Making the No Budget Horror Film

Around 2016, I approached Lindsay Barrasse and David Corigliano of Voyager Video  with a script I wanted to shoot.

The project was the short horror film The Road Less Traveled, and after a couple years of pre-production, re-writers, rescheduling, etc — we brought it to reality. Not just that, it’s also been accepted to over 20 film festivals and won 3 awards: Best Suspense at Con Carolinas Film Festival, Best in Show at the Sands Film Festival and Best Director at the Highlands Film Festival.

Genius poster design by Des Z Graphics. You can see more of her work here.

Here I will go over the basics of putting together the no-budget short film, so you can apply similar principles to your own film making exploits.

Keep in mind I’m keeping some details vague because I want you to see this film at a screening without being spoiled.

Script

Even a short film needs a good script. The Road Less Traveled (originally Hunted and something a little more spoilery) went through about 15 total drafts.

The Road Less Traveled versionsAround 15 drafts in 3 different screenwriting programs

I wrote the very first, very rough draft in 2014 while I was still at SCAD. In it, a girl named Mia is abandoned at a bar by her friends, and is captured by two bad men in a badass car for nefarious purposes.

I had my dear friend Masha T. Jones, a fantastic writer, critique the first early drafts and she gave me great pointers. Eventually the story shaped into what it needed to be for me to present it to Lindsay to direct.

With Lindsay’s creative mind attached, we added a scene with a gas station attendant to set up our story’s main antagonist, Clyde.

Thanks to the helpful critiques of my fellow creatives, the script morphed from a thing with too many locations and characters to a road movie with a new destination. And that destination came about because of location issues.

Locations

When RLT was submitted to Screencraft’s Short Film Production Fund Contest, we were in the running for a 10K budget, but only managed the semi-finals. We could no longer afford to rent the slaughterhouse location we originally envisioned. After several location scouting days driving around rural Northeast Pennsylvania, Lindsay quite by accident found a client who said he had an old creepy barn he’d be willing to let us shoot in. Ronald Augelli of We Talk Shirty invited us to his property to check out the place, and after I took some location pics, we knew we found the right place where Clyde might take his victim.

The Crew

The core crew consisted of myself, Lindsay Barrasse, David Corigliano and Desiree Zielinski. We all wore multiple hats.

We all worked on separate aspects during pre-production. Lindsay and Dave were the producing team, bringing all the elements together. Desiree was off doing amazing production design, I built the monster.

The reason this all worked was because we’ve all worked with each other before, multiple times. But we also broke up the filming into reasonable chunks and worked around people’s schedules.

The best piece of advice to keep a crew happy? Make sure they’re fed. Lindsay and I split up craft services duties — we always tried to have coffee and snacks and beverages on set at all times. At the end of two major shoot days I bought everyone dinner at a local diner. A fed crew is a happy crew.

Practical Effects

We did not have the budget to hire someone to do VFX. That left one avenue for production — all practical effects.

Our fog machine broke the day we needed it, so we ended up asking Dave — such a sport — to vape-pen throughout a scene outdoors at night so we could get that lovely texture in the air. (Don’t do this, just get another fog machine!)

Our monster at the end of the story? I’ve been asked at several screenings how I did the VFX on that. There wasn’t any. That monster was created through several awkward trips to Jo-Ann’s Fabric and Michaels in Dickson City. I actually put some detail into it — moving mouth and eyes, realistic teeth and claws — but it looked a little goofy so I told Lindsay, “Let’s make sure we only see this thing in silhouette.” Sometimes the Jaws approach is best when you don’t have a professional making your monster.

Equipment

I was luckier than most, because Voyager Video is a full on production company. Lindsay and Dave came complete with lighting and sound gear. We used my Sony A7S and one of their cameras along with basic light panels.

BTS RLT 3

Scheduling and Problem Solving

Our biggest hurdle was probably scheduling. This short film, though only about 11 minutes long, took us about 2 years to produce. That was because 1. we were shooting at the tail end of fall when the leaves are giving up the ghost. and 2. we had to work around everyone’s schedules.

The caveat of filming and asking everyone to work for free is you need to be very reasonable with their time. Everyone had work, different projects, plays and events to be a part of that couldn’t be put on hold for this film. So we filmed it in pieces when we could get people together. We literally had to stop filming at one point because it snowed soon after.

Some of the drone flying shots were done by Jonathan Edwards in January. Let me tell you, driving a ’67 Impala with NO HEAT in the buttcrack of winter is not fun. I was wearing a heavy winter jacket, a blanket, and several conveniently placed Hot Hands to keep me from freezing while I drove the car.

