Voice & Vision
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Voice & Vision

A Creative Approach to Narrative Filmmaking

Mick Hurbis-Cherrier

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eBook - ePub

Voice & Vision

A Creative Approach to Narrative Filmmaking

Mick Hurbis-Cherrier

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About This Book

Develop your creative voice while acquiring the practical skills and confidence to use it with this new and fully updated edition of Mick Hurbis-Cherrier's filmmaking bible, Voice & Vision. Written for independent filmmakers and film students who want a solid grounding in the tools, techniques, and processes of narrative film, this comprehensive manual covers all of the essentials while keeping artistic vision front and center. Hurbis-Cherrier walks the reader through every step of the process—from the transformation of an idea into a cinematic story, to the intricacies of promotion and distribution—and every detail in between.

Features of this book include:

  • Comprehensive technical information on video production and postproduction tools, allowing filmmakers to express themselves with any camera, in any format, and on any budget

  • An emphasis on the collaborative filmmaking process, including the responsibilities and creative contributions of every principal member of the crew and cast

  • A focus on learning to work successfully with available resources (time, equipment, budget, personnel, etc.) in order to turn limitations into opportunities

  • Updated digital filmmaking workflow breakdowns for Rec. 709 HD, Log Format, and D-Cinema productions

  • Substantial coverage of the sound tools and techniques used in film production and the creative impact of postproduction sound design

  • An extensive discussion of digital cinematography fundamentals, including essential lighting and exposure control tools, common gamma profiles, the use of LUTs, and the role of color grading

  • Abundant examples referencing contemporary and classic films from around the world

  • Indispensible information on production safety, team etiquette, and set procedures.

The third edition also features a robust companion website that includes eight award-winning example short films; interactive and high-resolution figures; downloadable raw footage; production forms and logs for preproduction, production, and postproduction; video examples that illustrate key concepts found within the book, and more.

Whether you are using it in the classroom or are looking for a comprehensive reference to learn everything you need to know about the filmmaking process, Voice & Vision delivers all of the details in an accessible and reader-friendly format.

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From Idea to Cinematic Story

Our first job is to look,
Our second job is to think of a film that can be made.
Abbas Kiarostami
There’s no doubt about it. Filmmaking is exciting stuff. Working on a set, surrounded by the energy of a great production crew, collaborating with actors, setting up lights, lining up shots, calling out “Roll camera! Action!” Seeing a film project come to life can be an exhilarating experience. In fact, most aspiring filmmakers simply can’t wait to get their hands on a camera and start shooting. Once they get an idea, they’re ready to go! But wait. What are you shooting? What is your idea? Are your characters interesting? Does the idea have a shape? Just what do you want to say and how will you say it? What does all this activity on the screen add up to? What about the practical side of making this film? Are the subject and visual approach appropriate for your resources? Can you get it done?
Whether your project is a two-minute chase scene with no dialogue or a complex psychological drama, the first step in any narrative film production is coming up with an idea that is stimulating, engaging, and ripe with visual possibilities. The idea is the DNA of the entire filmmaking process—it informs every word written into the script, every shot you take, and every choice you make along the way. The better your basic idea is, the better your film will be. But an idea is only the first lightning bolt of inspiration. All ideas have to be developed—fashioned into stories that can be told through the medium of film. This means turning an idea into a story that can be captured and conveyed by that camera you’re dying to get your hands on.


At the beginning of any film, there is an idea. It may come at any time, from any source. It may come from watching people in the street or from thinking alone in your office…. What you need is to find that original idea, that spark. And once you have that, it’s like fishing: you use that idea as bait, and it attracts everything else. But as a director your main priority is to remain faithful to that original idea.
David Lynch (From Moviemakers’ Master Class, by L. Tirard, 2002)
Where do we find ideas? Where does inspiration come from? As Lynch reminds us, ideas can come to us anywhere and at anytime: an act of kindness we witness on the street, an individual we watch on the bus, a piece of music that moves us, a personal experience or a memory we can’t let go, or even an experience a friend relates to us. John Daschbach’s Waking Dreams, as the title suggests, came from a particularly vivid dream; Gemma Lee’s The Wake was based on the true story of producer/actor Charlie Clausen’s own father’s death and the quirky family friend who helped him through the tough period; and the details for Alexander Engel’s This is It came from his personal experiences with bad roommates.1 Ramin Bahrani’s 2007 feature film Chop Shop was inspired by an evocative location that struck him as a perfect setting for a dramatic story (see page 137). I once attended a reading by the fiction writer Raymond Carver, and someone in the audience asked him if he had any secrets to becoming a writer. He said simply, “You have to be a sponge, you have to constantly absorb the world you live in.” If you keep your eyes and ears open, you will discover that material is all around you. Everyday life provides fertile ground for story ideas, visual ideas, and character ideas. Stay alert and connect to the world around you, then you’ll be able to connect with your audience.
■ Figure 1-1 Director Abbas Kiarostami.
In an interview with Houshang Golmakani (done for the 1996 Locarno International Film Festival), the Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami (Figure 1-1), speaking about inspiration, shared the following thoughts:
Gabriel Garcia Márquez once said, “I don’t choose a subject; it’s the subject that chooses me.” The same goes for me. The subject depends on whatever happens to be keeping me awake at night…. I have dozens of stories stored away in my memory. There’s a story happening in front of me every day, but I don’t have the time to make a film out of it. In the course of time, certain stories start taking on importance; one of them will end up becoming the subject of a film.
Precisely what strikes us as a good idea, one that could develop into a great movie, is a highly individualistic thing. In fact, where you get your ideas and what strikes you as a good idea for a movie, is the thing that makes your films your films and not someone else’s, which is why it is best that ideas come from your own observations and responses to the world around you. The only way that a movie will contain your individual voice is if your core idea comes from you, from your imagination, interests, and perspective. Only Martin Scorsese can make Scorsese films. You may love them, but to try and duplicate them, because they are successful or because you think Mafia violence is the ne plus ultra of drama, is to avoid the most important work a filmmaker can do, and that is to find out what your unique cinematic voice and contribution might be. Finding your own voice is not easy work, but it’s essential, and that process begins with your very first film.
Here is an example from the screenwriter and director Peter Hedges, who is discussing where he got the idea for his 2003 feature film Pieces of April:
In the late 1980s … I heard about a group of young people who were celebrating their first Thanksgiving in New York City. They went to cook the meal, but the oven didn’t work, so they knocked on doors until they found someone with an oven they could use. I remember thinking that this could be a way to have all sorts of people cross paths who normally wouldn’t.
(From Pieces of April: The Shooting Script, by P. Hedges, 2003)
Hedges jotted the idea down, made a few notes, and then forgot about it. This idea is like many lightning bolts of inspiration—it’s interesting and compelling, but not yet fully formed. Hedges would not find the story in the idea until ten years later.


