Friday, April 4, 2008

The machinima director

I've recently been reading some of the writings of the early Soviet film director and theorist Sergei Mikhailovich Eisenstein. It's amazing stuff, although seriously heavy going in places.

One thing that struck me was a note in Vladimir Nizhny's Lessons With Eisenstein. He reports Eisenstein's comment that:
"The director is simultaneously an architect, a poet, a painter, and a composer, but above all a film artist. No one aspiring to be a film director has any right to neglect anything that makes him a better man and a better film director."
Nizhny wryly says that this may seem excessive breadth of knowledge in these days where "a director is reduced to a craftsman giving orders for filming a ready-made scenario on already-built sets with the resulting footage being passed to the mercies of his editor."

As machinima directors, we're fortunate that we're still in the auteur position that Eisenstein held so dear. In my experience, machinima directors tend to be some of the most knowledgeable about the whole film-making process, because they have to be. We can - and usually do - have control over every aspect of our films. We often work alone, and we almost all make films purely for the love of it, to satisfy our own desires. We're not cogs in a giant production machine. We have more artistic and creative freedom than any other film-makers. We don't need to care whether our films are commercially successful. We get to be not just the director, but also the writer, the actor, the casting director, the production designer, the cinematographer, the composer, the set designer, the costume designer, the lighting designer, the sound designer, the editor, and ultimately we alone have final say as to when the film is finished. We are indeed "poets, architects, painters, and composers". We truly make our own films, from beginning to end. How many professional film-makers can say that?


bllius said...

The good ones.

Matt Kelland said...

Really? Not even John Carpenter does every single thing in his movies to the extent that a machinima director does. Robert Rodriguez used to have that level of control back in the days of El Mariachi, but it's not like that now. As you get further up the ladder, you find that more and more of the job of making a movie is out of your hands. You're at the whim of producers, studio execs, and the dreaded "audience panels". Only true amateurs have the luxury of complete creative control.

mrjoyce said...

Matt you are right. And as I see it, as the director is consumed by the "studio", everything that the studio wanted from them is smashed into tiny pieces. And then they wonder what happened to the creative person they thought the director was.

Matt Kelland said...

Absolutely, Mike. And it's not just directors, it's everyone involved in the film-making process who gets chewed up by the studios. If you haven't read it, William Goldman's "Adventures in the Screen Trade" is an absolute must for anyone who's flirting with getting into movies professionally. It really lifts the lid on how movies are actually made, and it ain't pleasant reading!

Overman said...

You are so right, Matt. And even after all the work is done on a Hollywood film, and the director has said "That's it, this is the film," there's no guarantee that their cut will be the one which is shown in theatres. In fact, it seems to be a rarity, given the number of "Director's Cut" releases there are by some of the world's greatest film directors. If they had any autonomy/freedom to parallel that of an indie, would there need to be a separate release? Wouldn't their cut just be the one we'd all seen in the theaters?

"The good ones." Bah, humbug. It's got nothing to do with whether the directors are good or not.... it's the machine that's all f'ed up.

FLeeF said...

Agree with you, Matt, and I'd just like to add the puppeteer aspect inherent to machinima. Above everything I love about making machinima, it's the part about infusing life into the --most times-- non-cooperative puppet that tops my list. I wonder if it would be as fun to be a Brad Bird relegated to overseeing the bazillion puppeteers hired to make "The Incredibles."

Doug said...

The freedom (and responsibility) of being absolutely in control of the movie is what allows moviemakers to make movies that are uniquely 'theirs'.

When we watch a movie made by an individual, we can see their 'style'. And, watching other works by the same person, we can see the cementing of a style, or the evolution of a style or variations on a theme.

This is what has always attracted me to independent moviemaking, the chance to see those unique points of view.

Moviemaking at the Hollywood level is an industry, Criticizing that industry is similar to criticizing the automotive or electronics industry. They serve their shareholders first. They sell products to society.

The world of the big studios and the world of independent moviemakers overlap in one area - a viewing screen.

I enjoy watching and making machinima. I also enjoy sitting in the dark, eating popcorn while watching a flaming police cruiser flying into a fuel truck.

I can't feel much sympathy for the directors whose vision is distorted by the studio while trucks carry money to their bank. It's a big world, you're gonna die - pick your poison and smile.

Matt Kelland said...

Doug, I'm not criticizing Hollywood. They turn out the kind of movies that the rest of us can only dream of making, and I love a good blockbuster as much as the next guy. But the price you pay for the luxury of having huge budgets and a fat pay cheque is a loss of creative freedom. The price we machinima directors pay for our creative freedom is that we don't (usually) get paid and we don't get to play with the best toys or work with the world's greatest actors. As they say, you pays yer money and you takes yer choice.

I love my creative freedom, but you know what? For a couple of million bucks I'd make a movie I didn't believe in. And then I'd have the freedom to make any damn movie I felt like.

Matt Kelland said...

Just following on from that - the point I was trying to make isn't that the studio system throttles the director's ability to express themselves. It's that as machinima directors we have the ability to be involved in every part of the process, not just the "directing" role. That, for me, is the most wonderful thing about making machinima.

Kate said...

....but the thing is far as I can at present are not making movies at all..machinima or any kind.
It is easy to get lost in a swirl of words and theory and not notice what is right in front of you.
If you need to make movies find the time.