The Ebert Rules for Film Critics

Source: Chicago Sun-Times

Long time film critic Roger Ebert gives a laundry list of do's and don'ts for the film writer. Here were a few of my favorite rules.

Do the math. If one week you state, "'Mr. Untouchable' makes 'American Gangster' look like a fairy tale," and the next week you say, "American Gangster" was "Goodfellas" for "the next generation," then you must conclude that "Mr. Untouchable" is better than "Goodfellas."

Be wary of freebies. The critic should ideally never accept round-trip first-class air transportation, a luxury hotel room, a limo to a screening and a buffet of chilled shrimp and cute little hamburgers in preparation for viewing a movie. If you go, your employer should pay for the trip. I understand some critics work for places that won't even pick up the cost of a movie ticket, and are so underpaid they have never tasted a chilled shrimp. Others work for themselves, an employer who is always going out of business. Yet they are ordered to produce a piece about Michael Cera's new film. I cut them some slack. Let them take the junket. They need the food. Also, I admire Michael Cera. But if they work for a place that is filthy rich, they should turn down freebies.

I admit the Freebie Rule was a hard one for me to acknowledge. In the good old days, movie critics flew more than pilots. I flew first class to Sweden, Ireland, Hawaii, Mexico, Bermuda, Iran, Colombia, Italy, Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia. I was virtually on the Los Angeles shuttle. I flew to England in November for the filming of "Battle of Britain," and was whisked at dawn to a rainy WWII air field near Newmarket where I was able to stand for hours and freeze my ass off while watching the filming of a scene involving a dog gazing wistfully into the sky for its master's missing airplane. If someone had given me a chilled shrimp, I would have rubbed it between my hands to warm them.

No posing for photos! Never ask a movie star to pose with you for a picture. No movie star ever wants to do this. They may smile, but they're gritting their teeth. "It is the Chinese Water Torture," Clint Eastwood told me. "And 99 times out of a hundred, the stranger they hand their camera to looks through the lens, pushes the button, and says 'It isn't working!' and then the fan has to walk over to the guy and demonstrate the camera and say, 'now try it'. And then it isn't working again. Looking at someone looking puzzled at a camera, that's the story of my life."

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Truby Breakdown: Paranormal Activity

Source: John Truby, Raindance Web Article

Paranormal Activity isn't a great film. But it is a brilliant indie filmmaking strategy. In my article "10 Story Techniques You Must Use to Sell Your Script" (see below) I state that "if you're writing a screenplay for an indie film, write horror, thriller, or love." Horror is the most consistently popular genre around the world after myth. But unlike the epic-scale myth, horror can be made for very little money.

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The 99 Most Jaw-Dropping Movie Moments

Source: Total Film

Courtesy of Total Film's website a list of the 99 most thrilling moments in movie history.

Can you name these moments? -


Nollywood, Nigeria's booming film industry, is the world's third largest producer of feature films. Unlike Hollywood and Bollywood, however, Nollywood movies are made on shoe-string budgets of time and money. An average production takes just 10 days and costs approximately $15,000.

African Film History

How Some Famous Directors Got Their Start

Source: Meredith Hicks, Raindance Intern

Ever wonder where Scorsese, Spielberg and Nolan got their starts?

Guerilla Marketing: The Power of the Flash Mob

By Lindsey Curran

One of the greatest challenges for an independent filmmaker is getting people to actually watch your film. Big-budget Hollywood films spend millions and millions of dollars on marketing. In 2007, the average marketing budget for a major Hollywood film was almost $40 million, more money than most independent filmmakers can possibly hope to get for their entire budget. So how can independent filmmakers promote their film?

The answer: guerilla marketing. Independent filmmakers have to compensate for their lack of a large marketing budget with creativity. The internet in particular has made it possible for independent filmmakers to get their film noticed. One cost-effective way to do this is by organizing a flash mob event.

A flash mob is when a large group of people assemble suddenly in a public area, simultaneously do something unusual, and then leave. The flash mob began as more of a social experiment or form of performance art than a vehicle for marketing, but it was quickly hijacked by large corporations when they recognized its popularity. Companies like T-Mobile and Coca-Cola have organized flash mob events, but the nature of a flash mob makes it an ideal tool for a small group that needs to promote something on a budget.

How to organize a flash mob:

Step 1: Have an Idea

A successful flash mob needs to have a unique idea behind it. The comedy group Improv Everywhere stages performances similar to flash mobs, such as freezing 200 people in place for 5 minutes in Grand Central Station, or holding no-pants subway rides. They have also done things with smaller groups of people, like creating a time-loop in a Starbucks. If you’re looking for some inspiration, check out their YouTube channel. While a flash mob is technically a large group, you can still make a scene and promote your film with just a small group of people as well.

