I was in a meeting a few weeks ago and someone asked “What makes the difference between a ‘good’ and a ‘bad’ film?” Luckily someone jumped in as I paused for thought too long, trying and simultaneously failing to find the best Aristotle quote on good vs bad. My mind runs on Windows 98 on the best of days. To put the question in to context, it was in relation to the ‘process vs product’ debate; do filmmakers find virtue and meaning by simply making regardless of standard of film produced? Of course they do. Process vs Product is quite an interesting topic and I will write about it in the near future i’m sure. ANYWAY… We meandered around the conversation until we arrived at the subheading ‘Originality’ to which someone said
I always find that originality comes from the execution, not the idea
Think about that. Isn’t that a wonderful way of looking at your work? With nearly every story done to death how is it that original work keeps emerging? It has to be from the individuals involved hasn’t it? When I think about it it’s quite naive to think a killer script is all that will launch you into the upper echelons of the film elite.
Furthermore, I can imagine that most filmmakers can liken one of their screenings to a form of execution, I know I have. You wait until the credits role, the ‘Good Standards’ Emperor in the Gods gives you a thumbs up or thumbs down depending on the crowd’s reaction. The thumbs by the way in modern times now look remarkably like the You Tube ‘thumb’ icons.
Yes the guillotine and hang rope have been replaced with dislikes and trolling; the only notable difference it seems is that with the former you’re out of your misery, if you get the latter then you’ll really have to suffer!
So how do you create original work?
1. YOU are original.
Nevermind the camera, the software or even the story, it’s YOU that has to be the winning feature. If you can’t shoot on a RED, fine shoot on another camera. Can’t use FCP X? Edit on something else. If you’re at a point where you can be replaced then you’re in trouble. Don’t for a minute assume you know it all but recognise that your take on the film is unique.
My latest film Time Lapse uses the ‘found footage’ device, a technique that’s common in the Horror genre. I use it because I know it’s crucial to my storytelling and I know that because I understand what my story is really about. This brings me to my next point…
2. Know the truth behind your story
I learnt this lesson from BAFTA award winning writer Geoff Thompson. I was fortunate enough to meet him last year and he spoke about the search for truth and how to identify it in your work. OK, my film has recognisable traits to the horror genre but it’s not a film about found footage it’s really a film about fear and I use to explore my thoughts of the effects of fear on the human psyche. The Shawshank Redemption isn’t about prison it’s about hope. There’s a single truth to most films, you just have to look a little deeper.
3. Plan to be original
Don’t confuse ‘Originality’ with ‘Spontaneity’. Sure, spontaneity can conjure some highly creative solutions however to rely on it to always be the ‘ace up your sleeve’ is just plain stupid. Planning actually highlights all the un-original areas of your film just as much as the original areas.
For Time Lapse, I storyboarded the entire film because I wanted to see how the film would flow on paper before I picked up a camera, it was a great starting point for my camera crew and I to work from and it gave me heaps of confidence!
So let’s recap…
Relise that you have an original take on the world that no one else does. Know what your story is really about and consider how you’ll stay true to that knowledge. Plan as much as you can because it makes being original more achievable.
“A poor original is better than a good imitation.”
― Ella Wheeler Wilcox