The Film Will Speak to You

I’m 25, so to hell with this advice.  I’m not preaching, or trying to say I’ve gotten to the essence of cinema, or anything goofy like that, I’m just sharing something that I’ve learned that I feel might be able to help a few filmmakers in my position.

As a film director, one of the most reductive things you can do is ask “why”.

OK, so let me explain.  As an artist, you need to know your theme, your baseline, what your characters are about and what you want you overall visual style to convey, but the minute you start thinking in terms of what any individual shot is about, or why cut here, or why is that object in the frame over there, than you’ve killed your creativity.  You’re no longer making art, you’re doing math.

The way you tell whether something is right is simply by feeling it, does an idea or an image light your soul ablaze, make you jump for joy?  Well then, that’s the idea you go with, and if anyone asks you why you want to do it that way, just tell them that this is where your gut, or the universe, or God or whatever you want to call it has taken you, and they’ll eventually come around, even if at first they proceed with some reluctance.

A good film needs to be like visual music, flowing like water from a very clear source.  Worrying and nitpicking is no good in anything in life, at least that’s been my experience, but it’s especially bad in filmmaking, because cinema needs to be about being in the moment and sensing what reverberates with you, what moves you, and if you try and manufacture something that’s moving, it just won’t work.  On my last shoot, I got bogged down in “why?” several times during the preparation, I was constantly worrying about what every shot was saying, rather than just letting the film speak for itself.

Like I said before, it needs to be like music, every shot is a note, and the notes need to flow into each-other with ease, by all means, have ideas about the meaning behind the shots, but don’t sweat it if you can’t find the exact words, because the meaning will be there whether you can articulate it or not.  Sometimes, you might not even know what the meaning behind a shot is until you cut the film, and that’s fine, because the meaning is there, it’s just not tied to language, if it was, why make films?  Why not write novels?

The only “why” you need in moviemaking, generally, is “This idea excites me.” That’s it.  The deeper whys and wherefores are there, being dictated by the film itself, not by you, and once you see the film, you’ll realize that what you’d been doing all along, was following the spirit of what the project wanted to be.  It’s my belief that, once you’ve learned to do that (and I’m still very much in the learning phase) is when you’re a true artist.

– Ben Johnson


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