Despite its relatively low-tech visual effects, Steven Spielberg’s 1975 mega-classic Jaws still plays fast and excitingly for modern audiences, who can’t help but get swept up in its masterful storytelling and compelling action.
So how can this 41-year-old film (with limited special effects) still hold its own against even brand new summer movies that are loaded with every new visual effect you can imagine?
What makes Jaws so endlessly watchable and what lessons does it hold for filmmakers?
IT PLAYS AMAZINGLY WELL EVEN WITHOUT AMAZING EFFECTS.
Back in 1974, when a 27-year-old Spielberg created the movie, special effects were vastly less sophisticated or dependable. Jaws relied upon huge animatronic shark models with rubberized skins, operated by remote control.
Working with the faux sharks was a slow and clunky operation. The brutal Atlantic seawater proved deadly to barely functional equipment.
Sometimes the shark didn’t thrash or bite on cue. Or it sank. On another occasion, its powerful mechanical jaws nearly crushed the young director, who had bravely climbed into its mouth to see how well it was working.
The back-and-forth motion for the movie’s first attack was provided by teams of men moving ropes and jerking them in opposite directions. The first time the swimmer disappears underwater, the yank was provided by the director himself. (Jaws ©1975 Universal Studios. All Rights Reserved.)
IT MADE TECH ADVANCES.
Despite its simpler effects, Jaws found ways to pioneer some tech advances of its own. Its main step forward was a waterbox camera developed by the film’s Director of Photography, Bill Butler.
The waterbox enabled chest-level shots of swimmers actually in the water. Spielberg wanted the viewer to see the ocean from the normal perspective they would if they were actually in swimming.
This is not a boat accident. And it wasn’t any propeller. And it wasn’t any corral reef. And it wasn’t Jack the Ripper. It was a shark.
– Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss)
These shots are some of the most iconic from the film – especially during the frightening panic scenes where swimmers create an instant stampede trying to get out of the surf and away from a shark that’s been sighted.
Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) after examining the remains of the first victim. “And it wasn’t Jack the Ripper. It was a shark.” (Jaws ©1975 Universal Studios. All Rights Reserved.)
Jaws’ visual effects may be simple by today’s standards, but they were used smartly by Spielberg, whose sole demand upon accepting the directing assignment was that he be allowed to not show the shark for the first forty minutes or so.
Instead, Spielberg keeps showing us scary evidence of shark attacks…and keeps heaping on the suspense.
IT’S AN EPIC TALE BORROWED FROM EPIC SOURCES.
The real reason why Jaws is such a great flick even now is the strength of the script, adapted primarily by Carl Gottleib from Peter Benchley’s best-selling novel. (Benchley even makes a cameo in the film, portraying a local TV reporter.)
Gottleib first worked on the film as an actor (he plays Amity Island’s newspaper publisher), before reworking a screenplay that Benchley wrote.
Benchley’s book is a modern update on Herman Melville’s classic novel, Moby Dick, considered by many to be the ultimate American epic. Like Moby Dick, Jaws features a crusty old sea salt who thinks of nothing but bagging this big bad fish.
English movie star Robert Shaw was Spielberg’s third choice but proved absolutely unforgettable as Quint, the tough-as-nails captain who leads the hunt for the Great White. Quint’s such a tough guy that the movie never even bothers to give him a first name – just “Quint.”
You’re gonna need a bigger boat.
– Martin Brody (Roy Scheider)
EVEN ITS WORDS ARE SCARY.
In a film famous for its terror and suspense, one of the most intense scenes in Jaws involves virtually no action whatsoever. Spielberg has called this scene his favorite from the entire movie.
During a lull in the hunt, Quint talks about being left for dead in shark-infested waters during World War II, following the sinking of the U.S.S. Indianapolis.
QUINT: You know a thing about a shark. He’s got lifeless eyes. Black eyes…like a doll’s eyes.
Quint’s memorable monologue shakes us even more when we consider that the frightening events he describes really did happen to the crew of the Indianapolis. No less than three writers meticulously shaped this monologue.
Our first full close-up look at the famous shark occurs deep into the film. (Jaws ©1975 Universal Studios. All Rights Reserved.)
Then there’s the greatest adlib in screen history, courtesy of Roy Scheider, whose character gets his first up-close look at the Great White.
Brody is stunned at the terrifying sight, and slowly staggers backwards into the boat’s cabin. That’s when he mutters to Quint the movie’s most famous line:
BRODY: You’re gonna need a bigger boat.
It’s one of the greatest lines in all of movies and it wasn’t in the script at all. Pure Scheider.
IT’S GOT KILLER MUSIC.
Classic movies usually require great music – especially action or suspense movies, and Jaws features one of the legendary scores of all times. John Williams, the master composer known for his work on the “Star Wars” scores, crafted an urgent, immediate main theme, where a driving cello works a churning, back-and-forth theme between two notes in the lower register.
It’s one of the most immediately recognizable movie themes ever, but when Williams first previewed it for the director, Spielberg’s reaction was to laugh. He thought Williams – who was hammering the main theme on the piano with only two fingers – was joking.
But Williams explained how he was trying to capture the instinctive and relentless attack of a shark. The low thumping ostinato bass notes conveyed that perfectly and Spielberg suddenly understood its brilliant simplicity. Now the director credits Williams’ score “for half of the success of the movie.”
IT’S RUTHLESSLY EFFICIENT, EVEN BY TODAY’S STANDARDS.
Jaws was engineered to be an instant thrill-ride, which is why it still plays so well for modern audiences, even 40 years after its creation.
Consider: The first shark attack occurs within the first five minutes of the film. The second attack takes place within the first 15 minutes.
I value my neck a lot more than three thousand bucks, Chief. I’ll find him for three, but I’ll catch him – and kill him – for ten.
– Quint (Robert Shaw)
Despite taking the time to establish its main characters, the story is kept lean and tight and differs significantly from Benchley’s novel and that efficiency helps it continue playing for new audiences generations later.
It also matches many modern sensibilities. Because of the grueling location shooting, much of it taking place within the confines of a small fishing boat, Jaws relied upon handheld shooting. In this way, it predates most big-budget studio movies of its time.
