Thursday, December 22, 2011

Spielberg Web Series

A few weeks ago, a co-worker dropped this great video essay in my lap called 'Moment of wonder: THE SPIELBERG FACE'

For the handful of people who regularly read this site, it harkens back to a post I wrote back in July of this year.

I'd never heard of 'Spielberg face' before, but it's pretty much on the money of what I'd noted myself. It's a powerful tool indeed, especially in indicating a sense of Wonderment, which is a major pillar of my thesis.

The video describes it as a common cliche and an overused cue for an audience to feel something out of a spectacle, but I would disagree with calling it cliche. Cliche implies it's lacking in efficacy because of it being overused. While it may be overused, it can still ring in a highly potent emotional impact upon its audience when used in the right circumstance.

The video essay also dissects what they call the 'Anti-Spielberg Face', where the tool is used to convey trauma or a challenge of innocence rather than just a reaction to wonderment. It's really no surprise that the reaction can be used that way and I think this is sort of where the essay strays-- possibly for humor.

What they call 'Spielberg Face' is not just a tool for wonderment, but for any major emotional weight swinging with a character. Realization, enlightenment, or a dawning of a moment. It's a bit too narrow minded to call the tool 'Spielberg Face' and sells Spielberg short for his use of the technique and labeling it 'his'. The essay even recognizes its presence before Spielberg was even on the scene, but quickly dismisses it.

The essay may argue that he is a master at conveying that sense of wonderment with the reaction of Spielberg Face, but there's so much more to that tool than cuing the audience to feel something. It conveys weight, scale and eloquently conveys a major emotional change in a character without being explicit.

Now, it is a cue for the audience to say 'hey, there's a big emotional change happening', but it can also have a highly involving aspect to it as well, where the audience is engaged and challenged to figure out what the character is feeling on their own, without explicit statement of that emotion, or without complex exposition as to how the character feels.

The efficacy of 'Spielberg Face' stems from an audience figuring the emotion out for themselves. Even if the emotion is pretty explicit, in figuring it out for themselves, it further invests them with the character, allowing them to feel even more like the events are happening to them.

It's no surprise Wonderment is such a commonly used aspect of the tool. It's enjoyable for an audience to watch and endure that emotion, and it's repeatable. It's the same reason people are so infatuated with Disney. It's nonthreatening entertainment.

But what shouldn't be forgotten is the 'Anti-Spielberg Face' side of this is that there is a whole other slew of emotions that can be conveyed. All of which can resonate with the audience in a similar fashion because they challenge the audience to figure it out rather than explicitly stating the emotion. It's involving. It's entertaining.

Now that I've spoken my peace about Spielberg Face, there's this whole great web series being put on by the same people over at Press Play called Magic and Light: The Films of Steven Spielberg that I've been keeping an eye on. It explores the evolution of his style, and common themes and ideas used repeatedly throughout his works such as his portrayal of authority figures, violence, communication, and father figures.

Episode 1 can be viewed here. At this current date, there's four episodes available, but it appears they're launching one or two a week now and there's no information available as to how many of these episodes they will release, but for any fan of the craft, it's a fantastic series to get into.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Grinding It Out

I've had a video on my Vimeo account that's been on my 'Watch Later' list for months. It was something called 'Ira Glass On Storytelling'. And I assumed it would be a 10-15 minute little talk about his experiences. Well, today I finally sat down and watched it, and it turns out it's this short, sweet, little piece of kinetic typography based off of a talk he gave sort of as a dinner bell for all creatives out there.

It's wonderfully short and inspirational and really rings true to anyone interested in any form of storytelling.

I used to get so frustrated that I couldn't just sit down and write out a story. I'd have a certain style, emotion or situation that I'd want to play out and think would be cool to play around with in a film, but as soon as I'd open up a word document, I'd suddenly get a blank mind. I'd spend ten minutes making the title page look just perfect with the perfect spacing from top of the page to title, and adjusting the 'by line' so it looked just perfect. Then I'd plop down the 'Fade In.'

I just couldn't write anything. I wanted to, I knew the style I was going for. I just didn't have the discipline or knowledge of where to even start.

Only until maybe a couple years ago, did I crawl out of that funk and just began to write little stories. Stories I thought would be good to turn into scripts later. The formatting, the character's names, the order of events didn't have to be decided now. What was most important was getting the nice little seed of an idea from my mind down on paper.

Really the only challenge then was learning to capture the essence of why I liked the idea in the first place. Writing vaguely enough to still inspire me upon later readings, but specific enough to steer my memory back to the moment where my brain sent a jolt through my body and said 'Hey, write this one down. This is good.'

The whole idea of The List has been a major motivator for me. One in that I'm forcing myself to write out all of my inspirations and musings in one place and two, it allows me to exercise the whole discipline of capturing the essence of an idea in a shorthanded way. It's helped me organize my small little situations, styles and emotions that I once wanted to plug into a script, into something tangible and organized for me to work from when I begin writing.

My writing has become more frequent ever since I began The List, and it's serving its purpose to act as sort of a self-manufactured Rosetta Stone for the style that I like.

This week I began writing another little short story that I've been noodling for over a year now. After diving back into research and reading the biographies for my thesis, and my recent re-organization of The List, it has all helped re-focus my attention back onto the writing side of things.

Ira's text is an all-inclusive act of encouragement, for individuals both starting out, and season veterans of frustration. I think I fall somewhere inbetween. I'm not out of the woods yet, but I'm far strides from just starting out on this venture.

'Build up your volume of work', he says. It's a rewording of something we've all heard for years, 'The more you write, the better you'll get'. And it's certainly true. But the way it's framed, and the voice that the message is coming from makes those particular words extra encouraging. A sort of tangible encouragement, a relief of 'I know I can do this'.

Anyway, I wanted to share the little video with you Cine'ers if you haven't seen it. It's really important you watch it actually, if you're frustrated and stuck in the mud with your wordsmithing, that is. Just keep grinding it out.