Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Grammar Lesson

Have you guys been watching Commander-In-Chief ?

I know Denis McGrath has been watching for multiple reasons, but I wanted to get an opinion on what you think of the captions that come up in the show telling us who everyone one is, the time period, etc..

It's as if Rod Lurie and company are realizing that they only have so much time and so many pages to get the story out, so they caption it to make it as info-dense as possible.

I can see the need for it with all of the senators, generals - there's a lot of players on the board - but with the flashbacks it makes little-to-no sense. They already visually tone the image letting us know that it's a flashback. Do we need more? Do we want more?

Is this now part of our accepted visual grammar?

I'm going through The Skull again, and looking for ways to make it as info-dense as possible, without raising the budget. Giving more story - or at least the appearance of more story - as well as framing it within the context of a comic book styled movie. I liked the caption motif with the old Wonder Woman show - it fit there - but does it fit with The Skull?

And you know me, I want to keep it simple - but I also want to give people their money's worth of story. This may allow both unless it's intrusive.


Steve Peterson said...

Captions for names, places, and times don't seem intrusive to me -- though I wonder how much they're really needed since most of the time you can figure that stuff out by context.

I think what those sorts of captions really do is give the film a technothriller feeling, or the feeling of a well-documented criminal investigation.

Bill Cunningham said...

Which would work for this piece. There are several scenes within the police station / interrogation as well as several shots from a security-cam pov that could be amped up on a tech level.

Lots to think about...

DMc said...

Well it sounds to me like you're contemplating this for the right reasons. I think on Commander In Chief it helps to give it a quasi-doc feel. And it does help the slow kids to stay on track with who everyone is.

Commander in Chief uses it in practically the same way as Thirteen Days used the same device.

But if you think of the lighter, romantic fare of The American President, say, it wouldn't really work in that context. It would seem intrusive.

I think if the audience smells that you're doing it as a way to paper over things that are confusing or plot holes -- if it's a crutch, rather than a device, it doesn't work.

the way it's used in Commander in Chief enhances the verisimilitude -- and it sounds like you're thinking about using it in much the same way.

Bill Cunningham said...

Well the problem with all D2DVD movies is that we're hampered by budget, yet must compete in terms of giving the audience their money's worth - a full boat of story.

In using captions to enhance (never replace or gloss) the storytelling, I'm hoping we can duplicate the comic book/pulp grammar, maintain an action-filled momentum, and do it on a budget that studio caterer's get for a week.

I chalk all of this discussion up to style and sense of design, which I think has been lacking in many of these movies. Too much happens on the fly, which is not a good thing.

(and because they're english captions, I'll have to master the movie captionless as well in order to sell it to the non-english speaking international territories)

John said...

Over on, we've been having a semi-ongoing discussion of how fast-paced and almost coded TV has become lately, both hour long dramas and half-hour comedies.

Here are some of the key posts

On Weeds

on five-act hour dramas

and on balancing plot & character

I'm convinced that TV not only takes for granted the increasing visual and story literacy of a generation that's been bathed in episodic television for its entire lives, but has come to depend on it to squeeze increasingly complex storylines into less and less time.

It's like that old story about the guys who've been telling each other the same jokes so long that they know them all by heart, and they don't actually tell the jokes anymore. They just say the number of the joke and everyone laughs. Whole storylines are now being invoked in TV as if they were subroutines. They know you've already got the basic story pattern in your head, so they give you a beat of it in a ten-second flashback and you just insert the rest of it for yourself and hook it up to where things are now.

It's also why current half-hour comedies are using a lot of narration now. e.g. Arrested Development and My Name is Earl. Both spin such complicated webs of backstory that they pretty much have to just tell you the story because they don't have time to show it anymore.

Bill Cunningham said...

Another aspect to all this - at least in my case - is the influence of manga and anime and some of the stylistic storytelling conventions of those media. Japanese is a very visual language that is entirely symbolism, which carries over to every other aspect of their media. Some of those stylistic storytelling devices I'm trying to use in Skull to again, make it as info-dense and complete as possible.

There's also been discussion on the Engine (see links) about ersatz backmatter in comics that doesn't add to the story, but expands the setting of the story we're seeing by using text. Ellis's FELL is a good example of this sort of thing.

This all got me thinking that DVD is nothing if not filled with ersatz backmatter - commentary, behind the scenes, graphics, trailers...but what about those storytelling devices that add to the movie itself? These devices (captions, motion graphics, color) allow me to enhance a simple story - which is all a D2DVD movie can afford.

If I'm making a comic book movie then as part of the process I have to adopt the conventions and devices of a comic book/anime/manga don't I?

John Donald Carlucci said...

Have you considered publishing an entry that lists all of your entries dealing with writing DDVD (much like John Rogers does)?


Jeff O'Brien said...

If it isn't a docu-drama and doesn't move about rapid fire in place and time, those captions just seem pretentious. X Files, movie like Outbreak yes. Pulp and noir thrillers, if you don't need it don't do it. Info dense is one thing, info overkill is another - Tony Scott's last few films, Man on Fire and his latest, the bounty hunting model one, show this - clean and crisp should be the rule. no one likes a cluttered room.