Separating that filming time caused other unique issues. One, Casey Thomas, our Clyde, misplaced his trademark green jacket before we were done with it, so we replaced it with another, similar looking one. Camille’s (Mia) red dress got a rip from running around a previous shoot day, so we avoided seeing that part of her dress the next time. Camille had also gotten an extremely different haircut, so the hair you see in the final moments of the film is actually some faux extensions she added back in. Movie magic!

1967 Impala at NEPA FFThe Impala visited the Northeast Pennsylvania Film Festival earlier this year.

Working with an antique car means you might have some surprises, as I did when I tried driving it to set one day and it petered out on a hill. I became a bit of an amateur mechanic that day, sleuthing what the problem might be. Water in the gas? Bad connection somewhere? When my Dad returned from vacation we found it was power related and replaced the alternator, spark plugs and spark plug wires. After a little tuning, it ran fine.

Plan for any and every eventuality on your own film — and you’ll still be surprised by something. It happens on every set, but being able to work around small issues will be pivotal in making your own short film happen.

Film Festivals

We submitted to very specific film festivals. We picked genre specific film festivals and festivals connected to conventions. Since our subject was horror, and we had a geeky Supernatural homage in there, that was our best bet.

Upcoming Screenings for The Road Less Traveled

NEPA horror film festival other posterOctober 13th – Dickson City, PA
  • October 13, 2019 — NEPA Horror Film Festival

It’s at a drive-in movie theater! The Road Less Traveled will be screening during the local films block. You can also see Enoch, a film I did the Steadicam work on. Tickets for the film fest are $10 online, and $14 at the gate.

See our event page here.

sick chick flicksOctober 12th – Cary NC
  • October 12, 2019 — Sick Chick Flicks Film Festival in Cary, NC.

Let us know if you can make it! Passes start from $20. See details on the website.

See our event page here.

  • October 13 – The Hobnobben Film Festival in Fort Wayne, IN.

See the film festival site for tickets and schedule here.

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  • November 2, 2019 — Pennsylvania Indie Shorts Film Festival at Pocono Cinema and Cultural Center in East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania.

An internationally curated short film festival, right in East Stroudsburg. Say hi to my alma mater ESU for me!

  • November 19-22 – The Great Northern Creative Expo at The Media Factory Kirkham Street Preston, Lancashire PR1 2XY (The UK).

See our event page here.

You can follow our ongoing journey at our Facebook page.

Find us on Instagram: theroadlesstraveledfilm

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Grab the Audience’s Attention: Opening Shots

When my DP Tery Wilson told me a particular Steadicam shot she wanted in the feature film we worked on, it struck me as important. And important it was. “This,” she said, “Is the beginning shot of the whole movie.” No pressure!

It struck me how big and weighty the first scene — and really the first shot — in a movie is. It sets up story, character and tone. It has to hold your attention from one moment to the next. The first minutes of a film are prime real estate. If you’re not hooked, you might bail. Next movie on Netflix. Next attempt at entertainment.

We are far too impatient as a modern audience to sit around for setup that takes too long.

Pace is influential here as well. Although It Follows is similar in structure to an old school horror movie — slow mounting dread throughout the story — it gets to the meat of the matter right away. That’s something I always thought the old horror movies back in the day had trouble with.

The screenwriter has to catch the attention of the first reader through to the first audience who see the film and can recommend it to their friends.

Having a bombastic beginning also relates to my earlier post about title sequences. You don’t always see flashy title sequences in movies but when you do, you better believe they are doing an important job. You can see that post on title sequences here.

It Follows

That first shot in It Follows is not just a great beginning, but also an example of fabulous shot design. The shot doesn’t break away into any edits as the girl runs from the house, is chased by an unseen follower, and eventually rushes away from the home.

What’s genius about this shot is how it follows the first person you see, establishing the horror element of an unrelenting terror. We first see the girl run out of the house, track alongside her as she runs down the sidewalk, then we become the mysterious follower, never taking our eyes off her until she flees the scene. This shot never stops moving, perfectly simulating the monster of the story.

The Dark Knight

You can see a fantastically simple yet effective opening shot in for The Dark Knight. It’s truly brilliant in its simplicity, as the very first shot doesn’t show any people, but succeeds in building tension and expectations of sudden violence to come.

An extreme zoom into a building as a window suddenly explodes outward tells us everything we need to know about the upcoming scene: stuff is going down, and it’s going to be shocking. The whole film is a slow boil to an epic, explosive showdown. It’s only fitting that we see that echoed in the very first, seemingly innocent cityscape shot.

