Mad Max: Not just a big dumb action movie

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) Mad Max Fury Road poster

Cast: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult

Director: George Miller

I had the privilege of being invited to a pre-screening of this film, and after seeing the trailer online, I jumped at the chance to watch it. I’ll admit, I had not seen the previous films in the iconic franchise, but I still had high hopes for this post-apocalyptic action movie.

Mad Max: Fury Road is a fun adrenaline-filled thrill ride that possesses great cinematic quality. This movie takes its name and protagonist from the original Mad Max movies in the 80’s, but the best thing that it borrowed from those films is the director and his cinematic vision.

We’re introduced to this post-apocalyptic setting when we meet our protagonist Max (Hardy) as a captive in the warlord’s lair. When one of the warlord’s lieutenants (Theron) steals a decked-out tanker truck, Max unwillingly gets dragged into the pursuit, and eventually joins her on her drive to a better life. On their way, they are met with several obstacles, including the warlord’s entire army of pale-skinned kamikaze freaks, the elements of the desert environment, and characters that turn into allies. Also featured are gratuitous explosions, violence, and vehicle destruction.

What makes this movie good, and not just another action flick is the amount of care taken when producing all the imagery. Every shot has a cinematic quality. From the creativeness of the modified vehicles in pursuit, to the color palate used to enhance every shot, to the tiny details in the costumes. Everything pieces together to create a visually stunning work of art.

Mad max 4 Fury Road Screenshot

Given the film’s setting, tone, and character actions, I did expect more out of the story. We do see glimpses from Max’s haunted past, but not much is explained. Same with the other characters that are trying to escape the warlord’s grasp: we see that he’s a villain, and they want to leave, but nothing much more beyond that. Given the apocalyptic setting, I expected a subtle environmental message, but that is glossed over.

Overall, this film is quite exciting, but can definitely leave you with more than you expected. Clearly George Miller’s vision created spectacular imagery in a fun environment. Mad Max: Fury Road certainly one of the most beautiful looking action movies that I’ve had the privilege of seeing.

Trevor Munson is a graduate of University of Colorado – Denver’s film program, and owner of JawDrop Films.

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What does an Assistant Director do?

If you sit through the credits of a movie, you’ll find hundreds of types of jobs that people do to create a film. The one I’m highlighting today is The Assistant Director.

The assistant director (AD) is one of those jobs that has many tasks, and is invaluable to the production. The assistant director is mostly charged with keeping people safe and ensuring that the production stays on schedule. They do this my wrangling actors, ensuring that crew are accounted for at all times, making sure the sets and stunts are safe, and keeping a close eye on the clock.

An assistant director is essentially the mom of the crew. It is a task that requires some hearty project management skills.  They are in charge of knowing where every person and inanimate object should be. They know what has happened, and what still needs to happen on set. crew members, directors, producers, and actors are all asking them for information, or being given information from them.

Unfortunately, this sometimes makes them the least favorite person on set. However, in an industry where time is literally money, they’re an invaluable part of the production crew. Whenever I have one on my crew, I always treat them with plenty of respect, and give them plenty of tools and authority to work with.

Lights Camera Action?

I have a small pet peeve about this phrase. It’s old, outdated, and nobody says it anymore. It’s a holdover from the silent film era where a studio was making several movies at once, some even right next to each other. Plus, it doesn’t account for some of the other important jobs on set.

So, what should happen before a take?

  1. Once everyone is in their respective places and ready to do their jobs, the Assistant Director (usually) calls for everyone to settle, and get ready to work.
  2. Director: “Sound”
  3. Sound Engineer: “Sound Speed” (The audio has begun to record)
  4. Director: “Camera”
  5. Cameraman: “Camera Speed” (The camera is now recording)
  6. Director calls “Marker”.
  7. Slate: Calls the Scene, Take, etc. like “Inglorious Basterds, Scene 137, Take 4”
  8. Clap!
  9. Slate guy scurries away.
  10. Director: “Action!”
  11. Actors act.

After the scene, the Director will say Cut, meaning everyone stops recording.

Obviously I have left out some important jobs that are pretty vital to the filmmaking process, mostly because they occur many hours or days before and after the shot. I’ll be covering what each person’t role on and off set is later in this blog series.

 

 

Why use a slate?

A slate (AKA a clapboard, clapper, sticks, sound marker, and probably a dozen other names) is the tool that most people think of the most when you mention film production. But what is it for?

A clapboard is a tool that has two uses. The first use is to provide scene information. There are spots on the front to mark the day, location, scene, take and several other bits of information. In postproduction, the editor can group them according to these elements and keep their workflow organized.

The second use is to assist in syncing sound. On professional sets, the sound is recorded separately, and is matched up later. When the person in charge of the slate claps it, there is a peak that shows up on the audio track. The editor will be able to line up this peak with the closed clapboard so sync sound more effectively.

Do you need to clap it when you’re not recording independent sound? No, but it’s fun and you’re probably going to do it anyway.

What is 1080p?

This is a question I get pretty often.  When I tell someone how good of a camera I have, I usually say that it shoots 1080p HD video. This is usually something that you’ll also see on display when you’re buying a new TV. But what does it mean?

The 1080 is the size of the video that I am shooting. I’m capturing an image that is 1,980 pixels wide, and 1,080 pixels tall. This is a pretty large sensor, but it is pretty standard for most TVs and monitors to display.

