A Dreamer Walking

The Battle Within

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on October 27, 2012

Film needs to impact us emotionally. We are drawn to stories because of the battle within. If the film does not impact us emotionally it will fade and be replaced. Three movies which can’t be replaced in my eyes are Charlie Chaplin’s City Lights, Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life, and Walt Disney’s Bambi. These are all films responsible for making me want to be a filmmaker and all of them are more than half a century old. Their outer stories are much different from anything I have experienced however their inner substance connects to the core of who I am. The themes in these movies transcend age groups and cultures.

When creating a story the last thing you should do is create something about normal everyday life. To be honest most everyday life is quite boring. Even those working in the military spend more of their time eating, sleeping, and walking around then participating in life threatening combat. No, if there is one thing the films of the past have shown us its that we don’t need to base our stories on the physical realities of this world. Films are supposed to be impressionistic. They are supposed to send us to new worlds where animals talk, ships travel through time, and dark wizards rule the earth. One of the reasons I admire animation so much is because none of it is real. Animation effects your emotions through a bunch of pixels created in a computer or through a bunch of drawings created with a pencil. How crazy is it that a pencil can bring life to a puppet, make an elephant fly, and give a beast a soul? The shapes and lines you see in animation are never meant to represent outer reality, they are meant to connect to the audience’s emotions. They add or subtract things based on whether or not they are relevant to the battle being portrayed within.

The outer part of your story must draw your audience inward. Sometimes you draw the audience in through creating an abstract world, sometimes it is through diving into the details of the world we live in. Some storytellers are afraid if they go into too much detail they will lose their audience. I believe the more detail you go into with your story the more you will hit on universal truths. We all have the need for happiness, joy, and love. We all go through times of sadness, bitterness, and anger. We all fight battle within ourselves about our lust for power and our need of humility. Dive deep enough into your stories to find these basic truths. Don’t hesitate going into a story because you think part of your audience won’t find it interesting or won’t like it. If you find the story interesting it is worthy enough to be seen. Find ways to make the story entertaining and push your audience’s comfort zones. Create worlds we haven’t seen before or dare us to look at the world  in a different light.

All the things happening on the outside of your story deal with the present. The inner battle involves the past and the future. We never fight for the moment. The fights are caused because of something that happened in the past and/or something that you want for the future. This is what I mean by “inner battle”, it’s the context in which the fight is taking place. The context must transcend culture and time. Your character.s battle must connect to what we fight in daily life. Even though Chaplin’s City Lights was made and takes place during the beginning of the depression, we are able to connect to the story because the characters express emotions independent of a specific time or place. Key themes such as the outsider in the lead character The Tramp, the power of kindness expressed through The Tramps concern for the blind girl, and prejudice seen in the movie through the separation of classes, are all things we can relate to a half century later. Chaplin uses his key universal themes to bring understanding on what it was like to live in the depression and as an outsider. Not only does he allow us to understand the battles we are facing today a little better, he also gives us insight to what it was like back then.

Great movies are able to bring us understanding. They remind us even though the battle on the outside at times couldn’t be more different, the inner battle is something we all face and understand. At the end of every story the conflict on the outside and the conflict on the inside collide. At the end of Bambi, Bambi  needs to face hunters and a forest fire in order to emotionally prepare himself to become the king of the forest. In It’s A Wonderful Life the main character George Bailey spends his whole life selflessly helping his town while all the while questioning his worth. At the end through the physical example of seeing life without George Bailey we are able to understand his emotional and spiritual worth.

There are many who would say The Movies are supposed to be an escape so the audience could forget about the everyday realities of life. I disagree. The Movies are supposed to be a reminder about what is important in life. They communicate even though we will go through rejection, physical danger, and feelings of self doubt, we can come out on the other side stronger. The Movies don’t take us away from the realities of this world they give us perspective and insight that brings understanding. We begin to understand the battle within is universal. The Movies give us the weapons and inspiration to fight it.

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

The Score

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on January 3, 2012

The score in filmmaking is such an abstract concept. Unlike sound effects or close ups, we never experience real life with a bunch of music playing in the background expressing our inner feelings. Even cuts are more realistic then musical scores. Even though we do not live life going from one cut to another our memory works that way; we can remember being in one place and then jump cut to a different memory in a different place. Yet, the musical score has been around almost as long as cinema. Way back in the early days of the silent era most movies were accompanied with someone in the theater playing on a piano.

