Wednesday, January 2, 2013


Back when I was shooting Detention in 2010, Kickstarter wasn't really a thing. If I made it today, I would probably raise money through Kickstarter and this is how I would have listed it:



Detention is a movie. I'm not going into the plot because it'll just scare you away. Seriously, we'll get no donations. 


You cheap fuck.


Congratulations! You’re still kind of cheap, but at least it wasn’t a fucking dollar. I mean seriously, kickstarter will charge us more to process that dollar then us actually getting it.


This gets you the FRESHMAN package which gets you into a screening of “Detention” at co-writer Mark Palermo’s house. Mark Palermo does not know I offered this but he’s Canadian and too polite to refuse when you show up.


This is the FRESHMAN PLUS package, which includes showing up at Mark Palermo’s house to watch “Detention” PLUS following it with a screening of the Marlon Brando/Matthew Broderick comedy “The Freshman.” If Mark Palermo does not have The Freshman on dvd, you may have him re-enact scenes from the movie including interpretations of endangered animals. Again, he is Canadian so he will be too polite to refuse.


This is the SOPHOMORE package, which includes everything in the FRESHMAN PLUS package, but now gets you into the afterparty at Aaron David Johnson’s house. Aaron plays “Sander” in our movie and he is a new talented young actor, which is Hollywood speak for “broke.” This afterparty will consist of eggcrate chairs, a refridgerator full of ketchup packets, and a 16 hour lecture by Aaron on why Anthony Hopkins is a great actor (seriously). Do not use his toilet, it will not flush.


Free cocaine!


Welcome to the JUNIOR package. It’s kind of nuts you spent this much donating to our movie and we frankly feel a bit of pressure here.  It’s obvious this money means a lot to you since if you were really rich you would have donated more, so it’s kind of a compromise amount. You’re saying I want to look like a baller, but I can’t really afford to go all out. Also, please don’t let my spouse know I gave you this much money, we still have bills to pay. Honestly, just take your money back. This is just too weird.


The JUNIOR EXCELSIOR package: you get the Freshman, Freshman Plus, the Aaron David Johnson afterparty, skip that Junior part of getting your money back,  and we kill a lamb as a blood sacrifice in your honor. If you would like to have sex with the lamb beforehand, whatever you want weird rich guy.


We are going to Las Vegas and getting hookers. None of this money is actually going to go into the movie, and my hooker is going to be more expensive than yours. I will probably not last very long, so you can have my hooker after while I cry in the bathroom. Awkward.


The SENIOR package! You may sleep with any cast member within one year of the film’s release.


SENIOR PLUS! You may kill any cast member within one year of the film’s release.

PLEDGE $1,000,000 OR MORE

SENIOR PLUS PLUS! You may kill any cast member within one year of the film’s release, however you now get to do it with a bow and arrow. We have to call you “Katniss.”

PLEDGE $100,000,000 OR MORE

GRADUATION package! You have now reached “Detention Level Seven” in which you are now a walking God, can heal the common cold with just the power of your hands, and will live for a billion years.  Paypal only please.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Chapter Two (A Short Story by Joseph Kahn)


