Yup, it’s been another long stretch between posts mainly due to the fact that I’m about to make the jump into the world of full-time freelancing. As a result most of my time has been spent working on my portfolios, (both graphic design and video production) a process that can both exciting and exhausting. Either way, I wanted to take this chance to promote my new graphic design portfolio site. Check it out here – www.chrismagdalenski.com
So after quite a bit of time behind the lens I’m proud to unveil my first demo reel, showcasing my work over the course of the past year as a cinematographer/editor. At this point, I’m considering this more a “first draft” than anything. Within the next few months there will be more work to be incorporated, as my goal is to bring the runtime up from the flat minute or so I have currently.
Over the past few years I’ve had the opportunity to work as the Director Of Photography on a number of short films and corporate videos. The experiences have proved invaluable in my constant pursuit toward becoming a better cinematographer, and in fact have had to serve as a substitute any “formal” film school training.
Recently I’ve been focusing my efforts on reviewing all of my work as a whole in order to craft some of the highlights into a demo reel that shows some level of competence. So far I’ve been proud of the work I’ve done, but know I still have a long way to go. I’ve also noticed that for the most part I’ve been more pleased with the work that has been more documentary or corporate in nature than the narrative pieces. After very little thought I came to the conclusion that at least one of the reasons for this has been that all of the short narrative films I’ve been a part of have been little to no budget affairs.
As we all well know no budget filmmaking is all about sacrifice and creative problem solving and the shoots that I have DPed were no exception. In my case I find myself having to contend with not only my formidable limitations as a neophyte cinematographer, but also with art and set design departments that are non-existent. After reading countless interviews with the pros I’ve come to realize that a lack of equipment might not be that big of a deal, (many have said that as they’ve advanced in their careers they found themselves lighting with less) but not having a fully realized set or bargain basement costume “design” could very well be the difference between crafting a beautiful image or a mediocre one. By no means is this meant to make excuses for my work, or the mistakes I’ve made but let’s face it, if the script calls for a 50’s style diner then a VFW hall circa 1985 just isn’t going to cut it, (unless of course someone who is probably not the DP decides to do a rewrite). All the lighting and camera tricks in the world can only do so much for a room with bland white walls and no decor, (That is, unless stark and minimalist is the tone of the piece).
It’s at this point I should say that as much as its caused issue working on these indie films has proved to be an excellent “boot camp” for this still green-gilled cinematographer. Going into a shoot knowing that I have less tools at my disposal has helped to hone my skills in creatively painting myself out of corners. I wouldn’t trade the experiences for anything.
That said, i’d like to end by suggesting that as much as some producers and directors of indie film would like to think that their Director’s Of Photography are all magicians and miracle workers, human beings gifted with the ability to turn whatever they commit to celluloid or CCD into pure cinematic gold, everyone has their limitations. Even those magicians of light and composition sometimes need an environment just as magical to create their best illusions.
It’s a line we’ve heard for years now… With the advent of ever improving CGI technologies the mythmakers in Hollywood have been given the ability to tell stories that wouldn’t have been possible, (or at least, very watchable) 15-20 years ago. A world without our now well advanced CGI tech means a world without The Matrix, or The Lord Of The Rings, or any of the new superhero films, or… Well, you get the idea. The list goes on. I like many others have always felt that computer generated imagery has always worked the best when used in controlled conjunction with live action, (i.e. – see the examples I listed previously), as a way to create those specific elements, (i.e – a snarling Cave Troll, or Neo’s bullet-dodging “Bullet Time”) not easily accomplished with good old fashioned brick and mortar, plastic and makeup filmmaking.
Of course I had to reference both The Matrix and The Lord Of The Rings trilogies. Without question those are now the clichéd benchmarks. The go to films critics are quick to reference when engaged in a discussion about the current state of the Hollywood blockbuster. While it certainly can’t be said that those particular films got the entire blockbuster ball rolling, it certainly helped it to make the jump to light speed. In short, they were revolutionary, they were evolutionary, and part of what made them great was that there seemed to be an equilibrium between what was real and what was computer generated.
