Looking For Mr. GoodEditor

16 08 2010

Every year, around this time, I get a booklet from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), called “Rules”.  For those of you who wonder just what that AMPAS thing is, let me tell you that it’s the organization that hands out the Oscars every year, and I’ve been a member of the Music Branch ever since I was a music editor lo those many years ago.

Anyway, AMPAS is a rather large and rules-ridden organization that bends over backwards to be fair in its judging of the Academy Awards (which, by the way, is only a small part of what it does — though that is the most income producing part).  My guess is that has something to do with the organization’s history as an invention of the studios. But, now, the main thing that determines which films get nominated for Oscars is usually the result of its members personal tastes.  Nothing more.

[As an aside, I’m thoroughly amused when film critics, bloggers or general conspiracy nuts, tend to create theories about just why certain movies did well or did poorly around the Oscar nominations. I’m IN the organization, and if there is a conspiracy to award certain films awards, I’ve never gotten the memo.]

In order to assure whatever level of impartiality you can get in what is essentially a vote on your own personal tastes, the Academy annually issues this thick (4o page) rulebook.  The rules are relatively innocuous.  Here is one from “Rule Thirteen, Special Rules for the Film Editing Award”:

In accordance with Rule Two Paragraph 5, only film editors who hold principal position credit(s) shall be considered eligible for the Film Editing award.

Pretty controversial, eh?

But this raises the real question for us as to just what constitutes best film editing.

Note that the award is called “Best Film Editing” not “Best Film Editor.”  That’s a crucial difference for me. Editing is truly collaborative, so it’s not really possible to say who made the editorial decisions that result in the film that we see. The editor/s accept this award as representatives for the film’s editing, but there is no editor is the world who would claim that they do all of the decision-making, much though some would want to. So, every year the Editing Branch gets to nominate the five films that they think are best edited, regardless of who edited them. And then the rest of us vote on them.

But how do we choose the films that we think are the best edited?

I’ve long felt that the only real way to give the award would be to make every voter watch all of the dailies* for the film. Honestly, if someone doesn’t know that all we had to work with for a scene were two master shots, how can they understand why we made the choices we did.

Obviously, that’s neither possible nor desirable. Ultimately, it is only the end result that matters.

So, what is “Best Editing”?  In my opinion, it revolves around the following four points, presented here in no particular order:

  • Do we understand and get involved with the story?
  • Do we understand and get involved with the characters?
  • Do we understand and get involved with the ways in which the characters and the story change as the film moves along?
  • Is the film told in the best possible way for its story and its characters?

That’s it.  Seems simple, right? Of course, it’s not. The last point is impossible to know but that is where the individual judgement comes in.  A few years, I loved THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY, an intelligently shaped story about a man’s struggle to communicate after a devastating stroke.

Many of my friends felt that it was overly maudlin and a depressing topic.

So, we’re all operating from our own prejudices here. But I felt that, given its subject matter, the film created wonderful ways of reaching inside the lead character and letting the audience understand and get involved in his plight. Its filmmaking changed from claustrophic to more expansive as his world expanded, so it felt that it was told in “the right way.” And I got inside his mind and his story.

Perfect (for me).

Filmmaking is all about shaping story and character (I better believe that — that’s what my book THE LEAN FORWARD MOMENT is all about, how to shape storytelling across all facets of the filmmaking crafts). Film editing is a crucial component in that. So, when I sit down with my final ballot for the Oscars every year, those four questions always rise to the top. And, by the way, they are also four of the five questions that I constantly ask myself as I edit. The first one is “What is this story about?”

But that is another story entirely.  And another post.

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* Dailes, also called “rushes,” is the term for all of the footage that was shot during the production phase of the filmmaking process.

(This post is adapted from an earlier post on another blog)


Collaboration and Why The Auteur Theory Is Bull

10 08 2010

I’m going to admit right here at the outset that I know that I’m distorting the “auteur theory” here, but I’m just doing what most people think that theory says. Ask anyone, even our amazing film students at USC, what the “auteur” theory is, and they’ll tell you that it’s about the supremacy of the director in terms of guiding the vision of a film.

