Friday, January 22, 2010

Another Year Begins

I hope pathetic fallacy is just a literary, not literal, phenomenon as the weather was terrible for the first day of screening for year 13. Occasionally, though, the lightning, wind and rain were a nice distraction from some of the less than stellar submissions.

Somehow every screening night follows a trend all it's own. This time it was a journey into the surreal – more often than not, the very bad surreal.

Don't get me wrong, I love a good alternative take on reality. I had my formative years in the 1970's and was probably the only kid who ever sat through an entire episode of "Make A Wish."

But just because you've chosen to skew reality doesn't mean you get to skip over the elements that make for a good performing arts piece. A beginning, a middle, and an end of an intelligent story – character objectives and obstacles - are still required. Yes, I've had long arguments with modern dancers who claim that moving sculpture doesn't require a story, but I think time and ticket sales prove them wrong. Even the contortionist kids in Cirque du Soleil, who are a blast to watch, have a story – "Hey, look what I can do!"

Another key thing to remember with surrealism is that if the audience doesn't get the point of the piece, then the artist – not the audience – has failed. Exceptions would be Kafka for Kindergarteners.

Moving on: This was also a night of bad sound mixes. Granted, part of this might be that surround sound systems have become so convoluted that our toys didn't match the filmmaker's toys, but we do make every effort to find the best setting for each film. We are also filmmakers, so we know that when the music is louder than the dialogue, turning it up won't help.

Soft-talking actors are one thing, but inarticulate mumbling that is buried in the mix is a compound offense. When narrators sounds like they recorded themselves in their empty apartment on their computer's microphone – the movie feels bad, whether it is or not.

A mantra of the digital revolution should be: just because you've bought the software, doesn't mean you have the talent to use it. Sound mixing is extraordinarily difficult – especially when you're asking a festival to play your work on speakers the size of your house. Hire professionals. If you can't afford one, find the best sound geek you can to volunteer. Then play the finished product for someone who doesn't know the script. If they can't understand the words, start over.

Some other quick notes from last night:

Why does every independent filmmaker think it's cool to put in scenes of people peeing? Why do they feel like we need to see great detail of the expelling of body wastes? Want to be original? Make a movie without any urinating, vomiting, or defecating in it. Thank you!

We had yet another film that obviously came from a cut down feature script. I've said this a thousand times, I'll say it again. Don't do this. If your feature makes a good short, then there is too much fat in the feature. If the full script is good, then cutting any part of it should make the rest fall like a house of cards.

The exceptions I've seen look as if the filmmaker has shot the incitement of the feature script (that's about the first 10 pages for those of you who didn't have as good of a high school English teacher as I did). A good incitement will have a beginning, middle and an ending that makes you want to follow the characters. That can be a good short.

Final thought:

For those of you still reading, here's a revolutionary idea I had watching the first submission of the year:

The production values (locations, costumes, art department, etc.) were fantastic. This made me think, the digital revolution may just up the ante on the quality of every other department in independent film.

Think about it. Back in the film days, most of the money you raised for a project went to the camera department and post. Now, with that same money, you can share the love. Better locations, more days of production, better everything. Sure, in the dawn of digital most projects shot on video sucked – not because of the equipment, but the lack of skills of the people involved. All the best talent went for film.

Well, those days are over. Low budget filmmakers have to bring their A-game to every project, because mush of the stuff we're seeing in the screening room is studio quality.

I think we might be entering a Golden Age of Digital Filmmaking. What do you think?


Kenneth said...

For sure Rob, the golden age of digital cinema is already here. But I have to agree that a good story will make the difference.

Anonymous said...

"Another key thing to remember with surrealism is that if the audience doesn't get the point of the piece, then the artist – not the audience – has failed. Exceptions would be Kafka for Kindergarteners."

How true for all art. If we could all remember this, we'd be a lot more open to revision.