Updated: Jul 16
It’s a new era in filmmaking. Studios and Producers want stories that appeal to a worldwide audience. Global stories are in demand.
In 2019, thanks to Parasite, the first foreign film to win an Oscar for Best Picture, ushered in a new awareness of the importance of watching foreign films.
In Director/Co-Writer Bong Joon Ho’s words, “Once you overcome the barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to some of the most amazing movies ever made.”
Parasite utilized social relevance, genre-mixing, and the surprise element of tonal shifting.
Thanks to text-messaging, people are willing to read again. Yes! Foreign films use subtitles. They are nothing to be afraid of!
Subtitles allow you to read the screenplay and watch the film simultaneously. This fine tunes focus and increases engagement with the story. A non-spoken dialogue experience highlights the visual method of storytelling. Watching foreign films gives insight into different cultures, social mores, landscapes, music, and characters. It gets you out of the “Hollywood” approved structure and into other ways of storytelling beyond the (three to eight act) structure. [Need your screenplay translated?]
Foreign films are rarely funded by a large studio checkbook. That’s why they often apply a minimalistic approach that puts the characters and emotional stakes in the spotlight. Quentin Tarantino, well-known for watching foreign films, was inspired to weave the non-linear structure into his storytelling.
Chinese and Japanese films don’t use the standard 3-Act structure at all. [More on the China's Film Industry] They use a concept called “Dramatic energy” or “The energy of CRISIS”. They make this energy flexible by creating ‘hot-energy’ (extreme tension/violence) or ‘cold-energy’(low-key/internal). A film might be all hot, all cold, or both. The concept is basically putting a character into a crisis situation. Often the solution to a crisis solves the problem but creates another crisis that escalates in tension, and then the answer to that problem creates another crisis, etc.
Another technique used in foreign filmmaking is CONTRAST. Films utilizing contrast never get boring! They simply introduce a shocking juxtaposition, something unfamiliar that is emotionally or stylistically different from the story.
Switching between two storylines is another non-mainstream technique common in foreign films. This uses multiple narrators, or two or more main characters that introduce different points of view.
The ROSHOMON EFFECT stems from the Japanese masterpiece by Writer/Director Kurosawa, Roshomon. The murder of a samurai in a forest witnessed by four different people. Each person tells his version of the story, which is largely identical, but each story becomes contradictory when the characters are dishonest by trying to show their ideal self by lying. It is further complicated because there is no murder weapon. There is no proof as to which story is the truth.
Another opportunity for contrast is a story about ordinary, everyday people known as ‘common style’. These people have simple desires, motivations, and problems. This is contrasted with ‘high style’. People with big visions, plenty of money, high ambitions, and complicated problems.
One of the most famous scenes from Pulp Fiction is where a hitman, played by Samuel L. Jackson, flips his dialogue about cheeseburgers into a dialogue about God’s vengeance. Contrast can also be used by juxtaposing comical elements in your story with horrifying elements.
This can cause emotional ‘whiplash’ effects, which heightens the audiences experience.
There are many more reasons to ‘get out of what’s expected’ and watch foreign films. [Hollywood Made A Deal With Mexico]
One of my favorite Mexican films is El Violin. The movie is available for free on HULU.
An elderly musician who leads a traveling band with his son and grandson is determined to fight Mexico’s military regime. They boldly help supply the guerilla fighters with guns and ammunition by hiding them in their instrument cases. When a military leader requests violin lessons, things get complicated. CRISIS!
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Blog written by Pamela PerryGoulardt
Pamela is the head writer: @Flyingcloudstudios.com.
She is an award-winning, produced screenwriter. Pamela was the coordinator of the ‘Script to Screen’ Screenwriting Summit in Simsbury, CT. sponsored by Storyteller’s Cottage, Final Draft, Robert McKee Seminars, and the CT. Film Board.
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