A Dreamer Walking

Say Something!!!

Posted in Personal Philosophy by Jacob on December 18, 2016

The greatest mistake the educated make is believing our intellect produces meaning. By itself, intellect is empty. Infact, from my experience my intellect often tries to get in the way of meaning. Far too often what is valued the most is the way something is written or a painting rendered. We become so caught up on the ecstatics we neglect to see the shallowness of what is being said.

When it came to the visual arts, I was a natural talent. I was able to draw better than most in my class and I was fantastic at composing a shot. There are few who like talking composition or lighting more than me when it comes to filming. Honestly, a good portion of my blog is about speaking about brilliant compositions or ways artists apply the tools of their trade. If you look far enough back, you can see pieces of photography I did. I consider a good portion of them well done for my age and yet looking back on them they seem to be missing any kind of substance. They are simply pretty pictures I took strictly on a conceptual level.

When it came to writing, I was a hot mess. I’ve already explained it many times, but holy crap did I suck. There was no understanding of grammar, spelling, or structure. Even now there is no distinct style to the way I write. You can easily call my writing straightforward and at times… boring. However, my senior year of highschool I had a teacher who insisted my writing had a huge amount of potential. The reason had nothing to do with spelling or grammar. She simply told me she felt I had something worth saying.

Because I could not rely on my natural skill as a writer I was forced to find motivation through what I was writing. As a dyslexic I find writing to be emotionally, mentally, and at time even physically taxing. So there needed to be a purpose to every essay I forced my hands to type. And as you can see in this blog, I found a purpose. I was able to put writing in the place any medium of art belongs, strictly as a tool to express myself.

Our thoughts, ideas, and convictions are what art is really about. Who we are is what we must express to the world. When it comes to working with the camera it’s much harder for me to realize this notion. I make the mistake of thinking the way I choose to frame a picture or control the light is what makes my work stand out. And I’m not alone. I can’t tell you how excited my fellow peers get when they see a new camera or are able to use a new visual effect. Just look how many different types of materials Leonardo da Vinci experimented with. It’s only natural for the artist  to appreciate his instrument. Yet the goal can never be to create a piece in order to highlight the tool you are using. The goal to art is to say something; to create something which takes on a life of it’s own.

Nothing disguises meaninglessness more than a pretty picture. I was fooled by my own talent in the visual arts. Writings greatest gift to me could easily be the humbling experience of being bad. With every word I am forced to think about the actual reasons behind what is being said. In today’s world we have more powerful tools to express ourselves than ever before. Let us dare to say something with these tools.

 

I’m Back!!!

Posted in Personal Philosophy by Jacob on December 11, 2016

How to start…

I have been blogging for a long time. For those who once followed this blog, you might know the reason is due to the fact that I once used this as a testing device for my education. I wanted to study filmmaking and found traditional education lacking. There were many reasons for this, but the greatest reason was the education system didn’t know how to handle me very well… nor I it.

What I ended up doing was studying on my own. I chose to self educate and use this blog as a testing device. Though mostly due to my dyslexia I consider writing akin to stabbing oneself with a pencil a million times, my English Teacher of a mother taught me writing was also one of the best ways to test if you really understood a subject. In order to create a good essay you need to grab your audience’s attention with how you introduce your subject. You must be able to support your argument in the body of your essay. And in the end you must be to bring everything together and come to a conclusion worthy of an audience’s efforts in taking the time to read your piece.

Now I won’t argue I was good at any of this stuff when I first started (nor much better now…:/), however I was convinced I had a view worth exploring. And though this has never been the most popular blog, I consider the 270 entries I’ve so far written to be one of my greatest achievements. This blog represents my journey in understanding both the medium I love and my personal voice.

My journey however eventually took me in another direction. Instead of being stuck with the unnatural obligation of writing each week, I replaced the pen with a lens and began to actually put all my developped views to the test. I returned to college for the purpose of applying what I had already learned. In the process I made the discovery that learning should never have an end. I am proud of the connections I’ve made in college and consider many students and professors critical to furthering my education. Yet the journey to actually producing my own material in the medium I love, has begun. And I’ve given myself little time to write about it.

