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Bates Motel: The Original Psycho is Back

The Slasher horror-movie genre started with him—at the exact moment he yanked back that famous shower curtain. He is one of a handful of characters that forever changed film audiences’ expectations. He is Norman Bates and during the 53 years since he first appeared in Alfred Hitchcock’s shock-thriller masterpiece, Psycho, film audiences still can’t get him off of our minds.
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A new Norman for a new age: Freddie Highmore shines as a young Norman Bates in A&E’s Bates Motel.

“How well we remember Norman Bates,” wrote film critic Roger Ebert. “Tens of thousands of movie characters have come and gone…and yet he still remains so vivid in the memory, such a sharp image among all the others that have gone out of focus.”

And now Norman’s back, in a wildly imaginative franchise reboot of sorts called Bates Motel.

Back to Before the Beginning
The new A&E series is earning rave reviews for giving us the Norman Bates story from a different vantage point—of teenage Norman before he grows up to be…well, different. In another smart move, the show is set in the present—which somehow gives the series more teeth than if it had been set in the 1950s.

Although only a few episodes of the show have aired, there’s already a buzz surrounding the show. In Bates Motel, high-schooler Norman Bates (Freddie Highmore) and his mother, Norma (Vera Farmiga), buy a rundown roadside motel in a scenic yet odd town on the Pacific coast. (The series is one of many shows filmed in British Columbia these days.)
Norma-Bates
“A boy’s mother is his best friend.” Vera Farmiga kills as Norma Bates, the “Mother” we only thought we knew.

While Norman and “Mother” have been trying to repair and renovate the motel, some local town folk haven’t been very welcoming—which resulted in the show’s first killing. Now new characters are being introduced, like a potential girlfriend for Norman (not to mention a long-lost stepbrother). And then there’s that pesky local sheriff, who just can’t stop noseying around the motel…and meddling in the Bates family’s activities.

A&E’s Bates Motel is just getting cranked up, but it’s already showing signs of starting to attract a growing fan base like AMC’s The Walking Dead before it. We’re already hooked.

Cutting Remarks
Norman Bates, originally played with nervous precision by Anthony Perkins, took filmgoers by surprise when Hitchcock’s Psycho stormed into theaters. Film audiences weren’t used to villains who seemed like genuinely nice people—that is, until their murderous psychology compelled them to kill again. Prior to Psycho, screen villains acted villainous most of the time.
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Tony Perkins as mad, bad Norman Bates. Notice the image of teeth superimposed on Norman’s mouth, which is the beginning of a skull image that Hitchcock will place over Norman’s face, in a creepy final touch.

Some stray trivia you may not know about Norman Bates:

• When Perkins took the role that would make him globally famous, director Hitchcock refused to instruct the young actor in how exactly to play the part. “Hitch” left it to Perkins to develop the character himself, which he did to perfection. Prime example: Norman’s nervous munching of candy corn.
• There was a real person that inspired Robert Bloch to write his suspense thriller, Psycho. The killer was named Ed Gein, and he served as the prototype for Norman Bates and Dr. Hannibal Lector (from The Silence of the Lambs). However, his actual crimes were far too shocking to portray in movies, although at least two later films were directly based on Gein’s life.
• There have been five “Psycho” films, including the original classic. One of the more interesting sequels was Psycho 3, which was directed by Perkins himself.
• The original outdoor facades for the Bates house and the Bates Motel were originally constructed on a back lot at Universal Studios, in a money-saving move. Now, more than 50 years later, the famous film location is still preserved as a favorite part of the Universal Studios Hollywood Tour.

Lights, Camera…Suspense!
Hitchcock’s Psycho was a daring work of modern art that broke rules and took chances—and resulted in an artistic triumph and commercial smash. Hitchcock shot the film with the production crew from his television show, and ran the entire budget on a shoestring. His creative ingenuity paid off in huge dividends on the screen and at the box office.
Bates-Motel-sign-2
The next generation of filmmakers are already planning their own masterpieces and developing their personal dreams of working within the exciting world of film. To help those dreams come true, kids and teens will receive expert instruction in digital filmmaking at Digital Media Academy tech camps across North America.

DMA offers a variety of filmmaking courses, each geared to a different age level and expertise. Students in DMA’s Digital Filmmaking for Teens – Beginner camp, for example, will be exposed to each part of the film production process, from shaping a script to directing a shoot to editing the final product. They’ll be taught by industry professionals who know film from the inside out, and that instruction will be powered by today’s leading film-production software, such as Final Cut Pro®.

The next Hitchcock could be studying film at DMA this summer. In fact, the next Hitchcock could be…you! Now how’s that for a shocking twist? Hitch would be proud…

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posted by Phill Powell in Digital Filmmaking,Featured and have No Comments

The Greatest Movie & Movie Maker Ever

Hitchcock. The name is the stuff of Hollywood legends…and he remains one of the most intriguing personalities in Hollywood history.


Known as the Master of Suspense, Hitchcock was the Steven Spielberg of his day. Can you tell which is the real Hitchcock? Hint, he’s the one in black and white. Sir Anthony Hopkins (on the left) plays Hitchcock in the 2012 film of the same name.  

By the mid-1950s, Alfred Hitchcock was already acknowledged by Tinsel Town as a master of suspense and had created some of the best movies ever made.

Films like Notorious, Rear Window, and Suspicion put the director well above his peers of the day. The director also popularized the term “MacGuffin” and the technique. Recently the filmmaker returned to theaters, this time in the biopic Hitchcock, and while the movie hasn’t exactly set the box office on fire, it has gotten Hollywood talking about (another) Oscar nomination for Sir Anthony Hopkins and his co-star Helen Mirren.

