Friday, 12 August 2011

Hollywood Babble On & On #781: More Questions More Answers

Okay, you had more questions, and I have more answers that I just pulled out of my ass.
ILDC asked... With OWN and The Hub under-performing, is it too early to say Discovery should stick with non-brand driven edutainment?
I don't think it's too early to pass judgment on this issue. In fact, I just love jumping the gun and being all judgmental... but enough about me....

The secret of Discovery Network's success was that the channels it started had distinctive brands but wide mandates that can cover all fields of science, technology, health, history, and lifestyle issues. OWN and The Hub, which is a joint venture with Hasbro Toys, have distinct brands but narrow mandates, or at least seem to have narrow mandates to viewers.

The Oprah Winfrey Network's "mandate," at least in the eyes of viewers, carries the promise of the same sort of saccharine "empowerment" and "uplift" 24/7/365 that she used to deliver in more acceptable 1 hour doses 5 times a week.

The "mandate" that viewers get from the Hub's brand is that it's going to be a bunch of extended commercials for Hasbro toys whether it actually is or not. Kids and adults are much more media savvy than media companies seem to realize, and while they'll occasionally fall for trends and fads, they aren't going to watch anything that they think is just there to jerk their consumerist chain.

Discovery might want to get back to what they do best. Maybe a channel dedicated to Mythbusters blowing up animals or something like that.

Next question...
Stephanie asked... Hey, Furious D, love the show! I have a question. Do you think Robert Pattinson will ever live playing Edward Cullen down? From the looks of things Kristen Stewart's doing ok for herself, but Pattinson... I don't know, he seems to keep doing the kinds of characters that can't eclipse (ha! ... okay, sorry) the way everyone sees him as Edward. Or maybe it's just his acting and he's going to fade into obscurity once Twilight finishes. What say you?
I always say that the worst kind of fame you can have is screaming tween-teen girl kind of fame. That sort of fame is fanatical, but it burns too hot, and cools down to frozen faster than you can squeal: "I love your new shoes!"

One day you're the hottest thing on the planet, next day you're in an unemployment line with all the other teen idols wondering where it all went.

One of the worst ways to avoid going from teen idol to idle adult, is to try to use that tween-teen hysteria as a gateway to "big stardom," with big parts in big movies for big paychecks. Producers and studios may go along for a while because they always think name recognition is all you need for success, but it rarely works. In fact, I really can't

Kristen Stewart and the Harry Potter kids seem to be avoiding that sort of trap, because unlike Pattinson, they're fan-base isn't so narrowly constructed around such a fickle demographic. They are also not leaping from their franchise to super-stardom. They're doing supporting parts, ensemble pieces, stage work, and in some cases even television, to prove that they are reliable working actors, and not just a flash in the pan.

Pattinson seems to be still gunning for the role of romantic leading man. That's a mistake, because those who gush over him now as a romantic leading man, are going to go "eeewww he's gross," and soon. He has to separate himself from his
Twilight image and fanbase, and soon, before it's too late.

Next question!
Don H. asked- What would be the best film to learn about lighting and cinematography? (P.S. the damn vampires are back, at least until the summers over)
Sorry to hear about the vampires coming back. Start growing your own garlic.

As for your question.... hmmm... it's a dilly of a pickle. Are you looking for a film about cinematography, or are you looking for films with good cinematography that you can analyze? I don't know many films about cinematographers outside of a TV documentary about Vittorio Storraro called "Writing With Light" from the 1990s, and some segments about camerawork in other "behind the scenes" type shows, but nothing that went too much into depth.

You might be better off looking for books and videos on the subject. Check out Amazon for technical books about cinematography, and great cinematographers. Here's a list of some good ones that you can learn about and some of their films:

Greg Toland (
Citizen Kane) and James Wong Howe (Sweet Smell Of Success) were masters of Black & White cinematography.

Dean Cundey (
Halloween/Escape From New York) developed techniques during his early films with John Carpenter that are great for learning how to get a lot done for very little very quickly.

Haskell Wexler (
Medium Cool / American Graffiti) created a very natural looking cinematography centering on documentary style realism where you can actually see what's happening.

Other names to look into Russell Metty, Stanley Cortez, Conrad Hall, John A. Alonzo,Vittorio Storraro, Lucien Ballard, and Andrzej SekuĊ‚a.

Last question:
Nate Winchester asked... So I was rereading one of my favorite cracked articles when I came across this bit:

The idea is if the shot looks accidental, then that is supposed to subconsciously say "realism" to the audience (rather than "sloppy"). Movies shot the old way (that is, in a way where you could clearly see what was freaking happening) now look too clean and staged. If you want to make the movie look real and gritty, you need to mess it up, so it looks more like a documentary. Though we're not sure how that still works if it's in every movie.

Since it's now done in "every" movie, do you think we're about to see the pendulum swing the other way? That the documentary look will start to get "fakeness" about it and movies will start doing the "clean & staged" style? (which i really miss)
When it was first done it was new and novel, but now it's become a cliche. The really sad part is that it's not only a cliche, it's a great shortcut for a lazy filmmaker. Back in the day with the "clean & staged" style you had to do multiple takes, with different angles, and then put them all together in a coherent and aesthetically pleasing manner in the editing suite.

