A Dreamer Walking

Tom Hooper – Director – The King’s Speech

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on May 15, 2014

Hooper #2

Now this is how you frame a King!…. right?

Actually I would not say this shot is meant to be kingly or flattering. The direct opposite really. It is well composed but the intent is to dwarf Prince Albert and reflect his defeated emotional state. Director Tom Hooper said this wall we see behind Albert was the best set piece in the whole movie. During this production they spent millions on creating sets and were able to shoot in some fantastic locations like St. James’s Palace and the Hatfield House in Herfordshire, England. Yet, this wall seemed to give Hooper the most inspiration. Everything you need to know about the Duke of York is represented in this shot.

First lets focus on Prince Albert. He is dressed in very subdued clothing. Hooper is literally hiding Albert’s true colors. Heck, the king hasn’t even bothered to take off his coat. At this moment he is being interviewed by the speech therapist Lionel. It’s obvious Albert doesn’t feel comfortable. He takes up as little space as possible and he is sitting in a slouched position – a very improper posture for royalty. Albert has come to Lionel to see if he might help him with his speech impediment and inability to talk in public. The framing is a reflection of his speech problem. The prince seems to be engulfed by the wall. Hooper wants to communicate the idea that Albert is alone and dwarfed by his speech defect. The speech defect is represented by the wall. Talking in a position like this makes Albert’s words feel hollow. The wall is meant to be distracting, as if The Duke is hardly worth noticing. In this picture Hooper is setting up how much Prince Albert needs to grow in order to become the king so many of us remember from the History books.

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.

Time and Attention

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on May 22, 2011

The other day I arranged a movie night. We were going to sit down and enjoy one of last years best movies, The King’s Speech. The audience was mostly young men about my age, ranging from 18 to 21. There were two parents watching the movie for their second time, as well. I was quite excited to show this movie to my friends. I am a big fan of the director Tom Hooper and think the movie rightly deserved the academy award for Best Picture in this years Oscars. This was actually my third time watching the movie.

The movie was being presented on Blu Ray high definition on a huge widescreen TV with surround sound, to give us the “ultimate viewing experience”. However, less then a minute into the movie I heard a little “buzzzz” sound right next to me. Then within seconds I heard a second “buzzzz” on the other side of me. Then came a “buzzzz” below me. I looked around and too my amazement I saw three of my friends answering text messages. “You guys are going to miss the crucial part of the scene”, I thought to myself. It was right at the moment where the main character of the movie, Albert the Duke of York, was standing in the stair case by a gray colorless wall with the close up of the speech in his hand and a terrified expression on his face. I knew if my friends did not see the lack of confidence the Duke was expressing while waiting to give the speech, they would not understand his stuttering while giving the speech a few seconds later. My friends were also missing the little gesture the Duchess of York was giving her husband when reluctantly letting him go. If you were paying attention to the film you could easily see this subtle affection and distress the Duchess had for her husband’s predicament. We can see how desperately she was trying to give him confidence while whispering in his ear, “It’s time”. I don’t even know if my friends saw the huge machines set up in order to broadcast the speech to the world. They actually might be amazed to see the texts they were constructing to communicate to someone miles away took whole room fulls of equipment less then a hundred years ago in 1925.

I was able to shake off the frustration of my friends missing some of the small details I considered quite important at the beginning of the films because I thought those text messages might have been pretty important. My friends might have felt the need to tell their texting friends they were watching a movie, rather then be rude and just ignore them. However, the texts didn’t stop. Through out the film my friends seemed to be just as interested in texting as they were interested in the movie.

My friends were not even giving themselves the chance to be taken by the film. They didn’t allow themselves to see the true effect the speech therapist in the movie had with the Duke. And how exactly he gave him confidence to step up and become a King. What ended up happening that night was one of my texting friends bailed out half way through because he said he was so tired he couldn’t track the film and my two other texting friends said they could not relate very well to the characters or story. I thought, “How did they expect to relate with the characters or story? They had not even given them a chance to effect them”.

School teachers are not trying to just be mean when they tell you to put your cellphones away when they are giving lectures. The reasons why we are usually not allowed to use cellphones while listening to a lecture, at the dinner table, in a meeting, or when we are in a movie theater is because they take our, and usually the people around us, attention away. Filmmakers literally spend hundreds and hundreds of hours working on each minute of film we see in the movies. They have not spent so much time and effort working on the film only for us to pay attention to the bare minimum. Every detail matters, especially with an academy award film like The King’s Speech. The movie demands our attention if we want to truly get anything out of it. The same goes with any well made film, they require the audience to participate.

We live in the information age. The greatest concern we should have is getting too overwhelmed with information. If we are researching something we just need to type in the subject on Google and immediately we are presented with dozens of articles on the subject. The problem with this overwhelming resource of information is we tend to skim the articles because we are too much in a hurry to get to the next one. If we wanted to we could be having three conversations at once, one through texting on the cellphone, one face to face, and one on the computer. The problem is when we try to have three conversations at once we are not focused on any of them.

The reasons why films continuously get quicker paced and are full of “in your face” visual effects is because studio executives don’t think we can appreciate the quite moments in film anymore. The reason why more and more movies are being made with poor plot lines and shallow characters is because the studio executives know those kind of stories are easier to be made and they think we the audience do not really care. Sadly, these studio heads are far too close to being right, most of us do not care.

The people who payed the most attention to The King’s Speech were the parents who had already watched the film. My generation for the most part seems to not care about these stories which have beautiful character depth and thought provoking story lines, because they don’t have enough action or are too full of duologue. The other night was just one example of an attitude which is becoming much more common. We simply do not care. I would not be mad if my friends did not like the movie if they had been paying attention to it. In fact, their reason I am sure would have helped me develop a stronger opinion on the movie. What frustrates and saddens me is the lack of commitment my friends were willing to give the film. My generation in general has become satisfied with quantity over quality. We rather not have anything go too deep and be too thought provoking because we don’t have time to give any one thing our complete attention.

The studio executives do not care nearly as much about making quality pictures because we have shown we are okay with mediocre. The audience sets the standard towards the kind of entertainment we receive. With the kind of mindset my generation has we are going to miss out on quite a few beautiful things. We can’t see the beauty in a masterful piece of art unless we spend time studying it. We can not understand the beauty in the people around us unless we spend time getting to know them. The same concept applies to movies.

One of my friends who was texting throughout the film said he couldn’t relate to the King’s speech impediment because communication has never been a problem for him. I say that is all the more reason for my friend to pay attention. All you need to know to understand Albert’s problem is in the movie. Film can be a way to experience the world and understand it’s differing views. The medium of film has the potential to reveal truths about this world and who we are that we did not even know were there. It is true films like The King’s Speech are sources of entertainment. But, the best kind of entertainment is the kind that allows us to grow. The films which allow us to grow only require from us an hour or two of our time and attention. I beg you to give it……. for both our sake.