I created this training program for two reasons. First, I remembered when I was a kid and wanted to make movies, there was nobody to teach me how. My second reason had to do with recent breakthroughs in video and computer technology. Now, because of those breakthroughs, any student can make a movie that tells a story, complete with dialogue, sound effects, music and titles for literally the cost of the videotape. To me, that's a miracle!
If one of your students starts this program when she is, say, fifteen, by the time she graduates from high school, that student could, for the price of ten fairly large lunches, make ten movies, each time learning what works and what doesn't work. By graduation, that student's knowledge of movie making could be light years ahead of where it was when she started. This program gives your students the opportunity to gain real experience, and that experience is pure gold--because experience is the true teacher.
The promise of this book, video and training program is to teach you and your students how to make a movie that tells a story, using a home camcorder and other equipment you already own, or can borrow. This program is meant to be democratic, available to all kids, regardless of their financial situation. If you don't have money, you're lucky. Having no money forces you to solve the problem creatively, and that always gives you a better result than money would have in the first place. Plus you learned something.
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STORY AND SCREENPLAY
When I first wanted to learn to write, I was told it was impossible to teach someone to write. That's not exactly the thing you want to hear, when that's exactly the thing you want to learn. I have since discovered that there are rules to help you build a story, the same way there are rules to help you build a house. After writing several stories, and embodying those rules, you are free to forget them. But for now, you are learning. Anyone learning to play the guitar without learning the chords, would be taking the long way around. Likewise, if you grab a note pad and feverishly begin to write a screenplay, you will soon be lost, wandering in the wilderness. Follow these lessons. They will lead you through the wilderness.
You know more than you think you know. Deep inside, you understand movie stories because you've seen so many of them. When I describe, for example, the end of act one, you'll probably know what I'm talking about. You may not have known what to call it, but you'll recognize that beat, or that movement, in a movie story. The same will probably be true for the end of act two, for the climactic scene and for story elements like main character, problem, decision, goal and obstacles.
When I work with youth groups to create a screenplay, we talk about the problems teens wrestle with in their everyday lives. Peer pressure. Parental pressure. Pressure to use alcohol. These problems are fertile ground for growing a story. One girl was upset because her father wanted to keep a pistol in the house. She thought that was wrong. A boy in the group thought it was right. They disagreed. If two people in your group disagree, use it. Disagreement is perfect for a story conference. Disagreement is conflict. Conflict is drama. Out of that disagreement, we created a fantastic story dealing with the controversy of keeping a gun in the house. I was proud of those kids. Hollywood screenwriters could not have done better.
Here's something to remember: The story begins when the problem begins. The story ends when the problem is solved.
Drama is conflict, and conflict is drama. If you don't have a problem, you don't have a story. The audience will allow you a reasonable amount of time to introduce your location and your characters. Soon though, they want to see the main character meet the problem. That is the point where the story, the drama, begins. The climax, where that problem is resolved one way or the other, is where the story ends.
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My favorite film director, Frank Capra, who directed such masterpieces as It's A Wonderful Life, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and It Happened One Night, believed that the key to good production is good preproduction. A simple way to define preproduction is "planning." When building a house, the materials, crew and schedule are based upon the blueprint. When building a movie, the equipment, crew and schedule are based upon the script. Hollywood has, over the years, developed time-honored Systems for planning, or "prepping," a movie. We'll cover the basics.
The Shooting Schedule:
Your shooting schedule is determined by many variables. There are days an actor is available and days that same actor is not available. You may also have to schedule around the availability of locations. Let's say that you have a scene inside a drugstore. The owner might be happy to let you shoot in his store, but not during business hours. There are scenes that require night shooting and scenes that require day shooting. There may be a scene that is written for night, but if it's an interior (and the audience doesn't have to see outside) that scene can be scheduled anytime.