And that whole bank robbery scene is so engaging that you can’t help but be hooked — ready for the ride.

Make it your goal to master creating a beginning – and especially opening shot – to your film that not only captures your audience’s attention but says something about plot and tone. You’ll be more likely to get an opportunity to make another film and then we’ll be studying your film making choices.

The Boys is a Modern Day Watchmen (And That’s a Good Thing)

The Boys is an answer to the movie theater dominance of superheroes, and a true “what if?” scenario if super powered individuals existed in our world. Supernatural and Timeless creator Eric Kripke brought the Garth Ennis story to the screen in an eight episode run on Amazon Prime, and it’s unlike anything available in the multiplex or on The CW. 

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Watchmen is the Hugo Award Winning graphic novel (published first as 12 separate issues in 1986-87). It’s widely held as the best graphic novel of all time, and ushered in an era where comics could be considered for grown-ups as serious literature. It contained deep themes and stakes hardly seen in comics before. It was truly not meant for kids content-wise, but featured important narrative commentary on vigilante justice, the arms race and even one’s own identity when faced with an ugly truth.

watchmen

Watchmen was revolutionary for its time, and continues to make its mark on the world of comics. The Watchmen movie adaptation by Zack Snyder came out in 2009. A run of “Before Watchmen” comics series came out in 2012. A Watchmen HBO series is projected to premiere October 2019.

The Boys is the Watchmen of the current decade, daring to go those extra steps further in ways that have hardly been tread since Alan Moore’s masterpiece graphic novel. 

Familiar Faces (Imitation as the Sincerest Form of Flattery?)

Most of the superhero group The Seven are obvious analogues of DC heroes: Homelander is Superman, Queen Maeve is Wonder Woman, The Deep is Aquaman, and A-Train is The Flash. Besides the powers, that’s about where the similarities lie. These are not heroes striving for truth and justice in a cruel world. These are power-hungry people who are scary to all who meet them, and casually sweep accidental deaths under a corporate rug. 

We meet this world through two sides of the story: Hughie, a normal guy, who is accidentally swept into the world of supers when his girlfriend is murdered. He is recruited into “the Boys” a group of people who actively work against the supers. On the flip side is Annie aka Starlight, who is inducted into The Seven. Her wish of being a famous superhero comes true, only for her to see the seedy underbelly of the Vought Industries superhero enterprise. 

Watchmen also had familiar characters – Nite Owl is a slightly more chipper Batman, Doctor Manhattan is the ultimate Ubermensch or Superman, Rorschach could be The Question.

With Great Power Should Come Greater Accountability (Especially for Supers)

Watchmen’s most iconic phrase is “Who Watches the Watchmen?”  It asks where the line exists for vigilantes. It’s a theme that’s revisited in the mutant registry of the X-Men films, the superhero ban in The Incredibles and even in the aftermath of the Sokovia accords in the Marvel movie universe.

Image result for watchmen comic who watches

The Boys shows how the superheroes are protected from any backlash by corporate cover up, where people are paid off so the truth doesn’t come to light.  We see how scary an unchecked Superman (Homelander) can be. Vought International is an analogue of Veidt Industries, the company run by Adrian Veidt in the Watchmen storyline, right down to the superhero action figures and the fingers in every proverbial pie. 

Sexual Assault in the Workplace (#MeToo with Costumes)

Another theme that both Watchmen and The Boys explored was sexual assault in the workplace. 

From here there be major spoilers. You’ve been warned.

The fact that the assault on Starlight is used as an impetus for her to grow bolder as an individual is a refreshing break from the idea of perpetual victimhood. Yes, she’s seriously affected by the encounter, but she takes steps to make sure it doesn’t happen to anyone else. 

There’s also a parallel scene where The Deep, her rapist, has a similar experience with a creepy, rabid fan. It should be a moment for the audience to cheer “You got what you deserve!” but the way the scene is handled…vengeance does not feel good.

Vengeance! (Not all it’s cracked up to be)

This is yet another theme that Watchmen and The Boys handle exceptionally well. Hughie is set on a dangerous path when he seeks justice — at any cost — for Robin’s death. It’s clear after his decision to join The Boys he’s in over his head. Vengeance comes up later for one of our “heroes” when seeking the truth about an origin…though this person doesn’t seem to have the capability of caring about consequences. 

I didn’t think I’d like The Boys as much as it did, but once I got over the initial shock of the events of the first episode, I was hooked. I’m going to need a season two.

Searching…An Innovative Way to Tell a Story

Searching sets up a story we’ve seen before — a parent searching for their child — but does it in a uniquely technical fashion while cleverly setting up red herrings and clues along the way.

