A Dreamer Walking

Turning 30!

Posted in Personal Philosophy by Jacob on November 4, 2019

I’m at another milestone. I’m 30. Just turned it yesterday. I made the mistake of looking back at a blog I wrote 9 years ago when turning 21. HOLY COW! I was talking about feeling like I don’t have much time then?!?! And now, with hardly any big achievement to attach my name to I am nine years older. Maybe the best choice now is to give up. This whole, “follow your dream” thing is just not working out very well…

Sorry, I’m being a little facetious. In all honesty, I’ve hardly ever considered giving up. This dream I have is just too precious. Sure, there have been times where I haven’t seen my direction as clearly. There have been times where I’ve slowed way down. And, there was once a time I really did think about dropping a big part of my dream because the weight felt too heavy to bear. Yet, one of the things I am most proud about is my ability to get back up and continue to plug away.

A good question might be, if you have been pursuing your dream all this time why the hell are you not farther at such an old age? Well first of all, my parents would be offended; I’m not that old! And sure, it would be nice to be working on bigger projects, getting some recognition, or at the very least living on my own by now. But despite the fact none of these things have happened, I actually feel a weird sense of accomplishment at this point in my life.

It hit me when reading my “Turning 21” piece that I don’t feel the sense of time going by as quickly as I once did. I feel like I am where I am supposed to be. The reason for this? Well, because I have not been dawdling. If there is such a thing as being cinematically ripped, I’m that. I know this comes across a bit pretentious, but I think this blog speaks for itself. I know cinema. I understand the nuances to what creates great story.

Even now, when my time is spent working on writing scripts, filming and editing projects, and working a thirty five hour a week job, I have continued to build my knowledge on cinema. I keep track of my hours and I still average about 10 hours a week studying. The notes I have are countless. The books filled with highlights and the in-depth analysis on films, along with a continual dedication to looking into the corners of the world of cinema is something I am extremely proud of. (I SWEAR one of these days I will even dive into the French New Wave).

One of the reasons I am hovering over this part so much is because most of the work is NEVER SEEN! I don’t really need it to be seen. I am fine never having anyone read the 25+ notebooks filled with notes on commentaries, interviews, and “making of” documentaries. I am okay with people thinking I just listen to music rather than listening to countless hours of downloaded film and story analysis. They don’t need to know the details. But, selfishly I wish they could be impressed by the effort a little. You know, like those people at the gym who drool over the guy who adds the extra twenty pounds to each side and can still pull off the lift like it’s nothing. Or at the very least, a recognition from those who think I have been twiddling my thumbs, that this type of “exercise” takes its toll, even though it has its benefits in the long run.

The reality is if I were simply doing film studies these days you would have great cause for concern. Luckily my 20’s have witnessed some other developments. I have started to actually film projects these last five years. In fact, I’ve managed to work on A LOT of projects. The only issue: very few have been published and the ones that were haven’t gotten the traction they deserve. Yes, I have some responsibility in not marketing my own work, or at the very least not partnering with people that market well. Yet, there are more than a few examples where when I provided a high quality product the producers failed to do their job. What can I say, small towns aren’t made for marketing film.

The inability to finalize three documentary passion projects has been the biggest disappointment of my magnificent 20’s. I would love to have someone else to blame. I do wish I had more help in the trenches. But the man with the vision is the man who is responsible to lift the dream off the ground and get it across the finish line. Who knew dreams were so heavy? They are important stories to tell, covering some fascinating people and difficult situations. And I am still determined to get these projects done.

The reason I bring up these projects is not to simply complain. Due to the personal nature of these projects, and never having enough money, I’ve needed to participate in each aspect of production. I have been the director, shooter, and editor of most of the pieces I’ve worked on. The lens stopped being a figurative symbol to me. Instead it’s become a physical tool I needed to figure out in order to produce images equal to those I’ve written so much about. Putting the concepts explored on this blog into physical practice has been a crucial stepping stone.

After excelling in the use of the physical process of filmmaking these last few years I chose to try to tackle the thing that scared me the most in the film business… WRITING! Um… you have cause to be confused here. I mean, you can accurately say, “Isn’t that one of the first things you managed to tackle?” “I mean isn’t “writing” what this blog is all about?” “Aren’t you writing at this VERY MOMENT?!”… :/ … You might be on to something there. Yet, though I have been willing to publish these pieces through the last ten years, I have never counted myself a good enough writer to express myself in a professional way. At least, I have not counted myself strong enough in the form of writing to bring my actual stories to life. Of course, I am now talking about screenwriting.

Screenwriting has been the most intimidating aspect of all of cinema for me. Like some of my great influences in the medium of film – such as Pete Docter, Martin Scorsese, or Steven Spielberg – I thought maybe I could get away with never really needing to know how to write scripts. I could just find someone to do it for me. It’s fair to say I have just as much of an excuse as any of them. I have been clinically diagnosed with dyslexia and you will hardly be able to find a dyslexic who is known for their magnificent writing skills. It does happen, but dyslexia is a medically diagnosed reading disorder where translating their natural visual thinking into the written word is extremely difficult. I’m embarrassed even now. Despite looking through and editing these pieces multiple times before publishing them there are constantly [ ] I end up missing. The whole challenge of figuring out when to use “then” rather then “than” has proven to be the bane of my existence….Case in point.

Despite this struggle, or maybe because of it, this last year I decided to challenge myself and see if I could write a script for one of my story ideas. After a solid 30 page story I decided to go even bigger. I’m proud to say I have finished a very strong first draft of a feature script and am in the middle of writing my second feature. Figuring out a way to use a weakness – such as the struggle to write well – and turn it into a strength has not been easy. But the sharpening of my writing skills through this blog and my dedication to thinking in great detail about the themes and nuances of my stories, have produced scripts I can genuinely say I am proud of. And even more importantly, this new found skill has given me yet another way to find success in the film industry.

These three ventures during my 20’s – developing my knowledge of cinema, applying those insights into the physically shooting and editing of film, and forcing myself to overcome my reading and writing struggles to literally produce scripts for my stories – have all been indescribably helpful in allowing me to pursue this great dream I keep talking to you guys about. Yet, what towers over everything can hardly be described as anything to do with storytelling or cinema. Or, maybe I could describe it as having everything to do with those things. The magic sauce in any good story or profound image is the ability to translate one’s life experience into one’s work.

As Akira Kurosawa put it, “I’ve forgotten who it was that said creation is memory. My own experiences and the various things I have read remain in my memory and become the basis upon which I create something new. I couldn’t do it out of nothing.” The man is right. The life experiences I’ve had in my twenties are vast and deep. I walked with a friend through his struggles with alcoholism and deep depression. I acted as a meditator and person of council over the past six years as my parents processed through divorce. And, I have tried my best to be a strong mentor for my younger sister who just now is starting high school.

The amount others have walked with me through my struggles is significant as well. I’ve faced three significant surgeries: open heart, wrist surgery, and a hip replacement (I swear I’m only 30). Without the kindness of family and friends I would have been homeless multiple times. And then there is the toll of the vision. Something I couldn’t possibly bear all by myself. These life experiences are the building blocks of great storytelling. Having the the type of people who allow you to examine yourself rather than close yourself off, makes all the difference.

There you are. My short argument for why these last few years have not been a waste. Why my 21 year old self was not completely right about his insistence on getting on with making movies and becoming famous. Success in the film industry needs to happen simply as a way to get some of my bigger ideas off the ground. I’m not in this in order to become famous or rich. I am in this because I absolutely must figure out a way to tell these stories. All this said, I do feel with my 30’s comes the need to take the next step. I am ready to break through.

