Thursday, November 22, 2007

In praise of Fred Astaire

Filmmaking - There Was A Man Dept.

What's kept me going, and sane, and alive this year, is watching Fred Astaire dance, over and over, in this particular picture,
1955's fantastic "Daddy Long Legs."

I have rented it so many times, I could have bought a dozen copies of it on DVD by now. It's onscreen in my editing room, where I'm hard at work on my book and editing a little feature I shot.

This is the FOURTH film version of the "Daddy Long Legs" novel. It's a musical.

I love musicals. MGM musicals were the best. ("Singin' In The Rain," and "The Bandwagon," are my two favorites.)

I love MGM musicals, and this is one of the absolutely best MGM musicals ever made, right up there with "Singin' In The Rain," and "The Bandwagon," except for two things:

1) It was not shot in 1:37 three-strip Technicolor, but in really good 1:2.4 Cinemascope De Luxe color.

2) It was made at Fox, not MGM.

Fox made good musicals, too, like "Hello Dolly," and "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes," and many others, but Fox musicals were different from MGM musicals.

Fox musicals were a little than the MGM product, but the MGM dancers were better dancers, the MGM cameramen were better cameramen...they wore their art on their sleeve at the Freed unit. Trust me, MGM was the best studio in town.

Other Fox musicals were really good, but "Daddy Long Legs"...swings! Man, it's great, and the reason is the incomparable Fred Astaire.

Astaire beyond compare.

To call Fred Astaire merely a dancer is to label Einstein a failed patent clerk. Yes, Fred danced, in many ways he was the dancer, but he did so much more, including think up new ways to dance, new music to dance to, new props to dance with, new styles to dance in, and new ways to be photographed while dancing.

(Fred's contract gave him unprecedented control over how he was to be photographed. He insisted he be shown head-to-toe, in long single takes with minimal cutting and camera movement).

Camera technique following Fred is sparse and elegant, and the "cutty" approach of a music video is nowhere to be seen, which is why we still can watch them. The excitement comes from the dance, and is not synthesized from the cutting or camera gymnastics. Fred does the dancing, the camera follows.

As he said: "Either the camera dances or I do."

This is bold stuff, when your main competition, making dance pictures, is Busby Berkeley, just down the street.)

Fred's ability to sing and act, and do these incredibly intricate dance routines, and astonishing work with hand props, (while actually playing the drums), all while looking as though this wasn't grueling hard work at all, as if it was
EASY, and as if he was having more fun than human beings ought to be allowed, lead me to the inescapable conclusion, that without any exaggeration, Fred Astaire is obviously the coolest human being who ever lived, in the history of the world.

Fred here at the age of 56, as good as he ever was, a decade past his announced retirement, enjoying the silly "Slue Foot" college dance, with young and lovely and incredibly gifted Oscar-nominated dancer Leslie Caron. (She's still working, and won an Emmy in 2007.)

Who wouldn't enjoy a talented gorgeous 24-year-old partner? C'mon. Force yourself.

Check out Leslie's college swain, who's hopelessly outclassed. Sure, Fred's older,
but he's FRED ASTAIRE. Sorry, kid.

Even when Fred dances silly near the end of this number, he's just too cool for  words. Notice how they use costume color to draw your eyes to Fred and Leslie, past 200 or so pastel background jitterbuggers? Music by Ray Anthony and his Orchestra.

I've met a few of these cast members, including stunningly gorgeous Terry Moore (Howard Hughes widow), who turned my knees to water, in person in 1985.

Terry plays Fred's niece, Linda, who watches the outclassed kid's reaction closely, a little concerned Uncle Fred is Slue Footing with frosh Leslie, like their age difference is significant or something.

The bittersweet undercurrent to this picture is that Fred had just lost his real-life wife of 21 years, just before "Daddy Long Legs" began production, and they had to delay shooting for Fred to cope with his grief, and work through it. Unbelievable.

This picture was written by Henry and Phoebe Ephron, Nora Ephron's parents. (Nora wrote and directed some favorite pictures, among them "Sleepless In Seattle," "When Harry Met Sally," and "You've Got Mail.")

Breeding will tell. The writing in "Daddy Long Legs" is just wonderful.

Fifteen years earlier, Fred at 41 sparkled with Eleanor Powell, known at MGM, as "The best tap-dancer on the lot." Here is an electrifying terpsichorean courtship display, as Fred & Eleanor "Begin The Beguine," in "Broadway Melody of 1940."

