A Dreamer Walking

Steven Spielberg – Director – Saving Private Ryan

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on May 4, 2014

Spielberg #1

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

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

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

 

The Power of Subtlety

Posted in Personal Philosophy by Jacob on September 15, 2010

In film, the most subtle parts of the characters and stories often are the most powerful and meaningful to the audience. As a filmmaker you often want to create a BIG film. If you are given a big budget you often want to use the money to enhance the visual effects and action sequences, so you can make your movie “bigger and better” then anyone else.

The idea that “bigger is better” is a lie. Movies always need to be lead by the heart of the story and often the heart of the story asks for depth in character and plot rather then action. It is a fact that almost every sequel has a bigger budget then its original film. Sequels often have far more impressive actions sequences where the visual effects “blow our minds”. Why then do sequels hardly ever get as good reviews as the original films? The answer is subtlety. We are not given the subtle things in sequels that are often needed to create good films.

Things like character depth and story development are often rushed in sequels. It is easy to be impressed with a big effect, they don’t take much effort from the audience, they often happen right in front of you, and they are instant gratification. It is much harder to be impacted by a individual characters or the meaning behind a story, for those things require more indepth thought from the filmmakers and  the audience’s participation. With meaningful stories you need to trust your audience and you as a filmmaker need to have more confidence with your ability to tell a story.

Story telling in general can be very generic. There is always a beginning, middle and end, and we often see the “happily ever after” theme come at the end most films. Even if you have the sad ending, that kind of thing has been done a million times before. The question is how will you make your film unique? What is different about the way you tell the story, from a Steven Spielberg or Alfred Hitchcock? Usually it is the subtle things that make all the difference. The individual performances and the unique messages that you bring to your films is why audiences keep coming back to the theater.

The actor can make all the difference. I am often impressed by actors like Tom Hanks, Russell Crowe, and Will Smith because of the subtle differences they bring to many of their roles. Someone like Captain John Millar from Saving Private Ryan, seems to be a very ordinary Character. Put in less capable hands, Captain Millar could have easily fallen flat. Captain Millar seemed to be nothing special, he was a middle aged, middle classed, school teachers forced like most Americans to do his duty in the war. The power came in the way Tom Hanks portrayed Captain Millar, we became sympathetic to him as a character and the situation he was in. Tom Hanks owned his role and all the subtle things seemed to be thought out. We were not even shown Captain Millar’s wife and kids, but we feel his love for them through out his journey and his compassion for his regiment is clearly seen. The little subtle decisions and the way Captain Millar carries those decisions out, makes all the difference, it creates a unique character that we have not seen before.

With the story of Saving Private Ryan, it was the small subtle moments that impacted me the most. When Captain Millar is dieing because of his choice to stay and help Private Ryan, he tells Ryan in a whisper, “Earn this”. This was the most powerful statement in the movie, the audience was tremendously impacted by what Captain Millar said. It did not need to be a shout, the power actually came in the subtle way Millar said the words.

Film is a very subtle art form. Subtlety demands that you pay attention, but you will find that the subtle things can often impact the audience the most. Even when Alfred Hitchcock made his suspense films, it was the subtle things that made his films so powerful. When it comes to horror and suspense you would think that bigger is better, but Hitchcock realized that often less is more. There are scenes such as at the end of Psycho, where you are impacted in maybe even subconscious ways. At the end of Psycho you see the recently revealed murderer Norman Bates face change slightly, Norman’s face is combined slightly with his mothers skull, right before we see the end title.  We don’t even know if we saw something, but we did, that subtle image will stick with us long after the movie has ended.

Think hard about what makes your film Unique. What can you bring to your characters that has never been seen before? Messages in films do not need to be obvious. Make the points of your film subtle and give the audience something to talk about afterword. “Less” is often is “more” in film. Sure, have those big actions scenes if your story calls for it, but never forget about the little things that make your movies unique and that can influence the audience the most.

