Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Raindance: Student Films


So, my Facebook friend’s film is playing in a program of Raindance Student’s films at just after noon - and I easily make it on time with enough coffee to be fully functional... even though I’d only managed to sleep for 4 hours the night before. I always worry about student films because... well, they are often learning experiences but not great as films. This leads to that awkward moment where you are asked what you thought of the film, and you stumble around trying to find something nice to say. I sat through all of the student films - and most of them had problems. But when my Facebook friend’s film came on - it was the best of the lot. And really good!

The problems with the other films:

1) The first film was unbelievable long for a short. I would guess at least a half hour, though it seemed much much longer because it was mostly two people sitting in chairs with a pile of exposition dialogue about things that happened to them in the past. The situation was good - but the execution was not. The first rule of short films: they need to be short. In the past Raindance has hosted the Nokia 15 *second* short festival, and those films were always really good - or at least, over before you were bored. But I think ten minutes is a good maximum length for short films because they are easier for a festival to program, and at ten minutes even if they are not good they are at least over soon. But also ten minutes means you have to cut the fat and get to the heart of the story. This improves the film because you have to know *exactly* what the story is about and then get to the point right away. If you only have ten minutes, your story ends up more focused - in fact, those 15 second films were often full stories so well focused that they didn't even take a full minute to tell.  

2) A few of the other films were well shot, but didn't communicate the story to the audience. They showed things happening without bringing us *inside* the story so that we understood what was happening. The result was an external, uninvolving, unemotional, and basically lifeless and false story. Mechanical. The filmmaker’s primary job is to communicate with the audience - and these films did not communicate.

In the middle of this program of films that didn't quite work were two films that worked well - a musical about killing people with hammers that was only a couple of minutes long and SILENT KILLER, my Facebook friend's film. It opened with an attractive young woman sitting on a park bench and a young man sitting on the same bench and chatting her up. Her voice over tells us that he thinks he’s going to romance her, but what he doesn’t know is that he will be her next victim: she is going to shoot him. She pulls out a huge gun, aims it at the young man... who seems to wet himself... and pulls the trigger. BANG! Cut to about an hour earlier - the young woman realizes the young man is following her, tries to lose him a few times - then begins to lure him to her killing ground. The interesting element is that the young man is deaf, and the young woman can speak in sign language - so when they end up on the bench together the conversation is all done with their hands. But now we know the ending - the young man who probably followed this young woman because she was attractive is soon to become her prey. This builds suspense. The end twist - sorry, spoilers - is that when she pulls the gun it is a water pistol, and she shoots his crotch (he doesn’t wet himself - she wets him) and then she hands him a card that says he’s been “killed” by the Silent Killer - and this is one of those assassination games. The further twist is that she likes him and might look him up later.  The story brought us in, we understand what we *think* is going on, and then the story twists at the end.

Even if the story is a mystery where we don’t know what is going on, if you bring us inside the story so that we understand the protagonist and live the story though them, we are being lead into the story and understand the mystery... even though we don’t know the resolution (obviously). A detective type character doesn’t know who the killer is, but they understand the situation and are searching for the solution. But we need to be inside that story and understand the situation - even though we won’t know the outcome. That’s what SILENT KILLER did right and many of the others did not.

So I don’t have to lie to my Facebook friend.

- Bill

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