From Fear to Toothless Commercialization: What Has Happened to Horror Films?

When I was a kid, I would spend entire weekends holed up in my room, devouring all different kinds of films. I didn't have much of a social life, and many of my days were spent reading Stephen King, and buying tons of films from the Blockbuster that was up the street from my house.

I used to be afraid of the idea of horror films when I was younger. I remember being afraid of the posters, or VHS box covers, of films like Halloween, Friday the 13th, and Candyman. When I actually started watching horror films on my own, I realized that the films were scary, but not in a life-altering way. 

Since then I have loved horror films with a passion, and I try and binge a ton of them during the month of October (with varying degrees of success, depending on my schedule). However, I have noticed a difference in horror films being made since 2005 or so. 

Part of the inspiration for this blog post has been Andrés Muschietti's adaptation of It, which is coming out on September 4th here in the US. I have been very vocal about my distaste with the trailers, and my low expectations for the film.

The reason I'm not very excited is because it abides by what I'll call "the Hollywood formula", insofar as it relies on jump-scares and harsh musical cues to sell its horror.

It is not the only film that is susceptible to this -- far from it. In fact, since about 2005 I have noticed that the vast majority of horror films being produced by bigger studios -- let's call them "mainstream horror films" -- consistently rely on jump scares to sell the horror, and have sapped these projects of all passion, and creativity. In essence, horror films feel like items on a factory line -- mass produced, and substituting quantity for quality.

Since 2005, there are have been 1,194 horror films released internationally (including straight-to-DVD horror films). Therefore, over a span of 12 years, on average there were 99.5 horror films released per year. Comparatively, from 1993 to 2004, there were only 560 horror films released -- half of what was released in the following 12 years, equating to roughly 46 horror films released per year.

All of this information was taken from Wikipedia, which has cited sources for all films released in these respective decades.

So immediately we can see that there has been a huge increase in the production of horror films since 2005, and while it is not necessarily a truth about business, we can generally infer that if something's production is massively ramped up, so that a specific product is being created at two times the speed it was previously being produced at, that quality is going to suffer (since quantity is taking precedent).

Now, to be clear, this is not to say that every film released from 1993 to 2004 were gems of the genre. We still got the pulpy, nonsense gore films like Wishmaster and The Rage: Carrie 2. Horror films themselves are only as good as the people making them, but it is important to note that even in these horrible films, you could see passion, and life, behind the production.

Objectively this is not a scary scene, nor is it a good horror scene by any sort of metric we would use to qualify one. However, the performances in this scene, and the direction, clearly show some kind of enjoyment of the project. The people working on the film know it's bad, but they're having fun with their premise. They know they can't make this scene good, but they can make it enjoyable to some degree. Even the ridiculously harsh musical cue is played up. It feels self-aware. 

Wishmaster opened to a $6 million opening weekend, and was largely panned by audiences and critics alike. Even still, if you take a look at the reviews on IMDB, you will find that many viewers will say a similar rendition of the same phrase: "it's a bad movie, but it was fun to watch." Wishmaster, as I said before, was never going to be a classic staple of American horror. However, the team behind it made it a fun, cheesy movie to watch. It didn't feel boring, for lack of better words.

Now compare that to a scene from Annabellereleased in 2014 to a $37 million opening weekend.

Annabelle was also panned by audiences and critics. However, if you look at those IMDB reviews again, many people are saying the opposite of what they said of Wishmaster: it's bad, and it's boring. In other words, it's not enjoyable to watch.

Granted, there are people who hated Wishmaster and loved Annabelle.

Now do I think that some of this has to do with the amount of forced jump scares in Annabelle? Yes. But I think it it goes deeper than that. 

Robert Kurtzman, who directed Wishmaster, knew he had a bad script and yet he put his heart into it, and created a popular cult film in the process. The point is that he respects cult films, and he still works hard to make what we would consider a bad script into a fun movie, even if it's not necessarily a good movie.

This is a very different perspective than John R. Leonetti's to Annabelle. In this interview about Annabelle, he seems bored almost. Passionate about film? Certainly! Passionate about this film? Not so much.

Now you might say "Keith, how can you know for sure he isn't passionate about his film?" To be fair, I can't know concretely. However, I feel comfortable in asserting this because he barely talks about his film. He gives a plot rundown in the beginning, he sells it as "scary" at the end, and that's about it (in terms of him talking about the film he helped create). Nowhere does he mention his visual influences for the film, or his cinematic influences (which Kurtzman briefly touches on), nor does he really talk about his role on the film. In fact, he often pushes praise onto James Wan (producer for this, director of The Conjuring, and Insidious, films, among others). Now one can see this as a humble way of pushing away praise, but it seems more indicative to me of a man who is strictly a guiding force to deliver a pre-determined vision.

He's not even the person credited in the promotional material for Annabelle! Instead, that is producer James Wan. So essentially what we have is someone who has been hired to deliver a visual aesthetic, and cinematic vision, that has already been determined by producers. Of course he's not crazy about his film! It's not his film, in the way that Wishmaster was Kurtzman's film.

Leonetti was also the director of 2017's Wish Upon, where -- again -- he is not mentioned at all in the promotional material. 

Leonetti is hardly the only the director whose presence on a film has been erased by the production company, or the producers. There are a large array of films, and filmmakers, that fit this category.

I think you're getting the point. And, to be fair, the director's name is, most of the time, listed at the end of the trailer. However, this credit is often quick, and rarely focused on. More importantly, out of all of these trailers, can you name more than one director -- the one director being James Wan -- associated with these projects? If you can't, don't be ashamed -- I can't either.

Directors have lost their authoritative presence on the sets of these films. The horror genre has been taken over by producers, and production companies, and directors have been relegated to the final seconds of a trailer. When directors are stifled creatively, films often aren't as good. When directors aren't handed the reigns to do what they want with a script, the film as a whole suffers.

The other reason why horror films are suffering is the PG-13 rating. This ties into the commercialization of horror projects as a whole. Part of the reason we have seen an influx in the creation of horror films, and part of the reason why these horror films are suffering critically, can be attributed to the PG-13 rating, in my opinion.

When a film is rated PG-13, it allows said film to be shown to a wider demographic of viewers. People under 17 don't need an adult with them to let them into a film. The only thing people a PG-13 film restricts are young children. This allows producers to make more money, and get more people into the theater.

The following horror films, or film franchises, have a PG-13 rating, and have been released since 2005:

  • Insidious (2010)
  • When a Stranger Calls (2006)
  • The Last Exorcism (2010)
  • White Noise (2005)
  • The Woman In Black (2012)
  • The Skeleton Key (2005)
  • House at the End of the Street (2012)
  • The Haunting In Connecticut (2009)
  • The Possession (2012)
  • Prom Night (2008)
  • The Messengers (2007)
  • One Missed Call (2008)
  • The Uninvited (2009)
  • The Eye (2008)
  • Boogeyman (2005)
  • Devil (2005)
  • Poltergeist (2015)
  • The Lazarus Effect (2015)
  • Shutter (2008)
  • Mama (2013)
  • Ouija (2014)
  • Dark Skies (2013)
  • The Rite (2011)

This is just a very small sampling of examples. What else do all of these films have in common, though? 

  1. They all rely on jump-scares to sell their horror.
  2. They all have either poor, or mixed, reviews from audiences and critics.
  3. They all have made millions at the box office.

So, essentially, these kinds of commercialized, watered down, toothless films make tons of money at the box office, yet are often despised, or disliked by critics? They aren't even regarded as fun, or enjoyable? So what happened to horror films? Why have we seen a huge increase in their production, and a huge decrease in their quality?

To be clear, there are exceptions to the rule, as there always are. But, in general, we can hone in on three specific reasons as to why horror films are, generally, poorer in terms of quality, and less fun, than they used to be.

  1. A huge increase in the amount of horror films being produced -- two times what it was pre-2005.
  2. Directors have seen their control over a project diminish, and they have been scrubbed from promotional material.
  3. A huge increase in PG-13 horror films, which often see low critical and social response, but make millions at the box office.

So what's the solution?

Honestly, until these films begin to do poorly at the box office, there is no solution. Production companies are the arbiters of what makes it to the silver screen. On the rare off-chance that an independent, low-budget effort -- where a director has complete creative control (like the first Paranormal Activity film) -- makes it big at the box office, production companies quickly franchise it, fast-track sequels, and ruin what made the original film great in the first place while searching to capitalize on its success.

This is also not just something that is strictly a horror movie issue. The YouTuber Nerdwriter, whose videos often have a great level of educational insight into filmmaking, and films in general, made a video about this epidemic of 'passable' films, which have risen in recent years.

His point, and my ultimate point, is that we need a surge of originality in Hollywood. We need more films like It Follows, The Babadook, and The Witch, which have used the independent platform as a place to explore new ideas, new techniques, and subversions of the genre to varying degrees of success. We need more distribution companies like A24, who are willing to take chances on original, and interesting, films.

I see this going one of two ways: either horror cinema crashes and burns from too much commercialization, and too much "safe filmmaking" so to speak, or the independent scene resurges with new, interesting, original horror films that become the norm.

I hope the latter is what happens, though, for right now, I fear we are rapidly pursuing the former.

"The Lure": An Exploration Of Loneliness and Identity


Anyone who follows me on Letterboxd, where I post frequent reviews of films I've seen, knows that I rail against unoriginal, or cliched films, quite often. It's a problem filmmakers have always had (especially in Hollywood), but it seems to have become especially prevalent nowadays as we have seen a rise in superhero films, franchise building, and novel adaptations. Occasionally we will see an original film become surprisingly successful at the box office (It Comes At Night is an excellent example of this, as it made 260% of its budget in revenue), but for the most part there is a set routine genres and stories that are produced, and released, in the film industry.

The independent scene is flourishing, though, as more people are flocking to film festivals to see what is available. Netflix and Amazon Prime are changing the game, too, by funding a variety of projects, and giving newer filmmakers a platform with which to release their film (Amazon does a full theater release, while Netflix makes it available to their subscribers).

It's also important to mention the old adage, "Every story has already been told", essentially meaning that were are currently just repurposing older stories, updating them, and releasing them to audiences again. 

To some extent I can understand this adage, as we do tell a lot of the same stories in different ways, especially in certain genres (there are only so many ways you can tell a love story, or a war story, etc.), but there is room within the confines of those stories to create something interesting and original. Just because someone has said certain words before doesn't mean you can't rearrange them to mean something else.

