To Film School or Not to Film School?

^ Is that even the right question?

Often I hear from people new to the film industry who want to know if they should attend film school to get a leg up. I can’t give them a straight answer.

Years ago, I too was wondering the same thing. Growing up in rural Pennsylvania, with nary a film production to be seen, I didn’t know how I was supposed to “get in” especially when I couldn’t afford a plane ticket to LA, let alone the cost of living there while trying to break into a notoriously difficult industry.

I eventually found myself completing a Masters of Fine Art in Film and Television at the Savannah College of Art & Design. My time there was awash in good memories — I met some amazing friends I’ll carry with me the rest of my days, as well as picking up select skills — such as the Steadicam — that I may not have had the opportunity to try out otherwise. But still, I sometimes look back on my time at SCAD and wonder “Was it worth it? Should I have skipped the school?”

If you’re wondering why I still have those doubts, even after having graduated four years ago, it’s because when I look at my student loans, I begin to feel faint and need to find something else to do. It’s also because of how I calculated what I was paying per class period, and certain classes that didn’t live up to expectations.

Some of the best film makers and cinematographers I know personally today were self taught or were brought up in the ranks of hierarchy on film sets over time. I also know some who went through film school and have nothing more than an ego to show for it.

The answer to “How do I break into the industry?” is never going to be a simple formula and no two paths are the same.

So, how do you break in?

The most common paths are variations on these — please note that these are aimed towards the Camera Department since that is mostly what I’m familiar with:

1.) Film School: After or during school, start getting on “real” sets, most likely as a production assistant (read: entry level) or, rarely, jump right into camera assisting/producer assisting/etc.

2.) Work at a Camera or Equipment Rental House, gaining knowledge and experience working with the equipment. Get hired on sets. Work your way up.

3.) Get on sets as an office or set production assistant. Slowly migrate into the department you are interested in. Impress people and try to move up the ladder.

4.) Self-taught. Start by making really bad films. Learn from your mistakes. Keep going. Self finance your passion.

5.) Be related to Spielberg/Nolan/some big whig in the industry already.

All this circles back to whether or not film school is the answer for you. I don’t feel my job is to convince you one way or the other. Rather, I feel a list of pros and cons is more helpful, to allow you to make an educated choice.

PROS

Direct access to professional equipment without rental costs and insurance.

Professional networking at the student level. Film school is where many of the greats of filmmaking met for the first time. Maybe that will be your story too.

Directors/Cinematographers/Producers who are easily accessible because they’re grading your homework as professors at the school.

Amenities: professional equipment, film festivals sponsored by the school, meet and greets with industry professionals who might talk to your class.

CONS

Expensive. Tuition, books, and financing your own films costs serious money.

Certain Classes. I’m still mad about Professional Development, a class in which we basically paid full price to just work on our own stuff.

Limited scope. Students who are into non-traditional forms of telling a story, such as with experimental film, may feel limited by the standard Hollywood method taught at school.

Lack of resources. Along with the pro of having equipment and space to borrow for free are the limits of actually getting those things when they are in high demand.

In many ways, attending SCAD was the best thing I’ve done to get myself into the right trajectory for what I’m doing now. I’d never have picked up the Steadicam and I’d never have made the connections I did. But I also know that it would have been possible (but not guaranteed) to get where I am now without the tuition cost.

Deciding whether or not to attend film school is a big decision. Until you’ve made that decision, you can check out this book:

bookAmazon link

Media Parodies Media: The Bojack Horseman Story

Bojack Horseman is a Netflix Original that premiered in 2014. It’s a dark humor animation with anthropomorphic animal people navigating the shallow world of Hollywood. Somehow, I didn’t get around to this show for four years. Then I binged four seasons in an embarrassingly short time.

I was surprised by how emotionally invested I became with Bojack‘s cast of characters. Real human drama and timeless themes exist within the animated packaging featuring a talking horse.

At first, Bojack Horseman is a very nihilistic look at a ex-sitcom star’s messed up life. Booze, drugs, one night stands, many questionable decisions… it’s a fun ride to watch Bojack spiral out of control. But from the beginning the writers subtly tug at your heartstrings by fleshing out his character as well as those of the ones around him.

