So, I doubt that many people will end up reading this - if anyone at all, but I figured I’d toss my thoughts up here.
So the Bronies Documentary, helmed by John De Lancie and Michael Brockhoff has recently debuted, and generally paints quite a positive picture of the fandom. Originally I was quite giddy and happy when I watched this piece, however I never give a full review of something based on first impressions, and lately some of my nagging thoughts have coalesced into something more coherent, helped a good amount by a rather fiery (and extremely cynical) review that one of the accounts I follow reblogged. Although I disagreed with the mentality of the post, I felt that it actually had some good points as far as critiquing the documentary. I’m not reblogging it with this reply mainly because I feel the length of this deserves its own post, and that this post in of itself isn’t meant as a direct response to it. (It will be linked at the end of this post, however.)
Before I go any further, let me describe my credentials as a “Filmmaker” since this term is very broad. I am 22 years old, having graduated college about a year ago with a BA in Cinematography. Since graduation I have been working freelance in the film industry, mainly as a Lighting Technician, and I have slowly been working my way up the ladder, with the eventual ambition of becoming a full-fledged Cinematographer - the person in charge of everything to do with lighting and cameras, who works with the director to convey the director’s vision through the visual aesthetic of the film. I’m not an expert on documentaries, nor even an expert on Cinematography (I consider myself a journeyman at this point in time) however I feel my viewpoint could be interesting at least to a few people, and it’s also a good exercise for me in general.
Anyways… to business. The Brony Documentary does several things well, however due to its initial motivations, really doesn’t paint a complete picture of the fandom - particularly the values that inspired it. Let’s start with what I like: I really do like that it went all over the world, following the journeys of bronies of different backgrounds as they make their way to various conventions, and even how these journeys have positively affected their lives. One of my favorites was the story of the guy struggling with Aspergers, whose journey (while undoubtedly assisted by the filmmakers somewhat) allowed him to find ways to overcome some of his own anxiety, and gain confidence enough to apply for jobs later. This was really a shining moment for the piece in my opinion.
As far as the lighting and camerawork involved in it - again I’ll have to say, while this is my area of expertise, Documentary work is MUCH different from the average film set, and there are a lot more variables that go into it, and things are much more unpredictable and more difficult to control. Overall though I didn’t find anything truly offensive, although some of the framing of interviews annoyed me, cutting the tops of peoples heads off (but that’s really a stylistic choice more than anything) some of the shots were a little too shaky, and there were some issues with focus in a few places. Generally, however, there was nothing that really broke me from the film to say “Wow, that was a bad shot.” or “Wow, the camerawork really sucks” and I am VERY picky about this stuff. Sure, it could have been better, but there wasn’t anything that was a dealbreaker.
Now - to my issues with it. A lot of my criticisms of this documentary have their roots in what originally inspired the creators to make this piece. Recall that this project originally started out as a project that was meant to feature Bronycon, and then was later expanded to really try to deal with documenting the fandom as a whole. Also the general idea of a documentary of this type in general was conceived to be in response to the blatantly ignorant and misleading “Journalism” of Fox News that is actually shown early on in the documentary. Thus, the whole way the documentary is constructed is really more to refute the ludicrous claims of Fox, rather than to explain the fandom itself.
What I really found missing, was a good section on how thevision and ideals of Lauren Faust was truly able to appeal and inspire people to become as involved in the show as they are. Although she was featured in the interviews, and even is supposed to have a good hand in the actual production of the documentary, the clips of her really show her talking more about what she thinks of male bronies rather than giving a strong description of her philosophy that she wanted to imbue into the show - being that there are many ways to be a girl, and that media made for girls and young women doesn’t have to be bad, and can be just as deep, relatable, and powerful as those targeted at male audiences.
It left out the powerful point that Lauren Faust has made in the past in some of her interviews for articles, or speeches at cons, being that it’s been comparatively “normal” or at least not uncommon for girls to like media targeted at men without too much of a negative backlash, (although yes, some still exists in places) so whats so wrong with guys liking something that’s made for girls? That’s the true coup that Bronies have made beyond anything else. Even the ideals of the Elements of Harmony have been preached elsewhere (in plenty, plenty of ways). "Girl Stuff" can be just as meaningful as "Guy Stuff," and I don’t feel that the documentary addressed that well enough.
The documentary would also benefit strongly if they followed the lives of several other bronies that were not going to a con - or at least didn’t have a culmination of their story at one con or another. This again shows its roots as originally being a documentary about the cons (specifically Bronycon) and not about the fandom itself. The documentary definitely did not take well to this broadening of scope. There really should have been a much more diverse amount of footage taken if this was truly meant to be “Bronies: The Documentary” and not “Bronycon: The Documentary” This change in title and ideas was actually made after a vast majority of the footage was already shot (at least to my knowledge). From my filmmaking. perspective, knowing what I know about how a production and shoot has to be organized, it really doesn’t make sense to me that they had such a big jump in ideas overall, and decided just to go with that, while only having footage for the most part that was based on people involved in the cons in some way.