That's essentially what The Lure does. This Polish musical, soon to be available for purchase from The Criterion Collection, is based on Hans Christian Andersen's famous fairy tale, "The Little Mermaid". However, while it stays faithful to its source material in certain narrative aspects, The Lure is not interested in re-telling the story Andersen wrote in 1837. Instead, writer Robert Bolesto and director Agnieszka Smocynska found a way to explore themes of loneliness, isolation, and sexuality in a modern day setting, using the idea of mermaids as a stepping-off point.

The Lure is wholly original right from the get-go. It is a musical, albeit a very dark one, about two mermaid sisters -- Silver and Golden -- who are adopted into a cabaret, and perform at a rather sleazy night club. Silver falls in love with a handsome bassist, and Golden begins to hunt, and eat, humans during the night. 

The entire film has this ethereal, dreamlike quality to it. It's almost surreal. Part of that is due to the fact that the majority of the first two acts take place in the aforementioned nightclub, where we see Silver, Golden, and the rest of the cabernet performing highly sexual pop songs while being bathed in laser shows, highly saturated colors, and wildly flamboyant clothing.

In one of our opening scenes, before Silver and Golden are told they will perform in the cabernet, we see the club owner walking through his establishment. Tracking him in a shot that looks as though it was taken directly out of Scorsese's Goodfellas, we see him pass cooks, servers, and other employees who are all dancing to the beat of the song playing while doing their daily work. It's an odd introduction to many of the characters we see, and to the club itself, and yet it somehow fits the atmosphere in retrospect. It throws you off, keeps you off balance, and prepares you for the oddities that are to come.

 © Robert Palka

© Robert Palka

The element of the mermaids is handled in a very interesting way, as well. In a scene following the one above, the night club owner discovers Silver and Golden hiding in a locked room. He is told that they are mermaids rather matter-of-factly, with one of his employees pouring a glass of water on them. Doing so transforms their legs (which look mostly human, except for a few obvious discrepancies) into mermaid tails. The night club owner, who we expect to be horrified, or at least surprised, takes it in stride, and says they will perform at the club. Then, a few scenes later, we see the sisters perform; their song ends with them posing in a giant bowl of water, their mermaid tails on display for everyone to see -- and the crowd roars with applause.

In other words, the mermaids are handled very similarly to the way Gabriel García Márquez handles the old man in his short story "A Very old Man With Enormous Wings". In some respect, this is just a part of magical realism, where a grounded, realistic story is infiltrated by one fantastical element, which is not treated as fantastical within the context of the narrative. Everyone takes these mermaids in stride.

And yet, this leads to the most interesting theme of the film -- identity. These mermaids are considered a part of their community (insofar as a sleazy night club can be considered a community), so much so that Silver falls in love, and engages in a sexual relationship with the cabernet's bassist, Mietek. However, before their relationship commences, Mietek says something along the lines of "I'll always see you as a fish".

Granted, he gets over this very quickly (quickly as in literally a minute later), but this is the beginning of this theme of isolation and loneliness that is so essential to understanding our characters.

 © WDFiF


Because while the community embraces the mermaids as performers, they don't interact with them in any meaningful way. The mermaids are viewed as objects -- on the stage (where they sing and strip for their audience), and sexually, as all of Golden's murderous nights out begin with her engaging with a man sexually. They are not given personhood, or individuality by this community. In fact, in one of the film's most heartbreaking scenes, Silver has her tail cut off and replaced with a human woman's bottom half. She does this so she and Mietek can finally be a couple, and be normal. Doing this gives her a disturbingly large, and horrifying scar, complete with large, black stitches, across her midsection, and she is forced to walk on crutches while she regains her strength. She gives up every part of her identity, of her individuality, even her connection with Golden, just so she can be with Mietek, and he ends up falling in love, and marrying a human woman. Meanwhile, all throughout the film, Golden is telling Silver that she can't fall in love with Mietek -- that if he leaves her, and falls in love with someone else, that she will turn into sea foam unless she eats him. Silver ignores this warning from her sister, and it ends up being the mistake that costs her her life at the end of the film.

These themes are perfectly encapsulated in the poster for the film, and the marketing stills that are associated with the project. They mainly involve Silver in a dingy bathtub, her impossibly large tail sticking out of it. It's such a simple image, and yet it's extremely powerful -- this beacon of beauty -- a mermaid -- is living in an impossibly small bathtub in a dirty, grimy bathroom, completely alone.

 © Robert Palka

© Robert Palka

So does The Lure succeed in exploring many of its themes?

Yes, and no. The Lure is more interested in its surreal imagery, its magical realism, and the actions of its mermaids than it is in the narrative themes it presents. The love story between Silver and Mietek isn't entirely fleshed out -- when it works it is incredible, and there are plenty of scenes of raw beauty and sadness that make the pairing seem real in a lot of ways, but often we only see glimpses of them together which all amount to the same ending, or the same implication.

However, with that said, Smocynska's direction is incredibly taut, beautiful, and memorable. The cinematography in this film is astounding, and the usage of color and sound add an intriguing, and important layer to the film. At 92 minutes, The Lure doesn't mess around -- it hits you hard and fast with its imagery, and with its narrative (though perhaps too quickly for the latter). The benefit of this, though, is that the film doesn't feel bloated, nor does the pacing feel too slow. The story is told swiftly, and with precision, and that kept my interest throughout the entire runtime.


All in all, The Lure is one of the most original films I have ever seen. It explores very familiar themes of loneliness, isolation, beauty, love, and the male gaze (especially that last one) in fresh, new ways, and the musical aspect adds an intriguing layer to the narrative itself.

Don't get me wrong -- this film is not all fun, games, and sex. It is dark. There are plenty of moments of brutal violence, of heartbreaking pathos, and of grim horror. However, in-between those are some truly beautiful moments which help propel the film's quality upwards.

I highly recommend The Lure to anyone interested in Polish cinema, magical realism, dark fantasy tales, and/or bloody musicals.

MY RATING: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆

Runtime: 92 minutes | Unrated

My Top 12 Favorite Films (For Now)

I have been obsessed with films for as long as I could remember. I would spend entire weekends holed up in my room, watching all of the films I could get my hands on. When I got into college, I was able to study all sorts of films, and I gained a newfound appreciation for the medium -- and those who take part in it.

For the moment, these are my favorite films of all time.

12. Once Upon a Time In the West (Sergio Leone, 1968)

 Gunslingers stand off against their target in Leone's  Once Upon a Time In the West.

Gunslingers stand off against their target in Leone's Once Upon a Time In the West.

Sergio Leone's Westerns were works of art -- gorgeous framed, beautifully paced, and wonderfully scored. While The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly is perhaps his most well known film, his directing work on A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, Once Upon a Time in America, and Once Upon a Time In the West cannot be understated.

Once Upon a Time In the West is an exquisite experience. In the opening scene we see three grizzled gunslingers gather at a train station, and we hear a few sounds -- water dripping, a weather vane creaking in the wind, flies buzzing. Utilizing the power of editing, and some simple sound design (and some gorgeous cinematography), Leone creates a powerful layer of suspense. When the person they are waiting for finally does arrive, the scene explodes into a chaotic explosion of gunfire and death, leaving one lone man standing.

It's scenes like this that set apart Leone and every other Western filmmaker out there; it's scenes like this why so many directors are indebted to his style, and his films.

Once Upon a Time In the West is a three-hour epic, complete with satisfying narrative arcs, a chilling performance from Henra Fonda, some gorgeous cinematography, and typically incredible music by Ennio Morricone. All of these elements earn this film a spot on my list.

11. The Seventh Seal (Ingmar Bergman, 1957)

 A famous shot from Bergman's  The Seventh Seal.

A famous shot from Bergman's The Seventh Seal.

The Seventh Seal is one of Bergman's best film -- a philosophically engaging, beautifully shot, and tautly directed exploration of life, death, and religion.

From a narrative perspective, this film is iconic. It is Bergman at his most probing. He asks age-old questions with brusque ease, and he explores perplexing existentialist questions with a surprising amount of depth, and emotional sensitivity.

On a technical level, this film is breathtaking. Bergman uses lighting to his advantage here, shrouding Death in shadows, while also contrasting this darkness with momentary patches of light. It's an interesting visual aesthetic to employ, though certainly appropriate given the subject material.

The Seventh Seal is one of Bergman's finest films, and one of his most interesting on a philosophical level. I highly recommend you check it out.

10. Oldboy (Chan-Wook Park, 2003)

Chan-Wook Park's Oldboy is an incredibly violent, demented, disturbing film. At its heart it is a revenge narrative -- and an incredible one at that -- and yet, it is a film that becomes more interested in the nature of revenge rather than the actual act of revenge. Why are our characters driven by a ruthless bloodthirst, and are their actions morally sound? Do the ends justify the means?

There is also a fair amount of mystery in the narrative, beginning with our main character -- Oh Dae-su -- being kidnapped while in a drunken stupor, imprisoned for 15 years, and then released without warning after 15 years. The climax of this film has one of the best, and most depraved, twists I have ever seen.

Oldboy also stands out as an incredible display of cinematography and action choreography. The famous hallway scene, which I provided a link to above, is a perfect example of the kind of visual aesthetic, and gritty realism, you can expect from this film.

9. Nosferatu (F.W. Murnau, 1922)

 Max Schreck as Count Orlok in  Nosferatu.

Max Schreck as Count Orlok in Nosferatu.

I will always have a special place in my heart for German expressionism. The visuals in the films that made up this film movement are unlike anything I have seen since, and every single entry was wholly unique in every respect of the term.

In all honesty, this is the most difficult choice I had to make for this list. I could just have easily chosen The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, or Metropolis, or M, or Vampyr. Pretty much every single film that falls underneath the umbrella of German expressionism is worth the watch.

Nosferatu is an adaptation of Bram Stoker's 1897 novel, Dracula. Certain aspects of the story were changed so that producer Albin Grau could duck copyright laws (like the name of the vampire being changed to Count Orlok). However, this remains the definitive adaptation of the novel for many, myself included.

It's genuinely terrifying, both because of the gorgeous usage of lighting, and because of Max Schrek's chilling performance.

Nosferatu may not be the most well-known film from the German expressionist era, or the most critically adored, but it is one of the most memorable, and terrifying, and that is why it is on this list.

8. The Hunt (Thomas Vinterberg, 2012)

Originally titled Jagten (which is Danish for "hunt") this drama starring Mads Mikkelsen is one of the most sobering, disturbing, and depressing films I have seen in a very long time. The story revolves around Lucas, a teacher, who watches his entire life fall apart after a child lies about a very serious subject.

Mads Mikkelsen is an incredible actor (everyone who has seen his US work knows this, especially those who have seen the film Casino Royale, or the NBC show, Hannibal), but this is the film that really made me understand why he is one of the greatest actors alive. His performance is very subtle; his eyes often say more than his mouth. However, his work here is nothing short of brilliant, and devastating.