In fact, as I understand it, the auteur theory really says something much more interesting – that, over the course of a number of films, a good director imbues each film (no matter how different) with a recognizable point of view. The difference between an auteur and a journeyman director — common in Hollywood in the Sixties when that French theory came to prominence — is that each film of an auteur becomes inextricably intertwined with that director’s style, vision and personality. A “work-for-hire” director has no such distinctive stamp. In that theory, Michael Bay is as much an auteur as John Ford.

So, the auteur theory really talks about subtleties that are much more visible in retrospect. To some degree, they can’t be consciously added in at the outset. Yet, this theory has somehow become the torch by with which less talented directors tend to destroy their films, as they consciously attempt to force their “personal vision” onto each of their films.

That’s what I understand about the auteur theory. But now I’ll ignore that knowledge go with the second definition – that it’s about the directing imposing a vision on a work.

That auteur theory is bull.

These thoughts were raised by a question that someone asked me on Twitter a little while ago: “How do you deal with a director who has incredibly idiotic ideas?” the questioner asked. Implicit in that question was a second one: “And what do you do when that director forces those dumbnesses onto you?”

I’d like to address that question by looking at it from another angle.

Jeannette Catsoulis New York Times review of Robert Rodriguez’s film SHORTS is Exhibit Number One for me. This is a film in which a number of children live and learn in a town whose main company, Black Box Industries, manufactures one product – the Black Box – which she describes as “a strange, multipurpose gadget that resembles an ebony Rubk’s Cube and can serve as everything form a cheese grater to a solar panel.”

Catsoulis, who didn’t much like the film, boes one to say:

“Concocted by Robert Rodriguez, a kind of filmmaking Black Box (he wrote, directed, edited, produced, photographed, composed some of the music and supervised the visual effects), “Shorts” feels underwritten and overdressed.”

Aside from the fact that I have never particularly liked most of Rodriguez’s films (most of which seem to me to suffer from a love of technique and use shortcuts to character), it seems to me that Catsoulis is accusing the director here of falling in love with his own voice and his own work. It’s an Emperor’s New Clothes sort of story, in which no one wants to tell the King that he’s nearly naked.

[As an aside, Manohla Dargis — in the same paper — off-handedly (and quite nastily, I thought) makes a similar claim on Quentin Tarentino’s last film, INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS, when she says:

“He has also turned into a bad editor of his own material (his nominal editor, as usual, is Sally Menke,” a comment which manages to insult both the film and a fine editor at the same time (Menke’s been doing this long enough, and worked with enough people, to not take a job if she knows she is going to be treated like a mere pair of hands)]

Directors, listen to me hear — it’s impossible to make a film by yourself. Not every idea you’re going to have is good, and not all good ideas are going to come from you. The best comments I’ve gotten from directors are when they turn to me after viewing my Editor’s Cut and say “Wow, there were some things in there that I never would have thought of myself. Thanks.” Of course, that doesn’t mean that we’re going to use those ideas, but it does mean that the director’s creative juices are going to be kicked up a notch and there will new and better ideas flowing very shortly.

And that is the ideal way to work with any creative person: come to the table with an idea (the “thesis”), let that person come up with a different idea (the “antithesis”) and then to let those two opposing notions contribute to a third, usually better, idea (the “synthesis”). Directors who feel that they are the sole auteurs of their work, and are too afraid or guarded to open up to other ideas, will generally miss out on those “third, usually better” ideas, and their work will suffer. (I talk about this in the latest episode of the podcast that I do with Larry Jordan — 2 Reel Guys — in the episode on Collaboration.)

That’s why the more roles that a creator takes on, the more the work will usually suffer. Being a writer/director is dangerous enough. When you become a writer/director/editor the combination is almost always disastrous.  I’d venture that John Sayles solo films, for instance, were never as good as when he worked with an editor. Even the vaunted Coen Bros have suffered when they edited their own work.

It’s a problem that I’m continually fighting among those talented students at USC. I’d rather they learned how to talk to an editor to bring their ideas to the fore, than edit their film themselves. Simplifying the communication process, in this case by eliminating the editor, doesn’t make for a better film. Creating a common language (such as the one I talk about in my book THE LEAN FORWARD MOMENT) does.