So what’s the attraction to this old school filmmaker?

A Star on Both Sides of the Camera
Through his 1950s TV show Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Hitchcock made himself a star. The tubby and bald Hitchcock (always dressed in a formal dark suit and tie, like a mortician) had a dry and wicked sense of humor.

He spoke in a thick British accent, and gracefully introduced each of the short thrillers his program showcased. He was unlike anything else American TV audiences had ever seen, and the show made him famous as a television host, completely independent of his fame as a director.


Film audiences already knew a Hitchcock in part from cameos in each of his suspense movies. TV audiences learned quickly the director could also be outrageously funny.

By the late 1950s Hitchcock was solidly established as one of Hollywood’s most dependable money-makers. So it may come as a shock to learn that Paramount Studios had virtually no faith in Hitchcock’s next project—an adaptation of a book about murder and madness in a rundown motel. In fact, it made no sense to any studio execs why the Robert Bloch novel shocker titled Psycho  was such a labor of love for Hitchcock.

That’s the story behind the new Hitchcock—the tension between “Hitch” and the studio honchos as Hitchcock tries to get his cinematic classic made. What will the master director risk in order to gamble on making a modern masterpiece? And how will the public react to such a risky piece of filmmaking?

How Psycho Broke the Mold
Psycho was revolutionary for Hollywood filmmaking on many levels. Here are a few ways Hitchcock challenged the format of the day:

  • The female is lead is killed off only a half hour into the film.
  • The movie boldly showed a bathroom shower scene (very daring for 1960) and the murder there.
  • It was a big-studio feature that chose black-and-white photography at a time when nearly all Hollywood films had switched to color.

 
Two years before Psycho Hitchcock made another future classic, the psychological drama Vertigo. The film, about a former police detective obsessed with the image of his late wife, has been championed by today’s most respected directors, including Martin Scorsese, who presided over a careful 1996 restoration of the original film. The film is probably best known for its dramatic use of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge as a setting for some of the movie’s key scenes.

The Greatest Movie…Ever?
Recently the respected British film magazine “Sight & Sound” announced the results of its 2012 poll of film directors and critics. Since 1952, and in each decade following, the magazine has conducted the poll, which asks film folks to list the greatest films ever made. Critic Roger Ebert has called it “by far the most respected of the countless polls of great movies—the only one most serious movie people take seriously.”


Hitchcock’s 1958 Vertigo was recently named the best all-time motion picture.

This year’s poll created a sensation when the long-established top film of all time, Orson Welles’ masterpiece Citizen Kane, was dethroned by a Hitchcock film—and it was not Psycho (which many fans consider his most powerful work). Instead, the film that was most universally admired in the “Sight & Sound” poll was 1958’s Vertigo, starring Hitchcock-favorite James Stewart and Kim Novak.

A Living Legacy
Alfred Hitchcock received a Lifetime Achievement Oscar, but never won a Best Director Oscar, nor did any of his films ever win “Best Picture.” No matter; for anyone interested in learning movie making and film production, Hitchcock remains an important and inspirational figure. The 57 films he made over the course of his 54-year career are treasured as some of Hollywood’s finest and most enduring creations.

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posted by Phill Powell in News Blog and have No Comments

Best Bond Trivia: Celebrating 50 Years of 007

This summer marks the 50th anniversary of James Bond, the cinema’s all-time action star. To celebrate the series we’re taking a closer look at all things Bond. Recently, we selected the five best James Bond movies and now we’re finishing our tribute with a collection of the most amazing Bond trivia we could find.


Nobody wanted him—neither the character’s creator nor film producers. But Scottish actor Sean Connery went on to leave an unforgettable impression as the first Agent 007. 

1. The Birth of “Bond…James Bond.” Created by English author Ian Fleming in 1953, Bond made his first appearance in the novel “Casino Royale.” Before his days as an author, Fleming served in Britain’s Naval Intelligence Division. One day he told a friend: “I am going to write the spy story to end all spy stories.” Fleming eventually penned 14 James Bond books, all of which were written at Fleming’s Jamaican estate—named “GoldenEye.”

2. There are 24 “James Bond” Films. “Dr. No” (1962); “From Russia With Love” (1963); “Goldfinger” (1964); “Thunderball” (1965); “You Only Live Twice” (1967); “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” (1969); “Diamonds Are Forever” (1971); “Live and Let Die” (1973); “The Man With the Golden Gun” (1974); “The Spy Who Loved Me” (1977); “Moonraker” (1979); “For Your Eyes Only” (1981); “Octopussy” (1983); “Never Say Never Again” (1983); “A View to a Kill” (1985); “The Living Daylights” (1987); “License to Kill” (1989); “GoldenEye” (1995); “Tomorrow Never Dies” (1997); “The World is Not Enough” (1999); “Die Another Day” (2002); “Casino Royale” (2006); “Quantum of Solace” (2008); and “Skyfall” (2012).

3. How he Got his Name. The name “James Bond” belonged to a real person—an American ornithologist and author named James Bond who was a published expert on the subject of birds found in the Caribbean. Fleming wanted a plain, simple name for the agent, who he envisioned as “an anonymous, blunt instrument wielded by a government department.” The character was based on different intelligence agents Fleming had known during WWII, when he himself was an intelligence agent.

