A Dreamer Walking

The Responsiblity of the Filmmaker

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on December 16, 2011

I watched something the other day that pissed me off. It was a “Christmas Special” video created by the Christian youth group I used to attend.  In the video we see a group of college students acting as cliche secret agents whose mission is to hunt down Santa Claus. Watching the video it is obvious these guys are inspired by games like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and movies like Man on Fire and the Transformers franchise. In the video we see these guys load up on their share of guns and follow a lead to where Santa might be hiding. They find Santa Claus and like we often see in violent video games and movies, they murder him. There is absolutely no explanation as to why Santa Claus is dangerous and why he needs to be murdered. The guy portraying Santa acts like a stupid monkey. He is nothing like the character we associate with Christmas except he is wearing a similar suit. The driving force behind the film is a bunch of loud music taken from the soundtracks of many big budget movies and a bunch of college kids who don’t look like they know the first thing on how to actually handle a gun. They play around with objects that can KILL people like it’s the “cool” thing to do. They seem completely unaware of the example they are making for the mostly younger audience watching the video at the youth group. What boggles me is that the video was able to be played in an actual youth group (you know, the kind that claims they want to follow God). The youth group is filled with a bunch of middle schoolers and high schoolers, including my younger sister. Leadership didn’t even seem to think twice about it. One of my friends, and one time mentor in film, who works at IHOP (International House Of Prayer) called the filmmakers who created the film “cinematic geniuses”.

I wonder why movies with any kind of sexually explicit material are condemned by the church while movies with mindless violence are  not only accepted but produced by the Church. We all know what words like “frick” and “fricken” are substitutes for, yet for this “Christmas Special” it was perfectly fine to use them. I guess in this instance it was okay to break the spirit of the law as long as they kept to the letter. I stopped really caring about building based Christianity a long time ago.  However, the video I saw the other day is not okay whether you do or do not go to Church or are or are not a Christian.

I am probably not going to get many people who agree with me in this post but I need to express my opinion on this kind of ignorance in filmmaking. Film is a huge source of entertainment, but it is also something else. It’s influential. It is a powerful medium that influences the direction of nations. There are many talented filmmakers out there who create some really crappy stuff. One of the reasons I have not chosen to do a study on a talented filmmaker like Quentin Tarantino is because I so morally disagree with the glamorization of violence in his films. I have heard interviews of Tarantino saying he thinks violence is just a way to entertain. He does not think he is actually harming anyone in his films by “entertaining” people through showing  someone slashing up another mans face or carving a swastika in someones forehead. In my opinion that is like saying children who watch their fathers abuse their mothers every night are not getting harmed because the violence is not being taken out on them. What we see has an impact on us. The sexual stuff we see on television and in the movies has an impact on what the public thinks about sex. The language we hear used in the media influences the way we talk. The same goes for violence.

I have been truly impacted by the violence I have seen in film. Movies like Schindler’s List and Blood Diamond were extremely sobering for me. They allowed me to understand true evils going on in this world and they pushed me to do something about them. However games like Modern Warfare and movies like Transformers and Inglorious Bastards have done the opposite for me. Their purpose is to entertain through showing graphic violence. They have numbed me. They have stopped me from understanding the true consequences of abuse and murder. Abortion is at a all time high, there are millions of people dying from starvation each year, and we still have tens of thousands of people in our own nation committing suicide. Why? Because we have not been taught responsibility, we don’t care about death, and we are not given enough of a reason to live. Film can help change this. Film has the power to teach people about responsibility, to let them understand what it means to kill, and give them a reason to live. Yet with  every Schindler’s List caliber film, there are ten times as many Inglorious Bastard‘s. The new Modern Warfare game just past Avatar as the fastest game/movie to get to the one billion dollar mark, only taking sixteen days.  At least in movies we are just observers of the killing going on, in the game Modern Warfare we are the ones doing the killing.