The narrative of the film is very straightforward. However, it does have a very important conversation at its core. Furthermore, its narrative is told with so many different layers of emotional complexity, that its final shot will resonate with you to a surprising degree.

The Hunt is one of the newer films on this list, but it is certainly deserving of its place.

7. To Kill a Mockingbird (Robert Mulligan, 1962)

 Gregory Peck and Brock Peters in  To Kill a Mockingbird.

Gregory Peck and Brock Peters in To Kill a Mockingbird.

Harper Lee's novel is one of my favorites, and for many reasons. It has a very interesting, and important, story at its core, and it is told in such a compelling way that it's easy to understand why it is a staple of American literature.

The film adaptation is just as powerful. Thanks to its pitch-perfect casting, its excellent cinematography, and its faithful script, this film is the quintessential example of how to do an adaptation correctly.

Gregory Peck is the one who really pushes this film into the stratosphere, though. His monologue at the end of the film is one of the most iconic moments in cinematic history.

Everything about To Kill a Mockingbird works, and therefore it deserves its spot here.

6. The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972)

You knew this would appear somewhere on this list. The Godfather has topped so many "Top 10" lists, it's hard to keep track at this point. The praise is not misplaced -- Coppola's film is one of the finest cinematic accomplishments ever achieved. It is, in every way, a unique, breathtaking experience, and I implore everyone to see it at least once.

While it doesn't top my list, there is a ton I love about The Godfather. Its usage of lighting could be its own blog post, as could Gordon Willis's cinematography. The film is perfectly cast, beautifully paced, and wonderfully scored. The writing manages to be both faithful to its source material, and simultaneously explore the material in new, and exciting ways.

Coppola, and his team's, accomplishments cannot be understated. The Godfather redefined the crime genre, set a new standard for dramatic filmmaking, and inspired generations of filmmakers. It is still heavily studied, and intensively analyzed. Even better, it still holds up today -- 45 years later.

5. Stalker (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1979)

Andrei Tarkovsky is one of the most important filmmakers in cinematic history, and -- sadly -- his films are often forgotten, or not incorporated, in film classes. Tarkovsky was one of the most intelligent, and profound, filmmakers ever to live, and every single one of his films are intense philosophical discussions that are photographed beautifully, and are stunningly meditative.

Stalker is perhaps his most well known film, besides perhaps Solaris, and it is also one of his most intruiging. The story revolves around a Stalker -- a guide -- who leads two men into the Zone so they can find a room that grants wishes.

It is as odd as it sounds, and yet it is also beautiful, engaging, and philosophically profound. Every frame is a painting; every monologue is a treatise. No one made films quite like Tarkovsky, and no one else every will.

I also recommend you check out some speeches Tarkovsky gave on film. He was an incredibly intelligent man with a unique perspective on film, and its capabilities.

4. Mulholland Dr. (David Lynch, 2002)

Oh, Lynch. You never look at film the same way once you have seen anything by David Lynch. Much like Tarkovsky, there is no director out there like him. His films do not conform to stereotypical narrative tropes, structures, or expectations. Furthermore, every film Lynch does is a different incarnation -- a different beast if you like. Eraserhead is nothing like Dune; Dune is nothing like Blue Velvet; Blue Velvet is nothing like Mulholland Dr.

Mulholland Dr. is one of Lynch's best films. With an incredible cast, a surprisingly powerful narrative at its core, and Lynch's usual mastery of film language, and his ability to subvert expectations (especially in one particular scene, which I wrote a length about in a previous blog post), Mulholland Dr. sets itself apart both from other films that came out at the same time, and from Lynch's own canon.

However, like with much of Lynch's work, it must be seen to be understood. Therefore, I implore you to go see it when you can.

3. La Jetée (Chris Marker, 1960)

We're in the top three! And leading us off is one of the best short films ever made. Chris Marker's mind-bending science-fiction tale of World War III, the end of the world, time travel, and romance is told strictly through still photographs and voiceover. It is an ethereal experience, a powerful deconstruction of film as a medium, and a story that will stick with you long after the film ends.

I love this film because it was the first film to show me that narrative storytelling does not have to be so rigid in terms of its structure. It's an impressive, and eye-opening experience, and I recommend everyone, but particularly aspiring filmmakers, to watch it.

Additionally, if you are interested, I also recommend you check out 12 Monkeys, which is Terry Gilliam's remake of this classic piece of cinema, starring Brad Pitt, Madeleine Stowe, and Bruce Willis.

2. The Departed (Martin Scorsese, 2006)

The final half-hour of this film never fails to take my breath away. Martin Scorsese's remake of the film Infernal Affairs is an impressive display of taut writing, expert direction, pitch-perfect casting, and tense storytelling. In fact, I would be so bold as to say that The Departed far exceeds Infernal Affairs in terms of quality.

For a long time The Departed was my favorite film of all time. It has everything, as was mentioned before, and is consistently entertaining throughout. You will never be bored, which is impressive for a two-and-a-half hour film.

Leonardo DiCaprio gives the best performance of his career (yes, including everything he's done thus far) in this film, and the supporting cast is perfect in every way. I can't sing high enough praises for this film -- you must see it.

1. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968)


I cannot express how much this film changed my life, my perspective on film, my own visual aesthetic as a filmmaker, and my approach to narrative storytelling. 2001: A Space Odyssey is one of the most important films every to be released. It is ambitious; it is provocative; it is powerful; it is philosophically profound; it is everything you would every want out of a film, and much more.

While Kubrick had many masterpieces throughout his career, 2001 stands out as his most ambitious, and most visually expressive film. The final twenty minutes are breathtaking, confusing, and masterfully constructed. The opening of the film, as we see apes gain the ability to use tools, is both simple, and impressively profound.

Kubrick is my favorite filmmaker for a number of reasons, but 2001 was the first film that pushes the envelope in literally every way; 2001 is not a film -- it is an ethereal experience, and one you will never forget.

How Quickly Should A TV Show Be Wrapped Up?

2017 has been a giant year for television. There is no simpler way to put it. However, the two biggest sources of excitement for fans throughout the United States (and internationally) were the long-awaited penultimate season of Game of Thrones and the return of the cult classic series Twin Peaks.

Before we continue, I do want to mention there will be mild spoilers for both shows, so continue at your own risk.

These returns were exciting for very different reasons. Game of Thrones showrunners, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, had announced that they were going to wrap up their juggernaut of a series in 13 episodes (seven episodes in season 7, six in season 8), with extensive promotional material featuring battles, both human and supernatural. If anything, Game of Thrones promised a continued climax for their remaining episodes. For the most part, they have delivered on that front.

David Lynch and Mark Frost said next to nothing about the return of Twin Peaks beyond the fact that it would be an 18 part miniseries, and that there would be a huge cast of characters -- both old ones returning, and new ones appearing -- in it. There were no plot details release, no episode stills, and the only promotional material used to market the show's return were 60 to 90-second trailers containing clips of characters, underscored by ominous music.

In this way we can see the differences between these shows. Game of Thrones is in its final sequence of episodes, wrapping up a huge story in a short amount of time, and all of these tiny threads that have been delicately, and carefully, laid out over the last six seasons are finally coming to their suitably bloody climax.

It's important to mention, though, that this could be the only return of Twin Peaks we ever see. While Showtime executives have said that they're ready for more Twin Peaks if Lynch and Frost are up to continue it, the elusive showrunners haven't confirmed a fourth season. Furthermore, Lynch himself -- who is directing all 18 episodes of this third season -- has said he doesn't plan to do anything more once this season wraps up, though he did say not to rule out the possibility. However, with Lynch in his early 70s, and with no other projects on the horizon (that we know of; I can't stress how elusive this man is) it feels unlikely that he would undertake another season.

Therefore, essentially, we are witnessing two shows at the end of their lifespan. And yet, they could not be approaching pacing more differently.

Game of Thrones has become notorious for ignoring elements of realism so that they can tell their story. This is especially true whenever a character travels -- there is no time in the story anymore to show the character's slow trek towards their destination. Instead, it's much easier to cut to them arriving, and then write a line in later that describes the length of time it took them to get to said destination. They have also ramped up all of their story elements, making some character moments seem odd, or fall flat. It's difficult to tell such an expansive story in such a short amount of time. If we're being honest with ourselves, Game of Thrones could easily have gone for another two to three seasons to really get through all of these story elements.

Twin Peaks could not be more different in its approach. Lynch has said that he has approached this season of his show as an 18-hour film, and he has spent about 12 of those hours very carefully, and precisely, setting his pieces for what is becoming a thrilling, and wholly unique, ending. We've spent the majority of this season with Dougie, not Cooper, and we've only seen glimpses of some beloved characters from the show, while we've spent multiple episodes on newer ones.

Part of this comes down to the nature of the creators: David Lynch does not care how his fans react to his art, nor does he care about critical and social reception. He makes art for the sake of making art. Benioff and Weiss have done the opposite, and continually delivered on fan service (at least, they have since they have departed from Martin's novel at the end of their fifth season). So, automatically, there is a difference in approach.

But how long should someone take to tell their story? Is there an appropriate way to approach such storytelling (especially epic, supernatural stories, which both of these shows are telling) so that the fans are pleased, and the story is given the space it needs to breathe?

As always, the answer is complicated, and it is important to note that both of these strategies have angered their respective fans. Many people have accused Lynch of meandering with this season of Twin Peaks, spending more time on musical moments, and the Dougie arc rather than delivering what everyone wants: Good Cooper vs Bad Cooper. Conversely, Game of Thrones has been criticized for rushing its story to deliver big action set pieces, and huge plot developments (like wiping out two houses in a few episodes, or the huge developments from the episode last night), and for relying more on fan service, and ex-machinas to push its story forward. Fans and critics alike argue Thrones has lost the edge it had when it came to delivering the surprising deaths, engaging storylines, and multi-faceted characters that made the show popular throughout its first few seasons.

 A still from  Twin Peaks  (2017)

A still from Twin Peaks (2017)

In some respect it's unfair to judge both shows before they are complete. It's silly to judge an incomplete story, as all the answers we want may be contained in those last few episodes. 

I was against Thrones doing its 13 episode model because, as I've extensively explained above, it rushes everything. Therefore, I lean more towards Lynch's approach, with methodical, deliberate story setting, character development, and plot building.

However, it's important to remember that Lynch is the extreme end of the spectrum. A show like The Americans, or even Breaking Bad are excellent examples of how you can tell an expansive story concisely, with razor-sharp precision, and still deliver the moments your fans love.

