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Monday, January 17, 2011

Two weeks on Facebook

We’re barely half-way through January, and we took a look back at our Facebook page. So far this year, we’ve posted over 100 articles on a variety of subjects. Here’s a breakdown of what we’ve posted in the last two weeks.

Movies (21)
These are mostly made by amateurs using Moviestorm, but not all. There are a couple in there made with other machinima tools or live action, showcasing other low budget movies, and we also found footage of Quentin Tarantino’s first feature film.

Moviemaking tips (17)
We’ve covered everything from script to sound, and none of it’s specific to Moviestorm or any other tool. However you make movies, and whatever your role, you’ll find something of relevance in there.

Movie news (11)
A small selection of snippets from the mainstream film industry.

Contests, Festivals & Events (12)
A roundup of what’s happening, with particular emphasis on events suitable for machinimators and animators.

Product reviews, assets & Moviestorm mods (15)
Pointers to things you may find useful. Some of them are Moviestorm-specific, most are useful for anyone making films.

Moviestorm news (5)
News on what we’re up to, or things directly related to Moviestorm.

Collaboration requests (5)
People asking for help on a range of movies in a variety of roles.

Miscellaneous features (15)
Assorted things we found interesting, and hope you do too.

That’s near enough to fill an entire film-making magazine - and that doesn’t include the things we put into our Twitter feed. Most of it isn’t even Moviestorm-specific. We’re aiming for things that are relevant to anyone involved in ultra-low budget movies. Whether you’re making live action movies, using iClone, writing scripts, or just intrigued by the low-budget movie business, there’s material in there you’ll find useful. And, we hope, interesting!

Let us know what you think of the kind of articles we’re putting out, and what you want to see more (or less) of. And if you like what you see, tell your friends about us!

(1) Comments | Permalink | Posted by Matt Kelland

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The effect of words

The reaction shot is one of the most important elements in the film storyteller’s toolbox. The easy mistake to make is to think that the person who’s speaking is obviously the most important person at that moment, and therefore the camera should focus on them.

More often than not, precisely the opposite is true. What’s being said out loud is only the surface of what’s actually going on. It’s equally important to show how others react to what they hear. Then you’ve created drama. Your scene is no longer just a sequence of events: you now have cause and effect and characterisation.

Look at talk shows, for example. The host is focusing on getting their guest to talk, but you’ll notice that the camera keeps cutting away to show the host listening. That’s what makes them interesting to watch - you’re not just watching someone talking, you’re watching a conversation. Compare that with political speeches. When a speech is shown on TV, it’s often just a head and shoulders shot of the politician talking. That rapidly becomes dull to watch, regardless of what’s actually being said. By contrast, when you get a similar scene in a movie, it gets broken up with shots of the press listening, or even people at home watching the TV. The scene is as much about the people who hear the speech as the person delivering it or what they’re saying.

Say you have a scene where a neighbour comes rushing into the house with the news that their teenage son has been arrested for car theft and is now in prison. That’s important plot development, and it now triggers the next part of the story. But it means so much more if his mum is shocked and upset, his dad is angry but resigned, and his younger brother is clearly trying to hide that he knows something. You’ve set the scene for how all those characters are going to behave, and you’ve laid the groundwork for further character development. You’ve also dropped some hints about how the story’s going to develop, particularly with the younger brother.

More importantly, you can do all this visually, following the old writer’s maxim of “show, don’t tell.” You could have a short dialogue scene in which each character says what they’re feeling, but that can easily end up clumsy and long-winded. Instead, just cut away to a shot of those characters as they’re listening, and show how the news affects them. The real beauty of this technique is that you’re now carrying two levels of meaning at once; the audience can still hear what they’re being told about the car theft, and they can see the impact of that news. You can then carry on the subtext in subsequent dialogue. We’ve seen the father bristle with anger, but his face is turned away from the rest of the family. Then he replies with something practical about getting a lawyer, giving the impression that he’s calm, but we know different.

One of the other neat things about this technique is that it doesn’t require as much acting as you think to carry an emotion. The actor doesn’t even have to move. You can cut to a fairly neutral shot, and the audience will put their own meaning into it. In the image above, the listeners could be stunned, shocked, angry, bored or sad. Or perhaps the audience will wonder why the other person isn’t reacting as strongly as they’d expect - why aren’t they happy, cheering, or relieved at whatever they’re being told?

