filmmaker

Moonrise Kingdom — Where Story Meets Style

In Moonrise Kingdom, Wes Anderson’s style is the perfect match for the story. He uses details to create a believable world, establishes the rules of this fantastical story, and creates a tone that forms a connection between the audience and the characters of Suzy and Sam.

David Fincher: From a Distance

by @jacobtswinney

Swinney’s last David Fincher video examined the filmmaker’s use of the extreme close-up. It seemed only right that his follow-up video would do the opposite. Fincher’s use of the long/extreme long shot is something of beauty, lending a majestic sense of scale to his often cramped and grimy little worlds. Whether he employs the shot to communicate isolation, express magnitude, or even just to give us a much needed breath, Fincher’s approach to distancing us from his subjects is masterful.

FILMS USED:
Alien 3 (1992)
Se7en (1995)
The Game (1997)
Fight Club (1999)
Panic Room (2002)
Zodiac (2007)
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)
The Social Network (2010)
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)
Gone Girl (2014)

5 Films That Influenced Christopher Nolan

By MICHAEL MAHER

Before Christopher Nolan was a blockbuster director, he was a kid who loved movies. Here are the five films he identifies as his biggest influences.

Christopher Nolan has established himself as one of the blockbuster directors of this generation. The skills he has acquired as a filmmaker can be credited to the countless movies he’s seen in his lifetime.

“Movies become indistinguishable from our own memories,” Nolan said in an interview with Wired magazine. “You file them away and they become very personal.”

Here’s a look at how five specific films played a major role in establishing Nolan’s blockbuster worlds.

2001: A Space Odyssey

In May of 1977, Star Wars reinvigorated the world’s love of sci-fi and space films. That summer, theaters in the UK re-released Stanley Kubrick’s space epic, 2001: A Space Odyssey.

“My dad took my brother and me to Leicester Square, which is where you’d find the biggest theaters in London. I remember very clearly just the experience of being transported to another world. I was a huge Star Wars fan at the time. But this was a completely different way of experiencing science fiction. I was seven years old, so I couldn’t claim to have understood the film. I still can’t claim that. But as a seven year old, I didn’t care about understanding the film. I just felt this extraordinary experience of being taken to another world. You didn’t doubt this world for an instant. It had a larger than life quality.

When I tell people this story, they often find it unusual that a child of that age would want to see 2001. But the truth is all of my friends went to see 2001 in the year after Star Wars. We would all sit and talk about what it meant. It was ‘pure cinema.’ The fact that it’s challenging cinema in an intellectual sense doesn’t bother you when you’re a kid. You just appreciate the feeling of the movie.” — Entertainment Weekly

“It just has that sensory stimulation of pure cinema that speaks to people of all ages. People forget kids like it too — because we were all into spaceships.” — Empire Magazine

It’s obvious that 2001 highly influenced Nolan’s Interstellar, but director Stanley Kubrick would be the one that really shaped Nolan as a filmmaker. Not only did Kubrick’s work leave an impression, but so did his personal approach to the craft.

“From a storytelling point of view, from a directing point of view, there is one thing I associate with what he does, which is calm. There is such an inherent calm and inherent trust of the one powerful image, that he makes me embarrassed with my own work, in terms of how many different shots, how many different sound effects, how many different things we’ll throw at an audience to make an impression. But with Kubrick, there is such a great trust of the one correct image to calmly explain something to audience. There can be some slowness to the editing. There’s nothing frenetic about it. It’s very simple. There’s a trust in simple storytelling and simple image making that actually takes massive confidence to try and emulate.” — Entertainment Weekly

It’s not Kubrick’s filmmaking alone either, as the director also influenced Nolan’s approach to studio collaborations.

“I think anyone who is working [for the studios] looks to Kubrick as the great example of someone who is able to make films that were very personal to him, very idiosyncratic, with a great degree of passion, while collaborating with the studios and making what he did fit within the economic models of their times.” — Entertainment Weekly

That mindset has since helped Nolan’s production company, Syncopy, establish itself as a blockbuster powerhouse in a matter of years. Syncopy has collaborated with Legendary Pictures, DC Entertainment, and Warner Bros. to produce films that have hit nearly $4.7 Billion in box office sales — in less than a decade.

Blade Runner

Director Ridley Scott had just blown audiences away with Alien when his 1982 follow-up film, Blade Runner, hit theaters. The films established Scott as a blockbuster filmmaker during Christopher Nolan’s most influential years.

