Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Importance of a Budget

I think that one of the biggest questions that is often raised is “how to fund my film?” I see countless crowd-sourcing campaigns (A subject that I will tackle in detail in a future post) that really don't understand how to fund an indie film. Filmmakers often expect a lot from these campaigns. In some cases, like a sci-fi film, it is totally justified. They can be expensive and successful sci-fi films often require a ton of set design and art direction. Others have budgets that are way too high.

The thing I will push in this post most is the need to have a balanced budget. You need to have something that will allow you to achieve your artistic vision while still being able to fund the film.
In order to successfully fund your film, you need to know how to properly write your budget. A well laid out budget can help immensely in funding. Any crowd-sourcing campaign should properly lay out how you are planning on spending the money in detail. Grants (another subject that I will be covering soon) also often require a highly detailed budget.

Having a good budget can also help production go a bit smoother. Actually laying out a budget can help you see exactly what expenses are unnecessary. The first thing to cut out of a budget should be extra rental costs. This can be eliminated by scheduling better. The less shooting dates, the less money you'll need. The less money you'll need, the easier it will be to fund your film. Budgeting properly can also help you be prepared for shooting. You'll know exactly what is being done and for what cost. That knowledge is power and can only help you.

Being ill-prepared can endanger a production. For example, I got the opportunity to do a short documentary on a pro-gaming tournament that was put on by IGN Entertainment. I quickly crewed up and got equipment from my university. IGN offered to cover the cost of the press-passes for the event and let us know that we only had to pay for the hotel.

I thought “Easy enough.” I was really excited to get to cover a subject like this on such a great scale for my first real documentary film. Pre-production was rushed and I had to come up with a plan quick. I had just received my refund from my private bank loan that was used to cover tuition. It was around 600 bucks and I thought that it would be more than enough to get the production finished.
The event was taking place in Caesar's Palace in Atlantic City and would be running extremely late. I figured that it would be best to get a hotel room in Caesar's Palace so that we could be right in the center of everything. We could go to bed late and get up early without having to worry about transportation. So I booked a room. 1 night at Caesar's palace for a room with 2 beds was nearly $400. I figured that a crew of 5 would be able to fit into the room and I booked it.

I immediately had to spend $30 on HDV tapes for the shoot. As for transportation to the event, I managed to convince my girlfriend (who was also working as my P.A) to drive us. We all were coming from Philly so it wasn't that bad. I gave her around 40 for gas and we embarked to Atlantic City. (Prior to this, I had spent around 20 on snacks and water for the road) Little did we realize the cost of tolls along the road going from Philly to Atlantic city. I can't remember the exact prices, but it had to be around 10 bucks to get there. None of us really carried cash so we had to scramble to find money for the various tolls.

When we got there, we shot for a 12 hour period. Our snacks were quickly eaten and we eventually had to get a meal. In Atlantic city, everything around Caesar's Palace is expensive. Even the small pizza places around the boardwalk weren't cheap. (If I had planned better, I would have realized that a McDonald's was right around the corner.) So the remaining $100 went to feeding the crew. We were barley able to scrape together the cash for the tolls to come back to Philly.

The stress of money put a lot of pressure on me. I went in blind, expecting everything to be relatively cheap and for 180 to be a fair amount to get the production done. I figured that since I was so good about getting the crew and equipment together for free, that I wouldn't have to worry much about food and all of the other minor costs. The stress detracted from the film and it showed. I was an inexperienced filmmaker who didn't plan very much.

If I had taken the time to sit down and write out a good budget, then I would have been better prepared for not just the expenses, but also the event itself. Production is about being prepared.
So how do you write a good budget? For reference, here is a budget for a short documentary I am producing. A day's worth of production is usually 12 hours.

First, find out what your production schedule is. For narrative, you can usually shoot around 5-10 scenes a day. For documentary, it usually is reliant on how much coverage you want and also the schedule of your subjects. Next, take some time and jot down every expense you can think of. Come up with the big ones first, and move on to some of the more unexpected costs. Don't worry about the numbers yet. Simply write down everything you may need. Even if you already have the specific equipment, write these things down. Anything you may need for production should be listed. Here are my usual things: Crew and cast payment, equipment and props, food, transportation, lodging.
I then go through and find the prices for everything I listed. Crew is usually a bit difficult, as many indie films will be made up of volunteers. However, it is good to know exactly how much time people are putting into a project. Numbers can be hard to define. My rate as a producer is usually 20/hour. Directors are usually similar and crew can be anywhere from 15-18. These are really rough estimates that help me know exactly what people are doing.

Equipment is easier to find numbers for, as you simply look up what it costs to rent. Food, transportation and lodging is dependent on location. I usually research the locations and the transportation through sites like and see exactly how much travel will cost. The lodging can be as simple as calling up the location and getting in touch with the owners.

Now that you have all of these numbers, it is time to add them up for one day of shooting. That number you can multiply by your shooting dates. You should be able to have a good estimate on what your film would cost.

It's most likely a pretty high number. For example, my latest documentary is listed as 6 shooting days for a total cost of $13,481. When you get to a number like this, it's pretty staggering. However, you have a good estimate of the cost.

Now, I go through and I mark everything I can get for free. You should be working to get anything you can for free. Actors, crew, equipment, props, locations, etc. Anything you can. Work really hard at this. The reason for marking everything is simple. It looks really good to say that I managed to get 10k worth of this stuff for free. Grants typically want you to have around 70% of your budget to be from in-kind donations. This shows that you have taken the effort to get as much as you can. It shows effort and passion.

This also has a pretty strong psychological effect. You see how hard you've already worked. It's empowering to see the effort put in to your film.

As for tools, I usually just use Excel. There is software out there. It costs a good amount. I am prepping to get some software so I can be a bit more organized.

But after all this work, you'll have a nice number. You'll know approximately how much you'll need and exactly what you need it for. When you go into the funding phase of your project, having an organized budget will do wonders for you. People respond to professionalism. Being organized gives the air of organization.

