Expectations of the Protagonist Part 2

Hello 4381 Productions,

(**in Yoda voice**) Returned I have. Another blog post, I shall make. Discuss I will, The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and the exploration further of the protagonist and expectations have they.

For me, Star Wars is the purest form of escapism in film, I mean it literally takes place “A long time ago.. in a galaxy far, far away..” (on a screen). It has literally spent over forty years world-building and adding (and subtracting) from its endless canon and lore. And like The Dark Knight (2008), as mentioned in my last blog post, The Empire Strikes Back (1980) is a film that also features the main protagonist(s) failing to achieve their goals, crafting a more captivating, and relatable narrative. Failure is the greatest teacher, a natural part of life, and for Luke Skywalker and friends it will show no mercy.

I’m sure many of you reading this have seen this forty year old film by now, but for those who haven’t allow me to break down the basic plot. The movie begins with our hero, Luke Skywalker, wanting to know more about the Jedi and eventually become one. His companions, Han and Princess Leia deal with their heated relationship issues while outrunning the Imperial navy. Darth Vader, the antagonist of the film, eventually traps Han and Leia which forces Luke to leave his Jedi training incomplete. He gets his hand chopped off, loses his father’s weapon, and finds out that his father IS Darth Vader. While Han’s best friend Lando betrays him and gets him frozen in carbonite.  By the end of the film, the main characters are left imprisoned, crippled, and mind blown with no clear direction for what will happen next. Audiences were left stunned by the time the credits rolled.

This knowledge is common nowadays, everyone knows Darth Vader is Luke’s father, but at the time this was a major revelation for not only Luke, but for audience members as well. Many people (myself included) consider this to be the best Star Wars film, because of the revelations and grave consequences the characters suffer in the film. It puts them in situations you wouldn’t expect to see for a trilogy of children’s movies designed to sell toys. This movie is important, because it teaches that failure is okay and you have to keep going if you want to achieve your goals. Surpassing individual expectations and giving consequence to character’s actions make them more relatable to the human experience. When characters are pushed to their limits, learn from mistakes, grow physically, and mentally, it pushes them forward to succeed in the future (Spoiler Alert: They do).

Loss, Grief and Manchester by the Sea

One of my favorite exchanges I’ve had with my cousin goes like this, “Hey David, you look sad.”  I go, ” Really? My bad”. We both look at each other and laugh. Anyways this is gonna be sad. My bad.

Earlier in the week I recommended Manchester by the Sea, but now I wanted to elaborate on why I’m recommending it. First, I want to talk about loss. Loss is something that we all have to go through in life. While it’s an incredibly terrible feeling, it’s one we have to carry and learn from. Loss, in this context, doesn’t just include death, but emotional loss. I think in life we lose people we want to hold close, be it our own fault or not. Losing contact with a friend, breaking up with someone and even losing yourself is a kind of loss that is hard to swallow. Losing a friend, losing a partner, losing a family member, is not only physically but emotional and that isn’t easy to describe.

From here, I want to talk about grief. As someone who has dealt with loss, both emotional and physically, I can tell you grief is something else. I’m no good at describing the feeling of grief, the best I can do is compare it to losing at boxing match. I’ve never boxed but when you’re being hit with powerful blows to the head and body, you try to dodge them but then you start to feel dizzy and slow down your movements. All those blows accumulate and the knock out punch leads you to the floor. You lie there, tired, emotionless and in pain. You wake up the next day, in the peace of your home or a nice hospital bed. You look at the ceiling. You realize the only thing you can do is get stronger and move forward. The blows to the body and head is the pain you feel from grief. Dodging the punches is denial of loss. The knock out punch is usually anger or frustration that gets released from grief. This is usually punching walls, starting a fight, breaking things, etc. It’s like rock bottom. Lying on the floor tired and beaten, is the sadness and depression that comes after the anger. Finally your home or hospital is your place of reconstruction. You start to heal. Finally, the realization is hope. Hope that you can move forward.

