Going back recently for a Masters degree in Film Studies whetted my appetite for film, television and media again. A couple years ago, while writing – and struggling – with a long thesis highlighting a gifted, under-looked film director, Alexander Mackendrick, I began buying up books on British and Celtic Film plus World Cinema. My initial thought was to save myself a few trips to the Chapman University library 11 miles down the road. Yet, building my own small cache of film books turned out to be both a small joy and a labor of love. And I can yellow mark them to my heart’s delight without penalty.
A web trip to Amazon.com just a day or so ago re-infused my love for cinema. For less than $30 I bought 3 used (in “like new” condition) books: one on Third World film-making, a recent British Film perspective and a seminal textbook on Film Genre written by Thomas Schatz. If you have any knowledge of Film Studies, you’ll know about Schatz. David Bordwell is another film scholar to pay attention to for insight. While shopping on Amazon I also created a “wish” list of another dozen books or so I’ll grab sometime later when my pocketbook isn’t as lean.
Film has been viewed by some as the new literature of the 21st century. Whether projected, digital, web-based or viral, the cinematic stories presented and told are meant to move and affect us, and, ultimately, to entertain. That inspiration and expression most always starts with a good STORY. Stories come in all flavors – western, action, comedy, horror, biography, thriller, war picture, romance or documentary. All in all, it’s tough to mess up a really good, compelling story.
Over many years I have run into a lot of faith-based or non-profit groups that fail to understand the critical importance of story as they size up a media project. Their leaders are well-meaning, but the focus is far too often based on either money or equipment or cheap labor. What’s this gonna cost? Where can I get my hands on some gear? Where are some volunteers to run this equipment?
This is akin to a painter worrying about paintbrushes, easel and canvas rather than the subject or landscape they will paint.
The failure is in not setting their sights on far more important issues: scripts, characters, plot, genre, audience – and story. That’s sad. Because as my wise mentor, Dr. Paul Monaco, used to say, “people love to tell stories. Humans have been telling stories since the dawn of time.” He’s right. Film – as either an artform or medium of expression – is great at storytelling.
In his acclaimed book on Hollywood, Adventures In The Screen Trade, Academy-award winning screenwriter William Goldman posed the fundamental question, “what’s your story about?” He then followed-up that challenge with a key secondary question, “what’s your story REALLY about?” When you can answer those questions, you have a starting place.
In the end, that’s what I love most about film (and tv and media): the stories.