Conversely, a show like The Walking Dead is the perfect example of a show that is spiraling a bit with a meandering, repetitive story.

Ultimately, I will enjoy watching these shows because each of them offer me very different experiences; however going forward I think it is important that we take a look at how shows are telling their stories, and how long they are telling them. Television has the supreme advantage of being able to tell a single story over an elongated period of time, allowing us to watch characters change, and plots develop. It's a tool that can be misused. It can also be used with medical precision, and deliver an unforgettable experience. We should, whenever possible, strive for the latter.

10 Things I Learned While Making My Thesis Films

My senior year of college (which feels like forever ago, despite the fact that it's only been a little over a year since I graduated) was a hectic, and stressful time. This was my own doing, as I decided -- alongside my studies, and all of the other activities, jobs, and clubs I was involved with -- I was going to make two thesis films: one in my Fall semester, and one in my Spring semester. These two films were Stalker, a short, experimental horror film, and Departure, a feature length romantic drama.

I learned a lot of really important things about myself in that year, both as a filmmaker, and as a person. I wanted to share with you the ten most important things I learned while working on these thesis films.

10. Pre-Production is vital to your success

I don't want you to get the impression that I'm not proud of my thesis films, including Stalker -- quite the opposite, in fact. Stalker was a semi-finalist in the 2016 Student Academy Awards, and has been screened internationally at film festivals from Poland to San Antonio, TX. Departure has been screened at a couple of festivals in the United States. I am very proud of what my team and I put together with these films. However, I think it is important to shine a light on the mistakes I made, so you can get a better idea about how to succeed with your films, thesis related or otherwise.

With that said, one of my biggest mistakes with my first thesis film, Stalker, was not doing enough pre-production.

All throughout film school we are taught that pre-production is the most vital aspect of the filmmaking process -- more so than production, even. And yet, during this first film, I didn't do much before I picked up a camera. No storyboard, no shot list, no location scouting, nothing. I just got some people together, wrote a 9-page script, and went for it.

This lack of preperation can be seen in parts of the film.

Lighting was a big issue in Stalker. The majority of the film was shot at night, and because of this there are a lot of really noisy, unnattractive shots, along with some out of focus frames, and some poorly lit scenes.

Stalker Still 1.jpeg
Stalker Still 2.jpeg
Stalker Still 3.jpeg

 It did give the film this kind of grungy aesthetic, which worked in the context of the narrative I constructed, but it also made it difficult to watch in places. 

The other issue here is that there were scenes that were well lit, well framed, and crisp.

Because of this discrepancy in my visual imagery, the film felt off in places. Watching it now, the editing almost feels harsher because I would cut from a crisp, clean image to a rather ugly image.

A healthy amount of pre-production would have fixed these issues. If I had taken the time to block out each scene, to think about all of the lighting scenarios I wanted, to either storyboard the film, or create a shot list, I would have been more successful with Stalker's visual aesthetic.

9. Think about editing during pre-production and shooting

The editing process can either be a smooth experience, or your worst nightmare. It is entirely dependent on how well you set yourself up for success. How well did you capture your sound? How much footage did you get? How many takes of each scene did you ask for? All of these things can directly affect the quality of your film, and the time it takes for you to finish a final cut of your film.

With Stalker I did not think about the editing process during pre-production. I did keep it in the back of my head during shooting (Hitchcock famously shot only what was necessary to edit with, and I think that's an efficient method when doing a thesis film, especially if you're in a time crunch), but when I got to the edit room I realized that I hadn't prepared myself well enough. I had to choose some out of focus shots because I had never gotten safety takes. I had to deal with poor audio in spots, or had to artificially boost pieces of dialogue, because I didn't capture them well enough.

All of these things are important to keep in the back of your head when you are doing pre-production, and when you are shooting. Editing can be a ton of fun, but it can also be your worst nightmare. Set yourself up for success and it will be the former. Neglect to do so, and it will be the latter.

8. Your story should not overstay its welcome

So let's switch over to Departure -- I've ragged on Stalker enough for the time being. With Departure, I wanted to make a feature. I didn't really care about the stress, the time commitment, or the financial difficulties that would come with that endeavor; I pushed myself harder than I ever have before, and I told myself I was going to do a feature.

It was a terrifying, exhausting, and exhilarating experience. Your first feature is like nothing you have ever done before, and it sticks with you (no matter the quality of the film itself). I wrote a 60 page script in about two weeks, shot the film in roughly 12 days, and edited it in about a month-and-a-half. 

The issue with Departure is that it overstays its welcome. It's not a feature-length story. At best it was a 45 minute story. Because I was so determined to make a feature, I lost sight of the fact that my pacing was erratic, and that my story felt repetitive, and overstretched.

All filmmakers make this mistake at times (just look at Peter Jackson's Hobbit trilogy), but when you are doing your thesis film it is important to really think about how long your story can sustain itself. What is the natural runtime your film needs to tell its story? This can be the difference between a great film, and a decently ambitious one.

7. Always have a team you can trust

This one might seem like a no-brainer, but surround yourself with people you trust, and never let them go. Loyal crew members, and talent, are hard to come by nowadays. If you can find a crew that will work hard for you, complement your vision, and enjoy the time they're on set, your film will be enhanced.


This was my crew on Departure, all of whom worked long days, gave up their weekends consistently for the film, and helped carry the story to completion. They are the reason the film succeeded, not me. 

My point here is that having a team behind you who you can always trust to help you, to help your film, and to complement your vision, is a team you should always have by your side. Your films will come out better, and you will enjoy yourself more.

6. Make sure you have the capital to make your film

You won't be able to pay many people, especially not at the rate that they should be paid. However, if you promise to pay someone, always make sure you can afford that promise. Even if it takes you a little bit to come up with the money, always make sure that you remain in contact with them, and continually let them know that they will be paid for their hard work, and their dedication to your project.

Films take money to make -- this is the nature of the business. I was fortunate enough that my cast and crew on both of my thesis films worked for no pay. However, I covered, travel, food, gas, and other expenditures. Not doing this can hurt your film, and -- more importantly -- important friendships with crew members and talent. You don't want to do that, especially in this business.

5. Be prepared for the stress

Okay, let's get real for a minute. Making films is stressful. I wasn't lying when I said that making Departure was the most stressful experience of my filmmaking career thus far. You need to be prepared for that stress, though, especially if you are the writer/director.

Some of that stress I put on myself. I acted as writer, director, producer, DOP, editor, and actor on Departure. That's a lot of hats to wear all at once. On top of that, I got sick at the end of production, meaning that I was particularly worn down. 

Making films isn't easy. It's emotionally, physically, and -- for some -- spiritually taxing. Make sure you take all of the necessary precautions to ensure you don't exceed your capacity for dealing with stress, and always be sure to do something relaxing at the end of a shoot day.

4. Get professional actors, and trust them

One of the best decisions I made when I was making Departure was to cast Diana Sanchez. Diana is a Boston based actress who played Beth in the film. She came up to Vermont on a Thursday, slept on a couch, shot all of her scenes in two days, and went back to Boston on Saturday night. Again, we worked long days (8-12 hours regularly) while shooting Departure. Not only was Diana pleasant, funny, and lovely to have on set, she also gave a lot of serious thought to her character, asked good questions, and always made sure to clarify her character's intentions in a particular scene before we rolled. Oh, and she agreed to work for free. 

 Diana Sanchez and Joshua Cobb on the set of  Departure.

Diana Sanchez and Joshua Cobb on the set of Departure.

Casting the right people can be difficult sometimes, and finding someone who will embody the character you've written is nerve-wracking. However, I implore you to search out professional actors. If you can pay them -- wonderful! If you can't -- ask them if they're willing to work for free if you cover travel, food, and lodging. Do what you can to cast professional people in your film, and your film's quality will dramatically increase. The places I have had the most success with casting are on IMDB Pro, and

More importantly, though, trust your actors when they have an idea. In the script for Departure, many of the fight scenes begin in the middle of the argument. Diana had the idea to improvise some dialogue before that moment so we can see what leads up to the fight in question. This helped her, because then she (as Beth) could gain context for the fight, and I had more footage to play with in the edit room. I let her and Josh, who played the lead role of Sam, improvise a lot of the scenes they were in, which led to more comfortable, relaxed (or more intense, passionate) scenes.

So, in short, trust your actors to do the right thing -- they know what they're doing.

3. Make the film as though you're going to submit it to Sundance

Your thesis film is your final college filmmaking statement before you entire the real world. Because of this, they are your best marketing tool. If you make a damn good thesis film, you can submit it to festivals, show it to possible employers, use it on your reel, or even show it to investors as proof that you can work within specific parameters and still create a great end product.

Therefore, whenever you make a film (but especially your thesis film) you should always aspire to create something as though you're going to send it to Sundance, or Cannes, or the film festival that you really admire. Set your sights for a specific level of quality you hope to attain, and keep that in mind all throughout the creation of your film.

Film festivals are the best way for young filmmakers to get their art out into the world. Create something that you are proud to market.

2. Be prepared for disappointment

In addition to my previous point, be prepared for things not to go the way you planned. Murphy's Law is the reigning truth in filmmaking -- what can go wrong, will go wrong.

In both of my thesis films there were a thousand things that went wrong during shooting and editing. Some things were avoidable (like sound, lighting, and focusing issues). Others were not (locations, casting, time constraints, etc.). Some things happened after the film was completed (rejections from film festivals, poor reviews, etc.)

Don't get discouraged, though, by any of this. Film is a unique art that requires consistent education, and rewards growth. 

Of the roughly 40 film festivals I have submitted my work to, I've had 37 rejections. 37 times I have submitted to film festivals, often spending my own money, only to receive the rejection email a few months later. It sucks -- I'm not going to lie to you. Every rejection you receive feels like a kick in the gut, especially when you come so close to succeeding. Stalker was one of roughly 90 films, selected from a pool of 1,749 submissions, that advanced to the semi-finals of the Student Academy awards, and it ended up being rejected. Departure was submitted to a film festival in Burlington, where I knew many of the judges. It ended up getting rejected. As of right now, Departure has received a 2-star review, a 2.5 star review, and a 4-star review. Stalker has received a 2-star review, two 3-star reviews, and one 4-star review. These reviews will hurt.

 A review of  Departure.

A review of Departure.

 A review of  Departure.

A review of Departure.

 A review of my sophomore year short film,  Void.

A review of my sophomore year short film, Void.

 A review of my freshman year short film,  The Lonely .

A review of my freshman year short film, The Lonely.

 A small selection of rejections I've received from festivals.

A small selection of rejections I've received from festivals.

