A Dreamer Walking

What is King?

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on December 19, 2010

The title of this blog, “What is King?“, comes from a question I think everyone should be asking themselves if they are wanting to get into the film business. Figuring out what is King for you is key to understanding how much you can get out of the film medium.

I have studied many people in Hollywood who have money as their King. They have an extreme amount of dedication and talent, but their decisions are based on what will bring them the most profit. When people make money be their king, they often sacrifice quality and have a hard time figuring out what “sells”. Sure, if they are talented they will have one or two hits, but they never can get a consistency going. Usually they make up for the lack of consistence through a tremendous amount of commercialism and pop humor. The reason why someone like Jeffery Katzenberg is no Walt Disney, is because he makes money King when it comes to film making. It is also the reason why his Dreamworks animation studio has not come out with a streak of critically acclaimed successes.

Pop humor is part of another thing that people make out to be King when it comes to film. In definition “pop humor” is popular today and dead tomorrow. It does not have a long life, it is created because it is popular at the moment. All the filmmakers I have ever studied have fallen victim to putting the audience member in front of the actual vision of the film at some point in their career. Trying to please all audiences usually leads to weak stories that take no risks and have extremely predictable characters. We get pop humor or as I like to call it poop humor, from these films because the filmmakers know that someone will laugh if there is a fart joke or clever insult in the movie. When we base decisions on the “poplar vote” rather then our own creative intuitions, we create films that have many inconsistencies and a muddy message.

Another thing that many filmmakers make out to be King (this can be especially applied to Christian film organizations) is the “message” of the film.  You can not make the message of the films be King if you want to be a successful filmmaker. A King is a ruler, the one you as a filmmaker serve. Everyone serves something in their life. You can either serve self serving things like money, popularity, or even a message, or you can serve something greater then yourself. The key is to put the story above everything else and make it King. That means you can not be set on any given message.

The “message” of your film, if not shown the proper respect and put in the proper place, can be very self serving and destructive towards the audience. It is easy to make the mistake of giving a message to glorify yourself. You don’t think about the reason you are giving it, just about the importance that it brings to you. Messages like “Don’t commit abortion”, or “Don’t be homosexuals”, are useless if you can not explain the reason behind them. With Christian films specifically, quality is often sacrificed because the filmmakers are too clouded by the self serving message. The way the message is expressed and the flaws the message might have, are ignored because the message in and of itself is too important.

When you make the story be King, the message will fall into it’s proper place. I am a firm believer in having there be a message in any given film. The message does not need to tell the audience what to think or what is right and what is wrong but you at least need to have a point to your story, a point that you can clearly express. The message or the point of the film is not the end all, it only should come through the development of the story. We as the audience want to see  development just as much as the end product. The filmmaker needs to earn his moments. Before making a statement you need the audience to buy into your characters and story.

The story must always guide the message. One of my favorite filmmakers, Andrew Stanton, related figuring out the story to a paleontologist discovering the bones of a dinosaur.  The paleontologist might have a good idea of what kind of dinosaur he is uncovering right off the bat, but it is not set in stone until he has all the pieces. The question is, do you have the guts to change the message if you discover a “bone” that leads the story in a completely different direction?

A story represents a vision and it is the filmmakers job to follow that vision. No artists vision is completely the same. It will beckon you to go out and try new things. Letting the vision lead is hard because you are not necessarily in complete control of the vision, it is organic and will grow the more your characters, environments, and stories grow.  Sometimes the vision seems to be going in a ridiculous directions. Sometimes you wonder if can find any profit from the vision. You wonder whether or not the message is good enough and whether or not the audience will resonate with it. I am not saying to ignore all those questions or insecurities.

I am just saying film takes faith sometimes. You can not rely on talent alone. If you have faith in yourself then have faith in your vision. Make the vision be the King. Throw away the doubts and the insecurities. I am tired of films that are made because the higher ups want more money. I am tired of films that are made to satisfy our shallowest desires. I am tired of movies that try to shove messages down my throat with no consideration to who I am. Great films come from great visionaries. Stop worrying about what will bring you profit and start serving the vision you have been given!

