Keeping a Film Diary

film-diary

A lot of people would believe this to be a mad waste of time. Think again. I like to think of my film diary as a personal journey, and here’s why. Films are full of life – be it life re-imagined and projected onto a screen. People have been writing heartfelt criticism on the subject for over a century, good and bad. For some people, films can change their life, for others it can be something to chortle at. Either way you look at it, film provokes a response, a very human being response. But, why should we bother write about these responses?

They can instigate thoughts that may have a deep and desirable effect on our day-to-day lives. I am not just speaking for cinephiles when I say this, take a look in the news and you’ll see all sorts of arguments over the power of visual content – movies and games in particular. I notoriously remember the case with Park Chan-wook’s Oldboy being blamed for the Virginia Tech massacre.[1] There is also the argument that movies desensitize us: “Now the act of violence with a gun or a knife is the norm and we in the entertainment industry are partly responsible in making the presence of weapons such as knives almost an acceptable commonplace”, Sir Richard Attenborough.[2] On the contrary, I believe that seeing violence and other matters in the movies can kindle us and make us more aware and susceptible to these themes. Though, you can see the argument overlapping. It befalls on the individual at the end of the day.

Film can be a very personal journey, and regardless of how many movies you watch, writing about them can reflect your current demeanor and outlook on life. This outlook will inevitably change over time and that is an interesting arc to discover. Use film as a means to reflect on your current state of mind. Writing your thoughts about a character in a movie is equivalent to writing about your thoughts on the man opposite the street or the girl living next door. The medium of film is irrelevant if you reflect on the characters – humans with various obstacles, behaviors and emotions. Of course, some people may only write notes on the aesthetic/artistic aspects of a film, but by digging into the characters minds we can locate a magical reflection on our world. This is the filmmaker’s greatest task, to give a character that magical human touch. Next time you watch a film, try watching it with this task in mind, and the characters will become an extension of yourself.

This may be biased toward my love for dramas, but even movies with aliens and monsters should give off a similar aura. This then becomes dependent on how we perceive various genres of film. I am beginning to think that film is just a cycle of contradicting gestures – much like life.

But, lets not forget how important and powerful film aesthetics can be. You may discover a hidden desire for a certain look and feel that a film gives you – it could be the aura of a period drama, or more specifically, the unnerving sensation that stark lighting in film noir gives you.

Besides film analysis, the reflective experience of writing a diary can be liberating and great for your film knowledge. If you keep track of the films you watch you will be able to tell your friend when he or she asks what you want to watch: “Yes, I have seen that”, rather than “Not sure, lets try it” and then half way through you release you have seen it and know how it will end! When you write down a film noting its title, crew and cast details etc. you will not easily forget it, unless it is terrible. Though unfortunately, in many cases, it is the terrible films that are the most memorable! Much like, “why is it the negative reviews that stick?” Mark Kermode.[3]

Writing about film can also give you a better understanding of what genre or style of film you like best and why. As you begin to note differences in characters, story arcs, designs, locations, cinematography etc. it will become apparent to you that a secret language is operating in film. A language that sweeps the sand from its tracks and allows the audience to become invested within a certain story structure and canvas.

What I am trying to get at is that if you are not consciously aware of how you are being affected when you watch a film and wish to reflect and understand it a bit more, then write a diary. You will be surprised about your unique insight – everyone has one when it comes to rummaging through the world of a film. For those who are already film lovers, then you probably already have a film diary, so keep filling it!

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Get to know Mark Travis

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Mark Travis is a consultant and expert on the art and craft of film directing. He is also a very friendly guy who one can easily get in touch with to ask for advice etc. After reading his internationally acclaimed book Directing Feature Films, I felt obliged to get in touch with Mark and express my enthusiasm for his work. Mark got back to me 10 minutes later with his thanks and a mark of confidence and good luck.

So, if you are starting out – like myself – or a crafted expert, then either way you should head over to Michael Wiese Productions and check out his brilliant book. In this blog post I want to note a few effective and basic methods that Mark mentions in his book and shed some light.

Firstly, Mark talks in great depth about character and how one needs to dig deep below the surface in order to reveal the truth. It comes down to genuine human emotions and behavior when looking for that believable performance, or “magical” performance as Mark likes to say. In the book, Mark suggests a few fundamental ways to achieve this as well as some new and alternative approaches. I found the emotional graphs and obstacle charts that Mark draws particularly insightful.

emotional-graphs

Above, I have included the emotional graphs of two characters in a short film I am directing at the moment. The emotional graph allows me to see where the characters reactions/shifts in emotion are taking place from good to bad. I have labeled the graph by the chronology of scenes in which they appear. From this I can get a true representation of the characters arc and how they should respond by changes in their behavior. Of course, these graphs are highly susceptible to the interpretation of a character and the various other obstacles they may be facing through staging and their environment etc. But, from a director’s point of view, it appears invaluable to guiding the actor through various obstacles and hidden anxieties. Once you understand this, you can break the ‘rules’ and shift the characters obstacles slightly to get a different emotion and performance that works best.

