Comet Tale Productions is a Boston-based video production house. We hope that through this blog you will learn more about the behind-the-scenes of corporate video.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Comet Tale Pivot

Some of you may have noticed that the Comet Tale blog has been dormant for a little while. The reason being that we are going through a period of self-evaluation. Once the process is complete, we will have a new, sleek look and focus and will get back to producing wonderful blog posts for you to enjoy.

The Comet Tale Team

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Who even writes letters any more?

Despite the fact that everything about anything is available on the internet, I have a soft spot for libraries. As Matt Damon says in his Good Will Hunting rant: “you blew 150k on an education you could have gotten for $1.50 in late fees from the library.” While I don’t think a college degree is completely useless, there is something to be said for the resources that are available to knowledge-seekers. My most recent foray into the library has been for copywriting books (stay tuned for some Comet Tale advertisement mock-ups).

Typically, I get the call number for one book, head to the general section and browse through the stacks. It’s exciting to look through the sheer number of books written on any given subject, and to come across quirky books that don’t make the college reading lists but that have character. Without browsing the stacks, I never would have come across the gem that is Robert L. Shurter, Ph.D’s Effective Letters in Business.

First published in 1948 and reissued in 1954, Shurter’s book comes with all the trappings of the post-war, Pleasantville era. Just to give you an idea of its tone, here are some excerpts:

“Today, the indented form is practically obsolete because it requires unnecessary stenographic time for margins and punctuation.” They actually used typewriters. How archaic. (writers’ confession: I actually have three typewriters myself)

“For more general purposes, his language is called Gobbledygook (the sound a turkey gobbler makes when it struts) or Bafflegab (‘multiloquence characterized by consummate interfusion of circumlocution’).”

“Can your stenographers take dictation at the rate of 120 words a minute? I can—and I am eager to prove that such speed does not lessen my accuracy.”

The parallels between the business letter and the business e-mail seem pretty apparent so even though I read the book for a fun look into the past, some of the advice was still quite pertinent today. I won’t highlight everything, instead I’ll just mention two of the points that Shurter brings up early.

When writing a letter, Shurter recommends taking the “you attitude.” Rather than focusing on your own needs, phrase your letter so that it keeps the reader in mind. The principle of content marketing takes this idea and runs with it. Rather than use a blog to shout your offerings to the world, provide the world with information that is useful to them. Frame your posts in an entertaining and informative fashion that imparts benefit upon the reader.

In addition, Shurter warns against the perils of jargon. There really is no point in writing if your audience will need to have several encyclopedias and reference books by his or her side to decipher your text. If your epistolary constructions employ copious amounts of legalese, medicalese, or any other –ese, you might as well write in Greek. To connect with your readership, write like your readership.

If you have some free time at your disposal, I would definitely recommend looking through Shurter’s text. Sometimes customs of ages past can be re-incorporated to much effect in the present.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Art of Marketing - Harvey Simmons

Last August, Comet Tale had the chance to interview Evertrue’s Dean of Marketing, Harvey Simmons (@HOSimmons4). Amidst the quiet of the pre-lunch crowd by the South Station food trucks, Harvey’s bright green pants made a loud entrance. While some ascribe to the idea of “casual Friday,” Evertruers take Friday as a chance to have a little fun and dress to the nines. Over the delicious noodles of Bon Me (food trucks seem to fit well within the startup mold with their quality, fast, and mobile service), Harvey began to discuss the art of marketing.

Comet Tale: To start with, could you just tell us a little about your marketing experience?

Harvey Simmons: As I was going into my senior year, I worked for an agency in New York City called Landor Associates, part of the WPP group and it was very much a big brand play. You get to work with clients like Verizon and we did a big campaign for West Point as part of our internship projects. But for me, I wanted to work with something where you feel more closely aligned with the business. I think the benefit of agency life is that you can work with and touch all these different things but it’s cool to be on the other side—to be working internally within a marketing department. I got the startup bug during my senior year when I met with Mike Del Ponte, a BC alumnus, who went on to go to Yale divinity school then went on to create this program for student entrepreneurs who were particularly interested in social innovation and social entrepreneurship. He was talking at BC about that and from there he introduced me to the concept of Branch Out which was essentially LinkedIn on Facebook. So I worked remotely in Boston for their office in San Francisco and created a marketing associate program which extended to about 15 different campuses along with Kevin Hylant who now works at SCVNGR, now Level Up. We worked to get the word out there, user acquisition, and user feedback from a young student perspective from all these different campuses and that really made me realize I wanted to work for a startup.

I got the vibe of what their culture was like and it seemed to be very fast paced: do now apologize later type mentality which is super relevant for anybody who wants to work in a startup. The flexibility for creativity and the getting stuff done mentality really appealed to me. I looked around Boston, landed at Hubspot for a while and learned a ton. Met some amazing people. I realized pretty quickly though that I didn’t want to do sales so I started networking through things like Greenhorn Connect and through things like MITX. Through that and through Techstars I connected with our founder Brent Grinna and from there I’ve been with Evertrue for about two years now doing very much an inbound marketing focused strategy. Hopefully now that our products are becoming more fully fledged we can start doing more product marketing.

Comet Tale: To take it back in time a little further when did you know you wanted to do marketing?

HS: I was a philosophy major and I thought I wanted to be a lawyer. I was set up in logic class and started studying for the LSAT and then I took a course with Gina Caruso in the communications department. It was like advertising 101 and I just fell in love with it. We did this project on D’Angelos and it was totally out there and a little bit wacky but we had a ton of fun with it and I was just like this is what I want to do. It’s that moment where the strategy meets creative that I find particularly rewarding. How can you come up with the research and understanding and the demographics and the market for the people that you’re trying to help and then look at how can I really convey what our company or our offerings or our products are going to do for them in a helpful way. You don’t want to help everyone in the sense that if your product can’t help everyone then you shouldn’t be selling to everyone. You want to market and sell only to people to whom you can make a substantial difference in their lives and make them happier and make them more successful and make them reach a better understanding of who they are.

CT: Now that you’ve been doing it for a couple years, what keeps you coming back? What continues to fuel the passion?

HS: In some capacity it’s been a transition from an interest in just marketing to an interest in startups and the innovation economy here in Massachusetts. There is such an amazing community in Boston that’s super open and very mentorship driven. The amount of access that you can gain to people in this community and the amount that people want to help each other out is surprising. I didn’t expect coming right out of school that I would be able to meet so many people who would want to push me further along in my career. Since I’ve graduated things like Startup Institute and and even now General Assembly are starting to take root in Boston. They’ve really provided this additional learning layer on top of the pre-existing startup community that had already come to be. You take a look at things like that and things like MITX that has marketing hacakthons where you go in and talk to startups.

Marketing can mean a bazillion things. It can mean the billboard you see on the road, it can mean that AdWords campaign when you’re searching for something on Google. It can mean the positioning of me telling you what my company does or an ebook. There’s a bazillion things marketing can be and when you look at the big picture, that’s when it can be very interesting from a startup’s perspective. Like what elements should they focus their attention on given the stage that they’re at and that becomes almost more of a question of business.

CT: How would you compare the startup marketing community as opposed to the bigger agency?

HS: I’m a little biased because I’ve spent way more time in the startup community than the agency side and my agency side was an internship in New York City that lasted like 2.5 – 3 months. I can really speak to the startup side by saying that its strength is the amount of assistance that people want to provide each other. It’s not like people are competing against each other because there might be one startup like Smarterer that’s providing an online testing platform that rewards people who understand different knowledge pieces through quizzes and then you’ll get a company like Runkeeper that’s a personal fitness trainer. Those two marketers can help each other without being in competition with each other because they’re totally different things but they’re both trying to acquire users. They’re both trying to improve their user experience, their design, and they’re both working on that positioning. There are a lot of transferable lessons that can be intermingled with startups that I feel agencies probably don’t have as much of an opportunity to touch. When I said earlier the cool thing about an agency is that you can touch all these different types of companies and all these different types of roles, well as you progress in the startup scene, the more you can touch different companies by talking with different people and different industries. You might not be contributing directly to their work, but you would be working with people who work on their company’s marketing every day.

CT: Could you talk a little about your Evertrue experience and how that’s been?

HS: It’s been extremely rewarding and a great learning experience. I think there is a very strong open culture that we have within our team that allows us to move faster than other organizations would. When I was at Hubspot I was probably the 250th, 300th employee somewhere around there. To go out and just do something that you really wanted to do would have been a lot more difficult than it would be in a company that was 8 employees when I joined but now is 25. That growth itself has been extremely interesting to see. What does a company look like when it’s 8, what does it look like when it’s 12, what does it look like when it’s 18, 20? It doesn’t sound like a big difference but 16 is two times as many people as 8 so that actually ends up changing a lot of the different ways a company is. In our case we maintained very much that friendly family type of nature. We’re at a really exciting juncture right now. We received our Series A from Bain Capital that allows us to support our mission even stronger. Our mission is really: to build stronger relationships in pursuit of a better world. I think even being a part of the process of coming up with a mission statement is pretty amazing and it’s going to be a few exciting years ahead.

CT: Startups aren’t new to the ideas of innovation and change. Marketing seems to be going through a big period of change itself with social media and social concepts entering the picture. How do you see it changing and what do you hope to do with that?

HS: Hubspot had this week their Inbound conference and had 5400 people in attendance there which without context might not sound like a ton of people but it’s pretty outstanding when you consider that this is their third or fourth year doing it. People are starting to realize that we’ve already made this transitional shift from being able to block out messages that come out to us. Really hard direct marketing is no longer super effective unless it’s extremely viral and even then it has a very short shelf life so what marketers have had to focus on now is how can I make my prospect or how can I make my user or how can I make my customer better at what they do? How can I make content that’s going to be useful for them? And how can I now use these social channels to talk to them in a one on one voice? Never before has it been so easy for a brand or a company or a startup to really interact with a customer base so transparently and in such a one on one manner. I think we’ve gone from direct marketing to this kind of inbound marketing so you can maybe call outbound to inbound and I think the next step is providing tools. So you’re going to see more and more brands providing free tools like software and really solid information pieces that can help their prospects or their consumers be better at whatever it is they’re trying to do.

CT: If you were to coin a term for this new form of marketing, what would you call it?

HS: Human, maybe. It’s just something that was a really popular theme during Inbound, the conference. How can we make the things that we’re doing less like machines and more like people. That for me is the super strong driver and one of the major reasons why I joined Evertrue early on. Fundamentally our platform is helping people meet—not online but actually meet in person and actually have an enriching experience through authentic communication which needs to happen more. There’s going to be, I think, a really strong push to that and mobile’s only been around so long. I don’t think we really know the power of it yet. We have to look away from the devices a little bit. Portable technology might even additionally change how we’re looking at everything internally at Evertrue.

We did a million step challenge where everybody in the office, and we have a blog post on it, wore a little chip and for 100 days we tried to hit a million steps. We almost all got there. It’s things like that that were cool and that we can talk about and relate to. It’s like, how do we make this big data quote unquote this buzz term, how do we make that human? How do we make that not just numbers and quantitative but actually bring the quantitative to qualitative? It would be mind blowing when it happens but we’ll eventually get there.

CT: I want to turn now to the reunion crashers video. I thought it was an engaging, fun parody. Could you talk a little about what went into the creation of that?

HS: For us I think we want to do more and more pieces of content like that. We decided it was time to take a risk and do something like that. We honestly had no idea what the response was going to be. We thought it was going to be strong. We kind of tested it out before launching it by getting some feedback from prospects and from customers and people who have had fun with us at reunions. We tend to have a really fun, approachable team so it just matched really well culturally for us and also as an internal piece we enjoyed it. I think it got a lot of turnaround in the startup community too which was also fun but the really nice thing was that it really spoke to our client base and the community we’re trying to connect to.

CT: Did you do that in-house or did you bring someone on for that?

HS: We did all of the copy in-house. The screenwriting was largely done in-house but we did have a producer/director [Courtney Petrouski] who helped with a lot of logistics on the day of and we had an awesome videographer as well [Elan Alexenberg] who took some killer shots and had some serious killer chops. I think it’s helpful to have consultation but nobody knows the market than the company that’s doing it so you can’t fake that. A lot of that has to come internally, particularly if you have the young people and the people who are creative enough to imagine those things.

CT: Looking towards the future what are you looking to do with video?

HS: Everything. I think we really want to always ask ourselves how can we incorporate video into this messaging that we’re doing. Hopefully as our team gets bigger we’ll have more resources and larger bandwidth to the point where we can do video for a majority of our marketing pieces and even for our customer pieces or onboarding pieces. We also use Wistia as our hosting service. We love those guys. All along the way we want to be able to interact with people through video because we think it’s extremely effective. 

Monday, September 23, 2013

How to make the most of your film freelancer - the basics

The first question when it comes to using a freelance crew for your corporate film is when to bring them onto the project. You know your company better than anyone so you can trust your copywriting studs to come up with a great script. Unless you have someone on your team who has experience in the film world, bringing on the director, producer, and even the cinematographer in the script-writing phase will give you a second set of eyes. Your writers know how to script compelling copy, but involving the major creative film forces (hereinafter referred to as the crew) early will benefit the final product.

