Sunday, September 15, 2013

Notes from the Raindance Saturday Film School

Really enjoyed listening to Elliot Grove and Patrick Tucker at the Raindance Saturday Film School last weekend. It was only £39 from a Groupon deal so fantastic value.  

Loads of great anecdotes as well as practical advice. Elliot is  passionate about films making – he talked about how cinema can take people into different worlds and break down culture barriers so it is really important.  Strong message of: find your special voice and make audiences FEEL.

Practise by “building a vocabulary of shapes”. Create vignettes/sketches.

He started with a session on the screenplay. There are two ways to come into a story:  concept and characters.

Concept: “High concept” needs to be very succinct – able to sum it up in a short phrase or sentence. Can feel like a one-trick pony though. “Low concept” or “soft concept’ is based on relationships. More like a novel. Marketing people don’t like it as hard to sell.

Characters: Memorable people. Use the tool of character traits – physical, sociological or psychological. Read screenplays and understand how the story unfolds.  Characters need to be very different from each other.

Four main characters are:

1)The protagonist – our hero. It is their story – we are rooting for them.
2) The antagonist – the opponent of our hero. They will prevent our hero from getting what they want.
3) The ally/opponent – has allegiance to the hero but then switches to support the opponent
4) The opponent/ally – switches from opponent to protagonist

The social stage

A tool which determines what your hero can do by the place in which the story is set.  Types of social stage are: wilderness, village, city and oppressive city.

  • Wilderness is for the superhero, always male.  Sometimes he has disciples. Death comes quick and early. In the end the superhero leaves his disciples with some divine inspiration.
  • Village shows the boundaries between civilization and wilderness. The hero (male) is a stranger to the village which is threatened by forces of nature or marauding barbarians/roving bandits. At the end the hero rides off alone, unchanged.  The villagers have changed. They may have been “reduced” ie shown the error of their wicked, ignorant or small minded ways.
  • City is always tall and full of extremes (eg social classes). Lots of height metaphors showing the city as a jungle.  This social stage has been done to death. The hero is a very average person, facing some injustice, who does the right thing.
  • Oppressive city is a British specialism. The rules for living have been changed by a powerful few. There is an anti-hero (or bumbling hero) who may witness a crime by someone powerful and then must save themselves.

It is possible to take a hero from one social stage and parachute them into another (eg Crocodile Dundee or Beverly Hills Cop). It is also good to take a story on the cusp eg Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid – they are villains in the village who go to the city.

Certain hallmarks can reveal the social stage eg using reality TV like the coliseum indicates an oppressive city.


Elliot Grove thinks that the idea of a story structure is unhelpful. Claims that the three act story structure invented by Sid Field has lots of flaws. An event at page 30, 60 and 90.

Main character is often the first person seen on the screen. Need to show what they want. Useful tool is to choose a goal for the character which is measurable so the viewer knows if they achieve their goal or not.  There needs to be conflict. Types of conflict are:  physical violence, sociological conflict and psychological conflict.  Core values need to be challenged.  Imagine a film called “airplanes that land safely” – it would be boring. 

The hero tries something on page 30. Fails. Needs another plan. Page 45 there is a metamorphosis.  The third try fails again. Nothing will ever be the same again.  The hero has past the point of no return.  Page 75. Fails again. Visit to the underworld – sees their worst fears.  Enter another character who becomes a mentor to the hero. Page 90 – climax with a fifth plan and the ending is where they achieve the goal or not.


Make a list of everything you need. Pay cash or “in kind” or deferred from profits of there are any.

Create a schedule – a list of when/where you need to be; the stuff and the people.
Industry way is to get a grant or go to a production company. And then there’s the Raindance way.


Good lenses are essential but the compression distinguishes between a professional and an amateur.  Need to have 4k resolution. Grove recommended the GoPro Hero2.  From Wikipedia: The Digital Cinema Initiatives consortium established a standard resolution of 4096 × 2160 (8.8 megapixels, aspect ratio ~17:9) for 4K film projection. This is the native resolution for DCI-compliant 4K digital projectors and monitors; pixels are cropped from the top or sides depending on the aspect ratio of the content being projected. The DCI 4K standard has twice the horizontal and vertical resolution of DCI 2K, with four times as many pixels overall.


Private or public. Contact to get a permit. The charge is to cover health and safety issues and lost revenue on parking meters etc.  If shooting handheld or a monopod, no need for a permit.  “Stealing a shot”. Stay small in public.  Hide the boom.  If questioned say “student”, “test”, “amateur”, “charity”

Things can be included on a “fair use” eg a well known shops but need to be careful of slander by implication/context of the scene.  Cover brand names of products – especially drinks. 

If using private property, get contracts eg who will cover any damages. May need to pay of neighbours if causing noise or disruption £50 notes “thank you for your continued co-operation”.

Avoid airports or train stations as almost impossible to get permission to shoot there.


Three elements: back light, which tricks the camera into showing depth, fill light and key light which puts the shadows back in.  Need sparkle in the eyes. Use a funnel snoot which always control of directions and radius of the light beam – no spilling over. Can be shone straight into eyes.


Rights can be very expensive as the music unions are strong. Started by Sinatra and the mob, allegedly.  Rights cover: 1) who wrote the words 2) who wrote the tune 3) who performs it. Rights retained for life + 70 years.  Measured after the first performance or release.  Recently changed from 50 years.

Use unknown artists “by kind permission of” or special scores such as Blairwitch – mic to throat, speeded up and slowed down to create soundtrack.

Directing (session by the wonderful Patrick Tucker)

Need to look at the world through different eyes. Put the camera where we would never be. The truth is not your friend.   It is defined by what the audience sees – just their perception.  Don’t need to replicate truth – look at the world differently and make the audience feel something.  Stressed how things need to be compressed - actors put in very close proximity.  Will feel very uncomfortable for actors. Directors should just say: “It looks good to me!”

Turning points are essential in films – need to see these and get satisfaction from understanding them.  The audience needs stepping stones.

Use the close-up as this is unique to film.  Even in intimate pub theatres, can only get mid CU/real life.

Directors must be sneaky and passionate about getting their own way.

The notes taken by the kid sitting in front of me

Some top tips...

  • “A tool is not a rule” – only use it if it is useful
  • Learn by watching a movie then reading its screenplay then watch the movie again then read the screenplay again
  • One page of a screenplay is approximately one minute on the screen
  • Don’t think about ‘plot’
  • Good sound recordists are the hardest people to find for filmmakers – could be a good career
  • Kiss the lower lip only 
  • Easier to act better when facing an empty space if other actor is not there - “the curse of eye-to-eye contact”
  • Get close ups of most important people – everyone else in wide shot
  • All mirror shots are lies
  • Best actors react before they speak – it draws attention so that the words have more impact; seems unnatural but works filmically
  • Good actors sometimes speak very quietly to draw the audience in to the scene 
  • Cast the best actor – not according to how they look; a good actor will look right when it comes to the time of filming
  • Start with a “developing shot” rather than a wide establishing shot as they are boring and hard to light
  • Observe the 180 degree rule – think about your screen grammar:
  • The 180 degree rule can be broken to deliberately disorient the viewer (eg Kubrick in The Shining)
  • Always shoot in depth not breadth – compose the shot on the screen not in real life

    Favourite phrases from the day
  • “I have good news and other news.”
  • “It is not that I don’t care about your feelings, it is just that they are no longer relevant.”
  • “I have numerous projects in various stages of development.”


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