Pages

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Old School Mobsters Versus Angels in Supernatural Crime Thriller "Under the Dark Wing"

"UNDER THE DARK WING" (2014)
Genre: Supernatural Crime Thriller
Length - 14:39
Company: Creepy Kid Productions
Website: Official Facebook

"Under the Dark Wing" puts a lot on the viewer's plate: black and white old school presentation, suspense, supernatural mayhem, a crime boss, an "ex"-druggie, religious overtones, murder, and a mysterious and very pregnant young woman. 

That's a lot of pieces to throw together in a short film stew.

But does it work?

BORROWED TIME

The story's protagonist appears at first to be Johnny Boy (Fiore Leo) -- a junkie who has turned his back on a life of drug addiction and sticks strictly to murder for hire.  He settles in for an intimate dinner with his employer and no doubt his supplier, George (David Graziano) but the thing is, his last gig didn't go over so well.  The guy he was sent to kill was already dead, and his apparent assassin was a young, pregnant woman (Jessy Row), who then implores Johnny Boy to help her.  He agrees.

Why?  I'm not sure, and that was probably the biggest problem I had with "Under the Dark Wing": I don't understand anyone's motivations. 

George is an "I don't care who I hurt but I get my money on time, every time" mob boss, so I get his pushing buttons with various characters.  But there are supernatural leanings around the young woman, but they are never explained or foreshadowed in any way, which makes their unveiling later on feel random and inconsequential.  Johnny Boy is a one dimensional struggling drug user, and his sudden decision to help someone he not only doesn't know but who has, by killing his mark, effectively stolen his job -- it just does not feel authentic.

I feel like there is a lot of story going on here, a story far larger than fourteen minutes could ever tell.  We need motivations, we need to understand these people and at least have some understanding about the purpose of the young woman before anything that happens onscreen will provide a good emotional payoff.
 
OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 2 / 5.  The script, written by Pedro Alvarado and director Christopher Di Nunzio, had too many balls up in the air and, given the short running time, there was no way they were going to be able to catch every single one.  As a result, most of the events taking place felt inconsequential, particularly when things take a turn for the fantastic later on.
Directing: 3 / 5.  I enjoyed Di Nunzio's direction in this picture.  He had several gutsy moves -- including the long hold on the chair that Johnny Boy vacates to go looking for his drug stash.  Though that hold felt a little too long, I appreciated what he was going for.
Editing: 3 / 5.  The film spent too much time on neat looking scenery (i.e. the field of grain scene) and not enough time trying to illustrate what the writers were going for.  As a result, the pace is off and on over the course of the picture.
Sound/Music: 2.5 / 5.  Di Nunzio also handled music duties.  It did the job, but I wasn't particularly affected by the score.
Acting: 2 / 5.  The script was talky, which isn't a bad thing in and of itself, but I could not get around Jessy Row's performance.  She just sounds flat but add on top of that the wordy dialogue and there's some issues.  Leo and Keith Bennett (who plays the thug, looking and sounding the part quite well) are the shining stars here.  Graziano does what he can with what he's given, and for the most part winds up on top.

Final Grade: 2.5 / 5.

"Under the Dark Wing" is not available to watch online yet, but keep an eye out for it.  And don't forget to follow Christopher Di Nunzio's Creepy Kid Productions on his official Facebook and Twitter!

Monday, March 24, 2014

This Is What the End of the World Sounds Like: Post-Apocalyptic "Relic" Thrives on Sound Design and Brilliant Locations

"RELIC" (2013)
Genre: Post-Apocalyptic Action
Length - 8:32
Company: EDGE Films
Website: YouTube Channel

* Please note that I am assuming the cast list in the credits is "in order of appearance".  Many apologies if I give the wrong name for the lead actor.

Post-apocalyptic stories are hot right now, and short films are just as much a vehicle for that particular genre as any other.  Sam Jordan-Richardson's "Relic" takes this story format -- which is quickly becoming a new stereotype -- and tries to find something new.

But is it possible to find something new when we've already been to this well thousands of times?

YOU KNOW THE DRILL

The story of "Relic" is a simple one.  A 15 year old boy (a suitably grimy William Callard) is one of the few survivors of some horrific unnamed disaster.  He spends his days prowling abandoned city streets and stealing food from empty homes. 

