A Dreamer Walking

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 very 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. To be honest, 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.

My Heart Stopped Beating

Posted in Personal Philosophy by Jacob on October 3, 2017

A year ago my heart stopped.

How many people can say that?! But it is true. On this day last year I had open heart surgery to repair a leaky valve and deal with a huge amount of excess liquid accumulating around my heart. I was in complete heart failure before the procedure. An operation that usually takes months to set up took less than a week for me. Fair to say this was one of the most definitive moments of my life.  Recovery was a long and tedious process. I still am on a good deal of medication. They even gave me several recommendations for mental health rehab. Many patients go into depression after their surgeries.

Of course, that wasn’t going to be me. I only had one concern before the operation. In order to deal with the concern I needed to go to the Big Guy. I needed to make a deal with God. I did not know why this was happening to me. Frankly, I did not feel any need to ask questions on why. What was happening was happening and I could deal with it. The only thing I needed was to live.

I know.  This procedure happens all the time. The doctor was one of the best in the country. The success rate was 98%. But, that 2% haunted me before the operation. I couldn’t get past it. The doctor wasn’t willing to tell me I was going to be alive after the procedure. And as much faith as I had in him, the 2% was constantly on my mind. This might sound foolish. Honestly I felt guilty for feeling so afraid. I mean, there are countless people who are much braver than I am with much worse odds.

I was frustrated this was an issue. I have talked more than once on this blog about feeling divinely lead to do what I do. My faith is a personal thing and I do not have any need for others to believe the same way I do. But if I were honest I would even need to tell my secular friends that my life has never felt completely my own. For most people dreams live by night and fade away by morning. For me, dreaming has always been more, a calling from someone who insists I bring them to reality. But a year ago, I was told, my heart could stop and might never beat again.

So the deal was, “let me live“. Let me live and I will double down on my devotion toward my dreams. I will tell my stories and impact this world.

You’ve probably noticed by now, but to settle any doubt, I am alive.

BOOM! I woke up after the 6 hour operation and still remember my joy in being alive. Sure it hurt. I literally threw up all through the next night (and if you want to experience pain just start dry-heaving after your chest has been ripped open). I won’t claim to have been the most grateful patient. But, all in all I knew I could handle everything that would follow. The support I had was unbelievable. My whole family was there, if not physically, in spirit. The greatest feeling in the world was holding my mother’s hand afterword. The worst was done and I knew the dreams I was given were still alive and God had faith in my ability to deliver.

The tragedy to this story is a year out I personally feel no closer to any of my dreams. Here I was so confident I would be able to handle anything I would need to face. Heck, a life event like the one I had has plenty of fodder for inspiration. Yet, again and again when reflecting on this past year, I only see failure. I dropped out of school. I ended up returning to my introverted tendencies and have fewer relationships with people than ever in my life. The Kickstarter I launched to get funding for a project I am passionate about, failed miserably. Even this blog feels like another failure. 9 months ago I claimed to be “Back” but since haven’t written anything worthy enough to post. For a little icing on the cake, just the other day the hard drive holding all my major projects simply stopped working and Geek Squad couldn’t transfer the files. Though I had a good amount backed up, I’ve already discovered countless hours of edits and some very personal footage is now gone (unless anyone wants to loan me $1,500 dollars ;).

Remember the depression I mentioned at the beginning of the post, the depression I felt so above before the operation, well I don’t feel so above it now.

A year ago my heart stopped. It started beating again and I have overcome the physical obstacles that were holding me back. But at the moment of writing this post I am struggling to find the dreams. Hell, I’m even struggling to find the words with which to conclude this post. My thoughts were if I get to the end of writing this God would give me the inspiration. Um… I’m waiting…

Being alive is something I can no longer take for granted. One of the unique things to happen after heart surgeries like mine is you feel your heart like never before. Every pace change and skipped beat is something I’m aware of. Maybe the mistake I made was thinking the operation I had was something to get over. I saw it as an obstacle, a task I needed to complete in order to move on to bigger and better things. Yet the scar on my chest will never leave me and I will never feel my heart beat the same.

