The Trap of Perfection and Being Ready

The number of projects I have not begun, have begun but not completed or have nearly finished but essentially abandoned is large. When my defenses are working properly there are many wonderful reasons for all of this unfinished work. None of them are terribly original or interesting. In nearly every case the actual reason is the same: what is/was in my head did not/will not be as good when I make it. Perfection is a trap.

Today I was looking through the folders on my computer, for what I no longer remember, and I stumbled down a rabbit hole of past projects and memories that lead me, much like Alice, on a strange and mysterious journey. The journey concluded when I went to my YouTube page and saw that the last video I uploaded was two years ago.

Now, to be fair, YouTube for me is an afterthought. If I make something and want to share it I use Vimeo. The lack of commercials and the overall straightforward nature of the site is why it has become the place where I publish video content. Yet I do try and publish on YouTube because I can use all the views I can get. I am unknown and would like to change that.

Now before you start following links or Googling me the sad truth is I have made very little content to share with the world. Largely it is because I am a stay-at-home dad who mostly shoots videos of his children. I share these videos with family members who say they watch them.

So why am I writing all of this? Where is the bit about perfection?

I came across a video I made in 2007 today. It is called Marty. I am embedding it below. It is less than two minutes long and it would make me happy if you watched it now.

I’ve shared it on this site before but since I had forgotten about it, I am sure you did, too. Now, this is a very short film with almost no story that I made when I knew much less about how to make short films. Yet, it is one of a handful of short films I have made. And I think it is okay. Not amazing but not terrible either.

This past year I have gone to a number of film screenings in Vermont and I’ve connected with numerous filmmakers and watched their work online. What I have taken away from these experiences is fairly simple – it is better to make something and have it be “okay” than to make nothing. Pretty standard stuff, I know. Yet, how many of us are not making things, not sharing things because we feel it isn’t good enough? How many times have you sat down to write but stared at the wall, picked up your guitar only to put it down again, or closed your NLE because you felt your project wasn’t good enough.

I’m not a self help guy and I certainly spend more time feeling like a failure than a success. But, if I have learned one thing in the past year it’s this – people are winning awards making things I would be embarrassed to share. Don’t take this as me being snobbish or looking down my nose at others. Take this for what it is – these people are getting recognition and awards for doing – while I am forgetting videos I’ve made and staring at the wall.

“Write it. Shoot it. Publish it. Crochet it, sauté it, whatever. MAKE.”
Joss Whedon

The Tale of Two Cuts

3-19-09

Despite a fairly impressive amount of negative media attention I decided to watch Babylon A.D. this past weekend. I was in the mood for a gritty, rough kind of action film and I was pretty sure that Vin Diesel would deliver. I didn’t really get that from Babylon A.D.

Instead, what I ended up with was yet another DVD that decided to try and defeat poor reviews and box office performance by including two versions of the movie on the DVD. This is what we call the “Throw everything we shot at the audience and hope something sticks” technique.

This is not a new practice and, I have to admit, once upon a time I found this concept to be appealing. My thought process ran something like, “You have footage that is not properly edited, scored and lacking digital effects that you have decided to share with me?! I am ready!”.

Lately I have found that I lack the interest to watch two different versions of the same film during a rental period (even a Netflix rental period) or even to sit through the deleted scenes which are served up as some rare delicacy. The reason for this is fairly simple, I’d like someone to decide what the movie is and I don’t think that person should be me.

Babylon A.D is a great example of the studio/director not presenting a unified front and giving the world one version of their movie. So instead the audience is given two versions of the film, neither of which is really complete. Now perhaps the two opposing camps did not have access to the same footage, or perhaps there was so much ill-will floating around that they intentionally tried not to use the same footage — but for some reason critical pieces of dialog and even portions of scenes are missing from both cuts.

What you end up with is one cut which we shall call “The Dark Cut” and the other which we shall call, “The Less Dark Cut”. Now the only way that the viewer which we shall call “The Unsatisfied Customer” can actually see this movie and get all of the information they need in order to

a) understand the movie’s point and
b) attempt to enjoy it is by watching both of these versions and mentally editing sections from each together.

