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Mark Allen
Director , Screenwriter , Composer
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Unnatural Behavior

Unnatural behavīor in cinema.

Still working incessant hours, but I'm going to try to write about something which crossed my mind in the course of work this week and hopefully it will make sense or resonate with someone interested in cinema storytelling.

Sometimes I think when you're directing, you're controlling a virtual barometer of your audience.  You create tension and release it.   Very much like designers use contrast and flow to guide their audience through their work, filmmakers use these and many more devices.

I can't go into the details, but someone shot an action scene for a project I was working on recently and I had made one specifc request of how to shoot this flip I'd added into the sequence of events.  When I saw the dailies (the footage that comes back assembled after you finish shooting) - I saw that while the flip was there, there was nothing unnatural about it.

What I mean by unnatural is that the moment had lost it's excitement and "coolness" by simply covering the body flipping.  The feet were not seen and the floor was not seen.  The unnaturalness of the moment was not captured.

It is unnatural to see someones feet go above their heads. while not being connected to the floor.  Therefore, this is the element that you want to catch.  Because it is unnatural and something that most of us can't do - the hero becomes a Hero.  If we need him this moment to become a hero and impress our audience, we need to really sell what makes him unusually qualified.  In order to do that, we need to sell what he is doing at this very moment.

Writers are well served to put unnatural events in their scrīpts when they are trying to delineate their characters from being average - things which seem unusual and unexpected.   It's what creates the spectacle effect.  I don't mean that every scene or shot should have this, but when you're trying to turn up the spectacle knob on your control panel, you look for what is amazing about this particular moment.

It's the same question directors need to ask themselves (and actually all artists working on a project) every frame - what is this scene about?  what is this moment about?  What is the thing at this very moment in time that is telling the story?  Not just the plot, but telling the story from a tension / release / curioustiy / revelation standpoint.

Will the whole project fail because the flip was not sold well?  Probably not - however... I always  figure every moment is an opportunity and if you start accepting average moments by losing focus on what matters every moment, you will end up with a very average project.

Some people error on the opposite side - they think "wow, a split diopter is neat, I'm going to use one because it's unusual" yet it is totally unmotivated and they're doing nothing to help tell their story.  You can't just throw things into your story either.  You need to find what is there ans sell it.  Then all the spectacle you add is motivated and your project will feel cohesive and powerful.

over 14 years ago 0 likes  6 comments  0 shares
Photo 22998
Right. The Hollywood movie syndrome where movies start just seeming like a whole bunch of spectacle and you rally don't care is when spectacle does not come from the story / characters and is, instead, just tossed on unmotivated. It's a huge waste of money as the impact it has on an audience is so much less than when these things are tied to the drama of the moment.
over 14 years ago
Photo 22998
littlezj, I do know what you're saying. I understand yoru point, but understand this idea: A lot of what I was saying here was about paying attention to the story and what that moment was about. My comment about it being a bad idea to pointlessly add effects is pretty much the same point you are making. However, I do think that "unnatural behavoir" absolutely applies to love stories or especially to dramas. I can think of some exceptional "unnatural" moments in "Hotel Ruwanda." I think even family movies or love stories - if they're good - absolutely have these unnatural behaviors - that's something that makes them worth watching. They may be more subtle, but they are no less unnatural. By unnatural I mean making sure what makes these people and these moments unique and worth watching. The point being you have to find and explore these - not just shoot everything like a home movie.
over 14 years ago

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April 13, 2007