The crew can spot any major concerns early and suggest solutions before too much energy or capital can be invested—such as suggesting alternatives to car chases, explosions and helicopter shots. In addition, involving the crew early ensures that everyone is working towards the same product. While this sounds like a given, the more exposure your crew has to the material, the more familiar they will become with your company, its message, and its culture which ultimately results in a solid piece.

In order to create this unity of vision, communication is key. The following items that should definitely be exchanged during the course of communication about a project aren’t revolutionary by any means, but sometimes it’s good to revisit the basics.

 The more the crew understands about the intent of the project, the better they will be able to deliver on the day. Creating a team atmosphere will ultimately result in a solid group effort. Some key points to make sure your freelancer understands:

(a) who is the intended audience? In all likelihood, you’ve determined the personas for whom you’re producing this project. Letting your crew know the intended audience gives them the opportunity to do their own research and understand the habits of that audience which in turn results in a more effective film.

(b) what is the tone of the piece? Your crew will approach a light, witty project in a far different way than a more meditative, thought-provoking piece. Feel free to use a bevy of adjectives to describe the feel as the more precise and thorough the description, the more vivid a picture your crew will be able to produce.

(c) where is the piece going to be displayed? A project that goes out in an e-mail blast will have a different feel than an explainer video on the front page of your website.

(d) where is piece going to be filmed? For a high-budget project, pre-production will encompass multiple days of preparation, scouting, and planning. If you’re working on something smaller, perhaps filming in your own office, it is still in your interests to have a day where the crew can see the physical space. They will look for where they can draw electrical power, where the sun will travel throughout the day, which areas offer the best visual potential, and other factors that are best determined at the physical location.

While it is important that the crew know what you’re thinking, it is just as important that you know what your crew is thinking. Some things to get from your crew are:

(a) some visual samples that represent something close to their vision. Not to be confused with a freelancer’s reel or portfolio, the samples should consist of some images that approximate the look and feel of your project. Some elements that you can begin to discuss before the day of filming include the lighting, the general composition of shots, and the overall pace.

(b) the schedule for the shoot. The amount of time necessary to film a project depends upon a number of different factors. The more crew members, the faster they will be able to set up. Scheduling the day with ample time to set up allows for the crew to work in an efficient and safe manner. Allotting enough time for lunch is also a key consideration when scheduling the shoot.

In the end, it all comes down to the flow of information. The more the freelancer is involved with and understands your creative team, the better your project will become.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Film Breakdown Friday: Werckmeister Harmonies


Yesterday, I wrote about how turning your video project into a film project is a mindset. In order for your video to move into the category of film, you have to invest the majority of your effort in pre-production and story. The film is made long before the first day of shooting.

Today is the first post in what will be a weekly series of film breakdowns. I’ll pick a clip from a movie, or corporate video and break it down into a couple bite sized chunks that you can consume and incorporate into your next project.

If you haven’t had a chance to see many foreign films, brace yourselves for this coming clip. Most commercial American movies have an incredibly fast paced editing rhythm. The following scene from Béla Tarr’s Werckmeister Harmonies occurs over the course of one long take. In order to pull up the English subtitles, you have to manually activate them by selecting the CC button in the lower right hand corner of the player and then selecting English subs.

Take a look at the scene:

The Breakdown

Béla Tarr is an extremely intentional director. His famously long shots are planned well in advance and he is able to see the movie in his head before it ever hits the silver emulsion of 35mm black and white film (and yes, despite films decline in popularity, Tarr continues to shoot on it). And that is what separates the directors of great films from the masses—the ability to take a strong personal vision and bring it to life on film.

The reason I picked this scene as the first film breakdown Friday is to show an incredibly intricate scene so that I can talk about storyboarding. Sure, anyone could set up a camera and have it run for eight and a half minutes but what makes Tarr’s scene from Werckmeister so powerful is the interaction between the camera and the scene itself. The camera is not a passive observer. It is an active participant in this scene subtly attuning the audience to the emotional tone of the moment.

I want to break down the scene into smaller chunks to show how the camera works to tell the story. There is a short bit of the beginning that this Youtube link is missing that gives a sense of the space before Valuska’s entrance. But as Valuska enters the bar, his movement opens up the frame from a tight shot of him and one of the drunks to a very wide shot of the entire empty bar. He now has a stage on which to perform his opening philosophical and astronomical monologue.

The next shift occurs as he corrals the barflies into position as the sun, earth and moon. The camera like our attention moves in to focus on Valuska and his model solar system. The proximity of the camera to our speaker gives us a sense of connection and safety as he twirls these drunken men around in circles. But the revelation of an eclipse results in yet another shift.

To the ancients, an eclipse was a terrifying event—day turning to night. With no scientific explanation for them, they determined that it was a bad portent. At first the camera moves in to a close up to reveal Valuska’s thoughts as he expounds upon the darkness of the eclipse, but as he proclaims the complete silence that arrives, the musical score enters and the camera begins to pull back. This move is the most powerful of the scene as the meditative silence of Valuska, the haunting beauty of the solo piano and the wide, high-angle shot all work in harmony to convey a sense of loneliness that the darkness brings.

But the eclipse cannot last forever. As the moon moves away and once again reveals the bright warmth of the sun, the camera too returns to its position of safe proximity. As it settles, all the men of the bar take up the waltz and for the first time in the scene, Valuska leaves the frame granting full autonomy to his drunken solar system.

In the closing moments, the bartender urges everyone to go home and the floor clears resulting in an almost cavernous emptiness. Valuska walks through the void and as he leaves, tells the bartender that “it’s still not over.”


Two of the key takeaways from this scene are (a) in order to execute a complicated choreographed scene, you have to plan everything in advance and (b) use the camera’s positioning and framing to enhance the meaning of your shot.

(a) The amount of planning that must have gone into filming this scene was immense. I’m willing to bet that the actors all rehearsed their movements many times. The cinematographer and gaffer watched those rehearsals like hawks and developed their lighting plot accordingly. But before anyone even set foot in that bar, Béla Tarr mapped that scene out in his head and put the major moments down on paper in storyboard form.

When planning to shoot your corporate film, make sure to take the time to think out every shot and how it will all interact together in the final product.

