CRITIQUE: PART 2. TURNING THE KNIFE ON MYSELF

Cameras

 

(If you can put the quality up to 720, makes a difference…)
If you read Nofilmschool.com which I highly suggest you do, you’ll probably have seen the almighty shit-stirring fest provoked by one Sarah Balchik (smart money on this being the infamous Salah Baker more from Salah here) UPDATE: Maybe the money isn’t so smart after all, seems like it really is someone else with the same initials who launched an all out attack on lots of things but in particular Philip Bloom. It was vicious and you can make your own mind up whether it was right or not. Personally, I don’t. I posted one comment and got nailed by Sarah with this little nicety:

Real Original. I think I’ve read that about a million times from other guys wasting their time posting instead of creating. Why aren’t you out there creating now. who said the camera is the only thing that matters. Stop being a cop and go create.

Boom. Ouch. This made me laugh actually, and if you dug around really carefully in all the vitriol there was a similar line being spoken to the one I’ve been trying to promote recently: namely just being prepared to be a little more realistic and critical of the bland. One of Sarah’s sticks used to beat our plucky Brit with was the argument that he stays in his comfort zone. That’s a pretty duff argument. I know plenty of directors who you could accuse of being one trick ponies, their work being broadly homogenous. There’s a music video director called Sam Brown who does beautiful, beautiful work but you can always tell that it’s his. Edouard Salier, another music video director, happily admits this himself. These guys are successful, do great work, and are constantly in demand. So what if you know what you’re going to get? It’s a duff argument. Personally, I like to try something different every time, but that really is just me. There are so many different styles, genres and techniques there’s plenty going on to just refine and develop one style.

Now, back to Sarah (Salah?) and her comment. The fact is, I am out there creating. All the time. Which brings me neatly to this post and the reason for writing it. In my post on critiquing I took a bit of flak and that’s fine, I expected that. The danger when critiquing is that, inevitably, the focus falls on the one critiquing and this is why so many choose to hide their identity when commenting. Having a leg to stand on is, apparently, quite important. So, here’s a recent piece of work, a music video. I’m going to explain how it came about, the ambition for it, and then I’m going to critique and any and all of you can lay into it, attack it, shred it, tear it to pieces as much as you like. Go nuts. Feel free to express exactly what you think. Sound good?

Take it off is a collaboration between new dance/pop act and Super Massive Raver who I’ve been working with for a while now. Their original treatment for the video was fairly conventional with the usual ‘beautiful people in a club’ vibe. I’m quite heavily invested in SMR and wanted to do a video that reflected the off-kilter, bizarre way he views the world. This was a low budget video (around 2k), not micro budget, but close, but these days music video budgets tend to be a little bit meaningless. Suffice it to say it was ambitious. The idea was to recreate the ‘Dawn of Man’ sequence from 2001 but in a tacky TV over-the-top seventies sci-fi way. The monolith would be a gigantic speaker and the monkeys would evolve into early clubbers. I originally wanted a desert landscape, like the original but that was impossible. I wanted masks with articulating mouths so you could actually see the singer’s mouth moving in the early verses. That was impossible. I wanted someone else to shoot. But that was impossible. I wanted latex skin that would be a real shock to see splitting open. That was also impossible. Music videos are always like this, you just compromise and compromise and keep going, hoping that the overall idea doesn’t get lost somewhere in all of it. The problem with most low budget music videos is that they run out of ideas about 2 minutes in and just limp to the end. It’s really important to keep the ideas evolving right to the end so that a trigger happy audience watches all the way to the end. So, with the help of a great little team, some daft set dressing, some funky costumes and cheap masks we arrived at the overall production design look and feel for the video.

So. The critique. Firstly it’s important to be aware of what I look for in music videos. Production design, inventiveness of the idea, execution, performance, and above all, whether the video improves the song.

