Slap Happy Larry

picturebooks, apps, eBooks, short stories

Tag: film (page 1 of 2)

Ebooks are now quite venerable in computing terms, but it is striking how small an impact they have had on narrative structure; for the most part, they are still just ordinary books in a cheap format. An analogy is the early days of cinema, when film-makers did little more than plonk cameras in front of a stage and film a play. It took some time before they realised that by exploiting the new possibilities the technology offered – cutting, editing, closeups, lighting and so on – they could create a new art form that did not replace theatre, but did things theatre could not.

Why You Need An App To Understand My Novel by Iain Pears

Is there a double standard when it comes to evaluating “chick flicks” compared to male-oriented action and war films? According to one critic, we incorrectly assign more value to the drama of male bonding than we do to the female bonding portrayed in such films as Divine Secrets of the YaYa Sisterhood.  […]  The deeper issue here is not whether “chick flicks” are devalued, but rather how you dramatize family life. Action and war films have it easy; they show life and death situations. Nobody mentions that the vast majority of the audience will never encounter these situations.

– John Truby on the film Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood

“Women are shamed for having desire for anything – for food, for sex, for anything. We’re asked to only be the object for other people’s desire. There’s nothing that directing is about more than desire. It’s like, ‘I want to see this. I want to see it with this person. I want to change it. I want to change it again.’ It’s like directing is female desire over and over again, and film is the capturing of human emotions and somehow men were able to swindle us into believing that that is their specialty. All they told us our whole life is we’re too emotional to do any real jobs, yet they’ve taken the most emotional job, which is art making about human emotions and said we’re not capable of it.

– Jill Soloway calls for a matriarchal revolution: There is a “state of emergency when it comes to the female voice”

Bear in mind that most protagonists in Hollywood and in stories generally are male. Also bear in mind that a good protagonist must start with psychological and moral weakness, closely followed by desire. As John Truby says: ‘A story doesn’t become interesting to the audience until the desire comes into play…Desire is the driving force in the story.’

If characters must have desire in order to be interesting and, as Jill Soloway has noticed, women aren’t permitted desire in the dominant culture, it follows that any female characters are likely to be less interesting than male characters, relegated to supporting roles and turned into objects.

But it’s rare to see any film, much less a PG-13 one for broad audiences, present a woman as a sex object as blatant as Lady Lisa, a fantasy who falls into a man’s arms without so much as a word

from review of Pixels in Vanity Fair. Pixels was released in 2015.

Movie Adaptations Of Childhood Classics

Coppola is not the only auteur going after beloved childhood favorites for a big-time (if retooled and reimagined) feature. Elsewhere, Joe Wright is tackling the world of Peter Pan with his already slightly problematic Pan (interestingly, he was also rumored for this Little Mermaid gig), David Lowery is penning his own take on Pete’s Dragon, and David Gordon Green is working on a big screen version of “Little House on the Prairie.” Although it’s dead easy to bemoan that such new films are destroying precious childhood memories, when such skilled and accomplished talents are the ones behind said new films, it’s hopeful to assume that the final product will be worth it. If you love Laura Ingalls Wilder and her, well, wild tales of life on the prairie, why wouldn’t you want someone like Green to bring it back to the big screen?

– from Film School Rejects

I’m a big fan of the Little House series, and so I’m interested to see Green’s adaptation. However, I would also recommend the 2005 miniseries from Disney, which has just the right amount of tension (for a five year old, anyhow).

Regarding Peter Pan:

“When students know Peter Pan through Disney, they know a pretty scrubbed version,” Smith says. “The characters in J.M. Barrie’s play don’t know if Peter’s adventures are real. In the novelized version, he often went out alone and they never knew whether he had had an adventure because he might have forgotten about it, and they would go outside and find a body. This is a very jarring moment for them. I ask what does Walt Disney’s adaptation of Peter Pan say about how we view childhood now, as opposed to how it was understood in the early 20th century when Peter Pan was popular on the stage? You can’t fight Disney. You have to let him in.”

– from Children’s Literature Not As Simple As It Seems

 

The Study Of Film Equals The Study Of Picturebooks

In juxtaposing a series of pictures in order to imply the sequence of a story, picture-book artists act much as filmmakers do. Andre Bazin [film critic] suggests that montage, assumed by many to be the essence of film art, is “the creation of a sense of meaning not proper to the images themselves but derived exclusively from their juxtaposition”. In films, the arrangement of a succession of shots provides the events depicted with their significance; not surprisingly, filmmakers often prepare themselves for shooting by using storyboards, sequential drawings of the various shots they intend to make of the scenes they will film that look much like picture books.

