Thursday, February 28, 2013

Narratology & Story Concept

Narratology is the study of how stories are put together. It involves the study of various terms we already know: such as genre, narrative structures, storytelling strategies, conventions, and symbols.

A little rhetoric: narratologists/English majors, critics, writers, etc. are interested in the ways in which writers get ideas, then send or ENCODE their ideas into stories, which are then sent to us (the viewer, in film's case) to communicate the idea (DECODE). It's the communication process we discussed from 9th grade!

Film, just like fiction, works in a similar way. We can have a first-person POV: a character whose VOICE-OVER tells the narration, or an almost invisible 3rd person POV, often mistaken for the writer.

In REALISTIC films, the 3rd person POV narrator is almost invisible. Events speak for themselves. A train pulling into a station or a the landscape of New York's skyline (actualities) should be taken at face-value. There's nothing tricky in this. What you see is what you get (WYSIWYG).

In CLASSICAL films, we know there is a writer, or in film's case, often, many writers. This writer is referred to as the AUTEUR, and may include more than one creative voice.

In FORMALISTIC films, the author or AUTEUR is manipulative, heightening or restructuring "reality" to maximize meaning or thematic content. The story is often told from a subjective POV.

As viewers, we should be aware of the kind of film we are watching.

HOMEWORK: This weekend, try to fill out the CONCEPT CREATION worksheet. We'll play around with a few of these in the next few days. Eventually, one of these concepts will be used to create a script.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Key Film Vocabularly and Editing Advice

When we discuss the choice of a particularly shot, filmmakers have several options. They can shoot a scene from an extreme long shot, a long shot, a full shot, a medium shot, a close-up, an extreme close up, using a birds-eye angle, a high or low angle, an eye-level-match angle (the default), or decide to use a truck, track, crane, pan, or trolley device to help frame and move the focus of the camera on the subject of the film. But with all these options, we also need to include the following terms to our vocabulary:

classical cutting: editing for dramatic intensity and emotional emphasis rather than for purely physical reasons.

Shifting from long to close or close to long shots shifts the viewers POV within a scene. This can be done to emphasize, include, exclude, consolidate, connect, contrast, or parallel the action of the plot, to introduce an important motif or detail for story-telling purposes (just like describing an important object in fiction), etc.

Master Shot (also known as a sequence shot): a scene of continuous film, usually at long-range, that is used as the through-line of a film or scene.

Reaction Shot: a cut from dialogue to the reaction of the person listening to the dialogue.

Two-shot: a shot that includes just enough space for two-characters to show that they are in the same space.

Three-shot: as a two-shot, but with enough room for three. How cozy!

First cut: a sequence of shots in editing that represents the director's preference for how the scene should be "shot."

Final cut: a studio or producer's preferred cutting of the film. (As opposed to the directors: first cut)

Cover shot: a shot used to reestablish a sequence, (time or space), or establishing shot used to reorient the viewer.

Eye-line Match: A character looks a certain direction, then we cut to what they are supposed to be looking at.

Matching action: similar to the eye-line match, but this involves any movement that is suggested as being continuous, even though it's not shot that way. Example: a tight shot of a person opening a door, the next shot is of that person arriving in another room. It is assumed that the door leads to the room seen, but this is rarely the case in filming.

Mise en Scene: more on this one later, it is literally "what is included in a shot"

180 degree rule: used to stabalize the space of the playing area so the viewer isn't confused or disoriented. Essentially keeping the camera on the same side of the 180 degree line of a scene.

Reverse angle shot: most commonly used in dialogue scenes, the camera moves between two speakers, first showing one, then the other.

Parallel action: just as in literature, the juxtaposition of shots that show complimentary shots. These shots are often from a different location.

Cross-cutting: moving between two or more locations or scenes in a film (often in rapid succession, but not always) to tell parallel stories.

Thematic montage: stress the association of ideas, rather than the continuity of plot, time, or space.

Motifs: objects, places, people, visual pictures, that are repeated to create significance or meaning.

