Categories
Cinematography Film Editing Film Sound People Technology VFX

Here We Go Again: The Digital Cinema Revolution Begins

Happy Birthday to George Lucas! As we know George was a big proponent of the use of digital technology in cinema. When I worked at Sony in the 1990’s, we were on the cutting edge of using digital cameras for cinematography. Here is a video from Sony that highlights the development of the Sony cameras used in Star Wars.

Here is another video from ILM about all the areas that George changed with digital technology for editing and VFX. Thank you Mr. Lucas!

Categories
Film Editing Film Sound Filmmaking Technology

Happy 75th Birthday, George Lucas

Categories
Photography

Jeff Bridges and his Widelux camera

I have always enjoyed Jeff Bridges in films like The Fisher King, both the original Tron and Tron Legacy, as well as the overlooked Lucas/Coppola film Tucker. When I found out he was into Widelux photography I was excited to show some of his photos on my site.

 

tucker
Francis Ford Coppola & George Lucas with a Tucker car

From the New York Times Lens Blog.

Some photographers are drawn to dramatic events in exotic lands. Others are compelled to stay closer to home and burrow into the stories they know best.

The actor Jeff Bridges gets to do both. He photographs the world he grew up in, movie sets — each one a world never seen before. And he earns a little more than your average photographer while doing it.

Since 1984, Mr. Bridges has documented the sets of most of his movies, compiling a large collection of wide images that give an intimate, behind-the-scenes look at movie making.

“My photography is mainly focused on my work making movies, which I’ve done my whole life,” he said in a phone interview. “I think I have a perspective that not many people have. And I get to take advantage of all of the strange sources of light on a set.”

Though Mr. Bridges is better known for his acting roles — The Dude in “The Big Lebowski,” Rooster Cogburn in “True Grit,” Kevin Flynn in the Tron movies — he will receive special recognition tomorrow at the International Center of Photography’s Infinity Awards dinner in New York.


This is not the first time Mr. Bridges has been honored: he has been nominated for six Academy Awards and received an Oscar for Best Actor for his performance as Otis Blake in the 2009 film “Crazy Heart.” But he says it is “wonderful to be recognized by people who love photography.”

Mr. Bridges uses a Widelux camera for almost all of his photos because he says its ultrawide images are close to how the human eye really sees. It’s a quirky camera that allows photographers to emphasize both foreground and background. In the introduction to his book “Pictures,” published in 2003, Mr. Bridges wrote about his favorite camera:

The Widelux is a fickle mistress; its viewfinder isn’t accurate, and there’s no manual focus, so it has an arbitrariness to it, a capricious quality. I like that. It’s something I aspire to in all my work — a lack of preciousness that makes things more human and honest, a willingness to receive what’s there in the moment and to let go of the result. Getting out of the way seems to be one of the main tasks for me as an artist.

The Widelux has a lens mounted on a moving turret. As the lens moves, a slit shutter sweeps across a wide plane of film, creating a sometimes blurry cinematic effect. It can take two and a half seconds for a normal exposure (at one-fifteenth of a second). This gives the photographer less control of the result, because when one starts taking a picture, it is hard to know exactly what will happen two seconds in the future on the far side of the frame.

“I look at the camera as sort of a missing link between motion picture photography and still photography,” Mr. Bridges said.

Photography is different from movie making because it is more of a solitary endeavor, even when one is photographing a lot of people. But in both disciplines, the product doesn’t always turn out as expected.

“You show up, you practice, you have as much technique that you can bring, and then the reality has much to give to the experience,” Mr. Bridges said. “That’s what makes it such a joy to look at the contact sheets. You see what you thought you had and you did, and what you didn’t think you had and you got, and that’s very similar to making movies.”

Mr. Bridges has acted professionally since he was a young child, when he appeared with his father, Lloyd Bridges, star of the television series “Sea Hunt,” on that show. While attending high school in Los Angeles in the late 1960s, he built a home darkroom in a bathroom and fell in love with black-and-white printing. As his acting career took off, he left photography behind — until he appeared in the 1976 remake of “King Kong,” in which he played an paleontologist who always carried a camera. That rekindled his interest, and after his wife bought him a Widelux, he brought it to the set of “Starman” in 1984.

