The Jaws Log – The Real Chaos

Jaws_Log

‘The real chaos’, or the beauty of cinema i.e. the sheer capacity of deceit that the director hides behind and around the camera! In this case that would be a great tugboat, 2 unit barges and a mound of rigging entangled amidst poor souls in scuba-diving gear.

If you are currently producing a film and finding yourself worked up, then take a step back and think about how tough it was for the team on Martha’s Vineyard in the summer of 1974. Take out Carl Gottlieb’s book, The Jaws Log, and laugh wickedly at their hardship. This book truly is a marvellous account of the perils and joys of making a movie. It will transmute you into the minds of the crew-members and send a shiver down your deck. I even gasped at some of the convolutions in this book… Conclusion… Spielberg is a hero.

However, this book is more than just a mash up of everything wrong with making a movie, instead it actually provides the answers. The answers of thinking outside the box, motivating your crew, relying on your director to make the right decisions and, surprisingly, maintaining a good relationship with your producers- in this case the unrivalled Richard Zanuck and David Brown (Zanuck/Brown Productions). Apparently, Steven Spielberg’s brain was so sapped of lucidity and wellbeing that he spent 3 months after leaving Martha’s Vineyard having nightmares about being on the Ocean with sharks – now there’s a director with their head in the game!

Peter Benchley is the author behind the marvellous book Jaws, the book which got turned into this spectacular picture. Despite plenty of significant script changes by Spielberg and Gottlieb, (screenwriter for the movie – Benchley is also credited) alongside a couple of scuffles, Benchley was highly commendable of the outcome. And, so were the mass audiences who would flock to see the picture, “laughing and shrieking”, in the summer of 1975.

Carl Gottlieb has truly witnessed an extraordinary account of filmmaking and his documentation is certainly engaging entertainment. If you know a friend who doesn’t appreciate the craft of filmmaking, then throw this book at their lap and they may grow to become obsessed.

I would write a more detailed account of what Gottlieb has to say, but you really need to immerse yourself in the book and salute your admirations to the filmmakers. Grab a copy here.

For fun, as I love trailers, here is Jaws:

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7 Key Traits Filmmakers Can Learn From Entrepreneurs

Richard-Branson-Virgin-Founder

If you are a filmmaker, then you are probably already thinking: “But we are entrepreneurs!” Yes, filmmaking is a business and it has moguls that make it so, and consequently the independent filmmaker, more and more so, needs to act and think like an entrepreneur. You need to get funded, you need to build a team around you and you need all the traits listed below (or in my case, bits of them), of which I have found to be most commonly associated with entrepreneurs.

Let me begin with this rather unhelpful quote “entrepreneurship is dealing with repeated failure.” (I can’t cite this quote, but it has come from somewhere!). One would fathom that this suggests “repeated failure” will eventually lead to the good will of success i.e. you just keep trying to succeed. Of course, tenacity is essential, but this quote is probably hammering home the harsh realities of running a business, and learning from your mistakes. (My dad has forever told me to “learn from my mistakes”; he just forgot to tell me to write them down!). Making a film, getting represented, publishing a book etc. are all things that no doubt feel like you are receiving treatment of “repeated failure”. But, if you learn to deal with it and flip it on it’s head into progressive enthusiasm then it can only be valuable (admitted, we are not all this strong minded). Essentially, it seems to me that this is what entrepreneurship is all about: you need to deal with whatever is thrown at you and have an answer for it (commonly by “flipping it” – a term I have now made up) – thus emulating the role of the film director.

Passion

It was obvious, who can make something happen without passion? The slight difference in regard to an independent filmmaker is that they should be primarily fuelled by their craft and the story (much like an entrepreneur is for their product, however). You shouldn’t be so fuelled by the need to get rich, if so, you probably should be an entrepreneur after all. Passion, belief and excitement all come before money in this game i.e. the world.

Tolerance

A filmmaker needs to be able to tolerate a vast number of individuals all at once. Let’s hope everyone is on the same wave length, but if not, you need to know that you have control over the outcome. A big hamper is obviously fear and various anxieties; this could be fear of the ambiguous or the ‘Other’ hanging over your shoulder. Successfully controlling such a marvel will keep you right on cue.

