A Dreamer Walking

Failure!

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on September 24, 2011

Film is a tricky medium. There is no formula on how to make a successful movie. You could think you did everything right and can still get bashed at the box office and by the critics. Worse yet, you can think you are giving your project all you got and still be personally disappointed with the final outcome. We work in a medium where failure is just part of the business. As filmmakers it is important to embrace failure. We all make mistakes and we all make pieces of art that we are not as proud of. We can learn from our mistakes and use the criticism of others to create a even better film the next time around. However, this doesn’t stop the fact that criticism usually hurts. As filmmakers we are asked to express our hearts with the images we put up on screen, yet people usually don’t think twice about criticizing us if what they see doesn’t match their standards. It is important to know when to stick to your guns even if you come out with something that is not accepted right away. There have been many great films that were hardly noticed until many years after their release. In the film business “failure” is sometimes up for interpretation. One man’s trash can be another man’s treasure.

One of the reasons I am so interested in studying the past and listening to extra features and interviews on other movies is because I want to learn from their experiences. I am not interested in just the good parts of filmmakers careers. I am just as interested in the low parts of people like Frank Capra, Walt Disney, and Steven Spielberg’s careers. If I can learn from their failures I won’t need to make the same mistakes myself. Looking into a lot of successful filmmakers lives is usually a very humbling experience. They almost always have one or two movies that were not very good. Even the directors themselves talk about regrets in their careers. It is important to understand how popularity can cloud a filmmakers judgment. Steven Spielberg has talked several times about how easy it is to stop working for the story and start working for the audience. When you stop thinking about what you want and start thinking about what your fans want you need to think about changing professions, Spielberg warned at Inside the Actors Studio.

Just because a movie fails in the box office and with the critics does not always mean it was a bad film. Great movies like Bambi, Citizen Kane, and It’s A Wonderful Life, were all bashed publicly when they first came out and were not recognized right away by the critics as being the masterpieces we see them as now. For both Orson Welles, director of Citizen Kane, and Frank Capra, director of It’s A Wonderful Life, the immediate failure of their masterpieces represented a fall from glory in their careers. Welles was never given complete control over a film project again and Capra seemed to lose his inspiration for the big screen. Neither of these filmmakers could have done much better in the creation of their films. However, we can still learn from their failures after the fact. Because Orson was never willing to work with Hollywood and create a more commercially oriented movie, he was never given as much artistic freedom again. Frank Capra allowed the worlds disappointment for It’s A Wonderful Life effect his creativity. There are times where we are going to need to kiss some butt in order to get more artistic freedom. And, there are times where we will be shunned by the public and still need to push on.

If we truly believe in the movie we have made, we will be willing to listen to criticism. We can only learn from failure if we understand the reason behind it. I personally don’t understand why many directors are not willing to listen to critics. Usually the critics who are getting payed to judge movies know something about filmmaking. I have found critics like Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times), Todd McCarthy (The Hollywood Reporter), and Drew McWeeny (HitFix), have informed and thought provoking opinions to why they like or dislike a movie. I don’t agree with everything they say, but they do give me a perspective I would not have without them. There are many people in this world who claim to know the right way of doing things and use that as an excuse not to be open to anyone else. This does not represent a confidence in their personal opinion, but rather a insecurity of potentially being wrong.

Ignorance will corrupt creativity. You must understand other perspectives if not for the sole reason to know why you stand against them. Usually the critics and the public can inform you about your film and show you it’s flaws better then you can. It is possible to get so consumed with your work that you can’t see the big picture. You might fall in love with a scene because you know how difficult it was to shoot. However, the audience comes in not knowing anything about production. They don’t care how hard it was to shoot the scene they just care about how it contributes to the story.

The bottom line is, it’s crucial to understand criticism and failure. Sometimes the failure is your fault, sometimes it’s not. Don’t let it destroy you. Remember, you need to play by the rules of the film business at times. We don’t make movies just for ourselves, we make them for everyone to see. Failure can build up strength in a filmmaker. Convictions are more often built through failure then they are through success. Hollywood will be angry if you give them the finger, but sometimes that is exactly what you need to do. Don’t do it out of ignorance. Be willing to listen and learn. But, what is just as important is being willing to stand on your convictions, even if some might not understand.

David Fincher – An Observation – The “B” Movies

Posted in Film and Filmaker Studies, Observation Series by Jacob on May 25, 2011

David Fincher 1The movies which I would consider Fincher’s worst are The Game and Panic Room. Ironically both of these films have happy endings. There is nothing wrong with happy endings. However, in Fincher’s case there seemed to be no conviction behind the “happy ending”. The movies also happen to be the least critically successful movies Fincher has made up to this point. Both were basically considered entertaining “B” movies by critics.

Many critics probably would point to the unbelievability of The Game as the reason why it wasn’t a huge success. However, there are many movies that don’t make sense logically but still work. As I touched on in my last David Fincher post, the crucial part is to see the conviction behind the theme of the film. For a movie like It’s a Wonderful life, it does not make sense logically for the main character George Baily to run into an angel and go through life as though he was never born. However, because there was conviction behind the concept, we saw how the experience completely changed George Baily as a person and we were able to buy into the illogical concept. For The Game there seemed to be no conviction. There was just a bunch of illogical twists and turns without seeing any inner change in the main character.

