A Bad Review and "Crossing the Line"
If you'd like to participate in reviewing my short film (featured above), please watch it first before reading below. Plot spoilers and associated comments will most likely alter your original thoughts, so please watch first and read second!
I had a unique opportunity recently. A blog I really like and respect ($1000 Film), posted about why "Short Films Suck" and then asked filmmakers to submit their shorts for review. I did, and today received quite a roasting for my short, Middle of Nowhere. This is the first in-depth review I've received, as the most I could get out of others boiled down to "it was cool" or "I didn't get it." $1000 Film's take wasn't very flattering, but I've learned some good things from it.
After explaining the setup, and a connection with the Twilight Zone (one of my main influences) this comment is made:
...there is a fine line between telling a story of unexplained weirdness and just plain confusion. This film has definitely crossed the line; it just is confusing.
This perspective isn't too much of a shock, as I've had several people tell me that it went over their heads. I felt when I wrote the script that it was pretty clear what was happening, with the 'why' not needing to be explained. Maybe I should rethink this. Watching movies like Memento, Donnie Darko, and Primer may be having a negative effect on my writing. I think I need to work on clarity and use the KISS (Keep it Simple, Stupid!) theory.
...the issue is that there isn’t anyway for the audience to connect with the protagonists.
I totally agree, but the short form with any kind of story really prohibits this. If you want to get to know the characters well in a five minute movie, where to you fit the story in? Shorts are all about plot, a small event that the viewer peeks in on. I gave about a minute to establish that these two like each other (her head on his shoulder, he rubs her head, smiles), but I had to move on if I wanted any kind of narrative. This is probably why the reviewer dislikes shorts so much--not much connection to the characters. Not the only reason he disliked my movie, unfortunately.
Then the woman sees someone run across the road behind her in her mirror and her immediate reaction to this is to get a gun from the glove compartment and chase him into the woods — why?
This is a pretty good point. I thought I established that she was either police or military by his line of "cover me", but everyone seems startled (and/or confused) when she pulls out the gun and leaves the car. I admit that this action now seems more compelled to move the story along, rather than something born of her character. Why would she leave? If you saw something run behind your car, would you run after it, even if you were armed?
I kept hoping that there would be an incredibly clever Twilight Zone pay off, which would give the audience the one piece of the puzzle that would allow them to go “Oh, so that’s what was going on.” In which case this could have been a really good short.
I thought the screeching tires sound at the end wrapped it all together, but not this time. The only faint praise was this:
I mean it looks OK, the acting’s not bad...
This hurts a bit since I spent a lot of time on lighting and framing (especially since the whole story takes place at night in the woods--a tall order), but if your movie doesn't work for someone, technical prowess means little.
...but where I can see the actors really struggling is with why they’re doing the things they’re doing.
I was really lucky to get the (auditioned) actors that we had, and felt they did well. I wasn't able to work with them as much as I wanted, due to struggling with tech issues, which I will address the next time out. I know performances are key, and I want to contribute and be there for my actors. This is hard when you are wearing many hats and spreading yourself thin, which is pretty common when trying to do a lot with a little.
Overall, a pretty harsh review, but there are lots of lessons I can learn. Focus on connecting with the characters (which will be easier in a feature) and make sure their actions make sense. Keep things crystal clear so you don't lose your audience, and simplify, simplify, simplify!
What do you think? I encourage anyone reading this blog to review my movie and give me your thoughts in the comments below. I love input and would love to hear your opinion and how accurate you feel the above review was. Growth is my desire, so please help me with your observations. It only makes me want to do better next time.