To build any structure, one of the first things is to make sure that you have a solid foundation to build on. Without that foundation, even the most well-engineered buildings will come tumbling down after a short time.
The same can be said for movies and the basics of movie making because no matter how great a premise is, it can be ruined by a lack of basic movie making skills.
And boy is that exactly what happened to 2009’s Partners.
“Partners” is a buddy-cop film from director Peter James Iengo about a generic pair of cops – one straight-laced with the other being more of a loose cannon – as they attempt to take down the drug organization that is infesting Brooklyn. While it is a horribly generic plot, it is at least inoffensive with a couple interesting parts here and there. Where “Partners” really shows its ugly face is in the awful cinematography and its complete lack of even the most basic parts of film-making.
“Partners” started out with a complete crew, and you can tell which few shots were done in those two weeks because of how jarringly better the shots look compared to the rest of the film. With competent lighting, in-focus cameras and shot composition that doesn’t make me want to cover my eyes in disgust, these crew shots are like an ibuprofen for the headache that is “Partners.”
But why did the crew leave? Because the director completely ignored all possible safety regulations and had forgone getting any permits for filming or for firing blanks. The straw that broke the camel’s back was when a blank actually fired from the gun, much like the incident that killed Brandon Lee during the filming of “The Crow,” but, thankfully, did not hit anyone. The police were called, and the crew called it quits, leaving the director with a movie to film but no one to film it.
So, what did he do? He did it all himself, despite not knowing even the first thing about the technical side of making a movie. He ran the cameras, he set up the lighting, he mixed the audio and he edited the final film. He didn’t actually know how to do any of this.
The most noticeable thing that he ruined was not just the shot composition but just the basic use of the camera. He never calibrated the color correction, leading to some truly disgusting colors in the film. He didn’t know how to use the cameras focus or even the auto-focus, leading to most shots being blurry or focusing on some random object in either the foreground or background. He did not take care of the cameras (Tyler Cox, previous columnist for Bad Movie Showcase, and I counted three different cameras, each with their own different problems) so it is possible to create a timeline of filming based on how many dead pixels the cameras had or how much dirt there was on the lenses.
A dead pixel is when there is a spot of either black or white that the camera will always show no matter what else is happening. They are extremely distracting, and this movie is full of them.
The next thing you will notice is how bad the lighting is. For most movies, it requires a meticulous amount of work from lighting specialists to make sure that each shot looks good. In this movie most shots are usually so dark its tough to tell detail or so bright that everything loses color.
He also doesn’t know how to aim a camera correctly or set the zoom before rolling the shot, so the shots will sometimes just randomly zoom mere seconds after cutting to the shot. It happens so often it made me feel a little sick to my stomach.
Another glaring problem with the movie is that it is impossible to tell what is being said in many of the scenes. For some reason, he thought it would be a good idea to have the music louder than his actors talking. He has several scenes that are just supposed to be conversations between characters, but all it becomes is me straining my ears to try and understand what they are saying over the generic rock soundtrack.
The biggest problem with the movie is easily the editing. Even the most incoherent movie can be saved by a good editor (see the original “Star Wars” trilogy). This movie is instead slaughtered in its edit because the editor is the director himself. He can’t take an outside look at the film because he came up with the whole thing. This leads to a movie full of cuts that completely ruin flow, cuts that leave unneeded dead space and cuts that leave you feeling disoriented because of their lack of continuity.
Seriously, in one scene there is a woman sitting in a chair with a man laying on a couch to her right. They cut to a closer shot of her standing, then him standing, then to the same angle as the first shot, but the man comes into the shot from the left of the standing woman. It threw me off so much I needed to rewind the movie and watch it again just to understand what was happening.
The funniest scene in this whole movie that had me in stitches the whole time is the 15-minute long scene where the villain does drugs. It is simultaneously the greatest and worst scene in the whole movie and honestly feels like I’m watching a fever dream or that I’m having a stroke. The whole 15 minutes is covered by this red filter and repeats the same shots over and over again. A man at the table reloads three guns over three times each. It was so long it felt like when you read while tired and end up reading the same page over again multiple times without noticing. It’s a delirious, disorienting mess, and yet, it’s the most redeeming feature in the whole film.
This movie is almost a lesson as to why having a good crew is important for any serious film maker. If the director had just taken the correct precautions and ensured the safety of the crew, this could have been an okay movie, but with him in charge of every role all we are left with is a steaming pile of wasted potential.
I rate movies from -10 to 10, with negatives meaning it’s a bad movie, but I still enjoy it. I have to give this movie a -5 because while the movie is a mess, it’s a mess that I was able to laugh at. Not to mention, I think it has potential to teach people how to make a movie well by showing them exactly what not to do. I really wouldn’t suggest watching it unless you find it for free, and you’ve got a few friends and some alcohol (assuming you’re of age).
This week I want to give a shout out to auto-focus, which saves amateur cameramen and camerawomen from having to jump into the deep end on their first try. While it has its problems, and it can become a crutch that people fall back on, it makes it so that anyone can just pick up a camera and start filming, even without explicit training. Without it, the independent film industry would be much smaller than it is today.
This was originally written for The University of Tennessee’s Daily Beacon and edited by Margot McClellan.