I must say I do not like using long titles. But this title I believe is very much needed to let you know what this post is about. The reality is I am not an animator. I really don’t plan on becoming one. Even though I am one of animations greatest fans I just don’t think I have the talent to bring drawings or models in a computer to life. Animating is truly one of the greatest magic tricks out there. To fool someone into thinking several drawings flashed in-front of you can create the illusion of movement, and at times life, leaves me speechless. I truly have no words for the wonder it creates in me. As the great animator Richard Williams once said, “I picked the most expensive medium that takes the longest time that you [could pick]. And the reward is you can play God. You can do anything you like with it. You have total control of all the elements.”. This is what makes animation so intoxicating. The medium’s only limits are of ones imagination.
The lesson I wanted to give is really only a retelling of a lesson I heard from an artist who actually did animation. I was listening to The iAnimate Podcast – A podcast that interviews animation artists who work in the film industry – and they were interviewing the Dreamworks animator Tal Shwarzman (check out his blog here). He brought up a frustration he had with the animation he is seeing from many of the young animators today. He claimed young animators are becoming really good at moving stuff around but are not putting any personality or uniqueness into their work. He said, “Everything kind of looks the same”, which I would say is the ultimate slight an animator could give to his peers. The problem is I agree with Shwarzman. I have not seen anywhere close to as many animation show reels as Shwarzman but in the animation on TV and in many feature films I see less individuality. With the development of technology animation is able to do more then ever before, yet rarely do you see a scene that rivals the works of great animators of the past, like Bill Tyltla or Milt Kahl.
What is the special ingredient so many animators seem to be missing today? Honestly there is no one answer. But the interviewers from iAnimate brought up the story of Ollie Johnston telling his pupil Glen Keane a piece of Rapunzel animation he showed him looked well processed but didn’t really entertain him. Now you should know Ollie Johnston was an animator from the 1930′s and worked characters such as Pinocchio, Thumper, and Baloo. Glen Keane had been the lead animator for characters such as Ariel and The Beast. However, the interviewers sort of left the story there. I don’t know if they knew about what Ollie Johnston really told Glen Kean. However, I know what he said and believe it is one of the greatest pieces of advice an animator could be given.
During the production of Tangled Ollie Johnston was in his nineties. He was not in good health and his best friend, Frank Thomas, who had worked with him through out his long forty plus year career at Disney had already passed away. Glen Keane was mentored by Ollie Johnston when he first joined the studio in the late 1970′s. Now in the mid 2000′s he had been developing the movie Rapunzel (which would eventually be changed to Tangled). At this time Ollie was in very frail condition. He could no longer walk and had lost his ability to draw. His old apprentice needed to take him in a wheelchair back to the animation studios. Keane showed some of the things they had been developing to his old mentor. He talked about how excited he was with the benefits of working with computer generated animation. He pointed out the way the computer calculated Rapunzel’s freckles so they would stay on her face no matter where she was moved. He showed Ollie how well the animation worked in three dimensions and showed him how the computer could capture the smallest details in movement and texture. He showed Ollie Johnston several well executed pieces of animation and was excited about seeing his old mentor’s reaction. You can only imagine Keane’s surprise when he looked over and Ollie didn’t seem to be entertained by what he was shown. Maybe it was because Ollie was old and senile. Maybe it was because Ollie wasn’t up with the times. Eventually Keane asked what was wrong. The old animator whispered, “What is she thinking?”
Of course with all the excitement for this new form of animation Glen Keane forgot one of his teacher’s greatest lessons. He was so entranced by what was possible on the outside he forgot to care about what was happening on the inside. The illusion of life is only created in a piece of animation if you believe the character can think and feel. The beauty of the movement or the clarity of the world means nothing if the characters don’t have any inner life. Go back and watch the animation of Thumper repeating the lessons he was given from his farther, Pinocchio trying to explain how he got into Stromboli’s cage to the Blue Fairy, or when Baloo realizes he needs to take Mowgli back to the man village. The movements in those scenes are usually subtle yet speak volumes about the characters. When listening to animators like Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston talk about the characters they animated in the past they don’t describe them as drawings. They describe them as children who took on a life of their own when the animator finished animating them. As important as squash and stretch, timing, staging, anticipation, overlap action, and the other principles of animation are, what is most important in creating the ultimate illusion of life is the belief your character is alive.
