Thursday, 9 June 2011


I'm going to be in danger of sounding like your dad with this post but what the hell. If you want to be a writer/director/or filmmaker in any capacity, you should read more novels, not watch more films. Seems counterintuitive, I know, but let me explain a couple of reasons why I believe reading makes you better equipped to make good films.


With the amount of remakes, reboots, knowing winks and downright plagiarism (I'm looking at you Quentin Tarantino) in the world of cinema it is has become patently obvious that more and more filmmakers are only looking to films for their inspiration instead of the plethora of art forms available to them. This gives us a situation where the same ideas are recycled and rehashed over and over again, each time becoming weaker than the last like the page of a book that has been photocopied, and then the photocopy has been photocopied, and then the the photocopy of the photocopy has been photocopied and.... well you get the point. The reason I think books can be such a good source of inspiration for original filmmaking is simple. They can be far more specialist. Films take a lot of money to make and distribute and whilst there are some niche markets, they just can't aim at the narrower audiences that authors of books can aim at and still make a living because of the lower production costs of writing and printing (or kindling? that's almost a pun because paper can be used as kindling and amazon's reading gadget is called a kindle, get it? anyway moving on). You can quite easily buy a book about a couple who use a clone of the baby jesus as a but plug (imaginatively titled The Baby Jesus But Plug), but I'm fairly certain it's unlikely to get optioned by Paramount. If you can publish to a smaller audience, you can take more risks. Filmmaking often falls victim of the committee. Now, I'm not suggesting that you should make films with a very narrow audience, because you won't get the money to make it. But taking inspiration from something specialist and niche and adapting it for a mass audience can be fruitful, interesting and (most importantly) fresh. Similarly, don't see this as an excuse to adapt every good novel into a film.


A lot of people talk about making their films more cinematic, and this phrase is generally interchanged to mean a lot of different things. They could refer to using wider shots so that it suits projection, using a wider aspect ratio like 2.35:1, shooting at 24 or 25p etc etc. For now, I'm going to cast the technical stuff like 24/25p aside, not because it doesn't matter, but because too many indie filmmakers get bogged down waiting to make their film until they have the right camera or whatever when you could just make that film and then make a better one when the Red Scarlet, that will so drastically improve your film, is released. The way I think of cinematic is based on what defines cinema as a medium. For example, cinema differs from radio and books in that you can show things to your audience rather than describe them. And cinema differs from theatre in that you can put every member of the audience at the same distance from the actors and you have almost total control about how great that distance is. The first one of these leads good script writers to the realisation that cinema is most powerful when it shows us a story rather than tells us one. Which is why action films are generally considered more cinematic than, for example period dramas. Some people take this a step further and seem to think that dialogue heavy scripts simply can't be cinematic but this ignores the way that cinema can project just the face of person on a 40 foot screen. The medium shot and the close up give us the power to show more than just what the actor is saying. So, even a dialogue heavy film can (in my opinion) be cinematic, if the emotions and story developments are shown rather than explained through dialogue, as they would have to be with theatre. This (at last) leads me to books, because what you need to make a dialogue scene cinematic is subtext. You need things for the characters to think, to want to say but never say and to mean when they say something completely different. A novel is one of the few places where you find subtext explicitly written down. In a novel you can write 5 paragraphs about the thought processes a character is going through before he or she responds to a question they have just been asked, even though in real time (and usually in cinema) the conversation would have continued at a normal pace. A lot of good novels are mostly subtext, because like making your film cinematic, this takes advantages of the characteristics of the medium. By reading novels and being more exposed to subtext you can become better at integrating it into your films Now, in a film script you don't (and almost certainly should't) write the subtext of  scene down. But by knowing the subtext of a scene, by knowing that a character means yes even though they are saying no, by understanding that people might talk about something not because its relevant but because it can distract them from what they should but perhaps don't want to say, you will almost certainly write better scrips. And applying the same ideas when dissecting an already written script will also almost certainly make you a better director, actor, director of photography etc. By making a scene about the subtext rather than what the characters are actually saying, you instantly make it cinematic because you are showing rather than telling your story to the audience and taking advantage of some of the key characteristics of cinema.

That is all.


  1. One of my favourite film "subtext" moments is a fairly subtle one in The Big Lebowski, and for me seals Steve Buscemi as a favourite all time actor, (though it could've just as easily been a flash of genius from one of the directors).
    Anyway, after a barrage of bullshit from Walter (Goodman), Donny (Buscemi), wanders back from the lanes and seems to contemplate a response.
    But whatever the thought is that we see forming in the facial expression, never arrives in the form of dialogue.
    This, for me is in perfect keeping with the character we think we know of Donny, timid, but what's underneith?
    It humanises him and ultimately brings more tradgedy when he eventually leaves the story. Love it

  2. It is a classic performance. And a cracking film, by two guys who definitely know how to be cinematic.