Everyone has their favourite classic Christmas movie whether it’s Elf, Home Alone or something more traditional like It’s a wonderful Life or Miracle on 34th Street. For budding screenwriters and filmmakers, holiday movies can be the perfect script writing opportunity because budgets can be kept fairly low without compromising on quality. This, in part is because it’s about the underlying message and festive feel that holiday movies emote rather than big expensive car chases or explosions (although you could add these too.) With many platforms such as Lifetime or Hallmark in the US commissioning their original Christmas movies to draw in their audiences and keep them coming back during the festive season, we wonder why this is and what’s the appeal?
Generally, holiday movies work by tittering (the word is teetering) the audience on the edge between love-driven and fear-driven frames of mind, so we have a look at the winning ingredients that you can develop into seasonal teaching exercises that tend to drive a Christmas classic movie into success:
1. Family Values
Most families will watch classic Christmas movies together but, especially in recent times, families come in all shapes and sizes which means you need to be more widely relatable. Choose a family archetype and explore all the dynamics of this, for example the impact of divorced parents, widowed parents and families or even orphaned children. Using different family values will help you relate to the audience and strike a nerve with many.
2. The Cliché
While it might make the screenwriter yawn, a cliché is a must in a Christmas movie and helps to keep it light-hearted cinema that we all know and love. Whether it’s the stroppy teenager or the weird guy at the corner (who always turns out to be the big FC – Father Christmas? Not sure if everyone would get ‘the Big FC’ especially as he’s also known as Santa Claus…) an audience enjoys the familiar and often the clichés are what makes it the most memorable.
3. Christmas Feeling
Décor and atmosphere can make or break a Christmas movie. If you aren’t setting your Christmas movie during the festival season or featuring some sort of snow, tree, fairy lights or tinsel, you’re doing something wrong! Although contested, Die Hard, Trading Places and Lethal Weapon are still considered Christmas movies to some because they are set around Christmas time and have the traditional “good over evil triumphing” themes.
4. Appealing Childhood
For adults, the appeal of Christmas movies is being able to relive the magic of Christmas, whether that’s the feeling of family traditions that are passed down or undertones of nostalgia that appear in the story. Include magical elements like folklore and phrases that adults will have been told as children when telling the story to transport them back to that frame of mind.
5. The Big Bad
Overcoming obvious conflict is key, it doesn’t have to be shrouded in mystery or blindside the audience. In a Christmas movie, you are highlighting the “big bad” of the story and going on a journey to watch the characters overcome this, sometimes it goes off without a hitch and sometimes it doesn’t but audiences need to know who to root for. This could be tangible like Kevin protecting the house from burglars in Home Alone or Scrooge overcoming himself and changing for the better in A Christmas Carol. Either way the bad guy is obvious.
A Christmas movie can be an excellent project for screenwriters to sink into during the festive season and as you can see, they take a bit more consideration and planning than you might initially realise. For more seasonal inspiration, try these training exercises with your learners!
As Brian Tyler says, “your best work is only your best work, if works with the film”. Filmmaking is a collaborative creative process and the end goal can only be achieved when everyone works together. The creative process never stops, and for Brian, a project never finishes, it simply comes to an end when they run out of time. This is a lesson for us all; Brian is constantly building on what he has and striving to improve his pieces of music. For him, the work that goes out to the public is just a “snapshot” of the idea at the point he ran out of time. Don’t be afraid to change things as you go along as a director, don’t be afraid to allow your work to evolve. A piece of music can catch you off guard, and a piece that was meant to be drumming along in the background, can soon become the title music for the opening sequence. Allow your creativity to run free.
We know a musical score can make a film, but the film also makes the musical score. The film leads the way and influences composers work. As with any creative, they go through a process, just like if you’re directing a film or designing a set. Beginning by coming up with the central themes of the music he’s setting out to write, Brian normally starts at the piano. He maps out the themes of the piece he’s going to create; taking influence from the film. Brian discusses the relevance of knowing about the filmmaking process (take a look at our article on the 3 phases of filmmaking). Filmmaking tips and techniques are not just for the camera man. The more you know about the filming process, camera angles, lighting and editing, the easier it is to capture the essence of the film in the music.
As a director, if you’re asking someone to create a piece of music for your film – you need to involve them in your creative process and allow them to be part of your vision. Leaving them in the dark isn’t going to help them shed light on your film with a beautiful musical score. One of our top filmmaking tips for students has got to be to communicate. Communicating with the team around you will make your vision many times easier to achieve.
