What is a western film?
Western film is a genre that revolves around primarily set in the late 19th century, in the American Old west. Most westerns are set between the American Civil War (1865) and the early 1900’s.
What are the key codes and conventions of a Western?
- Guns such as revolvers and colts
- Sheriff badges
- Stetson hats
- Hay bales
- Stock horses
- The kid
SETTINGS: Mid-west of American in a remote town which is small, lonely and unwelcoming. Middle of a desert, with no lakes or rivers making the place look really hot and deserted. The buildings are generally timber board houses with swinging saloon doors. Horses and cattle are used to give it a western film.
NARRATIVES: typical plots to a western film include-
- A wandering Westerner comes to a town, purges it of its savage elements, and then leaves again.
- A group of gunmen are hired to defend villagers from bandits
- Revenge plots
CAMERA TECHNIQUES: examples of camera techniques used in westerns include high camera angles, such as focusing on a scull with the rest of the landscape in the background. Furthermore the epic panorama so typical to a western classic. Right at the beginning, we usually see a wide landscape, opening up in front of the viewer. Lastly long shots are used to portray possibly two cowboys in a standoff.
EDITING TECHNIQUES: Typical editing techniques include quick cuts and multiple angles that led to a sense of wild absurdity in violent action sequences. Also slow motion shots intercut with other quick action shots, for example in ‘The Wild Bunch’. The effect of this film innovation is a stretching of time. It creates suspense and makes the viewer feel overwhelmed with sound and visual encouragement—heightening tension as well as simulating the effect of a mass gunfight for the audience.
Name 3 key westerns made in the last 50 years?
- The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966): https://www.quora.com/Why-is-the-movie-The-Good-The-Bad-and-The-Ugly-so-famous The film is known for Leone’s use of long shots and close-up cinematography, as well as his distinctive use of violence, tension, and stylistic gunfights. It’s from that generation of spaghetti westerns that were deliberate, slow paced, raw, and just fun for a lot of us. Simple storylines, slightly exaggerated, over the top characters, and no need to invest emotionally too much in the plot or the outcome.
- McCabe & Mrs Miller:(1971) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McCabe_%26_Mrs._Miller It’s popular because the film ignores or subverts a number of Western conventions.
- Django (1966): Famous because it’s an Italian-Spanish Spaghetti Western.
Name 2 western films made in the past 5 years? How were they received?
1.)True Grit: “It takes some serious grit to turn a John Wayne classic into a darkly ambiguous comedy. The results are both mesmerizing and maddening.”
2.)The Lone Ranger: “Talk about a pleasant surprise! Real storytelling, well thought-out and beautifully, at times insanely, executed, with excitement, laughs and fun to make you feel seven years old again.”
Name 3 iconic western actors? Why are they key?
- John Wayne- Key because he was in practically every western film, for example True Grit (1969) and El Dorado (1967)
- Clint Eastwood- Key because he went from having little praise from critics to gaining critical acclaim, from his reinterpreting of stock characters, such as western heroes and cops. His strong resonant screen presence earned him success at the box office. Starred in ‘The good, the bad and the ugly’.
- James Stewart- he had roles in some of Hollywood’s best remembered films, starring in a string of Westerns such as ‘The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance’ (1962). He was the only golden-age icon who could convincingly play characters and his ability to capture these qualities helps explain not only why he delivered so many great performances, but also why he was in so many great films.
Name 3 key iconic western directors/producers. Why are they key?
- John Ford-Best known for his westerns, Ford made some of his classic films in late 1940s. He directed Fort Apache (1948) starring Wayne and Fonda.
- Clint Eastwood- he directed several Academy Award-winning films. Back in the United States, Eastwood set up his own production company, Malpaso, and continued to work in the western genre with Hang ‘Em High (1968).
- Walter Hill-famous for his revival of the Western genre.
Why do westerns seem to appeal to audiences?
- The settlement of the West is so unlike anything we have in British history. We don’t have the same variety of scenery, and the gold rushes seem so much more adventurous than the Industrial Revolution that transformed Britain.
- The appeal of Western films lies partly in the scenery. For example the gunfights and horse chases, played out against a dramatic backdrop like the plains of Kansas, and the railroad, curving through the landscape, while cowboys drive cattle across the wide open plains.
- Women viewed the unrealistic cowgirls and western heroines as fantastic extensions of themselves.
- The triumph of good over evil in the stories.
Why did the western genre fall out of favour?
Because people became obsessed with sci-fi, and wanted to be astronauts not cowboys, due to the first landing on the moon. Other, newer genres like superhero and robot films have cowboy movies outgunned with younger generations and international audiences.
Why do you think it has a resurgence in recent years?
