Blues Brothers

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Hello everyone and welcome to season 4 of The Black Case Diaries! We’re three old friends learning as much as we can about movies and TV, and hopefully teaching others in the process. 

We decided to return strong with our now annual series on movie music: June Tunes! This month we will be covering various topics all involving music in movies. Today we’re starting with an all-time favorite! 

In the summer of 1980, a film that defied description raced into theaters. The Blues Brothers starred two big names from SNL, an all-star list of Rhythm and Blues legends, and one of the biggest budgets in comedy history. Even John Landis, the film’s director, wasn’t sure what genre the film belonged in. Is it a comedy? Musical? Forty years later, one thing is for certain: it’s a cult classic of epic proportions. 

Today we’re taking a look at The Blues Brothers, the history of the SNL sketch, the band, and the movie. We’re 369 miles from Chicago, have a full doc of research, it’s dark and we’re wearing headphones. Hit it!


    • SNL Sketch
      • Belushi and Aykroyd first came up with the idea for The Blues Brothers band while drinking at Aykroyd’s Speakeasy in Toronto, The 505 Club, in the fall of  1973. 
        • Belushi had come to town to poach talent for National Lampoon’s Radio Hour in New York, and had heard of the then-20-year-old Aykroyd.
          • They met backstage at Second City, a comedy troupe based in Chicago but with a branch in Toronto.
        • That night, the duo started listening to Blues records. At first, Belushi didn’t see himself much of a Blues fan, but Aykroyd’s devotion to the genre changed his mind. Very soon, the two young comedians shared this love, and they talked about creating a band. Howard Shore, the eventual music director for SNL and acclaimed composer, helped them come up with the name, “The Blues Brothers.” 
        • Two years later, the men join the first cast of  Saturday Night Live in New York, and have a chance to really develop the characters–Aykroyd played Elwood, the straight man and Belushi was Jake– the frontman and “Alpha Illinois male.” 
        • After the band played small gigs around town, Lorne Michaels allowed them to warm up the audience on SNL, but didn’t grant them actual air time. As the popularity of the characters grew, the mission became reacquainting audiences with The Blues.
        • Initially their first Blues sketch was a performance of Slim Harpo’s “I’m a King Bee.” 
          • They were then billed as “Howard Shore and his All-Bee-Band.”
        • Their most famous sketch was a performance of “Soul Man” which was later referenced in an episode of Drake and Josh!
      • When The Blues Brothers came to SNL a second time, the host was Steve Martin and they played “Hey Bartender.” 
      • After their initial success, Steve Martin asked them to open for him at the Universal Amphitheater, which was an issue because they didn’t have a concrete band at the time. After Belushi and Paul Shaffer put together a list of big names, they hand-picked the group.
      • One of the performances was recorded live and made into an album called, “Briefcase Full of Blues.” The album topped the charts and had some hit singles such as Soul Man and Hey Bartender.
        • With the help of Belushi’s wife, Judy and their friend Mitch Glazer, they developed the story behind The Blues Brothers for performances, a plot that would later become the centerpoint of their feature film.
        • With the success of the album and the reputation of Aykroyd and Belushi, many media outlets reported that they were lampooning the music, making fun of The Blues and its artists. Members of the band started doing interviews to convince people how serious “Dan and John” were about the band. Dan Aykroyd studied to learn the harmonica for his part, and John Belushi had been a Rock ‘n Roll drummer long before becoming a comedian. 
        • Aykroyd attributed this success to the fact that Disco was on its way out, and there was a lull in popular American music tastes as the next fad was waiting to begin.
    • The Band
      • The original members of the band were a combination of SNL band members and members that Howard Shore had suggested.  They were Steve “The Colonel” Cropper, Matt “Guitar” Murphy, Donald “Duck” Dunn, Murphy ‘Murph’ Dunne, Willie “Too Big” Hall, Steve “Getdwa” Jordan, Birch “Crimson Slide” Johnson, Tom “Bones” Malone, “Blue” Lou Marini, Alan “Mr. Fabulous” Rubin, Tom “Triple Scale” Scott, and finally Paul “The Shiv” Shaffer. 
        • According to Steve Cropper, It ended up being one the best collections of blues musicians I’ve ever seen.”
        • One of the producers, Robert Weiss, pointed out the unique quality of the band: a Memphis fat-back rhythm with “slick” New York horns on top, combined with Belushi’s unique vocals and Aykroyd’s harp playing.
        • Dan Aykroyd described the band as a Chicago, electrified, urban Blues band.
  • Akroyd in an interview said “The Blues Brothers came off as a genuine article because we had Cropper and Dunn and Matt Murphy – those three magnificent Memphis guitar players. Murphy played with James Cotton, and Duck and Steve played on all those Stax/Volt records. That combination was a powerhouse that was not to be duplicated, a Chicago/Memphis fusion band. That’s what the Blues Brothers was and that’s what really made it work. They added legitimacy to our enterprise.”
      • When the boys approached Mat ‘guitar’ Murphy, they told him they would pay him “Six-fifty.” When Murphy found out that they meant $6,500, he reported that he almost fell out of his chair at the idea of making so much money.
    • Only a few of them made appearances in the movie. Paul Shaffer was replaced by Murphy “Murph” Dunne for the film.
      • On the Special Features section of the DVD, Dunne says that it was because of contractual obligations with SNL.
      • We also read that John Belushi was upset that Shaffer was splitting his creativity between the Blues Brothers and a different project with Gilda Radner.
    • After John Belushi’s death in ‘82 his brother Jim Belushi took over for him as Zee Blues.
    • Throughout the years the band members have changed but the soul is still there.
      • The members later said they had no idea that they would be playing with the same musicians for the rest of their lives.

The movie follows Jake and Elwood Blues, two brothers on a mission to save their home by raising 5000 dollars in just a couple days. 