If you want to promote your film through the flash mob, you should organize something that relates to your film in some way. For example, if your film is a horror zombie flick, have a bunch of zombies show up. Or if your film is a musical, you could use a smaller group and stage an impromptu musical number in a public place, perhaps using one of the songs from your film. The possibilities are endless.

Some things to keep in mind: if you want people to show up, make sure that when you do hold the flash mob that the participants won’t be breaking any laws. People come to these to be spontaneous and have a little fun, not to get arrested. So pick a public location where its legal for your group to gather, and don’t do anything that threatens or endangers bystanders.

A "Matrix Reloaded" inspired flash mob

Step 2: Get the Word Out

If you want people to show up at your flash mob, people need to know about it. In this, the internet is your most valuable tool. Create an account for your event on social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook—and make sure you are active on the site too, respond to questions and provide frequent updates on the event. You can create a website for your film, where you can provide detailed information on the event, and use Twitter and Facebook to get people to visit the site. Post in forums and chatrooms, send out mass emails, and tell people to forward the information on to people they know. In short, do everything you can think of to let people know what you are doing.

A flash mob that took place under the glass pyramid in the Louvre

Step 3: Organize

In order for your flash mob event to go smoothly, participants need to know exactly what is happening, where, when, and what they are supposed to do. There are several different ways for you to organize and synchronize the event.

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Source: Raindance

Pirate Radio Q&A

Source: Chicago Tribune

...In truth, "Pirate Radio" is about mid-1960s disc jockeys -- not television personalities -- and they're stuck on a boat off the coast of southern England. They're marooned by choice: Back then, as the film's intro credits remind us, because the BBC programmed such a limited amount of rock music (just less than hours per week), the popular alternative was for rock 'n' roll DJs to broadcast from ships anchored in the North Sea just beyond U.K. borders. Aptly named pirate radio ships broadcast the hit bands of the time -- the Who, the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, the Kinks -- across the airwaves and into transistor radios tucked lovingly under the pillows of millions of adolescents up past their bedtimes. Including Curtis.

We sat down with Curtis and the film's young protagonist, played by Tom Sturridge, to find out what happens when a film's cast members are shipped away to "Boat Camp": the director's unique version of preproduction rehearsal.

Question: Tell me about Boat Camp.

Answer: Tom Sturridge- The notion of Boat Camp makes it sound like we did some intense military training before filming -- which it wasn't remotely. Boat Camp was more like, we all slept on the boat for three days, watched DVDs, got drunk and became friends. Which was amazing, but not in any way rigorous.

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A-Z of Independent Film

By Elliot Grove

A is for Actor

...the most exploited component of an independent film. Usually actors work free in a feature film hoping that they will be discovered and be able to launch their careers. Often, independent filmmakers will hire a name actor for a day or tow on the set in a cameo role hoping that the 'name' will help to pull in investors and enhance sales. In America, the actors on low budget independent features are called 'the moveable props' in deference to their abundant supply.

In the USA, actors are represented by SAG, and in the UK by Equity.

B is for Blonde

... the nickname for a 2k portable light that can be plugged into household current. A 750 watt light is called a redhead. These lights are considered the staple of independent filmmakers. Thus the phrase: I'm shooting with a blonde and two redheads. This equipment can be packed in a small case and easily transported with a camera in the back of a taxi.

At Raindance we have a great evening course called the Power of Lighting in which simple three point lighting is explained.

BIFA: Acronym for the British Independent Film Awards, the only awards specifically for independently produced film in Europe.
Not to be confused with Biffa - the London-based waste-disposal company.

B is for Budget - uuaully the first thing you get asked when you are trying to drum up interest in your film.

C is for Culture Jamming

...a publicity technique employed by many independent filmmakers as a way to enhance scanty marketing budgets by associating themselves (uninvited) with successful brands, or by courting controversy.

Camera is used for image capture. Independent filmmakers chose the right camera for the story and the budget. Rentals can vary from £50 per day for a near broadcast quality DV camera to £10,000 per day for a large 35mm kit with track, dolly and lenses.

Film cameras are defined by the width (gauge) of the film stock: 8mm, 16mm, 35mm and 70mm. Specialty gauges are super 8mm, super 16mm, and super 35mm. Imax cameras take 70mm film sideways to allow for a 135mm x 70mm frame.
Tape formats are VHS, Super VHS, Beta, Digibeta, Mini DV, DVCAM, DVPro and HDTV.

Raindance Film Festival screens work originated on all formats. See the submission requirementshere.

D is for Distribution

How To Start A Screenplay & The Rewrite

By Josh Golding

Nothing makes people more superstitious than talking about working methods. I had a student who told me she was fearful of “analysis blowing away the magic.” I can understand what she meant. It’s like asking where inspiration comes from – surely it’s something unique for everyone?

Ernest Hemingway had an interesting method for getting himself started in the morning. At the end of each working day, he’d grab all his pencils in his big fist and slam them down on the desk, breaking all the points. When he came in the next morning, he’d pull out a penknife and start to whittle them. When he’d sharpened four or five – six, if he had a hangover – he’d find himself reaching for one and beginning to write.

