A Dreamer Walking

Production Log – The WALL

Posted in Personal Philosophy, Production Log by Jacob on February 6, 2019

A great number of artists who are asked about creative blocks simply say, “I don’t let it happen to me”. And of course my first instinct is to call BS. Everyone gets creative blocks. You know, that wall stopping you from seeing any solution to your story? At this very second it’s looming over me, taunting me for my profound lack of inspiration. I am in the middle of a very difficult sequences for my documentary. I will be sending this edit out to people who can have a huge influence on whether I get funding for the project and I need to make a great first impression. The core idea is there. I know I have the characters and moments to make something wonderful. The dilemma is to be able to connect the dots, so one moment builds into another and each character is fully realized.

Honestly, I feel like screaming and throwing my head in the ground. My current solution of simply staring at the screen, doesn’t seem to be much healthier of an option. Neither is working on an edit when I know I don’t have a strong direction to take. The brain needs a break sometimes.

The mind is an interesting thing. We actually don’t do our best thinking when we force our brain to go specific directions. Left to its natural tendencies, the brain will choose the easy way out. When you combine that with our over stimulated world we live in, creativity can be completely choked out. What happens when we are pushing ahead is we usually follow a specific route that ends up being far more instinctual than inspirational. Rote memory and planned layouts are what most mind’s want to rely on. Technology only helps us with that laid out path. Heck, when writing emails now my computer gives me suggestions for my next several words. Ironically one of the greatest defenses I have to this layed out world set before me is my dyslexia. Dyslexics struggle with rote memory. We usually take twice as long to understand how to follow a step by step process or memorize a planned layout. To put it simply, dyslexic’s mind’s can’t stay focused as easily. We want to break away, try to connect dots that sometimes are just not there.

There are times where the wondering brain finds an unnoticed solution to a problem. There is a reason 20% of entrepreneurs are dyslexic, despite their struggle in the school system and the fact dyslexics make up only 10% of the population. Not every idea an entrepreneur comes up with succeeds. In fact, if you ask them they would tell you most fail. Yet if an entrepreneur comes up with one great innovation out of 10, they can be extremely successful. There is a reason some of the great creative minds in our history were considered to be dyslexic, this includes Albert Einstein, Pablo Picasso, and Steven Spielberg. Spielberg particularly has spoken about the numerous ways his dyslexic tendencies have helped him as an artist. Few know however, they almost got him thrown out of the film business entirely. At one point in his career Spielberg was known for going over budget and way over schedule with his film productions. The most famous example was Jaws, where a planned 55 day production schedule ended up taking 157 days. Granted, this had a great deal to do with a malfunctioning shark, but his next two films, Close Encounters and 1941, were also way past schedule and budget. His crew talked about how Spielberg kept getting new ideas for scenes. Mid way through shooting a scene he would think of a better way to shoot it. One could only imagine how hard it was to keep up with the constant bouncing around of the man’s imagination.

One thing you may be feeling at this moment is I’m getting away from the original point of this post. I mean, how is Spielberg going over schedule the same thing as me not being able to get past my most recent creative wall. I must say, this is a brilliant example of just how my dyslexia tends to work. My English major mother, who homeschooled me, would have a permanent palm mark seared on her forehead from the amount of times I would simply make a leap from one paragraph to another with no explanation on how I got from one destination to another. This really is what leads to the most devastating creative blocks for me. I need to be able to connect my narrative for my audience. It doesn’t matter how great my idea is, or even how many great ideas I have, if I am not able to walk one through my journey I’m sunk. Spielberg was lucky to have multiple creative colleagues to hold his hand, the greatest counter to his creative leaps is his editor, Michael Kahn.

To get to my main point, creative walls can be described as anything keeping you away from telling your story. With Spielberg his overlong productions were getting in the way of telling his best stories. 1941 is a huge narrative and tonal mess, due to Spielberg losing sight of where the heart of his film was. With his next film, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Producer and good friend George Lucas made Spielberg promise he would produce the film on schedule and on budget. And with far more action and many more locations than Jaws, Spielberg shot the movie in 73 days. Did he need to sacrifice his creativity for this? Well, I wouldn’t suggest that to the millions of fans who consider Raiders to be one of the greatest action films of all time.

So what is it? Does one just need to bypass their creative walls by forcing themselves to stay on schedule? Or is needing to acknowledge the block part of being creative? The reason I write these things is to figure out the answers myself. I believe Spielberg found a balance. Though most of his production schedules are quite short these days Spielberg does still use techniques to give himself time to take a break and allow that wandering mind of his to work.

