with Ben Woodiwiss
Join Ben Woodiwiss, Co-writer of the upcoming Uwe Boll film 12 Hours, Associate Producer of In the Name of the King 3: The Last Mission & Director of Benny Loves Killing, as he shares his views on film in the intriguing & insightful column, Cinematic Perspective: an Uwe Boll: RAW exclusive.
Film, relationships and a soul. More than just product, it is a piece of somebody's life.
You can go anywhere to read anything about how to make films these days. They’re all gorgeous and useful pieces to examine perceptions and opinions, but there’s a powerful leaning towards technical matters. And that’s great… kind of. You can find out how to set your ISO, shutter speed, aperture, how to grade, how to edit, how to light, how to export, how to record sound, clean sound, manipulate sound. Everything. It’s a brave new world. But something gets missed out in all this, and it’s about getting at the soul of the film. So I’m going to talk a little about the soul of a film. You want aperture stuff? You know where to go.
It’s 1929 and G.W.Pabst is pointing his camera at an American actress in a killer bob. It’s 1962 and Jean-Luc Godard is making his fourth film and is filming the back of his wife’s head. It’s 1963 and Shohei Imamura is filming Sachiko Hidari trying to get to the top of a hill. It’s 1970 and Michelangelo Antonioni is filming a woman who has never been in a film before, and she’s watching a house explode.
None of these guys had access to any of the information that is going around now, but they all understood something important: the key to many films is about the relationship between the actor and the camera. They are orbiting each other, and neither is more important, they are the same. What all the above films have in common is this umbilical relationship between the central figure and the camera that silently observes them. You’re not going to read about this in books or online, because there are no rules to it. You don’t storyboard it. You don’t write it into a call sheet. You can’t put it on a mood board.
Now you might be thinking ‘to hell with these old men, I know my technical stuff better than anyone, and I’ve watched every film ever made’, and if you are then I’d urge you to remember that after over 1,000 years of people painting one Belgian guy realized that mixing his pigments with oils worked a lot better than egg. Always remember that. It took painting more than 1,000 years to become oil painting. If you think that cinema has reached its apex after 120 years of existing… well… you know where I’m going with this.
Cinema is a long conversation, and when you step up to make your film you’re taking part in that long conversation, so it’s important to know what people were talking about earlier, as that’s what allows you to make better sense of where you are. And it’s important not to think you’re at the zenith, and things are never going to improve. But at the same time, do this: get a feel for the room.
What do I mean by that? Simple. Don’t hide yourself away behind technology, and behind the questions of how to do something technically. Get yourself wrapped up in the people around you. Make your lead actor and director of photography your best friends. Get them to trust you. If you want your lead to walk barefoot in the snow, then walk barefoot in the snow with them. If you want your DP (Director of Photography) to listen to you, then listen to them first. Then get them together. Because they both trust you they’ll trust each other. And if a technical issue comes up let your AD (Assistant Director) or Producer deal with this, that’s what they’re there for. Keep your mind on the people in the room, and how that room feels. You bury your head in equipment and you’ll lose people.
What happens next is that you all begin to build that connection between the actor and the camera. You stop thinking about your film as a purely 2D exercise in composition, and get into the three-dimensional space that all of you people are sharing. You’re not creating photographs, you’re creating a ballet between the camera and the lead. You’re creating an atmosphere in that very room that you’re filming in. This will then bleed into the film that you’re making and THAT is how you stand out from the crowd, in this age of everyone having all the answers before they’ve even begun.
Films don’t have teeth anymore. There was a time when films could talk about issues that were difficult to discuss in a crowded room. A time when films dared to tell you the truth about Governments, about politics, about the lies we’re told every day. You might go straight to the 70's when I say this, but films have been doing this since the dawn of cinema. However, as funding has become more and more the domain of corporations and commercial sponsors over the last few decades, we’re seeing fewer and fewer films dare to bite the hand that feeds them. Product placement might be a big part of this: companies don’t want to be featured in a film which is upsetting people, rattling cages, and so the product ends up being shaped by the money behind it. Sure, we get a lot of fun out of this deal, but what we get is comfortable stuff, it doesn’t really get anyone thinking about the structure of the place where we live, or asking questions of those in power. Instead, these colorful, fun films are more likely to work to make the gilded cage that we all live in just a bit more inviting.
And it’s precisely this situation that makes Postal (Uwe Boll, 2007) so fascinating. Satire only works if you go the whole hog. In the same way that Team America: World Police (Trey Parker, 2004) works so well because there are no sacred cows (the right is just as bad as the left, liberalism is as damaging as fascism) no one is safe in Postal. True satire is shot not with the pinpoint accuracy of a sniper rifle, but with a shotgun: everyone in the room is getting taken down together. The world of Postal is one where all the global insanity from 9/11 onwards comes together and makes sense. And there’s genuinely something consoling about this. Something akin to the idea that a conspiracy theory exists as an attempt to make sense of the crazy world we live in, Postal allows us to tie all the insanity together, to make sense of and understand stuff which is insane, and to laugh at it all.
You might see the idea of making light of tragedy as disrespectful, or in poor taste, and maybe you’re right, but satire is important because it allows us to both poke fun at and also to make sense of tragedy. Postal’s post-9/11 landscape becomes a lattice of perverse, nightmarish interconnectivity: George Bush and Osama Bin Laden are friends; the Apocalypse is shared by religious zealots, terrorists, and politicians; collectible items are valuable to both capital and terror; Governments lie to their populations to gain support for wars against foreign nations. Does all this sound familiar? It should, because it genuinely is the world that we live in, presented as a chaotic action film where literally anything can happen. And let’s be honest, as news story after news story presents an increasingly disturbing, sometimes sickening series of revelations about the world around us, the notion that anything can happen is something that we’re all going to have to get used to. Buildings and the thousands of people who are inside them can be wiped from the face of the earth, people can enter offices and gun down everyone inside. Hell, we’ve even come up with the word ‘postal’ to describe a worker who snaps and kills all their colleagues. We have a word for this now? Do you know how common something has to become before a word is created? The real question is not why is Postal so offensive, but why is it offensive to talk about what’s happening around us?
In a post-Charlie Hebdo world there’s an increasing amount of focus on protecting the rights of critics of big business, politics, and war. And Postal is doing all of those things, don’t let the Roger Corman/Troma filmmaking aesthetic fool you into thinking that this is something juvenile. Films such as Postal get labelled as ‘exploitation’ cinema because of their content. But let’s be honest, it pales into insignificance next to the exploitation of all of us at the hands of those in control. If you lament the passing of a time when films had teeth and took no prisoners, then exploitation cinema and the world of Postal is probably where you need to be looking.