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A volume in the series Televisuality

Communications, Media, and Culture


Style, Crisis, and Authority
George F. Custen, series editor
in American Television
Series Board
Larry Gross, University of Pennsylvania
Dana Polan, University of Pittsburgh John Thornton Caldwell
Virgnia Wright Wexman, University of Illinois, Chicago

Rutgers University Press


New Brunswick, New Jersey
72 THE PROBLEM OF THE IMAGE

and into the flashy lifestyles of late Eisenhower era law and order proponents. 142
Legitimate substitutes for art were not limited to sanitized forms of ethnicity
3 Modes of Production
and consmner products. The body could also be a cutting edge. Donna Stone and The Televisual Apparatus
fan1ily automatically conflated aesthetic culture wilh dresses one could buy. When
Alex Stone consoled his anxious wife Donna by arguing lhat her shapely adoles-
cent body fulfilled a more important function than any fashion imported from These radio news pictures projected from magic lantern slides onto the
Europe, lhe message was clear. The woman's body itself could become a symbol screens of the best picture theatres in the cities ... [mean that] no newspa-
of aesthetic culture. Donna's body, after all, fit perfectly lhe postwar ideal ofthe per can possibly put news events before the publicas quickly as the theater
feminine mystique. Her hourglass shape, thin waist and discretely draped torso, can with radio news pictures.
made her both highly sexual and maternal, a bearer of pleasure for all farnily mem- -Technical proposal fortheatrical television, SMPE Journal, May 1923 1
bers. Even this kind of female sexuality, however, was updated wilh changing fash- Although some parts of the program technic may parallel the technics of
ions and social ideais. The Dick Van Dyke Show, for exarnple, overhauled lhe 1950s the st_age, motion pictures and sound broadcasting, it will be distinct from
moral skepticism of high fashion, by posing Laura Petrie as fashionable, not be- any of these. ln effect, a new art form must be created.
cause ofher vocation (she lacked one), but because ofher hip and contemporary -Modernist aesthetic espoused by RCA engineer R. R. Beal, 1937 2
wardrobe. 143 Laura could somehow be pitched as lhe new woman of the 1960s:
hip, domestic, and careerless at the sarne time. Through Donna and Laura's per-
fect bodies, lhe Reed and Petrie sitcom clans got to have lheir own substitutes for Television engineers have often acted as closet artists. From the very beginning, J
the avant-garde----lheir own acceptable and pleasurable bodily surrogates for a force developers of production technology have seldom shied away from offering aes-
still lhought to be lurking out lhere on America's fringes. lheti theorizations about their new and constantly developin_g technologi,s. Even.
In cars, dance, clothing, appliances, and the female body American television ~-;;1.lfs~;,,---;;;;ey ~fih;technical literature f~om th~~i<i:ios and 1930s shows lhat
and Madison Avenue have long produced surrogates for the avant-garde. Com- television might have ended up radically different from lhe fonn that we now know.
modities, bolh material and living, could become bearers of modem design and Engineers hawked various visions of the artform: as a cinematic type of theatri-
culturally distinctive collectibles. Better yet, these surrogate items, unlike art, could cal television, as a facsimile system, as radio photographs that produced paper
actually be used: around the home, on the golf course, in the subdivision. As long prints, as a visual newswire, andas a video phone. 3 From the perspective of the
as art was seen as an aberrant threat, television worked to commodify it into ac- 1990s, lhese early and altemative technical proposals, along with alternative eco-
ceptable forms. When art took television's center stage in the mid-1980s, how- nomic proposals-like pay per view and a system of programming subsidized by
ever, commodification was no longer an ancillary process. That is, consumer TV set license fees--all seem incredibly forward-thinking. Each prototype, after
culture was no longer something that televisio_n merely supported or pointed to all, now plays an important par! in the contemporary multinational, multimedia
outside of its aesthetic and drarnatic confines. TV had also learned lhe value of environment. Yet, by 1950, each prototype had been written off as a failure.
repackaging itself as bolh the aeslhetic experience andas a commodity ritual. The This shepherding and attrition of technological and artistic prototypes suggests
presentational guises under which this packaging took place will be more closely two lhings. First, media technologies arenot easily dichotorni10eAa.s_ei!11er_dJOter- 0
analyzed in the case studies that follow. Before doing so, however, it is important ministic (forces thateffect change) or symptomatic (phenomen" lhat_reflect cul-
to move from a historical view of stylistics to an examination of the televisual tural needs and ideologies)0 as Raymond Williatns s11ggests. 4 As the above
mode of production. The performance of style was not just an invention of vi- epigraphs indicate, prewar RCA and Society for Motion Picture Engineers (SMPE)
sionary producers and directors, it was also an aesthetic appetite tied to certain aestheticians actively broached and bartered different aesthetic models in a give-
kinds of technology and production practice. and-take process of negotiation with stockholders, with government regulators, ,
and with the supposed needs and tastes of lhe American people. William Boddy V
has shown incisively how government sanctioned monopolistic practice in lhe post-
war era was a clear incursion into tecbnological development-an exclusionary
process of control lha! benefitted specific business interests. 5 To the determinis-
tic-symptomatic model, then, one must also then add a third axis: the interven-
tionist. History shows that mass-cultural processes are not always as subtle as some 'i
cultural studies suggest, nor are they always as ambiguous and contradictory as
ideological criticism implies. E~pJ_icit aestheti_.._111),Q_fu~oretic~__ qi.mrrses-as we_ll
attQX~J.tin.t_erve.n!i9P.~~~f.p.9~er~~av~.-~1~~w~.}!~-~2~.~j~?..new media technolo-
gies_and will continue to do so. Politic_l_ and economic inte~ests _have never been
gueasy about_p_\l]2fu;Jyfle_xillgc9f]Jotate, !lmscle to co11![Qlp_l\r~cljgm shifts. These
74 THE PROBLEM OF THE IMAGE MODES OF PRODUCTION 75

manifest tendencies in television's mode ofproduction had an effect on televisual different from lhose laid down by the venerable Directors Guild of America: "!
style as well. see my background in semiotic theory as the main reason why I've been able to
Having surveyed the historical and ideolQgical functions of aesthetic television, cross over from such a radical avant-garde position to such a commercial me-
that is,the condi~ns and precedentsfor stylistic_ex!iibitio11is1n,_I want to exam- clium .... Godard meets Monterey Pop is my ideal." 8 The references to semiotics v
ine here some of_the irictustrial __con_dit_ions_ _ behi_11_d__:the_ emerge_nce of_t_ele~isu~!Y and Godard are curious to say lhe least. These are not the references high lheory ,./
consicteration offie-ffil~iiuaf~de- iproa:.i~ton- --rts Pr~a~ct~O~ t;c1mo1ogy, expects to find in lhe day-to-day workings of the television industry. The remarks j
methods, personnel, and organizational form-shows that the excessive looks of do show, however, lhat some parts of lhe industry are capable of viewing lheir
primetirne television in the I 980s were not just illustrations of a stylistic or W~t-~--~~ .~_p_rocess_ ?f!~_fle~_i_YJ.,_s!)'_lj~~~~9E__ap._~--~-----~gn___system. Semiotic and film
postmodernist sensibility, but were rather indications of substantive changes withln historical consciousness counteract the way lhat lhe earlier industry overprivileged
the televisual industry and its production apparatus. To understand lhese changes, the maker's intentions as the key to a program's meaning. From a semiotic per-
it is important to look at severa! key televisual technologies, their affect on pro- spective, meanings are constructe,fby lhe program text through plays of image
duCtion practice, and two major influences on televisual programming: the film- and sound, ralher lhan predetermined by the program makers. rh_e_p.rngram,-.in
style look and the style-obsessed world of primetime commercial advertising. shl!.rL.iV!QJorrger_onstruedasaneutral vehicle that _transmits messages for its /
Chapter 9 will return to the issue of lhe televisual industrial apparatus wilh a more sell<ierLRfer,.!11,Jof111a! ele!Ilents_{)ftheprogram lhemsel_ves are the content. V ((
in-depth case study of two liveness modes: portable tape and lhe live remote. This particular homage to master-deconstructionist Goda;d, -to lhe avant-garde,
and to semiotic theory implies that some directors no longer dutifully accept lhe
Televisual Labor industry's received production wisdom and orlhodox style. This degree of intel-
lectual self-consciousness was not always a part of production.
Although students of cultural studies now flock to lhe audience and to lhe do- Before lhe 1970s the production industry seemed to have little need for intel-
mestic living room in order to better explain television, few_conside.Lthe_.practi- lectual specu]ations on its form. After ali, the industry's formal melhods were self-
tj_o.n~r_s _.9r maker~ of what is __ transmitted -ver_ the T_y _ a_ ~Ql.lfC(:: _for RrQ4c:t_ive evident, naturalized and codified through widespread use. Academic training, in ./
analysis, This acdemic _Qversjght may be logical, given the problematic nature fact, could be a definite mark against aspiring applicants to lhe primetime pro-
of much in lhe industry. The primetime production world, for example, is still in gram production industry in Hollywood. The reason for this prejudice, of course,
many ways an exclusionary old-boys network, fueled by patriarchy and by dis- was that the only persons qualified to talk about or explain lhe industry were
courses that institutionalize anecdotes about "the ways things are done." There lhought to be lhe practitioners and industry professionals themselves. The prob-
are those, for example, who celebrate the masculinist virtues of production tech- lem with this view, lhough, is the sarne one argued in philosophical aeslhetics
nology. The lates! full-page ads from Panavision in Hollywood show musclebound against the so-called intentionalist fallacy. 9 That is, critics oflhe fallacy argue lhat
and loosely clothed male production studs erecting a tripod-mounted 35mm cam- the meaning of an artistic work cannot logically be limited to the original intent
era-all in a pictorial tableau clearly modeled on lhe bloody WWII Marine Corp and expression of the work's maker. If it is, the viewer is locked into a tautology,
flag-aising on Iwo Jima. 6 Semper fi, Panavision. 1l elos,d_lpop. A work of art or film is not a work of art or film simply because
Film and television production accomplishment is, apparently, still very much lheir makers say so. Against lhe traditional view that privileged the originators of
fueled by testosterone. ln recent and official how-to production publications by the artwork over its percepti,Qn.,_Q.QQfi_rfljn__o_pscio_u~_n~Sfi pr.esllppos_~__the text_;is
the Directors Guild, veterans teach television aspirants and newcomers the essential an (inter)active stylistic !'eration;thatfihns and vdeos work_ as an array of sig-
tricks ofthe directing trade: "Travei for [lhe director] becomes an adventure lhat nals and_ codes lhat are manipulated and orchestrated by producers and viewers.
no money can buy. Wherever he goes, he becomes involved with the natives at For a TV director to invoke Godard, and lhen to apply him to popular culture, is J
the location .... The relationship the director has with prominent people offers a not JUS! an exercise in lhe fadclish, but empty, lingo of postmodernism. The be- v
different satisfaction than the one he has with the <common' man .... Ido not havior suggests instead a fairly widespread knowledge of film bistory, decon-
give brown envelopes wilh cash or cash in any form; I do not supply anyone with struction, and stylistics.
members of lhe opposite sex for any purpose."7 ln lhe old Hollywood, lhen, tele- I .am.auggesting lhat a new generation ofp,_oduction personnel in television is
vision commercial directing can be couched as a middle-aged forerunner of the ~1'-"c_styhs_t_ically and more theoretically inclined. Many production approaches
"sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll" elhos. Straight-shooting, insider production books m pnmet1me are now premeditated rather than rote. One might counter lhis per-
like this one cannot resist acknowledging the industry's important lifestyle func- cept10n, however, by arguing that only lhose filmmakers tainted by the excesses
tions and lures-travel, elitism, bribery, and illicit sex-as part of the director's ?f MTV or features actually evidence greater theoretical focus. After ali, many
professional package. This production patriarch has spoken, by substantiating each m lhe mdustry tended to view wilh distaste lhe excessive style, hypervisuality,
lifestyle concern with pregnant anecdotes from inside lhe production industry. and self-consciousness of newcomer MTV. For example, American Cinematog-
Compare this old-school Weltanschauung with an emblematic quote from a

