Oh, if you don’t know yourself, how can you ever know me….
- The Nocturnal Third Production Journal
Ah, editing. The world is at my fingertips, and the world is cutting rather nicely. All that sweat, stress, and concentration already feels like a distant memory. Every shot’s got a little story that runs through my head when I rediscover it. No real news here, other than that I’m about halfway done with the first very rough cut. The story seems to clip along pretty nicely, and all our intentions seem to showing up well. I had an early scare, when I looked at everything laid out before me, without a solid place to start. I was afraid that the whole thing wasn’t going to work, or that it was all a collection of bad decisions made in a stupor, but after a chat with Lee (who could relate) and laying out a game plan, everything started to come together. Just think, only another few shoot days, some sound editing, scoring, animation, more editing, and about a year, and we’ll have another film under our belt!
Dang, there’s that feeling again.
- This Week’s Hypothetical Speculation
So I think I’ve found out what kind of movie-watcher I am. I know, I know- I’m 26, I’m a filmmaker, I’m a Film Nerd, I should know this by now. I’ve always known about these distinctions in storytelling, but it’s never occurred to me that I had a preference.
To start, let’s assume that there are 3 different types of cinematic stories:
1. Plot-Based. Good examples would be Jaws, No Country for Old Men, or Die Hard. The important thing here is “what happens next”, a logical progression of events, usually with a physical or external impact.
2. Character-Based. Examples might include Raging Bull, The 400 Blows, or There Will Be Blood. Here, the stakes, rather than “what happens next”, ask “how will they react”. A character study explores the behavior of an individual or group of individuals, with most of the major events happening internally (with definite external consequences – we’re still watching movies here).
3. Mood or Environment-Based. My examples would be Mulholland Drive, Edward Scissorhands, or Nosferatu der Vampyr. Here, much of the film’s tension lies entirely in atmosphere and environment, often invading plot and character.
You could also argue that a fourth type of cinematic story has evolved, based in Emotion. Without showing my hand too much, this could be a film that seeks to do not much more than engage an emotion, whether it be horror (Hostel), adrenal glee (300, Transformers) or just plain weepiness (pick the generalized Lifetime movie).
Now, certainly there will be crossover. Every great movie will have a forward-moving plot with strong characters, consistent and defined mood, and emotional involvement. One of the reasons Citizen Kane is so great is because it makes a character study into a plot-driven mystery story.
Maybe this discussion should be limited to screenplays, because I am presuming here that crafts such as performance, cinematography, editing, music, and design are all being performed competently. Regardless, it seems that these three or four categorizations are what I most often react to when I realize a movie is or is not working for me. So, my revelation.
I’ve discovered myself to be a plot junkie. If a movie pushes from A to B to C effectively, I tend to overlook a lack of characterization or environment or even emotion. This explains why The Departed is my favorite Scorsese movie, or why The Life Aquatic is my favorite Wes Anderson movie, and why I naturally gravitate towards science fiction or thriller or comedy films rather than dramas or horror movies, or even documentaries, which are almost by necessity character studies. I just have a hard time watching behavior without somewhat immediate consequences.
In my defense, I’m also of the mind that cinema is tailor-made for plot. Novels, in which you can explore every fiber of a character’s consciousness in minute detail, are perfect for character studies. They also allow a reader to follow a character through vast expanses of time, something that film stories always struggle with. Music or painting or comics are an excellent form of exploring mood, not just because of the lack of budgetary restraint, but because their abstract nature allows the audience to fill in gaps with their own imagination, to ride the wave of mood to whatever their own personal emotional destination. Speaking of emotion, I’ve said before that I think music is the most inherently emotional art form, without the boundaries set by accompanied images.
In addition, as film is a visual art, it’s imperative that we’re shown behavior and reaction, and in those things, lies character. If a plot is working, chances are, characterization has been effectively established, as has a believable environment. You know a character well if you’ve seen them behave. We’re getting into very subjective waters now, but I’m also convinced that it takes more skill as a writer or director to convey subtle character information into heavy plot. It feels, to me, like a bit of a cheat to allow oneself, as a storyteller, large margins of time for character to develop. Without action, reaction, behavior, character is nothing.
So what do you think? Am I wrong? Am I stating the obvious? Or, am I just defending a life spent being indoctrinated by American studio filmmaking?