Excerpt from “Filmmaking Confidential” – Steve Balderson – Finding Your Perception

FINDING YOUR PERCEPTION: Excerpt from “Filmmaking Confidential” by Steve Balderson

Excerpt from “Filmmaking Confidential” – No two people see the same thing the same way. It’s a fact.  No two sets of eyes share the same perspective – even when we’re looking at the same thing.  Everyone on earth has an individual overall perception of everything that resides past the tip of their nose.  Many people dislike looking past the tips of their noses – in either direction – but that doesn’t change the fact that no two people see the same thing the same way.  There is no such thing as a singular perspective.  No overall point of view.  Even when thousands of people are gathered in a convention center looking at the speaker at a podium – no two people in the room will have the same point of view.  One person watches from this angle – another person watches from millimeters away.  No matter how hard you try – it will be impossible to see out another person’s eyes.  It’s just not going to happen while you’re alive.

Excerpt from “Filmmaking Confidential”

I attended film school at the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts). The first thing I learned was… and my professor actually said this… “You don’t need a degree to be a filmmaker – you just need to be a filmmaker.”  I understand that while the diploma won’t be directing or producing anything, isn’t it in the school’s best interest to encourage me to continue attending and paying tuition?  

The second thing I learned was the concept of individual perception.  Upon hearing the word, the first thing I wondered was, “What is perception? Is it something to be found in a textbook?  Certainly, I’ll have to buy all the books and required reading.  I mustn’t miss a single class – just in case they pass out Perception samples.  Maybe after next year’s tuition payment, they’ll tell me what it is.  It must be exciting, this Perception business, because it’s certainly costly.  I mean, one could purchase a Mercedes for the same price. It must be something rather extraordinary.”

Well, it was.  When I understood the notion of Individual Perception, it was as if an entirely new world had opened up for me.  It was, in fact, better than a Mercedes.  The concept is one of the most exciting, most rewarding ideas I have ever pursued.  Having a core – a self – wherein I am in charge of what I see – changed my life.

There was a class at CalArts called Scene Analysis (or something of the sort).  We watched films and took them apart shot by shot, scene by scene – inspected, from an overview floor plan (like an architectural blueprint), where the camera was positioned for each shot.  We also studied where the actors were standing and where the lights were positioned.

Here’s what I learned.

Hitchcock, Bergman, Tarkovsky, Buñuel, Fellini, Huston, Kubrick, and the other so-called masters, were not putting the camera in the best place.  They weren’t putting the lighting in the best place.  They weren’t telling the world’s best stories.  So, I began to wonder: “Why on earth are they so admired?  What’s all the fuss about?  I’ve seen their work.  I’ve inspected each frame down to the millisecond.  What’s so special about them and not other filmmakers?  What do they have that others don’t?  Most everyone has seen a David Lynch film.  Nine out of 10 people think they make no sense, have no purpose, and examine the story and don’t get it, so what’s the big deal?”

Well – the biggest deal is Individual Perception.  That’s what they’ve got that no one else seems to understand.  They have an Individual Perception.  Special emphasis should be placed on the word INDIVIDUAL.  These artists don’t look at their families, friends, and neighbors to answer how they ought to see something.  They don’t look to their schools, churches, or governments to define how to be or think.  They look inward and ask themselves, “How do I see this?”  And once they answer the question – on their own – they respond with, “If I see it like this, I shall put the camera here.”  They do not have other people telling them where to put the camera or light the scene.  They answer only to their inner spirit.  Their eyes tell the tale – not the eyes of the D.P., Key Grip, Focus Puller, leading actor, or Editor.

These filmmakers are masters because they are simply putting the image together as they see it.  Seems easy enough.  So why aren’t most people doing the same thing?  Why is our entire culture doing the total opposite?

I suspect that there is a reason why the notion of Individual Perception isn’t taught in schools.  Clearly, there is a reason why the concept of having an individual viewpoint is not encouraged at church.  Why?  First and foremost, the concept of Individual Perception is very dangerous to those who maintain their power through prescribing what is accepted and what is not, and persuading the populace, whether it is the marketplace for movies or the voters of a nation, to a single, externally defined criteria for a group perception.  Never mind that the term “group perception” is an oxymoron.

