The Film Fatale

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Love your creepy commonalities posts! So good! Anywhoo, Starr, I have a question. I was reading about Henry Selick, and it made me wonder about directors of animated films. How does that really work? Aren't the artists that draw or illustrate or create these stop motion films really the directors? How can you really direct an animated film? I know it's kind of a dumb question, but I knew that if someone had the answer, it would be you! And thanks!

Asked by
Anonymous

Thanks, and I’m glad that you enjoy the Creepy Commonalities series! 

It’s not a dumb question at all. Think of it in the sense that a director - whether it’s for an animated or live action movie, a play, a video game - is in charge of how any movie is realized on screen. The artists may provide the art and animation, but the director has the overall vision for the project. Directing an animated film is no different from a live action one, in the sense that the director still has to oversee the production of the film, from managing the actors (in an animated film’s case, voice actors) to the editing of the film, visual effects and production design. The best analogies I can think of are an orchestra conductor, an executive chef, or a fashion designer. An orchestra conductor seems like a mere figurehead to some, since he or she doesn’t actually play any instruments. However, the conductor is in charge of the music’s timing and cuing the different sections of the orchestra. Similarly, an executive chef of a restaurant doesn’t usually do most of the cooking. They may taste the food before it goes out to the dining floor, but they leave the cooking up to the sous chefs. The sous chefs execute the Executive Chef’s vision. Finally, a fashion designer (such as Alexander McQueen for example) does not actually hand sew each of his pieces. He has seamstresses for that. But the seamstresses are executing the designer’s vision. It doesn’t matter if the seamstress likes avant garde or prefers more casuals sportswear. If the fashion designer sketches something that is avant garde, the seamstresses are expected to deliver a piece of clothing that conforms with the designer’s vision. 

On the same token, an animated film director manages all of the moving parts in a film crew, and it is the director’s vision that the artists are executing. The director makes sure that the entire project is cohesive and communicates a particular message in the best manner possible. The artists may be hired to illustrate the story, but they are not in charge of how this story plays out. The director has a say in what the look and feel of the movie is. An artist will usually collaborate with the director to achieve a particular scene, especially during storyboarding process. Also, the director still gets to decide on how the camera works in an animated film. Do we want a close-up of this character during this particular scene in order to give the audience a chance to see their expression clearly and empathize with them? This is still something that needs to be done in an animated film. The director will also instruct voice actors on line delivery, to ensure that it matches with the intended feel of the scene.   

For example, The Nightmare Before Christmas is very obviously a Tim Burton movie. As moviegoers, we have come to know and love Burton’s signature style and aesthetic. He hires artists that can execute his vision and help him realize the kind of story he wants to tell. He can hire actors whom he believes will best fit the characters in his story, and work with visual artists who can help him achieve the type of atmosphere his film needs to carry. Had The Nightmare Before Christmas not been produced by Tim Burton, it may have had a completely different look and feel, and parts of the story may have even been completely different in tone and message in the hands of another filmmaker. Henry Selick was approached by Burton to direct the film because of his experience in Disney animation. Here’s what Selick had to say about the filmmaking process:

It’s as though he [Burton] laid the egg, and I sat on it and hatched it. He wasn’t involved in a hands-on way, but his hand is in it. It was my job to make it look like ‘a Tim Burton film’, which is not so different from my own films.   

A better example is The Adventures of Tintin, which was directed by Steven Spielberg. There are particular scenes that stand out as very iconic Spielberg scenes. One incredibly long action sequence was a feat of VFX that benefited from amazing direction from Spielberg. Another example is Lord and Miller’s The LEGO Movie. Animators and visual effects artists brought this story to life, but it was Lord and Miller’s comedic sensibilities and attention to detail that really made this film resonate with audiences.  

Hope I answered your question!

Hello there, love your blog! I would really like to start to write a film, I mean, everything about it, you know, but I know that there is a format to do it and all that, so I hought that you may know how to or give me some tips, because I think I really have some good ideas, and well, once I've finished what would be the next step? sorry for my english and thank you for your time :)

Asked by
Anonymous

Hello there! I’m no expert on the filmmaking process, but I am happy to give you some information that you will hopefully find useful.

Before starting your story, familiarizing yourself with screenwriting format is helpful. Read some scripts (Cinephilia and Beyond and Scriptologist have some good ones and plenty of screenwriting tips) to learn how seasoned writers illustrate their stories. Watch the films these scripts turn into to find out how a particular scene is translated for the screen. 

Now when you start writing, if you follow traditional screenwriting (i.e. the Syd Field paradigm), your story must have a beginning, middle and end, or an introduction (to the world and the characters that inhabit it), a conflict (a force that spurs on the action in your story, a pivotal moment) and a conclusion (to the conflict or to your character’s arc). Sometimes the best way to come up with your three acts is to do it like either Mad Libs (______ happened so ______ has to _______ in order to _______) or to think of it as an elevator pitch. If you think of an elevator pitch for The Lord of the Rings, for example, something like “Frodo, to stop the spread of evil in Middle-Earth, has to journey to Mount Doom to destroy The One Ring.” We know who the character is, what the conflict of the story is, and what end he wants to accomplish. But what makes The Lord of the Rings is more than just Frodo destroying the ring of power, and it’s how you illustrate the journey that will turn an elevator pitch into a screenplay.

