End Of The Movie

End Of The Movie

I've lately become somewhat obsessed with a particular type of movie ending.

You know the one.

Our protagonist/antagonist has overcome whatever it is Joe Campbell said they must overcome. Happily ever after feels imminent, as underlined by perhaps the opening riffs of a familiar pop-tune. But our hero, they've still got one final punchline to drop, whether verbal or otherwise, right before a cut-to-black.

And that music? It plays. We hit the chorus, or an ironic line, or something that makes us smile almost as much as the punchline, hitting its stride just as the first names appear.

It's a very specific type of ending, and to be honest, I have no idea if there's a particular cinematic term for it. But you know what I'm talking about, right?

In case you're unclear, here's one - the final scene of the Wachowski's paranoid red pill, The Matrix:

At this point of the movie, we've just seen the protagonist literally return from the dead, a god reborn. The new, subversive king of an artificial world populated by human slaves spending their entire life asleep as part of the plot's major twist: as our evil robot overlord's organic power supply. Seeing Neo fly up out of shot like that for the first time, it's a real moment. People do superhuman things inside the Matrix, but nobody's ever flown. And to suddenly drop an entirely fresh twist like that, literally a few frames before the cut to black? The effect it has on the average nerdy viewer is close to orgasmic. But then consider the tune itself : Wake Up, by Rage Against The Machine. One of the seminal anti-establishment protest songs of that odd late-90s era, with no accident that it both matched the subversive themes of the film itself, but also that it quite literally has a title matching the central demand placed on all the major characters (and presumably the millions of sleepers) as the film closes - an awakening this new god will hopefully bring about.

It all works. All a bit obvious, perhaps, but in the heat of the moment, if you're too caught up in the action to ponder it, the resulting end-of-the-movie moment is electrifying.

Though this technique does not necessary have to be a high-powered fist-bump, of the likes of Fight Club ('Where Is My Mind?') and Iron Man (though does that one count, the music starting arguably a touch late?) There's also the softer, smoother exit via the exact same route, often creating as evocative and energetic a moment as the punches-in-the-face.

Take the final scene Wes Anderson's classic, Rushmore:

While our protagonist doesn't actually do much more to advance the plot here, he does succeed at taking the hand of the woman he'd attempted to woo so unsuccessfully throughout the film. And perhaps in that final moment as the music begins to play, by hearing the mature way Max accepts his defeat, in taking his glasses off, Rosemary's finally looking at him as a man, not the ridiculous young boy he'd been throughout the film. And the song itself… well, that says it all. As the verse swells, the film slows to almost a halt, as we see all major characters assemble for one final photo, our couple still very much the focus of the frame. And just as the cut to black (or in this case, the curtain close) finally occurs, the music reaches the chorus: "I wish that I knew what I know now"; a line whose relation to everything else one can hardly ignore. But are these the character's thoughts, or that of the director himself? With Anderson's name revealed immediately as the line is sung, perhaps this busts the fourth wall for us slightly, the director having said on occasion how much of his own past he threaded into the film's central character.

I love these moments, and yes, I've become obsessed.

Taking note of them for months. Collecting them. Stashing them away for some unknown purpose, unknown even to me at this point. The novel I'm currently developing has accidentally wound up with moment like it winding through the narrative and tying up the ending. Part of me even thinks there might be an idea buried amongst this odd collection to form the premise of an entire story in itself. Perhaps a tale about someone bound by a collection of endings, the same way the protagonist in High Fidelity (another great end-of-the-movie play-out moment) seems bound by the songs and playlists of the women in his past.

Or is that just too obvious? Would it be more appropriate for a literary tie-in of this device to be something more down the 'random swing track' path Die Hard treads, or merely a stretching of the final mood as per the much-drooled-at Gosling-fest, Drive? Or is it foolish to even be trying to force this round cinematic peg into square literary hole?

I don't know. And if I'm completely honest here, I have no idea why I'm collecting these. And yes, I am collecting them. Check out these sweet puppies on Spotify. Each one of them one of these very deliberate end-of-the-movie music moments (if you can guess them all). Well, not this one, which I kept on the list for no good reason than… well… who doesn't think every playlist deserves a little Backstreet? And no, it really doesn't count as one of my obsessional types. Party tracks, such as the play-out at the end of Dirty Dancing, or the odd moment at the end of 40 Year Old Virgin; this type of ending isn't quite the same. They're literally just playing the track, delivering a performance. Where's the irony, the punch-in-the-face, protagonist's final punchline? No, not quite as magical, no matter how awesome or appropriate a party playout can be as an ending.

My search shall continue, but until I reach whatever the unknown destination is, let me know if you think of any more.

And like, don't you… forget about me…

 


A Penis Or A Poo?

I’ll let you in on a little secret : we’ve all done it. Well, most of us. Anyone who has spent any time working the front lines of the Hollywood visual effects industry probably has several midnight-dark secrets they could spill, or if not, has heard a mother lode of first-hand confessionals while loitering at various water-coolers.

