A Dreamer Walking

The Connection

Posted in Personal Philosophy by Jacob on April 29, 2010

In many commentaries I listen to I hear the director often say something like, “I wanted to make sure I wasn’t being preachy to the audience”. Most film directors realize that being preachy to the audience is a sure way to have people walk out before the film is done. I am a big fan about not being “preachy” in any movie I make.

Before you can communicate your ideas to the audience without being preachy, you need to be able to build a relationship. We as the audience need to know the characters before we are willing to listen to them.

The relationship in a film is key to having your point come across. Take an example from the movie Schindler’s List. Schindler’s List is a Steven Spielberg movie about the Holocaust. In this movie Steven did not just throw us into the brutality of the Holocaust, he first built a relationship with the audience. We first got to know the main Character Schindler. Schindler was not a man who had a relationship with the Jewish people at the beginning of the movie. The movie was first about getting to know Schindler, then we began to see a relationship build between Schindler and the Jews. We were able to get to know the Jews through Schindler. The story was about the relationship Schindler builds with the Jews, the more we got to know the Jews, through Schindler, the more we felt for their loses. The evil of the Holocaust began to mean something to the audience because we now had a relationship with the Jews.

The reason to why the big battle is often at the end of the movie, is because we need to first have reason to care for the battle. The reason we care for the battle, the final football game, or the concert at the end of the film, is because we have gotten to know the characters that are in those events and are now rooting for them to succeed.

The more you let the audience get to know your characters the more we will care for what they have to say.

Johnny Depp

Posted in Film and Filmaker Studies by Jacob on April 27, 2010

Johnny Depp is a very interesting fellow. But, I think that one goes without saying.

When I started to research Johnny, I found out that he has always been drawn to characters that had flaws, that were considered by many “losers”. However, in the beginning of Johnny’s acting career, he only took roles to support his first love, music. Because Johnny did not take acting seriously or as something he was wanting to go places with, Johnny excepted roles that did not necessarily draw him in. The first big hit Johnny got as an actor was playing one of the lead roles in the hit TV show 21 Jump Street. By taking this role Johnny became a Teen Idol. He became a product of Hollywood, something that he was extremely uncomfortable with.

After getting out of the TV show 21 Jump Street, Johnny began to take acting seriously and he made a promise to himself, that he would stay true to his path and not steer away no matter the outcome. During the next decade Johnny picked some very unique roles all were different from each other. One thing did stay the same, all the characters would be considered outcast by most of our society.

Johnny got a lot of recondition for his talent when he played the character Edward Scissorhands in the Tim Burton 1990 movie Edward Scissorhands.  It was a pretty big deal for a young actor like Johnny to be cast in the main role of popular Directors film, like Tim Burton’s. Tim Burton took a liking to Johnny and cast him as a main character, in many more movies in the future. We see Johnny go from being the cowardly Ichabob Crane in Tim Burton’s 1999 film  Sleepy Hollow to the evil monster Sweeney Todd in Tim Burton’s 2007 musical Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Johnny talked about having a different language with Tim Burton, where both of them finish each others sentences and knew what each other wanted without needing to verbally pick at each others brains.

Johnny said that Tim Burton is able to give you suggestion and plant seeds, but still allows you to be free with your acting. Freedom is what Johnny wants the most with his acting. In every character he has played, Johnny seems to take the character places that most Directors would be uncomfortable with. Johnny talked about the “first impression” you get while reading a script or listening to a story, being a gift. Johnny is big on letting his first impression guide what he does. He takes characters in mostly unique places so you never know exactly what is going to happen or how the character will turn out. Most executives and even directors are scared when they do not know the results, it means they are not in complete control. With Johnny’s acting, you do not know what the result will be, the executives and directors need to rely on the talent of the actor.

