Our 2008 National Film Challenge movie

Posted by PhillyFilmmaker 
Our 2008 National Film Challenge movie
October 28, 2008 03:46PM
Yes! It's that time of year!
Here is our 2008 National Film Challenge movie which was made DURING Games 3 and 4 of the World Series in the City of Brotherly Love.

For your consideration:

Re: Our 2008 National Film Challenge movie
October 28, 2008 04:33PM
Well, this is turning into a LAFCPUG tradition!

I know you can take my "no-holds-barred" crits so here it goes:

- Continued improvements in camera. No major mismatches, lighting was good and fit the subject matter, angles were mostly interesting, and the camera moves and adjustments tend to be more confident than your past works. The effects were fine as well. The background in the second location was weird (your first location was monochrome and dark, which fit the setting, but the second location looked like a high school), but not overwhelmingly so.


- I think you're still spending way too much time working on lighting and camera, and not enough on acting, writing and editing. This one had a different directing credit -- I don't know if you guys are a collective or it's a nom de plume for you.
- The acting was okay until the Asian woman stepped in. Then the film became a mess acting-wise. Sorry, but this was two steps back -- your older "chess" short had better acting. The Asian woman was literally godawful, like she was reading lines off a cue card on the wall, with ESL accent to boot. The white "mob boss" was a walking cliche, neither funny nor menacing, trying to do an impression of a Reservoir Dogs or GoodFellas character and failing miserably. I've seen this bad Joe Pesci impression a million times before and it's just tiring. The darker-skinned girl (Indian? Middle Eastern?) near the end was even worse, hard as it was to believe. She was spending 80 per cent of her time trying not to laugh, and you even picked a take where she looked like she was smiling as she was being threatened.
- The "torture victim" guy was fine until you tried to get him to do screams in pain. He becomes a joke after that; I don't buy that he's getting his toes cut off. No matter how well you do camera, if you don't fix this issue, you're still going to have a film that's funny for all the wrong reasons.
- The music in the beginning didn't fit at all. Sounded like Tangerine Dream (Thief) or Wang Chung (To Live and Die in L.A.). But the problem is, both those pieces were stylized action films. Yours is more a parody of hard-boiled B-movie crime flicks. The music during the warehouse scene fit much better, but the opening music set entirely the wrong tone.
- You are still missing the good spots for cuts. You're trying to cut on action obsessively, rather than cutting to the right angles for the moment in the scene. Stop trying to watch the cuts, and start watching story and flow. Think macro ("does the whole sequence flow?"winking smiley, not micro ("is each cut smooth?"winking smiley. Nobody cares if the guy's arm was at the same spot in the outgoing and incoming shots, if you picked the wrong time to chop up the action.
- Even if you were going for cuts on action, you mostly missed the good spot and ended up with overlapped action. It's subtle, mostly a matter of a few frames, but it dramatically affects the editing -- immediately, I could tell it's not professionally edited without looking at the credits. I also get the feeling that you're often trying to splice two shots together to make one action, when one or the other of the shots would have functioned better alone. The knife to the throat is the best example I can think of, where I didn't understand why I had to see the knife twice. (In a well edited scene, we wouldn't even be questioning why we see it twice; we'd just be absorbed in the action.) And almost all the cuts when the first guy circles the second are off.
- Your dialogue scenes are still mashed together. When the Asian woman talks to the tied-up guy, it completely pulls me out of the scene. You gotta study more "boring" scenes from features -- study the dialogue and "transition" scenes, rather than the fun action and horror stuff. A well-cut dialogue scene draws you in; your dialogue scenes push us out, because the cuts are so unmotivated.
- Writing. Once again, you have a plot but no story. Who are we rooting for? Whose head are we in? Who's the main character? What are we supposed to feel? Why should we care? About the only character I feel a little bit for is the first gunman (the one who gets his neck broken), but he's obviously not the main character. Without a main character, you have no story -- because you have no perspective, no sympathy, no cause-and-effect, no arc, no personality. All the characters are interchangeable and have nothing memorable about them. So I walk away from your film with no sense of why I just watched it -- I wasn't rooting for anybody, I wasn't even paying attention to anybody in particular. That is a problem no amount of technique can fix. A well-written film with bad lighting and sound will still have an audience; a badly written film with poor acting and no sense of audience sympathy (another word for audience manipulation) is dead on arrival.

Sorry if this was harsher than usual, but I was really expecting something great this time after seeing your last piece. I feel like you can do more, but you keep spending time in areas in your filmmaking where you're in decent shape, and neglecting areas that have major, crippling issues.

Re: Our 2008 National Film Challenge movie
October 30, 2008 01:58PM
What's up DMok!!!
No need to be sorry! I know it's gonna take some work to improve those areas but I think we'll eventually get there.
We actually are a collective with everyone doing a bit of everything.
Your feedback is valuable to us and I hope we can improve more next time.
Maybe we should make something that doesnt have a short time limit.

Re: Our 2008 National Film Challenge movie
October 30, 2008 02:12PM
> Maybe we should make something that doesnt have a short time limit

That would certainly be good -- also without the limitations of the 48-Hour conceits. But I think it's also because you guys are thinking more about how to shoot rather than what. You're trapped by love of the camera.

For example, within this very short you did, you could have gone deeper. Whose story is this? What do the characters want? What's special about these characters?

This is a saying in film school:

"The king died, and the queen died." This is a plot.
"The king died, and the queen died of grief." This is a story.