The two main purposes of a musical score is to communicate to the audience the tone of the movie and the inner emotions of the characters. Most of the main characters in film have their own theme. The main score helps draw the audience into the world in which the story takes place. A world like the one in Avatar is completely different from that of Indiana Jones partly because of the contrast of the music score. Both scores thrill us with the adventure and characters of their worlds. Both enhance emotions crucial to selling the story.

The score helps develop the story. The movie August Rush is a great example. August Rush actually represents a rare occasion where the music is part of the reality of the story. The characters in the film actually do most of the playing of the music. At the beginning of the film we are introduced to the main character August Rush. He tells the audience through a voice over that “Music is all around us”. We see him listening to nature subtly create the slight hint of the theme song of the movie that will develop more and more the farther along in the story we go. At the beginning of the film August leaves his orphanage to find his father and mother. He believes the music will lead him to his family. Unknown to August we find out his father and mother were also musicians. We see how they first came together and conceive August. Every song we hear them play or sing tells us something about who they are. Even though the father is part of a punk rock band and the mother is a classical musician, director Kirsten Sheridan uses cutting to allow us to see how their different styles work together. Immediately we realize the two were meant for each other.

We see relationships come together and break apart in August Rush. Because they are all musicians they use their music to express what is going on deep within. August Rush continues to develop his main symphony with the belief that if he learns how to play the music his mother and father will hear it and come to him. In the end just that happens. August plays his symphony and draws in both his parents. Call the movie corny if you want but it is a perfect representation of what a score should do for a movie. We hear hints of the main theme all the way through the story, but it doesn’t come completely together until the end. We see how all the individual themes and styles of characters create a greater whole.

The movie Bambi is also a good example of how a score can drive a film. Everything in the film is expressed through music. Whether it is the characters, nature, or just the time of the year, music flows from it all and completely intertwines with each other. The world in Bambi seems like a never ending song, with all the elements of great entertainment including suspense, delight, and romance. The score helps drive our emotions and allows us to connect with the world and characters in the film.

While seemingly we are talking about two extremely different types of film the score works the same way. Its purpose is to contribute to the rest of the elements of the film. There are times where the score tries to compensate for poor story or bad camera work. It is important to understand that music will not make a bad movie good. You must have a good story in order to create a good movie. Music and all the rest of the elements of cinema are there only to enhance the story.

A common mistake in film is to have too much music. In most cases the score should be subtle, only a reality to our subconscious. It should not be used all the time, often you will find that the absence of music or even most sound is the best way to effect your audience. Even Bambi had a time where everything was taken away to create a much greater emotional effect. Bambi is completely saturated with music, yet when we hear the gun shot and young Bambi loses his mother everything goes silent. The score finally stops and we hear the painful cries of Bambi calling out for his lost mother. There in the quite Forrest Bambi runs into his father. “Your mother can’t be with you anymore”, the great stage says. This piece of dialogue is infinitely more effective because of the silence that surrounds it.

Composers are storytellers in their own way, developing the characters and plots one note at a time. Yet, the composers job is just as much about knowing when to stay silent as it is to play music. The score of a film draws us in and allows to understand the very soul of the characters and story we see on screen. If executed poorly we will feel manipulated and repulsed. However if it is done correctly the score can be the key which allows us to be completely consumed by what we see on screen.

No Arc?

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on September 14, 2011

Is it okay for the main character in your story to have no arc? An “arc” in storytelling is the change you as the audience member see the characters go through.  Whether it is learning to share, getting a lesson in responsibility, or understanding what it means to truly love, there needs to be some kind of journey or arc in your film that makes the movie experience worth while. The arc does not always need to be oriented toward a good result. An arc could be represented through showing the corruption of innocents in someone. It is sometimes even more thought provoking when you make the arc of a character point to evil. Usually the character that changes the most and goes on the greatest inner journey in any given story is the protagonist. He or she is usually the character the audience gets most attached to. However, not always is it the case that the protagonist of the story changes the most. There have been some great movies where the protagonist has had no real arc.

