- Books – Anything you can reccomend about the film business?
- Career – How do I get a start in film / music video?
- Career – Which film school do you recommend?
- Money – What is the salary for someone getting their first gig?
- Taste – Moulin Rouge is a film that relies heavily on its visual style at the expense of narrative. Is this a good or a bad thing?
Books – Anything you can reccomend about the film business?
Adventures In The Screen Trade – William Goldman
For some this book is the Bible and contains the oft-quoted catch-phrase “No-one knows anything.” Goldman famously wrote the scripts for Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid and also Marathon Man. But…he also wrote the script for Ghost and the Darkness.
The Deal – Peter Leftcourt
An immensely funny novel all about Hollywood: Charlie Berns, washed up producer, is brought back from the brink of suicide by the arrival of ‘Bill and Ben’ – the definitive Bejamin Disraeli film bio. And, as ridiculous as it may seem, it’s all plausible. You must read this book.
Easy Riders, Raging Bulls – Peter Biskind
Biskind was once the exec editor of Premiere Magazine. Here he puts the Hollywood of the 70’s in its historical context and examines how Coppola, Scorsese, Spielberg, Lucas and others changed the way films were made. Full of detail, intrigue and scurrilous gossip.
Monster – John Gregory Dunne
The writing of ‘Up Close And Personal’, all 27 drafts of it, took eight years and was obviously not much fun for JGD and his wife Joan Didion. However it becomes obvious that they were paid handsomely for their pains and were always prepared to return to the fray when they were made an offer they couldn’t refuse. The chapter about Robert Redford coming on board the movie will tell you a lot about how movies are really made and why.
Rebel Without A Crew – Robert Rodriguez
The heartwarming, laughable, ludicrous and highly inspiring diary of how a young man, with much chutzpah and very little cash, makes a movie and stumbles into the Hollywood fast lane – if only his films were as good as the book.
The Studio – John Gregory Dunne
In the late 60’s JGD obtained permission to hang around the Fox studios for months and was allowed into meetings, soirées, casting sessions, screenings and other behind-the-scenes places most mere mortals are never allowed. As it was nearly forty years ago the numbers have changed ($18 million was considered a huge budget back then) but, if you want to know what the studio system is like, this is as good a view as you can get without a drive-on.
Tender Comrades – Patrick McGilligan & Paul Buhle
This book is a series of interviews with many wonderful writers and film-makers who were black-listed during the Hollywood witch-hunt. Jingoism aside what I’m learning from it it is that at sometime or other even the most talented artists find themselves working simply to pay the rent and that, almost without exception, we all feel we’ve done work that we’re ashamed of. Robert Altman famously commented at the Oscars that he never made a picture that he didn’t want to make and he never had to do it any way but his way. Who knows he may be the only guy in Hollywood, with a long career, who’s ever been able to say that!
Career – How do I get a start in film / music video?
STEP ONE: Move to a film centre. In the US this means a large city where filming takes place regularly e.g. LA, NYC, Chicago, Wilmington, Miami, San Francisco, Denver, Honolulu etc. In another country it probably means the capital city: Prague, London, Paris, Amsterdam, Auckland etc. or a large regional city: Nice, Toronto, Vancouver. (Alternative is to go to Film School – see next question.)
STEP TWO: Get a cellphone.
STEP THREE: Find a job as a PA. This is the lowliest guy / gal in the crew but it’s absolutely the best way to learn the ropes and find out what it is you want to do. I suggest you ring up production companies and go round to their offices and offer to work for free for a day or two and if you’re good (i.e. eager to learn, enthusiastic, hard-working) you’ll almost certainly get regular work. In some cities like LA you won’t get a gig if you don’t have a car. In London you won’t get work without a mobile phone. And if you miss out STEP 2 I guarantee you’ll be out when the call comes in!
Career – Which film school do you recommend?
My understanding of film school is that you spend 3 years watching movies by a bunch of dead French guys but it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to avoid STEP 2 or 3 of the previous question. By the way I never went to film school and neither did David Lean or Stanley Kubrick (and those last two guys were geniuses).