Common sense prevails when it comes to scheduling. If you're using an actor who works a full-time job, schedule her scenes on her day off. If you're shooting the interior of a store, schedule all those interiors at once. You don't want to shoot at a location, move to another location, then come back to the first location unless there is a reason to do so. Most students will be aware that we do not shoot scenes in the order that they come in the script. We shoot scenes out of sequence to keep production time to a minimum.
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A movie director is a storyteller. A writer tells stories with words. A director tells stories with images, sound, music and actors. If you want me to tell you how to be a good director, I'm not sure I can do that. But I can tell you some of the things a good director has to know, like preparation, master shots, coverage, matching action, continuity, cutting on the action, clean entrances and exits, crossing the line, working with actors and more. Knowing these basics will not guarantee you'll be a good director, but they will guarantee you a great start.
The thing audiences care about most is the story. So the most important thing for a director to do is tell a good story. Actually, the director re-tells a story. Has anyone ever told you a joke? And you walked down the hall and re-told the joke? Did you tell it exactly the way it was told to you? No way! You spiced it up with your own style, right? That's what a director does. He re-tells a story, using his own style. To do that, he needs to know how to work with actors and how to choose the "shots" that add up to make a movie.
The Shot List:
To make a shot-list, the director closes her eyes and sees the movie in her mind. As she watches the movie on this wonderful internal movie screen, she writes down the shots that she sees, the shots she needs to tell her story.
In order to make a shot-list and ensure that these shots will cut together properly, there are rules every director needs to know. These rules deal with screen direction, matching action, continuity, cutting on the action and clean entrances and exits.
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Let The Camera Move:
This is movies. Let the camcorder move. Don't make the camcorder stay locked to a tripod for the sake of being "correct." It can make your movie lifeless. Let your camera live. If that means having a shaky shot every now and then, so what? Your students will learn more, given the freedom to move the camera, than they will trying to be "correct" on a tripod. If your students want to do the master shot hand-held, then hurry in for coverage, also hand-held, let them! The production will move along faster, and—as long as the story is engaging—the audience won't care about a slightly shaky camera. Use the tripod, but feel free to go hand-held wherever and whenever you want.
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Lighting inside is the same concept as lighting outside. Outside, our key light (the main source of light) is the sun. Inside, we make our key light using electricity. Then, we make another light to fill the shadows created by the key light.
Where do we begin?
We begin with the script and the actors. Watch the actors rehearse the scene with the director. The director decides upon the camera position for the first shot. Once we know the camera position and where the actors will sit, stand and move in the scene, we're ready to light.
The first thing we do is put up a key light, the main source of light in the scene. One promise of this training program is to teach you to make a movie, using equipment you already own. You already own reading lamps, floodlights, etc. These lights can help you achieve dramatic lighting. The "scoop" light that comes with a "scissors" clamp attached works well. Every household has one or two in the basement or garage. If not, you can get them at your local hardware store for a few dollars. They hold different size floodlamps and can clamp to things like a door, an overhead beam, a step ladder or to a 2x4 board your crew might rig as a "light stand." Be aware that when you buy floodlamps, they come in "flood", "spot", and "narrow spot." You might need a "flood" for your fill light, a "spot" for your key light and a "narrow spot" for your rim light. Experiment to see which lamp gives you the lighting pattern that you need.
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Let's Record Location Sound:
The camera is loaded. We have our script. The actors are prepared. We're ready to record location sound. The first thing we do is look at the needs of the scene.
On the set, the director rehearses the actors. During the rehearsal, the sound person should observe where the actors sit, stand, move—and in which direction they speak when delivering lines. Once the sound person knows this information (and where the camera will be placed), she is ready to choose which microphone she will use and where that microphone will be placed. Only by knowing what the camera will "see" in the scene, can the sound person choose the proper microphone placement. Remember that the camera should not see the microphone, or even a shadow of the microphone.
When the actor speaks, the voice waves move out from the face and instantly spread upward and downward. Because of the direction voice waves leave the face, optimum microphone placement is two to three feet in front of the actor and slightly above or slightly below the actors' face.
If the actor is walking and you're picking up footsteps, mike the actor from below to avoid picking up those loud footsteps.
