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Apr 29

or so says Mark Gill, CEO of The Film Department (and former President of Miramax Films). this insightful article really hits some key points right on the nose.

read Mark Gill: “Yes, The Sky Really Is Falling” on indieWIRE.

then, if you care what i think, keep reading.

i have a lot of thoughts about all this, but the only one i’ll share for now is this.  a technical revolution began in the filmmaking world round about the 60s.  that, combined with the undoing of the Production Code, led to an entirely new style of films.  still, many of the craft advancements have been more based on technical achievements than artistic evolution, in my opinion. the style of many of the films of the 70s especially was made possible by faster film stocks; smaller, more powerful lighting units; more portable audio recording equipment; the zoom lens; smaller, quieter camera systems; etc. digital sound and non-linear editing have freed up post-production to do more things. lately we’ve seen digital animation, 3D, all kinds of new storytelling tools being developed. on top of all of this, prices for filmmaking technology have fallen so drastically in the digital age, that almost anyone can get professional-grade tools in their hands to make a cinema-quality motion picture, at least from a technical standpoint.

despite all of the technical advancements, i feel the craft of filmmaking has not truly advanced in a large way artistically, except due to these achievements.  in contrast, the ingenuity of the Russians, Germans, and French led us to define almost all of our editing cinema language that we know today, and much of their artistic advancement sprang up despite (or perhaps because) lack of access to even basic filmmaking equipment in resources. i kinda feel this experimentation with montage, master/scene technique, etc., was the last great artistic development in cinema language.

here lately, i think we’ve started to see some new advancement in that cinema language, due in large part to short films. today’s audiences are savvy to the short film, and most commercials are 30-second stories rather than just advertisements.  i believe commercials and short films have helped to advance our evolution of cinema language in a purely artistic craft sense (though certainly not in a vacuum, i.e. not without significant influence from the technical achievements ). their ubiquitous presence in our much smaller, media-saturated world has made the audience savvy to their short-hand vernacular, adding new techniques and ideas to our cinema language vocabulary.

i think Gill’s presentation points to the end of the current technical revolution being the primary driving force behind creative evolution.  not to say that filmmaking technology has reached it’s peak; we’re still in the horse-and-buggy stage, i think, about to transition into the Model T phase. but i feel it has been the driving force for several decades now, and our culture has become used to it.  thus the poor box office performance (at least compared to projections/budget, more) of a film like the recent King Kong remake… in 1920, no one had ever seen a “real” giant gorrilla, and audiences were wowed.  nowadays, everyone knows that Peter Jackson just pushes a button, and out leaps a big, hairy ape. certainly, there’s more to it than that, but i think that’s the general feeling of moviegoers regarding CGI visual effects these days.

people have always wanted story, from the beginning of time. but for the past few decades, the tools of storytelling have kind of been the driving force a lot of times. Gill’s presentation points to the inevitable fact it’s no longer enough to use the tools, even well.  people now expect you to be able to do anything, and aren’t easily amazed any more. but a really great story… they’ll think about it for weeks and talk about it for months.

no one loves Casablanca for its visual effects. the spectacle of Gone With the Wind is as much wrapped up in the historical even it portrays as it is any effects or matte paintings. even Citizen Kane, with all its technical achievements, is best remembered for the bold choices of its director.  owning a RED doesn’t make you a filmmaker, any more than sitting in a henhouse makes you a chicken. today’s independent filmmaker has to learn more and become more experienced faster. process and technology MUST be second nature so that the artist is free to create. we are no longer standing on the shoulders of the past decades technical achievements.  there are so many that a firm foundation has been securely formed, and we are now standing on our own ground, technically.

the shoulders we must stand on now are those of Welles, Curtiz, Vertov, Kuleshov, and Eisenstein. i fear so many RED owners are unfamiliar with those names, much less their work. thank you, Renata Jackson and the late Ray Regis.  without you, i would not be familiar with them.

in fact, i’m still not as familiar with them as i should be… off to revamp my Netflix queue…

for more great learning about the great filmmakers, check out Film Art and Film History by David Bordwell & Kristen Thompson.

i would also love to hear the opinions and analyses of people smarter and more educated than i, of which there are many.


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