Since the invention of cinema, there have been a vast assortment of incredible films that have been created by mankind. However, one could certainly argue that considerably more films have been made in that span of time that definitely aren’t any beacon of quality. Why is this? How can an entire industry dedicated to making good films continue to make such poor ones so often. While it’s certainly a lot easier to talk about what makes a great film than actually making one, we can take a look at the films that have been considered great and begin to decipher certain commonalities between, however extremely different they may be. Here are some of the basic elements of great films…
The first thing that nearly all great films have in common is a tradition of creating strong, fascinating characters with a good deal of depth. This is a difficult tightrope to walk, as usually to accomplish this you need to both create characters that feel familiar and relatable to the everyday human experience, while at the same time make them unique in a way that makes us feel like we are experiencing something new while watching them. This is where things get tricky, as well as too complex to detail out in this, or any, simple article. While a lot of thought goes into these characters, there is an organic element that is very hard to detail that goes into making them feel like they are alive, real, and intriguing.
Every great film ever made starts with a strong central theme; something that ties all of the principal events in the film together with core ideas. This theme may be a moral one, pushing forward something some sort of set of values. It could also be one that is rooted in how great humans are, showing them triumph over nature or villainy. Or even just a commentary, a mirror that shows society something eccentric within itself. The point is that there is some thread that ties each of the scenes together. Interestingly enough, there are many directors that claim that the concept of theme isn’t actually that important to creating a film. However, many of these great contributors to film, such as Aaron Sorkin or David Lynch, have strong themes that run deeply in their work, whether intentional or not. For more information about how a theme can be tackled in the medium of film, check out this post on films that deal with addiction.
A film with a great concept and powerful characters is on the right path, but many a film with great promise has ended up being a hot, sloppy mess because it wasn’t arranged in a way that demanded people’s attention. The structure and ordering of a film is called the plot. Films with great plots are the ones that keep butts in the seats, as the audience is anxiously awaiting what happens next. There is an art to creating a masterful plot. It’s like a game of poker, but instead of a hand, you have information. Great films deliberately give the audience only a certain amount of the information in a creative way. Poor exposition and obvious sequential progress are signs of lazily constructed plots, and ones that audiences shouldn’t settle for.
Remember those strong, terrifically written characters from earlier? They don’t mean squat without interesting acting. Now, it’s important to clarify that good acting doesn’t necessarily equate to interesting acting. An actor can be doing a perfectly adequate job of performing a role, but that isn’t what audiences came to see. The performers in a great film must be electric. You have to constantly be wondering what the actor will do next, because they are taking things in a direction that you wouldn’t have previously considered. This is what separates the great actors from the good ones, and it is an essential element of great films.
Another hugely important, and completely underrated, part of making a great film, at least nowadays, is having good audio design. There is an old phrase in the film industry that says “90% of what you see on screen is what you hear.” This is not too far off, as the sound effects, clarity on dialogue, music, ambience, and how it is all blended together, artistically, have a tremendous impact on the film you are watching. Some would even venture to say that having good audio is even more important than having compelling visuals. This leaves a lot to debate, but there is no denying the power that audio has on a film. Many independent films often suffer from poor audio editing and dialogue that was recorded on shoddy equipment. This can make a film problematic and unbearable to watch. For more information on proper sound equipment in movies, check out this website here!