Fast-forward and here we are approaching the tail end of 2011. It’s been 12 years since the first Matrix movie was released, and 8 years since LOTR’s The Return Of The King. The evolution of the blockbuster has continued with enthusiastic support of both Hollywood, and (in most cases) the movie-going public. Nowadays we can venture into the theater to see massive transforming robots kicking the crap out of each other, or entire comic book worlds brought to shimmering hyper-reality. And why not… At $10 or more a ticket people should get their money’s worth.
Now, it’s at this point you’re all beginning to twitch in your seat and wonder when I’m going to drop the other shoe. I’m undoubtedly on what seems to be a complaining geek path here so I’ll get to it. Really it’s not meant to be a complaint, in as much that I have, and will continue to enjoy these CGI heavy films in all of their forms. Let’s just say it’s an observation…
It’s 2011 and we are knee deep in what I am now calling the age of “Plastic Cinematography”.
It’s a term that hit me the other night while watching Zach Snyder’s recent epically awesome misfire Sucker Punch, and I’ll spare the reader the plot details. Assuming that you’ve already seen the trailer, it’s common knowledge that much of the film takes place in worlds clearly built with no shortage of help from CGI technology. To be fair, I was watching it non Blu-Ray on my 42” flat screen – a far cry from watching the action unfold across the screen of a good quality theatrical projection, so a bit might have gotten lost in translation. That said, much of what I was watching had a strange feeling about it – primarily when the action changed locals to the more fantastic. Plainly stated, everything looked as if it was coated in thin film of clear plastic. Every frame had the look of a beautifully polished model-world where everything, even the darkest, dankest, filth-ridden dungeon looked strangely… clean. Maybe that’s not quite the best word I could use to describe the sense I get when watching a film such as Sucker Punch, but it’s the closest that I could come up with right now.
These days the common criticism leveled at a film like this is that it’s like “watching a video game”, a complaint that while accurate doesn’t completely sum up the experience I have. There’s something else to it; a hyper-realism that doesn’t feel quite right, yet if used correctly can lead to some staggeringly beautiful and imaginative imagery… Which I’ll say right now, Sucker Punch has in spades.
As far as cinema is concerned this is all nothing new. If I think back I can name quite a few films from the past decade that have given me the same feeling. Hell, I can look no further than Snyder’s previous work with 300 or Watchman and come to the same conclusion. In many cases the digital-influenced aesthetic of these films can be justified. In the case of 300 many felt Snyder’s CGI enhanced visions lead to a film that definitely had the feel of a painting or more precisely, a comic book panel, a comment that could also be made about 300’s first cousin Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller’s Sin City. Any issues with the stories of the respective films aside, it’s hard to dispute that both are stunning examples of this new age of traditional cinematography married with digital imaging.
That said, in my mind the technology still has those hyper-realism limitations to contend with. For as far as CGI cinema has progressed, most of it’s products have yet to overcome the “like a video game” comparisons because they are still far too close to that end of the spectrum. Crafting a computer generated image that looks like a real thing is no easy task, especially if that “thing” happens to be something that we are used to seeing everyday in the real word. One of the major issues that the technology has just started to make progress with is the ending up with images that are rendered to a digital perfection – an apple that looks so much like an apple our subconscious instinctively knows that it is not real. Films like Sucker Punch, Sin City, or 300 probably do get a pass on this because it’s easily argued that the hyper-real fantasy look of those films is very much a part of what the stories being told.
I have my own varied opinions on the visual successes and failures of films like these and there’s not much reason to start down that road. Before I sign off I did want to make mention of the primary point I had when I started on this diatribe – that is what happens in regards to the actual art of traditional cinematography when working in the CGI realm? Not being a professional cinematographer who has worked on these CGI intensive films I am forced to imagine that is not that much different than if you were an actor or actress on the same production – challenging, potentially mind-numbing work carried out in soundstages covered in chroma-key green. I have to think that as far as the Director Of Photography is concerned his or her job becomes much more about the technical and much less about the artistic side of the work. Lighting and shooting as a matter of formula rather than of feel. If this is the case then I would wonder if the quality of a cinematographer’s work has the potential to suffer, much in the same way it is said that poor acting can be the result of having to act in green-screened sets, against “actors” who are to be added later in post?
