First Place in Murder: Beauty Queens Gone Bad

 Drop Dead Gorgeous is a mocumentary about a teenage beauty pageant in small town America. It follows Amber Atkins (Kirsten Dunst) as she competes to be Mount Rose’s American Teen Princess. Amber faces trouble from Becky Leeman (Denise Richards) as she tries to take out the competition, literally. Becky tries multiple times to kill Amber, her only real competition for the title, but ends up getting the wrong person every time. This dark comedy leaves the audience in tears as the residents of Mount Rose, Minnesota fight each other for this coveted title.

In the trailer I chose to play up the good vs. bad. I put Becky and Amber up against each other so the audience could identify with the characters. In all genre movies “we always know who the good guys and the bad guys are” (Sobchack, 1975, p.197). To do this, I conveyed the characters through “iconographical means – costumes, tools, settings, ect” (Sobchack, 1975, p. 200). The scenes I chose for Becky are ones where she is seen with guns and talking about winning, while Amber is seen crying, yelling, and running. These factors, all together, are able to place Becky as the antagonist because what she is doing is interpreted and associated with being one of the bad guys, and Amber as the protagonist because the positions that she is shown in portray her as the victim.

In the trailer I also played up the idea of a “latent social code” (Klosterman, 2004, p. 9) that Klosterman discusses in “This Is Emo.” In society, it is acceptable to do whatever it takes to win; winning is the most important thing to some people, they believe it is how they get places in life. I worked this trailer to show the social code: Becky would do anything to win, even kill the competition. This is partly what makes the movie so much like a thriller because the idea is so close to real life. We see on shows like “Toddlers and Tiaras” that, in pageants, people will pull out all the stops to win. The idea of a beauty queen killing to win doesn’t seem so far fetched. Having this trailer hit so close to home, “we need to worry about all the entertaining messages people are consciously accepting”

The original movie poster for Drop Dead Gorgeous

(Klosterman, 2004, p. 10).

I found it hard to change this movie into a thriller because of the camera shots because the original film is shot completely as a mockumentary. This means that all of the camera angles are the same. They are all eye level, a little bit shaky because the camera is hand held, and not much difference in focus or zoom. In most thriller movies “extreme close-ups” are “standard” and the directors “prefer low-key lighting” (Dick, 2002, p. 55).  None of these things happen in the movie because of the original genre.

The way I chose to change the genre was in the speed of the clips and in the background music. These two techniques are related to semiotics. In film, semiotics is “the way in which you craft and organise your film’s signs” in a way that “will determine the reality and meaning an audience will attribute to them.”  (Edgar-Hunt, 2010, p. 23) I was able to pick out the scenes that could be seen as action packed or scary and pieced them together. Picking out only these scenes make it seem like the entirety of the fake movie is scary, unlike the real movie, where only a few moments can be seen that way. Increasing the speed of the clips and making them back to back with no transition time also helps transform the genre. The fast pacing creates a sense of uneasiness and urgency. It gets the audience’s heart pumping, expecting bad things to happen and keeping them on the edge of their seat. The fast paced music does the same thing as well.

Not only was the movie difficult to work with because of the camera angles and techniques, but with the dialogue and background noise. Being a comedy movie, there is usually a happy-go-lucky soundtrack in the background as a way to develop the genre as the audience is watching. When choosing the clips, I had to silence ones that had too much background music. Also, being a mockumentary, the “filmmakers” talk to the characters throughout the movie, so even when the character is not speaking, there could be, and was, someone else’s voice.  In some cases, I needed the dialogue, even when there was background music or noise, so I had to try and create a balance of music. I had to have the thriller music that I had chosen loud enough to cover the background, but soft enough to not drown out the dialogue.

Sources:

1)      Robert Edgar-Hunt, John Marland, and Steven Rawle (2010) The language of film. Lausanne: AVA Academia.

2)      Chuck Klosterman (2004). “This is emo,” in Sex, drugs and Cocoa-Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto.

3)      Bernard Dick (2002). “Film, space, and image,” excerpt from Anatomy of Film. Boston: Bedford / St. Martin’s.

4)      Thomas Sobchak (1975, Summer). Genre film: A classical experience. Literature Film Quarterly, 3(3), 196

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