“Been There, Seen That”

THE MIDDLE SEAT: Column by Steve Matuszak

Let’s talk this week about something that every single movie-goer experiences – artistic hijacked redundancy. Sorry, I wanted to sound very artsy and hip, allow me to use a clearer phrase – shots and edits in movies that are endlessly recycled.

And what’s really funny is, apparently the editors, directors, producers and more all think we don’t know that they are STEALING the idea from a film they have seen before.

To all who make movies, please STOP using the following techniques:

The individual or couple arrives at a climactic moment, argument, geographical area, etc. and, when they stop, the camera (likely operated by guy with a steadycam) moves round them in a circle as they turn their heads to look around.
• Yes, it gives a sense of movement and energy. It’s a good move. But it is has been DONE! Move on and find a different way of achieving the same emotional and dramatic effect! One word – LAZY!

Beginning a movie with downward facing, slow moving shot over the tops of the buildings in Manhattan!
• Is anybody else sick of this establishing shot for a film. I have seen the tops of NY buildings more than King Kong! Show me something new – maybe the sides or alleys! Anything besides those $%@#! roof tops!!!

At the climactic moment when a character feels the utmost pain of their life, booming up in the air away from them as they look up and outstretch their arms!
• It was brilliant in “Platoon”, still looked good in “Philadelphia”, but it is OVER – FREAKIN MOVE ON!! And stop adding in the circling from #1 while you are booming up. At least stop making the actor rear their head back and scream! I can’t stand it! If you are a director, and you imagined shooting the last few sentences I just wrote as a scene, and you imagined using that technique to shoot me yelling up at the sky while booming away .. I’d like you to know that I hate you. P.S. – must you always add rain?

As any scene ends that has something circular in it, focusing on that circular object (including person’s head) and then cross-fading from that to the moon!
• I think this one speaks to itself. We get that you had that planned. We are proud. You are very clever. Now … go do something original!

Suggesting a scene is from the past by making it B&W, grainy, shaky or anything else we have seen before – or, editing to that scene by a wavy, watery effect.
• Just stop. Please. For everyone’ sake. We GET that it is in the past because the actor’s hair and makeup are different. We get it’s a dream.

Speaking of dreams, having everything that happened be just a dream by having the actor wake up and sit up suddenly.
• You wonder why people go nuts and hurt other people in a Burger King – there’s your answers, actors waking up from dreams, face into the camera, sweating.

Moving the camera all over the place, fast or slow, in any way ever done before.
• OK, why so generic? Because, there is good and bad here:

• Tony Scott – “Man on Fire”. He used movement in a unique way along with color filters, editing and sound. Brilliant, created a whole new way of seeing a narrative through cinematography. Tony knows what he’s doing, he is a professional. You – Joe Smith with a Sony HD camera you got for Christmas, put it on a tripod!
• Danny Boyle – “Slumdog Millionaire”. He raced us through Mumbai as if we were racing ourselves.
• Tom Tykwer – “Run Lola Run”. This guy literally invented a new way to edit and tell linear story.
• I could go on and on – “Memento”, etc. Point is, there are innovative ways of using movement and sound as editing features.

• “The Blair Witch Project” – made me throw up. ‘Nuff said.
• Bruckheimer – now enough has been said.
• “Spider Man 3” & “Transformers” – In the fights I have no idea what is going on. Slow down, let me see what the $@!*& is happening!

Horror Films. We think there is going to be someone around the corner and then .. to our relief there isn’t. Pause, then the actor turns around (or closes the refrigerator door) and BAM – there’s the scary person!
• Yes, we get that you had us fooled. We relaxed and then you GOT US! Well, I should say, you used to get us. We all know that, even though it was only the cat, just wait a second and right after the “family pet made the noise relief” you will try and scare us.

Using nudity so there is nudity in the movie but has nothing to do with the story.
Examples – BAD:
• “Open Water”. What the $@!&*@! Why did she have to be nude in bed alone. What did that tell us about her, her relationship with her husband, her scuba diving? You did it to sell tickets. Lame.
• HBO, Showtime & Cinemax. Every series you make. GREAT series! Just “no reason nudity” (lately – Spartacus & Game of Thrones).

