So to RECAP:
PHASE 1: 1895 CINEMA IS BORN – the first phase of every filmmaker wherein we shoot everyday life, devoid of narrative and capture a ton of moments on film, a small percentage of which is genuinely usable, entertaining footage.
But then the unthinkable happens. One day you’re showing off your squirrel video to someone and they are wriggling uncomfortably in the chair you’ve had to handcuff them into in order to have a captive audience and they throw this out there, “Hey, you know my (pick one: cousin, sister, daughter, chihuahua, school, church, gerbil) is doing a (pick one: recital, play, skit, soccer game, marching band thingie, wedding, extremely dangerous stunt) and since you’ve got such obvious camera talent, you could film it.”
And if you’re lucky, they add these magic words, “And I’ll even pay you!”
Now of COURSE this is just to distract you from the squirrel video long enough for you to lose focus wherein they can do an A.L.I.A.S style/Black Widow chair flip and knock you unconscious to flee, but none-the-less, the idea is birthed and a whole new world is about to open up to you.
Perhaps you’ve seen Martin Scorcese’s latest epic, “Hugo”. It’s not only an incredible 3D shmorgasboard, but it’s also a love story to early filmmaking. In fact (spoiler alert) one of the main characters is the George Melies. While the Lumiere Brothers were filming their gritty docu-dramas, Melies — a magician originally — was performing fantastically lavish stage productions and then filming them.
Frenchman George Melies developed the art of magical special effects in earlier films and then perfected them and used them in later films, such as in this classic. He made up and invented the film medium as he directed, including double exposure, actors performing with themselves over split screens, miniatures, stop-motion, and use of the dissolve.
He also pioneered the art of film editing.
Now, as that paragraph describes, George Melies accomplished a lot of things as he grew as a filmmaker. But his humble beginnings were no different than the idea behind you or I filming someone’s church play or school recital. He had a camera, stuck onto a tripod that recorded a narrative as it happened in front of him. It doesn’t really matter how elaborate the story is. It could be as simple as recording your friend telling a joke with your iPhone. That’s a narrative with a beginning, middle and an end. Hopefully the end is a punchline worthy of milk spewing from someone’s nose, but usually we don’t catch that kind of lightening in a bottle to start.
Or, it could be an elaborately staged play with multi-million dollar sets and costumes involved. In otherwords, Phase 2 is:
PHASE 2: FILM AS THEATER.
Here is George Melie’s 1902 Film:
“Le Voyage de la Lune” (1902)
This is just like watching a fancy theater production. Notice there are no close ups. They’re all wide shots and your eye is forced to pick out details within the Proscenium arch. The story is told in a linear fashion and it can be argued that these cuts in the films are more like theatrical scene changes than actual “film cuts”. Is it complex? Yeah it is! He was the George Lucas of his day! He had space flight, a cavalier ship captain, devilish lunar creatures that burst into clouds of dust when shmacked. This film probably cost him 2- to 3-hundred dollars to make! And he HAD to make it all back in the theater cause VHS rentals would not be invented for another 80 years or so.
Step 2 of your budding Filmmaking career is capturing spectacle and limited stage-like drama, weddings and what-not which are narratives with a linear plot to them. Again, if you’re lucky, you even get paid for your service. Either way, you’ve begun to pay more attention to what goes on in front of the camera. This is the beginning of a journey I like to call, “intentional filmmaking.”
Back to “Hugo” and Scorcese, do you think you ever arrive as a filmmaker? That massive budgets are summoned at the snap of a finger and that you get your pick of the hottest actors at the top of their game and every location you’ve ever dreamed of?
Well in a recent Fast Company article on Martin Scorcese it had this to say:
Scorsese, to pick a side in an endless argument, is America’s greatest living director. And yet he still can’t make up his mind, still gets obsessed, still gets crazed by the same kinds of things that make any creative type nuts. Is he going to get the resources he needs? Will his bosses like what he’s doing? Will they give him another chance on another project? How much of his creative vision will get into this project? How much will the powers that be screw with his vision? When does he say “no” to them? When does he say “yes”? Whom does he trust?
In an era when careers are measured in months rather than decades, Scorsese has reliably delivered for 45 years–but it still isn’t easy. “There’s always been pressure,” he says. “People say you should do it this way, someone else suggests that, yes, there’s financing, but maybe you should use this actor. And there are the threats, at the end–if you don’t do it this way, you’ll lose your box office; if you don’t do it that way, you’ll never get financed again. . . . 35, 40 years of this, you get beat up.” Hollywood has always been a battlefield, as rough as any more-traditional corporate setting.
“There are two kinds of power you have to fight,” Scorsese says. “The first is the money, and that’s just our system. The other is the people close around you, knowing when to accept their criticism, knowing when to say no.”
And I thought that was fascinating and satisfying because I deal with those exact same things on a much smaller level on a daily basis. Budgets, approvals and creative control. Seems those battles never go away no matter what phase you’re in.
TOMORROW: Phase 3 — Editing is Born!