Further Research 3 – More Short Films!

In the following blog post I am going to examine some further short films – some of these films are even more removed from my FMP than the previous ones, however are still relevant to the module and the media industry as a whole. One short film I have always wanted to see is ‘A Trip To The Moon’ – a film made in 1902 that has little relevance to the media production of today, but contextualises the evolution of the industry. In this current year, ‘Kony 2012’ has been one of the most relevant short films, and perhaps has the title as one of the most relevant shorts of this decade so far. I have also found a locally-produced short film in a similar style to my own film, and it’s interesting to see some of the similarities.

But before I examine these, I first want to highlight something that caught my eye in a recent episode of The Nostalgia Critic. 

In this episode, the film critic reviews Jungle 2 Jungle in his usual sarcastic manner. However, a little way into it, he mentions how angels have never really fitted in with cinema as an art form (08:15 into the review). I usually agree with what the Nostalgia Critic has to say about films, so this came as quite a surprise. According to this man, perhaps the theme of angels, demons and religion are best kept in books or in paintings. I can quote a couple of films based around this mythology that – arguably – did not do all that well at the cinema, such as Constantine or Angels And Demons (the latter based on a mega-successful book franchise I might add). Although I have little plans to feature any angels in future films, fairies, demons, monsters, and the comparisons of these mythical beings to the dark side of humanity, all come into play. But as for my own FMP now, it will be interesting to see how the finished piece will be received. There are two things to note regarding the Nostalgia Critic’s remark:

1) His main criticism is using the term ‘angel’ to relate to a beautiful woman (which is indeed cheesy in any context). In the case of my FMP, there is an actual angel in the story; moreover, she is not a metaphor for something beautiful or pure!

2) The films quoted in the review – and the films I have quoted alongside – are all feature films. Indeed, Constantine was also based on a comic book which shared greater success than the film (this is also ignoring the film’s arguable ‘cult status’). Will my film fare better being a short film? I was quick to keep religion out of the script as much as possibly early on in the development – will this affect how the audience receives the finished product?

…I watched Jungle 2 Jungle a while back, and it looks every bit as bad as I remember! However, speaking of past times, something I have always wanted to see, but never actually got around to watching – was Georges Melies’s film A Trip To The Moon ( / ‘Le Voyage Dans La Lune’). It was made in 1902, and was the first science fiction film ever made (effectively inventing the genre!). It was also the first film to use any sort of animation or special effects. Of course, at this point in time, the way the film is constructed is ground breaking on just about every level. I wanted to watch it though, just to clear up this long-awaited viewing. It’s always interesting to see what your current media production skills are based upon – something I’ve already found whilst watching films like ‘Rescued By Rover’ back at A-Level.

It’s interesting to know that the above film was considered a feature film back when it was made, yet today my own ‘short film’ actually clocks in a five minute-longer running time. Of course the special effects have come a long way since 1902 (though importantly, I can understand every film trick used here). This was a film that mapped out film production for the next two decades… maybe even longer. It’s usefulness of influencing modern media production is more limited, though it is still important to ‘K.I.S.S’ – something done to an almost painful degree in this film (I’m sure I’m not the only one thinking that the narration sounded like a children’s book). But back then they were more innocent times, and the movie making industry barely even existed – it was exciting times for film makers the world over!

In contrast to a film made over 100 years ago (which means everybody directly associated with it is most likely dead – a sobering thought accompanying Beethoven’s quote: ‘life is short, art eternal’), a film that’s grabbed a lot of press recently is the Kony 2012 documentary, designed to be a film that utilizes the power of what is now commonly referred to as ‘the social network’ to get free distribution between the masses, uniting them to share a common goal in assisting in the downfall of an African warlord named Joseph Kony. This in an odd – but nonetheless amazing – comparison of two differing media productions created over a whole century apart.

Kony 2012

Indeed, ‘back in the day’, movies were made primarily to entertain. It’s not until the creation of the television and ‘mass broadcasting’ that the genre of documentary (or indeed general journalism outside of the newspapers) had any real place in media production. Once people were able to widely access various channels of media, documentaries grew in popularity for showing the ‘normal’ and the real. The invention and utilization of the internet has expanded mass access even more broadly, but films such as this (and ‘Life In A Day’) are bridging the gap between the simple idea of ‘mass distribution’, and the more interesting ideas of ‘viewer interaction’ and ‘user-generated content’. You could argue these factors will greatly influence the genre of documentary, which are after all about getting people’s stories out to the masses in the first place.

However, in the realms of short film, where elements of fantasy play a much greater role, aside from mass distribution it’s hard to say how the internet will affect the creation of movies any further than increased piracy, or using the audience to advise in your promotional material. Of course, we have 3D to contend with nowadays, as well as all the ‘remixing’ going on. A few films have had a lot of their success owed to the internet (e.g Snakes On A Plane, Cloverfield), but the films were still released at the cinemas, and people still paid to see them. I don’t think that’s going to change any time soon – it’s a tradition that people still value. As with the said piracy controversies, if people stop paying to see films (and effectively fund them), then there simply wont be any to watch any more.