The director is the main man (or woman), and every director is going to enjoy different types of music. A film composer has to understand the different genres because all the filmmaking tips in the world won’t help someone who doesn’t know their genres. But equally, remember that your favourite piece of music might not be the best piece of music for your film. A composer needs to be central to the creative process and understand the director’s wants and needs, before they can really engage with the piece of music they’re creating. As a director, think about what a composer might need to know. Every composer will be different, just like every director will be different. You need to become a collaborative force, so together you can create something meaningful. With the right team around you, turning your filmmaking dreams into a reality is one step closer. Give this article about turning filmmaking dreams into reality a read to see what else goes into it.
To see Brian Tyler describing and explaining the above philosphy and approaches in his own words, check out this micro-documentary.
Winter’s making its move. There was FROST on the ground yesterday morning… Frost! To help counter darkening and cooling days and nights, let’s remember that the cinema and sofa are 2 great places to spend more time over the winter.
Tim Dirk’s Filmsite.org offers us an inspired list of some of the funniest film quotes from the last 50 years. Here’s a selection to wet your appetite for more:
“Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here! This is the War Room.”
Dr. Strangelove: Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)
“I don’t want to talk to you no more, you empty-headed animal food trough wiper. I fart in your general direction. Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries.”
– “Is there someone else up there we could talk to?”
– “No, now go away, or I shall taunt you a second time.”
Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)
“What? Over? Did you say ‘over’? Nothing is over until we decide it is! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell no!”
Animal House (1978)
“…My story? Okay. It was never easy for me. I was born a poor black child. I remember the days, sittin’ on the porch with my family, singin’ and dancin’ down in Mississippi…”
The Jerk (1979)
“Surely you can’t be serious.”
– “I am serious. And don’t call me Shirley.”
“They’re not gonna catch us. We’re on a mission from God.”
The Blues Brothers (1980)
“Thank you for a memorable afternoon. Usually one must go to a bowling alley to meet a woman of your stature.”
“Why don’t you just make ten louder and make ten be the top number and make that a little louder?”
– “These go to eleven.”
This Is Spinal Tap (1984)
“Ned, I would love to stand here and talk with you – but I’m not going to.”
Groundhog Day (1993)
“…Nobody calls me Lebowski. You got the wrong guy. I’m the Dude, man.”
The Big Lebowski (1998)
Check out the rest (with a few potentially not-safe-for-school entries, be warned!) on filmsite.org – and let’s embrace the season with catching up on and rewatching some old favorites to help us laugh our way through to Spring!
Occasionally, we’re invited to challenge how we think about film narrative structures, and might just never think about plot and character interaction the same way again. Cult website XKCD manage this with aplomb – and manage to make us laugh out loud while they’re at it.
Great filmmakers have great stories to tell, which they demonstrate repeatedly for our pleasure. Let’s not forget that storytelling exists in a myriad of formats though, starting with the oral tradition and the written word, long before we cracked how to project images of light against the wall of a darkened room.
Its inevitable then that the great storytellers in film also have a thing or two to share with us in just words. Here are a few of our favorites…
Panic, dread, fear and anguish. 4 emotions that cinema chain owners, studios and everyone along the distribution process in Hollywood are all currently feeling.
Remember last year, when an idea was running around of a home movie service that would allow people to watch new cinema releases from the comfort of their coach? Screening Room it was called – as if Netflix hadn’t done enough damage already.
In March of this year, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings even made headlines for making the claim that the movie chains hadn’t innovated in 30 years, stating the only advantage of them is “well, the popcorn tastes better, but that’s about it.”
While most people think Netflix is some huge company disrupting the whole distribution industry – this is only half-true. If we take a step back then we see it’s only the tip of the iceberg. Netflix seems to have merely affected the way that films and, more generally, content, reaches its audience audiences.
That is fantastic for big TV and film producers, but doesn’t mean much for independent filmmakers, yet. In fact, most indie films sold to these new digital distribution channels went to Amazon rather than Netflix; for example, Kenneth Lonergan’s harrowing Manchester by the Sea and Best Picture Oscar winner Moonlight. You can really see the touch of veteran indie film producer, Ted Hope, who is now helming Amazon Studios.
If we consider this within a different context, music for example, most of us now take for granted that we’re going to listen to music on Spotify or Apple Music. If we really want to buy music, we’ll go on iTunes and buy digital files as opposed to physical CDs or vinyl. This is a drastic shift, and one which has caused a surge in independent music. A small band that you love can now record its music in their garage and upload it for the world to listen, all done from their laptop. It’s easy to forget how radical that notion was even 20 years ago: really revolutionising an entire established industry and opening it up to smaller players.
The film industry is also going through profound changes, and cinemas will have to adapt to survive. Netflix is just a traditional company, nothing incredible, but they sure know how to make the most of the new wave of digital technologies. It’s just like the 2008 financial crisis: you can look at it as a phenomenon in and of itself, or you can look at it as a ripple in a bigger, wider undercurrent. But how will this wave affect us, the independent filmmakers? Will we eventually have the same channels indie music has, and just upload our movies (and actually make money from them)?
