Friday, January 21, 2022

Know What Not to Know About Streaming


Throughout this resource, I’ve often spoken about the importance of staying fresh and creative. I truly believe that trying things is more important than knowing things. In the entry Stream Before You’re Ready, I talked about the idea of stacking knowledge between real experiences, rather than simply stockpiling lessons learned from reading, watching or listening. And since we’ve been talking a lot about movies recently, let’s jump once more into cinematic art. This time we’ll look at one of the best case studies for my ‘knowledge is not required’ philosophy. Specifically, how did a first-time movie director somehow spearhead what is generally considered to be the greatest film of all time?

Even if you’ve never seen it, I’m sure you’ve at least heard of Citizen Kane. It’s become a synonym in colloquial English for the idea of a ‘great movie.’ If you say “This movie is no Citizen Kane,” everyone knows what you mean. But when conceptualizing that project in 1940, Orson Welles, the film’s director, had never made a movie before. And not only that, he specifically nurtured his ignorance of the filmmaking practices. By using this cultivated ignorance to his advantage, he pushed his team past their creative limits into totally new territory. He simply didn’t know what couldn’t be done, which allowed him to achieve the impossible. And I think that a Twitch streamer of any skill level could learn a lot of lessons from this mindset. 


The film Mank is an excellent look into
the messy process behind Kane's writing.

Citizen Kane may have been made by a first-time movie director, but it’s no accident how it got to be so great. Welles knew where he needed help, and he attracted a dream team of some of the best technicians and artists in the business to work on his film. First, the screenplay was penned by Herman J. Mankiewicz, who had helped to shape the previous decade of cinematic language. You can glimpse his brilliance, along with many of his other complexities, in the recent David Fincher biopic Mank. Next, Welles had cinematographer
Greg Toland, nominated for six Academy Awards throughout his life, and described by Welles as “just then, the number-one cameraman in the world.”

Editor on Citizen Kane was Robert Wise, who would go on to become a legendary director himself, winning multiple Academy Awards for West Side Story and The Sound of Music. Creating the soundtrack for Kane was Bernard Hermann, who with later credits like Psycho, North by Northwest and Taxi Driver has gone on to be widely recognized as one of the greatest film composers of all time. And on post-production effects duty was Linwood G. Dunn. You may not realize it, but a large part of Citizen Kane’s brilliance lies in its heavy use of special effects. If you get a chance to visit the Academy Awards Museum in Los Angeles, you can see breakdowns and cels from the film’s various visual tricks- it’s said that over 50% of the film features visual effects in one way or another. Dunn was willing to try every trick in the book (and invent quite a few of his own) to bring Welles’ vision to life. 

So Welles clearly had an incredible, all-star collection of talent behind the camera at every stage of production. But we’ve all seen films with great teams that still turn out to be duds. How was Orson Welles, a cinematic amateur, able to wrangle all these departments and emerge with such a monumental achievement? Mostly, it was because he was a cinematic amateur. 


Welles' radio play made some people
really believe that aliens were invading.

Despite being new to Hollywood, Orson Welles was far from being new to the arts. By the time of Citizen Kane’s production, he had already become a successful figure in theater, and most of us have heard of his infamous War of the Worlds radio hoax. He used his past experiences to his advantage though, taking in sensibilities from radio and stage production to enhance his filmmaking. This understanding of drama from his previous background, combined with a general ignorance of what movies were ‘supposed to’ be like, allowed him to be extremely inventive within this new medium. Placements of the camera, creative editing and cutting-edge special effects permeated the entire film. At every step, Welles challenged his team to think outside the box, and reach new creative heights. And these creators behind the scenes, tired of a Hollywood run by a drab clockwork system, were glad to be outside their comfort zone. On his first first visit to Hollywood, he called movie studios, “the greatest electric train set a boy ever had.” And he seemed to keep that mindset at the forefront throughout production. Welles acted as a constant creative spark, which helped to ignite the creativity of every department on his film. 

We all have this kind of overflowing creative energy within us. The problem is, we eventually grow up. Think back to when you were a small child. What did you want to be when you were older? When we’re children, our dreams are totally uninhibited. A child has no conception of how difficult it is to become an astronaut, or a firefighter, or an Olympic athlete. But that doesn’t stop them from believing that it will come true. There are a select few of those children who are able to follow those dreams throughout their lives and make them into reality. Welles, as a young adult, was able to tap into this childlike superpower to create a legendary work of art. And you can use that same ability to build an incredible Twitch stream. 


