Tagged: feature

Feature Screenplay Completed!

It’s been a while internet.

After 8 treatments and 26 drafts,  I’ve finally finished my animated feature screenplay!

screenplay-1
It took me longer to write than I expected, or planned for, but it’s the first feature screenplay I’ve written so I needed to learn a huge amount.

It clocks in at 76 pages which is pretty short for a screenplay. The standard rule for screenplay/film length is that 1 page = 1 minute of screen time. However, this isn’t a hard rule and depends on a few factors. Mamoru Oshii’s 1985 animated feature ‘Angel’s Egg’ has a runtime of 71 minutes, yet the screenplay was supposedly only 1 page long. It really depends on the film’s style and format. My screenplay has pretty minimal dialogue and concentrates more on visual storytelling, so I’m expecting the finished film to run 80/90 minutes.

So now I’m moving on with the rest of pre-production, at the moment that’s storyboarding and art design. I’ll update more soon :D

-Hamish

Aspect Ratio!

I’m about to begin story-boarding so I’m currently looking into what aspect ratio to use for my film. Although it seems like a it’s pretty small and inconsequential decision, it will impact how I compose and edit the shots and the overall look of the film. It’ll also be really hard to change even half-way through pre-production.

Everything I’ve previously worked on (except for a few old 4×3 projects) has been 1.78:1 (or 16×9). This is pretty much because 1.78:1 is the main standard for HDTV and web based videos these days, so it has almost become the default choice. However, there are some other aspect ratios that are worth looking into.

There have been many aspect ratios used throughout the history of cinema. Here’s a great video from FilmmakerIQ on the history of aspect ratios for those interested.

I’ve also found a great vimeo channel called Unsusual Aspect Ratios which highlights the diversity of aspect ratios people are using out there.

THE OPTIONS
Most contemporary feature films use one of these three aspect ratios:
2.39:1 – ‘Scope’
1.85:1 – ‘Flat’ or ‘Theatrical Widescreen’
1.78:1 (16×9) – HDTV

Of course there are exceptions to this, such as Mommy (2014) by Xavier Dolan which is mostly uses a 1:1 square aspect ratio, or The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) which changes between 1.37:1, 1.85:1 and 2.35:1. These rare aspect ratios are interesting but I’m mostly interested in using the 2.39:1 ‘scope’ and 1.85:1 ‘flat’ aspect ratios. There are several pros and cons to both which has made it pretty difficult for me to decide on which I want to go with.

2.39:1
2.39:1 ‘Scope’ aspect ratio (sometimes referred to as 2.35:1) gives a wide field of view which is great for panoramic shots, landscape shots and tight close-ups. The wide frame can lend your cinematography theatricality and gravity.

The cons of 2.39:1 lay in distribution. Depending on your digital distributor, your film may be required to be ‘pan and scanned’ (cropped) down to 16×9. This is unacceptable as it will ruin the framing of your shots completely. Thankfully this seems to be getting less common as digital distributors are happier letterboxing the film to fit 16×9 screens.

Many of my favourite live-action films such as Kwaidan (1964), Kuroneko (1968), The Sword of Doom (1966), the Lone Wolf and Cub series (1972), The Devils (1971), Onibaba (1964), Dogtooth (2009), the Female Convict Scorpion trilogy (1972) and Old Boy (2003) have been shot in 2.39:1 scope ratio.

OctoberTheDevils4The Devils (1971) ~2.39:1

maxresdefaultWe Are The Strange (2007) ~2.39:1

kuroneko 2Kuroneko (1968) ~2.39:1

1.85:1
1.85:1 ‘flat’ is wide yet not excessive. It’s the middle ground of theatrical aspect ratios. It is also close to 1.78:1 so on 16×9 screens the letter boxing is minimal or optionally (but in-advisably) you can cut a little off the sides to fit the frame.

