Friday, September 16, 2011

Movie of the Web: "The Waiting List"



Released by Front Ave. Productions. Comedy-drama written and directed by Mike Vogel. Featuring Teresa Decher, Amanda Englund, Bryce Flynt-Sommerville, Jayme S. Hall, Audrey Walker and Mercedes Rose. Would be rated "R" for language and adult situations. Available for free on YouTube.

A motley group of parents must spend the night in a highly-regarded preschool to insure their child's attendance. A waiting list is dictates the pecking order of who will get in and who won't. The catch: if anyone leaves, they lose their spot in line.

The Waiting List is an above-average ensemble piece that puts together an interesting mix of characters and then stirs the pot for some nice chemistry. There's the teenager Ella (Decher), who's holding a spot for her sister and may be pregnant herself. Sexy Kathryn (Englund) is the no-nonsense divorced mother who will do anything to get her daughter into the school. Ben (Flynt-Sommerville) is Kathryn's college boyfriend whose own marriage is on the rocks. Chris (Hall) is the punk of the group, who apparently has no filter between his brain and his mouth. Very pregnant Audrey (Walker) is the most experienced parent, with two kids and one one the way.

Confining all your characters in one place with nothing to do except talk could spell disaster to a lesser project, but Vogel and company are up to the challenge. An intelligent script has some great observations about parenting and human nature (what Disney characters are you attracted to?) and demonstrate a mature talent at work. The actors also do a fine job bringing their various characters to life and they are all strong enough to make me forget I was watching a movie and connect to them emotionally. When they all separate at the conclusion of the film, I was a bit sad to see them go.

While the subject matter does deal with kids, this is not a kids movie. There is profanity (I always cringe when I hear the F-bomb in the first line of dialogue) and some pretty frank adult-speak, so don't say I didn't warn you. If you find even the idea of this offensive, steer clear. To be totally honest, I felt a couple scenes did go too far, but not enough to dissuade me from a recommendation.

The film is technically strong. Vogel and his cinematographer, Brian Mohr, do a great job visually. Shots are composed well and lit properly. The editing works well. The sound is clear. Nice appropriate transition graphics help bridge scenes together. If I had any complaints, it's that some scenes remain on a wide shots too long. I really wanted to see the actor's faces better. In Vogel's commentary (see below) he explains why he did this (and one time he wish he didn't), but I cared enough to want to look them in the eye more often.

There are several traditional microbudget elements at work in The Waiting List, all of which serve the plot and save the filmmakers some money. There is one main location (an actual preschool, so production design was built in). The time frame is short (one 24 hour period) which means only one costume per character. The running time is a tight 80 minutes and doesn't overstay its welcome. These "limits" work well together and demonstrate the potential of our medium.

Vogel has also put some things into place that take advantage of web delivery. The first is releasing on YouTube. Anyone with a computer or smartphone screen can watch The Waiting List. Nothing frustrates me more than reading about an interesting film, then learning that I can't see it anywhere because it's playing in an obscure festival somewhere waiting for a distribution deal. Vogel made the film very accessible and I applaud him for that.

The other thing he's done is taken advantage of YouTube annotations and created a text-based director's commentary. I've seen these on DVDs that utilize a subtitle track, but Mike's film is the first I've seen to do the same on YouTube. It's entertaining, educational and fun. It makes the movie that much better and adds a nice level of re-playability.

So, if you're looking for an entertaining movie this weekend and don't mind the more adult-oriented content, check out The Waiting List. It's a solid film that transcends it's microbudget roots and involves you in the story and characters, especially if you have kids of your own. It's well worth your viewing time that you "can never get back".

If you like this film, be sure to check out Mike Vogel's blog and his YouTube channel. There is a lot more that he has done (and is working on) that should please anyone satisfied with this movie. Especially good is a web series called Did You Cast Anyone? which was used to crowdfund his latest project, Did You Kiss Anyone? Very funny stuff, especially if you are an actor or director.

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