Filmmaking: A body of Work

Who’s the most important person in the making of a film? This is a question which a co-worker and friend asked me about a year ago. It’s a hard question to answer, and if asked a years ago, I would’ve said the director (as I clearly remember arguing my point debating with my friend for about two hours). However, after having multiple debates with friends and myself, I’ve come to realize that the reason the answer is so elusive is because film is such a collaborative art. If any part of the major pieces which hold it together fall apart, you’ve got yourself a bad film.

Films have a complex, self dependent system. If one person is not doing their job correctly, it throws off a balance in which the film must live in. In this aspect, film is a lot like a human body. Now I might be going too deep into thought with this, but I’ve been thinking of a way in which film can represent the human body.

If we think of film as a living body, which parts are essential for it to live? Of these essential parts, who represents what? And most importantly, what happens if that part of the system is broken/ not functioning well?

Dear Readers, I give you a body of work.

Producers: Skeleton/Muscles

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12 Years a Slave, (cast and producers) celebrating their Oscar Win for best picture.

Any film you have ever watched has a budget. The first thing you need for a body to be useful is a skeleton. Otherwise all you have is muscle and organs sitting there. Producers provide the money that the film makers use to make their vision a reality, just like a body uses the skeleton to support all it’s muscle and organs. Without producers, you’ve got no support for your film, no equipment to rent out, no payment to give your crew, and no money to pay yourself. You’ve got to have a producer to give you support. Otherwise nothing is useful. Simply put, without a producers support, no movies are made.

What happens when it functions?

Have you ever watched the Oscars and looked at the best picture winner? You usually see a couple of the lead actors, maybe the director, and then a bunch of strangers you’ve never seen before. Those are the producers. Because they gave the building blocks of what would essentially make the film possible. When doing their job right, they do what a skeleton and muscles do. They stretch and flex according to the need of the film, and support the entire weight of it all. Good producers often give good advice, stay away from the vision of the director/writers original vision. Good producers are most useful because they have a hand in the function of everything, but they don’t ruin anything by trying to take too much control of anything. When it works, you’ve got a stand out piece of work.

What happens when the body part doesn’t function?

What happens when you move your body in a way that you shouldn’t? what happens when your muscles stretch too much or you try to jump from too high a distance? Muscles strain and bones break. So what happens when a producer doesn’t have control of a film? When they don’t notice the lack of ability, or potential in a certain director or writer? Money gets wasted on useless things. Production falls apart, which means the body falls apart. It takes on more weight then it can handle.

When a producer tries to take over a film, they often lack the vision the director has, and you end up with a film which is completely different then intended. When a producer doesn’t intrude if the directors vision is not well placed, the film also lacks potential. In this case the bone and muscle strain beyond what it’s required, and you end up with a Fantastic 4 film.

Production Crew: The Digestive System

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You are what you eat, and films eat up lots of money. Depending on how that money, and how creatively it is used, you either end up with a horrible set and costumes,  or a beautiful healthy one like the one above (Crimson Peak). Make-up work, Camera movement, set up, production sets, costume design… These are all small parts that add up to something that can make or break a film. Depending on the film, you might be depending on one organ more then another, but you’re depending on them all nonetheless. If all of them work together well, everything falls under control… If not, you’ve got a problem.

What happens when it functions?

When you eat sufficiently and use your energy wisely, you feel healthy. You feel active, less tired, and you can move on with your day at ease. Your body is at it’s peak, working perfectly. When all the parts of production design fall well, scenes are filmed easily, and budget is used wisely so that by the end of the film, you might even have some left over. The crew works well and the set is ready when coming in to shoot, and the actors and their make-up work is on point. That’s what a well rested, well fed body does. It eats and uses it’s energy creatively throwing away what it doesn’t need. That’s also what a well paid film crew should do.

What happens when it doesn’t function?

