3.14.2014

House of Cards Season 2

Season 2 of House of Cards feels much like round-robin writing or a Mad Lib. Each episode containes so many disjointed elements I was actively distracted and bothered by them. There is no cohesive flow. But we'll get to that in a moment.

Let's start with a minor positive. Unlike in the first season, Frank Underwood appears to actually do things intentionally at the start of Season 2. He takes action and stuff happens. The first several episodes are a blessed relief after the frustration of my previous experience. Then, with agonizing predictability, the story disappears to the point where Frank and friends no longer really do anything. It's like the Star Wars "prequels" which are brilliantly dismantled by Red Letter Media (please note: this ain't your Red Letter Bible. These videos contain f-bombs and lots of inappropriate content. But the clip above brilliantly demonstrates the disappointment of the characters in Cards. Compared to the content in the show we are discussing, you should be fine). Too much of the tale is spent waiting around for something good to potentially happen to our "protagonist." Maybe.

Despite the continued problems, the show maintained a certain level of interest. The show is well-produced. I don't recall much from season one (a bad sign for the quality of the story), but this season feels smaller. We don't get out much from the few rooms to which we are confined. In that sense, I felt a bit like Rachel and that hacker guy, trapped by house arrest and only allowed contact with a couple people.

Rachel. She's probably my biggest disappointment. Not because of her character but because of what the show does to her. I'm of course talking about the lesbian thing.


Girls are easy

I don't have a problem with lesbians in television or movies, per se. It's just that it's too often lazy and lame. I get that a show trying for sex appeal would have girls making out while naked. But it has to make sense. And these girls do not make sense as lovers. Not because it's not possible. I've read about girls who meet in church, are part of leadership, do lots of Bible study together only to end up physically involved with one another. That makes sense with how physicality works for women (see more in Why Gender Matters by Dr. Sax). But in the context of the story -- how they meet, what they do while together, their personal interests -- it doesn't fit. Rachel's lover is little more than a Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Their "love" is tacked on for titillation, not story. bewbs! Really, there was so little about these two girls and their sexual attraction, it was the first glaring instance of writers adding in something that the next writer simply couldn't believe, which is why it never developed into anything more than a reason to cry for a few seconds when they had to break up for now.

But I think I get it. To allow for some religious overtones, we need to make them lesbian lovers who find connection in spirituality, helping kids, and making out. Only then will our post-religious, overly-ironic target audience accept this as "real" ... or, at least, acceptable for a show about absolute power corrupting absolutely.

This is a pet peeve, but if you're going to read Scripture, do us the courtesy of reading the whole passage. Don't just skip the last part of Ephesians 4:31-32 because you don't like saying Jesus Christ if it's not an expletive. Modern culture is woefully ignorant of the Bible and Christian thought. Please stop making us even more ill-informed.

Rachel, of course, leads to Doug. [By the by, there would have been much better Doug and Rachel tension had the girls just been friends from the Fellowship, both thematically and as part of the story.] Like Peter in Season 1, Doug is the only character I have any kind of empathy for in Season 2. He's the only one who actually struggles and has any kind of character arch. He's trying to be a better person, but his infatuation with this girl is messing with him. He doesn't know how to handle it. And that's good because it gives room for a story. You know, those things television shows should be about. But, like Peter, before we can actually explore such a story, that line runs dead.

What about Freddy? He goes through stuff, right? I mean, there's a whole episode devoted to him. Doesn't he have an arch? No. He makes ribs, suddenly has a kid of convenience, and loses. The end. I will say, however, that this was the one moment where I felt Kevin Spacey was actually allowed to demonstrate his ability in subtle acting.


He cares

What about the reporter guy? He's in prison or something. Not much story there.

Claire? She created a bill as a cover to a scandal which was a cover to a news thing and we're supposed to believe she deeply cares about it? Confused writers, perhaps? Meh. Nope, she's still there just as filler. And, unlike Season 1, I don't think Robin Wright has much opportunity to act.

So Season 2 of House of Cards is a character puff piece whose writers constantly had to fight each other to try to keep the story moving somewhere sane. They failed. We're conned into being interested by the meltdown around us, like gawking at a house fire. But who the characters are, why they do what they do, and the vacuous vacancy of anyone who actually accomplishes anything still leaves me wishing there was a story in there. A man who rises through the ranks of government by dumb luck while betraying and destroying others because it may -- or, just as likely, may not -- help his cause is not a story. We're left with this Southern drawling monster man in an empty room as he taps the table.

Why?

Because the entire journey is empty, lonely, and amounts to nothing more than a double tap. ...and not even a clever one like Zombieland.

As we look toward Season 3, I find the only thing I'm interested in is if (and how) Rachel and her lover are going to try to get back at Frank, and what he's going to do about it. Kill her in Episode 1? That'd be redundant. And lame. Much like what happened here. When Frank told me not to worry about the kitten because she'd have eventually grown claws, I didn't feel anything for the girl. Her death was implausible enough, the "shock value" was out of the blue enough, and her character was pointless enough -- nothing more than story convenience and skin from that girl -- that her death hardly registered at all.

What is House of Cards Season 2? A detached, cynical look at a world of business and politics and relationships between selfish, evil people who care about money and power for their own sake, not because these characters would do anything of substance with money or power if they had it.

