James Cameron’s Micro-Budget Short Film: Xenogenesis

Before James Cameron was breaking every box office record he was a struggling indie filmmaker. We all started somewhere and before The TerminatorAliens or hell even Pirana II: The Spawning, James Cameron had been inspired by George Lucas’, Star Wars.

Enough so that, in 1978, James Cameron raised the budget from a group of local dentists to fund his sci-fi short film, Xenogenesis. Shot in his living room and with majority self-taught film knowledge, Xenogenesis was a masterclass in indie filmmaking.

Xenogenesis Summary: A woman and an engineered man are sent in a gigantic sentient starship to search space for a place to start a new life cycle. Raj decides to take a look around the ship. He comes across a gigantic robotic cleaner. Combat ensues.

Download James Cameron’s Screenplay Collection in PDF


Want to watch more short films by legendary filmmakers?

Our collection has short films by Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, the Coen Brothers, Chris Nolan, Tim Burton, Steven Spielberg & more.

IFH 179: Oscar® Winner Russell Carpenter ASC – Shooting Titanic

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I can’t tell you how excited I am about today’s guest. I sat down with the legendary and Oscar® Winning Cinematographer Russell Carpenter ASC. Russell has been shooting blockbusters for over 40 years and has shot films like Ant-Man,  xXx: Return of Xander Cage, Charlie’s Angels, The Negotiator, True Lies, Monster-in-Law and classic 90’s action flicks like Hard Target, The Perfect Weapon, and Death Warrant.

He won the Oscar® for his cinematography on the second highest-grossing film of all timeTitanic. We go down the rabbit hole on shooting Titanic, working with James Cameron, crazy Hollywood stories, how he approaches each project and much more. This episode is a treasure chest of behind the scenes stories and cinematic techniques from the highest levels of Hollywood.

Get ready to be entertained and have your mind blown. Enjoy my epic conversation with Russell Carpenter A.S.C.

Alex Ferrari 1:45
Guys, today is a amazing episode. I'm so excited to bring this episode to you. Today's guest is Oscar winning and legendary cinematographer Russell Carpenter. Now if you guys have been under a bridge, or under a rock somewhere for the last 30 years, Russell Carpenter is the cinematographer of not only some of the biggest movies of all time, like Marvel's Ant Man, triple AX, Charlie's Angel, the negotiator, True Lies, monster in law and some of my favorite 80s and 90s action films, hard target, which was john woos first American movie, the perfect weapon and death warrant, but the one I'm leaving out is probably his largest and biggest movie ever, actually the second highest grossing film ever. Titanic. Russell, by far is one of the sweetest and kindest souls I've ever had the pleasure of talking to. Now, Russell is not only famous for working on Titanic, but also working on just with the most amazing directors and filmmakers over the course of his career, none being probably more prolific than the legendary James Cameron. And Russell and I sit down and talk about his almost his entire career, as well as working with James Cameron, how he got the job on True Lies, which is an amazing story, and how he got the job. And then from there, how he got to Titanic. And what was it like working on the biggest movie of all time, at the time he was making it. I mean, it was a $200 million movie when nothing was even close to a $200 million movie, that to have that kind of scope and to deal with what he was dealing with on a daily basis, all the stories, all the rumors of the project going down and and it's going to be a complete catastrophe. And it was just a thing that you can't understand in today's world, what he went through, on on Titanic and the just the mere size of it all, and how he was able to handle that is a lesson for any cinematographer working not only on big movies, obviously, but even on smaller indie movies. And he just recently did an indie movie. And we talk a little bit about his process with that, how he works with directors, how he sets up his movies. I dug in really deep and he was so kind to give us almost 90 minutes to answer all the questions I had for him. He was so, so generous to do so. So get ready for an epic, epic conversation with Russell Carpenter. I like to welcome to the show Russell Carpenter, the legendary Russell Carpenter, thank you so much for being on the show. Russell.

Russell Carpenter 4:26
It is a pleasure to be here.

Alex Ferrari 4:28
Thank you so so much. And I'm so glad I ran into you to in cinna gear down in LA.

Russell Carpenter 4:33

Alex Ferrari 4:34
Amazing. It's amazing what happens when you're here in LA?

Russell Carpenter 4:38
Yeah. It's been a year is the place that you'll go constantly running into anybody you ever met.

Alex Ferrari 4:46
You right? Absolutely. Everybody in the business kind of walks in there and, and you're they're walking around like crazy. So I wanted to ask you this first start off at the very beginning when you were born. No, I'm joking. When How did you get into the film History in the first place why what made you want to become a cinematographer?

Russell Carpenter 5:06
I at first it was just play something to do with my friends I I grew up in Orange County area the deepest, darkest very republican Orange County. This was about two ice ages ago when we were when we were playing we were we were working with a super, super eight millimeter cameras, and it was just dumb things to do to keep ourselves occupied my friends. I in fact guy my sister, Maureen, who is the status of the four of us children, were raising these ugly animals. She wouldn't say that called Chuck their desert lizards are they and they look like roadkill when they're alive. Oh my god. And but there because I grew up watching things like your original King Kong over and over and over again. Because it was on the local station so much. We decided we would make a monster movie. So we tied we took one of her lizards call a chuck Wallah. And incidentally my my best friend in the world with named Chuck Waller. And so we tied strings to the lizard I mean, thread to the lizard put plastic, I mean, paper, paper wings on the lizard, and fluid endlessly back and forth in front of a landscape painting. And that was our that was our first movie called it came from the pet shop. We worked. We worked our way up from there. So I was afraid at the time eventually got out of high school dodge trap by doing AV TV, audio visual television kind of stuff. And I at that time, you know, I didn't have the money to go to USC or UCLA and I was terrified of those places. They were so vague. Right and guided by me when I I went to instead went to San Diego State state collared San Diego State College at the time became San Diego State University. And I had the supreme luck to get a job at a at a public television stations very small one. And that's where I really actually got to work with 16 millimeter film and I made every mistake in the world but at least I you know, I learned these mistakes by doing and that really gave me an opportunity to instead of just learn about it, learn about film in a classroom, learn about it by just going out there and doing it. And I stayed in. I did that for a while until I was offered a job there. I quickly discovered that I can't really I had a trouble just going every day to the same job and sitting in a little desk and I couldn't do it. So I I quit. I went to Hawaii for a while. I lived on tuna fish and peanut butter. best best served together I found out as well slept on beaches and I was I was on a beach north end of Hawaii at kalalau Valley and and one morning I woke up and there were these helicopters with 17 from the sky and they were landing on the beach around me. These guys got out wearing t shirts shorts and they had these cases and the sad pan of vision on the side you know this was out in the middle of nowhere and it turned out that they were there to film the the gosh what year was this?

Alex Ferrari 9:12
What this is not Hawaii 50

Russell Carpenter 9:15
No, it was not it was the Jessica Lange

Alex Ferrari 9:18
Oh King Kong.

Russell Carpenter 9:21
And I stayed. I watched this happen and it just kind of it was literally a sign of in the heavens and maybe I should get back and get back to California and do something and I I got a job at another public television station and after working there for a couple of years. I hooked up with a director, Tom Everhart who we were both tired of edifying people and he wanted to make a low budget or picture so he convinced this I would guess Call a an office furniture czar to to find our little movie if this fellow's life can be like the most prominent zombie in the movie, obviously, obviously, we had to have a plane crash, or the remnants of a plane crash in the in the movie, so we almost burned down somebody's backyard reading that. And then miraculously this little movie was was released not, you know, not like for like four days or something. Sure, sure. That gave me false hope. And I, I'm not far but move north of LA. And that's where the I wouldn't call it the starvation started. I think my false hope was just that false hope. And, and I, I was afraid. The My problem was I was just afraid to make phone calls, just just people. And I realized that lots of other people had had, well, at that time, we had 16 millimeter demo reels that we had to, you know, show the show to people and we would just, you know, put them in their hands and then we wait the two to three weeks it would take them to rapidly look at the real right. And it was it was a good experience for me I I just learned that not to be so afraid I was still mortified. Eventually what happened was a friend of mine that had been working with in documentaries and they moved up to LA and they were starting to do things and they would get me in on on interviews with things. And from there it was really you know, what I would call it was like a lightning fast 15 years.

Alex Ferrari 12:10
Overnight success.

Russell Carpenter 12:12
Yeah, overnight success 15 years of, you know, just waiting and waiting and waiting for the for the very next thing the cabinet. But in the meantime, what I was doing was i was i at that time again, it was like VHS tapes or beta tapes that I would watch the work of cinematographers that I really admired. And I watched these things backwards and forwards, backwards and forwards and and, and learn learn from that. That was kind of how I learned plus the little time I would have on the on the set and I was starting to do their dramatic form stop if you could call it that because it wasn't really dramatic. It was kind of schlock This is called like it was but shit. But it got me on a set. And that was the best experience. I I I could have and I just moved from zero budget to no budget to you know, you know, budget movies, and, and it was much harder to get into the union. So I just, I just kept doing this as I worked my way along.

Alex Ferrari 13:27
So yeah, so basically, you were just grinding it for 15 or 20 years until you started really getting some momentum built up for yourself.

Russell Carpenter 13:37
Yeah, and I would say I mean, to people who are who are in the same position, I just said, if there was one thing, besides learning as I went and really go into as many seminars as I could and and all that, for me, it it became just a matter of persistence and it in one way it was miserable. But waiting that in the other way I did have anything else I knew how to do so I kind of had to stick with us, you know, even when it just seemed like grimmer than grim. And so, so I But eventually, I got to the point where I said I think I can make a living at least doing the the independent films and and the other thing that happened was sometimes things would happen that were like sure seemed like sheer disaster, you know, and and they actually led to something were to a break. Like, for instance I I did four episodes, one two years before I was fired. Okay, why were you fired? Well, a couple reasons. One, I would walk you know, with it. I would walk into somebody's office, they say, oh, Russell, you know, I want to talk to you about one thing I said, you know, the the dailies, you know, the, the film, it's, it's just too bright, you've got to darken it down this, we don't want this to play as purely broad comedy. And I said, Well, I you know, I'm just thinking well I that's like the way I look at it, I don't know quite what they're talking about them. And then literally, like 10 minutes later somebody to wrestle I want to talk to you about it take me into the room, their room, and look, I looked at their TV set, and they say, this, this is this is the Wonder year, it's supposed to be brighter, your lighting mid to dark. And I mean, literally, oh my god. And I'm just saying, Oh, I don't think I'm long this this job. And also at that time, and I didn't really understand that. Well, the people ran the shows called show runners. They, they really wanted the DP to kind of tell the director what, what to do, because the directors would come in and they were at that time. TV I did like, TV traffic cops of a person who really ran the show was the showrunner and, and, and I was coming from the space of the directors, the boss, I want whoever he or she is, I'm serving that person. And that, and that did that really kind of for that show made me the wrong person for the job. So I got I got fired from that. I didn't know what to do. I was you know, I was doing in between I was doing like these odd job things for they hadn't been called man. Like it was a temporary employment agency called manpower. And that was and, and I would do jobs. Like one of the worst jobs I ever had. But it was enlightening was was I worked. I lasted half a day, I worked at this place. It was like this mom and pop, vegetable, liquid vegetable, vitamins or your plants.

Alex Ferrari 17:24

Russell Carpenter 17:25
I sat with about 20 other people in a room. And we went by hand, we put labels on these on like, cheese guy who would walk around and tell us, yeah, no, no, this guy will go to the right, you know, or speed it up or whatever. And it was the most mindless thing you've ever done. And I asked the guy next to me, I said, How long have you been here? And he said, five years. And that was an epiphany. The epiphany was wow, you know, there are probably millions of people in the world who have jobs. And, and, and however miserable, it seems at times I at least I have a job. And at least when I'm doing it, I really love it. And it just be me. I don't know, I didn't really get me over anything, except at least have an appreciation for the, for the job, or the job. And but, uh, but what happened was I did like after that show I had was really running out of money. I took a shot I was trying to get out of doing I was doing a lot of IBM C or z level for when we get this. Something that I'd really didn't want to do was pet cemetery too. And it was, but I haven't the greatest time and the people were great. The director was great. And one of the people who was in that was Eddie Furlong. And he had just he had just not too long ago. Then Terminator two. And, and yeah, he was very young. And so but and the people who were kind of his own tech guardians said, Oh, you know, something about you get along really well with Jim Cameron.

