Every Frame a Painting is a fantastic look at film and how it’s constructed. Now, Tony Zhou has put together a new video essay, this time looking at how Buster Keaton’s works have endured for over a century.
Keaton has influenced innumerable directors long after his career through his framing, humor and approach to directing. Here’s a couple of takeaways:
Tell your story through action. He avoided title cards and showed the audience what was happening through action as much as possible. The result was a legacy of visual gags and humor.
Use the frame. If the audience can’t see things, the characters can’t either. Keaton used his entire frame, utilizing all of his space available to the audience.
Improvise. Half of filmmaking is scripted, but directors should be prepared to just capture what happens.
Never fake a gag. Zhou has ranted about this before in his earlier videos: the tendency for filmmakers to use sloppy cinematography that simply doesn’t make sense. This is something that more directors can learn from: do as much as you can live: audiences can tell when something is faked, and when something is real.
I’m not a filmmaker, but I appreciate these videos: they’ve really taught me much about watching movies, and appreciating what I’m looking at, from a technical standpoint.