If you decide to go with a small head move, an intake of breath, a raised eyebrow, or a tiny eye movement, it seems to be imbued with much more significance than it actually is. Just grab a load of close shots of your actors, and let your editor pick a few seconds here and there to cut in. Even if all you’re doing is to show that someone’s paying attention to what’s going on, that helps remind the audience that the other character is there.

Reaction shots also break up the scene, particularly if you have a long speech. The visual change keeps your audience interested, and keeps the scene from dragging. It’s a little more work to create those extra shots, but it’s well worth it.

(0) Comments | Permalink | Posted by Matt Kelland

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Letter: Moviestorm previsualisation

Shortly before Christmas, we showed you some of the work of D.L. Watson. He mentioned that he used Moviestorm to create an animated storyboard for his live action film The Letter. He’s now released that storyboard, and it’s fascinating to compare it with the finished film. 

The storyboard includes the voiceover, and Jesse Pringle’s score was added later.

 

If you like what you see, stop by OpenFilm and vote for it their Get It Made contest. He’s hoping to get $500,000 funding to make it into a feature film.

(0) Comments | Permalink | Posted by Matt Kelland

Friday, January 14, 2011

Tales of the Clyde

Tales of the Clyde is a charity fundraising film project being made in Scotland.

The film follows a small group of passengers on a day excursion upon the River Clyde in Scotland, aboard the famous Waverley, the last sea-going paddle steamer in the world. Sitting together on the deck, enjoying some drinks under the Scottish sun, they pass the time sharing a few stories, which of course they maintain all to be true, and just so happens to involve people they know, or friends of people they know. The passengers share four tales together, which make up the four segments of the film: The Truth Machine, Chatroom Desire, Spark of Innocence and Adam’s Journey. The first three tales seem grounded in what could apprear to be very possible circumstances, but the final tale seems perhaps a bit too far-fetched, surrounded and steeped in supernatural drama.

They’re looking for donations of funding, equipment loans, or offers to help.

The reason we’re intrigued by this project is that in order to keep costs down, and to give people an idea of what the movie’s going to be like, they’ve done previsualisation using Moviestorm. Here are a few shots from the closing segment, Adam’s Journey. There’s more on their Web site.

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We wish the project every success, and we’re looking forward to seeing the finished film.

(1) Comments | Permalink | Posted by Matt Kelland

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Make bad movies

We’re always telling you how to make better movies. So’s everyone else. After all, that’s why we’re all here, isn’t it?

Here’s an alternative approach. Make lots of bad ones.  As Thomas Edison, perhaps the most prolific inventor of all time famously said, “I have not failed. I have merely found a lot of new ways that don’t work.”

You can use the same approach to making movies. Instead of putting all your effort, and all your hopes into the one movie that’s going to amaze everyone, spend time making as many short films as you possibly can. Learn from them, see what works and what doesn’t, then go right back, do the next one, and do it better. You’re going to make mistakes, but that’s fine. Put it down to experience, figure out what you should have done, and don’t make the same mistake again. Make new mistakes.

The thing to remember is that you’re not deliberately setting out to make bad movies. You’re simply accepting that these won’t be your best work. Cut corners where you need to, and focus on practising specific areas of your craft, but aim to end up with something complete, even if it’s rough. Get used to the routine of everything that’s involved in a production until it becomes second nature. Get used to all your standard setups, and build up a repertoire of your favourite camera moves, the way you like to light a shot, and learn what’s in your sound effects library until you know exactly where to find every sound you need.

You don’t have to let anyone see all your bad movies. You can, and should be your own toughest critic. They’re the equivalent of practicing a musical instrument or training in the gym. When you get into the studio or onto the field, all that hard work behind the scenes pays off.

In the early days of film, this was how people learned their craft. Studios like Biograph or Republic had a phenomenal production rate. At one point, D.W. Griffith, best remembered now for his epics, was releasing a short film every three days. Serials directors were typically required to deliver an episode every week. A typical RKO feature had a production time of a month.  Filmmakers learned how to work efficiently, they learned what worked on-screen and what their audiences liked, and they learned all the little tricks of the trade that come from endless repetition of the same task.

Practice, as they say, makes perfect.

(2) Comments | Permalink | Posted by Matt Kelland

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Moviestorm Education

Today at BETT we are launching a bespoke education version of Moviestorm.

Incorporating a suite of movie-making tools with a vast amount of digital and template assets, Moviestorm Education will provide tools for teachers and students that promotes engaging and collaborative learning.

From set design, character creation, direction, camera work and editing, Moviestorm Education will enable the teacher and student to tackle challenging subject areas by exploring and bringing them to life through short animated films, tutorials or even sketches. With the ability to look at design, narrative, direction, role play and team work
across all subjects, the software is ideal for cross curricular work.

“The Moviestorm technology is at the cutting edge of new creative techniques and methods to enhance collaborative learning,” says Moviestorm Managing Director Andrew Kennedy. “We have deliberately pursued a solution that requires no animation or artist skills, and offers an intuitive click and explore game-style interface, so both students and teachers have a new medium for creativity and engagement regardless of ability,” he continues.

Released as a consumer product in 2008, and with over 100,000 registered users, the software has been adopted by educators and students all over the world, for everything from University film studies, through to citizenship, languages and even biology, at Primary level and above. Says Kennedy: “We have had real success in trials with higher education and now we are reaching out to all stages of education with our official Moviestorm Education product.”

Available in a number of flexible license options with significant volume discounts, and suited to the technical restrictions of school networks, Moviestorm Education provides a refreshing new medium that promotes engaging and collaborative learning.

Moviestorm Education will be launched to media at a briefing on the Moviestorm Stand W23 at 2PM on Wednesday 12th January. Moviestorm MD, Andrew Kennedy will demonstrate Moviestorm at the briefing, review its use in education to date, and its potential application in teaching & learning going forward. The company will also provide trial software for media who wish to create their own movies using the platform.

More information on Moviestorm Education:
Web site
Fact sheet (pdf)

(1) Comments | Permalink | Posted by Matt Kelland

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Simple sound tips

Sound is one of the most important ingredients in a good movie, but it’s often overlooked by novice directors. When you’re concentrating hard on what your film looks like, it’s easy to forget that you need to worry about what your film sounds like. Particularly for machinima films, this is often an area where many films suffer.

Here are six things to look at, just to achieve a basic level of quality.

Match levels: one of the most irritating things in a movie is when the sound level fluctuates wildly.  It’s most noticeable when you have different people recording their lines at home and sending them in; one person’s much louder than another, and as a result the scene feels fake.  It’s also noticeable when you go from one scene to another and the volume jumps. Spend time adjusting the sound levels so they’re consistent.

Consistent recording quality: another problem you get when getting people to record lines is that what they send in sounds different.  One person may be recording in a great acoustic environment with a decent microphone and classy recording software: someone else will be recording on their laptop mic in a noisy house.  The lines don’t sound like they’re recorded in the same place, so when you put them in the scene, it sounds artificial. It’s also disconcerting when your macho male character has a voice that sounds thin and weedy because the recording quality is poor.

Popper stoppers: one surefire sign of poor sound is when you get that horrid hiss on p’s and t’s. This is caused by the actor’s breath rushing over the mic and drowning out the other tones. Fortunately, the cure is simple and cheap. A popper stopper, or pop filter, is a mesh that you put in front of the mic to eliminate that noise. They’re cheap to buy (or you can make one out of old stockings and a coat hanger). The quality of your recordings will improve massively.

Add atmos: in the spaces between lines, what you hear shouldn’t be silence. Rooms aren’t silent. That’s why sound designers add atmos (short for atmosphere). It’s all the background sounds that contribute to the ambient noise; cars, hums, animals, leaves, people out of sight, and so on. Adding atmos not only makes your sets more real and believable, but tells the audience something about where they are. Atmos can also mask differences in the recording quality of the lines, and prevents that irritating jump in background noise as each character starts and ends speaking.