___________________________ _
newer director, one more typical of the wave that entered television on terms very
,
rapher defined high-quality programs by setting them apart from MTV: "Pele
Townshend's Deep End, overcomes MTV special effects and overproduction and
76 THE PROBLEM OF THE IMAGE MODES OF PRODUCTION 77

exists on its own terms" (italics mine). 10 Notice here that excessive visuality- Studio executives praised the stylistic possibilities offered by the newer, nonlin- J
overproduction-seems to be a trait that producers should overcome. What the ear CMX-6000 editing system, but described the ultimate choice of editing tech-
trade review argues for is stylish production, but only if it can be linked to a show's nology as the series producer's cal!. Style, however, was not the only thing on the
essential objectives, that is, to its own terms. The reference suggests that the in- vice president's mind. Electronic editing also promised to be more cost effective-
dustry is interested, not in excessive or empty style, but in stylistic originality something the old-guard studios have always understood better than anybody else.
and motivated style. Overproduction for American Cinematographer, then, might Sjgi,if_ic,g,t!y,_the_new tools were tied directly to specific crafts people and to off-
more accurately be described as special effects for special effects' sake, as canned Jhe-lot, tl!iLd:part;y_p_Q_s_tproduction hous<:,::::-a!ltied tQgether in what the studio
looks that work apart from particular references or program.objectives. desc.ribed as.a.new interpersonal relatj_onship. 14 ln Universal's eyes, then~ televisual
This example shows --~at eyen c_o~p~ti_1!_g}4_~Qlqgies within the inQ111fY__ are production technol<Jgy cannot be .distinguished from a new kind of producer and
reprivileging production style. On the one hand, the new generation ofMTV-bred -~ n~yv kind of extra-studio corporate relationship.
television and commercial directors play with the limits of style and radical theory. One of the most provocaVe illustrations of changes in televisual style comes -J
On the other hand, even the more conservative and older imagemakers associ- from changes in the kind of background expected of directors. Television direct-
ated with the feature film industry re,_vlue style, but do so in a different way. ing is no longer necessarily dominated by actor's directors. Veterans with decades
American Cinematographer does not have an aversion to the stylish image-far of production experience, in fact, now argue that the best training for second-unit --.../
from it. What it wants is smart style, rather than empty or unmotivated stylistic directing, a prerequisite for first-unit work, comes not frorn writing or produc-
effect. Even this apparently reactionary critique against MTV stylishness is actu- ing, but from working as a cinematographer. "You have to be a director of pho-
ally a callJor stylistic_heterogene~ That is, it assumesJhat ead1.ws,rk sbould be tography before you can [direct] second unit, because you have to be able to shoot
uniquely stylized according to its own objectives,::::-ne_ither yvallpapered with spe- in any style. [As a director] you have to match what the main cinematographer
cial effects, nor forced to beara stanclardand unmotiv_at"_<l_irld~try look. does." 15 From the perspective ofthis director on the 1992 network series Covington
The industry's semiotic self-consciousness goes deeper than its various cutting Cross, then, Oilf_Qfthe chi<,f\Jirectorial tasks_in primetime is to constructcoher-
edges and avant-gardes. Take for example the following trade account ofproduc- e_l!!__tyljsti_wrl\is, 911 C011111!_'111_d,_and_from a_widevariety of vj11a!styles. Facil-
tion style in the popular primetime soap Da/las. Director of photography (DP) i!Y.Fj!l?:__~9.t~~-gJ~l'!c;L!!12~!ge and blocking is no longer the i~JJe. Requiring a
"Cararnico sees his work as following the [series] look that's been established- cinematography pedigree for television directing, could not be more alien to the
of continuing the tropes laid down by previous cinematographers and by producer script- aud acting-sensitivity celebrated by many earlier television directors. John
Leonard Katzrnan." 11 The reference to prograrn tropes is not the kind of Ianguage Frankenheimer and Delbert Mann in the 1950s could not have cared less about
one finds in earlier generations of books based on prescriptive rules and biblical the grade of fog filter used on the set or the characteristic curves of their primetime
production principies. Once one has viewed the look of a show through the lens kinescope stocks.
of narrative theory-as figures of speech, as stylistic quotes, as smart references-
form is no longer seen as a neutral vehicle. It is easy to foreground stylishness in Televisual Technologies
unorthodox program genres. But here, even in the conservtive and classical Hol-
lywood style used in primetime dramas like Dai/as, the look of the show pre- Sim..JtlyJQQking at television's flow of ads,_.sh2"'~,_llil< promos on any given niggt j
sents itself as if derived from a well-stocked menu of possible stylistic figures. 12 rey<:_als the importance and consciousness of the televisual mode of productiop.
;
;
Even if such prograrnming does not invoke Metz's semiotic terminology, its utili- '!!!,Lits_J50__li@logies. If many primetime shows now use all of their available "bells
zation of tropes from a stylistic menu suggests that television is being theorized- and whistles," then ads and music vdeos actually make production equipment a
in-practice as a visually coded formal systern, as a serniotic srnorgasbord. ln this crucial part of their dramatic action as well. When director David Fincher, for
way, even conservative shows not originally pitched as stylistic can still be self- example, used the new Raybearn, a lighting grid with thirty !Ks on a recent Nike
, conscious about their visual poses. commercial, he liked the polished high-tech look so much that he included it as a
1
The determining stylistic role that production personnel play is most evident prop in the background. From then on he had to re-rent the light as a prop to
at high-volume primetime production studios like Universal. With numerous epi- insure continuity among the other spots in the entire Nike television campaign. 16
sodic and serial shows sirnultaneously in production at any one time, visual style The production too! becarne a fetishized toy in the hip urban world that Nike fan-
becomes both fonnulaic a11,d,v~ry m_uc_ll tied to the tools assigned to each show. tasized for its audience.
By 1993, Universal was still cutting conservative workhorse series like Murder But new production tools not only influenced what was seen by viewers within
She Wrote and Columbo on film. Flatbed film editing, after all, fits well the 1970s television images, they also had a profound influence on how those images were
zero-degree telefilm style that is still used in both of these series. On more flashy constructed, altered, and displayed. ]tis important to.see_the emergs,nce of s_tylis-
and contemporary series though-Law and Order, Crime and Punishment, and ti~iilii_b_i!ig11is111_ in .. th.e ]980s_ alongsi<le the gro;-ving .popul'1ri(y_ of six new
the very hip and premeditated Miami Vice-like 1993 spin-off South Beach-the technical <levices in the t_elevis_u.al~.\"dl!ctiqn_\Vorld:'the video-assistAnotion con-
producers at Universal chose a much newer and flashier editing tool. 13 Universal trnl,1ble!ro11i_11911lin.<0r ,diti11g, digitaleffects;T-grain film stock:s, and the
Television. Obsessed nologies, however, a closer look at their importance in primetime production dis-
with electronic images - course is needed.
and the technologies Video-e,s.ist. If one observes a film-based shoot for television today, one fre-
that create them, the quently confronts a production spectacle notably different from the way things
televisual world is used to be done. It is not uncommon today to see production personnel clustered
bathed in the Iight of the around a glowing video mo~itor, entranced by the electronic image rather than
video image. (Bud Light,
by the actors or the action in front of the film camera. The vid,ocas,;i,;!_mll.kes
General Motors, ABC)
possible.this.radicaLshift_ofJh_e_producti9_n_gro1m's_gaze. ln the old days, the na-
ture of the image was really the business of only one or two people on a telefilm
shoot: the director of photography and the camera operator. Although ultimately
responsible for the show, the director was more concerned with acting and could
only engage with the image as it was being shot, through the vague visual ap-
proximation offered by a neck-strung director's finder. Reinforcing the invisible
nature of the television image during the shoot was lhe fact that the director and
crew had to wait for projection of the film dailies-work-prints made from the
camera original negative-which carne back from the lab well after the day's shoot
was over. As with feature filnunaking, sometimes the results were acceptable,
sornetimes they were not. For many years, television's 35mm Mitchell cameras
did not even have reflex viewing. Camera people were forced to develop compli-
cated "rack-over" systeins to shift the camera away from the lens to enable the
operator to frame a shot. This shift allowed the camera people to predict what the
carnera was seeing. Later, "reflex-viewing'' on Panavision cameras allowed the
operators to see the action exactly as it was being shot, but no one else at the
time, including the director of photography, had any certainty about whether the
shot worked, that is, whether it was exposed or framed correctly. Th_ej111age_was I
_alway _i_n_ ~om~ __ 'i\'.'~Y~---~---~Y~t~!Y, one that revealed its secrets only after a retum
journey from the lab's dark, chemical soup. This invisibility lent itselfwell to the J
mystique ofthe cinematographer's difficult craft and to the cult ofprofessionalism.
With the introduction and availability of fiber optics, however, there was but a
short and logical leap to the video-assist. Tinyfiber qpt_i_cs were_t_app_e.ciinto the
ref]ex viewfincler, fod 11ut into a video pickclJP cle_vi_c_e (a tiny vide9 ca111~r), and
el~tr9nically fed tcii(ninitor on the_ ~his _devic_e,_th_e11,aHowedone and ali
OU the .s.et__s_imu_ltaneol.18--~d. criticai :_c.cess _to_ the __ 9p.c~-:-mysteri_()US_ camera image.
What occasionally results from its use is a kind of team visualization, where ev-
ery one of the key creative personnel has access to the composed irnage. This
device, of course, saves money: a lot of takes never need to be printed, because
flaws in acting or blocking become immediately apparent as the shot is being made
or when videotape recorded from the video-assist is played back between takes.
Rank-Cintel. The development and availability of digital vdeo effects, for example Ye_\ tlie disp_laceme_ntofthe production gaze from theproprietary mysterium of
has always promised (or threatened) to replace conventional production methods- the cinematogra_ph~r, to the public consump_tion of_the entire_crew makes every-
a potential celebrated both by techno-futurists and production executives looking one an expert on the image. The video-assist allows extreme precision during a .
I
to save money in primetime by getting rid ofreal (and expensive) locations and setup, and saves money, but it can also be the bane of image makers when gaf-
sets. 17 Chapter 5 analyses this viJ;tual world of excessive videogr~phics in more fers, actors, grips, and other "experts" offer suggestions about better ways to com-
detail. ln addition, a case study at the conclusion of chapter 9 examines portable pose the image. Construction of the televised image before video-assist was based
videotape, another influential industrial component in the rise of televisuali_ty, and primarily on verbal commands between key personnel and mathematical calcula-
a technology directly implicated by new forms of electronic editing and digital tions made by the cinematographer and his assistant(s). Th~yjg~9::-_flfilfil,_..by_Qn-
videogra]Jhics. Before considering the broader implications of these televisual tech- trast, allowseveryo_11eon_the set to be highlyconscious andc1111~me<i_'l..bQl!1.Yis.ual

