A Dreamer Walking

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.

 

Suspense 101: Creating Meaning

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on July 4, 2012

Great suspense does not come through mastering its technique. Of course without good technique you can’t create good suspense. But, as I said in past posts Hitchcock is considered by many, including myself, to be the master of the technique of suspense yet for me his films rarely exceed the level of mediocrity. I have yet to find a non film student who thinks any more then I do about Hitchcock’s movies. His characters are too one dimensional and dry. We never are able to really connect with them. When the audience can’t connect with the characters of a film the film’s suspense loses it’s power.

What matters more then perfecting the technique of suspense is creating a story where the suspense has true meaning. You must establish the characters before you put them in danger. You must give them a voice that is unique and approachable. In a world full of violence where we imitate killing people for kicks and giggles, in games like Call of Duty and Halo, we require more connection then ever before if we are to care about a characters wellbeing. The reason why the most action and suspense is held until the end of a film is because the climax is the time the audience is most involved with the story they are watching. One of the greatest mistakes a filmmaker can make is trying to put too much suspense and action into a movie. Most young filmmakers today feel they will bore their audience if they don’t have a big chase, sex scene, or gun fight every ten minutes. A monster does not need to be around every corner.

What you need to make sure you have is interesting characters and a good story. To create good suspense you need to understand its place in storytelling. Suspense can not carry a film, it is only the icing on top. The combination of great story and just the right amount of icing is what makes film so worth watching.

Suspense is created through uncertainty. As I have said before, the uncertainty in a story does not need to come from a character being in physical danger. The uncertainty in film revolves around the arc of the story. The arc of a story usually has to do with the inner and outer conflict of the main protagonist. For example, the outer conflict might be the young man trying to win over the woman of his dreams. However the inner conflict would be something like the young man fighting to believe in himself enough to pursue the girl. The more invested we are with the inner conflict the more interested we will be in finding out if he will get the girl or not. My problem with Hitchcock is he is usually just concentrated on the outer conflict, which creates a much weaker suspense. The suspense generated from inner conflict is like adding several more strings in order to create a much stronger rope. You are taking a risk when you dive into inner conflict, because you force your audience to get emotionally involved. Like any kind of deep relationship, you have the potential to break one’s heart.

Hitchcock said the reason suspense is so much better then shock, is because suspense lasts and entertains for much longer. The reason I believe emotional suspense is better then just physical suspense is because I believe emotional suspense lasts much longer. When you connect a character with your audience you create a bond that lasts much longer then any movie. You bring the uncertainty the audience member observed in the theater and make them reflect upon it in their own lives. We begin to wonder if we can do the things we saw those characters do on screen. We begin to start our own journey and create our own arc.

Suspense has the power to entertain. It does not have the power to satisfy. In order to satisfy we need to go beyond suspense and into substance. We need to make our stories worth telling and give our audience something to take away and come back to.

Here are links to the rest of my Suspense Series:

1. Suspense 101

2. Suspense 101: The Unexpected

3. Suspense 101: Technique

4. Suspense 101: Creating Meaning

Invisable Ink- Is Something There?

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on April 26, 2011

“Why do people tell stories? The stories that tend to stick to our bones are those that teach us something. This, I believe, is the primary reason we tell stories–to teach.”

This is how Brian McDonald started the third chapter of his book Invisible Ink. I don’t think I can open up on this subject much better then the way he did… so I have chosen not to.

Why do we write stories? It seems one big “no no” is to create stories that have a message. I can not tell you how many commentaries and film documentaries I have watched or listened to in which the director and other filmmakers try desperately to avoid saying they are giving us a message through their movie. For some reason they feel if a film is admitted to having a “message” it begins to be more like an after school PBS TV special then an actual piece of entertainment. Why this concept has spread I do not know.

We must not be afraid of embracing the kind of storytelling that will impact our audience in more profound ways then making them say “ooh” and “aw” whenever they see a cool camera move or special effect. Storytelling that lasts is storytelling that impacts. You can not impact someone with your story if you do not have anything to really say. As McDonald says, you need to develop an armature. McDonald explains an armature like this, “For us story-crafters, the armature is the idea upon which we hang our story”.

What is the fundamental idea you are wanting to hit on with your story? What makes the story worth telling? Simply put, what is the storie’s heart? Usually you can explain the heart in a sentence or two. A good example would be Pixar’s The Incredibles. The armature for The Incredibles could easily be, “Family is more important then any possession or title“. At the beginning and through the middle of the film we see Mr. Incredible desperately trying to regain the affections and luxuries of being a Superhero. The heart of the story is about Mr. Incredible realizing his most valuable possession is his family. Everything done in the movie is in support of the overall message of family. We learn from Mr. Incredible’s experiences. Throughout the movie the story teaches us fundamental values in extremely entertaining ways. The values are the things that are going to last long after we leave the movie theater, not the sweet special effects and camera movements (and let me tell you The Incredibles had a lot).