Now, in my next posts (coming out in the next few weeks) I will tackle the subject of funding. This is where the budget will become pivotal. I'll cover funding in two specific outlets: Grants and Kickstarter. I have successfully achieved both.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

"Bully" documentary review: (Originally printed in Ritz Film Magazine)

Amidst a long battle with the MPAA, Bully gained quite a bit of free publicity. The controversy over its rating seemingly overshadowed its deeper look into an important social issue. Yet while the MPAA undeservedly gave it a harsh rating, which is an entirely different engaging question and subsequent discussion, the social issue and relevancy are delivered in a stunning, and often emotionally exhausting, way. Bully is, without a doubt, not only a great piece of cinematic art but also a wake up call to its target audience. 

Bully, the newest film from Lee Hirsch and distributed by the Weinstein Company, seeks to shed light on just how bad the issue of bullying has become in the American educational system today. It follows the stories of families and individuals affected by bullying and does so in an engaging and emotional way.

First off, Bully looks stunning. The aesthetics of the film are quite beautiful, utilizing a great sense of framing and deep focus. The cinematography is accompanied by a great minimalistic, almost ambient score. It can be haunting, yet never interferes with the emotional weight of the subject. The editing is great, with some notable cuts that have an almost disturbing sense of comedic timing. The high point of this type of timing comes from a delayed pause as a result of a school administrator scolding a victim instead of the bully. The film portrays exactly what the viewer feels at that point. 

The film does not pull any punches. It presents the acts of bullying and the effect it has on the families in a sobering way. Bully is a great piece of cinematic work. The hand-held camera and shifting focus works in a way that recalls both personal home movies and stark war films. This form is totally representational of the content. The opening scene intercuts the results of a suicide and home video of the victim in a gripping way. The serious tone does not really ever let up. The piece seeks not only to entertain, but to also force the viewer to look at what is going on. There are moments where the viewer wants the camera to pull back, but it can not. It simply must document the events and present them to the viewer in a compelling way, no matter how painful it may be. 

It does have its emotional high points though. The film is not a completely dark piece which will leave you depressed. The ways in which the film portrays the victims of bullying and some of their optimistic attitudes can bring a smile to the viewers face. The film ends on a somewhat optimistic point. However, this never undercuts the reality of the lives lost to bullying. 

Thus, with the overall dark tone, a question must be raised. Who is the audience for Bully? The controversy surrounding the films original rating stemmed solely from the fact that educators would not be able to screen the film in schools. While some content was reportedly cut from the film, there is still a considerable amount of harsh language and violence. The film has its emotional low points that leave the viewer at best worn out and at worst feeling like they have attended a funeral. While children are completely capable of emotional complexity and deeply intelligent thought processes, as the film portrays, the greatest value of the film will come not from showing it to children, but rather to adults. The discussions it will raise are pivotal in starting the change that needs to happen.

The issues presented in the film are serious and complex. It is easy to write off the film for not really presenting any answers to the problems or presenting the point of view from the bully. These critiques completely miss the point. The problem lies deep within the foundation of our society. Bully does not present a solution, but rather opens up the discussion for the rebuilding of our educational and parenting systems. Simply put, people need to see this film. The only way that things can change are first through discussion. Bully opens up this opportunity in an engaging and entertaining way.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Fantasy Booking: Post MiTB and Summerslam Build

Raw opens with Sheamus coming out and talking about MiTB. He says that he isn't stupid and that he knows very well that Bryan will take shortcuts to gain the title. He also notes how dangerous Bryan can be. He admits that he isn't much of a submission guy and that is a weakness. Regal comes out and apologizes for what happened at MiTB. He notes that he trained Bryan and it clouded his vision of being a good General Manager. So to make up for it, he allowed Bryan the night off so he couldn't get involved with Sheamus' match. To also apologize for what happened, he states that he wants to help train Sheamus in the art of submission wrestling. Regal says that tonight Sheamus will be facing Jack Swagger in a submission match.
After a few matches, we see Regal in a backstage segment. Miz bursts in, followed by security guards who hold him back from Regal. Miz is furious that Regal took him out of the MiTB match. Regal tells the security guards to leave. He apologizes to Miz and tells him that what he did was wrong. So to make up for it, Regal announces Bryan vs Miz at Summerslam for the MiTB briefcase. Miz smiles and proceeds to slap Regal. He thanks Regal for the match but says that is payback for what happened at the Pay-per-view. Regal nods and says that he deserved that.

Next, we see Ziggler in the ring with the WWE championship. He talks about how he had been working so hard for this title and that his last championship win was shameful. He talks about how he had been held back for so long and he finally broke the glass ceiling with the help of the Money in the Bank contract. He says that he wasn't sure if he would ever get the title and that winning the contract is the best thing that has ever happened to him, outside of this title win. He says that he owes someone else and that this person was supposed to be standing next to him tonight with the World title. He says that Kofi was screwed and that he should be celebrating with him.
Kofi comes out and says that Ziggler shouldn't worry about him. He is happy for Dolph and that he should enjoy the title. They hug and Dolph says that he still feels like he owes Kofi. Dolph talks about how they have had some great matches together over the past year and he asks the crowd if they would mind seeing one more match between the two. He says that he would be honored to face Kofi at Summerslam for the WWE title.

Suddenly, Punk's music hits. He comes out holding the MiTB briefcase that Dolph won. Ziggler and Kofi look confused until Punk says that there isn't anything to worry about and that he can't cash in. He congratulates Ziggler and says that he really deserves it. Punk talks about the parallels between them. How the briefcase allowed them to get what they deserved. He says that while Kofi is another person who deserves the title, Punk still has a rematch and he wants to use it at Summerslam. He continues by saying that they all shouldn't be talking about Summerslam right now though and that they should focus on Ziggler's celebration. Punk gives Dolph the briefcase and says that he was going to come out and use this to celebrate his successful title defense, but it works in this situation also. Ziggler opens the briefcase to reveal the newly designed WWE championship belt. Ziggler hands Kofi the old championship and they all pose in the ring with the new title. Kofi then suggests that he and Punk have a match to decide who faces Ziggler at Summerslam. Punk agrees and goes on to beat Kofi. Kofi seems disappointed but congratulates Punk.
Sheamus comes out for his match with Swagger accompanied by Regal. Vickie comes out with Swagger but is stopped by Regal. Regal tells her that she is banned from ringside. Swagger and Sheamus have a strong technical match with Swagger often getting the best of Sheamus. Regal coaches Sheamus and stops Sheamus from using the Brogue kick when Swagger is nearly beaten down. He says that he needs to make Swagger tap. As Sheamus approached Swagger to lock in a submission, Swagger capitalizes and locks in an ankle lock. Sheamus fights it, but taps. Swagger celebrates as Regal slides in the ring. Swagger goes to re-apply the ankle lock but Regal stops him. He tells him to leave. Swagger does and Regal helps Sheamus into the back.

