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Filmmaking

#TheLab Offers Free Post-Production Facilities To UAE Filmmakers

It’s no surprise that being an independent filmmaker starting out in UAE, the odds are stacked firmly against your favor when it comes to resources, funding and ease of networking. But we as independent filmmakers take those odds and try to work with them, turning them into advantages. Lack of gear? We shoot with what we can beg, borrow and steal. The advent of the HDSLR changed that for us big time, making high quality filmmaking affordable. Location permits? Shoot with what you have access to and build your story around it. Actors? Shoot with friends and family who would be very excited to be a part of your project. That’s the advice that I give to anyone looking to make their first film and it has never failed.

Where it gets tricky however is what you do after you shoot your film – the post-production. You not only need a semi-powerful computer to edit your high definition projects but also some expensive software to go along with them. It’s an area that the advice doesn’t quite work as well, and budding filmmakers in the region have always been held back by a lack of access to high-end equipment for post to really hone their ambitious projects to the best they can be. So imagine my surprise when I read about possibly the most significant boost to regional filmmakers in the past few years – twofour54’s #TheLab.

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Lessons Filmmakers Can Learn From Iron Man 3

Lessons Filmmakers Can Learn is an ongoing series where I will derive filmmaking lessons (for better or for worse) that I learned after watching a recent film, in terms of writing, directing and editing. For our third edition (and we really have to do this more often), we have the Marvel’s big superhero film ‘Iron Man 3’.

With Joss Whedon contributing his writing and directorial talents to making ‘The Avengers’ a critical and especially financial success, Marvel’s ‘Phase 2’ began with a three-quel to the most popular superhero in their canon and the face of Marvel at this point – Iron Man. But they had to be very careful not to make the same mistakes they did with Iron Man 2, a sequel that did deliver financially but is mostly seen as one of the weakest Marvel films with glaring flaws thanks to a lot of creative meddling and a lack of new ideas.

But with the hiring of writer/director Shane Black and a drive to make this a definitive sequel that matters, Iron Man 3 is smart, action-packed and almost as good as the original. A shining example of a superhero film done right.

And there’s a few lessons filmmakers can take from it as well.

Note – Major spoilers for the film ahead.

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Filmmaking 101: Elements Of A Great Story

The following is the second in a series of articles about filmmaking from the story to the release stage. Keep visiting the blog for more.

In our last article, we talked about how story is the most important element and how it can make or break a movie. But what are a few elements that make a compelling story?

Goal

You would be surprised to know how many films have characters with literally no goal at all. Boiled down to the basics, a story is about a character wanting to do something or achieve a goal. Name any movie and you’ll see that this holds true – a policeman wants to stop a terrorist attack, a guy wants to get the girl of his dreams, a group of people want to escape a maniac killer and so on. This goal begins the character’s story and whatever happens throughout the film, it pertains to this one goal. While this is the main goal of the film, a character might have to go through several smaller goals to reach it. For example, to defeat the mob boss of a rival gang, the hero might have to first gain their trust and go undercover, kill the thugs and then reach the main boss. Never have a story where there is no goal.

Never have a story where there is no goal. No one wants to see a character roam around doing their daily loves without any sort of a motive. Though there are some very rare exceptions, these sort of movies always seem much longer than they are and wear down the audience and end up being a very tiring watch.

Conflict

Read aloud some of the plot-lines that I’ve mentioned above and you’ll notice that there’s a real conflict based in them. The backbone of a story is that there’s conflict at the base of it and that drives the film. If ‘Titanic’ was about two lovers who fall in love on a ship and lead their lives happily ever after, we wouldn’t have an Oscar-winning movie but an extremely boring one. It’s the fact that the ship is the doomed Titanic that’s going to sink is the real conflict here and the entire film builds up to it. If in ‘Silence of the Lambs’, the FBI agent was given a clue by Hannibal and she went out and caught the serial killer the next day, it would be a laughably dull film because there’s no conflict. It’s because of the fact that Hannibal plays mind games with her and digs deep into her psyche while also planning out his own escape that makes the movie interesting. Add to the fact that the serial killer has kidnapped the Senator’s daughter and will kill her in a couple of days and you’ve got a very tense and suspenseful conflict right there.

