Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Why We Don't Like to Give Feedback

We often get people asking us for feedback about why we've rejected their movie.

In the past, we were more than happy to. We would write up detailed notes about what we thought worked in the film and what didn't. We'd offer helpful suggestions. We'd even rewatch the submission if necessary to make sure our feedback was thorough and helpful. We would take a significant amount of time formulating a detailed critique, and an honest, in depth, yet diplomatic email response.

Our mission as a festival has always been to create the type of festival - and the type of community - we would like to be part of. And, we figured, if filmmakers took the time and effort to make a film and spend the money on a submission fee, if they didn't get into the festival they at least deserved to get something positive out of the experience. So we felt obligated to give them feedback.

And what happened?

Nearly every time we gave feedback, the filmmaker responded, contesting our notes, sometimes point by point. The truth is, people who ask us for feedback never really want it. They just want us to explain why, although their movie is a work of genius, it doesn't fit into our lineup. Or they want us to reconsider our decision.

So why bother? We're not actually helping these filmmakers get better at their work, we're just spending a lot of time on a lost cause.

The Village Voice published a very interesting article about this issue this week. You can read it here. The author gets this right. And the comments are hilarious!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Short Comedy Film Shortcomings, Part 1: The Comedy Score

Quite often - more often than you might think - we get a submission with a "comedy" score. We find that in the more expensive submissions, where a filmmaker is able to afford live instruments (or a very expensive keyboard), the composer has chosen to use pizzacato, or the plucking of string instruments to indicate comedy. Sometimes woodwinds will substitute for the strings, providing some whimsical musical padding in the background.

We could go into a whole discussion about the role of music in film here, about how often music is overused to amplify an emotional or atmospheric effect which the director has been unable to achieve. In short comedy films, this music (almost always with "classical" instruments) is telling us: "Look how whimsical and quirky these characters are! What a funny situation! This is a comedy folks, can't you hear it?"

Every once in a while we receive a well-produced, well-written, well-made, and well-acted film which has such a "comedy" score, and we show it, in spite of the fact that the score bothers us. For the more expensive student films and many of our high budget submissions from LA, the music approximates what might appear in a Hollywood feature, since the film is being created as a calling card for the director, showing how "professional" and "slick" his or her production is. And a "comic" orchestral score is one of those elements the filmmaker chooses to spend money on.

But most of the time, such a musical choice points to larger problems with the film-- that the filmmaker is relying on the music to indicate the whimsy of an otherwise unwhimsical product. The hope is that by padding a scene with the comical plunking of strings (or the staccato of playful woodwinds) the viewer will be tricked into thinking that the scene is whimsical and the unremarkable characters are in fact quirky.

The best comedies don't shout "COMEDY!" while they're going about their business. They're simply telling a hilarious story. Pizzacato strings are never hilarious. A comedy score is a placeholder for hilarious.

Monday, September 14, 2009

New Website Design!

Check out our new website deign! Isn't it great? It's by our good friend and wonderful designer Jonathan Cousins. The best addition is that you can now search the site for movies in our database, many of which you can watch online. And we plan to make this blog a place where we can discuss films, comedy, and short comedy films. So check us out from time to time, we'd love to share some great films with you and hear what you think about them.