The next week, Regal announces that Bryan has been sent home once again. He says that Bryan will have an interview via satellite tonight. In that interview, Bryan says that he won't cash in until the Pay-per-view after Summerslam and that he wants the match to be a submission match. He wants to give Sheamus time to prepare because Wrestlemania has haunted him. He says that he prays that Sheamus makes it to the PPV after Summerslam as he wants to decisively beat him.

2 weeks before Summerslam, Regal calls Miz into his office. He tells Miz that Bryan has already cashed in the briefcase and that he no longer holds the contract. He says that Bryan has a match at Night of Champions no matter what. He said that Bryan didn't want to risk not getting the shot so he insisted on cashing in early. Miz gets angry but Regal says that the only thing he can offer is a guaranteed title shot against whoever wins at that PPV. He says that the match will happen immediately after, in the same night. Regal says that the only condition is Miz has to beat Bryan at Summerslam for this to happen. Otherwise, Miz gets nothing. Miz agrees.

Over the next few weeks, Regal puts Sheamus into other submission matches with people like Alberto Del Rio, Christian and even Regal himself. Sheamus comes close, but only manages to make Regal tap out. This happens the week before Summerslam. Regal congratulates him and says that he has the fight of his life at Summerslam.

He questions Regal as to who his opponent will be at Summerslam. Regal says that the match will be against another great technical wrestler: John Cena. He says that if Sheamus can beat Cena, then he can beat Bryan.

Fantasy Booking: The World Heavyweight Title to Money in the Bank

My view of the WHC. The title should be utilized to get new guys into the scene. I enjoy the dynamic that WWE has created with the two separate brands. I don't mean Smackdown and Raw, but rather the hardcore wrestling fan scene with Punk and Bryan headlining many of these matches and the other scene being heavy story matches that Cena is involved in. Thus, I think that the WHC should be viewed as an “upper mid-card” title for the core wrestling brand. The WWE title should stand as the main title in this core division. It can also stand as a bridge into the more storyline heavy matches. 

I will be booking this up to Wrestlemania. It will focus on the WHC, but will sometimes include other feuds and shows. 

Money in the Bank PPV:

Big Show is challenging for the title vs Sheamus. Sheamus' draw is being a big guy who kicks ass. So pitting him against Big Show will be an impressive way to get him even more over. This match will obviously not be the best, but is the starting point for the title going into Wrestlemania, which is my end-goal for the WHC fantasy booking posts. WWE views Sheamus as an asset and the next Cena. So I want to give him some personality. Instead of having him be the guy who kicks everyone's ass, lets have him be at risk of getting his ass kicked. This match will be a plain brawl match. Have them go hard. It will make the match better. This won't be a technical marvel.

The week before Money in the Bank 2012, the new general managers are announced. It is none other than William Regal. Regal is welcomed by the new Smackdown manager Teddy Long, who has been in power for a few weeks. This is due to Teddy having a long track record of Smackdown managing and Raw being significantly harder to find a good GM for due to the track record of past GM's (Most recently Big Johnny) As a gift from Teddy, he allows Regal to run MiTB. Regal is happy and thanks Teddy, displaying his good intentions.

The opening match is the WWE Title contract Money in the Bank match with a newly turned and Vickie-less Dolph Ziggler winning. Ziggler has been not using heel tactics for the weeks leading into the PPV. In fact, he even sends Vickie away from his matches to ensure clean wins. Thus, he gets a good reaction for winning the briefcase. He even befriends Kofi Kingston, who he admits his respect for.

The next match will be the WWE championship match. Money in the Bank will mark the end of the Bryan/Punk feud (for now.) During the match, AJ proves to have been with Bryan all along and turns on Punk allowing Bryan to get the submission win. He celebrates (as he does with the Yes chants) and embraces AJ. He holds her up, along with the WWE championship as Punk lies in the corner looking up at him. Punk then proceeds to attack Bryan, but then is interrupted by Regal who demands order. Bryan/Punk continue to battle as Regal then slides in the ring to break them up himself. The locker room empties (with jobbers and some of the participants from the first MiTB match) to pull them apart. It is complete chaos. Regal convinces Punk to leave and walks him up the ramp. This shows Regal's new outlook on being a good GM who is ready to get his hands dirty.

Suddenly, Ziggler (who came out to help pull apart Bryan/Punk and is now in the ring with Bryan) hits the Zig-Zag on Bryan from behind. The other wrestlers who held back Bryan stand in disbelief as Ziggler's new friend Kofi runs down the ramp with the Raw briefcase. He hands it to Ziggler and helps Bryan up. Bryan looks at Kofi confused, only to get Zig-Zagged once again. Ziggler cashes in as the other wrestlers empty the ring to stop AJ from interfering. The bell rings and Ziggler wins the WWE championship. The crowd goes nuts.

After a few matches, there is a backstage segment where a prominent heel who is in the Smackdown MiTB (perhaps the Miz) is bullying Regal backstage. Regal explodes and knocks out Miz cold. The announcers now assume there are only 5 participants for this year's Smackdown MiTB. (6 MiTB members is the best option as 8 often seems too chaotic.)

Next is the MiTB match for World Heavyweight title contract. The 5 members enter and begin to have a grueling match. Kofi Kingston is about to win, only for Bryan to run down the ramp and knock him from the top of the ladder to the floor. Suddenly, Bryan is alone in the ring. He looks up at the briefcase as Regal's music hits. He comes out to a loud cheer and announces that Bryan is the 6th participant. Bryan climbs up the ladder and wins, unopposed. Bryan quickly runs up the ramp and shakes hands with Regal. The crowd boos like crazy.

