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Ed_David

in Filmmaking, it's good to not know what you are doing.

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From http://eddavid.tumblr.com/post/111

I was told I had to redo my W9 income tax form, because the form I filled out was the Nov 2013 form, which was expired.  So I went and filled out the Dec 2014 form and noticed something new - a whole extra page of paperwork - It went from a three page document to a four page document - and that’s our government, the king of bureaucracy, in action.

Bureaucracy was the big theme in this month’s Harpers, currently my favorite magazine of all time, up there with the Atlantic and the Week and the New Yorker as what I read (sorry novels, I haven’t read you guys in a while and maybe that’s another essay to write about next).  

In this issue, they mentioned that bureaucracy also bleeds into the arts, which is my field of work as a cinematographer.  The use of credentials - like a police chief or military commander or certified doctor -  a practice that exists in places like Soviet Russia have fallen into our field.  The highest esteemed titles, like DGA or ASC even go after your name on a movie title (also the only art industry in the world where you put the credits on an advertisement for the product - does Colgate Toothpaste do that?)  Saying “Joe Schmoe, ASC” does that make Joe Schmoe more certified than his name without that title?  Does it make the film any less beautiful?

At what point in the arts are you certified as an artist?  At what point can you say, “yes I know what I am doing.”  Some great artists do their best work before they “become” recognized. A lot of famous artists reminisce about how much easier it is for them to create good art before they are lauded, such as Jackson Pollock.  Once he was called by Life Magazine, “is this the greatest artist of our generation?” his life suffered immensely.

My theory is, you are an artist when you create art.  So anyone is an artist, if they put pen to paper, dirty finger to keyboard.  But in our filmmaking industry my whole life I have felt guilty because I didn’t go to a film schoo, I didn’t get certifiedl - I went to a liberal arts college and was an anthropology major and almost a film studies minor, as well as one point a music major.  I didn’t have the training everyone seemed to be whispering that I needed.

I felt so guilty,  that I didn’t know how to load a film mag, that I didn’t ever sit down and learn lighting or even lenses.  I had no photography background - that was my sister. I didn’t know the difference between a wide angle lens and a telephoto lens, surrounded by many people who did. I didn’t know soft light vs hard light, or the angle of lighting and how it changes on a face in shadows.

I grew up shooting documentaries and prank videos on VHS-C cameras - made one in high school called “perspective” and interviews young people, older young people, and my parents about various historical issues like the Vietnam war, trying to show how our age affects how we interpret history, as well as education level, etc - bigger issues I didn’t address like race and class, because, well, I grew up in the wonderful safe bubble of Fairfield, CT.  I didn’t light it - I didn’t think about the aesthetics of it at all, just what I was trying to say.

But that guilt of me not having the credentials for filmmaking has haunted me for so long.  I would show up on set and be so nervous that I didn’t know anything about lighting - or 35mm film or real lenses - that I would call for the wrong lens - that I was being judged by everyone.  I remember about 7 years ago or so I was on a low budget tv spec spot and an electric asked me my age and I think I said I was older than I was so I could pretend that I knew what I was doing.

But the more I do cinematography, the more I know that whatever unique perspective I have is an advantage.  Not going to film school, coming from an anthropological and philosophical perspective gives me strength, a different way of seeing.  And it is skills that can actually be learned on the job, online on forums, by talking and observing and learning from others.  I  have learned so much about filmmaking from a vimeo series called “Every Painting a Frame” that is just some passionate film editor named Tony Zhou doing it on his own time as from a youtube series spoofing George Lucas, and of course on set mentors like the great DP David Tumblety I shot with a few times.

Everyone who brings a fresh perspective to filmmaking is so needed - we can not just have people do films all the same way.

 I think more and more there is a gluttony of film set behaviors that rewards the same and bureaucratic method of making “films” - traditional, boring, waiting - not just trying to find moments and capture little tiny ideas and bigger thoughts - but this route system of regimented military-like crew that does things traditional ways that people like Paul Thomas Anderson rally against - no marks - no lets go overt here instead - untraditional approaches that open up wonder again.

But also that wonder is not anything without intense concentration and commitment and hard work.  You can’t be lazy and successful.  It’s sweat.  My Puritanical work ethic was at one point rewarded vastly by my former boss and greatest mentor, Joe Baron.  He runs Attitude, Inc - a post house in New York City.  He taught me about perseverance  - about going for perfection - “crossing the finish line” - which would sometimes be at 3am to get a piece to a level of standard he believed in.  To not be mediocre, no matter what anyone else believes - to put one’s full heart into anything.  To not get upset and bogged down by bureaucratic methods - to just be a part of a small group of people and be passionate.  He found my strengths, and didn’t make me feel bad about my flaws, my quirks.  

