Friday, April 1, 2011

You're Already A Winner!

Congratulations! Absolutely every film that submitted to Dances With Films this year has gotten into the festival!

Uh... check the date of this post.

Before I get to last night's screenings, I want to give a shout out to From The Write Angle. This is a new blog group that some of my novelist friends have started. It launched today... no, really, that's not an April Fool, it did. My first entry, A Name I Call Myself, might give some comfort to the filmmakers who get those terrible pass letters that will be coming out in the next month or so, or any artist that might be going through a hard time. Stop on by and leave a comment so I know you're there.

I have a stack of feature films to get through and last night's Lakers' game to watch, so let's get right to the shorts from last night.

We had a film from Chapman University, which is always nice to see. Like FSU, Chapman always seems to produce quality work. Other universities do as well, of course, but those two have stood out in the past couple of years. If you're at another university, it might just be that we aren't enough submissions from your school, so get those suckers over to us.

We often get, but I've rarely talked about, films with scenes that are overwritten. Usually, this is a problem that doesn't stand out because so many other problems mask it, but last night there was a film that was just right in almost every way Рgood acting, filmmaking, story, etc. Рbut a few scenes had more dialogue than necessary. When a character speaks their emotions, or tells another character something they should already know, or slips into clich̩ phrases, then you get the feeling the writer is putting in more than is needed. This is when script editing has to go from the big hammer & chisel to the fine work of sandpaper and polish. Little tiny snips of a sentence here, or a word there, make all the difference in the world. Often this can happen on set. The director and cast should keep a sensitive ear. An overwritten line will sound like a flat note in a symphony; hard to pick out of the whole, but glaringly obvious once spotted.

We had a film that not only laid flat for all of us in the room, but also suffered from what's known in the business as "Bonanza Casting." That's when actors playing parents and children seem like they are really the same age. Not a huge problem. I've done it myself, but it's rare one gets to work that phrase into a conversation.

We had another film with a sound issue we often hear – or rather, can't hear. It had an uneven mix. The effects were loud and clear. The dialogue was barely audible. The loudest sounds were blaring, the softest not there at all. Folks, sound is as important as picture. Get it right or 50% of your movie sucks right off the bat.

We saw a delightful little documentary, much of which was shot right across the street from the Sunset 5 Theatre where we hold the festival. We got a laugh out of that, as well as the film – which is good, since it's intended to be funny. Often our biggest laughs come from films that didn't mean to get that reaction. Never good when that happens.

There was another funny and intelligent short that came off like a Southern Mamet sketch. The timing of this film was interesting, as it dealt with race. Just before that, we watched a movie with obviously well-educated, middleclass, articulate actors playing street characters. The writer didn't seem to have a handle on the idiom, either, which didn't help. Being a Southerner, it kind of reminded me of some of those cooking shows where the hosts say "ya'll" way more than is natural, or where writers have characters say it to just one person. Word of advice, "ya'll" is plural – ya feel me?

Finally, we watched a movie that I would like to carry with me 24/7 – along with a portable DVD player. Not because the film was good. On the contrary, it was about five minutes long, but I swear it slowed down time. The movie took forever. Time nearly stopped. I want this film – or any of the numerous slow shorts we get every year – on me at all times in case of emergency. If I'm in a car accident with only 3 minutes to live, and the ambulance is 20 minutes away... "Quick! Put on that movie that stops time!"

Keep an eye out here as we get to making final decisions on films. And if you want something to do while waiting, don't put on the movie that stops time, but get over to From The Write Angle. Maybe you'll learn something.

Thanks for reading.

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