Film odyssey: Unconventional movie making

On April 25, 2014, the trailer for Richard Linklater’s American drama, Boyhood, was uploaded onto YouTube. In the 93 seconds that it played, the casual viewer only needed to see the first 22 to get pulled in. It was not explosions, rap music or a girl that would grab your attention but three lines of text that read:





Linklater is well known for his romantic drama trilogy, Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight. The three films were both set and released into cinemas nine years apart from each other. It was in this early work of his that we caught a glimpse of his obsession with time and pacing.

In the coming-of-age tale, Boyhood, Linklater together with the same cast and crew filmed for about 12 days each year from 2002 to 2013. The result is what one of the actors of the movie described as time-lapse photography of a human being.


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In this day and age of technology and reach, the stories of filmmakers need not be bounded by certain restrictions. Special effects and make up was used on Brad Pitt when he was tasked to age from death to birth in the 2008 film, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, while other movies like 2013’s The Great Gatsby did a good job in casting a young Leonardo DiCaprio for their flashback scenes. This though does not stop certain writers and directors in taking the long way to tell a story. Their reasons may be numerous in doing so but the underlying theme is that it will yield a better result.

Linklater’s epic is just one of the many examples of when the execution of a movie is just as interesting as the final product. Here are five other movies in the last 20 years of cinema wherein either writer or director went through unconventional means to tell a story.


Russian ark

The appeal of this movie can be explained in two words: one take. While practically all other movies use multiple transitions in each scene to properly tell their story, this movie abandons any attempts to. The entire movie is one continuous take of the insides of a palace occupied with numerous people. The audience encounters multiple characters and catches glimpse of actions and dialogue before being brought to another room for another slice of a story.

What adds to the movie’s character is the reasoning for the execution, which is fairly interesting in itself. The story is told through the eyes of a ghost who is visiting the palace. This explains the continuous take and floating nature of the camera and its shots. The unnamed ghost hints that he had died in an accident. He now wanders the palace encountering both real and fictional figures from the city’s history.


All is Lost

Stories of casting are scattered around the Internet with what-ifs and could-have-beens. Russell Crowe could have been the Wolverine and John Krasinki was in talks for both Captain America and, most recently, Star-Lord.

But 2013’s All is Lost has reason to care more about casting for their lead than all the other films mentioned. That is because they only had one role to cast. Robert Redford plays a man on a sinking ship with nothing but mere survival in mind. Redford’s’ character, who is called “Our Man” in the credits, has only a few lines in the entire movie when he unsuccessfully attempts to make contact on a radio. The rest of the movie is simply his grunts and groans as he is tasked to fix his boat or find food.

Past movies that dealt with being stranded found other means to create dialogue. Tom Hanks’ character in Cast Away befriended a volleyball to retain sanity. In Life of Pi, the lead character still talked to animals or to himself at least.

The director’s choice of a sole character and minimal lines in All is Lost does pay off as audiences will truly be drawn into the character’s solidarity, leading them to feel just as lonely as he was in the film.



Probably the most known film of the list is Christopher Nolan’s psychological thriller from the year 2000. The main character suffers from anterograde amnesia making him unable to remember anything for more than a few minutes. Majority of the film is shown in reverse chronological order. This in turn created one of the most immersive movies to date as viewers had to experience the situation of each scene the same way the main character did: without any knowledge of the past.

A hidden feature was included in the UK edition of the DVD wherein viewers can watch the movie in chronological order but after passing a menu that resembled psychological tests.



If the end of this paragraph doesn’t confuse you, I didn’t do a good enough job explaining it. Adaptation is a story of writer Charlie Kaufman who is struggling to adapt a book, The Orchid Thief. He ends up writing a story about a man named Charlie Kaufman who is struggling to write the adaptation and explores the madness in doing so. The movie is written by, you guessed it, Charlie Kaufman, and the book, The Orchid Thief, is actually a real book.

This must be the most unconventional manner in which to adapt any type of source material. To tell a story, the real Charlie Kaufman decides to tell a story of him trying to tell a story. It’s an endless loop and it is also a very good movie, having been nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay in the 75th Academy Awards. Adapted being the keyword.


The Usual Suspects

The story, The Usual Suspects, is not much of a whodunit but more of a who-is-it. We are introduced only in name and detail to the main villain, Keyser Söze. The audience does not know though who Keyser Söze is until the very end of the movie. The thing is, neither did the cast.

Director Bryan Singer kept that very important detail very close to his heart, not even letting his lead actors know who the villain was. This caused some of the leads into thinking they were the main villain, the infamous Keyser Söze. So when news broke on the set on what the true identity of this Keyser Söze character was, some people went crazy. Mind you this was nearing the end of filming so there was a certain amount of investment in the film’s characters. There are stories that one of the actors was so convinced that he was Keyser Söze, he brought the director outside and began screaming at him when he learned he was wrong.

The character has forever been immortalized in movie talk by the late film critic, Roger Ebert. Ebert described the state of movies in 1999 to suffer from Keyser Söze syndrome, which is when films add final scenes to the story that end up redefining the reality of what has come before it. One recent example is Nolan’s Inception.


Method storytelling

While all this may be reduced to the trivia section on IMDB or mere fun facts that movie buffs love mentioning to people, there is something a little more special found in these stories.

To see each movie and treat it like a play, it is addicting and fun to pull the curtain and see the people who run the show and the great lengths they go to simulate reality. This appreciation may fly over the casual viewers’ heads, but for those who do care, they are presented a peak into the eternal madness that is movie making.

Jose Felipe Montinola

By Jose Felipe Montinola

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