Three years ago the famous actor Martin Sheen seduced Esmerelda from me.
He wore a white double breasted Prada suit with impeccably shined platypus loafers and a puckered, sanctimonious smile.  Handsome, yes, but his eyes flipped and rolled like glass marbles spinning, eager to knock me out.  When he walked, it was to the tune of a silent vibrato, his platypus shoes dancing-shuffling, his shoulders all jazzy and fresh.
He was making the moves.
In retrospect, I believe that Esmerelda was smitten because of the way he played his golden harmonica.
She lived with me in a one story adobe house on a street lined with macademia nut trees.  We lived off the land and ate well: macademia nut stew, macademia tartar in orange crème, white chocolate macademia souffle with a touch of cinnamon rasberry, prime macademia simmered in olive oil with steak frites, roasted macademia boullion, and my favorite, peppered macademia mousse served on a bed of virgin rosemary ice cream.
Esmerelda's hands smelled of macademia. 
She would often sit in our tiny kitchen cracking a nut open and rubbing it against her fingers, smiling and staring at me without saying a word.  Her brown eyes swallowed the tiny dots which were her pupils, constricted so tightly on me that they pulsed with my own heartbeats. 
I would sit beside her and hold my breath to listen to her eyes.  Wonderful, fluttering metronomes, ticking from left eye to right, following the sighs of my lonely, lovely heart.
Martin Sheen appeared on a Saturday. 
He knocked on the mesh my screen door and only a putter called my attention.  He stood outside licking his fingers, pressing his hair against his forehead, a nervous sweat under his nose.  He smelled of brachtwurst.
Or perhaps it was just hot.
"Hello, citizen," Martin Sheen said. 
He tapped his feet and spinned and clapped.
"I am Martin Sheen," Martin Sheen said.
He slid to the side, very wide, trying to decide, to walk or ride.
"It's a great day, isn't it?" Martin Sheen said.
He shuffled his feet and popped his legs, moonwalking.
I locked the door and pressed my face against the net.
I said: "I know who you are, and you are not welcome here, Martin Sheen."
Martin suddenly looked sad, even though his mouth was happy.  He pulled his fingers into a claw, took two steps back, and then three steps forward.  His nose pressed against mine, through the net.
"I like the color blue," Martin Sheen said.
Poor, banal man, I thought.  Unable to carry a decent conversation.  Without a script, he was a walking eggshell.  Empty, thin, and white.
I simply walked away.
That night, as I watched Esmerelda crack her macademia nut, I told her of the visit by the famous actor Martin Sheen.  She smiled as she usually did, her pulsing pupils jumping with my laughter as the blood rushed to my funny bone.
"What did he say?" she asked.  "What, what, what?"
"Oh, he was so boring," said I.
"Ha, ha, how was he boring?"
"He had nothing to say!"
"Ha, ha, actors!"
"Yes, boring, boring actors!"
"With nothing to say, ha, ha!"
"Ha. Ha."
We laughed and tears welled in my eyes.  I loved her beyond the moon.
She put her nut down and rubbed her hands against her apron.
"Whew," I said.  "That was funny."
"Yes it was.  Oh yes it was."
And then I offered: "Get this, he said he liked the color blue!"
I laughed and grabbed my spleen, buckling over, stomping my feet, lost in the sublime moment when I realised she was not laughing.
Her pulsing eyes raked over me and went to the cool window.
"What a beautiful thing to say," she whispered, and then completed the other thought in her head.
I examined the window, looking for the other thought.
All I saw were the macademia trees, frozen still against the Macdonald's sign across the street.

When Martin Sheen cries, his face becomes a living eulogy.  It is a glimpse of complete rage.  Every muscle in his face collapses into self-immolation, every muscle a Buddist monk on fire.  His gasoline tears mix into the lethal emotion bomb, and he is suffering Tabasco hot pain.    
Crying, Martin Sheen would not leave my front lawn.
He sat under a wailing water sprinkler clutching the grass.  Wet, tired.  Only the feet underneath his waterproof platypus shoes were dry.
"Go away," I hissed, my face slapped against the door net.
Martin Sheen shivered in his double breasted Prada suit, and continued to weep.
"You'll catch a cold.  I warned you."
He only cricked his neck and fake smiled.
I tried to go to sleep.

For a week he had been sending gift baskets.  Beautiful boquets of crimson flowers encrusted with rings of bath salts, sprinkled with the finest macademia nuts he had been meticulously picking off the trees.  He would never deliver them himself, instead, messengering them over using his talent agent's account.  Everyday a man in red shorts and red shirt pulled up to our door and delivered the basket.
"A package from Martin Sheen," he would announce and force me to sign a certified reciept.  I would sign it, glaring at the humped, defeated man sitting on my lawn.
"Oh, another silly basket," I would shrug, and place it on the floor of my kitchen which was rapidly stacking up with the collection.
Esmerelda would be silent, rubbing her macademia.
Sometimes, she would curiously poke at the basket.  Poke, poke, poke.
I would have thrown them away, but I couldn't get to the garbage can.
Martin Sheen was sitting on my front lawn.

"What a beautiful sound!" Esmerelda fawned.  Her exclamation dangled in the dark of our room, dancing against the invisible rhapsody of  Martin Sheen's harmonica.
Beads of sweat wobbled on my ribcage.
My heart rolled in it's oily socket, squashing bedbugs against my lungs.

When I woke, she was gone.


Fuck Martin Sheen.

Thursday, November 8, 2012


Too many artists I know take pride in being "apolitical." There is no way to be creative without being political. Even the most vacuous laugh is politics. We infuse our work from life. The less we understand life, the less perspective we have, the less we have to build interesting work from. Technique is lifeless if you don't know the meaning to why you apply them. Truth, the fundamental goal of what we do, never reveals itself unless you bravely confront it. If you claim to avoid politics, you are extracting the ancient power of story from the telling. As a human you are a coward, as an artist you are a hack.