I didn’t learn this in school, and this mentorship under him, as I assistant edited under him for two years.  And his voice has been guiding me ever since, as I navigate through my adulthood. And whoever I get down because maybe I switch a lens too late or change my mind too suddenly (all artists need to be open to changes that can occur at any moment - spontaneity) - I always think of him there, watching over, making sure I’m okay.  

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Nice journal entry to yourself.  Its a bit to long to expect many people to read it all.  I read about half.  As long as you learn the stuff that you feel you need to eventually, qualifications mean nothing.  Never let anybody put you down (or rather never let yourself put yourself down due to what you assume others to think) merely for not having a particular qualification.

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I've come to the conclusion that the majority of posts online are people talking to themselves.  I sometimes write something in a word document and then don't even bother to post it.  It was enough that I typed it.  There's nothing wrong with sharing it, its just the majority of people are two into themselves to care and reply, unless it relates directly to them. But you seem to have a positive enough philosophy to not need the approval of others.

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I think what I wrote relates deeply to a lot of people - that we seem to feel we need to be "accredited" to be artists, when the reality is that you are an artist if you do art - just as you are a runner if you run.

And I think this is an issue to speaks to many people.  This isn't purely navel-gazing.

Also it's about the psychologogy behind filmmaking.

But one could also argue that all personal essays or biographies are better left to oneself.  And that's fine to feel that way.  It's a topic that has existed since human communication started.

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Ed- I read a lot about filmmaking, lighting, writing, directing, etc., before making our first narrative short, Delta. It ended up being a lot more challenging than we thought it would be. By challenging, the challenges were rarely technical, which is what we discuss the most on this forum. We knew many elements about filmmaking that we should do from the books we read, but during production many times the 'right way' wasn't done due to unknowns during filming. The 'right way' as noted in the literature is indeed helpful, which for the most part falls under doing extensive planning before shooting (fully tested script, practice script- table reading, storyboards, shot planning (camera/lens/lights etc.)).

I've watched others shoot by winging it too- with the same results: it takes a lot longer, cast and crew get impatient and frustrated, etc. Ultimately, good preparation and time management really helps get a shoot done smoothly and also keeps the spirit of the cast & crew up, which likely will result in a better production. Having plenty of food & water on set is super important when things don't go as planned (still very important, especially when low budget and low or no pay). Being the director isn't just about creative vision, it's actually more about being an efficient leader: getting everyone working together smoothly and executing efficiently with time and limited resources (no matter the budget- there are always limitations).

The most creativity happens with the script and planning, followed by editing and finishing. Shooting the scenes and getting great performances from everyone is also important, but not as important as planning and editing. The reason I say this is the story is the most important element, and the story is created before shooting, can be modified during shooting but is very risky due to time constraints and the coordination of so many moving parts, and the story is finalized during editing. It's possible to have weak performances, camera work, lighting, etc, and still tell a good story. Without a good story, the rest won't matter as much. Some genres don't really need a story, such as anything done by Michael Bay, but are still fun to watch- 'amusement park films', etc. Star Wars didn't really have great acting, but it surely created a new genre- because of the story!

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Wonderful..Is this now a self-help Dr. Phil blog for gear heads?

Shall I get into all the money I've spent on cameras/gear the last 25 years? What it means? What did it do for me? Well, if I think too hard about it I will self-loathe into multiple Xanax and Oprah re-runs until the Big Sleep takes me away to that special Island.

Sign me up..lol:P

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Ed- I read a lot about filmmaking, lighting, writing, directing, etc., before making our first narrative short, Delta. It ended up being a lot more challenging than we thought it would be. By challenging, the challenges were rarely technical, which is what we discuss the most on this forum. We knew many elements about filmmaking that we should do from the books we read, but during production many times the 'right way' wasn't done due to unknowns during filming. The 'right way' as noted in the literature is indeed helpful, which for the most part falls under doing extensive planning before shooting (fully tested script, practice script- table reading, storyboards, shot planning (camera/lens/lights etc.)).

