film

Sony's Act of Moral Treason by Chris Weigl

When hackers stole tons of information from Sony it wasn’t all that surprising that studios would have to make adjustments.  It’s difficult for many in the film community to fathom why a film would be censored outright by the studio that made it because of the demands of terrorists.  We find ourselves in a strange new reality. 

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How To Sell Out by Chris Weigl

When I’m watching a movie, television show, or any other type of media content I’m always surprised about the little things that are often not given full and proper consideration. Take the film Taken for example (get it: take Taken?) In Taken, Liam Neeson’s goal is simple: to hunt down and kill the evil sex traffickers that are leading France into moral depravity and save his daughter in the process. It is a decent film, one that I enjoy watching for the rash of injuries caused by Neeson as well as for his character’s “I could care less” demeanor towards the people he interacts with. Everyone except his daughter he views with at least a little disdain. The only people who are kind to Neeson in this film are his family. His friends often have other agendas and his enemies apparently had no idea what they were dealing with even when characters in the film lose track of the body count.

Now, I’m not taking the filmmakers to task for racking up lots of casualties; I’m all for that actually, what I did find alarming was the fact that they didn’t profit or even attempt to profit off of their product, something I call the double-Ds of entertainment: death and destruction. Call me a cold hearted bastard for thinking one should profit off these things but the truth is that if you don’t profit off of them then someone else will find a way to do so and you’ll be standing on the sideline because you stuck to your principles. Nobody listens to the principled. Better to be a cold hearted bastard raking in loads of cash than a penniless man who can say that he never sold out. Everyone sells out for something it’s just a question of what it is. Most people sell out for money and I don’t blame them. I sell out for ideas because they are what I believe in.

I try to be as detail-oriented as I can when it comes to ideas. I want to understand my ideas in ways that other people could never even dream of coming to grips with. What that his meant for me lately is that I have had to get very good at advertising and seeing the opportunity to sell out in every circumstance. If I have a character who is writing something down then I want to reach out to different pen makers and give them an opportunity to sell their product. If pen makers aren’t interested, how about pencils? Do you have any idea how much time I can spend making fun of the pencil manufactured by Eagle? It’s the saddest instrument I’ve ever had the misfortune of holding in my hand. Not only does it fail almost entirely at the only task it needs to perform: writing the thing is so slippery it slips right out of your hand. The so-called lead used in this product isn’t even lead it’s some sort of carbon-based cost-saver. Sorry, Eagle but I don’t like being lied to and your product has nothing but lies written on it. The next thing you’re going to tell me is that your pencils aren’t made from eagles.

I don’t have to use pencils. Who’s to say the character isn’t going to want to jot down his thoughts on a dry erase board? Maybe he likes to advertise ideas. If Expo turns me down then I’m sure I could have Ben Franklin writing his lesson plan on the basketball court using sidewalk chalk (because there’s no way Crayola is turning this down and even if they did Rose Art wouldn’t pass up this opportunity they need all the help they can get.) I could sit here all day and craft jokes about writing utensils and I would enjoy it. Folks on the other end of this however do not seem to share my enthusiasm and that really is too bad.

The response that I’ve gotten from folks in advertising has been rather interesting. The one that I get the most is that: “no one has time to do that.” Well, I have time to do it. I’m not saying you should hire me to maximize your profit potential but there are better ways to do things that often get written off because people look for reasons not to do something instead of reasons to do something that could be rewarding. The reason we most often cite for not doing something constructive, creative or different is that it would be too time consuming. That may be true for the first time you do something, but over time most things tend to at the very least break even, which means that you will at the very least have tried something different and looked at a situation from another point of view. You will see benefits from doing this even if you wind up scrapping the approach. My grandpa always told me that there was no such thing as too much learning. The way you learn new things is by trying different things. Thus you can always find a way to optimize performance even if it comes at a small, short-term loss.

Some people don’t like change. In fact, a lot of people don’t like change and that’s fine. Don’t complain about other people and instances because you turned down change however. That’s called being a hypocrite and there are more of those out there than I have time to mention here. Many times we simply go along with things simply because that’s the way things have always been. That’s fine if you have absolutely zero problems with the status quo. Here’s my question: who among us has no problems in their lives? I’ve yet to find anyone who has no problems, no worries, and no fears. We can always do better and we should want to do better because growth is how we measure success.

During the 2012 Republican Presidential Debate Newt Gingrich suggested that we build a lunar colony. He was widely criticized for putting forth this plan while calling for a cut in government spending. I disagree with Newt Gingrich on everything including the weather, but the response that his opponent gave was simply ridiculous. Mitt Romney, front-runner for the nomination said in the debate that if someone came to him with that idea he would Donald Trump that person and tell them that they’re fired. You may be opposed to government spending, you may be opposed to space exploration, you may even be opposed to learning but you’ve got to admit it would be kind of cool to have “the moon” as a travel destination. This is the absurdity behind the kind of streamlining that many companies are doing nowadays. They don’t see the creative as a vehicle for positive change in the future they only see it for the near term liability that any type of change will pose.