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HU IHE PROBLEM OF THE IMAGE MODES OF PRODUCTION 81
-------------- - - -- - --
quality. For better or worse, now everyone seems to be a master of the image. age.:.Jhey-1mto111-.tC!l.inh~~ntly inniscient poim_fil..view-al:td su!)je_Jivizdt
Moti,n cgntml. Another type of equipment lhat complements the video- aro.unda tehnologiJll rather than_ human c_enter. If anvtbing reflects_the on!o-
assist, in both the dispersa! and intensification ofthe image, is motion control. I lo_gical_!l_eJ!th q_f_ph-.9!qg.@P4.i~J-~_1i~---~:g__ ~~J~yis,~()-~_, ..!!js -~urely this gang of new
include in this category not jus! the computer-controlled units that automatically _and ~u_tc,JTiated motion-control deviees. The ideological effect of this basic !
program cameras to perform and reduplicate complicated camera moves, but also televisual apparatus is one of airless and high-tech artfice. The televisual image J.'';
lhe Steadicam, Camrail, robotic-controlled studio cameras, and much less cyber- no longer seems to be anchored by the comforting, human eye-level view ofthe
netic <levices like jib arms and motorized cranes. All qf_these .<levices are alike in pedestal-mounted camera, but floats like lhe eye of a cyborg.
on_e _i_mp9.rt9,n_t .w~__y_:__ _!h~Y.J'.!hysically take _J_hg__-mgr.g__z_w_(J.y_fr_om. _th_e camera J;_lgqro_~jc_ ---1!Q __0onlinear editing: 11 Thirty-two leveis of undo. 11 If video-assist
op_erat(Jr S eye~ _an_ef '!!()Y?._ H__th_rpugfJ:_.~_p_ace in very fl_uid._'!Y!JY,_ 'f4~..r~sul_t_ing_ e_ffect and motion control effecte,:i' stylistiZ consciousness and clisembodied fluidity within
c~n be eerily nonhuman_, -~--w~th- the: _Steadicam~a __bQly-mounted camera har- the frame, lhen a third group of technologies-electrn11ic editing _help_e_d_sllatter
, / ness governed by a gyros~opic colltro_l th_at mi11i11Uz_e_s je_rkine_ss -~nd vibration._J3y the seq_uentia_l a7J_dJe!l:_PC>_r_al -~~~_i_tj_~-~~et ncessitated by conventional forms of ed-
J taking out even the sens"t;i9:n_9_f hJU!lan_ ~l~PlLWl1~m-__fue__Qp_e_rntox moves, . the_c_amera iting. Electronic editing of videotape has been pervasive since the early l 970s,
eye seems to float_ tbi:@glu;i:,ace witli _a m11d 9f its own. Popularized in exces- first as control-track editing,.and then as frame-accurate SMPTE (Society for Mo-
sively styled feature films by lhe Coen brolhers (Blood Simple, Raising Arizona) tion Picture and Television Engineers) "time-code" editing. 19 From lhe start, many
and by Stanley Kubrick (Full-Meta/ Jacket), lhe Steadicam has been a workhorse telefilm producers despised lhese options. While video editing was acceptable for
in television commercial production, and an almost obligatory rental unit in mu- short network news stories, it proved impractical for longer forms, since video
sic video shoots, for over ten years. Because of the Steadicam's extreme spatial editing allowed no flexibility for change, modification, or revision once a suc-
fluidity in and around lhe body, the operator typically gauges his or her shot with cession of shots was laid down. If twenty-five minutes of lhe final program had J
the aid of the video-assist and a camera-mounted video monitor. Recognizing been edited and an early scene needed to be shortened or replaced, lhen the en-
widespread demand, manufacturer Cinema Products has developed smaller ver- tire show back to that point had to be rebuilt and re-edited. This system of on-
sions of the Steadicam; lighter units specifically designed for television 's video line editing meant that creative impulse had little place in lhe on-line suite.
electronic field production (EFP) workhorse Betacam, and even the newer guer- Directors and associate producers in charge of editing had to know the exact du-
rilla formal, high-8mm. _ _ _ _ _ _ _ . ___ _ ration and sequence of each shot in the show. Mid-session changes of even a few
Everybody seems to wa~)LQdie.d_camroLfjujrjil}\irot just feature film- shots could mean doubling the on-line editing costs. This was not, obviously, a
makers. The jib ann, a less sophisticated leverlike extension lhat mounts and pivots creative or user-friendly system. Editing film, on the olher hand, might be slower,
on the head of a tripod or dolly, also takes the camera eye far away from the but it allowed for numerous editorial reworkings. Telefilm editors could start cut-
operator's head. With _v_tde_o-assisted monitoring, tel_~vi_sion shot_s can now start ting scenes in the middle of a program and work out from lhere with no negative
far above a camer_aii,s~i~:;yejevelfilld sweep lteraljy,_ vertiiilJy~oLdiagonally effect. The total running time would simply expand as the editor added, deleted,
through a shot even as lhe camera rolls. Periscopic lenses on jib- or dolly-mounted or reversed scenes. The program's form grew and brealhed with editorial changes.
cameras allow television cinematographers to shift from sweeping renditions of Telefilm editors were not locked into lhe rigid temporal sequences necessitated
exterior action to snaking arterial moves through microscopic spaces as well. Pro- by videotape editing.
grammed, computerized contrai of these moves allows directors to repeat identi- ln the face ofthis uneven industrial reception by lhe primetime producers, major
cally the sarne complicated shots for one or one hundred-takes, all without the video equipment manufacturers-masters in the l970s and 1980s of a high-tech
inevitable flaws and subtle differences that a human operator brings. Even out- industrial world obsessed with research _and development---announced ever more
side of film-origination television, for example, at NBC network news and CNN, highly sophisticated videotape editing 'systems. By 1993 even Sony's industrial
robotic control has had a profound effect on the way lhat live three-camera stu- and low-end broadcast editing systems had become proficient at loading up lhe
dio production is orchestrated. During John Williams's elegiac orchestral score at television image with multiple simultaneous images and slow motion. Sony
lhe start ofNBC's nghtly news, high-end robotic studo cameras glide subtly and boasted lhat their "BVE-2000 editor connects to as many as 12 VTRs, control-
smoolhly around Tom Brokaw at center stage. One station technical director mused ling up to 6 in any one edit."2 This was the very kind of extreme visual facility
uneasily about his experience with lhe new automated studios: "Robocams- that telefilm editors failed to find in lhe earlier variants of videotape editing. ln
made 'em look so good, it's costing me my job." 18 As well as being stylsh, then, some ways, the six-plus layered images simultaneously available even on this ba-
television 's robotic and autonomous eyes also have dire labor implications. sic industrial video system allowed for a denser and more complicated image than
Even the extensive and highly stratified camera crews in primetime production lhose of film. Telefilm producers, after all were limited to lhe two layers avail-
stand back and watch as a single composite operator (cameraman/DP/assistant able during any one edil (due to the A and B rolls in 16mm film negative; or the j
cinematographer/grip) coaxes the Steadicam eye through its dramatic flight-like A rol! and effects rol! in 35mm). Videotape editing, lhen, has become hyperac-
. apparitions. tive and visually dense wilh or without lhe endorsement of primetime telefilm
This family of motion-control devices aU do one thi11,g frJJwJ<tl~yj_kmJm- producers. The production company for Arseni_o Hall boasted that lheir hip and
82 THE PROBLEM OF THE IMAGE 11
', & ,,D ,(v1.-- ' . r - i'MOD~s,-F. r~-. \J.ct~.0'\11. " . .la.a'
't~~,1,_i:; 'i,, .1;~y/l1i' :-. > \,-. ,/>.,;(,:. )'. f\' ./\r" //" /
kinetic opening collaged visual fragrnents from a number of diverse sources: is~~_risk. Nothi~i_is,;tylistiall~ set_ in _ston~._No~_lh_1~::ir...~!1-9Ufaged, or fed th.e
35mm, 16mm, 8mm, black and white, and colar. Anything and everything could teleyis!!al-P-P-eli.\e_.foutv)is_tic volatility and infinite formal permutatioJ1S.
be slammed together in the highly developed world of electronic videotape edit- The two other crucial televisual technologies-lhe Rank-Cintel telecine and
ing. Even before the wideacceptance of nonlinear cuttitlg, lhen, videJ)ta11e edit- new high-speed film stocks-are best understood wilhin the broader context of
ing hacl providec! practioners with illl apt toolfor lhe new collllgestyle favored two emergent obsessions in 1980s television: lhe film-style look and primetime
in the 1980s. ---- - - - -- - - - - - -
commercial advertising.
The resistance to cutting on tape by lhe major telefilm producers began to
loosen in the mid and late l 980s, with the developrnent of newer random-access
memory electronic editing systems, like Lucasfilm's Editdroid, the EMC2, lhe Playing with Limits
Self-Conscious Primetime Practice
Montage Picture Processar, and the CMX-6000. All promised primetime program
producers the ability to do film-style editing for television. The technological Lighting for features, lighting for television, the light is identical.
breakthrough that made this possible, was the increasing cost effectiveness and -George Spiro Dibie, president, American Society of Ughting Directors23
memory-storage power of newer recording media: electronic video discs and
On television, you can't be Vittorio Storaro. But what you can do is like
greatly expanded computer hard drives. As altematives to videotape0based re_wd-
or
ingor editing, films tapes were loaded into a computer's RAlv!, yicleo_ discs or
music.
-Oliver Wood, director of photography, Miami Vice24
hard drives arid 'aii.1iparfof lhe origi.ar source material conld be called up at any
time wilhin a microsecond. Shows cut on these systems could provide half-hour One of lhe central working concerns in television production in lhe 1980s con-
orhour-iong screenings for producers even lhough no show actually or physically cerned the formal potential of lhe televisio11 imag_e, and espeially th_e question
existed, eilher on tape or on work-print. The_p,:ggnctio_!Jfuotage_was_mexely vola- 9f what can be dane wilhin lhe constraints and confines of lhe l_imited televLsion
tiJ~_. ~J9r_ed. ete;c~_np~ information. The edited versions of shows were really soft- --.-fraJ.ne.. Consider the diametrically opposed views outlined above. Some DPs saw
ware-driven computer files that pulled up scenes instantaneously and in a sequence in primetime Bertolucciesque cinematic potential; others, melodie sensitivity. TV
on command. The ability to move scenes around endlessly was the promise of was inherently like film; TV and film were antilhetical. Such contradictory an-
these <levices. swers-about what television can and cannot do, and what it can do_hes1~
At first, the claim to fame of lhis editing equipment was its ability to show ab_ounded, but lhe guestion became more and more peryasive in lhe woxking_and
your producer or client ten different completed versions ofthe sarne scene or pro- mMke_ting discourse of lhe industry. Academic high theory, on lhe other hand, was
(. gram during the sarne screening session. The broader implications, however, also working from two very different and problematic assumptions: first, that produc-
J. became clear: ._n_oth_ingyisual was set in stone. Again, the majors at Universal and ers-practitioners could not be aware of lhe deep structure or ideological implica-
Warners were willing to consider the technology, not just because lhey wanted to tions of lheir work, and second, lhat producers-practitioners used aesthetic criteria
ape lhe flashy style of MTV, but because it promised serians production econo- lhat were incomplete or naive. Evidence for this bias is found in lhe widespread
mies. Grady Jorres, vice president of postproduction at Walt Disney Television, penchant that high lheory has for inventing its own frameworks, aesthetic catego-
rationalized about lhe nonlinear technology: "We're always trying to bring costs ries, and criticai terminology.
down. We don't have much padding anywhere. The only thing that we can do is Even a limited examination of recent literature from the industry, however,
try to contrai the length of time it takes to complete lhe editorial and sound ef- shows that these assumptions and write-offs of lhe industry are misguided. Not / 1
fects cutting." 21 By 1993, one of lhe newest and least expensive nonlinear sys.- only is television currently stylish, but it can be stylish in an extremely self- .,:
tems-lhe M!!c,l!asL~vid-received the kind of acclaim that indicated its new conscious and analytical way. While high lheory was speculating on television as V'
and extensive popularity. Avidwas awar<ieg_an Emmy for tec_hnical accomjlli_sh- a distracting verbal-aura! phenomenon, something very different was happening
ment. by _the Academy ofTelevision Arts and Sciences. Nonlinear Avids were, af- within the producing industry. There, in producer story sessions, in conversations
ter all, being utilized everywhere: in New York-based commercial postproduction between DPs and gaffers on sets, and among editors in postproduction suites, an
\ houses, in music videos, in primetime program production. The reason? The trades awareness was growing of television as a style-driven phenomenon heavily de-
'boasted about its ability to provide limitless reworkings. "The bottom line is that pendent upon the visual. j
;'.,'
this system gives me enormous creative freedom. I can edit unlimited versions Since the systematic approach to visualstyle is very_n1nch_on Jhe minds of /
and save them ali. The Avid has thirty-two leveis of undo and that completely frees _some practitioners,_ arn:l_ e~ide_nt__ i_n tli~ P!~tice .of many oth"~Js.,__it is _wor.th_exam-
up the editor to experiment. " 22 Even mainstream television people in Los Ange- JP.J!!g_J.}Qw media p!OdUCfils c~nceptuaiize this visuality. 25 Two are as of industrial
. les, then, saw and valued lhe dramatic experimental potential of lhe new systems. <M>ate-film-style progra!Il11Jing__,,11d_.vicle9.grajlhi9 _progra)1lll!ing::-:-eor(esp_ond
! Forget orthodox editing wisdom, the whole point for editors now frequently is to ro~g_h!Y __!~-~JP.:~j,Q~".i~!?::!.~-~-J?.~~g!1:1~~~ division ti;i"'t~~~Y.ii-n. That is, the divi-
demonstrate how far one can push lhe editing syntax on a project or scene, and sion mirrors an institutional split between primetime dramatic and comedy series
how many stylistic variations one can showcase. Aft,,r_all,__;yjf1Jgnlin~r,Jh,re on the one hand-producer-dominant genres that use jilm pervasively-and the
/\'' '>----\ ,.'0 )\
MODES OF PRODUCTION HS
84 THE PROBLEM OF THE IMAGE

