A Dreamer Walking

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

Hugo- Review

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on December 9, 2011

Hugo is Martin Scorsese’s masterpiece. It uses all the masterful filming techniques we have come to expect from a legend like Scorsese and also involves several elements we have never seen from this veteran filmmaker who is  completely new to the family genre. The film is a tribute to film itself. Reminding the new generation about the importance of the filmmakers who have come before us while also pushing the medium forward. Hugo represents Scorsese’s first theatrical film shot in 3D. He uses this new element as if he had been using it all along, bringing us into his story like never before. It is hard to compare the 3D aspect of Hugo to a movie like Avatar, but I found the 3D use to be as good if not better then the groundbreaking 3D use we see in Avatar.

Just as the 3D in Avatar transferred us into the vast and open environment of the Pandora forest, Hugo‘s use of 3D takes us deep into the secret tunnels of the Paris train station. The 3D gives the story an extra layer. There is a greater complexity to the framing. I felt as though I could measure distances more clearly. Often I felt like I was right there in the tunnels with Hugo, dust particles and the steam from the pipes drifting all around me. Scorsese uses complex tunnel systems and towering staircases to highlight the 3D effect to an even greater extent. It feels as though we are shown a painting where we are actually allowed to walk inside and explore.

The movie was not intended to be a literal representation of real life. Although the story takes place in Paris, it is an impressionistic representation. One of the common mistakes filmmakers make when creating a enchanted type feel for their story, is getting rid of all the dirt and grit that reminds us of real life. As a result most impressionistic stories feel artificial, the environments look like sets rather then something that has just jumped out of the imagination. Scorsese embraces the murky and grimy aspects of the train station. He is not afraid to explore some of the darker parts of the imagination, taking the boy Hugo into places we are not quite comfortable with. The worlds we see in film do not need to look real, only feel real. The filmmakers make it a point to physically show the strain and hardship the boy Hugo goes through. Because we see the sweat and labor it takes Hugo to survive and because he looks so accustomed to the secret tunnels of the train station where he lives, we buy into the impressionistic world the movie projects.

The subject matter directly calls for the impressionistic storytelling we see in the film. The main characters of the story are Hugo Cabret, played by upcoming child star Asa Butterfield, and Georges Melies played by veteran actor Ben Kingsley. Although the character of Hugo is fictional Georges Melies is based on a real man. At the time the story takes place in Melies is a old forgotten filmmaker who has a small toyshop in the Paris train station where Hugo lives. Hugo is a orphan who keeps the stations clocks working. The movie revolves around an old broken automaton- a mechanical puppet that was made to draw pictures. The automaton is the only thing Hugo has left reminding him of his deceased father. Through out the film Hugo works on fixing this automaton while avoiding the eye of the authorities.

Hugo gets involved with Melies by accident. However, the farther we get into the story the more we find out the automaton is directly related to Melies. Hugo runs into a girl named Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz), the goddaughter of Melies. Together they go on a adventure exploring the ghosts of Melies’ past while also discovering the magic of Melies’ old art form; filmmaking.

Melies has long abandoned filmmaking. He forbid his goddaughter Isabelle from going to the movies. Hugo is the one to introduce to Isabelle the magic of the movies. Slowly Scorsese takes us deep into the origins of film, before computer effects, color, and even sound. We explore some of the very first visionaries of the medium of film. Through several marvelous montages we discover what interested the great Georges Melies in film, what he contributed to the new art form, how he was so quickly forgotten by the public, and how his contribution was so ignorantly neglected.

The film is Scorsese’s tribute to silent cinema and his plead for us to preserve the great films of the past. It is not a tribute in subject matter only, Scorsese shoots much of the movie like the old silent films. We go long periods of time with hardly any duologue. The film has a classic pace which actually enhances the 3D experience. We are allowed to cherish the whole of the environments with brilliant master shots and Scorsese connects locations through several long tracking shots. We are allowed behind the scenes of silent cinema and see how Melies created some of the first groundbreaking effects in cinema.

In Hugo Scorsese shows us the magic of filmmaking. He shows the filmmaker for who he truly is- a magician. A magician who uses flickering images projected on a screen to entertain and revolutionize the world. In this story Hugo is a magical character. It is hard not to fall in love with him. His purpose is to fix things. He thinks fixing an old despairing man like Melies will help fulfill his life. In the film Scorsese creates his own little world inside the train station. A world where Hugo is king. As mistreated and misunderstood as he is, Hugo is the character who keeps everything moving along. He is the only one who knows of the secret tunnels within the train station. He is the only one who can see all that goes on in the train station.

This film seems to be so different from Scorsese’s usual subject matter, yet so close to what I have found his heart to be. It doesn’t take long listening to someone like Scorsese to understand his deep love for the film medium. As many have already said, this is Scorsese’s love letter to silent cinema. The film represents Scorsese at his greatest. It will inspire filmmakers young and old for decades to come. In Hugo we see where dreams are made and the importance dreamers are to the world we live in.

Humor!

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on August 14, 2011

When it comes to filmmaking humor is actually a pretty serious thing. There are several routs you can take to draw out a laugh from your audience. One way is to have something that is completely out there, on the border of being considered wrong. Movies like Dumb and Dummer, Superbad, and American Pie are only a few examples of what I am talking about. These kind of films think that toilet problems, drinking parties, and sexual insecurities are funny and they rely on making the crowd uncomfortable enough to feel they need to laugh rather then, dare I say, express how shallow the jokes truly are.

Another way to get a laugh is from gags. These are humorous acts you can see in any old movie, but can be quite funny if pulled off right. I think of the Loony Toons and Funniest Home Videos as good examples. They get their humor from every day situations. It is through the verbal or physical slip up that the funny stuff happens. The last way to create humor is through having your audience know the character you are portraying. The characters personality generates the humor. A good example is Wall-E. He is a lonely robot who happens to have a personality. It is through his unique perspective on the world we find the humor. The box holding the diamond ring is more important then the ring, plastic silverware is interesting enough to collect, and cockroaches make good pets in Wall-E’s world.

When the humor comes from the character rather then some lame toilet joke or some kind of sight gag, you impact the audience to a much higher extant and give them reason to come back. The visual gags and toilet jokes can come from anywhere, however the humor coming from the heart of the character can’t be copied. We are also able to get the audience more involved with the story when the humor comes from the essence of the character. Humor can be used as a connection device, it can help the audience buy into who the character is and the adventure he or she is on.

Have the humor come from the character rather then the gag. When the character is more important then the gag the gags become funnier. We laugh more from the mistakes Wall-E makes because we know who he is. When trying to connect to his love interest Eva he falls down a building, gets hit by lightning, and gets ran over by a stampede of carts. These gags are all the more humorous and emotional to us because we know who Wall-E is and how much he wants Eva’s affection.

Humor can be such a powerful tool for the filmmaker. Make humor be more then this insecure need to make the audience laugh. Make it be about connection and development. We need a reason for the humor we express on screen. The laugh can be used to demean and hurt our views of the people around us or it can be used to strengthen our understanding and love towards others. Everything depends on the quality of the humor and how you use it.