You do not need to have every character in your story change. Usually you need to have one or two characters that represent a solid foundation. In most stories there usually are characters who are already developed. These characters represent a solid belief in order to change the characters around them. Most villains in the movies don’t go through much development, their job is to test the protagonist of the story. A good example of this is the Joker in Batman Dark Knight. The Joker represents chaos. He has this foundational belief, if pushed enough everyone will drop all morals in order to survive. The Joker tests the protagonist Batman to the limit. Batman is forced to go through a change and understand who he is because of the solid belief the Joker holds.

There is usually a good character with no arc in stories. Mr. Miyagi in The Karate Kid is a good example. Other examples are Sam from Lord of the Rings, Izhak Stern from Schindler’s List, John Keating from Dead Poets Society, and almost every secondary character in the Disney Animation movies. I am not saying these are character who don’t feel emotion or go through trauma, but they all have foundational beliefs that usually end up changing the protagonist of the story. Usually the characters with no real arc are the characters we enjoy the most. It is comforting to know exactly who a character is from beginning to end without needing to worry about his or her arc. This is one of the reasons so many secondary characters in Disney movies are so endearing. They are confident in who they are and they only have two jobs, guide the protagonist in their journey and entertain the audience. It is always risky for a storyteller to have a quality that the audience likes in a character be taken away from the character in order to create an arc. Many people would say for example they liked Buzz Lightyear in the Toy Story franchise more when he was under the delusion of being space ranger then when he actually realized he was a toy. This is one of the reasons why the toys in Toy Story 2 run into another delusional buzz, and why Buzz is changed back into a delusional Buzz in Toy Story 3.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post not all stories have the protagonist change. There are some movies where we see no real arc in the main character. It is alright to have these types of protagonists as long as they are able to create an arc for the characters around them. Two great movies that represent main characters with very little inner arc are Forrest Gump and Wall-E. I find it interesting that these two films both have the main character represented through the title. It might be because the characters are so well liked. Both Forrest Gump and Wall-E are characters audiences through out the world have come to love. Both represent a very innocent point of view on life and both characters connect immediately with the audience. They represent perspectives and hold beliefs that are already developed and can’t help but change the characters around them. Forrest for example brings about a change in almost all the characters he interacts with. His story concentrates on two character changes in particular; One with Forrest’s love interest, Jenny, and and the second with his lieutenant, Dan. Dan is saved from dying in battle by Forrest, the only problem is Dan loses his legs and is angry at Forrest because he wanted to die. Dan is ashamed of how people look at him but eventually finds strength in Forrest’s consistent love for life. Jenny is an emotional train wreck and feels she is unworthy of love, yet Forrest’s love for Jenny is strong and consistent all the way through the film, and at the end his love wins Jenny over and brings her clarity.

Characters should be created to tell a good story. They shouldn’t be created to flesh out your world or because you just find them interesting. They need to drive the arc of your story. You shouldn’t worry about making all the characters change. It is usually good to concentrate on the arc of just a few characters. Better to have the audience really buy into one character arc then be half sold on several. A story like A Christmas Carol is just about one man changing, all the other characters have no arc. Yet, this does not make the other characters the main character Scrooge encounters less enduring. We like the secondary characters, like the ghosts Scrooge runs into, because we can see the change they are making in Scrooge. Wall-E is one of those characters we ended up liking all the more because he had this solid belief in love and life all the way through the movie. I personally liked him because he helped give me joy and change my perspective. All the way through the story Wall-E’s only goal is to find love. Because of his unwavering dedication he finds love at the end and brings joy to all of us.

Invisiable Ink- Finding Salvation

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on July 2, 2011

As a Christian I believe in the concept of finding God and being saved through Him. Unlike most Christians I do not think you can find salvation through saying a few words, “I believe in Jesus”. In reality I believe salvation is a continuous journey. The journey is full of ups and downs and many of the lessons are quite hard to learn. Salvation in my opinion is not about being saved from a hell after you die, it is about finding God here and now and learning to truly live through following Him.

I see most stories as a salvation stories. The main character of most stories is forced into a journey where he somehow finds himself and his (or her) reason for living. You see it happen again and again in film. A good example would be Dead Poets Society. In Dead Poets Society we follow a boy named Todd Anderson (Ethan Hawke) who is very insecure with himself and tries his best to be unnoticed by anyone. However the great plot twist in Todd’s life comes when he is introduced to two people, a roommate named Neil Perry (Robert Sean Leonard) and a English Professor named John Keating (Robin Williams). Neil and Professor Keating begin to push Todd out of his comfort zone. They push him to realize and express his talents and become a individual rather then part of a collective who’s only goal is to stay alive, without really living.