After the “golden age” of Western film in the 1950s and 1960s, filmmakers began to produce a different type of Western—one that turned genre conventions upside down and pushed towards a completely different narrative. The Western hero was no longer on the moral high ground; these new Westerns displayed a conflicted and criminal protagonist. Instead of showing American landscapes as picturesque stretches of mountains, trees, and fields, war-torn lands, water-deprived deserts, and burned-out towns served as the backdrops of choice. Violence also became a more common theme.
MY WESTERN FILM PLANNING-
I chose to call my western film: ‘I’m coming for you’ as I feel as though it gives a slight hint as to what the plot of the film is about, but doesn’t give too much away. My perspective of it is that the protagonist is coming to get revenge on the antagonists, however the audience can interpret it in any way they would like to. In my opinion just from this title, it gives off an eerie impression of the film and it immediately intrigues and captivates the audience as it is direct address, making them want to watch it.
Main Protagonist called Jonny, played by Eddie Gripper
Jonny’s girlfriend called Florence, played by Martha Duffy
Main Antagonist called Layla, played by Lara Hillyard
Antagonist 1, played by Charlotte Ford
Antagonist 2, played by Bethany Carter
Barman, played by…
I followed the conventional character types included in the western genre, for example, the protagonist seeking revenge on the antagonists, and the innocent man (barman) who always gets mixed up with the baddies by accident, and lastly the sweet girl who gets captured by the antagonists. However to add an unconventional twist to my western, rather than using three male cowboy antagonists, I will be using three female cowgirl antagonists.
The main and only protagonist in the film; Jonny, is seeking revenge on the three antagonists, who he believes killed his girlfriend, three years ago. What he doesn’t know is that she is actually not dead. The antagonists take over a pub by scaring off the barman. The protagonist and antagonists meet in the bar. Understandably Jonny is furious with Layla and her team. He confronts them. It then shows a flashback of Jonny being tied to a tree by the antagonists and Florence being taken away kicking and screaming. A gun shot is then heard and Jonny is left crying. The action comes back to Jonny in the pub who is very stunned when she replies with: “killed who?” Jonny follows the two antagonists outside bewildered with what she had just said. The shot then cuts to his girlfriend in the captive of one of the antagonists, frightened, crying and trying to get free.
Throughout my western I used shots typical to that genre. I begin with a static panning establishing shot, which defines the location and gives the viewers a perspective of the action to come. I chose to use many close ups and mid-shots, as this exaggerates the actor’s expressions and emotions, engaging and captivating the viewers on the film. The majority of my shots are long shots, which again reminds the audience of the setting and the characters within it. For example, during the flashback, I use a longshot to film Jonny tied to a tree, watching his girlfriend be taken away, this signifies his unimportance; making him look small and shows the baddies are dominating him.
PROPS AND COSTUMES-
In order to keep my western conventional, I have used costumes that signify the good and the bad. Layla, the main antagonist, and her team are wearing black trousers, a black top and black boots. Layla will also wear a black Stetson and red bandana, these dark colours all symbolize evil and danger. On the other hand, the main protagonist, Jonny, will wear light brown trousers and a white top, with boots and a brown Stetson hat, as I feel these colours are suitable in portraying his heroic persona. His girlfriend, Florence, will be wearing a typical western outfit; a chequered shirt, a brown suede jacket, and black denim skirt, with boots. Furthermore I use typical props, such as Stetson hats, rope, and for a modern twist; chewing gum.
Why did I chose a field as the setting for my flashback scene?
- Barren, derelict landscape
- Shows how deserted they are
- Stresses the harshness of the wilderness
- Shows no-ones around
- The fields are endless, portraying the repetitive, monotonous and tedious lives of the cowboys.
- Trees towering over protagonist tied up, making him look small and insignificant.
Why did I chose ‘The Hare’; a pub, as my other setting?
- Bar- typical western setting
- Modern pub
- Local village pub
- Stools at the bar which I needed for my long-shot of the antagonists sat down
- Simplistic appearance symbolizing the cowboys boring lives.
- Very smart and well looked after, aesthetically pleasing and generates a very positive beginning. This is a complete contrast to the horrible, repulsive persona’s of the antagonists, who invade this optimistic setting.
PREPARING MY ACTORS AND EVIDENCE OF FILMING-
HEALTH AND SAFETY SUMMARY
During the filming of my western opening scene there are many aspects which must be considered, in order to ensure the health and safety of my actors is maintained and also to make sure the filming equipment isn’t damaged or broken.
Firstly, when using the tripod outside on a windy day, or on unstable ground, the tripod could easily be blown over, as it is not very light. However a solution to this hazard is having someone at hand to hold it steady, therefore preventing it from falling over and preventing damage to both the camera and tripod. A second hazard could be if I were to carry the tripod underneath the camera, as it could easily become loose and come apart, which again will end up damaging it. Consequently, to stop this I will ensure I carry the tripod correctly, using both hands, with a firm grip.
