Thursday, October 21, 2010

Details...An Open Letter to Film Makers

First and foremost, my sincerest thanks and appreciation go out to all of you that bring us the movies and television programs that have become a near and dear staple to our way of life. Our lives would be far less richer without your efforts, from the big-budget, big-studo productions all the way down to the guy on Youtube with some fake blood, a bad zombie script, a digital camera and fifteen minutes to kill. Good movies, bad movies, movies that are so bad they're good... we watch 'em all.


Now that you are making movies, you want us to watch them. We have, do and will, make no mistake about that. But since we've often as not paid for the experience in one way or another, whether through money or just our time, we really need you to pay more attention to the little things; the details. And before you start rallying the indie troops against me, let me make clear that I'm not talking about some "Nitpickers Guide" shit here. I'm not going to care a whole lot that the Starfleet Insignia on Kirk's uniform is a half-inch to the left in this scene and a half to the right in the next. I don't give a shit that the tiny nick on Bruce Campbell's chin seems to disappear and reappear at random throughout a movie. I don't really even care when you play a song from 1956 in a movie that's set in 1954. Well, okay, maybe that one I might comment on. But these things don't nag at me. It's the practical details and not necessarily the continuity errors that really get to me.

Okay, okay, it's a movie. Got that part. I realize that often (especially in the genres I tend to watch) we're dealing with what could be considered an alternate history, present or future. I accept that there will be differences in our reality as opposed to the one on the screen. Got that part, too. But, and I have driven creative partners crazy with this over the years, whatever your mythos is, it has to make sense within its own world. Not only that, but you can't fall back on the "I'm portraying a different world here" talk when you're using items, conventions and practical issues gleaned directly from our own reality. I'm not talking about the elements that comprise your story here. I'm talking about the common-sense things that any professional on-set advisor or, lacking the funds for that, some good basic research will alleviate. We all know the concept of the "hero gun". You know, the weapon the hero's using that never seems to run out of ammo unless it increases the drama, that never seems to miss until it's important to the story that it does etc etc. I'm not really addressing that here. As an author, I understand how something like that is a plot device. I can handle that, though I'll still frown when you do it. Mostly because I've done my research and you apparently haven't. So what exactly am I talking about here? I'm talking about the little things that are esily corrected yet my mind will snatch up to the point that it takes me out of your story. Things like....

