Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Crunch Time

Our late deadline is March 30th, which is tomorrow as I write this.

That means on our end we've got to get down to decision making. On your end, it's time for the worst part of the wait. Believe me, I understand how hard the waiting is. I'm not only a filmmaker, but also a novelist. Glaciers move like jack rabbits compared to literary agents and publishers, and the higher up the food chain you go, the harder the waiting gets. It really, really sucks – but cheer up, it's about to get worse.

If you flip though the archived comments of my blog to about this time last year, you'll see that a few people got very upset with me the closer we came to announcing our final screening list. I'm sure that will happen again this year, as some folks can never be pleased, but in an effort to keep you all in the loop I thought I'd give you an outline of how things go from here.

Right now we still have features and shorts that have yet to be screened. Keep that in mind, I'll remind you about it later.

Over the next week we expect a flood of entries from the procrastinator set. It never ceases to amaze me how people insist on paying twice the amount of money for the same thing. A little inside information: Without a Box, the festival submission service, requires that we have this late deadline, which is actually well past our comfort zone. Consequently, we jack the price up to what we think is an equally uncomfortable level – and yet, every year we get submitters who'll pay it. Go figure.

So, with movies yet to be screened and the expectation of more submissions, we're under the gun. At the same time, there are movies we've already seen that we know we like. These have been sent an e-mail saying something about a second round, blah, blah, blah. We do this for two reasons:

  1. Screening history update since you've submitted. Did you get into the LA Film Festival? Great! Good for you! Good exposure. We'll give your DWF slot to another deserving film.
  2. To give you a heads up so you can plan your festival strategy.

That second one is tricky. Every year we have more good films than we do screening slots. Getting that second round notice means you've got a film to be proud of. It means someone like me is in your corner fighting to make sure you get one of those slots, but it's not a guarantee of anything. So say we've reached out to you and another California festival wants you in. Get in touch with us. You might have a bird in the hand with the other festival, but the two in the bush are singing at you. Is it a tough decision, yes. The kind of tough decisions you want to have to make throughout your career.

Now is the time I remind those filmmakers who have not gotten such an e-mail that we still have movies in the bins we haven't screened. So the answer to your "what does it mean if I haven't gotten a second round notice?" question is... well, you can figure it out. I will add that when screening, we pick the movies out pretty much at random, so yours might be the first movie submitted, but the last one screened.

As we move forward in time the fat lady starts warming up, but she does not sing until our final list is announced, and our pass letters have gone out. Why is this? Films drop out, last minute decisions have to be made, screening times change, a brilliant programming idea might shake things up, etc. Last year filmmakers complained on this blog about how we were slipping information out when they hadn't heard anything. In fact, we had slots still open. And FYI, if your film is on the bubble, pissing off the festival directors is a great way to make their decision an easy one... POP!

But not to worry. In over ten years of doing this, I've learned that good films are made by good people. In nearly every single case, the people who complain irrationally have made the worst movies. Rational complaints are another matter.

Good luck to everyone, and thanks for reading.

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.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Hey, Have You Heard The News?

Some big announcements about this year's festival. Check out these items from our Newsletter:

New this year, all films selected for the festival will be in consideration for the Industry Choice Award.  What's this?  One film (could be a doc, music video or narrative) will be announced at the Closing Awards Ceremony.  The winning filmmaker will receive a meeting with a high profile industry director, producer or executive (to be announced later).   Last year's unofficial industry choice was Audience Award winner, 'GO FOR IT!' filmmaker, Carmen Marron, who sat down for a meeting with Lucas Foster and stepped that much closer to her deal with LIONSGATE.  [GO FOR IT! will be released nationwide May 2011.]

ADOBE's in the HOUSE!!  
ADOBE, the leading company helping artists create, deliver and optimize compelling content, joins Dances With Films for year 14!  "We are very excited to announce that Adobe is joining the DWF family," stated Michael Trent, co-founder of DWF, "they are one of the most significant platform designers helping filmmakers realize their vision."   

