Archive for May 2010

Production versus Direction: What’s the difference? by Dave

May 30, 2010

For a novice attempting to learn the ropes of the film industry, the difference between direction and production is often difficult to establish. Of course, this is not assisted by the commonplace title of “Director and Producer”- erroneously brandished- and I might add, probably indicative of the characteristic “control-freak”- by the likes of Stephen Spielberg, James Cameron, and The Hurt Locker’s Kathryth Bigelow. Will someone help us out here?!

"Stephen Spielberg"

Spielberg

If you run down the list of the Academy Awards you will find the award for “Directing” and countless other technical areas, but nothing for “Production” so to speak. Why? This skill, or roll, is captured in the “Best Film” category. In fact, this gives us a hint into the nature of production itself.

I’m tempted to bring in a definition of “production” from a reputable source like Oxford or Macquarie, but how about we snap one off from the realms of the common man, hey? Production. Production line. Lots of pieces combining into a finished product. Successful product. Purple monkey dishwasher! Okay, this was bound to get out of control eventually. But you grasp my vibe right?

What is Production?

Largely, to produce means to organize and create. In the minds of a cynical few, production simply conjures up an image of dollar signs- pertaining to the fundraising side of the business. This, whilst being a significant and vital part of the role, is only a small aspect of it. The role is akin to consolidation: taking raw materials, be they actors, writers, techincal specialists, or marketing and distribution variables; and combining them into a palatable dish- a sumptuous visual smorgasboard.

"Juggling"

Production is like Juggling

It would be ignorant to suggest this does not involve financial abilities. Let’s face it, the film industry is not cheap. The cliché that “you have to spend money to make money” holds true. Indeed, it is also worth nothing that the film industry is a very speculative industy. Finance is hard to come by, but a producer with a good knowledge of the market can undoubtedly benefit if he or she ‘wins’ at the box office.

In business terms the producer is most like the Chief Executive Officer. The CEO hires personnel, supervises, exercises organisational control, and manages the project from birth to creation. For those planning technicians out there, if we viewed a Gant chart, the producer would have the longest span in the chronology. Here is a link for those uniformed laypeople out there: SHOW ME THE GANTT!.

From a practical standpoint, the producer is more like the business expert, whereas the director is perhaps synonymous with a technician.

What is Direction?

If the producer is the CEO, then the director is the Chief Operating Officer- COO. Whilst there is a significant overlap in the relative responsibilities, it is easy to suggest that the director performs the day-to-day activities of the film production.

I will step out a limb to assert that the director is normally the more creative and insightful of the two- yet this argument is nullified if the same person occupies both offices, obvioulsy. The director will work closely with the writer as the two converge their visions for the one unique outcome.

"Film Direction: a creative role"

Film Direction

Often, directors have background in cinematography and camera work. More recently, actors- usually those with egomania- have taken up the role of director. I struggle not to mention Sylvestor Stallone, yet on second thought maybe he is not the most appropriate example due to his beaming desire to control every possible aspect in the film development- from acting to directing, to singing the backing track. A better example would be Tom Cruise or Mel Gibson.

A director oversees the cast and adopts the role of storyteller. Actors often discuss how “hands-on” a director is. Some are known for their ultimate miro-management and fine-toothed-comb approach but others adopt a more laissez faire style.

I was recently in discussion with Rose from artdepartMENTAL, she summed up direction quite well (in written and visual form):

“If the different departments are seeing a script differently it’s usually the directors fault. It’s their job to make sure everybody is making the same movie. What this diagram displays beautifully is that everyone wants to see things their own way through their departments eyes but in the end it is the directors job to reel everyone in.”

In deciding which role you would be best suited to, you need to ask yourself: am I more interested in getting deep into the creative and technical side of things; or, am I moreso the business man who will see the vision through from start to finish? Alternatively, perhaps you would like to stroke that egomania and just settle on doing both! Either way, enjoy.

To look further into direction, check out the World’s 40 Best Directors suggested by guardian.com.uk!

Tim Dirk also offers some criteria as to the best direction at his site. Check it out here!

