• Sean LaFollette


A poem by Sean LaFollette
Education From Film

As filmmakers, we’re clearly all fans of cinema. We grow up watching movies, loving them and building this urge to jump in and try our hand at the craft. But, watching movies for entertainment and watching for education are two different things. Prior to starting a movie, I typically decide what I am looking to gain from the film. If it’s entertainment then I sit back, relax and enjoy. If it’s education, then I prepare for the journey.

Recently, I sat down to watch Desperados on Netflix and gained some new insight in which I will apply to my film. Below are the 5 things I focus on when watching a movie and how they help me.


The first thing I always like to look for is how a film opens. Does it open fast, in the middle of action or slowly with a build up and some intros? Does it open with comedy or drama? What are the things I like about how the film opens? Does it set the tone for the movie I’m about to watch? Would another opening be more effective?

Desperados opens in action, with the main character sitting in a job interview with a nun. This is perfect, no slow build up, it gets right into the story. The conversation progresses quickly with comedy, really setting the tone for the film.

I think the conversation was funny but they certainly left some laughs on the table. This girl's life is a train wreck, we can gather that in the first 5 minutes of watching, but I thought the conversation with the nun was cut short and they could’ve pushed the comedy just a little further by showing her as a little more of a train wreck.


This film's journey isn’t really hidden, but it’s not exactly what I would call conventional either. The journey seems to happen when the main character decides to go to Cabo in order to break into her boyfriend's room to hack his computer and delete an email she sent. A little far fetched in my opinion but ultimately it works since it’s putting the character in action.

Here’s the thing though, it’s not really about her time in Cabo. The true journey is a love story between Nasim Pedrad and Lamorne Morris, who happen to be in Cabo at the same time. Again, far fetched but hell, I’ll buy it. These two characters go on a date in the beginning of the film and then navigate through the obstacles in Cabo until the film comes to a conclusion.


Next thing I like to watch, which is something I want to improve on, is camera techniques. Camera movements intrigue me. How scenes are shot and why. It’s fascinating to see how effective these techniques are and how I could apply them to the films I am working on. Could I use a slow push in? Should I do a tracking shot?

This film is actually very simple in its techniques. They don’t really try to get fancy with camera movements. A few push ins and pull outs, but mostly your standard wide and punch in to close up. I’m not knocking the film here. It’s effective and certainly gets the job done. Sometimes the right decision is to not do too much.


Again, something I really want to work on and improve at. Lighting can add drama and life to a scene. It can be very flat or very harsh, depending on the look you want to achieve. I like to break a scene down and figure out how they lit it and where the source would be. I also look at all the ambient lightning, illuminating the dark areas of the picture. Example, ever notice every lamp in a house seems to always be on?

Desperados lighting is very flat throughout. Again, this is not a knock on the film, it was a creative decision by the filmmakers and a good one in my opinion. This fun comedy doesn’t need anything more so why would you try to push it? It was actually a great reminder for me, in my upcoming film, that this lighting is effective and likely the one I should be using.


It’s not only the story elements I’m referring to here. I like to pay attention the the scene transitions, the cuts, the music and the blocking of a scene. I like to work through how they pieced the puzzle together. As I watch and see something I like, I think about my film or screenplay and think of ways I could apply similar techniques to my story.

A takeaway I got from this film is, there's a lot of exits and entrances, questions and answers and finally music, as scene transitions. All effective and different ways I can move through my film. The music is upbeat most of the time, driving the emotion of the moment, but the biggest takeaway I got was the staging. I found it interesting that the characters would move, the camera would follow and new characters would enter the frame. Very simple technique but again, effective. Something that has sparked an idea of what I will do with my own film.


Some filmmakers don’t like to watch movies while they’re working on projects because they don’t want to be swayed one way or another. They don’t want to tarnish their vision. I think films are great resources and opportunities to learn, grow and improve. Watch more movies and really focus in on the different elements, trying to understand, learn and apply them to your own projects.

- The Failed Filmmaker






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