Theory of Eric Chamberlain
A collision between an art form (film) and a life form (you), cinema is a limitless psychological, physiological and emotional experience in which who you are is just as important as the film's design. It is an evolving, frame-based architecture of light and sound that draws you closer and closer to the sublime. It is the ne plus ultra of design platforms.
Film is not about what you see at any given moment. It is about what has come before being reevaluated as you anticipate future revelations. Film is fluid beyond the mechanical passage of time. It is a writhing serpent of flowing energy, always changing yet always one creature. Imagine an inversion of how cinema is understood and designed: rather than being shots with edits conveniently linking them, cinema is actually a series edits with shots in between. As such the edit, the essence of and what separates cinema from all other forms, should be designed first, with the shot accommodating that edit. From the scope of the entire film down to the individual frame, cinema is the juxtaposition of countless facets over time.
Cinema is not a synthesis of other existing art forms and their conventions. It is its own language and this must be understood in order to realize its full potential. Story, editing, dialog, acting, visual effects and even editing are embellishments on the true, essential state of the art form known as cinema, which is motion and energy.
The conventions of individual disciplines do not necessarily apply to cinema because every element must fit with the other elements to make a single cinema. This is the key to understanding the difference between conventions that make sense to individual art forms and cinema that is a muddled hodgepodge/pastiche of them.
You have to see this in order to cut through the fog of mediocrity and see cinema in its pure potential.
The goal of film should not be showing the divine through ridiculous ornamentation but to reveal it through the effect of its presence through the psychology and emotion of the witness. In this way we see the divine all around us, even in the mundane, rather than requiring superficiality and miracles in ideas and gross, soulless, massless effects in production. In cinema we should avoid revealing the artifice of filmmaking, and so should we also avoid revealing the vehicle of the divine and show its impact, instead. We must strip a film down to the core essence of its ideas, untainted by ridiculous ornamentation and folly of the novel, the flashy and the insincere.
Pushing the envelope
Two main points to begin:
1. Cinema is not story. It is motion. It could be visual, aural, physical vibration on occasion, or motion in the flow of energy. These can be used to tell a story, but saying that cinema and story are the same is factually incorrect.
2. Humans worship themselves. We are social animals to the extreme. Imagine that you are an alien from an advanced civilization and you discovered Earth. You park your ship in orbit and watch this planet that is teeming with life. Eventually you discover humans that engage in looking at magazines filled with pictures of other humans, looking at pictures and videos of people Online. Seem normal? Now imagine if dolphins took a break from their survival efforts to go look at magazine pictures of other dolphins. How utterly absurd that would be, and how utterly absurd we are, as humans. We are utterly obsessed with ourselves.
Now to the issue of pushing boundaries, or stretching envelopes. If you make an extreme image, perhaps as a way to push the boundaries of cinema relative to what people have seen before, you are actually missing the mark. This is because cinema is not story and humans, for reasons described above, have an inordinate amount of weight in cinema as actors.
As Bresson said, “Nothing more inelegant and ineffective than an art conceived in another art's form.” Extreme imagery is the purview of photography or painting or similar. We cannot push the boundaries of cinema as long as we have the wrong definition of cinema and believe it simply to be visual story telling.
Once again, what is cinema? It is movement. It is motion. It is kinetics. Therefore, pushing the envelope must logically involve the attributes in the definition of the art form. Nowhere in the definition of cinema are extreme or mundane images mentioned.
The key to pushing the envelope in cinema is in seeing what can be done with motion, with movement, with change and with the flow of energy as a whole and the flow of energy of the layers within the film's design.
Pushing the envelope 2: ratings
You do not need an R rating to make something challenging or edgy. If you believe that an R rating is your ticket to communicating an idea then you are misunderstanding what cinema is. You must see around such ham-fisted thinking and understand that getting the audience members to use their own minds is more powerful than simply giving them something.
Consider, for example, The Running Man. On television the swear words might be censored, yet they will leave in the joke about raping a corpse. Which is the more powerful concept; a swear word or the joke? Obviously the subject of the quip is much more edgy than any given swear word, yet it survived the censorship.
