A Dreamer Walking

The Future

Posted in Personal Philosophy by Jacob on May 15, 2015

“I dream for a living”

This quote comes from one of my favorite filmmakers, Steven Spielberg. It speaks to the essence of why I want to make films myself. If you think about it cinema has more in common with dreams than reality. Not just in the stories that take place in galaxies far far away or lands full of mystical creatures and magic, but also in the very form of cinema. The language of cinema was never developed to replicate reality. Rather the technique of filmmaking is more reminiscent of dreams then anything else. Cuts, lenses, and music are all used to entrance the audience and give them an experience they could never have in reality.

As a child I was someone who loved to live in the dreams of people like Steven Spielberg and Walt Disney. The stories they told made me laugh, cry, and filled me with wonder. Their worlds were so enthralling I would explore them farther in the back yard with my brother. Eventually we began to create our own stories in our own worlds. Little did I know at the time, I had the keys to fairyland and was never happier then when I was able to play beyond these invisible gates.

The sad part is I grew up. And growing up seems to require one to wake up. The famous writer L. M. Montgomery wrote,

There is such a place as fairyland – but only children can find the way to it. And they do not know that it is fairyland until they have grown so old that they forget the way. One bitter day, when they seek it and cannot find it, they realize what they have lost; and that is the tragedy of life. On that day the gates of Eden are shut behind them and the age of gold is over. Henceforth they must dwell in the common light of common day.

The path to fairyland became harder and harder for me to find. Reality had too strong a grip on me.

I began to experience life; where the imagination was dwarfed by my struggles in school, inability to fit in, and the raw reality of the bigger picture. The world I actually lived in was overwhelming. Planes crashed into skyscrapers, countries declared wars, and governments had corruption in every corner. Who could dream in a place like this? The only result seemed to be nightmares. The ideals dreamt up by filmmakers such as Disney and Spielberg began to feel more like naive notions than anything else.

Still, throughout this time of growing up I never lost interest in telling stories and making movies. My gaze however turned from the idealists to the pessimists (though they would simply call themselves realists). Filmmakers such as David Fincher and Martin Scorsese caught my eye. At first I had a difficult time understanding my draw to them. I watched Scorsese’s Taxi Driver and couldn’t believe people hailed the movie as one of the greats. The main character was revolting and lacked any kind of arch. Fincher’s stories took place in a world of cynicism. The first movie I remember watching of his was Seven. The movie revolves around two detectives trying to find a serial killer who uses the Seven Deadly Sins as his catalyst to murder. Fincher never tries to deny these victims were guilty of these immoralities. Even the hero of the movie, played by Morgan Freeman, tells a woman she should have an abortion to keep her child out of the dark world they live in.

I soon realized Martin Scorsese and David Fincher interested me because they were unflinching in their mission to seek out the truth in the darkest corners of society. I resonated with the characters and worlds they created because I saw myself in them. Sure, I wish I could see myself as a flawless human being and the world I live in as this wonderful place where good always triumphs in the end. However, reality suggests differently and filmmakers such as Fincher and Scorsese were not afraid to highlight the dark side of this world; the side most of us would like to keep hidden.

Yet, even though these filmmakers looked at the world through a more cynical lens, they still kept a hold of the keys to fairyland. Scorsese and Fincher’s imagination was just as strong as my childhood inspirations in Disney and Spielberg. Their mission was never to reproduce the world we live in, rather a world where the truths of our society are seen even more clearly. With these filmmakers the camera was a paintbrush. And just like the great artists of the past their goal was to express humanity. Each cut, choice of lens, and use of music represented a stroke made to describe a greater whole.

The more my view of storytelling evolved the more I began to understand the words of writer Lloyd Alexander, “Fantasy is hardly an escape from reality. It’s a way of understanding it.” Just because I had a stronger grasp on reality did not mean I needed to neglect my imagination. At the same time, I refused to get barred down by the dark truths of this world. My goal became to transform the society I lived in. For this is what I believe dreamers do best; they transform our reality through the visions they cast.

Here is where I must come back to the quote from L. M. Montgomery. It would be a true tragedy if she left her views about growing up on such a gloomy note. Yet she goes on from the quote above,

Only a few, who remain children at heart, can ever find that fair, lost path again; and blessed are they above mortals. They, and only they, can bring us tidings from that dear country where we once sojourned and from which we must evermore be exiles. The world calls them its singers and poets and artists and story-tellers; but they are just people who have never forgotten the way to fairyland.

As dark as Scorsese and Fincher’s worlds may be and as pessimistic a commentary on life as their story may have, they still play pretend for a living. There is nothing about an artist that is necessary for our society to survive. Yet the artist knows better then anyone, deep down we were not made to survive we were made to live.

I would like to leave you with the words of poet, D. H. Lawrence. He gets to the heart of where I want to live as a filmmaker. “All people dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their mind, wake in the morning to find that it was vanity. But the dreamers of the day are dangerous people, for they dream their dreams with open eyes, and make them come true.” The greatest filmmakers are those who live in the world of the dream so they may cast their visions into the world of the real in order to inspire the world of tomorrow.

As someone who is determined to dream for a living, my greatest inspirations were filmmakers such as Spielberg and Disney. They taught me how to dream. Mentors such as Scorsese and Fincher helped give my dreams an edge. My task now is to cast my vision into the world and see what future my dreams hold

Steven Spielberg – Director – Saving Private Ryan

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on May 4, 2014

Spielberg #1

Saving Private Ryan is one of Steven Spielberg’s greatest films. This film revolutionized the war and action genre . It brought a grittiness to the World War II scene not seen before in cinema. There is no attempt by Spielberg or Cinematographer Janusz Kaminski to glamorize the action depicted in the movie. In fact, Spielberg and his crew worked extra hard to take away the glamorization of war in the the film by showing the drastic consequences of the fighting. They made us feel as if we were in the midst of the battles taking place and they forced us to witness the casualties along with the successes of war. Spielberg wasn’t afraid to linger on the moments most audience members would like to bypass. We saw soldiers with limbs blown off. We observed characters die slow deaths. And most importantly we were made to care about most the characters who ended up making the ultimate sacrifice. After watching a movie like Captain America: The Winter Solider I get the feeling the only characters who are allowed to die in today’s blockbusters are the characters who have no sentimental value to the audience. The heroes in the pictures are always going to make it through no matter how bad the scenario gets. They need to for the sequels, right? However, the problem with this lack of consequence is we begin to stop caring. No matter how great the visuals the suspense has been taken away because we know everything will be fine in the end.

