Filmmaking Independence

How Clarkson’s Auto-show "The Grand Tour" is Changing the Face of Television

How Clarkson’s Auto-show "The Grand Tour" is Changing the Face of Television

The opening desert scene of "The Grand Tour" says one thing, big budget extravaganza. Jeremy Clarkson was the former presenter of the hit auto-show “Top Gear" at the British broadcaster the BBC before being sacked. Afterwards, along with his co-presenters James May, Richard Hammond, and producer Andy Wilman, they formed the production company W. Chump and Sons Limited of London. Next move, strike a deal with Amazon for north of 200 million dollars to produce a 12 episode show on their own terms filmed in 4K Ultra HD, bypassing the traditional gatekeepers. 

Why Design Thinking is Important in Film Development?

The time I spent studying in Europe has changed the whole way I think about creativety. I consider myself so fortunate that I was able to attend a graduate art school in Europe with a unique curriculum. I studied Film Directing and Design Context Research in the School of Design at the University of Edinburgh (Edinburgh College of Art). I remember the anticipation my classmates and I felt to get started on crafting our film masterpieces, but not so fast...we all had to learn how to do design research first alongside our studio projects. This meant that we had to sit in on design research education with other majors from across the college including product design, animation, design informatics, glass, graphic design, materials practice, illustration, performance costume, etc.

With amazing energy and well thought out lectures various professors from each of the various disciplines within the college lectured on how they approached their craft. Each lecturer had an enormous passion, unique style and a vastly different perspective, but they all approached their work from a common starting point - Design Thinking. Every single one demonstrated that we could apply this model to film development or whatever discipline we were in.  They would describe these lectures as "Context," and say things like, "context is everything in design." Although we all heard and believed what they were saying, it has taken some time for these words to sink in and to find a formal place in my film development and today's business environment. Below is snapshot of the film development design process I followed for my graduate thesis film, Konoyo.

Design Research Lecture at University of Edinburgh (Edinburgh College of Art)

Fast Company: Design thinking...what is that?

Although Design is most often used to describe an object or end result, Design in its most effective form is a process, an action, a verb not a noun. A protocol for solving problems and discovering new opportunities. Techniques and tools differ and their effectiveness are arguable but the core of the process stays the same. It's taken years of slogging through Design = high style to bring us full circle to the simple truth about design thinking. That it is a most powerful tool and when used effectively, can be the foundation for driving a brand or business forward.

Basically Design thinking consists of four key elements.

1: Define the problem

Sounds simple but doing it right is perhaps the most important of all the four stages. Another way to say it is defining the right problem to solve. Design thinking requires a team or business to always question the brief, the problem to be solved. To participate in defining the opportunity and to revise the opportunity before embarking on its creation and execution. Participation usually involves immersion and the intense cross examination of the filters that have been employed in defining a problem.

In design thinking observation takes center stage. Observation can discern what people really do as opposed to what you are told that they do. Getting out of the cube and involving oneself in the process,product,shopping experience or operating theater is fundamental. No one's life was ever changed by a PowerPoint presentation.

Design thinking in problem definition also requires cross functional insight into each problem by varied perspectives as well as constant and relentless questioning, like that of a small child, Why?, Why? Why? Until finally the simple answers are behind you and the true issues are revealed. Finally, defining the problem via design thinking requires the suspension of judgment in defining the problem statement. What we say can be very different to what we mean. The right words are important. It's not "design a chair", it's…"create a way to suspend a person". The goal of the definition stage is to target the right problem to solve, and then to frame the problem in a way that invites creative solutions.

Question; How many designers will it take to screw in a light bulb? Answer; Why a light bulb?

2: Create and consider many options

Even the most talented teams and businesses sometimes fall into the trap of solving a problem the same way every time. Especially when successful results are produced and time is short. Design thinking requires that no matter how obvious the solution may seem, many solutions be created for consideration. And created in a way that allows them to be judged equally as possible answers. Looking at a problem from more than one perspective always yields richer results.

