How Films Depict the Filmmaking Process and the Film Industry

How Films Depict the Filmmaking Process and the Film Industry: A Case Study of Sunset Boulevard and The Dirties

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What role does films play in shaping the industry, a sector, or even the process of filmmaking? In this case study, the main intention is to analyze how Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard (1950) presents and depicts the entire process of filmmaking, with a particular interest on how Hollywood is structured, and to compare the same with Matt Johnson’s The Dirties (2013) from an independent filmmaking pint of view. The two films are about moviemaking where Billy Wilder looks at the environment that surrounds filmmakers, the Hollywood scene, the lavish life of stars and stardom, the expectations, and all the nitty gritty details of the film trade. In this case study, the internal structure and organization of the two aforementioned films will conceptualize how literary elements including theme, characterization, plot, and structure contribute to telling of a story with honorable mention to editing, lighting, sound, and camera angles. Billy Wilder helps this report in presenting an argument that filmmaking is not as it seems. To the untrained eye, filmmaking seems like a fun process, one that involves endless amounts of amusement, entertainment, and freedom. However, using Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard (1950) and Matt Johnson’s The Dirties (2013), the report establishes that filmmaking is a gruesome process, one that has very dark spaces in between, where despair, regret, and a complete lack of freedom dominate the industry.

The Process of Filmmaking

Filmmaking is a complex process, one that has several discreet stages that travel from having an idea to initial storytelling, then commissioning, screenwriting, casting of the participants, shooting, recording sound, and then other element of pre-production before moving to post-production. In all of these processes and stages, filmmakers must constantly engage different perspectives including that of the story, the audience, the industry, and a combination of all of these elements. None of these processes are cast on stone. They vary as a result of several factors such as production budget, industry, influence of an industry, country of origin, intentions, purpose, and so on. One of the most important elements in filmmaking is identifying the audience and the target market. These elements are also significantly influenced by the industry they are a part of, for example, Sunset Blvd. (1950) was largely influenced by Hollywood and all of the issues around the star-studded industry that has defined global filmmaking. Studies identify Hollywood as a critical factor in defining the American filmmaking industry, a concept that is largely explored in Sunset Blvd. Filmmaking, and all of the complex processes therein, are described in Sunset Blvd.

Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard (1950) depicts filmmaking as a culture and a way of life for many people in the Hollywood scene including the process and the expectations from the entire industry. In the film, the story is about a washed-up Hollywood star, Norma Desmond, as she battles with her fall from fame. The societal expectations and the film industry demands force her to live in a fantasy world, where she has a complicated relationship with a film writer, leading to the latter’s death. The film sheds a lot of light on the Hollywood scene and the American film industry in general, revealing the truth about the glitz and glamour, and fake lifestyle of those who are major players in it. Norma Desmond is a critical part of the Hollywood star system. She is also a victim. From the setting of Sunset Boulevard, it is clear that she sees herself as a great star in line with how the filmmaking process, the film industry, and Hollywood system has made her. As she watches herself both on the screen and from the hundreds of pictures of herself in her disintegrating mansion, she does not realize that she has fallen from stardom, a characteristic feature of the film industry, particularly the Hollywood system of creating and destroying stars.

In Matt Johnson’s The Dirties (2013), the processes involved in filmmaking are also largely explored. The film, however, provides a different perspective because the filmmakers do not have any ties to a thriving industry but are rather independent of the expectations that other filmmakers, such as those in Sunset Blvd. (1950) are subject to. In the former film, the filmmaker is more independent and not under the limitations or constraints of the film industry. The main characters Matt and Owen document the life of bullies and the revenge plan for two victimized students. While the movie is somewhat dark, it also shows the independence of the film world beyond those constrained by industry standards. Matt sinks into depression and proceeds to cry for help even though nobody notices. He asks embers of the student body about the process for rectifying instances of bullying. There are no avenues for getting help. In the process, the dark side of the filmmaking industry emerge as the bullying persists. The audience is treated to a classic case of making of a culprit from a victim. Matt and Owen’s exposure to bullying hardens them, strengthens their will for revenge, and opens them up to a dark side that they willingly explore. In the filmmaking experience, the daily stresses of writing, editing, and the constant ridicule from their audience get to them. Matt chooses to fight back, despite sinking into a hole of depression. Characteristically, the entire time, Owen has been a part of Matt’s journey without realizing how deteriorated the latter’s mental state has gone, until it is too late.

