Film: A popular art form

Film is nothing but tiny pictures until someone sees it

You are sitting in a film theatre. Only when the action on the screen and the reaction in your mind are united as one, “film” is taking place.

This ‘communication’ begins with the screenwriter who created the idea for the film, and uses film as the medium (the element that the artist uses to express ideas) for communicating and expressing the idea.

Film is two entities:

  • A long strip of celluloid with small pictures on it, which is projected with the aid of light and a lens, onto a screen.
  • It is also a communication between the filmmaker and the audience.

Just as a book is nothing but words until someone reads it, film is nothing but tiny pictures until someone sees it.

Why are films popular?

  • Film today is an art form:  Along with such other art forms as painting, sculpture, music, writing, architecture, dance and theatre, the art of film is a continuing endeavour by creative people to find ways to express themselves and to communicate their ideas.
  • The very nature of the film medium itself perpetuates its popularity: The size of the image  – IMAX versus a small screen – the use of colour, the stars of the film, and the interest of popular story lines, such as sequels, all contribute to film’s universal acceptance and popularity.
  • It is easy for an audience to become involved in a film:  There seems to be little to do except let it pour into their head.
  • To most people, films seem to be real: It is if the action were taking place as they are watching. When you are telling someone about a film you have seen, you often say: I saw the most amazing film last night…Have you seen it yet?” You ask the question in the past tense, yet describe the film in the present tense… In Starman an alien comes to observe life on earth and gets stranded near the home of a young widow…. You are describing the film’s action as if it is still happening.
  • Films are an arena in which magical things can happen: Jeff Kitchen, the author of Writing A Great Movie says: “That’s part of their enchantment – the things that could never happen in real life can happen in film and theatre, even only for a few special hours… People naturally seek closure and meaning in life – sometimes a film can provide this if ‘real life’ cannot.”
  • Drama is a crucible: We can experiment with powerful situations, explosive reactions, radical solutions, and forbidden ideas. People often need drastic changes in their lives, but experimenting can be risky. Films are a ‘let’s pretend’ arena: We can engage in an experiment from a safe distance.
  • Films have become part of our culture: They influence how we think and what we do. It is chic to be able to talk to others about the Terror Dogs in Ghostbusters, the dinosaurs in The Lost World, the volcano in Dante’s Peak; or the latest festival of operas a Cinema Nouveau. A kind of belonging and a closer relationship develops among people when they talk about mutual experiences. When people talk about films, they like to believe they are experts. They speak with authority and they tell each other their opinions and reactions.
  • Films influence people in many fads, clothing styles, mannerisms, and lifestyles that they copy from actors and actresses: Think of the influence of Marlon Brando’s jeans and leather jacket, Marilyn Monroe, the Spice Girls… Merchandising has become a major part of our culture. If you buy a burger at Mac Donald’s you can get the latest  Kung Fu Panda action figures.
  • People go to films because it’s a way of escaping the realities of life: If only for a short time, a film allows you to experience undreamed-of excitement, adventure, drama, comedy, and romance in your not-very exciting life. During the Depression of the 30s thousands of people flocked to films to see beautiful people tap dance across gigantic, lavish stages in the pure-escape films of Bushby Berkeley. During the 70s people flocked to see spectacular “disaster” films, such as Earthquake, The Towering Inferno. Today people flock to see special effects ‘never seen before’,  the science fiction world of the Fifth Element; dinosaurs in The Lost World, giant insects attacking the world in Starship Troopers; tornadoes in Twister, and the futuristic computer generated world of George Lucas in the first instalment to the Star Wars saga, The Phantom Menace.
  • Film has the ability to transport us in time and it can also reflect the society of an earlier day: David Lean gave us a vivid picture of Czarist Russia in Doctor Zhivago; Amadeus took us back to the era of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
  • Film is the art of the world that we can share easily with all other people: A film scene of a child smelling a flower means nearly the same thing to the Russian, Japanese, French, African and American audience.
  • The moving picture camera can make a flower bloom before your eyes: It can capture the grace and beauty of a flying bird.
  • The moving image can transport us to any place on earth, or beyond, or underneath, or even out of the galaxy.
  • The camera can see the world through other people’s eyes. A thousand words can be written about a girl’s beauty. Yet, a picture of her face, showing her responding emotionally, tells us so much more about what she is like.
  • The world of film allows several generations of people around the globe to experience and remember films. As people look back in their lives, they remember a line, a scene, or perhaps a sequence from a favourite film. These reflections, like the recollections associated with a melody or song, bring memories of happiness, sadness, joy, fear, and even hate.
  • Film is now. It is in tune with the present.
  • Film shows us what it is like to be human.

Why are films made?

  • To entertain. No matter what story or genre you are writing, always keep the entertainment factor in mind. People watch films to be entertained.
  • To provide spectacle. We go to the films to be entertained by spectacular events.
  • To educate audiences. Educational films and documentary films have become very popular. A recent development has been the introduction of the mockumentary-genre; allowing filmmakers to fuse fictional and factual realms in films such as The Truman Show.
  • Films are made for financial gain, to make money. Film is big business at the box-office. The screenplay you write should deliver the promise of box-office gold.
  • To inform audiences: Film is not only there to educate, but to inform audiences about different cultures, diverse experiences and examine contemporary concepts. Think of films such as Wag The Dog and Primary Colours, which focused on the recent sexual escapades of the American President; or even Milos Forman’s Hair, which gave audiences both an uplifting and insightful anti-war theme and insight into the flower-power culture of the seventies.
  • To do something creative. There will always be the Warhol-and-Lynch avant-garde school of expressionistic filmmakers who inspire to turn the world upside down and re-invent film. The
  • To give people the opportunity to preserve the images and sounds of family and other newsworthy occasions.

Film images

Even when described in words, film scenes seem exciting.

Some people who try to describe the dramatic excitement and realism of films call this the “magic of the films”. But it is really not magic. People created the dynamic excitement and realism of every story-line film you have seen.

Some people would rather not understand the “magic of the films” because they are afraid they will not enjoy films as much.

If you are seriously attempting to understand how a filmmaker uses techniques to influence the way you understand and perceive film, you will discover even greater enjoyment and reward in the films that you see.

The World of Film forms part of our The Write Journey Course for screenwriters