Friday, March 5, 2010

Think Positive

Someone told me I should be more positive in my blog; that I'm always focusing on what's not working. Obviously, this someone has never been to an art school.

But point taken. This week, I'm Mr. Positive – and I picked a good week for it, as we had a ton of great movies last night. You'll notice with the good ones that I offer a few more details. If you've submitted a short this year, have fun trying to figure out if one of these is yours.

Before we got started, I talked with Leslee Scallon, co-founder and head honcha of the fest about why world premieres are so important. I always thought it was for ticket sales – which is true. Extremely independent festivals like DWF rely heavily on box office as a way of keeping afloat – but Leslee made another good point.

It's the energy. When this is the first time a movie has been on the big screen, something magical happens. There's a buzz in the crowd, as cast & crew mingle with the audience before hand. Pictures are taken. Drinks are consumed – sometimes to well-deserved excess. At DWF, the filmmakers for that night are the kings and queens of the ball – and in their court are the producers, writers, directors and stars of the movies that premiered the night before, or will the night after. Friendships are made at events like these that last a lifetime.

Compare that to the movie that has been seen 3 or 4 times at a cast & crew screening, then smaller festivals around town, on a big screen TV at a producer's party… The friends and family that show up for the fifth screening are all supportive, and happy to be there, and sure being at Dances With Films is still a milestone – but the magic is gone.

The best films still get in, but given a choice between two wonderful movies and one time slot left… We like the magic.

On to last night's short films.

We started with an International Must See that nailed the short film format – likely because it was based on a short story and from a country known for its poetic, allegories. Great acting and filmmaking skills didn't hurt either.

For those facing the blank page and wanting inspiration, look to the allegory. Shorts are a great place to have characters that represent more than themselves. You can hit us over the head with it if you like, since you've just got the one shot.

The next film got mixed reviews, but a Must See from me. I can't tell you how many times I've shouted at the screen when it fades to black, "Be the end! End it right there," only to have it fade back up to bring us more story than can be covered in a short. Last night this movie did the right thing. It stopped just as I wanted to watch a feature's worth of these two characters and their families. Brava! Had the door opened on the next scene, the story would have had to continue for an hour and a half to do it justice.

The old stage adage is true – always leave them wanting.

The next film was a lot of fun, and brings me to a positive point about style. This particular short was a broad comedy, complete with some nice shtick – which I always love when done right. From the opening shot, this filmmaker let us know we were watching a silly, but well-made movie, and that he was in control of his craft. That puts an audience at ease. We can relax and let a professional take care of us.

I always think of defining style like kids playing baseball. Before the game starts – or before any of the artists can create – the players lay down the grown rules. The curb of the street on the left side is the foul line. Hit it over Mrs. Smith's fence is an automatic out, 'cause we can't get the ball back. No sliding into third base because it's a car, and so on.

These rules must be established before the game is played, or before filmmaking can begin. Unlike rules from the outside world – where breaking them becomes the art form – rules of style are set by the artists, so how they are adhered to is more fun to watch then how they can be broken.

We had a couple of Must See movies that established and stuck to their style wonderfully – one of them with little kids in it, which made it even more amazing. Good job.

There was another film that was a mystery to all of us screeners. We all agreed that we should have hated it. A frat-boy type slackers movie. We see these a million times a year. 99% of them suck, but this one didn't, and it was very hard to figure out why. Part of it, I think, was the Art Department. For those not in the know, that covers the set and props. Since most indie films shoot on location it's not actually the set, but how it's dressed and the props that are used.

This curious film had props that gave us the same sense of being in the hands of skilled filmmakers as the opening shot from the afore mentioned movie. From a simple shot of garbage on a table, we got the feeling that these folks might be good. That feeling lasted long enough to get to the first joke, which was cute. The plot was slow to develop, which is usually death in a short, but thanks to the little things done by props – little things that I'm sure took hours and hours of work – this movie won us over.

That doesn't mean it – or any of these films – will get in the festival. A lot of other factors go into the decision making. It's easy to nix the bad ones. It's a shame to have to pass on the promising, but not-quite-there-yet movies. It's horrible to have 2 or 3 great films and only one slot open to program.

There I go getting negative again. Guess it's time to leave it until next week.

Thanks for reading.


Kenneth said...

It is good to see that there are many fine candidates for this year's DWF. Why not open up a few more slots this year?

RSMellette said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
RSMellette said...

There are only 24 hours in a day - and projectionist's over time is a killer - among many other business and logistical considerations.

Kenneth said...

But of course. Hope I did not sound too ignorant.

RSMellette said...

Of course not. All comments are appreciated - and I've often brought up the same question with Leslee.

Anonymous said...

As always, insightful comments about filmmaking and storytelling from DWF. I particularly find the discussion about style and tone helpful, as I switch back from drama and comedy and am sometimes unsure of my boundries and license. I would love to get into this festival because of the intelligence of the programmer and director.

Anonymous said...

Another fine look into the screening process. It's great getting insight into the decisions as they're made, and fun to try to recognize when my film comes up.

Please go back to being negative again. ;)

Anonymous said...

Dances with films creeps me out, lol