Jaws was also ahead of its time in the way it was edited, or rather, where it was edited. At a time when studio movies were usually cut in edit suites on studio lots, Jaws was edited at the house of Spielberg’s preferred editor, Verna Fields, who won an Oscar for her brilliant editing of Jaws.
…May Be Too INTENSE For Younger Children
– Warning on Original Lobby Posters
At more than 40 years on, Jaws continues to hold up as a model of film production and a reminder that successful storytelling is more than just the sum of its parts. It’s also about achieving balance between those individual elements.
Do the visual effects work to advance and support the story? Are the characters well drawn and memorable?
Jaws still plays so well because of the enormous amount of attention that was paid to each aspect of its making. Ultimately, that’s the great lesson from Jaws for budding filmmakers: Learn your craft well.
Steven Spielberg was only 27 when he made Jaws, but he was already prepared. He had graduated from Saratoga High School and was taking college classes when he started interning with the Editing Department of Universal Studios.
On the basis of a short film he made, Spielberg was signed to a major multi-picture deal with Universal – the most lucrative for any young director. Prior to Jaws, Spielberg had also made two other films (Duel and The Sugarland Express) and directed numerous TV shows.
In other words, he was young but he was prepared and ready for his most challenging directorial assignment when it came along.
Maybe that’s the other key lesson of Jaws: Hit the ground running and learn filmmaking fully, from professionals. Opportunities may arrive before you know it!
America is a place where people, cultures and ideas all mix together. It’s only fitting then that Captain America: Civil War features one of the most diverse and plentiful cast of superheroes ever assembled in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Which side will YOU choose: #TeamCap or #TeamIronMan?
As a refresher, the subtitle of the first Captain America film was “The First Avenger.” And that’s true, because without Cap, there would be no Avengers. To continue this theme, Civil War will showcase roughly a dozen Avengers, from crowd favorites to awesome newcomers, in what will be one of the biggest gatherings of superheroes we’ve ever seen together on screen.
But considering Cap’s trademark selflessness, we don’t think he’d mind having all his new friends (and frenemies) make a debut in his third official movie.
Captain America: Civil War
These millennial superheroes aren’t your average civilians, but then, this isn’t your average Civil War.
If the movie is anything like the 2006-2007 Civil War series from Marvel, we can expect action-packed performances.
In the comic, Captain America and Iron Man find themselves on opposite sides of a heated political issue involving the government-required documentation of superheroes. Things get violent and a superhero “civil war” ensues, hence the film’s subtitle.
Here’s who will be fighting starting Friday (when the film opens), and which side they’ll be fighting for.
Steve Rogers/Captain America
Chris Evans returns as Steve Rogers/Captain America, making his sixth appearance in the MCU (well…seventh, if you include a shapeshifting Loki in Thor: The Dark World).
Sharon Carter/Agent 13
Emily VanCamp as Sharon Carter/Agent 13 got the jump on Frank Grillo’s Brock Ruslow/Crossbones in The Winter Soldier. Will he seek revenge this time around?
Funnyman Paul Rudd joins the cast of Civil War as Scott Lang/Ant-Man to give Team Cap a little help!
Anthony Mackie returns as Cap’s right-hand (er, wing?) man, Sam Wilson/Falcon.
Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye and Black Widow don’t see eye to eye. Is this Budapest all over again?!
Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch
Elizabeth Olson will return as Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch, whose growing power will make for an interesting clash against Team Iron Man!
Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier
Sebastian Stan returns as Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier, Cap’s long-lost friend/tortured soul – and he’s not very happy with Iron Man, to say the least.
Tony Stark/Iron Man
Robert Downey Jr. returns as Iron Man, finding himself on the right side of the law, but on the wrong side of Steve’s fists because of it.
Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow
If you can survive Budapest, you can survive a civil war. Scarlett Johansson returns as Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow, warning Cap of imminent danger on the horizon.
Jim Rhodes/War Machine
Don Cheadle (left) returns as Iron Man’s fellow super-suit operator Jim Rhodes/War Machine. He’ll be the guy responsible for a bunch of explosions and rad aerial tricks.
Paul Bettany previously voiced the character of Tony Stark’s J.A.R.V.I.S, then transcended into shiny super-android The Vision. He’ll be back for Civil War.
Tom Hollins debuts as Peter Parker/Spider-Man, a vital character in the Civil War comic struggling between following two of his superhero role models – but the trailers point to Team Iron Man.
Which Side Will You Choose?
So there you have it! The cast of Captain America: Civil War will be epic with lots of guaranteed action.
Whether you choose #TeamCap or #TeamIronMan, you’re always welcome to join Team DMA!
Documentary films have gained a bigger audience during recent years, largely thanks to streaming video services like Netflix, where consumers enjoy an endless movie “buffet” and can audition a wider number of films than they might normally be interested in.
Here’s a selection of five documentaries now available for streaming on Netflix. They range in subject matter, but all share something in common: Each is very watchable. And several are worth viewing more than once.
Check ’em out! You’ll be as informed as you are entertained:
For you-are-there filmmaking, it’s hard to top the wild voyage depicted in Maidentrip.
Director: Jillian Schlesinger
Most Tension-Packed Moment: A 16-year-old navigating a 38-ft-long boat through 60-ft-high waves.
Sometimes documentaries aren’t often thought of as being really exciting, but they sure can be. Maidentrip tells what can happen when a teenage Dutch girl decides she wants to sail around the world…by herself.
First, she has to get permission to undertake the crazy-sounding adventure from the Dutch Courts, who are sure that young Laura Dekker will kill herself in the attempt. (Keep in mind that she did this without any other boats trailing her to offer support. It’s truly just her, her small vessel and the sea.)
Dekker starts her trek in New Zealand. At first, it’s some kind of great trip, with the Dutch girl showing she’s got the sea in her blood. (She was literally born on a boat and lived the first four years of her life at sea.)
But, as you might expect, things don’t stay so sunny. Soon she’s battling worsening storms and constant loneliness and Maidentrip becomes as riveting as any filmgoer could hope.
THE THIN BLUE LINE
Director: Errol Morris
Most Chilling Moment: Visuals: Micro-cassette recorder, wheels slowly turning. Audio: Man confessing to murder.
