Better Filmmaking Through Bad Movies
Get to the point, you’re boring me.
How’s that for a meta beginning?
In all seriousness, pacing is the downfall of the vast majority of independent films. We’ve all seen it (assuming you’ve seen an independent movie), that aching long pan, or that reaction shot that just sits there, or just that lingering walking shot that seems to last forever; it makes me dread watching most independent features.
It’s a tough thing to learn, pacing. Me, I figured it out with a combination of good movies, shitty movies, and making internet shorts. The process is relatively simple: First watch a well-regarded, well-done feature length film. Actively watch it, see how effortless the transitions are, the characters are fleshed out, and the satisfied feeling that creeps over your soul. You might not know exactly why all this is happening, but don’t worry, this is just to set a base level.
Next, watch a shitty movie, preferably a direct-to-video cash grab, the more salacious the better. Pop it in and watch it as actively as you watched the good one. Take note of how clunky everything is, the scenes that go on forever, the flat characterization, and try to fight off that feeling of to turn it off.
For me, I find that I can learn more from a bad movie than I can a great one. It’s only through comparison that I can really see how great those masters of filmmaking are. You start to see how the masters can do that so effortlessly what those amateurs butcher. And you, my friend, do not want to be one of those amateurs.
As a practical example, check out this scene from ‘From Dusk Til Dawn’. By no stretch is it a great movie, but the first half (the half directed by Quentn Tarantino) has this amazing scene in which the camera slowly pushes in on Tarantino and George Clooney as they stare at a murder scene.
Chilling, right? Gripping and totally effective while utilizing a slow push in with a couple of actors doing their thing. Seems super easy, right? Wrong. Now let me show you a similar scene from DIEner (Get it?) – and yes, that is the title – a 2009 independent horror comedy, in which the camera pushes in on a waitress for five minutes. (Sorry for the link and not the embed. Hulu is dumb.)
Still awake? Does it all make sense now? Good.
The final step is pretty self explanatory: Get off your duff and shoot! You can book learn all you want, but if you don’t go out and experience filmmaking you’re still going to make the same mistakes when it counts. It’s something that happens to all of us, even me! Shocking, I know. Any time I go back to watch my old stuff all I see, aside from missed opportunities for jokes and development, is a pacing that’s far too slow for what it should be. Waiting – which I posted a few weeks ago – is fun, but about three minutes too long. Meanwhile Background(ed), while infinitely better in every way, has one of the slowest starts to a movie ever and I think the piece as a whole suffers for it.
That said, I’m so thankful for the experience provided by those shorts. It’s with that experience, and those hours upon hours of ‘research’, that I know I can make Love in the Time of Monster the best it can be.
And if nothing else, I know that people won’t be bored during it.