What must happen next is the thing I am most scared of. You may find this funny, seeing how much time I just put into arguing my case for being prepared. But I do not see preparedness as a direct correlation to success. There are aspects of this “movie making” thing I don’t know if I can figure out. The biggest one being the ability to show my worth to the right people. How do you get that right producer to check out your script? How do you promote a documentary piece so it will be given funding? What does one need to do in order to have his well researched and thought out insights on film, read by a broader audience?

I’ve put so much time into preparing myself for this journey. Yet studying film, developing projects, and writing scripts is NOT enough. Simply doing those things would be a waste if I don’t eventually have others with whom to share the vision. I believe now is the time to forge those relationships. I have been standing on this edge long enough. Studying its terrain and building up strength to fly. Heck, the view is magnificent. But I have not been called to only be an observer of the view.  I will never forget the path that has lead me here. But the vision is calling me and now is the time to leap. Now is the time to demand recognition and cast the vision so others will contribute. In some ways how this happens is still to be figured out. Yet the fear of not knowing enough or having a strong enough vision is gone. It is time.

The Masters Vs. The Empire

Posted in Personal Philosophy by Jacob on October 24, 2019

Two of cinema’s giants come out with comments against Disney’s relentless line of generic Marvel films, and all we can do is debate on whether they have the right to do this? The amount of shade thrown Scorsese and Coppola’s way after Scorsese critique of Marvel films not being “cinema” and a suggestion by Coppola that the films are “despicable” is extreme, and in my opinion uncalled for. Did you know the great Kurosawa said he only was able to produce a few moments of pure cinema in his career. KUROSAWA!!! I bet if you ask Coppola or Scorsese they too would be very critical about their ability to make real cinema that pushes the boundaries of the medium.

Because most simply like to read the clickbait headline, maybe it would do us good to look into a little more of what these two masters of cinema said about the Marvel Cinematic Universe Empire. For Scorsese, talking to Empire Magazine, it was short and sweet, “I don’t see them. I tried, you know? But that’s not cinema… Honestly, the closest I can think of them, as well made as they are, with actors doing the best they can under the circumstances, is theme parks. It isn’t the cinema of human beings trying to convey emotional, psychological experiences to another human being.” After receiving the Lumière Festival Life Time Achievement Award for his body of work, Coppola communicated a few short thoughts about his view of the MCU and comments made by his friend Scorsese, “When Martin Scorsese says that the Marvel pictures are not cinema, he’s right because we expect to learn something from cinema, we expect to gain something, some enlightenment, some knowledge, some inspiration…I don’t know that anyone gets anything out of seeing the same movie over and over again.” He ended on a even more dower note claiming, “Martin was kind when he said it’s not cinema. He didn’t say it’s despicable, which I just say it is.”

These legitimate criticisms of Hollywood’s most generic franchise, from the forces behind the most influential movies of all time, such as The Godfather, Apocalypse Now, Taxi Driver, and Raging Bull, are extremely relevant and should be taken seriously. Instead we’ve been getting mostly petty complaints. A few people have even dared to dismiss the works of Coppola and Scorsese in the same way they perceive the two filmmakers dismissing the great Marvel Universe. 

Let’s get the critique of Scorsese and Coppola out of the way. These two directors have most likely not watched all the films they are critiquing. Scorsese even said as much before articulating his brief thoughts on the movies. I also think it’s legitimate to critique Scorsese and Coppola for not being able to empathize with the people who find the Marvel films extremely enriching. I know Scorsese in particular was a HUGE fan of the Western in the 1940’s and 1950’s. And although there were instances of true transcendence – John Ford’s The Searchers, Howard Hawks Rio Bravo, and Fred Zinnemann’s High Noon, to name a few – there were plenty of completely mediocre and easily forgettable Westerns during those time periods as well. And from my understanding Scorsese wanted to check out almost all of them. King Vidor’s 1946 classic, Duel in the Sun, for example is a film Scorsese has articulated quite eloquently as being an under appreciated masterpiece yet the critics then and most historians today would not call that movie special in any real way.

So there is a bit of a double standard here. Both Scorsese and Coppola are Cinephile nerds who still hail films many others can legitimately criticize. Yet the category Coppola and Scorsese rarely hailed as anything special were the big budget studio driven films of the day. In fact, the two filmmakers are legends because of the guts they had in standing against the studio “norms” in order to produce risky cutting edge films. They made no efforts to hide a big middle finger to the shallow one track mind of the Hollywood establishment. After the financial success The Godfather Coppola was begged by studio heads to make a sequel. He resisted for a while. When he decided to make another one it was made to be a literal contrast to the first film. Where people were expecting a sort of copy of the first film – with hyper violence, punchy editing, and dynamic characters – Coppola literally did the opposite – most of the violence happens off screen, shots were held for uncomfortably long amount of time, and the film as a whole was a literal meditation on the lack of dynamism our main characters had compared those from the first movie (HERE is a great podcast episode from Max Baril going into detail about the differences between the movies).

Due to the Rocky franchise’s success the Boxing film, as a subgenre of the Sports film, was a huge fad in the early 80’s. So after the failure of his musical New York, New York, Scorsese agreed to the more streamline genre. He then proceeded to subvert the whole Sports genre completely. Rather than making a sports film where we root for underdog to excel, we are given a character full of contradictions and conflicts. He a magnificent boxer, yet he abuses his wife, shows a destructive hyper ego, and uses his popularity to hide a destructive home life. Scorsese is relentless in his examination of the male persona and it’s destructive qualities. In short he wanted to say something new and damn anyone who wanted to get in the way.

The two artists being criticized by countless fans of the Superhero genre could not care less about the criticism. They aren’t trying to force you to see things their way. They simply are sharing their frustration with the lack of innovation in the current mainstream film industry. What should be extremely troubling for anyone who enjoy indiependence in the film industry is the power grip the Disney Corporation has over the big budget blockbusters of today. Those at the top have made it clear their bottom line interest is the amount of money their films will make. For this to work one must be safe in the way they tell their stories. This is why, despite a wonderful amount of talent and countless dollars, all their films look the same and in the end rarely have anything interesting to say. 

Now, you can disagree with me about my little critique on the MCU. This is not the post to get into details about the MCU and the ways I feel they highlight the bankruptcy in today’s cinema. There are admittedly some admirable qualities. Some qualities in fact that Scorsese and Coppola are a bit ignorant of in their own filmmaking. Storytelling that highlights diversity and anything close to equal female representation are few and far between in both Master Filmmaker’s films. Though I wouldn’t call the MCU a pinnacle of diversity or female empowerment, I admire their efforts of late in creating stories where woman take on a more intentional role (such as what we saw with Captain Marvel and hopefully will see with the upcoming Black Widow film). And their willingness to go into other cultures to highlight the need for diversity (with movies like Black Panther and the upcoming Shang-Chi film) is something I’m also in big support of. 

It’s okay to have differing opinions on things. I’m not under the subscription that “everyone could be right”, but I do know no one has a monopoly on truth. The issue I take is when great artists are dismissed due to their comments being opposed to something someone likes. Scorsese and Coppola have earned the right to have their criticism heard and taken seriously. Both Coppola and Scorsese are in search of the unknown in their cinema. Even today they continue to strive to find deeper truths about human nature. Watch Martin Scorsese’s A Personal Journey Through American Cinema and you will see extremely broad and deep appreciation for movies. That these two artists do not have a connection with today’s most successful franchise, is a troubling one. 

(If you want to read more about Martin Scorsese’s thoughts on the MCU and personal troubles he is finding in today’s cinema check out the I Said Marvel Movies Aren’t Cinema. Let Me Explain piece he wrote in the New York Times) 

An Industry Without a Soul

Posted in Personal Philosophy by Jacob on April 17, 2019
Example pic

I’m in a dark mood right now, I apologize.