Anybody who wants to learn how to make documentaries needs to know the work of Errol Morris. One of the greatest filmmakers of any type, Morris’ epic The Thin Blue Line retraces how justice got blindsided in the Texas case of an innocent man railroaded for the 1976 murder of a police officer.
The Thin Blue Line presents compelling evidence (including a tape-recorded phone conversation with the other key suspect, who confesses to the killing) that got Randall Adams freed after 12 years in prison. It’s a great movie that presently holds a perfect, 100-percent Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
It’s fascinating beyond just the information presented. There’s real cinematic poetry from director Morris, as well as a hypnotic soundtrack by minimalist composer Philip Glass. The result is a stunning film that pulses with reality, because it knows how to capture small details perfectly.
DECEPTIVE PRACTICE: THE MYSTERIES AND MENTORS OF RICKY JAY
He looks humdrum, but amazing Ricky Jay is the best card-trick magician ever. Just watch this…
Director: Molly Bernstein
Most Dazzling Moment: Jay throwing a card like a spinning blade of death, and piercing a watermelon rind.
An older, heavyset guy with a beard, Ricky Jay doesn’t come on like the world’s greatest showman. But this magician and card-trick genius exists in a class by himself.
Jay is a magic historian as well as a fantastic entertainer, and Deceptive Practice profiles him from his start as a child prodigy (first public performance: age 4) through his apprenticeship with some of the all-time greats of sleight-of-hand.
His magic shows are now sell-out events that draw celebrity fans. One review talked about how a lady at one New York show was so amazed by Jay’s magic that she didn’t even realize she happened to be sitting next to Al Pacino!
You won’t be able to figure out Jay’s tricks, nearly all of them astounding. You will know you’re in the hands of the master, and they are very quick hands indeed.
ENRON: THE SMARTEST GUYS IN THE ROOM
One of the worst corporate scandals in U.S. history becomes very entertaining movie fare in Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room.
Director: Alex Gibney
Most Ominous Moment: Revealing the first hint of trouble, Enron’s CEO loses it in a 2001 phone call with investors.
Documentaries are great at helping us sort out complicated events and showing us what really happened. Take the collapse of Enron, once the fastest-soaring company on the stock exchange.
Around 2000, Enron appeared to be the most innovative energy company ever. Really, though, it was a corporation fueled on lies as it tried to hide monumental debts beneath phony subsidiary schemes.
When it was all over, thousands of employees, shareholders and others had been cheated out of more than $11 billion – while trampled in a stampede of Enron executives running away with huge bags of cash.
Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room untangles all the twists in the scandal. It’s a chilling portrait of corporate greed, and how fast it can spread. On the positive side, the documentary shows what can happen when one plucky reporter (Fortune‘s Bethany McLean) sticks to her guns and repeats one simple question that Enron can’t honestly answer: How does this company make money?
BEST OF ENEMIES: BUCKLEY VS. VIDAL
Directors: Robert Gordon & Morgan Neville
Most Explosive Moment: Buttoned-down Buckley has a Christian-Bale-sized meltdown mid-debate.
We live in amazing times, but also amazingly divisive times, with much heated political debate between Americans. Best of Enemies proves this is nothing new.
Flash backwards nearly 50 years. The U.S. is trying to pick a President, while ABC News searches for a gimmick for its 1968 convention coverage. Brilliant Idea: Take two political writers who absolutely hate each other, put ’em in a cage and let the sparks fly.
This was no “pretend” show-biz feud, like we often see today. Ultra-conservative William F. Buckley, Jr. truly loathed ultra-liberal writer Gore Vidal, and the feeling was mutual. Each super-intellectual felt the other was dangerous, with ideas that could bring down the country. Their verbal dueling plays like a boxing match and almost turns into a real slugfest at one point.
Rife with comic moments and rich with 60s history, Best of Enemies is shockingly entertaining and very smart. It also shows exactly where and when today’s in-your-face media style began. (It’s not, however, for children and will best be appreciated by older, more mature viewers.)
MAKE DOCUMENTARIES WITH US!
Documentary filmmaking can change lives and enrich our culture. And you can learn it this summer at Digital Media Academy’s tech camps at Stanford, during the week of July 18 through 22.
Of course, documentary filmmaking is only one of the great filmmaking and visual effects courses taught at DMA.
For 15 years, we’ve been putting people just like you behind the camera. This summer, it’s your turn, at DMA.
Sure, you knew John Lennon was a musical genius who changed the world forever with his words and music. But did you know he also did some interesting acting along the way, too?
To be sure, John Lennon’s first love (and main talent) was music, and the world’s still reeling from how The Beatles changed music. But that didn’t prevent him from making some indelible impressions on the big screen and on television.
Here, then, are some of John’s peak movie and TV moments:
JOHN GOES DOWN THE DRAIN
The Beatles’ first movie, A Hard Day’s Night, is one of the cinema’s great comedies. (See it now!) It has only a very minor plot (i.e., Can The Beatles get to the big show on time?) but that doesn’t matter. The film is really an excuse to let us hang out with the Fab Four and absorb their funny and quirky personalities.
One great scene simply observes John as he enjoys a bubble bath, playing with toy boats, pretending to be a WWII U-boat commander and wearing a Greek fisherman’s cap as he bathes. “Rule Britannia! ” he sings in a comical voice, “Britannia rule the waves!”…before submerging his head beneath the bubbles. It’s really just John Lennon playing in the tub and acting goofy, and it’s great.
John makes bath time a fun time (in A Hard Day’s Night). Meanwhile, George has a close shave.
Then a Beatle manager enters to see that Lennon has seemingly disappeared down the drain with the sudsy bathwater. John then somehow cooly appears behind him, completely dried from his bath and asking the manager what’s taking him so long. Classic John moment.
BEATLES INVADE BIG APPLE
A Hard Day’s Night is a funny, tongue-in-cheek look at Beatlemania. For a backstage view of the real phenomenon, check out The Beatles: The First U.S. Visit, a 1991 documentary originally filmed in 1964 with the group’s cooperation.
It was made by David and Albert Maysles, two filmmaking brothers who really knew how to make documentaries that were fascinating and revealed core truths about their subjects. And with this assignment, the pair really hit the jackpot.