Some advice:
  • the longer the shot, the slower the film pacing. 
  • the shorter the shot, the faster the film pacing. 
  • Longer shots usually include more visual information.
  • Shorter shots usually include less visual information.
  • Cut your scenes at the "content curve": the moment when the viewer has had just enough time to take in the visual information in a scene.
  • Cutting your scene BEFORE the content curve, creates anxiety, frustration, and/or disorients the viewer.
  • Cutting the scene AFTER the content curve, frustrates and bores an audience.
As we watch our films, let's consider some of these terms and film ideas as a reflection of our own creative work.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Charlie Chaplin

"All I need to make a comedy is a park, a policeman, and a pretty girl." -Sir Charles Chaplin

Sir Charles Chaplin (1889-1977)
• Born in London, UK to theatrical parents
• Chaplin’s childhood was one of extreme poverty and hardship
• Abandoned by an alcoholic father and left with a mentally unstable mother who was unable to support him, he struggled through life in the poor house and on the streets
• He learnt much of his timing and technique in the employment of impresario Fred Karno (1866-1941) whose troupe he left during an American tour in 1913
• Offered a contract by Keystone Films
• After 1914, he convinced Keystone producer Mack Sennett to allow him to direct his own films - often wrote, directed, acted and composed his own musical scores for his films
• In many silent shorts, he established the grammar and ground rules of screen comedy using his physical dexterity and pantomime skills to create expertly choreographed, visually humorous entertainment that mixed irreverence, romance, and pathos (feeling)
• Co-founder of United Artists in 1919
• Married Oona O’Neill (daughter of playwright Eugene O’Neill)
• His left-wing sympathies caused him to emigrate to Switzerland during the 1950’s, McCarthy period
• He published his autobiography in 1964 and was knighted in 1975
• Chaplin died on Christmas day, 1977
• A writer Performer, director, composer and icon, he was a vital figure in the development of the screen comedy Films (incomplete list): Making a Living (1913) Kid Auto Races at Venice (1914) The Champion (1915) The Tramp (1915) The Pawnshop (1916) The Rink (1916) A Dog’s Life (1918) The Kid (1921) The Gold Rush (1925) City Lights (1931) Modern Times (1936) The Great Dictator (1940) Limelight (1952) A King in New York (1957) A Countess from Hong Kong (1967)
Take a look at some of Chaplin's films:

Table ballet sequence from "The Gold Rush"
The Tramp (1915)
The Rink (1916)

A Dog's Life (1918)
The Kid (1921) trailer
The Lion's Cage clip from the Circus (1928) and the full film (1928)
The Gold Rush (1925) and another scene; sound and words added later
City Lights (full film, 1931); The boxing scene from City Lights.
Modern Times (full film, 1936); and the famous clockwork scene from Modern Times.
The Great Dictator (1940)

D.W. Griffith

D.W. Griffith was called the "Father of film technique" & "the man who invented Hollywood"

Birth of a Nation trailer.

With cinematographer G.W. Bitzer, he created and perfected the film devices:
  • the iris shot
  • the flashback
  • crosscutting
He directed the very controversial The Birth of a Nation (1915) Based on Thomas Dixon's stage play "The Clansman." Over 3 hours long, the racist epic included a cast of hundreds. The film contained many new film innovations:
  • Special use of subtitles
  • Its own musical score with orchestra
  • Introduction of night photography
  • Used a "still shot"
  • Used an "Iris shot"
  • Used parallel action
  • Used panning and tracking shots
  • Used close-ups to reveal intimate expressions of actors
  • Used fade outs and cameo-profiles
  • Used high-angles and panoramic (extreme) long shots
  • Used cross cutting between two scenes to create excitement and suspense
Here's a clip from Birth of a Nation. and a famous battle sequence with hundreds of extras.
The film is now regarded as terribly racist as it actually has the KKK riding in to save the day. Here's a few more objectionable scenes:
Negro Majority in the House of Representatives
Origins of the Klan
Rescued by the Klan
And the suggestive ending...

Here's the entire film, if you have the interest and 3-hours to spare.

A year later his masterpiece Intolerance (1916) was made as a reaction to the censorship of Birth of a Nation

Babylon Long Shot/Crane Sequence (tinted)
Part one: Intolerance.
The Fall of Babylon from Intolerance
Part Two: Intolerance.

In 1919 he established the film company United Artists with Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, and William S. Hart

Overall, Griffith directed over 500 films. He retired in 1931 and died in Los Angeles in 1948. In 1975 his picture was on a post stamp. But by 1999, The Director's Guild of America's National Board renamed the prestigious D.W. Griffith Award (first given in 1953 to such directors as Woody Allen, Stanley Kubrick, John Huston, Alfred Hitchcock, Ingmar Bergman, John Ford, Akira Kurosawa, and Cecil B. DeMille) because of Griffith's racism.
"We do not fear censorship, for we have no wish to offend with improprieties or obscenities, but we do demand, as a right, the liberty to show the dark side of wrong, that we may illuminate the bright side of virtue - the same liberty that is conceded to the art of the written word - that art to which we owe the Bible and the works of Shakespeare."
D.W. Griffith (1915)
"If in this work we have conveyed to the mind the ravages of war to the end that war may be held in abhorrence, this effort will not have been in vain." - D. W. Griffith (1915)

Please take a look at these clips and films starring one of his leading actresses: Lilian Gish.

