Monday, June 1, 2015

Why Pitch Perfect Bothers the Hell Out of Me

I’m not particularly afraid of a mob coming to my door, mostly because who has pitch forks anymore?

Also, to say that I go against the popular opinion of this movie being fantastic would be a lie. I did enjoy it. It was entertaining, I liked the songs, that one blonde chick from Zimbabwe or where ever they have accents these days was hilarious. That being said, the movie still ticked me off.


Beca Mitchell (that’s the way the internet is spelling it) embodies every new, young artist who needs the shit beat of them. She has all the typical traits, makes all the basic mistakes, and yet, the moral of the movie isn’t about the flaws in her mentality, but really how she was right all along.

Pitch Perfect is about a college’s all-girl a cappella group that isn’t doing very well. They can’t gain any members, and the leader is stuck in the old ways, following the rules, singing the same old songs. Meanwhile, the main character comes in and gets pressured into joining. She, along with several other misfits, help the team shape up into an award winning group.

Beca’s methods are actually common tactics for someone who hasn’t real experience in the art world. So is the mentality of the head of the group. You’d think, considering the differing opinions of the characters, I would think that a better theme would be the balancing of ideology, because that’s what every artist struggles with: how to balance out tradition and following the rules, yet risk taking and originality. A more affective story would be Beca learning that her success depends on her getting her head out of her ass.

Throughout the film, she has the mentality of pretty much any college age art student, and behaves in the same exact way most entitled amateurs do for the first few years until they realize that its why no one wants to work with them.

1. She doesn’t want to be there.

She doesn’t want to be in college at all, feeling it is a waste of her time. Now, considering I’ve been to college and majored in theatre, I agree with her. College is like a designer dress; it costs a lot, doesn’t make you a better person, and yet it makes you look good. It’s a very expensive label. My recommendation for any artist is to follow the best path for your goals. Sometimes that’s going straight to work writing, singing, acting, whatever. Sometimes, however, there is something to be said for getting out of your box of snobbery (i.e. I’m trying to write like Stephen King, so I don’t need to learn about Hemingway!) and earning a degree can benefit your reputation. Considering the high levels of competition in the art world, having a degree (while the actual knowledge it gave you may be completely useless) will often get you a leg up in a sea of faces.

Also, with the right teacher and peers, there is a possibility you will learn something.

 So, while her hatred of school isn’t completely unfounded, it’s still a good thing to be open-minded.

But more importantly, she doesn’t want to join the a cappella group. In a Chosen One sort of event, the second in charge recognizes the Freshman’s inherent talent and begs her to join, pretty much forcing her too, even though Beca rather shoot herself in the head. She finally agrees because her father makes a deal with her that if she participates for a year, he will let her move to L.A. to start her music career.

In the context of this movie, this is all believable. They’re dying for members and they just don’t have many options. So yeah, when trying to produce something small time, you often do find yourself begging people to take an opportunity that they should be ecstatic for. I’ve done it, and guess what? Those people tend to suck.

Okay, sometimes people will drag their feet in for a lot of reasons—like fear. But whenever you have someone who actually doesn’t want to be there, they will be miserable. They will come right on time, leave right on time, begrudge you every change you want to make, won’t add ideas, and bring the energy down on everyone. Every time you want to use the scheduled time allotted instead of cutting them early, they will bitch. Every time you need to add in extra work, they will bitch. When you suggest something isn’t working, they will bitch. When you ask them to take home work, they won’t. They may be talented, but they will never improve from where they started. They will immediately ditch the project when anything else comes around, and there’s a decent chance they’ll blow it off for no reason at all. They are just pains in the ass, and honestly, I would much prefer to work with someone who is excited to be there and sucks than someone great but wants be anywhere else in the world.

It’s not uncommon for these Becas to say that “it will be different when…” It’ll be different when it’s my project, when I get paid, when it’s important. But this is rarely the case. While I don’t believe artists need to only work for the joy of doing it (money and success are viable goals), there should be some reward from simply doing it, and if you have none, then do something else. In art, you won’t be capable of expressing yourself if you’re begrudging and looking down on the project.

2. She shows up late to the audition.

If we were to take a legal look on this, technically it is an unfair assumption to suggest that someone who shows up late to an audition will be late to their rehearsals, but anecdotally, that is exactly what it means. I’ve been a stage manager for the last six years, an actor several more than that. I’ve never seen someone come in late for auditions and not be tardy for at least two rehearsals.

It could be that something unpredictable occurred, but it’s statistically more likely that they’re late because they’re always late.

In an example of how not giving a shit can cause problems for the rest of the group, Beca doesn’t bother to come in until pretty much everyone else has already participated. Actors who do this—enter late and leave as soon as possible—could be busy, but usually they just don’t care about looking good. The project is either beneath them or they know they’ve got it.

