A Dreamer Walking

WALL-E – Old Vs. New

Posted in Animation, Film and Filmaker Studies, Personal Philosophy by Jacob on September 16, 2014

Wall-E #2

With Pixar’s WALL-E director Andrew Stanton wanted to create a sort of look that made one think the movie was filmed in the 1970’s.  This honestly was a tough goal to set since animated movies are not “filmed” they are shot in a computer, and to be honest there weren’t very many computers in the 70’s. Film is so loved by so many because of it’s inherent flaws. Things like lens flairs, grain in the image, and scratches on the celluloid are all technically flaws in film yet are now considered some of what makes it so special. It’s loved so much in-fact the leading edge in digital technology tries to reproduce the same kinds of “flaws” in their newest cameras. Stanton had a whole team try to reproduce the filmic look for his movie WALL-E. He even went as far as recreating actual live action footage of certain scenes they were doing in the computer so the technicians could see the difference between the imagery captured in camera with celluloid and that shot in the computer.

The story of WALL-E lends itself to this idea of bringing a classic look to a new medium. In the movie we follow an eight hundred year old robot, Wall-E, around his world where his main function is to pick up trash. Everything about Wall-E’s design and texture represents an old fashion look which is directly contrasted with his love interest, Eve. As you can see in the image above Eve has a oval design with very few mechanisms. The true magic of this relationship is how well Stanton and his team were able to make the two opposites seem so perfect for each other. You need to go no further then the scene where Wall-E introduces Eve to his home to see just how well these opposites work cinematically.

Some have called WALL-E an anti technology movie with a preachy message about saving the environment.  However, I believe Andrew Stanton when he says he only went the environmental route because that’s where the story took him. His goal was not to make people hate the new and love the old. His objective was to create a story where two very different perspectives met and found balance. In fact it took something new coming into Wall-E’s life for him to find meaning. But more on that in another post.

Stanton went farther back then just the 1970’s for inspiration for his movie. He and the Pixar artists would watch old silent classics from the early 1930’s and before. They studied silent comedians such as Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, and of course Charlie Chaplin. After studying these great filmmakers Stanton said he realized Pixar didn’t know anything. The idea that some of the best stories in our history were told without sophisticated special effects, flashy cameras, or sound blew the Pixar artists away. They made it their goal to recreate the magic they saw in the best silent films. In the first act of WALL-E there is hardly a line of dialogue heard. Rather, we discover Wall-E’s soul through a magnificent set of sound effects produced by Ben Burtt, who is best known for his work on the original Star Wars trilogy, and by the masterful work of all the Pixar animators who took the silent movies Stanton showed to heart.

In the end we have a movie in WALL-E that not only makes us laugh but also makes us care. We don’t care about seeing the environment around Wall-E change because of some liberal agenda, we want it to change because we get a glimpse of what “unplugging” and cherishing our world could do for the health of our personal souls. Those who think WALL-E is anti technology seem to forget the movie stars two robots. The best of Pixar is about balancing the new with the old. Pixar is known for being the leading edge in digital technology. They are famous for creating the first computer animated film in history, Toy Story (1995). However, the majority of their films are special because the technology is only there to enhance their stories. And, their stories revolve around themes that are as old as time itself.

A big debate is going on in the film industry today about the transition from film to digital technology. Celluloid is going extinct. There are fewer and fewer companies around who are able to process the film so it could be projected on the big screen. Some filmmakers, such as the famous Quentin Tarantino, have threatened to quite the film profession altogether if true “film” is taken away. The bottom line however is filmmaking is bigger than the stuff you use to shoot the picture. And as I said at the beginning of this post, the companies making cameras today have not overlooked the public’s love for the look that comes from the old classics of the 1970’s and before. Just like Wall-E and Eve, eventually the film industry will find a balance.

Three Acts

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on July 24, 2012

Most essays consist of a introduction, body, and conclusion. The introduction is only about one or two paragraphs. In it you need to grab your audience’s attention with your subject matter. You need to introduce a problem and get your audience interested in learning about the solution. The body is where most of the writing happens.  You need to go into the specifics of your subject and go deep into what exactly it takes to solve the problem you introduced in the intro. The conclusion is usually the shortest of the three. It is where you tie everything together. You must show exactly why your subject is worth remembering.

Filmmaking is not much different.  Every story we tell needs to have a strong beginning, middle, and end. In the beginning the world of the story is established and the main characters are introduced.  The fatal flaw the main character spends the rest of the story dealing with is also introduced. The second act is when the plot unfolds and the main character is taken on a journey that usually forces him to see and try to deal with his fatal flaw.  The third act is where everything comes together to create the ultimate test for the main protagonist and we see if he overcomes his fatal flaw or is overcome by it. It really is as simple as that.

The three acts in storytelling are not in place to limit the storyteller. As I said, there is a beginning, middle, and end in every story. Most likely you will create a three act structure in your story whether you are aware of it or not. The goal is to not only be aware of it but also understand how it works best. You might have some great story ideas, however if not executed properly they will have little impact on your audience.

