Cinematic Episodes: Introduction

Themes are sometimes difficult to stick to. The way I usually manage to stick to them is by getting a bunch of installments written and ready and then scheduling ahead of time. Themes that I work on extemporaneously have a chance of being more inconsistent, or worse, falling into abandonment entirely.

I say this because I have had it in mind to do this idea for quite some time. I have not made the intention to do this theme known here, just in a few conversations. The main reason I’ve not announced this one to try and get this one started, and to give themes I do not consider to be done, some staying power.

Without much further ado, the idea I purport to embark upon is one I call Cinematic Episodes. This would be another cross-medium post wherein the link between cinema and another medium is explored. I have written about adaptations, films in books, characters in comics and other arts hitting the big screen. However, I recently have started to consider some of the technical, and in some ways, narrative similarities film and television have always shared and are starting to share.

It’s no coincidence that on the day I sit awaiting delivery of Game of Thrones‘ second season that I post this, HBO and other cable outlets have truly blurred the lines more so than most in the past due not only to single camera approach, but also production values and elimination of the commercial break, thus, creating a more cinematic structure that builds its ebb and flow in a more traditional three-act manner than an hour of network television does due to the crescendo to commercial, the precipitous drop upon retuning and then the rise anew.

However, many shows on many outlets come to mind when thinking of the parallels and the current landscape, which I will plumb for the examples I am familiar with. This evolution didn’t happen on its own. I will look back and try and trace, to the extent I possibly can, the evolution of the exchange of ideas.

Alfred Hitchcock Presents (Universal)

However, it’s not only a technique and structural focus. The first topic I thought of and will likely examine, with what I have access to are the Hitchcock-directed episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. There will be other topics to examine, other specific shows, but I won’t be tiresome in listing them here.

Essentially, any other medium in relation to cinema is worth taking a look at. I’ve always viewed film as a culmination of all the other arts since the advent of sound. With the introduction of sound elements of theatre were further added, music was added as a permanently affixed appendage rather than a variable live element, through the ages an artist’s touch in framing and composition, be it in color or black and white, has been needed. As any new form of communication and/or artistic expression has come about, film has been challenged, however, it perseveres both by adapting itself and also by an eventual embracing and exchanging of ideas and symbiotic influence. It’s been illustrated before with the rise of radio and then with television, the internet is the next frontier, but that landscape is still a bit nebulous. Film is not yet truly threatened or totally changed, similarly those making content for YouTube and other such sites are progressing, pushing back and breaking through but, still being in process, the changes are not yet as evident.

Television being the middle child of “Threats to Film” has firmly established its foothold as a fixture, mostly due to its varied nature of content and usage, but on the entertainment side it remains vital. The last thing that bears saying is that the fallacious “which is better” arguement will not be found in this space – and considering the main focus of my site I doubt you want to read such an anti-climactic piece. As many similarities as I will find, and as many cases of shared influence I will illustrate both films and television work, or don’t, due to completely different reasons. If television is in a halcyon it’s certainly not due to the networks. It’s a bit like the major/indie dynamic in film. What’s pushing the envelope and advancing episodic visual storytelling is basic and prime cable original content.

The Hitchcock piece will likely be the first. I have a definitely viewing list for that and taking an auteurist approach and looking at a different kind of show is actually one of the better easier way to start such a comparative analysis. Stay tuned.

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Review- Never Say Never

Justin Bieber in Never Say Never (Paramount Pictures)

If there was one thing that was most frustrating about watching Step Up 3 last year, whether it be the 3D version or otherwise, was the fact that there were moments that were magic about it that were almost immediately contradicted or overwhelmed. You could see that Jon Chu had latched onto something at least for a fleeting moment that was like catching lightning in a bottle but there just wasn’t quite enough in the story to propel the film past a few moments of grace and charm.

While I typically avoid any sort of comparative analysis in a review of a single film I mention this to begin the case for Never Say Never and may need to resort to it again to make a point. Chu is, in fact, the perfect candidate for this project because while prior it was like he was wringing a dry sponge here the story existed and it’s the kind of thing you can’t make up and he absolutely nailed it as far a making it a piece of narrative cinema.

Absolutely stripping away any notions you may have pre-conceived or otherwise about the music this film is quite amazing and exhilarating and that has every bit as much to do with the crafting of the film as it does with the narrative it tells.

So far as the crafting is concerned: the edit of this film great and rather impressive and, of course, it interlinks with the narrative. While the story is framed as a countdown to one show, Madison Square Garden, it is told neither chronologically nor does a majority of it take place there.

As the production team had protested for months most of the film is not a concert, hence it’s a little misleading to label it a concert film. There is footage, of course, but rarely is a full song used but what’s most incredible is that all the songs are placed perfectly just watch and listen to the tempo and the lyrics in conjunction with the flow of the film.