This leads me to a suspicion I have regarding a lot of these directorial choices. My suspicion is that the actual director of the project: Laurent Malaquais, was not nearly as involved or as passionate about the project as other high-ups on the project like John De Lancie and Michael Brockhoff were. The uninitiated will ask: Why? Why would this one guy’s potential lack of passion affect the project so much, when truly passionate people were behind it? Well the answer comes as such: John De Lancie and Michael Brockhoff are the producers, not the director. The producers, while they do have a good say on the final product of the film, are firstly organizers and businessmen. They make sure the film actually gets made, not HOW it gets made. They provide the resources to get the job done. That’s a producer’s first priority. The Director, however, has more of a creative say on WHAT actually gets done. Now, I don’t know how the Brony Documentary actually organized and delegated their duties, but I could be entirely wrong, but if the director is lacking passion, the film will generally reflect that in some way, mainly as appearing to be incomplete. If Laurent Malaquais was in charge of doing most of the editing, it’s quite possible that a general lack of passion led to the lack of inclusion of some of these aspects, and generally painting a less complete picture than one could have. Also, someone without motivation isn’t going to push for going out into the world and taking EVEN MORE footage once the scope of the documentary itself was changed. In short: The director is supposed to be the driving creative force behind this, and parts of this documentary led me to think that it was lacking a driving creative force in places.
Now, yes, so far my critique of the director has been fairly weak, I admit, and is based on a lot of speculation, however, this is all rooted in a personal experience I had. See, I was interviewed for the documentary. A couple of clips of me even made it into the very start of the film. Don’t believe me? Here. Have these:
I’m the blonde guy on the right of the group photo. Any further doubts? Didn’t think so. Anyways: back to my point.
As I was being interviewed, and waiting to be interviewed, I got to interact a lot with not only the fellow bronies that were also there to be interviewed, but also the staff that was there: specifically John De Lancie, Michael Brockhoff, and Laurent Malaquais. Now, I have nothing but good things to say about Mr. De Lancie and Mr. Brockhoff, they are truly wonderful people, and Mr. De Lancie was especially passionate about the whole thing, and seemed to really take a genuine interest in what I had to say. However, there seemed to be this disjoint between them and Mr. Malaquais. Mr. Malaquais was quite professional, however he was not NEARLY as personable or sociable with anyone else who was there. Now, that, on its own, means nothing. He could just be focused on his job. However there were just things here and there that made me seem to think that he was brought on for his filmmaking expertise and nothing else. For example: Since I was experienced in working with lights, I actually started helping with the lighting for the actual interviews. At one time, John De Lancie actually had to ask me whether I was originally there to be interviewed or whether I was (roughly paraphrased) “Someone that Laurent brought on to help.” Also, it was Mr. De Lancie who was the one who walked us all through what we planned to say, and helped us rehearse for our interviews, when in a normal structure, this would be the job of the director.
In short, my in-person experience of working around Mr. Malaquais was that he seemed to have a “let’s get this over with” mentality that, while professional, was lacking true passion, and he definitely was not being the driving creative force behind the film that the director is supposed to be. He seemed to be more of a creative liaison, someone there really just to work the cameras. He didn’t share the joy that the bronies I met on the set had, nor that Mr. Brockhoff and Mr. De Lancie seemed to have. For example, after the shoot was finished, we were all treated to dinner by Mr. De Lancie. Most of the bronies were able to attend, although some had to get home to their families. The only member of the staff that wasn’t there, however, was Mr. Malaquais. He didn’t seem to actually want to get to know any bronies for himself. He just seemed to be there to do his job - and when a director has that mentality, the piece as a whole will suffer, because, like it or not, the director is the creative expert, whose decisions most heavily impact the end product.
Now, I admit - I could be totally wrong about this. This could have little to no relevance on why the documentary turned out as it did, however, from my experience, and even from reading the email updates, and listening to the several interviews they did for Everfree Radio and the like - it appears that the director was brought on mainly to be the person who knew what to do with the cameras and such - but for a documentary to be truly great, and to truly live up to its goals, the director needs to be the driving force of passion, not the producers. Otherwise there will be choices made that only someone with the knowledge of a director could see as the mistakes they are, and the end product won’t be all that it could be.
It is also possible that this lack of passion might not be on Mr. Malaquais, but rather on the various editors working at the post production house that was paid to cut the film together. It’s quite possible that the people working there were just aiming to get a paycheck, and that the decisions they made in regard to what footage was used and why led to the flaws in the film that I have highlighted. In the end, though, the Director is supposed to be responsible for managing how the film is cut as well, and if he doesn’t have a passionate vision, any corner-cutting by anyone working in Post would probably go uncorrected.
To conclude - Bronies: The Extremely Unexpected Fans of My Little Pony is a good documentary for the uninitiated to watch. It does a good job showing that male bronies aren’t perverted, deviant, or are any sort of threat, menace, or disgusting irregularity of society. However, it really fails to delve into the true interesting themes and philosophies that caused this fandom to become so powerful in the first place, and it doesn’t give the show enough credit for being the feminist coup that it really is. It still is more of a documentary of the conventions than it is of the fandom as a whole, and the lack of a passionate, skilled director capable of translating passion into meaningful creative decisions hurts the overall scope and prevents it from being a great documentary.
For male fans, it’s definitely worth watching, and it definitely lived up to the creators’ promise to be something that is good to show to parents and to those who don’t understand why young men are liking a show for little girls. However, it leaves much to be desired for anyone else who watches it, and it doesn’t delve much into the truly interesting philosophical and feminist principles that caused the show to be so inspirational in the first place.
Congrats to anyone who might have made it this far. Seriously, thanks for reading.
The critique mentioned at the start of my review is this post.