In complete honesty I can’t say that I don’t like the latest and greatest of Hollywood’s CGI blockbuster fantasies, but lets take a quick moment and make a nod to all of those films and filmmakers who are out there keeping it real.
In all my years of amateur photography I finally made the jump to HDR imaging. Couldn’t tell you why I avoided it for all this time but I’m considering my first two attempts a success. Each were taken after dark in the downtown area of Providence, Rhode Island and created by merging five different exposures together in Photomatix. Post work was completed in Photoshop with some Nik Filters thrown in for a little style.
Don’t know why I waited so long to try this out!
“We’ve entered a whole other zone.”
– Mark, Old Joy
Recently I sat down to watch Old Joy, Kelly Reichardt’s 2006 meditation on friendship and the lives that sometimes get in the way. The brilliantly minimalist story arc, (adapted from a Jonathan Raymond short story) follows two old friends Mark, (Daniel London) and Kurt (Will Oldham) as they reunite for a camping trip in Oregon’s Cascade Mountains. From the first moments that our protagonists share the frame the true power of the film shines through as we realize that we’re going to learn volumes about these characters and their now very different lives through the things that they opt to leave unspoken. I found myself captivated by the spaces between the conversation; the strained awkward silences, the quick loaded glances brimming with conflicted emotion, and the general sense of melancholy that pervades the entire piece.
It’s no surprise why the film, (as well as Reichardt’s formidable skills as an auteur) has been critically lauded . The direction is spot on and is buoyed by terrific performances by London and Oldham, whose restrained work helped convey an authenticity I instantly identified with. I don’t think I’m going out on a limb in saying that we’ve all been there. Watching quietly as time and circumstance erode some friendships while allowing others to strengthen is certainly something I’ve taken a moment or two to ponder once in a while.
It wouldn’t be one of my posts if I didn’t at least make mention of the cinematography, in this case beautifully executed by Peter Sillen with the help of stunning Oregon landscapes. In fact it’s here that the film took on an even deeper meeting for me, making nods to the films of Tarkovsky, most notably 1979’s Stalker (A film deserving of a post or two all to itself). The lush greenery reminded me more than once of shots from the Russian master’s art house twist on sci-fi, a notion further reinforced when London’s Mark quips “We’ve entered a whole other zone” while pouring over a map in an effort to get the duo un-lost. In the case of Stalker The Zone is a reference to a place the protagonists in the Tarkovsky film are tirelessly seeking. A place lost within a vast silent stretch of greenery that is supposed to have the power to fulfill a person’s innermost desires.
To me anyway the Tarkovsky connection isn’t a big leap, and while I can’t claim to have done extensive research to see if others have the same thoughts, I have seen both Old Joy and Tarkovsky mentioned in the same passage in more than one place. In truth, both films are about quests, and while the protagonists of Stalker are on a quest to find a mysterious place that they think can give them anything they wish (all while learning a great deal about themselves along the way), the purpose of Mark and Kurt’s excursion in Old Joy is somewhat less grandiose – A desire to keep their friendship from fading away by undertaking a journey to rediscover those shared moments that defined it in the first place.
Even though I conveniently forget this fact from time to time it should be stated that I love car movies. I never sit down to watch them enough, but whenever I do I find that my thirst for cinematic entertainment has been quenched. This past weekend I finally caught up with Richard Sarafian’s 1971 cult classic Vanishing Point, a film I’m now more than happy to say piqued my interest in the great American road-flick once again.
The joyfully light-on-plot storyline follows Kowalski, (Barry Newman) an ex-race driver now working for an automobile delivery service who is tasked with delivering a 1970 Dodge Challenger to San Francisco from Colorado in under 15 hours. From there it’s all about the driving. Fast and reckless. Along the way we’re given flashback hints of Kowalski’s life, his stints as a pro driver and a cop, as well as mention of a deceased girlfriend. As time goes on the cops take some serious notice and mount a large scale effort to put and end to Kowalski’s long strange trip.
Did I mention it features Cleavon Little as a blind disc jockey named Supersoul who’s hell-bent on helping our hero make it to the finish line by offering warnings and advice to him via a pirate radio station and a police scanner? Two words come to mind. Pure awesome.