So, to get back to the Twitter question, “How do you deal with a director’s stupid ideas?”

In my opinion, the first thing to realize is that those ideas might not be stupid ideas at all. The fact that they seem stupid to you may say more about you than about the director. You might be jealousy guarding an idea of yours that you’d be better off questioning. Just as we want our directors to be collaborative, it is important for us (as editors) to be open to those “antithesis” ideas.

The second thing to realize is that, even if the ideas are stupid (“Can’t we take every other shot and turn it upside down?”), most directors who have done their homework are coming up with ideas because they are missing something. They aren’t getting the emotional kick from a scene that they wanted. They might not understand a character’s motivation the way that they feel is necessary. Or they might not feel tension or energy or humor. Or, there is more confusion by the end of a commercial than they desire.

The problems are myriad (haha, a very subtle HEATHERS reference there) but the psychology is the same. Unless the director is a complete moron, every idea and question that they have comes from some place. It is the job of the editor to dig below the question/comment and figure out what it is that the director (or producer or showrunner or whoever is in charge of the vision) really wants.

And the third thing is that if the director really is a complete moron, I’d take a look at yourself and ask why you took the job in the first place. I know that there’s always rent that you have to pay, but if that’s the deal that you’ve made with the devil, then you’ve got no business complaining about idiot directors. Life is too short to be working with people who don’t fill you up with artistic and/or emotional fulfillment.

(adapted from an old blog entry on another site)


Help Me Interview 5 Great Editors

7 06 2010

This coming Friday night (June 11, 2010), I’m going to be running the opening night panel at EditFestNY enititled “The Lean Forward Moment” (try and guess where we got that title from) during which I’m going to be interviewing five great editors: Michael Berenbaum, A.C.E. (Sex and the City 1 and 2), Joe Klotz, A.C.E. (Precious, Junebug),  Andrew Mondshein, A.C.E. (Remember Me, Chocolat, The Sixth Sense),  Susan Morse, A.C.E. (Manhattan, Hannah and Her Sisters), and Andrew Weisblum, A.C.E. (Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Wrestler).

Now, here’s where you can get involved.  First off, if you’re in the area, register for this two-day event.  It’s going to be well worth your while and, honestly, with the discounts for students, or many user groups (both FCP and Avid) you’ll more than get your money’s worth — cocktails on Friday, pizza and beer on Saturday, along with some great panels.

But here’s another way that you can involved.  I am going to ask each of the panelists to show a scene from a film that influenced that filmmakers, and then all six of us are going  to talk about it. Here is a preview (the first look — never before announced) at what you’ll see if you’re there:

  1. Michael Berenbaum is showing the opening sequence from ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, directed by Sergio Leone and edited by Nino Baragli in
  2. Joe Klotz is showing an early scene from DOG DAY AFTERNOON, directed by Sidney Lumet and edited by Dede Allen in 1975
  3. Andy Mondshein is showing the last scene from BONNIE AND CLYDE, directed by Arthur Penn and edited by Dede Allen (again!!  how fitting) in 1967,
  4. Sandy Morse is showing the opening of THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY, directed by Julian Schnabel and edited by Juliette Welfling in 2007,
  5. Andrew Weisblum is showing the “birth of the hula hoop” scene from THE HUDSUCKER PROXY, directed by Joel Coen and edited by Thom Noble in 1994.

Whether you’re going to be at EditFestNY or not, what I’d love for you to do is submit questions for these editors.  I’ll select a few and ask them for you.  What is it that you’d like to know about that scene or how it affected each of these editors.  You can submit the questions here, or tweet them to me on Twitter.  My name there is @schnittman.



NAB

11 04 2009

The largest get-together of television, film and media makers and distributors is the National Association of Broadcasters convention in Las Vegas every April. This year NAB (as it is called) happens April 18-23 and I’ll be speaking at a number of venues, as well as going to the first NAB Tweetup.  If you’re going to be there please drop me a note (norman@normanhollyn.com) and let’s try and get together. For now, here’s what I think I’ll be doing while I’m there:

Monday, April 20, 2:00 PM — I’ll be signing copies of my new book, THE LEAN FORWARD MOMENT, at the NAB 2009 Official Bookstore

Monday, April 20, 8:15 PM — I’ll be at the ProMax Digital Lounge, talking about Shaping Stories Through Editing.