Now back to Saving Private Ryan. I wanted to concentrate on this moment in the film because I believe Spielberg does something here few directors are capable of doing. He has the patience and faith to slow things down. This scene takes place towards the very end of the movie. These two characters, Captain Miller and Private Ryan, are listening to music and having a casual conversation about home life. Slowly during the conversation we forget about war and the improbable situation the soldiers are in. Instead, thanks to a superb performance by Tom Hanks and Matt Damon, we are transported back home. Spielberg doesn’t use flashbacks; he has faith in his actors. He gives Damon’s character the time to relate a fun story about when he last saw all his brothers alive. Private Ryan is only introduced towards the end of the second act of the movie, but this moment allows us to completely buy into his character and root for his success.

The visuals you see in this frame actually make for a good contrast of the story Private Ryan is telling. There is no questioning these two characters are soldiers in the middle of a war. The costuming, scenery, and body language all say as much. I love how Captain Miller looks more battle weary then Private Ryan. Ryan just looks a little more headstrong then Miller – where we see Miller sitting back Ryan sits forward. The story Ryan tells is also upbeat where in the past when Miller told about his background it was told in a more somber tone. All this is setting up the last act of the movie. Spielberg is allowing the story to breath before he throws us into the climax of the film. After Ryan’s story is done everything has been set up. We have had time to take a break from the war scene. The connection between Miller and Ryan has been set. And we the audience have a new found appreciation for Ryan and the kind of guy he is back home. This scene just goes to show Spielberg understands if we don’t care for the characters it doesn’t matter how magnificent the action is we will simply not invest.

 

An Appeal To Humanity

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on February 5, 2012

Gosh, I have been thinking about what I was going to write here for weeks now. I am probably making this be way too big of a deal, but this post happens to be my 200th. Don’t worry I am not going to give you a long paper on stuff I have done in the past. However, I have been wanting to make this post be an “extra special” post. I have scratched out a few ideas because I didn’t think they were BIG enough or worthy enough to be my “200th”. I am slowly coming to the realization that I probably won’t think anything I write is BIG enough :/. So without further ado my 200th post…

In essence I believe film is an appeal to humanity. The films that are noticed, that last, are the ones trying to dig deeper into the human condition. Whether it is Darren Aronofsky and his Black Swan and Requiem for a Dream pictures that explore the slow corruption of the human soul through obsession and abuse of the human body. Or Steven Spielberg’s genuine exploration of redemption and relationship through movies like Schindler’s List and E. T.  It is not grand special effects that make a movie last; the special effect that were amazing to the 1970’s Star Wars audience is primitive to today’s movie goer. No, if we want to create movies that hold the test of time- movies that impact our children’s and grandchildren’s generation like Citizen Kane, It’s a Wonderful Life, and Gone With the Wind impacted us- we must create movies that explore the core of humanity and use all the elements of cinema to enhance the foundations that truly matter to a movie- story and character.

The little things in grand epics impact me the most. Even though in Lord of the Rings there are tons of spectacular visual effects and magnificent action sequences- like the Fellowship fighting the orcs in the Minds of Moria or the great calvary charge toward the end of Return of the King– the scene that had the most impact on me was one with just Sam and Frodo. The two are at the bottom of Mount Doom, the place where the One Ring was forged and the only place it can be destroyed. Frodo who’s body is full of blisters, who is dieing from starvation and thirst, and is fighting the power of the evil ring, starts up the great mountain. Soon he becomes too weak to walk so he starts to crawl. Slowly he loses the ability to move any further. At that moment, when he confesses himself beaten, Sam picks him up and starts to take him the rest of the way. This scene impacted me the most in the Lord of the Rings trilogy because it impacted me at the most personal level. I saw the love Frodo had for Middle Earth through his passion to get up the mountain. I saw Sam’s unyielding commitment and love for his friend Frodo through finding the strength to carry him. The scene had a simple theme of music playing and there were no sophisticated camera movements. The filmmakers slowed down enough from the great war scenes and grand special effects to show the two characters’ friendship at its peak and remind us what the whole journey was all about. Often when the filmmakers choose to slow down and celebrate the quite moments in their story we are allowed to see the golden thread that makes their story so worth telling.

I go to the movies to see something I have never seen before. However, I want what I see to matter to me at a personal level. Sometimes the most abstract stories impact an audience the most. Animation is a good example of this. In movies like Bambi, Beauty and the Beast, and Up, we are shown lines from a pencil and pixels created from inside a computer and are told we should care for them. The lines create talking animals and fairy creatures. The pixels create living toys and flying houses. None of this is real. We know this. They don’t even try to replicate reality. Sometimes the pixels create characters with heads that are three times the size as any human. Sometimes the drawings create crickets that don’t look anything like crickets. Yet, Carl Fredricksen with his huge head and Jiminy Cricket whose name is the only thing that really gives us a clue he is a cricket, capture the imagination of their audience. They become real to us because they strike true at an emotional level. Jiminy has feelings just like us, he is quickly offended and has a deep need to be noticed as being worth something. Carl is an old cranky man who is trying to find a reason to live after the loss of his wife and greatest friend. These things resonate with us and make Carl and Jiminy live inside our imagination.

Great films are the ones that appeal to humanity. We need to identify with the characters we see on screen. We need to feel their happiness, anger, and sorrow. The story they embark on means nothing if we do not see them as real people. If we do not understand why they choose to rise above injustice and hatred or why they end up falling into despair and corruption. Moments like Capt. Miller saying “Earn this” to Pvt. Ryan and the touching of heads between Raymond Babbitt and his brother Charlie impact me to the core. They impact me because Steven Spielberg showed me exactly how much it cost for Ryan to be saved and Barry Levinson allowed me to understand how hard it was for someone like Raymond to reach out in such a simple yet personal way. A love scene is not impacting unless you can get us to buy into the relationship. A death is not significant unless you show us the true life that was lost.

