Eyecandy: The Blog

On Duration

by: Theo Rasmussen

Extended viewing of series or films is something relatively new to society. With today’s unparalleled ability to access digital media, many are subjecting themselves to watching upwards of six hours of a single series in a single sitting rather than waiting for episodes weekly. This form of consuming in mass is becoming more accessible and therefore common. This allows for a completely different digestion of the material presented. Not only does this new viewership call into question the pacing of the series, but it calls into question how human minds deals with the concept of ‘duration’. In particular, what are the psychological effects of spending an increased duration in the fantasy space which film creates? While the implications of this type of viewing may not be clear, the power of prolonged emersion is evident, and if the material resonates well enough with the viewer the experience is not unlike delving into a new world.

Directors as well as editors are often the most understanding of the power that duration represents. This is because their responsibilities depend heavily on understanding cinematic timing and pacing. A good example of the profound effect of duration is found simply by viewing uniquely long films such as Laurence of Arabia, or Gandhi. However, duration isn’t merely dealing with temporal realism, it deeply depends on subject material, which can seem to lengthen or shorten the perceived duration of the film. One just has to observe the audiences reactions of a film like Koyaanisqatsi or the Lord of the Rings trilogy to see how use of perceived duration may function; it is used to establish control over the audience. Therefore, duration is one of the primary ways one can increase the audience’s immersion in a film. This is something commonly used in the world of music; listen to classical music and you’ll notice that occasionally the composition will call for a single note to hold. The effect of this hold draws the listener into the piece. Additionally it primes the audience for the following notes or melodies; it gives time for the listener to fully immerse themselves. The same holds true for images in film and it is something that is not nearly acknowledged enough. This is particularly true in
the film world of today, where quick cuts are still growing in popularity. Time manipulation is one of the most used techniques in filmmaking; however its integration and the realization of its importance within the narrative is often minimal.

The topic of duration is nearly taboo in Hollywood. Albeit a powerful tool, it is one so powerful that many are afraid to employ it. This fear is one of the few in Hollywood that is justified, as the use of filmic duration incorrectly can be disastrous for a film. To point out an example, just look at the final sequence of the Lord of The Rings, Return of the King. Here single shots with little to no camera movement show the aftermath of the ring’s destruction. Unfortunately these shots lingered too long and no contrast or relief from them was provided. This contrast could have employed the use of the duration provided and contributed further immersion in the story, yet all the audience is given is another slow shot to end the film on. The lack of pay off distracted from the impact those scenes should have had. The sequence after the rings destruction is lackluster because it lacked significant meaning to attach to the prolonged imagery.

The fear of length communicated down to the earliest forms of preproduction. Scriptwriting for example, is seen by producers as something that should be short and fluid, one segment of dialog should not exceed four lines, scene description should be relatively short and the script should read fast, lengthy pieces of dialog and your piece is likely to get discarded for other more “quick” scripts. These are the rules writers follow in order to increase their chances of selling a script, it is no wonder then such use of duration is overlooked. Directors are constantly denied the extra time they deem necessary to communicate an aspect of a scene by producers looking to cut down on film length. Creativity is constantly being limited to fit the presupposed needs of the consumer as they are communicated by the producer. However, the frequency of people viewing at length, choosing immersion over “quick viewing” is evidence that discredits this notion. People are viewing entire series in one sitting; it’s a great sign that these fears of rejection are not confounded. Audiences eagerly await absorption into a fantasy space and are eager for new enticing material that they can view and become involved with.

This entry was published on May 2, 2011 at 3:44 am and is filed under blog. Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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