Unfortunately, our protagonist is far from alone -- roaming gangs are also picking through civilization's carcass for food and shelter, and they're not interested in sharing.

It's not hard to tell where this is going, and it winds up pretty much exactly how you'd think it would, but the thing that differentiates this film from so many others is its apparent production values.

First of all, almost the entire film takes place OUTSIDE.  I say this again and again, but when a short film features external locations, it opens up the story and makes it feel more like a "world" that we are inhabiting, rather than a short film made in Grandma's basement.

Next, the streets and buildings we see on screen look exactly the way they should: they're broken down, covered in cobwebs and dust and in total disrepair.  The streets are overgrown. Bricks lie randomly in the grass.  For all intents and purposes, this film takes place in a REAL POST-APOCALYPTIC LOCATION.

By utilizing locations that fit their story to a T, "Relic" creators Sam Jordan-Richardson and James Coughlin effectively create the universe of the story with visuals that immediately speak to the audience. 

Add to that the fact that the actors are by and large pretty good at emoting with their expressions alone, and you have something special.

ENJOY THE SILENCE

Another interesting decision is that "Relic" has almost no dialogue at all.  Without any speech whatsoever, every scene has to speak for our protagonist and those pursuing him.  The sound design on this film is rock solid too, and it makes every quiet scene so much louder and more affecting than it has any right to be.

In the description of the film on YouTube, Jordan-Richardson states that this is the first short film he has made.  "Relic" is beautiful to look at, and its impressive sound design makes an otherwise pedestrian plot compelling.  At times, the shaky cam became a little much for me, but overall "Relic" is a real accomplishment, particularly coming from filmmakers this fresh.

"Relic" marks the arrival of bright new talent, and EDGE Films is only going to get better.

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 2 / 5.  There is not much going on, and what does happen, we've seen done bigger and better in a thousand other films.  It's your basic "after the end of the world" story.  The ending didn't do it for me, either -- it felt like the filmmakers just didn't know where to go with it so they just stopped writing.
Directing: 3.5 / 5.  The shaky cam was a bit nauseating after a while, and at times it felt like the shot was wandering a bit too much, but the frantic movement from shot to shot was enough to convey panic and at other times absolute desolation. 
Editing: 4 / 5.  The film builds up a kinetic energy of its own over the course of the picture, all the way to the finale.
Sound/Music: 4 / 5.  The sound is amazing on this film.  You hear ambient sounds that capture the locations perfectly.  Thanks to no dialogue, it makes the audience pick up every little nuance of the sound design, and adds in a special kind of tension.
Acting: 3 / 5.  For the most part, acting with your expressions is simpler than trying to mouth dialogue.  Still, the actors were all decent here, with a special tip of the hat to William Callard, who somehow managed to look world weary at age 15.  Bravo, good sir!

Final Grade
: 3.3 / 5

I highly recommend you check out "Relic" on YouTube -- and don't forget to follow Sam Jordan-Richardson on Twitter and Facebook!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

"I Can't Help You": YouTube's Ben Miller Delivers Emotional Alcoholism Short Film

"SUBSTANCE" (2013)
Genre: Drama
Length - 5:21
Company: VanityPeakFilms
Website: Official YouTube

Addiction is never an easy subject to tackle.  I've seen full length feature films that falter halfway through, or derail entirely into After School Special territory. 

So when I saw a short film dealing with this admittedly touchy subject, I had to take a look.  Coming from YouTube personality Ben Green (quadruple threat writer, director, editor and star), "Substance" is a surprisingly intimate take on what alcohol addiction really looks like.

"I HATE YOU!"

Our protagonist, played by Ben Green (listed as "Sober Friend" in the credits), drags his drunk friend (Dakota Miller) home from a party -- a place where she without question should not have been.  Her drinking has spiraled out of control, leaving Ben Green's character there to pick up the pieces. 

Of course the drunk friend does not appreciate his interfering in her affairs -- she can live her life quite well on her own, thank you very much -- but ultimately allows him to pamper her, as it's clear she can't even walk on her own, much less change her life for the better.