The nice thing about streaming is that you aren’t creating a single finished product, like a movie. There’s no point where the whole thing is ‘done,’ it’s a constant work in progress. And as you keep going live and honing the stream, you hone your abilities as well. You don’t need the equivalent of Linwood G. Dunn to design your graphics, or Greg Toland to operate your Logitech webcam. As you improve your streaming skills, you will become those people. By gaining more experience and applying yourself to various disciplines, you will continually gain the wisdom and know-how for streaming that those legends knew about their departments when making movies. 

But most importantly, never let go of the Orson Welles inside your heart. Don’t come back down to earth. Challenge the jaded and realistic side of yourself to act on your biggest ideas, your weirdest visual concepts, the things you’ve always wanted to do on your channel but have never seen anyone else doing. As Charles Foster Kane says in the film when questioned about his journalism practices, “I don't know how to run a newspaper, Mr. Thatcher; I just try everything I can think of.” That perfectly summarizes his character, as well as Orson Welles’ mindset when creating the film itself. In my own projects, I try to tap into that magic whenever I can. Give it a shot yourself- try thinking so far outside the box that you’re in a class of your own. That’s what Orson Welles did for cinema. And when you know what not to know about streaming, you can do the same on Twitch. 

Friday, January 14, 2022

Limit Your Streams Like a Movie Director


In the previous entry we talked about looking to great movie directors for inspiration in our streams. There, we explored how an unbridled love for the craft, and combining other interests with our work, can help to establish a distinct creative style. There’s another point I’ve always found fascinating about the cinematic greats though. They use limitations to heighten their own creative senses. In this entry, we’re going back to the movies, to see how directors use limits either imposed on them, or that they set up themselves, in order to keep the creative juices flowing. During this entry, consider how your Twitch streams may benefit from a few strategically placed limits in this same way. 


Many directors keep strong opinions about their craft, and actually create their own limitations. Tarantino and Christopher Nolan for example, shoot all their movies on film, the volatile and expensive camera format of classic cinema, rather than the high definition digital techniques most modern directors use. Wes Anderson regularly uses custom miniature models in his films like The Grand Budapest Hotel and The French Dispatch rather than CGI, which would be faster and cheaper. And in his newest film Last Night in Soho, Edgar Wright chose to do many of his most impressive effects totally within the camera, creating a psychedelic mirror dimension through simple choreography and staging instead of computer-generation. 

Fun Fact: Dune II (1992) was the progenitor
of the real-time strategy genre.

The self-imposed limits don’t stop there either- some even apply to great movie directors watching films. Fourteen years ago, David Lynch famously went on his tirade about the inferiority of watching
movies on a phone, but these values still hold strong today. Last year, Denis Villeneuve contended that his movie Dune was meant to be seen on the big screen. Even watching the film on a TV, he said, was akin to driving “a speedboat in your bathtub.” And of course, directors like the aforementioned Wright and Tarantino uphold strict rituals about the way they watch movies, keeping lists and giving out their own awards as I mentioned in the previous entry. There’s some common thread among screen legends which leads them to set limitations and rules for themselves and then follow them rigidly. It may not seem to make sense at first glance, but it’s hard to argue with the results. 


I’m a big believer in setting limitations when streaming. I think it helps a creator to more succinctly find their voice and really become unique. What are some values you truly believe in? Let those guide you toward a more authentic stream. Maybe you want to do your shows with only certain types of games, or you don’t like swearing, or you want people in chat to avoid certain subjects. If something is really important to you, it’s worth taking a stand and making that a part of your channel. The only time you should be careful with self-imposed limits is when they begin to affect your ability to go live. Many people set harmful limits for themselves, like not wanting to stream if they haven’t yet purchased the highest quality gear, or waiting until they feel 100% ready before going on the air. These are not creatively stimulating limits, they’re excuses. And you should push past those blockades to create your content anyway. But if there’s a limit that helps to uphold your personal values and might help you to reach new heights creatively, give it a shot! 

For example, I decided a long time ago that I wanted to design all my own graphics. And over the years that’s allowed me to arrive at some pretty fun visual ideas for my streams. I didn’t wait until I had created a ‘full’ graphics package before starting my channel, but instead began with a modest one or two screens, expanding as I went. This allowed me to experiment and see what worked best before making more, and the fact that I began before everything was ‘ready’ meant that my limitation didn’t prevent me from going live. I’ve had a lot of fun making my own stream graphics over the years, and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys the visual arts. You can find more on my philosophy about this in the entry Create Your Own Stream Graphics.  


The Warriors for PS2 did a lot within
the limitations of its hardware.

