The youtube filmmakers part II: Neil Bloomkamp

A few months back, I wrote something about the idea of the youtube filmmaker, that is a filmmaker that we can respect that came out of youtube. I mentioned a video that looked a little bit like district 9, but I didn’t go into too much detail about what exactly that means. So I wanted to talk about the filmmaker behind it, the one that I think might be the closest thing to the “youtube filmmaker” that we have right now.

If you guys don’t already know the history of Neil Bloompkamp, he started as a little known commercial director in South Africa, who produced a bunch of really interesting sci-fi shorts. Peter Jackson eyed him as the potential director for The Halo movie, but when that fell through, they decided to produce a full length version of one of Neil Blomkamps mockumentaries:

It was a total star wars situation, nobody thought anything of it, but when it came out, it blew people away. It was really not like anything that was out there, with creative special effects (more interesting, in my opinion, than avatars), powerful drama, and interesting and unexpected twists, the movie went on to making tons of money and was eventually nominated for an oscar for best picture. Thats pretty impressive for a video that had no more the 30,000 views.

Even now, I’d argue that hollywood is still trying to tap into the originality that was district 9. After it came out, there were a dozen rip offs, none of them nearly as good as the original (or even, you know, good at all). And that’s really what I wanted to talk about: what really needs to come out of hollywood is originality. The crystal towers method is just not good for creative, in order for hollywood to continue functioning it needs fresh blood that figure out interesting ways to tell good stories (that’s nothing knew).

And the great thing about district 9 is other then Peter Jackson, the film has no pedigree. The main actor is a special effects guy, other actors include Neil Bloomkamps wife. It’s just people being creative.

Check out Bloomkamps “trailer” for his next film (maybe?):


Dr. Dre is late to his own party….

So finally after almost a decade, Dr. Dre is ready to put out Detox. Because of this fact this is a blog directly related to videos and music videos, I won’t waste your time talking about the song itself, but about how absolutely boring and derivative the music video is.

The music video

Cool concept right? Dr. Dre, is such a badass that his lighter magically causes the world to stop moving.  And theres a lot of really hot chicks that are frozen in different positions throwing drinks at dudes, because lets be honest, liquids frozen in place just look awesome.

I think the video is so representative of the song. It’s stylish, pretty to look at, and absolutely understands the importance of it’s pedigree but its filled with so many stolen and derivative ideas, it feels like Dr. Dre really lost his touch and is just trying to make a video that he think will be popular by todays standards.

you: shut up Benji. It’s a cool idea and you know it.

me: it was a cool idea, but it was done like 3 months ago. By some director that nobodies ever heard of before unless your from sweden:

you: but he turns on the lighter and the sprinklers go off, and a bunch of hot chicks start dancing!

me: really?

you: shut up! Dr. Dre is amazing. its been forever since he came out with an album, and he’s still probably the best producer alive, so who gives a shit if some of the ideas in his video have been done before. His new album is probably going to be awesome.

me: your probably right. But rap is so populated with excellent ideas and interesting rappers, its too bad that this is all Dr. Dre has to bring to the table. Kanye West, Eminem, B.O.B. and all the other rappers that Dr. Dre had such a clear influence on outdid the master. I mean Kanye West had a forty minute movie. It just feels like Dr. Dre just came a little late to his own party. And brought a cheap ass bottle of champagne rather then the crystal that everyone else is drinking.

The Youtube Filmmaker

Rotten tomatoes just interviewed Francis Ford Coppola recently, and rather then there usual, vague questions aobut the his favorite movies, that actually had a pretty interesting discussion. They talked mostly about Apocalypse now, and how it matches to modern audience, but of the things they talked about was The youtube generation. Coppola famously suggested at the end of the documentary Heart of Darkness (the documentary about the making of Apocalypse now) that he hoped that one day, people would buy there own 8 mm cameras and start making great films; “for once, the professionalism of movies will be destroyed” So they asked him about what he thought about youtube and he had some pretty interesting things to say:

“The issue of distribution is worse than ever, and of course, YouTube is an opportunity to get a short film out there, and it’s become a cultural phenomenon. But everything today still competes for the attention of an audience. And it’s not just film or theater or those art forms, it’s news — cable news is entertainment, all politics to me is entertainment. Everybody is trying to get the attention of this audience — as they call it, “eyeballs.” The problem still remains for cinema as an ever-experimental form.”