Another area that draws similar results is recognizing the characters ‘Gap’ – the difference between their expectations versus the reality. How a character responds to this can determine their true nature – it could be aggressively, progressively, confidently, arrogantly, wisely, sadly etc. etc. Mark explains this in greater depth in his book and also provides examples of graphs you can draw to configure your characters ‘Gap’.

Moving on from character analysis, Mark takes the reader from assembling the creative team to the final mix in postproduction. He always evaluates the areas from an approach of the director and gives valuable examples of all the hidden tasks he and his fellow filmmakers have undergone in the past. It is hard to find an angle that Mark doesn’t cover. Though, I am sure this opinion of mine will change when/if I get the opportunity to direct a feature a film. I will end up writing to Mark saying, “You didn’t warn me of this, or that, or this! Etc.” Though he does say something along the lines of “be ready for the unexpected!”

One of my favourite things in the book about production (I hope I don’t get in trouble for attempting to quote the book too much!) is that one should think of the camera as a character and the director should play that character. This character will eventually become the audience. Having a reason behind every angle or move you make this character (the camera) do is essential; the reason should link nicely back into the arc of your story. A cinematographer knows all this and depending on your specific collaboration he may push your reasoning or he may have a stack of his own. I think a great cinematographer should bring his or her own ideas and challenge yours respectively, but inevitably encourage whatever you – the director – decide to do.

(You – the reader – probably already realise this, but the idea of this blog post – and the rest – is not for me to teach you, rather I just to want share my opinions (small or tall, fresh or naive) and hopefully you will put a comment in the box below!)

On the other front, is working with actors and Mark has plenty of answers (Also, I promise this post isn’t a Michael Weise ad). I will let you discover these notes for yourself, but it goes without saying that ‘result direction’ is also frowned upon here. However, I must say, Mark does provide a noteworthy reason for times when it can be necessary and valuable to throw commands at your actors.  One thing that he does hammer home is the priority of character intention and function over anything else, including the written word. This intention and function is established via character objectives (intention) and behaviors (function). So, by looking at this, to change the outcome of a character-driven scene, simply change their objectives and behaviors – it is pretty simple really.

So, there were a few things that stood out to me from the book; there are 395 pages more of it!

Find Mark on his website here.

I won’t attach a link to buy the book because as I mentioned  – this is writing from the heart, not the bank!

Dallas Buyers Club – “full blown”

Dallas-Buyers-Club-Images

Regular readers will know that I usually do my film of the week each week. However, I have decided it would be more efficient and effective (for various reasons) to do this by fortnight instead. Scarily, we are already into the 7th week of 2014 and life continues to feel like it is running ahead of time. One of the most frustrating things about a lack of time, is not being able to write or watch enough movies to satisfy my senses. Writing is a great way to express ourselves and let loose a little, some like to scream, others like to fight and some like to write. And, watching movies is just a great way to reflect on everything and anything, and, in effect, catch up or even be transported ahead of time.

But, I clearly digress. Awards season! It is now full flow with the Oscars only a few weeks away, and the BAFTA’s this Sunday. Don’t miss out. Though, unfortunately, half the films nominated are only just becoming available here in the UK. The joys. One of those films, Dallas Buyers Club, I had the pleasure of seeing last week. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this film and I am still not exactly sure what I think of it, but what I am certain is that Matthew McConaughey’s performance deserves great respect and admiration. Any doubts of him as a truly impressive actor should be thrown off the prescription; I wouldn’t be surprised to see him take home an Oscar alongside his Golden Globe for best actor in a drama.

And a drama it surely is, with McConaughey’s character Ron Woodruff prancing about like a scandal before being diagnosed with “full blown” AIDS. His journey to overcome this diagnosis is what makes this film so remarkable; his character fights with enormous passion and determination to turn his life around and the lives of thousands of others. Woodruff is a skinny, tiresome and dopey character, McConaughey shed 38 pounds and it shows, one is reminded of Christian Bale’s frightening bodily transition in Brad Anderson’s The Machinist. A stand of ovation for the man.

Jean-Marc Vallée directs the picture following the success off the back of his critically acclaimed Café de Flore in 2012 and The Young Victoria in 2009. Vallée works odysseys of magical proportions, his characters are mystical in their ways yet frighteningly grounded with realistic human behaviour. He is a director to definitely watch out for, and no doubt he has plenty more breath-taking dramas waiting to elope the screen.

Watch the trailer below: