Thursday, June 28, 2007

Emily's one day film school

Today is one of my favorite teaching days. The semester is over tomorrow and grades are due today so a lot of the kids stay home.

It's too small a class to do a real lesson so I do Emily's one day film school.

I show the opening scene of X-Men 2 as an example of a perfect way to set the tone of a story with an inciting incident. Then I show the scene in Hero when the characters fight in red and orange to save the calligraphy school. I use that scene to talk about cinematography and theme and how the visuals and the story match if you know what you're doing.

Then I show a chapter from Genndy Tartakovsky's Clone Wars. It's a scene where Mace Windu fights a big ship full of enemies and it has almost no dialogue. The lesson there is that sometimes you don't need words to make your point.

Next is part of "The Body" episode of Buffy. The scene where she first finds her mother dead is filled with good stuff to study. I picked up a lot of cool devices by listening to Joss Whedon's commentary and I share it with the kids.

Next up, the scene from Crash where the Muslim guy shoots at the Latino guy. It's a brief scene, but I use it to talk about how to build tension and jerk at one's heart strings.

Then I throw in Chicago and show the "Cell Block Tango". It's good for character development and tone. Plus they really like it and that song is catchy. And I win guys over to thinking maybe musicals aren't that bad when you get a bunch of skinny hot women in prison singing about their various murderous acts.

And if I have time I add the scene from American Beauty when Lester tries to talk to Janie. It's a nicely framed shot, but it also does and excellent job of establishing the strain in the father / daughter relationship.

Of course, all the kids do is complain that I won't just show them Saw II like other teachers.


  1. You've got a really great lineup of scenes to show them.

    Nice diversity.

    Whether they can appreciate it or not is a whole different thing.

  2. Show them the museum sequence in Dressed to Kill. It's the perfect cinematic scene without speech. My favourite.

  3. I haven't seen that film. I'll check it out.

  4. The opening minute or two of REAR WINDOW is a fantastic demonstration of how to define character with nothing but a wandering slow take of various items around a room. Think "Still Life With Sleeping Jimmy Stewart"-- pretty much everything you need to know about this guy is given to you in this one moment.

    Both THE SEARCHERS and THE GODFATHER use a similar "closing door" gag to wordlessly convey the consuming isolation and "separate-ness" of their main characters, and both are interesting in that the main characters achieve their goals but can hardly be described as having achieved "a happy ending."

    And the opening 6 minutes to PATTON... still maybe among the best character-defining moments yet captured on film. With this intro, even before that movie officially begins you KNOW who this Patton guy is, for good or bad, and you KNOW that he's not goinbg to be flinching or accomodating or compromising.

    "Film As lit" is a great concept which sadly gets little effctive consideration in many schools.


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