In this podcast Nelson and I talk about the writing process, low budget films, Jon Faverou, James Cameron, low budget films and much more!
Back to the Fututre – The Econemy of Stortelling
Welcome to MUST SEE FILMS, My names Darren and this channel is helping you see films differently.
I recently revisited a childhood favourite of mine, ‘Back to the Future’ and it still holds up as a fun filled adventure, a sci fi masterpiece and at the same time an initimate family drama.
One of the most overloooked achievements of this film is the films opening shot. It manages to convey an incredible amount of information to the audience in a very short time, not to mention the technical execution of the shot its self.
As the film opens we hear the ticking of clocks, tying into the the theme of the overall narrative.
The most impressive part about this sequence is that it really serves as a character introduction for Doc Brown without actually revealing his charcter.
Another great example of a scene that conveys information to the audience about a character before they arrive in the story is the build up to Quawella Devils.
1st a conversation, a song, a vechicle, a siloutte until final, as the character first arrives on screen the audience now have a sense of who they are.
So we learn that Doc Brown is obbessed with time. This is also setting up an experiment which Pay offs shortly after causing Marty to be late for school.
This clock shows a classic image from ‘Safety Last’ 1923 and also foreshadows the climax of the film.
Next we get some evidence of backstory, we learn that Doc was once rich, hes an inventor and because of perhaps an explosive experinemt or in an aim to fund his latets project he has sold his grounds.
But the even more telling aspect of this item is that he has kept these specific pages, displays them on his walls, perhaps as a reminder of how much he has sacrificed for his vision like the greats.
Among his role models are the likes of Thomas Edison, Benjamin Frankilin and Albert Einstein as seen in these portaits above his now humble living quarters.
Also note, the appearance of the JVC video device which will be a cruical element to the story later on.
The raido gives us our first gounding in time, OCT 1985, the date is presents later again when it becomes more improtant but just note that within minutes the audience has an understand of WHEN they are.
The pilled up mail, smoking toast, coffee machine on auto and the pilled up dog food indicates that he hasn’t been home in some time and raised the question of why has all his equipment been let ON? This is answered shortly after this opening shot.
The case of the missing plutonium is presented here, again raising questions in the mind of the audience.
The dog bowl just reinforces the idea of an inventor who names his pet Einstin and that they both havent been there for a while.
Unlike the intentional mistry created around Doc Brown, Marty is the audiences first character, putting us in his shoes early on lets us been taken on this jounrey of time travel and adventure. We also see his 80’s cloths and sets him up as a skateboarder which pays off later.
The knowlegde of the key and casual nature of his entry shows the closeness of Marty and Docs relationship,
Concluing this incredible shot by paying of the issue of the missing plutoinum, this doesn’t satisfy the audience but only creates more curosity.
If we ignore the studio advertisments at the start, its amazing to note that this sequence last 2:52 seconds. Its taken more time to exmaple the content and meaning of this thoroughly crafted shot. Making this an incredibly economic way of telling a story on film.
Now if we compare this to the opening of Back to the Future 2, We see the final few minutes from the end of the first film as a prologue and this Point of View shot as the delorian flies through the sky.
Im not saying every film needs to start this way, but if the puprose of the beginning of a film is to draw you in, raise questions, introduce character, and layer each moment with thematically rich content, then Back to the Future is a prime example of this.
This last little easter egg is moments after the opening shot. Its interesting to note that the label from the music system reads CRM 114, which is supposedly Speilbergs doing, this is referrence to several Kubrick films which also feature the same short code.
Iv been fascinated with the opening of films recently and I’d love to hear your favoruite examples which you think are worth invesigation.
-maybe your not ready for that yet, but your kids are gonna love. Music!
Tarantino Character creation.
(Informal scenes that reveal character)
A piece of writing advice I receieved recently has led me back to the work of Tarantino. Known for his violence and redeption stories, but also his colourful and unforgettable characters.
