Get to know Mark Travis

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Mark Travis is a consultant and expert on the art and craft of film directing. He is also a very friendly guy who one can easily get in touch with to ask for advice etc. After reading his internationally acclaimed book Directing Feature Films, I felt obliged to get in touch with Mark and express my enthusiasm for his work. Mark got back to me 10 minutes later with his thanks and a mark of confidence and good luck.

So, if you are starting out – like myself – or a crafted expert, then either way you should head over to Michael Wiese Productions and check out his brilliant book. In this blog post I want to note a few effective and basic methods that Mark mentions in his book and shed some light.

Firstly, Mark talks in great depth about character and how one needs to dig deep below the surface in order to reveal the truth. It comes down to genuine human emotions and behavior when looking for that believable performance, or “magical” performance as Mark likes to say. In the book, Mark suggests a few fundamental ways to achieve this as well as some new and alternative approaches. I found the emotional graphs and obstacle charts that Mark draws particularly insightful.

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Above, I have included the emotional graphs of two characters in a short film I am directing at the moment. The emotional graph allows me to see where the characters reactions/shifts in emotion are taking place from good to bad. I have labeled the graph by the chronology of scenes in which they appear. From this I can get a true representation of the characters arc and how they should respond by changes in their behavior. Of course, these graphs are highly susceptible to the interpretation of a character and the various other obstacles they may be facing through staging and their environment etc. But, from a director’s point of view, it appears invaluable to guiding the actor through various obstacles and hidden anxieties. Once you understand this, you can break the ‘rules’ and shift the characters obstacles slightly to get a different emotion and performance that works best.

Another area that draws similar results is recognizing the characters ‘Gap’ – the difference between their expectations versus the reality. How a character responds to this can determine their true nature – it could be aggressively, progressively, confidently, arrogantly, wisely, sadly etc. etc. Mark explains this in greater depth in his book and also provides examples of graphs you can draw to configure your characters ‘Gap’.

Moving on from character analysis, Mark takes the reader from assembling the creative team to the final mix in postproduction. He always evaluates the areas from an approach of the director and gives valuable examples of all the hidden tasks he and his fellow filmmakers have undergone in the past. It is hard to find an angle that Mark doesn’t cover. Though, I am sure this opinion of mine will change when/if I get the opportunity to direct a feature a film. I will end up writing to Mark saying, “You didn’t warn me of this, or that, or this! Etc.” Though he does say something along the lines of “be ready for the unexpected!”

One of my favourite things in the book about production (I hope I don’t get in trouble for attempting to quote the book too much!) is that one should think of the camera as a character and the director should play that character. This character will eventually become the audience. Having a reason behind every angle or move you make this character (the camera) do is essential; the reason should link nicely back into the arc of your story. A cinematographer knows all this and depending on your specific collaboration he may push your reasoning or he may have a stack of his own. I think a great cinematographer should bring his or her own ideas and challenge yours respectively, but inevitably encourage whatever you – the director – decide to do.

(You – the reader – probably already realise this, but the idea of this blog post – and the rest – is not for me to teach you, rather I just to want share my opinions (small or tall, fresh or naive) and hopefully you will put a comment in the box below!)

On the other front, is working with actors and Mark has plenty of answers (Also, I promise this post isn’t a Michael Weise ad). I will let you discover these notes for yourself, but it goes without saying that ‘result direction’ is also frowned upon here. However, I must say, Mark does provide a noteworthy reason for times when it can be necessary and valuable to throw commands at your actors.  One thing that he does hammer home is the priority of character intention and function over anything else, including the written word. This intention and function is established via character objectives (intention) and behaviors (function). So, by looking at this, to change the outcome of a character-driven scene, simply change their objectives and behaviors – it is pretty simple really.

So, there were a few things that stood out to me from the book; there are 395 pages more of it!

Find Mark on his website here.

I won’t attach a link to buy the book because as I mentioned  – this is writing from the heart, not the bank!

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The Limelight Index: Si Horrocks – Writer/Director

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Si Horrocks is a filmmaker with a passion for stories, and he achieved bringing his to the big screen on a bare budget and effectively a one-man crew. Here is his story:

What first sparked off your initial interest in filmmaking?

Through childhood I wanted to be a film director, but found myself going into music after school. Then a neighbour showed me a script he had written – he was a painter and decorator who also had a dream to make films. He’d saved enough money that he decided he was going to make a short, shot on S16mm. He spent about £8000, even hiring Stansted Airport for one scene. I was recruited to record sound (using an old reel-to-reel Nagra).

But I got involved in much more – running, assisting, set decorating, sound designing and even designed the promotional postcard. After this, my filmmaking passion was re-ignited.

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Who are your influences?

Charles Laughton (although he only directed one film), Chris Marker, Orson Welles, Sophocles, William Shakespeare, Christopher Nolan, Philip K. Dick, Michael Moorcock, Darren Aronofsky, Jean Vigo, Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (I tend to take this question literally, so this list is potentially nearing infinity.

You work at BFI’s IMAX cinema, are you not sick of ‘tent-pole’ cinema? Does this drive your passion for independent film?