All film boils down to is life and death. Most of my films will hopefully concentrate on the importance of life. But to be able to understand the value of life I must know the true loss of death. We need to bring the characters we create to the brink of death if we want them along with the audience to understand the true value of life. The opposite applies if you want to understand death. In order to gain curtain things we need to let go of other things. This is how humanity works. We are constantly exploring what it means to live and what it means to die. This is why if we truly want to be great filmmakers, if we truly want to be storyteller’s who are remembered through the ages, we go out and experience real life. The greatest stories you will tell will not be inspired by books or movies, rather by your own life experiences. Nobody has the same perspective on life as you do. Nobody has the exact friends you do, or lives the same way you live. Your own interpretation of the films you watch, the art you look at, and the people you meet is what makes your perspective so important.

The person you know the best should be yourself. Don’t run away from your perspective in fear that people will not understand it or will not think it to be good enough. I would be dishonest to myself to create films that show no hope for our world. Some people, such as Fincher and Kubrick have a much more cynical view of the world. In their films they stay true to themselves and because of this they have created classics that concentrate on some of the darker aspects of the human race. The audience knows if you are being sincere or not.

The point I want to make in this blog is to be true to yourself and give your audience something to think about. Develop a perspective of this world and an idea for where it can go or where it’s going that needs to be seen and taken seriously. Humanity has so many different faces. Humanity is truly a never ending topic that has been explored in art and film for literally thousands of years. Whether it is through a few lines on paper, a bunch of pixels in a computer, or the lens of a camera, create images that can’t be ignored because they hit at the very core of what makes us hate, love, want to die, and want to live- in essence, what makes us human.

War Horse- Review

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on January 10, 2012

War Horse is a passionate tale that takes place during World War I. The only clear villain of the film is the Great War itself. We see stories unfold on both sides. The film is full of loss, but what sticks out is hope. Their is a sentiment to this film that makes many critics stop liking Spielberg as much as the Fincher’s and Scorsese’s of our time. However, the heart and emotion so openly expressed in this film is what draws me so deeply to Spielberg’s work. The Sentiment of this film does not feel fake. It is genuine because Spielberg believes deeply in what he is expressing on screen.

War Horse opens to a beautiful landscape. The land moves us in this film just as much as anything else. We see it in it’s glory with beautiful sunsets and warm colorful country sides. We are drawn in because of it. The innocents we see at the beginning of the film in the land and characters is even more cherished because they do not last. When war comes we see the land change. It gets corrupted by the evils of battle and bloodshed. The vibrant greens and warm reds slowly turn to gray. The land is cut into to create trenches. It gets infected by, machine guns, canons, and barb wire.

The land is a direct reflection of the emotional state of the star of the movie, Joey. He is a horse and we follow him from birth. He is foolishly bought by an old handicapped farmer named Ted Narracott (Peter Mullan). The true heart of the story begins when Joey is introduced to Ted’s son Albert, played by  Jeremy Irvine. For being his first big role Jeremy does a fair enough job. Everything relies on us buying into the relationship he creates with Joey. Unlike most Hollywood films these days Steven Spielberg is not afraid to take his time at the beginning of his movies. Spielberg spends a good half hour getting us connected with the relationship between Ted and Joey. We are sold with their relationship by the time Joey is sold away by Ted to a kindhearted English Captain (Tom Hiddleston). This starts a series of smaller stories we experience through out the rest of the film as Joey is pulled deeper and deeper into the Great War.

Through Joey we are shown the humanity of both sides of the war. The war is the only evil in the film and Spielberg does a delicate job expressing it’s cruelty. War Horse is the ideal film to introduce a younger audience to the evils of war. The film is not for all ages. However, it portrays war and violence in a much more bearable way then films like Saving Private Ryan or Glory. We see the war’s evil without needing to constantly turn our head from the screen. Spielberg knows the most impacting images often come from the imagination of the audience. Joey is found and treated well by both sides. However, the requirements of war come close to killing him several times in the film. Joey gives us plenty of reason to like characters who fight on both sides. We also see Joey’s profound influence of several characters in the film.

The images of evil are bearable because of the humanity Joey brings to this war film. Spielberg allows us to cherish Joey without making him seem too smart or mobile to be a real horse. My only criticism of the film would be that at times the acting feels a bit overdone and insincere. However, Spielberg more then makes up for this. The pace, visuals, and story of the film will remind many of old classics. Cutting is used sparingly. The film is mostly shot with wide angle lens’ and the story is in no hurry. Cinematographer, Janusz Kaminski’s work has never been better then in this film. Spielberg and Kaminski bend light in magical ways. The ending has some of the most touching shots I have ever seen. John Williams’ music flows as well as ever. It consumes us without ever feeling overpowering. The movie transports us back to the beginning of the twentieth century through the making of the film and the era it portrays.

War Horse is a instant classic it has all the elements of great storytelling, which would have been just as entertaining to those in the 30s and 50s as it is to us today. In the movie Joey represents the land itself. When war comes and the land is torn apart, Joey reflects it’s pain. The movie is a commentary on what it takes to make this world good. The land we live in can provide many good things if we are willing to come together and treat it well. If the world stopped caring Joey would die. Thankfully in this movie the world cares. At several points in the film Joey’s life is brought to the edge, but humanity wins. In the end War Horse is a sincere story about trying to find humanity in a time of war.

The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn- Review

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on December 30, 2011

In The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn Steven Spielberg finally has the ability to do whatever he wants. He can visit any location the mind can imagine. He can create huge ships, vast deserts, and magnificent cities. He has complete control over all the elements. He places the sun where he wants it to be. He makes it rain, fog, or blow depending on what he thinks best fits the scene. There are many scenes in Tintin where Spielberg takes advantage of his limitless camera abilities. The camera can fit through all the small cracks. There are action shots that hold for minutes at a time. And the framing of the picture is often perfect because Spielberg can capture the acting separately from the framing.