The advice surrounded the idea of creating great charcaters and knowing them well enough to write fully realised characters.
The advice was ‘Know who your character are when their alone, and know who they are trying to presents themsleves to be around others.’
Now at first glance this advice seems like ‘Character’ and ‘Characteristaion’ but digging into it a little deeper, the question is really getting at the kind of thinking your character has about themselves, there veiwpoint on the world and how to present themselves within it.
Really were talking about two sides of a person. A neutral, infromal state that a characeter expresses when alone, or relaxed in comfortable company and then secodndly A hightened, more dramatic state, when they take on a certain kind of persona.
This video will explore examples of this and try to explain why this is useful for creating great charcters.
The only difference between an Informal state and a Dramatic state, from the characters point of view is there are playing a role, a character. There are subtle and not so subtle examples all throughout cinema but some of the most entertaining and clear example of this is in Tarantinos films.
Lets look at Jules from Pulp Fiction, having some of the best dialogue in the film, but most noteably in this scene. (dramatic)
This hightened Dramatic scene is even more powerful and revealing because of its juxtaposition and contrast with its Informal scenes moments before.
Starting in the car, we see Jules engaged in a back and forth, this will contrast with the very one sided converstaion and leading role later on, we see them argue over a point of view, this sets up for a story point later on. Fun Fact the song heard from the hallway is ‘starberry letter 22, which is used again in Taratinos next film Jackie Brown. Now the length of this conversation and tracking shots are all designed to make the audience wait and relax before the upcoming action. This is my favoruite example of the audience being made to wait as the camera literally refuses to follow them an waits by the door. Note Jules lines as they make the change from Informal into prepartion for the upcoming drama.
Not only are these two scenes in conversation with each other but it works on the same premise as effective action films.
Some action films are numbing and overwhenliming, but the best action films are the ones which the audience cares about the outcome of the characters, because the audience are invested in the character through effective storytelling. There are many examples of directors and writers who have effectively found the balance for action films but since were on the topic of Taratino lets looks at ‘From Dusk Til Dawn’
Clooney and tarantino
Although not crafted by Tarantino, this is an exreme example this technqiue where the structure of the films is shaped to support this techqniue, before pointing the audience into a very heigethened and supernatural situation and the charceters are pressure, we spend the first half of the film getting to know these characters in the normal world.
Lets looks at another example from Resvior Dogs and try to explore WHY this is an effective technique.
Lets start this time with our Informal scene because many hightened counterparts come from this opening.
- REVEAL Firstly it gives us a unqiue chance to see our charcaters without the stakes and pressures of heavier scenes, giving us a climpse into the natural state nd revealing some of there true character.
- FORESHADOW, this opening scene very subtley leaves clues that foreshadow many story points later on. The closeness of Orange and White, The argument White and Blonde, The difference in point of view with Pink and White.
- REHERSAL These kind of scenes can also be used as rehersal before difficult choices,
Vince and orange.
This gives us a chance to see our charcter struggling with something, feel there vulnerability and understand there uncertaininty and tension during the key dramactic moments.
- CONTRAST. I think its difficult to meausre the effecvtivenss of contrast for the audicne and how useful that is as a tool to understand and feeling for the characters. The contrast also serves as a story device, useful at different points in the story but intense action is even more effectively contrasted immediately after calming, scnes that allow the audience to relax into th world.
But is this an ealry Tarainto technqiue of something that has been used throughout his body of work.
Pulp Fiction Diner and mexican stand off.
Perhaps this fasincation has come from Taratinos early love for acting, Best friends wedding
Lets finish with a scene from the highly underatted Jackie Brown. Here we have a scene that goes back to the idea of to scenes being in conversation with the other, in this instance, Tanataino has chosen to show them both side by side. This split screen similtaiously reveals and peeks information for the audience creating even more meaning in the action.
Coming back to the idea that PIXAR director once shared that DRAMA= is anticipation mingled with unceratinty.