In essence McDonald explains the armature as the theme of our story. One crucial detail to understand is a theme is not a word, it is a sentence. Our theme can not be something like “Anger”. Theme is not a subject like “Baseball” or “Hacking”. The theme is the moral or point of our story. It must be explained. An example would be, “Anger will lead to destruction” or, “Baseball is a game of discipline”.  Everything else in the story we are telling must be built to support our theme. If a character or a scenario is not contributing to our overall theme, there is no reason to have it be in the story.

A good way to study theme is to study Pixar and Disney animated films. Animation usually tries to simplify everything. In animation usually there is a clear antagonist and clear protagonist and the story has a clear and usually simple message. All the extra weight is cut off to create a simple 90 minute film that will entertain all age groups. In no way am I trying to demean the significance of family films. I find the simplest of messages are often the most profound. Finding Nemo, Up, Beauty and the Beast, and Pinocchio, are some of the most influential movies I have ever watched. They are also movies that have a message the rest of the elements of the story are supporting to the highest extant possible. As I started to explain in my last post, the hard part of movie making is not making the story more sophisticated but rather making the movie have meaning that is supported by all the elements of cinema. This is what takes a overwhelming amount of effort, dedication, and time. But I guarantee you it is worth it!

David Fincher- An Observation- Finding the Meaning Behind the Movement

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on April 24, 2011

One thing you have to admire about David Fincher’s directing style is his constant dedication to finding the meaning behind everything that is seen or heard on screen. It is why, as I talked about in my last Fincher Observation post, he so thoroughly explores his scenes. Fincher wants to talk about every little detail of his films with all the key crew he works with. Everything needs to have a reason behind it. The acting,  props, visual effects, composition, lighting, sound, and cutting all are in efforts for something greater.

For the movie The Social Network Fincher held a three week rehearsal session with some of his key actors and his screenwriter Aaron Sorkin. You would think there would be a lot of staging and going over lines in a rehearsal, not the case with Fincher. Andrew Garfield (key actor in The Social Network) said they only read over each scene once, the rest of the time was spent going into depth on what they thought of the story. Fincher debated with Aaron and the actors about every key movement and every key piece of dialogue.  Because the movie was so heavy in dialogue, the actors needed to know why they were saying what they were saying. Fincher said The Social Network was just as much about the reactions as it was about what was verbally being said. Fincher wanted to have a clear idea of what the characters thought of each other and how the dialogue and movement would enforce the meaning behind those things.

Jesse Eisenberg, the star of The Social Network, talked about his first meeting with David Fincher. He said he was extremely nervous about meeting Fincher so he memorized about half the script in just a few days. He arrived to his meeting only to find out Fincher didn’t want to hear anything he had memorized. What Fincher wanted to talk about was what Jesse thought of his character and the overall story. They spent four hours just talking about the arc and qualities they saw in Jesse’ character and how they could best express those things visually on screen.

One key documentary to watch in order to observe David Fincher’s directing process would be the one and a half hour documentary on the making of The Social Network (here are the links to Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4). There are many people who do not understand why Fincher’s production time is so much longer then normal directors and why he makes his actors go about even the smallest of scenes several dozens times before moving on. One thing to realize is Fincher has a very precise idea of what he wants and thus he will work his actors and the rest of his crew until he gets it. Everything has a purpose for Fincher thus everything is scrutinized by him.

David once compared directing to painting. However, rather then being able to hold the brush and paint on the canvas himself he needs to rely on his crew to do the actual painting. He said to imagine the canvas as the size of a football field. Then he said to imagine the crew holding the brush while he stood several dozen yards away shouting out extremely specific directions. It is a long tedious process, but if done correctly he and the crew will create something that will last much longer then any one of them.

It is important for us all to know why we want to see what we want to see on screen. There are directors out there who are very talented in many areas of film. They know how to create excitement through camera moves and cutting. They know how to use special effects in order to give the audience an immediate thrill. However the excitement and thrill goes away quickly and the audience usually goes away unsatisfied because the directors had no meaning behind what they were showing on screen.

Fincher’s goal is not to make us feel happy all the way through the film. He doesn’t even like giving us happy endings in his films. In Fincher’s films there seems to be something that goes beyond the immediate  feeling of happy or sad. His films often have characters that provoke thought. His camera movements and special effects are often subtle but have a purpose. The relentless conversation and debate he has with his film crew is in order for him to figure out what the overall meaning of his film will be. As a director Fincher needs to know exactly what he wants so he can clearly express to his crew how they should handle the brush. His goal is to create something with meaning, which makes us think, and encourages us to come back again.

(Here is a link to my other Fincher Observation posts. 1.Exploring the Scene 3. A Cynical Man 4. The “B” Movies)