Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Treatments & Proposals

Hi Folks,

We will be reviewing treatment and proposal writing in class.

Due date has been extended to next week.

Here are some general guidelines:

In place of a script, doc filmmakers use treatments,proposals, or even outlines--to describe and help plan a documentary project. There is a lot of overlap between these concepts and different filmmakers use them in similar and often interchangeable ways.

A treatment is a short story narrative written in simple, non-technical language (ie. no camera angles, transitions, etc.)

A proposal, which frequently includes a treatment, is a thorough description of all
aspects of a project. It is created in the pre-production stage of a documentary project to persuade funders, distributors and others to support the project.


An effective proposal will:
• Tell a good story
• Make human truths emerge through images—not just verbal description.
• Present a personal, critical perspective on some aspect of the human condition.
• Inform and emotionally move an audience

Usually a proposal will contain the following information:
• Length of work, format.
• Who is the intended audience?
• Goal or intended purpose(s) of the film
• Has any media work already been produced on this subject? If so, what is new,
different, interesting, engaging about your approach?
• Style (Any key stylistic elements in writing, shooting, audio, editing, etc.)
• What about the soundtrack? (Any music, narration, etc.—If so, who? what?)
• Who is working on the project? And what similar projects have they done in the
past? (Credibility of production team)
• How will this work be distributed? (Which markets, any distributor on board
• Project history or current status of project.
• Historical background or context of the story
• Who, what, where, when, how, why?

Michel Orion Scott visits UT: Notes on Documentary

Michel Orion Scott has been documenting life, the universe and everything for a long while - this year his latest effort screened at Sundance - "Over the Hills and Far Away." But to understand an artist's work we often have to go...
One of his earliest films, "Beginnings and Endings" was an experimental venture into the death of his grandmother through the eyes of his mother - a compilation of 8500 hand painted frames, with a voice over of the story. Although Scott's "Beginning" may have been abstract, he sees any good film making as art. What really made this a learning experience for Scott was the joy he got from constructing a film - now he admits this is still his favorite part of making a documentary: the process. It must be something you care about and enjoy.
Funded by a film grant, Scott traveled to Bolivia to make a fiction film based on a South American myth. Scott said his experiences with the indigenous Bolivians were fantastic, but the film itself was a humbling experience. Being a student, Scott didn't cover as much as he needed to while in Bolivia, so the end product fell a bit short of his expectations. Even so, the trip prepared Scott for other rugged adventures he would have later like...
The Sundance film discussed above, "Over the Hills and Far Away" is about a couple who decides to take their autistic son to Mongolia and search for healing via horseback (the child responds to horses). Obviously, shooting on horseback doesn't seem like an ideal situation. The whole ordeal was very physically demanding.
What spurred the project was Scott's work on narrative films in Hollywood: after a particularly brutal job in an art department, Scott decided he didn't want to do film if Hollywood was all there was. Oddly enough, he met a man speaking about an indigenous African tribe at Whole Earth Provisions - he was the father of the autistic child mentioned above, and it was his suggestion that kicked off the project.
Although Scott doesn't usually use talking heads in his films, he felt that not including expert information on autism would be irresponsible. Autism is such a complex disorder, Scott felt that the audience needed some explanation of the child's condition.
The project was shot on HDV, and although many people knock this media's quality, I think the images are crisp and clear. Selecting HDV worked well for Scott, since the camera he used had to be rugged and versatile.
"Over the Hills and Far Away" is a recipe for successful documentary. The story is catching, the characters are unique, the images are beautiful and the personal impact is compelling. After only seeing a few extended clips, I already find myself rooting for the family, hoping that their son can be healed. I also think this documentary benefits from Scott's varied experience in his career - a respect for indigenous tribes, a dynamic shooting style, and a vitality eveident from scott's desire to produce quality film. I'm going to make my best effort to see the entire feature this spring break at SXSW film festival. Any fans of documentary should do the same.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Austin Video Bee Release Party

A videographers collective, the Austin Video Bee is having a video compilation party tomorrow (Thursday) night with screenings of some of the videos and a musical guest. Videomakers will be in attendance, too.

Check out their official event poster and site:


The Cruise and Gleaning

First off, 
A hearty thanks to Kim for getting this thing to work.

On to a couple of brief reviews.