This extremely short film exposes moments of great intimacy between the two friends -- upon my first watch, I assumed they were related.  The sober friend does all he can to help her, but is it enough?  Green summons tears on command and plays the long suffering friend to the hilt.  Miller acts drunk and flails around -- it's all her role calls for, but some of it felt a little forced to me. 

Either way, "Substance" manages to stir up emotions and ask a very big question: when is it time to stop allowing a friend to self-destruct?  When is a more direct and hard nosed approach necessary?

The ending isn't clear about what will ultimately happen to the drunk friend, which I felt was an appropriate conclusion to a mature, raw and honest look at addiction and how it affects those closest to us. 

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 2.5 / 5.  The plot is very one note and the strength of the film rides entirely on the shoulders of the actors to pull off what might otherwise be dry dialogue.  While the film is short, it still seems like more action could have been drawn from the concept.
Directing: 3 / 5.  Green directs the film in a direct, in your face style.  It works.  The finale, with that long close up of Green's face as he makes a momentous phone call, was a perfect visual to complete the film.
Editing: 4 / 5.  What little action there is moves at a good pace, and every transition seems thought out and properly executed.  It's a professional show.
Sound/Music: 2 / 5.  Nothing sticks out in my mind, but the score, comprised of tracks from NewmannFilms.net and AudioMicro.com didn't detract from the experience.
Acting: 4.5 / 5.  This is where the film really shines.  Miller works wonders with every line, sounding authentic and concerned, tired and desperate.  His performance gives the film its emotion and lends a real edge to the message at hand.

Final Grade: 3.2 / 5.

Don't forget to watch "Substance" on YouTube and give a shout out to Ben Green at his YouTube channel and on his official Facebook page!  

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

A Zombie Film Without Zombies: Indie "Alone" Attempts New Tack at Post-Apocalyptic Drama

"ALONE" (2013)
Genre: Post-Apocalyptic Drama
Length - 6:10
Company: N/A
Website: Official YouTube

Ever since Richard Matheson's watershed 1954 horror novella, I Am Legend, hundreds of artists have tried their hand at reimagining his iconic post-apocalyptic landscape.  George Romero's Night of the Living Dead in 1968 put a new, terrifying spin on the idea, giving us the zombie culture we all know and either love or hate.

Now, Ruffneck101 Productions offer their take on a zombie apocalypse -- but without the zombies.

 . . . say what?

JUST SAY NO TO ZOMBIES

Picture if you will the Last Man on Earth (Alex Vietinghoff), a man alone, living off the cadaver of civilized society, pilfering canned goods from abandoned homes, and occupying his time as best as he can in a world from which he can draw no emotional support whatsoever.

This is unquestionably a terrifying scenario, but it's one we have seen so many times that I neglected to attach the genre label "horror" to "Alone", as scaring you is not its intent at all.  Rather, the point is to present the audience with a difficult question:  what's the point in living when every day is exactly the same, without real human contact, without end, ad infinitum?

The protagonist (in one of his many voice overs) says, "Well, at least there are no zombies," or something to that effect.

Really?  You don't notice any zombies, pal?

The only difference between his seemingly  pointless search for sustenance and a zombie wandering the earth looking for a bite to eat is the fact that he is much faster on his feet.  For all intents and purposes, this man IS a zombie.

Until the final frame of the film, that is.  It is here that we see what will either be his undoing, or his last chance to create a life worth living.  The ending is extremely ambiguous -- our protagonist's "life" could go either way.

A TRICKY SITUATION

At the end of the day, is "Alone" a good movie?  It depends on what you find to be entertaining.  For the bulk of the film, long and drawn out shots of empty land and abandoned places are the norm, with the Last Man on Earth giving us monotone voice overs the entire running time.

It's all intended to lull you into a false sense of security, and I get that, but it doesn't make for riveting viewing.  For being only six minutes and some change, there should have been some action of some kind, or at least a more effectively conveyed inner turmoil in the Last Man on Earth.