Making Of

  • In 1978, John Belushi was on top of the world with a number one TV show, movie, and album. So, it seemed obvious to him and Dan Aykroyd that it was time to take this show to the big screen.
    • According to Vanity Fair, an Executive for Universal named Sean Daniel won the bid for the project and called his boss and said, “Belushi, Aykroyd, Blues Brothers, how about it?” to which his boss replied, “Great, I’ll tell Lew” Lew being Lew Wasserman, Universal Pictures’ “boss of bosses.”
      • Apparently there wasn’t much discussion after that, the movie seemed like a great idea to everyone involved. 
      • Wasserman wanted a budget of 12 million dollars for the film, while the filmmakers asked for 20 million. Budget and schedule would soon become two of the biggest issues this movie faced.
    • John Landis, the director of Animal House, was part of Belushi’s movie stardom and an obvious choice for director.
  • The infamous screenplay
    • Next came the question of who would write the film. Everyone turns to Dan Aykroyd, the 25-year-old mastermind who had written his own SNL sketches. The issue was that Aykroyd had never even read a screenplay. So, when he sat down to write it, he got carried away with his descriptions of sets and character profiles and tried to put all he “knew” of the Blues Brothers in one volume. It ended up being 324 pages long. 
    • When he delivered the screenplay to producer Robert Weiss, he jokingly bound it in such a way that it looked like a phone book.
    • John Landis took the screenplay and condensed it; while he recognized that the draft had great ideas and tone, he described it as “incoherent.” 
    • It took so long that the crew started shooting before they had a finished screenplay.
  • The Music
    • The music was hand-picked by Landis, Aykroyd and Belushi, and it was a meticulous process. Landis has spoken frustration at the fact that some don’t consider The Blues Brothers a musical, despite the fact that the cinematographer and director both had classic american movie musicals in mind while putting scenes together.
    • The cast and crew describe it as a “camouflaged” musical that captured the feeling of the city of Chicago and the times, but where characters didn’t exclusively burst into song to express emotion. Having characters break into song often doesn’t feel organic, but the film seemed to overcome that obstacle so the music feels naturally placed, and not just an action comedy with songs added.
    • Carlton Johnson choreographed the musical scenes, using only amateur dancers so no background players would upstage Belushi or Aykroyd (neither one of them were dancers.) 
      • For the scene with James Brown in the church, the movie brought in professional dancers, but it’s the only scene to do so.
      • “Shake Your Tail Feather” with Ray Charles was a huge musical number shot on the street in Chicago. It was freezing temperatures at the time, even though the scene takes place in summer. So, the dancers were in summer clothes and likely very cold
    • The Movie Band
      • The attitude of Jake Blues and his band on screen mirrored the attitudes of real life. Belushi gathered all the members together to pitch the movie, and told each that they were the “heartbeat” of the band. They had a few concerns like, how much would they get paid, who would get paid the most, and of course the ever-present concern that they were a white band playing black music.
      • Belushi handled every problem bandmates had, and Aykroyd referred to him as the leader.
    • The Guest stars
      • Another gigantic piece of the film was its legendary guest stars. One benefit to the time was that most of these R&B greats weren’t working as much anymore (with the exception of Ray Charles) and getting them to do the shoots was fairly simple. 
      • The cast and crew were star struck by these artists, their heroes. 
      • Aretha Franklin had issues lip syncing her number, simply because she never sang a song the same way twice. An incredible quality that partly made her the queen of soul, but difficult when you’re making a movie musical. 
        • Executives didn’t want Franklin in the picture as her popularity was waning at the time. They wanted Rose Royce, the band known for singing the hit theme for “Car Wash” but the team behind the movie refused.
        • The Diner scene featuring Franklin was not favored by critics, especially because “Blue” Lou Marini’s head is cut off while he’s dancing on the counter, which looked unintentional in the shot. It was actually intentional, John Landis thought it was a funny joke.
        • Franklin later said that her appearance broadened her audience and introduced new people to her.
      • James Brown was another act that didn’t sing a song the same way twice, so they pre-recorded everyone’s vocals in the church scene, and recorded Brown’s vocals live. They also recorded John Lee Hooker’s vocals live in the film.
        • Like we said before, this scene had professional dancers unlike other scenes in the movie, and utilized trampolines for aerial stunts.
      • Ray Charles’ vocals were pre-recorded.
      • Cab Calloway
        • Cab’s number was the most challenging, with a live audience of over 1000 people. They even advertised the show on the radio, and gave away prizes to people while they waited around for the shoot to start.
        • He wanted to record Minnie the Moocher, his signature song, as a disco track since that’s what was popular. He didn’t understand why the creators wanted the old fashioned way from 50 years before.
          • Landis said the first take of his song was mediocre, which made Cab angry. But, when he showed up to the live shoot, he was warm with people, a great performer, and happy to be there.
          • “When you’ve got good musicians, you don’t have to say anything. And if you don’t have good musicians, there’s nothing you can say”
  • The Cars
    • Dan Aykroyd is a vehicle fanatic in real life, who enjoys just driving for the sake of driving.
    • Elwood is a genius driver for this reason, and he chooses a decommissioned cop car because how else could someone out-run the cops but in one of their own cars?
      • Originally, the car was supposed to be magic, which would explain how it makes the jump over the bridge early in the film. There was a deleted scene where Elwood explained how the car was given special powers to do back-flips and other stunts.
      • The explanation was that they parked the car in a garage with powerful transformers, and soaked up that energy. 
    • There were 13 different Blues Mobiles, all used for different purposes in the film.
    • The scene where the Illinois Nazis are chasing Jake and Elwood, they used a model of the Blues Mobile and launched it into the air. For the Pinto, they used an actual car and dropped it from above the Chicago skyline. They had to get the car certified to ensure that it wouldn’t float past the designated area before crashing into the ground.
      • Each police car they purchased was $400 and they bought a total of 60.
    • The cars really were traveling over 100 miles per hour in downtown Chicago.
      • One of the other stunt drivers drove off of a ramp that was 150 ft long. Luckily only minor injuries were reported.
  • The Mall
    • The mall scene was shot in a real abandoned mall in Illinois, which was perfect so they could totally create and destroy the building.
    • There were hundreds of thousands of dollars in merchandise in some stores, and they meticulously decorated the whole space. There were stores marked that they could drive through and ones that they couldn’t. 
      • They had to hire guards to keep people from stealing the goods, but then guards started to steal. 
    • Every car in the parking lot was a brand new car on loan for the scene, and they could not hit them under any circumstances. 
    • Every weekend 40 stunt drivers were flown in and One of them was John Wayne’s son, Ethan Wayne.
  • The Big Finale Scene
    • Shortly before filming this big scene John Belushi hurt himself on a child’s skateboard. The best orthopedist in town had to be convinced to fix him up over the Thanksgiving weekend in order for him to be in good enough shape to dance and do cartwheels.
  • Production
    • The film’s final cost was $27.5 million. 
      • The salaries for the leads were set at the beginning and did not change throughout filming.
        • Dan Akroyd was paid half of what John Belushi was, $250,000 to Belushi’s $500,000.
      • Part of the reason that the film was wildly over budget was because the delayed shoots, which meant more man hours. This had a lot to do with John Belushi, who was an avid partier. 
        • Although Belushi was known as a partier, he was highly regarded among the band and the cast. He was known as the most loyal and friendly person in show business–as long as he decided you were friends, and he was often everyone’s friend.
      • There was a cocaine budget.
        • John Belushi felt that cocaine was crucial to his creative process. Carrie Fisher guessed that he was taking about 4 grams a day. It finally got so bad that Landis had to flush his drugs down the toilet and keep him away from them for the remainder of the shoot.
          • At one point, Landis threw away a bunch of cocaine and had a fight with John Belushi. Belushi got angry and stuck out his thumb, and a random car stopped and picked him up, and took him away–mid fight. 
          • Belushi got lost at one point during the filming, and someone saw him cross into a neighborhood so Aykroyd followed. He found that Belushi had crashed on a stranger’s couch.
            • Aykroyd called him “America’s Guest.” 
      • The realness of the film, also attributed to the cost. Blocking off city streets takes time and money, along with paying for stunt people to stand on the street and in the mall, so that no actual pedestrians were in danger.
    • Chicago
      • Mayor Daley of Chicago had made a rule that no filming was allowed there. He had passed away shortly before The Blues Brothers, which means it was the first major movie in a long time to be filmed there.
      • One of the biggest jokes of the movie was its scale, and the fact that they used real cars for their crashes and stunts helped with that level of visual destruction.
      • They actually did drive the car in the lobby of Daley Plaza.
      • 150 National Guardsman, 60 Chicago cops, 350 guns, 150 batons, 4 tanks, 3 helicopters were all used in filming.
        • They had a war room where they planned each staged gag and wanted to make the final scene as war-like as possible.