The second and third acts mean little if the first act doesn’t draw your audience in. The first act creates the foundation for the rest of the film to stand on. Both the world and characters of the story must be established in the first act. The action and plot will come later. In the first act you need to show us a world we will find interesting and introduce characters that we want to look into and understand. The protagonist needs to be someone we can relate to if not also like. If the character is unrelatable we will have no interest in his failures or successes. The main character should be comfortable  in the prison his flaw has created. He might think he is on top of his game, but we need to see how he is also trapped. We must see his fatal flaw as a flaw. If there is no flaw there is no need for a story. Usually the main character’s flaw is hidden in his greatest quality.

Things start to change in the second act. Right around the 25th to 30th minute of most movies an event comes into the main character’s life that completely changes his routine. This is the introduction of the conflict. The plot must completely revolve around the main character and his flaw. Don’t throw your character into a situation just because you think it would be “cool”.  The plot must give us a deeper understanding of the main character and bring his flaw to the surface of the story. The conflict must completely change things up while still staying true to the world you created. The main character is usually thrown into the second act, it is something he cannot control. The second act represents the journey. It’s the longest act of the three. A few new characters can be introduced as long as they help reflect the struggle going on within the protagonist. The second act shows the depth of the storyteller. Are the characters and the struggles the characters are going through cliche or unrealistic? Or, do you have a story that has layers, that feels personal and deep, and one that gives us a deeper insight into the world we live in?

Sometimes the second act is split in two. The first part could show the protagonist running away from his flaw and the second could be about the protagonist acknowledging his flaw and preparing himself to face it. If the character’s flaw is more than skin deep it will create layers in your story that will take time to uncover. It would be a huge mistake to hurry the second act up in order to get to the climax. Each journey is different and it is important to take the time that is needed. There could be action and a lot of adventure in the second act, but do not over do it. The second act is not about dazzling the audience right and left, it’s about a journey inside the human soul. The second act is preparing both the protagonist and the audience for the climax of the picture.

The transition between the second and third act usually comes on a low note rather then a high one. It is the calm before the storm. Do not clutter the end of your movie with too much action. Let your audience experience a low so the high is more impacting. Give the climax room to breath. The third act is where the main character either overcomes his flaw or is overcome by it. Everything must come together to make a final statement. How have the characters you established in the first act and the journey you took them on in the second act set us up for the final test?  You do not need to give us any straight answers in the third act but you do need to create a sense of completion. For example, the fatal flaw you address in the third act might not be the only problem in your character’s life. However, dealing with the flaw might allow your character to see other problems in his life that he could deal with in the future. Sometimes you show the character dealing with those problems in the future by creating a sequel. Sometimes you just leave the rest of the story to the audience’s imagination. The key is that you dealt with the big problem you introduced at the beginning of the story. Whether you deal with it through tragedy or success is up to you. The third act is usually the shortest of the three. Make your point and don’t doddle. Once your climax is finished and you have made your point, tie up the rest of the story quickly. There is no need to linger.

What I have introduced to you is the basic structure of a three act story. However, it defiantly is not how every story works. Sometimes the stories have five or more acts. Sometimes the main character is the character with the smallest arc in the story. There are plenty ways a storyteller can bend and even break the rules. However, this is a good basis for a storyteller to start with. In every story there needs to be a world and characters we can invest in and a problem that takes a journey to solve. If you truly want to impact your audience with your ideas and stories you must learn how to structure them. You must not just have a brilliant story in your head, you need to know how to get it onto paper and from paper into the heads of others.

Weight and Consequence

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on October 16, 2011

It seems like I was one of the few who was not too impressed with the last Harry Potter films. To be honest I was not too impressed with the last two Harry Potter films. The reason is because the director David Yates seemed to not be interested in expressing the weight and consequences of the last chapter of the Harry Potter story. Oh yes there was plenty of fighting, flying, and spell casting, yet all of it seemed to be for little cause. They wanted to destroy the evil Voldemort because he wants to destroy all the good in the world and become Lord of all. However, we are not given much of a reason why Voldemort is so evil. He is like so many other cliche villains, only fighting against the protagonist because that is what the story requires.

The weight of the last two films was taken away because David Yates was not interested in concentrating on the actual consequence of Voldemort’s action and the cost of killing him. What David Yates seemed to want when it came down to it was a entertaining blockbuster that would not frustrate his broad audience. He sacrificed many of the needs of the story for the comfort of the audience.

Most audiences like to watch cool action sequences full of explosions and people dieing all over the place. In Harry Potter it’s an added bonus that the action is taking place in a wizard world where their are fantastical monsters and spells being cast all over the place. Yet, few like seeing the consequences of fighting. Sure someone dieing from a distance is cool but when you actually know that person and you need to see the results it has on his or her family and close friends, its a different story.  The last battle in Harry Potter is full of consequences, the school is destroyed, many main characters are killed, and the world the wizards live in will never be the same. However, all of this loss was underplayed in the  film.

The school and characters killed were neither set up or cherished much after they were loss. In reality (Spoiler alert) when Fred died we only had one scene mourning his loss. After the battle when Ron is talking to Harry he seems to have forgotten all about his brother Fred. The movie barley acknowledges (watch out another spoiler) the death of Professor Lupin, one of Harry’s most cherished teachers. It even seems like the main characters are not too interested about the damage done to the school they spent the last seven years living and studying in. It is a typical mistake in high budget films for the filmmakers to get so carried away with blowing things up that they forget the value of the things they are destroying. I just wanted one or two scenes of someone like Hermione walking into her old corridor where she used to live and seeing all the graceful carvings and paintings she used to admire as a child destroyed. I wanted the camera to concentrate for just a few seconds on the ripped up banners and blood stained tables in the banquet hall. I wanted to actually see an honest reaction from Harry, Ron, and Hermione on the things that were lost during the “last battle”. However, hardly any of this came to be so when Harry moves on it isn’t a very big deal. The consequences were so distant I didn’t really care about the victory at the end.