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 2 / 5.  There was some depth to writer/director Brock Turunski and star Alex Vietinghoff's screenplay, thanks to its clever manipulation with an overdone zombie genre.  But as a whole, even at six minutes, it felt over long and drawn out.  I wanted to see more interaction with the world, as dead as it might seem.  Never a single corpse was shown, which seemed odd.
Directing: 3 / 5.  Turunski puts on a good enough show, though he doesn't have much to work with: lonely landscapes, canned goods being cooked, showers being taken -- banality is on center stage, and he does his best to make it look interesting with unique shots and fluid motion.
Editing: 3 / 5.  There are some really neat transitions here (really enjoyed the showerhead shot, for instance) but every scene feels too long.  This film could probably have clocked in at three minutes and nothing would have been lost.
Sound/Music: 3 / 5.  Effective and efficient music from www.incompetech.com, MobyGratis, Turunski himself and Christian metal band Demon Hunter.
Acting: 2.5 / 5.  Vietinghoff is grating with his monotone delivery of line after line.  Chelsea Veinot plays the voice of his girlfriend or wife, but she doesn't sound credible, either.

Final Grade: 2.7 / 5

Don't forget to check out "Alone" on YouTube, check out Ruffneck101 Productions' official YouTube channel, and check in with writer/star Alex Vietinghoff on his Facebook page and say hello!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

And Life Becomes Art: Romantic Comedy "Selfie" Smart, Sweet Fun

"SELFIE" (2014)
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Length - 6:38
Company: vickrishnafilms
Website: "Compass Rose" (Facebook)

A photographer fresh from a breakup (Vick Krishna) is taking pictures in Washington, D.C. when his artistic eye falls on a new, and quite lonely, muse (Emilie Pratt).

Written, directed, edited, and starring Vick Krishna -- familiar to YouTube film fanatics for last year's similarly Valentine's Day themed short, "Compass Rose" -- this new offering tells a hopeful love story with just a dash of comedy and gravity to level the playing field.

How's it all turn out? 

Glad you asked.

PHOTOGRAPHIC MEMORY

Krishna's latest film plays with that most contemporary of cultural memes, the "Selfie" -- a picture taken of one's self and anyone who's nearby, usually by a mobile device such as a cell phone or tablet.  While the lonely muse takes these selfie pictures with her cell phone, the photographer has a higher powered digital camera.

In this way, he cleverly pits the two styles of photography against each other.  While the muse's photos are lonely and sad, the images the photographer gets of her are striking and even gorgeous despite being taken in the midst of her halfhearted journey among national monuments.

It is ultimately this clever commentary between the new "Me Generation" (the mobile device users) and the more traditional "Artists" (those developing their craft with cameras and composition) that sets up their eventual meeting, and it's this depth that elevates "Selfie" above what might have otherwise been just a saccharine love story.



OVERALL SCORES

Writing: 3 / 5.  I loved the thematic depth from the interplay between the two styles of photography.  This may have been unintentional, but subconsciously it was there, and it made the story that much more interesting.  Unfortunately the love story was one note throughout, and I think most women would have found the photographer's actions a bit too close to stalking regardless of how beautiful his pictures looked. 
Directing: 4 / 5.  I loved the composition of Krishna's shots.  He took full advantage of the natural (and man made) beauty around him, which opened up the film considerably.  Too many independent films are shut up in a house somewhere.  Not here -- we've got the whole wide world to explore, and visually Krishna was more than up to the challenge.
Editing: 3 / 5.  The film moved along at a good click and the transitions between scenes were smooth.  The extremely short running time actually felt right for this film.  There's not much story going on here, but the extra short length matches it stride for stride.
Sound/Music: 1 / 5.  The music seemed more "in your face" than it needed to be for what is otherwise a very quiet story.  It didn't accentuate the events onscreen, and that's what good film music is supposed to do.
Acting: 4 / 5.  Krishna and Pratt have no lines -- there is no dialogue in the entire film, in fact -- but they sell their parts by their expressions alone.  Not a single look appears over the top.  Rachel Burnell makes a short appearance as the photographer's ex-girlfriend, and she is credible.

Final Grade: 3 / 5.

Don't forget to watch "Selfie" on YouTube by clicking here, and don't forget to follow Vick Krishna on Facebook on his "Compass Rose" page!

