A Dreamer Walking

The Business of Creativity

Posted in Personal Philosophy by Jacob on January 6, 2015

While talking to Kim Masters, the host of The Business, director Alejandro González Iñárritu explained how hard it was to find funding for his latest project Birdman. The film revolves around a washed up actor who needs to get over his ultra-ego that takes the form of the superhero Birdman- the character who he became famous playing- in order to find new meaning in life. The movie was hard to finance because it was an original piece and gave a strong critique about our idolization of the “superhero”. Talking to Masters it was clear Iñárritu’s greatest beef about Hollywood was with the superhero movie. He stated many of the superhero movies Hollywood is creating have no soul and are without meaning. Iñárritu compared today’s common “epic” to fast-food; it may make you feel good now but in fifteen minutes you will be vomiting. His main point was we are so addicted to gore, violence, and explosions we have lost the patience to observe human nature. Iñárritu said even his kids are uninterested in the kind of films that taught him about humanity. The very thing that attracted someone like Iñárritu to filmmaking in the first place seems to be all but irrelevant in the world we now live in.

I personally think Iñárritu’s views are a little more cynical then mine. This would make sense since Iñárritu’s in his 50’s now and has made a career out of fighting the Hollywood system to get his films made, and I am a young naive film student just venturing out into the abyss some like to call “the film business”. But none-the-less Iñárritu’s comments are worth considering.

Where Iñárritu often goes the cynical rout, with movies like Biutiful and Babel, I am more drawn to an optimistic look on life and consider optimistic filmmakers like Steven Spielberg, Walt Disney, and Frank Capra to be some of my greatest role-models. These filmmakers made a living by telling stories that resonated with a wide audience. The problem Iñárritu has with most movies which resonate with a vast audience is the way these blockbusters generate their appeal. When talking about the common epic Iñárritu said, “It’s a very black and white world where there is no interest in anybody’s gray-zone or complexity”. Iñárritu has a point. The common “good vs. evil” plot we see in most wide released films has a huge impact on the way we see the world. Iñárritu believes these exaggerated extremes in movies are responsible for the “you are either for or against us” mentality most of the modern world has. We don’t see humans as real people anymore. Rather they become good or evil. There is no middle ground. You can see this black and white mindset displayed in almost every political issue out there. You are either right or left, pro-war or pacifist, for immigration or against it. And depending on where you stand on any of these issues you are either an ally or the enemy. And we all know we can’t submit an inch to “the enemy”. NO WONDER NOTHING GETS DONE AROUND HERE! However, I digress.

In order to explore humanity we need to be able to see the “gray-zone”. What frustrates me about so many of the Superhero movies coming out of late is there is never a question about the hero’s morality. Let’s take a lovable character like Wolverine for instance. The guy is a killing machine. Those bad-ass claws inevitably end up cutting into numerous people in each movie we see. I remember watching X-Men 2, one of my favorite superhero films by the way, and seeing the clawed beast back stab two soldiers, armed with tranquilizers, and leave them lifeless on the floor. There was absolutely no reference back to the incident. The bottom line is killing people is way cooler if you don’t really think about the consequences. But X-Men 2 was way back in 2003.  Studios have gone on to destroy whole cities with hardly any lip service given to the consequences after the fact.

Any kind of drama outside of the action scenes seems to be put there for the sole purpose of walking out the plot. The heroes morality is never really questioned to any extreme because the producers need to make sure the viewers’ butts are in the seats for the sequel (or should I say sequels). Iñárritu explained in his interview he was,  “fascinated by the human complexity”. The problem is “complexity” is not a bankable concept in Hollywood. The deeper we go into a characters psyche the more chance we have of pissing someone off. Though I have already stated Frank Capra is one of my favorite filmmakers, I just read an interesting article slating him for creating characters who were “larger then life”- who speak with a greater eloquence, confidence, and rhythm then anyone we would see in real life. I, along with other Capra supporters, would say Capra gave us an ideal to strive for with his characters. However, I do think the point made by his critics – that his movie over simplify the problems and over idolize the heroes- is an accurate one. Though I am willing to give those tendencies a bit of slack for the 1930’s I am truly dismayed when I look at our tendencies today and see we haven’t gotten much better. In some ways we have gotten worse. At least it felt like Capra actually believed in the ideals he expressed in his movies. Today the “ideals” and “character growth” in big blockbuster films seem like an afterthought. Iñárritu said his kids forget what most of the movies they go to were just a week or two after watching them.