Foley: pretty much everything you do makes a sound. Sometimes - though not always - you want to represent that on screen, even if what you hear isn’t shown. Choose what you want the audience to hear, and treat the sound as part of the storytelling. For example, a character leaves the room, and then through the window we see the car drive off. It’s obvious to have some engine noise, but you could tell much more if you added in footsteps on gravel, the clink of keys, a beep, and the noise of a car door opening and closing. The audience knows what’s happening offscreen, even though they’re looking at something else. On the other hand, some sounds need to be removed. Footsteps, furniture squeaks and scrapes, and clothing noises can be distracting.

Music volume: when you add music, don’t forget to adjust the level when it’s got dialogue on top of it. There’s nothing more frustrating than not being able to hear what’s being said over what’s supposed to be background. This requires careful tuning so that it doesn’t sound like the music’s fading in and out.

When you’ve finished your movie, play it back, and shut your eyes, and just listen to it. All the inconsistencies in the audio will stand out when they’re not masked by video, and you’ll get a very different feel for your movie.

(3) Comments | Permalink | Posted by Matt Kelland

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Make Movies That Make Money!

Most of the people reading this blog aren’t really making movies for the money. We do it for fun. If a small financial return were to come our way, that would be nice, but that’s not what’s on our mind. However, we’re all inspired by the professionals, and secretly, we’re all a little entranced by the glamour of the film industry. We’ve all wondered what it would be like to give up our day jobs and make a living out of movies, just like every kids who’s ever picked up a guitar has dreamed of being a rock star, and every second-rate novelist has wondered if they’re the next Irvine Welsh, Terry Pratchett, or Neil Gaiman.

The sad fact is that movies are just as unforgiving as any other medium. Very few writers ever become full-time novelists. If you want a job as a writer, you’re more likely to end up as a journalist or writing marketing copy than creating fiction or screenplays. If you make it as a professional musician, expect to be a session musician or make advertising jingles rather than churning out platinum-selling albums, but you’re more likely to be playing occasional gigs a local venue for beer and gas money. And if you make movies, you’re highly unlikely to end up working on the movies you really want to make. If you want to make a go of it as an independent, you’re going to have to deal with some tough commercial realities.

This book pulls no punches. Philip R. Cable’s day job is Head of Production at low-budget specilaists Marche-Williams Productions, and he’s seen it all. He covers all the basics in 101 short, practical chapters, each about a page long. Cable assumes that your aim is simple: to make movies that turn a profit. As a result, he starts from the principle that your job is to make something which distributors will want to buy, which in turn means something they can sell to their viewers. He sets the tone right from the start, when he lists the most popular genres. Right up at the top are erotic thrillers and T&A movies - all those cheap movies that fill up Netflix and video stores. He even tells you part of the formula: a pretty girl (or girls) in the nude every five to seven minutes. It’s about selling movies, not creating great art, remember? (Interestingly, next in the list are Christian movies. You don’t have to make smut.)

Cable covers every part of the process; from choosing the right movies to finding funding and setting up the right commercial basis. He then goes on to a load of really practical advice about pre-production, shooting and post-production. One easy way to lose money is to go over budget, so it’s vital to save money whenever possible, avoid expensive mistakes, and control costs. He also gives you a bunch of tips on how to make your movie look and sound good enough to sell. It’s got to impress distributors; if it looks shoddy, they won’t buy it, and you’ve got a dud on your hands. A lot of his advice is obviously born of bitter experience, like how to handle the “three quarter actor”: that’s the guy who, three quarters of the way through shooting, suddenly demands more money or he quits. Do you let him walk and reshoot everything you’ve done so far, or give into his demands? By the time you’ve got through this section you’ve learned about everything from catering to duct tape, not to mention unions, insurance and location permits. Most of it seems like common sense, but the skill is in remembering every little detail when all you want is to get the damn shots in the can and start editing.

He ends up with a look at distribution and sales. After all, if you’re making movies to make money, that’s where it counts. You’re going to need to be a salesman. You’ll need to deal with contracts and accounts, and with people who don’t give a damn about the artistic merits of your movie, only the bottom line. Nobody’s going to give you money. You’re going to have to work for it. However, that’s what distinguishes the professional film-maker from the gifted amateur. A professional can make money off a mediocre film. An amateur will never see a dime from a masterpiece.