His co-star Karen Allen suggested they make a book of photos for the cast, and for almost every film he has been in since then, Mr. Bridges has made a special, limited-edition book for the cast and crew.

His purchasable collection, “Pictures,” was published by PowerHouse Books, and he donates the proceeds — including from sales of individual prints — to the Motion Picture and Television Fund and several organizations that fight hunger in the United States.

At times, his photographs form a visually refined family album that includes his father; his brother, the actor Beau Bridges; and his fellow actors. They provide a behind-the-scenes view of movie making and sometimes resemble early silent slapstick shorts more than they do fine art films.

Mr. Bridges revels in using the Widelux’s long exposure time to take in-camera photos of his acting friends (Slide 12 and above) making comedic and tragic faces. During a single exposure, they run from one end of the frame to the other and pose goofily for the camera.

He wants to publish a book of his newer images and intends to continue photographing the sets of his movies.

So, Mr. Bridges will abide. You can take comfort in that.

 

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Above photo set from Fstoppers.

The Widelux his wife had given to him barely leaves his side, as you will notice in these rare black-and-white photographs from behind the scenes of some of his movies. Co-star cameos, interesting anecdotes, and filmmaking secrets are revealed in his galleries which have also been published into a photo book, Jeff Bridges: Pictures.

Panoramic photos by Jeff Bridges while on the sets of _Crazy Heart_, _Iron Man_, _True Grit_, _TRON: Legacy_, and The Amateurs._

“The Wide-Lux is a fickle mistress; its viewfinder isn’t accurate, and there’s no manual.”

Visit Jeff Bridges for more info. Sources include IMDB and Wikipedia.

From Lomography.

Categories
Film Editing Filmmaking Interview People

Walter Murch at CAMERIMAGE 2015

by Sven Mikulec

After the Camerimage international film festival’s special screening of The Talented Mr. Ripley, Anthony Minghella’s wonderful and haunting 1999 film with Matt Damon in the starring role, I had the unique pleasure and honor of seeing and listening to probably the greatest film editor and sound designer of the last half a century. Walter Murch, the living legend of the filmmaking business whose career was built on films such as Apocalypse Now, The Conversation and The Godfather trilogy, was invited to Bydgoszcz, Poland to receive the festival’s Special Award to Editor with Unique Visual Sensitivity. This is the first time I’ve ever had the chance to see him in person and, besides coming off as a very nice and humble human being, to listen to him talk about filmmaking, editing and the history of film was incredibly inspiring and satisfying.

Sitting at a small table on stage, with a glass of water at his side, Walter Murch engaged the audience and the crowded theater—mind you, many of the audience are filmmakers themselves—bombarded him with questions, seeking his advice and wanting to soak up as much wisdom as possible. Murch briefly discussed his relationship with Minghella, calling him an extremely collaborative director who wanted and accepted input from his crew (but “still had strong vision and ideas”), recalling how they met and how Minghella explained to him that, when he found a perfect T-shirt, he’d buy hundreds of them, never to have to set out on the risky task of finding new clothes. The message was clear—if Murch proved to be a capable editor, Minghella would want to work with him for the rest of his life. They did three films together (The English Patient, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Cold Mountain), and would definitely collaborate again had it not been for the director’s tragic death in 2008.

One of the most interesting parts of the conversation was when Murch explained one the things that inevitably changed with the rise of digital technology and its use in filmmaking. Back in the good old days, after a hard day’s work on set, the crew would gather and watch the ‘dailies,’ the material they filmed that specific day. With minds clear and concentrated on the film, they would immerse in their footage and have discussions on the material. Dailies became a part of history, as there’s no need for them when the crew can monitor what’s being filmed on set simultaneously on their screens. Since during filming people have tons of things on their mind and can hardly relax in front of the screen, Murch believes dailies should be brought back into practice, as they proved very useful in the past.


