Introduction

Why do we get excited when we think about going to the movies?

Do you love a movie but when asked why, you can’t explain it?

What is it about watching movies that makes it one of our favorite pastimes? Is it the star of the movie? Is it the hype about the movie? Is it because it is an action movie or thriller? Do you like comedies so you can laugh? Most people do.

Genesee Community College students made the following comments about the joy of watching comedy movies.

“(I like) being able to watch a movie and relieving any sadness and negativity (in me) by laughing and realizing things are not so bad.”

“I enjoy a movie because it takes me away from my problems in my life for a short period of time.”

“I can escape life a little bit. I can just laugh and not think about work or school or any other stresses in life.”

“I like to watch (a) comedy on a sad day because I can smile and laugh about it later.”

“I like comedy movies because I love to laugh. Most comedies deal with real life things, which make me enjoy watching them.”

Movies offer much more. Do you like suspense in a movie?

How much of a movie do you remember two weeks after seeing it? Have you ever wanted to keep your adrenalin up after watching a suspenseful movie or keep your euphoric mood up after watching a comedy?

This book will assist you in answering the above questions and in giving you a new perspective on watching movies. After reading it, the students who made the above comments have a new, more fulfilling appreciation for movies now. This book will instruct you in cinematic terminology to help you better comprehend the construction and production of movies, giving you a better understanding why you like them.

If you have not watched a lot of movies, this book will give you a solid foundation for better understanding the movies you watch. It is different from other textbooks because it is more of an aid to anyone who does not have a good background in the construction and production of movies.

The areas covered in this book are theme, genre, narrative structure, character and character development, story, directing, cinematography, editing and sound. These areas are covered in this specific order so you can see the formation of a movie from the theme, or purpose, through to its completion.

The definitions of the key words in film are given simply and in a straightforward manner. The definitions have been put into a formula so they are in the simplest form for easy recall or remembering.

This book is designed in this manner because, as a college film instructor at a community college for 18 years, I have found that the biggest difficulty students have with a film course is the textbook. Other textbooks give examples from numerous movies to demonstrate a particular term. Most of the movies used in other textbooks, the students have not seen, resulting in the students not comprehending the technical film terms and rendering the textbook useless.

A book on film should be about film terminology and the understanding of it. Movies then become more appreciated when watched, resulting in better understanding of the movie and the terminology.

After teaching film for so many years, I still feel like a novice at times. This is why a good textbook that explains the primary points of movie framework, construction, and production is essential for beginning students to benefit from a movie course.

This statement was verified by Dominic, a former student of mine at Genesee Community College, who took Popular Cinema and Thriller Films between 2013 and 2014.

Having taken a couple of film courses, I can say that the current way textbooks for film courses are laid out is flawed. They really don’t provide any significant benefit to the student, because you don’t really use them in the course, and a majority of the learning is done through discussing terms, genres, and other film-related things in class. This is true for multiple courses, because the textbooks simply don’t provide you with what you need to succeed in the course. The textbooks discuss terms and define types of genres and subgenres by using specific movies. The problem with this is that you may not have seen the movie that is being used to discuss the genres and subgenres and terms, so you may not get a complete understanding of the subject being discussed. In previous textbooks I have used, I have only seen one movie that was being discussed in the textbook.1

Exploring Movie Construction & Production: What’s So Exciting About Movies from a Novice Point of View?! explains and demonstrates film terminology by using three movies, which are watched by the students at the beginning of the semester, and before reading this book, and trying to comprehend the extended hypothetical examples.

So, as you read this book, rest assured that you do not need an extensive movie background. Everyone starts at the same point, and they progress together. You can logically and easily understand the terminology and the extended hypothetical examples from watching the three freely accessible movies listed below.

The following movie background information is courtesy of the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) and the American Film Institute.

The first movie is The Front Page, released in 1931, starring Adolphe Menjou and Pat O’Brien, and directed by Lewis Milestone. The Caddo Company, Inc. was the production company, and the movie was distributed by United Artists Corporation. This movie is presented on YouTube by the Described and Captioned Media Program. This version is captioned because of the age of the movie.

The second movie is Detour, released in 1945, starring Tom Neal, Ann Savage, and Claudia Drake, and directed by Edgar G. Ulmer. PRC Pictures, Inc. was the production company, and the movie was distributed by Producing Releasing Corporation (Pathe Industries, Inc.).

The third movie is Cyrano de Bergerac, released in 1950, starring Jose Ferrer, Mala Powers, and William Prince, and directed by Michael Gordon. Stanley Kramer Productions, Inc. was the production company, and the movie was distributed by United Artists Corporation. This movie is presented on YouTube by Charles Ewing Smith.

After watching the movies, extended hypothetical examples that contain fictitious characters and situations are used to demonstrate a specific term or detail. The extended hypothetical examples can be altered, as needed, and used as assignments. No matter whether an assignment is given or not, the extended hypothetical examples can be used, discussed, and modified in the classroom by you and/or the instructor to demonstrate and help you better understand a particular aspect of the film.

We will initiate the explanations of the extended hypothetical examples in their simplest form: a boy and a girl, named Jack and Suzie, respectively. They are nondescript at this time, so their personalities and actions can be adjusted as we discuss the different terms, concepts, and ideas in each of the chapters presented in this book.

All other background, story, atmosphere, and technology will be added as we go along. Let’s see what adventures we can throw them into as we talk about the construction and production of a movie.

Regarding this format, Dominic continued by commenting that:

This is why using hypothetical examples would be more useful. Creating hypothetical examples can cover a genre, sub-genre, or term better than specific movies can. Using a specific movie to define the, let’s say, action genre, wouldn’t be as helpful as a hypothetical situation. As mentioned, what if you haven’t seen that specific movie? Will you completely understand this genre if you haven’t seen the example being discussed? Also a specific movie may not cover all parts of a term or genre, like a hypothetical situation can. To elaborate, someone who hasn’t seen a lot of action movies is provided with a specific action movie, as an example in their film class, and now every action movie they see, after this class, will be compared to this one action movie, because that’s what they were taught an action movie is. A hypothetical situation would be able to give you a more broad sense of action movies as opposed to comparing all action movies to one action movie. These hypothetical examples will allow you to think creatively when discussing genres, subgenres, movie terms, and also allow you to understand the content better as well as actually making the textbook for film class relevant and useful again.2

With watching these three movies and building the extended hypothetical examples, you are not restricted. You are only limited by your imagination in understanding the terms and creating the concepts initiated by those terms.

At the end of each chapter in the textbook, additional movies will be suggested for viewing. These movies are good examples of further exemplifying the topic discussed in the chapter. The students will have other actual movies besides The Front Page, Detour, and Cyrano de Bergerac to demonstrate the extended hypothetical examples and to help assist them in understanding the terminology.

So let us begin to understand, analyze, envision, and create a deeper appreciation of movies.

1 Dominic C., in discussion with the author, May 2014.

2 Dominic C., in discussion with the author, May 2014.

License

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Introduction by John Reich is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.