Fincher seemed to be more interested in the suspense and twists of the film than he was in the arc of the main character, Nicholas (Micheal Douglas). He no doubt had fun working with the twists and suspense but in the end it was a movie he made to satisfy the audience, and there laid his greatest mistake. Fincher did not believe in the change of Nicholas, he just knew the audience wanted the character to change and have a “happy ending”. When you begin to stop relying on your own convictions and instead look to satisfy others, no matter who those others might be, you will fall flat and start to make a formulaic movie.

Both The Game and Panic Room were more like experimental films for Fincher. For The Game he wanted to see how far he could take the audience. How many twists can you make before something starts to not be believable? Some people totally bought into the many twists Fincher took the audience on. Some people, like myself, did not see the point and thus just did not care. But, I can guarantee you The Game helped prepare Fincher for his next movie Fight Club, where everything relied on Fincher getting the audience to buy into the big twist at the end of the movie.

Panic Room was more interesting to Fincher because of it’s barriers than it’s storyline. Fincher wanted to see if he could make an entire film in one location. Minus the very beginning of the film and very end, everything is shot in the house of the main character’s Meg and Sarah Altman (Jodie Foster and Kristen Stewart). We see a tremendous display of set design, camera movements, and visual effects to make this one location keep us entertained all the way through the film. However, the goal for Panic Room just like The Game, went no farther than entertaining the audience with scenes full of suspense and action.

With Fincher there was no formal film school. He needed to learn through professional experience. He started out at Industrial Light and Magic as a teen and went on to do commercials and music video’s for people like Madonna and The Rolling Stones in the late 80’s and early 90’s. Fincher’s film school was the commercials and music video’s he worked on. It is no surprise he would continue the constant testing and learning process he used in his commercials and music videos and  also use it on some of his full length films. The Game and Panic Room are more accurately called experimental learning experiences than ambitious works of art. However, is a learning experience a good enough excuse for movies like The Game and Panic Room to be sub par or easily forgettable?

I have no problem with Fincher creating some average “B” movies because I can see how they have informed his other films. As I already pointed out, the sort of unbelievable twists we saw in The Game helped Fincher get ready for Fight Club. Working with limitations in Panic Room helped Fincher appreciate the great amount of locations he had at his disposal in movies like The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. However, at the end of the day the movies which will stick out and are appreciated from generation to generation are not the ones with tons of twists and special effects. There will always be movies with those kind of things. What makes a movie unique is the individuality of the artists behind the film. When we make a film to satisfy someone else we begin to lose individuality. When we make a film to satisfy our own convictions, we make something which can not be copied and is truly unique.

(Here are the links to the other three Fincher Observation Posts. 1. Exploring the Scene 2. Finding the Meaning Behind the Movement 3. A Cynical Man)

David Fincher – An Observation – A Cynical Man

Posted in Film and Filmaker Studies, Observation Series by Jacob on May 17, 2011

Maybe Fincher’s cynicism started after his first full length film experience, where he basically got screwed by executive producers on  Alien 3 and reportedly “swore he would rather have colon cancer then direct another picture”. Actually, the only David Fincher movie I have not seen is Alien 3 but it is no secret the directing experience was not a good one for Fincher. Honestly I am not interested in how David became so cynical. Although Alien 3 did not help, I am sure it is not the only reason why David is cynical about this world. It is obvious when studying David Fincher what stands out probably more then anything else about him is his cynicism and how it is expressed through his movies.

There are so many places I can point to in order to express Fincher’s cynical view of this world. Like any good director Fincher creates his best work when he follows his convictions, no matter how cynical they might be. Se7en is a good place to start. Se7en was Fincher’s second full length film and in it we see a world consumed with filth and sin. The main characters, Somerset (Morgan Freeman) and Mills (Brad Pitt), both work in a profession where their job is to find the people who have committed the worst kind of crimes imaginable. They live in a world full of lies, violence, and murder. Fincher creates in Se7en a dark world where the screams of the city are never silenced and we are bore down by rain and darkness. At the end of Se7en it is not good that prevails but evil. The people who end up being right at the end are the old cop, who has all but given up on hoping the world will ever become better, and the serial killer, who does not think the world has any good left in it.

I consider Se7en to be one of David’s greatest films because I can see the conviction he had in the story he was telling. Every frame seemed to be supporting the theme of the film. I can understand why the old cop Somerset has given up on the world. I understand the serial killer John Doe’s explanation on how perverted it is to call anything in this world “innocent”. After about an hour of being immersed in the world of Se7en, the character who still believes in justice, Mr. Mills, starts to seem like the most naive person in the movie. Ironically at the end he is the one to express his naivety for what it really is.

