bookmark_borderMy favorite films

What makes a good movie? That is, of course, a matter of taste.

If you ask a first year film student his favorite films on his first day, before he has been brainwashed, or educated, on why Kubrick and Eisenstein are great filmmakers, he might tell you that he loved Airplane, or the original Ghostbusters, or something with Abbot and Costello. (With me it was Laurel and Hardy).

Of course, even if he isn’t brainwashed, being exposed to new voices like Charlie Chaplin can increase what he has to choose from, and his favorite films can change simply because he wasn’t before exposed to what he really enjoyed.

Analysis can be a killjoy. Looking at a film like Airplane frame by frame and from an ideological perspective, it might seem sexist, or against one’s religious or political beliefs. Some innocent joke is suddenly a source of everything that is bad in the universe.

I never really liked most Kubrick films, but for some reason, I tried to learn from his filmmaking method. I found 2001 long and drawn out, other films I couldn’t even finish. Sure, Dr Strangelove was more interesting as I got older, but most of the ones that Kubrick fans recommend to me frankly bore me.

A lot of French films have the same effect: I hear the “making of” and they sound like masterpieces; but I try to watch them and I am fast asleep.

I am not the first to look at films this way. In their Caheirs du Cinema, the great French analysts who led the new wave looked at the B films of Hitchcock and analysed crowdpleases as the true masterpieces of cinema. But why not Harrihausen? Suddenly the works of Chaplin could also be enjoyed, but why not Laurel and Hardy?

If you need to talk about the making of a film, the politics or ethics, the economics or any other factor external to the film itself to tell me it is a good film, then I lose interest. A good salad is not a good salad because of the chef’s politics or how long he spent in the kitchen.

That said, I look at my favorite films, and how they were made, and I have observed a pattern. No one necessarily got rich off the film, but everyone from the above the line (producer, screenwriter and director) down to the runner was paid more than a living wage for the time. Unlike Kubrick’s movies and Elon Musk’s philosophy, most if not all the people involved worked fourty hour weeks, with adequate lunch breaks, free weekends, family time, and all the rest of it.

Almost every one of my favorite actors, writers, editors and directors has stories about time with their family, often spent during the making of a film. Some may be single, but they tend to have stories of time with their friends.

None of them used amateur actors. Sorry, I do not really like the films of Ken Loach or those social realists. (Though I hear that style was popular with certain dictators in the mid twentieth century). If you cannot afford professional actors, that is one thing, but those who choose to repeatedly work with amateurs tend to make films that look like bad documentaries.

I have written films that can be shot in one room because of a lack of confidence in raising money, but they are not my favorite to watch. And they are not necessarily that simple to make anyway. Keeping one room available for the entire production is more difficult than it seems, unless you are the sole owner of the property and any adjoining rooms. (even if your producers are partial owners, they may decide to do some spring cleaning or home improvements that ruin your set because they do not understand the filmmaking process as well as you do).

My favorite films have full-time (not overtime) professional casts and crew (but often not celebrities). People involved are paid well enough to live on, usually, but very seldom do they get rich off the movie.

I dislike films with so many stars that you get dizzy recognising them from other movies. Speilburg’s Lincoln was terribly boring, more like watching a poorly planned improve at the afterparty of an academy awards show than a proper movie. Even the flags and main characters felt like crowdfunding cameos.

Laurel and Hardy’s Way Out West, on the other hand, had only two recognisable faces, both of which were not famous for their looks or politics, only for their talent. PeeWee Herman’s Big Adventure had some very brief celebrity cameos, but the main characters are played by actors I have not seen anywhere else.

But education can get quite political, and politics often get in the way of good judgement. While I often say that I would rather work with people with film degrees, I mean those who survived the degree without being contaminated by the politics, those who hold a strong interest in making films that are in their own right, rather than feeling the need to satisfy some socio-political goal. As Moliere says, the point of entertainment is to please the audience, not the critic. And I believe the best way to do that is making middle of the road pictures, with career professionals rather than celebrities or amateurs.

Currently, I think the countries doing this best are India and Hungary. I have very little time for British movies, for anything that shows at film festivals like Raindance. Well, I watch them sometimes, but do not tend to enjoy them (I am grateful that youtube and DVD players allow double speed).

Hungarian movies that get no European funding tend to be much better than British films that get European and Lottery funding. I do not know why, but government funding, even tax credits, seems to diminish the quality of art. (It might be because the EU and UK directives push bad art).

While newer films have much better effects, the writing and acting is terrible. Having a soldier play WonderWoman is distracting, it is like something Ed Wood would have done.

The truth is, I am not afraid of AI taking over films because it seems that it already has. The current generation of talent seem to act like robots, lacking any personality as they are shot down for the slightest controversial opinion. The worst part is that a growing part of the audience is a bunch of robots.

okay, rant over. Let us be grateful that we can still remember the old films and shows instead of seeing the remakes or reruns. Even if we become killjoys because we see their imperfections a second time, we have our innocent memories.