A film where everything happens without any consequence or opposition is a fairy tale and a bad one at that. Because even some of the best fairy-tales in literature always had a conflict that drove them. It’s this simple aspect that will single-handedly make your film a much more compelling one to watch. As an audience, we are suckers for a tense situation brimming with conflict. How do you add conflict to your story? Make sure that your character has a goal and there are forces and obstacles on his way that are stopping him from doing so. As an audience, we are suckers for a tense situation brimming with conflict.

There’s a few things you can make sure your script has that will help give it lots of conflict:

  • Stakes – When writing your story, always remember to have stakes. What will happen if the hero doesn’t finish the task? This is one of the most important questions to ask yourself and the higher your stakes are, the more intense and important the goal becomes. In ‘Silence of the Lambs’, Clarice has to work with Hannibal in finding the serial killer but what if nothing happens if she fails? Suddenly, the goal is boring. But in the movie, the serial killer has kidnapped the Senator’s daughter and will kill her in a couple of days. So now if she fails her task, the Senator’s daughter and an innocent life will be taken because of that. That’s stake and that’s what drives conflict even higher as the audience knows that each decision is most important. In sci-fi, the stakes could be the world ending. In comedy, it could be the guy losing his job or facing major humiliation. In drama, it could be death or losing a loved one. In romance, it could be not seeing the girl forever. Always remember  to drive up the stakes whenever you can and you’ll have a very exciting and cinematic story.
  • Obstacles – If your protagonist has a goal, make sure there are obstacles of every kind coming in from every corner trying to stop him from doing so. This makes for a very exciting story as the audience is never really sure whether the plan will succeed or not. If your hero has to win a boxing match to win the girl of his dreams and he’s already a muscular guy with the opponent being weak, there’s no conflict here and it’s a boring movie. Make the hero a skinny accountant who has never thrown a punch in his life. Make the opponent a World Heavyweight Champion. Make his boss someone who constantly blocks him. Adding such obstacles will make the hero’s journey from a loser to a champion not only much more worth it but a pleasure to see. Obstacles make conflict.
  • Time Limit – This is more of a necessity for an action-oriented film but it’s important nonetheless. The sure-fire way to add tension and excitement to your story is adding a time limit after which the plan will fail. The world ends in 5 days, a bomb will explode in 2 hours, someone will be killed in 24 hours, the bad guy will arrive in an hour etc. If your main goal has no time limit on it and can be done anytime of the year, it saps out tension and suddenly isn’t so major. Movies like ‘Crank’, ‘Die Hard’, ‘Back to the Future’, and even recent hits like ‘Fast Five’ have a time limit in which the action must be done or it fails.

Emotion

Think of all of your favorite movies. Movies that you’ve grown up with and are a part of your life. What made them your favorite? Ninety percent of the time, the answer is because it connected to you emotionally. The best sort of story is the one that the audience emotionally connects to. Depending on your movie, it could either be fear, laughter, thrills, drama or any specific emotion that you want the audience to feel. But remember – a film is most powerful when the audience connects to it. This is why it’s important that the characters you write are human and the audience can relate to them in some way or the other. Because if you don’t care about a character, you don’t care about anything that happens to him and that impacts the whole film.

What if  Jack and Rose were someone who had been introduced five minutes before the ship begins to sink in ‘Titanic’? Would you care so much about them drowning? It’s only the fact that we got emotionally connected to them in the film that we got touched by the tragic ending. And most of you remember ‘Titanic’ not for the amazing special effects, but for the love story that connected to you emotionally. Even though ‘The King’s Speech’ was set in 1940’s Britain that most audience members knew nothing about, it’s emotional connection to the audience was through the protagonist trying to overcome his crippling flaw. Behind an elaborate setting, it was a basic human story. Within all the plot twists and amazing visuals you have in your film, always remember to add a human element that audiences can latch on to and experience. Even if it’s an action movie that usually relies only on the thrills and stunts, adding a human story underneath will make it stand out for sure. While ‘Die Hard’ on the surface was about a man trying to defeat terrorists who have taken over a building, it was actually about a man trying to reconnect with his wife again. Great characters and an emotional connection are the two factors that take your script even further. Within all the plot twists and amazing visuals you have in your film, always remember to add a human element that audiences can latch on to and experience.

So what do you need to build great characters? That’s a whole new topic altogether.

In the next article, I will discuss how to craft great characters that serve your story well and connect with the audience. Stay tuned for more!

Filmmaking 101: Story Is Key

The following is the first in a series of articles about filmmaking from the story to the release stage. Keep visiting the blog for more.

