Filmmaking is for Warriors: Our Greatest Weapon

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Here’s a question for you:

Before the use of social media, how did we know what filmmakers believed on certain important topics?

Here’s another one:

If I didn’t tell you outright, would you be able to guess what I religiously believe? What about politically?

Last question:

Is it important for you to know these things about me in particular or the filmmaking world in general for you to watch my films and appreciate them?

Debates swirl through our Facebook feeds. Name-calling and bullying abound. Twitter is increasing the source of hate-speech and calls to hurt specific individuals. It’s now fun to disagree with people so much that you now define them as your enemy and must mount a personal vendetta against them.

So in this war against your “friends” and followers, what weapons do we filmmakers use to defend our ideals, morals, point-of-view, personal convictions and desires? What do we have in our arsenal that has the ability to reach not just the American people or your neighbors or that guy you hate on your social media field? How can you be heard and understood and shown compassion for your differences rather than crucified?

Our most powerful weapon is our driven desire to make films. Real films. Films with heart. Films with action. Films about change. Films about the past. Films about the future. Films about people. Films about the galaxy, the universe, the stars.

Pick up a camera. Look through that lens. You see the world differently than any other person. And you have the opportunity to give that view to the world, to wield a weapon that has succeeded in changing the views of a nation (Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?), keeping the political policies of a nation (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, AKA, one of the main reasons we still have the filibuster in the USA), connecting social injustice with audiences that wouldn’t normally choose to watch “that type” of film (District 9, apartheid), and showcased the bitter and painful struggles of war (Saving Private Ryan, Apocalypse Now, Black Hawk Down), protecting the innocent (Hotel Rwanda, The Book Thief, Shindler’s List, Argo) and making the ultimate sacrifice for the greater good (The Passion of the Christ, Harry Potter Series, The Iron Giant, Hercules).

Your weapons as a filmmaker can include social media. You can definitely impact people through the impersonal inter webs. But your impact will be greatest in the stories you tell, because the stories we tell show far more about our character and our beliefs than the brief words we spout on social media.

“Movies touch our hearts and awaken our vision, and change the way we see things. They take us to other places, they open doors and minds. Movies are the memories of our lifetime, we need to keep them alive.” ~Martin Scorsese (quoted from here)

“I always want to make films. I think of it as a great opportunity to comment on the world in which we live. Perhaps just because I just came off The Hurt Locker and I’m thinking of the war and I think it’s a deplorable situation. It’s a great medium in which to speak about that. This is a war that cannot be won, why are we sending troops over there? Well, the only medium I have, the only opportunity I have, is to use film. There will always be issues I care about.” ~Kathryn Bigelow (quoted from here)

“I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to express the views of black people who otherwise don’t have access to power and the media. I have to take advantage of that while I’m still bankable.” ~Spike Lee (quoted from here)

“I’m never going to be shy about anything, what I write about is what I know; it’s more about my version of the truth as I know it. That’s part of my talent, really — putting the way people really speak into the things I write. My only obligation is to my characters. And they came from where I have been.” ~Quentin Tarantino (quoted from here)

I have a voice here, and I’m using it as a secondary weapon against my world. But my primary weapon is my films.

I dare you to watch through my films and comment with what you think I believe religiously and/or politically. Start with this one, and let me know how far ya get before you have some ideas.

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POV or Point Of View Part 2

Welcome to part 2.  I blogged about POV here, a few weeks ago.  Point of view is complicated.  Aside from the POV within the story–which I mentioned in part 1–there’s the POV of the author of the story, script, whatever.  For the purpose of this post, let’s stick with books and feature films.  I can speak with the most knowledge about those and it will be less confusing.

You can tell a lot about the author from his or her story.

First off, the education of the author is usually obvious by the subject matter and/or the vocabulary.  If I read a book and I can’t go a full page without learning a new word, I know that the writer is very educated, either because they read a lot or they had a lot of school.  If the book or movie is about a bunch of college professors sitting around talking, the writer is probably well-acquainted with college professors.  And if they aren’t, the book or movie will suffer.

I often think that education and little-known words can be a weakness.  It’s not the words you know, it’s the way you use the words you know.  Here’s some of the best book writers that I know of: Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman, John Green, Timothy Zahn, Sarah Dessen, Jasper Fforde and Jane Austen.  Some of them speak at a higher level, most of them just know how to use words.

Secondly, you can tell what is important to the author, or what she is passionate about, or what is bothering her, or what she wants to change about the world.  How?  Ever notice that every single movie (aside from the Batman franchise, but even that is arguable) that Christopher Nolan has made is inherently about the same thing?

Reality.  What is reality.  What do we want from reality?  Is reality something we get to choose or does it already exist?  Does the audience ever really know what’s real in most of his films?

Nolan is captured by this idea of real vs made-up and it comes out in each of his stories.  Inception, which is about the dreamworld.  Memento, which is about how a guy with memory loss sees the world.  The Prestige, which is about magicians who can create a reality for the audience (and other reasons that are spoilers so I won’t mention them).  And even The Dark Knight, which is about choosing to let people decide the reality that they want.

Let’s get another example that isn’t Nolan, eh?  Let’s talk about J.J. Abrams.  Abrams is best known at the moment for Star Trek: Into Darkness.  It’s fantastic, drop what you’re doing and go see it.

