have things dark On House of the Dragon last night when characters stole dragons and other characters made super incestuous life choices. And all that happened under the cover of darkness, leading many viewers wondered if their TV was broken.
But your TV isn’t broken. Your TV is the victim of the episode’s director, Miguel Sapochnik. The man can presumably see in the dark as this is his second time directing an episode in the Game of Thrones franchise cast in such darkness people doubted their own eyes.
In 2019, Sapochnik directed ‘The Long Night’, a gripping hour of TV where the many characters of Game of Thrones gathered to finally put an end to the Night King’s invasion of Westeros. Zombies were beheaded. Beloved characters came to an end. Like last night, there was a slight dusting of incest. And everything seemed to have been shot with the lens cap still on the camera.
At the time, Sapochnik insisted that the darkness that reigned over TVs across the country was a feature, not a bug. And HBO Max is pushing for the same this time around, too.
What is happening here is very easy to understand. The filmmaker doesn’t think about the product that will be delivered to your phone, TV or tablet. He thinks about what appeared in the editing room when they finished the episode.
Editing rooms usually contain a perfectly calibrated OLED reference monitor. That reference monitor can handle the incredible range of grays and blacks that our eyes can see. Your TV at home can’t handle the same range of grays, and neither can your phone or tablet.
This is why an editing room doesn’t just contain a $30,000 reference monitor that will make your eyes bleed from the beauty of the content being displayed. Editing rooms often also include an OLED TV like you’d find at Best Buy or Costco – just perfectly calibrated. The content is then usually viewed in that same room, which is likely darker than the room you watched the episode in. And the TV could very well be nicer. Cheaper sets may struggle with the blacks and grays that this episode of TV seems to thrive on, and when you combine that with a well-lit room, you’re in for a very unappealing viewing experience.
But maybe you do have a really nice TV. Maybe you watched it on a perfectly calibrated set in a darkroom and still had trouble viewing House of the Dragon.
But more and more filmmakers seem to forget that what they watch in the editing suite is not what we will get at home
If so, I’m sorry to ask, but how’s your internet?
Look, when Sapochnik and company finished editing and reviewing this TV episode, they were probably using a very clean copy with little to no compression. The filmmakers watch a lot more data than you do and I will someday watch outside of a UHD Blu-Ray.
Streaming services compress videos so they can stream them to us quickly and efficiently, and that compression means data is lost, and the movie we stream to our homes isn’t as beautiful as what the filmmaker intended. The Long Night cinematographer, Fabian Wagner, even blamed compression for the bad reactions to that hour of tv. We all accept it because a little bit of compression is a great price to pay for the convenience.
Oh, and if you’re watching via satellite or cable? The situation could be better – or it could be worse. Legacy TV uses compression technology that is way too outdated, combined with way too many channels you don’t watch. Your coaxial cable or satellite connection may have enough bandwidth to sit in, but the bad news is somewhere down the line, someone has decided to give ESPN and 17 different Nickelodeon channels extra bits to play with while pushing the bitrate of your movie channels. until they are a muddy mess.
More and more filmmakers seem to forget that what they see in the editing suite is not what we will get at home. Some movies and TV shows that look great in a theater or movie theater end up looking muddy — and sometimes just unseen — in our homes.
Some filmmakers are aware of this. Christopher Nolan begs you to watch his movies in a theater (although he has no problem recording dialogues so “realistic” that they’re incomprehensible). Tom Cruise is happy to tell you to turn off the Soap Opera effect so you can watch his movies the way they’re intended. But some people are Sapochnik and just want to lead you into the darkness. Could be, as our colleagues at Vulture posit, he does this to hide cool Easter eggs and pests for future episodes. But more realistically, he was just born in the darkness, shaped by it, and if you want to join him, you’ll have to rethink how you watch TV.