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The Director’s Chair Issue #100 – Sept. 22, 2009 (The Current Status of Visual Effects)

Free Monthly Ezine for Film and Television Directors

September 22, 2009                Scene 10 – Take 7

Published once a month.

Publisher: Peter D. Marshall
Email: mailto:pdm@actioncutprint.com
Web Site: http://www.actioncutprint.com


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1. Introduction
2. This Month is the 100th Issue of this Ezine!
3. Special 100th Issue Anniversary Sale
4. Two Bonuses for Subscribing to The Director’s Chair
5. FEATURE ARTICLE – The Current Status of Visual Effects
6. Write an Article for The Director’s Chair
7. Subscriber Shameless Self-Promotion
8. Subscriber Links of Interest
9. BLOG – Film Directing Tips
10. Are You on Twitter?
11. Filmmaking Workshops
12. Back Issues of The Director’s Chair
13. Subscribe & Unsubscribe Information
14. Copyright Information


Welcome to ISSUE #100 of The Director’s Chair (Sept 22/09)


Algeria, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Bahamas,
Bangladesh, Barbados, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina,
Botswana, Brazil, Bhutan, Cambodia, Cameroon, Canada, Chile,
China, Croatia, Cuba, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark,
Dominican Republic, Egypt, Estonia, Ethiopia, Faroe Islands,
Finland, France, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary,
Iceland, India, Indonesia, Iran, Ireland, Israel, Italy,
Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Kenya, Republic of Korea, Republic of
Kosova, Kuwait, Lebanon, Liberia, Lithuania, Macedonia,
Malawi, Malaysia, Malta, Mexico, Monaco, Morocco, Namibia,
Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, Pakistan,
Peru, Philippines, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Qatar, Romania,
Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Sierra Leone, Serbia and
Montenegro, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sudan,
Sweden, Swaziland, Switzerland, Syria, Taiwan, Tanzania,
Thailand, Trinidad and Tabago, Tunisia, Turkey, Uganda, United
Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States, Uruguay,
Venezuela, Vietnam, Yugoslavia, Zambia, Zimbabwe

NOTE: If your country is not represented here, please let me
know and I will add it to this ever growing list.

2) FEATURE ARTICLE – the special feature article this month is
called “The Current Status of Visual Effects” by Jon Cowley
who worked on the movie “District 9” as a VFX Sequence
Supervisor for Image Engine VFX.

“Visual Effects have become the multi-million dollar
juggernaut star of modern mass cinema and as such, have become
just as unruly and demanding as the most ardent of Hollywood

Summer is the ultimate domain of the Visual Effects
Blockbuster.  Ray Harryhausen’s stop motion monsters have
evolved into ILM’s car stomping Jurassic dinosaurs.  Our
superheroes now swing on a CG thread through a CG New York
City with a CG helicopter chasing after a CG man dressed like
a spider.” (Read entire article below.)

the 100th issue of this ezine, I have reduced the price on all
three of my online filmmaking courses. (See Section 3 below)

4) FACEBOOK – The Director’s Chair has it’s own page on
Facebook. If you haven’t signed up to Facebook yet, I
sincerely recommend you think about doing it. Facebook is a
fabulous place to meet people who share your passions and it
is one of the top Social Networking sites on the Internet.
Here’s the Facebook home page: http://www.facebook.com

Once you are signed up, type in “The Directors Chair” and
the page should come up. Sign up as a fan and then start to
join the discussion forums, post photos, videos and write on
the Walls. If you are already a member of Facebook, here is
the direct link to the page: http://snipurl.com/923qh

From time to time I will contact you by email to inform you of
certain film workshops or filmmaking products or Online
courses that I feel are beneficial to filmmakers like
yourself. Of course, you are under no obligation to purchase
anything. I only offer this information as a service to
subscribers of this free ezine.

6) SHARE THIS EZINE – Share this Ezine by email and forward
it to your friends and associates.

7) SUGGESTIONS & COMMENTS – Send any comments, suggestions,
questions or advice to: mailto:comments@actioncutprint.com

8) REPRINT THIS EZINE – This Ezine may be reprinted with
permission. Email me at: mailto:pdm@actioncutprint.com



Peter D. Marshall


I am very excited to announce that this month is the 100th
published issue of this free monthly ezine. The first issue
was published on April 10, 2000.

Go back in time and check out the very first published issue:
Feature Article: “Working With Actors: Part 1”


For subscribers of “The Director’s Chair” only.

