Death to Shaky Cam!

For the love of God, STOP DOING IT.

While looking for something to watch during the commercial breaks on the Phillies game, I saw that Hancock was playing on FX. I’d never seen it before, so I figured, “What the heck? Maybe I’ll catch a cool action scene or two and I’ll get some good ideas.” 

The camera would not stop shaking. It was annoying and completely unnecessary. 

Anyway, I found an excellent write up on shaky cam, what it is, and why it should be used sparingly, if at all. (source here.)

Film critic Christian Toto has raised an interesting question. That question is “Does anyone actually like that shaky cam?

You know what I mean, you’re watching an action movie and the goddamn camera won’t stay at any one place for longer than a single frame. The camera’s constantly swinging and swooping and wobbling to the point where you manage to get motion sickness and headaches without wearing 3D goggles.

I don’t know anyone who goes to movies that actually likes it. I’ve never seen anyone say anything complimentary of shaky camera work, but I’ve heard and seen hundreds, if not thousands of complaints. People have actually walked out of movies because of the shaky cam.

So why does Hollywood do it?

Because Hollywood is lazy, loves imitation, and can’t see past the surface of anything.

Christian Toto mentions that one of the earliest major films to use the shaky cam was the secondBourne movie directed by Paul Greengrass. The effect was impressive making the 4 foot 9 inch star Matt Damon look fast as a scorpion in the fight scenes and distracted from the narrative shortcomings, specifically the fact that all three Bourne films had pretty much the same plot.

When Hollywood saw the movie make money they looked at its surface, saw the deliberately shaky camerawork, and thought: “That must be it!” but this revelation came with gravy to appeal to their lazy side.

You see, the shaky cam is also shortcut, an easy way out. Where one used to create urgency through writing a suspenseful plot, choreographing elaborate stunts, and carefully constructing action montages in the editing suite, now all you have to do is shake the camera a lot. That means every director with either laziness or the slightest doubt in their own abilities chickens out and start jerking at the camera. And not just during the actions, because if it works in an action scene, then it’s bound to liven up a simple dialogue scene, because it’s kind of energetic, or at least it sort of looks like it.

So it goes from being new and novel and original to cliche overnight.

How do you get rid of it? Hollywood loves cliches and never lets one go without a fight.

Well, you have to make it an object of parody.

Remember slo-mo? Sam Peckinpah masterfully mixed regular speed and slow motion camera work inThe Wild Bunch to recreate the mad chaotic cognitive dissonance of combat. Hollywood saw the slo-mo and said “That must be it!” to themselves and soon you saw slo-mo shots in all sorts of action scenes.

Very few, if any, of these imitators handled slo-mo with the brilliance of Peckinpah, but that didn’t stop them, because they thought it looked cool. It was only until it became an object of parody, or mockery, inspiring more laughs than awe that it was finally put to rest.

Then, maybe, Hollywood can learn to leave the camera alone to take the shot, because it’s making a lot of people motion sick.

Billy Wilder talks about pacing in film. An important concept that’s, unfortunately, difficult to understand. I’m still working on it myself. I’ll post more about it later, but this is a pretty cool clip.