Johnny has shown much talent through out his career. His dedication to stay true to himself has allowed him to go down paths that very few Hollywood stars can walk. Johnny has made it a priority to know the story the Director wants to tell, so that his performances can help push the directors vision forward. This balance of taking the role in his own direction but also staying true to the directors Vision, is what I think makes Johnny such a good actor.

In every movie Johnny has done, he has put the Character he is portraying first. He said that he strives to be a character actor. Johnny is not huge on the prince charming who does all the great action but does not have any depth as a person. As I said before, Johnny took a liking to the outcast. Most of the films that Johnny did at the beginning of his career were not considered the “happily ever after” kind of stories. In fact, many of the stories he did showed a pretty accurate but negative  look at the world.

Johnny’s seemingly negative look at life did not interest me. I do not understand why you make a film just to show how bad things are. I listened to Johnny talk a few times in his young career and he seemed to be a very sad man. Johnny was hurt by Hollywood and by how aggressive the paparazzi were toward him and his family. Johnny said that he never had many friends during his childhood, everyone considered him a bit odd. Something however happened during the second half of Johnny’s career. He still was picking characters that were very unique, but I began to see a life in these characters, that I did not see in the past.

Johnny began to act in movies such as Chocolate, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Finding Neverland, where there was a life the characters he played. I was especially touched in the movie Finding Neverland, where Johnny played the main Character James Barrier. James Barrier was the creator the the stage play Peter Pan and Johnny played the role magnificently. In this movie Johnny played a character who was about living life through the power of the imagination. In this role I finally saw Johnny play a man who stood for life no matter how hard it got.

In 1999 I saw an interview of Johnny Depp. They asked him what the most important thing to him was, and Johnny replied, “Family is Everything”. Johnny then talked at length about his daughter just being born and how she meant everything to him. Johnny said that his daughter being born was like breathing for the first time. He seemed to finally find a reason to live and a reason to create the stories that stood for life. Johnny talked about roles like Captain Jack Sparrow being for his children.

This “hope” that Johnny seems to have found is what I like the most about him. I think that Johnny Depp is a extremely talented actor, and occasionally he puts that talent to good use when he creates characters and works on movies that have life at the center.

   

Finding Neverland

Posted in Movie Reviews by Jacob on April 25, 2010

Finding Neverland is a wonderful movie about the power of imagination and friendship.

The movie is loosely based on the true  1904 story of James. M. Barrie and how he created the story for his stage play (and later book) Peter Pan. The filmmakers said that they were inspired by true events but never wanted to have the movie be an exact representation.

No matter how true the movie was to the real event, Finding Neverland was a great film. The movie deals with some very mature issues. We are introduced to James Barrier in a very depressing time in his life. He just has had a play flop at the theaters and his marriage seems to be declining. Through the efforts of trying to make a new and successful stage play, James runs into a family consisting of four boys and a single mother. The mother of course has her hands full with four children, so James decides to help out. There are many things that interests James about the family, he find great qualities in all the children, but James takes a particular liking to one boy named Peter.

Peter is a boy around age 9, that has sadly already grown up. His father died from a sudden illness and Peter has never been able to deal with what happened. Peter is a boy who does not want to show his hurt and because of that he has hidden himself away from anything that could give him life and then be taken away again. James is able to impress most of the children though the power of his imagination, but Peter stays reluctant to buying into James stories and imagination. I think that James sums up Peters problems at the beginning of the film by telling him, “With those eyes lad you will never see”. Peter has cut ties to everything that could hurt him and by doing so, Peter is blind.

The beauty of the film for me was how James was able to let Peter become a kid again and see. James makes Peter realize that you truly lose those you love by cutting ties with them, but when you allow them to be part of your life and infect who you are, they will never leave. James uses a journal that he gave him as an example. James points out that those people who Peter loves will always be in the pages and stories he creates. James shows Peter that the imagination is is the gateway to those he loves, no matter where they are physically.

