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Greetings from Burma – 5 Attributes you must have if you want millions of people to see your work.

July 29, 2014 by · Comments Off on Greetings from Burma – 5 Attributes you must have if you want millions of people to see your work. 

TempleI am out of town this week.  Yes, I am currently on a bus travelling between Yangoon and Bagan in Burma (Myanmar). As always, I have my camera shooting as much as I can of what I see on the journey.  I have enclosed some photos from Sunday in Yangoon.  It always makes for an interesting edit when I return and a great addition to our Youtube Channel.

I love the process of travelling in new worlds.  It means that one can think creatively and deeply.  For me, so many creative ideas flow on trips like this with the stimulus of a different world.  A trip into the unknown, for me, is one of my creative microcosms where often I will get my best story ideas.

Looking out the window at a rural scene of peasants working the fields in wet season, I found myself thinking about Film-Makers who have made it big.  What is it that determines who breaks through to the very top of the film-making world?  What are the special attributes that determines who makes it big?

Photo in the rainBeing Specific, Making it big means that hundreds of millions of people all over the world see the film-maker’s work.

So what is it that makes a successful film- maker?  In all cases of the film-makers I have known who have made it big, they have the following attributes:

  1. Craft and Talent:  One needs to practice their craft.  Keep learning via really good film courses and then make films as much as you can.  This is the Number One Attribute.
  2. Persistence and Time:  After talent, this is the most important attribute for the successful film-maker.  You have to keep at it.  You have to keep making films and keep producing and promoting.  You have to take rejection when it happens and quickly move on.  You have to give it time if you want to make it big.  If you have a flop,move on and make another film.  Please read our Free E Book on how successful film-makers such as Peter Jackson, Quentin Tarantino and Ridley Scott made it as successful film- makers and you will see this clearly.  They all took 10 years or more from when they started out on their dream to their first successful movie that went mainstream.
  3. Networking:  Keep meeting people at the top of the film business.  Join the guilds such as the Australian Directors Guild or the Australian Writers Guild or SPAA and go to their events.  Also, The AFI (ACCTA) has really interesting film nights with successful film-makers.  Go to these and network.  Join our Film Social Night and learn from other film-makers.
  4. Visualise and Enjoy Now.  See the future success as clearly as you can.  Also,  enjoy the Photo Valeskaprocess now of moving on your journey to being a successful film-maker that gets his or her films seen by millions of people around the world.
  5. Luck:  Many people say you make your own luck.  However, some people seem to be luckier than others.  Take Tarantino for example.  From Video clerk to successful film maker, he seemed to get a very lucky ride.  Of course, if you read his story about how he made it in my free book, you will see the above attribtutes in spades.  He had talent and persistence.  He also was a brilliant networker and he had a certainty that he would make it.  It all added up to Luck.

In Summary, Think Big and go for your dreams.  If you would like a helping hand please attend one of our social nights, or better still, have a look at our 4 Month Film Course.  It all started for them with their first film course and a passion for making films.

Colm O’Murchu is an active film-maker and film instructor at Australian Film Base.  He is also the owner and regularly blogs about film making.

How to Produce Stellar Actor Performances – 4 Areas that the Film Director needs to Focus On

July 15, 2014 by · Comments Off on How to Produce Stellar Actor Performances – 4 Areas that the Film Director needs to Focus On 

To people in the know, film making is a Director and Editor’s Medium.  What is meant by this statement, is that the screen actor who acts in the film is only one of many contributors to the whole process.  However, the actor does not pick the takes, where performance is picked from or the edits which create pace or the music which creates emotion that enhances their performance.

The actor does not see their own performance when actually acting.  In fact, actors watching their own performances in rush screenings can be counter-productive.  The person or persons that have control over how the film plays is effectively the Director and the Editor, and to a lesser extent, the Composer and Sound Designer.  Therefore, film is often described as the the Director’s & Editor’s Medium.

Yet, Directing Actors is a very undervalued skill.  There are many films made by emerging film makers where the director is too shy or lacking in confidence to actually talk to actors about their performances.  This comes from lack of experience with actors.  This ailment can be alleviated by the Director actually taking Screen Acting Classes and learning first hand about screen acting. 

Let’s break Screen Acting and the Director’s role down into 4 Areas.

Area one – Castingarticle-2689890-1F99018B00000578-938_1024x615_large

As a Director, the Casing is crucial.  You get a chance to pick the best talent available to you in the marketplace.  If you pick very poor actors, the film is dead in the water before you have shot a frame.

On my last two feature films, the casting in both cases lasted two months.  Over that time we saw 100s of potential actors and chose the very best actors from the overall casting.  This makes life very comfortable if you have chosen talented screen actors for your film. 

Should you have a casting for your short film.  Absolutely!  You need to learn how to cast and you can do this on a high caliber film course.

