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Effective Effects

September 28, 2011 Leave a comment

 

One night, I sat down to watch what could possibly go down as one of the greatest modern B-movies today…Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus.

Admittedly, it’s not Oscar-calibre filmmaking, but I do enjoy a good “bad” movie. But as I was watching this monstrosity of Mega-badness, I noticed something about the editing. It seemed to me that the editor had one trick up their sleeve for this film. It was a speed burst with a chroma drop and luminance flare at the peak speed, which also acted as the “change shot” spot. It’s a great effect…subtle, simple and makes for a great transition (and as anyone who has had the “pleasure” of seeing this movie will attest to, it needed all the help it could get). The one problem was that the editor in question started to use it in places that didn’t need it. There was one shot where the editor actually did the speed burst but just used it speed up a slow move in. After seeing the effect used to change shots/scenes, it threw me off, and was a perfect example of when an effect can go from effective to distracting.

 

Now I don’t mean to pick on this editor in particular. There’s a charm to this film that fans of the genre no doubt appreciate. However, if watching TV provides lesson material for future editors, then that one scene makes a great object lesson. It shows the need to draw the line between when something is served better with an effect, and when it’s just overkill. Another perfect example is Jersey Shore. I forced myself to watch this one day, and had I suffered from epilepsy, I might possibly have had a seizure. This show is so effects heavy, that at times it’s hard to make out what’s going on. There was one scene where the shots were taken from an overhead camera. They tossed in a film shutter effect and scratch effect that was so quick, that I had to squint to see who was on-screen. Now, I understand that, being on MTV, the show’s audience demands that “music video” style of edit. Maybe it’s to divide those who watch the show and those who probably shouldn’t. However, I remember the early days of Real World and Road Rules, and while those shows did have their occasional effects, they were way more restrained than their Jersey channel-mates.

 

Now that I’m done being a TV grouch, I can get to the point of it all…determining when an effect is needed and when it’s too much. Some of the things that might make an effect necessary could be…

 

1) Different-looking viz: If you have a bunch of shots filmed in different locations/lighting conditions, an effect is a good way of visually tying things together. Photo colour filters, texture blends and the like are great ways of unifying your look.

 

2) Style: JJ Abrams’ Star Trek had one of the most subtle effects tossed in, but it added to the filming style. The little light flare that you saw in many of the interior shots. It was just something simple, but added just enough to keep our attention firmly on the screen.

 

3) Theme: You see in this a lot of event broadcasts…a graphical theme that is carried throughout the show. Much as the first point creates visual uniformity on a smaller scale, this creates it for the entire broadcast.

 

4) Audience: This is where I come to the defense of Jersey Shore. I completely understand that the producers of the show are catering to a certain market. If you watch MTV, you want flashiness, quick cuts and heavy effects. If you’re watching PBS, don’t expect to see too much splash. You can turn a viewer away if your effects aren’t designed for your audience. Imagine watching one of today’s music videos in the middle of The Lawrence Welk Show.

 

To the new editor, though, effects can be just too much to resist. It’s like a new toy…the minute you know how to play with it, you can’t stop. It’s the visual Lays potato chip. So how can you avoid this trap? Well, there’s always the tried and true “trial and error” approach, but this could lead to multiple revisions and if you’re on a deadline, this isn’t timely idea. One thing you can do is to go on an effects bender. If you have the time and opportunity, take a simple montage or scene and layer as many effects as you can on it. Do about 5 effects per run through. Make it the most visually hideous thing you could think of. Make it completely unwatchable! It’s the same theory as when kids would get locked in the closet and told to smoke an entire pack because they got busted by their parents. It’s designed to get it out of your system. Oddly enough, along the way, you’ll also get to see what effects work and which ones are better left in the filing cabinet labelled “Star Wipes”. Call it “effect aversion therapy”, but in a fun way. Go ahead…make it look horrible. Along the way, you’ll discover that if you can make it look really bad, you can also make it look really good.