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Magic is Illusion
by Patrick Storck

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I know I promised last time a follow up to the sound column, giving ways that one can avoid some sound issues, and that article is still coming. As a matter of fact, it will have some extra thoughts after this weekend. Expect said thoughts maybe next column, probably the one after that.

I've been gearing up for the 48 Hour Film Project recently, and therefore have been focused on that. Sound issues were a concern, as have been any number of production whasits, but not to the degree of detailing them. I'll go over the actual methods we used to get a short done in a weekend soon, but right now just want to get drunk or asleep. Possibly pass out drunk.

You see, most amateur film makers are exactly that. Amateurs. There's nothing wrong with that. Everything has people who are fascinated by it and embrace it in a hobby mentality, while there are people who do it every day and look at it as a boring job, not getting why there''s some "magic" to what they do.

I love movies, I want to make movies professionally to the degree that I don't need a day job. I know people who want to make movies because it looks like fun. Because it's something different. To add to the fictional existences that have helped them through the years. For plenty of absolutely reasonable purposes, lots of people want to get into making movies.

I have met people who made movies their entire life that always saw it as a job. Not a bad job, for those of you doing something you loathe for the sake of a mortgage. By the way, quit. You only live once, and the where is just a part of it. Anyway, these people look at a movie and see where lighting looks natural or fake. THey see a set and figure out the entrances, logic, materials needed, etc. They see beyond the pure fiction.

If you really want to make something special, you have to inspect the magician's hat. Find out how every trick is done, what ten hours to shoot two minutes can feel like, and every single non-magical thing that's laying around outside the visible frame does. If you can do that, and still have an obsession with what movies are, please keep going.

Please don't think I'm saying to let the passion of making movies be ruined by reality. Instead, I hope that every little thing you learn sparks in the back of your brain. "I can use a green screen to set my characters anywhere?" "I can tell a story that merges a bad breakup with an allegory for the Nixon administration?" Sure, if you know how the tools work. The more you know about how things are done, the more you can figure out how to use them for your own purposes.

Some people will say that they don't like to "play by the rules." If you ask them what rules they have issue with, you'll almost invariably get a platitude. "The man just wants his corporate bullshit for the drones, and it's all about the fast buck, not the art." Right, lot's of anger, but answer the question. Typically they can't. They don't care about the rules, because they are (in my experience) afraid there are people who understand what they want to do better than they do.

This is also almost invariably true. Sure, art may be purer in some cases by not knowing how things are supposed to be done. People like Corman, Raimi, Romero, they came from a place more of what they thought they wanted to see than how things were done. On a small budget you need to think "How can I get this done?" more often than "How is this supposed to be done?"

On the other side, equally heralded as innovators, are Hitchcock, Lynch, Fellini, Welles, who looked at everything the medium could do, the equipment could do, and what sort of production inherently induced what sort of effect. They came in, studied the tool box, then developed a set of tools that were far more effective. They understood the rules, and instead of ignoring them they manipulated them into something revolutionary.

Another great example, on the screenwriting side, is the film ADAPTATION. It's a parody of McKee's book STORY. Not so much a parody of the work as the polarized reaction to it from the writing community. On the one side, Charlie utterly rejects it and can't get work. On the other, Donald embraces it and is working fine albeit not on anything deep. Is not creating art better than compromised art? More importantly, this film clearly studied the work it was critiquing. It addressed why some elements aren't rules so much as inherent truths. Kaufman didn't turn a blind eye to the rules. Instead, he studied them and specifically rejected or embraced the thoughts within.

There is no magic in making movies. It's food, ego, fighting, back pain, sleep deprivation, minutiae, everything that would make the common person think about how entirely comfortable and livable an office job is. For most people, it's the way to go. Climate control, set hours, no weekends, and your job is an all year thing instead of three months followed by a question mark.

The magic is in the movie itself. When the magician designs his hat, he puts a lot much work into the traps, false fronts, and misdirection. He doesn't go to the audience after the show and explain how the dove disappeared. Instead, he used his knowledge that the audience lacked to give people a sense of mystery of his own creation. That is what making movies should be.

Conversely, there is absolutely nothing wrong with following not just rules but an excessively easy formula. It's much easier to get picked up, financed, released, and that money can maybe finance a passion project down the road. Shakespeare wrote to the groundlings, and John Sayles wrote ALLIGATOR. Both have ultimately proven their worth, but had to start out somewhere.

Hm. I guess I made a point, so I will bail and get some much needed sleep. More on-topic bits soon. And yes, the column title is a Doug Henning reference.

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Other columns by Patrick Storck:

That Should Be In a Movie

2010: A Year We Could Make Contact

Bad Movie Christmas

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Thanks again!

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Patrick Storck
Patrick hails from Baltimore, MD, where playing by the rules is frowned upon. Only average things come from playing it safe.

If you have a comment, question, or suggestion, you can send a message to Patrick Storck by clicking here.

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