Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Eight of Fifteen Things

I ran across a lovely post that many filmmakers have seen titled, "Fifteen Things Wrong With Your Short Film."  It's pretty telling and honest and we have all committed these sins at one time or another, I think.

I'll admit, my favorite is #3, "your film has opening credits." They explain that, in addition to adding to the running time for no dramatic reason, no one knows or cares about your actors or crew (unless you have corralled someone well known for the right reasons) (and then, it's not necessary).

I spent a few moments looking at this article and the list of fifteen things and made a judgement of how many of the fifteen things are fundamentally script / story problems. I came up with eight.

Here's the list, with the eight items I attribute to script in red.

1.           Your film is too long.
2.           Your film starts too slow.
3.           Your film has opening credits
4.           Your film has bad sound
5.           Your film has bad acting
6.           Your film lacks originality
7.           Your film is in Black & White for no reason
8.           Your characters are boring
9.           Your film has interesting characters but they don’t do anything.
10.       Your was more satisfying to make than watch.
11.       Your film is good considering...
12.       You made your film in 48 hours
13.       You didn’t watch other short films
14.       You list meaningless laurels
15.       You made a bland profile documentary.

Of course, #1 (too long) is an editing decision as well, though many will claim that editing is the final rewrite of the script. Starting too slow may not be story-related but I think it typically will be. Items 6, 8, and 9 should be obvious.

I thought about #10 for a while. At the end of the day, I think we may enjoy making a film of any kind (good or bad) but the story quality is the determinant for the audience. Number 11 is a special case of #10, I think. Their discussion of #11 amounts to saying that the constraints and problems you faced are (unfortunately) irrelevant to the film. You succeeded in making a film with a wind-up Bolex limiting you to only two takes, each no longer than 75 seconds - no one cares.  It's all about the story.

One could argue that #13 is not a script or story problem, but I think it is the upstream problem. If you haven't seen a really well-crafted, clever story done in eight minutes, you may not realize what is possible. On the other hand, I admire some TV commercials for the amount of story-telling they manage in 15 or 30 seconds.

I think #15 is a bit unfair in the original list, although it makes sense. In the original article, their point was not that such docs are inherently bad, just that they don't generally rise about the clutter of similar projects. But the main knock on them is lack of dramatic arc, i.e. story.

I understand that, for a short film, a good script doesn't always have to be a classically written document. But it needs to be a good script / story no matter how it is conceived.

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