How A Film Becomes Law Part 1: The Assignment

Time to get back to my roots and write a little bit about making movies!

“WHAT?!” You exclaim. “The filmmaker Andrew Gingerich is going to write about making movies?! Surely this must be some cruel trick!”

But no, dear friends, it is not a cruel trick. It is, much like everything else I post here, an aimless whim.

Anyway, after a semester off from production classes I am now up to my neck in film classes, most notably 16mm production (yep, we shoot real film, like back in the olden days of… well… 2004). I thought maybe it would be a fun exercise to outline how a short film goes from concept to final product. So for the coming month I’m going to shower you with weekly installments of how our first film was made.

How a Film Becomes Law

Here was our assignment: work in groups of three. Shoot 200 feet of Tri-X black-and-white reversal using spring-wound Bolex cameras. The theme of the film should be “finding something.” Film is due in two weeks. Edit in-camera.

Edit in-camera?


Ah fuck! No! Don’t make me do it! Noooooooooooo!

In class, we get demoed on the Bolexes; loading, operation, and how to avoid the broken parts. You turn the winding crank counter-clockwise. If you turn it clockwise, it falls off. It’s all fairly simple and they’re beautiful cameras. Unfortunately, according to people who have actually used them before, they’re also very temperamental.

Then we’re handed our film (Free film? Sweet!), and we head off to determine what we’re actually going to shoot. We can’t have any dialogue because they’re silent cameras and it’s way too much work to record it later, since we only have a two-week turnaround. But a story would be a nice thing to have, yeah? Too bad we can’t think of anything. All we can think of are sight gags. Typical student film garbage. We resolve to each come up with a couple concepts and meet in two days to pitch them to each other. Best concept gets shot.

Little did we know that a drastic restructuring loomed before us unseen, like some sort of giant invisible rat. But you’ll have to wait until next week to hear about that!

ALSO: Notes on another director have been added. This week: John Frankenheimer, director of deliciously paranoid and bone-chilling films The Manchurian Candidate and Seconds. Phrase of the week: John Frankenheimer is crazy cool. It’s true.

14 thoughts on “How A Film Becomes Law Part 1: The Assignment

  1. No, and I don’t really want to. It just seems like another horro movie (read: CRAP). In the same lines as Blair Witch Project, it’ll generate alot of hype, all sorts of folks will see it and say it’s the greatest thig in the world, and in the end it’ll be nothing but another blip in the radar of shit.

  2. Wow, Vvinni! I’m proud of you!

    Actually, I have nothing against horror movies in general, and I actually think that Blair Witch was a very innovative concept and truly earned it success (although, admittedly, I haven’t seen it).

    I know a lot of people who have seen Cloverfield, and the sense that I get from their comments is that it’s an interesting concept (although a bit of a retread of Blair Witch in terms of style), but that it is poorly executed. In other words: would the story work if it weren’t for the edgy concept/presentation? Or is it, in the end, just a gimmick picture?

    Incidentally, I think I’m going to take the title Another Blip in the Radar of Shit and use it for my autobiography.