To help celebrate the 100th issue of this ezine, I have
reduced the price on all three of my online filmmaking

“The Art and Craft of the Director Audio Seminar”
Regular Price – US$67.00
Sale Price – US$27.00

“Script Breakdown and Film Scheduling for Indie Filmmakers”
Regular Price – US$67.00
Sale Price – US$27.00

“Creating the Daily Prep Schedule for Feature Films and TV Productions”
Regular Price – US$27.00
Sale Price – US$17.00

This special “100th Issue Anniversary Sale” will be for three
days only: Friday, Saturday, Sunday, September 25, 26, 27, 2009.

I will send you another email shortly with all the details on
how you can purchase any of these three filmmaking courses at
special reduced prices.


Thank you very much for subscribing to this ezine.

BONUS #1 – Here is the link to download the first 28 pages of
my 201 page pdf Online Audio Course:, “The Art and Craft of
the Director Audio Seminar.”

BONUS #2 – Here is the link to download the first 24 pages of
my 137 page “Script Breakdown and Film Scheduling Online
Course For Independent Filmmakers.”

5. FEATURE ARTICLE – “The Current Status of Visual Effects”

“The Current Status of Visual Effects” by Jon Cowley.

Visual Effects have become the multi-million dollar juggernaut
star of modern mass cinema and as such, have become just as
unruly and demanding as the most ardent of Hollywood divas.

Summer is the ultimate domain of the Visual Effects
Blockbuster.  Ray Harryhausen’s stop motion monsters have
evolved into ILM’s car stomping Jurassic dinosaurs.  Our
superheroes now swing on a CG thread through a CG New York
City with a CG helicopter chasing after a CG man dressed like
a spider.

There was a time when there were places that the camera could
not go, shots that were impossible – but thanks to the digital
age, every miniature blood vessel, distant alien planet, deep
ocean bottom and snow swept mountain top are now fair game.
But while VFX may have blown the door wide open on the types
of tales that Directors and Writers can tell, the principles
of telling an engaging story have not changed.

By the end of summer ‘09, Terminator Salvation has been out
for 15 weeks and  only recouped $125 million of its’ $200
million budget.  Star Trek is up $100 million.  Transformers 2
is up $200 million.  X-men Origins: Wolverine is only $29
million dollars over its’ $150 million dollar budget and that
doesn’t include the marketing costs of the studio and the
theatres share of the pie.

And what does all of this mean to you – sitting at home with
your much, much, much smaller budget and big, big, big dreams
of digital grandeur?

Unless you are James Cameron or Peter Jackson…. Less is still

It does not take a lot of money to make a great movie – it
just takes a lot of tough choices.  How you spend what money
you have on VFX is just one of them.  The boon of budget
limitations is that they force people to be more aware, more
conscious, and more precise.  Just because you can – doesn’t
mean you should.

Take for example Steven Spielberg’s Jaws. The now infamous
mechanical shark named Bruce was intended to feature
prominently through the film.  Fortunately for the film, the
shark spent most of the production broken down.  His grand
hero shots gone, Spielberg was forced to revise his approach:
be more creative.  Instead, much of the film was shot from the
shark’s point of view.  This limitation, although not a budget
limitation, forced the Director to think of new approaches
that ultimately created a more intense, claustrophobic, and
chilling effect.

Additionally, both 2006’s Pan’s Labyrinth and this summer’s
District 9 have upped the bar on what is possible. In dollars
and cents , Guillermo Del Toro spent $19 million and the film
garnered $83 million at the box office.  District 9, with a
budget of $30 million has surpassed $110 million in sales
after three weeks.  More importantly, both of these films have
experienced great critical success ranking in the top 100
films on IMDb.

As with any advance, VFX is maturing into yet another
storytelling tool.  Initially, most Directors treated VFX as a
large, scary black box.  Studios treated it as a shiny money
making bauble that would have crowds flocking to see the
latest and greatest innovation; like acts at a carnival.

From this has arisen a new breed of Directors who are
reverting back to more traditional storytelling, character
development and are using VFX to enhance and further the
story, as opposed to glitz and gloss, to patch over poorly
thought out shots, stale dialogue and weak acting.

With respect to independent or smaller budget films –the same
principles apply:  First – can you? Second – should you?

Start by either contacting one of the myriad of VFX companies
out there or a freelance production VFX Supervisor.  The
business models that exist range from one or two artists in a
basement to boutique specialty shops of fifteen to overseas
companies to the tried and tested big players that have their
stamp on all of Hollywood’s larger shows.  There are reams of
students fresh out of college, seasoned veterans that have
left the larger companies to freelance from home and start up
companies looking for just the right project to partner with.

You will usually be put in touch with a VFX Producer and VFX
Supervisor that will help to break down your script – flag and
suggest possible VFX shots – propose ways of making your
dreams fit your budget – and use their years of experience to
help you steer clear of some of the possible VFX money pits
that exist.  Whatever you do though – make sure you contact
these people FIRST  before you shoot.  Just because your kid
brother made a youtube video with a greenscreen, it doesn’t
guarantee that your pride and joy won’t fail the audience’s
ever more savvy eye.

