Welcome to our archive of the "Ask a Filmmaker," a column that was devoted to your questions and concerns about the filmmaking process. Our guest columnists were screenwriter John August (Go, Charlie's Angels), director Penelope Spheeris (The Decline of Western Civilization, Wayne's World) and cinematographer Oliver Stapleton (My Beautiful Laundrette, The Cider House Rules, The Shipping News).
|Ask a Screenwriter||Ask a Director||Ask a Cinematographer|
|by John August||by Penelope Spheeris||by Oliver Stapleton|
I'm a professional writer from Sydney, Australia. My current gig is Australia's Funniest Home Videos. No matter how hard I try I can't seem to crack any long form projects like screenplays or novels. I'm always working on them but just can't finish them. I get bored and abandon them and start on something new. Do you think that some writers are incapable of long form because the way their brains are wired?
I don't know if anyone is "incapable" of long-form writing, but certain writers are better suited to certain kinds of projects. Think of it as the difference between sprinters and marathoners. Both are runners, but the goals and skills are distinct.
The difference is especially true in comedy. For my money, "The Simpsons" is probably the funniest show ever made, but many of those very talented writers have had a hard time succeeding in anything more substantial. It could be that the part of a writer's brain that comes up with zingy one-liners is not the same part that charts out elaborate narrative structures.
Or perhaps attention deficit disorder is good for joke-writing.
Whatever the real explanation, the important thing is to recognize what kind of writing you enjoy, and what you're good at. For instance, I hate elaborate police thrillers, so I don't write them. I can't write Mafia dialogue to save my life, so I don't. Once you realize what you shouldn't be writing, you'll have more time and energy to work on what you should.
I recently attended the DGA seminar about indie distribution in which you were a panelist. Great job. I wanted to ask you about documentary distribution. Specifically, how the heck do I get my documentary distributed? Any suggestions on where to even start?
Well, Steve, you haven't given me very much information. I don't know the subject of your documentary and I don't know the length, so that makes this response difficult.
If it's feature length and would play well in theaters, it is possible to make a short run distribution deal with some of the independent theater chains. As the filmmaker, I have twice now dealt with a nationwide, independent chain and have been able to distribute my documentaries in a limited fashion. The film gained major city critical reviews and established an audience for the pictures.
In lieu of the limited theatrical release, you may want to approach some of the independent film channels, cable channels, or PBS as they often acquire independently made pictures for premiere broadcast. It is also possible to approach DVD distribution companies that specialize in documentaries and at least get a DVD release.
In lieu of all that, you can set yourself up a website, make your own DVDs, sell them on the internet, and go shopping.
I'm a film student at Temple University. I want to know the best way to light a suspense/horror scene that is taking place in a short, narrow hallway and a small bathroom (measures about 8x8). I have two DP lights and one OMNI light and I am very concerned with getting the mood right.
Suspense and horror films are traditionally lit from below with single shadows running up walls, etc. behind the actor.
Keep the contrast high (little or no fill) and find out which of your lights makes a nice clean shadow. A "bar" bulb won't do this, so you need a lamp with a "point" source to make a clean-edged shadow. Get the light as far away as possible, and it if still doesn't give a decent shadow, try making a small hole for it to shine through, or removing the reflector and/or condenser.
Good luck! Don't forget you can hang bare light bulbs in shot which always looks stark -- especially when they swing about after the actor bumps into them! If you can, do a little test with your lens/stock combination to figure out what the maximum wattage is before it starts flaring the lens.
In shots where the audience can see the ceiling of a room, are these normally filmed in a real room or in a studio with a fake ceiling?
Could be either, though it's easier in a studio as there is still somewhere to put the lights!
John August wrote and co-produced Go (1999) for Columbia Pictures, and co-wrote the features Charlie's Angels (2000) and Titan A.E. (2000). His current projects include the fable drama Big Fish for director Steven Spielberg, the sequel to Charlie's Angels and a new version of Barbarella (2001).
Born and raised in Boulder, Colorado, John earned a degree in journalism from Drake University in Iowa, and an MFA in film production from the Peter Stark program at the University of Southern California. He lives in Los Angeles.
Got a question about screenwriting? Send it to Ask a Writer.
Penelope Spheeris made her feature film debut with The Decline of Western Civilization (1981), an energetic documentary about the L.A. punk scene in the early 1980's. She has since directed a number of diverse projects, including Wayne's World (1992), Suburbia (1984), and The Boys Next Door (1986), as well as completing two more films in the Decline series (The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years in 1988 and The Decline of Western Civilization Part III in 1998). Her most recent feature, We Sold Our Souls for Rock 'n' Roll, debuted at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival.
Got a question about directing? Send it to Ask a Director.
Oliver Stapleton, B.S.C. has photographed dozens of critically acclaimed films, including My Beautiful Laundrette (1985), The Grifters (1990), The Hi-Lo Country (1998), and The Cider House Rules (1999). He received an Independent Spirit Award nomination for his work on Earth Girls Are Easy (1989). He recently completed filming The Shipping News (2001).
If you are considering working in the movie industry, Oliver Stapleton has written a brief guide available at www.cineman.co.uk.
Got a question about cinematography? Send it to Ask a Cinematographer.