Alex Ferrari 19:23
So. So before we get to Jim, because I have a bunch of questions about about Titanic and your relationship with Jim, I want to take you back a little bit to one of your first films and I've just dying to hear what experience was like and what lessons you learned from shooting critters to the main course. Ah, well, let's see. Because I mean, that's the thing that a lot of people only see the Oscar they only see not from you. But generally when they see someone successful in the business, they only see the end result of 2030 years of grind.

Russell Carpenter 19:59
Yeah, and I That's what I have to say is that for all of that, I mean there are there there are a few cinematographers in the business who seem to you know, like, rise out out of the depths of the ocean. I mean, full blown cinematographers right, you know, Janusz Kaminski or or chivo

Alex Ferrari 20:25
Achievement yeah chivo Orville Moser one of these guys

Russell Carpenter 20:28
Oh, oh my god they're poorly formed You know? And they're they're like 14 years old. They're shooting you know, these these master pieces and I'm and why am I still on the bunny slopes of light you know just you know, grinding it out you know, that's dirty moolah. I don't know how the world works. But I do know that if you keep putting out the energy, eventually, I mean, thing, things, things happen. And I I, I had a great time with with critters too. And I and you're just trying to, you know, even though even though you're looking at your heroes in at that time, I was looking at people like guitarist urara. And I'm shooting critters to take something from run by here, oh, that I can apply to this and add it or try to make the the light a little more interesting. And yeah, so eat each, each thing you do is somehow putting a part of your personal camera together, because we all talk about the gear and stuff like that. But the real, the real gear is the real camera is the camera inside, the one that you're putting together that you'll be putting together for your whole life is that and, and anytime you get on a set on anything, it's just, it's just an excellent opportunity to, to not only develop the vision, but to learn how to develop the vision while things are falling apart. Because in a way on film sets, they always are. Because there's usually never enough time. There's usually I wouldn't call it the daily emergency but but a lot of things just don't happen. The way you imagined they might, especially when you're starting out because people that you're working with are have usually have about the same experience level that that one what as a young cinematographer, so I would just take these, these little things that I could do and maybe I will certainly wasn't every shot, but but I would say okay, at the end of the day, I could say that I did some terrific stuff with that shot or that shot that shot and, and so it wasn't it was never a situation where, oh, I felt that I'm a good good enough to wait for a script that was not the I that ideal never happened it was I had to eat, right? gotta pay the mortgage, what I did to get experience, and I think that that was one of the best person that I know who worked in a lab, he said you just said Do everything you can do, you know, to just do every everything you can do and that turned out the the way that that worked for me, it evolved I have and I have talked to cinematographers to say, No, I I will wait until I have a script that I think is worthy of being of shooting and that work that work for them. But I the I just I picked the path that I needed to pick out of necessity

Alex Ferrari 24:17
Basically. Now you so and during that time during the time you were doing a lot of horror movies like Nightmare Before nebera on Elm Street and the legendary puppet master which was one of my favorites I love that must have been such fun shooting puppet. Well I that I only did I did. Like conditional share digital stuff.

Russell Carpenter 24:40
At that time I would do anything that I could work either nightmare and I'm sorry that I mean those those spells were actually a lot. They were really a lot of fun. And they were done in basically warehouses out in the Santa Clarita Valley. Kind of, they say way off the grid. They were at, gosh, I forget what years these is this question of bending at users. That was 89. Yeah, yeah. 89 it was, again, it was much, much harder. But let's just say the union has really changed a lot. Now. Now I see the Union as as, as much more realistic in terms of their, their educational programs. And it's not like it's, it's not kind of like life and death just to get into the union. But at that time, it was it was, it was tougher. So those of us who needed a place to paint to do something, we were we, that was what we worked on things like getting a new line, the company that did that very nicely with a relatively new company. And this, this was a place that we could work. And then we also again on I also met other other cinematographers and filmmakers who I've known forever, my, my gaffer Levine, we met in the 80s. And we've been working together ever since. That's a long, long relationship

Alex Ferrari 26:21
Now. And then you also during that time, you started getting some more action work. And and you actually worked on some of my favorite action movies of the late 80s and early 90s. Like, the classic death warrant by junk lavonda. Perfect, perfect weapon. Hard target.

Russell Carpenter 26:38
Yeah. When I when I look back on the carpenter opens where it will be right, right up there, because you never had more than three word sentences for the started to say, you know, was it was it was, yeah, it was action. It was action. Yeah. And the oven. And about as mindless as they come. But yeah, again, I work in. And that was the thing. One is one thing leading to another is the director of death ward. I just like that Derek Reagan, his father, his father was going to do with this film, a Japanese sci fi movie that had at the time. a phenomenal budget. I think it was

Alex Ferrari 27:32
55 55 million bucks. I have. I'm looking at it right now. It's a monster budget for its day. It was sold a crisis, right. It was called Total crisis.

Russell Carpenter 27:41
And, and it turned out to be an unwatchable movie. But I did good work on that film, I was really happy with what I did. And so I went back and I collected bits and pieces, I got this and that. And then I went in and I basically retime the thing myself, use as my showreel. So here I have my whatever it is, okay, let's say $55 million, show real job. And I didn't know what to do with it. But so I had that I had something to show and as you go along, you just have to because because as a cinematographer, you can be the potential cinematographer that you want to be, but you have to show people that you're, in fact, validly a real cinematographer. So that's why it's even even if something that you do is the acting is bad or worse, but somehow, you you can cobble it together, skillfully, either yourself or whether they get the help of an editor. And you use that to show people but showing people something that you've done is that's absolutely paramount. They you you have that? So, yeah. Yeah.

Alex Ferrari 29:00
Now as far as there was one movie in that time period in the early 90s, a hard target, which was a big deal back in the day because it was john woos first American film, what was it like working with john and how did that that change because I know he was used to, I mean, I think hard boiled and the killer they shot in like 250 days or something like he just sat and just shot. We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show. You didn't have that on hard target. How was that? That relationship to work with on that on that movie?

Russell Carpenter 29:42
That it was amazing. When john is is one of the nicest people you could ever meet and you go How is it that this guy is making the most violent movies are just mere are they're, they're clever. They're very, but you know, there's a lot of blood flying around,

Alex Ferrari 30:08
And dogs and doves, and and dum dum stuff stuff.

Russell Carpenter 30:14
First we've got we had our obligatory job. And it it, it was I know it was hard on john, in the sense that in America, he said, and he said this to me after the film he has he says one thing I've learned is that in America celebrity is everything. So he said celebrities, and at that time, you know, john Claude London was huge. And he said, and therefore they have a, they have a lot more input, not only in how things are shot sometimes, but especially how things are cut afterwards. And, and he said that, that was probably one of the reasons we we eventually went back and did some really great films back in China was that he was not used to dealing with the political culture in, in Hollywood. And it was not used to that I mean, really being the God on the set. Not that I'm not saying that in an egotistic No, no, no, I'm saying it in the sense that vision, it's the vision, yeah, record vision. And he said, if he wanted to do a big action scene with, um, you know, amazing action, he literally have hundreds of people who would want to do this crazy ass stuff, that that would be very hard to pull off in the United States, like, given the regulations that they have here, sir. But the, but that the experience of working with him was great, but also learning, the way that he shot was very different in terms of how action is staged in the United States, in the United States, you'll take your action and your take your moments, and you'll shoot in pieces, this piece in here, and then we move this piece in, it doesn't necessarily have to be shot in an order. JOHN would arrange his shots action, as though it was a kind of putting all the springs into a fine Swiss watch. And just every little piece of action would lead to another piece and flow into it. And, and so you, instead of doing all these little pieces, says he would do, he would make it more of a ballet and in make sense as a whole. But in order to do that, and this is where it it, it falls on the cinematographer who's working with with john is that he'll want to do it with seven or eight cameras, of course. And, and how you get one how you light for that. And, and then one how you how it's almost impossible to keep the other camera but shot, but somehow you do it. And so we would do these takes and we do it once or twice, and he would have it it might it might take us them, you know, several hours to set these things up. But once it happened, you just go, oh my god, this shot took us to this camera. And he then he knows that, okay, he's going to use two thirds of a second have this shot, which is going to take us to the other angle. And that may last three seconds, which will take us to the other angle. You know, it was really amazing.

Alex Ferrari 34:07
So then basically, instead of instead of doing seven or eight different setups, you would work really hard to get everything in one setup. But you basically have done you're done the scene are done that that sequence.

Russell Carpenter 34:19
Yeah. And it's it also it's harder on the stand people in the actor, because you have to make it look like every hit connected. And but it these things had an energy though, when they were cut together. That was really great. Yeah, so I learned not not only a lot about how to shoot for multiple cameras, but I also learned something about you know,

Alex Ferrari 34:50
Staging and editing and flow. Yeah, I mean, even hard target a few I mean, you watch Hard Boiled Do you watch the killer, and then you watch our target. You can tell he's handcuffed a bit. But yes, yeah, but but you can see the whoo come out.

Russell Carpenter 35:06
Yeah, yeah. You know? Yes. And some of the signature things that he liked to do he certainly, he certainly did those but, but but then you can also I've been so here, this is a jungle I know what it is and then you go back and you look at hardware, and they have a lot. I mean, there's a lot more going on those bells. Yeah, I mean, they're, they're amazing.

Alex Ferrari 35:33
No, they're master but they're masterpieces of action. I mean,

Russell Carpenter 35:37
There Yeah, there. Yeah, you go back and look at The Birdcage seeing

Alex Ferrari 35:43
The opening of hardboiled Oh my god.

Russell Carpenter 35:45
So yeah, just oh my god, what planet did this come from? I mean, it's, they're, they're really amazing film. So. Yeah. So. So that was a great experience.

Alex Ferrari 35:57
So So you were starting to talk about how you and Mr. Cameron got together. You were saying that you met. You worked with Eddie Furlong after Terminator two. And as people said, Hey, you would work well with Jim.

Russell Carpenter 36:08
Yeah, at the time he was. Jim wanted to do a wanted to do an independent film of

Alex Ferrari 36:18
A drama. Yeah, that drama that he wanted to do a thriller or something like that he wanted to do I heard about that.

Russell Carpenter 36:23
Crowded room, this this. This is a famous film that's ever been made about the life of a person who had like 15, or six school personalities. And it's been around Hollywood for I don't know, Eon. And somehow it's never gotten made, but he wanted to do that. And so, Eddie's people and also some other people who knew me, I guess suggested to Jim, that he should meet me, I got we, there was a party at the end of at the end of pet cemetery, too. And I think he came to that we talked for a little while I like, you know, I was, I probably had the life force at the time. Like, I have a piece of wood or something, you know, just and then it was weird, because because after that, I was I was in Louisiana, in New Orleans with john Woo. Do because that, well, that film fell apart. Right? I but what I did do was I did show my $55 million sample.

Alex Ferrari 37:39
Amazing, real amazing sample real.

Russell Carpenter 37:41
Yeah. And he liked it. And but the film fell apart, because I was like, well, that's okay. So I didn't, you know, I just go back to while doing the Jiwoo film. And it's really weird. I got this phone call from his producer while I was there. And said, she said, what, when you get back to town, I want you to have lunch with Jim Cameron, he has his project we'd like to talk to you about. So and this is before the internet. So my crew and I start to get every copy of variety that we can possibly get. And I'm getting through these varieties trying to see what what he has, because in my mind, I'm thinking he's got a little documentary or he's got something something little project that he needs this.

Alex Ferrari 38:37
This is and this is the conference, this is that that's the phone call that at that point in, in, in Hollywood history. And so this point as well, you get that calls, like hey, Jim Cameron wants to meet you about a project. I'm assuming that's a really big deal.

Russell Carpenter 38:50
Well, it was a big deal. But I couldn't put my I couldn't put my I couldn't put the rustle. I knew up to that point. in the same room. Oh, and it's a it's a big feature. So I'm looking through these things. And all I can see is Oh, he's doing something with Arnold Schwarzenegger called True Life. And I go right past that. Of course. That's not what we're talking about here. That could be free.