What makes Searching unique is obvious — the story is told through screens, on computers and cell phones. It could have come across hokey and gimmicky, much like found footage films, or by what I assume Unfriended was received (has anyone seen that movie? Let me know)

The father, played by John Cho, does 90% of his sleuthing online, digging through his daughter’s social media, searching terms he’s unfamiliar with (#parents am I right?) and communicating via text, messenger and FaceTime. This creates a story that wouldn’t be better told in a traditional format. The discovery and the unearthing of Margot’s secrets is through her social media, so why not present the film in such a format that can take great advantage of that?

The animations and screen captures were smooth, transitioning from search results to videos and FaceTime conversations in a manner that reflects a person’s frantic search online for answers.

Searching pic 1

We’re introduced to the storytelling convention in a less frantic sense, in a sort of Up-style montage of moments that detail this family’s life on the computer. There’s an incredible amount of character development told through the Windows startup page to the photos and videos that document this family’s journey.

As details about the case are discovered and Cho’s character delves deeper into the mystery, clues are simultaneously revealed to the viewer. Eagle eyed observers might even note key plot details before Dad finds them, but it’s done in a way that doesn’t make you anxious for the characters to catch up with your conclusions. The twists are really well done and the ending features a spectacular 180 reversal.

It’s a really well done movie from both a technical and a writing standpoint. If you’d like to delve more into the making of the movie, check out the special features (available on the RedBox rental, so no excuses) and read this article AFTER you’ve seen the movie (be warned: spoilers). With this movie, the viewer’s search for the truth should coincide with the father’s.

Make it or Break it in the Atlanta Film Industry

So, you’re looking at starting out in the Atlanta film industry, and don’t know where to start?

Disclaimer: This is primarily directed at those looking at the crew side of things, but there are a couple resources that actors can check out as well.

Whether you’ve gone to school, attended a workshop or are a completely new person in the industry — you’re likely going to start from the bottom up. To better prepare you for the long road ahead, I’ve put together this post to point you in the right direction.

film school meme

I’m allowed to post this because I went to film school and still had to PA…just like many of my peers.

Be the Ideal Production Assistant

A production assistant is universally recognized as the entry-level job on any set.

What are the qualities that make a great production assistant?

A production assistant may be in charge of many tasks on a set. You might print and distribute scripts and callsheets, drive crew and actors to and from set, set up pop up tents and crafty, lock-up streets or areas to prevent people walking into set, go on runs to pick up supplies or equipment, or become a human sandbag.

I’ve been a human sandbag. Do not recommend.

The ideal production assistant is humble, eager to help and able to anticipate the needs of a crew without stepping out of the bounds of their position. You have the fortitude to withstand 12+ hours worth of production, sometimes with nothing to do for long periods of time, without complaining.

When you apply for these gigs, you will follow whatever guidelines are in the job listing. Trust me, that alone will make you stand out. Bonus points if you research the production company and their previous work.

Alternate: Be an Extra

Those with zero film experience might want to get their feet wet by working as an extra. As an extra, you’re exposed to the long hours of a film job (though not as long as the crew) and can see firsthand how things are run. You can get the feel for the job without actually running around doing PA duties.

So where should you start looking for jobs?

Job Sites

*paid subscriptions

A note on Help Wanted Hotline: Jobs for films and TV shows are posted here, and you’ll see some big names here. Certainly add this to your list of things to check regularly, but please note that I’ve not heard of anyone getting a job through here. More often than not it seems jobs are posted here later than in other places.

Stage 32 is probably better for networking because I see a lot of people “trying to break in” and not a lot of people actually hiring.

Facebook Groups

For work, advice, encouragement, hilarious memes!

  • Atlanta Film Community
  • Paid Only Georgia Film Crew Group
  • Atlanta Film Production Group
  • Production Freelancers – Producers, Coordinators, PA’s etc…..
  • Georgia Production Assistants
  • Greater Atlanta Film Community
  • Women Working in Reality TV
  • **Movie Set Memes

**You know you need a laugh during the job search.

Other useful groups for info, advice and the very occasional job: Atlanta Film Production Group, Georgia Production Assistants.

This is just a sample. Look for what you’re into and join up. Some groups are more spammy than others, so I didn’t really want to add groups like Georgia Film Industry Circle and because it skews towards being more spammy, but sometimes get lucky.

Actors and Background Facebook groups

Another way people might survive the long in-between calls is by working as an extra.