Many times we are not aware of the filters we may be burdened with when we create answers to problems. In this stage opportunites appear. The trick is to recognize them as opportunities. Multiple perspectives and teamwork are crucial. Design thinking suggests that better answers happen when 5 people work on a problem for a day, than one person for five days. Designers have an advantage in the use of 2D and 3dimensional tools to demonstrate solutions and new ideas -- tools which are almost always far more effective to demonstrate what is meant, than words.

3: Refine selected directions

A handful of promising results need to be embrace and nurtured. Given a chance to grow protected from the evil idea-killers of previous experience. Even the strongest of new ideas can be fragile in their infancy. Design thinking allows their potential to be realized by creating an environment conducive to growth and experimentation, and the making of mistakes in order to achieve out of the ordinary results. At this stage many times options will need to be combined and smaller ideas integrated into the selected schemes that make it through. Which brings us to stage 3.5.

3.5 Repeat (optional)

Design thinking may require looping steps 2 and 3 until the right answers surface.

4: Pick the winner, execute

At this point enough road has been traveled to insure success. It's the time to commit resources to achieve the early objectives. The byproduct of the process is often other unique ideas and strategies that are tangential to the initial objective as defined. Prototypes of solutions are created in earnest, and testing becomes more critical and intense. At the end of stage 4 the problem is solved or the opportunity is fully uncovered.

While of late, there has been quite a lot of discussion regarding what Design thinking is and how businesses can leverage it, as suggested in the introduction to this piece this is not a new or unproven idea.

From Wikipedia: Herbert Simon, in the "Sciences of the Artificial" (MIT Press, 1969) has defined "design" as the "transformation of existing conditions into preferred ones" (p. 55). Design thinking is, then, always linked to an improved future. Unlike critical thinking, which is a process of analysis and is associated with the 'breaking down' of ideas, design thinking is a creative process based around the 'building up' of ideas. There are no judgments in design thinking. This eliminates the fear of failure and encourages maximum input and participation. Wild ideas are welcome, since these often lead to the most creative solutions. Everyone is a designer, and design thinking is a way to apply design methodologies to any of life's situations.

Simon goes on to describe a seven step process: Define, Research, Ideate, Prototype, Choose, Implement, Learn.

Whether the protocol is outlined in a seven, four or even three stage process, see – shape – build, it all comes from the same place a proven method that always delivers. And it doesn't matter what opportunity or problem is put into the front end of the process.

The end result of this simple yet highly effective protocol can be a better mousetrap, symphony, or dry cleaning service. Implied in design thinking is an objective view and a warm embrace of risk and new ideas.

That said, the outline above is a structure and while it may seem counter intuitive, structure can be one of the key elements to enhancing creativity in problem solving. Design legend Charles Eames once famously said: "design depends largely on constraints". This is very true; sometimes you need to draw the box in order to know what to break out of. After that, the manner in which options are considered, ideas are refined and selections are executed are the key.

Design thinking describes a repeatable process employing unique and creative techniques which yield guaranteed results -- usually results that exceed initial expectations. Extraordinary results that leapfrog the expected. This is why it is such an attractive, dynamic and important methodology for businesses to embrace today.

The Third & The Seventh by Alex Roman: Some of Best Architecture Photographic Like Art I Have Ever Seen

Alex's films have been on the web for quite a while now but I still watch them and remain in awe. I like to watch them in morning sometimes before I go to work while I am drinking a coffee. Try it, his films totally wash over your brain and put you in a brilliant mindset to begin the day.

The Third & The Seventh from Alex Roman on Vimeo.

Can you believe nothing you have just seen is real - all CG. This is one of the most extraordinary jobs of compositing I have ever seen and Alex is kind enough to share all of the details of how he is doing it with these screen captures below:

Tim Ferris and BitTorrent: Treating your Non-Fiction or Fiction Project as a Start Up


Photo via: CBC News Art & Entertainment

The way we publish our media projects is changing everyday with the advent of digital distribution and publishing technologies. Amazon seems to be leading the way with it's e-publishing platforms and Kindle technology.