One of my favorite stories of Spielberg’s was when he was asked why he edited his movies on film for so long. Where most filmmakers went digital in the mid to late 90’s, Spielberg was editing with scissors and celluloid during Lincoln, which came out in 2012. He said after watching a scene he would always have edits for Kahn to make. He would point two to three things out and then take a walk. Twenty minutes later he’d come back and they’d go over the next problem. When editing on a computer Spielberg would go through a similar scene. He’d make his suggestions, pointing out two to three things, and before he even got up the edits would be done, the editor ready to move on. The big difference was due to the immediate nature of digital editing Spielberg didn’t have time to wonder. He didn’t have time to search out those suggestions he’d made in his head and explore potential creative ways to solve the next ones.

We have a greater ability now, than ever before, to stay stimulated. We live in a world of instant gratification where if you run into a wall you can simply look up an app for how to get through it or around it. But what if the point of creativity is climbing those walls? What if the wall itself is one of the most crucial aspects to creativity? Following a laid out route is easier, but I believe the crucial ingredient to creativity is the new. The new is inherently difficult to embrace. I have run into numerous problems in my stories, I have done enough research to know ways to get through the problems. Yet, when I try to simply get through the problem I end up neglecting the nuance of the situation. My characters in my stories have similarities to characters I’ve seen in the past, but they are not the exact same. There is a great difference between inspiration and imitation. The techniques I use to connect the narratives and build upon moments, have been inspired by my studies into other great filmmakers, but I’d be doing a great disservice to my story if I simply copied them.

True inspiration comes from facing the WALL. The wall simply represents the unknown. It represents those aspects that are unique about your characters and your story’s arc. I understand the temptation to bypass the unknown for the familiar, but storytelling’ lifeblood comes from the unique aspects you bring. Embrace those things. Then you must figure out the path. As the creator, you are there not only to find the new place but also build the path. This is such a difficult dilemma since these two aspects rarely compliment each other. Yet one of the most brilliant aspects of filmmaking is the collaborative nature of the artform. You don’t need to be great at everything, you simply need to find the people to understand the vision and help get us there.

(This is a new series I am going to be doing as a way to avoid getting back to the heavy lifting of finishing my Paxson Documentary.)

 

 

A Ball

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on September 18, 2012

I give you a ball. What you do with this ball could easily tell me how good of a storyteller you are. Here are a few questions I want you to answer. What kind of ball is it? who has the ball? And most importantly, what is going to happen to the ball?

You can turn the ball into a basketball and have a basketball player shoot a basket with it. I personally would call that a bit cliche and uninteresting. You can make someone throw the ball into someone’s groin area. Many would call that funny! But, is it any more original or less cliche? A lot has to do with why he threw it in someone’s groin. You also have the ability to do nothing with the ball. You might think, “This is stupid and I am going to stop reading now”. Well, it is fine with me if you deny this perfectly functioning ball (that I already created for you by the way) and leave. However, choosing to leave just might be contributing to the trapped situation you are in. Some people never end up writing anything because they are too afraid of what others might think, don’t have enough time to put pen to paper, or are not confident enough in themselves to believe they have anything worthy enough to say. Well, I have something to say………….”DON’T BELIEVE THESE LIES!”. As an individual you should always have something worthy enough to say. Don’t worry about what others say, even the harshest criticism could be used for good. And, if you don’t have the time to be creative I very much question why you feel you should still be living. Let me quote acclaimed screenwriter Aaron Sorkin in saying, “The difference between Page Two and Page Nothing is the difference between life and death”. You might also argue a “ball” is too small of a thing to interest anyone. Why create stories about balls when we can create stories about huge battle ships, missile shooting robots, and blood thirsty warlords? I guess my only reply to this argument is, “bigger does not always mean better”.

With this ball you need to go farther then “cliche” and have it be more then  just an object to set up a cheap sight gag. Creativity is a personal thing. You want this ball to say something about who you are and what you think of this world. How will you make the ball personal? I would turn it into a baseball. Why a baseball? Because I grew up playing the sport. I was a pitcher. There is a lot of emotional connection I have to the game. Maybe it could be the last game ball my character won before he called it quits. Maybe it could be the baseball my main character was given after being denied trying out for the big leagues. “Before you come back I want you to get to know this thing”, the scout says tossing the rejected player a baseball. “If you like it so much I want you to throw it so nobody could hit it”. There, I just set up my whole story within a few lines. I am dealing with a lot of emotional elements, all of which are represented in the baseball. The ball represents the game he loves, a rejection, and a challenge that the main character doesn’t know whether or not he can fulfill. For the rest of the story I could use the ball as a reminder to why my main character is working so hard to become a great pitcher.