Sunday, July 1, 2012


Your pirating does not help me.

Stop kidding yourself. Stop lying. Stop justifying. Just stop.

Five years ago I started writing DETENTION with a Canadian guy named Mark Palermo. If you know anything about Canadians*, that was a huge sacrifice. But I got through it, and three years later our script was complete.

*Eh, buddy?

Then I took every dollar I had and just started making the movie myself. No studio, no distribution, no guarantees. I had to bring on investors and contractually insure that no matter what the movie did, I would pay them back. Every single dollar spent on this movie, win or fail, ultimately comes out of my pocket. I owe craploads and I’m working like crazy to pay it all off over the next couple years, with the doomsday scenario of selling my house if it all goes to shit. I bet it all. And why did I do that?

Because I wanted you to see something pure.

It's not for everyone. It doesn't slow down. It's made for people like me. You know, people with great hair.

The movie in my head couldn’t have been made with a single piece of interference of any kind. It’s too complex and too new and too dangerous. It’s a tightrope walk across the Grand Canyon and Detention would fall to it’s death in it’s orange Chucks with the slightest wrong step.

But I wanted to see this movie. So I made it. And I fucking love it. Lots of people fucking love it. I want you to fucking love it. I know you need a movie like this in your life. I want you to see it.

But here’s the part I’m going to be completely 100% honest with you about: I want you to see it, but I want you to PAY to see it.

I want to make my money back. I want to make another film. I’m willing to bet it all again to get the freedom to make films like this, but if I stay broke and owing money like I do now, I won’t get that opportunity for a loooong time, maybe ever (cue Richard Roeper applause*).


If you watched the movie online for free and then loved it, but didn’t buy it, I’m pleased that you loved the movie…but you didn’t have sex with me. You suck.

On the otherhand, if you PAID for the movie and somehow HATED it, unlike the cockteasers, I actually love you. You took both the time and the money to support a filmmaker’s effort, and I appreciate that, even if you have terrible taste. You are still awesome and sexy and you will always have Neal Mortiz’s FAST FIVE (“That force of chaotic and unsatisfiable desire that Freud called the id is much closer to the surface in a movie like Fast Five!” – Andew O’Hehir, Salon) to wash away the taste of DETENTION (“A directorial drum solo that quickly wears out it’s welcome!” – Richard Roeper,

Of course those that paid and loved it, your sex is the best.

Now I am well aware that people’s perception of paying for entertainment is messed up right now. We expect everthing to be free and the pattern of how we access entertainment is confusing. Many young teens have no idea that downloading is illegal, prosecutable, and punishable by death by electrocution down to 13 years old. It does not help that most of my work – music videos – have basically been given away all your lives and you equate my movie with free youtube stuff (you have me confused with Bobby Lee you racist.)

But let’s be clear. You are being entertained by me. This blog cost me exactly $5 in Panda Express energy to stay alive and write it. You can have this one for free. On the house. DETENTION cost millions. $4 to rent it or $20 to own it is a tiny price to pay for the fucking hell I’ve gone through to make that son of a bitch for you. And I won’t go into it here, but, HELL.

Look, I know it’s a losing battle to explain to pirates why stealing is bad. So I won’t. Fuck em. Lost cause. They’re those bad seed kids in Hunger Games trying to kill Peeta. I mean, look at this piece of psychotic tumblring:

Basically wrong on every fact. Producers, art, budget, me, all wrong. And she goes to film school. Yes, she was probably eating bath salts when she wrote that, but still...amazing.

Yet…I see some Katniss’s running around the woods, holding our illegal DETENTION movie in her shaking hands, wondering if this is good or bad. This is who I want to talk to before District 2 kills me.

Katniss, you have three justifications of why you download movies:


Baby, Katniss, what are are you talking about? You can help promote Detention, by you know, buying it. And telling people how awesome it was that you are buying/bought it. Instead of linking them to the movie download, how about linking them to one of our awesome reviews and amazon link? Basically anything you do by “promoting” it off an illegal screening can be done by buying it, without sharing an illegal link to tons of people who aren’t going to buy it. But then you say the people you were linking it to are pirates weren’t going to buy it anyway? WELL THEN HOW ARE YOU PROMOTING IT???? You fail advertising. Don Draper would stub a cigarette on your arrow pulling hand. And Peeta hates you.