Many great films such as A Clockwork Orange (1971), Fitzcarraldo (1982) and The Birds (1963) were shot in 1.85:1; as well as many great animations such as Ghost in the Shell (1995), Akira (1988), Angel’s Egg (1985), Princess Mononoke (1997), Waltz With Bashir (2008).

g1Ghost In The Shell (1995) ~1.85:1

a-clockwork-orange (1)A Clockwork Orange (1971) ~1.85:1

angels-eggAngel’s Egg (1985) ~1.85:1

One of my initial hesitations for using 2.39:1 is that until pretty recently there just isn’t that much animation done in that aspect ratio. Some early Toei animations such as Magic Boy (1959), as well as the more recent Evangelion 3.0 (2012) used 2.39:1, however nearly all theatrical anime has, and continues to use 1.85:1 ‘flat’.

With the exception of a couple of 2.39:1 Disney animations such as Brother Bear (2000) and Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001), the majority of Disney films were shot in their preffered aspect ratio of 1.66:1.

Another rare example of 2.39:1 aspect ratios being used in animation is M Dot Strange’s feature films We Are The Strange (2008), Heart String Marionette (2012) and I Am Nightmare (2014) which all use the 2.39:1 aspect ratio.

Many of my favourite western and independent animations had extremely tight budgets, so they tend to be a mix of 1.37:1, 1.66:1, or 1.85:1, such as Fantastic Planet (1.66:1), Midori (1.37:1), Hair High (1.66:1) and Alice (1.37:1).

DISTRIBUTION AND EXHIBITION
Let’s look at the DCP frame sizes.
. Flat (1998×1080 or 3996×2160), ~1.85:1 aspect ratio
. Scope (2048 x 1080 or 4096×1716), ~2.39:1 aspect ratio
. HDTV (1920×1080 or 3840×2160), ~1.78:1 (16×9) aspect ratio

The majority of my audience will access my film through VOD or from downloading it, which means the film will most likely be watched on TVs or computer monitors; the majority of  which have an aspect ratio of 16×9. This means that if I went with 2.39:1 for my film, most people will see the film letter-boxed. Letter-boxing isn’t such a big deal for me (I actually kind of like it), so I’m not going to let that influence me.

What could influence me is if a distributor makes me crop the finished film to 16×9. That would be the worst possible scenario for a 2.39:1 film. While it’s worth considering hypothetical situations and problems that may come down the line, it isn’t enough to sway me. It also seems to be coming less frequent as network bandwidth’s improve across the globe.

TESTING ASPECT RATIOS
I’m instantly drawn to the 2.39 scope ratio. But is it the right choice for my animation?

To help me decide I made some 1.85:1 and 2.39:1 (or 2.35… whatever!) viewers from cardboard and duct tape so I could frame some shots and find what feels better to me.

aspect ratio viewers
I framed multiple shots of various types to get a feel for the frame ratios. I looked at framing human figures, objects and landscapes in Extreme Close-ups, Very Close-ups, Close-ups, Medium Close-ups, Mid Shots, 3/4 Shots, Long Shots and Extreme Long-shots and in a wide variety of angles.

aspect ratio viewer 1 aspect ratio viewer 2Sketch by Jared Brown

THE VERDICT
The shot framing tests pretty much just confirmed what I already thought.

1.85:1 is a solid aspect ratio. It excels at framing MCU’s, CU’s, MS’s and 3/4 Shots. Framing long shots or ECU’s with it is ok, but it has less room to create interesting compositions. I feel that this aspect ratio would be great for framing scenes inter-personal conflict and intimate subject matter.

2.39:1 was good at framing at CU’s, MCU’s, MS’s and 3/4 shots but it was a little harder to frame them effectively due to it’s width. This aspect ratio was excellent at ECU’s, LS’s, ELS’s, panoramic and scenic shots. The 2.39:1 aspect ratio will be great for impressive scenic shots, grand, intense or epic subject matter as well as dynamic compositions.

Ultimately (as you may have guessed), it really just comes down to taste. What kind of film do I want to make? What kind of actions will be occurring on screen? What kind of cinematography will suite the style and content? What am I most comfortable using?

After thinking about this for some time and swaying back and forth multiple times I’ve decided to go with 2.39:1. The wide frame gives heaps of room to create dynamic and expressive shot compositions. I also feel that the wide frame will suite my film better, as the subject matter is intense and will contain a fair amount of large set pieces and spectacle.

