A couple of months ago I was asked by a friends son to ‘teach me everything you know about film making’. That is quite a task. He has already made a few short films which are very interesting and have a unique ‘voice’ of their own. So our online discussion (he lives nearly 200 miles away) has been about films he has seen and that has encouraged me to watch some that I hadn’t considered watching, such as Hugo, which I thoroughly enjoyed as at the heart of it is the story of Georges Melies. Having watched that I can see how it would encourage anyone to want to make films, Melies’ films were magical, he created films which not just filmed what was around but created a world of wonder (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iTEODB_s87M).
So where do we start in any art form. There are of course the technical considerations, when I was starting to make films in the early 70’s video was very basic, so it was all film based. I began using Super and Standard 8, I preferred Super 8 as I used long single shots and I liked the film ratio, Standard 8 (which was half a 16mm film) was too square for what I was looking for and you could only shoot a total of around 2 minutes before the film had to be turned round. When I moved to 16mm the costs of stock were much higher, something that the digital filming now has almost removed from the equation. But the most important aspect of learning about film-making for me as with all the other art forms I have been involved in was watching films and reading about how film-makers created their work. I saw everything I could and a friend and I ran the college film society, I don’t know how many actually liked our choices, but we showed all sorts of films and were able to watch them over and over again (this is before VHS or DVD!).
It is no different in any other art form, if you want to paint then go and see paintings look how the artist has used their materials, the brush strokes, the development from drawings, sketches and so on. Then learn how to handle brushes, palette knives, paint, canvas. In my writing I use the reading I have done for years and years and go back to passages to see how the writer has worked an idea up.
One of the classic pieces to study in film is the Odessa Steps sequence from Eisenstein’s Battleship Potempkin, (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ps-v-kZzfec). It’s influence can still be seen after almost 90 years, if you want to learn about editing this is the piece to watch and analyse, it still has a remarkable power, which is due to Eisenstein’s artistry. It is also good for writers to study. Just look at the variety of points of view in one short scene, the changes of feel from exultation to tragedy, the use of ‘minor’ characters to enhance the effect.
In her blog today Shannon (a writing student at Kansas) writes about the importance of learning the basics of writing a sentence and how some of the other students complained that this was too simple (http://shannonathompson.com/2013/03/19/relax-read-how-to-write-a-sentence/). I was pleased to see how she felt that this was like learning how a painter needs to use a brush or as I have noted in the above how a film-maker needs to learn the basics of editing. These are the building bricks of what we do, of course we want to subvert them to develop them, but before we can do that we need to know what we are subverting.