Character, Action, and Dialogue

Creating an interesting character is my favorite part of writing. Writers like to obsess over dialogue, while important to fleshing out a character, is like judging a person solely on their shoes.

Action informs the character more so than the things he says, in my estimation. Words can deceive or have double meanings, but a choice is honest. You can say that you love your wife, but when the ship sinks and dive after your mother, leaving her to drown, we know where you allegiances really lie.

In the film, American Psycho, Patrick Bateman says all the right things, but he brutally murders people (or at least fantasies about doing it). Which reveals more about him, his words or actions?

JEAN 
Thanks, Patrick. I'd love some.

Bateman walks in with a bottle of wine and a corkscrew in 
his hand and hands her the sorbet.

Jean is eating the sorbet.

JEAN 
Want a bite?

BATEMAN 
I'm on a diet. But thank you.

JEAN 
You don't need to lose any weight. You're kidding, right? 
You look great. Very fit.

BATEMAN 
(Weighing the corkscrew examining the point for sharpness) 
You can always he thinner. Look...better.

In the critically acclaimed film, Boyhoodyou get the impression that dialogue is supposed to serve the purpose of action.

INT. BOWLING ALLEY CAFE - EVENING

The family sits around a table enjoying their snacks, while
Dad smokes a cigarette.

                      DAD (O.S.)
          Alright, let me tell you what's
          happening in Iraq, alright? Exactly
          what every thinking person in the
          world knew was gonna happen before
          they got started. Bush and his little
          numb-nut fanatics he's got around
          him, they don't give a rat's ass.

                      SAMANTHA
          That's a quarter.

                      DAD
          What's a quarter?

                      SAMANTHA
          You said a-s-s.

                       DAD
          Oh, sorry.   My bad.

                      SAMANTHA
          And my teacher says it's a good war,
          because it's better to be safe than
          sorry.

                      DAD
          That's what they're teaching you in
          school? Alright, listen to me.
          Listen to your father, okay? That
          is the lie. That's the big lie.
          Iraq had nothing to do with what
          happened at the World Trade Center.
          You know that, right?

                       SAMANTHA
          I guess.
                                        23.

            DAD
Alright. Who are you gonna vote for
next fall, MJ?

            MASON
I don't know.

            SAMANTHA
He can't vote. He's not eighteen.

            DAD
Yeah, oh -- alright, who would you
vote for?

            MASON
Kerry?

            DAD
Anybody but Bush!   Okay?

            SAMANTHA
Are you gonna move back?

            DAD
Uh... I'm plannin' on it.   You know,
I gotta find a job.

            MASON
Are you and mom gonna get back
together?

            DAD
I don't know. That's not, uh...
entirely up to me, you know?

            SAMANTHA
I remember when I was six, you and
mom were fighting like mad. You
were yelling so loud and she was
crying.

            DAD
That's what you remember, huh?

            SAMANTHA
Yep.

            DAD
You don't remember the trips to
Galveston, camping in Big Bend, all
the fun we had?

            SAMANTHA
Nope.
                                                    24.

                      DAD
          You ever get mad at your mother?

                        SAMANTHA
          Yeah.

                      DAD (O.S.)
          You ever get mad at your brother?

                        SAMANTHA
          Yeah.

                        DAD
          Yeah.    You ever yell at him?

                        SAMANTHA
          Oh yeah.

                      DAD
          Yeah. Doesn't mean you don't love
          him, right?

                        SAMANTHA
          Mmm...

                      DAD
          Look, the same thing happens when
          you're grown up, alright? You...
          You know, you get mad at people.
          You know, it's not a big deal.

                      MASON
          What'd you do in Alaska?

                      DAD
          I worked on a boat for a while.     Um,
          I tried to write some music.

                      MASON
          Did you see any polar bears?

                      DAD (O.S.)
          No, but I saw a Kodiak bear.     It was
          fuckin' huge.

                     SAMAMTHA (O.S.)
          Dad! That's fifty cents for the F-
          word!

Dad reaches into his wallet.

                     DAD
          I'm sorry. Here, take a dollar,
          alright? Keep the change.
                     (MORE)
                                                          25.

                       DAD (CONT'D)
           You guys are gonna be seein' a lot
           more of me. Okay? I missed you two
           real bad, while I was gone. Okay, I
           want you to know that. I just needed
           to take some time. You know, to...
           Just... Your mom and me, okay...
           Well, your mother, okay, is a piece
           of work. Alright, I think, I think
           you know that by now. Alright? And
           I'm just, I'm so happy to be with the
           two of you. Okay. And I'm sorry
           about that bumper business. Alright.
           I'm gonna get better at stuff like
           that, okay?

As a token of reconciliation, Dad high fives them both,
smiling.

In a fragment from American Psycho, you learn more than an entire scene from Boyhood. Why?

