I went to see Selma on the weekend and I was blown away. Not only did it tell a powerful story, it also told a powerful story in such a disciplined way. And for a film that's trying to capture such a particular time and place in history that was particularly brutal, dramatic, and rife with an explosive mixture of feelings and ideas, it would have been easy for the filmmakers and actors to get carried away and make everything overblown. But they didn't. In fact, it felt like the opposite throughout the entire film — in a good way. A very, very, good way. For example:
The film opened with a quiet conversation between two people. No epic score. No soundscapes. Just two people speaking. And it was compelling from the first cut to the last in that opening scene.
Most if not all of the cinematography throughout the film was subtle and muted. Not jarring and manipulative. They gave each shot the time and perspective it needed. No more, no less.
The actor playing the lead role, David Oyelowo, was stunningly disciplined in his portrayal of Martin Luther King. And he could've easily overacted the character of such a legendary and important individual.
And yet, it was all still so dramatic to me. Powerful. Influential. Harrowing. Thought provoking. Cathartic. All that and more. I felt like I was watching the real MLK on screen, and that wasn't something I was expecting.
So aside from leaving that film thinking and feeling deeply about such a difficult and terrible time in Western history, admiring even more the people who not only spoke out for, but were abused and killed, for their stance on human rights, I also left the film with a valuable lesson in making excellent and influential art: discipline is key. Although it's so easy to go overboard and include way too much extra content and ideas in your work, it's so important to stop and think about simplifying and reducing things to their most clear and concise form and delivery. For it's in doing that, that your message will be delivered clearly and received clearly.
A word that doesn't need to be in the sentence? Cut it.
An extra frame or two in a scene that makes it all drag a bit? Delete it.
A canvas that's calling for just one more brusk stroke? Think twice before you add more paint.
And so on, and so on...
I mean, don't get carried away and axe everything or contain the best parts of the work that you do. But do be disciplined. I imagine doing so will set your work apart from a good deal of other work.
Anyway, go watch Selma in theatres. Support an important film.