This is where this specific blog entry comes in. I wanted to acknowledge I’ve been gone for a while and avoided an aspect of my education I consider to be more difficult. My plan is to start writing consistently again. Honestly, I’ve tried to write many things the last few months, but as you can see they haven’t been able to make it to the finish line yet. There is a curtain excitement that comes with hitting the “publish” button. It’s that idea you consider your work worthy enough to be experienced and scrutinized over. I can not promise to create the kind of material I was at the hight of my writing career (if I had one of those ;), but the bottom line is I want to start to test myself in this way again.

Writing is a beautiful artform. It has helped me in so many ways become a better filmmaker. Through writing I’ve discovered my identity as an artist and a human being. My hope is I can continue to discover new things about myself and filmmaking through the continuation of this blog…and maybe even give you something worth thinking about.

My Hero

Posted in Personal Philosophy by Jacob on March 12, 2015

This is my fourth attempt. Maybe it’s because I didn’t really have a good outline. But I know I don’t really believe that. Outlines have never been much use to me. But, most of the teachers in my life didn’t really care to understand how I learned. For most of my teachers, writing always needed to follow a specific process which I was never able to walk out well. Honestly, it is pretty crazy I can write in any kind of legible way, at all.

If I am going to accomplish this unsung hero paper I think I need to throw the rules out the window. I am not going to concentrate on a thesis. I am not going to follow an outline. And, I am not going to give a crap about whether or not I am using proper grammar… wait a second… okay, out of respect to my unsung hero, I will try to use proper grammar. The bottom line is, the only teacher in my life who got through to me about how to write a proper paper and express my ideas in a comprehensible way, was my Mom.

My Mother homeschooled me for the first thirteen years of my life. Sadly after telling people this I have a huge urge to explain exactly what “homeschool” was for me. I get this feeling few people have respect for the concept. Let me explain in the best way I know how. When I eventually entered the public school system my mother taught English at my high school. My older brother and I would have friends come to us and ask how we could possibly survive living at home with the monster we called, “mother”. She was a taskmaster in the classroom and she bled all over the papers her students turned in.

Yes, I know I need to explain, “bled”.

So let’s start with the origin story. One of the great unsung hero’s in my mother’s life when growing up was her Grandmother. Great Grandma Ferguson was not the typical kindhearted grandma who always had fresh baked cookies when you came to visit. She was an independent woman who wanted to do something valuable in the world at a time when society said her job was to stay at home and take care of her house and family. World War II allowed her to break away from traditional roles. She taught English in North Dakota after she was married and had her own children. When she and her family moved to Montana she worked outside the home and opened a woman’s sweater shop. Great Grandma had an expectation for excellence and the determination to contribute to society which she wanted to pass on to those she cared about the most, such as her granddaughters.

My mom told me about the times she used to send letters to her Grandma. Where the typical Grandmother would take the letter and post it on the fridge or tuck it away in a treasured envelope, my Great Grandma would send them back… corrected. She would write all over my mother’s page, pointing out the grammar errors and suggesting ways to make the piece of writing stronger. This instilled a passion in my Mom that she has since passed on to me– the desire to express herself well. Where many would simply give up and stop writing, my mom became bound and determined to become a better writer. It’s no surprise she went on to teach English. She has always claimed she wasn’t the greatest at English, but my Great Grandmother instilled something in my Mother I believe she wanted to share with others.

So now we get back to the blood. When correcting papers my mother uses a red ink pen. She covers each page with notes and corrections and then sometimes has the gall to say, “You did well”. No wonder she became known as a “taskmaster”. I told most of the students who complained to me that the red ink was from the actual blood of her veins. I always felt the red pen was used for dramatic effect and when you first look at her corrections one does feel quite overwhelmed. Most students felt my Mom graded their papers too harshly. Those who were used to getting “A’s” on all their papers began to realize my Mom required more than proper grammar and correct mechanics. I remember her going over dozens of papers and spending forty-five minutes to an hour grading each one. She graded content, dictation, organization, and style. Now, imagine all this dedication going to just four students rather than dozens. That is how homeschool felt for my siblings and me.

Sure there were weak areas where my mother wasn’t the greatest teacher. However, by no means did we get away with being lazy. When homeschooling during my grade school and middle school years my mother concentrated less on English and more on developing a sense of independence in her children. She encouraged us to work in the areas we were strongest. She quickly realized all my siblings learned differently. She knew an hour of physical activity was necessary for my older brother if she wanted him on task when sitting down for math later in the day. She knew some one-on-one time with my little brother would make him more enthusiastic about spelling afterword. She understood I would be much better at understanding material if I verbally talked about it rather than simply read about it in a book. For some reason my Mom gave us extra time during recess when we wanted to continue playing pretend. Little did I know at the time, but playing pretend would do more to get me started on a career path than any class I ever took. Suffice to say, I left home feeling confident in myself, understanding I had many gifts to give the world.

