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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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anon
anon
5 years ago

@Periwinkle

Kevin Bacon.

That evil bastard has 6 degrees of separation with everyone on earth.

He IS the illuminutty.

kiki
kiki
5 years ago

Anita asks for a few thousand to make videos that would then be distributed for free, raises more money than she asked for and thus is making more content than she was asked for – The Worst Person In The World

This pair of buffoons protest Anita doing so by demanding huge sums, demanding more huge sums, taking forever to produce anything, and then charging 8 dollars for the end product – Heroes Of Journalistic Ethics

I have a similar thought when I hear Owen go off on one of his asinine glibertarian rants about ‘producers’ and ‘moochers’.

Woman who makes videos about game criticism: WORTHLESS SOCIAL PARASITE

Man who makes videos about woman who makes videos about game criticism: INDISPENSIBLE RANDIAN DEMIGOD

Periwinkle
Periwinkle
5 years ago

@anon
Usually you play the Kevin Bacon game with other actors. If you know your movies, you find few degrees of separation between him and people who make movies, or at least the people who make competent movies.

While Anita Sarkeesian’s own videos don’t usually feature other people, I suspect that her own Bacon Number may still turn out to be lower than either Jordan Owen’s or Davis Aurini’s, because competent movie people probably don’t hang out with them. That would make Kevin Bacon part of the conspiracy to keep Owen and Aurini from their rightful appearance on The Daily Show, and grant him a place on the corkboard.

What do the Illuminutty do? Are they trying to control us through subliminal messages in freshly opened jars of peanut butter, and only being thwarted because the Millard Filmore Society and the Society for Creative Anachronism have been spreading nut allergies via fluoridate in the coffee pipes?

maghavan
maghavan
5 years ago

Not too down with the sex-work shaming or body-shaming in a few of your points.

A womans opinion is not worth less just because she is a porn star or shows cleavage.

I’m wondering if maybe you let your own prejudice show. I hope not. I generally like this blog, but this seems a bit heavy on the slut shaming.

AnAndrejaPejicBlog (@A_Pejic_Blog)

You missed Paul Elam’s cleavage, then?

Scented Fucking Hard Chairs
Scented Fucking Hard Chairs
5 years ago

@maghavan

I think he was more pointing out what it says about #GG’s opinions on women and how much it proves Anita’s point that gaming culture is way too sexualised, if even a noncumentary like this needs its female interviewees to be in tight clothes above the words “PORN STAR” in order for the creators and target audience to listen to them even when they’re saying exactly what said creators/audience want to hear. Could have been better emphasised, though, but I’ll chalk that up to being worn out by the marathon of boring shit.

kupo
kupo
5 years ago

Adding to the list of actually good documentaries: Sound and Fury

maghavan
maghavan
5 years ago

@A_Pejic_Blog

I thought I was in the kind of company that already knew “They did it to a dude too” doesn’t make something less problematic. Deal with the issue at hand.

@Scented Fucking Hard Chairs

I could understand that but it wasn’t said or even strong implied. Futrelle has a lot of cred and gets the benefit of the doubt, but my prima facie response was that it looks like a way of just dismissing them.

The arguments of these women failed on the merits. The fact that they were sex workers doesn’t have anything to do with it and was extraneous to the issue …. as was how they dressed.

kirbywarp
kirbywarp
5 years ago

@maghavan:

I definitely could be wrong, but it looked like David was bringing up cleavage as a criticism of the people who framed the shot, not the people who were in the shot. Being a porn star in a documentary doesn’t really matter, but being a documentary maker that decides to interview porn stars when they demonstrably don’t actually know much about the topic does.

I will say that I do recognize something a bit off about using the existance of cleavage as a flag that someone isn’t doing their job properly, but still… this is the same Jordan Owen who was talking about his favorite strippers in one of his earlier videos. I think it’s clear why he made the decisions he made.

Katherine XII
Katherine XII
5 years ago

@maghavan

Yeah, got to agree with you here. This writeup was pretty sloppy in places, and something felt really off about the bit discussing sex workers in particular.

