Summary of and Response to the article: ‘Creative Film-Making for the Creatively Challenged’…

Posted: November 28, 2010 in Media

Recently we were given an enlightening article about film-making which explained that to achieve a successful and interesting final product (whether it be a short film, trailer, two-minute opening etc) it is vital to get in touch with your creative side.

So here is a basic summary of the main points the article tried to get across…

The opening: What not to do…

The article opens up by expressing their anger at most student/amateur short films,  two-minute openings etc : making it apparent that they think most of these are very similar and therefore predictable. They target a lack of creativity in the mind of the film-makers behind these products as the cause of their downfall. The article sets up the idea that creativity does not necessarily have to be hard or something you are just simply born with- you just need to be motivated and passionate about what you are doing.

The article then goes on to target idleness- explaining that a film-maker can have brilliant ideas but if they have not got the right amount of enthusiasm or motivation to get it filmed properly it is pretty much destined for failure.

The top tips: Tip no.1: Know the rules of your genre…

The article then moves onto offering advice to film-makers- saying that pretty much before they do anything they should know the rules of their chosen genre (whatever that may be). They explain that by recognising the rules and conventions of their chosen genre they can thus get some inspiration for their own work. And by including such well-known genre codes and conventions in their own work audiences are more likely to receive their product better.

Tip no.2: Now break the rules…

The article then explains that after you have sufficient knowledge of the usual codes and conventions of your genre it is a good move to challenge or even go so far as to break them. And by challenging the typical conventions of the genre this is likely to shock and thrill audiences as you are giving them something they did not expect. One way to do this is through what is called a ‘substitution exercise’: substituting what would usually be the convention of the genre with something different or perhaps the very opposite (such as a convention in an action film would be to play loud rock music during a car chase, but by replacing it with classic music instead shows you are familiar of the convention and are bold and creative enough to challenge it)- thus catching audiences off guard and conveying your creativity to them.

Tip no.3: Plan the film… 

Planning and organisation are the key to a good film. The article explains how if a film is planned beforehand, this allows film-makers to have a certain amount of time to revise what they have done and perhaps pick out parts which can be altered or changed. The writer argues that creative work is rigidly structured and planned while uncreative work is evidently not planned at all. The article then goes into the three areas of planning film-makers should go through before filming: Script, Storyboard and Mise en Scene.

Script

The article argues that to get the filming and more importantly in this area, the dialogue, perfect, scripts are vital. Explaining that assuming that any actors/actresses that you choose will be fine at whatever you ask them to do is something that is destined to be a disaster and in the long run, ruin the film altogether. Scripts allow the actors/actresses and filmmakers to know exactly what is said in each shot and how it should look and sound in the final outcome. Also, this way the actors/actresses have time to rehearse their lines and film-makers can hear them and decide upon whether they are right for the role they have been assigned to before filming begins.

Storyboard

Storyboards are one of the biggest and most important aspects to consider before even thinking about filming. The article explains that storyboards allow film-makers to literally visualise the film and thus a rough and basic outline of how their film should look when complete. As well as this the drawings of shots will allow them to prepare for the actual filming- as they will have an idea of the props, locations and actors they need and can therefore find before filming needs to be carried out. The article argues that although a lot of effort must be put into planning and storyboarding, no good film can come out of an idea that has not be sufficiently planned.

Mise en Scene

The article explains the importance that lies in the film-makers choice of locations, props, costume and anything else that may be lingering in the background of a shot. They say that even things such as colours of these items can have a positive reflection on the film. The article reminds the reader that generic conventions that film-makers have noted may also help here: as some iconography can refer to the genre of the film: like featuring a character with a gun can indicate a thriller film as this is a conventional prop within this genre of film. Intertextual references are also explained, saying that by dressing scenes in relevant film posters, having characters read certain books or look at certain paintings can give the audience a more detailed understanding of the film (such as the fact the five protagonist’s in the film ‘Sleepers’ refer to the book of ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’  links to how the film has a big theme of vengeance within it).  