– Perry Nodelman, Words About Pictures

1. Media Study – Studying Feature Films, while not particularly attractive as a website, and targeted at the GCSE syllabus (England), this website has useful links for resources which are not specific to GCSE.

2. PBS has a list of activities with the aim of better understanding a film.

3. Artemis Film Guides are classroom resources created by English and Art History teacher of many years’ experience, Judy Lewis. I have worked with Judy, used her resources and can vouch for their quality. Judy knows which films will appeal to teenagers. Schools can purchase these resources through the site, with no further worry about breaking copyright by photocopying.

4. Movie vocabulary used by directors from Wordnik

5. 30 Camera Shots Every Film Fan Should Know, and also these ‘shots’ come in handy when talking about the art of picturebooks, I might add. From Filmmaker IQ

6. Infographic shows the most common problems with 300 screenplays, from io9

7. Hayao Miyazaki (of Studio Ghibli) offers six filmmaking tips which could equally apply to the making of picture books, from Film School Rejects

8. Seven Teaching Resources on Film Literacy from Edutopia

9. Form Cuts (or Match Cuts) are a film technique quite often used in picture books, for example in The Garden of Abdul Gasazi by Chris Van Allsburgh (round back of old sofa, curved bridge) Nodelman notes that Pat Hutchins depicts the same tree in each picture of Goodnight, Owl, but adds a new set of birds each time. Form cuts are good for making the differences in each picture really clear — the fixed position of objects anchors changes that are significant to the story.

Pat Hutchins Goodnight Owl Tree

Pat Hutchins’ Goodnight, Owl

10. The dynamic frame is even more common in picturebooks than it is in film. Filmmakers who use dynamic frame change the size and shape of the image on the screen. It has gone out of fashion in filmmaking. You still see it in contemporary films when shooting through doorways, for example, so hat the lighted area seen by thte audience is shaped, even though the shape of the screen itself doesn’t change. For an example of this technique in a picture book see Hyman’s Sleeping Beauty, with views through the arches. In Where The Wild Things Are, the pictures gradually grow in size and then become smaller.

In The Amazing Bone by William Stieg, there are two pictures on each page that depicts frantic activity.

In The Amazing Bone by William Stieg, there are two pictures on each page that depicts frantic activity.

But for the relaxed scenes, there is only one scene per page.

But for the relaxed scenes, there is only one scene per page.

The change in frame sizes is not annoying in picturebooks as it can be in films — instead, this is an accepted picturebook convention. It’s fairly common to place more pictures on a single page when there’s a lot going on.

11. Robert Lawson’s The Story of Ferdinand is one of the few picturebooks to use many of the very common film shots. Most picturebooks make heavy use of medium close ups.

The Story Of Ferdinand cover

 

imagesferdinand3images (1)Lifsey.ferdinand01ferdinandint

Ferdinand is only one of many picture books that, in its choice of vantage points, its quick cuts, its total flexibility, would have been unthinkable before motion pictures.

Barbara Bader

 

For all the similarities between motion pictures and modern picturebooks, Perry Nodelman notes one big difference:

Even when picture-book illustrators do vary from eye-level middle-distance or long shots, the effect of the variation is not cinematic. In films, we see the same scene from a variety of angles; in most picture books, indeed even in Ferdinand, every picture marks a different point in the story, in effect a different episode….almost every picture in most books represents a different scene. The whole point of film montage is that we come to understand action by means of the various ways the action has been broken down into smaller bits. But that does not happen in picture books. That, I believe, is the major difference between the depiction of action in picture-book narrative and in all other sorts of visual media; we see only a few carefully selected moments out of numerous possibilities, whereas on film we see many different ones of those possibilities, and on stage in any given scene, we see all of them. Because picture-book artists are restricted in the number of moments they can depict–usually it is fewer than fifteen, including the title page– they must choose their moments carefully and vary them more than do film-makers. If the angles remain the same, the actions depicted are always different; Max may make mischief in two different pictures, but they are two different sorts of mischief…Comic books can be located somewhere between picture books and films; they almost always show many different pictures of the same sequence of actions, and they tend to make use of every conceivable sort of shot, every possible angle…When picture books show more shots, they tend to take on the conventions of comic books and films.

