If you dream of making movies for a living, you should start by watching these 10 old, black and white films right now. Why?
Very simple. Today, most new filmmakers are completely distracted by all the technology available. But we all know, Hollywood makes plenty of movies that look great buy have shitty stories and are painful to watch, even though they might have great lighting and special effects.
In film school, students pay $40,000 a year for the honor of sitting in a lecture hall and having a Professor press play on a DVD player, watching “classics” and then writing long winded papers on what they’ve seen.
You should watch these movies not to have a theoretical discussion, but to help improve your filmmaking skills.
Take Advantage of Your Limitations
As a New Filmmaker, you have more in common the film Directors of the 1940s and 1950s than with Spielberg or Fincher. You don’t have a huge budget to blow, you need to be smart with your camera and make a compelling story.
Movies made 50 years ago moved slower; they were often like filmed stage plays, and required a compelling story. Look at the following movies as an inspiration of what can be accomplished without blowing shit up or any fancy camerwork, but with a great imagination, writing and dialog.
1. The Killing (1956)
One of Stanley Kubrick’s early films, this movie has been said to have influenced “Reservoir Dogs” and other Crime/Robbery Caper Dramas. A tense plot and great performances by Sterling Hayden (who also starred in “Dr. Strangelove” and was the Police Chief in “The Godfather”).
The trailer (like most trailers) is old but still stands up I feel; but listen to the crackling dialog.
2. The Lady Vanishes (1938)
Early, early Hitchcock, released in 1938. Trains were a big deal back in the day, and a lot of movies took place on them. It’s an intriguing story: a tourist on a train meets on old woman… then the next day, that woman has vanished, and all of the other guests insist that she was never there. It’s riveting and actually quite funny, and shows what you can do with a simple premise.
3. Some Like It Hot (1959)
Would you believe a movie shot in 1959 and set in 1929 could be laugh out loud, LOLROFLMAO funny? This is one of Marilyn Monroe’s movies. Not only is she charming as hell, she’s actually really funny as well. The premise: two shlubs on the run from the mob hide out in an all women’s band… dressed as women.
This is the precursor to “Mrs. Doubtfire” and a million other “guy dresses up like a woman” comedies, but it’s the original. Check out the final scene of the movie (spoiler, I guess) because I think it’s so damn funny. One character who has been playing the rouse of being a chick the whole movie is now engaged to the other guy and trying to get out of it…
4. The Exterminating Angel (1962)
I like think of Luis Bunuel as the Quentin Tarantino of his day. His movies always pissed people off and sometimes shocked or confounded audiences. In “The Exterminating Angel” (El ángel exterminador), a bunch of uppity upper class folks have a dinner party and then they can’t leave the house. It’s freaking weird. There’s no special effects or monsters or spirits… just every time they go to walk out the door, they faint or have a seizure.
Creepy. Weird. Political.
5. Psycho (1960)
Back to Hitchcock; “Psycho” is a must see not only because its considered a classic of cinema. But the story behind it amazing. Hitchcock couldn’t get a green light from the studio so he bankrolled it himself and shot with a skeleton TV crew in record time. It was basically a low budget indie.
Of course it features a heroine that gets killed off halfway through the movie and some of the creepiest murder scenes ever. But what’s more interesting is how Hitchcock got people to see the movie and keep the secret of the ending…check out this short vid:
6. Le Diobolique (1955)
Everyone has heard of ‘Psycho’, but many people don’t know about this French classic made 5 years earlier. While ‘Psycho’features a famous Shower murder scene, ‘Diabolique’ features one of the most chilling scenes… in a bathtub. It’s about a wife and a mistress who plot to murder the man of their mutual “affection”.
The legend has it that after Psycho came out, Hitchcock received a letter from an angry parent, who wrote: “My daughter saw Diabolique and since has been afraid to take a bath. Now that she’s seen ‘Psycho’, she’s afraid to take a shower. What should I do?” Hitchcock is supposed to have said “Have her dry cleaned.”
Anyway, this movie will make you climb up the wall.
7. Strangers on a Train (1951)
Back to Hitchcock one last time. This movie has so many classic elements, starting with the opening sequence focusing on SHOES (see below) to the famous line “criss cross”. Premise is simple but so clever. A relatively famous tennis star meets a psycho on a train. They talk and it is revealed each of them has someone in their lives they would like dead. The crazy dude proposes that they “swap murders”, as they would have an alibi and no motive for doing the other person’s murder. The tennis pro thinks its a joke… but of course, it isn’t…
8. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolfe? (1966)
Edward Albee was a crazy brilliant playwright. His play “The Zoo Story” makes an interaction on a park bench between two strangers riveting. “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolfe?” is based on his play of the same name, and he somehow makes a dinner party with 4 people incredibly compelling. It doesn’t hurt that he’s got Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton as his leads.
The way the movie builds tension between these characters is worth studying; its visceral. You cringe from moment one. Check out this scene:
9. Twelve Angry Men (1957)
Another movie based on a play, this entire movie takes place in ONE ROOM. A Jury room to be exact. But it’s riveting from start to finish. You’ve got George C. Scott, Jack Klugman, Henry Fonda and a
slew of other incredible actors, too. It’s about a jury debating the fate of a lower class man accused of murder. At first everyone thinks he’s guilty, but one man (Fonda) thinks they should think deeper… here’s a scene:
10. The Third Man (1949)
Directed by Carol Reed, co-starring Orson Wells and based on a novel by Graham Greene. This noir classic is about an American novelist who travels to Europe to investigate the mysterious death of his old friend Harry Lime (Wells). Features a classic score and some amazing shots and chase scene in the sewers of Vienna.
There’s plenty more movies we could talk about, but start with these ten and start training your brain to take advantage of your limitations, focusing on plot, character, and dialog, instead of a fancy camera to make your movies great.
To learn more about shooting your first feature and starting your directing career without film school, check out our upcoming webinar by going to filmschoolsolution.com..