How the Movie was Received

  • Apparently The Los Angeles Times had called it a $30 million dollar wreck.
  • It became popular overseas in places like Australia. Landis said that it was the first movie to make more money overseas than in America.
    • One of the reasons that this may be is that it was booked in less than half the amount of movie theaters it should have been. Instead of the 1400, it was shown in 600, for the theater owners feared that a white audience would not like it. 
  • Fun Facts
    • Akroyd proposed to Carrie Fisher on set after saving her with the Heimlich maneuver while she choked on a brussel sprout. 
    • John Paul II was in Chicago at the time of filming and decided to visit the cast and crew!
    • In 2010 the film was deemed a Catholic Classic by the Vatican due to Jake and Elwood’s admirable mission to save the only family and home they know, the orphanage.


  • Main Stars
    • John Belushi/ Jake
    • Dan Aykroyd/ Elwood
  • Other Notables
    • Carrie Fisher/ Mystery Woman
    • John Candy/ Burton Mercer
    • Steven Williams/ Trooper Mount
      • Played Captain Fuller in the original 21 Jumpstreet show
    • John Landis/ Trooper La Fong
    • Frank Oz/ Corrections Officer
    • Twiggy/ Chic Lady
    • Henry Gibson/ Head Nazi
      • The Burbs and Luck of the Irish
  • Band Members as themselves
    • Matt Murphy
    • Steve Cropper
    • Donald Dunn
    • Lou Marini
    • Alan Rubin
    • Tom Malone
    • Murphy Dunne
  • Special Musical Guests
    • Cab Calloway/ Curtis
    • James Brown/ Reverend Cleophus James
    • Ray Charles/ Ray
    • John Lee Hooker/ Street Slim
    • Aretha Franklin/ Mrs. Murphy
  • Blink and You’ll Miss Them
    • Steven Spielberg – Audit Clerk
    • Chaka Khan – Choir soloist
    • Paul Reubens – waiter
      • You know, Pee Wee Herman.

We thought it was fitting to start our June Tunes with this comedy/action/musical film in the month and year that it turns 40. Happy Birthday, Blues Brothers!  



The Case of Film FX

Today we are talking about Effects in film-making! There is a lot of ground to cover, so today we will focus on the history of Special and Visual Effects, and discuss our favorite examples of practical effects! We plan on having a part 2 where we will dive into digital effects, as well as discuss some of the best effects artists of all time. 


In film, there are Special Effects or SFX and there are Visual Effects VFX. Special effects happen on set in real time while filming, like make-up, or fake blood. Visual effects are shot separately and added to the film through editing later on. 

When we talk about effects, we generally break it up into two kinds: practical and digital. Practical effects are used making real-life materials and can be either Special or Visual, but digital effects are ONLY visual. Did we lose you? 

So let’s use an example like Star Wars (1977). R2D2 is a special effect that is also practical. But, the miniatures that were created for scenes in space are visual effects that are also practical. In the Star Wars prequels, digital effects were used in place of practical effects and all are considered visual because they were added in post. 

Here at The Black Case Diaries, we are big fans of practical effects. But, it’s fair to say that digital effects are often a good option. In pretty much every movie that is released today, there is a mixture of practical and digital effects. Digital effects are becoming much cheaper and easier to create, and the studios have been favoring them over practical for much of the last decade. 

