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Suggested Reading
by Patrick Storck

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Winter break is almost here, so there will be a few weeks with no classes! Huzzah! No homework! Unfortunately, since I am not an accredited university, I can still assign any sort of homework whenever I feel like. If you're worried about this material being on the test, stop worrying. Of course it will! Everything you read, watch, and experience, film related or not, affects what you create. The test is trying to make something good. Extra credit for decent bonus features on the DVD.

The first thing I would suggest is that you curl up next to a nice fire with a bunch of screenplays. There are plenty you can buy, and these are typically pretty good ones. They've been deemed publishable as their own works of literature. Stuff by Charlie Kaufman, William Goldman, the Coen brothers, or Hal Hartley. Read them and revisualize them.

Don't picture the movie you saw, but instead think of how you would cast and shoot it. The script worked as a good template for making a film, but all of the elements in the production had to support the words in your hands. Where would you use fancy angles or lots of cuts, and where would you let moments breathe? Take note of what is between the dialogue. The dialogue has to be there, but the stage direction could be thick with exact detail or completely left to the director's vision. How do these scripts compare to what you're working on in their methods, structure, and efficiency?

Next hop online and look up a few scripts that haven't been published in fine bound editions. For example, BATMAN & ROBIN didn't get a print run showing this early stage of the film's formation, partly because this script resulted in a big steaming pile of feces. Thanks to the internet, we are able to still see the seeds of the turd tree that grew.

Go find the scripts to a few movies you didn't like. You don't have to hate the movie. It can be a near miss, a noble effort, or a jumbled mess. Or something you hated, if you want. Maybe pour some holiday cheer to get through it. Make sure you get a script, not a transcript. All a transcript is, which doesn't help with this exercise, is somebody taking dictation from the finished film. That doesn't let you see where there were issues early on because it's not an actual production document, but instead an interpretation by an amateur completely unassociated with the film.

Print the script out. Yes, this is technically a waste of paper, but at the end of the exercise you can use these pages to stoke that fire. By the way, it's really getting cold out. I may go dig up a copy of JADE. Anyway, if you're still worried about saving the planet, remember that the planet you're trying to save gave us GHOST RIDER. That was written. It was put into words that didn't physically show flaming skulls, and those words were approved by people who write large checks. If the script for GHOST RIDER was submitted on a GeoCities page, and did actually feature flaming skulls that also probably blinked, I apologize.

Take the printed script and get out a few pens. Make sure to have a few colors at you disposal. Use a thick black marker to blot out things that just need to go. Use one color for dialogue changes, another for action changes, another for notes and questions. Go through the whole script two or three times. Don't just read it and think about how bad it is. Make it better. Be better than the script. You don't have to actually do a rewrite, since there's no point in doing that much work on something that won't be produced. This is about spotting and fixing flaws. If you can get practice spotting them you may recognize them the next time you go over your script.

All of that creative stuff can be really fun, but this is assigned reading. We can't let you enjoy everything. Your next reading assignment can be done at your computer. Play some music in the background, a nice film score or maybe some Anvil. Go to your most used program. Heck, pick your top three. Go to the help menu. Somewhere in there is a link to the manual, probably in PDF format. Open it and dig in. If you can't locate the file outside of the program, save a copy to the desktop while it's open. This way you can save on RAM and all that.

While you read the manual, leave the program closed. If you're interested in going in and playing with new information, do it at the end of a chapter. Otherwise you'll have a tendency to get some word done, explore some more, and in general get distracted and lose your place. Try to get through an entire chapter at a time. Take breaks between chapters, even if one doesn't take too long. Don't rush to get through this. This is a few minutes a day. Heck, by the time you're done there while probably be a new version out.

You may think you know the program pretty well, and you probably do, but I've met very few people who actually went through the manuals for things like Final Cut, Soundtrack, or Color, and am regularly surprised by some of the most basic functions they didn't know were available. Media manager, close gap, separating audio and video, or cross-program work flows. Fantastic and powerful time-saving options can easily be overlooked by never knowing they were there to ask about.

I have bought books in the past to learn programs. They were sometimes well written, informative, and very helpful. The more exhaustive and up to date, the more expensive. The manuals that come with the program are free as well. They are written for people who bought the program, meaning they assume the possibility that you have absolutely no experience with the program. In some cases, like with anything in the Final Cut suite, they allow for you to be new to each element of production and will dedicate time to discussing the overall concept editing, sound design, color correction, and so on. When new processes are added, like 3D motion tracking or planar matting, you also get overviews of what they are before you are told how to do them.

In other words, these manuals contain everything you need to know. If you are willing to take the time now to go through the whole book, especially at just a chapter or two a day, you will definitely save yourself time later. Even if you don't memorize every detail, you will at least be shown what is possible. When you get to a point where you need to do something you vaguely remember, you'll know it exists. Just pull up the help menu and do a search for the details.

Once you get through the manuals for the programs you use the most, you will hopefully see how much it's helped. Now take that manual time and pick one or two programs you haven't gotten around to exploring yet. If you can keep up the habit, you can probably get a solid working knowledge of the entire post production process eventually. Then, once you're done the latest manuals, I suggest THE SHROUD OF THE THWACKER by Chris Elliott.

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Other columns by Patrick Storck:

That Should Be In a Movie

2010: A Year We Could Make Contact

Bad Movie Christmas

Thanks again!

The Need to Suffer

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Patrick Storck
Patrick hails from Baltimore, MD, where playing by the rules is frowned upon. Only average things come from playing it safe.

If you have a comment, question, or suggestion, you can send a message to Patrick Storck by clicking here.

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