Friday, January 29, 2010

Great Isn't Good Enough

I've had little sleep and two sips of coffee, but who cares? Let's get right to it.

Burn-ins, watermarks, whatever you want to call those "copy this movie and you will be killed" announcements on screeners. Studios have used them for years, and now thanks to digital making all things once cost prohibitive possible – including illegal copies – uber-indies are using them as well. Fine, no problem. We're professional. Put a little notice on the bottom of the screen. Put the name of the festival or person you've given the DVD to as a barely visible watermark behind the whole image. None of this is nearly as distracting as watching key frame numbers, etc. across dailies back in the film days. We're used to it.

What you do NOT want to do is to have "For screening purposes only" plastered across your actors' faces. It is not necessary to have the notice be so distracting that it makes the movie impossible to watch – or becomes more interesting than the movie itself. If we care about the copyright information, we'll look at the end credits, the submission form, or the DVD label. All of this showing off that you've heard this is what studios do only indicates a sophomoric attention to unimportant details. Nine time out of ten, the labor lost on the complicated burn-in would have been better spent on tightening up the edit. So… use them if you think you must (you don't, really, trust me), but keep them unobtrusive, please.

Wow, enough on that. Let's get to the screenings of last night's shorts.

Always to be remembered when making a short; it's not a little feature. The short form of any literary/performance media is an art unto itself.

Mark Twain's quote – or any of the other people reported to have said, "Sorry for the long letter, I didn't have time to write a short one," is an indication of how hard it is to write less. If your script requires a long back-story, maybe it's not a short. Or maybe you haven't figured out how to tell the immediate story in the most efficient manner. If that's the case, do yourself a favor and figure that part out before putting together a cast, crew and all your savings.

I like that phrase, "immediate story." In a short that's all you should be concerned about. Keep it lean and mean.

To that end as well, we saw a lot of "footsteps" last night. That's the term for any kind of mundane physical movements that can be cut from a scene in order to get to the action. We saw several times where a car pulls up, parks, the driver turns the car off, gets out of the car, walks around, opens the door for the other actor, they walk inside and just before they get to the front door, they start talking. Much better if you just start the scene at the front door, yes?

Oh, and the same can be said for starting a movie with a character getting out of bed and putting their slippers/shoes on – or we see an insert of their feet hitting the floor. What's up with that? It has become like starting a book with "It was a dark and stormy night…" So many films do it now that, just once, I'd like to see the movie start with the coffee, or the tired look in the mirror, or any of the other morning clich├ęs. I'll assume that they got out of bed and that their feet did not somehow miss the floor or become incased in cement instead of slippers.

Next topic: Credits. If you buy that a short is not a little feature, then apply that philosophy to your opening credits. The best shorts usually have no opening credits. On the end credits we're seeing a lot of cutesy stuff like outtakes or extra-features types of things that just makes you wonder if the movie is over. If Jackie Chan is doing stunts in your movie, cool. If not, you just come off looking self-indulgent. Save it for the DVD extras. That goes for features and shorts.

Folks, please do a quality control (QC) check on your DVD. If the sound is dropping in and out, or the picture jumps, it makes it hard to evaluate your movie. Of course, if that's the case and the film shows even the slightest bit of promise, we'll ask you for another screener – but it's annoying.

I've babble on enough for the morning. Time for more coffee. I'll leave you with the reminder that I only harp on the bad stuff. You are all doing great work, but in our business great isn't good enough. Make it better.


Jean Oram said...

This is going to be a fab resource for those new to the business.

I did a post on my blog honouring new bloggers and mentioned you, so I thought I'd let you know.

Best of luck with your new blog!

RSMellette said...

Thanks, Jean. You rock. Can't wait until we're doing book signings together. :)