Dry Spells

Have you ever had a dry spell when it comes to your art? This could be filmmaking, painting, writing, etc. It has been quite a while since I’ve gotten behind the camera to make a film. Luckily, I will be getting behind the camera shortly to film a marketing video, but over the past year I haven’t done much in the way of actual filming. I have had many ideas. I’ve sketched out a few of them too, but one thing leads to another and I push it off. Instead, I’ve focused on other creative ventures outside of filmmaking. I think that this is common. Think writer’s block. How do you generate an idea good enough to warrant exploring it? It can be difficult. I haven’t posted a blog post in over a month; my schedule got busy and next thing I know it’s almost August.

This is a part of creativity; the dry spells are a part of the magic. There will be periods in our lives where the ideas won’t stop flowing. One idea after another. Eventually the well will run dry, but luckily there is water buried deep within the crust of the earth. It will push through again. I think that this is important to recognize. It can be easy to fall into a rut and think that you will never create again, but to think that way can be detrimental to your creativity.

I try to use these long dry spells to think of new ideas, and to experience life. By experiencing life we effectively create more memories to draw inspiration from. It can be a frustrating journey, but a rewarding one as well. Don’t get discouraged if you find no new ideas coming to the forefront. Think of it has a transitional period. You’ve left behind the previous chapter of your creative life and are now writing the next chapter. I know when I make my next film it will be at the right time. No need to rush it.

The Power of Silence

Have you ever seen a film where the characters just talk…too much? I know I have, and it can get on your nerves. It can be most annoying when characters just start saying the most obvious things. I think that this can be a challenge for many first time filmmakers and screenwriters. They try to tell the audience too much instead of simply just showing them.

I believe that there can be a healthy balance between exposition and silence. You don’t want too much of either because then the film becomes unbalanced. However, the exception to this rule could be if you’re making a silent film…you simple can’t talk in that scenario (unless you decide to use too many intertitles).

In any case, silence can be a very powerful aspect of a film. In a horror film, silence builds anxiety and can create a very tense feeling in the audience. They will be expecting some big scare (it is up to you if you want to scare them). In a drama film, silence can make the audience think a little bit more about a certain situation, or even about a character’s mindset. One film which comes to mind is Bela Tarr’s 2011 film “The Turin Horse”. There is very little dialogue in that nearly two and a half hour film, but it definitely keeps you engaged (although I will admit it is not for everyone).

Sometimes we worry that the audience won’t understand what we are trying to convey in a particular scene so we decide to explain it to them through the character’s speech, but I think we need to give our audiences more credit. I like to write my films with the thought that my audience is smart and will figure it out on their own. And if they don’t? That’s okay too. That is what art is all about; we don’t have to answer all the questions we raise.

The Art of Rejection

Getting rejected can be a rotten feeling. Getting told that the work you have done is bad. Getting told that you’re no good. Sometimes, they don’t say anything at all and their silence is what kills you. Now, the kind of rejection I am talking about is the kind of rejection that comes with being a filmmaker, or an artist in general. It is going to happen, but you can’t let it get you down. It comes with the territory.

Nobody ever got anywhere by being great all the time. The only way to learn in this industry is to fail. By failing we call attention to our weaknesses. Once we realize a weakness we are then able to make it better. In short: we learn from our mistakes (as cliché as that is to say). Of course it is going to suck when you get rejected, but you have to take it in stride. This can apply to any aspect of life, not just film or art. Take each rejection, each failure, and turn it around. It will be easy to point out every negative aspect of the rejection, but it is far harder, and more beneficial, to point out all the good that a rejection can have. Rejection is not 100% bad.

For example, you submit a film which you think is your best work to a film festival but they reject it. Instead of getting down on yourself try looking at your film in a different light. Maybe there is something you can change around in it. You could be just a few quick edits away from greatness, and that acceptance you are craving. Maybe there is something else glaringly wrong with it that you just didn’t know or see before. Sometimes it takes a rejection to help us see things more clearly.

