Natural High was the first scripted film I ever made; the idea came out of sheer boredom, the want to make a movie, and the fact that I wasn’t in school that day. Basically, I sat down for about four hours and churned out the longest completed screenplay I’ve written (to this day, even), which was fifteen pages.
The story revolves around a girl named Prissca and her best friend Sanders (played by my sister and myself, respectively); really, there’s not much story. Basically, the two friends just hang out for the day, until Sanders has to get home. It was more of an exercise for me, to see if I could not only write the screenplay, but to actually sit down and come up with how to shoot it. I was fully prepared to shoot the entire film. Sadly, the day I would see it fully realized would never come.
The story - Prissca comes home from school, checks the mail, gets something to eat, and then gets on the computer. A little while later, her friend Sanders shows up, and they proceed to watch TV, do Karaoke, deal with a door-to-door salesman, play video games, etc. Finally, as dusk begins to approach, Sanders must leave Prissca before her mother comes home from work. It is a sad parting.
This film didn’t work out for many reasons; first off, my sister is not one who liked to star in my films, and so she became irritable quickly, which is something I can understand, as I was a very inexperienced director, and she was on her weekend, some of the only time she had to do something more productive than make a film with me. It has been the hitch to my filmmaking ever since; thankfully, on my later films, while she still didn’t want to participate, she did it anyway out of love (so I assume). When we essentially finished shooting the first few pages of the script my sister no longer wanted to participate, so I had to ut the script down from fifteen pages to four. Really, it tells even less of a story now than it did before, because it suddenly just cuts off after the two finish watching TV. Also, at later times, I wanted to re-shoot a few things, and, after strong begging, my sister did help, but we had cleaned up the house, and so one is able to notice small continuity details from one shot to the next (which is less bothersome when I watch it than it was when I was filming).
Now, had all of that happened, but I had still been a good director, maybe the film could still be looked at with some joy; sadly, this is not the case. At that point in my life, I was under the Robert Rodriguez “shoot stuff with interesting angles” school of filmmaking, and so I chose to film the movie using various elements that had absolutely no reason for being. For instance, at one point, I speed up the film, and then I slow it down, because I thought it looked cool. Yeah, some director I was. Also, I couldn’t shoot a dialogue scene to save my life, and so I had very awkward camera set-ups when Prissca and Sanders sat on opposite couches discussing what to do. Basically, I made it so that they were never in a two-shot, and it was almost always POV-type shots, in that the other person was looking directly at the camera. Essentially, this screwed up eye-lines, which never matched. On the re-shoots, I put myself at a different camera angle, one that worked even less, and I used the light from the camera itself, which gave those shots a weird glow, while the shots of my sister talking were from the previous day, and they looked much more natural.
On top of everything, though, was my horrible acting. Man, I thought I was good, and maybe I am, on stage. On film, though, or at that time, at least, I couldn’t act to save my life. Watching it now is like watching some very low-budget film in which even the low-budget actors were too good for the material, and so I had to settle with myself. It’s truly horrible to watch.
Editing was a pain, because I had only edited a little before, and I had to use iMovie. I guess, now that I think of it, it wasn’t so bad, because iMovie is essentially for either novices, or people with no money, and I was both. Most of it was pretty easy to edit, or, at least, in the beginning section, because that was the more well-thought out part. Then, though, came the later portions, with the horrible dialogue shots, and everything, and I just didn’t know what to do. It was the first time I realized why editing can be a pain: You do not know how little footage you have until you get into the editing room. I did as best I could, which is to say that I did alright, I guess. Essentially, it still looks like hell, but what can I do now?
The soundtrack was fun and easy. I had been working in Garageband, and I’d already laid out what I thought were okay tracks; sure, it’s not some masterpiece of music, but some of it is certainly better than what’s on screen.
Lastly, I recorded a commentary track; this is what pisses me off today the most. When I listen to fifteen year old me talking about film, and the reasons in which I did things, I can’t help but feel angry that I thought that those reasons equated to good filmmaking. I kept talking about shooting something in a certain way because it was more “visually interesting,” which, nowadays, I don’t think I’d do, unless it helped get an idea across. I mean what was I thinking? I sounded so stuck-up, too, like I thought I knew everything in the world of film; clearly, I didn’t. I didn’t know there was ever a man called Ingmar Bergman, and so that says something right there. What did I know? Not very much, and it shows through when one watches the film.