Firstly, the opening is nice, it’s unusual, it roots you quite quickly in a world where the monkeys’ appearance is correct, despite being completely daft. It echoes the original and has that pseudo grand feeling of seventies sci-fi. However, the video as a whole is not particularly brilliantly shot. [I shot it myself and, as I’ve always said, I’m not a DoP. Directing and DoP’ing a video yourself is a big ask, and not something I enjoy.] Some of the shots are too hot and you can tell. It’s at its most successful when its handheld, some of the lock off shots are just a little flat. The masks are a blessing and a curse. They give you something very interesting in closeup, but for the performers they take away that vital connection between the performer and what they’re singing. This is particularly bad in the second verse where the video feels like it’s just padding, getting us to the rap verse where we get to see a different phase of the idea. It would have been nice to see more of a change in the monkeys, articulated better when they begin to feel the effects of the music. The Super Massive Raver monkey character is strong but he masks the fact that some of the dancing, particularly in verse 2 is a bit ropey. The woozy, slow mo breakdown is a welcome break from the lock off setup of the speaker and is probably the strongest part of the video, leading nicely through the ripping of the clothes to the ‘sexy’ group section. More could have been made of the ripping and skin shedding, taking the idea to a more extreme dimension, making it more visceral. When we can finally see people’s faces it’s a relief, and the sharper routines, coupled with the different looking colour palette, help mask the fact that we are still in the same location, doing exactly the same thing. The faceoff is a nice idea but the big ‘boner’ reveal is handled badly. It feels crammed into a section of the song that can’t handle that much story. The final routine is slick but we seem to have lost one of the strongest elements of the video, SMR himself. He’s there in the clichéd low angle fisheye crowd setup, but he needed closure to his story. One more location, or a variation on the setting would have been welcome. As always, the achievement of getting something with this many cast members, and its own distinct production design, for the money, is a good achievement, but it’s still lacking many elements that would have elevated it beyond that. It doesn’t quite push hard enough into the difficult, weird places the closeups of the monkey masks seem to be asking for. For that reason I give it 3 out of 5. A good effort, but that’s it.

That’s my review. Now go nuts. And if you take that as an opportunity to attack me, that’s okay too.

 

 

Jared Abrams
Jared Abrams is a cinematographer based in Hollywood, California. After many years as a professional camera assistant he switched over to still photography. About two years ago a new Canon camera changed the way the world sees both motion and still photography. He just happened to be in the right place at the right time.
  • Salah Baker

    Nope, twasnt me. It was damn fun to read 😉

  • Anonymous

    Zing

  • Anonymous

    Yes, that NFS RED blog turned into a circus. I personally think Sarah took that a little to far and why she singled out Philip Bloom, who knows. I will say, I do agree with some of her points.

  • http://twitter.com/ccwatts2 chris watts

    Basically you have pretty much covered any criticism I in your above post, but as you want some I will give it a try as I really agree with what you said in the previous post.
    The costume bring a very Might Boosh feel to the whole piece, especially the with the rapping. It all got a bit Mod Foxes or Tundra, two Might Boosh moments which I love in the comedy setting but it steals away from the clever 2001 idea.
     The only thing I don’t think you mentioned was the grading, it is all quite warm and nice and didn’t seem right for the dawn of clubbing story. Over all I think it seems to polished, the static shoots as you say look flat, more movement, not dollies and cranes though, would have been a good way to add the raw energy to the piece.
    The thumb nail image before you watch the video also gives too much away. Maybe the monolith speaker would have worked better, the shot looking up with just the speakers and clouds.

  • http://twitter.com/elskidblog El Skid

    Yeah, good point. We had no budget at all for dollies and jibs, although plenty of dance videos use smart locked off to good effect lettting the energy in the frame do the work. I cut it and delivered it in just a day and a half, so it’s always going to be one of those where some time away to gain some perspective would always be good.

  • SarahSalahWhatevah

    So does my critique have to go beyond the fact that you make unwatchable videos with an insufferable character that isn’t remotely close to being funny (or even particularly provocative, just annoying, but not in even a Andy Kauffman-esque schick way, he’s just f—ing stupid), and then you feel the need to tell other people they do crap work?  Because seriously it is pretty ironic that someone who pumps out this junk has the stones to criticize anybody, let alone be so in your face about it.

  • Rafael

    Sarah made some interesting points and just like Salah I’ve been on the receiving end of Bloom’s tantrums. He’s really not the same guy when he emails you personally.

  • http://twitter.com/elskidblog El Skid

    I made a comment on Twitter that I think he took the wrong way and received an email, but actually he was nice as pie.

  • http://twitter.com/elskidblog El Skid

    Finally… that’s a bit more like it. You don’t like Super Massive Raver, cool, I have no problem with that. I can’t stand Adam Sandler but I really don’t think he cares and there are plenty of people that actually do enjoy the character so that’s just fine. As for telling other people they do crap work, I don’t recall telling anyone they do crap work. Not Vince. Not Tom. I criticised Tom’s approach to selling his film and was way over the top. I’ve apologised for that. The critique article I wrote was meant to be a much more measured opinion piece, not in your face at all, but honest. As for Vince’s film, I stand by my comments on it, as a piece of drama. I didn’t say it was crap. I said, and I quote: “in my opinion, not anyone else’s, not yours, disagree with me for all you like, I thought it was flat” 
    Yes, I asked for it, but at least do me the courtesy of getting your facts right. I’m happy to stand and be judged by my work, but don’t make the mistake of thinking that SMR is the only thing I do. Dig a little deeper and you might find a richer body of work than you think, or you may have already felt ready to judge my output based on one genre I work in. 

    And finally to my stones. I don’t hide what I think, you can agree or disagree as much as you like, more power to you, but if you’re going to hide behind a pseudonym with no hint as to who you are, what you’ve done, in fact anything, then I’m afraid you need to cup and cough and check whether it’s my stones or yours we should be talking about.

  • Guy

    The song is keeping me from watching more than 10s at a time, it’s so bad. From what I’ve seen and considering budget and resources it’s pretty good. I like the cheesy, back-lit nighttime stuff at the end.

  • http://twitter.com/elskidblog El Skid

    Fair enough, though I’m always aware that just because I personally don’t like something, doesn’t mean it’s actually bad, though, and the song is killing it in the club charts at the moment. Go figure.

  • Danielburdett

    Criticism,
    it’s a funny old thing isn’t it?

     

    Who
    is worthy to criticise? I know in this day and age anyone can and will pop up
    and give their 2 penneth. But what good is it?

    I
    think criticism is best when coming from someone you respect, or someone you
    trust to be rather well informed on the subject on which they are criticising.

    It’s
    all subjective isn’t it. A lot of this web forum criticism seems to be either
    people gushing over work or the complete opposite, which seems to be fuelled by
    jealousy or an ulterior motive.

     

    With
    regard to your post, I think you have diffused the room for criticism somewhat.

    By
    justifying or excusing all the parts that you think might get picked up on
    means people will either disagree or agree, not really critique it.

     

    With
    all this aside, I quite enjoyed the video on the second watch. I didn’t really
    take it in on the first watch when you posted a link on twitter a few weeks
    back (for whatever reason…may have been on the move) Although I did like the
    concept!

     

    On
    the second watch I was really engaged. I definitely think it holds a lot more
    clout when you get to the lip sync sections, and the dance routines add some
    great action too.

     

    After
    shooting my first music video last month and having to take care of the whole
    production due to budget it has given me a massive insight and really increased
    my respect for people who go out there and CREATE and end up taking charge of a
    number of jobs which usually get done by about 5 different people.

     

    I
    think I understand your reason for putting out a critique of your own work, I
    had the same feeling once my final edit was done, ‘bloody hell, if only you
    knew what I was working with on this, your lucky there is anything to watch 😉
    ‘ as I find myself justifying certain aspects of the way I shot it when
    someone is viewing my video for the first time.

     

    ps.
    Here is my efforts: http://youtu.be/ekiooMTCKtY?hd=1

  • Danielburdett

    ps. sorry for the dodgy formatting!?!

  • SarahSalahWhatevah

    Sorry was just responding to the call to criticize the aforemetioned video featuring SMR.   Was unaware from your calls on twitter for criticism  that I needed name, reel and CV as you’d call it, in hand to play.  Also I found Vince’s work boring and flat as well.  I was more making mention of your twitter harangues against “uninspired” work film competitions, et al.  I find it humorous that someone that puts out something that I don’t get can be so vocal about other people sucking.  But I don’t get a lot of things from your part of the world, like Dr. Who and meat pies.  

    Me?  I get payed a nice regular check that supports a family of four for uninspired work.  The more uninspired the better at times it seems, so I really don’t care.  Also the cost to me of indulging in the latest Vimeographer’s (as a certain Aussie calls them) work is zero so I don’t ever feel too disappointed by work that underwhelms.  Probably why others don’t really bust the chops of boring Vimeographers- no one has much skin in the game. 
    I actually find your work excellent from a technical standpoint even in clips that I find unwatchable for content.  As I follow you on twitter I am well aware of your other work.  You appear to be quite the renaissance man, and I admire that.

