BTRP Recommends Bram Stoker’s Dracula

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4749584 By Jason Godbey, Creative Director, Behind the Rabbit Productions

I know what you’re thinking: That Dracula movie with Keanu Reeves? Yes, that one, but hear me out. There’s more to it than Reeves attempting to do a British accent.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula was directed by Francis Ford Coppola and was released in 1992, the year after Terminator 2: Judgement Day. What’s so special about that? Since Terminator 2, the film world has relied more and more on CGI for its special effects, but this version of the Dracula story went in the opposite direction. Since the novel was published in 1897, right around the time of the birth of cinema, Coppola decided to use classic in-camera techniques to achieve the look and feel he wanted. These naive effects complemented the practical makeup of Greg Cannom and the costumes of Eiko Ishioka, both of whom won Academy Awards for their creations.

For inspiration, Coppola looked to artists like Gustav Klimt and Edvard Munch. He put together a book of these different artists’ work to inspire his design team. This wasn’t a computerized previsualization. This was the 90s, long before Google, so he had to look through actual books to find the pictures and text he needed. For all you millennial filmmakers, just take a moment to process that.

As a textbook of in-camera effects, Bram Stoker’s Dracula is brilliant. The entire film was shot in a studio. They used miniatures, models, forced-perspective shots and double exposures to create movie magic. In fact, if you get the DVD or do a little YouTube searching, you can find the special features.

With digital movie making techniques and effects becoming more and more dominant in cinema, this film serves as a reminder of a craft we may not see again. It’s real old fashioned movie-making at its best. It’s a shame this style of filmmaking isn’t done anymore. There is something magical about it, a charm and a mystique that you just can’t get from a computerized image. I’ve watched the film over and over, and each time I see something new in it. If you haven’t seen it, it’s a must-see. If you haven’t seen it in a while, it’s worth a second viewing.

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Watch This Film- The Manchurian Candidate

4749584 by Jason Godbey, Creative Director of Behind the Rabbit Productions

The Manchurian Candidate was directed by John Frankenheimer and stars Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, and  Janet Leigh. Based on the book of the same name by Richard Condon, It’s the story of a decorated soldier who returns from  the Korean War with a terrifying secret.

The film is a commentary on the McCarthy era in American history. It’s held up remarkably well over the years and is still relevant today. The Manchurian Candidate was later remade by Jonathan Demme  in 2004 who changed the setting from Korean War to the Gulf War.  Demme’s remake is a well-made film with strong performances from Denzel Washington, Liev Schreiber, and Meryl Streep, but nothing beats the original.

 

 

Casting and Directing Actors

4749584By Jason Godbey, Creative Director of Behind the Rabbit Productions

They say that casting is 80% of directing, and I couldn’t agree more. For The Last Hit, we had to find two actors to tell a story with virtually no dialogue. Everything had to be told through their actions and expressions.

For the Hit Man character we had several actors audition, and because they were so different from one another, we would have had a much different movie depending on who we cast. Daniel Berkey made quite an impression when he read the role. I really liked his look. One look at him and we can see a character. He has a face that tells a story which is exactly what we needed for this role.

Casting the role of Anna was difficult. We needed someone who could be sympathetic without having a lot of time on screen. She has no dialogue whatsoever, so we needed someone who could communicate using only her physicality. Molly Grace Byrnes is not only beautiful, but she has a dance background and can express herself with movement. This also helped in the climatic scene when she had to fend off her attacker.

 The Last Hit was made using just four rolls (100 feet) of 16mm film which gave us only 11 minutes of film stock. Because we had so little to work with, most of the setups were shot in one or two takes. We rehearsed each scene several times, set the performance, and then got the take. Because both Molly and Dan have theater training, they were able to use the rehearsal to perfect their performances. 

Different actors have different ways of finding a character, so you’ll have to find what works for your cast. Talk to your actors about their backgrounds. Ask them about their experiences working with different directors. What did those directors say and do that helped or hurt them? All of these things will help you work with your actors to get the best performances.

BTRP Recommends-Electric Boogaloo

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4749584 By Jason Godbey, Creative Director, Behind the Rabbit Productions

Electric Boogaloo -The Wild Untold Story of Cannon Films is a documentary about Cannon Films, a legendary film studio that epitomized the words “fast, cheap, and out of control.” The studio was known for producing over-the-top 80s action flicks: The Delta Force, Death Wish II, Masters of the Universe, Cyborg and Over the Top.

This film explores the rise and fall of Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, the two Israeli cousins who founded Canon Films. We learn about their history of making films in Israel, their move to Hollywood, their success, and the fall of the studio into debt and disrepair.

The story of Golan and Globus is the American dream: two immigrants who come to America hit it big and revolutionize the way movies get made in the process. They were pioneers of the movie pre-sale. They would find financing for a film by selling the title and the star. Their two big stars were Chuck Norris and Charles Bronson. They would come up with a title and a poster for the movie and say to a potential backer, “which Chuck do you want?” Once they secured financing they would then write the script and make the movie. At the time it was unheard of to sell a movie that didn’t exist, but it’s a common practice now to sell a film overseas based on the cast’s stars before it’s produced in order to secure financing.