(for the whole article click here)

So the question is, is youtube really that revolutionary means of showing work that people all think it is? On one hand, anybody can show there movie on youtube, and in that same way, anybody can have those films get recognize. People can put up the first five minutes of there films in hopes that it will eventually get funded, and sometimes there successful (more about that in a second). Filmmakers who don’t have the money to go through the festival circuit can put there films online and have just as many fans. And this is a good thing: you don’t need to spend ten years of your life going through a system so you can make your film. We can say what we want, but it’s not just Scorcese and Coppola who have opinions on the morality of the mafia, it’s everybody. So why not let anybody show that opinion? Sure budgeting might be the big issue, but anybody will tell you that the most creative films are made budget-less. 

But then the problem becomes the audience; what do we primarily watch on youtube? While you can talk about die antwoord all you want, intellectual stimulation is never the purpose of our common youtube search. Usually we’re looking for cute animals to do something funny, or to watch a fellow human being do something so hideously embarassing that we can’t help but watch it. Or it’s a means of people just standing in front of a camera and complaining about something for a little while. The problem with youtube is that it’s not as meaningful as a theatre because its purpose is not to stimulate us; it’s purpose is to distract us. When a couple looks at a list of films they would like to see that evening, they talk to each other and say: “well honey I really want to see something scary tonight” There, the intent is to take 2 hours out of our night to watch something scary. We watch youtube when we’re at work taking a break, or we share links on each others facebook walls, we don’t take time out of our evening to watch a youtube video.

Fine, so youtube itself is not a grounds of stimulation, thats not rocket science. I think the really interesting question is this: will a filmmaker that we respect come out from youtube? Will somebody who made an awesome 5 minute video eventually make an oscar winning epic?

It is possible. Certain films have been picked up by major studios that started on youtube. The raven is a film that was made for no more then 2000 dollars, and Mark Wahlberg has decided to put it into production to make it a full lenght feature

As we can see, there are the great things that we love about that five minute distraction, and the things we would hate to see on a big screen. It looks cool and it feels like district 9, but so far, there isn’t anything too deep to sink our teeth into.

Tips for making a good movie in college

Before we get to far into filmmaking at the college level, we should estabilish this ground rule: it is hard. You have extremely limited resources, a full course load and are surrounded by amateurs that are willing to work on your film.  Any form of ambition is easily destroyed because of your lack of knowledge of a certain program or legal laws in the state of missouri. They are so many obstacles in the filmmaking process that the fact that you even get something done is a feat within itself. That said, you can still make great movies in your time in college if you use the resources around you in an efficient way. Here are a few tips to make a great movie:

1. Telling an interesting and simple story.

The first thing that every filmmaker should start with is the story that they want to tell. And this is where we can immediatle be able to see two types of absolutely terrible film habits that people get into.

First is that of telling a generic story. As you are in college, your first instinct is to make a story about yourself and to use your freinds as your other actors. The most stereotypical and terrible version of a student film is the wake up scene. A student wakes up (by the way, it always starts with a shot a the alarm clock beeping and somebody putting there hand on the alarm clock.) and something zany happens to stop him from getting to his eventual goal. While you will have a ton of fun, you will have spent a ton of time on a peice of work that honestly, nobody will care about. Don’t be afraid to tell an interesting story; rather than using your freinds as actors, try to find local actors in the city willing to help out, you’d be surprise by how many actors would work for free just for the experience. Tell a story about an old man, or incorporate a little kid into your film. The inspiration of your film shouldn’t just come from your own daily life, but things that you’ve read about in class or heard about on your tv. At the end of the day, you only have a few minutes to grab somebodies attention, so make it something worthwhile.

the second type of terrible film is the overly ambitious film. Yes, you have taken a class in maya, and so has your freind. Yes, the scorpion in clash of the titans look cool. And no, no matter how hard you work and how much effort you put into your film, having a scorpion running around on your campus killing people will always look cheesy. That is not to say you shouldn’t just shoot what’s around you, youtube is full of instances where people found creative ways to incorporate “special effects.” Just don’t go the hollywood route, it will never work. Also, try not to make anything over fifteen minutes. You will never have enough time to finesse the film to the level you want to. which leads us to our next tip.