The change that I am calling for in television is radical. I am saying flat out that television in its’ current state is useless as far as creative entertainment goes. Commerical-based TV shows are not a good way for companies to maximize their earnings potential nor are they good ways for TV shows to retain an audience. Think about it this way: would you like to have the trailers for upcoming movies aired in between scenes in a movie that you’re seeing in the theater? My guess is that you would probably lose track of the story, the joke, or the drama would lessen because of the interruption. The exact same thing happens in TV. It’s like studios are picking up talented writers, tying their hands behind their backs, tossing them into a river and complaining because they can’t swim. As a society Americans have a very short attention span. We shouldn’t be trying to give people a reason to change the channel by completely interrupting their favorite show we should be integrating the advertising into the show so that they don’t have to consciously take their mind off of what is going on in front of them. This can be just as lucrative for companies currently advertising on television if not moreso than the current model. If we can integrate that pen or pencil into the scene, if we can advertise the fact that Jack Bauer is shooting whatever terrorists he’s hunting with a Glock, if we can advertise that it’s Orville Redenbacher popcorn that they’re eating on the Big Bang Theory then we can make up the loss in commercials while still keeping advertising as a main fixture in American television.

Recently, Parenthood tried out a kinda/sorta product integration with their show.  That's great.  I'm all for creative alternatives, but what we really need to do is eliminate commercials entirely.  This is my dream for American television: no commercials in original content. If you want to have ads during sporting events that’s fine. There’s a reason for ads in sports it’s because they take breaks, but in original programming it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever to break the continuity of the show if you can get your advertising done without turning to commercial breaks. My dream is simple: no ad-based programming outside of sports and reality television because honestly if you’re watching reality TV you kind of deserve to be subjected to advertisements and don’t pretend like The Real Housewives are providing you with entertainment they’re providing you with a distraction. Real content deserves the opportunity to grow with a viewer and the viewer deserves the opportunity to watch an hour of television without being interrupted. If you want to bother them with ads you can do it afterwards but you can get it done during the show with no loss in revenue, so let’s have better TV it’s in the interests of the networks, the advertisers and the viewers so join the revolution for ad-free TV today.

Slight Adjustments by Chris Weigl

Anyone who’s ever gone on a film shoot knows that you never get it right the first time.  Even if, by some miracle, you did get your perfect shot executed during the first go around chances are that the director is going to want to see it from another angle or with an actor saying a different line.  Maybe if you blocked the actors a little differently you could have a little more soft light on your subject even if that actor has already moved onto the next scene.  Hollywood is that rare place on Earth where perfection is frowned upon.  Through a producers eyes you probably missed something inconsequential or better yet something that even they know can be cleaned up in the editing room.  Everyone has problems in life, but just because they exist does not mean they need to be fatal.  If there is an issue with a camera where there isn’t a clean shot and you failed to pick it up when reviewing your dailies you’re going to have to reshoot.  Nothing in film is perfect and film shoots are about the furthest thing from perfect that you’ll find.  Finding ways to adjust to your imperfections can mean the difference between a successful shoot and a world full of problems for the filmmaker and this is where the magic lies.

You have to make adjustments before, during and after a film shoot.  It’s just the way life is.  We work in a subjective field and whenever you work in a subjective field no one is wrong because everyone can be right.  How about that for a juxtaposition?  When you find yourself in such a situation everything turns into a cost/benefit analysis.  Whether it’s asking a crew member to change a lens or making a suggestion to enhance a scene, someone can always second guess you and if you let them they can slow your production to a halt.  It’s a major problem.  What we do to avoid this kind of thing is cut down on the size of our crew.  We don’t work with crews bigger than five or six people.  We don’t need anything more than that.  If we need more than six people I’ll break things down into teams so that I don’t have too many people trying to over-correct every shot.  Some directors move people out of the room and just talk to their principals.  That’s fine, but those other crew members feel like something is going on behind closed doors (usually because the doors are literally closed to them) and then the gossip starts.

You can’t win on a film set.  If you’re aiming for the perfect shot then you’ve doomed your shoot already.  The perfect shot to you is not the perfect shot to someone else.  The perfect is the enemy of the good on film sets.  This is why some people ban writers from their sets.  I find it annoying, but I understand why some people do it.  You don’t want someone interrupting to tell you that this isn’t their “vision” for the shot.  The director has a schedule that they know they’re going to run over, the producer has a budget that they know they’re going to run over and the crew is already exhausted from the set-up of the damn thing.  You’ll always find small problems looming on a film shoot.  Lighting is usually problem number one and going through the shot by shot rotation of how you’re going to film a sequence will usually prove too taxing to the technical folks on your set who survive because they know something about the electrical that you don’t.  The single biggest problem on a film set however is boredom.  No matter what you’re doing in life; if it involves repetition people will get bored.  That’s the way life is and film is very repetitious.  Good directors know how to get people involved in things they know certain people are interested in.  Others will try to change things up and make small adjustments to make sure that everyone is still awake through most of the shoot.  It’s a challenge.  Balance is the key to a good shoot though and if you don’t have it you’re going to have a lousy shoot. 

