A Dreamer Walking

Influences

Posted in Personal Philosophy by Jacob on February 16, 2015

Far too often I find the reply most students have to the question, “What makes you want to make movies?” less then interesting. One of the main reasons I find them uninteresting is because everyone seems to have the same answer. There are a handful of movies almost every film student sight as the films that made them want to make movies. I want to think of my experience as more unique, but like it or not the first example I have is from that handful of movies.

My dad taught at a local college and brought my brother and me to the theater one night. I was about seven years old and really had no clue what I was going to see. All my dad said was it was a big movie when he was in school, which honestly turned me off because I had yet to find anything my dad did when he was “in school” interesting.

The theater was probably pretty small, though I had not seen anything like it. All we had at home was a black and white TV screen that could fit in the span of my dad’s hand. After a few minutes of watching my dad mingle with his friends lights suddenly went out. Everyone hushed. Words faded onto the screen, “In a galaxy far far away”. I couldn’t even read them all. And then it happened. Sound poured out from all corners of the theater. In a huge font the title, “STAR WARS”, blasted onto screen. I couldn’t read the words that came after that but I do remember the tiny ship flying away from the biggest ship I had ever seen. What can I say?! I was hooked. There was no turning back. I just wanted to have this experience again and again. I wanted to bathe in the glory of the epicness that was, STAR WARS.

Another theater experience I vividly remember was when my Grandfather took me to see The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, staring Jim Carry. Though now I can point to many flaws the movie had, back then I was too caught up in the spectacle to care. What truly blew my socks off was the very beginning where it was snowing and the camera went into a small snowflake to reveal a whole world of imagination. I was in awe. What other possibilities are there in this medium if it could do that? I wondered.

Other movies, full of spectacle, got me excited about the power of cinema. I remember falling in love with Indiana Jones and going to the original Spiderman movie about 20 times in the theater. But spectacle by itself would never have made me interested in making movies. Even then I needed something more. In movies like Indiana Jones and Star Wars I saw a little of that “something more”. I had an emotional connection with those movies. They didn’t just fill me with wonder they also made me care. When Darth Vader revealed to Luke Skywalker, “I am your Father”, I went through a whole range of emotions which literally took me years to figure out. My favorite Indiana Jones movie is The Last Crusade. The power of the movie did not come through the spectacular adventure Indiana went on as much as the simple relationship he had with his father.

Yet the film maker I found the most emotional connection to was with Disney. Walt Disney, the man, might be my greatest inspiration in cinema. I am well aware of the fact he is seen as more of a symbol than an actual person in the world’s eyes. And, I know many consider his films to not be very deep, and have a generic “happily ever after” stamp on the end. However, I would say few people know Walt Disney like I do. This might be a little presumptuous but I have looked into the man Walt Disney quite intensely for more than a decade now. What really got me interested in him was the book, Walt Disney: An American Original by Bob Thomas. Here, I realized the “larger than life” figure I had grown up with was an actual human being with many flaws. The flaws were what really interested me. I, along with the majority of the world, knew about his “greatness”. Understanding Walt had flaws made a crucial connection for me; it taught me you don’t need to be perfect in order to do great things.

I still believe some of Walt’s first movies such as Pinocchio, Dumbo, and Bambi get to the core of what I consider great storytelling. Each movie’s characters affected me in ways that went beyond just the story I watched on screen. I found myself wondering what their lives were like outside the frames of the camera. Characters like Jiminy Cricket and Thumper were close friends who always brightened my day when I watched them. And, the most amazing part was the fact that these characters were not real. In the most basic sense I believe I knew this even in my childhood. They were just a bunch of drawings when put together created the greatest illusion of all, the illusion of life.

In many of Walt’s first features he was not afraid to show hints at the darker sides of life. He knew that great storytelling required not just happiness but loss as well. I cried when Bambi first lost his mother. I feared for the life of Pinocchio when he ventured out to save his father from the great whale Monstro. And I felt Dumbo’s longing when he visited his mother after she was locked up in a cage. All these movies produced very powerful and specific emotions from me even after the second, third, or twentieth time I watched them. I began to understand that cinema could go so much farther then spectacle and become something that touches the heart.

