Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Petting A Cat

As I've said from the beginning, my point-of-view at this stage of my life is that both drawing and storytelling are similar in one way: each discipline involves very simple truths. The trick in doing both well is to remember the basics, know when and how to apply them, and constantly repeat them with greater and greater complexity.

Sometimes it seems to me that the key to making a great movie can be summed up this simply:

Make the audience feel an emotion without them sensing that they are being manipulated.

Director Frank Darabont talked about a scene in "The Shawshank Redemption" that was a really emotional scene. He asked the conductor to score the scene in a unique way: to start the music cue so softly that no one could hear it and gradually increase the volume so that the audience wouldn't really "sense" the soundtrack intruding and pushing them to feel something. A fascinating idea!

Frank likened this problem - of creating emotion in the audience without them feeling manipulated - to "petting a cat". If you try to sneak up on a cat to pet it, you will startle it and it will bolt. Or if you try to grab a cat and pet it, it will squirm out of your hands and skitter away. You have to ease up to a cat and earn it's trust, and then maybe it'll let you pet it.

Audiences are the same way. You have to approach them honestly. And you have to create emotion in a way that feels sincere and earned. And if they ever start to feel like you're pushing the emotion on them then the tentative bond you have with them is lost, and you can't get it back. Once the manipulation is "felt" it's all over.

Easy to say, hard to do. But all of you know what I eman, because we've all been in a movie where they filmmaker blew it. They tried to force you into feeling something without earning it. And you probaly started to feel resentful, and you didn't enjoy the rest of the movie.

Anyway, I promise: more on line-of-action soon. Really.


DanO said...

you have really reaffirmed some healthy optimism from me about the industry. just when i think i'm totally surrounded by pinheads you lay it out in an eloquent succinct manner.

Nick Sung said...

I very much agree. It's tough to accomplish, I find, but very worth struggling for. Great post!

SMacLeod said...

Great! Thanks, Mark. It's all about the entertainment, or to hold an audience. A classmate and I are trying to put music to our films this year, and we're talking about that, how hard it is to get the audience to sense the music but not notice it. It's tough.

mark walton said...

Amen and amen, camel brother! You said it perfectly. It is so annoying when I hear the cheesy music suddenly swell up, or see the color of the light change, and hear the same words spoken as in a million other movies, and that's it! I know I'm being manipulated, the spell is broken, and good luck in ever getting me back! Like in Armageddon: I felt like I was watching a series of bank commercials, or ads for McDonald's, with that crappy, sappy electric guitar and generic pseudo-patriotic-and-inspiring lyrics growled and wheezed in the background, and that gausey coffee filter over an amber sunset with kids running in slo-mo holding sparklers, and a fluttering American flag superimposed over fields of wheat - it was almost funny. What kills me is some people seem to WANT to be lead by the nose like this! Nevertheless, we must do better than that!

Lee-Roy said...

I love this analogy.