This drawing comes from the artist Ken Anderson, one of Walt’s most loyal artists. He worked for Walt from the 1934 short Goddess of the Spring all the way to the day Walt died just before the release of The Jungle Book (1967). It really is amazing seeing Ken talk about Walt, the devotion he had to that man was just astonishing. He said, “I wanted to be close to Walt, because Walt was where things started”. Walt drove creativity and thus many people were driven to work along side him and get involved with his passions, even if this meant coming in on weekends or working to the late hours of the night.
Anderson came to Disney as a student of architecture. Walt called him a man of all trades. Indeed, through out his career Anderson worked as a writer, architect, animator, character designer, and art director for Disney. Anderson was one of the first people to help Walt plan out Disneyland and work on some of the attractions, far before anyone thought Disneyland could be made. Anderson said he did not just want to work in animation. His contributions are seen everywhere in Disney’s history – live action film, animation, Disneyland, and Walt Disney World – however, the place he was given the most responsibility in was 1961′s 101 Dalmations.
Anderson was both the art director and production designer for 101 Dalmations. The movie represented the first time Disney Animation used what was called a Xerox process. This allowed the artists to bypass inking and painting the animation cells for the final picture. What this meant is you would see the actual line drawings projected on the screen rather then drawings painted over. The main reason for this change was to bring down the budget. And though there were a lot of people who lost their jobs because of it Ken Anderson tried very hard to embrace the new style. The new style of animation actually went well with Ken’s style of drawings. There is a sketch quality to almost all of Ken’s art. In the drawing above he embraces the business of the line and throws us into an extremely lush detailed world.
Walt did not like Anderson’s design of 101 Dalmatians however. The fact Walt didn’t like it greatly distressed Anderson. In fact soon after Anderson suffered a severe stroke. When listening to Anderson talk about Walt’s disapproval you don’t get a sense he thought Walt just didn’t understand, you get the sense Anderson felt like he failed Walt. I don’t know if I should be in aw of or concerned with someone who has such power over a follower. Yet, this is the very power Walt held over many of his artists through out his career. Anderson did talk about seeing Walt during the making of The Jungle Book. He along with many other artists remember that last day Walt came to visit the studio. They remember it because Walt wasn’t interested in talking about any projects with the boys. All he seemed to do was look around a little bit and see how the artists were doing. Anderson said when he met Walt that day, two weeks before he passed away, Walt brought up 101 Dalmatians. He said, “You know that thing you did on Dalmatians”. And that’s all he said, but Anderson felt like Walt forgave him right then and there and Walt thought maybe Dalmatians wasn’t that bad of a movie.
Well of course 101 Dalmatians wasn’t a bad movie. Sometimes even Walt Disney had a hard time understanding or accepting good art. Look at the atmosphere Anderson is able to create with the design of the apartment. He happens to be a talented character designer as well so Pongo and Roger are well characterized; Pongo with his restless pose climbing the chair and Roger with the posture of a man deep in thought. Instead of the busyness detracting us I believe it allows the eye to drift toward the center part of the picture and concentrate on the characters. However, this is not an art piece meant for the public to see. Anderson probably never thought any of his art was going to be acknowledged thirty plus years after he died. What he is doing here is exploring. He wants to see how much detail will add to the scene and how much is too much. This I believe is a little too much. But it sure is rich with interesting stuff; like the music notes tied to the center light, the stacked dishes on top of stacked books, or the clock being caricatured like a human head because of the hat. This drawing really just shows a portion of Ken Anderson’s talent and hopefully I will be able to post more of his stuff in the future.
