On Set: First Time on Set. First Time an Extra.

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Photo by Eli Cooper on Unsplash

Which moviemaking enthusiast hasn’t dreamed of one day being on a film set, and partaking in the moviemaking process? This dream of mine came true for the first time this spring.

It all started with me seeing an ad in an independent filmmaking Facebook group in my area. Someone was looking for extras for a student short film. No pay, but experience and fun! I was eager to help them out, for all I wanted was to be on a film set and have an insider’s look behind the scenes, so that I can get a clearer picture of what it would be like if I were to be a director or otherwise involved in the moviemaking process.

I private messaged the guy who had posted the ad in the group – he was the production assistant. He sent me a short pdf file that explained the movie’s general plot and introduced the directors – but nothing more. At first I thought I might not get the job, but just a few days before the shooting date, he told me they’d be glad to see me join, someone just recently left the show. Great for me!

A day before the shooting date, I shortly discussed with him logistics and how I should arrive on set – what I should do with my hair and makeup. He said, just don’t do anything crazy! So I figured, I’ll just go with braided hair and some natural looking makeup. Initially I had been concerned about the fact that half of my hair was blonde (recent dye job… not the best one :P), but he said that was no problem. So that was all I did for my preparation as an extra who is supposed to be part of a birthday party in a semi-formal restaurant.

As you may know, moviemaking starts early in the day. For me as an extra, my “casting call” was around 9:15 am or so. It’s best if you arrive earlier – gives off a good impression. So I was there at exactly 9 am. If I lived closer to the set/restaurant, I likely would have been there half an hour sooner at least.

I introduced myself with a smile and handshake to the people that sat at a table right in front of the restaurant. Later I’d recognize them as the director, directing assistant, producer, and makeup artist. They were all quite friendly and happy to see me.

To cut a long story short, I have not felt as inspired in a long time. Even though the shooting took several hours, there were some lulls during breaks (which could be overcome by engaging with the rest of the cast and crew), and I did not get paid a penny, I loved being on set. I could have stayed on it forever. Despite being an introvert, I did not feel drained at all.

The only thing I might have changed was my part in the film. While I was trying to act, I paid close attention to how the director was dealing with the cast and crew. This was a way to get a close glimpse on the filming process behind the scenes. There is no other short cut to seeing how a director operates on set – and that had been my main objective in joining this for free all along. I was curious about everyone’s part in the process. I talked with the makeup artists, the other actors, the cinematography assistants, and the director herself. It was a good way to make connections with other people who love film. 

A few weeks later I joined another film set for the same objectives as above, but this time as a makeup assistant. I could do my job fine, but it stressed me out much more. I still loved the process of shooting and being on set, but the part of the makeup artist is really not my thing. I can do it, but not without extra stress and exertion, which got exacerbated by one of the actor’s constant negative preoccupation with her looks. Thankfully I was only the assistant.

All in all, I would recommend joining a film set for free to anyone who is a newbie to the business and would like to gain more special experience, know-how, and connections with other film people. Additionally, it leaves a good impression on your resumé. It helped me with landing a cool video-making internship. 🙂

What have been your first experiences on set?

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Drehbuch Tips: Masterplots

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“Der Plot is diffundierend; er dringt in jedes Atom der Geschichte ein. (…) Er ist eine Kraft, die jede Seite, jeden Absatz, jedes Wort durchdringt. (…) Diese Kraft bringt Bilder, Ereignisse und Menschen in Übereinstimmung.” – Ronald B. Tobias, übers. v. Petra Schreyer

Ohne einen guten Plot mangelt es einer Geschichte an Energie und Halt. Drehbuchautoren sollten sich nicht nur auf die Dialoge oder Grundideen konzentrieren, sondern auch darauf, wie diese am besten vermittelt und verpackt werden können – und dafür ist der Plot zuständig.

In dem empfehlenswerten Buch “20 Masterplots: Die Basis des Story-Building in Roman und Film” geht Ronald B. Tobias auf die Hauptplots ein, die seiner Meinung nach den Kern der meisten Filme und Bücher ausmachen.


Tobias kategorisiert die Plots in innere und äußere Plots.

  • Äußere Plots sind physisch/handlungsorientiert. Es geht hauptsächlich um die äußere Handlung; das “Was”.
  • Innere Plots sind entweder hauptsächlich figurenorientiert und/oder geistig. Entweder geht es hauptsächlich um das Innenleben der Figur(en), welche am Ende der Geschichte verändert ist/sind; das “Wer”. Und/Oder es geht um Ideen; das “Warum” oder “Wie”.

