Movie Making Masterclass with Jim Emerson

October
21
2012

I would love to one day direct a film. Not like a home movie, or even a having-fun-with-friends-Youtube thing, but an honest-to-God Hollywood feature. I’ve long been a fan and even an observer of the art of filmmaking, to the point where I can no longer watch a movie without peeling back layers and analyzing the cinematography, the direction, the action, and even the continuity (just ask my wife — obsessively rewinding to catch a continuity slip is a really special treat in the middle of a movie). I’ve also tried to take as many classes as my time allows, including a directing workshop, an Introduction to Independent Filmmaking at LIFT (with Mike Beltzner), and a semester of film classes back in university.

I think any film-obsessive would cop to a strong desire to study the masters. We hold them up high on the pantheon, lauding them with awards, collecting their works, and studying every frame with rapt attention. My journey from moviegoer to obsessive student has followed exactly that path and I’ve often found myself wanting a reliable source of shot-by-shot analysis that I could use to build a better understanding of filmmaking. I remember reveling in my professor’s ability to take apart an action sequence and break it down to the fundamentals that so effectively make it work. His analysis of Sergei Eisenstein’s famous baby carriage sequence from Battleship Potempkin still stands out in my mind:

I also clearly remember standing in the excellent “Filmmaking” section of the now-deadpooled Pages Bookstore, looking for some kind of shot-by-shot book. The format was so clear to me: a fairly large-sized book with a still on the left side and an analysis on the right. They had nothing that fit the bill and I briefly entertained the idea of producing a series of them before realizing that the rights (and the film experts) would be difficult to pursue.

I was reminded of all of this when I caught Jim Emerson’s excellent In the Cut series of videos. Jim writes the also excellent Scanners blog for the Chicago Sun Times and is also the Founding Editor of RogerEbert.com, so he knows a thing or two about movies. His three part series takes apart a mess of an action sequence from Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” (2008) and the contrasts it with very successful sequences from William Friedkin’s “The French Connection” (1971), Peter Yates’ “Bullitt” (1968) and Don Siegel’s “The Lineup” (1958). Enjoy!

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