Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Convention for the Sake of Convention

There is a disturbing trend in Hollywood toward convention. By that I mean movies that are made with the conventions you'd expect to see in a given genre or even by studio. We expect certain types of films from Disney, and maybe certain other types from Warner, and something different again if the genre is horror, or romantic comedy and so on. This is convention and some people will even call it craft. This is especially proliferated in TV. I can't think of one sitcom that doesn't use bank lighting. That means banks of soft lights that flood the set in brightness. While in horror films we see mostly darkness with only glimmers of light here and there. Much more dramatic. But still so very conventional and expected.

Now take something like Pirates of the Caribbean. Generally it's lit with bright soft sunlight with everyone flooded in brightness. But there are occasional scenes of something more dramatic, as in the stables. But even there, it's pretty much all flat and soft. It's not until we get to the underwater scenes with the pirates walking or the moonlight on the deck of the ship, that we find something really interesting.

Anyway, my point here is that Hollywood and TV generally use conventions for the sake of conventions. There's no motivation there. Why would every room and scene in a sitcom be flooded with bright soft light? It's not real. The rooms in our houses aren't' like that. Look around in your house. The light is brighter near the window, or at night only around your lamps, and it drops off into darkness as you get away from the light source. So what then motivates studios to use something like bank lighting? I can't think of hardly a single place in real life where everything is flooded evenly with soft all penetrating light. Even in an office of overhead fluorescents, the light drops off near the corners of cubicles.

Obviously these so called Hollywood artistic professionals either can't be bothered to make something look interesting and real, or they don't want to spend the time on it. So we end up with pasty plastic looking people with caked on makeup to make sure they are evenly lit like everything else on the set. This is completely what you call unmotivated lighting. There is no motivation for this other than the studio budget or the grip's inability to do something interesting.

So you say, this is no trend. It's always been this way. Well maybe. But it seems so much of a standard now that if you make a film without pasty lighting, you get criticized for being too artsy. You become the one who is accused of not having motivation for the lighting you use. In other words, if it's not a horror film or some dark drama, you had better flood the place with pasty light and cake on the makeup.

But people ultimate don't buy it. It may be subconscious. But we all find something fake in these bank-ly lit scenes. That's one reason why reality programs have taken off. They don't light anything. They just shoot whatever is out there in real life. Of course this is the opposite extreme. Although in both cases of bank lighting and reality shows we have the common element of lazy unmotivated lighting. Seldom do they take the time to light something with true motivation for how the light should fall on the subjects.

Convention for the sake of convention is a lie. It's lazy, and it's ugly. It's an indication of poor sloppy work and under par production.

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