Jasmine (Demo)

Jai Paul

Jasmine

Played 180 times

Music for the Weekend: Jasmine by Jai Paul.

Let’s talk about money.

So with the Paul Pope film I’m dealing with a budget much larger than I’m customarily used to. I have to admit, after ten years of making low-budget indie films, I kind of only know how to make movies one way, on the cheap. I’ve had to find ways to expand my budget to fill the needs of my potential financiers, which sounds weird but there are indeed production companies who just won’t do smaller budget films, and they’ll only entertain films at a certain level. So I’ve had to create three versions of the screenplay, one with an unbelievably large budget, one medium, and one that I can do with the money I have immediately available to me. I do this so that if none of my financing options work out, I know I can still go into production right away without having to compromise my original vision.

One would think that writing an expensive film would be easy, but it’s actually a lot harder than it appears. You can easily expand your budget through above-the-line costs, i.e. an expensive cast. I’m not a firm believer in this, as A-list is no longer a guarantee for a film’s success. You can do the James Cameron approach, which is to cast up-and-comers and place them within a high concept. That frees up money towards the production, and as a producer I always believe that money should be put up on the screen.

I came to the conclusion that I can ratchet up two items. The first is visual effects, specifically in the creation of landscapes and adding textures. I can also use them to bolster the physical stunt work.

The second, and most important, item that I can ratchet up is the duration of the shoot. Frankly I’m pretty tired of shooting features in 15-18 days, and just once I’d like to a have a solid 3 months to put a film together. This benefit is absolutely immeasurable, and it’ll put some years back on my life expectancy. Making an ambitious anamorphic feature in 18 days is murder.

The best example of this is comparing the Swedish and American versions of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. This is a superb example because they share the same story, but the Swedish version was done for $13 million, and the American version was done for $90 million. Both films are uniformly excellent, the production is top notch and the performances of both Noomi Rapace and Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander are fantastic. Both actresses put their own spin on the character, and both interpretations are riveting.

Sure Daniel Craig would have cost some money, and I guarantee they paid Rooney Mara more than what they paid Noomi Rapace. But the real budget becomes apparent in the exquisite details of the American version. David Fincher is a perfectionist in the truest and best sense of the word, and his attention to detail is remarkable. With his budget he was allowed to have his team go into the intricate and telling details of costume, setting and sound. A side-by-side comparison reveals that the Swedish version, while affecting, is forced to be more visceral largely because the budget was not there to create nuance and atmosphere. Fincher is allowed to create a world where Salander and Blomkvist blend into their surroundings, and they slowly bring each other out of hiding. In the Swedish version, the characters are up front and occupy the entire screen, and the notion of deep cover is lost. It is attempted, but the budget simply does not allow for it.

We also see the shot selection and coverage on Fincher’s film is extraordinary. He’s able to film small details like people picking up cups, using vending machines, the inside workings of Salander and Blomkvist’s research. Fincher shot for 140+ days, which is incredible. It allows him to cover his world and ideas in its entirety, and it also allows him build texture and character through the tools of cinema. The Swedish version is very efficient and straightforward, and it tells the story with a fairly deadened atmosphere and psychological darkness, whereas Fincher’s film does the same and adds a physical world that screams of evil and mystery.

It’s true that you can make a good film for $300,000 (Lilith, :)) and make a dud for $300 million (John Carter). But to make a film on a low budget requires the filmmaker to make sacrifices that can be detrimental to the narrative. On Lilith I was forced to do long takes because I simply didn’t have the time to do coverage, close-ups and punch-ins. But because I love long takes, my limitations sort of fit my plan for the film. But if I needed that coverage, I would have done a single lighting set up and then bang out the coverage with handheld. But then I would have compromised the meditative, creepy atmosphere that I have in Lilith. I ended up having to chop sequences out of the script to make up for time, something which is excruciatingly painful and dangerous. But I really didn’t have a choice.

And that’s what it boils down to - producing and directing is a series of compromises where you stand firm on what you feel is essential to the story, and give slack on the things that might be very cool, but ultimately can be done in a quicker and cheaper fashion. And the creativity of the director is what can overcome all of these things, but to a limit. Can’t squeeze water from a stone, as they say.

Every filmmaker says there isn’t enough of two resources on every shoot - time and money, because both are intrinsically tied into one another. My expensive budget asks for a 90 day shoot, which means that for three months I’ll have house, feed and pay the salaries of a small army of people. It’s very, very expensive. But if I can do it, then it’ll be the best possible thing that could happen to my project. I’ve always said that money never buys us happiness, but it does buy us the time to go out and find that happiness. And that’s my goal.

Have a great weekend!

Herzog: How the Director Affects the Budget

directingfilm:

Q: How does your frugality affect your cast and crew?

