Category: danny’s

Why good stories make you want to have a better life.

Recently I liked this far away three-pointer by Laurie Anderson and Lou Reed.  They always struck me as adventurous storytelling characters, Super-people from the quiet wild side.

Their quote was about finding ways to get through life.

One: “Don’t be afraid of anyone. Now, can you imagine living your life afraid of no one?”

Two: “Get a really good bullshit detector.”

Three: “Three is be really, really tender.”

“And with those three things” – Laurie said – “you don’t need anything else.”

In the full wide range that stretches from street hobos to rich presidents and from Ivy-league dropouts to post-celebrity rehabs, there is a common thread:  life is ripe with conflict.

Sure, conflict is what made humans sharper, problem solvers until the last beat. Storytellers know that ultimately conflict alone can float identity through a sea of half-truths, up, up to the surface where the sun plays catch with flying fish. However important our culture of conflict may be, the search for less human pain, suffering, and crisis may also be a story to pursue. A peaceful target to shoot for.

In dramatic movies, the ending may be, in terms of plot, happy or unhappy. In either case, if the story works, the viewer is rewarded with insights into the depths of human life.

The ancient Greeks attended Tragedies more than school, feasting on pop-corn-less morality with cathartic heroes like Oedipus (an unknowing motherfucker) or universal strategists like Ulysses, king of the surprise climax.

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Endings in these stories didn’t seem to matter much. The deus ex machina finale at times gave Gods the task of resolving plot indecision or confusion. This over-the-top device released authors from spending too much stage-time on predictable closing show and tell details. (They lived happily ever after! was another shortcut).  The middle of the story is where it all happened. Development, substance, focus, now.

So, what can we learn about “making our life better” by watching a film story?  It is true that caped Super-heroes are our cultural diet now, just as Commedia dell’Arte theatre masks were dominant wanderers from town to town for four centuries.

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Masks are types. Types embody in broad strokes the infinite relationships among standard folk: the rich man, the poor woman, the young lovers, the old doctor, the cop, the thief, the servant.

It’s all about relationships, stupid.

A film I would watch again is one that leads to my relationship with the story. Titanic was a lesson in teen-age blockbuster making, who would have thought it? Multiple viewings create a relationship, characters become familiar: it’s the key to the new TV series mania.

Note for debate: Characters are not people, but they’re close enough to pretend. Characters stand in a story because the plot says so, and the writer cast them for a role.  No script? No character. They look like people, however. Or should.

This is not the case in real life where life may be scripted but in all likelihood is not very good. Determinists saw destiny play a bigger part than individuals. In the west we famously trust individual agency and will to drive success and failure.

You want to be the big boss man? Slay the dragons. Dominate your universe and plunge forward. Action films seem equivalent to playing Mozart with only Major chords. (Male chords, duh)

I have a preference for the Minor Key in film. Movies that don’t try and impress only with underlined cinematic cartwheeling. I have the same bias meeting people at parties.

If a film reveals a personal insight, I am Up.  If there is a label that explains everything or indicates next to each action, I am turned off. I follow film-makers that make movies that matter, even a little.

As a producer of youth-cinema, I see film conflict not as a medieval head-to-head battle to release adrenaline, but a personal texture, an inside chess game of question marks: where to go? what to do? How? Who with? Well told conflict can be hesitation pure and simple. Or an identity short-circuit. Or lack of clarity, loss of vision. How to take direct action choices, then? Voting can be Hamletic too, in hard times.

Even without a simple top-down final duel on a skyscraper, a film can lead to a character’s foggy melting point, the quiet intersection of dramatic need, desire and urgency in search of identity.

Laurie Anderson and Lou Reed are not film characters.

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Their lingo is story with sound. They quest to stay away from trouble, they are grounded in their shape-shifting personae. Who they want to be? Simple:  happier spending time together.  Popcorn flicks too could explore that engagement vibe.