  • ONLY Speaking Role Casting Calls (Southeast US)
  • Central Casting (Georgia USA)
  • Actors Access
  • SAG – AFTRA (for those serious about this acting thing)
  • SCAD Film & Television (Please note, any gig posted on a student group WILL be for VOLUNTEER ONLY. Students can’t afford to pay and simply need the practice of working with crews/actors. Be considerate of this.)
  • Background Artists
  • Casting Atlanta
  • CAB Castings
  • Casting All Talent
  • Casting TaylorMade
  • Casting TaylorMade Miami
  • Central Casting Atlanta
  • CL Casting
  • Cynthia Stillwell Casting
  • Extras Casting Atlanta
  • Hylton Casting
  • Marinella Hume Casting
  • New Life Casting
  • Southern BG Casting
  • Tammy Smith Casting- Atlanta
  • The Extra Bad Group
  • WSA Casting

The Atlanta SAG page has a list of legit agents for actors (something you should consider if acting is your thing). You can find agents and managers elsewhere, but beware, there are many scams afoot. Legitimate agencies will not ask for money upfront (the exception is Actor’s Access, but that’s different). Places like John Casablancas will make you fork over $1000+ and are definitely scams.

Volunteering

Here’s the thing. If you’re new to the industry in general, or new to a place like Atlanta, working for free on a couple projects can actually be beneficial. Hear me out.

You need to make connections in the area, people who live here and can in turn recommend you for actual paying jobs in the future. People who might volunteer to work on your next project. It’s a give and take.

Don’t volunteer on just anything. Vet your options. If a production sounds fishy, keep your distance. I had my own protocol for what I would volunteer on and you should too.

I volunteered my services on a short film once after watching the director’s previous content and negotiating when I would work. That film ended up at San Diego Comic Con.

no pay

That being said, definitely don’t be a volunteer forever. Even if you’re a total n00b to the film industry, once you’ve gained skills through volunteering, you need to value yourself enough to be paid for your work.

Networking Events

Last year when I was fresh on the Atlanta scene, I went to a couple of networking events to start meeting people and see what was out there.

Just check out this list of networking events for film people in Atlanta! Just don’t go to Atlanta Film Hub. I’ve heard bad things about them.

Women in Film and Television Atlanta is a great way women to network. If you don’t want to pay the dues, they have a monthly open mixer. The next one is set for February 07. Non-members pay $15.

Something like Film Bar Monday is not networking per se. It’s more a casual hang out for filmmakers to do. This is held on every Monday at various bars around Atlanta, including Decatur. The rules state no business cards, no obvious desperate ploys for employment. But meet some people here, get talking and you’ll see where your next lead might come from. There’s also a Film Brunch Sunday!

Production Gear Rental

Maybe you’ve got the skills for a certain job, but don’t have the gear yet?

For those who say “I just need this one thing and I have $30.” The first two are the Uber of production rental — i.e. renting from regular people in your area:

The following are the more professional ones:

Film Industry Resource Map

This is a handy interactive resource put together by Tatem Spearman.

Click here to access the map.

What You Need to Do RIGHT NOW

  • Update your resume, website, and various job board accounts. Reflect any new additions, new skills or anything that might apply to production jobs.

Tailor your resume to the job you want. If you sometimes apply to sound gigs and sometimes to acting gigs, have separate resumes for each.

  • Clean up your social media of anything that might appear questionable to a potential employer. You laugh, but I’ve actually had employers say during an interview, “We looked at your social media and think you’re a great fit.”
  • Business cards. Maybe seems antiquated to some but can’t hurt.
  • Professional email. Nobody is going to hire ButtDeeemon13XXX@hotmail.com. No one. (Dear Lord please don’t let that be a real email address) Some variation of your first and last name or your production company name (if you have one) is fine.

But most importantly:

atl meme

No, not that.^
  • Don’t give up. 

Making it in the production world, whether in Atlanta, Los Angeles or Narnia will require a level of commitment and stubbornness not found in other professions. You might find yourself networking and putting yourself out there for months without work.

Have a savings. Have a plan. If you put your best foot forward, keep making those connections, honing your skills and doing the grunt work that does come your way, people will notice. And that’s what you want.

Did I miss anything?

If there’s anything I can add to these lists, please let me know by emailing bridgetlamonica@gmail.com. Contributors will be credited.

Contributors to this post

Tatem Spearman, Alex Collins, Arthur Groves (updates for BG Casting list).

The Slick Design of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

There’s a lot of great things going on in the animated film Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. The minority lead is incredibly engaging and the first in-motion Spider-Gwen was everything I wanted her to be. I’m secretly hoping she’ll get her own film some day. Combine that with a worthwhile story, heartfelt interactions and pulse-pounding action — you’ve got yourself a fun ride.