 

The Frame – Restriction’s Power

Posted in Personal Philosophy by Jacob on May 20, 2017

blog exampleSo often I find what students of film think they need in order to make a good film are more resources. If only I could have the new GH5 camera to shoot slow motion. If only I had a drone to create scale. If only I had the after effects program to perfect my shot. Naively, we tend to believe more resources will allow us to make a better movie. Yet, in many ways I have found they do the exact opposite.

To understand where I am coming from you need to realize who my heroes of cinema are. Charlie Chaplin, Ingmar Bergman, and Akira Kurosawa are all filmmakers I aspire to. They created films even at the time of conception were considered far less technically advanced than the other films of their time. Yet, today they stand heads and shoulders over their peers. Chaplin’s lack of sound, Bergman’s square aspect ratio, and Kurosawa’s black and white pictures are not signs of weakness in their storytelling, but rather strength.

We forget the essence of cinema is found in restraint. Throughout it’s history we have needed to deal with the unrelenting constraints of the frame. And yet, it is in this very restraint we find an endless number of possibilities. The frame is what creates the possibility for the vast majority of language we have developed for cinema today. Without the frame there would be no shot. The shot represents the filmmakers canvas.  We need those four edges to go from a wide to a close-up. The difference between a character who resides on the edges of the frame compared to the middle is extremely significant. The frame allows us to focus the eye through blocking all but the most important aspects of the story, out.

Now there is a movement coming. VR (virtual reality) breaks from the “restraints” of the frame and allows the audience to look anywhere they please. This is not a post trying to bash on this new technology. Even Chaplin, Bergman, and Kurosawa started to explore the power of sound, widening the frame, and color. Infact, some of their greatest masterpieces came from these newer cinematic resources. Yet, understanding the value of their perceived limitations is what helped launch their storytelling into another stratosphere. These were artists who if they were not provided with a paint brush, they would bask in the joy of being able to use their hands.

Less resources force us to value the tools one has. I can say this is extremely true for my current career. I have never owned a camera, lead a large crew, or owned any complex editing/effects software. However, I do not consider myself or the people who work with me any less capable of creating great art.

The resources we have at our disposal will all be inadequate soon. Luckily nobody cares about the chisel Michelangelo used when carving David or the pen Shakespeare wrote with for Romeo and Juliet.  When we have unlimited resources we are allowed to avoid looking into ourselves; we can hide our shallowness behind bells and whistles. However, the greatest measurement of an artist’s worth will always be time and it is the soul of one’s art time will reveal.

 

Say Something!!!

Posted in Personal Philosophy by Jacob on December 18, 2016

The greatest mistake the educated make is believing our intellect produces meaning. By itself, intellect is empty. Infact, from my experience my intellect often tries to get in the way of meaning. Far too often what is valued the most is the way something is written or a painting rendered. We become so caught up on the ecstatics we neglect to see the shallowness of what is being said.

When it came to the visual arts, I was a natural talent. I was able to draw better than most in my class and I was fantastic at composing a shot. There are few who like talking composition or lighting more than me when it comes to filming. Honestly, a good portion of my blog is about speaking about brilliant compositions or ways artists apply the tools of their trade. If you look far enough back, you can see pieces of photography I did. I consider a good portion of them well done for my age and yet looking back on them they seem to be missing any kind of substance. They are simply pretty pictures I took strictly on a conceptual level.

When it came to writing, I was a hot mess. I’ve already explained it many times, but holy crap did I suck. There was no understanding of grammar, spelling, or structure. Even now there is no distinct style to the way I write. You can easily call my writing straightforward and at times… boring. However, my senior year of highschool I had a teacher who insisted my writing had a huge amount of potential. The reason had nothing to do with spelling or grammar. She simply told me she felt I had something worth saying.

Because I could not rely on my natural skill as a writer I was forced to find motivation through what I was writing. As a dyslexic I find writing to be emotionally, mentally, and at time even physically taxing. So there needed to be a purpose to every essay I forced my hands to type. And as you can see in this blog, I found a purpose. I was able to put writing in the place any medium of art belongs, strictly as a tool to express myself.

