The Puttnam School of Film eagerly anticipated meeting Lord David Puttnam in person after two video conferences with him in the U.K (one in November 2012 and the other in January 2013). So, on the fine Tuesday of 19th February 2013, Oscar-winning producer and also patron of The Puttnam School of Film, Lord David Puttnam arrived at LASALLE College of the Arts, to finally meet up and share his worldly knowledge of film to the current student body. As an experienced filmmaker with a wealth of at least 4 decades of filmmaking, Lord Puttnam knows how to work his way around making his film well received. As he now re-invents himself as an educator, he does not shy away from sharing some of his filmmaking tips with students. During this particular session, his focus was on film music as he revealed that music is a good way to finance a film- especially with soundtracks that feature a popular band or a singer.
Other than financing the film, Lord Puttnam strongly emphasised the spirituality behind filmmaking and said that, “money doesn’t drive film, ideas do”. He mentioned that all the money in the world can be put into a film production, but it’s the idea that fills up the soul. He then put up a clip from “The Crowd” to further drive the point home. “All I want is an opportunity”, a character from the film quotes. Explained Lord Puttnam, movies are all about aspiration, for filmmakers especially. He also emphasises that the importance of identity within both filmmaker and audience is crucial.
Lord Puttnam also showed a film that came out during his younger days, which created a very strong impact on him in terms of storytelling and various other aspects. The film in question was “The Graduate”, directed by Mike Nichols in 1968. Before 1968, films had a lot of restrictions and codes of conduct, such as the avoidance of brutality, sexual content and immoral life. “The Graduate” was one of the few films that broke the restrictions Hollywood imposed, showing the new mindset of younger generation.
Taking on the format of the previous seminar, Lord Puttnam continues to engage students and encouraged questions. During this session, students were very enthusiastic in probing Lord Puttnam with questions. And as expected from a master educator, Lord Puttnam was as enthusiastic with his responses.
One student asked if his opinion about story and character would come across as authentic to the audiences. Lord Puttnam replied that audiences would tell you if those opinions felt authentic. He explained that this is a test for the writers to test their beliefs; whether they’re strong enough, and that is what makes storytelling exciting. He also mentioned that the biggest danger of chasing after authenticity would be to question oneself too much. Storytelling in filmmaking often is one of the hardest obstacles for any filmmaker; another student asked how they should present a similar or identical story differently while maintaining the theme. Lord Puttnam revealed that the key is to make the characters unusual, and that the relationships among the characters is crucial to making them unusual. At the same time, he also gave a tip he observed from other writers on creating life-like characters: role-play as the characters they create. Lord Puttnam also suggested to students who have trouble writing stories because of cultural confusion, to write about of essence of this very cultural confusion, and create stories out of it.
Another student raised up a question regarding the future of filmmaking and filmmakers. He asked about the uprising of several other forms of broadcasting media and the jeopardy it poses to cinema’s position. Cinema’s main rivals no longer include just television, but several other mediums such as Internet which is streamed into PCs, tablets and smart phones. What future lies ahead for new-age filmmakers and how should filmmakers then approach the impending future got Lord Puttnam saying that the world we live in now is more complex than in the past and the issues to be dealt with are profound. He suggested that filmmakers are to address what kind of a society we want to be in, how it should be remembered, and what kind of stories are to be told, and most importantly, how we want to help people. He mentions that people encounter lots of problems and obstacles and these people need help, guidance and support. The role filmmakers should perform, is as a signpost for people, for the society, guiding people to along life’s rocky path. Lord Puttnam puts forth strong ideals; the importance of being human, the importance of being guiding lights for others at crucial points through filmmaking. Lord Puttnam strongly discourages the students from being drones when they walk out of the school as graduates. Rather, they should revel in their role as educators of society, helping people and guiding them along in life.
At the end of the seminar, students enjoyed lunch with Lord Puttnam, ending the day with an evening of knowledge, advice and encouragement. As meeting our patron does not happen every day, this was a highly memorable experience and highlight of being in film school.
Goh Wei Kiat is a Level One student and is a huge fan of martial arts genre.