Reminds me of a passage from Scripture: Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. (I Timothy 6:9-10)

Perhaps the writers are teaching the Bible after all...

 ~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

2.16.2014

Everything is awesome!



Pretty much.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

2.14.2014

Image Inspiration: A Single Lamp



Sometimes all you need is a single lamp.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

2.01.2014

Use Visual Analogies to Express a Complex Idea

In films, your audience typically doesn't know what's going on. That's why you're telling them the story. But too often there is a tremendous amount of information you need to convey to them. Where are they? When are they? What's going on? It's even worse if you're doing something sci-fi or technical, such as medicine or time travel.

You could have an actor say something incoherent and implausible (employing something like Star Trek's technobabble). This works if "how it works" doesn't matter one whit to the story. You can have your characters simply talk about the Turbo Encabulator and move on.

Conversely, you could make your movie about the incomprehensible nature of time travel, and simply talk in technical terms without regard for your audience. Feeling lost is part of the experience (a la Primer).

But many films walk somewhere in-between these two extremes.

This is where a simple visual analogy can work wonders. Have a character more in-the-know than your protagonist or curious bystander explain the situation to a four year old. Not literally. But what picture could you show a child that would help the kid grasp the situation? Find that, and your audience can follow along.

Example: Your characters have just managed to survive a harrowing trip through a jungle with robots or monsters or aliens in pursuit. The small band has made it into an ancient temple. There is a pause in the action.

Tom: Is this real?
Sam: Real enough.
Tom: So we're in a computer, like Tron or the Matrix?
Sam: Those were separate worlds. This one is more...

Here he interlinks his fingers.



And the audience understands.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

1.30.2014

Aside: How She Really Feels


I'm sure eventually Yamada will tell you how she feels. How could she not?

Then we hold on this shot for a moment, letting the irony sink in. See, this girl's been holding back her secret feelings from him for about as long as she's been alive.

Sometimes you gotta give you audience a chance to get it. Taking an uncomfortably long time to get to the next moment nudges your viewers to recognize what's going on underneath.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

1.25.2014

Bookend the Montage of Change

We know that with just a glance we can show the audience exactly what's going on in our character's head. We've also seen how alcohol can show a character's deepest hurts. But often we need to get a character (not to mention the audience) from one state of mind to another in a very brief amount of time. Enter the montage. These sequences of images and moments can cover a tremendous amount of ground in very little time. And if you want your audience to know that the character has changed, it's simple. Use a bookend to flip your character's development from one side to the opposite.

Example:

Have your character politely refuse a drink at the start of the sequence.


Champagne?

Run through stuff that shows she is getting caught up in this new life. Then, end with a shot of her and a glass of champagne.


The Start of the End

It's that simple.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

1.18.2014

How Cardboard Can Save Your Shot

Cardboard "cookies" can help you produce some amazing lighting effects, like the photo I shared back in 2008:


A Light and a Cookie

Just as often you need large pieces of cardboard to block unwanted light. Back in my college days we used a box to block a window to make it look like night in the room:


Blocking Light from a Window

So I was a little surprised to see a shot from a 2013 film completely ruined by unwanted light. It took me a moment to figure out why the shot felt so odd. It was raining and the image was "off" somehow. What was it?


Rain?

I've lived in Colorado long enough to have experienced sunshowers, but this wasn't one. The main character kept moving in an out of the shadow, causing the distracting harsh light to be all the more distracting. They could have "sold" the shot by simply getting a large piece of cardboard to cast a shadow where he was standing.

Or have him take four steps back into the shadows.

Remember: Simply spraying your actors with water does not "sell" rain. Watch for the little details and fix them. Sometimes it's as easy as getting a piece of cardboard.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

10.19.2013

Aside: The Whole Truth

A guy--dude #1--really wants to get back together with this girl who happens to be an attorney. Unfortunately, she used to be with his best friend who didn't know that Dude 1 and the ex had a thing. But the girl let it slip and now Dude #2 knows about it. Given his blessing, Dude 1 says...


Now that the whole truth, and nothing but, is out ...is there a chance now for you and me?

I enjoyed the word play on "swearing in" in court (made even better by the fact that he is picking her up after work at the courthouse).

 ~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

9.09.2013

Save Time Shooting Where Possible

VGHS Season 2 during one of the many car action scenes, I notice something:


A GoPro taped the hood of the car

Why is it there? They needed a Point of View (POV) shot for the video game's driver perspective. To save time and resources, they got both shots they needed in one take. At least, that's my guess. And how many people noticed the GoPro?

No idea.

But, like the cameraman in the frame of 24, it doesn't matter. I only noticed the camera because I'd had a similar rig for one of my projects and I rewound to make sure I was seeing it right. The rest of the world? They shouldn't care. In fact, FreddieW himself said much the same thing after watching OK Go's This Too Shall Pass.

There are many, many times where it's far better to save time on set than to do something twice if you don't have to.

Shoot fast. Save time, money, sanity. And if someone notices the video camera stuck to the front of your car, if they're having fun with your show, it's not going to bother them in the least.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

P.S. Right after publishing this post, I noticed there's another camera taped to the back. ...and the side.