First of all, apologies for my absence. The past few months have been a bit busy ‘off camera’, hence the lack of updates. However, with my short ‘Runner’ in pre-production, I’ve been thinking a lot about the look I want it to have, and how I might visualise the other projects I’ve got planned.
That has led me to think about style, and how a director finds her or his own voice enough to stand out. Then, how this is affected by such things as camera and lens choice, angle, lighting and so many other things. More than once, I’ve come to appreciate how it feels like picking up a whole new language without words, or a ‘visual language.’
Now when you start learning any language, your command of the grammar is basic, as is the range of your vocabulary. You know what you want to say, but you don’t have the knowledge to say it yet.
It’s the same with filmmaking and the ‘visual language.’ You have all these ideas, all these things that you want to say and stories that you can see in your mind. The problem is that you lack the technical knowledge to bring those ideas to life. As with that beginner language student, you know what you want to say, but you don’t know how to say it yet. At least, not in a way that will do it justice.
Running alongside this is that, when you’re a beginner, you tend to wear your influences very clearly. A big reason for that is what I covered above: as a novice, you don’t have the breadth of technical know-how to turn your ideas into reality. You are then more likely to be more of an open book regarding the people who’ve inspired you.
Of course, it’s not wrong to have influences as a filmmaker. It’s part of how we end up developing our own artistic voice, as well as being, at least for some, a major reason that they got into filmmaking in the first place. Then there’s the fact that the people who inspired us would also have had inspirations of their own.
But how do we stand out, and develop a voice of our own? It’s an important question, especially so given the competitive nature of the film industry, and how difficult it is to break through.
I have to confess that it’s a question I’m still wrestling with myself. One thing I’m discovering is that watching so many films and television shows can actually be counter productive if we’re not careful, in that we can end up as little more than a collage of our various influences.
That’s not to say that we shouldn’t watch films or television shows. If we love the medium enough to want to make a career of it, then it would seem strange to avoid watching the work of others. As long as we’re not deliberately copying ideas from other filmmakers, then an interest in the art is important. Not only will it stop is from being excessively focused upon ourselves, it will also open us up to new techniques, styles and ideas that will help to contribute to our development as filmmakers.
The simple answer to avoid becoming little more than a tribute act to our favourite directors, writers, cinematographers etc, is to have something to say of our own in the first place. It’s like that novice learning a new language again, dropped in the middle of that country and needing some help: they know what they want to say, but not how to say it. Now think how much harder it would be for anyone helping this person if that individual didn’t know where they wanted to go. If, in short, they had nothing to say?
As a rookie filmmaker, you will have gaps in your knowledge. Leaving aside the fact that every filmmaker is learning throughout their career, the more inexperienced you are, the bigger those gaps. But you must still have something to say to audiences, even though you’re still finding your voice.
That means that, along with our stylistic and creative influences, we have to be interested in people, and in the world around us. We must have ideas to share. The technical expertise will grow, and eventually that individual voice of our own will emerge. However, if we truly want to stand out, we have to make sure that when it does, we’re saying things that matter. To us, and to our audience.
As always, please feel free to comment below! : )