You can not have a journey without struggles. Todd must face his fears in order to get past them and find life. Brian McDonald in Invisible Ink refers to this as ritual pain. Ritual pain represents the pain the main character goes through in order to find salvation or fulfillment. McDonald uses the examples of tribes in Africa having rituals for boys going into manhood. Many tribes have their children go through some kind of pain to be considered a man. Sometimes it is some kind of scaring or tattooing. Sometimes it involves sending a child off on a hunt for a beast. Usually the children learn something through going through these pains that helps them prepare for manhood. They often feel reborn and ready to deal with the challenges of adulthood. In most films we symbolically observe the ritual pains of a child becoming an adult. Whether it is a old man who needs to open himself up to relationship after his wife passes away (Pixar’s Up), a spoiled business man who needs to see value in others (Rain Man), or a boy who needs to stand up and find his own voice (Dead Poets Society), we are seeing characters who are going through a ritual pain in order to find salvation on the other side.

“Everyone wants to go to heaven but nobody wants to die”, D Nix (quoted in Invisible Ink). Most all of us would say we want to live life to the highest extant, yet few of us are willing to get off our butts to do anything. In film the ritual pain usually comes against the protagonists will.  Todd for example if fine with not being noticed, its Neil and Professor Keating who push him to go through the ritual pain of becoming a man. Neil convinces Todd to join the forbidden Dead Poets Society and keeps on pushing him to become a bigger part of the club. Professor Keating wants Todd to express himself through writing and poetry and gives him the assignment of standing before the class room to recite a poem of his making. Professor Keating tells Todd in the movie that he knows this assignment scares the shit out of him. The task is indeed Todd’ ritual pain. It is a vital scene in the movie where he goes from being scared of hearing his own voice to realizing he has something worth saying. Here is the scene from Dead Poets Society. Notice how Professor Keating expresses to his class and us the audience exactly what Todd is scared of the most. Through exposing Todd’ fear Keating is able to help Todd face it.

Professor Keating is not just telling Todd to not forget what we just saw, he is telling all of us to not forget. This scene represents what is so great about the movies. Movies are not supposed to keep us where we are comfortable. The best kind of movies in my opinion are the kind that push us out of our comfort zone. Seeing the transformation of characters like Todd are supposed to help us in our own transformations. We can learn from the entertainment we see. Seeing how others find God helps me find Him in my own life. Characters like Todd inspire me. I see them face their greatest fears and come out on the other side.  Movies like Dead Poets Society, The King’s Speech, Reign Over Me, and Schindler’s List, are the films that impact me the most because I see people in those movies who truly find salvation. They find God in their own personal way and through finding Him they are able to truly live.

Real Life

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on June 27, 2011

Well I got back from my vacation a few days ago. Sadly I have not written anything until now out of laziness and trying to get over a sickness. The vacation part was fun but the traveling part was not. I began to get sick about a week ago and the sickness was in full throttle while driving 1800 miles back to Montana from Kalamazoo Michigan. However, even though I felt sick through part of the vacation I could not help but feel inspired by most of the traveling and interaction with family members.

The vacation we went on was to our Grandparents living in Kalamazoo Michigan. We went for a anniversary involving my Grandma’s side of the family. The anniversary ended up being the most mediocre part of the trip. However, hanging out with my uncles, aunts, and grandparents was fantastic. The vacation actually reminded me of the most important lesson I have learned as a storyteller. The foundations of any storytellers stories must come from real life. It does not matter if the story is located in a far away land with dragons, fairies, and witches or in a futuristic land with aliens, monsters, and robots, what the story needs the most is something unique and personal. It is important to remember even though there have been stories about cowboys, fairies, and monsters before, there has not been anyone who has lived the life you have lived. When you take from your own personal life to create the foundations of your stories, you make any kind of story unique.

I have stories I am developing that are about  far away lands where the main characters are goblins, cavemen, and flowers. However, all of these characters are directly linked to my family and people who have influenced me in my personal life. Even the situations and themes of my stories are inspired by struggles and lessons I have learned in real life.