Alex Ferrari 39:18
But you could even believe that you would be even up for that situation. Yeah, but when I got back, exactly. And when I got back and called, call this producer up there, and lunch was set up. And again, it was surreal. We were in near his house in in Malibu, and we're sitting down at Tony's two burner. Yeah, I guess that's what it was called. And he starts talking about this film and it's in my head is kind of exploding. I can't believe he's talking about this. Phil. Right. And this is this is how Jim hi Somebody, so we're you know, so he's starting to talk about the film. And he's talking about this and this. And like halfway through the conversation, he says, he starts using the word we. And it says, and then when we get to Washington are these kinds of problems, you know, and then after that, you got to go there, and we've got to be ready to do that. And I'm, and I'm sitting there, you know, like a dog. Here, I can't even understand. I'm looking at it. But I can't understand. surreal, completely surreal. It was totally surreal. And so we have lunch, and I leave, and I and I call him my agent. And I say, because by that time, I had an agent, I said, I think I was just hired to do this big picture. And he called me back two days later, and she says, Yeah, you knucklehead, you know, yes, you were hired to do fulfill. And, and then it That, that, I guess, of course, that opened the gym camera. Light. And it was very interesting, because of the pre production went really, really well. You know, and I just felt like, of course, I felt like I had a lot to prove and stuff like that. And, and then, and then we started filming and and that that went really well to was go, Oh, my God, and just never let this happen yourself. Because this is what I did. I said, Well, I don't know what because I had heard stories about other cinematographers. That worked with him, and they were good stories. I don't know. Maybe Maybe I'm the person who cracked the code? No. Let's go so well. And so all those legendary James Cameron stories, at least on True Lies didn't happen.

Russell Carpenter 42:03
They didn't have that up until about the fourth weekend. And this story I tell a lot, because it's it's it has something to do with persistence, I guess. And also something to do with the fact that, that sometimes you've got to develop a skin a tough enough skin that, you know, that he realized that it's not about you, when I went out on plenty of interviews was turned down plenty of times and you know, you're kind of in the same boat that an actor is, well, you're going to meet with a lot of rejection, and you just cannot take that personally. Just go back. Just keep doing your thing. And hoping that the next thing comes along when it eventually it will maybe not as fast as you wanted it. But there it is. But so we we were he had been watching everything on the on the web that time on the cam video. Yeah. And so now we're in a, we have a screening one night, it's the first time we're in a theater, in the gyms the screening room. Is there about 40 people in there, they're all department heads. When we're, the film starts to roll. And we're watching a scene in a scene where Arnold Schwarzenegger has just returned from his first mission met, he was up in the snow. And he he returns home and he goes over into the room where Jamie Lee Curtis is sleeping goes over, looks at himself in a mirror as he takes up his wedding, or you know, or something like that. And so that shot comes on. And it's it's a little dark, and I think I'm gonna have to have them do a reprint on this printed up a few points. And all of a sudden I look over at Jim who's sitting beside me. And he's just sitting there shaking his head. Jim, Jim, what's wrong? And now he says loud enough. So I'm sure everybody in the room says he says, I have the highest paid actor in this or any parallel universe. Let's see as I can. Tim, well, I'll just print out three points. I think everything is okay. So no, you print this scene up three points and you ruin the mood of the scene. And that loud enough for everybody to hear. So I you know, from then on, I just want to die because as he waited the wait a couple more minutes. And then he'd say something about you know, as shattered come up that was maybe a little overexposed. And you'd say Where on earth did you learn to read the light? Oh, louder. You know, and, and so on. That I endured like three more comments like this. And literally, before they turned on the lights, and you know, before the light was all the way up, I think I was out of that room. I just ran out, you know, and I, I was out, I went out to the parking lot, I called my wife and I said, Well, I, you know, I had my run with Jim Cameron, I toured, this was my last day, I guess, aliens were horrible, blah, blah, blah. And I look up and there's the first assistant director, and the, and then one of the producers and they're just smiling at me. They're laughing. Right? And I go, What? What? And and they just say, you know, he does that to everyone? And I said, No. and No, he said, just call. You know, they said, he gave me a name of a couple of other signal companies that just call him. You know, talk to them about this. I did, I talked to Mikhail Solomon and the best thing. He said, What did he use the line about? You know, where on earth? Did you learn to your baby, say, his grandmother could shoot better than this? Or, you know? And I said, Yeah, and that. I said, Okay, I know, I really have to have this credit. And I'm going to stick it out. And there were days that would go fly. And there were days that just felt like somebody hooked me up to two high voltage wires, and I was being electrocuted for the entire day, you know, until they called wrap. And that was my that. That was realize that was true lies. And that that was if there was ever a trial by fire picture that was that was it? For sure.

Alex Ferrari 46:55
I mean, you hear I mean, I mean, I studied Jim's career fairly closely in the abyss, I mean, one of the one of the craziest experiences of all time, and you hear all these stories about him and I. And you know, I actually knew some people who worked on Avatar and how he changed over time, but yet still very, very, Jim. But so I wanted to ask you about working with what has changed over time. I've heard he's, I heard and this is just again, from secondhand. I've heard he's softened a bit. He's not as like he would be back in the prior before Titanic stage. But he's still Jim. Yeah.

Russell Carpenter 47:37
About Well, when the thing about Jeremy, is whenever he gets an opportunity to work with them, or maybe somebody like him, who's coming along, is that there's a singularity of vision and almost a laser like concentration on the scene that he's doing. I mean, I've never seen anybody concentrate, like, and I've never seen anybody working harder than he does on the set. I mean, it's, it's amazing. I mean, how can somebody be that invested second after second, you know, because the rest of the rest of us mortals seem to say, Okay, I just did that. Now, I've got a chance to take a breath, maybe I'll just go over to the craft service table and do this. That doesn't seem to be Jim, to me. He is, I mean, there's, in terms of pure devotion, to what he's doing. I've never seen another person like him. And my experience, and, and that's, that's really something and he. And my sense about him is that every time he does a project, he goes out and says, There's something I don't know how to do. But it's something I've never done, you know, with True Lies, it's why I've never really shot, you know, a comedy, you know, so I'm going to do a comedy, or, you know, or Now, here's Titanic. And I'm going to make, I need to make a film that not only succeeds as an action film, but I've got to make a film that totally succeeds. As a love story, are the actions not going to mean very much. And so he he's, he said, he says, Well, I don't know how to do this film net and finish that Suzanne attitude and and, you know, he I don't think he expects everybody to be perfect, but I think I know he expects everybody we're doing the absolute best job. They can that they know how to do now. And that's that's saying a lot. And I mean, I think for the storms that come up, when they do come up, if you learn not to take them personally and know this is you This is this is gonna last another minute, and then it's back to work, then then then you have a chance of not having a nervous breakdown.

Alex Ferrari 50:11
And some people and some people just can't handle that some people take it too personally and then this business, I think is one thing I've learned over the years is, you can't take it personally, a lot of times, you just can't you got to move on.

Russell Carpenter 50:22
No, you can't take it personally. And then on the other hand, especially as a director of photography, you need to so if there's eggs on the SAT, you also need to develop the skills that you're not the main source of that. Or you're doing something to, you know, okay, we all know that things have to be done. They have to try to do them in a certain time. But you, I think I would, really starting out, I would mistake my passion. When I say, Oh, this is just passion. But you know, in some ways, I look back at him and say, Well, that wasn't passion, you were just being an asshole.

Alex Ferrari 51:08
There's that,

Russell Carpenter 51:09
Yeah, you can learn to have that passion. And this took a long time to learn, you can learn to have that passion, and also have a roaring good time, because you're doing one of the best, you're in a position of having one of the best jobs, at least I think that anybody can have.

Alex Ferrari 51:26
Now, when when working with a director, that's so hands on, like, what advice would you give? What advice would you give to a cinematographer who has a very hands on director, meaning that he's very involved with the visual look of the film and how his shooting, he might even tell you a little bit of like, I want this here, because that because a lot of times, you know, with Jim, and I talked to Mr. Cameron, he's obviously a very technical director, and he really knows a lot about what you're doing and pretty much about what everybody else

Russell Carpenter 51:56
Is doing on the set. And as as probably often quoted, it helps me he'll, he'll tell people that that he knows. And, and the whole miserable aspect of that is that is probably right.

Alex Ferrari 52:11
Correctly, when you're working with a genius, it's like a fear

Russell Carpenter 52:14
And I, I wouldn't put Jim in that category of being a genius. I do. I think he, I think, because you at one point you go, how can somebody who's so technical into a movie that's also has so much imagination, and and the way he paints and how he how, with his camera angles and the structure, the structure of his script, he sets up a totally immersive experience, you know, and that is that they have that technical side and that that, that artistic side all firing, you know, on, on all all cylinders, you know, they're they're all work. Although, you know, that doesn't happen with Jim you, you know, and I guess in my personality, makeup I, I'm a pleaser. And I do I am that person who says this is the director's vision, how can I help this director with his or her vision? board? And so you go in. So there's Jim on one end of the spectrum, who is just happy to set up and, and frame every, every camera, you know? And, you know, what, like, a titanic. It's interesting, like, as a cinematographer, I had, I had the freedom to do things the way that I thought they should be done, but if I wasn't doing what he wanted, he would definitely let me know.

Alex Ferrari 53:59

Russell Carpenter 53:59
When he would say, No, no, I want that's not it, I want this. Or, or I think the light here should be hard or something like that.

Alex Ferrari 54:09
Or he literally would get that detailed, like no, I this needs to be it's like almost like a Kubrick in that sense that has such a complete control of the vision that if he doesn't see you doing what he wants, he will push you or nudge you in the proper direction, according to his vision.

Russell Carpenter 54:26
But I also tell directors that I know don't have those chops, you know, they're wonderful people who have come from lighting or some other and especially now it's much much easier with digital light. Look, if you see something that that that for some reason doesn't work for you. Just Just tell me and I and you know, and unless it's something really good I really don't agree with that. But I'm I'm just said, Okay, well, yes, I can do this a little different. And let's see, if you enter, you know, in a second, I'll come back and say that that's right that it's it's not so much technical, it's just something, it's you. It's story driven, most people. So as a cinematographer, you go, okay, on films, there are lots of things that are the same. But I've always found every single film to be different. And a lot of that has to do with how you work with a with a director, I did a lovely film in India called parch. Very low. And the director was fantastic. We really never really, after she called me what, where she felt the heart of the story was or, or, or this particular scene. We didn't really talk about lighting, we, and she, and in this situation, I was I would suggest blocking, I would say, okay, given what I just saw, we could do it this way, this way, in this way. And because we're on a budget, I know if we do it, we'll do it this way we tell the story. And it, we just shave a couple shots off the scene. Because we're doing it more efficiently. So So as a cinematographer, you can be a service in to any kind of director that you're working with. But again, with if it's a Jim Cameron, we know that they're going to have lots of input about things that other directors may not care a bit about. It's very, very flexible, busiest that way.

Alex Ferrari 56:41
So let's talk a little bit about that little film Titanic. That is, you know, we've heard legendary stories about, you know, stories from the set, I knew a few actors on the on the set that have told me a lot of stories. I mean, at the time, it was the biggest budget film in American and filmmaking history, and Hollywood history. I mean, you basically had every toy you ever wanted as a cinematographer. on set, I'm imagining Can you can you tell me what it was like working on a film of that size? And also that magnitude, because everybody in the world was looking at that movie and looking how it would finish and how it would end?

Russell Carpenter 57:23
Or, or a lot of the work, what we'll say, Are your younger listeners who certainly are grieving that the film was such a phenomenon when it was being made. There was actually on the front of variety, I think, there was a there was an outline box with called Titanic watch, because I thought this thing was going to be just a just ghastly flop, because it was the most expensive movie at the time. And there, there were, occasionally there would be setbacks, because things were being tried that had never been tried before. Right. And also it was it was what I call a a very special movie, in that it was a hybrid movie, in the sense that a lot of its heart and soul was with the David lean epics, you know, Ryan's or Dr. Zhivago, or, you know, the, the, those big films had had a beating heart like that. And yet, it was, it was, it was using, technically, it was using some very, very old techniques. And at the same time, it had, the other foot was distinctly in the future, in terms of being done with computer, probably cutting edge at that time, you know, when, when the film was in pre production, they hadn't really worked out a really viable way to make realistic ocean water.

Alex Ferrari 59:17
We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show.

