Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Dialog's too hard! Just make silent movies!

One time, there was a message on the DUMPS message board--this was a website that listed the things they didn't like about student films.

A bitter film student wrote that he ran up a huge credit card bill---I believe it was around $40,000---making a film. That was in the days before digital video, but even filming on 16mm it was a lot of money.

He said that he noticed that the problem with acting was the dialog. Actors were much more convincing if they didn't have to say their lines, and he was right. So he made a silent film about a girl preparing to leave home. Okay.

But he gave the impression that it had no sound at all----no music. Nothing. When he submitted it to film festivals, they sent it back with notes saying, "Did you know this doesn't have any sound?"

The poor guy was right to make a silent film, but he should have put some music on it and maybe threw in something in voice over.

Look at Guy Maddin's movie, "The Dead Father", an early short of his. The star of the movie was interviewed. He said that there wasn't any real acting involved----the performances in it were very good, but they weren't difficult for the actors because it was almost entirely silent with a voice over narration. Robert Rodriguez's "Bedhead" was made the same way, silent with voice-over narration.

You also solve the problem of bad writing which reveals itself primarily in the form of bad dialog.

These movies with voice-over narration in lieu of synchronized sound were made, I would guess, because of the difficulty of recording live sound with a noisy cine camera running. Now that everyone's using digital video, recording live sound is easy but filmmakers face the far greater challenge of acting and writing dialog.

Right now, people are complaining that camcorder manufacturers are saving money by getting rid of external mic jacks. You're stuck using the relatively bad built in mic.

Maybe this isn't such a bad thing. You shouldn't be using sound anyway. Put on some music, add an occasional subtitle or intertitle. Your movie will be better for it.

There's Guy Maddin who justifies making silent movies by doing them in the manner of Soviet Experimental Cinema, and we have the recent movie The Artist, a silent movie about a silent film star. But you might look at the silent films of George and Mike Kuchar. Mike Kuchar's Sin of the Fleshapoids was a silent film set "a million years" in the future. Even when they switched to video, the Kuchars still did some silent movies.

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