A Dreamer Walking

Show Me The Light!

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on October 22, 2011

In every film there should be a light. A light that attracts us to the material. That allows us to truly see the story being presented on screen. I would describe the light as some sort of warmth. Something that reminds us of humanity and gives us a reason to invest ourselves into the story. The light factor is what separates filmmakers like Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese in my mind. As sophisticated as some of Scorsese’s films are, I find few of them relatable and very seldom do I invest myself into the story he is telling. Maybe I neglect to understand the darkness factor. I have heard many people talk about how they are drawn to Scorsese movies such as Taxi Driver, because they relate to the loneliness and darkness in the main character Travis Bickle. However, if movies were about reflecting and highlighting the darkness in human nature I would not be interested in making them.

It is not like Steven Spielberg does not go into dark subject matter at times. You can’t get much darker then the holocaust. Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List just happens to be my favorite movie I have ever seen. I have had many friends tell me the film is too dark and too sad for them to really like. However, even though I think the main subject matter of Schindler’s List, the holocaust, is sad I do not consider the actual story sad. No, instead in the middle of one of the darkest chapters in world history Steven Spielberg shows us a light in Oskar Schindler. In Schindler’s List we are given a story about the redemption of a German citizen and his effort to save hundreds of Jews from almost curtain death in German death camps. This light amongst the darkness is what makes the film so powerful in my mind.

A frustrating thing about most critics in my opinion is that they seem to put more value on filmmakers who make movies that go into dark subject matter and end on tragic notes. People like Walt Disney, Frank Capra, and Steven Spielberg on the other hand are written off by some critics because their material is too full of “fluff” and not realistic enough to true life. In my opinion if you want to see something completely realistic to real life, just go outside. We are not supposed to just copy what we see in real life. Many filmmakers goals are to represent something to strive for and look up too. I am tired of critics downsizing a film because it had a predictable happy ending. The truth is there are only two ways to end a film, either with a happy ending or a tragic one. Each ending could easily become predictable. For example, the majority of Martin Scorsese’ films end in a tragic way. It is just as easy for me to predict the type of ending Scorsese is going to have as it is for me to predict Spielberg’s. What we should be concentrating on is whether we buy into the ending the movie has.

In film the director is showing the audience a new world. They are giving us a piece of art that hopefully entertains and impacts us. Directors like Martin Scorsese and Stanly Kubrick have never been known for being commercial artists. They never claimed to be making their films for the mass audience. They are more interested in exploring deep and usually dark ideas. Scorsese’s movies especially have a lot to do with violence and corruption. After watching a Scorsese or Kubrick film you usually begin to doubt humanity. The stars of their films are rapists, drug dealers, and murders. There is hardly any warmth in their films. Warmth is either something they feel they are beyond or something they just don’t want to incorporate into their film. Instead what we get is beautifully shot and visually stunning pieces of art that usually go unnoticed or uncared for because the audience doesn’t have a reason to invest.

I can’t say Scorsese and Kubrick are bad filmmakers. I personally respect almost all of what I have seen them develop. However I, unlike most critics, think Scorsese and Kubrick’ films are far less impacting then the ones of Steven Spielberg or Walt Disney. It is like inviting someone into a room. You can have a room full of wondrous material all presented in a superb way. Yet, if you do not have some sort of warmth in the room, most people will walk away or not be impacted. If you have no warmth in a film everything looks foreign. We need the characters in our films to be relatable. Even if you are making a movie about a villain, you need to show us something that makes him connect to the audience. There needs to be some sort of light expressed in that villain’s life that allows us to understand his or her perspective. It is not because Scorsese’s movies end tragically that they are not impacting to me. Scorsese usually has interesting characters in his films. But the characters are people who I never run into in real life, and Scorsese hardly does anything to shine a light on why they are so different from me. He keeps his characters in the darkness and thus when they are gone I don’t see much of a difference, I am not impacted.

I don’t consider Steven Spielberg or Walt Disney’s films fluffy. I do not consider it a bad thing that most of their films end happily. What I care about is whether or not I can buy into the story they are telling. Movies are less about the final result and more about the journey. If you want your audience to participate on the journey you are taking them on you need to give them a reason to stay in their seat. Give them some sort of light that allows them to invest in your film. The light allows the audience in and it gives the darkness contrast. Even in the movies of David Fincher, where we go deeply into the worlds of serial killers, rape victims, and corrupt power seekers, we see some sort of light. Whether it is a detective who still believes in humanity, a comic artist who is devoted to justice, or a visionary devoted to revolutionizing the world, Fincher gives us reason to stay and invest into his films.

The tragic events in both Walt Disney and Steven Spielberg films are impacting because we all had something to lose when the events happened. The death of Bambi’s mother and the sacrifice Captain Miller makes to save private Ryan, hits us hard because we experienced the warmth of both those characters lives. The light is the reason why I will stay. The light needs to be the most important thing about your story. It allows us to understand and be impacted by the darkness. By no means am I telling you to make your movies end happily. It’s your choice. I am just saying that it’s the light that gives both happy and sad endings clarity.

Notes on Taking Notes

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on July 18, 2011

I thought I would give you a list of suggestions on taking notes. Going through my notes from about two and a half years ago I have realized I have gotten much better at taking notes and have worked out a system. I don’t know if my system will work for you but you might find some of these points helpful. Enjoy!

