A Dreamer Walking

Akira Kurosawa – An Observation – The Past

Posted in Film and Filmaker Studies, Observation Series by Jacob on December 30, 2013

Akira 1One of the filmmakers I have been most reluctant to study is Akira Kurosawa. Not because he isn’t worth looking into, rather because he is considered such a legend in the great history of filmmaking. He is also the first foreign language director I have studied. The culture of Japan is much different then that of the United States. As a dyslexic who can’t read very fast it has been hard for me to watch some of his films. I hate reading subtitles because I need to pause at times and am hardly able to look up and cherish the visuals unless I do repeat viewings. However, with all these problems studying him has been completely worthwhile. Every movie I have seen is interesting. Three of his films, Ran, Red Beard and Ikiru, are among the greatest films I have ever watched.

Akira Kurosawa was one of the greatest artists of the 20th century. He is hailed as a master of the craft of cinema. Many filmmakers have said he is a film school in himself. They say if you want to know about film study Kurosawa. However, Kurosawa would tell you to study the world. He studied the great artists– the filmmakers, poets, and musicians– and allowed them to inform his stories and the way he told them. He also used his personal life to push his storytelling.

As with many of the filmmakers I have studied, school was not Kurosawa’s strong suite. In his biography, Something Like An Autobiography, Kurosawa described himself as too honest and rebellious in school. He said when he did something bad and the teacher asked who did it he would always raise his hand. He talked about giving snarky answers on his exams, forging papers so he could get out of activities, and messing around with dynamite in school. He never got the best grades. He never really cared enough to apply himself in school. When it came to art Akira said the teachers gave the best grade to the student who could copy something the best. He found this incredibly dull. The more I read about his childhood the more I can resonate with it. Kurosawa wasn’t the greatest athlete. He was even sent away after his third year of middle school to his older cousin’s to, as his father put it, “be cured of his physical weakness”.

Cinema was chosen by Kurosawa out of an overwhelming feeling of not belonging. His movies for the longest time concentrated on the outsider, people breaking away from the system. In Japan movies were considered extremely questionable when Kurosawa was a child in the 1910’s and 20’s. Yet, his military father took him to see many films. This was one of the few things his farther broke from tradition to do. I believe there was a tremendous strain between Akira and his father. The strain was great because Akira so badly wanted to be like him and earn his respect. Kurosawa had three sisters. He said he could relate with them way more than his older brother. He played games with them and was much more emotionally vulnerable with them then his brother and father.  Akira lost one of his sisters to illness when he was in fourth grade. His autobiography reveals he had great feelings for this sister and it was a deeply painful loss.

In middle school Kurosawa began to grow up quickly. He observed the great earthquake of 1923. Though nobody close to him was killed his brother took him out to the city and both of them observed the mass damages. He said they went one place where as far as you could see there was, “every type of corpse imaginable”. Akira’s brother ended up committing suicide when Akira was in his early twenties. These things along with the great destruction of the atomic bombs in the 1940’s gives great insight to why Kurosawa’s stories so often revolve around destruction and war. Kurosawa needed to grow up quickly and he began to apply himself physically and built up an appreciation for athletics, military, and discipline.

Through the midst of all the destruction and war Kurosawa has been able to retain a powerful grip on his films emotions and the inner journey of his characters. The plots of his films are only used to dig deeper into his characters emotional conflict. This is what separates his work. Though Akira Kurosawa was forced go grow up at a very early age, he never lost touch with his emotions. This might be due to the fact he developed a relationship with his sisters. It might be due to wanting to reach out to his father. Akira said in his autobiography he believed his father was an sentimentalist at heart. One of the places where his father seemed to be willing to open himself up was in the movie theater. I can see Akira trying to reach that sentimental side of his father with his movies. I can easily say he did it with me.

The Films of Kurosawa touch on powerful inner conflicts. I am constantly stricken by how universal the themes in these conflicts are. Yet they originated from personal memories. It was Kurosawa who said, “Creation is memory”. He believed as artists we must hold on to the present and the past in order to inform our future. As with the great John Ford, in Kurosawa’s later films you see a tremendous desire to hold on to what once was. The great filmmakers have this desire because the past is where their great memories rest and where their greatest creations originate.

Andrew Stanton – An Observation – Worth Fighting For

Posted in Film and Filmaker Studies, Observation Series by Jacob on August 24, 2011

2008 National Board Of Review Awards Gala

You know Andrew Stanton has helped write more then a dozen of the Pixar movies. The two films he has directed, Finding Nemo and Wall-E, have both won Oscars for Best Animated film. After realizing this, would it surprise you to know he doesn’t really like writing or directing? Stanton has talked more then once about the frustrations and exhaustion that comes with writing and directing. He has talked about the insecurity he has with being a writer and how he is scared to death when he turns his script in for other filmmakers to read. Stanton refrains from writing until the very last minute, he has described himself as a master procrastinator. He has also talked about how all the little details that come with directing wear him down. Four to five years on each project is a long time. What makes him stay in there? Why do so much work if it is so hard to do? I do not think Andrew finds satisfaction in the middle of production like someone such as John Lasseter does. It might be because Stanton is always thinking of other things and keeping his mind on the project at hand is extremely hard to do. It might be because he second guesses the value of what he is doing.   At times I am sure he feels his time would be spent better doing something else. After all writing and directing a film does not leave much room for family activities and social events. It might be because of an insecurity, the whole project lays on his shoulders what if he makes the wrong decision? I believe Stanton’s struggles with filmmaking has to do with all these insecurities.  However, a filmmaker has two choices when faced with insecurities such as these ones. They can run and hide or face them head on. Based on Stanton’s track record I believe he has chosen the latter.

Andrew Stanton counters the wear and tear that comes with needing to deal with a bunch of little details by being very picky about each little detail. He does not burden most of his colleagues with an idea until he is sure the idea is worth fighting for. He needs to figure out whether or not it is worth spending four to five years to make. John Lasseter even talked about bugging Andrew Stanton about the movie Finding Nemo.  Stanton would not even tell him what it was about until he thought he had a story worth committing too. For the movie Wall-E Stanton started development for the project when he was supposed to be on vacation. He thought that if the story turned out to be nothing special he wouldn’t have wasted anyone’s time.

A good question is, what makes a project worth committing to for Andrew Stanton? A key things to realize is Stanton does not think short term he thinks about the big picture. He does not go through the pains of writing and directing lightly. He wants to find a story that can entertain audiences for years to come. He finds universal themes to put into his stories. He concentrates on the insecurities of parenthood in Finding Nemo, what it means to be a friend in Toy Story, and the essence of what it means to love in Wall-E. We can relate to the characters Stanton creates because even though they might be robots, toys, and fish, they are full of human flaws and needs. Woody in Toy Story is insecure in his relationship with Andy. Marlin in Finding Nemo is scared his son might not be able to handle the real world. Wall-E is lonely.  These themes and character qualities represent the heart of Stanton’s films.

At the beginning the only thing Andrew Stanton has is an idea. Production represents the war Stanton faces in order to bring the idea to life on screen. When you go into battle you need to have passion. Stanton wants to make sure he can give the story everything he has. He knows there will be those days where nothing is working. He talked in an interview about needing to have enough passion to push through those times. Stanton talked about how he wants the audience to be thinking the characters he creates have feelings and lives that go on after the movie ends. This is what makes a movie worth fighting for to him. Stanton knows if he fights through and wins the war he will give us characters that truly become real in our hearts. Characters like Woody and Wall-E have a life of their own in the minds of many kids and adults. Film is the ultimate illusion of life. It takes a lot of work to pull off. But the results can be well worth it because they have the potential to be endless.

Andrew Stanton is one of those directors who will not commit to any old project. I think he is one of those artists who needs to both write and direct the film. He writes the films himself not because he thinks he is a brilliant writer but rather because he wants to find a story that is personal to him. Andrew Stanton is not a good director because he can’t make mistakes. No, he will be the first to tell you he makes mistakes all the time in in the development of his films. The thing about Stanton is he does not give up. He works through the mistakes. Andrew Stanton is a great director because when he finds something worth fighting for, he will not stop or compromise with the vision. He will fight until he gets the idea on screen.

Clint Eastwood – An Observation – Faith in the Craft

Posted in Film and Filmaker Studies, Observation Series, Uncategorized by Jacob on February 6, 2011

Clint Eastwood 1I appreciate Clint Eastwood as a director just as much, if not more, then I do Martin Scorsese. I chose to take a break from Martin and look into a few interviews of Clint Eastwood. I ran across a fantastic interview of him on Charlie Rose (click HERE to see it). I would recommend anyone studying film to watch the interview.

After watching many of Clint’s films it seems very obvious he is a classic filmmaker in the sense he does not try to get too complex with the way he moves about the camera or the way he cuts and expresses sound. Back in the old days filmmakers were simple because the medium forced them to. Clint stays simple because it is the best way he expresses his stories.

For Clint’s films everything seems to be done in a very clear manner and usually the meaning of his pictures are glaring at you in broad daylight. Clint is not one to beet around the bush or have some kind of meaning hid deep inside one of his pictures. The points and meanings of his films are usually obvious. Most of Clint’s movies seem to be about relatable characters going through tense situations. He first lets us get to know and care for his characters and then takes us on a ride with them.

Clint’s “simplicity” is one of my favorite qualities of his films. The simplicity we see in Clint’s films comes from the confidence he has in himself. He has taken the term “go with your gut” to heart. This is also one of the reasons why I and many critics say that Clint’s movies have gotten better with his age. Now in his 80’s, Clint seems to be at the top of his game. He has more experience than almost anyone in film business. The farther along he goes the more he learns and his instincts become better and better.

Eastwood’s way of directing needs to be studied. He has talked often about not thinking too much about how he chooses to go about creating a shot or editing a scene. He has explained many times the filmmaker ends up talking himself out of something that would have worked best because he or she keeps on second guessing themselves. Filmmakers overwork their material to the point they ruin any magical quality that was originally there. But, before we go with our gut we need to figure out what this “gut” instinct actually is.