The trailer for the “live action” Lion King came out the other day. The film is just one in a long line of remakes that Disney is producing. Then there are the franchises, connected Universes, the sequels, prequels, and more sequels. Of course, scattered about is some original storytelling. These original films are mostly safe and used as a sort of reward to the artists who are being pressured through money and enticed by state of the art technical developments to make assembly line films.

The reason I say “assembly line films” is because the stories have literally already been done. The most clear examples are the remakes. Look at the trailers for Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King. The trailers reek nostalgia with no soul.  We are expected to get excited because the images we fell in love with as kids are being brought to us in a “live action form”. Instead of the cartoony reality we had before, we are now being given a photo realistic example of the story. The greatest sin is the comment Disney Corporation makes about their understanding of the medium of animation.

The key difference with the remakes, that are desperately trying to stick to the original film’s successful formulas, is the transition from something that was stylized to something that has the look of realism. Understand, to call most of these Disney remakes “live action” is utterly inaccurate. The Lion King film will not hold a single frame of live action footage. They simply want to take a Picasso painting and render it so it looks realistic. In most cases they completely destroy what made the original films the magnificent pieces of art they were in the first place.

And here I get to the core of my rant. Disney Corporation has rendered the soul out of these great pieces of art by turning its back on its heritage. The goal of Walt was never to render things realistically, rather his efforts constantly strove toward creating something real inside the imagination.  I can say from years of studying and being influenced by the man’s films, Walt Disney would be ashamed of what the company he, his brother, and Ub Iwerks, originated. The lack of originality and innovation is staggering in today’s Disney.

The Disney Corporation still has creativity. The artists are simply too talented to not allow for some wonderful entertainment and provide great character work in this constant bombardment of remakes, prequels, and sequels. Yet, when the financiers are calling all the shots, as they are so clearly doing for Disney, a decline in innovation is inevitable. The great irony is eventually it will lead to great financial loss as well. The reason? Because money men can not spark audience’s imagination. The pattern has already shown itself in the history of Hollywood.  The financiers didn’t know how to deal with sound, they let artist call the shots and we received one of the greatest five years in the history of Hollywood from 1937-1942. Then slowly the money people took over. It took awhile but by the 1970’s the old Hollywood Moguls had all but given up. Thus the artists rose and began the greatest decade in cinema. The eighties showed some financial success but lacked innovation and thus we saw the rise of independent cinema in the 1990’s. Disney even has example of this. The reason the origins of Disney are so strong, where classics like Snow White, Pinocchio, and Bambi were created, was due to the vision Walt Disney cast, leading the charge. After his death in 1966 we witnessed one of the most lack luster periods in animation, all the way up to the 1980’s.  From the late 80’s through the mid 90’s the CEOs of Disney had no idea how animation worked, thus they allowed the artists to take center stage which produced the second golden age of Disney animation. Though the money men at Disney thought they could control 2D animation in the late 90’s and 2000’s, a small computer company arose, driven by artists, to produced one of the strongest start-ups in animation history. Pixar’s first 10 films are considered unmatched in their consistent excellence and innovation by critics and historians. Yet from the late 2000’s to the present Disney financiers took more and more control, Disney bought Pixar, Marvel, Lucas film, and now Fox. With all this has come unbelievable financial success.

I’ve been bothered about the length of success Disney has had with such little innovation and original storytelling. I’ve studied their changes carefully. Walt Disney is my greatest inspiration as a filmmaker and I had once dreamed of working at the company. However, the Disney corporation looks so little like the place I fell in love with. The reason for the length of their success I believe is due to the strong foundations originally established. There is so much love for the magic of Disney animation. Each remake holds a piece of that magic. Those who love the original Lion King can’t watch the recent trailer and not feel a strong emotional tug when they hear the great music and Mufasa say, “You must take your place in the circle of life”. However, just like a photocopied painting, magic is lost is lost in the duplication. Where we once saw vibrant brush strokes, nuanced lines, and bold texture, we now see a muted, over sharpened, and flat reproduction.

Disney’s actions right now are very similar to former Disney CEO Michael Eisner’s decision to produce dozens of “direct to video” sequels of all the Disney animated classics in the mid 90’s through the mid 2000’s. The only real difference is the current CEO, Bob Iger, has thrown far more money at these remakes. He has also been able to hire more creative filmmakers. Still the problem remains, below the surface of these multiple hundred million dollar remakes is a hollow shell of what was before. The greatest missing link in the remakes is the very thing that put Disney on the map in the first place, character animation. 

The more realistically you are required to render characters, especially the ones that are not human, the less personality animators can infuse into them. In the 1993 animated version of Timon and Pumbaa we saw a lively impression of a meerkat and warthog. They were also given many human characteristics. The four legged Pumbaa had extremely expressive eyebrows, larger than life proportions, and could hold poses in order to hit emotional beats. The 2019 version hardly has any visible personality. He can’t. He needs to look “real”.

EXAMPLE

On the eve of the release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs the Disney artists were terrified. This was the very first animated feature created in Hollywood and nobody knew if a feature “cartoon” could hold the audience’s attention. The one person they trusted with their countless hours of backbreaking work was Walt Disney. See, he had this crazy idea. He thought the world could love his simple cartoons, with ill proportioned bodies and exaggerated actions, as long as his artist could capture one thing, their souls. He spent all sorts of time and bundles of money, he did not have, so his artists could bring characters like Grumpy, The Queen, and Snow White to life. They spent days talking about the characters fears, joys, and loves. They developed every aspect of their design and motion to capture the essence who who these characters were. And yet, they still didn’t know for sure if the audience would understand.

Legendary animators Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston once spoke about the moment they realized what they had accomplished. It was during the premiere of the film. Snow White had already thrilled the audience. The human characters were believable, the dwarfs completely entertaining in their antics, and even the animals gave the audience some laughs. But the time Thomas and Ollie knew they had done the impossible was when the dwarfs mourned for Snow White as she lay on the bed motionless, thinking she was lost. Frank Thomas animated the simple shot of Dopey turning into Doc’s arms, overcome with sadness. There they witnessed a whole theater tearing up. They had done it. They had created life inside the imagination of their audience. A life so precious the audience mourned over Dopey’s loss.

Again and again I witnessed simple drawings rendered to life inside the animation of Disney studios. I would not be who I am today without this wonderful life I experienced. The good news is the Disney corporation can not destroy the life Walt Disney protected so dearly. The films he championed will always be there for me to see. But more importantly Walt’s influence is not lost. His spirit has arisen in other artists. The great tragedy is the corporation holding his name is no longer a refuge for those artists. The magic is all but gone. What is left are people at the top who prove through these remakes and franchises and sequels, they never knew the magic of Disney in the first place. The real magic of Walt wasn’t his films, it was the belief in the power of the imagination becoming real.

Ikiru – Film Analysis – Part 1

Posted in Film and Filmaker Studies, Scene Analysis, Screenshot Series by Jacob on April 1, 2019

NOTE TO READER:

This is going to be more messy than usual. I want to be clear, these film analysis’s are made so I could understand these films better. If you end up benefiting from them I simply consider that a added bonus. These will be long and at times grammar will be a problem. I am not going to show a frame from every shot of the film and at times I will use multiple screenshots from the same shot in order talk about movement or lighting change. Please do let me know if something is really confusing you. I am also totally up for hearing what people think of my analysis. These simply are my thoughts on what I am watching. Hope you enjoy!


Titles

Interesting start to the movie. Loud music playing, as if this may be an epic rather than a intimate tale of one man’s journey.

  • All of the titles seem to have a combo of soft and intense music. Hmmm…

Scene 1

Screenshot (66)

Unique first shot of the movie. This is not beautiful, it’s actually as far as you can get from it. We see this and are immediately told by the Narrator that our protagonist doesn’t know he has cancer. Kurosawa doesn’t care to be subtle about it, he wants to get to the point.