Bojack acts out and gets himself into trouble because, plain and simple, he’s not happy. There are the glimpses into his truly awful childhood and parents who never really wanted him, all of which ended up with Bojack becoming a washed up ex-sitcom star.

Portrayal of Media and Hollywoo(-d)

What the show does especially well is parodying the media and entertainment industries. From “A Ryan Seacrest Type”– a vapid Hollywood reporter who comments on whatever inane news has surfaced, to media-fueled squabbles over apple muffins and the insane things stars do for attention.

Amid the laughs are some really poignant digs at Hollywood in general (re-named Hollywoo after Bojack stole the D in a booze-addled stupor).

In the episode where Mr. Peanutbutter and Todd come up with the Oscar nominees, reading the whiteboard behind them was insightful and relevant. Last year’s #OscarsSoWhite scandal was put in sharp relief as they had written down “black people” and then crossed it out.

If you notice, the board also includes only female names in “Best Director” — a stark contrast to the reality. In 2018, Greta Gerwig became only the fifth female director to even be nominated for the Best Director Oscar for Lady Bird. So far the only female director to win has been Kathryn Bigelow in 2009 for The Hurt Locker.

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Bojack also parodies what happens to some child stars. With Sarah Lynn, you see the stark contrast between the innocent girl on the 90’s sitcom to the coked out mess she becomes later in life.

The Human Element

Part of the reason we care so much about these characters is because of their very real struggles:

Princess Carolyn — Cutthroat in the world of being an agent/manager, but almost always at the brink of failure. She also feels unfulfilled and wishes for a family, but is possibly past the point of no return.

Todd — discovering his sexuality. I think so far this is the only time I’ve seen a character in a show discover they are “Ace.”

Diane — Just…everything about Diane. Her issues with her family and her career struggles make her a relateable, anxiety-ridden character.

Season Five

Bojack Season 5 premiered recently. There were a couple of episodes that really stood out, like the one that centered around Diane’s exploration of her ancestral routes (for a Buzzfeed-like story she was writing) and an episode that centers around Bojack giving a speech at a funeral that doesn’t cut away and is simultaneously hilarious, dark and uncomfortable.

Season 5 wasn’t my favorite, but it still represents part of a quality piece of entertainment. If you haven’t tried this series yet, it’s about time.

It’s about time for something like A Wrinkle in Time

I finally saw A Wrinkle in Time, via Red Box. It was a trippy, colorful, spacey adventure great for kids.

The movie made waves early in promotional days when it was revealed the typically white heroine would be portrayed by Storm Reid, a young lady who is neither typical nor white. And what a fantastic choice this casting was.

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Unfortunately, A Wrinkle in Time (2018) was not the blockbuster it really wanted to be. With a slow beginning that bogs down the pace and the hard-to-follow rules of the fantasy world, it didn’t meet high expectations.

It reminds me of the hype when Lucy (2014) came out. Forget what movie that is? So did most everybody else. But it was originally hyped to show off an actiony female heroine. It just couldn’t help the fact that it was unnervingly stupid.

But you can’t place all your expectations on one movie. You just rejoice in the fact that it exists and it signals a shift in cultural representation. 

A Wrinkle in Time could have been a bomb with white leads. It could have been a re-hash of the 2003 Canadian attempt at a television-based adaptation. When author Madeleine L’Engle saw that, she told Newsweek, “I have glimpsed it…I expected it to be bad, and it is.”

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So bad in fact that the actors refused to open their eyes in this pic. Maybe.

What’s important is that Director Ava DuVernay took the opportunity to film a very difficult to adapt novel with actors and crew of all colors, genders, etc.

To get that diverse cast and crew, DuVernay didn’t have to do anything fancy. She didn’t have an inclusion rider, or special contract. To put it simply, she just made sure the production hired great people of all kinds and colors. That’s something we need to see more of.

The 2018 version by Disney may not have made a huge profit, but it showed a young capable girl of a mixed race family, with numerous roles in her world filled by diverse people. It put a normal lens on a medium that usually paints the world in bland colors. I’d like to think more than a few young girls saw this and were inspired. And if that’s all it did? Maybe it accomplished what it set out to do.

