Monday, 12 February 2018

The Dreaded HOUR

Hour-long documentaries seem to be about 10 times tougher to make. But many commission editors want them. They fill the schedule and are often cheaper. Erkki and I have watched (separately) the two-hour-long docs we produced. Both of us came to the same conclusion – they should be cut by half. A lot of boring hour (and longer) docs are circulating, especially film festivals. I saw one (forgot the title) at the Woodstock film festival. It was about woman singers from the Middle East. I stayed for only 25 minutes because all the women did was talk. Not one song was sung. But I was impressed that they got the financing.

Chasing Esa-Pekka, 2008
When 'Chasing Esa-Pekka' (Esa-Pekka Salonen, at the time conductor of the Los Angeles Symphony Orchestra) was commissioned we knew we had a hard task. Music (especially about a classical music conductor) is the worst. I mean, there's the orchestra (they almost all look the same) and the conductor waving a baton around, even though he is good looking and a celebrity. The Shark (LMP story editor) pointed out some pitfalls:

  1. Several docs had been made about Esa-Pekka and like other stars in their field who have been interviewed a lot, he tended to repeat himself. She told me not to fall in love with my subject. 
  2. Ask tough questions. 
  3. Find stories and make sure they connect. 
  4. Shoot in as many different locations as the budget will allow. 

That part was fun, because we decided to go to Los Angeles to film the Walt Disney Concert Hall, Milan, where Esa-Pekka studied, Stockholm, where he would appear with other famous music people. London, where his new piano concerto would be introduced by the great pianist Yefim Brofman. Along the way, we interviewed a lot of famous music people. In retrospect, too many.

Most hour, or longer, documentaries don't deserve an hour. But I saw an exception: 'The Music of Strangers: Yo Yo Ma'. It packed a happy wallop. First of all the 'strangers' were fantastic musicians and engaging characters. A couple stood out (Yo Yo Ma didn't take center stage. He was just part of the troupe). And gave other cast members more footage. They must have had a healthy budget, because the whole bunch, plus crew, went to all sorts of exotic locations. The documentary was relaxed and casual – like friends getting together for a barbecue and playing music. If you're planning to make an hour doc remember the Shark's three hard and fast rules:

  1. No long car driving scenes to eat up footage.
  2. No long conversations on the phone.
  3. Keep your 'talking heads' to a minimum. Unless they're like the doc that Erkki raves about where two scientists do nothing but talk for an hour and a half. But then he's a science geek.

Sources: personal experience

Next week: Fishing for FINANCING

Note on ROBOTS WAR: Erkki wrote an informative review of some of the new AI gear he's using and and a PS. But AI, and other tech advances, are also part of the problem. Ray Dalio, founder of Bridgewater, the world's largest hedge fund, and a billionaire, thinks the next financial meltdown will be caused by the rising income-inequality between the top and the bottom 60 to 80%. But kind of work will the bottom 60 to 80% do? Ray Dalio didn't have the answer.

Source: 'Lunch With' – Finacial Times Weekend

In addition to that scientist discussion series Maggy mentioned, i've been glued to the screen by a three hour long grainy VHS that consisted only of a screenshot of the Lightwave 3D animation software, with an occasional cut to the instructor guru's face (whom i later got to know BTW, thanks to the wonders of the Internet). The point here is not to take away from what Maggy wrote above, i definitely do agree with the rules of thumb, but to once again underline that the story is the king. And the despot can be a good one even if naked. The emperor's clothes do not matter much really, even the prettiest wardrobe will not help a tyrant. In other words, if you're truly interested in the subject, and you get the information you crave, all the filmmaking glitz is pretty irrelevant. You will still happily watch the whole thing, even if it's two hours. Or three.

- Eki

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