What was the last big budget blockbuster you saw that you absolutely hated? Now try to think of the reason you hated a movie that cost around $200 million bucks to make. Chances are it wasn’t because one scene didn’t have the right special effects or you didn’t like the costumes. Even after being polished and big by all standards, the most likely reason you hated that movie because it had a weak screenplay. And a weak screenplay is directly the result of a weak story.

You Vs. Hollywood

As independent filmmakers, the one thing that we know we don’t have is a lot of funds. It would be foolish to try to compete with Hollywood at a production level, considering that the budget of some of their biggest movies exceed the entire GDP of a small country. They have a crew of hundreds, the best equipment and wizards in the world and a lot of money to throw at their projects. But there’s one thing that they have that you can absolutely compete with. In fact, you can defeat them at it – the story. Hollywood is running out of ideas since quite a few years now, and have been relying on remakes and sequels to run their slate. They are constantly on a hunt for fresh and unique stories that they can make into a film. But whether it’s a short film, a comedy, a horror movie or a mindless action movie – story is key.

But even after their best efforts, most of the time Hollywood movies suffer in the story department because they cost so much. The more a movie costs, the more people’s money is at stake which means there are more people constantly looking over the project and each of them has a say in it. This usually ends up with each and every one of them giving their own notes on the script and the film ending up losing its most original ideas and ending up becoming a generic mess made by committee. And as a result, even after the movie has lots of production values, the audience looks through it and realizes that the screenplay was sub-par. Watching ‘Pirates of the Carribean: On Stranger Tides’ this weekend might give you lots of production value and a sense of adventure, but you will also be able to detect that the story was lacking and it played it way too safe. But you don’t have to face that problem. Being an independent filmmaker, there’s no one there to stop you from making the exact film that you want to make. This is the real charm of an independent film and why they sometimes break out and earn even more at the box-office than the big-budget films – they are built on a strong story.

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Welcome to Hashmic House Films!

My name is Faisal Hashmi and I welcome you folks to the Hashmic House Films blog.

You might wonder – why a blog? While our main focus for the general audience is going to be our Facebook and Twitter page, a blog is of key importance in what we are aiming to do. Not only will this blog act as a news event portal of whatever we are up to and our personal opinion about a number of matters, it will be a primary source of knowledge and tips about independent filmmaking in UAE.

Though many don’t know it yet, almost all of us have a story to tell. A story that we always believed would look great on screen or a story that we connect to and is personal. Not everybody is into filmmaking but we are storytellers by birth and there’s no denying that. But for those that were always fascinated when watching movies and always had a dream or even a passing thought of one day making their own film, this blog is for you. Living in the UAE, it’s very understandable why you haven’t done anything about your aspiration yet. The problem with this country for us is that expatriates require a visa to stay here which you only get by working full-time or being a student. This severely takes a toll on your life and usually leaves no time for doing anything else, so you put your dream aside and begin to live life the way everyone is. And while this doesn’t look to be changing anytime soon, all it takes is a story and a camera to go shoot your movie and it IS possible.

But another daunting task that faces most such people is – where do I begin? That’s exactly what this blog will aim to do. We’ve read hundreds of books, watched thousands of movies and DVD’s that teach us all aspects of filmmaking and it’s our short film projects that teach us constant lessons every time. This blog will feature a stream of articles that will deal with every aspect of filmmaking right from the basics. Whether it’s telling a story and how to form it, screenwriting, cameras, technicals and other directorial tricks, Hashmic House Films isn’t just about ‘us’. It’s an initiative to bolster filmmaking in the country and make sure there’s enough support that people take notice. It bums me out to see such a muted response when filmmaking is mentioned here and that’s what should be changed.

Why is Los Angeles a city filled with people talking about film and not Dubai or Abu Dhabi? Do we lack imagination? I definitely don’t think that’s the case after  the dozens of very creative individuals that I’ve ended up meeting in the last year itself. All of these people have amazing stories and great talent to make it, but just not the push and initiative required to actually go ahead and make the damn thing. Our effort here will be to give the average guy that knowledge and crack open that mystical world of filmmaking and make them realize that while talent is innate, the tools are easily accessible.

So keep track of our blog for a number of interesting articles to come and do follow us everywhere else for some very inspirational stuff.

Hashmic House Films

An initiative to bolster UAE filmmaking including tips, resources and thoughts about the industry.

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