Looks like work

An astute, amusing overview of the various visual storytelling strategies and workarounds filmmakers have come up with to handle visually boring hi-tech interactions. It seems odd having to coax 24’s drama out of actors going mano-a-mano with a speakerphone, but much cinematic dialogue, at least when cutting from one face to another, has always been filmed in a one-sided way, and spliced together only afterwards.

Anyone who has followed fantasy football or an eBay auction at the office — and gotten away with it — knows that many of our everyday activities now look like work. Typing and scrolling and peering at a computer, you could be doing anything: e-mail, accounting, short-selling, browsing porn, buying uranium, getting divorced.

This odd accident of life online — the increasing visual homogeneity of our behaviors — may be a boon to procrastinators, hobbyists and multitaskers. But it has some victims. I don’t mean bosses concerned with productivity (who cares about them?). The crowd truly stymied by the merging of human activities are filmmakers. If fighting now looks like making up now looks like booking travel, as it does when people conduct their affairs online, how do film directors make human action both dramatic to viewers and roughly true to life?


from “Lights! Camera! Inaction!,” by Virginia Heffernan, The New York Times Magazine, 29 May 2009

Originally published at culture-making.com.

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