I love films from all areas of filmmaking. I wouldn’t say I was sick of it, but working in this kind of cinema does give me the opportunity to watch films I would never normally see. Having to watch Avatar over 100 times was certainly a challenge. But sometimes you find a film which surprises you. Pixar’s Up had some very inspiring and moving moments.

Few arthouse, festival-oriented directors would admit this but… The Dark Knight gave me hope for ‘tent-pole’ films. I found the film to be more complex than I expected or at first realised. It has almost a Shakespearean grandness and depth of character. As in Shakespeare’s plays, the ‘villain’ is a sympathetic character – there’s a logic to his madness. Plus, he’s the only one in the film prepared to die for his beliefs and stick to them until the end. Meanwhile, all the supposedly good characters become corrupted and the film ends on a downbeat note.

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I don’t think its good to dismiss anything. If I did, I would be as blinkered as the people who dismiss Third Contact without giving it a proper thought.

What drives my passion to be independent when making films is the need to express my ideas and stories without having to work to the agenda of someone who doesn’t have empathy for what I’m trying to do. Being a truly independent filmmaker means my work is between me and my audience and the work doesn’t have to be corrupted by the often uncreative and unsympathetic system which has evolved to fund films – not just through the studio, but also the public and private equity funding systems.

How did your debut feature Third Contact come about?

It’s a long story: http://thirdcontactmovie.com/makingof.html

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You shot the film almost single-handed, how did it feel working with such a small crew?

Great. I never at any moment wished I had a bigger crew. Life would have been slightly easier with a trained sound recordist/boom, and perhaps a production manager.

With such a small crew, things usually moved very quickly. Organising a team can be a job in itself. For example, when we shot the park scene at night, I forgot to bring the boom, so Scott couldn’t do sound. What we found was that, as Jannica was the only one with lines, she could hold the mic just below the edge of the frame. So, for that scene all, we needed was me and 2 actors.

This meant I was completely free to experiment with shots, almost documentary style. And of course it has a bit of that feel to it.

Sometimes I had to multi-task. There is one shot where Jannica is coming out of the crematorium and while I was filming handheld I was also negotiating the expenses fee with the actor who was to play the cab driver, over the phone. If you watch that shot with the sound from the camera you can hear me negotiating.

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You’ve, independently, managed to generate a staggering buzz surrounding your film, any tips on your marketing strategies for this?

The important thing is to spend time making friends, just like in any situation or any business. To succeed in any walk of life, you need friends and allies.

When you’re using social media, you soon realise that everyone is shouting at each other and nobody is listening. I took the opposite approach, most of the time. I decided to have quiet conversations with people while everyone else was shouting.

I thought it was better to have 5 connections on twitter who are good friends than 500 who don’t care what I’m doing. Twitter is like a big networking party and it works pretty much the same way. If someone is just talking about themselves the whole time, you make your excuse and move on. But once in a while you find a connection and common interest and then you form a stronger relationship.

I felt it was important that as many people got to know me and what I’m trying to do, so I added a blog to the website and wrote about the things I was passionate about. People seem to get inspired by the story of how I made the film as much as the film itself so I pushed both in equal measure.

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Your philosophies appear to be very spiritually and psychologically influenced, can we expect these themes to be cast in your film?

My interests are more psychological than spiritual. Ghosts and spirits and unreliable memories are all psychological, to me. They all reflect the state of mind of the one experiencing them.

Any important dates for the films future?

Since the global premiere of the film on Sept 2nd, people have been asking how they can see the film. Some of the fans of the film have started to set up ‘cinema on demand’ screenings of the film in their town, around the world, starting with Zurich (22nd Jan) and Antwerp (16th Jan).

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 Are there any other projects in the works we should know about?

I’ve got 3 projects in various stages of development, including a film/graphic novel which is a kind of follow up to Third Contact. Plus I’ve also been asked to collaborate on an architecture project involving narrative.

Finally, can you give any parting advice for young filmmakers on the industry?

Go your own way. Learn by doing, not following others. Watch as many films as you can, from 100+ years of filmmaking. The ‘industry’ is overcrowded, so how do you stand out from the crowd? By having your own unique voice – there is no long term career to be made by making yet another zombie movie (unless you come up with a brilliant new take on it).

The industry also operates on the wisdom of the self-fulfilling prophecy. If they all say something is not commercial and don’t back it then it will fail and they will feel justified. It all about proving them wrong. Go out there, back yourself and never listen to the naysayers.

Thanks Si.

The stuff Si is talking about here is extremely intriguing and positive. Here is someone who cares about people getting their stories told without them being filtered out by various investors, but nevertheless he still loves all routes of filmmaking and says that you shouldn’t dismiss anything. Give everything a chance and give yourself a chance by getting out there and making something even if you do have to be handling a phone call whilst shooting (Spielberg would go mad)!

Find out more about Third Contact on Facebook or the Website.

Keep upto date with Si on Twitter or Facebook.

Photography courtesy of Daniel Stocker http://www.danielstockerphotography.com