Claire-Dee Lim

Writer, Content Marketing

DIY Ways to Learn About the Movie Business

UPDATED with screenplay link: 2/23/19

I get this question a lot from my film students: what more can I do to learn about filmmaking and the industry?

The answer is multi-fold:

  1. Watch as many films or TV shows as you can. From indies to blockbusters, foreign films, in a theater, streaming, it doesn’t matter. The more content you watch, the more you’ll learn about storytelling and filmmaking techniques. (Although, I’m not a fan of phone viewing; all you get is the story and not the incredible cinematics.)

This seems pretty obvious, right? You’ll be amazed at the number of students I’ve encountered who don’t see anything. The reasons why are always the same: any extra time is spent texting, on social media channels or watching YouTube. I admit to falling into a YouTube cyberhole (Dr. Pimple Popper, stop feeding our popaholic addiction!) but I can pull myself out. For some, it’s practically impossible. Which leads me to …

  1. Prioritize your viewing. If you want to be a director, cinematographer, editor or production designer, watch all the films made by your favorites and analyze them. Go the extra mile: listen to their DVD commentary, read interviews and film criticism. You love Christopher Nolan or Gordon Willis? Dive into their oeuvre—it’s the best kind of personal film school.
  2. The same goes for being a writer, producer, documentarian. Immerse yourself and become that annoying film nerd … and I say this with the utmost affection.
  3. Also, for aspiring writers … not only should you watch movies written by your fave screen and tv writers, read the scripts. It’s easy to get caught up in the visuals of a movie, so reading helps isolate the written storytelling and structure. Scripts are available online. For free! (Read the 2018 award season screenplays too.)
  4. Read the trades to find out what producers, directors, actors, and studios are doing what, what’s in development, what are the hot spec screenplay sales, ratings, studio wars, intrigue and more—this info is all there for the gleaning: THR, Variety, Deadline, Cynopsis, TV By the Numbers, to name a few.
  5. Listen to The Business on KCRW, hosted by Kim Masters, editor-at-large of the Hollywood Reporter, the weekly program covers an industry report then follows with interviews of mainstream to indie talent about their current projects. There are lots of insights to be had here.  Previous shows are archived.
  6. Listen to The Treatment, also on KCRW, hosted by film critic Elvis Mitchell. In his weekly show, he interviews innovative talent from the entertainment industry. He’s such a film champion that he can always find something informative and positive to say about any movie. I may not agree with his tastes but I always get something out of his perspective.
  7. Practice, practice, practice. Write and shoot. Technology has made it so easy to shoot and edit anything, and it’s cheaper than ever. And there’s really no excuse not to.

Here’s to You, Jack Tuller!

Of all the memorable and hallucinatory scenes in the movie The Big Lebowski, one always comes to mind. Walter (John Goodman) and the Dude (Jeff Bridges) stand on an ocean side cliff to spread the ashes of their deceased friend Donny. As Walter gives his eulogy, oblivious to the wind whipping through the Dude’s blonde, surfer locks, you can see the punchline for the visual joke coming from a mile away. The absurdity of the scene is underscored by Bridge’s blank expression as the human ashes whirl about, crusting over his beard and sunglasses.

It’s an iconic and hilarious scene, and I couldn’t help but think it about when I recently took part in an ashes spreading ceremony for my dear friend Jack Tuller. After initially surviving brain cancer over twenty-six years ago, he succumbed to a recurrence, and died at fifty-eight.

The event took place November 2 on a warm and bright day in Sutro Heights Park, San Francisco, overlooking the Great Highway and Ocean Beach. Jack chose the spot not only because of special significance but, elevated on a bluff and surrounded by trees, it was protected from the wind. And that was important to Jack. The wind at Ocean Beach is always relentlessly gusty. I cracked up when his wife, Jen, shared Jack’s reaction when he landed on the location for his final resting place. “Look Jen, there’s no wind!”

And that was the thing about Jack. One of the qualities I cherished about him was his interest and championing of others. Even at his most debilitated, he’d ask me “How ya’ doing?” “What’s going on? “Tell me everything!” That consistent connection enabled him to maintain deep friendships with a large circle of people–relationships that spanned decades.

At the ceremony, we were given a bottle of Jack’s ashes. They resembled grainy sand. I spread a few and kept a few, smiling at the memories of a departed friend, who even in death, wanted to make sure we didn’t have our own Big Lebowski moment.

To read more about Jack Tuller and his spirited life and loves, check out his obituary at weremember.