– Words About Pictures

 

From Christian Metz

In a discussion of the semiology of film, Christian Metz suggests that films demand from their viewer knowledge of at least five different systems of signification, most of which can also be found in slightly different ways in picture books: culturebound patterns of visual and auditory perception (such as knowing how to understand a perspective through drawing), recognition of the objects shown on screen (labeling), knowledge of their cultural significance (such as knowing that black clothing stands for mourning), narrative structures (knowledge of types of stories and how they usually work out), and purely cinematic means of implying significance, such as music and montage. Metz suggests that each complete film, “relying on all these codes, plays them one against the other, eventually arriving at its own individual system, its ultimate (or first?) principle of unification and intelligibility.” In other words, filmmakers make use of the differences between various means of communication in the knowledge that each medium they bring into play will finally merely be part of the whole along with all the others; consequently, they deliberately (or sometimes, given the varying narrative capabilities of different media, inevitably) make each incomplete so that it can indeed be part of a whole and so that the meaning will be communicated by the whole and not any specific part of the whole. What the clothing and gesture do not reveal to us, the music or the narrative structure might; and what the clothing and the music communicate separately is different from what they communicate together. So each medium that filmmakers use always communicates different information differently, and all of them express their fullest meaning in terms of the ironies inherent in their differences from each other.

– Words About Pictures

 

 

Picturebook Study: Why the Black and White?

1. THE AIR OF UNCOMPROMISING DETACHMENT

While some picturebooks are in black and white for economic reasons, serious picture-book artists who choose to aavoid color in a medium noted for its use of color often have similar special points to make.

The obvious example is the work of Chris Van Allsburg. The black-and-white pictures in both The Garden of Abdul Gasazi and Jumanji evoke the feeling of black-and-white still photographs that have been slightly over-developed to emphasize their contrasts. They are uncompromisingly objective and detached–unlike the world we see subjectively with our own eyes simply because they are so much like photographs. Paradoxically, we commonly associate black and white with uncompromising truth, utter absence of subjective coloring: documentary. Van Allsburg’s pictures have the quality of documentary, of detached observation that shows exactly what there is to see without the frivolous intrusion of color, and they are unsettling simply because what we see so uncompromisingly is often magic and impossible.

– Perry Nodelman, Words About Pictures

2. BLACK AND WHITE MAKES THINGS LOOK OLD, AND THEREFORE CLASSIC

The technology of photography has influenced picturebooks — and art in general — in a number of different ways.

One standout convention is that greyscale images make the reader think of the days before colour film was invented. This works even if the artwork is an illustration, not a photo. It works if the illustration is not even close to photo-realistic. The effect is made very clear when looking at these old images which have been realistically colorised. The effect is really quite stunning: We’re used to looking at wartime photos in black and white, which lends a comfortable distance to horrific world events. Yet when the same photos are colorised, the events seem much more recent and therefore have more impact.

Abandoned boy holding a stuffed toy animal. London 1945

The inverse works too. I recently watched The Last Picture Show, which was filmed in 1971 and therefore could have been shot in full colour, but the black and whiteness of it makes the town seem older. The story is set in the 1950s.

What about recently produced films set in the past? Why are more not set in black and white? Possibly it’s because in the digital age of film, cinematographers have ready access to coloured filters. A yellow hue cast over the background can lend an old-style look (as seen in Delicatessen, 1991).

screenshot from Delicatessen

I mention these films for adults because I’m not so sure the bulk of consumers and critics feel that ‘black and white’ is of any artistic use at all, let alone ‘appropriate for children’. Do adult gatekeepers accept the convention of black and white pictures in the stories they choose to buy for children?

Case study: After creating The Fanastic Flying Books Of Morris Lessmore, Moonbot Studios produced an app called The Numberlys, which baffled some reviewers because it was in black and white.

iPhone Screenshot 1

The Numberlys Screenshot

The opening of the app is gripping and quite dark (which makes sense given the inspiration), so it is unlikely to really capture the attention of pre-schoolers (I say this because as you’ll read later I have a hunch they are partly considered a key audience). It is in a black and white, slightly sepia tone and harks back to the type of animation that is aiming to appeal to both adults and children – though here it probably will be of greater interest to children of elementary school age and older.

review of The Numberlys from Wired

I sense the reviewer believes the youngest readers cannot be drawn in to a black and white/dark image. Is this something to do with physiology and the way humans have evolved to learn, or is it because two and three year olds have already learned from the culture that anything in bright colours is more likely to have been produced with them in mind? Perhaps this is what put the reviewer of Mac News World off the scent:

I must admit, I felt a bit duped by the description of the Numberlys app after I bought, downloaded and launched the app. I was expecting something bigger and longer that would appeal more to adults.

Was it the black and white look of the app which lead the reviewer to assume that The Numberlys was intended for an older audience?

Touch Arcade writes:

The story is told through beautiful black and white animated graphics which are clearly inspired by the classic sci-fi film Metropolis, but with a modern touch.

…thereby picking up that the black and white is influenced by work that has come before — in this case, the work of Fritz Lang. Will children appreciate any of this? The example of The Numberlys shows that regardless of what children themselves think, reviewers (and I guess adult consumers) are likely to assume that media produced in black and white will appeal to adult sensibilities. A black and white story for children, therefore, better make sure it lives up to the huge challenge of appealing to a dual audience of children and adults alike.

 3. A BLACK AND WHITE IMAGE TYPICALLY CONVEYS EMOTIONS BETTER THAN A COLOUR ONE

Filmmaker IQ has a post on the reasons why we might still choose to desaturate an image, and this is one of them.

In a portrait with strong lighting, a calm face can suddenly look menacing, or vice versa. In this case, the lack of colour means that colour can’t interfere with the tonal contrast. The best example of this is the entire art noir movement.

Virgil Finlay

Virgil Finlay

Perry Nodelman continues with his example of Chris Van Allsburg, and the contrast one can achieve via black and white:

Furthermore, the heavy contrasts of these pictures emphasize the patterns created by the various shapes and so do the black lines that outline each shape, so that the relationships o these shapes on the flat surface of the page are as significant as the relationships of the figures the shapes represent in the three-dimensional picture space. As a result, and as happens in photographs with high contrast, the often intense action the pictures depict is slowed down, held by the patterns; like still pictures of people caught in moments of fast action, the pictures depends to a great extent on these paradoxical relationships between what is depicted and the photographic techniques used to depict it–between our expectations of documentary truth and our perception of magic, between activity and stopped time.

MODERN ALTERNATIVES TO BLACK AND WHITE IN PICTUREBOOKS

There is nothing wrong with black and white as an artistic decision. But is there a ‘hybrid’ decision that can be made about colour, one which will satisfy the artistic goals of a limited palette as well as consumer expectation that children need colour?

Yellow Filters

In the digital era, illustrators can put a yellow tint on a picture and it immediately looks a bit old, but not too old (in which case black and white is good). I have no idea whether ‘yellow’ meant ‘aged’ before that crappy film did the rounds in the seventies, but there you have it. (See Delicatessen, above.)

It will be interesting to see how further developments in technology influence colour choice in art. With everyone sticking filters on things, the filters themselves are sure to come and go. Perhaps when we look back at the twenty-teens, we’ll see ‘iPhone filter’ stamped all over our family shots. So why do we do this? Perhaps photography got too good. Maybe we like the overexposed look, because one thing black and white early photography was very good at was adding a touch of glamour. And who needs every blemish magnified with a 50 megapixel camera?

Limited Palette

If you want to create a retro-looking illustration, you can also limit your palette to the few colours that were available to printing houses way back when. Many older illustrations are red and black simply because the publishing houses couldn’t afford a wider range.

1928 Willys-Knight | Flickr - Photo Sharing!

1928 Willys-Knight

 

 

On Colour Temperature

adobe-kuler-screenshot

kuler.adobe.com

 Play with Adobe’s online Kuler tool to see the extent to which colour combination is just as much science as art.

Picturebooks share a lot in common with film. I read stuff meant for film students.

1. Learning more about film helps me enjoy watching movies even more than I already do.

2. I always learn something new about visual language, and therefore about picturebooks.

Here’s a very nice resource for anyone who would like to know about the History and Science of Colour Temperature, at a website called Filmmaker IQ.

Film School Rejects shared a program which averages the colour of films and comes out with a single hue. It would be interesting to apply this to picturebooks. Meantime, there are plans to use it on Disney films.

What’s the allure of scary stories?

It is debatable whether or not fear of the unknown is greater than fear of the known, but in childhood so much is unknown that a child, in order to make sense of fear, must isolate and identify it; only the known can be dealt with.

Jan Mark, British Writer

 

I believe that children should be allowed to feel fear … Walter de la Mare … believed that children were impoverished if they were protected from everything that might frighten them … Once one has answered this basic question … the second problem arises of how it is to be presented. This is really a technical problem which has to be faced by every writer for children.

