Please critique...observations r welcome...

Posted by PhillyFilmmaker 
Please critique...observations r welcome...
January 02, 2007 11:00PM
Hello there...
Me and my friends have made four short films since 2005 for the 48 hour film project (Philadelphia 2005 and 2006) and the National Film Challenge.
I posted up our films on youtube.
If you have 8 minutes times 4 please check them out.
I'd like to know what you think...
On youtube search for onalaxa. all the films are under the name Igglenut1980.
Or, go to this link:

Re: Please critique...observations r welcome...
January 05, 2007 11:02PM
Hopefully you haven't been feeling ignored...the forum is quiet all of a sudden.

To be honest, I don't find any of the shorts funny or interesting. All of the acting's too self-conscious -- your actor friends are trying too hard to be funny, and all of them look like they know exactly where the camera is. The pieces move too slow and aren't at all engaging for me.

"Onalaxa": It starts out slow-moving and never picks up. The voice-over repeats every single thing the onscreen graphics say. So I'm constantly two to three seconds ahead of your script, and the graphics look repetitive. A better approach to the graphics would have been to repeat key words only. Every cut seems a second too late, staying too long on final beats, defeating the PSA style conceit. PSAs tend to be very tight, informative and fast, not letting your attention drift. And the fact is, it's one fart joke stretched about six minutes too long.

"Cinemania": This one's filled with people who think they're funny but are not. The characters are annoying and uninteresting, neither funny nor convincing. And again, too slow. And I have no idea what it's trying to say. So it's a string of spoofs, so what? Nothing ties the spoofs together. Act 1 is nonexistent; there's no setups, no payoffs. And the editing is shaky -- a lot of the angles just don't cut. The fade to blacks are amateurish.

"Circumstantial" is a little better. At least I feel like there's a bit of an element of waiting for things to unfold. But once again, there's no setup, no characterization, and the acting is self-conscious. It's painful to have to sit through that superlong "inspector" scene, and the story doesn't unfold in an engaging way. I feel like I'm watching people I don't give a crap about, events I don't care about, just shot after shot with more enthusiasm than meaning.

Sorry if the critiques might be harsh. It's a professional editing forum, though, so the standards are high. I think you guys need to work on the writing and acting aspects of filmmaking. When you're too eager to take a camera and a group of people to run out there and shoot, you'll produce a lot of work, but a lot of it would look patchwork and not leave much of an impression. Spend less time cooking up special effects, more on working the actors, building interesting characters, and writing a coherent screenplay. I remember participating in a 48-Hour Film Project three years ago (literally started the day after I got to L.A.). The best short in that competition, hands down, was a short that looked like it was shot on VHS, but had a conceit so great (a superhero husband-and-wife team where they work out their differences on the job) that the whole audience cheered for it, bad lighting be damned. And the actors were charming and believable, and played their spousal chemistry truthfully rather than constantly trying to make people laugh.

Oh, and make these pieces 75 per cent shorter. Most of them didn't have enough material to fill eight minutes; more like two or three. It's so much better to entertain an audience with a great two-minute short than force them to sit through eight minutes when you don't have enough material for that long.
Re: Please critique...observations r welcome...
January 06, 2007 09:05AM
Hello derekmok,
Be harsh!
I got no problem with the harshness because you followed it up with suggestions that we can use to improve the next one. Characters, acting and writing will definately be worked on the next time...What's a PSA Style conceit?

Did you get a chance to check out Sole Sisters too? Was that one more of the same or was there anything we could take out of it?

Re: Please critique...observations r welcome...
January 06, 2007 10:00AM
> What's a PSA Style conceit?

I was a little inexact with terminology there. Not as much a PSA as an infomercial. Or a PR reel, something a corporation might show to its retailers as a product promotion. These things tend to be cut tight because corporations don't want to spend three seconds to tell something that only needs two seconds. So my suggestion was that the "Onalaxa" piece's rhythm was off; it was too lax.

"Sole Sisters" has similar problems. The first scene doesn't make sense...why do you have to introduce the price of the shoes with three completely unrelated characters, then do a fatty fade to black? As mentioned above, I think you overuse fade to blacks. You do not need a fade to black every single time you do a time lapse. It's a very common thing that startup filmmakers do, and it immediately lowers the audience's expectations. Sometimes people's perception of the editing depends heavily on whether you win their confidence in the first five minutes of a feature or 90 seconds of a short.