The thing is, this number is just the size of the image. There are many devices that can capture this, from cellphones to webcams, to DSLR cameras. The resolution of the image is something a bit more complicated, and tends to get better with camera price. But for most consumer-level, broadcast quality videos, 1080p is perfect.

In case you are wondering about other smaller sizes, and where we came from, here is an image that shows them all to scale. The red and yellow box shows the CRT TV that you probably grew up with. 800px-Common_Video_Resolutions_2.svg_

 

 

Want to see more video in action? See my youtube here.

Film Tip #4

Label your stuff.

This is especially important when you’re not the only one using your stuff, or when you’re not the only one with stingers and gaff tape. (Except BLUE gaff tape. Nobody wants that.)

I have a really bad habit of leaving stuff around. I bring somewhere around 20-30 bits of gear, and somehow one small thing that I wasn’t paying attention to was left at the scene of the shoot. Luckily, I’ve been able to recover it without any repercussions.

Best Practice: get some cheap address labels and put all your info on them. Then, stick them everywhere. If you’re being cheap, white gaff tape will work. Just don’t forget to label the tape.

Film Tip #3

Get the right colored tape.

Here’s a fun story. So, I was going to the local film supply store the day before a shoot. I had a few items to pick up, but among them was black gaffer’s tape.

I go in the store, in a rush as usual, and grab some tape. Later that night on set I realize I accidentally grabbed this:

Stupid Dark Blue Tape.

When I should have got this:

Good All-Purpose Awesome black gaffer's tape.

 

When you’re working with a completely black background, things like that stand out. And because I have always needed black tape, and never dark blue, I am still stuck with the same roll. I guess the best lesson is don’t be in a hurry when buying color-specific tape.

Becoming a filmmaker on a budget

So, you have decided to be a filmmaker. You have watched enough movies, read enough about the process and you want to start making movies. However, there’s one problem: you don’t have enough money to spend on a top of the line camera or expensive software. Do you give up? No! You spend as little as possible to practice your passion. Here’s where to start:

First, you need some sort of screenwriting software. You don’t want to make a movie without having a plan after all! The good folks over at Celtx have a great program for $0. It’s fully functional and will format your screenplay appropriately.  I really can’t say anything bad about it. I also can’t stress how much you need to have a proper story before you film.

Next, you need a camera. If you’re just starting out, really any camera will do. Just make sure you can access the content easily. In other words, make sure you can connect your camera to your computer. Also remember that you do get what you pay for, and an extremely inexpensive camera may need upgrading after some practice.

While we are on the subject of cameras, make sure you get a tripod. Don’t try the handheld effect. Nobody liked it in Blair Witch, and nobody’s liked it since. Tripods will usually run you about $20-$30.

(While you’re acquiring things for production, you might as well start assembling your grip kit.)

After that, now you’re ready for post-production. Time to edit together your first masterpiece. Fortunately, your computer may already come with some editing software. For Macs, you can use iMovie to edit your creations. For PCs, you may need to download Windows Movie Maker. If you bought a camera, you may have some software that came with it in the box. Once you cut your teeth on these, I recommend upgrading to Sony Vegas or Adobe Premiere Elements. NOTE: Check to make sure your computer is compatible with the software, or plan to add upgrading expenses to your budget.

Follow these guidelines and you have your first film production! Now get some actors and make a movie!

How to get extras

So, you’re making a movie, and you need a crowd of people in a scene. Unless you know a good flashmob troupe, you should follow these guidelines to make sure you are able to get enough actors for your scene.

  • First, make sure you start asking people early enough. Six weeks is a good place to start. You want to have enough time for people to check their schedules, get time off work, and clear their calendar of any other obligations.
  • Second, ask everyone! Post on Craigslist, ask everyone in your email contacts, call up friends that owe you favors. Best of all, talk to some local acting agencies or acting troupes that are in the area and ask if they would like to attend. If possible, put it up on the news, or an ad in the paper.
  • Next, make sure you have a good bribe. Sure, you may want to stand around for a few hours on a Saturday, but not everyone shares your enthusiasm. If you offer something extra for showing up, it sweetens the deal. Having some food is a must. (Craft services tables are awesome) Offer everyone some gas money, and you might have to turn people away. If you’re making someone drive to a remote location, gas money shows how caring you are of everyone’s time.
  • Make sure you tell everyone what the details are. This should be simple: Date, Time, Location, Address, Directions, Costume, Film Title, Available Amenities, and What Weather to expect. Make sure you include this with all correspondence. And speaking of correspondence…
  • Contact often! Make sure that the people that have committed to helping you don’t forget and bail at the last minute. Especially if there’s a change in any of the important details. Once a week should work.

And then comes filming day, where you’ll be able to work with tons of extras, make plenty of contacts, and enjoy the fruits of your labor. Just make sure of one last thing:

Everyone showed up for a reason. Make sure you do not disappoint by being disorganized. 

But that’s a whole other post….

Character Name Generator

When you sit down to write a screenplay, you may run into a block: what to name your next character.

Remember that character names are important. A best practice is to make them mean something about their character, or even evoking an image when you say their name. (Beware of being too on the nose. See Meaningful Name)

So, I have found a good website that has a name generator for different characters and ethnicity. Once you find one, this site will also tell you what the name means, just so you can ensure you don’t name someone inappropriately. (For the reverse of this, Google “What Names mean ______”)

The Link: Behind The Name: Random Name Generator