Right now, it’s US television pilot season in Vancouver and everyone is bustling. There’s no question we’re a production hub, and although we get the occasional splashy feature film, the primary employer in our industry is television: the good, the bad and the ugly. Most of industry is trained to perfection on the production of television series. It’s a rare show that posts here, so our post-production community is set up to service Canadian independents, or to facilitate the pipeline back to LA where the “real” post happens.
What this production climate does is create a paranoia in our creative people: as in “please, please, please don’t let this look like television.” [Insert nose wrinkles here.] Because all the emphasis is placed in production, and all our hard production work funnels out to a lot of forgettable projects, we start to make assumptions about what makes tv so, well, tv-ish We blame the type of coverage, the shots, the amount of equipment, for the tv-ness. And when we get a chance to work on independent productions, we do everything we can to be opposite to what it was we did at our day jobs. It’s an exercise in contortion to make things not look, feel and sound like television, which ironically, tends to make things look, feel and sound like television.
Having produced television series in my past, I can honestly say that no one in tv tries to make things feel like tv. The buzzword is always “cinematic.” There’s a constant emulation of feature film techniques, from handheld coverage to the constantly moving camera to the unmotivated wide angle…and yet, no matter what we do, it still looks like tv. So what is the difference exactly? I think I finally figured it out:
What makes a feature a feature is not the dark dysfunctional family story, the use of Matrix-inspired camera-tricks or whatever the cinematic flavour of the day is. It’s the time to really craft the film, to think about the shots and get as many nuanced performances we can, getting as much coverage as we can, so that we can spend the hours, weeks, and months in post production to let the material bloom. Television schedules don’t allow for this, so the “cheapness” that we’re railing against is simply a matter of how much time we’re allowing for our stories to truly develop. A cool shot is just a cool shot without the heart and soul of performance, and unfortunately, that can only be achieved with the luxury (and expense) of time.