Whether you were put off by the less then par writing or didn’t really like the oversimplified plot, it is undeniable Gravity was one of the best looking movies to come out last year. Every frame is beautiful and even 3D haters needed to say the movie worked well in the questionable format. Gravity represents the continueation of the collabortation between Emmanuel Lubezki and Alfonso Cuarón who have been working together since collage. Indeed, Gravity represents the third time Lubezki has been nominated for best cinematography for a Cuarón picture (the other two being A Little Princess (1995) and Children of Men (2006)).
After the critical and personal failure of their movie Great Expectations (1998) Cuarón and Lubezki chose to go with a new more gritty style of filmmaking for their next film, Y Tu Mamá También, and have stayed with that style ever since. The signature piece of this new style is the long shot. For this movie and Children of Men Lubezki and Cuarón have gone minutes at a time without any clear cuts. Cuarón has said he does this because he wants to have the audience inhabit the world and get lost in it. The cut has the tendency to release tension and distance the audience from the action of the movie. So with Gravity Cuarón chose to start the movie out with a twelve minute opening shot. In this shot we are sucked into Cuarón’s world and even at one time given the main character Ryan Stone’s point of view. These long shots were never meant to be showy. Lubezki said he didn’t want to do them in order for people to be impressed. In fact, if they were doing their job right nobody would know how long the shots were they would just be completely consumed in the story.
The shot you see above represents the key theme of Gravity, rebirth. In the movie Ryan is forced to learn how to let go of her past so she can embrace her future. This shot is made during the transition into the second part of the second act of the story and represents exactly where Ryan is at. She is in the process of being reborn. She has been forced to literally let go of her securities and take on the rest of her journey by herself. There is a lot of journey still to go and a lot of growth she needs to go through. I love every aspect of this shot. Lubezki and Cuarón center Ryan in the middle of the frame. She takes on the fetal position and you even have the tubes representing the umbilical cord. The ship represents the womb and you can see the outside world eliminating the heart of the frame and directing the eye to it’s center. The round door frames Ryan’s character and creates a sense of harmony. This shot allows for a the audience to have a short rest before we are thrown into the next part of the story.
Gravity is a truly explosive film made to be experienced in the theater. If you watch it on DVD or blu-ray I suggest you find as good of a viewing experience as possible. I also believe after six nominations this will be the movie that gives Lubezki his first Oscar for best cinematography.
This is a drawing from the great storyboard artist Bill Peet. He is considered by many to be the greatest to ever live. In all honesty he is a storyboard artist from a time long past. With most features today you don’t see this kind of detail, composition, and character work in storyboards. Most storyboard artists in animation still try to express character and work with composition, but they need to make literally hundreds of drawings to complete their scenes. Because the director wants to see more detailed action from the storyboard artist they do not have as much time to work on the fine detail of any one drawing. In the 1930′s and 40′s, when Bill Peet came to Disney, storyboard artists just drew a few dozen drawings for an average scene.
Bill Peet believed in telling stories through visuals. Walt saw Peet’s talents early one. He sent Peet to the story department for Pinocchio (1941) and he mostly stayed there until his work for The Jungle Book was denied by Walt for a lighter version of the story in 1964. Walt and Peet had fights through out their careers. Peet considered himself one of the only people who actually was willing to stand up to Disney. In the mid fifties through the sixties Peet began to grow concerned that Walt wasn’t as in tune with animation because of all the other things on his plate (Walt was in the middle of creating Disneyland and developing live action movies and television shows). I believe Walt also understood he was growing busy because he gave Peet more authority over his stories. 101 Dalmatians (1961) and Sword in the Stone (1963) movies were story boarded entirely by Bill Peet, a feat unheard of in today’s animation world.
