A Dreamer Walking

Invisible Strings

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on January 20, 2012

Filmmakers are puppeteers. We control pretty much everything. We create the story; deciding who is good and who is evil, who wins and who loses. Everything from writing the script, to framing the shots, to cutting the film is part of the complex process of creating the illusion of life for our audience to be entranced by. Some puppeteers are extremely literal in their stories; creating worlds and characters that are quite like real life. Some puppeteers however are quite abstract; creating worlds where fish can talk and balloons can fly houses. There are many talented puppeteers. Most of them like to show off their skill by creating characters who are basically capable of anything. By creating visual effects that completely blow the audience away. And by using their editing and camera skills to show off their magnificent skill as puppeteers. However, the greatest puppeteers, the puppet masters, are the ones who make their tremendous string work invisible to the audience watching.

Making one’s strings invisible does not mean you need to make your film completely literal. Animation  for example is an extremely abstract concept. Animation studios like Disney and Pixar do not even try to create literal copies of the world we live in. They create entire worlds of their own where kids can fly and toys come to life. However, all of their stories are reflections of emotional truths. They create characters that have feelings just like us. No matter if it is a robot trying to find love or a rat who wants to cook, their characters reflect each one of us and the obstacles the characters face are reflective of the things we face in every day life. Because the worlds and characters strike an emotional truth with us the audience, we forget about all the strings controlling them.

There are many basic things that need to be done right in order to hide one’s strings. For example, the reason why the invisible cut is so important is because you want to create a flow of motion through your cuts that does not distract from the story. Music needs to always be in service to the story being told. If it comes in at the wrong time or becomes too overpowering it can very easily take the audience member out of the moment. One of the greatest criticisms of 3D is that it creates the illusion of things coming at you and can easily feel intrusive rather then inclusive to the audience member. The reason filmmakers take so long getting a shot set up and edits just right is because they want everything to feel like it is a natural piece of a greater whole.

The most important things to get right in order to hide one’s strings is the story. The story needs to be structured in such a way that if feels real. Although a movie like Finding Nemo is about talking fish, the story is structured and executed in such a way that the story feels genuine. There are several elements about the fish that remind us of real life. The main fish character Marlin is a single parent who suffers from the insecurity of losing his son. His son Nemo has a birth defect which is reflective of what many people suffer from in our world. And, the core idea of a father trying to connect with his son is something almost all of us can connect with. The story also unfolds in such a way that the farther along it goes the more we get connected with the characters the world it takes place in. Marlin loses Nemo and sets out into the ocean to find him again.  The struggles Marlin goes through during his journey allow him to deal with his insecurities and understand more about the values of his son. Finding Nemo is just an illusion created by the filmmakers, yet their strings go unnoticed because we are so caught up in the story.

There are some filmmakers who don’t care about connecting you to there characters or making a plausible world. There only goal is to take you on a ride. However, these kind of filmmakers get old fast. The actions we see unfold begin to look cheesy because we have not bought into their stories emotionally. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is a good example. The movie always felt like a story that was created in tribute to earlier films, not because it had something new to say. The actions that unfolded during the movie often felt too elaborate and overdone. It wasn’t enough that Jones got away from the bad guys lair he needed to also survive a nuclear explosion. One impossibly huge waterfall wasn’t enough Jones and the rest of the crew needed to survive three. Again and again visual effects and elaborate camera shots overwhelm us and make obvious the strings controlling the story. When we no longer feel what we are looking at is real we quickly lose any thrill in watching it.

The key to being a good filmmaker is not necessarily the extant of one’s knowledge of the vocabulary of film. Rather, it is how well we are able to execute what we know for the sake of the story. Sometimes elaborate camera work and spectacular visual effects is just what the story calls for. What the audience wants is to be entertained. They want the actions they see on screen to thrill them and that only happens if they are emotionally involved. When all the puppet masters strings are being used for the sake of the story they disappear. When the strings disappear film stops being a mere illusion for movie goers, it becomes real.

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