Screenshot (68)
Talk about a boring way to introduce a story. No big bang and no quick action. Simply a shot of a x-ray and then this static front on shot. The lens is long making our protagonist, Kanji Watanbe, feel extremely boxed in. Kurosawa is not interested in forcing entertainment on us, he is interested in communicating his story. This is a perfect projection of all the issues Watanbe is facing in this story. 

  • We see his low energy.
  • We see his work literally consuming him.
  • The image is even finished off by the title of “Public affairs Section Chief”. One of the most dull protagonist someone could think of.

Kurosawa does not wait too long to introduce some of the main narrative threads of our story. We see a woman talking about her kid being sick. We also hear her speak about the playground being something that would be great for the kids if they filled it in.

I love the demeanor of all the characters in the “Public Affairs” section. They all reek of being unmotivated. They reflect Mr. Watanbe, and maybe Kurosawa’s views on big government.


 

This is very interesting. First off at the beginning of this shot you can see the desk clerk is speaking to Mr. Watanbe without him even looking up to acknowledge his presence. Then we see the first camera movement in the movie. Kurosawa has cinematographer, Asakazu Nakai, do a slide into this medium shot.

  • The reason the camera movement in such a dull setting feels motivated is due to the narrator. The narrator is not burdened by the sad life of the government officials, thus when he speaks the camera is allowed to be more fluid.
  • The Narrator is also acknowledging the boring life Watanbe is living right now. “He’s not even alive”. Gosh Kurosawa, why don’t you just tell us everything!

First time Watanbe looks up is when Toyo Odagiri laughs. She is the only life in the whole building. Of course she reads a quote making fun of how worthless the department is. She shows a lot of energy and is clearly highlighted to be the most interesting aspect of the scene. Interesting that she is also the only woman in the group of a bunch of men. Why does she remind me so much of Shirley Temple?


Screenshot (71)

This is such a brilliant shot. The energy seen in the previous shots dies right down with this shot. You can tell Kurosawa most likely moved things from behind Watanbe, out of the way to achieve it. (One of my favorite directors, Peter Weir, would say you are cheating authenticity of the environment by moving things out of the way). Watanbe is the center piece. You can tell Kurosawa is going for some deep focus (like usual). Compared where Kurosawa goes in his future stories, the lens we see here is pretty wide, making Watanbe much larger in frame than those in front of him.

  • Although we just switched access from the last shot,. Kurosawa does a good job keeping Toyo in the shot (top right corner). She is distant from Watanbe right now, not yet really infecting him with her energy for life.

Narrator, “He’s been worn down completely by the minutia of the bureaucratic machine and the meaningless busyness of breeds.” Kurosawa is not trying to be subtle here… :/

  • Narrator, “The best way to protect your place in this world is to do nothing at all.” Geesh… talk about a statement!
  • So in the first 6 min of the story we are told the Thesis of our story. We know our main protagonists conotical state and even given a strong hint of what is to come.
  • Honestly I don’t know what to think about the narrator right now. He is basically telling us what to feel about the situation we are seeing. I  think most of that is communicated without hearing the Narrator. That being said the Narrator has some personality and he does give a much needed energy to the scene.

Scene 2 – montage

This montage is going for comedy, the music blaring, with more and more chaotic tones. Kurosawa uses sweep transitions (a transition he is known for) with each character saying basically the same thing, “We can’t help you. Take it to _________.” I like how the characters all say the same thing in slightly different ways. Kurosawa uses different angles at times but they are usually shot flat.

  • The montage may go a little long but it does communicate the point Kurosawa is trying to make about his frustrations with government offices and their lack of productivity.

 

Kurosawa does a great job punctuating the montage with this smooth slide and pan he does revealing the disappointed woman trying to get help from the officials of each department.  Observe how the official character is boxed in like most of the others, the box in front of him taking up a third of the screen. His glasses loose on his face and body language pretty dower. The slide reveals the woman who are higher in frame than the man. They are given prominence in this shot, our connection with their frustrations already well established.


1 of 2

The scene looks like it’s going to end in defeat and then we transition into this blocking. The woman come roaring back, criticizing the official for the whole institution’s poor services. Kurosawa is doing a lot in terms of setting up the need to “get that stinking cesspool of a location cleaned up”. This point will pay off in spades later on in the story.

  • Fantastic framing here. Yes the man is now higher than the woman, but he is almost completely boxed out of the frame and his body language clearly submissive. He actually does a great job keeping us focused on the woman; his gaze directs our eye right to the woman speaking.
  • Also, the woman coming back and the clerk standing up is when the fun quirky music is abruptly stopped. Another great way to emphasis this moment.

2 of 2

This is the same shot, it simply transitions into a pan following the official as he goes to his superiors. This shot takes up about a minute of time and communicates so much!

  • I LOVE the the expression of the man on the far right. He has the perfect sad face to communicate the surprise from the berating the woman and the depressing nature of the work they are participating in.

A good note is Kurosawa is not trying to make any of these frames “pretty”. He simply is interested in communicating the story through how he frames and lights his shots. Paperwork takes up so much of most of the frames, taking even more prominence at times than the actors. Actors are important, but they sure aren’t everything.


Scene 3

This is a very short scene where the colleagues talk about Mr. Watanbe’s absence for the first time in 30 years. Of course Kurosawa and Nakai frame everyone with paperwork consuming them. The paperwork actually is used as great framing devices all the way through the scenes in Government buildings.


Screenshot (102)

I really liked the last cut in the scene, we go from Toyo making a joking comment about Watanbe dying to a anomalous shot of the empty desk with two clerks in the distance highlighting the empty space through their gaze. This simply takes a “joke” and transcends it into something much more potent.


Scene 4

We get a very short montage of Mr Watanbe walking away from the x-ray room. Diegetic sound and the smooth moments of actor and camera really make this feel serious.


 

This is a brilliant series of movements. Composition #1 focuses the eye on the man in the middle of the frame. We had just run into him before when Watanbe was washing his hands. The Man with the Cane actually is seen moving from frame right to left to set up this first composition. The man in the middle sets up our narrative, he is the subject of talk in this scene. After fulfilling his purpose he moves out of frame and we transition into composition #2. The Man with the Cane takes prominent focus, Watanbe intentionally pointing away from us so we can easily concentrate on what Cane Man is saying. This is when the real dialogue begins. Cane Man begins to talk about the symptoms of stomach cancer he believes the person who just left has. Little does Cane Man realize Watanbe is dealing with the same kind of symptoms. He then warns about the way the Doctor will dismiss the symptoms if a man actually has stomach cancer.

  • Now, I think it is fair to criticize Kurosawa for using such a clear exposition device. Cane Man’s soul purpose is to give both the audience and Watanbe a hard dose of reality, telling is EXACTLY what Watanbe is in for. Is this realistic? Would someone just randomly get this blunt in front of a man waiting to be seen by his doctor? Likely not. However, Kurosawa makes it work. The drama is just too good.
  • Honestly Kurosawa doesn’t seem to mind giving exposition when it is needed, even though it feels pretty forced at times. He gets away with it because he makes the characters who are giving exposition feel real and usually the exposition is simply adding to a much more cinematic truth. The core of this scene is not spoken, it’s simply seen on Watanbe’s face in Composition #3.

As we transition into composition #3, all Kurosawa’s cinematic techniques flow to the surface. Music starts to come in; hitting the perfect dreadful tone. We get this extremely strong staging, with Watanbe in a close up his emotions being clearly communicated to the audience. Also, look at the relaxed body language of Cane Man. He represents a wonderful contrast to Watanbe, Which only seems to add to the horribleness of the diagnosis Cane Man is giving.

