By Scott Shaw
When I discuss filmmaking, and particularly Zen Filmmaking, I often reference the term, Cinematic Enlightenment. From this, I often receive the question, “What is Cinematic Enlightenment?” I believe for the true filmmaker they already know the answer to that question. But, for the novice or the non-filmmaker, they wonder what I am speaking about. To explain…
As a filmmaker, you are constantly attempting to capture that perfect image. The ideal representation of what you are seeing with your eyes. You want to bring what you are physically viewing, via the pathway of your mind, and capture it in a filming format that then perfectly presents that image to the viewer. This is a process of body, mind, and camera continuum. Much of the time these elements do not come to together to find a perfect harmony. Yes, as a filmmaker, you may adequately capture the image. But, it is only in those moments of interwoven camera, body, and mind perfection that the image is captured perfectly.
For many, in fact most, they do not understand that filmmaking is based in philosophy. They see it simply as a means of entertainment. Thus, a movie is just something that they like or they do not like. Some may even understand that filmmaking is an art form. Most, however, do not comprehend that true, actualized filmmaking is based in the unique philosophy of the individual filmmaker. As each true filmmaker possesses (or at least should possess) their own unique philosophy, this means that they interpret the filmmaking process by their own set of standards and guidelines. Thus, they seek a particular outcome for each scene that they hope to capture with a camera.
Just as in Zen Buddhism we learn that Satori (instantaneous enlightenment) happens in the mind of the individual in a moment of perfect realization, this is the same with Cinematic Enlightenment. It is the perfect combination of combining what the eyes see, with what the mind visualized the scene to be, and then perfectly capturing that scene and ultimately projecting it onto the screen. Thus, Cinematic Enlightenment is the filmmaker finding instantaneous perfection, realized in their own mind, via the medium of eye, camera, and mind coordination.
To conclude, just as it is understood in Zen Buddhism, there is no absolute pathway to achieving Nirvana and there is no one Enlightenment. Enlightenment is realized by the individual in their own unique manner. Thus, there is no school for Cinematic Enlightenment and there are no techniques one has to practice to realize it. It is a natural process that the true filmmaker is allowed to recognize when they let go of their physical aspirations, they remove desire from the filmmaking equation, and they allow their body, mind, eyes, and the camera to form a cohesive unit that establishes a perfect reality that is allowed to harness an image, if only for a moment, and then project that image onto a screen. From this, perfect realization of the outside world blended in coordination with the internal world of the mind’s eye is realized and Cinematic Enlightenment is experienced.
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