4. The Longest and Shortest James Bond Film. The average length of a Bond movie is approximately 125 minutes, 25 seconds. The shortest film in the series: 2008’s “Quantum of Solace” (106 minutes). The longest James Bond movie: 2006’s “Casino Royale” (144 minutes).

5. The Very First James Bond. Sean Connery was not the first actor to play the secret agent. American actor Barry Nelson portrayed 007 in a television adaptation of “Casino Royale,” back in 1954. Connery was also not the first choice of Bond creator Ian Fleming – who originally envisioned dapper and witty English actor David Niven playing 007. (Fleming said that Bond might have looked like Hoagy Carmichael, a popular American singer.) Connery was not even the first choice of film producers, who originally wanted actor Peter Anthony. When Connery was allowed to meet with producers, he showed up looking unshaven and acting as if he couldn’t care less if he got the role. The attitude he displayed won him the part of a lifetime.

6. The Men Who Would be Bond, Pt. 1. Some of the actors originally considered for the part of James Bond included front-runner Cary Grant, James Mason, Patrick McGoohan and Rex Harrison.


Who’s this guy? Wearing a suit that would make Austin Powers proud, George Lazenby stunned film producers when he announced he would leave the Bond series after only one film…the movie he was still shooting (1969′s “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”).

7. Most Successful Bond Film: 1965’s “Thunderball.” When adjusting its revenues for inflation, “Thunderball” has earned slightly more than a billion dollars ($1.04 billion), making it the series box-office champ.

8. Who Played 007? In the James Bond film series, the character has been played by: Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig.

9. The Theme. Written by English composer Monty Norman and arranged by film composer John Barry, the twangy “James Bond Theme” is one of the most universally known pieces of music ever recorded. The signature electric guitar part, laden with echo, was played by studio ace Vic Flick. (His instrument was a Clifford Essex Paragon Cello-Bodied electric guitar, fitted with a DeAmond volume pedal and played through a 15-watt Vox amplifier. That guitar is now on display in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.)

10. An Evil Monkey Could Have Been Bond’s Nemesis. An early draft of the “Dr. No” script was rejected because the title villain had been written as a monkey (presumably an evil monkey with a scheme to take over the world).

11. Bond Makes Bank. In today’s dollars, the Bond series of films has grossed more than $12 billion worldwide, which makes it the second-highest-grossing film series of all time, right behind the “Harry Potter” series. It has been estimated that a full quarter of the world’s population has seen at least one James Bond film.

12. Most Appearances as James Bond. Roger Moore stayed on the job longer than any other Bond actor—twelve years to be exact. Moore is also tied for the most performances as James Bond. Both he and Sean Connery have each appeared seven times as Agent 007.


The Aston Martin DB5 featured in “Goldfinger” became a celebrity itself. The Corgi miniature model of it became the best-selling toy of 1964.

13. Most Memorable Movie Line. Bond’s signature phrase, “Bond…James Bond” has been praised as one of the greatest catch phrases in all of movies. The American Film Institute named it the 22nd greatest quotation in film history and in 2001, British movie fans voted it the best-loved one-liner in cinema history.

14. Biggest Opening for Bond. When “Quantum of Solace” opened in the United Kingdom in 2008, it set the opening-weekend record. It also scored the highest-grossing opening weekend Bond film in the U.S., raking in $67.5 million for the weekend.

15. Rejected Title Song. Country music giant Johnny Cash submitted a potential “Thunderball” theme song to the film’s producers, but it was rejected by the film’s producers.

16. Bond’s Most Famous Ride. Bond’s most famous vehicle was a slate gray Aston Martin DB5 first introduced in “Goldfinger.” The car’s famous accessories included hidden machine guns, a metal plate for deflecting gunfire, revolving license plates (good in all countries), and the piece de resistance, a passenger ejector seat that fired undesirable henchmen out the top of the vehicle.

17. Age of the Actors. The youngest actor to portray James Bond was George Lazenby (age 30), who starred in only one Bond movie, 1969’s “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.” The oldest actor to star as Bond was Roger Moore, who was a ripe old 57 during shooting of 1985’s “A View to a Kill.”

18. Bond’s Favorite Casino Game is called Chemin de Fer, a French version of the card game Baccarat. Agent 007 plays the classy game in “Dr. No,” “Thunderball,” the 1967 version of “Casino Royale,” “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service,” “For Your Eyes Only” and “GoldenEye.”


Suave Roger Moore kept the Bond role for a record twelve years. His Bond was as quick with witty banter as he was with a gun.

19. Fleming’s Thoughts on the Big Screen Bond. When Bond author Ian Fleming saw the preview screening for the first Bond film, “Dr. No,” his initial response was “Dreadful. Simply dreadful.”

20. Weapons of Choice. The Walther PPN is Bond’s current sidearm. For years, however, he carried the Walther PPK, although he used a Beretta 418 during the first five novels. When Fleming heard from a Bond fan and gun enthusiast, who called the Beretta “a lady’s gun” and that “Bond should instead use a Walther PPK 7.65mm.” At various times Bond has used other weapons, including rifles and other handguns. The most unique gun he ever carried may have been the tricked-out attaché case from “From Russia with Love,” which contained an assault rifle built right into the briefcase…which could also shoot daggers and emit teargas.

21. Casino Royale(s). The film with the greatest number of actors portraying James Bond was (undoubtedly) 1967’s “Casino Royale,” which differs significantly from the 2006 movie with Daniel Craig. The first “Casino Royale” was a broad spy spoof which featured six actors each portraying James Bond, including Woody Allen as “Jimmy Bond.”

