John McTiernan on cinematic language – screen specific version


I spent quite a lot of time with this one. Compiling all the valuable bits from all of the commentaries McTiernan had recorded and then making them screen specific. I was trying to edit it more like a lesson, a lecture and some people have told me it seemed that way.

21 thoughts on “John McTiernan on cinematic language – screen specific version

  1. Wow, thank you for posting this ! this is pure gold ! It feels like behing in a classroom with McTiernan, he would make a great teacher !

    • that’s exactly how I felt when I first listened to the commentary – it’s what truly compelled me to start condensing commentaries in hopes of finding bits and pieces of the same filmmaking information and insight as I got from McTiernan – each video being in a sense a “lecture on film” it truly is better than any fucking film school – “What one man can do, another can do”

      watch, observe, learn and practice it.

      • Oh man I was gonna post Tony Scott 2 weeks ago maybe, I have most of the selections done and I wanted to include it all into ONE 15 minute commentary – like the McTiernan one, just the essentials…but I found out I got so much info, about an Hour and a half, that I’m trying to figure out how to include just the essentials, cause there’s a bit of repetition and expansion of ideas in each commentary… but I’ll post it! Don’t sweat it, I ain’t goin’ anywhere 😉

  2. I totally agree with this ”no film school spirit”, in fact I have been learning like that for a few years now (first as a graphic artist and then as an aspiring filmmaker)

  3. Thank you so much for your posts. I’m really glad there’s someone out there who is very much interested in storytelling through movies (yes, I didn’t call it filmmaking simply because I am a huge advocate for digital cinema. I digress.) Anyways, I will respond directly to McTiernan’s Cinematic Language video in this comment. Well, firstly the commentary is great: he obviously knows what he’s talking about, and practices what he preaches. Secondly, I acknowledge that he, along with others, were deviating from the norm of just having a camera in a stagnant shots, and I applaud that; however, I will just say that everything must be done in moderation. Yes, this would based on subjective tastes, but I believe in shot variations –well, shots are mixture of all the elements (moving or stationary shots). I wouldn’t really wanna call attention to the camera movements like he does with the steadycam going about everywhere –I think they were just psyched about moving the shots that they kinda abused them; then again, it was new back then so…Idk, I like the way Fincher is subtle with his movements, and when he wants to make significant statements he does move it a little, but you are barely taken out of the whole experience of an omnipotent observer. I like that. And, coming from photography as my first love, I really love shots/frames that are beautifully composed–every David Fincher movie is well composed (and of course lit). Freeze any frame in The Matrix and it’s still aesthetically pleasing. When you move the camera too much, the audience never really appreciates the aesthetics of cinematic adventure in which you are taking them. Yes, I understand that it depends on what kind of story you’re telling, but when I’M shooting, I always conscious of composition, à la Kubrick, Fincher, THE MATRIX etc…

    This is why i never wanna leave comments: I have so much to say and I make many tangents, though they are relevant.

    Thanks again. I wanted to show that I am an avid subscriber to your posts both on this blog and youtube, not just a lurker.

    • Never be afraid to voice your opinion on here, man. Thanks for posting your thoughts. I know what you mean about the movements – if I may respond… the stuff with Verhoeven and McTiernan, I wouldn’t say the camera is calling attention to itself. It’s different kind of filmmaking. Fincher has used movements that weren’t exactly subtle either. For instance in Alien 3 when the convicts go down to investigate with magnesium flares… there is a distinctly energetic camera push in – watch @ 7:39 –

      It’s just part of the syntax of filmmaking. I personally don’t think they were going crazy with it because everytime the camera movement meant something and I never consciously THOUGHT about it I just KNEW it worked. It’s only after I started reverse engineering the shots that I understood the reasons for them being there. Also, McTiernan simply adopted the movements from European filmmakers at the time when nobody else was doing them in the states. Verhoeven brought it with him when he made Robocop and from then on it just snowballed. There’s a distinction though, if you listen to the commentary he mentions how now it’s being used without THOUGHT in music vids where the camera just moves for stylistic reasons rather than any kind of story motivations.

      Both of them do use it with moderation – you become aware of the movements when you begin to analyze shots – it’s just the nature of it. Like when you first notice the arrow in the FEDEX logo – you can’t help it but notice it from that point on. You know?

      • McT’s skillful techniques were obvious from the beginning, and developed superbly. Old back issues of Premiere etc. reveal how highly sought he was by every studio for all their tentpoles (and how many huge projects he shrugged away). His first miscalculation was Medicine Man, an expensive fizzle which he failed to correct with the following year’s even costlier and messier Last Action Hero. DH3 returned the maestro (Vengeance was 1995’s #1 global blockbuster), but soon afterward poor test-screenings of 13th Warrior caused Crichton to fire McT during its year-delayed post process. MGM was so desperate to survive they offered him any movie in their catalog to remake. Thomas Crown was a partial redemption dampened at the box-office by its R rating (vs. the earlier PG-13 hit Entrapment). Next he chose Rollerball, and while it’s hard now to find media coverage of what John was saying in interviews prior, as that movie took shape in development and pre-production, all the major choices and decisions were his. They all sounded bad, and I was fascinated to see how he was going to make it work somehow. The following year’s Basic was an almost pointless gimmick. Considering that 10 years prior he’d been offered Robin Hood, a Harrison Ford Western, 007, the Princess of Mars and more, it’s sad his career trajectory went off the rails. But as the saying goes, the light that burns twice as bright, burns half as long. Thank you for compiling his screen-specific commentary excerpts – the man is a genius artist.

    • Agreed. McTiernan is a master filmmaker! What sucks is the whole bullshit with him and the phonetapping. After BASIC he was working on a film for two years about a hijacked airplane – but that fell apart. I’m truly happy you’re diggin the site. I try my best to bring in here the most informative cinematic information!

      • That “bullshit” was John’s regrettable decision – nobody forced him to hire Tony Pellicano to break the law, or to subsequently lie to the FBI. Rollerball was expensively bad because of John’s spoiled brat behavior, and MGM was merely trying to protect their vulnerable investment by having Roven act as McTiernan’s babysitter. Earlier McTiernan had been a genius filmmaker (IMHO the best adventure helmer ever), but his ego got in the way, feeling he was too good to be forced to collaborate with a producer like Charles Roven (12 Monkeys, Dark Knight). John’s attorney’s ludicrous pleas to the judge when begging out of imminent prison sounded like something Harry Ellis would squeal. History has been kinder to Roven, who endured torment to get where he is today.

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