What did I get? a film fest takeaway

Blackbird Film Fest 2018 Cortland, NY

This past week I attended a film festival in Cortland NY that was a great experience. To have full disclosure my short filmĀ “Good Bones” won for best foreboding film at the 2018 Blackbird Film Festival . New category but, a win is a win. This article is not to brag about that but, what can be gained from attending a festival like this. Most filmmakers are waiting for the big chance and a lot of festivals feel shoddy in the execution or ability to give back. Some are more about the cottage industry and not about the filmmakers. There are huge fests that we all want to get in to but, chances are slim… please keep trying though. This article is about how to keep getting while giving as a filmmaker.

The Blackbird Film Festival we well organized, screened at a beautiful theater on the Cortland SUNY campus and overall pleasant. The festival is in it’s fourth year and, it looks like it is going in the right direction. As soon as I started watched the films the first thing that impacted me was that the quality of the images have evolved to a point that it can be mesmerizing. Most of the films shown were very quality driven in regards to their image. There is great access to professional cameras now, with 4k as well as drones in play make it that so much can be done on a small budget. The love of camera work is evident and frankly very welcome. I can remember when shorts were static strugglers (my word) with people thinking the story will make people forget the budget limitations or poor production quality. The other side of this is that people now rely too much on the camera and feel we will forget all of the other issues in a short because it was shot on a RED.

Sight lines cannot be replaced by a pretty shot. Yes, modern cameras (an iPhone X will crush some cameras) are so very good with the image but, rules of distraction apply. I like to use the old adage, a good haircut is one people don’t notice. The thinking for me is, should anything distract me from the entirety of the story I feel let down. If that “one shot” is amazing then the rest read as average and forgettable so I feel let down even more. If I have to think about an angle that comes off as odd then the work is not consistent. Getting past these couple hurdles is why having a good DP matters. Knowing where the line is… breaking the line when it is needed and blocking vanity shots that look fine for a frozen moment but, do not link up with the moving images as solid story telling. Partner up with someone that takes it seriously. Watch videos of projects and even reviews of cameras so you can see a thought process and then listen to your DP.

In addition to having a good DP there needs to be equal parts editing and color correction. Making sure that all three are aligned in the end. A DP will do their best to get all of what is needed but, we are all human and some shots are off. Don’t include them, have an editor work around them… cut if you have to.. do a re-shoot.. just keep the ugly out of a good film. Post color correction… please just do it. Just make it pop or droop or what ever you want it to do but, make it have intent and be the same through. If there is a change in color or tempo make it intentional. Make a mistake a gift. Use it, admit and embrace it. Hiding will be clumsy and that is it.

Audio… audio always gets paid. Have audio and respect what they do.

Concerning tempo of a film, one major contributor or detractor of tempo is cast interaction. There needs to be a sense that they have either been friends for years or at least exist in the same universe. Forget the banter that is cool on paper. They all have to be good enough to deliver a sense of a relationship. Not over the top excitement that just reads awkward on the screen. If someone is trusting you with their time to pay attention to your story please provide a sense of cohesion from the characters. Being believable is important as well. Edits cannot hide improbability. If there is no chemistry between actors please fix that. If the lead male is always flexing and cant seem to naturally put his arm around his scene partner then tell them. Seriously, I saw that recently and it was a 10 minute scene but, all I could think was no one holds their arm like that other than to flex. Cast your friends when they are good. Pity casting is like pity sex… yeah it happens but, no one cares if you recorded it.

Costumes… Man, stop people from using their personal clothing. Costume design exists and it is there for a reason. Setting a scene in a winter setting and then one person is wearing some dated flannel green shirt that is way too bright just messes with me. If it is there intentionally then it needs to matter and to be explained. If it is just a shirt then make it just a shirt.

Know your out. I did not writing know your ending because with shorts there are no true endings for me. A short film is a special thing. It allows for experimentation and ideas to be shared that features just cannot. I like to say a short film starts when God decides to watch. There is a lot of things going on in the world so why is God’s eye taking the time to share this slice of life. Make the out to your film good. This not saying for a cool shot… this not some FX circle jerk or a drone reveal. This is making a reason for why people watched your film. Why their time was worth it.

Another take away for me is replicating styles of famous directors should really be used like salt… do just enough. Again this is really just a distraction. When I am watching a film and I suddenly say to myself “its like watching a Famous Director’s film” it is not a compliment. Its a distraction. I need to not think of other films or other things. I should not even be looking at my watch or phone.. if I am… maybe take another pass at the edit.

Do go to festivals. Make your friends go. See what is out there. Compare ideas and share thoughts. Just keep telling stories. It is stated that there are no new stories but, there are always new ways to tell them.