While DWF has long focused on the films that make the indie circuit great, we have also produced a limited number of panels that are relevant to what's happening in the indie world. Instead of panels that are geared toward a Beginners' "How to?" we prefer to stay focused on "Where to?" As in: 'Where do you go from here?'... DWF has put together a couple of amazing panels for the June 2011 festival that are sure to be heavily attended: Panelists will include: Award-winning Casting Director, Deborah Aquila (Sex, Lies & Videotape, Shawshank Redemption, Smart People), Manager/Producer JC Spink (I Am Number Four, The Ring, upcoming Arthur) and Alcon Entertainment's SVP/Producer, Steven Wegner (The Book of Eli, The Blind Side).  Click
for more information.

We are getting close to our final deadline for submissions, which means different things to different people.

  • If you have already submitted, our final deadline means you're that much closer to hearing from us. Things get wild and crazy on this blog right around that time, so keep an eye out. A word to the wise – you're not out of the running until you get that sad e-mail from us that says thanks, but no thanks. Up until then, we are furiously trying to fill slots.
  • If you haven't submitted, then it means you need to get a move on! Do those final edits of the slow rambling walking with the bad piano plunks accompaniment and get that DVD over to us ASAP.
  • If you don't have a movie to submit, then get to your computers, typewriters, or sticks in sand and start writing a 2-minute (2-page) or less script to submit to the 2-Minute 2-Step short film challenge. You can make a movie during the festival that gets screened in the theatre the next night! How fun is that? Plus, we give great prizes to the winner.

Okay, back to watching movies.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Rules of Criticism

I think there are four types of reviews: Good, bad, favorable and unfavorable. Granted, we'd all prefer favorable reviews, but given a choice between a bad review that's favorable and a good one that's not, I think I'd go with the latter. A good critique teaches the artist as well as the audience, and there are some simple rules for formulating a good critique.

Is The Artist's Objective Clear? If you're watching a movie, is it a comedy or a drama? What's the point of the novel you're reading? The artist has asked you to invest your time in this particular piece. Why? If you're looking at a painting, is it classical realism or Jackson Pollock abstract expressionism? In music, is it a lullaby or a dance tune?

Does the Artist Achieve The Objective? Did the comedy make you laugh? The drama give a catharsis? Did the themes make you think? Is the realistic portrait objective? Does the artist's hand show in the abstract? Did the lullaby ease your tension? Did the dance number make you move? Was it all worth your time?

Finally, Do You Like It? It is important that this is the last question. I remember both Siskel and Ebert giving Rambo: First Blood positive reviews, even though neither of them liked the movie very much. If the artist's objectives are clear, and they achieve them in an interesting manner, then the critic is obligated to say, "if this is your cup of tea, you'll like it, even though I don't."

Following these rules is how a good critic can review a movie one minute and a bottle of perfume the next. What is being reviewed doesn't matter. How the thing achieves its goals, does.

Which leads us to this week's short film submissions.

We've had a slew of submissions that start with the old 8-second leader with the 2-pop – which I've always wondered, is that were the rapper got his name? Folks, we know you're shooting digital. Even if you shoot on film, you don't need the 8-second leader on your DVD submission. The projectionist doesn't have to sync up you reel changes, and we hope that you've already got your sound right. If you get into the festival, we're going to ask for an HD tape and Michael might instruct you to put on an 8-second leader, I don't know. I finished on film. I do know that: 1) you do not want any festival screening the same DVD you submitted. They get scratched, have a high failure rate, and a tendency to drop a couple of frames out of sync. I know a lot of festivals do screen off DVD or hard drives where they've copied the submission over. We ain't that cheesy, so that leads to: 2) we don't need to see the 2-pop.

But don't worry, and don't write in. Having it will not affect the first two rules of our critiques.

I was reminded of another theatre saying that filmmakers would benefit from burning into their brains. Savvy stage directors will often say to the lighting designer during technical rehearsals, "turn the lights up, I can't hear." They aren't kidding. If we can't see an actor's face, then it is harder to understand what they are saying. Our brains tell us we can't hear them, but in fact, we can't see them. This happens a lot in DWF submissions.

