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International perspectives on the art of film making

International perspectives on the art of film making

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Published by: yaanahmed on May 30, 2008
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09/10/2012

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International perspectives on the art of film making.
 
DURING the late 1990s, Studio magazine in Paris agreed to a request made by Laurent Tirard to conduct aseries of 'master class' interviews with some of the most influential directors in the film industry. Thetranscripts of these interviews were published in the magazine and subsequently republished by Tirardunder the title of Movie Makers' Master Class (Faber and Faber, 2002). Tirard, who is also a filmmaker,interviewed twenty-one directors from three continents. Directors from the American continent (SydneyPollack, Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese, Tim Burton, David Cronenberg, David Lynch, Oliver Stone, Joel andEthan Coen) featured heavily, but there were also nine European directors (John Boorman, Claude Sautet,Bernardo Bertolucci, Wim Wenders, Pedro Almodovar, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Emir Kursturica, Lars Von Trierand Jean-Luc Godard) and three from Asia (John Woo, Takeshi Kitano and Wong Kar-Wai). Tirard publishedthe transcripts without editorial comment, apart from a few explanations of technical terms, andpresented them in the form of private lessons from some of the giants of modern cinema. Thesetranscripts provide a fascinating insight into both the world of filmmaking and the secrets of their success.The Nature of FilmFilm is recognised, along with theatre, as one of the chief collaborative arts. Film directors understand thatit would be impossible for them to create their films without the aid of producers, writers, actors andtechnicians. Jean-Luc Godard, one of the most influential directors of French New Wave cinema in the1960s, pointed out that just as Sartre wrote following in depth conversations with many people, so filmmakers require the input of numerous people and that 'making a film on your own is about as hard asplaying tennis alone: if there isn't anyone on the other side to hit the ball back, it just can't work'. Thiscollaboration is deemed essential to the creative process. Ideally, each person brings something distinctiveto the project. It is part of the role of the director to recognise what each person can contribute to theproject rather than rely solely upon his or her own talents. The actors and crews are not mere technicians,following the whims of directors. They are active participants in the filmmaking process.Filmmakers use a variety of skills and employ a multitude of artistic methods. Many of the great Europeandirectors have attempted to infuse their films with the skills derived from and tones set by some of theother arts. Visconti, for example, used the skills he developed when staging operas. Fellini was trained asa draftsman and Bertolucci recalled that when he made Last Tango in Paris (1973) he took some of hiscrew and cast to the Grand Palais in Paris to see an exhibition of paintings by Francis Bacon and that heused these paintings as inspiration in his film. The orange hue, notable in Last Tango in Paris, is attributedto the influence of Bacon. Marlon Brando was told to study and recreate some of the pain and anguishfound in Bacon's paintings. This was, according to Bertolucci, the main piece of direction that he gave toBrando in his preparations for the role. Even on a superficial level, filmmaking will often involve storytelling, music, and choreography of some sort and the creation of visual and audio images. Directors haveat their disposal centuries of artistic endeavour from which to draw inspiration. It is in the novel blendingof these sources that film can create something new, yet at times strangely familiar.Admirers of the cinema often point out that films made for cinema have greater depth and value than themajority of programmes created for television. Many directors lament the destructive influence of TV onthe quality and character of films. Oliver Stone, a director of lengthy and detailed films dealing withsignificant landmarks in American social and political history, claimed that the American film industry inparticular has become 'softened' as a result of TV which has 'diminished the audience's attention span'.
 