It is not the action that creates the entertainment, it is the characters. The action in a story should only further our connection with the characters. The reason why I needed to understand the motives of Voldemort is because it gives validity to the actions of our hero’s. When we can understand Voldemort’s obsession with power, we become much more respectful of Harry’s fight against it. The objective for the last battle should not have been to give us a visual effects feast, the objective should have been to bring to completion the journeys we had been observing in Ron, Hermione, and Harry. Even though it doesn’t feel good to see the true results of what war and fighting brings, allowing us to see these things gives the stories and characters substance that impacts us far greater then a few cool special effects.

If you truly want to impact an audience give them a reason to truly feel for the story and characters you express on screen. In the last chapter of Harry Potter we didn’t get to the bottom of why Ron and Hermione fell in love with each other. We were not allowed to truly get to the bottom of why Harry was so set on fighting against the evils of Voldemort. The weight comes when you set these things up well. You must give us a reason to why characters are doing what they are doing. When we know what the characters are truly fighting for and what they have to lose, the stakes get higher. When the stakes are high you have an audience who is truly involved with the story that is being told. Consequence is one way to make the story more real and it gives us a contrast that is needed so we can better understand and appreciate the light at the end of the tunnel.

I am not saying the last chapter of Harry Potter was a total bust. It had elements I truly liked. However, the focus was for the most part not in the right places and thus the movie became less memorable and less impacting. You must give your audience a reason to remember your movie. Any film can create cool effects. However, there will never be another character exactly like Fred or Professor Lupin. And there will never be a school quite like Hogwarts. The heart of the film is often found in the quite moments, the time between the action and dialogue. It’s there where you will find the weight of the movie. Sometimes consequence is needed to validate that weight. The most important thing is to stay a servant to the story no matter how great of a budget you have or large your audience might be.

humility

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on July 12, 2011

Humility brings perspective, allows us to learn, and strengthens the story for a filmmaker. Andrew Stanton, director of Finding Nemo and Wall-E, talked about the importance of being humble through out success. Pixar maybe more then any other studio needs to keep themselves at a even key in order to create great stories. Andrew Stanton along with the rest of the directors at Pixar would be the first to tell you there are no Walt Disney’s or Steven Spielberg’s at their studio. What Pixar relies on is the Brain Trust. The Brian Trust consists of many of the top artists, directors, and writers at the studio working together for the sake of the story. For the Brian Trust to work, there needs to be a mutual respect for each other. One guy can’t put himself ahead of another because he has been more successful publicly or has come from a more popular art school.

The humility of a student is what filmmakers need to have all the way through their career. I have studied Walt Disney, Steven Spielberg, and the Pixar directors, they all have had a curiosity for the world and somehow they have found a way to stop their success from interfering with their vision. All these filmmakers put the heart of the story above all else. When you relies filmmaking is about a group of people working together for the sake of the story you begin to have the perspective needed to create a great film.

We must all be servants to the stories we are telling. This is where the humility needs to come from. We must always relies through out our success that we still serve something greater then ourselves. I believe the stories we tell as filmmakers are not originated from us but from something greater. I can not claim credit for all the stories I have floating in my head. I believe they come from the people around us and from God. As a Christian I believe I am serving God by telling my stories. I believe my stories are a part of a greater whole. The whole concept of storytelling is amazing to me. We can create completely new worlds, characters, and stories in our heads and we can show them to the world with just a few words or images. The worlds and characters I work on seem to start having a life of their own after a while. This origination of life I can’t claim credit to. I believe more in the idea that the worlds and characters I am working on right now are already out their, it is just my job to find them.

No matter what you believe you must humble yourself for the sake of the story you are telling. No matter how successful you might become, treat each film like it is your first. Be students of film like Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, and the directors at Pixar are. All those guys would say they are students of film first. They constantly watch and learn from movies. They are constantly trying to figure out how to tell their stories in a better way.

Our medium has the potential to create breakthroughs in peoples lives, yet it also can keep people stagnant. With film we can ignite hate towards others or bring understanding. Our medium influences the direction of nations.  Everything depends on the way we treat the medium. Will we treat the medium of film arrogantly or with humility? Treating the film medium with arrogance will help neither you or others. Humility brings on understanding and breakthrough. If we are humble through out the filmmaking process we will find fulfillment in the people and stories we serve.

X-Men: First Class-Review

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on June 3, 2011

 X-Men: First Class starts exactly where the original X-Men (2000) movie started, in a 1944 German concentration camp, where we see a young Jewish boy being forcefully taken away from his father and mother. After being taken away the boy reaches out and begins to miraculously bend the fence blocking him from his parents. After a bit of a struggle the kid ends up getting knocked out by one of the guards. The scene is basically shot by shot the way the original X-Men director Bryan Singer shot it, with different characters portraying the roles. However, the re-shoot seemed void of the tension and emotion that made the original Bryan Singer scene so great. The wight of the piece seemed absent. The sounds and visuals did not put me in the middle of a concentration camp, but rather on a set where people were trying to act. I thought maybe the new X-Men director Matthew Vaughn had a few bad days of shooting. I was fine as long as he got better the farther along we went. However, this was not the case. The new X-Men movie ended up being a mediocre superhero film. It was a film full of thought provoking ideas and interesting characters, but all of which were executed with a middling flair. The film, like so many superhero movies these days, was built on action scene after actions scene all of which seemed more interested in showing off effects then trying to express the true essence of the characters.