Russell Carpenter 59:28
There were two, two things that I would read in the paper is because now it's good. It wasn't just the trades, it was the LA Times. One was that things were unsafe on the set. And that is not true. That week, we had sometimes safety meetings that would last up to an hour because we had an international crew. So you had to you had to do all the safety notes and in English or Mandarin In Spanish, because we were in Mexico, and then we had a lot of Hungarian stunt people. So, so but but safety was was really, really at the top of everybody's agenda. And Jim Carrey is definitely not well, you know, people are expendable kind of thing. So whatever, somebody cracks or rip breaks a leg. That wasn't, I didn't. And the other thing was, well, they're just, they're just down there every day figuring out how to throw gold bullion into the water, this thing is so expensive, you know. And that wasn't the case, either, you know, people would come down from the studios and try and figure out how to make things be less expensive, and they weren't coming up with you solutions either. In fact, in fact, the thing was, the film was so big, it was hard for anybody to get a get a handle on it. And when I came down, the first time I went down there, where it was before to Rosarito Beach. The studio had really been built, it was a work in progress. And there was an excitement about it, it was, it was like, well, this is how the Gold Rush was, you know, buildings coming up, like, you know, crazy in days, I would go, I was actually working on another movie at the time, this was happening. So I'd come down on the weekends. And, and it's like, every weekend, there's another big building just came up. And there's a there's the tanks are being built. And it was really quite a sense of excitement about it. And then but what happened was, you know, on a, on a regular film, you have a sense of where everything fits in. And here are the pieces and you can look at the film as a totality. This film was just so big. We just had to look at it. I do week, and it was you're constantly putting out one fire after another. Oh, this says it This isn't ready. You know, it's like, let me just adjust. For example, my john Buckley was my gaffer on that, that picture, he went out as a ship was being built, and he was trying to figure out what how to table something. The Titanic is basically the whole thing is a just a huge piece of scaffolding, I mean, a huge piece of scaffold on water. Yeah, well, but, but yeah, but not much of the ship was ever in, in water. I mean, that's part of the illusion that they the tank parts, most of the tank was just three feet deep, just just deep enough. So a lifeboat could be in the water. And, and you'd have like three inches of clearance at the bottom of the water. You know, it's kind of like being at Disneyland that way. And so it was easy to move the lifeboats around, and then much closer to the ship. That then the tank was dug much deeper so people could jump off the side of the ship and not land in three feet of water. They had to you know, have these 2020 feet deep there. And I mean, it was this crazy. Let's just, you know, and this this podcast would go way too long.

Alex Ferrari 1:03:33
No, no, no, please. No, we're fine. We're fine.

Russell Carpenter 1:03:35
How people figured this out, I mean, how things were scheduled. The ship itself, and a lot of the sets were basically engineered the same way. cemeteries engineer, lighting a coffin into the hole, you have cables under the, let's say you have holes into the coffin, and then the punches you unwind the winches, and the the cable or straps loosen, and they they start to take the weight of the coffin and it drops into the hole. That is the same thing that was the same thing as how that huge ship was. was dropped, right. And also we had sets that had to be dry in in her run seamless eight, say take that giant dining room with those lights in there. We shot our dry scenes and then a month or two later came back and shot the web scenes. And we were in a that dry set was actually built inside a tank. So now filled up with water. And we have to change all of the lights out because they're going to go under water and they have to stay lit because that's what happened with the lights on the Titanic. So So now you're into all kinds of logistical things. So to make it look like the water is rising, with one end of the set would be lowered on straps until the water started to creep in, and then the rest of the set would be lowered to make it look like the water was rising at a pretty fast rate. And then then you end the take, and you go back to one, but going back to one

Alex Ferrari 1:05:26
Can reset everything,

Russell Carpenter 1:05:28
Reset everything. And there were times that the set would go into the water and there's chaos happening. You've got hundreds of people and and all that all the silverware all the table claws, they start to float around, and we're talking, you know, what, 100 tables or something like that. They're floating everywhere. So resetting is not an easy thing. And that that was just kind of the story of all the amazing takes at the end of the, at the end of the movie where the ship's going down and hundreds of people are running up and down. The the ship, that was probably the last film for real when you saw 300 people running up and down now, right? Because four years later, you'd have one not even that long. You along comes Peter Jackson with Lord of the Rings, and he's got 1000s of orcs or whatever running around. And they're all they're all computer driven. And so. So Titanic was really that that movie that made the push out of out of what we call the more classic kind of filmmaking. So how about how did you shoot?

Alex Ferrari 1:06:46
Like, how do you shoot a film of that size, like just on a technical standpoint, that the mass amount, how big was your camera department?

Russell Carpenter 1:06:55
That would depend on what we were shooting, we started off with the smaller, smaller scenes. And we'd have one or two cameras. And that was when we go along that way for a while. And then when we got to the really big stuff that's well for the cinematographer. And for everybody, that's when the craziness happens is you've got Jim would say, Hey, you know what, let's go outside tonight, I want to see the whole ship. And and we're going we weren't even scheduled to do this for like three more days, we're not even sure that we can get everything up and running. Because this is going back to how when you talk about the immensity we wound up with something like 40 miles of cable inside the ship. And the ship, when you go around. When you look to the other side. All it is is it's scaffolding. scaffolding. And once I have it has what looks like a ship on it. And then only the two top decks of the ship are built along the real ship. They end with smokestacks and stuff like that. And so, again, back to my gaffer, when we're talking about the immensity of things, he says, he comes back one day and he says, well, we're going to start out with we need we need 1500 lights. And yeah, that's what I

Alex Ferrari 1:08:32
What kind of lights are we talking about? Like lights, lights, like film lights?

Russell Carpenter 1:08:37
He said, Well, I counted, we counted the portholes, we've got 750 portholes, we need, we need what we call a visible light that the camera can see, that looks like it should belong there. And then we want a we should have at least a 1k pointed out of every port home. Okay, and so so we've done we've done the portholes and we're up to 1500 lights. So he starts to put his list together. And he goes to 20/20 Century Fox. And, and john gets a little letter back a little note that it's very, it's a very nice note, but the subtext is you're insane. You don't know what you're doing. We're going to send down some people who are going to help you figure out how many lights you need. Okay, they do that. So they go up so they go out with john. This is in pre production. Yeah, what? They come back at the end of the day. guys say you don't have enough lights, you need more light. And they were right. And I have to hand it to 20th Century Fox. They found lights they went to warehouse They fed, you know, and they they refurbished a bunch of, of lights. Because at the end of the day, you have just you have those 1500 lights just for the portholes you have and a lot of them have to be sealed there has to go underwater right. And then you have all the lights and all the sets for the whole movie. And I now the number is slipping my mind but we had a phenomenal amount of lights not only decorative lights but lights that we had to use ranging from everything from the the huge lights that kind of like the ship at night to, to everything we needed to make the movie because because you can't you have to have your lights hidden clustered, because you can't just say, Oh, I need a five can move it from the stern to the bow, which is 800 feet away. You know, that's not going to work. So so it should john Buckley's credit. I mean, it was just an enormous undertaking to do this. And but the number of lights was in the 1000s of cable, the cabling for this thing which looked like I call it said like if you ever saw that movie, Brazil by Terry Gilliam it looked like a Terry Gilliam version of company in the 50s. I mean, it was a complete cluster, whatever of of cabling and how it all stayed on, I'll never know. And, and, and it was, it was a constant battle. Because Because lights, you know, they your life and they go off, you know, right?

Alex Ferrari 1:11:54
That's 1500 my mind hurts, my brain is hurting thinking about trying to keep track of a shot because there was no high end visual, I guess they could have done something visual effects but, but like you want 1500 like 700 and something portals, you're in the middle of a shot, one of the lights goes out, like,

Russell Carpenter 1:12:10
Oh, my God. And boy, we learned our lesson the first night because we I mean, we had a lot of people back there be, you know, in the scaffolding area, but it because it was the first night and I think we were shooting a couple days earlier. Like john would see some lights go out or worse, Jim would see some lights. And I said one of those lights doing that. And and you'd look over and you hadn't noticed I mean, oh my god. Yeah. And so john would say get somebody down to so and so and so and so and this is God's honest truth. So somebody would run back there. And, and eventually, you'd see the lights go on. And then about three minutes later, we'd hear you know, this is so and so I'm down here, I don't know where I am, I can't find my way out, you know, with some of these beats coming at me because I'm you know, I'm really starting to get nervous, you know, realize that we would have to play a zone system from then on and the same person, we put everything in quadrants. So like, going up, you had level you you'd have level, you know, ABC, you know, all the way to wherever it was. And then and then horizontally, you'd have a number. So every every quadrant and we'd have the same person organize this is work the same fairly small quadrate Night after night, because that is that was the only way we could do this efficiently. But it that that looking back now it seems funny, but when you're waiting when the directors Wait, it wasn't so

Alex Ferrari 1:13:55
I mean, it's it's it's honestly, it's a miracle that no one got hurt.

Unknown Speaker 1:14:00
Yeah, I think in construction, somebody's done. Oh, really? Yeah. And we did have let's see, some somebody else got hit by a car walking along the road down there. That was That wasn't on the set. Right. And, and then that we had one big night that had been rehearsed for weeks where they that at the end of the at the end of the movie that the stern of the ship goes near vertical. Yes. People start falling down. And this was a they were what they were falling down into was a bunch of stunt pads covered in green. So we could extend the the tissue make it look longer. And they had it all worked out. So the timing so one person would fall and they were when I say fall they were all on these things. These descender rig the Senator Pan rig It would slow the fall down if it's still look real, but it would, you know, they were literally falling or under control, but they had to get out of the harness and then jump out of the pad, you know, not get out of the harness but disconnect. But on the first two takes in the, in the excitement of it all. Like, some people weren't getting out of the way. So the next person down, like somebody cracked a rib. And Jim just said, Hey, we're not doing this anymore. So more people submit it's going to really get hurt. And so we came back later, and they're really significant falls. They were done by

Alex Ferrari 1:15:46

Russell Carpenter 1:15:47
CG Yeah, CG base based on a real person doing a call it that then became a CG person. Yeah,

Alex Ferrari 1:15:55
He was cutting edge, because there was nothing like that. At that point. There was nothing like that at that point.

Russell Carpenter 1:15:59
Yeah. And if you look back at it now, you know, you could Yeah, you can pick certain things apart and go, but that person is not quite Rocky. Right. That must have been Yeah,

Alex Ferrari 1:16:09
My favorite. My favorite spoof or the biggest mistake I've saw in Titanic if I could be so bold as to call something out was when Jack's running down the hall while the waters rushing behind them him rose. And you see the face that they plant they face replaced the stun people. And you can that's the the only really like blaring visual effects shot. I was like,

Russell Carpenter 1:16:32
Yeah, that that that was the one where, you know, he really tried to make that work. And I guess, you know,

Alex Ferrari 1:16:40
He pushed the technology too far.

Russell Carpenter 1:16:42
Yeah. And now crazy plate. placement is is common place. But at that time.

Alex Ferrari 1:16:51
Now there's one. There's one more question about Titanic I had. And this is a I've read an American cinematographer magazine article years ago that I think you gave about the wide shot of the ship sinking into the water that the bulbs because they were hot. The bulbs on the actual deck not like film, movie movies, lights, but actual lights. practicals would hit the water and they would pop. So then after you would reset, you would have someone go in there and have to re unscrew and screw back in new lights. Is that true? Or is that something some truth here,

Russell Carpenter 1:17:24
That timing on all of those scenes where that started out, basically looking dry and then sinking into the water timing was of the essence, because let's just take the dining room, dining room, when we shot all the dry, the dry for dry seems like dinners and stuff like that, basically normal lives. But when that same set was waiting to sink into the water, all the bulbs had to be enclosed in a glass fitting, they had to be watertight, because as soon as water hit any of these bolts, they would explode. Yeah. Also, if they just stayed on, eventually, the heat would build up inside that airtight container. And it would explode because of the heat. So what we had to do was I mean, and again, because we had so many people in the scenes, we would work and work and work and rehearse, rehearse and rehearse, get our hunger camera set up, then you would do and this is this is just common thing, especially with with sinking, you'd have to do a set search with divers joline set was nothing or and there was nobody down there who had been left behind somebody who hadn't heard the we're gonna shoot, you got it. So that would be time consuming, too. So awesome. So you're looking at another 20 minutes, just to do that. Then the real action once you call action, the real action has to happen within a minute and a half. Because as soon as you roll cameras with the lights come on you roll cameras, and then you know that about a minute and a half from now, these lights have to be underwater or they're going to explode. So that's that's the timing issue of it all is there was this kind of this one and a half or two minute drill, that thing had to happen so that the lights would go underwater but inevitably if you So let's just say let's just say 100. Lights. Okay, you got to take two, seven of those lights have gone out. So we had a team that would run in, grab those lights and then replace them with lights that were working. That part didn't take us because we were prepared for that, that it will take as long as it you know, it might have Wow.