Boyhood is full of noise, but it doesn’t really tell us anything. You should be able to flip to random page and understand the point of the piece. Is this movie about Dad? Samantha? Our protagonist (Mason) is so passive that it could be easy to forget about him all together.

Consider action more than empty dialogue next time you write something. Sometimes silence (or even just less words) really is golden.

_

Thanks for reading! I hope it was helpful.

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Loving Vincent

Loving Vincent, is the first feature film to be entirely painted. While this achievement is momentous enough to receive attention, the underlying story of the film and its production is even more magnificent!

Loving Vincent Review

The film started out as a simple idea in the mind of co-director Dorota Kobiela. She had been reading the letters of Vincent van Gogh and fell in love with them. She decided that she should make a short film about the famous artist, hand painting each frame herself.

After receiving a grant for the short,  Kobiela started working for BreakThru Studios as an animator and a concept artist. There she met the other co-director of the film, Hugh Welchman who thought her short might have more potential as a feature film. 

The film is an interesting combination of CGI and oil-paintings that bring the world of Van Gogh’s paintings to life.

Loving Vincent Review

To achieve this stunning look, the filmmakers separated the animation process from the painting process. They would shoot reference footage of the actors against a green screen, then the artists would paint the actors and the background into the scene frame by frame.

The distortion of Van Gogh’s original paintings proved to become an issue for film translation. A post production team was on set throughout principal photography to ensure that the footage shot would actually be usable.

Aside from the spectacle of the visuals, the story of Loving Vincent, is what distinguishes the film from other biopics like it. The film follows the aftermath a year after Vincent van Gogh’s suicide. We only get glimpses at the artists through the eyes of other people, but doesn’t make him any less sympathetic or what he did any less sad.

Loving Vincent Review

We see how it affected the residents of the artist’s final destination and the people who were closest to him. Whoever they were, his death affected them greatly.

The most valuable thing about Loving Vincent, is not the dazzling visuals; it is the added dimension we receive the a great man like Vincent van Gogh. Throughout the film, the viewer witnesses pivotal moments in the artist’s life that shaped him and perhaps destroyed him.

What did you think of the film? Do you have any suggestions for what film I should watch next?

Let me know in the comments!

 

 

Why Make Films?

Film is a popular industry. People pay billions of dollars every year to essentially sit in front of a large piece of fabric and watch images flicker by quickly. Why is that?

In this rational, scientific age Film seems the be the only form of magic left in the world. It entrances, inspires, and even bewilders us. The Federal government even archives these mystical images for future generations to behold.

Why people watch films varies from person to person. Some people enjoy a spectacle, some want to learn something, and others simply want to past the time.

Stranger still, some people dedicate their entire lives to creating images for other people to watch. Do they do it for the money? Why else would they do it?

The art of Filmmaking has seduced geniuses, idiots, saints, and the some of the most evil people in history to its siren song. This is why.

Creating New A World

“If it can be written, or thought, it can be filmed.”

-Stanley Kubrick

Fictional world-building has existed long before the invention of the camera, but it has never been so real and awe-inspiring.

Why Film?

A film can transport you across time and space in a way that no other medium of art can. You experience the world of the film as you experience the majority of the real world; through dynamic sight and sound.

Simple lighting tricks or a different lens can make you totally engrossed into the world of the film/

Even lines drawn by a pen, are perceived as living creatures through the power of Film. Nothing is impossible when it comes to Filmmaking.

Strong Reactions

“Where film is infinitely superior to any other medium is emotion and story and character. ”

-Peter Jackson

I love music, literature, theater, and various visual arts, but nothing has a stronger effect on me than Film.

Images that cause you to feel real emotion and sounds to reinforce that emotion. Unlike literature or theater, you see,  hear, and feel the story unfold in the way that will have the most impact on you.
Why Film?

Film is all about the audience’s reaction. It is specially crafted to get the desired response. It requires a sort of empathy with the moviegoer that the other arts don’t require.

To be the person that makes the audience laugh, think, or be emotional is a very gratifying position to hold.

Uncovering the Truth

“Photography is truth. The cinema is truth twenty-four times per second.”

-Jean-Luc Godard

I originally wanted to be an ornithologist. I spend hundreds of hours birding and volunteering for bird banding projects. When I made the decision to become a filmmaker instead, I didn’t want to give all that up.

I made my first documentary short about bird banding on Jekyll Island. In my  mind, it was the perfect way the combine both of interests with the added benefit of exposing more people to the awesome work they do.

Why Film?

Documentaries have been some of the most visceral films I have ever seen. They expose the secret world (good and bad) that we live in and let us know what is happening.

Film has the power to expose great causes and information to millions of people. Simply by recording and editing images, you can change the world.

Thanks for stopping by! Why do you think Film is important? Let me know in the comments and don’t forget to follow this blog for weekly updates!