This is a book that deserves to be on your shelf and thumbed through regularly. If you’re thinking of turning pro, then it’s full of things you probably need to be reminded of, at least until you’re experienced. If you’re content to remain an amateur, there’s still a lot you can learn about how to make your productions more efficient. And if you’re just making movies as a hobby, particularly if you’re an animator, it’s actually a little heartening to see all the things you don’t have to worry about.

Paperback, 228pp. Available on Amazon, price $39.95 or lower.

(3) Comments | Permalink | Posted by Matt Kelland

Saturday, January 08, 2011

How hard can it be?

Making a movie is hard.  Making a good movie is really hard.

It’s so damn difficult you wouldn’t believe it until you try it. 

Really, you wouldn’t.

As the director Sydney Pollack said, “Every art form is involved in film, in some way.”  To be a film-maker, you have to be first and foremost a story-teller.  That in itself isn’t easy, as the number of failed novelists, scriptwriters, and poets will attest.  Not only do you have to tell a good story, but you have to tell it well.  And when you try to do it in a movie – an audio-visual medium – you need to be able to use many, many different tools to tell your story.  You need to be painter, sculptor, dancer, actor, mime artist, fashion designer, architect, musician, and wordsmith, all at once.

If you’re making a film on your own, you have to provide every film-making skill.  You have to be the screenwriter, the cameraman, the sound recordist, the lighting engineer, the production designer, the set designer, construction foreman, set dresser, the costume designer (in fact, the whole costume & make-up department), head of casting, location scout, effects technician, stunt arranger, fight arranger, editor, dubbing engineer, composer, and probably the voice talent and the entire swing gang as well.  Not to mention being the producer and director.  Each of those skills is something you train for several years to do, and then expect to spend the next twenty years honing your craft until you can do it properly. 

That’s an accumulated fifty-odd years of training just to learn the basics of all the skills you need on a film set – and that’s even before you get into digital post-production, or the realities of dealing with real film production.  Bertolucci used to boast that his favourite production crew had over a thousand years of experience between them – and that was just the heads of departments.

To make a good film, all those aspects have to come together.  If any of them is weak, the whole film suffers.  It’s easy to think that making a movie is just about pointing a camera at some actors saying some lines.  All that produces is bad – or dull – footage.  It’s why watching other people’s holiday videos is so dull, but watching a National Geographic special can be riveting. To make those aspects come together requires not just skill, but patience, ingenuity, and hard work. Movies are a kind of magic, and like all illusions, the watchword is, “you would not believe how much trouble we went to”.  And literally so.  The audience does not allow themselves to believe that what they are seeing is all carefully, painstakingly constructed.  They prefer to believe that it’s real, it just happens. 

“It takes two years on the stage for an actor or an actress to learn how to speak correctly and to manage his voice properly, and it takes about ten years to master the subtle art of being able to hold one’s audience.”
—D. W. Griffith

So how much work is involved?

Obviously there’s a hell of a lot of variation, but here’s some back of the envelope numbers for you. Even low-cost TV takes a minimum 6 man-days per minute of finished footage, and that’s extraordinarily fast shooting with an experienced crew.  Normal production speed is considerably less than half that. For the zero-budget live action short I’m working on for FML Film Club, we’re allowing four hours to shoot a 90-second film. It has one location and two actors, and we’ll have five crew (camera, sound, lights, director, producer). That’s four man-days right there, just for the shoot. A one-hour pre-production meeting chews up over half a day. All told, by the time we including writing, editing, music and everything else, we’re expecting it to take maybe 7 or 8 man-days.

High-end TV drama and cheap movies take typically 50 man-days per minute, and with top-end movies, we’re talking hundreds or even thousands.

OK, just think about that for a second.

That’s 48 man-hours of work to shoot a single minute of a soap opera or sitcom, once you know what you’re doing and you’re practiced at it.  Over a thousand hours goes into every single episode of EastEnders, Casualty or Better Off Ted.  If you were working solo, that’s basically the equivalent of putting in three hours a day, every single day, for a year, just for one episode. 