Tuesday, April 21 9:35am — I’ll be at the Avid Technology booth (Booth # SU 902, South Hall), talking about “Where are the new editors coming from? And how will they learn how to get there?”

Wednesday, April 22, 9:30am — I’ll be at the Official NAB Podcast Digital Production Buzz booth, being interviewed by Larry Jordan

Wednesday, April 22, 11:00am — I’ll be at the Final Cut Pro Users Group Booth (Booth #SL10129), talking about “15 Film School Tips in 20 Minutes”

Stop by.  At many of them I’ll be giving away a few copies of my new book!!

See you there.



Telling Better Stories on the Cheap – San Francisco, April 4th

3 04 2009

I’ll be speaking at the San Francisco Apple Store at 1 Stockton St. at 1pm this Saturday, April 4th. I’m going to be talking about

Telling Better Stores For Very Little Money

Here’s the location of the Apple Store in downtown San Francisco. See you there!!



Apple Store Event

13 02 2009

I’m going to speaking at the San Francisco Apple store on April 4 at 12noon. Not sure what I’ll be talking about, but it will be referencing my book THE LEAN FORWARD MOMENT, which has been getting some awesome reviews, even the ones that my mother didn’t write.



I’ll Be Up At Macworld

23 12 2008

Im speaking at next months Macworld, up in San Francisco

I'm speaking at next month's Macworld, up in San Francisco

Macworld is the annual get together that is held up in San Francisco. While it’s been rocked by Apple’s announcement two weeks ago that not only would Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple, not deliver his customary keynote address at the show and that Apple would pull out as an on-the-floor exhibitor beginning in 2010, it’s still a collection of some really interesting people.

Because Final Cut is a large part of the Mac experience, the publisher of my new book, Peachpit Press, has an exhibit on the floor at which a number of their authors will be giving talks about Final Cut, Photoshop, visual effects and (if I have anything to say about) storytelling. So, for those of you who are planning on attending the show and who would like to hear some people talk about subjects that they are very passionate about, please stop by the Peachpit booth.

I’ll be talking about THE LEAN FORWARD MOMENT — a book about how to shape your storytelling abilities through writing, directing, cinematography, editing, production design, sound and music — on Thursday, January 8th, from 12noon until 12:45.  I’ll also be signing books afterwards. Preceding me will be Mark Christiansen, whose knowledge and expertise with visual effects continually stuns me.  I hope to see you there.

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I am also going to take the Macworld opportunity to stop in on my first LAFCPUG Supermeet. For any of you who are interested in filmmaking, in general, and editing in particular, the LA Final Cut Pro Users Group is a great organization with an amazingly deep website, and monthly meetings that attract some of the most interesting and talented FCP users and gurus (such as Larry Jordan, Ken Stone and Phil Hodgetts). Their annual Supermeets are huge affairs, with tons of speakers, raffle prizes, and knowledge.  This year, LAFCPUG head Mike Horton promises the following at this Wednesday night event:

Apple: The latest on Final Cut Studio – JVC: Craig Yanagi of JVC will announce the world’s first acquisition product developed especially for Final Cut post production. Come and be a part of this historic event.

BlackMagic Design presents M. Dot Strange.

Bruce Nazarian: Blu-Ray on the Cheap. How to build a compatible Blu-Ray Disk and burn it on DVD-R media without a Blu-Ray burner.

Christine Steele: FCP Tips and Tricks

Eric Escobar: “Plug-Ins Won’t Save You” A plug-in package alone won’t create the “look” of your movie. A “look” is a combination of preproduction, design, performance, camera work and post wizardry. Eric will show us how to deconstruct a “look” from a TV show or movie, and reconstruct it on-the-cheap.

Yun Suh: Clips from the documentary film “City of Borders” (Show and Tell)

Rounding out the evening will be the always raucous “World Famous Raffle” with over $40,000.00 worth of prizes to be handed out to several lucky winners. 300 “SuperBag” Goodie Bags filled with over $200.00 worth of learning resources will be handed to the first 300 people through the door. Food (snacks) and drinks will be available throughout the evening.

