Creative lines between film & TV production are blurred with HBO’s True Detective

Posted on Tuesday, March 18th, 2014 by

Since I’ve had kids, my attention span has dropped dramatically, and I find that I just don’t have the time for films any more. In fact, it’s very rare that one really grabs me enough to want to spend two hours of my life watching it in the first place!

It’s just as well that TV is filling the creative gap left in my life from a lack of film!

When I studied Film & TV Production at university, there were two distinctly different thesis when it came to each medium. To accentuate this difference, the two tutors themselves became the ying/yang embodiment of each practice.

Firstly, there was Ron, our Film Theory lecturer – wise, impassioned, respected and a true intellect. He was up against Bob, our Television Studies tutor – a rough diamond, no nonsense attitude, no mystique about him and everyone’s mate.

Since then, the creative gap between the high-art of film and practical accessibility of television has steadily reduced. Today, I personally have been intellectually challenged and moved more by the small screen than the big. The US have flown the quality television content flag in recent years, with cinematic and storytelling showcase shows such as Band of Brothers, Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones. However in the UK and Europe, we’re following the trend too with impressive roll call including The Returned, Broadchurch, Utopia and The Tunnel.

Classic film-making techniques

I’m currently in the grips of True Detective from HBO. So far, it’s ticking all the boxes that I looked for in my early study of classic film-making. It has stunning cinematography, deep character and plot development, insanely detailed mise-en-scène and art direction. Plus, to be able to reference the Chekhov’s Gun dramatic principle after all these years makes me feel like university education wasn’t wasted on me!

A high point has been the climax to Episode 4 – a six-minute single tracking shot worthy of being up there with some of the very best moments in cinematic history. With no cuts or special effects, it has the effect of giving the viewer real-time, uninterrupted access to that world. In fact, I was so engrossed in the moment that I didn’t even realise that the production technique was being used until I reflected on what I’d just seen!

Truly cinematic experiences are all about entering into a dark, physical space in front of an all enveloping vista. You can step away from your conscious self and project your Freudian ‘id’ onto the larger-than-life characters on screen. But, without the film-making mastery of both technique AND narrative, even the biggest blockbusters become nothing more than noisy pictures! In fact, I’d say that’s the bulk of big blockbusters anyway!

I remember studying the opening scene to Robert Altman’s 1992 The Player as an example of incredible storytelling. Its opening scene used an eight-minute long, uninterrupted tracking shot to set up the themes, mood, plot and characters. Here I am, 20 years later, seeing something similar on the small screen in my own home… and I’m moved!

Here’s the six-minute ‘oner’ from True Detectives. Enjoy! *Adult Content*

Outlook – The agency of choice for video

We encourage our clients to invest time for our experienced and passionate directors and producers to develop creative treatments for every production. This approach delivers more than simply a tick against ‘video’ in a marketing or comms strategy.

The only way for you to achieve truly engaging content that makes a lasting impact on your audience is to draw on classic film-making techniques and theories. It’s this focus on the end result that keeps Outlook as agency of choice for video production.  

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