Cinema is about the power of ideas. Sometimes the images help facilitate the ideas, which is good. However, when the image is the beginning and then end and nothing else remains to be considered, it is just lazy filmmaking.
Cinema is an art form whose potential needs to be discovered in a way that is not corrupted by our addiction to ourselves. We have to imagine what cinema would be if it was invented by an intelligence that was not fundamentally social in nature. Only by removing our ego, insecurity and addiction to ourselves can we find the ultimate potential of the art form.
Imagine a love affair between species of architecture. That is the true potential in the art form: new impossible forms and ideas yet miraculously understandable to the given audience, unhindered by aesthetic driven by limited physiology and psychology, unfurled by not corrupting the divine creative energy that comes from without.
The problem I have with cinema is that humans are addicted to themselves. We have a social species that has "invented" an art form which has led to cinema being skewed and colored by our addiction to ourselves. In fact, that self-absorption, along with naiveté, is what makes us think we invented it.
Humans didn't invent the art form of cinema, rather we discovered it. Motion, sound and aesthetic exist with or without human awareness or interaction. In looking at cinema this way, we can learn to see past ourselves in it and, in doing so, finally begin to grasp its full potential.
Money versus quality
The amount of money spent on a film does not determine the quality of ideas or execution.
Humans are, as mentioned above, addicted to themselves without realizing it. It truly is bizarre, absurd. Peculiar.
This has to be taken into account when making cinema, as it has altered the trajectory of the art form in a way that wouldn’t otherwise happen if it was made by individuals that are not social animals. The art form has been skewed by this peculiar facet of humanity because you need money to make movies so you have to give the humans what they want, which is other humans on-screen.
In reality, an actor, human or otherwise, shouldn’t automatically be more or less important than any other element in a film. Cinema is, at this essence, about th flow of energy and human actors, due to our peculiar addiction to ourselves, are wrongly rendered as more important in film than other aspects.
An actor that is inappropriate for a role directed by one director may be perfect for the same role with another director.
When you imply the existence of something in the context of a character about whom you care, the emotional connection between the audience and what happens on screen is more compelling, more intense, than if you simply showed the thing.
By allowing the audience to fill in the gaps, which is actually a psychological mechanism associated with survival, you make the cinematic collision between art form and life form deeper, more worthwhile, more compelling and more memorable.
You have to use what the audience does not know and their desire to learn and explore, their curiosity, to your advantage. You have to reveal without showing. You have to tell without saying. You have to teach without explaining. This is the power inherent in film.
Music and sound
The purest form of cinema is music because hearing is the most primal sense, even beyond sight. When you consider the fact that each new layer of stimuli splits the processing power of the mind, the ultimate end of the cinematic spectrum would be a movie with only sound and no visuals.
Before you argue that film is a visual medium, keep in mind that the word "cinema" actually means movement. It has nothing to do with pictures aside from the fact that we use cameras and animation and progressions of images because of the tools, however the tools are not the definition of cinema. The art form is not defined by the tools.
Music is sound in motion, therefore music is a form of cinema. The word "music" is actually a sloppy name for what we call organized noise. It comes from the word "Muse" as in Zeus's daughters, who engaged in all manner of artistic and related activities. To use such a vague word to describe something so specific is lazy and misleading.
Because organized noise in motion (music) is a form of a cinema, and because hearing is the most primal sense associated with survival, a cinema of only sound (not including radio stories driven by narration and dialog) would be the most pure, intense form of the art.
Music and sound 2
Because cinema is a collision between the art form of film design and the life form of the audience, and because hearing is the most primal sense, and because music and sound are actually forms of cinema, the most extreme, pure form of cinema would be a cinema untainted by distractions that water down the sense of hearing and the psychological and emotional impact of the design. In other words, the most pure form of cinema would be cinema with sound and no image to corrupt the emotional, psychological and physiological experience of the audience. An evolving tapestry of diegetic sounds, nondiegetic sounds, incidental music or music otherwise and other aural design would create the most immersive experience of the art.
