The term "art film" remains somewhat ambiguous, but for most people it indicates a film that breaks away from the standards set by Hollywood. Here is a look at how directing an art film will differ from directing other types of film projects.
Beyond the Art House
There are a lot of types of films that are produced and seen for audiences, but the majority of them use a common language and form. This can be a three act structure, identifiable characters, stories that can be clearly understood, and images that communicate in a standard way. This is accomplished since the form of the filmmaking, which is the processes in which it is produced, is not the sole basis of attention. Instead, they want their ideas and the story to be channeled within a structure that their audience can recognize and relate to. Some perspectives and ideas need to challenge the very conventions of filmmaking, bringing attention to the technique, challenging expectations, and redefining the process for creating a project. These are often referred to as art films, and can extend beyond the regular theater experience and can mesh within elements of other types of art forms. Here are some basic tips on how to direct an art film, and how it works differently than directing a more standard narrative or documentary project.
The primary element, when directing an art film, is that you do not have to take your ideas or perspective and then conform them into a classical film format, but instead alter the form to solve problems of communication in a more open way. What this means is that you are using the film and video form in the same way that an artist uses their materials to express their concept. This also means that the tools of filmmaking suddenly just become the tools of creating an art piece, rather than the tools to create a film form that is common to the ways that mainstream audiences normally view a film. This does not mean that you have to reject the filmic form entirely, but it means that you are no longer restricted by it. Instead, you can utilize camera movements that do not maintain visibility, break continuity, include video noise and interference, have images last longer or shorter than normal, as well as any mix of those things.
One of the biggest possibilities for art films is to forgo the “black box" screening format entirely. The "black box" means the theater, where you sit in a blacked room in a position that is meant to suppress your body and bring your attention purely into the story space of the film. Instead, you could begin thinking about other ways your project could interact with the audience, and then you could begin channeling your practical production and ideas into those alternatives. This could be things like video installations that are seen in a gallery setting, interactive forms using different technologies, multiple screens, or even employing video in conjunction with live performance or other art forms.
When directing art films you end up surpassing many of the parameters that isolate positions in the film hierarchy. This may not change when it comes to below the line positions, but for the director they will often have control over areas of the production that they would normally leave up to other creative people. This makes them more of a full filmmaker, or even video artist if it goes beyond narrative filmmaking. They can then think about the project as a whole rather than incrementally as they would if they were acting as the director. This means that music, camera movements, specific imagery, and the like, are all part of a complete whole all the time, though even this can be altered when you are redefining your project.
Altering Narrative Film Structure
The definition of an art film can extend back to the more conventional elements of filmmaking, yet in this context can mean that the director is taking things that are normally unacceptable or non-commercial and using them in the project. This could mean that there is a layer of satire and irony that is unique and challenging, that difficult or taboo subjects are being employed, or even that the filmmaking style is unconventional while the story is somewhat accessible. The primary focus here is that the director intends to use the filmmaking process in a way that is not mainstream, though the level of this is not definitive of whether or not it classifies as an art film. What this can essentially mean is that the actual structures of the normal cinema have been tampered with, even if they are maintained in their essence. For example, this could mean a narrative film that uses elements of documentary. It could have post-modern moments where the character’s “break the fourth wall" and talk to the audience, or could break away from continuity editing or the three act structure.
Often times what people think is that an art film must be financially unsuccessful and only appeal to a small audience, and this is not necessarily true at all. Instead, the art film needs to just challenge the norms of structure and content in a way that is unique to the filmmaker, but that does not mean that you have to avoid commercialism. In the end, the art film is really just your artistic expression and that, at its best, has the ability to connect with people.
- Source: Author's own experience.
Photos: All Images from Stock.Xchange,