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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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Mike
Mike
6 years ago

Owen and Aurini invested so much of themselves in the belief that Sarkeesian was just throwing together the videos and rolling in the piles of leftover money that they appear to have tried doing the same themselves and using the universal, intuitive know-how of their manhood to cut more corners that they thought Sarkeesian was, leaving them even more money to roll around in!

I think that regardless of how much money they were trying to skim off the top of this project, they probably did genuinely believe that whatever Sarkeesian and McIntosh could do, they could do better (and without trying too hard, even). As many have noted, this project has really helped to highlight just how well-made Sarkeesian’s videos are.

Anyway, I’m gonna join in in recommending documentaries that are actually worth one’s time and money; here’re ten:

– Mr. Death (touches on issues of ideology, history, memory, and a bunch of other things – one of my favorite movies ever)
– Paris is Burning (classic document of queer subcultures in 1980s NYC)
– The Act of Killing (a really devastating, disturbing, important film)
– Jesus Camp (an emotional peek into an evangelical summer camp)
– Lake of Fire (a problematic but very compelling look at abortion in America)
– Nostalgia for the Light (a poetic look at the legacy of dictatorship)
– The Missing Picture (also a poetic look at the legacy of dictatorship, but very different)
– Collapse (lonely, powerful soliloquy on the dangers of climate change)
– Grizzly Man (man, nature, and videotape)
– Level Five (totally unique and beautiful fiction/documentary hybrid – and hey, it’s about video games!)

anon
anon
6 years ago

The Sarkeesian Effect 2: Chronicle of the Missing Skulls.
Professor Skull and The Unending Fountain of Rage: The Sarkeesian Effect Prequel.

Come on, I can’t be the only one coming up with them.

anon
anon
6 years ago

The Money Pit: Featuring Tub Boy and Professor Skull: The Sarkeesian Effect Prequel 2

Shaenon
6 years ago

Owen and Aurini invested so much of themselves in the belief that Sarkeesian was just throwing together the videos and rolling in the piles of leftover money that they appear to have tried doing the same themselves and using the universal, intuitive know-how of their manhood to cut more corners that they thought Sarkeesian was, leaving them even more money to roll around in!

See also this year’s Hugo Award nominees. “Stupid women and gays and black people write science fiction. How hard can it be?”

Shaenon
6 years ago

I was looking forward to watching both of these absurd attempts at documentary filmmaking, but yeesh, two and a half hours. Question: do they show the “two sides” to this story by talking to anyone they don’t agree with?

Also, how weird is it that the hate for Tropes vs. Women has snowballed to this degree? It’s real Feminism 101 stuff. Feminists would like fewer games where you beat up hookers: shocking.

ljy2008
6 years ago

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

Oh, I love it when they try to sound intellectual.

What the hell does that even mean? I live because of virtue? No I live because my parents had sex and they fed me and clothed me until I was old enough to do it myself.

…incidentally, is it a proven fact that all organic life possesses virtue? Virtue is a human concept, and we are the only ‘organic life’ that has it because we created it!

Anyway, I’m giving it far too much credit by event trying to understand it.

Shaenon
6 years ago

I’m a huge documentary nut. I could totally post an A-Z list of documentaries I love, except I don’t have an N because I haven’t seen Nostalgia for the Light yet.

History Nerd
History Nerd
6 years ago

I believe the only reasons they interviewed Wardell were that he’s a conservative politically and there were allegedly false sexual harassment allegations made against him. Doing a little research, though, the accuser did apologize for filing the lawsuit as part of a settlement agreement so Wardell would drop his obviously-not-retaliation lawsuit against her. It’s interesting that the accuser doesn’t ever claim that the accusations were false, just that she apologizes for filing the lawsuit against Wardell and Stardock.

Of course, a likely explanation for this is that going through with prosecuting a sexual harassment or other discrimination lawsuit can have negative consequences. Apart from financial issues, if you end up losing the case then people will think of you as a litigious employee even if the claims you made are true. So the accuser definitely had pressure to settle the lawsuit, even if we assume the lawsuit against her has merits for sake of argument.

So it looks a lot like Wardell is a sleazy sexually harassing asshole even if he technically hasn’t been found legally responsible for anything.

http://kotaku.com/5940401/pc-gaming-studio-said-she-ruined-their-game-but-only-after-she-sued-the-boss-for-sexual-harassment

Tessa
Tessa
6 years ago

*sigh*

What I really want to know is if they made accusations about her ripping off her donators?

And it’s weird how often they used violent descriptions of the people being harassed. Calling them “malicious thugs” and such. So to them critiques are attacks from thugs, but actual death threats and threats of violence should be ignored.

EJ (The Other One)
EJ (The Other One)
6 years ago

And it’s weird how often they used violent descriptions of the people being harassed. Calling them “malicious thugs” and such. So to them critiques are attacks from thugs, but actual death threats and threats of violence should be ignored.

Atwood’s famous saying proves its relevance once again: women are afraid that men will kill them, men are afraid that women will laugh at them.

YoullNeverGuess
6 years ago

I think the virtue thing was saying that all life forms see the things that help them survive as good, and threats to their survival as bad. So dogs see baths and intruders as evil, and chewing on sticks as virtuous.

Or something like that. I dunno.

katz
katz
6 years ago

Which still makes no sense, because paramecia don’t see anything as good or bad, because they don’t have brains.

brian
brian
6 years ago

Does anyone have a figure on how much money theoretically went into the creation of this “documentary”?

brian
brian
6 years ago

And i realize immediately after posting that I didn’t say that as clearly as I’d have liked:
Does anyone know how much money Owen & Aurini raised, ostensibly to fund the creation of the film?