There are certainly exceptions to this. The BBC, for example, has a long reputation for producing qualitydramas. Still, filmmakers recognise that if their work is going onto the big screen there has to be enoughto hold an audience for two hours or so. Godard, for example, talked about films having at least twolevels, which he called the visible and the invisible. He claimed that many made-for-TV films deal solelywith the visible in that they are merely concerned with what goes on in front of the camera. 'Real films',on the other hand, are said to have an 'invisible element' which can only be discerned by peering beneaththe surface. A good director is somebody who can arrange a film in such a way as to allow the viewerroom to look beyond appearance. Although going beyond the obvious can make a film worthy of dissectionand repeat viewings, failure to address the subject matter in a direct way can have the opposite effect.Godard is no doubt correct in his assertion that film should have a hidden element, but it takes a skilfuldirector to give the audience enough clues to want to understand the director's intention.The Importance of MotivesDirectors, like authors, are often driven by deep-seated motives. Whereas actors often talk about theexperiences they draw upon in preparing for a scene, directors are apt to focus on the reasons why theychoose a certain project. Whilst money will often feature somewhere in the equation, many of the greatmodern directors will choose projects because they represent an artistic and, more often than not,personal challenge. Films provide directors with an opportunity to have somebody else (the actors) playout their feelings and help make tangible their inner lives. Many directors talk about the way that filmsgive form to their vague emotional rumblings. Sometimes, these feelings are intensely personal and areconcerned with the director's own sense of identity. Godard claims that he is generally motivated at thebeginning of a project by a strange abstract feeling or mood and that it is only by making the film that hecan become fully aware of the source of this feeling. John Woo is clear that he is drawn to making filmsbecause he is shy, under-confident and is often uncomfortable around other people. Films provide himwith a way to bridge the gap between himself and others. This is shown moreover in the way that many of his films illustrate how very different people can sometimes find that they have a lot in common.Films often deal with emotion. Those who want to communicate a thought or develop a theory will bedrawn more to writing. Film, along with music and some of the other visual arts, is far more suited toexploring different sides to our emotional make-ups. John Boorman was insightful when he revealed thathis fascination for Arthurian legend, and in particular the love triangle between Arthur, Lancelot andGuinevere, stemmed from his realisation that his father's best friend had been in love with Boorman'smother. This connection did not become apparent until he had finished filming Hope and Glory (1987), afilm based upon his own childhood in wartime Britain, and 'I became an audience member myself ratherthan being inside the film'. Here is a fine illustration of how directors can use film to understand moreabout themselves. Films do not have to be autobiographical for this to occur. Indeed, directors canactivate their own alter egos and place them into a variety of situations just to scrutinise their own valuesand reactions.Other directors see themselves as faithful observers of the complexities of social life. This more anarchisticapproach can be seen in the work of Lars Von Trier and his associates in Danish cinema who, in 1995,signed 'Dogma 95' that set out a series of bizarre rules to follow in making films. It stated that filmsshould aspire to be true by using real locations, direct sound rather than dubbing, hand-held cameras, nospecial effects or artificial action, no manipulation of place and time and that the director should not becredited. In his own films, like the extremely gruelling Idiots (1998), he shot whatever he saw on setwithout preparation. Von Trier claims that 'you really start at zero, and everything that happens is a gift'.
 
Working with video keeps down the costs and lets the director shoot as much or as little as he or shewants and 'you don't really have to bother about it making any sense, visually speaking, until you're in theediting room'. This form of gritty realist cinema relies upon constant improvisation. Rather than seeking toentertain, the Dogma 95 group are far more interested in challenging the views we hold and in breakingtaboos.Narrative and ImageThere can sometimes be a tension in films between narrative and image. Filmmakers use visual images tocreate a sensation and to contribute, at least in some cases, to the development of a story. A film consistsin more than dialogue. If there is a story, it is sometimes subordinated to other more visual priorities.Some of the most influential European directors argue that modern cinema pays too little attention to theimportance of stories. For the German director Wim Wenders, the story is all-important and he believesfirmly that the director must have something to say. Pedro Almodovar, one of the most influential Spanishdirectors, is likewise critical of those directors who concentrate too much on the 'visual gag' because itcreates an art form in which form is given precedence over content and he believes that this can haveharmful consequences. It is clear, however, that many directors want to go beyond the confines of a scriptand produce something far more powerful (and universal) than the written word. This can be attempted,and to some extent achieved, by manipulating space or by creating mood.Directors who believe in manipulating space argue that the most important thing in filmmaking is to createa space for a story to unfold rather than attempt to apply a story to a space. The Chinese director WongKar-Wai starts the filmmaking process by scouting locations. He then imagines characters within this spaceand gradually a story begins to develop as he works on the relationship between the characters. TimBurton, a very successful director of such comic-book dramas as Batman (1989) and Planet of the Apes(2001), feels that the heart of a scene rests on the relationship between the characters and theirrelationship to the space around them. This is important in determining whether the scene is shot fromone of the character's point of view or whether the scene is shot from an external point of view. Byconcentrating upon the importance of space, filmmakers can go beyond the written word and by changingcamera angles and by altering the depth of the shot they are able to provide another layer of informationfor the audience to decipher. Members of the audience will also have a point of view and will only see whatthe director wants them to see. Although an audience can read between the lines of scenes and reorderthe scenes to interpret a relationship or event, the director determines the range of scenes and theinformation available to an audience. By manipulating space, the director is able to draw the audience intoa frame and suggest to them a range of possible interpretations.For some directors, the art of filmmaking begins with creating a mood or ambience within which the storycan unfold. Claude Sautet, for example, claimed that he begins his films by attempting to create anatmosphere. The story and dialogue come later once he has considered characters and the relationshipbetween them. In his view, dialogue is less important than the feeling between characters. This makeshim willing to use 'stares and silence' creatively and he believes that 'the actor who stares has morepresence than the actor who speaks'. For Sautet, the art of directing lies in part in finding ways toencourage actors to have confidence in their 'bare existence' and to not allow them to conceal themselvesfrom the audience. He has found, for example, that he can elicit better performances from his femaleleads by asking them to act with their hair pulled up away from the face. The mood makers sharesuspicion towards excessive use of dialogue. The Yugoslavian director Emir Kusturica claimed that it isimportant for directors to find a way to express ideas without using dialogue. Indeed, he said that he

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