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THE TECHNOLOGY TRAP
Aspiring filmmakers go through similar learning curves and, as a result, make many of the same mistakes. One of the goals of Film School Online is to help you avoid these hard knocks. At the very least we hope to provide you with enough awareness that you can spot the telltale signs of trouble and take corrective action in timely manner.
A common mistake is to confuse technology with filmmaking. In other words, you get caught up in the process of making a movie and loose track of telling a great story. It seems foolish to approach a project this way, yet countless filmmakers are obsessed with the latest cameras, lighting, effects, etc.
If you doubt that you can fall into this trap, take a look at Hollywood. How many potentially great movies have been compromised because of overly zealous special effects? George Lucas was praised for striking the right balance in the first three Star Wars movies, but many fans feel he dropped the ball with The Phantom Menace.
If seasoned pros can fall into this trap, students are particularly prone. Because of their inexperience, students don't see the difference between making a movie and transcending the process to tell a story. To them, it's one big ball of wax. Understanding the difference is what separates great filmmakers from mediocre ones.
The special effects department is not the only culprit. All craft areas can be guilty of infringing on the story, from cinematographers with their cameras; to gaffers with their lighting; to production designers with their sets, and so forth.
Recall Christian Bale's tirade against cinematographer Shane Hurlbut on the set of Terminator: Salvation (2009):
Christian Bale And Cinematographer
Bale certainly handled himself unprofessionally and there is no excuse for the way he addressed Hurlbut, but the point he was trying to make is valid. Hurlbut was so concerned about setting the lights that he was hindering the actors performances, which is, in essence, the telling of the story.
From a pedagogical point of view, it's easy to see how student filmmakers get caught in the technology trap. To many of them, "learning filmmaking" means learning the latest cameras or lights or editing software. It's not the same thing.
Filmmaking is the application of the principles and conventions of screen storytelling. These principles were developed over many decades and encompass both visual and audio aesthetics. Technology involves the tools that facilitates this application, it's not "filmmaking" per se.
Instinct vs. Knowledge
Too often, students become experts in the technology of filmmaking and go on to make films based on aesthetic instinct. A truly gifted filmmaker can probably get away with this, but not everyone is born with such ability. Most filmmakers work through a considerable learning curve to become great a what they do.
Even if you are a natural born instinctive filmmaker, your creativity and problem solving ability can be stifled by not having a solid base of knowledge from which to pull from.
For example, let's say you are instinctively using the technique of action compression. Wouldn't it be nice to know how and why this technique works? Wouldn't such knowledge help you apply it in better and perhaps unexpected ways?
Understanding the principles and conventions of filmmaking (or any art form, for that matter) not only provides you with a foundation from which to practice your skills, but also allows you to unleash the creative potential associated with those skills.
Don't fall into the technology trap. Keep your eye on the ball. No matter what your area of specialty is, your ultimate goal is always to tell a great screen story. -Lou LaVolpe
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