I’m never very good at the ‘name your heroes and influences’ questions, but for some reason tonight I’m extra reflective. If you want to know what drives a man like me to do the things that he does, look no further. Here are three geeky things (in no particular order) that have influenced my filmmaking.
Old School Sci-Fi
It Was Creepy and Mysterious
I have memories of staying up super late on the weekends and falling asleep in an armchair, only to be woken up by the most haunting sci-fi theme ever: Doctor Who. I never really sat and watched much Doctor Who in the 80s and 90s, mostly because I was too young to understand what was going on, but the music and the sound of the Tardis to this day gives me chills.
There was something unsettling and mysterious about that show. I get bored with some of today’s sci-fi that’s pre-occupied with doling out ordinary explanations for extra ordinary things. Remember how mad you were when all the mystery of LOST boiled down to a half-baked attempt at explaining the afterlife via electro-magnetism?
When did mystery fall out of fashion?
It Valued Heart over Hefty VFX Budgets
Ok, ok…so maybe some were forced to value heart over crazy visual effects because they didn’t have the budgets or technology, but the end result in my opinion (while sometimes requiring a little getting use to) is always superior.
The common example given on this point are the light saber fights in Star Wars. In the original episodes (4, 5, and 6), the duels were slower, more emotional, more character driven. When Luke and Vader fight it out at the end of Empire, you feel the struggle in Luke to accept the horrible truth that Vader is in fact his father…and that by extension, Luke is just as vulnerable to the dark side as his Father was.
In the newer prequels (1, 2, and 3), it’s all razzle dazzle. There are back flips, forward flips, cartwheels, windmills…oh, and they stop to exchange a few words…only to resume their highly choreographed dance routine. You don’t get the same sense of drama. It’s more of a spectacle; mostly eye candy.
It’s the difference between a compelling love story, and porn; titillating, but soon boring.
British writer/director Edgar Wright is known for his kinetic action-comedies like Shawn of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. While not an obvious choice for an influential director, Wright’s passion and enthusiasm for film bleeds through on the screen.
He’s Got Passion and Energy
When I say Wright’s passion and energy bleeds through the screen, I mean it leaps out and slaps you in the face before it runs screaming out the back door. His films skip and jump around, often blinking through an entire day of travel in mere seconds. His pop-culture references, his choice of music, and use of quick edits give you the sense that he’s kicking back in his director’s chair laughing and having a grand time orchestrating frenetic chaos.
Heck, just watch this:
He Pays Attention to Detail
You can watch just about any Edgar Wright film a dozen times, and see something new every time. He’s so unbelievably detailed, which is staggering when you step back and look at how many shots he jams into his films. Almost every detail is significant in some way. Everything has a place and a reason for being.
For instance, in the middle of Hot Fuzz, protagonist Nicholas Angel is asked why he became a Police
Man Officer. Angel shares how his Uncle Derek bought him a police pedal-car when he was 5. He rode around in it every second he was awake, citing kids twice his size for littering and spitting. He wanted to be like his Uncle Derek, and never lost sight of his sense of right and wrong.
If you’re quick, you can see a picture of 5-year-old Nicholas Angel in his little police pedal-car in one of the opening scenes. It’s brief, and probably missed by 99% of the people who watch the film, but catching details like that make re-watchings of Edgar Wright films so much more enjoyable.
He Takes Risks
In every film Wright puts out, there’s usually one or two things that are a little odd or difficult to follow. But I get the sense that he’s experimenting, trying new things, pushing boundaries.
For example: In Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, some of Wright’s scene changes are so sudden and abrupt, you’re left a little confused, wondering where and when the story has skipped to. A similar technique rendered Joe Wright’s Anna Karenina adaptation near unwatchable.
In Shawn of the Dead, the heroes are trapped in a pub by hordes of zombies when a lone zombie gets the jump on them. With no weapons on hand, they reach for pool cues and begin beating the zombie down rhythmically to Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now.” I know this is a million people’s favorite part, but I think it’s soooooooo cheesy.
I dunno. Judge for yourself.
Again, I can’t fault the guy at all over these things. I respect him for going out on a limb. He’s a braver man than I.
Final Fantasy VI
This game all but dominated my junior high years. It wasn’t the first time a game carried an intricate story (heck Final Fantasy IV had that in spades), but this was the first game that affected me emotionally. Why, pray-tell?
The Music was Incredible
John Williams may have scored many of my friends’ childhoods, but Nobuo Uematsu scored mine.
More than bleeps and bloops, the music was a dark and moody soundtrack swelling under every emotional turn of the story. Each character had their own themes, key battles had their own fanfare, and each lonely mission had its haunting melody. I still get a little teary eyed when I hear Terra’s theme, and I keep the Atma Weapon boss fight music on iTunes for when I really need to get my blood pumping.
If you have a few minutes, seriously, poke around this YouTube playlist of all the game’s music, kupo!
It Was Character Driven
See, if you’ve never played the game, I know you’re rolling your eyes right about now. But trust me, the game was an enormous story with many, many threads all converging in surprising ways.
At many points in the game, your troupe of warriors was split up, each having to fight their own demons individually before they were strong enough to rejoin the group. From Celes’ night at the opera house, to Cid’s death, to Shadow’s mysterious past, it all added up. When bad things happened in the game and the story took unfortunate turns, you were heartbroken, not because a sad thing happened, but because a sad thing happened to a character you cared deeply for. When good things happened, you celebrated with friends.
There was something magical about walking a group of misfits, each with their own baggage to deal with, through an earth shattering disaster and on to victory, restoring hope in the world once again. I spent many hours lost in that game, and I wouldn’t trade them for anything.
What are your geeky influences?