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17 completely wrong things about filmmaking I learned from The Sarkeesian Effect, the worst documentary ever made

A much better use of money than The Sarkeesian Effect
A much better use of money than The Sarkeesian Effect

“They’re called tropes in games or something like that?”

— Brad Wardell, Game developer and Anita Sarkeesian expert

The Sarkeesian Effect, which premiered as a $3.99 “on demand” video on Vimeo yesterday, and which I forced myself to watch all two and a half hours of, is not so much a “documentary” as an object lesson in why it’s never a good idea to hand over tens of thousands of dollars to hateful, incompetent ideologues barely capable of making mediocre YouTube videos and expect them to produce a documentary that looks even vaguely professional.

I’ve seen homemade cat videos with better production values. I’m not talking about videos featuring cats. I’m talking about videos filmed by cats.

It’s clear from the start of Jordan Owen’s The Sarkeesian Effect — he and his filmmaking buddy Davis Aurini split some months ago amid mutual accusations of incompetence and con artistry — that he’s never made a documentary before. Indeed, his filmmaking missteps are so numerous and so flagrant it’s not clear he’s even seen a documentary before.

Nonetheless, I think his video might prove instructive to aspiring filmmakers, in that it so clearly demonstrates some of the many ways a documentary can go terribly, terribly wrong.

I wouldn’t suggest to any would-be filmmakers (or to anyone else) that they actually watch The Sarkeesian Effect, even when (as seems inevitable) it comes to YouTube for free; life is far too short and precious for that.

Instead, just take a look at these 17 completely wrong things about filmmaking I learned from The Sarkeesian Effect. 

1) When you’re choosing who to interview for your documentary about a controversial critic of video games, make sure that most of those you talk to have no connection to video games and only a passing knowledge of the controversies in question.

In fact, it’s best if you let them demonstrate their lack of familiarity with the issues on camera, by, for example, stumbling over the name of Anita Sarkeesian’s longtime video collaborator, Jonathon McIntosh, before offering opinions about him. Or getting the name of her video series wrong.

2) If you’re interviewing women for your documentary, make sure that in addition to having no expertise on video games, most of them have some sort of connection to sex work and/or pornography.

The four women interviewed at the greatest length in this “documentary?” A sex worker, a porn star, an “erotic photographer,” and a former author of smutty fiction. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but none of the men interviewed for the documentary are sex workers or porn stars.

It’s almost as though Jordan Owen, as obsessed with porn as he is with Anita Sarkeesian, used the documentary as an excuse to talk to women involved in porn and sex work (none of whom seem to know much of anything about Anita Sarkeesian or video games), much as his ex-filmmaking-buddy used it as an excuse to interview right-wing ideologues (none of whom seem to know much of anything about Anita Sarkeesian or video games),

3) Make sure that the people you interview, who don’t actually know anything about the subject at hand, deliver their completely uninformed opinions with the smuggest looks on their faces as possible.

Video Game Non-Expert Karen Straughan: Thinks quite highly of herself
Video Game Non-Expert Karen Straughan: Thinks quite highly of herself
Video Game Non-Exert Jim Goad: Also thinks highly of himself
Video Game Non-Expert Jim Goad: Also thinks highly of himself

4) Make sure your interview subjects expose as much of their cleavage as possible.

cleaveelam
Hey ladies!

5) If you’re interviewing a disbarred lawyer best known for his relentless attacks on video games, in order to show that even the notorious Jack Thompson “gets” how evil Anita Sarkeesian is, make sure to include the portion of the interview in which, while attempting to undermine Sarkeesian’s credibility, he compares the gaming industry to the Third Reich.

In the “documentary,” Thompson compares the Game Developers Choice Ambassador Award Sarkeesian received last year to the award Charles Lindbergh once got from literally Hitler. Then, realizing that he’s just Godwinned himself, Thompson suggests that “when you start receiving awards” — any awards at all, apparently — “you undercut your credibility as a critic.”

6) When you’re setting up shots of your interviewees, make sure to liven things up by including interesting things in the background. Like wires. And the occasional pizza box.

Yes, that’s right: THE PIZZA BOX MADE IT INTO THE FINAL CUT!

Hello, pizza box!
Hello, pizza box!

7) Put a little bit of yourself into each interview. Literally, in the form of your hands and/or feet poking out from the corner of the screen.

Hello, hand!
Hello, hand!
Hello, shoe!
Hello, shoe!
Hello, side of face!
Hello, side of face!

And if you’re afraid people might not notice your hands in the shot, wiggle them around a little.

8) If the sound for your interviews is kind of crappy, cover it up with music so loud it threatens to drown out the person talking.

And make sure that the mood of the music has no real connection to anything going on onscreen.

9) When interviewing a notorious far-right racist with no connection to video games for your film about video games, make sure to include his thoughts about “communists and homosexuals.”

“When I was a kid, if you were a communist or a homosexual, then you’d lose your career,” Jim Goad explains, while sitting on a park bench. “Now communists and homosexuals are in power, and re seeking to destroy the career of anyone who’s not down with their agenda.”

