I like watching short films online. There are a lot of varying degrees of talent out there. Even more crap exists than good and even less great material, but it’s the spice of life to see it all. Here’s my laundry list of my own personal preferences and personal dislikes in movies online. What I see a lot are some recurring bad elements. In particular, I find it completely annoying for a movie to insult the viewer by stating the obvious. I mean, when you have a character saying, “I just lost my job at the plant!” when we just watched them get fired in a lengthy scene, it makes me talk to my screen, “Really Captain Obvious? You mean the job I just saw the character get fired from?” It is possible to cut into the middle of the next scene where it can be made apparent that the characters already had the conversation. Audiences are not that slow that they need information pounded into their skull. It makes the filmmaker seem dumber than the audience.
Then having flashbacks to a scene we just saw 3-4 minutes ago becomes equally erroneous and let’s face it: AMATEUR. In a 20-30 minute piece, do we really have to be reminded every 2-3 minutes of your key points by dialogue? How about telling the story visually or better yet, not insulting the audience by telling them what should have been obvious, if you’d shot it or edited it well enough.
I know a filmmaker who feels that voice over is the ultimate sign of poor writing or directing. I pointed out brilliance like SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION’s voice over, but regardless he persists that it’s a cheap gimmick to cover up the fact that the filmmakers could have just let the story tell itself in the images and dialogue and that all voice over does is insult the audience because someone is assuming they couldn’t possibly have understood the story unless it was spelled out to them. I have tried to avoid voice over because of that conversation with him for years. Every time I hear a voice over, especially in a short film, try to imagine the movie without voice over and would I have “gotten it” without having it. If I can understand the story, all I can think is that the filmmaker is some kind of failure because I can’t figure out why they think so low of their audience that they had to beat us over the head with the obvious information. Even if the story would make no sense without voice over, in some ways that’s an even bigger failure because the filmmaker failed to find a visual way to tell the story without having to TELL the audience what is going on. I guess I’m not a fan of voice over at all now too.
The camera is there to represent the viewer in many ways. Is the camera angle in each shot telling the story? How is the camera running around the scene in circles somehow helping a scene about a job interview with your new boss? It’s making the audience dizzy and this circular motion is not really doing anything at all for the scene, now is it? It seems more like an amateur wannabe director thought, “This would be a cool shot!” and it has NOTHING to do with the story of the scene or doing anything even for the emotion. If you’re just recording a scene, then you’re not really directing. Directing implies DIRECTION, as in for a story or the characters or the camera, and even the editing.
Even the use of transitions seems more like a kid finding a new toy as opposed to having some level of intention. Wacky dissolves, fake zoom in, zoom outs, wipes, and page peels are radical transitions. Audiences respond to a transition to think “Oh, something is changing.” The term “transition” really equates to meaning CHANGE, so if you use a transition in your editing program, but there isn’t a change, then it’s a bit jarring. This seems like common sense, but I guess it needs to be stated because soooooooo many bad “shorts” use transitions all the time without signifying a change. So, as a viewer, I re-adjust my mindset for a change, and there isn’t one. I watch a transition, and then realize, “Oh this wasn’t a change at all; it’s just poor filmmaking skills covering up their amateur mistakes… NOW continue the story…” but by then I lost a lot of interest and clicked on the link for a lesbian make out video where story is less relevant and far more compelling than bad amateur shorts.
Another element people most miss is SOUND. It’s 50% of the experience. Bad audio, changing from shot to shot, and lack of room tone, etc. are signs of the AMATEUR. Amateurs think that by adding a music track this somehow covers up terrible audio recording on set. One of the slightly more complex concepts missing is Sound Design. Making editorial changes like jumpcuts or sped up footage, it tends to work better if there is accompanying SOUND. If you notice that a well timed music cue or a sound design element makes the harsh editing much more palatable. That’s what makes it acceptable to the viewers psyche. Without it, the choices to make jumpcuts, hard edits, sped up, slowed down, funky transitions, or any abnormal edits – they all come across as either mistakes or again: AMATEUR.
Even in the French New Wave when jumpcuts were all the rage, and breaking the established rules was the order of the day. The sound was always consistent. Just watch Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless, one of the pioneer films of the Nouvelle Vague era and it’s clear that even though many rules broke about Picture, the Sound remained consistent. The rules weren’t broken, just replaced with their own set of concepts.
If you’re making movies just to placate yourself and the audience isn’t a factor, by all means, continue your artistic masturbation, but if you have any desire to actually connect with audiences, then you may want to take their point of view into consideration. There’s nothing wrong with jerking yourself off with a camcorder, metaphorically speaking – hell, even literally. Everyone is allowed a fetish, I guess. I can’t tell you how many videos are on YouTube of idiots being idiots, either kids being stupid and making self referential jokes without feeling compelled to let anyone in on the humor, or just home videos of the most uninteresting people being pawned off as a short film. It’s ridiculous. You’d think adding a soundtrack to your home movies would thus equate to an actual short film, but it just isn’t so. That isn’t art. It’s a hobby and in most cases, one that should have been kept to themselves.
At least that’s my opinion. I’m sure there are contrasting points of view and everyone can make movies however they want. Michael Bay is still making movies, and making money at it, so what the hell do I know.