One of the ultimate audience challenges to a film is the "who cares" test. "Who cares" that the guy gets his toe cut off and then beaten to death? "Who cares" that the Asian woman comes in? These questions are addressed by us getting to know the character, by the character having certain likeable traits, and some unlikeable ones. In other words, flesh-and-blood human beings, not walking cliches (like that Don whoever) who do everything in the most predictable way.

Let's say this is the tied-up guy's story. How do you set it up so that we care about the character? What about the relationship with his girlfriend? If you only had one scene before the warehouse where the guy and the girl have some interaction, some endearing/funny moments, some personality, then the scenes where he dies would have a lot more impact. For example, let's say you open on the guy tied up and bloody, but you put jarring juxtapositions, cuts to him with the girl, full of hope about their scheme. And then as he's pounded with baseball bats, cut back to the quiet scene. As of now, the characters have no motivations, no "life needs", as we call them when directing actors.

And the music -- did you consciously think about what kind of film this is and match the musical style to it? Ironically, if you had done less composing on the score, I think it would have worked better for a thriller. For example, the scores of Cliff Martinez (Traffic, Narc) are very minimal, mostly moody keyboard drones that convey heaviness, but have nearly no melodic turns or structure. Which is why they fit so well within thrillers, because they're very un-intrusive while adding to the tension.

So, I don't think the short length is your issue. It's writing. It's freeing yourselves of the "film lovers" phase. Filmmakers starting out get excited about just the prospect of putting images to film -- I've been there -- but you have to go beyond that if you want to appeal to a general audience.

Re: Our 2008 National Film Challenge movie
October 30, 2008 02:55PM
One of the things we discussed was the connection between the cop and the girl with the suitcase.
We also discussed whether the girl with the knife was really needed.

for the music, I think I concentrated more on the italian guy having a deep low tone whenever he was in the scene with the exception of when he was talking to the character "Dominic" before he broke his neck. In that scene, I thought to use a more family-ish type tone. Then when he knocks him off, back to the deep low evil tone. I also wondered if there were scenes that really needed music of any kind. arent there times when just the scene is good enough?
Re: Our 2008 National Film Challenge movie
October 30, 2008 05:39PM
> arent there times when just the scene is good enough?

Yes and no.
The bad acting pointed towards parody, but it's too violent and not even close to funny enough to be a parody. So one of the main problems with the short was that I didn't know what the tone was. The music was portentous and humourless, so it pointed towards thriller. Unfortunately, that means I interpreted the acting as unintentionally bad, not intentionally cheesy. So I felt like scoffing rather than laughing.
The question of whether you needed music is made obsolete by the fact that the film itself didn't have a tone. A well constructed, well written film would have its intended effect even without music, and well chosen music can enhance that effect. But music alone isn't going to do it.

> One of the things we discussed was the connection between the cop and the girl with the
> suitcase. We also discussed whether the girl with the knife was really needed

And what was your rationale for keeping or not keeping these elements?

Re: Our 2008 National Film Challenge movie
November 04, 2008 02:07PM
> One of the things we discussed was the connection between the cop and the girl with the
> suitcase. We also discussed whether the girl with the knife was really needed

And what was your rationale for keeping or not keeping these elements?

The girl with the knife I think we kept so tht the other character could get knocked off. And the only connection between the cop and the girl was what the dude said before he got the beat down.

i'm beginning to see a flaw in this.
Re: Our 2008 National Film Challenge movie
November 04, 2008 02:26PM
> i'm beginning to see a flaw in this.

Yes, you're getting it.
"So we can kill the other character" is not a great motivation for screenwriting.
Let me suggest a different kind of thought process:

1. We have a cop and his girlfriend. Who's the main character? Who's the antagonist?
2. So let's say it's the cop's story and it's about how he has to survive long enough to get back to his girl. How do we make the viewer root for the right people? Let's make the girl sassy, lovable, quirky. How? Could make her really beautiful, start with a "morning after" scene. Maybe not...that's cliched. How about making her a little weird, awkward, but endearing? Or after the guy leaves, she finds out she's pregnant?
3. What do our main characters want out of life?
4. Now how do we make people root for the cop? What's special about him? A good example is Pulp Fiction -- within about 20 seconds of meeting him, we like Butch the boxer (Bruce Willis) because Marsellus Wallace (Ving Rhames) talks to him in such a condescending way, and he has to eat it. So we cheer him on when he turns the tables on his bosses.
5. To make the central quest harder, let's make the bad guys really powerful. The mob boss is smart. He knows all about the good guys' plans and he's setting a trap.
6. Okay, so now we have the guy in the warehouse tied up. How do we raise the stakes? Perhaps by cutting back to the girlfriend. Let's see her get caught by the bad guys, see her concern for the guy, see how menacing the bad guys are.
7. Now you can put the main character through crap. What if we kill him? If we kill him, then the girl becomes your only main character and you probably should let her survive. But how should he die? We should make the viewer think he's going to make it. So let's say he surprises his captor and frees his hands. He's waiting for the guard outside to walk off. He makes it to the car...and just as he's about to start it, a guy lying in wait in the back seat shoots him from behind.
8. Let's say you want Knife Lady to kill the cop. What could you do to make it not such a random event? Maybe Knife Lady was the cop's wife and he left her, so now his chickens are coming home to roost? Maybe she's actually the girlfriend's best friend and it's a huge betrayal?

See what I mean? You have to go farther. You shouldn't just say "I'll keep the knife lady because Character X needs to die". You need to think about why you want Character X to die. What does that do to/for the story? Why should Knife Lady be the one to do it? Why do we care?

Without these motivations, your events and characters are just generic. Your characters will be caricatures and your events/plot will be paratactical. Post hoc, ergo propter hoc is a good maxim to live by in screenwriting.

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