    Now this video in question at least has a catchy song and a cute (if in that curvy-English-girl kind of way) lead.  My only main critiques are similar to yours, I feel 2/3rds of the way through was too long to go on with the masks on.  The masks work for a time to draw interest but their reaches a point where you are tired of having your question answered.  But I know that also is dependent on the build up of the song so yeah not sure what you can do in that concept.   Maybe have made your lead monkeys people sooner then had them lead the others out of simian-hood.  At least a couple half naked humans in that middle verse would have added a little more interest.   

    I also would have introduced the forced perspective low angle of the speaker monolith earlier in the edit to sell the hommage a little more.

  • http://twitter.com/elskidblog El Skid

    Thanks for coming back, I guess it boils down to respect. If you’re going to stick your neck out and people come at you anonymously then it feels cowardly, and ultimately you can’t really respect their opinions. But you’ve won my respect with this response.

    The sad reality for me is that filmmaking is really my third suit after music and writing. The fact I’ve chosen to make it my career is entirely my choice but I love it and I’m endlessly frustrated by it. 

    I’m under no illusion that my work simply isn’t as good as I want it to be yet. But I’m working on that, and there are some projects I’m currently involved in that ought to demonstrate, finally, what I’m all about. 

    I think the reason I’ve got the chops to critique others’ work is precisely because I know where mine falls short and the struggle it takes to get it made. But that doesn’t mean I’m right, just that I have an educated opinion. 

    I agree with you on the critique of the music video. Ultimately, it’s an another frustrated day on set as we tried to make a tiny budget play like a big one. But I think there were some good ideas in there and with a few more resources they could have been made to work beautifully.

    Anyway, respect.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_XSXVQOYCFCJZKT75PXY5Q4CGJY Darryl

    Not even sure why you guys exist or have readers who follow you, You have been a mess since day one, and nothing seems to stop you from your own carnage, Shame really that the only ones who think you have any cred in this business is a few noobs, and your own crew>>>WTF?

  • http://twitter.com/elskidblog El Skid

    It’s funny, you’ve managed to be incredibly rude to pretty much everyone with that comment, well done! Those you accuse of being noobs who aren’t, as well as the much maligned noobs themselves, by intimating that you’re far too good to have ever been one yourself. The thing is I don’t need you to tell me whether I have any cred in the business. I know that I do, and I know that because I’m constantly working. And have been for the last ten years. That may not mean much to you, but if you’re any kind of freelancer (and most of us are) then you’ll know that actually means quite a lot. I ran a successful production company for 8 years building it from scratch. No cred? As you put it: WTF?

    Still, you’re entitled to express your opinion so thanks for taking the time to do so.

  • http://twitter.com/elskidblog El Skid

    Thanks for taking the time Daniel. I totally did diffuse the atmosphere for harsh critical comments, and that was entirely the point. Critical appreciation doesn’t need to be a hatefest. Actually, it can be pretty cosy and correct as long as the atmosphere is set up correctly. Had I said this was the best thing ever, unequivocally then I would, rightly, have earned myself a ton of crap. As it stands though, the project’s intentions, merits and interest are correctly positioned so there’s no threat or damage to anyone. And how hard was that?

  • http://twitter.com/elskidblog El Skid

    Nice effort on the music vid, DSLRs have made that transition into the first piece of work so much less brutal than it was when I started out. Even with a bit of budget the best we could hope for was a Digibeta and a 2/3″ chip. My advice? Stay away from the split screen, and possibly could have benefitted from some longer, more stylised shots of the girl, but otherwise it’s a decent effort and I watched all the way to the end, which is always a good sign.

  • Michael

    “The Jewish interpretation of the world followed upon the Christian, just as the Christian one followed Roman and Greek culture. So now Jewish analyses, images, definitions of art, science, sociology, literature, politics, the information media, dominate. Marx and Freud are the pillars that mark the road from East to West. Neither are imaginable without Jewishness. Their systems are defined by it. The axis USA-Israel guarantees the parameters. That is the way people think now, the way they feel, act and disseminate information. We live in the Jewish epoch of European cultural history. And we can only wait, at the pinnacle of our technological power, for our last judgment at the edge of the apocalypse…. So that’s the way it looks, for all of us, suffocating in unprecedented technological prosperity, without spirit, without meaning… Those who want to have good careers go along with Jews and leftists [and] the race of superior men [Rasse der Herrenmenschen] has been seduced, the land of poets and thinkers has become the fat booty of corruption, of business, of lazy comfort.”