indelible mark on contemporary filmmaking.
Whilst studios continue to release big budget, repeatable box office successes, discussion about great films is inextricably intertwined with the directors that create them. The influence of the French New Wave can be observed in modern day director auteurs who leave an unmistakable signature on their work. From the cinematic excellence of Martin Scorsese, to the stylised gore of Quentin Tarantino, and more recently the cognitive exploration of Christopher Nolan and the visceral storytelling of Alfonso Cuarón, director as auteur has continued to be the hallmark of many of today’s critically and commercially successful films. In his critically acclaimed directorial debut Samson & Delilah (2009), writer, director & cinematographer, Warwick Thornton, embodies many of the ideals of the French New Wave:
'The most important thing was to be truthful to these two children and make a film that I believed in and this is the community that I come from. There’s nothing in the film that I haven’t seen personally in my growing up in that town.’ Writer/Director/Cinematographer, Warwick Thornton (Thornton, 2010)
In the same vein as François Truffaut’s, The 400 Blows (1959), Thornton draws upon his own lived experience to tell the love story of two indigenous kids and their quest for survival in central Australia. Working with a skeleton crew and minimal dialogue, Thornton wrote, shot and directed the film in his hometown of Alice Springs. Using two non-professional actors from the local community in the leading roles, Thornton captured the essence and realism of life in a remote, impoverished part of the country. Although it follows that retaining the writing and directing roles would help facilitate a singular vision for a film, it is by no means a prerequisite. Auteur theory expanded on Alexandre Astruc’s concept of caméra-stylo ('camera-pen’), which views the creative expression of a director and camera in the same vein as that of a writer and pen. In his most recent film, the similarly well received Sweet Country (2017), Thornton relinquished writing duties but embraced the thematic elements of the screenplay holistically across all aspects of the film; that is the essence of auteur theory.
Preceding the French New Wave and the emergence of the auteur, films adhered to what could be described as a formulaic set of conventions which governed how a film was to be shot; a wide shot followed by a two shot followed by a single shot was commonplace. The filmmakers of the French New Wave disregarded these rules and experimented with new shot making techniques that have themselves become commonplace in contemporary film. Camera movement was one such innovation and whilst the simple act of moving the camera is taken for granted today, it was still experimental in the 1950s.
'Photography is truth and cinema is truth 24 times a second’, Jean-Luc Godard, The Little Soldier (1963).
Godard’s observation encapsulates the essence of 'caméra-stylo’ and aided by the availability of handheld cameras, camera movement was used creatively and stylistically to convey the auteur’s own reality. Horizontal (pan) and vertical (pedestal) moves, long tracking shots, lack of artificial lighting and unorthodox use of lenses were employed in a way that flew in the face of the shot making etiquette of the day. As these techniques have made their way into the mainstream, new technology and methods have built upon these innovations. Critically acclaimed filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón has cited the French New Wave as an inspiration and its influence can be observed in many of his films. In the sci-fi/thriller, Children of Men (2006), Cuarón employs extended and purposeful tracking shots to bring the audience into Theo’s perilous journey as he ducks and weaves through the dystopian storyworld. In the Oscar winning outer space thriller Gravity (2013), Cuarón uses similar techniques — the memorable tracking shot of the opening scene lasts around 12 minutes — to 'make the audience a “third astronaut” in the film…’.
Used in tandem with camera movement, one of the immediately noticeable characteristics of a French New Wave film is its creative use of editing. It was convention at the time that editing be used to maintain continuity and keep the action moving at a steady pace whilst remaining unnoticeable. In true French New Wave style, the Young Turks once again sought to upend these rules and one of the ways they did so was through the adoption of discontinuity techniques such as the jump cut. The jump cut is where 'two sequential shots of the same subject are taken from camera positions that vary only slightly if at all … abruptly communicating the passing of time’. Discovered serendipitously over half a century earlier by film pioneer Georges Méliès, the jump cut was adopted and popularised by Jean-Luc Godard in Breathless (1960) and subsequent films of the French New Wave. The rationale for its use in Breathless is debated, however one of the explanations offered is the 'desire to express cinematically the moral and emotional disjointedness of the behaviours portrayed or to depict the social world as meaningless in the eyes of Michel Poiccard’ (Raskin, 1998). Although jump cuts have since become ubiquitous in music videos, they can be seen in a narrative context in films such as Scorsese’s psychological thriller Shutter Island (2010), used to convey the protagonist’s torment or Spielberg’s historical drama Schindler’s List (1993) to accelerate the passing of time. One of the proponents of the jump cut is director Guy Richie who has made it a signature of his films using it extensively to set a frenetic pace, show rapidly changing focal points and create a connection between seemingly disconnected plots.
