Tagged: solo

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.

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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.

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Gotta keep pushing on!

– Hamish

 

FEATURE ANIMATION UPDATE #3

Today I finished another draft of my script!!!

I’ve been working as hard as I can on writing my feature screenplay, but it’s slow work. It’s taking a long time because I’m learning everything about writing feature screenplays from scratch. I’m improving heaps through each draft but I still have a lot to learn. It’s also the one stage of the film-making process I don’t want to rush. The screenplay is the kernel of the film. If your screenplay or story is rubbish, your film probably won’t be worth watching (I can think of numerous exceptions though). Other stages of film-making are very important too, but probably none more so than the screenplay.

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I’m very conscious of the fact that people can fall into the trap of using perfectionism as a way of procrastinating and not actually getting anything done. So I’m constantly checking myself to make sure that’s not what I’m doing and I’m actually making tangible steps to finish the script. Fear can make you behave in strange ways if you’re not careful.

I’ve also changed the format I’m using to write the script. The first 5 drafts were done the way you’re MEANT to write a script but I’ve changed to writing it in paragraphs like prose. I found the regular script format harder to keep track of dialogue, descriptions and actions as it’s spread over many pages and not in condensed and easy to follow paragraphs. Once I’ve finished it I’ll convert it back into a regular script format.

One thing I don’t have to worry about that other screenwriters do, Is that I never have to be afraid of over explaining or over describing things. Most screenwriters write to sell their scripts or write it for other directors and production staff, but I’m the sole writer/director/animator and the only one who has to know how to create visually what the script is saying. In saying that though I still have to make sure I write in mostly visual terms and not describe inner emotions without directions on how to portray it on screen. For example if I wrote ‘Several dozen ants crawl up the man’s legs and begin biting him. The man feels terror and wishes he hadn’t smeared his legs in honey.’ it’d be no good because you can’t show inside his head where he’s thinking these things… unless you did a shitty voice-over or something similar. Instead it’d be better to write ‘Several dozen ants crawl up the man’s legs and began biting him. On the man’s face is an expression of terror. “Agh! Why did I smear my legs with honey!?” he yells.’ because you can actually visually or sonically depict that. In a sense it’s much harder than writing prose fiction because of this.

I’ve gone old school and started using system cards to map out the story structure on my wall. I’m hoping it’ll make it easier to see and analyze what’s going on in my story and what to improve/change. 300 of the cards set me back about $10 from a local office supplies store and they should last me ages as I’ll only have 50 to 80 scenes in my film.

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I’m also constantly reading books on screenwriting, narrative and story to improve my skillz. I’m currently about halfway through ‘Story’ by Robert McKee which I’ve been told is one of the better screenwriting books out there. It’s pretty good but not perfect. In my opinion it’s about 1/3 really informative, 1/3 common knowledge and 1/3 bullshit (or at least very questionable). I’ve come to realise that there’s no real shortcut or formula for writing good screenplays and stories. All you can do is study, practice and find out what works for you and what doesn’t. Learn and know the ‘rules’ of classic narrative film-making and their function so you can use them, bend them or disregard them completely.

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It’ll take many years with trials and errors but I’m confident I’ll attain a mastery of story some day. Perhaps I won’t master it with THIS film but I’m aiming to make the best film I can.

-Hamish .S

1st Script Draft Finished!

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I’ve finished my the first draft of my feature script!!!

There’s still a long way to go however. I’ll probably end up doing from 10 to 20 drafts until the script is finished. I really want to spend the time on the script and get it right as it’s my first one and I’ve still got a lot to learn.

The script is 20 pages at the moment. The usual rule for script time is that 1 page = 1 minute on screen. This rule is for conventional films where there tends to be a lot of dialogue, but my film will have minimal dialogue. I’m aiming at the film being 70-80 minutes long so I’ll try to get the script to be 45-50 pages minimum.