Rejection never gets easier to swallow, but we can lessen the blow each time by being productive with the result we have been given. The first thing you can do is submit it somewhere else. Maybe that festival, or that publisher, or that agent, or that company wasn’t the right fit for you, but someone else will get what you are trying to say. This happens all the time. If you find that you just can’t get it accepted anywhere you could try changing it a little bit. Just be sure not to sacrifice your artistic vision. That is something that you should never give up. Rejection is an art form in itself. You can let it take a hold of you and crush you beneath its weight, or you can take control of it and bend it any which way you choose. The choice is yours.

On the Beach

Inspiration can strike you anywhere. Some people get inspired in their dreams; some people get inspired through things that they do, and some people get inspired by the places they visit. Nature is a great source of inspiration for many artists. It’s like a treasure trove just waiting to be unlocked. This week I took a walk on a beach and it got me thinking about all the stories that could be told from this location. You have the ocean, a great unknown, which could be the basis for many a story. Think of all the stories which could be told. You have the great depths of the oceans which are unexplored, you have boats, and you have the beach. I don’t find myself at the beach often (I don’t really like the beach if I’m being honest here), so I guess that would explain why I never really thought of the beach as a place to tell a story. I realize now, however, that every location on this planet can inspire some story to tell.

Film has the power to take an audience to a place they have never been before, and it has the power to show us a side of life we have never experienced. Every story, however, needs to start somewhere. It can be a fleeting thought which grabs your attention. That’s all you need. Just one thought. With that thought you can create worlds that don’t exist, or explore themes which create a fire within you. Run with it and don’t let it hinder your creative energy. If we give in and don’t explore a thought fully then we are only cheating ourselves. Explore the world and find your source of inspiration. It could be right around the corner.

Don’t Compromise Your Vision

Have you ever had a vision of how your film should be, but then change it drastically because others around you are pressuring for the change? It is not a pretty sight. Now, I am not saying that you shouldn’t take advice and/or suggestions about your film. I think that there can be a healthy balance between your artistic vision and the suggestions made by cast and crew members. What I am saying is this: don’t throw out your idea completely just because someone tells you to. Unless you truly like their ideas better you will come to regret your decision. The best thing you can do is film their idea and your idea and see what works in editing. You could also not take their ideas into consideration at all, but at least make it seem like you considered it.

Sometimes we have to get creative because of circumstances out of our control. It is when a person on set constantly questions your visions that things can get troublesome. It has the potential of creating a toxic environment. Take a deep breath, be polite, and stick to your vision. There must have been a reason you had that specific vision, so don’t compromise it. The more you change your film based on the ideas of others around you (unless you genuinely like those ideas better), the more your film becomes somebody else’s vision. You see this kind of thing all the time in Hollywood when producers and production companies think they know more about film-making and storytelling than directors and writers. Many filmmakers have disowned films they have made because it wasn’t truly their vision. Never find yourself in this situation if you can help it. It can be a brutal experience.

The Vault: Volume 6

Hello everyone! It has been a while since the last edition of the vault, so what better thing to do than to write volume 6 right now!? This volume is going to be a little different from the previous five, however. This time around I will be including video clips to go along with each of my selections.

1.) Gettysburg (1993)

Gettysburg, a film by Ronald F. Maxwell, is one of my favorite historical films. It is based off the civil war novel Killer Angels by Michael Shaara. The film is beautifully shot, and, along with the soundtrack (one of my personal favorites), really is able to create an atmosphere which grabs your attention and keeps you watching. This is important to note because the film is very long. It is over four hours in length (four hours fourteen minutes to be exact, and the extended edition is around seventeen minutes longer than that!). Don’t let the length of the film deter you, however. I can assure you that this four hour film feels like a two hour film. It goes by so quickly each time you watch it. As the name implies, much of the film focuses on the battle of Gettysburg, but the first half of the film does feature some other battles preceding Gettysburg. It is a fine film, and one which I believe everyone should watch at least once.

2.) In the Heat of the Night (1967)

Winner of the 1967 academy award for Best Picture, this film crime film really packs a punch even today. It tells the story of a black detective stuck in the Deep South who somehow helps solve a murder case. It has several tense moments during its run-time, and always keeps you guessing until the final moments. For anyone who is interested in crime films, or detective stories, this film is for you. It is a good example of how to bring pieces of evidence together so that the audience becomes another detective in the story trying to figure out whodunit.