NYC erupted in February 1964 when The Beatles landed at JFK Airport. This movie captures that time in fascinating detail. The filmmakers had unprecedented access to the band members, following them around as they remained shut-ins at their NYC hotel, which was then under siege by thousands of crazed teenagers – all of them screaming as if they were being boiled alive.
The Beatles’ 1964 arrival in NYC shook up the entire world, and created pandemonium in New York.
Best moments: The boys break free and head to a dance club where they shake and shimmy with the rest of the New York crowd. Writer Ronn Spencer described it like this: “There’s the Peppermint Lounge crammed to the limit with continental hipsters and transistor sisters, all razor-cut and Fabu-lashed, moving and grooving to the Push and Shake.” (Footage from this classic scene also appears in A Hard Day’s Night.)
JOHN SERVES DINNER…LOTS OF IT
Immediately following 1967’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, The Beatles were full-on psychedelic, as the group’s next film showed in Technicolor. Magical Mystery Tour takes the band’s trippiest music down even more strange avenues. The title tour is a chartered bus trip filled with odd characters and, oh yeah, The Beatles. Great songs (“I Am the Walrus,” “The Fool on the Hill”), lots of strange moments:
Magical Mystery Tour tried to bring the Pepper magic to filmmaking, with mixed results.
Our favorite John scene: Appearing as a waiter with cheesy mustache and slicked-back hair, Lennon serves a diner a heaping plate of spaghetti – literally piling on the pasta with a shovel.
Great absurdist humor from the wacky John, whose own tastes in comedy included the brilliant British actor Peter Sellers. Lennon would tap into this same humor when he starred in 1967’s How I Won the War. Ironically, peace emissary John portrayed a British infantry soldier during WWII.
ROCKING ON THE ROOF
The documentary Let It Be is often so distressing for Beatles fans to watch that it’s been one of the rarer films available. This film captures the group near the end of its ride as it makes the album Let It Be. The exhausting strain of the group’s mega-stardom is clearly taking a toll. Nonetheless, there are some great musical moments.
Like the blow-out jam on the roof. On Jan. 30, 1969, the Fab Four ascended to the top of the Apple Music building in London for a final goodbye set. Lennon’s a revelation, wearing a fur coat and beat-up sneakers and playing tasty lead licks on his Epiphone Casino.
The Beatles rock out live one last time, while local constables and spectators look on (and upward).
Joined by keyboard collaborator Billy Preston, the band whips through a tight batch of tunes (“Get Back,” “Don’t Let Me Down”) until they hit their last public notes as a band. Then John, always the dry wit, takes the mic to deliver his final statement on the group he had originally started: “I’d like to say ‘thank you’ on behalf of the group and ourselves…and I hope we passed the audition!” Did they ever.
JOHN AND YOKO…AS TALK SHOW HOSTS?
It started when he and Yoko appeared on The Dick Cavett Show back in September 1971. Originally a tight-lipped interview subject, John discovered Cavett’s questions were intelligent and then the ex-Beatle really started opening up. Long story short: John and Yoko liked Cavett’s show so much that they kept talking long after the taping concluded, and enough material was captured for a second program.
John and Yoko would return to Cavett’s show in 1972, the same year their most amazing TV moment occurred: The pair was tapped to co-host The Mike Douglas Show for a full week.
This became one of the oddest events to ever hit American television. John was a leading counterculture figure at the time while The Mike Douglas Show was one of the most mainstream talk shows on the air. It made for a strange mix.
Many viewers were shocked to meet a Lennon who was warm, chatty and funny – and surprisingly down to earth and normal. (He even eagerly participated in cooking demonstrations!)
Wacky 70s Pop culture event: John and Yoko co-host The Mike Douglas Show in February 1972. Mike opens the first show by crooning a Lounge-style cover of The Beatles’ “Michelle.”
In addition to showcasing Lennon musical guests like classic early Rocker Chuck Berry, there were astounding hippie moments.
None more so than when John and Yoko led their show guests in picking out numbers at random from a phone book and calling them, then introducing themselves and telling the mystified person answering the phone that they “really loved them” and asking them to call another stranger with a similar message of goodwill. (Hey, it was the groovy 70s, okay?)
FIND YOUR VOICE!
Right now, Cinequest 2016 is taking place in San Jose, Calif. It’s the kind of freewheeling art festival John Lennon might have really enjoyed, given his wide-ranging interests, which definitely included film. (Not only did he make movies with The Beatles, but John and Yoko created an interesting body of experimental films together.)
In fact, the John Lennon Educational Tour Bus (JLETB) is appearing at Cinequest to reach out to young people who want to positively change and challenge the world with their creative vision. The Lennon Bus carries on the proud tradition of artistic invention forged by John and Yoko.
We’ll be there, too, happy to be supporting The Lennon Bus. At Digital Media Academy, we share the same mission as the JLETB, striving to empower the world creatively by teaching people about today’s powerful artistic technology.
Check out Cinequest, and find out online where the Lennon Bus will be rolling next. And for the tech learning experience of a lifetime, consider joining us this summer at DMA tech camp locations across the U.S. and Canada.
Find your voice in film or music production or plenty of other great tech subjects.
Like John sang (in “All You Need is Love”), “It’s easy!” And DMA can show you how easy.
It’s that time again. Hollywood’s biggest night…the Oscars!
We’re only hours away from this year’s presentation in Los Angeles. The broadcast will be hosted by funnyman Chris Rock and will be attended by the shiniest stars from the world of entertainment.
Like everybody else, we’re trying to predict which movies and performers will be honored with Oscar gold.
But since we’re all about tech here at DMA, we thought it would be interesting to show you the winners, if technology were the sole criteria:
BEST PICTURE: THE MARTIAN
Ridley Scott’s The Martian was the most riveting (and scientifically accurate) space movie in years.
BEST DIRECTOR: GEORGE MILLER (MAD MAX: FURY ROAD)
BEST ACTOR: MICHAEL FASSBENDER (STEVE JOBS)
Michael Fassbender captured the unknowable mystery of the title character in Steve Jobs.
BEST ACTRESS: JENNIFER LAWRENCE (JOY)
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: SYLVESTER STALLONE (CREED)
You can’t help rooting for Sly Stallone to win for Creed. (Hey, he’s Rocky, for crying out loud!)
