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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Ten Movies That Can Teach You Everything You Need To Know About Film-making

filmmaking
Filmmaking isn’t about just pointing a camera at talented actors. It’s a collaborative medium employing the use of sound, music, lighting, cinematography, mise-en-scene, editing, special effects and screenwriting. Every now and then a filmmaker will use one of these filmmaking tools in a style so deft and so innovative, that it inspires, delights and influences all filmmakers that come after it. While not all of these films are equally influential, they each clearly illustrate at least one filmmaking practice that teaches us an invaluable lesson in how films are constructed.

1. Citizen Kane (1941)
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What it can teach you about: Camera Movement, Camera Angles, Focus, Editing.
While most people enjoy Citizen Kane, many are left scratching their heads as to why it’s often considered to be the greatest film ever made. The reason is because Orson Welles broke all of the rules by placing the camera at never-before-seen angles, and moving it in strange and exciting new ways. He also made great use of a deep focus technique that keeps both foreground and background easily visible.
While the film may not have caused much of a stir in the nineteen-forties, it’s considered by many to be a pioneer of now commonly accepted filmmaking techniques.
Scene to examine: A young Kane is seen throwing snowballs on a picturesque winter’s day. Instead of cutting to another scene, Wells lets the action continue by pulling the camera inside and through a cabin window to reveal the parents discussing the boy’s future. As the camera follows the parents through the scene, Kane is always kept in the background; distant and unconsulted. It’s simple, ergonomic, and (for the time) revolutionary.

2. À bout de souffle (1960)
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Watch it can teach you about: Editing, Causality.
Ignoring conventional rules of editing, Jean-Luc Goddard’s À bout de souffle disorientated and thrilled it’s viewers with a fresh, stylistic look by introducing abrupt ‘jump cuts‘ to every other scene. Actors suddenly changed positions in their scenes and time seemed to fly forward in an instant as a result. American filmmakers took note, and started making their own films look quicker and edgier – helping to usher in an American “new wave” of filmmaking that still defines contemporary cinema.
Scene to examine: While Michel gives Patricia a lift in a newly stolen car, Goddard snips away at the passage of time by heavily editing the scene. Time seems to literally ‘jump’ forward as cars and pedestrians vanish; however the conversation seems to still flow and make sense.

3. Dark Star (1974)
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What it can teach you about: How to work on a limited budget, Set design.
Sounding cheap and looking cheaper (the alien is literally a beach ball), there’s still a lot that can be learned from John Carpenter’s classic science-fiction film. The project started life as a student film, but was ultimately upgraded to become Carpenter’s cinematic debut. Before Clerks, El Mariachi or The Blair Witch Project, Dark Star proved that Innovative camera angles and a witty script are all that’s required to make a good movie.
Scene to examine: The elevator scene in Dark Star is both laugh-out-loud funny and remarkably inventive. It might look like Dan O’Bannon (who’d later go on to write Alien) is inches from falling to his death, it’s actually just him lying on the floor with a piece of wood leaning against his feet (or hands, depending on his stage of peril). Carpenter then ramps up the tension by having the elevator nearly crush Bannon – but it’s just a plastic board shot as a close up mixed with elevator sound effects. Ridiculously simple, but surprisingly effective.

4. Blow Out (1981)
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What it can teach you about: Sound effects.
Blow Out’s lack of financial success has almost erased Brian De Palma’s thriller from the history books. Luckily, film aficionado’s continue to sing it’s praises (both narratively and technically). Blow Out delves into the filmmaking process itself, by following diegetic sound editor Jack Terri (John Travolta) as he stumbles across a murder that he accidentally records while scouting for sound effects. While it might owe a lot to Michaelangeo Antonioni’s Blow-Up, it breaks new ground with its innovation.
Scene to examine: The scene where Travolta records the all important ‘blow out’, has a hypnotic quality. For almost five minutes, De Palma asks his audience to sit back and listen to their surroundings.
Travolta stands in the darkness recording the wind rustle the trees at night-time. As he moves his microphone from a pair of bickering lovers, an odd chirping noise distracts him. The camera cuts back a good hundred meters, leaving Travolta way in the distance and revealing that the loud chirping noise is coming from a tiny frog. The tiny frog jumps into the water, but sound of the water lapping over its body seems giant in comparison. Then a truly puzzling metallic sound excites and focuses Travolta; the noise isn’t explained in the scene and it’s only when re-watching do you notice that De Palma hasn’t only introduced a pivotal character in an unusual way – he’s also introduced a murder weapon.

5. Goodfellas (1990)
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What it can teach you about: How to use soundtracks to compliment the action.
Martin Scorsese not only makes films about music (The Last Waltz, No Direction Home), music helps to make his films. He’s a real rock-and-roll director, who’s able to combine music with cinematography in a way that enriches and empowers his moviemaking. The soundtrack for this gangster classic is immense. With nearly fifty songs that are said to reflect (however remotely) on-screen characters’ emotional states.
Scene to examine: A great example of Scorsese’s rock and roll direction comes as we watch Robert De Nero’s Jimmy “The Gent” stare at Ray Liotta’s embattled Morrie. The camera slowly zooms in on Jimmy while Cream’s psychedelic song Sunshine of Your Love harmoniously, starts playing. It becomes clear that Jimmy’s thoughts have erratically bent towards murder when we hear the lyric “It’s getting near dawn, when lights close their tired eyes…”. It’s a masterful mix of powerful acting, directing and a great song choice.