The bottom line is Hollywood wants to make it’s audience happy. They want us to be entertained. It makes for good business for the client to be satisfied. The only problem is the businessman by himself can’t satisfy. The product is what the audience wants. And in the medium of film the product has become stale. We know the difference between an original and recycled product. Film is a creative medium but most of the decision makers in the “film-business” don’t come from creative backgrounds. So all their decisions end up being made on the defensive. It takes creativity to be on the offensive. The stories end up being recycled both in name (the remake of the remake) and in themes (“Oh, look at that. Another happy ending.”).

I believe the greatest point Iñárritu’s made was about the school system and how many film-schools are teaching their students how to satisfy big companies rather then teaching them how to discover who they are and how to express themselves on screen. Cinema will truly be dead when the filmmaker’s main objective is to satisfy the moneymakers rather then one’s personal vision. I am not saying filmmakers don’t need to be financially responsible with making films. Filmmaking is the ultimate collaborative medium. It can literally involve thousands of people, all of whom need to make a living. But if we begin to try to make films that satisfy everyone we will end up satisfying no one. The audience will begin to grow tired with the simplicity that comes with black and white storytelling. To be honest they already have. Theater attendance is lower then it has been for two decades. What cinema needs, what our world needs, is storytelling that explores all the shades of gray and all the colors of the rainbow.

Free Film School!

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on August 4, 2014

I am sad to announce I am taking a blog break. I know it probably looks like I already took a blog break. I mean come on! I was on such a role for a while posting a paper every week or less for several months. But then summer came. The time I was supposed to be the least busy I ended up doing a bunch of things. Only half of the stuff I ended up doing was really productive, but the bottom line is I have really let down the few followers I have for this blog and I do apologize for that.

So I will be taking the rest of the month off and then try to maintain a post a week from the beginning of September to the foreseeable future. I thought I would leave you guys however with a bunch of links to really productive information and study material for those interested in the foundations of film and storytelling.

Filmmaking:

  • Cinephilia and Beyond: This might be the most valuable resource out there for all things film. Cinephilia is on a unstoppable mission to find as many interviews, articles, and documentaries on filmmaking around the internet. If you have a particular filmmaker in mind just do a search on Cinephilia’s site and you will most likely find a huge archive of information. P.S. you should also follow Cinephilia on Twitter!
  • DP/30: My advice is for you go get a pen and paper and start taking notes on interviews. David Poland has been able to accumulate hundreds of hours worth of interviews of some of the biggest names out there. His subjects range from actors, writers, directors, and sometimes a popular Cinematographer or Editor. Because of the length of his interviews (majority of them going 30 min or longer) Poland is able to go into much more depth then an average interview has time for. Poland studied filmmaking in collage and has a deep knowledge of it’s history which only helps raise his interviews to another level.
  • The Treatment: Elvis Mitchell is yet another great interviewer who is determined to go beyond the common insights a writer or director gives in most of their interviews. You can also find Elvis’ more recent interviews free on iTunes.
  • 35 MM: Here is a Vimeo group that collects tones of Vimeo videos dealing with film. These are a little more hit-or-miss but there are certainly some gems worth looking into.
  • Steven Benedict Podcast: How this guy isn’t known by every cinephile out there is beyond me. Though considerably short compared to other material I linked to, Benedict is a true student of film and gives deep insights on each one of the movies he goes into. My suggestion is you download his podcasts on iTunes and listen to them while on your way to work or something.
  • [micro] TUTORIALS: Here you can find a vast archive of film production tutorials. [micro] is determined to provide you with a wealthy amount of free information to get started in digital filmmaking. Their subject matter ranges from pre-production through post-production and will give the beginning film student many hours worth of material to study in order to make his or her first film.