My point is that you are going to put in a lot of effort into your film, and not everyone is going to love it. Not every festival is going to clamor to get your film into their venue. But don't let that stop you. You're going to get kicked down, but if you keep getting back up you will be surprised at what you are capable of.

1. Your ambition is your greatest asset, and your greatest weakness

If I learned anything about myself while I was filming my thesis projects, it was that I am an ambitious dude. I wrote, directed, shot, and edited a 20-minute experimental short film in a matter of weeks. I wrote, directed, produced, shot, edited, and acted in a feature film that was completed in about 6 months (from conception to completion). I have a lot of ambition when it comes to my projects.

Sometimes that's a good thing. I was, and still am, actively trying to find new ways to tell stories. I push myself hard to complete what I want, and I work myself to the bone to complete a project. I never allow myself to feel bad for too long when a film of mine gets a bad review, or when a festival rejects me. I push myself hard to succeed, and that has been why I've been able to accomplish a lot of what I've done so far.

This is also my greatest weakness, though. Making Departure a feature was one of the reasons why it's received poor reviews. Shooting a feature in 12 days added a lot of stress into my life (and was probably one of the reasons I got sick at the end of shooting). There are always pros and cons when it comes to making a film, and every professional in the business will tell you such. 

Don't let your ambition stifle you, but don't stifle your ambition. You have limited resources, limited time, and a lot of responsibilities in addition to your thesis film. Don't bite off more than you can chew; just make sure what you do bite off is savory.

    How Color Elevates Atmosphere (and Why You Should Use It In Your Films)

    Filmmakers have a surprisingly wide array of tools at their disposal when they begin pre-production. Cinematography and sound design are the most important, obviously, but lighting, writing, and production design all have important places in the filmmaker's toolbox.

    This is especially true in horror films -- creating a film that terrifies people depends on being able to combine all of these elements effectively.

    However, many filmmakers, both amateur and professional, either don't know about, or have underutilized, the power of color. And yet, ironically enough, color is the best way to elevate your horror film.

    This is perhaps most notable in Dario Argento's 1977 classic, Suspiria. In it, Argento harnesses a few colors to elevate his horror, to set mood and atmosphere, and to set his horror film apart from others.

    Argento uses color in a bold way. It sets up the atmosphere of the scenes, and the colors themselves become an aspect of the horror. The deep crimson reds are often contrasted with cooler blues and greens. Even the normal colors -- walls, floors, ceilings, etc. -- all pop out of the scene, and have a vibrancy that is difficult to ignore, and is extremely unsettling.

    Kubrick used color effectively in his 1980 masterpiece, The Shining -- though he used it in his production design to enhance his horror.

    In this scene, the design of the bathroom, and the vibrant red walls clashing with the stark white urinals and sinks, helps enhance the narrative implications of the moment, the cinematography, and the sound design, not to mention the uneasy feeling we get during this scene.

    We can also see this in William Friedkin's film The Exorcist -- often considered one of the best horror films ever made.

    The blue color tint helps sell how cold the room is, while also adding this eerie, ethereal atmosphere to the scene. It's a simple touch, likely accomplished with a filter being placed over the camera lens, or gels placed over the lights. Either way, this simple touch adds a lot to the scene.

    We see this tool pop up all throughout film history, including back during the silent era. Hitchcock's 1927 film The Lodger uses this element both to differentiate between interior and exterior locations, and to set up specific moods during specific scenes. Since it was 1927, and the coloring process was wildly expensive, Hitchcock used dye to tint certain parts of his film a specific color -- blue and orange, mainly.

    Now you might be saying "well duh Keith, all horror films use color to their benefit." Ah, but that is where you would be surprised. Because somewhere along the way, we stopped using color in our horror films -- at least, we stopped using color as a way to elevate our horror. Instead, nowadays, directors are using darkness to sell their horror. This isn't a bad thing, but has changed the way horror films looks.

    Compare this scene from The Conjuring with the scene from Suspiria where everyone is sleeping in the dance hall, and marvel at the sheer difference. Both scenes are shot at night, and both scenes involve two characters discussing something one of them finds eerie, or scary (in Suspiria it is the snores; in The Conjuring it is the presence behind the door).

    This isn't to say what The Conjuring did was wrong -- just different, and indicative of a larger wave of lighting scenarios that have taken over modern horror films.

    In Matt Reeve's excellent film Let Me In (a surprisingly great remake of the Swedish film, Let the Right One In) we see this usage of darkness and lighting, not color, to sell suspense in a scene. The orange light that surrounds the characters faces, and exists in the background of a few shots, is just there to light the scene, not to make any sort of statement by itself.

    In Robert Eggers socially and critically lauded film, The Witch, color is drained from each frame, giving it this sort of washed out, unsaturated feeling, again relying on lighting to enhance the horror rather than color.

    There are a few exceptions to the rule, of course. Trey Edward Shults's 2017 film, It Comes At Night uses color in an interesting way. The color of the door to the house is a vibrant red (much like the red we see throughout Suspiria), and the darker scenes all have an amber tint to them, like this scene below.

    Now you might say, "Keith, what's the difference between this and the other scenes you've presented as examples". That's a fair inquiry -- the difference is that Shults uses a color to sell the atmosphere of the scene -- that orangish, amber color we saw in The Lodger. This is a natural element to the lighting scenario Shultz has set up, but it also serves to add a little bit of mystery, tension, and atmosphere to a scene that would otherwise be rather boring. Rather than shying away from color, Shults uses it to enhance his scene here, in a way that the other scenes chose not to do.

    It Follows -- another highly lauded film, this one from 2016 -- uses color in this way as well, so that it is both natural to the environment of the film, and so that it adds a little bit of personality to the images we see. It's not as drastic as Suspiria (and I'm not advocating that every film should be as drastic as that film was), but it does stick out. The colors pop, and they add something to the scene which you can't quite describe.

    There should be no mistake. Lighting is a vital component to filmmaking, regardless of whether or not color is being used, but there is no denying that color adds an important element to atmosphere, especially when horror films are concerned. It is an aspect of films that is too often forgotten, thus taking away tons of potential from scenes, and films.

    You should keep this in mind for your short films, as well. Color can enhance mood, emotion, and the power of your images. You should never discount how much just a dash of color can add to your scene, or how powerful your scene can become when you understand color theory.

    Even in simple short films, like Cargo -- a finalist in TropFest film festival -- color adds so much to a scene. It makes it feel full, and robust.

    Even in non-horror films, this is true.

    Color adds so much, while doing so little, and it cannot be undersold just how important that is in filmmaking. When the medium you are working in is built around the adage "show, don't tell" it is imperative to understand all aspects of filmmaking, and film language, so your film can stand out from the pack.

    So the next time you enter pre-production on a film, or begin outlining an idea you have for a script. Think about color. Think about how utilizing color can enhance your film's aesthetic, and atmosphere. Think about cool ways you can use color to evoke certain moods, feelings, and ideas. You just might be surprised at how powerful a tool color can be.

    "Baby Driver" and the Relationship Between Sound and Image

    Baby Driver was one of the most anticipated film projects of 2017. Not only did it have an incredible cast, it was Edgar Wright returning to the silver screen after his debacle over Ant Man. By the time we heard about Baby Driver, it had been years since his last film -- The World's End, a solid comedy, though it didn't quite achieve the quality of Hot Fuzz or Shaun of the Dead -- and we were excited to see what he had in store for us.

    Baby Driver did not disappoint, either. Holding a 94% on Rotten Tomatoes, an 86/100 on Metascore, and an 8.2/10 on IMDB, Baby Driver was one of the most lauded, and successful, films of the year, garnering about $100 million at the box office.

    What made Baby Driver so interesting, for me, was how it melded music and image seamlessly. The music was not subservient to the image (which is what usually happens), nor was the image subservient to the music. Wright cuts methodically to his music choices, but said choices are an integral part of the tone, atmosphere, and pacing of the narrative. If you took away the music, the film would not be the same.

    Just check out the first six minutes of the film, and you'll see what I mean. 

    The song in this scene is not just a backing track -- that is to say, it's not just a director overlaying music to enhance the image. The music itself sets the tone. It starts off playful, as does our main character -- Baby -- and his attitude. He's dancing around, drumming on the door of his Subaru WRX, completely enveloped in the music. And then something changes -- the music quiets down, and we see the chaos that is taking place in the bank. Things get a little more serious. And then it's time for the chase. The music is calling for the audience to get ready for what is about to happen next. The song swells, the singer screaming "bellbottoms" louder and louder, until we see the crew return to the car, and Baby peels out completely in sync with the music. The ensuing chase, and its tone, is set entirely by the music, and the cutting that is done is often done in sync with the beats of the song.

    This is very different than what someone like Tarantino does. Take a look at this scene from Kill Bill Vol. 1, and you'll see what I mean.

    The music is definitely setting a mood -- swelling at the appropriate time to create this feeling of power on the part of the characters we see walking, but it's not the same as what Edgar Wright has done. Here, the music is clearly being used just to supplement the image. It is not a natural part of the film's environment, nor is it complementing the images on screen in the way "Bellbottoms" did in that opening scene of Baby Driver.

    Plenty of directors are known for using music in their films, but not many of them can achieve the effect that Wright achieved in Baby Driver. Scorsese is perhaps one of the most well-known directors that does this, but even he uses music as a supplementary aspect, not a complementary aspect.

    Here, the music is hidden in the background during Frank's monologue, surging forward at the appropriate time in a wonderful bit of editing as we enter the store, only to return to the background once we settle inside of said store. It sets the mood of the scene well, and even works with the monologue, but it's not an integral part of the scene. In other words, if we took out the music from this scene, and the scene from Kill Bill Vol. 1 the scene itself wouldn't be harmed, it would just lose a bit of its potency. In Baby Driver, divorcing the music from the scene ruins the scene.

    In fact, the filmmaker I was reminded of most when I was watching Baby Driver was Stanley Kubrick -- in particular, the opening title sequence to 2001: A Space Odyssey.

    I mention this moment specifically because it was the first film I saw that truly showed me the power image and sound can have when they are united. Nothing happens in this scene beyond the opening credits being shown, but the way they are shown, and the power the images are given because of this music (and vice versa) blows me away every time.

    Baby Driver doesn't quite have the power of this opening scene anywhere in its run time, at least in my humble opinion, but it does strive to achieve the same affect (and often times it succeeds).

    The most interesting thing about Wright's film, and his usage of music, is how it still feels like a film. It would be too easy to classify Baby Driver as a two-hour long music video featuring different artists. But it's not -- as I said before, the music is integral to the plot, and to Baby as a character.