6. The Godfather Part III (1990)
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What it can teach you about: Lighting, Make-Up.
There’s not many things that the third Godfather film does better than it’s two predecessors however, it manages to successfully age its central character without drawing too much attention to the make up. When done wrong, bad make-up can kill an audiences sense of disbelief in a film (think of Guy Pearce’s unintentionally hilarious portrayal of an old man in Prometheus).
Scene to examine: The scene where Kaye confronts Michael, shows Al Pachino’s mafia Don look worn and and old. Pachino’s hair is dyed white, and subtle make-up has been used to add bags under his eyes and to add emphasis to the lines on his face.
What really makes Michael’s age stand out however, is the use of lighting; it adds shadows that are ever present around his eyes – and adds further definition to his facial lines. After Kaye has chewed Michael out, he retreats to the darkness. The shadows swallow his features, as his thoughts slip further into darkness and despair. The only part of him that remains well let are his hands; symbolizing the control that he’s still able to wield.

7. The Matrix (1999)
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What it can teach you about: Lighting, Colour, Camera Lenses.
It’s often the action sequences and eye-popping special effects that people talk about after seeing The Matrix. Yet, even the most basic of dialogue sequences have nuances that offer hints and inferences that subconsciously help the viewer to stay orientated during the complex narrative.
Scene to examine: While standing on the bridge of the Nebuchadnezzar, Morpheus asks Neo “You wanted to know what the Matrix is?” In the background we can see a blue glow emitting from the computer screens and this light creeps through into each shot even when the screens aren’t visible. All of the characters who surround Neo are shot using a long-lens which lift the characters from the background.
After Neo is plugged into the matrix, the colour scheme changes. Gone is the vibrant blue, and it’s now replaced with a mundane green (similar to the matrix code) that’s visible both in Morpheus’s tie and Neo’s t-shirt. Using a normal camera lens, the characters also look slightly softer in terms of focus, subtly inferring that they have just become slightly less “real” than they’d been a moment before.

8. Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
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What it can teach you about: Lighting, Camera Angles, Editing.
Considered a modern classic, The Fellowship of the Ring used a smorgasbord of filmmaking techniques to create Middle-Earth. In order to get tiny Hobbit’s interacting with normal sized men they used: forced perspective (where an actor stands way in the background to appear smaller than they are), giant sets, short body-doubles, a smattering of CGI, as well asking some actors to walk along using stilts. It is however, in employment of artful lighting and cinematography where The Lord of the Rings really stands out from most fantasy blockbusters.
Scene to examine: When Bilbo agonizes over leaving his magical ring for Frodo, the camera’s position actually makes the ring a character in the scene. Using both shot-reverse-shot positioning (where the camera is placed from either a character’s point of view or just behind the character), the ring’s power over Bilbo becomes all the more obvious.
The light on Bilbo’s face, half illuminated and half in darkness, illustrates the conflict that he’s facing while he’s thinking about the ring; he’s in two minds, one dark and one light. The scene ends with the ring gazing directly at Gandalf with a point-of-view shot that helps to imply the ring’s sentience.

9. Adaptation (2002)
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What it can teach you about: Screenwriting.
While struggling to adapt the non-fiction book The Orchid Thief into an interesting screenplay, Charlie Kaufman out-bonkersed himself by writing himself into the screenplay. So, instead of a story about finding and cloning a rare plant – we have a story about Kaufman attempting to adapt a story about finding a cloning a rare plant.
While it’s consistently a head-scratcher, Adaptation lays out all of the conundrums that screenwriters face while at the same time champions (sort of) the Hollywood conventions of conflict and crisis that seem compulsory for writing a watchable story.
Scene to examine: When Charlie desperately tries to think of a character arc for a flower, we get a highly exaggerated version of what most screenwriters must go through at least once in their life. He desperately considers starting his film with Darwin explaining the journey of evolution before having a momentary epiphany: “start right before life begins on the planet”.
The hopelessness of the scene should be an explanation of why some screenplays will never work, yet the fact that the film was made (and that you’re watching it) means that the meta-narrative works as a testament to how original thinking can still prevail to make remarkable (and watchable) stories.

10. The Master (2012)
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What it can teach you: Why filming on film is still so worthwhile.
There’s an intense debate currently raging in the movie community over how filmmakers should technology to create the most immersive experience possible for cinemagoers. The answer from Hollywood is almost emphatic: “use 3D”. Recently, Peter Jackson has tried to push the medium even further with The Hobbit films by recording in 48 frames-per-second. The use of higher frame rates is a trend that’s set to increase with James Cameron’s Avatar sequels having been widely tipped to use this technique.
With this technology -turmoil in mind, it’s doubly refreshing that Paul Thomas Anderson chose to shoot on 65mm film. Outside of IMAX, the use of 65mm has been dormant in western cinema since Kenneth Brannagh’s Hamlet in 1996. The result? A hypnotic, jaw-dropping aesthetic that delivered a picture clarity of a cinematic quality that hasn’t been seen on screen since the sixties.
Scene to examine: It’s hard to choose because it all looks great. When Joaquin Phoenix’s troubled Freddie is asked to “Pick a point” in the vast American desert, he speeds off on a motorcycle into the vast (but beautiful) wasteland. The scene juxtaposes the noise of the bike with the silence of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s masterful stare.
The result? You’re immersed in both the watched, and the watcher; thought and void. As loud as the bike may be, when we look at him from his master’s point of view he’s just a pinprick on the enormous cinematic horizon à la Lawrence of Arabia.
Author Bio: David Biggins is a film graduate and marketeer from England. He’s been published on the BBC website, and used to present a film radio show in Norfolk. Before joining Taste of Cinema he was a film critic for Reel Whispers

Read more at http://www.tasteofcinema.com