A Book of Tricks and Manipulative Exploits for the Film Director

cover-directors-bag-of-tricks

The tricks and exercises in this book are justifiable and perceptive enough to succeed any literal knowledge, in the field of directing, gained from three years at film school or university. They are irrefutably researched and practiced insights from the top, the best; they are known to be the most effective. In most cases, the tricks are kept brief in hands-on example, but they come with enough resource to guide the beginner or advanced practitioner (or “wizard”) to furthering their magic skills quite considerably. In fact, this metaphor of the director as magician, or wizard, is instinctively argued and becomes a remarkably valuable way of understanding the craft. These tricks that Mark proposes do indeed involve the slight-of-hand of what are fundamentally psychological sidesteps and manipulations, or illusions, if you like.

And what do these illusions hope to achieve? Essentially, it is to excel in the creative collaboration with actors and directors. While, the book does focus on working with writers and actors, the tricks are, in fact, applicable to the entire filmmaking process as a director and all the obstacles you will come to face. It is clear, that the most important consideration for a film director is to get the best performance from his/her actor. And Mark gives some great answers to this largely inexplicable phenomenon. I will mention, what I believe to be, an underlying theme across making all Mark’s tricks work, a strong focus on the subtext of the text/character/scene/or any situation (in filmmaking and, dare I say, life).

I won’t recite the tricks in this post; you will have to buy the book. However, I wouldn’t be able to offer a patch of the intuitive and mature outlook of Marks writing, which surrounds each technique with an extra flavour of humour and reflection. There is the odd bit of cynical wit surrounding the director and Mark fulfills the good old joke of the director doing, at the end of the day, whatever he can to get what he wants. In fact, the interviews that Mark conducts with wise, noble and expert wizards are occasionally diverting and even mocking of what we, as directors, do. Of course, this is no criticism, it is the insight of entertaining personalities, and they offer ample bouts of sharp knowledge and evidence of everything that Mark has talked about during the book. The book is a package that folds together to form a neat little parcel full of treasures and surprises.

If you have read Mark’s other books (The Directors Journey and Directing Feature Films) you will be familiar with his style and friendly approach. But, don’t be fooled into thinking that this book will be a rework of his past writings, it is essentially distinct and whilst a few intuitions are understandably repeated (Mark even acknowledges these areas), the bulk are remarkably fresh and even rewarding to read. Thanks Mark (and Michael Wiese)!

Find the book on Amazon here.

Short Reflections from the Silver Screen: Husbands and Wives

Husbands-and-WivesHusbands and Wives

US. 1992. Woody Allen.

Woody gives us a rational taste for married life; it is compulsive and there are plenty of hysterics. But, ultimately, this movie delivers deep meanings, wistful emotions and it is classic Woody Allen.

Can our fantasies ever escape the truth? Is there more to relationships than the passion? Why are things in life so complicated? Such questions and themes Allen likes to explore, and does so fervidly here through two marriages that seem happily complacent on the surface, but are really dismally repressed with problems ranging from sexual thirsts to mere attention seeking. As always in Allen’s films, the cast is spot on and bold in their performances of largely inflammatory and disparate characters.

The relentless camera that darts around the room struggling to keep up with the couples’ tirades adds to the invigorating and neurotic emotional states that they possess. These long takes cut with interview snippets of the characters and a narrator’s voice over that give the whole film a documentary feel; it could even appear as an extraordinarily well conducted reality TV show on Husbands and Wives.

 

*All reflections are from my film journal.

Short Reflections from the Silver Screen: Port of Call

Port-of-Call

Port of Call

Sweden. 1948. Ingmar Bergman.

Bergman gives an unflinching depiction of a hard-hearted world with industrial backdrops, misspent youths and two-dimensional characters. One of these characters is Berit, a young girl, stuck in the pitiless turmoil of her past. She struggles to confide in others due to her overtly anxious remembrance of this past and is therefore burdened to having relationships due to her introverted self. Berit is a convincing character and underneath her neuroticism she shows signs of a dear heart, a heart to share with Gosta, a new sailor in town who seeks to settle down. However, it is not easy for Gosta either, he develops commitment issues and is susceptible to bursts of emotional vigor.

There are hints of Bergman traits in this early piece of work as he tries to solve a catch-22 with sensitive souls, liberal politics and compelling actresses. Bergman’s affinity for working with actresses is clearly evident. There is also the occasional trick of the camera; a first-person address directly with the audience amidst pressing scenes for example, works as a chilling manoeuvre. The cinematography is likewise appropriate to capturing the psychic battle (mirrors and agile dolly shots) and marks Bergman’s first collaboration with Gunnar Fischer who would go on to shoot such notorious films as The Seventh Seal and Wild Strawberries.

 

*All reflections are from my film journal.