One’s initial idea—that first spark of inspiration—more often than not is vague. Sometimes it’s no more than an observation or a feeling. In the case of Peter Hedges, the idea was a simple situation that was not much more than fertile ground for interesting interactions, but it wasn’t a story yet. The most basic elements of film are images and sound, those things that we can capture with a camera and a microphone. Think about it: when you are in a theater watching a movie, everything you understand about a character, the story, the mood, and the themes of the film, is delivered exclusively through sound and images. We cannot point our camera and microphone at ideas, desires, intentions, or feelings, but we can record characters who react, make decisions, and take action as they struggle and strive to achieve something It’s through their actions that we understand who these characters are, how they are feeling, what they are after, and what it all means. This is the fundamental principle behind dramatization, transforming what is vague and internal into a series of viewable and audible behaviors, actions, and events (also see page 36).


The following section refers extensively to the eight short films streaming on the Voice & Vision companion website (Figure 1-2). These films illustrate many of the central storytelling considerations for fictional narrative films (especially in relation to the short form). Also, these eight shorts were selected because they represent a broad range of characters, themes, and approaches to cinematic storytelling and technique. Go to the book’s companion website to screen these films.
■ Figure 1-2 The Voice & Vision online short film examples streaming on the companion website (a) The Black Hole (Phil and Olly, 2009), (b) Plastic Bag (Bahrani, 2009), (c) Waking Dreams (Daschbach, 2004), (d) When I Was Young (Lu, 2004), (e) Vive le 14 Juillet (Rouget, 2004), (f) Winner Take Steve (Hess, 2004) (g) This is It (Engel, 2013) and (h) The Wake (Lee, 2009).


The next step in the process is to turn your initial inspiration into a dramatic story. In making this transition, it is important to understand the essential characteristics of a dramatic story. Most fictional narrative films have five basic and common elements:
1. A central character
2. A dramatic situation and central question
3. Conflict and stakes
4. Action and development (story dynamism)
5. Resolution and meaning

The Central Character

Drama is based on things that happen to characters, things characters do, and ways characters change. Whatever the story is, it all starts with character. It doesn’t matter if your film is about a single business executive (Waking Dreams), a recent Chinese immigrant (When I Was Young), a sweet, mild mannered guy (Vive le 14 Juillet), a bored office clerk (The Black Hole), a social misfit (The Wake) or even a plain brown plastic bag from the supermarket (Plastic Bag); the central character is the primary point of engagement for an audience—the element that encourages narrative involvement. If you really want your film to connect with an audience, you must create a central character who is compelling—a person people want to watch.
One common way to do this is to create a central character a viewer can like or admire, someone who displays very human longings, needs, capabilities, vulnerabilities, and some noble qualities as well, like being fair, courageous, kind, or standing up for what is right; a figure with whom audiences can identify, empathize, or at least sympathize. This is called a sympathetic character...

Table of contents

Citation styles for Voice & Vision
APA 6 Citation
Hurbis-Cherrier, M. (2018). Voice & Vision (3rd ed.). Taylor and Francis. Retrieved from https://www.perlego.com/book/2193300/voice-vision-a-creative-approach-to-narrative-filmmaking-pdf (Original work published 2018)
Chicago Citation
Hurbis-Cherrier, Mick. (2018) 2018. Voice & Vision. 3rd ed. Taylor and Francis. https://www.perlego.com/book/2193300/voice-vision-a-creative-approach-to-narrative-filmmaking-pdf.
Harvard Citation
Hurbis-Cherrier, M. (2018) Voice & Vision. 3rd edn. Taylor and Francis. Available at: https://www.perlego.com/book/2193300/voice-vision-a-creative-approach-to-narrative-filmmaking-pdf (Accessed: 15 October 2022).
MLA 7 Citation
Hurbis-Cherrier, Mick. Voice & Vision. 3rd ed. Taylor and Francis, 2018. Web. 15 Oct. 2022.