The music has been better this year. I had that thought as we watched a film done by someone who obviously didn't read my blog last year. Slow piano... over slow shots... of people walking... slowly... or people... sitting... or people... doing nothing. If that isn't bad enough, slow synthetic cellos are brought in to make sure that anyone who might still be awake is given artistic Quaaludes. Counterpoint, folks! Slow music is fine if you're setting us up for something – or have so overwhelmed us in action or plot or emotion that you know we need the tiniest of breathers – or maybe the action on the screen is the craziest car chase ever, then try a slow piano cord here and there as a juxtaposition. But dragging music over slow action is like putting lead weights on a jelly fish.

Speaking of weights on jelly fish... we often see films like one last night, where there is nothing blaringly wrong with the final product, except that every aspect of the movie – writing, acting, design, tech, etc. – falls just a little short on quality. Together, these little problems bring the whole down enough that it is ultimately a pass. Those are tough for us, because we hope the filmmakers will keep at it. All they need is experience.

We had another soldier coming home from war movie that just gave lip service to an important issue. In trying to help, they insulted. I don't know if the filmmakers have real experience in the subject matter or not. If so, they don't have the filmmaking skills to pull off their goal. It takes both experience and skill to handle such difficult subject matter.

I know I've harped on opening credits in shorts before – please don't pretend we're about to see an epic, just start the damn movie. The same applies for end credits. When you're watching a studio movie and you see a bunch of credits at the end, then the title of the movie, then the same credits over – like Cast (in order of appearance). That's because they are contractually obligated to each person whose name you see before the title to have "above the title" credits and a certain kind of credit "in the crawl." If the producers don't want all of that crap playing over action at the beginning, then they have to put it at the end. It's not an artistic choice, it's a legal one. In most cases with DWF submissions, you don't have those problems, so credit you're cast and crew, of course – but don't go crazy with it.

That's it this week. Thanks for reading and comments, questions, and suggestions are appreciated.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Top Ten Story Lines

First, I have a handful of readers from Japan. As I write, it is less than 24 hours since the 8.9 earthquake and tsunamis that hit the country. I'm sure everyone agrees that when life comes down to pure survival, the arts seem like folly, but once society stabilizes it is through the arts that we heal from the myriad of emotional injuries tragedy brings. Let us hold a good thought and, where possible, take good actions for all the people all over the world who are suffering for whatever reason. We long for the time when you will laugh again, and when your tears will be for fictitious characters, and by shedding them you find a small measure of peace from the real losses life brings. May peace be with us all.

Last week Joe M. requested I talk about what types of stories we're seeing, common themes, style choices, etc., so I've decided to channel my inner Casey Kasem for a countdown of the ten most seen types of film submissions at Dances With Films.

10.    Coming in at number ten on the countdown are Science-Fiction extravaganzas. With digital visual effects becoming possible on off-the-shelf laptop computers, we've been seeing an influx of movies with the look and feel of big budget studio films – at least as far as EFX go. In shorts, these usually hail from USC – no surprise there. Filmmakers considering this style should keep two things in mind: First, you will spend years in post production, literally, years with an "s". Second, like cameras, visual effects software packages do not write the script for you. Before you launch this type of venture, thoroughly vet your script. There is nothing worse than watching a film you know was years-with-an-s in the making, that looks beautiful, but still sucks.

9.    Dance movies. These are usually shorts. Some of them are brilliant and we do program them, but just because we're called Dances With Films, it does not mean that we're looking for movies about, with, concerning, or limited to dance.

8.    Horror. We're not technically a horror fest, so we don't get as many of these as, say, Shriekfest, ScreamFest, Blood, Beasts, & Boobs Fest – I made one of those up, not sure which one. We do still get horror/zombie/monster movies, and love to program them in the midnight slots. Occasionally, when we get one as good as The Scar Crow, we'll put it in competition.

7.    Domestic Violence Past & Present films. Just had a slew of these last night in the shorts screenings. Like other heavy subjects, when these ring true they can be life-changing. When they don't, they are terrible – sometimes even laughably bad. If you're considering a story along these lines, either write from real life experience – which I hope is not the case – or immerse yourself so completely in the subject matter that you get beyond lip-service clichés.

6.    Mocumentaries. We've seen far fewer of these this season than in the past, and I'm hoping the genre is well beyond its peak. If you're considering a project that is "like The Office" or "like Best In Show," please set it aside for about ten years until it's a new idea again. Thanks.

5.    Romantic Comedies that are neither. Don't get me wrong, I love a good romantic comedy, especially on a rainy day when the Lakers aren't playing, but we see submissions where my notes read "filmmaker needs therapy." If you have anger issues toward the opposite gender, or you're denying your attraction toward your same gender, these will be painfully obvious to your audience. Find a reader of the opposite sex that you trust to give you a real, honest, critic of your work and LISTEN TO THEM. Do several table reads with actors and ask them for specific notes. While you're doing that, watch the chemistry of your actors. You might fix all of your neuroses in the script, but then have no spark between your leads – which is another way to fail in this very difficult genre.

4.    Frat Boy movies. Whether they are actually in a frat or not, every year we get movies about loser guys who drink too much beer or smoke too much pot. Nothing wrong with that, but please, make sure the script is just as funny when you're clean and sober.

3.    Essay Films. I've written about these a couple of times this season already, so you know they're trending hard and heavy. If you have a film with a single voice over narrator and no dialogue otherwise, then this pertains to you. As I used to say to one of my producer friends you have to, "write the hell out of it." The essay has to stand alone in its brilliance. After that, you have to make sure the narration is professionally recorded and that the speaker has some kind of charm or charisma that keeps us listening. Finally, it doesn't matter how well you do all of these things, you must keep it short. I don't care if you raise Richard Burton from his grave, any voice droning on for long period of time becomes monotonous. Get in, make your point, get out and you'll do well in this format.

2.    Look, Mom, I just got a new camera! We're starting to see short films that appear to be nothing but playing with the camera. Glad you're doing it. Glad you gave us money to watch it, but don't for a minute think we're going to charge other people money to sit through your experimentation. Come back when you have a plot.

1.    And the number one trending type of film we're seeing now – Soldiers returning from war. Okay, so this might not be the number one plot line of every submission, but we're seeing enough of these that I'd like to give a heavy warning to Joe M. and other filmmakers who might be considering what type of movie to make. Like domestic violence, films about soldiers returning from war can either ring so true that the audience's life is changed, or fall so flat that you want to bitch-slap the filmmaker for exploiting the subject matter. If you do not have personal experience, then it is best to steer clear. If you are still bound and determined to dive into it, then you are looking at a years-with-an-s type of time frame. You're going to have to find someone who does have the life experience and get inside their head so completely that you can recreate them, first on paper, then on screen. Yes, there are exceptions to this. If you're making a comic book, Rambo-style movie, go for it. Put some fun up on the screen. If you want to do a drama with some impact, then you're going to have truth in your bag of tricks – and sincerity can't be faked.

On to this week's shorts.

We've gotten so many submission in now that we're rocking two screening rooms. I missed out on all of those domestic violence movies I spoke of above, but got good reports on breaks. Having two rooms going is normal for us. The movies that are obvious passes are seen by the not-less-than three experienced screeners. The second-looks and must sees are bumped up to the next round of decision-making. This process has worked for 13 previous years, so no worries folks. Your movies are being watched.

We started with a movie that was near and dear to my dyslexic mind, but went on way too long. Initially, we all got a kick out of it, but as the thesis dragged I thought, "Ben Franklin did this over 200 years ago, why not just stick to his plan?" At five-to-ten minutes, this was a fun movie. At 30-minutes we were drained.