The term “go with your gut” can easily be misleading. I think Clint has the right to say it because he has developed his philosophy on film to a strong enough point his “gut” is a reliable source. Clint also does a good amount of research into the story he is trying to tell. His choices on how to go about shooting a shot or editing a scene are usually strong because his choices are built on strong foundations. The reason why we as filmmakers should go with our gut is because we feel in tune with our technique and the story we are wanting to tell. The more we develop our philosophies and technique on filmmaking the more reliable our first instincts will be.

One of the reasons why Clint has a simple film style is because he thinks simplicity is the best way to tell a story. Clint’s simplicity represents his confidence. He does not want us to marvel at a camera shot, he just wants us to be consumed by the story. In another interview with Charlie Rose in 2003 Clint explained his filming process like this, “I keep everything as quite and subtle as I can. At the same time punctuating the points I need to punctuate”.

Movies don’t always need quick cutting and huge sweeping camera shots. You will see hardly any of these things in Eastwood’s films. The filmmakers job is to get the story across in the best way possible. Sometimes, maybe even most of the time, we do this through avoiding complexities and just allowing the story to unfold. Clint has trust in his instincts. He has trust in his actors and crew. And, most importantly Clint has trust in the story he is telling. Because of the trust Clint has put in his medium he has become one of the great artists for his medium.

Make it PERSONAL!!!

Posted in Personal Philosophy by Jacob on June 6, 2010

Film making needs to be personal. The reasons why I have a story worth telling is because of the personal aspects I bring to it. The personal style of each director and artist is what makes film interesting to watch. I think some of the best advice I have gotten on film came from Brad Bird (director of The Incredibles and Ratatouille), when he was asked, “What is the best advice you have for an upcoming film maker”, he replied, “Go experience life”.

I just got done working on some very sophisticated slideshows for my friends. I realized that I was able to bring a lot more emotion and individuality to the project because I knew the people in the slideshows personally.

When it comes to film, the audience has already watched a movie that has had a beginning middle and end before. If you break down a story to its basics you will find that there is no such things as a truly “original” storyline anymore. Most movies have a hero and a villain and usually the hero wins out in the end. The reason why people do not stop after watching one film, is because each director and artist have their own personal take on the story they are telling.

The more personal you make your project the better of a reason someone has to check it out. Brad Bird told the upcoming filmmakers to “experience life” because our individual life is what makes our thoughts and expressions unique. One of the greatest gifts we have is our own unique view on life, we as individuals are able to shine a light on any curtain subject in a different way then anyone else.

One of the greatest keys to making good films is to “Make it PERSONAL”. When I begin to direct a film I must be able to take it personally and go into depth on what I think would express the story I am trying to tell the best. When I start to write a story I look at my personal life as my main inspiration. Sure I watch movies to get inspired and might even take a few pointers from other directors on how I go about creating and/or executing my story best. The power of the story however, should come from my own personal touch. I want to draw from real life when it comes to creating a unique character or story line. I have tried to look deep into my relationships with friends for the foundations of the Characters I create. When I am in charge of shooting a scene, my number one question is, “How do I feel about this shot?”. The more confidence you build for yourself and what you truly think, the better you will be able to express it on screen.

What I am saying mostly applies to any given writer or director of a film book or play. The director’s job is to follow his or her own personal heart. The people following the director have a job to obey the director. I am not saying, “If you aren’t a director don’t bring in your personal touch”, just followers need to be just that, followers. Being a follower might call us to sometimes sacrifice our personal preferences. We need to allow the director to make his or her movie. If the director has a personal vision, your job is to make that vision come to life.

 

Foundations

Posted in Personal Philosophy by Jacob on May 30, 2010

I have been going over all my major story ideas and writing a paper on each of their foundations. I think that is is crucial for you to have strong convictions on what your films foundations are in order to make a good movie. There many good filmmakers out there, some who are very talented when it comes to cinematography, action sequences, music, and acting. But, if you do not have strong story foundations your film will not last.

Conviction is key to making a good story foundation. I have found that my stories are strongest when I am able to draw from real life. I have many convictions in life that I think is essential to express in my films. In no way am I asking anyone to be “preachy”, but do not make the mistake of being shallow. You need to be able to respect your audience, being “preachy” would not show much respect at all, you can not go about having your character telling the audience what exactly to think. However, being shallow is showing just as little respect, I have a duty as a filmmaker to not undermined my audience intellect.

I think it is important for me as a filmmaker to give the audience something to think about. I do not want the first thought after watching my movie to be, “What should we go get to eat?”. I want my films to make people think, make them ask questions and see stuff in a different light. All this happens if you have strong foundations. I have stories that deal with discrimination, addiction, and loss. I must do my research on these issues, I must be able to find places in real life to draw from so that I truly have something to say about these issues. Strong foundations are not easy to come by, it takes a lot of effort. However, your story will only be as strong as your foundations.