HULK EXPLAIN ACTION SCENES! RETURN OF THE ACTION! (NOW WITH MORE EWOKS) WITH SPECIAL GUEST TOM TOWNEND! – DAY 3 OF 3

September 15, 2011

HELLO FRIENDS.

HERE WE FIND OURSELVES ONCE AGAIN, READY TO GO BACK INTO THE DEPTHS OF ACTION FOR THE FINAL CHAPTER OF OUR JOURNEY.

AT THE VERY START HAS TO SINGLE OUT AND THANK THE WONDERFUL TOM TOWNEND, THE INCREDIBLE CINEMATOGRAPHER AND HULK’S PARTNER IN THIS SERIES. HULK STATED THIS AT THE BEGINNING, BUT DO NOT DARE MISTAKE THE MOMENTS WHERE HE SPEAKS UP IN THESE COLUMNS AS HIS “SOLE CONTRIBUTION.” EVERY SINGLE CONCEPT AND IDEA ON DISPLAY HERE WAS BORN OUT OF OUR CONVERSATIONS AND COLLABORATION.

ON DAY 1 HULK & TOM TALKED ABOUT HOW ONE GOES ABOUT THE INCEPTION OF ACTION SCENES, HOW IT WORKS FOR AUDIENCES, AND WHAT STORY-TELLING CONCEPTS ARE AT THAT CORE.

ON DAY 2 WE EXPLAINED THE WAY TO EXECUTE THE ACTION WITH COMPOSITION, CLARITY, SOUND DESIGN, AND CAREFUL EDITING CHOICES.

AND TODAY? WELL, TODAY WE PULL BACK AND EXAMINE THE EXCEPTIONS OF PERSONAL STYLE/TONE WORK, BUT ALSO THE PROBLEMS THAT CAN ARISE FROM ANY OVERT “STYLIZATION.” THEN WE’LL DELVE INTO THE REAL-WORLD PROBLEMS/OBSTACLES OF PRODUCTION LOGISTICS, AND FINALLY WHAT TO TAKE AWAY FROM ALL OF IT.

LET’S GET TO IT.

PART 6 – THE BOURNE EXCEPTION

SO HULK & TOM ATTEMPTED TO PROVE YESTERDAY THAT TAUT FILMMAKING = THE SHIT, BUT THERE IS ANOTHER REASON IT IS SO REFRESHING… AND THAT IS BECAUSE WE ARE COMING OFF A NEAR-DECADE OF BAD SHAKY-CAM.

IT’S NOT A HUGE LEAP OF FAITH TO SAY THAT PEOPLE HATE SHAKY-CAM RIGHT NOW, BUT LOST IN THIS HATE IS THE FACT THAT JUST A MERE DECADE AGO, IT SEEMED REVOLUTIONARY. BUT THE RELATIVE TIMELINESS OF THE STYLE IS ACTUALLY NEITHER NEITHER HERE NOR THERE. WHAT IS HERE AND THERE, HOWEVER, IS THAT MOST PEOPLE SEEM TO BE HATING THE DEVICE ITSELF INSTEAD OF THE POOR USE OF THE DEVICE. JUST LIKE THE EXPOSITION EXAMPLE A FEW DAYS AGO, THE SHAKY-CAM AESTHETIC DOES NOT INHERENTLY SUCK.

FOR THE RECORD ANY CONCEIVABLE CINEMATIC DEVICE, WHEN USED CORRECTLY, CAN BE EFFECTIVE. THE PROBLEMS ONLY START WHEN THE DEVICE IS USED POORLY. WHAT CONSTITUTES POOR USE? USUALLY THE CAUSE FOR OFFENSE IS REVEALED THROUGH THE MERE USE OF A DEVICE FOR THE WRONG REASONS: CRAMMING IT WHEN IT DOESN’T SERVE A REAL PURPOSE OF TONE OR NARRATIVE, MERELY TRYING TO COPY A POPULAR STYLE, OR OUTRIGHT STRIVING FOR “COOL.” IT’S ALMOST A GUARANTEE TO FAIL MISERABLY.

THE PROBLEM SORT OF STRIKES DEEP INTO THE HEART OF ANY FILMMAKER, SOMETHING AKIN TO “OKAY WHY AM I REALLY DOING THIS SHOT IF I’M HONEST WITH MYSELF?” BUT IT’S A GOOD QUESTION TO ASK BECAUSE MORE OFTEN THAN NOT IT WILL STEER YOU INTO THE RIGHT DIRECTION, SOMETHING THAT SERVES THE STORY, CHARACTERS, AND CERTAINLY THE TONE.

SHAKY-CAM CAN STILL DO THESE THINGS, WONDERFULLY EVEN.

THE POPULAR USE OF SHAKY-CAM FIRST CAME INTO THE MAINSTREAM IN A BIG WAY WITH SPIELBERG’S AFOREMENTIONED SAVING PRIVATE RYAN. THE EFFECT OF THE AESTHETIC WAS HOW IT THREW THE AUDIENCE INTO AN EXPERIENCE OF HARROWING REALISM. EVERYONE ALWAYS SAID THE SAME THING, THAT THEY FELT LIKE “THEY WERE REALLY THERE.” IN USING THIS DOCU-STYLE(12A) SPIELBERG CREATED A IMMEDIACY TO HIS NARRATIVE. THIS WAS, AND IS STILL, THE GREAT ADVANTAGE OF SHAKY-CAM: THAT IT CAN MAKE THINGS FEEL TRULY “REAL” IN A WAY THAT STYLIZED ACTION NEVER QUITE CAN.(12B)

BUT SAVING PRIVATE RYAN DIDN’T SUCCEED JUST BECAUSE THE FREAKING CAMERA SHOOK.

HERE IS THE ENTIRE LONG-ASS, HARROWING, AND BRILLIANT OPENING SCENE OF THE MOVIE. HULK SPOKE OF THE CAUSE + EFFECT BEATS ON DISPLAY IN THIS SEQUENCE IN THE EARLIER IN THE SPIELBERG SECTION, BUT CHANCES ARE YOU DON’T ACTUALLY REMEMBER A LOT OF IT. SO LET’S REVISIT THIS SUCKER VISUALLY.

THE SCENE IS AMAZING BECAUSE IT COMBINES THE HARROWING SHAKY AESTHETIC WITH SPIELBERG’S UNCANNY FOCUS ON BASIC CAUSE + EFFECT (THE DOOR OPENING AND PEOPLE GETTING SHOT, THE HELMET, THE PHONE OP, THE CARRYING PEOPLE WHO TURNS OUT DIDN’T HAVE LEGS). BUT REALLY, ALL THE PRINCIPALS WE’VE TALKED ABOUT ARE ON DISPLAY: IT HAS FREQUENT OBJECTIVES BEING CALLED OUT (SENDING THE SNIPER TO TAKE OUT THE TWO ON THE RIDGE, HOW TO TAKE THE RIDGE), EVEN WITH MOMENTS OF CHAOS IT STILL HAD NUMBER OF SHOTS ESTABLISHING SENSE OF THE IMPORTANT GEOGRAPHY (WORKING THE WAY UP THE BEACH, TO THE RIDGE AND THEN OVER INTO THE BUNKERS), IT SILL HAD NUMBER OF MOMENTS AFFECTING THE TONE (THE SOUND DESIGN GOING OUT WITH THE RINGING IN THE EARS, THE COMPARATIVE STILLNESS BEFORE THE SNIPER TAKES THE SHOTS, AND THEN THE MOMENT OF CALM WHEN THE BATTLE IS OVER).  EVEN THE SHAKY-CAM SEEMED TO USE FIRST-PERSON AT TIMES TO HELP THE IMMEDIACY SEEM EVEN MORE RELEVANT, AND ANOTHER BRILLIANT TONE-AFFECTING MANEUVER. HULK MEAN, THERE IS JUST SO MUCH MORE GOING ON THAN THE STUPID SHAKY-CAM DEVICE… BUT, SADLY, THAT’S ALL PEOPLE SEEMED TO TAKE AWAY.

(REALLY IT JUST SPEAKS TO HULK’S TANGIBLE DETAILS THEORY BUT THAT’S NOT IMPORTANT NOW)

IT REALLY FELT REVOLUTIONARY.

HOLLYWOOD TOOK NOTE, BUT IT REALLY WASN’T UNTIL THE BOURNE FILMS BECAME SYNONYMOUS WITH SHAKY- CAM AND PROVED THAT IT COULD TRANSLATE TO HOLLYWOOD ACTION BLOCKBUSTERS, THAT THE FORM REALLY TOOK OVER. AT THAT POINT EVERYONE SEEMED TO THINK THAT SHAKY-CAM WAS NOW THE WAY TO GO INSTEAD OF A WAY TO GO.  A HOST OF IMITATORS FOLLOWED AND BUTCHERED THE DEVICE TO NO END. MOVIES USED IT WHERE IT MADE ABSOLUTELY NO SENSE WHATSOEVER. PEOPLE USED IT AS AN EXCUSE TO THROW UP 10 MINUTES OF ILLOGICAL CHAOS. NO WONDER PEOPLE JUST GOT SICK OF IT SO DAMN FAST.(12C)

ALL THE WHILE, NO ONE SEEMED TO REALIZE THAT IT THE ACTUAL PLOT, GRAVITAS, AND CHARACTERIZATION OF THE BOURNE FILMS THAT MADE THE REALISM FEEL SO DAMN VIBRANT, NOT JUST THE STYLE. AND BESIDES, PAUL GREENGRASS IS ONE OF THOSE GENIUS TYPES WHO KNOWS HOW TO, FOR LACK OF A BETTER PHRASE, MAKE IT WORK.

TOM: Yeah, I love the ‘mess’ of the Moscow tunnel car chase in the 2nd Bourne film even if it seemingly goes against so many traditional action principals. The mess panics the viewer – and the panic = excitement.

RIGHT. AND LUCKILY, THE BOURNE SUPREMACY ONE OF HULK’S FAVORITE ACTION FILMS EVER. BUT HULK ARGUE CAR CHASE WORK BECAUSE GREENGRASS UNDERSTANDS IT IS ACTUALLY A BALANCING ACT.  HE BUILDS UP ENERGY WITH HIS SHAKY AESTHETIC, BUT EVERY 3-7 SECONDS OR SO THERE’S A WIDE, NON-SHAKY SHOT THAT REALLY SHOWS OFF WHAT IS HAPPENING. THESE ARE THE PUNCTUATION MARKS. HE CREATES REAL, FOLLOWABLE MOMENTS AMONGST THE “MESS.”

SERIOUSLY, PAY REALLY CLOSE ATTENTION TO THE SCENE. THE SHAKING IS WHAT YOU NOTICE AT FIRST, BUT IN BETWEEN THE SHAKING, YOU HAVE TRADITIONAL MOVIE SEQUENCE. AND THAT’S WHAT ALLOWS THE SCENE AND AESTHETIC TO WORK PROPERLY.

DAMN THAT GOOD.

AGAIN, GREENGRASS USES THE SHAKY SHOTS TO ESTABLISH THE TONE OF CHAOS AND GET THE HIGH LEVEL OF ENERGY AND REALISM THAT HE WANTS, BUT HE STILL GIVE US ENOUGH OF WHAT WE NEED. THE ACTUAL CHASE IS COMPLETELY BLOCKED OUT AND ARTICULATED. THERE STILL ENOUGH CLEAR GEOGRAPHY. WHEN SOMETHING CHAOTIC HAPPENS, THE CAMERA PULLS BACK AND RESTORES ORDER. NOTICE WE HAVE SENSE OF WHERE CHARACTERS ARE IN RELATION TO EACH OTHER. NOTICE WE STILL UNDERSTAND HOW BOURNE NEGOTIATES THE FINAL TAKE-DOWN OF KARL URBAN’S CAR. NOTICE HOW IT WORKS. GREENGRASS USES THE SHAKY-CAM TO GET THE ENERGY HE WANT, BUT HE THEN BALANCES/INTER-CUTS  WITH MORE TRADITIONAL ACTION SHOOTING.

SO REMEMBER, SHAKY-CAM, EVEN IF FALLING OUT OF STYLE, CAN STILL BE VERY EFFECTIVE.(12B)

IT’S NOT THE DEVICE, IT’S THE EXECUTION.

PART 7 – “BAYHEM” AND THE PROBLEM OF SO-CALLED-STYLIZATION

QUICK! NAME ONE, SINGULAR MOMENT FROM THE TRANSFORMERS 2 ACTION SCENES.