In many ways, this is as good as it gets.

Parting Shot

Because I couldn't resist. Here's Fred at 47, at the peak of his powers, fittingly in a picture at Paramount. 1946's "Blue Skies."

It was billed as "Astaire's last dance" of "Astaire's last picture," the Technicolor send-off of his (first) retirement.

Yes, the cane jumps. Yes, those 9 guys are all Fred. Yes, he makes it look easy, but this number took "five weeks of back-breaking physical work," to shoot.

Not bad, Fred. Not bad at all, for one Frederick Austerlitz of Omaha, Nebraska, whose RKO audition report read, "Can't act. Slightly bald. Also dances."

Sam Longoria

secret film school
film financing

© 2007 Sam Longoria, All Rights Reserved

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Filmmaking - Getting Started Writing

Filmmaking - Scriptwriting

My thanks to Rodney of Marietta GA, who writes me this letter:

Hey Sam, :)

...Yeah, I'm pretty new and want to start actually, in the writing area first. I like to use my imagination, but still haven't written my first screen play. The formatting gives me fear, and procrastination stalls, but my goal for the next couple of years is to move to L.A.

- Rodney

Dear Rodney,

At least you've identified the problem!

“Procrastination is the thief of time.”
– Edward Young (1683-1765)

No excuses. You're smart and young, the problem is thinking you have a lot of time. The fact is, none of us knows how much time we have, only that it's going away every second. Get going!

Screenplay work is the easiest work there is, and among the highest-paying, if you work at it. All you need is a pencil and paper. Let somebody else type it in, or you can, of course.

The good thing is, you work when you want to. The bad thing is, most persons (including writers) don't want to, and they spend a whole lot of time "getting ready."

Moving to LA is nice, but it's even better to have a job ready for you when you get there, or at least something to sell.

That means start writing NOW. You can write from anywhere. When your scripts are done, all it takes to get them to people who buy scripts is some stamps.

Formatting? No problem. Get software. I use Final Draft, but just as good (and FREE) for any computer is

Download it, install it, and write something. Anything. If you write a word, I guarantee you'll write some more. The only way to learn to write, is to WRITE!

Classes and books are good, (for people selling classes and books), but reading is reading, talking is talking, thinking is thinking, and only "writing" is writing. It's the only thing that makes you a better writer, too.

If you must have a book, spend $10 measley dollars, and buy my friend Viki King's book,
"How To Write A Screenplay In 21 Days." It's good, and it really works.

I write from an outline. I jot down scenes and lines I see and hear in my head, and then sort out the order they happen in, later.

I spend the most time getting the story to work, before I write any scenes or dialogue, I put that part off as long as possible.

When I finally start writing what people do and say, it bursts forth in a flood, and I write as fast as I can, until it's done. I don't write any better slowly.

Don't ever re-write until you're done with the whole thing, or you'll never finish. Re-writing is a trap to avoid. So is "getting ready."

Good luck! Write any time, I'm your friend in Hollywood.

Best to you,

Sam Longoria

secret film school



© 2007 Sam Longoria, All Rights Reserved

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Filmmaking - Whither Animation?

Filmmaking - Animation

Here are two articles (Relax - a quick read) that are the most encouraging things I've read about the state of commercial
animation, in quite a long while.

If your heartbeat still accelerates at the thought of really good animation, you should read this. (Both parts!)


Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Filmmaking - The Penultimate Movie Ending

Filmmaking - Favorite Endings

In Response to many emails, "What is your SECOND favorite
movie ending, I'd have to say it's this, the last sequence
from Stanley Kubrick's masterpiece, "Paths Of Glory."

After an uncompromising feature-length look at the First World
War, both from the trenches and the palaces of power, this last
reel is redemptive, hopeful, and somehow manages to speak of
human compassion.

As Steven Spielberg said, anybody who thinks Stanley Kubrick
was a cold, misanthropic, unemotional filmmaker, might do well
to watch this immediately, and perhaps form a differing opinion.

Again, I think it's mandatory for filmmakers. Just see what
Stanley was able to do, with practically nothing - only a roomful
of good actors, his beautiful wife singing, and a camera that
lingered on faces.

Please let me know what your favorite movie ending is.


Saturday, March 17, 2007

Sly's 10 Tips For Success

Filmmaking - Motivation

From out of the blue of the western sky, from
Missoula, Montana and Alain Burrese's great blog,
come these great tips from Sylvester Stallone.
Things aren't happening? Make things happen!


Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Filmmaking - The Best 10-minute Movie Ending Ever

Filmmaking - Favorite Endings

This is my favorite last reel (10 minutes) of a movie, ever.
30-year-old Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey, in Frank Capra's
"It's A Wonderful Life."

I think it should be mandatory watching for filmmakers.

If you are unaffected by it, check your pulse, you may be dead.

Maybe the best thing ever filmed in the San Fernando Valley in August. (Temperature over 100F in the "snow.")

Some little-known facts about this wonderful movie.

Please let me know which is your favorite movie ending.


Thursday, March 01, 2007

Eva Longoria Birthday Countdown!

Date: 15 March 2005 (3 days after mine.)

People ask if I'm related to Eva Longoria.
According to Esme, her nice and devoted sister,
who has researched such things, the answer is "yes."
Eva is my distant relative. (Well, she's in Pasadena.)

I had a small role on "The Young And The Restless" a
decade before Eva was on it, (so I doubt nepotism was
involved, in either direction), and I'm glad the public
loves her. She's very talented, I think she's great.

Since Eva's gotten famous, I don't have to spell
my last name for people nearly as much.

Happy Birthday Eva, and "Hi" to Esme!
(Write Eva yourself, or just tell ABC you like her.)


Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Sam's 2007 Oscar Report...

Filmmaking - Oscar 2007

Dear Film Friend,

I've decided the best use of my time this year is to work on
my own projects, rather than watching or attending the Oscars.
I will be working on my book, and my movies.

So I will not be there, watching, or even thinking about,
the Academy Awards in 2007.

My best wishes go out to my friends Mark Stetson and Bill Neil,
who did Special Visual Effects on "Superman Returns," which is
nominated, and Richard Edlund, who was awarded a John Bonner
medal by the Motion Picture Academy this year. We all worked
together on "Ghostbusters," 24 years ago.

Those who enjoyed my Oscar reports of previous years can still
read some of them here.

Best to you,

Sam Longoria


Okay, okay. Thank you for all the email and voicemail.
I have written a 2007 Oscar Report, and it's available here.
See if your guess is as good as mine.

Sam Longoria
Top Secret Film School
Passion For Cinema


Friday, January 05, 2007

Sundance Film Festival 2007

Filmmaking - Sundance 2007

I will not be in attendance at this year's Sundance
Film Festival.

I will not support a certain nameless, tasteless
video that mocks my beloved home town.

I will be home, working on my own projects.


Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Best Use of Extra $5k?

Filmmaking - Using Resources Wisely

"What Would You Do With an Extra $5k?"

Camera equipment? Lighting equipment? Editing software? Let's imagine that $5k has just fallen in your lap. What to do with it? Shoot your short, film your feature? As far as you can go, until the money runs out? What should you buy?

If I were you, I'd spend the $5k to pay my rent and bills for a couple months, and quit my job, or take some vacation time, or a leave of absence.

I'd sit in a room and turn off the phone and tv, and eat spaghetti and raw vegetables 2 times a day, and exercise in the morning and skip dinner and take a walk in the evening, so I didn't get fat.

I'd get up early, and go to bed late, and not even look at, listen to, or answer my voicemail and email and filmmaking sites, until the evening.

THEN...I'd turn on my computer, and WRITE.

And write and write and write and write and write and write. Then I'd write and write and write and write and write and write and write. Then I'd edit, and write and re-write.

Until I had a really great movie script. That's what you should do with the money. Write.

That effort would give you an asset in the world of filmmaking that most filmmakers simply don't have.

Ever wonder why you're not getting anywhere? The answer to becoming a great filmmaker is not "camera equipment." The answer is "writing."

The way you get good at writing is not college or reading books or hanging out with friends. The way you get good at writing is by "writing."

You can sell a great script, or get hired to write another one, or talk somebody into lending you money to make your great script into a movie, but you need it written first.

Great scripts don't write themselves. They take time and effort, more than anything. If your scripts aren't very good, chances are you haven't put a lot of actual time and effort into them.

By the same token, if you have a script you wrote it in your spare time, from dribs and drabs and scraps of time, in between working all day at your job and family and school and church and bills and relationships and pets and all the crap that gets in the way, chances are it isn't very good.

So, take the time. Invest the money - $5k is real money - and buy yourself something nobody can give you. Buy some time alone, and write your script. It is the best possible use of that money.

That's what I'd do if I had an unspoken-for $5k. Just my opinion, because I want you to succeed.

Best to you,