22. Balding Bond. Connery was already starting to go bald when he won the part of James Bond. In each of his films as Agent 007, he sported a toupee.

23. The Only Actor Asked Back. British actor Timothy Dalton was originally approached to possibly play James Bond in 1969. Dalton tested for the role, but took himself out of the running, saying he felt he was too young to play the part. George Lazenby would step into the role instead, although Dalton would get his chance again years later in 1987 when he played Bond in “The Living Daylights.”

24. Biggest Bond Explosion. The ending of “Thunderball” shows villain Emilio Largo’s souped-up power yacht (named “The Disco Volante,” or flying saucer) running aground on a Bahamas island and exploding in a gi-normous fireball. To produce a sufficiently powerful explosion, the effects coordinator used an experimental rocket fuel. However, not knowing how much of the fuel to use, he doused the entire yacht with the stuff. The massive resulting explosion actually blew out windows in Nassau—more than 30 miles away.


Timothy Dalton (seen here in “License to Kill”) was first approached to play Bond in 1969. He turned down the role then, but didn’t make the same mistake in 1987.

25. Bond Breaks Character. There has only been one time during the entire history of the James Bond film franchise when the actor portraying the Bond character makes a reference to existing within a film series. This occurs during “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service,” when George Lazenby quips “This never happened to the other fellow,” making a reference to the freshly departed Sean Connery. The incident has not happened since.

26. Oscar Winning Bond. The first Bond film to win an Academy Award was 1964’s “Goldfinger,” it captured the Oscars for Best Effects and Sound Effects.

27. SPECTRE Defined. While the U.S. was engaged in a Cold War with Russia, Bond doggedly fought against the forces of evil organization SPECTRE. Here’s what SPECTRE stands for: SPecial Executive for Counter-Intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion.

28. Before They Were Famous. The Russian-trained assassin Bond faces in 1963’s “From Russia With Love” was played by Robert Shaw—who played Quint, the salty fisherman in 1974’s mega-hit “Jaws.”

29. An English Record Holder. “Live and Let Die” drew the biggest British television audience for a film broadcast on TV. The 1973 adventure was seen by 23.5 million viewers, a record that still stands.

30. Best Bond Babe? The first “Bond girl” was Ursula Andress, who played Honey Rider in “Dr. No.” “Entertainment Weekly” ranked her tops among “Bond Babes.” Her iconic white bikini—which helped popularize the swimsuit—sold at a 2001 auction for $61,000. (Halle Berry’s outfit in “Die Another Day” was based on Ursula’s iconic outfit.)


Ian Fleming wrote 14 James Bond novels and created one of the biggest film franchises of all time. Like his most famous character, Fleming enjoyed the finer things while having a definite taste for danger.

31. AFI Hero. In 2005, the American Film Institute hailed James Bond as the third-greatest film hero of all time. “Premiere” magazine listed Bond as the fifth-greatest movie character.

32. First Bond Movie. The films’ producers wanted “Thunderball” to be the first film, but due to a legal wrangle involving the screenplay, “Dr. No” became the first James Bond movie.

33. The Bond Theme Song. The most successful songs from James Bond movies were also big hits on the pop charts. The most popular have been “Goldfinger” (sung by Shirley Bassey), “Live and Let Die” (Paul McCartney & Wings), “Nobody Does it Better” (Carly Simon), “Thunderball” (Tom Jones) and “For Your Eyes Only” (Sheena Easton).

34. The Last Movie President Kennedy Ever Saw. President John F. Kennedy was a big fan of the Bond spy novels, and the movies made from them. In a “Look” magazine interview he included “From Russia With Love” in his list of ten favorite books, and held a private White House screening of “Dr. No.” In fact, Kennedy showed “From Russia With Love” at the White House on November 20, 1963…just days before his assassination in Dallas—making it the last motion picture he ever saw.

35. Bond Sets Records. At one time, “The Guinness Book of World Records” listed “Goldfinger” as the fastest-grossing film of all time. To meet the insane demand for the film, New York City theaters started running the movie around the clock.

36. Saint Roger Moore. During casting for “Dr. No,” Roger Moore had been considered for the part but rejected, partly because he was in the process of signing to star in a new TV detective show. Roger Moore’s “The Saint,” which made him an international star, premiered exactly one day before “Dr. No” opened in theaters.


James Bond No. 5, smooth Pierce Brosnan, came to the role after playing the title role of TV detective “Remington Steele.”

37. Worst Bond Film? Perhaps the least successful film of the series was 1974’s “The Man With the Golden Gun,” a film that failed with audiences and critics alike.

38. Breathtaking Performance. Singer Tom Jones belted out the title song to “Thunderball” with such leather-lunged gusto that he literally fainted while singing the tune’s ending. “I closed my eyes,” Jones later recalled, “And I held the note for so long that when I opened my eyes the room was spinning.”

39. License to Fail. The Bond picture with the weakest box office performance was 1989’s “License to Kill.”

40. Never Say Never. Perhaps the oddest Bond flick is 1983’s “Never Say Never Again,” in which hard-charging Sean Connery returned to the role he made famous in the early sixties. It was strange enough that one year would produce both a Roger Moore Bond film (“Octopussy”) as well as a Sean Connery Bond film, as if the two were competing. There was also the fact that “Never” is almost an exact duplicate of “Thunderball.” The plot is the same and many of the other details are lifted exactly from the earlier classic. To see Connery eighteen years older hustling through the same plot is like a weird funhouse trick.

