Monday, 9 May 2011

Smoke And Mirrors

There are only three things in the world that I hate, and here are five more of them.

As you've probably worked out, I watch a lot of TV, and recently I've been watching a lot of dramas. And I've noticed an annoying amount of unnecessary shots of lead characters, particularly on BBC dramas. These shots are designed to externalise how the character is feeling, but the methods they use are lazy and overdone. I'll explain 5 examples of the kind of thing I mean...

Mirrors: Vampires hate them, directors love them. Need to show how a character is feeling without the dull process of writing a decent script? Simple, just film the character looking in a mirror! If they're happy, they can smile at a mirror. And if they're sad, they can frown at a mirror. And it's realistic, because people do look in mirrors! Plus it's like a visual metaphor, because the character is literally reflecting! Oh hang on, this isn't a GCSE English class, you're just a lazy, boring director.

I've spoken before about the BBC drama 'Dive', a story which will resonate with anyone who has had to juggle teenage pregnancy and olympic diving. It's like... it's like it's talking directly to me. *Sniff* Everything was wrong with Dive, including shots of people just looking in mirrors.

This went on for 12 seconds.

Photographs: Native Americans hate them, directors love them. How can we make it clear that this character's wife is dead, bearing in mind we've spilt coffee on the laptop so can't alter the script? Simple, just have him stare at a photo of her for ages, perhaps tearing up a little! The audience will love that. Providing they're all idiots.

That isn't what's going on in this picture, and I feel bad for using it because the BBC's 'Wallander' is excellent. But you get what I mean.

Cars: Princess Diana hates them, directors love them. Want to set a depressing tone in a modern drama? Simple, have your character drive around at night in the rain! Film through the windscreen, the street lights make a cool visual effect. Plus it's another visual metaphor for how the character is feeling, because they're all alone and aimless and dejected and the rain represents their tears and FUCK OFF.

Last week's 'Exile' on the BBC was one of the best thrillers I've ever seen, with John Simm, Jim Broadbent and Olivia Colman brilliantly bringing Paul Abbott's idea to life. However, the first five minutes consisted of exactly this.

Whisky: Whisky trees hate it, directors love it. This male character is upset and there are no mirrors in this room, what the fuck do we do?! Simple, show him sitting with his head in his hands, nursing a glass of whisky. Or brandy, it doesn't really matter. And I'm not talking about 'Mad Men', in which they're constantly drinking whisky. I just mean when a throwaway shot of a man with a drink is used to convey that he is depressed. This makes me so annoyed that I have to sit with a whisky, so that if anyone saw me they'd know I was upset.

I'm genuinely sorry to use 'Exile' as an example again because I'm making it seem really bad, but I have to stress that it was absolutely amazing. But...

Windows: Steve Jobs hates them, directors love them. Does your character need to show that they're being pensive? Have you already added the line 'I'm pretty pensive about this', only to have it removed by the script editor? Simple, get a shot of them gazing out of the window! It shows they're being thoughtful and detached, and it's another visual metaphor. Probably. And people are always staring out of windows aren't they? NO. People don't do that you fucking idiot.

'The Crimson Petal And The White' was recently on the BBC and it was another superb drama. I highly recommend it, the tone is just right and the cast is perfect, notably Chris O'Dowd from The IT Crowd. But stuff like this did tend to happen...

So please BBC, and TV dramas in general, give us a little more credit; we can pretty much tell how characters are feeling just by stuff that's happening to them. And if the script is good enough, we don't need these lazy, throwaway shots. As you can see from the picture at the top, 30 Rock understands. (As it does everything.) Why can't you? I will leave you with the song that this blog is named after, by the incredible Jamiroquai. Enjoy!


  1. Bonus points for use of Kenneth Branagh.

  2. Princess Diana joke was in poor taste (as mother would say)

  3. well i thought hard about not including it but i figured enough time has probably passed now