I’m not even going to go into the pretty much out-of-left-field “lost in the desert” sequence.
The film itself is 70’s through and through, at times proudly wearing its exploitation badge on its chest. There’s little mystery as to why the film has developed a devoted cult following over the years. It’s a cross between Monte Hellman’s existential Two Lane Blacktop and a Roger Corman flick. The screenplay takes a stab a number of weighty issues along the way as well. Racism, existential angst, and institutional conformity are all touched upon more than once, with Kowalski acting as the everyman stand-in who’s on the run from not only himself, but also a world he is no longer a part of.
Lately I’ve been spending quite a bit of time on Twitter (@ChrisMagdalensk), where I’ve had the opportunity to connect with people from all around the world who share in my interests in film, photography, and art. Not too long ago I met Sheri Candler, a marketing strategist who uses her background to help independent filmmakers build identities both for themselves and their films. Since early 2010, Sheri and her colleagues Orly Ravid, Jeffery Winter, and John Reiss have been working on Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul, an e-book slated for publication in Fall 2011 that is aimed at independent filmmakers who are looking to get their films out to the masses any way they can. Being a filmmaker myself, this has been a subject that has interested me greatly for some time. With the world firmly entrenched in the internet age, it seems that the indie filmmaker has even more options at their disposal to get their work out to an audience that might not have been reachable 10-15 years ago.
SFAIF: Sheri, thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions about Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul. Before we talk about that, I wanted to ask about your background in marketing. Until recently I never gave much thought to how marketing could help my work as an indie filmmaker, but it does make sense. Do you find that there are a lot of filmmakers who never take the time to consider the idea that both they and their film could potentially be a “brand,” which if leveraged correctly could help them in their quest for an audience?
SC: Yes, I definitely think they don’t consider that fact. Many filmmakers can name a director that they admire and can easily identify their signature style. That director has a brand name. Previously, branding came from a studio or “the system” who identified filmmakers for packaging to the public. Same thing happens to musicians and music artists (think Lady Gaga, Madonna, Taylor Swift), and actors. They have an identifiable style that people relate to, but you don’t have to depend on being “picked” to build a brand. I would much rather see filmmakers build an identifiable personal brand that carries through all of their work, rather than spending efforts to only brand each film because they have to start all over again with every project. Chances are the way you tell a story is tied to who you are as an artist. Build an audience around yourself, around your style of work so that you don’t have to keep starting from the ground on new projects or keep telling the same kind of story to keep your audience.
SFAIF: Give us a little background on Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul. How did the idea come about?
SC: At the beginning of September 2010, Orly Ravid (Founder and Co-Executive Director of The Film Collaborative) thought of the idea of writing a case study book. All around us, she was seeing more and more filmmakers actually taking control of their work, getting it out to audiences, and making money, but those aren’t usually the stories bigger media or industry cover. She wanted to bring those stories to the forefront as examples that it is possible and more people should be paying attention to this and learning how to do it.
She immediately discussed it with her business partner Jeffrey Winter (TFC’s other Co-Executive Director) and then with me, as a friend, because we are all of the same mind that filmmakers need to be more educated about making decisions that are right for their films. We are all also in contact with Jon Reiss, filmmaker/professor/consultant and author of Think Outside the Box Office, and asked if he might like to contribute to the book and he agreed.
The goal is to have a detailed analysis of cases that are either only DIY or hybrid releases where the filmmaker reserved some rights to market and sell it themselves. Not all of the cases are as successful as others, but the goal is to have enough of a cross-section from different types of content (narrative and documentary features as well as web series and transmedia) whereby one gets a lot of education of various ways to reach audiences, monetize a film, create a filmmaker brand and achieve other success as defined by the filmmakers themselves.
The concept from the beginning was this would be a digital book because we are talking about the changes in technology and how those are disrupting the film industry. It didn’t make sense to release this as a printed book, an old technology mindset. We wanted to provide a deeper reading experience that is now possible with digital technology, with video and links to services and sources for further reading and the ability to spread what the reader learns to his/her friends who also may want to learn. Also, digital is easily spread worldwide, for very low cost, so we wouldn’t have to worry about the logistics of physical distribution and getting it into the ever shrinking bookstore market.