Leads are a big factor that need to be considered. There will be leads coming off of the equipment, which is a possible trip hazard for my actors, especially in ‘The Hare’ which has a small filming area. It means that myself, my actors and the equipment will all be close to each other, so to prevent any accidents, once I am set up I will inform them where the leads are, so that I know I’m covered if they do trip. It’s also important to tell them because the equipment could be damaged too.
Additionally, in ‘The Hare’- my setting- there could be, for example, spillages of drinks on the floor or stalls in the way of the filming area. To prevent any of my actors from slipping, tripping or hurting themselves, I will do an overall health and safety check of the pub, before filming begins, and remove any hazards. For example, move all stools under the tables and wipe up any spillages.
For my flashback scene I will be filming in a farmer’s field, this means that there are potential ditches and marshland, which could clearly be a hazard to my actors and equipment. Before filming I will check over the field and let them know areas to avoid.
I will put a note on the door of ‘The Hare’ saying: “filming in progress”, to warn the public. It means that if anyone walks in they won’t panic when they see cowboys and guns.
We are all arriving to the set by ourselves, therefore this isn’t an area of concern, however if I was driving my actors to it, I would have needed to make sure I drove carefully, ensured seatbelts were worn and made sure I didn’t get distracted from the road. As this would have kept everyone in the vehicle safe.
Also before filming, I will inform my actors about the filming space and any hazards I have had to deal with, or possibly cannot remove. Therefore, I know they are aware of the situation and what’s around them, and through clear communication, we will then achieve co-ordination whilst filming, which means that no actors will get injured.
Reflection on my Western-
My role was to plan my western opening scene. In my opinion my strength was my organisation with the planning, as this enabled me to get my filming done quickly and efficiently. I made sure I had all my storyboards completed and all the actor’s costumes and props were ready to start filming on the Friday. My actor’s strengths were listening to my instructions, which again made the filming process much simpler. They also communicated with me if they didn’t understand my intentions for the shot, this made sure all of them fully understood what they needed to do and where they needed to be. Finally, they all organised their costumes for the correct days. My weakness was definitely not being confident with my plot as I kept debating whether I should change it.
My role was to direct the different shots and my actors and film using the equipment. During the filming process my strengths were my knowledge on how to use the equipment- as Miss had explained to us beforehand- which allowed me to set up quickly and start filming as soon as possible. Further-more I feel as though I was a good leader and spoke with confidence and good communication, this meant that all my actors were aware of the different shots I wanted to achieve and because of my clear explanations the actors asked very few questions, resulting, again, in brisker filming. Finally, I was also a good listener, and payed attention to any input they had. My actor’s strength was that they didn’t mis-behave, however their weakness to begin with was definitely that they kept laughing when I turned the camera onto them. After a while this laughing died down, however, as they adapted to their surroundings and got used to being filmed.
My role was to edit my opening scene on the programme ‘Final Cut Pro’. Firstly, my weakness was that I had never used a mac before, which meant I had a disadvantage to everyone else. As I was unsure of how it worked, this made the editing process to begin with very slow, because I had to keep asking Roger questions on how to do certain things, for example apply an effect to a clip or decrease the sound of it. My strength, on the other hand, was my consistency of my western theme, for instance continuing the western music, western props and western sound effects throughout it, in order to fit it to the guidelines of our task.
What am I proud of?
Overall, I am proud of my finished opening scene. I am proud of my commitment to the project, even though it was a practise, even though it was a practise, as I now understand the effort and time I will need to put into it to receive high quality results. Moreover I am proud of my actors for doing such a great job in front and behind the camera lens, as despite the fact that the main focus was western conventions with props, costumes, cinematography, etc… the acting skills really assisted in generating a dramatic atmosphere. Finally I am particularly proud of my organisation skills throughout the whole project and am really happy that I reached the deadline.
What would I change?
The only thing I would change is filming every single clip exactly three times, to ensure I achieved the angle I had wished for. I filmed most of the shots many times however there was a couple that, at the time, I believed the shot was perfectly executed after two films, yet when it came to the editing process, I was disappointed slightly and regretted not filming it again.
What have I learnt?
I have learnt that time management is a very significant factor when producing, directing, filming and editing an opening scene to a western. Moreover I have learnt how to use a mac and navigate myself around the WordPress media blog. Also through Roger’s explanation I have discovered how to successfully use Film Cut Pro, for instance how to upload my clips from the camera, how to cut from one clip to the next and how to shorten a clip. Finally I have learnt that good leadership skills are key during the filming process, as it is crucial that each actor understands the plot and what plans you, as a director, have for each shot.