Really? How about people like this?

The point of the movie business is it’s an exhibition business. You are paying for the exhibition, and once you pay for that, then you have the right to pass judgement on us. The cast and crew of DETENTION are performing seals. We cry, laugh, and bleed so that we brighten your life in the best way we know how. The show is all we have to sell. When you see it for free, there is no more we can give. You have gotten all that is precious to us. Our art. And when you leave without feeding us, we did all those flipper claps for nothing, and whether you like it or not, flipper claps are hard.

If you think you’ll love it, buy it. If you’re not sure, rent it. Renting is your option to see if you like it. That’s why renting is cheap. The problem with the attitude of I will illegally watch it then decide whether I want to buy it is that you are replacing renting with illegal downloading, An independent movie like DETENTION will NOT get prominent placing on iTunes or Amazon. People will have a hard time finding it. When you turn on Apple TV we’ll be buried somewhere you have to scroll to. Most people will not know we exist.

This is why EVERY RENTAL COUNTS. It moves our ranking up on the charts, and the higher on the chart, the more people will see the poster, and that is ADVERTISING. People who have downloaded the movie may or may not buy it, but they certainly won’t rent it. Losing so many viewers to free downloads hurts the rent-and-see market that do not download (otherwise they wouldn't be renting, see the closed logic?). You're dissipating our opening weekend impact - yes, DVD/VOD have opening weekends - and making it that much less likely we'll ever chart. With no support from rentals, it doesn’t push the converted buys. With no buys, it gives no incentive to cable or tv or foreign to buy. By destroying the chain of distribution, you are killing every single way I can recoup so I can make more kick ass movies for you.

And ultimately the only thing Hollywood cares about our movie is whether it made money or not. You may love my movie. But Hollywood could give a shit. Most producers and executives and often, critics, have no idea what is actually good. Have you seen THOR? (“A sweet love story!” – Richard Roeper, They are robots. All they go by are the numbers. If the movie made money and it was terrible, doesn’t matter, I work again. If the movie was great but you downloaded it for free and it made no money, I don’t work.

So then why are you sharing that illegal link again?

Please don't shoot an arrow through my career, Katniss.


Ex President Bill Clinton once stuck a cigar up an intern’s pussy and proceed to smoke it, saying “Tastes good.” Then he got a blow job in the Oval Office. Before the DNA tests of the cum stains on her dress positively identified him as the Cum-mander in Chief, he looked straight into a deposition camera and emphatically stated, “ I did NOT have sex with that woman.”

He only put his dick in her mouth after all.

I hope this hasn't been too depressing of a rant. Making this movie is still the most insanely tough but gratifying experience of my career and there's a light at the end of the tunnel: there's people that are patiently waiting to watch DETENTION when it comes out in 30 days. There are less and less of you honest people out there, but from the bottom of my filmmaker's soul, thank you. I made this for you.


DETENTION comes out on Blu-ray/DVD on July 31. Here’s a link to buy it:

And if you want to “promote” it some more, here’s some merchandise:

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Why The Black Man Dies


So I write: "CHRONICLE continues to prove the average lifespan of a black man in a genre film is about 30 minutes." And then Twitter gets angry for this spoiler, which wouldn't be a spoiler if that high school had more than one black guy in it.

So, yeah, if you haven't seen CHRONICLE...spoilers ahead. Fuck off.

But let’s be clear.

Who are these people who think a black man dying in a genre film is actually a spoiler anyway? Oh yeah…white people.

Because the rest of us who are not white immediately see that black guy step on a plane full of white people in THE GREY and go…he’s fucked. Yeah, spoiler, duh, shut up. And sure, everyone basically dies in that movie, but the one person we definitely knew was toast from the beginning was the black guy.

Except for the white audience. Who were sitting in their seats going, “I hope Jesus spares the black guy.” Then he freezes to death. A tear is shed, a latte is sipped.

What does this mean?

It means there’s the way white people view movies, and then there’s everyone else.

White people take it for granted that the average white guy’s life span in a movie is two hours. White people see every movie and get shocked when the minority gets killed in the eternal struggle of the survival of the white movie star. The rest of us watch the ethnic supporting cast get assembled and subconsciously prepare ourselves for a bloodbath. White people in return think we’re exaggerating and overreacting. That’s because lots of caucasians simply have no conception what this is like when there is literally a different cinematic universe that conspires to kill you whenever it gets bored of you.