Comic Style +

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Having this story animated (instead of live action) allowed for some stylistic choices that celebrated both animated and print formats. Especially after Miles gets his powers, the story is presented more and more like a comic book, including thought bubbles and descriptions that pop up on screen. Unlike its comic roots, the film uses these staples of the print format in dynamic ways. Thought bubbles pop up after Miles as he’s running down a street, panel lines slash through the screen and present multiple images at once. It’s a comic on speed and you can’t look away.

Color

color

Coupled with the general layout of a comic book, the animation is lush with vibrant color. The colors are as vivid as our main character himself, who sings to get himself in a good mood and is full of energy. Adding this to our smooth animation, and 2-D/3-D presentation (even when viewed in standard format, you can tell how much depth the 3-D version has) and you’ve got a visually breathtaking actiony romp. But even with that color and fun, there’s still some darkness to be had, making this a film that’s not just emotionally investing for young viewers.

Otherworldly Designs

Into-The-Spider-Verse-All-Spider-Men

Another great stylistic choice was to have the spider-people of different universes look and behave different. Spider-Ham (yes, a spider-pig) is more cartoonish and uses weapons that would have been at home in a Bugs Bunny cartoon). Spider-Noir is depicted in black and white and he can’t see color. Peni Parker is decidedly more anime. This design choice follows when we get glimpses into their worlds in their intros and near the end. Different shapes, color-schemes and physics accompany the buildings and sights populating from the other worlds.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a fantastic addition to the Marvel universe, referencing all the Spider-Men that came before it while securing its own important place in heroic cinema. It’s a fantastic animated film, but it’s also just a really good film in its own right.

Media Parodies Media: The Bojack Horseman Story

Bojack Horseman is a Netflix Original that premiered in 2014. It’s a dark humor animation with anthropomorphic animal people navigating the shallow world of Hollywood. Somehow, I didn’t get around to this show for four years. Then I binged four seasons in an embarrassingly short time.

I was surprised by how emotionally invested I became with Bojack‘s cast of characters. Real human drama and timeless themes exist within the animated packaging featuring a talking horse.

At first, Bojack Horseman is a very nihilistic look at a ex-sitcom star’s messed up life. Booze, drugs, one night stands, many questionable decisions… it’s a fun ride to watch Bojack spiral out of control. But from the beginning the writers subtly tug at your heartstrings by fleshing out his character as well as those of the ones around him.

Bojack acts out and gets himself into trouble because, plain and simple, he’s not happy. There are the glimpses into his truly awful childhood and parents who never really wanted him, all of which ended up with Bojack becoming a washed up ex-sitcom star.

Portrayal of Media and Hollywoo(-d)

What the show does especially well is parodying the media and entertainment industries. From “A Ryan Seacrest Type”– a vapid Hollywood reporter who comments on whatever inane news has surfaced, to media-fueled squabbles over apple muffins and the insane things stars do for attention.

Amid the laughs are some really poignant digs at Hollywood in general (re-named Hollywoo after Bojack stole the D in a booze-addled stupor).

In the episode where Mr. Peanutbutter and Todd come up with the Oscar nominees, reading the whiteboard behind them was insightful and relevant. Last year’s #OscarsSoWhite scandal was put in sharp relief as they had written down “black people” and then crossed it out.

If you notice, the board also includes only female names in “Best Director” — a stark contrast to the reality. In 2018, Greta Gerwig became only the fifth female director to even be nominated for the Best Director Oscar for Lady Bird. So far the only female director to win has been Kathryn Bigelow in 2009 for The Hurt Locker.

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Bojack also parodies what happens to some child stars. With Sarah Lynn, you see the stark contrast between the innocent girl on the 90’s sitcom to the coked out mess she becomes later in life.

The Human Element

Part of the reason we care so much about these characters is because of their very real struggles:

Princess Carolyn — Cutthroat in the world of being an agent/manager, but almost always at the brink of failure. She also feels unfulfilled and wishes for a family, but is possibly past the point of no return.

Todd — discovering his sexuality. I think so far this is the only time I’ve seen a character in a show discover they are “Ace.”

Diane — Just…everything about Diane. Her issues with her family and her career struggles make her a relateable, anxiety-ridden character.

Season Five

Bojack Season 5 premiered recently. There were a couple of episodes that really stood out, like the one that centered around Diane’s exploration of her ancestral routes (for a Buzzfeed-like story she was writing) and an episode that centers around Bojack giving a speech at a funeral that doesn’t cut away and is simultaneously hilarious, dark and uncomfortable.