Friday, March 7, 2014

"Don't Be Afraid to Pull the Carpet": EXCLUSIVE Interview With Writer/Director Matthew P. Rojas ("In This Myth of Vengeance")

Since graduating from the Art Institute of Dallas in 2012, writer/director Matthew P. Rojas has established himself as a filmmaker with a unique and spiritual vision.  His most recent short film, "In This Myth of Vengeance" (reviewed right here), addressed the question of evil in the world through a story lens inspired by nothing less than legendary fantasist C.S. Lewis' essay, The Problem of Pain

He's no stranger to bearing messages through his visual art, having worked with Habitat For Humanity, First Baptist Dallas and now in his day job as the video producer of Fellowship Bible Church.

How does a filmmaker address theological concerns in a manner that feels authentic and realistic, rather than forced?  What causes a talented director to focus his efforts on such high minded films?

* * * * * *

FCSFR: According to your website, you graduated in 2012 from The Art Institute of Dallas, with an eye to making short films and perhaps feature length in the future. What was it that started your interest in film? Were you involved in filmmaking before enrolling at the Art Institute?

MATTHEW P. ROJAS: At 13 years old, my father asked me what I wanted to do with my life and I told him I wanted to be an architect. I’ve always been fascinated with the process of constructing architecture. Among other things, you have to create a design (interior and exterior), understand the cost estimation, and play the role as project manager. It's a very lengthy and tedious process similar to filmmaking. Both are almost one in the same as far as the creative process goes. You write a script, which is the blueprint, understand your budget; and fill in the role as a director, which can be the equivalent of a project manager. You then have to work with a team of creative people who understand the process of producing the final work of art. But the end result is the real payoff; knowing that all the hard work and problem solving was worth it. What a feeling!

Around that same time my dad and I saw The Passion of the Christ in support of Christian films. Even at that age I found all Christian films to be overly cheesy and preachy (besides Ben-Hur). But this film was different. This film was powerful; it was unlike anything I had ever seen before.  While it was a familiar story, seeing it unfold cinematically with such realism and emotion, gave it more depth. I related to the story and its characters on an emotional level very few films had done in my life up to that point. "How could a film do this to me?" I walked out thinking. "How could a film evoke such emotion?" A couple of weeks later I spoke with my father and brought up the previous conversation about what I wanted to do with my life. I told him I wanted to make films. He laughed and said "Oh really?" I said, "Yeah, I'm going to make films and they’re going to change people's lives… toward truth." He looked at me and said "Go do it then". So that's how it started.

From there I went to high school and enrolled in a media class, which taught me the basics of writing, editing and shooting. I enjoyed creating various funny short films inspired by Guy Ritchie and Martin Scorsese. I was given the position as one of the main editors for our school news and would often get in trouble for staging a few "news” stories for the sake of trying new things. I graduated and enrolled in the Art Institute of Dallas at 18 years old.  I was attracted it because it was more of a hands on college and I got to connect with some amazing and talented people who shared the same passion.

FCSFR: You've won awards for your short films in the past from film festivals -- HorrorFest, DocuFest, among others. Could you talk a little bit about how winning those awards affected you as a filmmaker? Did it fill you with fire, or does it feel like a weight on your shoulders that says, "Oh man, my next one's got to be that much better"?

ROJAS: Awards are just awkward. I mean, they really are. My response is always the same or similar to “Really? Cool...thanks.” It’s a funny thing. Of course that’s my opinion; I’m not going to bash awards or say I love them but at the end of the day they don’t define me. I know where I stand as a filmmaker because I know the potential God placed inside me. No award is ever going to give me that confirmation, only the Lord.

FCSFR: Your filmmaking style incorporates spiritual elements, as "In This Myth of Vengeance" illustrates. What is it about filmmaking that made you desire to express this part of yourself, rather than becoming a speaker, or writing an essay?

ROJAS: I’ve never been gifted at public speaking or in writing essays. It seems like my greatest strength in communication is through film. I feel like there’s a lot that needs to be said about not only the Christian walk but in the daily struggles of REAL people. In a culture of media obsession and new technological innovation, what still captivates people are real stories and real struggles. That’s what I focus on. At the heart of my passion for filmmaking is a love of storytelling. I create the story and then let the Lord speak through my films.

