Wednesday, November 20, 2013


(which was September 28th)

WEBFEST: FUTURE OF WEB TV: The next segment of the webisode thread were shows that had moved up to the next level. These shows had picked up sponsors or were shown on a revenue sharing online channel. They were all a little slicker than the first batch, but still began with someone just doing it.

EVENT ZERO: Really slick webseries (with a moment or two of iffy CGI) about a subway derailment in Sydney Australia caused by a plague outbreak. Sort of OUTBREAK meets NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD as the diseased who have escaped quarantine try to reunited with their loved ones who don’t particularly want to become infected... yet still want to be with the ones they love. The episode shown ended with a wife and husband separated by a door... as one of them dies. Powerful stuff.

CONTINUUM: Another slick “green screen” show where a woman wakes up on a space ship with a computer companion. Really well made, and this may have been the one where I realized how genre driven the successful shows were.

There were a few other shows, one with a group of survivors of the Apocalypse who wake up in a fog surrounded house... and have to figure out who each other are, what happened, and how to survive. Some other shows I don’t remember at this time.

The great part of this segment was the panel afterwards, because it was all about the distribution of webseries. At least in the UK it seems there are web channels that program shows the same way a TV network does. When I was at Portland Film Festival a month earlier there was an afternoon panel on webisodes with a skit comedy team who had managed to get so many hits that YouTube partnered with them and gave them a channel and studio space and equipment to shoot their show. Some of the shows on the Raindance panel had found producers who funded their shows (or co funded) in exchange for advertizing and sponsor income from the show.

These shows were all around 10 minutes or less, some were really short and to the point, others had more story and plot information. I was surprised by the quality level of all of the shows in this segment, on the big screen they looked pretty good... considering they were made to be shown on your laptop screen. The skill here seems to be to write something short and to the point that packs an emotional punch. The EVENT ZERO episode was brief, but action packed and had a big gasp moment at the end. So I think the real skill is in the writing. Being able to get in and get out and keep it exciting and emotional.

Here’s the thing: after seeing the Portland Film Fest panel I was interested in webisodes, but after these two segments I was hot to do one. The great thing about the shows that I’d seen at Raindance is that they were varying in quality, some looking like the stuff I was shooting on Super 8mm when I was in my 20s. So there’s no reason to fear I don’t have the equipment or a pro crew or any of the things that might make me think twice about making a *movie*. Not that making a crappy looking show will get me anywhere, more that imperfections are more easily forgiven on a small screen than a huge one. So I began coming up with webseries ideas that I might do... and actually came up with a pretty good one, and managed to jot down about twenty five episode ideas and some cool character ideas. Over the holidays I plan to talk to my peeps and maybe put this together. My plan is to do a handful of episodes out of pocket and then Kickstarter funding for the rest of the season. That way people can see what the show will be. And that’s one of the interesting things about webisodes: if we do five or six episodes and nobody likes the show? We just trash it and come up with something else. Because these can be shot with skeleton crews (like DAVE GRANGER’s writer director and star and one crew member in the car driving to the location) and digitally, there’s not much to lose if the show is a flop (okay, your time and effort... but as screenwriters we write a bunch of screenplays that will never sell, so we’re used to that.) I was interested enough to catch the morning session of the webisode weekend tomorrow.

After this program the movie showings were coming into sync, so I ditched the rest of the webisode series and ventured out into the lobby to look for my friend Janet. Found her, and we *didn’t* have enough time to eat dinner but *did* have enough time to grab a coffee and buy a sandwich at Costa to smuggle into the movie later. The sync problems did continue, because we’d missed the start of the next movie but had perfect timing for a trio of half hour shorts from the same film maker... which we would see only two of, then ditch the third to see a feature which started about a half hour before the shorts ended.

SATOKO YOKOHAMA SHORTS: These were three longish shorts made by a female Japanese filmmaker. Japanese films are often odd, and the feature we were going to ditch the last short to see was also from Japan. They can be odd/good and odd/odd and odd/bad. Yesterday’s film about the girl who watched misanthropes was odd/good.. The thought process in picking these shorts was that an entire program devoted to one filmmaker meant this was an important filmmaker with interesting films... and a woman, when there are few women filmmakers out there. I was interested in seeing the cream of Japanese female filmmakers (say that three times fast).

GRANNY GIRL: Odd/Odd. A pregnant woman and her husband deal with issues associated with a mother in law’s mailed fish dinner. What’s amusing about this film is that it’s only 13 minutes long but seems to go on for *days*. It doesn’t communicate at all with the audience, so we just watch it instead of experience it. The key to filmmaking is to use cinema to communicate story and emotions to the audience. This film didn’t communicate anything. The Husband tells the pregnant Wife that his mother is mailing some fish, and she needs to be home to accept the delivery, then he leaves for the day. The Wife then does a bunch of really crazy things, wandering around the neighborhood and climbing fences and trying to climb to the top of a water tower and wailing like crazy and talking strangely to strangers and other things for no reason we can understand. At first I thought it might tie into her pregnancy... but it was never tied in. And there’s a little girl who calls her “granny” for no reason. WTF? The fish get delivered and are rotten but they eat them anyway. None of this made sense and there was no effort on the part of the filmmaker to make it make sense. I thought maybe I was not understanding this film because I have a penis, but I talked to Janet afterwards (she does not have a penis) and she didn’t get it either. The other problem with this film is that it was amateurly shot. Yesterday’s Japanese movie was technically well made and had a bunch of great shots and angles... but this short was a technical mess (though the moment where she’s walking around on the water tower and talking to herself was well lighted considering the issues). I’ve seen some technically great films that didn’t make a lot of sense, but were beautiful to look at. Kind of visual poems. Like I said about the webisodes, you can have a technically great film with an okay story or a great story that’s just okay technically... but here we have a film that doesn’t do either. Hey, maybe the next one is better?