This universe stems from the fact that aside from a few outliers, the vast majority of Hollywood movies are fronted by white movie stars, and by extention of that, these are white worlds. When people of color enter the picture, they may increasingly have more prominent supporting roles and indeed incredible Oscar worthy supporting roles, but they are not the main character. This is The Morgan Freeman Effect.


Thus, genre pictures that deal in life or death are particularly unkind to minorities. People must die in these movies, and the resulting survival list is a sociological study of race relations. The lead character generally survives, followed sometimes by his or her love interest. Since the main actor is white, the surviving love interest is 99% of the time white as well. Occasionally a hot Chinese import gets to be the love interest, but her accent is so terrible she’s packed back into a shipping container after the movie bombs.

That leaves the supporting cast where the rest of the races get stuffed into. If you’re going to shoot a gun at the cast, but pull out your two white leads, chances are you’re gonna kill a minority. Or Richard Brake.


Which brings me back to CHRONICLE. This film is a case study in the mechanics of why the black guy dies.

The film advertises itself in the trailer with three young unknown highschool kids discovering they have superpowers and getting into general mischief. I often confuse this teen found footage trailer with another teen found footage trailer, PROJECT X, except CHRONICLE actually looks like it has a black guy in it and the other one has a white guy who kind of looks black - Jimmy Kimmel. Anyway, the CHRONICLE black guy actually makes a black guy joke by stealing a car and saying “This time the black guy really did it.”

So now the Rest of Us™ know there is a black guy in this fucking movie, and his superpower is the ability to steal cars and joke about how people accusing him of stealing cars is racist. Ironically, minorities actually love stealing cars, so we flock to see this movie.

What the trailer then ultimately promises is that the nerdy white dude is going to go bad and shit will happen. Obviously, the other two superpowered teens must fight him and some dying will happen. The trick is the third teen is a good looking muscular white dude whose superpower is infinite movie exposition. So much time is spent on this guy singing Jessie J songs in his car the movie could be called The Chronicle of White Guy Sings Jessie J Songs: What Fucking White Guy Sings Jessie J Songs?

There is simply no way a white guy with this much post modern masculinity is going to die. It’s like killing Seth Meyers during Weekend Update. Which leaves our noble black guy to die and supply Seth Meyers with his Morgan Freeman Effect. It doesn’t matter that our black guy is a good looking, popular jock who unoffensively dates the only black girl in the pacific northwest. The filmmakers only wrote three characters, so by simple deduction, he’s Tupac in a sweater combo.


I truly believe that the moment he dies comes as a shock to the white audience. Having apparently no memory of every movie they’ve ever seen, this casualty of search for the next white action hero is just another gospel funeral lesson. How many more blacks, asians, hispanics, arabs, and talking animals must die to advance the careers of Chris Hemsworth, Garrett Hedlund, Channing Tatum, Taylor Kitsch? I admire the selflessness of minorities in these movies because it’s obvious if you’re buddies with one of these muscular white dudes, you’re gonna corpse up real fast.

In the final analysis, why does the black guy die? The final answer is this: he’s not the lead. He’s just a supporting character. And in the cinematic chasm that seperates the perspective of white people and everyone else, this is why it’s a spoiler to the former and a given to the latter.

Hollywood is a giant ship. The black guy dies because after the Titanic sank, there was only room for one person on that piece of wood.

And that person was Leonardo DiCaprio.


Friday, September 16, 2011

Analyzing Action

A film critic named Jim Emerson recently deconstructed an action sequence from Dark Knight and claimed that it violated filmmaking rules and spacial relationships. He thought the sequence was indecipherable and that Christopher Nolan, when it comes to action, is essentially incompetent. 

As gentlemanly as that sounds, the methodology he uses is inaccurate and misleading. I’m not out to destroy this guy, but his observations are so flawed it just can’t be left in the universe like that. With the internet being what it is, I'd rather not have this misguided laugh track become the Loose Change of film geeks. Plus, Emerson sounds like a prick.

I don’t have a problem of criticism. In fact, I love film criticism and think it is vital to the historical and cultural dialogue of cinema. Great criticism helps define our interpretation of art and is a canon of thought that shapes both future artists and audiences. A good critic is just as valuable to the cinema as the movies themselves, and I have learned as much reading as I have watching or making (note: criticism as in critical analysis is not always the same as "reviews").

However, there is a point where criticism is so flawed and the author is pontificating on an area that is so out of his area of expertise, he is basically talking out of his ass. That is Jim Emerson’s knowledge of film space and the “rules” he has regurgitated out of a basic textbook.