The next film had huge holes in the plot, so obviously there's a feature script out there somewhere that they used for their short. More troublesome is that none of the characters are even pleasant, much less likeable. Don't get me wrong, it is possible to do a story where the lead character is despicable. Richard III and Daffy Duck come to mind. This was neither.

We had a couple of films that were full of clichés. One in particular was nothing but. Granted, if your film is about clichés, then that can be fun. Again, not the case here. Especially watch out of this in dialogue.

We had the first short I can think of this season that had opening credits worthy of a feature film. For those who didn't read me last year, this is a bad thing. There's just something wrong with sitting through a preamble suitable for Gone With The Wind, when you know the movie is only ten minutes long. This particular movie was more like thirty minutes, and ten minutes into it, I had no idea what it was about.

Often the night finds an unintended theme. We'll have movies that all seem to have something in common and someone will say, "Oh, it's such-&-such" night. This was "Bad Acting Night." I made the following quote at a SAG meeting once and everyone wrote it down. You should, too. "A good picture of bad acting is a bad picture." Nothing can overcome bad actors, so find good ones... please!

Thanks for reading. As Joe M. can tell you, comments are appreciated.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Stage to Screen: Louder, Faster, Funnier

One thing I learned from watching the Oscars® this year; it is painfully evident who has stage experience and who doesn't. To watch a master like Kirk Douglas play a crowd is a lesson to every filmmaker – nothing teaches us how to entertain an audience better than standing in front one. Those lessons run deep. They are not forgotten, and they translate to every aspect of the screen.

With a history that dates back to before the invention of the wheel, theatre has collected a multitude of little sayings used as shorthand in the creative process. I'd like to examine a few of these in the interest of passing on the wisdom to a new generation of filmmakers.

Louder, Faster, Funnier: I don't know the origin of this saying. I've heard it in rehearsal halls and stages all around the country, but mostly with the "Mamet Mafia" actors I worked with in Los Angeles. You'll usually hear it from an actor who has been struggling with the internal workings of his or her character, trying to find the inner life, making it real, etc. The director will then give a note like, "I couldn't hear you on that line." The actor will then say, "Yeah, yeah, 'louder, faster, funnier.'" It sums up the kind of practical direction they hear in every production. Some artEEsts take it as an insult, but the seasoned professional knows there are minimum basic requirements to a good performance.

Louder: If the audience can't hear the dialogue, then what's the point of saying it? In film the actor's volume can be controlled by a team of artists in post production, but we constantly see submissions that we can't hear. Sometimes this will be the actor's fault, mumbling. More often than not it is the mixer/director/producer/editors' fault. The dialogue is buried under background noise, or music, sound effects, etc. Minimum basic requirement of a sound design – you have to hear the words.

Faster: Pace is everything. On stage, and to a certain extent in film, the pace is controlled by the actors. Stage directors are constantly saying things like, "pickup your internal cues in that speech," meaning don't pause so much between sentences, commas, etc. Between two actors they'll simply say, "pick up your cues," which refers to the space between one actor's line and the next actor's line. If this is met with resistance from an actor who has studied too much Meisner Technique – which relies heavily speaking only when motivated, not just when you're supposed to – you'll hear a director say, "yes, well... act faster."

In film, actors must be told by the director when they can step on each other's lines – actually cutting off the other actor with their line – and when they have to "make space" to avoid crosstalk – which is a big problem when editing. Basically, if both actor's faces are in the shot, and both are miced equally, then they should act naturally, if not – in close-ups, singles, etc. – then the actors have to pretend like they are interrupting each other so the editor can cut it together. Still, a filmmaker should always be aware of the pace of a scene. Getting the pace right on the set is the best way to insure it will work on the screen, but if it isn't right in the edit bay, then the filmmaker will find themselves giving the editor the notes s/he should have given the actors.

Think of pace as a wave and the story a surfer. The pace must have enough energy to drive the surfer forward. Minimum basic requirement, keep the surfer on the board.

