A Dreamer Walking

FilmStruck – Cinema’s Love Letter

Posted in Personal Philosophy by Jacob on November 21, 2018

FilmStruck Closing

There is no streaming service that holds as strong of a punch in sheer knowledge of cinema’s rich history, as FilmStruck. Nothing comes close! And only two years after launch, it will be shutting down due to having too small of a “niche” audience. WHAT THE HELL?!?!

What sold me about FilmStruck is not just their ability to bring us wonderful material covering a variety of cultures and subject matters. Or their individual focus on the less represented genders or races in the cinema world. But on top of all that they were dedicated to diving deep into the filmmaking process by providing hundreds of hours of extra features on the making and impact of the films they championed.

Honestly I did not watch many films on FilmStruck. Maybe, two a month. Rather, after watching a film on a great artist I had just been introduced to, I would start to dive deep into the extra features. I would listen to interviews  of actors and crew members who were there when greats such as Yasujiro Ozu and Jean-Pierre Melville walked their sets. The movies these filmmakers were known for were cool to see, but FilmStruck wouldn’t settle with the greatest hits of any given artist, they would dive deep into a filmmaker’s career. Long forgotten films would be highlighted by the site. Many of the films on FilmStruck can not be found on other platforms or in even in physical copy.

Why does a service like this get so little attention? Why does a multi billion dollar company think preserving these types of films is not important? Studying classic and foreign films has been a lonely venture for me. Though I spent many years going to school for media arts, I could hardly get any of my peers interested in cinema’s rich history. There could be all sorts of critiques about why this is. Very few would be flattering. But this is not a post whining about people not being cultured enough to cherish rich storytelling over junk food “entertainment”. This is a plea, a cry to anyone out there willing to understand just how important standing up for artistic and culturistic preservation is to the betterment of society.

Netflix, Hulu, and HBO are wonderful services. I consider many of them like friends, sometimes providing a needed laugh while at times giving me something to think about. These services represent my peers and I hold a great amount of respect for how the they are driving our artform forward. Yet the artist’s highlighted on FilmStruck represent my teachers. I have spent countless hours taking notes on their unique structures, their beautiful images, and profound insights. This blog was built upon the kinds of revelations I have discovered on FilmStruck.  The great directors you see on the site, Kurosawa, Ford, and Bergman all have placed a brick on the great platform I stand on today. The filmmakers on all the other streaming services owe those highlighted on FilmStruck a great dept. This was driven home by the fact two dozen filmmakers, including Christopher Nolan, Ryan Johnson, Guillermo Del Toro, and Paul Thomas Anderson have posted a public letter pleading WarnerMedia to save the streaming service. Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg are also lending their voice to the fight.

We make a critical mistake to think art can last without our support. Time does not work that way. Without the needed resources and careful care, we will lose some of our most profound stories. With the end of FilmStruck there will be hundreds of movies you won’t be able to find streaming anywhere else, along with countless hours of informative interviews, behind the scenes documentaries, and commentaries. Thankfully Criterion, one of FilmStruck’s greatest collaborators, plans to start their own streaming service this coming spring. However, there is no guarantee it will be able to sustain itself any better than FilmStruck. The difference will be found in us. We simply need to decide if the cinema of our past and distant lands will be part of the forgotten or our teachers.

If you support FilmStruck’s efforts to preserve cinema, please sign and share this partition to #SaveFilmStruck. The more voices we have the harder it is it ignore us.

Alfred Hitchcock – An Observation – The Young Spunge

Posted in Film and Filmaker Studies, Observation Series, Personal Philosophy by Jacob on October 24, 2018

Young AlfredYes, believe it or not this is Alfred Hitchcock. Not the self confident and slightly cocky man you see in later years. Rather, a young man just starting to understand the numerous possibilities of his artform and his role to play in the medium.

Hitchcock started exploring cinema in the mid 1910’s, making title cards for the start of films. From there he went into script writing and art direction. Though he said in a Peter Bogdanovich interview he had no ambition for becoming a director, he displayed a great amount of talent for the job at an early age. Infact, one of the things that got him in trouble in his job as Art Director was this nasty habit for telling the cameraman where to place the camera on the sets he was working on.

