Ollie takes you through an obsession of his, director's commentary tracks. We look into why that audio track might have more to it than you realise, and how you can learn so much more about why your favourite stories work by just flipping a switch.
Commentary Tracks Featured:
Ollie: [00:00:00] Welcome to Pathfinder a show about storytelling.
[00:00:09] I'm obsessed with the stories behind stories. It doesn't matter whether it's the origin story to the latest startup or how someone came up with a particular rift to one of your favorite songs, the behind the scenes background to how something works is it always fascinated me. I think it's because it gives you a whole window into someone else's aspiration and they take you through the roadmap of how they went from a flurry of ideas to bringing something into the world.
[00:00:34] Some of the best of these stories have been written in books or told through interviews. You've probably heard a few of these stories through podcasts. There's one place though, and not so secret place that holds some of the best behind the scenes stories that have ever been told. That place is a film directors, commentary track.
[00:00:50] If you've ever spent any time with the DVDs, extra features, or maybe clicking around in Netflix is an audio menus. You've probably stumbled across commentary tracks. You may have even accidentally clicked on one and thought it was a bit strange that someone was talking over your favorite film. It takes a bit of courage to dive into your first one.
[00:01:08] You're going to be sitting with the director of the film, talking over all of the best bits and pointing out things that might actually ruin it. The magic of the story you're enjoying. So why exactly would you want to watch something with a commentary on. It's because you get to dissect that magic that the director created.
[00:01:24] You get to learn just why you fell in love with a movie in the first place and understand the experiences that the creators went through. To put something on the screen. Films are not a one person effort. Each film has writers, producers, costume designers, cinematographers, and many more. But hearing the director's perspective, you get an Eagle eye view of all of that and how you wrangle all of that talent to bring one story together.
[00:01:47] Pixar as a company have always been very open about their storytelling process, which at its core pulls from personal experience because of that Pixar movies are some of the best movies to turn that director's commentary track on the backbone of what makes a Pixar commentary. So interesting is that the films are animated.
[00:02:04] There are no actors to point cameras at everything in that world is built from scratch. So when a pixel director breaks down just how they made you feel the way that you did, it's all the more impressive. Yes. And now comes probably everybody's favorite sequence. This is of course the, the very first sequence that we basically, that we boarded and that we animated.
[00:02:25] Right. Right. And I got shown around quite a bit. And it also really epitomized the essence of the story. When these soldiers start walking, you know, a lot about the world of toys that's going to be created in this movie. And I think there's not one guy out there that does not relate to these little green army.
[00:02:42] I haven't met one yet in analyzing the green army man, we realized there were three basic things that we had to have in the model. One they're badly molded so that they had all that extra plastic, the mold flashing that was sticking out of their heads. Um, their gun barrels are always bent. And their feet are always attached to those basis.
[00:03:00] And when the paratroopers go off, I mean, I, I, cause I love those ones. Well, the technical aspects of the film are always interesting. It's the moments where directors dig into the emotion of their characters that you begin to understand, not just how they're telling you the story, but also why they're telling it it's that personality that begins to open up why their stories work and why they're also different from each other.
[00:03:21] Some tell stories of pain, some of love, some of obsession. The thing that I've seen come up time and time again, though, is that all of these contribute to the story of relationships, it's relationships that drive commentaries. However, I don't just mean the relationships between characters or the relationship between the director and the story.
[00:03:40] One of the more interesting things to unpack is the relationship directors have with our cast and crew to all converge on one single vision. Bringing people together over one vision. Isn't the easiest thing to do though. Relationships are based on compromise and sometimes to get what you want. You have to change your approach.
[00:03:56] There's a moment described
[00:03:57] David Fincher: [00:03:57] at the end of the scene where, uh, Nick Dunn has to reach into his duffel bag or his backpack. And. Get out of baseball cap that he's bought at the airport and he puts it on and walks away and hopes that people don't recognize him from the television and put that's him, that he's in their presence.
[00:04:15] And, uh, I really want it to be Yankees cap, um, but being from Boston, um, and not being very professional as an actor, Ben refused to wear a Yankees cap and we. I mean did not come to blows, but we had to shut down production for four days. As we negotiated with Patrick Whitesell over what would be the best thing for the movie, what Patrick thought would be the best way to meet the requirements of the production and something that his client could live with.
[00:04:49] Which I thought was entirely unprofessional.
[00:04:52] Ollie: [00:04:52] Directors is very detailed, focused beings. Everything has to be right to make their words believable. And that's where so many stories start fighting over the details. David Fincher is one of those directors where it's easy to fall down a rabbit hole of his commentaries.
[00:05:05] He weaves in and out of onset stories, but also his relationship with the stories he's telling. If you haven't seen it already, Fincher's film Zodiac about the 1960s Zodiac killer bounces back and forth between vignettes of murder and how a cartoonist working for the San Francisco Chronicle unpacks.