CHANCES ARE YOU CAN’T. WHY DO YOU THINK THAT IS?

FOR STARTERS, BAY’S ACTION TENDS TO HAVE NO ACTUAL SEQUENCING OR PUNCTUATION MARKS. IT AN ENDLESS SLOG OF MOVEMENTS THAT “LOOK COOL” BUT COMPRISE NO REAL “MOMENTS.” SURE A CHARACTER MAY DIE IN SOME “COOL” SLO-MO WAY, BUT IT NOT A PUNCTUATION MARK BECAUSE IT NOT REALLY CONNECTED TO ANY MEANING, EITHER CHARACTER-BASED OR TO THE ACTION THE PRECEDED IT.

MOST OF THE TIME YOU CAN’T EVEN TELL WHO IS WHO (THIS WAS EVEN BEFORE THE ROBOTS).

AND THEN THERE IS THE MATTER OF TONE. BECAUSE WITH BAY IT SEEMS BE ALL THE SAME SINGULAR, BIZARRE TONE. SERIOUSLY, EVERY SINGLE ACTION SCENE IN THESE MOVIES FEEL THE EXACT SAME EVEN IF THE SETTINGS JUMP. DAY. NIGHT. DOESN’T MATTER. WE TALKED ABOUT HOW IMPORTANT IT IS TO HAVE DIFFERENT TONES AND HE NEVER, NOT ONCE UTILIZES ANYTHING  OTHER THAN THE TONE  OF… WELL… LET’S JUST CALL IT “MICHAEL BAY TONE.” IT’S LIKE HE COMPLETELY FAILS TO REALIZE THAT ACTION IS JUST ANOTHER WAY OF STORYTELLING. AND TO HULK THAT CREATES CINEMATIC CATASTROPHE WHEN THE ACTION SCENES TAKE UP THE ENTIRE RUNNING TIME OF YOUR MOVIES.

YES FOLKS: MICHAEL BAY,WHOSE MOVIES COMPRISE ALMOST NOTHING BUT ACTION FROM START TO FINISH, IS ACTUALLY BAD AT ACTION.(12D)

BUT THAT’S WEIRD RIGHT? TO BE FAIR, LOTS OF PEOPLE LIKE MICHAEL BAY… OR AT LEAST NO MIND HIM… OR AT LEAST LIKE LAUGHING AT HIS STUFF… OR JUST HATING ON… WHATEVER IT IS PEOPLE KEEP SEEING HIS FUCKING MOVIES. THERE HAS TO BE REASON, RIGHT?

FELLOW CRITIC TODD GILCHRIST HAS A UNIQUE TALENT FOR DISCERNING THE COUNTER-INTUITIVE REASONS FOR WHY PEOPLE RESPOND TO CERTAIN MOVIES AND HULK THINK HE CAME UP WITH GOOD, NON-PATRONIZING THEORY ON THIS MATTER. TODD’S POINT THAT WHAT MAKES BAY’S ACTION “WORK” IS THAT HE IS ONE OF ONLY DIRECTORS REMAINING WHO REALLY TRIES TO CONVEY A SENSE OF MASSIVE SCALE TO HIS ACTION SCENES (GIANT BATTLES IN DOWNTOWN LA! ALL OF CHICAGO! BLOWING UP LANDMARKS! GLOBE TROTTING!). THIS WAS A VERY POPULAR CONVENTION IN 90’S CINEMA AND HE NOT ONLY DID IT THE “BEST” THEN, BUT HE SEEMS TO BE THE ONLY ONE STILL DOING IT TODAY. WHICH MEANS THERE REALLY IS A PLACE FOR IT IF THAT MAKES SENSE. LIKEWISE, TODD MENTIONS THAT BAY ALSO ONE OF THE FEW WHO STILL REALLY COMMITTED TO INTEGRATING PRACTICAL EFFECTS WITH CGI. MOST OF US BITCH ABOUT “WEIGHTLESS CGI” IN SO MANY FILMS THESE DAYS, BUT IF YOU THINK ABOUT IT… ISN’T BAY’S CGI OFTEN PRETTY WELL-INTEGRATED INTO REAL WORLD “WEIGHT”? THIS IS A COMPARITIVE STATEMENT OF COURSE BECAUSE THERE ARE PLENTY OF TIMES HE DOESN’T, BUT ON THE WHOLE HE SEEMS TO BE ON THE INTEGRATING PRACTICAL SIDE. HECK, THROW IN THE FACT THAT BAY TRULY WARY OF 3D (INCLUDING HIS OWN RECENT OUTPUT) AND IT MAY SEEM LIKE BAY MIGHT HAVE SOME REALLY GOOD INSTINCTS TO WORK WITH.(13)

I KNEW YOU LIKED ME

SHUT UP.

THIS ALL JUST MEANS THE PROBLEM IS THAT MICHAEL BAY CAN’T PUT THOSE GOOD INSTINCTS AND ABILITIES TOGETHER INTO SOMETHING MORE COHESIVE… AT ALL… AND THE MORE HE LEFT TO HIS OWN DEVICES, THE WORSE IT SEEMS TO GET. THERE’S NO REAL WAY TO SAY IT OTHER THAN HIS ACTION IS JUST PUT TOGETHER ALL WRONG. THERE RARELY CAUSE + EFFECT, THERE NO LINKING, THERE NEVER A SEEMING OBJECTIVE, HE CONSTANTLY INTERRUPTS TENSION WITH BAD JOKES, PEOPLE SCREAM ALL THE TIME, YOU NEVER KNOW WHO ANYONE IS, THE SENSE OF GEOGRAPHY AND SPACE COMPLETELY ABSENT (WHICH MAYBE HIS WORST OFFENDER), AND THE TONE CAN OFTEN FEEL BORDERLINE-BIPOLAR.

WHAT DOES ONE CALL THIS?

ONE CAN ONLY CALL THIS BAYHEM.

THE WORST THING TO INCLUDE IN ARTICLE IS WITH THE SADLY FAMILIAR “WEBSTER’S DEFINES….” WELL HULK GONNA GO ONE UP ON ALL YOUR ASSES…. AHEM.

URBAN DICTIONARY DEFINES BAYHEM AS:

1. The cinematic conceit of blowing shit up on a large scale, in slow motion and (usually) at sunset.
2. A portmanteau word employing the concept of the inevitable incendiary mayhem employed by uberhack Michael Bay in lieu of characters, a script or a a pube’s-weight of reality.

THAT’S GOLD JERRY, GOLD.  IN HULK’S TIME-LINE THE FIRST TIME HULK HEARD THE WONDERFUL TERM “BAYHEM” WAS ACTUALLY FROM YOU TOM AND IT IS COMPLETELY FANTASTIC.

TOM: Nah, ‘Bayhem’ has been knocking around for a while – at least since The Island. I think I first read it in a Drew McWeeny (née Moriarty )  ‘appraisal’ on AICN – and not necessarily used in a pejorative fashion at that time.  I don’t know where it was first coined. (HULK NOTE: IT IS UP ON URBAN DICTIONARY IN 2007. KUDOS TO ANYONE WHO TRACES THE PUN’S ORIGIN)

But Hulk, you’ve covered the aesthetic problems, but I’ll show you why it’s not exclusive to his action. Armageddon is a guilty pleasure -a quite dreadful film but one that I derive endless amusement from.  But there is an approach to the narrative that serves well as an illustration of what is generally wrong with the way action sequences are also handled in a Michael Bay film.

The US Navy fly Bruce Willis off his oil drilling platform, take him to (Washington DC? Kennedy Space Centre? I forget… It’s not important) and tell him that an asteroid is coming in 2 weeks time and only his skills can make NASAs plan to destroy it work.  Immediately he announces that he can only help if the collection of rednecks and social reprobates that he works with are part of the team.  So far, so silly; so good.

Then there is a montage in which the army and police round up his cohorts and Brucie goes to remonstrate with Ben Affleck who he was in the process of trying to shoot with a shotgun when the Navy helicopter turned up to collect him. Bruce has been away from his oil platform for what?  A day?  With a limited time until doomsday I doubt the authorities waste a moment before finding Brucie’s guys.  But seemingly, in (at most) a 48hr period they’ve managed to scatter themselves to the 4 corners of North America.  They’re gambling and hanging out with pole dancers in Vegas, burning across open desert on Harley Davidsons, and Ben Affleck has even managed to buy and manage his own small field of oil derricks in (Texas? California? Again, not the point). What the fuck?

Sure it makes for a funny montage full of sexy women, sexy motorbikes and sexy sweaty oil spattered Ben Affleck but seriously, what the fuck?  I don’t think Brucie authorised shore leave in his absence.  How have they all got so far in such a short space of time?  This makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.  Worse than that it’s a complete fucking insult to the audience.  Bay is effectively saying ‘none of you dumb fucks will ever question what I’ve done here because I’ll bamboozle you with pounding music, flashing lights, some of the leftover chicks from one of my Victorias Secret commercials and Ben Affleck wearing an oil stained wife beater from a 1980s poster.’ And it’s that disregard for basic temporal logic and utter arrogance towards what any reasonable audience member might expect from rational story telling that also pollutes Michael Bays action sequences.

THIS ACTUALLY VERY INTERESTING POINT BEING RAISED. AS TO THIS SPECIFIC FILM? YES, HULK AGREE. TO THE PROBLEM OF THE CONCEPT IN GENERAL? HULK CAN’T SAY HULK AGREE.

TO EXPLORE THE ISSUE OF “LOGIC” IN FULL THOUGH, HULK IS GOING TO REVISIT IN UPCOMING COLUMN. BUT BASICALLY HULK THINK THE CONVENTIONAL “REAL LIFE LOGIC” ABOUT WHAT SOMEONE WOULD DO NOT ACTUALLY MATTER IN MOVIES AS LONG AS THE TEXT CONCERNING ITSELF WITH MORE IMPORTANT THINGS, MAINLY CHARACTER LOGIC OR DRAMA LOGIC. THE THINKING IS AKIN TO ALL THE CHEATING CUTS AND POOR LOGIC IN SPIELBERG’S MOVIES. THE LOGIC DOESN’T MATTER CAUSE MOST OF THE TIME WHAT IS HAPPENING SERVES A BIGGER NARRATIVE PURPOSE. BUT THINK ABOUT THE TIMES WHERE SPIELBERG’S POOR LOGIC DOESN’T SERVE A BIGGER PURPOSE (HOOK, INDY 4, ETC). THAT’S WHEN PEOPLE FREAKING POUNCE. SO GETTING BACK TO BAY, HULK BELIEVE IT NOT NECESSARILY THE RIDICULOUS PLOTTING AND CRAP LOGIC THAT’S RUINING IT, BUT THE COMPLETE LACK OF COHESION IN TOTALITY, WHICH BLOWS PLOT HOLES IN HIS MOVIES THAT FIVE MILES WIDE. HULK ARGUE THERE A WAY TO PRESENT A MOVIE SO THAT LOGIC DOESN’T MATTER, BUT BAY SUCKS SO GOD DAMN MUCH AT TONE/CHARACTER CONSTRUCTION AND HIS REASONS FOR INCLUDING THESE SCENES ARE JUST SO DAMN NAKEDLY STUPID, THAT THE POOR LOGIC STARES YOU IN THE FACE. IT’S A BALANCING ACT. THE BEST EXAMPLE THAT HULK CAN THINK OF IS NOLAN’S THE DARK KNIGHT. EVERY SINGLE STEP OF THE JOKER’S PLAN, FOR LITERALLY THE ENTIRE MOVIE, NEVER, EVER, IN ANY WAY MAKES ANY SENSE. THE LOGIC IS MIND-BLOWINGLY INANE. SURE, SOMETIMES THE PLAN MAKES THEMATIC/CHARACTER SENSE (SOMETIMES) BUT IT SO DOES NOT MATTER WHATSOEVER BECAUSE NOLAN CRAFTS A BRILLIANT CAT + MOUSE STORY WITH TENSION AND LINKING AND SUCCESSION. THE MOVIE NEVER STOPS STEERING YOU AND YOUR EMOTIONS/INVOLVEMENT WITH ABJECT CLARITY. SO AGAIN, HULK NOT SURE LOGIC-LOGIC MATTERS IF THE MOVIE-LOGIC WORKS. BUT HONESTLY TOM, HULK PRETTY SURE YOU KNOW THIS TOO AND IT WASN’T PART OF YOUR POINT AT ALL. HULK JUST SAW AN OPPORTUNITY TO TALK ABOUT IT AND REALLY IT’S ANOTHER, MUCH BIGGER DISCUSSION.