So what does this have to do with Manchester by the Sea? Everything. Manchester by the Sea is probably the most accurate and realistic portrayal of grief and loss I have ever seen. In film, there are certain aspects that we have to dramatize in order to appeal to the viewer. Maybe the protagonist loses their mother. You would probably see the protagonist crying their eyes out in a hospital room, calling out for their mom. This maybe true for some people but in reality emotions take time to process.  There is a lot of contemplation and silence that usually is not shown in loss. A lot of human moments that are lost in the over dramatic. In this film, characters are given time to fully process their emotions, and take action on how they should feel or what they should do. In the story, a father loses his wife and kids and a son loses his father. How those events happen are completely different and their way of dealing with that is also very different but that the end of the day, they both go through their grief.

This film shows that there is two sides to every coin but the pain is the same. We are human beings not actors, we don’t live in a soap opera. Emotions are hard to control and sometimes they get the best of us. Sometimes we take a beat and ponder how to express our grief, if we do at all. That realism is something that brings me comfort. I find some solace in the fact that others go through the same loss and grief that I’ve been though. I mentioned earlier that in the end of grief is hope, which is a bittersweet conclusion. Much like after recovering from a boxing match, you get the realization that there is an opportunity to get better but not the guarantee it will. Personally, that’s all I need. The hope that things can get better.

Why Do I Love Cinema?

Strap yourselves in cinephiles of 4381 because this is a hard one to answer.

I recently had a classmate of mine told me that it is “refreshing” how much I know and love film. I told this classmate simply that I just love cinema with all my heart, and I have devoted so much time learning more and more about the cinematic language. You see my friends I love it all, Noir, German Expressionism, Italian Neorealism, French New Wave, Russian New Wave, Hong Kong New Wave, Taiwanese New Wave, and so much more. The biggest question prevails though, why do I love movies so much?

I am not a believer in escapism because quite frankly art should not be used to ignore the ugliness of our lives at times. We should not put aside our troubles for 2 to 3 hours to simply enjoy something. Art to me is a learning tool and it always has been. Not a lot of the films I love are supposed to make you feel good and it is quite famous to me that I only like depressing films. My view of art as a learning tool is why I love Come and See (1985) so much. I am not entertained one bit by it at all and if you are you and I need to have a conversation for sure, but throughout all of the brutality and harrowing nature of the film, there is a lot to learn about war and humanity.

Cinema is a lot like life, beautiful, ugly, exploitative, supportive, happy, depressing, but at the end of the day, it is art. Cinema is a lot of different things and that is why I love it so much. I feel less dead inside when watching films but then the films I watch make me feel dead inside. Cinema helps wipes the tears but then proceeds to make me cry even harder. Cinema loves and cares for us in a way that only art can do. That is why I love cinema, and that is why I think everyone can find something to love about it too.

All art is autobiographical; the pearl is the oyster’s autobiography.” – Federico Fellini

Expectations of the Protagonist Part 1

Hello 4381 Productions,

Do you ever finish watching a movie and think to yourself, “I knew that was gonna happen.” or “Totally called that!” ? That’s because as audience members, we’ve been conditioned to believe that when watching a movie, everything will work out for the main character in the end. They’ll get the girl, stop the bad guy, or be a better person, etc.. Very rarely do we ever see the protagonist(s) lose or fail by the time the credits roll and I find that to be tedious and dull. Movies should make you feel something. They should exemplify escapism while still being relatable to the human experience at the same time, because we all know that life doesn’t always work out the way we expect. There are three films in particular that walk this very narrow line with near flawless execution, for example The Dark Knight (2008).

