I've been thinking a lot about pop culture and “content” and movies and what it takes to stand out in a world where audiences have instant access to vastly more hours of entertainment than they have the ability to consume in a lifetime. It's not enough to just make a good movie anymore, as people have immediate access to every other good movie ever made. Hell, they have access to every great movie ever made. How do you compete with The Godfather? How do you compete with every Bond movie? How does someone who makes movies fit into this world?
When I was a kid, I was a huge fantasy nerd. If it had swords, dragons, or magic then I was there with my nose pressed up to it whether the story was told in books, television, or movies. This could be tricky for movies, because I wasn't allowed to watch R-rated movies, and a lot of fantasy movies involve naked folk and/or heads being chopped off. Of course, Highlander has both. So it was strictly off the table.
I write this blog for a specific audience. It's all written to be appealing to the “me” of ten years ago. By that, I mean the young eager person who loves film and is avidly trying to absorb as much knowledge and experience as possible. I hope I can help share some insight, and help people realize that everyone in this industry is still trying to learn how to make a good movie.
In that spirit, these are some books that I've read over the last decade or so that helped shape my approach to filmmaking and my understanding of the film business. I think these books all have considerable educational value to the aspiring or working filmmaking. The list is broken into categories, but I recommend cross-pollinating your knowledge. I find that breakthroughs in one filmmaking discipline often come from knowledge and experience acquired in another. The art, craft, and businesses of filmmaking are not orthogonal; they intertwine and it's expected for an expert in any field to at least have a basic understanding of how their work impacts their colleagues.
These are three of the original Polish posters for Alien and Aliens. I believe all three were designed by legendary Polish poster designer Witold Dybowski.
If this is your introduction to the amazing world of Polish film posters, you are in for a world of delight. The Polish film industry has a history of utilizing creative artistic posters long after most of the world moved to photographs of movie stars. But even if you're already familiar with the wonders of Polish film posters, I hope I've uncovered some hidden gems in this post that can further your appreciation of the subject.
The movie Killer Elite was released with “based on a true story” as part of its marketing campaign, and gives that clear message in the opening credits of the film. Many of the characters have the names of real people, including one of the characters being Ranulph Fiennes (yes, he's related to Ralph Fiennes), the author of the book The Feather Men, which the film was based on.
This film was a revelation for me. It's the first Ernst Lubitsch film I've ever seen, and I was blown away by his nimble ability with tone and pace. It's a delight to discover how well “the Lubitsch touch” works decades after his films were made.
[This post originated on a message board I participate on. I made some minor edits before republishing here. The question was regarding character arcs in a film or screenplay, and whether they were necessary. Here is my reply, which goes somewhat against the traditional studio development opinion.]
There exists a different kind of arc in a film. It's related to a character arc, except the character doesn't change. It's the Arc of Awesome.
The Arc of Awesome occurs when the main character is so awesome that her awesomeness causes the entire world of the movie to arc. She can't arc because she started the movie amazingly awesome, so obviously there's nowhere for her to go other than to continue being awesome. The best you'll get in an Arc of Awesome is that you'll keep peeling back layers of awesomeness to see even more awesomeness underneath.
This post was originally published on May 8, 2012 on my old blog at keithcalder.com. I will probably update this list in 2022 after the next Sight and Sound poll. I think it will be a very different list by then.
At first I thought this would be a fun diversion, but it turned out to be incredibly stressful. Who am I to not include a single Stanley Kubrick or Akira Kurosawa film on my Top 10 list? Have I betrayed my beloved Face/Off by not including it? Am I really so anglo-centric that I can't find room for foreign language masterpieces? At the end of the day, I'm upset at myself for not finding a way to put at least 100 movies on my top 10 list. The entire idea of a top 10 list is a bit wonky to me, as I believe it's impossible to rank and organize the impact and quality of different works of art, but I think a finished list can still provide a helpful guide to other film explorers and it can be an interesting insight into the mind of the list-maker. So here we go…