WHERE WAS HULK? OH YEAH, THE IMPORTANT THING TOM IS THAT YOU ARE ALSO RIGHT. HE SCREWS UP STORY IN THE SAME WAY HE SCREWS UP ACTION.

TOM: Thanks?

HULK LAUGH.

BUT LET’S SHOWCASE EXACTLY WHY THE ACTION DOESN’T WORK, NOW VISUAL AIDS…

…HULK JUST REALIZED YOU COULD CALL BAY’S WORK “VISUAL A.I.D.S.”… GOD THAT’S A TERRIBLE JOKE. HULK GOING TO HELL. MOVING ON…

HOW ABOUT A COMPARISON: TAKE THE IMPLIED CHAOS OF THE BOURNE CHASE ABOVE AND COMPARE IT TO BAYHEM, WHICH HAS ACTUAL CHAOS. HERE’S THE CHASE SCENE FROM THE ROCK.

NOTICE HOW OFTEN THE BEATS ARE NOT LINKED. SURE THERE SOME SHOTS STRUNG TOGETHER, BUT IT’S MOSTLY JUMBLED. THERE’S NO FLOW. THE CLOSE-UPS AND RAPID ZOOMS IN AND OUT ARE RIDICULOUS. THE IMPACT OF EVENTS ARE NOT ORCHESTRATED, THEY ARE EITHER BLUDGEONED TOGETHER OR NON-EXISTENT. THE ACTION IS NOT A STORY. AND YET NONE OF THIS IS THE PROBLEM OF ACTUAL SUBJECT MATTER: THE LAMBORGHINI, THE HUMVEE, THE CRASHES, THE IDEAS THEMSELVES ARE FODDER FOR PUTTING TOGETHER A GOOD, INTERESTING CHASE.

WHICH BRINGS HULK TO ANOTHER IDEA FOR THE REASONS PEOPLE RESPOND TO MICHAEL BAY: HE VERY GOOD, IF NOT THE BEST, AT CATERING TO THE COOL IDEA: GIANT ROBOTS FIGHTING, ADVANCED MILITARY TECH, CONSPIRACIES, BATTLES AT FAMOUS LANDMARKS, COMIC RELIEF CHARACTERS. IT ALL COOL IDEAS AND PEOPLE LIKE WHAT HE TRYING TO DO. AND LET’S FACE IT, THERE ARE PEOPLE WHO GO TO MOVIES AND NO PAY ATTENTION TO THE FACT A FILM IS LACKING STRONG TONE (THOUGH HULK ARGUE A MOVIE WITH STRONG, VISCERAL TONE WILL WORK ON ANYONE, EVEN IF SUBCONSCIOUSLY). WHICH MEANS THEY AUDIENCE DOSN’T CARE IF THE MOVIE PLAYING TO THEM AS LONG AS IT PLAYING IN FRONT OF THEM. IN THAT CASE THE COOLNESS OF THE SUBJECT MATTER THE ONLY THING THAT MATTER. THEY ARE UNENGAGED, DISCONNECTED, AND DETACHED. THE PERFECT OPPORTUNITY FOR “COOL” TO SWOOP IN.

AND WHO HULK TO ARGUE WHAT REALLY “COOL” ANYWAY?

HONESTLY, EVALUATING MICHAEL BAY IS FURTHER COMPLICATED BY THE FACT THAT A LOT OF PEOPLE WATCH HIS MOVIES FOR A KIND OF META ENJOYMENT, MEANING SO MANY PEOPLE WATCH THEM KNOWING THEY’RE GOING TO BE SHIT. PART OF THIS IS BECAUSE THEY ARE BIG MOVIES (AND MOST RECENTLY CENTERED AROUND A BELOVED CHILDHOOD TOY LINE, WHICH APPRENTLY PEOPLE GO APE-SHIT FOR. LOOK FOR HULK’S TEDDY RUXPIN MOVIE IN THE FALL) WHICH MEANS THERE IS THIS WEIRD SOCIETAL PROMINENCE THAT JUST DRAWS PEOPLE IN. THEY WANT TO BE A PART OF THE CAMPFIRE DISCUSSION, EVEN IF THE DISCUSSION IS ABOUT HOW THAT ONE GUY IN THE CAMP SUCKS.

AND BEYOND THAT, THERE ARE PEOPLE WHO WATCH AND ENJOY JUST HOW AMAZINGLY STUPID THEY ARE OR HOWEVER IT IS WE IRONICALLY ENJOY THINGS.  KEEP IN MIND HULK INCLUDES HULK-SELF IN THIS CAMP TOO. HULK WILL NOT GO OUT OF WAY TO SEE, BUT FINDS FODDER IN BAYISM ALL THE SAME.  EVEN THIS COLUMN IS PART OF IT. TOM MENTIONS THE ARMAGEDDON AMUSEMENT AND THE BAY MOVIE KIND OF LIKES IS THE ONE HULK JUST CRAPPED ON FOR THE BAD CHASE: THE ROCK. HULK LIKE NOT BECAUSE IT IS GOOD OR BADASS OR ANYTHING COOL LIKE THAT, BUT BECAUSE IT SOMETIMES FUNNY… SOMETIMES INTENTIONALLY (NIC CAGE’S PERFORMANCE)… SOMETIMES NOT INTENTIONALLY (CONNERY’S PERFORMANCE). IT IS A DISTINCTLY META WAY OF LOOKING AT MOVIES.

BUT TO RESTATE: THERE IS NO WAY TO ARGUE BAY IS GOOD AT CONSTRUCTING ACTION SCENES BEYOND THE SCALE AND THE SUBJECTS THEMSELVES.

AND WHEN HE STRETCHES FOR ANY KIND OF “STYLE” IT IS STYLIZATION WITHOUT MEANING.

… THEN THERE ARE THE TIMES HE JUST HAS TERRIBLE IDEAS:

SO WAIT, WHY THE FUCK HAVE WE BEEN TALKING THIS LONG ABOUT MICHAEL BAY?

TOM: [Shrugs].

OH YEAH, IT IS BECAUSE MICHAEL BAY IS BOTH 1) A MIRROR OF OUR CULTURAL FOCUS ON “COOL” AND 2) SO BIG IN THE ARENA OF ACTION THAT HE IS A TRENDSETTER. THIS IS, YOU KNOW, DISTURBING AND STUFF, BUT IT WHOLLY INFORMS THE FACT THAT WE CANNOT PRETEND THAT BAY IS IN ANY WAY SINGULAR/ALONE IN THE DISPLAY OF TONE-DEAF ACTIOIN STYLE. HE MAY BE UNIQUE IN HIS BRAND OF BADNESS, BUT STYLE-WITHOUT-MEANING SEEMS TO BE ONE OF, IF NOT THE CENTRAL PROBLEM OF ACTION TODAY.

THE ISSUE CAME UP RECENT PIECE/DISCUSSION OVER ON BADASSDIGEST.(14A) THE INCLINATION TO PROVIDE SOMETHING COOL-LOOKING CAN OFTEN GO AT DIRECT ODDS WITH DRAMA. I.E., DEVIN FARACI MENTIONS IN THE ARTICLE THAT A MOVIE LIKE 300 HAS SO MUCH THAT COOL ABOUT IT, YET OFTEN THE FILM’S ACTION IS OFTEN COMPLETELY INERT IN TERMS OF EMOTIONAL INVOLVEMENT. LOTS OF PEOPLE LOVE THE ACTION IN THE FILM (IT IS PRETTY AND COOL), BUT IT’S COMPLETELY TRUE.

THINK ABOUT THE PRINCIPALS WE DISCUSSED TIME AND TIME AGAIN OVER THE LAST FEW DAYS AND WATCH THIS CLIP:

HULK LOVE THAT THE SCENE LABELED “INSANE” BECAUSE IT’S IN THE SAME VEIN OF CALLING IT COOL. IT’S ACTUALLY A NEAT IDEA FOR A SCENE (HOLDING ON ONE SHOT AS GUY GO THROUGH BATTLE) AND THE EXECUTION MUST HAVE BEEN BITCH TO PULL OFF (IT USES SLIGHT OF HAND OF COURSE). AND SURE THERE’S LOTS OF TANGIBLE, NEAT CONCEPTS, BUT IT DOESN’T WORK ON A BASIC DRAMATIC LEVEL. ANY ENJOYMENT OF THE SCENE IS A DIFFERENT KIND OF “META ENJOYMENT.” SINCE THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO EMOTIONALLY RESPOND TO, THE SHOT IS ONLY PRETTY AND WITHOUT CONSEQUENCE. WEIGHTLESS.

THEY ARE IN GOD MODE. THEY ARE NOTHING LIKE INDY.

AND FOR PETE’S SAKE, THE MAIN REASON CINEMATIC REASON TO HOLD ON A LONG SHOT IS TO GIVE THE MOMENT TENSION (REMEMBER THE TAUT FILMMAKING SECTION?), LIKE THE WAY CUARON HOLDS THE LONG SHOT OF THE CAR ESCAPE IN CHILDREN OF MEN. MEANWHILE, SNYDER’S LONG SHOT HERE DOES NOT ATTEMPT TO HOLD ANY TENSION WHATSOEVER. AND WHEN IS THE CHARACTER EVER IN DANGER? THE SLOW-MOTION IS ONLY USED TO SHOW HOW GNARLY AND COOL IT IS WITH THE SLICING OF RANDOM ENEMIES. IT IS COMPLETELY UNLIKE THE MOMENTS OF SLOW-MOTION IN BRAVEHEART, WHICH WAS TRYING CREATE TENSION BEFORE MOMENTS OF SUBSTANTIAL IMPACT.

AND FOR DOUBLE PETE’S SAKE. SLOW-MOTION ESSENTIALLY STOPS THE DRAMA OF YOUR SCENE. IT HAS TO BE USED VERY, VERY, VERY CAREFUL. YOU HAVE TO BE SETTING UP SOMETHING BIG WITH CHARACTER RESONANCE, WHICH IS WHY THE ATTACK THE BLOCK FINALE WORKS WITH THE SLO-MO.

TOM: Thanks!

NO PROBLEM. ULTIMATELY, SNYDER’S SCENE ONLY SEEM TO WORK AS DEMONSTRATION OF TECHNICAL SKILL. EMOTIONALLY IT IS NOTHING. THE WORST PART THAT THE SCENE MIGHT HAVE BEEN SO MUCH BETTER IF THERE WASN’T ANY SPEED-RAMPING AND IT JUST STRAIGHT THROUGH SHOT OF THE MAIN CHARACTER WREAKING HAVOC. IT MIGHT HAVE HAD TENSION. INSTEAD IT IS LITERALLY A LIKE WATCHING A 2D SIDE SCROLLER VIDEO GAME. AND YES, THE SCENE IS  SURE FUCKING “INSANE” BUT IT DOESN’T WORK

WELL… HULK TAKES THAT BACK… THE SCENE MAYBE WORKS A LITTLE BECAUSE FOR ONE SAVING GRACE (OR PERHAPS A SAVING THROW?).)(14B)

SEE, WHILE MUCH OF THE ACTUAL ACTION IN 300 IS AIRLESS AND COOL, SNYDER IS AT LEAST SMART ENOUGH TO USE SINGLE PUNCTUATION MARKS IN BETWEEN TO SORT OF ADD MEANING TO SOME STUFF… SOMETIMES. LIKE IN THE “INSANE” SCENE ABOVE IT ENDS WITH THE SOLDIERS BRAGGING ABOUT HOW AWESOME THEY ALL ARE AND SAY “LET’S MAKE ALL SWIM!” OR WHATEVER.  WITH THAT LITTLE ADDITION, NOW ALL THE “‘COOL” PART OF THE SCENE BEFORE ACTUALLY WORKS AS QUALIFYING SET-UP TO THEIR BOAST. IT ALLOWS THE SCENE TO WORK AS A DISPLAY OF THEIR ABILITY WHICH IS THEN USED TO STRIKE FEAR IN THE OTHER SOLDIERS. AND THAT THE MOST IMPORTANT PART. IT WHAT GIVES THE COOL ACTION THE WEIGHT AND MEANING. IT’S WHAT MAKES IT A (KIND OF) STORY… THE PROBLEM THAT IT SORT OF TAKES FOREVER TO GET THERE AND IS STILL KIND OF BORING AND OVER-INCLINED TO COOL. BUT THE IMPORTANT PART IS SNYDER EVENTUALLY FIGURES OUT A WAY TO USE SOME BASIC CAUSE + EFFECT… OF COURSE, HE THEN UNDERMINES THAT WITH THE GORGEOUS, BUT WHOLLY UN-INVOLVING SLO-MO SHOT OF THEM FALLING OFF THE EDGE OF THE CLIFF…

BUT HEY. CAN’T WIN EM ALL.