FCSFR: What was the creative process that led up to "In This Myth of Vengeance"? How did you approach writing something ambitious as this, and yet still carrying a message of which you approve?

ROJAS: At that time in my life I went through a bad breakup, had a falling out with a great mentor of mine, was in-between jobs, had a short film fall through and on top of all that, I was harboring a lot of unforgiveness in my heart. I was experiencing a mixture of anger, bitterness, and frustration with myself. Out of curiosity, I picked up the novel The Problem of Pain by C.S Lewis. God used it as a mirror to show me elements of what was occurring in my own life. It was a spark but nothing more.

Several days went by and I had a vision of a husband losing his wife in a murder. I didn’t know why

Then the Lord really started to speak to me about the consequences of revenge and the power of forgiveness. It was from that revelation I wrote “In This Myth of Vengeance”.

I didn’t want to make your average revenge film or hitman movie. I wanted to make a film about real people struggling with real emotions put in awful situations.

FCSFR: Your actors put in amazing turns, in particular Nathan Marlow, who has appeared on TV, and Chase Austin, who has a lot of experience in the short film form and always turns in a good performance. How did you get Marlow to appear in the film?

but I slowly started to feel for that character. I understood his grief, anger and pain. Several years ago I lost a dear friend in a similar situation as presented in the film. I felt numbness, grief and anger. Just like the Sapphire character there was the temptation to carry out my own idea of justice. 

ROJAS: Nathan and Chase were such a blessing! The movie wouldn’t have turned out the way it did if it wasn’t for them!

Funny story, I had a casting call for the Sapphire character and already had a guy locked in for it. Right before we were about to start discussing pay and sign a contract, he got a gig out in LA and wasn’t going to be available for the next few months. I was so disappointed. Then one day, I randomly got a call from a guy named Nathan Marlow who just moved to Dallas. He shared his love for filmmaking and wanted to network. He sent his portfolio and I was instantly blown away. We met and I presented the role to him to which he loved and agreed to take. From there we began an amazing process of brainstorming and collaborating!

Originally, I wrote a small part for the Humane character but it was when I met Chase Austin that things started really taking off. We would talk for hours and began digging at who Humane was. I never met someone so willing to get into a character like that before.  Chase’s passion to bring the character to life gave me the drive to make the role bigger than originally designed. The material we ended up writing for the character could have been a film in and of itself. Much of it was cut in the final script but we wouldn’t mind exploring that character again at a later time.

Both men are extremely talented and have amazing futures in store for them. 

FCSFR: Showing violence in short films can be difficult, but particularly hand to hand violence can be troublesome, since you can't just squirt blood around and call it a day. But that sequence between Paul Serna and Nickolas A. Lopez is choreographed so well that it FEELS like a real fight. Could you talk about the filming of that scene in particular, its unique challenges?

ROJAS: That scene was THE MOST FUN I ever had. The irony in that was—everything was improvised! I drove by this cheap motel and wanted to shoot a “hit” gone wrong with the Ananias character. Initially it was supposed to be a deleted scene since I found no reason to put it in the film at that time, yet it actually became a great puzzle piece and one of the highlights of the film. Though most of it was improvised I had a clear outline of how I wanted the fight to look. I took notes from Martin Scorsese and his way of cutting to a scene midway through its violence. It’s almost a slap in the face. You don’t know how it started or what the fight is about, yet it’s brutal. Too many short films want to explain everything and start scenes from the beginning to end. That’s boring! Challenge your audience, present nuances and don’t be afraid to pull the carpet from underneath them every now and then.

FCSFR: What are your directing and writing influences?

ROJAS: I’ve always been a sucker for Ingmar Bergman’s and Andrei Tarkovsky’s directing and writing. I aim to write film adaptations like Stanley Kubrick but aspire to write original screenplays like Paul Thomas Anderson.

FCSFR: Your camera movement reminded me of vintage Sam Raimi, but what with the interesting transitions and fast cutting, it reminded me of something like an Oliver Stone approach. Can you talk a little bit about how you as a director decide how to create a unique film style to fit the screenplay?

