What’s Behind the Curtain?
I hate to be the one to say this, but here it goes.
Movies don’t just happen; they’re made. Real people actually write lines of dialog; no matter how natural something might sound to you when spoken by your favorite actor there’s little chance that it was ad-libbed. No one gets to just run through traffic in a wedding dress; the city schedules a day and time to close the road to the public to allow for filming. For that matter, there’s an awful lot of thought that goes into just what kind of T-shirt Seth Rogen will wear in a given scene. The dude doesn’t just show up as is and say, “Let’s do this!”
Most people over the age of seven understand that movies aren’t “real” in the sense that what we’re seeing is a work of fiction created by many people. Even those who don’t know what a grip is at least know that there are people who are never shown in a movie but whose work is necessary for the production. DVD really helped change this obliviousness amongst casual viewers through the proliferation of making-of features. The curtain was pulled aside and we were able to see that The Wizard of Oz was not, in fact, a giant floating head but a real man as much flesh and blood as you or I (at least me; I don’t know you that well).
Some fans avoid these behind-the-scenes features, decrying that once they’re conscious of how a movie was made it detracts from their enjoyment. I cannot wrap my head around this. Does knowing that the gunfire in a movie isn’t real make it any less intense or thrilling? We know that movies are shot over weeks, often months; does anyone watch a movie and wonder how far apart in the shooting schedule this scene was from the last scene? Does anyone hear a funny line of dialog and begin conjuring images of a writer pecking away on a laptop at a Starbucks?
I simply cannot fathom how a grown-up, much less a film aficionado, could resist this kind of insight into the craft of film-making. Not being interested I could accept, but fearing that it will “ruin” the movie to know how it was created? That, to me, suggests a lazy mind that just wants to believe that movies exist as though they were created in a vacuum and merely appeared out of nowhere. That mentality denies credit to the hard working, talented men and women without whom the films we enjoy would not exist.
You might think, “Well, they would still get made because someone would do their job.” Consider, though, that the job is still necessary to make the film. Does it make a difference if Joe Sixpack or John Public is the key grip? Maybe, maybe not; but what if I asked if it makes a difference whether Danny Elfman or James Horner is the composer of the score? Furthermore, consider how many film-making technologies and conventions have been created over the years.
George Lucas’s single greatest accomplishment will forever be the founding of Industrial Light & Magic, created because no effects house in the world was capable of realizing Star Wars. Contrast films of the 1980s onward with films of the 1970s and prior and there’s no mistaking the impact of ILM. Their work—and the work of their competitors and imitators—forever changed our expectations of sophistication. It’s no longer enough to suggest a space battle. We now must have the sense that somehow, somewhere, this actually happened, or at least it could happen this way.
Even if you can’t tell the difference between footage shot on one kind of camera versus another, a difference exists nonetheless. Someone had to create that camera and in many cases that innovation was made necessary by the nature of the film itself. The advent of blue screens (now generally green) was adopted as an improvement over rear projection. Your ear might be fooled into thinking you’re hearing footsteps recorded on the set of a film, but those sounds are made by foley artists and they don’t always do it by actually walking. Sometimes they create a sound that one believes to be a footstep without using footwear at all. And because of improvements in sound design and sound mixing, those sounds can come from the front or back of the theater, or from the left or right, as is determined will make the sound most effective. You’re not conscious of these things, but the cumulative effect is to create the world in which you’re invested and hopefully enjoying yourself.
One final personal anecdote on the topic. A few months ago my wife and I were hanging out with a friend of hers and her family and I was setting up their Netflix account so they could stream via their Wii. We started watching Beetlejuice, and their daughter was at first kind of bothered by the movie, overwhelmed by its gruesome design (she’s nine, and they rarely watch anything like it). I paused the movie during the scene where Adam and Barbara are in the waiting room to see Juno and began explaining how they created a specific character, through makeup, props, costumes, etc. All of a sudden, it was something she could process and instead of being creeped out by it, she was fascinated and wanted to see more and try to figure out how things were done. It gave her an “in” to the movie that she had previously found off-putting. Rather than “ruining” the movie, this insight made it accessible to her and I have to say that anything that makes a little girl a fan of Beetlejuice seems alright to me.
Knowledge is a good thing, and actively resisting it doesn’t keep a movie purer for you. It only keeps you ignorant.
This post is part of our User Showcase series. You can find Travis as minlshaw on Flickchart. If you’re interested to submit your own story or article describing your thoughts about movies and Flickchart, read our original post for how to become a guest writer here on the Flickchart Blog.