I've watched others shoot by winging it too- with the same results: it takes a lot longer, cast and crew get impatient and frustrated, etc. Ultimately, good preparation and time management really helps get a shoot done smoothly and also keeps the spirit of the cast & crew up, which likely will result in a better production. Having plenty of food & water on set is super important when things don't go as planned (still very important, especially when low budget and low or no pay). Being the director isn't just about creative vision, it's actually more about being an efficient leader: getting everyone working together smoothly and executing efficiently with time and limited resources (no matter the budget- there are always limitations).

The most creativity happens with the script and planning, followed by editing and finishing. Shooting the scenes and getting great performances from everyone is also important, but not as important as planning and editing. The reason I say this is the story is the most important element, and the story is created before shooting, can be modified during shooting but is very risky due to time constraints and the coordination of so many moving parts, and the story is finalized during editing. It's possible to have weak performances, camera work, lighting, etc, and still tell a good story. Without a good story, the rest won't matter as much. Some genres don't really need a story, such as anything done by Michael Bay, but are still fun to watch- 'amusement park films', etc. Star Wars didn't really have great acting, but it surely created a new genre- because of the story!

​I agree completely John - I think following textbook examples of how to do things vs developing a style of doing things are different - it's dogmatic "filmmaking" vs "untraditional" and sometimes both ways can lead to a different product.  One can be more "factory-line" and the other more "artistic" - whether one is better is completely subjective.

But each director and crew work differently, and I am saddened by on-set behaviors thinking that there is only one way to make a movie.  There is not.  And many of the best doc filmmakers fell into it.  For instance, Errol Morris, started as a private investigator.

 

Creativity happens at all levels - and the give and take between an actor and director is highly important, as well as the collaboration between crew and director.  And yes a good script can get by with weak performances, and vice versa, but it's only when all the elements come together - story, acting, cinematography, sound, editing - that I feel one is watching a film of brilliance.

 

All art may or may not follow these principles.  But again there is no right way - it's art.  It's in the realm of the subjective.  I think that Lawerence of Arabia is one of the greatest films of all time, as well as the 400 Blows - but on several occasions I have had friends tell me how boring they think both films are.  And that's the point - that no one can say in art what is good art and bad art.  It's all a matter of opinion.

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Most film audiences aren't even aware of what a DOP does, let alone what a ASC title means. To me it's very very simple...you either get into this industry to impress audiences with the magic of cinema, or you're in it for the crowd of critics and peers whose respect you desire...you can sometimes achieve both, but generally these are two different directions. To me, being an artist who touches millions is a far bigger achievement than getting an award at a "prestigious" festival, a feature article in a "prestigious" magazine and a good review from a "prestigious" critic. I know some filmmakers who are in it purely for the red carpet bragging rights. To each his own I guess. ;)

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Hey Ed- good points, and I agree there isn't only one way to create a film. I look at creativity as a combination of randomness and recognition of value. Randomness can come from many sources, however recognition of value comes from our mind, from experience, and in the case of film, being aware of emotional feedback. What makes a film good or popular is a broad appeal, where the viewers can connect with the emotion of the film experience created by the filmmakers. It's certainly possible to create something great with mostly randomness, and not knowing what we are doing. However, in the long run, it's best to understand what works and what doesn't work and why, when to take risks and when to stick with what is known to work, otherwise we risk being a 'one-hit wonder' (or no hits at all). I was somewhat aware of the design patterns that are known to work, but didn't really follow them for our first short film. After getting feedback from many people, now I appreciate and better understand why those design patterns are important!

Some folks complain about the "Save the Cat" formula used for screenwriting. It's based on thousands of years of storytelling, "the hero's journey" and oral tradition. It's possible to make a good film unaware or completely ignoring the formula (and similar methods), however the probability of losing your audience goes up. People really do want "the same thing, only different". The audience expects the standard pattern, allows for some variance, and if all the elements are present which make up a good story, the film is good. Stray too far from the formula, to the point the audience doesn't understand what is going on, steps out of suspension of disbelief, or gets bored, the film won't be received very well. Put another way, think of all the great films- do they follow the pattern? Constraints are good- there's still plenty of room for creativity!

Hey mtheory- I got into this industry to learn how to be a better communicator: creating something from nothing and influencing people in a positive way. There are other directors with the same goal- you can tell by the films they make.

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I completely believe in Joseph Campbell's "Hero with a thousand faces" - the universal journey - storytelling changes little.  I just mean to tell a story you can do it or make a film in any way you want.  Just as you can write a book  in so many different ways.  There are of course truths and honesty that are forever there - but there are so many different ways to approach it all.