Our thoughts, ideas, and convictions are what art is really about. Who we are is what we must express to the world. When it comes to working with the camera it’s much harder for me to realize this notion. I make the mistake of thinking the way I choose to frame a picture or control the light is what makes my work stand out. And I’m not alone. I can’t tell you how excited my fellow peers get when they see a new camera or are able to use a new visual effect. Just look how many different types of materials Leonardo da Vinci experimented with. It’s only natural for the artist  to appreciate his instrument. Yet the goal can never be to create a piece in order to highlight the tool you are using. The goal to art is to say something; to create something which takes on a life of it’s own.

Nothing disguises meaninglessness more than a pretty picture. I was fooled by my own talent in the visual arts. Writings greatest gift to me could easily be the humbling experience of being bad. With every word I am forced to think about the actual reasons behind what is being said. In today’s world we have more powerful tools to express ourselves than ever before. Let us dare to say something with these tools.

 

I’m Back!!!

Posted in Personal Philosophy by Jacob on December 11, 2016

How to start…

I have been blogging for a long time. For those who once followed this blog, you might know the reason is due to the fact that I once used this as a testing device for my education. I wanted to study filmmaking and found traditional education lacking. There were many reasons for this, but the greatest reason was the education system didn’t know how to handle me very well… nor I it.

What I ended up doing was studying on my own. I chose to self educate and use this blog as a testing device. Though mostly due to my dyslexia I consider writing akin to stabbing oneself with a pencil a million times, my English Teacher of a mother taught me writing was also one of the best ways to test if you really understood a subject. In order to create a good essay you need to grab your audience’s attention with how you introduce your subject. You must be able to support your argument in the body of your essay. And in the end you must be to bring everything together and come to a conclusion worthy of an audience’s efforts in taking the time to read your piece.

Now I won’t argue I was good at any of this stuff when I first started (nor much better now…:/), however I was convinced I had a view worth exploring. And though this has never been the most popular blog, I consider the 270 entries I’ve so far written to be one of my greatest achievements. This blog represents my journey in understanding both the medium I love and my personal voice.

My journey however eventually took me in another direction. Instead of being stuck with the unnatural obligation of writing each week, I replaced the pen with a lens and began to actually put all my developped views to the test. I returned to college for the purpose of applying what I had already learned. In the process I made the discovery that learning should never have an end. I am proud of the connections I’ve made in college and consider many students and professors critical to furthering my education. Yet the journey to actually producing my own material in the medium I love, has begun. And I’ve given myself little time to write about it.

This is where this specific blog entry comes in. I wanted to acknowledge I’ve been gone for a while and avoided an aspect of my education I consider to be more difficult. My plan is to start writing consistently again. Honestly, I’ve tried to write many things the last few months, but as you can see they haven’t been able to make it to the finish line yet. There is a curtain excitement that comes with hitting the “publish” button. It’s that idea you consider your work worthy enough to be experienced and scrutinized over. I can not promise to create the kind of material I was at the hight of my writing career (if I had one of those ;), but the bottom line is I want to start to test myself in this way again.

Writing is a beautiful artform. It has helped me in so many ways become a better filmmaker. Through writing I’ve discovered my identity as an artist and a human being. My hope is I can continue to discover new things about myself and filmmaking through the continuation of this blog…and maybe even give you something worth thinking about.

Thoughts from Tarkovsky – Static Passion

Posted in Personal Philosophy by Jacob on August 9, 2016

For me the most interesting characters are outwardly static, but inwardly charged with energy by an overriding passion.” – Andrei Tarkovsky’s Sculpting in Time

Imagine if we understood this? Though Andrei is referring to characters in this quote, I believe the principle applies to all filmmaking. So often we think filmmaking is about grand scale, flashy camerawork, and extravagant characters. The reason students never think they have enough money for their films is because they have bought into this idea that in order to make a good film you need to go, “BIG”. There is so much concentration on the need for outward excess we forget about the power of the inner battle. Many of my peers have the right message. They want to says something unique. Yet instead of finding confidence in their personal story they get distracted by the fact they don’t have enough; whether it be the right camera, the right crew, or the best locations.

