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2.18.2010

The Student Film Look: Should Major in Photography

Fade up from black.

It takes a moment, but then--with the subtle cue of traffic sounds--we realize we're looking at a gas pump.


Gas Pump

The shot holds unbearably long. We're seriously looking at a gas pump. The music lilts and falls in the background. Finally, finally, we move on too...


Country Side

A wide-open world of sprawling landscape. Again, the director really wants us to feel his point, his thesis. In this case it's probably something like: Fuel is ruining our lives; or Save the poor farmer from rising prices; or If only we had the little that we needed; or Something like that.

This hodgepodge of loosely related clips continues through the opening titles. And while the assorted clips theme may not resurface until the end credits, the drawn-out shots will be sustained.

Why?

I believe it's because most student DPs should have been photography majors. They focus on the beauty of the shot, the texture of the lighting, the way this shot makes them feel. And they completely forget about telling a story.

Film, for them, is about the visual experience. And they're not alone. There are several popular directors who have a similar bent. The aesthetic experience permeates their films while the story and content fade into the distant background. Freeze frames from their film would have made a better art gallery show than a film.

Why don't the student editors, who tend to be about driving the story forward, fix this then? Why do these long, drawn-out scenes remain?

  1. Many student/low-budget directors edit their own pieces. They like the shot, so they leave it in.
  2. Student editors who take on high production value projects with no content can't figure out how to edit the movie. Without a story or action to follow, these fledgling story crafters can't make heads or tails of the footage. So they follow the director's direction and, because the director likes the shot, it stays in.
  3. Early editors struggle to keep stories moving. Just attend a student film festival... almost every single film will be way too long.

How do you overcome this?

Beautiful/well-crafted shots are an essential part of a good film. But I would recommend following the advice of the creators of Myst: Ask yourself with every shot, "Am I walking through this room, or stopping and staring?"

Your audience members, while they appreciate good aesthetics, are not stopping and staring. They're waiting to be show a story.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

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