10) If the tagline to your film is “there’s two sides to every story,” demonstrate your commitment to telling both of these sides by declaring the subject of your film to be “a bully like none [the game industry] had ever encountered before.”

Then declare other women who’ve been harassed by online mobs to be

maniacal, mean-spirited, malicious thugs that attacked their chosen targets without mercy then switched on their victim persona when it suited them. 

Also, after allowing your interview subjects to describe at length their versions of events involving women peripherally referenced in your documentary, make no effort whatsoever to discover whether or not any of what they’ve said is actually true.

11) Defend GamerGate from charges that it is a giant hate mob by declaring it to be “a passionate, vicious and unabashedly hostile pushback against Anita Sarkeesian” driven by “the unending fountain of rage from which we draw strength.”

12) When complaining about “professional victims,” make sure that most of your examples are women who have not in fact sought to profit in any way from their victimhood, including one woman who was fired from her job after posting a picture of two men who made crude sexual jokes at a tech conference.

13) Follow up your attack on professional victims who are not in fact professional victims with selections from an interview with a YouTuber who literally collects $3,305 from his Patreon supporters every time he makes a video, including those in which he attacks Sarkeesian (and there have been a lot of those).

In other words, he’s a professional victimizer, and a decently paid one at that. (For more, see “Sargon of Akkad and Thunderf00t: #Gamergate’s Well-Paid Talking Heads” by Daily Kos blogger idlediletante (Margaret Pless).)

14) When you run out of mean things to say about the subject of your documentary, make fun of the fact that she sometimes wears glasses.

Except instead of calling her a “bespectacled malcontent,’ call her a “bespeckled malcontent.’

“Bespeckled,” Google tells us, means to be covered “with a large number of small spots or patches of color.”

15) If you’re worried that your 2 1/2 hour-long “documentary” isn’t long enough, include a rambling, barely coherent Ayn Randian monologue about creators and “parasites.”

And start it off with this declaration:

All organic life possesses to some degree the concept of virtue which is the very act by which it is able to live.

No, really.

16) After kicking the subject of your documentary around for well over two hours, offer her perhaps the most ironic life advice ever given to anyone by an actual human being.

That is, if Paul Elam, notorious Men’s Rights garbage person, even counts as an actual human being.

Staring earnestly into the camera, Elam tells Sarkeesian

that you really do deserve and need to get some help. Whatever is driving you to push people and to harm people, whatever drives you to provoke people and take their reaction and raise money off of it is sociopathic behavior. 

On Sunday, you may recall, Elam released a video in which, drunkenly slurring his words, he yelled out crude insults about the alleged foul odor of one feminist writer’s vagina. And went on at length about another feminist writer and her complete lack of interest in giving him and his colleagues blow jobs. It’s a little hard to explain.

You should probably just go watch the video, if you haven’t already. It’s much more entertaining than The Sarkeesian Effect, and only two minutes long.

17) And finally, when making a documentary criticizing journalists for alleged ethics violations, make sure not to mention that one of your interview subjects is married to a paid consultant on the film — the mysterious mediator who attempted to keep Owen and Aurini working together long enough to finish the project.

ETHICS!

EDIT: Removed a photo to make my joke about cleavage clearer. And added a bit more of an explanation to my point about Owen’s interviews of women involved in sex work and porn.

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booburry
5 years ago

kootiepatra I have to disgree with this
“Sketchy DLC and preorder business practices are one of a very few legitimate problems that Gator and Gator-adjacent people have objected to for a long time (predating the Quinnspiracy garbage). ”

The whole ethics thing wrt gg is a joke because its obvious that those fools don’t care about ethics. They might get mad at the industry dicking them around but if its someone on their side they surely don’t mind. Also, I feel like it makes it seem like anti-gg types don’t care about ethics in games, which I would argue they (we) care about it a hell of a lot more than the assclowns of gg. They have no ethics, no morals, nada.

kirbywarp
kirbywarp
5 years ago

I recently found this youtube series about gamergate that I thought really hit home in a lot of ways. It’s related to fountains of rage and to what ‘legitimate’ topics gg addresses, so it’s totes relevant! Mainly, though, I thought it was awesome and I want to share. 🙂

Robjec
Robjec
5 years ago
katz
katz
5 years ago

Sketchy DLC and preorder business practices are one of a very few legitimate problems that Gator and Gator-adjacent people have objected to for a long time (predating the Quinnspiracy garbage).

Some of the same people might have, but the movement couldn’t have, because it doesn’t predate that.

freemage
5 years ago

In support of Boobury and katz:

A lynchpin of Gator philosophy is that game reviews should never, ever treat games as anything other than mindless diversion–any attempt to evaluate their content, as opposed to their gameplay and graphic artistry, is seen as inimical to the hobby. The entire claim is that attempts like Sarkeesian’s to apply traditional critical analysis of game content such as story and characterization is somehow an intrusion into the purity of the medium.

And, of course, this is precisely what allows the AAA studios to keep shoveling out the same crap and abusing their customer base the way they do. DLC, in particular, is an attempt to ration out the content. This would be unthinkable in a medium where the content actually mattered.

