Wednesday, May 8, 2013
How to make a boring wine documentary in 9 easy steps
A while ago I watched Terry Theise's film "Leading Between the Vines," a 58-minute documentary about some of the German wineries whose products he imports. Even at mid-day, I needed three breaks and a triple espresso to make it to the finish.
Theise got a lot of positive attention for his book "Reading Between the Wines," passionate ramblings about his desire to "remystify" wine. I like the wines Theise imports, but was not a fan of the book so it stands to reason that I would find the film difficult.
That said, what I didn't like about the film applies to most wine documentaries. There seems to be a template for wine documentaries, and it's obviously not an effective one because other than "Mondovino" -- which was very different from most -- no wine documentary has ever stayed in the public mind for more than a minute. (In the case of "Wine From Here," that's a shame.)
Here are the steps to make sure that your wine documentary is boring and forgotten like its predecessors:
1) Play insipid soundtrack music
When I started doing a weekly wine podcast for the San Francisco Chronicle, the producer added some banal piano-and-strings crap. I asked why he chose it, and he said because it was the kind of music he'd heard on wine shows on TV.
2) Talk a lot about dirt
A wine PR guy I know likes to say "Nobody ever walked into a wine shop and said, 'I feel like drinking something grown on calcareous soil'." Yes, the dirt under this vineyard is different from the dirt under that nearby vineyard. Fascinating! I'll bet that's going to affect the taste of the wine. I'm so on the edge of my seat.
3) Show lots of beautiful wine country landscapes
So pastoral, so lovely, so ... bor-ing. Seriously: name a popular non-wine film that uses long, loving shots of farm country. Even with great landscapes like Devil's Tower, the great Hollywood directors rarely returned to a shot more than once. But wine documentaries show the same action-less landscapes over and over.
4) Show lots of beautiful closeups of grapes and grapevines
Wow, plants! Those were so effective in the hit film ... go ahead, name one.
5) Use the namby-pamby spiritual language of secular humanists
It's interesting to delve into how Jews use wine for their religious ceremonies (and how the kosher wine industry uses them), or how Muslims can work in vineyards even if they can't drink wine. But if you're not going to talk about religion, please leave out the spirituality. Talking about your mystical experience when you don't have a specific religion is a lot like describing your own orgasm, and may actually be the same thing. The earth moved! How nice for you.
6) Don't interview your subjects about anything but wine
Let's say you're in Napa Valley and you're doing a documentary about winery owners who might include former ambassadors, tech innovators, university professors, or just heirs to family fortunes. Don't ask them about any of that stuff. Ask them if they leave any stones unturned in their quest to create the finest Cabernet.
7) Don't show us any food porn
For God's sake, keep away from sensual images of cassoulet or rib roast or grilled snapper being prepared. Instead, to show that wine goes with food, show us winemakers drinking wine and laughing at a table covered with mostly empty plates. Empty plates are the foundation of The Food Network's success, right?
8) Don't talk about business, except to complain that it exists
Commerce is evil. People aren't interested in evil. That's why there aren't any bad guys in hit movies.
9) Don't mention any prices
Because nobody who buys wine ever looks at the price.
Posted by W. Blake Gray at 6:00 AM