One more element is key to making cinema something I wanted to participate in for the rest of my life. The element is seen a little in movies like Star Wars and Pinocchio. However, it took a more mature kind of storytelling to really drive the element home for me. And now I get to the movie I consider the greatest of all time, Schindler’s List. I was far too young when I first watched this movie; so young in-fact that I didn’t really know all of what was going on. My parents thought I needed to know about a part or our world’s history that the movie covered, the holocaust. I remember being horrified as I saw hundreds of human beings get thrown out of their houses, treated like cattle, and killed for no reason other than they walked the wrong way on the street.

By itself I do not think the horror of the story would have done much for me. However, through the horror I saw a man, Schindler. At first I really didn’t like him. He wasn’t as mean as most of the Germans but I could tell he was taking advantage of the Jews. He was a married man who was selfish with his money and had sex with many women. But then something happened. I was able to see this man change right in front of me. He didn’t become perfect, but he did begin to care. He helped to save hundreds of Jews. What really moved me was a scene at the end of the movie.

Oscar Schindler needed to leave the Jews because the war was over and he now was considered a fugitive. As he was leaving his factory the Jews he helped protect gave him several small gifts. It was here Schindler broke down. He looked at all the people he helped save and all he could think about were the ones he didn’t. “I could have done more”, were the words that have stuck with me ever since. I couldn’t believe it. Here was this imperfect man who had done so much, yet still he wept for what more he could have done. It was then I realized the true power of movies. They could go beyond spectacle. They could take me beyond emotional relevance. Movies had the power to influence the direction of one’s life.

My life was changed after watching Schindler’s List. I thought if such an imperfect man could do so much and yet feel he could have done more, what could I do? I made it a goal to help those who were less fortunate than me. I wanted to make movies that brought up subjects like Schindler’s List and see if I could harness the power of cinema to influence others like the director of Schindler’s List, Steven Spielberg, had done for me.

The movies I have shared have most likely influenced many people. However, the older I get the more I realize the most important influence in any kind of artistic ambition must be one’s personal life. My personal story is where true inspiration comes from. My goal is not to copy the imagery I watched in movies like Star Wars, Bambi, and Schindler’s List. Rather what is most important is to try to understand the emotions these movies stirred up in me and where the roots of those emotions originate. The movies I have watched will be just what I have described them as being, Influences. My goal is to use those influences to create movies full of spectacle and emotion, and help change other people’s lives for the better like the great films of the past have done for me.

Fog City Mavericks

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on March 4, 2011

I just recently watched a documentary on San Francisco Filmmaking called Fog City Mavericks. I highly recommend it. It is a very well made documentary about the history of this creative film city. We see the magic that comes from artists taking control of their creative material. We are introduced to the origins of film and to curtain films that changed the history of Hollywood completly, such as The Godfather and Star Wars series. I hope you Enjoy!

 

Identify With The Villain!

Posted in Personal Philosophy by Jacob on September 19, 2010

What makes for a good villain? I think the main answer is a villain that you can identify with. I know that most would say, “make sure the villain is SCARY”, or, “Make sure the audience loves to hate him”. Personally, I do not find those things work as well as finding a way to have a villain, while being truly evil, be relatable towards the audience, even to the point of having the audience feel a little sympathetic towards the character.

Alfred Hitchcock seemed to be a master at making the audience feel for the villains, to the point that we are even rooting for them. In the first three Alfred Hitchcock movies I saw, I found the antagonist to be just as interesting as the protagonist. In Rear Window the villain is the neighbor across the street who is suspected and eventually proven to have killed his wife. However, with the suspected murderer, Lars Thorwald, we are not prone to hating him, in fact at the beginning of the movie we feel a sort of pity for the character. He is helping feed and take care of a bed bound wife who seems to take his charity for granted. When the main character Jeff (played by James Stewart) eventually finds out that Lars had killed his wife, we don’t immediately feel hateful toward the Lars, in fact we could understand why the character did what he did.

We the audience need to be able to relate with the villain. the villains intentions need to be understandable in order for us to understand him as a character and more importantly in order to understand the protagonist. In order to understand what the hero is fighting towards, we need to know what he is fighting against. A good villain brings out the best in a hero. We create the villain in order to push the hero forward, to push the hero to do things he would never have done without that evil force.