Mark Foster was the director of Finding Neverland. I think he filmed the movie quite well. There was a curtain rhythm to the way he shot each scene. Mark talked at length about how he thought the way the director and actors staged each scene has a just as much to do with getting the audience into a rhythm as the music and cutting. Mark let us as an audience see James imagination. When ever there was a scene of James playing with the kids, we went to and from reality and James imagination. Mark was able to show us someone who was not limited by reality, we saw that James had a imagination full of  creativity that infected the people around him.

Mark talked about approaching the film from a child’s eye. He and the rest of the crew did this with great success. The basis of the movie was about holding on to that child within and never letting your imagination die. This is one of those movies that touches on one of the cores of what life should really be about, because of that I think it will always be relevant.

Finding Neverland is able to give you new eyes. You will see the power the imagination holds and how it can be a light in the hardest of times.

The Reason Why?

Posted in Personal Philosophy by Jacob on April 21, 2010

So I was watching a movie just for fun tonight. I chose one of my favorite superhero movies, Iron Man. My only intention was to veg out and be thoroughly entertained by Robert Downey Jr.’s fantastic portrayal of Iron Man. Watching the film I could not help but think about a film philosophy I am developing.

Even though I am a huge fan of the first Iron Man movie, the most interesting part, what I would call the heart of the film, comes right in the middle of the movie. The heart to me was when Tony Stark decides to fly to the Middle East and destroy his Jericho missile and stop some of the terrorism that his company was supporting behind his back.

When the movie was about helping a greater cause, I thought it was at its strongest point. When the movie turned to Tony’s long time executive co-worker Obadiah Stane as the secret villain, the movie began to lose some momentum.

Do not get me wrong, by fighting the villain Stane, Tony was helping the greater good. It just did not seem to be as relevant as fighting terrorism. The reasons to why Iron Man was fighting was not flashed before our eyes.

In the sequence where Iron Man (Tony Stark) chooses to go and fight the terrorists that had been using his weapons, we see the dilemma right in front of our eyes. Men with guns are holding Innocent civilians hostage. We, the audience, see these Innocent people and immediately feel for them. When Iron Man comes in and takes the terrorists out, we see reason to why he is doing what he is doing and the audience can relate.

Now flash forward to the sequence where Iron Man is fighting Iron Monger (Obadiah Stane), a mechanical monster that is as big as a semi and has a seemingly unlimited amount of ammo to use against Iron Man. We do not have as deep of a reason to why each character is doing what they are doing. To be honest it feels very unrealistic and thus takes away from the audience being able to relate.

It is okay to have unrealistic things in movies. The challenge however, is to make sure they still feel realistic. Everything must be grounded in reality. The strongest reality in Iron Man was terrorism. We as an audience could relate to terrorism and thus it served as a good villain.  However, the main villain was harder, for at least me, to relate to.

In each film you make, you should think of the reasons to why you are doing what you are doing. In the case of Iron Man, I saw that Tony Stark was fighting terrorism because of a conviction that he had something to do with supporting it and thus needed to set things strait. When it came to fighting the Iron Monger, the reason why became much more cliche and shallow. We saw a big monster that was fighting Iron Man, in order to get more power. We saw Iron Man fighting the monster in order to save his girl and “become a hero”. Tony Stark did not seem to have as much of a conviction while fighting Iron Monger, which made him as a character a little less interesting.

“Why” is a big question. The reason is everything. With a good film, you go into depth with your characters and story. The reason why the story goes a curtain way, needs to be thought of to its deepest point. When you find a conviction or a reason why you are making your story, you must find a way to stay with it.

Contrast

Posted in Personal Philosophy by Jacob on April 19, 2010

One of the keys to making good stories and good characters is contrast. You will not watch a good movie that does not have both goods and evils.

I am a big fan of movies that have good in them. I actually want the core of each of my films to be built out of something good. But my films would be very poor if all I had was good things happen.