Here’s what John Sayles has to say about film schools: “My problem with film schools, and I didn’t go to one, is that most of the people there are watching movies instead of living, getting out and walking around the world a little bit, and all their references are movie references.” David Mamet agrees: “I don’t have any experience with film schools. I suspect that they’re useless…” David Brown (Producer of Chocolat, The Player, A few Good Men) elaborates: “Being a waiter, book salesman or a dealer in a casino is better preparation for a producing career than four years in film school. The best producers are often rogues or super salesmen.” (Daily Variety 3/31/04)
And again a quote I found on IMDb from Werner Herzog director of Grizzly Man: “For some time now I have given some thought to opening a film school. But if I did start one up you would only be allowed to fill out an application form after you have walked alone on foot, let’s say from Madrid to Kiev, a distance of about five thousand kilometres. While walking, write. Write about your experiences and give me your notebooks…While you are walking you would learn much more about filmmaking and what it truly involves than you ever would sitting in a classroom. During your voyage you will learn more about what your future holds than in five years at film school. Your experiences would be the very opposite of academic knowledge, for academia is the death of cinema. It is the very opposite of passion.”
My advice is learn on the job – you’ll get paid to do it and you’ll be three years ahead of those film school guys. Oh yeah, everyone wants to be a director so don’t rule out the possibility of considering something else. For instance D.P.’s learn far more than most directors and get to travel all over the world.
If you’re still serious I suggest you read “Rebel Without A Crew” by Robert Rodriguez. I’m not a big fan of his films but this tome has some real insights into doing it on your own and is a lot of fun. Also read “David Lean” by Kevin Brownlow and “Stanley Kubrick” by John Baxter. You’ll find that these two men were not the nicest guys on the block but they certainly put in the hours at the beginning of their careers. Be relentless and don’t ever be afraid to try.
(P.S. Where’s the world’s biggest training school for video and audio production? Fort Meade Maryland. The good news is that they teach you how to shoot, edit, mix, announce and write in less than two months and give you loads of free camo pants to wear as well. The bad news is you have to go to foreign countries and kill people.)
Money – What is the salary for someone getting their first gig?
There are no hard and fast rules here but it’s possible that you might have to do your first few jobs for nothing (nada, zip, for free etc.) until you get some good stuff on your reel and you can justifiably demand a wage. (It’s possible that these first few pieces of work might get done while you’re still at school). The likely secenario is that you’ll do a job or two for free, make mistakes on them and learn some useful lessons: in which case everybody is the winner – they’re getting cheap labour and you’re getting great experience. Then one day that freebie turns into a major success story and you can name your rate when they want to hire you again. It’s the first segment of that famous 4-part description of a director’s career: Part One: Who Is Nigel Dick? Part Two: Get me Nigel Dick. Part Three: Get me the next Nigel Dick. Part Four: Who is Nigel Dick! (Substitute your name or anyone else’s here obviously). Declan Whitebloom, who has edited many videos for me, did his first job for me for free – this is because a)I was too blind to spot his talent and needed to be convinced and b) he was daft enough to agree!
And in case you don’t think I practice what I preach I directed my first 4 or 5 videos basically for nothing. My directing fee on the Tears For Fears video ‘Shout’ which went top ten in about 25 countries and Number One in the USA was $0-00. Though as I was also working (unpaid) as the producer I spent $30 buying myself a new shirt because I ripped the one I was wearing on the shoot. Considering Curt and Roland sold about 10 million albums on the strength of that single I think they got a bargain! As the song was a big success I was able to charge for my services on the next video ‘Everybody Wants To Rule The World.’ (Incidentally, before you all start e-mailing me, the songs were released in reverse order in the USA)…
Taste – Moulin Rouge is a film that relies heavily on its visual style at the expense of narrative. Is this a good or a bad thing?
My opinion is that you sacrifice story for visuals at your own risk. Story will ALWAYS keep you intrigued far longer than neat visuals. Winged Migration is a film packed with amazing visual moments but without a compelling story it is a tough film to sit through. Baz Luhrman stumbled with Romeo & Juliet in which was the victory of style over substance. He brought the story back to the forefront with Moulin Rouge with much better results. You could argue that Robert Rodriguez’ Once Upon A Time In Mexico is a dazzling visual feast (I wouldn’t – I think he needs to get someone else to shoot his stuff) but though it’s visually driven the story is frankly wafer thin and thus I found the film uninvolving and I started focusing on the lousy camera work!