Friday, March 19, 2010

Three Cheers for Romance

Before I get to the shorts this week… I watched a feature submission the other day that made me want to give a shout out to Romantic Comedies in the independent world. I think the genre gets a bad rap; maybe because they are so light and fluffy, maybe because they aren't serious or dramatic, people think they are easy to make. Having seen more noble, but bad, attempts than any one person should have to sit through in a lifetime, I can tell you that's not the case. I don't think there's a more difficult genre to pull off, especially on a low budget.

You've only got two things to work with in a Romantic Comedy – words and chemistry. No MTV filmmaking tricks are available to save you. You can't cover up bad acting or a slow script with flashy editing, a dramatic soundtrack, or anything else. It's old-school, invisible art of filmmaking. Your cast has to be believable from the leads down to the extras. It all has to work.

And the scripts in Romantic Comedies have to be so personal. In a good one, that's great. We all love to see that others share our foibles and frailties. In a bad one, I tend to write in my notes, "filmmaker needs therapy." They usually display their anger for the opposite gender. If you get the sense the writer/director never got a date in high school – or worse, was humiliated on one – then chances are, you're watching a bad Romantic Comedy.

And that's what makes the good ones nice to see. So let's all take a moment to appreciate the well-made Romantic Comedy.

Okay? Back? On to our shorts. (Pun intended).

We had two movies that wouldn't play. This happens a lot with home burnt DVDs. No worries, we always contact the filmmakers to ask for a replacement, but you guys should do yourselves a favor. Send two copies when you submit.

While I'm on that. Opening menus are nice. Nothing fancy is needed, just that little pause to make sure everyone's paying attention before we hit play. Please, please, please, don't have the movie loop back to start again when it's over. Nothing kills a great ending like going back to the beginning.

I've complained before about shorts that seem like cut down features. One of the ways we diagnose that syndrome is when a movie just doesn't make sense. The plots get so convoluted, and have so many major points missing that I find myself wondering how the cast knows what's going on in the scenes they're in. We watched one like this last night and it reminded me of a saying they have in theatre:

If it's not on the page, it's not on the stage.

If you find you're having to explain plot points to your cast, then you have a big problem that needs to be fixed right away. No one is going to study your script more closely than the actors playing the roles (okay, your department heads will, too – but they don't have to memorize it). If a cast member says, "I didn't understand why…" then big red flashing lights should go off in your head. Sure, you might be able to explain to them everything you're thinking. They'll figure it out and play the hell out of it – but read the rule again. You won't be in the audience to make those same explanations. Figure out a way to get the conversation you just had with your actor into the mouths of the characters.

I railed against the misuse of Black & White video last week, so right on cue; we get a great one last night. Talk about "on the page, on the stage" the characters come right out and talk about what motivated the story to be told in B & W – which answered the question everyone has when you see a new film sans color. And the DP did a masterful job. The blacks were deeply black. The faces were full of character. Nicely done.

We had a couple of films that were nicely done up to a point. These are so painful for us screeners. Believe it or not, we want your movie to be good. We are pulling for every film at the start. And when it's good, we rejoice. So there's nothing worse than be in the middle of good movie that suddenly goes south.

So many things can go wrong. One last night – another beautiful, purposeful, Black & White – just extended its parable too long. Cut that movie in half, and it'd be great. As it was, it fell flat.

Another film introduced an entirely implausible character and subplot. It was like they started to make one movie, then changed their minds half way through. So sad when that happens – unless it's Dusk 'Til Dawn, then for some odd reason, I'm coming along for the ride.

Finally – it's getting late in the submissions season. This means there's a good chance I'm going to babble on this week about something I said back in January. I try not to do that, but we do see a lot of the same types of problems again and again – so, I hope you'll cut an old man some slack as we get closer to the festival. In return, I'll try to keep this blog as entertaining and informative as possible.

Thanks for reading.


Jemi Fraser said...

I agree with your take on good Rom Com movies. I tend to watch them the same way I read my comfort books - easy to read/watch, a HEA ending, and laughter. All good.

Lisa_Gibson said...

RS- I agree the Romantic Comedies are great if you get a good one. Very painful if they're not good.