Let me use this self-portrait I did to help make my point. If I only used dark shades and did not go any lighter then gray, my picture would not be as interesting. We would have hardly anything to contrast the black with and the dark would not stand out as being anything special. The same principle applies if I only had white through gray with no dark. The drawing would be hard to read, the shapes would lose their strength and nothing would pop.

The point of the drawing is made through contrast. The drawing is trying to say something with one half of the face being light and the other dark. We see some powerful dark lines in the eyes and shadows that contrast the highlights of the hat and face, well.

The same thing applies to any character you make or story you create. Yes, I am a big believer in good winning out in the end, but I need to contrast the good with something evil. We do not know how special the good is until we are able to see what it overcame or what it is fighting.

If you want to make a good villain, do not just have him be completely evil. Give him some good qualities and let us see the light in him. Look at a villain like Darth Vader from Star Wars. Vader is a very evil man (some would call him a monster) who killed many people (Including children). The reason to why he was so interesting however, was the fact that there was some good in him. The idea that Vader was once a good man makes his crimes all the more horrible and interesting. The idea that Vader is not completely evil, gives us as an audience a reason to keep watching him and hoping that he might choose good one day.

Sometimes you might need to sacrifice an interesting villain for an interesting story. Take the Joker in Batman Dark Knight for example. I think that the Joker was played very well, and he was actually a perfect villain for the Batman movie. The only interesting thing about the Joker however was the ways he could test Batman and Gotham. The Joker by himself would not be interesting, he had shown that he was completely evil. The only reason to why the Joker was doing what he was doing, was to test people and blow things up.

The Dark Knight was interesting because of the contrast between the Joker and Batman. In the first Batman movie, we saw that Batman had shown that he was mostly good (light). So what if we tested that goodness with the evil (darkness) of the Joker? The extreme light that Batman was, and the extreme darkness that the Joker was, created a very powerful contrast. For me that contrast was what made the movie interesting.

So in any story contrast is key. The darker the story gets, the more clearly we see the light.

(The picture is a self Portrait I did of myself about 4 years ago. I touched it up a little on Photoshop, so that I could get a bit more contrast. I am very happy with how it turned out, it was one of those drawings that made me first begin to think I could be good at art)

Generations of Santa Clause

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on April 18, 2010

This is called Generations of Santa Clause because I used many different references of Santa Clause to make this painting. What I think it amounted to was a very mediocre watercolor. I think this painting turned out okay, but that is pretty much all I could say about it. There really was no big thing that made this Santa special to any of the others you see in other peoples work. I will do better next time. It was done a little more then two years ago for Christmas. My dad said that he would do a painting of Santa as well, but sadly never kept up his end of the bargain 😦

I do hope you enjoy 🙂

story, Story, STORY!!!

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on April 15, 2010

Please click on the picture and read the comic before you read my post.

A good story is key to any good movie. This comic has a good point about the difference between Pixar and Dreamworks (for the most part). At the moment Dreamworks is cranking out 5 movies every 2 years. Because of the extreme demand for material, Dreamworks often seems to forget about quality. Their stories are usually weak and the characters shallow without very solid development.

Even though it is hard to believe because of their extreme success, Pixar movies are often very risky. Common Hollywood has shown they want reliable and safe stories. Since most of Hollywood does not want to take risks, they often make animated movies with common themes (animals talking) and lot of potty humor (because lets face it, potty humor SALES). If the movie is successful, they try to make a franchise out of the product; with a bunch of quickly made, artistically void, sequels (Shrek II-IV, Madagascar 2 and 3, Ice Age 2, 3, and 4… so far).

If Pixar wanted to play it safe they would not have started their career making an original non-musical animated movie (ALL the animated movie that had been coming out were musical and based on an existing story) about Toys. Pixar went further with their risky storytelling by having their main character be a self observed jerk for the first half of the film. Toy Story, was close to being shelved more then once, the Disney people who were trying to be in control, told Pixar that their movie did not have the main elements of a good animated movie. They thought the title of Toy Story would not reach an audience over 10 years. They thought  there was no major bad guy driving the film. And Disney was concerned by the fact that most of the crew working on Toy Story had not even graduated from collage.