Music and sound 3
As I was transitioning in life focus from music to cinema I was despondent because I felt I was losing music, which was my first love. Later I recalled the obvious; that music is one of the elements of cinema. It was a great relief to understand that I had not lost but, in becoming a filmmaker, I had gained by virtue of the fact that cinema includes music. Later still I concluded that music is actually a form of cinema. In this moment I realized that I had been designing cinema my entire life. My personal evolution has been less about actual change in who I am and more in learning to see that I have always been exactly who I am supposed to be.
Music is not music
Music is not music. Music is cinema.
Cinema is music
Cinema is not a synthesis of preexisting art forms and their conventions. It is a single rhythm of energy, motion and emotion, which each element complementary to the others, rather than layered atop one another.
Design and discovery
Cinema is something that is part design and part discovery. What it truly is cannot be translated into a written and spoken language. Only by writing ideas in multiple formats, approaches and perspectives does the potential of the cinema reveal itself. It is ludicrous that people read screenplays while looking for projects because the cinema exists in its potential before anything is written. How can you possibly know if a cinematic idea is good by reading a script which inherently cannot be a successful translation of the art form? You can't, and yet the whole world of film functions in this reactionary way.
The act of designing and looking to discover is proactive. The screenplay forces one to be reactive. Before you even begin designing you are already acting according to the rules of a prison. It is therefore ideal to direct only what you invent.
Design and discovery 2
In the same way that astronomers know of celestial bodies not by seeing them but by seeing their gravitational effect on light, so, too, do we discover the cinematic language not by translating it from a written language but by discovering its form from multiple perspectives: index cards, short and long synopses, short stories in prose, storyboards, mood boards, outlines etc.
Raw material and creation
Your creative energy is the raw material for what you write. What you write is the raw material for what you shoot. What you shoot is the raw material for what you edit. What you edit is the raw material for mastering the flow of energy, which is every bit as important, and compelling, if not more so, as story or character arcs.
Let us use graphic resolution as an example. You've heard the saying that a film is made three times: in development, in production and in post production. This would be the equivalent of the old Atari 2600 8-bit blocky graphics.
Cinema must be constantly reformed and rewritten up until the moment it is completed. Because it is a collision that happens over time, so too must it be created over time. What I am describing would be today's near-photorealism of game engines next to the blocky 2600 graphics. It is not written three times. It is constantly written until it is complete. A film being made thrice is to 8-bit graphics what constant rewriting is to graphic photorealism.
Cinema is a balance between design and discovery. By sticking to the original idea you neuter and handicap the true potential of the art form. Keep in mind the difference between theater and cinema. Theater is a recreation of something that is supposed to be real. Cinema is a creation, not a recreation, and the potential of this can never be achieved if you do not allow it to evolve over time during creation, just as it evolves over time for the audience.
Nothing about cinema requires any sense of realism. To insist upon realism in cinema is to stand in a bucket and then try to lift it.
Saving Private Ryan is not realistic; it's a picture in a box. If it was realistic then half the audience would be dead or wounded in the first 20 minutes.
Cinematic language cannot be translated
The cinematic language must be understood as something that cannot be translated to a spoken or verbal language. This is why it is important to write ideas down in several different ways, so that you can see the cinematic potential of giving info emerging.
Scientists know that there are planets around distant stars, not because they can see the planets, but because of the effect their gravity has on light. Cinema works in a similar way in that it cannot be translated into a written or spoken language without compromising it greatly. The more we try to force cinema, which is sourced in divine, creative energy, into a primitive human language, the more we pollute this divine energy, of which we are a conduit, with our human shortcomings, ego, tribalism and insecurity. Cinema must be understood as something that we are discovering, not recreating. Therein lies the difference between theater (recreating some reality) and cinema (creating the new via discovery).