3.) The Mirror (1975)

Andrei Tarkovsky is one of my favorite filmmakers. I have already included his 1972 film Solaris on a previous edition of the Vault. The Mirror, one of his most difficult films to get into, was my first foray into his films. I remember being completely confused by it. In fact, I still am. I mean this, however, in a good way. Each time I have viewed this film I have liked it more and more. It is essentially a collection of fragments like that of a dream, or of a stream of memories. There really isn’t much of a plot either. The film also switches between color, black & white, and sepia toned footage; seemingly at random. It also jumps around in time too. The result is both frustrating and brilliant. This film ranks among those that showed me that there is more than one way to make a film. The film is beautiful to look at, and challenging to understand. Tarkovsky, however, never made a film for no reason. This film is clearly very autobiographical, (Tarkovsky’s father narrates parts of the film with his poetry, and his Mother appears in the film as well). Don’t expect to understand the film, but be sure to give it a viewing.

4.) The Sword in the Stone (1963)

I had to include at least one lighthearted film in this edition, and this would be it! This is without a doubt my favorite animated film. It is the perfect example of early Walt Disney animated features. It has catchy songs, old fashioned animation styles, and a classic story: King Arthur. I wish they would make animated films like this again. I am personally done with these computer animated films. I want these older style, hand-drawn, films back! I can dream, can’t I?

 

Georges Méliès; or the Father of Cinematic Wonder

When I think of the history of film there are a handful of names which come to mind, and one of them is Georges Méliès. Some of you may know him from Martin Scorsese’s 2011 film “Hugo”. Part of the reason I loved that film so much was because I was already very familiar with the works of Méliès. He made such films as “Voyage to the Moon” and “The Four Troublesome Heads” and “The One Man Band”. Why is he so important? He was one of the first filmmakers to begin to see the possibilities that cinema could provide. Before Méliès almost all films were just actuality films (slice of life documentary films). Méliès was an entertainer and a magician and brought that sense of wonder to his films by using special effects. Now, his films still seem like filmed stage productions, but there is also a great sense of wonder watching them because he is able to make things happen which people could only dream of. Here are two examples.

The first one is called “The Four Troublesome Heads” from 1898.

This film cannot help but make you smile. He had no films to base these special effects off of, so he essentially created them himself. Just imagine what audiences probably thought of it back 1898 when they saw a man take his head off multiple times! Of course, by today’s standards, this is easier than ever to replicate, but back then it was new and exciting and paved the way for all other special effects to follow.

Take a look at “The One Man Band” from 1900.

This another fun little film of his to watch. He brought magic to the screen at the turn of the century where it is still employed today. You can see, however, that these films really did feel like just filmed theatre, but it was a start. Remember: there was no such thing as a green or blue screen, or computer editing systems. All these effects had to be done by hand with the film stock and camera; filming scenes multiple times with parts of the film blocked out. It was meticulous but the final product was worth it.

People came to forget Georges Méliès, however. He became a toy salesman for years as he lived in obscurity. He was rediscovered in the late 1920s and he began to get the recognition he deserved. I am glad that he lived to see the turnaround in public recognition of his works. Without him cinema would not be what it is today. The events in “Hugo” never happened, but it was true that he was a toy salesman and had fallen on hard times. I always love revisiting his films because of that fantastical world he creates. There are so many of his films which you can watch online and enjoy, and I highly recommend doing so.

No article on Georges Méliès, however brief the article may be, is complete without talking about “Voyage to the Moon” from 1902. The film also goes by the title “A Trip to the Moon”. This is one of the most important films ever made in the history of cinema. Along with “The Great Train Robbery” from 1903, this film is considered one of the first narrative films of considerable length. It is about 13 minutes long, and includes many special effects. However, unlike the other films which I have included on this post this one does not look entirely like staged theatre. Méliès built sets and explored what cinema could do. This is also the film which includes the iconic “face of the moon” shot. Unlike those others films this one actually has a simple plot which carries the film just as much as the special effects. Perhaps I will write another article in the future dedicated completely to this masterpiece, but for now just take a gander for yourselves and you will know why it was ahead of its time.