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2.20.2010

The Student Film Look: Stuff We Don't Need

As I go back and re-watch the shorts I've produced over the years, I find almost all of them contain stuff I didn't need to include.

This isn't always my fault. Most of the competitions I've entered had a minimum length of at least 3 minutes... which is ridiculous. A 30 second minimum? Sure. But 3 minutes? That's just stupid. Three minutes is way too long in most cases. What's sad, however, is that my companions who participate in these competitions usually push toward to the maximum time limit. No one should need 7 minutes to tell a story they produced in 48 hours.

I'm forced to "pad" my films with needless garbage while others refuse to cut anything out. All of this leads to shorts that are way too long filled with stuff we, as an audience, don't need. It's not just useless shots either. Dialog is a common prey to inexperience.

Mom: How are you feeling, honey?
She walks over to her son bundled up on the couch looking ill. She feels his forehead.
Mom: You're burning up.
Son: Yeah, I don't feel well.
Mom: I'm sorry. Let me get you some water.
Son: Thanks, mom.

Why would this ever be included in a film? It tells us nothing, shows us nothing, demonstrates nothing and does not advance the plot at all. If your point in this scene is that the boy is sick do the following:

Mom hands the boy, bundled up on the couch, a glass of water. He smiles weakly at her.

Done.

The rule they hammered into us in film school was that we were supposed to enter a scene as late as possible and get out again as early as possible. Even so, student films drag on and on with dialog we don't need to tell us stuff we already know.

But I get it. I love the scene where my main characters talk about driving in the left lane on the freeway. Why? Because I wrote the scene because I drive in the left lane on the freeway. It's a peek into my life. It's important to me.

But it's not important to my story and it's really not important to my audience. You, dear blog reader, don't care what lane I prefer on the freeway. And you shouldn't. It doesn't matter at all. And yet that scene remained in one of my scripts through four drafts.

Which is almost as ridiculous as having a minimum time limit of 3 minutes for a short.

Entire scenes could be dropped from your movie. Lines should be replaced with looks. Themes need to be submerged under your story. Shots must be trimmed back.

How can you help your production not have the student film look?

Cut out everything you don't need.

If professionals can tell you an entire life story in 10 minutes--including the intricacies of a relationship--it is a sure sign you're dealing with an amateur when it takes 30 seconds to tell us that someone isn't feeling well. Move beyond telling us stuff and tell us why it matters.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Your Media Production Mentor

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