By writing down ideas on multiple sets of index cards (3), as three short stories, a sketch book, a notebook, a couple of synopses and as a three-act mood board, I am able to detect the cinematic potential of conveying ideas in a way not possible by simply reading/writing a screenplay and creating a shot list.
While organization is important for a schedule, the notion that the flow of energy, the essence of cinema, would be dictated by paper of certain dimension divided into eighths ultimately hinders the art form.
Physiology dictates technology dictates aesthetic. For example the anatomy of a human hand determines how a lens may be manipulated. In turn this directs rack focus and how it is used. Imagine what technology we would develop without given anatomical limitations and then imagine what new aesthetic territory we might explore.
You have to trust yourself and what comes to you when you write. You have to trust the creative energy that comes to you, through the filter of your project research and goals. You have to let it flow as it is.
The more you fight it and try to control it, the more human it becomes. But, the more human it becomes, the less divine it is. Just let it flow as unimpeded by your ego as possible. In order to channel the purest form of creative energy you must get out of your own way.
You are a conduit of the energy, not the source. The more you inject your own insecurity and nonsense into it the more you corrupt it. This is why your motivations must be pure and righteous. Why are you doing what you do? What drives your activity? It is possible to abuse the gift of creative energy. Therefore you must look deep inside yourself and be honest with your yourself about how you are using that energy.
You can BS other people, you can even BS yourself. But you can't BS the universe, or God, or whatever the source is.
While we take the association of art and politics for granted, perhaps it is a terrible idea, after all, to pollute this divine energy with our insecure, tribal nonsense.
The point of being creative is sharing that gift with the world.
You do not take credit for being creative because it is a gift that comes from without. You can take credit and blame for what you do with it, but the creativity itself is a gift.
If you are not familiar with this idea, your ego may make you skeptical of what I am saying. This raises another point. Your ego serves only to corrupt that creative energy. Your motivation for creating work is just as important as what you create. In other words, the why is just as important as the what.
This is why it is so important to understand that being creative is a responsibility. You need to look deep inside and ask yourself why you would do a thing.
Are you doing it to be subversive? Are you doing it because you are insecure and you need to prove something? Are you doing it to take a political or religious cheap shot? Such reasons are a corruption of creative energy. It is a corruption because you, as a fallible, hypocritical human being, are using the gift of creative energy in an improperly motivated way.
The only essential, pure way to use creativity is to share it with others. Creativity is a gift, to you, from the divine energy of the universe. As a conduit of this amazing gift, you can either share it or corrupt it with your own issues.
What makes a great filmmaker?
What makes a great filmmaker? What separates Tarkovsky, Bresson, Bergman and Ozu from others? To answer this question, we must first establish that making film is not only about craft; it is actually comprised of three parts: craft, world knowledge and vision. Just having vision, alone, is like winning the lottery. Therefore we can say that having vision and creating cinema using craft based on the needs of the world is a rare combination of ability.
Going back to the question, the quality and greatness of these directors has a foundation within that exists before one even discuses craft or film at all. This has to do with vision, this rare condition of being able to see as a god might, to understand the big picture from a spiritual sense. It is important to understand that this vision, this ability to channel divine creative energy, is the source of what is possible in art: the vision of the director channels the creative energy from without into a form that is crafted based on the needs of the world.
There is a difference between what is made using techniques developed to express a certain cinematic vision and what people make decades later by simply copying those techniques. The original material will always be more compelling because the techniques were designed specifically for the vision unique to the filmmaker at the time. This is why I have endeavored to create my own techniques, so that my cinematic voice truly represents my own vision, in a way that is tangible beyond style.
The final consideration here is context. In today's world consumers have shorter attention spans and demand instant gratification. This is unhealthy for culture and art because it is analog to eating garbage calories. While respecting the individual audience members, and what each brings emotionally and psychologically, is crucial to designing a film, trends associated with a time can only hurt the art form if they are not part of solving a problem or bringing a new technique. The true artist will not be beholden to trends or genres, and will never compromise the vision for such shallow, fleeting distractions.