You would think we would be fully ready for public school when it came around. My first year out of the house was 8th grade. I need to admit, my 8th grade year is in hot contention for being the worst year of my life. The problem was I didn’t know how to play by the system’s rules. It didn’t take long for the school system to decide there was something wrong with me. Actually, three out of my mother’s four older children were diagnosed by the school system as dyslexic. Because my siblings and I had a difficult time with reading and spelling we were immediately considered as less then. I was put into a class for the mentally challenged. Every minute felt like a bombardment of patronizing explanations from my teachers. My counselors spoke to me like I was some kind of lazy drug addict who didn’t know how to put one foot in front of the other.

My Mother would constantly meet with counselors and teachers to explain exactly what “dyslexia” meant. Unlike the vast majority of the teachers, mom did her homework when her children were diagnosed. She quickly realized dyslexia was NOT a disability. Rather it was simply a different way of thinking. She constantly needed to explain to teachers her kids did not need to be given easier material or be treated as if they were less than. What was needed was an understanding that dyslexics don’t think linguistically as much as they do visually, interpersonally, bodily kinesthetically, verbally, and aurally. When she spoke with my History teacher about my dyslexia and was bluntly told, “I don’t think your son has the capacity to understand my material”, my mom knew she needed to step in.

I was desperate to get out of the system. When I asked if my mother would consider homeschooling me my senior year, she jumped at the opportunity. What she didn’t realize was she was speaking to a kid who went through four years of mental abuse by the school system and wasn’t interested in traditional education. Not only did she need to deal with an insecure kid who questioned everything having to do with formal education, she also needed to deal with a school system and a father who felt she was making a major mistake. In fact, my grandfather told her quite bluntly she would be ruining my life if she chose to homeschool me again.

All this is what makes my Mother the hero I am determined to one day have the world recognize. It’s a moment you usually only see in the movies. The time when everyone else says it can’t be done. When the person who needs to be saved is all but gone. It’s here my mom came into my life and changed it forever. I went from a D grade student who didn’t know how to write a proper sentence to a 3.5 GPA college student who is now blessing you with the masterful piece of writing you see before you. My mom did not teach me by demanding I play by her tune or the school system’s tune. She worked tirelessly to figure out how I thought and what I felt. And, she used my strengths to build upon my weaknesses.

My mother gave me my voice. For this I am eternally grateful. The most unbelievable part is she is willing to do for all her student what she did for me. She devotes her blood, sweat, and tears to helping others learn who they are and how to express themselves. Sadly, in the vast majority of cases all she gets in return are frustrated students who feel she is too tough on grades. I can hardly stand it. But my mom, well, for her it is not about praise. The true hero only has one goal, and that is to help the other. I know of no person who helps others better than my Mom.

Free Film School!

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on August 4, 2014

I am sad to announce I am taking a blog break. I know it probably looks like I already took a blog break. I mean come on! I was on such a role for a while posting a paper every week or less for several months. But then summer came. The time I was supposed to be the least busy I ended up doing a bunch of things. Only half of the stuff I ended up doing was really productive, but the bottom line is I have really let down the few followers I have for this blog and I do apologize for that.

So I will be taking the rest of the month off and then try to maintain a post a week from the beginning of September to the foreseeable future. I thought I would leave you guys however with a bunch of links to really productive information and study material for those interested in the foundations of film and storytelling.