  • Of course we see Kurosawa’s common use of deep focus, the set probably very hot in order to make that work.
  • One of my issues when I first watched Kurosawa films is what I felt like was “overacting”. However the more you study old Japanese theater, especially the style of ‘Noh’, the more these broad performances make sense. A great benefit is the body language is so clear in almost every one of Kurosawa’s frames. In this scene everyone’s heads are fallen down and the shoulders all loose. This is not a fun place to be at. The audience immediately gets the essence of the scene before a word is spoken.
  • Another brilliant little detail in these shots is how Kurosawa transitions the shots from feeling like a ‘hospital” to a much more personal moment in the last shot, as if we’ve been transported into Watanbe’s psyche. For the last composition look how Watanbe blocks out the lady in Composition #2. The Man with the Cane also blocks people out, transforming the environment into a much more personal place.
  • Also a striking note is the wardrobe choice. In the first scene we see Watanbe with a white\gray coat. In this one it’s black, most likely to reflect the coming bad news.
  • Honestly, this 2 min and 20 second shot does wonders. I look forward how often Kurosawa simply uses staging to change the Mise-en-scène of his compositions to communicate deeper and deeper truths.

Scene 5

Screenshot (86)

This is such a brilliant shot. Talk about everything in the frame working to communicate the storyteller’s objective. Our protagonist is feeling completely defeated right now, scared to death at what news he might be receiving. We also know his impact on society is minimal and he is super isolated from everyone else. Having no other people in the frame might communicate that, but Kurosawa goes a different rout. Kurosawa uses the door to isolate Watanbe from the citizen on the right and uses the pillar to further separate him from the citizens on the left of frame. Having people in frame but distant communicates the point in a more potent way.

  • The distance is also communicated through the use of a wider lens. Kurosawa usually uses lenses that make the foreground and background feel closer to each other but in this one we can clearly see that Watanbe is much farther away then the others.
  • Wonderful use of lighting here. Look at the gray scale. Kurosawa is able to concentrate the eyes directly onto Watanbe with his lighting – leaving the man on the right in shadow and darkening all of the left side of the frame in order to pull the eye right to Watanbe in the back. Another thing that could of done this is the use of shallow focus, so Watanbe is sharp and the others much less. However Kurosawa seems to think seeing detail through out the frame is more useful.
  • Another great aspect of this shot are the lines. Everything frames our main character. Everything seems to be adding to his dower mood. I mean, look at the painting right above Watanbe! Why in reality would that painting be so crooked?! But for the purposes of this framing it works brilliantly. It looms over him, as if looking down in sadness, reflecting his posture. Of course the doors are the most helpful focus device, literally opening right up to Watanbe.
  • At this point the music is at it’s most dreadful tone. I also like how the voice from the speaker echoes through the halls waking up the frame a little. The beat where he doesn’t hear his name get called at first also works.

Scene 6

First thing you notice, the music has stopped. There simply is eerie diegetic sound; Some kind of CLANKING being the most prominent (very artificial and cold).


1 of 2

I find this shot to be an interesting intro. Kurosawa is intentionally putting a object in front of the entrance to the room. Right away it’s being communicated that this is an ugly place and Watanbe is literally being sliced up into several pieces. Yikes!

1 of 2

This is a composition from the same shot. I have seen Kurosawa use the technique of a slide and then pan a few times now. He has maybe six feet of track laid out and then he uses the middle nurses movement to justify the pan, now completely moving away from Watanbe.

  • At 17 seconds I think this is the longest shot of the scene. Kurosawa will start to use rapid cutting to heighten the tension.
  • Very distinct difference between screenshot #1 and screenshot #2. The nurses white outfits really stick out here.
  • Watanbe is screen right, notice how no one is looking at him as he comes into the room.

 

We go from a medium close of the Doctor looking at x-rays to Composition #1 above. We can see the Doctor is caught off guard and then we see Composition #2 of Watanbe. We immediately go back to the Doctor. There is a fair bit of subtle acting but more than anything Kurosawa is using the Kuleshov effect based off of what we have already learned. In other words, Kurosawa knows less is more here and the core of the emotion in these three shots comes from the audiences projection.


Composition 1 of 7

Composition 2 of 7

Composition 3 of 7

Composition 4 of 7

Composition 5 of 7

Composition 6 of 7

Composition 7 of 7

This is a series of potent beats. The camera pans, following Watanbe into composition 1. Notice how he is yet again cut into several pieces by the shelves in front of the camera. We then hear the news, “it looks like you’ve got a mild ulcer”. These are the very words we heard the Man with the Cane say about the other guy who had cancer. The quick cut to the coat dropping tells us everything we need to know. It’s the shortest shot in the whole scene, but along with the music coming in the shot makes for an extremely strong emotional beat. From here on out there is a steady music beat, very much emphasizing the sad emotion of the scene. In this way Kurosawa is not trying to be subtle.

After that we have Composition 3, a medium wide shot of both the Doctor and his assistant looking at the coat and then up at Watanbe. Deep focus is really strong here, Kurosawa is fine with us deciding whose emotions to concentrate on. Then we cut to Composition 4. Kurosawa uses the assistant and nurse as reflections of what we are feeling right now. The assistant is turned away from us, his little head movement toward the conversation, from 4 to 5, communicating volumes.

The last shot is extremely well composed. Kurosawa cuts the bodies off of both Watanbe and the Doctor. This is not supposed to feel comfortable, they are intentionally being squeezed into the frame. The nurse is positioned in the middle breaking up the frame. The Doctor lies to Watanbe but as his head is bowed the Doctor’s look to the nurse, in Composition 7, tells us the truth. There is nothing too flashy in any of these shots, just great beats.  

  • It’s interesting how the nurse and the assistant’s body language communicate very different things. The assistant is very empathetic, the nurse cold.
  • The last shot has stuff piled in front of the camera, blocking our view from our main character and the Doctor. This further crunches the shot, making it all the more uncomfortable.
  • I think these are longer lenses than the scene before. The last shot especially feels like it’s making the nurse and characters on the sides feel closer than they really are (I may be wrong).

I really like how the Doctor acts throughout the scene. He embodies a balance between the assistant and the nurse. He is blatantly lying to Watanbe, but you can tell he doesn’t feel good about the deception. This doesn’t excuse his actions but it adds to the sadness of the news.


Scene 7

Screenshot (101)

I will be honest, I am not a huge fan of this scene. I kinda feel like Kurosawa is trying to push the message a little too much. Is this really needed? It’s about a minute long and basically conforms that the Doctor was lying to Mr. Watanbe. His dialogue of, “What would you do if you had only six months left to live, like him?” is a bit on the nose… don’t you think?

  • Like usual Kurosawa knows what he is doing in his composition. So much is communicated simply through the body language. Kurosawa has the “angel and devil on your shoulder” theme going – the assistant representing the angel and the nurse the devil. Again, deep focus so everyone could be ready clearly.
  • Kurosawa is also known for having few woman in his story and when he does most of them are very cold, like the nurse (Toyo being the exception, not the rule). The nurse might have the coldest line in the film. After being asked what she would do with a six months to live diagnosis she states, “The barbiturates are over there.”. YIKES!

Kurosawa punctuates the nurses comment by cutting to a medium close of just the assistant. He looks at the x-ray and then we leave on a close up of the x-ray. The sound of the x-ray machine being very eerie. Kurosawa really does know how to use sound.


End of Part 1: (17 min into movie)

Production Log – The WALL

Posted in Personal Philosophy, Production Log by Jacob on February 6, 2019

A great number of artists who are asked about creative blocks simply say, “I don’t let it happen to me”. And of course my first instinct is to call BS. Everyone gets creative blocks. You know, that wall stopping you from seeing any solution to your story? At this very second it’s looming over me, taunting me for my profound lack of inspiration. I am in the middle of a very difficult sequences for my documentary. I will be sending this edit out to people who can have a huge influence on whether I get funding for the project and I need to make a great first impression. The core idea is there. I know I have the characters and moments to make something wonderful. The dilemma is to be able to connect the dots, so one moment builds into another and each character is fully realized.

