Friday, February 12, 2010


Okay, it's experimentation time.

A couple of literary agents in cyberspace go through their stack of query letters "live" on their blog. That is to say, they read each letter then give a one or two line comment on it in their blog – always saying whether it's a pass or a request for the full manuscript. It makes for great reading. In one case I recognized my own query letter in the comments (which isn't supposed to happen) and adjusted my letter to address the issue the agent brought up.

So I figured, why do this with the short film submissions?

Below are my random thoughts about each film we watched last night as we watched them. I've tried to keep the comments general enough so you can't tell which film we were watching, but I'm sure if you've submitted a short to DWF you won't be able to resist guessing which one is yours. I'll bet you money you're wrong. 

Some things to keep in mind: THERE WERE FOUR OTHER SCREENERS WATCHING AT THE SAME TIME, so my opinion is just one-in-five. Believe me, the range of tastes is wide, so if I passed it doesn't mean everyone did.

Every screener has their own system. Personally, I give films a PASS, MAYBE MINUS, MAYBE, MAYBE PLUS, MUST SEE MINUS, MUST SEE, and very rarely a BOOK IT NOW. Only after we've seen all the films to begin to hash out what's in the festival and what's not, so again, a pass by one screener at this level is not a death sentence.

1st Movie: "This disk cannot be played." Message on the PS3. We'll try it on my computer later. If that doesn't work, ask the filmmaker for another copy. Next.

2nd movie: Good Start. I'm interested. A lot of the films we're getting this year have soundtracks that sound like they came from soft-core porn. Slow pacing. I’m way ahead of the story. Second copyright logo issue – not a killer, but shows a lack of skills. Production sound that's obviously been gated, would be okay if the story was better, but it's dragging. The acting is solid, which is always a plus. Ultimately, this is a Maybe.

3rd Movie: Nice opening shot that told a good story – but went on WAY too long. Blown out video (whites so white that you can't see anything). Just laughed out loud… always good. Kept my interest even though there was a lot NOT to like about it. MAYBE Plus.

4th – 18 minutes… oh, god… The first minute or so of this film would have made a pretty good short – one joke, and out. But they're going to drag this one bad frat-boy joke out over 18 minutes… please say it ain't so. Funny how the sound gets better when the camera is closer to the actor. Get boom operators and mixers, people. The mic on top of the camera is for your vacation videos. PASS TLTB (Too Long, Too Boring).

5th movie – Good Logo, usually means bad movie… we'll see. Damn, another cut down feature – right in the middle of a fairly good movie, a scene that makes no sense because the back-story was cut. Some good filmmaking skills here, but the script is bad, mostly in the dialogue. There are so many ½ subplots that have been cut to the bone that the story doesn't make sense. This is a shame, because in all other departments this is a well-made film. But a bad script will kill good filmmaking every day. MAYBE PLUS.

6th movie – MUST SEE – didn't get to write anything during it, it was too good.

7TH -- A story with not dialogue. So I'm touching typing. A little slow, but beautiful, exotic location. Thin story, but it's holding up. Really long, though… don't know how it will hold up on a big screen. MUST SEE.

8th Movie – shakey cam… hate that. Have to be a really good movie to make up for it. Lots of screaming. Unmotivated shouting scene. Extraordinarily unbelievable, stereotypical dialogue. PASS.

9th Short Doc – Good sense of humor in this documentary, and an honest journalism style. Definitely stuff I've never seen before. Good stuff. MUST SEE.

10TH – What is it about bad acting that you can tell there's no talent present even before they do anything? Action movie plots, con man stories, etc. aren't really made for the short format, particularly if the screenwriter isn't in full command of his or her skills. Too much back-story is required to get to the conflict, so we're left watching nothing but exposition. For a short, you have to get in, make your point, and get out. PASS

NOTE: Movie number 10 made no sense half way through, so while the other screeners stuck with it, I went to the restroom, took a break to get another slice of pizza, came back, typed this, and the movie is still going – and still makes no sense.

11th Music Video – Yeah, short! Not a great song, but cute. Music videos are so hard to judge. MAYBE.

12th This comedy is all over the map. Sometime's it's an honest character driven comedy, sometimes it's an over-the-top farce, and I'm not sure the filmmaker is in control of what's what. The cast is great, definitely working actors, which is fine by DWF. Ultimately, a pass since it made no sense, which is a shame given the quality of the cast.

13 – Two minutes in and nothing has happened. Watched the entire movie and nothing happened. PASS.

14 – A musical. Not our first this year. Why do I get the feeling that all the shows like Glee mean we're going to see a lot more of these? Some good laughs, but few and far between. MAYBE MINUS.

15 – Getting tired. Watching the movies is okay, but hard to type at the same time. This movie is based on a true story that is so much more dramatic than the film that I have a hard time liking the movie. Still, they pulled off the story in a difficult film setting – and it is a story that should be told… but are we the ones to make an audience sit through a so-so film just for that? Tough call. Table this one for later, so MAYBE.

16 – Music Video – Not a great song, and that's always bad in a music video.

That's it. Seems a lot shorter re-reading it this morning, but trust me, 15 movies is a haul – particularly going into our 13th year (10th for me).

I hope this helps, or at least is entertaining. Let me know and thanks for reading.


Terry said...

I'm into novel writing but this was entertaining and helpful. Written stories can be slow too, the dialog may be bad and the comedy may not work. So it's similar.

This was fun seeing how the films are chosen. Liked the pizza one.

Calista Taylor said...

Interesting post! I always love getting a peek into someone's thought process as they judge something. Nice!

Kenneth said...

wow, slow pacing is bad idea eh. :S

Lisa_Gibson said...

I thought this post was very interesting. I liked being able to read your thoughts and reasons for feeling the way you do about them.

sooz said...

Copyright violation is such a treacherous area. Just finished editing my second narrative short and discovered some questionable copyright areas only after close scrutiny. Will be much more careful about it on my next film. This is a great blog, by the way! I really enjoyed this play-by-play.

RSMellette said...

That's sooz. Glad to have a new reader.

If the copyright infringement is minor, or a "casual reference" as the attorney's say, and it's just a short, then you're probably fine. The film in question here used entire scenes as a major part of their film. They'd have to pay DGA, WGA, and SAG fees, not to mention clip fees to the studio that owns the footage.

Not a good way to show off your filmmaking skills - full on theft of other people's work.