Filmmaking Basics/Understanding Filmmaking/Analyzing film dailies

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Narrative Film Production:
Course #01: The Basics
Lesson:
Lesson #002: Understanding Filmmaking - Study the Way Movies are Filmed in Hollywood
Pages of this Lesson:
Page 1 - Introduction
Page 2 - Watching how dramatic scenes are broken down and filmed in Hollywood.
Page 3 - Analyzing the movie George Lucas in Love
Page 4 - The Basic Filmmaking Process


How to learn filmmaking[edit]

There is only want way to learn filmmaking. You must watch films being made by professional filmmakers. There is no substitute.
If you are serious about learning filmmaking, I highly recommend that you purchase the DVD disk containing order "Disk #2 - 24 Unedited Scenes" from the Star Movie Shop (requires QuickTime).


Possible ways of getting started learning the craft of filmmaking[edit]

There are many excellent ways to learn about filmmaking. However, each has some drawbacks:

  • Make your own motion picture - one to five years for your first feature film.
When you make your own motion pictures, you learn a tremendous amount about everything in filmmaking. An example is Renegade Possum Productions. One of their movies has shots from original Star Wars recreated by amateurs. It is interesting to compare the performances of the actors in the real movie vs. an amateur motion picture. The problem with creating your own motion pictures is you do not see the correct way to make a movie.
  • Work on student films - a few days to a few weeks... without pay.
If you go to Hollywood, just read the "Free Help Wanted" advertisements in the Backstage West/DramaLogue Magazine. This weekly newspaper/magazine is one of the three most important publications in Hollywood. Don't move to Los Angeles without reading it for one year before you go. Working on student films for the major film schools in LA is a great way to learn what filmmaking is all about. The only problem with working on student films is you do not see the correct way to make a movie.
  • Become a PA (production assistant) - One to two months with almost no pay.
As a production assistant, you get to work on real motion pictures. The only limitation with being a production assistant is you don't actually see that much. You are often too busy to see what you need to see.
  • Go to film school - less than $100,000... but not by much.
There is no substitute for film school. But you can prepare for film school at home. That way you do not waste the $60,000 to $100,000 that film school will cost.
  • Tour movie sets - great fun!
Visiting a movie set through one of the tours at Warner Bros (Hollywood) or Eiga Mura (Kyoto Japan) will teach you a lot. The taping of TV Sitcoms is also extremely interesting and free. Even watching the filming of a game show in Hollywood is educational. But traveling to Hollywood or Kyoto can be expensive. See below for more information on current tours of the studios.


The best shortcutto understanding filmmaking - Film Dailies - Only takes a few hours[edit]

There is a shortcut. It is so obvious, most people miss it. And it costs a lot less than any of the methods above.
The inexpensive and educational alternative is to watch film dailies from real television dramas and motion pictures. Watching the film dailies from television dramas is best since filming of a TV dramatic series is always more efficient. The crew of a television series in its 5 year of production will always be more efficient that a film crew for a motion picture which has never worked together.


Sources of Film Dailies[edit]

  • 1. In Hollywood, you can buy film dailies at second hand video stores and at estate sales for people who work in the motion picture industry.
  • 2. Outside of Hollywood, you can buy them on eBay. Currently there is a limited selection.
  • 3. Recommended: You can order "Disk #2 - 24 Unedited Scenes" from the Star Movie Shop. About half of the scenes on this DVD-Data disk are interesting therefore it is worth a cost of $8 US plus shipping ($2.40 US to ship anywhere in India or all 50 states in USA; $5.20 US to ship to many countries outside of India or USA.)
Note #1: Because these film dailies are digitize and have time code on every frame, they are easy for practicing film editing. The only problem with the film dailies on "Disk #2 - 24 Unedited Scenes" from the Star Movie Shop is they are half size (320 by 240 pixels) QuickTime movies at 24 fps which cannot be edited by DV editing programs.
Note #2: You must be a film student or film instructor to purchase this disk. (Fortunately, completion of one of the lessons in this course (such as "Formatting the script" or "Storyboarding the script" qualifies you as a film student.)





Learning from Film Dailies[edit]

Each set of film dailies is very different. Therefore, I will describe what you will learn from Disk #2 from the Star Movie Shop. This is a huge number of scenes so the scenes are only at half screen resolution but this is good enough to watch and learn from.
Overview Movies
Overview movies are included for each scene on Disk #2 - "24 Unedited Scenes" from the Star Movie Shop.
Most film dailies that you buy do NOT have an accompaning overview movie. Disk #2 does. An overview movie is all the film dailies cut apart into individual pieces of dialog and reassembled into chronological order. This way, you see each of the lines of dialog in the actual order that you will edit them. Not only is this very useful, but it turns otherwise boring film dailies into something, which at times, can be very amusing and always educational. It also helps you follow the story since dailies rarely come with the movie script.
Long and short

Some of the scenes are extremely short and a few are extremely long. Because these are all scenes from actual productions, most of the scenes are interesting, long or short. It is not the length which is important.

