Game of Thrones: How NOT to structure a TV show

Every TV show has its low moment. For me, that moment came in Mad Men in a season 4 episode called “The Chrysanthemum and the Sword”. In that episode the usually savvy business man Roger Sterling goes against his nature and has a freak out at some Japanese clients because he fought in the war. It was a ridiculous moment that felt totally untrue to the character.

Thankfully the season 5 premiere reinvigorated the show, and it maintained its brilliance till the end. But you get this in other shows that never recover, like in The Wire when McNulty fakes a serial killer, or in Parks & Rec when the characters all become self-parodies.

Game of Thrones has a different problem. The best thing about the show is that we keep getting challenged on how we feel about certain characters. We go from hating Jaime Lannister to thinking he’s actually okay, same with The Hound. Even Jon Snow transforms from an arrogant upstart to a true leader over the five seasons.

But now the problem with the show is that – due to time constraints most likely – they haven’t taken the time to think about how they want to tell this increasingly expanding story. And so we get scenes that don’t really go anywhere, but are basically telling us what to expect by the season’s end.

It’s really bad television if the creators spend a whole hour setting up for something that will happen without being exciting or dramatic at any point in that hour. Mastery of the craft of storytelling comes in managing to do both.

Why the Internet is the New Frontier for Filmmakers

It was probably La Blogotheque that first gave me the impression that films on the internet could be just as amazing and awe-inspiring as what you see in the cinema. In particular, it was the video of Lianne La Havas ambling through a Parisian market as she plays “No Room For Doubt” on her electric guitar.

The mix was amazing, we’re in this public place, but the camera hugs her face so that we feel like we’re there with her. We don’t feel like the public who appear in the backgrounds either smiling, or ignoring her.

When I first started making content for the internet I was trying to emulate these videos, and so I gorged myself on them. They were often very roughly shot one-take videos, and truth be told you could skim through twenty videos before finding one gem. But that gem was something else.

Vincent Moon was the man responsible for kicking off La Blogotheque but actually by the time that Lianne La Havas video came out, he had already taken off on a new adventure. He became a sort of international Alan Lomax, recording performances of music around the world. And one video in particular still hits me with how emotional and beautiful it is. If this isn’t cinema then I don’t know what is.

There have always been people who say “this is not art” or “that is not cinema”, but the greatest artists in the world don’t fear technology and what it can bring to their art form. There are some who believe it’s only a film if it’s eligible for an Oscar, but why limit yourself as a viewer to such a degree? If you’re a creative then limiting yourself like that makes even less sense.

Why We Need to Put the Easter Rising on Film

It seemed every piece of funding for films in Ireland in 2015 was specifically to do with the Easter Rising and this was not an exciting prospect to me.

Historical dramas have as much potential to be great as any other genre of film, but it was hard to shake the feeling that the resulting art-works would be derivative and maintain a fairly safe view of the event.

Then RTÉ’s €6 million drama series “Rebellion” premiered and it seemed it had all come true. Instead of focusing on the people who actually instigated the rising, the series invented characters and followed them instead.

Technically it could have worked, but two episodes in and it was obvious the show was weighed down by boring staging – two characters standing looking at each other speaking – and too many erroneous story lines that seemed to be going nowhere.

I put my grievances with the show to my mother, who was also watching, but she said she enjoyed it, regardless of my problems with it. She found it fascinating to see the events of the rising play out; the attack on Dublin Castle, the taking of the GPO, events that we’d always heard about, now finally getting the chance to witness.

Of course the show was as heavily criticised for historical inaccuracies as creative shortcomings. But it raised an interesting point nonetheless; was there some value to be extracted from this money-led project, even if it wasn’t exactly executed in the most riveting manner?

In my research I only managed to come across a handful of films actually about the Rising; Curious Journeys & Mise Éire. We obviously need more than this if we’re going to even begin to understand the significance of the rising.

American Cinema’s White Supremacy Problem

“I’ve always wondered how anyone who’s not a white man could look at the history of American cinema and see anything they can relate to.”

That’s the thought that drove me to make this video essay. The fact that there is a huge problem in American cinema with diversity is becoming an increasingly hot topic. But I wanted to look at the problem from the perspective of American cinema’s history, rather than where it’s at now.

When I tried to discover why there were so few non-white men in leading roles throughout American cinema’s history, I couldn’t see any alternative reason except that the way American cinema makes villains out of whole groups of people. It’s been done with Germans, black American, Native Americans and most recently arabs, but no matter who the villain is the hero is always the same, or else stands for the same values.

I always hated villains in films, or rather I always hated the idea of “the villain”. I especially remember being a kid watching Aladdin and just not understanding Jafar at all, why he was so evil, what he was trying to achieve. It made no sense to me. And it wasn’t until years later when I started to discover cinema from other countries beyond the US that I started to realise the hero/villain/damsel-in-distress structure for films was not so widely used to tell stories outside the US.

Why did American cinema need this trope, that goes all the way back to The Birth of a Nation? And how had it affected us over the years as it became more commonplace and also more subtle in the way it demonised other ethnicities. The fact that it still happens today is what’s shocking, but I didn’t want to address it in a film that has already been as criticised as American Sniper. It seemed it made more sense to examine a film like Argo, the winner of the Best Picture Oscar in 2013.

Here was a classic example of a racist narrative, and yet the supposedly liberal Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences gave it a resounding vote of support. I don’t think the Academy are necessarily card carrying racists, but I think the fact that they so willingly rewarded a film with such troubling racial politics begins to explain just how homogeneous American cinema still is.

Capturing the Moment: In Search of Adequate Images

The Werner Herzog quote about adequate images always stuck with me. His call for people to treat imagery with a greater respect seemed important to me, and he obviously put a lot of weight in it himself, clear from how apocalyptic his language was.

But figuring out what exactly adequate imagery looks like was not so well defined. Clearly there was something lacking in a huge amount of our visual media, but it was easier to describe what doesn’t qualify as adequate imagery than it was to describe what does.

I read a Pitchfork article about people who use camera phones at gigs and it got this video essay going. I didn’t want to demonise the people who shoot the gigs they attend, but I could never understand it. The quality of the images they get is terrible as is the sound, and I could never imagine wanting to actually look at them, so why on earth do these people attend gigs just to miss any profound moments they might have experienced by trying to capture it and watch it later?

It made more sense to me to try and explore this desire than to finger-wag, and so tying in Herzog’s concept of adequate images I attempted to link the desire to film a gig with the desire film-makers have to create images. The difference being one group is professional and the other is not.

In particular I wanted to bring the video essay around to A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, easily one of the best films I saw this year and one that I believe is packed with adequate images.

One image I specifically enjoyed was how the veil is used by the director Ana Lily Amirpour, an Iranian-American. In Iran the veil is a symbol of oppression (or modesty, depending on who you ask) but Amirpour transforms it here into a vampire’s cape. As the main character stalks the streets at night, preying on sexist men, she is a realisation of a misogynist’s worst fears; a man-eating woman who wears the uniform of her oppression with a biting irony.

I don’t think people who film gigs with their cameraphones should be chastised, but I do think they are robbing themselves of the opportunity to really engage with art. We all feel that because we can all make little films now that we should. Whereas the truth is the same now as ever it was; that it takes years of practice to get good at it.

Anybody can make a great art work, but they can’t do it over night, nor by chance. And the first step to creating great art is to engage with great art. That’s what I was aiming to express in this video essay.