To be fair we were given a few scenes with character development, but almost all of it felt forced and passed far too quickly. I did not feel like we had enough time with the main characters Charles Xaiver (James McAvoy) and Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender), let alone the team they recruit. The movie did not really give us much more of an origin story, on how both Charles and Erik were raised and built their ideals, then the first film. We had one scene with Charles as a kid in his luxurious home being kind to a mutant he meets for the first time called Raven. This scene does not tell us anything about how Charles built his ideals on being kind to those around him. We are just shown he is a kind rich kid for some reason. We also had one extra scene with Erik as a child where an evil man, working for the Nazi’s, Sabastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) tells Erik to use his mutant power to move a metal coin or he will kill his mother. Erik can not move the coin, Sabastian kills Erik’s mother, and then Erik pulls a Darth Vador and destroys the room around him out of anger. None of this caught me emotionally. The acting by Kevin was easily forgettable and the boy did not seem to show any more physical emotions then screaming loudly and getting really tense. The music didn’t take a hold of me and the surroundings felt disconcertingly fake.

What happened to the mud and darkness in the first film? For this film everything was too clean. Most of the sets felt too obviously like sets, not locations where the characters really lived. I felt like the expensive budget allowed the film crew to be too free with their set pieces and special effects. Peter Weir once talked about shooting film as though you were always on location and could not remove the walls or scenery. Shooting in a cramped environment often allows for a more realistic scene where the sets feel lived in and the cameras have limits. There were huge shots in the Arctic and during the big ship fight scene at the end of the film that felt too extreme and showy, taking us out of the movie.

The costumes were always perfect, no dirt and no stains. There was a lot of fighting and a lot of killing but we were not allowed to see the consequences to most of the action. We were not allowed to see the blood and the brutality of it all. The only injury they concentrated on was Charles Xavier’s at the end of the film, where he is hit in the back by a reflecting bullet from Erik. Yet, in this scene the acting did not impact me. These characters were supposed to be best friends at this time. The fact that Erik was the cause of Charles injury was supposed to be shocking and deeply emotional to us. I however, through out most of the film and even at the end, did not feel the chemistry between the actors James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender. There were tears but little connection.

Everything relied on us connecting to the X-Men characters. We needed to feel the pain of Erik if we wanted to understand his need for revenge. We needed to understand the belief Charles had in the best of mankind if we were going to care about his convictions not to make war on the human race. The X-Men recruits and the villains of the movie felt completely one dimensional. We are introduced to Emma Frost (January Jones) and see her follow Sabastian Shaw with no explanation to what connects her to this evil man. Shaw just treats Emma like dirt and apparently she is okay with it for some reason. There were glimpses of hope with characters like Hank McCoy (Nicholas Holt) and Raven (Jennifer Lawerance), two of the first X-Men recruits, but there characters were not explored very effectively. We knew Hank hated his ape like feet and Raven was uncomfortable with showing here true form, but there were few examples of how society abused these characters so much they began to hate part of themselves. The closest we get are a few stupid jokes a few of the other X-Men recruits make on Hank.

Superhero movies can have such a powerful impact on our society. Superhero’s like The X-Men, Spiderman, and Superman are the Greek and Roman gods of the 21st century. They also represent part of who we are. They are full of flaws and insecurities. A great superhero is not someone who is all powerful and perfect. A great superhero is a character who has the power to make a difference and fails again and again, but somehow finds the strength to get back up. We must know the flaws and insecurities of these characters before we start rooting for them to get up and fight. The emotional connection created between the audience and superhero is far more important then the scale of their task.

First connect me to the characters and world they live in before embarking on a mission for them to save the world. All the powers of cinema need to be directed toward bringing these superheros down to earth so we can relate to them as human beings. X-Men: First Class is not a bad movie. However it falls victim to a lot of mediocrity because the filmmakers vision could not go much farther then a visual feast of visual effects and action sequences.

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on January 23, 2011

I watched Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World the other day. I think it highlights both the skill that I see coming with this generation of filmmakers and the greatest weakness of this generation of filmmakers.

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World was a extremely inventive movie. We are taken on an abstract ride through a world that can only be expressed through the medium of film. In the movie Scott Pilgrim is a twenty three year old with a very low self esteem. He is going out with a seventeen year old who he does not really like. He is also still trying to get over being dumped by a popular music star from more then a year ago.

The movie is flashy and loaded with special effects. Edgar Wright, the director of this film, tries to express the movie like a video game. At times almost every noise heard is expressed through bold font. If there is a knock on the door or ring of a phone, we get the sound literally spelled out for us. Usually the sounds in the movie remind you of of arcade rooms from the 80’s and early 90’s. When introduced to new locations or new characters we see a small title card pop up giving us their name and basic function. For example: when we are introduced to Scott’s roommate Wallace Wells, under the title of his name we see “roommate”, under that “25 years old”, and under that we see “Status: 7.4/10”.