Catherine Storr, from ‘Things That Go Bump In The Night’ in the Sunday Times Magazine, March 1971

 

“We’re not really being scared by movies at all, at least not in the ‘brain chemistry way’.”

FilmmakerIQ

The allure of horror:

1. Shock

2. Relevance – a universal, cultural, subcultural or personal relevance

3. Unrealism – sounds counter-intuitive, but isn’t. At some level we know that what we are watching is not real. Our disgust-o-meter doesn’t necessarily go off when we know something is fictional. Children have a harder time separating reality from fiction, which should be the basis of age censorship.

Does watching violence on screen make us angry or does it have a cathartic, and ultimate calming effect?

Do certain personality types like horror movies more than other personality types?

Different people watch horror movies for different reasons:

1. gore-watching — low empathy, strong identification with the ‘baddie’

2. thrill-watching — high empathy, high sensation seeking motivated by the suspense

3. independent watching — high empathy for the victim and with positive feelings at the end of the film, and

4. problem-watching — high empathy for the victim but negative feelings of helplessness at the end of the film.

Do men like horror films more than women? (Men enjoy horror films more when their female romantic partner is visibly scared, but women enjoy horror films more when their male romantic partner is visibly stoic. I think this just explained to me why it’s always a female voice screaming in the sound effects, and why male screaming is only ever used to comic effect.)

Horror films require us to face the unknown — they allow us to face our fears and put them into context. They shape our belief system, and provide a good, safe space to explore.

 

For more on this interesting subject, watch The Psychology of Scary Movies.

 

Mood vs Emotion In Storytelling

In film, feeling is known as mood. Mood is created in the film’s text: the quality of light and color, the tempo of action and editing, casting, style of dialogue, production design, and musical score. The sum of all these textural qualities creates a particular mood. In general, mood, like setups, is a form of foreshadowing, a way of preparing or shaping the audiences, anticipations. Moment by moment, however, while the dynamic of the scene determines whether the emotion it causes is positive or negative, the mood makes this emotion specific.

*

Suppose the writer calls for a summer’s day, brightly colored flowers in window boxes, blossoms on the trees. The producer casts Jim Carry and Mira Sorvino. The director composes them in head-to-foot shots. Together they’ve created a comic mood. Comedy likes bright light and color. Comics need full shots because they act with their whole bodies.

*

But suppose the scene were set in the dead of night, the house spackled with shadows of trees blowing in the wind, moonlight, street light. The director shoots tight, canted angles and orders the lab to mute the colors. The producer casts Michael Madsen and Linda Fiorentino. Without changing a beat, the scene is now drenched in a Thriller mood.

*

The arc of the scene, sequence, or act determines the basic emotion. Mood makes it specific. But mood will not substitute for emotion. When we want mood experiences, we go to concerts or museums. When we want meaningful emotional experience, we go to the storyteller.

– Robert McKee, Story

Brief Encounters: Gregory Crewdson Documentary

Brief Encounters the documentary

 

This documentary is interesting for artists of any medium. Gregory Crewdson comes across as a perfectionist in the strain of Steve Jobs and other extremely innovative and creative types.

I liked the part where he walks past a beautiful spot, full of trees and flowers and mutters, ‘Too picturesque,’ settling instead upon some grimy corner of suburbia. Crewdson sees the beauty in ordinariness. His human subjects match their environs: they are not perfect, healthy-looking specimens; instead they look like they have lived. The photographs of Crewdson himself as a young man depict a rather beautiful specimen, but as he has aged he has filled out and grown his grey hair long, vaguely reminiscent of Peter Jackson. He, too, looks like he has lived. He could be an object in his own composition.

It’s also reassuring to know that these beautiful photographs weren’t just happy accidents. This film is a reminder that often, great work comes only after sweat and tears… and a huge team of people, I might add. Next time I take a nice photo which is a happy accident I’m sure I’ll be more appreciative of it, and when I take a crappy one, hoping it’s better, I’ll understand why it’s not.

Crewdson believes that artists each have a single story to tell. The challenge is telling that same story again, over and over, in a slightly different way each time.

He needs a break between projects to recharge emotionally and become a slightly different person. I’ve heard a few artists say that same thing.

He also seems to know when he’s finished. He knows when a photo shoot is ready to go, and he knows exactly when to wind up a project. I wonder if this is part of what makes him talented. Knowing when to stop is an important instinct to have.

Related: For more staged, slightly off-kilter photographs, this time with a feminine sensibility, see Julie Blackmon Photographs Dreamy Domestic Scenes, at Beautiful Decay.

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