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Monthly Archives: February 2018

Problem With Movies

The first problem I have is poor audio mixing. What do I mean by this? Let’s say you open up your mailbox and you have a couple movies from Netflix sitting there (I almost made this example driving to Blockbuster, but then I remembered it was 2016). You pop in the Blu-Ray/ DVD into your player of choice and you sit back and you have to turn the volume down because there a lot of explosions and such. Then people start talking and you have to find the remote because they might as well be whispering! Then another explosion and now you’re deaf because the damn thing was so ear piercingly loud. This can be annoying. Hell it’s one of easiest ways to take me out of a movie, to be honest. So why does this happen? Well when the audio for movies is mixed, they mix it for a 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound setup because that is the optimal way to watch a movie. You see, in 5.1 surround sound each speaker has its own job. The center speaker handles dialogue, the 2 side speakers are for explosions and “bwaam” noises in Christopher Nolan movies, the subwoofer is for “dat bass”, and lastly the 2 (or 4 if you have 7.1) satellite speakers are for the surround effects. That’s really cool and all, but I am not in a position to buy a 5.1 surround sound setup. I am a very poor college student who can only afford to eat ramen noodles 4 times a week (The other times I eat the cardboard the ramen came in. I have a sad life). I set up my dad’s stereo from like the 80’s to be my “hi-fi” audio setup which replaces my TV’s stereo sound with a slightly less awful stereo sound. So when the DVD/Blu-Ray player outputs a 5.1 signal, my poor stereo speakers can only replicate the 2 front side speakers. This is why explosions are so loud. The dialogue is going to a non-existent center speaker, which is why it comes out so quiet.

So what’s the solution? Add two dialogue tracks. One mixed in good super old fashioned stereo and the other mixed in the fancy pants 5.1/7.1 goodness. This way I can set the volume to a comfortable volume, and leave it there. This may sound like a super easy solution, but I would hazard a guess that mixing audio is a very difficult task, and not one easily undertaken. However I think that it’s well worth it and shows that movie studios are willing to go the extra mile for those who still want to watch their favorite movies, but maybe aren’t the most well off.

Well, we have done an audio problem, So let’s finish this article with a visual problem. This is probably the two biggest problems I have modern movies today. Shaky Cam and jump cuts. For those unfamiliar with shaky cam as a concept, I am sorry that I have to be the one who has to tell you about it. Basically it’s the worst form of visual storytelling imaginable. That’s not the most telling description, is it? OK, so shaky cam is exactly what it sounds like. It’s basically the director telling the cameraman to shake the camera as hard as they can. This is in order to make the action look frantic. Sounds stupid right, but it’s a real thing. The problem with shaky cam is that it is made worse by terrible, quick, jumpy editing. This is also just what it sounds like. It is the use of a million and a half different cuts in order to convey frantic action. However in reality, it often make it so that the scene is impossible to understand. These are just the tools of the incredibly lazy. The use of these two tools in conjunction makes a movie’s action scenes a chore to watch, and impossible to understand. You have to actively try to piece together when the actors are being hit, because the shot never actually shows it. You hear a flurry of sound effects, and you see a blurry mess of hands and faces, but it’s just audio and visual garbage that the director is trying to pass off as incredible action.

The solution to this problem is actually pretty simple. Hire better directors. Directors that are good at their jobs will make the action look good without the use of cheap tricks and quick editing. There are fantastic directors when it comes to filming action. Take the Wachowski siblings. Sure, they have made a couple stinkers in the last couple years, but the first Matrix movie is incredibly well directed. There are uses of wide shots, so we so exactly what is going on, there’s just the right amount of slow motion so we really feel it when characters get hit. The score is used perfectly, so when the hero gets hit hard, the music slows down and gets quieter. The Subway scene in the matrix encapsulates all of that.

Contrast this from Alex Cross. The camera is literally just shaking. You don’t see the hits connect. You see the main character hit the villain and then after a cut you see the villain react. This is probably to cover up the fact that the actors were not properly choreographed.

Auteur Filmmakers

Tim Burton. Known for Batman, Alice in Wonderland, Dark Shadows.

Known as the “goth” director, Burton makes movies centered on dark fantasy folklore. His 1992 sequel of Batman was deemed too dark and “unsafe” for children which made Warner Bros. replace him with Joel Schumacher in the third installment.

His films often feature main characters that are freaks, weirdos and loners, which he carefully weaves together to develop a compelling story.

He is also big on costumes, particularly costumes from the Victorian era, regardless of the time period the movie is set in. Helping give the narrative a gothic appeal.

