In my travels this week, I stumbled across a post on BuzzFeed series of behind the scenes photos from many of the better known science fiction and fantasy films of the last 100 years, so I thought I would share.
Tom Hiddleston in costume as Loki with a young boy
It's not a particularly new post on BuzzFeed - it's promoting a show on makeup artists that started airing in August - but that doesn't make these photos any less interesting or discussion-worthy.
I find myself conflicted about behind the scenes photos. It's becoming more and more common to see them before the films are released, and they often show spoilers. Often they are taken by paparazzi during outdoor shooting scenes, so big conflicts are revealed prematurely. For obvious reasons, this is a problem.
But the more interesting issue, to me, is that these photos remind people that the actors, filmmakers, and sets exist outside of the movie. The point of most narrative fiction filmmaking is to make the film so immersive that every piece seems organic and natural, so as not to draw attention to the filmmaking process. Filmmakers want the audience to forget they are watching a movie, so they react to the story as if it were real, because when audiences do that, they have a stronger emotional response.
Constant reminders of the process, especially if they are in the forefront of the viewer's brain, tend to dilute the viewer's emotional response, and with it, the impact of the film. So these photos, seen at the wrong time, can and do change how we view a film.
At the same time, these photos remind us of the real people involved, of the creativity, the time, and the effort the filmmaking process demands. Rather than destroying the wonder of a film, behind the scenes photos can intensify it dramatically.
We live in a media world that increasingly blurs the line between real and not real. On the one hand, we tend to be less and less impressed with huge special effects sequences, because we assume that they are all CGI , and didn't really happen.* But looking at photos like these from the Inception set shows that yes, Leonardo DiCaprio did deal with a set exploding around him. It happened for real. It was not added later. Knowing that it really happened strengthens the film and means that the viewer will likely second guess any CGI assumption she or he made while watching any other film. Knowing that a special effect that looked like it had potentially been added in post-production was in fact actually experienced by the actors on set convinces audiences that any other special effect could be just as real, and pulls them back into the film, returning special effects to a more organic state.
At the same time, photos like the one above remind us that actors aren't just the characters they play. When our media dictates that even our "reality" shows are scripted, it's hard to know when an acting performace is a powerful transformation or just an actor playing himself. Being reminded that Tom Hiddleston, a relatively unknown actor in the United States prior to the release of The Avengers, is not the power-hungry psychopath Loki, but instead a person who experiences joy and is kind to kids, turns this photo into something more important than the sweet image it presents on first glance. It reminds us of Hiddleston's humanity and his talent, but even moreso it reminds us that every other performance, whether in film or on television, could be a similar transformation. It, in some small way, tells us not to judge too harshly the latest reality star, who is being directed to behave poorly. And it lets us take a moment to notice and enjoy the elegant, seamless character portrayals we see all the time, without forcing it upon us while we are watching the film.
So, when it comes right down to it, behind the scenes photos become a larger part of the film experience than they seem initially, with a bigger role to play in reminding the viewer of both the artifice and the reality inherent in the narrative filmmaking process. Even as they expose both parts of the cinematic sleight of hand, these photos create almost more ambiguity, which in turn, allows the filmmakers to even better create a seamless, mostly invisible movie watching experience while drawing attention to the high level of work that goes into creating that experience.
*Not that that makes the work and artistry that goes into them any less impressive. It just feels less grandiose when we know the actors weren't really there. Even though all of narrative filmmaking is about making the audience believe something that didn't really happen, the audiences awareness of CGI's effects pulls them out of the film (or, at least, makes people think less of the effects later), often making their impact less dramatic.
"45 Behind The Scenes Photos That You've Probably Never Seen Before." BuzzFeed. August 13, 2012. Accessed November 15, 2012. http://www.buzzfeed.com/syfy/45-behind-the-scenes-photos-that-youve-probably-n-6wms.
Christopher Bell, David. "6 Mind Blowing Special Effects You Won't Believe Aren't CGI." Cracked.com. June 11, 2012. http://www.cracked.com/article_19872_6-mind-blowing-special-effects-you-wont-believe-arent-cgi.html#ixzz2CbeB1zuZ.