[00:05:22] The ciphers that killer is sending into local newspapers. The film is based on true events and it's brought to life more so than other serial killer thrillers because Fincher actually lived through the events of the Zodiac killer. You can feel the fear of existing in the city at the time, or the gut wrenching feeling when a new murder has reported that it could have been you.
[00:05:40] David Fincher: [00:05:40] I was looking for piece of music and originally we had cut this scene to big brother and the holding companies all as loneliness, which was a beautiful track and the music really fit the scene. And, um, George , who did the music supervision came to me with some other ideas just to say, Hey, we should definitely explore everything.
[00:06:01] And here's some other ideas. And we listened to some more kind of psychedelic San Francisco kind of music. And finally, we got to the three dark night. It was odd cause I was in second or third grade when this whole thing happened. And I remember so vividly. Driving through Sonoma from Vallejo. It's an area known as black point.
[00:06:24] And I remember being in the back of my, um, parents, 65 and Paula, the windows were rolled down. It was the beginning of summer and you could smell eucalyptus and this. Song was playing on the radio and there was something about it. When I heard it, it literally transported me personally to the summer of 1969, which is again, purely subjective thing.
[00:06:49] And, you know, making movies ultimately is a wholly subjective thing, but I remember being, just feeling, you know, very Misty when I, when I heard that music and I heard it playing over the, those pictures.
[00:07:03] Ollie: [00:07:03] I think everyone knows an ideas guy. They're the people that come up with a million ideas a month, but never seem to move them forward or even know how, what makes directors different is that they are able to move their ideas from just being ideas through execution, into a story commentaries or a documentation of that process.
[00:07:20] Thing is the ideas are very rarely purely an original thought from a director. When you listen to a commentary, you realize how much a person learns off other people around them. You quickly pick up on the creators of films, talking about other filmmakers and how certain films have a place in their hearts that end up inspiring us as mood or a scene.
[00:07:39] You've probably heard of the anecdote about how George Lucas in creating star Wars was inspired by both westerns and samurai films. In particular, seven samurai even went as far as remixing shots of seven samurai to create what become iconic shots in star Wars and Indiana Jones. That inspiration. Isn't just limited to other filmmakers.
[00:07:58] It's also in large part to stories in books in journalism or poetry directors are more like composers than they are a book author. This is why experience and execution is so important to the kind of storyteller or a director is they're not limited to just words on a page, but they have responsibility to show you things rather than just tell you them.
[00:08:18] It's also an understanding in relationships, whether it be with your actors, your crew, or just you and your story. Directing is a product of being the summit of many parts. And it's when all of those things come together, that's something memorable. What's made all of those moments, those relationships add up to something personal.
[00:08:35] And it's only through those moments. We're able to build something greater than the sum of the parts that we put in. I think so many storytellers start from a place where they think they have to reinvent the world in a day. But similarly, to writing advice, the best thing that you can do sometimes is look back at your own experience or spend time with others to learn about theirs.
[00:08:53] It's remixing and exaggerating these stories that can create or transform worlds. That's why commentaries are so great. They give you a chance to see how all the little details come to be and how all of those relationships open up opportunities to tell a better story. One of my favorite commentaries.
[00:09:10] Isn't even part of a film. It's part of a game called Firewatch, where you, after losing your wife, move into the mountains, to find yourself in a video game, the game designers, unlike directors, can't control your relationship with their characters. This is a bit of a problem. As you may have guessed since much of storytelling is about relationships.
[00:09:27] So they had to design a way for you to develop your own relationships, turning you into the director of your own. We kept trying to write an opening of the game that happened. Sort of like weeks into Henry's experience and then quickly realized that it was like, well, why would he not be able to say X?
[00:09:43] Well, because his relationship with his wife is Y so, but the player doesn't know that. And this was the quickest way to get everybody on board was just take the thing that I wrote, that the answer to the question, I think for Jane and you at the beginning, which was like, who is Henry? And I would read these character profiles that were really bad.
[00:09:59] And then I went, wow, what if I just let you play a thing? And then you can figure out who he is. And we held onto that. Until we had the idea to put into the game. It means that when you're playing Firewatch and Henry and Delilah started talking about Henry's wife, you don't have to learn it through his dialogue because you made the choices that brought him where he is today.
[00:10:15] So next time when you're feeling a bit writer's block, or you want to spend a little more time with your favorite story, maybe fire up the movie and turn on that commentary track. And for all those out there who maybe don't really want to deep dive into the psychology of a criminal or the philosophy of film.
[00:10:30] Maybe just go hang out with Taika Waititi to talk about Thor for a bit. It's a good time. Bing, Bing, Bing, Bing, Bing, Bing, Bing bits of script in and a lot of characters.
[00:10:55] The British person,
[00:10:59] Marvel stats studio.
[00:11:07] Zach. Welcome to the director's commentary with me, the director of rock. Thank you so much for listening to Pathfinder. You can find out more about the stories on our firstname.lastname@example.org and follow us on Twitter and Instagram at Pathfinder show. Pathfinder is written by me, Ollie Judge. And it is edited and produced by Roger Morley.
[00:11:36] We'll see you next week. .