It is much easier to be ignorant of what violence, vulgar language, and sexually explicit material does to our psyche. This is not a blog telling you never to use that kind of material in film. In film we see all kinds of characters. Many of the characters I see and many I create I don’t agree with. However, my motivation for filmmaking is to make this world a better place. Film can do wondrous things. Film is the art form of the 21st century. The medium gives us understanding of the past and vision for the future. So, my question is what will our future be? As filmmakers will we contribute to the kind of entertainment that numbs us to the evils of this world? Or will we take on responsibility as filmmakers and give our audiences an entertainment that gives them a vision for a better tomorrow?

It breaks my heart when I see media used in such destructive ways from people who claim to be following the same God as I am. The vision and responsibility I have as a filmmaker comes from my Creator. I along with those who made this “Christmas Special” can give the rest of this world vision and hope. We can show others how great our God is. Instead too much of Christian media seems to be full of condemnation, double standards, and lack of vision. It’s time to change. It’s time to take our role as people who claim to know the “truth”, seriously. We can be open to the world while not being a product of it. Let us be the light on top of the hill and give this world visions that reflect the heart of our Creator.

Charlie Chaplin – An Observation – Devotion to Perfection

Posted in Film and Filmaker Studies, Observation Series, Personal Philosophy by Jacob on December 2, 2011

How could  a man with a fourth grade education, who was raised in the slums, with a father who deserted him, and a mother who went mad, become one of the greatest stars in the history of cinema? Might those hardships be why he became such a great star? Charlie Chaplin was one who demanded an audience. His insecurities drove him to perfect his art form. He wanted the audience to feel for him, to love him. Every movement he made in his films was calculated. Chaplin wanted to control everything on screen. He obsessed on small things like the art of lifting a flower and the exact way the Tramp needed to have his hat tilted. He shot scenes hundreds of times- until the actions in his films flowed like water on smooth rock. Perfection is what Chaplin wanted and it is what he got. Movies like The Gold Rush, Modern Times, and City Lights represent film at  it’s height. They got there because the artist behind them would have nothing less.

Chaplin did not go to film school. He needed to learn on the job. You can see Chaplin learning the techniques of filmmaking through his shorts and early full length features. Slowly Chaplin began to understand the value of a long shot verses a close up. The value of camera movement and invisible cuts. Every day he arrived on set he was in search of a way to tell his story better. Chaplin never knew exactly what he was going to do. He wanted his films to have an organic flow. No matter how funny the gag might be it would be cut if it didn’t make sense to Chaplin and contribute to the story. I have said before, Chaplin’s crew all agreed that if he could Chaplin would cast himself for every character in his films. His crew needed to deal with a relentless amount of scrutiny. He acted out exactly what he wanted his actors to do. If you didn’t do it perfectly you would be in for a long day. Back in the 1910’s through the 1930’s Chaplin would consistently do twenty plus takes when the common Hollywood filmmaker would do three to five.

Chaplin’s classic The Circus was originated from an idea Chaplin had of a man on a tightrope running into several unforeseen obstacles in the middle of his act. The whole rest of the movie was developed from this idea. Chaplin spent months training on the tightrope so he could be prepared for the scene. When it came to actually shooting the scene he shot over seven hundred takes trying to perfect the act. The scene now is a classic in cinema. Chaplin keeps topping himself in it. First he loses his safety harness. Then he has a bunch of monkey’s attack him. He holds us in suspense while he weaves back and forth barely managing to stop himself from falling with his balancing stick. Then his pants fall off, yet still he somehow maintains control. All the while Chaplin gives us some extremely dynamic shots- showing the distance he is from the ground and the frightening perspective the audience has watching him at such a great height. Finally Chaplin tops it all with the greatest banana gag in the history of film when he trips on a peel that one of the monkey’s threw on the rope. It took months to perfect but the result was a flawless performance.

Ideas didn’t come easily to Chaplin. When asked how one gets ideas Chaplin said, “By sheer perseverance to the point of madness”. Chaplin’s unbelievable drive is what created classic scenes like the Tramp on the tightrope in The Circus, the Tramp seeing the blind woman for the first time in City Lights, and Chaplin making his great speech at the end of The Great Dictator. All these scenes have lasted and will continue to last through the ages. Why? Because every movement made in the The Circus and City Lights scenes were pure entertainment leading to a perfect climax, and every word said in The Great Dictator speech rang true to the heart of humanity. Chaplin’s perseverance to the point of madness is what allowed him to retake, refine, and rework his films in his quest for perfection.

