Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Teaching Filmmaking for Dummies!

It's finally here. After three consecutive semesters of blog posts, this is my final post. First Fiction Field Production 1, then Motion Graphics & Animation, and now Fiction Field Production 2, my journey is finally coming to an end. It's not that I haven't enjoyed writing dozens of posts about the fascinating things we all ought to know about the film industry--I have, mostly--but, nonetheless, every good thing must come to an end. That's why deciding what to write for my last post was such an easy decision. What's the point of it all? Why are we even here? The answer is simple: we want to make the best films we possibly can.

I've spent the last few months informing you all about the responsibilities of each and every one of the most prominent positions on a film crew. That's great and all, but what about those of you who don't quite know what you want to do with your life? What about those of you, like myself, who are still learning the basics of filmmaking? Don't fret! Because this week, I'll be focusing on Teaching Filmmaking for Dummies!

Everyone has had good teachers, professors, and mentors. Everyone has had bad ones as well. When it comes to filmmaking, there are very precise guidelines a teacher must follow to be good. Their methods may differ immensely, but the range of information must always be the same. Thankfully, it's only taken me three semesters to realize this. Here we go...

It's easy enough, isn't it? Nope. Writing a script. Creating a production schedule. Finding a crew. Visualizing the film's look. Finding and securing locations. Casting actors. Putting together the production design. Making a floorplan. Breaking down the script. Creating the storyboards. Making a shooting schedule. And that's it! I'm joking. That's a lot of stuff to get done in a reasonably short amount of time, so you've better do it right the first time. A good teacher (I say teacher because a person who furthers your knowledge doesn't necessarily have to be a professor) will help their students understand the importance of this preparation, and the students will usually ignore the teacher's recommendations and consequently realize its importance after they fail to give it the proper attention. A good teacher will say "oh well, hopefully you'll do better next time." And they'll tell you how to do better next time.

The concept is easy enough to understand. It's the part of the filmmaking process when you actually make the film. It's when all of your preparation pays off and you finally see your baby coming to life. Depending on the level of preparation, this step of the process can either go smoothly (or as smoothly as possible) or terribly. While things such as lighting and shot listing are often not prepared properly in student film productions, a good teacher will give you the knowledge to think on the fly. They will pass on all the information they posses on lighting, blocking, directing, shooting, etc. If they do a good enough job (and if you're paying enough attention), you'll have no problem having a good shoot despite your ill-preparation. A good teacher will make sure you know how to light a scene to give it the proper look. They'll teach you to frame a shot so that everything has meaning and nothing is where it shouldn't be.

We finally get to the part of the process when everything starts coming together. You take the "what the heck are we gonna do with this" and make it into the "I can't believe we made this." A good film teacher will make sure of this. They'll teach you the importance of coloring, sound, and each and every edit. After learning from this person, you'll comprehend the meaning of each of these aspects and how the slight alteration of just one of them can change the entire meaning of a scene. Most importantly, as a wise man once said, "Cut, cut, cut, cut, cut." What he meant by this is that anything that's not of absolute importance to the film should not be there. If it doesn't contribute to the progression of the story, get rid of it. Even when you think something may be important, try taking it out and see if the story changes without it. Chances are, it can often be thrown out. The leaner the film, the better it usually ends up being.

"Who could possibly meet these standards? A semester simply isn't enough time to get across all of this information to students without having their heads explode." You're not wrong. Well, not completely, anyway. Students' heads will most definitely explode, but it's more than possible to successfully cram all the necessary information into a short amount of time. Including typical information, a good teacher needs to hold certain characteristics...

Be blunt.
A good teacher won't make their students cry, but they tell them how they feel about the students' work. Nobody wants a film teacher who will coddle them. They'll never learn that way. They tell students what they did wrong and how they can fix it. How else will they learn?

Be demanding.
Set high standards. If a teacher expects a lot out of their students or protégés, the students will give better work. Nothing will hurt students more than low expectations, because they'll have nothing to aim for. Students don't want to disappoint their teachers, so they will try to meet those high expectations.

Be inspirational.
The hardest working students are the most inspired students. Fact. The most inspired students come from teachers who connect with them and who explain how their success began right where they are. Those who believe they can achieve success, will.

"Ok, this is simply ridiculous. How can you be blunt, demanding, and inspirational?" Well, I'm not the one to ask. It's a tricky equation that somehow makes total sense. If you'd really like to understand, I recommend you take a class with Arturo Sinclair. In the past year of my life, I've learned more about filmmaking than I ever imagined learning over the entire course of my college career. For that, I say 'thank you', Arturo. Thank you for [attempting] to teach me everything you know. Thank you for teaching me to think [way] outside the box. Most importantly, thank you for always having faith in me. I can't wait to put all the knowledge you've given me to work. After everything, one thing's for certain: you're certainly no dummy, Arturo.

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