The life I live will be the key to unlocking the heart of the characters and stories I create. My greatest mission should be observation and a dedication to understanding. In the last two weeks I have been able to hang out with the people I care about more then anyone else in this world. I observe both their strengths and faults, and try to learn from them. In the end I realize they are the ones creating the characters in my head and making me want to tell stories for a living.


Invisible Ink- Finding the Reflections

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on June 8, 2011

The book Invisible Ink, by Brian McDonald, calls this section The Use of Clones. “Clones”, as Brain McDonald explains, are “characters in your story that represent what could, should, or might happen to the protagonist if he or she takes a particular path”. In essence clones are characters that represent a truth or a possible truth about your protagonist. I rather use the word reflection then clone. A clone means a genetically identical organism. However, the way McDonald uses the word he does not mean identical as much as he means “similar” or “reflecting of”.  One of the examples McDonald uses in his book is Gollum, in Lord of the Rings, being a clone of the main character Frodo. Gollum is not identical to Frodo but he represents what might happen to him if he chooses a curtain path. In the end, as McDonald points out in his book, we measure the success of Frodo by the failure of Gollum.

I am going to use this section in Brian’s book as a jumping off point, like I usually do with his topics. However, even though Brian is writing mainly for writers, I am writing for both writers and directors of film. Because of this I will try to take his points about clones and apply them to filmmaking in general.

In any given story it is our job as storytellers to make sure everything is there to inhance the point we are trying to make. We need to concentrate on what the foundation or theme of the story is and build everything around the foundation. If something in our story does not contribute to our theme, it has no use being in our story. We do not create characters, environments, or events just to “flesh out our world”. We create for a purpose. As I stated earlier a reflection’s purpose is to express a truth or possible truth about our main character(‘s). Reflections are all around in filmmaking. They might present themselves in other characters, through situations, or even through the world the characters inhabit.

Imagine yourself going through a house of mirrors where you see yourself reflected in all kinds of ways. Some reflections are not realistic, they distort you to make you look stronger, fatter, or smaller then you really are. In film reflections are not replicas of your main character, they are supposed to show a truth about your character through a curtain lens. In the end, this lens can be extremely miss leading or extremely helpful to the change your main character goes through. It all depends on how you choose to use the reflection tool in your storytelling process.

Reflections are sometimes used to help the main character of the story understand something. They are sometimes just used to help the audience understand something.  A simple example would be Luke Skywalker and Darth Vador. Not only does the audience relize what Luke can become through the reflection we see in Vador, so does Luke. It is made clear to Luke he can fall into the darkside just like his father and in the end this revelation guides the path Luke chooses to take. In The Lion King there is a scene towards the end of the film where the main characters Simba looks into a pond and sees his father in his reflection. It is explained that Simba’s father lives inside of him. This helps give Simba confidence to step up and become king.

A movie I believe does a remarkable job expressing reflections is Peter Pan (2003). Most of the reflections in this movie are purely for the audiences sake. Peter Pan is a fairytale and like most good fairytales it does not make any efforts to stick to the realities of this world. Instead we are introduced to an environment that completely reflects who the main character is. Even the villain of the piece we find out is a reflection of Peter Pan. To help establish my point I would like you to watch this scene from the Peter Pan (2003) movie (you can start at 1:30 and only need to go up to 8:00).

Notice how abstract the environment and lighting is. As soon as Hook says, “She was leaving you Pan”, the environment begins to change. There is even a time when Peter is lit by a cold blue light while Hook is lit through a warm red light, even though they are outside in the same environment only feet away from each other. There was no effort by director Paul Hogan to create a realistic scene. Paul wanted to show us what Pan was feeling. The more Hook upsets Pan the more gloomy the environment gets. Neverland is a direct reflection of who Peter Pan is. When the kiss comes everything changes again, the stars are even changing to reflect the emotions he is going through. He shoots out a burst of energy blowing away the pirates and he flies up basking in the moonlight.

Notice through out the scene how eerily similar Hook is to Peter, to the point he begins to fly just like Pan. At the beginning of the scene Hook is a very accurate reflection of who Peter is. This is what McDonald’s main point was in his The Use of Clones section. You often see the villain of a movie reflect a dark side of the main protagonist. The reflection is clear between characters like Batman and the Joker, Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader, and here between Hook and Peter Pan. Hook even says, “You’ll die alone and unloved… just like me“. The point is to express the danger the protagonist faces. We begin to understand the small things which differentiate good from evil. When we see how easy it is to choose the dark side, we begin to appreciate the hero’s choice to rise above.