    If you want something that is a little more watchable than Kubrick (though I really implore you see 2001, even if you've never experienced a Kubrick film before), you can look to James Gunn's Guardians of the Galaxy. Starlord's Walkman is also an integral part to understanding his character, and the music is used throughout the film to set up various moods, and motifs. 

    In the opening scene, without any character work or dialogue, we immediately get a sense of who Starlord is, his outlook on life, and his personality -- all through one song. The editing cuts easily with the beat of the music, as does Starlord's actions, and therefore the music feels real, and in the environment, in a way some of these other examples don't.

    And while I wouldn't put Guardians at Baby Driver's level (mainly because the latter uses that as an integral aspect to its entire story, while the former uses it only in specific scenes), this is definitely something filmmakers should understand. Music is a powerful aspect to filmmaking, and film viewing. Even in silent films, where the compositions you hear were not written for the film at the time of its creation, music sets tone, mood, and pacing.

    We understand music in a way that's truly incredible. It's a universal language of sorts. Harnessing the power of that language, and intertwining it with film language, can yield unlimited possibilities, all of which are incredibly powerful.

    There is nothing wrong with utilizing music as an underlying force -- like Tarantino and Scorsese do -- and doing so can be just as powerful when done correctly. Nevertheless, it is vital to understand this relationship between image and sound, especially for filmmakers, because when it is done correctly, and done well, like it is in Baby Driver and 2001: A Space Odyssey, it is an ethereal, and unforgettable experience.

    We Need to Talk About CGI

    There has been a recent surge of viewers, and filmmakers, who are tired of the CGI-fest that is currently on display in the vast majority of films. The return to practical effects -- as was seen in Mad Max: Fury Road, and in many parts of The Force Awakens -- on a blockbuster level has been met with widespread approval from a wide array of filmgoers.

    We need to talk about CGI for this reason, and for many others. Audiences are still spending their money on these kinds of films (of which examples will be provided throughout this post), but their approval of them -- and the overall quality of these films -- have seen huge dips in recent years.

    Before we go any further, it is important to mention the fact that CGI (computer-generated imagery) extends far beyond what most people think. This video helps explain the ways in which CGI is used in modern filmmaking.

    This video also has an important point, which is the essential crux of this blog post: CGI is a tool, and just like any tool it can be used poorly. If you took your hammer and punched a bunch of holes in your wall with it, you wouldn't be able to blame it for the end result. The same is true of CGI -- we can't really blame CGI itself, we have to blame the filmmaker(s) for misusing it.

    But we still need to talk about CGI, because it is much more common nowadays to see poor effects work in huge films. When a film has a low budget, or there is a new director, or new team, behind a rather ambitious project, we may be more willing to forgive poor CGI. However, when a film has a large budget, and a substantial studio backing, these kinds of things become less forgivable.

    While this is a popular trilogy of films to rag on when it comes to this topic, it is important to mention Peter Jackson's Hobbit trilogy.

    Just look at this scene from The Battle of the Five Armies -- the final film of the trilogy -- as an example.

    Part of the issue here is that nothing looks natural in its environment. There is nothing wrong with using CGI on a massive scale when it comes to epic fantasy. It is no longer economically feasible, nor safe, to hire extras to do this work. CGI cuts costs, and ensures everyone on set will not be harmed. But look at this scene -- the characters (aside from the main ones who we know are played by real actors) don't look real in the scene. The entire frame has this glossy aesthetic to it (while that is a constant thing throughout this trilogy, it only makes these action scenes feel more fake), and the action feels like it belongs in the cut scene of a video game.

    The effects work isn't unwatchable, but it is poor -- especially when you compare it with this scene that Jackson directed eleven years earlier.

    In 2003, Peter Jackson managed to construct a similar scene (to be fair there are only three armies in this scene, while there are five in the one before it) which feels much more real, and (almost) seamlessly blends CGI with practical effects. Of course there is CGI in the Battle of Pelennor Fields -- the point is that there are really only a handful of spots where you definitively can tell (and even at those points, you aren't taken out of the scene). In The Battle of the Five Armies, there is no point where you feel what you are watching could be real.

    It's also important to mention that The Battle of the Five Armies had roughly $156 million more in its budget than Return of the King (approx. $250 million dollar budget vs approx. $94 million dollar budget, respectively).

    So what happened? Well, to put it bluntly (and precisely) the studio got lazy. I don't think Peter Jackson himself was responsible for the way these films ended up looking, but I do think the studios cut a lot of corners. Making Azog, the main antagonist, a completely CGI character did not help things.

    And if the Hobbit films were just the few examples of big blockbuster CGI feeling inorganic to a scene then we would not be having this conversation, and audiences would not be increasingly bored with modern blockbusters. But we are, and they are, and there are culprits: studios and directors.

    The other issue with bad CGI is that it doesn't hold up well after the years have passed. I'm not even talking about the Scorpion King in The Mummy Returns. This scene from The Matrix Reloaded is the perfect example.

    In this scene, sad to say, you can visibly see where practical effects stop and CGI begins (in terms of Neo, Agent Smith, and the fighting; as we've covered, CGI is everywhere in every film). The characters stop looking real, and become rubbery, smooth, and glossy.

    There is even some of this in Bong Joon-Ho's 2017 film, Okja. 

    Okja doesn't feel like a realistic part of the environment. Forget about the actual animal itself -- the image that the effects team has created doesn't feel like a part of the photo-realistic environment itself.

    While it is easy to argue that these things do not exist in reality (or if they do, they are impossible to film realistically) we need only look to Kubrick's masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey to see that, even in 1968, you can create extremely photo-realistic imagery of something that is, currently, impossible to film.

    Now, to be fair, something like this and Okja are very different, and the processes through which they are created are very different. But we need only look to the Apes films to see a drastic difference in animation and CGI.

    It's night and day comparatively -- the most important difference, additionally, is when we zoom into Caesar's eyes. Those are real eyes. Regardless of whether or not they used actual eyes (AKA a practical effect) to blend into that image, or if those are completely created in the computer, those look like real eyes in every respect of the term. Caesar also looks like a realistic part of his environment. The dark light helps to blend him, but even when we go into those close ups, he feels like a natural part of the environment in a way that Okja does not.

    Now I am not here to rag on CGI, and films with bad CGI (despite what everything above this sentence may indicate). I merely am of the mind that we need to talk about how we use CGI. Right now, a lot of filmmakers are leaning on it like a crutch. While I cannot provide an example of every film that does this, you know this by your own experiences in the theater. It is impossible to get away from these kinds of rubbery, glossy images that feel very separate from the world they are supposed to exist in. We need to stop using CGI as a solution to every problem, and instead work with it as we used to -- using it to complement existing imagery, or practical effects.

    Some directors already do this -- Christopher Nolan, David Fincher, Neil Blomkamp, and David Lynch all are rather good at blending CGI with practical effects for a more powerful, and realistic image. However, far too many directors (and far too many good directors) are using CGI to cut corners -- Steven Spielberg, Peter Jackson, James Cameron, Gareth Edwards, and Guy Ritchie are just a few examples of people who have fallen into this trap.

    We should not throw away CGI entirely. It does benefit films, and filmmakers, in a variety of ways. However, we need to take a harder look at how we use CGI, and when we should use it. These are important distinctions to make, because the more we rely on CGI to tell our stories, the less real our stories are going to feel.

    The Appeal of Romantic Comedies

    I, like many other people throughout the world, love a good romantic comedy. I can't quite describe why, to be honest -- I know that many of them are poor, in terms of quality, and they don't offer anything substantive (generally) when it comes to conversations about relationships, love, and the like. In fact, the films that really manage to delve deep into these topics -- pulling philosophical questions, and sometimes answers, from the deep well of their narrative -- are generally not funny. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is the perfect example, or even Richard Linklater's Before trilogy. Sometimes these films are heartbreaking, like the 2013 masterpiece, Blue is the Warmest Color

    So, again, why do I like romantic comedies when they don't really offer me much in terms of substance?

    I guess it is important to mention that I, like everyone else, can appreciate a film that is just dumb entertainment. I love watching cerebral films as much as the next person, and I thrive on being able to analyze difficult films. Sometimes, though, I want to turn my brain off (as much as is possible; I'm always analyzing the films I watch) and watch a fun film.

    Romantic comedies are light. Unlike an action film, they are centered around people, conversation, and cups of coffee (or shots of whiskey, as the case may be). They are light, heartwarming, and -- for lack of better terms -- funny.

    So automatically there are some key benefits that make them fun to watch. But it goes deeper than that, in my opinion.

    I recently re-watched one of my favorite romantic comedies -- Forgetting Sarah Marshall. I have seen it numerous times, and I would consider it one of my favorite, if not my favorite, romantic comedies of all time. The film has everything -- comedy, heart, great direction, solid writing, an affable cast, and some great (albeit conventional) cinematography. It fires on all cylinders for the majority of its runtime, and for those reasons I consider it a great film, not just a great romantic comedy. However, it still has the same narrative that every other romantic comedy has (I'll put a spoiler warning here but I think you know where I'm going): man meets woman, man and woman fall for each other, man and woman break up, man and woman get back together).

    There's nothing inherently wrong with this string of plot points. The issue is that this is such a conventional storyline, that it has become tired -- almost boring. And, more importantly, a lot of romantic comedies use these plot points poorly.

    A perfect example of this is the 2016 film, How to Be Single. Put simply, I was not a fan of this film because of how poorly it handled characterization, its narrative, and its underlying message. If you would like to read more extended thoughts on the film, you can check out my review of it on Letterboxd.

    This is not the only film that fumbles its attempts -- in fact, most romantic comedies are like that. Romantic comedies that work -- like Forgetting Sarah Marshall, or, more recently, Michael Showalter's film The Big Sick, written by, and starring, Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiana -- are rare, and often are only successful because of the talent behind them. The narrative of the romantic comedy that the vast majority of filmmakers swear by (which was mentioned above) doesn't make or break a film  -- it's the talent (or lack thereof) in front of, and behind, the camera that counts.

     A still from  The Big Sick  (2017)

    A still from The Big Sick (2017)

    However, none of this is to say that these films can't be entertaining. That is their ultimate benefit and that is why I will always watch romantic comedies (beyond my desire to watch all films, bad or good).

    It's also important to mention that romantic comedies are not trying to be anything more profound. The ones that do use the genre to their benefit -- like The Big Sick, which explores both a true story, and the subject of religious differences in relationships -- are often highly praised for their efforts, as long as said efforts produce a strong film. But even the films that are poor, like How to Be Single, still are important to analyze and understand. And, at the very least, they can still be very entertaining regardless of their overall quality.