Chaplin spent close to two years on most of his full length productions. This compared to the average Hollywood production, which was forty to fifty days, seems quite obsessive. Yet, Chaplin has just as many classics as anyone in film History. Three of his films, City Lights, Modern Times, and The Gold Rush, made it to AFI’s (America Film Institute) top 100 American films of all time. Chaplin was a man with many insecurities and many imperfections. His personal life for most of his filmmaking career was a mess. Yet, this imperfect man created several magnificent films. He told most of his stories with no duologue and hardly any sound. It was mainly through the visuals that he needed to communicate to his audience. So he dedicated himself to perfecting the visuals. And in many cases he did. He has brought a tear to my eye more then once. He created a character who started out as just a clown meant to make us laugh and slowly turned into a character who represented the essence of humanity. Chaplin wanted to speak to the yearning of the human heart. He always felt the need to do more. He had a grand vision for the art of storytelling and he would not settle for anything less then perfection.

Time’s Perspective

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on November 29, 2011

Time gives us perspective. I have been going over many of my notes from several years ago and realize I have a much different and more developed perspective on them now then when I first wrote them. Many of the things that didn’t make sense back then are making sense now.  This is one of the reasons I would suggest to take notes on interviews, movies, and behind the scenes features you watch, even if they are not as interesting to you or do not quite make sense at first. Time has a tendency to give us a new perspectives. Notes you might not have thought twice about when you first wrote them can turn out to be great revelations a few years later.

Glen Keane, One of the greatest animators of all time and the lead animator for Disney characters like the Beast and Tarzan, was mentored by one of Walt Disney’s Nine Old Men, Ollie Johnston. When Keane came to the Disney studio in the late 1970’s Ollie had already been working at at the studio for forty plus years. Ollie told Keane that Ollie had so much more to show him but he was not ready for it yet. This bugged Keane because he was an ambitious young artist and wanted to learn everything all at once. What Keane did not understand was, Ollie was not saying he wasn’t willing to show Keane all he had to offer. Keane just needed time to understand the bigger picture. Only over a great amount of time did Keane find the perspective that allowed him to learn. Slowly he began to realize that good animation was not about perfecting the technique as much as it was about getting inside the character he was animating and truly making that character come to life.

Steven Spielberg talked about how he needed to wait ten years before he could make Schindler’s List. He said he was just not ready in the early 1980’s when he was first introduced to the project. There was a curtain amount of maturing Spielberg needed to do before he was able to give the project the amount of respect it deserved.

This is a short point but a valuable one. We must be willing as filmmakers to look inside ourselves and understand what we are capable of and what needs more time to mature. I do not think it is smart to embark on our greatest visions right away. Sometimes we need to do a little growing before we are ready for curtain projects. Sometimes we need to perfect the small things before trying to tackle the big things. If you are a filmmaker devoted to pursuing your art form, perspective will come. In time you will be able to bring your great visions to life. However, let time give you the perspective and understanding needed to do your vision justice.

Risk

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on November 23, 2011

These days movies seem to be getting more and more formulaic. Superhero movies and sequels seem to be the only films that are given a big budget. It is becoming harder and harder to have any Hollywood studio support new and original scripts. What the executives want is a formula. They want to take out the “risk” factor. Recent movies like Adam Sandler’s Jack and Jill and the new Twilight film Breaking Dawn, are allowed to have weak scripts and be poorly constructed because the executives know the films have a fan base and will make a profit. Yet, slowly the movie business if fading. Hollywood’s formula’s are starting to backfire. Because 3D has been so over and poorly used in so many films the audience is loosing interest. Because the latest Superhero movies are getting more indolent and unbelievable the audience has started to stop caring. Because sequels have become less original and less creative the audience has began to decided just re-watching the original is more convenient.