When I look back at the film now, all I can do is think with nostalgia back to that time. Really, it wasn’t so great, but there is a little in there of what will become of me as a filmmaker as I grow-up, so to speak, into the filmmaking world. Was my first film a masterpiece? Hell no. Was it sub-par? Not even. Was it a piece of crap? Probably, but I do think it was necessary to make that film, so that I could move past that stage. Nowadays, I like to think that I plan my films out better than that.
Note: The actual idea for the film, now that I think of it, was inspired by the idea of Fernando Eimbcke’s Duck Season, in which some friends spend the day together, and they deal with the world around them. My film, I’m certain, would have been vastly different, and nowhere near as good, but I liked the idea a lot, and so I went with it.
|—||Robert Bresson on making movies|
Is seeing a film ever optional? As in, if someone puts on a film, whether you want to see it or not, that you haven’t seen, should you ever turn it down? I used to think, of course, because there were so many films that I simply did not want to see; many of them were ones that my mom or my sister wanted to watch, usually girly-type films with ridiculous teenagers being “fun.” Really, some of the films are not bad, but many of them are just not my cup of tea.
In any sense, though, should one turn away from a film? I do not think so; sure, you may know already that the film is bound to suck - the camera-work will be hokey, the acting will be stilted, the direction lackluster - but does that mean that you should pass it up if you’re given the chance to see it? No, I do not believe so.
Essentially, every viewing experience one has with a film will affect his viewing experiences down the road. Watching a good film might make you look harder at other films you cherish, or make you see for the first time just what a film can be. On the other hand, though, watching a bad film does not hurt. It adds to future experiences, in that one becomes more aware of just how much better another movie looks in comparison; perhaps it will give him the craving to search out new, better movies, to get over the bad taste of the previous one. In any case, watching any film helps one in his quest for good movies.
Now, this is not to say that one must see every single film that is playing in theaters, or that one must go out of his way to watch bad films, but that, if given the option one day of watching a film or not watching a film, he should choose to watch, rather than turn away from, a new viewing experience. Personally, there are plenty of films playing right now in theaters that I wish never to see; if, though, I was faced with the situation of yes or no, I should probably take yes.
Lastly, I know that some of you are probably thinking “Yes, but it wastes time and money, and that’s not worth it.” Perhaps yes, and perhaps no. I do believe that, if you are absolutely serious about film, you will make use of the time in which you spend watching a film learning, and, in that, the waste of time never really is a waste of time, after all.
Thanks, Sam! I saw this, and all I could do was laugh! Perfect!
This is one hell of a question; to this, I usually respond that a film is images moving on a screen - nothing more, nothing less, and I do believe that this is the case. When the awards season comes around, and films get nominated for Best Picture, and the like, it seems that no one takes into account that there are plenty of other films out there that are just as good, in their own right, as the films that are nominated for such awards. Basically, the majority of awards center around narrative films, ones that tell a story in some way or another.
This does indeed bother me. When Christopher Columbus’ film version of Rent came out, I was quite shocked to note that Roger Ebert, my all-time favorite critic and film-lover, said that no one could make a worse film then the one the character Mark had made (which plays as the movie itself ends). Now, I think this is quite unfair, because the form of film that Mark was making was not that of a story, or if it was, it was telling the story of the city and the people, even while not being explicit about it. His little short film was capturing life, friends, the world as a whole, and, with that, I think he did a good job. I do not understand how one can call a film of that nature bad, simply because it goes against the grain of how most films are made.
Personally, I will not sit here and write that I absolutely adore avant garde cinema, or at least anymore than I do narrative films, because I don’t. What I will say, though, is that a film needs to be looked at almost objectively, as it’s own being. One cannot rate a film against another, because of the vast number of differences between the two films, such as the reason for the film’s existence, or any possible variables that make a film different from another. When I rate a film on The Auteurs, I do so not against other films by the same filmmaker, or of the same genre, but as the film itself should be rated (in my opinion). When looking at a film, to determine whether it is, in one’s mind, good or bad, one must come to realize what the filmmaker was attempting to do with the film, and ask himself whether the vision was accomplished or not.
So, to answer my title question, all I can say is that a film is exactly what the maker intends it to be, whether it is full of ideas, whether it is full of action, whether it is deranged, whether it is heartfelt, whether it is brainless, or whether its outer shell shows no resemblence of reason at all. A film can capture life, a film can capture death, a film can capture truth or lies, a film can capture knowledge and wonderment, a film can capture anything that a filmmaker wants to get across. Whether it is good or not is a completely different matter.
Note: While I do think that a film should not be rated against another, I tend to find it difficult not to make lists praising one film over another. In this sense, I do not believe that I am really saying that one film is better than another, but that I think one film accomplished itself better than another.