Walter Murch mixing Apocalypse Now in 1979

On the unsurprising question of what you need to have to be a good editor, Murch said you needed to be ready to spend 16 hours a day in a small, stuffy room with no windows, being repeated the same things over and over again like torture. Furthermore, a good editor has to have a good sense of rhythm because, after all, editing is basically choreographing a line of images. The other important thing is to be able to anticipate the audience’s reaction. According to Murch, the editor is the only representative of the audience in a film crew: his job is to predict how the viewer will respond to the movie, and to do so, he has to place himself in their shoes. Therefore, Murch tends to avoid seeing any part of filming, he visits the set only if really necessary, believing too much information would prove to be a burden, as it will distance him from the position of the viewer, who will see the film without any knowledge of the size of the set or the sort of sandwiches served in breaks. The editor, Murch continues, is one of the few people on set with great effect on the film who can completely isolate himself if he wants to.

What I did not know was that Murch had some influence on the script for The Talented Mr. Ripley. As he was sent the screenplay six months prior to filming, he made a couple of suggestions regarding the way the film should open and how it should end, and Minghella listened. But it’s not strange, Murch says, that editors get the screenplay months, or even a year, in advance: it’s actually common practice nowadays.

Needless to say, I left the theater impressed like a school boy, as I should be in the presence of a professional of such caliber. This made me a little more nervous during our interview, but it turned out there was no need whatsoever to feel uncomfortable. That’s who Murch is—an editing genius capable of making you feel as if he’s your friend from elementary school.


Fellow USC alums Walter Murch and George Lucas

In an interesting interview you recently gave to Indiewire, you said that films are called motion pictures, but that they could be easily called emotion pictures since the point of every film should be to cause an emotional response in the audience. Do you think this should be top priority in any film?
Yes, with the proviso that it should be the correct emotion. Films are very good at stirring up emotion but you have to be careful about which emotion you’re stirring up. So in a sense the filmmakers, from the directors to anybody else, have to really say—what emotion are we going for here and why are we going for it? And how does that emotion relate to what we had in the previous and will have in the following scene? And can we also track not only the emotion but the logic of everything that’s happening, basically is the story understandable? So this dance between intellect and emotion, which is kind of basic to what human beings are, is something that we have to be very careful about. In a film, for instance, you could stage a murder in a very brutal way which would stir up emotions in the audience, but is that going to confuse things later on in the story?

You also talked about over-intentionality in movies, how it’s easy for the audience to feel manipulated into feeling something if things are edited in a certain way. How difficult is it for you not to cross that border, to cause an organic feeling in a viewer rather than a manipulated one?
It’s very difficult. Because films are evolving under our fingers, so to speak. And we want to communicate certain things and we’re anxious that the audience understands what we’re trying to say. And so many things are uncertain in a making of a film that you can sometimes hold on to a scene as being important, but you can learn later that, in fact, by removing that scene in a strange, sometimes mystifying way the whole film relaxes, and the audience gets everything you’re saying even without this very definite moment. I remember many years ago working on a film with Fred Zinnemann called Julia. These arrows began to point at one scene in particular at the beginning of the film. Maybe we should lose this scene, because again, there was this over-intentionality to it. And so we, meaning Fred and I, said let’s take it out. So I was undoing the splices, back in the day when we made physical splices, and he observed, you know, when I read the script of this project, when I read this scene, I knew that I should do this film. In other words, the very scene he connected with was the scene we are now taking out. So I asked myself, am I removing the heart of the movie? Or am I removing the umbilical cord of the movie? This scene was important to connect Fred with the film, but let’s say, once the nutrients have flowed into the whole film, not only now can you remove the umbilical cord, you have to remove it. We walk around with the belly button, but not with the umbilical cord. So there are scenes like that that deliver their message very particularly, but you should be suspicious of those very scenes and wonder if this film can ride the bike without these training wheels.

