Updated: Jun 16
Today’s topic is one that everyone wants to know. What makes a film good? Well, firstly, it’s about perspective. Secondly, it’s about the way filmmakers, and I don’t just mean the directors and editors, make their films. It’s not just about the actors and their acting. It’s in the collective effort that made the film in the first place.
Think about it this way. Have you read a book so well-written, you actually see the scenes and conversations play out in your mind? Now, have you seen a film adaptation of a book, and thought “that’s not right”? Or, have you watched a film, again, an adaptation of a book, and thought “actually, this is really spot on”. It’s because the filmmakers, from the runners and interns to the producers and directors all know how to make the film. It just depends on their interpretations and yours.
It’s the same with original films, where the plot and scenes aren’t found in any books, and sure, they might have similar plot beats as others, but that’s because the stories we tell have already been told, but in a different way. Things might look different, but break it down to the essentials, and it’s all the same thing.
From The Head To The Screen
Now, most original stories take elements of others, we know this, but how do the writers and producers get it down on paper? How do they have something substantial, other than a vague idea, since you can easily make up an entire universe in your head? That’s easy. They get a second opinion. Sometimes when a writer is stuck for ideas, or they don’t know how to develop a more coherent plot, they get a fellow writer or producer to help them out.
Of course, a lot of the time they can be a hit and miss when it comes to confiding in someone about a potential idea for a film, but that’s probably because they’re looking in the wrong places. If a writer really wants to develop a good film or at least one they think will be good, they’d need to get the opinion of someone they can trust, especially in the professional sense. A mentor, if you will. In this way, the idea is no longer theirs, and the script for a film will be born.
Half the time, when I’m working on a scripted scene, it’s only for the scene, because I can easily think up an entire world or universe for that little piece, and it would take years before I get the full script completed. Even then, when the day of shooting that scene comes, I might not even use the script, because the actors might adlib something that I hadn’t thought of. So, the idea I had when I first started developing the film has become something else altogether, because of the different opinions I get from my cast and crew.
That’s why, a film cannot be solely credited to one person, since it is a collective idea, and was created with the creative input of everyone who worked on the film’s development.
Creativity Is In Everything
Alright, so you have your plot, you have your crew and you have your actors, but how do you make sure you retain them? One word…Money. In film, especially in professional filmmaking, with studios and distribution companies lining up to sell the film (basically Hollywood), your cast and crew, even your partner producers, all demand some sort of payment. Mostly it’s monetary, but if you’re just starting out how do you get those funds? In many cases, it’s through fundraisers and crowdfunding websites like Kickstarter or Indiegogo, that is if you don’t already have the funds in your pocket.
Many filmmakers, especially those from tough backgrounds, don’t have the luxury of going to the bank and withdrawing at least £10 000, right off the bat. That’s why, whenever a new filmmaker comes onto the scene, they go through different channels to make sure their name and their productions are heard. Some go through advertising, others try to film independently, while others schmooze…a lot!
Of course, that’s only the beginning. What about when you’re already filming? No one has unlimited funds, and a film, no matter whether they’re big or small, will always have a budget. It depends on the cast and crew whether or not they keep within that budget. Most of the time, when a filmmaker starts their career, they MUST use their budget amount or less, because they don’t have the luxury to ask for more. So, how do they make those expensive-looking sets, or at least fake them?
That’s why filmmaking is a creative effort. It’s not just being creative, in terms of the plot, or the idea of a film, it is in how they film it too. For example, instead of using big cameras, like they do with Hollywood films, you can use a small digital camera, or even your phone, to film something. You just need to know how to film, using the right angles, the right lighting techniques, the right exposure, the right filter, and afterwards, the right editing techniques.
It’s also in the way you dress up a set or use household items to create a new and unidentifiable object. For example, the original lightsabres were made with old camera flashes (you know the handles of those extra flashing lightbulbs they used to raise, whenever taking portraits?), some had parts of sink knobs, browning machine gun boosters, and a Rolls-Royce jet engine pipe. Now, I know people don’t have access to these sorts of things normally, but if you go to your local scrap junkyard, you might find something you could use. You just have to be creative about it. I mean, you could even use old mattresses to make an isolation room in a prison, if you know how to set them up in the right way. You don’t always need high-end props to make something look real.
Locations And Permissions
One thing that eats up your budget, other than paying your cast and crew are locations, and getting permissions from the locals and companies whose brand or logo might be featured in your film. Now, I know most big named Hollywood films get paid to feature these companies and brands, but for those who aren’t well known, in the film circle, it’s the other way around. You see, you could easily quote someone’s work or use a product, in the film that has their label on it. A lot of the time, with small films, you’d need to approach the company you’re, essentially advertising for, and ask them for permission to let you use their stuff, and a lot of the time, the money involved is quite a large amount.
That’s why, getting permission for everything you use, or say, that is not yours, eats up your budget, and that’s another way a filmmaker is creative. Usually, they don’t want to pay for these permissions, so building their own labels, or using unmarked props can help with that. Of course, they must also keep the narrative in mind. If a prop or location doesn’t conform to what the narrative suggests, then the film won’t make any sense at all.
Of course, filmmakers can try to bypass all of this, and use whatever they have in their own homes, cover any label, and use their own homes as a location in the film. If they’re shooting outside, they could use their own streets or backyards to fake being in a park or somewhere that’s public.
So, What Makes A Good Film?
Essentially, it is the culmination of all these different creative ideas that make a good film, or at least good, in terms of the filmmakers themselves, the distribution companies that sell them, and the cinemas that showcase them. It’s also in the way the critics perceive the film, not only in keeping in mind the efforts that made the film but the result of those efforts.
Finally, it’s also in the way we, as an audience, watch the film, how much it resonates with our emotional state, or how excited we feel while watching it. So, when you look at a film, don’t just think about how good it is because you liked watching it. Think about it in this way, no matter how un-impactful it is for you, the film will be good no matter what, because the filmmakers think it is good, and there will always be someone out there who also believes it's good too. It isn’t good, because it created a box office sensation, or it won the award. It is good because someone decided to make it. A film is good because it took the collective and creative efforts of everyone who worked on it, to make it.
Well, that’s it for today. I hope next week I can come up with a better post on film theory because right now, it’s literally just me spewing off about how much effort goes into filmmaking right now. Whoops! Anyway, I’ll see you guys next time!
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