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Take One - Competitions, Judging and Other Notes

There is always a slight anti-climax as we pack everything away at the end of our Premiere night. After all, many months of work have led up to this point and there is inevitably a tinge of sadness that it is all over for another year.

Coincidentally, I have reached the point of discussing the premiere for the series' theoretical film that we have discussed during the past couple of years, at the same moment as our real premiere night took place.

The event was by and large a big success, judging by the feedback that I have had, except for the bitterly cold night that was November 19th, but that will all be covered in my full report on the event.

However, returning to our completed movie, how do we know if it has been a success?

If this has been the first screening, now will be the moment that you will get an indication of how well the film has succeeded, in regards to it's entertainment value for a large audience. But bear in mind, that (to quote the title of a Jack Nicholson film) this is “As good as it gets”.

A premiere audience is normally a friendly one. Certainly in our own case, it is heavily populated with our actors; friends and families (theirs and ours) and pro- PHASE 4 Cine/ Video club members and fellow enthusiastic film makers.

In such a situation, if the film bombs here, it really is a flop. Rarely will the audiences improve from this point and a comedy which fails to get any laughs under such circumstances will never be funny anywhere else.

By the same token, a good response here does not necessarily guarantee success in the wider world, but it is an indication!

Experience teaches you that a favourable reaction on the first screening, is usually a good sign.

Competitions and Judging!

My hands almost seized at the keyboard as I typed the word “judging”, as we are now in highly sensitive, extremely controversial territory!

I continue with some trepidation.

Probably more column inches have been written on this subject in all film making magazines over the years than any other. Certainly many of us get very hot under the collar when the word is mentioned. We all have stories about “how the judges got it wrong” and many a tale of the highly successful film, which picked up a monolithic pile of trophies and cups all over the country and abroad, but failed miserably in one particular competition or other. I could tell you about a few such happenings myself, but Garth wouldn't have the room in the magazine for any other articles for the rest of 2006.

Now I can't say anything wrong about judges. This is partly because I have now had several sessions myself sat staring intently at a screen with a pen clasped in a sweaty hand, but also we are now nearing the judging for BIAFF and I don't want to spoil my chances!

Seriously though, a judges task is a thankless one. A handful of entrants are naturally delighted with their cup, many others never expected to win it anyway, but most will be somewhat disappointed with the end result.

Having found myself in various situations now in many competitions, I think that I am qualified to pass comment from some position of authority.

On a number of occasions, I have been the happy winner. I have also been a happy loser. (The winning film was better than mine.) On a number of occasions, I have been the not-so happy loser. (I didn't think that the winner was better than mine.) And I have sat in judgement on the films of others, knowing that what I say could delight or disappoint the maker. A judge can (and does) have the power to encourage and stimulate a novice (or even a veteran) film maker, but also has sometimes caused one to give up their film-making for good by an inappropriate remark.

It could be said that “it is only a hobby”, but many of us don't think of it that way. I certainly don't. It is the creative artists' version of a cup final; vitally important!

Crucially, I believe that all judges should concentrate on the positive aspects of our films rather than the negative. We seem to have promoted the idea that judging is about telling the film-maker what they have done wrong rather than what has been done right. It appears that we have to give a reason why their own film didn't win rather than simply saying: “You're film was very good, but I enjoyed the other one more”. And when we are reaching the top selection of movies in a competition, it sometimes simply comes down to that. Which one did we like more?

So why enter competitions in the first place?

Because we need our films to be seen. There is no purpose in placing the completed movie unseen on a shelf in our workroom. We also want feedback. Comments are very useful, if they are constructive but not destructive!

At the 2005 judging session for Guernsey, where I was on the panel, my aim was to be positive throughout with my remarks and to offer my opinions as simply that. My opinions.

One sad truth is that a winning film will get seen by more people than a losing one will. All competitions have to show the winner, but coming even a close second means that you are part of the lottery which in many instances chooses which films are to be screened.