So, Toy Story and Pixar were not supposed to be a success. The reason they were a success was because the story and characters were driving the film. The Pixar people cared about the movie and all the arguments about what got into the movie and what went out had to do with making the story better. In the making of Toy Story we saw people who actually cared about toys and gave the characters honest and unique personalities. They were able to stick to their guns because they were looking out for the stories best interest. This all took a lot of risk. No one knew what the result would be for no one had taken the rout Pixar was taking.

Through out Pixar’s history they kept taking risks. They hired director Brad Bird, who had just had a movie flop in the theaters (Iron Giant) and told him to “shake things up”, even though Pixar had been having nothing but success up to that point. Their movies after Toy Story would not be considered guaranteed money makers, either. We saw a movie with the main character being a rat that wants to cook and a movie about a robot where you hardly hear a line of dialogue in the first 30 minutes of the film. Then their was the movie UP, where you go on an adventure with a 75 year old man and 8 year old boy. With all these movies common Hollywood would say no. They worked however because the creators had vision that they were not willing to compromise with.

Getting money should not be the main reason for making a movie. The core of a movie can not be the special effects, the action, the humor, or the romantic love scenes. The movie can have all these things in them, but it needs to be initiated by the core of the story. The story needs to give purpose for the special effects, the humor, and the action. There needs to be reason to why something is happening.

There really is no limit to what kind of story you can tell. The only thing you need is a crew willing to take risks and follow vision. You need a story worth telling. A story that is able to get into peoples hearts is a story that will last. I want to make movies that impact people. A good movie is a unique story that makes its own statement or asks its own questions.

STORY must be put ahead of everything else in film business. If you do not have unique characters to explore and concepts to express, then you do not have a good enough reason to be making a film.

“CRAZZZY”

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on April 15, 2010

This was my third portrait of my watercolor series. I was not as happy with him, I feel that he falls a bit flat compared to the others. However, it is a interesting character and I really liked how the hair turned out. The eyes were pretty good as well. I think I might of made them another color if I had it to do over again. Anyway, I did this painting about two and a half years ago.

The Princess and the Frog

Posted in Movie Reviews by Jacob on April 13, 2010

The Princess and the Frog is a wonderful movie for the return of Disney Hand Drawn animation. I have seen it several times now and it just seems to get better each time I watch it. The reason why this film is so wonderful to keep going back to is because of the depth you see in every aspect of the animation process.

In 2006 when John Lasseter (co-founder of Pixar) was put in charge of Disney animation, one of the first things he wanted to do was to bring back hand drawn animation. This was a tall order since hand drawn animation had been discontinued from the studio about four years before. In order to accomplish it’s rebirth the first thing John did was bring back two old Disney directors, John Musker and Ron Clemens. The two are know for codirecting The Little Mermaid and Aladdin. In all these films I saw a true effort on putting story first and a magnificent ability in getting the whole crew to come together in order to make the best film possible.

I think Ron and John put their best foot forward on this film, and were able to create something original and magical. Both Ron and John said the Princess and the Frog crew was the most talented crew they ever worked with.

In this movie you see a young woman, Tiana, work extremely hard in order to reach her dream of owning a restaurant one day. The film is located in New Orleans in the late 1910’s. Because Tiana is an African American, she is forced to jump through even more hoops then an average white citizen would in order to have her dream come true. Tiana, is unique for a Disney Princess movie. She is not yet a princess and has no inclination of finding a prince to live happily ever after with at the beginning of the movie.

This movie goes further with its unique qualities by having the Prince be a flat out jerk at the beginning of the film. Prince Naveen is a moneyless (Family cut his funding off) spoiled bachelor that comes to New Orleans in order to marry into a rich family.

