November 29, 2010
Original Filmmaking – Be Unique But Familiar
Creating something new and original while maintaining a sense of familiarity…
… is the hardest part of making movies. Many attempt but fail miserably, others have knack for it. Most achieve it through trial and error, so therefore the talent can be learned, it just takes a lot of experimenting and having an open mind.
Finding a balance between something new and unique while keeping it familiar so the audience isn’t too separated from the years of pre-conditioning that has been achieved by radio and filmed entertainment is as difficult as it gets. People know how to watch movies, they’re professionals at it. They know what to look and listen for (whether they know it or not). Movies have been around long enough that the entire populace is familiar with how things are supposed to go. How do you know when you should or shouldn’t experiment with something different? What is safe or not safe to touch? This is a tough one and it took some interviewing of other filmmakers to adequately explore such a topic. I’ve made a lot of experimental films, most of which were shorts and the general consensus is that anything can be manipulated, experimented with or altered completely, but it may not be a great idea to do so in large quantity. Not unless you’re impervious to failure.
The key to achieving success while staying original is to experiment a little bit at a time. Change in the status quo is far less conspicuous when it’s little bits of change here or there rather than a big change all around. This is a common failure that can be seen on occasion, when movie ideas are turned into television shows or when a studio decides to reboot a major marketable franchise and it doesn’t work it. As time goes on and your back catalog of work builds, you’ll find that what you started out doing is drastically different than what you’re doing ten years forward and this is in large part due to experimenting outside of your comfort zone. Even if you only change one thing in every project, as long as it’s a different element each time. Telling a similar or well known story that’s been told a hundred times before, whilst using aesthetics that are not orthodox to that particular kind of story, is just one of many ways of experimenting with a particular set of ideas. An audience will be able to fall back on their familiarity with the story and be much more forgiving if the experiment in aesthetics fails.
You could also try switching it around: tell a story that’s never been told before (that most people wouldn’t dare to tell) using aesthetics that everyone is used to seeing or hearing thus creating expectations that once met, will satisfy most movie goers. This helps audiences deal with the alteration of story or aesthetics on some level. Once a seasoned pro, go for the gold, tell a daring story that most people would cringe over, tell it in a way no one would dare tell it and be revered as a filmmaker with balls. Of course this blog isn’t meant to be instructional, but to provide incite on approach and technique. Keep in mind that my goal here is to express ideas that will stimulate the imagination and get the gears moving so that you can go about things your way… not necessarily mine or any other filmmaker, without losing your core audience.