Netflix’s documentary series inspired by a popular Twitter feed is disappointingly simplified & too focused on empty director soundbites
The @OnePerfectShot Twitter account, bought in 2016 by Film School Rejects, has over 680,000 followers. It has become synonymous with Film Twitter, a subset of the app’s users that are dedicated, for better and worse, to the cinema of past and present, along with all of the awards and critical consensus in-between. I’m one of those 680,000 followers, and a big fan of the account for its dedication to spotlighting both obscure and blockbuster films, known and unknown directors, while highlighting unhonored cinematographers, editors, and production designers.
Adapting the Twitter account for the screen, Ava DuVernay brought together six directors to each chat about a specific shot in their movies. Comprising sub-30-minute episodes on HBO Max, One Perfect Shot loses the geekiness of its source material, and the fascination with some of the most beautiful, composed, resonant images that have graced the big screen in the past century. Instead, the series acts as a biography of each director, a chance for them to sit inside an empty theater and talk about their road to success.
As Jon M. Chu puts it in his episode on the hit Crazy Rich Asians, “I don’t think about a perfect shot. I think about a moment of truth.” And the rest of the directors, outside of Michael Mann, speak similarly, spending their airtime to discuss inspiration and feeling and heart, focused on the ethereal instead of the tangible.
Take Kasi Lemmons for example, who chats about a shot in 2019’s Harriet. She focuses on a scene in which Harriet Tubman, played by Cynthia Erivo, walks over a hill with the sun setting in the distance. She tells the audience that it was shot in the South, and that she loved the location because of the way the sun went beyond the horizon. She explains that the day of shooting was difficult, as do almost all of the other directors. And that’s about it, in regards to this perfect shot at least, spending the other 23-ish minutes on Tubman’s history and legacy, and Lemmons’ own career. Those aren’t invaluable topics; they might even have more interest than the shot in Harriet, but it seemingly defeats the overall purpose of the series.
Lemmons made Eve’s Bayou some 20 years earlier, a better, more stunning film despite its limited budget. She’s not the only one who discusses a lesser entry in her filmography. Aaron Sorkin’s episode runs through the protest scene in the interminable The Trial of the Chicago 7, a much less stylish film than Molly’s Game. Patty Jenkins talks about Wonder Woman, while Monster sits right there, ready to be analyzed. Creative choices should be the focus of One Perfect Shot, instead of these recent films made with big budgets by bigger studios. It’d be much more interesting to hear how they dealt with a lack of cash flow and a lack of resources to create their early (often, higher quality) films. The series loses interest within each episode, especially as the director and two of their collaborators sit in a drab room and reminisce about the toughness of the shoots, but how the result was always worth it. Despite sporadic moments of passion, especially from Lemmons and Chu, this end product forms into a disingenuous pat-on-the-back.
The craft gets lost in the shuffle of childhood stories and career arcs. Chu and Mann give the greatest glimpses into the cinematic process, the collection of people, props, lights, design, and everything else needed to make this specific shot happen in their films. And it’s a joy to hear Mann talk about Heat, the only film featured that was made before 2017, and Chu talk about the specifics of the wedding scene in Crazy Rich Asians, specifically the homage to his parents. The recency bias of the series might make for a larger audience share, but it alienates the people who loved the Twitter account, those who love movies from the last 50 years, not just the last five, and want to learn more about how their favorites are made. Hearing an older director like Mann talk about his masterpiece from over 25 years ago has a bit more staying power than watching Sorkin vamp about Spielberg and the coldness of Chicago while shooting his film only two years ago.
In order for One Perfect Shot to work, the audience has to have seen the films. But the enjoyment of the films, an even more important trait, picked by DuVernay, might be divisive at best. Trial of the Chicago 7 and Harriet might not have the expansive viewership that HBO Max expects, especially when posed as a supplement to films without the necessary legacy or cultural significance. The series can’t decide between going for the widest audience available or reaching more avid film lovers. The result should unfortunately satisfy neither party, likely getting lost within the shuffle of a streamer with far better offerings amongst a sea of other new arrivals.
One Perfect Shot is now available on Netflix