When talking about the creation of Wall-E Andrew Stanton said he knew the film was going to be risky and that is precisely why he wanted to make it. What happened to this kind of philosophy? The visionaries of Hollywood are and always have been the people willing to take risks. In fact, the film business is directly related to risk taking. Why? Because there is no formula to good filmmaking. Film is an art not a product. We can not expect to create the same type of story again and again and have our audience stay interested. Walt Disney needed to take a risk when he created the first feature length animated film. Nobody knew if it would work. Many people thought it wouldn’t. They called it the “Disney folly” and said nobody would be willing to sit through a hour and a half cartoon. What drove Walt however was his belief in his art form and fellow collaborators. Walt had a vision. A vision that revolutionized the medium and helped keep the art form relevant.

George Lucas received a huge amount of skepticism when he embarked on creating Star Wars. There was no film really like it, yet he took the risk and invested everything he had into making the movie. Pixar was faced with a huge amount of doubt about the possibilities of computer animation. It took a visionary like Steve Jobs to believe in the film medium and invest millions of dollars into creating breakthrough shorts like Luxo Jr. and Tin Toy. Because of these peoples visions and their willingness to take risks cinema has advanced and stayed relevant for today’s audience. Yet, slowly the visionaries of cinema have been dying away, losing interest, or getting pushed out. The people who have taken over are those who are only interested in power and money. They are strangling the art form I have come to love- demeaning it’s true power and vanquishing it’s light. They no longer take risks because they are more concerned about themselves then the art form.

Risk is part of film business. I am not trying to say you should take risks just for the heck of it. What I want is for you to have a great enough vision that you are willing to pursue it no matter where it takes you. The medium of film is vast there is no end to it’s possibilities. Exploring the unknown is always risky. Yet, it is good for filmmakers to get out of their comfort zone. The reason Andrew Stanton liked the fact that his movie Wall-E was risky was because he knew the risk factor would force him to be at the top of his game. Risk heightens ones senses. Exploring the unknown is invigorating because you are going places no one has gone before. Risk opens yourself up to the possibility of loss. Yet, we can always learn from our failures. Risk also opens yourself to limitless possibilities. The willingness to take risks is vital if we want filmmaking to survive and thrive. Those interested only power and money will slowly lose interest in the film medium and desert it as being “finished”. Filmmaking is for those willing to serve the medium not those who want the medium to serve them. I know film, like any other art form, is never finished. The art form of film will always be able to show us new and wondrous things as long as there are visionaries willing to lead the way.

Compromise

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on September 16, 2011

Compromise can be seen in two lights, negative and positive. Some people try to fight compromise as much as possible through being extremely detailed in their work and making sure they have the resources to stick to their original vision. However, even David Fincher, who takes much longer then the average filmmaker to shoot his films with usually a solid budget, has complained more then once about filmmaking being full of compromise and settling for imperfections.

Unlike David Fincher, Steven Spielberg has talked about compromise sometimes being a filmmakers best ally. He warned the students at Inside the Actors Studio to never let their vision or dream get in the way of making the movie better. Spielberg has shown his brilliant ability with compromise in movies like Jaws, E. T., and Jurassic Park. Originally Spielberg wanted to reveal the shark in Jaws at the very beginning of the film. The problem was that the mechanical shark they made for production wouldn’t work for the first half of production and it wasn’t too believable even when it did work. So, Steven needed to change his vision for the project. What he created instead was something that feels far more scary and malicious. Spielberg used the music and point of view shots to represent the presence of the shark. He waited until we were far into the second act of the film to reveal the shark. Yet, even then he only showed us a few seconds. He knew that if we saw the shark for too long it would look unbelievable and lose it’s maliciousness.

These days filmmakers have the ability to create whatever they want, the computer can literally bring anything to life. Yet, this unlimited ability to express whatever we want on screen is not always a good thing. Spielberg realized the power of limitation in the process of making Jaws. He found that compromise lead to a creativity that required limitations to work. Spielberg left a lot of the terror of the shark to the audience imagination. He knew the audience’s imagination could create a far more terrible creature then anything he could actually show on screen.