Honestly, I feel like screaming and throwing my head in the ground. My current solution of simply staring at the screen, doesn’t seem to be much healthier of an option. Neither is working on an edit when I know I don’t have a strong direction to take. The brain needs a break sometimes.

The mind is an interesting thing. We actually don’t do our best thinking when we force our brain to go specific directions. Left to its natural tendencies, the brain will choose the easy way out. When you combine that with our over stimulated world we live in, creativity can be completely choked out. What happens when we are pushing ahead is we usually follow a specific route that ends up being far more instinctual than inspirational. Rote memory and planned layouts are what most mind’s want to rely on. Technology only helps us with that laid out path. Heck, when writing emails now my computer gives me suggestions for my next several words. Ironically one of the greatest defenses I have to this layed out world set before me is my dyslexia. Dyslexics struggle with rote memory. We usually take twice as long to understand how to follow a step by step process or memorize a planned layout. To put it simply, dyslexic’s mind’s can’t stay focused as easily. We want to break away, try to connect dots that sometimes are just not there.

There are times where the wondering brain finds an unnoticed solution to a problem. There is a reason 20% of entrepreneurs are dyslexic, despite their struggle in the school system and the fact dyslexics make up only 10% of the population. Not every idea an entrepreneur comes up with succeeds. In fact, if you ask them they would tell you most fail. Yet if an entrepreneur comes up with one great innovation out of 10, they can be extremely successful. There is a reason some of the great creative minds in our history were considered to be dyslexic, this includes Albert Einstein, Pablo Picasso, and Steven Spielberg. Spielberg particularly has spoken about the numerous ways his dyslexic tendencies have helped him as an artist. Few know however, they almost got him thrown out of the film business entirely. At one point in his career Spielberg was known for going over budget and way over schedule with his film productions. The most famous example was Jaws, where a planned 55 day production schedule ended up taking 157 days. Granted, this had a great deal to do with a malfunctioning shark, but his next two films, Close Encounters and 1941, were also way past schedule and budget. His crew talked about how Spielberg kept getting new ideas for scenes. Mid way through shooting a scene he would think of a better way to shoot it. One could only imagine how hard it was to keep up with the constant bouncing around of the man’s imagination.

One thing you may be feeling at this moment is I’m getting away from the original point of this post. I mean, how is Spielberg going over schedule the same thing as me not being able to get past my most recent creative wall. I must say, this is a brilliant example of just how my dyslexia tends to work. My English major mother, who homeschooled me, would have a permanent palm mark seared on her forehead from the amount of times I would simply make a leap from one paragraph to another with no explanation on how I got from one destination to another. This really is what leads to the most devastating creative blocks for me. I need to be able to connect my narrative for my audience. It doesn’t matter how great my idea is, or even how many great ideas I have, if I am not able to walk one through my journey I’m sunk. Spielberg was lucky to have multiple creative colleagues to hold his hand, the greatest counter to his creative leaps is his editor, Michael Kahn.

To get to my main point, creative walls can be described as anything keeping you away from telling your story. With Spielberg his overlong productions were getting in the way of telling his best stories. 1941 is a huge narrative and tonal mess, due to Spielberg losing sight of where the heart of his film was. With his next film, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Producer and good friend George Lucas made Spielberg promise he would produce the film on schedule and on budget. And with far more action and many more locations than Jaws, Spielberg shot the movie in 73 days. Did he need to sacrifice his creativity for this? Well, I wouldn’t suggest that to the millions of fans who consider Raiders to be one of the greatest action films of all time.

So what is it? Does one just need to bypass their creative walls by forcing themselves to stay on schedule? Or is needing to acknowledge the block part of being creative? The reason I write these things is to figure out the answers myself. I believe Spielberg found a balance. Though most of his production schedules are quite short these days Spielberg does still use techniques to give himself time to take a break and allow that wandering mind of his to work.

One of my favorite stories of Spielberg’s was when he was asked why he edited his movies on film for so long. Where most filmmakers went digital in the mid to late 90’s, Spielberg was editing with scissors and celluloid during Lincoln, which came out in 2012. He said after watching a scene he would always have edits for Kahn to make. He would point two to three things out and then take a walk. Twenty minutes later he’d come back and they’d go over the next problem. When editing on a computer Spielberg would go through a similar scene. He’d make his suggestions, pointing out two to three things, and before he even got up the edits would be done, the editor ready to move on. The big difference was due to the immediate nature of digital editing Spielberg didn’t have time to wonder. He didn’t have time to search out those suggestions he’d made in his head and explore potential creative ways to solve the next ones.

We have a greater ability now, than ever before, to stay stimulated. We live in a world of instant gratification where if you run into a wall you can simply look up an app for how to get through it or around it. But what if the point of creativity is climbing those walls? What if the wall itself is one of the most crucial aspects to creativity? Following a laid out route is easier, but I believe the crucial ingredient to creativity is the new. The new is inherently difficult to embrace. I have run into numerous problems in my stories, I have done enough research to know ways to get through the problems. Yet, when I try to simply get through the problem I end up neglecting the nuance of the situation. My characters in my stories have similarities to characters I’ve seen in the past, but they are not the exact same. There is a great difference between inspiration and imitation. The techniques I use to connect the narratives and build upon moments, have been inspired by my studies into other great filmmakers, but I’d be doing a great disservice to my story if I simply copied them.

True inspiration comes from facing the WALL. The wall simply represents the unknown. It represents those aspects that are unique about your characters and your story’s arc. I understand the temptation to bypass the unknown for the familiar, but storytelling’ lifeblood comes from the unique aspects you bring. Embrace those things. Then you must figure out the path. As the creator, you are there not only to find the new place but also build the path. This is such a difficult dilemma since these two aspects rarely compliment each other. Yet one of the most brilliant aspects of filmmaking is the collaborative nature of the artform. You don’t need to be great at everything, you simply need to find the people to understand the vision and help get us there.

(This is a new series I am going to be doing as a way to avoid getting back to the heavy lifting of finishing my Paxson Documentary.)

 

 

FilmStruck – Cinema’s Love Letter

Posted in Personal Philosophy by Jacob on November 21, 2018

FilmStruck Closing

There is no streaming service that holds as strong of a punch in sheer knowledge of cinema’s rich history, as FilmStruck. Nothing comes close! And only two years after launch, it will be shutting down due to having too small of a “niche” audience. WHAT THE HELL?!?!

What sold me about FilmStruck is not just their ability to bring us wonderful material covering a variety of cultures and subject matters. Or their individual focus on the less represented genders or races in the cinema world. But on top of all that they were dedicated to diving deep into the filmmaking process by providing hundreds of hours of extra features on the making and impact of the films they championed.

Honestly I did not watch many films on FilmStruck. Maybe, two a month. Rather, after watching a film on a great artist I had just been introduced to, I would start to dive deep into the extra features. I would listen to interviews  of actors and crew members who were there when greats such as Yasujiro Ozu and Jean-Pierre Melville walked their sets. The movies these filmmakers were known for were cool to see, but FilmStruck wouldn’t settle with the greatest hits of any given artist, they would dive deep into a filmmaker’s career. Long forgotten films would be highlighted by the site. Many of the films on FilmStruck can not be found on other platforms or in even in physical copy.

Why does a service like this get so little attention? Why does a multi billion dollar company think preserving these types of films is not important? Studying classic and foreign films has been a lonely venture for me. Though I spent many years going to school for media arts, I could hardly get any of my peers interested in cinema’s rich history. There could be all sorts of critiques about why this is. Very few would be flattering. But this is not a post whining about people not being cultured enough to cherish rich storytelling over junk food “entertainment”. This is a plea, a cry to anyone out there willing to understand just how important standing up for artistic and culturistic preservation is to the betterment of society.