(IF YOU HAVE NOT WATCHED PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS DO NOT WATCH THIS CLIP OR READ ANY FURTHER!!! This is a scene at the End of Pursuit of Happyness. The power comes in the subtle way Will Smith first reacts to the news of getting the Job. The controlled and subtle emotion impacted me far more then any outburst or uncontrolled reaction)

Forrest Gump

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on September 6, 2010

Forrest Gump is a unique story told in a flawless way. Robert Zemeckis the director of Forrest Gump was completely invisible in this film. I did not concentrate on magnificent shots, clever cuts, or breath taking effects, because I was too caught up in the story being told. Forrest Gump is a simple story about life, where the main character stays the same and the world changes around him. Tom Hanks is Forrest Gump, it is one of the greatest performances I have ever seen. The sincerity and innocents you see in Forrest is entirely believable. We see Forrest at the beginning of the movie as being a little stupid, he does not have any look about him that makes us think he is something special, but while the film goes on our interest and love for Forrest gets stronger, to the point that he starts to impact us on a very foundational level.

Forrest Gump was a unique movie in many ways. The movie goes against many rules of typical Hollywood film making. There is no visible villain. The main Character stays constant through out the whole film. You do not have a typical beginning middle and end, the hero is not portrayed as being more special then the rest of the character he actually is not as IQ smart as the average human being. The big action sequences are in the middle of the film instead of at the end, and there does not seem to be a explanation mark to the picture. Instead, at the end we are lead to believe that the story will just keep on going even though we are leaving.

When the character Forrest Gump (played by Tom Hanks) is introduced in the picture, we immediately see someone who is not all there. His speech is exaggerated and he does not seem to quite realize how to keep to his personal space. Forrest begins to tell someone a story, who has already indicated she is not interested. However through out the story Forrest tells, we begin to find out that he is the smartest one of them all. Forrest Gump is a character who stays close to the same through out the film. He has a innocents that effects everything around him. We are able to experience about four decades of American History  in the film, we see how America changes for both good and Bad. One of the brilliance’s of the movie is seeing Forrest physically going through our American history, he encounters famous characters such as Elvis, we see historical footage of Forrest meeting presidents such as John Kennedy, and we see Forrest recorded on the cover of magazines such as Time Magazine.

Through out the film we experience secondary characters that represents parts of America. Forrest’s love interest Jenny, is a very interesting character, she was abused as a young child and as she grows up she becomes a rebel in search for a cause. Jenny is a very typical character for her generation , you can easily use her as a symbol of the typical “rebel” of America during the 1960’s and 70’s. There is also Lt. Dan, a commanding officer that Forrest is under while in Vietnam. Lt. Dan and his regiment are attacked and in while in battle Dan is wounded, Forrest is able to save Lt. Dan, but due to the injuries Lt. Dan loses his legs. Like his forefathers Lt. Dan thought his destiny was to die in battle, Forrest took that away from Dan and now he is just a crippled old man with no real reason to live. Lt. Dan represents the crippled part of America.

Both Jenny and Dan are blinded to truth. They are so caught up in what the world thinks and their own prejudices that they can not find peace or salvation. Forrest has no prejudices and he could care less what the world thinks. Because of this Forrest is able to be a light to both Jenny and Dan, Forrest treats them with love and respect no matter how cruel they get or crippled they are. In essence Forrest is that vital key for both Lt. Dan and Jenny, to start changing and accepting themselves. Forrest is lead by his heart, the only three opinions he cares about is his Mothers, Jenny’s, and God’s. Because Forrest is the main character and he keeps the innocents of a child, we the audience are able to see the world (America specifically) in a very unique light.

Forrest Gump is one of the greatest visual effects movies of its time. The reason why the effects are so good is because  we hardly notice them.  Often directors go for the kind of effects that will show off their skill or their huge budget, this was not the case with Robert Zemeckis. Robert seems to realize that the best kind of effects are the ones that you do not notice but gets you more involved with the story. In almost every scene the picture is enhanced with special effects, whether its digitally removing legs or enhancing the sky and the clouds, Robert makes this film be in a world all of it’s own, the kind that you can only find in the movies.

Robert Zemeckis orchestrates the film perfectly. Everything works together flawlessly. As a director you need to have a good idea of the movie as a whole. With Forrest Gump we saw sound, music, effects, editing,  acting, cinematography, costumes, and production design, working together for the purpose of the story. Robert talked about the importance of not taking the audience out of the picture through creating too big of camera shots, or having one actor sacrifice character for humor. In regards to the script Robert relied on it as though it were the Bible. Robert does not encourage improvisation while shooting. He talked about the importance of building a trust with the actors, he wants them to have a plan that was already thought out, he talked about how it is unfair to improvise and throw the other actors off their plan. There is a point to Roberts thinking, I personally think there is more benefit to good improvisation then problems, but I respect the view of Robert and you can not argue with the results on this picture.