The new film negatives.


other extensive array of director-editor-dominant program forms and genres that
Rich tonalities, color
are heavily dependent upon extensive electronic postproduction. Before turning
saturation, and
to an indepth study of videographic embellishment in chapter 5-an electronic painterly light (in, top
practice that dominates both off-primetime and interstitial material in primetime~ to bottom, Young
a further clarification of cinematic televisuality is needed. Indiana )ones, N. YPD.
Blue, commercials) that
The Film Look would make Storaro
envious. (ABC, ABC,
,j The issue of image superiority in the film versus video debate and questions about Uncle Ben's)
the merits of film-style production methods for television have received much
attention in the 1980s and 1990s. Landmark work in lhis area was produced by
Harry Matthias and Richard Patterson, and other works have followed. 26 Iam not
interested so rnuch in the technical aspects ofthis debate as in the ways that.Q@c-
ti_tione!-""s _h!ten~r~t -~"-~!!11 the film look in teleyisio_n. To understand this kind
of discourse, however, it is important to survey some of the technical issues that
have become central for lhose television production people lhat make heavy use
of film technology. A discussion of more fully electronic variants of televisuality
will follow.
!): N~w _fi_l_rt:i __stocks. Predictions to the contrary, film origination in television has
not been replaced by video imaging. Far from it, fihn_origination has thrived and
prospered in two major areas of television: (1 )primetime programmin_g {e_pisodic
shows, movies for teievision, an<l miniseriesf an<l (2) c~fciCd~e~tisi;;gror
televi_sion. lly the late 1980s, Eastman Kodak boasted about an increase, rather
lhan a decrease, in film consumption in television. With "80 percent of prime
evening time schedules for lhe three major networks made of prograrns originated
on film ... lhis [was] one of our best years ever in terms of original negative used
for TV production."27 Even as the aeslhetic and formal possibilities offered by
film increased, lhe popularity of shooting television on film stock also increased.
J Film-tape manufacturers argued that certain TV scripts in fact call forquality "pro-
duction value_s that_ ai:e mo_r~ _appropriate-ff fiIJll,_" especllly any_ie_nre_requiring
"fantasy'_' rath-e"r:"tiian" "ill1l11ediacy."2 8 -- .. - - -- - - ------ --- -- - --- .

Not only did shows shot on film dominate television in lhe late 1980s, the qual-
ity of lhe film stocks allowed for a kind of visual sophistication impossible dur-
ing the zero-degree telefilm years of the 1960s and 1970s. 29 ln the early 1980s
first Fuji, then Eastrnan, and then Agfa ali introduced new lines of film negative
stock wilh dramatic improvements in both sensitivity to light and graininess.
:hemically ~ngineered around ne~d-less visible'I:.gr"i}!"~ly_t::f trnJ_j~particle~
1
m the emulswn, the new stocks ~iild be used in extremely low-ligh_t situ~~!,QD.S,-_.,,
cou]d be easily "push processed" ori flWOstapr,iradmoffsfratecrcoor ren- use it in real ]ocations. Nowadays we can turn up wilh a little camera and some j
dition, and provided a greater range of contras! and tonality within a single im- film and shoot anywhere."31 Higll::~p~ed film stocks,___t_h_en~s_(l__mellll__l_ imJIB)ved
age than any of the earlier stocks. When primetime DPs boasted that "'of course, logisticalmobility and more t1exible l'roduction sclieduling. .
not every television show is shot at ten footcandles," they were both showing off --By~1.~JliEastmar-provided a vast menu of professional negallve stocks for
lhat lhey could shoot primetime at that unheard of levei of darkness and also mak- telefilm producers, from grainless, color-saturated dayhght stocks to mghtt1me
ing stark contrasts to earlier, prestige production stocks. 30 Other primetime DPs stocks that could be pushed to I 000 ASA or higher. These were overwhelmmg
tied the new speed and sensitivity to production mobility and freedom. "Techni- options for television cinematographers trained in the 1960s and early l 970s, a
color was great but very slow-[it required] 900 footcandles at F/2 to get an ex- period when one or two stocks were typically available and when high-_speed nega- j
posure, and a camera and blimp so big and so heavy it was totally impractical to tive was defined as a mere 64 ASA. Film stocks, therefore, had a d1rect 1mpact
1 \:J f 1' 1" '. '} .'
'\!\\\ri-\\{ 1/';r,1,
1
J" '''
86 THE PROBLEM OF THE IMAGE ' vi,\r'r->\,\1.r ( MODES OF PRODUCTION 87
'-\ .-, 1:-
on the ability of producers and cinematographers to marshal variant visual looks. .tekvision ransfer_ techniQue is_ redefined _in terms of painting_ and cinematogra- /
The reasons were not just photochemical, however. With the increased use of com- phy..This.simple verbal deduction. undercuts_ the way_lhat television_imag~_tech-
puter technology-for design, engineering, and quality contra! of new emulsions nology_hasJraditionally b_een defined: _as arngrpl-iollLlQl"cresoll!ti9n,. flat, and
during lhe 1980s and l 990s-film stock companies like Agfa, Eastrnan, and Fuji crudel)'.contrasty.
were now able to make potentially limitless numbers of stocks. Technical repre- Television's marked shift toward using film negative was based in part on lhe
sentatives from Rochester, New York, now continuously circulate among DPs and pro:mise _th<1:~ ~1*-!YP~ _tr_nsfer units could reduce electronic _noise in the pic-
operators in their quest to formulate new stocks and discover new needs. If a stock tw_e, .wh._ihu~t!fifj~-~~__!!~~---IB_#!foJ~_i_lli~g__ d_etaU~- it1 _1)1_~__ 9~kt::~t.~hal_ow___ar_e,as_. of
tl!(?_televisi_on image. R~nk-~intel n<?w_ offers produce~s ~__:rp.e_n\l _()f_var_i9us and
1
with a particular look is not currently available for a commercial need, Eastman IJ\ ;:
will now consider customizing one. This is not the development-lazy and cash- distinctive looks depending on the type offilm formal being transferred: original, C,o f\
rich Fortune 500 company of the 1970s. Extreme intemational competition by c-_ip.er~ 11,~g~tive, interpositive, dupe negative, or low-contrast proj~ctop_ prints all 1j)_..:/.A.
Fuji and Agfa have changed the way lhat both business and engineering is dane demand different setups and pararneters on the Rank-Cintel. Each variety ofstock 11 _.o/
. J in lhe industry. But the facility wilh engineering endless photographic looks is affords the producer a different visual look. The producers of Love Boa/, for in- \f"
not just an economic consequence, it is also an outgrowth of interaction between stance, continued to transfer lheir shows from Eastrnan colar projection print stock \ \ i/c'
computerized emulsion engineering and lhe publicized stylistic needs of a new 5384, even though prnjection prints give much less subtlety and tonality lhan do ~,);:
generation of primetime and feature cinematographers. transfers from negallve. 35 For lhe producers of lhat show, lhe contrasty, saturated ., 1,,,,jY.
By 1991, filter manufacturer Tiffen had created a host of designer-colar fil- look of the print film gave the show a look that its fantasy needed and lhat its \ 11 ;-1'
ters: "grape, chocolate and tropic blue-a!l available in three densities, and ali audience was thought to expect. , 1
available in half-color and graduated to half-clear." 32 Not only did the new film Transfer technology in the 1980s, lhen, did not just make lhe image hetter vi- { \_ ':1')
stocks have a direct impact on carnera mobility, low-light sensitivity, and photo- sually, it actually multiplied the various visual looks of television into discrete y\0 1
\~

