Interested in doing some research with me or looking for some of my academic writing?
Visit my Macquarie University Profile page ...
This is the first video I made with @Sven Pape and his @This Guy Edits YouTube CHannel. It introduces the idea of 'Onscreen Drafting'. For more on this idea, see Chapter 12 of the second edition of my book 'Cutting Rhythms, Intuitive Film Editing' (Focal Press, 2016)
I am teaching Screen Production at the very energised and inspiring Macquarie University, and the students want to know: beyond showing up on time and operating some gear, what do different creative collaborators contribute to the realisation of an idea?
Design creates the image of character and storyworld through careful reading of the script, research, discussion with collaborators, and choices of places, things, shapes, colours, textures, symbols and visual metaphors. The designer sets up the cinematographer to reveal visual tone and metaphor
The cinematographer reveals the drama, articulates perspective visually, and creates the visual expression of tone, metaphor, power relationships, time, and space through framing, composition, angle, light and camera movement in spaces set up by the designer.
The editor finds and shapes structure and rhythm. They create an audience experience of narrative by shaping time, energy and flow in the movement of events, movement of emotions and movement of images and sounds.
The sound designer develops, refines and augments the story and the audience experience with perspective, tone, energy (dynamics) mood and specificity of aural world and texture.
The composer reinforces and articulates the structure of the experience, expressing all of the above (character, storyworld, tone, time, energy, emotions, mood etc.) in an abstract form that binds all of the elements into a whole and complete expression of the drama.
The director interprets the script, articulating what, in their view the drama is, and how the characters reveal it through their actions. He or she then has the task of conveying what the drama is, what the power relationships are, the perspective the production has on the events in the plot, and therefore the idea for character, storyworld, tone, metaphor, time, space, energy and movement to all collaborators, so that everyone can do their best work.
The writer instigates the cinematic revelation of drama by designing and expressing storyworld, characters and plot that are sufficiently rich to inspire collaborators to engage in research and energetic participation, and sufficiently spare to allow for interpretation, perspective and expression in performance, image, sound and movement.
The development producer works closely with the writer, director and producer to interrogate and focus the writing, making non-judgemental observations and asking useful questions throughout the process to strengthen the expression of ideas and their clarity for the writer, director, collaborators and audiences.
The producer elicits an articulation of the drama and perspective (commonly referred to as vision) from the director and watches over the process for consistency of articulation and interpretation. Budgets and schedules are expressions of the ‘vision’ in numbers and the producer allocates the numbers through their coherent understanding of the drama and perspective.
So how to teach screen production? Here's what I'd like to try: Talk about character, storyworld, tone, metaphor, revelation, power, time, space, energy, movement and dramaturgy and how they are revealed in films and interactive media. Ask the students to become fluent with these ideas through identifying and articulating them in existing works, and then synthesize this learning by applying it to their own work.
How can film analysis help filmmaking? Try analysing decisions rather than products.
The analysis of film usually starts with story, so too does the teaching of film. But is this the best place to start? The process of making a film is a process of making decisions. In a traditional process these decisions are made first about story, then script, then directorial 'vision' (how something will be realized on the screen) then production decisions flow from there, what the design will look like, where to place the camera, how to cut it together, what the aural dynamic will be in sound and music. Perhaps because this is usually the way it is made, it is also the way it is usually taught - we analyze the film first as a story and then everything else as a realization of that story onscreen. What this tells is what decisions were made, but it doesn't tell us why in any specific way. It leaves us with a lot of specific explanations but no operations or principles on which we can rely.
In the end what we will hear anyone who works on a film say about their decision making process is 'it depends on the story' when in actual fact most decisions depend much more immediately on the specifics of the decisions that have been made right before them. So perhaps looking at a film that way it is much more possible to extract guiding principles.
For example: an editor may say that their decisions depend on the story, but in fact they are making decisions about the flow of the movement of story based on decisions that have been made about the qualities of movement in the shots and performances. Stating it in this way allows us to ask: what are the principles of composing movement? And to hypothesize, for example, that if we have a lot of fast jerky movements in the shots these will trigger a speedy and percussive edit. If we have a lot of lyricism in the shooting we will likely have the same in the edit. We can then practice these two kinds of editing with two kinds of material. These kinds of hypothetical principles are much easier to teach than the more general 'it depends'.
