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.

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.

Why do all screenplays use Courier font?

The standard screenplay format dictates that you use Courier New font. It’s a blocky typewriter font that is sometimes difficult to read.

 

Django Unchained

 

Ever wonder why this font is industry standard?

Most sources say that it is a holdover from Hollywood’s golden age when scripts were typed on typewriters. Although Hollywood rarely eschews tradition, this isn’t the case.

Courier is a fixed-pitch font, meaning each character or space is exactly the same width. Since standard screenplay format is designed so that one page approximately equals one minute of screen time, consistent character spacing is important.

-screenwriting.io

This way when you finish a massive epic screenplay that spans 200 pages, you can estimate that your audience will have to stay in their seats for over 3 hours.

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

The Muppets!

So, I saw a good movie yesterday, nay, a great movie.

So, I’m here in Washington on vacation, and I drag my sister and mom to the theater to watch it. I’ve grown up on the muppets, from Sesame Street, to their decades-old films, to watching The Muppet Christmas Carol last year in school. So, yes, I was excited before I went to the theater, and had high expectations.

But once I saw it, it fufilled all my expectations. The story mirrored what the actor/writer/director Jason Segel went through in getting the muppets back up and running.

And everything what just the way I remember:

The dance numbers

The celebrity guests

The drama between Kermit and everyone (okay, this one’s new. Kermit wasn’t his usual arm-flailing self. He gave up easily and was melancholy for most of the movie.)

The cameos of one-off characters that you would only notice because you watched all the movies.

Everything was pretty much awesome as a whole.

There’s perhaps one more reason that I enjoyed it. Muppets are at the critical point in their nostalgia curve. You hit the peak once the generation that grew up with you is in the 18-25 range, or has young kids that will enjoy them. (Graph to follow) The muppets are at the point that most of us that grew up with them have not seen them for enough time, that any scrap of what comes after is lauded.

In short, good movie, glad that a crucial piece from my childhood is back.

If Your Friends Don’t Dance…

This is something that has bugged me for some time.

You have a movie that has two sides, fighting for whatever reason. = Good.

Both sides come to some mutual resolution and learn to not hate each other. = Good.

Right before the closing credits, all the characters have a dance party instead of an epilogue, or any closing comments. = THE WORST THING EVER.

Seriously, when you have a movie, take the time to write five lines of dialogue at the end. Even if it’s narration, or a Stand By Me style epilogue. But for everything that you hold dear, don’t make your characters just start dancing with each other because you are too lazy to finish the movie.

Notable examples: Shrek, Gnomeo and Juliet, Despicable Me, Tropic Thunder. I’m sure there’s more, but I try not to watch bad movies.