For complete details on the SuperMeet including driving and transit directions and instructions, a current list of raffle prizes and a link to where to buy tickets, visit the Los Angeles Final Cut Pro (lafcpug) web site.



Jury Duty, iPhones and Personal TV Programming

10 08 2008


My new book, The Lean Forward Moment


It’s been quite a while since I’ve been on the blog, an absence caused primarily by an upcoming deadline on my December book THE LEAN FORWARD MOMENT, editing a documentary called RIVERS, and posting on another blog, Film Industry Bloggers. But two recent events, as well as a comment on the podcast Slate’s Political Gabfest, have combined to prod me into some thoughts about where we’re moving towards as media makers and consumers.

I recently sat on a preliminary panel for jury duty selection at my local courthouse in Los Angeles (a courthouse that was so satellite, so small, that it didn’t have a place to eat, if you didn’t count the hallway by the vending machine).

I never got onto a jury — they just didn’t need anyone that day — but I noticed something interesting in the waiting room. Lined up along one wall were a series of computers which were, we were told, put there so we could “play on the web” while we passed the time waiting to not be called onto a jury.  Now, that’s interesting in and of itself, since I remember when they could not have cared less if you were bored to tears.  (“Bring a book or a newspaper and read ferchrissakes!”). So, we can chalk one up for government advancement into the 21st century.

Of importance to this story was that fact that each and every one of the computers was broken. Every one (there were three or four) had a sign on its monitor explaining that the computer wasn’t working and “We apologize for any inconvenience.” So we can erase the chalk mark that I gave government for its 21st century advancement.

But what was really interesting to me is that not a single one of the 40 or so people in the room cared one bit about not being able to get onto the computers. Not one person complained.

You can ascribe that to several reasons. First, there were two people there who had brought their own laptops and were typing away the entire day. But that’s only two people. Second, you could say that most people aren’t Internet savvy enough to care, and they were perfectly happy to read their books or papers.

However, when I looked around the room, it became obvious to me that the largest reason why people didn’t care if the computers worked or not was that they were connecting online anyway. They were just doing it on their cell phones.

Nearly every single person in the room was texting, or surfing or listening to their iPods. Ironically, I was one of the few people actually reading a book (I didn’t bring my laptop for various reasons and my Treo was just a completely painful experience for surfing online).

No one cared about the broken computers because they already had all the computer they needed in a tiny little package in their purses or their pockets.

Then, a few weeks later, when my Treo 650 stopped being able to email anyone, I finally caved in and joined the second week line at the local Apple Store and got myself an iPhone 3G. Now, I live in Los Angeles where there is a lot of 3G service available (except, ironically, in a number of rooms in my house) so my experience might differ from yours. But this phone has drastically transformed the way I connect online. It is now as easy to go onto a webpage on my phone (though somewhat slower) as it is when I’m sitting in front of my computer.

The repercussions of this are huge. In the first few weeks of owning my iPhone, I’ve used it for maps, movie times, restaurant recommendations, playing Sudoku, reading the New York Times, getting weather and sports scores, and much more — all without going into the Safari browser that comes built into the phone. With Apple’s App Store for the iPhone selling and giving away a ton of separate appplications for the “Jesus Phone”, it has not only gotten possible to surf the web easily on your phone, but to do it with separate apps, something that doesn’t exist as ubiquitously on your very own computer where most applications are built to run inside your web browser (Firefox, Opera, Safari or — gasp — Internet Explorer).

This isn’t a small paradigm shift for us here in the United States. In much of the rest of the world, in places that aren’t hamstrung by conflicting cell phone standards, consumers are already using the web on their portable devices (usually cel phones) and are using it for more things as each month goes on. It’s great for the users and a bonanza for those smart and well-connected enough to provide the content.

John Dickerson, on Slates Political Gabest this week talked about the Olympics and the web.

John Dickerson, on Slate's Political Gabest this week, talked about the Olympics and the web.