Vision

Just like an entrepreneur needs to vision their product and its market 6 months down the line, so do filmmakers. It is easy to forget that at the end of the day, as a filmmaker, you are selling a product. Moreover, having a clear vision to bring that product to life goes without saying. For the director, to be assertive and maintain a state of control, you have to have a clear vision. Surely, if not, then that control would stem from something other than a passion for a vision, egos begin to come out and play. Tension between crew on a film set is the ultimate assassin for a director.

Self-belief   

Nay-sayers are what the cultural industries are all about; decline and more decline. Or, so it can sometimes seem when trying to get a project off the ground. So, overcoming such individuals and taking steps away from subjective dismay and into future resolve is a desirable and fundamental trait. These are understandably tough moments were support could be largely beneficial, but “rise above” as they say.

Flexibility

If you are in control/running something (as is an entrepreneur or a film director) then you have to be adaptable to survive. Arguably, one can be narrow-minded, bigoted to the heavens and still become the lord of a business, but I will argue that filmmaking can be more delicate (especially on set) and being flexible is vital. Being assertive to changes and managing them in the best way possible is all one can do at times. This doesn’t mean letting your power slide, your power will be all the more if people respect you for listening and become enriched by your compliance. The history of film directing is littered with debates around this topic (and the others listed), nothing I have said here is to direct you, it is purely personal thoughts and beliefs for my own reflection (with the hope you may like them too!)

Rule Breaking

Perhaps not a forerunning thought for a narrative filmmaker. Of course, innovative aesthetics are not the only way to be recognised, powerful stories are the significant other. Yet, with powerful stories, more often than not, comes a beautiful and ground-breaking aesthetic and the stamp of an author. I guess this trait is about being open-minded (to yourself, your DoP, Art Director etc.), in other words, defying some form of conventional wisdom associated with filmmakers (notoriously the classical Hollywood style of filmmaking that we all know so well). However, there is no set of rules when making a film (someone respectable said this, though I can’t remember who), so set your own and break them on occasion. Besides, creative choices, there are the guerrilla filmmaker rules i.e. break the law. This is another story altogether (Read Chris Jones’s Guerrilla Filmmaker’s Pocketbook)

Tenacity

I like to think of tenacity as having an external strength – the Zeus of filmmakers if you like. This is the eternal drive that keeps you going, the firmness in your belief-system that keeps you on track, the device that pushes you through the obstacles and defies uncertainty. Anyone trying to make something happen needs a degree of tenacity.

Underlying all these factors however, is the obvious and ubiquitous need for a strong mental state – nothing is applicable without such a device. And, this is where it all begins to get a bit complicated…

Thank you readers. Please share your experiences with these traits in the comments below.

The Secret Language of Film

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Most people have probably never heard of Jean-Claude Carriere, but he is the man behind over seventy-five ingenious screenplays and a long time collaborator with Luis Bunuel (they worked together on Luis’s late work from Belle de Jour to The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie). Carriere says it himself, “If you want fame, don’t be a screenwriter.” Despite writing numerous great screenplays and stage-plays, he has also written a few novels and books on film. I want to bring attention to his book The Secret Language of Film. It is a fruitful read, rich in allegorical poetry (he is indeed a Frenchman) and insight into the language of cinema and its audience. Carriere begins by telling us to keep our “eyes open” to cinema and what he has to say in his book.

Carriere raises all the key questions of film theory (ontology, aesthetics, critique etc.) yet he doesn’t dwell on them and offers invaluable insights passing most of his attention onto us, as the ever-important audience of this medium. He moves from our perceptions of the real into how we dissect time through the medium and finally how it cheats us and may end up cheating (or obscuring) history, as we know it. This may sound like a lot to take in at once, but Carriere is vigilant in his approach, giving visions into his own case studies and experiences as an avid cinemagoer and writer for the medium.