Way Down East (1920) Possibly the most amazing stunt ever pulled in cinema history. Please realize that these actors really were doing their own stunts. That water is cold and yes, those are ice floes.
Orphans of the Storm (1921) (Entire film, with sister Dorothy Gish)
Judith of Bethulia (1913) (entire film)
The Scarlet Letter (1926)  (entire film)
Abraham Lincoln (1930) (entire film; sound!)

Friday, February 15, 2013

Student Silent Films

"The Life & Times of Jerry the Snowball" by Hannah MacLagger

"Chicken Does Some Bad Drugs" by Tim Battaglia

"Dreams of a Gummy Worm Fiend" by Darren Tibbils & Caleb Whittier

"A Day in the Life of Greg & Grant" by Neriah Santiago & Jack Symes

"Hoof the Magic Unicorn" by Clara O'Connor

Silent Film Projects Due!

Your silent film arranged scene projects are due today. Please use the lab to work on this project.

When you finish, please export your file to your own network files, then upload to YOUTUBE. Send me the link from Youtube at and I will put the film up on our class blog for general viewing.

HOMEWORK: Please catch up. If you haven't watched certain films, or read various chapters, get this done. In addition, please read the articles on "D.W. Giffith" and film editing.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Camera Work Tips, Silent Film Project

Again, please upload and edit your silent film projects. The deadline for this project is next class. If you finish today, please save your film as an MP4 and also upload your film to Youtube for easy sharing. Please send me the address link through email.

Now that you've had a chance to play around behind a camera, here are a few instructional videos to give you some pointers and hints about your camera work.

Identify and define the following terms from the videos below. Write these in your notebook, as we will refer to them throughout the course:
Extreme long shot, long shot, medium shot, medium-close up, close up, extreme close up; Firehosing, jogging, backlighting, lead/nose room, headroom; pan and tilt, dolly movement, truck or tracking shots, sled and vest system, boom; 180 degree rule; line of action, dynamic shots versus static shots.  
Videos will take about 20-25 minutes.
Important Film Jobs, defined

Take note of these important film jobs:

Cinematographer/Director of Photography (DP): The chief of the camera and lighting crew of a film. The DP makes decisions on lighting and framing of scenes in conjunction with the film's director. Typically, the director tells the DP how they want a shot to look, and the DP chooses the correct aperture, filter, and lighting to achieve the desired effect.

Camera Operator: The camera operator uses the camera at the direction of the cinematographer, director of photography, or the film director to capture the scenes on film. Generally, a cinematographer or director of photography does not operate the camera, but sometimes these jobs may be combined. Various assistants are also named.

Film Editor: The film editor (with help from the director usually) is the person who assembles the various shots into a coherent film. There are often several assistant editors. Various technical responsibilities are referred to as editors such as dialogue editors (who work with dialogue), sound editing, etc.

HOMEWORK: Please watch this documentary film clip (15 minutes) on editing. The Cutting Edge. Read the chapter handout by Louis Giannetti. Finally, prepare your film projects. These are due next class.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Silent Film Project & Pathe Frere Co.

Please turn in your questions on the Beginning of Film History (see previous post). 

Today, during the lab, please upload and work on your silent film projects. Deadline is Friday.

If you finish your project, please read, watch, and take a look at the Pathe Frere Company.