  • Well prepared
The first thing you see is all of the scenes are very well prepared. While you are only given the Circle Takes (which are the takes that the director feels are the best), you will see that it only takes a few takes for the scene to be perfect.
  • Memorized before filming
The bigest shock to amateur actors is that in professional productions, the actors have completely memorized their lines before they even begin to rehearse. Amateur actors (and beginning filmmakers) often feel that the actors are only give the lines that they need for the current scene and memorize just those lines for the shot.
This is not the way it happens. An actor cannot get into a roll or even memorize the blocking until the actor has the script memorized perfectly. Then the actor has the freedom not to have to worry about the dialog but rather to concentrate on the performance.
  • As an example, try acting out any of the scenes Disk #2 - "24 Unedited Scenes" from the Star Movie Shop. you will never be as good as the actors in these scenes until you actually get into character. You cannot get into character if you are still worried about the dialog.
The dialog must be memorized before you start.
  • Master shots first
In many of the examples, you see that the master shot is filmed first. This gives the actors the opportunity to get into their roles.
  • Skilled actors first
Always film the most skilled actors first. When you have "John Boy" on the movie set, he will always have his shots first because he is the freshest. Notice in the scene where the now much older "John Boy" is keeping his journal, he almost always gives his best performance on the first take.
Then look at the scene with John Boy's mother and sister. The mother is a very experience actress so she goes first. This gives the daughter time to practice her lines. She has them memorized by when she it talking to her mother, she begins to find the tone and rhythm of the dialog which she cannot find when she is just memorizing her lines at home the night before the shoot.
  • Scene "The Assignment"
The longest and most complicated is called "The Assignment" where "the Smoking Man" is given his first assignment which is to kill President Kennedy. In one of the shots, one of the actors makes a mistake and stops and corrects himself. The wording of the dialog is designed to give a hypnotic rhythm. You quickly realize how complicated the wording is when the actors switches to the correct dialog. They both seem correct but only the correct one has the proper rhythm. This is amazingly difficult.
  • Scene "Out for a Walk"
Since this is one of the more humorous scenes, it is probably the most popular scene on the disk. The captain of the Babylon 5 space station has gone out for a walk OUTSIDE and the chief of security is trying to keep that information from the head of operations.
One of the most interesting things to see in this scene is the different deliveries of her lines by the head of operations. While some actors try to continually refine their performance aiming for a single goal of perfection, she tries a totally different delivery for each take.
This scene also shows how effects shots are done. The scene ends with the head of operations looking out the window of the Babylon 5 space station. You see the movie set with glass in the widows and without glass in the windows. The actual performance is done without glass (and, of course, without the exterior of the space station) which will be composited into a matte painting from a 3D model of the space station. The shot with the glass and the framework for the glass is only for reference for the computer modelers.
  • Scene "Doctor, Doctor!"
The one thing which quickly becomes obvious is the lack of all sound except the dialog. This scene takes place in a large hospital. When the doctor enters the room, the audience expects to hear all the sounds of a hospital. In less than three seconds, the audience must get a picture in their mind of the corridor and rooms of the hospital. None of this is shown visually. It all must come from sound... and none of that sound comes from the filming on the movie set. Even the squeeky shoes that the audience will hear in the final edit of this scene is not done on the movie set.
As with all 24 scenes on this disk, almost none of the scenes have much emotion. All of that must come from the musical score. This is one reason why film dailies can seem very boring. There is no music to create the moods for the scene.

To be continued shortly...





Hollywood Studio Tours[edit]

While the Universal Studio Tour is more entertainment than actual examples of filming, you can pick up tickets to filming as you leave Universal Studio Tour area. Most are for Sitcoms which are filmed totally different from a motion picture. Yet they are very educational and entertaining to watch.

At one time, the best tour in Hollywood (and the most expensive) was at Warner Bros. Their website is does not work well but you can try it at Warner Bros. If you have been on this tour recently, please tell us.

NBC Studio has a ticket office which gives out free ticket. However, these are mostly for sitcoms. If anyone has been to the filmings in LA, please give us a list of where you go to get tickets and what is available currently.

Japan[edit]

Don't overlook the studio tours in other lands. Eiga Mura, the Toei Studio Movie theme park in the northwest part of Kyoto is great fun. Years ago, you could actually see post production if you waited and watched very carefully in one of the distant buildings. If anyone has gone visited this movie village recently, please describe what you saw. Here is an article on this movie village in 2005. Many of the movie are filmed in plain sight of the crowds of tourists. Great fun!

India[edit]

Movies made in India, specially in Madras (Chennai) are filmed in a totally different way. Therefore, it is interesting to see how they do it. Unfortunately, the MGR Film City in Chennai is now closed and there are no tours of the state run film school still at that location (side entrance). Ramoji Film City in Hyderabad (part of the Telgu film industry) has a tour but you do not get to watch actual filming. It is a very weird tour. I do not know about Bollywood (Mumbai/Bombay). If anyone knows of tours to the film studios in India, please tell us. Indian films are made with lot of emotional scenes, especially family sentiments. AVM Studio in Chennai is an age old studio, where most of the Tamil movies are being made.

England[edit]

I believe that Pinewood Studios has a studio tour. Anyone been there? Please tell us more.