-Hamish .S

I AM NIGHTMARE (2013) – REVIEW

I AM NIGHTMARE is the third and latest animated feature from M Dot Strange. It’s a supernatural horror film of sorts and it clocks in at 128 minutes making it his longest film yet, which is necessary as it’s also the most complex and intricate narrative M Dot Strange has worked with yet.

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The story follows a group of orphans and their caretaker Marie who have newly arrived at the ominous ‘Lantern Town’, “a town that never changes”. The town is curiously devoid of other children and the adults that live there spend their nights in the tavern engaged in acts of hedonism, while the orphans are forced to go out on patrol for monsters. When Marie enters the tavern to talk to the Mayor about changing this policy of child labour, she is shut down quickly. The Mayor exclaims “It’s just the way it is. Your children will get to live this good life as well once they’ve worked hard enough and reached the proper age.” Something is definitely a bit off with the townsfolk in the tavern.

It then shifts to Shy, a teenage girl who’s hiding by a well. Simmons (the Mayor’s advisor) comes and tells her that she must go and work at the inn as she’s of age. As he drags her away her tears fall down the well. Luminous pages suddenly spiral out of the well and a dark figure with a sword materialises. Meanwhile the rest of the children are out patrolling in the woods. One of the children Mack tells a story about a nightmare trying eating a boy who escapes down a well. They are distracted and then attacked by several black cloaked monsters which swallow two of them. The monsters are subsequently defeated by a mysterious and silent nightmare hunter and the children are saved. The nightmare hunter then appears at the tavern and tells the Mayor that he’s been summoned to the town. The Mayor questions him but the hunter walks off in silence and enters a shrine. The townsfolk are uneasy and the mayor wants him gone.

I AM NIGHTMARE is a supernatural horror film that has many similarities to Kaidan or Japanese Edo period ghost story films. It’s setting and tone evoke comparisons to films such as KWAIDAN, UGETSU or KURONEKO. It’s a tale of murder, betrayal, a vengeful spirit, immoral monsters and the loss of a loved one. True to M Dot Strange’s style, he manages to weave these into a fantastical world which contains elements such as a bizarre town surrounded by monster infested woods and even a Mecha battle. It’s clear that M Dot is influenced by Mecha fiction as it is a recurring element in I AM NIGHTMARE as well as his 2008 film WE ARE THE STRANGE.

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The supernatural horror theme of I AM NIGHTMARE is pulled off with M Dot Strange’s use of an excellent atmosphere, frantic but well placed action and fleshed out characters. The set design and visual style is much more minimal compared to his previous films. Perhaps this is due to time limitations but it still looks great due to M Dot Strange’s use of lighting, colour and particle effects. The minimal style makes it all the more effective when chaotic and surreal scenes are introduced towards the climax and M Dot’s signature visual mayhem unfolds.

The lip syncing is quite jarring at first (the mouths only move up and down and not phoneme shapes), however you soon get used to it and it even makes sense when you remember that it’s a world of strange humanoid dolls. The character animation is for the most part good, but seems a little rushed at times, and occasionally the camera movement is a little clumsy. These small defects start to make sense when you find out that M Dot Strange produced this film in 1 year, pretty much by himself.

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The voice acting for the most part is really great. I believed in all the characters and the dialogue fit well, especially with the adult characters. Some of the towns creepier denizens like Bore and the town drunk had me in stitches with their perverted lines. Some of the children’s jokes fall flat but this adds the fact that they’re y’know… children. The voice of one of the children Teenee is fucking annoying, but again this is because the character is an obnoxious hyperactive child, so it works. The soundtrack by M Dot Strange and Mad Dashiel is excellent and the diegetic sound design and really makes the world come alive.

