To view this page ensure that Adobe Flash Player version 11.1.0 or greater is installed.
Why is mediocrity such a powerful force? by Thomas Urbye I ’ve hit the decade mark! Yes, I’m now into my second ten years working in Soho’s post production world. Not only that, I’m ten years working with some great Directors, DoPs, Producers and Exec Producers (not to mention the great people that are hired by these people). In that time I’ve met all sorts of characters – some geniuses, some nutcases (music promos!), some incompetent, some living on a different planet, and quite a lot of the in-betweeners, a sort of mediocre, they are just, well, getting on with it – making a living. What’s rather more concerning is I’m still deciding if my work is mediocre. One thing that has struck me in recent years is that a lot of the people I count as talented (certainly more than me) also aren’t sure if they are mediocre too. What is surprising is how desperate the really good people are not to be mediocre. It’s almost an obsession, you see it painted on the faces of great creatives, and also, though not as often, on the faces of producers that hire them. I’ve found myself during the last couple of years sat in meetings, or in the grading suite, or chatting outside a pub with a DP / Director / Producer just saying “we’ve got to be bold with this – punchy”, with Directors and DPs drumming in to me that “we’ve got to push this look, this scene is all about the starkness, it can’t look like everything else out there” etc etc. Yet, by the time shooting starts, and certain execs wade in, the whole project is diluted, re-scripted, and everything that the Director had in their mind is gone. Then on the flip side, I’ve sat with very gifted DPs and Directors who say very little, but know exactly what they want, it’s a subtlety to the image, the delicate film-making process, that takes it from mediocrity to that next level. The directing, lighting, editing, score and the grade can be delicate, slow-burning tension – but the result, anything but mediocre – in its own way very bold. Interestingly, its this passion that I’ve witnessed over the last few years, and particularly with the shows I’ve worked on this year where the whole team on these projects have tried to be bold, which has propelled these gifted few to such great heights, in a tough market of lowering budgets and mediocre commissions. It’s tough for these more bold creatives and producers to get a job, yet the jobs that could be on offer aren’t the ones they even want to do. On occasions they have to take them to cover their own personal costs, even though of course the personal cost could be quite great – you are, as they say, only as good as your last job. It’s a stark fact that more than half of producers and exec producers are at odds with these people because what they want is actually mediocrity, an easy life, to get that perfect TV show that gets the ratings and challenges nothing, engages enough, and passes the time and gets a repeat series – hey presto you’ve secured a second home in Devon or even France. Hopefully it will allow them to make a more dynamic project later for their portfolio, if they have the will to be bold. For a century of film-making, gifted and bold creatives have pushed back on what is the safe route, and time and again the result has been a more successful final piece. Mediocrity has seen millions of films, commercials and TV shows end up on the scrap heap, yet when we look at just The Top 10 IMDB Movies (as voted by the users of the site), we see a list of strange choices... 1 Shawshank Redemption 4 Pulp Fiction 2 Godfather 5 The Good, The Bad & The Ugly A film set in a prison – Exec Producer “Sounds a bit down – really, another prison break film?”. Did nothing at the box office, had little P&A budget backing it – then, when people started to see it, well, the rest is history. Mob picture, set around a family – 3 hours long, and it was the Exec Producer Robert Evans that made it this length! It is sloooooow. But it’s certainly bold. Violent, slow burning, an epic movie. 3 Godfather 2 A great follow up to the first, Coppola delivers a tense story of the next generation of the Corleone family. 66 | TV-BAY MAGAZINE: ISSUE 85 JANUARY 2014 A masterclass in disjointed storytelling, casting and post production – Exec “Why Travolta!?!? All these storylines?” – thankfully the Weinsteins were involved and they have a track record of spotting bold talent. Not much dialogue, whole lot of on screen tension – then there is the bolder than bold score from the genius of Ennio Morricone (N.b. my fav, Once Upon a Time in the West, which is for me the greatest direction, score, editing and photography I’ve ever seen – shots held for literally eternity – now, editors and execs love a cut).