Netflix, Hulu, and HBO are wonderful services. I consider many of them like friends, sometimes providing a needed laugh while at times giving me something to think about. These services represent my peers and I hold a great amount of respect for how the they are driving our artform forward. Yet the artist’s highlighted on FilmStruck represent my teachers. I have spent countless hours taking notes on their unique structures, their beautiful images, and profound insights. This blog was built upon the kinds of revelations I have discovered on FilmStruck.  The great directors you see on the site, Kurosawa, Ford, and Bergman all have placed a brick on the great platform I stand on today. The filmmakers on all the other streaming services owe those highlighted on FilmStruck a great dept. This was driven home by the fact two dozen filmmakers, including Christopher Nolan, Ryan Johnson, Guillermo Del Toro, and Paul Thomas Anderson have posted a public letter pleading WarnerMedia to save the streaming service. Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg are also lending their voice to the fight.

We make a critical mistake to think art can last without our support. Time does not work that way. Without the needed resources and careful care, we will lose some of our most profound stories. With the end of FilmStruck there will be hundreds of movies you won’t be able to find streaming anywhere else, along with countless hours of informative interviews, behind the scenes documentaries, and commentaries. Thankfully Criterion, one of FilmStruck’s greatest collaborators, plans to start their own streaming service this coming spring. However, there is no guarantee it will be able to sustain itself any better than FilmStruck. The difference will be found in us. We simply need to decide if the cinema of our past and distant lands will be part of the forgotten or our teachers.

If you support FilmStruck’s efforts to preserve cinema, please sign and share this partition to #SaveFilmStruck. The more voices we have the harder it is it ignore us.

Alfred Hitchcock – An Observation – The Young Spunge

Posted in Film and Filmaker Studies, Observation Series by Jacob on October 24, 2018

Young AlfredYes, believe it or not this is Alfred Hitchcock. Not the self confident and slightly cocky man you see in later years. Rather, a young man just starting to understand the numerous possibilities of his artform and his role to play in the medium.

Hitchcock started exploring cinema in the mid 1910’s, making title cards for the start of films. From there he went into script writing and art direction. Though he said in a Peter Bogdanovich interview he had no ambition for becoming a director, he displayed a great amount of talent for the job at an early age. Infact, one of the things that got him in trouble in his job as Art Director was this nasty habit for telling the cameraman where to place the camera on the sets he was working on.

The latest film on my list to study has been  The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog. This silent 1927 film is considered to be the first real “Hitchcock” film, though he had directed two before this point. The main reason, it was his first mystery film – the genre he would become most famous for directing. In this film you can see signs of everything to come. The amount of control he had over the young medium is breathtaking. You can see the influences clearly; his love for American’s dramatic pace, the Soviet Union’s use of montage, and German’s extreme use of light and camera placement.

What struck me the most when watching The Lodger is the fact that I could see such a deep connection the artist had with the material. Yes, influences abided throughout the film, yet each technique was being used for the purpose of getting deeper into the psychology of the characters. Nothing felt showy, because the extreme angles, imaginative framing, and exhaustive montages were constantly giving us insight about the characters and their world.

When one of the main characters observes a whole montage of images in a footprint in the snow, it’s not because Hitchcock was tickled by Sergei Eisenstein’s use of montage in Battleship Potemkin. Rather, Hitchcock wanted to visually show the thoughts that were connecting like dominoes in the character’s head. When we see a combination of dramatic lighting and extreme angles as the mother wakes up and creeps into her lodger’s bedroom, it’s not because Hitchcock was a die hard fan of  F.W. Murnau’s films, even though he was 😉 . He wanted to let us in on the mother’s startling suspicions that the lodger could very well be The London Strangler.

No artist simply comes out fully formed. They are always influenced by those around them. Hitchcock had some magnificent artist to inspire him during his day. Yet, the reason he became great himself was due to his ability to absorb his influences and make them his own. Today, I see a great amount of copying going around. I need to admit I don’t see much copying of the masters from the silent era, but rather I see copies of the most recent Youtube prodigy. To be inspired by someone in your medium is totally fine. However, when it comes to your storytelling, you can’t simply make decisions based off of those who inspire you.

The difference between copying and absorbing comes down to the question you are trying to answer. Copying has a very easy question to answer, “What?”. If you can figure out what someone did to create a shot you can copy it. As long as you have the equipment any complicated piece can be copied. And to be sure, great filmmakers such as Hitchcock found answers to what went into making their favorite shots. Yet, Hitchcock was also able to figure out the answer to the other question, the far more important question. “Why?”. Only if you discover the answer to the question of why, do you understand how to mold the technique to your personal storytelling.

Hitchcock never seemed to be stealing techniques from other filmmakers. Instead, he  found personal and profound reasons to apply them to his stories. We often come out of a Hitchcock movie believing there was no better ways to use the camera. Time after time The Lodger gives us profound insight into the passions, fears, and insecurities of the character’s we see on screen. The reason is because their passions, fears, and insecurities are even more important to Hitchcock than his shots. Once he knows the character’s inner most feelings does he understand why he needs to use the shots he uses. An insert of a hand reaching for a doorknob, a POV shot of someone walking toward a house, or a reflection of a man walking toward a painting, are all powerful expressions of the character’s inner most conflicts.

A sponge doesn’t simply hold water, it absorbs the liquid into it’s very being.  We all need to have inspirations, yet we must also have enough confidence in ourselves to let those inspirations further our personal development as artists. A mere copying of those around us will produce stale material, easily forgotten. Yet letting those inspirations build upon who we are, can produce magnificent pieces of work. Work, like that of Hitchcock’s The Lodger, that could be remembered far beyond our lifetime.

Put a Face on It

Posted in Personal Philosophy by Jacob on August 28, 2018

The only reason we have not been able to find value in “the other” is because we refuse to give them a face. How is that for a Thesis?!

Okay, I’ve learned things that make complete sense to me usually don’t make much sense to others. This is one of those things. I would write a thesis such as this and my mother (English major/teacher) would immediately inform me, people are regrettably unable to read my mind in order to connect the dots. So an explanation…

The first thing to interest me about participating in art was the human face. More specifically, the eye. In one of my first art classes the teacher proclaimed, “The hardest thing to draw is the human eye”. The reason? Because it’s the window to the soul. “When you look into someone’s eyes'”, my teacher explained, “you are in connection to their deepest self”. So I decided to study the human face. Specifically the eye. This drove my future teachers nuts. You are not supposed to start with the eye when doing portraiture. Long story short, when doing portraiture you are supposed to start with the outline of the head and face before going into any detail. So starting with a very detailed looking eye was a big “No, no”…

Oh well :/

Since the gauntlet was thrown, I have drawn hundreds and hundreds of portraits. I LOVED looking through magazines, such as National Geographic, and cutting out pictures of faces. I was able to study the faces of thousands upon thousands of people. They all were fascinating. I saw happiness. I saw love. I saw pain. I saw sorrow. Each face gave me insight about humanity. One of my subjects contained a stare so piercing I felt the need to replicate his eye so it’s sharpness could be seen no matter how close you got. Another contained a stare so outside this world I took out the iris altogether. And the last one, the final portrait I ever painted, was filled with a sadness no amount of deep blue could ever reach.

I am actually intimidated by the human face, often most comfortable studying it through a picture or a lens. I struggle to look directly at others, even those I love, because when my eyes connect to another I get lost. I feel I am being allowed into a holy place. Of course it flows away from just the eyes and is seen in every feature of the face. Each wrinkle gives insight. They can communicate a life of happiness or a life of struggle. The best show both. To be honest I am struggling to articulate what exactly it is I see in the face. In some ways I think it’s wrong for me to try.