Peet claimed Walt always saw storyboard artists like him as expendable while over idolizing the great animators at Disney. Some say Walt did this because he knew how to tell stories but could not animate worth a darn. I do believe Walt was the best storyteller in the Disney studios, but I don’t agree with Peet when he suggests Walt didn’t value his talent. I understood just how much Peet was valued by Walt when I learned about Peet participating in the 1941 Disney strike. Whether it was justified or not Walt considered all the people who participated in the strike traitors of his generosity and friendship. None of the big animators who participated in the strike continued to work for Disney. Walt even named some of the lead strikers at the House of Un-American Activities Committee when he was called as a friendly witness. The strike hit Disney hard and he was never the same afterword. However, for Walt to accept Bill Peet into the studio after the striker suggest he had a tremendous respect for his storytelling abilities. To have Bill Peet constantly confront Walt and Walt resist firing him also suggest a respect.
In terms of this feature Song of the South, Bill Peet was given the time to develop each drawing. He was allowed to make every one of his storyboard drawings be an inspiration for the character designers, layout artists, and animators work. Look at the way Peet captures these characters personalities. The action is clearly expressed. The world feels completely formed. Even though this is a simplistic pastel drawing, it feels much more detailed. Peet drawings in a way that allows the imagination to fill in the rest of the action. He doesn’t direct the animation by giving a pose for each second of movement but rather inspires the animator to find a movement that best fits the feeling you get from looking at the drawing for the first time. This shows Bill Peet at his most playful and the final animation for the film is just as inspired.
This is from one of the very first Mickey mouse cartoons and it comes from the original drawer of Mickey Mouse, Ub Iwerks. Contrary to common belief it was not Walt Disney who originally created the design of Mickey. In fact Walt wasn’t really ever good at drawing Mickey. Frankly he wasn’t a good draftsmen in general. Ub wasn’t the greatest artist either, but he was a magnificent animator for his time. During the making of this movie (1928) a sign of a great animator was not about draftsmanship, squash and stretch, timing, or character development, it was about speed and gags. In animation’s history there might not have been a faster animator then Ub Iwerks. He literally animated the first two Mickey Mouse shorts (Plane Crazy and Steamboat Willie) by himself, during his off time. This was unheard of for the time and is considered almost impossible to do today. However, because he created a simple enough design Iwerks was able to work with Walt and their wives on finishing the first Mickey mouse short “Plane Crazy” right after Walt was released from obligations from Universal Pictures for the cartoons of “Oswald the Lucky Rabbit”.
“Plane Crazy” was not a success but the next short “Steamboat Willie” completely revolutionized the animation industry. The key ingredient, you ask? SOUND! Walt Disney and his now small creative team dubbed the Mickey short with all kinds of fun sound effects which brought life to both Mickey and the many gags in the short.
This drawing might not seem very special to you. However, I think you can find substance in the simplicity of the design. When you break down animation to simple designs like this, it feels like anyone is capable of doing it. The action is very well placed. We know exactly what is going on; the protagonist and antagonist are clearly understood and gag is clearly staged. This is one of the drawings that started it all and for that I can’t help but admire it.
Akira Kurosawa has been one of the people I have been most reluctant to talk about. Not because he isn’t worth talking about, rather because he is considered such a legend in the great history of filmmaking. He is also the first foreign language director I have studied. The culture of Japan is much different then that of the United States. As a dyslexic who can’t read very fast it has been hard for me to watch some of his films. I hate reading subtitles because I need to pause at times and am hardly able to look up and cherish the visuals unless I do repeat viewings. However, with all these problems studying him has been completely worthwhile. Every movie I have seen is interesting. Three of his films, Ran, Red Beard and Ikiru, are among the greatest films I have ever watched.
Akira Kurosawa was one of the greatest artists of the 20th century. He is hailed as a master of the craft of cinema. Many filmmakers have said he is a film school in himself. They say if you want to know about film study Kurosawa. However, Kurosawa would tell you to study the world. He studied the great artists– the filmmakers, poets, and musicians– and allowed them to inform his stories and the way he told them. He also used his personal life to push his storytelling.