The Cruise - This movie is fascinating.  Listening to Timothy "Speed" Levitch talk about the subjects he loves is somewhat akin to an intellectual hurricane:  dizzying, surreal, terrifying, yet beautiful unto itself.  I do not wish to give much away, as the whole movie is Speed's commentary, particularly regarding the Titular Cruise, which is best understood by watching the movie.  Speed takes a lot of viewpoints that will upset people.   Especially because of how valid they are.
A sidenote:  At the time of filming, Speed commented on how his family was disappointed in his perceived "failure."  Since this film was made, he's appeared in a number of works.  Goes to show you how unpredictable life can be, ay?
Check out Speed's blog at www.speedlevitchonline.com/

The Gleaners and I - This was very interesting also.  This film almost seemed like a stream of consciousness work, as Varda leaps about from place to place both geographically and in her head.  What I found most fascinating is that there are actually laws and cultural expectations for gleaning in France.  It makes me wonder such legal terms and definitions exist here in the U.S., but I'll leave that to a later poster.  It is amusing to ponder the possibility of legal rules for how, when, and why you could dumpster dive.  

Rant over.  Jonathan out.

Storyboards a la MS Paint

Lecture after documentary class? Time to plan the re-enactment of Kim's brutal third grade fight for my biopic of her. I'll use child actors of course... just don't know where I'm going to find brown boots to fit a third grader...

PS, this is just for fun, not to be taken seriously. But it makes me laugh.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Milk vs. The Times of Harvey Milk

I saw Gus Van Sant's Milk Monday and then the '84 documentary The Times of Harvey Milk this evening. The works were both top quality, but differed substantially in their approach. The documentary was a straight journalistic take on the achievements of a grass roots and politically active public figure (who was also openly gay) while the "fictional" work revolved around the life of Harvey Milk, his struggles in gaining power in San Francisco and the gay movement in The Castro in the 70s.
These films both shared a lot of content, the fictional film even replicating the exact news footage used in the documentary (with Sean Penn in the place of Milk, of course). This gave Van Sant's "fictional" movie a realistic quality that almost superceded that of the documentary version for me. The concluding sequence of Milk, the candlelight vigil, brought tears to my eyes in the way the documenatary almost did, but failed. I think this is because the fictional version let audiences identify and root for the person of Harvey Milk, not just his issues.
The biggest differences between the two films were the treatments of Milk's early career and the fight against Prop. 6. The documentary glossed over Milk's first 3 political defeats and instead focused on the policies he pursued while in office. I think Van Sant's version was more effective because we got to go along for the ride with Harvey as he learned how to play the political game and took something from every loss - every setback. We got to see the effects each campaign had on his personal life (endearing the audience to the character) and on the Castro gay movement as well. The fight against Prop. 6 was also handled more effectively in the fictional version, creating Anita Bryant and Senator Briggs as evil enemies of human rights and even reason. Their defeat (and Milk's subsequent triumph) made me want to stand up and cheer.
Overall, I thought both works were powerful and well-executed, but I found myself uncharacteristicly enjoying a work of fiction over a non-fictional journalistic ouvre. The sense of identification Van Sant created between the audience and Harvey Milk's movement coupled with the deeper look at Milk's personal life left me feeling as if the "fictional" film was more real than the REAL documentary.

Student Profile

Here's the edited version of Matt Benavidez profile:

Monday, February 16, 2009

Errol and Alan

Check out these amazing filmmakers and their websites for inspiration and procrastination

Alan Berliner

Errol Morris

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Video Contest

Environment Texas Solar Power Video Competition - $2000 grand prize - Under 4 min. - deadline: March 1st, 2009

Texas has the greatest solar resource potential in the nation. We can protect our environment and move to a cleaner energy future by using our technological know how to tap into solar energy.

To help get the word out about Texas' solar power potential, Environment Texas is hosting a video contest on the subject of solar power in Texas.

We want you to create your most persuasive video about why we need more solar power in Texas. What's your vision for solar in our state? We'll use the winning videos to help decision-makers imagine a better energy future. Your video will be a critical part of an effort to educate city councils, the Texas Legislature, and lawmakers in the state.

-- Grand Prize winner will receive $2000 prize, and will be featured on our Web site.

-- First runner up will win $500 and a free membership to Environment Texas.

-- Second runner up will receive an Environment Texas t-shirt.

Speak to Ellen if you're interested in entering