Great storytellers do not need to take us to a galaxy far far away or show a situation where the life of mankind is on the line, in order to interest us. No grand monster, clever plot twist, or epic action scene will impact an audience more then a personal story. All a good storyteller needs to do is make even the smallest of objects and situations personal and insightful. If you believe yourself to be a good storyteller I challenge you to make a lot out of something small. Create interest where many would say there is none. My favorite thing involving a ball is baseball. I challenge you to show me a better one. You have the power to do what ever you want with the ball. Don’t think about doing something nobody would ever think of. Don’t think about trying impress us with your story. Just think about why it matters to you personally. Believe me, if it matters to you at a foundational level it will matter to someone else as well.

Compromise

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on September 16, 2011

Compromise can be seen in two lights, negative and positive. Some people try to fight compromise as much as possible through being extremely detailed in their work and making sure they have the resources to stick to their original vision. However, even David Fincher, who takes much longer then the average filmmaker to shoot his films with usually a solid budget, has complained more then once about filmmaking being full of compromise and settling for imperfections.

Unlike David Fincher, Steven Spielberg has talked about compromise sometimes being a filmmakers best ally. He warned the students at Inside the Actors Studio to never let their vision or dream get in the way of making the movie better. Spielberg has shown his brilliant ability with compromise in movies like Jaws, E. T., and Jurassic Park. Originally Spielberg wanted to reveal the shark in Jaws at the very beginning of the film. The problem was that the mechanical shark they made for production wouldn’t work for the first half of production and it wasn’t too believable even when it did work. So, Steven needed to change his vision for the project. What he created instead was something that feels far more scary and malicious. Spielberg used the music and point of view shots to represent the presence of the shark. He waited until we were far into the second act of the film to reveal the shark. Yet, even then he only showed us a few seconds. He knew that if we saw the shark for too long it would look unbelievable and lose it’s maliciousness.

These days filmmakers have the ability to create whatever they want, the computer can literally bring anything to life. Yet, this unlimited ability to express whatever we want on screen is not always a good thing. Spielberg realized the power of limitation in the process of making Jaws. He found that compromise lead to a creativity that required limitations to work. Spielberg left a lot of the terror of the shark to the audience imagination. He knew the audience’s imagination could create a far more terrible creature then anything he could actually show on screen.

Filmmaking is a collaborative process and no matter if you are making a film independently or through a studio system, there are compromises. There are compromises made because you don’t have enough money, because you are trying to get a curtain rating, because you need to make decisions as a team, and the list goes on. What we need to do is run with the compromises. We need to learn how to use the compromises to stretch our thinking into creating something even more thought provoking and entertaining. The strict definition of compromise is settling for less then you wanted, however I think this does not need to be the case when it comes to filmmaking. If we are willing to work together as a team we can dream far greater visions then any one person could. If compromise is needed from one person in order to create a greater whole then the individual must be willing to sacrifice.

The time when compromise must be fought is when non-creative people try to influence your story. You will not always win, the budget will be cut and the story might be changed, however you must not let the business part of filmmaking destroy your creativity. If you feel your vision is being diminished you must know when to throw in the towel. Peter Weir (director of Dead Poets Society, Witness, and Master and Commander) worked on four projects from 2003 to 2010 and he only ended up making one. When asked about the projects he left Peter said he was glad he didn’t make them because he and the studios couldn’t come to agreement and share a vision together. Peter compared getting ready to write and direct a film to getting ready to fly a plan through a storm; if a bunch of red lights pop up before you even get into the storm that is a good sign to bail out. There is a huge difference between making compromises because of creative differences and budget/technical restraints, and needing to compromise because your financiers are not ambitious enough.

I am not telling you to ignore your convictions. However, filmmaking doesn’t work with just one person, it is a collaborative effort. It is impossible to have one man’s vision translated completely accurately onto screen. My suggestion is to embrace this fact and see if you can use the people around you to create a even greater vision. You are not exactly in a better position with a big budget or more time to shoot a film. Even though David Fincher usually has a greater budget and much more time to shoot a film then someone like Clint Eastwood, I do not consider him a better filmmaker. It all depends on what you do with the compromises that come with the medium of film. You can let compromises destroy your vision and your film, as I said sometimes you have to know when to bail out. However, most of the time you can take those compromises you encounter during the filmmaking process and let them boost your creativity and make something far greater then you could have imagined.

