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.
Previous Post, Part 1: The SetUp
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).
BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS ON „ARTISTIC DEVELOPMENT“
“Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life” by Anne Lamott
“If You Want to Write” by Brenda Ueland
“Drawing on the Artist Within” by Betty Edwards
“The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield
“Zen in the Art of Writing” by Ray Bradbury
“The Creative Habit” by Twyla Tharp
Thanks Nino, thanks Gregor.
Really interesting story and I’m glad you posted it here on your blog otherwise I wouldn’t have noticed that.
Thanks Sebastain. I like the idea of marrying form and function on a platform like this. 🙂
Gregor, thank you for bearing your soul. Your insights are well considered and thought provoking.
Nino, thank you for providing the canvas, as ever.
I long for part three.
Thanks. Anytime. 🙂 I am glad you like it. 🙂
I really appreciate your sharing this your thoughts and experience about writing and movie making.
I do have one question about the statement in your thesis “If the intention is to make money thus lacking originality, then it‘s commerce.”
Are you stating that there is no originality in commercial communication or that the sole intention of making money impedes originality?
-Thanks, keep up the good work
Hey Scott. Thanks a lot. I think you are asking a very
relevant question here. The answer I can give you is that my
statement of course is a generalization. It’s neither black nor
white. I needed to make this generalization though to express a
tendency since I had neither the space nor the time to truely get
into the topic. I hope that is a valid answer to you.
Nice post, Gregor! I’m not sure I’d agree with your
definition of Buddhism: “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”
In fact, Buddha has taught us that the world is a world of
suffering (dukkha). Sounds pretty bad to me! Also, by applying
value to anything, we create attachment, which is the root cause of
suffering: if your attachment is not sustained, you suffer (think
ex-girlfriend, not being able to afford the whole range of CP.2
primes etc 😉 The only way to not suffer is to not attach your mind
to anything and not apply value to anything either and just live in
the moment. That’s the doctrine of emptiness (i.e. Nothing has
value, not even nothingness, which is known as the emptiness of
emptiness). This is not as bleak and life-rejecting as it sounds,
it’s just to stop your mind from creating pigeonholes for
everything and experiencing the world in categories (clichés and
stereotypes) rather than the way they really are. Yes, you are
seeing the world through your eyes but I think you may have
misunderstood the core teaching of Buddhism. It took me a long time
to grasp it too but a year at uni studying emptiness certainly
helped 🙂 Your post has given me renewed confidence in myself
though in helping me use my background to tell stories though.
Let’s see if I can make a film based on the emptiness of emptiness
😀 Peace, Guido
Hey Guido, who would have a guessed that we have such a
deep philosopical discussion on a gear oriented blog. I like it and
I do agree with you although I myself am not a huge fan of the
suffering teaching. Buddha probably never expressed it the way I
did but I think it’s the conclusion you can draw from Buddhsim
teachings. Radical constructivism says pretty much the same but in
a rather western tinted language. I hope you wont’t make emptiness
your foundation of your stories. In fact, we want the opposite,
suffering aka conflict. That’s life, that’s development and
emptiness can be the result. But more on that next week. 🙂
Thanks for your reply Gregor. Sorry to get all philosophical, it’s just something I used to read about a lot, so I couldn’t just let it slide.
The suffering teaching is not something you can be a fan of really…it’s just something we have to live with!
Of course anything can be interpreted in another way and you’re free to do so.
As for emptiness, it’s actually considered a positive thing in Buddhism. Check out the article on http://www.thebigview.com/buddhism/ for an overview if you’re interested.
If you were to make a film about emptiness (the doctrine, that is, not what we normally perceive it as!) it would definitely include pain, suffering and conflict, just as a painter uses black and dark hues to create shadows and contrast.
Looking forward to next week’s post. This one prompted me to write one of my own 🙂
It’s certainly true that the Buddhist perspective is of a life which inherently causes and contains suffering. However, it seems to me that what Gregor meant was closer to the Buddhist teaching on good and evil rather than on the nature of existence in the cycle of death and rebirth. On this subject, the Buddhist viewpoint is in fact that good and evil do not exist, and are in fact subjective creations of our own minds; through this false assertion, we attach ourselves to life and are unable to treat others equally in spite of their behaviour and actions, under the assumption that some people are simply evil people and cannot be forgiven. Buddhism teaches, in fact, that our negative thoughts and activities are a consequence of our misguided attachment to other people and to other things; thus, wrongdoers are simply those who are heading in the wrong direction spiritually, and are to be pitied in this right by the more wise rather than go unforgiven. In the bigger picture of rebirth, a Buddhist knows that their negative karma will catch up to them in the next life, and wishes them all the best in learning through this increased suffering to change the path they are on.