 

Sources

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Wrinkle_in_Time

https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/a_wrinkle_in_time_2018/

http://fortune.com/2018/03/12/wrinkle-in-time-ava-duvernay-inclusion-rider-diversity/

Small thinking and Downsizing

I Redbox’d Alexander Payne’s Downsizing, fully expecting an unusual, indie-ish film with a decent special effects budget and commentary on human excess. What I found was a hodgepodge of themes so mashed together as to resemble a brown sludge instead of a solid idea.

It’s an intriguing concept; A scientist discovers how to shrink humans to 5 inches tall, reducing their carbon footprint. Married couple Paul (Matt Damon) and Audrey (Kristin Wiig) decide to undergo the procedure so they can have the home of their dreams, only to have Audrey leave Paul when he is shrunk first. It all kinda meanders from there.

downsizing

Downsizing touches (but doesn’t commit) on the following themes:

  1. Ecological responsibility/the Green Movement
  2. Economic/Socio-economic disparities
  3. Emotional — Paul dealing with a new life after being abandoned by Audrey
  4. Political/xenophobic

The problem with all these, albeit great thematic elements, is the fact that we bounce between them, never fully embracing enough to make a strong premise.

From this point on there will be spoilers (including the ending)

The Green Movement

The scientists who created the process of downsizing did so in order to reduce our emissions and help save the world. The term “downsizing” comes from the idea of simplifying one’s life for overall improvement. A company may downsize to cut costs, or an individual may downsize their home to make it more manageable to take care of.

The movie also illustrates the green movement by showing the shared cars in the tiny city Paul moves in to. Everyone shares what appear to be electric cars.

By the end of the movie, 3% of the world’s population has downsized, but it’s not enough to keep the polar ice caps from melting. Too little, too late. Pun intended?

Socio-economic Disparities

The most interesting theme in the movie, from my point of view, were the socio-economic differences present among the little people.

At first it appears that mostly the middle class folks downsize because their money is worth more when they undergo the process. They can afford lavish mansions and live comfortably off their savings. Other people downsize as a personal choice, so escape their current life and have a fresh start.

Later on, we’re introduced to the lower-class (and mostly ethnic) residents of Paul’s city. These people still have to work for a living, some of them as maids to clean the rich people’s mansions and apartments. Paul is introduced to this world when he meets Vietnamese activist Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau). She was shrunk against her will and now cleans apartments while hobbling on a poorly designed prosthetic leg.

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The disparity is shown in stark relief as Paul sees Ngoc’s side of town. First off, they have to take a crowded bus which takes them through the wall of the city’s enclosure and into a dismal town outside the wall. If that journey through the wall doesn’t say a lot about economic disparity, I don’t know what does.

Paul’s interaction with this woman is the heart of the story, and frankly what the story should have stuck to. It’s touching, it’s smart and it’s a logical endpoint for Paul to reach some conclusions on what he is worth. He can help these people with so many of their problems, either through his occupational therapy training or by helping them get food.

Sadly we had a few other themes to muck it all up.

Emotional

I tacked this on because it’s more of a plot point that doesn’t get resolved.

Audrey abandons Paul right after he’s downsized. This is something that is given away in the trailer, and lost a lot of emotional impact since it was not a surprise. It also felt very forced. Audrey never seemed thrilled about downsizing. Why did they go through with going to get the procedure? This is likely more a problem with the character than the story.

After that plot point (Audrey leaving) we get no payoff. Sure we see Paul mulling through life post-Audrey, but we don’t get a nice book-ending moment. He doesn’t see Audrey again, doesn’t speak to her, doesn’t really come to terms with it. We can argue that his friendship and later relationship with Ngoc serves that purpose, but I feel something was missing.

Political/Xenophobic

As soon as there’s anyone who’s different, there’s going to be people who hate them.

A man approaches Paul at his going-away party prior to downsizing. The man is noticeably annoyed, and says the little people should not benefit from the rest of the country’s taxes since they don’t pay any taxes, and that they should only have a portion of a vote when it comes to elections.

The guy is a racist jerk motif to the tee…but is he wrong?

Of course he is but part of the problem with the downsizing concept is that it’s not fully fleshed out. How is it economically viable to have these little people living off their savings for the rest of their lives? Forget the conversion rate of the tiny houses being so cheap, what about whenever they need to buy products or services outside their tiny cities? Not everything is produced in the tiny city. Their money can’t possible retain it’s inflated value in the outside world. That bottle of vodka from the trailer should be worth a million dollars!