Area two – Rehearsal 

How many emerging film makers skip this process to their detriment.  Many times this happens in lower caliber TV Dramas and actually results in stilted performances with actors seemingly not inhabiting the role.  The mortal sin of Screen Acting is committed. Namely, the Actor looks like an Actor acting.  Once an actor is seen acting they have blown their cover.  It is like a magician who reveals how their tricks are done.  In most cases, the audience wants to be taken away with a great story and not see the actor’s performance. They want to believe that this person really is the person they are portraying.

Rehearsals help with the following:images-3

  1. Actors blocking (the movement of the actors on set).
  2. Working on the dialogue in the script.  Many times the actors and directors will change dialogue to take out the poor dialogue from the original script.
  3.  Actors Chemistry – This is a chance to get the actors together and work with each other.  I generally go out for a quick social after the rehearsal so the actors get to know each other well in advance of the shoot.  You would be surprised at how often the actors only meet each other for the first time on Day One of the shoot.  Sometimes they have to kiss each other or do a very dramatic scene as some First AD has poorly scheduled the first scene of the movie. 
  4. Performance.  This is a chance to work on performance and how the actors play the scene.  The Director needs to know how to break a scene down into actions, objectives and subtext.  The Director needs to know actor communication and how to express the performance parameters.  This part of the process can only be taught in a specialist course about screen acting.

On the day of the shoot, there is very little time.  Everyone is asking the director questions about their area.  Makeup, Art Department, the DOP and the Sound Recordist are all wanting direction.  You want to have completed most of the work with the actors in rehearsal in advance of the shoot.

 Area Three – The Shoot and The Editimgres

I have actually combined the above as they are so closely related.  The shoot is the process of gathering the very best building blocks for your edit.  The Film is made or destroyed in the edit. On set, it is important to push your actors for their very best performance.  As a good director, you will maximise your coverage.  This is different shots from different angles with different equipment.  You may get track shots, slider shots or crane shots or just a basic static shot.  You will also change your prime lenses to get different perspectives.

In most cases, a good director will get 30 times more material than actually ends up in the completed scene.  This is called shooting ratio which was very important in the old days when we shot film.  Shooting ratio is the ratio between the footage shot and what actually ends up in the completed film.  30:1 means you shot 30 times as much as actually ends up in the fine cut of the film.

The shooting ratio very much effects the actor performance.  As a Director, you watch all of images-5the takes, shot on shoot day via Video split at Video Village.  You have headphones on and can hear clearly the actor dialogue.  You watch your actor’s performance in detail on your video screen.  As a director, you watch and hone what the actor is doing.  This is a skill that is learned via experience.  You work with, and push, the actors to perform their very best.  You do your best to create the best environment for the actor to give their best.  You can accelerate the learning curve in this area by actually taking a screen acting class.

The beauty of film is that when anyone makes a mistake, one just shoots another take till you have a Print Take.

After the shoot, the Director will collaborate with the editor or in some cases actually edit themselves.  It is very important these days to Watch Everything.  Watch all the footage. Watch every take that has the correct blocking and seek out the very best performance moments.  You can mark them and try them in the cut.  As you will throw out most of the material and only have about 3% of what you shot on set in the finished edit, it is very important to be patient.

One of the biggest mistakes I see in editing is a rushed edit.  This happens these days because of a feeling that editing must be fast and quick.  Many people are in a hurry with their edits.  This is where edits go wrong.

It is your duty as the Film Director to pick the very best performance from the takes and coverage and mesh them into the very best scene in the finished film.  This, in turn, maximises the quality of the screen performance.

I love editing and  I am the actual editor on most of my films.  The average scene will take me about 2 – 3 hours to edit.  I spend about 60 – 90 minutes watching the footage and picking the best parts.  Then I have a ten minute rest.  Then I edit intuitively the scene using the best moments and create the best scene.  Good Editing only comes from experience and many hours of practice.  Most Directors hire experienced editors.  However, make sure you watch all of your footage and mark out the really good material with your editor.  Then let the editor go for it.  On big films, many Directors will attend the Dailies or Rushes with their editor after shooting and point out the best parts to the editor.

The Shoot and Edit  are very closely related to each other and both have a bearing on the Screen Actor’s performance.  So to know how to do this properly, enrol on a high calibre film course.

Area Four - The Soundtrack – Music Sound Design and Miximages-4

Soundtrack refers to the music and the sound design of sound effect foley, atmospheres and a final mixed soundtrack.  This is a complex area and requires a detailed blog to highlight how it works.

From an Actor Screen Performance POV, the music and sound will enhance the level of emotion and credibility.  Try watching one of your favourite films with just dialogue pre-mix. You would be very surprised at how different and inferior the film would be.

Music: This is self-explanatory.  Music creates mood and emotion and when created and matched to the film will enhance the screen performance dramatically.  However, it is a double-edged sword.  Inappropriate music can destroy a beautifully performed scene.  The Director must work intimately with the composer to create emotionally enhanced music that makes the emotional scene soar.