Grahame Greene’s credo was to get up from bed and go straight to his writing desk. He had to get going before the banality of everyday life interrupted his stream of consciousness.

Somerset Maugham, whose output was huge, told an amazed admirer that he only worked four hours a day. “Only four hours,” he admonished, “but never less.” Consistency is all – but each will have his own voodoo.

So where do you start with a screenplay? With a treatment, step outline, improv – or by just plunging in? I can’t tell you what will work for everyone, but I can tell you what works consistently for the writers I work with.

Some people start with a character, but no particular story. I advise them to write a scene that puts their character under stress. Hemingway defined courage as grace under pressure - what qualities does your character reveal when the going gets tough? How can you create a journey for them that brings out their inner qualities?

I advise you not to go too far with this exercise, though. Once you start writing dialogue, it’s all too easy to fall in love with your words – and find it hard to cut them, even when they have nothing do with your theme.

The 5 Steps To Rewriting

By Elliot Grove

An extract from his book Raindance Writers' Lab: Write + Sell the Hot Screenplay. Focal Press 2008

Just as writing your screenplay requires a method plus creative thought, so too does the task of marketing your screenplay. Try to market your screenplay without a plan, and plan to be confused. So see if you can follow the marketing plan.


There are two things that writers hate – writers hate writing and writers really hate selling.

Unless you master the art of selling, you will never be a professional
screenwriter – no one will pay you for your work. And selling your work need not be a painful and dreaded experience. In fact, it can be a lot of fun, if you have a plan of attack.

These next chapters are designed to help writers who hate selling, sell their script. But you have to follow my little system. Let’s assume you have finished your script and are asking ‘Now what?’

1. Let it rest

Put your screenplay aside for at least two weeks. I like to let mine rest for a month. You want to leave it long enough so you forget it – so it seems fresh when you see it again.

Perhaps you will start working on your next project, or simply try to catch up on seeing as many films as you can. This is a sweet moment. You have actually written your screenplay. You still don’t want to show it to anyone, but at least you can announce that you are finished.

Hint: Rewriting is a crucial part of the writing process, but is often
approached incorrectly.

If you have done your homework and made a detailed plan, your first draft will be built on a solid foundation. Then determine exactly what the theme of the piece is. Make sure all scenes focus toward the theme. Ask yourself if there is a bolder, fresher, quicker way to say the same thing. Cut, cut, cut. Fix the dialogue last.

2. Character rewrite

Go through the script with a fine tooth comb and set aside anything that does not directly pertain to the goal of the main character.

When you read the script again, you will be amazed at how much energy it has. Look at your script and see if there is anything new you can add to the script, or perhaps you can retrieve and recycle some of the material you set aside earlier. Maybe that scene you thought was a great set-up to the page forty-five scene would work better as the page seventy-five scene, and so on.

3. Table reading – the dialogue rewrite

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By: Lindsey Curran

So you know the basics of cinematography, but you’re having a hard time thinking of ways to give your shot a little more stylistic punch. What can you do?Well, next time you’re watching a favorite film, start thinking about the different camera angles you’re seeing. Unlike your eyes, a camera isn’t fixed in a certain position at a certain height off the ground. Developments in technology have made it possible for a camera to go just about anywhere. Here are just a few ways to start getting a little more adventurous with your cinematography.

1. High Angles
Get up on a ladder; shoot out a window, from a helicopter, anything. A birds-eye view allows a perspective that is completely new and different from what we are used to seeing. High angles can also be used to make the subject of a shot look smaller and more diminutive, enabling you to influence how the viewer perceives the subject.

2. Low Angles

Orson Welles once dug a hole in the floor on the set of Citizen Kane so that he could shoot Leland and Kane from floor level in a scene. Low angle shots, like a high angle, can provide a brand new perspective on a scene. Low angle shots also make the subject look like its towering over you, gigantic and intimidating.

3. Canted Angles
Who says your horizon has to be perfectly level? Directors like Terry Gilliam and Tim Burton use canted angles frequently in their films, and even the 2008 Oscar winner Slumdog Millionaire makes extensive use of canted angle shots. Canted angles, in addition to being visually striking, can also emphasize a sense of disorientation or alienation in the subject of the shot.

The Evolution of Cinema

On Nov. 6, the National World War II Museum in New Orleans will unveil $60 million renovations that include the Victory Theater, where a new 4-D World War II film by Tom Hanks will screen. According to The Washington Post, which has a gallery of photographs revealing the exterior and interior of the museum, a new on-site restaurant will serve “1940s-inspired food” and a canteen will feature recreations of wartime entertainment.

Source: finding Dulcinea

The Best Cinema Experiences

25 Low Budget Films

With Paranormal Activity going 22 million in revenue strong I thought you might enjoy another list of low-budget success stories.

Raindance: The List