The Chemistry in the Contradiction.

From Bringing Up Baby, 1938. Dir. Howard Hawkes. Cinematography Russell Metty

How do we think of function in the context of a story? As it pertains to a scene, a shot, a beat? What purpose they serve perhaps. How they work. The result they lead to. How they relate to something else. Their part in the connective tissue of the story. Maybe their place in the structure. Some point of no return. The end of an act or movement. The start of another. What they set up, pay off, invite, answer, challenge. How they move the story on. How — if they don’t — they merit…

How You Show What You Show

From The Man with the Movie Camera: Director Dziga Vertov, Cinematography Mikhail Kaufman.

Most social media posts, when discussing camera, refer to the physical entity, a device for capturing an image. Such posts are usually concerned with models of camera. Alexas, Reds — what have you. Filmmakers like to post pictures of themselves alongside a camera — una macchina fotografica, as an Italian would say, a machine, an object, a thing. Just as a guitarist might be pictured with their Fender Strat, a violinist with their precious Stradivarius, so cinematographers like to be seen with the tool of their trade. And why not? …

What Matters, and What Doesn’t

With New Filmmakers (Photo: Meiyi Art Education)

Why do so few posts in social media filmmaking groups ask questions about story, about world, about character, about their representation on the screen, the forms this can take and the ways in which these can work? About the emotions a movie conveys, the thoughts, fears, wants, questions, suspense, conflict, joy and pain? Why should there be a preponderance of inquiries about this model of camera or that, this microphone or that? Why only the most naïve assumptions about ideas and story development? (I have an idea. Hey! Where can I find a proper writer…

Sometimes I wish it would stay. Sometimes I wish it would go away. (Paul McCartney: McCartney III)

Sakuro Ando as Nobuyo Shibata in Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Shoplifters. (Cinematography by Kondo Ryuto.)

On the screen, in the hearts of the audience, in the course of a story, at its denouement, emotion is Cinema’s most precious gift. In tandem with existential vision (Chloe Zhao’s Nomadland), orchestrated by trenchant intellect (Michael Haneke’s Amour), unleashed through the stealth of patient narrative (Celine Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire), conveyed achingly in each and every frame (Abderrahmane Sissako’s Timbuktu), emotion is both the punishment and the reward we take from the films that count.

Why do I say…

Filmmakers and the Psyche of the Moment

From Ammonite, Cinematography Stéphane Fontaine

How aware is the filmmaker of the messages their film might be communicating? Not the intentional but the unintentional ones. How aware should they be? How aware can they be? And how much is an audience conscious of the messages they receive? Do the unintentional missives of the filmmaker follow pathways into the unsuspecting minds of their audiences more insidioius than any intentional messaging? Certainly, a director like Hitchcock could intentionally sway an audience one way or another by a simple sound in the background barely noticeable but subliminally efficient in evoking, say…

My experience as a teacher in graduate film school.

Sadie Palmer. Photo by Nick Palmer

My grandfather used to advise, gruff and guttural in his Paddington patois, “Yer go’’uh ge’ uhn edificayeeshun!” How though (always assuming Grandad had a point), does the aspiring filmmaker get their “edificayeeshun” — sorry…education. From teachers? What kind of teachers? From classes? What kind of classes? Do they consult filmmaking friends? Head for social media? Books? “Masterclasses?” Workshops? Do they learn by watching — movie upon movie? Do they watch and simply allow the chops of the filmmakers to seep lazily in or do they attempt to put themselves in their…

A Brief Anti-Manual for the Filmmaker

Well-known decade, band, singer, well-known voice.

A student came with a question. The question. Not “How do I work with actors?” (important, yes), not “How do I block a scene?” (depends), not “What do I need to know about lenses?” (let the physics serve the storytelling, the emotion), not “How much rehearsal do I need per page?” (maybe you have the wrong idea here?), not “How many scenes should there be in a movie?” (you’ve definitely got the wrong end of the stick), nor “Should I storyboard or not storyboard?” …


Moral equilibrium as audience wish, truth as story’s need.

Lady Justice stands over London’s Old Bailey (from Wikicommons).

As in life, we crave justice in a movie — unless we happen to be a sociopath or are so politically or egotistically driven that our moral compass is overshadowed by alternative considerations. Justice bestows a sense of ethical architecture, of meaning therefore. With justice in the world we feel safer. Without it we are prey to laissez-faire malevolence. The courtroom drama, the whodunit, the courageous mission to take out the evil mastermind all come with perennial appeal. The western, as it used to be (not…

How distraction frees the mind

Thanks to Cafe If on Fountain for the ideas coming with its cortados.

An idiom, once in daily usage, can be very hard to dislodge. Permanence lends it authority, rendering any challenge churlish, contrarian, and dismissible out of hand. Such is the case — wait for it — with the much regurgitated term work ethic. Recrimination to the slothful, the somnolent, the goofers-around, the procrastinators, and confreres similarly shy of conscious effort, work ethic is the mantra of those seen to combine success with moral rectitude, or at least who understand themselves to be en route to such Olympian heights. But what, I ask — and here I…


Beware the exceptionalism of the present!

The ascent of mankind, cinematic courtesy of Stanley Kubrick.

I recently saw this post on social media from an aspiring young filmmaker: “Is there any point in studying film history?” Only if you prefer to escape cultural amnesia, I thought, irritated by the very idea of not studying the work of filmmakers over the decades. But then, annoyed by my own annoyance, I reflected that this person had every right to ask such a question. Not only that but the fundamental nature of the enquiry is to their credit. They weren’t saying there was…

Peter Markham

Consultant, educator, author, former AFI Conservatory directing head, I discuss filmmaking, visual storytelling, cinema.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store