Ok so you’re a filmmaker, now what? Film is romantic, even if you don’t want to face it; there is a mystique about it, it immediately conjures up images of epic scenery, sophisticated camera work, lush landcapes, smokey cabarets with shadows dancing across the faces of French beauties and square-jawed Americanos. Rare is the person who doesn’t wax poetic or nostalgic about the Silver Screen, and go into an impression of their favorite villain or start belting out favorite one-liners. In many ways this is cinema’s greatest attribute, it’s infectious nature. In many ways this is also its greatest problem, especially where filmmakers are concerned. Romance, or infatuation with anything will cloud your judgment quicker than drugs or alcohol, and before you know it,
your creation is dead in the water, and you will have pulled the trigger all by yourself.
Perhaps you think I am being too dramatic, but think about it. Think about every great franchise or series that was ever ruined by overzealousness on the part of its creators. It’s a lot like raising kids, if you raise them with your heart then expect therapy costs down the line for everyone involved. Filmmaking is no different than any relationship; it has to based on concrete, tangible, sensible expectations and it requires work. If you really claim to love that script then you have to prove it by making decisions based on your project’s needs and not “what would be neat”. This kind of clear-headed thinking requires a couple basic things to condsider:
1. Is your project a fresh perspective on a subject or is it an homage, a tribute? Regardless of which, you need to do your homework. This path has been explored by other before so learn from their experience, their mistakes. Be honest with this aspect of your material or the rest is largely futile.
2. Are you writing or composing scenes to provide an all-encompassing experience? This is a big one. It is safe to say that a majority of independent productions suffer from over-emphasis on the visual components. Sound is most often overlooked or rushed by inexperienced filmmakers because it is an invisible element, and when done well is not noticeable. Ironically, sound is the absolute most jarring and disturbing thing when done incorrectly. Sound has the power to instantly destroy the credibility of any amount of visual production. Remember that human beings are largely composed of water, and bad vibrations can lead to very profound discomfort (Just ask anyone who has seen a Transformers film). When conceiving a film, remember that you are creating for two out of the six senses. Your dialogue should be as clever to read as it is to hear. The shot of the tree should be as compelling as the rustling of its leaves.
3. Cinematic genius depends largely of your ability to free your mind of what has come before and to trust your creative instincts. Study your peers and ancestors by all means, but you will likely never make a breakthrough or cover new ground if you spend your time paying tribute to your heroes. Know your Rule-of-Thirds, camera techniques, composition, lighting, but don’t let these convention dictate your every move. Discover the art of “educated freedom” and you will never look back.
4. Human truth = truth in cinema. Like stand-up comedy, the best films are the ones that speak to the fundamental things that people have in common. Even if your story takes place on planet Hedron XII and involves semi-gelatinous-samurai-muffins, they better be engaged in an event or discussion that hits home in a genuinely human way. We are a vain race, and what’s worse is that we are basically alone in the world for now, so navel-gazing is what we do, it’s what art is all about in the end.
5. Don’t be afraid to kill off an idea that has gone bad. Again this does not mean abandoning ideas midstream or at the first sign of trouble, but rather being sober and honest with yourself when an idea has sunk. Like the most succulent fruit, ideas have an indeterminate shelf-life. It is hard to tell how long they will last, but the stench of a concept that has gone bad can be smelled continents away. Be brave and walk that project over the hill like one of Capt. Byrd’s men on the Antartica Mission.
I’m not telling you to follow these ideas, but consider them.