Simply said, if a body doesn’t have enough food, there is no energy to be used. The body slows down, and feels tired. It doesn’t want to work. When a production crew doesn’t have enough to work with, it simply can’t get much done. When they’re not being treated well (being fed junk food at a regular basis without a quality meal) they will just not function like you want them to. To give good results a production crew needs ideas to feed on, enough money to create those ideas, and enthusiasm to do what they do. Without these or too much of these, you end up with a film that just doesn’t look good. Something that relies too much on bad CG, and overly fake/flashy costume design, like Gods of Egypt. You fed your movie too much greasy pizza, and now you’ve you horrible skin… and speaking of horrible skin.

Cinematographer: Skin

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Road to Perdition Cinematography: Conrad Hall

Let’s be honest.. Some people only care about looks. A body can be fat or skinny and still look beautiful to anybody. But everyone can see and feel your skin. Skin can be rough, dry, moist, sweaty, soft, beautiful, ugly, bumpy, ect ect. Cinematography is the skin of film. When a film is shot beautifully, sometimes even mistakes in plot are overlooked due to how beautiful the scene is. Sometimes you can enjoy the roughness of the skin, just like sometimes you can enjoy a film which uses noise or natural lighting to show a theme or attempt to immerse the audience in a realistic story. The skin is the first thing you always look at, because it’s what’s most at the surface.

When Happens when it functions?

It’s not a matter of whether it looks beautiful or not, so much as does the skin the film have make sense… For example, if you see a miner come out of a mine, covered in coal, holding a pick which he looks like he’s been holding for hours. He let’s go of the pick, and you shake his hand. His hands are the softest hands you’ve ever felt… softer then a babies hands… Does that make any sense what so ever? No it doesn’t. He’s a miner, and his hands should be rough and dry to the touch. When a film looks right, and the cinematographer is good, they often think of shots, lenses, textures, and what the theme of the film is. The skin of the film, or the look, fit the film perfectly. And again, it doesn’t mean it has to look beautiful, although sometimes a movie can have such beautiful cinematography you forgive some of it’s faults. An example of perfect cinematography/skin, is 007:Skyfall. Another example of perfect skin is Pi, directed by Daren Aronofski.

What Happens when it doesn’t function?

That example I gave earlier about the miner? that’s exactly what happens when it doesn’t work. Something feels off or weird, and the film feels unrealistic or unique, like skin with too much make-up or something artificial on it. When a film is a grainy love story, in which the camera shakes like you’re watching a Jason Bourne film, it just doesn’t look right. Think of the last Godfather film, which felt different then the other ones… It felt less dramatic and less heavy. Sure, a lot of this had to do with the writing, but look closely. A lot of it also had to do with the cinematography not being as heavy.

Music and Sound Mixing/Editing: Ears and Tongue

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Hanz Zimmer: Composer in Gladiator, Inception,  Pirates of the Caribbean, and more.

The ears and tongue are not essential to live, but are essential for regular communication. To listen to words and sounds and react back with your own is important. And I’m not talking about communication here as in words… I mean listening to someone yelling or moaning can be as much communication as anything else. Music and sound mixing in film do these functions. Dialogue, musical cues, and sounds don’t make the film any better visually speaking… But they emphasize and amplify everything.

When happens when it functions?

When sound mixing, music and editing functions, it knows when to take over. A gun shot, a stab sound, a car crash, a peculiar noise; if nothing was there, it would take away from immersion. Sound and music makes you more aware of what’s happening, and when it leaves, it’s creates an atmosphere. Your ears hear the emphasis of certain words… Your tongue expresses feeling depending on what it’s trying to say and how it’s trying to say it. Good ears and  tongue listen to what they need to listen, and express what they need to express perfectly, and when not to express anything. When done right, sound emphasizes the Heart or the editing of the film. A good example of ears and a tongue in a film is Prisoners and Sicario, directed by Dennis Villanueve. Another is Tarantinos The Hateful Eight.

What happens when it doesn’t function?

Imagine sitting down at a dinner table. You have a spoon next to you and you look away. You look back and the spoon isn’t there any more. You didn’t hear it fall. The room is quiet, and you’re not hearing impaired. So what happened? Bad sound editing happened. When something is too loud or too low or sets the wrong tone, it doesn’t have the effect it should have. Think of a film in which you watched the mouth of the actor/actress talking, and the sound is off sync. It just doesn’t feel right. Horrible sound mixing and editing doesn’t make horrible movies so much as create horrible moments. A good example of this is Public Enemies.  When music is bad, it just doesn’t emphasize moments/scenes or sound good. Think of the music for Rocky IV. Remember it? …exactly.

