Media Production Mentoring

Free online film school designed with beginning filmmakers in mind.


Comic(book) Relief

Fifteen minutes into my first viewing of Saving Private Ryan, I turned to my friend and asked, "Are they going to keep this up for the next two hours?"

We're not wired in such a way as to sustain continuous abuse. To escape on-going pain in life we turn to coping mechanisms. In media, we turn to something else. Drama lives off conflict. For it to affect us it has to matter. But for things to matter, they often have to be pretty intense. But when things are intense for too long, we shut down. So filmmakers have the difficult job of keeping you on the edge, but letting up enough so you don't tune out.

This break from the action is often accomplished through comic relief. Those two totally obnoxious characters that have absolutely nothing to do with the story? They're in the movie to give you something to laugh at when things get too intense.

Bollywood films employ song and dance. When things are getting too hot, the whole town turns out to sing about it.

Sucker Punch takes a different tack. To escape the intense brutality of the unfolding drama, we are given "guy movie" eye candy: Girls in miniskirts taking out bad guys.

Comic(book) relief totally works for me. Song and dance is my second choice. But I typically find comic relief distracting, annoying and detrimental to a movie. I really like that filmmakers are exploring alternate ways of breaking the tension. And, in the case of Sucker Punch, they killed it!

 ~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor


Sucker Punch: Wins and Losses

Revenge flicks have long bothered me. You spend two hours watching the characters you care about get hurt, harassed, horrified and humiliated. Then, in the last couple of minutes, you get to watch the villain die to a bullet through the head.

Hardly seems fair.

But Sucker Punch demonstrates why this has to happen. For a wound to hurt, it has to be a wound you feel. When you're taking out steampunk Nazis, you don't feel for them. When you're slicing an evil robot in half, you cheer. When you take out a samurai wielding a wicked-huge gun, you clap your hands in glee. But when your sister gets shot right before your eyes by a heartless crime lord... oh, you feel it.

When two of your friends are murdered before your eyes, it hurts.

The win is temporary. More demons will follow the last wave. But the loss is permanent. Your sister is not coming back from the dead.

Sucker Punch is an excellent reminder that over-the-top stylized violence can be a ton of fun while, at the same time, a single bullet can rip your soul open. There's an emotional connection with the characters you care about. In an age when some blame violent media with school shootings, I take a different perspective. Violent movies themselves demonstrate the difference between enemies and allies. We do not become the heartless, soulless, faceless monsters our characters destroy. Instead, something else must happen in the mind of a murder. The victim must not be a victim. The person you kill must become a monster, a barrier, a fiend. Thus, our desensitization comes not from over-stimulation but dehumanization.

The win, then, is that violent media is not the problem. The loss, however, is that we can so easily mistake a person for a parasite.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor


Sucker Punch: Shallow Tales

[NB: This post contains huge spoilers for Sucker Punch.]

On the heels of her mother's death, a young woman escapes the sexual advances of her evil stepfather. He then threatens the young woman's little sister. In her attempts to save her sister, the young woman accidentally shoots her and is carried off to an insane asylum.

We're not even five minutes into the movie.

By the end, this young woman has brought together a band of frightened girls who are then willing to sacrifice their lives for one another. They use their unique skills and opportunities to complete their goals. Meanwhile, they are hounded by a powerful adversary who is on to their every move. In the end, the young woman must learn what freedom is and how much sacrifice is required to attain it.

I ask you: Is this a shallow story?

It's not happy. It's not pleasant. It's not particularly complicated. There are no huge "reveals" that make a good guy bad or a bad guy good. But it's certainly not shallow. In fact, this story has at least as much to say about love and loss as Romeo and Juliet... with higher motivations.

I don't understand how critics miss this. Granted, I was sucker punched by the story. I didn't know this period piece was going to be the foundation of a film about cute girls beating up samurai, Nazis, dragons and robots. But it hits you and it hits you hard.

My guess is that Sucker Punch suffers the same fate as The Village. In fact, both films share a similar rating arch. The issue is not with either movie, but with film-going critics who can't accept the fact that they saw a film with a story not spelled out for them in the trailer. For what ever reason, critics complain about lack of depth when a movie pulls a punch on them.

That's unfair.

Say you didn't like the story. Complain about how it wasn't executed excellently. Admit it hurt too much. Confess that your expectations were shattered. But don't complain that it's a shallow tale when you are simply out of your depth.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor


Old Spice: Behind the Scenes

How do you make a crazy complex commercial in what appears to be a single take?

Well, you take the time to create a crazy complex set and shoot the commercial in one take. That's how. See for yourself:

Old Spice: Behind the Scenes

Granted, you also need to have a very talented group of computer graphics people to "fix it in post" as well...

 ~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor