A Dreamer Walking

The Power of Wonder

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on July 14, 2011

“Satisfaction is the end of desire”

I first heard this quote come from Steven Spielberg when he was on Inside the Actors Studio.  I think far too often filmmakers make the mistake of feeling they need to satisfy all their audiences needs; all the questions need to be answered and everything you show needs to be explained. However, I find when films give the audience all the answers there is no wonder left and when there is no wonder there is no interest….. and if you have no interest you have a empty movie theater :/

Steven Spielberg talked about the longer he could hold the audience in suspense the better. Every movie has suspense. Whether it is through the question of, “What kind of monster is going to come around the corner” or “What is this character going to choose to do”, we as filmmakers are demanding the audiences attention through the power of wonder and suspense. It is the filmmaker job to learn to use the power of wonder and suspense wisely. If we give the audience too much information they have no reason to keep watching the movie. However, if we do not give the audience enough information they will leave and not be coming back.

An important thing to understand is the audience brings their imagination with them to the movies. It is not our job to show the audience all of the world the characters live in, we just need to show them some of the world and they will create for themselves the rest. It is not our job to show the audience all the hardships and happiness our characters have gone through, hint to a little and the audience will imagine a lot. As filmmakers our job is to guide the audience. We must understand the audience can think for themselves, we just need to give them something to think about.

The best kind of movies for me are the ones where I feel every character I see has a story worth telling. Great films like the Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and Star Wars series give plenty of wonder for us to carry away from the movie theater and think about for days on end. One of my favorite pass times as a kid was going outside with my brother and continuing the stories of the movies we had watched. Of course we would improvise and create our own plots, but we were originally inspired by the worlds and characters we saw on TV and in the movie theater.

In every story there needs to be a curtain amount of satisfaction. As I said before, if you do not give the audience enough they will not be coming back.  However, movies should not give you stories with a beginning and an end but rather a beginning with no end. Do not ever make a movie where an audience member is looking at his watch wondering when the film is going to get done. Keep them wanting more. The story keeps on going on even if the chapter is finished. We are not supposed to tie everything up into a perfect bow for the audience but rather keep on giving them a reason to come back to the worlds we have awoken. It is through wonder that people keep on returning to the movie theater. They do not want to be entertained just for two hours. They want us to create something they can keep going back to and even show their kids someday. We as filmmakers need to inspire, so other filmmakers can create worlds and stories we can’t even imagine. Wonder is what keeps us living and wanting to explore. We must constantly remind ourselves we work in a medium of wonder where there are no limits.

Invisible Ink- Don’t tell me, SHOW ME!

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on May 3, 2011

Seeing is different from being told
— African Proverb

This is how Brian McDonald opened up the topic of “What It Means to Dramatize an Idea”. This post is actually concentrating on the second part of Chapter 3 in his book Invisible Ink. I think in chapter three Brian hits on several different storytelling points, so I have decided to write four posts on the chapter (HERE is the link to the first post).

In storytelling our job is not to bluntly give our audience all the answers. Creating a story where you tell the audience exactly how and what to think is a quick way to get them to walk out on you. If the audience has been given all the answers there will be no drama. Drama comes from the uncertainty and questions the audience has. The drama comes from the audience figuring out the answers for themselves. Our job as filmmakers is to give the audience the equation and let them come up with the answer.

Let me go back to the example of The Incredibles to explain myself. The main theme in The Incredibles is “family is most important”. The reason why The Incredibles works so well is we are never told family is most important but rather we are shown. There are several scenes in which it is visually expressed how important family is to Mr. Incredible. One of the greatest examples would be the scene where his wife and children are flying to the island where he is being held capture. Syndrome, the villain of the movie, shoots missiles at the plane. We see Mr. Incredible at his most vulnerable. He begs Syndrome to call off the missiles, but sadly with no avail. He is forced to watch helplessly while the rockets hit and destroys the plane. He thinks right then his family is dead. We don’t need him to say, “my family is important to me”, we literally feel their importance through his emotions.

Words can easily be deceptive. David Fincher said, in his commentary on the movie Se7en, he believed the verbal language was invented so people could lie. Granted, David Fincher is one of the most cynical people I have ever come across, but what he said has some truth. We have the ability to deceive people through our words, but our our actions and emotions give us away.  We as filmmakers are measured based on how much we can get the audience to buy into the story we are telling. If we are told someone is in danger but don’t have it expressed well through the powers of cinema– through sound effects, music, cutting, lighting, and good acting– the audience won’t care. If an actor does not believe in what he is saying the audience won’t believe it. When I watch a movie I do not care whether I have seen the same type of story before. What I care about is whether or not the visuals and characters are believable. Do the performances feel authentic? Do the visuals demand my attention?

