Every generation has movies that define their childhoods. Typically, these are ones you ‘just had to be there’ to truly experience an unwavering, visceral nostalgia for. I was born in the 80’s, so if I had to make a master list of my own, just off the top of my head it’d probably include Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park, The Lion King, and Robin Hood: Men in Tights. But there are many 80’s and early 90’s staples that I managed to miss completely—no, I didn’t grow up under a rock, but movies like The Princess Bride, Clueless, The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Home Alone (okay, most everything by John Hughes) and Back to the Future are all ones I somehow managed to miss entirely.
But now, thanks to a friend who literally set up a private screening in a college lecture auditorium for me because he was so upset I hadn’t seen it, I have finally watched Back To The Future for the first time at the age of 27. And boy do I have questions.
Continue reading Back To The Future: I’ve Finally Seen It, And I Have Questions
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.
Jurassic Park is my favorite exercise in exposition, and in a way, the entire movie is exposition.
Continue reading On Exposition
Since Hollywood decided to do Rocky vs. Raging Bull, I figured I’d do the same.
Stories are a template. For practical purposes, the story is the plot (it actually isn’t, but just bear with me). A story is only as good as the way it’s told. Rocky has a decent story, a story we’ve heard a million times, but it’s told with care and craftsmanship. Rocky, the story, executed as the film Rocky, is transcendent—whereas Rocky, the story, executed as the film The Mighty Ducks, is okay I guess. Raging Bull is not a story—it’s information about a guy, dressed up stylistically. That doesn’t make it bad, but, it makes the two difficult to compare.
Continue reading Rocky vs. Raging Bull
I’m not really sitting with you right now, Steven Spielberg, but I want to be. There’s really nothing I could think of that would be more of an achievement. To be honest, I don’t think about your movies enough anymore, and I don’t reference you enough in my pieces on this site. It’s because talking about you is kind of old hat. You are unequivocally the most successful, and the most household name-y of any movie director in history. You created my childhood, and millions upon millions of other childhoods. Your name had as much market value in the 80s and 90s as McDonald’s and Reebok. (I made that last sentence up but it sounds real!)
So anyway, yeah, I’m sitting here (not really) with the most iconic living legend filmmaker of all time, Steven Spielberg:
Continue reading An (Imaginary) Interview with Steven Spielberg
The late, great Ray Harryhausen. (1920-2013)
When I was a little kid my grandpa showed me King Kong, the 1933 one. King Kong doesn’t look real, but it looks good, because it looks right. Looking ‘right’ is the key.
Special effects are perhaps film’s biggest point of separation from the other arts. In literature, if you want a monster in your story, you just describe it. But a movie has to convince you what you’re looking at is real, even when you’re looking at the most not real things humans can dream up. This takes a perfect synthesis of human imagination, technology, and innovation.
Continue reading Special Effects: Why They Look Right When They Look Right