Tip no.4: Narrative and names…

The article then goes on to explain the usual narrative theories such as those from Propp (character types/roles), Todorov (narrative structure), Barthes(enigma codes) and Levi-Strauss (conflict) and expresses that knowing their theories are vital to making a realistic narrative as well as compelling characters also. The article states quite rightly that all of these theories on narrative are equally important as without them, the plot of the film will be loose and uninteresting for the audience to watch. An aspect of films that are often overlooked is then addressed as of equal importance- which is the notion of ‘naming’. The article explains that naming characters and giving films a working title gives them a sense of identity- it makes them appear more real to the film-maker and to the audience also. As well as this naming characters/films can connote certain things towards the audience (example: the name of the character Nicholas Angel in ‘Hot Fuzz’ connotes to the audience that he is a moral, pure and heroic character before they are even introduced to the character himself. Similarly the name of the film ‘Fight Club’ leads the audience instantly to expect that the film will contain violence and have some theme of criminal gangs/groups).

Tip no.5: Personality…

At the articles last tip, the writer explains that most creative work has a sense of identity within it- saying that film-makers who literally ‘film what they know’ make their film feel all the more authentic and realistic tot he audience because they are drawing out ideas from their own personal experiences instead of just making up unrealistic circumstances in which to put their characters. The article also argues that paying homage to those films you have been influenced by- perhaps through intertextual references in mise-en-scene, sound etc- can be beneficial as they can engage the audience on a higher level and furthermore, reveal your knowledge of other films of your chosen genre and that you are fully aware of the wider contexts.

The Team…

So the article gives us five very interesting and helpful tips. But they reveal there is one more thing that can be very helpful in making  a product such as a film creative, which is the team behind the film itself. They explain that to get the best effect it is vital to  be tactical rather than friendly when choosing who will work on/help create your film: like choosing a person who is passionate about the arts and member of a local drama club to play your lead role instead of just a close friend who has no acting talent but you are on more friendly terms with. And well, you get the idea…

The article then goes on to point out that good film-makers should always listen to others in terms of getting feedback on their film. Films literally live in the public domain- so by constantly getting others to watch the film and provide feedback this way film-makers can get an idea of what is good about their films or areas that perhaps still need to be improved. The article states that film-makers should always be open to criticism as audience feedback is one of the most important things that they should always listen to and take heed of, even if it is with a pinch of salt or two.

 And on a final note…

The article concludes that creativity is bound by structure – the rules of genre, narrative and technique that a film-maker must stick by or they will surely fail from lack of knowledge. The writer argues that creating a film is not a particularly hard task- it can be easy to do and a creative piece as well, as long as the film-makers plan to the finest detail, get organised and put in as much effort and enthusiasm in it as they possibly can. The note the article truthfully leaves on is that if the film-maker cares about their film, ultimately, so will the audience.

My response and some personal thoughts…

Naming

Well reading the article made me think a lot about the importance of giving the product I am making (a trailer for a film) and the characters it includes, a name. To an extent I have already done this and thus shown I have recognized its importance– As I already have a name for my film (Tainted) which I chose after a process of elimination of various other working titles (which included names such as ‘Infliction’). I thought by calling the film I am promoting ‘Tainted’ it allows the audience to be able to know what to expect from the film if they actually went to see it. I also thought it really portrayed what my film would be about, as the dictionary definition of the word ‘Tainted’ to be:

‘To affect with or as if with a disease.

 2. To affect with decay or putrefaction; spoil.

3. To corrupt morally.

4. To affect with a tinge of something reprehensible.

v.intr. To become affected with decay or putrefaction; spoil.
n. 1. A moral defect considered as a stain or spot.

2. An infecting touch, influence, or tinge.

(Above definition taken from website www.thefreedictionary.com)

So as you can see, the name of my film refers to my protagonist’s reason for revenge– that he was corrupted and deeply affected by what the youth club owners did to him as a child and is therefore tainted by this– and the only way he feels he can get rid of it is to get vengeance on them. So I think by calling my film this it gets across to the audience instantly that the film may be dark and focus on upsetting themes such as corruption and moral decay.

