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Directing: A Word from Jennie Allen

jennie allen

Stanley Kubrick said that making a film can be like "trying to write War and Peace in a bumper car." Filmmaking is not an art for the faint of heart, but some of us thrive in the challenge.

The best film moments make us FEEL the truth of something rather than tell us something concrete.  That can be planned to an extent. But because of the unconscious intent behind the writing and directing, because of the inevitable imprint of collaborators, because of actors and cinematographers and weather and so many miniscule variables it is - thankfully - impossible to control every little thing and therefore, there is the chance for magic to happen on set.

My goal is to help students understand the basic principles of filmmaking – dramatic structure, tension, composition, staging, movement, "sculpting in time" as Tarkovsky called it. I want students to make informed choices in their planning, choose collaborators wisely, and have the language to communicate with those collaborators. When they show up on set they should be prepared enough to be fully present, to be deeply curious, to be able to "discern and receive" as Jill Soloway would say, to be open to the actors and the light and a smart off-handed comment - to be open to that possibility of magic.

I am also open to my students surprising me - and they often do. I want them to understand the power of images and sound, to think deeply about what they are doing, to really learn - by looking at films shot by shot, by looking at art and photographs, by listening and observing, by thinking and talking about each other's work, by shooting exercises where the stakes are much lower than on a film set. But I don't want to talk the life out of something. I don't want my students to write or direct by-the-numbers (although it might be a good exercise to get that out of the way). I want them to take risks and discover what it is they are doing through the process of doing it, with full support - whether they want to make a dark long take tragedy, an ad-libbed sketch comedy, a musical web series, or an adaptation of War and Peace meant to be sent in installments to your phone and watched in a bumper car.