Thu, Apr 19, 2012
If a picture says a thousand words, why do contemporary movie characters talk so much and why is there so much expository in contemporary cinema? If Christopher Nolan’s INCEPTION, Steven Soderbergh’s CONTAGION, Tate Taylor’s THE HELP or J.C. Chandor’s award-winning MARGIN CALL are such “genius” films, then why do their characters spend so much time defining their feelings and/or explaining what is actually happening in the film?
In the 1920s, when film was making the transition from a silent, visual medium to a “talking” medium, film theorists like Sergei Eisenstein and Bela Balazs warned that the new sound medium could bring about the destruction of the newest and potentially greatest art form.
“This first period of sensationalism will not prejudice the new art’s development, but there will be a second period - a terrible period…people will try to substitute dramas taken from 'good literature' and will make other attempts to have theatre invade the screen.”
- Sergei Eisenstein, Vsevolod Pudovkin, Grigory Alexandrov; Sound and Image Manifesto, 1928
Despite a contemporary medium dominated by digital cameras that can record images under almost any circumstance, Final Cut Pro that could allow for experimentation in editorial design and despite $200,000,000 “event films” glutted with “special visual effects”, most our national cinema today hardly feels as visually alive and fresh as it did in late 1960s and 1970s when visual experimentation surrounding character design was alive and well.
Today, far too much of the visual capacity of cinema has been standardized. Standard mise-en-scene (the arrangement of visual weights and movements within a give space and its interpretation via lighting, production design, etc.), standard editing configurations (blah master shot/shot/reverse shot construction), an extreme lack of innovative aural construction and color orchestration, all that pathetic, headache-inducing 3-D inlaying and look-a-like CGI FX have come to tragically rule the day.
There’s no Altman, Bergman, Fassbinder, Fellini, Ford, Kubrick, Kurosawa, Ozu, Renoir or Visconti to contend with. Worse, there are barely any Francis Ford Coppolas out there reinterpreting cinematic language and Scorsese has turned himself into an exalted FX wizard.
Perhaps the ease of technology has allowed emerging filmmakers to back away from creating the extraordinary - even when it has to be done on a budget like John Cassavetes, Nicholas Ray or Robert Altman practiced so long ago.
Do filmmakers think that their job is to make a simple “recording” of their screenplay? Have filmmakers forgotten that the camera (and editing and mise-en-scene and production design and sound design…) exists to interpret their written properties and to find ways to rethink the literary, “canned theatre” constraints of the average screenplay for a visual medium like cinema?
Creating Unforgettable Characters: The Art of Visual Screenwriting is a seminar for the writer/filmmaker who wants to learn how to build cinema, create and establish character and story problems through the purely visual and aural dimensions of cinema. Learning to visually present character/story problems quickly and with limited dialogue is clearly not only one of the hallmarks of great cinema but it is also one of the primary differences between directing for theatre and creating for the movie screen.
How do you establish, build, stylize and intensify character/story problems in terms of the visual dynamics of cinema?
How do you both determine and re-determine characters and their problems on screen without traditional and theatrical uses of dialogue?
How do you create and build a “visually serviceable character?”
How do you create a “single loaded shot” for your film that expresses both character and story problems?
If it’s “on the page,” why might it be very wrong to have it on the screen?
How is re-imagining the written word for the cinema more like a form of visual re-writing?
In the emerging filmmaker arena, why is it so extremely important to move away from the dialogue-based theatricality of routine character exposition?
In this seminar where everything that matters is said without uttering a word, film consultant Thomas Ethan Harris addresses why it is important for new filmmakers to think more deeply and more creatively about the construction of their characters and the necessity of creating a more intricate, complex and personally realized cinema. Learning how to effectively embrace and understand the functionality of the primary "visualizing components" of great cinematic construction (such as camera, editing, mise-en-scene, sound design, etc.) is critical to establishing yourself in the U.S.'s crowded emerging filmmaker arena.
Film clips will be used to inspire an open dialogue with the audience.