I’m talking about that thing every artist does but nobody wants to risk their career talking about : the dangerous art of sneaking photos of schlongs or faeces (or Sesame Street characters, or a tasteful shot of your smiling nephew or your initials or Keyboard Cat) into the frames of major Hollywood feature films.

You’ve probably heard of some of the popular cinematic vandal-lore of yesteryear. Plenty of myths have birthed in the world of traditional animation for instance — things like Jessica Rabbit’s famous ‘crotch frame’, or the clouds of a certain Disney movie spelling the word ‘sex’. Not to diminish the anarchic efforts of my subversive brothers and sisters of days gone by, but the current fleet of popular examples are all getting mighty stale by today’s standards. Hell, most of anything written on the topic online is so old the pieces they describe were made with a paintbrush (as in bristles and ink, not the type you get when you hit ‘B’ in Photoshop).

Fantastic as their pioneering work was, we’ve most certainly moved on. The art of sporadically hiding man-junk on celluloid has matured into an entire industry of the subliminal. Not only have the genital insertions gone digital, sprouting up in as vast numbers as the general increase in visual effects shot-counts in modern cinema, but those very same genitals are now often flying out of the screen at you in 3D.

Oh, and you’ve definitely seen them. You just don’t know it.

Before you get too excited that I’m about to unleash a whole fresh swath of urban legends upon the world with a juicy, blow-by-blow, tell-all list, I should take a moment acknowledge the speed at which someone in a studio legal department is about to go and google my film credits list, sharpen their knives, pull out their trusty plastic calculator, and begin calculating all the possible damages I may (or may not) have inflicted upon their clients’ intellectual property. We artists are contracted to the teeth, and you’ll not get that list out of me today, not with anything short of at least two (perhaps three) beers (less if you’re paying).

What I can give you is this, in all its ambiguous glory:

I may (or may not) have, at some point during my career in visual effects, personally hidden within the frames of many feature films you will have seen, without the knowledge or consent of my supervisors (clients, directors, studios), the following items :

  • Male genitalia (flaccid)
  • Male genitalia (not-so-flaccid)
  • Female genitalia
  • Exposed breasts (deliberately added)
  • Exposed breasts (passively added through omission — neglecting to mention/fix the nipple slips nobody else picked up I would have been paid to “fix”.)
  • A poo* (*Note: ‘a’ poo, not ‘my’ poo)
  • A poo* (*Note: disregard the above clarification)
  • Friends’ faces into backgrounds / windows etc.
  • Relatives’ faces into backgrounds / windows etc.
  • Porn-stars’ faces into backgrounds / windows etc.
  • Objects or references to one the lead actors’ or director’s more embarrassing prior films.
  • Website URLs (the friendly sort that would pass SafeSearch)
  • Website URLs (the other kind)
  • Website URLs (an honest-to-god Rickroll. Yes, really.)
  • A blatant shoutout to the good and attentive people at Reddit who love cracking ‘easter eggs’ written in easily-decipherable code. (This one is an ongoing disappointment for a very select group of us. So much effort went into this one joke — a much larger sting than just that single greeting. Sadly, to this day, the film-loving crypto community continues to let us down. From one nerd to another, I speak directly to you now, Reddit : shame on you!)

This is just a small sample. While it may seem a hefty list to the uninitiated, let it be known that I am by no means an extremist, a malicious rogue, alone in my sordid addiction. Perhaps I sit on the pointier side of the bell-curve, but I’m not all that far from the middle. Just ask anyone. On some films there have been unofficial competitions between a larger group of artists, seeing how many times people could get away with inserting exactly the same image/character into different shots or scenes from the same film. On other stricter productions, would-be vandals regularly shroud their attempts in secrecy, working alone, only daring a confession during crew-only drinks after the film’s première.

What I mean to say is that these aren’t isolated incidents, random blights on occasional blockbusters; we are prolific.

“But why?”

Sometimes acting on an opportunity has been nothing more than a gentle letting-off of steam in what can regularly be a high-pressure, long-hours job. Some projects have started well, but suffered a catastrophic drop in morale for whatever reason, and the lowly artist-soldier-types were left to quietly vent the most appropriate way we collectively could.

Other times, for me at least, it has been to test the limits of the art of vfx vandalism itself. Like, if I could hide a photo of my friend ‘taking a dump’ in the middle of a super-bright explosion in such a way that you’re only going to see him if you turn the brightness of your screen all the way down to ten percent of maximum in order to see it, why wouldn’t I just go ahead and do it? Going one step further, if I got away with it that first time, why wouldn’t I do it again in the shot that directly follows it in the film, for continuity’s sake? Then, the shot after that — the aftermath of the explosion — would it not make sense to slip in the broken remains of a toilet, and a large smear of brown at the blast’s epicentre? Possessing that level of attention to detail is what they’re paying us for, after all. It’s a deep, dark rabbit hole that goes deep once you start down it, especially if you have a long render time to kill, and a desire to better yourself and your art.