Catalpa
Catalpa
6 years ago

@Doug

Huh, so Owen is planning on giving the backers their free copy (assuming he can work out how to send it). I’m kind of impressed, but mainly because my expectations couldn’t really be any lower for these gits.

That said, generally people who pay in advance for things appreciate being the first ones to actually GET said things. I know it would make financial sense, of a sort, to sell the first shipment of an in-demand item (snerk) to people who haven’t yet given you their money. But the expectation of preordering something is that you would receive it the moment it becomes available, possibly with snazzy extras included to reward your trust. Making the backers wait behind people who didn;t support the project in the early stages tends to engender bad feelings.

Though, with how unbelievably gullible these saps have been with regards to this entire project, this probably won’t bite Owen in the ass, or at least not as much as it should. He could probably take all heat off of himself by blaming the delays on the evils of feminism/women/the devil- I mean, Anita Sarkeesian, herself.

ianrennie
ianrennie
6 years ago

so let’s get this straight:

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

Is that pretty much accurate?

Nequam
Nequam
6 years ago

@ShakeB: “White slavery” is a rather archaic term for forced prostitution. I’m not sure if “white” here is racial (though it very probably is) or if it’s seen as a lesser form of chattel slavery (the way a “white lie” is seen as a lesser form of a lie)– though the implications of the latter are hardly wonderful either.

Scented Fucking Hard Chairs
Scented Fucking Hard Chairs
6 years ago

I don’t mean to get onto anyone but I thought we were against dehumanizing people? I understand the anger and disgust of people like them though, I am too.

Well, just saying that they’re garbage isn’t dehumanising – adjective form of the word, not noun, so it’s like calling them shitty or assholish – but yeah, David’s bit kind of was and I noticed that too.

Michael Lindsay
6 years ago

Wasn’t Jim Goad a guy who’s earlier project was a zine called Answer Me which gained notoriety for praising serial killers as heroes and celebrating rape? Went to jail for beating up his wife I believe.

And this has what to do with Sarkeesian’s documentary series again?

Scented Fucking Hard Chairs
Scented Fucking Hard Chairs
6 years ago

@Michael

My first reaction was that having him on board is supposed to be an implicit threat of violence against Anita… But honestly, I think I’m giving these idiots way too much credit*. It’s probably just “He agrees with us, throw him in there too! Hey, has anybody asked the kitchen sink for its opinion yet?”

*You know it’s bad when “Rape threat” is too much credit.

Scented Fucking Hard Chairs
Scented Fucking Hard Chairs
6 years ago

Also, for the benefit of anybody else who hadn’t heard of Jim Goad before reading David’s post, I might as well summarise what I found from wasting a solid hour that I’ll never get back reading his so-called “Work” directly afterwards:

“Far-right racist” isn’t going far enough. The man is a neo-Nazi and MRA (but I repeat myself) in all but admission who’s sharted out thousand-word hate-screeds against every oppressed group on the planet. He can’t take criticism any harsher than “You are God incarnate” at all, immediately hiding behind the old standbys of “SATIRE!!!,” “FREEZE PEACH!!!” and “I’m not a Republican, but…” (despite never writing a single word against them and many, many, many words for them). He’s more pro-rape than Roosh and pro-murder than Cernovich; he worships serial killers and praises eugenics. After spending time in jail for domestic abuse, he earned his riches releasing an autobiography about just how unfair it was to be imprisoned for something so minor when there are [racist slurs] still walking free on the streets, and doesn’t that just prove how biased the system is against cishet white men, you guys? Those [sexist slurs], [racist slurs], [homophobic slurs] and [transphobic slurs] will never know his hardship! *sheds a male tear*

Oh, but it’s all SATIRE!!! Why don’t you PC [homophobic slurs] understand SATIRE!!!

… Actually, after writing that out, I can see exactly why he was included. He’s the same as every other high-profile #Gater.

Periwinkle
Periwinkle
6 years ago

The promotional image on the Vimeo site is a corkboard with photographs connected by string. It’s the sort of diagram you’d expect a tinfoil-hat-wearing conspiracy theorist to use in explaining how JFK shot John Wilkes Booth to conceal how the pyramids were build by chemtrails. The movie (title sequence?) includes a flyover view, judging by @betsyinferno’s tweets and vines.

So, question for anyone who has seen the whole thing: who else is on the diagram? What is the shortest path between Saul Alinsky and Anita Sarkeesian? Is David Futrelle himself on it somewhere? If he isn’t, we need to lift our game; after all, Jordan Owen has previously responded to him by name.

Or is everything else on the corkboard just scary-looking newspaper clippings and silhouettes? I think there was a storyboard on Jordan Owen’s twitter that labelled the person working the camera as Jonathon McIntosh, but even if the artist had managed to represent him, it’s not like he’s a recognisable figure. (As others have pointed out, it’s yet more misogyny on their part that they think Anita Sarkeesian cannot have agency of her own, and some man somewhere must be pulling her strings.)

Moggie
Moggie
6 years ago

Mike:

Mr. Death (touches on issues of ideology, history, memory, and a bunch of other things – one of my favorite movies ever)

I don’t watch a lot of documentaries, but I was blown away by Mr Death. It’s an incredible piece of work.

kylagb
6 years ago

With regards to Mr. Death, it’s an amazing doc. Anything by Errol Morris is worth watching.

guest
guest
6 years ago

Re documentaries, let me get a plug in here for Adam Curtis.

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