Why NETFLIX Is Ruining Cinematography

August 6, 2018

Having watched thousands of films and TV series over the past five years in order to understand the relationship between the look of a film and its place in the market, I have started to balk over how bland and predictable today's films are looking.

 

Some of the technical wizardry required to achieve the 'realistic' look seen in THE MEYEROWITZ STORIES (2017) or the 'signature' look used in TV series like MR. ROBOT (2015-17) can get really boring and lead to an over-egged final product.

The directors' decision to make some films look the way they do undoubtedly plays a part in their success and takes into account where they might be seen and by whom. If MANCHESTER BY SEA had been lit in the style of BLADE RUNNER (1982) it wouldn't have made a lot of sense, despite the fact that I personally find the techniques in BLADE RUNNER more entertaining.

 

One size does not fit all. The cinematographer's I find interesting seem to side-step the issues of making things look like 'real-life' or just recognisable in the same way a brand of car might be. Roger Deakins (NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN - 2007) and Eric Kress (THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO – 2008) both appear to employ their understanding of venerated landscape photographer Ansel Adams's zone system to create distinctive, inspired personal statements, well-suited to thrillers and action films.

 

The market is pushing for higher production values in order to persuade the audience they are getting value for money even as screenplay's vary wildly in quality due to the expediencies high-turnovers instigated by NETFLIX and PRIME and their like. The knowledge required to slake that thirst for technical prowess is possessed only by individuals who have been around long enough, or worked hard enough, to steal from enough people better than they are. If you are willing to countenance the foregoing, you could deduce that only a few cinematographers have a monopoly over the best jobs in the pretty much the same way that actors do. They are bankable, maybe for different reasons, but more essentially, they can deliver in a way few will ever get the opportunity to replicate.

 

In conclusion, I would argue that market forces are driving cinematography into a corner where only those who have endured long apprenticeships learning from others are acceptable. Talented, instinctive operators like Deakins, who value the spirit of seeing as an abstract to be digested and regurgitated by the subconscious in the form of inspired, unseen before lighting set-ups, are being forced out. Hell, even a young Ridley Scott, that irrepressible swashbuckling genius, would be considered too 'out there' for the bean-counters at the NETFLIX Death Star today. 

 

Hope comes in the form of independent film, which continues to regenerate the industry (thank you Sean Baker!) and the more original, more imaginative cinematographers, directors and producers will always be unstoppable because they are HUMAN and have something to say. Money isn't. and never does.

 

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