SFAIF: There is no shortage of books about how indie filmmakers can bring their films to larger audiences without the help of major studios or distribution houses. How is Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul different?
SC: I don’t think there are many case study books that go into this kind of detail. Not only are we sharing how these filmmakers accomplished what they did, but also how much they spent and how much revenue came from it. The figures will surprise you, and they are meant to. Almost no one shares numbers and as a consequence it is very difficult to make solid decisions based on the kind of hearsay, positioned truth, and myth that is largely found in the film industry. Every case in our book shared as much as they legally could with us and their distributors for the most part did as well, which is practically unprecedented. I would almost guarantee that you haven’t read a book like this one on independent film distribution.
SFAIF: What were some of the biggest challenges you faced while researching and writing this book?
SC: The biggest challenge was finding filmmakers who were willing to share the information we wanted. So many people are afraid of revealing the truth, the secrecy that surrounds film marketing and distribution is astounding. Several cases that initially agreed to participate, dropped out when they saw all they would have to reveal, which was a big frustration. Even some distribution companies said they weren’t willing to share this information because if everyone knew how it was done, they wouldn’t need distributors any more. Very telling! But I disagree with that. Not every filmmaker is cut out for doing all of this work — they do need help. If more distributors saw themselves as partners in a community of artists rather than adversaries who squeeze whatever they can out of artists, I think the industry would be all the better for it.
Transparency was our biggest goal and our biggest challenge, and we are encouraging all filmmakers to start demanding transparency from the industry.
SFAIF: Even though the popularity of e-books is growing by leaps and bounds everyday, are you still finding publishers or other distribution outlets who are hung up on the fact that as of right now there are no concrete plans to do an actual printed book?
SC: I can’t answer that as we are self publishing/distributing this book. We encourage filmmakers to embark on at least some aspect of self distribution, so it would be ridiculous and hypocritical for us to go through a publisher ourselves. This gives us the freedom and flexibility to do what we, the authors, want to do with it, not what the publishers want to do. We put in the hard work, why would we turn over the rights for the very low upfront payments being offered by publishers, who then turn around and take about 90% of the revenue? Besides, we’ve already raised in sponsorship well over what we could have expected as upfront payment from a publisher. Much of it is going to pay development costs and video editing costs, but we are in the black already before one copy has been sold. Not many authors can say that.
We are in touch with our audience directly; we know what they read in order to reach them (because we also read those publications), what events they attend (because we also attend them), what organizations they belong to (because we do too), and publishing houses aren’t in touch with our readers.
I will give you the scoop though: we will be publishing a printed version based on feedback from our audience. As much as I would like to think deeper engagement with the material is a great thing, I cannot deny that filmmakers all over the world have told us they would buy a physical copy if we made it available. Who are we to push them into a format because we think they should want it? The beauty of being in direct communication with an audience is you can give them what they want, and they can tell you what that is.
SFAIF: While researching before writing this book, was there anything which you found surprising?
SC: My chapter deals with filmmakers who are achieving their filmmaking goals through using file sharing sites to distribute their work for free. It is a subject I am personally interested in. Instead of suing file sharers and creating laws to censor the internet (which is what the Protect IP Bill will do if passed), I want to know how we can harness its global and largely free power to spread work further and cheaper than it ever has been before. And use it to make money. Big media won’t do this until they are forced to, so I think it is the independent artist who will be the first to figure it out, and some already are. Smaller means more nimble, more able to take risks. Incumbents don’t and can’t take risks until the bottom drops out and they have no choice.
Researching the divergent attitudes about copyright protection and who it ultimately benefits instead of who it was intended to benefit was eye opening. Also the attitude of secrecy still prevalent in the industry wasn’t so much surprising as disheartening. Even when the people who made the films said it was okay to reveal revenues and spending, their agents, distributors and investors often said no.
SFAIF: The technologies behind both filmmaking and film distribution seem to be changing more and more rapidly with each passing year. Did you ever feel like you were creating a work which could potentially become outdated in a relatively short period of time?