Writer: Blood/ DNA

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The script of a film is one of the aspects which is essential to it’s making. You work every single image out of the what you take out of the script. While film is a visual medium, it’s hard to argue that it all doesn’t start with a good script. So in a way, the script is like blood cells, carrying the identity of the film within it. The films ideas and themes come from the script and although the dialogue and visuals completely change, the building blocks are always in the script.

What happens when it functions?

When your blood does it’s job, the rest of your body runs normally. A good script makes itself into a film, specially if not a lot of it changes in the process. There are films with a bad director which can be saved just due to the dialogue written by the writer. Think of, for example, Brett Ratner directing Hercules or Red Dragon. Both movies where not directed greatly, but the script was good enough to hold the film up. Sometimes a nice script can make even a less then perfect director look good, since the script makes the film flow well regardless of what the director does.

What happens when it doesn’t function?

The writing, just like blood, is like cinematography or directing. If it doesn’t work properly and is improved upon by another system, the body just dies out. There are films which despite great directors, cannot be saved. If the director or producer doesn’t take matter into their own hands to catch what’s wrong in the script, one plot hole or crappy dialogue can kill the film. Think about the Expendables or any insane action film with no good writing. It just doesn’t hold up unless a good director or writer saves it. The writing can also be taken in by the wrong director… The wrong interpretation by a director, or extreme changes made by a producer is like getting a bad blood transfusion, where you’re getting the wrong blood type and you die out in pain. Your body not knowing what to do with itself. An example of a good script turned into a horrible film is Guillermo Del Toros Mimic, which was supposed to be a great film, but was changed by over controlling producers into a not-so-great film.

Editor: The Heart

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Edit pattern in Flight, directed by Robert Zemeckis

When a heart beats, it’s speed and flow always depends on what you’re doing. You’re running or working out? your heart speeds up at a steady pace. You’re scared, your heart beats faster and almost bumps out of your chest… You’re relaxed? your heart slows down. Your body reacts, with tension, tiredness, relaxation, ect. Editing is much like heart. It creates the scenes and what you can see and cannot see. When it speeds up or slows down it creates emotion in the viewer.

What happens when it functions?

It’s as simple as this: if your heart is beating, everything is good. Your blood (The story) is pumping though the whole body and all is well. When the editing of a film is perfect, even the music for the film is easier to write. Close-up emphasize moments, create tension and the right emotion in all the right places. It works best when it’s original or is used according to what the scene needs rather then what is expected of the scene. Think, for example of Quentin Tarantino films. The entire basement scene in Inglorious Basterds is a great example of the power of editing.

What happens when it doesn’t function?

Heart failure! death! When the heart beats too fast for it’s own good, for too long, death tends to happen.. when a heart tends to beat too slow, that’s also a bad thing. The film must keep a pulse, changing throughout according to activity. Sometimes films are not great because the editing is predictable and cliche (this happens a lot in horror films, which have predictable editing styles at this point). However, when editing falls apart, usually the whole film suffers. When it’s too fast, you don’t get to appreciate anything. When it’s too slow, it’s boring and drags. Ever feel like a 1.5 hour film is 2.5 hours? it’s mostly  because of the editing. An example of a heart-attack fast heartbeat is Gangster Squad. An example of a slow, coma-like heart beat is Melancholia.

Director: The Brain and Nervous System

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Ever wonder why directors get so much damn recognition and credit when it comes to film? It’s because they have to deal with every single department mentioned above. It’s hard to be a director, having every single department to look over, trying to keep film under budget, choosing which takes look good, what kind of music should go on the film, what type of cuts the editor should do, what lights and looks the cinematographer should get and more. While the writer is important to the vision of the film, ultimately what you’re seeing is the vision of the director. Just as when you have a thought, or an involuntary muscle movement, or a sudden urge to eat… that’s your brain sending a message to the rest of your body.