And how are these people not paying taxes? How did that slip the government’s radar? Sure, the process was hailed as a tax write off because #greenmovement but …how?

Despite all that, and the interesting parallels with real-life xenophobia…the hatred between normals and little people is never expressed again.

Ending Thoughts

Downsizing was a mixed bag. Sure it had an interesting insights into the pros and cons of this imaginary medical procedure….but the fact that it couldn’t focus and elaborate on some key elements made it a bit of a mess.

If you are about to watch it, prepare for a slow beginning and meandering plot until Ngoc Lan Tran arrives, because she’s a wonderful addition. Maybe the story should have been more about her?

The Cinematography of A Quiet Place

This blog references this podcast interview from The Kodakery with Charlotte Bruus Christensen, cinematographer of A Quiet Place.

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In the interview, cinematographer Charlotte Bruus described how the story dictated what type of shots they could get. Since the characters conversed mostly in American sign language with subtitles for the layman, most shots had to leave enough room for the sign language to take place. Even when they might want a close up on a face, they had to make that conscious choice that the hands had to be seen. It was done for practicality but very much dictated the look and feel of the film.

Christensen also described how she uses elements from the script and the director to add the character to her camera operating in each scene.

“I constantly work towards a word or a scene or something that the director has given me…to give that to the audience,” Charlotte Bruus Christensen said.

How do you do that? Well, you accomplish that with the lighting design, the camera movement, handheld vs. tripod… each choice adds another layer to what Christensen is saying with the camera.

“That’s the work that doesn’t really come out in the dialogue or in the set design,” she said. “That’s something that I can add. These words, I get very set what I’m aiming for with the light and with the movement. That will guide me to whether this [tracking shot] should be going fast or slow or if you zoom.”

Not all Directors of Photography will operate the camera themselves, but Christensen did. She adds an intuitive element to it, very much responding to the actors in the moment.

“When you operate yourself, you really can feel that, when a character moves his head or these little details… to me that’s very, very important to catch those moments and try and convey emotion… to move an audience. Show that emotion. To move an audience. But that’s another amazing thing about cinematography. It’s such a powerful tool.”

It’s interesting to note that part of the personality lent to the image by the cinematographer herself was also her choice to shoot in film. People balked at her choice, assuming the film would not be able to handle the dark scenes. Christensen, however, knew better.

A QUIET PLACE

Being knowledgeable with film stocks, she chose the right tools for the job. The funny thing is, shooting in film means you don’t see exactly what you’re getting through the viewfinder. Using her experience, intuition and a light meter, Christensen captured amazing visuals for an incredible film.

Teachable Moment: The Nxivm Case

My last post was about separating artist from art. Weinstein was a topical case study of course, but my intention was to ask whether we could still enjoy art created by problematic people. Y’know, the Hitchcocks of the world.

During all the discussions regarding problematic directors and producers, I never felt personally affected, except to put trust in the victims and decry the actions of those who abused their power.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

In 2001, Smallville premiered. The TV series that showed Clark Kent’s journey to become Superman quickly became my favorite. Show runners Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, in addition to bringing in a number of classic characters of the Superman mythos, also introduced a couple original characters. One such character was brave and smart. She stopped at nothing to expose the truth, help her friends and make a better world in her own way.

I’m talking about Chloe Sullivan, played by Allison Mack. She was the nascent reporter turned pseudo-Justice League Watchtower. She was my favorite character besides Clark.

Last year I saw someone share an article that didn’t look legit. It stated that Allison Mack had been found to victimize girls and prostitute them for cult leader Keith Raniere. Pimp Mack, they called her. I was sure this article wasn’t true.

This week Mack was arrested. The story was real.

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See full article here.

Mack co-founded Nxivm with Keith Raniere. The organization operated under the guise of a mentorship program for young women. The company website states: “NXIVM is a company whose mission is to raise human awareness, foster an ethical humanitarian civilization, and celebrate what it means to be human.”

No. It’s a pyramid scheme meant to trap women, self-branded as a form of self help and entrepreneurial endeavor.

