What Film Means to Me: A Confession

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If you know me, then, you know I am always reaching for a film (to say something for me when I can’t) when I am talking to you. It doesn’t come from a place of thievery, really, but it comes form a place of awe and connection. So I wonder: why do films connect people? I will get back to that question later. Or maybe an even better question might be…what drives me to look in that place? I guess that would force me to bring you to a place of not just fun and entertainment, but emotion and humanity.

I was always into films, believe it or not. But, I wasn’t always into writing or shooting. For the past five years I’ve had shooters tell me: I always knew that I was going to make films –in some way. I couldn’t have said that as a kid, because back then I only knew one thing…I loved storytelling. I didn’t really care what form it came in either, whether it be novels, TV shows, or film. Hell, I even liked it when my teacher dropped her “teacher act” and told us what her life was like outside of the classroom. I was obsessed with hearing it and pondering about it later. Analyzing the reasons why things happened. In short, my confession is this: I was always a writer and storyteller — I just didn’t know it!

So, here it is in my mid-life that I’d finally come to this big realization. Let me back up a bit. Back in 2008, I decided to make a big change in my life. I didn’t like driving a van all over North Carolina, delivering instruments to stores. (This was my job before film and video). It was good for me back then, but it definitely wasn’t my future. In the meantime, I was watching mediocre films, (some good ones too!), reading mediocre stories, and like many writers before me, thinking the whole time: “I can do better than that.” But could I?

Well, the truth was, “I THOUGHT I could.” So I took a screenwriting class (2008), because you see, I wasn’t really that interested in “how the film was shot”. I just wanted to create the film with words. Let me be clear: I didn’t know how hard screenwriting really was and still is. So my advice to anyone approaching the blank page is this: Do it with conviction and purpose. If you don’t have a solid idea, find one. Sometimes the best stories are hidden among your dreams, passions and relationships. Also, It’s cathartic to put your feelings out there –on the written page—for all to see, but more importantly, it can possibly be one of the most therapeutic and rewarding endeavors you will ever hope to accomplish.

So then, I ask: why does film connect us?

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It’s the community atmosphere that gives film it’s real magic. It’s the age-old feeling of sitting around a campfire and telling stories – maybe one storyteller is trying to “one-up” the previous storyteller. The story can be scary, poignant or even historical.  In my opinion, all that matters is that the audience clearly understands what the teller is describing, then, connects to the story on an emotional level. The audience feels something.

So stories are what we want, right? And not just any story either –we want good ones. So why are films important? I think it’s because we get so deeply involved with what the characters are facing and hoping that they will eventually overcome the overwhelming odds being put in front of them. Yes, that is the simple answer, yes, but I also believe that one of the single most important aspects of good filmmaking is that it stirs up those dormant emotions inside you. This happens because we are seeing our characters develop into relatable people. We are seeing them as whole people, like real people, acting in realistic ways. Which means our heroes (and villains) make mistakes, get angry, cry…they feel something. They change and grow (sometimes good, sometimes bad) as real people and relationships do, and should.

Let me ask you this. Have you ever not seen the end of a film? It’s truly terrifying. Where’s my character? What HAPPENED? It’s like it can kill you, that unknowing. When I wrote my first screenplay titled “Wanderer”  –which was about a man being sent through the many levels of hell for falling in love with Lilith — in the first chapter, Michael (main character) hides from demons in a church, while sitting among mannequins. After a rough night of being tormented by demons, Michael wakes up the following morning. I ended the script with something like this:

Michael sees a shadow. He freezes. He makes his way to the door. His shaking hand opens the door –it creaks open as a small beam of light enters the dusty church…Michael squints his eyes.

My teacher was like, “What! Don’t you ever bring another story in here like this…unless it’s finished”. He smiled and then later wrote one word on my script: Nice! Do you know what happened to that script? It’s still not done the way I want it. It’s undeveloped and it may never see the light of day. That’s how writing goes.

Sorry, I digress.

So back to our why I think film encapsulates the many aspects of our lives. It’s our hopes, dreams, our fears, and in many ways, it can be one of our greatest forms of emotional therapy; in short, a story can teach you, change you, and beyond that, it can inspire you. Today, I saw some short documentary films at the FSU Film School and I was pleased to see that every story I watched had a strong emphasis on the craft of storytelling.

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So here’s my other confession: as a Filmmaker, I really went to the Documentary Screening to pass judgment on those student films, to see if it measured up to all the buzz I had heard about FSU Film School. And, you know what? I was completely blown away. After the shame of my judgment passed, I was completely inspired by what I saw. I felt like something was burning inside of me to continue writing films, shooting films and presenting them to an audience. This is what films can do, for everyone, and should do for any filmmaker. This is why film is important. It stays with you; it encompasses the artistic mind and gnaws at it. That’s why I believe a good film sticks with you long after you’ve left the theater. And when done correctly, films can cause us to question the proper things of our American society. It can cause us to think, and act on what we saw. Films are more than just mere entertainment, my friends. Good films, call us to action, they cause us to think deeper about the human condition, with both our minds and our hearts.

Jason Humphries
September 2015