A lot of big American movies these days treat the viewers as if they are incapable of connecting the dots, explaining far too much in the process. Do you see that trend in American cinema today?
Yeah, I think so. I think that’s partly down to everything we’ve just been talking about. It’s also that, in quotes, American cinema is also global cinema, in that American cinema is more than Chinese cinema, more than Indian cinema, more than European cinema. It’s the one cinema that goes all the way around the world so it has to be understandable by the Chinese, Africans, South-Americans, Europeans. Inevitably, there is a coarsening of the message there because of trying to adapt to all these different sensibilities and different ways of thinking on the different continents of the globe. But very often it’s simply lazy filmmaking. It’s hard to make it the other way because of the uncertainty of it all, because it’s risky. I find it much more interesting to make things this way precisely because it does involve the audience in the film. And really the last creative act of any film is viewing by the audience. The audience are really the ones who are creating the film, it doesn’t really exist on the screen, it exists in a kind of penumbra between the audience and the screen, the interaction of those two things. And exactly what you’re saying allows that interaction to take place. Otherwise, the audience is just blasted by the things coming from the screen, and they just have to sit there and take it.

Since Return to Oz wasn’t a critical or commercial success, the film practically blocked your potential directorial path. But it must be nice to see what happened to the film in the decades that followed. How do you feel about the project now?
I’m very happy that it has this afterlife. The film was made in the early 1980s, really at the dawn of home cinema. VHS had just come in at that point, I think. So I made it not knowing everything that was going to happen in the next thirty years with DVDs, Blu-rays, streaming and all of these other things that allowed people to see the film in a variety of different circumstances. On the other hand, it has to be good enough for the people to want to see it. So I’m very pleased to see it has this afterlife to it. Ironically, one of the things that happened is that the studio, Disney, at the time of the release of the film had changed management, and the new management really had no interest in Return to Oz at all, really. It was kind of abandoned, but that meant ironically that I had more control over it because if they hadn’t abandoned it, they would have been far more aggressive with me, trying to bend it this way or that, kind of like what happened with Orson Welles on The Touch of Evil. The finished film is as much as any film pretty much as I wanted to make it.

But you said you had some projects you wanted to make, but you were force to abandon it. You stated one of the movies you wanted to make was about Nikola Tesla. Why him?
I’m just fascinated with him as a character. I discovered him in the process of doing research for Return to Oz because the inspiration for the Emerald City, this fantastic place, was the Columbia World’s Fair in Chicago in 1893. And that was the fair that Tesla appeared at, and he was the one that electrified the fairs. This was the first World’s Fair to be electrified with Tesla’s alternating current, and he was at the fair giving demonstrations. So he was arguably the living wizard of that festival, and he was called The Wizard. So I think L. Frank Baum, the author, who lived in Chicago, went to the fair and saw Tesla and Tesla was the wizard. But the more I learned about Tesla and his story, the more fascinated I became. I wanted to do a kind of Mozart-Salieri story on the tension between Tesla and Edison, who were two very, very different personalities, both competing in the same territory.

This story might have made for a great film.
Yeah.

You’ve worked with a lot of great filmmakers in your career. Which collaboration holds a special place in your heart?
It has to be Francis Coppola because the first feature film I’ve worked on was his film, The Rain People in 1969. And I worked with him in 2009 on Tetro, the last film. Which is… how many? Four decades of working together? And on some remarkable films. There’s a gap between Apocalypse Now and Apocalypse Now Redux. But he and I share many sensibilities and he gives a great deal of control to the people who work with him. Working with Francis, I was astonished how much control he gave. We was, like, just go and do something.

A lot of trust.
Yes, a lot of trust, but the surprising thing about trust is, if you’re given all of this trust, you repay it, you know how much he has given you and so you are anxious to fulfill and more the trust he has given you. And that works in opposite way with directors who are always controlling everything, did you do this, I want this, I want that… At a certain point you say, OK, let’s all do what you want. But this other way of working, the Francis way, is a wonderful way of working.