I’m a massive Batman fan, so I am a bit biased when it comes to his movies (except anything involving Zack Synder..). This movie is about pushing Batman to his limits, making him question his morals, and experiencing consequences of his actions. In the beginning of the film, Batman is in good standing with the people of Gotham despite his brand of illegal vigilante justice. He is tasked with investigating various crimes involving a new criminal known as the Joker, who is chaos personified and only aims to destroy what Batman represents. Simultaneously, a new public hero known as Harvey Dent begins to solve Gotham’s massive crime problem using unorthodox means and the legal system, unlike Batman. Harvey rises in public status as Gotham’s face for the war on crime, leaving Batman unsure about his crusade for justice. The Joker plans to make Gotham into a chaotic crime filled cesspool by corrupting Harvey Dent and forcing Batman to make hard choices for what he thinks is right. In the end, Batman stops the Joker, but by doing so he loses his honor and the good faith of his city.

In the film’s climax, the Joker asks Batman, “You didn’t think I’d risk losing the battle for Gotham’s soul in a fist-fight with you? No, you need an ace in the hole, mine’s Harvey.” In this quote, Joker is essentially saying that he will win regardless of what Batman does. That no matter if Batman kills him or Harvey Dent, he will be forced to make a hard decision that will make him a pariah. He pushes Batman’s limits and forces him to make the hard choice of sacrificing his own image or the perfect public image of Harvey Dent. And in the end, Harvey is killed, but the memory of him is preserved as a martyr and Batman falls from grace to keep his city from plunging into madness. This event forces him into retirement with a broken leg, a dead girlfriend, and a shattered ego, not to be seen in public for eight years. I wouldn’t call that a happy ending..

The point is, Batman loses. He won the battle against the Joker, but lost the war for Gotham’s soul. He lost Gotham’s trust and faith in him. He gives up being Batman so that Gotham can live on in peace. He became.. The Dark Knight (**queue Christopher Nolan sounds**). I find tragic stories like this to be much more compelling than your typical run of the mill “happily ever after” endings. Life isn’t perfect and even Batman can fail. It’s important to learn that failure is okay and to move past it to succeed, because we all can. I plan on making 2 more separate blog posts on this subject, so stay tuned!

 

 

 

My favorite actor

Growing up my favorite actor was Kevin Spacey. Seven, usual suspects, American beauty, were among the first movies I watched when I started watching movies on my own at 14, 15. After I saw him in Usual suspects I thought he was brilliant and the best actor I had seen up to  that point. Then I grow up and it turns out he’s a horrible person so now my early film memories are tainted. I still watch those movies religiously and they are obviously still great especially because he disappears into those roles and I forget that it is Kevin spacey but still there’s that lingering feeling in my head that he’s a bad person especially since he is a bad guy in all those movies. THe plot of American Beauty sure as hell doesn’t help this problem either. I just hope Brad Pitt never turns out to be a bad person.

How we rate movies

I think that it is impossible to rate movies on an even playing field. Almost every reviewer that I watch uses a numeric scale or a lettered one but they apply it “evenly” to all films which is a mistake in my opinion. How can we compare movies that have very different goals? Not every director sets out to win best picture with every film and there is nothing wrong with that. And what even makes a good movie? There is no consensus as to what a good movie is and who am I to tell someone that their favorite movie is complete dog shit and that they do not know what they are talking about? Maybe we should tier films when we decide to rate them like put artsy films in one tier and blockbusters in a different one.

Producer?

To be completely honest, I did not inspire to be a producer. It’s kind of something that I fell into. It’s a pretty hard job to be honest. Finding locations is difficult. For our 16 lines project, we were looking for hospitals to shoot at. I spent a couple hours calling a bunch of hospitals to see if they had available room to shoot in. No one allowed us entry. Finally, a group member spoke up and said his father had a doctors office we could use. Kinda wish he had spoken up sooner.

I’ve had luck with actors. Kat Thomas is great. David Obar is great. Zoie Ellis is great. Kinda wish I had the experience with working with a bad actor just to experience and learn how to handle them. Equipment is easy thanks to Kelvin. Knowing someone with a RED camera makes life easier. Also since I work in the equipment room at 4381 offices, gear is all I ever work with.