As well as this I have already named my main characters who will be featuring in the trailer. I did this for the reasons the article stated: I thought it would help make my film trailer seem more ‘real’ to me, the actors and also, more importantly, the audience. The characters therefore have an identity and if I start treat the characters as more ‘real’ then the audience are more likely to care about them more than they would if they were simply nameless and just faces on a screen. I also thought quite carefully about the names of my characters as, like the article stated, I think they can give away a bit about their roles within the film and what kind of character they really are instantly to the audience:

Alice– The name meaning of Alice is ‘noble and exalted’– and I think this really reflects Alice’s character within the film she is, in some ways, the hero of the film, and is very noble in the ways she acts (trying to discover the truth behind various character’s deaths, not letting others who don’t believe her get in her way etc). I originally got the protagonist’s name interestingly from the actress who plays her in my trailer. I was thinking of names and said to her: ‘I know, why don’t you name her? You’re going to be playing the character after all, so you’ll know her better than anyone’. So she sat down and I explained the role of the character she’d be playing to her and what her personality was like. She said she thought Alice would be a good name for her, as she seemed a bit like the protagonist in ‘Alice in Wonderland’– the way the characters both a bit naive of what is going on all around them and lost in a strange world where they must at first be guided by others, and then become the hero themselves. And I agreed with this comparison and so that is how the character got her name. 

Jack– The name Jack means ‘God’s grace’ and ‘he who supplants’– which I think to an extent reveals Jack’s role within the film as he may not be the most pure or ‘good’ character (he does push people to commit su*cide, which isn’t exactly a heroic act) but his motives I think, are pure. He is helping to rid the world of a bit of evil and therefore can be argued to be similar to the meaning of his name. I also thought the fact the name Jack is probably one of the most common in history helps relate to how his anger at the youth club owners is fuelled by the fact they forget about him and he is simply wiped from their memories like he never mattered or to an extent, existed. (Also, the name of Jack for my character was influenced from troubled protagonist in Stephen King’s horror ‘The Shining’ (Jack Torrance)– who, like my character, does terrible things, but only because he is pushed to them. Perhaps an intertextual link/reference there, sort of showing my appreciation and knowledge of the film…)

Ray– Ray’s name originally means ‘Advice, decision protector’ and I thought this linked well to how I originally wanted, if I made my film, Ray to be a constant adviser and reminder to Jack– someone who knows the horrible things he has done and tries to give advice to the protagonist on what he should/shouldn’t do.

Kitty– I thought the name Kitty was quite ironic for this character as it juxtaposes what the character is really like– the meaning of her name is ‘Pure’ and apparently used to be a slang term for a woman of dubious morals. I thought the fact the name of this character sounds so sweet and innocent could help deceive the audience into thinking the character is really like this- and therefore they will be shocked to learn that she really is a despicable and cruel character when we get to know her better.

Pete– Well, as Pete is a slang name for Peter, the meaning of the name Peter is ‘Rock’ and originates from the bible (where Peter was a fisherman who was impulsive and had strong faith)- I thought this could help convey to the audience how Pete is a strong character and the leader of the group– he has ‘strong faith’ in himself and the youth club- being the one who leads the other youth club owners and says what has to be done. I also thought the fact Pete’s name originally comes from the bible could pose an interesting contrast when the audience find out that the character is far from anything pure or good. (The inspiration for Pete’s name originally came from frustrated and often intimidating character named Pete in ‘Shaun of the Dead’)

Dom– Ironically the meaning of the full version of this character’s name (Dominic) is ‘lord’ or ‘saint’. Like the other characters I thought this name sounds pretty harmless on the outside– leading the audience into a false sense of security that this character will be good/heroic– and then making them even more shocked when they learn of the terrible things the character has done. I also think that the name Dom has quite a humorous and friendly appeal to it– as it was originally inspired by comic Dom Joly and one half of the iconic children presenters duo- Dominic Wood (reflecting on how the character in my film is originally seen as friendly and funny, but actually has a much darker side underneath).