ROJAS: Thanks! My main focus was to make this film dark and raw. Besides the bedroom scene, almost every scene is lit with one florescent light. The dolly movements added both smooth transitions and intensity. Close ups brought an intimate level with the characters and their thoughts. The cinematography was really about experimenting by trying something different. I didn’t know how it was going to turn out but in the end it worked.

Stanley Kubrick once said, “I love editing. I think I like it more than any other phase of filmmaking. If I wanted to be frivolous, I might say that everything that precedes editing is merely a way of producing film to edit". I couldn’t agree more! Editing is all about problem solving and trying new things. It seems like its neglected and everyone focuses on cinematography, which is great and fun, but editing is where the story begins to form.

The editing process was tough with this film. I finished the edit two months prior to its premiere but I wasn’t pleased. I showed it to two of my mentors who gave some great critiques and advice. I then went back and started experimenting. I wanted to turn this film into an experience, almost like a ride, very distorted and fast. I accomplished that in the trailers and received a great response but sadly the original cut couldn’t amount. Tirelessly I kept trying! I shot new scenes, added effects and had fun with sound design. I was proud of the end result.

FCSFR: The audio and sound on this film is amazing, it literally creates anxiety and excitement and dread all on its own. Can you talk about this film's audio production process -- which is one that is sorely neglected in many short films (or longer ones, for that matter)?

ROJAS: Thank you Nicholas! That means a lot and I greatly appreciate it. I’ve always been scared of sound design. I even came close to failing multiple sound design courses in college. It was truly one of my weaknesses. Yet in this film I knew it played the biggest role in setting the mood. Scared out of my mind I dove in headfirst. I started playing and experimenting with multiple sounds. I mixed sounds by using old vintage radios, trains passing, high notes to create tension, old recordings of speeches and bass to entice the viewer. Altogether it made the perfect mixture of a dark mood that became the driving force in the story.

FCSFR: What do we have to look forward to in the future? "In This Myth of Vengeance" should start touring festivals later this year or next year?

ROJAS: I am currently writing 2 short films with the talented and beautiful Anna Garcia, one of which is set to be released this fall. I’m also in pre-production for a ringside commercial. When I finished “In This Myth of Vengeance”, I missed all the deadlines for this year’s competition so I started to submit for next year’s festivals including Tribeca, South by Southwest and other minor ones. It’s exciting and I can’t wait for what the future holds!

FCSFR: What is your dream project?

ROJAS: To make a feature, with no compromises, that will change audience’s perspective towards truth and grace, found in the personhood of Jesus Christ.


* * * * * *

A big thank you goes out to Matthew P. Rojas for giving such thoughtful answers to my questions.  I can't wait to see his follow up films, and I know that one day he'll get his shot at that full length feature! 

Check out Matthew P. Rojas' official website here to keep up with "In This Myth of Vengeance" as it starts its festival run.  And don't forget to follow him on Facebook, too.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Intense Sci-Fi Action in "PostHuman" Recalls Aeon Flux and Heavy Metal Magazine

"POSTHUMAN" (2013)
Genre: Animated Sci-Fi / Action
Length - 5:46
Company: Colliculi Productions
Website: Official

Futuristic hacker Terrence (Ulric Dihle) and his dog Nine help super psychic Kali (Tricia Helfer) attempt to rescue the last living imprisoned test subject of an under-the-radar ESP lab.

The intense violence that follows is sure to test a few of the weaker stomachs out there, but this is the beginning of a war -- and theoretically a video series of animated films.

It's won an incredible number of awards including Best Animated Short at Screamfest 2012 and Best Animation Short from the Arizona Underground Film Festival 2012.

Let's see what all the commotion is about, shall we?

GOOD ANIMATIONS

Animated films are always a tricky sell, because so much rides on them beyond your basic point and shoot style independent project.  If the drawings aren't good enough, or even if they are TOO well done, it can turn off all but the most seasoned anime and comic fans. 

"PostHuman" reminds me of a cross between the old TV show Aeon Flux that used to appear on Liquid Television on MTV and the lurid and hyperactive Heavy Metal comic book magazine.

There's action, blood and nudity, so clearly this is an animated film for adults.

DYSTOPICALLY DELICIOUS

But that leads me to talk about what "PostHuman" does best, which is that it presents a dystopic futuristic society, complete with dirt and grime, undercover happenings and even psychic battles.