As with many of the filmmakers I have studied, school was not his strong suite. In his biography, Something Like An Autobiography, Kurosawa described himself as too honest and too rebellious in school. He said when he did something bad and the teacher asked who did it he would always raise his hand. He talked about messing around with dynamite, giving snarky answers on his exams, and forging papers so he could get out of activities. He never got the best grades. He never really cared enough to apply himself in school. When it came to art Akira said the teachers gave the best grade to the student who could copy something the best and Akira found this incredibly dull. The more I read about his childhood the more I can resonate with it. Kurosawa wasn’t the greatest athlete. He was even sent away after his third year of middle school to his older cousin’s to, as his father put it, “be cured of his physical weakness”.
Kurosawa seemed to choose the cinema out of this overwhelming feeling of not belonging. His movies for the longest time concentrated on the outsider or were about people breaking away from the system. In Japan movies were considered extremely questionable when Kurosawa was a child in the 1910′s and 20′s. Yet, his military father took him to see many films. This was one of the few things his farther broke from tradition to do. I believe there was a tremendous strain between Akira and his father. The strain was great because Akira so badly wanted to be like him and earn his respect. Kurosawa had three sisters. He said he could relate with them way more than his older brother. He played games with them and was much more emotionally vulnerable then his brother and father. Akira lost one of his sisters to illness when he was in fourth grade. His autobiography reveals he had great feelings for this sister and it was a deeply painful loss.
In middle school Kurosawa began to grow up quickly. He observed the great earthquake of 1923. Though nobody close to him was killed his brother took him out to the city and both of them observed the mass damages and in his words, “every type of corpse imaginable”. This even along with the great destruction of the atomic bombs in the 1940′s gives great insight to why Kurosawa’s stories revolve so often revolve around destruction and war. Kurosawa began to apply himself physically and built up an appreciation for athletics, military, and discipline.
Through the midst of all the destruction and war Kurosawa has a powerful grip on his films emotions and the inner journey of his characters. The plots of his films are only used to dig deeply into the emotional conflict of his characters. This is what separates his work. Though Akira Kurosawa was forced go grow up at a very early age, he never lost touch with his emotions. This might be due to the fact he developed a relationship with his sisters. It might be due to wanting to reach out to his father. Akira said in his autobiography he believed his father was an sentimentalist at heart. One of the places where his father seemed to be willing to open himself up was in the movie theater. I can see Akira trying to reach that sentimental side of his father with his movies. He did reach it with me.
The Films of Kurosawa touch on powerful inner conflicts. I am constantly stricken by how universal the themes in these conflicts are. Yet they originated from personal memories. Kurosawa advocated the idea “Creation is memory”. He said as artists we must hold on to the present and the past in order to inform our future. As with the great John Ford, in Kurosawa’s later films you see a tremendous desire to hold on to what once was. The great filmmakers have this desire because the past is where their great memories rest and where their greatest creations originate.
I am just as big of a fan of the epic moments in film as the next person. They are why I first thought I wanted to make movies. There were those moments that truly felt like they were bigger then life– Mr. Smith’s filibuster at the senate floor, Col. Shaw’s men charging up the hill of Fort Wagner, Bambi saving Faline from the hunting and escaping the fiery Forrest with his father– All these epic scenes played crucial roles in me wanting to become a filmmaker. However, there are other movies with truly epic moments. Look at Michael Bay’s Transformers franchise. He seems to have several dozen shots in his movies where we see huge explosions, robots kicking each others asses, and more explosions. I mean the epic moments and the half-naked woman are why people usually go to Michael Bay films. And man do his films have an audience; Transformers is a billion dollar franchise. I am blown away by some of the shots in those films. Yet, you will have a hard time finding anyone who calls Michael Bay a great director or any of his films memorable. In the critique circles his films are compared mostly to junk food. They taste really good when you first sit down to see them, but they end up leaving you wanting more. In short, they create a high but not for long and the only way you can get the high again is if you consume even more explosions and special effects the next time around.