(b) The camera can be a powerful ally. The framing and composition of your shots will have a large impact of how the audience reacts to the image. Close up shots bring the audience close to your subject and allow them to see minute emotions. Wider shots give more of a sense of the setting. The size of the subject compared to the setting can convey a number of different things. The small figure of Valuska in the bar during the eclipse gives a profound sense of loneliness whereas the more crowded and closer view of the spinning barflies is safer and more comforting. Pay attention as well to the angle of the camera. A straight on eye-level shot is most common but if you move the camera along the vertical axis, you can elicit different responses. A low-angle shot where the camera looks up on an individual typically connotes power and the opposite high-angle shot connotes weakness.

As with any “rule” in film, everything is dependent upon specific circumstances at hand. But the way to ensure you are striking a chord with the audience is to know why you are implementing any technique. So long as you have a well-thought out reason for your actions, the audience will realize there is meaning even if they can’t specifically pinpoint what it is.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Corporate video vs. Corporate film

“I don’t make movies, I make films!” – Billy Walsh from Entourage

Film is a magical and dying medium. Only Kodak remains as the last bastion of motion picture film as Fujifilm announced the discontinuation of the vast majority of its film products. Celluloid has a certain panache and glamor associated with it. The silver screen; the golden age of cinema. Clark Gable, Claudette Colbert, Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn—all of these names and personas are immortalized on physical 35mm prints. The term “film” when referring to the work of art rather than the physical stock, has come to connote a certain degree of quality, craftsmanship, and artistic merit (One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, film; Transformers, movie).

In the corporate setting, video seems to be the buzzword. Personally, whenever I hear the phrase “corporate video” I cringe a little bit. To me, the term “video” is associated with home videos recorded on grainy 8mm film or a little handycam from Best Buy. Society is moving in an increasingly more visual direction. Our phones can now capture moving images. Vine and instagram allow for micro-sized movies to be shared with friends and family. As a result, it’s easy to whip some video content together on a phone and start creating a video footprint.

There is definitely a place for iPhone videos and Vines in marketing strategies. After all, they’re inexpensive to use, extremely portable and match the style of most normal social video content. At the same time, one can’t devalue the more polished side of the visual spectrum. Rather than think of a 30 second explainer video as a corporate video, approach it as a corporate film. A film tells a compelling story in a visually stunning way—in a way that connects on a deep and emotional level with audiences.

The best films are the ones with the best stories. Don’t think of film and fear Michael Bay sized budgets. Instead think of touching indie classics like this past summer’s The Way, Way Back. With a great story and a cinematic mindset, you can create a great corporate film.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

If it doesn't push, and it doesn't pull...

Every once in a while an embarrassing moment serves as a great teacher. Last night I was filming an event put on by VentureFizz and NextView Ventures—“designing product experiences that win.” I had my two cameras set up. One running off direct power and the other on battery. I knew that I was going to need to swap batteries partway through so I switched batteries between the networking portion of the event and the start of the panel to give the spare as much time as possible to charge.

As the power on my camera began to run down, I looked for an opportunity to break away for a moment to grab the battery on charge. I seized my moment and scampered to the room in which I had staged my equipment and found the door was closed. I pushed on the handle to no avail. It wasn’t a push door, so I pulled on it. Nothing. I immediately jumped to the conclusion that the door was locked. If it won’t push open and it won’t pull open, it has to be locked right? As I stood outside that door staring at my one spare batter (you can never have enough batteries), a woman next to me chimed in: “It slides.”

It slides. I easily opened the door and retrieved my battery. On the walk back to my camera, I realized how simple the solution to my problem was, but I was constrained by my perception of doors and couldn’t fathom a sliding one at that moment. At rest stops across the country, the doors are all labeled push or pull so that weary travelers don’t have to struggle trying one method in vain. In my mind, those were the only two options for how to open a door. Sometimes, when the two most obvious and seemingly only options don’t work there might be a third very simple option that gets overlooked.

Has there ever been a time when you found a third solution to a problem that seemed to have only two answers?

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

A Lesson from Fantasy Football

With the advent of the NFL season comes the arrival of fantasy football. If you’ve seen any of FX’s show The League, or know people who play fantasy, you’ll know that people can get pretty crazy about it. Ridiculous bets are won and lost, trash talk is colorful and inevitable, and in serious leagues the hoisting of the championship trophy can instill more pride than perhaps even the birth of a first born child.

As league commissioner of a robust 14 person league (anything with fewer than 12 teams is a joke, let’s be honest), I do my best to keep everyone connected. With members scattered across the globe (we have people on three different continents and across twelve hours’ worth of time zones), I decided to take full advantage of the video option for the League Commissioner’s notes.

Even though I’m capable of producing a quality, highly polished video (film one might even say), I use the webcam built into my laptop to record the videos I send out to my league. A snazzy, sizzling corporate film has its place, but not everything has to be rolling in production value. Bringing in a Condor crane for a fantasy football league video would be so much overkill. The important most important element of those league videos is to instill a sense of camaraderie and connectedness which takes nothing more than a webcam and some witty banter (and of course, plenty of trash talk). So when you’re thinking about incorporating video into your marketing strategy, take a minute to reflect on how important the production value is because in some cases, a webcam might do just fine.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Love that Dirty Water

Boston is a great city. It’s the only place I’ve called home. The Pru, the Hancock, the Custom House Tower. The smell of salt water from the harbor. The roar of the crowd as Mike Carp rips a grand slam. If you talk to any true Bostonian, they will defend their city with a fierce passion.

But no city is without its flaws. I mean, who lets a bunch of cows’ meandering design your streets? And despite the recent success of our sports teams, the first thirteen years of my life were but a small part of an 86 year drought (my heart goes out to any fans of the Chicago Cubs, you will have your day in the sun). But one strange rallying cry of the Boston people is The Standells’ song “Dirty Water.” The song doesn’t provide the most glowing review of our city, yet we own that song.

How many companies describe themselves as cutting edge, innovative, thought leaders that are revolutionizing the industry with big data? How many ninjas and mavens and pirates are running around on LinkedIn? Now I’m not saying that you should go around heralding the fact that your product will result in an extra unwanted appendage, but sometimes when you embrace the warts, you get a prince in return.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

How to Improve your Chances in the Hollywood Crapshoot: The Film School Question

So you're an aspiring filmmaker in your early 20s. You want to make films. Not just some half-cooked short film you may have created while in an undergrad production class, but a real film, really made - with real people who can truly define and brand themselves as filmmakers.

Not only that, you want to be a filmmaker in the industry. You want that glorified Oscar nomination... but you'd settle for Sundance. You want to travel to Cannes for your work.

You want Hollywood.

Best way way to get there? That's the tricky part. I've had aspirations to write a traditional 120-page Hollywood screenplay, submit it to a competition (and win), sell away my rights to it for a few cool million & get noticed in the biz. Just a few easy steps! I mean if JJ Abrams can do it, why couldn't I?

