Casablanca – Rick Blaine

 

Casablanca (1942) is one of Hollywood’s all time great movies.  Written by Epstein and Koch (Epstein being the Epstein twins Julius and Philip – the first twins to be awarded Oscars, which they won for Casablanca), it is a tale about an American ex-pat who has tried to get away from it all by moving to Casablanca.  As the story unfolds during the early stages of World War II, we learn Rick (Humphrey Bogart) is “world weary”, tired of  authority and has had his heart broken by the love of his life Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman).

Rick has opened a bar (Rick’s Place) which has become a haven of sorts for refugees, and a home for black marketeers selling papers of transit (forged and real) which they hope will allow them to escape to America.

Sam (Dooley Wilson), the piano player, is the heart of Rick’s – playing music every night on an upright piano.  He will play any song you care to request, save one – one which has special meaning for Rick (and Ilsa) – which Rick has banned from ever being playing again.

Cue Ilsa Lund (Bergman) who asks Sam to play the song (As Time Goes By) and one of the most immortal (and mis quoted) lines from the film “Play it again Sam”.

The lines are actually “Play it once Sam, for old time’s sake, Play it Sam” spoken by Bergman and Bogart (Rick) play “As Time Goes By,” saying, “You played it for her, you can play it for me… If she can stand it, I can! Play it!” Bogart’s line is often misquoted as, “Play it again, Sam!”.

The return of Ilsa brings all the emotions flooding back to Rick and the one hard exterior melts and the true man emerges.  We see Rick surprise the Police Chief (as close to a friend as Rick can get in these shark infested waters) and develop a conscience, eventually letting go the love of his life and helping her escape the Nazis with her husband as they fly to America.

The character progression for Rick is revealing, as we discover that he isn’t the hard businessman we met at the beginning of the film and that he had once loved, had his heart broken, only to then meet the woman who broke his heart and to realise that she did the only honourable thing in leaving him when she learned that her husband was still alive and had not been killed in a concentration camp as she had been lead to believe.  Rick in turn, initially conflicted by his love for her, and also his wish to return to America, results eventually in true gallantry and plot twist after plot twist until we reach the movie’s end where the freedom fighter (Victor Lazlo) and his wife (Ilsa Lund) escape into the sunset.

Casablanca has been famous for a number of sayings, some of which have (allegedly) even spun off into films of their own.

Classic lines such as

  • “Of all the Gin joints in all of the world, you had to walk into this one”,
  • “Round up the usual suspects” (which eventually lead to a film called “The Usual Suspects
  • and of course “Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship”

American Beauty – Lester Burnham

American Beauty at first seems like a modern day Lolita in which we meet Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey), a sexually frustrated middle aged man, going through marital issues, separated from his wife (whilst still living under the same roof).  As the story progresses we discover it is less a Lolita and more the simple search for a better,  more fulfilling life.

Burnham is a sexually frustrated, lonely man who’s only highlight in the day is masturbation in the shower.  Depressed, repressed and subjugated by his wife and daughter, he tries to find ways to turn his life around.  Sadly, Lester only seems to be competent at making enemies and we are introduced to several characters who would willingly kill him it seems given the right opportunity.

Burnham blackmails his supervisor into providing a healthy severance package.  Working as a teller in a drive through burger restaurant, Burnham finds his wife is cheating on him and jokingly, even his daughter hires a drug dealer to kill Burnham!  At the same time, the next door neighbour thinks that Burnham is corrupting his son into prostitution.

All the way through, Burnham is trying to break free of the depression, the mid life crisis, and to improve his inner happiness. 

Burnham’s moral challenges are numerous.  Does he “de-flower” his daughter’s best friend, does he indulge in drugs and potentially corrupt the neighbour’s son, does he blackmail his boss or walk away quietly from a job he hates?

In the end we see a vulnerable man to whom fate or circumstance has dealt a bad hand to, and there but for the grace of god could go you or I.  A bad marriage, a bad job, a beautiful girl .. all of these “challenges” could befall any one of us through our life. Like any human being he craves love and friendship.  He wants to be happy, and wishes to be young again / experience life through young eyes just once more.