graphic tonality, lhey also allowed a new levei o/visual detail infront'ofthe cam- codes that could be tied to specific program ends. For Love Boat, projection-print '
\.' era. T~levisual sets__ and loctj-~--go1_yj~_ually denser and more complicated after Rank transfers _jg_nified fantasy. For other shows, transfers from neg!!.~~~_g_aye
Ridley Scot\'s _Biade R11nner.fillcLhiat Day's _Macintosh television spots.m J984, tm;..)11:>tlety l!SSQc\atecl "'itl,__ p_~i11te_rly ~"{~O- Transfer technology, then, ,.;{
eyen as the bility to rendeuu_cll_lll-g,s_J,y_11,'-" fiJ111 st<Jc_l<s=arrcl lli_g])er reso[- helped codify the look of television even before lhe artisans of postproduction
tion calor television monitors__ at bQro~-improved.)n_addition~. the whol_e __optical w.ere_:ful_ly_inyq}y~_g_jJLi,l given progf~iji_---
film industry was revolutionized by lhe nlprovecl re_sollltion and chrominance Once lhese two technical conditions existed in television (origination in film
abilities oftelevision. Far from lhe days whenprirnetime i:l!'s were locked-mto and transfer via flying spot scanner), pressures to change production aesthetics
the polar world of filters limited mostly to calor and density corrections between itselfwould intensify. Ac:.hieymg__the so-called film-look in shooting style became i1:-
tungsten light and daylight, the new filters and stocks were designed to render aJJ_r_c,d11~tis>_11.cli31 in the 1980s. Origirially, film-style video simply referred to
bolh wild variations and subtle nuances of colar wilhin a single image. When in- tbe_ sbift fmm thr.~.e~me:ra live in-studio TV to remate single-camera shooting
dustrial players like Tiffen baptize lheir new "grape" glass as a "desiger filter," that becaroe popular in the late 1970s. Electronic news gathering (ENG) changed r
the association is complete. The designer televisuality of Michael Mann 's Miami to electronic field production (EFP) for more discriminating producer-practitio-
Vice is matched by lhe designer optics ofTiffen's lense-mounted glass. When tele- ners. But this early shift in lhe way that video shoots in lhe field were organized-
vision cameramen now ask for more coral rather than simply more orange, the to ENG and EFP-was mostly logistical, since it had as much to do with carnera
televisual revolution symbolically betrays its technical as well as producerly roots. and recorder placement as anything else. It was not until the 1980s lhat a more
~r]h,Ci_11_t<e!, The desire to infuse video with a visual style more typical of film intensive change began to occur within the visual frame itself.
was enabled by one technical development as much as by any olher. ln 1977, lhe lmprovements in lighting developed alongside EFP, and a subsequent shift to
first R'1ls:,Cintel "flying spot scanner" was installed in the United States. Sev- charged-couple <levices (CCD) in cameras (rather lhan conventional tubes) af-
era! generations of design improvement&-follov. ed, aml ether--sempanies marketed forded producers greater subtlety in visualizing their images. 36 It is, obviously,
lheir own versions ofthe:@p0based film-to,video transfer machi~gher qual- unlikely lhat technical changes alone intensified the image in television. Formal
ity images could be rendered o~-;;ide~tape, ;in~e lhe Rank-Cintel was able to re- chang"s in genre and narrative gr_.,ll_t\y impacted the rise of televisuality.
produce and take advantage of film 's unique look and "incredible dynamic lndu-1.trywjde lho]!gh, there was an i11_crease_cl_ interest in transforming televisign
range." 33 Practitioners boasted lhat the Rank meant that "film provides an ability im,J!ge_sj11to complex, subtle, and malleable graphicfields. ]t ishkely, given lhis
to recordas much as a 400:1 range ofbrightness which is the difference between shift, lhat f';~~i ,,-;,d
narrationa! chan_g"~ pr_ovided lhe ide_'!lional resource required
the brightest and darkest elements in any scene. This allows a talented cinema- -cy.an.industriaLlransfurmation_Qf_tbi_s_[;l!i,,!7 MTV and Miami Vice certainly were J
tographer to use light to paint very subtle details which establish mood and set- landmNk P.r.<1grnm_111i_11g .develoJJments that changed the way _that television
ting."34 Consider lhe not so subtle conceptual transformation that takes place here, looked. 38 These changes h;~e-b~endisc;;s;edin deail elswiiere, so I will merely
from a purely technical description of contrast to an aesthetic theorization. Mer~ reiterate that distinctive programming forms and shows like these provided the
88 THE PROBLEM OF THE IMAGE MODES OF PRODUCTION 89

_conceptual framework-that is, the audience expectation and the cultural capi- DP explains how taking over the show also meant taking over the burden of its
_talc--:neede_d_t_o __eifect_a shift in the televisual disc_ourse. If film origination and established look. "They wanted a more visual look, and to me that meant they
Rank-Cintel transfers provided, in Brian Winston's terms, the "technical compe- wanted more contrast."44 After choosing a film stock that gave them this con-
tence" needed for a change in the television industry, then the new highly styl- rrast, the company also intentionally used long lenses in "over half of the shots"
ized shows like Miami Vice and Crime Stories and MTV provided the ideational in the 1986-1987 season in arder "to flatten space."45 ln addition to the practical
requirement for industry changes in the 1980s. 39 By the time feature-film direc- effect of making downtown L.A. look like New York, both <levices (long lenses
tor Barry Levinson wa~ showcased on network television in 1993, the importance and contrasty stock) helped to stylistica/ly individua/e the show. ln competition
oftelevisual transfer technology was clear. Each episode ofLevinson's Homicide with other primetime shows, this artificially constructed sense of place and ge-
opened with stitched-together footage shot on a primitive, spring-wound cast-off ography were merely part of the overall effect that resulted from the show's dis-
16mm Bolex camera and feature-style images shot on 35mm. This mixing and rinctive stylization.
matching of emulsion and formal types, and the manipulation of colored filtered But shows like Cagney and Lacey only hint at the increased role that visual /
effects and black-and-white stock, were all possible because Rank-~tyle transfers style played in other dramas. ln the network dramatic series Covington Cross, the
provided _ext,el)le <>11ti_ogs J9uty)istic control @!lr_eworking,_eyen after the DP waxed eloquent about the historicity of their "flamboyant" signature style:
primetime footage was in the can. 40 "Smoke is the key element, because at that time, smoke was the source of energy
for everything. At night, everything [in the show] looks as ifit is lit by firelight,
candlelight, or flambeaus. I'm using a quarter-fog filter on almost everything."
Program lndividuation
He goes on to justify this excessive use of flammable and incendiary devices based
While new stocks and transfer technologies reinforced and enabled one influen- on the assumption of an inherent physical need in television. ln "TV where you
tial televisual ideal-fillll:_styJe_ video-programming practice, acting, and pro- have a smaller image, you need to go in stronger to create an atrnosphere. I am
motional considerations encouraged a second industrial mythology: program also trying to light with a fair bit of contras!. People have always said you mustn't
individuation. ABC's Moonlighting, for example, frequently attempted dramatic be too contrasty for TV."46 ln one fell swoop, then, this primetime cameraperson
scenes that pressed orthodox lighting and production methods to their limits. On throws out the traditional view of the medium in its entirety. Precisely because
one episode DP Gerry Finnerman attempted to shoot a complicated dialogue scene !li" TV screen is Sillaller than that of film, producers _need stro_nger stylization,
that involved many movements by the actors during a single take. To cover it with- Il_()_\theweakened stylethaiacademic theorists have dichotomized. ---
out stopping the camera-with proper exposure, focus, and expressive lighting- Consider i11 addition the following breakthrollghclailll frolll-the production of
meant staging the scene like a three-camera film show. Two people were assigned CBS 's Beauty and the Beast: "We're very proud of Beauty and the Beast because
to the kind of dinnner control board that one associates with live theater and that the cinematography is really very important to it. The producers feel strongly
allowed the crew to constantly move the key light and alter lhe background light enough about it to give the director of photography a credit at the beginning of
even as the actors moved in front of the continuously rolling camera. ln a blow- the show rather than at the end-and Beauty is the only episodic TV show that
by-blow account, cinematographers marveled at the real-time skill and perfor- does it that way." 47 Note that the progranuning breakthrough here is described as
mance required by the crew to pull off these multiple moves, framings, lightings, the process by which the shooter is given an unusual amount of creative power
and changes in composition: "Finnerman was using fill-light with Shepherd and anda visible position in the credits along with other "above-the-line" personnel
cross-light with Willis. It wasn't easy, because Shepherd never looked in the sarne and talent. NQtonly was the show excessively stylish, but it was self-conscious
direction twice. The DP had special brackets on the camera that allowed him to ahout_ that trait.T_he show's unigue style was centered around the heavy use of
use sliding diffusion. Sometimes he had two:shots with Shepherd covered by a smoke, colore,clgels, Rembrandt lighting, fog- and halo:effeci fi1ers 48 Writers
Mitchell A filter and clear glass on Willis. Other times he used various different for the show have discussed the unusuiiy fowrtiooftotal scriptpages to pro-
combinations."41 This kind ofprimetime choreography, with filters, fresnels, and gram running time. 49 With Beauty and the Beast, scripts frequently involved twenty
dollies flying, was more like ballet or performance art than single-camera film- to thirty pages of dialogue, rather than the forty to sixty pages typical of hour-
style shooting. 42 It was, in a televisual guise reminiscent ofthe hometown NBA long dramas. This sheer reduction inscript verbiage challenges the most conven- ,/
Lakers, "showtime" for the optical people. Like Indiana Jorres, the not so implicit !C>_llal >Vi_scl~Illabouttelevision style. When cmparingieirquality tohighly visual
response in the competitive, production-oriented trades was: "These guys are good; film scripts, for instance, one frequently writes-off the quality of TV scripts as
very, very good." Bruce Willis, then, wasn't the only one hot-dogging oILM=- being too wordy, too explicit, or too expository. ln worst case situations, televi-
J lighting, The production enterprise itself seemed to embrace stylistic hot-dogging sion scripts can have dialogue that reads more like a director's cues, with overly
as its reason for being. Style uber alies. explicit and redundant dialogue that repeats obvious visual information. ln worst
It-is.commonly_under$1QO<.! in jndustry_ p;irLancetod-)' that each.show..sho.uld case scenarios, one actor may announce to another, "I think we should go to the
have its own "look."43 Even relatively traditional-looking and visually restrained doar" rather than simply going to the door. ln television, many producers have ,.
shows like Cagney and Lacey postured an identifiable visual stance. The show's typically depended on lhe word to carry the story. Rationales for this verbal
90 THE PROBLEM OF THE IMAGE MODES OF PRODUCTION 91

by playing off or parodying cinematic styles. Film history itself becomes a play-
ng field for many of today's television stylists. The award-winning and widely
Yiewed series Moonlighting and thirtysomething on: ABC were among the most
,isible ofthese network exercises in te]evision and film history. Both shows toyed
\vith numerous and eclectic visual styles in ironic and self-conscious ways. The
knowing display of style became, for Moonlighling, an integral part of its perfor-
mance. Viewers carne to expect style references, and they got them in the various
presentational guises that Moonlighting took on. Moonlighting did film noir; did
MTV; did Orson Welles-Greg Toland deep focus; did Capra screwball comedy. \
In the later seasons of the series, the dramatic content of an individual episode
was frequently tied to a specific visual style. What looked at first like aesthetic
eclecticism though, became, through its presentational facility and range, a sign
of connoisseurship. The boast is not just that such shows can do this or that vi- 1

