Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Why are people so hard to please?

That's the relevant question of the text generation.

1996. New York City. The internet in it's infancy, the pre digital revolution still a year away. Life is calmer, no IMDB. Art is in post modern mode, movies are still in a transitional stage between blockbusters and indies.

Flashforward to 2009, to 2010. Negativity has gone wild, digital. Our consumption for communication has given us more options to display our distaste. Things are lamer, that's for sure, but so is our ability to feel pleasure in pop culture.

Are we fed up with things or have we given up making them better?

People are harder to please. They want more than before, in their food, in their looks, in their movies, in their facebooks. Communication has led to parallels between our needs and our wants, and made them the same thing by stripping away critical perspective for the perils of negative thought.

Go to any IMDB board and it's filled with hate, some justified, most troubling. Don't like Transformers? don't watch it. Hate Lady Gaga? don't write it. And that's what we're doing: we're driving our art forms into the ground by being so hyper critical. Bloggers are a nasty bunch in particular, the stuff of venom and vitriol directed at anything that is deemed uncool or in need of improvement. We all wished something was better, but we rarely focus on that because our taste, internet taste, has conditioned us to look at the wrong side. It's the backwards way of thinking.

Critiquing something, dissecting it for our own purposes has been the biggest change in communication in the past ten years, and it's all because the access to communication and communicating it got convenient. Imagine for example a day without internet, without text messaging, without twitter, facebook. Your brain will start thinking what it's missing, like a drug. We've become hooked in a paradox that's affected our thinking. It is not the image of reliance that I talk about, but the idea that our outlook towards life and our attitudes towards enjoyment and criticism have become blurred.

Do you remember Total recall? Quaid wanted escapism from his daily life. He went and got sold a dream, except that now WE are Quaid. We can project who we want to be.

It is true that the quality of our entertainment has gotten more desperate and less pleasing, it's a sign of the times that things have to be this disposable without thought and appeal to as many people as possible, and suffer in thematic richness as a result. Transformers 2 was 2 1/2 hours long, way longer than necessary to sustain the fun on such a thin story, but people don't go to it for story: it's to see shit blow up good. And on those grounds it succeeds.

Movies have gotten too simplistic for deep thought, but it's the audience who jumps to thrashing as a means to demonstrate their own sense of entitlement. People are losing social skills. I can barely write something before hordes of opinionated people who have nothing better than complain tell me their opinions are better. Majority rules.

Being a cynic is fashionable, predicated on the moral fiber by which the skeptic's sensibility comes from. The dissatisfaction with HOW you perceive something is not the same of how it exists, the train of thought that shapes perception is affected by inner prejudice or mental rejection. Following something through with logic and thought is not the way most people communicate this day, witness the compact ways our living has been reduced to. Twitter, for example, narrows down blogging to short bytes, just the way people like it.

Cynicism is really bad these days, being constructive is something that requires time and effort, and something to say. Dissing something because you don't like it is perfectly valid, it's the trend of dissing that is the problem, and a direct link to the digital age points to how we experience something is how we feel about those things.

I gather the lack of excitement in today's movies, music, and art has a lot to do with this. Since instant access to any information has rendered the imagination handicapped, people think less and suck in more at a faster pace than it takes to make a rational argument for why they feel bad about something. It happens to me, when I go to the movies and have to sit through another film trailer that gives away the entire movie I cringe, it makes me angry. So is Will Ferrel's face. Or Jonah Hill. But that's only my opinion.

We face uncertain times, in a world going through a mid life crisis. It informs who we are, there is a lot wrong with it, but also a lot of right. It's up to you to decide which way your status resides. Everyone's got an opinion, but do they really matter if the beacon of light is lost in a sea of gray?

Point is we bitch too much, and enjoy less from what we should. The attitude in our social behavior is impacted since the dawn of facebook and blogging, and these are all consequences of our consumption. Facebook is great to keep in touch with friends, but bad for airing out your dirty laundry. Some things are best kept private, but the itchy trigger of the keyboard keeps us saying. I blog about what I like and what I don't like, but at least make you feel like you don't have to take a shower afterwards. By being balanced at least the karma points are in favor, and dishing out punishment less severe.