Think of VFX as you would traditional filmmaking:  sets cost
money; characters cost money; explosions cost money.  In the
computer, your digital helicopter, digital army and digital
tsunami still need to be built and they can still cost a lot
of money.

Do you need it?  Resist the urge to do something just because
it would be ‘cool’.  Determine whether this VFX shot tells
your story and conveys the necessary emotion.

Can you do it practically?  The adage “fix it in post” is a
famous one – but often the costly result of poor planning,
rushed decisions or lack of consultation.  A good VFX
Supervisor will let you know whether your perceived simple fix
is actually worth tens of thousands of dollars or whether you
really should take the extra five minutes to do it correctly
on set.  On the flipside – VFX can help you achieve what would
otherwise be a physically dangerous or risky shot or give
life, character and emotion where a practical rubber puppet on
an animatronics rig cannot.

Are your designs and ideas VFX smart?  The rules in the
digital world are not quite the same as the rules in the
practical world.  What might be perceived as something simple
and easy to do can actually be very difficult and expensive.
Other concepts can be very easily achieved in VFX while being
problematic practically.  Subtleties such as whether your
camera is moving or stationary, prime lens instead of zoom
lenses and focus can make a huge difference.  Stylized designs
as opposed to photorealism, dark lighting as opposed to broad
daylight, wind, rain, water, and fire are all huge x-factors
that should be carefully considered.

Have you budgeted enough time?  The production triangle is
just as important in VFX as in other areas.  The process
requires time, talent and hours of computing and
trial-and-error.  All of this requires money.  Factor this
into your schedule.

Have you thought outside of the box?  Filmmaking requires
ingenuity, smarts and a touch of magic.  Bring those same
skills to your VFX arrangements.  There are talented artists
all over the world that you can utilize.  Students, who with a
little patience, will revel in the opportunity to hone their
skills on your project.  Full service companies have sprung up
in China, India, Eastern Europe, Thailand and host of other
countries to supplement the already established players.  Tax
credits for VFX are readily available and many of them can be
utilized regardless of where you live, film or post.

The reality check: visual effects have opened up a world of
new story possibilities.  Films that were once “unfilmable”
are now being filmed and filmed very well.  As with all new
technologies, there is a period of testing and pushing the
boundaries and visual effects have gone through this same
process.  While there will always be a market for the
monstrously budgeted summer popcorn movies, the good news is
that for the regular filmmaker, the tools, techniques, skills,
costs and options have evolved to a place that is making them
accessible to all. As a filmmaker though, the onus will still
be on you to be creative with your financing, flexible with
your schedule, really think through which VFX are necessary
and to do your research.

By being smart and keeping the budget small given the scope of
the film, Neill Blomkamp was able to make District 9 with
little to no studio involvement. $30 million dollars is still
a lot of money, but District 9 is a prime example of an
independent film with all CG lead characters, over 500 visual
effects shots, a digitally savvy director, and an intriguing
and action packed story that successfully counters the way
Hollywood has approached VFX films to date.  The story is
still paramount, the visuals support the story and final
product has been a critical and financial success across the
world.  This same success is now accessible to you and any
other industrious storyteller willing to take a few risks, be
open to a new array of tools and embrace the endless places
that VFX can take your story.

Jon Cowley is a Vancouver based freelance VFX and Onset
Supervisor.  He was recently a VFX Sequence Supervisor at
Image Engine VFX and was a key part of the team that delivered
more than 320 computer generated alien shots for the feature
District 9.  Over the past decade, Jon has had the opportunity
to creatively contribute VFX to TV, movies-of-the-week and a
slew of feature films such as Jason X, Panic Room, The
X-Files, Stay, Cats and Dogs 2, Are We Done Yet? and Watchmen,
as well as large projects for the Asian market.

By combining a business background, Engineering and Fine Art
education more than 10 years of VFX experience, he has begun
to branch out into the production end of the VFX industry.
This has entailed helping producers, writers and directors
develop their properties, design their VFX, assess their VFX
needs and budgets and establish connections between those
wanting to create properties requiring visual effects and
those with the skill sets and capabilities to deliver them.

Examples of his District 9 work can be found either at Image
Engine’s website: http://www.image-engine.com or a personal
sample VFX reel and VFX design reel can be found at:
http://vimeo.com/5785868 and http://vimeo.com/6183425
Jon can be contacted at mailto:jcowley@roguevfx.com

6. Do You Want to Write an Article for The Director’s Chair?

If you would like to contribute articles, tips, links of
interest, industry news, interviews, special event dates or
other resources to The Director’s Chair, please email me at:


Each month, I give two subscribers an opportunity to promote
themselves, their company or their productions in this
section. If you are interested, send your “shameless
self-promotion” to: mailto:pdm@actioncutprint.com.

