Archive for Definitions

Stephen Sommers, director of such “extraordinary” films as The Mummy and The Mummy Returns, is known for needing a superfluous amount of special effects in his endeavors.

Don’t take our word for it: Crew at Industrial Light & Magic have conceived the Stephen Sommers Scale based on his demand for high-end, CGI-heavy special effects.

Now special effects serve many purposes of which many people are unaware. A boot that falls off of a car after being kicked several times is a special effect. A newspaper flying in from off-screen to hit an actor in the face is a special effect. Chroma-keying a green screen from behind a scene in order to put in a false background is a special effect. Golem was a special effect.

But Stephen Sommers relies primarily on Computer Generated Images for the majority of his special effects. So much so that ILM devised this scale to rate how much work their computers will be put through depending on what the director needs.

Without further adieu, here is the scale that they defined:

Level 1 – What the shot needs (lowest)
Level 2 – What the computers can handle
Level 3 – Oh my God, the computers are about to crash
Level 4 – What Steven wants (highest)

Learn them, because we’ll be referring to them from now on. Hope you enjoyed the read.


MonkeyCam Definition

MonkeyCam (mngk-km)

pl. mon·key·cams

  1. A video or cinematographic technique involving strapping a camera on the back of a monkey and allowing it to run around the studio or set. Originally a fixture on Saturday Night Live’s Waynes World skits.

  2. Slang A video or cinematographic technique that simulates strapping a camera on the back of a monkey and allowing it to run around a studio or set. Usually a combination of handheld camera technique and tracking questionably bereft of steadicam devices or image stabilization.


Origin unknown

Matrix Bloat

Like the phrase “jumping the shark“* or our own “monkeycam” it is helpful from time to time to have descriptive phrases within an industry that can be used to express a complicated idea in simple, concise language.

I will begin with a simple premise; some movies were meant to be single works of art, rather than parts of an overlong and poorly organized series.  For example, the original Matrix was written as a single story and was self-contained and cohesive. When that story was expanded beyond its original breadth it lost much of the focus and clarity that typified the original. Thus the following two movies felt like add-ons to the original, like artificial limbs grafted onto a well-formed original.

The same problem occurred with the Saw series. While the first of the series was arguably original in design and structure, the following three films were attempts to recapture, unsuccesfully, the originality of the first.  By contrast, some movies are created from a story that is too complex to be told in a simple two-hour film. Star Wars Episodes IV through VI are excellent examples. Each movie is a self-contained unit, but the sum of the whole of all three is greater than the sum of the parts that make up the films.

Sometimes, more is too much, and a little of a good thing is worth more than a lot. When the greed of a studio overwhelms this judgement and profitability reigns supreme, it is the art of film that suffers.


*”Jumping the shark” is a term used in the television industry to describe what occurs when a television series tries to continue to maintain audience interest beyond the point of natural attrition. It is derived from the television show Happy Days. During the last, flagging season of the show, the producers tried to re-interest viewers by creating an episode with Fonzie “jumping a shark” while waterskiing. Despite this desperate attempt to create interest, the show was cancelled. And thus a new descriptive term was created. . .