Michael Bay is not the only director who knows how to film things exploding. Almost every trailer I see before a mainstream movie has tons of shots feasting our eyes with huge visual effects, over the top scores and sound effects, and massive amounts of cutting. It’s like the film industry heard we like cake so now they are loading them up and stuffing our face with them. We hardly have time to enjoy one piece before another piece is stuffed into our mouth. It makes me sick. When I go to movies with my mom she often looks away because the cutting in the trailers overwhelms her. When I go to the movies with my friend she needs to cover her ears during the previews because the trailers are so overloaded with sound effects and over the top scores. This isn’t just a personal problem. The theater is attracting fewer and fewer people. We are seeing the television ratings explode while more and more theater seats are left empty.
The main problem we are seeing from the film industry is a lack of trust in their audience. The powers that be in the movie business do not think audiences are capable of appreciating a trailer without a grand score and butt loads of special effects. They treat you like children and think you will only appreciate something if you are constantly stimulated by a bunch of lights flashing and noises going off. The blockbuster of today can not sit still; the camera is always moving and we experience dozens of cuts every minute. No longer do we feel suspense in film. No longer are the characters the focus of the blockbuster. No longer are we given the time to appreciate the quiet moments.
Intimacy is found in the moments between the actions. The small moments in film are what we truly connect with. Think of any family event, if you are married think about your honey moon, or think of any personal adventures you have gone on, what are your fondest memories from those events? My guess is they have more to do with the small things; the personal problems you overcome and the relationships you create. The same goes with film. The main moment I remember from Mr. Smith’s filibuster is the image I chose for this blog, when Mr. Smith whispers, “I guess this is just another lost cause Mr. Pain”. This moment actually comes after Mr. Smith has been defeated and shown all the mail asking him to stop the filibuster. The moment I was most impacted by in Glory was right before the soldiers charged the hill. The music didn’t come in yet and most of the sound went away. I remember seeing Bambi jump across the great divide and get shot in mid-air. I remember as a child looking at his lifeless body on the ground. The instant the motion stopped is when I was most entranced. His father shows up. All he says is “Get up”. Bambi slowly getting on his feet made me more excited than any of the action before or after.
We remember these quite moments in film because they speak to our hearts. They are the things we can really relate to. We have no context for big robots blowing each other up. We have no reason to invest ourselves into those kinds of things. My body was never made to live off of the high moments in life or in movies any more than it was made to live off of cake. Film has always been a personal medium. There is nothing more spiritually satisfying to me as having a group of strangers in a theater crying together, or more accurately feeling together. Great action can be replicated by other filmmakers the emotions of your heart cannot. To get to these moments filmmakers need to look inside themselves and be willing to bring to screen their most intimate thoughts and feelings. They need to be willing to trust the audience to celebrate the quietness in your film. The reasons for the grand battles and great stands need to become most important. If you are able to do this, your movie will live forever.
As I said in my last Breaking Bad post the character Walter White has been hailed as one of the greatest characters to come to the small screen. Some of you who haven’t seen the series might want to know who Walter White is? Well you are looking at him. Right there in the corner of the frame. He is minding his own business grading some papers from his chemistry class. At this time in the story he is a man who obeys the law. He doesn’t step on anyone’s toes, never complains, and isn’t valued. Walter White is the definition of a nobody.
There are many examples of nobodies in film. Whether it be Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver, Todd Anderson in Dead Poets Society, or Walter White in Breaking Bad, these character’s role in society as being ignored and their own low opinion of themselves serves the same narrative purpose though their arcs can be vastly different. Most of the time characters don’t stay as one type through out a story. In Dead Poets Society the whole story revolves around Todd finding his voice and standing up for himself. Because Breaking Bad is a television series the creators have a lot of time to work on Walter’s arc and he goes through several character types during the five-season duration of the show.