Perception aside, the shots don't cut, again. When the girl in the red cap bends to look in the window, the shot to the boyfriend doesn't go with it. And I don't know why you have to show both -- does it help the story? The feel? Build anything? I don't really see it, so it's just an ugly cut that serves no function. Using five characters to get across that simple idea of $1000 shoes was a mistake. It squarely pointed out how stagnant the locations were; the shooting wasn't an interesting way to tell the story beat of "People walked by and walked by and they were just flabbergasted by the price tag!"

The older woman's first line sounds like she's reciting a long dialogue line too complicated for her to memorize. It also sounds like expository dialogue. The younger woman's reaction shot broke the axis in a bad way; it didn't help that she had an unexplained patch of empty frame to her right. The only way it would have cut is if you had included the older woman in the foreground, even just to dirty it up. I've had careless instructors tell me in film school that it was okay to break the axis. Most of the time, it's not; it makes the character look like s/he is either talking to air, or that the people moved from cut to cut for no reason. Look at how Michael Mann does it in The Insider; he does radical axial breaks, but he always grounds you in the new geographical and geometrical relationship by including both characters. When we see them both, we understand that the camera moved, not the people's positions in the scene.

The boyfriend's first shot looks like you guys plopped the camera down in the first place you knew. The framing is too wide, too much space, and doesn't look carefully considered.

Why do the women stand around on the street listlessly while having their conversation? You always have to look at your blocking and ask "Why"? It would have made so much more sense to let the women be walking away from the store and do a tracking two-shot as they talk.

I could go on...but again, the acting does you no favours here. The guy and the older women are horrible; the young woman fares a bit better but not much.

What I'm seeing is once again that you guys are doing too much shooting and not enough watching movies, studying them, and using that knowledge to write, shoot, direct and edit expressively, confidently, engagingly, professionally. Really get into the nitty-gritties, and don't watch art films, European masters. Watch a movie you'd never think to analyze intellectually, like Rush Hour, American Pie, or Basic Instinct. Film schools often make the mistake of only feeding their students a diet of Kurosawa, Tarkovsky, Bergman, Godard, Zhang Yimou, Cassavetes, all the "arty" filmmakers. It's much more instructive to look at a "popcorn" movie and analyze exactly why such a movie is so good at making you just watch the damn story without ever thinking about the editing and angles.

Don't get discouraged, though. As long as you're active in learning the crafts, it's good to keep shooting and learning from your mistakes. All of us have skeletons in our closet, horrible early movies where we were learning how to walk. Check out the Criterion Collection's DVD of John Woo's Hard-Boiled if you get a chance; it contains a Woo student short that's every bit as bad, slow, indulgent and inexpressive as any other beginner's.
Re: Please critique...observations r welcome...
January 06, 2007 10:27AM
HOT!!...i'm not discouraged at all...if anything, now i have more ammo to improve my editing and storytelling...i definately want to get better at it and the only way is to keep doing more and getting feedback on it...

I have all these books on editing and lighting and etc...but the storytelling is another aspect that needs to be addressed...
These are some of the books I've been reading, do you have nay other suggestions?
- Editing Techniques in final cut pro, Michael Wohl
- film directing shot by shot
- film directing cinematic motion

again thanks for the advices....
Re: Please critique...observations r welcome...
January 06, 2007 10:35AM
Books are good for learning techniques, but they are useless for the most important part, which is to acquire an instinct for why something looks wrong. Rules don't mean anything unless you have an internal, gut feeling about why the rules are there.

Just watch Die Hard, watch American Pie 2, watch Almost Famous. Watch lots of movies, and rewatch them over and over to see what works. Paul Verhoeven is an excellent director to study because he's a combination of technical virtuosity, "invisible camera" storytelling, expression and commercial appeal. Total Recall is a master class in brilliant editing, camera angles and movement. Just look at the hotel room scene.

For great low-budget shooting, watch Y Tu Mama Tambien, Night of the Living Dead and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. All great examples of how great storytelling comes through despite budget and time constraints.
Re: Please critique...observations r welcome...
January 06, 2007 11:36AM
Really good critique Derek. Great stuff. Hard to do that in print.


Michael Horton
Re: Please critique...observations r welcome...
January 07, 2007 03:25PM

Can I ask you something. I would like to download the circumstantial and edit into different story, if it's COOL with you.

After watching, I can't get rid of editing in my head until I make it. I know it's awkward.

