Recently a few people have asked me where I get my inspiration and especially, what are my favorite movies, TV shows, or directors to follow and watch. To give you a straight answer, I couldn’t really name a favorite TV show or movie. And I definitely couldn’t tell you my favorite director. The truth is, film is such a broad concept, and there are so many ideas even within a single film, that it is impossible for me to pick one out and label it as my favorite. The same goes for directors.
If someone were to ask me who your favorite director was, I would laugh and say, “Are you serious?” Frankly, the concept of having a single favorite thing, when it comes to anything, is simply annoying to me. Why must I have to pick one? Of course, I could just say Steven Spielberg, or Stanley Kubrik and be done with it, but that’s too easy. I feel like I need to explain, at least to a certain degree, my thought process.
Generally, I’ve come to realize the thing that is most important to me are all the nuances within a film, and how the film tells a visual story. I absolutely love it when a director, or writer for that matter, chooses to tell the story with as little dialog as possible. A film is supposed to engage its audience, and one of the surest ways to do that is to allow them to figure out what’s happening for themselves. Human beings love to think they are smart, and allowing them to figure things out for themselves makes them feel that they are. Especially nowadays, where the internet tells us practically everything.
A few weeks back, I watched Chinatown, and it made me think about how Roman Polanski chose to tell that classic story through beautiful shots, subtle images, and simple dialogue. He found a way to engage his audience and didn’t treat them like they knew absolutely nothing. That’s how a film’s story should be told. Visually, subtly, and simply.
Another simple, and almost by the book detective story comes from Miami Vice, a 1984 TV show following two cops in Miami attempting to take down a notable drug lord. The first episode is more like a movie than anything else. It follows the general structure of a detective story, but it does a wonderful job of telling the story visually. The scene that struck me the most occurs towards the end of the first episode when the two officers just found out a fellow cop has betrayed them, and they are aware that they could be walking into a trap, or towards their deaths, but they decide to continue anyway. When you think about it, it’s kind of a depressing scene, but the visuals, matched with the dialogue and the music tell an amazing story within a two-minute scene.
I admired this scene for how it made me feel while watching it, how it kept me engaged, and how it allowed me to piece together my own version of how the episode could end. I decided after watching that scene, that I would try my hand at a subtle storyline, and try to make my audience think a little bit. I especially felt inspired by the cinematography and wanted to experiment with similar shots as I saw in Miami Vice. Even if I only succeeded in doing this for a few minutes of my short film 1313, I was glad to be able to try my hand at it. I opened the short film with a montage of my characters driving to their home, where things were about to change forever. I wanted to illustrate that my characters were living a shielded, perhaps cushy, lifestyle. You can see this as their “expensive” car drives down quiet suburban streets, lined with greenery and clean looking houses. The song I decided to use during this montage was “I Fought The Law” by The Clash. I tried to use this as foreshadowing to illustrate the fact that the antagonist loses at the end of the film. Although I realize my audience may not have noticed these things, it was nice to know that I was able to try them in my work.
Since watching more and more movies and films, I’ve realized that the ones I enjoy the most are ones that don’t rely exclusively on their script. They create stories visually, creatively, and subtly. They make you think. When making your own films, if you stray even a little bit from your screenplay, you automatically make your film more engaging for yourself and your audience. It forces you to make it up as you go and it makes your story all the more real. Your audience will begin to think for themselves as well, instead of just blindly following where you lead them. Yes, there will be mistakes, yes, some things may be too subtle, and yes, you will screw up. But making your audience think is the key to an amazing film. This is, as I’m sure you already figured out, another amazing reason for going “Off The Script.”