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: JENNIFER JASON LEIGH (THE HATEFUL EIGHT)
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: EX_MACHINA
Alex Garland’s magnificent script for the mind-bending Ex_Machina, made for the year’s top robot tale.
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE: STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS
John Williams‘ score for Force Awakens will triumph over Ennio Morricone’s work for The Hateful Eight.
BEST VISUAL EFFECTS: STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS
J.J. Abrams and company pulled off one brilliant visual effect after another in the year’s biggest movie.
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE FILM: INSIDE OUT
It’s unthinkable that Pixar’s Inside Out – a critical and commercial smash – won’t take home Oscars.
BEST MAKEUP & HAIRSTYLING: THE REVENANT
COME MAKE MOVIES WITH US!
It’s always fun to watch the Oscars and celebrate the peak achievements of the film year.
But for us at DMA, we really look forward to our own screenings of student-produced films made at DMA tech camp locations across the U.S. and Canada. It’s always exciting to see what kind of films they come up with!
You should join us this summer. Digital Media Academy offers a variety of filmmaking and visual effects tech camps, courses and academies. There’s something for every young person’s filmmaking interest.
At DMA, we’ve been teaching young people how to express themselves through film for 15 years now. Our graduates often go on to film schools and some achieve rewarding careers in the film and television industries.
This summer’s not far away. Go ahead and start doing the thinking needed to get you to a DMA filmmaking camp this summer!
When the 2016 Academy Awards are held in Los Angeles, one of the most closely watched races will involve an actor who’s been an Oscar contender for 40 years.
That’s how long it’s been since Sylvester Stallone first became a massive international movie star. Stallone was nominated for Best Actor in 1977 for his breakout performance as boxer Rocky Balboa. He’s nominated again this year for Best Supporting Actor.
And, in a piece of irony that you just can’t write, he’s been nominated for playing the exact same character. After all these years, he’s still playing Rocky. And, as his recent Golden Globes victory for the movie Creed showed, movie crowds are still cheering him on.
Here are some things we bet you never knew about the actor known as both Rocky and Rambo:
Work Horse Over the last five decades, Sylvester Stallone has proven himself to be a tireless creator. IMDB credits him with 73 acting performances, 8 stints as a director, and as producer on 12 projects. Perhaps most impressive: Stallone has written 28 films, including all six “Rocky” movies, all four “Rambo” movies, and all three films from “The Expendables” franchise.
Tough Stuff To say Stallone struggled in school was an understatement. He was expelled from 14 schools before he turned 13. And his high school class voted him “Most Likely to Die in the Electric Chair.” Still, he got his act together and attended the University of Miami on an athletic scholarship.
The Italian Stallion Stallone was not physically imposing until he saw the movie Hercules Unchained as a teenager and decided to become a body builder. (“I’m not a genetically superior person,” he said. “I built my body.”) In his prime, Stallone says he bench-pressed as much as 400 pounds and squat-pressed 500 pounds. He has advocated eating ice cream for breakfast, as a means of giving his body lots of calories to burn up during his physical fitness regimen. He has said that he works out each weekday, then takes the weekends off.
The Real Rocky? In 1975, Stallone heard how the most famous boxer on the planet, Muhammad Ali, was going to fight an unknown club boxer named Chuck Wepner. An inspired Stallone wrote the original Rocky script in three days, its premise based largely on the Ali-Wepner fight.
Art imitates life: This Ali-Wepner match was the model for the plot of Rocky.
Paint It Black As a struggling screenwriter, Stallone painted his apartment windows black to keep himself from becoming distracted by the outside world.
From Rags to Riches On the day the studio approved the Rocky deal, thus making Stallone’s dream come true, he only had $106 to his name. His current net worth is somewhere north of $400 million.
Up for Anything Although he’s known as an action hero first and foremost, Stallone has made some interesting departures into very unexpected performances.
In the 1984 comedy Rhinestone, for example, he starred opposite Dolly Parton as an aspiring Country singer, performing his own vocals. The movie is now regarded as among the worst of all time. Stallone himself said of Rhinestone, “You’d have thought we got together and decided how we could fastest ruin our careers.”
Totally bizarre: Stallone in Rhinestone.
Roles He Passed On In order to make Rhinestone, Stallone turned down two huge films: Romancing the Stone, which transformed Michael Douglas into a major movie star, and Beverly Hills Cop, the Eddie Murphy smash that became the highest-grossing film of 1984.
Other big roles he passed on: Superman (1978) and Pulp Fiction (1994), where he was offered the role played to acclaim by his close friend Bruce Willis. And speaking of Willis, Sly was also offered his part in Die Hard, the movie that established Willis as an action star.
Built for Punishment Even at age 61, in the most recent “Rambo” installment, Stallone executed a lot of his own action stunts, as he has done throughout his career. This has often proven tricky. In the first “Rambo” film (First Blood), Stallone jumped off a cliff. As he came down, he collided with tree branches that instantly cracked one of his ribs.
But that’s not as bad as the blow he absorbed on the set of Rocky IV. While boxing with action star Dolph Lundgren, Stallone (the director) instructed the 6’5″, 235 lb. Lundgren to him to hit him with everything he had. The uppercut Lundgren threw was so powerful, it actually pushed Stallone’s heart into the back of his rib cage. Stallone nearly died when his heart muscle started to swell afterward. The actor was airlifted to a hospital for emergency surgery. He was in such bad shape that on first seeing him, the hospital doctors thought Stallone had been in a car crash.
But that’s not the toughest stunt he remembers. That happened during the shooting of 1981’s Nighthawks, when Stallone was suspended 250 feet above New York’s East River, dangling beneath a cable car. The difficulty was compounded by Stallone’s fear of heights, as well as the fact that during the previous day’s shooting, the cast and crew had witnessed someone jumping to their death from a bridge over the river. But Stallone, ever the trooper, nailed the stunt.
Roles He Didn’t Get He auditioned for The Godfather, but according to Stallone, he “couldn’t even get hired for the wedding scene.” Still, in Rocky, Stallone played opposite Talia Shire, who was in The Godfather and is the sister of Godfather director Francis Ford Coppola.
