What's a favorite film of yours (or two) that you'd recommend as an example of excellent cinema?
I’ll pick something classic and something current. A great classic film is Chinatown. An amazing current film is Parasite. There is much written on both of these films. Chinatown is on virtually all critics' top ten films of all time lists. And Parasite appears to be the leading contender for a Best Picture Oscar [editor's note: it won!]. I want to focus on one specific note regarding both of these films that is really directed at a young filmmaker. On its surface, Chinatown is a noir detective film. There were and are still hundreds and hundreds of films made in this genre, yet most do not last like Chinatown. There are many reasons for this, but I want to focus on one broad point. Chinatown is about far more than a noir detective story. It uses this familiar genre to explore much deeper “themes” (yes, I hate that word) about politics and dark family secrets. This is a really important concept to grasp as a young storyteller. Find a “marketable” and “entertaining” story vehicle to explore your ideas. I once had a student who was very philosophical and he really struggled with how to put that in his stories. He had a huge breakthrough that horror and sci-fi horror were places he could explore these heady ideas (he didn’t even like horror films). He has a great philosophical horror project going now. Way outside the box and extremely interesting. In the fantastic film Get Out, director Jordan Peele also went this route, exploring the complexities of racism within the horror genre. I want to make the same point with Parasite. This is one of the freshest films in recent memory. It uses a familiar genre of a family comedy but turns that on its head and really explores the complex relationship between rich and poor classes. You may have a lot of scattered ideas in your head, but in the end they have to be culled down to single graphic for Netflix so they can be consumed by an audience. Always think about the “candy wrapper” for your story.