Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Get Schooled by Super 8

On the surface, the movie Super 8 is an enjoyable summer action flick but, for students interested in making movies of their own some day, it is also an excellent textbook on the language of visual story telling techniques.

Super 8 is a movie in which a group of young people are trying to make their own movie. Their amateur efforts are set alongside the real movie directed by J.J. Abrams which, as they say, has "production values." The movie Abrams made is an homage to Steven Spielberg and his life-long love of film as a story telling medium. Abrams (on right in photo on left), an exceptionally gifted story teller in his own right, channels Spielberg (on left in photo on left) in his selection of camera angles, crane shots, slow zooms on faces, constantly moving camera, extreme point-of-view shots, tight editing and fast-paced story points.

Students interested in film making should be encouraged to study every frame of this move - every shot - every edit - every pan - every scene - every lighting treatment - and every sound. It is not great art but it is workman-like film making the way students would like to be able to do it. This is simply solid filmic story telling in the hands of an expert giving tribute to one of the masters.

An epic train wreck early in the film is overly long and over the top to heighten the contrast between "production value" available to film professionals and those available to amateur film makers. Abrams is saying "I'll show you production value." The point is brought home humorously again at the end (don't leave before the credits roll) by bookending the film's opening train sequence with the students' own attempt to simulate a train wreck in super 8.

Throughout the film, Abrams and Spielberg demonstrate how to frame a shot, how to manage the movement of the action and the camera, how to transition from one scene to another, how to do a reaction shot, how long to hold a shot, and everything else one should attend to when telling an effective story with film.

When Super 8 comes out on DVD it should become part of your film library so students can pause and study each shot and each scene to help them internalize the rhythm of film.

Click on the heading above to see the trailer for Super 8.

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