Audience participation will not likely affect the future of short films in my mind, as people watch films to be entertained and relaxed (their views possibly challenged, but the discussion is to be done outside the medium). It is still interesting to see how Kony 2012 created a huge debate across almost every platform of social media however. In fact, as I write this post, we are only days away from ‘April 20th, 2012’, when the ‘big movement’ encouraged in the film is going to take place across the world. It will be interesting to see how successful it is – although it made almost the whole world aware of Joseph Kony, it also brought about several anti-propaganda posters such as this:

What with all the left-wing lectures last term, it’s interesting to wonder how dangerous ‘free distribution’ through social networking really is. If we re-wind the clock ten years, and applied the internet there, would we see a video doing the rounds about weapons of mass destruction in the middle east, and joining the campaign to support the soldiers going out there to find them? In context, that is a historical extreme, but the point is still there. My problem with ‘Kony 2012’ is that I am unsure where the message is coming from. It is supposed to appeal to your good nature of not wanting children in armies (hence the use of the film makers own son – something I think was done in rather bad taste myself. If the message is strong enough by it’s own merits, you shouldn’t need to include family – It also made me think of that kitchen scene from Kill Bill, where the assassin brings out a picture of her daughter to stop The Bride killing her. You remember that?). But all I could think about was the motives behind the film – if you take it on face value, everything is great. Sadly, call me paranoid, but I never take things on face value. Stopping Joseph Kony should do more good than harm, and indeed it is only one step, but a step in the right direction. Needless to say though, he is reportedly one of many warlords in that region – for some reason he’s public enemy number one, and I just found myself wondering why. (You could argue it was down to the film maker’s personal experiences, but when you start bringing the government’s most wanted list in, and the political implications of allowing a video to spread virally universally as it has done, I again find myself back in those lectures about ‘spectacle’ and distracting the masses with the trivial. Like I said – call me paranoid.)

Before we start to descend into left-wing politics again, lets bring it back to short films and take a look at a more traditional form of entertainment – comedy shorts. This locally-made film from someone at Call The Shots was something I found on my Vimeo feed last week, and I’ve put it on here.

Unlucky Actor

I drew comparisons with this and my own film because they both feature a conversation between two characters. Although the genre is different (this is a ‘cringe-comedy’), the set-up is generally the same. The setting doesn’t change, and nor the do the two main characters. The film is about the vocal exchange between the two leads – whereas mine played more for finding out the mysteries of the characters, this film played more for the cringe-inducing laughs.

I have to say I was rather critical with my reception to this film. The bottom of the stairs – semiotically – I imagine was there to show that the ‘unlucky actor’ of the title is rather low-ranking in society. However, the background was primarily white for the majority of the film – something I was warned never to do in first year, as it doesn’t say anything about the setting or the characters (other than it’s bland, but we can deduce that from the events of the film!)

The film should have started with the cork popping straight out of the bottle, as this would have started the film with a bang… well, a ‘pop’. I noticed that it is also a decent way into the film (well over three minutes) before the two lead characters actually meet, and I found that the joke that ‘the woman is really successful and the man is not’ was not a strong enough set-up to keep the audience interested for a ten minute duration. Of course, comparisons to my own film can be made all over with this film though – it’s hard for me to edit mine at this point (it’s been cut to seventeen minutes so far), but if I can learn from errors made here, it should allow me to see fault in my own production.

My film is set in a forest, and also not in one location (there are two locations in the film – the path, and the log, excluding flashbacks). The characters have a degree of mystery – the angel more than the student, but the audience should wonder if the student will ever change at the end. The topic and themes also change – recession era-Britain, murder, sexuality, redemption and romance are all themes explored in the script (more or less in that order).  I think basing the conversation on a single joke may have needed more editing – keep the most cringe-inducing moments in the script and cut the rest (for me, the second half of the conversation and the scene with the couple on the couch). It was important to get good actors for this film, and this was true with mine also. The talent here pulls it off, and I like to think matches my own film, though the age range differs a bit!

Regarding my own editing, I consulted a lecturer about how to cut it down more. I was advised that the shots of ‘lingering faces’ never work in cinema (which I would argue with, were I not so hard pressed to cut my running time!), and also to ‘be brutal’. That last phrase made an impression. At this point, the film runs great. Every scene cut at this point is a whole scene in and of itself. An event in the script that had a purpose, just not a major one. I am being very selective about which parts are going, but at this stage, I must remove whole scenes instead of just shots and lines. The second rough cut was essentially the complete package – this is the first project I’ve ever done where I can make an official ‘Director’s Cut’! I’m still aiming for fifteen minutes – the sound will be finalized next!

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