41. Bring in the Helicopters. Bond movies must have helicopters, as they have done since the second Bond flick, “From Russia With Love.” The only movie of the series that lacked a helicopter sequence was “The Man With the Golden Gun,” which fizzled at the box office.

42. Bond’s Connection to Willie Wonka and Austin Powers. “You Only Live Twice” featured a screenplay by noted writer Roald Dahl, who would be better known for writing “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and creating the character of Willy Wonka. (In the film, villainous mastermind Ernst Blofeld wears the same type of Nehru jacket that Mike Meyers would sport as Dr. Evil in “Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery.”)


Daniel Craig returns to movie screens as James Bond in “Skyfall.”

43. Evil Genius. Orson Welles (“Citizen Kane,” “Touch of Evil”) was considered for the title role of “Goldfinger,” but he reportedly wanted too much gold for his performance.

44. Bond Pays for Protection. During the 1972 shooting of “Live and Let Die,” portions of the story had to be filmed in New York’s notoriously dangerous Harlem area. Producers paid protection money to a local gang. As legend tells it, when the cash had been spent, the film crew was “encouraged” to leave the area immediately.

45. Bond Babies. The James Bond series spawned an endless number of imitators. For the coolest TV version, “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.,” the show’s producers sought and received guidance from Ian Fleming himself. The Bond creator even named one of the show’s characters, dreaming up one of the all-time great spy names: Napoleon Solo.

46. James Bond’s Favorite Bond. Although somewhat ignored over the years, “From Russia With Love” is seeing its reputation grow among critics and fans. And this is reportedly the favorite Bond movie among Sean Connery, Timothy Dalton and Daniel Craig.

47. The Men Who Would Be Bond, Pt. 2. Actors later considered as candidates to play Bond included Burt Reynolds, Paul Newman and Robert Redford. The role was actually offered to Clint Eastwood, who respectfully declined, saying he thought the part should be played by a British actor.

48. Bond Almost Dies. Sean Connery narrowly avoided disaster during “Thunderball” when he agreed to enter a swimming pool filled with Golden Grotto sharks. Although he was given a clear plexiglass shield of sorts, the device malfunctioned, leaving Connery face to face with sharks. Connery, an expert swimmer beat a hasty retreat away from the sharks.

49. Big Bald Blofeld. The character of SPECTRE overlord Blofeld was first played by actor Donald Pleasance, who would later be identified with another successful film franchise, as the psychiatrist in the “Halloween” series of slasher movies. In “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service,” Blofeld was played by Telly Savalas, better known as TV’s favorite bald detective, “Kojack.”

50. Coming Attractions. It has been confirmed that a 24th James Bond film will be made. There is some speculation that it could be helmed by “Dark Knight” and “Inception” director Christopher Nolan.

His Name Means Excitement
James Bond endures as a movie mainstay because he always delivers screen excitement. For anyone interested in learning movie making and special effects, Bond movies are text-book examples of how big action movies were meant to be made. Coming up later this summer: James Bond returns in “Skyfall.”

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posted by Phill Powell in News Blog and have No Comments

Behind the Scenes of “The Avengers”: The Storyboarding Process

“The Avengers” continues to set box office records. The reason? It’s a fun and well made movie. Behind the film were literally hundreds of artists (both traditional and digital) who brought the director’s vision to life.


A scene from “The Avengers,” in storyboard form.

For any special-effects movie (including “The Avengers”), after the script has been written, one of the first parts of the pre-production process is visualizing what the scenes will look like. For this process, storyboarding is essential; set designers, filmmakers and digital artists will all use the storyboards as a blueprint.

What are Storyboards? 
Storyboards are hand-drawn panels that show filmmakers how each scene will look. Storyboards usually look almost like comic-book panels, except without those little word balloons. Storyboards are primarily used for camera setups and effects shots where the effect will be created later, but they extremely helpful for the entire process.

For Marvel Studios’ “The Avengers,” the filmmakers enlisted artist Federico D’Alessandro.  D’Alessandro is the Head Storyboard Artist and Animatic Supervisor at Marvel Studios. He’s currently overseeing storyboards for “Iron Man 3,” but is also known for his work on “I Am Legend,” ”The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian,” ”Where the Wild Things Are,” ”The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader,” “Thor” and ”Captain America: The First Avenger.”


Federico D’Alessandro, Head Storyboard Artist and Animatic Supervisor, at his desk in Marvel Studios.

“A storyboard artist can progress to working as a director, which is something I always wanted to be. What I enjoy most is having control over how my vision is conveyed to the viewer,” D’Alessandro said in a interview. ”That means not only representing what the scene looks like in my head, but how it feels. When I create an animatic, I want the viewer to have an emotional experience. That means having control over not only the visual storytelling, but the pacing, the sound design and the musical cues. When all of that comes together and I’m able to show the viewer the same scene I imagined, that’s enormously gratifying.”


The battle sequence between Iron-Man and Thor was planned out using storyboards (click image for a larger view).

The Origins of Storyboarding
The storyboarding process was first developed by Walt Disney in the 1930s at Walt Disney Studios. In the biography “The Story of Walt Disney,” Walt’s daughter Diane Disney Miller remembered that the first complete storyboards were created for the animated short “Three Little Pigs.” The process evolved from “story sketches” that Walt would have artists create to set up key scenes.

Disney artist and animator Webb Smith was credited with the idea of drawing scenes individually and then pinning them to a bulletin board (hence the term “storyboard”). Within a few years, the idea had been adopted by other studios and by 1938 storyboarding was a standard practice.

