A few nights ago my husband and I sat down to watch Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing.
At first, I liked it. The more that I think about the movie, the more I start to love it. Now I would say I’m in love with this movie.
It’s simple and clean, it’s modernized but not to the point where we lose all the context, of course it’s based on Shakespeare, who I’ve loved since a high school AP English class to England. But there’s something very accessible about this film. I think that part of it is that it was shot in 12 days in Joss Whedon’s backyard. It makes it so much more…DIY. Which, let’s be honest, is the kind of filmmaking I do.
Because I learn by obsessively reading everything there is to know about a project, I stumbled upon this interview with the film’s DP (director of photography) Jay Hunter, and I found out a lot off cool stuff about the artistic choices Joss made that truly added to the story, but also made the project a lot easier. Namely, they shot in black and white, they used natural lighting whenever possible, and they shot handheld.
Go read the article. But to summarize the practical lesson I learned from Joss’ approach to this project:
Pick a great story. Then tell it simply.
Joss started out with a great story (duh, Shakespeare). He added some cool context to key scenes in the story, like the scene at the beginning showing that Benedick and Beatrice had a past, and the thing with Hero’s wedding dress (the first one). It was a strong, time tested narrative. Not a bad thing to start with.
But he didn’t have to use a ton of visual effects, big sounds and big, out-there personalities to sell the story (see, the Avengers). He used what was available at his disposal to turn the focus onto the story and enhance it on a time crunch and a budget:
1. Black and White.
Shooting in b&w doesn’t happen very often anymore, and Joss did it well. It really set apart this film from most other films we see today and it gave it a special ethereal quality. One of the advantages to shooting b&w; you don’t have to spend a ton of time dealing with color balancing, color temperatures, gels, or any of that stuff. Not that Joss was being lazy. Rather, he was being smart and it worked for his story.
2. Natural Lighting.
No extra time spent setting up differing lighting setups, plus you get a gorgeous natural and intimate feeling that you just can’t copy with a lighting kit. It feels old-world, which fits the story.
Using a handheld camera gave it a very intimate feel. You felt like you were a spectator of everything. Huge themes in the story are secrecy and the struggle to share true feelings with each other. Using a handheld system created shots that mirrored and added to those themes. Plus, no need to set up dolly shots or fancy steadicam rigs (though Joss said he would have liked to use a steadicam if he had the money).
All these time and money savings choices worked to tell and enhance the stories of Benedick, Beatrice, Hero and Claudio. So don’t think you can make choices like this just to save a buck. They need to work with your story. How do we know this film worked? It made over 5 million at the box office with a limited release.
What are some ways you can tell the story that you’re working on more simply?
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