I’m partial to character-driven stories, so I’m always harping on character development. The biggest thing I have to say about writing your main character/s is to not be afraid to hurt them. I don’t mean go all George R R Martin on them. They don’t have to be just in constant suffering all the time. By don’t be afraid to hurt them I mean that you can’t think of your character in a wish fulfillment fantasy sense. This character, no matter how much you want to make them likable or perfect or an amalgamation of every brilliant character you’ve come across, will need to have an arc. They can’t just exist to be the best, most awesome person ever. They will need to make some hard decisions that your readers or viewers will not like. Now an arc is interesting, because to some people there is a preconceived notion that a character arc entails drastic change to the person in your story. This doesn’t have to be the case, depending on your character of course. A Clockwork Orange, for instance, has a character arc for Alex DeLarge, but at the end of the film is he drastically different from the man he was before? That shit-eating grin he gives at the end of the film may say otherwise, and you know what, that can be okay. If it’s more interesting for a character to not change, that’s an arc as well. Having an arc just means that they have to go on a journey (whether it’s a physical or emotional journey, a literal journey, or whatnot). Want to know how not to write a character arc? Watch The Amazing Spider-Man 2, where Peter Parker is unchanged from the beginning of the tale to the end, even when the more interesting thing to do to the character is to change him (you can read my ranty review on that awful film here). 

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I've noticed that every season of American Horror Story has a different theme. Are they all connected in some way or do they stand alone to the point that I can simply start watching them from the latest season and then watch the others if it grabs me? I'd like to start watching the show, you see, especially from the Coven season that sounds super interesting.

Asked by
Anonymous

They are all standalone seasons, so you can start at any season, really. The nice thing about starting with season one is that you can sort of see the natural progression of the show from “mildly kooky, kinky and weird” to “batshit crazy and messed up” to “so ridiculous and fabulous I can’t even” to now - with Freak Show - what is invariably going to be their most disturbing season yet. I think there’s something interesting in every season. Personally, if I were to pick favorites, I thought Asylum was pretty strong (except for Evan Peters’ character’s storyline) on all fronts. It managed to combine really great horror with interesting drama (Sarah Paulson was amazing in it, as were Lily Rabe and Jessica Lange as per usual, and you haven’t seen James Cromwell at his most evil and unsettling until you’ve seen him in this, I assure you), along with great period commentary. Coven was great because of the setting, but I didn’t really get into the story as much as everyone else. The first season was my least favorite, but there were parts of it I loved, such as the dynamic between Zachary Quinto and Jessica Lange’s characters. If you start watching it, let me know what you think!

Did you know you're quotable? I quote you all the time!

Asked by
Anonymous

Wait, really? I don’t think I have any notable or unique catchphrases. I’m curious to know which quotes! And how do you reference a quote from me, exactly? Because “I quote this random blogger on Tumblr” doesn’t sound nearly as sexy as it does in my head haha But thank you, that’s a nice compliment!

best place to buy movie posters and frames?

Asked by
Anonymous

Hmm well I usually get my posters from either Mondo, Bottleneck, Gallery 1988 or at pop culture conventions (Comic-Con, WonderCon, Anime Expo, etc). I love the work by artists at conventions and I’ve always had great luck finding awesome posters at those shows. For frames, I don’t really know, as I’m fairly new to framing. The one I got for my 2001: A Space Odyssey poster was from Ikea, and it was a pretty good frame at a decent price. I’m sure you can find local speciality framing shops (like Aaron Brothers, or even Michaels) that will custom frame something for you if you want a specific design for your art. I’ll open this up to my followers as well. Any tips for where to get movie posters and frames?

If Skynet and HAL got into a fight who would win? And who would Legolas root for?

Asked by
Anonymous

While both Skynet and HAL 9000 are hostile against humans out of self-preservation, Skynet would win because it is designed to be militarized and has access to way more firepower than HAL would. The Hobbit's Legolas would root for Skynet, because he's a lot colder, adopting a lot of his father's “fuck everyone who isn't a Mirkwood Elf” mentality. The Lord of the Rings' Legolas, champion of the little guys (literally) would probably root for HAL. Although let's face it, his bow and arrows wouldn't do much good in this war.

lovely room and poster! where did you buy it?

Asked by
Anonymous

Thank you! The poster was a gift from my sister. I am sure you can get it anywhere online, as it’s a pretty generic 2001: A Space Odyssey poster.

Seeing Lawrence of Arabia on the big screen tomorrow! Stoked.

Asked by
Anonymous

Oh man, seeing that on the big screen is one of the best experiences I’ve had in the theater, next to 2001: A Space Odyssey. You’ll love it! It’s gorgeous.

Have you seen any good new movies lately? Last year and the year before I was in the theater a few times every month, this year I've only been a handful of times. There's nothing new out that I feel like I should experience in theaters!

Asked by
Anonymous

Hmm the last really good movie I saw in theaters was Boyhood, and that was a while ago. I can’t even explain how good that movie was, and Linklater may just have outdone himself. The story is fascinating, and its unique process of following the same person over a long period of time really helps keep the audience invested in the journey. Boyhood feels alive, like you’re a participant in someone’s life instead of feeling like a story is merely being told to you. It’s just captivating, and I can’t stress enough how good it is. See it in theaters if you still can! I plan to do a write-up of it one day when I’m not drowning in real life shenanigans, so stay tuned!

Another good movie to see at the theater: Snowpiercer. You can read my review of that now, it should be up on the site. I would link you but I’m on mobile and too lazy to copy paste the URL, so please forgive me!