I didn't take a lot of notes last night, more from exhaustion than anything else. As we get closer to the end of the submission season the brain starts to get a little blurry. Not to worry, a good movie is still appreciated, as they make us sit up and take notice. A bad one is less likely to start a discussion as they do early in the season – so I end up with less to say.
As we were leaving last night, I asked the room if there was anything they wanted me to talk about in the blog.
"Sound!" was the answer.
"I've talked about sound so many times already," I said.
Their particular gripe has to do with sound levels across scenes. You can barely hear one scene, and the next one is way too loud.
Sound is harder to get right than picture, no doubt about it. I'm no expert, and even if I was I couldn’t give an entire lesson in sound mixing in this blog, but uneven levels across scenes is a sign of lack of sound compression (I think). Sure, when you're putting the scenes together, you have to try to get the levels as close to each other as possible, but once you're done, you might want to add a compressor like Sony's Wave Hammer. I'm sure there are ton of others, that's just the one I know.
What's the beer commercial where they talk about "drinkability"? Well, sound compression helps with "listenability." It will pull up the lower levels, top off the higher ones, fix clips as much as possible, all while still keeping the tone of the sound. Of course, your mix has to be clean and relative levels – dialogue can be heard over music, effects, etc. – have to be good before you apply compression software, so it's not a one-step fix, but it definitely makes a difference.
On other topic: We get a lot of short films that are dance pieces, which is fine. Some of them are very good. Some aren't. But they make us wonder if people think the name of the festival is literal. It's not. We're not a festival that shows only dance pieces, and if you make a modern dance movie you don't have a better chance to get in with us than any other movie. In other words, it has be really good no matter what.
We're seeing a lot of movies with beautiful deep depths of field. This is no doubt due to new cameras like the Canon 5D Mark II that can take 35mm lenses with a chip that can handle the depth of field variations. Really pretty stuff. This makes it all the more agonies when you run across a scene where actors stand only inches from a flat, blank, wall. If nothing else, have the actors step out a foot or so and put an up light on the floor to knock the shadows off the wall. Give your work some depth, in writing and picture.
Speaking of flat. We see some scenes, and occasionally entire movies, that just lay there. We had one last week, and I asked the room, "what is it about this scene that keeps it from holding our interest?" Nothing was obviously terrible, but the whole thing taken together was.
We talked about it and decided that each department – acting, camera, sound, writing, overall directing, etc. – was so under par that no one thing brought the scene down, but nothing lifted it up, either.
So what do you do when this happens? Hopefully, you discover this during the writing phase when it's cheap and easy to fix the problem, since that's the core of the issue. If not, you might be on the set when you realize that nothing interesting is going into the camera. Editing is your last chance to inflate a flat scene.
In all these cases, the fix is the same. Go back to the basics. Objective. Obstacle. Tactics. What do the characters want? What's stopping them from getting what they want? How are they going to overcome the problems? Sharpen up those aspects of the scene. Cut anything and everything that doesn't apply, and get out as quickly as possible.
On that last point, I'm going to get out to work on my own project and try to put my work where my criticism is.
Thanks for reading.