An Evolutionary view on problems and their solutions for the Filmmaker. A personal view.

Let get this straight from the outset, the word evolution correctly used really applies to a population and not an individual. When an individual changes they can be said to be transformed or maybe even undergone a metamorphosis. Evolution in the strictest sense is a positive change in a population and needs three things:

  1. A variation in the individual in the population.
  2. Heredity or a genetic memory of the individuals in a population on this planet coded for by DNA mostly.
  3. That the population Grows.

Evolution can be seen a  complex biological clockwork where we cannot assume we know all the cogs or where those cogs may  connect to others.

The most commonly know aspect of evolution is called Natural Selection which the type of Evolution that Darwin spoke about and its all to do with survival under pressure from the environment, predators and parasites. If you can survive the environment, outwit the predators and avoid the parasites then you have been Naturally Selected to survive and pass on your own individual arrangement of DNA.

So what has this got to do with the filmmaking and its population of filmmakers? One word, survival. Survival is being able to exist as an individual and then to pass on your own inheritance pattern so a little bit of you passes on to the future.

Pretty much from my first day as filmmaker, I also started working with new filmmakers, either organising projects or teaching what I had just learnt to them. I was fortunate to have started at the UCL film society which was a film making group run by current and former students of the University and with no formal supervision or guidance from any staff whatsoever. There was no official professional filmmaker or teacher at the helm….. and yes, if it was a ship it was a pirate ship but one that had rules and regulations….. but let’s not go in that direction today. This is was a really unusual situation. It was the last days of 16mm film. Making films with 16mm film was one of the most expensive and unpredictable of all student extra curricular activities that anyone could do. It was possible to waste hundreds of pounds worth of film in just a few minutes with only one’s peers to judge that, sort of embarrassing, and maybe they might learn from your own artistic tragedy. A harsh sacrifice to make for what might be to the advantage of the group. Few people managed to make more than one film, few people would transform into a filmmaker that might survive in a particular niche.

A couple of decades later its a different story, with a DSLR and a couple of lenses, a first time filmmaker can make a nice and technically good images without the cost and the fear, although there is a high likelihood that whilst their first efforts might be embarrassing in some circles, they can easily pick themselves up again without breaking the bank.

Its easier to make a competent film now: editing is faster on a computer and the film/video or story has all manners of ways of being seen now, the internet being the really new big arena for this. The word arena is deliberately used because one of the issues for filmmakers is not for the film to be seen, but for the viewer to keep watching it and not to be pulled in another direction as something else presents a stronger sensation. With all the distractions and Memetic pulls in every direction you need excellent storytelling ability to hold the attention of the person(S) seeing your film. This means you have to keep the viewer joining the dots you give them to make the line you want them to see. Good storytelling is about making it easy and appealing for them to do so.

The point of a story is as ever is to move information from mind to mind, a sort of joined up nervous system of linked individuals. The link between the minds can be varied but the point is that stories for the mind are like food for the body. The right quantity, quality and frequency of story elements is essential. To much will overload someones mind like too much food will to the body. The rhythm, is the arrangement in time of the story elements, the ideas and information. It moves the trains of thought along. An example of this is the editing of a film or the beat in a song. Something that pushes the ideas forward and holds the mind and senses of the audience in the orbit of an idea, thought or emotion.

The story itself then is made of such elements, information, idea, rhythm, architecture , an aim or Purpose. Each elements can break down further, for example an idea itself is made of information, and so is rhythm. Your desire may be to make films in the same way a builder may like to make buildings, but there has to be architecture and there has to be purpose. The cave painting of an animal is both information about the world around the artist but also of potential food sources. These type of drawing simple picture stories are what will have given rise to a drive that takes the ancients beyond hunting to farming, a process itself that requires the planning of an architect but with knowledge of time and seasons rather than materials.

Its like this for the filmmaker the drive is to connect minds to do something bigger or better with the human experience. Think of a hundred people watching a film in a cinema. Everyone watching the film will be mentally in rhythm as they watch the film, its like sharing a dream. When they come to discuss what they experience, it is taken for granted they have all seen the same thing. This is what a film does – it creates a sort of synthetic dream that has meaning to the audience – sometimes it’s about exchanging immediate knowledge and at other times it’s about showing something deeper that is waiting to be revealed.

Now that the population of filmmakers has increased beyond that of any previous generation. The right skills are easier to acquire  than ever before. But there are new pressures to survive as some niches shrink and the predators move into a space than that does not have room for everyone.    New financial constraints changes the  energetics of the whole system. The pressure to survive comes from being seen by a big enough audience to sustain the filmmaker  and to do the relevant business exchanges to survive. It’s still about linking with other minds in one way or another but as you would expect, everything has changed.