Tim Ferris is most known for his book, 4-Hour Work Week. Matt Mason is the marketing guy at the peer to peer sharing engine - BitTorrent. When Tim choose the new Amazon e-publsihinbg model for his new book he was snubbed by some of the traditional brick and mortar retail book stores such as Barnes and Noble. This forced him to seek alternatives to market his book. On the advice of a wise friend he teamed up with BitTorrent to get his book out there. Shortly afterwards his book went from being boycotted by Barnes and Noble to becoming the first BitTorrent bestseller. In this video Matt and Tim talk about the approach behind Tim's successful strategies including his BitTorrent Bundle.

Tim says you could look at his latest book, the Four Hour Chef perfectly through the start up lens. You could view the advance as your first round of funding to get the team off the ground working and collaborating remotely from all over the world. He says, even the tools he used such as Basecamp, Dropbox, Evernote are all basically the tools you would associate with start up culture or business ops - very much modeled after the successful companies that he is working with already.

Why is Tim's approach significant for filmmakers?

Even though they are speaking about the book publishing space most of the lessons apply to filmmakers as well. Matt says Tim's approach may be fine for non-fiction projects but asks what if you are in narrative or storyteller? (14:30)

If you are in fiction there are many analogues to what successful authors do in nonfiction and in fact if you look at the genres that do best on whether is Amazon or at retail the books that really move heaven and earth when they hit are almost all fiction. Look at last year 2012 I believe it was something like 20% to 25% of all books sold in US at retail were Fifty Shades of Grey an astronomical number. There's no nonfiction book that will match that.

What that provides from the standpoint of storytelling is the ability to include all the stuff that didn't make it in because there are just as many excerpts, just as many things that were cut, just as many characters that didn't make it as there are the outtakes of bonuses that I provided in the non-fiction bundle. The benefit that I think fiction has is that it is intrinsically focused on story arc so you can whether you use imporved distribution through BitTorrent or other types of promotion to rally, you can push into other types of adaption for uses of that material where non-fiction is much more constrained. Very few movies are made from non-fiction books, very few.

I think the same approach to focusing on niche populations for specific aspects of the book applies. You not going to approach LifeHakcer, but you might approach any number of a hundred other sites that are focused on whether it is entertainment or even specific context within book. So, I can't wait to see an accomplished fiction writer take their tools and bring them into a world that I am already very comfortable with including BitTorrent because I think it could really outshine and outpace everything that I have done quite easily if it is positioned the right way. So, I will be watching very closely to see when that happens...

As filmmakers maybe we need to be investing more time in our approach and collaborative methods such as the recently announced Adobe Anywhere Tool or similar type ideas.

What do you think of approaching your non-fiction or fiction project as a start up?

Posted via: BitTorrent Written by David Stephen Simpson / I am filmmaker from Canada now currently based in Osaka, Japan. I spent the last several years lecturing English in Japan at a foreign language university, experimenting with label design, organizing events, and teaching myself filmmaking on the side.

Making HENRi: Eli Sasich's Low-Budget Sci-fi Short Film Odyssey

This short film has truly inspired me more than any other in recent memory. I bought the Henri the film and the Behind the Scenes film about five minutes after I first saw the trailer. Eli Sasich has managed to bring together all the things I love into one beautiful piece of work. He harnessed the use of a simple but great story, in-camera effects, model miniatures, puppetry, a beautiful soundtrack, and managed to limit the use of CG. Not to mention he got Margot Kidder/Lois Lane from Superman (the first movie I saw in the theater) and Kier Dullea/Dave from 2001: A Space Odyssey (one of my all time favorites). Just amazing, I can't see enough about this project. I sent my congratulations along to Eli on his Facebook page. This guy has a real future and I am waiting to see what he does next.

Enter Eli Sasich

A little over three years ago, I decided I wanted to make a sci-fi short film about a robot trying to become human. My idea was to combine live action with miniatures and rod-puppetry – despite having no previous experience with special effects. Initial reactions from family, friends, and collaborators were of the “Are you insane?” variety – perhaps rightfully so. It was at that point I knew I had to make the film.

What followed was an odd combination of luck, coincidence, and disaster – three ingredients that are rarely talked about, yet I’m convinced are completely inseparable from the process of making a movie. I’d add in creativity, hard work, and collaboration, but those go without saying. This story is about the other stuff.

