Category Archives: Greg’s Essays
There’s a great little story about how on the set of E.T., Spielberg slowly unwrapped a toy off camera to illicit a reaction from the young actor playing Elliott. I’ve always thought this story was a great way to explain how a filmmaker should approach exposition. Exposition is the easiest, most fun, and most misunderstood part of storytelling. But filmic exposition is generally stupid, because people are afraid of it.
Somebody once asked me, about my 50/50 Rule, “When making a movie, would you pay extra special attention to how it starts, since you lose interest in so many movies so fast?” The answer is decidedly no, because every frame of a movie is sacred and equally important. If you treat your entire movie like that, then you don’t need to spend extra attention to any one part of it. Exposition is too often just underestimated as something that has to be blown through in order to get to the fun stuff. To counteract this, the indies have bloated their exposition with way too much visual minutiae. You can build a ‘stark’, ‘oblique’, ‘atmospheric’ world with your story—you don’t need shots that hold too long on a girl as she wistfully puts on makeup.
Greg DeLiso: Why are all of these cool people dying? Harold Ramis right after Philip Seymour Hoffman and Bob Casale from Devo, and now, a guy I’m ashamed to say I did not know the name of. But, his face, his voice, and his performances were a huge part of my childhood.
Independence Day was a huge theater going experience for me as a kid. My mom took me one Summer afternoon when I was ten years old, and it was like my The Day the Earth Stood Still or The Blob—a fun excursion into the bigness of movies, the kind of stuff Spielberg and Scorsese talk about from their youth.
I’m a Star Wars kid. That’s not a fan club membership title, it’s simply a term brought into the lexicon by the unabashed popularity of Star Wars. If you grew up loving Star Wars, you’re a Star Wars kid. The first generation of Star Wars kids saw it in the theater in the summer of 1977, the second generation (me) saw the Special Edition in the theater in 1997, and then the three prequels that followed in 1999, 2002, and 2005.
A discussion about which versions are good, and which are bad, and which are pure, etc., is a valid and interesting one, but it’s better left in the hands of Trey Parker & Matt Stone, RedLetterMedia, Smug Film’s own Harry Brewis, and the makers of The People vs. George Lucas.
I’ve always wanted to write about Star Wars, but the problem is, everything has already been said about Star Wars and then some. Has George Lucas become The Empire in some kind of Animal Farm ironic switcheroo? Maybe. Probably not. Are the three prequels terrible? Kinda, yeah. Should Jar Jar Binks be hung in effigy and burned? I guess, but no. Are the Special Editions evil? No. Was Greedo shooting first evil? Yeah, but we all already know why.
As I get older, what fascinates me about Star Wars is its hold on the cultural zeitgeist. As an atheist, I’m interested in the idea of the Bible: a book written by God that has lasted thousands of years and not only stayed relevant but has been taken as truth by some. Star Wars is only 37 years old, and will hopefully never be taken as truth—but, Star Wars is priming itself to be the touchstone artistic achievement of our time.
Since we started this website, I’ve always felt like I was on a mission. A mission, despite the fact that, at the end of the day, nothing anybody says about art matters at all. Art is an individual experience—even in a group, it’s an individual experience. I can’t convince you of anything, and you can’t convince me. And it should be that way. But right now, fuck all that.
Ghostbusters is high art. Ghostbusters should be thought of the way the Mona Lisa is—as this sacred, unachievable thing forged from genius—because that’s exactly what it is, and it’s been my mission to explain that concept. There are only about a dozen great movies, and these movies are untouchable. They are perfect in every way, and they represent the ultimate synthesis of story, performance, writing, color, music, and all the myriad elements that come together to make whatever is on screen at any given moment the perfect thing.
People don’t give a fuck about art. They like things all willy-nilly and just regurgitate whatever fucking nonsense someone says about why Raging Bull is brilliant. Fuck all that noise. Movies like Ghostbusters are advanced. They do all of the artistic shit Raging Bull does, but for the purpose of entertainment, of making you soak into the movie. That is beautiful, that is advanced, that is transcendent, and that could only happen a dozen times in about a century because it’s insanely hard to do.
And Ghostbusters isn’t even his best movie.
The Fog of War, one of the only movies that uses jump cuts well.
Jump cuts have always been fascinating to me. The entire idea of editing is fascinating, obviously. It’s this whole thing of, ‘How can we make this look fluid?’ ‘How will these compositions work together?’ There is even editing happening in a long sequence without cuts, because the composition is changing. Just think of the opening of Touch of Evil or Boogie Nights—there’s no actual editing, but the camera’s movement is editing as it goes along—it’s moving from one idea to another, and the varying compositions must fit together in a logical way. Think about that great shot in Raging Bull where we follow Jake out to the ring. There are no cuts, but the transition from intimate medium shot to huge, wide, crane shot is an editing choice within the same shot.
If you can intuit these principles naturally, you really have a leg up as a filmmaker. Kubrick, Tarantino, Scorsese, Aronofsky, Lee, Zemeckis, Spielberg, the Coens—whether you like their movies or not, these guys all have a handle on how to construct a scene. They have a handle on the principles.