 

And yes some people are into being a musician to become a rock star and some people play music because they use it as a release - I use art as therapy and to reach and connect with other people and to help deal with trauma.

 

For instance, American Sniper deals with American trauama from war, and shows PTSD of a soldier and his family unlike any other movie I have seen.  Hence why it grossed 230 million dollars - it has reached out to people about the Iraq war like no other.  

 

This is a great achievement - an art film that reaches so many.  Very very rare.  I am so proud of Clint Eastwood.

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Seeing what happens with politics, religion, and money, it's clear that the best way to influence and do our small part in helping to make the world a better place is to remove money from the equation. We need money to survive, for food, shelter, supporting ourselves and our families. Trying to create art at the same time generates conflicts, driven by our survival instinct. Pure art is feast or famine: until one is really good (and can market well), there isn't much money to be made. Available film work tends to be production oriented, working for someone else's creative vision (the same is true in entertainment software).

So many people trying to make it in LA- many broke or nearly so, talking the good talk about how great things are, to keep up the impression of success, living beyond their means, an illusion, when ultimately they are struggling, depressed, lonely. I imagine the back story of so many people driving very expensive and exclusive cars around Beverly Hills. I look at their expressions- they're not happy. LA traffic has a component there, however when talking to people focused on money and materialism, it's clear they are missing something, and don't even know what they're missing, even after they've "made it". This leads to all forms of addiction, and sadly many times overdose: http://variety.com/2015/tv/news/parks-and-recreation-producer-dead-harris-wittels-1201437460/ . Which leads to art drawing attention to the issue:

http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/cocaine-snorting-oscar-statuette-appears-775594

What people are missing are real connections to other people, fellowship and meaning. This is also helpful for people who have suffered trauma. This is one reason why internet forums are popular: it's a form of fellowship. Of sharing, helping, and learning and relevance (see "Birdman" a brilliant point is made). A recent study on addiction shows that the reason people become and stay addicted is isolation and lack of fellowship. I've gone to AA with a friend who's stopped drinking, and see how powerful that form of fellowship can be. Many times folks need to hit rock bottom, survive (sometimes barely), at which point their ego will finally allow them to accept their condition and chose to change their lives. Clint Eastwood came to mind in my prior post- his films have deeper messages and he never preaches- one of the greatest actor/directors of our time.

Last year I took time off from tech work for 9 months and focused on writing and filmmaking. It was a great experience, I learned a lot about the LA and Atlanta film industries, met a lot of interesting people, and ultimately determined that the film business isn't something to do for a living if one is into it for the art, or for helping people. I read somewhere that the best way to "break into movies" is to already be rich. Just about everyone has multiple jobs, outside the film industry. For 2015 I'm back to tech work for the day job, and will produce our next documentary self-funded. Self funding is really the best way for creative work- we can do whatever we feel is right. Since we're not doing it for money, if it doesn't make money, no worries, and if it does, it helps fund other things, like large-scale local indoor organic farming (another side project based on an idea when searching for LED lighting. there are already companies doing this profitably in Chicago and Japan).

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I feel you, Ed. Not that I have a name in filming or cinematography (or any other renowned art form for that matter), but I believe that what you say for filming is true for most parts of life, society and even economy (which – tbh – I'm not really interested in). That fresh thinkers are needed. People who just don't care about proven methodology and all the shebang too much, but who are just open-minded, interested in the subject and want to create or move something in their own special way. I write lots of IT job ads and every company claims innovation for themselves or asks for people who are innovators – yet, it's all about improving on the same old principles, maximizing efficiency, finding new ways of selling and marketing stuff no one really needs. To me, that's no innovation.

I believe in people who just have a notion about something and follow that notion on their very own terms, treading paths that others hardly consider sane. I believe that you can't change anything without being outrageous, because otherwise no one will sufficiently notice. There will be 1000s of Facebook likes, but no one will actually get influenced by what you say/write/show. I have to admit that I don't believe that things can be changed for the better (with mankind and stuff), but I say thanks to all the people who are different, say different and try different. Because it's oh so comforting to know that there are others similar to you, who can only be happy if they are allowed to be themselves and not cater to any norms.

So, yeah: kudos!

P.S. Considering PTA: love his other stuff, but Inherent Vice I've found kinda pretentious. :P Might have to rewatch, but I doubt my opinion will change drastically. With that stellar cast, what a pity!

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