If you know what you're doing then you can usually overcome your production issues and make it to post, but post-production presents it's own set of unique problems.  We don’t have a huge team of highly skilled editors who can put everything together perfectly.  Most of the smaller production companies don’t have a huge post-production team that can fix every little problem.  As a production company we work with what we have.  If we had someone with the potential to be a great editor I’d sit them down on set and have them work with the boom mic operator because the number one thing that your editor needs to look for is fluid continuity and you know who needs to understand continuity like the science it is?  The boom operator.  If you want to get a director real riled up find someone who has no idea what they’re doing and put them in charge of the boom mic.  There is nothing more devastating – save maybe a fire that destroys all of your cameras and equipment – than sound that doesn’t work in post.  If you’re going to skimp on a set don’t do it at the boom operator position.  That person will save your life someday. 

I used to keep a lot of money left over from my budgets for post-production because there is always some little problem that needs to be dealt with.  What I’ve been doing lately is monitoring the situation and re-shooting when necessary.  It’s not the end of the world on a cash-strapped shoot to have to re-shoot ten or fifteen seconds of footage.  It is the end of the world if you can’t get your video released because of a ten second sound gap in the middle of your footage.  Sure, you could cut it down so that gap isn’t there and deal with a video that is nothing like what you were attempting to film, but do you want to sacrifice the integrity of your script because someone screwed up the audio on a couple shots?  If you’re on my crew the answer better be: no.  This is where people get antsy though.  No one wants to re-shoot anything.  When you wrap filming everyone thinks: “great, we’re done!”  Usually you’ve got to go back at some point and fix the little things that go wrong because no matter how good a film shoot goes it never goes perfectly.  It's all part of the process.  No one loves the process, but those who understand what's required to get to the endgame are willing to endure a little pain if it means a superior product.  This is what makes us professionals.

The Problem With Perfection by Chris Weigl

“Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”

That’s a very important expression both in art and in life.  Artistically, I am a perfectionist.  Being an artistic perfectionist can be a good thing; my writing is top notch, but when it comes to others areas of the production process being a perfectionist can get in the way of producing good content.  We had a weekend shoot that went very well.  Judging from the dailies it was about as close to a perfect shoot as you’re going to get.  When you get home from a shoot and analyze the footage is where you find out if your team over-performed and got you everything you needed or looked like superstars at the time, but ultimately turned out to be human like everyone else. 

We had two important shots that were not executed the way I would have liked them to be executed.  The reason (or excuse depending on how you look at it) is that I was in front of the camera and directing the crew based on what I was seeing as an actor and not based on what I was seeing as a director.  Being both in front of the camera and behind the camera is a physical impossibility, but we often see stars like George Clooney who are able to pull it off.  Truth is that – at least in my mind – these folks are masters of their craft.  Being able to execute two operations at once while maintaining the integrity of the script is a spectacular feat that doesn’t seem that hard, but logistically it really is.  I looked over the dailies from my shoot and found a couple issues that were fixable, but when I looked at the footage in its totality I realized that I had made several large errors in terms of continuity and basic direction.

As someone who prides themselves on their worth ethic, it is toughest for me to analyze these shortcomings and come to a sensible solution because there is such a pervasive feeling of failure that accompanies these basic lapses in filmmaking.  I’ve been in the business long enough that I should know to look for these errors, but at the end of the day we’re a small operation and that works great for lining up shots and executing the shoot, but it also means less eyes on set and fewer people to scrutinize shots and the quality of the shoot.  I’ve found that it’s less likely for a crew member to speak up when there is an issue because we’re a close team and no one wants to let anyone down when you’re doing well.  It’s tough to admit a mistake and sometimes we get so caught up in what we’re doing that we simply lose track of everything that we need to look out for. 

It seems like it should be easy to fix these basic problems on set.  The truth is though that thinking something through, planning it; and executing it are three different things.  It’s nearly impossible to do all three things correctly when you’re the one in charge of all of them.  I’m not sure how to prevent these problems from happening other than to re-dedicate myself to what I’m trying to achieve behind the camera.  I’m not used to being on camera so adjusting to that alone was difficult, but hopefully I won’t have to direct anything I’m in for a while because I need to focus on being a better, more detail-oriented director.  The truth is that sometimes you simply can’t get the perfect shot.  Sometimes the perfect is the enemy of the good.  This proves to be especially true when you’re the writer, director, actor, producer, and editor.  That’s just too many hats for one person to wear, but sometimes it’s necessary in order to make the production happen at all.  In such situations however it is advisable to remember the simple slogan that begins this piece.