Film school in a day

Three of the best avenues online that I've found to learn about filmmaking:

1) In the AV Club's Scenic Routes, Mike D’Angelo looks at key scenes, explaining how they work and what they mean.

2) Every Frame a Painting is dedicated to the analysis of film form. "My name is Tony Zhou. I am a filmmaker and freelance editor based in San Francisco. I make video essays that run from 3 to 9 minutes. Each one focuses on one filmmaker or one aspect of film form. So far I've tackled topics as diverse as Akira Kurosawa's use of movement, Satoshi Kon's unique editing style, and how movies depict texting and the internet."

3) The Story of Film: An Odyssey on Netflix. Award-winning film-maker Mark Cousins' documentary about the history of film, presented in 15 one-hour chapters.

Some cool excerpts from an AMA with Tony Zhou of Every Frame a Painting:

Funny story about China and filmmaking:
In 2007, I was traveling in Tibet and walked into a small teahouse in the middle of nowhere. The proprietor didn't speak Mandarin and neither did any of the patrons, so I ordered by gesturing.
Jaws was on TV, horribly subtitled in big white Chinese characters and dubbed in Mandarin. Everyone was watching. So I stuck around and watched, too.
Here's the crazy thing: the TV sucked, the image was obscured, the patrons couldn't understand the dialogue. And yet they were still scared of the shark. Tibet is a high-altitude desert, nowhere near the ocean. But man, there was one lady freaking out that the shark was going to eat Brody's kid.
I didn't think much of it at the time, but honestly, that viewing of Jaws is one of the most memorable experiences of my life. To this day, I refer to the "Tibet Test" when I think about filmmaking. Is this movie still comprehensible after bad dubbing, shitty subtitles, a crappy TV, and an audience who doesn't understand the context?
Jaws is a masterpiece of visual storytelling, and I can prove it because I saw some Tibetans scared of the shark.


I think this is a huge problem in filmmaking today too: the myth of the perfect first feature.
I am going to (at some point) make a video essay called "Everybody Used to Suck" comprised entirely of footage from everyone's earliest directorial work.
Scorsese's first feature was actually called Bring On the Dancing Girls and it bombed so bad at NYFF that he didn't do anything for a few years, before repurposing it into Who's That Knocking. Tarantino never finished his first feature, My Best Friend's Birthday. Kubrick hated Fear and Desire so much he destroyed every copy. The list goes on and on, but the myth of the "first feature" is exactly that: a myth. Everybody used to suck, it's just that everybody also hides their earliest work from the public.


Honestly, the #1 thing I look for when I'm watching a movie is the feeling that there's a human being on the other side talking to me.
Like, it can be the crappiest, most poorly made film in the world, but if it feels like a human being desperately trying to tell me something, I stick around and watch.


Editing ah my scourge.
1) Try editing standing up. I cut like this. Walter Murch cuts like this. We're gonna start a club. You may not end up doing it, but you'd be surprised how different your body feels. Just remember that you need to take care of your body because editing is very stationary. Even if you end up sitting, take breaks.
2) Always sleep 8 hours. Nobody edits well on lack of sleep, and it is a stupid belief in this industry that editors want to lose rest. No, we don't.
3) Trust your emotional instincts. If you watch a piece of footage and it gives you an emotional reaction (whether a laugh, a feeling of disgust, happiness), save that clip and mark it down.
4) Get to the rough edit as quickly as possible. The assembly is always brutal. Get to rough so that you have something passable to show people.
5) Show it to people. Do not trust what they tell you to change. People are extremely good at feeling when something is wrong, but not always at articulating it. Your best guide is to watch their reaction during the film. Wherever you see attention flag, or a laugh, mark it down. If they write up their notes afterwards, you can read em, but never trust those notes more than their actual reactions while watching.
6) Editing is largely mental and mostly about patience. Basically, there's you and there's the footage, and you're going to wrestle. You will eventually come out on top, but the footage will not make it easy for you. Subdue it. Kill it. Drink its blood. Mentally, of course.
7) Every once in a while, test yourself by doing a speed edit. Basically, knock out something in 8 hours. You will fly on instinct and get to the end and realize that hey, your instincts aren't half bad. Now go back and overthink everything.

I dig the Tibet Test.

1 comment:

Morgan said...

I really like this post. I study film production at university myself, and I actually learnt a similar thing today in class as to what you're talking about with the 'Tibet Test, and how you're supposed to edit stuff to alter the audience's thoughts.
Just as a side note, I think your blog in general is really interesting. Keep up the good work! :D

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