With all the cool things that came with the limitless abilities of animation and the vast imagination of Steven Spielberg and collaborator Peter Jackson, I felt astonishingly unsatisfied with the final result. Unlike most motion capture movies I was not bugged by the photo realistic characters and locations for the most part. It was the story and character chemistry that ruined my day.

Evidently we were supposed to just love the main character Tintin right from the start. He is a journalist who apparently is always in search of a good story. However, he hardly needs to do any work to get involved with the story in this film. He happens to buy a ship at the very beginning of the movie that holds a clue to a long forgotten mystery. Everything in the film seems to fall to simply into Tintin’s hands. He gets himself into sticky situations for sure, but we never feel like Tintin is in any real danger. He is always confident and usually knows exactly what to do, which makes the thrills of the picture less suspenseful and entertaining. We have no idea to why Tintin likes adventure. We are given no time to care for Tintin as a character before we are thrown into his adventure. The movie starts out running and never slows down.

Through investigating Tintin is captured and taken to a ship where he meets captain Haddock; a drunker who has lost all confidence in his ability to command his crew. There are hints of life in the story when Tintin meets Haddock. Haddock is a big clumsy drunk who is easy to like. However, it feels like the plot gets in the way of us really getting to know Haddock. Captain Haddock is directly connected to the mystery of the Secret of the Unicorn. The story has more to do with Haddock trying to live up to his old family name, then it does with us getting to know Haddock as an individual. A huge amount of the success of the story lies in us buying into the chemistry between Haddock and Tintin. I however had a hard time liking them as a duo. Tintin is just too one dimensional and Haddock too insecure and delusional.

Steven Spielberg is a live action director and it shows in this film. First off it did not seem like Spielberg was confident in his animation collaborators. In interviews he has said he did about one month of work and then left the movie for the most part to the animation crew for about two years. In the film Spielberg has the control of the camera, but he never seems to hold on anything long enough for us truly to appreciate it. The characters are too busy fulfilling the plot and going from one action scene to another for us to really have time to appreciate them or their relationships to one another. The locations looked beautiful but we never really were given much time to explore. Spielberg also acted like these were cartoons rather then living and breathing human beings. They could survive almost anything, like plane crashes, building collapses, and huge ship fights. With animation shorts like Looney Toons one can get away with a character walking off a three hundred foot ledge and surviving or getting blown up by a TNT with only some hair burnt off. However, if you want to create a narrative that lasts more then ten minutes you need to create characters who the audience sees as alive and vulnerable to the same kind of consequences as we are in real life. All I am asking for is someone to break a limb, have a few bruises, or just be a bit out of breath after a fight or huge chase scene. Because of the huge lack of reality in Spielberg’s imagined world everything felt to convenient and fake for most to really care.

I am sure the younger audience will find The Adventures of Tintin entertaining. Every once in a while I did feel the magic that so often comes with Spielberg’s movies. There are several magnificent transitions in the film.  I felt like John Williams score was just right for the world and story material. I liked the little bit I did see of the Tintin world and am interested in exploring it more. I don’t know if the animation was mediocre because I wasn’t given enough time to appreciate it or because of the limits that come with motion capture. There still was this weightless feeling I felt with some of the animation which bothered me and is typical of motion capture. In some crowd scenes I felt like everyone blended into each other. One of motion captures greatest flaws is the inability to hit extreme poses that help express information more clearly and make each character feel unique. Motion capture is a tool yet to be perfected. However, it seemed to have taken a few steps forward in this film. The eyes never felt dead and the character designs felt more expressionistic and pleasing then in past motion capture films. Spielberg was also given a way to use many of his traditional live action techniques and apply them to the world of animation because of motion capture.

With animation there are limitless possibilities with what a filmmaker can do. However, the artist is required to create everything which means every step of production takes more time. It seems like Spielberg wanted the benefits of animation without putting in the time needed to perfect the art form. Because of this we often get a busy mess of a film. It’s a shame we get a mediocre piece of entertainment from two of the greatest entertainers of this generation, Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson. Spielberg has said this movie was his only real experience collaborating creativity with a producer. I am interested in seeing the roles reversed when Spielberg is the cheerleader producer and Jackson is in the directors chair. The Tintin series has potential but has a long way to go if they want to make any kind of lasting effect like those of the Indiana Jones or Lord of the Rings series’.

Time’s Perspective

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on November 29, 2011

Time gives us perspective. I have been going over many of my notes from several years ago and realize I have a much different and more developed perspective on them now then when I first wrote them. Many of the things that didn’t make sense back then are making sense now.  This is one of the reasons I would suggest to take notes on interviews, movies, and behind the scenes features you watch, even if they are not as interesting to you or do not quite make sense at first. Time has a tendency to give us a new perspectives. Notes you might not have thought twice about when you first wrote them can turn out to be great revelations a few years later.

Glen Keane, One of the greatest animators of all time and the lead animator for Disney characters like the Beast and Tarzan, was mentored by one of Walt Disney’s Nine Old Men, Ollie Johnston. When Keane came to the Disney studio in the late 1970’s Ollie had already been working at at the studio for forty plus years. Ollie told Keane that Ollie had so much more to show him but he was not ready for it yet. This bugged Keane because he was an ambitious young artist and wanted to learn everything all at once. What Keane did not understand was, Ollie was not saying he wasn’t willing to show Keane all he had to offer. Keane just needed time to understand the bigger picture. Only over a great amount of time did Keane find the perspective that allowed him to learn. Slowly he began to realize that good animation was not about perfecting the technique as much as it was about getting inside the character he was animating and truly making that character come to life.

Steven Spielberg talked about how he needed to wait ten years before he could make Schindler’s List. He said he was just not ready in the early 1980’s when he was first introduced to the project. There was a curtain amount of maturing Spielberg needed to do before he was able to give the project the amount of respect it deserved.

This is a short point but a valuable one. We must be willing as filmmakers to look inside ourselves and understand what we are capable of and what needs more time to mature. I do not think it is smart to embark on our greatest visions right away. Sometimes we need to do a little growing before we are ready for curtain projects. Sometimes we need to perfect the small things before trying to tackle the big things. If you are a filmmaker devoted to pursuing your art form, perspective will come. In time you will be able to bring your great visions to life. However, let time give you the perspective and understanding needed to do your vision justice.