In addition to jump cuts, French New Wave films creatively employed various emphasis techniques with narrative, dramatic and stylistic intent. This included altering the frame without changing the shot to focus on a particular subject, freezing the frame to encapsulate a key moment and a breaking of the 4th wall (addressing the audience directly). As with the jump cut, the freeze frame was not an invention of the French New Wave. Its earliest recorded use was by Alfred Hitchcock in Champagne (1928) but it has been used widely since François Truffaut’s film, The 400 Blows (1959), culminated with the famous freeze frame of Antoine in his dash towards an uncertain future. Emphasis techniques pioneered by the French New Wave can be observed in many of Martin Scorsese’s films. In the crime film Goodfellas (1990), Scorsese uses both the freeze frame, to highlight key moments that shaped Henry’s life, and a breaking of the 4th wall in the final scene, to allow the audience to empathise with the eventuality of his deeply flawed character. In the biographical story of a corrupt stockbroker, The Wolf Of Wall Street (2013), Scorsese makes use of the freeze frame once again, this time to draw attention to the morally questionable personality traits of its protagonist, Jordan Belfort. Scorsese also employs a frequent breaking of the 4th wall reminiscent of Breathless (1960), which draws the audience into being an unwitting accomplice to Belfort’s high rolling but morally bankrupt life choices.
The seeds planted by 'The Young Turks’ in the pages of the Cahiers du Cinéma launched a movement which has had a profound impact on filmmaking. Taking to the streets of Paris, the auteurs of the French New Wave put their theories into practice rejecting the established approaches to filmmaking which they regarded as outdated and formulaic. They viewed film as a work of creative art with the director as its artist and sought to create a new form which better reflected their own reality. In so doing, they developed new techniques and reinvented existing ones. From minimal crew and makeshift sets, to dynamic camera movements and discontinuity in editing, the French New Wave introduced innovations that have inspired a new generation of auteurs, but perhaps their biggest influence was the call to be different; to look for new ways of expression through the language of film. In the words of Jean-Luc Godard 'it’s not where you take things from — it’s where you take things to’.
'We are like dwarfs sitting on the shoulders of giants. We see more, and things that are more distant, than they did, not because our sight is superior or because we are taller than they, but because they raise us up, and by their great stature add to ours.' — Salisbury, 1159
Open source does not distinguish between race, sex or class. It has no borders, financial accounts or political affiliations. Open source is about people; collaborating and contributing to build a better world. It's important because it shows what can be achieved in a post-capitalist system. Critics might scoff at the idea and point to the smartphone in your pocket as a product of capitalism. It is true the internet and technology built upon it has seen exponential growth in recent years. It is also true that anything worthwhile developed on the internet (the internet itself) has its roots in open source. From ARPANET in the 1950s to Linux, Apache, mySQL and PHP (LAMP stack) in the 2010s, open source has been the driving force for scientific and technological advancement. Being exploited by the capitalist system to commercial ends has only enhanced it’s importance.
I’m an advocate of free and open source software (FOSS) and believe it is a great example of organising productive work on principles of openness, cooperation and mutual benefit. I have a particular interest in developing a filmmaking workflow upon it. For years, FOSS has been the domain of nerds and techies. More recently, design thinking has been embraced by many FOSS projects to make the experience more accessible to the mainstream and FOSS can now replace many proprietary software and commonly used applications. I have included below a (perpetually updated) list of projects I use and recommend. I encourage you to embrace open source. In doing so, you are helping build a better world.
Libreoffice is a great alternative to Office and has wide support for various document formats including OpenDocument Format (ODF) an open, ISO standardised file format which ensures that your documents can be transferred between different computers and operating systems, without having to worry about vendor lock-in or license fees. It also has a wide array of plug-ins which extend it’s functionality.
Signal is an open source privacy focused communications protocol developed by the non-profit Signal Foundation. It is used as the underlying technology for secure chat features in many popular messaging applications. It offers its own standalone cross-platform application which includes secure text, voice and video messaging. You can set it as your default messaging app in Android.
Firefox is the cross platform open source browser developed by the Mozilla Foundation. The web browser is your gateway to the world wide web and for this reason commercial organisations such as Google, Apple and Microsoft offer web browsers for free to lure consumers into their ecosystem. Using Firefox ensures you can browse the web in a secure manner on your terms. As with many FOSS projects, there are also niche versions of the Firefox browser dependent on your use case (eg. the privacy focused Tor Browser).
Final Draft is the industry standard screenwriting software. Sadly, it is expensive, clunky and worst of all proprietary. Whilst filmmaking is collaborative and relies on standardisation, I believe it ought to be accessible to everyone and not beholden to a single company. Enter Fountain, a simple markup syntax for writing, editing and sharing screenplays in plain, human-readable text. Fountain adheres to industry standard formatting allowing you to work on your screenplay anywhere, on any computer or tablet, using any software that edits text files.
A lightweight but extremely powerful text-editor that has many uses. I use it to view PDF files and write film scripts in Fountain format (extensions are available for both of those applications).