“Gone With the Wind” (1939) was one of the first live action films to be completely storyboarded. William Cameron Menzies was hired by producer David O. Selznick to design each shot. The great suspense director Alfred Hitchcock relied heavily upon storyboarding, so much so that a myth emerged that he never bothered to look through the camera’s viewfinder to set up any shots.

In addition to storyboards, animatics are also used to help filmmakers visualize the story. Animatics are animated storyboards. These give filmmakers a way to see the action in real time, so shots can be planned.


For a sequence in “The Avengers” in which Black Widow attempts to take down an airborne alien, several drawings were required to convey the action.

Creating the Action
Learning movie making is not as simple as learning to point a camera. There are several skills that go into making a film, including scriptwriting, editing and, of course, storyboarding. Good directors (and for that matter, good filmmakers) understand that it takes more than one person to make a film and to use the latest technology available, while not forgetting the tried-and-true techniques that have worked for years.

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posted by Vince Matthews in Digital Filmmaking,News Blog and have No Comments

Official Trailer: “The Dark Knight Rises”

Barreling upward through floor after floor of Gotham’s blue/gray skyscrapers…the camera rises steadily, acting out the verb in the movie’s title. Then come the words, whispered with urgency. “If you make yourself more than just a man…if you devote yourself to an ideal…then you become something else entirely. A story…a legend.”


Christian Bale suits up for a third – and last – time as Batman, Gotham’s protector.

The rapid-fire action comes hard and heavy—with a caped crusader using superior fighting skills and hot-shot technology to wage a one-man war on crime. There are jaw-breaking brawls. Things are exploding. And we’re getting a better look at “The Dark Knight Rises,” the final installment in director Christopher Nolan’s wildly popular “Dark Knight” series, which releases everywhere on July 20th.

The Bankable Batman
As with “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight,” the caped crusader will be played with total intensity by Christian Bale and his performance will be supported by Hollywood heavyweights like Michael Caine, Anne Hathaway, Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman and Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

The last Batman movie created a full-blown international sensation. “The Dark Knight” (helped by its IMAX presentation) dominated the 2008 box office, earned more than $1 billion worldwide, and served up Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actor and Best Sound Editing. That film remains the eleventh highest-grossing movie of all time and features a performance for the ages—delivered by the late Heath Ledger (who won an Oscar posthumously for his performance). His turn as The Joker electrified theater audiences and redefined super-hero villains.


Brains and brawn, Bane (Tom Hardy) brings the pain mentally and physically. 

Bane vs. Batman
This time out, Batman faces the brutal arch criminal Bane, portrayed by actor Tom Hardy. To bulk up for the role, Hardy gained 30 pounds. “Bane, to me, is something we haven’t dealt with in the films,” commented director Nolan. “We wanted to do something very different in this film. He’s a primarily physical villain.”

The actor was even more specific about what Bane is capable of: “The style is heavy-handed, heavy-footed, it’s nasty,” said Hardy in a recent interview. “Anything from small-joint manipulation to crushing skulls, crushing rib cages, stamping on shins and knees and necks and collarbones and snapping heads off and tearing his fists through chests, ripping out spinal columns. He is a terrorist in mentality as well as brutal action.”

In one clip, Bane has beaten Bruce Wayne nearly to death, then taunts the caped crusader, “When Gotham is ashes…you have my permission to die.”


Anne Hathaway roars into “The Dark Knight Rises” as Selina Kyle, better known as Catwoman.

Trailer Frenzy
The Dark Knight Rises” had some big shoes to fill, but Warner Bros. responded by unlocking its war chest and giving Nolan a $250 million budget for the final installment. In May 2011, Warner Bros. launched the film’s official website and recently released the third trailer for the film.

Like “The Dark Knight” (not to mention Nolan’s “Inception”), the new official trailer for The Dark Knight Rises contains plenty of elaborate set pieces and mind-blowing effects:

Expectations are running high for the third Christopher Nolan Batman film. Will it surpass the whopping billion-dollar box office of “The Dark Knight”? Stay tuned to this Bat Channel…

The End of the Beginning?
One of the most intriguing aspects of Warner Bros.’ marketing of “The Dark Knight Rises” is the slogan on the film’s poster: “The Legend Ends.” Is this the end of Batman? Unlikely, a money-maker like Batman will be rebooted by another director in the years ahead.

Superheroes and movie franchises are constantly being reinvented for new generations of film audiences. Effectively taking beloved characters and relaunching them with today’s latest Hollywood visual effects requires lots of creative energy, as well as a solid education learning how to create special effects. Why not spend your summer at film camp and learn how you take million-dollar ideas and transform them into box-office blockbusters? Maybe in future years we might be lining up for your big Hollywood premiere.

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posted by Phill Powell in Digital Filmmaking,News Blog and have No Comments

A Roundup of Reviews for “The Avengers”

“The Avengers” is officially the biggest comic book movie of all time. Name a box office record and the film has either broken it or is preparing to break it.


“The Avengers” is packed with action…and star power. The cast includes (from left): Robert Downey Jr. (Tony Stark/Iron Man), Scarlett Johansson (Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow), Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Chris Evans (Steve Rogers/Captain America), Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury), Jeremy Renner (Clint Barton/Hawkeye) and Mark Ruffalo (Bruce Banner/The Hulk).