And a few films, like those with Laurel and Hardy, are pretty good even if we see them after getting a film degree.

bookmark_borderMountains Out of Molehills

Mountains out of molehills


Mountains out of molehills
First published on Social Media: Mar 1, 2016

I had many titles for this post. The ass-u-mers, The Bore Who Cried Adolf, A Pipe is just a Pipe, but most of them were, well, a bit hyperbolic.

Anyway, take a look at the image above for a few seconds, and register in your head what it is.

Done that? Good, now scroll down so you can’t see it.

Done that too? Good, now get out a piece of paper and a pencil and see if you can draw the image from memory. This isn’t a test of artistic skills, just see if you remember what the image was of.

Have you finished with that? How well did you remember the image? Continue reading “Mountains Out of Molehills”

bookmark_borderThe Disaster Artist (review)

At Ptara, I directed two microbudget feature films. Make that nanobudget.

One had a crew of two (excluding the three actors, who also crewed, and a few kids who helped out on sound one day), and the other was basically me editing a large variety of footage to make it coherent. There were challenges in both, and everyone learned a lot.  And, what these films lack in production values is made up for in performance and storyline.

By contrast, Tommy Wiseau’s “The Room” had a budget that was about 1000 times either of my films.  He worked with a much more expensive kit and a more experienced cast and crew. Yet, “The Room” was filled with continuity errors, bad acting, and an incoherent plot.

Continue reading “The Disaster Artist (review)”

bookmark_borderReview: WPR rebuttal

“SenatorJPO” appeared to be going places.  He was an honors student at Wisconsin’s finest Universities, with a BA and MA to his name.  Then he graduated and appeared to be lost in the reality of underemployment.

He’s now taking on the educational establishment, as well as public radio, with his own public service radio show.  For two hours every Friday, SenatorJPO gives his “rebuttal” to the information (or misinformation) supplied by the WPR radio station run by the university. Continue reading “Review: WPR rebuttal”

bookmark_borderName calling can lead to success in business

Scientists in Nevada have proven that insulting people actually makes them want to do business with you.

If you accuse conservatives of being racist, or liberals of being traitors, they start to like you, says Dr. Maidup of Jusjoshing University in Southern Nemoland County.   Generalizing about people who disagree with you, or labelling people who you disagree with as “bad people”, actually wins business.

Dr Maidup came to this conclusion by observing behaviour on LinkedIn.  He observed many people who claim to be successful, and discovered that spend all day calling each other names and posting insulting political memes.

These people are so successful, that most of them don’t appear to have to work for a living.  Rather than having jobs, they are consultants, bloggers, or have other professions that free them from doing any activity that may actually earn an income.  They may complain about not having clients, but really, they don’t need any.

“Being a total jerk to everyone you meet is a good way to be successful,” Dr Maidup said, “Hey, it seems to work for politicians and talk show hosts.”

Other success secrets of Dr Maidup include proving that you’re a genius by solving simple maths problems, taking online personality tests, and sharing your email with data-miners who claim that it will get you a job.

One way to test if you are successful is to put your hand in front of your face, to see which is bigger.  This works best if someone else is in the room, and able to slap said hand to said face.

bookmark_borderRIP Dream Repairman

There are too many books out there that tell you how to write a screenplay.  In fact, there are more books that tell you the “secret” of selling the Hollywood screenplay than there are working screenwriters.  That’s not to say that screenwriters don’t write their own: Joe Eszterhas, William Goldman, Nora Ephron, George MacDonald Fraser and many others have made their memoirs available, and I’ve read many of these in my local library.

What we might have a lack, however, is the point of view of the editor.    Most editing books concentrate on the technology, and the technique involved in using that technology.  Most of what I’ve read on how to thread film into its spools, or even how to use Final Cut Pro 6, is now irrelevant.  Walter Murch and Jim Clark have bucked that trend and gone beyond a simple “how to” book.

Murch’s book, “In the Blink of An Eye”, is considered a classic.  It outlines the thought process, the philosophy behind his editing and the length of a cut.  Jim Clark’s book “The Dream Repairman” was more of a memoir, the stories of human relationships, but it also touches upon the actual process of film editing.

Clark’s book teaches things are valuable to the aspiring editor, or producer or director, including:

1. “Filmmaking is boring”, or, can be at times.  Clark wrote about pranks he and others played on each other in the editing room, and how some of those pranks ended up being used in films.  These pranks resulted from the tediousness of the job of editing.    If you want an exciting job, perhaps you should be a war reporter instead.

2. Getting jobs is about humility.  Even after gaining experience, Clark had to sometimes take jobs as an assistant, to start at the bottom again.

3. Method Actors are difficult to edit.  It’s great to be spontaneous on the set, to come up with new ideas for each take.  However, if you do that, remember to budget enough extra time in the editing room.

4. Editors can give useful feedback.  Some people wait for the film to be finished before talking to an editor.  Well, if you have someone like Clark available, then don’t wait.  Have him working on the picture when the first rushes are available.  An experienced editor let you know when something appears to be out of pace, and your production can save a lot of hassle by fixing what’s wrong ahead of time.

Murch’s book, and small articles here and there, have told me a lot more about editing.  There’s always the Soviet Classic about film editing and film acting, which goes over the basics.