Watch the rehearsal and ask yourself, how can I get a pickup pattern close to the actor's voice waves without the camera seeing the microphone, or a microphone shadow?
This is where the fun starts.
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Editing, Where Do We Begin?
We begin where everything begins, with the script.
The editor gets the revised final draft of the script and all the footage that has been shot, then sits down to edit the movie. The script is a guide for the editor. The editor does not have to stay, precisely, with the script. Editing is a creative process too. The editor should ask himself, what is the purpose of the scene? If he sees a way to edit the scene that delivers the purpose of the scene in a more interesting manner than the one described in the script, then he should give it a try. The editor should keep in mind, though, that movie making is a collaborative effort. He might want to edit the "first cut" by himself, but after that he should be open to suggestions from the other members of the team. The "final cut" should include input from, at least, the writer and the director.
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Before you begin this chapter, I want you to make a promisethat you will finish
this chapter. I say that because some information in the early part of this chapter can
be a little intimidating, especially to a teacher new to computers. The chapter ends,
though, with a simple, workable, affordable solution. My goal is to lead you through
the technical forest and onto a clear, doable path. If you read this entire chapter, you'll
find that path.
A simple way to describe non-linear is to make an analogy to a word processor. The
word processor works with word processing software to create letters, words and paragraphs. As you know, because you've done it, those words, letters and paragraphs can be moved anywhere you want. You can cut a sentence from one paragraph and paste it into another paragraph. You can delete a word and add another word. Writing on a word processor gives you the freedom to add, delete or change words anywhere you want. A non-linear editing system (NLE) gives you the freedom to make those same kinds of changes with audio and video.
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In this chapter, we're going to show you how to come up with a story idea, throw up one light, grab your camcorder (forget the tripod for Quik Flicks), plug a microphone into your camcorder and be in business—the movie business, that is.
In Quik Flicks, we're going to show you, step by step, how to start a movie and finish that movie on the same day.
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THE HERO NEXT DOOR
"A worldwide network of young people discovering heroes."
Most people think their lives don't make a difference. The truth is, everything we do counts. We can't all be Abraham Lincoln, but we can all make a difference through the smallest act of courage or kindness. We may not see the results in our lifetime, but there is always a ripple effect.
The HERO NEXT DOOR provides the opportunity for students to discover people from their own community (thus the name "HERO NEXT DOOR") who have made a difference. The project encourages those students to make a documentary movie about that person or persons, what he or she did, and the effect their actions had on the good of the community. A documentary is a non-fiction movie that "documents" a life or an event. Some good examples are "Front Line" on PBS, the "Biography" series on A&E or any program made by Bill Moyers or Ken Burns.
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SUPPORT, DISTRIBUTION, AND THE FUTURE
By now, you know 90% of the rules of filmmaking that Spielberg knows. I didn't say you know 90% of what Spielberg knows. His experience has taught him vast amounts more than you know. But you know 90% of the basic rules of movie making, plenty enough to get started. Getting started is the most important thing you can do right now. If you wait until you know more, so you can be perfect, you'll never start. It's time to get into action. Getting into action leads you to experience, and experience is the best teacher.
The first movies you make may be just for fun. You won't want anybody to see them but your group. You'll laugh at the mistakes, and you'll learn. After a while, though, you're going to make a movie that you'll want to share. One way to do that will be through the Make A Movie.Net distribution system, which will open with the Cyber Studio.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Billy Field grew up in Sylacauga, Alabama. Following graduation from the University of Alabama, Field went to work at Calvin Film Productions in Kansas City, making corporate films. While at Calvin he got a solid, hands-on education in camera, editing, lighting and sound. Following Calvin, Field moved to Hollywood where he wrote for the television series FAME, Trapper John, MD. and The Lazarus Man. Field also wrote screenplays for Disney, Twentieth Century Fox, Warner Brothers and other Hollywood studios. Mr. Field presently lives in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, with his son, Joe Will, and their favorite dog, Clara.
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