Animation:

  • Deja View: This is the sight of the famous animator Andreas Deja. His knowledge of animation history (especially Disney’s history) is superb. As the lead animator for classic characters like Jafar from Aladdin, Scare from The Lion King, and Lilo from Lilo and Stitch its obvious he has a vast understanding of the principles of animation and with everyone of his posts he goes into more and more detail about those principles and the animators responsible for creating them.
  • Temple of The Seven Golden Camels: The author of this blog, Mark Kennedy, is a storyboard artist for Disney Animation. Unlike most animator blogs I visit, Kennedy is determined to go into detail about the nuances of telling good stories. His focus usually is storyboarding which basically means he goes into all kinds of different principles of animation- staging, costuming, action, design, etc… Though sometimes long winded it’s obvious Kennedy knows his subject matter and he provides valuable insight in each one of his posts.
  • Splog: Sadly this blog hasn’t been updated since February. However, I am sure you will find enough in the archives to keep you busy for several months. Michael Sporn and his artists give a much more well rounded example of the history of Animation and many of the blog’s posts go into great detail about well known and long lost pieces of animation through out it’s rich history.
  • Podcasts: Rather then pick one of these I thought I would just link to several of them. Here are several valuable podcasts on animation I have listened to through out the years. Each one features interviews of people working in the field of animation and are quite valuable for anyone interested in going into the field themselves. I will post the links to their sites but the majority of the podcasts can be found also on iTunes. 1. The Animation Podcast 2. Spline Doctors 3. Speaking of Animation 4. iAnimate.

Writing:

  • Writing Excuses: Each fifteen minute podcast carries a wealth of information about writing and story structure. The podcast is also extremely entertaining and quite humerus. The four hosts are all well known authors and have a great chemistry with each other. They are usually able to cover a lot of ground with the little time they have. The podcast has also been around since 2008 and thus has a huge archive. I suggest you subscribe to their iTunes page; they post a podcast consistently every week.
  • The Q&A with Jeff Goldsmith: Here you will find interviews all kinds of writers across the medium of film. Jeff Goldsmith is a wonderful interviewer with a great upbeat attitude. Best of all is he knows story and the questions he asks are always informative and allow us deeper into the creation process. His lengthy archive can be found on iTunes as well.
  • Scriptnotes: John August and Craig Mazin are two established screenwriters in Hollywood and every week come out with a full hour long podcast covering all things writing. The two personalities work wonderfully with each other and they also at times have guests who share their personal insights on how to be a screenwriter in the daunting world of Hollywood. Not only do these guys have good screenwriting advice they go into the politics of working in Hollywood. Here is the link to their iTunes page.

Film Criticism:

  • The /Filmcast: This is one of the most enjoyable podcasts I listen to weekly. The hosts, David Chen, Devindra Hardawar, and Jeff Cannata are all bonafide film geeks who love talking movies. David Chen is one of the best hosts out there; someone who can just be himself while keeping a strong grasp on the conversation so it doesn’t get out of hand. I listen to these guys more for entertainment, but occasionally they can provide some fantastic insight on the film premiering that week. And due to their “What have you been watching?” segment I occasionally hear about a really interesting film I would never have discovered on my own. The best way to listen to these guys is via iTunes.
  • Filmspotting: This is the modern day version of Siskel and Ebert. Though maybe not quite as oppositional and competitive the two hosts, Adam Kempenaar and Josh Larsen, do a wonderful job expressing their thoughts on the latest movie of the week. Rather then go with the typical blockbuster Adam and Josh usually concentrate on more Independent films. A common visitor of the podcast is the famous critic Michael Phillips who was also a common visitor on Roger Ebert’s Ebert Presents show. The show is now known for ending with their top 5 list which allows the audience in on just how vast these critics knowledge of filmmaking is. This is by far the podcast with the largest archive, just recently celebrating it’s 500th episode. This is also a great podcast to listen to on iTunes.

