French Language Films And Subtitles

Extremely interesting to think about how perceptions of films are affected by their nature of “foreignness” or how the usage of subtitles will affect the audiences:

French films fare poorly in the United States due, in part, to an unfortunate Catch-22. “The kinds of people who go to art houses in America to see French films are purists who don’t want to see dubbed foreign films,” says Chicago Sun Times movie critic Roger Ebert. “At the same time, most of the movie-going public in the United States is quite provincial and shies away from or has never even seen a subtitled film.”

While there are plenty of popular movies about France playing in the United States–witness Billy Crystal’s Forget Paris, Nick Nolte’s Jefferson in Paris and Meg Ryan’s French Kiss, all released this past year–mainstream American audiences generally avoid French-language films. However, this has less to do with French production values, which are very high, than with the fact that Americans are less inclined or likely to speak a second language. “From the point of the view of the French public, movies from all over the world are `French’ as far as what they hear when they go into a theater,” continues Ebert. “They don’t have a problem with dubbing, and that’s why they think it’s an American conspiracy to keep their films out by not dubbing them. But art film fans in the United States feel French cinema should be experienced in its `version originale.’”

French citizens are able to see American films screened “V.O.” in Paris and other major city centers, but after 60 years of constant exposure to dubbed Hollywood films, French audiences now expect most films to be voiced-over. Of course, this dichotomy did not develop overnight. “American film took over during and immediately after the first World War, when Europe had other things on its mind,” explained internationally renowned BBC film critic Barry Norman. “During both wars France was fighting and afterward they had to rebuild, so American culture had a chance to spread very fast and become accepted.”

Then during the 1960s French cinema rebelled, throwing off Hollywood’s yoke to become the focus of world attention with the onset of la Nouvelle Vague or “New Wave.” Filmgoers all over the world were very receptive to the stirring, innovative work of auteur directors like Francois Truffaut (Les Quatre Cents Coups), Jean Luc Godard (A Bout de Souffle), Claude Chabrol (Le Beau Serge) and others who broke away from the formal story structures and camera framing conventions of the day.(9)

Over the last 35 years, however, directors have so overused the once-revolutionary camera-style, “camerapen,”(10) techniques articulated by the New Wave (such as odd angles, jump-cuts and 360-degree pans), as to make them appear cliched and irrelevant. Since then, audiences have become so jaded that today the average moviegoer is conditioned to view film as “brain candy” rather than a contemplative exercise in the appreciation of art, culture or form.

“I think everyone, even those who work in the independent film business, has said at one time or another, `I can’t do a subtitled film tonight. I need an American or English-language film,”‘ says Anna Brown, operations director of New York’s Angelika Theater, the most profitable “art house” multiplex in the United States. “It doesn’t affect our programming, but it is a reality.”

As a result, foreignlanguage movies that require audiences to pay attention to subtitles underperform here because the public desires a passive experience. “They want to watch and listen, not read,” says Norman. “People think subtitles get in the way of a picture because they feel like they’re either reading or following the action.”

This perception has created a vicious cycle that affects the business decisions of American film producers, distributors and, perhaps most importantly, exhibitors. “We are very, very pro-foreign film,” says Brown, “but I would definitely say that right now it’s easier and less costly to pick up a cutting-edge American independent like [Kevin Smith’s] Clerks and get reliable success from it than to pick up an offbeat French or German film.”

To counteract this phenomenon, French special-effects companies should immediately focus all efforts on perfecting a technique for digital dubbing that would eliminate the silent lip-flapping and “dialogue bleed” that Americans find distracting. If U.S. audiences do not notice the dubbing or do not even realize the film they are watching has been dubbed, they will be more likely to pay the price of admission and judge the film on the merits of the acting, plot, characterization, setting and overall entertainment value. If America’s Industrial Light & Magic can convince moviegoers that dinosaurs still walk the earth and that Forrest Gump actually met with JFK, then French technicians using digital imaging and sophisticated American computer animation technology should be able to dub French movies seamlessly into English. So-called “superior dubbing” will provide a vehicle for French cinema to gain widespread acceptance in the United States and England among sectors of the population that do not appreciate subtitled foreignlanguage films. Currently, however, the funding set aside for dubbing, compared to allocations for production or marketing, is on the thin side of meager. Average dubbing budgets to convert an American movie into French are fixed at around $50,000.(11) Digital dubbing may cost 10 times that figure at first, especially to achieve the precision American audiences would require, but prices would eventually stabilize as technology improved.

Quoted from Martin, Reed. “The French film industry: a crisis of art and commerce.” Columbia Journal of World Business Winter 1995: 6+.

Editing Software Then And Now

It’s incredible to see the changes that have come and gone in terms of editing videos and motions pictures.  What has gone from a literal cut and splice with tape has gone to non-linear editing on computers with a vast array of special effects.