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time Film Review by Sam

May 29, 2010

When preparing myself to watch the somewhat anticipated Prince of Persia, I was in the mood to be entertained. So I purchased some drumsticks with a mate, took my seat, and relaxed. For this film, I didn’t want to have to think too much about complicated plot lines and lots of character development. I needed a break from this, as it’s all I’ve been watching of late. Luckily for me, Prince of Persia was exactly that, an entertaining film, nothing more, and nothing less.
Prince of Persia Poster
Firstly, this film was very heavy on the CGI, and didn’t hold back, even when they probably should have. Was this necessarily a bad thing? Not entirely. It fitted with the style of the film, but I guess a more realistic approach could have made the film even just a little bit better. There were a couple of scenes in which I could quite clearly tell that it was CGI and not real, and this caused me to be momentarily pulled out of my viewing experience, but it was nothing too drastic or too delayed, and I whilst a quick thought concerning the authenticity of the scene would pop into my head, I was able to quickly get back to the film.

Jake Gyllenhaal in Prince of Persia

Jake Gyllenhaal in Prince of Persia

The performances were so-so. Jake Gyllenhaal was good in the titular role, but not great He managed to pull off the crazy martial arts action hero, but not so much his accent. It’s not that it was all over the place, but more so it just felt like it didn’t fit in every scene. Mind you, I was pleased to see he went for an accent a bit more left of field, rather than just doing the cliché American, tough guy accent. The rest of the cast were okay too. I don’t think the performances were meant to be Oscar worthy performances, which is why I will let it slip the one time.

Some of the scenes were a bit too corny and cliché. The delivery and placement of some dialogue was what we’ve all seen too much before, and it was a shame they couldn’t put their own unique twist on these particular scenes. None-the-less, as I mentioned before, these scenes did provide entertainment, and some comic relief, which is okay for them to do.

The story was fine, and was paced quite nicely. From the get-go I was drawn in to the action, and at no point did I feel the film dragging. For an action packed film, this is what a viewer wants.

For a film that is based off a video game, it does well for itself. Although it could have been great, and some may have even called it the next Pirates of the Caribbean. It decided to take the easy option and just go with the typical blockbuster movie formula. That’s not necessarily to say it wasn’t good or entertaining, which I’m sure you’ve gathered by now that I did indeed think this film was entertaining, but I’m just saying it the potential to kick start another franchise that not only captured the hearts of avid blockbuster fans, but even the hearts of the harshest of critics.

Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean

Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean

Regardless, I give it 3 film reels.

3FilmReels

Robin Hood 2010 Video Blog

May 26, 2010

Hope you enjoyed the premier video blog from Dave & Sam @ Filmstank.

Stay Tuned for more!

A Single Man Film Review by Sam

May 25, 2010

Well, what to say about A Single Man? Although most wouldn’t classify this film as an art-house film, in my professional opinion, plainly speaking: it is.

A Single Man Poster

Let me just say, I had a very frustrating viewing of this film. For the entire first half of the film, the speakers were playing at a level quieter to the volume I have my television set to back at home. This meant that I struggled to hear a lot of what was happening, and every time someone ate a chip or rustled a packet of confectionary, you couldn’t hear a thing. The second issue was this large humming/buzzing noise that came into the movie about a third of the way in. This meant in any scenes that were meant to be silent for effect, I heard this constant drone, and I was pulled out of my watching experience. Very frustrating!

Onwards to the review.

It’s a very different type of film, not so much in the story that it tells, but more so in the way that the story is told. By that I mean the techniques that were put in place to evoke emotion, to grasp audience members and to delve into what could be considered a strange film on many proportions.

Let me begin with the cinematography. Yes, it was good in parts, but I could only deal with it in small portions. I’m not sure if this film was filmed on film (yes I know I just used the word film three times in the space of five words), or if it was shot on digital, but either way, there was a large amount of grain in more than a few scenes. Usually, I enjoy a bit of grain, and I think that it adds a certain realistic aspect and tone – but too much can get distracting, as was the case with A Single Man.

For a directorial debut, Tom Ford did a good job, but you can tell he will only get better from here. One thing I would like to comment on was Ford’s use of the flashbacks, and how he portrayed them. This element was really all over the place. Some flashbacks were more saturated in colour, some had the same colouring as the rest of the film, and some were in black and white. I wasn’t sure what Ford’s intentions were for doing this, and it had me confused. Other than that, Ford did fine, and his direction served its purpose well.

I would like to make a comment on the editing and the way the audio was incorporated. Firstly, there were a few jump-cuts that looked intentional, but just felt out of place, which therefore came to me as a distracting feature. Additionally, there were some scenes where the audio cut back to just one sound – let me explain. So one scene in which this takes place is when Colin Firth’s character breaks down and runs through the rain to Julianne Moore’s characters’ house. During this scene, no footsteps running through the rain can be heard, no panting from Colin Firth’s character, no knock on the door and no comforting voice of Julianne Moore’s character – only the heavy rain falling down. At first I thought the cinema’s speakers were playing up again, but then I realised it was a deliberate technique the director had used, and I’m still not too sure why. Again, it was a distracting feature, and had me somewhat frustrated.