 

HND Day 2 – Lenses

Today was another great team building day as we got to know each other and discovered more about our fellow class mates over lunch and “high tea” at a variety of sandwich shops around London.

The morning was spent discussing types of films and why they’re made. We discussed Arthouse Films, Film Noir, and more.

We learned the sad fact that Hollywood are only interested in making big money spinners whilst smaller “avante garde” films tend to be the arena of independent film makers.

A sad and shocking statistic that over 7,000 films are made in the USA each year and yet less than 10% of them ever really make it to distribution, and even fewer actually make money or break even.

On the plus side, due to the numbers involved, there is more chance of a low budget film being profitable and with self distribution as a real option these days there is even more chance of the indie film maker being successful and with success comes bigger chances and the hope of a bigger budget and so on.

Kate Shenton started small, made a short (Send in the Clowns) for a few hundred, a niche / fetish documentary (On Tender Hooks) and then a feature for £5,000 (Egomaniac) and is now working on a £750k budget film (Bloody Burrito) as a result.  Living proof that your work is a calling card, which if good enough will lead to bigger and better work!  Kate’s genre is horror, and from what I’ve seen of it – somewhat fetish horror at that .. but again proof that catering for a niche audience can be quite profitable.

We discussed High and Low Concept films (high – premise can be described in less than 3 short sentences, low requires a lot more foundation)

We discussed films such as Cars, Logan, Lego: The Batman Movie, Snakes on a Great Plane, IT, Spiderman: Homecoming, and more.

We also learned of the Raindance HND Challenge. A competition for all the students across all the groups. Make a film with £5000. Prove your worth, pitch your idea and be “hired” to make the film. Fail or don’t deliver and risk being cut, just as if you were in Hollywood!

 

We broke for lunch after a brief visit to the BFI Reuben Library, an amazing repository of all things film related!  I can’t wait to get my teeth into their research materials over the next 2+ years.

The afternoon was another practical class where we learned about lens compression and (touched on) field of view seeing first hand the differences between a shot with a 14mm wide-angle lens through to a 135mm lens using Raindance’s new box of 6 prime lenses. (14,24,35,50,85,135 mm primes).  Next week is the other half of the conundrum – depth of field 

Again, best practices on lens handling were reinforced as we took turns to be continuity, camera, 1st AC and model in our group of 4.

Today’s lesson is probably best demonstrated by this image from BokehSharp which I’ve referenced in other blog posts previously.

 It clearly shows how the wider angle the lens the more detail is visible in the background, whilst the longer the lens, the more compressed the background is, coupled with this image below which demonstrates how items in the foreground can be elongated / made to look much larger than they are.

This video on “dolly zoom” (the Vertigo effect) demonstrates how the effect is used effectively in films to create a feeling of unease in the viewer

 

 

Working with Adobe Premiere – HND Day 1 – Epilogue

Today is the first day, since roughly 2007, that I have had to use Adobe Premiere to edit a video project.  Since Apple bought FCP from Macromedia and ported it to the Mac, the first release of Final Cut Pro (since Adobe snubbed Apple) I have been using Final Cut.

For those who don’t know (and probably don’t care), Apple bought Final Cut Pro from Macromedia as a result of Adobe’s short sighted (imho – since proven true) view to split Mac and Windows licensing models, requiring users to purchase a new license key if they wanted to move from Premiere for Windows to Premiere for Mac – then only to find that Adobe was effectively mothballing Premiere for Mac.  At the time Apple was nearly bankrupt, and losing the video editing market would have been the final nail in the coffin.  Steve Jobs took a huge gamble, and on the whole, it paid huge dividends. 

Apple released Final Cut Pro X in 2011 and I for one was quick to adopt, even though it was missing a number of “Broadcast” features that were present in Final Cut Studio, and since the introduction of the magnetic timeline and FCP’s redefinition of NLE (Non Linear Editing) my workflows have become slick, and I am able to edit relatively complex pieces (including compositing) seamlessly and quickly.  I can cut, splice, insert, move and generally weave my creative magic over hundreds of clips (including multiple angle video, multiple audio tracks, special effects, and more) effortlessly.