HULK REALLY WANTS TO CONVEY THAT IT IS NOT NECESSARILY THE SPEED-RAMPING ITSELF THAT IS THE PROBLEM. HULK THINK SNYDER ACTUALLY A PRETTY SMART GUY WITH A FEW HABITS THAT SOMETIMES WORK GREAT AND SOMETIMES DON’T REALLY WORK AT ALL. BUT IF WE RETURN TO THE CONCEPT OF THE BOURNE CHASE, WHERE IT IS POSSIBLE TO BALANCING PERSONAL STYLE WITH THE BASIC TENETS OF ACTION, THEN THERE IS A TOTALLY CONCEIVABLE WAY THAT SNYDER’S SPEED-RAMPING INTERESTS COULD WORK. IT JUST TAKES BALANCE AND A FOCUS ON IMPACT + DRAMA.

IT TAKES SOMETHING LIKE THIS:

IN THIS OPENING SCENE FROM WATCHMEN, SNYDER USES THE SPEED-RAMPING MORE FOR CLARITY INSTEAD OF COOL. THE ENTIRE SCENE IS MORE CONCERNED WITH THE MOMENTS OF IMPACT. CREATING DANGER. THE BEATS OF THE ACTION LARGELY BASED ON CAUSE + EFFECT (THE KNIFE THROWS, THE REVERSALS, THE BREAKING OF WALLS + CONCRETE). BETTER YET, THE SOUND DESIGN IS COMPLETELY SHARP AND FOCUSED. THERE IS EVEN AN ADDED LITTLE BIT OF TONE WORK AND COMMENTARY, AS SNYDER USES “UNFORGETTABLE” UNDERNEATH THE SCENE, THUS IMBUING THE ACTION WITH A KIND OF LYNCHIAN-IRONY-LITE. AND THE MORE YOU LEARN ABOUT THE COMEDIAN AND THE PLOT LATER IN THE FILM (THAT THE WORLD IS A CRUEL, VIOLENT JOKE), THEN THE MORE “CORRECT” THE SCENE FEELS.

THIS SEEMS LIKE A GOOD TIME TO MENTION SOMETHING THAT IS TOTALLY IMPORTANT: WE ALL HAVE THE NATURAL INSTINCT TO BE COOL. IT’S ALL PART OF THE HUMAN INCLINATION TO BE ACCEPTED AND MAKING MOVIES JUST AN EXTENSION OF THAT IN SOME WAY. BUT REMEMBER THE KID ON PLAYGROUND WHO TRIES TO BE COOL INSTEAD OF GENUINE? YEAH. IT OFTEN GOES POORLY.

WELL, THE SAME IS TRUE OF MOVIES. THE NOTION OF STYLE IS SO DAMN SEDUCTIVE AND YET IT IS A WHOLLY FALSE GOAL. IT DOESN’T MATTER IF YOU’RE ZACK SNYDER OR MICHAEL BAY, IT IS JUST SO CRITICAL TO IDENTIFY AND SUPPRESS THE INCLINATION TO MAKE THINGS COOL BEFORE YOU MAKE THEM WORK. IT’S WHAT MAKES YOUR WORK COME OFF AS “GENUINE,” JUST LIKE IN REAL LIFE! AND THUS STRIVING FOR COOL ABOVE ALL ELSE CAN ONLY HURT YOUR WORK.

BESIDES, HONESTLY THE CHANCES ARE THAT DECENT-TO-GOOD CHARACTER DESIGN CAN TAKE CARE OF ALL THE “COOL” YOU NEED (LIKE INDIANA JONES’ AWESOME OUTFIT) SO THAT’S AS FAR AS THE CONCERN REALLY NEEDS TO GO. AND THE FUNNIEST PART OF ALL OF THIS IS THAT IT IF YOU MAKE ACTION THAT WORKS AND INVESTS PEOPLE, THAN NO MATTER WHAT IT WILL INHERENTLY BE COOL. SO THERE NO REAL NEED TO WORRY ABOUT IT IN THE FIRST PLACE.

SO WHY DOES COOL IN MOVIES MATTER SO MUCH? WHY THIS IMMENSE PRESSURE? IT CAN’T JUST BE THE INCLINATION OF THE DIRECTORS RIGHT?

RIGHT.

WHICH BRINGS US TO THE REAL CRUX OF THE “COOL” PROBLEM: MARKETING.

HULK NOT ONE OF THOSE PEOPLE WHO DERIDE MARKETING, HELL HULK WORKED IN MARKETING AND FIND DEMOGRAPHICS AND SYSTEMIC ANALYSIS TO FASCINATING… BUT HULK RECOGNIZE IT HAVE DISTINCTLY DIFFERENT GOAL FROM STORYTELLING:

MARKETING IS PURELY ABOUT SALES.

STORYTELLING IS ABOUT CAPTIVATING AN AUDIENCE THAT IS ALREADY THERE.

THE TWO ARE AT ODDS. AND THEREFORE “THE BUSINESS OF COOL” IS WAY MORE IMPORTANT IN MARKETING THAT IT IS IN MOVIES. MEANING THE IMAGERY OF 300, WHICH IN TERMS OF STORYTELLING IS OFTEN WEIGHTLESS, SURE WORKS DAMN FUCKING WELL IN A TRAILER. THE SLO-MO AND SPEED-RAMPING ADHERE BEAUTIFULLY TO THE PRESENTATION OF SUCCESSIVE, A-CONTEXTUAL MOMENTS, SUGGESTING A LARGER EXPERIENCE  OF COOL AND ATTITUDE.(15)

THE NET RESULT OF THIS KIND OF ALLURE IS THAT IT GETS BUTTS IN SEATS AND MISREPRESENTS THE NOTION OF SUCCESS. YES WELL-SOLD MOVIES ON THE FIRST WEEKEND DRIVE THE BUSINESS, BUT IT IS STILL SHORT SIGHTED WHEN IT COMES TO ACTION TENT-POLES. WHY? BECAUSE THE MOST VALUABLE COMMODITY IN SUMMER MOVIES IS A PROPERTY AND PROPERTIES ARE BUILT OFF OFF GOOD PRODUCTS WHICH HAVE LONGER BOX OFFICE PLAY.  AND GOOD PRODUCTS ARE GOOD MOVIES WITH GOOD STORIES (99% OF THE TIME). SO IF YOU MAKE A FILM WHERE THE ACTION/CHARACTERIZATION IS GOOD, THAN IT CAN TRANSCEND THE AUDIENCE THAT JUST LOOKING FOR THE MARKETED COOL, THEN YOU WILL CREATE A MOVIE THAT HAS LONG -ERM ECONOMIC VALUE. REMEMBER, EVERYONE CAN ENJOY SOMETHING THAT IS GOOD. IT DOESN’T MATTER WHETHER IT IS THRILLING, FUN, OR WHATEVER. BUT IF YOU WANT THE LONG TERM FUTURE FOR YOUR FRANCHISE THEN IT HAS TO BE GOOD.

GOING BACK TO EVERYTHING WE’VE TALKED ABOUT: “GOOD-NESS” IN ACTION IS ABOUT RELATING AND PARTICIPATING: INDIANA JONES HAS THE WHIP AND THE HAT BUT HE ALSO HAS THE FEAR AND THE TERRIBLE LUCK.  WE FOLLOW JASON BOURNE NOT BECAUSE HE CAN KICK ANYONE’S ASS AND CAN GET OUT OF ANY SITUATION, BUT BECAUSE HE IS DESPERATE, AFRAID, AND TORMENTED. WE CARE ABOUT NEO’S FIGHT SKILLS BECAUSE WE CAN ACTUALLY SEE THEM.  WE CARE ABOUT THE VIOLENCE IN TARANTINO MOVIES BECAUSE HE BUILDS UP THE ANTICIPATION WITH INCREDIBLE SKILL. AND WE ARE EXHILARATED BY TWO GUYS STANDING ON SIDES OF A HOTEL DOOR BECAUSE OF THE ACTION-COMPOSING-SKILL OF FILMMAKERS WHO BROUGHT YOU BARTON FINK.

IF YOU MAKE SOMETHING THAT COMPELLING, THEN IT WILL INHERENTLY BE COOL.

TOM: This discussion of cool is pretty interesting because there is something evasive about it too. There’s real questions about veracity of image. For example, now here’s an angle. For the record, I love watching this sort of stuff:

It seems to be the real life embodiment of something every young boy dreams of – fucking flying like a bat out of hell. Even if it is more akin to “Falling, With Style” (©Buzz Lightyear).

There’s been such a proliferation of high quality amateur footage of people throwing themselves off fucking cliffs and buzzing hillside spectators posted online in the last few years that it was crushingly inevitable that such a sequence would make it’s way into a big action movie and low and behold Mr M. Bay skewered the zeitgeist by shoehorning it into Transformers 3: Dorks of the Moon.  In fact, so heralded was the flying suit sequence, all I knew about the film’s story before I saw it was ‘the Apollo moon landings had a secret agenda’, ‘in this one the kid who talks too fast is looking for a job’ and ‘THERE’S DUDES IN FLYING SUITS’. That’s 3 generations of idiots lining up at the box office right there with those 3 promises!

But the flying suit sequence was crap.  Really crap.  Not just because the plot purpose for people to be risking life and limb in that fashion seemed pretty tenuous but visually it failed to evoke even a 10th of the visceral thrill crappier YouTube footage does.

Why is that?  The presentation of the ‘flying’ in Bay’s film was competently filmed (though the cheaty CGI comps were better than the real McCoy) and even he can’t fuck up geography when it comes to ‘objects heavier than air will always fall to the ground’.  Sure, we don’t care much whether a bunch of ‘red shirts’ make it in one piece but surely the sight of a human being performing such a perilous action is innately thrilling?  No, it would seem not.

It’s no accident that I knew that there was a flying suit sequence in the film.  The Transformers publicity juggernaut had been very careful to give maximum exposure to the fact that the sequence had been performed by seasoned flying suit nut-nuts, had been filmed ‘for real’ in downtown Chicago and represented a ‘cinematic first’. As a prospective audience member you would be handing over hard earned cash at the box office to see a faithful documentation of a spectacular event especially staged for Transformers 3.  P.T. Barnum would’ve approved of the hoopla and, in industry parlance, ‘awareness’ surrounding this particular action scene.  None of your ‘CGI robots that can do anything’ here folks, real life death defying human beings performing a unique stunt.  Pass the smelling salts.

But when we see amateur footage on YouTube it IS real.  That implies a lot of things including the ghoulish potential that we’ll see a really hideous injury or fatality occur, that the requisite ‘health & safety’ considerations that rule a film set haven’t been adhered to and as a consequence what we see will be far more dangerous.

Simple distinction, right?  Well no.  What cinema can construct for us should be equally compelling, if no more so, by attaching narrative importance to the action depicted.  ‘If these guys fuck up the ENTIRE HUMAN RACE IS DOOMED!’ Compelling.

But not half as compelling as ‘JESUS WEPT, THAT LUNATIC MISSED THAT PINE TREE BY INCHES!  FUCK ME HE’S DOING 180mph AND IN SERIOUS DANGER OF GETTING A GRASS STAIN ON HIS KNEES!’-

HEY, HEY YOU ENCROACHING ON HULK SPEAK!

TOM: Deepest apologies green one.

If memory serves me (and did you know that we struggle to form memories of images presented in 3D as easily as those in 2D – MRI scans show quite different patterns of brain activity depending on which format; shit you’ll never hear about from James Cameron) Bay made a basic error in the way in which he covered the sequence.  Amateur footage always interpolates two basic camera positions – cameras fixed to the flyer and a straight man at ground level who captures the flyer’s as they ‘blow by’. Edited with a modicum of skill and some groovy techno music there’s always a neat rhythm of exhilarating ‘reach out and touch the sky’ moments punctuated with window shattering near misses which vitally give a sense of speed in relation a fixed position.  By contrast Bay’s many methods of covering the same action too often  failed to show how fast people were traveling against a static point or tried to enhance that by pushing the camera against the direction of travel.  Though, in fairness, this isn’t why the scene failed.