Google has been increasingly hostile to Android’s open source roots making it virtually unusable without Google’s proprietary layer of apps. LineageOS is a secure, sleek mobile OS based on the Android Open Source Project and in the same vein as Firefox allows you take control of your mobile operating system (without the bloat of proprietary versions of Android).
I use Windows out of necessity but looking forward to the day I can move my entire workflow to Linux. My favourite distribution is Debian which I believe best represents the spirit of FOSS.
Open source video transcoder
A powerful cross-platform image editor
Open source video editing has come a long way. Professional workflows still necessitate proprietary applications but there are many open source projects which cover most applications. KdenLive is the pick for video editing as it can be as basic or advanced as you make it.
Open Broadcaster Software
Free and open source software for video recording and live streaming.
Apertus is a global community committed to building accessible, open source digital cinema tools to liberate filmmakers.
Securing funding for creative projects is a creative endeavour in and of itself. This is particularly salient in the film industry where the success of a project is inextricably linked to the availability of talented people and resources across all phases of production. Private investors and government agencies have been the traditional sources of funding for film projects in Australia. Access to those funds, however, poses unique challenges to emerging filmmakers. Whilst the transition from film stock to digital has made film making more accessible, it has also resulted in increased competition for increasingly limited funds. This has led film makers to embrace alternative sources of finance such as crowdfunding. Facilitated by the internet and social media, crowdfunding has emerged as a viable option for the financing of independent films in Australia.
Private funding remains the primary source of finance for the Australian film industry. Intrinsic to private funding are commercial expectations, appealing to the mass market, which can often take precedence over storytelling, creativity and risk taking. Independent film makers can turn to public funding for such niche work. A traditional option has been government funding through state film bodies and the national agency, Screen Australia. Screen Australia will fund film projects at three stages; development, production and distribution in addition to offering tax incentives. Applicants undergo a rigorous application process which can enhance the probability of critical and commercial success (Smith 2005). Government funding does have its drawbacks; application fees, onerous paperwork, competition for funds and preference for experienced teams are all barriers to nascent filmmakers. In addition, Screen Australia has a track record of being risk-averse in funding more niche and creative projects. The state bodies work in a similar way, each having their own requirements, constraints and prerequisites. For example, as of writing Film Victoria does not fund short films and requires commercial commitments from distributors.
So whilst access to private and government funding is increasingly prohibitive, crowdfunding has emerged as an alternative option for indie filmmakers.
'Crowdfunding is the practice of funding a project or venture by raising many small amounts of money from a large number of people, typically via the Internet.' - Pozible
Broadly, there are four main types of crowdfunding:
Crowdfunding platforms predominately use a reward model and take a percentage of funds raised as their platform fee (usually between 2% and 9%). One of the pioneers of crowdfunding, Kickstarter, has funded over 24,000 film projects worldwide with a success rate of 37% since its inception in 2009. Most successfully funded film projects on the platform have raised less than $10,000 USD but many have gone on to raise larger sums with 6 having raised in excess of $1 million USD .
Indiegogo is another rewards based site which has been around since 2008. It doesn't carry the brand recognition of Kickstarter but is available in many more countries (224). And although it charges a higher fee (5% to 9%), it's flexible listing rules (projects don't need to reach a funding goal to receive funds) and superior customer service can make it particularly accessible to indie filmmakers. After being rejected by Kickstarter, Gosnell Movie went on to raise $2.3 million on Indiegogo proving that there is no one size fits all when it comes to crowdfunding.
Whilst Kickstarter and Indiegogo are the behemoths of the crowdfunding world, other niche platforms are available which can be better suited to the Australian market. Melbourne based crowdfunding platform, Pozible, launched in 2010 and is geared towards creative projects. It's platform fees are between 3% and 5% and like the others runs a rewards-based model but also offers an equity option. In addition, Pozible distinguishes itself by assigning a campaign manager to help filmmakers launch and run their campaign. This may explain Pozible's higher success rate of 57%.
With film consumption moving beyond the movie theatre, crowdfunding platforms are also incorporating distribution features into their offering. One such crowdfunding site is the film-centric, Seed And Spark. Users of the site can subscribe and access a catalogue of films in addition to funding and supporting their own projects. Seed And Spark boasts a 75% success rate and charges a platform fee of 2%. The site accepts projects worldwide but at this stage requires a US bank account and social security number which may make it prohibitive Australian filmmakers. Nevertheless, distribution is an important consideration for any film equally so when opting for crowdfunding.
It is clear that crowdfunding in Australia is growing but still in its infancy compared to the United States. Private and government funding is still available and are viable options for more experienced teams willing to undertake the application process and present a thorough plan. For independent filmmakers starting out or wanting to explore a niche subject matter, crowdfunding sites may be the difference between getting a film made and having it sit on the shelf. Film makers might look at the options and conclude that crowdfunding is not only viable but preferred. Whilst crowdfunding may seem attractive, success is still largely dependent on the planning and preparation of the film makers and the pursuit of a funding model accordingly.