Maybe I overthought this, but as it’s something that will be hard to change once I’ve begun, I thought I should really try to figure out what I wanted. I hope this helps any other filmmakers or animators out there trying to decide which aspect ratio they want to go with. If you have any questions hit me up.

-Hamish .S

1st Feature Script Reading

Over the weekend I finished the 11th draft of my feature script and had some friends around to do a reading of it. They gave heaps of in-depth feedback and solid critique which is what I needed. The outside perspective is really helpful as after days and days of writing you can kind of lose perspective and you miss things that don’t really make sense or aren’t particularly strong.

hamish with script

I’m going to take 6 days off the feature and then I’ll get stuck back into it with fresh eyes. I’m not sure how many drafts it’ll take until I get to the final version but It feels like I’m getting much closer.
I’m really looking forward to finishing it and getting stuck into other pieces of production which will roll out quicker.

wall of pain

Gotta keep pushing on!

– Hamish

 

I’M BAAAAACK!

I’ve finally finished my stint of full-time work and am back to part-time which means I’ve actually got time to work on my film, various projects and update Underground Animation regularly. It’s good to be back!

the_shining
In my absence from creativity, I managed to make it to the Render Animation Conference which is part of the Melbourne International Animation Festival. The most interesting part of the conference was the panel discussion ‘How To Fund, Make & Distribute A True Indie Feature’ with Adam Elliot (AUS), Chris Sullivan (USA) and Elliot Cowan (AUS/USA). The three filmmakers discussed various aspects and experiences of their film-making process and dispensed a bunch of valuable advice to aspiring independent animators.

I’m pretty familiar with Adam Elliot’s work as he’s an independent animator/director from the city where I live (Melbourne, AUS). Chris Sullivan from Chicago came out of left field for me and was probably the filmmaker that resonated with me the most. I was previously unfamiliar with his feature film ‘Consuming Spirits‘ (2012) which took 12 years to make. From the segments he screened and talked about, the film looks startling, dark and intensely intriguing. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to see it yet but as soon as I do I’ll write up about it here. 

I’m really looking forward to seeing and talking about Sullivan’s work more as he’s an interesting character and he’s working on his second feature now. Here’s a sample nugget of wisdom from the filmmaker… “Making an animated feature is like making love and being stabbed to death at the same time”. Yup!

I also got to check out the projection of Botborg‘s ‘Principles of Photosonicneurokinaesthography’ at Kings ARI which was curated and shown by the Melbourne Video Art Society. “Botborg is an international audio-visual performance group that fuses and rewires raw electronic signals to create intensely visceral experiences of sound-colour synaesthesia.” Botborg use a custom analog electronic instrument called the ‘Photosonicneurokineasthograph’ to produce these intense abstract visuals. There’s also a great catalogue-essay ‘Collider‘ for the exhibition, on video abstraction written by MVAS by co-curator Diego Ramirez. Rad!

I’ve got a bunch of strange and rare independent animations I’ll be digging up and reviewing in the weeks to come, as well as more documentation of my feature film in progress.

-Hamish .S

Writing a good screenplay is hard!

“No shit Sherlock!” I hear you say.

Well, I’m up to the 6th draft now on the screenplay for my first feature animation. I’m finding it quite difficult as It’s my first one but I’m learning butt-loads. In saying that though the screenplay is a fucking mess and it’s taking me way longer than expected. Even on draft #6 I think it might be pretty incomprehensible and that doesn’t bode well for the film if it’s not fixed.

The main problem I’m having with it besides it’s incomprehensibility, is that it seems overly plotted out, inflexible and unsubtle. Billy Wilder said that “The more subtle and elegant you are in hiding your plot points, the better you are as a writer” and from what I’ve been reading most good screenwriters seem to agree. My plot points are anything but subtly hidden.