The movie is about the character development of Tiana and Naveen. In the film you begin out with these characters hating each other and end up with a genuine love story, where two people work through their faults to find love.

The way Disney pulled this story off was simply wonderful. Every aspect of the movie seemed to be working together. You had a Music legend Randy Newman (composer of Toy Story 1 & 2, A Bugs Life, Monsters Inc., and Cars) come up with some magnificent songs for this movie. Randy grew up in New Orleans and really seemed to go back to his roots in creating and composing the music for this movie. He had Jazz, Gospel, and Blues, all highlight the story in wonderful ways and all are worth listening to away from the movie.

What was truly wonderful was the location the story took place. Ron and John said they studied Disney classics, such as Bambi and Lady and the Tramp, as inspiration for this movie. New Orleans was Character in and of itself, each location was made to highlight the animation and further the mood of the story. The City and the bayou were wonderful pieces of art in their own right, but never seemed to distract from the characters.

The character animation was some of the best I have ever seen. I am a big fan of Eric Goldberg and he did a marvelous job as lead animator for Lewis the Alligator. We simply see an entertaining character with a lot of life in the alligator who lives in the bayou, Lewis. Some of the expressions for Lewis are quite extreme, but we never lose track of who the character is. The extremes simply seemed to be expressing him in a better way.

One character I will always cherish is Raymond the Firefly. Mike Surrey was Ray’s lead animator and he and his team did a wonderful job bringing this character to life. Some of the movements that I saw from Ray was like candy to the eyes. In Ray you found a lot of good humor, but more importantly you found heart.

We saw wonderful gags in the animation and the action was pulled off extremely well, but what made this movie great for me, was the animators ability to take us into the character’s head. The drawings became real. I did not just see a bunch of lines moving, I saw real people trying to make hard realistic decisions and real friends having sincere emotions for each other.

John Musker said that he believes there is magic in the Disney Studios still. I saw evidence of that magic in The Princess and the Frog. They truly made this movie to be enjoyed for generations. It is a simple story told in a wonderful way.

 

Floyd Norman

Posted in Film and Filmaker Studies by Jacob on April 12, 2010

Floyd Norman started working at Disney in 1956 and has been around ever since. I just saw a video of him speak at The Art Institute of California (you can see the video Here).

Floyd is a legend story artist, and he has a very rich knowledge of the Disney Companies history. He was able to work with the legendary Nine Old Men (Nine Disney Animators) and he even was able to work with Walt Disney on the Jungle book. Floyd was at the Disney Studio during what many would call the Golden age, where Walt was alive and the company was making masterpieces like Marry Poppins and The Jungle Book. Floyd was there for some of the darkest of days where animation was on the brink of shutting down, Walt Disney had died and there was no direction the Disney Company seemed to be going except for down.

It seems that Floyd got infected with Walt’s philosophy of putting story first and through the good times and bad Floyd always tried to put story ahead of everything else in his projects. I was impressed with some of the films he worked on, such as The Jungle Book, Mulan and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. He even went to Pixar to help with projects, such as Toy Story 2 and Monsters Ink.

Where most filmmakers jobs would be to write a story, Floyd is assigned to draw one. His illustrations are often just a few lines on small sheets of paper, in order to express a character or a surrounding. But, those lines have a great power. They are the keys to unlocking a story. A good story is the key to making a good movie. So you can easily say that Floyd and his story artist teams have the most important job in film business.

One thing that really caught me while watching the video of Floyd is when he said, “I am totally addicted to Storytelling”. I think this is key for any good storyteller, they truly need to get addicted to storytelling. Whenever Floyd reads a script he sees a story. Floyd has become an expert expressing story visually through his drawings. This is a magnificent gift.

What I admire most of Floyd is his ability to stay passionate about storytelling. A 50+ career in animation is hard, especially when you need to go through some of the things Floyd did. But it seems that Floyd has stayed true to what matter the most. “Story” is still King in his book.