Burton’s visual style have successfully incorporated goth with art and made it mainstream. Gothic architectural designs, as seen in Batman and Dark Shadows, hunted castles, ghosts and vampires are part of his unique storytelling style and separates him from other directors.

Quentin Tarantino. Known for Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill, Django Unchained

Tarantino’s movies are heavy with extended scenes of dialogue and nonlinear narrative techniques that rival Christopher Nolan. While his movies are always meant to be entertaining, Tarantino usually employs a satirical subject matter aimed at delivering a message or criticizing an already established institution.

He uses a variety of of cinematic techniques in his films, constantly making references to popular culture and making use of ” soundtracks containing songs and score pieces from the 1960s and 1980s”.

Tarantino draws inspiration from traditional Hong Kong and Japanese films, as well as spaghetti westerns which is evident in Kill Bill. Even with his critically acclaimed achievements, he has been criticized for the excessive use of blood and the preposterous employment of violence in his films.

Also a prolific writer, Tarantino has all but created a while new genre for his movies and has gone on to inspire modern Filmmakers. We all wait for his take on star trek.

Christopher Nolan. Known for The Dark Knight Trilogy, Inception, Interstellar

Among the most critically acclaimed Filmmakers in modern cinema, Nolan utilizes nonlinear storytelling that are deeply rooted in themes featuring human morality, its ambiguity and personal identity. He is also a big fan of practical special effects.

One of the most recurring theme is Nolan’s works is memory. Its reliability and unreliability. How it’s just an entity that ultimately shape what we regard as reality or the present. His fascination with memories are reflected in “Momento” and “Inception.
Much like Snyder’s, Nolan’s works also try to mirror philosophical concepts and create questions that do not serve any purpose other than create new questions.

The construction and manipulation of time are also amongst his themes, as noted in Inception, Interstellar and Momento. Almost all his movies at some point are rooted in the transcendence of time, teasing that it might be an illusion and at the same time not revealing the “truth”.

Nolan uses a number of writing styles such as; moving the point of view, using unreliable narrators, Flashbacks and Flashfowards and anticlimactic scenes. He has set himself aside from other Filmmakers in the modern era with his distinctive directing style, writing skills and preference for practical effects.”Dunkirk”, his most recent film is a prime example of this. It has been reported that over 80% of the movie’s effects were practical, making it another potential Masterpiece with an Oscar nomination.

Script to Hollywood

A few minor edits, one last read through and it’s ready for primetime. Now what?

This is where things get interesting. How do you go from a 106 page blueprint to a Netflix-ready movie? Well, you could pull out your checkbook – following a robust IndieGoGO campaign – direct it yourself, hire the rest of the talent, shoot the flick and enter every film festival from Santa Barbara to Cannes.

Unfortunately, most can’t afford to quit their day job. So let’s explore the traditional routes.

Thousands enter screenplay competitions, hoping the acclaim of a strong finish will propel their story to a six-figure studio bidding war or at least land a Creative Artists’ agent. While others pursue the direct route; they contact actors and producers hoping to submit their screen worthy opus to Hollywood insiders.

In either case, you will have to contend with The Gatekeepers. These are people you’ve never heard of who are paid to boil your script down to a two or three page book report. They’re hired to find the gem and filter out the schlock. Separate the wheat from the chaff. They are the Yelpers of the film industry, and they have more influence than you would think.

Which means if you are fortunate enough to figure out how to submit a script to Robert De Niro’s production company, chances are slim he will ever see it. Because even if your script might actually be a project he may be interested in (if you could only get him to read it), the Gatekeepers are told in advance what Mr. De Niro is looking for. And if your script is a true original, he’s probably not looking for yours.

Established talent not only looks for strong scripts, but it has to be the right script. A close friend of mine used to read for James Cameron who often gravitates to projects that feature lots of water. Think TITANIC. THE ABYSS. Your stuff made be awe-inspiring, but a gritty Western may not be for James Cameron.

The dirty little secret is that the Gatekeepers are paid to say no. An A list star is literally flooded with projects; they couldn’t possibly evaluate every script that crosses their desk. Add to that the “must read” scripts their agent sends them (six of which came from their A list friends and publicist). It’s a blizzard of creative pursuits, and you as an outsider are on the bottom of the pile.

From the Gatekeeper’s perspective, there is little or no risk of panning even a brilliant script that was submitted over the transom. But recommending a screenplay from an unknown writer means that someone higher up the feeding chain will likely read it. And if he or she disagrees with your glowing report? You may not get a call back to review the next script. (Screenwriting competition Gatekeepers have their own biases, which I’ll explore later.)