So why does Walter White start out as a nobody? One of the greatest things gained in using a nobody character type is sympathy. The majority of nobodies in storytelling are denied by society but understood by the viewer. The audience sympathizes with their situation because they are shown how the nobody became who he or she was and they have the tendency to root for the outsider. While safe in our home reading a book or going with a friend to watch a movie at the theater, we are at our most relaxed and accepting. This allows us to be open to fiction and accepting of it’s characters in a way we aren’t in real life. Walter White is doing nothing wrong at the beginning of Breaking Bad. He is a good man who cares deeply for his family. He works hard and hardly has anything to show for it. He finds out he has cancer and yet cannot bring himself to tell his family. The audience can’t help but see themselves in Walt’s role. We all know how it feels to be denied, how it feels to be invisible in the middle of a crowd. In many ways we all are nobodies; only noticed by a select few in a world populated by billions.
The nobody starts at the very bottom. This is an immediate set up for great drama. Starting at the very bottom makes any obstacles tougher. The nobody isn’t the the leader. He isn’t even the solider. He is the peasant. Unlike with the fallen hero or diamond in the rough character type there is no great expectation from the audience for the nobody to able to get to the top. Every step the nobody makes to get up the mountain is considered substantial. Much of the drama comes from going against the audiences and other characters expectations through having the nobody do things no one saw coming. One of the greatest points of interest in Breaking Bad is the fact that Walter White chooses to make meth. This fascinates even the most conservative of audience. It’s something dangerous, against character type, and illegal, which all helps create great drama. Walter’s colors are all the more brighter because we have never seen them shine before. Heck, we never knew he could be colorful. Whether what he is doing is good or bad we are interested because he is a virgin to action.
Drama also comes from the nobody’s self conflict. Not only does the world think little of them at the beginning of the story they don’t think much of themselves. This creates an emotional barrier the character needs to overcome. A big theme through out Breaking Bad is Walter White’s personal view of who he is. There are many times where he is self-destructive and does truly evil things because he seems to have given up on himself. There are other times where we can see him overcome his self-doubt and do some great things. As audience members we cannot see emotional conflict at work without action. Both the physical and emotional obstacles of a character should be linked. We are just as interested in the emotional reasons for Walt cooking meth as the physical ones. Cooking meth goes beyond the physical needs of making money. It is the first thing Walt does in the series that makes him feel alive. He believes he makes the best product out there. He knows cooking meth will provide for his family. And he is working with chemistry; the medium he loves the most.
The nobody is one of the most compelling character types because there is no inherent foreshadow of who they will become. Walter White starts out as a big question mark. At the beginning of Breaking Bad we don’t see Walt in any kind of power. We don’t know if he has ever been loved or if he truly had a goal for his life. This gives the storyteller a blank canvas to work with. With this canvas the storytellers of Breaking Bad were able to paint a masterpiece that changed the face of television.
So there is this phenomenon known as Breaking Bad. You just might have heard about it. Those of you who are fans of the TV series might be confused to why I am bringing it up now just after the premier of the last episode. To tell you the truth at the time the last episode was premiering I had yet to watch a single episode of the series. However, I made a promise to myself I would start watching it after the series was done. I have heard a tone about it and honestly nobody I know who watches the TV show has anything but praise for the series. Critics are through the roof with their admiration of creator Vince Gilligan and his television sensation. Breaking Bad is considered by many to be the king pin of this golden age of television. The character the series stars, Walter White, is hailed as the greatest character to ever come to the small screen.
I have just began to watch this series and already feel the need to write about it. I agree with the critics who call the show revolutionary. It does things I have never seen done before on network television. The series doesn’t seem to care if we agree with it’s characters actions. For goodness sakes, the show stars a character who makes meth. The series brings up issues many film executives would call toxic to the entertainment industry. The show gives blunt commentaries on the way we live, our school systems, poverty, government, just to name a few. It is a show where more things go wrong then right and where we can’t rely on the idea that everything will turn out fine. In fact (spoiler alert), the main character Walter White has been described as one of the greatest monsters on television. This revelation is both frustrating and exciting to me. I only know the Walter White of the first season and I can not even imagine him as a monster (end of spoiler).
