Monday, January 13, 2014

Please, Shoot the Piano Player!

We had a crowd of screeners last night.  It’s often that way early in the season.  We’ll see how long the new folks (or the old) last, as the new people learn that exposing oneself to raw art is hard work, the old folks burn out.

We were greeted by a night of horrendous piano music in both screening rooms, as it becomes clear that new filmmakers are not taking advantage of the wealth of knowledge presented here over the years.  Look back on past posts about film scores and you’ll see that time and time again movies come in with wall-to-wall piano plunking, often accompanied by a cello or synthesized strings.  People, film scoring is an art unto itself.  It’s not just any ole music played throughout, and no music is better bad music.  Seriously, if you haven’t submitted your film and you have a score of nothing but random piano cords, you’ll be better off taking it all out.  If you have submitted, and you’re worried that the music will make us pass on your film completely, don’t.  No film is perfect.  If you’re strong in other areas, we let my little nitpickings slide, but in general, the less we have to let slide, the better.

We had a nice short doc that made me compliment it for the journalistic integrity, which is rare these days.  If you’re making a Doc, or considering one, remember, you’re a journalist first, filmmaker second.  Even if it’s an opinion essay, like Michael Moore’s work, it still needs to be in the style of good journalistic editorials.
Speaking of essays – we had our first 100% voice over film of the season.  We get these a lot, and sometimes they are good, sometimes great, but more often they get a big PASS.  When you limit yourself to just a single voice in a movie, you have to understand what a burden you’re starting out with.  One voice, one point of view.  That voice and the story must be engaging enough to hold our attention.  The words must all be special.  And when the narrator isn’t speaking, the pictures must be strong enough to hold their own.  It’s a big challenge.  Live up to it, or crash and burn.

This brings me to another thing we see over and over again – the total hyphenate.  A multi-hyphenate is the writer-producer-director.  A total hyphenate is the idiot who does everything and doesn’t listen anyone’s input – and it shows.  At every level of production, from “I’m thinking of making a movie” through script drafts, on the set, and in the edit bay, get other people’s opinions.  Sure, they might all say “it’s great, honey,” so you’ll have to read between the lines.  You’ll also have to find people who give, good, professional feedback.  The film industry isn’t non-competitive soccer.  Awards (and jobs) do not go out to everyone who participates.  Get help at every step of the process.

We had a couple of movies with great kids in the cast in very different projects.  From 1960’s little-known Cold War History, to lessons on gun control & gardening – we saw some future stars in action.  Nice job, kids.  (And the adults, too).

I’d like to leave this post with a challenge to the American Film Institute.  We see your submissions year after year, and they are often some of the best films we see – but they are all so heavy.  The one we saw last night was fantastic, but just once, I’d like to see a comedy from AFI.  Please!
If you can do that, then maybe we can get USC to make a movie that isn’t a visual effects extravaganza.


Anonymous said...

Often times simple, random piano chords work for film scores, sometimes not. But calling all hyphenates idiots is just another example of what I see over and over again in your posts. This self-important, narcissistic attitude you exude time and time again. We "get" that you're drunk with your "power" to select the films for DWF Festival, but the condescension and threats, frankly, suck!

RSMellette said...

Self-important? Sure, okay. Narcissistic? Who isn't in this business? Drunk with power? I wish! If I had power, I'd use it to finance my own projects - because, you know, I'm a narcissist. Condescension? It's not something I'd do on purpose, but it can happen.

I'll give you all of that, but threats? No. We at DWF are filmmakers. We have been where you are. You might not believe this, but we respect the hell out of every single filmmaker - whether they submit or not. They've done a tremendous job not only to get their film made, but also to put it out for hacks like me to make snide comments. I just hope that my self-important, exudings help people improve their work.

Thanks for reading, and thanks for your comment.


RSMellette said...

And I typo-Ed my own initials.

Anonymous said...

I think there's a lot of value in this blog, Robert. Being a past DWF alum, I feel that many indie filmmakers think they're being unique and original, when if fact, they are not. And hey, it's difficult. The low budget tricks, scenes, characters have been beaten to death. I've fallen into a lot of these traps myself, but I learn from them. Thanks. - Brian J.

RSMellette said...

Thank you, Brian.

And you're right, the tricks have all been done. When you see them hundreds at a time like we do, they are exposed as tricks.

The one trick that always works, is no tricks. Have a good, honest story to tell. One that so compels you that, if you don't share it with the world, you swear you're going to explode. Then use the tools of film well to tell the world.

That trick works every time.

Screenoid said...

Having screened numerous DWF entries over the past year, I can say with confidence that if a movie's writer, director, editor, producer, and star are all the same person, the movie is almost always terrible. Shane Carruth can get away with it; most of us aren't Shane Carruth.

Film is a collaborative effort. Martin Scorsese doesn't edit his own movies. Ridley Scott isn't his own lead actor. Let go of a little control. Your movie will be better for it. Or you can just get mad at Robert for telling you what other festivals won't and keep making the same mistakes. Your call.

Anonymous said...

I have a question about multi/total hyphenates. As a student filmmaker still working on shorts, I of course still end up wearing many hats despite my goal of working with more and more people, but I feel like seeing the same name over and over in the credits is obnoxious. So while I credited my cast and crew members with the appropriate titles, I just put "a short film by" with my own name rather than putting "writer/director/producer/editor"in the credits. Is it better to list all of your own duties, or is a catch-all for "everything else" better?

RSMellette said...

Excellent question!

What you've done is fine. You could also give yourself one screen credit with all of your titles.

What you don't want to do is credit after credit after credit. That's just wrong.

Doing it the way you did is very cool - but when you list it in IMDB, list all of the jobs you did. The industry uses IMDB constantly.

Also, there isn't a huge problem with wearing so many hats as long as - like you - you seek as much help as possible. Feel free to wear the hats and ask people, "Does this look good?" And listen to the answer!

The problem comes when people wear all of the hats and say, "Look how good these look." And don't care what the reply is.

Good luck!