In my insatiable thirst for knowledge about the world of screenwriting, I recently (and accidentally, I might add) stumbled upon a learning tool that was right under my nose that had completely slipped my mind.
One day, in a moment of nostalgia, I decided to pull out the movie “Grease” and pop it into the Blu-Ray player. When the movie was over, I wandered over to the disc’s “Special Features” menu. The interview with the movie’s choreographer, Patricia (Pat) Birch, sounded like a lot of fun.
During the segment, Ms. Birch explains the complex logistics involved in choreographing the dance scenes for the 200 dancers. I found her explanations fascinating!
Once the veil of the behind-the-scenes magic had been lifted, I wanted to go back and re-watch three of my favourite numbers to see the end result.
I’m not sure how I did it, but I ended up watching those scenes with the “Director’s Commentary” track activated. In the special feature, director Randal Kleiser and Pat Birch discuss several of the technical aspects of the movie shoot, the logistics, the vision, and the collaborative and collective effort that went into the project. At the same time, they share their memories of the filming as well as fun facts and trivia.
What a revelation! I took this happy accident as a reminder from the universe that my DVD and Blu-ray collection was a treasure trove of wisdom and experience in movie making. In the days and weeks that followed, I continued browsing my collection for “Director’s Commentary” features and enjoying those favourite movies once again with a fresh pair of eyes and ears.
There is no greater thrill for me than to watch a scene that made me laugh, cry or took my breath away, and then to discover the secrets to how they succeeded in drawing out those emotions. When that happens, I don’t feel that the magic has been spoiled, it just makes me want to know more.
To an aspiring screenwriter, what an incredible gift.
I kick myself for having lost sight of this incredible learning tool. Nonetheless, I understand how it happened. Back in my working days, when I purchased or rented a DVD, more often than not, I only had time to watch the movie. Only on rare occasions did I have the time to go through the “Special Features” to discover these gems.
Just the same, it doesn’t surprise me that the “Director’s Commentary” can have me mesmerized and saying “wow!” non-stop for two hours. I was always interested in the behind-the-scenes magic. Maybe it was because of the special effects and sound effects from “Bewitched”, “I Dream of Jeannie” and “The Bionic Woman” that this kind of curiosity was ignited from a young age.
Similarly, when it came to game shows, I always held a weird fascination for the magical combination of the game props, the lights, the bells, the buzzers, the music and the big doors concealing the prizes, always creating a larger than life viewing experience, even on the little screen.
Back in the 1990’s, with a little time and energy to spare, it was no accident that I volunteered at our community TV station, learning how local programs were produced. Not only did I get an education in TV production, but it was also my first opportunity to join forces with like-minded creatives in a professional context.
Now, in retirement, with an avid interest in screenwriting, you could say that watching “Director’s Commentary” tracks has become my new hobby and my new training ground.
The opportunity to hear directly from directors about how a movie is pieced together is pure gold, as it helps broaden my horizons beyond the role of the screenwriter.
In the movies I have seen so far with the comments feature activated, directors have pointed out subtleties like a glance, a single tear, an actor’s changing posture or a scene with minimal words. It helps me to see that not every action or reaction needs to be derived from dialogue.
I also appreciate when a director explains the reasoning for the pacing, the timing, and the ups and downs in the energy of scenes. Interestingly, I see the parallel to my draft blog posts when I rearrange or cut entire paragraphs in the name of improving the flow of ideas.
In cinema, there are many tricks for making the impossible look possible on the screen. However, there is a price to pay for added technical and logistical complexity. I appreciate how some directors have explained the challenge in optimizing resources to tell the best story possible while still trying to remain on budget.
As well, my study of “Director’s Commentary” tracks instilled a sense of respect and trust in the other members of the creative team who also have a vested interest in making the material shine.
For me, the “Director’s Commentary” has been (and continues to be) a great learning opportunity, from the best of the best, for understanding the art of TV and movies.
What a wonderful and generous gift the artists of the movie industry are offering us, in sharing their experience and their wisdom.
I am truly grateful to have found such a valuable and inspiring resource.
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Have a great day,