Alex Ferrari 1:20:24
Now what? And I know you've given me so much of your time today, Russell, thank you so much. I have a few more questions if you're if your game. You're alright. What is the biggest lesson you learn from shooting Titanic? Because that is it was unlike a an experience that most cinematographers will ever have.

Russell Carpenter 1:20:43
Yes. In fact, my crew who worked with me for a long time, he said, Yeah, gee, Ross, when are we ever going to do the big movie? And

Alex Ferrari 1:20:54
Be careful what you wish for?

Russell Carpenter 1:20:55
Yeah, yeah, that's right after typing. The end of the day, the last the last day, called wrap and instead of a big movie. Yeah, people like zombies just wandered to the parking lot and got into their cars and drove away. Broke, broke, broken, broken souls, broken spirits. Yeah, yeah. That's the biggest lesson was on a on a film like that that gave you you can't be overwhelmed by trying to gobble up the whole experience all at once. If then you'd never start, you just know. For me, it was, okay, I've got the scene, I'm going to do the best I can on this scene this day. And I know I've got a group of really good people who are working on the sets that we're going to shoot, you know, a week from now or two weeks from now. Just to really just hang in there. And, and do do your very best that you can with what's in front of you. And that was the only way I got through.

Alex Ferrari 1:22:09
Yeah, cuz if you try to get right, if you try to eat the entire cake, you'll never get through, you have to take it bite by bite, slice by slice day by day. Yeah. Now, what's the biggest mistake you see young cinematographers make?

Russell Carpenter 1:22:27
Well, because because I've seen a lot of really great young cinematographers. And I don't know what, what what else is happening. I think, gosh, the only thing I think is that there were there was a value in shooting film, and that you really had to know, your stuff, what, what you can do with exposure. And the only thing that I'm hearing from the lab is that, that sometimes people shoot, thinking that they can fix everything in when they when they get into the, you know, the post production process. And they, you know, and I can't say that I've seen because I've never seen that, but the labs have, and they say, we don't, these people will know that their film could look so much better. If they really paid attention to the lighting of this actress or this actor. That and, and, and, and try to do as much of the work on the day long while you're shooting. And then also know, also, because you have a very good, then if you have a very good sense of what can be done and should be done in post, you can say, You know what? That wall over there is too bright right now. But I know it's going to take me 15 minutes to fix that now. And I can do it in 30 seconds in post, you can just in that kind of knowledge that would be a big, big help.

Alex Ferrari 1:24:07
All right. That's it. That's very, very good advice. Now, what would you do on a business standpoint? But film business standpoint? What advice would you give a cinematographer wanting to break into the business?

Russell Carpenter 1:24:21
Well, besides the thick skin and, and knowing, hey, you've got to be in this for the long run. Those are the first two things. I I there's so many things, just learning to work with people. That's such a because lots of people are really good at what they they they do, and they're not good. At the people end of it, I would I would say the cinematographer even though you just want to be an artist, the cinematographer has to be an artist of course, but a scientist enough enough to Know what the camera that he or she is working with, can do what it's capable of, you also have to be a manager because as you go along, you're going to have to start to manage how, how your, your, what your your people, your weapons are, how they're position, you know, terms of who's, who's doing what, so you're getting the most efficient use of them. And then and then a politician, a politician. And I mean, not, not the smarmy sense of every often thing. But it is a political business. When when I shoot a test with inaccurate, inaccurate part of what I'm doing there, I mean, the screencast is not only not only learning what I need to know, but really imparting to that actor or actress that I will have their best interest at heart I want to make politically, I want them to be comfortable, you know, that. set for them, it's going to be a safe place where they can do their best work. So there's that politic, political in the sense that somebody did a bonehead thing. We did a bonehead thing and instead of yelling at them know, people make mistakes. This person was trying to do their best job vile people as if the biggest issue I have is that I know somebody who's very competent, and they're just not trying that, that's a big issue for them. That, that so So anyway, there are so many things you've got to be able to do and make make our while while catastrophe is happening around you. That's the other thing. Those. So, in a nutshell, those I pay attention.

Alex Ferrari 1:26:55
Now, I'm actually the last few questions that I asked all my guests. Can you tell me what book had the biggest impact on your life or career? Oh, these are? These are heavy questions. I don't even know. An answer to right. Well, I didn't know I don't have an answer. All right, well, then we'll move on to the next question. It's okay. What is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in life or in the film business?

Russell Carpenter 1:27:37
In life and the film business, because it seems like whatever whatever we choose to do in life, there are there lessons that that were here, it seems to me, we have to learn. And when is say as passionate as I am, or as fast as I want to go or whatever, as good as I want the picture to look, I have to have empathy for what anybody on the set is going through. I mean, I think developing empathy that it's somebody might be at work, and they might be coming up a very, very troubled to us home life. Or, or they're working and we haven't maybe they're they're working with a with some injury that's healing or, or just that I could say something. I don't think it happens much now. But I could certainly see it happening earlier on. You say something that's meant to be a joke. And yet it cuts to the quick with somebody and and you just have to hit just trying to again have the empathy of what it's like to be another person on the set. Works. Happy having to work with me what what is that experience like? So

Alex Ferrari 1:29:02
The excellent excellent answer. And what are three of your favorite films of all time? Oh, my God, and pick anything that comes to mind? Okay,

Russell Carpenter 1:29:12
Yes, for the look of it read searching for Bobby Fischer because I love the story. I love the way it was shot. Oh god there's so many

Alex Ferrari 1:29:28
Searching searching for Bobby Fischer is such a that is like a DPS movie. Isn't it? The what he did? And the name I'm sorry, please forgive me the name. Oh, yes, Conrad Hall. What he did with like he was shooting with mirrors. And he was what he did in that movie for cinema on a cinematography standpoint is remarkable, right?

Russell Carpenter 1:29:47
Yeah. And just the guts that it took to do some of the things that he did and had but how beautiful that one look. And not and how it was shot. My camera was placed because a lot of the time That we really are putting yourself in the place of this very young, young I guess, like 11 years old chess and, and that was good. Oh god, there's so many more films and I you know, red shoes which a lot of people? Yes, Red Shoes is just I to me I thought that was a stunning, stunning film and a marvel of the Technicolor process and I probably got 100 100 more probably. Right now right here. That's what comes to mind.

Alex Ferrari 1:30:34
And last question. What was it like winning the Oscar?

Russell Carpenter 1:30:40
I have been asked that. And I think it's a shirt for me. It was really weird. I thought when I found out it's all about the dress, you know. But if my wife's dress when she was great aware, but it was at that point I was not. I think I was so serious. I didn't really allow myself to feel the joy, the kind of kick in the pants that that must be. It the end. What happened was I won the Oscar. And within eight hours later, I was in the hospital. I various night, I passed a kidney. And I didn't pass but I had a kidney stone in such agony.

Alex Ferrari 1:31:34
So you really couldn't you couldn't relish in the achievement.

Russell Carpenter 1:31:38
Yeah, yeah. So it was like, Yeah, but it's really weird. Like, right now I feel like I'm enjoying what passes for a career as a much, much more I would have been much, much more fun on the set appreciating a lot more. And, and and I have, I would say a little bit or maybe maybe a considerable about more of tranquillity. Because early on, I was just so nervous about, you know how things were going or not going in. Now I I look back and I say Yeah, well, like right now I'm going through a period where nobody seems to be calling. And now I'm going through a period where too many people have called on it, or whatever. Right? That's, I just say, I can take what's kind of on the plate with more ease than I did before.

Alex Ferrari 1:32:39
Russell, I want to thank you so much for your time and amazing stories and amazing advice. You're giving our listeners, thank you again, so much for being here.

Russell Carpenter 1:32:50
Okay, well, thank you very much.

Alex Ferrari 1:32:52
That interview does not disappoint. Russell again, is so amazing. And thank you, Russell, so much for taking the time out. I know, you're literally just got back from Bali and heading over to Vancouver and you had two days to rest. And you took an hour and a half of that time to speak to me. So thank you again. And I hope you guys got a lot out of that interview. You know, it was just such a thrill for me to sit down and talk to Russell and to pick his brain about his process and his first hand experience of working on some of the biggest movies of all time working with the biggest directors and filmmakers of our generation. So it was such a pleasure and humbling experience doing this so I hope you guys got a lot out of it. I know I did. I got really jacked up and really inspired and kind of start shooting again. But there'll be more on that later. But anyway, guys, thanks again for listening. If you want to see anything we talked about in the show, head over to our show notes at indie film hustle.com forward slash 179. This is a long one, so I'll keep it short. Keep that hustle going keep the dream alive and I'll talk to you soon.




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IFH 120: What the HECK is a Scriptment?

So what is a Scriptment? I found it to be a liberating form of prepping a story to be filmed? When I was in pre-production on my first feature film This is Meg, I wanted to get into production as fast as I could without waiting to develop a full screenplay.

I’ve written a few screenplays in the past and as any screenwriter will tell you, it ain’t easy. So I found inspiration from filmmakers like Mark DuplassJoe Swanberg, Lynn Shelton, and the Godfather of independent film John Cassavetes. According to Justin Ladar (writer of Mark Duplass’ The One I Love), he defines a scriptment as follows:

“Basically a full script minus a lot of the dialogue…If you take away exterior or interior sluglines, it reads like a short story.”

He explains what it was like working with Mark on The One I Love:

“What would happen is that I would script [the dialogue in] a scene the night before or while the crew was prepping. [The cast] would get the pages and they would see just from a pacing standpoint [what needs to happen and when].”

When I was working with Jill-Michele Meleán on This is Meg we came up with a style that would work for the budget and time we had. It was the most freeing experience of my creative life.

No pressure, no hitting your marks, and no drama (except in the story of course). As the director, I was there to capture the lighting. The remarkable actors that were cast in Meg brought themselves to the project.

Jill and I would discuss the scenes with each actor prior to the shoot day. We would have plot points in each scene that need to be hit for the story to move forward, how the actors got to those points was up to them. They would improv the dialog and flow at the moment. It was amazing to watch.

That energy spills off the screen when you watch my two feature films This is Meg & On the Corner of Ego and Desire.


The term “scriptment” was coined by the legendary filmmaker James Cameron, during his involvement in bringing SpiderMan to the big screen. Cameron wrote a lengthy 57-page scriptment for the first proposed Spider-Man film (read the James Cameron SpiderMan scriptment here).

According to Wikipedia,

“Cameron’s scriptment for Titanic (1997) was 131 pages. The term became more widely known when Cameron’s 1994 scriptment for the 2009 film Avatar was leaked on the internet during pre-production, although other directors, such as John Hughes and Zak Penn, had written scriptments before. The scriptment for Avatar (2009) and its notoriety caused the spread of the term.”

Though James Cameron used a scriptment as the starting point of the screenplay, Mark DuplassJoe Swanberg, and Lynn Shelton used the scriptment as the blueprint of the film. Take a listen to my explanation of what a scriptment is to me and how it can jump-start your first feature film.