Next is the World Heavyweight championship match: Sheamus vs Big Show. Sheamus manages to beat Show with a double brogue kick (or something impressive.) Expectedly, Show then gets up and knocks Sheamus out. Everyone stands, expecting Bryan. His music hits and out he comes with the briefcase and AJ. He slides in the ring and the ref holds Bryan back as Sheamus is laying flat. Sheamus then stirs and Bryan smiles. The ref comes over to get the briefcase from Bryan. Bryan proceeds to knock out the ref with the briefcase. Then Sheamus. AJ then grabs a mic for Bryan. He says how he lost in 18 seconds at Wrestlemania and how it was the most embarrassing night of his life. He then says that he will avenge that loss by making Sheamus tap out on his terms. He kicks Sheamus in the head and leaves. The next match is the Cena match and closes out the PPV.

Next up will be the fallout of MiTB and Summerslam.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Call It: A study on Psychopathy and Anton Chigurh

Humans, in general, are destructive creatures. Since the dawn of man, bloodshed is common. War is, by definition, a human creation. However, humans rationalize war with more noble ideals: courage, pride, etc. Nations raise their warriors up as heroes, and in some cases, treat them like gods. Samurai, Aztec, Gladiator, Marine. All warriors from different times and all wielding different weapons. But all have one core thing in common. All are murderers. What sets these men apart from criminals? Is it a cause? Does fighting for a country forgive the many families left without a loved one? The answer to this question is simply a matter of human emotion. Like most humans, most of these warriors had empathy for their opponents and honored them. Emotion is the key difference between a human and something far more devious; a psychopath.

“The psychopathic personality is characterized by a constellation of traits including impulsivity, callousness, and irresponsibility.” (Walsh 2006) The subject lacks all moral boundaries which makes most humans listen to their conscience. The psychopath often displays an inhumane lack of empathy for anything, often resorting to violence against animals and humans alike. In the eyes of others, this person would be perceived as sick and any preconceived notions of a poor soul with a mental disorder would instantly disappear. However, this disorder is real and the subject may need institutionalization in order to be eventually reintegrated into society. However, hope for patients with psychopathy is extremely low. Some even goes as far as saying that psychopathy is both unmanageable and incurable.

However, this psychopath, upon first inspection, would appear fairly normal. In fact, most possess an extremely charismatic way of dealing with others. “In addition to their aggression and violence, psychopaths are thought to be chronic deceivers, often lying for instrumental reasons such as to escape punishment” (Porter 2006) Psychopathy is often accompanied by pathological lying, in which the subject deceives many others for no obvious reason. However, this does not discredit the number of liars who uses deception as a form of allure, in which trust is built. As a result, the lies can vary from what the person did on an afternoon to what the person does for a living. Minor “white lies” can quickly change into larger ones, leading the victim to question everything. This manipulation, coupled with the psychopath's charismatic personality, is key in how cult leaders gain a steady following.

Though, it should be noted that not all psychopaths end up as cult leaders or killers. “The interpersonal and affective features [of psychopathy] are fundamentally tied to a socially deviant (not necessarily criminal) lifestyle that includes irresponsible and impulsive behavior, and a tendency to ignore or violate social conventions and mores.” (Hare 2009) A psychopath, by definition, may not ever commit a criminal act. Some may lead fairly simple lives, never crossing over into the truly deviant types. On the other hand, a psychopath may commit the most heinous of crimes that are never discovered due to the extreme intelligence one may possess. Many may go to great lengths to cover up anything, in order to continue their reckless lives. Others may keep whatever secrets they have, even after being caught. The severity of psychopathy is, like most other psychological disorders, dependent on the individual.

Comorbidity can include anti-social personality disorder, substance abuse, ADHD, anxiety and a number of personality disorders. Thus, these factors can also play into how a psychopath may react to certain situations. Perhaps the most dangerous conditions paired with psychopathy is PTSD, or post traumatic stress disorder. This disorder is common in soldiers who experience traumatic events, and is usually characterized by flashbacks. These flashbacks may be triggered at any time and coupled with psychopathy, the subject may display increased aggression, leading to an extremely dangerous mix of rage and manipulation.

The causes of psychopathy are mainly disputed. While some argue that genetics have a large part in the appearance of psychopathy, others claim that the childhood one experiences may have a large part in the condition. The general consensus between psychologists, is that there is a major neural problem going on. “...reduced emotional attention in psychopathy; that is reduced priming of emotion relevant representations in the temporal cortex by the amygdala.” (Blair 2008)

Psychopathy is largely thought to be hereditary. It commonly appears between family members. Often, a patriarch has it, the offspring will display the condition as well. This, however, does not mean that all family members will have psychopathy, nor does it mean that they will carry out criminal acts like those before them.

While genetics may have a large part, the childhood will most likely decide if the genes “activate.” If a trauma does not appear, the condition may never makes itself known. In contrast, a major trauma may appear, and psychopathy may not show up at all.

Throughout history, there has been a number of psychopathy cases documented. However, the amount of psychopaths seen in popular, and independent, cinema completely overshadows historical cases. As film and storytelling evolves, typical story arcs change according to the times. The classic good versus evil films have divulged into a new archetype where both good and evil have favorable and distressing qualities. This enables the viewer to both sympathize with the villain and dislike the hero.

The villain in film has also majorly evolved. While stereotypical villains of the past often could be easily trumped by the protagonist, recent villains have become far more intelligent and charismatic than previously displayed. While older films are centered around the blatant story arc shown on screen, recent films require viewers to dig into the back story of a character. The filmmaker now has the ability to control the depths in which a character displays realism.

Often within this back story, one will discover the reasoning and motives behind anything that character does. This brings the character on screen to life and enables a deeper suspension of disbelief. Naturally, the characters can be studied more deeply and in some cases, these characters can be psychologically diagnosed, both villain and hero alike. In perhaps one of the most shocking displays of psychopathy in film, Anton Chigurh shows how dark a psychopath's mind can delve.

