August 16, 2015

If You Want to Become a Better Filmmaker, Study Bad Movies

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It's no secret that studying films can improve your own filmmaking, but which ones should you watch for maximum educational impact?

The obvious answer to that question is that you should watch the great ones, the films that have left an indelible mark on the history of cinema. It makes sense, right? If you want to be the best, you have to study the best. While that may be partly true, exclusively watching well-crafted films might not actually be the best use of time if your intention is to become a better filmmaker.

In a new video, Darious Britt challenges the notion that we should only watch good movies, and argues (very convincingly) that bad movies offer a treasure trove of wisdom for aspiring filmmakers because they show us what we should avoid doing at all costs. Check it out:

Darious makes a bunch of excellent points in this video, but the crux of his argument is this: breaking down great films and studying their individual components is vitally important, but it's also difficult and time-consuming. They're so well-crafted that, more often than not, we can't help but to get drawn into them. We may start watching The Godfather to study Gordon Willis's incredible cinematography, but it's impossible not to get sucked into the Corleone power struggle.

Films of questionable quality, on the other hand, usually make it incredibly easy to pick apart the individual elements and determine what is and isn't working. More importantly, these films make it easier to understand why those specific elements aren't working within the larger context of the film. Most of us are so accustomed to good filmmaking that when we see bad writing, cinematography, sound, editing, or special effects, it stands out like a sore thumb. We're then able to analyze and internalize those mistakes, which will hopefully allow us to avoid them when we're making our own films.

What are some of your favorite bad movies to study, and what have they taught you about the filmmaking process?      

Your Comment

25 Comments

This is spot on.

Watched Chef with Jon Favreau and it was awful.

Self serving with virtually no conflict past the first 20 minutes. Anyway I'm sure there's many more examples.

But the point is you will learn more much quicker watching crappy films, so long as you have taste!

August 16, 2015 at 3:25PM

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I actually like that movie xD I need a couple of easygoing, basically conflict-free movies like that when I get depressed. It feels good to see something just go well and characters enjoying themselves once in a while. Oddly enough these movies I got are all set in restaurants or about food/cooking in general x)

August 16, 2015 at 4:24PM, Edited August 16, 4:25PM

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Hampus Lager
Dreamer
242

Vindication against a melodramatically villainous reviewer is pretty much guaranteed. Who doesn't want that at the end of a long day?

September 4, 2015 at 1:33PM

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Isla Dubrovna
Non-student
83

Agreed but the food looked good! The conflict for me was: should I stop the film and go get some food our wait till it was finished.

August 16, 2015 at 4:46PM

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Wayne Yip
Director
253

The movie serves a different purpose than showing a struggle. It wants to remind you about the easy things in life. This though can be boring if you don't care about the characters, so I guess the characters didn't speak to you like they spoke to me. These movies stand or fall by it's portrayal of the characters. If their mannerisms and convictions can't interest you, there's nothing left in the movie to do interest you.

August 16, 2015 at 7:37PM

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Auke-Jan Weening
Filmmaker
90

No conflict? This wasn't the typical man vs. man (or robot, or alien) story - it was a man vs. himself. Bad-ish father grows to become good father appreciating his son. It's really, by definition, more of a story than most stories.

August 18, 2015 at 10:31AM

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nofilmschool, please stop reposting Darious videos. I really enjoy your articles but I'm not a fan of Darious Britt.

August 16, 2015 at 4:54PM

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Well that's just, like, your opinion, man...

August 16, 2015 at 9:17PM

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Robert Hardy
Founder of Filmmaker's Process
4129

@Robert Hardy, Yes indeed and I have an opinion about this article
of yours, Because 90% of the movies in the past decade are bad..
And I have watched 99% of them, This must make me a genius film maker? By your standards?. :)

August 17, 2015 at 1:20AM

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Darryl Gregory
Director of Photography
16

90% of movies are bad? Its not a bad thing to be critical, but movies are still meant to be enjoyed, so enjoy them!

August 17, 2015 at 12:09PM, Edited August 17, 12:09PM

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Michael Muench
DP, Editor
176

You could also spend a nanosecond of your time and cick to the next article.

August 16, 2015 at 11:44PM, Edited August 16, 11:44PM

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Tommy Rodriguez
Filmmaker, educator
187

How about 'Cutlass', written and directed by Kate Hudson, starring Dakota Fanning, Kristen Stewart, and Kurt Russell?

