The final year of my degree commences in September, I’m supposed to have at the very least, an understanding of how to make films. Scratch that, how to make good films. However, as I’m sat here going through the preliminary stages of research into my dissertation, I can honestly say I know next to nothing.
Mise-en-scene, Screen Direction, Composition, Shapes within the Frame (what?!), there’s just so many factors that contribute to making a good film, let alone one of the greats. I’ve been reading through “Cinematic Storytelling” by Jennifer Van Sijll these past few weeks in the hope that it will educate me on the nitty-gritty details of enhancing the quality of my filmmaking skills…yeah, right. I’ll have to read this at least five times before it even starts to sink in.
I consider myself a film enthusiast, which allows me to say that I basically enjoy watching movies, and that’s that. I’m not a fan of writing reviews, mainly because I know I’d never do them any justice, and I can’t afford to go to the theatre every week to watch the latest art-house epic at the Renoir or an old classic at the Prince Charles. This is much to my disappointment, because trust me, if my bank allowance would allow me, I’d probably never leave. So, I enjoy the movies. I enjoy going to the flicks whenever I can, but I don’t get to see that many these days to call myself anything other than someone who likes to watch pretty things, funny moments, some serious emotion, and a good old fist fight on the big screen.
This being said, to me the film industry is magical: Hollywood and all its former glory (back in the day when films were actual visual storytelling, instead of ‘how much money can we throw at CGI this time?’), French cinema (oo la la, Je t’aime!), and German Film Noir (hey, we might not be able to credit them for much with what history tells us happened back then, but German expressionist cinematography from the early 40’s/50’s was pure artistic achievement within cinema). They didn’t need action packed money grabbing moments. Shucks, they didn’t even need colour. They utilized a “dramatically shadowed lighting style and a psychologically expressive approach to visual composition”. I won’t delve too deeply into the history of cinema, because, well, you’ll probably know more than I do. But reading my little book, I get so excited to see how much thought and creative effort gets put into filmmaking, even these blockbusters. The sheer determination to achieve a beautiful piece of visual composition is incredible.
Everything in a scene we’re given to see has been thought out by both screenwriter and director. Theorists like Lev Kuleshov have tried to understand how the eye responds to visual stimuli and how, through careful manipulation, an audience’s attention and emotional response can be affected by the different elements put forth by the auteur. Visual storytelling begins with the script. It is there that the plot and the character development will take place, and it’s probably one of the hardest jobs in the industry. To me, as someone who’s usually behind the scenes, debating which red shirt looks more authentic, if that chair needs more light, or shouting out in between takes “is the boom in shot?”, the script is the crucial element to successful storytelling.
Now if you’ve read anything I’ve ever wrote about film which as of late, is only “The One with the Hidden Messages”, you’ll know that my absolute favourite film is American Beauty, and the script for that made the film. Alan Ball’s unique vision of the American Dream gone wrong was a breath of fresh air for American Cinema. I don’t intend to focus on this film however, because there are so many other films to mention. For example, Little Miss Sunshine, an alternative take towards the ‘we’re all going on a, summer holiday” family road trip; the wonderful heart warming story which involved characters created by Michael Arndt, displays individual aspects of a modern dysfunctional family in hard times.
These types of stories are what make cinema interesting in my eyes. There are many films that generate a lot of interest and publicity through the sheer volume of action the trailer will include, and yes, a number of them can be absolutely amazing. Having just seen Ridley Scott’s latest, I will stand up and shout about how awesome a job I thought he did, but the rarity for cinema is taking a chance with screenplays like Ardnt’s and Ball’s and painting these Hollywood stories with a lesser bright light.
The wit, the humour and the sarcasm of the people that surround me, makes me wish sometimes that my life were a script, and the people in it were characters on a screen. I wish with all the creative energy I have buzzing around in my head, that I was talented enough and dedicated enough, to write a script and create a film with my own hands. Because even though the eye candy of CGI and eye-popping blockbuster budgets are appealing, all you really need from the production department is a camera and a couple of good lenses. Your other available resources and money should be spent on coffee and a personal assistant that will make sure you have a shower every now and again. What you shouldn’t be doing is leaving that computer until the script is award winning material (maybe I’m setting the standards a little high…).