In the script of life rewritten, I would try reducing, not adding, conflict to stories.  Better conflict, of course, the one worth fighting for without fists and watching with senses aloft. As James Joyce said, the cinema is a “screen of consciousness”.

Luckily I am not afraid of fear, I can smell bullshit from outside the playground, and I still want to hear my kids tell me I was kind. That’s a step towards a better now, even for a callous storyteller like me.

There is already enough conflict to go around in the world.

Danny Alegi is a filmmaker, story development coach and speaker.  Read more of Danny’s blogs at ‘Movies Without Cameras‘.

A story well told

Telling a story well as a film is not easy. And yet more and more people want to try and be storytellers. Some feel the need to express the personal experience of scars: pain, adventure, life detours, wonder, feelings.  Others do it for work. 

Pull Back to Reveal: Story is the mega-trend, it is everybody’s business.  

We are defined by our vision, our will and the hard choices we need to make in the face of conflict. When a person doesn’t stop trying, their vulnerability is exposed. Sooner or later meaningful connections develop, and story grows in the shared space of relationships.

To me a story well told, and worth telling, is, simple and smart. By “smart ” I mean a story  with a cinematic DNA, with the energy to connect the feeble light of our fragile optimism with the dark shadows of human nature.

At Cinemahead many projects are DIY style, home-made or personal. Are you are on a storytelling path?  What are you working on? Where do you plan to go with it?

Let it grow. 

Do “student films” matter?

If I asked you to name 3 student films, would you be able to?

If you’re not a recent film school graduate or a film teacher , the category “student film” probably doesn’t mean much to you. Everyone knows about Roman Polanski’s film-school masterpiece “Knife in The Water”, but beyond that student films sound like football practice. Exciting huh?

Actually there is such a thing as the Student Academy Award (did you know) and film schools are popping up like blow-flowers, all around the world. Film is the new universal language, next to music. Movies come to your home now, like Radio began to do in the 30s. As Sony once posted on a billboard : “Everyone is a director”. There is a highly publicized process of democratization in film. It’s great for companies selling cheaper and cheaper cameras and smart-phones. Everyone needs one, right? Who wants to be let out of the fun of getting a movie from your cousin rather than a phone call? And sharing videos, of course.  Or an animated story, or a Vine? (are Vines still growing?) For the semipros, equipment is the hot matter. Check that you have the newest Black Magic model camera,  that your three-month old software is not already obsolete. If you use RED, just keep updating those workflows.

The focus on equipment is clear. If you are making a film, your post-production set appears to be the most important feature. Yes, even more than your content. Do you have a good colourist, awesome VFX? great, shoot and you can fix it all in post. A recent NOFILMSCHOOL post highlighted the work of Akira Kurosawa). This giant of a director knew his cameras well, so much so that he felt no pain breaking some key cinematography rules, such as the 180 degree rule. even more than camera, Kurosawa thought like an editor, gazing in his cinema head not only at shots, but at the dynamic interplay of cut footage, with sound. He saw the edited movie in his head, and the material came together organically, like a piece of music composed by different orchestra elements.

There are film schools that focus on equipmen,

 

REMEMBER THE GIFT TROJAN HORSE ?

I love “Fitzcarraldo” (by Werner Herzog, with Klaus Kinsky), a story about mad vision in the Amazon forest. And yet, the making-of film “Burden Of Dreams” (by Les Blanc) completes the movie organically, not only as a Blue-Ray added value. The same I can say about “Apocalypse Now” and its making-of film “Heart Of Darkness”.

Independent films can tell their making-of story as an organic making-of doc as well. The story of a movie starts with idea, and journeys thru development, Kickstarter / Indiegogo campaigns, etcetera.

The image that comes to mind is the Trojan Gift Horse, full of power within, and only in appearance a predictable offering.

Once inside the gates, the movie-horse can open and reveal hidden content.trojanhorse-gif