New movie ‘Look’ eyes voyeuristic surveillance society

Scenes in Look are shot to appear as if they were ripped from a store surveillance camera.

Wired | Dec 22, 2007

Sneaky Sex, Spooky Scenes: Look Flick Eyes Voyeuristic Surveillance

By Hugh Hart

Adam Rifkin is best known in Hollywood circles for writing family-friendly comedies like Mousehunt and this year’s Underdog. But when his new movie Look opens Friday in New York and Los Angeles, the writer-director gets a chance to channel his inner Peeping Tom.

Prefaced by a factoid asserting that 30 million surveillance cameras in the United States capture images of the average American 200 times a day, Look dramatizes a week in the life of department-store sex addicts, a high school seductress, a pedophile, a “straight” family man who’s having an affair with a gay lawyer, convenience-store slackers and thieves who’ve stashed a body in the trunk of their car. The gimmick: Everything is filmed from the perspective of security cameras.

Wired News caught up with Rifkin in Los Angeles to learn more about his crafty experiment in surveillance cinema.

Wired News: What inspired you to make a movie about the culture of surveillance?

Adam Rifkin: I got a traffic ticket in the mail from the police department. I didn’t know it even happened, but they sent me this picture of myself going through a red light, and you could see my face clear as day, singing to the radio, making a horrible expression. The idea that a photograph could be taken of me without my knowledge and then sent to my home address freaked me out a little bit. I started to think, “What other cameras are out there, taking shots of me that I’m not aware of?” For me, that’s when the whole thing started


Video: Although Look appears to be shot entirely on security cams, capturing the behavior of clueless citizens, Adam Rifkin’s new movie features professional actors performing fully scripted scenes.

WN: How did you research Look?

Rifkin: I went to a bunch of security offices in malls and department stores and banks and interviewed the people who watch the surveillance monitors. I just assumed they’d be trained, professional, responsible individuals, right? Not always the case. In some instances, the guys behind the cameras are high school kids in baggy pants who use cameras with joysticks to zoom in on girls’ boobs. They weren’t looking for shoplifters. If a hot girl walked into the mall, they tracked her from camera to camera to camera, all day long. Let’s say the camera caught under her skirt as the wind blew, they’d take that footage and post it on YouTube. They showed me their highlight reel!

WN: It must have been tricky getting permission to film all this weird behavior in shopping malls, high schools, convenience stores, parking lots and hotel lobbies.

Rifkin: We didn’t break any laws, but we weren’t entirely forthcoming. In some instances we said we were making a reality show. We told other people we were making a documentary about surveillance cameras or shooting a segment on surveillance cameras for the news. We learned pretty quick if we told people we were making a movie and planned to do all these things at their location they’d say, “No way are we going to allow this.” So we had to get creative.

WN: With the different time codes and grainy video quality that varies from scene to scene, the footage in your movie really looks like it was captured by actual security cameras. Did you in fact use the cameras installed at each location?

Rifkin: No, but every location you see in the movie did have real surveillance cameras. We then placed our cameras exactly where the actual security cams were and shot the scenes in HD using Sony F-900s and F-950s — the same cameras they used on movies like Sin City. When we finished shooting, the movie looked beautiful. Then we spent an enormous amount of time and enormous amount of money making it look like shit.

WN: You were trying to make it look artfully crappy.

Rifkin: Exactly.

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