Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Michael Mann screenwriting approach

Here is an interesting quote from Michael Mann on his approach to screenwriting:

Screenwriting 101: Michael Mann
"All right, let me try an example. A story about a guy who's been a bootlegger and a gunman who's retiring to a rural part of the Midwest. There were some political conflicts in this area; an interesting alignment of forces between the KKK and mine owners on one side, and organized labor, immigrants, and bootleggers on the toher. This guy found himself caught in the middle, became a reluctant gunfighter, and killed a man who was the leader of the Klan in his region. He himself was wounded and died in the skirmish. True history Now, go make that into a story.
Well, how? Where do I start? If you do it the way I just told you, it's like any number of bad screenplays. This is a linear biopic: this happened, that happened, this happened, that happened. That's not a story. A story is, he dies. We don't want to do a linear biopic, so let's have an investigation. In the process of investigation with multiple detectives, I can break down into its component parts the true history of Hearst -- call him "Kane" -- and I can arrange the sequence of all these encounters without regard to chronology. I don't have to move through time in a linear fashion. I can cut to either investigator investigating whatever aspect of his life I want to reveal. I can go present, I can go three weeks ago, twenty-six years ago, back to four years ago; put it in any fashion I want. I've liberated myself from the tyranny of chronology by inventing the narrative."
-- Michael Mann (Manhunter, Heat, The Insider), excerpt from "Screenwriters on Screenwriting," edited by Joel Engel

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Michael Mann talks about digital collateral

The following is an article I found on the net, but the source link of the article appears broken. I can say it was originally from the Hollywood Reporter. It is below in entirety:

Revving up digital cinematography

By Carolyn Giardina

Pictured: Director Michael Mann with the Viper FilmStream digital camera on the set of "Collateral" 

Leave it to Michael Mann to shake up the system. The Oscar-nominated director famous for gritty yet visually dazzling depictions of urban life and an uncompromising attitude toward his craft is now ushering digital filmmaking from the extreme reaches of science fiction and low-budget indie into the realm of high-profile studio thriller. The director has elected to use Thomson Grass Valley's Viper FilmStream camera for his upcoming "Collateral," the Tom Cruise-starrer financed by DreamWorks and Paramount, scheduled for an Aug. 6 release. 

As the first director to road-test the Viper -- much anticipated as the first cinema camera capable of storing images as data, directly to a hard drive -- Mann's choices are worth noting in a creative community coming to grips with the practicalities and pitfalls of digital imaging.

The Viper isn't the only camera Mann is using to shoot the movie, which he describes as a "multimedia" effort. He's using the Sony CineAlta high-definition camera, as well as shooting film, but of the roughly 80% of the finished film Mann estimates he's captured digitally, about 80% originated from the Viper.

Mann says his choice was driven by the film's creative needs. The story -- of a veteran hit man (Cruise) who hijacks a cab and forces the driver (Jamie Foxx) to traverse the streets of Los Angeles, transporting him from job to job until the LAPD and the FBI begin to pursue the vehicle -- seems well-suited to electronic cameras.

"Everything is pretty much driven by story, and this whole picture takes place at night," the director says. "I wanted to see into the night. I wanted the night to be alive so that it becomes very three-dimensional. That's what I was trying to get," says Mann, kicking back at the Santa Monica offices that house his production company, Forward Pass.

"There was a quality to the Viper cam that I responded to," says Mann, who is no stranger to digital cameras, having employed high-definition video for the opening sequences of his 2001 biopic "Ali." In particular, he says, the Viper's color imaging worked well for this particular film. "It had to do with the sensitivity of reds and yellows and oranges. This was not only seeing deeply into the night, seeing what you see with the naked eye and something more than you can see with the naked eye, but also the color information. It had an aesthetic that I wanted."

The Viper operates in several modes. At the high end is FilmStream, which captures unprocessed imagery -- no color correction, no compression -- in the 4:4:4 RGB color space, the full color range of an electronic image signal. (While analog film still offers significantly greater color sensitivity than any electronic medium, 4:4:4 RGB is the highest level currently offered in the electronic realm. Film scanned into the digital domain for effects manipulation or what have you is scanned at 4:4:4 RGB. By way of comparison, broadcast HD operates in a 4:2:2 YUV environment, subsampling in blue and red. The Viper also offers 4:2:2 options.)

Though other high-end digital cameras, including the CineAlta, also shoot in 4:4:4 RGB, Thomson vp strategic marketing and business development Jeff Rosica says that what sets the Viper apart is the proprietary CCDs that capture the image as well as the way the data, once acquired, is distributed. The CCDs capture 12-bit linear image, which is then transmitted and stored at 10-bit log space. "Because it's logarithmic, it actually emulates the most important properties of a 12-bit linear signal," says Rosica. The signal is then transferred to a recording device via a dual-link serial HD connection.