Show Me The Light!

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on October 22, 2011

In every film there should be a light. A light that attracts us to the material. That allows us to truly see the story being presented on screen. I would describe the light as some sort of warmth. Something that reminds us of humanity and gives us a reason to invest ourselves into the story. The light factor is what separates filmmakers like Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese in my mind. As sophisticated as some of Scorsese’s films are, I find few of them relatable and very seldom do I invest myself into the story he is telling. Maybe I neglect to understand the darkness factor. I have heard many people talk about how they are drawn to Scorsese movies such as Taxi Driver, because they relate to the loneliness and darkness in the main character Travis Bickle. However, if movies were about reflecting and highlighting the darkness in human nature I would not be interested in making them.

It is not like Steven Spielberg does not go into dark subject matter at times. You can’t get much darker then the holocaust. Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List just happens to be my favorite movie I have ever seen. I have had many friends tell me the film is too dark and too sad for them to really like. However, even though I think the main subject matter of Schindler’s List, the holocaust, is sad I do not consider the actual story sad. No, instead in the middle of one of the darkest chapters in world history Steven Spielberg shows us a light in Oskar Schindler. In Schindler’s List we are given a story about the redemption of a German citizen and his effort to save hundreds of Jews from almost curtain death in German death camps. This light amongst the darkness is what makes the film so powerful in my mind.

A frustrating thing about most critics in my opinion is that they seem to put more value on filmmakers who make movies that go into dark subject matter and end on tragic notes. People like Walt Disney, Frank Capra, and Steven Spielberg on the other hand are written off by some critics because their material is too full of “fluff” and not realistic enough to true life. In my opinion if you want to see something completely realistic to real life, just go outside. We are not supposed to just copy what we see in real life. Many filmmakers goals are to represent something to strive for and look up too. I am tired of critics downsizing a film because it had a predictable happy ending. The truth is there are only two ways to end a film, either with a happy ending or a tragic one. Each ending could easily become predictable. For example, the majority of Martin Scorsese’ films end in a tragic way. It is just as easy for me to predict the type of ending Scorsese is going to have as it is for me to predict Spielberg’s. What we should be concentrating on is whether we buy into the ending the movie has.

In film the director is showing the audience a new world. They are giving us a piece of art that hopefully entertains and impacts us. Directors like Martin Scorsese and Stanly Kubrick have never been known for being commercial artists. They never claimed to be making their films for the mass audience. They are more interested in exploring deep and usually dark ideas. Scorsese’s movies especially have a lot to do with violence and corruption. After watching a Scorsese or Kubrick film you usually begin to doubt humanity. The stars of their films are rapists, drug dealers, and murders. There is hardly any warmth in their films. Warmth is either something they feel they are beyond or something they just don’t want to incorporate into their film. Instead what we get is beautifully shot and visually stunning pieces of art that usually go unnoticed or uncared for because the audience doesn’t have a reason to invest.

I can’t say Scorsese and Kubrick are bad filmmakers. I personally respect almost all of what I have seen them develop. However I, unlike most critics, think Scorsese and Kubrick’ films are far less impacting then the ones of Steven Spielberg or Walt Disney. It is like inviting someone into a room. You can have a room full of wondrous material all presented in a superb way. Yet, if you do not have some sort of warmth in the room, most people will walk away or not be impacted. If you have no warmth in a film everything looks foreign. We need the characters in our films to be relatable. Even if you are making a movie about a villain, you need to show us something that makes him connect to the audience. There needs to be some sort of light expressed in that villain’s life that allows us to understand his or her perspective. It is not because Scorsese’s movies end tragically that they are not impacting to me. Scorsese usually has interesting characters in his films. But the characters are people who I never run into in real life, and Scorsese hardly does anything to shine a light on why they are so different from me. He keeps his characters in the darkness and thus when they are gone I don’t see much of a difference, I am not impacted.

I don’t consider Steven Spielberg or Walt Disney’s films fluffy. I do not consider it a bad thing that most of their films end happily. What I care about is whether or not I can buy into the story they are telling. Movies are less about the final result and more about the journey. If you want your audience to participate on the journey you are taking them on you need to give them a reason to stay in their seat. Give them some sort of light that allows them to invest in your film. The light allows the audience in and it gives the darkness contrast. Even in the movies of David Fincher, where we go deeply into the worlds of serial killers, rape victims, and corrupt power seekers, we see some sort of light. Whether it is a detective who still believes in humanity, a comic artist who is devoted to justice, or a visionary devoted to revolutionizing the world, Fincher gives us reason to stay and invest into his films.

The tragic events in both Walt Disney and Steven Spielberg films are impacting because we all had something to lose when the events happened. The death of Bambi’s mother and the sacrifice Captain Miller makes to save private Ryan, hits us hard because we experienced the warmth of both those characters lives. The light is the reason why I will stay. The light needs to be the most important thing about your story. It allows us to understand and be impacted by the darkness. By no means am I telling you to make your movies end happily. It’s your choice. I am just saying that it’s the light that gives both happy and sad endings clarity.

Award Season Preview

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on October 5, 2011

Usually the beginning of October represents the beginning of the award season. Interestingly enough it seems the award season has started early this year because several critically acclaimed film have been released in the last month that will be hard to ignore come award time. Unlike past years I am planning on going to several movies in the theaters for this award season. It is slightly frustrating how much of a short term memory award shows seem to have. If you release a great movie at the beginning of the year your movie will most likely not be remembered by the end of it. So most studios hold on to the movies they think will compete award-wise until the end of the year. It looks however like there are two films particularly that might still be remembered during the award season which were released nationally several months ago. One is The Tree Of Life, directed by Terrence Malick. This movie opened everywhere in May and it won top prize at the Cannes Film Festival. It has been on many Critics’ top five lists for the first half of the year and it stars some big name actors, such as Brad Pitt and Sean Penn. I am looking forward to watching this one when it comes out on Blu-Ray and DVD on October 31st. The second film that opened world wide earlier this year that I think has a good chance to win some awards during the award season is Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows Part 2. The movie was highly critically acclaimed and is the last movie of the Harry Potter franchise. Honestly, I did not like the movie nearly as much as most people seemed to, but awards given for this movie will most likely represent what people think of the Harry Potter franchise in general, just like Lord of the Rings Return the of the King when it won 11 Academy Awards at the Oscars in 2004. Just like the Lord of the Rings franchise the Harry Potter franchise has created quality films from beginning to end and I think they deserve some recognition.