I am going to go over his major points and explain the flaws. I’m going to skip over as many “opinions” as I can as he has every right to hold them, however smug they may be. This would be things like his personal preferences of how guns should fire, marksmanship, or how characters should act. Instead, I simply want to address points he explains as “rules” – which are not. Basically, anything he states as a “violation” is what I’m after here.

We’ll start with an accusation from him, and then my response. I’ve occasionally embedded snippets of his video.

INTRO: “A filmmaker has two tools to convey information visually – composition and cutting.”

This is old film school thought. It’s not even oversimplification, it’s wrong. It stems from the technological origin of silent filmmaking. Film began as “film,” literal strips of pictures moving through some sort of isolated gate that unified an image in sequential progression creating an illusion of movement. 

The addition of actually physically editing different strips created the idea of a “cut.” The delineation of composition and edits exists as a technical solution, but there is no conceptual reason why these two must live apart. The concept of a “shot” is a technical term that makes it easy to produce, but modern techniques like morphing and inverted blends can create cinematic ideas that are neither edits nor separated.

The idea that cinema exists “in the cut” implies that all filmmaking is based on some subconscious, comparative analysis of images. While the mind does naturally have a pattern recognition mode, it’s not the edit that triggers this. We are always doing this, in ALL ART, at ALL TIMES. In fact, as you get out of bed your mind is triggering a historical pattern response to orient you and make sure you don’t knock into your bedstand. It is not the placement of two images that creates the unique experience that is cinema. A typical motion graphics flash page on a website can fuck this concept in the ass.

Many of our old critical thoughts on the aesthetics of film are defined by the limitations of old technology and workflow. This includes sound, which was originally added as an afterthought and curiosity, but is as fundamental to cinematic technique as the concept of a “picture.” We again only separate because we must shoot sound separately from the picture, but this has nothing to do with the actual unit of a cinematic idea. David Lynch for one composes images with sound, and his images are inseparable from the audio.

As modern technology makes it easier and cheaper to access picture and sound and manipulate it, digital filmmaking will release our critical thinking from being so closely tied to shorthand production terminology, and reveal a purer cinematic ideal that is not afraid to embrace how we really experience movies.

Any analysis that views film from only from the prism of composition and editing, and excludes sound, has made a completely arbitrary line in the sand that does not reflect that actual totality of what you actually saw.

Now, Dark Knight.

CLAIM: Nolan violates the 180 degree rule, and this is confusing.

Emerson never explains why the 180 degree “rule” supposedly works. I have yet to read any precise technical papers on this, but it’s pretty obvious that as we tend to view images scanning on a horizontal plane during the course of a normal day - cars, lions and OJ Simpson will attack you from ground. 

As a survival mechanism, evolution has trained the human race to stare at the white’s of each other’s eyes to decipher danger and direction. Thus when someone on a screen stares left, we will instinctually look left to follow their eyes. A person then on the left looking right will reciprocate an interaction as our eye shifts to their direction.

However, Emerson has discombobulated this with action sequences, demanding that they strictly adhere to eyelines and a constant screen direction, as if once set they can never change (why not?). Even on an evolutionary level, the white-eye left/right instinct can be overridden. Stand on the ledge of a tall building and all you’ll look is down. Enter a cave of falling stalactites. Architecture, danger, and kinetics can change and reset where you look, and how you look. Action scenes can be solidly designed with this in mind, and it happens all the time.

Furthermore, Emerson confuses screen direction with meaning. An example is how he professes confusion over where Harvey Dent is sitting in the back of the truck. The sequence begins with Harvey walking to the back of the truck, and clearly shows him sitting on the passenger side. 

Emerson then claims he is completely lost as to where Dent is sitting for most of the action sequence because he is often “facing” the wrong direction in the chase. But Dent is an windowless contained space. 1) Part of his character’s perspective is to be isolated and confused to the outside world. It is ridiculous to flop around angles to match outside action as it defeats the subjectivity of his reactions  2) Yet the audience always knows he’s on the passenger side because 3) Nolan has chosen to constantly keep him framed on the identical right side to reinforce his positioning.

This is pattern recognition, and it overrides the 180 degree line. The audience cannot be convinced otherwise because Nolan locks it into their brains: Dent’s on the passenger side. And a character’s subjective perspective, how he feels about what he’s in, is something Emerson is tone deaf to in pursuing his eyelines.