JUMP FROM MIDNIGHT: Odd/Bad. You know, I cut the first short a break... but when you get two short films from the same filmmaker and there is no real improvement between them? You start to wonder why there is a program devoted to this filmmaker. This short was also *way* too long at 31 minutes, and again did not seem concerned with communicating the story to the audience. A mock silent film about a girl who steals a kinescope from an old guy who shows movies to working class people and he chases her for the rest of the movie. She swipes some money from folks who pay her to watch the movie and they chase her, too. That’s about it for 31 minutes. The biggest problem is that it has almost no story and characters you don’t understand... and as a silent film does not compare favorably to all of those silent films you have seen from the silent era. Those films are all there to study, so it’s hard to imagine that someone would make a silent film with this extremely low level of visual storytelling in 2013. Again, I thought maybe I just wasn’t getting it and talked to janet afterwards... and she may have liked it less than I did. Part of the problem with both of these films is that they seemed to go on forever. If you aren’t getting the story and the film isn’t well made, you want it to at least be quick. But both of these films had very little story and a very long running time. Years ago at Raindance I complained that a movie was too long... when it was only 3 minutes. One of the staff people chided me on this, but a film needs to be only as long as the story and not a second longer. Better to be brief than overstay your welcome. A 3 minute film can bee too long. The Nokia shorts they used to have at Raindance were *fifteen seconds* long, and some were amazing and some were too long... at fifteen seconds! So get to the danged point! The problem with both of these films is that I could never figure out what the point *was*, and I don’t think the filmmaker knew either. They wandered around. Adding to that, we could never get into the story and they technical aspects didn’t blow me away (which might make me forgive the other stuff).

The next short was *42 minutes long*, and Janet and I skipped it to see a Japanese feature... which we both liked. So it wasn’t a cultural thing, it was a competency thing. I wonder if this filmmaker wasn’t included in the program because she was a female Japanese director (and maybe the only one)? There’s a strange thing that happens in film fests where a film may catch a break because the filmmaker has an inspiring story and overcame some odds... last year at Raindance there was a feature film made by an 18 year old kid. Amazing! A kid that age makes a *feature*! But the problem was that the feature wasn’t very good (again, no ability to communicate using the medium). After that film a group of us talked about how unfair it was to the young filmmaker to have this success, since it was like getting an “A for Effort” instead of an A for quality. In the real world, no one is going to cut you any slack. When you get your break, you have to be ready for it. I thought this kid last year got a lot of big exposure for his film... but I couldn’t really see a distrib giving him the money to make his next film after seeing this one. And I think the same is true here. I wanted to like this Japanese woman’s movies, but the stories didn’t work, they were technically crude, and at the end of the day I had no idea what they were about.

Because I come from the writing side, I always focus more on the story. Like with the webisodes, you can just be technically adequate if the writing is great... that’s why Kevin Smith is a director. He writes clever dialogue and outrageous stories and gets them on film. As writers we may have the writing part down, but we may not have the technical chops. Hey, we live in a digital age where we can practice just about for free. As I said in one of my classes, I bought a close out HD digital home movie camera at Big Lots for under $100, not something you can shoot a feature with... but something you can practice with. Then, *study* films to learn the language of cinema. A friend of mine was getting ready to direct his first no budget feature and I gave him a stack of DVDs to watch. All of them selected because they had different visual storytelling techniques or were great editing lessons to show you what shots you *needed* in order to put together a sequence. He watched them but completely missed the point, tearing apart the acting in each film (he’s an actor). He wasn’t paying attention to the *filmmaking* part of each film, when that’s what he most needed to learn. He knew how to act already (and direct actors), but had no idea how to shoot a movie. Hey, nobody cares what you think of Buster Keaton’s acting style... that’s not going to help you.I think this is a common problem. It’s pretty easy to miss the lessons we need to learn because we’re too busy spotting the lessons we already know. Break that cycle! If you know the emotional part and story part of filmmaking and aren’t great at the technical stuff, really focus on learning the technical stuff. When you are studying a film, *focus* on the technical stuff. Why this shot? Why this focus distance from the subject? Why this angle? Why this camera move? Why this particular lighti8ng scheme? Practice shooting and editing. Figure out *why* one angle or camera move is better than another. Remember that you are using the camera to communicate with the audience: what do you want them to know and feel and how is this shot or combination of shots giving the audience that information? It’s not just about the story, it’s about *telling* the story. If the audience doesn’t get it, the film doesn’t work. Hey, if it’s still pretty pictures, at least you have that. But it’s always best to try to get everything right. To have a great story, well told, and technically great.

But, on to the (odd Japanese) feature...

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