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Make Your Own Hollywood Movie

By John Virata

With all kinds of stories permeating in the minds of creative types and the coming of age of the digital video camera, the last 10 years has seen many people embrace the notion of digital moviemaking. Entire festivals are centered around what can be created on a computer, not to mention the Hollywood element, which is always at the forefront of new technology. A little more than 10 years ago it was Jurassic Park dinosaurs created with the help of SGI workstations that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Today it is films like Cold Mountain and Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow cut on Apple Power Macintosh computers running Final Cut Pro.

And the power of the Internet is serving as a distribution medium, not necessarily for the Hollywood blockbusters, but for the tens of thousands of movies being made every day for a digital display. Many books have been written on Hollywood moviemaking. Make Your Own Hollywood Movie by Ed Gaskell is one such book that discusses how to do it. It is more of a hands on guide on how to make digital movies, from writing a script, to planning your shots, to shooting and editing, the book covers virtually all the bases on capturing your story with a DV camera. A very lush production with full color photographs, thick stock and a handbook like feel  to it, Make Your Own Hollywood Movie is comprised of seven color coded chapters that offer a wealth of information regarding the digital filmmaking process, including some added morsels, such as filming a car chase and creating realistic looking blood thrown in. We'll take a look at some of the topics covered in this 192 page book.

Chapter 1 The Digital Movie Studio covers all the basic toolsets required to make a movie. An overview of digital video is discussed in the first part of the chapter and how the look of digital video differs from that of film, among other explanations. Part two discusses the digital video camera and its characteristics, such as lens choice, built in effects, zooms, image stabilizers, tripods and batteries. It offers a basic explanation on the differences between a single chip based camera and a 3-chip based camera. Following this is a section on the computer, the electronic device that enables you to take that video footage and turn it into a story. This section offers a basic checklist on the equipment that you need to get editing, including computer specifications as well as an overview of the4 editing software that is available. Briefly discussed are editing packages that range from cheap home moviemaking applications such as Apple's iMovie and Pinnacle Studio, to Sony's Vegas and Apple's Final Cut Pro. The one thing with technology books, such as this one is they tend to lag the technology that they are covering due to press issues, but the message remains the same.  Also covered in this chapter are peripheral tools such as storyboarding software, effects software, and media encoding applications. Though useful, they aren't essential tools to successfully make a movie, hence the author's soft options moniker that he places them under.

Chapter 2 Preproduction

Make Your Own Hollywood Movie
by Ed Gaskell,
192 pages $29.99
Click image to buy


OK so you want to make a movie, now the question is have you got what it takes both mentally and monetarily to do it? Are you going to make a film on the cheap or are you going to spend some money and find some talent to act out your story? How do you get sponsors to sign onto your endeavor? How will you plan that most precious of assets, time? All these questions need to be answered in that phase of moviemaking where decisions are made; preproduction. In this section, author Ed Gaskell discussed at length several topics that help to create a successful preproduction. These include Hatching Your Plot, which covers the three elements to a basic story, the beginning, the middle and the end. No seriously, it is not really as basic as that as Gaskell pushes the development of the story's main character, the arc in the story or where the story moves forward, various acts, and the overall theme of the story. It is stressed that the main character is the driving force of the story, and is who the audience is going to follow in the story. 

This discussion then moves onto the screenplay, and how you are going to write it. How you describe your characters, locations, the scenes that make up the story. Does your story make sense? How about symbolism and its relevance to the story? All these and more are fleshed out in the screenplay, and it is important that the screenplay is written in such a way to move the story forward. Gaskell points these issues out in this section. Genre and Drama, Moving the Plot Along, Drawing on Ideas, and Location, Location, location, Setting Scenes, Stars and Actors, Finding the Crew, and Art Department round out Preproduction. These chapter topics pose a whole host of questions with regard to your production, to ensure that you are fully prepared for the rigors of filmmaking. For example, Gaskell discusses shooting on the beach, and asks if you prepared for it. Did you take into account the rising tide when you scheduled your shoot? And what about props and wardrobe, was this thought out? Gaskell points out that a successful preproduction leads to a smoother shoot, of which Chapter 3 covers.

Chapter 3 The Shoot.   All aspects of the shoot are covered in this chapter. The introduction to the chapter offers up a checklist of essentials necessary for a successful shoot, ranging from the main essentials such as the camera, audio and lights to the shooting schedule, storyboard, spare bulbs, gels, and reflectors. the next section, Hot Shots, gives a detailed explanation of the main shots that are used in a film: The Establisher, The Long Shot, The Medium Shot, the Close-up, The Cutaway, and the Extreme Close-up. Gaskell details when it would be appropriate to use certain shots to achieve a certain effect with the audience, such as the use, as Gaskell points out, of an Extreme Closeup shot of the raised typewriter "t" in Jagged Edge. Following Hot Shots is Framing the Shot.