When we compare what editing used to be to editing today, with the development of technology and the trend that movies resemble music videos, what would you say about contemporary, modern editing?
There is a shift. On the other hand, also if you look at the decades, the fastest editing ever in a motion picture was Man with a Movie Camera, Dziga Vertov’s film from 1929. Well, not the whole film, but there’s a section of the film that’s so rapidly cut that you just kind of had to stand back the way you look at fireworks. We, meaning in the larger sense, are investigating the borderline between effect and comprehensibility. And it’s clear that, to achieve a certain effect, this kind of fireworks in editing—you can do that, but you lose comprehensibility. Things are happening on the screen and maybe you’ll capture a thing here or there. For briefs periods of time this is fine in any film. But as a general principle, it’s something to be wary of. Without question, music videos and commercials and even videos you see in clothing stores on video-screens, have all affected the way we see edited images, and they’ve worked their way into the theaters. And we’re looking at films on very different mediums, on iPhones or 20-meter screens in a movie palace, or on virtual reality goggles. So all of those are very different formats, and yet at the moment we have to edit as if they are all the same. This creates dissonances with the rate of cutting.

For example, the videos on screens in clothing stores. They are rapidly cut with lots of moving, so as to make you look at them. So you’re in a store that’s mostly static, people moving fairly slowly, and yet over here there’s a screen going like this (waves his hand frantically), forcing you to look at it. Taking that sensibility though and transposing it into a movie palace, where that’s the only thing we’re looking at and the screen is sixty feet wide, can create undesirable side effects, people get sick looking at it. In the long term, we’ll figure all this out, and it does change from decade to decade. Dialogue, for instance, in the 1930s and 1940s was said much quicker than it is today. The cutting was slower, but people talked much faster, quick, quick, quick. His Girl Friday, for instance. Films just don’t sound like that today. That’s the dialogue equivalent to quick cutting. You can’t see that today. The closest thing would probably be The Social Network, those scenes very quickly paced in terms of dialogue.

The experience of watching feature motion pictures in theaters is barely one hundred years old. Birth of a Nation came out in 1915, and it’s 2015. And I’ve been working in films for half that time. (laughs) We’re still learning how to do this, and adapting to different circumstances, so it’s natural for the pendulum to swing far in one direction, and then far in the opposite direction. Inarritu’s film last year had no edits in it, at all, there were technically concealed edits in there, but the experience of watching it was that there were no cuts whatsoever.


Francis Ford Coppola and editor/re-recording mixer Walter Murch (back) in the Philippines during the shoot of Apocalypse Now in March 1977. Photo by Richard Beggs. Courtesy of Walter Murch

Would you say that The Apocalypse Now was the most troublesome project you ever worked on?
It was troubled, but in a good way. Meaning, it’s a very contentious subject matter, especially at that time. And we were investigating all the possible ways to tell this story. It was turbulent and maybe troublesome, but in a good, creative way. In any film you’re working on, there’s a great deal of uncertainty. Can we do this, is this going to work, do we have time to do this… Everyone is wondering how it is going to work. But it was certainly the longest postproduction of any film I worked on, I was on it for two years, Richie Marx was on it even a year longer. It was a long period and you have to also gage your own energy level and focus on something that lasts that long. That was another kind of an invisible challenge for all of us involved.

You mean coming back to ordinary life?
Sure, that’s an occupational hazard of any film, it completely occupies a great deal of real estate in your brain as you’re working on it, and then suddenly it’s over and all of that real estate is available, empty, and now you have to re-program your brain to get to normal. It’s the equivalent, I think, to a kind of sea sickness. You know you’re finished objectively, but you’re body is still working on something, but there’s nothing to work on. The collision between those two things, what you objectively know and what you feel… it usually takes from two or three weeks to two or three months for these things to come back in alignment.

How long a pause did you have to take after Apocalypse Now?
After that, I started writing a screenplay, one of the projects I was going to direct. So… six months. But at the end of those six months I started writing, which is different than making films, a different rhythm. So after Apocalypse, the next thing I did was Return to Oz. We began preproduction in 1983, so it was almost four years since Apocalypse. So, first I wrote an unproduced screenplay, then Return to Oz.

