We’ve posted a lot of stuff on this site by Tony Zhou, the creator of the brilliant video essay series Every Frame a Painting. He delivered an insightful essay on David Fincher’s visual economy and he did a truly masterful take on movement in the films of Akira Kurosawa. And, in the piece above, he delves into the work of British director Edgar Wright, who directed such cult masterpieces as Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.
As Zhou notes, comedies are boring these days. In movies like Bridesmaids and The Hangover, the camera oftentimes just records the actors riffing. The humor is almost entirely dependent on the dialogue. And while that might yield some yuks, in terms of moviemaking, these movies are woefully limited. Film is a visual medium after all.
Wright, on the other hand, is a terrifically inventive filmmaker who knows how to tell jokes visually. One of the reasons Shaun of the Dead and his other films are so damned funny is because he is able to cram jokes into moments where other movies would be content with just pushing the plot forward. “This is what separates mediocre directors from great ones,” says Zhou. “The ability to take the most simple, mundane scenes and find new ways to do them.”
Like Eisenstein and Ozu and just about every other cinematic master out there, Wright is keenly aware of not just what is in the frame but what is not in the frame. Unlike Eisenstein – who, let’s face it, is not funny – Wright knows how to mine the comic potential of the frame.
Zhou ends his spiel with a challenge to Hollywood directors out there. He rattles off eight things that Wright does with picture and sound that he would like other filmmakers to work into their movies.
1. Things entering the frame in funny ways
2. People leaving the frame in funny ways.
3. There and back again.
4. Matching scene transitions.
5. The perfectly timed sound effect.
6. Action synchronized to the music.
7. Super-dramatic lighting cues.
8. Fence gags
And the bonus point
9. Imaginary gun fights.
Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow. And check out his blog Veeptopus, featuring lots of pictures of badgers and even more pictures of vice presidents with octopuses on their heads. The Veeptopus store is here.