I wanted to use this post for previewing some of the movies I am most looking forward to watching this award season. After showing you the trailer of the film I will write briefly on why I am looking forward to the movie. I first want to preview three movies that came out last month.

I happened to have the pleasure of watching Warrior already. There are no good guy or bad guy in this film. Each character we get to know has his or her strengths and his and her weaknesses. Each one needs to fight his or her own demons. Mixed martial arts fighting in this movie is just used as a way to bring the characters together and a way for them to face the problems of their pasts and futures. The farther into the story you go the more the movie draws you in. Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton do a fantastic job portraying the brothers and Nick Nolte makes the movie work as the brothers recovering alcoholic dad. The movie should still be in theaters everywhere. It was released September 9.

A few things attract me about Drive. Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan are two of the best young stars in Hollywood. The film has been highly critically acclaimed already, earning a 93% Tomatometer rating and a 83 on the MRQE Meter. I also like the idea that this movies is a thriller where the main protagonist doesn’t really have a gun. All he does is drive. My guess is that this movie will take us on a ride and won’t stop until the credits roll. The movie is in theaters everywhere. It was released on September 16.

Moneyball was a fantastic film. The movie is out everywhere right now and I highly recommend you go see it. The writers for the film are Arron Sorkin and Steven Zaillian. For a movie heavy in duologue Sorkin was a brilliant pick. He makes the endless conversations in the movie not only bearable but extremely entertaining. The humor he draws out from a bunch of old timers sitting around a table talking is unbelievable. Zaillian I believe brought a curtain depth to the story that Sorkin wouldn’t have gotten by himself.  The movie needed an actor like Brad Pitt to star in the role. Pitt gave his character a certain charm and allowed us to be on his side right from the very beginning. A movie about baseball stats doesn’t sound naturally interesting, but with the help of superior writers and a fantastic cast Moneyball gives you a story very much worth watching. The film was released in the US on September 23.

I am not quite sure about In Time. However, I preview it because the idea is extremely intriguing and the director/writer of the film Andrew Niccol has created some good stories in the past. He was the screenwriter for the very thought provoking movie The Truman Show and he seems to be slowly making a name for himself as a director. I also was impressed with the performance Justin Timberlake gave in last year’s The Social Network. Timberlake has a natural charm about him and his charm will be needed for us to buy into this sort of “diamond in the rough” type character. The film can be just another action flick that involves a bunch of gun shooting and sex scenes. However, the premise allows for the potential of something more thought provoking. Time is a cherished thing in our society. If someone has the potential to live forever I wonder what he or she would be willing to sacrifice for it. A lot of it has to do with how these young actors portray characters who are supposed to be in their 70’s and even 100’s. The film will be released in the US October 28th.

J. Edgar is directed by Clint Eastwood and I would be lying if I said this isn’t the main reason I want to see the movie. The reason I am excited the movie is directed by Clint Eastwood is because I know what comes when he leads the way. I know this story will be well told. I know Eastwood will allow the star of the film Leonardo DiCaprio to perform at the highest of his capabilities. And I know the movie will give us something to think about. Just through watching the trailer you get the feeling of the time period this film takes place in. Eastwood is extremely good at period pieces and the visual style you see in the trailer seems to really put us into the story he is telling. The film appears dark with a high contrast and a lot of color intentionally taken out. The subject matter seems very relevant for the time we live in now. How much power is too much power? What is the fine line between right and wrong? These questions and more are asked by Eastwood and though he might not bluntly give us answers he will make us think. The movie will be released in the US November 9th.

The Descendents seems like a movie that concentrates on very real people who are going through some very real problems in life. Alexander Payne, director and co-writer of the film, doesn’t seem to be sugarcoating any of it. In seeing some of his other work Payne is very good at not Hollywoodizing things. He doesn’t have this unreasonable need to make his characters extra special in any way. They are real people we can easily run into in everyday life. This allows Payne’s characters to connect to the audience easier and it allows us to understand his characters’ dilemmas in a more comprehensive way. The Descendents stars George Clooney and I am sure he will bring a venerability to his role that gives us reason to root for him to get his life back in order. Payne is also known for his ability to balance humor and strong subject matter so both are working together to enhancing the story. The movie will be released in the US on November 18.

There are several reasons why I want to see Hugo. Like the last movie the director is what most excites me. Martin Scorsese is one of the most talented technical film directors not just for today but in the history of film. He knows how to use all the elements of cinema to tell a good story. However, this film represents a change in Scorsese’s usual subject matter. This is the first time Scorsese has chosen to jump into family entertainment. His movies are usually very dark and tragic. However, Hugo seems to be a movie about hope and friendship. I am actually really interested in seeing how Scorsese uses 3D in this film. I have not been a big fan of 3D so far but with a technical mind like Scorsese’ I am sure we will see 3D used in a unique and interesting way. The movie is released in the US on November 23rd.

 

First off, I want to point out that this is a brilliant trailer for Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Too many trailers give too much information away. This one gives us the subject matter, introduces to us some of the main characters, but does not give the whole plot away. I am excited to be introduced to the director Tomas Alfredson. Alfredson is relatively new to the film business. His only other widely released film was Let the Right One In, which opened to tremendous critical acclaim. What excites me about this film is the all-star cast. The movie has established veterans such as Colin Firth and Gary Oldman and it has upcoming star actors such as Tom Hardy. The mystery aspect of the film draws us. Each suspect seems like a character we could get to like which will make the betrayal all the more captivating. The movie has already been released in the UK to many positive reviews. The story looks like one that will keep you on the edge of your seat all the way through. The movie will be released in the US on December 9th.