What was the screenplay about?
It was about an archaeologist in Egypt, a kind of a ghost story, but more along the lines of what you were talking about earlier, one that was ambiguous. There were not a lot of special effects in it, it was about a personality change. Was that down to an accident that happened, or did something spiritual happen to this person? But it ended up in a drawer somewhere.

Mr. Murch, thanks for your time. It was a pleasure.
Thank you.


Sound montage associate Mark Berger, left, Francis Ford Coppola and sound montage/re-recording mixer Walter Murch mixing The Godfather II in October 1974. Photo courtesy of Walter Murch

From Cinephilia & Beyond

I’ve seen Return to Oz and the audience expectations of the Disney name and the original MGM film were much different than what Murch did. It is a gloomy cult film, but not bad.

Here are some books about Walter Murch and Editing that I recommend.

Categories
Film Sound Technology

Synthesizers in the Movies

Hans Zimmer and his Moog Modular

Composer Neil Brand celebrates the art of cinema music, Neil explores how changing technology has taken soundtracks in bold new directions and even altered our very idea of how a film should sound.

In the last of three programmes in which composer Neil Brand celebrates the art of cinema music, Neil explores how changing technology has taken soundtracks in bold new directions and even altered our very idea of how a film should sound.

Neil tells the story of how the 1956 science fiction film Forbidden Planet ended up with a groundbreaking electronic score that blurred the line between music and sound effects, and explains why Alfred Hitchcock’s the Birds has one of the most effective soundtracks of any of his films – despite having no music. He shows how electronic music crossed over from pop into cinema with Midnight Express and Chariots of Fire, while films like Apocalypse Now pioneered the concept of sound design – that sound effects could be used for storytelling and emotional impact.

Neil tracks down some of the key composers behind these innovations to talk about their work, such as Vangelis (Chariots of Fire, Blade Runner), Carter Burwell (Twilight, No Country for Old Men) and Clint Mansell (Requiem for a Dream, Moon).

Sound of Cinema: The Music that Made the Movies

Categories
Documentary Film Editing Technology

The EditDroid: Rise and Fall – Trailer VOD

editdroid-brochure-1984-clean-300dpi-todd-schannuth-2012-page-2-and-3-of-4

A very good documentary about the EditDroid. When I worked at Disney Imagineering, we were using laser disc players in a lot of places, including EPCOT starting the 1980s. We were also innovators and early adoptors of nonlinear editing and video to film matchback.

From the film’s website;

The EditDroid was (one of) the first nonlinear electronic editing system and used several laser disc players loaded with the raw footage of a film. The simple computer interface was unique for its time. After a short period of success the EditDroid disappeared from the film scene and George Lucas sold the machine’s patents to a small company called Avid.

 

I highly recommend the book Droidmaker: George Lucas And the Digital Revolution. It is also available as an iBook and on Kindle.

This book ventures in territory never explored, as Rubin-a former member of the Lucasfilm Computer Division-reconstructs the events in Hollywood, in Silicon Valley, and at Lucas’ private realm in Marin County, California, to track the genesis of modern media. With unprecedented access to images and key participants from Lucasfilm, Pixar and Zoetrope-from George Lucas and the executives who ran his company, to the small team of scientists who made the technological leaps, Rubin weaves a tale of friendships, a love of movies, and the incessant forward movement of technology. This is a compelling story that takes the reader into an era of technological innovation almost completely unknown

Categories
Documentary People

Milius, a documentary about John Milius

I watched Milius on Netflix and it is great, I recommend it!

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John Milius is the writer of some of the most iconic films of the 70s and 80s.

John Milius interviewed by Francis Ford Coppola

One of my favorite Milius films is Dillinger.

Dillinger

Starring Warren Oates, who is very good in it, Michelle Phillips of Mamas and the Papas fame, Steve KanalyHarry Dean StantonRichard Dreyfuss as well as Ben Johnson and Cloris Leachman who were also in The Last Picture Show. It is better, I think, than the recent Public Enemies.