Fincher’s career is full of cynical movies where we see some of the worst qualities of this world and humanity, prevail. His movie Fight Club, seems to give the finger to the concept of “The American Dream”. His movie Zodiac is full of frustrations and failures where we begin to think at the end nothing can be completely solved or brought to full resolution. In The Curious Case of Benjamin Button Fincher gives us a love story that concentrates more on the loss love creates then its benefits. Even when the main characters finally get together the music is not relishing in the moment but rather leading the audience to think the moment will soon end, as it does. Fincher’s last movie, The Social Network, might be his most cynical film to date. The film is full of deception and betrayal. We are given three different points of view which all try to twist and change what everyone else is saying to make themselves look spotless. It is the ultimate tale of narcissism where each character is consumed with themselves, all in their own unique ways.

In the commentary on Se7en Fincher said, “I am so not interested in what people say. As far as I’m concerned language was invented so people could lie to one another”. This is a very important concept to understand about Fincher if you want to understand most of his movies. A movie like The Social Network, which is full of heavy dialogue, is all about the ways people say what they say and how they react to what is being said. Dialogue should never be taken at face value in a Fincher film. We are always seeing hidden motives and double standards. In Se7en we see detective Mills claim he believes in justice but betray himself at the end of the film. In Fight Club we see the main character express his need for fulfillment through possessions but get more depressed the more things he tries to hold onto. In The Social Network everyone has an agenda for why they say what they say. During the testimonies Eduardo (Andrew Garfield) says he was Mark’s (Jesse Eisenberg) only friend because he knew it would give him sympathy in the case. Shaun Parker (Justin Timberlake) tries to convince Mark it is in his best interest to get rid of Eduardo because he knows he would become more important to Mark that way. Mark goes through the film making fun of final clubs because he wants to be in them. Mark tries to demean the other people’s contributions to Facebook because he wants to see himself as the site’s sole creator.

Thankfully there are only two movies of Fincher’s I would call formulaic. When he begins to go down the road of trying to satisfy the audience rather then himself, he runs into problems. The two movies I consider Fincher’s worst are The Game and Panic Room, both of which ironically have a happy ending. The fact is Fincher relishes in the deceptiveness of humanity. He is at his best when concentrating on the cruelties of this world. “Happy Endings” at the moment just do not seem to be something Fincher really believes in.

In some ways I find Fincher’s situation to be a very sad place to be. I personally can not imagine finding much happiness in a view that hardly believed in the goodness of human nature. However, Fincher’s view I believe is more realistic of the times we live in. I also believe his point of view needs to be expressed. I am glad there is a David Fincher who is able to concentrate on how many of us are consumed with the evils of this world, so I do not have to.

Although movies like Fight Club, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and The Social Network are cynical at heart, I see glimpses of light. The creativity of Mark in The Social Network is inspiring. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is an absolutely beautiful movie. The movie has characters that express to us some of the simple beauties of life. The freedom we see come to the members of Fight Club is also exciting and in some ways even hopeful.

Fincher’s movies make statements about society which are quite legitimate and worth conversation and debate. It is easy for me to learn from his films. He gives me motivation even through his darkest of movies, to be creative and push for what I want to show no matter what the world might think.

Fincher has had many battles with Hollywood studios and executives because of his cynical points of view. Typical Hollywood is just fine with the formulaic “happy ending”. Fincher has enough skill, he can create cliche’ stories that people will go in droves to see. I have yet to run across a movie of Fincher’s where I was bored. Fincher is an absolutely gifted filmmaker. He knows how to use the camera and the rest of the elements of cinema to create a stimulating picture. However, the movies which will last the longest are the ones which were the most risky for him to make. These days Fincher’s goal seems to be less and less about making the audiences and studios happy and more about following the convictions for what he thinks his films should be. For this I applaud him. His goal is not to make us feel safe. His goal is to have us realize the reality of evil in this world. He does not believe in a right side and wrong side. Fincher’s films are more about the grays of life.

The most important thing for a filmmaker to have is conviction. The director needs to follow his heart. Fincher said several years ago in a Esquire interview conducted by Brian Mockenhaupt, “Some people go to the movies to be reminded that everything’s okay. I don’t make those kinds of movies. That, to me, is a lie. Everything’s not okay.”  This I believe shows exactly where Fincher’s heart is at the moment.  He said in the interview that he did not consider himself a cynic; just a realistic. His goal is to express to the world that even in Hollywood everything is not okay. “Entertainment has to come hand in hand with a little bit of medicine“, he says.

Fincher’s heart goes to some dark places. I can’t say I like all those dark places but at least they encourages me to think. At least his passion for what he does is something to look up to. I am far from being a cynical man, however that does not stop me from being inspired by David Fincher’s films. My greatest hope is for Fincher to keep on following his heart. And, maybe someday his heart might break from the depressing view of mankind and see something worth making a film about that gives us hope for the future… At least that is this optimist’s point of view of this brilliant cynic 😉

(Here are links to my other two Fincher Observation posts. 1. Exploring the Scene 2. Finding the Meaning Behind the Movement 4. The “B” Movie)