Great because it is a short where most of the elements of the film are impeccably professional: locations, props, performance, music, editing, cinematography... but the story and directing kinda... well, suck. A glaring example of how surrounding yourself with talent isn't everything. If you're wondering what's missing in the movie, I think it mainly comes down to the story and how it's told and what the actors do to tell this (aka directing), which doesn't seem purposeful, in my opinion. It really highlights the importance of a director on set.

Then again, this is the only video on YouTube with like no negative comments, so maybe I'm full of shit and Kate Hudson is the next Orson Welles.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ik7SyDvidaE

August 16, 2015 at 5:37PM

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Pedro Peres
Filmmaker
76

I learned a LOT from a terrible movie called For Lovers Only by the Polish Brothers. Supposedly an ode to the Claude LeLouch film A Man and a Woman its was improvised and it shows. There's no compelling story arc and they randomly make out throughout the film and it's so anticlimactic and self-indulgent. What I learned is that you
have to earn that first kiss...and any subsequent kisses and sex scenes. Most good romantic or sensual dramas force the characters to work hard before the fun stuff happens.
The cinematography, on the other hand.", shot on 5D B/W on the fly, is gorgeous.

August 16, 2015 at 6:56PM, Edited August 16, 7:02PM

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Literally all you have to do is watch the CinemaSins YouTube channel. I have that guys voice in my head whenever I write a scene...he is constantly "sinning" me...

August 16, 2015 at 7:16PM

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Joseph Arant
Writer
143

If you speak Italian you should watch the "Yotobi" film reviews over youtube. He is a smart guy who reviewed a lot of bad movies.
https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=yotobi+recensione+film
I do not know if youtube can automatically translate some subtitle in english, let me know please.

August 16, 2015 at 7:24PM

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Paul Thomas Anderson watches Adam Sandler films. Christopher Nolan watches Michael Bay films. No wonder they're awesome filmmakers!

August 16, 2015 at 7:37PM

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Henry Barnill
Director of Photography
623

Been doing this since I was a kid. It's why I think so much about every shot.

MST3k, various UHF stations, and (much more recently) The Cinema Snob have come together to show my the folly of my ways before they actually become my ways.

August 16, 2015 at 7:53PM

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Andrew Joyce
Director of Photography
81

"The Room" - induces enjoyable cringing. At times it is a painful reminder of my own early efforts - repeating words, bad green screen, featuring a meaningless prop, etc.

August 16, 2015 at 10:21PM

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David Barrington
Videographer
140

Good tip, although you should study books like "The Visual Story" first to understand what separates good and bad movies. Then watch bad movies and you'll be able to spot the mistakes alot easier.

August 17, 2015 at 2:16PM, Edited August 17, 2:16PM

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And if You Want to Become a Better YouTuber, Study Bad YouTube Videos :)

August 17, 2015 at 3:25PM, Edited August 17, 3:25PM

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I think Prometheus is a good example of where trying to create a prequel can be really troublesome. They wanted to lay these little references to the other films in the Aliens canon. But it seemed like because they were trying to shoehorn in the ending they wanted ending every character's logic button seemed permanently shut off. Time after time the character's make blatantly bad decisions and for me that kills off any empathy I might have had for the characters. Once that happens I start looking towards the exit.

August 17, 2015 at 9:40PM

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Ed Friesema
Editor
74

I really enjoy sometimes bad films, that can be fun to watch and im still learning from their mistakes, very helpful tip :D

August 18, 2015 at 7:03PM

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Victor Hugo Muñoz Herrera
Director, Writer, Producer, and VFX Artist
166

The better way that I've heard it phrased is to watch "just OK" films - not ones that are so irredeemably bad, but also not amazing, since in these you can actually see the mechanics of what worked and what didn't.

August 23, 2015 at 11:10AM

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Zero Dark Thirty was a dreadful telemovie - or extended CSI - that had no place in the cinema. Blatant propaganda based on a lie:

http://www.lrb.co.uk/v37/n10/seymour-m-hersh/the-killing-of-osama-bin-laden

G

August 23, 2015 at 1:06PM

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My favorite bad movie to study is the 2013 Evil Dead remake, which is basically a 90-minute course in how to not make a horror movie. You take it for granted that in Jaws, Spielberg fakes you out with swimmers wearing shark fins while training you to associate the ominous musical cue with the real shark, just so halfway through he can throw the real shark at you without the music and scare the shit out of you. In Evil Dead '13, you become painfully aware of the fact that EVERY scare is real, and EVERY scare has musical buildup so none of them are actually scary.

July 10, 2016 at 8:42PM, Edited July 10, 8:43PM

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