From front to back, this little flick has limitless energy oozing off every frame as unnamed antagonists attempt to turn everyday humans into psychic killing machines.

Director Cole Drumb keeps the action fast paced and constant.  Nothing interrupts the frantic pace of Terrence's mission, and yet we never feel any genuine conflict.  The conclusion winds up feeling extremely inevitable as it sets us up for subsequent installments.

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 2.5 / 5.  The film is five minutes of uninterrupted action and violence.  The idea is an intriguing one -- the buildup to a psychic war between a secret organization and the psychic monsters they've created -- but the concept wasn't explored.  The storyline needs more meat, and we need to have even a shorthand understanding of the characters for the finale to have a bigger emotional payoff.
Directing: 4 / 5.  Drumb puts on a professional show from the first frame onward, coming up with clever shots and milking the action for all its worth.  Visually, the film is executed flawlessly, but I think the film's extremely short running time made the film somewhat confusing, which keeps this film from scoring 5 in this department.
Editing: 3 / 5.  The movie is SO fast that I had to rewatch it to try and get a better feel for who was who and what exactly was going on.  The pacing felt like it was on "fast forward" the entire time. 
Sound/Music: 4 / 5.  Kid Dropper Sound deserves a shout out here, because the audio sounded fantastic.  The music, by Neill Sanford Livingston, hit the mark and helped express the emotions buried amidst the frenetic pacing.
Acting: 4 / 5.  "PostHuman" features the voice talent of Tricia Helfer (of Battlestar Galactica fame) and Ulric Dihle as Terrence.  Both play their parts perfectly.

Final Grade: 3.5 / 5.

Don't forget to watch "PostHuman" on YouTube by clicking here, and then follow its release on Twitter and Facebook!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

EDITORIAL: A Serbian Film, Moviepilot.com, and Why Even Disturbing Films Need Respect

An article from Moviepilot.com called "I Watched A Serbian Film So You Don't Have To" appeared on my Facebook page.  Now, I'd heard a lot about writer/director Srdjan Todorovic's A Serbian Film and all the controversial press it's been getting, mostly due to its graphic depictions of various types of sexual abuse, violence and torture.  I find the argument of what can be shown on screen versus what simply shouldn't be shown to be extremely interesting, so I clicked on it.

Mistake.

I am appalled that a website with a professional face would publish an article that stoops to attacking a film verbally, and then revealing virtually every plot point and spoiling every twist and every act perpetrated during the film's running time. 

Why does this reviewer do this?  He justifies his actions by declaring the film reprehensible trash and naming anyone who could possibly enjoy this film as twisted, murderous, or at the very least possessing serious, serious mental problems.

Let us be clear: I am not writing this in defense of the quality of A Serbian Film.  I am instead writing in defense of A Serbian Film's right to be treated with the same respect any creative endeavor should be given.

And the thing is, I get that Moviepilot.com is a movie fan community website, so the writers are not necessarily fair or professional.  Strangely, my response to the post was the only one that I saw that addressed this issue.  All the rest basically railed on the film, about how sick and twisted people must be to be able to watch at all, let alone enjoy, a film with this kind of content.

Every film, every creative endeavor, deserves to be treated with respect, even if its content isn't something you agree with.  Is the film shocking?  Sure.  Is it hard to watch, and did it maybe go too far in its attempt to be "horror"?  Possibly.  You are welcome to both of these opinions, but the moment you begin to spoil it for others, you have reduced yourself to the realm of the amateur.

In today's world of bigger budgets and weaker stories where Hollywood movies have become a kind of cinematic novocaine, the ability of a film to arouse any genuine emotion at all, even anger or disgust, should be respected. 

For all his vitriol and judgmental attitude, I found that after reading the article, I'd lost respect for  Moviepilot.com, not A Serbian Film.




Thanks for reading! I'm a screenwriter and script consultant. Most recently, I've worked with LMC Productions and Mad Antz Films in Australia. I helped mold Goodybag Productions' award winning screenplay "The Teacher" and Michael Maguire's feature length script "The Wolfpack", which is still in development.

Check out my blog and let's get in touch!