Copying and influences, the what and the why
There is nothing wrong with having influences, however be aware: using an idea of a great filmmaker does not mean it will be great in your film. Without the motivation, the why, the exact same image/sound/cinematography in your own context would be meaningless.
Your spirit should be clean, but not you cinema. At least not arbitrarily. Everyone is always striving for cleanliness and perfection, for reality, in film. This is a mistake. Film is about the collision between the art form, cinema, and the life form, the audience, and what it brings emotionally and psychologically. Every element, including the textural qualities of the visual and the aural, is a facet of the film that requires a motivation in the service of that collision. The definition of cinema doesn’t require cleanliness or reality for this to be a successful collision.
So many assume that such quality must be clean but in this sense it is both a wasted opportunity and it makes all films the same. Imagine your favorite cinematic music of all time. Now imagine that all movies had that score. That would be completely absurd, yet that is what we do when we just assume that cleanliness is the goal.
Nobody asks why Kandinsky has a white square a certain distance from a circle; why do you want me to explain my film to you? Do you not wish to think for yourself?
We respect the audience not by giving them what we think they want, resulting in tired, rehashed things already seen a thousand times. Rather, we respect the audience by giving them something visionary and then affording them the opportunity tot draw their own conclusions, without lecturing them.
The more I explain my film to you, the more I rob you of the cinematic experience.
Human beings are sloppy, lazy beasts who waste potential throughout life. We should be walking on the balls of our feet instead of flatfooted. We should be singing to one another instead of just lazily talking. We should be in absolute awe of creation ever waking moment. We take so many things for granted and this is true for film, too.
The cinematic language cannot be replicated by the written or spoken language. It is absolutely impossible, not even God could do it. Cinema should be visuals, sound and music with limited dialog. Using dialog to explain what is happening is an abomination against cinema. Using a page-per-minute script at a certain font size with each page divided into eighths to control the energy of film is a crime against the potential of cinema. In all of these things we prove or disprove our worthiness to the gods.
Divine energy and sewage
Using creative energy for politics is like using the Mona Lisa as toilet paper. You are swimming in sewage while being oblivious to the divine four dimensional sky of burning eternal energy whose cirrus clouds float right above you.
If you are creative then it means not that you are a genius but that you have won the spiritual lottery and are a conduit for this divine energy. Use it appropriately.
Genre is an idea, an artificial and arbitrary gauge, that harms a given art form by forcing a given work into a category for the sake of convenience and rules. It pollutes expectations of the audience and it pointlessly hamstrings creators who try to "write," something in and of itself that cannot describe cinematic ideas, according to genre conventions.
Film is about the flow of energy, it is not about story. Therefore, to use story genre to describe film is to completely misunderstand the essence of the art form.
Yasujiro Ozu is his own genre. The closest comparison one may make, one that I make, is that the work of Ozu is the Still Life of cinema. Not only is his approach and aesthetic unique, he is also the only director to recreate the same ideas and themes over and over, as a painter who creates multiple studies of a subject.
You may call it drama, if you wish, but the drama comes not from the actors but from your own reaction to the deep power that flows far beneath the serene, still waters of the surface. This comes not from genre but from understanding.
Film is less abut money and more about solving problems. If you have a huge budget then you will always tick to the original, untested ideas. If you are forced to find a creative way to get the same idea across without more money then you are forced to strip it down to its core essence. In doing so you will find a more innovative solution, making your film better.
Every problem is a fork in the road. To the left is the notion that the obstacle is impossible to overcome. To the right is the esoteric knowledge that the universe is letting you know that there is a solution that is superior to the original idea. Always choose this path and you will not only win, but you will achieve more than you hoped for.
When a plan fails or yields results differently than expected it always means one of two things:
1. It is the right plan incorrectly executed
2. Your plan was wrong and the divine energy of the universe corrected you
Most of the time people assume it is always the former. In reality is just as likely to be the latter. Learn to see the potential advantage in an apparent failure.