  1. Leave Room for Clarity: Thank goodness in most countries paper is not too expensive. I made the mistake of buying small notebooks my first few months of taking notes on films. The notebooks did not give me much room for clarity. For the most part my notes looked like a jumbled mess. However, I eventually learned and I now use Five Star Wide Ruled notebooks (You probably could find them for a cheaper price just going to Wal-Mart). These notebooks are very much worth the extra price. They give you room to clarify what the notes you are taking are for. I start at the far left of the page and begin to write, I leave a extra space blank when the filmmaker I am listening to is going on to another subject. However, if the subject is connected with my last note I simply go down a single space and tab a few spaces over and begin writing. Make sure to tab to the right before writing so you know you are addressing a separate point even though it is connected to the same subject. Do not write on both sides of the paper. If you write on both side of the paper you will always be struggling to read your notes because most of the notes on the other side of the page show through. You will be leaving space if you go about writing this way but the space I think you will find is helpful, especially when returning to your notes months or years later.
  2. Create a Clear Heading: Make sure you post the valuable information on the head of your notes before going on to write anything else. If you are taking notes on a Charlie Rose interview I would suggest you write something like this for your heading: Charlie Rose: Steve Jobs and John Lasseter: 1996: You can underline this title and then begin with your note taking. If taking notes on the commentary, state the name of the movie and then the names of the people composing the commentary along with their jobs on the film. The reason for this is because you want to know clearly what you took notes on so two years later you don’t mistakenly watch the same interview again. You also want reference so you can look the interview up again if you need to get a quote or piece of information from it.
  3. Stay Organized: This sort of involves my last point. You must try your best to stay organized with your note taking. I try my best to leave sections open in my notebook for curtain directors or filmmakers I am studying. It is much easier to go back and look at notes I wrote about someone like Steven Spielberg if they are all in the same section rather then scattered all through out my notebooks. This is the reason why it is wise to study only a few people at a time rather then jumping all over the place. Another reason it is important to have a clear heading is so you know when you are moving on to a new interview. Dating interviews is also a good idea, you will most likely find the person you are studying has changed his or her view a little bit depending on the year the interview or commentary was taken. When it comes to organization all the little things count. You do not need to spend forever preparing to take notes on a interview, but the more organized you are the more time you end up saving when coming back and trying to understand your notes.
  4. Write in First Person: No matter if you are quoting the person word for word or not I would suggest you write in first person while taking notes. Rather then saying, “Ridley Scott says,…”, just begin to write what Ridley Scott says. You can miss a line or two, make it a little more understandable for you, and you can abbreviate at times, but the objective should be capturing the person you are listening to voice, not yours. You don’t need to feel conflicted on whether you agree with what he or she is saying, that is not the reason you are taking notes. I believe you should be taking notes to hear that persons perspective. I write down what the filmmaker says and think about it later. I actually like the idea of them having different philosophies then I do, some of which I agree with and some of which I disagree with. For the most part, if I want to speak from my point of view I write in parentheses and let the reader know what I am saying is from my point of view. I also come back to my notes with sticky notes, this is when I begin to flesh out what the filmmaker said with my perspective. Make sure you make it clear who is talking, especially if you think they are making a good point. You do not want to write in a paper or blog post Ridley Scott said something only to find out later it really was his writer Steven Zaillian who said it.
  5. When in Doubt Write it Down: I write down everything. I rather be too detailed then not detailed enough. For one, writing things down usually helps you remember what was said. You are sort of repeating the information and processing it while writing. Remember, you do not need to agree with everything you write down, you just need to think it valuable enough information to come back to or remember. Do not be afraid to hit pause on the remote and take a few minutes to write down what has been said. I personally spend more time with the video paused then playing when I am taking notes. You can use some abbreviations but make sure they are clear enough so they are understood when you come back to them years later. You never know what information you will need down the road. If you think the point the person is making is really good, I would suggest you write down word for word so you can quote him or her on a later paper or blog you write.
  6. Figure out a Highlight System: It is always good to go back to your notes and highlight what you feel are really good points. However, I would suggest you figure out a highlight system for writing in the moment. This might mean you should carry a highlighter while writing notes. However, I find quicker and more useful ways of highlighting points are by just writing stars on the side of the post and circling the star a few times depending on how good of a point you feel it was. I even have began to draw little arrows to the main points I find in the interviews. I draw arrows only about five or six times during a interview. I want to be picky with what I consider really good information so if I am in a hurry reviewing my notes I know exactly what to look at. Also, I am sure you will find it interesting when looking back on your notes years later, what you thought was a really good point and what you felt was just worth writing down. 
  7. Write a Small Review: After each one of my commentaries or interviews I write a review of the material. You might think this is a bit obsessive, but I find it helpful. First I rate the material I just looked at from a scale of 1 to 10. If I give it a “5 out of 10” or lower that means I think it is hardly worth watching and I probably don’t even need to review the notes. If I have it a 8.5 out of 10 or higher I probably will post the interview if possible on my blog because it is valuable information worth hearing. I also think it is just good to write about what you thought so you begin to clarify in your own head what you learned. Sometimes after writing about the material I change the rating and make it higher or lower because I have thought through what I have just seen a little bit more.

Well there you go. If I think of a few more notes on how to write notes I will add them to the list. I think this will be useful for some. Feel free to give me advice on how you take notes. Ignore what you don’t think is useful and try what you think might be useful. Each person has their own style. However, it is obvious from seeing my notes from two and a half years ago, some styles need to change.