Friday, March 25, 2011


I want to give a shout out to the 2-Minute 2-Step short film competition as we enter our fifth year of doing this madness.

There are a lot of short film competitions on the festival circuit, but as far as I know, the 2-Step is the only one that lets you make the movie you want to make. By that I mean, others typically give you 24 to 48 hours to make a movie based on an opening sentence, or a theme, or some piece of dialogue you have to work into the script. At the start of the game this sentence is reveal with great fanfare. The filmmakers then disappear to make a movie – except... they don't have a script. As a writer, I have to say I enjoy the discovery of what a large percentage of the limited time is spent on writing.

On most sets, if the writer is there at all, he or she looks like the laziest person in the world. They roam around giggling and messing with the producers, directors, and stars. Occasionally, they'll have some pages in their hand that shoot the next day or the next week, but for the most part, they look like they don't have a care in the world.

But when there is no script, the roles are reversed. The crew stands around playing grab-ass while the poor writer sweats bullets, pulling ideas out of his or her brain and trying to smash them into the computer in some orderly fashion. This is what any writer on any film has done long before the crew has been hired, so it's no wonder they have that stupid grin on their face during production. They've worked their behinds off and are now reaping the rewards.

So the DWF 2-Minute 2-Step celebrates the writer and all aspects of pre-production. Competitors are given all the time they need to write, cast, rehearse, staff, design, etc. the 2-minute movie they want to make. The game for our competition is; once they roll – or whatever the digital equivalent of "rolling film" is – on their first shot, they only have 4 hours to finish the movie.

Another difference for us is that the filmmakers don't run away, make their masterpiece, and come back with the finished goods. They do it on site in front of everyone. Our stage is the filmmaker's lounge. Our edit bay is the lobby of the theatre. It is so much fun to see people with movies already in the festival - dressed in their nice clothes, noshing on tidbits from our sponsors, and schmoozing with people who they hope can get them their next gig – interrupted by a sweaty assistant director desperate to finish on time screaming, "Rolling! Quiet, please!"

And because everyone there is in some way related to the industry, they fall dead silent, wait for the shot to finish, then either pick up the conversation where they left off, or happily use the filming as an excuse to get away from a bore.

And what's the end result? Take a look:

Jerry Kernion did such a good job in his production strategy that he actually finished making the movie before he finished shooting it. How? Come to this year's event and find out.

On to this week's submissions.

First, a personal confession. I will admit when screening features I have kicked the speed up to 1.5 times. It's not something I'm proud of. I have never done it in the first ten minutes of a movie. I've never done it with a movie that has even the slightest chance of being in the festival. I only go to 1.5 times the speed because at that rate I can still hear the dialogue. If anything remotely interesting happens (it usually doesn't on films this bad) I stop, go back a little, and watch the scene. I take solace in the fact that some other poor screener – usually one that hasn't been doing this for the 10+ years I have – will sit through the entire movie to give it a 100% fair shot.

Why am I making this confession? Because 99.9 times out of 100 when I do this, the movie seems completely normal at a higher speed. For some reason, lesser filmmakers seem to think slower is better. Their establishing shots not only let us know where the scene we're about to see takes place, but they give us the feeling we've lived our entire lives there – that's entire life as in long past our deaths. The cast can be just as guilty. Sure, Meisner Technique, speak only when you're motivated to speak. Well, get off your dramatic butt and motivate faster!

If you're a first time filmmaker with a rough cut grab a test audience and show them the movie at 1.5 times the normal speed and see if they notice. If not, get back to your editing and take the pauses out. Thank you.

We had another movie with the film industry as a backdrop. I wish this filmmaker could take their same characters, same story, same cast & crew, and just change the business the lead character is in. There was not enough cleverness to this slice-of-life movie to overcome the groan factor of another movie about a 20-something working in the movie business. I know that's a prejudice against the second largest US industrial export that's as old as the automobile industry, but that's life. Get used to it.

We had a film that didn't have enough spark to overcome one of the most confusing plots I've seen in a long time, but did remind me that bars and party scenes are for some odd reason really hard to pull off in low budget filmmaking. The 2-Minute 2-Step above did a pretty good job of it by packing as many extras into an impossibly small space, but that's rare. So heads up. When you see "INT. BAR" or "INT. ROCKIN PARTY" in the script, you've got a big hurdle to overcome.

What is it about bad acting that the person doesn't need to say a word or even do anything and you know right away they have no talent? I've seen it a lot and can't figure it out. Worse still, what is it about a director who can't see that when casting? Your thoughts are appreciated on this subject.

There's a big trend we're seeing in poorly recorded voice over narration. Folks, we're going to play these movies on systems with speakers as big as your house. A few badly popped P's and we'll have blood dripping from the audience's ears. If you're going to do narration have it professionally recorded.

We ended the night on a good note. A film with a solid cast, including teenagers – who are hard to find – and a complicated story that laid itself out without on-the-nose exposition or taking up too much time. The dialogue was natural, and the script had a perfect blend of humor and drama. A lot of things go into deciding whether or not a film ultimately finds a slot in the festival, but I'll be fighting for this one – if for no other reason than to see if the kid's hair has grown back.

Thanks for reading.

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