Friday, October 07, 2005


There's so much to share. Where do I start? We had our first Directing Performance class yesterday, and I have to say, it blew my mind. The instructor, Rob Spera, the most respected Directing Teacher at AFI, is eye-opening. I'll try to sum up some of the things that really stood out.

The two most basic rules he preaches are:

1) The camera photographs Subtext.
2) 2+2=5

If we can master these two rules in our films, then we're well ahead of the game.

I talked briefly about subtext yesterday, but I'll restate the point. The script provides the Text, the spoken word. Everything else should work to create the subtext of the moment. By everything else, I mean the following:

Camera motion, lighting, the lens, the depth of field, the angle, the framing and composition, the actor's performance through the eyes, the body language, the music, the editing, the make-up, special effects, Production design, the costume, the color, the sound design, the staging, the blocking of the camera relative to the actors, the film stock, the type of location, the use of space (flat vs. deep), the use of shapes, ... and the list goes on. There are hundreds of possibilities that a director has to make choices on. So if all these elements restate the text, then you're just ruining your movie. The art of filmmaking is in the use of all these elements to create something unique.

Anyone can shoot a scene with the traditional coverage approach (Master wide shot, Over the shoulder shots, Close ups, and medium shots). One does not need to to go film school to learn that. What this film school teaches with regard to coverage is to think of the beats necessary to deliver the emotional truth of the moments and execute them through thought-out choices true to the scene and not cliched.

So what does he mean by 2+2=5?
Well, if you asked a banker, the banker will tell you that 2+2=4. That's the boring answer. As filmmakers, the possibilities are infinite. We have to go out and creatively seek them. 2+2 can mean anything we want it to mean, because in film we are not recreating reality. We are creating a fictional universe where we create the rules and bring our audience into our universe.

People in movies don't talk like people in real life. Stories have to keep moving, exposition has to be created, and we only have two hours to tell the whole story. But back to the 2+2=5 concept, all the elements I listed above are tools that can be played with to create effectivelness... things like irony. As an example, a killer being pleasant is a lot more interesting than a killer looking like a stereotypical angry bad guy. How much more interesting is it that Hannibal Lecter listens to beautiful Bach melodies. I'll tell you another terriffic example from a wonderful movie I just watched this week. At the end of Road to Perdition, Tom Hanks shoots all the mobsters. They took out all the sound from the scene, the slowed it down, and the effect was just beautiful. It was poetry instead of action. And instead focusing on the guns, the camera focused on the eyes of Tom Hanks. Conrad Hall's Cinematography and Sam Mendes' direction worked brilliantly.

I'll give you another bone-chilling moment from a film I absolutely loved. In 21 Grams, there's a moment around the middle or latter half of the film where the camera holds on a gardner with a leaf blower in a wide shot from across the street. The wide shot holding for as long as it did, with no music, just the sound of the leaf blower and the quiet suburban street, made me feel like something unusual is about to happen. And as soon as my brain registered that the accident will now take place, shortly after the father and daughters walk off screen, I got a sudden chill. And as soon as the chill hit me, the truck flew past the screen. The accident happened in the distance off screen. I cannot tell you how powerful that moment was. Watch 21 Grams and you'll see what I mean.

So, it's this wonderful thing to play with these tools to create moments that pull the audience in through participation. Great films engage their audience. Okay, now I have to go to our production meeting. More later. I can talk about this stuff forever.


Blogger Lina said...

Oh I just Love 21 Grams...Inarritu is really amazing!! Amores Perros was mind-blowing as well

I'm really enjoying these posts of yours :) do keep them coming...

2:52 PM  
Blogger Amin Matalqa said...

Great! All you needed to say is more and I'll write more. Glad you like it. Inarritu is great.

10:28 PM  
Anonymous Scotimus said...


5:08 PM  

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