Friday, November 18, 2011

Getting the Details Right

It's easy for me to end up putting a stop to a story project before it's even, officially, begun - because I get bogged down in details. Not just figuring out the details of the setting, the plot, and so on, but trying to find something, anything, to shut up that part of my brain that thinks the antagonists must be omniscient barring sufficient explanation. I like to think that I've come up with progress on that front more recently, but in the past, the way I tended to deal with that was to think more and more about the background in that specific lens, looking for justifications for why the bad guys didn't have the drop on the heroes from second one.

That sort of process breeds a lot of details - some relevant, some not particularly so. One indicator of an author's experience is how well they're able to submerge details of the world beneath the story, iceberg-like; to convey the impression of a world that's much grander, much more complex, than solely that which appears on the page. Getting them correct and consistent in the context of the story can support the suspension of disbelief greatly.

I feel it's even more important in the visual media. There, creators define what the audience sees, and don't always have the luxury of drawing things with broad brushstrokes so that the viewer can fill in the gaps. The fact of the matter is, television and film productions frequently go to great lengths to get the background details correct. This is something that comes up fairly frequently in Vancouver, considering how much stuff is filmed here. Just last night, in fact, Granville Station was partially remade into one of the six 50th Street Stations on the New York City Subway - at least, the signage seemed to be correct. I'm not sure how much a 1980s-era SkyTrain station looks like anything on the New York City Subway today, unless it's set in the future or something.

This being Vancouver, that wasn't even the first film set I'd wandered into this week. A few days ago, Granville Street was shut down between Dunsmuir and Pender for another shoot - this one for the TV series Fairly Legal, in which a part of the street was transformed into San Francisco... a shocking departure from what Vancouver's done in the past, I know. It was small, but done well; it seemed like it could pass for Market Street, with California-plated cars and a big San Francisco advertising pillar, though I don't know if San Francisco gets hit with autumn to the same extent that Vancouver does. It was all pretty cool.

It wasn't until I was reviewing the photos at full size that I noticed a bit where they seemed to have slipped up. Part of the set dressing included the installation of two newspaper boxes - one for the fictional San Francisco Bulletin, and the other for the decidedly non-fictional San Francisco Chronicle. I can't see what's in the Bulletin box, but the Chronicle box has a pretty obvious copy of... USA Today.

Check it out yourself.

It seems like a rather odd choice to make. I mean, they've gone to all the trouble of getting accurate cars, accurate signage, accurate newspaper boxes and advertisements and so on, but this one newspaper is left in there to break the illusion. Twenty years ago it'd have been irrelevant, of course, but with modern high-definition televisions, something like this would be noticed by someone if it appeared on screen.

I suppose I just wonder why they would go to what seems to be great lengths, otherwise, only to leave that USA Today in there.

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