Nach Tobias sind viele Filme und Bücher eine Mischform der beiden Plot-Typen, aber generell überwiegt ein Typ den anderen und bildet die “treibende Kraft”. So kann ein Abenteuer-Film sich bis zu einem gewissen Grad mit Werten, Ideen, und Ähnlichem beschäftigen, und ein tiefgängiger Film kann einige Action-Elemente aufweisen.

Die Entscheidung für einen inneren oder äußeren/physischen Plot hänge von dem “Hauptantrieb” der Geschichte ab: Soll die treibende Kraft in der Handlung liegen, so sei ein äußerer Plot vorzuziehen. Ist die Handlung eher unwichtig oder zweitrangig, solle der Plot ein innerer sein.

Mir scheint es, als ob Low-Budget Filme häufiger einen inneren Plot haben; wenn das Hauptaugenmerk auf den Figuren liegt, sind meist weniger Locations, eindrucksvolle Special Effects, schnelle Kamerafahrten u.Ä. vonnöten. Doch ist es sicherlich möglich, auch einen physischen Low-Budget Film zu drehen; es könnte nur mehr technisches Geschick und Einfallsreichtum erfordern.

  • Die folgenden Plots sind physisch(er): (Die Suche), Das Abenteuer, Die Verfolgung, Die Rettung, Die Flucht, Die Rache
  • Dieser Plot ist geistig: Das Rätsel
  • Die folgenden Plots sind figurenorientiert: (Die Suche), (Die Rettung), (Die Rache), (Die Rivalität), (Der Underdog), Die Versuchung, Die Metamorphose, Die Verwandlung, Die Reifung, Die Liebe, Die verbotene Liebe, Das Opfer, Die Entdeckung, Die Grenzerfahrung, Der Aufstieg, Der Fall

Hier ist die Übersicht, welche ins Detail geht. (In English)


Was haltet ihr von diesen Masterplots? Findet ihr sie hilfreich? Und welche Plots würdet ihr ergänzen?

Meaning of: The Space Opera Boom in the 2010s

With the revival of Star Wars, the surge of other science fiction-related movies like Guardian of the Galaxy, the remake of Ghost In The Shell, and particularly the sequel (?) of Blade Runner, one finds themselves amidst androids, neon lights, rainy cities, aliens, stars; and asks themselves: What does this say about ourselves?

Why is the science fiction genre, especially the Space Opera, so popular at the moment? What does it reflect in terms of our collective (un)conscious?

Technological advancements have led us there, would be one simple answer.

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Indeed, technology has seeped into our everyday lives slowly and then all at once. Smartphones are ubiquitous in our cultural awareness; they are an integral part of our daily lives. The Internet is physically intangible but nevertheless influential and wide-reaching…

Several aspects of our lives have become divorced from the physical and/or human element in the recent years and decade(s).

In that regard, it is not surprising that science fiction related media has seen a surge in popularity. They are simply exaggerating and endowing the everyday experience with futuristic foresight – or magic.

Magical Space Operas are phenomenally and impressively over-sized; in terms of scale, technological advancement, drama; with a greater variety in terms of organisms (e.g aliens, robots), buildings, weapons, …  and the laws of nature are allowing of feats close to magic.

Perhaps we simply yearn for more magic in our lives; a magic that is submersed in the era and environment of technological advancement. 

There is another intriguing question that science fiction movies and books keep bringing up (when they are not focused on overwhelming the audience with action)…

The Science fiction genre (minus possibly certain “shallow” Space Opera movies) does not only appeal to our senses and magic-thirsty minds, but the question of whether the state of our culture is acceptable or not; but even more poignantly, what it means to be human.

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When we are faced with a being that is both fleshless and humanoid, physically dead and mentally alive, we enter a philosophical conundrum.

Is everything that looks human, human? Is humanity something more internal? Can humanity be superficially created? And if humanity is something deeply internal, is it possible for a robot to be more human in mindset than a human who is internally lifeless?

Everyday, we are faced with the choice to either do what we consider humane or inhumane, and a robot who is not biologically human may not feel inclined towards humane behaviour by their own volition – and this can raise questions and anxiety levels…

The dream (or nightmare) of robots (or similar) is nothing new: It has pervaded human consciousness for a long time – for a good reason.