Today, we are going to cover the history of film effects, and discuss some of our favorite techniques! We will be focusing on practical effects today, and we plan on discussing great digital effects an a future episode. 


  • We’ve already talked about the birth of film, the Lumiere brothers and Edison’s Kinetograph (This can be found in our episode about cinematography.)  It turns out, special effects are about as old as film itself!
    • In 1895, Thomas Edison produced a re-enactment of the beheading of Mary Queen of Scots. Directed by Alfred Clark, the movie was only 18 seconds long and featured the first death scene in film! It was also one of the first to have trained actors, and to utilize a special effect. Just when the executioner’s axe rises, there is a cut, and the actor playing Mary is replaced with a mannequin. 

  • We have people like Edison and the Lumiere Brothers to thank for figuring out how to technically create film and even early effects, but it was George Méliès that elevated special effects into an artform. 
    • Méliès attended a Lumiere Brothers show, and developed his own prototype camera with the help of two engineers in this theater workshop. He brought his illusions to the screen and today is considered to be the father of film effects.
      • He popularized substitution splices, time lapse, multiple exposures, dissolves, and hand-painted color; so he was a pioneer in both special and visual effects.
    • Some of his films that really showcase his abilities are: Cinderella (1899), The Man With the Rubber Head (1901), and quite possibly his most famous film, A Trip to the Moon (1902) 


      • In an AV Club article they say: “Méliès brought a stage magician’s know-how and sense of wonder to the new art of film, creating a cinema of the impossible, filled with alchemists and Jules Verne-ian contraptions, imps and wayward body parts.”
  • Other Pioneers and Techniques
    • G. A. Smith patented the double exposure in England, using the technique to create a ghost in his film “The Corsican Brothers” (1909)
      • Double exposure; exposing film twice with two different images. Generally the second image is translucent and has ghost-like qualities.
    • Some filmmakers would film tragic events as they were occurring, and would recreate them with miniatures and paintings. For example, Albert Smith and Stuart Blackton made films about the tragic Windsor Hotel Fire and Edison mimicked the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake.
    • Edwin S Porter gave the world a great early example of Special Effects in “The Great Train Robbery” in 1903. This was one of the first times that effects were used in service to the plot, rather than as a spectacle.
  • Even though effects had been around since the beginning of film, they didn’t get any screen credits until the 1920’s.
  • In the 1930s, films like King Kong and Frankenstein were enthralling audiences with stop-motion, miniatures, rear-projection, and paintings. The first Oscar for visual effects was given in 1939 to a film called, “The Rains Came” over “The Wizard of Oz.” 

Since then, Hollywood has continued to use similar techniques for big budget films. Although it may seem that every action or fantasy film today is nothing but computer generation, almost every film uses both practical and digital effects. In fact, effects like fire or explosions are almost always practical, because matching the randomness of fire or the correct amount of light reflection can be a huge challenge. We’re going to discuss some of our favorite kinds of Special and Visual effects, using in-camera techniques or physical materials. In other words: practical. 

Favorite Practical Techniques

  • SFX Make-up
    • Jack Pierce
      • During Universal’s classic horror period, Jack Pierce innovated special effects make-up. His hideous creations from Frankenstein’s Monster to the Wolfman terrified and amazed generations of movie-goers.
      • Although he worked on Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster was his first true masterpiece. He read medical journals to find out exactly how a head would look if it were split open and then stitched back together. 
      • The head was made of layers of collodion and cotton, and took four hours to apply.
    • Latex
      • Liquid latex is used in many different ways to create different looks.
      • Liquid latex typically is made of latex, water, and a tiny amount of ammonia.
        • It can be used to resemble cuts, burns, or lacerations.
        • It also has the ability to be used as an adhesive to attach prosthetics.  For example a bald cap does this for wigs.
      • An American Werewolf in London
        • Winner 1982 Oscar for Make-up

    • Prosthetics 
      • Typically before a prosthetic for an actor is made, a “life-cast” is made first. This is where a cast or mold of the body is formed in order for the prosthetic to be made to fit a particular actor.
        • To make a mold of the prosthetic Gypsum cement is used. The materials for the prosthetic tend to be: Foam Latex, Gelatin, and silicone. 
      • Examples
        • Dark Knight with Heath Ledger’s scarred mouth
        • Harry Potter characters
        • The Chronicles of Narnia won An Oscar for their silicone prosthetics in 2006
  • Forced Perspective
    • The use of techniques to build an optical illusion for the viewer so characters or items appear closer, farther, bigger, or smaller than in reality.
    • Lord of the Rings
      • An example of this is In the scene where Frodo and Gandalf are riding in the carriage together.  Gandalf looks large on the right while Frodo looks small to his left. To accomplish this Gandalf’s side of the carriage was built to be smaller and closer to the camera.  With a little help of direction as to where the actors should look from the directors, and Voila Gandalf is bigger!
    • Darby O’Gill and the Little People 
      • The set for the Leprechauns needed to be four times larger than that of the set for humans.
  • Animatronics (Animation and Electronics)
    • Where you electronically animate three-dimensional characters.  They may be remotely controlled or have been pre-programmed to do certain actions.
    • Even though it has become more popular to use computer graphics in film, it still isn’t a suitable replacement for animatronics in terms of realism.
    • Although animatronics did not technically exist until later, we could consider mechanical clocks to be so because of the little characters that would pop out on the hour.
    • At the 1939 World’s Fair a robot named Elektro made his debut and in 1940 his dog Sparko. 
    • In 1961, Walt Disney’s Imagineers developed a dancing animatronic man that caught a lot of attention! They were developing the technology to use in film and in his booth at the World’s Fair. 
      • The Tiki Birds at Disneyland were the first ever animatronic robots
    • In 1964, the first ever animatronic used in film appeared in Mary Poppins! 
    • Stan Winston
      • Animatronic designs are behind some of the most iconic robot animals and monsters in movie history!
        • The Alien queen in Aliens, the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, and the T1000 from Terminator 2.
        • From his obituary: Although he created some of the most famous special effects in movie history, Mr. Winston insisted that he cared less about technical wizardry than he did about storytelling. “It’s not about technology,” he once said. “It’s about writers writing wonderful stories with fantastic characters and me being able to create a visual image that’s beyond what you would expect.”
    • Jurassic Park
      • Won the 1994 Visual Effects Oscar
      • Even though the hydraulics were tested many times the crew was still scared of Rexy because of her gigantic size.
        • The final step was to put the foam rubber skin on, which had to be sewn and glued.  This was done by a team in which Alan Scott was a part of. You had to glue from the inside and Alan volunteered.  The worry was that because the dinosaur had to be powered on and fully extended that something would go wrong and crush him.  Their worst fear happened when the power went out for the studio. Alan pulled himself together and luckily was safe when the head lowered and four others were able to pry the jaw open and pull him out.
        • The T-Rex was the last largest head to tail animatronic to be produced for film. No animatronic that large has ever been featured in film since.
      • We discuss the use of stop-motion puppets to map out the movements of the raptors for CG artists. Here is the test video:
  • Miniatures & Models
    • Even today, this is the most cost-effective way to create landscapes
    • Created for Star Wars and Godzilla.
    • Used in films such as:
      • Blade Runner, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Back to the Future Part 2, Independence Day, Titanic, Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King,  The Dark Knight, Inception
    • The trick is to slow the camera’s speed to the smaller scale