SC: Whenever you are covering technological developments, the information will become outdated very quickly. While we tell the readers what tools and technology the filmmakers used, no one should think these will be the best tools in the future. The principles behind good marketing practice stay the same though. You have to know your audience, what drives them, and how to reach them, which will be different as every film has a different spin on a story and the people who will be attracted to that spin. You have to know how to deliver goods in the most financially efficient and the most comfortable way for your audience, no matter what you personally think about it. I’ve had to learn that too, believe me.
These are all good business practices that won’t go out of style so I don’t fear that the book quickly will become irrelevant. I do foresee needing to do updates as more and more success stories come out and we plan to cover these on our blog as long as personal time will allow us. I want this book to become the entry to a conversation with a community of filmmakers, not be just another book. I want to start the process of sharing among the filmmaking community, but I hope it will lead to a natural progression of people wanting to do it themselves.
About Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul Presented by Prescreen-Case Studies in Hybrid, DIY and P2P Independent Distribution
A collection of case studies that dives deep into independent film distribution. Film types include feature documentaries and narratives, web series and transmedia storytelling. Includes interviews with filmmakers to offer a first-hand perspective and reveals numbers and real details in a totally transparent manner.
To start, the book will be released digitally and will include video, URL links, graphs and charts and photos with some social media capability. At least one version (text only) will be available for free to enable maximum readership around the world. Premium version will be available on iBooks, Kindle, Nook. A physical copy version is also being developed.
Funding for the development of the book is provided by sponsorship agreements.
About Sheri Candler
Sheri Candler is an inbound marketing strategist who helps independent filmmakers build identities for themselves and their films. Through the use of online tools such as social networking, podcasts, blogs, organizational outreach, online media publications, and radio, she assists filmmakers in building an engaged and robust online community for their work that can be used to monetize effectively. She has participated in panels and workshops on social media marketing for filmmakers at the American Film Market, Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival, National Screen Institute of Canada and National Association of Latino Independent Producers. She writes articles for Microfilmmaker Magazine covering the issues of marketing and distribution for microbudget films and is the co-founder of Twitter discussion series #filmin140, a monthly virtual panel covering topics of interest to the independent filmmaker. For more information go to shericandler.com. Find her on Facebook: Sheri Candler Marketing and Publicity. Follow her on Twitter: @shericandler
I’m not a political guy, and for reasons I’m not going to bother trying to discuss here, I’ve always prided myself on that fact. I’m sure there might be some out there who would take issue with that statement and that’s more than understandable, but it’s the God’s honest truth. That’s not to say that there haven’t been more than a few of times when I’ve raised an eyebrow about something or other that the string-pullers in Washington were doing, but more often than not political debate to me becomes little more than annoying background noise. Lately however, with all of the debt ceiling controversy, that near constant political buzzing in my ears has ratcheted itself up a few notches into something much more pronounced. I like millions of others couldn’t help to be downright angry at the forces inside our government. Their inability to work out a deal until the zero hour brought into sharp focus just how petty our elected officials can be. Those who compared the entire debacle, (to which we really haven’t seen the end of) to a glorified schoolyard brawl couldn’t be more right.
Since I have absolutely no intention of changing the course of this blog into more political waters I’ll digress and get to the real reason behind this post. As all of this governmental posturing was playing out on our TV sets every day I was fortunate enough to pick up a couple of volumes of Brian Wood and Riccardo Burchielli’s 2006 comic book DMZ. The series is set in a not too distant future in which America finds itself embroiled in a second civil war. In this reality Manhattan has been transformed into a demilitarized zone, wedged between the forces of the United States Of America and those of the newly declared secessionist “Free States”. The story follows Matthew (Matty) Roth, a green-gilled photojournalist who became stranded in the DMZ after his team was attacked while there on assignment.
Though I’m only about 11 issues in I can’t wait to pick up the next volume. Wood’s storytelling is taut and intriguing, and Burchielli’s art is top-notch. Recurring themes of war, patriotism, and the ways in which government and journalism can make insidious bedfellows are just a few that came to the forefront in reading just the first issue of the series. While reading it I couldn’t help thinking not only about everything that has been going on in Washington, but also in the minds of the citizens who find themselves at the mercy of those in the power seats of our government. While it might be more than a bit far fetched to say that DMZ could show us a vision of things to come, I still shutter whenever I think back on all of the partisan bickering that’s been going on in this country for years now.