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I AM NIGHTMARE is a film about children for adults. The world is fantanstical, vivid and cohesive but M Dot Strange has always done that well. What I AM NIGHTMARE succeeds at best is the narrative. The story is relatively complex and it’s executed with finesse. Early on in I AM NIGHTMARE themes arise such as the painful division between child and adult but as the story begins to unravel it shifts to ideas around loss, pain and willful ignorance. My one criticism of the story is that it becomes too simplistic and black and white towards the conclusion. Throughout the first half of the film things aren’t so clear. You weren’t sure what everyone’s exact motivations were and the characters existed in a world of gray which I found really interesting. However as things become clearer in the delirious climax, the world turns to one of good and evil, black and white, which I found too simplistic and less interesting. In essence I AM NIGHTMARE is a sort of fairy-tale analogy and it works well as one, but i’d find it more interesting if there was a bit more realism and duality to the characters.

Overall I AM NIGHTMARE is M Dot Strange’s best film yet. The visuals aren’t quite as impressive as his first two films (likely due to the fact he created it in one year) however it’s minimal style is effective and it works. The films characters are cohesive with the story and it explores some interesting themes. Throughout I AM NIGHTMARE you can really see an artist begin to gain mastery with his medium. It’s definitely recommended for fans of weird independent animation.

-Hamish S.

CITY of Rott – REVIEW

CITY OF ROTT is a 2006 animated feature film created solely by Frank Sudol. It’s an action zombie comedy which are three of my least favourite genres, but to counterpoint that it’s an independent animation which interests me greatly. I’ll try and not let my personal taste in genre get in the way of an impartial review.

The story follows an old man named Fred as he navigates a treacherous world in which zombies have eaten most people and the few remaining struggle to survive. Fred also talks to his walker which gives him advice. Not surprisingly other survivors Fred encounters think he’s a bit crazy. Throughout the film Fred’s motivations are simple. The first being to find a new pair of shoes, the second being to not get eaten. It soon becomes apparent that the zombies are created by parasitic worms which breed in earth’s water supplies.

city of rott 2Fred might be old but he is by no means defenseless. He kills an astounding amount of zombies by bashing their heads in, decapitating them with his walker or shooting them with guns he finds later on. Gore fans won’t be disappointed. There are possibly more zombie fatalities in this film than any other I’ve seen. This abundance of blood and gore is amusing and even comedic at first but tends to wear a bit thin thin in the second half.

city of rott 1One of the things that I found really enjoyable in CITY OF ROTT was the character of Fred. He’s definitely not your average old man and it’s good to see a character that really defies genre stereotypes. Fred is also a bit of a bastard, which leads to some great comedic scenes. For example he meets a nurse who’s been bitten. She wants an antidote and Fred agrees to help, taking her to the zombie infested mall. He then tells her that she needs to go in and get him some new loafers and he’ll give her the antidote. When she refuses and presses Fred for the antidote he lies and tells her that the cure is to get bitten again by a zombie. I found myself laughing pretty hard. The downside to Fred’s character is that it doesn’t really develop. At the beginning his primary motivation is to get new shoes and it never really progresses from there, leaving the story feeling a bit flat.

Fred meets several survivors through his quest including the nurse, a violent gunman, another old man and an office worker who is nailing himself inside a box to escape the zombies and parasites. While these characters are well fleshed out and often funny, they don’t really seem to advance the story much and for the most part, are simply excuses for something to happen to Fred.

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Due to it being made by one person, the animation is extremely limited and done in a 2D digital cutout style. The characters, background and props are hand drawn but digitally coloured which works fairly well. The visuals are bleak and the colour palette is mostly browns and grays which is what you’d expect from a zombie film. The voices are all done by Sudol and work well with the exception of the Nurse. She’s the one female character in the film and her pitch shifted voice shook the illusion, however I can’t think of a better voice for Fred. I really enjoyed the score and thought it worked with the mood and animation really well, reminding me of industrial-esque midi songs that were in old FPS games like DOOM and QUAKE.

CITY OF ROTT is no masterpiece but it’s a titanic debut effort from Frank Sudol (he’s gone on to make DEAD FURY, SHOCK INVASION, GNOME IN THE HAUNTED CASTLE and CITY OF ROTT 2.) It’s definitely also not for everyone, but if you’re a fan of zombie films or weird action animation this might be for you. CITY OF ROTT is a refreshing take on a fairly stale genre. I’ll be interested in seeing Sudol’s more recent work to see how it’s evolved and developed.