    What Makes a Good Film Adaptation?

    I recently stumbled across this excellent video discussing Cary Fukunaga's all-too-brief involvement with the new It film that will be hitting theaters this Fall. 

    I have been very vocal in my low expectations for this film, mainly due to how underwhelming Muschietti's other film, Mama, was, and because of Fukunaga's comments about the creative differences he had with producers which led to his rather unceremonious firing. 

    I was trying to make an unconventional horror film. It didn’t fit into the algorithm of what they knew they could spend and make money back on based on not offending their standard genre audience. Our budget was perfectly fine. We were always hovering at the $32 million mark, which was their budget. It was the creative that we were really battling. It was two movies. They didn’t care about that. In the first movie, what I was trying to do was an elevated horror film with actual characters. They didn’t want any characters. They wanted archetypes and scares. I wrote the script. They wanted me to make a much more inoffensive, conventional script. But I don’t think you can do proper Stephen King and make it inoffensive.
    — Cary Fukunaga

    In this video there is some brief discussion about the elements of Fukunaga's script that would have elevated the horror, and attempted to create something fresh, and bold, from King's original novel. 

    The comments were what really spurred this post, though. I invite you to check them out for yourself.

    The essential thesis of the majority of these comments was that film adaptations should be as faithful to their source material as possible. The deviations that Fukunaga had proposed were met with vitriol, with some people saying he should have just made a different film if he had wanted to make the film that was described in this video.

    So what makes a film adaptation good? Does an adaptation need to stick to its story word-for-word (or as close to that as possible), or is it okay for films to deviate from their source material while still using the essence of the narrative?

    This is a difficult question, and it's one that I'm on the fence about. The easy answer seems to be "it depends on the film", but there should be some kind of rubric from which we can discern pros and cons of adapting existing works -- right?

    Let's take a look at one of the most famous, and well-respected, film adaptations -- The Lord of the Rings

     A still from  The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers  (2002)

    A still from The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)

    What made The Lord of the Rings so powerful was how it managed to adapt this epic fantasy tale while retaining an aura of its own. By this I mean to say that the film trilogy we all watched, and fell in love with, managed to tow the line between faithfully bringing Tolkien's vision to screen (Jackson describes, in one of the many behind-the-scenes documentaries, that Ian McKellen had a paperback copy "Fellowship" while they were on set, and would often consult it for answers; similarly, the late, great Christopher Lee was a Tolkien expert, having consistently read the trilogy every year until his passing), and asserting its own aesthetic, and vision.

    Granted, Peter Jackson describes every moment of pre-production, filming, and post being dedicated to bringing Tolkien's vision to life. Therefore, for this trilogy, faithfulness to the source material was the essential element.

    Let's take another film adaptation (one that is notorious, especially among King fans): Stanley Kubrick's 1980 masterpiece, The Shining.

     A still from  The Shining  (1980)

    A still from The Shining (1980)

    The 1980 film is nothing like its source material, except in the most superficial of ways. Kubrick used King's novel more as a conduit for his own philosophical ideas than anything else. While King's novel was much more personal to the author, discussing issues of alcoholism, fatherhood, and marriage -- all under the backdrop of a ghost story --, Kubrick's film was more concerned with surrealism, tension, and imagery.

    They both work in their own way, though. King's novel is widely regarded as one of his best, in terms of his entire canon, and Kubrick's film is widely regarded as one of the best horror films ever made. They both took the basic idea of the story, and drove it in different directions, both of which were wildly successful.

    Is it a good adaptation, though?

    That is a question that is left to subjective opinion. I personally am of the mind that a good film adaptation is one that uses the source material to its benefit, and in the process creates a good film. After all, literature and film are two different mediums with entirely different approaches (in terms of creation). It is impossible to perfectly adapt a novel, both because of runtime issues (if every adaptation was entirely faithful we would have excessively long films.

    Additionally, what is the benefit of seeing a perfect representation of what we have already read? While certain moments take on a different meaning, or importance when we see them on screen (the battle of Helm's Deep, for instance, or the night-vision goggles scene in The Silence of the Lambs), films that use their source material as avenues for more provocative discussions, themes, or visual ideas are often just as powerful. 

    In the video that started this blog post, many of the scenes that are brought up (which deviate from the source material) are still exploring ideas that King wrote about in his book. In Fukunaga's script, Pennywise wouldn't necessarily take on literal forms, like vampires and werewolves, but would instead use the children's inner fears -- like struggling with the concept of manhood -- against them. It is a deviation from the source material, as the scene described did not happen in the novel, but the underlying themes, and ideas, from the novel are still there.

    My point here is that we shouldn't necessarily write off a film that deviates from its source material. Often times films that take their narrative in a different direction are still exploring similar themes, or ideas; more importantly, though, even when they're not, they can still be interesting, entertaining pieces of art on their own.

    Take Game of Thrones or The Walking Dead, for example -- these are two hugely popular TV shows that follow their source material about 70% of the time. However, some characters who die in the show are alive in the books, or the comics, and vice versa. Some events don't play out quite like they do in the source material, and some moments in the source material are expanded, with great benefit, in these shows. The episode "Hardhome", for example, is the perfect example of this. In the series, A Song of Ice and Fire, the events at Hardhome are alluded to. In the show, we see what happens in grisly detail, and it is one of the most thrilling moments in the show.

    I'm jumping around a bit here, but let's return to my main points here. Firstly, film adaptations (and TV adaptations for that matter) that follow their source material can often be amazing pieces of art that are augmented by their imagery. Conversely, films and shows that deviate from their source material (whether as drastically as Kubrick did, or in the smaller ways that Fukunaga wanted to) can be equally as good because of their ability to explore new stories within the parameters of the existing narrative.

    Ultimately there is no way to say whether an adaptation is good or bad based only on the amount in which it deviates from its source material. We can only judge a piece of art on its own merits. And don't get me wrong -- there have been plenty of horrendous film adaptations that have missed the mark entirely (both by trying to deviate, and by trying to be faithful). But if we stop focusing on a film's connection to its source material, we may be better off.

    James M. Cain -- author of novels like Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice -- was once asked about film adaptations. The story goes that a reporter visited his home to interview the author. At the time, one of Cain's novels had been adapted into a film, and said film was getting very poor reception. The reporter asked Cain if Hollywood had ruined his books. Cain's response is perfect.

    They haven’t done anything to my books. They’re still right there on the shelf. They’re fine.
    — James M. Cain

    The point Cain is making, and I suppose the point I'm making as well, is that film adaptations do not erase their source material. Even if Kubrick's The Shining was one of the worst films every made, it would not erase King's novel, nor its social appeal. People would still read the book, and would tout it as "better than the movie" -- and that's perfectly okay.

    As a filmmaker and a writer, I often find myself caught in the middle of this debate. Ultimately, my position on the matter is that filmmakers should go with their gut. If you're adapting a novel and you want it to remain as close to the source material as possible, nobody should stop you. The opposite is true as well.

    At the end of the day, I still wish I could see what Fukunaga had in store for us. I may still be bracing myself for disappointment with Muschietti's vision, I do hope that it works, whether it's faithful or not.

    The Importance of Film Dialogue, and the Necessity of Hemingway's Minimalism

    About a year or so ago, in late June (perhaps creeping into early July) I wrote a short story titled "Weekend", which has yet to be published. This short story was an important crossroads for me. I wanted to impart feelings I had about a particular event (and, more importantly, about a particular person), but I did not want it to be obvious, both so I did not get too specific with the truth of the story, and so I could write a more interesting, minimalist narrative.

    Since that story's creation, I have never written dialogue any other way, both in my films and in my literary projects.

    "Why?" you might ask. "What benefit is there to writing minimalist dialogue?" 

    The answer is complicated, and it is -- by no means -- an objective truth. That is to say, everything in this blog post is entirely my subjective viewpoint on the matter. Further, it's important to mention that I have pissed off a lot of viewers and readers for writing this way. But I am dedicated to writing like this, and for a few reasons.

    Firstly, I have noticed an upsetting trend where readers/viewers don't want to do the work to discover the importance of the art they are ingesting. Viewers don't want to be challenged at the theater; they want to be entertained. Readers don't want to be challenged by their novel; they want to be sucked into some sort of escapist fantasy.

    This is not true of all people, mind you. However, it is the trend I have noticed.

    I was first made aware of this with my own work. While workshopping a chapter of a novel I am working on, I had a lot of online readers questioning my "vagueness" as they would call it. People wanted me to clarify, to delve deep into backstory, to explain every character nuance and every movement so they could be absolutely certain about what was going on (even, frustratingly for me, when the answers they wanted were contained a few pages later). This kept coming up -- in "Weekend", while I received some strong constructive criticism occasionally, the majority of the comments could be boiled down to "I don't get it" or "Why do we care what happened in the story?"

    It was around this time that I was getting back into reading work by the master of minimalism -- Ernest Hemingway. I started re-reading his novels and short stories (particularly his story "Hills Like White Elephants"), and I found myself falling in love with this method of imparting narratives more and more.

    I came to the conclusion that a lot of people don't want to do the work, or, at the very least, don't have time to do the work when it comes to more challenging stories and films. Lots of people go to movies, and read novels, because they don't want to have to do work -- they don't want these mediums to challenge them. Hemingway bucked that trend rather forcefully. His prose are easy to understand, and very accessible, but his stories always have some sort of profound depth to them that only intense analysis can unearth.

    When I was writing my short film "Mirror" (which you can watch here on my website), I approached the narrative with the same kind of mindset. I was surprised that, for the most part, people were more accepting of the approach this time around. While I still received the "I don't get it comment" from people I've shown it to, more people seem interested in deciphering the messages than immediately disregarding it as some sort of pretentious self-pleasure.

    So what does all of this have to do with film dialogue? Well, more than you might think actually.

    Dialogue is the one area that takes writers decades to master. Very few people get a grasp on good film dialogue like Tarantino or Sorkin do -- they (myself included) have to continually work at it. But the true annoyance I have when it comes to film dialogue is the tendency to over-explain.

    Think about the last film you saw, or the last blockbuster you went to the theater to see. Chances are there was a section, or there were multiple sections, that were crammed full of obvious exposition. This is extremely obvious in Marvel and DC movies (or any comic book/superhero movie, for that matter) where we get scenes of someone explaining the intricacies of a plan, or the specific workings of a weapon, before we see the effects of what is to follow.

    This frustrates me, as a filmmaker and as an avid filmgoer, because it's lazy. Whenever you hear all of that exposition crammed into a string of dialogue, you know that the writer(s) was being lazy, and didn't know how else to impart the information. 

