A Dreamer Walking

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.

Invisible Ink- Simplicity

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on April 12, 2011

In Invisible ink Chapter 2 we are introduced to the Seven easy steps to a better story.  In this post I will not be repeating the “seven easy steps”. To hear about them please buy the book. The underline point Brian McDonald was trying to make in the chapter however was a good one. He expressed his frustration with writers who usually try to create a overly complicated story.

What makes for a overly complicated story is when the writer tries to bring more plot into the story then what is actually needed. Simplicity is usually key when developing a story. Your job is to not lose the audience on the ride you are taking them on. You entertain the audience not through creating a twist at every corner but rather digging deeper into the story you do have no matter how simple it might be. You can have the most complicated plot imaginable, if you do not create a connection with your characters to the audience however, nobody will go along for the ride.

One of the masters at creating a connection between audience and character was Walt Disney. Hardly any Walt Disney movie was heavy in plot. He had simple beginnings, middles, and ends in almost all his movies. What Walt cared about was the connection between the audience and his characters. Walt was one of the first to push the cartoon industry into developing character personalities. In some of Disney’s first full length animated films, such as Pinocchio and Bambi, the first half hour involves hardly any plot at all. He just allows us to be introduced and get connected with his characters.

At the beginning of Pinocchio we are introduced to the cynical Jiminy Cricket and see him observe Pinocchio being turned to life. The whole movie is character driven. Walt does not do anything without the purpose of helping us understand Pinocchio more. The story line is simple; a toy puppet who wants to become a real boy. The first act consists of us understanding the toy maker Geppetto’s wish to have a real boy and seeing Pinocchio come to life to potentially fulfill that wish. The second act consists of Pinocchio’s wrong turns in his pursuit of becoming a real boy. The third act is about Pinocchio finally realizing his mistakes and setting out to save his father from Monstro, the whale. As a result Pinocchio sacrifices everything. The blue fairy comes and revives Pinocchio and turns him into a real boy creating the happily ever after ending.

Let me break it down for you. In the first act we are introduced to the environment and the characters. As Brian McDonald puts it, “It tells the audience everything they need to know to understand the story that is to follow”. In the second act the story actually begins. Everything should be cause-and-effect based on what happened at the end of act one. In Pinocchio the end of act one was hearing Pinocchio’s ambition to earn the right to become a real boy. The second act consists entirely of the mistakes Pinocchio makes in his efforts. If you are thinking it in visual terms, the second act consists of the climb to the top of the mountain.

The third act is when the character makes it to the top of the mountain only to find out he needs to face a dragon in order to survive. In Pinocchio’s case it was a whale. The third act begins at what ever point sets off the chain reaction for the climax of the picture. In Pinocchio you can say the third act begins when Pinocchio sets out to find his father. After defeating Monstro the whale and saving his father there is one scene showing Pinocchio being turned into a real boy and Jiminy Cricket closing the book to a happily ever after ending. As McDonald says, the key is to not have too much story after the climax of the film, just enough to let us all know life goes on.

The Pinocchio story was not overly complicated. As I said before, Walt was an expert at simplicity in his plots. However this does not mean the movie was easy to make. Disney and his artists worked very hard to figure out the meaning behind the stories he was telling. Creating meaning is actually the hardest part of storytelling. We as storytellers need to have something relevant to say.  I will touch up more on this subject in my next Invisible Ink post.

Instead of putting extra time into making a story more complicated, find ways to simplify it. Simplicity is key. What the audience wants is an interesting world to explore and characters to get to know. Understanding this is crucial. Plot can often get in the way of these things.

Just like the drawing on the top of the post, you must get rid of all the lines that are not necessary for telling the story you want to tell. With the medium of animation in general the filmmaker’s job is not to create a realistic replica of life. The filmmaker’s job is to simplify until all we see is a few lines that describe the characters and environments on screen. This simplicity allows the audience to follow the characters’ movements more easily and not get distracted by the backgrounds. Storytellers could learn a lesson from the medium of animation. All animation is, is a few lines that move creating the illusion of life. All storytelling is, is a few words put together in order to let our imaginations run free. Too many lines or too many words can ruin it all.

Insight into Pixar

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on February 16, 2011

I have run across three interviews that give us a very insightful look into the Pixar Studio. They are three 30 minute interviews of three directors at the Pixar studio, Andrew Stanton, Pete Docter, and Lee Unkrich. Listening to these guys is very encouraging because you are able to feel the actual enthusiasm all these directors have for the projects they worked on and the studio they work for. The interviews were conducted about a year apart. Andrew Stanton talks about his journey in creating Wall-E. He goes into detail about what first intrigued him about the story and how it developed into a full length movie. Pete talks about his movie UP and Lee talks about his movie Toy Story 3. More importantly they all talk about the freedom they had to persue their visions for the films and how they worked collaboratively to make the movies the best they could possibly be. These guys are really good filmmakers to study if you want to know how to go about constructing a story. They give you a personal look at what made their stories resonate with them and how they were able to fight the battles in order to bring the films to fruition.

All of the Directors were interviewed by the same person, David Poland. The video’s are on the website Movie City News. If you click on the DP/30 link, you will see dozens of 30 minute interviews on some of the biggest names in film. It is well worth taking a look.

Here are the links to the Pixar interviews:

Lee Unkrich (Director of Toy Story 3) Interview:

Pete Docter (Director of Up) Interview:

Andrew Stanton (Director of Wall-E) Interview: