These days among businesses there is a lot of focus placed on “process,” and with good reason. Without a defined process, craftsmanship can easily become unbridled “artsiness,” the cloudy wilderness in which hours and hours of effort are given yet little real progress is made toward a concrete product.
However, creative companies must be very careful not to allow these processes to become formulas…especially if they are providing craft-heavy services like film production. When storytelling gets reduced to a formula, even the most untrained eyes can recognize that something vital is missing from the finished product. Viewers may not be able to tell you exactly how, but they can sniff out a formulaic story (or a lack of story altogether) from a mile away.
Here are 5 ways to recognize when a film has gone through the rigorous process of genuine filmmaking craftsmanship, and when it has not:
1: Does the film resonate with otherwise unrelated viewers? How about otherwise opposing viewers? Many films just “preach to the choir,” which is terribly easy yet frighteningly expensive when you consider the return on investment or lack thereof. It doesn’t take a miracle worker to create a film which at least peaks the interest of viewers coming from all different backgrounds and perspectives…it only takes folks who know the genuine craft.
2: Do the tools, methods, or technologies outshine the characters and story? The wild pace of technology is doing wonderful things for the film industry, but too many filmmakers fall into the trap of believing that the core of their craft lies within the camera, lens, or editor they choose. High levels of discipline are required to keep the main thing the main thing. People communicating with people, stories that challenge, frighten, bringing tears, joy, and laughter will always resonate with viewers at greater depth than 5K, 8K, or “fill-in-the-blank”K images ever will be able to achieve on their own.
3: Does the film invite people to learn deeply about something or someone new? One of the natural bi-products of genuine filmmaking is growth – for both the viewers as well as the filmmakers. The biggest difference between a news package and a good film is not length (a great film can be even shorter than a standard news package). The biggest difference is that a news package is simply aiming to inform viewers of something that has happened, while a well-crafted film invites us all on a journey to learn, empathize, broaden our worldview, and ultimately become more enlightened people as a result.
4: Does the impact of the film equal more than the sum of its parts? Technically speaking, the best films in history are made up of the same tangible elements as the worst films in history: captured images, dialogue, sound effects, (usually) music, etc. What separates the best from the worst is the ideas which are driving those images and sounds and the craft with which they are compiled together. In the very best films, viewers don’t even notice most of the technical details because they are lost in the experience that the film is creating for them.
5: Does the film have a reason to exist outside of itself? This may be common sense to some, but many films are born out of ego, shortsightedness, and other superficial rationales, leaving their only purpose being to serve their own existence. But when proper craft is applied, even the most basic idea can develop and flourish into a film with meaning, purpose, and impact. Films can be costly, both in time and money. For those resources to be wasted on something so simple as the film itself would be a shame.