Moonlight is a groundbreaking work of art. What can it teach us about expression? 

From the moment the envelope was passed back to the producers of the Academy Awards and Moonlight was announced, it became a legend of our time. The little movie that could pack a big punch. It spanned generations and challenged Hollywood to recognize nuance and complications within people. 

This was Barry Jenkins‘ masterpiece. At the time, he was a relatively unknown director and writer, but the movie thrust him into the spotlight and gave him a forum where he could create and work on his passion projects. 

It’s safe to say there’s a lot we can learn from the film, so that’s what we’re going to do today. Let’s get started. 

8 Great Filmmaking Lessons from Moonlight

As always, I’ll start with a disclaimer that these are not the only lessons you can learn from a movie. If you have other ones, please add them to the comments. I love digging into these movies with all of you and using them to inspire our next endeavors. 

1. Freedom with the camera 

At the opening of Moonlight, we’re attached to a camera that moves. We look at the world as a curious observer, someone trying to learn the people in it and absorb the chaos. The camera slows down in other chapters, letting us take our time with scenes. But the boldness to move the camera actually helps the audience get accustomed to the story rather quickly and makes us invested. 

2. Make a beat sheet 

One of the more remarkable things about the movie is that while it spans three different periods of time in someone’s life, we always feel like the emotional beats are there for our journey.

If you’re writing a story that spans that length of time, try making a list of the beats you want in each. It may help you structure each act.

Say you need five major beats in each, then make your list of the fifteen you want in your movie. 


‘Moonlight’Credit: A24

3. Go to the theater 

The movie, Moonlight, was based on the play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue by Tarell Alvin McCraney. Jenkins was introduced to McCraney’s play through the Borscht arts collective in Miami.

Jenkins had been trying to find a personal story to make into his next movie. He was in Miami searching and saw the play. He approached McCraney about working together to adapt the film. They share writing credit on the film.

The point is, go out and look for your story. Don’t wait for it to come to you.

4. You can always go home

Jenkins is from the Miami area, and when it came time to make this movie, he knew he could shoot there. It wasn’t just about knowing the people and crew, but also knowing that the neighborhood would accept him. They gave him access to locations and worked as extras because they believed in him.

Can you do the same where you live? Can you bring the magic of Hollywood to your town and get your budget to go a little further because of it? 


‘Moonlight’Credit: A24

5. Separate your actors 

One of the cooler things that usually goes unsaid with this movie is how Jenkins manipulated the actors who played Chiron throughout the film. He never let them meet one another and never showed them footage of performances that the other gave.

He wanted each person to bring their own interpretation to the journey in their part of the movie. He didn’t want mannerisms to cross over or them to imitate one another. This led to three individually great performances with themes and soul that cross over.

Not everyone can work this way, but think of unique ways to get your actors thinking about the role ahead. 

6. Color grade matters 

Another spectacular thing Jenkins did with his DP James Laxton was focus on how to light and shoot Black people. They also helped separate the chapters in the movie so each was distinct. All this work came from a collaboration between them and their colorist Alex Bickel.

The first chapter emulated the Fuji film stock to intensify the cast’s skin tones and the world of southern Florida. The second chapter imitated the Agfa film stock, which added cyan to the images and played with the movie’s motif of water.  Finally, the third chapter used a modified Kodak film stock and felt warmer, like Atlanta.

Do your homework and make decisions based on what looks best for your story.  

'Moonlight'

‘Moonlight’Credit: A24

7. What is your character searching for? 

When it came to adapting the play, Jenkins really had to figure out what each chapter was about. Family, identity, love, all these are things we see young Chiron searching for across the film’s chapters. Each provides a distinct motivation and informs the people he meets within the world. Each is present in every other chapter as well, but takes a backseat while one is dominant.

If your character is searching, then they’ll always be active. 

8. Do you have a thematic motif

One of the strongest motifs inside Moonlight is the idea of water. It’s a cleansing and transformative substance. From learning to swim to learning about sex on the beach, water takes Chiron where his character needs to go.

In Omise’eke Natasha Tinsley’s Black Atlantic, Queer AtlanticTinsley talks about the power of the ocean and describes how, “Black queerness itself becomes a crosscurrent through which to view hybrid, resistant subjectivities and perhaps, Black queers really have no ancestry except the black water.”

This really opens up our understanding of the movie and why water is present. Do your ideas have a motif that can be seen throughout and examined? 

'Moonlight'

‘Moonlight’Credit: A24

So much of what we’re talking about on No Film School when it comes to screenwriting is summarized in our new eBook. It also helps guide…



Source link