Filmmaking is a collaborative process and no matter if you are making a film independently or through a studio system, there are compromises. There are compromises made because you don’t have enough money, because you are trying to get a curtain rating, because you need to make decisions as a team, and the list goes on. What we need to do is run with the compromises. We need to learn how to use the compromises to stretch our thinking into creating something even more thought provoking and entertaining. The strict definition of compromise is settling for less then you wanted, however I think this does not need to be the case when it comes to filmmaking. If we are willing to work together as a team we can dream far greater visions then any one person could. If compromise is needed from one person in order to create a greater whole then the individual must be willing to sacrifice.

The time when compromise must be fought is when non-creative people try to influence your story. You will not always win, the budget will be cut and the story might be changed, however you must not let the business part of filmmaking destroy your creativity. If you feel your vision is being diminished you must know when to throw in the towel. Peter Weir (director of Dead Poets Society, Witness, and Master and Commander) worked on four projects from 2003 to 2010 and he only ended up making one. When asked about the projects he left Peter said he was glad he didn’t make them because he and the studios couldn’t come to agreement and share a vision together. Peter compared getting ready to write and direct a film to getting ready to fly a plan through a storm; if a bunch of red lights pop up before you even get into the storm that is a good sign to bail out. There is a huge difference between making compromises because of creative differences and budget/technical restraints, and needing to compromise because your financiers are not ambitious enough.

I am not telling you to ignore your convictions. However, filmmaking doesn’t work with just one person, it is a collaborative effort. It is impossible to have one man’s vision translated completely accurately onto screen. My suggestion is to embrace this fact and see if you can use the people around you to create a even greater vision. You are not exactly in a better position with a big budget or more time to shoot a film. Even though David Fincher usually has a greater budget and much more time to shoot a film then someone like Clint Eastwood, I do not consider him a better filmmaker. It all depends on what you do with the compromises that come with the medium of film. You can let compromises destroy your vision and your film, as I said sometimes you have to know when to bail out. However, most of the time you can take those compromises you encounter during the filmmaking process and let them boost your creativity and make something far greater then you could have imagined.

Andrew Stanton – An Observation – Worth Fighting For

Posted in Film and Filmaker Studies, Observation Series by Jacob on August 24, 2011

2008 National Board Of Review Awards Gala

You know Andrew Stanton has helped write more then a dozen of the Pixar movies. The two films he has directed, Finding Nemo and Wall-E, have both won Oscars for Best Animated film. After realizing this, would it surprise you to know he doesn’t really like writing or directing? Stanton has talked more then once about the frustrations and exhaustion that comes with writing and directing. He has talked about the insecurity he has with being a writer and how he is scared to death when he turns his script in for other filmmakers to read. Stanton refrains from writing until the very last minute, he has described himself as a master procrastinator. He has also talked about how all the little details that come with directing wear him down. Four to five years on each project is a long time. What makes him stay in there? Why do so much work if it is so hard to do? I do not think Andrew finds satisfaction in the middle of production like someone such as John Lasseter does. It might be because Stanton is always thinking of other things and keeping his mind on the project at hand is extremely hard to do. It might be because he second guesses the value of what he is doing.   At times I am sure he feels his time would be spent better doing something else. After all writing and directing a film does not leave much room for family activities and social events. It might be because of an insecurity, the whole project lays on his shoulders what if he makes the wrong decision? I believe Stanton’s struggles with filmmaking has to do with all these insecurities.  However, a filmmaker has two choices when faced with insecurities such as these ones. They can run and hide or face them head on. Based on Stanton’s track record I believe he has chosen the latter.

Andrew Stanton counters the wear and tear that comes with needing to deal with a bunch of little details by being very picky about each little detail. He does not burden most of his colleagues with an idea until he is sure the idea is worth fighting for. He needs to figure out whether or not it is worth spending four to five years to make. John Lasseter even talked about bugging Andrew Stanton about the movie Finding Nemo.  Stanton would not even tell him what it was about until he thought he had a story worth committing too. For the movie Wall-E Stanton started development for the project when he was supposed to be on vacation. He thought that if the story turned out to be nothing special he wouldn’t have wasted anyone’s time.