I could literally talk hours about how reflections are used in film. The point comes back to what I talked about in my previous post, show don’t tell. We as filmmakers must find ways to express the inner battle going on in our characters soul, visually. We do not need to be as blunt as Peter Pan, but we must find a way. There may also be times in your stories where the main characters needs to face a reflection in order further his journey, such as Simba seeing his father in his reflection, Woody, from Toy Story 2, seeing what his future might be through the toy Jesse,  and Edward Norton’s character seeing who he he could be (or is) through Tyler Burdon in the movie Fight Club.  You can even create a change in your character through showing a reflection of the world without him or her in it, as we see in the classic It’s a Wonderful Life.

Reflections are a wonderful tool used throughout filmmaking. You do not necessarily need to have a reflection shown through every character you create. There are times where reflections never go farther then expressing a truth about the protagonist to the audience. The reason why reflections (or clones) are refereed to as Invisible Ink by Brian McDonald, is because they are not supposed to be obvious. They are around to bring us farther into the story, not take us out of it. We must use reflections wisely and with care so they are never too obvious to the audience. However, reflections are everywhere in film. Whether it is through the way a scene is lit, sound is expressed, set is dressed, or camera is handled, our job as filmmakers is to reflect something about the world and characters we are portraying, to our audience and maybe even to the characters in our film.

Tom Hooper – An Observation – No Glamour

Posted in Film and Filmaker Studies, Observation Series by Jacob on May 28, 2011

Tom Hooper 1Ever sense watching the movie The King’s Speech I have been fascinated with the director Tom Hooper. I felt his direction for The King’s Speech was marvelous. I thought he did a great job with building the relationship between the main characters King George VI (Colin Firth) and Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush). Hooper also greatly fascinated me with the use of the camera. I loved how he was able to express the inner emotions of the characters through framing and camera movement. A good example would be a shot Hooper often had for King George. Most of the time when George sat down he only occupied the very bottom corner of the screen and we saw him usually through wider lens making George look even smaller in frame. These shots expressed perfectly how isolated and belittled King George felt because of his speech impediment. In the movie Hooper didn’t seem to be afraid of the close up, distorted shot, extreme upper or lower angles, or a crooked shot if it served his purpose.

Due to my admiration of The King’s Speech I chose to look up a few more of Hooper’s films. I was surprised to see Hooper, who I knew to be British, directed the John Adams series for HBO, since the series concentrated on the second president of the United States John Adams and the breaking away of America from British control. However after beginning to watch the series I thought to myself that Tom Hooper was a perfect choice for the director of the John Adams series. Hooper did not glamorize any of the early American history because he did not grow up idolizing it. The breaking away from Britain, the creation of the constitution, and the presidency of John Adams were all portrayed with a grit few movies show in the film business these days.

Tom Hooper brought an authenticity to the John Adams series. He did not feel the need to make the time period too romantic, glamorous, or idolized. The John Adams series was full of hurt, betrayal, and wrong turns. Hooper did little things for the series that I think made all the difference. For example, Hooper made it clear he wanted to see the teeth of every adult character be full of cavity and decay and the skin of the characters more scabby and rough, in order to stay more authentic to the time period. I must admit it was distracting at first. I looked at this legend, John Adams, and could not help but stare at his mouth full of black decay and at the scabs all around his face. I was use to Hollywood always trying to clean those small things up. In most movies about revolutionary events the good guys always look like a million bucks and the bad guys were the only ones with rotten teeth and scabs and warts all around their face.  Tom Hooper fought hard against those tendencies. He said in the making of John Adams he needed to constantly remind the prop and costume people to dirty everything up and resist making things look perfect.

Hooper explained his constant effort to distress things by saying, “Getting away from that romanticized vision of the American revolution allows you to experience the suspense more vitally.” After hearing this I realized one of the things I most liked about the John Adams series was the suspense. Not the “a bomb about to go off!”,  kind of suspense but rather the, “who is in the right and who is in the wrong?”, kind of suspense. I liked the fact I did not always know who the good guys were and who the bad guys were. Later on Hooper explained the only reason why you romanticize or glamorize is because you know the outcome. He wanted to be in a world where he didn’t know who the great men were.