This is how they chose to show themselves when they’re trying to get the job? Imagine how they act when they’re secure.

And while it may possibly be that some freak accident occurred and it’s truly not their fault, it’s highly unlikely. Keep in mind that as an artist you’re dealing with the director’s/publishers’/investors’/customers’ perspective on artists, created by experience with those artists. So, just because you really are the one dependable person, they don’t know that. They just know that your behavior is akin to the 7,000 undependable people they’ve dealt with in the past. Artists are notoriously badly behaved, and you have deal with that bigotry whether it applies to you or not.

3. She comes unprepared.

This will happen to everyone at some point or another, and when it does you just have to prod through. Usually people will understand. But for the most part, you’re not doing yourself any favors. Even if the person hiring you wants to be on your side, there’s not a lot they can do if you aren’t able to provide them with an adequate example of the kind of work you can do. “You want me to take your word that you’re good over the guy who showed me his brilliant designs?” Most people would be stupid for that kind of risk. And if they’re dealing with hundreds of people, they don’t have time to postpone for you.

Secondly, remember how I said most artists are unreliable? They really are. There’s people who will just completely blow you off, even if it means their paycheck. Being unprepared is a huge indication that you’re not going to be reliable or professional, and considering how many unreliable or unprofessional aspiring artists there are, most employers will just write you off.

Whenever submitting, applying, or auditioning for everything, read as much as you can about it, know what is expected, and always have some sort of profile you can fall back on in case of an emergency. Show them you care and are dependable.

4. She focuses on being weird over being capable.

During the audition—in which they were asked to do a Kelly Clarkson song a cappella—Beca comes in unaware that she was supposed to prepare anything. Her “Obi Wan Kenobi” then encourages her to sing any song she wants.

In a scene that astounds and excites the real world audience, Beca goes to the edge of the stage, sits down, dumps out the cup of pencils on the auditioners’ desk, and proceeds to sing “Cups,” using the prop as a base.

It’s supposed to be a demonstration of her ability to think outside the box. It isn’t, unfortunately, a demonstration that she is actual able to do a cappella at all.

She could sing, and that much they could see. And they were desperate, so it ended up not mattering. In reality? This is how you knock yourself out of the running—even if you are talented.

I’ve been a contest judge, a literary journal editor, a teacher, a director, and a stage manager—a person witness to the hiring process several times over. I got to say that these kinds of pieces are typical. They’re hard to judge. Do you give more credit to the person who did something extremely well, put time and effort into it, and had obvious experience, or do you give it to the person with the more “original” concept who may or may not be actually capable of doing it “for real”? And the originality of it can often be questionable.

“Cups” didn’t prove she could sing a cappella, and honestly, without her "Shower Audition," it wasn’t an especially impressive song. Not that difficult to do… practically talking. If she was competing against a lot of people with obvious talent, she would be on the back burner. They don’t know how good she is from that audition; she might as well not have showed up.

Nepotism is big in the arts, primarily because people would rather work with someone mediocre who you know is going to get the job done acceptably than to take the chance on someone who is, statistically, likely to screw you over.

5. She never asks, "Why is no one else doing it this way?"

Sometimes people think they have an original idea, but what they really have is a common idea that fails before the public sees it.

At the end of the movie, spoiler alert, they stop doing the hackneyed, expected song, and do a remix mash up of a bunch of popular songs. Their pop version contrasts with all of the traditional "appropriate" choices by the other teams, and, of course, they win.

This main lesson of the movie is the worst part because in reality you have to work your ass off if you want stuck up, old-as-dirt judges to take anything modern seriously.

If you want to win a contest, you have to think who your judges are. Sometimes you need to do what is right for you even if you know it's not their style, but nothing is worse (and more typical) than a burgeoning artist thinking his controversial choice will win the award for him.

I was this person. I never cared about winning, but I always thought my idea was so epic it would. And in many cases, I did get compliments from judges telling me that mine was their favorite. But I never, ever won. Why? Because I was so focused on my "original" concept that I didn't bother making it any good.

And in many cases, it's not really an epic concept (people love mashing up pre-made songs despite most audience members thinking, "Can I please just hear one full song?"). It just seems epic because those who are trying to win aren't willing to take that risk.

Which isn't to say that you shouldn't try to go against the grain. It's just that you must be realistic. You are doing something people already have a problem with, so you actually need to be way better than if you did what was acceptable and expected.

If having a mash up would win the a cappella competition, people would have already done it. It's not that novel of an idea. In real life, that's the time to say, "Why isn't anyone doing it this way?" and, "How can I solve that problem?"

When you're not the Chosen One, being weird, late, and arrogant tends to hurt you more than make you interesting.