1_

suai style, but that they can cycle lhrough a range of visual styles with virtuosity. .
ln 1989, the "Here's Looking at You Kid" episode of Moonlighting was nomi- ~--
nated for "Outstanding Cinematographer in an Episodic Series" by the American
Society of Cinematographers. The episode was designed around "shockingly ex-
act replications oftwo classic films: The Sheik and Casab/anca." 51 The crew was
said to have achieved the black-and-white Iook of orthochromatic film stock
throughout. 52 The production included a re-created airport, fog, black paint to ap-
proximate a wet Ianding strip, landing !ights, and the heavy use of fog filters and
lndividuated looks, an obligation in the world of advertising. (Left: Miller Brewing nets. The set aimed to reduplicate Rick's Cafe in the original film "down to the
Co., The Gap). Masquerade in primetime: Casablanca choreographs Moonlighting, palro fronds throwing shadows on the wall." While this penchant for retrostyling
The Brady Bunch poss~sses Day by D?-y. (Right: ABC, NBC). sets and locations was not totally alien to lhe high-production value system of
" . \> . . . . . \;\\ i classical Hollywood, lhe ways that lhe image is handled in shows like Moonlighling
privilege are frequently based on lhe argument that television's low resolution im- demonstrates an e_xt_reme ~wa~e:ii-ess ofthe_co_ncep_t of':'i_s_ual simulaJi9n. 53 ln this
v age is unable by itselfto communicate essential narrative detail. particular production, makeup ;va; ~ppli~d ,;;;;v~~ly;,,;d heavily to artificially shift
f. This orlhodox wisdom about the centrality of verbiage and exposition in tele- flesh tonalities in the sarne uneven way that orthochromatic stock did during the
vision scriptwriting now appears to be changing. Shows like Beauty and lhe Beasl silent era. ln addition, the film stock was push processed to achieve a contrasty, J
not only minimize talkiness, they also _let an __e~r:~_s_iye_ YiS.lVJ.l.~tyl,~ __d.ominate the antique look. ln lhe very ways lhat the texture and tonality of images was ma-
viewing experience. The fact lhat the producers of the show hired a poetry con- nipulated, s_l}g~s like this one suggest that their audie11?es ___ ar~ neither aesth_sti-
sultant as a member of lhe production staff suggests that even the nature of the cal]y_slJ.!])_i_q_!lQLQlelyinterested incharacter or plot, as traditional drarnatic lheory
script's written word has changed. 50 Script verbiage here is consciously addressed assumes. Rather, ,egul~ i~;e;tments-,;I 111~ipuationgo(styie311c!i_it"Jhat au-
in a poetic and lyrical manner, rather than solely as an expository or action- diences must in some way findpleasureand engagement in a weekl_y_ aesthetic
oriented mode. This kind of shift suggests that even rnainstream television can gll11)e lhat dem@\ls_stylisti, dec_ipherment.
airn to gain viewership and win Emmys by foregrounding embellishment and ex- Moonlighting was not unique in this respect. ln fact, many shows by the late
pressive visuality. This stylization is not latent or subjugated by story either, as it 1980s had consciously uti!ized various methods of retrostyling and lhe explicit
would be in a classical context. Ralher, the producers charnpion their visual style adoption and performance ofvisual style. By 1989, an episode oflhe sitcomDay
and iconographic accomplishment directly to viewers. by Day literally transformed itself into an episode of the I 960s The Brady Bunch.
Five minutes into lhe contemporary prograrn, a corresponding rupture in style oc-
Masquerade curred. Studio quality state-of-lhe-art sitcom video gave way to l 6rmn film origi-
nation, even flatter studio lighting, identifiable film grain, and poor camera
If some recent programs work by selectively intensifying their mise:-_en-scne registration. That sarne season, an episode of thirtysomething transformed itself
around an identifiable look,others depend upon a lhird televisualmythology: a into an episode of the Dick Van Dyke Show. China Beach went further in its sty-
more eclectic and selective use_ of visual c_odes _better termed "masquerade." That listic transformation of one episode: it left the primetime drarnatic style and tra-
is, whereas Beauty and lhe Beasl was known
for specific photographic effects dition in order to mimic the interior, head-shot interview style of independent
(saturated co!ors, directional lighting, smoke), other shows promete themselves feature documentaries like Seeing Red, The Good Fighl, and other oral-history
92 THE PROBLEM OF THE IMAGE MODES OF PRODUCTION 93

films. 54 Stylistic references could be made, then, not jus! to the television and shows on film, Illany simply tnake their vdeos more cinematic and stylish.hy
film history of mass culture, but also to style practices associated with higher or electronic means. TIe io;:;,-buclgeted~yriclicate<I_J:lOlice .show_TheStreeJ=<Jmblem-
more marginal taste cultures, like independent film. 55 ~tiC "fhe_newly_pop~lariwd genre, ''rea!ity programming''-was_ shot _on _video
"[hese __i_n_cr~8:~!~g1y__c_q~~n practi ces suggest _~Y~!.I _1:hng~,_ ftrn!,Jlri_metime in urban locations and at night. At a frantic pace that enabled the crew to cover
audiences by theJate_1980s co11W~ppJ!fently_aJl.l'reciate. and Aecode _self:eonscious 125 script pages in five days, this show could in no way be described as prestige
displays of cinematic_ancl tel<,yi~ll_al fonn,_;,_ec:on_d, 111llll_y shQws now began towork primetime telefihn material. Given this frenzied production schedule, the producers
f!Ot by simply making 0-eir mise-en-scne more excessive, but by making their claimed, ironically, that they shot with a film aesthetic in order to achieve a "TV
presentation_al 4?.Yf!eanqr ~_o!e ~~c~ss~y~__@_g_ ~Qp.histicate:d. ln a sense, shows like feel." Director of photography Rob Draper was hailed for treating "the camera as
those ment:ioned above positioned themselves as impresarios of style and aesthetic 'anolher fihn emulsion.' lgnoring lhe factory specified 125 ASA, Draper runs lhe
awareness. Maquerade shows revel in marshaling and displaying aesthetic sys- Sony BVP-5 video camera at 800 ASA, and at +9dB. This results in a grainy feel-
tems, not just at making images more visual, which they also do. By doing this, ing with electronic noise. Combining this technique with a spare-like lighting style
by standing back from and acknowledging the form itself, the producers promote gives lhe show its film look and documentary TV feel." 58 Although the produc-
the television image as an image-~ommodity. If televisuality is about signs of ex- ers argue that this gives them "a realistic look" for lhe show, what they actually
cess, then its semiotic abundance comes not just from the frame that DPs and get is an image far from illusionistic. ln fact, by electronically boosting video
gaffers argue about, but also from the very broad cultural and pictorial traditions gain (+9dB) to compensate for low-light actually only succeeds in filling the im-
that practitioners can now bring to bear in producing shows. 56 For this reason, age with snowy electronic noise, or electronic grain.
011e cannotsi111ply talk abouttelevisua!ity's two-dimensionalsigns. One must shift The assumption here, then, is that viewers decipher noisy and low-resolution
rrom a compositional discourse to a pictorial and cultural one in order to under- video images as both realistic and as somehow cinematic. R~alism depends ap-
stand televisuality's excesses. By manipulang p~tori8.i--~ig~--systems, ;h_~ther parenll}'_ongrapbiGc_o_pa_ci_ty,_rntli.er.f11_Qt1_rnpr;,~!llational_i_Uy5ionism.. Far from
fro_m film hstor_y or pop culture, television boasts to the viewer that it is a mas- clear or highly resolved, these images are forcibly videoized and degraded through
te:r_p~tfo:qe_r of vis~_~Ji_fy, -~_!11-aster _of styH~ric mc1_sg_y.cerade. the imposition of noise, but are somehow read as real nevertheless. So much for
ln the past, television genres were defined by the fact that their narrative for- Andr Bazin's ontology of realism, a theory that constructed realism around a
mulas were fundamentally static and repetitious, while only their situations mode of visual and transparent replication, not around the graphic muddiness fab-
changed from week to week. 57 Style was even more static than formula given the ricated by this kind of television. 59 The frequent use of electronic degradation in
fact that style frequently carne as part of the development package-it was dic- "reality shows" does suggest that viewers can discriminate among the various pre-
tated by the facilities and soundstages that housed the productions. This static sentational styles: from the film history masquerades choreographed in_film-origi-
formula-dynamic situation concept rang true oftelevision in the 1960s and 1970s. nation 1Q__the- ontologicqfo1J_sessiQ11_9f.electrpi;ric Qrigination. Both modes, the
N~w, however, jn many p_rogram aJ?.d _pgJ?-P.:t:<?.fil_1'.Q._{9_:tJ!!,Jh..Ji1Y.li!ic_and_ptesen- cinematic and videographic, are authorized by lhe narrativo and generic assump-
tat10nal aspects are the very elements th~t chan_ge on_ a we~ basis, while char- tions of specific shows. ln lhe case of The Street, ali "film style" turns out to
a~~~riza_t_io~__t,_~~()!lle_s_Jh_~ _medium 's static _and ~ep~titio~_s .. gjyen (rom episode .to mean is minimal or nonexistent lighting, not elaborate motion-picture production
4.. ep1sode. Vl!th China Beach, thirty_something, The WondeI.X?ars, Qu.@tum Leav, value. El~_tr_o_l),ic. n9.i~_,J4~_,)_~ ~-~-i.9:~I~?--~-!P.l:!._h._c!.!~-1.~Y-i~~-l ssl~- as_ ~1,r~ .high-
v' Northern _Exp_o~!'!~.,-~1. .Y(?~--~yenJ~~~-Rrestigious show~_ like _McG.YY.g,Jh~__ yie~r resolution .ll:ansfers. of ricl,ly(Q!l"_c!filr!l_!!.,gtjvewith._thi,i,. al>~,e11c_e_of_grin. lo_ach
isnow encC>l!fiiged_ tospeculate beforeea_ch episode about.wh_al fu.l)_prograrnmigbt disti11_t_]oo_ki5_ti<:cl__1;_o__a__sp-,_cific referent, and shows are_indiyi_<lllated by using
aesthetic_aJly__J~!.G_,Y[<?_rl!!_ i,ts_~lf if}_~q__X~_is. wee~:: _ document;:n)', dre:amstate, oral his:- eithercode. So powerful wasthe mythology of cinema's visual ])rowess, that even
,to_ry, music video, homage__to Holl~ood, or expressjoni_t fanr~sy. vid~o noise could be concepti:i-y ,;i;o[ite_d_~ytel~_;;isi~~as a~agg_e__ofstylistic
<!ifilinction.
Electronic Cinematography
Commercial Advertising
Ali of the shows that I have described so far-Love Baal, Cagney and Lacey,
Beauty and the Beast, Moonlighting, Day by Day, thirtysomething, Covington Madison Avenue--defined and fueled by stylization-influenced the emergence /
Cross, and China Beach-were relatively high-budget, primetime, anel, in most of \e_leyig1l "J<liill_itionism as much as the family of cinematic mythologies: the J
cas_es, presl!ge shows. Each of the shows in this industry sample are primetime fi1111_JQQ)<;,_prngrnm i11cijyjdtjQ11, ng msqera<le. If l,lll!'_ric_!ln television ha_\i_;i , i
senes that could afford to shoot with Panavision and 35mm fihn negative; a single-
camera s_tyle that inevitably demonstrates that television's authority through cin-
avan_\::gardein fue.1%0s it was surely primetime television commercial produc- \'\
tion. Commercial spots continue to be the most dynamic sites for visual experi- -
,,
'\
emahc d1stmct10n. Yet, the new mythology of film-style video, with its emphasis mentation on television. Packed into tiny temporal slugs of thirty and sixty
on v1suahty, has permeated non-primetime and video-origination programming seconds, advertising spots were probably lhe first type of progranuning to exploit
as well. Even 1f producers do not have the resources to light and shoot television the discursive and emotive power of hyperactive and excessive visual style.
MODES OF PRODUCTION 95
94 THE PROBLEM OF THE IMAGE
Commercials are to
Standard production wisdom says that a spot should focus on one major message television what JPL is to
in its short duration. 60 Given the limited potential for verbal discourse in short NASA. Shaq stretches
spots, then, nonverbal mechanisms are much more important in triggering the and tears the digital
needed emotional appeals that drive home the spot's intended message to the plane for Reebok. Time
viewer. traveling Paula Abdul
WeJU,cloKMT~ the late .1960s.andJ 97b..f.Q_l11IllercialJLO!s ]earned_lhe com posited with a
advantages.of.engaging_~ers..tlnm1gh.thdow.er,sens.ocy...channels, through sight, young Gene Kelly for
sound,__;;ind t_t_iii_ty. vi- several decacies priffieti'me advertising mastered a pro- Coke. Breakthrough
cess in whih the viewer is simultaneously flooded by a range of sensory signs. digitally composed
Visual style became visually excessive and temporally hyperactive on network tele- scroll from SNL unrolls
vision, one might argue, because ads rnust fight for the attention of distracted for Cherry Coke.
viewers during breaks from the program. Ad sequences with shot durations of (Reebok, Coke, Coke)
one second or less now frequent both network and cable television. Ad cinema-
tography, on the olher hand, is frequently defined by its heavy use of designer
filters (especially grads, diffusion, and colored effects). Primetime spots are, to
use industry parlance, excessively "lensed." Cutting in contemporary commercial
practice makes classic Soviet montage look lethargic. Since television really is
about advertising, about selling viewers to advertisers, it is important to sm:vey
at !east some ofthe favored.televisualmanifestationsJ'mmd_in commercial spots
during this period.

Digital Compositing

The clean European design and controlled studio product photography of an ear
lier period gave way in the early 1980s to ads lhat pushed television and its reso-
lution to their limits. Producers sought to make video look like film, and talented
newcomers left music video production for commercial advertising and program
production. ln lhe process, stylisbness became a requisite for prodnctions and prod-
ucts lhat soughtrnemorability. Jhe new commercial style infiltrated network pro-
gi:arns as well. Titl_e ~~g_uenc_e~ in many programs began adapting the new frenetic
visual style from spots. Even lhe segues to ads wilhin programs became less overt
as a result. A direct influence of MTV sty!e showed in lhe Saturday Night Live
title sequence of lhe 1986 season. Layer after layer of live-action imagery was
artificially composited together. When broadcast, SNL cast members and digitized
New York landmarks unscrolled past viewers on lhe screen. ln this heightened
performance oftechnical wizardry and hipness, no static frames were visible; and
no shots existed in any traditional sense of the word. lnstead, a realistically pho-
tographed, but graphically dense and continuous scroll unwound for viewers. The plex and shifting colar scheme tied to specific objects or persons in the unfold-
weeks.lhat foJlowed.SN.us.e.. of.fuedigitaLsrg]l..aw_~.despre.ad.usrn.Lthe_mode ing graphic scroll. AII light was to be motivated in someway in order to fight the
byadvertis,rs, who profited fron1 lhe new and. highlys_tyli~e<:lvisuJ'l] e.ffect. flatness and artificiality associated wilh most video effects. ln addition, each of
Coca-Cola used the sarne effect to promete its newly announced product Cherry the mu!tiple visual components and icons, filmed individually, was given a spe-
Coke. Significantly, lhey hired lhe Emmy-winning co-originator of the Saturday cific visual code or look. "We lit Marilyn [Monroe] with hard edge, 1950s light,
Night Live intro, John Kraus, to work on their piece as director of photography. and matched up two shots of her with and wilhout her coa!. When a werewolf,
While the final effect in both instances was dependent mostly upon the digital who pops out of a movie screen, turns into a handsome man after sipping Cherry
graphics capabilities of lhe new Charlex system and graphic Paintbox, lhe foot- Coke, and then tums up !ater on a rooftop with a lovely woman, we kept him in
age was all shot on high-end video. According to DP Kraus, the key to lhe suc- black and white to make lhat connection. We lit his date in a very rich light to
cess of the spot and intro was the use of a complicated film-style lighting convey glamour."" AII of lhese "actions" actually happened only in the electronic
scheme. 61 The lighting design aimed for directionality, 3-D modeling, anda com- ether. Cinematography here was essentially a process of col/ecting individual
96 THE PROBLEM OF THE IMAGE MUUI:~ Ut t"KULJU'L- l lVl"I

elements and fabricating virtual worlds tbrough imagined light sources. Filmic and white, but the visual codes were the sarne. Jerky handheld camera work, long v
and televisual composition, then, depends heavily upon electronic postproduction. Jenses and extremely abrupt cuts focused on hip Caucasian adolescents termed
Compositing demands and rewards directors who can skillfully choose from a wide by lhe'admen "urban cowboys." The message was really justa mood anda lifestyle.
range of specific visual lighting codes and styles. A style is no longer constrned Levi's ideal buyer fantasized about hiply slumming it on the streets. No verbal
in a classical sense as a unifying formal element. Instead, in this type of discourse even survived in these spots. The "anti-ad" Levi's 501 campa1gn, hke
compositing practice, styles are more like codified cards that are collected, lay- other high-end commercial productions during the period, was selling a spec1fic /
ered, juxtaposed, and played with in a process of electronic postproduction. The Jifestyle and altitude, not justa product. 66 The images _and sounds were styhzed, /
frameless, digital enviromnent that resulted in the SNL opening and Coke spots but self-consciously fleeting and arnbient. ln the evolut10n of advert1smg, lhe ver-
stands apart from the television image theorized in traditional media analysis. The bal strata-along wilh the physical prodct itself-was no longer even an reqm-
penchant for visual density and the self-conscious orchestration of stylistic and site part of commercial spots.
lighting codes-evident in SNL/Coca-Cola's Emmy-winning compositing "break-
through"-began to permeate the industry on other fronts as well.
The Documercial

The Anti-Ad Clio award-winning director Joe Pytka solidified spontaneity into a systematic
visual code for use in what he coined "documercials"-a strategy lhat attempted
Whereas new videographic methods like digital compositing demanded of direc- to counter Madison Avenue's own flash with "authenticity." Visually confusing,
tors facility and skill in manipulating style codes-that is, the director needed to aggressive, but thematically open ads by Pytka followed for the Wang business
collect and combine of lot of imagery for a short arnount of screen time--other computer corporation. John Nathan invoked the sarne docnmercrnl codes for AT&T
comm~rcial production practices foregrounded the issue of televisual style in a in its campaign. In Nathan 's acclaimed "Washroom" spot for AT &T ~ executlve
very d1fferent way. Visually aggressive "anti-ads" also becarne industry trendsetters panics when he discovers that the huge phone system he bought for h1s company
m the 1980s. Consider the following industry explanation of the origins and aes- is suddenly obsolete. "'You don't think they'll fire me?' he asks a colleague, who
thet1c methods of lhe anti-ads: "Directors had been playing with Super-8/l 6mm suppresses his gloat. The film is grainy, the lighting funereal. The carnera wh1z-
black-and-white film for years, and these tools entered lhe commercial main- pans between lhe two young men, desperately trying to re_cord the conversat1on,
stream, as in Paula Grief and Peter Kagan's 'Revo!ution' for Nike. Down and dirty a blur of paranoia, a career literally in the toilet."67 Appar1t10ns, paranoia, wh1p-
f1lm techmques made $200,000 spots look like home movies. Gritty was chic."63 pans to marked corporate men. These were advertising's hallmarked_ d1splays of
A self-conscious revolution had started, lhen, in and with the Nike ads. The "revo- authenticity and angst. Commercial director Nathan lauds h1s own mnovat10ns,
lution" was not, however, based on high production values nor did it emphasize "Now we're getting at what people are really saying and thinking." Thinking? Hy-
verbal messages. The visual stuff Qf_!he i~e itself_ __e!111J_l~iQn grain, flash- peractive camerawork, film grain, ancl visual and editorial desperation seem more
fi:.~.m.~s.,_ _ scrathe:s, j_sshort the very e.[~11JJft!t~_!h_g!__l,ecqcJ?!i pfpro_4uct_i~n had sought related to fleeting sensation and apparition than they do to lhought. Nevertheless,
~o_hi4_e__pr.di~fff_OJ-V=J,~_ame in theJ~l!l:~;rg~.!l:~-~
.. _Qft~J~yisality part_ of_the __pp.tent the director's hyped interpretion is important, for it shows that a systematlc pro-
1tself. The down-and-dirty physical image lhat defined the Nike ad carnpaign was cess was going on in the evolution of commercial prod11:ctio~ style. to fi.nd apt
repeated numerous times with other corporate campaigns in the months that fol- visual codes for cultural preoccupations; to create and cod1fy visual s1gmf1ers for
lowed. What was it, one is lead to ask, about raw footage and acts of physical the viewer-of thought, sensation, desperation.
aggress1on agamst lhe 1mage lhat inspired producers and attracted consnmers? ln Pytka's commercial productions for Wang computers, lhe style is no less
The great irony of lhis trend and the many anti-ad campaigns that followed, was obscure and is intentionally disorienting. The viewer is never allowt)d, for mstance,
economic. Commercial spot production budgets, which had only recently ascended to see the whole picture or whole scene. ln one spot, the camera is locked down
to the quarter-million dollar range, now found themselves facing crude, and os- on lhe back of a man's head. The concealed subject is talking to a vague, anthro-
tens1bly mexpens1ve, forms ofimage degradation. Super-8 footage, arnateur-look- fo
pomorphic shape that is pacing back and forth in the background. another spot,
mg but street smart, gave to lhe emerging televisual repertoire a new and influential two men listen to a speaker phone, but the viewer never sees the1r ent1re bod1es,
code-a kind of "televisual povera."64 \Yhat was being so_l~ to_ A,merian_ cons_um- which are continuously and aggressively cropped. ln a third spot, two shapes walk
ers__Qf Jb.U9BQ_l'\'_s_th,,:_stre~t:the edgy urb_a11 enviro~eI!,-a r~w alld racially down a long hallway toward the camera and are entirely out of focus. These stand-
peopled existe.nce that was as _alien. t_o Reagan 's im_ge gf.A-nm:ica_~-itW.'!SJQJhe ing and shifting blurs of light and shadow finally dissolve to an all wh1te logo,
cl".s_1cal_sty:l"s_Qfe_arlier_advertising. What was beingold,then,wa~.a:ttiJ:ude, and the graphic message: "Cal! Wang." __
aJI_ <l!TI.b1enc_~, aq.cj. <!TI _i_lllgE: __of America that was stre_et sm_art, young, and raw. What then do these new and influential anti-approaches to telev1s1on produc-
An allied sensibility infused the Levi's 501 ad campaign produced by Foote tion style, fo~d in both programs and nonprogram broadcast materials, have ~n
Cone, and Belding. 65 Wilh the Levi's spots, the film stock and formal were large; common? Consider their formal operations. The Street added video and electromc
than N1ke's super-8, and lhe distinctive look was colorized blue rather lhan black noise to the image. Nike added extreme emulsion grain and contras!. Levi added
98 THE PROBLEM OF THE IMAGE MODES OF PRODUCTION 99

