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Old July 5th, 2003, 05:39 PM   #1
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This bugs me to no end: crappy 'look and feel' of Sci-Fi shows

I've seen the latest batch of movies and shows (the cheap-budget ones) on Sci-Fi channel (US) and one thing keeps sticking out at me like a sore thumb: every one of them have the same 'look' and feel.

It looks like the same film stock, the same bland lighting, same color, same everything.

Compare the visual appareance of -- let's say StarGate SG1. No matter where they go, either location or set, the film has this washed-out, greyish tone to it. They could be in the desert, surrounded by orange sand, yellow pyramids and it'd all look GREY. The movie, in stark contrast, was awash with color.

Now look at Farscape-- warm, rich color...a variety of lighting conditions, totally different look and feel.

These crappy skiffy movies all have this same look of homogenized grey and -- I dunno how to describe it.

The directing seem to follow the same playbook; same pans, cuts, framing, lighting you name it. It's like watching the same movie over and over again with different actors and locations.

WHAT IS UP WITH THIS?

Do these filmmakers get together and say "let's make our films like this", or is it something the network mandates?

Is this some kind of low-denominator method to put these together with minimal fuss? A 'style' everybody tries to mimic?
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Old July 5th, 2003, 07:22 PM   #2
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Can you say cinematographer? Some of these guys know how to point and shoot the camera but don't know how to light it. Or they use a cheap lab and get a bad print.
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Old July 5th, 2003, 08:04 PM   #3
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Re: This bugs me to no end: crappy 'look and feel' of Sci-Fi shows

<<<-- ... It's like watching the same movie over and over again with different actors and locations. -->>>

What you said above ...

I think you hit the nail on the head, there's not much creativity going on with those shows - feels like it's all being done with templates - the same sets, actors, and crappy soap opera dialog.

Betcha there's several production companies out there that churn this stuff out - doesn't have to be sci-fi, same sets, actors etc. and they can do anything sci-fi, adventure, drama, etc.

As a big sci-fi fan, I'm extremely dissapointed with that channel.
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Old July 5th, 2003, 08:05 PM   #4
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Funny, I just watched the last 10 mins of Stargate SG-1 and thought "wow, they've improved the production quality alot!"

Anyway, which other shows are you talking about besides Stargate?
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Old July 5th, 2003, 08:59 PM   #5
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I actually enjoy SG-1 quite a bit.

The grey-ish tone I think can be attributed a bit to their need to color time 1) to British Columbia's provincial colour which is primarily overcast and 2) the need to be consistent because of the amount of CG they insert into the live action. You can say, well, the movie was colourful, well, that was set in the desert where there is a real contrast between yellow sand and blue sky. There have been SG1 episodes set in deserts and I don't remember much in the way of grey there.

No matter what, Stargate is never going to have the production quality of the film. A show like the West Wing has beautiful cinematography because 1) they spend a HELL of a lot of money per episode 2) they almost never leave that set. Neither Stargate nor the West Wing will have anything approaching the budget of a film.

Stargate spends a lot of its time on location. Their budget is in the neighbourhood of 1.2 million an episode, probably less (someone find out better info). West Wing has a budget of more than 2 million. I don't remember the last time President Bartlett jumped through a jumpgate or even stepped off Air Force One (which has appeared as a CG insert, in at least one episode as I remember).

That said, I think it's a fine show. TV has limitations. I don't know what you are expecting from direction but TV direction has to be understandable and more so than film is subordinate to the story. There is such a tight space to work with in television that if you don't make the action understandable, you've lost people by the commercial. You're not going to get complicated dolly, tracking or crane shots by and large because they take time to set up. SG1 does a lot of Steadicam, I can tell you that, because they do a lot of work in forests, etc. and battle sequences that require movement. This is something you don't see any of in the Star Trek series. I've seen some memorable shots over the six seasons that I've seen, especially the ones you know they planned for weeks to pull off combining CG with live action.
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Old July 5th, 2003, 09:05 PM   #6
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Besides SG1, which features the 'blandness' (lack of color vibrancy) the movie 'RiverWorld', The Lost World series, BeastMaster, and the short-lived Mortal Kombat series all had the same look and feel.

ALL of their movies look badly developed or lit wrong.

It looked as if they were trying to immitate each other--like that was what they should do.

I was trying to determine if this is a stylistic CHOICE, a limit of budget, the result of network meddeling, or just a 'phase' filmmaking of this genre is suffering through.

Let me ask this: Take a look at SG1 and then Farscape. Two very different shows, with totally different look and feel. Any idea what stock they're using, how they're lighting their stuff? SG1 has the same greyness like the other stale and bland shows. I want to know so I can AVOID making the same bland choices.

FS switched to hi-def cameras during their last year, so I'm guessing they darkened the lighting to pull off depth of field...(want proof, check out scenes with Scorpius under harsh lights...highlights on his black costume have chromatic abberations)

Can't help but also point out shows on NBC. The dramas all have the same look. Scenes from Ed could've been spliced into Pretender and you wouldn't notice. Profiler crossed over with tP a few times, with no decernable -- it's like interchangable filmmaking.

No wonder the SG1 people didn't humor Skiffy's idea of crossing over with Farscape. It would've been too big a jolt, too much of a change...
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Old July 5th, 2003, 10:03 PM   #7
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"FS switched to hi-def cameras during their last year..."

There's your answer then. Hidef cannot match film in color or contrast.

As far as darker lighting, if they lowered the lights for greater dop then they had to use a smaller aperture which would brighten up the scene but decrease chromatic aberration. They may be using compression of some sort which doesn't work.
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Old July 5th, 2003, 10:06 PM   #8
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//Besides SG1, which features the 'blandness' (lack of color vibrancy) the movie 'RiverWorld', The Lost World series, BeastMaster, and the short-lived Mortal Kombat series all had the same look and feel.

ALL of their movies look badly developed or lit wrong.

It looked as if they were trying to immitate each other--like that was what they should do.//

I haven't seen 'Riverworld' but I don't see how you can compare SG1 to either Beastmaster, Lost World or Mortal Kombat. SGI easily has twice the production values of those last three. Those last three are cheap cheap cheap. The budgets for those I would wager are a third less than SG1. Using those examples, I would feel condident saying that it was a function of budget.

By the way, SG1 was not a Scifi channel pickup until I think two seasons ago. So it is not part of a scifi channel 'look'. Scifi channel buys shows by and large. These shows are almost all independent productions done by different people.
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Old July 6th, 2003, 11:49 AM   #9
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SG1 *does* have better production values, but my question/gripe has to do with the grey-tone these shows seem to adopt as a genre-wide look.

Maybe I'm just spoiled by movies. I just saw Fifth Element, Stargate, 2010, and a few DVD eps of Farscape back-to-back.

All of these were rich in color and lighting variation, depth and -- shoot, it just looked SO much better.

The muted color timing (??) is what bugs me most. I'm trying to figure out how to avoid it when I begin shooting my pilot.
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