We are taught the active camera gives way to the active emotion, yet the opposite can just as easily apply. And believe me, the best storytellers know this. All the way back to the silent era there have been filmmakers who knew just how powerful holding a static shot could be. If you don’t believe me, just watch the last five minutes of City Lights (1931) or when Joan is put on trial in The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928). In these movies you found storytellers who trusted the audience to stay attentive and find the inner emotion themselves.

I can’t resist compare this surface level storytelling we see today with all that is wrong with politics. What is going on outside is what gets the most attention. We have politicians on the left and the right who almost shout the “truth” at us. They think if they yell loud enough and with enough enthusiasm we will start to believe their “authenticity”. Yet our society has sensed a insincerity; a disconnect between the outward message and the inward action. When the audience senses a disconnect it does not matter how polished the outward seems, we will not buy into the story they are telling.

When I think about it the vast majority of my favorite scenes in cinema have little to do with scale or polish. Instead, what makes me want to tell stories for a living comes from the powerful feelings I had when seeing a group of students stand on their desks for their teacher (Dead Poets Society), or a man at a bridge asking to live again (It’s a Wonderful Life), or a distraught father walking away from his daughter as she shouts for him to come back (Blue Valentine). On the surface these scenes did not revolve around any great action yet they all broke through and allowed the audience to experience the stories essence. It’s this transformation from examining the outward to the inner conflict that must be the most important aspect for us as filmmakers.

The camera being used, amount of crew you have, or locations at your disposal are all surface level problems. They do need to be considered but should never be the most important thing. I’m in the middle of making a documentary at the moment and my favorite shot revolves around my subject and a blank wall. You know, the kind of wall you can literally find in any room you set foot in. Yet for the story I am telling the wall says so much about the anxiety the subject is going through. It comments on the great unknown awaiting her and the emptiness I sense she feels at the moment.

Maybe what scares us the most about this type of storytelling is the lack of control. When looking inward we must rely on the audience to come to their own conclusions. The outward can be calculated the inward is the great unknown. However, if you want to say something new you need to be willing to explore the unknown. We must always remember filmmaking is not about capturing beautiful images. We are storytellers. Our mission is to look past what is seen on the surface and examine the soul. If we can find a way to do this, there is no limit to where our stories could go.

 

Thoughts From Tarkovsky – The Ever-Changing World

Posted in Film and Filmaker Studies, Personal Philosophy by Jacob on July 22, 2016

It is a grave, I would even say, fatal, mistake to try to make a film correspond exactly with what is written on paper, to translate onto structures that have been thought out in advance, purely intellectually. That simple operation can be carried out by any professional craftsman. Because it is a living process, artistic creation demands a capacity for direct observation of the ever-changing material world, which is constantly in movement.”  – Andrei Tarkovsky’s Sculpting in Time

This is just one of countless insights I have found from Andrei Tarkovsky’s book, Sculpting in Time. The quote is extra relevant today since there are so many new tools being developed in order to plan out stories, scenes, and even specific shots in advance. Film demands a curtain amount of structure. The very definition of a “frame” suggests structure. Yet, more then any other artistic medium, filmmaking rewards those who are able to break away from the inherent structure of film and adapt to the ever-changing world around us.

I have been in the process of creating several short documentaries. Last year a friend and I made a 20 min documentary on a clinically blind 91 year old woman who walked a mile and a half to church every Sunday. One of the most daunting aspects was the absence of a script. Unlike with fictional filmmaking I was not allowed to create a story before going to shoot. All I could do was hope to find little moments in the process of making the film and put them together in the end to tell a complete story.

What the inability to use structure demanded of me was to observe. I couldn’t rely on any per-conceived ideas. I needed seek out the truth each day, in every moment I captured. Even in the interviews there were contradictions between the characters we covered. Instead of looking at what was said, I found the greatest truths were revealed through mall things, like a hint of a smile or a movement in the eyes; things I would never even think of let alone know how to write into a script.