The cold hard truth is that is isn't as easy as that. Not everyone is as talented and successful as someone like JJ Abrams. Everyone who has that kind of talent doesn't necessarily also already have a connection in the biz - your parents. JJ's parents produced a few television shows in addition to him.

It's not formula. It's a crapshoot. How does one improve his odds in a crapshoot?  In order to make it in the film industry, one needs to have not only the drive, talent, & determination and a boatload of luck, but also the connections. The best way to attain these valuable connections if one isn't already born into them is film school.

Hollywood Reporter recently unveiled its annual list of top film school undergraduate & graduate programs, tallying votes from a bevy of industry professionals from the America Cinema Editors, Writers Guild of America West, and the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. But are they worth the money?

Top programs like University of Southern California's School of Cinematic Arts, Hollywood's own American Film Institute Conservatory Program, and NYU's Tisch School of the Arts are steep in price. The gamble you make, of course, is whether or not you'll be in student loan debt the rest of your life, which runs you close to about $100,000 on average for a two year MFA program. Have no fear! You pay that money back after you network with the big boys after graduation! Easier said than done.

But it's way more than networking. A smaller and relatively less expensive film program such as FSU's College of Motion Picture Arts, provides its students with an arsenal of industry cameras & lights. For free. Top programs like USC & AFI might not be even to provide that - you have to rent elsewhere. Granted, they give you grant money to rent & use them for your thesis films, but that's besides the point. The point I am making is this - you do get what you pay for when you pay for film school. Industry standard equipment is catastrophically expensive.

You'd never get a chance to play with with equipment like that, and learn all their intricacies, anywhere else. And if you plan to concentrate in cinematography rather than directing or screenwriting, you get to use that equipment to shoot plenty of films. MFA programs in directing and screenwriting can guarantee maybe only one thesis project that you can personally brand while in school. Cinematographers have the advantage of shooting multiple theses, which provide excellent sources for a reel to showcase your talent to industry professionals. More projects equals more diversity in your reel, which is more impressive than just one magnum opus, in my humble opinion. You have the opportunity to shoot multiple magni opi.

Which brings me to my next point: what to specialize in film school, if that's an option. I would suggest venturing down a path in cinematography for several reasons. For one, less people tend to concentrate in cinematography because the ones applying to grad school flock to the directing programs. Cinematography helps you out in admissions. I never personally understood this because I believe cinematography should be the most popular. You are actually behind the camera, and using it! Or you actually light the space yourself! The cinematographer is literally responsible for the visual, not the director. But, I digress.

The second reason is that a proficiency in cinematography means you know about both camera and lights; you are more responsible on-set because you are most likely more technically knowledgeable than everyone else. A director, yes, is the unspoken boss on-set, but really he is in charge of getting the best performance from the actors. A screenwriter loses his power once he sells his perfectly manicured script. After that, his input is rarely heard. They're not even allowed on set during production because their mere presence and potential complaints are an annoyance to the director. The director has final say in story elements & visual choices after that.

If the screenwriter is responsible for why the story is important, the director is responsible for what is important to show in that story, and the cinematographer is important for how everything comes into place - the real bare bones & all the guts and glory. You are more engaged with your work at hand, and isn't that the most important thing? Doing work you love because you're engaged with it?

The third reason is anyone can read a book about screenwriting, and then write a screenplay. You don't have to pay tuition to learn that. Yes, you get connections in film school, but a screenwriter can write as much as he or she wants and enter hundreds competitions and win prizes without a degree. This is true.   Cinematography, however, requires a certain skill set that can advance in levels in terms of proficiency; specific equipment is required that is not readily available to the layman, but is available to experiment with at top film programs.

Sure you can get an MFA in Screenwriting and apply for teaching jobs at the collegiate level and make a good living, but schools also tend to hire based on experience. Winning prizes in well renowned nationwide competitions shows you know how to write screenplays and is a substitute for that Masters degree. Pay hundreds of dollars to enter competitions or pay thousands of dollars in student loans to meet your end goal? That's the decision.

Last reason, you can still get noticed by making your own film without the help of one of these institutions. You can just max out all your credit cards to become ~$100,000 in debt to pay for equipment, locations, and permits like Kevin Smith did with Clerks, but that's a real silly gamble.

My real last reason to go to film school: you make not only industry connections at these graduate programs, but you meet friends. Film is a collaborative medium. You need to meet other people who are as invested in making movies as you are; it's not a hobby, it's a calling. And you filter out those who believe filmmaking is a hobby at film school. These are the ones you make truly great work with after you leave school. And that's when the fun begins.

At least that's my best educated guess, because that's where I hope to be later down the film school.

- Sebastian

Friday, August 30, 2013

The Power of the Still

Images are gripping, iconic, powerful. They define eras. Who hasn’t seen Dorothea Lange’s migrant mother of the Great Depression, the American soldier kissing a young nurse on V-J day, or the naked young girl burned by napalm in the Vietnam War. Three snapshots, three incredibly powerful images. Their power comes from that specific moment in time. The photographer captures that moment forever in the chemical reaction of silver and light—not the second before, not the second after.

With film, images are captured 24 times a second. That’s 24 individual still frames every second. So if the saying goes that a picture is worth a thousand words, then a minute of video is just a little shy of being worth 1.5million words. In great films, the composition of each shot is meticulously designed to the extent that a still taken from almost any moment will result in a powerful image capable of standing on its own.

Take the opening image of Francis Coppola’s The Godfather which shows a desperate man worked into a corner so that his only course of action for true Justice is to turn to the mafia.

Or the deep focus shot in Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane that tells three stories with one image.

Or this image from Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo which shows the roving samurai, a puppet master, perched above his puppets.

Photography underwent a revolution with the advent of the digital camera. So many haphazard images flood the internet now that we can document every moment of our lives. Film is undergoing a similar revolution as digital cameras provide higher quality for fewer dollars. While the mass availability of these media allow for teenagers to mindlessly post photos of their breakfasts, it also enables any individual the opportunity to create great art. And despite all the fluff, the truly great will rise to the top.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Film for Good

There is no denying the benefits of video use in the corporate world. Whether selling a service, product, or lifestyle, a visual aid is sure to enhance your marketing prowess this day and age. But what if you're not "selling" something? What if your corporation doesn't operate for-profit? How can video be used to leverage a cause?

Many non-profit organizations (NPO's) in the US share a similar struggle: how to raise the most money possible for your cause without spending too much on overhead and fundraising. It's an unfortunate hurdle in the corporate world, but a hurdle nonetheless. However, there are proven successful ways to allocate those limited funds to receive the greatest return.