-Hamish .S

People Will Try To Discourage You – Especially Other Animators Pt. 2

Continuing from Part 1.

You’ll likely face derision, disapproval, opposition or even disbelief when you tell people you plan to create a feature animation by yourself. I guess a key question to ask yourself when facing this kind of response is, “Why is this their response? What is going on with them to form these opinions?”.

There are many reason that the regular person might disapprove of you or what you’re doing. Perhaps they don’t value the arts, or maybe they’re a family member who thinks your time is better spent becoming a breeder or earning money for your family. There are many many reasons why someone who doesn’t have similar values may disapprove and you’ll learn pretty quickly to ignore or reject these opinions as they don’t really have firm basis. They can’t know really know anything about your goals/ambitions, what you really want to achieve or how you want to live your life. As you’ve probably already found out the best bet is to ignore them, live your life how you want to and do it for yourself.

Disapproval from regular people is understandable as it’s expected and could be from a long list of reasons, but why would another animator or ‘creative’ try and dissuade you from trying your hardest and fulfilling your dreams as a filmmaker? One reason is that not all animators or ‘creatives’ are the same, or have even remotely the same values. To be an ‘animator’ you need to animate, that is all. It’s a term that covers from people who work for a company whose sole job making hair move in commercials, to people who want to craft their own films and stories with synthetic moving image. I use animation to create films and narratives that resonate with me, another animator might be perfectly content working as a cog in a studio system modelling rocks. We both do very different things even if we use similar tools. You shouldn’t expect other animators to really understand just because they’re an animator. Perhaps something I should consider is not labeling myself as an animator, even though I do animate. Perhaps filmmaker would be a better description of me even though I am a fan and addict of good animation.

Another thing that will really help you on your journey as a filmmaker is to take advice with a grain of salt unless the person giving it is where you want to be. After all how could your brother know the first thing achieving your goals as a filmmaker if he never did? How could a friend know the best way to become a great filmmaker if all they’ve ever done is motion-graphics for advertising? The only answer is that they can’t really know and their advice is likely more harm than good. Perhaps they are genuinely trying to help you or perhaps they are subconsciously trying to sabotage you, their intentions don’t matter either way if the advice they give comes from a bad source. I’m not saying you should dismiss all advice altogether unless it comes from your favorite filmmaker, but be hypercritical of it if it’s from someone who probably doesn’t know what they’re talking about.

You’ll have to take a lot of shit from people if you follow your dreams, especially if your goals are ambitious or push boundaries. That’s ok! You can’t appease these people and you wouldn’t want to. One thing I find really useful is to channel people’s challenges, doubts and disapproval of me into motivation. If someone says “I don’t think your film will be any good. One person can’t do all that!”, I’ll use it to feed the fire in my belly and think “Just you wait motherfucker! I’m going to make a great film!” and it’ll allow me to work even harder. Don’t let the haters make you doubt yourself, and don’t let people (even if they have good intentions) sway you from your path. You’ve got a fire in your belly making you push forward, don’t let them put a dampener on it.

Keep creating!

-Hamish .S

People Will Try to Discourage You – Especially Other Animators Pt. 1

If you’re going to get into solo feature film animation, not a lot of people will understand what you’re doing and why you’re doing it, and you’ll face a lot of derision from some of these people.

Already this early in my life as a filmmaker I’ve faced disapproval, people telling me that what I’m planning on doing can’t be done and general opposition. I’ve had this sort of reception from many different types of people including family and friends, but what really surprised me was that this response most often came from people who work in the ‘animation industry’. When I was at art school I would walk across to the animation school and talk to the teachers there about animation as they were so called ‘professionals’ in the industry. Whenever we got onto the topic of solo feature animation and what I was planning to do, they dismissed me and said it was impossible.

