Why Does Hollywood...?

This section answers questions readers have about the way Hollywood or the entertainment industry acts and makes decisions.

Why are so many movies filmed in the desert?- Jess M.

For those unaware, desert movie locations are the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon of the movie world: Now that desert filmmaking has been brought to your attention, you’ll notice it everywhere.

Think of how many famous science-fiction shows and movies occur in this sandy landscape: Star Wars, Star Trek, Stargate, Starship Troopers–and many more “star”less properties. Everything filmed in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Arizona, and Texas all reside in the most arid of biomes.

So why?

As covered last week, production companies moved to Hollywood to escape patent lawsuits, but they specifically chose Southern California because of its desert climate. Hollywood’s month-to-month temperature fluctuation is minimal, and it only rains an average of five days a year! This means that film productions don’t have to worry about continuity errors (differences in a picture from shot to shot) because the weather’s always the same.

Though not as large of a concern these days, the desert’s lack of humidity also meant easier storage of film, since moisture could warp and ruin parts of the movie already filmed.

On the production side, the desert is notably lacking in people and noisy wildlife. Film production can be putzy, and some shots can take hours to set up. Additionally, unintentional noise or activity can disrupt or ruin shots, forcing additional takes or reshoots. If no one’s around, things run smoother.

Today, many of the benefits the desert provided can be achieved through other means. Digital recording negates any need to preserve physical film, and computer effects can paint a background or fix any continuity issues. That said, renting a film stage and paying effects artists costs time and money. At least for the foreseeable future, the desert will continue to entice filmmakers looking for stability in their production.

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Bargin Jargon

This section defines movie industry terms you may have heard before, but don't understand.

This week is lighting themed.

Gaffer – A gaffer is the head of the electric department on set. They’re responsible for executing the director’s vision for how each shot is lit. The term most likely comes from Shakespearean British slang, where “Gaffer” is short for “Godfather” or “Governor.” (Now you also know why Samwise Gamgee in Lord of the Rings called his guardian “The Gaffer.”)

Best Boy – A Best Boy is “best” or head assistant for a physical crew department. He acts as a foreman to the other assistants. Therefore, a lighting crew Best Boy would be credited in a film as either “Best Boy Lighting” or “Best Boy Electric.” In Old Hollywood, the job was usually given to either the senior or most experienced assistant, hence the term “best.” Nowadays, because some Best Boys are actually women, some films credit this role as “Assistant Chief Lighting Technician.”

Gels – Far from being put in your hair, gels are colored plastic swatches that go over lights to change their color. The most common types are blue and orange because they simulate the color temperature of sunlight and indoor light respectively. Other, more rare colors produce different effects: green is for fluorescent lighting while pink can heighten flesh-tones in intimate scenes. Depending on how subtle or obvious a film wants to be, gels can be ordered in quarter, half, or full measure.

Something Old...

At this point in summer, superhero fatigue begins to set in, so before that happens, check out my review of this four-hour behemoth!

...Something New

August on Oblogatory is animation themed! I'm kicking it off with a Japanese auteur who's established himself as a master of teen sci-fi dramedy.

Oblogatory publishes weekly on Mondays at noon CST. The A.I. will be displeased if you don't check it out.

What the heck do I watch this weekend?


Originally titled “Fox Hunt Drive,” Endangered is a festival-circuit thriller that got buried by the pandemic. Finally available on demand, this modern update of The Hitcher proudly flaunts its low-budget look, adding to the chilling realism of an Uber driver who picks up the wrong client.

Rent/Buy on:

For All Mankind

The global space race never ended in this Apple TV+ drama. As a result, NASA’s astronauts and their families have fame to deal with on top of their high-pressure jobs. The third season is now streaming.

Stream on:

Watch on Apple TV

Uncle from another World

Plenty of anime fall into the “Isekai” genre (someone from our world gets magically transported into a magical fantasy realm). Hell, the reverse isekai has its fair share of entries. Only Uncle from another World dares to ask, “What if someone from our world was in a coma for 17 years, then woke up, claiming he’d been in a magical realm, then proved it by doing magic, then teamed up with his nephew to make a YouTube channel?” The results so far make for exquisite tragicomedy (because their viewers don’t believe the magic is real).

Stream on Netflix

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