I have never seen a case as severe as this, although I am sure there are probably worse. I have seen differences with films like Die Hard 4.0 where one version is missing a few expletives and the blood splatter is toned down. I have seen differences like with the numerous versions of Blade Runner where a dream sequence or a shot of an origami unicorn is missing.

My long-winded point I am trying to make here is that typically when studios and directors do this nonsense the cuts that are ultimately released differ in such slight ways that it is rather obvious as to why certain scenes, lines or shots were scrapped. The studio wanted a PG-13 rating or felt that shooting the dog would upset the audience too much. What is going on with Babylon A.D. is like being served up three-quarters of a movie in either version and being told “It’s not my fault, blame the other guy.”

3D and Your Eyes

I want to preface this by saying the last movie I saw in theaters was Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Needless to say I have not seen any films, including Avatar, in 3D.

The first link is to Roger Ebert’s blog. It is no secret that Mr. Ebert does not like 3D. This particular post contains a piece by editor Walter Murch explaining why 3D will never actually work. The short version is — our eyes are not designed to readjust repeatedly.

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/01/post_4.html

The second link is to screenwriter John August’s website where I found myself wandering about for several hours today. Mr. August has a post that centers around an interview James Cameron gave to Variety Magazine. The excerpts Mr. August has are very good but if this interests you at all you should go on to Variety magazine and fill out their new registration form so you can access the interview in its entirety. It is worth the read.

http://johnaugust.com/archives/2008/james-cameron-on-3-d

I found it interesting enough that I have continued looking for interviews with Mr. Cameron concerning 3D and I am going to paste one more below. This is to the site for Popular Mechanics and is more concise than the previous link.

http://www.popularmechanics.com/technology/digital/3d/james-cameron-3d-backlash-defense-1960503

What has most impressed me in reading these interviews with Mr. Cameron is his technical knowledge and frankness concerning the 3D conversions that have been done. At no point does he shy away from any of the concerns regarding 3D and is at his most convincing when discussing the technical aspects of how this process actually works.

I was under the misconception prior to reading these interviews that Mr. Cameron had gone the way of George Lucas. That is to say that he was so enamored with this new technology that he had lost his grasp on what movies should be. This is clearly not the case. The point that Mr. Cameron makes again and again is that the story is always the most import aspect of filmmaking. In his opinion 3D is a means to help enhance a good story but can do little to help a poorly conceived one. I would like to conclude this post with a few quotes from Mr. Cameron.

I do agree that there’s a consumer backlash and I actually think it’s a good thing, because what they’re lashing back against is some pretty crappy stuff. The consumer position is that if I’m going to pay premium for this ticket, you better show me the money, you know?

The other thing that people need to keep in mind is that 3D doesn’t make a good movie. Good movies are made by good scripts, great acting and a lot of other things besides just being in 3D. 3D can only make a great movie a little bit better.

Music Reworked for Film, #2

The cover of Black Sheep by the band Metric is really quite something. In addition to building a scene around the song, the actress who replaces the original vocals does a fantastic job giving a performance. I would argue that she does a better job than the original singer.

To be fair she has Edgar Wright behind her whereas the band most likely has little more than a stationary camera to capture their performances. That being said it really is something that they chose to bring in an actress to pass off this song as her own.

It’s fantastic for the film but I can’t help wonder if the members of Metric were giving one another sideways glances after this.

Music reworked for Film, #1

It never ceases to amaze me the power of film editing. Whether it’s the opening sequence of Up in the Air or the dinner in Sideways, watching masterful editing is a wonderful thing.

This post is about when movies use an existing song and rework it to suit the film. Sometimes the song is rerecorded or radically edited to change the original song. It is astonishing how often these changes are an improvement.

A good example of this is the song U R A Fever, by The Kills. On it’s own the song is slightly better than mediocre. If I had to give it a grade it would be a B- or a C+. Aside from the chorus it really isn’t anything that special.

Here is video of the original: 

Then you watch The Losers and see what they did with it.

This is clearly not a complete overhaul of the original. It is, however a wonderful trimming of the original that not only enhances the scene but also gets to the really great parts of the song.