The Case of Cinematography

This week we released our longest episode to date! It’s about the art of cinematography. Here are our show notes as well as some clips to help guide you through the episode!


  • What is it?
    • Simply put,  it is the art or science of making motion pictures.
    • Comes from the Greek words ‘kinema’ (meaning movement) and ‘graphein’ (to record)
    • Cinematography emphasizes what is going on in each scene to produce a certain emotion out of the viewer.
      • Walter Murch in his book In the Blink of an Eye says “What they finally remember is not the editing, not the camerawork, not the performance, not even the story–it’s how they felt.”  So essentially if the cinematographer made you feel the way they wanted you to, they have done their job.
  • Who uses it?
    • Cinematographers
      • Are Cinematographers and Directors of Photography the same thing?
        • Yes they are synonymous
      • When did they come about?  Have they been around since the beginning of cinema?
        • Muybridge
          • In 1878 he used 24 stereoscopic cameras with trip wires that the horse ran through to activate the shutters
        • WKL Dickson
          • Assistant to Thomas Edison
          • Created the Kinetograph and Kinetoscope
        • Charles Francis Jenkins- He invented the The Phantoscope (essentially a projector) He was the first to get viewers but did not profit from the viewers
        • 1895 The Lumier Brothers “The Arrival of the Train”
          • First people to present a “movie” to a paying audience
          • When it first aired in France it reportedly scared the viewers
    • Difference between Cinematographer and Director
      • The Director of the film has the final say about all decisions regarding the film and how it will look. Directors are often the ones controlling the actors.
      • The Cinematographer however controls the camera and gives input on the best way to shoot the scenes using lighting, angles, etc. Essentially the techniques that convey the emotion.
      • A director can also be a cinematographer (ex. Alfonso Cuarón Orozco)
  • Specific things that must be paid attention to
    • Lighting
      • Color of light
        • Warmer- Candle, Tungsten
        • Cooler- Fluorescent, Daylight, Moonlight
      • Lighting Techniques
        • Chiaroscuro or Rembrandt Lighting
          • Result of side lighting and characterized by an upside-down triangle on a person’s cheek
        • Key Lighting
          • This is the main light for your shoot, and it can be anywhere in regards to your subject. Placing it right next to the camera will create flat lighting that lacks contrast and isn’t very dynamic
        • Fill Lighting
          • Placed in the opposite direction as the key light, this fills in the dark shadows created by the light
          • Usually it is placed farther away or covered by a diffuser to make the light as soft as possible
          • This with the key light adds depth to the scene
        • Back Lighting
          • This light sits above and behind the subject and sets them apart from the background
          • This is also diffused lighting for a softer effect
        • Side Lighting
          • This is a light set up parallel to your subject, sometimes alone or with a faint fill light
          • Chiaroscuro is an Italian word meaning light and dark
            • In order to achieve it, have a strong side light with weak or no fill light to create the dramatic contrast that accentuates the contours of your subject
            • Rembrandt Lighting is essentially the same technique characterized with an upside-down triangle on the fill light side of the face
            • Rembrandt Lighting
        • Practical Light
          • This is the use of regular, working light sources like lamps and candles
          • This is usually added by the set designer, and adjustments are usually made to them to light the subject better or in such a way
        • Hard Lighting
          • Though this is usually unwanted or something to avoid, there are benefits to using hard light
          • It creates harsh shadows, can draw attention to your subject, and creates strong silhouette
          • Usually sunlight or just a strong light source
        • Soft Lighting
          • Doesn’t refer to any lighting direction, but still sets the tone for a scene
          • It eliminates harsh shadows
        • Bounce Lighting
          • Bouncing light from a strong source using a reflector or light surface like a wall or ceiling
        • High Key
          • This is a bright scene that’s visually shadowless or overexposed
          • All light sources have the same intensity
          • It is incredibly popular today, and is often used to convey an upbeat mood; Back in the 30s, it was used when film was not able to pick up on high light contrast ratios
        • Low Key
          • Lots of shadows and sometimes just one strong key light source
          • The focus is on the shadows and how they create mystery or suspense
        • Motivated Lighting
          • This is meant to imitate a natural light source like sunlight
        • Ambient Light
    • Steady camera vs shaky (stabilizer vs. handheld)
    • Color (ex. What the characters are wearing and the background they are against)
      • In Schindler’s List the girl with the red coat
      • In Fiddler on the Roof in order to bring a brown hue to the film Oswald Morris used brown pantyhose over the lens which also in some scenes gives it a strange faint grid
    • Composing the Camera Frame and movement: high angles (power), low angles (weakness), crooked angles (unsettling), depth of field, wide lenses, close-ups
  • Are there any formal rules typically followed?
    • Cinema=Language
      • Language has rules and uses letters, words, sentence structures and paragraphs to convey meaning.  Cinema is similar because it has structures of its own such as: lighting, shots, and shot sequences.
      • Creative Devices
        • Dominant foreground, contributing background (the rooftops)
        • Detail shots; the camera is not afraid to get uncomfortably close to objects
        • Silhouette
        • Rule of Thirds
        • Slow pan (not really a device but important to include)
          • Pan is the sweeping motion of the camera across a scene
        • Wide, medium, tight shots with details
  • Is the equipment or cinematographer more important?
    • While both are important the equipment must match what the story is seeking to tell.
      • You may have the best equipment but that does not mean that it will fit the story.
    • Common Types of Lenses
      • Fish-eye
        • Used for panoramic, city shots, landscapes, abstract
      • Wide-angle
        • Interiors, landscapes, architecture
      • Standard
        • Portraits and documentary
      • Zoom
        • Tight shots, wildlife documentaries
      • Macro
        • Super close up, small objects
      • Telephoto
        • Far away, sports
      • Tilt-shift
        • “Tilt–shift” encompasses two different types of movements: rotation of the lens plane relative to the image plane, called tilt, and movement of the lens parallel to the image plane, called shift.
        • Tilt is used to control the orientation of the plane of focus (PoF), and hence the part of an image that appears sharp; it makes use of the Scheimpflug principle. Shift is used to adjust the position of the subject in the image area without moving the camera back; this is often helpful in avoiding the convergence of parallel lines, as when photographing tall buildings.
  • Why should the Director or Cinematographer not be the editor of the film?
    • Since they were on set during filming it is hard to separate what happened during filming.  If there was extra emotion on set one day and everyone was unhappy, when editing it they may only see the upset from that day.  In order to remove that frustration from viewing the scene an editor is necessary. An editor only sees what they have been given and will view it as an audience member would.
  • Examples of great Cinematographers
    • John Alcott- Worked with Kubrick on 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange, and The Shining
    • John L. Russell for Psycho
    • Birdman
      • Emmanuel Lubezki
    • Lord of the Rings
      • Andrew Lesnie
  • What kind of awards are there out there?
    • Oscars: The Academy Award for Best Cinematography
    • ASC Awards (American Society of Cinematographers)
  • The American Society of Cinematographers
    • Founded in Hollywood in 1919 (100th Anniversary!)
    • Originally consisted of 15 members: Joe August, L.D. Clawson, Arthur Edeson, William C. Foster, Eugene Gaudio, Fred Le Roy Granville, Walter L. Griffin, J.D. Jennings, Roy H. Klaffki, Victor Milner, Robert S. Newhard, Philip E. Rosen, Charles G. Rosher, Homer A. Scott and L. Guy Wilky
    • The declared purpose: “ to advance the art of cinematography through artistry and technological progress, and to cement a closer relationship among cinematographers to exchange ideas, discuss techniques and promote cinema as an art form.”
    • In essence they are about education and furthering cinematography as an art form
    • To be a member it is by invitation only.  The credentials you must have is to have demonstrated outstanding ability in the field and have as the website says “good personal character.”
    • In the last 20 years, only three films awarded an Oscar for Best Picture have also received the ASC award for cinematography or the cinematography Oscar: Birdman, Slumdog Millionaire, and American Beauty.