The message of “family being most important” has been told before. What makes The Incredibles work is the way the creators are able to get us to buy into the message. At the end of the movie Mr. Incredible wants to fight Syndrome and his evil robot alone. Mrs. Incredible is angry Mr. Incredible doesn’t want her help and demands to know why. Mr. Incredible breaks down and says, “I can’t lose you again”. Right there we are shown how important family has become to Mr. Incredible. His words are validated through the scene before where we saw the emotions he went through when he thought he lost them. His words are also backed up by a great performance. Mr. Incredible can barely look at his wife while he expresses his fear.

Cinema is all about dramatization. Brian McDonald puts it this way in his book, “Dramatization is a way to get your intellectual ideas across to your audience emotionally”. Drama is built entirely on emotions. When we connect an idea emotionally to our audience we have effected them in a way that will last much longer then a two hour theater experience. Facts are meaningless unless they have an emotion behind them. Being told guns are dangerous does not impact us nearly as much as seeing exactly how guns are dangerous. One of my mentors used to take his children to the garage after he killed a deer hunting and show them exactly how the bullet killed the animal. He would show them the insert wound, the blood, and how the bullet effected the deers insides. It is a fact guns are dangerous. However, the fact meant very little to the children until their dad expressed the fact through a dramatic example.

When we as filmmakers don’t give the audience all the answers but rather let them come to their own conclusions a satisfaction is created which could never have been achieved if we just came out and told them what to think. There are movies such as The Social Network that intentionally try to not take sides. In the movie The Social Network there is no obvious villain or obvious hero. This is actually one of the film’s strengths. We are shown plenty of details and have plenty of emotions about each one of the characters. The fun part is how we end up dealing with the emotions we experience. In The Social Network for example, depending on who you ask, the good guy may be different because we each interpret the situations differently. We end up leaving the movie thinking, debating with one another. We do not have a clear opinion but rather a curiosity and interest in hearing what others think. We may even want to see the movie again.

Whether it is to make a point or just get someone to think, you will get much farther through showing rather then telling. The goal should never be to come up with a clear cut answer. Rather, it should be to express something from your own unique point of view. You must have an idea behind what you are showing. You must give me a reason to keep watching and even come back again. But, you need to realize the power is in the image not the word. The goal is to show me something that doesn’t just give me information but rather stimulates the imagination.


Film Mediums: 2D Animation!

Posted in Personal Philosophy by Jacob on June 16, 2010
Glen Keane Drawing of the Beast!

Glen Keane Drawing of the Beast!

2D animation is a very magical medium of film. As I said in my last post, there is nothing more magical to me then seeing simple drawings come to life. Another thing that 2D animation can do is show the hand of the artist through the actual drawings on screen. This drawing to the side was done by a masterful animator called Glen Keane. He has a very interesting style to his animation, different from any other artist.

One of the beauties of 2D animation is that there are so many different drawing styles. Each animator has his or her own way of going about a scene. During the rough animation you can definitely see a huge difference in some animators styles. In this Glen Keane drawing you see very dark lines, Glen is known for physically digging into his paper with the pencil trying to feel the emotion of the character he is drawing. However if you look below you can see a drawing by another masterful animator Ollie Johnson. He had a much lighter touch. Johnston was said to have barley kissed the page with his pencil, slowly trying to figure out the right look and movement for his characters.

Ollie Johnson Example

Ollie Johnson Example

In 2D animation you are constantly trying to clean up drawings so you can create a film that looks singular, as though one artist had created it. This is where Clean Up Artists come in. A Clean Up Artist is someone who goes over the animators original drawings and creates a fluid drawings that can match the other animation done for the character. A character like the Beast in Beauty and the Beast would have many different animators working so they could have the Beast’s performance done in reasonable time . It can take weeks for an animator to do only a few seconds worth of motion, thus each character calls for multiple animators.