Forrest Gump was what it needed to be. The filmmakers did not try to make Forrest Gump fit a curtain genre, they were willing to take risks because they had faith in the characters and story. Forrest was able to show us the world in a completely different way. He was willing to follow his heart and kept his faith through the hardships and  successes. We are shown a world by the kind of person we often think less of. However, it was through the simplistic way Forrest saw the world, that he created change.

Film Mediums: Live Action!

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on August 11, 2010

Live Action is the most common film medium in film business.  In this day in age almost anyone with ambition can make a good quality film. The tools used to make film is getting more and more affordable, the knowledge in what is needed to make a good quality film is becoming more and more accessible.

With live action you are allowed many different takes from many different angles on any given scene. Unlike both 2D and CG animation, it does not take a vast amount of time to do just one second of motion. Everything is done in real time on the spot, which allows the actor to explore different ways to execute his or her performance. All the angles and shots are not planed out in pre-production.  On the spot inspiration is a huge bonus for live action film. You are allowed to see all the things around you and enhance your performance through those things.

The director of the film is allowed to see the big picture more clearly.  With 2D and CG animation you are given curtain aspects of any given scene individually. You go to one department to look at the acting in a shot and then go to entirely different department to see the landscapes and lighting for a shot. With Live action you are allowed to see everything at the same time, the performance, the setting, the lighting, and so on. The time it takes to do a live action film compared to a CG or a 2D film, is often cut in half. You are allowed to see the big picture much more quickly and it is not nearly as hard to make changes with live action as it is for animation.

One great aspect of live action is the individual performances that you are allowed to clearly see on screen. In both types of animation mediums you can not possibly create a main characters individual performance by yourself. It takes many people working together to act out a character such as Woody from Pixar’s Toy Story or Beast from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. In live action one person often carries out the entire performance of a character, because of this the public often create “stars” from actors that have accomplished great performance after great performance, such as Tom Hanks or Julia Roberts. More weight is often put  on one performer to make or break a movie.

With live action film, chemistry between actors is key. Each actor uses the things and people around him or her to enhance his or her performance. There is a famous saying about acting, “acting is reacting”, and there is no better medium to see this applied in then live action. The immediate reaction an actor can get in live action, can not be completely copied in any other medium of film. The performance is entirely built on the interaction with the surroundings around you. Steven Spielberg talked about trying  not to have much of a rehearsal time with his actors because he wanted his actors to give a sort of “in the moment” performance. There is a such thing as over working a routine where the natural flaws of an action disappear and the performance looks a little too mechanical. Usually a good actor has a good idea on what he or she would like to accomplish in a scene and an idea on how he or she is planning on going about executing his or her performance. However, all this planning can not be set in stone for it will change based on who you are acting with. An actor is only as good as the person he or she is performing with.

Post-production is a very important part in live action film. With animation you have a very clear idea on how you are going to cut the picture before any final footage comes to the table. However, with live action film you are allowed to be a little more loose with cutting, you have the ability to shoot many different takes from many different angles. Because it is so easy to shoot the film, you are allowed more options when the footage gets to the cutting room floor. It is the editor that has control of an actors performance. Although the actor has done his own characters performance, there is a vast amount of footage of the performance to choose from. If a actor is on screen for 20 minutes  all together in the final film, it is likely that there has been several hundred hours of footage shot of the actor. In these hundreds of hours, there no doubt has been some bad takes where the performance was not to it’s highest degree.  Thus, the performance is often based on the good judgment of the director and editor.

Live action film is a medium that has flourished for more then a century. From the silent days where a actor with a false mustache made us laugh  through his vast skill in physical humor to modern days where actors like Tom Hanks and Russel Crowe have shown us how life like and impacting a performance can be. An actor is allowed to be put in a position where they do not need to imagine anymore, where the costumes, props, and sets truly feel real. Live Action film is a medium that will last through the ages, because it shows us a reality that no other medium can.

(This is a scene where I think the surrounding had a vital impact on the performance. Because everything was right in front the actor Liam Neeson, he was able to create a performance that touches the core of my heart. My hope is that animation will one day be able to do the same)

(Here are the links to the rest of the posts for this series, Film Mediums, 2D Animation, and CG Animation)