Twitter Suggestions

  • Always the Critic Podcast
    • Raiders of the Lost Ark
      • Douglas Slocombe
  • Bang Average Movie Podcast
    • Moulin Rouge
      • Donald McAlpine
    • Citizen Kane (A film noir)
      • Greg Toland (The ASC recently acquired the Mitchell BNC used to film this movie)
  • Another Damn Movie Podcast
    • Phantom Thread
      • Paul Thomas Anderson
    • There Will Be Blood
      • Robert Elswit
  • Toys Were Us Podcast
    • Casablanca
      • Arthur Edeson (one of the first members of ASC)
  • Jeffrey Norris
    • Midsommar- Especially the may queen shots with her wearing the flower dress
      • Pawel Pogorzelski
  • Undercover Coven
    • Mad Max
      • John Seale
  • Heine
    • Life Aquatic
      • Robert Yeoman: He also worked on The Grand Budapest Hotel and Moonrise Kingdom

Drink of the week: Shot of Cinnamon-tography!


Useful sites:

The Case of the 80s Dance Flick

It’s the final episode of June Tunes and we decided to focus on dance movies of the 1980s! You’ll notice, however, that we also included Saturday Night Fever in this episode even though it came out in 1977. We felt like we couldn’t talk about dance films without at least mentioning the iconic movie that essentially created a genre of film.

This episode is more relaxed than our previous music episodes, as we share our thoughts on a small list of famous dance movies! We thought this might be a fun way to close out the month of June.


Saturday Night Fever

  • This movie blended film and music in such a successful way, it inspired many movies to come
    • This film showed movie studios that they could more effectively capitalize on popular music of the time and paved the way for dance movies of the next 10 years
  • It shot John Travolta to superstardom in 1977, one year before Grease, although he had previously appeared on “Welcome Back, Kotter”
  • The soundtrack was filled with BeeGees songs, and it became unclear whether the movie was fueling the popularity of the music, or the other way around
    • The movie marks the rise and fall of Disco music, as it kept Disco in the spotlight for a few more years
  • The BeeGees wrote the songs for the movie AFTER the movie was shot, meaning all the dance scenes were shot with characters dancing to other music like Stevie Wonder and Boz Scaggs
    • They repurposed “Stayin’ Alive” which was just a demo at the time of filming, so it’s the only song that John Travolta was moving to while filming
  • Tony (John Travolta) is a paint store clerk who wants to break out of his everyday life
    • Dancing at the club helps him face the harsh realities of his life like his dead-end job and squabbling parents
  • The movie is based on the article: Tribal Rites of the new Saturday Night, which was a fabricated story by Nik Cohn
    • The article was meant to chronicle the disco dance scene, which Cohn was unfamiliar with, so he wrote a mostly fictional account on which the movie is based