Canon Films cranked out movies at a frantic pace. Golan and Globus spent money faster than they could make it. It was filmmaking by assembly line. They just cranked them out, quantity over quality. They wanted so much to be legitimate movie producers, but their way of wheeling and dealing in the industry gave them a bad reputation. Unfortunately for the cousins, Canon grew too big too fast, and they ended up being victims of their own ambition.

However, there was some art in the assembly line. Even though they made action films like Ninja III: The Domination and Delta Force 2: The Colombian Connection, they also produced Love Streams by John Cassavetes and Otello by Franco Zeffirelli.   Zeffirelli would later say Golan and Globus were the greatest producers he’d ever worked with because they gave him the freedom he needed to make his movie.

The documentary’s interviews are candid, funny, and unapologetic.  We see a range of feelings from love to regret to bitterness to tenderness about the cousins and the films they made.  You can feel the unbridled honesty of each subject coming through the screen.

If you like movies about Hollywood lore, Electric Boogaloo one of the best. It’s entertaining, funny, charming, and you can tell the filmmaker, Mark Hartley, has a real affinity for the material. It’s the kind of story that can only happen in Hollywood. A story that you’d swear was fiction if you didn’t know it was true.

Interview with Dan Adams, Writer/Director of A Complicated Love Story

4749584By Jason Godbey, Creative Director of Behind the Rabbit Productions

Last week I caught up with Dan Adams, a writer/director who is currently crowdfunding his first feature film, A Complicated Love Story through Indiegogo. The film is a romance about creative people caught in a love triangle.

Dan is a passionate artist, and when we spoke about his motivations for making the film, he told me his mission was “to provide the content that’s the answer to negative stereotypes, stigmas, and inaccurate portrayals of people of color and minorities in TV and film.” He explained to me that his purpose was to educate the public. “I’m a strong believer in the notion that we’re better than that… All of us don’t act how certain images portray us [in the media]. I want to show we have class. We have dignity. We have style. We have grace. And that’s what I want to portray in my film.”

The Script for A Complicated Love Story is currently an official selection the Houston Black Film Festival and the National Black Film Festival and is set to star Tobias Truvillion (Empire, Hitch, Brooklyn’s Finest), Brave Williams (RnB Divas LA, Bad Dad Rehab) , and Dennis L.A. White (Notorious, Atlanta) and will be filmed on location in New York City later this year.

Dick Smith-The Godfather of Movie Makeup

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4749584 By Jason Godbey, Creative Director, Behind the Rabbit Productions

A creative genius, an ingénieur, an innovator, a teacher: these words describe a man who has inspired and influenced generations of filmmakers. He is the Godfather of modern movie makeup, Dick Smith. His year film career spanned 50 years includes some of the greatest films ever made including: The Godfather and The Godfather Part II, Taxi Driver, The Exorcist, Marathon Man, The Deer Hunter, Amadeus.

Aging Stars

For The Godfather, Smith designed the makeup for Marlon Brando’s Vito Corleone. He aged Brando significantly for the part and help create the iconic character.  In Little Big Man, he turned a 30-something Dustin Hoffman into a 121-year-old Jack Crabb. He managed to age Walter Matthau for the Sunshine Boys so well that critics commented on how old Matthau looked and how he was losing his hair even though this was all the work of Smith.  

Age makeup isn’t easy. It’s a delicate balance of artistry and realism. Dick Smith created realistic makeups that still hold up today. Max Von Sydow  was only in his mid-40s when Smith turned him into the elderly Father Merrin in The Exorcist. In Amadeus, where Smith made a young F. Murray Abraham into an elderly Salieri, Abraham would later credit Smith’s amazing makeup for aiding his performance. He said it was 50% of why he won the Oscar for Best Actor.

Grace in Violence

In Taxi Driver, Travis Bickle shoots up a cheap hotel full of low-lives, blood flows from bullet wounds, and hands are stabbed or completely blown off.  Dick Smith gave the film the realistic brutality the story required. He also was able to give Robert DeNiro his signature mohawk haircut without shaving his head. And for The Exorcist, he made lovely Linda Blair into a horrifying demon.

Smith the Ingenieur

One of the most amazing aspects of his work was the fact that he created his own makeup apparatus. For instance, when a sweet-faced Linda Blair had to projectile vomit green spew at the priests attempting to expel demons from her body in The Exorcist, Smith created a special device that fit around her mouth connecting to a system of tubes that shot pea soup several feet. It was incredibly effective, enough to create one of the most iconic scenes in horror cinema and convincing enough to shock audiences the world over.

Professor Smith

People who worked with Dick Smith described him as generous. Like all great artists, Smith shared the knowledge of his craft, and he would often explain what he was doing step by step to anyone who wished to learn. Later in his career, he taught his techniques to up and coming special effects artists who wanted to follow in his footsteps.  He taught classes and inspired his fellow artists.  As a result both the practitioners of the art and film fans benefited. 