About ten minutes into the film we are introduced to one more character, Romona Flowers. Romona is the girl of Scott’s dreams. Quickly Scott loses all interest in his seventeen year old girlfriend and goes after Romona. However, Scott soon finds out that if he wants to date Romona, he needs to fight and defeat her “Seven X’s”. The “Seven X’s” consist of people Romona has gone out with in the past. From this point on Edgar really plays the movie like a video game. Every time a boyfriend or girlfriend (she went out with one girl in her past) comes to face Scott they dramatically announce their arrival with some title cards expressing who they are and their basic fighting ability. After this we see a big “VS.” pop up on screen between the two opponents. Scott then is able to use anything he could get his hands on to defeat the “X’s“. Amazingly Scott inherits expert kung fu skills making most of the fights very entertaining to watch. After the “X’s” are defeated they blow into handfuls of coins and a big “K.O” looms over where they once were.

I found the expressionism very interesting. I liked seeing sound effects expressed through stylized font. I liked the exaggerated fight scenes where we literally saw characters get thrown through walls and thousands of feet into the air. However, all this does not necessarily make for a good movie. You need to fall in love with the story and the characters if you want the movie to go any farther then the highs you can get from playing a video game. For me, the story and characters were extremely shallow.

Why is it that a movie done in such a unique and expressive way, could only go as deep as a Saturday morning cartoon show? The relationship between Scott and Ramona is never really explained. There is nothing that seems to get us interested Ramona except for the fact that she looks hot and dyes her hair different colors every week and a half.

Because the characters can not express themselves very well, there are scenes where we just get a lot of yelling and low blow humor. We see a very disturbing character in Scott’s roommate Wallace. Wallace is gay and he seems to not have any morals when it comes to sexuality. Wallace will sleep with any man even Scott’s sisters boyfriend. There are times where he has three partners in bed at once. In almost every scene Wallace is trying to get his hands on some man. Of course this is all done for comic relief, but I really want to know why someone like Wallace is supposed to be funny?

As I said, Scott does have some epic battle scenes where he is fighting for his girl Ramona, but it is hard to understand why. Scott never really explains why he likes Ramona. The truth is Scott does not seem to know why he likes Ramona and he does not spend any time trying to figure it out.

The movie is also full of cliche’s. We of course have the time where Scott thinks he has lost Ramona forever. Then he decides to go and fight to get her back, which results in him getting within a inch of victory and then “unexpectedly” falling to defeat. But never fear, he  miraculously gets up from his defeat to beat the very cliche villain who wants Ramona for himself.  The result is all the good guys say they have learned their lesson, however it is very hard to understand exactly what they have learned. Scott gets Ramona and they walk into the next “level”, most likely to live happily ever after.

The filmmakers of this generation seem to think that they should just be able to say , “These two are in love”, and expect the audience to buy into it “hook line and sinker”. Maybe that is the case for the majority of audiences these days. We don’t need to go deep anymore. Shallow if fine, as long as we have a few laughs and see some cool special effects. The reason why immoral people like Scott’s roommate Wallace are funny is because we really do not care what that portrayal is saying about the homosexual life style, we just care that it’s “funny”.

In Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, cool fonts try to hide shallow characters and special effects try to conceal a cliche plot line. In essence, the breakthroughs of the movie are used as a cover up for the weak story. Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World is a perfect example of a “cool movie” that is quickly forgotten. And, along with Scott Pilgrim Vs. The world, this generation of filmmakers will be easily forgotten if we do not choose to put story and vision ahead of cool camera moves and special effects.

The Pen of a Filmmaker

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on January 16, 2011

Making a movie is sort of like creating a piece of literature. Your pen is the camera and the paper is the canvas for the world you are going to create. It is the filmmakers job to figure out what to write and how to space it. You can even say something like “cutting” is the equivalent of  “periods” and “exclamation marks“ in writing.

What a good filmmaker tries to do is create a rhythm or a flow to his or her movie. We need to not only have a good story but also be able to express it in a way that is interesting and unique. Literature has many different ways of expressing itself. There is plain factual writings (text books), fictional and non-functional writings, poetry, journalism, ant etc… All of these types of writings can take a subject and express it in completely different ways.

One of the beauties of filmmaking is we have many ways to express ourselves. In fact the tools for film are getting more extensive every day. It is like we have paint brushes today that filmmakers in the past could only dream of having.

The extensive amount of tools we have today to express ourselves do not make the films of the past look like armatures however. It is good to study the great filmmakers of the past if not for the sole purpose of understanding how they could express so much with so little.

It is a common mistake for most young filmmakers today to care more about the tools then the actual subject matter. I have worked with many fellow students who seemed so caught up in making a cool shot or pulling off a cool effect that they forgot about the core of what filmmaking is about. In literary terms it is like writers who are so interested in using sophisticated words that they forget to think about the meaning behind them.  The core of filmmaking is and must always be the story. The meaning behind the effect or cool shot is what matters. Everything should be done to support and express the story in the best way possible.

Even if your story is just some factual information that you want to get across to the audience (News), the first question should be, “how can I best communicate this information to the audience?”. The cool shots and fantastic special effects should only be used to make the information more clear and more acceptable to the audience.