As I’m sure you can tell I’m finding the precise reason a bit nebulous.  After all a very similar sequence (strictly ‘sky diving’) in Star Trek was fun and thrilling.  It had clearer stakes (stop the bad guys from destroying an entire planet, oh and by the way, the only way to do this, with minutes to spare, is to plummet head first towards a tiny target) but involved a very similar spectacle.

Can that be the only reason why the Transformers scene failed to thrill?  The relative irrelevance of why people were performing their stunt?  Or is there more to it than that.  After all, the people in YouTube clips have no clear objective beyond ‘FUCKING GNARLY THRILL SEEKING’.  And by most accounts that shouldn’t be enough to be a compelling ride for the passive observer.

Anyways, I’m all out of synonyms now.

TOM. YOU JUST BLEW HULK’S BRAIN OUT BACK OF HULK’S HEAD.

TOM: Thanks?

NO, THAT WAS TREMENDOUS. VERACITY IS A REALLY INTERESTING COMPONENT TO ACTION. ONCE AGAIN IT ANOTHER ONE OF THOSE TOPICS THAT PROBABLY NEEDS IT’S OWN COLUMNS AND INVOLVES A LOT OF SEMIOTICS AND STUFF. BUT IT REALLY, TRULY RELEVANT TO ASKING US “WHAT ARE WE REALLY RESPONDING TOO?”

AND IT REMINDED HULK OF SOMETHING.

THERE IS ONE LAST TID-BIT TO ADD TO THIS “COOL” CONVERSATION ABOUT STYLE AND IT IS A VERY, VERY IMPORTANT ONE.

THERE ARE DIRECTORS CURRENTLY OUT THERE WHOSE WORK IS SO STEEPED IN THE LANGUAGE OF POPULAR AND CLASSIC GENRE/ACTION/AESTHETICS THAT THEY ARE BOTH DIRECTLY ENGAGING WHAT IS THE CURRENT “COOL” CINEMA AND YET WHOLLY TRANSCEND IT. THIS GROUP OF FILMMAKERS INCLUDES SOMEONE YOU PERHAPS FAMILIAR WITH:

EDGAR WRIGHT.

            PICTURED: BADASS

HULK MENTIONING HIM FOR SOLE REASON OF ACKNOWLEDGING THAT THERE IS A WAY OF HANDLING THE DIRECT USE OF IN-VOGUE CINEMATIC STYLINGS WITH A HIGH-WIRE ACT OF NARRATIVE/META FILMMAKING. SHAUN OF THE DEAD, HOT FUZZ, AND SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD ARE NOT ONLY HIGHLY PROPULSIVE, HILARIOUS FILMS, BUT MANAGE TO DIRECTLY ENGAGE THE TRENDS AND STYLE OF COOL CINEMA, AND YET SUBVERT IT, YET STILL NAKEDLY LOVE IT, YET FURTHER COMMENT ON IT, AND ULTIMATELY TRANSCEND IT. HE CAN LOOK DIRECTLY INTO THE ID OF BAD BOYS 2 AND FIND A KIND OF WONDERFUL CINEMATIC JOY AND IMBUE THE LANGUAGE OF BAYHEM INTO HIS OWN FULLY-FORMED, UNIQUE CINEMA. BUT WHAT ENSURES THAT ALL THESE HIGHFALUTIN COMPONENTS WORK IS ALWAYS THE FACT THAT HIS MOVIES ARE STEEPED IN NOT JUST THE LANGUAGE OF THE MORE CURRENT CLIMATE, BUT DEEPLY IN THE HISTORY OF ALLCINEMA. AND WAY MORE IMPORTANT THAT ANY OF THIS COMPLICATED STUFF, IS THE FACT THAT HIS MOVIE ARE JUST GREAT, RELATE-ABLE HUMAN STORIES AT THEIR CORE.

TOM: I hear he produces things too.

INDEED! HULK JUST THOUGHT WE REALLY SHOULD ACKNOWLEDGE THAT IT POSSIBLE TO REALLY ENGAGE THE LANGUAGE OF CURRENT CINEMA, BUT THE PROBLEM OF EVEN BRINGING THIS UP IS THAT IT WOULD START SOMETHING THAT IS SOOOOOO NOT A BASICS CONVERSATION. ANALYZING THE DIFFERENT LEVELS THAT HIS FILMS WORK ON (OFTEN SIMULTANEOUSLY) WOULD TAKE SOME SERIOUS DEEP TISSUE ANALYSIS AND THIS SUCKER IS LONG ENOUGH. SO CONSIDER THE DISCUSSION A PROMISE FOR THE FUTURE.

YOU’VE PROBABLY NOTICED THAT THIS PART OF THE ESSAY ON STYLIZATION WAS FAIRLY TANGENTIAL AND  SCATTERED IN CONVERSATION, BUT THE NATURE OF THE CONVERSATION SORT OF CALLS FOR IT. THERE’S A LOT MORE ABSTRACT, PSYCHOLOGICAL REASONS FOR THESE PROBLEMS SO BY ADDRESSING EVERYTHING AT PLAY YOU CAN SORT OF GET A CLEARER PICTURE, BUT THERE’S REALLY NO A, B, C THINKING WHEN IT COMES TO WHY PEOPLE OVERLY-STYLIZE THERE FILMS. STILL, HULK THINKS WE’VE SUFFICIENTLY COVERED THE PROBLEMS OF COOL + STYLIZATION RIGHT?

TOM: Er….Safe to say.

MOVING ON!

PART 8 –  LOGISTICS, LIMITS, AND THE REALITY OF THE 2ND UNIT

A LOT OF PETER JACKSONS ACTION WORK IS JUST WONDERFUL. IT’S FULL OF WONDER AND AWE, OBJECTIVES, BEATS, CAUSE + EFFECT AND ALL THAT GREAT STUFF. AND THEN THERE FEW SCENES THAT ARE SORT OF INFAMOUSLY BAD AND PEOPLE TOTALLY POOP ON THEM. FOR INSTANCE, PETER JACKSON SOMETIMES GETS CRAP FOR THE LAME WIZARD FIGHT SCENE IN FELLOWSHIP. AND TO BE HONEST, YEAH, THE FIGHT SCENE PRETTY LAME.

HERE’S THE PROBLEM… PETER JACKSON DIDN’T FILM IT.

IT WASN’T EVEN FILMED BY THE 2ND UNIT DIRECTOR, BUT ONE OF THE MANY 3RD UNIT DIRECTORS. IF HULK REMEMBERING THE DOCUMENTARY RIGHT, HE WAS SOME FRESH FACED KID GETTING CALLED UP TO THE MAJORS. AND TO BE FAIR HE HANDLES THE EMOTION OF THE SCENE RIGHT AND THAT’S WHAT MATTERS, BUT THE ACTION ITSELF PRETTY AWKWARDLY STAGED.

HOW DOES SOMETHING LIKE THIS HAPPEN? HOW CAN JACKSON LET IT SLIP THROUGH THE CRACKS? WELL. LET’S LOOK AT THE DIRECTING/2ND UNIT CREDITS OF FELLOWSHIP SHALL WE?

Second Unit Director or Assistant Director
Marc Ashton …. second assistant director
Richard A. Barker …. first assistant director: second unit (as Richard Barker)
Guy Campbell …. key second assistant director
Emma Cross …. second assistant director: second unit
Carolynne Cunningham …. first assistant director
Louise Harness …. key second assistant director: second unit
Belindalee Hope …. second assistant director: miniature unit
Eric Houghton …. third assistant director
Chris Husson …. third assistant director
John Mahaffie …. second unit director
Richard Matthews …. third assistant director
Ian Mune …. additional second unit director
Geoff Murphy …. second unit director
Dave Norris …. first assistant director: second unit (as David Norris)
Guy Norris …. additional second unit director
Joanne Pearce …. second second assistant director
Liz Tan …. first assistant director: second unit
Skot Thomas …. second second assistant director
Martin Walsh …. first assistant director: miniature unit (as Marty Walsh)
Simon Warnock …. first assistant director: second unit
Katie Flannigan …. third assistant director (uncredited)
Marcus Levy …. additional second assistant director: second unit (uncredited)
Barrie M. Osborne …. additional second unit director (uncredited)
Rick Porras …. additional second unit director (uncredited)
Edith Thompson …. additional second assistant director: second unit (uncredited)
Fran Walsh …. additional second unit director (uncredited)
Stephanie Weststrate …. additional second assistant director: second unit (uncredited)

YOUR REACTION: HOLY CRAP THAT A LOT OF PEOPLE.

HULK + TOM’S REACTION: THIS THE REALITY OF BIG-BUDGET FILMMAKING.

IN ALL LIKELIHOOD, EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THOSE PEOPLE IS EITHER SOLELY RESPONSIBLE OR PARTIALLY RESPONSIBLE FOR A SHOT THAT ENDED UP IN THE FINAL MOVIE. WITH THE VAST NUMBER OF LOCATIONS, HUGE PRODUCTION CREWS, AND DAUNTING SCHEDULES, ACTION SCENES JUST TAKE WAY, WAY, WAY TOO MUCH TIME TO BE SOLELY HANDLED BY THE MAIN DIRECTOR. AND HONESTLY, DIRECTING ACTION IS PRETTY FREAKING BORING COMPARED TO THE NUANCE OF HANDLING AN ACTING PERFORMANCE. THIS IS NOT TO IMPLY DIRECTING ACTION NOT A VERY EXACTING PRACTICE. IN FACT, IT REQUIRE SUCH PATIENCE AND SKILL BECAUSE IT SO DAMN MONOTONOUS, THAT IT TAKES SERIOUS CHOPS. BUT SO MUCH OF IT JUST COMES DOWN TO SPENDING FOREVER TRYING TO GET THE NATURAL CHAOS TO FALL INTO PLACE JUST RIGHT.

TOM: have you read Vic Armstrong’s autobiography? It’s a nonsense ‘aeroplane’ book but very telling. It’s distressing to read how ‘action’ is seconded away from the director ALL THE TIME. Who’s film is it then? Action scenes are the raison d’être of summer tentpoles but I still want an auteurs stamp on everything. Tone & character are built on the specifics of these shots and sequences and editing style as much as anything else. It’s an unfortunate function of Hollywood economics and working practises that one ends up with essentially two authors on action films. The flip side of course is people like Chris Nolan. Highly publicised rejection of 2nd unit but shitty bad action director as well :-(

HULK HAS NOT READ IT, BUT WILL DEFINITELY CHECK IT OUT NOW. BUT YOU’RE ABSOLUTELY RIGHT. MOST OF OUR ACTION IS BEING DIRECTED BY PEOPLE WE DON’T KNOW, LIKE IN THE CREDITS ABOVE. THIS IS NOT TO IMPLY 2ND UNIT DIRECTORS AND THEIR CREWS BAD OR LACKING IN ANY WAY, SHAPE, OR FORM (HONESTLY MOST OF THEM PRETTY AMAZING), BUT IT SPEAKS TO YOUR EXACT POINT CONCERNING THE “AUTEUR STAMP.” WE ALWAYS WANT THAT SPECIAL THING THAT IS HANDLED BY THE VERY BEST CINEMATIC MINDS.

THAT AMAZING COEN BROTHER SCENE IN NO COUNTRY? THAT WASN’T SECOND UNIT. NO, THAT STUFF WAS PERSONALLY HANDLED BY THE TWO OF THEM AND HULK THINK THAT COMES ACROSS COMPLETELY.

BUT WITH THE BIG BUDGET STUFF, EVEN IF THE SEQUENCE BEEN STORY-BOARDED COMPLETELY, THE REALITY AND PRACTICALITY ON-SET JUST A DIFFERENT THING. EVEN SOMETHING AS SIMPLE AS A DIFFERENT LENS MAKES IT A DIFFERENT SHOT COMPLETE WITH A DIFFERENT FEELING. SOMETIMES A DIRECTOR JUST HAS TO ACCEPT THAT IT’S OUT OF THEIR HANDS. HULK BEEN IN THE ROOM WHILE DIRECTORS WATCHED DAILIES OF STUFF DONE BY 2ND UNIT AND EVEN IF IT NOT EXACTLY WHAT THEY WANT, THEY HAVE MAKE THAT DECISION OF IF THEY WANT RE-SHOOT IT. WHICH NOT ONLY COSTS LOTS OF MONEY/FUCKS UP THE SCHEDULE, IT TAKES UP TREMENDOUS AMOUNT ENERGY AND FOCUS, WHICH CAN OFTEN BE SPENT IN BETTER WAYS.