Apparently Kristin Kreuk, the actress who played Lana Lang on Smallville, recruited Mack before eventually getting out of it herself. Kreuk shared in a statement on Twitter that she had joined the group to help with her shyness, assuming it was simply a self help workshop. She closed her statement with how she is “deeply disturbed” and thanked the women who came forward about the violent inner workings of Nxivm.

Mack continued in the group, leveling up to Raniere’s inner circle by luring girls into the pyramid scheme turned sex trafficking ring. Women were encouraged to recruit other women in order to become masters instead of slaves. Girls were branded and made to starve themselves to fit Raniere’s sexual fantasies. These were impressionable women who were seeking to better their careers through what they thought was mentorship.

Emil: Chloe, I couldn’t help but notice that you practically jumped out of your chair when I came in here. I’d prefer that if there were no secrets between us.
Chloe: Then you’re in the wrong business.

Smallville Season 9, Episode 6: Rabid

I usually use this blog to teach about film, but sometimes those teachable moments are less about technique and more about the seedy underbelly of the entertainment industry.

It upsets me to my core that this case has brought to light the dirty laundry of an actress I thought I could admire. It upsets me that it was an actress at all who lured women into this trap.

I look back at her most famous role, that of the dynamic and strong Chloe Sullivan.  I feel betrayed by a person I never met who doesn’t know I exist. She doesn’t owe me an explanation. An actor is not their character. This much is definitely clear here. We must out predators wherever and whomever they are.

We must not throw judgment on the young women who were sucked into this world. Like with any cult, it probably didn’t seem so bad until they were in deeper than they could escape. Maybe that’s even how Mack’s involvement began.

“I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but the people who are the worst at taking care of themselves are the ones the world actually needs the most.” — Chloe Sullivan, Smallville

I hope that young women will take note from this case, and be very careful who they put their faith in for mentorship opportunities and career advancement. Not all who say they are there to help you have your best interests at heart.

Hopefully this will be a teachable moment for Allison Mack too. She could have taken many lessons on doing the right thing from the character she portrayed for ten years. Instead she, like the Weinstein-like men before her, must face consequences for her actions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

RE: Hollywood Scandals. Should we separate artist from art?

The floodgates have opened to scandals about sexual abuse from high level people in Hollywood.

We shouldn’t be surprised at the numbers, right? The “Casting Couch” is a dirty joke for a reason. This ousting of abusive, harassing jerks has been long awaited.

But now with this news comes the moral dilemma — can we continue to consume content knowing someone who made the film is a creep? Series have been cancelled, movies have halted production, and companies no longer want to work with those who’ve been named, but what happens when the choice is left to us?

I’ve written before on a moral dilemma surrounding the creation of a film and the final product.

I’ve also had this internal crisis with an author I once admired — Orson Scott Card. I had already read and enjoyed several of the Ender’s Game books before I found out how much a bigot the author was. It was hard to fathom how he could promote empathy and understanding in his writing, but not in real life.

Prime examples of abuse fill the shadowy corners of Hollywood classics.

shelley duvall

Shelley Duvall was forced to do 127 takes during that baseball bat scene in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. Several documentaries, including one by Kubrick’s own daughter, showed Duvall intentionally bullied. Kubrick told crew members not to sympathize with her, and she skirted illness constantly due to the stress.

Duvall did not have many acting credits after her 13 month stint on The Shining, and is reportedly not in good mental health these days.

Tippi Hedren dealt with Alfred Hitchcock’s obsession and sexual abuse on The Birds and Marnie. She said he would suddenly grab her, put his hands on her and become “petulant” whenever she talked to another man. He even jumped on top of her and tried to kiss her in a limo. He tortured Hedren on set with live birds when he was supposed to use fake ones. She described the scene as brutal and relentless.

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Hitchcock threatened to ruin Hedren’s career when she wouldn’t cave to his advances.

In an interview with Variety in 2016, she explained why she opened up about the abuse in her memoir:

I wanted to let women, especially young women, know never to allow that kind of approach and to be forceful in telling people you’re not interested in having that kind of a relationship. It’s not a bad thing to say no.

Full article here

This abuse doesn’t live solely in the past. Finally, women and men are taking on their abusers in order to create change in a problematic industry.

Then there’s us. The consumers. Articles like the one below are popping up everywhere, everyone wondering: What should we do now?