Filmmaking:

  • Cinephilia and Beyond: This might be the most valuable resource out there for all things film. Cinephilia is on a unstoppable mission to find as many interviews, articles, and documentaries on filmmaking around the internet. If you have a particular filmmaker in mind just do a search on Cinephilia’s site and you will most likely find a huge archive of information. P.S. you should also follow Cinephilia on Twitter!
  • DP/30: My advice is for you go get a pen and paper and start taking notes on interviews. David Poland has been able to accumulate hundreds of hours worth of interviews of some of the biggest names out there. His subjects range from actors, writers, directors, and sometimes a popular Cinematographer or Editor. Because of the length of his interviews (majority of them going 30 min or longer) Poland is able to go into much more depth then an average interview has time for. Poland studied filmmaking in collage and has a deep knowledge of it’s history which only helps raise his interviews to another level.
  • The Treatment: Elvis Mitchell is yet another great interviewer who is determined to go beyond the common insights a writer or director gives in most of their interviews. You can also find Elvis’ more recent interviews free on iTunes.
  • 35 MM: Here is a Vimeo group that collects tones of Vimeo videos dealing with film. These are a little more hit-or-miss but there are certainly some gems worth looking into.
  • Steven Benedict Podcast: How this guy isn’t known by every cinephile out there is beyond me. Though considerably short compared to other material I linked to, Benedict is a true student of film and gives deep insights on each one of the movies he goes into. My suggestion is you download his podcasts on iTunes and listen to them while on your way to work or something.
  • [micro] TUTORIALS: Here you can find a vast archive of film production tutorials. [micro] is determined to provide you with a wealthy amount of free information to get started in digital filmmaking. Their subject matter ranges from pre-production through post-production and will give the beginning film student many hours worth of material to study in order to make his or her first film.

Animation:

  • Deja View: This is the sight of the famous animator Andreas Deja. His knowledge of animation history (especially Disney’s history) is superb. As the lead animator for classic characters like Jafar from Aladdin, Scare from The Lion King, and Lilo from Lilo and Stitch its obvious he has a vast understanding of the principles of animation and with everyone of his posts he goes into more and more detail about those principles and the animators responsible for creating them.
  • Temple of The Seven Golden Camels: The author of this blog, Mark Kennedy, is a storyboard artist for Disney Animation. Unlike most animator blogs I visit, Kennedy is determined to go into detail about the nuances of telling good stories. His focus usually is storyboarding which basically means he goes into all kinds of different principles of animation- staging, costuming, action, design, etc… Though sometimes long winded it’s obvious Kennedy knows his subject matter and he provides valuable insight in each one of his posts.
  • Splog: Sadly this blog hasn’t been updated since February. However, I am sure you will find enough in the archives to keep you busy for several months. Michael Sporn and his artists give a much more well rounded example of the history of Animation and many of the blog’s posts go into great detail about well known and long lost pieces of animation through out it’s rich history.
  • Podcasts: Rather then pick one of these I thought I would just link to several of them. Here are several valuable podcasts on animation I have listened to through out the years. Each one features interviews of people working in the field of animation and are quite valuable for anyone interested in going into the field themselves. I will post the links to their sites but the majority of the podcasts can be found also on iTunes. 1. The Animation Podcast 2. Spline Doctors 3. Speaking of Animation 4. iAnimate.

Writing:

  • Writing Excuses: Each fifteen minute podcast carries a wealth of information about writing and story structure. The podcast is also extremely entertaining and quite humerus. The four hosts are all well known authors and have a great chemistry with each other. They are usually able to cover a lot of ground with the little time they have. The podcast has also been around since 2008 and thus has a huge archive. I suggest you subscribe to their iTunes page; they post a podcast consistently every week.
  • The Q&A with Jeff Goldsmith: Here you will find interviews all kinds of writers across the medium of film. Jeff Goldsmith is a wonderful interviewer with a great upbeat attitude. Best of all is he knows story and the questions he asks are always informative and allow us deeper into the creation process. His lengthy archive can be found on iTunes as well.
  • Scriptnotes: John August and Craig Mazin are two established screenwriters in Hollywood and every week come out with a full hour long podcast covering all things writing. The two personalities work wonderfully with each other and they also at times have guests who share their personal insights on how to be a screenwriter in the daunting world of Hollywood. Not only do these guys have good screenwriting advice they go into the politics of working in Hollywood. Here is the link to their iTunes page.

