A Girl’s Eye View of True Detective

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‘Ever fallen in love with someone you shouldn’t have fallen in love with?’  That’s how I feel about True Detective.  It’s silent, brooding and masculine as hell.  All the guys I know love it but to begin with, as a girl, I wasn’t so sure.

It’s true there’s double the eye-candy – you can choose between Matthew McConaughey as the moody intellectual with the razor-blade cheekbones, or Woody Harrelson as the fresh faced, good ole cop with a naughty twinkle in his eye for the ladies.  But the only ladies you’ll see are hookers, wives and pissed-off girlfriends.  Nothing new there you might say.  So what’s the hook for this girl?

This is the old made new, the generic buddy cop movie made strangely particular by the beauty of the language and the stillness of the pauses between these two men as they drive through the Louisiana landscape.  Nic Pizzolatto’s writing is elegant, often spare but sometimes dense, intellectual and witty.  This is dialogue worth tuning in to, by turns philosophical, self-loathing and slyly funny.  As a film it’s impossibly beautiful, the big skies, the yellow skin tones,  the Southern heat and dust made visible by director Cary Joji Fukunaga and cinematographer Adam Arkapaw.

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And then there are the two star turns – McConaughey the initial draw as the screwed up anti-hero, but with Harrelson subverting your expectations as his character becomes less charming and more a drowning man clutching at women like straws.

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Like my other favourite ‘slow-burn’ series from last year – Hannibal and Top of the Lake, True Detective ain’t in no hurry to tell you the plot, using the now common device of ending a quiet episode with a sudden glimpse of horror.  The momentum keeps building.  Like House of Cards, you’re watching one long story unfold over a series.  There is the odd flashy set piece but it’s the incremental gains you watch for.

It’s a masculine vision of the world that reminds me of The Godfather, not in its description of mob life but in its belief that it’s ‘kill or be killed’.  The characters are in the grip of ancient laws, desires and grudges beyond their control or understanding.

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It creates a view of the male psyche, trapped in a world limited by the very pleasures used to drown his sorrows.  Sex, drugs, alcohol and violence  are seen as useless aides in the face of the loneliness of life, they only make things worse by confronting you with a vision of yourself you can’t stand to be around.   You could argue many male-oriented films indulge in these activities while revealing them as hollow and self-defeating – but it’s the quality of the writing and the silence enveloping these characters on their long, existential drives that demands our attention and evokes a desire to understand them.

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That and they’re just so goddamn cool. Like Billie Holiday, I am in love with the ‘No Good Man’, but I also want to whisper, ‘Don’t Explain.’

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How to Shadow a Director

Shadow_cat I’ve just spent a week shadowing a director on a popular BBC1 pre-watershed drama series and as a way of seeing how you create a big primetime show it takes some beating.

Directors rarely get to watch each other work.  A director needs a second director on set like a fish needs a bicycle and it’s hard not to feel like a spare wheel when you’re just visiting a set.  But if you make it your job to really follow the action, you can learn what you need to step up to the next level.

So how do you shadow without stepping on anyone’s toes?

1.  Persuade a Producer.  Asking to trail anyone on a production is a delicate negotiation.  Producers (rightly) have to protect their cast and crew from distractions.  You have to make it clear you won’t disrupt the flow.  Let them choose a time when the pressure is less and find a friendly director who is open to the idea.  Shadowing is an unpaid gig so be prepared to pay all your own expenses – it’s worth it.

2.  Stop, Look, Listen.  If you follow closely enough you can see the mechanics of a show without having to ask a load of redundant questions.  The series producer generously gave me access to all aspects of production.  Be aware that folk are working fast and time is money.  However –

3.  If you don’t understand something, ask.  People enjoy explaining their job, and, if you show a real interest, you can find out how different members of the team solve problems and work more efficiently.  You can learn how to work smarter and adapt to the changing demands of each day.

4.  Learn from someone else’s style.  David, the director I followed, was supremely relaxed on set and created a great atmosphere for cast and crew to work in.  Watching how he achieved a variety of shots with elegance and economy in a limited time frame was fascinating and he was happy to explain his thinking and share his prep methods too.

5.  Be your own person.  When people asked me why I was shadowing, I just said I wanted to learn how the show worked.  People will respect your desire to understand what they’re doing and why.

6.  Be positive.  On most sets the workflow is similar – rehearse, watch with crew, light and then shoot. But every set has a different dynamic, an energy that shifts according to what’s thrown at it, or who comes on board.  You are part of that so always bring energy and enthusiasm and be a positive reflector for those around you.

7. Be realistic.  Being an over-reaching breed, we directors tend to think we can shoot anything.  So watching another director take on a role you covet is the best preparation for actually doing it yourself.  That way you are aware of what’s actually required and can prepare for when you get the chance to go for it yourself.

8. Enjoy it!  It’s not often you get to be on a shoot without all the responsibility that comes with directing one.  It was a real pleasure to spend time with David and the crew, cast and production team and an experience I’ll remember with gratitude and affection.

Who have you learned from by watching them work? Leave a comment here or find me on twitter @ emlin32.

Happy Shadowing…!