Well there you have it. These links have turned out to be invaluable in my pursuit to becoming a great storyteller. It’s just a small example of how much you can learn for free outside the realm of a collage. I hope you enjoy and feel free to leave a comment if you have links to more valuable filmmaking resources!

Brave- Review

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on July 1, 2012

Pixar’s Brave is the first movie the studio has produced with a main protagonist being a woman and it was going to be Pixar’s first film directed by a woman. The story was actually inspired by the director Brenda Chapman’s relationship with her own daughter. However about eighteen months ago Chapman was taken off the project. In her place came Mark Andrews. Andrews brought to the project a deep understanding and love for Scotland and an ability to make big and decisive changes in story. What I believe was lost when Andrews came on board was the intimate understanding of the bond between a mother and a daughter.

The bond between Merida and her mother Queen Elinor is the key to the whole story.  But what Pixar creates is caricatures of the mother and daughter, rather then well rounded characters. Brave is the fairytale version of Freaky Friday. The only real difference is a change in location and time period. The film does not really try to have us understand why the characters are the way they are. It is as if Andrews thinks the flat stereotype of a self consumed teen and an all knowing mother is enough to impact and inspire his audience. In one scene Elinor talks to her husband and Merida talks to her horse while we cut between the two explaining their positions. The problem is they really don’t say anything we haven’t heard a hundred times before in other films. Merida is doing what she is doing because she wants her freedom. Elinor is doing what she is doing because she loves Merida. We never see how Elinor making Merida be proper and get married is loving. We never see Merida understand the value of freedom. Because the characters are not explored thoroughly as individuals, the eventual bond between the two feels artificial. We see the same themes of Brave in movies like Finding Nemo and How to Train Your Dragon. However the individual exploration of the characters in Finding Nemo and How to Train Your Dragon is what makes those movies worth going back to again and again. In Finding Nemo the father Marlin needs to face his own insecurities in order to let his son Nemo take risks and explore the world. In How to Train Your Dragon young Hiccup needs to dessert his need to live up to his Viking roots before he can find his own voice and really appreciate the leadership and sacrifice of his father.

The change Mark Andrews said he made was with the stuff holding the story back. With Brave we get a very fast paced story which lasts just slightly over ninety minutes. I have heard more then one Pixar director explain their love for director Hayoa Miyazaki and his brilliant ability to celebrate the quite moments in film. Well, there were really no quite moments in Brave. The score was over used. The key development scenes in the movie were accompanied with songs. Although the songs were well written and well performed, they felt like cop outs, easier than making the director and artists take their time and find visual ways to express their points and explore the characters development. With Andrews came action. He said in a recent interview he was the one who really made the evil bear Mor’du a key character in the film. Yet, Mor’du seems to be little more then a device to scare the audience. Whenever the movie seems to be slowing down Andrews throws in some kind of energizer, whether it is a song, an action sequence, or just a sight gag. He seems scared to death to just let the audience come to their own conclusion without any kind of music or piece of drastic action forcing them into it, and thus he does a huge disservice to the story. He has mentioned many times in interviews about how proud he was that Pixar and Disney let him go darker with this movie. However, Andrews idea of “darker” is little sequences designed to raise the audience’s heart-rate. My idea of “darker” would be a story where there is  consequences of feeling real loss. There is not even a scare at the end end of the movie to remind us what the characters needed to go through in order to learn their lessons. At the beginning of the story Merida’s father King Fergus fights a bear and we learn that the bear took one of his legs off. Yet, through out the rest of the movie Fergus with a peg leg can move just as easily as the rest of his men. There is no mention of it hurting, no real body language to tell us he had this devastating thing happen to him, it is more played for comic relief.