Teaching filmmaking backwards may offer us a fresh perspective on a film as a series of decisions, because teaching it starting from story positions the film itself, the story' onscreen realisation, as a fait accompli, as something which had to be the way that it is and could not ever have been otherwise when, of course, nothing is further from the truth.
I propose that: if we teach it backwards, starting with sound and music, and ask ourselves, what is the sound and music doing and why, we will quickly see that it is responding to something in the edit - it is building on, realizing, counterpointing, the flow of image, emotion and story shaped in the editing process. We can then see it as a series of decisions made in relation to something specific in the editing. From there we can look at the edit and ask: what decisions were the sound and music a response to? We can look at cuts, at flows of scenes and sequences, of visuals and emotions and see how they create opportunities for any number of decisions to follow on from them.
Of course cuts are also responsive decisions themselves. The edits are only and always made in response to the shots. In fact this is one of the editor's core tasks: seeing what is really in the shots and structuring what is there into a significant form by shaping the flow of the actual movement. The director may still be seeing what they hoped would be in the shots, it is up to the editor to respond effectively to what is actually there, not what the director hoped or intended to have there. An editor's decision making takes the story and script into account, but is necessarily grounded on what is in the shots.
Now we come to something slightly harder, but not impossible to unpick in a film: what are the shots that triggered the editing decisions? Harder because, of course, we don't have access to the shots that are not in the film. But not impossible because we can break down a scene into its component parts and quickly see that a particular scene is composed of X number of close ups, or angles or shot sizes . We can see whether there is a master or not on the screen and we can begin to see, based on the material that is on the screen, what decisions the editor made and the material from which they sculpted those decisions.
Students and emerging filmmakers need to learn to make coherent, motivated decisions, and to make them with commitment and confidence. This takes practice. Practice in doing and practice in seeing it done.
Once we start to see shots, we begin to see decisions that have been made by cinematography and design, about light, about form, about pattern within the image and we can tell what prompted the pattern making of the editor. We can also begin to ask about the basis on which the cinematographer and designer were making decisions. Why did they put the light here, the furniture there, the stripes in the wallpaper, the close up on the lipstick? We are, of course, now in more familiar territory of asking about the directorial vision, but, having come at it backwards, we can see shots and design as a series of decisions that generate a response from editing and also are themselves a response to something which has been articulated, something that the director is often credited for as being the creator of: the mise en scene. But, in fact the director simply directs the creation of mise en scene as a decision making process on the part of his or her collaborators. The vision is what provides coherence to the collaborator's decisions, but it is not what makes the shots - it is the source of the cinematographer's and designer's decisions and it is also itself a series of decisions, a series of responses to script or story and, of course, to what is possible as opposed to what is ideal.
And finally, we come to story, coming at it this way is not intended to diminish it in anyway, but to see it as a source of decisions and as, itself, a series of decision - decisions of what to carve out from the world , to frame and shape into a causal chain the evokes a sense of significance.
The issue is that if we look at a film as a whole, we see it as something closed, but if we look at it as a process we can begin to see it as decisions, active choices to go one way and not another. And this, of course, it what students and new filmmaker need to learn to do: to make coherent, motivated decisions. To make them with commitment and confidence takes practice. Practice in doing and practice in seeing it done.
Making decisions can be hard, but so can anything that you don't have a lot of practice at. I propose that the point of a film school is to give people a chance to practice making decisions; to instruct in the frameworks that are useful for guiding decision making; and to generate articulation skills that can enhance decision making by giving it clarity and voice in collaboration.
And one of the ways I'd like to start doing this is by analyzing films as a series of decisions - decisions made from a cause and having an effect. So I'm going to start analyzing film backwards!
Film maker, teacher, writer, and speaker about screen & performing arts, author of Cutting Rhythms (Focal Press) & a director of Physical TV Co.
Women Film Pioneers Project: 'After the Facts - These Edits are my thoughts' publication
RealTime Profile of Karen Pearlman's research
Rochford St Press/Sarah St Vincent Welch review of the trilogy of films about Soviet women editors
Magdalena Ball/Compulsive Reader Review of the Trilogy
'Edited By', Su Friedrich's invaluable compendium of women editors
RealTime screendance portal