I reckon the piece as a whole could use some quick touching up. That section needs to either be cut, or reworded so that it’s more about Owen/Aurini’s warped perspective on women (and less of a throwaway: “hey, look, sex workers” which rightly sets off a few internal alarms even with the parenthetical “nothing wrong with that” aside tacked onto the end).

Catalpa
Catalpa
5 years ago

RE: the sex workers of the documentary

I agree that David could have been a bit more clear about what he took exception to in regards to the only women of this documentary all being connected to the sex trade. It could definitely be read as disparaging them for their work, despite the disclaimer tacked onto the end. (I don’t believe this was David’s intent, but if this had been written by someone I was less familiar with, I would assume that was their point.)

Out of curiosity, how do we know they are/were all involved in the sex were the sex trade to some extent? Was it made explicit in the documentary? Did they all have labels under them reading “prostitute”, etc? If the dudes in the documentary weren’t labeled with their profession as well (or if they instead got to be labeled with relevant traits, like “video game enthusiast”), then I could see the critique.

ikanreed
ikanreed
5 years ago

@maghavan

The point isn’t that sex workers are worthless, it’s that they’re really not subject matter experts here, and are the ONLY women interviewed.

There’s no respect for the notion that women have a use besides sex.

kirbywarp
kirbywarp
5 years ago

The caption was pretty tasteless at best… I’d agree that that particular section should be reworked or removed.

brooked
brooked
5 years ago

I definitely could be wrong, but it looked like David was bringing up cleavage as a criticism of the people who framed the shot, not the people who were in the shot.

Considering that only one interviewee shown above isn’t filmed from the waist up, I’d say David is making a valid point.

I was going to ask if the movie ever takes the viewer “inside the world of social justice warriors”, but I’m guessing that doesn’t happen.

rick
rick
5 years ago

According to his twitter, Aurini claims he’s going to release another film with the same footage, but under a different title in a few weeks. So, the white nationalist version (on paper) is coming soon. You know, just that… a white nationalist version of this documentary… this actually will get worse and stupider.

David N-T
David N-T
5 years ago

The non-mention of Hearts and Minds in recommended documentaries saddens me beyond words.

Scented Fucking Hard Chairs
Scented Fucking Hard Chairs
5 years ago

Did they all have labels under them reading “prostitute”, etc? If the dudes in the documentary weren’t labeled with their profession as well (or if they instead got to be labeled with relevant traits, like “video game enthusiast”), then I could see the critique.

From what I remember of the preview (well, a Twitter liveblog of the preview, because hell to the fuck no I’m not watching that tripe myself), that’s exactly how it was. Men got relevant titles, women got “PORN STAR.”

Color Me Unsurprised
Color Me Unsurprised
5 years ago

“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.”

Really? Communists are in power in the United States? Does this man even live on the same planet as the rest of us? So I guess not being actively discriminated against equals being “in power”? What fucking moron.

Color Me Unsurprised
Color Me Unsurprised
5 years ago

By the way, I vaguely remember reading in one of David’s posts that Jordan Owen went to some college for music degree. Is that true?

davidknewton
davidknewton
5 years ago

Not just some college – the Berklee College of Music (down the road from where I’m currently sitting), where Dream Theater got their start! (Overall I think they pursued the better path in life.)

banned@4chan.org
banned@4chan.org
5 years ago

Classy gents include tastefully cropped pictures of Virtruvian Man!

davidknewton
davidknewton
5 years ago

Further notes: according to Jordan, he took out the “tracking down Anita’s address” part because it didn’t go anywhere, making that part in the preview either a colossally dishonest bait and switch or a rare moment of clarity in seeing something worth throwing out (I wonder if it was Aurini’s idea.)

Last night, some Gamergate-type person who’s pestered Jordan before announced he was going to stream the film through his channel tonight, citing fair use and that it was a legally purchased copy – the grasp of ethics of this lot is unbelievable, isn’t it? Jordan rightly didn’t take too kindly to this, but the conversation stopped just as it was getting interesting.

It’s worth reminding people that the framing of the pictures (including stray hands, shoes and people talking while apparently staring off at a wall) is like that because the original footage was shot with the interviewer in the frame and had to be hastily cropped when people told them how terrible it looked.

I’m delighted that an Aurini version is on the way, I truly can’t wait.

Jorji Costava
Jorji Costava
5 years ago

RE: Ayn Rand

There’s a philosophy blogger named Brian Leiter who posted a poll (available through this URL: http://leiterreports.typepad.com/blog/2009/03/now-heres-a-tough-poll-to-answer.html) with the subject “Which person do you most wish the media would stop referring to as a philosopher?” The choices were Ayn Rand, Leo Strauss and Jacques Derrida. Rand won in a landslide, garnering 75% of the vote. It may have had something to do with the fact that she says things like, “All organic life possesses to some degree the concept of virtue which is the very act by which it is able to live.” That is word salad.

RE: Great documentaries

Apologies if this has already been mentioned, but I think we would be remiss if we didn’t mention films of Errol Morris here (especially The Thin Blue Line and The Fog of War). Also, Spike Lee did a wonderful four-part series on HBO called When the Levees Broke, on Hurricane Katrina and the disgraceful response by the federal government.

Color Me Unsurprised
Color Me Unsurprised
5 years ago

@davidknewton

Well, Tubboy sure squandered that potential didn’t he? Agreed Dream Theater, I love Metropolis pt. 2. One of their songs, Home, features on History of Trunks for you DBZ fans out there.

Color Me Unsurprised
Color Me Unsurprised
5 years ago

*On

AnAndrejaPejicBlog (@A_Pejic_Blog)

Off topic:

So, was it known before that Joshua Goldberg* was the “mastermind” behind The Philosophy of Rape, or is that something that just came out?

*Whom I have seen referred to as Keyser Tröllse and ‘the Forrest Gump of trolls’.

Newt
Newt
5 years ago

he took out the “tracking down Anita’s address” part because it didn’t go anywhere

So how does he explain the 2h36 that *did* make the final cut?

This means that somewhere, he has an uninterrupted dashcam recording of the entire drive to the post office, accompanied by a monologue that’s frequently drowned out by car noises. DVD extras for the loyal backers, no doubt.

Mike
Mike
5 years ago

I was going to ask if the movie ever takes the viewer “inside the world of social justice warriors”, but I’m guessing that doesn’t happen.

The Sarkeesian Effect: Inside the Living Rooms of People Who Dislike Social Justice Warriors

Policy of Madness
Policy of Madness
5 years ago

WRT the women connected with the sex industry, I took away from it that this was just an observation David made: that the majority of the women were, with no explained reason, mainly sex workers or adjacent despite that having no connection with the film’s ostensible subject.

I agree it could be worded better, but it is something that would stick out, like if Jiro Dreams of Sushi had featured three shock jocks talking about that one time they ate sushi.

The “not that there’s anything wrong with that” disclaimer seems out of place, given that it is so often used by people who do think there’s something wrong with that and are implying as much, but want to be insulated from criticism.

History Nerd
5 years ago

Does anyone know if Jordan actually completed a degree at Berklee College of Music?

davidknewton
davidknewton
5 years ago

Newt: I now have a terrible image of the Kickstarter extended reward being a film of the entire film being made in real-time. Coming soon on only 6,457 DVDs!

Newt
Newt
5 years ago

So, was it known before that Joshua Goldberg* was the “mastermind” behind The Philosophy of Rape, or is that something that just came out?

It came up in the latest “Open Thread for non-personal stuff”:

https://wehuntedthemammoth.com/2015/09/11/open-thread-for-non-personal-stuff-sept-2015-amazing-cat-box-edition/comment-page-1/#comment-807568

Policy of Madness
Policy of Madness
5 years ago

Coming soon on only 6,457 DVDs!

Provided free, of course, to backers, except for a very small S&H charge, strictly to cover postage and the cost of the DVDs, of $10,000 per copy.

mockingbird
mockingbird
5 years ago

@ShakeB – Wow, I completely skipped over that bit. I just saw the article, skimmed it, and thought the associated links would be interesting (or at least funny).

What a hack job on the part of the summary writer.
comment image

maghavan
maghavan
5 years ago

The Sarkeesian Effect: Inside the Living Rooms of People Who Dislike Social Justice Warriors

The Sarkeesian Effect: Inside the Living Rooms & Bathtubs of People Who Dislike Social Justice Warriors

kirbywarp
kirbywarp
5 years ago

@David:

The cleavage bit was mainly intended as an excuse to post that pic of Elam.

It does seem to come across the opposite way, though, now that maghavan’s brought it up… as if you were using the pic of Elam to justify/excuse the cleavage joke.

Katherine XII
Katherine XII
5 years ago

@David Futrelle

Hurrah for fiddling!

ReallyFriendly
ReallyFriendly
5 years ago

In regards to Mercedes Carrera being in the film… her presence makes sense! Hear me out people 8p

Mercedes Carrera is one of Gamergate’s most useful PR personnel that serves multiple purposes –

1. They like using her to speak out against their critics. In the bizarre understanding of Gators, any criticism that people have about her statements and arguments is then viewed as being ‘sexist’. She is a master of the sea-lioning technique so it helps to justify the Gators’ frustration especially if the person debating/interviewing her gets (understandably) wounded up. I’m not the least surprised that she shows up as she is one of their spokespeople even though her expertise is incredibly dubious in regards to ‘journalistic ethics in gaming’ or Anita Sarkeesian.

2. She is ‘proof’ that Gamergate is not sexist (which of course is flat out wrong). She is the living version of #notyourshield because she represents a minority who is discriminated against that is more than willing to speak up on their behalf.

3. She dresses like this pretty much for all her public appearances so I do doubt if this is due to Jordan or Aurini. They may have taken advantage of the angle to highlight her physical qualities but that is speculation. I do agree with some of commentators that the remark could be modified to clarify the context – she is used as a PR trap more than anything and we should steer clear of that.

In my personal opinion, I doubt that she genuinely cares about Gamergate or its ’cause’. Like Milo and CHS, I think she is using this movement to be her own PR machine (she was unheard of till she came out as pro-GG) which of course makes her even more despicable if true. She most probably understands the demographic of GG better than any of us 8p.

She is also one of the best counter-points to #notyourshield ironically since they do literally use her to deflect criticism of Gamergate.

reallyfriendly
reallyfriendly
5 years ago

Ninja’d by OP! Good fiddling BTW David.

Color Me Unsurprised
Color Me Unsurprised
5 years ago

@History Nerd

I did some digging and I found his LinkedIn page: https://www.linkedin.com/pub/jordan-owen/20/649/8b8
It says he attended from 02 to 06.
Apparently, according to a Berklee Atlanta Alumni website he was in a band called Incarceri 9.
https://www.berklee.edu/bt/211/atl.html
In a youtube video from 2011 he reveals he got kicked out. It’s on his channel.

Color Me Unsurprised
Color Me Unsurprised
5 years ago

Edit: kicked out from Incarceri 9 that is.

Catalpa
Catalpa
5 years ago

The post is much clearer now, thanks David.

kylagb
5 years ago

I took the reference to sex workers and porn stars to be more of a reflection on Owen rather than a stab at the morals of people working in the sex industry–eg. that Owen might have them in his ‘documentary’ to attract some male viewers (to get least SOME people to sit through the full thing in all it’s unedited and idiotic glory). Thanks for the clarification as well. At least we can all be assured we aren’t witnessing the budding of the next Errol Morris or similar documentarians. 🙂

kylagb
5 years ago

And I would like some scientific proof that Elam actually blinks. In every photo I see of him, his eyes are popping out of his head.

deniseeliza
deniseeliza
5 years ago

The edits re: sex workers makes the piece much better now David, thanks!

kylagb
5 years ago

“the unending fountain of rage from which we draw strength.”—And when did having an unending fountain of rage become something to brag about? Mature people don’t operate and go about their daily lives from the view of unending fountains of rage.