If you’re a filmmaker who’s wants to make great films, you’ll want to explore what motivates human beings. Do you know the inner life of your characters, what makes them tick?
Why am I asking?
I’m asking because unless you’re serious about exploring human beings you’ll never make great films. You might make pretty pictures or videos that look like movies, but they’ll be lacking heart.
I don’t mean to be confrontational, but if you want to make films that people want to see, or films that make people feel something, you have to get serious about your future and this means asking and exploring hard-to-answer questions.
Do you think like a film director?
If you want to make great films you must tell stories that explore universal truths.
Theses films make us think and feel!
How are you feeling right now? Are you annoyed, semi excited, indifferent, scared, overwhelmed, curious?
Take note. You may use it in a future movie.
Great films connect us to universal numerous truths. Discovering these truths become the journey. A journey we all walk.
Before I go on let me make an important point.
It’s almost impossible to make films that connect universally to everyone. This is why films have evolved into “genre films.” It’s easier to find universal connections (plural) with a small group of like minded people then it is to find as many connections with a diverse group of people.
Genre films connect to truths and conventions within that genre. If you defy or fail to explore these, your film will likely miss it’s entertainment mark, while still technically being a good film.
As an independent filmmaker this information is gold!
* Don’t worry about memorizing any of this right now. Just stay open and absorb what you can. The rest will come in time. Trust me it will 🙂
The famous author and mythological researcher Joseph Campbell discovered many common patterns running through the myths and stories of heroes from around the world.
What Campbell saw and wrote about in his book “The Power of Myth” was that these universal truths shared in stories helped cultures prepare for the hunt, for rite of passage and many other life /spiritual matters.
These fireside stories later became books and today movies.
Make no mistake, if your audience connects to your film it’s because they concisely or unconsciously have become engaged with a truth within themselves and now have a stake in the journey. They have skin in the game.
Star Wars Explores Universal Truths
Filmmaker George Lucas, the creator of the Star Wars franchise understood this. He believes that Star Wars is such a popular saga because it taps into these universal truths and it embraces a timeless story-structure that has existed for thousands of years.
This is not rocket science, but there is an academic element to becoming a truly good filmmaker.
I’m not saying that filmmakers need to be philosophers. However, I do believe filmmakers need to at least understand and identify the timeless story-structures and universal truths that exist. Lucas did. Spielberg, Nolan, Scorsese, Tarantino, Kurosawa, Hitchcock all understand this.
They’re not great because they were born brilliant. They are great because they approached filmmaking with so much passion they were willing to study what makes a film great. The rest is history.
There is structure and method behind art. If you want to succeed you must respect this. You must be willing to learn and practice like any artist must.
I’ll bet you’ve never thought of being a comedian as being an academic? I’ve worked with a number of them including Jimmy Fallon and I assure you they are, at least the good ones are.
Comedians and filmmakers alike need to have an intimate understanding of their audience and the truths that bind them.
The comedian uncovers a universal truth and turns it into a joke. He or she engages the audience with this truth and sprinkles the humor based on his or her own unique perspective of that truth.
The more “universal” the truth in their joke the more people will relate.
If the audience doesn’t connect with the “truth”, the joke won’t get a laugh.
They didn’t get it. Too bad, it’s a tough crowd. So is our crowd. The difference is we filmmakers don’t get immediate feedback. Too bad for us.
It is only through “connection” and this intimate understanding can the comedian form a unique perspective and fully engage the audience.
The truth in a joke is revealed in the moment of realization, the punch line.
The truth, as a film audience comes to understand it, comes from a unfolding combination of:
- What a character says
- What a character doesn’t say
- What a character does
- What a character doesn’t do
- What the camera includes within the frame
- What the camera leaves out of the frame
- The implied meaning of the shots as they are edited together
- What the audience learns prior to the scene
- What the audience has experienced in their own lives
- The audience’s willingness to “suspend disbelief”
The result is a “real-time” feeling that connects the audience to the experience and thus the story.
Because a film is a moving picture the universal truth is build up and ultimately revealed in the film’s climax. The audience is on an emotional journey, leaning forward and living vicariously through one or more of the film’s characters.
This means yto make a great film the filmmaker must become the first audience. They must see the unfolding of the story with fresh eyes and constantly ask:
- Why is this scene in the movie?
- How does it build to the universal truth and propel the story forward?
- Is there a more entertaining way to share this important exposition?
Just in case you’re not familiar with the term “exposition” within the context I’m using it, allow me to explain.
A filmmaker will use a scene, a conversation, a voiceover, or even a action to provide set-up information. The director believes the set-up information is “absolutely” necessary for the audience to understand and more fully appreciate what’s about to happen.
It sets things up.
The director is making predictions on what he or she thinks the audience will find important. This prediction is based on a universal truth.
The audience must “universally think” it’s important or they won’t engage. If they don’t engage, your movie will fail for the same reason the comedian’s jokes failed.
It lacked a connection.
This isn’t about philosophy; it’s about understanding the inner-workings of story dynamics well enough to decide what to record and what to leave out.
The “skilled storyteller” does this consciously and knows how to repeat the steps.
The “lucky storyteller” does it unconsciously and doesn’t know how to repeat these steps.
Being able to repeat the steps is why we study and why we have long term “real” success.
*Take a timeout and make sure you see the difference. If any of it doesn’t make sense, send me an email, and I’ll break it down further for you.
It’s an important point. Don’t be shy.
If this is your first time being exposed to these dynamics, don’t try to make sense of it all at once. It’s like an onion and the more layers you peal away, the more raw and intimate your understanding will become.
If you don’t have any answers, just keep asking questions. Clarity will follow.
I hope this email sparked a new insight and stirred things up for you. If it did, I’m glad. Please let me know what you thought and feel free to ask a question.