Friday, March 26, 2010

Entertain and Educate / Art and Business.

We get a lot of submissions from film schools. Sometimes it's fun to play "guess that university" – if it's Sci-Fi and visual effects, it's bound to be USC; a drama about an important international or human relations issue, AFI, etc. This is all great. We love film school submissions.

The last few years we've had small floods of films from one university or another that are head & shoulders above the rest. We might argue over this, but I'd say the last two years Chapman took the prize. Great scripts, good casts, highest technical quality. We'd see the Chapman logo at the beginning of a movie and think, "Oh, cool, a good one."

But this year – so far – it's been Florida State. We haven't screened all the submissions yet, so there might be an exception in the pile somewhere – but so far every film from FSU has rocked our world. I'm not saying you'll all get in – so many factors go into selecting a program – but I can say that you all deserve it. So take a bow, Seminoles. Job well done, and thank you for the entertainment.

Ever since Ancient Greek merchants decided they could package and market Egyptian religious theatre, there has been a struggle between Art and Business. With a very few exceptions the works of art that have survived were made by people who understood the business needs of their time and fulfilled them with the greatest craftsmanship and sensitivity. A good artist doesn't see limitations, only challenges.

Short films are no different.

I bring this up because we had a film last night that was beautifully shot: nice sound, a great display of talent, in many ways a very fine piece of art. But it had no plot and it was 30 minutes long. We all agreed that it would a terrific piece to put on your TV during a party as background entertainment, but there was no way an audience would sit still and watch it. It just didn't stand alone.

So from the artistic standpoint, it fit all the requirements of fine filmmaking – but it didn't hold up from a business perspective. It wouldn't give the audience their money's worth. I get in big trouble every time I bring this issue up with some theatre crowds, but it is the artist's responsibility to create a good value for the audience's dollar.

Entertain and Educate. Art and Business.

We had a terrific film last night with one small issue that's not a deal-breaker, but oh should it be avoided. During the climatic emotional scene, the actress's face was too dark to see. This was especially a shame since the rest of the movie was so well lit. I was dying to slip a bounce board just below the fame to get a splash of light on her face.

Before you say it, yes, there are times when an actor's silhouette can be a powerful image. The Exorcist comes to mind. This was not one of those times – and it happens a lot. I don't understand it in the digital age, you've got a monitor right there. Can you see the actor's face? No? Fix it. Better to screw up with too much light on a face than none at all.

There is no more powerful storytelling tool for our species than our faces. We are hardwired from birth to read what's happening there. If you take that away, you'd better have a damned good reason for it. In this case, they didn't. The poor actress was working hard, ripping her guts out, and we couldn't see it.

So, please, make sure you've got a good ole white piece of poster board handy at all times. You never know when you might need it.

We had another good "incitement" film. I think it might have been from FSU, in fact. If you're not a regular reader, an incitement film is a movie that feels like the first ten pages of a feature script. It is a complete story in and of itself, but the ending hints there is more to come.

This is a far better way to turn a feature script into a short. Regular readers, say it with me: If you can cut your feature down to a short, then the feature can't be any good. If the feature is good, then it won't make sense as a short.

Plus, if you're planning on using a short as a fundraising tool for your feature, the incitement method is fantastic. A good incitement is designed to … incite … the viewer into watching the whole story. Hook them. If I had money to invest in film, I'd have written a check as the lead character drove away at the end of the movie. I wanted to know where she was going. I wanted to know the consequences of her actions. At the same time, I felt like I'd seen a complete story.

That's the way to do it.

Thanks for reading. See you next week.


Kenneth said...

Fantastic! I am trying to do an incitement script too. If I make it to the festival, do you mind to take a look at it?

RSMellette said...

I can't make any promises... During the festival I don't get much sleep (none of us do), and it gets pretty crazy. But if I have a chance and some coffee, sure.

There will also be a ton of other filmmakers there, so if I can't others certainly will be able to. You get to make friends for life at DWF.

Kenneth said...

I will be glad just to be there for the festival. Meeting everyone else will be the biggest bonus