The increasing power of computers for ever-more affordable prices has allowed independent filmmakers to play with the big dogs in terms of special effects and scope.  Movies look better than ever now, and you don’t need a hollywood level budget in order to make convincing sci-fi panoramas or WWII battles.

One great example that I like to point out is 2001’s Donnie Darko.  Not overdone, the special effects made this independent film stand out.

The media embrace of new artists is often a reaction to stagnation in the dominant world, which, in this case, is Hollywood. And certainly, the emerging independent filmmaker who has managed to create disturbing, bold and iconoclastic work, or simply work that is unusual and engaging, has provided a face for independent cinema over the past decade. Whether it is sex, lies, and videotape, To Sleep With Anger, Reservoir Dogs, El Mariachi, Swoon, Doom Generation, Picture Bride, Hoop Dreams, Welcome to the Dollhouse, Big Night, Ulee’s Gold, or In the Company of Men, the list of significant films is extensive and deservedly well-recognized and applauded. But the greater question remains as to whether we have yet seen the truly groundbreaking or revolutionary films that will be remembered in decades to come. A golden age is marked first and foremost by its masterworks and major artistic accomplishments. By this standard, has independent cinema reached its zenith? The independent community should remind itself that its power and influence came from the quality of its creativity. If it tries to sell itself simply as a product, independent cinema will lose those elements that made it effective and appealing. Artistic integrity, even when out of step with popular embrace, remains its true signature. Certainly there are memorable, even superlative independent films produced over the past decade. But if independent artists stay the course that has been their defining inspiration, one that explores all aspects of life and reality but reaches for the sublime, then the possibilities for a new era of filmic creativity are on the horizon.

Gilmore, Geoff. “The state of independent film.” National Forum 77.4 (1997): 10+.

What are our editing consoles of choice?

We are fans of Windows running Adobe Premiere and After Effects.  WINDOWS?  Well, after the shock subsides you will find that you can customize a PC for less than a Mac, and the software runs exactly the same.  Virus and slowdowns?  You can clear these with things such as Spyhunter 4 and RegCure Pro.

There are really quite a few things that you can do with After Effects that will put you over the top, but the challenge is of course learning the program.

When It Comes To Independent Filmmaking

Independent films are where its at now, in my opinion, due to the horrible dreck that tends to come out of Hollywood these days.  There is just not that much out there in the big budget scheme of things.

Independent film gives filmmakers a more free reign on the themes that they explore.  However this can lead down the path to self-indulgence.  It’s always good to see filmmakers come up with stuff that is not only original, has its own voice, but also remains true to the filmic form and doesn’t go off the deep end into maudlin themes and overdone emotions.

Nonetheless, it is important not to get bogged down in terminology, especially given the growing chasm between the studio multimillion dollar “event” films and almost any level of independent production. The issues are not just semantic but substantive. For if there is a raison d’etre for the robust presence of independent cinema, it involves the changed nature of the Hollywood film industry over the last two decades. While the 1970s stand out as one of the greatest creative periods in Hollywood history, during those years the economics of the film industry underwent an extreme paradigmatic shift. The blockbuster mentality has always been part of Hollywood, but the hundred-million-dollar-plus gross of Star Wars created a different set of exigencies. As the 1970s gave way to the 1980s, the independent world of filmmaking (which had been, until then, primarily a refuge for a New York-centered avant garde, other regionally and ethnically based cinemas, and the exploitation and genre work of Arkoff and Corman) gradually repositioned itself as a legitimate alternative to Hollywood. At the same time, the critical successes of European art films allowed for a new American independent cinema to emerge. Among the early independent films, Victor Nunez’s Flash of Green, Wayne Wong’s Chan is Missing, Peter Masterson’s The Trip to Bountiful, the Coen brothers’ Blood Simple, Jim Jarmusch’s Stranger Than Paradise, and Bill Sherwood’s Parting Glances gained particular recognition. Breaking theatrical distribution barriers and garnering accolades and awards, these works helped to establish the foundation for an independent film industry.

But revolution, cultural or otherwise, is neither a linear nor a direct process. True, more independent films are being produced now than ever before. In fact, only a decade ago the total independent output amounted to slightly more than a twentieth of what it does today, some fifty films versus close to a thousand productions in 1996. But only some twenty-five independent films had any significant release (grossed a million dollars or more) last year, and along with those, only another fifteen or twenty features gained notable theatrical visibility. Hearing such grand media proclamations about the ascendance of independent cinema, one would have thought a massive reorganization and redirection of the film industry had occurred. The reality is something else.

Gilmore, Geoff. “The state of independent film.” National Forum 77.4 (1997): 10+.