Film Criticism:

  • The /Filmcast: This is one of the most enjoyable podcasts I listen to weekly. The hosts, David Chen, Devindra Hardawar, and Jeff Cannata are all bonafide film geeks who love talking movies. David Chen is one of the best hosts out there; someone who can just be himself while keeping a strong grasp on the conversation so it doesn’t get out of hand. I listen to these guys more for entertainment, but occasionally they can provide some fantastic insight on the film premiering that week. And due to their “What have you been watching?” segment I occasionally hear about a really interesting film I would never have discovered on my own. The best way to listen to these guys is via iTunes.
  • Filmspotting: This is the modern day version of Siskel and Ebert. Though maybe not quite as oppositional and competitive the two hosts, Adam Kempenaar and Josh Larsen, do a wonderful job expressing their thoughts on the latest movie of the week. Rather then go with the typical blockbuster Adam and Josh usually concentrate on more Independent films. A common visitor of the podcast is the famous critic Michael Phillips who was also a common visitor on Roger Ebert’s Ebert Presents show. The show is now known for ending with their top 5 list which allows the audience in on just how vast these critics knowledge of filmmaking is. This is by far the podcast with the largest archive, just recently celebrating it’s 500th episode. This is also a great podcast to listen to on iTunes.

Well there you have it. These links have turned out to be invaluable in my pursuit to becoming a great storyteller. It’s just a small example of how much you can learn for free outside the realm of a collage. I hope you enjoy and feel free to leave a comment if you have links to more valuable filmmaking resources!

Hamburgers and Hotdogs

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on June 27, 2013

Many of my friends give me a hard time about my simplistic choice in foods. I am perfectly fine with eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich seven times a week for lunch. For dinner I want a little variety. I mean seven days of just pizza would get a little old. I would like to have a hamburger every once in a while and maybe some chicken wings on special occasions. Keep in mind the hamburger must be plain and if the pizza has more then just peperoni I am likely to throw it out. Let’s just thank the gods we have more sophisticated eaters then me. Cooking is an art form and there are people who spend their whole lives working on making new types of dishes for the eater to enjoy.

If you are a follower of my blog right about now you might be wondering if someone hijacked it. This blog is about storytelling and filmmaking, not food. However, it is easy to equate a good chef to a good filmmaker. Both are often described as artists and both profession’s main purpose is to satisfy the audience. However the audience is not always the best judge of what they want. As audience members we usually tend to fall back on what we already know. I say my favorite food is pizza because I don’t know any better. I have tasted but a small fraction of what is out there, yet rarely am I willing to venture out and eat something different.

The executive producers of the movie business know that we as audiences want something we are familiar with. And that is what they give us. We are given the same kind of love stories, with the same kind of action sequences, and the same kind of heroes again and again. Why should we expect anything else when sequels and reboots are making the most money? Look at the top five grossing movies of this year (2013), all are either sequels or reboots. Today’s audience is asking for the ordinary even though the medium has never been more able to give us the extraordinary. We have greater artists in the medium of film today then we have ever had.

It’s as if we have the greatest chefs in the world at our disposal and all we have them make is hamburgers and hotdogs. Sure they could make some damn good hamburgers and hotdogs, yet their talents are for the most part wasted. At the end of the day it is the audience who calls the shots. We choose what the industry makes. How long will it take for us to get tired of seeing the same kind of characters and knowing the ending of the movie far before the story is finished? Are we going to be willing to go outside our comfort zone? Will we dare to discover something new; something that could give us a greater insight to our lives and this world?

I am entering the medium of film knowing the audience wants a curtain type of movie. I will appease the audience and follow the narrow guidelines they require me to walk. I am willing to do this because I have seen artists do great things with a limited amount of creative freedom. But I will not continuously retread common ground. I will give you my version of the hamburger and then I am moving on. I want to experience new foods and new ingredients. I want you to experience something new as well. Shakespeare was not the last original storyteller, just as the hamburger, in all its glory, is not the greatest culinary achievement.

 

Personality Filmmaking

Posted in Personal Philosophy by Jacob on December 9, 2012

There was once a time when film was seen as no more then a medium for interesting magic tricks and simple sight gags. In fact some of the founding fathers of film, such as Thomas Edison, saw little future in the medium. They thought it was going to be a passing fad, an attraction that could not hold but a few minutes of an audience’s attention. This makes me question how many great inventions failed due to lack of vision? In the last century film has progressed from a passing attraction to a fully developed entertainment, an entertainment that has both thrilled and inspired billions. Film’s success has not just been achieved through the revolutionary technical developments- developments such as sound, color, and computer generated visual effects- but also an ability to dive deep into human nature and give us thorough and diverse looks at what makes us who we are.