Using film to promote a new product

three portrait photos of model demoing product

Recently we made a suite of films for a new range of luxury Espadrilles called “Zaccys”. This was both an interesting set of films to make and as a film-maker a relatively exiting thing to do as it involved filming in more than one country, interviews, still photography and multiple sequences with 4 different types of camera.

Taking a step back, let’s look at how film can support a new product:

Showing the product. Show the different designs of the product from different angles and in different settings and combinations.

Building a connection with an audience of potential customers. Showing and telling, in a human way, how the idea for the product came about, the brand itself, its ethos and most important, the person behind it, so that trust can develop and grow.

five thumbnails of model demoing the product in context

In the case of Zaccys, when its founder Meg Cope approached us about making some films, it was very easy to exchange ideas and see what was possible with the time and resources available. We were particularly efficient here in that we both identified subject areas for short films that would not only help promote the Zaccys brand but be able to inform people about the production process in an interesting way.

Meg was very effective in sorting out what she required from each film, so when it came to the shoot in Spain, the process was one of the most efficient that we have conducted in several years.

The end result was a suite of 4 films, each with duration of about 2 minutes. The films showed documentary footage and fashion photography as well as interviews to take us on a journey around the different types of shoes.

Stepping back once more to the advantages of film, one can see other elements where film excels, e.g. comparing to product feature lists and user benefit lists alone. Naturally as a film-making company, we may be somewhat biased here, but what would you see most important when coming to promote a new product?

The right length for a film?

How long is a piece of string?

How long?

“How long is left?” is the question that everyone asks when they don’t know where they are going.

It is the sort of question a prospective client might ask themselves when waiting for a film to finish, if they do not want to go to the end of the journey or are possibly not excited by the pay off at the end. The irony here is that the film-maker has spent a much longer period in the planning and making of the film before anyone even views it.

One of the main concerns of a film-maker and storyteller is to use the time given by others efficiently and respectfully. In a world where there is probably more video uploaded in a day than a single person could view in their lifetime, it is important that the film-maker sees that the “exchange” of information & entertainment with the viewer is a good one. The message must be worth their journey time. However, one can look at the metrics on a site like Vimeo to see how many people watch a film through to the end and it is a lot less than one would expect or like.

But how does one know how long a film should be?

Recently we have made several short films in areas ranging from being informative and educational to informative and marketing driven. The common element among these films has been the need to get information across in a way that makes both sense and impact. The answer for “how long” is in the film architecture, the planning for purpose.

In the case of these short films, the purpose has been to contain a story which joins information and ideas to inform the viewer, with the aim of educating them or influencing them to do something like buy a pair of shoes or go for medical examination. Just as some physical architectural designs are better suited for certain purposes e.g. a house vs. a warehouse, so it is with film architectures. They are all specific for what they are meant to contain.

So the answer to the “How long?” question is …… it depends.

The right ingredients for a strong film

Mystery food ingredient for a strong film

It is relatively easy to make a competent film nowadays.The editing process is more accessible on a computer and the film itself can be seen in all manner of ways, the internet being the latest big arena for this.

The word arena is deliberately used here, because a big issue for film-makers and clients is that the viewers should keep paying attention to a film once they have started watching it. Good story telling should hold the attention of the person receiving the story, but this means joining the dots of languages and ideas so that those that experience it, absorb it as part of their own relation to the world.

The point of a story is to move information from mind to mind and indeed, to build a sort of collective mind at the time of watching a film or engaging in a story. There is an analogy here between the way the body needs a balanced food intake and the mind needing to process different types of information to develop and stay healthy. Stories contain such stuff.   The right quantity, quality and rhythm of story elements are essential. Too much of one element will overload someone’s mind like too much of one type of food will to the body e.g. overly loud music in a film will distract from the message whereas no music may cause the story to drag.

A film story itself can be thought of as being made of these different elements:

  • Aim- the overall goal of the film making
  • Purpose – the specific task addressed in the film
  • Idea – the one thing you wish to transfer successfully into the mind of the viewer
  • Architecture – the building blocks and construction of the film elements
  • Information – content specific items to address
  • Rhythm – the overall flow in time of story elements

So, to be able to connect the “idea” with the minds of the audience of a film, the film-maker has to have a great understanding of how these elements will be brought to bear for the specific film in question. This also means that the client commissioner is an essential part of the process to frame these elements: the aim, purpose, needed information & big idea. The film-maker will deal with developing the architecture and then making the film.

I will feature in another blog an example of how I worked with a client to gain this understanding and then went on to construct the architecture for a successful film making project.