Then, there was an interesting comment on this week’s Slate’s Political Gabfest, Slate Magazine’s always interesting three-person podcast examining political issues of the week.  John Dickerson, asked for  comments about the start of the Beijing Olympics, made the statement that with the 302 events being run this year, he felt that this event was ideally suited for the web. His implication was that it was no longer necessary for him to watch endless hours of television to get to the three or four events that he was interested in.

True that.

For all of you who aren’t as interested in archery as you are in kayaking, this is a godsend. (By the way, the kayak competitions start on August 11th and run through the 17th, but NBC won’t tell you just when that sport is on — it’s jumbled together with the rest of its coverage on its website) It is now possible to hone in on just what interests you in the events, and to surf around the rest of them if you want to discover other fun things.

Dickerson, however, missed the larger implications of his statement because he is a political analyst and not a techie hack like me. The brilliance of this thought process comes when NBC starts to deliver the content that you want directly to you (not at this Olympics, sadly). If you like kayaking, you’ll click on that select box and get news, audio and video of those events sent to you in discrete packages. And get charged a small amount for it.

This is the kind of programming that companies like U-Verse (the AT&T computer Video on Demand service), and set top boxes like the Apple TV, are just poised to deliver.

I’ve often said that services like Tivo have blown away the concept of television networks. Most people who have services like these can program their boxes to find the content they like and play it back for them whenever they want without every knowing where and when it originally “aired”. Except for the station ID bug down in the bottom right of the screen and the few commercials for other network programming that we don’t skip over, most of us have no idea what network the show was originally broadcast on and even less sense of when it ran. This is breaking down the concept of network loyalty.

The concept of personal delivery of sports (and other) events takes it one step further. Not only will you not care where and when the event originally ran, but you won’t give a rat’s behind about any of the surrounding events unless you want to care. You’ll get more complete coverage of the events that matter to you, rather than smaller bites of all of the events.

The idea of smorgasboard programming, where cable users can select just what channels they want rather than buy into packages, scares the hell out of most cable operators and small channel providers. They correctly assume that, in this model, many of the smaller stations would lose most of their perceived viewers and shrivel up and die. I don’t disagree with this except to note that this is going to happen anyway. Cable networks can already determine which channels you are watching and which you aren’t. Services like U-Verse are only exacerbating that. How long will it be before those networks that don’t attract many viewers are faced with the same fate, as programmers realize that they’re carrying a network that attracts only six model airplane builders?

But, I’d gladly pay for channels that come with the programming that I want. And, to take this back to its starting point, I’d gladly pay for that to come to me on my iPhone. I already receive sports score on my phone now — Sportacular is a great application. If developer Jeff Hamilton isn’t already working on business partnerships that will enable the user to connect that to video playback of the events, then he’s dumber than a brick. It is a completely directed, niche, market.

Total Personal Programming. That’s where you should invest your venture capital money everyone, okay?



David Duchovny Gives Editors Ultimate Power

12 06 2008

David Duchovny, from thetvaddict.comIn yesterday’s Hollywood Reporter, there was a roundtable of Emmy-winning and potentially Emmy-nominated actors (deadline for Emmy nomination ballots is in about a month, and the trades are both publishing many articles pertinent to the process as well as reaping beaucoup bucks from For Your Consideration ads).  The discussion, which was actually pretty interesting (and you can read at the Hollywood Reporter website), included Ted Danson (FX’s “Damages”), Alec Baldwin (NBC’s “30 Rock”), David Duchovny (Showtime’s “Californication”), Blair Underwood (HBO’s “In Treatment” and ABC’s “Dirty Sexy Money”), Mark Harmon (CBS’ “NCIS”), David Spade (CBS’ “Rules of Engagement”), Neil Patrick Harris (CBS’ “How I Met Your Mother”), Bryan Cranston (AMC’s “Breaking Bad”) and Rainn Wilson (NBC’s “The Office”).

The discussion, at one point, veered off into talking about whether the divide between television and feature acting is breaking down. Spade talked about going where the good scripts are, Baldwin talked about the immediacy of the acting process in television (“a movie really is about sitting around”), Wilson talked very intelligently about the audience’s investment in watching a film and how television doesn’t require so much of their attention on character arcs.