Limitations aren’t always self-imposed. Kevin Smith made his first movie, Clerks, for the near-non-existent budget of $27,000, paid for on his personal credit cards. (For reference, its sequel twelve years later cost $5 million.) He didn't make his first movie this way because he wanted to see how cheaply he could make a film, it was because he actually just had no money. And this monetary limitation brought limits of other sorts as well- inferior equipment, a single location, and the ability to only shoot in the convenience store where he was employed during his off-hours. But this all worked toward the film’s advantage. Clerks is an indie comedy masterpiece, which shines because of a strong screenplay, clear artistic voice and great characters. None of those things require money or equipment to achieve. And it’s the same on your Twitch streams. You don’t need anything fancy to make something great. Even if your limitations are from financial necessity or circumstance, there’s no reason your shows can’t be amazing when you set your mind to it. 

Of course, I recently focused on the limitations of another great film director in a Twitch Playbook entry as well. Alfred Hitchcock had to contend with the limitations of technology and the very strict film review board of his era. But as you might be able to tell from the entry’s title, Learn From Your Stream’s Limitations, I think those constrictions actually helped him in the end, to think more creatively. So whatever limits you face in your streaming career, don’t let them get you down. Use them to your advantage. Or, if you feel your streams are too bland right now, create a few new limitations and let them guide your channel into a more interesting creative style. Nothing can stop you when you limit your streams like a movie director. 

Friday, January 7, 2022

Learn to Stream from the Silver Screen


Quentin Tarantino, legendary director of films like Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill and most recently, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, says this about his trade: “You don't have to know how to make a movie. If you truly love cinema with all your heart and with enough passion, you can't help but make a good movie.” If you change a few words from that sentiment, this could easily be used as one of the best quotes about streaming imaginable. All it takes is love and passion. 

At his most voracious, Tarantino on average watched 200 movies a year- and that was at a time before Netflix. He also kept a list of everything old and new he saw, and created his own little personal awards for ones he loved. In the recent Twitch Playbook entry How to Use Your Influences for Streaming, I described a similar devotion to routine in the video game creator Hideo Kojima, who never lets bad reading choices influence his excitement about reading books as a whole. You may recognize a pattern here. Truly talented creators aren’t born with what they have. They absorb. And they don’t do that because they have to, but because they want to. They allow their interests and their quirks to guide them to their creations. In this entry we’ll gather Twitch streaming inspiration through the silver screen, and explore how the best movie directors have been able to use the things they love to create masterpieces. 


Guillermo del Toro is a huge fan of Bioshock, 
and it's easy to see why.

The winner for Best Picture at the 2018 Academy Awards was about a woman who falls in love with a giant fish-man. Not exactly the traditional Oscar-bait material, but then again, nothing ever is with director Guillermo del Toro. And that’s what makes him so great. This is a man who thrives on the weird. He lives, literally, in a
house of horrors. His family home is full of classic Universal movie props, life-sized figures of Frankenstein actor Boris Karloff, and other monster memorabilia. Everything he’s ever directed has a strange air about it, something off-kilter that Hollywood typically wouldn’t touch. Each of his films is totally unique, but always distinctly his. Guillermo del Toro has never been afraid to put his passions in the forefront, no matter the stigma that might attach to his works. He never tried to bend his creations toward what might be more acceptable to a common audience- every one of his films is filled with genuine love and obscure sensibilities. And eventually, staying true to himself led to being awarded Hollywood’s highest honor. 

Edgar Wright, who directed Shaun of the Dead, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and Baby Driver, seems to keep a strict and devoted regimen even in his leisure time. This man has been incredibly busy recently. He released not one but two films in 2021- the time-hopping thriller Last Night in Soho and the incredible music documentary The Sparks Brothers. Despite that schedule however, he found the time to watch 330 films in his free time- nearly one a day! You can find his full viewing list published online, with careful notation to indicate first-time watches and films seen in the cinema. This is someone who clearly loves what he does, enough that he not only creates, but keeps himself disciplined in his regimen of consumption. And if you’ve ever seen an Edgar Wright film, like with Tarantino or del Toro, his overwhelming love for the art form shines through in every scene he’s directed. When producing your Twitch streams, are you allowing all your passions to shine through? Or are you making concessions to ‘the norm’? If the content you want to make doesn’t ‘fit in’ but you’re passionate about the things you love, rest assured that you’re in good company. 


Find streaming inspiration in the movies!

There’s a lot that can be learned from movies when you stream on Twitch. Not only by studying camera techniques and lighting, but also by looking behind the camera. Countless behind-the-scenes resources exist, from DVD special features and books, to following your favorite directors on Twitter. And by paying attention to how the greats treat their craft, it’s easy to become inspired about your own project. Paying attention to the exploits of Tarantino, del Toro and Wright in various forms throughout the years has greatly inspired me personally. And whoever you look up to in the film business, whether it’s a director, screenwriter, editor, costume designer, or anything else, see if you can’t glean some inspiration of your own from the way they approach their craft. There are plenty of rewards to be gained when you learn to stream from the silver screen.