Filmmaking Gimmicks That Fail (Television)

I grew up during television’s true golden age, when everyone was sure it would lay waste to movie theaters in short order via the VHS player. TV’s impact was so great, it actually ingrained itself nicely into the cinematic world, creating a whole paradigm of storytelling gimmicks screenwriters love to include, whenever they can. Usually when they shouldn’t.

As opposed to other, non-intrusive throwaway lines like “We’ve got company!” and “Get out of there!” – these little nuisances bend the narrative line in jarring doses more along the lines of Breaking the Fourth Wall.

Television Announcers For Sports Events-

It started with Major League, really. The two announcers became characters in their own right, making audiences laugh with lines like “Just a bit outside.” It was supposed to be a simple way of keeping us up on the score, granted… but soon followed many clones, including (somewhat ironically) the worst offender of all.

"That Skywalker was JUST a bit out-sly'd by those Tusken Raiders!"

Which leads us to:

Cable News/Talk Shows-

For the past few years, I’ve started noticing that I’m attending movies in which I watch people watch television, with many close-ups of that one-eyed monster displaying (usually) news or talk shows. Our heroes/villains/innocents/knaves all watch as some stereotypical news report narrates an event that while central to the film’s story/character/conflict/whatever, could be (and is) cheaply done in this manner.

Marvel Studios

This was especially annoying in Iron Man II, which shouldn’t be surprising. As much as I love the Marvel movies, they’ve never really sucked me into their narratives; but this was blatantly¬†unnecessary and jolting. Tony Stark appearing before the Senate Select Committee would have been perfect if they would have left that CNN coverage thing out. The switching back and forth between Favreau’s cameras and “CNN” cameras, which were obviously the same cameras, actually induced a facepalm from me. At one point the cut went to such a similar frame, it seemed like the CNN logo just appeared on the screen.

Nothing so great as going to a theater to feel like you’re watching TV. Let’s not even get into the litany of movies that feature an ostensible appearance on Leno, Larry King, or Letterman. Can we please just have a moratorium on crap like that? Because it will also phase out the one that really bugs me. Has, for over a decade at least.

The Switch-Off

This is that annoying behavior that hack script characters engage in, wherein they tune in to some disaster being played out on live television. “Turn on channel 2! You gotta see this!” And after a brief description of a horrible incident, or perhaps even a surprise announcement from a rival character, someone grabs the remote and switches the TV off. As if there’s no inherent interest in that story anymore. Nobody does this, ever.

I can’t find any clips featuring that gimmick, but I know I’ve seen it done a thousand times. And each time I want to yell at them, “Wait, what else? They didn’t finish the story!” And then I realize I was watching TV when I was supposed to be watching a movie.

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10 Responses to Filmmaking Gimmicks That Fail (Television)

  1. I fully agree. When watching those movies, that stuff can be very distracting.

  2. Gauldar says:

    I don’t even remember that part with the announcer in the movie. The only memorable part was Yoda fighting, and all the rest was a blur.

  3. johnnycat says:

    Gauldar, that’s not even the same movie. The two-headed alien was the announcer for the podrace in Ep 1, and Yoda’s first ridiculous fight was in Ep 2.

  4. Sam says:

    A “switch-off” that comes to mind is Superman II. In the diner they are watching the President of the United States announce he has surrendered the planet to Zod, and the owner gets disgusted and turns it off. What?! The planet is doomed and you don’t feel it is worth watching?!

  5. johnnycat says:

    That is an excellent example.

  6. Morris says:

    Actually, the reason that they turn TV’s off, might be because quite often it requires a special effect to make the TV screen look correct on camera. If you ever see a TV shot on the news, often you will see the TV screen flicker like the vertical hold is messed up.

    The different frame speeds and screen glare can make a simple TV display a nightmare to show up correctly in a camera. Sometimes you can sync the camera to the TV display, but often it requires a blue screen effect, which can get pretty difficult to track if the camera is also moving.

    So, perhaps the reason for this is not bad writing, but the practicality of getting a live TV display in the shot.

  7. Candu says:

    Maybe it’s because I work in TV news, but I hate it when they have some reporter on the courthouse steps and they’re reporting live about crooked mayor X and right on cue, Mayor X comes bounding down the stairs behind her and she turns and asks a pretty stupid question, shich the guy answers and she turns to the camera and says, “there you have it- blah, blah, blah”

    It would never, NEVER happen that way. In 20+ years, I have never come close to this happening.

    In the real world, Mayor X would not go through them, but around the live shots. He would say nothing to the reporter, because he knows he doesn’t have to and “There you have it” girl would get her ass chewed for such a cliche ending.

    Don’t even get me started on “Up Close and Personal”…

  8. Darren says:

    Umm…. They’re not hacks because they use these bits of visual shorthand, dude. Relax – people don’t go to the movies to see REALITY.

    • bookum says:

      Exactly Darren.The reason why they call it “movie magic” is because Star Wars wasnt filmed in space.

  9. I walked out of the Cable Guy when Sleepless in Seattle came on the TV. I suddenly realized I was watching a movie in which the characters watch a TV airing of a movie in which THOSE characters are watching a movie (An Affair to Remember) on TV. Now if I can just get the footage from the documentary about me leaving that theater….

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