5 Unique 2017 Films

Great films come out every year, but truly unique films are hard to find. Luckily, 2017 was full of films with distinct voices.  Here are five films from last year that I thought were truly special.

  1. A Ghost Story (Directed by David Lowery)

A Ghost Story is the kind of film that sticks with you for the rest of your life. This film is a testament to what a talented filmmaker can do with a small budget and a great idea.

The film’s premise is simple; Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara are a couple and one day Affleck dies unexpectedly. Affleck becomes a ghost and “haunts” their house. It is a very cliched premise, but David Lowery does something amazing (and unexpected with it) with it.

The look of the film is one of the most unique aspects. They shot with Panavision Super and Ultra Speeds for a shallower depth of field and more a natural look.

The aspect ratio is also a unique contributor to the film’s look. The film is 4:3  instead of 16:9 because, as Lowery explained, “I liked the concept of trapping this character in a box, in a very formal fashion. I’ve always been a fan of that aspect ratio. It’s 1.33:1, the classic Academy ratio.”

2. The Killing of a Sacred Deer (Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos)

Yorgos Lanthimos has quickly become one of my favorite contemporary filmmakers with films like Alps, Dogtooth, and The Lobster. The Killing of a Sacred Deer is my favorite work by Lanthimos so far and makes me excited to see what he has next for us.

The story is based around Steven (Colin Farrell), a cardiologist , who takes Martin (Barry Keoghan), under his wing after his father dies. Things turn dark when Steven’s family suddenly starts becoming ill.

It is hard to articulate exactly what makes the film unique. Everything from the choice of camera placement to the timing of words spoken in any given scene is different from many films that came out in 2017. It exudes style. Lanthimos has developed a very clear and effective voice that is unique in the world of film.

The film is tense, funny, and horrifying at times, but it never strays from its eerie tone. Barry Keoghan has an amazing performance, shifting from vulnerable youth to intimidating certainty. It possess the odd delivery of dialogue that is present in Lanthimos’ films, which may annoy some viewers, but I believe it sets the tone very well.

3. The Florida Project (Directed by Sean Baker)

The Florida Project is more understated than the other films on this lost, but it is just as special.

The story follows and group of children who live at a motel in Orlando, FL. There is love, laughs, tragedy, and an ending that annoyed everyone.

As an indie guy myself, Sean Baker is an inspiration. The Florida Project is one of the best and most talked about films of 2017 and it was shot on an iPhone with a cast of mostly unknown actors.

Baker’s voice is unique because of his style and subject matter. A good summation of his films can be summed up in this quote:”When I see a billboard that literally just has five names and they’re all A-listers, I’m just like, What is that bringing to the world that’s new?”

The best word I can use to describe the film simply be raw. It is 115 minutes of raw emotion from such simple images such as children playing in a parking lot.

4. Good Time (Directed by Josh and Benny Sadfie)

Good Time is a film that not talked about enough. The Sadfie brothers are another unique voice in film and this gem should not be overlooked.

Following the trend of simple stories, Good Time is about two brothers (Robert Pattinson and Benny Sadfie) who try to rob and bank and fail. One goes to jail while the other tries to free him.

The film is super fast paced and flies by super quickly. The viewer is quickly invested in the story by the amazing performances and cinematography. Despite the simplicity of the story, you never see what comes next because you simply don’t have time to!

Good Time excels at making you feel as though you were in the situation. You feel just as tense as Robert Pattinson and understand him completely. The relationship between to the two brothers is bittersweet and carries the film well.

5. Ingrid Goes West (Directed by Matt Spicer)

With its eerily realistic premise, Ingrid Goes West is one the better dark comedies made in the last decade.

The story follows Ingrid (Aubrey Plaza), as she moves to Los Angeles to stalk an Instagram user (Elizabeth Olsen) whom she idolizes.

Aubrey Plaza is my favorite part of the film. She really surprised me with her performance. Instead of the deadpan character she normally portrays, she actually pulled off a deeper character who was sympathetic and vulnerable while still being dark and quirky.

I admire that Ingrid Goes West is a fully fleshed out film instead of the gimmicky teen comedy I feared it would be. I like how it doesn’t judge its characters for their quirks and just tells the story. It could have easily turned into schlock, but I appreciate the more nuanced version that we got.

What did you think of my list? Are there any films that you thought were especially unique from last year?

Let me know in the comments!

Barry Lyndon

I just arrived home after seeing Kubrick’s period masterpiece, Barry Lyndon. It was my second time viewing the film and I enjoyed it even more re-watching it on the silver screen. The presentation of the film, the audience (there were Barry Lyndon cosplayers), and the interesting discussion after the film are the reasons why the Midtown Art Cinema is my favorite theater.