 

It’s all down to personal choice at this point. If Netflix didn’t cancel House of Cards, could you still watch it? Will movies from the Weinstein Company leave a bad taste in your conscience?

What to do

Yes, it’s problematic when things we like are made by people we don’t agree with on a fundamental level. There are several things we can do, though.

  1. Talk about it.

    Don’t internalize this struggle. We have numerous forms of social media in which to share an opinion. Tag the production company. You’d be surprised who is paying attention. Also, consider writing an opinion piece for your local newspaper on the subject. Local newspapers enjoy getting public input and people will be interested in reading those words, and maybe someone can be swayed.

  2. Don’t consume the art.*

    This one can be more difficult if you are already a fan of the work. Your spending power says something. If enough people don’t pay for a movie, the box office will reflect it and production companies will take note. They will not want to work with an actor or director that the public is no longer willing to support. They like predictable cash flow.

    * a necessary side note: for the love of all that is art, do not pirate a film. If you want to see it, you pay to see it. It’s as simple as that. Use Redbox instead of going to the theater, or watch it at a friends house. I don’t care. Just don’t pirate. Thousands of people’s livelihoods depend on box office receipts, mostly people who make significantly less money than the person you have an issue with. Don’t steal their work.

  3. Consume art by artists you DO believe in.

    Use your purchasing power to support indie films, films by women and LGBT filmmakers or other poorly represented minorities. Kickstart someone’s passion project. Get voices out into the light who need to be heard. Your $10 here will make a bigger difference than your $10 on a blockbuster summer tentpole.

Your opinion matters. Keep the discussion going. It’s the best way to turn things around so future generations don’t have these stories anymore.

Sources

Tippi Hedren on Why She Went Public About Being Sexually Abused

Tippi Hedren says Hitchcock sexually assaulted her – USA Today

Orson Scott Card: Mentor, Friend, Bigot

An Ethical Guide To Consuming Content Created By Awful People Like Orson Scott Card

He’s a Creep, but Wow, What an Artist!

The Real Horror of ‘The Shining’: The Story of Shelley Duvall

The Women of Stranger Things

What makes a strong female character? The details matter, regardless of gender. Characters should be multifaceted. The problem is we often see the stereotypes, the lowest common denominator. Female characters are often the mother, girlfriend or love interest and not much else.

You can use the Bechtel-Wallace Test as a guide. With this test, you ask if a work of fiction presents two female characters who talk to each other about anything other than a man. The test is helpful in finding better represented female characters, but it is flawed and limiting.

A strong character not only reacts to what going on around her but is also proactive and a main character is instrumental in moving a plot forward.

Well written characters are fully realized humans, not just cookie cutter impressions.

Although Stranger Things focuses a lot on the four main preteen boys, there’s also a great number of fantastic female characters. Let’s look at what makes them so special.

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Eleven: The Wild Card

The one we all secretly wish to be.

Eleven is our obvious hero type, but she also displays a sweet childlike innocence due to her lack of knowledge of the real world.

Eleven is strong  not just because of her powers, but her depth. Each episode reveals more about her.

She has a complicated parental relationship with Papa and Hopper. Her search for family brings her to the boys, Hopper, Mama and Roman’s gang.

She is also a little bit scary. Her power, and willingness to kill, make her a very potential bad guy if she had only stayed with the Hawkins Lab. Since she escaped, she has learned a great deal about the world and what to appreciate.

Joyce

Joyce: The Detective

Joyce is wonderful because we finally get a TV mom worth watching. Her detective skills in two seasons show she is willing and capable to do anything to save her son.

Although she skirts insanity, talking to Christmas lights and chopping into a wall like Jack from The Shining, Joyce is instrumental in saving Will.

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Nancy: The Warrior

She easily could have been the damsel in distress. Instead, we learn Nancy will do whatever it takes to get answers and justice for Barb. We also see Nancy as one of the only characters capable of taking up arms against the Demogorgons.

When Hopper asks one of the boys if he can handle a shotgun, Nancy confidently takes it from him instead. She may be freaked out by what has gone on in the town, but she’s not hiding from the fight.

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Max: The New Girl/Zoomer

Season Two introduced Max as the new girl in town, there to rival the boys at the arcade and in their friendship.