Netflix and Amazon haven’t figured this out yet. They haven’t worked out how to make production as simple as it could be, or as DIY as independent filmmakers are used to. But it’s not all doom-and-gloom, because that’s actually where the power of independent filmmakers lie: you can shoot how you like, improve your work, put it out on social media and, if you have enough following, you can reach enough people to get noticed – the only missing piece is making it a real business model.
Hollywood, digital distribution channels, and independent filmmakers: how these 3 puzzle pieces will eventually fit together is yet to be seen. However we predict that Hollywood will adapt to appease the likes of Netflix and Amazon, whilst indie filmmakers will (hopefully) hop on great new channels to distribute themselves.
The cinema industry has changed drastically in the last 10 years, as it has struggled with decreasing ticket sales. Like all entertainment formats, it will need to continue to adapt as it enters an uncertain future. However cinemas around the world are finding new ways to attract customers off their sofas, with Netflix and online pirating, and into their cinemas. Here are a few of the innovative ways they’re doing it:
- Virtual Reality
With Oculus Rift and other hyper-realistic virtual reality headsets now developed, cinemas are making use of the new technology to attract audiences. With promises of total immersion and a viewing experience unlike any other, it is easy to understand the attraction.
There is still a long way to go for virtual reality to become mainstream, with headsets costing hundreds of pounds and a severe lack of especially designed content. However, new ground is being made on both these fronts, for example Oscar-winning director of Birdman and The Revenant, Alejandro G. Iñárritu recently produced a VR project called “Carne y Arena” and exhibited it at the Cannes Film Festival.
- Dolby Cinema
There are now 72 advanced Dolby Cinema theaters in the United States, complete with laser projection and an advanced 360-degree ring of speakers wrapped around the audience. This offers audiences a viewing (and hearing!) experience beyond what is possible at home, hence attracting paying customers. The technology first attracted attention with the film Gravity. Imagine seeing that film on a huge 3D screen, within an immerse soundscape created by 30+ individually programmed speakers – it’s simply something unrivalled by home audio-visual set-ups.
- Food and Booze
As mentioned before, movie theatres are searching to create new and exciting experiences, more than just films, which will draw audiences from far and wide to their box office. Many cinemas now offer a perfect date night package, a film, food and wine!
“We’re competing with your home,” says Hamid Hashemi, CEO of Florida-based iPic Entertainment, and many more cinemas are following suit, offering food and boozy nights to seemlessly blend with the onscreen main attraction.
- Video Game Tournaments
Some theatres are even using their screens to host video game tournaments. “That’s the dream of every theater,” MediaMation CEO Daniel Jamele said. “It gives them an alternate source of income, which is what they need.”
That is just the kind of thought that will save many movie theatres from going into bankruptcy, by increasing their box office sales by finding multiple uses for theatres with giant screens
Of course anyone who has studied general relativity would know that the 4th dimension is actually time. Although by that definition all films are 4D, as they travel and change over time. But cinemas could never sell that, so 4D to them means moving seats and other senses.
Although it is still mostly reserved to theme parks, more and more 4D cinema experiences are popping up around the world. For example, South Korean company CJ 4Dplex Co has created 4DX, designed to make people feel as if they’re part of the action. Whilst a Torrance-based company called MediaMation makes its own competing version of 4DX, the motion-seat technology, called MX4D.
2017’s annual gathering of the great and good of the UK’s Film and Media education community at BFI Southbank on 29-30 June was another example of the BFI using their unique position in the UK’s Film to be able to attract some of the biggest names in the industry, to present and discuss some of the most pressing and relevant topics being grappled with today.
Despite its popularity, one of the few bugbears that delegates in previous years have simply had to put up with is the fact that in order to be able to pack 40 amazing workshops and presentations into only 2 short days, the organisers have to program FIVE streams of presentions to happen simultaneously. You do the maths: that means that the very BEST any one delegate is going to be able to see is only 20% of the conference, MAX!
Until this year…. when the BFI invited film and media VLE Quickclass to partner with them and Bournemouth University to create a Catchup service exclusively for the conference’s delegates! This special team then filmed, edited, compressed and uploaded 26 of the 40 sessions during the conference to the Quickclass platform, where they’ll be available for 3 months. Conference delegates just need to log in on the Quickclass Filmmaking apps or at members.quickclass.net and navigate to Reference Films to catchup with the talks they missed or even rewatch the sessions they really loved and learnt the most from.
The gargantuan effort that the Bournemouth students, MondoTV and Quickclass put into production seemed appropriate at a Film Education conference, and hopefully the added value to the conference will allow much more of the wisdom to reach the conference delegates than would ever have been possible in the past!