Prick Up Your Ears

For you audiobook lovers, here are some recent standouts. I’m recommending them not just because the stories are engaging, fascinating, and heartrending. They have so much more going on in the form of using multiple narrators! Now I’ve written before about how a mediocre narrator can sink an otherwise wonderful story. Where these three audiobooks shine is in the casting of a distinct and skillful voice talent for each character. This not only adds to the character’s point of view, it enhances the storytelling, and practically quadruples the entertainment value!

My latest favorites:

2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson

In the year 2140, global warming has caused the polar ice caps to melt thus raising coastal water levels by 50 feet. Portions of New York City are underwater and what remains is now an intricate canal system, like a “super Venice.” Well-heeled New Yorkers now live in skyscrapers and the less fortunate squat in crumbling, water-logged structures from midtown to Battery Park. The cast of ten characters weave a story that mixes socioeconomic commentary, technological foreshadowing with plenty of sardonic New York attitude. I’d say the book is more futurist fiction than science fiction. The narrators are stellar and bring lots of humor to this watery world.

 

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

Where are multiple narrators best suited? In an epistolary novel, of course! Shaffer and Barrows’s story is centered around a smart and spirited heroine, and the formidable members of a book group (of the title) formed during the WWII German occupation of the Isle of Guernsey–located in the English Channel. The tale is told in moving detail about the impact of the occupation on the characters’ lives through a series of letters. There’s lots of history, drama, charm, and romance, rendered with nuance by a strong cast. The Netflix movie is pretty captivating too.

 

Dark Eden by Chris Beckett

This one really falls into the sci-fi category. The first novel of a trilogy, the series is about a community–the ancestors of an expedition from Earth–that live on a sunless planet. They long for the day when they’ll be rescued and returned “home” to Earth. Beckett has created a fascinating world of mythmaking and language — where the audiobook really excels! Narrators perform with various British accents indicating class structures as well as clever wordplay to depict this future-primitive planet.

 

If you have any audiobook recommendations with lots of narrators, let me know!

 

Tidying Up: More Than A Clean Garage

In my effort to lead a minimalist lifestyle, I’ve been falling into a cyberhole–specifically watching lots of YouTube videos. From decluttering, tossing, photo organizing, drawer porn, to creating your own capsule clothing collection (is it really possible to only wear 30 items, including accessories, per season?!), these videos offer the promise of leading a serene life in a totally white kitchen with nothing on the counters except a bowl of limes, for that pop of color, and a sparse closet of black and white clothing on blonde wood hangers. At some point, you have to stop watching, get brutal and dive in.

It’s really not difficult to de-junk closets and a garage if you embrace the Marie Kondo of it all. That old lawn mower sparks more despair than joy, especially since we removed our lawn and created a xeriscape years ago. Until I got to the shoeboxes of letters and postcards I’d received over the decades. Before email and texting, we wrote letters. Remember that time? Handwritten letters filled with stories, anecdotes, and humor. And the emotion is incredibly poignant, honest, and so drama filled. As I started sorting through these gems from my past, I laughed out loud, got teary, and marveled at the effort placed in these missives.

Before I tucked into the organizing task, I had a plan: to keep the best letters and toss the rest. But once I started … well, could I really throw away the love letters from long-gone boyfriends and long-distance romances? These scribbled out pronouncements of love and detailed descriptions of everyday tedium on lined notebook paper? Long-distance phone calls were really expensive back then, so we had to keep our loved ones and friends filled in on the minutiae to keep the “relating” part of the relationship going.

I did manage to toss some letters from high school and travel pen pals; all filled with angst about homework, restrictive parents, and college applications. I felt no nostalgia for that time in my life however, I kept a few from the summer after 8th grade. I was 13 going on 14, puberty hormones were raging and no surprise, boys were the hot topic. My best friend at the time wrote me while I was away at music camp. She talked about going to the movies at the multiplex with two boys she and another friend liked. They saw Jaws for $2!!, then attempted to sneak into these horror “classics,”  Bugs and Sssssss, the same evening. Who sees double features these days let along three movies in one evening?!

Her description of the evening was so vivid and detailed down to the seating arrangements. Who sat next to whom! This stuff mattered to teenage girls!

Not only did this letter catapult me back to that summer but it also reminded me that letters and cards are records of our lives. While some letters were cringe-worthy and painful to read (particularly those from college friends who never got off the party train and who are now deceased), most were beautiful expressions of friendship, shared experiences, and love … all sparking joy.

 

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