Welcome! This year, our Media Studies coursework specification is to create a short film, hence the blog in order to record all research, progress, production and evaluation. First things first, the research.
Whilst obviously I have many ideas as to what to do for my coursework, I’m limited by a lack of advanced resources, technology, locations, money, professional actors, and pretty much everything else that professional filmmakers have. This is why throughout the planning stage, I’m going to keep my ideas for a narrative as simple as possible, and focus on the aspects of filmmaking which I can make really effective, such as editing techniques. In order to coincide with this, I think i’m probably best off gathering ideas from short films which themselves are quite simplistic.
The first film i’ve decided to analyse is by Spike Jonze. Aged 41 and born Adam Spiegel, Spike Jonze is an American director, having directed films such as Being John Malkovich (1999), Adaptation (2002) and Where the Wild Things Are (2009). However, he is also famous for his production of all forms of filmmaking, from Hollywood films to music videos to commercials for clothing shops.
Jonze has created many short films, which have largely been internet distributed. The short film of his that I have chosen is How They Get There. At only 2.26, the film attempts to give one possible explanationas to how single shoes end up in gutters. There doesn’t appear to be any other subliminal purpose to this film than to entertain the audience with black humour. I chose this film because, aside from the stunt of flipping a car, its idea is very simple, involving only two main actors, one location and no dialogue. However, despite these lackings, it is still a very entertaining piece of film.
- Jonze has chosen the majority of his establishing shots to be extreme close ups. These establishing shots focus on the main points of the narrative, namely the shoe and the protagonist/hero.
- The extreme close ups soon become regular close ups, which in turn become long shots. A long Shot is used on each character, most likely to act as an establishing shot for each, so that the audience is familiar with how they look and behave.
- From this point on, the same two shots are used, a panning long shot and a panning medium shot. The panning is necessary in order to keep up with the walking characters. The Long shots are used to show the characters actions and mimics in their entirety as well as emphasising both the physical and social distance between the characters. Whilst the medium shots are used to show the characters expressions and reactions to one another in greater detail
- The cinematography changes when the car is introduced, at least as far as the female character is concerned. Her panning changes to a zoom, to show her desperation to warn the man of the impending danger. However, the cinematography on the man remains the same, reflecting his thoughts that the game has not changed and is continuing
- During the actual crash, the cinematography changes as the editing becomes quicker to reflect the confusion of the moment, therefore it does not focus on many close details. Perhaps the primary reason for this is to make the stunt more simple to perform yet it is still looks effective on film. However, as the car finishes crashing, the shot types become more standard, probably so the stunt looks like it has a professional finish.
- An important aspect, is that both the first and last shots are of the same type, extreme close ups of a shoe. Given that the narrative starts with the man putting on one of the discarded shoes, this technique perhaps implies that narrative is ongoing, with many men being lured in front of cars.
- As far as props are concerned, nothing out of the ordinary has been used. The main props used are shoes, a milk carton and a car. The shoes are essential to the story, hence their inclusion and emphasis. The milk carton is likely used to make the protagonist seem quite child-like, preparing the audience for his later antics. The milk carton also humanises the character, making the situation more realistic. The car introduces the disruption to the narrative and offers the ultimate reason as to why shoes end up alone in gutters.
- The location remains the same, or seemingly the same; one long street. This is likely so the audience is not distracted from the central plot by the location, hence it is a familiar setting
- The same very much applies to the costumes. They tend to be quite plain and therefore not distracting. However, they are also quite reflective of the characters. The man’s costume is quite nerdy, geeky and goofy, whilst the woman’s costume is also quite nerdy, with a slight quirky twist. Clearly, she is quite a quirky person to have started the little mimic game that the characters play.
- Editing is perhaps the key technique to this piece. Whilst the cinematography creates a certain amount of juxtaposition between the characters, it is truly the editing which emphasises it. This is achieved through a series of jump cuts and slightly decreasing the shot length each time. The decrease of shot length also has the added bonus of creating tension, a dramatic device which floats this seemingly repetitive narrative.
- Due to the repetitiveness of shot type and content, few continuity techniques such as eyeline match or match on action are used very little if at all. However, others are essential to the narrative. For example, the 180 Degree is broken, but it is broken in a ‘legal’ fashion, with the audience always being fully aware of what and where each shot is framing. Shot/Reverse shot is perhaps the most essential continuity technique. It has a blatant use, and allows for the legal breaking of the 180 Degree Rule. This is the technique which builds the rapport between the characters, which is essential to the narrative. It is the quick pace of the shot/reverse shot which also gives the film its comedic value. The disruption of this repetitive technique also makes the car crash more of a surprise and therefore more shocking.
- The underscore, Sentimental Journey, is the main aural feature of this film. A cheery, simplistic, mostly a cappella song, it is at first used to coincide with the simple, cheery, goofy plot and actions that are taking place. I imagine that as it continues and becomes even more upbeat during the car crash, its cheeriness is supposed to be ironic, to compliment the black humour of the film.
- Sound effects are used during the car crash, namely a horn and the sound of the car hitting the protagonist’s body. These sounds dominant the underscore and are used to emphasise the crash, and make it sound terrible to compliment any visual lacking in the stunt.
Gatherings, findings and such
I think the most important lesson I’m taking from How They Get There is that a bold, grand idea for a narrative does not have to be the most important thing when it comes to creating a short film. Editing and Sound create effects which can compliment the dullest of ideas and make it seem greater. However, this does not mean that the narrative has to be completely dull. Jonze made two people walking down a street more interesting by making them mimic one another. I’d love to take something as simple as that and make it become something more.