A LOT OF TIMES THEY RIGHTFULLY RECOGNIZE THAT WORKING ON A DRAMATIC SCENE IS WAY MORE IMPORTANT

AND BY THE WAY TOM, HULK COMPLETELY AGREE ON YOUR NOLAN POINT. AND SO DOES THIS GUY WHO HAS A VERY POPULAR VIDEO GOING AROUND THE INTERWEBS NOW. HE APPROACHES IT WITH EDITOR-LIKE PRECISION THAT WHOLLY ON POINT, BUT HULK WISH HE’D BRING A FEW MORE QUALIFIERS IN BEFORE HE STARTED TALKING. IN TERMS OF EDUCATION IT LOOSES PEOPLE TOO QUICK… ALSO, SALT? REALLY?

BACK TO THE POINT, NOLAN HAS INCREDIBLE STRENGTHS AS DIRECTOR AND HULK ADORES INCEPTION, BUT INDEED. THE VAST MAJORITY OF HIS BASIC ACTION = CRAP. AND WHAT IS PERHAPS MOST ODD ABOUT IT, IS THAT HE’LL THEN HAVE THESE PARTS OF SEQUENCES THAT ARE SO FANTASTIC (THE TUMBLING DREAM HALLWAY, THE BATPOD EJECTION, THE 18 WHEELER FLIP) THAT PRETTY MUCH REDEEM EVERYTHING ABOUT THE SEQUENCE. HULK JUST THINKS IT’S STRANGE THAT PEOPLE THINK HE A GOOD ACTION DIRECTOR. HIS ACTION MOSTLY WORKS BECAUSE HE USUALLY MAKES REALLY, REALLY GOOD MOVIES FIRST (AND THE AFOREMENTIONED GREAT MOMENTS ROUND IT OUT). BUT HULK WORRIES THAT PEOPLE ONLY GO NUTS FOR NOLAN BECAUSE HE MAKE THESE SUPER-SERIOUS MOVIES WHICH LEGITIMIZE PULPY STUFF. DOES IT REALLY NEED TO BE LEGITIMIZED LIKE THAT? OR HECK MAYBE PEOPLE LIKE HIM FOR THE SAME REASON HULK DOES, HE’S NOT AFRAID TO BE COMPLICATED, NARRATIVE-WISE OR CHARACTER MORALITY-WISE.

BUT  YOU’RE RIGHT TOM, IT REALLY JUST MAKES THE WHOLE “NO 2ND UNIT” THING KIND OF SILLY.

TOM: They’d likely help.

THE ISSUE INFORMS ANOTHER ONE THOUGH…

AS DEEP AS HULK DIVES INTO MEANING AND SEMIOTICS OF MISE EN SCENE FOR THESE CRITICAL ESSAYS, HULK ALSO HAVE ONE FOOT IN THE REALISM OF PRODUCTION LOGISTICS. THERE IS THE FAMOUS ANECDOTE (THAT HULK IS ABOUT TO POSSIBLY BUTCHER) ABOUT A REPORTER ASKING KUROSAWA WHY HE CHOSE TO COMPOSE A CERTAIN SHOT THE WAY HE DID. KUROSAWA ANSWERED HONESTLY: [BECAUSE THERE WAS A SHOPPING MALL TO THE LEFT OF THE FRAME AND A HIGHWAY TO THE RIGHT OF IT]. IT’S SUCH AN AMAZING ANECDOTE, BECAUSE IT’S TRUE. HALF THE TIME THAT WILL BE THE CASE WITH ANY GIVEN SHOT. THERE ARE REAL LIMITS TO THESE THINGS.

FOR ALL HULK’S TALK OF “ACTION IS SO SIMPLE! BE SMARTER’ HULK KNOWS THAT MAKING AN ACTION SCENE IS REALLY NOT EASY WHATSOEVER.

THE FOLLOWING IS A PERSONAL STORY TO HIGHLIGHT: HULK ONCE WORKED ON A SCENE AND BUDGET-WISE HULK X AMOUNT OF TIME TO FILM IT. THERE WAS NO WIGGLE ROOM AND NO EXTRA MONEY. NOW YOU WILL KNOW THAT HULK LOVES “TAUT FILMMAKING” AND HULK HAD ENTIRE ACTION SEQUENCE STORY-BOARDED AND FULLY PLANNED WITH D.P. BUT THE PROCESS OF TRYING TO GET THE ACTION TO WORK IN A LOCKED FRAME, WAS QUITE SIMPLY TAKING FAR TOO LONG, DESPITE THE FACT WE WERE MOVING FAIRLY QUICKLY AND THE FOOTAGE WAS COMING OUT GREAT. BUT NOT FINISHING WAS SIMPLY NOT AN OPTION. SO WE ADAPTED IN TWO WAYS: UNLOCKING THE HEAD TO MOVE THE CAMERA AND BE SURE OUR ACTION WAS ACTUALLY CAPTURED IN FRAME, BUT THUS AFFECTING THE STILL AND “TAUT” TONE WE WANTED. AT THE SAME TIME, WE HAD TO ABANDON OUR PLAN TO ALTERNATE OUR SET-UP POSITIONS SO THAT THE ACTORS POSITIONS IN THE “GEOGRAPHY” WERE KEPT AS COHERENT AS POSSIBLE. BOTH DECISIONS ALTERED THE FINAL PRODUCT AND GAVE US A “MESSIER” SCENE THAN WE INTENDED, BUT THE DECISIONS WERE WHOLLY NECESSARY. WE ADAPTED THE BEST WE COULD IN THE EDIT AND STILL MADE THE WHOLE THING WORK. WAS OUR ORIGINAL PLAN TOO AMBITIOUS? MAYBE. SHOULD WE HAVE SCHEDULED EXTRA TIME? ABSOLUTELY. BUT THIS THE REALITY OF ALL FILMMAKERS. IT DOESN’T MATTER IF YOU’RE A BIG BUDGET FILM, BECAUSE IF YOU ARE THAT MEANS YOU PROBABLY HAVE A MOVIE STAR. AND IN CASE YOU ARE UNAWARE, MOVIE STARS HAVE SET TIME LIMITS AND CRAZY SCHEDULES SO THEY’RE ALWAYS OFF TO THE NEXT PROJECT. THE TIME CONSTRAINTS ON BIG BUDGET FILMS ARE NOT BETTER, THEY ARE WORSE. AND THE PRESSURES CAN COME FROM ANY AND ALL PLACES: WEATHER, HEALTH PROBLEMS, YOU NAME IT! BUT YOU HAVE TO BE READY TO ROLL WITH THE PUNCHES.

WHICH WHY WE MUST UNDERSTAND THIS A HUMAN PROCESS. THERE IS NO PRESS THE “GOOD ACTION SEQUENCE BUTTON” IN AN EDIT BAY.

BUT AT THE VERY SAME TIME, HULK & TOM’S ENTIRE ARGUMENT THAT WE CAN STILL DO BETTER. WE CAN STRIVE TO UNDERSTAND WHAT WE DOING WITH CINEMA AS BEST AS POSSIBLE. AND THE MORE WE PREPARE, THE MORE WE INHERENTLY UNDERSTAND WHAT MAKES AN ACTION SCENE WORK, THE BETTER WE CAN DEAL WITH KNOWING HOW ON-SET CHANGES WILL EFFECT THE SCENE’S STORY AND TONE, AND THUS, THE MORE WE WILL BE ABLE CONTROL WHAT SHOWS UP IN THE FINAL PRODUCT. WE JUST CAN’T LOSE SIGHT OF THE CORE PRINCIPALS. LIKE WITH THE CAUSE + EFFECT THING. THERE IS A REASON HULK SPENT SO MUCH TIME WITH THIS PART AND IT IS BECAUSE HULK THINKS PEOPLE LOST SIGHT OF IT.

PART 9 – EPILOGUE / YOU

SO CONSIDER THIS LAST BIT A PIECE OF ADVICE-

TOM: Wait, I was promised Ewoks.

HULK TRYING TO BE POIGNANT HERE.

TOM: Sorry.

TO THOSE WHO WATCH MOVIES AND CRITIQUE THEM, HULK & TOM WANT YOU TO HAVE MORE OF A DISCERNING EYE TOWARD WHAT MAKES ACTION WORK. RECOGNIZE WHAT WE CAN DO BETTER BUT ALSO REALIZE WHY WE MAY FALL SHORT. TRY AND RECOGNIZE WHAT MIGHT BE THE FAULT OF POOR CONCEPT AND WHAT MIGHT BE THE THE RESULT OF PRODUCTION LOGISTICS. FOR EXAMPLE ONE AWFUL CUT IN A SEQUENCE IS A PRODUCTION MIS-STEP, WHEREAS 8 OKAY CUTS SHOWS POOR CONCEPT AND UNDERSTANDING. SEE? IT NOT THAT HARD! JUST REMEMBER THAT IN THE WAKE OF REALITY, THERE ARE HUMAN BEINGS INVOLVED.

AND FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO WISH TO GO FORWARD AND MAKE YOUR OWN PIECES OF ACTION?

AT THIS POINT, IT SHOULD BE OBVIOUS THAT FILMMAKING IS INCREDIBLY DIFFICULT. IT TAKES TIME TO UNDERSTAND AND GET BETTER AT IT. THERE ARE REASON YOU ARE A “YOUNG” DIRECTOR AT 35. AND EVEN IF YOU KNOW EVERYTHING THAT IS THE “RIGHT” THING TO DO, YOU WILL MAKE THE WRONG DECISIONS IN MOMENT. BUT WITH REPEATED EXPERIENCE IT WILL WILL COME TOGETHER. IF YOU KEEP YOUR MIND OPEN, EVERYTHING YOU WILL NEED TO LEARN WILL BE TAUGHT TO YOU IN THE ACTUAL PROCESS OF DOING IT. EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT WHAT TO INCLUDE IN SHOOTING-SCRIPTS YOU WILL LEARN IN PRE-PRODUCTION (“IS IT STILL THE SAME DAY?” “WHAT CLOTHES ARE THEY WEARING?”). EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO DO IN PRE-PRODUCTION YOU WILL LEARN IN PRODUCTION (“HEY WAIT, WHERE ARE PEOPLE GOING TO GO TO THE BATHROOM?”). EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO LEARN ABOUT PRODUCTION YOU WILL LEARN IN EDITING (“YEAH, GUESS WE REALLY NEEDED A PICK-UP SHOT THERE… FUCK.”) AND EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO LEARN IN EDITING YOU WILL LEARN ONCE THE WORK IS RELEASED (“I GUESS THAT SCENE DIDN’T WORK” OR “THAT DIDN’T GET A LAUGH” OR “MAYBE THAT RUINED THE MOVIE AFTER ALL”). AND THE NEXT TIME YOU START OVER YOU WILL KNOW EVEN MORE AND THEN IT IS JUST A PROCESS OF GETTING BETTER.

AND MORE SPECIFICALLY, TAKE THE FOLLOWING PIECES OF ADVICE ON YOUR ACTION SCENES:

DON’T THINK OF SOMETHING COOL.

THINK OF A PROBLEM/THREAT AND THEN FIGURE OUT HOW THE CHARACTER COULD SOLVE IT.

THINK ABOUT LINKING THAT PROBLEM IN A SERIES OF PROBLEMS.

THINK ABOUT LAYING THE GROUND WORK AND SETTING FIRST.

THINK ABOUT GIVING THE ACTION SPACE.

THINK ABOUT CLARITY.

THINK ABOUT PURPOSE.

THINK ABOUT CAUSE + EFFECT.

THINK OF IT IS AS A STORY.

AND WITH THAT…

WE ARE ROOTING FOR YOU ALL WITH THE FULL SINCERITY OF OUR HEARTS,

AND WE WISH YOU WAY MORE THAN LUCK.

<3 HULK & TOM

            HULK HAVE NO IDEA WHY TOM IS PIPPEN

TOM: Thanks?

IT’S OVER!

ENDNOTES!

(12A) BUT DO NOT DARE CONFUSE WITH TODAY’S POPULARITY OF THE DOCU-STYLE FILMMAKING TREND “FOUND FOOTAGE.” THEY ARE VERY, VERY DIFFERENT THINGS.