Examples – GOOD:
• The Hairy Ape – Eugene O’Neil. The guy playing the Ape HAS to be nude. It’s integral to the story. Put him in shadow so you don’t see, or show, whatever, but it’s INTEGRAL.
• “The Piano”. Because it matters to the character, the other character, the plot, etc etc etc.
• We could debate all day whether you even need to ever SHOW the nudity, but .. point is, if you do, it should be for a reason, because it’s all the audience will look at and care/think about while it’s on screen.

Coming from far away to someone(s) in a window (home, spaceship, etc.) and then, punching seamlessly through glass to action and people close up inside.
• Yes it’s an amazing technical effect and is VERY cool. But I have seen it so many times I walk into glass doors now I am so inoculated to it!

Confession, this was a blast to write. So please, join in and tell me ones I didn’t think of. These were literally just the first ten off the top of my head. I want to hear from YOU! Come on, what have you seen more times than you can count? Bring it!


  1. I have to disagree with you again, Steve. Just because something has been used before doesn’t mean it loses its value or aesthetic power and influence. You even showed us a picture from The Wizard of Oz. Is the film still charming and extremely viewable? Of course it is! For me, it’s far less about being “original” than it is about being “effective” in communicating the plot and story ideas. So, if one is telling the story well by way of using relatively common cinematic elements, I could care less. Perhaps I am naive or traditional in my point of view, but I am only put off by production elements if I find them to be overly stated or distracting. Thanks for your thoughts!

  2. Robert –
    Paul here. I edited this piece and often provide the photos for Steve’s article. So, I picked THE WIZARD OF OZ still more as a reference than an example of over-use of the “it was all a dream” movie. In fact, WIZARD was fresh in that it pioneered the “it was all a dream” device! (that has since been done to death). Even the SHAWSHANK and AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON stills are from EXCELLENT movies, but show the device being used, not necessarily over-used, and I think these films can still be seen in the context in which they came out. They don’t worsen, I agree with you there, the new copycat films just look tired, I agree with Steve there. TRANSFORMERS…well, that’s another story…


    Steve –
    Tony Scott annoys the shit out of me! I can’t watch his movies anymore. He’s just determined to not let me be a viewer, but a punching bag! But you also forgot one guy who really pulls off shaky cam – Paul Greengrass. His movies are stellar. More BAD shaky cam – THE ROCK. I’m apparently in the minority of people who think that movie blows.


  3. Paul,

    Are you kidding? Who thinks “the Rock” was a good movie? It was not only awful, but had the single worst action film line (said by Connery) of any film EVER! But I digress, yes, Tony Scott can annoy, I will give you that. For some reason, even though I obviously HATE shaky cam, I thought it worked in Man on Fire. But lately, yes, gone too far.

    The Rock stole 2 hours from my life.


    I disagree, I still think It’s lazy. It’s not that someone cannot use a similar technique, just give it a fresh spin. It’s like music, there may be tonal similarities, chord progressions, etc. – but you still have to use it to break new ground. My opinion. But, I hear you – I agree that it’s worst when it is overly stated and/or distracting. True.

  4. I get shit about THE ROCK all the time! “Oh, it’s a great popcorn movie”, “Turn your head off and just have fun” F THAT!!! I’ll be watching INCEPTION, thank you. But I’m glad you agree. I also get shit for not liking GOONIES or THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy. Hey, this might be a good topic for your next article…!

  5. I have to agree with Steve. I think some of the better films use the over used techniques discussed but they add a twist or punch it in at an unexpected time. The Harry Potter movies incorporate a lot of been there done that techniques but integrate them into the movie in a way that is in line with the story. You know something is coming and sometimes it comes BAM first turn sometimes it is just the rat. A good flick uses cinematography to enhance the plot. It the reason for seeing the movie verses just reading the book.

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