The Men Who Would Be King

Posted in Personal Philosophy by Jacob on August 27, 2010

So I just finished the book The Men Who Would Be King, by Nicole Laporte. I did not go over  and highlight much of it or take notes, it was more of a book just to read. I did get to see Hollywood in a very different way, the book expresses some of the less then likable parts of Hollywood and how it functions. Most importantly the book showed how Hollywood is first and foremost a business.

The book is about three powerhouses in Hollywood, Jeffery Katzenberg, David Geffen, and Steven Spielberg, and their ambition to make the movie company Dreamworks become the “King” of Hollywood. The book gives you a detailed History of how Dreamworks got started, the visions Jeffery, David, and Steven had for the studio and eventually how and why most those visions did not really come to pass.

One of the three partners this books concentrates on is someone I very much look up to when it comes to film making. From a very young age I have been exhilarated and inspired by many of Steven Spielberg’s movies and his philosophy on what makes a good film. I have to admit that it is hard to see a person who you look up to, expressed in a fairly negative light. As great of a artist Steven is, there are places where he is very selfish. The power that comes with success can easily create a big ego, and it seems to happen with the best of them, even Steven. One of the reasons why Dreamworks failed in their goals is because the company had three heads that all wanted and were used to the spot light and were not prone to working together as equals.

All three Dreamworks partners said they wanted to create a company that put art first. However it is easy to say something like that, it is a whole lot harder to actually walk it out. Even though Steven, Jeffery, and David expressed that they wanted a artist driven studio, they did not put their money or their actions where their mouths were. Like almost every company in Hollywood there were double standards. Money seemed to be the biggest distraction from a artist driven studio. All three partners were billionaires and it was clear that their main concern was to become richer billionaires. When Steven directed a Dreamworks movie, he took huge amounts of the profit, instead of his movie company profiting from movies such as Minority Report, War of the Worlds, and Saving Private Ryan, they needed to give a greater portion of profits to Steven. Because Dreamworks was not getting nearly as much money from big hits like Saving Private Ryan, it was harder to invest in as many movies that were driven more from artistic grounds then commercial grounds.

Jeffery Katzenberg was put in charge of Dreamworks Animation. Jeffery was too worried about the audience to take any big risks. The principles and underlined messages of most his movies were usually quite shallow or toned way down. Jeffery relied mainly on gags and socially relevant (relevant today old fashioned tomorrow) humor to tell his stories. Story also was not put first in Jeffery’s mind. With the Dreamworks movie Antz Jeffery made his staff rush the production so they could get it out before Pixar’s A Bugs Life. With the Shrek sequels it was not a matter of having another story to be told, it was more about rushing a sequel because they knew it would make a easy profit. Jeffery, who had very little artistic education, was often a control freak with most of his movies, Jeffery was the one with the final say on what stays and what goes. When it comes to who knew how to create a good film, there were many people who were more qualified then Jeffery, however Jeffery wanted control.

It also seemed that most of the partners were not devoted to their company. When big films came up for Steven in other studios, such as Universals Lost World (the sequel to Jerrasic Park), Steven jumped ship. Geffen was more interested in keeping up his public image and enjoying himself as a multibillionaire, then to take a active role in his Dreamworks Company. The idea of owning a company seemed to be a bigger deal then the actual reality of owning a company for both Steven and Geffen.

What I got out of this book was this, you can make a  functional company if you have enough talent and money. Dreamworks has survived throughout the years and there has been success every once in a while. However, Dreamworks is not the “King” of Hollywood, they actually make just as many bad movies as any other company. The reason was because they did not have people who were devoted to a unified vision for the company. One thing that vision calls for is sacrifice, and that is something Steven, Jeffery, and David are not used to and seemed to be something they were unwilling to really do.