Now I’m going to quickly analyze some of his criticisms:

CLAIM: “Again we don’t know but we assume since this is the only truck we’ve seen, that it’s the one Harvey’s in.”


Yes of course we know that’s Harvey’s truck because we’ve just cut to the “only truck we’ve seen.” Also, it has a fucking spotlight on it. He brings up a false question then answers it.

CLAIM: “This feels like a reverse angle which means this guy is now sitting where Harvey should be.”

Weird claim because by his own AXIS OF ACTION rules the cop is looking correctly from left to right, as the car is driving from left to right. 

And Harvey’s reverse pivots correctly.

CLAIM: “This little bit doesn’t accomplish anything. Why would you cut away from a convoy just when it’s getting going?”

This question of why we cut away isn't really a question but an opinion - an opinion of how he would have personally directed the scene. Very cute. But masquerading as technical analysis, the opinion shows shocking disconnect from the plot mechanics of the story. This obviously establishes the Joker is setting up his plan. Hitchcock himself stipulated tension is built by showing a ticking bomb to an audience at the beginning of a scene - instead of just randomly blowing it up. This scene sets the danger of the Joker as the timer and now the audience gets to anticipate his arrival instead of passively watching.


CLAIM: “The Joker shows up so brief it’s not really effective.”

Not effective? A guy in spooky white face and black eyes just popped out and kills a cop with a shotgun. What the fuck is he talking about?

CLAIM: “It would have been more ominous to just go straight into this next shot.”

Aside from ignoring Hitchcock for his directorial preference, this is where ignoring sound design would make you miss a wonderful detail: the shotgun blast echoes and raises the guitar hum in the next shot like an ear ringing. You still feel the Joker in the next sequence because you still hear him. This is sophisticated sound design working in tandem with the edit. All tools of cinema are at play here.

CLAIM: “A minor quibble, the previous shot sets this up to be a POV shot, and it isn’t a true POV shot. If it were, it would have to be three vehicles ahead of here...the imprecision of Nolan’s camera placement creates much more serious logistical problems later.”

Emerson just completely fucks this one up. There is simply no rule in cinema that states cutting to a person's face and eyeline automatically turns the next shot into a POV. In fact, it takes a lot of effort to convince the audience of any POV shot. It generally requires a hand held or steadicam feel amongst other signifiers. Establishing a POV from a car has a library of signifiers that clue the audience - namely is that there is a piece of the windshield to lock the viewer's position.

Furthermore, this is clearly a reverse master shot of the entire scene as the camera is placed higher than eye level and tracks in smooth, omniscient manner. One can only interpret camera meaning this poorly if your sense of visual aesthetics is completely broken.

On another note, the timing of the flame glow on the cop faces connects with the wreck as they pass. Emerson may not understand this, but that is a directorial choice that lead to a complicated rig of a moving car and special effect lighting. It is not a decision made lightly. Contrary to his assertion, Nolan’s camera and timing are methodical.

CLAIM: “Did I say 2, no in the next shot there are 3.”

He points out that in one shot there is an extra cop car in the back. This is obviously a continuity mistake in one shot. Shit happens. But you can clearly see they tried to edit around so that the third car is obscured quickly. In normal speed you really don’t see it. It is only seen for a couple frames before obscured by the lead car, and that microedit is the ONLY time it happens. This is precisely the type of editing fix that a filmmaker agonizes over to see what they can get away with but Emerson now uses a freeze frame as if the entire sequence is compromised.

CLAIM: “Where is this expendable guy?”

Emerson does have a point here (throw enough darts, I guess). This is the one beat where the action can legitimately be misconstrued. The guy is in the car in the front looking in his rearview mirror. Then the truck rams second car beside it, possibly insinuating he was in it.

However the solution is not to cut out the close-up as he implies (if he directed a chase sequence it would apparently never have a cutaway to any drivers). It needed a shot of the second car catching up to the truck to clarify, or the hit could have happened in his rearview mirror connected to his look. Or maybe not, it certainly isn't a deal breaker. But then Emerson fucks his point up with-

CLAIM: “We’re introduced to people in close-up or medium shot with no context, just a second or two before they’re dispatched.”

Context is highly relative by his terms. But adding reactions of drivers in multi-car chases is very common, humanizing, and not a sign of incompetence.

CLAIM: “You would think he would be looking in the direction he got hit, but wherever he is Harvey knows which way the van is traveling, why don’t we?”