If an instructor at a university actually understood the concept of Individual Perception, it would make evaluating students’ work much more difficult.  Beginning with an admission that the professor’s view was not the “right and only way,” it would force enormous change upon institutions of higher learning, not to mention calling their very existence into question.  If society actually embraced the idea that no two people see the same thing the same way, it would revolutionize interpersonal communication.  We can only imagine what would happen to movie reviews, at least as we know them.  Instead of Mr. Critic proclaiming for the world what a film is about or what it means, he would actually leave it to the viewer to derive his or her own perception from work.  After all, when a viewer watches something, they watch it from their own perception.  They have their personal experience.  Their eyes are their eyes.  Mr. Critic’s eyes are his eyes.  Just a thought: this will likely never occur in our lifetimes.  The power structure will likely see to it that the concept of Individual Perception is squashed wherever it seems to blossom.  Governments, religious institutions, big business, education… you name it… have a vested interest in promulgating the notion that “one size fits all.”

On my street, one size does not fit all.  I’m about six-foot-five inches tall and wear size 13 shoes.  Average chairs don’t have the right sitting distance off the floor.  And even if they did, I can’t sit at an average desk without ramming my knees into the low desktop.  And it doesn’t end there.  Standard kitchen countertops are too low.  The standard clothing sizes of most brands are too short, too baggy.  It was like pulling teeth to get the plumber to install a shower head at the correct height for me.  He said, “But this is where they put showerheads.  No one puts them that high.”

“I understand this, but I’d like the showerhead to pour down on my face.  I really don’t want it to be pointing at my chest.  I’m not five-foot-eight, and I shouldn’t have to pretend I am, so you feel better about it.”

It then occurred to me that the plumber was, in fact, my height.  How could he live his life never questioning this?  Has he never noticed the height of his own showerhead?  Has he never noticed the height of his bathroom sink?  Probably not.  He probably has spent a lifetime defining his expectations and beliefs because THAT’S HOW IT’S ALWAYS BEEN DONE.

It amazes me that people seem to prefer just going along and letting the world define who they are and what they ought to believe.  I recently got a call from a storyboard artist.  He offered to sketch my storyboards for my next movie.  I thought, how strange… Why would I want to shoot a film from his perspective?  Wouldn’t I rather use my own?  My eyes are not his eyes.  I mean, it’s an interesting concept to photograph someone else’s vision.  For me, it goes against what I define for myself as a filmmaker.  If I’m not using my own perception of the material – what the hell am I doing?  Lounging by the fucking pool?

Beware the people who pay lip service to the notion that there are eight billion viewpoints in the world.  Even as they say that they attempt to categorize entire nations into a single descriptive group.  Muslim, Jew, Christian.  All Muslims are terrorists.  All Jews are rich.  All Christians are good.  Well, it just isn’t true.  In fact, growing up in Kansas, we had a few Christians that…  Well, there’s no reason to mention their hateful Baptist church out loud.

The next time that some politician tells you to vote for him or her because they share your values, ask yourself, “how would they know what my values are?” What is so special about this politician that somehow gives them the psychic superpower to see the world through your eyes.  The next time some know-it-all tells you that your script isn’t traditional enough, or your short story doesn’t follow the accepted structure, look deep inside and investigate/  explore with your inner self – your Individual Perception.  Find out if their commentary fits your own requirements and definitions.  If it doesn’t, tell them to mind their own business.

Everyone would benefit by having an Individual Perception.  Yet…  Most people fight it.  Most people do not want to have their own perceptions.  They avoid developing their own unique, individualized viewpoints.

Why would anyone not want to have his or her own Individual Perception?  Could it be…  Is it maybe…  Just maybe…  People want to avoid taking responsibility for themselves?  Consider this: It’s so much easier to blame someone else.  Somehow the world has defined responsibility as a fault and fault as something demeaning or negative.  But the truth is – everything that happens in your life is your fault.  You are responsible for your actions and reactions.  YOU are responsible for YOU.  Not your neighbors, churches, schools, or governments.