The best advice I can give, is to enter your film in lots of places. If you win some and lose some, it is a good result. If you win a lot, you are doing great. If you never win, you are doing something wrong, so listen to what the judges are telling you.

What About…


This series has been a creative and not a technical one. Hence, one of the subjects that I have not covered has been lighting.

“But lighting is creative as well as technical”, you may say. Quite right. But lighting is my pet hate in movie-making. Most PHASE 4 films are shot outdoor. I much prefer natural light to artificial light. When indoor shots are unavoidable, wherever possible I will film these by a window, patio door, or best of all, in a conservatory. Getting rid of shadows and making the light look natural when filming in the small room of a real house with several actors, cameras, microphones and cables all over the place, is no fun at all. The shoot is slowed noticeably as set-ups are changed as the camera moves in for a close-up and a light catches a window, mirror or other shiny surface. Trailing power flexes get tripped over and the wall socket is always miles away. Mixed lighting causes colour balance problems (so choose black and white!)

I don't mind filming night scenes as moody effects are created with long shadows and a single pool of light in a hall or doorway, but otherwise, give me the rain and the noise of a passing train or motorbike any day.

Directing Actors?

A complex subject which deserves an article of it's own. All actors are different. Some like lots of direction, guidance on character, motivation and clear explanations how their role should be performed. Others need only basic instructions, such as: “Walk to here, say the first line, then sit on the settee”.

From here they will build their character themselves, based on their own interpretation of the script. My role in this instance, is to re-direct not direct. I make changes in several re-takes, based on what the actor does.

John Wayne said he never acted, only reacted! That's what I do, I re-direct.

On Continuity…

Phillip Bridge wrote regarding a point I made regarding “flopping over” a shot on cine film to correct a continuity error, when a knife was in the actresses wrong hand. I said that it was not possible, as the magnetic sound stripe would not have stuck. He rightly said that if I was talking about Super 8 film, it would not have been possible to turn the film over as Super 8 was single perf. Also that paste stripe will stick to either side of the film. Also correct. However, at that time I used laminate stripe as it didn't leave a gap at the tape join as it did with paste.
My thoughts on “flopping” the shot would also have included turning the film upside down to put the perfs on the correct side. Remember this was only a close up of a hand! However, this was academic as the idea didn't work in any case.

On Completion to a Premiere…

Michael Slowe asked if I really did go straight from the final edit to a premiere show without anyone else seeing the completed film.

In most cases yes. Michael is quite right is saying that to get a second (and even a third opinion) would be a sensible idea and that changes can more easily be made before the film goes out to a larger audience. It is also likely that it will still be on the computer. He said that someone new could spot something, which the maker could have overlooked.

I totally agree with Michael, but doing the sensible thing is not always how I operate.

My reasons are mainly ones of secrecy. I like the film to be kept under wraps until as late as possible. A new film is a delicate flower which needs to be nurtured. I could possibly lose faith in a film if the second opinion was a negative one. Sometimes I do ask my wife Carol to take a look if I am really unsure, but mostly I take the big gamble and screen it at a big show. She is a good guide for drama, but cannot always judge comedy too well and so I just go with my gut instinct. Sometimes I have got it right and other times it is wrong.
In any case, fundamental changes at this stage will not be possible and to rescue a poor idea would not be feasible.

What Now?

So we are done. The film sets off on it's travels around the club and competition circuit. We may get some trophies or certificates and the film may get a few screenings at festivals. So what now?

Well write a new script of course!

That is the end of TAKE ONE. (Pause for much sadness and tear shedding.)

I hope that you have enjoyed the series and hopefully you will have been inspired to make a movie. It is a lot of work, but well worth it in the end. (Oops, I typed “the end”…I still don't like that.)

As “Arnie” says in the “TERMINATOR” films…”I'll be back”.


- By Ken Wilson (first published in FVM)

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