I can't speak much on overhead, but fundraising for your cause will surely require a marketing force of some degree. After all, the public needs to know the issue or injustice exists in the first place! And more importantly, we need to know your organization has a solution and there are ways we, the public, can help.

In March 2012, San Diego-based non-profit, Invisible Children, released a campaign video on YouTube. 

This video, though lengthy by YouTube standards, shocked the non-profit community. In a matter of days, the video went viral and attracted dozens of millions of views. It now stands shy of 100 million. This popularity was unheard of for a charity campaign. 

Invisible Children successfully leveraged the powerful medium of film to capture our imaginations and touch our hearts. The video attracted millions of viewers, but more importantly, it brought hundreds of thousands of donors, millions of dollars, and countless volunteers to the Kony 2012 campaign. A small marketing investment turned into one beautifully inspiring video and led to a remarkable public response.

If you have devoted your life to a cause, it is bound to be important. Don't keep it to yourself. Make a video, raise awareness, and let the public join you in the fight. 

For more videos and ways your non-profit can leverage the power of film to improve your campaigns, please refer to this Stay Classy article. 

-- by Ryan Brandenburg

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

A More Memorable Video

“There are no rules in filmmaking.  Only sins.  And the cardinal sin is dullness.” – Frank Capra

Nobody likes a boring anything.  No matter what art form, no matter what aspect of said art.  Nobody enjoys sitting through a video which seems like the artist is just on cruise control, going through a checklist of must haves.  Nobody enjoys watching a video that seems just like every other video ever made.  Logical enough, right?  And yet think about all the commercials you see.  In fact, go watch television right now.  Sit through and pay attention to a full segment of commercials. How many are interesting?  How many will you remember?  And how many are dull and forgettable?  I’m willing to bet the vast majority will have been forgotten by the next commercial break.

So why do people stick to the same tired formulas?  Let me clarify first and foremost that there is value to formula.  There’s comfort in following well-worn formulas and the viewers will take pleasure in this.  The difficulty comes when one relies totally on the formula to carry the film instead of adding interesting unique characters and honest stories on top of the base formula. 

The basic reason people fall back on the formulas is creative laziness.  Let’s use a college advertisement as an example.  Instead of coming up with a new idea, so many schools will advertise the statistics intercut with a montage of smiling students and random shots of the campus.  That’s it.  Congratulations, you’ve made an advertisement for a college.  But not your college.  To overcome the pratfalls of dullness and formula, one has to think what sets your college apart from others.  This applies to businesses and narrative films as well.  What sets yours apart from others?  What sets your voice apart from others?  When you dig into the specifics of yourself and the subject, your product will inevitably become more creatively daring and memorable.  When you focus on what sets you apart from others, the viewer will set you apart from others as well.   

And when that happens, your video will truly be worthwhile.   

-- by Curt Ege

Monday, August 12, 2013

So many cameras, so little time.

The digital world is obsessed with the camera. What camera are you shooting on? What sensor does it have? Whereas old school directors of photography would test endless amounts of film stocks to ensure that light would react just the right way with those small strips of 35mm celluloid, today’s digital filmmakers run the camera’s themselves through the same gauntlet. Each camera is like its own unique film stock. Each handles light and contrast and color differently. So how do you choose which one is right for your project? As always, budget is a major factor.

For those of you looking to go viral, the iPhone is a viable option. Provided that the content of the piece is colloquial enough and doesn’t need the super-refined professional look, you should be able to use your phone to your heart’s content. The key to a successful video when willingly sacrificing image quality is to be certain that your story is killer.

iPhone aside, there are so many options to choose from that it would be impossible to cover them all. Canon, Nikon, Sony, RED, Panavision, Arri, BlackMagic—all these brands have cameras capable of shooting high quality video. I’ve had the most experience with different Canon products, so with a couple exceptions, I will stick with Canon (they aren’t paying me to write this and I have no official connection with the company. David Meerman Scott’s book on Real Time marketing encouraged me to let you know this and that my opinions are my own and not Canon’s or Sony’s or Arri’s &c.). I do provide links to the purchase screens of most of these cameras so that you can look over the specs if you feel like geeking out a little.

(1) Canon Vixia HF M500 – this little guy won’t break the bank and does still capture full HD video. Perfect for something along the lines of webinars or weekly update videos, this camera is designed to be used by just about anyone. Even though it’s full HD, it doesn’t have nearly the same look as some of the high quality cameras on this list (such as shallow depth of field, a large dynamic range). Rental rate from Rule: they don’t rent these; Price from B&H: $499.99 (after $50.00 savings)

(2) Canon 60D – Canon recently announced the 70D which replaces the 60D, but I haven’t had the chance to work with a 70D yet. The 60D is a quality little camera that offers a number of manual controls. One of the perks of the camera is its flexibly rotating LCD monitor. A light-weight camera, this would be a good starter for someone looking to make the jump into higher production valued productions. Rental rate from Rule: they don’t rent these either, but they do sell them; Price from B&H: $859.99 (after $200.00 savings)

(3) Canon 7D – running straight through the Canon lineup here, the 7D is another DSLR. As opposed to the 60D this takes CF memory cards. As with most of the Canon DSLRs it takes some pretty solid stills in addition to the video capabilities. If you’re serious about incorporating video in a meaningful way in-house, this is honestly the lowest quality camera I would consider investing in. Rental rate from Rule: $150/day; Price from B&H:$1,699.00

(4) Sony NEX FS-100 – the first and only Sony camera to make the list. This camera has a Super 35 CMOS censor, shoots pretty well in low light, and captures some nice images overall. Its ergonomics are a little weird especially if you’re going hand-held, but this is a solid machine. Rental rate from Rule: $250/day; Price from B&H: $4,499.00

(5) Canon 5D mkIII – the newest version of the 5D, the mark III is the next step in the Canon food chain. Good in low-light and not too bulky this camera can travel well and shoot without necessarily needing a bunch of lights (though lighting is always a plus). Rental rate from Rule: $150/day; Price from B&H: $4,099.00

(6) Canon C300 – now we get to some of the more serious cinema cameras. The C300 is designed exclusively to shoot video and provides a lot more information in the files it records which in turn allows for more manipulation of the image in the post-production process. For a camera like this, you’d probably want to rent it as needed unless you’re looking to become an in-house video production powerhouse. Rental rate from Rule: $400/day; Pricefrom B&H: $15,999.00 ($13,999.00 after savings).

I would be remiss if I didn’t include these next two cameras on the list. While I have not personally operated either of these cameras, I have seen them from a distance. There seemed to be a faint golden aura around them (not as strong as the golden aura around a 35mm film magazine, but still). That said, these two cameras would be used on a high-budget video—corporate film one might say—and should definitely be handled by professionals who have experience with the cameras.

