Imagination Is Not The Enemy

For this post I want to take you back to the beginning of the twentieth century. So step into the Tardis, fire up the DeLorean, and prepare to slingshot around the sun.

At the beginning of the 20th century film was just coming into being. The early films were grainy but at the time it must have been amazing. With today’s world of CGI and 3D its hard to imagine enjoying such a film: of course people must have enjoyed it because here we are with these amazing visuals. I think we’ve gone a little too far.

In early films imagination was required. In silent films you have to imagine what a character might sound like, the same as reading a book, then sound came. Films were still black and white but now we could here the characters talking. Still when you looked at the screen you might wonder if a tie was black or dark blue.

I think there is a degree of prejudice towards black and white films. When I was younger I remember loosing interest in a film for this reason alone. Conversely I also remember watching Twelve Angry Men ,which was brilliant.

When colour film first started it too was basic. In outdoor scenes you can see that the sky is painted. Obviously the scene was filmed in a studio. Studio filming has the advantage of giving the film maker completely control of the environment. Just looking outside today the sky is grey and yesterday it was blue. If I was filming a scene over these two days it would look like the sky switched back and forth between blue and grey.

Today you wouldn’t get away with a painted set. Cinema goers of today expect a film to imitate reality as much as possible. So if the scene is on a beach then it’s filmed on a beach. However I think that there is something to be said for a more basic approach to story telling.

In those old films the audience could see the brush strokes they suspended their disbelief,

Today films have to be more real. Obviously fantasy and science fiction films have impossible things but they are grounded by a house looking like real house, beaches like real beaches and so forth. How would it be if we went back to painted sets?

I hope one day to write a film and see it on the big screen. If I’m ever achieve that goal it is likely that my first film would be very low budget. Since science fiction is what I write it is difficult to do that on a low budget. Yet with good acting you could have a few tables on set and convince the audience that you were on the bridge of a starship engaged in battle.

I know this sounds strange but allow me to explain. Lets take for example Doctor Who and Star Trek: The Original Series. Both of these shows were low budget. However they came up with clever ways of making that work.

The TARDIS in Doctor Who was supped to camouflage itself. As we all know the TARDIS always remained a Police Box because that particular feature was broken. This was cleaver because it allowed the writers to build one prop and have it work for all settings. I would argue that had they had a bigger budget, enough so the TARDIS was different every week, then Doctor who would not have enjoyed the iconic status it has.

The planets in Star Trek: The Original Series were bad. A lot of them were obviously a set. It never mattered though because the stories were good. (Okay they were mostly good. Spock’s Brain was not a good episode.) Most planets had a strange red glow, the same colour as worn by the doomed members of the landing party, then they would have an adventure and you could forget the inadequacies of the set.

In the theater simple sets will, of course, still be used. I once saw HMS Pinafore and on the stage was the façade of a ship. This tells the audience where we are while the characters sing and speak their lines.
Yet on film this wouldn’t be allowed. People wouldn’t go and see a film that only had façades for sets – no matter how fantastic the story was.

In my opinion the worst thing about modern films is that story tends to be overwhelmed by graphics and impressive visuals. Take Avatar for instance. A good film? Well Pandora was a beautiful setting but the story was very thin. We had the evil corporation versus the perfect Na’vi. It seems odd to me that though we now have colour the two sides in a story tend to be very black and white.

George Lucas once said:

Special effects are just a tool, a means of telling a story. People have a tendency to confuse them as an end to themselves. A Special effect without a story is a pretty boring thing.

As we all know the prequel trilogy is generally seen as being just that – no story just lots and lots of special effects. I wonder though if we are going to have films which are heavy on graphics and low on story why not the other way around?

That’s what I’ve been trying to get at. How would it be if a film was allowed to be more like a play. If a writer or producer with only a low budget at his disposal made a film like a play would it sell?

This concludes my strange idea for the day.

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