Really, arguing with people on the internet is at best retarded and at worse lesson giving. We could stand to learn a few pointers from Fletch, and not from the rest.

There's always twitter, which puts these sorta things to rest...onto the next.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Making a living as an editor?

This is the eternal question facing post production professionals. The answer is a variable set of principles, hypothesis that point out the emerging changes we must all face.

I don't know a lot of editors but I speak for myself. The magic potion that brings stability and business is none other than skill. And perseverance. Knowing something the other man does not know. Knowing how to tell a story.

The transformation of post production in the last decade from SD based, tape work flow to visual effects driven, grading HD work flows necessitate the learning of new skills. Things only learned by experience, by doing. In the golden age of the studio system, the editors were in charge of cutting picture, and supervised the sound mix on shows. Movies had the assembly line according to union rules, it was one discipline. Done.

Fast forward the past 50 years and here we arrive. With more and more people focusing on post production as a career, schools are stuck in a quagmire between teaching the tools and preparing people for arguably the most important thing of it all: getting a job.

The above is more important than learning the tools, because experience comes in opportunities. You must cut to know what it is. Any dummy can learn Final Cut Pro and pick up a tutorial to press the keys, but editing is an art form and that alone don't cut it. I knew since day one I wanted to be a filmmaker but my disdain for the school system changed my priorities. I wanted a career, not content to being a filmmaker in word only. I studied Graphic Design with an eye on Motion Graphics, and learned the discipline of working with what you've got. How the arrangement of things work to fit the whole. It was THE most valuable experience and the reason why I am an editor today.
But that is just theory. Everything is doing.

But what do you desire in this business?

When I talk to people about this, they all tell me they want to cut features. Features are the holy grail of any editor. But features are union based, I'm talking studio funded ones where the credits roll and more than one person is responsible for post.

I'm not so lucky. I cut what they give me and don't worry about the rest. Great editors cut shitty works at one point or another, and this day and age one can't afford to be selective. You either know what's good for you or you don't do the job.

The eye of the eagle in the 2000's points to hustling, the learning something the other guy doesn't know to get the job. Done. There is more asked from an editor than ever before, and we must meet those deadlines because it's all supposed to be done in the same amount of time. For example, I grade. I learned titles. My background helped me ease that and editors who know their sh*t come from a disciplinary background.

The quality of post production in most shows is standard, some exceptional. But the role of the editor in those results is indeed prominent in it's success or failure. One of the great things about editors is that we're barely blamed for something that sucks, but also we don't get the kudos we deserve because it all goes to the director. Most picture cutters don't care anyway, we're too busy cutting to worry about what that means.

And what it means is two ways to the same equation: work. How do you work? how do you get work?

I've done my share of freebies to build my portfolio. Some worth it, some done just for doing it. All valid.

Here are two doors:

1) Assistant Editor

The path most of us have to take. It's a great way to learn the editing room and all it's responsibilities, but you won't learn how to cut that way. You'll learn how to manage time which is the step to learning how to cut. I've worked many times as an assistant editor and it was great, this was on more commercial based stuff.

According to the editors guild, assistant editors are predominately Avid based. Most shows are still edited on Avid, which is the standard although Final Cut Pro is the better alternative in my opinion. Assistants can spend up to ten years or even more on that position, since the gaps between assistant and editor are wider now. Assistants are just too busy and demanding to serve the cutting room needs to actively learn how to edit. Just like the camera guild, you gotta be grandfathered in if you wanna work on union productions and you gotta pay dues first. These guys know their shit, and are competent. That's why they work on features and shows.

But does that mean they'll ever be cutters? the article on the link points out the dilemma. Yes it's great to work, but wanna spent years supporting a staff and not learning your craft? it's up to you. There are no guarantees.

I chose the other path. Path # 2.

Learn by doing.

I learned one craft and applied it to others. The best editors come from another background. Nobody I know studied editing, they fell into it. And so did I.

