Every movie, from Pulp Fiction to Casablanca. From Dr. Strangelove to Goodfellas all start with this phrase: “Fade in,” in 12 pt Courier font. It’s the unseen and unheard prologue of the entire adventure that awaits you. It’s an exciting thing, really: the beginning of something great.
The problem is that it is so boring.
For a medium as creative as film, there is a fairly strict structure that every screenplay has to adhere to. Each screenplay needs to have one inch margins on all sides (except the left side, which needs to be one and a half inches), about 55 lines per page, pages numbered on the top right corner, and etcetera.
And as boring as it is, this structure is vital. Good structure makes a movie organized and effective, but what makes a movie remarkable is attention to detail.
Stanley Kubrick is the poster child for this attention to detail. He was so good at it; in fact, everyone despised him for it. In The Shining, Kubrick used 3 days of shooting time to record Jack Nicholson cutting down a door with an ax and redid a shot of Shelley Duvall swinging a baseball bat over 120 times, breaking a world record in the process.
And that wasn’t even his best movie. Depending on who you ask, it may not even break the top five.
I may not be Stanley Kubrick, but I do expect the best from myself at everything I do.
Over the summer, I worked as a groundskeeper for a local waterpark. If you don’t know what a groundskeeper is, in this scenario, it’s a janitor with a nicer name. The grounds crew consists of a bunch of teenagers (the oldest being 18) working without any adult supervision and being expected to maintain a water park for minimum wage. Looking at the situation from an outside perspective is really like watching someone light up a cigarette at a gas station. It’s a terrible idea and the best case scenario is that the place won’t go down in flames. Surprisingly though, the park not only does not go down in flames, but it stays well maintained. It’s a team effort, but I take pride in the it. Every night during the closing shift, we have to clean the dreaded locker rooms. These rooms are the native land of all things gross and compounded with the late hours of the shift , spawned an indifference to the job that was not present at any other time of the day. Every evening I worked, I took a second and stared down into the toilets and thought to myself, “would anyone even notice if I didn’t clean these?” The answer was every single time was “No, they wouldn’t,” and yet, every single time, I cleaned the toilets.
Even when I was a little kid just learning how to read, this was my mindset. I would only read out loud it when I knew I could read the whole book perfectly. Every time my mom asked me to read, I refused. These shenanigans went on for a while until she forced me into it and I fluidy read her my first Arthur book. She was impressed, but I remember thinking about those words I stumbled over. It still happens to this day. In my history class, I had to write a document based essay about whether or not the quality of life improved after World War II. I spent a few hours over the weekend on it and by the end I was tired and just wanted to watch football on my precious Sunday, so I scribbled down the final paragraph and turned it in the next day. I ended up with a solid A on the essay, but my face flushed when I re-read that paragraph, debating with myself why I would turn in such mediocre work.
I’m not obsessive, I just want things done to the standards I expect of myself.
Just like Kubrick, I know what I make can be special, I just have to make it special. And people like my mom rightly worry that if I get so obsessed with the lighting and the blocking and the framing and the zooms, the sun will set and I’ll loose the shot entirely, but I’m not afraid to loose the shot because the sun will rise again and it might be even brighter than before.