Monday, February 11, 2013

And So It Begins... Again

Work for year 16 of the festival unofficially began about a week after year 15, but things have started in earnest now that we are screening submissions.  And that means I'm firing up the blog for another season of behind-the-scenes action from the defiant fest of raw talent.

Okay, "action" might not be the right word.  "Insights" might be better, but you know how it is... marketing.
For those of you not familiar with this blog, here's how it works.  I hate watching bad movies.  I want – in fact, every film festival screener wants – each submission to be a fantastic film.  Good movies are a joy.  Bad ones are painful to endure. 

And the painful stuff seems to run in cycles.  When I started it was the countless Romantic Comedies that were neither.  Then there were the endless Mocumentaries.  This blog is an attempt to tell filmmakers, if you're thinking of making a movie like the 57 horrible ones with the exact same style and plot points I've had to watch – DON'T!

At least, that was the intent.  Naturally, it has become a place for nervous submitters to obsess over their movies and to hell with anyone else.  Okay.  I understand that.  Human nature.  So some rules have evolved.
First, no film will be mentioned by name.  Good or bad, it's just not fair.

When I talk about stuff that doesn't work, I'm never talking about just one film, but a trend we're seeing in a lot of movies.  So if you think I've just told the world your movie sucks, you're absolutely, 100% wrong.  Your movie might suck, but I didn't tell anyone.  If you decide to post an angry comment about how I said bad things about your movie, go ahead – but you'll be outing yourself, not me.

Not all of my comments are negative.  Sometimes I have good things to say about a movie, and when I do, I think it's nice for the filmmaker to know I'm talking about their movie.  After all, you've worked too hard and faced too many rejections, for a compliment to fly under the radar.  In these cases, I will drop a hint that only people who have seen the movie will get.  My way of saying, "Hey, you done good, kid," without causing a riot over who is in and who is out.
That brings me to another point.  Every year we have more good films than we have spots to fill.  Every year my heart is broken because a movie I love and fought for didn't make the cut.  So if you recognize that I've said good things about your movie, that only means you've made a good film.  You'll probably get one of those "You've made it to the second round" letters, but it doesn't mean you're in.  I know, that sucks.  I've been on both sides of submissions and it all sucks – right up until your movie premieres.

Speaking of premieres: should you get one of those "you've made it to the second round" e-mails, then your premiere status becomes even more important, so stay in touch with us.  If you get offered a premiere at a festival by the beach, we won't tell you not to do it, but we might be able to put you in touch with some filmmakers who have done both and you can compare notes.

Okay, on to the screenings. 
We get together once a week to watch short films, then take home features to watch and review.  Each film is seen by at least three screeners, sometimes more, and each film is watched all the way through.  This blog tends to be more about the shorts, but I will chime in with feature comments when I see something worth mentioning.

Tonight we started off with the Florida State University logo.  Always nice to see.  I don't know what they put in the water down there, but it's working.  You kids – and in this case, I mean kids literally – are doing some great work.  It's gotten to where we set aside FSU submissions to pop in after a string of bad movies.  Something to cleanse the pallet.  We used to do that with Chapman University films, but haven't seen as many of those lately.  What's up with that?
After FSU, we had a string of movies with great visual effects, but little else.  I lost count at three of four films with stunningly good graphics, and equally stunning - in a bad way -  writing, casting, etc. 

Folks, we human beings have been presenting narrative stories as entertainment for as long as we have been human.  We have over 3,000 years of written history on the art of storytelling.  I suggest you all master those skills before you start playing with software.  If you want to build a visual effect reel, great.  Find a storyteller to work with so your reel will be worth watching. 

Case in point – one of the best films of the night had family members holding up dolls and talking about coffee.  The story was brilliant.  It was suited to the art of short filmmaking, and not a feature script cut down to a confusing mess.  The cast was fantastic; the writing, subtle.  The photography and sound matched the story in skill. 
I think if I were to teach a class in visual effects, I would require first year students to make films without them.  Graphics are easy.  Emotions are hard.

On that bastardization of Edmund Gwenn's last words, I will make them mine.  For this week, at least.
Thanks for reading.


Harold Geiger said...

All these films that have clearly spent money keep forgetting the most important part. The story.

RSMellette said...

Yeah. People always ask "what kind of festival are you?" Meaning, what kind of films are we looking for.

The answer is always, "Any film with a good story told well."