If you a learner or educator looking for thorough information on guidelines for fair use of media in educational contexts, this page on the Center for Media & Social Impact site has a wide range of resources to explore, including copyright and legal permissions. You can also go directly to Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for the Visual Arts (funded by the Mellon Foundation for the College Art Association).
Chapter 8 of Moving Images — The Production Process — presents ways in which people need to work together effectively to make movies. In fact, students learn this throughout the book, by investigating media, studying film- making processes, writing for different contexts and platforms, and creating movies of all kinds. Of course, this process is also a business, which is discussed at various junctures in the book and has been addressed in earlier blog posts here.
A recent article by Adam Davidson (a host of NPR’s Planet Money) for the New York Times highlights the tremendous value of examining the intricate processes of moviemaking, which reveals ways in which The Production Process can help us to figure out how a successful workplace functions. In particular, Davidson highlights how lessons from the world of moviemaking can be instructive in enhancing new trends in the contemporary workplace. I highly recommend “What Hollywood Can Teach Us About the Future of Work.”
In earlier posts, mediateacher.net has shared profiles of such classic composers as Henry Mancini and contemporary masters like Cliff Martinez. One of the most interesting current examples of an extremely successful and acclaimed musician and composer making the transition to scoring music for television and film is Emmy Award winner Jeff Beal. At the outset of his career, he began forging an identity as one of the most talented young trumpeters in contemporary jazz who could also compose in a wide range of idioms for projects ranging from solo piano to orchestral suites.
Like many musical artists with his range of talents and interests, Beal began composing for motion pictures, and as part of a trend with some of the most acclaimed composers of the past decade or so, his primary source of exposure has been through composing for television. In series such as Monk, Carnivàle, Ugly Betty, Rome, and The Newsroom, and movies like Blackfish and Appaloosa, he has established himself as one of the most expressive and compelling creators of music for motion pictures. Most recently, his work on Netflix’s House of Cards has brought him even further into the spotlight. This recent article on Jeff Beal (and family members) at work on the musical accompaniment to the most recent season of House of Cards is highly informative both for its artistic insights as well as for practical details on the work of contemporary composers, such as how contracting works.
I also highly recommend Jeff Beal’s recently redesigned personal web site, which includes his own selections of movie sequences that highlight the importance of his work on the outcome of dramatic scenes. It is no surprise that there are two examples from his lauded score for Ed Harris’s feature Pollock about painter Jackson Pollock. These clips can be very useful in media literacy, music technology, and video production courses.
Finally, for those with further interest in the work of Jeff Beal as a composer, I highly recommend his albums Alternate Route and Red Shift which both feature large ensembles as well as the more intimate Contemplations.
Perhaps your school year has already wound down or maybe you’re just about there. Here’s a brief post to share an artist with whom you may already be familiar — and if not, I think you are in for a treat because I believe he is one of the most dynamic multi-media presences of the past few years: Stromae. He is first and foremost a musical artist, but the place of visual expression in his output is key to his message and to his success, like many performers today. I recommend these videos because of their extremely high degree of thematic force and visual impact. There is a total command of motion picture language throughout the work he creates with his collaborators, from the animation of Carmen (by Triplettes de Belleville director Sylvain Chomet) to the art direction of Papaoutai to the cinéma vérité tour-de-force of Formidable (with a song that is profoundly reminiscent of Belgian icon Jacques Brel, who was also a multi-media giant) to Tous les Mêmes, which brings most of thèse qualities together in its eye-popping, thought-provoking glory. And like many artists today, Stromae needs to be pretty good at self-deprecation, which is quite apparent in his very funny (for those who understand French) video alongside French comic Jamel demonstrating the mock creation of his first mega-hit Alors on Danse. And the original video to that one too — Alors on Danse — is stunningly original, particularly alongside standard music videos, rap or otherwise.
In an earlier visit with visual effects supervisor and current head of vfx at MPC Vancouver Greg Butler, he shared perspectives on the art and business of moviemaking. At a moment when screens are flooded with summer blockbusters that are dependent on obviously CG action scenes, such as Avengers: Age of Ultron and Tomorrowland, Greg Butler’s most recent project as a visual effects supervisor on American Sniper provides very interesting perspectives on one of the most important objectives of a great deal of the effects work in today’s movies: to enhance or significantly fill in visual information from what was created and captured during principal photography in ways so that it is invisible.
