Posted by: markfender | June 30, 2015

Save Your Ideas Part II

There’s a problem that many first-time directors suffer from – the “gimmick shot.”

rosewater.34442The gimmick shot is the weird shot that breaks the normal conventions of movie-making. From weird labels, slow-motion tracking shots, to things only allowable with CG, the gimmick shot is the “look at me – I have a visual eye” cry of the director. There’s no practical reason for Scorsese to show the inner workings of a clock in Hugo, but he does it because he knows it’ll be a cool visual (and he’s not wrong – he’s Scorsese, after all). There’s no need to show the prices and catalog descriptions on every item in the narrator’s home in Fight Club, but it creates a cool visual that gets across a particular consumerist lifestyle. These are all gimmick shots and they’re pretty good ones. I’m not against the gimmick shot. What I am against is the preponderance of gimmick shots in first-time director’s works.

Listen, I get it. You’ve finally been given the chance to make a movie and you want it to be awesome. You’ve been crafting your craft for years now and you’ve got a ton of awesome ideas. This opportunity may not present itself again. You’ve got to impress people enough that they’ll let you make another one. So, you cram your movie full of awesome visual moments. You render the subtitles in angry fonts, you break out a dance number, and, why the hell not, you also superimpose people’s Facebook profiles on their faces as they walk around. Whatever your particular movie calls for, you load that bad boy up with as many gimmicks as possible.

Save those ideas! You get one visual gimmick shot per movie, until you’ve proven that you’re capable of using them responsibly. David Fincher can splice in shots of Brad Pitt, have gauzy sex scenes, add catalog print to the screen, and start the movie in someone’s brain because he’s proven that his visual touches will enhance the story. You? No one knows who you are. You have to earn that leeway.

Honestly, whenever I see one of these gimmick shots in a director’s first movie, I tend to find them grating. It just speaks to a director who’s not confident enough in the story, the actors, or the cinematography. But, I give everyone that first “free” gimmick shot because I know it’s a thing that everyone feels the need to do. That film school background practically requires it. But the second gimmick shot shows up and I’m really annoyed. You could have saved that for your next movie! And it would have really improved the film. Save your ideas. Don’t blow every visual trick you’ve ever thought of so fast! If you want a career in filmmaking, you need to space out those awesome visuals. Spielberg isn’t well known because of that one movie with the alien; he’s well known because he keeps making films consistently. Consistency requires discipline and you’re going to need that if you want to have an actual career. Be disciplined and don’t throw in every single visual you thought of during film school.


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