People who don’t like hearing things like that will always find an excuse to justify their behavior.  Commonly, people use money as their primary excuse: “Oh, I don’t have enough money to make a film…” or “Oh, I’d love to move away and be an actor but I don’t have the money…”  Another one is, “I’d love to work outside with my hands, but I can’t afford to give up my present job.”  Well, then, why not figure out how to make it, be it or do it?  There are ways to find investors or a job to pay your expenses or a different and affordable lifestyle.

The second set of excuses usually deals with blaming other people. “But I can’t leave my spouse and do what I want to do…” or “If I do what I want, people will think I’m crazy!”  Okay.  Maybe so.  But who is driving your car?  Be aware there are choices.

Finally, people unwilling to take responsibility for their own behavior will use horror or abuse.  “9/11 wasn’t my fault!  So there!  You’re wrong!”  No, chances are, the horrific acts of 9/11 were not your fault.  But ask yourself: Who forced you to stop working until 9/15?  Who made you sit in front of the television?  Did the terrorists?  Or did you choose to do that all on your own?  “I’m abused daily.  It’s not my fault he beats me.”  You are correct. It isn’t your fault if you have been beaten.  At least not the actual hitting.  But do you choose to remain in that environment?  Do you seek help or escape?

Everything that happens in your life is your fault.  Another way of saying it is that you are responsible for determining what you do, how you do it, and your attitude toward life.  Environmental things will occur.  Storms will come.  Accidents will happen.  Disasters will occur.  But what you do, how you respond, is up to you.  It’s one of the first hurdles to overcome in developing your own Individual Perception.  If you make a choice not to find investors, then you probably won’t have any.  If you make a choice not to create a business plan, you won’t have one.  If you make a choice not to find a job you enjoy, chances are, you will probably work at a job you hate.  If you choose to let society define who you are, you won’t be the one defining you.  Is this what you want?  Are these your decisions?  Remember the old saying, “People who dislike having their feet sliced open should avoid walking on shards of glass.”

If you want to make films, tell a story, work in a forest, or sit on a mountain…  Well, get your shit together first.  Develop YOUR point of view.  Are you going to define your story by what it says in the “How to Write a Script” book?  Will you define your perspective by the rules in the “Filmmaking for Dummies” manual?

According to the CIA World Factbook, men in the USA, on average, live to 72, while women live to 79.  For the sake of making this less confusing, let’s say the average span of human life is 75.  About 35% of it is lost in sleep.  And another 30% of that is lost to youth vicissitudes, while 10% is probably spent being old and/or ill.  That leaves about 25% of those 75 years to be all we can be, to do all we can do, and to live life as though it is as precious as it actually is.  We have 18 or 19 years during which we can make choices that enrich our lives, put meaning into our relationships and advance the causes we believe in.

Just 18 or 19 years.  That isn’t a very long time.  Every day we are given choices. Every time we look at something, whether a challenge or miracle, we can either learn about it or not, take action, and do something about it.  What will YOU choose?

On my street, we praise the individual for striving.  It isn’t about quantitative success.  After all, whose definition of success are we using?  We have some simple questions on my street.  “Are you happy?  Are you fulfilled?  Do you have a sense of reward at the end of the day?  Are you meeting YOUR expectations (as opposed to those of someone else)?”  And when the answers are no, which they sometimes are, we follow up by asking the following questions: “What could you do differently that would get you what you want?  Is there another path to pursue that might yield different results?  Are there people in the world that might help you?  Have you fully defined what you want?”  These questions keep me, and others on my street focused on being responsible for our own results, not thinking wishfully about what could have been or how unfair life is.  Next time you start to blame somebody else for your less than the desired situation, try a couple of those questions on for size.

Also read My job transition from IT sales to filmmaker

Excerpt from “Filmmaking Confidential” – Steve Balderson – Finding Your Perception

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