Carriere wrote the book in 1994, before the on-slaughter of digital cinema and proliferation of online media. But, he has his senses about him and talks a great deal about the attention span of audiences and audiences becoming desensitized to images, at which time television was the main culprit. Leading on from this, Carriere is clearly concerned with the over emphasis of the technical and technique; he points out that story is always more important. Of course, today this is a big debate, with stunning visuals at the forefront of cinema. For an independent filmmaker, the big question is commonly should I put more of my budget into camera so we can shoot with an Arri Alexa instead of a Canon C300? Or, should we put that extra expense into validity for the story, for example locations, cast or costume? Or, should I just not worry about this at all and focus on the script!

Another big question this raises though is whether modern audiences are actually more concerned with the visual aesthetic than anything else. Put them in front of a grainy, 3 by 4 black and white movie and you will probably find your answer. Or, look to the recent Gravity that swept up awards this year for its visual beauty (of space), but which fooled many critics into thinking it had a script worth its weight.

On a more positive note, Carriere, the screenwriter that he is, fits in some top tips on the craft amidst his discussion about the language of film. After all, a film is initially the written word, a completely different language – say hello to the screenplay. Or, as Carriere duly discloses, swiftly say goodbye! A screenwriter should be aware that “what he is writing is fated to disappear, a necessary metamorphis awaits it.” This metamorphis is principal photography of course. “A screenplay is always the dream of a film,” in this case, producing the film is simply about making the best compromises one can make. In other words, choose the compromises wisely, as there will be plenty, and you should have a good film. I like to think of this in terms of the pure nature of filmmaking, that of copying what is real. You can’t expect reality to lend itself lightly to being contrived of its origin, thus, expect some ramifications.

One of my favourite lines in the book comes again, from this notion of bleaching the real. “Writing a story, or a screenplay means injecting order into disorder.” In other words, a screenplay is clearly structured whereas life is not; in most cases life is wondrously unpredictable. However, of course there needs to be some unforeseen drama in a screenplay, to cite Hitchcock, “drama is life with the dull bits cut out.” It isn’t often that in a film you will find long sequences of someone on the toilet, brushing their teeth, hanging up the washing, or going out for their groceries (unless you are watching Michael Haneke; he adores the “dull” bits – this is not a disservice however, Haneke turns the meaning of “dull” on its head).

To gather this drama, Carriere suggests that the screenwriter be completely open to letting their imagination wonder, we are talking of the following extremes: “Imagine everything; he must kill his father, rape his mother, sell his sister…” and the list goes on. As screenwriters, we must welcome everything. Carriere talks of him and Luis Bunuel telling each other their dreams first thing in the morning, this session would be followed by a read of the daily papers for stories. At the end of the writing day they would split, Bunuel would go off for his cocktail and Carriere would meet him there half an hour later, in which time they would both have to come up with a story and pitch it to one another. No wonder the two came up with some charming ideas, the lesson here is don’t seclude yourself, interact with others (and the media) and certainly don’t visit the Overlook Hotel, at least not in the winter season.

Finally, I want to comment once more on the perception of the audience, in this case, the audience’s eye. Carriere raises an easily overlooked question, “is the eye truly supreme?” Cinema and its contingency of the real are wholly based on the fact that it is a visual medium, one that mechanically represents reality. It is placed there before our very own eyes, up on the big screen, but what is so special about it that the written word can’t convey? Is the written word more real? On this notion of seeing, we must not forget the power of what is not seen, a key device at the disposal of any director. This doesn’t necessarily have to be ambiguous signals (an example of the ambiguous would be in Casablanca when Rick and Isla may or may not have had sex during a three second dissolve to a shot of the airport tower at night and then back to Rick’s room), but it can, on the contrary, be very obvious and even barbaric. An example of the barbaric would be if I, as the director, just showed the face of my victim as the murderer slowly goes about sawing through her legs. I could hold this shot for as long I wanted, maybe five minutes or so to really show the extent of misery and trauma that my character is going through. But, then I really would be Michael Haneke!

I have only touched on some of the theoretical offerings in this book. Though rather speculative, Carriere is certain to provide ample example and experience. You may also have a laugh or two.

You can find the book on Amazon here.

And, just for fun, below is the trailer for one of my all-time favourite films (written by Luis Bunuel and Jean-Claude Carriere): Belle de Jour.