Paradoxical Intention
5 years ago

freemage | September 16, 2015 at 5:24 pm
In support of Boobury and katz:

A lynchpin of Gator philosophy is that game reviews should never, ever treat games as anything other than mindless diversion–any attempt to evaluate their content, as opposed to their gameplay and graphic artistry, is seen as inimical to the hobby. The entire claim is that attempts like Sarkeesian’s to apply traditional critical analysis of game content such as story and characterization is somehow an intrusion into the purity of the medium.

And, of course, this is precisely what allows the AAA studios to keep shoveling out the same crap and abusing their customer base the way they do. DLC, in particular, is an attempt to ration out the content. This would be unthinkable in a medium where the content actually mattered.

However, despite them not wanting people to take their precious video games seriously, they refuse to accept anyone dismissing them as “a mindless diversion”, or something like that.

They want to have games be taken seriously, and to be considered as art, but they refuse to allow people who do take games seriously to do anything that people do for other forms of art, like movies, music, and paintings.

They refuse to let people critique games, and want them to be “objectively reviewed”, but they don’t want people to only see them as a “mindless diversion” either.

They want to have their cake (games are art), and eat it too (games aren’t serious enough to be critiqued in terms of what they reflect of society at large).

reallyfriendly
reallyfriendly
5 years ago

@Paradoxical Intention

As a continuation of your idea it is exactly a movement like Gamergate that do way more damage to the public image of gamers more than anything they accuse journalism of doing.

It is one thing for journalists to take dubious studies/statistics to say that games cause increased rates in violence that we can easily show to be false.

It is another when a vocal section of your community goes out of its way to harass people out of homes, jobs and their normal lives with a massive amount of easily traceable evidence. This is something that we CANNOT refute and say did not happen.

The actions themselves are horrible and should never been done. If Gamergate wants to whine about how the public has such a negative view of gamers, they should pat themselves on the back (and then spear their foot through a harpoon) for adding to that narrative more than anything else any outsider has ever done.

So, if Gamergate is serious about improving ‘gaming journalism’ and ‘perception of gaming’, they should get their act together, form an actual activism group with clear goals and accountability (a number of their critics has told them they SHOULD do this rather than staying as an amorphous mess. They need to become more like social cause movements! GASP) and ACTIVELY stop the negative acts rather than simply playing lip service.

The very fact that they have done no such thing and instead trend towards mob behaviors and mentalities only further define what they are. I have no illusions that they are going to change their ways or actions and rather wish the movement completely dissolved.

I have read accounts of people who dropped out of game development once Gamergate began lashing out. Understandably these people did not want to fall under their radar and get blasted out of their lives. So Gamergate! Another pat on the back (and harpoon through other foot) for also setting back game development! Not only through trying to protect your ‘sexist’ heritage, but also through actually reducing interest for people to pursue game development!

Honestly their ‘achievements’ deserve a ginormous Darwin Award in the form of the largest and smelliest piece of turd.

justlikeheaven
justlikeheaven
5 years ago

@kirbywarp Thats a great series. I can personally attest that Ian nails down how these people think or at least how I though when I was a Sarkeesian hater(in my defense I was 14).

justlikeheaven
justlikeheaven
5 years ago

“I thought” not “I though” whoops

vaiyt
5 years ago

Sketchy DLC and preorder business practices are one of a very few legitimate problems that Gator and Gator-adjacent people have objected to for a long time

Plenty of gamers have criticised those practices long before GamerGate was a thing.

Belle D (@belledame222)

It’s like Waiting for Guffman on meth.

taitaisanchez
5 years ago

Parasites? Gaming? Free speech? … Voc cord parasites! OF COURSE

Nop
Nop
5 years ago

@kylagb
“Check out Karen Straughan in the photos—seems her talking even puts her to sleep never mind anyone who watches her videos.”
Maybe one of the guys roofied her? It seems like something they’d be into.

mildlymagnificent
mildlymagnificent
5 years ago

Documentaries. Anything by Ken Burns.

A personal favourite is The National Parks: America’s Best Idea, though all of them are pretty good. They don’t nominate for Academy awards or hand out Emmys for no reason at all.

Alan Robertshaw
Alan Robertshaw
5 years ago

I’ll stick this here because it’s vaguely film related

http://www.theguardian.com/film/2015/sep/17/monica-bellucci-james-bond-spectre-bond-woman

scribbles
scribbles
5 years ago

Uh, if Daily KOS is correct, and they define themselves as “left libertarians,” they don’t even know what they’re defining themselves AS. Left libertarians are communists, not teenagers who think South Park Libertarianism is sensible. It’s a bit more complex than that, but essentially left libertarianism, or libertarian socialism, is violently anti-capitalist.

Jesus Christ, these people are so ignorant they don’t even know what the words they’re using mean.

Steven Dutch
Steven Dutch
2 years ago

#7. I totally did not expect those flowers in the background. I guess that’s what they call the “unforeseeable fuchsia.” Ba-dum tsssh. I’ll be going, now.

Pagan Reader - Misandrist Spinster

@Steven dutch
Why do you keep necroing years old threads?