Right-click here to download the MP3

Alex Ferrari 0:00
So guys, today's show is all about giving you freedom to make your feature film. And I you know it this is one of the most freeing experiences that I ever had while I was making this is mag is being able to move so quickly through the creative process, from from idea to script meant to shooting it, editing it, finalizing it. And we did it all within I think about four months, literally from the idea all the way to the final edit and color and export. And it was such a freeing amazing experience that I wanted to share with you guys what exactly it was. And hopefully you guys can do something similar for your first few films. Now, what is a script meant? Scripting is basically a full script minus all of the dialogue. It allows it takes away a lot of the exterior, the interior kind of slug lines, and reads like a very cool short story. Now, I'm not the first to think about Scrivener is by any stretch. Mark Duplass has been doing it basically his entire career as well. I mean someone like James Cameron and Quentin Tarantino, they love writing scripts prior to writing their screenplays. But what Mark does is he actually writes the script and and that is what he uses to make his movies. So what he likes to do and I'll tell you from from what I heard about what Mark does and to also what I did was you reverse engineer your story based around things you have around you. Robert Rodriguez did this so to Kevin Smith, these guys, this is not a new concept. I think it needs to be a lot of people need to remind be reminded of what this could what this very powerful thing is for especially for first time filmmakers for people just you know, just starting out people who just want to make a feature film, and, and not get caught up in the drama, if you will of writing a screenplay at the very beginning of their career. You know, I've written screenplays before. They're very taxing. They're very, they're rough. You know, as anybody will tell you, they're rough they write they can be extremely rough to deal with. But I didn't want the writing and the formatting and all this kind of stuff to kind of get in my way of telling the story that I wanted to tell with Jill on this as Meg. So we decided, hey, let's just do this. Kind of like the league, the effects show the league did or Reno 911 or Curb Your Enthusiasm. All these guys have very loose scripts. So they would just start with an idea and structure it out very well. And that's it. That's the misnomer. That's a kind of myth about scripts, or about these non scripted feature films or television shows as they are scripted, but there's just scripted in a different format than you're normally used to. So let's say that you were going to do, you know, like, again, I'll use Meg as an example, what I did was,

I took, I took me and Joe sat down, and we're like, Okay, what do we have access to, okay, we have my office, my back office, your house, this other house, this other house, this other location. And we'll you know, we'll go up to the Hollywood sign and do a location shot there. And we'll grab some stuff on the street and be like, okay, boom, boom, boom. And once we knew all of our locations, and all the things we had access to, we started riding around that idea, and started building everything around what resources we had at our disposal. And by doing that, we were able to construct a screenplay or a scriptment fairly quickly, Jill, did a lot of heavy lifting, and came up with a story. I gave her my notes and like, hey, no, you know, what, we have this location, let's try to change it over here. And, you know, gave her some guidance in regards to the production aspects of things what we had access to, but, you know, she came up with this scriptment that was, at the end, almost like 45 pages, so wasn't like, you know, we just throw a three or four page outline together and ran, it was it was a pretty detailed script meant, and there were scenes that were fully scripted out. And there were other scenes that were very loosely screened, or scripted out, you know. So, once the movie gets released, I can talk a little bit more about specific scenes in the movie. And you guys, and inside the inside the indie film Syndicate, I'm going to be going over this in detail in the coming weeks and months, on on how exactly we did this. So by doing this guy's, we were able to get this movie done so so quickly. And, you know, a lot of people who work with Mark do plus, you know, especially screenwriters, they just get are in awe of how quickly they're able to put stuff together, like he'll come up with an idea. And six months later, they're done, like literally done six months later, because he keeps the budgets very low. And that's the other thing too, you keep the budget very low, you use what you've got, it's a collaborative art, you need a lot of help from a lot of different people to make something like this happen. But it's extremely doable. And you write around what you have. And it's not that difficult to do, honestly, you have to use proper structure, you have to get your storyline and everything organized properly, have your your points, your hero's journey, or whatever kind of story you want to tell if it's a three act story, if it's four Act, or 6x story, or two acts story, you can do so but just organize it out. And then when you get on the set, this is what happens. When you get on the set. You've already hopefully talked with your actors prior to get on the set. When you do that, when you get on the set, you could start riffing, and you go, Okay, guys, this is what the scene is really about. We need to we need to hit this point, this plot point, this plot point, and this plot point. And we have to hit these marks, how you get to those marks is completely up to you. But we need to hit these marks in order for the story to continue to move forward. And when you allow actors to really feel free to do so. The magic that comes out is pretty remarkable. Now again, you have to hire the right actors who are really kind of versed in improv, and are comfortable doing this. But you'll be surprised at a lot of actors who are able to do this. And also, you know, when you're casting actors, this is on a side note when you're casting actors, try to cast people who are very close to the role that they're going to play that there is not it's not a complete stretch for them to do I mean look, Daniel Day Lewis is Daniel Day Lewis, Robert De Niro's Robert De Niro. And you know, all these guys do Meryl Streep's Meryl Streep, generally speaking, if you as a director, or as a filmmaker can cast someone who's close to the character that you are trying to have them portray, it's going to make things a lot easier, because at the end of the day, you don't want them to act. You want them to be, you want honesty out of those performances. And if they can be themselves and just come up with lines or read lines that you've written for them, all the better. And that's how fast that's how we were able to do what we did on this as make so fast is we, you know, Jill actually wrote the screenplay, or wrote the script meant around her friends. And she talked to her friends before she wrote the scenes. And she knows like, Look, I know this person, and I'm going to write the scene based on her or based on him on their characters on their, their people. And, you know, I know I can get this performance out of Carlos or Deborah or Joe or Krista. And and, and that's how we wrote the scenes out and we kind of found things on the day, and it's so freeing, it's so exciting and so fun because you really don't know what's going to happen as a director as a filmmaker. And a lot of times I was just there trying to capture the lightning in the bottle. That was my job was there to just capture the lightning that was coming off in front of that lens.

It's my job to capture it, and then to mold it when I get into the editing room. But that is the power of a scriptment. And it's something that I think a lot of filmmakers, you know, the screenplay, at least for me, was always this big monstrous thing that had to be perfect and had to be read perfectly and you know, if the the formatting wasn't right, or the the way you said things wasn't right, or this or that it just created so many obstacles from actually going out and making your movie that I think that discriminant is a way to loosen those shackles, if not shake those shackles completely off, where you could, in theory, grab 1000 bucks and go make a movie. You know, grab a camera, grab some lights, maybe even lights, maybe no lights, grab some audio, get some friends together make a movie, this is what Mark Duplass did. This is what Joe Swanberg did this is what Lynn Shelton did, you know these guys all did that, and they kind of just ran with it. And they made some really fun, heartfelt movies by doing so. And I don't think it's something that you guys can't do yourselves. Now, it also depends on the kind of story you're trying to tell guys. If you're trying to tell a story. That's super action packed, big thing, you know, big action sequences and all that kind of stuff. This, this process might not work for you this is this process will work. You know, though I am I'm interested to one day try this formula on an action movie, or on a horror movie. I'm really curious to see. And I might do that in the future, just to see what happens. You know, and it has been done to the horror genre, as well. So, you know, well, I mean, the biggest example of that was Blair Witch, The Blair Witch Project was done, they did that there was literally no script, they just kind of were guided along and the actors kind of made everything up as they went along. So it can it can work in those genres as well. But if you have a lot of big science, you know, big science fiction or big visual effects and things like that, you really have to plan certain things out. But there's no reason why it's some of the dialogue in those scenes cannot kind of riff like this, but again, you have to keep that budget low. And you know, I kept I kept the budget under 25 million, like I say all the time. afford this is Meg and kept it in a budget range that I felt very comfortable with by doing this kind of this kind of work, but I know that Mark do plus and those kind of guys they'll work with, you know, under a million dollar budget, sometimes a little bit over a million dollar budget. You know, I know drinking buddies the movie with Olivia while Jake London, and a Kendrick by Joe Swanberg. They, that movie budget was about $550,000 I'm like, that was his biggest movie ever, budget wise. And that movie was completely done by this way. It's just that was his. That's, that's Joe's process. That's how he likes to to work. And I understand I once I did it with this as Meg, it's so fun, so freeing, and the actors get to really have fun with the characters and create the characters on the fly. And by just being able to loosen things up a little bit. It works so wonderfully. And again, this is not for everybody. But I think for a majority of you guys out there for at least a portion of you guys listening to this, this might be a way for you to get off the ground to get your first feature made, you know you do very low risk, again, 1000 bucks. You know, if you guys can't raise 1000 bucks by asking your parents and friends, you're in deep trouble my friends. So you gotta at least raise a grand, let's say, get somebody who owns a camera or shoot it with your iPhone, for God's sakes. Do something like that. Make sure your sound is good, make sure your visuals are decent. And go tell your story make a movie, there's very little risk involved there. When you start getting into the 50 100,000 to 200,000 million dollars, you guys better know what the hell you're doing. You know before before you get going, you better have a distribution plan and all that kind of stuff. But at this level at that low budget. Under $10,000. You can you can have some fun and experiment. So if you don't feel comfortable doing with a feature film right away, do it with a short, you know, take take 50 bucks, take 100 bucks, and go make a few shorts like this. Get your feet wet. And see how it works. Do a few scenes do a few five minutes short films like this. Again, keep the budget really low 100 bucks, you know no more because if you start doing like 234 100 500 bucks, well shit then you could go make a feature at that point. But anyway,

I just hope that this this podcast kind of helps you guys understand that there is another option out there for you. There is another path to make your first feature film that you don't have to go the traditional route Out of getting a screenplay like getting it developed going through all of the rigor Maryrose submitting this to a to actors and so on. And again, at the beginning guys, I know, I know a lot of people are gonna have this question like, Well, Alex, if I have a script, and I've never done anything, can I approach named talent? I'm gonna probably say no, unless you have a relationship with that name talent, or some somebody like that it's going to be very difficult. We were lucky that Jill had very, you know, you know, they're her friends. And they were able to reach out to her friends and and we were able to do this in this fashion because they trusted her, and they trusted me. But when you're starting out, don't don't worry about getting actor like big name actors, if you can. Great. It all helps, you know, even if it's you know, TV actors, or people that we recognize are just good solid. performers. Great. But don't get caught up in that. That's another obstacle. Again, you go look at Mark Duplass. Go look at Joe Swanberg. Oh, look at Lynn Shelton. All of those movies when they first started out, did not have names in them. They just wanted to tell a good story with their friends, or people that they knew who can act, and so on. So that's what I would recommend for you guys to do as well is to go in, get a bunch of your friends or actors that you can find, to go out and have some fun with. And that's a big key point, guys have fun. This should not be stressful. There should not be anger, and high jinks and drama and all this kind of stuff. It should be fun, guys, if not you'd go out and get real jobs. You know what I mean? I know it's hard work. And I know it's sometimes it's stressful. And I know, it can be a little bit overbearing, sometimes making, making movies and being an artist in this sense. But at the end of the day, man, you have to have fun. And if you don't have fun, that shows up on the screen. And when you guys finally see this as Meg, I hope you can sense the fun we had. We had no drama at all ever on the set. We everything flowed so beautifully, so wonderfully all the way through the editing to the final part to the final, you know, cut of the movie in the final color in the mix and everything. It all just worked so beautifully. And I've never I've never experienced an artistic endeavor like that in my entire career. And I was like, wow, because I completely loosened the shackles. I completely just said, Fuck it. I'm just gonna go out and do this, I'm not going to think about it. I'm not going to think about, oh, I got to do this, or I got to do that. And this is the way I have to do I finally after 20 odd years, decided, You know what? I'm not gonna listen to what everybody else is doing and do and I'm going to do it my way. And for me, it's working, you know, and I did again, I did make a budget that I can feel very comfortable with that I can continue to do those kind of movies indefinitely if I have to. You know, Joe Swanberg made, has made like 32 feature films, you know, when you have made six feature films, you know, I'm going to put in the show notes, my links to both Mark do plus and just wants Berg's keynote addresses at South by Southwest and, you know, backgrounds on both those guys because if you want to study, you know, people the process, these guys are definitely two guys that you should definitely look look for, look at and study their processes. And again, of course, the show notes are at Indie film hustle.com forward slash 120. But, but again, Jo Jo was one of those guys that just kind of decided to keep making movies, he's like, Well, if no one's gonna pay attention to me, at least I want to be prolific. And that was such a great way of looking at, he's like, I'm just gonna keep making movies. And he'd made one year he made six feature films. He made it with his you know, I think I don't know if it wasn't VHS, but it was mini DV cameras. You know, he just went on shot with a bunch of friends, no stars, no faces, no marquee value.