Flashdance (1983)

  • “What a Feeling” by Irene Cara won an Oscar for best music/original score
    • It also hit #1 in the US for 6 weeks
    • In June the soundtrack released and stayed #1 for 2 weeks interrupting Michael Jackson’s Thriller which would come back to #1 only to be dethroned later by the Footloose album
    • In September, Michael Sembello’s “Maniac” also took #1
  • Based loosely around the life of real life welder and exotic dancer, Maureen Mauder, Paramount had her sign away the rights to her life story
  • The now famous off the shoulder big sweatshirt look was purely accidental because Jennifer Beals could not fit her head through her highschool sweatshirt. She decided to cut the collar off and wear it to the audition.  They liked it and added it to the movie
  •  It took 4 dancers for the iconic final dance scene by Alex Owens. One of the dancers was actually a man. Richard “Crazy Legs” Colón.  The famous leap was done by gymnast Sharon Shapiro
  • This was one of the first films that didn’t fit into the “musical”category because it did not center on the songs.  With MTV it became easier to bring pop songs into films. This led to the popular movies of Footloose and Dirty Dancing.

Footloose (1984)

  • Follows Ren, a boy from Chicago who moves to a rural town, where dancing to modern music is forbidden
  • This story is loosely based on true events!
    • In 1980, high school juniors in Elmore City, Oklahoma appealed to the town leaders and requested that a city-wide ban on dancing be lifted so they could hold a prom. When the decision to overturn the ban came to a 2-2 vote, the tie-breaking decision came from the school board president who reportedly said, “Let ’em dance.”
  • Tom Cruise and Rob Lowe were both slated to play the lead, but Cruise was tied up with another project, while Lowe sustained an injury and was unable to play the role.
  •  Melanie Griffith, Michelle Pfeiffer, Jamie Lee Curtis, Rosanna Arquette, Meg Tilly, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Heather Locklear, Meg Ryan, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jodie Foster, Phoebe Cates, Tatum O’Neal, Bridget Fonda, Lori Loughlin, Diane Lane and Brooke Shields were all considered for the role of Ariel
  • The movie also stars John Lithgow with an appearance from Sarah Jessica Parker
  • The soundtrack dethroned Michael Jackson’s Thriller album with titles such as: “Footloose,” “Sussudio,” “Let’s Hear it for the Boy,” and “I need a Hero”
    • Seriously, the soundtrack ROCKS

Girls Just Want to Have Fun (1985)

  • Came out in 1985 and inspired by the Cindy Lauper song of the same name
    • The story follows a young Army brat played by Sarah Jessica Parker who dreams of dancing on her favorite TV show. With a help of Helen Hunt, she attempts to win a spot on the show
  • The actual song isn’t used in the movie, a cover is used instead because of licensing restrictions
  • The movie starred Sarah Jessica Parker, Lee Montgomery, Morgan Woodward, Jonathan Silverman, Shannen Doherty, and Helen Hunt.
  • Parker was in Footloose one year earlier, though in this film she has the starring role

Dirty Dancing (1987) 

  • It stars Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze and takes place in the early 1960s
  • It is based in part on Elenor Bergstein’s childhood; She was a screenwriter for the project
    • She wrote a script for another film in 1980, and when an erotic dance scene was cut from the film, she was inspired to write this story with heavy influences from her childhood as a Doctor’s daughter that vacationed in the Catskills
    • For a choreographer, she chose Kenny Ortega!
    • For casting, she insisted on actors that could also dance
  • The scene where the couple are dancing and crawling on the floor wasn’t intended to be in the movie, it was a warm-up that the director loved so much that he put it in the film
  • The trees at the lake were spray-painted green for the scenes that took place in the woods and at the lake because the scenes were shot in the fall
  • In an interview with AFI, Swayze explained why he thought Dirty Dancing endured for so long. “It’s got so much heart, to me,” he said. “It’s not about the sensuality; it’s really about people trying to find themselves, this young dance instructor feeling like he’s nothing but a product, and this young girl trying to find out who she is in a society of restrictions when she has such an amazing take on things.”

Hairspray (1988)

  • This John Waters classic starred Rikki Lake as Tracy Turnblad, a “pleasantly plump” teenager who dreams of dancing on The Corny Collins Show in 1960s Baltimore
    • The movie had many other famous names like Jerry Stiller, Divine, and Sony Bono
    • The movie also uses segregation as a main plot point, as Tracy attempts to bring about an era of change by integrating The Corny Collins show. It highlights the harsh reality of the civil rights era while maintaining a goofy tone
  • The popularity of this movie spawned the stage musical of the same name that was then later re-made into a film in 2007
  • John Waters’ success with Hairspray paved the way for him to make “Crybaby” in 1990, starring Johnny Depp

Breakin’ (1984)

  • Also known as “Breakdance” in the UK and “Break Street ‘84” in other regions, this was a very popular movie of the mid-1980s! With more of a focus on break-dancing than plot, this is a fun dance movie that showcases incredibly talented dancers
  • Set in the hip hop club Radio-Tron in MacArthur Park, LA
    • The club is where many of the dancers spend time and have dance battles
    • This is where the main character Kelly meets Ozone and Turbo, the trio are the main characters of the films
  • Menahem Golan of Cannon Films was inspired to create this film after his daughter saw a breakdancer in California
  • By the end of its run, the film grossed $38,682,707 in the domestic box office

Breakin’ 2 Electric Boogaloo (1984)

  • This sequel to “Breakin'” focused even more on dancing, with extended dance sequences as the main focal part of the film
  • It follows the same trio as they try to save the local community center that serves children and teaches them dance and other art
  • We suggest that when you watch this film, try not to get too caught up in the plot, as the dancing is the real show!