Please limit your promotion to less than 200 words. I also
reserve the right to edit the promotion for length, spelling
and formatting.

1) Adrienne Farr – My name is Adrienne Farr and I am a
Filmmaker, Writer and Actress. Please view my book at
http://www.lulu.com/content/2108216. I have worked on the
reality show Dead Tenants which aired on TLC and on the CNBC
hit show dLifeTV which airs every Sunday. I just wrapped a
short film called, “Harlem Shuffle” where I worked as
Co-Producer and First AD. I have two short films in “the
works,” and need funding for two short films of my own. I am a
quick learner, extremely talented and always give 200% in
everything I do. I am NOT an industry prima donna. I will do
whatever is necessary to move the production forward. I would
like to work with you as Producer, First AD, Production
Manager or gain more knowledge and experience by coming to an
established Director’s film set and watching you work. Contact
me at mailto:adrienne@dreimproductions.com and read some of my
articles at http://www.thedammagazine.com. I’m not looking
for charity, just an opportunity.

2) Phyllis K Twombly – I’m a three time self-published author
who’s constantly looking for low cost ways to promote on-line.
The video was something I put together on a zero dollar budget
using what was already available. The mannequins fill in
nicely for real actors. I recently signed a contract with a
more traditional publisher, largely because it may help
promote my other novels. I didn’t know if the 200 word limit
included links or not, but here’s my attempt at shameless

Brilliant science fiction author seeks readers who want to be
entertained, made to laugh and encouraged to think. Phyllis K
Twombly is Canadian, and as Hollywood has taught us Canada
creates some of the best and brightest authors, film makers
and actors in the entertainment industry. Twombly’s Martian
Symbiont series begins with an advanced group of people who
return to Earth because a space virus wiped out their women.
They’ve ‘tried everything’ but the alien symbiont they
developed in space won’t allow them to start families until it
senses compatibility and willingness on the part of human
women. Cloning and hilarity ensue. There are three titles out
so far: Been Blued (2007,) Martian Blues (2008,) and Martian
Divides (2009.) A fourth title is to be released in 2010.

There’s Twitter: http://twitter.com/ScifiAliens

There’s a website: http://www.ScifiAliens.com

There’s promotional trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Za4rMs0zl70

Twombly is living up to her website slogan of ‘putting fun
into scifi.’ All three titles can be purchased on-line through
most book or e-book retailers or by calling 1-800-AUTHORS

Phyllis K Twombly


“Subscriber Links of Interest” is where you can further
promote yourself, your company or your productions by having
your information displayed on a special links page at:

If you are a subscriber to this ezine and you want me to put
your self-promotion on this page, just send an email to:

Again, I also reserve the right to edit the promotion for
length and formatting.


Please take some time to look through the many blog postings
on my filmmaking blog, FilmDirectingTips.com and make some
comments on the posts – your feedback is important to me
because they will help me decide on the content I will add to
this blog.

RSS – http://filmdirectingtips.com/wp-rss.php
FEEDBURNER – http://feeds.feedburner.com/FilmDirectingTipsAndResources

Here are some of the latest blog entries I have made:

– 7 Fascinating Filmmakers to Follow on Twitter
– Quentin Tarantino spills filmmaking secrets
– Filmmakers like S3D’s emotional wallop
– Hollywood Hijacks History
– The Literal Steps to Film Making Symbolism


Twitter is a free social networking and micro-blogging
service that allows users to send and read other users’
updates (otherwise known as tweets), which are text-based
posts of up to 140 characters in length.

Twitter is one of the best and quickest ways for friends,
family or people with common interests to stay in touch.

It’s also becoming one of the best ways to promote yourself
and your films on the Internet!

If you have a Twitter account, let’s follow each other. You
can follow me at http://twitter.com/bcfilmmaker.

I also suggest you follow my partner Trilby Jeeves at

11. FILMMAKING WORKSHOPS – Peter D. Marshall

I have worked in the Film and Television Industry for over
35 years – as a Film Director, Television Producer, First
Assistant Director and Series Creative Consultant. I’ve been
asked many times to share my Film and TV production
knowledge with others. As a result, I developed several
workshops that I have successfully presented over the past
15 years.

To find out more about these workshops, just click on the
link below. If you are interested in any of these four
workshops for yourself or your organization, please contact
me to discuss how we can bring these workshops to you.


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Peter D. Marshall
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