The Art of Film Making!
I've been a filmmaker for the better part of the past fifteen years, now, and a day doesn't go by where I haven't learned something new about the craft and dream of creating a film. Of course, I don't mean actual celluloid vs digital, which is a topic unto itself. The bit to focus on here is the art of film making. It is a craft, and no matter which genre you tend to focus on, the methods of telling a good story aurally, visually, and thematically are too vast to be able to simply learn during a course at your local community college (which is what I did and I cherish what I learned and who I learned it from).
Creepy/Cool is definitely a place to talk about the films and projects that we are involved in, but I also want it to be a place where we can talk about what excites us. Therefore, this week, I wanted to talk about a select number of videos, or, more specifically, video essays, that I have been watching and rewatching as a way of indulging myself in the interesting lessons and perspectives that other film makers present. Any good story teller or film maker will tell you that, as story tellers, we are not meant to know everything, nearly to present it in a way to elicit a feeling which allows the audience member to view or question his/her own world in an entertaining way. At least, that's my view of the craft.
Indulge yourself in some of my recent favorite video essays on the art of film making and story telling. If you have any suggestions of your own, or care to comment on my personal thoughts, then, by all means, leave a comment below!
The Dark Knight — Creating the Ultimate Antagonist
Every good horror story needs a great villain, or at least a force to challenge our hero's natural existence and force him/her to grow. Look at A Nightmare on Elm Street (original... duh...) as a great horror example. Nancy is just a normal girl before meeting Freddy, which turns her into someone to be reckoned with by the end.
One of the greatest on-screen villains in the past twenty years has to be Heath Ledger's portrayal of The Joker from The Dark Knight. Michael over at Lessons from the Screenplay has made an amazingly in-depth video exploring what makes this villain so great, why he's a great foil to Batman, and why it's important for this story and this specific hero's journey.
Our horror stories need great villains, or else it's mindless and full of unnecessary jump scares (more on that later).
What Makes a Movie Scary?
If you're wanting to make a scary movie, the idea is to actually make the movie scary. Look at why you're afraid to go to the beach after watching Jaws. I'm sure the imagery of a little kid struggling in bloody water while being eaten by a shark sticks in your mind. But why is that scene scary? Mostly, context.
This is a great essay on what makes a movie scary. It talks about the contrast between the feature and short versions of Light's Out, which is more effective and why. We, as film makers, have a huge tool kit at our disposal to create the essence of fear, and when used within the context of the scene and/or story properly, it can create a lasting message that scares our viewers on the ride home.
With one of our short films, Mirrored, I wanted to create a scary moment in a seemingly innocent situation. Dylan goes to the bathroom to release his bladder. The bathroom is where the evil is. Dylan has made precautions against the evil and rushes in. The evil changes the rules. There's no greater fear, to me, than being helpless while a horrific event takes place, and, for Dylan, this is while he's urinating. It's meant to be fun, scary, and full of tension with a necessary release. Let me know what you thought of the result! And show me a film where you tried to create something really scary.
Why Jump Scares Suck
This has to be my favorite analysis of what makes jump scares important and necessary. Like I stated earlier, as story tellers, we need every tool in our arsenal to evoke the emotion we require from the audience. I'm always hearing, "Ugh, jump scares are the worst!" In most cases, that's an accurate statement. However, if done correctly, surrounded by a great build up and payoff for the overall story, it could be hugely effective for the audience to be on their toes.
What I really like about this video is how he compares a great jump scare to a magic trick, and effectively illustrates this with the opening scene of The Prestige and the clown doll scene from the original Poltergeist. It's one of those lessons that make so much sense that it makes me wonder why everyone isn't accomplishing this on their horror films. Watch this while writing your next film and work it into your story. You'll be glad you did.
What's the point of a director?
This might seem like a silly question to ask, but it's something that I ask myself all the time while I'm directing. This is where craft, art, and technique come into play. How do you know when to use a wide angle or close up? Why use a dolly in as opposed to a dolly out? What emotion are you trying to impact the viewer with?
This video is great about making the job of a director clear and thought provoking. As a film maker, I constantly strive to be better in every area, be it writing, casting, shooting, editing, or composing music. So, the more knowledge the better. Let's look at a few more examples of what to think about in order to be a solid director through techniques used by three unique directors...
Edgar Wright - How to Do Visual Comedy
In my opinion, Edgar Wright is an amazing director in comparison to other, rather lazy, directors out there making movies. This video illustrates that in a perfect way. Also, it doesn't just lend itself to comedy, but to every genre, including my obsession, which is horror.
Why show a simple scene of two people talking when you can be inventive? Why not push the barriers with the story? In Mirrored, I really wanted to do this with the opening shot. Dylan's reflection sits within a broken mirror. My intent was to have the viewer ask themselves, "What happened?" I attempted to elect intrigue into Dylan's life before the actual horror begins.
Another thing that Edgar Wright does better than most is transitions. Why be generic when we can be cinematic? I tend to challenge myself to think outside of the box as a film maker, and that's something this video helps me realize and attempt.
David Fincher - And the Other Way is Wrong
The way that David Fincher decides to tell a story, or point a camera, is incredible from a technical point of view. As a story teller, he is precise in his approach to the craft of film making. It's not only well done, but it's respected. This is how I want to tell stories.
Through these lessons, I have fought to film scenes with the most important aspects on screen, as opposed to just fluff. I tend to shy away from unnecessary camera shake or movement so that the characters and settings can present the mise-en-scène. To me, it shows a well-made film, and that's my goal.
The Art of Making the Movie - Part 01
This last one is not really a video essay, but, it's clearly great information to learn from one of my absolute favorite film makers.
I have learned pretty much everything from one of my most influential film makers, Robert Rodriguez and his 10 Minute Film School segments. What's great about these is he never talks about button mashing, or what programs to or not to use. No, he always presents the idea of thinking yourself out of a jam creatively. We could talk all day about his videos and panels, but I wanted to focus on this except from the From Dusk Till Dawn DVD special features.
This is part of a segment in which Robert Rodriguez walks us through his creative process in filming the opening scene of From Dusk Till Dawn. It's technical in the sense of staging, blocking, and communicating the vision to the crew and actors as a director, but, it's also presenting the idea of when and why to cut away and how to film and block in order to get that certain feeling across. A great moment is when he talks about why he slowly zooms in on Michael Parks, and how he tells George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino to improv their lines so that he could create a rapid cut back and forth between the action of the scene and edit the pacing. These are lessons that help me think like an editor.
Thanks for reading. I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. See you next time...