Cars 2- Review

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on July 4, 2011

Cars 2 is mediocre. It is the kind of film I thought John Lasseter swore he would never release let alone help direct. I have heard Lasseter talk constantly about story being the most important thing in his films, yet Cars 2 seemed more influenced by a man’s boyhood fantasies of seeing his cars actually shoot missiles and blow thing up than by any beckoning of the heart to show us a story that absolutely needed to be told. In fact, in Cars 2 we see John Lasseter often sacrifice story and character development for more chase sequences and gun shooting. I can’t help but think the reason why Cars 2 was so mediocre was because John Lasseter is the big boss at the studio now. Could it be that the Brain Trust does not have a great influence on Lasseter because he does not need to worry about losing his job if he does not listen to them?

It is through constant revision that a great piece of art is made at Pixar. The flaws of Cars 2 seemed quite obvious to me. The plot was more oriented toward action then character development. The film was introducing too many new characters and locations. We had so much to concentrate on and it was all going by so quickly we could hardly appreciate any of it.  The new characters such as Finn Mcmissile and Holley Shiftwell were underdeveloped. Both expressed a great deal of secret agent skills and they of course had a lot of cool spy gadgets, yet both had very few character traits that made them feel unique or relatable. Pixar has shown they are willing to give their movies time to mature, to go from being good to great. John Lasseter said in a interview that the development time for Cars 2 was about three years, yet at times Pixar has had films in development for more then a half a dozen years. Why was Cars 2 not given any more time for revision?

Maybe Cars 2 was exactly the kind of film John Lasseter wanted it to be. If this is the case I am very concerned. The overall storyline seemed to completely dismiss the lesson learned in the first movie. The first Cars movie was about taking the time to appreciate the small things in life. In the first film the race car Lightning McQueen was so concentrated on racing he did not know what it meant to have a relationship or find enjoyment in the calm parts of life. In Cars 2 McQueen wants to take a break from racing yet is convinced against doing so by the same friends who taught him the necessity of slowing down in the first film. We saw Lightning McQueen go through three races in Cars 2 and he wasn’t even the main star of this film.

The star of Cars 2 was Lightning McQueen’s best friend Mater. Mater is a rusty old tow truck who has a heart of gold. However, when Mater goes out with Lightning to experience the world he sticks out like a sore thumb. The great lesson of the movie seemed to be something like “don’t be afraid to be yourself no matter where you are“. However the theme is a bit weak sense “being himself” gets Mater into a lot of trouble. In the movie Mater somehow gets mistaken as a American spy pretending to be a tow truck. We go through situation after situation of Mater about to be killed and barely getting away through other agents saving him or blind luck. Mater is also part of McQueen’s cockpit crew but gets distracted and loses the race for McQueen. There is a point where we begin to think as audience members Mater needs to stop being “himself” and grow up or he is going to get himself and many other people hurt. The Pixar people seemed to have a hard time balancing Mater’s role as the main source of humor for the film with the need for him to be a multi-dimensional character who carries the film emotionally. We also don’t see how “being himself” really influences the characters around him. Mater did not hang out with McQueen enough for us to see how McQueen’s perspective changed through Mater’s influence. Mcmissile and Holly Shiftwell, Mater’s spy buddies, give lip service to Mater’s effect on them but very little is seen visually. Mater was too busy doing spy work to have a great effect on Mcmissile or Holly. There was a effort by the filmmakers to have Mater show some knowledge for car mechanics, which impresses Mcmissile and Holly, yet these character traits seemed to do little in effecting the characters deep down.  At the end the two characters come briefly to thank Mater for all he has done and then fly off on their next mission.

The humor for this film seemed to also be lacking. A lot of the jokes went over my head, like when Mater says “Is the Popemobile Catholic”. The film seemed to be in a constant “hurry up” mode so the audience could hardly appreciate any of the punchlines of the jokes Mater told or situations Mater was in. If we were given half the action and twice the amount of time to appreciate the beautiful scenery and characters I feel the movie would have been much more fulfilling. It should not be about, “How much action can I pack into this movie”, it should be about getting quality entertainment out of the action you have supporting the story. When the action is used to support the characters’ development and theme of the story, we begin to get interested. Mcmissile has several daring action scenes in Cars 2, however the audience is never really given a reason to invest in Mcmissile. He is a one dimensional character with no background and no reason for why he does what he does. Are we supposed to like Mcmissile because he is voiced by Michael Caine? Or because he is a cool looking car model? Those things lose value with time and can only take an audience of this generation so far.

In Cars 2 it is obvious that Lasseter wanted to create a spy movie. The movie is packed with action sequences where the main characters barely get away again and again and again from evil “lemon cars” (cars with mechanical defects). The lemon cars mission is to destroy all the fuel resources not connected to them so they can have a monopoly on the world’s fuel. The secret car agent Mcmissile will go to any extreme to spoil the enemies’ plans. We literally see Mcmissile kill several dozen cars in this movie. I guess since all the cars he kills are “bad guys” its okay. However, a “G” rating seems to be very irresponsible for all the gun shooting, exploding, and killing that goes on in this film. We are given the premise that these cars are living and breathing characters. With this premise there should come some responsibility. Why should we value these cars if John Lasseter and the crew are not willing to do so?

