Ready, Set, Pitch! Crazy 8s Is Gearing Up For Its 17th Year

Want to get your short film funded?

Paul Armstrong shares his keys to a great pitch

Since 1999 the 8 day filmmaking challenge, aptly named the Crazy8s, has provided funding for nearly one hundred emerging filmmakers. Each year over one-hundred teams apply to the competition and six are awarded $1,000 and a production package that includes everything they need to make their film.

Paul Armstrong is an award-winning Vancouver producer, founder and programmer of the The Celluloid Social Club and the Executive Director of the Crazy8 filmmaking challenge. He provided some valuable insight for hopeful Crazy8s applicants who are considering entering this year’s competition.  

What are the most compelling qualities you look for in a filmmaker’s pitch?

PA: The most compelling qualities I look for in a filmmaker’s pitch are four fold:

  1. How original is the story and how well is it told. Does it have a beginning, middle and end? Is it more than just a series of action and plot points? What does it all add up to? Why is this story worth telling?
  2. How passionate is the pitcher about the story in giving their pitch? Without enthusiasm on their part it’s hard to instil that excitement to get this film made in the judges.
  3. Do I have the confidence that the filmmaker can pull off this film with the resources they have to make the film. Have they thought about the practicalities of creating their film?
  4. Does the story speak to me on a personal level – do I connect with it. Film is a communication device and is that working here?

Are there any genres or subjects that get pitched far too often?

PA: With Crazy8s we welcome all genres and subjects – it’s up to the filmmaker to find whatever vehicle works to tell their story. The final six films are usually a mixture of dramas, comedies and genre such as science fiction or horror. That said each year there seems to be a common theme among many of the pitches and that can count against them as the judges would only want a certain number on a similar theme but we never know what that is until we get the pitches.

What is the best way for a filmmaker to stand out from the crowd?

PA: One of the best ways for a filmmaker to stand out from the crowd is to create a brilliant story that we can’t but help to say yes to. The other is to be yourself and to express that uniqueness in your film. Don’t presume what we are looking for in terms of what was made in the past or what is currently trendy.

Another way of doing it is to make your actual pitch original by including a taste of the tone of the film in the pitch rather than just a talking head pitch, which is fine too.

What are some of the worst mistakes people make while pitching?

PA: Some of the worst mistakes people make while pitching is to pitch an underdeveloped story where maybe the end isn’t complete or there isn’t a story arc. In other words they haven’t conveyed to us why this story is worth telling over another one. Another mistake is that the pitcher doesn’t show enthusiasm or passion and they get too complacent.

Another mistake is that they forget to talk about themselves. We need to know who the pitcher is to gain confidence they can make the film. In addition some pitches are sometimes not polished enough. So be sure to rehearse your pitch and to fix any technical problems with it.

Stills From Crazy 8s FilmsThe Crazy8s Registration Deadline is November 2nd, 2016.

To find out more click HERE.

Booms vs. Lavs

Boom Microphones vs. Lavaliers:

What’s the Best Recording Mic?

Sound is often the most overlooked aspect of production for unseasoned filmmakers. Compared to the excitement that goes hand-in-hand with selecting the camera, sound can be an afterthought: a single line on an already overwrought budget, packed with expenses that are much more immediately compelling than the eventual audio technician leaning over his mixing board.

The importance of clear, well recorded audio may not become apparent until after the shoot has been completed and the editor first sits downs, only to hear a cacophony of background chatter, overmodulation, and that car alarm that didn’t seem quite so loud when you were on location. Instead of planning to “fix it in post,” choose wisely when selecting your sound equipment for a sure-fire audio strategy.

LAVALIERS

These button-sized microphones are frequently seen in documentary productions, tucked into the lapel of an interview subject. Although they are fairly low profile they require a somewhat bulky transmitter, a black box the size of a pack of cards that can connect with or without a wire to the microphone, usually secured in the back pocket of the subject.

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While filming a dramatic production an unfortunate glimpse of the sound equipment is something to be avoided. But when used correctly there are several excellent uses for lavs in film.

  1. Wide Shots: When the shot is simply too wide to facilitate a boom but you would prefer not to use ADR to record dialogue, a lav will come in handy. Distance is an excellent camouflage for these mics that may easily be spotted in a close up shot.  
  2. Tricky Shots: Locations can prove challenging when it comes to finding a place to hang the boom. In these cases lavs may provide a solution for the tightest of spaces. With some careful placement, lavs can be rendered largely undetectable in a shot.
  3. Backup Audio: Sometimes location sound cannot be avoided, be it the drone of a helicopter that is hovering above your set, or the ceaseless siren that is cutting into your schedule. If you are able to hide the lav discreetly on the actor it can be used as a secondary source of audio for the editor to work with in post.

BOOMS / SHOTGUN MICS

The image of the pole-bearing boom operator is synonymous with film production. This method of capturing audio is made up of several working parts: a shotgun mic, the furry wind-shield cover (aptly nicknamed the ‘deadcat’) and the pole that these items are mounted on. The front of the mic is suspended above the subject just out of view of the camera, to capture dialogue.

 

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Although shotgun mics must be carefully monitored to ensure that the direction is correct and that the boom hasn’t dipped into frame, they are an extremely versatile method of audio recording that is seen on virtually every film set. The benefits of using a boom include:

  1. Full Control: While a rogue lav mic is impossible to fix without stopping a scene, a boom operator doesn’t have to interrupt the action to modify the position of his microphone.
  2. Freedom of Costume: lav mics can pick up the rustle of clothing, a sound that can render a recording unusable. Booms are a reliable way to record and do not require the subject to take special care with their clothing.
  3. Natural Audio: The sound that the boom picks up is superior to the lav in terms of natural tones. The ability to point the shotgun mic at the subject’s sternum instead of their mouth produces a more natural quality of recording.

