Sky Full of Bacon

Notes on why this is like this and not that

This is what Food TV would be like if I was in charge.

A while back I wrote about whether or not the length of my video podcasts was too long, too short, or just right. Now, having three of them under my belt, I’d like to say something about why they feel the way they do within that length.

The trend in all visual media has been toward more and faster cutting, punctuated by the little bursts of visual fireworks known in the trade as “Avid farts,” not because someone is farting avidly but because the Avid editing system was the one that first made this sort of pizazz easy to do (and overdo).  (Now Avid farts are within the grasp of anyone with a Mac, like me.)  Food TV is especially prone to this—every show about food zips and bips and POWS! through its running time like a dexedrine addict playing Batman, because it’s thought that a fast pace is the surest way to keep you from flipping the channel in search of other, more satisfying visual sensation.  In effect, to keep you from channel switching, television has taken on the form of channel switching within programs.

This works fine for professional TV for several reasons, not just because it keeps you hooked (hopefully) but because it makes shows easy to assemble in the editing room— you get lots of coverage (editor-speak for plenty of choices) but the cameraman or director doesn’t really have to make artistic decisions in the field, they just need to get some of everything. (Shoot them all, let Avid sort them out.)

But it imposes a real cost, too, which is that everything looks the same.  Every show looks the same, because it’s made in the same sausagey way, lots of little bits squeezed into the Tube.  And every place depicted in every show feels the same, since it’s filmed the same way and edited the same way.  Think about it: when have you ever watched a food program on TV and gotten a distinct feel for an individual place, that was so different from the other two in the same program?  Not too much more often than never, I’d say.  The mode of production imposes a uniform feel on every place they visit.

Well, I just don’t work like that.  One, as a one-man production band, I don’t have a second unit getting shots of everything; I actually think about what I’ll need while I’m there.  Two, as an editor shooting in the field, I’m shooting with a sense of what the piece will be like in the end— in a real sense, editing it in my head as I get it.  Three, I just don’t like that style.

That’s the main thing.  I don’t have to keep you from changing the channel, partly because I have no advertiser to worry about yet, but mainly because you went to some effort to watch it on your own, if you got this far you’re probably interested enough to stay to the end (unless I really screw it up).  So since I’m not driven by that need, I don’t have to make my podcasts like their shows.  I can take the time to soak in the atmosphere of a place, and make sure you get a real sense of what these high-pressure, industrial and yet artistic environments called kitchens and restaurants are really like— individually and uniquely.

I can slow down and just look, absorb, be.  Maybe some will find that boring.  But it can be hypnotic.  Think how many people have lost themselves in the circular space waltzes of 2001 or the desert emptiness of Lawrence of Arabia over the years.  Movies today are usually move-move-move but when they stop and let you be, in a place that’s new and interesting on its own, that can be the most compelling thing of all.

Of course, I’m not making the Lawrence of Arabia of barbecue or Chinese food here.  But I do want to take the time to give you a real chance to feel what these places are like, and never to wonder what the place was you just saw because it moved by so fast and felt just like all the others.

So that’s part of why these are like this, and not that.

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