In the 2007 Coen Brother's film, No Country for Old Men based on a book by Cormac MacCarthy, Vietnam veteran Llewelyn Moss stumbles upon the remnants of a drug deal gone wrong. He finds and takes two million dollars, which brings psychopathic killer Anton Chigurh after him to recover the money. Chigurh is a textbook example of a psychopath, killing any and all that get in his way with no remorse.

In perhaps the most chilling scene of the film, Chigurh enters a rest stop and leaves the question of whether or not he kills the clerk up to chance. This scene displays the common psychopathic trait of charisma. Chigurh is questioning the clerk in an almost playful way. The clerk simply wishes to engage in polite conversation asking about the weather. Chigurh questions his assumptions and begins a delicate dance of words which obviously disturbs the older man. Finally, Chigurh flips a coin and tells the clerk to call it. The man tells Chigurh he did not wager anything, to which Chigurh responds “You've been putting it up your whole life.” This one line reveals everything about Chigurh. He is impulsive, cruel and extremely intelligent. During this scene, Chigurh has some surprise insights to life. He states that the coin's mint date is 1959, and that it had traveled 21 years to get to that place. It had traveled 21 years to decided the fate of the clerk.

After the clerk correctly calls it, Chigurh gives him the coin and advises him not to simply put it in his pocket, where it will be mixed in with all the other coins. “It will become just another coin.” he states, turning to leave. Before leaving the store, he turns back and says “Which it is.”

Later in the film, another character states that Chigurh has morals that transcend money and drugs. This raises the question of whether the large amount of murders committed by Chigurh were necessary in his quest to recover the money from Moss. All of those murders were simply committed for enjoyment.

However, not all of the deaths can be rationalized by joy. Earlier in the film, Chigurh offers Moss the chance to save his wife by giving himself up for death. Moss denies this offer, believing he can kill Chigurh and claim the two million without worry. This decision haunts the viewer as Chigurh appears at Mrs. Moss's home. Llewelyn had been gunned down earlier and Carla Jean, Llewelyn's wife, buried her mother that day, only to arrive home to Chigurh sitting coyly in her bedroom. He explains that he offered Llewelyn Carla Jean's safety, but he had arrogantly denied him. Chigurh claims that it is something that he has to do, implying that he is the angel of death. This rationalization is the basis for her murder, another trait common in those diagnosed with psychopathy. He offers Carla Jean one chance by calling a coin he flips, thus creating a game out of the life or death scenario. She denies to play the game because it is not up to the coin to decided; that Chigurh has all the power.

In this same scene, Chigurh asks that if the road had led her to this end, then of what use is the road? This insight displays Chigurh's impulsivity, simply asking of what use is life? His mortality is questioned here, challenging why he would even be doing all of this anyway.

Ultimately, Chigurh has no remorse for anything he does. Often, when committing his heinous crimes, Chigurh shows no emotion at all. The only emotion ever shown during a kill, is in the beginning of the film, where he strangles a deputy after just being apprehended. “When the deputy finally dies, Chigurh exhales with an almost orgasmic satisfaction.” (Falsani 2009) This scene of emotion instantly defines the type of character Chigurh is, making it extremely difficult to sympathize with his blight. In fact, he comes of as a cold blooded murderer with no discernible blight. He is simply a villain, through and through, who will never have any redeeming qualities.

Unlike most humans who commit sins, Chigurh displays no chance of redemption during any of the scenes he is in. A character even describes Chigurh as the devil incarnate, simply there to create chaos in any community he enters. He is ultimately the worst nightmare any human could imagine, and as quick as he appears, he is gone.

After a serious car accident, Chigurh emerges with various serious injuries, including a broken arm, and simply disappears before medical personnel can show up to aid him. The threat of capture is far more overwhelming than the wounds, so he peacefully fades into suburbia.

One can only guess what happens after he disappears. Evidence would support the hypothesis of Chigurh entering another community to take on whatever jobs others would not take. Was the whole incident simply another chapter in Chigurh's bloody life, rather than an episode of his psychopathy?

Chigurh is one of the worst cases of psychopathy in film history. He is one of the greatest villain of the 21st century. Perhaps one of the most aggravating things to see as a viewer, is the fact that Chigurh gets to walk away. Classic storytelling would lead the story arc in a direction where, even though Moss would die, Chigurh would ultimately be captured. This never happens on screen, and no evidence is ever presented that Chigurh is ever captured.

The only evidence of Chigurh's past is immediately shown at the beginning of the film, where Chigurh is captured. This indicates that Chigurh had committed other criminal acts before the film begins, leading the audience to believe that Chigurh is well versed in the art of murder. Thus, Chigurh will inevitably commit other acts of violence.

While evidence supports that his crimes are simply not unique in nature due to his past, Chigurh's childhood and origin of his psychopathy are never explained, nor are any clues given. His origin and even his nationality is completely alien to the 1980 era west Texas in which the story takes place. Thus, he is truly unique to the community. However, as one character notes, there are a lot of murderers, criminals and psychopaths out there in the world. While he is alien to the community, the world in which the story takes place is just as gritty and dark as the world of today.

Chigurh is ultimately one of the darkest characters ever to grace the screen. His psychopathic actions simply symbolize the world in which we live; a world ripe with chaos. Though Chigurh's story is a work of fiction, his story is not unique. Psychopaths are in existence, and often part of a community that will inevitably be shaken to the core with the actions of one person.

Diagnosis of psychopaths can be quite difficult if their deviancy never crosses the line of criminality. A case may end up lying dormant inside a community without anyone ever knowing, not because of a good cover up, but simply because that individual never acted on the impulses. Perhaps that person did act on the impulses, but ended up seeking help and ultimately being reintegrated in society. While a psychopath may be institutionalized and reintegrated, chances of relapse are always possible. Psychotic episodes can occur at any time, resulting in horrific consequences.