A: Hollywood has a tendency to throw five new crew members at everything that comes as a slight problem. So I say, ‘No, stop! We have to sort things out. We have to be intelligent.’ More people just makes everything clumsier. For example, on…

I’m prepping for a ‘Film MBA’ series on the ‘Lilith’ blog, and this excerpt from Werner Herzog, reblogged from Schmüdde’s brilliant 'Beyond the Frame' tumblr, is the perfect lead-in to sensible, budget-conscious filmmaking. More to come.

First week done, and giving credit where credit is due.

Good lord, what a week. We’ve in total filmed about 30 pages, or about 33% of Lilith. Our shots have been a myriad of things: haunting, serene, funny, and above all, powerful. I’m very happy with where we are right now, and while I know next week will be just as tough - if not tougher - I have utmost trust in my cast and crew that we can keep up our commitment to making Lilith the very best film we can make.

I’ve learned so much from my team in the past week, little tidbits that they gleaned from other productions that have helped us power through this ambitious schedule and budget thus far. I like the openness of the set, where we’re all helping each other out and having a good time doing it. We’re all tired, but it is the good kind of tired.

Another thing I feel like mentioning is what we tend to take for granted as an audience when we watch films, and what we can do to fix that problem. At the end of a movie we always see a long roll of credits of the people who worked on a film, and there are titles like key grips, gaffers, location managers, set decorators, etc.. A lot of audiences wouldn’t even know what these positions are, and it’s completely okay for them not to know, because they are not in the field of filmmaking. Someone might view a Best Boy as just another crew member, but there is so much more to that.

Every member of a film crew is an artist in their own right, and each of them contributes a brush stroke to complete the final canvas. A grip that pushes a camera dolly simply isn’t just some guy pushing a cart, there is an art to it, where the grip must interpret the performance and simultaneously gauge time and distance. A gaffer does more than just set up lights, they have an instinctual feel for the quality and temperature of light, and they work in concert with the cinematographer to develop the broad strokes of the frame. And the list goes on and on.

As aforementioned it’s unrealistic to think that audiences would understand and appreciate the artistry behind every position in the film (and yes, that even includes the producing team) but I have a humble request to film viewers:

When you go to your next film, stay until the end credits finish. Read the names. Know that there is a legitimate person and artist behind that name and that they contributed to your enjoyment of the film (if you didn’t enjoy the film, then place your ire on the director, not the crew!). Stay until the house lights go up. It’s a small gesture that, while undetected and unknown to the actual crew member, is a small way to pat these guys and gals on the back for working so hard to make art.

Rest for tonight. Tomorrow is our company day off, and then the madness starts again. Time to watch some ice hockey.

Silent Hill.

I lived in the UK for two years, much of that time in a small town with a population of less than five thousand. In the rainy, cold months (which seemed like most of the year) I’d find myself bored and listless - sometimes books just run out of steam, music seems repetitive, and there’s only so much F1 racing one can watch on the telly on weekends.

So I went to my local Dixon’s and bought myself a PlayStation - one of the original gray PS1 consoles, PS2 was not out then - and I was looking through the titles to choose for my first game. There was Tekken, the original Grand Theft Auto, and then there was Silent Hill. At that time all the hype was on Resident Evil, and whatever early press on Silent Hill was that it was a survival horror knockoff of the RE series.

I looked on the back cover and loved what I saw - heavy chiaroscuro lighting, a compelling story that didn’t involve corporate double crosses and some strange mutant virus. It rang as a very personal, human story, which was a rarity in gaming (and largely is still a rarity today).

I popped the game in that night and I’m ashamed to say that I called in sick for work for two days because I wanted to finish it. Never, in film or print, had I had such a complete, immersive and visceral horror experience. I’ve yet to experience anything like it since.

Silent Hill gives independent filmmakers an excellent lesson in working beyond one’s limitations. In its basic design, the story of Silent Hill requires extensive computing power (for that time and console) - a complete town and multiple buildings, an alternate plane of existence that it must toggle between, and multiple creatures and characters. It was very apparent that the game designers had out-designed the capabilities of the technology and resources, but they did some interesting things that worked within their capacities, but also simultaneously increased the visceral impact of the game.

It was a simple solution, really, and that was to envelop the entire game in fog, shadows, and darkness, and to allow music, sound and the imagination of the gamer to do all the heavy lifting. Nothing revolutionary, as classic horror filmmakers knew this from a very early stage: what you can’t see in the dark is the scariest thing.

On my budget, I will have to rely a lot on darkness and shadow, and I’m fortunate to have access to some wonderful musicians and sound design artists (more on them in later posts) who can really, really amp up the tension and suspense.

But perhaps the greatest thing I learned from Silent Hill was that when we place fears within our reach, it is absolutely terrifying. The key to immersion is tangibility, and the game provided that for me in spades. It, along with Shadow of the Colossus, remains my favorite games of any generation and on any console. A work of art that moves beyond entertainment, it engages the mind and the heart. Lovely and terrifying.