Gaskell points out that this is where your good storyboard will provide an assist, as he says that controlling your shots, or what you are going to shoot is best achieved at the Storyboard stage, as you'll know ahead of time how to frame your shot for a specific scene in the film. In the following section, Gaskell discusses Framing the shot, and how to take into account geometric objects that may enhance the main object in the shot. Moving Pictures follows with tips on how to make the most of Zoom, Pan, and Tilt, and even how to use a device such as a skateboard to capture a moving shot from point A to point B.

Taking Control discusses in depth how to control all aspects of your image, including depth of field, shutter speed, and exposure. Gaskell insists that you turn off all manner of automatic controls on your camera and shoot manually, which effectively gives you artistic control over all aspects of your camera, as well as the shots that you take with the camera. Discussed in this section are the use of shutter speeds, f-stops, and Depth of Field, and how and when to use them to achieve certain effects. Several pages are devoted to Lighting and how to light certain scenes to achieve certain results. Discussed are the types of lights as well as when and how to use them. Included in the discussion are spots, eyelights, kickers, colored gels, gobos, scrims, and reflectors and deflectors. Sound, Shooting Dialog, Louder than Words, and Cut and Cover round out the chapter.

Chapter 4 The Final Cut is devoted to the editing system that you choose to cut your movie. the Introduction coves the basics, such as audio settings, device control, Scratch disks, drop frame timecode, and preroll and postroll. Importing the Footage covers topics such as Logging, batch capture, in/out points, and trimming. Gaskell stresses here that it is not necessary to import everything you captured into the computer, but start your trimming process immediately, so you can discard what you know you are not going to use. This helps to speed things along so you don't have to trim so much information later in the editing process. The Fourth Dimension discusses Timeline and Storyboard editing and why you would choose one over the other, and Cutting the Movie discusses the editing process and how your careful cutting will add to the drama of your story. Good cutting will help elevate the mood of your scene and here Gaskell explains some of the opportune times to cut. Transitions are discussed in the next section of the chapter, including a straight cut, dissolve, fades and wipes. There is lengthy discussion here as to when to use each of them, such as use a Fade when large chunks of time has passed. Rounding out the Final Cut is Movie language and Timeline Tricks, Movie Magic, which covers such staples and lens flares and monochrome noise; Color Correction and working with Titles.

Chapter 5 Editing Audio covers most all aspects of audio, and how it helps to move your story. Here Gaskell discusses such audio topics as waveforms and controlling volume, to audio in a dialog scene and using audio filters. He points out the heavy use of music to help underscore movie genres, such as ballads or action movies, and how music helps to set the tone in certain scenes and situations. Think the theme from Jaws or Star Wars. The music helps to visualize what is seen on the screen. Also discussed is the creation of original soundtracks, dubbing audio, and mixing and panning. 

Chapter 6 Distribution offers several tips on how to export your finished movie to a format that can be seen by others.  Topics discussed in the introduction to Chapter 6 includes exporting your finished movie out back to tape, and streaming your movie on the Internet. the next section in the chapter, Make your Own DVDs discusses the various technological aspects of burning your movie onto a DVD and the consequences thereof, including such issues as DVD encoders, bitrates, compression, transcoding, and DVD menu design. Following this section is Online Movies, and covers the various ways that you can get your movie to play on the Internet. Discussed here are the compression schemes to get your video into a format that can be viewed by certain readers, the video formats that are dominant on the Internet, and server issues. Your movie is going to be a huge online hit, so your server is going to have to keep pace with demand.

Chapter 7 Hollywood Tricks, is the final chapter and it covers quite a lot of tricks to make movie magic. Included in the chapter are how to's on how to make a bluescreen, how to use chromakey, how to use smoke, how to shoot underwater, how to create gunshots, how to fake wounds, how to shoot a fight scene, how to shoot a car chase, how to shoot flashbacks, how to create a clone, how to create a trombone shot, how to shoot reflections, how to create a ghost, how to create a werewolf, how to create small and tall people, how to create rain, how to recreate absent props, how to shoot day for night, how to build lunar landscapes, how to create space and stars, how to shoot miniatures, and how to create an explosion. Creating these how to's involve both using the computer and editing software as well as physical items, such as using hair to create a werewolf to using a water-filled balloon to create an explosion.

So, can you make a Hollywood movie by using some of the examples and techniques in this book? You won't know if you don't try. The book itself is an excellent starting point for anyone who is interested in making a movie with digital tools, because it can serve as a blueprint on how to do it without getting overwhelmed. Also, the how to's at the end can be of value as well, and they do run from one extreme to another, but they are tricks and tips and they can be incorporated into your movie.

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John Virata is senior editor of Digital Media Online. You can email him at
Related Keywords:Make Your Own Hollywood Movie , digital filmmaking, hollwood digital moviemaking, computer moviemaking

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