Teller of Penn & Teller once said,
"Magic is just someone spending
more time on something
than anyone else might
This is filmmaking to me. It's an insanely complicated task, sometime taking years to blend ideas, artistry and technology into a work that emotionally transports people out of their own lives.
Two movies have recently felt like magic to me: Fury Road and Ex Machina.
The visual action, pacing and spectacle of Fury Road never once mis-fires. It never once gets tiring. Every shot is perfect and justified. There is a sequence where we see 5 shots of a gear shift. A GEAR SHIFT! And every single one of those shots advances the story and raises the stakes. This movie is so perfectly paced it seems to unfold ahead of the audience like a curvy road that appears in the headlights just where it should be, but never late or early. The logistic accomplishment of this movie boggles my mind. And not losing touch of the human element that actually makes us care about the story in the midst of this is a miracle.
With Ex Machina it was the writing, acting, art direction and VFX that had me waiting for the moment when a film like this inevitably takes a wrong turn. It never does. The characters and the ideas they explore are both nuanced and reality-shattering. The script is perfect as it teases and reveals on its way to the perfect and earned ending. As a VFX person I can tell you the CGI work on the semi-transparent, robotic Ava is so much more complicated that it might even look. Yet it never takes center-stage and says, "Look at me! I'm CGI!" She is a visual effect perfectly placed in an Oscar worthy screenplay. Always reminding us she is not human, but begging us to fall for her.
I loved both of these movies...
And yet, part of me hates seeing movies like these!
I am nearly driven over the humbled cliffs of despair by such brilliant work. Who am I to bring my ideas into the world while it comes with such ease to truly gifted filmmakers like these? Alex Garland and George Miller are working on such a different level that we should all just give up.
But I remind myself of the Teller quote above.
They have put their time in. They have slaved. Im sure there are numerous drafts of Ex Machina that are not that good. There are hundreds of early rough cuts of Fury Road that probably don't work. The lesson is: They put the time in. As the quote says, more time than you can possibly or reasonaly imagine.
There were 100s of talented VFX artists and art department personnel on Ex Machina. Post production took more than a year. Fury Road has been in development and production for more than 17 years, and the shoot lasted nine grueling months in the desert. Yet when you watch those two hours of condensed brilliance, it's magic.
I am not taking anything away from the genius of these filmmakers or their work. I am here to praise not only the artistry and intellect of these guys, but also the persistence of vision to craft such entertainment one shot at a time. To not loosing their vision along the way. And to us, the audience, it seems effortless.
So, I try to remember after toiling away late at night on an edit. Or with a small, unpaid crew of likewise hungry filmmakers, on a short film. If my work sucks today, I have not put enough into it, yet.
Soon, it too, and all these years of practice may seem to be magic to someone else.