He just said, Hey, I'm gonna go make some indie movies. And he did. And he sold them. He did some for a lot. But he sold them and he was able to make that year he said he was able to make 50 or $60,000 by selling six movies, you know, and having some other movie money come in, in that keynote address. He really talks a talks a lot about the financials, of how he was able to make it and it's so wonderful to hear. It's very honest, and tells you exactly what you want to hear. So definitely check that out anything else.com forward slash 122 in the show notes for his his keynote speech because it's it's really amazing. But back to scripts. Again, I just want to give you guys the tools to feel free to make your movies no matter where you are in the world. I want you to be able to feel free to make these kinds of movies and just go out and make them and then from there that grows to the next level and the next level the next level. And one last thing before I go guys, I want you to just please and I've said this before in the podcast, but I'm going to continue to repeat this until people understand it. We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show. You can't expect every movie that you make, to be the homerun, to be that one lottery ticket win that you're looking for. When you put that kind of pressure on the movie, it will succeed, you will be you will fail many times, and you are setting yourself up for failure. With this as Meg, I am putting it out into the universe, I'm putting it out into the world. And whatever happens happens, people will love it, people will hate it. I know that for a fact that people will love it, and people will hate it. That's it. And there'll be some people in the middle and other people on the extremes. And that's just the way it is. That's just the way it happens with all arts. So you have to prepare yourself for that. But am I expecting it to get you know, to get into Sundance and when me the lottery ticket? No, because you know what I didn't get into Sundance. And it wasn't the end of the world. Because I was excited. I was like, hey, if I get it great. If I don't, let's go on, you know, so you always go for you always aim for the fences. But understand that don't put the pressure that if it doesn't, your whole world is over and you can't make any more, I want you not to feel that way, I want you to feel like I'm going to make five feature films. And I'm just going to keep going no matter what. And you make them at a low enough budget that you could keep going, you could have a day job and save yourself up 1000 bucks, find yourself somebody with a camera or shoot it with your own iPhone, and you make your movies. And that's how you do it, you just keep going. But the thing is that if if you're going to go and I'm going to use baseballs and analogy, because it's a great analogy. But if you're going to go up to the plate, a lot of filmmakers will go up to the plate for the very first time. And they expect to hit a homerun when they've never taken a swing. That's what happens with most filmmakers. Most filmmakers have not been shooting commercials or music videos, or short films, or anything for a long period of time where they have gotten a lot of swings at bat. You know, I've gotten a tremendous amount of swings at bat. But I've never want I've never done one with a feature. But I've done a lot of other shooting in my career. So I feel comfortable up there at the plate, you've got to feel comfortable up there at the plate. So Robert Rodriguez before he made mariachi, he shot like 20 or 30 short films, he do it every weekend. And he didn't show those films to anybody. The no one, he was just doing them to practice, because he's kept going up there and swinging away, swinging away. Sometimes you hit maybe he'd made it single. Maybe he fell out. If you guys don't know about baseball, you got to look up the rules. But anyway, um, but that's what he did. And that's what I plan to continue doing with my features. Because I think what you need to do is you got to focus on those singles, those doubles, possibly some triples, instead of going for the home run every time. Because if you focus on those singles, so let's say, you know, let's say you make a movie and that movie, you know, you made for 1000 bucks, and you sell it for 4000 bucks you make on it. We've made four times your money. Well, how that's a success for me. It might not be the game winning home run, but damn, you made money as a filmmaker. You're, you're the top 1% of filmmakers if you're able to do that. So what do you do next, you make another movie for maybe $2,000 This time, I if it was me, I'd make I make another movie for 1000 bucks. But that's just me. But you make another move for 2000 bucks this time. And let's say you go out there and you make another 4000 bucks, you doubled your money. And you move on and you make another movie for 2000 bucks. And that other movie makes 10,000 bucks. And all of a sudden somebody's looking at you some people are like, hey, this guy's making movies. This girl's making movies. How much do you need for your next movie? You go well, I you know, I feel comfortable. Now. I need about six or $7,000 to make the next movie. I want to 10,000 bucks for the next movie. Okay, great. Now mind you, you're working other jobs to make a living and all this stuff, but you're making art and you're making you're building up a business and it takes time to do that. So I want you guys to focus on the long game. And I've said this a million times, focus on the long game and a scriptment can do that for you can help you get that movie made very quickly where you could, in theory, make a movie, two movies in a year once you get the ball rolling. Next year, I'm going to announce a dish. I'm going to announce it that today. I'm already in prep for my next movie. I'll announce it after the New Year sometimes I don't know I'm working on this on the scriptment as we speak and and I already have a second one I'm working on as well. So my goal next year is to shoot one feature and at least begin either shooting or in pre production on the second one and see how see if I can do two in one year. That would be ideal for me next year. without anything happening with this as make you see you notice I'm not even paying attention to this as make, you know, Mrs. Maga is going to do what she does. But I'm not putting any pressure on her. I'm moving, I'm moving along with her without her without anything that she happens to bring, if she gets sold for a million bucks, or for five grand, or, you know, it gets a manager or it gets a producer to come in and give me money for another movie, I'm not counting on any of that. I'm only counting on what I can control. And what I can control is going off and making another movie and, and getting ready to make a third movie and so on. And that's the mentality that I think filmmakers starting out who want to tell their stories who want to make a living doing this have to do and I hope this podcast brought some light into your into your darkness now brought some light to the subject and shows you and kind of informed you that there is another way there is another way to go make a movie, there is another way to get your feature filmmaking career started and going off and by the way, this can work for series too, if you want to make a little pilot and like a bunch of like you know, a webisodes you know, web series. Or you know, you want to create a pilot to pitch to Netflix or to Hulu, or Amazon or crackle or one of these guys, this process works wonderfully. Because if you're able to create and this is what Mark Duplass I'm gonna go back to mark my man Mark, he was able to pitch togetherness, an HBO show and ran two seasons on HBO based on this premise. This is how he worked on that show. I don't know how he did a pilot or anything like that beforehand, but but this is how he did the show. And it was wonderful because it was very low cost. And you know what studios love low cost high quality, they love that. And if you can get something out to a point where you can do that, you're going to work you're always going to work, guys. So just keep that in mind. So it can translate to a lot of things. But we're focusing on feature films right now. But that's I hope this helps you guys. I really do. Because I you know, I think sometimes I've had to go through all this pain in my career, to be able to share this, this information with you guys. And I hope that I can continue not going through pain. Hopefully we don't go through too much more. But you know what, at the end of the day, guys, honestly, your failures and your pain is who makes you what makes you a better person. And what makes you a more informed person to make sure you are who you are. So all these years of struggle and everything that I've gone through, I'm hoping that my journey can be a beacon of light for you guys at least a beacon of information to at least share it with you what I'm doing. And hopefully it can translate and help even one of you guys out there.

It's worth it. I know that sounds really cliche, but but that's, that's I think it makes sense. So thank you for listening to my ramblings this week guys, I hope it was helpful to you and we will continue doing more ask Alex episodes in the future you guys keep sending me tons of questions. So I had no idea that this was going to be such a big deal. So I'm glad I'm helping you guys out I'm glad you like the episodes and and please keep sending your your suggestions for questions at ifH [email protected] And also guys don't forget the show is also sponsored by masterclass and you gotta head out to indie film hustle.com For slash masterclass to get access to Werner Herzog's master class the Oscar winning a director as well as Aaron Sorkin screenwriting masterclass, which is honestly remarkable I again taking it again since I'm going through my my process right now, it's my scriptment for my next project, as well as now the new Hans Zimmer film score masterclass, is up. And as far as also acting, the Kevin Spacey masterclass, and the Dustin Hoffman, Master Class learn their techniques. They're on my list of things to watch. I've actually purchased them already, because I want to I want to see what Dustin and Kevin have to say about acting. I mean, it's invaluable these courses, so head over to indie film hustle.com forward slash master class. So as always, keep that hustle going, keep that dream alive. And I'll talk to you soon.



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IFH 028: How Quentin Tarantino is Keeping Film Alive with The Hateful Eight

Ah, the good ol’ digital vs film debate. Well, you won’t get any of that in the article or podcast. With Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight coming out Dec 25, 2015, and it is shot on “Glorious 70mm,” there has been a lot of chatter about film again.

With filmmakers like Christopher Nolan shooting 35mm and IMAX on his latest film and JJ Abrams shooting Star Wars: The Force Awakens in 35 mm, film seems to still be an art form that many filmmakers are not ready to let go of just yet.

What Quentin Tarantino has done with The Hateful Eight is unique. He has brought back to life the Ultra Panavision 70 technique along with anamorphic 65mm lenses that haven’t been seen since the ’60s.

Here are some specs:

  • Camera: Panavision 65 HR Camera and Panavision Panaflex System 65 Studio
  • Lenses: Panavision APO Panatar
  • Film Stock 65mm: Kodak Vision3 200T 5213, Vision3 500T 5219
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.75:1

Quentin Tarantino has some very strong opinions about shooting digital.

“Part of the reason I’m feeling [like retiring] is, I can’t stand all this digital stuff. This is not what I signed up for,” he said.

“Even the fact that digital presentation is the way it is right now – I mean, it’s television in public, it’s just television in public. That’s how I feel about it. I came into this for film.”

He continued:

“I hate that stuff. I shoot film. But to me, even digital projection is – it’s over, as far as I’m concerned. It’s over.”

“If I’m gonna do TV in public, I’d rather just write one of my big scripts and do it as a miniseries for HBO, and then I don’t have the time pressure that I’m always under, and I get to actually use all the script,” he explained.

“I always write these huge scripts that I have to kind of – my scripts aren’t like blueprints. They’re not novels, but they’re novels written with script format. And so I’m adapting the script into a movie every day.”

This is what he said he’d do if he would write another huge epic.

“The one movie that I was actually able to use everything – where you actually have the entire breadth of what I spent a year writing – was the two Kill Bill movies because it’s two movies. So if I’m gonna do another big epic thing again, it’ll probably be like a 6-hour miniseries or something.”

The Hateful Eight will be getting a nation-wide release in Ultra Panavision 70, which means it’ll be the first fiction feature film screened in anamorphic 70mm with a single-projector Cinerama system since Khartoum in 1966.

Watch Quentin Tarantino, director of photography Bob Richardson and Panavision explain how they brought Ultra Panavision 70, back to life in The Hateful Eight.

A Christmas Eve Conversation With Quentin Tarantino & Paul Thomas Anderson on 70mm Film

Quentin: I didn’t realize how much of a lost cause [35mm] was. At the same time I didn’t realize to the same extent 70mm would be a drawing point. Not just to me and other film geeks. There is no intelligent argument to be had that puts digital in front of [70mm]. It actually might be film’s saving grace. Film’s last stand. Film’s last night in the arena — and actually conquer.

Check out this amazing documentary SIDE BY SIDE, produced by Keanu Reeves, takes an in-depth look at this revolution.

Through interviews with directors, cinematographers, film students, producers, technologists, editors, and exhibitors, SIDE BY SIDE examines all aspects of filmmaking — from capture to edit, visual effects to color correction, distribution to archive.

At this moment when digital and photochemical filmmaking coexist, SIDE BY SIDE explores what has been gained, what is lost, and what the future might bring.

Right-click here to download the MP3

Alex Ferrari 0:52
So today, guys, with The Hateful Eight coming out in a few weeks. And all in quitting, like being quitting Tarantino being so adamant about shooting film and shooting film shooting film, and he actually is brought back an amazing format, basically 70 millimeter, ultra panavision hasn't been used since the 60s. And he's been able to bring back this, this beautiful format for Hateful Eight. And he's doing a roadshow around the country. So for people who want to see it in film in this massive format, they can see it in that format. So I wanted to talk a little bit about the differences between film and digital. And this has been debated to death. So I'm not going to do that. But for a lot of people who are not familiar with actually shooting film and the differences. I just wanted to kind of to kind of shed a little light on this. But before we do, I want you to hear what Quentin Tarantino himself has to say about the process.

Interviewer 1:53
And you're you're not too sure about the digital era Are you in terms of as opposed to the old day of going to the cinema? And yet no, I'm widescreen as on the digital era.

Quentin Tarantino 2:05
At least it does nothing for me. It does nothing for me. I mean, I actually think I'm getting gypped when I go to a movie and I realize it's either been shot on digital or being projected in digital. Um, I mean some people feel differently about this but I think it's the death kill I think it's the death rattle and you know, it's Yeah, I do. And I also have even another whole aspect about it, you know, I've always believed in the magic of movies. Yeah, and to me, the magic movies is connected to 35 millimeter because everyone thinks you can't help but think that when you're filming something on film, that you're recording movement, you're not recording movement, you're just taking a series of still pictures, there's no movement in movies at all they are still pictures but when shown at 24 frames a second through a light bulb it creates the illusion of movement so thus as opposed to recording device when you're watching a movie or film print you are watching an illusion and to me that illusion is connected to the magic of movies.