A good question is, what makes a project worth committing to for Andrew Stanton? A key things to realize is Stanton does not think short term he thinks about the big picture. He does not go through the pains of writing and directing lightly. He wants to find a story that can entertain audiences for years to come. He finds universal themes to put into his stories. He concentrates on the insecurities of parenthood in Finding Nemo, what it means to be a friend in Toy Story, and the essence of what it means to love in Wall-E. We can relate to the characters Stanton creates because even though they might be robots, toys, and fish, they are full of human flaws and needs. Woody in Toy Story is insecure in his relationship with Andy. Marlin in Finding Nemo is scared his son might not be able to handle the real world. Wall-E is lonely.  These themes and character qualities represent the heart of Stanton’s films.

At the beginning the only thing Andrew Stanton has is an idea. Production represents the war Stanton faces in order to bring the idea to life on screen. When you go into battle you need to have passion. Stanton wants to make sure he can give the story everything he has. He knows there will be those days where nothing is working. He talked in an interview about needing to have enough passion to push through those times. Stanton talked about how he wants the audience to be thinking the characters he creates have feelings and lives that go on after the movie ends. This is what makes a movie worth fighting for to him. Stanton knows if he fights through and wins the war he will give us characters that truly become real in our hearts. Characters like Woody and Wall-E have a life of their own in the minds of many kids and adults. Film is the ultimate illusion of life. It takes a lot of work to pull off. But the results can be well worth it because they have the potential to be endless.

Andrew Stanton is one of those directors who will not commit to any old project. I think he is one of those artists who needs to both write and direct the film. He writes the films himself not because he thinks he is a brilliant writer but rather because he wants to find a story that is personal to him. Andrew Stanton is not a good director because he can’t make mistakes. No, he will be the first to tell you he makes mistakes all the time in in the development of his films. The thing about Stanton is he does not give up. He works through the mistakes. Andrew Stanton is a great director because when he finds something worth fighting for, he will not stop or compromise with the vision. He will fight until he gets the idea on screen.

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.

What Makes a Great Film?

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on January 14, 2011

What makes a great film?

Is it cutting? The music? Many people say that it is the actor. Or maybe, maybe it is the idea that makes for a great film. Of course the idea can’t be expressed very well if you don’t have a good director. So is it the director?

Actually, you sort of need all of them.

I am trying to tackle a pretty untouchable subject here. There have been people who have devoted their entire lives to discovering what makes a great film. How possibly can a twenty one year old explain it?

Actually the question arises after researching a broad range of directors. Through out the last few months I have devoted my studies to understanding filmmakers like Alfred Hitchcock, David Fincher, Frank Capra, and Marin Scorsese. All these guys are considered good. In fact, by many they are considered masters at the craft of filmmaking. However, the more research I put into these guys, the more I realize that they have completely different styles of filmmaking. So I guess the question is; if all these guys are great filmmakers but have completely different ways of going about making films, then what is the magic formula? What makes for great films?

I will tell you one thing, I certainly like certain directors movies more then others. Frank Capra’s movies speak volumes more to me then Hitchcock’s. David Fincher, has curtain movies that speak to me more then others. Scorsese’ style is completely unique and stimulating, but the heart can sometimes hardly be seen. I can see the true talent in all these directors, but why do they not impact me in the same way or to the same extent.

Of course every movie you see should not impact you in the same way. The beauty of movies is that they all give you at least some kind of different way of thinking of things. However, realizing that all movies are different and make you think in different ways, makes the question, “what makes a great film?”, all the more complex and hard to answer.

All I can give you in this personal blog is my opinion on what makes a great film. A great film is not necessarily created through epic actions scenes, a happy ending, or a complex story line. A great film is a film that has stayed true to the heart of the director. With all the directors I have researched, one thing is consistent; They all have a visions that they will not allow to be altered.

A great director makes a film that is personal to him or her. The reason why the films are unique is because each one of the directors are unique. All of the great directors I have studied have a rich education. They learned to perfect the way they deal with camera, acting, music, and editing. But that is not what makes them great. They have learned how to separate themselves from other filmmakers and movies. They takes risks and create stories that the producers and even themselves are not completely sure about.

