Saturday, July 30, 2011

A Blurring of the Lines...

It seems like over the past decade or two, the lines between television and movies have become more blurred than ever. Back in the inception of television, most TV shows were shot with a simple three camera set-up, like I Love Lucy, in essence similar to a stage play. Back in those days, movies had longer, more languid shots, that often engaged the viewer more so into the story, rather than just presenting the information for the viewer to be able to comprehend what is going on (after all, television was on a small screen, and movies were on a large screen). Now, the lines have become blurred, with television becoming more like movies, and a devolution of movies to become more like television.

We're in a day and age where televisions just seem to get bigger and bigger each and every year, with greater clarity of the image than some movie theaters can even present. As well, with the ever rising movie ticket prices, we are now seeing more and more moviegoers waiting until movies come out on DVD, and watching big budget Hollywood movies on their big screen TVs at home, rather than in the movie theaters. Adversely, as televisions got bigger, and the images clearer, the style of TV shows got more daring and started trying to be more like movies.

TV Shows started actively engaging the viewer more so into the story, using tropes like the Over the Shoulder shot, even Point of View shots, to create an active viewer out of their audience. Even still to this day, there are no-nos in TV that just aren't done and have been staples of many movies since the early days of cinema, such as long shots and less cuts, with television favoring multiple cuts in a scene to keep audience attention, and TV shows also never really use fade-to-blacks for creative purposes because that usually signals to a TV viewer a cue for commercial. And on the flip side, movies have started transitioning over the past decade or two to become more and more like TV shows and less like movies.

The filmmakers of this generation are among the first filmmakers to be raised on high quality television as much as they have been raised on high quality movies, and sometimes even more so. A TV show, you can watch anytime it comes on the air, sometimes if a show is in syndication, every single day, where as a movie is an event that you have to pay money for, either to see it in a theater, rent it, or buy it on a DVD. What I feel, is so many filmmakers of this current generation have become so indoctrinated with television culture at an early age, that they are devolving movies to, in essence, longer TV programs. You are seeing less and less movies that try to create the creative visuals of the Old Hollywood movies with long shots, beautiful dolly moves or crane moves that sweep the viewer away, and favoring the TV idea of taking as many shots of an individual scene as possible (known as coverage), and just cutting them together with as many cuts as possible in a scene to maintain a viewer's interest.

In a way, this is not a bad thing. As it is, so many people watch movies at home nowadays that this more TV style of making movies can often make these movies easier to watch on a smaller screen, but they lose their cinematic quality that make movies an "event" and not just an easily accessible entertainment like TV. Now, I am not knocking television, I am one that can admit that a well made TV show can do way more in terms of storytelling than a two hour movie can, but they are in essence two sides of the same coin. While they are both visual mediums that represent video or film work, they are meant to be two separate things. It's like comparing an individual graphic novel (a novel in comic book form) to a comic book series with a new issue each month. One has an ongoing story, and the other has a finite story, these are two separate entities, and while both are part of the comic book industry, they cannot be compared in my opinion, as is the same with movies and TV.

A monthly comic, like a weekly TV show, is meant to be an easy, consumable form of entertainment that will entertain you, but they can be read (or viewed) passively. The opposite goes for a graphic novel, or movies. These two things are meant to be read (or viewed) in their entirety and seen as such, and not part of a larger menagerie of things, but as a stand alone story. When it gets right down to it, movies and TV shows, while sharing similarities, are two completely different animals and should be seen as such, rather than running together. If movies are essentially two hour long TV episodes, then what makes them special and worth shelling out ten bucks for to see them in theaters? In all honesty, there is nothing special, which is why I want movies to become cinematic once more.

There is a reason ticket sales are lower than ever, and I think it's not because of the price, there's just no incentive to see movies on the big screen anymore, because movies are no different than a TV show nowadays. 3D isn't a solution, it's simply getting movies back to their roots and making them cinematic once more.

First off, this whole idea of coverage and multiple cuts belongs in television, not in movies. While there are times when multiple cuts in a scene can help create suspense or another emotion in a movie, cutting to keep an audience's interest is a TV trait, but it is something you see in movie's over and over again. Personally, I have fallen victim to both of these things, such as getting coverage on a scene, shooting the two reverse shots and the master shot (a shot that shows all of the action). While this is all fine and dandy, watch most movies from the masters: Akira Kurosawa, Alfred Hitchcock, Steven Spielberg, etc., and see how little they use the standard coverage; while they use it from time to time, they let the emotions of the scene dictate the cuts, or the changing of shots, rather than the cuts simply existing to move the scene along. That is cinematic, there is a difference, and it is a noticeable difference as an audience member.

As I said earlier, TV is meant to be an easily consumable form of entertainment, where as movies are meant to be stories that only movies can deliver (in other words, something that moves and involves the viewer in the story). While channels like AMC, HBO, and Showtime, are starting to challenge many of these notions, it still does not change the fact that these two mediums are just that, two separate mediums, separate for a reason, and as a filmmaker I myself would like to see movies separate themselves from TV once more and become "cinematic events" rather than passive entertainment. In other words, filmmakers need to be proactive, dictate the emotion through shots, and not simply default to the simple camera set ups just because it's easier than dissecting a scene and figuring out what it is really about and which character is most affected by what is going on. I just wanna cry again! Like I did when I first saw E.T. So that is my rant for today, and my proposition for a new kind of "active" entertainment.

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