2. know who you are

the first thing you have to remember when your making a film is that, for the moment, you are neither quentin tarantino or Francis Ford Coppola. You cannot have massive explosions, 15 peice ensemble cast with academy award winning actors, and massive fight scenes. you will have a team of maybe 5 people behind the camera, with maybe 4 actors at the most. And if you’ve written a simple and interesting script, none of this should be a problem. Everyone around you is at the same level that you are: nobody is a professional, they have there set level of skills, and they too want to know how to make a movie.  So expect things to go wrong. If your shooting on film, expect your dp to accidentally expose a roll of film or two. Expect your actors to possibly dissappear and your sets to change constantly. While working on take the pretty gun, the morning of my shoot I received a text message from one of my actresses, who I had scheduled to come in for a shoot for weeks, that she would not be able to come to my shoot because her grandfather had just had a heart attack. As a result, I ended up using my roommate to replace her in the scene,  and maybe I just say this because I like to be impressed with myself, but her part is my favorite performance. The most important thing you should remember on a student film is that you are still a student, and that you are learning, and the biggest thing that you can learn on a small film set is something that you follow you if you decide to make it a professional career: shit happens. Things get fucked up. The better the filmmaker, the better you are able to fix these kinds of situations. That’s not to say you shouldn’t try to stop these situations from happening. which leads to the next point.

3. Take yourself seriously.

While this may seem counterintuitive to the last tip, its not. It’s very possible to stay somewhat modest while still taking yourself seriously.

something you will come to learn when you get into filmmaking is how disdainful other people are around you. It’s a simple fact of psychology, everybody kinda wants to be famous, and everybody thinks that they can do there job better then you can.

So prove them wrong. ALWAYS show up to the set with a written out shot list and storyboard. talk professionally, instead of saying things like “I want the camera to move across the screen” say “I want to pan.” Be very sure of the vision that you have for the film, and hold the people around you to that vision. as a result, everything will stay in control and in your balance.

As soon as you start fooling around, as soon as you spend a roll of film on your dp’s buttcheeks, thats when things will start to fall apart and you’ll lose control of your set. Not only is there now the distinct possibility that things of very expensive value will start breaking around you, but the people on your set will lose respect in you and start doing whatever it is that they want to do. Remind them that your the one making the movie and not anybody else.  As I said before, things will go wrong, but the more serious and focused you stay, the better chance you have at stopping these things from happening.

4. staying true to your vision.

Once you’ve finished with your short film, you will begin showing it to the people around you. Some people will love it, especially the people that worked on the film. They will show it to your freinds and family and will smile whenever they see the flick. Others will be more critical. While it is extremely important that you take criticism on your film, and try to fix any changes that you feel are possible to change, in my mind, there are certain criticisms which you should never listen to.

For instance, when I finished my film a tooth fairy, I showed the film to one of my professors, and was told that the film was to naive.  This professor wished that there was more subversion, and that the tooth fairy in the film was actually a pedophile rather then a simple tooth fairy. This is a criticism I chose to ignore, because in telling a story about an actual pedophile, I would be telling a different story altogether, one that I didn’t want to tell. While some professors will give you the criticism of a film that you do not know what story you wanted to tell, which is an extremely important criticism to keep in mind, when there is a story that you want to tell, stick to it. These are the kinds of things that will follow you for the rest of your career as a filmmaker. While the technical skills that you have might make you more of a viably professional candidate,  its the stories that you choose to tell that will mold you into a truly interesting filmmaker.

These are just a few tips, and theres of course a ton more that you can read about in books.

The art award

So I just won the art award at CMU, which is amazing. Thanks to everybody that helped out on my productions. you will definitely be seeing more work where those films came from. Expect a new 16 mm film by december. No idea what its about yet.

thanks for the love,

Benji Welmond

Secret City

If you guys are looking for something fun to do this weekend in pittsburg, the Secret City is a great idea. Secret city was designed by an ex-professor at Carnegie Mellon Drama school, and is a scavenger hunt through the Braddock library. If you didn’t already know, the braddock library is huge, scattered with a pool, a basketball court, and a “crying room”, Allen Hahn’s scavenger hunt is a deep exploration of it’s history and environment.

Check it out for info:

Next Project

So I love dubstep because thats where im from, and its beautiful stuff, and one of my high school freinds has been writing alot of poetry, so I’m thinking of mixing her poetry with a bassnectar song. I’ll try to stay away from making cliche boring vj shit, but it definitely will be a challenge. It can happen though.

If you’ve never heard of Bassnectar before, now you have

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