Mann and his team began an extensive testing phase by recording material in FilmStream onto a DVS digital disk recorder. "The total capacity was 55 minutes, and it took 35 hours to download (to videotape for dailies)," Mann says. "So obviously that wasn't ready for feature film production." 

Next, they tested S.two digital mags to store the uncompressed raw data. "So our storage went down to something that was physically manageable in a much more compact hard drive," Mann says. "But what it posed upon us was a long-term storage capacity of 330 terabytes, which is economically unfeasible with the current limits of the drive technology." (A terabyte of storage costs about $50,000.)

Mann then decided "to see what would happen if we put a mild compression on (the images)" and switched to Viper's VideoStream mode, which offers a 10-bit 4:4:4 RGB video, as opposed to data, signal and provides light image processing allowing for truer color reproduction in the field. "With FilmStream you're getting raw data. VideoStream functions more like a normal high-def camera, which allowed him to control the ASA," says "Collateral" associate producer Bryan Carroll.

Both modes lens in 2.37:1 widescreen without any loss of vertical resolution.

"We took it all the way to the equivalent of a release print, so it's not like we were looking at something on a monitor and taking it on faith," Mann says.

While employing the latest in digital imaging technologies, Mann took care to note that his storytelling fundamentals are essentially unchanged. "In our system, we impose on everybody the grammar and syntax that we are shooting film. All the disciplines apply, and that's very important on the floor during production. We are mixing a digital culture with a film culture, and it has to be film grammar."

That approach drove the design of a massive workflow system that brought together the material from the film camera, Viper, and the other camera system Mann employed, Sony's CineAlta F900 HD. The HDCAM footage essentially had to be handled as camera negative. Everything that was shot -- film and digital -- was digitized into Avids for postproduction, during which a digital color grading session will take place.

Mann cites Carroll as well as Thomson's Mark Chiolis, Laser Pacific's Leon Silverman and Terry Brown and Panavision's Nolan Murdock as integral to working out the bugs in the system.

Prior to filming, a team including Mann and A-camera operator Gary Jay, (who has worked with Mann since 1992's "The Last of the Mohicans") guided modifications to the Viper.

"The camera body itself wasn't ergonomic for use on a production," Mann says. "We wanted weights added to the rear of the camera to increase the mass and balance back there. We needed rods for the matte box and focus-bracket system because we do a lot of hand-holding. The control buttons needed covers because you could unbalance the camera and not know you did it. This is small stuff, but it's major when you just got done having a take that's brilliant, or you think that the actors were brilliant and it looks perfect, and you find out you switched it to FilmStream."

With his arsenal of camera technology, production began and Mann focused his attention on directing. Dion Beebe ("Chicago") came on board as director of photography.

As 27 pages of the "Collateral" screenplay take place in a car, mobility was a priority. There were some limitations as the Viper was cabled to its recording deck. Mann says that when he wanted complete mobility for handheld work, the crew used the CineAlta F900 (which is configured more like a camcorder, recording to either standard Sony HDCAM or SW tapes).

"The benefit is that there is a 55-minute tape, so in that sense there are fewer interruptions," Mann says. "(With film) if you are hand holding and you have a 400-foot mag in there, every three minutes and 45 seconds you are having to stop." (There are third-party developers working on Viper recording options, including a portable drive to enable cinematographers to work untethered.)

Creatively, he says, "there's no silver bullet in all of this. ... You have to know what you want, more so than film. In film, you can rely on certain conventional looks, almost like a perceptual preset about what you're used to having. Not so in video, it's a much broader spectrum so you have to know what you want.

"What I like about the Viper is it sees colors, it sees things, in a different way," Mann says. "People are reaching for more expressive ways to visualize and have emotional impact. That's what it all comes down to, the emotional impact to tell a story."

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Testing the "truth" of Michael Mann's "The Insider"

This blog already establishes the brilliance of Michael Mann's storytelling ability. Yet all good things eventually get put to the test, as if they need to be scratched below the surface to see if it really can be as true as it sounds good. Goodness has always been something to be suspicious of, because if we are brutally honest, the world we live in is rarely straight and true, no matter how we aspire it to be. Events are never what they seem. People are never what they appear to be. Hidden rhythms are often at work inside all of our hearts and all of our motivations. It makes the world the complex and often heartbreaking, as well as joyful place we exist in.

The reason I write about this is because of an article I found which delves under the factual content of Michael Mann's The Insider. When The Insider was released as a dramatized version of events surrounding Jeffery Wigand, Lowell Bergman and Brown & Williamson it was immediately open to scrutiny, mainly from the real life characters the film served to depict. Wallace was particularly unhappy. All these criticisms have been openly reported and Mann has responded to them honestly and admirably.

