I saw this adorable little movie at the Enzian tonight. It's about an antique dealer who realizes he has no friends, and so makes an extravagant bet with his business partner that he can produce a best friend within a week. I think of it as a good watchin' movie - goes down smooth and easy, and leaves a refreshing taste in your mouth.
I learned from this movie just how un-cliché a story can feel, despite fitting perfectly into the screenplay structure formula. There came a point in the film where everything seemed fluffy and happy. I thought to myself, Gosh, this looks like a High midpoint - I bet we're about an hour through the movie. Sure enough, the time was 10:01, almost exactly halfway in.
I learned a sexy cinematography trick - character on one side of the frame in the background, plot-centric dividing element centered in the foreground, giant empty space on the right. Camera, you are saying something! Also! Cut out of your crazy artistic shots like that, before they become intrusive! Also! Gradually using shorter and shorter lenses is an excellent way of showing a character connecting with the world!
Speaking of connections, the 180-break in that film, when François actually becomes sincere for the first time.. Gorgeous. And the conversation where group shots and OTS pans around the table are used, then the truth comes out, and they suddenly switch to singles? Do not think nobody noticed these things, filmmakers! I noticed! And I congratulate you on a job well done!
This film gives me renewed dedication to making sure the camera always, always, always says something. Which, in my writing, gives me renewed pressure to make sure the camera has something to say.
That's what I learned about composition from My Best Friend. It's interesting - when I think of the look of a movie, I tend to concentrate on the camera angle, almost ignoring the lighting. Perhaps that is a failing of mine. I would give the lighting more consideration, but the way the camera works is so interesting! There is so much to think about!
This movie also taught me how to make a jerk-off character lovable. It is not just about the acting! When you think about it, the premise seems sort of awkward.. The man has no friends? How can we, the audience, have sympathy for him?
I have a theory about sympathy. First, remember that sympathy is different from empathy. Empathy is the act of "identifying" with a character, of saying, He's just like me. Sympathy, on the other hand, is the act of feeling what the character feels - you cry when he cries, you swell with pride when he receives applause. This is what happens when you "fall in love" with a character.
It's my belief that sympathy is usually much more important to the success of a film than empathy is - and though the two are obviously tightly related, each has its own quirks. For example, while excessive character details get in the way of empathy - you, the audience, are most likely not a boozing atheist horror novelist from Maine - they can actually help foster sympathy. Gosh, you think, look at what happened to this guy. And here's how he reacted. I'd do the same thing in his shoes! I think I'd better care about this guy!
So, here's my theory: Sympathy comes from producing the same reaction in the audience, that the character has onscreen.
In My Best Friend, the pivotal scene is at François's birthday party, when his co-workers remark that no one will come to his funeral because he's a jerk and has no friends. It's a hilarious scene, and you can watch the actor's face fall ever so subtly. That's the point where I said, okay, buddy, we're together on this, for better or worse.
It's also, not coincidentally, the same scene where the catalyst of the bet takes place, ending the initial setup phase, halfway through the first act. After all, the main point of the setup is to get you on the hero's side, thus providing the energy to stay through the rest of the film.
Pan's Labyrinth is interesting because of how far it goes to remove all sympathy for a character - but I will leave that as an exercise to the reader.