Tuesday, August 23, 2005
Direction, Screenplay and Translation or, What kind of an Artform is film?
As has been the case lately, I've taken to ramble on about various topics, switching and deviating, while skimming through quite a few ideas. After all, this is a blog post and not a carefully constructed and edited essay. Now I intend to roughly go about discussing just that, the medium and its peculiarities, which is defined mostly by its technology.
This one is for Nilu. Saw As Good as it Gets this weekend and I think it is an excellent example of a very good Screenplay, coupled with very good performances, but not brilliant direction.
One can go on to claim that 'clever' directing would be superfluous in such a case, I myself did consider it, but then again, the film medium is capable of a lot more of its own. Good writing and good performances have to go beyond literature and theatre. In fact, take good literature: it is blatantly untranslatable directly into any other medium. For me the yardstick for a good film is that it should be directly untranslatable as well.
In my own definition, an indirect translation is when say, a piece of writing provokes a particular mood or reaction from the reader, forces certain thoughts and plays a particular role in the pacing and tension curve in the context of the entire narrative; then the indirect translation of this into film would, rather than follow the words, work reverse from intended effects and thereby contain even diametrically opposite material.
So a good film is one (if it needs to be inspired from material that already exists in another medium) that justifies it being a film. A screenplay is something that is extremely important in this regard, after all, it is not literature, despite the fact that it is written. A screenplay for one is not meant to be read, but filmed. Direction on the other hand has many distinct aspects to it: one of them being a direction of actors, and mise en scene; another being film auteur, or film artist. Here is where it is sometimes possible for one to mistake the screenplay for literary source material, or simply a story treatment. Essentially, screenwriting-direction is a complex job that is accomplished, sometimes by two or more people (we have heard of co-directing even). Now, the thing that distinguishes the director from the writer is that fact that the director is the person who gets into these job-shares with more than one type of technician/craftsman/artist. He/She has to do it with the cinematographer and production mixer during production; has to do it with the editor and sound designer in post; with the production designer and producer in planning and budgeting; etc.
Sometimes, in a complex professional system like the Hollywood studio system, the director, and the technicians gets a bunch of people to help them out as well. The first AD is for all practical purposes, the one who calls the shots during production. The second AD, along with the first, works out the scheduling and works closely with the location manager and production manager. The third AD is the one who normally controls the actors, and the fourth AD/Script supervisor works with the actors on the script and supervises continuity. On more affluent productions, there are many script coaches and separate technical continuity personnel. So, it is not much a hierarchy as just a set of numbers assigned to assistant directors.
Likewise on a camera crew, the cinematographer hardly ever touches the camera or looks through the viewfinder. That is the job of the cameraman, the focus puller, camera assistant etc.
So, while it would be glamorous to think about auteurship and artistry when it comes to films, it is important to realise that unlike most artforms, it is a highly structured professional exercise as well. We all know the story of how the renaissance painter worked with a whole bunch of craftsmen on large frescos; or how a music composer works with conductors and musicians; or how even authors work with draftsmen and stenographers. Of, course one that unites all artists is their very 'special relationship' with the commissioner.
On a completely unrelated note, I also came upon the very interesting Benford’s Law, when listening to Radio 4’s A Further Five Numbers.
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