Soundtrack: One of the biggest emerging film maker’s mistakes is to have poor location sound and then have no professional sound design and mix at the end of post production. What happens if the sound quality is poor?  The Audience believes that the actors are not very good and the film is terribly amateurish.  So, you could have ticked  the first three areas in getting great screen performance and  then create amateur sound quality and blow the film all at the end.  The Screen Acting could be at a very high calibre and then ruined right at the end with a poor Soundtrack.

That is why on our four month film course, we always have one whole day with Channel 9 Sound Designer John Hresc.  He works on the film and brings a professional finish to it. The Difference is dramatic!

In conclusion, it is very important to have a well trained Director who is a film magician and who is capable of making a film that helps the screen actor find the very best screen performance via great casting, effective rehearsal, a film shoot that maximises the coverage and an edit that enhances the film with an awesome, professionally mixed sound track.  Then the Screen Actor can bring the award winning performance to the screen.

Colm O’Murchu is an active film maker and film instructor at Australian Film Base.  He is also the owner and regularly blogs about film making.



Three Big Cock-Ups when creating an awesome Shot List for your Film.

July 8, 2014 by · Comments Off on Three Big Cock-Ups when creating an awesome Shot List for your Film. 

imagesA shot list is a list of shots that are used to cover a scene. An experienced Film Director will always want to get the best and maximum coverage of shots necessary to tell the story of that scene.

Often I am asked what is the difference between a shot list and a storyboard. A Storyboard is a list of pictures that describe the shots that are listed for the scene. A storyboard artist will draw the shot using storyboard artistry to describe the shot in a picture. The pictures are all placed on a board so that the crew can see what shots will be shot that day.  As the shots are shot, the pictures are ticked.

The old adage is true for shot lists. A picture tells a thousand words. However, many directors have only shot lists and do not bother with storyboards. Storyboards are more necessary when there is a very big crew and there needs to be more communication on what is happening.

Let’s start with three of the  common mistakes made when creating a shot list.

Cock-up 1. Winging it – Turning up to set without a shot list or storyboard. 

stickfiguresThis is the ultimate beginner mistake. A Film Director that turns up to set without a shot list is not directing. They are pretending to direct. There are two reasons a film director turns up to set without a shot list.

The first is that the director has no skill at creating a shot list and decides to wing it hoping no one notices and the DOP fills in the gaps by coming up with some kind of shot list on the spot. On a professional crew, everyone notices and loses confidence in that film director.

The second reason is cockiness mixed with laziness. The Director feels that they are so good that they will make it all up on the spot. Yes, they often wing it but their made-up-on- the-spot shot list usually is  inferior to the well thought out shot list.


For the emerging film maker do the following. Learn about shot listing on a great film directors course. When you direct your film, learn off the experienced person. Many times, when I am hired to shoot (DOP) films, I will work with the inexperienced director to create the shot list in advance of the shoot.  Whatever the case, turn up on set with a shot list prepared.

Cock up 2. Preparing a shot list without thinking out your actor’s blocking in advance. url

Blocking is the movement of actors on set. This is where the director plans the movement of the actors on set. Actors must have movement on set. This means that they move from Point A to Point B. This needs to be motivated by the script and story in that scene. The movement of the actors can say so much about what is happening in the story.

Inexperienced directors struggle with this. However, you can learn through experience and on a great film course Make sure that you do, as stiff blocking or non existent blocking means the film will look amateurish and alienate most viewers.


It is much easier to block actors via visiting your set or location in advance and planning your blocking there.  This brings us to the third cock-up.

Cock-up 3. Creating your shot list out of your head and never on set or location. 

imgresBelieve me when I tell you that preparing a shot list in advance is so much easier if you go on set or location. What this means is that you visit the set in advance of your shoot and work out the blocking first and then prepare your shot list around the actor blocking.

This is so important. I recently shot (DOP) a film with film director Matt Smith called ‘Fractured Light’. We always go on set about a week before shooting. It will take us about eight hours to prepare a shot list and his actor blocking for a ten minute short film. Please see ‘Repressed’ which is a film we shot a year ago and see the shots and blocking of the actors. We spent about 10 hours preparing the shot list and blocking. The film shows the work  and planning that went into the visual look of the film.

Everything was prepared in advance on set or on location. We did not even discuss shots till we were on set.


AviatorIn summary, knowing about the cock-ups in advance is how to avoid them. Make sure you learn off either an experienced Film Maker or, if you are still yet to meet experienced film makers, enrol on a film course taught by experienced film makers. They will teach by actually really shooting a film, so you can learn the skills necessary to shoot your own future award winning films.

Colm O’Murchu is an active film maker and film instructor at Australian Film Base. He is also the owner and regularly blogs about film making.




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