If You Want to Become a Better Filmmaker, Study Bad Movies

It’s no secret that studying films can improve your own filmmaking, but which ones should you watch for maximum educational impact?

The obvious answer to that question is that you should watch the great ones, the films that have left an indelible mark on the history of cinema. It makes sense, right? If you want to be the best, you have to study the best. While that may be partly true, exclusively watching well-crafted films might not actually be the best use of time if your intention is to become a better filmmaker.

In a new video, Darious Britt challenges the notion that we should only watch good movies, and argues (very convincingly) that bad movies offer a treasure trove of wisdom for aspiring filmmakers because they show us what we should avoid doing at all costs. Check it out:

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A Tasting Menu of Female Representation:

The Bechdel:

two or more women talking to each other about something other than a man

The Mako Mori:

at least one female character with her own narrative arc that is not about supporting a man’s story

The Sexy Lamp:

a female character that cannot be removed from the plot and replaced with a sexy lamp without destroying the story.

Chef’s Specials:

The Anti-Freeze:

no woman assaulted, injured or killed to further the story of another character.

The “Strength is Relative”:

complex women defined by solid characterization rather than a handful of underdeveloped masculine-coded stereotypes.



One of the most useful written tools a writer can rely on is a Pitch Outline for those five minute Pitch meetings at the Great American PitchFest.

Going to websites like Moviefone or IMDb can be of huge assistance.  Once you are at one of the two websites, do a “search” for a successful movie or TV series in the same genre as your project. Then click on the link to the movie’s or series’  “trailer”  and watch it.  You will notice that most trailers last roughly two or three minutes (coincidentally, about the same amount of time as a pitch) and usually contain anywhere from five to eight “highlights” of the storyline. This should give you a general idea of the plot points or character revelations that you might want to extract from your very own script for your pitch.

Some writers will compose a one-page outline of their pitch, using brief phrases to describe the highlights they wish to use in pitching their storyline.  Other writers use a similar technique, but divide up their outline into Act One, Act Two, and Act Three, making it easier for them to refer to the outline, should they become momentarily lost during the presentation of the pitch.

I strongly suggest using “key phrases” so you won’t be tempted to “read” your pitch. When you “read” your pitch, you tend to lose the personal connection you are trying to make with the agent, producer, editor, or exec.

Remember that a Pitch Outline is NOT A LEAVE-BEHIND.  This is a document for your eyes only.

Here is a sample pitch outline that could have been used for the feature film AVATAR:

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The 10 Most Useful Mobile/Tablet Apps for Screenwriting

In September, we listed the top ten most useful apps for on-set production. We’re back at it again, but this time it’s all about screenwriting. While traditional software is still the bread and butter of the industry, there’s something to be said for the ability to make changes on the go. Screenwriter Michael Johnathan Smith agrees, telling Macworld  he, “loves the idea of being on-set and quickly making changes to the script right then and there without whipping out a heavy duty laptop—or at least being able to work on a script that’s currently on my laptop at home.”

Yes, there’s the industry standard Final Draft, but there are hundreds of other apps that can help turn an idea into a finished script. SSN filtered through all the options to find ones that offer a range of features and ease of use for everything from brainstorming to copyediting.

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See The Short that Was Shot on the Last Batch of Fuji Film

Hunter Hampton has made a name online for himself as a cinematographer and video artist. Now he’s making a concerted effort to finally do the personal projects he’s always wanted.
Amends is Hunter’s first short film as a director, a passion project that began 7 years ago. I spoke to Hunter on a cloudy afternoon about coming up through music videos, how DVXUser was his film school and why shooting on film feels right to him.

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The State of Storytelling & the 3 Essential Truths Screenwriters Should Know

To all screenwriters, take a good look at the chart below for a blast of clarity. To sum up the stats: a writer in Hollywood has better odds of starting in an NBA line-up than getting your project onto any screen (large or small) in today’s market.

 As we all know, the seven major studios finance and/or produce about 26 films a year on an average budget  of $200 million per film. They average an amazing 90 percent return on investment. So, franchises do make  sense, especially if you have stockholders. Movies, in this price range, are literally printing money. Even with  the bad press from a box-office dud, it’s still a safe risk even when considering John Carter or Lone Ranger.

To no one’s surprise this past weekend, Disney’s Avengers: Age of Ultron triumphed worldwide with $191  million in the U.S. — the second highest opening ever in spite of, (pundits opined), Saturday’s grand slam  sports day including the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight, NBA, NFL, and the Kentucky Derby.

That audience was composed of 59 percent men over the age of 25. Is this all the audience there is? Could it  be that there’s an even bigger audience to attract than Hollywood’s imagination can envision? Of course, we all know Hollywood is in the business of franchises. Who can blame them? After all, they need  to keep the lights on. Besides, we all need a super-power to hate… but from whence do we begin the  revolution?

“If you build it, they will come” still applies… Well, perhaps, this is where the fault lies. Are the screenwriters “building stories” anymore that people want to come to? The screenwriters, themselves of course, will point to the extreme closed-door polemics of getting “inside.” There’s that.

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Natalia Leite on “Bare” and working with Dianna Agron

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Writer/director Natalia Leite may be getting a lot of attention now for her debut feature film Bare, starring Dianna Agron and Paz De la Huerta, but we’ve been fans of Natalia’s work for some time. Along with her Purple Milk co-producer Alexandra Roxo, Natalia starred in the charming and funny web series, Be Here Now-ish. We got a chance to talk to Natalia right after Bare premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City to sold out crowds.

AfterEllen: So I am very infatuated with this movie. I say infatuated because it’s the best fit. I couldn’t stop thinking about it, and replaying certain scenes in my mind. The rush of colors, the music—it gives me butterflies. How did the idea for the film even come about?

Natalia Leite: Well, it was the first feature screenplay that I ever wrote. It’s a story that I’ve been wanting to tell for a while. It’s not an autobiographical story, but it’s very much inspired by a moment in my life when I was figuring out what kind of path I wanted to carve out for my life and the relationship I had with another woman. Realizing that I could reinvent myself and that I could be the creator my reality, and how empowering that was. Sort of learning through that relationship gave me a lot of strength at times and brought me to where I am today. I think also the process of making the film gave me reassurance of that, like you can do this. You can break out of whatever sort of mold or path that other people have may have set out for you.

AE: It’s incredibly hard to get a film made, especially ones with queer leading characters, which is why so many filmmakers are turning to crowdsourcing. How were you able to make Bare?

NL: I had done crowdsourcing for a web show that I was in and I put together called Be Here Now-ish, which was a very successful crowdfunding experience, but it’s so much work actually for not a lot of money. For this film, Alexandra (Roxo) and I had actually met two investors of the film through Be Here Now-ish, and sort of established a relationship with these investors and came back to them with Bare, and they loved the film and put money into it. And then one person introduces you to the next person, so we raised the money from a few investors and it’s a small indie film. The pieces just started falling together and we figured out how to make it happen.

AE: So you did it the old fashioned way.

NL: Yeah the old fashioned way, and it worked!

AE: That gives me such great hope.

NL: You know I think a lot of it is trust, too. These people who put money into this feature, who invested in it, it had been a year of hanging out with them and talking to them about our project and building a friendship. They really trusted that this would be worthwhile and they had seen us hustle on other projects. That’s really important. Then it’s great because it’s this family of people who support your work it just keeps growing. That’s the ideal scenario, right?