IMG_6715
So I’m going to take a different approach and re-write the entire concept as a story, then turn it into a script. Starting with the main situation and setting I already have I’ll let the characters write themselves and see where it goes. I kind of know where It’s going to end up but I feel the story will flow better and seem more natural if I do it this way… or maybe not, who knows. All I know is I’ve got to get better at writing, and quickly, or my film will be z grade schlock.

Yeeeeaaahhh!

– Ham

FUNDING YOUR FILMS

SO you’re making your own animated feature or ambitious short film. You’re dedicated and working as hard as you can to make the best film possible, but you still need to eat, pay the rent, get equipment/materials, pay the electricity bill etc. So there comes the big question. How you fund your creative project?

Options really depend on where you’re living/making your film. I live in Australia and there are certain options I can take that might be different from ones where you live, but I’ll try and keep this list as globally relevant as possible.

CROWD FUNDING
I’m sure you’re already clued into crowd-funding. But if not, sites like Kickstarter, Pozible and IndieGoGo can help you get funding by giving you a platform to ask people who may want your work to fund it in small donations in return for content. For crowd-funding to work you’ll need to already have produced some content like concept-drawings or trailers to allow possible donors to see and become interested in what you’re offering. I also recommend not asking for too much money as if you don’t reach your target in the allotted time you don’t get the money. Crowd funding seems to work best for creators whose audience has taste inside edges of mainstream. Content such as genre films, pop culture references or sequels to already well known IP is often successfully funded. It probably won’t be very successful if you’re trying to fund you weirdo art film or avant-garde comic book but you might as well give it a go because one of the best things about crowd funding is that you have nothing to lose by trying.

GOVERNMENT GRANT
In Australia artists/filmmakers can apply for grants from Screen Australia for film, or Arts Council for more experimental work (art). Getting a grant extremely competitive and you really need to know how to write applications in a certain way. You’ll also need to fulfill and fit neatly in their key criteria depending on the specific grant. It really depends on the project you’re working on whether you’ll even be eligible to apply. It’s not looking like I can apply for funding for my feature at either of these funding bodies due to my unconventional production (solo animated feature), but I’ll keep looking around and maybe I’ll be able to in the future.

UK: The British Film Institute looks like it’s your place to go.
Germany: Check out The German Federal Film Fund.
USA: Unfortunately there’s no federal film funding body in the US. Certain states offer tax credit but it’s unlikely it’ll be useful for D.I.Y or underground filmmakers.
Other Countries: It really depends where you are. Have a look around for federal or state/provincial film funding. Send out some emails to people. It can’t hurt.

PART-TIME JOB
This is what I’m doing for my first feature. The idea is that you get a job you work at 2/3 days a week that will pay enough to cover living expenses. The rest of your time you use working on your film. You’ll probably be living below or close to the poverty line but it’ll be worth it in the future when you’ve got films to sell. Just be careful the job & the lure of more money and easier living doesn’t suck you into doing too many days and compromising on your film. I’ve seen it happen. You’ll end up with no film AND a shitty job.

BANK LOAN / CREDIT CARD
Independent filmmakers have been known to use bank loans or credit cards to fund their feature film productions. It’s pretty a pretty risky move though due to insane interest rates which mean you end up paying much more than you actually borrowed. Filmmakers Susan Buice and Arin Crumley took out a bunch of credit cards to fund their 2005 debut feature Four Eyed Monsters and accrued over $100,000 in debt. I’m not sure if they’ve paid it off yet but I doubt it. Be careful, doing this might help you make your first feature but will cripple you financially enough that you won’t be able to make your second for ages.

MISC/OTHER
Investments: Generally to get a large enough return on any investment you need sufficient capitol invested to begin with. So… probably not the most useful to us as if we had that kind of money we wouldn’t need funding to begin with. Keep an eye out for stuff like bit-coin though, even though it’s high risk (markets could crash and you lose your moneys).

Hook Up With a Rich Person: Long shot here… but you could always hook up with a sugar mummy/sugar daddy. Unethical and kind of immoral… but if you love each other I guess it’d be ok.

Medical Research: Robert Rodriguez did it! Didn’t work for me unfortunately but maybe they’re more willing to use human guinea pigs where you’re from.