This trailer is a piece of art. David Fincher‘s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is sure to take us on a dark ride. Fincher has said that he wants to see how far he could push the R rating for this film. I not being a guy who loves dark movies didn’t think I would be too interested in the film. However, I think Fincher is a fantastic filmmaker and this trailer completely drew me in. Fincher usually has brilliant trailers for his films. They work extremely well with music because of his background in directing music videos and they hardly ever give too much plot away. We understand how this story is going to feel without needing to be told how the plot unfolds in this trailer. The music gets borderline uncomfortable in this trailer and I can guarantee you that is intentional. Fincher is telling us this will be a film that takes us out of our comfort zone and shows us something dark and hard to grasp. The movie concentrates on a rape victim. However, I think it might just be one of the best films of the year if not the best. As much as I liked The King’s Speech, I thought David Fincher’s The Social Network should have won top prize at the Oscars last year. I look forward to seeing how his new movie does. The film will be released in the US on December 21st.

The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn is still a really big “?” in my mind. Steven Spielberg, the director of the film, is my most favorite director of all time. Yet, there are several reasons to be hesitant about the film. One, the movie is in motion capture, an experimental animation style that tends to feel stiff and unbelievable. The second reason I am hesitant is Spielberg has openly claimed that he has not been as hands on with the project as he is with his live action films. For some reason it seems Spielberg thinks animators don’t deserve or need as much attention as actual actors. Although the actors do the motion capture part of the film, it is the animators who bring the characters to life through the constant tweaking of the motion capture performance. However, I will be going to the film and think it will be at least an exciting story for the whole family to see. Some of the images, like the ship floating through the sand hills, seem very imaginative. I also want to see how Spielberg deals with this new art form. The movie will be released in the US on December 21st.

Okay, Mission Impossible 4: Ghost Protocol is most likely not going to be an award contender. However, it is one I am really looking forward to seeing. Not because I loved the last three Mission Impossible films but rather because it represents Brad Bird‘s live action directorial debut. Brad Bird, director of The Incredibles and Ratatouille, is setting out to prove himself as a legitimate director with this movie. He has a chip on his shoulder that comes from the constant doubts he seems to get from studios who think animation is not a legitimate representation of good directing. You would have thought with two Oscars and three critically acclaimed films Bird would have the opportunity to get funding for his personal project in development 1906. Yet, nobody was willing to give him enough money for the project because of their lack of confidence in him as a live action film director. So, he signed on for the new Mission Impossible movie to prove his doubters wrong. If Bird’s film The Incredibles is any indication as to how Bird can handle action, I am sure Mission Impossible 4 will be a thrilling piece of entertainment that does not lose sight of the humanity needed to really draw in an audience. The movie will be released in US theaters everywhere on December 21st.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close will focus on some touchy subject matter. Yet, I like how the film doesn’t look like it will be just about the day of 9/11. Instead it will be a film that concentrates on a victim of 9/11 who needs to learn to move on without his father. The “key” aspect of the film seems very interesting and I am glad the trailer didn’t give too much of the mystery away. The child actor, Thomas Horn, also looks promising and the director, Stephen Daldry, has worked a few times already with young actors and had some great success. The thing that most excites me about this film is it’s written by Eric Roth. Eric is the writer of some magnificent screenplays such as Forrest Gump and The Insider. He is one of my personal favorites. His stories might be about grand adventures but the heart of his stories are never lost and the characters usually end up stealing the show. The movie only opens in select theaters on December 25. It’s wide US release is on January 20.

War Horse is about a boy who joins the army to find his horse during World War I. Steven Spielberg is the director of this film as well and the subject matter seems to be right up his ally. I am already blown away by some of the master shots I saw in this trailer. Spielberg doesn’t seem to be feeling the need to make this film with a bunch of handhelds and quick cutting shots. I think what we will get is a well told story about the relationship between a boy and a horse and a war that tries to tear them apart. Spielberg has always been good at taking the audience into different worlds and I have no doubt he will do so with this period piece. A lot of the film’s success relies on the performance of the lead boy and the horse and we see little of how good or bad those two things are in this trailer. However, I have confidence in Spielberg and this is one of the movies I am looking forward to the most this coming award season. The movie will be released in the US on December 25th.

The Rewards of Taking Away

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on September 19, 2011

When an executive producer looks at a film and thinks it is not working usually what first comes out of his mouth is, “We need more!”. More visual effects, more duologue, more sound effect, and more cuts. It is a typical impulse for us to think our film needs something added when it isn’t working. The problem is more is not always better. Executive producers know very little about the art of film. They are usually part of the project because they want to make money. When you have a non creative person calling the shots you usually get a film packed FULL of worthlessness. Stuffing more stuff into a movie when it is not working is like telling a kid to eat more cake when he or she complains about feeling sick. In reality, if you truly feel you have a good theme for your story and it is still  not working thematically, the problem usually has more to do with things that are in the film that should be taken away.

Films don’t need nearly as many visual effects, sound effects, cutting, complex camera moves, music, or  duologue as we often think they do. Great artists know the art of taking away. Charlie Chaplin did it with many of his movies, specifically his film Modern Times (1936). In Modern Times Chaplin uses sound effects extremely selectively, only when he is trying to make a point. Because all but the essentials are taken away we as an audience are more aware of the sound we do hear. In 1993 Steven Spielberg came out with Schindler’s List. For some reason the movie was in black and white. Obviously Hollywood had converted to making their movies in color a long time before Schindler’s List, yet Spielberg felt there was a benefit to taking the color out of the film. Spielberg was also known for using the camera in many complex and playful ways, giving us vast crane shots, huge special effects sequences, and flashy cuts. Yet, in Schindler’s List Spielberg took almost all his signature film style away. He took away the steady cams, the crane shots, and the zoom lenses, to give us a more realistic feel. He simplified everything so we had a very realistic and very straight forward look at the Holocaust.

Another benefit to taking away is the emphasis that comes with putting what you took away back in. Because Spielberg gets the audience use to seeing Schindler’s List in black and white he is able to use color to really emphasize one of his key points of the film. There is one key scene in Schindler’s List where among a huge amount of destruction we see a girl with a red coat walking through the ghetto. While dozens of Jews are running around in the streets getting gunned down by German soldiers we see this girl in red walking through the city unharmed. The only color on screen was the red coat. Spielberg drew us into the movie and immediately connected us to the character because he used color so sparingly.

