Characteristics of Filmmaking

Since the early days, movies followed 2 major styles: Realistic & Formalistic

  • Realism – attempts to duplicate the look of reality; tries to keep things looking real
    • Extreme forms of realism are real life stories (i.e. documentary)
    • Formalism – art forms take precedence over the subject matter as content; deliberately distorts the environment
      • Formalists are often called expressionists – expressionists are concerned with spiritual and psychological truths
    • Few films are completely realism or formalism in style

    During the mid 1890s in France, the Lumiere brothers created short films dealing with everyday occurrences (e.g. waiting for a train to arrive at the stations and boarding it).

    • They captured the spontaneity of real life
    • The Lumiere brothers are regarded as the founders of the realist tradition

    George Melies created fantasy films, he is regarded as the founder of the formalist tradition

    Producer – Provides and oversees budget and makes sure everything is organized efficiently

    Director and Screenwriter – have most influence on a film


    • supervises the whole filming process
    • responsible for transferring from paper to screen
    • films communicate primarily through making images (films are not books!)
    • director chooses shots, angles, lighting effects, editing… etc


    • screenwriter is the author of the film
    • some directors write their own screenplays, others have writers help them expand on ideas

    Spectator – we are conditioned to viewing films a certain way

    • we expect certain things before even watching a movie
      • westerns have a sheriff and robbers
      • Singing in the Rain – expected only singing, but there was actually a plot involved

    Time and Space – Directors can spend more time on one thing than another (to emphasis clarity)

    With spoken language, Directors could easily express any kind of thought

    • Motif – a technique/object systematically repeated but does not draw attention to it
    • Symbols are apparent – they apply meaning
    • Metaphor – comparison that is not literally true
      • e.g. poisonous time, torn with grief, devoured by love…

    Point of View (POV)

    • In novels, people have different images in their heads (they can use their imagination)
    • In films, the director chooses how it looks from their point of view

    Allegory – total avoidance of realism and probability
    Allusion – implied reference (e.g. Scarface was modeled after Al Capone)

    In cinema, reference to another movie, director, or shot is called Homage.

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