The humor in Brave is a bit choppy and many times quite shallow. I was fine with Merida’s triplet brothers adding some humor with their adventures through the castle, giving the maid trouble and always trying to get their hands on any kind of goodies from the bakery. We also see some brilliantly animated sequences and some clever wordplay that will get the audience bursting out laughing more then once. Some of the comic relief we get from King Fergus and the three other tribe leaders, along with their children who are shooting for Merida’s hand, is quite funny. Yet, the humor seems to come at a great cost. Each one of the young men shooting for Merida’s hand are played for comic relief. By doing this, these men are romantically appealing to no one. Rather then create one or two men who actually look interesting and are legitimate suitors for Merida, Pixar takes the easy way out through making all of them seem completely unreasonable. By doing this Pixar belittles the stance Merida makes when she refuses to be betrothed to any of them.  There are no men in this movie that even try to represent serious adulthood. They are all played for comic relief, and after a while it gets old. It seems like Pixar was trying to impress us with the women of the movie through dumbing down the men. Well Pixar, I am not impressed.

Brave has awe inspiring visuals. It is filled with marvelous animation. There are times where Andrews’ fast paced and to the point directing style is completely necessary. The animation and pacing for the sequence where Merida shoots for her own hand at the end of the first act is worthy of appreciation and study. We meet some fun characters and Pixar brings into the story a lot of charm. Yet, in the end Brave seems like a powerful idea that was hollowly realized. Pixar’s “clever” take on the traditional fairytale is to have no prince charming. But what they do is trade out one cliche for another and end up saying nothing new. For children the movie will be a lot of fun and adults can defiantly be entertained by it. This might be quite enough for most people, just not me. Judging from Pixar’s last two movies it seems like the studio that once showed themselves to be out of the box and director driven are sloping down to becoming the typical Hollywood studio– who likes to imagine themselves as much more then they really are.

Was that Funny?

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on February 3, 2011

Humor in the media these days seems to be full of belittling and mockery. It is an appeal to the lowest common denominator of our society. As if we are still kids who can’t feel strong unless we put someone else down.

I saw an article on CartoonBrew yesterday that really frustrated me. It was a phony letter that The Onion posted of John Lasseter, the chief creative officer of Pixar animation, basically insulting everyone who considers Pixar to be a great studio. The title of the article was Commentary: I’ve Got you Dumb Motherfuckers Eating Right out of my Hands. I still do not understand how this article is accepted as being “funny”. Has our conscious really gone that far down the toilet?

I originally said on the comment section that it might just be my inability to understand the kind of humor represented in The Onion. But after thinking about it, I have realized that is not the case. I understand the humor. I have been part of both sides, the person mocking and the person getting getting mocked. To be honest I usually laughed no matter what side I was on. I have news, just because someone is laughing does not mean that someone thinks it’s funny.

In most cases, if a child is getting mocked, he tries to avoid any more attention then he has to. Thus, laughing along with the bully settles the bullies need to feel superior and the bully leaves, at least for a little while. But if you are getting your high from the belittling of someone else, you are never really satisfied. The bully always comes back and usually the insults become more intense.

Why are there bullies? Why is the kind of humor that puts others down okay these days? It partially has to do with the abused inability to stand up for himself. Usually the case is that the abused just takes the abuse and eventually becomes the abuser to someone else. But, the key reason why verbal insults and mockery keeps on spreading is because the type of abuse has a audience. We keep on laughing.

Belittling and mockery is the easy way out. Anyone can put someone down and sadly that is what most comedies rely on these days. But the comedians and movies that rely on belittling and mockery for humor, will not last. That kind of humor is easy to come by. It does not take much talent to push someone down, anyone can do it.

The bottom line is that the audience chooses what stays and goes in the entertainment business. If we are okay with the bare minimum, we will be given the bare minimum. If we start to stand up for something greater the industry will be forced to produce higher quality work.

Let’s not laugh just because the canned laughter ques us to laugh. We need to look at humor in a different way. Even with humor you need to think about what you are getting out of it and why you are laughing. Humor has the power to reveal truths about the society we live in and the kind of people we are. Humor can even help us examine those truths. Humor has the power to strengthen the insecure and reveal injustice. Humor has the power to lift our nation up rather then push it down. It is our choice!