(12B) SORRY FOR THE FOOTNOTES SO CLOSE TOGETHER. HULK TRY BE BETTER AT THAT BUT SOMETIMES IT IMPORTANT. HULK JUST SIMPLY HAVE TO MENTION THAT THIS IS ABSOLUTELY NOT TO IMPLY THAT TRADITIONAL, STYLIZED CINEMA CANNOT FEEL “REAL.” IF YOU WRAP UP YOUR AUDIENCE IN THE STORY AND EXPERIENCE THEN ALL CINEMA, WHETHER ANIMATED OR SURREAL, CAN BE TRANSPORT YOU SOMEPLACE “REAL.” AND THAT IS THE TRUE MAGIC. THE POINT WITH SHAKY-CAM IS THAT IT CAN BE USED TO MAKE YOU FEEL LIKE “THIS IS THE REAL WORLD YOU’RE IN RIGHT NOW” IN A SLIGHTED MORE GROUNDED, TONAL WAY. THAT’S ALL.

(12C) THERE WERE OF COURSE MANY MOVIES AND TV SHOWS THAT USED IT BEAUTIFULLY: IT MADE PERFECT SENSE FOR THE INTENSITY OF THE SHIELD AND FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS USED IT FOR HUMANITARIAN AIMS. BUT ONE PLACE WHERE SHAKY-CAM WORKED SO WELL AGAINST SEEMING INTUITION WAS WITH THE NEW BATTLESTAR GALACTICA. SHAKY-CAM WORKED FOR THEM BECAUSE THEY DECIDED THAT THE MOST IMPORTANT THING TO THEIR TONE WAS TO GROUND THE VIEWER IN THE REALISM OF THEIR SCI-FI WORLD. MEANING IT WAS NOT TO SIMPLY MAKE “SILLY” SCI-FI SEEM MORE REALISTIC, BUT TO AMPLIFY THE TONE OF A SHOW THAT WAS ALREADY STRIVING TOWARD REALISM. MAKE SENSE?

(12D) AND TO BE COMPLETELY FAIR, MICHAEL BAY IS ALSO TERRIBLE AT STORYTELLING.

(13) CONSIDER THIS PART OF HULK’S BELIEF THAT IT NEVER GOOD TO TRY AND DISMISS SOMEONE COMPLETELY… IN THAT CASE YOU’D ALSO HAVE TO IGNORE FOOTNOTE #12.

(14A) NOT TO BEAT THIS DRUM AGAIN, BUT HULK WANT CLARIFY THAT HULK’S THESIS ON “COOL” ACTION SOMETHING HULK STARTED BEFORE THIS ARTICLE COME UP. IF HULK SEEM OVERLY-WORRYING AGAIN IT JUST A MATTER OF WANTING TO CLARIFY HULK NOT LIFTING IDEAS. WE SO USE TO PEOPLE LIFTING IDEAS IN INTERNET CULTURE IT ACTUALLY WORRY HULK. BESIDES, THE FACT THAT LOTS OF PEOPLE ARE SAYING THE SAME THING MORE SPEAKS TO THE FACT THAT THIS ISSUE IS THE REAL F’ING DEAL: ACTION-CRAZY HOLLYWOOD HAS NO IDEA WHAT TO DO WITH ACTION.

(14B) SECOND D+D REFERENCE OF COLUMN! SHIT GETTIN NERDY UP IN HERE!

(15) AND YET AS MUCH AS TRAILERS WANT TO SELL A “VIBE” THEY ALSO HAVE THE PECULIAR TENDENCY TO GIVE AWAY BIG BLOCKS OF STORY, IF NOT ALL OF IT. WHAT’S FUNNY IS THAT TRAILERS ARE SO COMPLETE IN WHAT THEY COVER OF THE PLOT, THAT THEY ESSENTIALLY CREATE 2 MINUTE VERSIONS OF THE MOVIE. PEOPLE THEN GO TO THE THEATER KNOWING ALL THE MAJOR BEATS THAT ARE COMING AND THEY ESSENTIALLY THEREFORE SEEKING A THEATRICAL EXPERIENCE OF THE COOL TRAILER THEY WATCHED. CONCEPTUALLY, IT IS DOWNRIGHT BIZARRE. HULK ALSO KNOW FROM PERSONAL EXPERIENCE THAT THIS TRAILER CHOICE STEMS FROM ONE POORLY WORDED QUESTION. SEE, MARKETING “EXPERTS” USE FOCUS GROUPS TO TEST TRAILERS WITH RANDOM VIEWERS AND ASK THE SAID VERY STUPID QUESTION: “WHAT WOULD YOU WANT TO SEE MORE OF IN THIS TRAILER?” 90% OF MEN SAY “MORE EXPLOSIONS AND BOOBS.” AND 90% OF WOMEN SAY “I WANTED TO KNOW MORE OF THE STORY.” IT’S OUTRIGHT FACT. AND AS A RESULT, WE GET TRAILERS THAT ARE NOTHING BUT EXPLOSIONS, BOOBS, AND THE WHOLE DAMN STORY. WHAT THE MARKETING “EXPERTS” NOT REALIZE WHATSOEVER THAT THEY ESSENTIALLY ASKING A QUESTION THAT LEADS THE AUDIENCE TO A CONCLUSION THAT UNDERMINES THE INTENTION OF MARKETING. MARKETING IS MEANT TO LEAD SOMEONE TO SAY “I WANT MORE OF WHAT I JUST GOT A TASTE OF THERE.” INSTEAD THEY ESSENTIALLY GIVING PEOPLE A COMPLETE PRODUCT EXPERIENCE IN AN EFFORT TO SATISFY THEM RIGHT THEN AND THERE, BARELY REALIZING THEY JUST RUINED IT. THEY THINK THEY ARE SELLING SOMETHING “SATISFYING” BUT THEY ARE UNKNOWINGLY MAKING TRAILERS IN HOPES THE TRAILER-VIEWER THEN GOES “I WANT TO DO THAT AGAIN.” IT IS WHOLLY WRONG-HEADED… THEN AGAIN, YOU COULD GO IN THE OPPOSITE DIRECTION LIKE J.J. ABRAMS AND TEASE AND PRETEND EVERYTHING ABOUT YOUR STORY A MYSTERY EVEN IF ITS NOT… HULK’S POINT IS THAT, LIKE NEARLY EVERYTHING, IT’S ABOUT BALANCE.

FINE... HAVE SOME EWOKS.

39 Responses to “HULK EXPLAIN ACTION SCENES! RETURN OF THE ACTION! (NOW WITH MORE EWOKS) WITH SPECIAL GUEST TOM TOWNEND! – DAY 3 OF 3”

  1. ScottR said

    Brilliant work guys! As I finished this, it occurred to me that this series could be called Storytelling 102. By digging into the microcosmic aspect of action scenes, you basically reinforced the fundamentals of large-scale storytelling – as it is within, so it is without (or something like that).

    If I had to eliminate all the blogs in my news feed but one, this is the one I’d keep.

    • FILMCRITHULK said

      HULK THANK AND HULK AGREE WITH YOUR COMMENT! ACTION IS JUST PURE VISUAL STORYTELLING, ONE THAT SHOULD WORK ON AN ENTIRELY VISCERAL LEVEL.

      CHEERS.

  2. Arleigh said

    Would the Hulk consider John Woo a filmmaker who had a firm grasp on how to create action scenes or is his “bullet ballet” action scenes (doves and all) just style w/o substance?

    I ask this because Woo’s style was copied for almost a decade stretching from the mid-90’s and into the mid-2000’s.

    • FILMCRITHULK said

      IT A BIG DISCUSSION, BUT HULK WILL PUT IT THIS WAY: IT NO ACCIDENT THAT THE MOVIES THAT DEPEND THE LEAST ON WHAT WE CALL THE “DOVE INCLINATION” ARE ABSOLUTELY THE ONES THAT STILL WORK THE BEST (HARDBOILED, ETC). EVEN AT THE HEIGHT, SOMETIMES THE STYLIZATION HELPED AND AIDED STORY, SOMETIMES IT DIDN’T. BUT BASICALLY, NO ACTION FILMMAKER HAS BEEN HURT MORE BY THE ADVENT OF POPULAR STYLE CHANGE (READ: STUFF THE BOURNE MOVIES DE-LEGITMIZED IT IF THAT MAKES SENSE)

  3. NATE said

    I am giving up on creating. Thanks Hulk.

    • FILMCRITHULK said

      NEVER DO THAT! NOT TO GET ALL CHEESY ON YA, BUT “In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new. The world is often unkind to new talents, new creations. The new needs friends. Last night, I experienced something new; an extraordinary meal from a singularly unexpected source. To say that both the meal and its maker have challenged my preconceptions about fine cooking, is a gross understatement. They have rocked me to my core. In the past, I have made no secret of my disdain for Chef Gusteau’s famous motto, “Anyone can cook”. But I realize — only now do I truly understand what he meant. Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere. It is difficult to imagine more humble origins than those of the genius now cooking at Gusteau’s, who is, in this critic’s opinion, nothing less than the finest chef in France. I will be returning to Gusteau’s soon, hungry for more. “

  4. Doug said

    This is tangential, but how do Fighting Movies (Rocky, Bloodsport, etc) fit into this? Do they at all? It seems like many of the concepts remain the same. But Rocky is a drama with two fight scenes, not an action movie.

    • FILMCRITHULK said

      RIGHT. HULK SAY ROCKY A CHARACTER DRAMA FOR CERTAIN, AND THAT’S WHERE THE SUCCESS OF THE FILM LIES. BUT BLOOD SPORT DEFINITELY STRAIGHT UP MARTIAL ARTS MOVIE. IN PARTICULAR, A “TOURNAMENT MOVIE.” AND THOSE MOVIES THRIVE ON THE “CHARACTERIZATION OF FIGHTING” BLOOD SPORT ALL THINGS CONSIDERED DOES PRETTY REASONABLE JOB MAKING FIGHTS AS DIFFERENT AS POSSIBLE (BY HAVING MANY DIFFERENT KINDS OF FIGHTING SYTLES) EVEN THOUGH THE TONE STAYS RELATIVELY THE SAME… MEANWHILE, THE QUEST, WAS NOT.

  5. [...] HULK EXPLAIN ACTION SCENES! RETURN OF THE ACTION! (NOW WITH MORE EWOKS) WITH SPECIAL GUEST TOM TOWNE… Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. ← Week 5: The Creative Psyche [...]

  6. Phil said

    On the subject of shakycam, I think the greatest things among all the great things about Paul Greengrass are his quantum leaps at utilizing shakycam effectively between Supremacy and United 93, and again between United 93 and Ultimatum. It’s astounding how much clearer the sequences became (and, thus, how much easier it became to watch them) from film to film to film.

    Speaking of Greengrass, does anyone know if he’s still involved with that Somali pirate movie, or if he’s moved on to something else entirely?

    • FILMCRITHULK said

      YEAH, EVEN HULK THINK HE REALIZED “CAN’T GET BY ALONE ON ENERGY OF SHAKY, NEED TO CLARIFY”

      NO IDEA ABOUT THE PIRATE MOVIE. HAVE TO LOOK INTO.

  7. Love this series HULK. This is a master class on story telling, editing and filmmaking. I thought I knew a lot but I learned even more. I love that discussions like this are taking place instead of inane film chatter like who cast who in what movie. Or what movie was #1 at the box office. Your article (and that TDK editing video ) are what I want to see more of on the web. Real discussions about art, film and chaos!

  8. Hi Hulk, is it possible that the teaming of Snyder and Nolan for the new Supes could be some sort of perfect hybrid of storytelling and action? Each being able to make up for what the other is lacking? I realize Snyder is directing and Nolan is writing/producing, but doesn’t it seem like a good match?

    Also, I remember back in 2002 hearing rumors that the Matrix Reloaded was going to be nothing but one long car chase, basically a two hour version of the freeway sequence. I’m not sure if the final product was any better than that rumor, but has something like that ever been attempted? An action sequence that extends the length of an entire movie? I’m not sure how that would work, or even why someone would attempt that, but couldn’t you literally propel a story forward with one massive cause and effect?

    If the right action scenes act as a conduit for the story moving forward in some way, why couldn’t the action itself be the story? Does that make sense? And I don’t mean like that stupid ass Charlie Sheen movie where he kidnaps Kristy Swanson and gets chased like OJ, but an entire, meaningful story told through action.

    I’m not explaining very well what I’m thinking, but lets just say an average movie go-er like myself pays money to watch shit get blown up real good, then couldn’t I somehow be tricked into watching a very intense and well told story strictly through action?

    I should quit while I’m ahead. Let me think about it. I’ll get back with you.

