Monday, May 27, 2024

Understanding How a Film Is Made

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A few days ago, the actor Mark Ruffalo, had to reassure fans in regards to a round of re-shoots for the unfinished Avengers 4. He wanted to assuage fears and state that the re-shoots were merely to finish the film. The internet did not believe him.

The reason is, ironically, largely the internet’s own fault. You see the 24-hour news cycle is a beast that forever needs feeding. Consequently, we have what is commonly known as “click bait” articles. Articles that are meant to have readers click on the link for page views and little else.

Entertainment sites are no different. What this has done though has taken a generation of moviegoers, who know more about movies than almost any generation before them, and made them incessantly stupid. Understand this is coming from me, a member of a generation who thought The Blair Witch Project was a documentary. While moviegoers know more trivia, facts, and are wiser to the marketing machinations of studio goliaths than ever before; they know precious little about how movies themselves are made.

Solo was much talked about because of all the drama that went on behind the set, re-shoots included. The same was said for Justice League. Both of these movies failed to live up to fans expectations but that was hardly because of re-shoots. The problems with both of these movies started long before the re-shoots.

You know what else had re-shoots? Moonlight, Carol, Jaws, Casablanca, Rogue One, and even the first Avengers. The same goes for tweaking a movie after a bad test screening. After all, the whole point of a test screening is to test the movie on the audience.

Some may decry it as crass or one step above being a shill for the studio but that is missing the point. If the aim is to produce a crowd pleaser, shouldn’t one see if it does, in fact, please the crowd? No one is all seeing. Sometimes scenes that directors and producers are sure will land, fall flat. The test audience tells them so. If that happens then it’s back to the drawing board. If you think that a bad test screening is a bad omen, then you would have been worried about almost every Charlie Chaplin film ever made.

Re-shoots are a basic part of any post-production cycle. It means nothing. Anyone who says otherwise is either ignorant or lying. 

I’ve noticed a terrible habit forming amongst our band of merry movie buffs. We’re passing judgment on movies before anyone has seen them. Why? Because entertainment sites are telling us the gossip behind the scenes and sensationalizing basic everyday occurrences as portents of doom.

Making a movie is a harrowing experience at the best of times. Of all the art forms, movies by far have to be the most complicated, unstable, bureaucratic, manic, and toxic form of expression ever devised. People who choose to want to make movies for a living should have their head examined.

I say this because I believe moviegoing audiences tend to think they have this whole thing figured out. A laughable notion because even the most successful director doesn’t know why anything works. Yet, more and more fans are becoming convinced that the latest big budget movie is doomed before it’s even finished because of re-shoots, or the studio stepped in and re-edited the film, or the trailers look bad, therefore the movie must surely suck.

Trailers are lies told by liars who, more than likely, haven’t even seen the film in question. A trailer is an ad for the movie the studio wants you to see. Very rarely is a trailer for the movie you actually see.

I am not saying trailers do not play a pivotal part in the process. Nor am I saying that trailers are not made with sincere intentions. What I am saying is you can not judge a movie by its trailer.

Movie news sites abuse our ignorance as a way to drum up business. They overplay things that are mundane and underplay things that are serious. For example, the number of people upset over Avengers 4 re-shoots or not having an ending versus the number of people upset over Shane Black hiring a convicted sexual predator and not telling anyone about it, is indicative of how badly we have been served by this model. 

Part of the issue is the unspoken fact that the term “entertainment news” is largely an oxymoron. Trade papers like Variety or sites like The Wrap are legitimate news. Which is to say they have reliable sources and tend to try and couch their news in less sensationalistic verbiage. Most online entertainment news is less interested in helping you be better consumers, moviegoers, and more interested in having you be a fan.

They want your clicks, your subscriptions, and your views. Granted everybody wants those, it’s the way of the online economy. But many of these so-called online entertainment news sites have long ago sold their trustworthiness for merely having the most dudebros. It’s not a coincidence that the Harvey Weinstein story was broken in the New York Times and not by any of the entertainment news sites.

Now you may be asking, how can you combat this? Funny enough if you want to learn about film, reading is going to be helpful. Sidney Lumet’s Making Movies is a perfect place to start. An invaluable text that puts into plain-spoken terms the big and the small that goes into making movies.

Film diaries can oftentimes shed light on the day to day practices of making movies. Jean Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast: Diary of a Film or Werner Herzog’s Conquest of the Useless: Reflections From the Making Fitzcarraldo are just two examples. Reading these can put into context some of the more nebulous roles and jobs required for filmmaking.

Movies are art and commerce. A contentious and feisty marriage at the best of times. They require consumers, we the audience, to be knowledgeable of the product. Otherwise, it becomes far too easy to fool or manipulate us into going against our own interest.  The more you know the better calibrated your bull-pucky detector is going to be.

Finally, the biggest defense against the onslaught of hucksterism masquerading as online entertainment journalism is basic critical thinking. Ask yourself, if Avengers 4 isn’t even finished, yet, are re-shoots really that damning?

Now some of you may ask, but what does it say about Avengers 4 if isn’t even finished yet? Simple, it means Avengers 4 isn’t finished, yet. Anyone who tells you differently is selling something.

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