I have always liked the type of villains that are almost mirror images of the hero. In Star Wars we have one of the greatest villains of all time in Darth Vader. Darth Vader was in fact at one point a good guy. Vader is the father of the antagonist Luke Skywalker. This idea that Vader was good at one point just like Luke, makes Vader’s lust for destruction and power all the more interesting. We immediately have more empathy and concern for Luke because we see a character in Vader, who was just like him. The empathy and concern builds up until the very end of the sixth movie, where the Emperor is trying to draw Luke to the “Dark Side” of the force.

With Hitchcock’ films there is an almost eerie feeling to most of his villains, as if Hitchcock believed more in the evil of human nature then the good. I personally think that the villain needs to be used to help us understand the main character in the film and used to further the good in human nature. However, to do that we need to be able to relate to the evil which often comes in the form of a living and breathing villain. We need to understand to some point why the character is doing the evil he or she is doing. Not all good villains need to have our pity, for instance almost every Disney villain ever made seems to be on the outside of us feeling sorry for them. They are usually portrayed as extremely cold and dark. But, even with the wicked Queen in Snow White, there was the natural understand of lust for beauty and power. That natural understanding made the villain identifiable. They portrayed that lust to a high extreme which in return created a very scary villain. The Queen also represented a fear that caused the main characters, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, to act, which allowed us to understand them to a much greater extent.

If you have a character that is doing evil for no reason you have a character that doesn’t really strike fear in the audiences hearts. It does not matter how evil a villain is if there is no way of identifying with him or her. The scary part of a character like Lars Thorwald, is he can literally be your next door neighbor, the character was understandable and you could see that temptation of evil in your own life and in those around you. The power of a villain like Darth Vader came from the heightened example he represented, of who we can truly become if we gave into fear and lust for power. The Queen in Disney’ Snow White was maybe not a character any of us could see ourselves becoming, but she did have root reasons for why she was doing what she was doing, things that we as the audience could identify with.

Contrast

Posted in Personal Philosophy by Jacob on April 19, 2010

One of the keys to making good stories and good characters is contrast. You will not watch a good movie that does not have both goods and evils.

I am a big fan of movies that have good in them. I actually want the core of each of my films to be built out of something good. But my films would be very poor if all I had was good things happen.

Let me use this self-portrait I did to help make my point. If I only used dark shades and did not go any lighter then gray, my picture would not be as interesting. We would have hardly anything to contrast the black with and the dark would not stand out as being anything special. The same principle applies if I only had white through gray with no dark. The drawing would be hard to read, the shapes would lose their strength and nothing would pop.

The point of the drawing is made through contrast. The drawing is trying to say something with one half of the face being light and the other dark. We see some powerful dark lines in the eyes and shadows that contrast the highlights of the hat and face, well.

The same thing applies to any character you make or story you create. Yes, I am a big believer in good winning out in the end, but I need to contrast the good with something evil. We do not know how special the good is until we are able to see what it overcame or what it is fighting.

If you want to make a good villain, do not just have him be completely evil. Give him some good qualities and let us see the light in him. Look at a villain like Darth Vader from Star Wars. Vader is a very evil man (some would call him a monster) who killed many people (Including children). The reason to why he was so interesting however, was the fact that there was some good in him. The idea that Vader was once a good man makes his crimes all the more horrible and interesting. The idea that Vader is not completely evil, gives us as an audience a reason to keep watching him and hoping that he might choose good one day.

Sometimes you might need to sacrifice an interesting villain for an interesting story. Take the Joker in Batman Dark Knight for example. I think that the Joker was played very well, and he was actually a perfect villain for the Batman movie. The only interesting thing about the Joker however was the ways he could test Batman and Gotham. The Joker by himself would not be interesting, he had shown that he was completely evil. The only reason to why the Joker was doing what he was doing, was to test people and blow things up.

The Dark Knight was interesting because of the contrast between the Joker and Batman. In the first Batman movie, we saw that Batman had shown that he was mostly good (light). So what if we tested that goodness with the evil (darkness) of the Joker? The extreme light that Batman was, and the extreme darkness that the Joker was, created a very powerful contrast. For me that contrast was what made the movie interesting.

So in any story contrast is key. The darker the story gets, the more clearly we see the light.

(The picture is a self Portrait I did of myself about 4 years ago. I touched it up a little on Photoshop, so that I could get a bit more contrast. I am very happy with how it turned out, it was one of those drawings that made me first begin to think I could be good at art)