Pathe Freres Company

Charles Pathé (1863-1957), French motion-picture magnate, who, in the early 20th century, was the first to create a system for mass-producing motion pictures. It is thanks to The Pathe Frere Co. that films were shared and distributed around the world. Now, a film made in New York could be seen as far away as Japan. This is the start of a world-wide cinema (and a lucrative business venture...) Check out information about Pathe and some of his company's films:
Aladdin & the Magic Lamp (1907)
The Policeman's Little Run (1907) directed by Ferdinand Zecca
Slippery Jim (1910) directed by Ferdinand Zecca
Onesime Horloger (Onesime, Clock-Maker) (1912)
• Pathé began his career as an importer and merchant of the phonograph in France.
• He extended the business to include projectors and films, creating the company Pathé Frères in 1896.
• By 1901 he concentrated on film production, together with French director and producer Ferdinand Zecca.
• Pathé made films rapidly and reinvested the profits back into the business to improve the technical quality of his films.
• By 1905 the company was employing numerous production teams of scriptwriters, set builders, cameramen, directors, and actors, making short films in an assembly-line process.
• Pathe Company opened in New York in 1904 as a subsidiary of Pathe Freres (Bros.) in France and boasted a catalogue of 12,000 titles.
• In 1909, Pathe was asked to join Edison in forming the Motion Picture Patents Company (MPPC) to try to shut out smaller studios.
• In 1911, Pathe Weekly was issued. This is the first US newsreel.
• WWI took its toll on the company. Pathe ceased production in the US in 1914.
• In 1915, the Pathe Freres temporarily moved its headquarters to New York and changed its name to Pathe Exchange, Inc.
• In 1923, Pathe Exchange sold for 26 million Francs and came under the control of Merrill Lynch.
• In 1926, Joe Kennedy (father of John F. Kennedy) becomes president of the company, and a director.
• In 1930, Pathe Exchange merges with PDC, K-A-O and DeMille to become RKO

Hollywood has never been that original compared to early filmmakers. Here's a few films that keep getting made over and over again. Other films of the early 20th century:
HOMEWORK: Complete the shooting of your silent film. Be prepared to upload your film footage by Wednesday. Otherwise, nothing.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Arranged Silent Film Project & Early Film History

Please use the time today in class to prepare, upload, or arrange your films. Schedule time to shoot and complete your film editing. It is easier to complete this project if you have an idea about when and what you'd like to accomplish each class. The project is due by next Friday, Feb. 15.


Please read the article on Tim Dirks' Filmsite and answer the questions below. Start here. Use the arrows at the bottom of the webpage to go to the next section. Take notes on important information. You will be tested on this material at the end of our silent film unit.

1. We have discussed various film projecting machines. Name some other projecting machines and their date and inventor.
2. Name some other film production companies rivaling the Edison Company.
3. What innovations did the American Mutoscope & Biograph Company create for film?
4. Who was dubbed "The Father of Story Film"?
5. What is a "Nickelodeon"?
6. Choose one of the first feature length films in American cinema. Provide a brief description and details about the film.
7. Who was D.W. Griffith? How did he influence film? Name 3 of his films and their dates.
8. How did big business influence early film?
9. What was the MPPC? What companies belonged to this trust?
10. Name 3 independent film companies. Which ones are still around today?
11. Why did filmmakers and producers want to move west? Describe Hollywood before and after the arrival of the major film companies.
12. What was Kinemacolor?
13. What was the result of the anti-trust laws in regards to the MPPC?
14. Who was Carl Laemmle? What was the name of his company?
15. Who was dubbed "America's Sweetheart"?
16. What sort of plot or characters could be found in the early movie serials?
17. Who was Thomas Harper Ince? What kinds of pictures did he specialize in?
18. Who is considered the "King of Comedy"?
19. Which comedians got their start with Keystone?
20. Name 3 of Charlie Chaplin's early films.
21. Name the key actors, producers, and directors who created United Artists.
22. Who was Lois Weber? Name 3 of her films.
23. Who was Francis Marion? Name 3 films she wrote.
24. Name the 5 major studios before 1930. What advancements or innovations did they allow for in film of the time?
25. When was Walt Disney studios created? Where was it located?

HOMEWORK: Please complete either your filming of your project this weekend, or complete the film history and answer the 25 ?'s for Monday, Feb. 11.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Arranged Silent Film Project

Today, after viewing The Great Train Robbery, please complete the following tasks:

1. Gather in your film group (see post below).
2. Come up with an idea for an arranged silent film.
3. Create a treatment for the film. You treatment should include up to 10 scenes--please no more than that.
4. Write a short description for the scenes (see post below for information)
5. Plan and decide who you might need as an actor, where you are going to shoot, when you are going to shoot, etc. Talk with your partner to make choices.
6. Print out a copy of the arranged script by the end of class today. You should print out a second or third copy for yourself and/or your actors, etc.

This project is due (in completion) by February 15. You will have some time in class devoted to editing and preparing the film. If you have already started, please use a class period today to edit and arrange your film.

If you get done early, or you have completed the steps above (as much as you possibly can in class), please read the post below on Birt Acres, R.W. Paul, and Cecil Hepworth and the Hepworth Manufacturing Company. Take notes on these guys and watch their films.