  3. Wow. I’m amazed that no one has seen it! Aren’t we all a bunch of film geeks?

    So here’s my professional opinion (sorted in a list because I’m lazy):
    1) Cloverfield is far from a horror movie. More like a slightly thrilling mega-monster flick.
    2) The style is exactly as you see in the teaser – uncomfortable handi-cam work. If you have a sick stomach, don’t see it, especially in the big screen and near the front rows. No less than TWO people vomited in the theater when I saw it. I personally wasn’t bothered, but if you’re sensitive, it’s tough on you. I’m unconvinced about it. If it were brand new, I might be okay with it, but the idea is not new (Blair Witch) and it was hardly entertaining or groundbreaking.
    3) Andrew’s question (would the story work if it weren’t for the edgy concept or is it just a gimmick picture?) is a good one. Personally, I thought it was gimmicky to all hell. The characters were pathetic and unconvincing, the comic relief was tacky and unnecessary (the supposed cameraman, “Hud,” is the bumbling friend who holds the camera most of the time), and the basic story was lacking in depth. I see what they were trying to do, by showing the situation EXACTLY as it would be seen by incidental characters involved, but I’m not convinced it’s a good movie concept – better for a short film maybe.
    4) On the other hand, I think they were successful in doing what they intended to do – if that makes sense. It is reasonably thrilling here and there, and the gore is pretty classy (what little there is).
    5) It feels too short. Runtime is 85 minutes, which is relatively short for a feature-length, but it feels even shorter because there is a lot of running/jogging/walking/etc without dialog or other useful bits of information.
    6) The special effects and sound design were well-crafted. Not perfect, but quite good.
    7) I have to mention it again: the characters were awful, and they did things that no person would do. Sigh.
    8) I didn’t mean for this to turn into a big review-thing, but those are my thoughts. Hmm…. yeah…. that was way too long. Hopefully I didn’t taint anyone’s possible enjoyment.
    oh, and 9) The monster is pretty cool (tip: it doesn’t look like a big whale, in case you looked it up online)

    Anywho, you should all see it on the big screen (cheap seats).

    and 10) I love tacos. Especially fish tacos.

  4. If my preconceptions of the film are right, I’d probably be saying the same things Greg said, except prolly more positive. I’m kind of a sucker for those sorts of stylized concepts (like the book House of Leaves).

    However, Vvinni – I think you’re condensing way too many kinds of movies when you say that the horror genre is crap. I completely disagree. If by “horror” you mean the sort of torture-porn we’ve been seeing nowadays like “Hostel,” “The Hills Have Eyes,” “Saw IV,” and so on, I agree. However, those movies are hardly even considered horror themselves.

    Now, if you’re lumping movies like “The Exorcist” (by all means not a perfect movie, but I certainly enjoyed it, and it had good production values), “The Machinist,” “Alien,” “The Devil’s Advocate,” “Interview With the Vampire,” “The Omen,” (the original more than the remake) “Creepshow,” “The Evil Dead,” “Dawn of the Dead (the original),” and so on and so on, then I disagree with you strongly enough to wind up with another broken nose.

  5. I just saw Alien. It’s not horror, I’d call it a Thriller. Like 1408 and…another movie that escapes my mind. And yes, Alien wasn’t bad, I enjoyed it. I haven’t seen any of the other movies mentioned (I’ve seen Evil Dead 2, and those movies are about as horror as Sean of The Dead, which is some strange borderline limbo between horror and comedy, which isn’t to say that either were bad. Both were quite good).

    Anyhoo, Horror might have had a flukeful existence in those movies mentioned above, but for the most part it’s like an undead creature of it’s own creation.

    Oh, and Andrew, you’ll have to pay me the rights for “Another Blip in the Radar of Shit”. Preferably with a taco. No fish, though. I’m allergic.

  6. Alien is SO horror – at least by normal definition. However, you only indirectly answered the question I asked – do you only consider movies like Hostel and Saw horror or are you including other movies such as… etc.?

    Undead creature of its… own creation? I do not understand.

  7. Yes, I consider the crap that is Hostel, Saw, Cabin Fever, The Eye, etc. to be horror, and…
    Dawn of the Dead: Horror
    Interview with a Vampire: Haven’t seen it, but from what I know of it, Not horror.

    Alien: Not Horror, Science-Fiction Thriller

    Evil Dead Series: Horror, but more so comedy.

    The Omen: Horror

    Creepshow: I don’t know what this is.

    The Devil’s Advocate: Also haven’t seen this one, but from what I know of it I don’t see any reason why it ever would be included in horror aside from the fact it has Satan in it.

    The Exorcist: Horror

    Poltergiest: Horror

    If you have any other questions, ask. But I don’t check this one as much because it’s two or three posts old.

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