Sunday, February 8, 2009

What makes a good movie?




This week, I actually watched a few movies.  Mary and I haven't had the chance to do that in quite a while (like, two years), thanks to the combination of Baby Girl and the loft-like, no-bedroom layout of my Fortress of Solitude (now under contract, thank you).  I also met up with my buddies Joe and Javier, to discuss a joint project.  There were several good ideas floated, but I only wanted to commit to making something that was going to be really good, which begs the question:  what makes a good movie?

The variety of stuff we saw ranged from edgy drama to farce, black comedy to uh, regular comedy, short videos to children's movies.  The things that did not make a movie good included:
  • big name actors
  • big name directors
  • big name writers
  • big budget
  • explosions and car crashes
  • potty humor
  • gratuitous sex and violence.

Some of the things I enjoyed most about the good movies included:
  • big name actors
  • big name directors
  • big name writers
  • big name editors (oxymoron?)
  • big budget
  • explosions and car crashes
  • potty humor
  • gratuitous sex and violence.
Hmm.  Seems like William Goldman was right:  nobody knows anything.  But is that really all we can say about what makes a movie good?

When I watch a film, I watch it as an audience member, but also as an actor/writer/director/editor.  I tend to study the movie, as well as let it wash over me.   Sometimes I need to watch a movie more than once, just to be able to fully enjoy it without being too analytical.

With my auteur hat on, I realize that what I love most about good movies is how the entire package fits together.  A great story premise without great dialog writing will fall flat.  A great script without clear, visionary direction will fall flat.  A great vision without great acting will fall flat.  Same is true for audio, editing, lighting, cinematography, and many other of the dozens of aspects of filmmaking.  Filmmaking is collaborative storytelling.  It is all too easy to forget the collaborative aspect of the process, and only focus on one area. [Even marketing is a collaborative aspect of the film's success, but it is not, strictly speaking, what makes a good movie.]

Big name actors often, but certainly not always, bring good acting.  Big name writers and directors often, but not always, bring good writing and directing.  Not all of these elements need to be great in order for a film to shine, but most of them need to be great.  It's like a balance scale:  if enough of the components are good, it tips the scales in favor of "good movie".  If all of them are good, the scale thumps to one side, like weighing a feather versus a boulder: Oscar-caliber good.  Vice-versa, and you've got a universal stinker.

In most of the bad or mediorce films I saw, not enough of the elements were good to make the film a "good movie."   The only one I saw that was a slam-dunk was Notes on a Scandal, with Dame Judi Dench, among several other excellent actors.

What do you think makes a good movie?

4 comments:

ctxphotoman said...

Something that Kat teaches and I wholeheartedly agree with is that the single most critical factor is good actors. My reasoning is a great performance can cover inadequacies in other areas and a poor job not only taints the other elements it opens them up for notice sorta like a snowball effect. I like your analogy of the tipping scales and would factor in mass. The scales are only so big, so volume is limited. Look at actors like gold or lead and writing, lighting, directors etc as wood or feathers. Enough of one can balance the other IF you have enough room on the scale (in the movie). There are some actors I will go see no matter what they are in and no matter what the critics say. With them, regardless of the style, budget or venue I know I will get a believable character. That’s what makes me come back. IMHO bad audio is hard to overcome. Bad lighting can be written off as style or artistic license but bad audio just plain sucks.

Curtis Wayne - Actor said...

Excellent points, Ctxphotoman.

As an actor, I am inclined to agree. :-)

Ditto on the bad audio! I'm a musician, too. Can't stand "mumblecore" dialog recording, especially when followed by peaked-out FX noise.

joe McReynolds said...

What makes a good movie??

All the factors you mention combine together to make a good movie. The story has to be the number one thing that holds the movie together. I have seen a few movies in my time, some with great stories and poor acting and vice versa. I'll take a good interesting story with bad everything over a bad or overdone story with the best acting, cinematography ect.

I have friends that tell me great stories that can't tell them worth a crap. I remember them, there great stories. I have friends that have all the flare & animation you need to tell a story but tell a bad one. I can't remember those stories. So what does that say??

But to bring the story to life, to pull an audience into that space in time that you are creating in a two dimensional fictional world to hold their attention, you need great acting. You need great CHARACTERS. But, you need to put it all together...... all the great acting in the world can't save a poorly edited or directed film because that's where the story is told. An editor can make a performance stand out, A cinematographer can make an actor more intriguing or more scary by changing a little light, a director can help an actor get to a place they have never been before or provide them comfort when they need it most. All these things together create the movie magic. It is collaborative.

From a Directing stand point if I have good actors who love the material and are passionate about the work they are doing, then any camera will do, I can find some light, and sound?? as important as it is in this day..... you can make a good movie without sound, Well actually it's called
CINEMA.......

joe McReynolds said...

What makes a Great story????