Once you reach post-production you can see the other side of the abyss, and you begin to realize you're going to make it, and finish. Seeing the far shore reinvigorates you for the final push. There is, however, a down side. Because of all the work already done, you may be compelled to rush or even cut corners; you are essentially celebrating too early. It's like when Hitler had monuments designed before the war was over, and look what happened.
Always make sure to win the war before you design any monuments.
I mentioned that creative energy is divine energy that comes from without. Because cinema is something that is discovered, or revealed, your capabilities are a reflection of your character and intelligence. If you are too dim to see past tribal politics, ego and insecurity then divine possibilities will never be revealed to you. You will be trapped in mediocrity for eternity. The gods will laugh at your futility.
How can you be insecure about other people and open to divine energy at the same time? You can't; it's a contradiction.
You have heard that character is defined by what we do when nobody is looking. It is smart to know this, but it is wiser still to know what you think defines you even more than what you do or say because in your mind you can get away with anything. You can fool others and even lie to yourself, but you can't fool the divine energy of the universe. It knows what you are up to therefore you must know yourself, warts and all, and govern and improve yourself accordingly. Only then will your art rise toward the sublime, toward the source.
Controversy versus subversion
Being controversial is allowable if you are properly motivated. However, if you are driven by hate and destruction then you are in the realm of subversion and are therefore abusing the gift.
Being offended is a choice that you make. It does not grant the right to limit the freedoms of others. It is astonishing how those who claim to be against fascistic tyranny march in lockstep, while those who truly believe in freedom are labeled as fascistic by those who actually act like tyrannical fascists.
If such thinking pollutes your mind it will damage your art. I have seen this happen. I have seen improper motivations destroy art. It will catch up to you. Disbelieve at your own risk.
The problem with democratization is that everyone now is doing everything, everywhere. Because the tools and techniques are ubiquitous, it creates a sameness in cinema and music. Everyone uses the same VSTs, the same plugins, the same generative and procedural noise, the same editing techniques. This must be evaded wherever possible when designing the aesthetic language of the cinema.
Think outside the tesseract
Difficulty is the seed of innovation. In order to push yourself further, ask yourself what you would do if present ideas would not be possible, even if they are. If something is too easy, pause and reflect on whether you are pushing yourself enough. Manufacture your own failures in order to force yourself to think outside of the tesseract.
Imagine that you are trying to reach some rocks in the desert so you can climb up and get a view that enables you to see a clear path to your destination. You work very hard and reevaluate your priorities and you figure out how to get there. After great effort and growth you finally reach the rocks.
Climbing on top to enjoy the view and see the path, you realize that there is a vast chasm that lies beyond. There is no way around, no way across. Your journey has come to an abrupt end, with the achievement of your goal nowhere in sight. You feel crushed.
The chasm represents your hard work and growth revealing not accomplishing a goal but revealing how far you are from it, which is frustrating and often defeating. You begin to feel hopeless and frustrated, until you realize something very important. The chasm isn't your problem until you learn how to fly and, once you learn how to fly, the chasm is not longer a problem.
The chasm, which seemed to defeat you, is actually the thing that revealed to you that you can fly. Now think about this. I am not saying the chasm revealed that you need to fly. It revealed that you can fly. In other words, the obstacle is actually something that reveals your potential as long as you don't quit. The obstacle, when viewed properly, may reveal things you didn't even know about yourself.
Gyrus is autobiographical
Gyrus is autobiographical in the sense that the emergence of my artistic and personal evolution in life are represented by the evolution of the protagonist. As he evolves so, too, have I evolved to reach my true potential personally and in creative vision.
The character is also blissfully unaware of things that regular people would be unable to ignore while being fascinated with mundane things that regular people would likely ignore. This frequently represents my own reality.
Furthermore the protagonist 8477447's former name in the film is my actual name: Eric Chamberlain. The designation 8477447 is my childhood phone number. The idea is solidified further still by using actual medical records from my life.
Lastly the film uses footage and materials from real personal events intertwined with the fiction. These include hospital footage, EKG pads, bandages and drug materiel.