When film went farther then simple magic tricks and sight gags the audience started to really get interested. Filmmakers like Edwin S. Porter and later D.W. Griffith brought to the medium thrilling stories which began to entrance a much broader audience. Slowly in the mid to later years of the silent era of film we began to see characters who had individual personalities. The personalities we saw in some of these characters were so impacting audiences kept coming back to see them in action. The most revered of these personalities in the silent days was Charlie Chaplin’s Tramp character. The Tramp was a hopeless romantic with a heart of gold. Chaplin was able to capture his audience’s hearts by being vulnerable with them and making his gags and stories speak to the essence of his character. He was one of the first to perfect personality storytelling; where the audience goes to the film just as much for the characters as the story.

Walt Disney was another one of the visionaries to take a hold of personality filmmaking. While all the other cartoons were making shorts revolving around characters with little personality doing funny and abstract gags through the freedom of animation, Walt was hard at work defining his characters and revolving the humor around their individuality. One of the  prime examples of this was the 1933 short The Three Little Pigs. In the short Walt and his artists were able to show district personalities between the Three Little Pigs and the Big Bad Wolf. While the pigs represented the innocents of America, and through the third pig, our nations determination to work its way out of the great depression, the wolf represented the evils of the depression and its determination to sink the American spirit. Immediately audience members were able to connect with both the good pigs and the bad wolf. The characters personalities allowed the audience to get more involved with the story and made the short one of the most acclaimed of all time.

In Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs Walt took personality animation several steps forward. He created in each one of the dwarfs an individual makup which not only progressed the story but also gave the audience a deeper connection to the whole. Through just the names of the dwarfs a tremendous amount of personality is suggested. All the characters’ actions and gags were processed through their personality. A character like Dopey had an innocent type of humor which came from his oblivious view on the world while a character like Grumpy made the audience laugh through his negative and stubborn opinions. Walt took the basic outline of the Brother Grimm’s Snow White story and got rid of all the excess material in order to concentrate more on his characters’ personalities. A lot of Disney’s Snow White story revolves around simple things we see in every day life; an average day at work, cleaning the house, washing up for supper, and a festive dance.  These events are made entertaining through Disney’s wonderful ability to entrance us with his characters, individuality. Characters like Dopey and Grumpy are engraved in our imaginations because of how they conducted themselves in these seemingly ordinary situations.

One of the most influential series in this last decade has been the Bourne Trilogy. Literally hundreds of action films began to adapt the Bourne film’s hand-held, tightly cut, film style because of the movie’s success. However, the film’s success did not come from the specific way it was shot. The power of the series came from the filmmaker’s devotion towards the title character, Jason Bourne. Although the movies had tons of high quality action, it was the character behind the action that drew us in. In the first film Jason Bourne learns to see himself as more then just a military project. In the second film Bourne is forced to come face to face with the sins of his past. In the third film Bourne sets out on a journey to understand what made him choose to become who he was. All these stories revolve around Bourne’s search for humanity. The action in the films gets its strength through the audience’s invested interest in Bourne’s personal story. We know the struggle Bourne goes through when he is forced to kill, when he loses those who are close to him, and when his past won’t leave him alone.

The moments I remember in film are when William Wallace yells “Freedom!” at the end of Braveheart, when Jefferson Smith says “I guess this is just another ‘lost cause’ Mr. Paine” in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and when Raymond Babbitt touches his forehead to his brother Charlie in Rain Man. These moments touch my heart because of what they say about their characters. The filmmakers spend the whole movie connecting us to their characters so these moments at the end of the film are able to truly impact us. Stories must be about the character. Don’t make your stories so big you lose their humanity. During it’s production Walt Disney’s first feature film, Snow White, was called by many “Disney’s Folly”. People thought it wasn’t possible to entertain an audience for more then an hour with a cartoon. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs succeeded because Walt did not consider Snow White a “cartoon”. To Walt the characters in his movie were real. They had interests and feelings Walt and his artists spent countless hours trying to understand and defend. Because these characters were real to Walt they became real to us.

Create stories that go beyond the imaginary and become real. The characters in your stories can not be in place just to move the plot along.  They must go beyond cliche’s and speak to the individual. The protagonist, villain, and secondary character, who only is seen for a few minutes in the film, can become unforgettable if you spend enough time figuring out who they are. Give us a reason to come back. No matter if they are made by drawings, in the computer, or through an actor’s performance, you need to create characters with personalities and passions so real they can live in the imaginations of millions.

