Ben’s Blog: Being An Imperfectionist.

Posted September 20th, 2016 by Ben

It is not surprising that filmmakers tend toward perfectionism. A feature film will devour years of your life and will quite possibly outlive you – naturally you want to get it right. Of course there’s a less rational reason too. A film is a house built in a storm on a geological fault line, there are so many things that can and will go wrong the desire to perfect what few elements you can control quickly becomes pathological. Making sure the guy in the background wears the right tie won’t stop the lead walking out, but at least something in the scene will be right…

Filmmaking always eventually teaches lessons about the value of failure. These are generally applicable to all areas of life, but failure has a special place in film. Learning to release your white knuckled perfectionist’s grip, just a bit, is not just good for your soul, it’s essential for your film. Like belief, something you can only have in the unproven, film works best when it doesn’t.

Without wanting to get all Inceptiony on you, the most powerful way of spreading an idea is getting someone else to think it was their own. As a creator you often imagine success is when you bring other people into your brilliant imagination. In truth though, the real aim is to get them to let you into theirs.

Leonard Cohen once sang “Forget your perfect offering, there is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in” as a lyric it is one of the simpler summations of the Japanese concept of Wabi Sabi, it’s also a good metaphor for how an audience really enjoys drama. When you compare a 3D presentation in Dolby Atmos with a play in a bare room there really should be no contest as to which is the more engrossing. One is almost perfectly real, the other barely so. But seeming real is not the goal because what exists is the one thing we cannot imagine. A theatre forces the audience to use their imagination, the play really happens not on the stage but in your head.

Not that we should be making all our films looks like Dogville, after all it’s not just about how real something looks. You may well be asking how all those 3D blockbusters are surviving now everyone is flocking to the theatre to use their imagination on some Brecht. However, a quick skim through fan fiction sites shows that all the depth of character that a blockbuster often lacks is being more than amply supplied by the watching audience’s own imagination. Yes, Suicide Squad is a gaudy hollow mess – but that might in fact be one reason why it did so well.

Of course some mistakes are just mistakes but some are all that is truly interesting. Realising your vision perfectly is impossibly hard but sometimes making no mistakes is less exciting than managing to make only the best ones. I don’t want to add to your neurosis but sometimes even being a perfectionist is not quite good enough…

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