Category Archives: Directing Blogs

One thing is certain: I’m still an introvert

I’ve spent most of my time as a film maker directing out of necessity and, consequently, being expected to direct. I don’t consider myself a director, and it’s not my goal to be one. My main interest in film creation has always been video editing, and well, there was only one way I could get footage to edit.

Like most young filmmakers, before I’d taken any media arts classes or knew anything about directing, films were the product of my friends and I filming with no real regards to the quality of what we made. I was usually in charge of what we filmed, when we filmed it, and where it was filmed. Where the camera was placed, blocking, and acting were usually collective or individual decisions. Many of the scripts we filmed were mine, but I didn’t have a grand vision of what they looked like. I only wanted to see them on screen in some form. At the end of it all, the script only served as a medium for my friends and I to goof off. The best moments were often improvised or unexpected.

The search for these great, improvised moments would ultimately affect my directing style. Even after I took my first media arts classes, I continued to direct minimally. I gave more thought to where the camera was placed, but beyond blocking, actors continued to get little direction from me. Many of the films I’ve made in the past few years have been mostly improvised. I prefer to capture actors and their interpretation of the basic story, interfering as little as possible.

My directing style may also be influenced by the fact that I’ve been a video editor longer than I’ve been filming and directing. This has given me a “we’ll fix it in post” attitude. I tend to rush through production to get to post production where I feel more comfortable. Sometimes I wish the footage I had to work with was in focus or that I had a different shot to work with, but turning bad footage into comedy gold or a decent product is a welcome challenge. Editing is usually where most of my “directing” happens.

Perhaps what I really enjoy, during production at least, is cinematography. My favorite projects are usually the ones where it’s mostly me, the camera, and a video editing program. As a cinematographer, I can simply capture the actors, environments, and objects and depict the feeling of the scene. I don’t have to worry about directing. I’m not looked to to tell people how they should be.

Of course, I won’t lie and say that my timid and anxious nature has nothing to do with my directing choices. When I’m not making something silly with friends or part of the crew on someone else’s film, I’m a bit of a loner. Working with groups particularly those that contain strangers is very stressful to me. I get anxious from expectations that I know what I want and how to get it in a timely and coherent manner. I can’t enjoy what I’m doing. Really all I want is to capture and compile the best of my actors’ performances together. I don’t want to assert a grand vision on people, and yet it’s often assumed that I do.

For me, animation, 2D and stop-frame, is the perfect combination of cinematography, video editing, and directing. It’s when I’m alone that I feel most free to make a film my own. With animation, I can work alone from concept to final product if I want. I can set the camera, environment, objects, and characters where I want and work in a relatively stress-free environment to make a product that is as rough or as perfect as I want it to be. Any voice actors or crew I need, I can work with individually with no distractions. The demands and expectations of everyone involved are easier to deal with when they’re not all in the same room.

Whether I’m a director or only a video editor in disguise is debatable. Regardless, I intend to continue creating films and, if it won’t be as a cinematographer, video editor, or animator, it will be as a director. I’d prefer to move away from directing live-action films though and focus on stop-frame, 2D, and 3D animated films where I feel more confident.

Three Inspiring Things

Video Game Cutscenes

While I do like CGI and 3D animation in general, cutscenes have several features that I find particularly inspiring. By video game cutscenes, I mean the short, pre-rendered sequences made with complex character models. First, cutscenes embrace the idea that full CGI films don’t have to be for children, an idea that most CGI films produced today hold. In fact, cutscenes are for very specific audiences: the players. Second, the limits of in-game rendering are removed, allowing players to see characters in a new, exciting way. Finally, because of the file size and cost of these films, they’re usually short, rare occurrences. To me, the cutscene’s focus on its target audience, effort to give characters more life, and rarity make it treasured and unique.

In-game vs Cutscene Graphics

Abe has three dimensions!?

Unfortunately, the cutscene is becoming a lost art. Some players feel that non-interactive cutscenes are distracting and more a nuisance than a reward. Plus, today’s in-game graphics are so advanced that pre-rendered cutscenes aren’t needed to show details such as facial expressions and actions. It’s often cheaper and just as effective for a studio to use in-game character models and objects. Modern video games that still use cutscenes have not promoted them either. Final Fantasy XIII and Metal Gear Solid 4 overuse them to the point where they might as well be feature films.

Though cutscenes are disappearing from the video game world, it’s my hope, and perhaps my mission, that they will influence CGI movies. CGI is not just a form of animation but a storytelling medium that can contain content and genres as diverse as those found in comics, movies, or TV shows.

MUST SEE:

A frame of glorious CGI

Square Enix, you are insane!

If you’re also cutscene deprived, watch Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children. This is the most beautiful CGI film I’ve ever seen, and I can’t watch it enough. There’s more to be desired in terms of its story, but it shows what CGI films could be like if they expanded into other genres and target audiences.

Experimental Writing

In high school, a friend lent me a mysterious novel called Vurt. This book takes place in a dark and strange world of drug addiction, and reading the book is perhaps as close as one can get to doing drugs without doing drugs. It switches between third and first person, rambles for paragraphs, and fearlessly uses the “F” word for adjectives, verbs, nouns, and sentences enhancers. Intrigued, I proceeded to read the rest of Jeff Noon’s novels. Each was more insane than the last.

Jeff Noon’s novels aren’t always effective or coherent, but nonetheless, his ideas about the evolution of writing are fascinating. Most of his novels and stories come about through a process he calls “remixing,” which he describes in his book Cobralingus. He’s also written an epic poem called Needle in the Groove, which includes a companion music CD. His novels tend to tell the same story and rely on sex, drugs, and violence, but his characters are colorful and touching, and occasionally, moments of clarity leave me with a feeling of awe. His current projects use the Internet as a storytelling medium. He excels at describing complex ideas in single-sentence Tweets.

I’ve since read Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves and Douglas Coupland’s jPod, but Jeff Noon still has a special place for introducing me to experimental writing and having the biggest influence in how I write stories. My writing has remained relatively traditional, but Jeff-Noon-inspired character perspectives, voices, and experiments are often present.

MUST READ:

Vurt’s great, but I’d actually have to recommend Danielewski’s House of Leaves. This experimental masterpiece is basically a 650-page review of a horror movie that doesn’t exist… Also, typography:

An example of a page in House of Leaves

All film critics should write like this.

Dramatic Anime

The main reason anime inspires me and influences my writing is its treatment of drama. Nothing has affected me through shock, horror, and awe as dramatic anime has. In shows such as Fullmetal Alchemist, Code Geass, or Death Note, plot twists leave characters shell shocked and horrified by their actions and the actions of others. Dramatic reactions to these events are borderline cheesy, but I find them effective. When a character’s eyes slowly widen in horror, I can’t help but recoil and exclaim, “Oh my God!” right along with them.

Horrified expression

Now THAT’S terrible.

MUST SEE:

To get a better idea of drama in anime, watch Fullmetal Alchemist. This 51-episode series has great and terrible dramatic revelations, plot twists, and horror stories and a nice bit of comedy mixed in.