Funnier: This really relates to the entertainment value. You'll also hear old vaudevillians say, "You don't cut funny." Even in the heaviest of dramas, funny is good. It's human. Laughter is a way of saying, "I connected to that." In the stage note, funnier is a reminder during rehearsal that we are entertainers. During the performance, when, night-after-night, there is nothing between you and a bunch of people who paid their hard-earned money to be entertained, you will be desperate to find that moment that makes them happy they did.

The filmmaker is distanced from this experience, and that is a shame. Some inspired film school should make their students sit on stage in front of hundreds of people as their movie is screened behind them.

Dive for the curtain: I think I might have made this one up, but you could say it in any theatre company and the actors would know what you're talking about. There comes a moment in any story where the audience knows how it's going to end. At that point in a play, a good cast will feel them getting ahead of the story – meaning, they know what's going to happen before it does. That's death. No actor wants to get bogged down in that, so a good director have them pick up the pace like crazy. "Stay ahead of the audience," they'll say. I've always said, "dive for the curtain call."

You want the pace-wave to break just behind the surfer, not in front. I bring this up particularly because I watched a very good feature submission the other day with a fantastic four-or-five-person cast that has a big reveal that comes at just the right place – but from there to the end of the film the edits are too slow. As I watched from the reveal on, I thought, "I remember the scene at the bar, at the gas station. Go, go, go. Move, move, move. You're losing me." If this, very talented filmmaker had to sit in front of an audience as the movie played, there would be a productive editing session to follow.

On to this week's shorts.

I was tickled by a film that was full of stolen shots. For my novelist readers, a stolen shot is one taken in public without telling anyone you're doing it. The actor will walk down the street, or through an airport or something and you get the feeling they just ran out and shot it without hiring extras, locking off the location, etc. For my film editing readers, yes, I know, a stolen shot can also be something filmed for one scene that is used in another, but that's another discussion.

I smiled at the stolen shots because I have a feeling we're going to see a lot more of that with cameras like the 5D, 7D, etc. which look like still cameras, but shoot video has well. A tourist on the corner of Hollywood and Vine taking a picture of the Capital Records building, might really be a DP shooting a major motion picture. A word to the wise; if you're stealing shots your distributor is going to want to see release forms from anyone who is the least bit identifiable in your movie, so be careful.

We had a short film with such good production value that I would hire absolutely anyone with that title on their resume... except the writer. A great costume can't fix bad dialogue. Beautiful set decorations can't make the story more clear. If the audience doesn't care about the characters, then they also won't care about the perfectly framed shot with impeccable lighting. Producers looking at your reel will, though, so here's a shout out to all those hardworking designers who slave away on films that won't find an audience. Your efforts are not wasted, so keep doing your best.

We had a funny short that was in such horridly bad taste that my note was "wonderfully wrong." I've always said that the short is an art form that has its own strengths and weaknesses and the best of them take advantage of that. Quick, clever, politically incorrect humor is one of the things shorts do well.

We had a short film about the movie industry that I wanted to hate – because so many of them are self-serving and bad – but the cast, the dialogue, the art department, and unique humor made me give it a must see. And, honestly, much of the audience at a Los Angeles film festival do work in the business, so one or two good send-ups play well. "Good" being the operative word.

We had a couple of movies last night that had no idea what they were trying to say or how they wanted to say it. I give the filmmakers credit for attempting high style, but when doing that, you have to be in tight control of every aspect of the story, cast, production design, etc. The films last night were vague and roamed around the screen, which leaves the audience with a "huh?" look on their faces.

People have definitely been reading this blog and my posts over the years on Without A Box because we've been seeing more and more movies that look like the first five-to-ten pages of a feature script – something I call "incitement" films. While these are 1,000 times preferable to movies that attempt to tell the whole story of a feature within a short, the endings can be tricky. Back to theatre sayings, filmmakers need to "put a button" on the end of the scene. Something that holds it together as a complete piece. We can still be left wanting more, but we also have to feel like we've had a whole appetizer, not just a nibble. Yes, that's a hard thing – but if this were easy, we'd all be doing it.

That's it for this week. Thanks for reading and comments are appreciated.