Then there’s Star Wars. Stallone auditioned for the role of Han Solo, but later admitted that he didn’t really see himself “in spandex holding a ray gun.”
Best Pals Although they were rival action stars through much of their careers, Stallone’s best friend is Arnold Schwarzenegger. The pair, along with other buddy Bruce Willis, originated the Planet Hollywood restaurant/club franchise.
Brush Strokes Stallone’s hobby is oil painting. He says his hero is Leonardo Da Vinci.
The Long Haul When The Expendables opened in 2010 as the Number 1 movie, it made Stallone the only performer to have starred in a film that opened in the top slot…in each of five different decades.
A New Oscar Record It’s been 39 years since Stallone’s first Oscar nominations for Rocky and his current nomination. That’s a new Academy Award record.
The film Rocky has had an enormous impact on generations of moviegoers, who love it for its simple virtues, heartfelt performances and thrilling boxing sequences. Its original audiences still remember the first time they walked out of the theater, totally pumped after seeing one of the most inspirational films of all time. (The AFI ranked it the fourth-most inspiring film of all time.)
We know how much this film means to fans because we see it when our Digital Media Academy students attend our tech camps at the University of Pennsylvania. Very often our students have to make a pilgrimage to the Philadelphia Museum of Art to re-enact the famous “Gonna Fly Now” training sequence that was shot there. (As many visitors to the area do.)
Some of these kids (ages 6-12) and teens (ages 12-17) come to DMA to learn how to make films and follow in Sly’s steps as someone who makes movies, either for fun or potentially as a career.
Of course, that’s only one of the many fascinating tech subjects being taught at DMA, and only one of our many tech camp locations across the U.S. and Canada.
Maybe this summer is your time to get inspired. DMA can help give you that inspiration, as well as the tech tools to make it a reality. At DMA, we can show you how.
The Incredible Hulk has been smashing his way through television and movies since the 1970s and there’s always more green goodness on the way, courtesy of Marvel Studios.
The Hulk is a creature of constant change, and he’s gone through quite a bit in the past:
The Incredible Hulk (1978-1982)
The highly-rated television series starred TV icon Bill Bixby as the genetics researcher altered by his experiment. Part of CBS’ Friday night ratings juggernaut (along with Dallas), the program ran for 82 episodes over five seasons.
Journeyman TV actor Bixby was the producers’ first choice for the role of Bruce Banner, but much casting went into finding the right Hulk. Arnold Schwarzenegger auditioned for the role, but was thought to be too short. Bodybuilder Lou Ferrigno finally won the role – and three-hour makeup sessions (his green wig was made out of yak hair). After five seasons, CBS sold the TV franchise to NBC, which went on to make three made-for-TV Hulk movies, two of which were directed by Bill Bixby himself.
Directed by Ang Lee, this film was the first time the raging green monster made his way to the big screen. The Hulk made an impressive $245 million worldwide but had more than its fair share of film-production headaches.
The project began back in 1990 and went through several re-writes (at one time or another, at least ten different screenwriters were working on the project). In addition to Eric Bana, the film featured Sam Elliott, Jennifer Connelly and Nick Nolte, as Bruce Banner’s father, David. In the end, mixed reviews and upset fans caused the film to be removed from the Marvel Universe.
The Incredible Hulk (2008)
After Hulk fans expressed their extreme dissatisfaction with the 2003 film, Marvel reacquired the film rights and began making a movie that would meet fans’ expectations. One of those fans was actor Edward Norton, who liked the original comic book, as well as the original television series. When Norton was brought on board the movie (directed by Louis Leterrier), he not only took on the role of Bruce Banner but also served as script doctor, rewriting large chunks of Zak Penn’s script.
The movie grossed $263 million worldwide, scoring $58 million of that from DVD sales alone. As the production began, there became increasing conflict between star Norton and the film’s producers. Eventually it was decided that despite his major acting chops and writing talents, the Hulk franchise and Edward Norton would not work together again.
Our New Hulk
Mark Ruffalo replaced Edward Norton in Marvel’s The Avengers after negotiations between Norton and the studio broke down. Joaquin Phoenix was also rumored to be considered for the part, but in the end, Ruffalo stepped up and not only played the role, but owned it. For the voice of the Hulk in The Avengers, the filmmakers tapped Lou Ferrigno, who played the Hulk in the original television show, and who has often voiced him in other versions.
Actor Ruffalo spoke about playing the character(s), saying, “(Bruce Banner is) a guy struggling with two sides of himself, the dark and the light; everything he does in his life is filtered through issues of control.”
What does he think about his “hulking” alter ego? “(He’s) a loose cannon – he’s the teammate none of them are sure they want. It’s like throwing a grenade into the middle of the group and hoping it turns out well!”
It looks like it’s turning out well – Ruffalo has enjoyed playing the Hulk so much, he has a multi-film deal based on the role. And based on audience reaction, it appears fans have finally found their not-so-jolly green giant.
USING CREATIVE POWERS TO MAKE SUPER POWERS
Before the Incredible Hulk can smash up the screen, artists must use incredible creative powers. It takes a small army of animators and visual effects artists to bring the Hulk to life.
This summer, you can start learning the skills that Hollywood pros use to make this magic, by attending Digital Media Academy summer film camps.
Come learn what it takes to be involved with film as a hobby, or maybe even as a profession! DMA can show you how.
It’s an intriguing question for movie lovers: What film has sold the most tickets?
Based on recent headlines, you’d think it had to be Star Wars: The Force Awakens…or maybe the original Star Wars. Or perhaps one of James Cameron’s mega-blockbusters: Avatar or Titanic. Right?
Wrong. The movie that has generated the most ticket sales of all time contains only minimal special effects. Plus, it’s been around so long – 77 years now – that only two of its original cast members are still alive.
THE ALL-TIME TICKET-SELLING CHAMP IS…
We know, we know. You’re still scoffing from this most unexpected news. (“What? Some old-dude movie?”) But here are the facts, from our friends at Wikipedia:
Across all releases, it is estimated that Gone with the Wind has sold over 200 million tickets in the United States and Canada, and 35 million tickets in the United Kingdom, generating more theater admissions in those territories than any other film.
In total, Gone with the Wind has grossed over $390 million globally at the box office.