HENRi was born out of my fascination with the science fiction films of the 70s and 80s. I probably owe more than a little credit to the influential work of Isaac Asimov and Philip K. Dick as well. I love it when sci-fi subverts genre conventions to tell unique stories about the human condition. My particular interest for this film was memory and its intrinsic relationship with consciousness. I also wanted a robot of my very own.

Early on in the process I turned to Kickstarter to help raise funds for the project. Focusing on the unique aspects of the production – the story, the heavy use of in-camera effects, and miniatures – we exceeded our fundraising goal by almost $7,000. The show of support from complete strangers was incredible and unexpected. Suddenly, we had funding, a community, and a green light.

My approach was to make the film as professional looking as possible with the small budget that we had. I knew I couldn’t do that alone, so I crossed my fingers and blind-contacted some of the best in the business. With my passion for the project and some definite luck, I was able to bring on Tim Angulo as director of photography and Jefferson Richard as producer. Tim’s work includes shooting the miniatures for Spider-ManThe Dark Knight, and Inception, among many others. He adapted to our microbudget, do-it-yourself attitude, and was an integral part of getting the film made. Jefferson was my producer, but more importantly, my mentor – coincidentally, Orson Welles was his. Jefferson wrangled an uncharacteristically complex production for a short film, and kept things moving with next to no money. Needless to say, I was in good hands.

Having Keir Dullea and Margot Kidder join the project was another crucial element of the film’s success. I’m often asked at festival Q&As how we were able to get Keir and Margot to star in the film, and the answers are disappointingly simple. Our casting director happened to be a college roommate of Margot’s. To get Keir, we just asked. One of the many things this film taught me is to always go for your top choices, no matter how out there. The worst that can happen is someone says no. I am very humbled by the fact that through Keir Dullea, my little sci-fi short film shares a connection to 2001: A Space Odyssey – something that would have never happened had I not simply asked.

Building the ship

Building the ship

We shot the majority of the film in a warehouse in Salt Lake City, Utah, working with a local Hollywood effects veteran. The concept of using quarter-scale miniatures to create HENRi was initially born out of necessity – we just didn’t have the budget to build full-size sets – but I also wanted to use the technique because that’s how the classics were made. Seeing everything come together was my favorite part of the process – I grew up reading Cinefex and building models, so I loved being able to pitch in and help out where I could. We built the entire world of the film piece by kit-bashed piece in a little over a month.

The honeymoon was short.

Working with miniatures and puppets is an extremely time-consuming process, especially when you add motion control into the mix. It’s often frustrating, and in many ways very limiting. Henri, our robot main character, was an 18-inch rod-puppet – which is essentially an articulated doll. Rods were attached to his legs, arms, torso and head; this allowed three or four people working in tandem to manipulate his movement. We would shoot Henri first, usually averaging around 20 takes before time restraints forced us to move on. We would then shoot a clean background plate, giving us the ability to digitally erase the rods in post-production. This process typically took anywhere from three to six hours, and was repeated for every shot featuring the robot – over 60 in all!

Animating the rod-puppet

Animating the rod-puppet

Unfortunately, Henri didn’t perform as well as we had hoped. That’s a polite way of saying the rod-puppet didn’t really work. In the end, only about 15% of the Henri shots were usable. Suddenly, the clean plates became much more important. I was left with no choice but to finish the film as planned, knowing we would need to go back and create a fully digital character in post-production – an idea that terrified me. Going over budget was all but a certainty now, and even more worrisome was the prospect of creating a photo-real robot. If Henri wasn’t a believable character, the film would be dead on arrival. It was a disaster, and I thought we were sunk.

Fortunately, the artists at Blufire Studios in Utah believed in the project and stepped in to handle the complicated effects work that was necessary to complete the film. This unforeseen work in post had a bright silver lining – the animators needed motion reference to create the digital Henri, so we ended up shooting video reference footage of every shot with an actor standing in for the robot. I was thrilled – it gave me a chance to direct a performance and breathe some much-needed human life into the character, giving Henri something the rod-puppet couldn’t – and it never would have happened without everything going wrong.