Indicators are quite hard to spot in those that have psychopathy. Most are completely nonverbal and can be easily missed. In a study by Jessica Klaver, it was found that “psychopathy was related to increased response time, number of words spoken, and illustrator use, with the interpersonal dimension specifically related to increased blinking and speech hesitations.” (Klaver 2006) Often times the psychopath would display awkward visual cues that are common in people who are lying. This can help tip off an individual to lies told by the psychopath, thus making it easier to get the desired, truthful response from the individual.

Psychopathy can ultimately be an extremely dangerous psychological disorder. One who possesses this condition can either be a major threat to society, or a perfect member of it. Whether Anton Chigurh of No Country for Old Men, or a neighbor, psychopaths are existing in society. With this knowledge, some members of a community may live in fear. They may create “watch dog” groups and guard their children diligently. However, suburbia will never be completely safe. As quick as a fire may break out or an earthquake may hit, Anton Chigurh may be there. Falsani says it best when describing Chigurh and his interaction with the west Texas region: “There is a stranger in our midst come to destroy us.” (Falsani 2009) Ultimately, whether or not a stranger appears is purely a matter of chance. It is purely a coin toss.


Blair, R., & Mitchell, D.. (2009). Psychopathy, attention and emotion. Psychological Medicine, 39(4), 543-555. Retrieved April 26, 2010, from ProQuest Psychology Journals. (Document ID:1706788781).

Donald R Lynam, & Thomas A Widiger. (2007). USING A GENERAL MODEL OF PERSONALITY TO IDENTIFY THE BASIC ELEMENTS OF PSYCHOPATHY. Journal of Personality Disorders, 21(2), 160-78. Retrieved April 26, 2010, from ProQuest Psychology Journals. (Document ID: 1261933781).

Falsani, C. (2009). The Dude Abides: The Gospel According To The Coen Brothers. (2nd ed.). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan.

Hare, R., & Neumann, C.. (2009). Psychopathy: Assessment and Forensic Implications. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 54(12), 791-802. Retrieved April 26, 2010, from ProQuest Psychology Journals. (Document ID: 1937854551).

Jessica R Klaver, Zina Lee, & Stephen D Hart. (2007). Psychopathy and Nonverbal Indicators of Deception in Offenders. Law and Human Behavior, 31(4), 337-51. Retrieved April 26, 2010, from ProQuest Psychology Journals. (Document ID: 1316465651).

Graf, R., Roybal, M. (Producers) & Coen J. & E. (Directors) (2007) No Country For Old Men [Motion picture]. United States: Miramax & Paramount Vantage

Stephen Porter, & Michael Woodworth. (2007). "I'm Sorry I did it ... but He Started it": A Comparison of The Official and Self-Reported Homicide Descriptions of Psychopaths and Non-Psychopaths. Law and Human Behavior, 31(1), 91-107. Retrieved April 26, 2010, from ProQuest Psychology Journals. (Document ID: 1222223611).

Zach Walsh, & David S. Kosson. (2007). Psychopathy and Violent Crime: A Prospective Study of the Influence of Socioeconomic Status and Ethnicity. Law and Human Behavior, 31(2), 209-29. Retrieved April 26, 2010, from ProQuest Psychology Journals. (Document ID: 1238683421).

Monday, July 2, 2012

Different Portals: The Future of the Game Form and the Connection to Film

As noted in last weeks post the game industry takes a considerable amount of cues from the film industry. This is apparent in the most basic form of a singular video game narrative. Since the dawn of games, the industry has looked towards film for guidance. This has resulted in the medium being somewhat lost. The narrative experiences of games have, decidedly, come a long way. Games, as an industry, have grown considerably. (See below) With pinnacle narrative games like Metal Gear Solid or Fallout, it is hard to argue that games haven't found a narrative niche. However while these narrative experiences offer quite a bit, the medium still hasn't fully found it's potential.
The number one game, in sales, from last year was Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. It sold over 7 million units and grossed over 1 billion in 2011. That is nearly a quarter of the money made in the game industry in 1995. This is largely due to the multiplayer aspect of the game, rather than the narrative experience. When analyzed from the critical film perspective, the narrative experience of Call of Duty is akin to a Transformers film. Full of explosions, adrenalin charged moments, and mass appeal, yet lacking in the artistic value that critically acclaimed films offer. Both the Transformers films and the Call of Duty games make a staggering amount of money. However, this is viewed as critically valuable in the game industry. In the film critic community, the money made by a film is ignored and the film is judged based on the artistic merits it holds. In the game industry, these games garner awards from numerous critical circles. Call of Duty's exciting moments are entertaining, but worthy of awards?

MW3 is one of the most realistic military games out there. From the guns, to the sounds, to the actual landscapes that you play in; everything is researched by a team down to the most miniscule detail so that the gamer has a sensation of war. Gameplay borrows content from films and real life events and actions. How a soldier moves, how a gun shoots and how a helicopter functions are all aspects of the game. The game industry is clearly taking the gritty cues of modern war films as the aesthetic of first person shooters. Yet it seems to miss the anti-war message found in some of the most successful war films, such as Saving Private Ryan. Thus are we, as gamers, rewarding the game industry for taking the most basic, instant gratification aspects of film whilst ignoring the deeper value of the medium?

What may be even worse for the medium than simply lacking a message, is that some gameplay elements may actually undercut the implied message. As noted in a recent episode of The Indoor Kids, Bioshock is, at it's core, about determinism. Yet this message is undermined by the fact that the main character spends an enormous amount of time killing people. It simply detracts from the message and contradicts it.Thus, there is a disconnect between the form of the gameplay and the content of the narrative message. With that being said, games are still in the very early phases of development. It is understandable that gaming hasn't realized the potential of the medium. Unlike films, games have the opportunity to create an instant connection between the character and the player. The industry has thus far focused on the experience of the player and the opportunity to instantly gratify that player with flashy action sequences rather than formulating a way to get the message across in both a narrative and gameplay driven form.

That isn't to say that all games have fallen subject to poor form and content synthesis. Nor does it mean that the narrative merits of games like Red Dead Redemption, Metal Gear Solid, or Fallout (All brilliant narrative games) are somehow invaluable. Those game should be, and often are, recognized for their achievements in raising the bar for narrative experiences. However, they fail to realize the full potential of their medium.