    • FILMCRITHULK said

      1. NOLAN / SNYDER – NO. NONE OF IT WILL MATTER BECAUSE THE SCRIPT APPARENTLY A MESS. BUT WHO KNOWS.

      2. ACTION MOVIES CAN BE “WALL TO WALL” ACTION BUT THEY REALLY DO NEED CHARACTER BEATS TO LINK THEM. WE NEED REASON TO LIKE ONE PERSON ON ONE SIDE. THINK OF IT LIKE SPORTS. A FOOTBALL GAME IS A FOOTBALL GAME BUT IF YOU HATE ONE TEAM OR LIKE THE OTHER IT CHANGES THE ENTIRE MEANING AND EXPERIENCE OF THE GAME COMPLETELY. HULK PRETTY SURE ONE ACTION SCENE AS MOVIE COULDN’T WORK BECAUSE IT WOULD QUITE LITERALLY HAVE NO DEVELOPMENT, BUT IT COULD BE AN “EXTENDED” SEQUENCE IN ONE LOCATION TOWARD ONE GOAL, THAT HAS A STORY WITHIN IT. THE UPCOMING “THE RAID” COULD BE LIKE THAT.

      3. THE PROBLEM WITH THE ACTION ITSELF BEING THE STORY IS JUST IT DOESN’T HAVE THE SAME RANGE AS OTHER KINDS OF STORYTELLING (DIALOGUE, SMILES, LURVE-MAKIN). YOU CAN HAVE STORIES TOLD WITHOUT TALKING REALLY (COCTEAU!) BUT YOU NEED TO PULL OUT EVERY KIND OF CINEMATIC EXPRESSION IN THE BOOK. ACTION, WHILE AWESOME, WORKS AS IT’S OWN PUNCTUATION MARK IN A STORY.

      HULK NOT EXPLAINING THIS WELL ENOUGH. IT WOULD BE AN INTERESTING IDEA, BUT THE PROBLEM IS IF YOU JUST THROW A COUPLE OF REALLY STRONG CHARACTER SCENES IN YOU CAN MAKE AN INSATIABLY GOOD ACTION MOVIE INSTEAD OF A INSATIABLY INTERESTING IDEA… AND WHY NOT JUST GO WITH THAT? YOU KNOW?

  9. [...] Film critic Hulk on action movies (3/3) – Kandee lukea myös aiemmat osat [...]

  10. Reint said

    That was epic. Thanks, Hulk & Tom.

    (sorry for not having anything more meaningful/constructive to add right now. Eh.)

  11. You sort of covered it in your footnotes but the notion of veracity is too often neutered by carpet bomb marketing. Not completely of course because I watch action movies all the time that I’m quite familiar with and sequences can retain their action potency but most modern movies tip their hands so heavily (and thus contextualized to largely exist on their own in a vacuum) that these scenes are reduced to formalities and cannot survive as the propulsive elements they should be.

    Also I think too much criticism of 300 dances around how much Snyder was trying to replicate, with specificity, Miller’s artwork. His command of this stuff is much stronger than too many are willing to give him credit for.

    Brilliant work though guys. Like a tonic relative to what passes for discussion on the current state of anything movie online.

  12. Haversack said

    Loved the series of posts HULK. Also I was wondering how you would rate the actions sequence in this Red vs Blue episode. It was a great surprise when I saw it originally.

    http://roosterteeth.com/archive/?id=1344&v=more&s=8

  13. [...] et enfin les 3 articles de HULK, que je lirais en entier un jour [...]

  14. Mark said

    Hi Hulk —

    I know I’m way late on this one, and I should be grading homework instead of commenting on this, and also I may have skipped the vast majority of the post to come to the end and comment on this one stupid thing, and also I haven’t had time to really put my thoughts in order (see aforementioned grading) so this may come out very garbled, but… *deep breath*

    Okay, the Bourne Supremacy. And shaky-cam. I’m watching it in a tiny rectangle on my relatively small laptop screen and I see what you’re saying, there’s a consistent thread of events linking the whole thing up, and I see how that compares favorably with the scene from The Rock. But it still falls down on that sometimes, even in the tiny little rectangle on my laptop. There’s a guy shooting a gun. No, there’s two guys shooting guns. Which of them is shooting now? Should I not at least be able to tell which of the guys is shooting, which direction they are pointing the gun, and what they did or did not hit? Where is the thread of guys with their cars stuck together shooting at each other? I have no idea.

    And yes, okay, it does a good job implying chaos. There goes a street sign. What did it say? Who knows, Jason Bourne was hurtling down the street and he’s hurt and there’s like twenty guys chasing him and he doesn’t have time to read street signs, man. This is basically the exact opposite of the Jason Bourne we saw in movie #1, the guy who ripped emergency-evacuation plans off walls to find his way through unfamiliar buildings while people screamed around him — but okay, part of the idea of the movie is that he’s (for various reasons) uncentered, way off balance, not his usual collected self, and the whole scene (and probably the cinematography of the movie as a whole) reflects that. Fine, I can swallow that as an argument.

    But here’s the thing. I went and saw that movie when it came out. On a big screen, not in a little rectangle where I can appreciate nuances of camera bobbing and fast shutter speeds and whatever else is going on because I don’t know much about this. And I walked out with one of the more massive, pounding headaches of my life. Because that slightly disorienting camera never, ever stops (watch the guy walking out of the store! bounce, wave, LEG, FOOT, pattern in floor goes all wibbly, WHEE motion sickness!), and because when action happens it gets even worse and the sound was ridiculous (I watched it this time with the sound off, but you bet I remember wishing I’d brought three sets of earplugs) and I’m tensing up my neck muscles just thinking about it. It was a godawful movie-going experience, is what I’m saying here, probably the worst of my life. I couldn’t have told you if there was a thread from the theater door to my car, much less from loud disorienting headache-inducing camera shot to the next.

    And yeah, I was probably biased against it because the whole experience was so disconnected from the first film, it violated all my expectations. I saw the first one in a crummy little auditorium that did second-run films in college and I remember sitting with my mouth open at the end of the scene in the park where the cops poke him with batons and three seconds later BAM POW they’re both on the ground, he’s holding one of their guns, nobody in the audience has the faintest idea what happened even though it was all shown plain as day, and somebody in the front row, clear as a bell, said “Holy SHIT” and it was what we were all thinking. And they did not need shaky-cam to obscure any of it, make it disorienting, or convey an impression of general un-balanced-ness. It was true for all the fight scenes in the film. Nobody could tell what Bourne was doing even though we all watched it happen. Compared to that, the second one just looks like lazy filmmaking to me.

    And yeah, again, you can make the argument that now Bourne himself is off-balance (even moreso than in the first one, I guess?), less in control, and it’s a stylistic choice to support that with shaky-cam. Or maybe there’s even some other reason to do it that way that I haven’t thought of. But, if that’s the argument, then I argue that the first film, and many other films besides, show you don’t NEED the shaky-cam to convey that and, furthermore, that if you’re making a movie that induces physical pain in the viewer, you are in all probability doing something wrong. (Unless that’s really your intention, but don’t expect me to buy your movie on DVD!)

    You can also make an argument that the disorienting camera does not need to be omnipresent in a film, but can be used precisely for some shots, or that even shaky-cam can be something more controlled than random images flashing by on a huge screen as you jolt the camera so badly that each frame is utterly disconnected from the last. Those are good arguments. I wish somebody had made them for Jason Bourne.

    Anyway… I see where it’s better than The Rock in editing and (theoretical) overall execution, but as a filmgoing experience it was fucking terrible for me, and it’s basically left me with a “SMASH SHAKY-CAM” approach to everything. If I can borrow your phrase for a moment.

    Am interested in your thoughts on this (in my view) sub-par aspect of the shaky-cam in the Bourne sequels, if you have any.

    • Juan said

      I have to agree completely. I found that Bourne Supremacy actually used Shaky Cam in what Hulk describes as the wrong way. It distracted. The tangible detail that comes to mind is when the tunnel car chase ended.

      Specifically, Bourne is holding a gun pointing it at the bad guy who is incapacitated in his car. The chase is over. This is a big emotional moment where Bourne decides NOT to kill this man who is responsible for his lover’s death. And the camera is so wildly all over the place that I was unable to see the expression on Matt Damon’s face. His performance was lost to me and I actively noticed the camera. This wasn’t chaos; the soundtrack was subdued, the action over. This was pure shaky-cam-for-no-reason frustration to me.

      It reminds me of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. A flawed film to be sure, but I was extremely frustrated by the fight between giants (one of which was Hyde) in the climax. I finished the movie unable to tell you a single thing that happened during that fight because I couldn’t see it.

  15. Jim Bond said

    Great article.

    I think it’s sad that you are discounting “cool” though. Just because it’s rarely combined with great action, doesn’t mean it cannot have great value.

    • FILMCRITHULK said

      HULK TOTALLY KNOW WHAT YOU MEAN BY THIS, BUT HULK CONSIDER IT A BYPRODUCT OF PUTTING THOSE OTHER THINGS FIRST IF THAT MAKES SENSE. FOR INSTANCE, MI4 ISN’T ALL THE CONCERNED ABOUT BEING COOL. IT WANTS TO BE EFFECTIVE. BUT IT’S EFFECTIVENESS AND NOT OVERLY CARING ABOUT BEING IS THE VERY THING THAT MAKES IT COOL. MAKE SENSE?

      BASICALLY, HULK FINDS ANY ATTEMPT TO OVER-CALCULATE IT A PROBLEMATIC ENDEAVOR. OF COURSE IT HAS VALUE, BUT YOU CAN’T REVERSE ENGINEER IT.

      WHICH MEANS THERE ARE MUCH BETTER PURSUITS TO ACHIEVING THAT END.

  16. RevolutionaryLoser said

    Thanks for clearing that up Hulk. I always wondered why trailers were so bad, now at least I know.

    It still leaves me in the same terrible dilemma. I’m afraid of watching a trailer because they usually ruin the whole film but if I don’t watch them I will occasionally miss out on the director screwing with me like in Drive, Sucker Punch, Inglorious Basterds or (I have to add) Hancock where the trailer created a particular expectation that resonated with my experience of the film.

    I find spoiler trailers tend to advertise sort of boring films, but still, occasionally a film with an awful trailer will be quite good and I know that the trailer might ruin everything.

  17. Casshern said

    There is a Anime movie call Sword Of the Stranger and the action is so mind-blowing amazing that I need to recommend it. I think the director Masahiro Ando is a really talented guy. He is an animator who always made action animation and is really good doing storyboards and layouts for action scenes as well. His action is pretty fast and intense but very well made and put together, is like you are inside the action and at the same time you can still figure out what is going on.

    BTW I think Akira Kurosawa was really good filming action scenes as well, the battles scenes in Seven Samurai and Ran are pretty impressive even today.

    • I also highly recommend Sword of the Stranger, never heard of it until my neighbor had me watch it, but it is gorgeous in its fight choreography and a compelling story. Also, thanks Hulk for the excellent essays.

  18. [...] EXPLAIN ACTION SCENES! (WITH TOM TOWNEND!) – DAY 1, DAY 2, DAY 3 – A GIANT WRITE UP ON HOW TO APPROACH ACTION IN CINEMA AS “VISUAL STORYTELLING” [...]

  19. Thank you for doing this Hulk and Tom, as well as making it free to the public. I’m hatching a comic/flash animation series that I really want to show good martial arts in and I think this knowledge will be a useful resource. BTW I had found you only earlier this week and I am absolutely pouring through your content.

  20. oh, man… in the middle of writing a comic right now, thought i’d give this article a re-read… and now i think i am paralyzed. TOO MUCH THINKINGNESS! now i must just try to make my story as un-stupid as possible.

    that’s asking a lot.

    anybut, thank you for always having amazing structural insight, comics and films are so similar as story presentation, it’s all fascinating on it’s own, but also applicable to things i’m always worrying about, craft-wise. thanks again and

    cheers!
    ben c

    • FILMCRITHULK said

      JUST CONCENTRATE ON THE VISUAL STORY YOU ARE TRYING TO TELL AND LET THAT DICTATE!

      CHEERS AND BEST OF LUCK!

  21. […] article about cinema fight scenes, which conforms to many of the same rules a comic has to, check out this.) With the action movie came a new kind of fight scene, one still popular today. These new scenes […]

  22. Bret said

    Aside from the films you mentioned, what movies do you think are worth examining to learn how to do action well? Are there any directors who don’t use 2nd and 3rd units who actually do it well?

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