Emerson makes a point that the truck got hit and Harvey faces the wrong direction for his reaction, but our critic has pulled a fast one. Using the same angle we use to establish Harvey’s seat in the truck, he actually turns first to his right toward the back during the hit, and then as he looks anxiously toward the drivers Emerson FREEZE FRAMES on his left turn, misleading the audience. Very unethical.

He then claims confusion as the editing violates the 180 degree line. But here is another example of how that “rule” is successfully broken. The action cut of Harvey being jolted is split with his head turn and the after shake of the SWAT drivers. The ACTION MATCH CUT clearly seams it together as the only thing we really react to is the impact. 

The simple question that must be asked is what happened in this scene? Truck hits SWAT. Harvey jolts. SWAT drivers react and keep driving, and we know they are driving the truck. This is very clear without Emerson’s obfuscation of the 180 degree line.

CLAIM: “If we think of this less as a three dimensional space than a two dimensional graphic space, like three flat comic frames, then the shots do make a kind of sense.”

He uses this completely random thought game to justify his argument that the sequence doesn’t make sense. But not only is film not two dimensional, it’s not even three. It’s got the fourth dimension of time, and like any mathematical equation the simpler the dimension the less you can solve. That’s why it doesn’t work in his freeze framed two dimensions, but works in our active moving four and allows to factor in kinetics like shock cuts.

CLAIM: When the semi hits the SWAT van, it flies into the river in the wrong direction.

This claim is inexplicable.

The sequencing starts with the semi hitting the van and pushing it to the right.

The driver is thrown to the right off the impact as the van turns right.

The semi twists into the next lane, acting as the force of the impact, to the right.

The van flies off into the river to the right.

It’s all correct. Emerson is just confused.

CLAIM: “Didn’t the SWAT truck and the other two trucks used to be where the semi is now? With the river on the right?”

Water is on both sides, as bridges over rivers are apt to do. This is just trolling.

CLAIM: The Joker shooting gun/bazooka sequence violates the Axis of Action and is confusing.

This adherence to this generic axis of action just doesn’t correspond to how we grasp images, especially in high velocity car chases. The reality is that each action sequence can have it’s own internal architecture in which a number of factors can influence how we perceive it. Just as much as standing on the ledge of a building would shift your awareness downward from left to right (making the axis of action up and down), factors like the actual shape of the environment can rearrange how we orient our screen direction.

In this case, this is very precise geometric construction where two cars are  driving down two narrow lanes, side by side, separated by a divider with columns that whiz by between them.

This helps orient us like standing on the the ledge of a tall building in that we are constantly calculating where our boundries are. The vice-like pathway also is abundant in movement reminders with passing background and passing columns in foreground. We clearly see how reversing shots between the Joker and SWAT drivers relate by the flipping movement of the backgrounds. If you only analyzed this sequence from a two dimensional axis of action, you would miss those four dimensional movements that frame each shot.

Then we factor that the semi truck looks very distinct from the SWAT truck, which reinforces symbolic, object, or pattern recognition (whatever you want to call it). 

The problem with a clinical 180 degree line technique of filmmaking is that ignores human memory, as if all we did were look at screen direction. If this were so, POV shots would never work. Instead, POV’s work off of association where the audience naturally interprets the shot as from within someone’s head. The human mind is powerful: it can decipher information from many different ways. Symbolic association is one that Nolan is very good at, and the sequence is confidently made.

In fact, there is an actual line cross that Emerson praises. When the Joker fires into the truck, he exclaims that the cop inside is finally linked to what side he is sitting on. The cut from outside (right to left) to inside the truck (left to right) is a line cross that would “confuse” which directions he is going in, but works because it is a MATCH CUT on the bullets. But Emerson thinks this finally clues him into where he is oriented – using the association the rest of us already use during the whole sequence.

Here, axis of action gives an overall sense of direction, but only as an overall pointer.

CLAIM: Emerson has recut a sequence in where Batman crashes into the garbage truck. He claims he has fixed Nolan’s edit and that it is better.

All because he misunderstands a shot where the Batmobile crosses under the moving camera to build acceleration. Objects get faster as they come closer to camera. This is just a variation of a car flying over camera mounted to a road.

Also, that editorial “fix” is ridiculous.

CLAIM: The Batmobile jumping over the car with the explosion has a continuity problem with a disappearing SWAT truck.

Nobody’s perfect.

CLAIM: He claims Salt is better directed than this.

Nobody's perfect.*

*Yeah yeah, I know. I should talk.