Jack that up to the next level, and look at cheap film.  We’re not talking about anything fancy here, we’re talking about straight to video flicks, or cheap cable TV movies.  For a feature-length film, you need about 30,000 hours of work.  Now you’d have to put in about six hours a day, seven days a week for ten years – in other words, that’s the only thing you do other than work, eat and sleep, or else it’s your full-time job.  For ten years.

To be fair, a lot of that time is wasted.  You may have 50 people on set, all chewing up time, but mostly standing around.  Maybe as much as 75% of that time is wasted.  So maybe, if you work really, really efficiently, we’re only talking about three months of serious hobby to make an episode of a soap opera, and only two years of obsession to make a feature. 

So that’s what it takes to make a cheap movie.  Fifty years of training to learn the basics, and then two years of unrelenting hard work to make it happen.  Multiply that by at least ten if you want to be Steven Spielberg.

You’re kidding me, right?

Nope. If anything, I’ve underestimated.

Most amateurs’ expectations of what it takes to make a movie are a mere fraction of that.  Even those who go into it with their eyes wide open reckon they can master the basics in a few months, and then make a movie in a couple of months or so.  Real movie novices expect to be able to just pick up the tools, have them all figured out in half an hour, and make a kick-ass movie in a weekend and still have time to go to a party. When confronted with the reality of movie-making, most simply go into shock.

It’s the same whatever tools you use. Moviestorm and other machinima tools such as Muvizu are blindingly fast in comparison to most other ways of filming. When Dave & I started this a few years ago, we made No License in about 30 man-days using Battlefield 1942, and that was regarded as quick for a five-minute action movie. Last week, I made a two-minute FML movie single-handed in one day using Moviestorm. The film students and experienced film-makers in the group were astounded by how fast I’d created the movie and how easy Moviestorm was to use compared to what they were used to. We actually briefly considered re-filming that film live action as our first project, but soon realised it would have taken maybe 15-20 man-days, and we simply didn’t have the time.

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Man-hours to produce one minute of finished movie (approx)

By contrast, one of the most common complaints we hear from novices about Moviestorm is how long it takes to create anything. In these days of instant gratification, people often expect to make a three-minute video in under an hour. It’s not unusual to find people who want to be able to make a three minute video in three minutes.

Sure, it can be done, if you’re making the right kind of movie, as long as you know exactly what you’re doing and you’re prepared to cut a lot of corners (and settle for mediocre quality). There are plenty of simple tools like Xtranormal which allow you to create simple bits of footage in minutes using templates or wizards, which is fine as long as the templates are going to give you what you wanted. But the difference between those and making a movie is like the difference between being brilliant at Guitar Hero and being able to play the guitar. At some point you’ve got to learn to make the chords, drive the pedals, and learn that picking action, not just press buttons to make prerecorded music come out.

And, sticking with the guitar metaphor, while Jimmy Page may be able to sit down and simply play a blues that you or I can only envy, those classic Led Zep recordings took months in the studio to perfect. With all his years of experience and skill, it still takes him time to create something astounding. Even he can’t produce a killer track in one take on demand.

Sadly, there’s no getting around it. Making movies still takes a lot of work, and anyone who actually succeeds in making something has achieved more than most people realise.  Tools can make any creative endeavour a lot faster and easier. We like to think tools like Moviestorm make moviemaking a hell of a lot easier. They don’t, however, make it painless. Whatever your medium, quality takes both time and skill, and skill takes yet more time to develop.

And it will always, always, take longer than you think.

“The funniest thing is that all the things every director goes through, I thought I could shortcut, but there was no getting around those issues.”
—George Clooney

 

(8) Comments | Permalink | Posted by Matt Kelland

Friday, January 07, 2011

Story generators

So, nearly two weeks into 2011, and you’re still promising yourself you’re going to make a movie this year. You’ve read scripts and watched movies and read screenplays and looked through old books and comics, and even tried the Creative Genius cards, hoping inspiration will strike. But no such luck. You’re still staring at that blank script wondering what you’re actually going to write. Or, more likely, you’re having a beer with a few friends, telling them about your grand movie plans, and fending off their questions with evasions like, “well, I don’t want to say too much at this stage, because it’s in the early stages of development…” Yeah, don’t worry, we’ve all done it.

