‘Better Than Film School’ Philosophy By Director John Sturges
If you are a real film enthusiast then I am sure you must have seen at least one movie of John Sturges. He has delivered some of the best movies of his time. But John Sturges is best known for Bad Day at Black Rock, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, The Magnificent Seven, Ice Station Zebra and the legendary The Great Escape.
When legends like John Sturges speak about the filmmaking, its like a river full of knowledge flowing in front of you, now its upto you how much you can absorb. Not a single film school in the world can teach you what John Sturges has said with his huge experience. Its just not for film direction but also for actors, writers, cinematographers and photographers. Watch these following videos.
John Sturges on his filmmaking philosophy – Part I
John Sturges on his filmmaking philosophy – Part II
John Sturges talks about how Dore Schary of MGM and screenwriter Millard Kaufman, who wrote the script to Bad Day at Black Rock, came up with two elements for the story and how they work together to form a living narrative:
One: He was a man whose life was saved by a Japanese boy in Italy. The boy died and he was given a metal for his heroism. He’s looking for the father of that boy to give him the metal in an expression of thanks. Two: He’s lost the use of his arm. He feels mutilated, unneeded, defeated, and leading a pointless existence. Put those two elements in this and you have a story. And it moves. It’s alive, and you identify. It goes somewhere.
Here John Sturges talks about the essential of the cinematic grammar if you want to keep your films fresh and alive, and understanding what your shots and images convey is incredibly important.
Part, of course, of good photography is what you’re photographing — spectacular locations, spectacular faces, spectacular characters, a streamline in a desert is pretty spectacular. So, you start with stuff that’s worth seeing — Jack Ford, I guess the man who everyone agrees made the best western, he shot it backlight. Backlight means the mountains are dark and heavy and ominous — that the faces of the characters are dark — He used big big things behind people. He shot up at them to make them look menacing by taking on the character of the mountains behind them.
John Sturges says:
A lot of people have asked me about camera technique — angles to use, why you use them, camera style, camera movement. One answer is that it depends on the kind of film you’re making. If you’re telling a story and it’s told in an apartment house in New York — really not much point in trying to see how fancy you can get the film angles. If you’re doing a picture such as this one, Bad Day at Black Rock, there’s a wide opportunity to use what I’ll call “effective angles,” because everything you look at has interest. But now you get into the purpose of the film. The perfect camera technique is one that the audience doesn’t even know is existing.
Film is about reaction
This is the most important advice by John Sturges.
Film is reactive. What counts is what your players react to. So, if you go past your principal actors at what’s happening, then you cut around, reverse back onto that actor — automatically you’re in a close shot, which is what you wanna be, and automatically you’re cutting off what happened to see how it affected him. That’s the name of the game in films. Hitchcock said it all. He said, “Cutting means the ability to make an audience feel what you want them to feel by the reaction of somebody to something.
What do you think about John Sturges’s filmmaking philosophy? Do you agree with Paul Thomas Anderson, that it’s better than 20 years of film school? Let us know in the comments.