That's a lot of hard work.

Why burn all those calories when you can just shake the camera around to create the illusion of urgency and suspense.

It's the perfect storm of crap, and sadly, I don't see it going away soon.


  1. Just wanted to chime in and say I hate the 'found footage'/'fake documentary' genre with the heat of a thousand suns.

    The only one I have ever watched was Cloverfield and I deeply regret wasting my time with that one.

  2. You done answering for now?

  3. Yes. My brain needs a break from answering questions.

  4. The reason I asked about lighting and cinematography was that I was comparing 'Alphas' to 'Heroes'. The first thing that struck me was the differences in lighting and composition.

    'Alphas' screamed, '80's staged' while 'Heroes' looked more natural. Not perfectly natural but the lighting didn't point immediately to the false sets and obvious make up.

    When something looks staged it loses that level of verisimilitude necessary for a suspension of disbelief.

    You don't need 'Mike and the 'bots' riffing in your head while you are trying to enjoy a movie.

    Yes, I was asking about movies to study (or tv shows would be ok). Thanks good list.

    Seeing the difference between the two, similar tv shows made me want to know more. I knew framing, sets, make up etc make a difference but the lighting can make those differences far more visible.

    Don H
    Forks, WA
    Now with Garlic!

  5. Tween Fame, best thing the disney stars can do is show the world that they have real talent. For Demi Lovato, sure she has gotten praise for her seeking treatment, but so far her fans while they are supportive are tweens-teens. She needs to do some small lower budget indie films that can show she has real talent.

  6. Gee, mate, thanks for your confidence in my demographic :D

    "Pattinson seems to be still gunning for the role of romantic leading man."

    Yes! As incredibly obvious as it seems now, that was what I couldn't articulate. And yeah, he's no Richard Gere. He needs to do an action movie or something. He doesn't seem to do anything outside his established range.

    'That's a mistake, because those who gush over him now as a romantic leading man, are going to go "eeewww he's gross," and soon.'

    Ha! I swear that's already happened. I'm pro-Pattz myself, but I don't know another person who is. Frankly, I'm starting to question my own judgement :D

  7. On the topic of films about cinematographers, a new documentary called "Cameraman" about Jack Cardiff just came out on DVD. I haven't seen it yet but have read only good things, including that it's copiously illustrated with clips from his films. He's best known for his work with The Archers ("The Red Shoes", "Black Narcissus") but had a long and varied career (eg, "Rambo 2").

  8. Still not Biff Mancheeze

    Thanks for the suggestions. I wonder if another factor might be that I watch most movies now days on my TV (which is distinctly not HD).

    I want to learn as much about cinematography and lighting as I can. It seems to me to be under appreciated and under-studied. Good lighting and cinematography gives me almost as much joy as the direction or acting.

    I just watched '13 Assassins' and in one scene it shows a group of samurai waiting to see if there will be a fight. They are all in silhouette in a darkened room without motion or even sound by any of them. Even without that the director managed to convey expectation, fear, and a sense of action without anyone moving. It was like a pride of lions motionless waiting to spring an ambush.

    I guess foreign language movies visuals are more important because much of the sense of the dialogue is simply lost. Currently I am watching an almost unwatchable Altman movie shot in an arctic wasteland. The damn thing looks like he smeared Vaseline on the edges of the lens. It's just awful.

    Don H.
    Forks, WA

  9. -Stephanie. In the old days an actor in R. Pattz's position would do a war movie or a Western next to someone like John Wayne. Nowadays they don't want sacrifice top billing, & there doesn't seem to be any John Wayne's available.

    -Don H. - I suspect that Alphas looks the way it does because the pilot was shot in Canada. TV cinematography in Canada is notoriously bland thanks to old CBC camera guidelines from the 50s that forbid anyone from casting a shadow. Most Canadian cameramen still follow those rules.

  10. Nobody casts a shadow? WTF, that's like saying nobody can stand to the left of the center or to the right or something equally stupid. I can see a no shadow rule on "CBC nightly news" or something but this is just cheesy.

    How in the world can you make a horror movie without shadows?

    Don H.

  11. Robert the Wise13/8/11 8:43 pm


    I wanted to respond to Don H.'s comments. If Don is interested in cinematography, in my opinion, there's only one way learn it and that's to actually do it yourself. All my reading and watching other people's movies was useless when I had to light my own set.

    You have to experiment with real people and objects by moving/adjusting lights and using different lenses. You have to learn how and when to use scrims, filters, and reflectors. Other than that, the only advice I can give is that a pleasing look can often be achieved with a chiaroscuro effect, that is, an image with areas of light and areas of darkness.

    I hope I've been of some help.

    BTW I think the CBC tradition may come from the days when over-the-air broadcasts weren't always reliable and D.P.s had to deliver a clear image above all else. It's why most American TV shows prior to the 80s have a flat, "shadowless" look.