To me, the story was not that interesting, save for very few elements. It developed very slowly, and it wasn’t til the end that I felt some sort of satisfaction.

The only real element that saved this film for me was the acting of Colin Firth. Firth delivers one of the greatest performances of his career, and shows such immense emotion that it creates a great deal of sympathy within the audience. Firth proves that he is one of the greats, and he is still got a lot more in his career to come – and he garnered himself with an Academy Award nomination. The supporting cast were so-so, some were great (Julianne Moore), some were good (Matthew Goode), and some were a little on the corny side (Nicholas Hoult).

Colin Firth in A Single Man

Colin Firth delivers a great performance in A Single Man

So, to briefly wrap up, it wasn’t a film that jumped out of the screen and grabbed me, it was a little strange, and the technical elements were a little too distracting. Colin Firth made this film ‘pass’ in my opinion, and so I give it 2.5

2 and a Half Film Reels

The Road Film Review by Sam

May 17, 2010

I’ve actually recently started becoming a fan of post-apocalyptic films, such as the more recent The Book of Eli (of which I still haven’t reviewed, as I don’t know how to sum up its greatness in one review) – and so I wasn’t disappointed that I was to watch The Road. To be honest, I didn’t really know much about the film going into the cinema, I hadn’t watched the trailer, or at least not for a long time, and I hadn’t read many/if any reviews. All I knew was that it was based off a book, it was meant to be a faithful adaption, and it was a post-apocalyptic film.

The Road Poster

The technical aspects of the film were well executed, nothing outrageously good, but it served the plot extremely well, which is what they’re meant for. The cinematography was gritty, and a lot of it was hand-held which provided this realistic tone in what was an unrealistic world for the common viewer, so that was a commendable aspect.

The setting was a highlight of the film, and establishing shots showed to audiences this wide, barren and desolate land. Ironically, it was a somewhat beautiful spectacle; this empty space of land with dull and gloomy colours provided such a great backdrop for the film, and evoked an immense amount of sympathy for the characters and their hopeless situation.

Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee

Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee

The performances of this film were spot on too. I think it’s been some time since I’ve seen Viggo Mortensen on the big-screen, in fact, I’m certain the final Lord of the Rings film was the most recent encounter, but he delivered a great performance. He had me feeling empathy for his character, whilst also being disappointed in some of the actions he took – a great effort from Mortensen. Kodi Smit-McPhee in his role as ‘The Boy,’ or Viggo’s son was a good effort too. Both Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee did extremely well at portraying a father-son relationship in this broken to pieces world. Additionally, Charlize Theron did exceptionally well in her smaller role, and it was interesting to see Robert Duvall and Guy Pearce in extremely small roles, who as well, performed incredibly well. I would like to make a special mention to Michael K. Williams who was an incredible scene-stealer in his small role that he played. Without giving away too much, I will say that his performance had me totally engrossed into the scene, and he was able to evoke a great amount of emotion, even though his part was so small.

Michael K. Williams

Michael K. Williams is scene-stealing in The Road

I will make a quick mention to the fact that there isn’t a whole lot explained. I’m still deciding whether that was necessarily a bad thing, but there wasn’t a great deal of satisfaction towards the end – leaving me with questions. Whether or not I want to know the answers to those questions is another question entirely, but none-the-less, I had questions.

Whilst majority of the film had good, appropriate pacing, I felt some scenes were a little out of place in the context with what was happening in the rest of the film at that point. It wasn’t a major drawback, I felt compelled to comment on it.

An enthralling film, with all the appropriate methods used to tell a great story of a relationship between a father and his son.

4 film reels out of 5.

4 Film Reels

Precious Film Review by Sam

May 11, 2010

Let’s just say that I was fairly neutral about this film when walking into the cinema. I had heard of its critical acclaim, particularly noting the performances of all the actors, but I had also heard some poor reviews from people I know that had seen it. So I decided to go in with an open mind.