As much show footage as there is it doesn’t end up being about the show but about the journey but it’s not a one-sided tale. It tells things both from the perspective of Bieber and his team and with man-on-the-street interviews with his fans. So it makes sense that in a tale as someone who has been launched to astronomical heights thanks to the fervent devotion of his fans that both tales be told as they truly are one.

That is where this film truly separates itself from the other two recent teen sensation films (Miley Cyrus and The Jonas Brothers): this is a personal chronicle and the concert is not the thrust of the film but used as peaks and the big show is used as the climax. Whereas, you saw some goofy-we’re-trying-to-show-how-we’re-like-the-Beatles interstitial scenes in the Jonas Brothers film you didn’t learn anything about them or their journey. This film puts you both in the position of the performer and the audience almost simultaneously, which is quite a feat.

As if further evidence is needed that this film isn’t about the concert there is a star-studded line-up of guest performers, including Miley Cyrus herself in a duet, and it doesn’t detract or elevate things it just fits right into the mix.

It’s not a completely skewed depiction of the performer either. There is a part of the film, which propels the film towards its climax with stakes raised and plays almost like it was scripted, wherein Bieber is fighting off a throat infection and swollen vocal chords just before the MSG show, and his vocal coach asks him if he’d been straining his voice outside the performances. He, of course, responds “No” and then there is a quick montage hearkening back to a short layover he had in a hometown where he’s yelling and gallivanting with his friends that is quite funny.

Like almost anything he does, the film doesn’t take itself or its subject, too seriously and just shows things as they are. In showing him, as much as a film can in this format, as a real person there it can establish its dual connection to both performer and audience.

In the end, many quick flashes of home video and YouTube clips that started off the tale are quickly spliced into the last musical performance of the film and hint at the completion of the journey. The journey concludes in a frame wherein an anonymous user is linking their friends to his videos and hence the viral machine starts. There is also some very creative use of graphics displaying YouTube comments, tweets, subtitles and titles that also gave the film a little more cinematic leverage.

Watching this film, again based on comparison with the other two, was like being at a concert. It was virtually the same atmosphere. That alone should say something. It’s easy enough to dismiss this film as a crass money-grab if you want to but if you watch this and see it as anything less than a sincere depiction and a thank you to those who got Bieber where he is you’re not watching closely enough.

This is a film that is exciting and exhilarating cinematically if you give it an unbiased look and watch it as film, which is what it is. It’s not a concert film because there’s so much more to it than that. It’s the full story of this phenomenon about as well as it can be told. Kudos to Jon Chu and Paramount.

10/10

The Effect of YouTube

YouTube of course is one of the most used and most important websites on the Internet. As will be displayed below there are many ways in which YouTube has already effected the film industry and many more ways in which it can and should in the future.

Self-Shooting and First Person

The image of an arm disappearing off-frame where it is holding the camera is not uncommon in digital photography and not unheard of on YouTube. Some films have been shot first person meaning the film was self-conscious and aware and the person filming is a character, like The Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield and Diary of the Dead.

With so many vlogging and freely adjusting the camera while rolling it is an image that the people are now used to, and will accept this kind of image, and it wouldn’t be surprising if it started getting incorporated into narrative features more often than it is.



Viral Marketing

Several films have already taken to creating footage to be used only for their viral marketing purposes – most recently and notably a “leak” of footage for Cloverfield 2.  The buzz surrounding Paranormal Activity was also aided in part due to its trailer being on YouTube.

When original content was first created a few years ago solely for the purposes of promoting a film you knew that it was going to be, and it continues to be, a crucial part of marketing a film. Even if not creative no major release leaves either YouTube or Apple’s trailer site out of their promotional plans.

Jump Cuts

OK, so jump cuts are nothing new and have been a somewhat tolerated part of the language of film since the French New Wave but it is truly only through the fictional narratives created on YouTube, both crude and refined, that people have en masse truly accepted the fact that continuity is a contrivance which can be forsaken for effect, if necessary.

Even the music video, which planted this seed, never fully communicated this because very few have a coherent narrative. So it was really only when the everyman got on their home video camera or webcam and started to edit that the jump cut became not just acceptable but almost preferred.

Granted the jump cut isn’t predominant in feature films, however, films don’t feel the need to justify or feel timid about using them when they need to.

Mash-Ups

This is a concept original to video sites in their way. It takes the audio and visual associate with a song and presents an alternative to the remix and ultimately creates a new song. Yet the phrase mash-up was quickly re-appropriated to merely mean combining ideas and not so specific to music so it’s not inconceivable that the idea can be used to conjoin disparate ideas in one motion picture.

In a Hollywood littered with prequels, sequels, remakes and reboots it’s certainly within the realm of possibility.
 
