Guest Blog Post by Tyme
Contests seem to be big business these days. So many screenwriting and film/video contests popping up. Often with an entry fee that is fairly nominal to the entrant, but with volume means considerable profit for the contest producers. Knowing the ProAM USA team, as I do, I know that they have a genuine interest in fostering new talent. Let's not forget that every winner's school also received the same equipment prize package as their winner! So, I was excited to view the submissions for the first annual contest, 2014 ProAm USA International Student Film Competition.
The competition had an impressive panel of judges, esteemed in the industry. The films that received top honors were very good, indeed. Several had won other competitions over the years. In my opinion, several (if not all) of those seemed professionally produced. Perhaps that is simply the greatest compliment paid to the amateur creators, or an unfortunate disparity. There is a big difference between a student project where the cast & crew are volunteers among fellow students, friends & family, and produced with borrowed equipment...and one where a student was hired professionally and given a budget to produce it.
That being said, I have been on a competition team (Orlando 36-hour video race) where our entry trumped every entry in our class -- winning every award. (It was an embarrassment of riches, and made me uncomfortable.) I also know that even though we were in the professional class, we used only our two personally-owned Panasonic AG-DVX100A cameras, tripods, natural light with the exception of a single key light. And, the results were dramatic. Of course, it all grew from a kickass script.
LEAVE AN IMPRESSION!
There were so many great entries in the 2014 ProAm USA International Student Film Competition! For different reasons and commentary, I wanted to highlight a few entries that did not place among the “winners” but that I liked for their own greatness. Projects that seemed true student productions or certainly could have been created with basic production resources. The mark of a good ‘film’, no matter the length, is a complete story. A beginning, middle, and end. You don’t need expensive equipment to deliver that. Some stories were told even without words.
The first one that I watched, on YouTube.com, was In The Blink of an Eye by Danielle Estevez of Husson University. It wasn’t polished, wasn’t high art, but it had heart. Tip #1: Heart is a good start. The concise story, told MOS, depicted what so many Americans know: just how easily your life can change -- for the worse and even for the better. (I might have preferred that it be left without a happy ending to evoke more emotion from the viewer, but it worked okay as was.) So, shout out, Danielle.
One of the simplest, in terms of ambition, was Stuart Becomes an Artist by Eugene Arai of University of California, Davis. Just a simple documentary. (Although, we all know that simplicity can be complicated to achieve.) So beautifully done, by a filmmaker with a good eye. A fantastic opener: a perfect mix of music and nat sound, lush natural light (the dust particles in the sun ray is everything!), and subtle camera movement. The editing was spot on with its use of L-cuts -- beginning answers (video) on the subject and then transitioning to cover shots. The story revealed a nice snippet about this artist...and why his mom is so awesome. (I must admit that I was frustrated to not see much of this artist's work in the piece. But, it paid off because my curiosity led me to his website, and I end up buying a print. Ha!)
(Another fantastic interview/documentary, a well-deserved prize winner, was Jenna by Jason Segal of Chapman University. Heartbreaking story, more so by how well the video was produced and edited.)
It's Okay To Make Them Laugh
Best mark of a memorable film is one that moves you. Makes you think, feel, or just laugh. [One of my all-time favorite commercial films for one particular scene — the “Hollywood is so fake” scene &em; is Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back.] It doesn’t have to be fancy to do so, evidenced by: Who Likes Almond Joy? by Neema Sadeghi of University High School (Irvine, CA) and the nicely edited Maybe Next Time by Dylan Cuesta of Howard Community College. Go, get your giggle on.
Another tricky part about movie making is holding your audiences’ attention. Hidden Within by Gary Scott Tippin of Southern Illinois University was short on story, but I was fascinated. I loved the natural light only from the candles and only natural sound; the dialog-less acting was just right. I even liked the photographer’s misplaced comments/giggles. Mind you, I have no idea what actually happened in this little movie experiment (and I curse you for not holding longer on the last shot!), but you made me remember it.
My top honor would have gone to Everything Was Beautiful by Emily Hiott of University of Texas, Austin. This movie was brilliant in its simplicity, but seemingly no detail was missed in its execution. The texturization/desaturation and use of (entirely) black & white was so effective. And, the solar flare effect (from camera?) made for such a subtle segue between time periods. The transitions were seamless without a cliche switching between b&w and color. The ethereal quality of the photography was mesmerizing. (Reportedly shot on HD 16mm.) Told entirely MOS, the story was carried expertly by the music, and punctuated with bits of natural sound. The natural sound at the end (credit roll) left a distinct impression. The editing was on point, and the acting pitch perfect. This was so well done as to seem professional; but, apparently it was produced exclusively for the ProAm USA 1st Annual International Film Competition. I believe that the judges erred in overlooking this one. Emily Hiott is a talented filmmaker and one to watch.
The one top accolade with which I wholeheartedly agree is Travis Grenier's Gum. The story was so clever and the execution brilliant. Shout out to his school, my hometown’s Full Sail University -- I knew you when. Read an interesting story about Travis and see another fine work by him here. He is definitely on the filmmaker radar.
With quality entries like this year’s batch, I can’t wait for the 2015 ProAm USA International Student Film Competition!
Tyme is a been-there-do-that filmmaker who doesn’t do nearly enough filmmaking these days. Intimidated and inspired to do more. Love my Panasonic AG-DVX100A...24p, baby!