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've been writing a screenplay that is based on a certain concept album. I was wondering where, how, and any other information that I would need to obtain permission to adapt the work.
Standard advice applies here: If youre basing your work on someone elses work, then copyright probably applies, and you'll need to get their permission in writing at some point.
(I say copyright probably applies. If what youre writing is clearly a parody, you may be able to slip through. For example, if your movie pokes fun at We Are the World celebrity sing-alongs, you would likely be safely in parody territory. Youd also be a decade or two too late, but so be it.)
The question of when you need to get permission is more difficult to answer. If youre just writing this for the hell of it, keep typing. Dont worry about getting anyones permission. But if youre convinced this will be your magnum opus, then its a good idea to start the process of tracking down the copyright-holders. You'll want to see if theyre at all interested in working with you.
In the case of a concept album, copyright almost certainly rests with the songwriters, so start there. Figure out who they are, then try to find contact information. Start with Google (since youre already on-line), searching for both the songwriter and the record label. If you dont have any luck, my next stop would be to call ASCAP and BMI in Los Angeles (or Nashville, if its a country/western album), and try to find agency or other contact information.
If you strike out here, your next best bet is the record label that released the album. Ask for the legal department, and be as nice as humanly possible while they try to direct you to the proper people. Your final option would be to enlist the help of an experienced entertainment attorney, both to track down the copyright holders and to help you draft any agreements you need.
I am going to be working on a film, starring an actor with almost the same comedic abilities and talents as Mike Myers pretty soon. While this makes shooting a lot more of a fun workplace, and will certainly make the picture funnier; he tends to talk a little too much and distract all others around him. When working on a film like Wayne's World with such a funny cast, how did you control the set to knuckle down and finish the work you needed to complete?
Also, what made you choose 'Bohemian Rhapsody?' It has turned into one of the iconic moments of my generation and is completely unexplained in regards to the plot...who came up with the idea? And what did it say in the script?
You got an actor almost amazing as Mike Meyers? Cant wait to see your movie. Yes, indeed, many actors love performing on camera, off camera, while theyre eating, and if possible when they are sleeping. Now, thats not to say that actors are not absolutely wonderful people. They just have this uncontrollable urge to perform and give of themselves. As a director, you do have a responsibility to use the hours of the shoot day as efficiently as you possibly can. If an actor is taking up too much time between takes, then you need to have a private meeting with him and discuss this. Never reprimand or humiliate one of your actors in the presence of others. And actually, in your private meeting you can ask h! is help and gently explain why its best for you both and for the picture if you use your time well. You remind me of when I was shooting Waynes World because Mike Meyers was hilarious between takes. He would do impersonations of all the crew members. I remember one night when he stole my leather jacket and shades and strutted around imitating me. It took some time, but it was hilarious and generally Mike was great at keeping everybodys spirits high. Chris Farley, god bless him, was also amazing at making us laugh when the cameras werent rolling.
Now, regarding Bohemian Rhapsody -- the song was written in the original script that Mike, Bonnie, and Terry wrote. People like to give me credit for it, but the part I can take credit for is the way the scene was shot. The guys in the car couldnt imagine why they had to bang their heads so violently, take after take after take. Mike took aspirins.
I am a graduating film student (cinematograhy) here in San Francisco. I will be shooting a commercial next weekend, interior "party scene". I love art directing, and have decided to place 14 different colors and sizes of "china balls" all over the ceiling of the sound stage. it is not a huge room.
Will it be okay for me to just use the balls as practicals and fill and sometimes key? Not all the lights will lit. I have a few lights on standby (2 x 300w Moles) as key for the leads. Will be shooting 500asa , 35mm, but will just transferred and released to video. I am worried about this brave move that I am doing in putting this much in the interior. What do you think about this lighting set up, and what shooting stop do you usually find yourself using?
I guess this answer will be too late for your shoot so I hope it went well. My comment would be that if you want the colour of a lit ball to be saturated then you cant make it too bright. If it is, say, red, then you can make it brighter than, say, blue, without it de-saturating. Ideally you would test this as it is a hard judgement to make by eye, and would depend on many factors including the stock and the lenses. Naturally a dimmer light which may render a better colour in the light itself if it is in shot, will not cast as much light, so you may need to take this same colour and put it on a separate movie light which is out of shot and then will cast the colour on the actors.
In the disco sequence in Buffalo Soldiers, which some of you may have seen recently, I used a special sliding diffuser during the disco dancing to give the idea of dancing on ecstacy. This diffuser was clear at one end and quite dense at the other. Its about 2 feet long and slid back and forth across the lens as I shot the sequence with a hand held camera.
The amount of colour and flare in the disco lights varied as the shot progressed. It is important with dance lighting not to take much notice of the meter in terms of exposure range as you will want to go long way off the boundaries of the film scale to make it realistic. Set up the lighting so it looks good by eye and then choose a mid scale exposure for the faces. Film has a way of dealing with extreme flare and overexposure that is very beautiful. Check out Chicago as an example of this.
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 and the sequel to Charlie's Angels.
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 is currently filming An Unfinished Life (2004) with director Lasse Hallström in the UK.
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.