But what are critics saying about the movie? We gathered comments from some of the nation’s top writers about film and here’s what they had to say about this summer’s mega-movie event…

Peter Travers, movie critic of “Rolling Stone,” had nothing but raves in his review:
“‘The Avengers’ has it all. And then some. Six superheroes for the price of one ticket: Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Hawkeye, Black Widow and the Hulk. It’s also the blockbuster I saw in my head when I imagined a movie that brought together the idols of the Marvel world in one shiny, stupendously exciting package.”

Owen Gleiberman of “Entertainment Weekly” awarded the flick a B+ rating in his critique:
“In terms of storytelling, ‘The Avengers’ is for the most part a highly functional, banged-together vehicle that runs on synthetic franchise fuel. Yet the grand finale of CGI action, set in the streets of New York, is—in every sense—smashing. True, it wouldn’t be out of place in a Michael Bay movie, but no Transformer was ever as transfixing as this leaping, flying, pummeling superteam. It makes you eager to see what they’ll do next, now that they’ve defeated a threat even bigger than their egos.”

In her Avengers review, Associated Press critic Christy Lemire praised the movie, especially the script:
“Whedon has come up with a script that’s cheeky and breezy, full of witty banter and sly pop-culture shout-outs as well as self-referential humor, one that moves with an infectious energy that (almost) makes you lose track of its 2-1/2 hour running time.”

Richard Corliss, of “Time Magazine,” gave the film a generally positive review, due to its sheer entertainment power:
“Reworking Zak Penn’s original ‘Avengers’ script, Whedon sat on his usual impulse to go meta; instead he served as expert mixologist for this all-star cocktail party. The movie guarantees fast-paced fun without forcing anyone to think about what it all means…”


“Hulk smash box-office records!” Ruffalo digitally bulks up for his role as the Hulk.

In his movie review, Michael Phillips of the “Chicago Tribune” gave it 3 out of 4 stars and called it “143 minutes of stylish mayhem”:
“So is this Marvel Comics franchise alumni reunion a full-on Hulk smash? Financially, yes, most likely (‘The Avengers’ is already killing ‘em overseas.) If the film is more solid and satisfying than terrific, so be it. Cleverly, writer-director Joss Whedon combines and recombines its various intramural rivalries. If you were a fan of two or three or more of the movies directly feeding into this one, you’re already planning on seeing ‘The Avengers’.”

Even Roger Ebert, the dean of American film critics, found much to admire in the movie, rating it 3 out of 4 stars in his write-up about the super-hero movie:
“‘The Avengers’ is done well by Joss Whedon, with style and energy. It provides its fans with exactly what they desire.”

Build Your Own Blockbuster!
It looks like “The Avengers” is well on its way to winning a huge chunk of this summer’s box office. But what about next summer? Young people can start learning the movie industry this summer, thanks to digital filmmaking camps offered by Digital Media Academy, which are taught by seasoned Hollywood professionals using the latest, cutting-edge software. We’ll see you at the theaters this summer for “The Avengers.” And next year, who knows? Maybe we’ll be lining up to see your hit movie.

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posted by Phill Powell in Digital Filmmaking,News Blog and have No Comments

The Best End-of-Summer Movie EVER

If you’re looking for a movie to celebrate summer, you can’t go wrong with George Lucas’ 1973 classic, “American Graffiti,” which is quite possibly the greatest end-of-summer movie ever made. People unfamiliar with the movie are surprised to learn that the “Star Wars” wizard made this film classic earlier in his career. And not only did “American Graffiti” put director/co-writer Lucas on the map, but it also relaunched the acting career of Harrison Ford and made other actors in the film major stars of television and movies.


Before ”American Graffiti,” Harrison Ford had given up acting and was supporting himself as a carpenter. The role of cruiser Bob Falfa lured Ford back into show business. Within four years, he would be world-famous for his role as Han Solo in “Star Wars.”

Once Upon a Time
In a Hollywood long ago, there was an enterprising young film student named George Lucas. Lucas met and partnered with Francis Ford Coppola (Francis Ford Coppola’s “Twixt” starring Val Kilmer releases this year). Together they made “American Graffiti” — Lucas directed, Coppola produced — and the results were cinematic magic, as Lucas sketched a lasting portrait of the last night of Summer 1962.

The film tracks its four primary characters as their paths intersect repeatedly during the night. But “American Graffiti” was practically the autobiography of George Lucas. Lucas grew up in Modesto, California during the 1950s; “American Graffiti” is set in 1962 Modesto. There’s a restless spirit in the air as the last long summer night unwinds and the streets are packed with teenagers cruising their hot rods (Lucas was also a gear head as a teenager). Made on a modest budget with many unknowns, the film became a surprise hit and its huge financial success (ultimately grossing more than $200 million) gave Lucas the industry cred he needed to make “Star Wars.”


George Lucas had only worked on a few films before ”American Graffiti,” which gave him instant industry clout.

The story is told through the eyes of four high school friends (and a massive cast of other unforgettable characters)See which stars you recognize in this trailer for “American Graffiti“.

In case you didn’t recognize the cast, that was Ron Howard (from TV’s “Happy Days” and now a respected filmmaker), Cindy Williams (TV’s “Laverne & Shirley”), Richard Dreyfuss (“Jaws,” “Close Encounters”), Suzanne Somers (TV’s “Three’s Company,” ”Step by Step”) and the man in the hat, “Indiana Jones” himself, Harrison Ford (wearing a white Stetson in this film).


George Lucas directs Ron Howard’s starring performance from under the counter at Mel’s Diner.