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The Golem, the android, the cyborg; the creation of a human that is not truly human, not borne out of human physicality, but rather abstractly, through flesh-less means; with the help of cold, stainless metal tools or magic; in a petri dish or in a ritual; etc…

We are looking for either finding or creating something greater than ourselves which could last for eternity.

This seems to be one universal truth.

Another truth is, as mentioned above, related to wanting to dream and lose oneself in the entertainment of the mind…

But like most trends, the one of the Space Opera will eventually come to a momentary end and be replaced with another, just to (likely) return again at a latter time.

This is exactly what happened to the vampire sujet for instance: Stephenie Meyer re-ignited the fire with the Twilight series, so that for a while our cultural awareness was heavily populated by vampiric individuals who are also concerned with the question of what it means to be human in a world that keeps changing.

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Vampire Robot by lacrimode

It is not a coincidence that robots have replaced vampires: Both are “cold-blooded”, humanoid in appearance, undead, but filled with a desire for humanity – though for the robots, this desire is (most times) merely artificially created, whereas for the vampires it is a longing that has remained from their former human days – and their nature is inherently more animalistic…

It will be interesting to see which trend will replace the Space Opera one; though one could argue it is merely one trend besides several others, like the superheroes trend; and that all trends are in a constant flux, going up and down in popularity like the waves of the sea…

Either way: For now, let’s enjoy the space ride for as long as it lasts (this time). 😉

Screenwriter’s Journey: Speed Writing #1

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There’s a practice called “Speed Writing”, according to which you write as much as you can in a short amount of time; ideally getting into a “flow” of consciousness and turning off the voice of your internal critic in the process.

I discovered this technique in Charles Harris’ “Complete Screenwriting Course” ebook, which I wrote more about here.

Harris gives the reader a Speed Writing exercise, where they have to write as much as they can within 10 minutes, non-stop.

As already mentioned, the goal here is to get yourself to write – which is the cornerstone of every writer’s existence.

Sometimes, a writer may feel too stifled or uninspired to bring anything to paper (or equivalent). This is typically caused by his or her internal critic, who is censoring you before you can even spell out one word or thought.

By engaging in Speed Writing, you are forced to write whatever comes to mind; and your internal critic is too overwhelmed by the flow of your writing to be able to get a word in.

Furthermore, it is possible to break through a writer’s block while you are doing the speed writing exercise.

Now you may think: “This is all good and well, but what should I write about? And how?”

You can write about anything that comes to your mind; ideally a scene, or some dialogue, or a character description, but it could truly be anything that intrigues you.

In terms of the best medium, I’d recommend writing on your computer or laptop, because that way you can write as much as possible in a short amount of time. Don’t forget to save it!

After that, you wonder: “Okay, but do you even Speed Write regularly?”

Personally, I find the Speed Writing exercise the most useful when I suffer from a lack of inspiration or writer’s block or simply cannot get myself to write anything. 

Other than that, I don’t find it necessary to do Speed Writing regularly; unless you really enjoy the practice, and it increases your desire to keep writing on whatever project you are already working on.

At last, following is what I wrote the first time I ever did the Speed Writing Exercise, and before I ever worked on my first script (on 19th August, 2017):