  • I see a plain-clothes cop. He has his pistol holstered on his right hip. He has two magazine pouches on his belt behind the holster. This isn't done, because it would require the cop to shift the pistol into his off-hand, draw a magazine, load it into the pistol and then swap hands again.
  • When the dead rise, they are not doing so from the grave. First and foremost, they're under 4-6 feet of dirt. That's aproximately 78-117 cubic feet of earth and rock with an approximate weight of 6200-93o0 lbs. pressing down. The body is typically buried in the prone position, meaning that it would first have to dig a cavity for itself (with nowhere for the earth to go) before it could even begin to try to surface. You're not digging through that with human hands. But then, the zombie wouldn't get the chance to, at least if it had been buried by proper convention. The zombie would ideally be interred in a coffin of some sort that has been built to withstand the pressure of said earth and rock pusing down on it without crushing it. Again, human hands, especially rotting ones, are not going to be able to get through the coffin. Add to it that most municipalities have required cement vaults to be placed in the grave to receive the coffin. Please, give me more zombies. But, stop showing them crawling from the grave unless you're also going to tell me their amazingly strong. You can do that, and I'll buy it, but you have to tell or show me that.
  • And another thing about my zombies; please, please do not show me zombies walking around mostly whole and hale that are also dated to anything more than a few years past. Don't show me pilgrim zombies, Native American war-painted zombies or ones that obviously died generations ago. Modern funerary technology is just that, fairly modern. Yes, we have formaldehyde and other preservation methods now, but your older-generation zombies were likely buried pretty much as-is, meaning their rate of decomposition is much faster than today's properly-prepared corpse. And, unless they've been a member of the undead elite since shortly after their natural deaths, there's no body left to get up. Perhaps a few bones, maybe some skin and hair, but there's no muscle tissue, eyes or much of anything else left there to work with. If you want to use this, you have some pretty fancy explaining to do to get me to buy it. That's not impossible to do, mind you, but it's something you'll need to do regardless.
  • The machette, the katana, even the axe are all great weapons. However, in unskilled hands you are very, very unlikely to completely sever a limb or head from the body in one attack. It requires a great deal of skill in the placement of a strike, knowledge of the weapon and physicall power to lop off a head or arm with even the best-made of bladed weapons. The tiny little smart-blonde that's only used a steak knife is highly unlikely to to be able to cut off the killer's head with one swift blow.
  • Back to guns again, especially for all of you that are using all digital-effects to show gunfire. You really need to understand the basic workings of the gas-operated action commonly used in one variation or another by most semi-automatic and automatic firearms. It's not enough to have muzzle flash, sound effects and (though many forget this detail) ejected rounds done in post because you don't have the skilled weapons handler on site or even functioning weapons. The action has to move and the port has to open to eject the spent casing. I see the flash, hear the bang and notice the spent casings flying out. However, they're coming out of nowhere. The action is closed or in some cases locked open. If you're going to do this, okay... but stop showing me closeups of the discharge side of the weapon or extend your CGI efforts to have an opening and closing action. We notice these things, and it bugs us.
  • Hate to go back to the well on this one, but I don't care if you are as big as Ahnold; you are not firing a .12 gauge shotgun with one hand without some serious consequences. I won't go into those, all I'll say is if you ever get the chance to see someone do this, take the opportunity. Bring popcorn for you and band-aids and aspirin for the shooter.
  • Flicking a cigarette into a puddle of diesel fuel will more often than not extinguish the cigarette, not cause it to immediately blow up. Gasoline, very likely. Diesel fuel, no. I won't go into the physics of it here. Look it up.
  • Canning jars, beer bottles and other retail glass receptacles are made to withstand cross-country transport and rough handling. Try throwing a Mason jar onto grass from the 2nd story. Odds are better than good it's not going to break. And if you've ever tried the "break the beer bottle and use the neck as a weapon" trick, you were either very disappointed or made a very quick trip to an emergency room.
  • Getting hit by a crowbar across the face will drop you, hero or no. End of story.
  • The TSA is not a romantic agency. They will not be letting you run after the love of your life so she doesn't get on that plane. Please don't try this. We've all flown since 9/11. We know better.
  • If your character has an unnatural lifespan, you need to realize that he can't keep going back to or keep living in the same town. We've been led to believe that it's easier than ever to assume a new identity in this internet age. This is true to some degree, provided you are simply stealing an identity for a short time. Establishing a new identity now is much, much harder than just going and getting a birth certificate that matches your needs and using that to establish an identity. This is even worse if that character is going to continue his life in a highly professional capacity, such as a doctor, lawyer or even a cop. You're going to be investigated by your insurance company, hospital, federal agency et al. And, they're going to find out rather quickly that the character is not who they say they are. There are exceptions to this, but they are very few and far between. If you're going to do this, do your homework.
  • There will never be as many people at a karaoke night as you will show me. And if there is such a place in the real world, I don't want to know it.
  • When you have a character in a zombie/infected movie, it seems you're rather selective about secondary contamination. You'll show me a character hacking a zombie apart with a chainsaw with blood spattering all over the character, including into their mouths and eyes and nothing will happen to them. Meanwhile, in the same movie, another character will get a single drop of infected blood in their eye or mouth and they're infected. This is a very common thing that, if you haven't noticed it before now, I bet you will from now on. You need to be consistent with your mythos. I understand you're using this as a plot device. Okay, I can go with that. So, just don't show the first guy taking fluids and bits to the mouth etc.

There are so many more, but that's all I have time to cover for now. Yes, I'm likely nitpicking. Yes, I can be insufferable when you watch a movie with me. However, I can't help that. I'm a detail-guy. I notice these things. And if I'm noticing them, you can bet others are, too. You've spent so much time, effort and money to bring your vision to my screen. With just a little more effort and attention to detail, I'll be able to more fully involve myself in your tale and spend less time trying to figure out how the cop's going to reload or the zombie got out of the grave.

Until next time, just write, damn it.

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