Short Reflections from the Silver Screen: Viridiana

Viridiana

Viridiana

Spain. 1961. Luis Bunuel.

Bunuel is the master satirist and fetishist of the cinema, here he exercises these mischievous facets within the confinements of a sardonic black comedy that pulls immorality and elegance under the same umbrella.

Viridiana, a righteous nun, goes to visit her uncle out of charity for he hasn’t seen her in years. He is immediately transfixed and in love with the woman who looks somewhat identical to his late wife; he even begs her to wear her deceased wedding dress for a perverted re-enactment. Viridiana sticks to her senses and things don’t turn out well for the sad, old and lonely uncle; his scandals turn out to be dark and unforgiving for his ego.

Viridiana goes on to perform the works of mercy, but to little avail; she houses the local beggars who override their warranty and pay it off with a mighty quarrel. Bunuel unearths true nature in his characters. The argument can be made that no man is truly evil; they simply behave as they have been taught by the world; all Bunuel’s characters brace this lesson of life.

The world is a vicious cycle and this is shown no clearer than in the scene where a man frees a dog who is tied to the axle of a moving cart; yet as soon as he turns his back, a cart going in the other direction also has an innocent dog tied to it. This is a rather depressive conception that even those who do act out of decency and care leave no mark, for the world continues to turn its evil wheel.

 

*All reflections are from my film journal.

Short Reflections from the Silver Screen: The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema & Ideology

Perverts-Guide-To-Cinema

The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema

UK. 2006. Sophie Fiennes.

Zizek is fantastic. No one uses Lacanian psychoanalysis to the devastating effect that he is able to. He offers an invigorating and inspiring psychoanalytical account of our (and certainly his) well-known and classic movies, each running with a psychological theme, for example Vertigo, Psycho and Blue Velvet, to name a few.

Whilst screening the movie clips, Zizek blasts his analysis over the top with the occasional exchange of himself super-imposed into the movie’s setting/location. It is insightful how Zizek’s humour and great passion for the cinema lead a straightforward path into what are some very complex concepts.

It is worth the odd pause to reflect on what Zizek is saying; he does tend to shuffle through a whole lot of ideas remarkably fast. A second viewing is well worthwhile; it can be challenging to decipher the images side-by-side with Zizek’s analysis, least to say, the film requires your full concentration.

Ultimately, an individually presented documentary such as this, and with clear passion for the cinema, confirms the wonderful capacity of this medium/language to inspire and become an integral part of our lives.

Perverts-Guide-to-Ideology

The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology

UK. 2012. Sophie Fiennes.

Zizek takes his screen persona to the next level, traversing across deserts and oceans and transcending the ideological realm, he never fails to be wild, weird and dangerously intelligent. I say dangerous, as Zizek takes his provocative psychoanalysis (from the school of Lacan) and digs up the quilt of ideology that blankets our mediascape. We can trust Zizek for some deeply discerning cinematic examples to demonstrate the latter, whilst also uncovering newsreels and documentaries to great effect.

If there is one problem with Zizek, it might just be that he is too clever, at least for the screen and the small alley of verbal communication that it offers to Zizek’s language. Or as the radial French philosopher and sociologist Jean Baudrillard points out, can we really convey complex ideas with images? If you have read any of Zizek’s books, you will know that he is careful to elaborate structures of his analysis and section each generously. So, the problem with this documentary is that is progresses into a meal too large to digest, at least in a single sitting. Once Zizek’s idea is beginning to process, the next mouthful is on its way. However, the ideas do interlink succinctly and Zizek will cast you under his spell; he entraps us greater than the trap of ideology itself.

 

*All reflections are from my film journal.

Short Reflections from the Silver Screen: Ugetsu Monogatari

Ugetsu_Lake

Ugestu Monogatari

Japan. 1953. Kenji Mizogushi.

This is my first introduction to Kenji Mizoguchi’s work and I am mesmerised by it; I am left uncertain as to whether I witnessed a fable, a horror story, a love story, a fantasy or a true-life story of fate. It is simply remarkable storytelling and such seems to be the beauty of this work, which literally formulates as a single flourish of storytelling and style, despite the multitude of themes. Everything is united, but there is no deadlock, the film does not try to startle or shock, it simply continues along its path of quiet revelation.

The camera flows through each scene like a calligrapher and his pen. The style is charmingly poetic and the characters rather delightful, despite their odd bit of goofy nature. The films elegance, mystery and primitive constructs feel like a series of paintings. There is the famous lake scene with it haunting and comparatively beautiful backdrop of fog and mist; it is a mind-blowing piece of cinematography and filmmaking. Even the boats in their esoteric design are completely alluring, as are the markets and all the buildings so wonderfully erected for a 16th century Japan. Enter Mizoguchi’s enchanting and curiously realist world and you will find a perfect film language.

 

*All reflections are from my film journal.