jerky and disorienting camera work and unnatural colors. The producers of AT&T ers, Olympian plateaus presenced by Mercedes-a televisual world of white silk,
spots added washed-out funereal lighting and whip-pans. The Washroom spots for hardened enamel, chrome, and stainless steel-was philosophized as a rare occa-
Wang used impossibly shallow depth of field and constantly obstructed the sion; one "where form is free to pursue absolute beauty." Obsession made mono-
viewer's line of sight. These formal tactics have one general stylistic principie in chromatic Greek classicism its signature commercial style, with well-muscled,
common. They ali take otherwise state-of-the-art imaging systems and degener- dispassionate, and minimally draped male and female bodies posed in pregnant
ate !hem through technical and stylistic flaws. Levinson flawed bis primetime show tableaus. Shearson-Lehman's investment spots took lhe classical ideal of absolut-
Homicide in the sarne way. ism one step further by restraining form altogether. Its serious black-and-white
This kind ofactive and pervasive self-destruction andjlawing ofthe image does ,, spots posed heavy verbal adages over minimal textual epitaphs: "minds over
not produce, in any conventional sense, a realism based on illusion. One might money."
argue from this practice that lhe image-flawing trend belies my thesis that there If elite automobiles and investment banking merited classical restraint, then
has been an increased stylization in the television image. But this criticism only breakfast cereais, cosmetics, and salad dressing used impressionism to tap the
makes sense if visuality is defined by degrees of optical resolution. ln fact, viewer's emotional surge. Kellogg's Muesilix was really an hallucinogen that
televisuality is not dependent upon higher and higher resolution. Instead, imagis- packed the fleeting sensation of sun, wind, clouds, and magic-hour into its Euro-
tic and stylistic violations continually draw altention to the television screen and pean "balance of grain nuts." Gloria Vanderbilt's perfume also swept the viewer
to the status of its image as an image. Strategies of image annihilation are far up into fleeting slow motion and undulating optical reflection on the surface of
removed from the goals of classical media image-making, precisely because they water. Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing revived the landscape tradition of impres-
work to show-off such actions as stylistic marks and stylistic accomplishments. sionism within each two-second shot in its painterly spots: each image was an
There really is no argwnent that these types of spots and codes were received as overfiltered homage to lhe sensuous powers of soft, directional lighting. If do-
visual codes either. The industry press interpreted lhe trend immediately. One ad- mestic food products and feminine cosmetics exploited the easy sensory moments
vertising producer, Stockler, explained the growing sense that such ads were over- of impressionism, _then products for "real men" demanded harder orchestrations
kill and trendy: "Handheld died when it began, critics said. Some work went of the avant-garde. Chevy's Camaro spots, for example, threw every too! of the
beyond cinema verit, to vdeo obscurit: Product was mystifyingly submerged."68 cinematographer's trade at the audience in an expressionist eruption that would
Stylistic fashions come and go, but it is worth considering lhe reasons that pro- have made Matisse proud. Low-key and high-contrast photography collided with
ducers and agencies opted for self-anniliilating visual tactics. Nathan explains that smoke, fog, and tire-squeeling urban streets. Chevy's impressionable
"the clich-ridden vision of what goes on in the world-the domain of the TV twentysomething male learns that strutting women !ove men with hot rods, that
commercial until now-has begun to pale and is perceived to be irrelevant to con- is, as long as they cruise on overcomposed nocturnal streets bathed in neon reds
sumers."69 Production people, then, counter the critique ofthe industry as clichd and blues. For the male's moming-after, Gillelte's Atra turned loose a combina-
by arguing that their culting-edge methods and preoccupation with style are both tion of Russian constructivism and Robocop: overengineered high-tech edges and
relevant and interpretable to consumer-viewers. The image-destructive style per- digital surfaces swarmed over facial stubble, thereby fulfilling everyman 's need
petuated by anti-ads and documercials should really be seen, then, as a counter for a sensuous shave.
move, as a strategy to regain viewers. Production tendencies, eveil apparent The dark-side of modemism, however, also had agency desciples. Following
antistylistic techniques, were hardened into marketable and reproducible displays Lautremont, Breton, and Dali, Prudential Insurance found its holy grail in surre-
that more accurately signified the thought and sensibility of America's changing alism. The Prudential rock was really jus! a digital apparition that guided astral-
consumers. Although the commercial advertising industry pretends to be a para- traveling homeowners through comet-crashing glimpses of suburbia, family, and
gon of dynamic change and innovation, it also is a process that immediately hard- investment portfolios. Alfa-Romeo showed that surrealist metaphysician De
ens stylistic practice into an assembly-line succession ofvariant looks. Once made Chirico and wide-eyed sentimentalist Spielberg informed every move in their pro-
public, Madison Avenue's issuance of codes can then be tak:en over by other agen- motional mantra for Milano: altitude, altitude, awe. J.C. Penney's culting edge al-
cies, for different products and for different genres. titude was symbolized by minimalism and action painting. Would Jackson Pollack
follow celebrities Cheryl Tiegs (Sears) and Jaclyn Smith (K-Mart) into this world
Smorgasbord of mass-marketed commodities? Spots for Verve showed that even the adolescent
"femme-teen"-bom long after pop and the sununer of love-could appreciate
While jealous commercial directors-who made less than Joe Pytka's five-figure the public possibilities of plastic, pastel, and Op art stenciled anatomical cover-
daily rate-wrote off lhe anti-ad and the documercial "shakeycam" as a passing ings. Swiss-made Swatch watches targeted the sarne adolescent crowd with hy-
fad, Madison Avenue practitioners were hoarding other looks in a veritable smor- peractive collages of clock-like human automatons jerking around like machine
gasbord ofacute aesthetic styles. Primetime spots in the month ofDecember 1988 cogs. Was this postmodemism, futurist performance, or Marcel Duchamp's Bride
alone looked like a concentrated primer of art and film history. Mercedes cashed Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors? While lhe teen crowd went for shallow and plas-
in on Greek classicism: although "form follows function" with ali other car mak- tic, those who could afford Chanel wenl for the chie and self-satisfied world of
100 THE PROBLEM OF THE IMAGE MODES OF PRODUCTION 101

erotic daydream. Fleeing her kept corporate world, and shadowed by phantom air- can-American and Latin-American culture, however, was actually more like a low-
craft, Chanel's statuesque product model strode through wide-screen cinematic budget Rose Bowl commentary that mixed fragments from numerous but pictur-
space in a compacted ritual of narrative ellipsis reminiscent of Bertolucci: "Come esque non-English speaking cultures into one big, happy south-of-the-border
share the fantasy"-at least in its desert variation-was really an homage to what farnily. Bored commentators faked enthusiasm from atop towering platforms.
Maya Deren would have done if she had lived long enough to make a road movie. Anglo corporate representatives from Disney remarked at length about how much
This dizzying array of poses suggests that advertising brings to television not Hispanic people "like" Mickey Mouse. The station tokenized this particular week-
jus! a range of styles but an obsessive ritual and appetite for stylistic differentia- end progrannning ghetto further by loading it up with as many Hispanic KCBS
tion. Advertising teaches television in more ways than one: it is a hWlgry proving employees as it could lay its hands on. Cameras cut from one mindless
ground for new televisual production technologies; it is a leaky cache of creative overcomposed Betacam image to another, ali centered around a billboard-like stage
personnel that denarrativizes television; it is an ornnipresent aesthetic fann- that proclaimed-not Los Angeles'-but "KCBS's Fiesta Broadway." Despite the
system for primetime. Advertising's budgets, however, are far from minar league. fact that every videographic bell-and-whistle was being used, KCBS 's production
ln contrast to primetirne's per-minute production costs, advertising budgets dwarf team seemed to be covering the event in its sleep. Even the awkward on-air ban-
television's financial commitment Advertising production, that is, gets more sty- ter indicated that this token crew of highly trained professiouals could not wait
listic "bang for the buck" than primetime or off-prime programming. For thls rea- to finish in order to go out and have a few cold ones. One sensed in this high-
son, commercial spot production also underscores and reinforces one of the driving tech but sloppy production that the margaritas had been flowing for some time.
mythologies behind televisual exhibitionism: the idea that overproduction and sty- An air of moral and technical superiority oozed ont of the apparatus and enraged
listic excess provide industrial leverage and corporate marks of distinction. The some viewers, even as KCBS's televisual "shock-troops" deftly fulfilled their FCC-
televisual mode ofproduction, then, is really an ad industry-proven mode of over- mandated public service mission.
production. The networks are no less prone to wield their impressive televisual production
apparatus as a threat to any and ali would-be challengers. CBS's 48 Hours did an
The Cult of Technical Superiority hour-long critique of sensationalist talk-show programming and hopelessly wacko
public access producers on an episode entitled "Talk, Talk, Talk."73 Dan Rather's
Television's stylistic ability-including its penchant for overproduction-is directly cynical ironies did little to conceal the fact that CBS's own magazine show dif-
related to a certain institutional privilege. During the licensing of any and ali tele- fered little in verbal content from the talk shows and video populists that it de-
vision stations, the FCC requires that potential licensees demonstrate to the gov- meaned. The 48 Hours broadside, however, delivered from the technical safety
ernment that they are honest in character, financially stable, and providers of of CBS's impressive production studio, was a televisual apparatus that provided
"diversity in the marketplace of ideas." But the FCC also demands that licensees its arnbivalent broadcasters with continuous proof of their technical superiority.
be "efficient in operation ... a technical factor involving the quality of the station's ln the televisual apparatus, high-end production values not only separate the men
signal."70 That is, stations must demonstrate that they are technically superior or from the boys-they distinguish the networks from lowly syndicators, affiliates,
as good as other potential licensees in the market. This burden of technical supe- and cable activists. Big-time production values also help prove the moral and in-
riority has affected the mindset ofbroadcasters by perpetuating progrannning that tellectual superiority ofthe FCC's chosen ones.
exploits each technical and formal breakthrough as a form of attention-grabbing The construa] of overproduction and technical superiority as indicators of cul-
authentication. Th~ burden of technical superiority also tends to denigrate those tural and moral authority does not, however, provide a comple picture oftelevisual
civilians outside of broadcasting as amateurs. When television news covered exhibitionism. Styles, even in those cultured and aesthetic forms,that pretend to
Chicana hunger-strikers in Los Angeles in June 1993, for example, protesters and autonomy, cannot be separated from the economic logic that sanctions !hem in
vocal critics alike were allowed hard-hitting on-carnera political critiques. Yet the the first place. Toe aesthetic has rarely, except in intellectual circles, been a realm
reporters---obviously oblivious to the political discourse they had just uncorked- ofpure form or intellect. Television progrannning, in particular, fabricates the aes-
regained control of the stories at the conclusion of each two-minute interchange. thetic as par! of its industrial habit. The next five chapters examine what might
On-camera the reporters comforted viewers at home by paternalistically noting be termed the aesthetic economy of televisuality, and elaborate in more patient
that there was nothing really political about the confrontations that had just been detail the stylistic and presentational modes that typify televisual exhibitionism.
aired. These political discourses and confrontations were, after ali, really just emo- More than offering exposition on the formal grammar or language of television
tional and naive youthful outbursts. 71 "Back to you in the studio." in a Metzian sense, however, each chapter will first preface and situate a close
Affiliate stations also betray the cult of technical superiority when they send presentational analysis-the case study of a symptomatic show, series, or genre---
the televisual apparatus out on assignment to fulfill FCC-required local public within a broader cultural context that motivates and favors exhibitionism. These
service needs. One year after Los Angeles burned, major affiliate KCBS under- close textual studies-of the epic miniseries, the broadcast hybridization of fea-
lined their Hispanic and Chicana social concerns by covering "Fiesta Broadway" ture films, hyperactive trash television, digital videographics, and tabloid reality
in downtown L.A. 72 What was supposed to be a celebration of indigenous Mexi- programming-show clearly what the new practitioners can only hype: that
IU-"' 1 Nt: t'KUl:SLl:M Ut I Ht IMAl.it

embellishment promises to intensify viewing and animate audience in profitabl


ways. As each of the five chapters that follow suggest, lhe aesthetic modes Part li
exhibitionist television can also be understood as merchandising strategies: as bou
tique television, as loss-Jeader progranuning, as franchise packaging, as thrift-sto
video, and as ontological strip-mall. The oft-noted idea that ours is a culture
consumption means that marketing and packaging have become preeminent aes"".
thetic rationales. The Aesthetic Economy
of Televisuality