Wednesday, June 17, 2015

"how improbable it is that any movie at all turns out to be good..."

This post's title is a quote from a piece in Vulture by Adam Sternbergh,

Serena. Photo: 2929 Productions
Why Did This Movie Starring Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper Go Straight to VOD?

I've not seen the movie, nor any of the movies by either star referenced in the piece. I was fascinated by his concluding analysis, answering the question he poses in his title. His answer is that productive collaboration is quite difficult, as he enumerates the many parts and processes that go into making a movie that didn't work in this case, despite all the evidence that everything should have worked, given the levels of talent involved.

It's the importance of the collaborative process in such a venture that I want to highlight. Here's his final paragraph:’s a much more rare artifact than a really bad movie: It’s an incompetent movie. Unlike more famous movie disasters, it plays out not like the product of one unchecked monstrous ego but of a thousand tiny decisions gone wrong. The editing is incompetent. The pacing is incompetent. The scenes don’t logically flow from one to the next. The soundtrack sounds like it was generated by a computer-soundtrack algorithm set to “mournful fiddle.” Serena is a bracing reminder of how much expertise goes into making even the most uninspired movie — how dozens of people with wildly different skill sets all have to perform well or the whole project is imperiled. The stars may be the ones with their names plastered over the title, but if you’re Jennifer Lawrence, trapped in Serena like Rapunzel in her tower dungeon, your powers of self-salvation are limited. You can’t reedit the film or rescore its music or re-scout its locations. In the end, the lesson of Serena isn’t how remarkable it is when a movie like this goes badly, but how improbable it is that any movie at all turns out to be good. 

It's likely that an insider to the movie biz would say, "It's really all the director's fault, ultimately, as she has to be the one making all those decisions about who does which job and how they do it." Yet clearly that's beyond anyone's capacity. So how does one identify exactly what are the ingredients that should go into making a complex collaboration successful? 

My own experience in elementary school classrooms, both as a student at a school which did not give grades, ever, and as a teacher who hated the kind of correcting that goes into grading, is that pride in a group product was the key to a successful collaboration. We needed to acknowledge ourselves as a we, and to agree that the we mattered, meaning no one gets left out, and then work together so that everyone succeeds in doing their part. 

It's harder to make that stick around the goal that everyone knows their times tables, or has their book ready for the Book Fair, than that everyone should know Jacob's Ladder by the end of the day. But if the class has done that kind of group goal-setting with string games first, then the other, longer-term goals get easier to reach.