Saturday, November 20, 2021

Learn From Your Stream's Limitations

Even if you’ve never seen one of his movies, you’ve likely heard of Alfred Hitchcock. The legendary ‘master of suspense’ has not only created some of the greatest cinematic works of all time, but his constant pushing of the envelope has helped to move the entire movie industry forward. And with all his innovations in cinematography, conveyance of story, and subversive ideas, it’s likely that at least one of your favorite films can trace its influences directly back to his career. 

Hitchcock could only be so innovative because of the limitations surrounding him, however. Just like how light can’t exist without dark, true greatness can’t exist without limitations. Because it’s only by having boundaries that we’re eventually able to break free of them. Do you feel there’s something holding your streams back? It might be a lack of proper equipment, a feeling that your content doesn’t fit the mold, or insufficient video game skills.  Whatever the worry, what if those very same details were actually what your shows needed all along? In this entry, we’re going to learn from one of the greatest movie directors of all time how to use our limitations to create great things. 


Hitchcock worked within the medium of movies, but he was never content to simply accept the time-tested traditions of the silver screen. Every one of his films displayed an inquisitive, experimental mindset with the camera. His movies are most famous for putting viewers on the edge of their seats, and his use of agonizingly long moments like in Sabotage, or lightning-quick cuts to emphasize the unexpected like in Psycho, exemplify this brilliantly. 

God of War (2018) employed a 'one take'
camera effect, which owes a bit to Hitchcock.

One of his most interesting cinematic achievements was the film Rope, which takes place in ‘real time’ and progresses for its entire runtime while almost never cutting the camera. Modern films like Birdman and 1917 of course pull off this effect even more convincingly, but Rope’s technical hurdles were much more staggering. In 1948, there were no visual effects available to cover up flubs, composite shots together, and generally aid the illusion. There was also the fact that the camera and lights at the time were so massive that in order to move them throughout the room during the film, production assistants were required to
move all the furniture and employ breakaway walls behind the scenes to let the camera pass, and then be prepared everything back exactly how it was whenever the camera moved back to the same room. 

It’s safe to say that Alfred Hitchcock was significantly ahead of his time, always opting to push the envelope and never settling for second-best. So let's consider how that applies to us. When working on a stream, it’s often easy to aim low. Whether we want to be accepted by viewers, a stream team, or just the larger Twitch community, many streamers opt not to rock the boat creatively, staying within the established paradigms. But Hitchcock should prove that, if you care enough about quality, it’s possible to not only change the very foundations of how your content looks and feels, but also be heavily praised for your efforts. 


Hitchcock had a very unique perspective on storytelling as well. Despite the story generally being considered the most important aspect of movies by viewers, he took less interest in actual plotlines than he did in the look and feel of his films. He regularly used the ‘MacGuffin’ plot device, a concept as old as storytelling itself in which the events are focused on an object, which all the characters are trying to either acquire or protect. Examples include the One Ring, The Ark of the Covenant, and The Maltese Falcon. And while Hitchcock often used this in his work, he didn’t think much of it. He said, “The main thing I’ve learned over the years is that the MacGuffin is nothing. I’m convinced of this, but I find it very difficult to prove it to others.” He went on to describe the one he used in North By Northwest (again, a movie of essentially universal acclaim) as “my best MacGuffin, and by that I mean the emptiest, the most nonexistent, and the most absurd.” 

But Hitchcock didn't consider that a bad thing. For him, the actual story in a film was almost inconsequential. When required to cut down his movies, he cared relatively little about the plotline, according to an article from Cinemontage: “For Hitchcock, the bits he was willing to lose were those that illuminated character and plot. Continuity was frequently a secondary concern for the director. Visuals, the interplay of shots, and a picture’s effect on the audience interested him far more than neatly resolved storylines.” It didn’t matter that story is typically considered one of the most important aspects in a film, Hitchcock focused on what was important to him and his creative vision. In Twitch streaming, this same philosophy applies. When you have an understanding of what you want to do, it doesn’t matter if nobody else is doing the same thing. As long as it’s fulfilling your creative vision, the aspects of streaming which are most important on somebody else’s channel don’t need to hold the same weight on yours. 


Arguably one of the largest limitations for Hitchcock in the era when he was making movies was the ever-present threat of censors. The culture at the time had very strict rules for what was and wasn’t allowed to be depicted in a film, and the content of Hitchcock’s films weren’t exactly making it easy for the review boards. Just about every decency rule in the book was broken throughout his career, in order to shock, excite and amaze audiences.

Manhunt for the PS2 was a game that
used its taboo status to its advantage.

In order to allow his films to stay the way he wanted, he would employ pretty ingenious methods to trick the censors. In his earlier days, he would call out the name of a censor while sitting near him in a screening, so the man would turn his head and miss whatever happened in the movie. When the review boards got wise to that strategy, he would intentionally shoot extra footage of completely inappropriate things to include in his movies. The censors would then be so adamant about asking him to take out these scenes that they wouldn’t focus on anything else. Hitchcock would pretend he was compromising, all the while never having intended for those decoy scenes to appear in the final cut in the first place. The wildly controversial scenes he did want to include didn’t seem so bad by comparison, and made it to release. Now, don’t misconstrue this example- I’m not suggesting you find ways to get around the Twitch terms of service. But the sheer creativity in Hitchcock dealing with the limitations of his time often inspires me when working within the constraints of my own stream. If you ever feel like you don’t have the right microphone, a good enough PC, or fast enough internet speeds, consider how Alfred Hitchcock may have approached the same limitations, and put your creativity to work. 


Working within a set of limits can bolster creativity and keep the mind active. It’s easy to wonder what kinds of masterpieces Hitchcock might have made if the various limits of his cinematic era had never been in place, but what I find more interesting is to wonder how those limits may have actually improved his work. Who knows what ideas and techniques he discovered because of the challenges he faced in getting his movies made? Whether fighting against the established norms of technology, storytelling, or censorship, Hitchcock always found a way to get his vision onto movie screens. And if we can learn from the limitations of our Twitch streams, there’s no reason we can’t be just as successful in achieving our own visions. 

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