Trailer Recuts

Another popular YouTube trend is to recut a trailer with carefully chosen dialogue and different music to make it seem like it was created for another genre altogether. One of the most famous examples is Mary Poppins as a horror film.

Now while this is usually just film enthusiasts having fun again we are in an age where executives are looking to repackage, re-brand and recycle wherever possible and considering the studios own the depictions of these films they created on screen it is not out of the realm of possibility that they go with an idea they find online, pay off the viral editor and go off and turn The Shining into a family film.

Pre-Makes

A recent trend in which modern era movies are spoofed as trailers from the golden age splicing footage from those old films to make it seem like the older star appeared in the newer film. A for example: Indiana Jones cut as if it was a 1950s serial or Ghostbusters in the 1950s.

An even more literal interpretation of this concept of using a bygone star in a modern idea could be accomplished through motion capture or 3D animation and a deal with the estate. If that sounds a little crass keep in mind Gene Kelly has posthumously danced with a vacuum cleaner so sometimes money does outweigh legacy unfortunately.

Handheld

Handheld imagery is already well accepted by modern audiences. However, the YouTube influence is that people will become so used to seeing wildly unsteady imagery that there will be less and less concern about stable images and Steadicam.

This could be a very bad thing in the case of Quantum of Solace the combination of handheld camera work, editing and rapidity of the fight render the action nearly incomprehensible.

The positive could be an added element of realism where a film would not feel the need to cut to a more stable image or a different angle and want to exploit the sense of realism the lack of cuts would create. Images don’t always have to be pretty so long as they are effective too many modern films fail in their hand holding on both accounts.

Video

It’s kind of obvious but needs saying regardless: save for the rare loon, such as yours truly, people are rarely uploading digitized film projects on to YouTube. They typically are all native to video in one form or another. So proponents of the digital revolution in the late 90s were indeed correct only premature.

Video is getting better looking all the time and people are used to it and will accept it unquestionably. Being consistently bombarded by video that’s in a resolution less than ideal on the Internet has aided the transition.

Fred

There are no history books likely to be written about what was the first video that was considered to have gone viral and even YouTube with its statistics keeping would be hard-pressed to quantify many statistics anymore considering how widespread usage of the site has become.

However, it was recently was announced that Fred, a YouTube persona created by teenager Lucas Cruikshank was optioned to a feature film. Should it come to fruition it would be the first concept to go from YouTube to a feature film. A few instances exist of YouTube inspiring commercials but nothing like this.

This would likely be a litmus test for other YouTube sensations in the film world (the music world has already been notably affected with Justin Bieber’s career owing its existence to YouTube popularity) but more than likely a few better, if not as popular people might get deals because of this and it would obviously be the most direct influence of YouTube on cinema: content.

Recently, a Uruguayan filmmaker signed a deal on the strength of his YouTube Short.

Casting

Troye Sivan in X-Men Origins: Wolverine


YouTube has already notably played a part in the casting of a major Hollywood motion picture. Troye Sivan gained notoriety on YouTube mainly just by singing a cappella and gaining attention including that of a casting agent. The agent got in contact with him and gauged his interest in acting and sent him out on a series of auditions. The first of which was for X-Men Origins: Wolverine.

He landed the role, played Young Logan and the rest is history. It is not likely the last story of that kind which will occur.
 

Photo Montage

Another popular motif on YouTube is that of the still picture montage. It is rarely a tag but is a very frequently used technique that could be effectively used in film because in an art form predicated on the moving image to stop the motion whether through a freeze frame or a still is a very powerful maneuver.

Recently, a very effective still picture montage was used at the end of The Hangover, which showed the audience the digital photos from their wild forgotten night.

Structure

This could be the way in which YouTube has the most potential to revolutionize conventional narrative cinema as we know it. Unless a user is uber-popular and they become a “content provider” you are limited to 10 minutes or less. Flow varies and structure is unheard of, however, that does not keep many videos from being quite entertaining and creative while not traditionally structured.

However, at this day and age what has traditional structure really gotten us anyway? At this point, in many cases, all structure does is facilitate unoriginal plotlines that are made in cookie-cutter forms. When something new and original comes along it typically at least bends if not breaks the rules of narrative form so it is not far-fetched to consider that the YouTube videomakers of today could be the cinematic mavericks of tomorrow.

Therefore I call upon the YouTube generation to continue shooting, editing and telling tales the way you want to tell them and the world will listen. If not now, soon.

Conclusion

These are just some of the small ways in which YouTube can affect films. Considering how slow the learning curve is in Hollywood the effect can still permute in the years to come and let us hope that it does. It may create fascinating if not always brilliant work. At this rate it is the only current forum that can be considered a vox populi. It is a movement in and of itself even if not self-conscious of it. For that reason alone the impact is likely to be felt because as studios seek to emulate the viral style they will think it was their idea in the first place but really it was ours and that would be the greatest victory of all.