The Top Eight Things FrackNation Did Right
As a documentary filmmaker since the mid-90s, I will say without hesitation that FrackNation is one of the best documentary films to ever come from conservative circles. As good as “2016” was, FrackNation is better. As I’m down with the flu right now, going stir crazy around the house, and as I’m always looking for things to write that larger conservative sites can’t poach, I thought I’d pen my first-ever movie review, in a form that I’m truly coming to love – THE LIST! I mean, who doesn’t like lists, right?
Oh, shut the hell up. That was a rhetorical question.
Conservative filmmakers need to study how Phelim McAleer, Ann McElhinney, and Magdalena Segieda were able to craft such an excellent film (one that attracted the attention of Mark Cuban, and one that received – gasp – a positive review in The New York Times). So here, for your perusal, are my top eight things that FrackNation did right.
1) The Money’s On the Screen: The film LOOKS beautiful. With wide, panoramic and aerial shots, the film screams to audiences “this is an actual movie, not something made with a shaky-cam and free editing software.” It looks absolutely beautiful. The filmmakers can frame a shot, to be sure. Conservative filmmakers need to remember that stuff like this is as important as making your political point. Learn how to make it look good!
2) The On-Camera Personality: McAleer creates an on-camera persona that is truly likeable. Not smug or snarky – not Michael Moore with an Irish accent – McAleer comes across as bemused and curious. I’d find it difficult for audiences not to end up liking him. He also knows when to be in the shot, and when to stay out – a most valuable lesson for all would-be on-camera documentary personalities.
3) No Fat: I cannot watch any documentary film without thinking, “what would I cut?” Because there’s always fat. Even the best docs have a little fat. Yet I realized that by the end of FrackNation, I had not noticed a single thing I’d cut. And that’s damn impressive. It’s tight, no scene drags on too long, and no scene ends prematurely.
4) The Score: Many documentary filmmakers agonize over the score, as in, should we have one? If so, should it punctuate every dramatic moment like Snidely Whiplash yelling “Dun-Dun-DUUUUUUNNNN!” into the camera? Should we pick up some cheap stock music from a clearinghouse? Or should we go all vérité and exclude a score entirely? Well, the makers of FrackNation solved this problem in the best possible way, by going to true professionals (Boris Zelkin and Deeji Mincey) to compose a score that fits the movie perfectly. Neither intrusive nor absent, it’s a huge addition to the film’s overall quality (as is a great closing song by The Army You Have).
5) Of Interest Beyond the Circle: These are the kinds of docs we need – ones that provoke interest beyond our circle of conservative bloggers and personalities. The fracking issue is one of great importance, both here and abroad (as the filmmakers ably show). The left got themselves into this mess, by making “fracking” an oft-used term in the media (yes, sadly, when Matt Damon talks about something, folks assume it must be important. I wish it weren’t so, but it is). FrackNation presents the issue in a way that is not off-putting to non-conservatives.
6) No Self-Indulgence or Tangents: Documentary filmmakers often hijack their own films in order to include self-indulgent tangents that are somewhat or completely off-topic. McAleer stays on-topic with a laser-focus that is admirable. Young filmmakers, take note. This is a much more important thing than you might think. Inserting footage of yourself breakdancing or performing in a humorous vignette might seem amazingly funny on-set. It will be funny primarily to you and your friends. Learn to control those desires.
7) Research: The filmmakers did their research, and it shows. I learned a hell of a lot. I actually feel like I know the issue quite well now. Documentary audiences like to leave the theater feeling informed. The temptation is always to regurgitate to a friendly crowd stuff they already know. Good docs don’t do that.
8) Good Use of Protagonist and Antagonist: This is a subtle but important point in many politically-themed docs. If you’re going to have an on-screen protagonist (in this case, McAleer), it helps to have an antagonist who is as loathsome as the protagonist is likeable. The FrackNation filmmakers make great use of the protagonist/antagonist conflict. From the absolutely corrupt filmmaker who created the Oscar-nominated “Gasland” (an anti-fracking film), to the almost certainly corrupt husband and wife who stand to make a lot of dough if they can just convince someone that their clean water is dirty, to the possibly corrupt local politician (I actually think she’s more dumb than corrupt) who cannot answer simple questions about conflict-of-interest, the filmmakers allow the antagonists to bury themselves with their own words. And McAleer is excellent at not stepping over their dialogue. He knows to let them dig their own graves, and they do. Boy, do they ever.
In short, go see this film!
You can catch FrackNation in New York and Los Angeles until Friday at:
Quad Cinema in New York City (Manhattan)
34 W 13th Street.
New York, NY 10011
Laemmle’s Playhouse 7
673 East Colorado Blvd.
Pasadena, CA 91101