Unlike cinematography, editing cannot be taught. Sorry but it cannot. It has the be learned. Because there is no one philosophy to approach it, and theory is a clutch, and film schools teach that at the mercy of creativity. The rules are constantly being rewritten, with trends are born any minute. The question is, why do you like it? you must love something to be devoted to it. That cancels out financial considerations, although it's a necessity to pay your rent. I don't make a lot of money and probably never will, but I love what I do. When I get paid for it, it's icing on the cake. I took a job last spring on a project that I've been very grateful for. It gave me a chance to work with someone whose work I really admire, and I learned a lot in the process. Didn't make a cent. And the video still has no release. But that is out of my hands. I just hope that I pleased the director and did the job accordingly.

And there is nothing more gratifying than knowing when something goes well. You watch it and people laugh when they have to, cry when they have to, or hate it when they have to. A reaction is the sign you're doing something right or wrong.

And that's knowing how to tell a story.

Ten years ago, I said to myself I wanna learn to cut. The psychological reasons for making people feel a certain way afforded by editing were attractive. I just love putting things together. I used to cut on tape before as a child. Taking VHS tapes and using two VCR's with flying erase heads to edit. I knew then this was interesting, and temperament (patience) and obsession also being requisite parts of the agenda. Final Cut Pro came and that changed the industry, it made it possible for you me and Joe Schmuck to edit. Shooting stuff helped, but professional environment is were you learn, were you're thrown under the bus.

You don't arrive at those steps without paying dues. Editing is instinctive. It's psychological. It's true to film making. Commercials are a safe heaven for editors, because it's a demanding business. Everyone needs an editor. Work for an agency and cut commercials. I've done it. I love it. Wish I could do it more. Knowing what is realistic within your skills is what sets your limits, and your capabilities. It's astounding when professionals call themselves editors but don't know sh*t from shynola. And there are a lot of them.

And you don't learn how to tell a story through technical manuals. My mother is the greatest storyteller, and so is the friend who tells you a great story and leaves out the boring parts. That is life, and life is storytelling. What you bring to the job is your sensibility, but the footage tells you how to cut.

Average editors rule the airways, in television a lot of chances are being taken but there's a lot of crappy edits too. Schedules are shorter, facilitated by the assembly line way shows are turned out. Only a selected group of editors are in demand, people who work in film, commercials, music videos with filmmakers who are like partners.

These are the people who you see in the credits. Repeatedly. Watch a Tim Burton film? watch for Chris Lebenzon. Tony Scott? same one. How about Dylan Tichenor? he's got the market cornered. These are great editors, and they're great because they have experience to fail or succeed. Someone starts somewhere. And that's my whole point.

The future.

Is now. We're living it. And it is going to end one day. Learning the tools and techniques to execute something quickly and proficiently is what gets you a job, but actually knowing how to cut and seeing the results play out is what gets you a career. Bring the disciplines to one and use it like a swiss army knife, all instruments are useful.

But you gotta know how tell a story, and leave out the boring parts.

The rent is due, by the way.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Editing the music video: a primer

Now, this highlights music video editors and their prowess behind the clips.

A well edited clip doesn't just illicit perfect harmony with the visuals, it's got to make you feel them through assembly, arranging it like a good jazz session would.

I liken this way:

Jay Z "99 Problems" Ed: Robert Duffy.

Robert Duffy constructed an editorial masterpiece out of fragmentation, jump cuts, and perfect timing. Flawless, and textbook example of how GREAT editing is.

Jay-Z "99 Problems"

Prodigy "Smack my bitch up" Ed: Jonas Akerlund.

Watch it again. Look at how it stays in character, just like what it portrays.

Michael Jackson "Thriller" Ed: George Folsey Jr.

Thiller is everything a video should be, the holy grail. But the editing of George Folsey has been overlooked for Michael's gravistas, and credit should be due. This is how a dance performance is cut, period. That shit just kills. Every video done ever since has taken the same style and refined it, but 3,000 angles does not equal better editing. Selected shots and rhythmn does, evidenced here. Trivia: He also cut Hostel...and Animal House.

Squarepusher "Come down my selector" Ed: Chris Cunningham.