“I have always been a huge fan of Ridley Scott and certainly when I was a kid. Alien, Blade Runner just blew me away because they created these extraordinary worlds that were just completely immersive.” — Media Factory

This film has influenced nearly all of Nolan’s movies. He considers Blade Runner a key touchstone of science fiction. The film’s production design and style were key to establishing the base of Nolan’s Batman universe. Nolan even cast Blade Runner star Rutger Hauer in Batman Begins.

“It’s hard to say what was conscious homage, and what was my analysis of why Blade Runner was so convincing in its production design and in the way it uses its sets. From a pragmatic point of view, Blade Runner is actually one of the most successful films of all time in terms of constructing that reality using sets. On Batman Begins, unlike The Dark Knight, we found ourselves having to build the streets of Gotham in large part. So I immediately gravitated toward the visual treatment that Ridley Scott had come up with, in terms of how you shoot these massive sets to make them feel real and not like impressive sets. And immediately we started looking at the rain, the handheld cameras, the longer lenses…

So myself, my designer Nathan Crowley, and my cinematographer Wally Pfister, we started to throw all of that into the mix of how you can help the look of something, how you can create texture, as Ridley Scott has always been the absolute master of. Creating a texture to a shooting style that maximizes the impact of the set, and minimizes the artifice — the feeling that this world has edges to it that you would see at the edge of the frame. Blade Runner is one of the examples of how you can take a camera and get down and dirty… and really envelop your audience in the atmosphere of the world you’re trying to create. We definitely tried to emulate that style, and I think in doing so we actually created homage, particularly where we used the rain very much.” — Forbes

The Spy Who Loved Me

Released the same year Nolan first watched Star Wars and 2001: A Space Odyssey, 1977′s The Spy Who Loved Me may be the most well-known Roger Moore Bond film. To the eyes of a kid, this was the coolest Bond ever. To Christopher Nolan, 1977 may have been the greatest year ever.

“One of the first films I remember seeing was The Spy Who Loved Me and at a certain point the Bond films fixed in my head as a great example of scope and scale in large scale images. That idea of getting you to other places, of getting you along for a ride if you can believe in it — in The Spy Who Loved Me, the Lotus Esprit turns into a submarine and its totally convincing, and it works and you go ‘Wow, that’s incredible.’” — IndieWire

Nolan frequently cites this particular Bond film often, but he is a huge fan of Bond films in general. He credits the franchise for creating threats that played on audiences fears.

“Interestingly, the Bond films, back in the 60s, they were very specifically about Cold War fears — They introduced the threat of nuclear terrorism very specifically for the first time in movies and they were closer than people realize, in pop culture terms, to what people feared at the time. And I think that one of the things in taking on an action film set in a great American city post-9/11, if we were going to be honest in terms of our fears and what might threaten this great city, then we were going to come up against terrorism and how that might feature in the universe of Batman. And I think we approached it with a great deal of sincerity.”

It wasn’t only the Dark Knight trilogy that benefitted from the influence of 007. In fact, the closest thing we may get to a Christopher Nolan James Bond film is Inception.

“The Bond influence on the film was very intentional because, for me, growing up with the Bond films — they’ve always stood for grand-scale action.” — BBC

The Spy Who Loved Me was not the only Bond film to be a major influence, as Nolan also cites On Her Majesty’s Secret Service as his favorite Bond film. Overall, it was the world of James Bond that showcased an expansive cinematic universe.

“I think for me, when you look at the idea of being able to create a limitless world and use it almost as a playground for action and adventure and so forth, I naturally gravitate towards cinematic worlds, whether it’s the Bond films and things like that. So without being too self-conscious about it or without too much intention as I was writing it, I certainly allowed my mind to wander where it would naturally and I think a lot of the tropes from different genres of movies, heist films, spy films, that kind of thing, they therefore sort of naturally sit in that world.” — Collider

The Thin Red Line

Terrence Malick‘s 1998 film, The Thin Red Line, is listed as one of Christopher Nolan’s all-time favorite films. The film helped Nolan realize that there were no set boundaries in film editing, which helped him set up the story in Memento.

I also see a lot of attempts to do what I saw Terrence Malick doing, in terms of the portrayal of mental states and memory. If you watch The Thin Red Line, that was a revelation to me. He’s cutting to memories and flashbacks with simple cuts; there are no wavy lines or dissolves. There are moments [in Memento] where Guy’s character is remembering his wife that were taken very much from that film. — Movieline

Superman

“One of the great films that I am very influenced by that we haven’t talked about was Dick Donner’s Superman. It made a huge impression on me.” — The Hollywood Reporter

“Donner took on the character of Superman, he made the image of how people my age saw Superman. I still remember the trailers. I remember going to the cinema to see something else and seeing these epic trailers — the character standing in the cornfield, Marlon Brando’s voice — and that stuck with me.” — IndieWire

One of Nolan’s biggest takeaways from the film was the realistic setting.