In the end, it took two years from the day we shot to the day we finished post-production. It was not a smooth process, and there were times when giving up looked like the sane option. I went through periods where I openly hated everything about the project. For several months after finishing the film, just looking at the Henri puppet would make me physically ill – now he’s the wallpaper on my phone. Go figure. I’m proud of the work we did, and I’m excited to finally release the short to the general public. With a little luck and despite disaster, HENRi lives.

You can learn more about the film at

HENRi from Eli Sasich on Vimeo.

Posted via: Filmmaker Magazine

What do you guys think? Are you inspired by old school effects work?

Japanese Vending Machines and Short Film - Little Kaiju


In Japan, vending machines are known as 自動販売機 (jidō-hanbaiki) from jidō, or "automatic"; hanbai, or "vending"; and ki, or "machine", 自販機 (jihanki) for short. In my opinion they are some of the most interesting machines in the world. I love Japanese vending machines because they are always stocked with interesting products from food to toys, they all have a very clean and inviting look to them - hell some of them even talk to you. My favorite ones are the transparent kind that allow you to see how they operate while they fetch your product in robotic like fashion. Also you don't have to turn your head too far to find a vending machine. In Japan they are basically everywhere and that is the truth. I took the above photo near my house in Osaka.

According to Wikipidea: Japan has the highest number of vending machines per capita, with about one machine for every twenty-three people. Japan's high population density relatively high cost of labor, limited space, preference for shopping on foot or by bicycle, and low rates of vandalism and petty crime, provide an accommodating environment for vending machines. While the majority of machines in Japan are stocked with drinks, snacks, and cigarettes, one occasionally finds vending machines selling items such as bottles of liquor, cans of beer, fried food, iPods, pornography, sexual lubricants, live lobsters, fresh meat, eggs and potted plants.

The first vending machine in Japan was made of wood and sold postage stamps and post cards. About 80 years ago, there were vending machines that sold sweets made by the "Glico Company". In 1967, the 100-yen coin was distributed for the first time, and vending machine sales skyrocketed overnight,selling a variety of items everywhere.

Short Film: Little Kaiju The whimsical journey of a mysterious vending machine dwelling creature who explores the shadowy corners of Tokyo after dark. Kaiju (怪獣 kai-jū) is a Japanese word that means "strange beast," but often translated in English as "monster".

Little Kaiju. from a TWiN thing. on Vimeo.

Have you experienced Japanese vending machine culture? What are favorite types of vending machines?

Visual Effects Supervisor of ‘Moon’: Interview with Gavin Rothery on Career Influences and the Making of 'Moon'



One of my favorite sci-fi movies of late has to be Moon by Duncan Jones (2009). I found the film absolutely fascinating especially considering it was Duncan's first effort. However, what I find more fascinating from a filmmaker perspective was how the movie came into to being. This is where Gavin Rothery the VFX supervisor for 'Moon' comes into to play. As I understand from watching behind the scenes footage, reading material on the internet, and this very informative interview, Gavin had a very big role to play. Just as the famous Syd Mead, brought to life Ridley Scott's ideas for Blade Runner so did Gavin for Duncan. In the interview Gavin also openly traces the relationships, connections, and career influences that brought 'Moon' into development. This interview underscores the importance of choosing your focus, hard work, and most of all how essential collaboration is in the film industry. However, I believe it is your focus that provides the branch for everything else to grow on.

Thomas Winward of Screenwatch and Gavin talk comics, art, video games, the making of Moon and his upcoming film Archive. It’s always fascinating to hear professionals talk about their craft, and Gavin gives some great insight into the creative process behind the Moon and his relationship with director Duncan Jones.

Posted via: Screenwatch

Watch Opening Scene of Sci-fi Short 'C: 299,792 KM/S' - Old School No CGI or Green Screen



Every now and then you come across a short film that blows you away, this is one of them for me. The story sounds compelling and unique. Also the way it is being created is truly fantastic - with no CGI and no green screen effects. In my opinion if done right these methods will make the budget look far bigger than actually is and the film will age much better over time. For proof look no further than Ridley Scott's Blade Runner (1982) and Kubrick's Space Odyssey 2001 (1968). Also, more recently Ducan Jones has harnessed some of these methods in his debut feature Moon.