Alex Ferrari 3:09
Now that was a that was quitting from a press conference he did a few years back when he was asked about that about digital versus film now I'm a guy who shot a lot of film in my day my demo reel was shot on 35 millimeter I've shot eight millimeter 16 millimeter in film school I've learned 16 millimeter and N 35 millimeter so you know I I changed the bag change the film in the bag I you know did I did the whole the whole gambit on film. And I you know I love film I think film is a wonderful medium and I don't think film should die I think film should always be an option for filmmakers because it does have something very unique something very specific about it. Now with that said though when you're shooting I've done I've now come over to the other side and I've now shot a ton more digital than I've ever shot film and it has opened up my ability to tell stories and be able to shoot more and be able to do more post production because of the new digital technology you know when shooting film it's it's you know you've got that whole mystery of like oh maybe I'll maybe I'll maybe I got it in the shot or not. I don't know maybe we'll see when we get back from dailies and all this kind of stuff. That's great and I but I was used to frustrate me videos. This was the only thing I had at the time and even then you really don't know what did the film actually actually look like until you get into the into the into the lab. And just so you know when I shot my my demo reel, I actually sent up all my footage to a lab up in New York. I'll do art and do art, their machine broke while I was developing my film, and I lost my entire production. I lost all of it. That was 1000s of dollars that I lost and they were very nice. They gave me free development and free film and but I didn't really pay for the production. But I did what you know, it was all it is but those are things that happen just like you would you know lose a hard drive nowadays, but to get back to what Quentin Tarantino was doing now with The Hateful Eight, the video that's attached to the show notes of this of this episode, he does this entire like they will basically a 10 minute explanation of what they're doing with how they went back to find the camera and the lenses that were sitting in a corner somewhere and they had to go do tests and stuff but the magic that he's going to be able to capture with that and we'll all see on Christmas day when it comes out how it's going to look and what it's going to be like but you know, I think there needs to be champions like guarantee No, and by the way, Tarantino is not the only director doing this. Christopher Nolan JJ Abrams shot the new Star Wars all on 35 millimeter. Wes Anderson, Paul Thomas Anderson, Darren Aronofsky shot the wrestler on 16 millimeter. There's a lot of directors holding on to film because it is a viable it's a viable shooting format, especially at the at the studio level where they can afford the costs to create, you know, the workflow for that maybe at the independent level is much more difficult. But with that said in a few weeks, I'm going to have probably in a month or two, I'm going to have a guest on I just did the pot I just did the interview last week with her name is Kansas bowling. She's 19 now but she was 17 when she made her first feature film and she shot a completely on 16 millimeter. And all she does is shoot film she won't shoot digitally. She doesn't like the way it looks. She wants to shoot film and wants to keep that format alive because she's a when you hear her she's kind of like a female mini Quentin Tarantino she knows so much about this her genre film from the olden days that it's she could just tell that she has a love for film just like Tarantino does. It's something that I hope stays around for a long time I think we're losing more and more of the artists and the technicians who understand film who know film because they're not teaching in schools anymore it's becoming kind of like a lost art in a lot of ways is you know old all the older dogs like myself and guys a head of me who've been working with film all there's light like my my friend Suki who was on episode nine, we were talking that he The reason one of the reasons he got on to American Horror Story was because he shoots film, he knows how to shoot film, he shot a lots of film, and he is actually you know, that film, the whole show is shot on film. And the things that they're able to do with that because they shoot film and to be able to do in camera tricks and things in development, things that you can't do digitally and not able to do digitally. Now a lot of people say the warmth and the different vibe and the just the psychological they all this is great. You know it's the same conversation I was in school this digital analog debate was going on for music, like oh, vinyl or digital. But now everything you know now, vinyls coming back up, because everyone's like, Wow, it sounds so much better. I'm not sure if that's going to be the way it is with digital in the future. I really don't i don't see that happening anytime. I think like just like vinyl and and mp3 they live together. The digital world is much larger than the vinyl world but the vinyl world starting to come up and there are people who are interested in seeing that and watching that. So I think film is going to become that kind of niche within the film industry. So for those of you who have never shot film, I wanted to kind of take you through the process really quickly. So you shoot 35 millimeter you go out and get your stock of film, that stock of film will be dependent on the amount of light you want to expose in the film. So a lower aasa like a 50 or 100 would be for outside stuff that there's a lot of light so it's you can it absorbs it absorb it needs a lot of light to be able to get a good exposure, but it's very fine. So if you have a lot of light outside and you shoot with that kind of format, you're going to be a nice clean grainless image kind of you know getting closer to the digital side of it. Now, if you go higher like to the eight hundreds or I think even to 1000 I forgot where they actually ended up stopping doing that, then you could shoot in low light. Now the legendary Stanley Kubrick shot Barry Lyndon some scenes in Barry Lyndon with a some lenses that he got from NASA on a very as advanced of a film stock as they had at the time nowadays. Or nowadays they have film stock that was very, very fast and can absorb a lot of light, but back then they didn't. So that's kind of what you're dealing with with film stock is because there's so now you get the film, you get a camera let's say you're going to shoot it on air, your pan of vision, you load the camera up huge and you only have 10 minute rolls. That's it. You only got 10 minutes per roll to shoot what you got to do. That's why the long takes of yesteryear only lasted around 10 minutes. That's why Alfred Hitchcock's rope was basically nine long takes edited together very Very interestingly and very cleverly, to hide the edits. But there until digital came along, there was no ability to make long take film, or long take shots past 10 minutes. So once you shoot at 10 minutes, you sync it up with audio later on, because you can record audio directly into the camera, but you can sync it up. So once you have it, and by the way, when you're on set, you have to have a guy on set with a bag to be able to change the mag, the mag can't see any light film can't see any light because if it sees light, it ruins it. So you have to put it in a black bag or into a tent, go in there, change the film out blind, because you can't do it unless you're in a dark room which onset you generally aren't. You've got to do it blindly. So you have to learn how to do this blindly. As I'm telling you this, it sounds crazy. But I remember doing this in school. So you go in there you have to feel things around, you got to change the mag, make sure it's all tight, get it out, tape it up. All this stuff has to be done just to be able to get the image. So let's say we've shot the whole film now we've done everything perfectly. Now you send it off to the lab, the lab will develop it then after the lab develops it you would take it over to a telephony suite now the olden days you would be able to edit on film, take take the negative and edit it and make a print of it and then edit it and then someone will go back and edit off of edge codes. Each film. All the film stocks have different edge codes inside of it. So they literally would go by I edge it out. Funny is when I went to film school, they actually taught us backwards they taught us nonlinear editing, than online editing, then Film Editing and when I literally went to film and I was cutting I'm like I looked at the teacher. I'm like you want me to cut this with a razor blade? And then tape it together with with tape. What are we the Flintstones this is this is crazy. This is barbaric? Because I didn't understand and it is even for someone who's never understood never seen anything like that it does it did look barbaric, even for me back then. So can you imagine what you know someone who's never even seen a film camera or shot film or edited film would look at it going You got to be kidding me. So it was a very slow process doing that. And by the way, the reason why in all your editing systems, it's called the bin is because they actually hung films in film takes in bins, like literally hang them physically. And they would be called film bin. So that's when avid and everybody else came out. They all call it bins because they're all still trying to go back to that use that old terminology. So let's say we're not going to edit and film. Let's say we're going to do it a digital a digital way that the current way. So you would shoot it, you would bring it back to a telephony, they would scan it all in digitally. At that point, you have it all digital and it's going to stay digital and then now you can do all your working workflow visual effects, everything you want to do all digitally no problem at all. When you're all done, you've color graded digitally. You get it all done, you're out the door, bam, bam, boom, you're good. When I did my demo reel, I actually took the negative I had to actually color grade all the raw footage, then transfer all that raw footage, color graded onto a tape beta SP or Digi beta tape and then go off and digitize that into an avid and then edit it together to get my final piece. So there's a few different workflows but as you can see, film is much more convoluted and currently much more expensive because a lot of the infrastructure that was in place is now no longer there. So when there was 1015 Labs in LA, I think there's one or two now in LA that can do this this kind of work anymore so I hope this kind of gives you a little bit of an understanding of what the workflow is I'm no expert by any stretch I'm definitely not you know the old pro that's been shooting film for years and decades or anything like that this is my experience with it. And I kind of glossed over it there's a lot more detail involved with it, but it is a lot more convoluted and it is a lot more time consuming to do to do this once you by the way once you shoot the film, you won't know what to do you would send the dailies out to the lab the lab would develop it and then send it back to you and then you would at lunch on the film set at lunch go and watch your dailies with the producer and see what you had for the day before so now you have an instantly now you can literally just watch it on the monitor rewind it right then and there and you'll know what you've got or you didn't get instantly so with that digital is obviously one of the many things is wonderful about digital filmmaking. But that gives you kind of a quick overview of what it was like shooting film I know for the for the younger guys in the audience. It sounds like we were crazy. But you know what? They've been doing films like that for over 100 years doing it like that. So it's only within the last two I mean, honestly it's basically Episode Two of Star Wars Episode of Star Wars Episode Two was I think one of the first films shot completely digitally. So you know it's it hasn't been that long that we've been doing digital but it's been growing so fast, and now it's completely dominates the market. So just wanted to guys give you a little bit of an idea for anybody in the audience who doesn't had never experienced shooting film before. What Quinn's doing is remarkable, I'm very I applaud him for fighting so hard to get the to get film in the spotlight again, I think because he's doing this with, with The Hateful Eight that it started the conversation over again, if you guys get a chance, you have to watch a documentary called side by side, who was directed by Keanu Reeves. And he goes around and interviews the top directors in the world talking about this specific reason like film or digital film, or digital film or digital and he it's a fantastic documentary, I'll leave, I'll leave a link for it in the show notes. It really, really is worth your time to watch it. If you are interested in this. If you guys ever do get a chance to shoot film, and you have that opportunity, whether it's like shooting eight millimeter, super eight millimeter, just to have that experience is so much fun. And it's so enlightening as a filmmaker to be able to shoot on film, because you guys call yourself filmmakers, you should actually one day shoot film, it's it's always a wonderful thing. And if you want to shoot super eight separate, if you go to Super eight sound, I think it's super eight sound calm, I'll live I'll put it in the show notes. They have an entire ecosystem of cameras, you can rent or buy the film packages already done. And they'll actually you can also do post production with them as far as transferring it through telephony. Now in my day, I've been in a lot of telephony sessions where you actually sit down you put the put the roll of film up and you run it in you put it in digitally and scan it in and that the times I did a day, we didn't even scan it in there was no scanning in at the time, it was more just transferring it to a beta SP or Digi beta. And now they would transfer it to an hdslr or something like that. But now they would actually scan it in digitally. You don't even have to go to tape, of course. So bottom line is guys, I think film. If you haven't had a chance to experience film experience it it is a magical thing. If I had a chance to shoot film again, I probably would. But it really would depend on the film and the project, I really have gotten used to the digital workflow. I love the images that come out of digital cameras, the red, the airy, the black magic, they're just absolutely stunning images and the freedom that you get to do with playing with it. That's why, you know, amazing directors like David Fincher have adopted Steven Soderbergh adopted it so quickly. And they just love the freedom that you have and the instantaneous, instantaneous ability to just see what you've got rewind it, look at it and go, okay, rewind it, listen to me and see what you've got, and be able to adjust on time onset, right at the moment. It's wonderful. So digital has its place, there's no question about it. And there's no question that digital will be the future. You know, there it is, the future it is now it is what it is. It's it's going to be here for a long, long time. But we should not abandon film. And that is my main point here. And I think that's the main point of Christopher Nolan, JJ Abrams, Tarantino and so forth, about why it is so important to keep that heritage and keep that ability to do things on film alive. So by the way, right now, as of this date in 2015 film is still the only way to archive motion pictures over the course of 50 years, 100 years, there are no hard drives that can do it yet. Solid State hard drives are still up in the air, they don't know how long they're gonna last because they're still fairly new technology. So film celluloid is the only way to archive film unknown way the archive film properly. Now you can in 100 years, 150 years, you can still bust it out, put it on, throw some light through a projector and be able to get an image. And that's something digital has not caught up with yet. So before you start ragging too heavily on film, all your favorite movies are still being archived on film celluloid, because it is the only option out there. But I hope you guys if you guys ever do get a chance to shoot film, please do so it is a magical magical experience. So please don't forget to head over to filmmaking podcast, calm filmmaking podcast.com and leave us an honest review on iTunes. It helps us out a lot and helps the show out a lot too. And if you're interested in any of the things I've talked about in the show, head over to get the show notes at indie film hustle calm forward slash zero 28 there's links video clips, all of that stuff is in the show notes so thank you guys again for listening. And guys do me a favor if you actually see Hateful Eight in 70 millimeter or on film or film prints of it. Let me know what you guys think I'm dying to hear what you guys really feel and what emotions you felt when you watched it was it crappy was like oh my god, the Image flickering all this kind of stuff. Leave it in the comments in the show notes, leaving in the comments or drop me a line on Facebook or on our own indie film hustle. And let me know what you think. So keep that dream alive. Keep that hustle going, and I'll talk to you guys soon.




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