In the process of making the doc I became less and less interested in telling a specific story. I told my partner I didn’t want this to be about a 91 year old who had all sorts of insights to pass down to younger generations. I didn’t want this to be a doc about a 91 year old who was about to die. I simply wanted it to be about a person who happened to be 91 and let her tell us the rest of the story.

In the end we were able to create a story out of the pieces our subject gave us. But the story had less to do with getting to specific answers and more to do with going on a journey. For a brief 20 minutes we let the audience take a walk with a 91 year old lady and discover a few divine insights before departing. Because we had not yet come to any conclusions before filming we were able to discover insights none of us by ourselves would have ever made.

A beauty of filmmaking is numerous people, if allowed, contribute to the whole of the story. If we structure our story too much we disallow the individual contribution of the person directing the film, the individual holding the camera, or man portraying the character. The difference between a craftsman and an artist is the ability to go beyond what is on the page and bring new insights to the table. We must have an unified vision, a similar journey we want to go on, but its expression need not be limited to one voice. As a unified group we can get to far greater places than we can as individuals.

The Essence of Cinema

Posted in Personal Philosophy by Jacob on May 27, 2016

Nothing disguises meaninglessness more than a pretty picture.

This is actually a quote from yours truly. I just think this type of thing looks more legit when you put it up in stylized quotes.

In the past I have suggested we live in the most resourceful age of filmmaking in history. The kind of technology we have at our disposal is phenomenal. Where just 30 years ago a film student like me would go wild if he had a few minutes worth of film stock to use, today we have crystal clear digital cameras, easy to use editing programs and special effect technology, along with all sorts of other gizmos and gadgets to make our Youtube or Vimeo videos look that much smoother.

As you might assume from the quote however, I don’t consider all this stuff a good thing. In fact, in many cases I find our new obsessions with the newest technology to be unhealthy. More times than not I run into fellow film students who feel it’s the type of camera they use that makes their work worth viewing. Instead of talking to me about the story they are trying to tell or themes they are trying to explore they simply show me their footage and exclaim, “Can you believe how beautiful this looks in 4K RESOLUSION!!!” And sadly, more times than not I can’t help but look at that 4K footage and feel an overwhelming sense of emptiness.

The cause of the emptiness you may ask… An utter lack of individualism. But what should I expect?! Any type of individualism was knocked out of most of us at a very early age.

The cardinal sin of the education system is the absence of independence. School’s most impactful lesson is conformity. The environment we are taught in, the subjects highlighted, and the testing system used to measure our intelligence are all oriented around our society’s demand we stand in line and function with a set of well established rules.

Since most of us didn’t grow up giving value to individualism, we needed to create value in other places. One of the easiest places to manufacture a sense of value is in the polish of a product. Most of my professors and peers advocate for the clean image. We are taught how to hold the camera, the proper way to light a scene, and what makes for the strongest composition. In no way am I suggesting these things are not important to know. I spent the last several years studying the rules of cinema and looking into the reasons why the great filmmakers of the past, like Kurosawa and Bergman, chose to shoot their films the way they did.

But here is the difference between filmmakers like Bergman and Kurosawa, and the vast majority of student filmmakers out there; the masters of cinema learned the rules in order to break them. They did not find value in the picture itself, but rather they were interested in what the picture had to say. And often times it was through going against the traditional rules of cinema where the great filmmakers were able to say something unique. As much as the system we live in works tirelessly to have the majority in society toe the line, from the beginning of time it has been the rule breakers who change the world the most.

I have found a clean high definition image is one of the greatest enemies to a rule breaker. We are no more capable of breaking the rules of cinema today as we were 30 to 100 years ago. The only change is a development of technology. And technology has its dangers. As I said at the beginning of this piece, “Nothing disguises meaninglessness more than a pretty picture”. We are more capable of creating a “pretty picture” today then ever before.

I consider my papers on this blog to be a constant exploration the essence of cinema. And I am sorry if the title of the post mislead you into thinking I would somehow be able to tell you what cinema’s essence was. The point here is to tell you what cinema’s essence is not. The power of cinema can not be measured based on the type of camera you use. We must understand the value of an art is not measured by its paintbrush. What matters is the person holding the brush and whether he or she has something to say.