Figuring out the different ways we can express ourselves in film is like looking into the different ways people express themselves in writing. Even if something like poetry is not your thing it is a good idea to try to understand it. The ways filmmakers can express themselves is endless. The more I look into film the vaster the medium seems to get. I personally think this is a good thing.

I want to be a great filmmaker like any writer wants to be a great author. I think that the similarities between the two mediums are fascinating. Looking at the camera like it is your pen is a good analogy. We have the potential to make mistakes and create masterpieces. However, nothing will happen until you are able to build up the guts to put pen to paper.

(By the way, this is post 100! Thank you so very much for everyone who has been checking out this blog. I will try my best to continue to improve my writing and push my dreams forward. I am glad you are can share in my experiences. Do not be afraid to comment and tell me what you think 🙂 )

What is King?

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on December 19, 2010

The title of this blog, “What is King?“, comes from a question I think everyone should be asking themselves if they are wanting to get into the film business. Figuring out what is King for you is key to understanding how much you can get out of the film medium.

I have studied many people in Hollywood who have money as their King. They have an extreme amount of dedication and talent, but their decisions are based on what will bring them the most profit. When people make money be their king, they often sacrifice quality and have a hard time figuring out what “sells”. Sure, if they are talented they will have one or two hits, but they never can get a consistency going. Usually they make up for the lack of consistence through a tremendous amount of commercialism and pop humor. The reason why someone like Jeffery Katzenberg is no Walt Disney, is because he makes money King when it comes to film making. It is also the reason why his Dreamworks animation studio has not come out with a streak of critically acclaimed successes.

Pop humor is part of another thing that people make out to be King when it comes to film. In definition “pop humor” is popular today and dead tomorrow. It does not have a long life, it is created because it is popular at the moment. All the filmmakers I have ever studied have fallen victim to putting the audience member in front of the actual vision of the film at some point in their career. Trying to please all audiences usually leads to weak stories that take no risks and have extremely predictable characters. We get pop humor or as I like to call it poop humor, from these films because the filmmakers know that someone will laugh if there is a fart joke or clever insult in the movie. When we base decisions on the “poplar vote” rather then our own creative intuitions, we create films that have many inconsistencies and a muddy message.

Another thing that many filmmakers make out to be King (this can be especially applied to Christian film organizations) is the “message” of the film.  You can not make the message of the films be King if you want to be a successful filmmaker. A King is a ruler, the one you as a filmmaker serve. Everyone serves something in their life. You can either serve self serving things like money, popularity, or even a message, or you can serve something greater then yourself. The key is to put the story above everything else and make it King. That means you can not be set on any given message.

The “message” of your film, if not shown the proper respect and put in the proper place, can be very self serving and destructive towards the audience. It is easy to make the mistake of giving a message to glorify yourself. You don’t think about the reason you are giving it, just about the importance that it brings to you. Messages like “Don’t commit abortion”, or “Don’t be homosexuals”, are useless if you can not explain the reason behind them. With Christian films specifically, quality is often sacrificed because the filmmakers are too clouded by the self serving message. The way the message is expressed and the flaws the message might have, are ignored because the message in and of itself is too important.

When you make the story be King, the message will fall into it’s proper place. I am a firm believer in having there be a message in any given film. The message does not need to tell the audience what to think or what is right and what is wrong but you at least need to have a point to your story, a point that you can clearly express. The message or the point of the film is not the end all, it only should come through the development of the story. We as the audience want to see  development just as much as the end product. The filmmaker needs to earn his moments. Before making a statement you need the audience to buy into your characters and story.

The story must always guide the message. One of my favorite filmmakers, Andrew Stanton, related figuring out the story to a paleontologist discovering the bones of a dinosaur.  The paleontologist might have a good idea of what kind of dinosaur he is uncovering right off the bat, but it is not set in stone until he has all the pieces. The question is, do you have the guts to change the message if you discover a “bone” that leads the story in a completely different direction?

A story represents a vision and it is the filmmakers job to follow that vision. No artists vision is completely the same. It will beckon you to go out and try new things. Letting the vision lead is hard because you are not necessarily in complete control of the vision, it is organic and will grow the more your characters, environments, and stories grow.  Sometimes the vision seems to be going in a ridiculous directions. Sometimes you wonder if can find any profit from the vision. You wonder whether or not the message is good enough and whether or not the audience will resonate with it. I am not saying to ignore all those questions or insecurities.

I am just saying film takes faith sometimes. You can not rely on talent alone. If you have faith in yourself then have faith in your vision. Make the vision be the King. Throw away the doubts and the insecurities. I am tired of films that are made because the higher ups want more money. I am tired of films that are made to satisfy our shallowest desires. I am tired of movies that try to shove messages down my throat with no consideration to who I am. Great films come from great visionaries. Stop worrying about what will bring you profit and start serving the vision you have been given!

Toy Story 3- Extra Features Review

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on November 16, 2010

Review on most of the Toy Story 3 Extra Features I have watched so far. I give them a grade between 1 and 10. The grade is based on how well the videos, podcasts, and documentaries present their information, and what I think of the information they present. I will bold curtain words that I think represent what the videos are about. This is not supposed to be extremely organized, but I do hope you find it useful and have at least an idea of what kind of stuff you are getting into when you purchase these movies or look at these links. if you have any questions or critiques please comment below.