Every single edit is perfectly timed to the beat of the song, and it all fits. Remarkable. Chris is a better editor than most of them, this was his first. All the other ones were done by Gary Knight. Afrika Shox is a highlight.

R.E.M "Everybody hurts" Ed: Pat Sheffield

Form follows function in this clip. Perfectly lends itself well to the video's theme, and the edits don't intrude they illustrate. With that kinda footage, i'd be hard to fuk that up.

REM - Everybody Hurts

Justice "Stress" Ed: Romain Gavras.

Romain fucking killed it with this clip. Easily the best edited clip in awhile.

CSS "Move" Ed: Keith Schofield.

A more recent example. It's so simple in theory and moves at a good pace. Take one shot out and it all falls apart, I think Keith understands the "house of cards" approach to editing: every one counts. Put one in the wrong place and the house comes crashing down. I wish hip hop video editors understood this concept.

More to come. List to be updated.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Generation me = rant.

See this fking guy? look familiar? he just made the self possessed claim that he's the king of pop. Like anyone but him would believe him.

But you what's troubling? he may be right just because people ARE inclined to believe him.

This is a rant. It is filled with disgust. If you don't wanna partake tune out now.

This generation, "Genenation me" are a bunch of fcking idiots. Really. A nation of people with mental challenges, inclined on technology (the keyboard is the new bible) and twitter to construct a significance, built on nothing more than just self vanity as a substitute for a lack of personality.

Welcome to generation me, and it's happening everywhere across the galaxy.

Twitter, Facebook, Texting, Blogging, Youtubing, self idolation, celebrity worship, fashion obsession, hollowness, dumbness, pointlessness, non sense. These are the hallmarks of this dreaded culture and the representation of an entire species. I'm one generation removed, call me X, and can't relate. Won't relate, will never relate.

Any browse through Youtube is filled with hatred, homophobia, and most can't spell correctly or articulate it. Young people have just lost their minds, and have nothing to show for it than what is on their H & M ornated facade. It's the Tyler Durden speech rings a bell truer in detail, truer in verse.

During the past ten years, something was taking place. A generation got younger, and embraced the self as a means of existence. No longer content on representing individuality, they took the bargain basement fashions, quoteable movie slang, and 80's fashion to absurd extremes. Pictures of partying, drunkeness, and toplessness seemed to be no a social discourse, but an actual means of entitlement. Like that is what cool is. Twitter the result, and check 1,000 times to see how many hits you get.

During the movies, you'll text for the duration and only look up during the loud parts. In the street, you zip your latte and say "omg" on your sidekick at every moment of every step of every territory. This is who you are. This is who you became.

Reading scores are down, polls point to 70% of "adults" in the 18-25 range consider themselves "knowledgeable" of world events yet any search through blogs points the inward: this generation of people are dumb. Graduating to the worse financial crisis of the last 50 years, yet why do so many keep a job?

Because they're narcissistic. And narcissistic means you don't think about half the shit most people do. You worry only about self, how you look, how you're perceived and how your value as a human entity is carried in your laptop.

So you're entitled to everything is because you're special? no you're not. This mindset has created an army of useless people, people that populate our sidewalks, night clubs, cafes, and social living. Hipsters, you're an easy target. Men who whine and wear fedoras with fucking shorts while zipping on BK lager should be shot to extinction. Saving that money to buy you a pair of those high tops? great. You can't afford it yet you buy it. I am not against capitalism, shit I am a capitalist but there is something profound and troubling when your moral fiber consists of giving a fk about nobody but your self at the expense of...yourself or others like you.

You hate to be alone. You wait until that text comes back to see what your friends are up to tonight. You tweet about it. You bitch about it. You get isntant gratification from those who agree and wanna take you out. You "like this". The constant attention. The playing the game. Past 30 and still the same.

We talk about the things we don't have, whine about what we do. It's the realization that soon one day you'll realize that the life you live is the one you're living at now. Every single second or every single minute. What is useful about it? that is the eternal question. We are at the mercy of intimacy, substituting communication for instant gratification. They are not the same. They are not designed to be the same.

