In honor of my last post, I’m going to go a slightly different direction than usual. Instead of examine a specific film, I’m going to go behind the scenes a little bit and discuss my personal experience with the medium.
You see, in addition to other classes, my course load this semester included not one, but two different film production courses, as well as a feature-length screenwriting class. I’ve spent the past few months lugging cameras, tripods, and light kits back and forth between the Digital Media Center and my apartment, sending emails to various TA’s and potential volunteers, and madly typing out words that I could only pray formed a coherent string of thought (or, at the very least, were eligible for some sort of nouveau interpretation). Between contorting myself into awkward positions to get just the right shot, audibly swearing at Premiere Pro, and bribing my four-year-old actress with hot chocolate (and extra whipped cream, of course), there were some fairly undignified moments. For that matter, there may or may not have been an excess of character casualties in my screenplay when I discovered, in the wee hours of the morning, exactly how much time remained before the 10am deadline.
But for all the emailing and flailing, stressing and obsessing, crying and sighing, I’m glad for the experience. Granted, with the power of retrospect, there are certain things I would have done a bit differently, but hindsight is 20/20, right?
The fact of the matter is, up until this semester, the visual medium was something from which I was removed. Yes, I’d taken film analysis courses and written short scripts, but I was still very much within the realm of words. When it came to the hands-on stuff – the actual making of the vision into reality – I remained on the periphery. And I was comfortable there. In fact, growing up in a household filled with incredibly gifted artists, I’d actively avoided the visual route in order to reduce stressful familial competition. I searched for my own realm of expertise – something I could excel at in my own right without being compared to my family members – which is how I came to love writing.
Writing is a powerful medium – it allows authors to insert characters, places, and worlds into other people’s minds without ever having to lift their fingers higher than a few centimeters off the keyboard. For us writers, the ordeal of creation takes place entirely inside our own heads (which isn’t to say it’s not a loud and bloody battle in there; they don’t say ‘kill your darlings’ for nothing), which means we have a certain amount of liberty when it comes to the realities of our world. If we require a dog to perform some miraculous feat of daring, or perhaps desire a slightly-too-convenient beam of moonlight to burst forth from behind the clouds, it's a quick matter of a tickety-tack-tack on our laptop. But writing something into existence and actually finding a way to bring it to life are two entirely different things. Depending on the film’s budget, it might even prove impossible. In my experience writing scripts, I’ve come to the conclusion that dealing with the strict parameters of reality requires writers to truly question their own work. The writer’s world is stripped of its rosy hue and she is confronted with a starker universe – a universe where plot holes and flaws in character logic are unable to hide behind passages of beautiful prose. Coming from a person who is chronically loquacious, I’d say such a limiting experience is a very important experience to have.
I was, I admit, a little overambitious with the amount of film courses I took on this semester, but due to the immersive nature of the experience, I got a chance to sample a broad variety of roles involved in producing a film. I learned so much – so much more than I ever thought I would – and I produced things that I never thought I was capable of. I’d never so much as picked up a T5i before this semester (let alone sat down with editing equipment), and previously, when people started talking about apertures and shutter speed, I would stop whatever I was doing and back away slowly. Yes, they’re student films, and yes, they’re short, and yes, there are a lot of aspects that could use improvement – but they’re mine. I’m coming away from this experience with a heightened knowledge of film and a definitive desire to grab the camera and shoot some more footage.
Well… maybe after a good long nap.
Before I sign off for good, I’ve assembled a short list of the things I’ve taken away from this experience that you might not find in a textbook.
- When it comes to finding volunteers, diplomacy is key, but so are complimentary pastries, cookies, and coffee.
- If you’re filming and you see something that looks cool – shoot it. Even if you don’t use it in your current project, you might glean some inspiration from it or find a place for it in a different piece further down the road. And if you don’t? Well, then you have some cool footage in your library.
- B-roll footage will save your neck.
- However long you think it will take to shoot something, multiply it by two.
- Give yourself parameters. I often find that I’m more creative when my freedom is restricted because it forces me to use my ingenuity.
- Try to divide your filming days so that you have an opportunity to start editing the first round of footage before going back and filming the next round. This will give you a good idea about whether or not there’s anything you should change or reshoot (note: there always is).
- When your professor writes “FILM IS CHAOS” on the chalkboard in giant letters, he knows what he is talking about. Things will go wrong. This is okay.
- Your ego is your enemy. Don’t be scared of criticism – learn from it.
- Whether or not you're an anxious person, use whatever anxiety you have to your advantage. When you ask someone for feedback on your piece, remain in the room as they watch it. You’ll find that you, yourself, are more aware of certain issues depending on who the audience member is and what your subconscious thinks they will be most attentive to.
And last but not least:
- Filmmaking is a collaborative experience. The amount of work that goes into producing a film – even a short one – is crazy. To make a film is to make something bigger than yourself – enjoy the experience and make some new friends while you’re at it!
Well, that’s about it for me! Thanks for a great semester!