Here is a link to a full interview with Greg Butler about his work on American Sniper to understand the degree to which Clint Eastwood’s movie is completely dependent on CG in order to create the world of its story. Butler had previously worked with Eastwood on the director’s period musical Jersey Boys. You can also check out earlier discussion of invisible effects in the earlier Close-Up interview in which Greg Butler discusses his work on Amazing Grace, among other projects.
Of course, Butler has also helped to craft some of the most compelling fantastical and imaginative worlds and characters in recent years, including groundbreaking work on both The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter series. Discussing one point in the creation of Gollum that illustrates the attention to detail that one must show in this work, he commented, “In the CG model setup, there was an invisible sphere behind Gollum’s eyelid that meant that whenever his cornea moved, the skin would bulge out in a realistic way. This is the one time we got to use it because he was sleeping with his eyes closed, and his eyes moved as if he was having a bad dream. We were proud of the fact that we got to use this technique. These were the sort of subtle nuances we were seeking out to bring him to life. We want you to be completely in the movie.” And that is the case whether you are conscious of the VFX being present or not — or if the filmmakers want you to know that they are present or not.
As one last comment on the “Art & Business of Moving Images” that goes back to Part 1, in our visit Butler shared perspectives that students do not often think about: the day-to-day life of working on the movie industry. He comments, “If you’re interested in working in film, your choices in life become limited – unless you find an interesting avenue that occasionally people are able to find – you’re either going to end up living in the L.A. area, or you’re going to be a nomad… in terms of developing movies, the dealmaking is all L.A. In terms of making movies, it’s L.A., but all around the world. You’re on a constant road show, touring band, carnival ride, living on a film set. And you have to live that. Maybe it’s okay when you’re in your twenties, but it’s something to consider. When it comes to post-production, visual effect, sound editing – your options open up a bit more: L.A. is still the center, but it’s broken down now, and there’s still lots of other places, like New York, London, Vancouver. And that is continuing to evolve. In fact, my company, MPC, is now opening up a new division in Montreal.”
How to seduce the viewer, the consumer, the public? A show that has explored that driving question in very powerful, incisive, and grownup ways has been the series Mad Men, which is reaching its final episode in just a few days. This article by Brooke Marine from Vulture features the work of co-producer Josh Weltman, who was brought on board Mad Men by creator and showrunner Matt Weiner to create fictional period-appropriate advertising for protagonist adman Don Draper.
The challenges presented by commercial work have been explored in Moving Images and in previous posts on this blog, including an appreciation of Saul Bass and the close-up interview with Kevin Goff, creator of the 2015 Esurance ad featuring the Breaking Bad Walter White character and McDonald’s “Mom vs. Dad” and “The Last Fry,” among others. Besides “seducing strangers,” as Josh Weltman puts it, how about simply keeping the attention of teenagers or college students? That’s the enormous challenge faced by any young filmmakers creating ads or PSAs for high school or university contexts. It’s also a tall order that can help any young adpeople to hone their communications skills for some of the toughest audiences imaginable. And this helps all students to understand and critique the media messages that they face every day.
This weekend, free comic book day is arriving and we are about to be hit with the Age of Ultron juggernaut. Meanwhile, for some time now, superhero tales have been popping inventively through the channels of television as well, including the current franchises of DC’s The Arrow and The Flash, among others. Recently, Marvel’s Daredevil has joined the fray courtesy of Netflix, ready for being devoured in hours of bingeing. (One student in a class discussion about sports asked if among winter sports in which he takes part one could consider binge-watching because it’s a sort of competition and includes a variety of skills in order to master its intricacies and emerge a victor from among friends.) The Daredevil TV series, created by Drew Goddard, has garnered quite a strong fan reaction for its clever retelling of the comic’s 1960’s origin story and successive development by writer Stan Lee and artists including Bill Everett and influential maverick creator Wally Wood.
For those interested in an interesting screenwriting lesson, this recent podcast on The Frame with show runner Steven DeKnight features many compelling discussion points and revealing commentary about scripting television series, including story structure and character development — and how they are dependent on episode length, platform, and target audiences. DeKnight also discusses details about the content of the show and how tone and violence were key issues for the show’s creators to consider.