Tuesday, October 16, 2018

F for Fake (1973) - How to Structure a Video Essay

The following is a transcription of Tony Zhou's F for Fake (1973) - How to Structure a Video Essay for Every Frame a Painting.

Hi, my name is Tony, and this is Every Frame a Painting. So this channel's been going well, which means it's about time.
Time for a confession?
Yeah, time for a confession. I've stolen more ideas from this film than from any other.

F for fake.

Ladies and gentlemen, by way of introduction, this is a film about trickery, and frou,d about lies.

Wait, sorry I'm doing this wrong. Can we start over?

This is an essay film by Orson Welles. It's called F for Fake, and it's one of my personal bibles. Everything I know about editing, I learned from this film. But today I want to talk about one basic thing: Structure.
We found out this one really simple rule that maybe you guys have all heard before, but it took us a long time to learn it.
When you're structuring a video essay, there's one thing you really want to avoid.
I think that's about it.
And then?
No, that's it.
And then?
Then nothing else 'cuz I'm done ordering.
And then?
If you tell a story that's "and then they, and then they, and then" you're in big trouble.
This is the number one mistake I make in my own work. Like here, watch how repetitive this is.
Choosing to take the money, choosing not to fight back, choosing to hide their emotions, choosing not to trust someone, choosing to wait out the discomfort, choosing to get-
This is a list you can put in any order. That's why it's so boring.
What should happen between every beat that you've written down, is either the word therefore or but. Right? So what I'm saying is you come up with an idea that's like, this happens:
  • What are those?
  • My pubes. I got them from Scott Tenorman.
And therefore this happens.
  • Cartman you don't buy pubes, you grow them yourself.
  • You telling me these pubes are worth nothing? 
  • Yeah
But this happens 
  • And I'll give you the pubes
  • Sweet
Therefore this happens
  • Aww goddammit
So, throughout this movie, Orson Welles does the exact same thing. Except he doesn't connect scenes, he connects thoughts.
You're a painter, why do you want people to do fakes?
Because fakes are as good as the real ones, and there's a market and there's a demand.
If you didn't have an art market, then fakers could not exist.
Even though this movie is an essay, each moment has the connective logic of a South Park episode.

The second rule in this movie is to have more than one story, moving in parallel.
I'll quote Hitchcock again. He said the name of making movies is "meanwhile, back at the ranch." He's absolutely right. You want to have two things going. You reach the peak of one, you go to the other.
  • "I hope you know what you're doing"
You pick the other up just where you want it. When it loses interest, drop it. "meanwhile, back at the ranch.
How does this work in an essay film? Well, let's say you have two stories. Let one of them build up. When it reaches peak interest, switch to the other. Let this one build. And when this gets to the top, go back to the first. Simple, right? Except F for Fake doesn't just have two things. There's also stories about Orson Welles, Howard Hughes, a woman named Oja, and even the making of this movie. And by building each story carefully, Welles can jump between all six of these without ever losing the audience.

So when I'm making a video essay, this is what's going through my head.
  • And then?
  • No "and then!"
  • And then?
  • No "and then!"
  • And then?
  • No "and then!"
And I got all of that from watching this film, which more than anything has taught me: It's not about what you get. It's how you cut it and what comes out the other end.

Remember, video essays aren't essays. They're films. So you want to structure and pace them like a filmmaker would. Therefore and but, meanwhile back at the ranch. If you don't believe me, you should at least trust Orson Welles. Who somehow figured this out over 40 years ago.
"Why not? I'm a charlatan." said Orson.
But whatever. Let's wrap up this essay.
"Now it's time for an introduction."
Hi, my name is Tony, and this concludes year one of Every Frame a Painting. I'd like to thank you all for watching,
"And wish you all, a very pleasant good evening."

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