Another Nice Case

Well Cassettes, here’s another nice case we’ve gotten ourselves into! This week, we had our very first guest stop by the studio and tell us about his favorite comedy team (well, one of his favorites).

Special thanks to Mr. Bob Hecker (Robin’s Dad) for coming over to teach us kids a thing or two about Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy.

Laurel & Hardy

Films Mentioned

  • The Lucky Dog (1921):  The very first movie that Stan and Ollie worked together in.  In this silent film Stan plays a poor dog lover and Ollie plays a criminal who wants to rob him and his new love.
  • Their First Mistake (1932): Laurel convinces Hardy that in order to save his marriage he must get a baby.  Line quoted in this episode “I’m not as dumb as you look.”
  • Way Out West (1937): Considered by many to be one of their best feature-length films, this movie was produced by Stan Laurel himself so he was allowed total creative freedom
  • Putting Pants on Philip (1927): This is the first short where they were put together as a duo, though they do not play the characters of Laurel and Hardy
  • The Music Box (1932): This short won an Oscar for best short subject. Not bad for two guys that were almost never critical darlings.
  • Towed in a Hole (1932): In this short, Stan convinces Ollie that they would make more money as fishmongers if they caught the fish themselves. So, they set out to fix up a boat for fishing.
  • A Chump at Oxford (1940): In this full-length film, Stan and Ollie are given a scholarship to Oxford for catching a bank robber. While there, they have a difficult time fitting in with the other students
  • Thicker Than Water (1935): Laurel convinces Hardy to use his savings to pay for furniture. Instead, the boys squander the money at an auction.
  • Men ‘O War
  • Flying Deuces (1939): When Hardy falls in love with a married woman, he joins the foreign legion with Laurel to forget her.
    • This is the film in which the men die in a plane crash and are reincarnated; Laurel as himself and Hardy as a horse
  • Atoll K / Utopia (1951):
    • This was the duo’s last film together. Laurel was sick for much of the filming and the men weren’t given the creative freedom they thought they would have.
  • Unaccustomed As We Are (1929): When Ollie invites Stan over for dinner, Hardy’s frustrated wife leaves him to cook the dinner on his own. When the woman from across the hall offers to help, the evening develops into a big misunderstanding between the men and the neighbor’s husband
    • This was the first sound short filmed without a corresponding silent version.
  • They Go Boom (1929): Laurel and Hardy attempt to get a good night’s sleep despite Hardy’s terrible cold
    • This short was released as both silent and with sound

People Mentioned

  • Stan Laurel
    • Born Arthur Stanley Jefferson in 1890
    • He was known for many of the creative ideas behind the comedy due Laurel and Hardy
    • He played the lovable air-head Laurel who looked up to his friend Hardy
    • He appeared in numerous shorts and films throughout the 20s, 30s, and 40s
    • After the death of his comic partner in 1957, he no longer appeared on-screen
  • Oliver Hardy
    • Born Norvell Hardy in 1892, he later added Oliver to his name to honor his father
    • Originally from Georgia, his southern background was a large part of his character
    • He was known for playing the out-spoken, bossy counterpart to the childlike Stan Laurel for about twenty years
    • After the duo’s final film (Utopia/Atoll K,) the men went on a final tour together
  • Hal Roach
    • Writer, producer, and director who won three Academy Awards and was chief of Hal Roach Studios for 40 years.  One of the awards was for “The Music Box” from 1931 in which Laurel and Hardy spend the entire short lugging a piano up a staircase.  Mostly known for his work with comedies he not only presented Laurel and Hardy to the world he also created “Our Gang” a series of short films about the escapades of young poor neighborhood kids.
  • Billy Gilbert
    • Well known for his comical sneezing routine.  He most notably appears in “The Music Box” as Prof. von Schwarzenhoffen who is upset with the Laurel and Hardy for delivering a piano he does not want.  Other credits to him include episodes of The Three Stooges, the movie His Girl Friday, and the model/voice of Sneezy in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
  • Edgar Kennedy
    • A man of many talents, Edgar Kennedy was a member of the Keystone Cops before landing roles in Charlie Chaplin films
    • As a freelance comedy actor, he often played a policeman in Laurel and Hardy shorts and became famous for his “slow burn” routine
  • James Finlayson
    • Roles in 33 Laurel and Hardy Films with the majority as him portraying the villain.  He is also who Dan Castellaneta took inspiration from for Homer Simpson’s famous catchphrase, “D’oh!”.
  • Mae Busch: After having a rough start in Hollywood she finally was able to appear in a movie with Stan and Ollie.   She then appeared several times afterward as Hardy’s nagging wife in shorts like “Their First Mistake”.
  • Anita Garvin: At the age of 12 Anita was already 5’6″ allowing her to begin early in a bathing beauty stage show.  After working her way up with her beauty and hard work she began comedy work thus landing a leading lady role opposite Stan.  Stan impressed with her commitment convinced Hal Roach a year later to bring her aboard for roles within the Hal Roach Studios. In Laurel and Hardy she often portrayed Laurel’s shrewish wife.
  • Thelma Todd: A successful actress despite her short career, Thelma Todd made a name for herself in comedy and other genres as well. She appeared in Marx Brothers films before being cast alongside Zasu Pitts and Patsy Kelly in shorts as the female counterparts to Laurel and Hardy. She died at the age of 29. Although the death was officially ruled a suicide, it is still considered highly suspicious.
  • ZaSu Pitts: Along with Thelma, a female counterpart to Laurel and Hardy. We mention their film On the Loose (1931)
  • Patsy Kelly:  Discovered by Hal Roach she was paired many times with Thelma Todd and known as the Queen of Wise-cracks

Audie & Baudie

When our guest Mr. Bob Hecker listed some comedians that were influenced by Laurel and Hardy, he quickly threw in the names “Audie & Baudie.” These two might not be a famous comedy duo, but they are real! Archibald Audie and Ichabod Baudie are a clown duo featuring Mr. Hecker and his cousin Steve.