Friday, February 25, 2011

No News Is Bad Advertising

We had a discussion last night about certain Movie Making magazines and why Dances With Films is not listed in them. It turns out some of these journalistic publications make film festivals pay to be listed, while purporting to be a news source for filmmakers. Is this the most horrible thing in the world today? No, not by a long shot, but it's an interesting distinction. A festival would be wise to buy a nice big shiny ad in a Movie Making trade journal in an attempt to snag as many entries as possible, but an informative, and supposedly comprehensive, list of festivals is not an ad. It's news.

Dances With Films has been around for 14 years now and has a long reputation as a highly visible discovery festival in the filmmaking capital of the world. If we're not listed in a magazine or dot-com claiming to have a comprehensive list, then you as a filmmaker should question if that source is giving you the whole story. Given that these Movie Making Magazines and dot-coms are treating news as advertising, one has to wonder about the value of their rankings of Festivals You Should Enter. Integrity is a currency. It can gain or lose value over time. In journalism, integrity is a must. We have to trust that a reporter is telling us as close to an unbiased truth as possible because we don't have the ability to go find the story ourselves. Once there is a doubt in that trust the value of their integrity is deminished.

Why should we as artists care so much about this? Because not knowing could cost you money.

Just this morning I ran across Kim Brittingham's blog via Writer Beware. In it, she discusses a new trend in bilking writers called "branded entertainment." These are talk shows, on TV and the internet, where guests pay to appear. Different from infomercials, where the producer of the product and the show are one-and-the-same so only the 6:00 AM audience is fooled (buyer beware), branded entertainment often charge "appearance fees" from their unsuspecting guests. The guest goes on a show assuming they have a large enough audience to generate sponsorship money, when in fact, the guest is the sponsor and there may be no audience at all. To my filmmaking readers, you should be just as warned as authors. If you get a call to appear on a talk show about your movie, be prepared. Follow Kim's advice on how to tell legit from quit.

On to this week's films:

There are a few shots we need to put a moratorium on:

  • Feet hitting the floor – getting out of bed, out of a car, out of a helicopter, I don't care. Unless the feet, or the ground they hit, are an important part of the story, we don't need to see that happen. We will assume that there is gravity. If the character successfully stands, we will give you the fact that there is some sort of solid surface under their feet. Of course, when you're shooting and you don't feel confident that you have a good shot of the transition between sitting and standing, get the shot, but tell your editor to use it only in case of emergency.
  • The long & wide shot of a person walking or driving from one side of the frame or the other. You know this one. For driving, it's usually done in the desert; walking, in front of a building with a cool wall – usually with pealing plaster. It's definitely a cool shot. So cool, in fact, that everyone uses it. EVERYONE. The first filmmaker to come up with an even cooler way to show a character getting from point A to B will probably become as rich and famous as I would like to be.
  • The close-up of some random part of a person's face. I don't need to see how big an actor's pours are or the hair on their upper lip – unless these things are an integral part of the plot, which would be a really weird ... please don't make that movie.

Something else we see a lot, which pertains to any written dialogue; it is 100% of the time a bad idea to have one character tell another something they should already know. If you find yourself typing, "As you know..." STOP.

Objection your author! The artist is trying to introduce exposition into the story in a way that makes his characters appear to be stupid.

Sustained. Artist, you must try another way to get that information into your story without compromising your characters.

I put it that way because when writing exposition I often feel like a lawyer trying to present evidence in a trial – especially when writing a novel in first person. The more stern the judge is in my head about the rules of presentation, the better my story will be.

We had a couple of more films last night that a good short premise but went on too long. Folks, watch the old Bugs Bunny cartoons. Get in. Get your laugh. Get out. Leave us wanting more.

We've had quite a few films this year that feel like someone got a new cool camera, figured out it can shoot video, shot some pretty stuff and then realized they could edit it on their laptop. Great! Good for you! Nice start. We will love to see your submissions year after year and watch you grow as filmmakers. Really, we would. And when you get to be filmmakers, we'll program your stuff – so don't be discouraged when you get that PASS letter in your e-mail.

We've had a few films – and I suspect we will get many more – about soldiers returning from Iraq and/or Afghanistan. We screened a short last night on this subject, and as the jeep drove away in the last shot we paid the highest compliment any audience can pay a drama – a deep, long silence. I've been on stage and gotten that reaction. It's a little freaky when the applause doesn't come right away and a room full of a thousand people sounds like it's empty. The first time it happens you think they hate it, until they stand and applaud. Bravo.

We have also had submissions on this same subject that did not ring true. I can't say for certain, because I don't know anything about the filmmakers, but when this happens it seems obvious that the artists involved have never experienced war, returning from war, or anything else that they've written about. In other cases, it's obvious the artists have experienced what's on the screen, but don't know anything about making movies. Both elements need to be given equal respect or the project – no matter how noble – will fail.

That's for this week. Again, comments are appreciated and thanks for reading.

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