What Happens when it Functions?

When a brain is working at it’s best, it balances your body out perfectly. When you need to eat, it makes you hungry. When you’ve eaten enough, it tells you you’re full. When you’re sitting wrong, it gives you an ache as a warning. When you hear something your brain recognizes. It brings things back to memory and makes you remember sources and past moments. When you listen to your brain, everything works itself out. The film director tells a camera man when to cut, when to keep going, a sound mixer what kind of sound it should be listening to, an editor what beat to use, a cinematographer what skin to put on. Most importantly, a director knows when to leave things alone. It’s hard to be an extremely good director, but it’s hard not to notice one when he or she comes out with a film.

What happens when it doesn’t Function?

The body falls apart and eventually crumbles. Without a director or a brain there simply is no order. Departments/organs run around doing whatever they want. The body stops functioning because it doesn’t know what it should do.  Without proper supervision or a clear vision, the cinematographer and production crew are working on whatever film they think they want. The director sets a vision, and when there is no vision, everyone has their own interpretation of a screenplay on their head, which makes for films like Fantastic 4 again. That’s why when Directors prove to be a bad, they get films which are bad to begin with…What you consider a bad director makes bad films, and that’s all there is to it. Their films are either always a mess which you don’t bother to follow, or they’re so predictable and unoriginal they just fall into the cracks. Examples of a malfunctioning brain in film (in my opinion) are Paul W.S. Anderson (Resident Evil, Death Race, Death Race) and Uwe Boll (Bloodrayne, In The Name of The King, House of The Dead.)

And thats it!!

After all this time, I still think the director has the most influence in how a film turns out, but to say that any other body part of the film can’t completely destroy the movie would just be foolish. It’s also foolish to say that even with a bad director, a writer, or an editor can make a great film all by themselves. After all, every part of the film is just as important as the next, but it’s how collaborative these pieces are that makes the whole so meaningful. If all of them work together perfectly, you get an incredible film.

Thanks for reading!!

Did I miss any other important parts of what makes a film? did I miss any essential body parts!? What films have you watched that you think are a perfect body of work? sound out in the comments section!

 

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11 thoughts on “Filmmaking: A body of Work

  1. Hey man first thing I loved this line “His hands are the softest hands you’ve ever felt… softer then a babies hands…” it just made me laugh but back to business. I have to agree with you that there isn’t a single major person in movies. Everyone has there part to play and trying to break them apart and put more pressure/responsibility on a certain part will only bring failure. I’m sitting here trying to think of something great I’ve seen this year so far but I got nothing. August is coming and hopefully with it we’ll get a great film. Keep on writing doggie.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Lol glad the line made you laugh!! And I’ve seen a couple of films I really enjoyed this year but it was all about personal taste rather then the films being great I think. I definitely recommend Midnight Special if you haven’t watched that.

      Like

  2. Best one yet, Alberto! You should really check out the auteur theory. It helps with defining the most instrumental person of a film or series. One of my favorite examples from my old college film theory class was the lengths that David Selznick went to to finish Gone With The Wind. He fired two directors and a cinematographer to get the film he wanted, as well as a laundry list of other things.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. First off I love this whole piece. I like the comparison of a body if it were a film.

    I’m glad Alexa brought up the Auteur theory, in the sense that the author of the film is the one who deserves the credit(and in most cases that’s the writer/director), but I think you’re definitely right it can be really hard to pin point that person down with all of the various people who work on a production.

    If the film goes well, everyone takes credit. If not… They blame everyone else.

    Directors tend to get the credit because they are so involved in the creative vision, but in a lot of cases a great well written script can make decent directors look really great.

    I think the reality is that a good story can still be told well with a bad director, but a bad script can’t be turned into a good film no matter what you do.

    I think the interesting thing about film/visual story telling these days is you don’t need the whole crew to tell a story. Look at Youtube Channels.

    You obviously need them to create more polished versions, but the bare bones can be done by yourself(like some of my short films).

    It’s an exciting time for film.

    Like

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