With hindsight, the lack of certain features and the retirement of Final Cut Studio / replacement with the totally new Final Cut Pro package was probably premature.  The industry choked on the lack of ability to import/export XML, amongst a number of more Pro features. They did however redefine the desktop editing experience and almost single handedly introduced the vlogger to the world which YouTube were quick to capitalise on!

Scroll forward to October 2017, as part of the Raindance HND, the software of “choice” to which Raindance (and to be fair most of the industry) has settled on is Adobe Premiere Pro.   To this end, I had to edit my first simple project in Premiere.  Something which would have taken me 5-10 minutes to do in FCPX has so far taken me 2 hours in Premiere, and the experience has been painful.  On occasion I have felt as though I am quite literally gouging my eyes out with a spoon .. and at this stage, I think that this may have been more pleasurable than my time spent wrestling with Premiere.

I fear this is going to be a painful, uphill struggle.  Whilst there are more and more creators “breaking the mould” and moving to FCPX (and Davinci Resolve), I can understand why we need to learn and use Premiere…. It is after all what everyone else uses, and it is “professional”, whilst FCPX is considered “Mickey Mouse” (note, that’s what teachers at Met Film School have said previously and not my own words/thoughts).  Personally I find FCPX to be forward thinking, incredibly flexible and efficient, and uber fast when it comes to rendering (I’ve seen a 15 minute video render in 30 seconds on FCPX and 45 minutes on Premiere – all on identical hardware).  FCPX may well be the way of the future, however I guess we have to learn editing the hard way first and only once we’ve done that can we then find more efficient ways to progress!

Sadly the video project has not yet been completed.  I am going to continue to slog away with the antiquated track editing system and see if I can (eventually) pull some form of rabbit out of the hat.  Wish me luck!

References:

  • Ryan Koo, 2011 No Film School [Online] [url]
  • John Buck, A History of Editing
  • Wikipedia [Online] [url]

Raindance 25th Film Festival

October is upon us, and the 25th annual Raindance Film Festival has come to an end.  They say you never forget your first festival, and this will be no exception.  Well presented at the newly refurbished Vue cinema on Leicester Square, RDFF was an amazing experience with over 200 films being celebrated (long and short).  Numerous industry forums, amazing networking events and more.

Highlights of the Festival included Oh Lucy! (a Japanese / American drama) which opened the Festival and Michael Berry’s Musical – Stuck – a story about 6 people who are forced together when their subway train is which closed the Festival – both were great fun!

My personal favourites included

 

Documentary Features Bluefin

and RiverBlue

which were both eco-documentaries, as well as  Calamity – a French short film which touches on Transgender issues, as well as the main stream features – Black Butterfly (based on Papillon Noir) starring Antonio Banderas as a struggling screen writer / author who has lost his muse and of course Ate de Jong’s “Love is Thicker Than Water” which shows what can be done with a limited ($150k) budget and a 2 week shoot – when you know what you’re doing.  One of the entrants spent $200k to produce a 12 minute short … and whilst it had some mainstream actors, I felt that whilst beautifully shot, it could have really been completed for 1-2% of the actual budget.

The opening night after party at Cafe de Paris was an absolute blast with over 500 film makers descending and enjoying the party – with “Guilty Pleasures” on stage for the entire evening dancing and showing off their amazing figures (pictures below).

 

JFDI

After hearing lots of “we really should make a film of this” and “we really should get started” and lots of other “really should” and “don’t know where to start” comments from friends and my thinking “for God’s sake just JFDI” I decided it was time to get involved and help out.

 

This is where JFDI (The Joint Film Development Initiative) 🙂 came from.  Instead of sitting back saying “I wish we knew how to” friends can now say “Jon we want to do this” and we have a framework and a structure to get started.

 

The idea is that we now have everything from script writing, scheduling, funding,  a pool of Actors and locations, Directors, Producers, pre and post-production and more.

 

The chance to get out there and start doing … hopefully the chance to make that dream come true – and at least have a lot of fun while we’re doing it!

 

So if you have an idea and you don’t know where to start, get in touch and lets get that screenplay written, the shoot scheduled and start to make a movie!