Hello, nice to see you again.  It was awesome, wasn’t it?  Good.  Abrams is the man behind Mission Impossible 3, Super 8, Star Trek (2009) and Star Trek: Into Darkness.  At the heart of these movies, and even including Armageddon, which he wrote and Michael Bay directed, is the idea of family.  The family you create, the family you have, and the family you want.  In MI3, Ethan Hunt wants to settle down and get married, which changes the way he works.  In Super 8, the relationship between father and son is strained because the mom is dead.  The son looks to friends and a girl to be his family.  In Star Trek, Kirk’s family is non-existent, until he joins Starfleet and acquires his ship and a father figure.  In Star Trek: Into Darkness, Kirk’s crew, and the crew of another major character, are mentioned as being family.  And what the characters would do for their families is a major plot point later on.

Thirdly and lastly, you can tell the audience that the writer is aiming to please.  This doesn’t mean that other audiences can’t enjoy the work.  It’s just the aim.

For example, Suzanne Collins wrote The Hunger Games trilogy for boys.  Stop right there and don’t hate me.  I know she wrote this trilogy primarily for boys because it is extremely and graphically violent, preoccupied with action over emotion, lacks excessive description, the main character is not concerned with girly things, but hunts and fights, and the ending is less than happy.  But there’s a love triangle, you say.  Whatever.  Just because it’s written primarily for a male audience doesn’t mean that the audience is all males.

Here’s a fun example: Stephenie Meyer.  We all know what she wrote, right?  It’s only 4 books and 5 movies.  Think vampires.  Yup, she wrote the Twilight books.  Now, I didn’t read these books.  Not interested.  But I saw 4 of the movies.  From a filmmaking perspective, the movies were well-made.  Anyway.  These books were written with primarily a female audience in mind.  I bet you already knew that.  Why?  Because they contain overly emotional relationships, complications to the plot that are relationship driven, a drawn-out love triangle with 2 seemingly perfect men, anticlimactic scenes, an imperfect and girly main character (someone to relate to), a very neatly bound and happy ending.

It’s funny, until the movies came out, the only people I knew who had read these books were guys.

Ha.

Good grief this is the longest post ever.  If you made it this far, congratulations!  You are now in possession of my POV on writer’s POVs and how you can identify them.  You can tell a writer’s education, passion, and audience from his or her writing.  And many, many other things.  Watch out for them as you read.

This list probably says a lot about me…

POV or Point Of View (Part 1)

Point of view, ya’ll, or POV.  In film POV can be a shot set-up.  I filmed a webseries episode last week and a character ended up on the ground.  My DP laid on the ground and pointed the camera at the sky, imitating the view of the character.  Remember this, it is the physical POV that will help you and me understand the next definition.

POV can be the term used to explain the way the story is told.  I’ve briefly blogged about POV within a movie before, here.

For this post, here’s a different example: in the movie Memento, which is about a guy with memory loss, the film is edited backwards so that the audience sees the story in weird pieces, like the main character sees.  He can’t remember anything longer than 15 minutes, so he gets tattoos and writes things down.  As soon as that time is up, he has to rely entirely on his sometimes cryptic notes.  The viewer feels just like he does, since we have to figure out the story through sometimes cryptic scenes.

Let me give another example, since that one is a very extraordinary movie.  Almost every movie has a main character and that main character directs the way the story is told.  Let’s talk about Iron Man (2008).  In Iron Man Tony Stark is taken hostage and kept in a cave for a majority of the movie.  While he is in the cave, the story stays in the cave, with him.  He is the main POV, so whatever he can see, we see.  Later, he leaves the cave and to keep the audience informed on other aspects of the storyline, the camera shows us conversations with villains, Tony’s assistant Pepper interacting with Agent Coulson and some moments with Rhodey, Tony’s friend.  But those times away from Tony only exist to clarify, and they don’t last long.

This is Tony’s story and we see it as he sees it.  The villains are bad because they oppose him, just like his friends are good because they (sometimes) support him.  This movie could be told by the villain, and Tony Stark would be the bad guy.  I mean, come on, Thor is really about Loki, because at the end of the movie you just want Loki to come back and get revenge on his enemy–Thor.  And when Loki comes back in The Avengers, he’s almost…well…I feel for him, because the first movie was his story about the brother who got everything and messed everything up and then, in his eyes, betrayed him.

(Thor may be the worst example of POV ever, since I apparently missed out on the fact that Thor is supposed to be the good guy.  I mean come on, just because some people think Thor’s pretty doesn’t mean he didn’t start an unnecessary war and nearly get a bunch of people killed when the guy trying to rectify the situation sends a big robot to stop him from making an even bigger mess.  The only wronged individual in this movie is Loki.  Maybe the writer wanted us to support Thor, so they got a lovely actor and framed him with his shirt off, but their subterfuge failed.  We all know who the protagonist is based on the filming, the story and the person making all the bad choices.)

If you’re confused about a movie’s POV, it might not have a main character.  If you’re still confused, find the person who is shown to be the most vile, evil, selfish, and/or corrupt and you’ve found the villain.  The opposite, or at least opposing, character is the protagonist, and the movie is from his or her POV.

Okay, that got a little sidetracked in the end.  And I actually have a lot more to say about POV, but I’ll save it for another post.