Here’s to DMZ. Here’s to hoping the schoolyard brawlers end the fight and opt for a game of kickball instead.
Just recently I sat down to watch my first 3D film in years. Until now the only other visually-augmented entertainment I’ve seen in an actual movie theater had been Francis Ford Coppola’s extended Michael Jackson music video Captain EO at Disney World’s Epcot Center back in 1986. As a 12 year-old with a well-worn cassette tape of Thriller and a love of all things futuristic Captain EO was something of an event for me. Before this my only other exposure to the world of 3D movies was back when a local TV network would play a special version of “King Kong” or “The Creature From The Black Lagoon” which could be watched in stunning 3D in the comfort of my own home with the help of retro-style 3D glasses procured through a special promotion at Stop & Shop supermarkets. Actually this supermarket brand of 3D left much to be desired, and I vividly remember being very disappointed both times I settled in to watch these creature features.
Fast-forward about 30 years or so and 3D cinema is back on the scene with a vengeance, (though maybe declining in intensity of said vengeance lately) and I find myself compelled to add my two-cents to the already crowded debate. In fairness, it should be stated that my first experience with a 3D film since watching Michael Jackson moonwalk into the the front row was Transformers 3 – probably not the best choice for a reintroduction but it was free so who was I to refuse? I had also read in more than a few places that TF3 would be “groundbreaking” in terms of it’s theatrical 3D presentation, with some random blogger going as far to say it was the best 3D he had seen since Avatar.
In the spirit of full disclosure I should say that I have yet to see Avatar, so I’ll hold no ill will if you decide to click out of my blog in disgust this instant, though it’s in this fact I want make at least part of my point… For all intents and purposes this new breed of 3D film should draw me in like a gullible 8-year-old to a candy waving Pied Piper but they just flat out do not. To me it all seems just a bit too much of a gimmick, yet another fad that rises and falls in response to the how much money the fickle masses spend on it. With all of the targeted marketing and the uber-hype it feels too much like another in a long line of frantic attempts, (anyone ever heard of Smell-O-Vision, or AromaRama?) by the powers that be in Hollywood to wow the audiences with that next big thing – a movie experience more real than real.
My not so much realer than real experience with Transformers 3 certainly didn’t do anything to alter my feelings on 3D. I definitely side with the detractors who say that for the most part all a 3D film is these days is murky layered imagery and headache inducing eyestrain. Personally, I know I would’ve enjoyed watching the spectacle of giant robots kicking the crap out of each other even more without the 3D “enhancement”… Well, as much as one can “enjoy” watching a Michael Bay film.
In fairness this doesn’t seem to be the case with the “higher end” films which are crafted from the ground up with 3D technology from the start. By most accounts that I read Avatar’s visuals really struck a chord with many viewers – some of which claimed to feel a level of depression for having to leave James Cameron’s “Pandora” when the movie was over. It’s that alone which makes me reconsider my missing watching the film in the theater when I had the chance… For all my ranting about how much these films seem gimmicky to me, I am still a huge techno-geek, and love when something new and groundbreaking comes along. Especially when it’s the real deal.
I guess that in the end I’m a bit of a cinematic luddite, at least as far as these newer technologies are concerned. Being a huge fan of the art and science of traditional cinematography, I’m always leery about introducing something that alters the way film images are presented to me. No doubt, great cinematography, (traditional or digital) can be carried to a different level with the addition of a solid 3D technology, but as already witnessed there is a glut of films thrown out to market every week in which the 3D is shoehorned in later, using a process that is substandard… Ultimately, great vibrant imagery can easily change to the dim and distracting, suffering at the hands of neurotic studio execs constantly looking for ways to bring people back to the movies. As usual, they’ve placing some heavy bets once again on the hyper-reality of 3D.
Currently, there have been plenty of reports suggesting that 3D is on the decline with audiences, which could be for the best. It might give those neurotic execs some time to check in for a little therapy to get over their hyper-reality complex. In the perfect world they might even start to look past the quick-fix gimmicks, back to the things that got cinema to where it is today… Telling solid stories with larger than life characters, on larger than life screens.