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Smith died in 2014 at the age of 92, but his legacy lives on in his work. Either directly or indirectly, any makeup artist who works in film has been influenced by him.  He didn’t just create movie makeups. He helped great actors create characters that would become icons of American film and culture.

Artist Profiles-Feathers and Toast

Feathers and Toast, a web series created by Mhari Morrison and Holly Payberg. The show is about Tallulah Grace, a Scottish Mime with a cooking show. The series follows her in the kitchen as she tries to “save the world, one sandwich at a time.”

Mhairi Morrison stars as Tallulah and Holly Payberg produces the show and plays Tallulah’s producer in the show. We caught up with the Mhairi and Holly on their recent trip to New York City.

Lon Chaney Sr.-The Man of a Thousand Faces

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4749584 By Jason Godbey, Creative Director, Behind the Rabbit Productions

When I was a senior in high school, I had to write a term paper. There were a number of topics to chose from, and I chose to write my paper on special effects in movies. In my research I read about one of the earliest special effects makeup artists, the Man of a Thousand Faces, the actor Lon Chaney.

Chaney had come from the theatre where actors did their own makeup. At the time, the position of special effects makeup artist didn’t exist as we know it today, so Chaney took it upon himself to design and devise all of his own makeup for characters such as: Mr. Wu, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and The Phantom of the Opera.

Because he didn’t have the materials we have today, he used ordinary household items and his imagination to create his makeups. He shoved bits of a cigar cases in his nostrils to broaden his nose. He used fishing line to pull his skin back around his eyes. He cut a ping-pong ball in half and placed it over his eye then covered with mortician’s wax to create the face of Quasimodo.

If it wasn’t for the fact that Chaney worked mainly in silent pictures, one could not conceive of a more complete performer. He was a true artist who sacrificed his body and his comfort to create these characters. All of his creations were built by him from the makeup, to the posture, to the walk and mannerisms. Even though some of his characters are considered to be monsters or villains, he brought a humanity made them sympathetic.

Chaney’s son, Lon Chaney Jr., would later take up the acting mantle and carry on the tradition of playing creature characters like the Mummy, Frankenstein’s Monster, Dracula, and the role he was most famous for, the Wolfman.

For actors and makeup artists alike, Chaney is an inspiration. He was a truly transformative actor and an innovator, and his presence is still felt today over one hundred after he began acting in films. We see his influence in the creations of Stan Winston, Greg Cannom, and Rob Bottin and in the performances of actors like Doug Jones, Ron Perlman, and Brian Steele.

If you’re a horror movie fan or just a fan of classic film, an actor, or a filmmaker seeking inspiration, the films of Lon Chaney Sr. are a must-see.

Watch This Film-His Girl Friday

4749584 By Jason Godbey, Creative Director of Behind the Rabbit Productions

His Girl Friday is the 24th feature film directed by Howard Hawks, one of the most prolific and versatile directors in Hollywood history. It’s based on the play The Front Page by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur and stars Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell

Cary Grant stars as Walter Burns along side Rosalind Russell’s Hildy Johnson. Originally the character of Hildy was  a man, but after Howard Hawks heard a woman read the part, he had the brilliant idea to change Hildy’s gender which brought a whole new dimension to the film. His Girl Friday is a masterpiece, and you should definitely Watch This Film.

 

BTRP Recommends- Ray Harryhausen: Special Effects Titan

 

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4749584 by Jason Godbey, Creative Director, Behind the Rabbit Productions

I’ve always believed that a good movie can change your life. This was the case for Ray Harryhausen, who saw King Kong when he was 13 and was never the same. He would go on to inspire so many with his films. In Ray Harryhausen: Special Effects Titan, we hear from some of the filmmakers Harryhausen inspired, including Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro, Steven Spielberg, James Cameron, Henry Selick, and many others. Each one candidly talks about how their films wouldn’t have been possible without Harryhausen’s inspiration.

We also see Harryhausen’s process, drawings, early camera tests. He pushed the technology and made advances in special effects and stop-motion animation. Stop-motion is a technique where an inanimate object is brought to life on film by shooting one frame at a time, moving the figure slightly each time. The technique seems primitive compared with the today’s computer animation, but there’s something magic about it.

Bringing characters to life one frame at a time is painstaking and time consuming, but the hours spent to get each second of film are worth it when the illusion of movement is created. Harryhausen had the ability to make you feel for his characters. They had real personality. Something about the way he animated them gave them real emotion.

My first encounter with Ray Harryhausen’s work was when I saw Clash of the Titans on television as a kid. He created Medusa, the Kraken, Pegasus and other fantastical characters for the film. It was an amazing feat, and I was amazed by all the creatures and the epic tale of mythology.

The techniques he created were used in some of cinema’s greatest blockbusters like Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. Even the computer animated dinosaurs in Jurassic Park were based on his dinosaur animations. Stop-motion is still being used today and can be seen in films like: Kubo and the Two Strings, Coraline, and The Nightmare Before Christmas. Ray Harryhausen died in 2013 at the age of 92. To many he was an inspiration, a mentor, and a teacher. This movie is a love letter to him and his legacy. I highly recommend it.