(7) The RED Epic X – they shoot feature films on this camera. Enough said. Just for funsies the prices. Rental rate from Rule: $950/day. Price from RED (B&H doesn’t carry Red cameras) $46,885.00

(8) The Arri Alexa – the best in the business right now. Rental rate from Rule: $1200/day; Price: your first born child.

The most important thing to remember when it comes to making your corporate video (or corporate film) is that the tools do not make the cinematographer. Someone with talent will be able to produce quality images without having to resort to the most expensive camera on the marketplace.

-- by Joseph Baron

Friday, August 9, 2013

What the Hell is a Grip?

You’ve seen them in the credits. Your friends who know a thing or two about the industry might like to drop some line about “the grips.” But what is a grip and what do they do? Your typical corporate video probably won’t need a big enough crew to have a dedicated key grip. Instead, the lighting technician or camera operator may be wearing a couple hats and go into grip mode at points during the shoot. Thus, I will seek to inform you about what exactly a grip does and to highlight some key pieces of equipment that might come in handy (plus, it’s always fun to drop stories about “the grips.” Like: that one time the production assistants beat the grips at darts resulting in the grips doing the PAs wrap duties the next day. Or: that one time the grips decided to strip down and jump in the nearby river after wrap and cat call all the local ladies).

The grip department is basically the support for the camera and electrical crews. On a film set camera, grip, and electrics works together in a three-way tango of sorts to set up every shot. While the grips may be the brunt end of a fair amount of jokes, it’s all in good fun. Everyone has immense respect for the grips who not only have to be incredibly strong physically, but also intelligent enough to find creative, secure, and fast solutions to a number of problems (for example: who do you turn to when you need a bootleg flotation device for your camera? the key grip).

For more photos like this one, check out
Some of the things grips do on a regular basis is: lay dolly track, operate the dolly, rig the camera in all sorts of crazy places (such as cars, trains, plains, snowmobiles, helicopters, &c.), set up massive stands on which to place lights, use nets/flags/frames to shape light, and much more. Since the grips are concocting all sorts of fun rigs, they use a wide variety of tools and hardware to get the job done. Often it has a colorful name, e.g. mombo combo, Gary Coleman, duckbill, Cardellini, gator clamp, apple box, meat axe. Since there is so much stuff in the grip department’s arsenal, I’ll stick to some of the items that you’re more likely to need on a low to medium budget video.

The c-stand – a key player in the grip arsenal is the century stand (almost always called a c-stand). This stand has 1001 uses from holding nets/flags/&c., to holding a boom pole, to holding some bead board, to holding up some cloth for a backdrop. If you’ve been noticing the pattern, it’s great for holding stuff up.

The sandbag – for every stand, there should be at least one sandbag. Since you’re almost always adding weight to the top of these stands, they become quite top-heavy which of course increases the risk of them falling over. The solution to this: toss a sandbag or two on the base of the stand.

Nets, flags, and silks – these accessories are used by the grips to shape and control the lights set up by the electricians. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes from 18”x24” to 2’x3’ to 4’x4’ and larger. Nets generally have a transparent mesh that cuts down on the overall light output from a given source. Flags (also known as solids and sometimes floppies if they have a portion that flops down) are opaque pieces of heavy cloth that serve to eliminate all light output in a given area from a given source. Silks are translucent and serve primarily to diffuse light, creating a softer beam with less noticeable shadows.

Mafer clamp
Cardellini clamp


Clamps – there are a number of different clamps used in the industry. For now I’ll highlight three of them. The mafer clamp can tighten on to a variety of surfaces and is useful for hanging lights and things from I-beams or those metal grids in the ceiling. A cardellini clamp has a more narrow clamping head and can fit in some places that a mafer clamp can’t. This third clamp has the most names of any piece of equipment I’ve heard of—platypus clamp, quacker clamp, duckbill clamp, bead board holder, &c. This clamp is designed to hold something like bead board where the pressure from the clamp is distributed over a wider area so as not to break the board.

A family of apple boxes
Apple Boxes – apple boxes also have a wide variety of uses. They serve to boost up some shorter sound people so that they can place the boom in ideal position. They can level dolly track on rough terrain. They are often used as seats. They come in four different sizes: full, half, quarter and pancake.

A fischer dolly on track
Dollies and Track – there are a number of different dollies in use in the industry. Two of the major brands are Fischer and Chapman. The dolly is used to mobilize the camera whether it’s a subtle push in or a dramatic tracking sequence. While there are times when certain dollies can have free reign of the floor and move without track, the dolly track (round rail or square) is used to provide a smooth surface for the dolly to operate on. On larger productions there is one grip who is specifically in charge of the dolly (credited as the dolly grip).

This is only a small cross-section of a department that has decades of tinkering experience. The equipment is constantly evolving as grips look for ways to solve problems in simpler, more efficient ways. When it comes to gripology, creativity abounds.

-- by Joseph Baron

Thursday, August 8, 2013

9 Pieces of Lighting Equipment You Should Know About

As promised, here is the start of a series of posts on some of the equipment used in video land. Whether you’re looking to have some inexpensive DIY equipment to use for a weekly video post or you’re looking to understand some of the bigger lights that go into higher budget projects, this post will look at some of the tools available to you. If you talk to people passionate about lighting, they’ll tell you that what they do is paint with light. Take a look at the masterful use of light by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Grimshaw, Renoir, and other great painters. Lighting for film strives to create as much beauty as the works of those artists.
Vermeer - "The Art of Painting"
Renoir  -"Self-Portrait"

For the lower end of the budget spectrum, the tools you have serve more to illuminate than to light, but realize that the art of lighting involves a deep understanding of how light behaves and interacts with its surroundings. A post for another day will be to look at how light can be manipulated to fit certain situations. For now, however, I’ll stick to a more basic description of the lights.

(1) Extension cord – If you are an astute observer, you will have noticed that an extension cord is not, in fact a light. What good is a light if you can’t get electricity to it? While most of the lights will come with a power cord, you often need to place lights farther away from an outlet than the basic cord allows. For most of the lights in this post, a standard hardware extension cord will do the trick. Snag a couple of 25’ cords from your local hardware store and you should be fine.