The latest film on my list to study has been  The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog. This silent 1927 film is considered to be the first real “Hitchcock” film, though he had directed two before this point. The main reason, it was his first mystery film – the genre he would become most famous for directing. In this film you can see signs of everything to come. The amount of control he had over the young medium is breathtaking. You can see the influences clearly; his love for American’s dramatic pace, the Soviet Union’s use of montage, and German’s extreme use of light and camera placement.

What struck me the most when watching The Lodger is the fact that I could see such a deep connection the artist had with the material. Yes, influences abided throughout the film, yet each technique was being used for the purpose of getting deeper into the psychology of the characters. Nothing felt showy, because the extreme angles, imaginative framing, and exhaustive montages were constantly giving us insight about the characters and their world.

When one of the main characters observes a whole montage of images in a footprint in the snow, it’s not because Hitchcock was tickled by Sergei Eisenstein’s use of montage in Battleship Potemkin. Rather, Hitchcock wanted to visually show the thoughts that were connecting like dominoes in the character’s head. When we see a combination of dramatic lighting and extreme angles as the mother wakes up and creeps into her lodger’s bedroom, it’s not because Hitchcock was a die hard fan of  F.W. Murnau’s films, even though he was 😉 . He wanted to let us in on the mother’s startling suspicions that the lodger could very well be The London Strangler.

No artist simply comes out fully formed. They are always influenced by those around them. Hitchcock had some magnificent artist to inspire him during his day. Yet, the reason he became great himself was due to his ability to absorb his influences and make them his own. Today, I see a great amount of copying going around. I need to admit I don’t see much copying of the masters from the silent era, but rather I see copies of the most recent Youtube prodigy. To be inspired by someone in your medium is totally fine. However, when it comes to your storytelling, you can’t simply make decisions based off of those who inspire you.

The difference between copying and absorbing comes down to the question you are trying to answer. Copying has a very easy question to answer, “What?”. If you can figure out what someone did to create a shot you can copy it. As long as you have the equipment any complicated piece can be copied. And to be sure, great filmmakers such as Hitchcock found answers to what went into making their favorite shots. Yet, Hitchcock was also able to figure out the answer to the other question, the far more important question. “Why?”. Only if you discover the answer to the question of why, do you understand how to mold the technique to your personal storytelling.

Hitchcock never seemed to be stealing techniques from other filmmakers. Instead, he  found personal and profound reasons to apply them to his stories. We often come out of a Hitchcock movie believing there was no better ways to use the camera. Time after time The Lodger gives us profound insight into the passions, fears, and insecurities of the character’s we see on screen. The reason is because their passions, fears, and insecurities are even more important to Hitchcock than his shots. Once he knows the character’s inner most feelings does he understand why he needs to use the shots he uses. An insert of a hand reaching for a doorknob, a POV shot of someone walking toward a house, or a reflection of a man walking toward a painting, are all powerful expressions of the character’s inner most conflicts.

A sponge doesn’t simply hold water, it absorbs the liquid into it’s very being.  We all need to have inspirations, yet we must also have enough confidence in ourselves to let those inspirations further our personal development as artists. A mere copying of those around us will produce stale material, easily forgotten. Yet letting those inspirations build upon who we are, can produce magnificent pieces of work. Work, like that of Hitchcock’s The Lodger, that could be remembered far beyond our lifetime.

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.

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.

 

The Future

Posted in Personal Philosophy by Jacob on May 15, 2015

“I dream for a living”

This quote comes from one of my favorite filmmakers, Steven Spielberg. It speaks to the essence of why I want to make films myself. If you think about it cinema has more in common with dreams than reality. Not just in the stories that take place in galaxies far far away or lands full of mystical creatures and magic, but also in the very form of cinema. The language of cinema was never developed to replicate reality. Rather the technique of filmmaking is more reminiscent of dreams then anything else. Cuts, lenses, and music are all used to entrance the audience and give them an experience they could never have in reality.

As a child I was someone who loved to live in the dreams of people like Steven Spielberg and Walt Disney. The stories they told made me laugh, cry, and filled me with wonder. Their worlds were so enthralling I would explore them farther in the back yard with my brother. Eventually we began to create our own stories in our own worlds. Little did I know at the time, I had the keys to fairyland and was never happier then when I was able to play beyond these invisible gates.

