Monday, January 6, 2014

You're In - And Other Body Issues

While FSU sports fans gathered in Pasadena this week, their movie fans should have been at Dances With Films submissions screenings last night.  We have a stack of FSU films, which is great!  These are almost always well done, so we look forward to watching them, and we saw some good ones last night, so thanks for that.

But before we got to the shorts, a screener and friend told me he watched 3 features over the past week, and they all had peeing scenes in them.  Obviously, some filmmakers are not reading my blog.  It seems like every other indie filmmaker thinks it's uber-cool and cutting edge to show characters expelling things from their bodies - pee, puke, poop and other 3-year-old p-words.  Sure, if it's necessary to the plot, or tells us something about the character (besides the fact that they pee) or it's uncuttablely funny (and not just to you, but to little old ladies from the aforementioned Pasadena), keep it in - but don't fool yourself into thinking you're being original.  Almost everyone does it - and it's almost always a bad idea.

While we're on the topic of things we see every year, the very first short in my screening room (we have two going each night), was a dance film.  Of course, there's nothing wrong with a GOOD dance film, but they are extremely hard to do well.  We often get the feeling that filmmakers think we only show dance movies, or that they'll have an edge because they've made a dance movie.  Neither is the case.  Please, just make good movies - dance or otherwise.

We had a few shorts with something I don't recall seeing - little flashback montages of what we just watched. These would usually come as the character remembers the good ole days of way back when - but it was just a few seconds ago for us.  In some cases, it was just a few minutes ago for the character.  Neither the audience nor the character needs reminding of what just happened.  Save that for a mini-series.

We had some editing that didn't match in naturalistic narratives.  This is very jarring.  If you find you can't make two cuts go together, go to a quick reaction shot and come back.

We screen mostly on DVDs.  We have a lot of pressure from some to accept streaming files - which usually don't work very well - and when we come down to decision making time, it's harder to remember a film without the DVD in hand, or to pop it into a machine as a reminder.  At the same time, we saw some badly compressed films last night.  Folks, you're making a short.  You shouldn't have to compress it at all to fit on a DVD.  Watch your own movies.  Look at the background.  If the fog or a blank wall looks like little squares from the 1980's ... you've over compressed your files.  Try again.

We had a lot of hitting on the head in the shorts.  Sometimes with dialogue; when the characters talk more like they are summing up a book report or telling how they feel instead of just feeling or doing something.  Other times it was with the filmmaker's message.  Don't get me wrong, I like a good message movie, and in a short, you certainly can hit the viewer over the head with a blatant message.  Rod Serling did it all the time. But do it in one, hard shot and end the movie.  There's no need to pound over and over again.  We get it.

Ending on an up note:  I caught a nice single card for a Production Designer, which reminded me that, all too often, design is ignored in smaller budget films - and that is a big mistake.  First, a good designer can actually save money, and they can certainly make the audience forget they are watching something done on the cheap.  When you're ramping up for production it's easy to forget that the little things are going to be what make your story more entertaining than your average micro-budget film.  And designers are all about the little things.

Until next week.


MB said...

Technical thing... You say you screen mostly on DVDs... Most of the time, when a festival says this, they mean DVD-Video. In fact, after looking at your WAB listing it does specify DVD-Video (NTSC). So unless a film maker is somehow lost in the distant past and not shooting HD, they DO in fact, have to modify their films a tremendous amount to get them onto a DVD (A standard def only format). This includes down res-ing them to SD, flipping the field order (if they shot interlaced for some reason) guessing whether you prefer the picture to be letter-boxed or anamorphic (and we always guess wrong BTW) and then, yes, compressing into a DVD legal format (MPG-2 mostly). So there are a ton of things that can go wrong if you are not technically on top of the entire process (or use a professional service that knows what they are doing). I have personally stopped submitting to festivals that only accept DVDs. Its just too much work and to damaging to the film to throw away all that quality and end up with an SD picture. So unless a festival accepts Blu-Ray (and yes, I know DWF does) I don't submit to them. But even with Blu Ray, you do have to compress the files. Uncompressed HD needs about 10 gig per minute. Now, all that said... I do agree with you. Indi film makers need to get on top of the technical issues surrounding the way your films look. Yes, it is an art, but if you ignore the rather complex technology that makes it possible, you do so at your own peril.

RSMellette said...

Thanks for the comment, and yes all of that is correct - believe me, I know more about that sort of thing than a screenwriter should. And I shouldn't have been so flip about the issue. In truth, we would never fail a submission on something like that alone. We look mostly at the quality of the storytelling - from the writing, to acting, and filmmaking skills. Not being good at making a DVD version isn't entirely relevant... but if any of the other departments are less than perfect, then you can die the death of a thousand cuts. Enough little things wrong add up to some big things wrong.

Also, don't be so hesitant to submit to festivals that only take DVD submissions. Worry more about how they screen at the festivals.

MB said...

Thanks for the reply... I was actually referring to fests that screen off DVD at the festival. WHY? Blu Ray players are 70 bucks now. If you can't put down 70 bucks to screen in HD you shouldn't be holding a festival IMO.(and the fests I'm thinking of screen in venues that already have HD capable projectors). It makes no sense. To me it is a great disservice to the artists that put the time and money into producing a good looking product.

It is also sad to me to see a film that does have a good story and good acting and good production values in front of the lens, but then everything behind the lens falls apart. Bad compression on the original file, a bad conversion into the editor, a badly compressed viewing file generated that then somehow ends up being the master file that other versions are made from. Its sad because the tech is the part that is SO EASY to get right!

Writing, now that's hard....

RSMellette said...

:) It's all hard - and yes, festivals shouldn't even screen off of Blu Ray if you ask me. The failure rate is just too high. Last year, we had all of the shorts converted to DCP, and the filmmakers had the option of buying the file when we were done. Anyone thinking of spending the money on DCP, make sure: 1) you've got a well-made source as MB says, and 2) also spend the money on a QC. File transcode have fail-able flaws about 1/3 of the time.