How to Reach a Million Video Views – Part 2: The Art of Filmmaking
This is part of a series of guest blog posts by the screenwriter and director Gregor Schmidinger will try to reveal the mystery about how to reach a million views with a (narrative) short film on the Internet. Find out more about Gregor at the end of this article.
Last week, I set up the framework for our series on how to reach a million views and it didn‘t take long before someone mentioned the luring title of the series. I have to admit that I am glad that happened.
Of course this is not a how to guide on how to reach a million views by pressing key X and watch your YouTube Stats shoot towards a million views. On the other hand, it‘s not completely up to chance either whether a movie becomes successful or not.
„Success Happens When Preparation Meets Opportunity“
This series of blog posts is dedicated to preparation. This week’s post will be a bit philosophical and more ambiguous than the last one but I‘ll do my best to make it as clear and understandable as possible. As my teacher at UCLA always says, we need to grasp a concept first, before we can execute it. This week is all about grasping.
Now, I come from a very technical background. I started to shoot movies about 10 years ago. I bought my first miniDV camera at the age of 15 and have continuously shot short films ever since. In 2005, I started to attend Salzburg University of Applied Sciences studying Digital Television, which was a heavy tech focused education. While studying in Salzburg, I produced short films in an academic environment and although they were technically speaking top-notch, they didn‘t feel „right“. Something was missing and it took me a long time to figure out what it was.
What my short films were missing is the secret to all great movies – Life.
Life. Great. Could I be more ambiguous? What does life mean in the first place? I can imagine that you feel a little lost now and so did I when I started my adventure to understand it. In the end, it‘s pretty simple and it all comes down to another great ambiguous term – Art.
Until just recently, I had the problem that I knew the word „art“ and could apply it properly in a sentence but couldn‘t define what it really is. I simply had not idea but intuitively I knew that there must be a definition that could help me make better movies.
Art is a bit like meditation. It has an atmosphere of mystery to it – but in the end, neither art nor meditation have to be mysterious. As a matter of fact, art and meditation seem to use similar concepts to achieve their effects – but one step at a time.
Human beings are the only mammals able to create art and that is part of our neurological development. Art is strongly connected to the evolution of consciousness and the brain’s ability to reflect. To cut a difficult matter short, art is the mimicry of the world. However, artists do not mimic an objective version of reality. Artists mimic their subjective experience of the world, expressing it through different media such as dance, music, literature, painting or movies. Therefore–
„Art is the Expression of Subjective Experience“
32,000 years ago, people drew up visual representations of their world on walls in a cave. A movie is basically nothing else, it is the expression of a subjective experience of today’s world. The themes that are expressed change over time but the fact that something is being expressed stays the same. Take Avatar, it’s Cameron’s expression of his perception of how technology, which is supposed to connect us, really disjoints us from our origins – Nature.
This brings us right back to the similarity between meditation and art. For the last 2000 years, Buddhism has been teaching that the world is neither bad nor good. It simply is. Only through the subjective experience, we apply value to it. I am sure that you once had a bad hair day that let the world look gray and hostile and a couple of days later it was the exact opposite. That‘s subjective experience.
Paul Watzlawick, the famous theoretician in radical constructivism, once said: „What Hans says about the world says more about Hans than about the world“. Everyone experiences the world differently. Not only on a day to day basis, but in general as well because no one shares the same neurological structure and everyone make different experiences throughout his or her life. This means that when you experience the world as a dark and sinister place, your stories will be dark and sinister, because that is your experience of the world. It doesn‘t necessarily mean that the world is indeed dark and sinister, it is simply the subjective experience of the author and that‘s called – truth.
Truth, another one of these highly ambiguous and subjective terms you might think – and you are right – it is highly subjective and that‘s the point.
In 2007, I attended Robert McKee‘s Story seminar in New York City. I took the chance to have him sign my copy of his highly successful book “Story”. He not only signed it but also added the following statement „Write the truth“. For a long time I didn‘t know what it meant. Did he mean an objective truth of reality that not even science can provide? Later, I realized that he wants me to write (express) stories about how I experience the world. Doing that serves one purpose: to be Original.
