Monday, March 13, 2006

DVD Film School

In an interview I once read with James Mangold he said that film school wasn't really necessary for someone who was interested in learning the art of filmmaking. The skills and techniques that you need to make a good film are all things you can learn through either trial and error or through alternative sources such as books and the like. Film school, in Mangold's view, was instead a place for making contacts and possibly hooking up with a mentor who can help you along with the process.

This was pretty much an epiphany for me since I had convinced myself at that point that I wasn't going to be any good, no matter how much I tinkered, unless I went through a 'real' film program at a 'real' film school (a dream which was previously dashed on the rocky banks of cold fiscal and geographic reality). Every now and then I need one of these confidence boosters, and Mangold's came at a time shortly after I completed my first short film which didn't turn out anything like I'd hoped it would and I was feeling pretty down about the whole thing.

So I started reading about various aspects of filmmaking - like screenwriting, directing and producing - and I had found some very good materials that have given me loads of ideas that I can't wait to implement sometime soon. I'm actually feeling pretty confident that I'll be better equipped for when I get behind the camera the next time, hopefully resulting in a superior product to my last effort.

Now, having said that, one part that still intimidates me is dealing with actors. They're kind of a wild card to me and it's an aspect of filmmaking that I haven't seen covered very thoroughly in the books that I've come across. Strangely enough, the one place where I have received the most, and best, advice to date on dealing with actors, and the process they go through while preparing for, and acting in, a film are the various and sundry DVD commentaries and special features I've been watching and accumulating for the last few years. When you think about it, if you have a bit of academic or practical background in the field and understand how a film gets made, listening to these guys and gals talk about their craft is incredibly informative. Everything from what they experience on set to how they prepare for a roll and how they interact with the camera is covered by these interviews and commentaries, and the best part of it is that it is coming from the horses mouth. Instead of listening to or reading Joe Schmoe's thoughts on the craft, you're listening to someone like Al Pacino talking about what he's seen and learned over the course of his his 30 year career.

I use Al Pacino in that last example because I'm watching the Insomnia commentary with Christopher Nolan as I write this and am finding it quite good from a technical/creative standpoint. There was also a great conversation feature where Nolan and Pacino interview each other and reveal a lot of good little bits about their respective crafts. It just made me think of how many of these features I've watched in the last few years (especially since trying to learn new things about film and the process of making them) and how valuable DVDs can be to the aspiring filmmaker. That could just be a way to justify my enormous collection (which my wife is beginning to resent) or it could be the underlying reason for why I'm always on the lookout for the next disc purchase and the potential treasure trove of features lying in wait. Either way, I think it's kind of an interesting observation.


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