I personally do not think Hooper believes in the good guy vs. bad guy mentality we so often see in Hollywood film these days. I think Hooper realizes in order for the audience to understand the characters in his films he needs to stop glamorizing them and instead bring the characters down to reality, where we see them as human beings just like us. In the series John Adams Tom Hooper showed us a a more authentic John Adams, who made some wrong choices, held grudges, and threw temper tantrums. Hooper knew we as the audience could relate to those things. The flaws of the protagonist usually makes the good qualities shine all the greater.

Hooper brought the mindset he had on the John Adams series to The King’s Speech. He said one of the greatest problems he had with the first draft of the screenplay for the film was the writer portrayed King George VI as completely cured of his stammer at the end of the film. Hooper felt this was not true to the real King George VI. He indicated, in reality most people are not cured of disabilities but rather they find ways to cope with their disability. It is usually only in the movies we see situations where people are completely cured of a disability like a stammer. Because we know the stammer is still an issue for the King when he gives the speech at the end of the film there is more suspense, we do not know whether he will make it through the speech or not. We also have more admiration for the King when he ends up fighting through his disability to give the speech. We were able to relate to the King in a way we wouldn’t have if he did not struggle. He has flaws just like us and the end of the movie he does not find an absolute cure for those flaws but rather he gives us hope that we can be successful in spite of our flaws, just like the King.

Taking the glamour away from a situation might be thought of as a bad thing at first. Will people still come to our movie if we show them the real dirt and grime of this world? As filmmakers we have the tendency to want to make things look better then they really are, just like we do in real life. When we are out with our friends we do not want to show them our flaws. We usually clean up and make ourselves look like we have no problems going on in our lives. However, film is all about the drama and drama does not come out of perfection. If the main character has no flaws and always knows what to do, we will never fear for his safety. If the main character makes no mistakes we won’t be able to relate to him.

Hooper seems to know filmmaking is all about the imperfections. He really wants to take away the glamour of a time period and give the audience authenticity. It is in the flaws of a character, dirt on a costume, or wear of a set piece, that we are able to see the authenticity. Hooper knows we relate to sweat, dirt, and sores. He wants to put his actors into the environment of the time period they are portraying. He knows the elements, such as mud, rain, and heat, help do the acting for the actors. Hooper’s goal is not to express a bunch of characters who are above reproach. Rather his goal is to show us great people from our history, like John Adams and King George VI, are humans just like us. Hooper is not interested in expressing glamour he is interested in expressing truth.

Andrew Stanton- Screenwriting Expo

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on March 27, 2011

You really do not get better then this. This is a recording of Andrew Stanton talking many years ago at the Screenwriting Expo. Basically Andrew breaks down story development through talking about mistakes he and Pixar made from Toy Story all the way to Finding Nemo. It is a brilliant lecture. Often you learn better through mistakes then through success. All the Pixar movies that have come out so far ran across problems somewhere in their development process that needed fixing. This is a lecture all about the problems Pixar had with their movies and how they were able to work through those problems to create some of the best animated films ever made. Andrew Stanton has come out of nowhere to astablish himself as one of the greatest screenwriters in the film business. I would strongly suggest any filmmaker out there to take notes. Enjoy!


Michael Arndt on Creative Screenwriting Podcast!!!

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on November 13, 2010

I love listening to the many of the interviews on the Creative Screenwriting Podcast. They give you a lot of great tips on how to go about writing a screenplay and just some good insight on film making in general. I really think you should check out THIS podcast of Michael Arndt speaking about his past Toy Story 3 experience. He seems like a very passionate artist who is devoted to creating great stories. The personal story Michael shares on this podcast episode about how he went about becoming a screenwriter is very insightful. Some of his advice I feel is priceless and it is great to see how he learned through out the story making process for Toy Story 3.  I think he has some good things to say about the Pixar studio. It is encouraging to see at least one person in the film industry who thinks there is a studio out there that is driven by the director’s vision. Enjoy the link!

UPDATE: At the moment it seems that the podcast has been taken off line. I will keep the link up just in case it comes back on line some time. Sorry for the inconvenience.