Barry Lyndon is the story of the misadventures of Redmond Barry. It is a tale of adventure, fortune, fate, and tragedy based on the novel The Luck of Barry Lyndon by William Makepeace Thackeray 1)https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Luck_of_Barry_Lyndon . The film was praised technically upon release, receiving an Academy Award for Cinematography, Costume Design, and Art Direction 2)http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0072684/awards, but was a commercial failure and dismissed by many critics.

Time has been very kind to Barry Lyndon, with many people considering it to be Kubrick’s best film. While it is not my personal favorite, I really appreciate and enjoy the film. The visuals are awe inspiring, the story is darkly enchanting, and it has everything you would want in an historical epic.

This was the first Kubrick film I have seen in a theater and it was absolutely magnificent! If you can see this film on the big screen, do not hesitate to buy a ticket! They played a digitally remastered version of the film and it looked wonderful. An audience member who had been to the film’s original release in 1975 remarked that, “Barry Lyndon has never looked better!”

I would recommend this film to anyone that wants to learn about shot composition. Visually this film is perfect. Kubrick’s vision for the film was heavily inspired by the paintings of William Hogarth 3)https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Hogarth, a contemporary of Thackeray. Not only is the cinematography in Barry Lyndon beautiful, but it tells the story well. Each frame tells its own story.

Go see Barry Lyndon!

barry lyndon

References   [ + ]

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Luck_of_Barry_Lyndon 
2. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0072684/awards
3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Hogarth

The New Blacklist

“The blacklist was a time of evil…no one on either side who survived it came through untouched by evil…[Looking] back on this time…it will do no good to search for villains or heroes or saints or devils because there were none; there were only victims.”

-Dalton Trumbo

The Academy Awards have been viewed for many years as a sham by many people, but this year I feel insulted as a lover of cinema. I love Film, I hope by now that has been made clear, but I think Hollywood has out lived its usefulness.

I don’t think you should make a film to win awards. You should make a film because you have a story to tell. If you do win an award, it should be because you earned it. It shouldn’t matter who you are, what you look like, or what set of genitals you have.

Art is about appealing to the human soul. It transcends the flesh., crosses barriers, and brings us together. Art does not pander. 

Out of the 20+ films I saw in 2017,  it irritates me that Get Out is nominated for Best Picture, a genre film with forced social commentary over something like A Ghost Story, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, or even Blade Runner 2049 (though I didn’t care for it). Those films were something slightly different than the exciting, annual racism-is-bad romp that we are accustomed to seeing.

It is pretty obvious that Get Out was put there to meet some sort of of quota and that’s really sad. It shouldn’t matter who you are, it should matter what film you made. Enforcing this distorted “diversity” will turn the Academy Awards into the Not White Male Awards.

Isn’t this forced inclusion of “diverse” films simply shifting the prejudice to another group of people rather than giving more people exposure?

I find the idea of the censorship and maligning of the art of any artist based solely on what group they belong to alarming and disgusting. I firmly believe that everyone deserves a voice in art, even if popular opinion is that they have too much privilege. It has only been  50(ish) years since the infamous days of the Blacklist. Are we really going to repeat this petty political game this quickly?

Should We Forgive Artists?

During the whole Harvey Weinstein debacle I felt I had some kind of hazy responsibility to comment on it. So, I decided to wait until the dust had cleared and then comment, but, being the person that I am, another question arose within, after watching the response to the event. The question of “Should We Forgive Artists?” was probably derived from watching the art community cannibalistic-ally devouring its own.

I think writing about how you shouldn’t sexually assault people would be redundant and the moral of that essay is pretty self evident to begin with, but tackling the issue of art and forgiveness might spur us to much needed introspection.

Artists are people too. They are deeply flawed like all of us. The key difference between them and us is exposure. Whenever a public figure does something wrong, they are either ignored and ostracized, ignored and tolerated, or simply damned to Hell, seemingly on a random case-by-case basis. I believe that is what people struggle with. The arbitrary nature of accountability among public figures.

Artists are, for lack a better word, strange people. It is because of their unique way of being that we admire them. Should we forgive them? I think so, but that point stops when they transgress the law. The Law should not be arbitrary. Justice plays no favorites. However, when artists do repugnant things that do not break the law, we should forgive their faux pas. Another crucial detail to this constant mass hysteria is that we treat every tweet like it is anything other than a throw away thought. People say and do repungnant things. Status, wealth, and talent don’t protect artists from their own faults. As a general rule, you shouldn’t take anything at a face value, especially when confronted with creative types. They clothe themselves in irony, jest, and shock for effect. It is better to assume ignorance (and classlessness) than malevolence.

I would also note that it is possible to like the art without liking the artist. Art is a transcendent feat of humanity, but sometimes part of that task is to see the flaws its creator and accept them.

We must keep in mind the humanity of artists, as well as the other captains of industry, and judge ourselves by the same principles that we judge them by. Why does it matter if a movie producer transgresses the law if a truck driver can get away with it?