The Problem Solving of Filmmaking

“Working in movies has kind of ruined video essays and film analysis a bit for me”. That’s one of the stand-out lines in this video essay on the movie Shazam! and the many incongruities in its storyline. The maker of this video essay goes over some very odd narrative aspects and directorial choices: from inconsistencies to outright fails that were covered up with some creative postproduction fixes. Most of the time, such nerdy nitpicking is what people engage in when they’re in desperate need of a real hobby, or when they need to get outdoors more. But in this case, there’s a broader point to the hairsplitting. Because David F. Sandberg, the maker of this video essay, also happens to be the director of the movie.


His mantra? Moviemaking is problem solving. During the filming and editing of every single scene, there will be unforeseen problems that need to be sorted out. From actors’ conflicting shooting schedules to crew members that inadvertently wind up in the shot: complications are an integral part of the filmmaking process. Sandberg offers some hilarious examples, making light fun of his own films’ slipups.


But this definition of movie making as problem solving complicates the whole concept of film analysis, and the making of video essays engaging in such analysis. Because, Sandberg says, “You just never know if something was part of a brilliant plan or if it just happened to turn out that way because a problem had to be solved on the day”. (The video essay ends on a humorous note with Sandberg mockingly interpreting one of his own patch-up decisions as if it were a thematic masterstroke planned well in advance).


He’s right, of course. There is always a danger of overinterpretation by critics and analysts who have no knowledge of a film’s production history or on-set woes. Video essayists run the risk of assigning meaning to aleatory elements, of seeing purpose where there only was problem solving. Which is why some minimal knowledge of film production techniques and (the limits of) the technical aspects of filmmaking is a prerequisite for critics and analysts alike. On the other hand, knowing that some choices are forced upon a filmmaker for other than creative reasons should not keep video essayists from engaging in close readings and detailed analyses. In the end, what is on the screen is what matters, the productional hiccups by then are only of secondary importance. “What’s past is prologue,” a seventeenth century critic might have said: it provides context, but shouldn’t nip analysis in the bud. Better to read too much into ten scenes, than to sell one scene short because you attribute its power to chance and refuse to recognize the intent.