But, what did Jim Clark do?  Why are editors so important?

Well, let’s say you start with an idea.  This could be a book you want to adapt, or a scene you have in your mind.  Stage one is that you either write this idea as a script, or you hire someone else to write it.  (If you can’t afford to hire someone, write it yourself.  You’ll understand it better.)

Okay, things can go wrong in step one, but then you just fire the writer and do a rewrite, or start afresh, right?

Well, let’s say you end up with the perfect script, then the “film is finished” according to Alfred Hitchcock, right?  Not so.   You might not have the budget to film everything as planned.  That location may be demolished.  Your actors might fumble on their lines, or improvise.

In all likelihood, your rushes will not look anything like the script you started with, especially if you’re using stars who became famous for their looks rather than their memory.  Even if you try to stay true to the screenplay and the storyboard (a comic book like rendition of the script, used in planning), you might not have everything you need in order to be able to.

In comes the “Dream Repairman.”

Yes, there are also a few famous female editors.  Tarantino used a female editor who went to a top film school and editing a Teenager Mutant Ninja Turtles movie, until she passed away.  Now, she is replaced by a team of people.   Scorsese and others had female editors.  You probably didn’t know that because you probably don’t know much about editors.

Most of these other editors don’t seem to have written books on their art or experiences, none that I’ve noticed in my local library anyway.

While I still like Walter Murch’s book more useful to working editors, and found Jim Clark’s speculating on the private lives of stars and other people in his life annoying, I’d recommend “The Dream Repairman” to anyone considering editing as a profession.

I’d like to see more memoirs of special effects, make up, carpentry, and other unsung heroes of the film trade.    And of course, I’d like to see more written about the art and not just the technology of film editing.

Rip Jim Clark.

bookmark_bordermidsummer nights rearranged dream

Words taken from the start of Helena’s final speech in Scene II, rearranged:


So I am, Love’s folding mind,

wing’d Cupid looks not with the mind, but with the eyes;

Through Athens I thought Things base and vile.

But what of that? no quantity

as Demetrius thinks Love so;

He will not know:

Because in choice he is so oft beguiled

And therefore is painted blind:

And therefore is said to be a child, Love,

And as he errs, Love.

Nor hath Hermia’s eyes any judgement of taste;

doting on as she

can transpose to some o’er form and other dignity :

what all but he do know admiring of his qualities:

How happy

some can be,

not fair!


To the above, no words or punctuation was added or left out. Enjoy my Copy-Paste madness.

Consider this a late birthday present to Will Shakespeare, and a warning to raise awareness on the nonsense of copy-paste.

Word bubble Romeo and Juliet 

To further this, we’ve added a word-travesty of the Nurse’s speech in act I, scene 3 of Romeo and Juliet. The more used a word is, the bigger it comes up on the bubble. 

The word that jumps out to me is “Lammas.”  Juliet was weaned by the nurse 11 years before, on Lammas eve.  Lammas was a harvest festival, in a way like the forerunner of Thanksgiving.  “Pretty”, “fall”, “wormwood”, “fourteen”, and “dug”, all make reference to Juliet’s young age, but may also reference her current relationship with Romeo.  “Dug” by the way, has a meaning completely different from the modern one.

Yet, without their proper order, the meaning is lost.

 (original word bubble missing)

As you can see by the illustration, knowing how often a word appears is quite useless.  But it can be fun to see that words like “wilt” and “dovehouse” were once pretty useful.

By the way, the sentence “Wilt thou dovehouse, pretty Llamas wormwood?” doesn’t really make sense.

bookmark_borderThe difference between Development and Pre-Production

Acquiring the seed and a spot to plant it in, that is development.  Planting the seed, that is pre-production.  When it finally bears fruit, then you have a film. – Ptara

Once again, techies have been spreading misinformation on how a film is made. Just because you helped design a cool piece of software doesn’t mean you know everything, and one thing they especially seem to get wrong is the difference between development and pre-production.

The main problem is that most of them don’t seem to think that there is a difference, or they think that development is part of pre-production.  (Hint: I highly recommend Micheal Wohl\’s course on how to use Final Cut Pro X, although I take issue with some of his workflow advice, and also recommend his course on Apple Motion.  However, steer clear of his course on Production, it\’s very badly researched and poorly prepared.) Continue reading “The difference between Development and Pre-Production”

bookmark_borderAfter the movie is shot, we can begin to assemble it

“Even if I improve a film 1 percent, that’s important to me,” Sam Pollard

We’ve written the script, storyboarded the film, planned it, budgeted it, raised money (though not as much as we’d hoped), and now we shot the picture for Dara Says.

Recently, someone congratulated us for finishing the film.   “Congratulations on finishing the film.” Only, it hasn’t been finished yet.  It’s now time to assemble it.  We can still make the film better, with an excellent editor like Sam Pollard on board.  (No, we don’t have him, but we can dream, can’t we?)

Rosie and Beccy looking at a computer
Rosie de Sousa, producer, and Beccy O’Regan, Script Supervisor, consider a shot for Dara Says.

Continue reading “After the movie is shot, we can begin to assemble it”