In my previous post, I mentioned a documentary I've been working on about master cinematographers and the amazing amount of knowledge I've gained by listening to them speak and reference their inspirations.
Possibly one of the greatest gifts I have received from this documentary is a recommendation by Stephen Goldblatt, ASC (The Help, Julie and Julia, Closer, Lethal Weapon).
He advised to watch film-- good film. The classics. Turn the sound off and watch the cuts.
I'd heard the bit of advice before, but for some reason it resonated with me as I've plowed through the rest of this documentary. I took his bit of advice to heart and created something I've begun to call 'Tone Cuts', in which I take a classic film, toss it into Final Cut Pro, mute the soundtrack and on every cut and fade, I put a one frame tone cue.
While it's a glorified version of Stephen's advice, it really keeps your attention focused solely on the image, the movement of the camera, the use of lighting, color and contrast, the pacing of the film and of course the construction of the film.
To add an extra layer of enrichment to the process, I began with a film I hadn't ever seen before; The Conformist. Watching a film for the first time without sound is the true test of a film's cinematic depth. If you can, even at the very basic level, understand what's going on without the sound, I believe the filmmaker is truly making use of the medium of cinema.
By chance, I happened to pick one of the most brilliantly photographed films I've seen. Vittorio Storaro (Apocalypse Now, The Last Emperor, Last Tango in Paris) is seen by many as one of the greatest masters of cinematography ever. This film was a landmark in the use of production design, color and movement of the camera.
It's difficult to sum up all that I learned from watching this from cut to cut. One of the greatest lessons I learned from the Tone Cut of this film in terms of editing was the brilliant pacing of it.
The pacing of an entire film, and even in a scene of a film is crucial to keeping the attention of the audience. I have a theory floating around in my head about the direct correlation of pacing and how well a film is received. It's all about tension and release. Fast cuts and long takes. Dissonance and Consonance. Camera movement. Color. Light. Balance is needed to both build tension and receive rewards. It's satisfying to see fast cuts followed by a long shot. The importance of providing the audience with both high tension and satisfying release is what can make or break a film.
Already, I've made my way through The Conformist, Vertigo and Citizen Kane. Each one is providing me with a unique perspective on film theory and almost a back stage pass to witness the true craft at play without the story being on the forefront.
I feel as though this should be a mandatory project for a budding filmmaker to do. With just some freeware app that converts DVD's to MOV's, and about 5 or 6 hours of spare time, you can make your own tone cuts. The malleability of looking at a film on an NLE's timeline and getting the opportunity to look at every frame and every cut of the classics at your own pace is one of the most open-ended educations you could give yourself. You should have no excuses to do this for yourself.
For those interested, I'm not opposed to sharing the Tone Cut of these films I've already completed; if and only if you are willing to share with me your notes and what you've learned from these films as well.