You can make greater statements in your film if you use the big effects, complex camera moves, and grand scale music sparingly. If you have a film full of action all the way through, none of the action will likely stick out. With each film you take the audience for a ride. You do not want to go a hundred miles per hour all the way through. Like any good roller coaster ride you need to have times of quietness and suspense in order to make the huge drops and triple loops feel more satisfying.

An important thing to understand is that many elements of cinema can just be distracting. First you need to understand the essence of your scene and then you need to know what tools to use and what tools to leave out in order to emphasis that essence. Will the scene work better with several cuts or just one master shot? Is music needed? Is even sound needed? Take out whatever needs to be taken out in order to draw the audience closer. Let the audience connect some of the dots themselves.

Pixar’s Up does a fantastic job with their beginning montage where we see Carl and Ellie go from childhood friends to an old and happily married couple. In the montage the director Pete Docter took away the dialogue and sound effects. This allowed us as the audience to give our complete attention to the music and visuals. The visuals and music gave us everything we needed. We were able to fill in the blanks. We as an audience understood their emotions without needing to know exactly what they were saying. We fall in love with Carl and Ellie in the first sequence and it sets the rest of the film up perfectly.

There is a danger in taking away. When you take something like sound, dialogue, or music away, you need to make sure you are using the other elements of cinema to perfection. In the movie Wall-E director Andrew Stanton said he knew making the main character not be able to speak English was risky, especially for a film that kids would watch. He knew he needed to put more emphasis on expressing the character Wall-E through sound and acting. They looked into all the Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin films of the silent era. They studied how these two legends expressed their story with no dialogue and usually no sound. What taking away forces you to do is be more creative. You need to figure out how to express more with less and that is always risky. And, I admit there are times where you do need all the elements of cinema to express your point. You need to walk a fine line as a filmmaker. The audience will get bored if they are always told what to think and not given the opportunity to connect the dots. However, they will leave if you don’t give them enough information to see how the story connects.

It is not good enough to just take risks. You need to know what you are doing. You need to know the rules in order to break them. Know the benefits of sound before you make the decision to take it away. Know what you can communicate with a medium shot and close up before you choose to just stick with the master shot. We have more tools then we ever have had before in cinema. We shouldn’t be afraid to use them if needed. However, with all the technology and high quality visual effects we have now I do not think you could make a movie like Steven Spielberg’s E. T. (1982) any better. I don’t think I could enhance the quality of Frank Capra’s 1939 black and white film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, with the technology we have today. There are simply times where less is more.

Compromise

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on September 16, 2011

Compromise can be seen in two lights, negative and positive. Some people try to fight compromise as much as possible through being extremely detailed in their work and making sure they have the resources to stick to their original vision. However, even David Fincher, who takes much longer then the average filmmaker to shoot his films with usually a solid budget, has complained more then once about filmmaking being full of compromise and settling for imperfections.

Unlike David Fincher, Steven Spielberg has talked about compromise sometimes being a filmmakers best ally. He warned the students at Inside the Actors Studio to never let their vision or dream get in the way of making the movie better. Spielberg has shown his brilliant ability with compromise in movies like Jaws, E. T., and Jurassic Park. Originally Spielberg wanted to reveal the shark in Jaws at the very beginning of the film. The problem was that the mechanical shark they made for production wouldn’t work for the first half of production and it wasn’t too believable even when it did work. So, Steven needed to change his vision for the project. What he created instead was something that feels far more scary and malicious. Spielberg used the music and point of view shots to represent the presence of the shark. He waited until we were far into the second act of the film to reveal the shark. Yet, even then he only showed us a few seconds. He knew that if we saw the shark for too long it would look unbelievable and lose it’s maliciousness.

These days filmmakers have the ability to create whatever they want, the computer can literally bring anything to life. Yet, this unlimited ability to express whatever we want on screen is not always a good thing. Spielberg realized the power of limitation in the process of making Jaws. He found that compromise lead to a creativity that required limitations to work. Spielberg left a lot of the terror of the shark to the audience imagination. He knew the audience’s imagination could create a far more terrible creature then anything he could actually show on screen.

Filmmaking is a collaborative process and no matter if you are making a film independently or through a studio system, there are compromises. There are compromises made because you don’t have enough money, because you are trying to get a curtain rating, because you need to make decisions as a team, and the list goes on. What we need to do is run with the compromises. We need to learn how to use the compromises to stretch our thinking into creating something even more thought provoking and entertaining. The strict definition of compromise is settling for less then you wanted, however I think this does not need to be the case when it comes to filmmaking. If we are willing to work together as a team we can dream far greater visions then any one person could. If compromise is needed from one person in order to create a greater whole then the individual must be willing to sacrifice.

The time when compromise must be fought is when non-creative people try to influence your story. You will not always win, the budget will be cut and the story might be changed, however you must not let the business part of filmmaking destroy your creativity. If you feel your vision is being diminished you must know when to throw in the towel. Peter Weir (director of Dead Poets Society, Witness, and Master and Commander) worked on four projects from 2003 to 2010 and he only ended up making one. When asked about the projects he left Peter said he was glad he didn’t make them because he and the studios couldn’t come to agreement and share a vision together. Peter compared getting ready to write and direct a film to getting ready to fly a plan through a storm; if a bunch of red lights pop up before you even get into the storm that is a good sign to bail out. There is a huge difference between making compromises because of creative differences and budget/technical restraints, and needing to compromise because your financiers are not ambitious enough.

I am not telling you to ignore your convictions. However, filmmaking doesn’t work with just one person, it is a collaborative effort. It is impossible to have one man’s vision translated completely accurately onto screen. My suggestion is to embrace this fact and see if you can use the people around you to create a even greater vision. You are not exactly in a better position with a big budget or more time to shoot a film. Even though David Fincher usually has a greater budget and much more time to shoot a film then someone like Clint Eastwood, I do not consider him a better filmmaker. It all depends on what you do with the compromises that come with the medium of film. You can let compromises destroy your vision and your film, as I said sometimes you have to know when to bail out. However, most of the time you can take those compromises you encounter during the filmmaking process and let them boost your creativity and make something far greater then you could have imagined.