Some of the greatest movies ever made are the ones were said to never be able to make it. Whether it is Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life, or Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, the directors pushed through and made their movie no matter how many doubters they faced.

What I look for more then anything when I am studying directors is the origin of their passion. I want to see the vision behind the movie’s they made. What made them push the envelope? What made them convinced something completely unfamiliar was going to work? If you want to know what makes for a great film, you need to figure out what makes for a great artist.

A great artist consists of individuality more then anything else. As a Christian I believe God gave us all a unique vision. The great filmmakers fallow that vision whether they know the author or not. We as filmmakers need to be able to figure out the technique. We need to know how to deal with the camera, acting, music, and editing. But all this is worth very little if you do not have a vision. The vision dictates all the other things. And, following the vision is indeed what makes for a great film.

story, Story, STORY!!!

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on April 15, 2010

Please click on the picture and read the comic before you read my post.

A good story is key to any good movie. This comic has a good point about the difference between Pixar and Dreamworks (for the most part). At the moment Dreamworks is cranking out 5 movies every 2 years. Because of the extreme demand for material, Dreamworks often seems to forget about quality. Their stories are usually weak and the characters shallow without very solid development.

Even though it is hard to believe because of their extreme success, Pixar movies are often very risky. Common Hollywood has shown they want reliable and safe stories. Since most of Hollywood does not want to take risks, they often make animated movies with common themes (animals talking) and lot of potty humor (because lets face it, potty humor SALES). If the movie is successful, they try to make a franchise out of the product; with a bunch of quickly made, artistically void, sequels (Shrek II-IV, Madagascar 2 and 3, Ice Age 2, 3, and 4… so far).

If Pixar wanted to play it safe they would not have started their career making an original non-musical animated movie (ALL the animated movie that had been coming out were musical and based on an existing story) about Toys. Pixar went further with their risky storytelling by having their main character be a self observed jerk for the first half of the film. Toy Story, was close to being shelved more then once, the Disney people who were trying to be in control, told Pixar that their movie did not have the main elements of a good animated movie. They thought the title of Toy Story would not reach an audience over 10 years. They thought  there was no major bad guy driving the film. And Disney was concerned by the fact that most of the crew working on Toy Story had not even graduated from collage.

So, Toy Story and Pixar were not supposed to be a success. The reason they were a success was because the story and characters were driving the film. The Pixar people cared about the movie and all the arguments about what got into the movie and what went out had to do with making the story better. In the making of Toy Story we saw people who actually cared about toys and gave the characters honest and unique personalities. They were able to stick to their guns because they were looking out for the stories best interest. This all took a lot of risk. No one knew what the result would be for no one had taken the rout Pixar was taking.

Through out Pixar’s history they kept taking risks. They hired director Brad Bird, who had just had a movie flop in the theaters (Iron Giant) and told him to “shake things up”, even though Pixar had been having nothing but success up to that point. Their movies after Toy Story would not be considered guaranteed money makers, either. We saw a movie with the main character being a rat that wants to cook and a movie about a robot where you hardly hear a line of dialogue in the first 30 minutes of the film. Then their was the movie UP, where you go on an adventure with a 75 year old man and 8 year old boy. With all these movies common Hollywood would say no. They worked however because the creators had vision that they were not willing to compromise with.

Getting money should not be the main reason for making a movie. The core of a movie can not be the special effects, the action, the humor, or the romantic love scenes. The movie can have all these things in them, but it needs to be initiated by the core of the story. The story needs to give purpose for the special effects, the humor, and the action. There needs to be reason to why something is happening.

There really is no limit to what kind of story you can tell. The only thing you need is a crew willing to take risks and follow vision. You need a story worth telling. A story that is able to get into peoples hearts is a story that will last. I want to make movies that impact people. A good movie is a unique story that makes its own statement or asks its own questions.

STORY must be put ahead of everything else in film business. If you do not have unique characters to explore and concepts to express, then you do not have a good enough reason to be making a film.