Best regards,
Re: Please critique...observations r welcome...
January 07, 2007 03:51PM
i wont go into as much detail as derek, but i think considering the "48 hour project" nature, its all pretty good. i went and saw the one here in houston and it was all totally unwatchable! i think time actually stopped at some point during the show...

one thing we have to keep in mind that in non-studio cities, able actors may be harder to have handy than in NY. LA, etc...

your stuff, even at the lowest points was better than the schlock i saw here in houston.
Re: Please critique...observations r welcome...
January 07, 2007 04:01PM

Will I get to see it when it's done??
Re: Please critique...observations r welcome...
January 07, 2007 05:01PM
Of couse, you will see. Can you gimme downloadable link to my email.

Big file size won't be attached to hotmail.
My edit on Circumstatial Re: Please critique...observations r welcome...
January 07, 2007 07:55PM

here you go. I just wanted to change the story a bit.

I didn't work on the motion graphics. I could have make sound and movie more different. I just finished with simple editing.

Best regards,

PS: Now I can go sleep easily.. thanks for movie file.
Re: Please critique...observations r welcome...
January 07, 2007 08:24PM
Hey guys, next time you might want to do this by private messages. That can help keep your downloadable links safe.
Re: Please critique...observations r welcome...
January 07, 2007 08:31PM
No problem.

I taking all your advices to learn even more now...

Re: Please critique...observations r welcome...
January 08, 2007 04:44AM
Look for David Mamet's ON DIRECTING. Really, it is about writing, but good for both.

Keep working at it. Make lots of films. Listen to harsh critiques like Derek's great stuff.

REHEARSE YOUR ACTORS. If you did...sorry. One of my first films was MOS, all told with facial expressions. Thank GOD because two of my actors brother and sister in-law. The only real actor in the film was my wife. If I had to give lines to the in-laws...disaster.

Hmmm...I should post that...

Work at it. I have seen M. Night Shamalayan's first stuff and they are ROUGH. But, he was also 12 and 14. BUT STILL...he has done well.

Keep plugging at it.

Listen to THE EDIT BAY Podcast on iTunes
Re: Please critique...observations r welcome...
January 08, 2007 10:17AM
While it is the #1 indie genre of choice, comedies are HARD. Unless your script is genuinely funny, and unless you have naturally funny people who have comic timing, you won't have a workable comedy. Comic timing is something that's impossible to learn for some people...Robert De Niro never figured out how to do comedy, and nor did Meryl Streep, while Janeane Garofalo and Oliver Platt just had it. And whether a script is funny or not is impossible to gauge for the screenwriter him/herself; even friends can't help you, because they're often rooting for you, and they know you.

So in a way, you guys picked a hard genre. With action films, all you have to do is make sure you shoot fast and choreograph physical conflict. With drama, understand the stakes, cast well and direct honestly. With these genres, you can usually succeed to some extent even if you lack experience. But comedy is one of those genres that has an absolute pass/fail threshold, and that's whether the audience laughs. I always say, Kevin Smith never made a film with as many laughs as Clerks again, because he started aiming too much for "emotional resonance" and production values in his later works.

One of these days I'll post my thesis film. It was written as a drama-comedy, but halfway through writing I started thinking about the film so seriously that the funny went right out the window and I ended up with a drama.
Re: Please critique...observations r welcome...
January 08, 2007 07:04PM
Dude, that was COOL!!....
How did you do that so fast?
I want to be a great editor like you guys...

Let me give you some background on that particular flick. By the way,
heheh, none of the actors were pros, just all friends looking to make
something cool. we all had a great time making it. But, at the same
time, we're also trying to make it the best it can be...
Anyways, that weekend it rained like a mo-fo here and we had no
actors until that Sat afternoon. We did the diner scenes at 1am in
the morning at my buddy's diner. I think we were making it up as we
went along. Sunday we filmed the scene in the woods, then edited till
monday. one big mistake we made was listening to the sound through a
boom box! hahaha..I know, what the heck were we thinking?
hahah ,after 48 hours we weren't! hahaha...But it was fun and heck we
learned from it...

I hope you had fun reediting it and I hope I learn from it and do an
even better job next time...

Take it easy!
Re: Please critique...observations r welcome...
January 17, 2007 08:41AM
I watched the first one. I like spoofs when they are well done. I feel you accomplished what you set out to do. Keep making movies, you definitely have the talent.
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