You can not be a good 2D animator without studying the principles of movement. A animator needs to know how to draw well and have a feel for acting. Some animators plan out every detail of their shot before they go about animating. If you look at an animator like Milt Kahl (some say he is the greatest animator ever to live) you will see a pain staking amount of time that goes into planning out each shot. Milt Kahl tried looking at a scene from every angle.  He would thumbnail different ideas until he found something that would squeeze out the most entertainment possible. Milt knew exactly what he was going to animate before he even put pencil to paper. However, if you look at a animator like Glen Keane, he will be the first to tell you that he does not know what exactly the result of his animation will be. This is not to say he doesn’t put in the preparation, there is a lot of study Glen does into his character and how his character should move. However, Glen likes to animate based on feeling, he tries to get into his character’s skin and feel the movement of the character flow from pencil to paper. All the way through Glen’s animation process he is digging into his character’s head wondering what the next move should be and whether or not he could express that move through his drawing.

With 2D animation you need to simplify everything. A character is simplified to its basic roots. This often makes the artists put a lot of thought into who the character is and what shapes express the character the best. The audience eye is allowed to pay attention to the action instead of getting distracted by unnecessary details.

This field of animation also lets us look at a movie like a painting. It literally takes hundreds of paintings to create all the background for a story of a film. When 2D animation is at its best everything is painted to highlight the characters. The artists have the ability to dramatically change the color scheme in order to push an emotion. There are times where we only are allowed an impression of a location, like the Forest in Bambi for example. If you go back and study the backgrounds in Bambi, you will find that the paintings for the foreground and background are only impressions of what a real forest looks like. However, the feeling the forest in Bambi creates can be more real then a actual forest.

Some of the feelings I have gotten from 2D animation films like Pinocchio, Lady and the Tramp, and Bambi have never been matched in any other film medium. In 2D animation I am allowed to see the hand of the artist, the only devices the artists need to make the medium work is a pencil and paper. It is a personal field of study and you are allowed to see the sweat and blood the artist put into making the drawings come to life. The actual power of 2D animation is that you start with a blank piece of paper and are able to create anything you can imagine.

(Here are links to the rest of the posts for this series, Film Mediums, CG Animation, and Live Action)

Finding Neverland

Posted in Movie Reviews by Jacob on April 25, 2010

Finding Neverland is a wonderful movie about the power of imagination and friendship.

The movie is loosely based on the true  1904 story of James. M. Barrie and how he created the story for his stage play (and later book) Peter Pan. The filmmakers said that they were inspired by true events but never wanted to have the movie be an exact representation.

No matter how true the movie was to the real event, Finding Neverland was a great film. The movie deals with some very mature issues. We are introduced to James Barrier in a very depressing time in his life. He just has had a play flop at the theaters and his marriage seems to be declining. Through the efforts of trying to make a new and successful stage play, James runs into a family consisting of four boys and a single mother. The mother of course has her hands full with four children, so James decides to help out. There are many things that interests James about the family, he find great qualities in all the children, but James takes a particular liking to one boy named Peter.

Peter is a boy around age 9, that has sadly already grown up. His father died from a sudden illness and Peter has never been able to deal with what happened. Peter is a boy who does not want to show his hurt and because of that he has hidden himself away from anything that could give him life and then be taken away again. James is able to impress most of the children though the power of his imagination, but Peter stays reluctant to buying into James stories and imagination. I think that James sums up Peters problems at the beginning of the film by telling him, “With those eyes lad you will never see”. Peter has cut ties to everything that could hurt him and by doing so, Peter is blind.

The beauty of the film for me was how James was able to let Peter become a kid again and see. James makes Peter realize that you truly lose those you love by cutting ties with them, but when you allow them to be part of your life and infect who you are, they will never leave. James uses a journal that he gave him as an example. James points out that those people who Peter loves will always be in the pages and stories he creates. James shows Peter that the imagination is is the gateway to those he loves, no matter where they are physically.

Mark Foster was the director of Finding Neverland. I think he filmed the movie quite well. There was a curtain rhythm to the way he shot each scene. Mark talked at length about how he thought the way the director and actors staged each scene has a just as much to do with getting the audience into a rhythm as the music and cutting. Mark let us as an audience see James imagination. When ever there was a scene of James playing with the kids, we went to and from reality and James imagination. Mark was able to show us someone who was not limited by reality, we saw that James had a imagination full of  creativity that infected the people around him.

Mark talked about approaching the film from a child’s eye. He and the rest of the crew did this with great success. The basis of the movie was about holding on to that child within and never letting your imagination die. This is one of those movies that touches on one of the cores of what life should really be about, because of that I think it will always be relevant.

Finding Neverland is able to give you new eyes. You will see the power the imagination holds and how it can be a light in the hardest of times.