Toy Story 3:

Two Disc Blu-Ray Review:

Cinama Explore/ Commentary: Lee Unkrich and Darla Anderson: 7.5 out of 10: I can tell that Lee was very passionate when making the film and that the movie came from his true vision. I also found some good info on particular scenes and to whether they were easy or hard to do. One of the problems is that Lee tries to pack everything into the commentary, so he does not give enough time (in my opinion) on any given subject. I would have liked to have more insight into his directing process and hear why he did what he did when it came to writing, story boarding, animating, lighting, and more importantly editing (sense that was his upbringing in film) a shot. However, that said the commentary is very informational. Darla talks very little but you also get the feeling she was deep into the passion that made Toy Story 3 what it is. I think the highlights is a more overall idea on the animation process, leaning toward story if anything.

A Western Opening: Story Process: 8 out of 10: This was a 7 minute documentary on how the very opening of Toy Story 3 became what it is in the film. It deals entirely on how they developed the story through out the years. It was surprising how different it started out being, from the end product. You also get some great insight into how they made it a core part of the story as a whole.

Bonnie’s Playtime: Story Roundtable: 9 out of 10: This is a great 6 minute conversation with Lee Unkrich, Jason Katz (story artist), Adrian Molina (story artist), Erik Benson (story artist), and Matt Luhn (story artist), on how they went about figuring out Bonnie as a character and how they figured out how to introduce her to the audience so we immediately love her without knowing the toys are going to be donated to her. This is completely about story and character development. I love some of the conversation that goes on. You get some real insight to how many people it took to crack the character of Bonnie. We get many people’s different points of view, all of them seem to have been interested in one thing and that is making a character as strong as Andy. They go into detail about how they tried to connect Bonnie’s room too Andy’s room, while still making both characters unique. You also get a good look at why they chose the toys they chose for Bonnie. Some GREAT stuff.

Beginnings: Setting The Story in Motion: 10 out of 10: This is PRICELESS!!! A 8 minute clinic on starting a screenplay. It is narrated by Michael Arndt, and gives us a fantastic look at fundamental things to look for if you are having a hard time working a story out. He explains how if you are having a hard time writing a story, the problem almost always has its roots in the beginning of the story. Michael goes through 3 Pixar movies, Toy Story, Finding Nemo, and The Incredibles, and tells us how exactly they are set up to allow the 2nd and 3rd act to really flow. This is a fundamental documentary for anyone interested in screenwriting. The great thing is that Michael even says that the rules he explains are NOT  law, they are just good things to look at if you are having problems.

Life of a Shot: 8 out of 10: A 7 minute look at what went into the huge western opening in Toy Story 3. We saw a little of everything, character animation, effects animation, camera positioning, storyboarding, prop design, color scripting, lighting, and music. For a brief introductory look at what goes into making animation work, watch this feature.

Paths To Pixar: Editorial: 9 out of 10: This is more about advice then how these editors made it to Pixar. It is only 4 minutes and 40 seconds, but has a lot of different views on what goes into good film editing. They explain some of the difference between live action editing and animation editing. I like how they really captured several peoples views on the subject and it seemed to keep on driving forward. You clearly see a beginning middle and end to this documentary.

Toy Story 3: The Gang’s All Here: 8 out of 10: This is a interesting 8 minute look at all the voice actors for the film. ALL these Toy Story 3 extra features are so very well made. It is just fun to hear some of Tom Hank’s ideas on what Toy Story means to him. It is cool to see how so many voice actors are excited about Pixar and how they feel they are becoming imortal when they contribute their voices to one of their films. Also a little insight on Lee Unkrich, and his thoughts on directing the third movie.

Goodbye Andy: 9 out of 10: I dare someone to watch this short documentary and say that the film was not “driven” by Lee Unkrich. Lee, I think, is the most personal in this documentary, explaining what he put into the ending of the film and how important it was to him to complete the Toy Story trilogy. We get some great insight on how the ending of the film was developed from the very first retreat John Lasseter and his core filmmakers had when they started the Toy Story 3 project. They talk a lot about what they needed to do to make the story just right. Lee explains what he thought his job was as the Director.

Commentary: Bobby Podesta, Jason Katz, Mike Venturini, Bob Pauley, and Guido Quaron: 8 out of 10: A good commentary. We get to hear about some of the passion that went into making the film. We also hear about many of the obstacles. They talk about the daunting task of working on characters that are considered legends in the animation world. We also see why Pixar is the best animation studio at the moment. It is all about detail and these guys are addicted to making sure every last detail is covered, so that could create the best film imaginable. They all put 110% into all they do. I do think they were a little too interested in talking about fellow artists contributions,  that their own personal journey became a side note on the commentary. I really wanted to hear a little more from Jason Katz, the story supervisor of the film. But a good overall commentary and there was some of that detail and insight given just not as much as I thought they could have given. The main concentration of the commentary is on story and animation. But, there is also a fair amount of talk about how color schemes and set designs pushed the story forward. Pixar is extremely oriented to story, so everything rounded back to that with the commentators.

Overall a very well made Blu ray pack, full of extra features that give you great insight towards story development and the Pixar process. Even though some of their extra feature documentaries are short, they are PACKED with useful information. They get strait to the point in each oneof their documentaries and I like that.

Internet Toy Story 3 material:

The Sound of America: Lee Unkrich Interview: 7 out of 10: A good 30 minute interview talking about many of the themes of the Toy Story trilogy and how and why they appeal to us as an audience.