She’s a bit of a cool girl stereotype, but she has her development. Her troubled household has caused her some bitterness. She has an inner battle to fight.

We didn’t get quite enough of Max’s character but there is a lot of potential for her in Season Three.

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Terry Ives

We only see Terry in a flashback and catatonic in the present day, she was a formidable force in her time. She shows a conviction in pursuing her child years after her abduction. There may be more that Terry could teach us.

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Roman: The Rebel

The introduction of Roman answers the question we had since the beginning: Are there others like Eleven?

She is the child who fully rebelled against Hawkins Lab. She is brutal in her retribution, but also has a soft spot for family matters, just like Eleven.

Although her moral compass could use a tuneup, Roman provides the emotional stimuli Eleven needs to beat an ultimate foe.

Takeaway

“What’s the trick to writing a great female character? Make her human.” — Nicole Holofcener, director and screenwriter of Lovely & Amazing and Friends with Money.

Just because you’re writing a female character doesn’t mean the character development stops at that extra X chromosome. Our entertainment is so much more engaging and meaningful when the characters are better written.

Sources

Bechdel Test

Writing Better Female Characters

35 Powerful Quotes by Women in Hollywood

Binge Culture and How it Changed TV

TV just isn’t the same as it used to be.

The days of only catching a new episode as it aired are mostly gone, replaced by technology like DVRs, networks uploading new episodes online and streaming services.

It was Netflix that really brought the idea of binge-culture to the forefront with its original programming, dropping entire seasons all at once instead of spacing episodes out. This has lead to original content that defies traditional television in ease of choice, structure and content while also changing the speed at which we watch a series.

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Original Content Becomes Popular

When Netflix made the switch from mail order to mostly streaming, things really changed. Entire seasons of shows were now available to watch. Better yet, anyone who wanted to try something new didn’t have to spend the money on a DVD boxset.

In 2013, Netflix started offering original content. That was the year that House of Cards, Orange is the New Black and Hemlock Grove premiered.

After the blockbuster success of shows like House of Cards and Orange is the New Black, Netflix poured more energy into original content. Although Netflix doesn’t release viewership numbers, it’s estimated that 6.5% of Netflix subscribers have seen at least one episode of House of Cards’ third season. That puts the viewership around 5 million.

OITNB

Structure

Besides the fact that Netflix found some great content to put out, we also see different stories and structure than normal traditional television.

Your typical 1 hour show is actually around 42 minutes without commercials. It has clear act breaks and wraps up a storyline within that 42 minutes. In anything other than comedies, you will typically find a season arc, with a big end goal in sight for the finale.

The content geared for internet viewership tells a different story.

Now you’ve got anywhere from 29 to 60 minute shows, no commercials and a season that is meant to be watched in a frenzied rush. Episodes of dramas are not stand-alone. The content is meant to be enjoyed in sequential order.

Although there are typically less episodes in a season, streamable content is able to serialize a larger story, while taking opportunities to take an occasional detour to add more to the mix. When not constrained to the typical TV formula, problems no longer have to be tidily wrapped up in each episode. The form of the show is now more fluid, open to interpretation and full of irresistible cliffhangers to keep you watching.

strangerthings.0

Culture

Beside the form of our television, we also see a major shift culturally.

Social media has made it nearly impossible to avoid spoilers of our favorite shows.  Statuses, memes, Tweets, internet comments…no where is safe from spoilers.

Even worse than that is the pressure you feel if you haven’t tapped into the latest Internet show. “What do you mean you haven’t seen Stranger Things!?” If you have Netflix, there’s no excuse. You need to be in on the craze.

Plus you have to binge these series because you know someone else will.

About 70% of Netflix users will binge watch at least one show a month.

Besides the original content, users tend to binge established older shows like Family Guy, The Office and Futurama… the ease of just hitting play and having the season play out is too good to resist.

The Takeaway

When millions of people are binging the same shows, analyzing them, recommending them — the networks pay attention. They will give you more of what you want.

I’ve just binged Stranger Things Season 2 in two days, and now I’m deep into the after show Beyond Stranger Things. Maybe I’ll have to tap into some more Netflix shows during a potential year of waiting for more. Netflix and its shareholders would certainly like that.