In 2007 Turner Entertainment estimated the gross to be equivalent to approximately $3.3 billion when adjusted for inflation to current prices, while Guinness World Records arrived at a figure of $3.44 billion in 2014, making it the most successful film in cinema history.
Part of why Gone with the Wind has achieved such huge numbers is the number of theatrical releases the film has had. Since its original run in 1939, the movie has been re-released to theaters no less than nine times.
Everybody wanted dashing Clark Gable to play Rhett Butler – even book author Margaret Mitchell.
THE ORIGINAL BIG, BIG BLOCKBUSTER
The movie made from Margaret Mitchell’s hugely successful and Pulitzer-Prize-winning book Gone with the Wind can claim to be the first real blockbuster.
It was truly “years in the making.” Casting the film alone took a full two years, and more than 1,400 different actresses were auditioned before British stage actress Vivian Leigh captured the role that would win her a Best Actress Oscar and make her a lasting screen icon.
The script was written and re-worked numerous times. At least three different directors helmed the film at different times. The scope of the film – set in a period that begins right before the Civil War and ends during Reconstruction – was enormous, requiring untold numbers of extras and armies of production personnel.
The story was a mashup of romantic dramas and historical dramas and the movie offered as much emotion as spectacle. The film (overseen by legendary producer David O’Selznick) was bigger and more professionally produced than any blockbuster Hollywood had ever seen.
To re-create the burning of Atlanta, inventive visual effects were created to depict out-of-control fires.
OPENING NIGHT FIT FOR A KING
The Atlanta premiere and first run of Gone with the Wind were events of historical significance – as big as the recent opening of Star Wars: The Force Awakens and probably even larger.
Former U.S. president Jimmy Carter was a young boy in Georgia at the time of the film’s release. It was so monumental that he later recalled it as “the biggest event to happen in the South in my lifetime.” During his entire lifetime…
Local church choirs were brought in to sing at the movie’s opening gala, which lasted for several days. One of the young members of one church’s choir who sang at the event would himself grow up to change life forever in the South: Martin Luther King, Jr.
Meanwhile, as the film opened around the country, incredible lines formed at theaters lucky enough to be running the biggest film of its day. Audiences were electrified by the brilliant portrayal of the headstrong Scarlett O’Hara by Vivian Leigh, as well as Clark Gable’s rakish turn as the dashing (and often very funny) Rhett Butler.
Beyond that, the look of the film was nothing short of magnificent. It had romance, drama, action, humor, spectacle and grandeur. In short, everything.
It was a massive piece of entertainment, and a lengthy one. At 238 minutes, nearly 4 hours, the film required an intermission. There was also originally an overture that preceded the opening credits and exit music.
AN EARLY SCREEN FEMINIST AND A MIXED LEGACY
It can be argued that Gone with the Wind‘s heroine, Scarlett O’Hara, was an early feminist.
There’s much evidence in the plot to support this idea, including the fact that she both owns and runs a successful lumber business, is able to kill to protect herself when necessary, and outlives the entire downfall of the South. Scarlett O’Hara is a survivor, which is part of the film’s enduring popularity.
Despite being British, Vivian Leigh proved perfect to play fiery southern belle Scarlett O’Hara.
What is not part of the film’s enduring popularity is the fact that this is a film about a time when slavery was the law of the land in the U.S., and it was made at a time when U.S. civil rights laws were still horribly regressive and often cruel to African-Americans.
Critics of the film have pointed out the unfairness of many of its depictions of black characters, and those critics are right.
History, however, is a complicated thing. And while looking at the film now, you can’t help but notice its many racially offensive and insensitive moments, there’s no doubt that the movie also opened doors for many actors and actresses of color.
This is, after all, the first performance by a black actor to ever receive an Oscar. Actress Hattie McDaniel floored audiences and stole every scene she was in. She received the Best Supporting Actress Oscar, beating out one of her (white) co-stars.
Such ironies make Gone with the Wind a film with a complicated, mixed legacy. Seen from our modern vantage point, we have to judge that the movie now reflects as much about 1930s American society as it does about the 1860s – and what it reveals is often hard to square with our evolved views on race.
COME MAKE YOUR OWN CLASSIC FILMS
Despite serious flaws that reflect the worst aspects of its time, Gone with the Wind remains a sumptuous and larger-than-life piece of filmmaking, and one that effectively predicted our current fascination with the blockbuster film.
But now it’s time for new storytellers to take command of the medium of film and start crafting the new epics of the Silver Screen.
You can start doing it this summer at Digital Media Academy summer film camps.
DMA has tech camp locations across the U.S. and Canada, and we offer a range of different filmmaking camps and courses, so you can select the one that best speaks to the type of filmmaking you want to do.
The world of film awaits you this summer at DMA.
Today the nation commemorates the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. But while the whole world knows his name and understands his basic story, there’s still a lot you may have never known about the man.
To borrow a phrase from poet Walt Whitman, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “contained multitudes.” So here are some amazing things you may not have known about MLK:
- Family Business King came to the preaching profession naturally. Not only was his father also a Baptist minister, but so were his grandfather and great-grandfather.
- Originally Named Michael When his father toured the German home of Protestant reformation leader Martin Luther, young Michael King, Jr. (age 5) was renamed in honor of him…after the father first changed his own name in tribute.
- Choir Boy King always loved music, and had an amazingly talented choir voice. At age 10, he sang with his church choir at a major Atlanta event – the world premiere of the classic Gone With the Wind.
- Brilliant Student King was a genuine whiz kid, so bright that he skipped the 9th and 12th grades. He entered college at 15. Then, after earning his B.A from Morehouse University, he received a Ph.D from Boston University.
- Talented Writer King was one of history’s most famous speakers; unsurprisingly, he was a good writer. However, he was above that, considered a true literary talent. (His “Letter from Birmingham Jail” is regularly taught in college English classes as a model of essay writing.)
- Adlibbed Historic Speech Perhaps MLK’s most famous moment was his March on Washington speech, given in 1963 at the Lincoln Memorial. He had finished his prepared remarks when gospel singer Mahalia Jackson (King’s friend) yelled out, “Tell them about the dream, Martin.”