Duchovny finished that part of the discussion with the following:

Duchovny: Ultimately, I think film becomes an editor’s medium. You give them 15 takes and then release control over it. On TV, the actor really has more control over the whole process.

Wow. I’m rocked on so many levels by this.  First of all, it’s nice to see that someone who has produced, written and directed as well as acted, is aware of the importance and power of editing. It’s also interesting to see that he feels that the actor has more control over the process in television.  Surely, the secondary characters in THE X FILES and even every other actor in CALIFORNICATION (a great series in which Duchovny’s “control” may come more from his executive producer role) might disagree with him.

But the innate point that he is making is really quite fascinating — that from the point of view of the actor — television elevates the actor’s involvement above what they would normally have in a film.

Now, I’m not sure that I agree with him on this. The stories, for instance, of Edward Norton’s involvement in the upcoming HULK and on AMERICAN HISTORY X are legendary by now and any star of significant power is going to be involved in the editing process, if only through intense notes with the director, producer or studio.

But the interesting point that Duchovny raises is whether, from the actor’s point of view, having too many takes of a performance removes that actor’s ability to shape a performance.

I’m actually going to be discussing this point in more detail in my book, THE LEAN FORWARD MOMENT (Peachpit Press), so you’ll have to wait until the end of the year to see how I figure this all out. But I have to say that, on balance, I agree with him in the hands of a mediocre or bad director or producer/showrunner. The point is to put everyone on the same page, so that the actor’s performance works within the context of every other creative art on the film. Improvisation has a great part in filmmaking. Editing is all about shaping a story from a multitude of choices.

I’ve seen both students and professional directors be stymied by too many disparate choices. Sometimes that comes from basic indecisiveness as a personal trait. But more often than not, it stems from being unsure about the kind of film that they wanted to make.

More about this in November/December (you can keep track of the progress of my book by looking at the Lean Forward tab on this blog).



George Orwell’s Rules For Writers

4 06 2008

George OrwellCrawling around in my old computer files the other day I came across this list of six rules for writers which, sad to say, no longer seem to be on the site from which I stole them (CCSN in Nevada). I reprint them here because the more people who see this, the better place the world will be:

  1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive [voice] where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

Aside from the fact that I have probably violated all six of these rules during my blogging and writing career, it occurs to me that most of these rules have their equivalent in film and video work (gotta find a better term for what we do) since they basically boil down to this “Treat the reader like an adult and don’t talk down to them.” I find, both at school and professionally, that there is a terrible tendency to over explain or over obfuscate. I know those sound contradictory, but they’re not. I find shots held on way past the point where they’re giving any new information because “the audience needs to get it.” I’ve also found director being deliberately obscure because “I don’t want to pander to common sensibilities.”

Most student movies tend to be too long (I should know, mine were and are, thankfully, not available on the Web — you should see my version of an unproduced Antonin Artaud script) and, often, too obscure. It’s as if the filmmakers were deliberately challenging the audience to be engaged. And, if my own experience is any judge, that is often just what they are doing — saying that “You should come to me, not the other way around.”

Needless to say, I now totally disagree with my earlier self on this. If I have anything at all to say to an audience, I need to make them understand it. Otherwise, why would I even show the film to anyone else other than myself. For me, and for most filmmakers, our works exist as a way to touch other people. Of course, we are constantly struggling with how much to reveal, how clear to be, and how to explain ourselves. But, ultimately, we want to explain ourselves to others.

And so, with apologies to George Orwell, I present my version of his six rules:

  1. Never use a filmic device that has been so overused that it is instantly identifiable.
  2. Never hold on longer on a shot or a scene than you need to in order to deliver its point.
  3. If you don’t need a shot, a line of dialogue, or a scene, always cut it out.
  4. Never use objective shots where you can use subjective ones.
  5. Never be deliberately obscure with a script point, unless you plan to reveal its meaning later (and keeping its meaning to your audience is important to your story telling).
  6. Don’t do anything obnoxiously obvious, garish or horrifying.

Somehow, I don’t expect these rules to go down in history (or even to appear on the CCSN website, like Orwell’s did. But I do think that they’re a start to a discussion about the audience/filmmaker balance.