For a very long time, I thought of originality as a synonym of novelty. I wanted to make movies that are truly new. A movie no one made before. The funny thing is, that I got it backwards the whole time. Originality is not an equivalent of novelty. Originality means staying true to yourself and your world view. The result of it will be novelty, not the other way around. Stanley Kubrick‘s Full Metal Jacket is an anti-war movie and it was not the first anti-war movie that had been made at that time. Apocalypse Now, for example, was shot and released almost 10 years before Full Metall Jacket. So Kubrick could have said: „Blimey, someone else did it already. I guess I need to find something else“. He surely could have said that, but he didn‘t. He wrote and shot his subjective anti-war movie and I am sure we all know what a tragic loss that might have been.
This is important. Write your movie. It doesn‘t matter whether someone else wrote a similar story, as long as you write it originally, it will be successful. Never write a story because you want to impress someone or because you think that when you write it in this or that way people will like it. They won‘t, because these stories will feel clunky and artificial – they simply won‘t breath. And now we are back at the beginning. That‘s how you get Life into your movies!
Writing the truth is not easy. It means that a lot of your personality will be part of your story. Every time close friends of mine read a script or watch a short that I did, they tell say: „This is so you“. They see my personality reflected in the story and that‘s exactly what we are going for. This can be unpleasant and even scary at times. Because, when you write, you‘ll discover your true self. You thought you are a caring and nice person and find yourself writing dark and twisted stories. A huge junk of our personality is suppressed in the depths of the subconscious that tends to bubble up and manifest itself in our writing. Quentin Tarantino once said that if he wouldn‘t make movies, he‘d be a criminal.
Does that mean that I am a male prostitute because of “The Boy Next Door’s” story? No. It‘s not the concrete that we are expressing, but rather the underlying relations and themes. I for example did suffer from anxiety attacks for a while so this is a subjective experience. I also had meaningless one night stands in my life, so that is a subjective experience that is in the movie as well. I also believe that true emotional relationships with other human beings work better than every anti-anxiety pill there is. So that‘d be my truth that is based on what I experienced in my life.
Concerning the characters, they are not modeled after actual living characters. Some aspects might be inspired by people I know mixed together with fragments of my personality. There is a part in me that is still a little boy, innocent, vulnerable and afraid, looking for comfort and protection. There is a part in me that has been hurt in the past and that part is still afraid to connect to other people. That‘s creativity in its purest form, the recombination of unrelated things into something new.
INTENTION IS KEY
So, the next time you want to make a movie, ask yourself why you want to make a movie in the first place. One intention is to learn the craft. Learn how to use a camera or light a scene and that is fine. I started that way too but don‘t expect to reach a huge audience outside your domain of fellow filmmakers and especially don‘t expect to move an audience emotionally. The worst intention of making a movie is to just make a movie. It will result in a hollow and shallow movie. We could also say a dead movie.
The intention makes all he difference. Through intention, we can also define the difference between art and commerce. If I make a movie because I want to express my subjective experience (truth), it‘s art. If the intention is to make money thus laking originality, then it‘s commerce. This is also why people often don‘t understand modern art. For them, it‘s only an abstract form on a canvas that probably is easily copyable, but the intention of the painting, maybe an emotion, or maybe a thought, is what makes it art.
So, whenever you make a movie think of your intention. Why do you want to make a movie in the first place. As soon as you can answer that question truthfully, you are on the right track to make movies that will grab your audience‘s attention, move them emotionally and make them think. Your movies will reflect life and will live themselves.
Next week, we‘ll have a closer look on the history of stories, meet C.G. Jung and his concept of archetypes and examine Joseph Cambell‘s monomyth, a hypothesis that is the foundation of almost every story ever told.
Gregor is a screenwriter and director from Austria currently working as a junior creative director and studying screenwriting at UCLA. On his blog BreakingIn (Link: http:// www.gregorschmidinger.com) he writes about screenwriting, directing and artistic development, documenting his attempt to break into the movie business. You can follow him on Twitter @Breaking_In (Link: http://www.twitter.com/Breaking_In).