Finally, New York speaks out!

Let the utilities talk! So glad someone has given them the chance for their voices to be heard…

Short Film Friday

This week, I wanted to share one of Etsy’s lovely profile pieces.

Checkout this one about Yokoo. I love how you barely see her face, until the very end.

Yet another great example of a profile using audio with images over. A very easy technique for beginners!!

On Getting Feedback

Intro

Getting useful feedback can be a tricky thing. When I first started making movies, I took advice from everyone. If someone didn’t like something I would go to great lengths to change it. Then 5 minutes later someone would come along and suggest I change it back to the way I originally had it, and I would get so frustrated I started crying.

In my experience, getting feedback is most useful if you recognize there’s a particular problem that you want to solve.

I’ve found that feedback is least useful when I already feel finished with the piece – it’s working as well as I can get it – and I’m asking for any general feedback. When petitioned for feedback, people begin searching for something critical to say. For me, feedback is most helpful when it’s targeted at figuring out how to make what is already there a little bit better.

Below are some tips on finding people that you can trust and getting useful feedback from them. This puppet movie I recently put together serves as a great example of how feedback was helpful as I was getting going, and less so once I was finished.

Here’s the first cut we put together according to the storyboard we had planned.

A Note on Coverage

We only had one day to shoot the footage for this movie and we didn’t get any extra shots, so we were very limited in the editing room. Which brings me to my next piece of advice: always get extra shots you don’t think you’ll need. You never know where these can come in handy. In the end, the random stock footage we had of the puppet’s feet pattering across the floor or simply sitting there turned out to be a lifesaver. Some cutaways to simple objects without the puppet in them would have helped the piece breathe even more, so try to film as many of these shots as possible!

Finding Someone to Give Feedback

How are you going to find someone to take significant time out of their day to give you feedback you can trust?

I think Linda Holmes made an excellent point inthis article for NPR about finding your “pod”:

When you work with a group of people on a project (as you probably often will) and it goes well, make them what we’ll call your “pod.” (One of my past editors taught me that phrase.) Your pod may grow out of your band, or your camp friends, or your college friends, or the people in a play with you, or the people who work on your web site. You’ll notice pods all over the place, especially on Twitter, if you follow writers and musicians and comedians and people like that. There are groups of them that know each other, talk back and forth — those are pods.

What you want isn’t to beat everybody else in your pod and be the biggest success; what you want is for everybody to do well. What’s good for somebody in the pod is good for the whole pod. (This is a rough translation of “it’s who you know,” but it doesn’t matter who you know if you know a bunch of people who don’t help each other out.)

In addition to finding feedback  Everyone involved in storytelling has had mentors throughout their life that mean a lot to them, so they definitely want to give back to younger folk in some way. However, their time is usually extremely limited and mentoring someone can easily fall to the bottom of the priority list. I’ve always considered finding quality editors on my projects to be part of the ongoing “hustle” that’s required to be a filmmaker. It’s also the reason people give a lot of their time to unpaid internships, in exchange for mentorship. In my experience, it’s about making a connection with someone who believes in your work and maintaining a relationship with them.

Feedback Round 1

I could tell from the initial reactions to this cut that I wasn’t getting the response I had hoped for. I saw this as a beautiful tale about the unexpected joys to be found in the mundane details of a partner’s life.

A lot of the responses were “It’s uhh, cute,” in monotone. Even though this wasn’t really feedback I could tell that their faces did not light up and they seemed distracted from the meaning of the story.

The most useful feedback I received was that the shots of the puppet talking right at the camera just weren’t working that well. This felt exactly right to me, and so I felt the need to find footage that could replace these shots. With this problem in mind, I was able to run some various options by some friends and have him give his opinion on what he liked best. However, per usual I got a lot of conflicting feedback, which brings me to my next point: AT SOME POINT YOU NEED TO TRUST YOUR GUT, MAKE A DECISION AND A COMMITMENT TO STICK WITH IT AND BE PROUD.

Feedback Round 2

Feedback 1: This movie lacked a satisfying moment of surprise and reflection.

This was pretty devastating feedback, from a source I really trusted and respected. At this point I felt ready to throw my whole movie into the virtual garbage can and never let it see the light of the internet. Thank God I did, because the next piece of feedback proved very useful.

Feedback 2: The This American Life school of storytelling would require an element of surprise and reflection, but your work is poetic as much as it is narrative.  I personally like odd, elliptical stuff — but there’s certainly a larger audience for story than poetry.  All you can do honestly is what you really like.  Please yourself.

Feedback 3: I liked it – I found it to be a compelling story, but the part at the end with the puppet speaking at the camera still didn’t work for me.

More (almost) affirmation is good!

Feedback 4: Why use puppets at all? What’s the purpose behind using them?

This feedback was interesting because it made me think differently toward doing puppet movies in the future. At first I panicked and was like “OMG HE’S RIGHT WHY???” but after I calmed down it helped me re-evaluate my interest in experimenting with combining puppets and radio. I had used puppets because they allowed for more playfulness in their physicality and interactions with human-scaled objects. Gives the human world a fresh perspective. Though whether I was able to achieve that in this piece, it’s good to continue striving toward.

To quote Woody Allen, “Back when I started, when I opened Take the Money and Run, the guys at United Artists accumulated the nation’s criticisms into a pile this big and I read them all. Texas, Oklahoma, California, New England… That’s when I realized that it’s ridiculous. I mean, the guy in Tulsa thinks the picture’s a masterpiece, and the guy in Vermont thinks it’s the dumbest thing he’s ever seen. Each guy writes intelligently. The whole thing was so pointless. So I abandoned ever, ever reading any criticisms again. Thanks to my mother, I haven’t wasted any time dwelling on whether I’m brilliant or a fool. It’s completely unprofitable to think about it.”

Takeaways

-       Get as many random “cutaway” shots as possible, these will come in handy during editing.

-       Ask for feedback when you recognize a problem. It will be conflicting. Look deep into your heart, choose one solution, and stick with it.

-       Be proud of your piece. Accept the general feedback that comes your way – consider it but don’t dwell on it. You don’t need to please everybody. Be selective and take advice from people who seem to understand your work best.

Ken Burns: On Story

It’s always the right time for some advice from story sage Ken Burns.

Take it away Ken!

Technology in Storytelling

A clip from a panel at last week’s Aspen Ideas Festival about how technology is changing storytelling.

The difficult part is often figuring out what to say, no matter the medium.

Short film of the day

Watch a guy grow up before your eyes. Must have taken some very careful casting. Very well done!

 

Gorgeous Sound-Light Installation

Programming drones to fly and project their lights in formation. Enough said.

My Mom’s Motorcycle

In honor of Father’s Day yesterday, here’s a movie about family.

It has a distinct fast-paced visual style, but also a lot of sentiment and heart. I love that.

Enjoy!

My Pet Fish

As far as profiles go, I didn’t expect this one to work.

It’s about a pet fish. Sounds really boring right?

Miraculously, Josh Schwartz’s interview about Jamie McCallum’s pet fish is lively and funny. Stories are lurking everywhere!

A Simple Voicemail

This video has hardly any views on Vimeo, but it’s one of my favs. It’s a terrific revival of some unexpected tape.

Think about what material you have laying that you haven’t considered. Could you use it in a movie?