Also: the following are student "actuality" films. Take a gander.

HOMEWORK: Begin shooting your arranged silent film.

Monday, February 4, 2013

The British Are Coming: Acres, Paul, Hepworth Manufacturing Co.

France and the U.S. were quick to jump on the possibilities of film projection. But quick on their heels was Britain. These three countries have a long and respected reputation when it comes to film making. They were there at the beginning.

Birt Acres & R.W. Paul

Birt Acres was born in the USA in 1854, orphaned at the age of fourteen during the American civil war and was taken in by his aunt. Around 1872 Acres was sent to Paris to complete his education at the Sorbonne. Acres returned to the United States four years later to lead the life of a Frontiersman and it during a period of eight or nine years became quite wealthy. Around 1885 he moved to England. He set up a studio in the seaside resort of Devon for the production of painted portraits and photography. In 1894 Acres was introduced to electrical engineer, Robert W. Paul. At this time Paul was in the process of manufacturing copies of Edison’s Kinetoscope and was anxious to construct a camera with which to produce films to show on his machines.

The pair worked together and Acres used the camera to make the first successful film in Britain - Incident at Clovelly Cottage in 1895. It was at this point where the two entered into partnership with a ten year business agreement. This agreement lasted only six weeks before splitting. During their brief partnership, the two shot films. It is widely believed that Paul was angry because Acres had patented his own Kinetic camera in his own name - almost identical to the one they had developed together. The resulting projector became known as the Kinetic Lantern, Kineopticon and the Cinematoscope. 

As for Paul, he invented the Theatrograph projector and shot the first "news" films. Paul also made various “Actuality” films,  and a short comedy - “The Soldier’s Courtship.” He is, also, curiously, responsible for the first Scrooge film. In 1898 Paul began construction on Britain’s first film studios in Muswell Hill, North London and during that summer produced over eighty short dramatic films. Paul’s production company peaked during 1900 and 1905 but he gradually became disenchanted with the business. He returned to his previous occupation, concentrating on electrical engineering.
Meanwhile, Acres gave the first public performance of his projector at the Royal Photographic Society in 1896 - five weeks before the screening of Lumière’s Cinématographe and Paul’s Theatograph. Acres formed his own company - the Northern Photographic Works which specialized in coating, perforating and processing film. In 1898 he unveiled the Birtac - the first 'sub-standard gauge' cine camera and projector, instead of normal 35mm film the camera used narrower width film - typically 17.5 mm. Unfortunately for Acres, within weeks, a rival 17.5 mm camera/projector was announced - the Biokam by the Warwick Trading Company. The Biokam benefitted from its heavy backing and cheapness - half the price of the Birtac. Regardless of this, Birt Acres invented the first amateur cine camera and remained in the film business until his death in 1918.
Upside Down (1899) (watch camera tricks)
 Scrooge, or Marley's Ghost (1901) (the first Scrooge film).
Birt Acres: Rough Sea at Dover (1895)
Arrest of a Pickpocket (date unknown, 1896+)

Cecil Hepworth
Cecil Hepworth (1874 –1953):
How it Feels to Be Run Over (1900)
Explosion of a Motor Car (1900)
Alice in Wonderland (1903) by Cecil Hepworth
Rescued by Rover (1905)
That Fatal Sneeze (1907)
• Hepworth was an English film director, producer and screenwriter, he was among the founders of the British film industry and continued making films into the 1920s.
• His father was a famous magic lantern showman.
• He became involved in the early stages of British filmmaking, working for both Birt Acres and Charles Urban, and wrote the first British book on the subject in 1897.
• With his cousin Monty Wicks he set up the production company Hepworth and Co. — later renamed the Hepworth Manufacturing Company, then Hepworth Picture Plays.
• In 1899 they built a small film studio in Walton-on-Thames. The company produced about three films a week, sometimes with Hepworth directing.
Rescued by Rover (1905) was a huge success at the box office, starring a collie in the title role. The film is now regarded as an important development in film grammar, with shots being effectively combined to emphasise the action. Hepworth was also one of the first to recognize the potential of film stars, both animal and human, with several recurring characters appearing in his films.
• The company continued making popular films into the 1920s.
• The company went public to fund a large studio development but lost money and closed.
• Tragically, all of Hepworth's original film negatives were melted down.

The Murky Middle (Even More Advice)

Aristotle wrote that stories should have a beginning, middle, and end. Middles can be difficult. You might have a smashing opening to a stor...