Monday, July 13, 2015

The Death of Movie Magic and the (re)Birth of Movie Art

I teach film to a small group of students. And as I speak with people learning those skills and beginning to really look critically at the media around them, oftentimes I hear the same, sad exclamation "Now the magic is gone."

Even with ever-expanding media hype, and unprecedented access to "Behind the Scenes" footage, for the majority of the population - the process that goes into making movies is still kind of magic. But I'd wager that demographic and those feelings are fast disappearing. Today, the average technology consumer has more filmmaking power than more than half of the filmmakers in all of film history - at least in terms of equipment. iMovie is free for every Mac, and has all of the capabilities (and more) that the old editing machines did. The equipment is no longer a barrier to entry.

And, as the equipment becomes more widespread, so does the knowledge. Famous cinematographers and editors now have Youtube channels where they share their secrets. More and more people are getting access to more and more technology and knowledge unlocking their potential in moviemaking and also it's "secrets." Among other things, this adds up to a world where fewer and fewer people wonder how things are done, and the mysticism and magic are largely gone.

My brother-in-law took his kids to Disneyland, which, at the time, had just added the Turtle Talk with Crush attraction. For those who haven't had a chance to see it, it's a dark room with a large screen, showing a static image of the bottom of the ocean. Once everyone is seated, Crush, a character from Finding Nemo comes onto the screen and interacts with the audience. He takes questions, makes fun of people, asks about things in the human world, and sometimes shows artifacts that he's found on the sea floor and asks about them. It's the best. As my brother-in-law was leaving with his family, he heard behind him a little girl ask, "How do they do that?" Her father casually replied, "It's just computers, dear."

No need to be scared, it's just computers. 

Yep, this too - just some computers.

No need to be sad, it's just computers.

That's all. Disney magic is just computers.

And in reality that's what moviemakers face today. Their audiences know more about their bag of tricks than they have since the beginning of film history. Much of the magic and mystery that used to surround these productions is completely gone.

But something else has taken its place. A genuine respect for the true masters and a desire for those masters to demonstrate their skill.

Take the below video for example. This commercial is all practical - it is done 100% in camera.

In a world that didn't know how films were made, taking the time to do something so radically different like this would be a complete waste. But current audiences do care, they do understand, and they can respect this approach. What's beginning to happen to this new generation of budding filmmakers is not a veil hiding how things are done - but a light shining on the man behind the curtain, and a recognition in those who are just learning that he really is a master at what he does. 

Film is becoming like painting. There is no mystery behind painting. No one wonders how the artist did it. Instead, they are filled with wonder that any person could do - with the same brush and paints they have access to - something so spectacular. Audience members are getting better at recognizing film as art, because they have the same cameras as these artists, and yet they can't produce a moving image that is as beautiful or (forgive the pun) moving.