Ever wonder what inspired the long-running TV series Happy Days“ and kicked off a major 50s revival? This is it. Now recognized as a national treasure, “American Graffiti” took the simple premise of four friends hanging out together on the last real night of summer and turned it into a masterpiece that still speaks to each new generation. As long as there are teenagers with cars who are trying to find some action, there will always be a place for “American Graffiti.”

Music Makes the Mood; Details Make the Movie
Perhaps most interesting about “American Graffiti” is the extraordinary way that Lucas uses sound to set the mood in the film. The AM radio broadcast of DJ Wolfman Jack’s show seems to be blasting from every car and at every location. The hits (41 of them) just keep coming, and everyone and everything is tuned to the same station. No wonder the two-disc soundtrack album became a huge hit.


Paul LeMat became a 70s star on the basis of his portrayal of John Milner, the fastest hot rodder in the Valley. Model car kits are still available of his classic yellow Deuce Coupe.

“American Graffiti” is like an anthropology study of an ancient culture, explained in a wickedly funny and ultra cool way. The movie also has great precision in how it presents the time period, the last night of summer in 1962. Every detail of the era is correct and the energy of the film captures the time period, too. Ultimately, it’s about a slightly more innocent America, right before John F. Kennedy is assassinated and the country is sucked deeply into the Vietnam War and its own internal struggles over civil rights and the rise of the counter culture.

Telling Your Story
If you have a passion for filmmaking, follow your dream like George Lucas did. There are plenty of ways to do that: Take a course about movie making from professional filmmakers. Online courses can be good sources of information, too, although you’ll get your best training one-on-one from an industry filmmaking veteran who is passing their experience along firsthand.

At Digital Media Academy’s Stanford Filmmaking Summer Camp, students learn how to make digital movies from the pros. The program is taught by professional filmmakers, and daytime activities include real production meetings (just like Hollywood studios have) — you’ll also make a movie. Evening activities can include taking in a movie premiere like real Hollywood filmmakers (such as the special pre-release screening of the latest Harry Potter“ that DMA’s Stanford campers attended last summer). So now, are you ready to make a classic like ”American Graffiti”?

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posted by Phill Powell in News Blog and have No Comments

Sony Renews Official Sponsorship of Digital Media Academy

Sony Continues To Provide Professional HD Video Equipment For DMA Film and Video Courses Given At College and University Campuses in U.S. and Canada

Campbell, CA — The Digital Media Academy (DMA), a leading provider of film and video training for educators, adult learners and teens, announced today that Sony Electronics has renewed its official sponsorship and will remain the exclusive supplier of video equipment for DMA’s courses. Sony provides its most current state-of-the-art professional high-definition video cameras and other equipment for use by students in DMA consolidated classes, which take place throughout the summer on college and university campuses including Stanford, Brown, Harvard, U of Chicago, U of British Columbia in Vancouver, U of Texas, Austin and many more.

“DMA is thrilled to continue its successful relationship with Sony as a corporate sponsor,” said Dave Livingston, Director of Instruction for the Academy and its programs. “We’ve made our name providing beginner to advanced training for teens and adults, using the latest and greatest industry standard tools. This relationship puts the cutting-edge, professional Sony video technology, including the HDV™ series of digital video camcorders, directly into the hands of our film and video students.”

Sony’s high-definition camcorders are the choice of professionals working in a range of video applications including electronic field production and newsgathering, and event videography, as well as leading university film and video programs.

“Training programs like the Digital Media Academy are an important part of Sony’s educational focus,” said Shari Sentlowitz, Sony’s Education and Government marketing manager. “We are committed to preparing the next generation of industry professionals and educators, and we’re pleased to continue to be the exclusive video products provider to DMA’s film and video courses.”

Learning how to film with a Sony Camera

About the Digital Media Academy:
The Digital Media Academy (DMA) is a nationally-recognized organization offering hands-on learning in a broad range of digital media technologies. DMA offers a wide range of courses targeted at kids, teens, adults and educators, Founded in 2001 by a group of professionals from Stanford University, DMA is known for its premier summer programs hosted at prestigious destination campuses nationwide. In addition to its summer programs, DMA provides on-site training to schools and companies throughout the year.  For more information, go to  http://www.digitalmediaacademy.org or call 866-656-3342.

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posted by David in News Blog and have No Comments

Get Creative with a Music Video! Learn How at This Film Camp

Make a creative music video that will make you famous!

Come take film courses this summer at DMA! Be sure you are learning from the best! DMA has also teamed up with The John Lennon Educational Tour Bus to offer a Music Video Production course! You will learn the skills you need to make the perfect music video. As I always say… the only limit is your creativity! Here are a few famous music videos to get your creativity flowing….

….Ever heard of Ok Go?

How can anyone forget this famous music video from the band Ok Go – “Here We Go Again”? This music video went viral and took the internet by storm. The band didn’t include the normal drums, guitar and bass you’d expect. Instead, the rock band turned in their instruments for treadmills. With over 45,321,935 views on YouTube, you know this music video made this band famous.  httpvh://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pv5zWaTEVkI

….The White Stripes get creative in their music videos!

The White Stripes always seem to stretch the creative boundaries in their music videos. This is such a creative example of combining technical filming and editing skills with a truly original idea. The video becomes more complex and interesting with each beat! httpvh://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gLESpHrtvxs
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Here is another amazing White Stripes music video made with Legos! This is crazy creative. How much time do you think this could possibly take? Find out this summer!  httpvh://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XRDi67G0Siw

 

Get a Certification from DMA: Game Design, Maya, Film, Web Design

http://www.digitalmediaacademy.org

 

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posted by Philip Harding in News Blog and have Comment (1)