However, the article I have found is useful as a way of understanding indirectly some of Michael Mann's approach to "truth" and his philosophy and purposes towards storytelling. Revisionist history is always never far away from film creation. Click here for the article, but a brief excerpt is below to set the scene.

[11] But then all of a sudden something even more astonishing occurred to me. Instead of objectively seeking out the truth behind The Insider like I had planned, I had fallen victim to the lure of Michael Mann's convincing enplotment! By immersing myself in the movie, I had unknowingly accepted Mann's filmic version of the truth. Because I formed an emotional attachment to the likable characters of Wigand and Bergman, I never once hesitated to believe their stories. Thankfully, extensive research forced me to be a more critical analyst, and I saw how Mann had twisted and manipulated various scenes and real-life characters to his advantage as a filmmaker.
"Michael Mann's The Insider - History Redefined." 123HelpMe.com. 23 Mar 2011

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

MIchael Mann's Q&A session from Egyptian theatre recorded on video

I was delighted to find some comments left both on this site and the Michael Mann social site from those who actually went to the Egyptian theatre screening celebrating 25 years of Michael Mann's Manhunter. Those lucky fans, journalists or whoever they are, were fortunate enough to meet Michael Mann and some had their Heat DVD's signed by him - now that is what I call KUDOS. One of these awesome Mann Fans managed to remarkably capture on video the pre-announced question and answer session at the end. Double Kudos to Fabricio Vai for posting it! I embed the video he provided below. The sound is underwater like in places, but you can still hear what he is saying. Visit the site for his brief account of the event. Go visit the MM social site too. Thanks guys for telling us about it! Did anyone take some pictures of him or your signed stuff that we can see? Go and post them over at www.michaelmann.ning.com.

Love hearing from you all. Share it with all us Mann Fans friends.

Michael Mann at the Egyptian Theater. Q&A after 25th anniversary screening of Manhunter from Fabricio Vai on Vimeo.

Michael Mann commissioned new font for Public Enemies

Michael Mann is known for attention to detail, and this goes as far as down to the titling of his movie posters. I can't say for sure whether this is something he personally commissioned, but the poster titles for Public Enemies certainly wasn't created from fonts that come free with Adobe inDesign.

One blog that discusses this with some interesting details can be found here. It is only a short account, some of which is below.
"For his upcoming “Public Enemies”, a crime drama set in the 1930′s, he commissioned Neville Brody to design New Deal, an original display typeface for titling and promotional materials. The face was specifically designed with the imperfections of the period taken into account–as signage was often done by artists who weren’t themselves dedicated type designers–resulting in a quirky, uneven character."
Click here for full article.

According to Creative Review:
"Jeff Knowles and Neville Brody have been working on the project, having previously created the typeface for Heat and The Insider."
For more information about this font and the designers, see the links below:



Sunday, 13 March 2011

Michael Mann: Using style to shatter the status quo

Here is an old interview with Michael Mann. It is an excellent piece, if you want to try and understand what makes Michael Mann tick, and how he works. I found it an enjoyable read. Well written, with some genuinely good insights into his character and approach to work and life. An excerpt is below, with the rest available here.

I will quote from the article what he say's about working in TV, because of his forthcoming TV series "Luck".
...  it comes to film, however, Mann's chief belief is a simple one - absolutely everything counts. Day-Lewis puts it this way: "Michael's very, very conscious of how every aspect of film contributes; the colour, the sound, the lighting, the clothes. I never saw him once make an arbitrary decision. On a film of this scale, that takes incredible concentration."...
... Yet he admits the heady nature of wielding media power. "It first hit me one Tuesday night in 1976, when an hour-long Police Story I had written aired. The next morning I walk into 7-11 to buy cigarettes. And I hear the guy behind the counter using this phrase which I had invented! A phrase that had been on TV less than 24 hours before!"
He leans forward intently. "People's response to TV and film is a very multiplex phenomenon. So if you neglect any part of film, you're neglecting part of what is possible. It's really wild, but every part of any film is active. A sound here will change your sense of a shape which appears seconds later."...

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Michael Mann to appear at Egyptian theatre for the 25th anniversary screening of Manhunter

Michael Mann will be making a personal appearance at the Egyptian Theatre, Hollywood for the 25th Anniversary screening of Manhunter. It takes place on Saturday, March 19, 7.30pm. Tickets have sold out already. Following the screening there will be a discussion of the film with Michael Mann. Wish I was there!

Egyptian Theatre
6712 Hollywood Boulevard
CA 90028