Precious Poster

Lee Daniels

Director, Lee Daniels focuses too much on cliché

For the first half of this film, the only thing running through my mind was the word – cliché. Yes, I know that sentence itself was kind of cliché, but hey, what is a guy to do? This entire portion of the film looked as if the director, Lee Daniels had gotten out a notepad, written down all the features of the Best Picture winners at the Oscars for the last decade, and included them in his film. We had cheesy model shoot montages that reminded me of a Michael Jackson music video clip, as well as the typical hand-held, close-up, zooming in and out cinematography that we see all too often these days. The editing felt way too overdone, especially the use of the jump cut, which felt too over-the-top, and unnecessary.

In addition to this, the story took some time to get into, as it developed very slowly at the beginning. It felt as if Daniels was trying too hard to inflict emotion within the audience, and forgot to put any focus onto the story or even the characters.

Now, aside from the first half of the film, I believe the makers semi-successfully achieved what they were trying to. What were they trying to achieve I hear you ask? Well, in my opinion, I believe that they were trying to open the eyes of the audience members – and confront them with a serious issue whilst evoking an incredible amount of emotion at the same time.

Mo'Nique in Precious

Mo'Nique delivers a stellar performance

The highlight of this film was, indeed the performances. Our protagonist, Clareece ‘Precious’ Jones; was played almost flawlessly by newcomer Gabourey Sidibe – who garnered herself with an Oscar nomination for her debut performance – a rare feat. She played her character well, and is convincing as a 16-year-old mother that has undergone tremendous hardships in her life. The opening scenes felt a little wooden from Sidibe, and I was fearful that I was going to struggle to watch her performance. But this was quickly corrected, and she delivered a stellar performance. The there was Mo’Nique. Well, what can I say? Even with all the hype surrounding her performance, I was still utterly impressed. She nailed the part of an abusive mother with no mercy on her child. She made me hate her character, and then made me feel some sort of sympathy for her character. If I was rating this film based on her performance, I would have given it 5 film reels, no question.

But, I’m not.

Yes, there were elements of the film that had me quite sad, depressed almost, and the latter part of the story was executed well, and had me wanting to know the outcome of each character, but had Lee Daniels avoided that first hour or so of clichés and dull story-telling, he would have had me convinced.

I give it 2.5 film reels.

2.5 Film Reels

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo Review by Sam

May 5, 2010

The title of this film made me quite sceptical when going in to watch this film. In all honesty, I thought it was going to be a marshal arts type film that dealt with a master training a young protégée to become a great fighting hero. I had heard nothing of the film, I hadn’t seen the trailer, and was only viewing the film because it was assigned by my University lecturer. Not only that, but when I heard the film ran for over 160 minutes, I became even less enthused.

Well, let me tell you that I was quite surprised. Now this isn’t to say I loved the film, but it was not what I thought it was going to be at all.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo Poster

Rather, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is a foreign film, a Swedish film to be more precise, that focuses on a murder-mystery, that has now become a cold case, and concentrates on the lives of a middle aged man, Mikael Blomkvist trying to get to the bottom of who it was that committed the crime. The film also directs its attention and a young woman, Lisbeth Salander, who has an extremely difficult life, and who is a secret hacker that joins forces with Mikael to solve the case.

This film is extremely confronting and quite graphic. The way certain scenes are portrayed are done so in an enormously realistic way, which made a lot of the scenes difficult to watch – and that’s coming from an avid lover of psychological-thrillers, in which I never have an issue with the content that’s shown on screen. In a way, this realistic content did convey a message, whether a key message or not, in an extremely effective way. But on the other hand, it left me feeling quite disturbed, and the scenes felt unnecessarily drawn out.

The script and story were extremely well thought out, as a film based on a book usually is, and the suspense was great – which I always enjoy. One thing that is contrary to what I usually say, is that the character development was too intense, and too in depth. They could have easily cut out a lot of the films running time by shortening scenes and leaving elements up to the audience to figure out, rather than showing everything as plain as can be – which I found quite irritating.

Additionally, the film had about five different endings. At one point I thought the film was complete, and as I looked at the time, I realised there was still a comfortable 45 minutes of the films duration remaining. It could have been done in a way that left the audience wanting more, and therefore it wouldn’t have surprised its audience by giving us another few endings. This was another somewhat confusing element of the film.

Other than these few elements that I found fairly disappointing, the film as an entirety was entertaining, thrilling, and had a great amount of twists and turns, of which I thoroughly enjoy in films. The cinematography was pleasing, the acting was more than satisfactory, and the sound and music, well apart from the nicely timed suspense scenes, I didn’t really notice them, which meant they served the plot well and were not distracting – always a positive.

Putting the positives, of which I only briefly spoke about, and the negatives together –

I give it three reels.

3FilmReels