What you put in is as anything as what you put out.

All comes crashing down. Baby boomers got old, and their abuse of the system led to the credits crunch and the bubble burst. Flash the new economy and all things changed, for the better we don't know but change is not something people that don't think like to do. Interaction is completely dependent on what is happening tonight and what celebrity did what on what reality show star dressed why. Facebook status says "why is it raining today, it's ruining my evening plans" to useless talk of "getting highlights today and hate tall buildings". Whine and whine about yadayadayda LOL LMOA LMFFAO. Whatever. ADD is on auto pilot.

Who's responsable for the narcissism epidemic? the internet.

Yes the internet. Everyone is safe heaven to free expression, youtube facilitated a lack of originality since you can take anything that exists and make it your own. Music sounds worse than it did a decade ago, going back to a decade that was long ago.

The 80's. And why are skinny jeans still in fashion? high top sneakers and bright colors? WTF is this supposed to be? it's hard these people seriously.

The rise of inflated self is a thing people tend to believe, since self satisfaction is mutual with self idolation. They learned this from reality tv, and instructed by gossip mags and bloggers whose negative rhetoric and put downs have become the language of an entire generation. Subtlety, meaningful relationship, generosity, intelligence. These were once hallmarks of a thinking person, but even in school these idiots just think about what they're going to do when they get out. 9/11 taught the world of gen X to grow up. Some did. Some went vegan. Some embraced ironic messages in their t shirts. Some grew a beard. Yager shots in brooklyn is a cultural defining form. Material wealth and grandiose egos are a thing that plagues the visual world, and turns inward on them. Confronted with a crisis, you'd rather twitter the result than confront it like a thinking man (or woman, or both) do: with common sense. A sense of self removed from construct, removed from what you think you know, removed from what you haven't done built from what you've lived. That is who you are.

What ME needs is a sense of reality. What wiser people always try to instill on young ones, and every generation that preceded it has it.

Yes, common sense. That is what's missing this generation and the source of responsibility among action: common sense. Narcissism is a crisis of spiritual faith, were the love of self is not love at all but a deeply distorted sense that you must love me because I am special. Without demonstrating the superlative reasons why you should be treated special. Exceptional at anything besides sucking dick? kissing ass? telling people and hearing what you want to know? that is what me is exceptional at. There is no withs if or buts about it. The narcissism epidemic is so corrosive to society that everything must start again from zero to believe in again.

So when you hear Kanye talk about being the next king of pop, Me will believe him because they've got frame of reference, no mental construct to think otherwise. If you say it, then it must be true. That is the distortion that marks Me and oblivious to all things true to form, true to life. That requires a sense of reality, a sense of thought not a sense of self according to construct not lived not earned through experience emotional or otherwise. You've never been exceptional, because you ride the coatails of your own inflated self as a substitute to reality. LOL. LMAO. OMG. WTF.

Would you like to say a few words to mark the occasion? they have more than three syllables.

Friday, July 24, 2009

3D or not 3D?

Now it's 3D that's taken over movie screens as a fad.

Or does it offer new storytelling possibilities? yes and no.

I got one word for ya: Avatar.

3D has seen the industry transform (and the profits rise) so it's not a secret they went for it. Big time. Economically it makes sense, for they can charge a premium (about 17 bucks) per ticket and it'll offset the loss of DVD revenues, which were the cornerstone of the business in the last decade.

But why is 3D special? is it special? I've only seen one film in 3D - Beowolf. It wasn't special. Any technology depends on how the filmmaker uses it, and throwing stuff at the audience at random intervals is just cheap, and gimmicky.

If 3D was the be a viable alternative to enhance the experience, make it an actual part of the process and enhance the storytelling. This is were the technology has promise, and of course it takes an innovator like James Cameron to lead the way.

His film will combine 3D with a newly developed technology that would have really feel as close to being there without actually being there, Avatar will be a mix of CGI and live action, picture Golum from LOTR as the main character in a CG environment and you get the picture.

But that sounds exciting and all, what about the rest?

The rest is bullshit really, why not invest those resources into making better scripts or even better lighting? it's amazing how prosaic film making has become, were camera coverage is like television and fast edits with multiple angles is the idea of excitement. Spectacle always works when you are hooked, and that starts with good characters or something amazing to look at. The Dark Knight in Imax was a defining moment, because that film contained amazing cinematography and characters to tell a good story. Not seeing how destruction can occur or how the earth can be toppled by giant robots, even though that could be fun too...just not for 2 1/2 hours.

Somehow they realized that the shitty product was costing more and revenues were down on auxillary markets, so they developed a fad to keep people interested...and make some more money. That I'm not against, but I am against bad product.

And most of it is. Formula. Even Michael Mann, a filmmaker I adore, struck out by sticking to close to his formula. WFT?

In the business, everything's a formula. What cannot be marketed cannot be made, as simple as that. And 3D has promise despite the gimmick but watch it attached to every talking animal movie Disney makes for the next ten years until it runs it's course.

They jump on the bandwagon for profits, which are record high despite them bitching attendance is down. How can attendance be down when two films this summer (Transformers and Harry Potter) have broken opening week records? the movies have gotten worse and the technology more sophisticated.

Really, Transformers 2 was really a bad movie that looked great. I had more fun watching The Hangover than any film out this year. Last summer had great films to choose from, this summer not so much. And the rest of the year not so much.

Translates into nothing without a good story. Avatar, that shows a lot of promise.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Don't forget your goals.

It's easy to lose the ladder as you climb your way up to becoming an editor.

The traditional master / servant role of Editor / Assistant has narrowed, not expanded due to technology facilitating more tasks for the assistant. HD work flows dominate the rooms, man.

What does that mean for an aspiring, up and coming assistant? doom.

It used to be that we relied on the code book and trimming dailies to work the room, now the path to becoming an editor with the big leagues is plagued with getting sucked into assistant mode, permanently or even years can take until you become a picture editor.

And becoming a picture editor is far out of reach if you go the assistant route. You may learn valuable lessons on how to structure an edit and all the technological issues one must master, but it won't teach you how to cut. Learning how to cut requires actually doing, not observing, cutting.

In Cut To The Chase, the greatest book on editing I've ever read, legendary film editor Sam O Steen (Chinatown, The Graduate, ect) recalls that he spent 11 years paying his dues as an assistant, but by the time he got to edit a feature he'd doctored so many that his peers at Warner Bros had to vouche for him to get in the union. He was under contract to Jack Warner, who notoriously kept editors on a leash on the studio system.

Yes the path is long, but the road is longer. Assistant editor duties have evolved throughout the years to a point of a less creative and more managerial position, more demanding and more technical then before. Most will contest that they will want to cut picture at some part of their lives, and if their mentors will get them in that could happen. Tv in particular has a good system to enter the gates, but like most things in life things happen random, and by force of will do your goals ever get met.

I do not believe in unions, and I do not believe anyone will give you a break. That break must happen by your own doing, pushing and shoving until it happens. Why would anyone spend 6-12 years of their life assisting other people when there is a path to cutting that only experience will teach? sorry but that gap will get wider between editor / assistant.

Jeff Buchanan, editor of Gondry's Be Kind Rewind, became a feature editor after cutting documentaries and bypassed the assistant route. Now the edit in that movie is debateable, but point is some people by association get their lucky break. And that's all that's needed.

As for me, I've done the assistant thing. But later in life, as I learned how to cut alone and by doing. The ratio of getting paid by it vs working for free is uneven thus far, but fortunes are about to change. Once you arrive at a place were you feel your skills are good, that you have developed a methodology, then you gotta have work that shows it. I do not know what people look at when they hire editors, because most people who hire them ARE NOT editors. That's why you see so many idiots running the asylum.

Lesson learned? don't forget your goals, and continue cutting. Anything that moves.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

10 things I learned from watching Entourage.

The new season of Entourage is underway, and I'm a huge fan.

It's the only TV show that I watch, and it says a lot about Hollywood and it's culture albeit in an inflated, "fictional" reality way.

There are ten things I learned watching the show, which may or may not help me later in my career. These are:

1) The "arty" director always wins.

Billy Walsh stuck a finger to the establishment, and didn't care about money. Now that's not something I would follow, but his tactics to keep the suits away were formidable entries in a chess game of film making. Notes taken.

2) Listen to who can make you a deal.

Ari Gold was ALWAYS right. He's the man with the lifeline.

3) Don't listen to actors.

Vincent Chase don't know shit from Shynola. Evidenced in the Medellin storyline.

4) ALWAYS have another project set up.

In case the one you're working on bombs.

5) Spend wisely, but make the studio pay for the real things.

Like perks, trips, ect. Wanna hire me? fly me in. Wait, it's not like that anymore.

6) Make sure the posse has a job.

That way you're not the loyal breadwinner.

7) Studio execs are crazy.

And so are the description of the movies they make.

8) Don't trust what's not on paper.

Here today, gone tomorrow. It's not on the script? don't film it.

9) Keep family out the business.

Johnny Drama fucks things up routinely for Vince.

10) Lat but not least:

Play the eccentric, commanding, take no prisoners director well. It's your saving grace from the suits. But deliver no matter what capacity you're working on.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Review: The Girlfriend Experience


It's a perfect example of what not to do when your subject is sex you better deliver what it promises. In Steven Soderbergh's take it offers neither of the above, so it makes it hard to recommend. The take on the material is all business, no fun.

It doesn't work as anything titillating (casting Sasha Grey in the lead is stunt casting without the stunts) but it does work as an examination of how the client / servant relationship works...in 2008 economic climate terms.

This is good stuff to hang a story on, sex in the digital age is a great topic to explore but sadly that wasn't the case. What we get is a passive protagonist looking bored while her clients bitch and moan about the current economic climate.

It's a movie for people who would rather be reading The Economist than be fucking somebody, and that's troubling. Show me some fucking and I'll show you some interest. We get some insights on the business of economy but that's it.

That is so 2008, man. That framing device of the dudes rambling about nonsense (and the horrid color correction) has nothing to do with the movie.

For a more titillating, cerebral, and gutsy look at the life of an escort, I suggest you watch 1991's Tokyo Decadence.

That movie features a truly courageous performance by the lead, with sex scenes that will get your blood running. That character was tragic, made worse by the degradation and humiliation of her work. It was realistic, and cold yet somewhat sexy.

The Girlfriend Experience is more interested in the inner working of the client / provider relationship and that's ok if you like hearing people complain complain complain about the economy, since the movie just happens as a series of scenes there's no connective tissue to warrant much interest. There is a sort of arc to the proceedings but you'll have to get to the end to see it, I didn't and turned it off at the 40 minute mark.

Sex and economy are a shaky business to pull off cinematically, stories need to be relatable on a human level, or offer some insights with fresh characters we don't know about.

Soderbergh chose the least interesting path for this: Economy. The internet has changed all views of sexuality, and how people promote themselves. The interpersonal connection between sex / technology would have been the angle this story would work from, to me it seems more interesting than hearing a bunch of people whose faces we rarely see talk about the economy. You've got a porn star in the lead, use that to turn the expectations on it's head and integrate her baggage into the plot. Sasha Grey did ok, what her character was supposed to do or didn't do.

I think the premise was ok, and given the right set of hands could have turned out a lively, gutsy, and entertaining movie about the inner workings of an escort. Soderbegh just didn't seem very interested in the story, and it shows in the lack of texture and boring dissatisfaction from the way it's mounted. It looks good, shot with the Red and the acting is ok, neither character makes much of an impression. The audio mixing was also a problem, some of the sound sounded terrible.

Others would like it, but if you've ever f**cked an escort you would know a lot more fun is showing than talking.

Had The Girlfriend Experience focused on the inner workings of the character, and cast someone less passive, it would have been ok.

Anyone seen Tokyo Decadence? pop that in.

Michael Mann + Dante Spinnoti = Great, Mann + Spinnoti + HD? Not great

I fucking love Michael Mann. Let's get it out of the way.

I fucking love HD, let's get that out of the way.

Mann and his great DP Dante Spinotti reunite on this summer's public enemies, their last collaboration being 1999's supreme The Insider. Shot on film. This one is shot on HD using the Cinealta camera from Sony and there are issues I'd like to discuss with the medium.

Mann is supreme master conductor of feelings and mood, second only to no one working today. I remember when I first saw Manhunter ages ago and how marvel I was at the deep focus compositions and attention to detail his films have. I recently rewatched Heat and was blown away by details I didn't catch the first few times I saw it.

Even when hit or miss his films exhibit great visuals. When I saw the trailer for Public Enemies, I was dumbfounded. Not that he shot digital, but how cheap the movie looks. It looks really cheap. Budget? 100 mill.

It's not secret that HD has come to revolutionizing the system of image acquisition, with each format having pluses and minuses there is still no concrete way to match the density and quality film provides. Take a look at the shootout bank scene in heat (one of the greatest action scenes ever committed to celluloid) and compare that to the trailer for Public Enemies below.

See where I'm going?

It's not the point to compare the two as greater and lesser, but to use Mann's technique as an evolution of each medium.

Mann's approach to HD vs his Film approach.

HD picks up highlights at night that would necessitate HUGE lighting rights if shot on 35MM. Even if you used a fast stock and lenses it'll still need more lighting than HD. Indeed Mann's films are mostly shot at night (his characters populate their lives at night) so aesthetically this makes sense. Collateral benefit from this approach (he used an early version of Thompson's Viper Camera) and can be seen in the scenes were jamie Foxx calls Jada Pincket from the parking lot. You would have had to light the building not to mention source the garage where he's calling from if you shot that on 35mm. That's an added expense, not to mention the speed to set up is quicker on HD.

In the commentary for Collateral, Mann contends that scene would have been nearly impossible to shoot on traditional film since the location was only available for an hour or so and you wouldn't be able to see the subject in the building unless you lit it. Fair game, it worked for that film.

Now, film schedules are shorter than ever and so does technology facilitate the speed by which things can be acquired. This is part of the reason why the industry is leaning towards HD as the standard: money. Money is saved shooting on tape but the post production costs have risen as a result, since digital image acquisition creates more steps to properly create the show. Color grading, conforming, mastering. These things add cost to what used to be film> lab> telecine> post> timing >finish.

I like the traditional model employed by 100 years of use, it works and the fuzz is minimal on big shows. But I don't edit those, I edit music videos and low budget stuff.

Filmmakers have jumped the wagon to HD (the Red being the most prime example for lower cost digital) and forgot about the beauty of film. You could shoot a piece of shit on 35MM and it'll look dramatic, but on HD it'll look realistic so which one is better?

Neither one is better or worse, just how the evolution of these tools impact storytelling becomes the bigger question.

Mel Gibson shot Apocalypto on HD and the skill by which the cinematographer shot that film made it indistinguishable from 35mm film, that is until you saw frenetic action. The motion artifacts are still a handicap HD does not overcome, although new techniques are invented everyday that fix the problem. Fincher shot Zodiac in HD also, look at the night scenes in that and compare them to the ones in Fight Club. Small potatoes.

Back to Mann. Miami Vice was where the change to HD was most evident, since Collateral shot the daytime scenes in 35 most of Miami Vice was shot digitally, and if you saw that film the case could be made it was the format that took you out of the movie or into the movie, depending on your point of view. It took me out of it. The strobing and jerky motion (the movie cost 150 million to make) just looked cheap.

The future, now or then?

In the next five years, I predict digital would be the dominant image acquisition format. It already is on television, where schedules are tight and tapeless workflow speeds up post production. I can appreciate the latter, being an editor I hate logging tape. The issue is, with digital tools replacing the old tried and true method, does it result in better images and better storytelling? that's a hung jury. Audiences already used to the digital look and don't care anymore. The cameras would get better, cheaper, and more sophisticated and as the creative possibilities expand, so do the storytelling ones. What I would say is this: Film is better, no question about it.

Mann, are you listening?