The sad part is I grew up. And growing up seems to require one to wake up. The famous writer L. M. Montgomery wrote,

There is such a place as fairyland – but only children can find the way to it. And they do not know that it is fairyland until they have grown so old that they forget the way. One bitter day, when they seek it and cannot find it, they realize what they have lost; and that is the tragedy of life. On that day the gates of Eden are shut behind them and the age of gold is over. Henceforth they must dwell in the common light of common day.

The path to fairyland became harder and harder for me to find. Reality had too strong a grip on me.

I began to experience life; where the imagination was dwarfed by my struggles in school, inability to fit in, and the raw reality of the bigger picture. The world I actually lived in was overwhelming. Planes crashed into skyscrapers, countries declared wars, and governments had corruption in every corner. Who could dream in a place like this? The only result seemed to be nightmares. The ideals dreamt up by filmmakers such as Disney and Spielberg began to feel more like naive notions than anything else.

Still, throughout this time of growing up I never lost interest in telling stories and making movies. My gaze however turned from the idealists to the pessimists (though they would simply call themselves realists). Filmmakers such as David Fincher and Martin Scorsese caught my eye. At first I had a difficult time understanding my draw to them. I watched Scorsese’s Taxi Driver and couldn’t believe people hailed the movie as one of the greats. The main character was revolting and lacked any kind of arch. Fincher’s stories took place in a world of cynicism. The first movie I remember watching of his was Seven. The movie revolves around two detectives trying to find a serial killer who uses the Seven Deadly Sins as his catalyst to murder. Fincher never tries to deny these victims were guilty of these immoralities. Even the hero of the movie, played by Morgan Freeman, tells a woman she should have an abortion to keep her child out of the dark world they live in.

I soon realized Martin Scorsese and David Fincher interested me because they were unflinching in their mission to seek out the truth in the darkest corners of society. I resonated with the characters and worlds they created because I saw myself in them. Sure, I wish I could see myself as a flawless human being and the world I live in as this wonderful place where good always triumphs in the end. However, reality suggests differently and filmmakers such as Fincher and Scorsese were not afraid to highlight the dark side of this world; the side most of us would like to keep hidden.

Yet, even though these filmmakers looked at the world through a more cynical lens, they still kept a hold of the keys to fairyland. Scorsese and Fincher’s imagination was just as strong as my childhood inspirations in Disney and Spielberg. Their mission was never to reproduce the world we live in, rather a world where the truths of our society are seen even more clearly. With these filmmakers the camera was a paintbrush. And just like the great artists of the past their goal was to express humanity. Each cut, choice of lens, and use of music represented a stroke made to describe a greater whole.

The more my view of storytelling evolved the more I began to understand the words of writer Lloyd Alexander, “Fantasy is hardly an escape from reality. It’s a way of understanding it.” Just because I had a stronger grasp on reality did not mean I needed to neglect my imagination. At the same time, I refused to get barred down by the dark truths of this world. My goal became to transform the society I lived in. For this is what I believe dreamers do best; they transform our reality through the visions they cast.

Here is where I must come back to the quote from L. M. Montgomery. It would be a true tragedy if she left her views about growing up on such a gloomy note. Yet she goes on from the quote above,

Only a few, who remain children at heart, can ever find that fair, lost path again; and blessed are they above mortals. They, and only they, can bring us tidings from that dear country where we once sojourned and from which we must evermore be exiles. The world calls them its singers and poets and artists and story-tellers; but they are just people who have never forgotten the way to fairyland.

As dark as Scorsese and Fincher’s worlds may be and as pessimistic a commentary on life as their story may have, they still play pretend for a living. There is nothing about an artist that is necessary for our society to survive. Yet the artist knows better then anyone, deep down we were not made to survive we were made to live.

I would like to leave you with the words of poet, D. H. Lawrence. He gets to the heart of where I want to live as a filmmaker. “All people dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their mind, wake in the morning to find that it was vanity. But the dreamers of the day are dangerous people, for they dream their dreams with open eyes, and make them come true.” The greatest filmmakers are those who live in the world of the dream so they may cast their visions into the world of the real in order to inspire the world of tomorrow.

As someone who is determined to dream for a living, my greatest inspirations were filmmakers such as Spielberg and Disney. They taught me how to dream. Mentors such as Scorsese and Fincher helped give my dreams an edge. My task now is to cast my vision into the world and see what future my dreams hold