    Often times, though, I find that filmmakers -- especially on bigger projects -- don't trust their audience. They feel as though they have to explain every detail in hopes that you know exactly what is going on during the scene/film.

    This is easily visible in a scene like this one from The Avengers, where Tony Stark verbally spars with Loki about the latter's plans to take over Earth.

    It's not the worst dialogue, and it helps that both Robert Downey Jr. and Tom Hiddleston have superb delivery, but take another look at the actual writing of their conversation. There is no nuance. There is no subtlety. Every intention, every feeling, is spelled out for the audience in this scene, and when it ends we have no misunderstandings as to who feels what, and why they feel that way.

    This is present even in less blockbuster/Hollywood type films. Check out this short conversation in Nicolas Winding Refn's 2016 film, The Neon Demon.

    This scene is interesting because we start in a good place: Refn uses words sparingly, and precisely, to exude a certain mood of discomfort (which is augmented by the cinematography and editing). However, about halfway through this scene, it descends into a similar type of overly-descriptive philosophizing about the nature of beauty. This wouldn't be an issue if it weren't so on the nose. It's almost as though Refn felt that we needed this element of the film spelled out for us because he was worried we would miss it. Instead of using his visuals to sell the idea the dialogue imparts, he resorts to hackneyed dialogue that feels forced and unnatural. 

    It is even present in films that are considered excellent. Check out this scene from Christopher Nolan's lauded 2014 film, Interstellar.

    The point I'm trying to make is not that these films are inherently bad because they have moments of poor, or overly detailed, dialogue; nor am I saying that filmmakers should avoid exposition in their dialogue. What I am saying, though, is that modern films seem to have this tendency to describe everything, to the point where there isn't any nuance. Why would we ponder the characters' meaning, or understanding, of beauty, or the importance they place on beauty, in The Neon Demon when the dialogue spells out for us how these characters feel? 

    This is why I brought up Hemingway. His prose are like icebergs: the majority of it is below the surface, or in between the lines, but we can still understand what we see at face value. He had an uncanny ability to tell a story with varying degrees of profundity.

    Take a look at his dialogue in "Hill Like White Elephants" again, too. You probably already know the subject of this couple's conversation (as this short story is a staple of high school English classes), but really analyze the precise language Hemingway uses. It's sharp, it's occasionally witty, it's heartfelt -- it's substantive. 

    Sure, this style of dialogue may not be the most accessible at times. It may not give you all of your answers all at once, and it may require you to watch the film over and over again to truly understand its meaning. And there is the valid argument that film dialogue, and film writing, are very different from literature and cannot be approached in the same manner. However, I would argue that we try to do other things than what many filmmakers are currently doing. Or, at the very least, ask why when we hear these strings of exposition crammed into a scene.

    Maybe you won't be as drastic as I was, and change the way you write entirely. Maybe you'll start by just writing out a scene a few times, trimming the fat on each edit until you reach a point where you're happy. Maybe you won't change your writing style at all, but will instead look for more ways to understand, and push, your own prose style. Any of these is fine in any regard. As I said before, these moments of weakness in these films do not make these inherently weak films, and the weaknesses I have pointed out are weaknesses from my personal, subjective perspective.

    At the end of the day, the important thing is that we have unique films. Original films. The Marvel films will always succumb to these moments of poor writing, as will directors like Refn who have worked with a singular style their entire career. However, I hope that indie directors, and the younger generation -- of which I belong to -- really start to analyze film writing, dialogue, and Hemingway. It may not seem like there is a connection at first, but -- as Hemingway proved with every story, and every novel, he wrote -- there is always something underneath the surface to uncover. You just have to keep digging.

    The Beauty of Misdirection in Mulholland Drive

    No hay banda! There is no band! Il n’est pas de orquestra! This is all... a tape-recording. No hay banda! And yet we hear a band. If we want to hear a clarinette... listen. Un trombon “à coulisse”. Un trombon “con sordina”. Sient le son du trombon in sourdine. Hear le son... and mute it... drop it. It’s all recorded. No hay banda! It’s all a tape. Il n’est pas de orquestra. It is... an illusion!” — Bondar
    — Mulholland Drive

    This is the opening dialogue to one of the most memorable scenes in David Lynch's 2001 masterpiece, Mulholland Drive. Among the ethereal, dream-driven visuals, and the brooding, ominous score that envelopes the narrative, there are moments of pure Lynchian misdirection.

    We see examples of Lynch's mastery in this regard elsewhere in the film, especially during the audition scene. Lynch sets up a certain mood, and then takes a hard left turn into a different territory. The YouTuber, Nerdwriter, did an excellent video on this very scene, and topic.

    When I first saw Mulholland Drive, a lot of substance went over my head. It is not the kind of film made to be watched half-buzzed in a dorm room; yet that is how I saw it the first time. The narrative is almost incomprehensible the first time around, occasionally allowing for momentary glimpses at its larger truth while never revealing a card in its hand. Lynch forces you to figure out for yourself the true meaning behind his film, and even his handful of clues can seem more frustrating than helpful.

    I will always remember the scene in Club Silencio, though. After my first time watching the film, it was all I could think about. After my second, third, fourth, and even fifth time (throughout which I have discovered hidden meanings, important symbols, and distinct Lynchian aesthetics), that scene is still the most memorable. I hesitate to say it is the most important, in the context of the film, but it is the most important for me -- the filmmaker, the film student, and the cinephile.

    It's different from other examples of Lynchian misdirection. In the audition scene, for instance, Lynch toys with the tone of the scene -- starting with a more uncomfortable, predatory atmosphere, and suddenly changing the entire feeling of the scene by showing us that Betty is inviting said atmosphere for the betterment of the audition. It is an interesting changing of the guard, but it doesn't necessarily toy with our emotions in the way the scene in Club Silencio does.

    Perhaps the most genius part of the Club Silencio scene, too, is that we are told immediately that nothing is real. "There is no band", we are told. And yet, when the alluring singer steps on stage, and we hear an incredibly powerful, emotional performance of Roy Orbison's song "Sorry" in Spanish. Because of the powerful editing, cutting between the singer and Betty/Irene's reactions, and the emotional acting of Rebekah del Rio, we are lulled into the idea that her performance is real -- that her singing is actually happening. Then, when she faints and that thin veil is ripped away from our eyes, we are shocked. The power of the performance is thrown into question, and the emotions we have felt during the scene feel wrongly placed.

    When I first saw that scene, I felt the aforementioned things. I also felt stupid. After all I was told at the beginning of the scene that everything was an illusion. And yet, I believed the illusion just minutes later. 

     Mulholland Drive at night.

    Mulholland Drive at night.

    Lynch is a master of this kind of deception and misdirection. He doesn't try to hide it. The scene at Club Silencio stands, in my mind, as one of the most important moments in cinematic history. For a director to show the audience his hand, only to still amaze them with the trick, is a power few filmmakers have; even fewer could pull it off with the cinematic grace that Lynch did in Mulholland Drive.

    Lynch, and his masterpieces, are beautiful misdirections. Even in his interviews Lynch controls the direction of the conversation, and jerks it down odd roads whenever he desires. That kind of filmmaking prowess must be learned from. Club Silencio may never be replicated, but the ability to create an illusion like the one we saw there is vital for future filmmakers to understand.

    And, at the very least, it gives everyone an excuse to watch Mulholland Drive.

    The Golden Age of TV: How Is It Affecting Films?

     The Castle of Zafra in Guadalajara, Spain; a filming location for season 6 of  Game of Thrones

    The Castle of Zafra in Guadalajara, Spain; a filming location for season 6 of Game of Thrones

    Game of Thrones is back on TV, and with it legions of fans (myself included) have posted up on the couch each Sunday night to take in the glorious spectacle, and engaging, sinister storytelling of this incredible show.

    We are currently in what many have called "the golden age of television" --  with shows like The Sopranos, The Wire, Dexter, It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, Mr. Robot, The Americans, (and many, many others) being released to the masses throughout the past 25 years, more people have flocked to their television screens, supposedly leaving the silver screen behind.

    So how has this affected films? Has it affected films? Is there still a divide between television and film in terms of quality and experience?

    The answer is yes, though that gap is being bridged more and more with each show that springs up. The Sopranos was the first show to truly rival the cinematic quality of films, both in terms of narrative scope and visuals. Since that show ended, way back in 2007, we have had a plethora of newer shows that have continued the legacy Tony Soprano started. Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones are perhaps the most popular (especially this newest season of the latter show, which has boasted some of the most impressive fantasy visuals ever), there are other shows -- like FX's The Americans, or Neflix's House of Cards, which have pushed the envelope in terms of narrative scope, characterization, and precise plotting that we generally expect in the theater.

     Kevin Spacey entertains a Governor on the set of  House of Cards .

    Kevin Spacey entertains a Governor on the set of House of Cards.

    Films still have an edge -- they are able to boast bigger budgets, and utilize more cutting edge special effects. However, this financial benefit is hurting them just as much as it's helping. Audiences are growing tired of the large, CGI based spectacle that is so prevalent in modern blockbusters. Many viewers are pining for practical effects, yearning for a sense of realism in their escapism. In this way, television is becoming smarter. Small, bottle episodes, like Breaking Bad's "Fly", are showcasing how simple storytelling will always win over pure spectacle.

    This is not to say that shows aren't bridging the gap in terms of their budget, though. HBO's Game of Thrones reportedly had a $10 million budget for each episode in season six (making the season's budget roughly $100 million). To put that in perspective, that's just $49 million less than the budget of 2017's Wonder Woman. With the show's success, it would not be ludicrous to infer that we will see more fantasy shows in the future (Game of Thrones related or otherwise), and that their budgets will increase as long as their popularity continues to grow.

    In terms of quality, television has the added benefit of time. While some films generally can push two-and-a-half hours before audiences start to become annoyed, shows can run on for as long as they need to. South Park is on its 21st season; The Walking Dead is on its eighth. Both shows are still just as popular (if not more so) as they were when they started, and there is no sign that they are going to slow down anytime soon. While films are rather disposable (with exception to the classics that truly transcend time), shows stick around. By doing so, we spend more time with characters, become more attached to the story, and feel more connected to the universe.

     A still from  South Park.

    A still from South Park.

    Ultimately, though, I don't think any filmmaker should be worried about film going anywhere anytime soon. With the popularity of the independent scene on the rise again, and with blockbusters still making billions of dollars worldwide, it's extremely unlikely we're going to see production companies being forced to rethink their strategy anytime in the next century,  regardless of how many incredible shows come out. What will be interesting to see, though, is if the rise of serious television will offer filmmakers a different perspective on constructing narratives, building characters, and utilizing pacing.