Bo Burnham's 'Inside' Shows It's Not About the Camera, But the Story

'Inside'Credit: Netflix
Bo Burnham talks, and we listen. Sometimes that's all it takes. 

What are the limits you have for creating something special? I thought about how hard it was during the quarantine to make and create when we had to be isolated. In fact, I wasted a lot of time just thinking about that. But instead of thinking that, Bo Burnham took what he had, and created something new. 

In just a room, with a light, laptop, keyboard, projector, and a DSLR camera, he was able to reinvent the comedy special. Or a musical special? I don't think I'm qualified to define what Inside was, other than great art. I guess we should add a disco ball into the equation as well, but at its heart, Burnham's Inside is a dramatic and gripping experiment in storytelling. 

More of a documentary than anything else, we follow Burnham as he deals with the pandemic and tells us about other aspects of his life. In around 90 minutes, we get the breadth of Burnham's skills and talents showcased via one cramped room and some awesome tunes. 

One of the things people talk about on this site a lot is needing the best cameras and the equipment to really employ their vision. And while I think that's true, it's only part of the equation. I think most of us need to try to have our creativity rise to the challenges we give ourselves.

What struck me while watching Inside was how much Burnham wanted to introduce us to his perspective but didn't care about how expensive that looked. 

He was shooting, editing, and doing the rest mostly on his own. It actually looked better when it wasn't polished. It looked intimate, like we were getting a look at what it's like to face creative limits and see your talent bubble over the pot. 

At its heart, the special is about Burnham telling a story. It's about his process and testing. The way he tries to have a special-special, the rise, and fall of challenging circumstances of the lock-in and quarantine. It's all over the place on purpose. The mania within it grips you from the get-go and allows Burnham to just be himself. The lack of an audience forces him to just put it all out there and hope it sticks. 

It's a showcase for empathy as well. We feel for him, we know what it was like to be stuck at home, FaceTiming with our parents. Begging for any kind of human connection through what became a mentally arduous task. It's also an examination of the audience in the streaming era. Is it better to be with people? Sure. But you can still laugh and feel on your couch. But does that hurt connection at all? Or is this new generation so used to connecting on screens that they're not missing out?

I have no idea the answer to these questions, but I am happy they were asked. 

If there's one lesson to take away from all of this, it's when in doubt, don't rely on gear, rely on your talent.

What do you have to share with people? And what's the best way to get it to us? Don't let the circumstances stop you, use what you have, cultivate your storytelling ability and your ability to connect with others.

Will it all turn out as special and fully realized as Inside? Probably not. But trying and failing gives a ton of lessons. Complaining and waiting for opportunities or gear will teach you nothing. 

What were your takeaways from the special? Let me know in the comments.     

Your Comment

3 Comments

interesting article

June 21, 2021 at 4:05AM

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As great as the special was, I'm not sure about your thesis — image quality was flawless and the special can serve as an ad for the Lumix S system (which, btw, isn't even remotely DSLR, contrary to what you said).
Similarly, your calling his elaborate lighting setups "a light" sounds rather diminishing.

June 21, 2021 at 6:36AM

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The special did have great story and I’d be a fool to argue against good story being the most important thing - but the special is far more an argument for knowing how to use all the filmmaking tool available to their fullest. That was fairly expansive lighting kit he had at his disposal. If anything the argument could be made that this special shows that gear is more important than location - but there are lots of other examples that show the reverse.

June 21, 2021 at 8:03AM

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Nathanael Neveux
Cinematographer, Editor
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