The face is a mystery. A mystery that always reveals one thing. Humanity. When flipping through the faces of National Geographic I saw countless shades of humanity. We couldn’t possibly be able to explore every aspect of humanity because no human is capable of discovering the depth we glimpse when looking into the eyes of another. But the very fact we see “the other” is enough to assign value. And assigning values to “the other” is the only way we will be able to get out of the mess we are in today.

The Written Word

Posted in Personal Philosophy by Jacob on July 29, 2018

I can’t tell you how many posts I’ve started saying how I’m going to resurrect this thing. Heck, I even ended up posting a few updates where I naively proclaimed, “I’m Back!!!”. Yet compared to where I was in the golden day of blogging, averaging one to two blogs a week, I’m nowhere close. There are 101 unfinished drafts for this blog. What a waist of words! You must understand however, the goal never was to get popular and have the masses read my words. I’m not ashamed to admit blog popularity was never the goal.

Being open to public scrutiny was the main reason I published my work. I wanted to tie down the numerous ideas and philosophies I was researching about cinema.  A strong persuasive essay requires a clear thesis backed by research and in-depth perspective. And in the end you must be able to present, in a clear and potent way, a conclusion you believe in. In essence this blog was a testing device, to see just how much of the things I was researching were being digested. Not just so I knew them, but so I could express them to others in my future filmmaking career.

Writing was never something I felt led to do. And due to my dyslexia it’s always come at a huge mental and emotional cost. I think in pictures. Visual language is what has always come naturally to me. So needing express myself in code – where the ideas and philosophies are entangled in this complex network of the written word – has never felt satisfying. I always know I could say it better. Yet, the written word does have it’s positives. Compared to the messy nature of capturing images, writing allows me far more control over my narratives. Each word can have a precise meaning, so I can have more surgical control over the points I make. Needing to translate the images in my head into a different type of language is also valuable. I even feel capable enough to write a screenplay, something even the greatest dyslexics in my profession, Steven Spielberg, Joe Wright, and Martin Scorsese, never had much confidence in.

The bottom line is I will always struggle to get each word out there, especially in a way that makes everything come together. I just looked up to my top paragraph and am racking my brain on how to tie everything up, so what I started out saying can connect to the thoughts coming out of my head now. Lets face it, this post is in dangerous territory of becoming number 102 of the forgotten drafts. But I am writing here and now to articulate how important I believe it is to continue with things you are not always comfortable doing. Learning in the way of the written word is healthy even for a dyslexic like me. Not because I think I will ever become the greatest writer. But rather, because writing still is a unique way of communicating; bringing insights and forcing discipline in a way I would not be able to through more natural formats.

Today I won’t say, “I’m back”. Writing on this blog could still be a “once in a blue moon” thing. But I am making the commitment to continue to throw those letters out there and force them into tangible words, and those words into tangible sentences. They may simply belong to the stories I am developing or scripts I’m writing. But, who knows, some of them may continue to end up on this site, exploring the ideas and philosophies of the visual medium I love so much. No matter where they go, this blog and those who support it, have been the reason I feel confident in any of my writings today. For that I am very thankful.

Is It Worth It?

Posted in Personal Philosophy by Jacob on April 19, 2018

640x640_11664732I sit here at 3:30 AM debating for one of the first times in my life, if my life goal of becoming a filmmaker is worth it. I hate to be dramatic, but it’s simply where I am.

Two years of my life has been devoted to a documentary about a place I love, a place I grew up in. It was my first job as an adult. I was given the task to care for the men of Paxson. Six men living in a group home whose value has been questioned throughout their lives. See, these men struggle in a ways we simply can’t imagine. Simple everyday tasks are mountains for them. The ability to walk, have conversation, or even stay awake are all tasks needed to be conquered each new day.

Their struggle was not the reason they deserved a documentary however. We need their story told because of the humanity they show through facing their struggles. The difference is key. Throughout my clients’ lives they’ve been defined by the disabilities they have. Schizophrenia, down syndrome, or cerebral palsy – it doesn’t matter. People simply take one look at them and shutter because they are different. Believe me, I know. I’ve gone on outings numerous times throughout the nine years of knowing them. It’s tragic how the crowd parts ways when we are walking through the store or on the fairgrounds. I see the stares. I see people hesitate to be near them. I hear the judgement when they are talked to. And, they feel these things, too.

All this is not to say I am angry at those who don’t understand my friends. It’s completely understandable. I was the same way until I got to know them. Yet, I know if people could just get past those first awkward moments they would see something amazing. I was actually willing to bet two years of my life and all my talents as a filmmaker on this fact. With the help of some good friends and the support of the special needs community, I set forth to tell their story. And let me tell you, it’s been a bumpy ride.

The most prominent problem has been lack of finances. I’ve actually lost about $500 dollars in the two year process. Until just recently I received no financial benefits. And as much as I can confidently state financial gain was never the reason for this project, I must admit the lack of it has made things extremely stressful. My University has been overly gracious to allow me to use their equipment through the years. Yet, as with all used equipment, it’s a task to get everything rented and upsetting to find things that don’t work. There is nothing more tragic in the mind of a filmmaker then to miss a event or a moment due to waiting periods or malfunctions.

Another factor I must admit to is the question of ego. Oh yes, we all wish we could simply say we are over being rattled by the opinions of others. Yet, artists most of all struggle with having the confidence in themselves to share their work with the world. I told my professor after my very first documentary short, Mary Rose, my next project would be a feature documentary. Two years later, if someone told me the same thing I would struggle not to laugh in their face. Insisting you have the capability to engage your audience for more than sixty minutes is no small statement. Let’s forget about the story, how could one with such little experience expect to accomplish such a feat? To be honest, I started out writing this because I don’t know if I can. I’ve hit the ditch numerous times through this two year process. The hundreds of hours of footage is drowning me. One of my greatest weaknesses, organization, has constantly been something I’ve needed to address. My communications skills, technical skills, and emotional strength have all been tested to the max. The struggle between having enough confidence to lift this project from the ground and the humility needed to hear criticism and get feedback, has not been a battle I’ve always won.

This brings me to my last big dilemma, the loneliness. Now, I do not want to be saying nobody else has been there for me. From the beginning, I have had family who supported me in this project and who have dealt with all kinds of insecurities from this young filmmaker. I have film buddies who have sacrificed countless hours assisting me with setting up shoots and filming. I have a handful of professors who meet me on a regular basis to go over edits, despite me not going to school anymore. And I have the clients and staff from the house, who have championed my cause and been humble enough the allow me to film them. Yet, the vast majority of my time on this project has been spent alone. I sit in a empty room from 4PM to 3AM working through each element of the footage I’ve captured. I am the assistant, the editor, and the director. And my process is labor intensive. I must sync the good audio, organize each interview, and subtitle every line of dialogue for the clients who struggle to be understood. I must be emotionally connected to the material, fighting to allow each voice to be heard, while also figuring out how to stay objective enough to have an accurate perspective over the whole. And, as of today I have not found those who are able be with me on some of the most perilous parts of the journey.

What I describe to you is the great dilemma of every artist. The battle of outside sources and inner conflicts. Each artist I have studied has dealt with these dilemmas in different ways; sometimes at great cost to their personal lives. I don’t know where I will land in the end. Not knowing if I have enough money, struggling to contain the ego, and dealing with the loneliness — all threaten my ability to finish this film.

And this is where I sit.

Then I remember the men of Paxson. They represent what all my struggle, talents, and drive is for. The only time the crushing weight lifts is when they become more important than my fragile ego, my mandatory woes, my sitting in this room alone. Tonight I can soak in my sorrows, but tomorrow I wake to fight for them. In this profession, the soul of the story is what makes each task worth it’s weight.