Tag: opinion

The Problem With True Crime

If you’ve logged into your Netflix account recently or scrolled through your Twitter feed, you’ve most likely seen a trailer for a true crime film or tweets about Zac Efron’s portrayal of Ted Bundy. But this isn’t anything new. The intense fascination with true crime has always been there. Whether that be in the form of a podcast à la Serial or numerous books on serial killers such as Manson, Bundy, and Dahmer; killers and criminals are given immortality through all forms of media.

When it comes to true crime, I, too, fall trap to and feel sucked into the intense world of the subject. Sometimes there’s even the inexplicable feeling of rooting for them to evade the police before you realise what that really means. You instantly shove those feelings out of your mind and think to yourself, “no, this guy is truly evil. I can’t feel sorry for him.” But that’s the thing, so many people do, and that’s ok… to an extent.

Films often transport you into the world of the subject, even true crime films. You can’t help but feel enthralled by the dark turns the character takes during the narrative. As a filmmaker, it’s ok to dramatise the events, but there’s a difference between wanting to create that entranced feeling and glorifying the subject.

This issue has been brought up recently with the Sundance premiere of “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile,” a biopic of Ted Bundy. The film has drawn many polarising reviews since its appearance at the festival. Its trailer, filled with grinning heartthrob, Zac Efron, and energetic rock music is also an extreme departure from what you might expect for a film about a serial killer.

Critics say that the tone of the film doesn’t match the dark subject matter. According to Variety’s Owen Gleiberman, “the movie is compartmentalizing Bundy’s evil by focusing on Bundy’s human side.” The film “can’t resist making Bundy look like a little bit of a rock star at times even though the movie purports to condemn him,” says The Playlist’s Rodrigo Perez.

The film does nothing in terms of bringing new information to the table or telling it through a new lens. Instead of telling the story from the female perspective of Bundy’s long-time girlfriend, which is the argument made by the film’s director, Joe Berlinger, the film fails to do anything innovative. Taking the perspective of his girlfriend, Elizabeth Kloepfer, is “nothing more than disingenuous lip service perhaps to engender good will to savvy (and woke) audiences hoping to see some female agency (which the film does not deliver, though boy it does try all of sudden late in the game),” according to The Playlist.

The film’s focus on the more “human side” of Bundy amplifies the charming, charismatic persona he had. This is all the more emphasised with the casting of Efron, whose appearance as Bundy in the trailer sparked an instant Twitter meltdown. Hundreds of people started swooning over the “hotness” of Bundy. Netflix, the streaming service who bought the rights to the film, even got involved in the conversation by saying on Twitter: “I’ve seen a lot of talk about Ted Bundy’s alleged hotness and would like to gently remind everyone that there are literally THOUSANDS of hot men on the service – almost all of whom are not convicted serial murderers.”

It’s not that attractive actors shouldn’t be cast as serial killers who were also considered good-looking. The issue is that there are implications that come with choosing to tell stories in a glamorised way and society’s subsequent obsession with them – that raise ethical questions and concerns.

Who do we value more? The wise-cracking, ‘charming’, well-dressed, well-educated necrophiliac mass murderer? Or the young women?” asks Lucy Jones of The Independent.

Judging by the recent news, films, and reactions, I’d say the former. People are entranced by good-looking people who do bad things. We are taught as children through media and stories that bad people are not supposed to look nice. As adults, we still somewhat hold on to this belief. We can’t seem to wrap our heads around the fact that beautiful people can do terrible things, so they fascinate us.

One thing’s for sure, the obsession with true crime stories and serial killers doesn’t seem to be “dying” down anytime soon. Because of this, filmmakers must be careful when they choose to tell the stories of serial killers. They have to understand that the people in these stories are real, which means their victims are too.

It brings up the issue of responsible filmmaking and how necessary it is to tell the stories of such terrible people. Of course, I don’t have the answer to this. Yes, responsibly told stories have value, especially when they bring to light new evidence and information. Yes, the stories are a reflection of the people they portray, not the other way around. But ultimately, filmmakers and their audiences must realise that they are finding entertainment in what were some of the worst moments of people’s lives.

While we as an audience can close our laptops and walk away from the tragedies we just experienced on the screens, the families of those who lived it don’t have that luxury. This is especially true when it comes to Bundy and “Extremely Wicked” as some of his victims’ loved ones are still alive. While we can fast forward through the gorier scenes that make us a bit too sick to our stomachs, they actually lived through them.

If you’re interested in writing crime, be sure to sign up for our Crime Writing from the Trenches of Hollywood Masterclass.

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[BOOK REVIEW] The Director’s Six Senses

“‘Director’ is not a description of what you do; it is something you become. You are a director 24/7. You should always have your ‘director senses’ alert.”

The idea that you have to use all of your senses to be a great director is one that the author of The Director’s Six Senses, Simone Bartesaghi, firmly believes in. Sight, sound and overall vision may seem obvious in their connection to directing, but the fact that smell, taste, and touch were also deemed equally as important was surprising to me. Of course, you can’t touch, smell or taste a movie. But these senses can be interpreted and must be considered when it comes to the filmmaking process.

Smell is such an elusive sense and it is interestingly applied by Bartesaghi as a metaphor for performance. He insists that it’s easy to “smell a lie” when it comes to a performance, but then again, every performance is a lie. It’s all a matter of playing pretend but doing it SO well that it seems true.

Films feel real because of the alternate realities they convey. They transport the audience member into that world and make them believe that, even if only for 90 minutes, it is all real. That’s why smell and the “stench” of a bad performance can be detrimental to the believability of a film.

“If what happens on the screen doesn’t feel right, if the behavior of the characters seems forced, then we snap out of the movie and the whole immersive experience is gone.”

Touch is the biggest sense to focus on when it comes to production design. Every human touches the lives of others and the world around them in some way, and their environment is a direct result of these interactions. As Bartesaghi says, “you’ll notice very quickly that their world is often a reflection of their identity.”

It is important to realise this when it comes to crafting the environment that will be shown on screen. A chaotic, creative character can live in a very cluttered and personalized home, but if their boss is a neurotic neat-freak, their work desk can be devoid of personality. This is because every scene should be a reflection of how the environment or other characters force the character to behave or interact.

“Touch is the perception of the environment. It’s important to remember that we are trying to portray on the screen the truth about our reality and it’s important that we pay attention to how, in real life, we react, perceive, and use things.”

Taste is another sense that doesn’t immediately come to mind when you think of directing, but it’s one that should be developed over time. This time Bartesaghi chooses to refer to taste as the feeling that is left and stays with you even after the film is over.  As director, you are in control of the story and can dictate how your audience feels as a result. It sounds quite manipulative, but it’s true.

If you want the ending to be so heart-wrenchingly sad that the audience can’t help but feel a piece of them die with the rolling of the credits, that’s your call. But to quote a famous uncle, “with great power comes great responsibility.” You don’t want to drive your audience away; you want to carefully steer them towards the ending reaction you desire.

The Director’s Six Senses doesn’t quite reach its full potential as far as sense related metaphors go. But, Bartesaghi redeems himself with the idea that a director’s senses must be alert and useful when it comes to noticing things others may not. That’s why this book, while at times a bit too on-the-nose, is a good resource for the aspiring filmmaker that’s interested in how to be a good director and not necessarily good at directing.


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Why More of the Industry Needs to Embrace ‘Inclusion Riders’

It’s been about a year since Frances McDormand’s 2018 Oscars acceptance speech and her mic-drop worthy moment of bringing the term ‘inclusion rider’ to the forefront of the industry. Since then, other actors have taken to promising equality in their future projects. Three days after the award ceremony, Michael B. Jordan promised that his production company would make sure inclusion riders were written into contracts for any upcoming projects. Just recently, Regina King promised in her 2019 Golden Globes acceptance speech that all future projects she produces will have a crew that’s at least 50 percent female.

But what exactly does the adoption of these stipulations mean for the industry?

In theory, inclusion riders should help diversify the vastly unequal environment of Hollywood. People of color, women and underrepresented individuals should be given a voice and equal opportunity for employment in the industry. The idea of this is great, but it’s harder to see the effect of it take form. While individuals themselves can insight change, the reality is that it’s hard to see true change until the larger corporations support the initiative.

So has there been any progress on that front?

Long story short, yes. In late 2018, Warner Bros. announced that it would introduce an inclusion rider policy, becoming the first major player in the entertainment industry to do so. The company promised to “create a plan for implementing this commitment to diversity and inclusion on our projects.” They also promised to issue an annual report showing its progress. The report has yet to be released, so it’s hard to see if there really is any progress on the diversity front.

The fact of the matter is that the company’s commitment to its new policy is a step in the right direction. Where Warner Bros. spoke up about the issue, many others chose to stay mum on the subject. Sony, Disney, Universal, and others are guilty of doing this. They haven’t made any real commitments to adding a diversity clause or policy to their hiring practices for positions on or off screen.

Even the streaming giant, Netflix, who has been producing more and more content helmed by women directors and featuring people of color leads, is lagging behind. Films like Beasts of No Nation and Okja feature diverse casting, but Netflix has chosen to avoid adopting any official policy regarding diversity. In an interview with USA TodayCEO Reed Hastings said they’re “not so big on doing everything through agreements. We’re trying to do things creatively.”

While that’s great in theory, the “creativity” of Hollywood historically hasn’t been able to make significant changes. If one were to rely on creativity over a physical contract stipulation, nothing would get done. Netflix spends billions on content, so why can’t they dedicate some of their time and money on something that could definitively change the industry? These powerhouse studios make up such a huge percentage of the distribution channel that they can lead the way towards change. Yet, few of them seem to have the drive to. This is where the real problem lies. 

It’s not like there aren’t incentives to adding diversity to films. Studies show that films which feature diverse casting outperform those that don’t. They also show that people of color make up almost “half of ticket buyers who attended the opening weekends of some of the most successful films released within the study period.” Studios pledging to support ‘inclusion riders’ would most likely see an increase in overall sales and audience members.

Overall, it’s great to see new commitments to diversity by individuals in Hollywood. Go ahead and praise the Regina Kings, Brie Larsons and Michael B. Jordans of the industry because they are doing a great thing! You, yourself, can even take part in inciting change by adding an ‘inclusion rider’ clause in your film viewing. But we must realize that while promises to include underrepresented individuals is a step forward for the industry, nothing can truly change until more of the larger studios follow through with them as well.


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