There are other times when these unorthodox blemishes arrive on the silver screen out of pure necessity. Certain visual elements may not have been captured as part of an ‘library shoot’ (where the visual effects supervisor films all the extra bits and pieces we might need to complete our work — the additive squirts of blood, a few seconds of crumbling concrete dust, filming a room full of roof-mounted sprinklers for us to add into a shot as rain) and we may be forced to “just fix it” with whatever we can lay our hands on. I’vecertainly heard some stories on that count. One of the best of recent years was the tale of an Oscar-winning actor who’d been given some ugly facial hair as part of his on-set makeup, something which didn’t end up holding up well enough during close-ups. Nobody had ever factored in the fix as part of the visual effects bid, so when there was no time/budget for any CG hair fix (or no other elements shot), the artist came up with the ingenious solution of snapping a photo of their own scrotum hair, “patching up” the similarly-textured side-burn without further ado.

Hey, whatever works — and it did. You saw that close-up too, remember.

Often our best work is simply the by-product of garden-variety nerd-rage. When you’ve been sitting there all week painting out camel-toe until two in the morning to meet some overly-reactive client-side producer (who’s decided that’s the only way the film is going to hit its PG-13 rating), sometimes it feels like highly appropriate payback to slip a still pic of an erect phallus into the shot. You know they’ll be too busy looking at the character’s freshly-Barbied pubis to notice the feisty little pecker lurking within the shadows of her handbag. You just know it, and they never let you down. The hyper-sensitivity used when predicting conservative outrage during post regularly wastes so much of our time (and other peoples’ money) that it can be a truly satisfying piece of comeuppance to bounce that straight back, the offend-o-meter turned up to eleven.

But alas — I feel ours could be a dying art. It would be folly to suggest that the fine art of dick-and-poo hide-and-seek will ever truly leave the visual effects industry, not while any individual artist still has strength to wield a Wacom and suffer from poor impulse control. However, given how drilled-down our daily tasks have become in recent years, it it clear that it’s getting a lot harder to sneak a meaty, veined, one-eyed trouser-snake past the gatekeepers.

It used to be that an individual compositing artist may take a shot through from start to finish, performing most of what needed to happen (within their skill-set) without many pairs of eyes beyond the powers-that-be to catch them out. If you were particularly lucky, you could even get to the raw footage and sneak your poo in there, baked into the scan, even before ‘version one’ or your actual work. Now, shots get passed around more. Tasks have been broken down into much smaller pieces for efficiency — less-senior folks end up doing the less-senior tasks, the tricky stuff gets left to the veterans, and a lot more people encounter a particular script. The more critical eyes your subversive art is exposed to, the more chance someone’s going to try and talk you out of the joke, or worse: turn snitch. (There are still some glaring holes in the system, but to give you some idea of the increased difficulty level, I didn’t get anything at all filthy — neither scat nor scrotal — into the last couple of films I worked on — and not for lack of trying.)

Eventually, I’ll be gone from the film industry entirely, but in such a transient age where bits and bytes come and go, it’s nice to know I’ll have left a legacy, a handful of tiny stains on a few elements of popular-culture which are likely to be preserved and viewed long after my somewhat-depraved soul has departed this earth. Getting your name in the credits is one thing, but none of that glory adds up to the pride I’ll always feel at being able to pull a dusty old download off iTunes’ digital shelf, pause on a particular frame of a memorable blockbuster from my youth, and point out to the youngest members of the family: “See? It’s definitely a poo. Notice how it glistens? No leaves or branches growing off that branch, buddy.”

It’s just too bad you blinked and missed it.


Tipping Point

Ok, so I'm back. Last post was July, but who's counting?

Things got a little crunchy on Thor : The Dark World, but I went with it, without complaint, knowing there was a substantial writing break coming once it wrapped. Normally I'd be whining like a baby about a bunch of lost weekends and strings of back-to-back 18-hour days, but not this time. The work was genuinely satisfying - a really fun show to have been on for all sorts of reasons, and I hope it shows.

But, all this talk of Thor is SO last month. October is all about "The Brave". For the patient few who have followed it's meandering journey from afar these many long months, the wait is nearly over. I'm predicting several more weeks before I can release a beta draft to a few testers, but release it I will. Enough is enough. While it's far from a perfect manuscript, it's starting to read like 'a book', one which is about ready to have a shot at standing on it's own two legs, just see what sort of feedback it generates in the wild.

I am still looking for a few more literary randoms out there to donate some reading/commenting time to the cause, in particular "near-total strangers" who don't know enough about me or my history to be able to pick the book up stone cold. (No offence to the rest of you - you're either on the readers-list already or not, based on some really boring demographic criteria. Hell, I've got to save some of you to actually buy the thing...). By all means hit me up if you read a lot of books, won't be upset by the swears and typos, and have your interest piqued when I say : "one man's year-long journey back to relationship enlightenment, set in a quirky, globe-trotting world of sex, drugs and men in kilts". (Hey, so I haven't locked down my final pitch yet. So shoot me.)

For the rest of you, watch this space. I've got some big things in the works - not just the book - and a whole lot of non-vfx-filled time to do it. 

Until then, here's some music to get you into the appropriate frame of mind: Training Montage! :)