The key to unlocking creativity is just to make something. Anything. It’s like any skill - use it or lose it.

So here’s a desperation measure for you. A plot generator. Click a few buttons, and you get a ready-made story. Here’s a few to get you going.

Automatic Movie Script Treatment Generator
You get a few options for genre, characters, and key plot points.
A Psychic Detective teams up with a Single Mother to find kidnapped daughter.  As the story unfolds, the Psychic Detective begins to learn how important family is with a ex girlfriend.  By the finale, they manage to burn down meth labs, recover the child unharmed and win the respect of their country. Think Men in Black meets Forest Gump.

PLOT-O-MATIC™
Very similar to the one above.
A war hardened soldier teams up with a crotchety codger to take on the mafia. In the process they fall in love with a rookie cop. By the end of the movie they beat up 12 cars and end up winning the admiration of their manager, living happily ever after.

Movie Plot Generator
Completely random plots, usually somewhat absurd.
He was a hard man who owned everything, who had a voices echoing through his tortured mind and a license to kill. She was a muscular gipsy who died back in ‘nam and winked at strangers. Together they hijacked buses. Fighting mutation and helping the poor.

The Late-Night Cable-Movie Plot Generator
Mix two genres of cheese to get tongue in cheek bad movie plots.
Bikini Dances: With a stage name of St. Joan of the Dark, Angela, (Shannon Whirry) starts a special poolside service as a last ditch effort to turn things around. More than he seems, a homeless man (Nick Cassavetes) rides the fence between moral majority and immoral depravity. Lee Horsley sizzles as the bartender with something special.

The Quick and Dirty B-Movie Plot Generator
This gives you two characters and a mission.
Maddie Jethro Owen is a tomboy blonde barbarian who believes he can never love again. Angela Murial Alexander is an overambitious strong-willed romance novelist who inherited a spooky stately manor from her late maiden aunt. And together, they must solve bizarre murders.

Now, let’s be honest. The stories you get out of these plot generators are almost always total crap. They’re mostly made only for laughs. Sure, you can, if you want, take what they give you and make it into a movie, which is probably fine if you’re happy making a parody. But it’s much better to use them as a starting point, like a slightly demented brainstorming session. Some of the best creative ideas come from the kind of bull sessions where anyone’s free to throw out anything they want. Take what you like, and find a way to use it.  Ditch anything you don’t like. Kick stuff around, mutate it, and see where you end up.

So, just looking at the last of those random plots, I don’t like the first character, but the second one could be interesting. I’m imagining Jessica Fletcher from Murder She Wrote, crossed with Joan Wilder from Romancing the Stone, but actually she’s Wednesday from the Addams Family who’s grown up and is trying to live a normal life. Now let’s throw in the psychic detective from the first one. The two of them team up to solve the disappearance of Wednesday’s friend’s child. Wednesday ends up having to use her own latent psychic powers, and ends up reunited with her estranged weird family as a result. That could make the basis of a fun series, a paranormal buddy cop show, with plenty of opportunity for comedy if I want to take it that way. Obviously I couldn’t use Wednesday Addams, for copyright reasons, but you get the idea.

I’ll admit, that’s not the most original or exciting plot ever. But the point is I didn’t have that story, or anything like it, in my head five minutes ago. I just pressed a few buttons, toyed with the results, and that was what came out. (And I promise you, those were the first results from each of those plot generators. I didn’t keep going until I found something that fit my preconceptions.) And even though it’s a bit cliched, with good writing and filming, it could be quite acceptable. Face it, Supernatural wasn’t exactly original, and that was a huge success.

The thing is, it doesn’t even matter whether it’s a good story. Just start writing. Start filming. Somewhere along the line, inspiration will strike. Maybe Wednesday ends up in love with the detective. In fact, scrub the whole psychic back story if it’s not working. And the estranged family bit’s proving too hard to write, so lose that too. Hell, ditch the lost child storyline and have them team up to help an independent ice cream van driver keep his job after a corrupt city official decides to give the route permit to a major food retailer. Oh, look, it just turned into a romantic comedy.

And that’s where ideas come from.

(0) Comments | Permalink | Posted by Matt Kelland

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