Both of these films not only showcase the trials, losses, and issues that filmmaking exposes filmmakers to but also reveal just how personal the entire process is to the involved parties. For example, in The Dirties (2013), we see one of the main character battling depression caused by bullying and countless hours spent on the moviemaking project. A similar situation is seen where Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard (1950) is presented as delusional. From a filmmaking point of view, the process is brought out as consuming and one that brings unsurmountable losses to the filmmakers. Similar to Stanitzek’s findings, filmmaking is seen as a recurring problem even post-production where complexities of crafting a good title emerge. At some point, Matt and Owen decide to redo their film and label it The Dirties II, to show complexities that are present in title sequencing. Another similarity that is constant in the filmmaking industry is the desire for the spotlight. Norman Desmond is always looking for that perfect close-up similar to Matt and Owen’s obsession to keep on shooting even where other actions are required.

Film Style and Mode of Production

Sunset Boulevard (1950) is a film noir. The film benefits a lot from stylish lighting. The idea behind the film was to have a film telling the screen story in a way that does not stand out separately from the main theme. The film uses a sunny and contemporary setting that is unique to the Hollywood scene. However, this is in contrast with the shadow-filled decrepit gothic house that belongs to Norma Desmond. The contrast aims at adding to the notion of a faded movie star living in a different world than what she was used to, in a way that is suggestive of a person closed off from reality. In the noir, there is a scene where Desmond is being arrested for murder but her major concern is preening for a camera in order to document the experience in a way that captures her close-up.

In the same film, Joe Gillis’ world is different as a struggling screenwriter, a common characteristics for people in filmmaking who do not make part of the stardom. His world is presented differently through a documentary-like setting. Joe Gillis’s world provides an effective contrast to the exotic locale that defines the secluded and shadowed estate that Desmond lives in. The latter creates a suffocating atmosphere achieve perfectly through dim lighting and effectively taken shots. Deep-focus shots maintain the vast spaces of the house in sharp view. Sunset Boulevard was filmed as a classic. It represented the Hollywood culture, was historical in its style, and the aesthetics were significant to the period. Even with a popular color picture industry, the film still chose black and white cinematography to further augment its dark theme.

The Dirties, on the other hand has a number of sloppy themes. To attain all of these, the director employs a mockumentary style and a hint of dark humor to tell its story. To revenge against bullying, the main characters conceive to film in a violent fantasy-like style. To achieve realism in execution, the film used a documentary structure, imperfect shots, off-timed merging between scenes, and natural lighting in almost every shot. The use of hidden cameras also serves well to bring out a documentary-fiction style that is able to tell the story more appropriately.

The Dirties also has elements of an indie film. The film was made without the backing of a major studio and excessively big production. Aspects of the film reveal just how low budget the film was including the lighting, sound, use of camera angles, post-production and other notable elements. The film is in contract with the Sunset Boulevard on the basis of its theme, the production style, and the mode of production. The film reveals some form of tension between the mainstream Hollywood-based films and the simple yet effective style of an independent film. Ideally, the two styles are incomparable. In the creation and production of The Dirties, it is clear that there was a divergence from Hollywood-themed and other mainstream ideas that confine artists, directors, actors, and screenwriters, among others to specific unwritten rules and conventions. The film, as identified by Newman, benefits from its use of an indie style through alterity that acts as a counter-hegemonic agent and a sustenance that balances social class divisions. Indie film presents itself as a sophisticated and artistic form of cinema in comparison to mainstream and Hollywood filmmaking. Independent filmmaking has the ability to be innovative, to think on the fly, and not to remain constrained to mainstream ideas or rules. This is evidenced by the use of dark humor, sensitive social issues, and a documentary-fiction hybrid style to address issues that many mainstream filmmakers would not find profitable enough to use for Hollywood movies.

Comparative Analysis of the Styles, Intentions, and Outcomes

In redefining the Hollywood scene, Schatz found that movies made past the World War II period were more entrenched to the studio system and focused on innovative ways to capture the attention of an audience. Sunset Boulevard was among the last classical movies made in 1950, with the main intention being to redesign the mainstream movie market to newer standards. Indie filmmaking followed in the same footsteps, as filmmakers found new ways to tell their stories without being exposed to limitations from the mainstream industry and having to downsize their ideas in order to comply with the ideas of the sponsoring studios. From The Dirties, Matt Johnson shows how filmmaking can create cinema that relates to real life issues using a real life point of view that is in contrast to the well scripted mainstream strategy. Overall, the two case studies indicate that the filmmaking industry has more complex features than meets the eye, including styles used, production systems, themes, ideas, technical issues, and so on.


Filmmaking is depicted as a rigid style that leads to personal problems once the lights are off. This is especially so for the film Sunset Boulevard that features a washed up star unaware of the fact that her past is now gone. The rigidity of the Hollywood scene is also revealed through the independent style in The Dirties, a film talking about a social issue unique to the American society. In general, the film industry is one that cannot be defined in one umbrella term because filmmaking is a constantly evolving field. However, it is clear that the film industry and the filmmaking concept influence the direction of cinema in more ways than one.


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