Monday, May 26, 2008

The Sins of the Ha-Ha's

In preparation, the Company decided to watch a few movies produced for under $100,000. True, that figure is astronomical compared to our budget, but in movie terms that's like buying a house for a paper clip.

We started with Funny Ha Ha, the film that was at the fore of the Mumblecore movement. Apparently this is a genre defined by low budgets; the use of real-life, interpersonal, everyday situations; minimal or fluid scripting; and naturalistic acting. Yes, I know what that sounds like.

So, because "low budget" is a language this interconnected community of filmmakers and our specific Company share, we watched Funny Ha Ha. It deals, intensely, with the trouble people-- specifically twenty-something people--have in expressing themselves. So a representative slice of dialogue would be: "Y'know, I don't know... I mean, I just feel bad, y'know?" to which the reply would come: "Yeah, I don't know. I mean, I'm sorry. Okay?" It was as if everyone had been given the same set of words from a severely repetitive, filler-filled set of poetry magnets. Communication is difficult. No argument here. They made their point.

Next on the film's list of directives was to highlight the absurdity and capricious nature of interpersonal relationships. So a pursued man rejects his pursuer, hastily marries another woman, then begins to pursue the former pursuer. True, true, all true. Love and life make no rational sense.

It seemed the film also wanted to focus on that post-college drifting that afflicts many white middle-class twenty-three-year-olds. Going to parties and accepting free red plastic cups of booze worked for us for years, why does it seem to lose it's effectiveness post-graduation? And now we have to decide what we want to do with the rest of our lives? No thank you, a bit more wallowing please. I hear ya. Lord knows I'm puzzled by my post-college procrastinations.

Of course, I think what the film most attempted to do was focus. Find the truth and humor and, perhaps, the beauty in the closely-examined ordinary, relatively uneventful life. Shine a light on the not-so-much. An attempt that could be considered indulgently introspective, mundanely voyeuristic, or worse: interminably boring. In that respect, it becomes an almost daring, or at least a decidedly self-possessed endeavor.

So while I understood, and even agreed with, the points the film made, I think this film acted less as inspiration for what the Company would like to emulate, and more as a focusing device. Certain aspects of the film did not match our aims. While it is true that it's hard to communicate and relationships are inscrutable, I think we're more interested in the time-honored tradition of gather-'round-the-fire storytelling. Less introspection, more imagination. Much, much more attention to detail. Less "letting things happen" and more "Cut! Who left that can of soda in the shot?! This character would never drink diet! Okay get that out of there, we're doing it all over."

And as for me personally, "minimally scripted" is a freakin' unholy technique.