Pixar has created eleven strait box office and critical hits. With their twelfth feature film they created a dud. Cars 2 is hardly worth watching. I have long been an advocate for Pixar. Pixar has long been a place where I envisioned starting my career. Through all the director changes I have read about and management criticisms I have heard, I have stood behind Pixar because at the end of the day I believed they had the most dedicated artists and produced the most quality films of any studio in Hollywood. Many of my storytelling and filmmaking foundations have come from Pixar. I keep on thinking about what effect Cars 2 has had on my concept of Pixar and my future ambitions to work for the studio. I am sure Cars 2 will make a lot of money, I just never felt Pixar put money above good storytelling. I wonder if they are beginning to let the business side of Hollywood corrupt their creativity. As I said at the beginning of this review, I feel like Cars 2 was the movie John Lasseter said he would never let out of the studio. Now that he has I wonder what is next?

The Disney Problem!

Posted in Personal Philosophy by Jacob on September 11, 2010

There has been a lot of controversy around Disney animation lately. The next Disney Animation movie Tangled seems to be looking shallower and shallower every day. The reason is “safety”. The executives at Disney, have changed the title of the upcoming animation movie from, “Rapunzel Unbraided” to the much safer “Tangled”. Also, after watching the last few trailers for Tangled, it seems that Glen’s Kean’s (The original Director who recently needed to stepped down) original vision of a artistically unique film has turn into a more dazed “Traditional Disney” style of a film, where the color schemes and character designs are similar to many animated movies we have seen in the past, such as Dreamworks Sinbad and Disney’s Treasure Planet and Bolt. Also the only advertising I have seen for the movie seems to be built entirely on gags, where the characters do not seem to have any depth and the “entertainment” comes from characters getting beat up or from pop references that will be forgotten in five to ten years.

The problem is Disney is playing it SAFE. There are still many good artists at Disney, however the artists are not the ones calling the shots the executives are the ones calling the shots and they are all business majors with hardly any artistic background. Money is the top concern for the decision makers at Disney. To be guaranteed good money you need to have a reliable formula, the only problem is there is no formula to good film making. So instead of good films we get mediocre films, where metaphorically, some of the top chiefs in the world are reduced to cooking hot dogs. The artists at Disney are capable of so much more then what they are doing now.

A similar kind of thing happened in the late 1970’s and 1980’s. There was a whole slew of talented artist that had just began to graduate from the school CalArts. CalArts was founded by Walt Disney (the actual man) and taught by mostly old Disney artist who worked during the Golden Age of animation in the 1930’s and 1940’s. Students who are now looked up to as masters at animation such as John Lasseter, Joe Ranft, and Brad Bird, were taught in CalArts to keep on pushing the limits of animation, to always strive to be unique and look at storytelling in different ways, so they could push the animation medium forward. These CalArts students had some big visions and wanted to apply their visions to the Disney Studio.

The Disney studio did not want to push the medium of animation forward in the 1970’s and 1980’s. The graduates from CalArts were extremely disappointed. Brad Bird, Tim Burton, Joe Ranft left the Disney Studio. John Lasseter was fired because he had too high of ambitions.

The Disney heads denied people like John Lasseter and Brad Bird, because John’s and Brad’s ideas were not “traditional Disney”. The heads of Disney wanted to have a reliable formula they wanted their workers to create reliable movies like the ones done in the late 1930’s through the mid 1960’s. However, the reason why the movies from the 1930’s through the 1960’s, were successful, was because the artist were always striving to do something new. It was the people who taught John Lasseter, Joe Ranft, Tim Burton and Brad Bird, that created the masterpieces in the 1940’s, such as Pinocchio and Bambi. The way the artists created those masterpieces was through NOT following a formula but instead taking risks and driving the technique of storytelling forward.

How ironic it is that the executive heads of Disney are using “traditional Disney” as a excuse to stay the same. Walt Disney was one of the first people to try new things and push his medium forward. The Disney problem is that those in charge, are no longer interested in traditional Disney. The heads of Disney need to play it SAFE and by doing that they are slowly dying away. Their movies don’t last as long anymore, there has not been a huge hit at Disney animations sense the Lion King and the great artists at Disney are given less and less freedom. Creativity requires risk. A risk seems to be exactly what Disney is not willing to take.