Team Members

Well I thought the article’s point about actors and various other people I will ask for help when filming was a very interesting one. It really made me think about the need to consider not just asking friends to act within my trailer, but maybe people I know are talented in this area. Afterall, talented acting will help my trailer look less amateur and therefore, improve its overall quality- so I may have to consider this over a bit before I continue filming. Though I have to say, although I have kind of already chosen my actors (or had in mind who to choose) they may be friends of mine, but that doesn’t mean I have just chosen anyone– no, I have tried to choose friends who I know will take my film seriously and who I think is best suited to the role (such as, I have assigned the role of Dom to a friend who is naturally funny, gets along well with the actress who plays Alice and is very ‘jumpy’ and active too- which is how I initially wanted Dom to be portrayed in the trailer)

Breaking Conventions

Well I’ve heard many times how interesting breaking conventions can be, and as the article stated and I agree with, it can really portray how you are aware of the conventions in your genre, and still you have the confidence as a film-maker to break them. I am going to attempt to do this more in the conventions of trailers that the conventions of thriller/revenge films- which is how I am thinking of choosing music in the background of my trailer to be slow-paced (as it is a convention of trailers to have fast paced music) which I think may interestingly juxtapose what is happening on-screen and make the mood of the trailer more dark and mysterious. And I also will NOT be including a voice-over in my trailer (which is a convention of trailers also) because of personal grounds that I think they take away the tense feeling a trailer has and also that I don’t want to give away too much information to my audience about the film itself.

Paying Homage

I thought this was an interesting thing for the article to discuss, as I have previously viewed this as just kind of ‘stealing’ pieces from various films to put into your own. But I agree that to an extent of having changed or altered the scene you have been influenced by, this shows sufficient knowledge of films within your genre, as well as connecting to audience who have seen that film and showing that you admire it (which I also think can be achieved by intertextual references, such as props of film posters etc). After reading this article it made me realise I have actually done this without realising it, such as the following:

The whole idea of Jack making Kitty get addicted to dr*gs and causing her death by it (which is shown in the trailer through a shot of a character’s POV as they are seen apparently being ‘inj*cted with dr*gs) is influenced by, and an homage to the brilliant revenge/thriller ‘Dead Man’s Shoes’– and the compelling scene in which Richard takes his revenge to new extremes by spiking the gang member’s kettle with dr*gs he previously stole from them- causing them to hallucinate and then be ultimately in his power.

The flashbacks in my trailer (which will be black and white) are various hints to the ab*se Jack suffered as a child at the hands of the youth club owners– this I view as an homage to revenge/thriller ‘Sleepers’ as the film itself is literally based on the flashbacks of the main character and the hardships and ab*se he went through in prison when he was younger, and also, how it fuels his and his friend’s thirst for vengeance on those who were responsible.

A shot I feel is a kind of homage is where the audience sees from a victim’s POV (where a character is evidently hiding from another character, Jack, who has a weapon in his hand)-and this is my own little homage to ‘Sweeney Todd’ where the audience has a very tense feeling as they are put in the shoes of a hiding character who has, and knows, they have been spotted, and can only watch as Sweeney walks towards their hiding place with a razor in his hand.

Ethusiasm

Well I thought this was something I agreed with too- that enthusiasm is something I need to have a lot of during preparation/filming/editing etc as the article states very truly that if I don’t care about my trailer, no one else is likely to. And more importantly I feel I may have to make sure this enthusiasm is put into some of the actors/actresses also to ensure their acting is up to scratch (as they may not take it as seriously as I do)…

Planning and Structure

Well I agreed totally on the article’s main point: that creativity can only come from structure and planning and organisation– without any of these things no film maker has the opportunity to get creative. In a way I feel I have allowed myself to become creative in my process of planning as I have structured my trailer very carefully, which the following things convey: I have drawn up multiple storyboards and thought about what would look good and what wouldn’t, I have thought of and developed various plot ideas, allowing me to get creative in thinking about more complex plots than just a basic structure and I have also allowed myself time to consider locations, props and actors rather than just choosing the nearest people/items/locations to me. So now, to ensure that my excessive planning and structure I have applied to my preparation was not a waste of time, I want to make sure that I remain this way– that I do not rush my filming and that I plan to the last detail– as this way I can allow time to be creative and overall, improve my trailer’s overall quality.

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