Understanding film


WHAT film is in today’s world the word ‘film’ is used by various people to refer to various things, some of which are not film at all, but footage that can be used to make films. These include photographs of weddings, games, church gatherings, conversations, shows and dances of all types. The truth, however, is that all such things only become film when they are presented in such a manner as to show the following aspects: • Story with a beginning, middle and end. • Clear main character(s). • Clear message(s). • Clear ideological line. In other words, film is basically storytelling done by means of combining various art forms, chiefly literary (the script), drama (acting out of concepts), technology (appropriate use of equipment) and ideology (persuading viewers to see things in a certain way). Film must also be known as an industry that involves many aspects of life to expand and generate revenue. Of the four points above, the first one is the most important because, like a tale, a story or a parable (in any religion) there must be something of interest to the targeted audience for anyone to be interested in it….let alone pay money to view it. This means that for there to be films there must be stories or narrations, preferably in written form. The stories or narrations are then reduced into the films that we see. Yes, in film language we say they are ‘reduced’ from their original form into film because in the process of changing there are aspects of the original that must be omitted because they cannot be shown on the screen. For example, things like the passing of time and the holiness of a God, which may be in the original script, can only be assumed to be clearly seen on the television screen. What this also means is that if a film script is given to different film directors to produce independently, the result may be several different films. This is why stories on common themes like love, life and death are always handled differently by different filmmakers. A clear illustration we can give is how traffic accidents are usually handled by different film scriptwriters: Arriving at the scene of an accident from different angles, three scriptwriters can come up with the following three different versions of what happened One may take it that the driver of the vehicle that killed the victim must have been careless with his driving, another may choose to blame the victim for walking carelessly across the busy road, while the third scriptwriter may see the whole accident as a predestined happening (that the victim must have been predestined to meet his or her end in that way). The three scriptwriters may, therefore, provide the bases of three films with different themes like: • Beware of careless drivers. • Beware of careless pedestrians and • No-one can escape God’s (i.e. Jehovah’s, Allah’s, Mlimo’s, Brahma’s etc.)’will. The above themes will determine how the three stories must be projected on the film screen. In turn, the different projections will determine how the target audiences will be expected to respond to the three film screenings, and finally, the main message of each film will depend on the ideological orientation of the film-maker. Depending on the above, a film will be produced in such a way as to make the target audience react in a given manner. The terms ‘target audience’ and ‘ideological orientation’ need to be explained because they are of crucial importance in film. A good film is one that is not just made for anyone who cares to see. In other words, in film there is nothing like a universal or standard audience (kungoti nderaani zvake angoda kuona). The truth is that it is up to the producers (provider of facilities) and director (sort of commander) of a particular film to predetermine the type of people they expect to watch it. In most cases viewers pay money to watch a film, and they want value for their money. This means that each film must suit a specific (hence target) level of people. For example, a scholarly subject will suit university and college audiences while light humour mostly suits ordinary viewers. Children’s films will also attract children while adults have their own, usually mature, target audiences. Imagine the result of showing the wrong type of film to the wrong type of audience, as sometimes happens in cinemas all over the world! Cases are known of audiences that demanded their money back after being shown what are known as classical films like ‘Roots’, and ‘Casablanca’ because they did not relate to them. At the same time religious people sometimes walk out of films that denigrate their religions. Hence what the audience will see on screen depends, not only on the goodness of the story itself, but also on other artistic inputs of the specific production that will ensure the projection of the desired effect on the target audience. These inputs are mainly: CASTING : (Whether or not actors were assigned fitting roles): As the audience will be seeing the representatives of the characters in the script, they need to be presented with realistic characters. These will mainly be: • The main character. • Supporting characters. • The enemies (those who act against the main characters). In the film ‘Roots’ the main character is not Kunta Kinte but his parents. Their world forms the roots that Kunta and his girlfriend are cut from by slavery. In ‘Neria’ the main character is supposed to be Neria herself, but unfortunately she gets overshadowed by human rights protagonists who bring in their own themes. COSTUMES: (The suitability of what characters wear in different scenes): Unless the theme of the story demands it, actors must dress up according to the roles they play. CINEMATOGRAPHY: (The appropriate usage of appropriate film equipment, lighting and locations): This is essential because film footage must be as realistic as possible. EDITING: (How the film footage is arranged in order to highlight the key aspects of the script): Good editing makes all the difference between a wellmade and a shoddy film. DIRECTING: (How the film directors instructed actors, camera people and other participants to perform their respective responsibilities): While the original film script comes from the scriptwriter, what the audience will see largely depends on the expertise of the director. The director will always rewrite the original script to make sure that it fits his objectives. What all this means is that, like playing soccer or netball, film production depends on teamwork. Only when the players coordinate their activities can a team win. Questions we should ask ourselves: 1. When did I last see an African film? 2. Are there any film studios in Zimbabwe? 3. Zimbabwe’s story is exciting. Why don’t we have documentaries on it? 4. When did I last see an American or European film? 5. What film(s) do I like to see next? 6. Where and how do rural people see films?


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