Netflix may have made us binger-watchers, but it’s our binging that determines what content is produced. The only question remaining: can traditional TV keep up?

Sources:

How Network TV Figured Out Binge-Watching

Here’s How “House of Cards” Viewership Stacks Up Against the Offline Competition (Maybe)

An Analysis of Netflix Power Binge Watchers

 

Cautionary Tales: Disaster movies and social change

Disaster movies are an easy cash cow at the box office. Character development is secondary, and everyone’s going to see the Statue of Liberty or The White House blow up. Again.

With some exceptions and exaggerations, disaster movies hit home because of an element of realism. Tornadoes, earthquakes, even volcanoes. We can imagine any possibility thanks to CGI and wind machines and questionable acting.

Although I can’t call it a recent film anymore (though it still feels like anything since 2000 should be recent right?) the 2004 film The Day After Tomorrow has been on my mind a lot lately.

There is some typical Hollywood science at work in this film. Just look at this critical article from 2012 that had several issues with the movie.

But the bottom line was a concern about global warming causing catastrophic weather patterns. Hollywood overexaggeration? Sure. But political/ecological commentary? Definitely.

Note the tagline in the poster:

where will you be

“Where will you be?” Where indeed? The tagline and global warming-concious premise hook the viewer in on a personal level. The movie got a ton of press before and after it premiered. An Inconvenient Truth wouldn’t even come out for another two years. This was our shock-to-the-system wake-up-call about climate change.

Something became clear — althought fictional, The Day After Tomorrow had an impact in the real world.

Commercial movies, in particular can provide a platform for engaging in systematic dialogue regarding issues relating to social, scientific and environmental risks. The kind of information and messages transmitted through movies and television can be critical since “film and television have the greatest potential for activating environmental change (Gellhorn 1991, 12).

source

Numerous articles online pointed out scientific and political facets of the film, while others were encouraged a step further. It inspired petitions and political discussions, but it didn’t quite make it all the way to improving how we treat our world, which drew even more criticism.

They didn’t quite change the world like they hoped, but it got people talking, and that was a start.

Man-made disasters make for good movie material, and feel especially topical when humans have so much effect on the world around them. We will continue to make disaster movies for the foreseeable future, just switching around stories about floods and shipwrecks to zombies and germ warfare.

Should it be any surprise that there’s another disaster movie on the horizon? Although this one has suddenly gotten too real.

Geostorm‘s topical nature has actually seen its posters pulled. Warner Bros thought it best to pull the current poster which bears the tagline “Brave the Storm” as Hurricane Irma leaves a path of destruction.

Geostorm pulled poster

Fiction has long been concerned with our own human hubris. It examines our wants and desires and the mistakes we make, and shows us the worst possible scenarios. You see this in any wish-fulfillment storyline or even science fiction fantasies set in supposedly utopian futures.

There’s a reason why films examine the themes that they do. Sometimes it’s how technology could usurp our humanity (I Robot (2004), Terminator (1984). Movies like Titanic remind us that just because we think we can build the world’s biggest ship and outrun an iceberg, that’s not a great idea. (Sorry, too soon? It’s been over a century).

So why not the same with disaster movies? Maybe they are cautionary tales, warning us to curb our consumerist and selfish ways that put us in danger. I don’t expect drastic life changes. I doubt anyone moved out of California and away from the fault lines after San Andreas (2015) nor do I expect people to. The odds of something drastic like that happening in our lifetimes is still small.

See, that’s part of the allure of disaster movies. Topical, but usually at a safe distance. We don’t expect a volcano to pop up in our backyards, but if one does we feel we’re more prepared having seen the consequences play out on giant projection screens.

In my light research for this post, I saw I wasn’t the only one drawing parallels between  The Day After Tomorrow and the weather patterns we’re seeing right now. Films have cultural impact, and as things get crazier outside, we must wonder if the movies had been warning us all along and we just didn’t listen.

Sources

The Day After Tomorrow: A Scientific Critique (2012 article)

 Could ‘The Day After Tomorrow’ Happen? (2015 article)

‘Geostorm’ theater posters suggest moviegoers ‘Brave the Storm’ so yeah, they were pulled

Understanding the Impact of Disaster Movies on the Social Construction of Risk Perception