(2) Practicals – a practical isn’t any one specific lighting instrument. It’s any old light that will be visible within your scene. Table lamps, floor lamps, street lights—these can all act as practicals in your video both illuminating the scene and providing some nice mise-en-scène.
A clamp light
(3) Clamp Lights – these lights can be bought at your local hardware store for under $20. They take your typical incandescent bulbs so you can have some freedom to pop in a 60w or a 200w depending on how much light you want (60w will be dimmer than 200w). These lights come with a clip that can attach to tables, pipes, rails, the metal grid of the ceiling, etc. If you plan on hanging any lights above people, or in an area where people will be present, it is always a good idea to add a safety to it—meaning take some rope and tie it up so that if the clamp slips, the light won’t fall all the way to the ground (or your face). These lights provide a direct beam of light which will most likely cause harsh shadows. In a later post I will talk about different ways to “soften” the source of the light in order to help deal with those shadows.

A Chinese lantern at work.
(4) Chinese lanterns – a staple of the up-and-coming lighting technician, the Chinese lantern is exactly what it sounds like. They are light weight and inexpensive which makes them great to use on a budget. Depending on where you get your lantern, you may have to purchase a socket separately. These, like the clamp light, take incandescent bulbs. One thing to be very careful of is the wattage rating for different sized paper lanterns. Do not use a 150w bulb in a lantern that says the maximum wattage is 40w. This is a fire hazard, so be sure to check the labels/internet to see what size bulbs can go in what sized lamps. Unlike the clamp light, the Chinese lanterns emit a nice soft light that will produce much less stark shadows.

Now we’re going to move on to some more professional lighting instruments that you might consider using on higher budget projects. If you’re looking to add an in-house video unit, you can purchase a good amount of equipment at B+H Photo and Video. If you’re looking just to dabble in your free time without making purchases, there are a number of rental houses (in the Boston area you might try Rule, Quixote, or High Output). Freelancers might also have their own lights that they will include as part of their personal equipment package.

A Lowell lighting kit complete with Pro, Omni and Tota
(5) Lowell lights (the pro, omni, and tota) – this is a bit of a three-for-one deal. A basic Lowell lighting kit like the one shown above comes with three different lights ranging in wattage from 200w – 700w. Compared with your average 60w incandescent lamp, these output a bit more light. Two of the lights pictured here (the pro and omni) come with barn doors that allow you to control the shape of the light. The tota is more difficult to control but offers higher output than the other two. As I affectionately say, the tota basically vomits light.
A set of Arri lights

A set of Mole-Richardson lights

(6) Tungsten Arri/Mole-Richardson lights – The Arri and Mole-Richardson lights shown above are tungsten sources that can range from 100w all the way up to 2kw. As you can tell, the lights are getting a bit brighter as we go. These lights all come equipped with barn doors to help shape the light, and you can also elect to add some other accessories like scrims (circular metal objects that serve to reduce the intensity of a light).

A kino

(7) Kino flos - Kinos are fluorescent lights that avoid the pitfalls of many typical fluorescent fixtures. The main problem with fluorescent lights comes from their slightly greenish emissions. Kino's tubes, however, don't suffer from this problem. They can come balanced for daylight or tungsten and are nice, light-weight sources that produce a soft, even light.

ETC Source 4
(8) ETC Source 4s – typically used in theater, these lights have been popping up more and more in film lighting kits. They come in different degrees (from 5° to 50°) with the narrower angle being a more direct beam of light. Another aspect that sets the source 4s apart from other film instruments is that they have shutters built into the bodies of the lights to create precise cuts of light. The barrel can also be slid forwards and back to focus the beam creating sharp shadows or shadows with more feathered edges.

18kw HMIs
(9) HMIs – the big guns. HMI lights are the big daddies. The smallest is around 575w and the largest, like the pair shown in the picture above, are a whopping 18,000w. These have a wide variety of uses, but one such use is lighting daytime exteriors. The sun is so powerful that in order to use artificial light in a scene, it’s got to pack a punch itself. Your average household circuit will blow many times over if you somehow managed to plug an 18kw light into it. For any HMIs bigger than 2kw, you’re going to need to run power from an external generator or tie in to the main (which is extremely dangerous and should only be done by certified professionals).

This concludes a brief survey of some lighting instruments you should consider when delving into the world of video. Just to let you know, I did not include any LED lights on this list because I haven’t worked with them enough. But LED lights are making a push into the film scene. Happy lighting!

-- by Joseph Baron

Monday, August 5, 2013

A Study in Awful

As is known to happen during the summer movie season, people are talking about an unexpected hit.  No, this movie doesn’t involve super heroes and didn’t get good reviews.  It didn’t even do well at the box office.  In fact, it didn’t go to theaters.  This movie is “Sharknado,” and everybody’s talking about it.

I watched “Sharknado,” I admit.  And it was terrible.  I’ve been intentionally watching terrible movies lately and confess that I take pleasure from it.  Now, I understand there’s value in watching bad movies.  It teaches you to recognize what is good and bad in a movie and you can then apply this knowledge to critiquing or making quality movies.  But I’m not talking about enjoying these terrible films as a learning experience, and I’m not talking about enjoying them ironically.  I’m talking about enjoying them as they are.  Call it a guilty pleasure if you want, but it’s a pleasure nonetheless. 

And yet I find that I take more pleasure from watching a bad horror movie than, say, a bad action movie.  I’m not sure how many people share this feeling, but I know I’m not alone so I figure that’s enough to devote my time to figure out why.  And no, I’m not gonna say it’s just because I like horror better because that’s an intellectually lazy answer. 

So to compare action and horror, we must figure out how we enjoy these different genres.  To answer this is to answer why horror is a more enjoyable bad movie experience.  Action is about gratification.  We see the gunfight, we see the explosions, we see the extraordinary set pieces and we react.  In a bad action movie, we see bad gunfights, bad fight scenes and do not get the chance to react in a good way.  Because of this, a bad action movie like “Death Race 3” is not only bad, it is, perhaps more criminal, boring.    

Horror, on the other hand, is about anticipation.  We look forward to a scare.  We are on the edge of our seat waiting for it to happen.  At the end of the movie, maybe it was terrifying throughout and will stick with you.  But even if these expectations were never met, the initial experience was still somewhat enjoyable.  During a bad action movie, you know it’s bad throughout and then reflect on how terrible it was after it has finished.  During a bad horror movie, the anticipation for another scare persists.  When it’s all said and done, you can reflect on how bad the horror movie was, but that knowledge does not completely undermine the initial viewing experience.

Maybe I’m wrong.  I’m willing to admit that in something as subjective as film criticism, there is room for interpretation.  Maybe you think bad action movies are better than bad horror movies.  Maybe you actually consider “Sharknado” to be a modern masterpiece.  Either way, SyFy has already announced a “Sharknado 2,” and I’ll be there, watching the overwhelming awfulness that this sequel is destined to be. 

-- by Curt Ege