Monday, May 28, 2007

On The Lot

I love movies. I don't watch as many as I really should. I did get to watch several this weekend (Apollo 13, The Right Stuff, half of Sands of Iwo Jima, half of The Sand Pebbles, half of Where Eagles Dare, and an episode of Band of Brothers; can you tell it's Memorial Day?). For three years in high school a friend and I went to see an average of 50 movies a year. I used to go to movies with my friend Michael when he was reviewing them for the CBC (bet he comments on this blog entry just for this reason!). I took a Film Arts class in high school. I was the only person in my class to get an A in a Film Arts elective course I took in college. I was accepted to Humber College in Toronto for the film making course (and to this day I still wonder what would have happened if I had gone that way instead of into computers...) Yes, I love movies. These days Alana and I just don't have the time to see all the films we want, either in the theatres or on DVD. We need to make more time.

Anyway, I was really excited about the new reality show On The Lot. It's essentially the film version of American Idol where budding film makers compete for a "million dollar deal" at Dreamworks. Not sure what they mean by "million dollar deal"; probably mean that the winner will be paid a guaranteed million to develop ideas for a certain length of time. For a million dollars these days you'd be hard pressed to film a commercial.

The initial ratings for On The Lot were not great. The lead in was American Idol but they lost a lot of viewers from the lead in. I think I know why. They followed the American Idol formula too closely, when they should have followed the formula for Rock Star or the Bravo reality shows. In the first episode we were introduced to about 50 people. They all made introductory films, but we never saw more than a few seconds of a handful of them. We saw a bunch of really bad pitches instead, reminding me of the really bad singers from Idol. The Bravo (Sheer Genius is an example, about hair dressing, which has surprised Alana and me by sucking us in)/Rock Star formula is to cut to the chase with about 16 competent contestants right up front. The worst contestants have been dropped before the show even really starts. This would have let the show start off by showing movies!

They pared down the 50 to 36 by having the contestants pitch a story. The winners were put into groups of three to make a one minute short. The second episode was on last Thursday when our Skype roleplaying group had our first meeting, so I didn't see it. Tonight is the third episode and, hurrah!, we get to see films!

The format is essentially identical to Idol. You see one film per film maker (this week it's a one-minute comedy short) and you vote for your favourite. The least favoured movie has the director dropped from the show. You can see all of the shorts on their web site, and you can phone in your vote, text it in, or vote via the Internet.

So far the movies have been pretty good. "Dance Man", "Deliver Me", "The Big Bad Heist", "Danger Zone" and "Replication Theory" were, in my opinion, the best. I had a couple of technical issues with the first two (a couple of shots that looked like they were out of film making 101), but they were funny and well made. The third one was by far the best made, but it wasn't a comedy movie, it was a trailer for a comedy movie (even though it was quite funny). "Danger Zone" had a crappy set (but considering the limitations it was okay) and not great actors, but the entire film was done in a single shot and is quite funny. The judges went nuts over "Check Out", about a sex fantasy at the airport. As much as I like sex fantasies, I think the "it was all a dream" plot is over done. "Replication Theory", on the other hand, told a story and had a neat little twist.

The bad ones were quite bad. "Wacky Alley Cab" just wasn't funny, and I couldn't tell what the director was getting at. "Getta Rhoom" was, apparently, supposed to be about a nerd who shouts "Get a room!" inappropriately, but the main character came across as mentally challenged (the director suggested that wasn't the idea, but I don't believe him), and only comes across as creepy. I'm not sure what ...To Screw In A Light Bulb was getting at.

The rest were, like most movies, "okay". Most produced a titter at least but were flawed in some way. The fascinating part is to see these films that didn't quite work and then try to figure out why they didn't work.

There is a problem with the judges: Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia, and recently added as host of Turner Movie Classics), D.J. Caruso (director of Disturbia), replacing Brett Ratner from the first episode (who directed Red Dragon, which wasn't as good as the original film Manhunter, and X-Men 3, which wasn't as good as the first two), and Garry Marshall (directed a bunch of TV stuff, as well as Pretty Woman and the recently panned Georgia Rule). They are too nice. There's a reason Idol has three very different judges. Randy is realistic, Simon is hateful, and Paula — who I argue is the most important judge for the success of the show — who likes everyone. Randy is the thinking person's reviewer. Simon peeves people off, encouraging them to vote to spite him. Paula reinforces everyone's vote, which also encourages them. The On The Lot judges, though, are all too nice. They qualify their votes. They encourage all the directors even when they put out crap. They give constructive criticism, but it tempers their message. They all sound the same. They need a Simon figure that says, "That was bloody awful!"

If the show is a success, it will be due to the films and not due to the show itself. The format of the first two episodes wrecked momentum. The judges don't add anything to the show. If people keep coming back, it will be to see the films themselves. If they don't come back I fear that the wrong lesson will be learned.

4 comments:

JAM said...

Very interesting. I'm almost completely ignorant of what's on TV these days, with the exception of trying to follow a handful of shows.

A couple of summers ago I got TOTALLY hooked on Project Green Light where they followed first-time director, John Gulager, son of Clu Gulager, an old favorite of mine, as he tried to direct a horror movie. It was a peek into a world I knew nothing of and I was hooked.

I'll have to check this one out.

Allan Goodall said...

A couple of summers ago I got TOTALLY hooked on Project Green Light where they followed first-time director, John Gulager, son of Clu Gulager, an old favorite of mine, as he tried to direct a horror movie. It was a peek into a world I knew nothing of and I was hooked.

Project Green Light was one of those shows I wanted to see, but could never tell when it was on!

We have digital cable through CMA. The cable box has its own listings built in. For some reason Bravo and another channel always show up as "Listing not available". Unless I check TV Guide online or just click on Bravo to see what's running, I miss stuff.

Michael said...

Okay, so here I am. A bit behind schedule, but still here.

I too love movies (most of what I watch now I watch on DVD, because while I love movies I hate movie audiences, after nearly 20 years spent reviewing flickers) and that's why I have so little interest in this show, which is being carried on CTV in Canada.

Your comment about the pitches confirms my opinion. Pitches? This series isn't really about movies, it's about pop-culture perceptions of movies. I suppose that shouldn't be a surprise, really: "American Idol" isn't about music, or even about performance; it's about pop-culture perceptions of stardom.

You know, when a culture gets to the point where it stops generating original concepts and instead simply recycles debased versions of previous concepts, we tend to think of that culture as decadent (see the poetry of the late Roman Empire, for example). And the members of my writer's group wonder why I Hate The Living.

Allan Goodall said...

This series isn't really about movies, it's about pop-culture perceptions of movies. I suppose that shouldn't be a surprise, really: "American Idol" isn't about music, or even about performance; it's about pop-culture perceptions of stardom.

Yep, you hit it right on the head. And it's about getting teenagers to spend every waking second phoning in votes.

The show is probably doomed. I missed the fourth episode. I thought it was on Thursday, but they ran it Wednesday. That means out of four episodes it's been on three different nights. As it turned out, they spent an entire episode eliminating the three lowest rated movies. The controversial one about the mentally challenged nerd was not one of the ones bumped, and it actually was one of the top rated films! The three that were punted were not great, but they were not as bad as the worst film, which didn't get voted out.

Apparently On the Lot and Idol are what you get when you give cell phones to 13 year olds.