Then, in front of 250,000 attendees, King launched into the famous “I Have a Dream” section of the speech – which wasn’t even included in his prepared text. That’s how powerful a speaker King was: He adlibbed the most electrifying moment of the 1960s civil rights movement.
- Youngest Nobel Winner King’s work as a leader was based strongly on the principles of civil disobedience, which teaches to create change without violence. For his work, he was awarded the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize. At only age 35, he was the youngest winner ever.
- Personal Heroes King was a Baptist minister, so it’s not surprising that he listed Jesus Christ as a personal hero. He was also strongly influenced by Indian leader Mohandas Gandhi, as well as the American writer Henry David Thoreau and Russian War and Peace author Leo Tolstoy.
- Grammy Winner In addition to other awards, King has a fairly unique distinction among political leaders: he won a Grammy. In 1971, three years after his assassination, an album of his speeches, called “Why I Oppose the War in Vietnam,” received a Best Spoken Word Grammy award.
- Arrested for Beliefs MLK is a revered national icon now, but at one time he was considered highly dangerous by many Americans. One of them was J. Edgar Hoover, ultra-powerful director of the FBI, who hounded King with surveillance and harassment for years.
King had to stand up and be counted on multiple occasions, eventually getting arrested nearly 30 times – sometimes jailed after participating in marches and demonstrations and often arrested and incarcerated on falsely based charges.
- The Threat of Danger King faced the threat of physical beatings and possible murder for more than a decade. He was a constant target of haters, receiving an unending supply of death threats.
He was also nearly killed in 1958, when a disturbed person at a book-signing event stabbed King in the heart with a letter opener, nearly ending his life.
He used the experience to demonstrate the full depth of his convictions, choosing to forgive the would-be assassin.
- The Shadow of Death King would not get the chance to forgive James Earl Ray, the man convicted for firing a rifle slug into Rev. King as he stood on the balcony of a Memphis hotel in April 1968. King died at the scene. He had talked openly about the possibility of his own death at a speech…the night before his murder.
King’s assassination created massive national unrest, but the public outcry helped ensure the passage of historic U.S. Civil Rights legislation, signed into law a few days following his death.
A LEGACY WITHOUT END
Although murdered at the young age of 39, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. helped promote monumental social change in America.
His legacy carries enormous importance, not only to African-Americans, but to all U.S. citizens who cherish the nation’s ideals of equality. Even more than that, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. has come to be regarded around the world as a symbolic figure who helped lead a great struggle for human rights, and ultimately became a martyr for his beliefs. His inspiration continues to be felt in many lands.
And it’s still remembered passionately in his own country, which continues to struggle with the same old themes of race and inequality. Were MLK still with us, no doubt he would remind us of the work still left to be done here in America. And then he would get busy doing it.
YOUR MLK DAY ASSIGNMENT
This MLK Day, why not take some time to find out more about the extraordinary achievements of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.?
One great way to experience King’s legacy in action is by viewing the 2014 biopic Selma. The film brings to life the turbulent history of the 1965 civil rights march in the Alabama city named in the title.
It’s an exciting, compelling movie, anchored by a magnetic performance by actor David Oyelowo. Although he doesn’t exactly resemble Dr. King, Oyelowo perfectly captures the intriguing and complex nature of this fascinating public figure.
Director Ava DuVernay’s Selma is an example of how movies can make history that’s even 50 years old feel alive and current. This is a riveting movie – especially for anyone who might want to learn filmmaking.
Happy MLK Day…from Digital Media Academy.
Star Wars mania is again in full swing, as the world lines up to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Viewing Mark Hamill play Luke Skywalker as an older man reminded us of something that showed a much, much younger version of the fabled Jedi pilot. So through the magic of time travel, we return you now to a piece we first published in April 2012:
Ever wonder what Darth Vader would have been like if he raised Luke Skywalker as a child? Thanks to cartoonist Jeffrey Brown, we’re about to find out. In Brown’s book, Darth Vader and Son (from Chronicle Books), the artist explores the legendary relationship in a fresh and funny new way.
“Luke…I am Your Father!”
Officially licensed by LucasArts, the book imagines what might have happened if Darth Vader — despite his ominous role as the Dark Lord of the Sith — had actually been present and actively involved in raising his son, Luke Skywalker.
The concept started out when Brown was approached by Google to create a Father’s Day-themed Google Doodle. While the idea was ultimately abandoned, Brown liked the concept so much that he asked Google if he could pursue it on his own. Google agreed and Brown took the concept to Chronicle Books, which helped broker a deal with Lucasfilm and George Lucas.
For Brown, it was a dream project. “Star Wars was the first film I saw in the theater,” he said an interview, “And half my toys growing up were ‘Star Wars’ toys.” He also got complete creative control over the project from Lucasfilm – something that Lucas is not known for. Aside from suggesting a few minor corrections here and there, Brown said he received no interference whatsoever.
Another bonus for Brown was being able to reflect the very real relationship he has with his young son, who was four during the creation of the book. “I think part of what was so fun about this idea is like, as a parent, there’s things you just kind of have to put up with,” he explains.
“They can be really frustrating. So the idea of this dark master, lord of the Sith, having all that power, and in the end, here’s this 4-year-old who can be, ‘No Dad. I don’t want to do it.’ And he’s powerless against it. He’s gotta maintain that presence of power in the universe, but when it’s his own son, he has to rein it in a little bit. That tension is what was fun to play with.”
If the book is successful, Brown hopes to do a follow-up featuring Princess Leia. (That seems very likely since pre-orders for Darth Vader and Son have far exceeded the publisher’s expectations.) Darth Vader and Son can be ordered through Amazon and Chronicle Books.
Turns out that Darth Vader and Son was a huge hit, and Jeffrey Brown followed it a year later with a book for fathers and daughters, called Vader’s Little Princess!
The “Star Wars” films have provided a treasure trove of entertainment for generations of moviegoers. Not only did the franchise create characters that have stood the test of time, but George Lucas created an entire universe with special effects that sparked the imaginations of writers, directors and those interested in filmmaking for years to come.
Creating comic book characters or learning the art of Hollywood visual effects can get you into the film or publishing industry.
And before you know it, you could be the creating the next Star Wars-inspired blockbuster or fan comic that becomes a bestseller…like Darth Vader and Son.
Dreams start early at DMA.