Saturday 2 January 2010

Follow The Process And Win An Oscar, SIMPLE!

I really love it when I get taken away by a moment in a film. It's quite rare, but sometimes you'll watch something that really catches something human, and truthful - and it usually turns out to be something you really need, something you can relate to. If you're lucky, it'll make you feel a bit better about the world, about people, about the human condition.

'Once' was a film shot in Ireland for £100,000 - a tiny independent film that was not meant to take the world by surprise. But it did. It won the Best Original Song Academy Award 2008; and goes down as one of the more inspiring and unexpected surprises in the history of the Oscars.

But to look a little closer - here is what the script called for.

Exciting eh? Not really. In fact, you can imagine this script doing the round in Hollywood and everyone saying "Two people sitting and playing a song? boring!" or "You can't film 'like a form of courtship' - how can you direct that?"

Anyways. That's the scene as written. You might think it's good, you might think it's bad. Either way - it's very simple, it's a blueprint, an opportunity.

And then magic happened.

The film up until this scene had been very simple. A guy (Glen Hansard) is busking, a foreign girl (Markéta Irglová) is watching him. They talk. The Next day, she brings her vacuum cleaner to him (as well as busking, he repairs vacuum cleaners) -- he stops singing for lunch, they walk for a while, go to a cafe; talk about music and she takes him to a piano shop.

She sits at the piano, plays around for a bit.. and the the guy gets out his guitar to play one of his own songs. He quickly talks her through it - and then they try playing it together; in the piano place.

What transpires is not anything that could have been written. The perfect blend of the musical performance, the lyrics, the chemistry between the actors, the natural flow of the scene, the camerawork (which is handheld, and would probably be criticised if you handed it in at a film school).

The mixed emotions of the song; its sadness, its loneliness, its hopefulness, it's romance - it's in the song, it's in the performance, it's in their eyes. And this is where John Carney really proves himself as a Writer/Director - he has let the scene unravel and take on a direction that was not in the script. Often, that's the hardest thing for a Director - letting the scene develop as a natural, living process. But in this case, and throughout the movie - Carney was an expert at that, at allowing for an improvisational style and for the scenes and its characters to be more natural and honest.

Below is a video of the song - it's not the actual scene (although much of it is), but it's a montage that gives you a good feel for it. The magic is still there to see.

What's great about this film is its simplicity. It's about two people connecting, it's about music. It was filmed on two cameras, in only 17 days - for around £100,000. It's a perfect example of what can be achieved by independent writers and directors, if only we try.

The film didn't try and cater to a demographic, it wasn't shot in some fashionable 'indie-style' (whatever that is). It was what it was, a lovely little handheld, low-budget modern day musical shot in Ireland. It was truthful, honest, moving---- and cheap to make.

But it did well - REALLY well. For one reason... because people connected to it. It captured something real, something people needed. Especially that song, 'Falling Slowly' - it went on to win the academy award in 2008. When you watch the acceptance speech, make sure you watch it to the end, when Markéta Irglová comes back out and offers up some inspirational words..
I post this as a way of reminding us all, as we enter a new year - that whatever your creative ideas, even if you have an idea like 'Musical set in Ireland, lots of singing around pianos, shaky camera-work' then GO FOR IT. If you follow your vision, believe in it, and do it, who knows.. you might just end up with an academy award, and if you don't - at least you'll have been among the very few who had the tenacity to try.

"A little movie called Once gave me enough inspiration to last the rest of the year."
-Steven Spielberg

Care to share?


  1. The best song to win an Oscar in years...

  2. The song is great. The movie is very, very special. But...I do think this movie is one of those films that is very hard to recreate. Films need a bit of luck to go along with the planning, rehearsing and execution, which is what 'Once' had. It's a nice, simple story that other filmmakers have and will fail to make. And that, in and of itself, is why the movie is so special.

  3. Michael, I agree - it's one of a kind! 'have and will fail to make'.. you mean people have tried to do this again? Surely not!

    'Once' does have its own magic, without question..

  4. I just meant that simple kind of storytelling. Like when you see a movie that has a seemingly perfect cast, great director and a simple, cute could it go wrong?! And it does, you know?