Season 5 wasn’t my favorite, but it still represents part of a quality piece of entertainment. If you haven’t tried this series yet, it’s about time.

It’s about time for something like A Wrinkle in Time

I finally saw A Wrinkle in Time, via Red Box. It was a trippy, colorful, spacey adventure great for kids.

The movie made waves early in promotional days when it was revealed the typically white heroine would be portrayed by Storm Reid, a young lady who is neither typical nor white. And what a fantastic choice this casting was.

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Unfortunately, A Wrinkle in Time (2018) was not the blockbuster it really wanted to be. With a slow beginning that bogs down the pace and the hard-to-follow rules of the fantasy world, it didn’t meet high expectations.

It reminds me of the hype when Lucy (2014) came out. Forget what movie that is? So did most everybody else. But it was originally hyped to show off an actiony female heroine. It just couldn’t help the fact that it was unnervingly stupid.

But you can’t place all your expectations on one movie. You just rejoice in the fact that it exists and it signals a shift in cultural representation. 

A Wrinkle in Time could have been a bomb with white leads. It could have been a re-hash of the 2003 Canadian attempt at a television-based adaptation. When author Madeleine L’Engle saw that, she told Newsweek, “I have glimpsed it…I expected it to be bad, and it is.”

200px-Awrinkleintimetv.jpg

So bad in fact that the actors refused to open their eyes in this pic. Maybe.

What’s important is that Director Ava DuVernay took the opportunity to film a very difficult to adapt novel with actors and crew of all colors, genders, etc.

To get that diverse cast and crew, DuVernay didn’t have to do anything fancy. She didn’t have an inclusion rider, or special contract. To put it simply, she just made sure the production hired great people of all kinds and colors. That’s something we need to see more of.

The 2018 version by Disney may not have made a huge profit, but it showed a young capable girl of a mixed race family, with numerous roles in her world filled by diverse people. It put a normal lens on a medium that usually paints the world in bland colors. I’d like to think more than a few young girls saw this and were inspired. And if that’s all it did? Maybe it accomplished what it set out to do.

 

Sources

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Wrinkle_in_Time

https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/a_wrinkle_in_time_2018/

http://fortune.com/2018/03/12/wrinkle-in-time-ava-duvernay-inclusion-rider-diversity/

Small thinking and Downsizing

I Redbox’d Alexander Payne’s Downsizing, fully expecting an unusual, indie-ish film with a decent special effects budget and commentary on human excess. What I found was a hodgepodge of themes so mashed together as to resemble a brown sludge instead of a solid idea.

It’s an intriguing concept; A scientist discovers how to shrink humans to 5 inches tall, reducing their carbon footprint. Married couple Paul (Matt Damon) and Audrey (Kristin Wiig) decide to undergo the procedure so they can have the home of their dreams, only to have Audrey leave Paul when he is shrunk first. It all kinda meanders from there.

downsizing

Downsizing touches (but doesn’t commit) on the following themes:

  1. Ecological responsibility/the Green Movement
  2. Economic/Socio-economic disparities
  3. Emotional — Paul dealing with a new life after being abandoned by Audrey
  4. Political/xenophobic

The problem with all these, albeit great thematic elements, is the fact that we bounce between them, never fully embracing enough to make a strong premise.

From this point on there will be spoilers (including the ending)

The Green Movement

The scientists who created the process of downsizing did so in order to reduce our emissions and help save the world. The term “downsizing” comes from the idea of simplifying one’s life for overall improvement. A company may downsize to cut costs, or an individual may downsize their home to make it more manageable to take care of.

The movie also illustrates the green movement by showing the shared cars in the tiny city Paul moves in to. Everyone shares what appear to be electric cars.

By the end of the movie, 3% of the world’s population has downsized, but it’s not enough to keep the polar ice caps from melting. Too little, too late. Pun intended?

Socio-economic Disparities

The most interesting theme in the movie, from my point of view, were the socio-economic differences present among the little people.

At first it appears that mostly the middle class folks downsize because their money is worth more when they undergo the process. They can afford lavish mansions and live comfortably off their savings. Other people downsize as a personal choice, so escape their current life and have a fresh start.

Later on, we’re introduced to the lower-class (and mostly ethnic) residents of Paul’s city. These people still have to work for a living, some of them as maids to clean the rich people’s mansions and apartments. Paul is introduced to this world when he meets Vietnamese activist Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau). She was shrunk against her will and now cleans apartments while hobbling on a poorly designed prosthetic leg.

hong chau

The disparity is shown in stark relief as Paul sees Ngoc’s side of town. First off, they have to take a crowded bus which takes them through the wall of the city’s enclosure and into a dismal town outside the wall. If that journey through the wall doesn’t say a lot about economic disparity, I don’t know what does.