A Ball

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on September 18, 2012

I give you a ball. What you do with this ball could easily tell me how good of a storyteller you are. Here are a few questions I want you to answer. What kind of ball is it? who has the ball? And most importantly, what is going to happen to the ball?

You can turn the ball into a basketball and have a basketball player shoot a basket with it. I personally would call that a bit cliche and uninteresting. You can make someone throw the ball into someone’s groin area. Many would call that funny! But, is it any more original or less cliche? A lot has to do with why he threw it in someone’s groin. You also have the ability to do nothing with the ball. You might think, “This is stupid and I am going to stop reading now”. Well, it is fine with me if you deny this perfectly functioning ball (that I already created for you by the way) and leave. However, choosing to leave just might be contributing to the trapped situation you are in. Some people never end up writing anything because they are too afraid of what others might think, don’t have enough time to put pen to paper, or are not confident enough in themselves to believe they have anything worthy enough to say. Well, I have something to say………….”DON’T BELIEVE THESE LIES!”. As an individual you should always have something worthy enough to say. Don’t worry about what others say, even the harshest criticism could be used for good. And, if you don’t have the time to be creative I very much question why you feel you should still be living. Let me quote acclaimed screenwriter Aaron Sorkin in saying, “The difference between Page Two and Page Nothing is the difference between life and death”. You might also argue a “ball” is too small of a thing to interest anyone. Why create stories about balls when we can create stories about huge battle ships, missile shooting robots, and blood thirsty warlords? I guess my only reply to this argument is, “bigger does not always mean better”.

With this ball you need to go farther then “cliche” and have it be more then  just an object to set up a cheap sight gag. Creativity is a personal thing. You want this ball to say something about who you are and what you think of this world. How will you make the ball personal? I would turn it into a baseball. Why a baseball? Because I grew up playing the sport. I was a pitcher. There is a lot of emotional connection I have to the game. Maybe it could be the last game ball my character won before he called it quits. Maybe it could be the baseball my main character was given after being denied trying out for the big leagues. “Before you come back I want you to get to know this thing”, the scout says tossing the rejected player a baseball. “If you like it so much I want you to throw it so nobody could hit it”. There, I just set up my whole story within a few lines. I am dealing with a lot of emotional elements, all of which are represented in the baseball. The ball represents the game he loves, a rejection, and a challenge that the main character doesn’t know whether or not he can fulfill. For the rest of the story I could use the ball as a reminder to why my main character is working so hard to become a great pitcher.

Great storytellers do not need to take us to a galaxy far far away or show a situation where the life of mankind is on the line, in order to interest us. No grand monster, clever plot twist, or epic action scene will impact an audience more then a personal story. All a good storyteller needs to do is make even the smallest of objects and situations personal and insightful. If you believe yourself to be a good storyteller I challenge you to make a lot out of something small. Create interest where many would say there is none. My favorite thing involving a ball is baseball. I challenge you to show me a better one. You have the power to do what ever you want with the ball. Don’t think about doing something nobody would ever think of. Don’t think about trying impress us with your story. Just think about why it matters to you personally. Believe me, if it matters to you at a foundational level it will matter to someone else as well.

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.

To The Blog Readers! (if there are any :/ )

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on February 28, 2012

Well guys, I am ashamed that it has been more then two weeks without a post. I really have no excuse except for the fact that I haven’t known what to write about. I am getting to some cross roads in life and needing to make some big decisions. I am not interested as much in writing more about my personal philosophy on film. I sort of need to get more hands on experience before I talk much more about that. I have not updated my A New Vision blog since last May. So, my plan is to get rid of it and start posting some of the comics I once did on that blog, here.

There is always something about film to write. I am always figuring out new things and looking into new people’s philosophies. I want to continue my “An Observation” posts. I have several directors I am looking into and will be posting some papers on them soon. I also want to continue to really concentrate on some personal work, like story development, photography, and comics. I will post some of this stuff on the blog, but a lot of it I want to keep to myself for now. So, because I am changing my concentration on more personal work, blogs will be posted less often. However, I do think it is important to be consistent with blog posts. I will try to update A Dreamer Walking once a week. I will try to keep my material as professional as possible and give you something you can really think about as film admirers or students.