This post makes me very exited because I am also passionate about making my debut with a low budget art house science fiction film (my calling card project). My film will be an immersive human centric story in which the science fiction is more of a backdrop than what the story is about. Basically, normal people having to live in a future antagonistic landscape that reveals their humanity for the good or bad. I plan to collaborate with a visual concept artist to flush out my unique visual ideas, defer to old school visual effects sensibilities while limiting CGI, and make grunge a key part of the film. From the perspective of the budget I would like to be known as a filmmaker who can do amazing things with minimal resources. This includes continuing to build my own audience, embracing crowd funding, and producing my film in a foreign country such as Japan if my story calls for it. I would like to put the priority on imagination and audience experience over budget.

C 299,792 km/s (preview) from Seaquark Films on Vimeo.

This film is the story of an idealistic flight officer who hijacks her spaceship during an interplanetary cold war, and attempts to escape our solar system in search of other habitable worlds. However, when a small group of soldiers led by Second Lieutenant Kai provide unexpected resistance, Malleck's master plan is threatened. A compelling sci-fi action/drama about one woman's vision for the next logical step in human development: the leap from interplanetary to interstellar colonization.

They launched a kickstatter campaign that is now fully funded but I am sure that even at this point any funds will be appreciated.

Update - Here is the online release. Enjoy!

C 299,792 km/s from Seaquark Films on Vimeo.

What do you think of using old school effects vs the new CGI techniques?

Posted via: Twitch Film

In the Pines: A Thrilling Sci-fi Short Film with a Subtle Feel


This short film has been making the rounds on the festival circuit and receiving rave reviews. The film was written & directed by Zeek Earl & Chris Caldwelly. They put the focus on imagination over budget, a winning formula no matter what the size of the project. Check out the full film below: SYNOPSIS Simultaneously an exploration of nature and psyche, "In The Pines" is a short film documenting a young woman's hunt for extraterrestrial meaning. Following a mysteriously purposeful hike through the Olympic Mountains, this film roots itself in the Pacific Northwest. It delves deep into the texture of the scene by carefully playing with macro photography, resulting in the synchronized examination of character and setting. Part science fiction, part psycho-thriller, part poetry–all elements fuse together to create a memorable scene viewers will be eager to revisit.

In The Pines (Short Film) from Shep Films on Vimeo.

Check out their next upcoming project, Prospect:

PROSPECT: Concept Reel from Shep Films on Vimeo.

From their Kickstarter campaign page:

PROSPECT is an unusual coming-of-age story following a teenage girl and her father on a foreign planet as they hunt for resin, the valuable byproduct of rare insects. Inspired in part by the California Gold Rush, the film features a planet of desperate individuals seeking their fortunes, governed only by natural law. When the father is attacked by a roving bandit, the daughter must take vengeance.

Link: Shep Films

Creative Career Advice: William Mcgreggor - How decisive actions can literally change your life?


Here Fidget Box, talks to William Mcgreggor, only 24, and already on his way to a promising career in the world of film. He admits there is no way to explain how fortunate he has been but what is certain is that one decisive action can literally change your life.

Fidgit with William Mcgregor from Fidgit Box on Vimeo.

My volunteer experiences organizing TEDxOsaka Conferences run parallel with what William is saying in this talk about getting out of your comfort zone. For years I kinda just stayed behind the safety of my computer and slowly worked away on Illectric Sheep. However, deciding to put myself out there and volunteer with related projects really made all the difference. The particular project (conferences, organizations, festivals, societies, seminars, etc.) you get involved with is not so important as long as it is interesting to you. The important thing is meeting up with like-minded people(on your level and above) that share your visions and struggles. Within these environments you will find collaborators and opportunities you never would of encountered in the safety of your home.

Take a look at one of Williams's sci-fi projects, Eradicate:

William is currently working on his first feature film, 'The Rising', amongst various other projects.

Keep up with what he's up to at the following link:

We would love to hear your feedback. Do you have any experiences leaving your comfort zone that have made a difference in your life?

Post via: Nofilmschool