Not only do I like the story of Breaking Bad, I like the way it is told. The structure of every episode works in terms of building immediate tension along with giving us greater insight of the whole. The cinematography and editing keep each scene interesting while driving the story forward. Most of the directors know when to hold on a moment and when to move on. The show doesn’t dwell on the action rather the effects of the action; the emotional impact the actions have on the characters. The writers do not give any characters an easy way out. There are no clear good guys and no clear villains. The filmmakers push to the drama to it’s breaking point and take us out of our comfort zone because they know that is where we will get the most entertainment… and insight.
I am going to start writing about some of the strengths I see in this series, and maybe some of the weaknesses. I do not agree with all the morals expressed in the show. I don’t think the creators want us to agree with everything they show and the characters do. It is quite difficult to be responsible when dealing with a subject matter like meth. At times I think the show is probably doing more bad then good for the majority who watch it. I know some who think because the show has language, drug use, and sexual themes it shouldn’t be watched. Honestly just a few years ago I probably would has said it was too dark and “sinful” to be watched. However, I am glad so far I have chosen to go on this journey. And I look forward to telling you some of the things I have learned.
In regards to future posts on the series the farther you go the more spoilers for the show you are most likely to see.
Many of my friends give me a hard time about my simplistic choice in foods. I am perfectly fine with eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich seven times a week for lunch. For dinner I want a little variety. I mean seven days of just pizza would get a little old. I would like to have a hamburger every once in a while and maybe some chicken wings on special occasions. Keep in mind the hamburger must be plain and if the pizza has more then just peperoni I am likely to throw it out. Let’s just thank the gods we have more sophisticated eaters then me. Cooking is an art form and there are people who spend their whole lives working on making new types of dishes for the eater to enjoy.
If you are a follower of my blog right about now you might be wondering if someone hijacked it. This blog is about storytelling and filmmaking, not food. However, it is easy to equate a good chef to a good filmmaker. Both are often described as artists and both professions main purpose is to satisfy the audience. However the audience is not always the best judge of what they want. As audience members we usually tend to fall back on what we already know. I say my favorite food is pizza because I don’t know any better. I have tasted but a small fraction of what is out there, yet rarely am I willing to venture out and eat more.
The executive producers of the movie business know that we as audiences want something we are familiar with. And that is what they give us. We are given the same kind of love stories, with the same kind of action sequences, and the same kind of heroes again and again. Why should we expect anything else when sequels and reboots are making the most money? Look at the top five grossing movies of this year, all are either sequels or reboots. Today’s audience is asking for the ordinary even though the medium has never been more able to give us the extraordinary. We are seeing greater artists in the medium of film today then we have ever seen.
It’s as if we have the greatest chefs in the world at our disposal and all we have them make is hamburgers and hotdogs. Sure they could make some damn good hamburgers and hotdogs, yet their talents are for the most part wasted. At the end of the day it is us the audience who calls the shots. We choose what the industry makes. How long will it take for us to get tired of seeing the same kind of characters and knowing the ending of the movie far before the story is finished? Are we going to be willing to go outside our comfort zone? Will we dare to discover something new? Something that could give us a greater insight to our lives and this world?
I am entering the medium of film knowing the audience wants a curtain type of movie. I will appease the audience and follow the narrow guidelines they require me to walk. I am willing to do this because I have seen artists do great things with a limited amount of creative freedom. But I will not continuously retread common ground. I will give you my version of the hamburger and then I am moving on. I want to experience new foods and ingredients. I want you to experience something new as well. Shakespeare was not the last original storyteller, just as the hamburger, in all its glory, is not the greatest culinary achievement.