Contact email@example.com to find out more about how a secure App-based VLE can be used in all sorts unexpected scenarios to enhance the learning around film and media education!
How we watch is changing
This isn’t necessarily to do with smartphone filmmaking, but smartphone film-watching. Even just a decade ago, it was relatively rare- and quite expensive indeed- to buy a ‘smartphone’ that could access and play video through the internet. It was around ten years ago that the first iPhone was released, and although it was popular, it was simply one among many phones rather than the hegemonic beast it is today.
Today, though, the ease with which we can watch movies on smartphones is changing how we consume not just film, but all media. Whereas before, we might get our news at ten o’clock from the BBC or ITV, now we find things out on the go through news apps. Similarly, sites like Netflix have changed how we watch film: it’s completely ordinary to see people on the way to work watching films or TV through either Netflix, iTunes or Hulu.
This is partly down to the fact that Wi-Fi has become far more common on trains, buses and at cafés. It’s also because data plans are cheaper and data can be downloaded faster through a 4G mobile connection. Ten years ago, it was practically infeasible to watch films of real length on smartphones without constant buffering and poor quality, but today we can watch TV and film in high resolution wherever we go (except through train tunnels; they still haven’t figured that one out).
How we film is changing
It’s not just how we consume media that’s changed, it’s how we create media, film included. If you take a quick peek around YouTube, you might get an idea of the general quality of smartphone filmmaking: shaky and unstable, poor quality audio and strange aspect ratios abound. But here’s a few smartphone filmmaking tips that take into account the way that cinema is changing for the better:
- Camera equipment for smartphones is making films shot on iPhones and Android actually look good. Tripods and stands, 35mm lenses and even editing software apps mean that you can shoot a professional film just with your phone. The first film shot on an iPhone, for instance, was called Night Fishing– a half an hour short shot through a 35mm lens. A more recent film called Tangerine used an anamorphic lens to achieve the wide-angle look of professional films, but was still captured with an iPhone 5.
- You don’t have to stick to traditional filmmaking. A recent film, STARVECROW, was billed as the world’s first ‘selfie movie’. But it wasn’t just a gimmick; it was part of the story, which was supposed to highlight the topics of surveillance, self-surveillance, narcissism and voyeurism. It was tapered down from over 70 hours of semi-scripted and improvised footage into an 85 minute feature film, which is really worth a watch.
What is cinema if not those moments of career defining brilliance delivered by actors at the top of their game, inspiring delight in audiences worldwide? Well… its still cinema, but without the Icing, the Cherry, the Sparkle that keeps us coming back for more.
To celebrate some of the best cinematic lines in history, here are a few of our favourites – see if you and your students can match the quote to the character/actor who delivered the line with such aplomb.
Answers at the very bottom.
- “Where we’re going, we don’t need roads”.
- “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
- “We’ll always have Paris.”
- “Get busy living or get busy dying.”
- “Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer. ”
- “I’m not bad. I’m just drawn that way.”
- “Try not. Do—or do not. There is no try.”
- “As my plastic surgeon always said, if you gotta go, go with a smile.”
- “Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here! This is the War Room!”
- “I ate his liver with some favs beans and a nice chianti.”
- “I’m pretty sure there’s a lot more to life than being really really ridiculously good looking. And I plan on finding out that that is.”
- “Well, what if there is no tomorrow? There wasn’t one today.”
- “These go to 11.”
- “Here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into!”
- “The Dude abides.”
- “All those moments will be lost int time, like tears.. in.. rain. Time to die.”
a) Bill Murry as Phil Connors in Groundhog Day
b) Matthew Broderick as Ferris Bueller in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
c) Tim Robbins as Andy Dufresne in The Shawshank Redemption
d) Rutger Hauer as Roy Batty in Blade Runner
e) Al Pacino as Michael Corleone in The Godfather: Part II
f) Christopher Lloyd as Dr. Emmett Brown in Back to the Future
g) Chistopher Guest as Nigel Tufnell in This is Spinal Tap
h) Ben Stiller as Derek Zoolander
i) Anthony Hopkins as Dr Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs
j) Frank Oz as Yoda in Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
k) Jack Nicholson as The Joker in Batman
l) Kathleen Turner as Jessica Rabbit in Who Framed Roger Rabbit
m) Oliver Hardy as Ollie in Sons of the Desert
n) Jeff Bridges as the Dude in The Big Lebowski
o) Humphrey Bogart as Rick Blaine in Casablanca
p) Peter Sellers as President Merkin Muffley in Dr Strangelove
1f, 2b, 3o, 4c, 5e, 6l, 7j, 8k, 9p, 10i, 11h, 12a, 13g, 14m, 15n, 16d