So far, it’s be pretty good. Although it’s important to not burn out. You have to know your limits. If you don’t take a break, you’ll wear yourself thin and break. It’s really not a pretty sight. Trust me.

Movie Recommendation- Manchester by the Sea

Anime Recommendation- Demon Slayer

Song Recommendation-Autumn In New York-Billie Holiday

Human Stories

I recently found myself writing a short “creative manifesto” in collaboration with a performance course and my thesis screenplay. The manifesto could have been about any part of my creative work, but I decided to dedicate it to my work as a screenwriter and cinematic storyteller. It’s entitled “Human Stories: A Manifesto on Cinematic Storytelling, Identity, and Humanity”.  It tackles the idea of adding too much identity to our characters and how the more “unnecessary” traits we add on, such as gender, race, nationality, and sexuality, the more we potentially alienate a different audience. It’s a very experimental, abstract idea but I consider this concept whenever I write my characters. I thought I would share my conclusion of it here with 4381 Productions; hopefully, it gives you guys more insight into my own creative process.

 

It would be ignorant of me to say that all films, even all of my films, should do away with all demographic identities. Many stories that focus on identity need to be told, especially by those whose stories have been underrepresented by the entertainment industry. However, with these stories, I feel it best that they are told by the artists who experience them, rather than me telling stories that are not mine to tell. With that said, rather than telling stories of people who have been overrepresented for centuries, I have dedicated my storytelling to fixating more on our commonalities as human beings. As I continue to grow as a screenwriter and director, I plan to implement this concept in my work as naturally as I can. Even now, as I work on a thesis screenplay that combines the coming-of-age genre with the losing-grip-on-reality trope, I find ways to emphasize the psychological rather than the physical. My hope with this practice is to not only create relatable and engaging stories for the present but also to make progressive strides in cinema and storytelling for the future. 

 

With my focus being on this manifesto and other projects at the moment, I, unfortunately, don’t have a thesis screenplay update for yall. Hopefully, the holiday will give me a clear head to focus on this script once again.

 

Where There is Art, There is Love

I am exhausted but I am happy, and to be quite frank my fellow creatives and cinephiles, I have not admitted that in a long time. We shot the initial phase of my upcoming short film Before I Leave. We all worked hard, efficiently, and had a lot of fun. Some days were rough especially with a beating sun on your back, but we did everything to make this happen. I cannot wait to show you all some stills but for now, here is just some behind the scenes.

Video village was a lot of fun but I made sure to not stay there all the time. In between takes my time was spent with actors and crew.

My co-producer Kelvin Kataria helped me with a lot of the technical aspect of the film and let me use his RED Epic Pro.

We had a scene where we tried to recreate a cinema so I played Portrait of a Lady on Fire through a projector but scrapped this part because of course copyright…

Some monitor footage of our cinema. This shot is heavily influenced by the cinema scene in Dessert Hearts.

And before I publish this some Steadicam BTS footage as used the EasyRig Variable 5!

Cloudy Days

Trying to come up with the time to make the most out of my last semester seems nearly impossible, but I’m an overtime kind of person. If I find that there’s more I can do for the productions I’m working on I will continue them long after I watch my name roll across the screen this December. Well, hopefully not long. 

The idea is to finish what I start. Although it would be tempting to drop everything once the diploma is in hand and direct my energy toward unwinding from this year, my goal is to make it worth it. I’ve learned so much in such a short amount of time, in some ways I feel that graduation has come too soon.

Then I remember how many years it’s been and I realize I need to know what life is like outside of the kind of deadlines where the return is a capital letter (instead of a means to provide for myself). I feel incredibly unprepared for what’s to come, and closing this chapter with the cliffhanger that is covid-19 feels like a definite part of that.

As I try to take in all of the productions of the last few months I realize how great some were and how awful others were. Either way I’m eager to keep going. Not all days will be sunny. Not all productions will be perfect.

But the cloudy days make the sunny ones even more beautiful.