I have had several discussions this week about the elements of filmmaking and what makes a film work. Of course it is subjective and each person I spoke with had a different point of view – but Gil Bettman in the opening chapter of his book basically nailed it for me.
The first time director must understand and take to heart the fundamental truth that if the audience is transported into the drama of the film, they will sit there happily for the entire two hours with their eyes riveted on the screen, even if the look of the film is decidedly low-tech. The lighting can be hit or miss, the set almost bare, the focus in and out, the camera forever rooted in one place; there might be no effects, no quick cutting, no glitz, no big look, but, if the story and the acting are consistently convincing and compelling, most people will enjoy the film.
I do wonder though if that is still true in the 21st century where technology reigns supreme and even newsrooms are taken over by cool holographs and effects that overtake the substance of what is being presented. And I will admit I want to make a pretty film. I now find myself salivating over the possibility of working on a Red camera or some other luxurious vehicle for telling my story. And being that I don’t identify as a writer I have grown tired of rewriting the script for the one short which I am trying to both write and direct for my MFA thesis. Knowing that, I must take to heart Bettman’s additional words of wisdom:
A few thoughts on the script. The script is never finished. So keep on rewriting and improving it until nearly everyone who reads it says it’s great. You’re a great writer. This may seem obsessive to some, but too many films are made that are not ready for prime time. Nothing done during the pre-production process will have as great an effect on the quality of the finished product as the script. And never begin to shoot a film today without the right cast. Perfecting the script and securing a dream cast will yield the greatest results. And don’t kid yourself as it is all incredibly difficult.
– Jennifer Dean