Dear Filmmakers of the Blog-o-sphere,
Between December and the middle of March I watched a total of forty feature length films as a Screening Committee Member for a NY based Film Fest. These films ranged from the student variety (I think I now, unfortunately, know what the insides of most NYU dorms look like...sigh...) and the (ever-so-rare-nearly-extinct animal called the) well produced indie feature! This experience was interesting, really making the difference between trend and directorial voice very, very transparent! The more I watched the more things emerged as patterns- of long held styles of filmmaking, storytelling, particular types of documentary fact mongering (as I just saw discussed over at AV Club) and a general contrived nature of all sensory aspects (Yes, I have seen that before. When Wes Anderson did it. Everytime Wes Anderson did it. And also, he did it better. Also.)
I already gave a run down about this topic earlier on this here blog, discussing the motivations and work that go behind the decision to make an independent film but, after this last round of twenty films, I'd like to nudge just a tad more... Seriously, there were so many films that I came across that were juuuust missing, that were lacking in pure- oftentimes simple- editorial issues or problems that seemed like things that could have been avoided easily with just a few simple steps. Below are some of these simple steps that I think are important to the wrap up of any film production and would have saved at least 60% of the films I rejected....!
1. The first thing is something I'd like to call The Music Video Syndrome. Experiment: if you mute the soundtrack does the scene work? Does it convey the emotion and meaning you want it to? Is it an image worth seeing? Are you using the soundtrack to (easily) cover up holes? Or using the image to detract from poor, thoughtless writing? If so, think about it. Example to follow: Michel Gondry.
2. Documentaries: Does the crux of the film focus around some sort of non-profit entity? If so, focus more on the cause this entity addresses instead of the organization itself...watching a non-profit run is just watching someone at work. Oftentimes in their office. And we can all agree this is neither fun nor moving as a film and is also unlikely to instigate action on the part of the viewer. I mean, who wants to donate money to the mailroom of a cause (yes, it is something that needs to be done, duh) but maybe not be so vocal about it perhaps? Example to follow: The Cove.
3. Another doc issue: How interesting is this subject on a broad scale? I have watched tons of docs at this point focusing around "the weird guy I met and his weird story" or "my uncle/friend/cousin who I find really neat." Sometimes our personal understanding of someone can get in the way of whether or not the subject will have an appeal to a wider audience. This is awesome in terms of niche fests for sure, or a personal pet roject, but oftentimes certain characters just don't hold up for a feature film. Experiment: Think of the best character-fiction or nonfiction- you can think of and hold your subject to this standard. What does this character stand for? Why should we watch them be filmed? Example to follow: Errol Morris.
4. Does your movie need to be two hours long? Editing is your friend! A thing that I've personally seen a lot of filmmaker's do is to show edits to friends or small audiences, an more personal advanced screening. One can easily lose sight of a film given the long, arduous process it takes, sometimes having a reliable sounding board is a thing that can make, break or whittle down your film into something watchable! Often when you think you are being contemplative you are just being boring and watching when the yawns come in in your own livingroom can save you future napping audiences/critics (will not lie, I fell asleep a lot during these movies, rewinding until a point I could remember becoming another level of screening committee purgatory!
5. Just because you have footage of something doesn't mean it adds up to a movie. Alternately, your life might not be as interesting as you find it. This is especially important in the doc sphere but also extends a bit into the fiction feature as well... Narrative feature films should be a defined story you are telling and a reason you are telling it. So, a guy builds a boat. Why? What does this mean? How does it extend into a larger experience or idea or meaning or truth? Granted, it doesn't always have to be about something bigger but then, maybe your film should be more along the experimental lines? Film is using images and sound to tell a story or convey an idea: DO THIS! Please? I often get caught up in the discussion of self expression, of giving mediocre art a pass just because it acts as a necessary thing the artist felt compelled to do and expressive lives we are not always let in on, but when it comes to film: an audience is what creates the filmic experience. The audience must be taken into account when creating, even if it is your story you are telling it must be something for others as well. I don't want to see an(other) independent fiction feature made by a rich white guy about a white guy who is sad because he is rich. Nor do I want to see your expensive Spring Break to the Amazon disguised as a pretend Anthropological & soul searching journey. Films are made for other's eyes, think about those eyes (and ears! and brains!) and your motivations for sparking your creative life in front of them!