Paul’s interaction with this woman is the heart of the story, and frankly what the story should have stuck to. It’s touching, it’s smart and it’s a logical endpoint for Paul to reach some conclusions on what he is worth. He can help these people with so many of their problems, either through his occupational therapy training or by helping them get food.

Sadly we had a few other themes to muck it all up.

Emotional

I tacked this on because it’s more of a plot point that doesn’t get resolved.

Audrey abandons Paul right after he’s downsized. This is something that is given away in the trailer, and lost a lot of emotional impact since it was not a surprise. It also felt very forced. Audrey never seemed thrilled about downsizing. Why did they go through with going to get the procedure? This is likely more a problem with the character than the story.

After that plot point (Audrey leaving) we get no payoff. Sure we see Paul mulling through life post-Audrey, but we don’t get a nice book-ending moment. He doesn’t see Audrey again, doesn’t speak to her, doesn’t really come to terms with it. We can argue that his friendship and later relationship with Ngoc serves that purpose, but I feel something was missing.

Political/Xenophobic

As soon as there’s anyone who’s different, there’s going to be people who hate them.

A man approaches Paul at his going-away party prior to downsizing. The man is noticeably annoyed, and says the little people should not benefit from the rest of the country’s taxes since they don’t pay any taxes, and that they should only have a portion of a vote when it comes to elections.

The guy is a racist jerk motif to the tee…but is he wrong?

Of course he is but part of the problem with the downsizing concept is that it’s not fully fleshed out. How is it economically viable to have these little people living off their savings for the rest of their lives? Forget the conversion rate of the tiny houses being so cheap, what about whenever they need to buy products or services outside their tiny cities? Not everything is produced in the tiny city. Their money can’t possible retain it’s inflated value in the outside world. That bottle of vodka from the trailer should be worth a million dollars!

And how are these people not paying taxes? How did that slip the government’s radar? Sure, the process was hailed as a tax write off because #greenmovement but …how?

Despite all that, and the interesting parallels with real-life xenophobia…the hatred between normals and little people is never expressed again.

Ending Thoughts

Downsizing was a mixed bag. Sure it had an interesting insights into the pros and cons of this imaginary medical procedure….but the fact that it couldn’t focus and elaborate on some key elements made it a bit of a mess.

If you are about to watch it, prepare for a slow beginning and meandering plot until Ngoc Lan Tran arrives, because she’s a wonderful addition. Maybe the story should have been more about her?

The Cinematography of A Quiet Place

This blog references this podcast interview from The Kodakery with Charlotte Bruus Christensen, cinematographer of A Quiet Place.

Charlotte-Bruus-Christensen

 

In the interview, cinematographer Charlotte Bruus described how the story dictated what type of shots they could get. Since the characters conversed mostly in American sign language with subtitles for the layman, most shots had to leave enough room for the sign language to take place. Even when they might want a close up on a face, they had to make that conscious choice that the hands had to be seen. It was done for practicality but very much dictated the look and feel of the film.

Christensen also described how she uses elements from the script and the director to add the character to her camera operating in each scene.

“I constantly work towards a word or a scene or something that the director has given me…to give that to the audience,” Charlotte Bruus Christensen said.

How do you do that? Well, you accomplish that with the lighting design, the camera movement, handheld vs. tripod… each choice adds another layer to what Christensen is saying with the camera.

“That’s the work that doesn’t really come out in the dialogue or in the set design,” she said. “That’s something that I can add. These words, I get very set what I’m aiming for with the light and with the movement. That will guide me to whether this [tracking shot] should be going fast or slow or if you zoom.”

Not all Directors of Photography will operate the camera themselves, but Christensen did. She adds an intuitive element to it, very much responding to the actors in the moment.

“When you operate yourself, you really can feel that, when a character moves his head or these little details… to me that’s very, very important to catch those moments and try and convey emotion… to move an audience. Show that emotion. To move an audience. But that’s another amazing thing about cinematography. It’s such a powerful tool.”

It’s interesting to note that part of the personality lent to the image by the cinematographer herself was also her choice to shoot in film. People balked at her choice, assuming the film would not be able to handle the dark scenes. Christensen, however, knew better.

A QUIET PLACE

Being knowledgeable with film stocks, she chose the right tools for the job. The funny thing is, shooting in film means you don’t see exactly what you’re getting through the viewfinder. Using her experience, intuition and a light meter, Christensen captured amazing visuals for an incredible film.