Creative Screenwriting Magazin Podcast: Michael Arndt Toy Story 3: 9.5 out of 10: Another Priceless interview of screenwriter Michael Arndt. This is Michael talking for an 1 hour and 15 minutes about how he got started as a screenwriter and what he thinks it takes to be a screenwriter. He talks about his philosophy on screenwriting and what he learned going to Pixar. He goes into detail about curtain elements of writing Toy Story 3 and how it is a tremendously collaborative process. He talks about the roots of Pixar philosophy for filmmaking. He explains some the contributions that people like Brad Bird, John Lasseter, and Andrew Stanton, brought to Toy Story 3. I loved all of it. I especially liked when Michael was talking about getting started and what he thinks screenwriting is all about.

The “Brave” Situation

Posted in Personal Philosophy by Jacob on October 22, 2010

Well I thought I might as well throw in my two cents about this whole thing that is going on at Pixar concerning the up and coming film Brave.

First, for those who don’t know. The first woman director for Pixar, Brenda Chapman, was scheduled to make her directorial debut with the film Brave. Brave is a original fairytale written by Brenda Chapman about Pixar’s first main female protagonist Merida, who is of royalty and has ambitions to become an archer against her mother and fathers will. It has been in production for several years now and was personally the movie I was most looking forward to seeing on the Pixar slate. A few days ago CartoonBrew posted a blog claiming that Brenda had been replaced at the helm by Mark Andrews (Co-Director of Pixar’s short One Man Band). This news has become HUGE and there are many people who are not happy about it. There is already 200+ comments on the CartoonBrew post and the majority seem to be quite disappointed, some to the point of being quite vulgar.

I can only imagine how hard it is to leave a story after several years of being its main authority. From what I know of Brenda, I like. She has been proclaimed by many to be an excellent story artist who is devoted to her art form. Brenda was part of the Disney story department that brought both Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King to life. She also was a co-Director for the Dreamworks film The Prince of Egypt. The reasoning for the change is yet unclear. All Disney has said so far is that the change was made for “creative reasons”. Many speculate that the movie just was not conventional enough.

There was one person particularly who I have come to very much respect, that has voiced his frustrations with the change. His name is Floyd Norman, he is a retired Disney/Pixar artist who worked with Walt Disney himself in the late 1950’s through the 1960’s (you can see the blog I did on him here). Floyd says on his blog , “[I call] this decision another bone-headed move that will send Walt’s wonderful company further down the rat hole”, when talking about the demotion of Brenda Chapman. As the closest insider I know and trust, I find this very concerning.

Pixar has long since proclaimed that they are a director driven studio. They claim to make movies that they want to see themselves. Pixar’s Creative chief, John Lasseter,  claims that “Story is king” at Pixar. Why then would they be getting rid of a critically acclaimed story artist? Floyd and a few others on CartoonBrew have claimed that they have watched the rough cut of the film and thought it was going in a marvelous direction. Yet the fact remains that Brenda is not in charge anymore.

The reason this brings up particular frustration with me is because I have ambitions of joining Pixar and sharing the stories that I have developed. I do not want to join a studio however that does not put the story first. I do not want to have my stories be taken away from be purly on the reasoning that they are “not conventional enough”. The question is, is this true? Has Pixar gotten rid of Brenda Chapman because they wanted to “play it safe”? I guess the bottom line is that I need to rely on what I know about Pixar so far.

I have done much study on the Pixar studio and those who work in it. I have found them to be full of vision. It was very comforting to hear Brad Bird, when he first came to make The Incredibles (2004), talk about Pixar’s dedication to protecting story. A good question now in 2010 would be does Pixar still put story first?

I personally do still think Pixar puts story first. At the moment I still think that Pixar’s heart is in the right place. And, at the moment I do not think Pixar deserves the criticism they have received from many of the people I have seen comment on the “Brave” situation. Pixar has made directorial changes before and they were on two movies that turned out to be two of the greatest films Pixar has ever created, Toy Story 2 and Ratatouille.  Pixar has shown time and again that they are artistically driven, creating some of the greatest films of this decade.

Those who claim Pixar is about playing it safe, seem to forget how Pixar became famous. Computer generated animation was a whole new field of unknowns when Pixar’s first full length feature Toy Story was being created. Nobody knew whether or not Toy Story would be a success and it was a movie that went against the typical animation story style of it’s time. The more recent Pixar movie Up had their two protagonists be a eight year old boy and a seventy plus year old man. Many people claimed that Up would not get a strong teen audience and would fail at the box office. However, this did not stop Pixar from creating the film and it did not stop Up from being a giant success. A movie about Rats or a film where the main protagonist was a garbage robot, probably didn’t sound like very safe storytelling either. However, that still did no2t stop Pixar.

We will have to see about Brave. As confused and even frustrated as I am at the moment about Brenda Chapman being demoted, I still have trust in Pixar. I still have ambitions at working at the Pixar studio and still think that John Lasseter and Ed Catmull (Presidents of Pixar animation) put story above everything else. We will see what happens with the movie Brave. I am hoping that Brenda’s voice is not extinguished and she stays to do great things for Pixar animation. I also hope that Pixar continues to be a artistically driven studio. Pixar should know by now the power of putting the film first. It is not fame or money that makes great movies, it is dedication to story.