“… the world is pretty much the world we live in, but there’s this extraordinary figure there, which is what worked so well in Dick Donner’s Superman film.” — The Hollywood Reporter

“When I talk about reality in these films, it’s often misconstrued as direct reality, but it’s really cinematic reality. It’s about trying to find the translation and credibility in the events and fantastical nature of what is going on.” — IndieWire

That cinematic reality played a huge role in the world of the Dark Knight trilogy, and once again appeared in Superman’s universe with the Man of Steel franchise, which was produced by Nolan.

SXSW 2016: Joe Swanberg Gets Honest About Making a Living in Indie Film

By Chris O'Falt | Indiewire

“When shooting a movie, it’s better to have no money, than some money.”

Joe Swanberg

Joe Swanberg’s keynote today at SXSW was not unlike one of his movies: Unscripted, personally revealing and brutally honest. As Swanberg worked his way chronologically through his career, he kept pointing out how he wasn’t some trailblazer, but rather that his career had just intersected with tremendous advances in technology that changed how films were made and distributed. The reality, however, is that Swanberg has consistently been at the forefront of experimenting with how to be an uncompromised filmmaker, while still carving out a career and living for himself.  

Using examples from his career, the director provided plenty of filmmaking principles and advice with the many aspiring DYI filmmakers in the audience.

“We Need To Share Information”

“If we just talked to each other we’d fuck shit up,” explained Swanberg. Using an example from when he was making a the web series “Young Hard Bodies” for IFC and Nerve, Swanberg said that he was happy to just get paid anything to make the series. That was until his good friend Ti West (who is at SXWS this year with “In a Valley of Violence”) told him he was getting paid $5,000 a episode. Swanberg had started making his series for $500 to $1,000 an episode.

“If I didn’t know Ti, I would have been happy with [getting a raise] to $3,000,” but instead IFC, didn’t blink when he asked for $5,000.  

Joe Swanberg at a Nitehawk, Brooklyn screening of Magnolia Pictures’ “Drinking Buddies.”

“Marriage is Also a Business Partnership”

Swanberg credits his marriage to fellow filmmaker Kris Swanberg (“Unexpected”) as being vital to allowing them both filmmakers ability to experiment and create. Although he was honest about how the couple spent a decade barely making ends meet, that having two potential income earners — and as long as one of them was working and able to pay the bills — has allowed them to both continue to make art and start a family.

“No One Reads Anything”

“No press is bad press,” Swanberg joked. His larger point here was that simply being written about in major publications, especially The New York Times, gave Swanberg’s early ventures into micro budget filmmaking and VOD the credibility he needed. He said that biggest lesson came when a number of people would congratulate him on reviews he knew said “god awful” things about his films. It was at this point he realized that being important enough to be written about was what would be vital to him being able to make films for $10,000 to $15,000.     

“Digging for Fire”

“You Can Shoot A Good Movie in Four Days”

Swanberg spent a great deal of time during his keynote highlighting the key role that his friend and collaborator Adam Wingard (also at SXSW with the TV show “Outcast”) has played in his career. When the two directors first met each other in Birmingham, where Wingard lived, Swanberg thought he was “the weirdest and most memorable dude ever,” but he didn’t take him seriously. When Wingard asked Swanberg to come to Alabama to act in two segments of his four-segment feature about date rape, Swanberg joked, “that was literally the last thing I ever wanted to do.”

After watching the first two segments, however, Swanberg was impressed, but when he learned that Wingard had shot each segment in a day, his mind was blown. He went to Alabama to see how Wingard could possibly shoot a quarter of a movie in a day and for it to still be good. He was so impressed by Wingard, he hired him to be his cinematographer and mirrored his process in shooting “Autoerotic.” The film went on to be Swanberg’s first project to make a major profit (it sold for $70,000 and cost only $15,000) and set into motion Swanberg making seven films in one year.  

Swanberg encouraged the young filmmakers in the audience to attempt to making a four-day feature themselves, highlighting that it’s great for performances and it really sharpens and focuses you as a director.  

Movie Stars Are Important

In discussing “Drinking Buddies,” Swanberg insists he did nothing different in the way he made the film, except that he worked with stars like Anna Kendrick and Jake Johnson, and that results were career- and life-changing.

“It’s this weird thing that when we see famous people do things it feels real [to us],” explained Swanberg. He admitted that while he dreams of going back to the days of living with his cast and crew for a month while improvising a movie like “Hannah Takes The Stairs,” the reality is he’s fallen in love with working with Hollywood stars. This has meant that he now needs to write a script, so that he can have a real plan to accommodate busy actors’ schedules.

“Invest in Your Own Movies”

Swanberg revealed today that since “Drinking Buddies,” he has rolled his income from one movie right into his next one, owning an increasing larger percentage of his work with each new project. He realizes this is counter to every piece of advice filmmakers are told, but he insists that gambling on yourself is the only way you will ever make any real money in this business.

“Drinking Buddies”

“Three Truths About Money”

1.  According Swanberg, when making a movie, “it is better to have no money, than some money.” He insists having some money causes major headaches because everybody is going to want a piece of it and there’s not enough to go around. He stated that he’s had much better success paying people more money after the film has been sold.

2.  The less you need money, the more they want to give you money, but when you are struggling, the smell of desperation means no one will give you a dime. Swanberg discussed how this truth is infuriating, but that advices filmmakers to take meetings like you don’t need funds.

3.  Time and happiness are money. If you don’t factor your happiness into what it is you do for money as filmmaker you will not succeed. He added, “People don’t like bad movies and never have I seen a filmmaker hate something they made, that makes money.”

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Illustrations by Julian Rentzsch

The Moment with Brian Koppelman - Edward Burns   Edward Burns, writer and filmmaker, on finding his creative voice, making compromises as an artist, and handling rejection like Kobe Bryant.

The Moment with Brian Koppelman - Edward Burns

Edward Burns, writer and filmmaker, on finding his creative voice, making compromises as an artist, and handling rejection like Kobe Bryant.

George Lucas On How He Built His $4 Billion ‘Star Wars’ Empire   ‘If you own the movie, which I came to do, you make a lot of money. But you have to own it, and that means you have to put the money in, so you have to take the risk.  I was talking to Ladd Jr. on the first Star Wars. I had 50 percent of the net profits because my company was going out and making the movie, and I said, “I know what I’m doing for my 50 percent. I put my heart and soul in this, my whole career is at stake, I have to actually go out and make the movie… What are you doing for your 50 percent?” He said, “Well, I provide the money.” I said, “You don’t provide the money! You go to a bank with a letter of credit and they supply the money, so you’re not doing anything! And you get 50 percent of the movie!”  So, I came back for The Empire Strikes Back and, instead of them giving me the boilerplate contract, I gave them the boilerplate contract. I went to my lawyer and I said, “You’re going to do a distribution contract from scratch.” He said, “Do you know how hard that is? That’s really a lot of work! It’s 180 pages!” And I said, “Look: How many chances are you ever gonna get to write a distribution agreement for a studio? Nobody’s ever done it, and nobody’s ever gonna do it again.” I went to Laddy and I said, “Here’s the deal. I’m going to finance the film this time.” And he said, “Well, wait a minute… you’re getting 100 percent of the profits!” And I said, “Yeah. I’m financing it! Remember that 50 percent you had? Well, I’m doing that now. You don’t get that 50 percent, and I get my own 50 percent, so I get 100 percent.”’

George Lucas On How He Built His $4 Billion ‘Star Wars’ Empire

‘If you own the movie, which I came to do, you make a lot of money. But you have to own it, and that means you have to put the money in, so you have to take the risk.

I was talking to Ladd Jr. on the first Star Wars. I had 50 percent of the net profits because my company was going out and making the movie, and I said, “I know what I’m doing for my 50 percent. I put my heart and soul in this, my whole career is at stake, I have to actually go out and make the movie… What are you doing for your 50 percent?” He said, “Well, I provide the money.” I said, “You don’t provide the money! You go to a bank with a letter of credit and they supply the money, so you’re not doing anything! And you get 50 percent of the movie!”

So, I came back for The Empire Strikes Back and, instead of them giving me the boilerplate contract, I gave them the boilerplate contract. I went to my lawyer and I said, “You’re going to do a distribution contract from scratch.” He said, “Do you know how hard that is? That’s really a lot of work! It’s 180 pages!” And I said, “Look: How many chances are you ever gonna get to write a distribution agreement for a studio? Nobody’s ever done it, and nobody’s ever gonna do it again.” I went to Laddy and I said, “Here’s the deal. I’m going to finance the film this time.” And he said, “Well, wait a minute… you’re getting 100 percent of the profits!” And I said, “Yeah. I’m financing it! Remember that 50 percent you had? Well, I’m doing that now. You don’t get that 50 percent, and I get my own 50 percent, so I get 100 percent.”’

Woody Allen, American Master