I recently had a similar encounter and thought I would share it with you all because you’ll likely come across the same thing. I went to a party the other night and began talking to a friend who works at an animation company about the feature I’ve started work on. Now I don’t normally talk to people IRL about my animation because the more I talk about it the less likely I’ll actually get it done and most people don’t really understand or care(and I don’t expect them to), but she asked me what I had been up to and I was a bit drunk. She seemed at first taken aback and then posed a series of arguments as to why I shouldn’t do what I’m doing.

“You should just make a short film. It’ll be much easier and you can try and get it into Annecy.” 

Well there are many reasons why I want to make a feature as opposed to a short film. The first would be that I view the two formats as fundamentally different in what you can achieve with them. With a feature you are able to weave great stories with considerable character development to push your conflict and therefore your narrative. In comparison a short film it is much more difficult to do this because of the time constraint. That is why more short films are whimsical and quaint and tend to lack the depth capable of being generated by a feature. In saying that though it is not a rule, there are short films who do this better than some features but they are very rare. Another reason is the fact that I find animated features more intriguing due to their scarcity whereas animated shorts are everywhere. If I’m to pour my heart and soul into a project for 3-5 years I would rather it have a duration I can really work with to make it great and stand out, rather than another short even if that short was well executed. The third reason is that all my favourite films and most of my influences are features. Why is that? Again, it’s because you can do MORE with a feature film. I like plenty of shorts sure but the films I really take inspiration from tend to be longer form.

“You should collaborate instead of doing it yourself.”

There are pros and cons to everything. Here are some I’ve discovered about the differences between solo and collaborative film making.

Benefits and drawbacks of solo filmmaking

  • Complete control over your project
  • Don’t need to compromise vision
  • Other won’t let you down
  • You will likely develop faster
  • Have to do it yourself
  • It’s more difficult
  • It takes more of your personal time

Benefits and drawbacks of collaborative filmmaking

  • You can use others skills and expertise
  • It’s easier
  • It will take less personal time
  • You will likely need to compromise your vision
  • You will need to pay them in either time or money
  • You will be reliant on others who will possible let you down or doom the project

Both modes of production are valid and it’s really up to you with what you want as a filmmaker. Personally I much prefer the idea of doing it myself and creating something personal than compromising my vision and relying on others. This maybe because I’ve had a LOT of bad experiences with collaboration so I see the pitfalls of it clearly. Perhaps one day I will work collaboratively but not until I’ve got enough behind me to not have to compromise.

“Have you heard of the ‘Thief and the Cobbler’, making a feature by yourself is impossible. You’ll just end up like Richard Williams.”

Richard Williams is an animator who tried to make a feature animation called ‘the Thief and the Cobbler’  for over 20 years and never finished. Firstly Williams wasn’t a solo feature film animator. He had an entire team working on the Thief and the Cobbler. He also wasn’t working on it full time due to his work on commercials to raise money for the expensive cell animation style his team were working in. In my opinion the real reason he never finished it was because he never really wanted to finish it, at least subconsciously. It was his fear of failure masquerading behind perfectionism that stopped him from completing it. While the story of Richard Williams and ‘the Thief and the Cobbler’ is a good lesson on what NOT to do, it still doesn’t really have many similarities to the idea contemporary solo feature animation. Technology has advanced so far that it’s perfectly possible for one person or a small team to complete a feature animation provided they put in enough effort. It’s not even like i’m the first person ever to make a solo feature film. Frank Sudol, M Dot Strange, Nina Paley, Jeff Lew, John Bergin, Bill Plympton, Ray Nowland and others have done it so why can’t I? The real answer is you can if you want it and the only things that can stop you are your health or your will.

“What’s your end game? What do you hope to achieve with this film?”

I hope to make a good film and I hope to say something. There is no other end game. This is the real thing. When I finish this film I will make another. I don’t want to get picked up by any animation company, I just want to have the resources to keep making better and better work and improving. One day I hope to have made good enough films to have some people who find watching them rewarding.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of my rant. It’ll be up in a few days.

-Hamish .S