Sunday, November 13, 2011

Someone's $30 thousand student film

There used to be a website--probably still there--called D.U.M.P.S. which stood for "Directing Unsuccessful Motion Picture Shorts". They talked about student films. The people who made the site had apparently seen a lot of them and they produced a list of things the student filmmaker should avoid doing. For example, don't do that Vertigo thing where you dolly in and zoom out at the same time, and don't put the camera in something----like don't put the camera in a freezer and to film someone looking for something in a freezer.

They had a message board. Many people were offended by the attacks on student films.

One angry young fellow posted that he had spent $30,000 on credit cards to produce his student film, and then no one understood it.

It was a silent film. He felt, correctly, that acting was a problem with student films. It was never any good. So he avoided it with a silent film about a girl leaving home. Going to college? I don't know.

But it sounded like he made the thing with no soundtrack at all. When he submitted it to film festivals, they sent it back and pointed out that it had no sound.

I don't know what the movie looked like. $30,000 is a lot. At least it was credit card debt. He could declare bankruptcy, not like student load debt.

I wasn't sure how I felt about it. Thirty thousand bucks??? I spent all those years trying to think of a way to make a feature film for, like, a thousand dollars, and he spent thirty thousand on a short film?

Of course, that was in the days before digital video. It may even have been before Hi8. His options were limited and 16mm was probably the only choice. On the other hand, there is inflation----$30,000 then might be more like $50,000 now. How do you justify spending that much on a student film? You could make a feature film for that which would at least have a REMOTE possibility of making its money back.

Sounds like he borrowed 30 grand at 20% interest to make a silent movie about a girl moping around the house and packing her bags.

I should say here that the people on the D.U.M.P.S. website were sympathetic and understanding. They said they thought his movie sounded interesting and they understood his frustration going that deeply into debt making a movie with no real hope of making any money back. I had mixed feeling about it, but the fact that they were so nice about it made me feel free to think a bit more harshly about it.

How much do student filmmakers usually spend, anyway? Now, with digital video, the price must have come down. But they're talking about providing catering. I prefer Robert Rodriguez's thing---on El Mariachi, he didn't let any (unpaid) actor stay on the set for more than three or four hours so he wouldn't have to buy them lunch.

What the D.U.M.P.S. people don't mention

They don't seem to realize that a compelling short film is much harder to make than a feature. I can't think of good idea for a short film.

Writing a short story really is harder than writing a novel for a couple of reasons. One is that novels don't have to be that well written. Look at something by Jackie Collins, Sydney Sheldon or that Clancy person and imagine reading crap like that in a short story.

The other is that it's harder to come up with something compelling that would work in that form.

But they have these poor film students. All they do is study feature films. All they learn about is feature films. All they watch is feature films. Then they're expected to make a short film, something that's far more difficult to do well and something they've never been told anything about.

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