A game that does pulls off the form and content synthesis is Portal 2. Portal manages to take the narrative message of free will and presents it with the gameplay that presents free will. The very way you play the game mirrors the narrative. The game offers you countless ways to complete a puzzle, forcing you to utilize your free thought to formulate an escape, much like the main character Chell. Not only are you Chell, but Chell is you. She is what you make her. Unlike in Red Dead Redemption, where you have freedom to make John Marston whoever you'd like but are still limited by the narrative choices of John, Chell offers a direct link into the game. You ultimately learn as much as she does in the narrative by utilizing the free will that sets you apart from every other character in the game. You are a human, not a robot. Thus, you have the ability to do what you want. It is an interesting parallel to characters you play in other games. John is a robot who is bound by the choices programed by the designers of the game. While the player can utilize their free will to do whatever they desire in the game portions, the cinematic of the game are decidedly John's choices and not yours.

John, while he is a compelling character looking for redemption, doesn't always match up with the actions of the player.This can cause a disconnect between the character and the player, causing a rift in the emotional tension.

This is a direct relation to film. You can build rapport between an audience and a character, but that character is ultimately a programmed individual. Gaming has largely taken this aspect from film. What sets Portal apart is the ability to be in the game and relay the narrative message directly through both the events in the game and the gameplay.

While the game industry looks towards the film industry for an evolution of its medium, it has yet to realize the very things that make films so successful as an artform. Rather than focusing on the exciting instant gratification of the Transformers films, it should look for the introspective artistic value found in a Kubrick film. The game industry is evolving immensely on the front of narrative experiences, it has quite a way to go in terms of merging form and content. It has yet to really realize its potential as a unique art form. However, with a game like Portal 2 standing as a successful artistic experience, the future looks bright.

Finding Critical Value in New French Extremity

Throughout film history, France has proven to be the source for influential film movements. From cinema verite to the French New Wave, French film makers have created some of the most critically acclaimed film movements that changed, multiple times, film as an art form. However, never before has France experienced a cultural identity crisis in which concerns of the global market clashes with the type of art cinema that France is known for. Through this crisis, a new movement has emerged which melds both art cinema and appeal to international audiences, while also pushing the boundaries of film making. Coined by Artforum author James Quandt, the New French Extremity is a movement that is “willfully transgressive.” (Quandt 127) The movement which has emerged within the last 20 years, features intense subject matter highlighted by both traditional narratives as well as experimental design. 
While this movement continues to push the boundaries of film making with clear results, critics seem to pan over the films due to the intense subject matter depicted in an unforgiving way. Many film scholars and critics, including Quandt “cite the films... merely to castigate their graphic content, dismiss their artistic agendas as disingenuous, and deride their alleged pretentiousness” (Palmer 26) These statements, made by critics, raise the question as to where the line between artistic value and exploitation occurs, or if it even exists. Regardless of whether or not this line exists, there is both artistic and critical value to be found within the New French Extremity movement and films that belong to it.

What dictates the artistic value of the film and does it devalue it through it's transgressive nature? Film, by nature, has always been a bit transgressive. Landmark films such as Spike Lee's Do The Right Thing (1989) and Arthur Penn's Bonnie and Clyde (1967) were considered controversial at the time of their releases. Even Star Wars (1977) which chose to put the credits at the end of the film rather than the beginning landed George Lucas flak from the Hollywood traditionalist film making world. Yet at some point, the films cross over into a realm of exploitation. Some of the most controversial films of the Blaxploitation drama are still considered exploitative by today's standards (Melvin Van Peeble's Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song [sic])

History has, undoubtedly, produced some of cinema's most controversial films, many of which sacrifice artistic value due to the content on the screen. Arguably, the two most noteworthy films that have succeeded in crossing from art into exploitative trash do so at the expense of live animals which are graphically murdered on screen: Ruggero Deodato's Cannibal Holocaust (1980) and Tun Fei Mou's Men Behind the Sun (1988). The sacrifice of a living being is the push into pure exploitation, yet many critics hold New French Extremity films to the same regards as these animal snuff films.
Films belonging to the New French Extremity movement, such as Gasper Noe's Irreversible (2002), Claire Denis' Trouble Every Day (2001)and Bruno Dumont's Twentynine Palms(2003) often carry great intellectual and artistic value, with a clear theme that flows under all of them, yet are often ignored due to the way in which the values are presented. “The intellectual content is... overshadowed by the films' physical force structures.” (Hagman 38) These films often present a deeper meaning than popular Hollywood films, yet simply due to the intrusiveness of the content critics and scholars alike resist the films. 
Even with critical scorn aside, these films have quickly gained an audience through the international festival circuit. A number of New French Extremity films have premiered at Cannes Film Festival, and have remained popular with international audiences. With a clear audience, as well as clear artistic value, these films deserve critical attention. 

These films are met with, most clearly, confusion in the critical world. “By mixing traditional art-filmic markers with exploitation and genre elements, the films do not conform to any ready-made critical categories.” (Hagman 37) It is through this reasoning that critics may take on the films in a cautious way. The films, which are extremely grim and usually depict the human animal as a vehicle for bodily horror, resist the urge to conform to traditional cinematic forms. “...critics and scholars have built entrenched positions around the notion that cinema should either infuriate or placate.” (Palmer 26) New French Extremity excels in depicting the brutality of human nature, stripped down to it's basic form, in an almost disturbingly experimental and impersonal way that it becomes impossible to place in such categories. 
These films are designed to induce powerful emotions from the viewer. Not only do they often tackle intense issues involving sexuality, violence and a mesh of the two, but they utilize arthouse form to generate numerous powerful emotions. For example, Noe's Irreversible opens with a dizzying camera that rotates around, creating heavy vertigo. The colors mesh together and become reminiscent of various experimental works that rely heavily on the use of blending colors as vehicles for artistic value. This varied and often times violent camera continues as the story unfolds in reverse. The film opens outside of a homosexual fetish club with ambulances and police swarming. The main characters are introduced: one lies beaten and bloodied on a stretcher and the other apprehended by the police. Moments later, the audience sees what led to this. The main characters brutally beat a man to death with a fire extinguisher (in one of cinema's most notorious and violent scenes). It is not until the story reverts further that the audience sees what caused this destruction. The main characters' female friend, Alex, is brutally raped and beaten.

