Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Perils of Year-End Movie Montage Videos

Haven't done a post on fandom in a while have I? Let's fix that.

A trend I've noticed over the past few years is that many movie fans, who are also amateur editors, make film tribute videos at the end of each year, usually from footage collected from trailers. There's already one or two of these for the films of 2011 floating around on Youtube. These projects, like most fan-edited videos, are totally non-commercial and often can serve as good advertising, so the studios and artists who own the rights to the footage tend to leave them alone. One even gained some positive media attention a few years back.

I enjoy a good clip montage, and I really liked some of the early ones I saw, back in 2005 and 2006. These homemade tributes can be a great opportunities to do really creative, fun, different things with the familiar marketing clips we've been seeing all year. There aren't many venues outside of straitlaced award ceremonies that have the rights and access to edit together bits and pieces from so many different films, so it's the perfect kind of project for fans to tackle. There are still a few exceptional editors who I'll check in on every year, but lately my enthusiasm has been waning. I think this is one trend that is starting to wear out its welcome.

If you look at a bunch of these videos from different years, they start to look depressingly similar. Most end-of-the-year montage videos simply use too many clips, and a few editors even make it a point of pride to use a shot from every single film released in a particular year, no matter how obscure or how bad the film. And because everyone rushes to post these montage films online in December or January, there's no way that the editors have seen more than half of the films they're using footage from, so clips tend to be not particularly representative of the films. Rather they're the most showy bits, or shots that happen to fit the narrative they're trying to construct.

Using trailer footage also presents its own problems. As I've noted on this blog before, I think trailers have been steadily decreasing in quality over recent years, becoming more bland and generic. As a result, the footage they contain tends to be the most bland and generic parts of the films they're promoting. Think about the trailers for "Hugo" and "Planet of the Apes" compared to the finished films and you can see the problem. The best scenes from "Hugo" are all the spoilery ones from the end of the film, and there's no way anyone could get ahold of those clips by any legal means until "Hugo" arrives on DVD sometime in the spring. Some trailers, like the early ones for "The Muppets," are full of scenes that didn't even appear in the finished films. Could you spot Wanda Sykes anywhere but the trailer?

As a result, many of these videos are mind-numbing catalogs of endless mediocre films, and you get many of the same sort of sequences - compilations of the best actions scenes, shots of teary and romantic moments, and a lot of emphasis on familiar faces. Oh look, there's George Clooney, and Sandra Bullock, and Robert DeNiro looking a little grayer each year. It's often hard to tell which movie the stars appeared in, because you'll often only get a half-second head shot mixed in with a lot of others. In short, a lot of these montages end up looking like very, very long super-trailers for one big, expensive, film, full of hugging and explosions and every big movie star who made something that year.

Some of these projects are more artful and interesting than others, but it's hard to think of most year-end montages as real tribute pieces, as opposed to just massive editing exercises. I've seen a lot of good fan-made vidding projects out there using clips from films you can tell the editors really enjoyed and cared about. I don't get that from these latest "Best of" vids. The earliest year-end movie montage videos get kudos for being innovative, but the later ones haven't really built on them to do anything more distinctive or offer any real commentary. They just get longer, showier, and use newer music every year. You could easily churn out a montage video right now for the films from the first half of 2012, just from the trailers that have been released.

I'm not going to write off this whole category of vidding, but I will say that the stuff I like tends to be shorter and focus on fewer films, resulting in more personal, oddball looking videos. They don't get as many hits, and don't get their links passed around, but at least they feel like videos that were really made by fans.

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