“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.
4) Make sure your interview subjects expose as much of their cleavage as possible.
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!
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.
And if you’re afraid people might not notice your hands in the shot, wiggle them around a little.
— Callum Smith (@betsyinferno) September 14, 2015
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.
— Callum Smith (@betsyinferno) September 14, 2015
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.
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.