Suddenly, the varied and violent camera stops and presents one of the most intense and painful longshots ever filmed. The 9 minute scene features a motionless camera pulled back to reveal the entire sequence taking place. “...a single take static camera watches from floor level as raped, with her suffering face visible in the foreground throughout” (Keesey 96) This framing, is the decisive point in which the film features less violent camera movements, forces the viewer to sit and watch the dark power of the human animal. As the film continues to unfold it becomes clear that Alex was pregnant, thus further damning the audience to emotional distress.

The mise-en-scene is not the only tool by which Noe creates emotional and physiological distress. “For sixty minutes of its running time, a barely perceptible but aggravating bass rumble was 27 hertz... [that induces] unease, and after prolonged exposure, physical nausea.” (Palmer 29) This tone increases the discomfort created by both the narrative as well as the experimental camera movements. It is for this reason that Irreversible is hard to critique. It becomes hard to sit through, not out of boredom, but sheer discomfort and pain.

The New French Extremity movement also tends to cross boundaries of various social movements such as feminism. Pascal Laugiers' Martyrs (2008) has been judged for destroying the female form while still being “lesbian chic” (Whittle 1) The film features a cult that believes that suffering through torture is a path to enlightenment. As a result, they kidnap a well-meaning girl to torture her relentlessly. At the surface, the extreme violence caused by males to the female form may seem exploitative and almost reminiscent of traditional Hollywood slasher films. 
What the film actually does is reconsider violence towards women, thus transforming a seemingly anti-female film into a feminist one. “Laugier forces the viewer to question pop culture's views concerning acceptable types of violence...Laugier subverts this tendency towards the viewer experiencing a voyeuristic thrill through his unflinching depiction of Anna [the main character's] suffering” (Green 23) This challenges the very Hollywood way of making horror films.
This anti-Hollywood film style is almost reminiscent of the French New Wave, which sought to move cinema away from the studio system and into a more realistic sphere. Yet New French Extremity is post-national in nature. Many of these films, Martyrs and Irreversible included reference and draw from various other international cinematic forms. This harkens back to basic Cahiers du Cinema viewpoints. “The Cahiers critics were very open about their love for American films... when they later went on to become directors-auteurs- of the nouvelle vague they would quote freely from the films they had studied.” (Hagman 35) This is seen clearly in Godard's Breathless (1960) where the main character mimics Humphrey Bogart's mannerisms. Thus, New French Extremity has striking similarities to various other major film movements within France. 
In fact one of the landmark horror films of France, Georges Franju's Eyes Without a Face can be looked at as the jumping off point for French bodily horror. The film graphically depicts a face transplant and deals with intense subject matter such as child mutilation. New French Extremity has much more of a link to traditional French cinema than that of “torture porn” popular in Hollywood, which receive horrible critical reaction due to both graphic exploitative scenes and poor film making techniques. 
With other films in the New French Extremity movement resorting to progressive types of techniques similar to that of Irreversible to further push their themes, it becomes clear why critics and scholars may veer away from the genre. The very thing artistic value that makes the films successful is the very thing that pushes those who would find the value away.

Although, these films do hold a weight within the film making community. The films explicitly have had an impact on international cinema. Other films have been met with similar critical distaste such as Lars Von Triers' Antichrist (2009) which features an arthouse film style and a sexually violent narrative has been assaulted for “inherently misogyrustic [sic]” (Green 2) This assault is not unlike the one against Laugier's Martyrs. Japan's Takashi Miike Audition (1999) has been met with critical distaste for his style of Japanese exploitation cinema. These international films could easily fall under the banner of New French Extremity. All hold tremendous intellectual and artistic values, yet suffer from the same critical negligence that films like Irreversible experience.

Even when facing critical discourse, these films are all successful within the cinematic world. They all meet a cult audience who embrace them. Some seek transgressive style films, while others seek to chronicle the further evolution of French cinema. With “torture porn” films remain popular in Hollywood, the Extremity movement will be met with broader audiences. This allows these hybrid arthouse films to flourish within the international market, allowing for France to continue its dominance as the artistic center for cinema. While the New French Extremity may never reach a worldwide mainstream audience, it will be met with legions of cinephiles seeking to witness a movement akin to the French New Wave. It is through this cult atmosphere, and not the resistant critical community, that the movement will remain strong and carry a legacy regardless of it's transgressive nature. 

Works Cited:
 Austin, Guy. Contemporary French Cinema : An Introduction. Manchester, UK; New York; New York: Manchester University Press ; Distributed exclusively in the USA by Palgrave Macmillan, 2008. /z-wcorg/. Web.
Beugnet, Martine. Cinema and Sensation : French Film and the Art of Transgression. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2007. /z-wcorg/. Web.
"Flesh & Blood: Sex and Violence in Recent French Cinema." Artforum International 42.6 (2004): 126-32. Web.
Green, Amy M. (2011) “The French Horror Film Martyrs and the Destruction, Defilement, and Neutering of the Female Form” Journal of Popular Film and Television, 39” 1, 20-28
GREEN, NICHOLAS. "The New French New Wave?" Bright Lights Film Journal.67 (2010): 1-4. Web.
Hagman, Hampus. "‘Every Cannes Needs its Scandal’: Between Art and Exploitation in Contemporary French Film." Film International (16516826) 5.5 (2007): 32-41. Web.
Keesey, Douglas. "Split Identification: Representations of Rape in Gaspar noé's Irréversible and Catherine Breillat's A Ma Sæur!/Fat Girl." Studies in European Cinema 7.2 (2010): 95-107. Web.
Palmer, Tim. "Style and Sensation in the Contemporary French Cinema of the Body." Journal of Film & Video 58.3 (2006): 22-32. Web.
Wittle, Peter. “Martyrs” The Sunday Times. <> March 29, 2009. Web.