Why oh why is there a time when music stops and mouths go AH and the redness of the lights encompasses the shadows. There is a glim hope of something else, of knowing what it means to be alive. Humans are sad, sorrowed, with dull skin and wrinkles of solitude around their lips. There is a dim feeling of hopelessness. The light flickers. A woman in a figure hugging dress, Marilyn Monroe-esque, leans to the side. Her dazzling blonde curls swooping across her cheek. The alluring smile of rose red, shimmering lips. A gasp. A sigh. The scene changes. People exchange numbers, or vows, or future desolations. A dragon screams in pain. Lorelei sinks down to her feet, smelling gun powder and death in the air. Her pale skin is illuminating the room, or rather the open field. Grass everywhere, a whisk of glory. A tall, statuesque man with a broad chest and firm shoulders looks down from his high horse, whose body is pulsating with life, sweat drops are dropping downs its flanks. The man swings himself off the horse, and falls down into a pool of despair. The water is enclosing around Henry. It’s a pool side. A model laughs, her pink lips cooled off by the coldness of the water. Another scenery change, the sky turns dark and blue, with white stars twinkling beneath, or beside, or in-between the clouds. Soft and softer. Ryan mutters to himself, the words do not mean anything. Steffen wants to know how to change his life, how to go to the next step, he’s doubting himself, just as much as so many people who want to accomplish something great in this world. How could I change? Myself and others, and the world? If all my past has been the same monotony; or not even monotony, but just lacking success. People have told me I couldn’t accomplish anything great, that I was a failure, that the rejections mean that I must be rejected from the Great Table of those who control, or rather triumph over the others, over the world, who have society’s destiny in their grasp. Donald Trump laughs, shortly, cowardly? Or rather curtly. One sec, the sound is over. Flashing of cameras. iPhones are being held out in front of the faces of the masses, everyone is a walking iPhone, not a human. Where are the feelings? There is only fear in everyone’s heart, there is no deeper reverence, no deeper appeal to humanity. What is humanity anyways? It looks as if it was a quivering mass of fear. Where is love, or joy, or bliss, or community, or honor, or dignity? Everyone follows the one who seems the most fearless. People are drawn to the extreme of their own disposition, in one way or another. The Marilyn Monroe, drawn to both beauty and ugliness, her heart steeped in shadows and loneliness, dying in beauty with a broken heart rendered ugly due to its scars. Michael Jackson, a similar if not completely different fate. Elvis Presley. Marlon Brando, who did die late for his disposition, but his disposition created a thick impenetrable wall between him and others. What for? If not for self protection? Out of self-directed fear? Being physically bigger can give one a feeling of omnipotence, or rather an illusion of such. But inside, it is a scared mouse, eating more and more cheese, without having a conscious mind of its own. Well, perhaps it does have a conscious mind, but it is eaten up by fear and primitive concerns. And so is everyone following primitiveness, and indulging in their primitive nature, without engaging enough in their prefrontal cortex and making the most of what it means to be human.

Have you ever tried Speed Writing before? How did it go?

If not, will you give it a try? If you do, please tell me how it went in the comments. 🙂

Screenwriter’s Journey: Books and Websites

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If you are new to anything, you’ll have to learn from those who’ve successfully walked the path before you. As a newbie to screenwriting (apart from that one dabble in it in High School, where I wrote a “one shot” for class), I was pressed to find resources and guidelines that would introduce me to the craft of screenwriting, and teach me how to do it properly – in a short amount of time.

Typically, the first thing we do in this day and age is using Google. So like my fellow Modern Westerners I went ahead and googled screenwriting, which was followed up by a move towards Amazon.

I purchased Charles Harris’ “Complete Screenwriting Course” ebook, which I can highly recommend. This book is certainly all you need, in my estimation. It’s affordable and very well-structured, instructive, and useful.

Harris’ book guides you through the process of writing your (first) script, from start to finish, including how to develop an idea, and eventually pitch your script and get involved in the business.

Browsing through my own personal library at home, I discovered I had already bought a book on Screenwriting a few years ago; the German version of one of Syd Field‘s screenwriting books, called “Das Drehbuch“.

Field’s book is more personal in nature, and less structured. It reads more like a personal story on how he got into screenwriting, how he assesses the value of scripts, and how his students did in his classes.

If you don’t have much time (like I did), you’d be better off focusing on something more instructional and to-the-point like Harris‘ ebook.

Personally, I read both books alongside each other to gain the most value and knowledge in a short amount of time; relatively short. Within one month or two, I felt mostly confident in my ability to set up and write a script, thanks to the books above and the following websites/articles:

http://www.scriptmag.com/features/meet-reader-writing-first-screenplay

http://www.scriptmag.com/features/balls-of-steel-dear-new-screenwriter

http://www.scriptreaderpro.com/writing-style-mistakes/

At last, some of my friends recommended Robert McKee’s “Story” to me, which I have heard some audio excerpt from before. I imagine it to be quite interesting, and I might check it out more closely another time.

With the help of the above resources, I managed to finish my first short movie script within one to two months, starting from absolute scratch.

I hope this article was helpful to you, and I’d like to hear which resources you’ve found valuable on your way to writing your own (first) scripts. 🙂

 

More Like This: Character Design #1

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This could be a good character design for a science-fiction flick in the not-so-far-away-future, for a protagonist who has a bit of an edge, is semi-rebellious (see the hair), but also likes to blend in to some extent (see the monochromatic, simple clothing).

I could see him playing a part in the movie of this image.

He reminds me of a slightly more futuristic version of Guy Pearce in Memento.

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And a less exaggerated, less overly stylized version of Iwan Rheon in S.U.M 1. 

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There can be a fine line between making a character look original and memorable, and making them look overly stylized and more like a caricature…