Like every other element of filmmaking, sound recording will require some thought and preparation. Select the method of audio recording that works best with your budget and production, and if you’re able to, consider employing the use of each for the appropriate scenes in your film.

 

How to Write Better Action Lines

Screenplays are a means to a finished film. Many industry people consider them blueprints. However, this comparison isn’t completely accurate. A well-written screenplay isn’t a sterile, skeletal, monochromatic set of action lines inserted between the dialogue.

screenplay_squareWord choices impact the sight and senses of the reader. In that regard, a screenplay has more in common with a short story. The experience of reading a screenplay should approximate what the viewing of the movie will be like. In fact, another term for action lines is screen directions.

Writers may be hesitant to “direct on the page” in the misguided belief they are treading on the director’s job. This results in action lines comprised mainly of master shots that severely limit the potential of a script to translate into a uniquely visual motion picture.

Students at our film school are encouraged to craft effective action lines so that all departments—production, cinematography, art, sound, costume, hair and makeup, locations, electrical, visual effects—are working toward the same movie.

But how can you write screen directions that direct without directing? Let’s illustrate with an example:

Paolo enters the living room. He notices Saskia standing by the fireplace and crosses to her.

Sometimes the above composition is perfectly fine, particularly if the characters are well established. But if this isn’t what we’re supposed to see, the action line isn’t doing its job, never mind the director’s.

Let’s compose this beat in order to create a filmic experience:

Example #1 –suspense-thriller version

Paolo strides into the living room. He stops cold.

His eyes dart nervously. His upper lip beads with sweat.

Draped across the fireplace mantel is Saskia. Seductive. Lethal.

Let’s analyze the difference. In terms of pure formatting, this rendition adheres to the Hollywood practice of vertical writing. Each line suggests a new angle or cut.

The first line is likely a medium shot. Paolo walks in confidently, but something makes him hesitate. We don’t know why.

The second line is an extreme close-up, since we see detailed views of his nervous eyes and beaded lip. Suspense is created because…we still don’t what has stymied Paolo.

The third line cuts to a new character. It begins with “Draped across the fireplace mantel is…” This could be a straight cut to a medium shot or it could suggest panning from the hand of a woman, along up her arm, until we arrive at Saskia’s face. Two words set up her character. We get the sense Saskia may be a black widow. 

This rendition tells us so much more than the original. It feels like a film.

Example #2 – comedy version

Paolo struts into the living room. He seizes up.

WHIP ACROSS to the other side of the room.

To Saskia. Shrink-wrapped in a sultry dress, teetering on stilettos, sickly grin.

The first line is essentially the same action, except the tone is different. Paolo is now overconfident, and his hesitation is comical.

The second line is directing, but without it, we don’t get a sense of the frenetic quality of the film.

The third line tells us immediately who the character is. She is dressed the same as the suspense-thriller Saskia, but the dress is too tight on her. She isn’t practiced on heels. Her face tries to be alluring but can’t pull it off.

Each example is a vast improvement over what I like to call “traffic cop directions,” so named because they’re so dry, plain, and uncinematic.

Look to your own action lines. Can the reader see your film?

By: Robert Chomiak

The Return Of The Mockumentary

This is Spinal Tap. Waiting for Guffman. A Hard Day’s Night. The second half of the 20th century saw the birth of an entirely new genre of film where fictional events were presented as truth: the mockumentary. From the very beginning it served as a self aware tongue-in-cheek device to critique modern culture, touching on everything from the music industry to foreign affairs to the supernatural.

Although this genre is most commonly associated with comedies, there are a number of more controversial dramatic incarnations that had audiences unsure if what they were seeing was fictional. A prime example of this is Peter Watkins’ 1965 film The War Game, an unnervingly realistic portrayal of a Soviet attack on Britain. BBC famously withdrew the film from airing, saying that “the effect of the film has been judged by the BBC to be too horrifying for the medium of broadcasting…”

borat-wallpaper_1024x768_21674The 2000’s have seen a resurgence of this genre, as it continues to evolve in new and innovative ways. In the 2006 film Borat, Sascha Baron Cohen put a twist on the genre, unleashing his character on real-life Americans who believed they were appearing in an actual documentary. In 2010 the Casey Affleck film I’m Still Here briefly had the world convinced that Joaquin Phoenix had gone absolutely insane, all for this satirical look at celebrity culture. What We Do in the Shadows, the 2014 comedy directed and starring Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement, took a look at the day to day life of vampires.

The appeal of mockumentaries to independent filmmakers extends beyond the conceit of the genre, as they can often be made on a shoestring budget, reducing the need for extensive lighting setups, and camera rigs. With found footage horror films being a notable and very successful subgenre of this, many of these films have used their minuscule budgets to enhance the believability of their subject matter.viff-page

At the 2016 Vancouver International Film Festival, Canadian director Lawrence Côté-Collins is making her directorial debut with her mockumentary Split. Co-presented by InFocus Film School, the film follows Anick, a social worker-turned-documentary-filmmaker who moves in with a couple to document the life of a man’s social reintegration following a life lived in and out of prison. Exploring the boundaries and ethical choices of the documentary filmmaker, this compelling film raises questions about how a production can influence the livelihood and trajectory of its subjects.

Watch the trailer – and get your tickets here.

SHOWTIMES:
05 October 2016 8:15 PM VIFF at The Cinematheque

10 October 2016 4:30 PM VIFF at The Cinematheque