I must confess, I write this blog more for myself then for any of you. It helps me develop and organize my thoughts. The reason I do not ask my audience for suggestions on topics I cover is because I really don’t care about your opinion in that regard. I do invite comments and criticism. I am used to having people tell me what they think no matter if it might hurt my feelings. The bottom line is I am not a natural writer and am always up for hearing about ways I could get better. I also love to strengthen my views through being forced to defend them. I do not like being shown how I am truly wrong about something, but I try my hardest to keep an open mind to be willing to admit when I am wrong and someone else is right. The way I see comments is they can pretty much only do good. Either the commenter will have something enlightening to say or I can simply ignore him or her if it seems they don’t care or are just trying to start a fight.

Give me a few days and I will have another post up. I will say right now I was not impressed with the last four wins at the Oscars the other day. I did not see Iron Lady but I know it wasn’t getting very good reviews, and really wanted Viola Davis to win the Best Actress award for her moving performance in The Help. The Artist was okay for the kind of movie it was, but it didn’t seem to be much more then a tribute to cinemas silent era. On the other hand Hugo was a magnificent tribute to the silent era while also giving us a worthy story of its own, where a boy needs to find value through loss and an old man needs to learn how to truly live again. Scorsese’s directing for the film was also superb. He used 3D and visual effects in groundbreaking ways while never losing sight of the main focus being the story. Jean Dujardin’s performance in The Artist was showy, but he did not have the magical touch we saw the silent greats Charlie Chaplin, Lon Chaney, or Douglas Fairbanks, give their characters. I believe we saw more charm and nuance from both Brad Pit in Moneyball and George Clooney in The Descendents, then we did from Dujardin.

I thank all of those reading and following my blog. I hope I am contributing to your understanding of art and film. This blog has been a thing of pride in my life. I have learned a lot through studying and writing what I have and hope to learn more and more for years to come. I hope you enjoy exploring my dreams and points of view. I will talk more to you guys soon.

Andrew Stanton- An Observation- Writing Screenplays

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on January 17, 2012

I have started several screenplay’s in my life and have pretty much been scared off of all of them. Of course I tell myself I am going to come back, but usually I never do. I think a lot of it has to do with my insecurity as a writer. I don’t think I am good enough. I don’t think I can ever be smart enough to write for several different characters all of whom have different perspectives and intellects. I can never do enough research. I can never express myself in the poetic way I see so many other fine writers express themselves.

One of the writers I look up to is Andrew Stanton. He helped write the majority of the Pixar films. His stories are superbly structured. Everything is preparing the audience for the punch line. He knows how to put us in suspense through doing the unpredictable. He knows how to create characters with depth.  And his stories are always imaginative and unique while also being reflective of undeniable truths we see in everyday life. He has created two masterpieces himself in Finding Nemo and Wall-E while also helping directors like Pete Docter, Lee Ulkrich, and John Lasseter set their stories in the right direction. I don’t think anyone at Pixar would deny that Stanton is a great writer, except perhaps Stanton himself.

Knowing that Stanton is one of the lead writers for one of the most creative studios in Hollywood, you would most likely be surprised to hear that Andrew Stanton has said himself that he doesn’t really like to write and doesn’t consider himself to be very good. He dreads the time his screenplays are read out loud and he never feels like they are finished. He did not go to school for writing. His only experience has been on the job. The only way he feels it is good enough is through rewriting; not just once but rather dozens of times.

Stanton has never treated screenwriting like it was a piece of art. To him it is just a step to something great. When we treat writing as though it is just another step we are freed up to really try our best and fail miserably. Stanton has described screenplays as the screen authority that commands to be followed. It is a cinematic direction manual. It is not for the audience to see, it is for the people who are making the movie to see. His philosophy is to get something onto paper so he can begin to rewrite and refine his work. Once Stanton gets his work out there others are able to help. Pixar happens to have some of the best story helpers in the business. The Brain Trust is not afraid to be blunt with their writers and directors. They help Stanton’s writing go from good to great.

When starting a screenplay the only person you should try to satisfy is yourself. Create the story you want to create. You can read all the books there are on screenwriting, you can do months of research, and you can spend all your money on the most state of the art writing equipment. All of this however is not going to guarantee confidence. The value of writing is that it allows us to put what is in our head onto paper. Don’t treat screenwriting as anything more then a way to get your ideas out there, in a structured way, so you can improve them. After you have something you are able see and show others, you can start to refine. You will never know how good you are until you start doing it.