In today’s talk, I have repeatedly used the expression: “film shoots reality.” This may have sounded a little strange to you.
You may think that the films you see at the cinema do not necessarily capture reality; that it is fiction. A documentary may capture reality, but an ordinary commercial film is a work of fiction that delivers a narrative, which has nothing to do with reality.
Well, as I talk about the digitization of film, I happened to touch upon the true core of film expression.
It is the question of whether film is real or a story, or if it is something different from both.
Let me bring up an interesting example here.
It is the opening scene of an American film, Jaws, directed by Steven Spielberg in the 1970s.
Since this film was a big hit worldwide, many of you have probably seen it before. It is a film about sharks attacking humans. Do you remember its opening scene?
If you have never seen this film before, please imagine what it is like as you listen.
The film starts on the beach at night. A couple is playfully running down the beach. A girl is taking her clothes off one by one as she runs. A boy tries to catch her but cannot. A girl finally becomes all naked and jumps into the ocean.
What is happening here? She is attacked by the shark right after this scene, but this is not important.
A series of events are depicted as if it happened right in front of the camera, but there is no way these events can happen in a real setting.
I said that the girl took her clothes off one by one as she ran until she became naked in the end. But no one can take their pants off while running.
The girl has to stop to take her pants off. But if she stops, the boy will catch her so that she cannot jump into the ocean, and thus does not need to be attacked by the shark. The script probably read, “A girl takes her clothes off as she runs and becomes naked before jumping into the ocean.” It reads naturally as a narrative.
However, in the real setting, taking your pants off while running is impossible.
Therefore, this line in the script is totally unrealistic.
What happened then is that Director Spielberg faked the scene through editing to make it look real and succeeded in convincing the audience with something unreal to deliver the story.
What this episode tells us, is that the camera captures the real, even if the story is not.
The director needs to manage this difference to tell the story without making the audience realize it is unreal. Do you see the point? It is very complicated.
To summarize, regardless of how much the film becomes digitized, it still has to look like it is capturing reality.
However, when the film delivers the story, it cannot avoid being unreal. Film expression is what fills in the gap between real and unreal. I hope I am not making you more confused.
Although it is difficult to explain in simple terms, I think that film exists somewhere in between fiction and reality.
Therefore, the introduction of digital technology would fail unless we use it in a way that matches the unique sphere the film fits into.
The digitized scene sometimes appears as a totally fake, or distances itself from the story because it appears too real. Difficult, isn’t it?
Let me bring up one more practical issue.
This is an issue that many film directors including myself encounter; that is, the issue of a “person whose back is facing the camera.”
You may care less about this issue, but it is very difficult to judge the right way of shooting a person whose back is facing the camera.
To be more precise, there is no right answer on how to treat people showing their back or request to do anything when we shoot objects such as landscapes, humans, or events with a person looking at it while turning against the camera.
When we actually shoot such a scene, we pay less attention to the person turning against the camera since there is nothing strange about it.
However, we often find the scene not working as we check the footage afterward.
What is not working is that while the scene contains a person seeing an object in front of him, the camera only depicts the superficial reality without delivering what he thinks or what he receives from the object. Thus, the footage does not really say anything about the story.
On the other hand, in the case of the tree explosion that I mentioned earlier in which we digitally integrated the explosion that is not happening in front of the actor, we cannot avoid thinking about how to make the actor in his back look like he is being affected by the explosion.
The explosion is an easy case since we could use strong winds against the actor or order the actor to act like being surprised by the blast. But what about the landscape? It is common to digitally integrate the beautiful landscape after the live action. How should the person in front of the landscape act?
The right answer, I think, is not to do anything although it is very uncomfortable to simply shoot the back of the person doing nothing.
Thus, we tend to request the actor to move their necks to show that he or she is impressed by the landscape, to move their hands, or turn their face towards the camera, which ends up ruining the scene.
How does it fail? By requesting the actor to do this or that, we may be able to capture the person being impressed, yet it does not necessarily appear as the person is impressed by the landscape. That is, the information is delivered, yet the scene lacks a sense of reality.
Do you see the difficulties of the film now?
At last, I would like to talk about an important element that firmly supports film in the face of such difficulties.
It is the actor. Especially the faces of the film stars you know very well. I think it is fine to say that film has survived for well over a century since its birth by showing the face of the stars on the large screen.
What do the faces of film stars represent?
It is something that is seldom seen, but something that surely exists. The audience clearly recognizes that the star standing in front of the camera surely exists. At the same time, the film star carries a certain role in the story. The audience reads narratives such as what he thinks and what she does through their facial expressions.
The face of the film star is what represents the realm of film that exists between the real and fiction.
Once the audience accepts this condition attached to the film, it does not matter if the actor shows his or her back to the audience. The audience overlap themselves with the star and enter the world of film that lies between reality and fiction. The miraculous power of film resides in such a moment.
It could also be put in this way. A man is walking in a crowded back street in Saint Petersburg. It appears just like the real world that we know well.
Once the face of a man becomes close-up, it is your favorite star. He is not the kind of person that exists in such a place. However, at the same time, he is a poor laborer in the story.
What will happen from now on? The camera shows his back, and a big old building appears in front of him. The building might be digitally integrated.
But the audience is already full of excitement and anxiety about what he is going to do as he enters the building, and what destiny is waiting for him inside.
This is film.
I hope you enjoyed my talk today. That is all I have for you.
I was able to touch upon your interests in film.
Thank you for listening.