I’m going to ask a few questions today and also take us back in time…
Have you ever watched a movie where the story seemed like it was just a bunch of Visual Effects, with no substance?
Conversely, can you think of a movie where the FX and VFX were just icing on the cake?
When I first started out, the movie The Matrix was all the rage. I don’t know if you remember but at the time, that movie was fresh and exciting and as a filmmaker, inspiring. I remember enjoying the movie because first and foremost, it had a great story. The visual effects and fancy camera techniques were secondary, complementary and completely necessary to tell the story. (By the way, I’m not talking about The Matrix 2 or 3… I didn’t understand those movies.)
Two important lessons I learned during that time:
- The super cool techniques used in the movie were nothing new.
- And if you were making movies back then, you may have been inspired to mimic similar VFX in your own work.
I know this because, if you traveled the festival circuit after that movie, you would have seen all sorts of short films that tried to incorporate similar Matrix-esq gimmicks into a story that-didn’t-quite fit.
While your opinion of what makes a movie good might differ from mine, hopefully we subscribe to a similar filmmaking philosophy — That is, anything that we include in our final cut must fit the story and push the story forward.
We all know that staging locations in a recognizable city or adding overhead shots or adding some other nifty, super cool camera tricks can work to make your movie look more expensive than it is – But sometimes if you’re really honest, these fancy tricks aren’t necessarily complementary to your story.
And as filmmakers, this is where we run into trouble. Sometimes it’s just downright difficult to cut all those super cool shots from our movie. (Some of my filmmaker friends would argue that the folks responsible for the most recient Indian Jones movie and the Star Wars prequels may have fallen into a similar FX-for-the-sake-of-FX trap.)
So as a rule of thumb, if you add an element or location or some other nifty, neat-o trick to increase the production value of your independent movie and the element is not inline with your overall story, you run the risk of distracting your audience and taking them out of the movie.