Saturday, February 19, 2005

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Review INEXCHANGE by Ron Ford

INEXCHANGE - Written and directed by Zack Parker. Starring Sean Blodgett, Tiffany Wilson and Todd Richard Lewis.

There is a lot to recommend about this serious and atmospheric horror movie. It is lit professionally, the sound is good, and, amazingly, every performance is as good as those seen in bigger budgeted union pictures. That is saying a lot for a micro budget movie shot on video. Zack Parker is obviously a very serious film maker, and somebody I will be watching.

The story is slim on plot, but rich in subtext and characterization. College freshman Maury (Todd Blodgett) is introverted to the point of being nearly a shut-in. He rarely leaves his dorm room, except for class, and when he is forced to wander the campus at night because his dorm room mate has a girl over. When an attractive girl starts paying attention to him, Maury begins to open up. But when he learns she is just being nice because she feels sorry for him, all hell breaks loose. Add to this a mysterious specter who may or may not exist outside of Maury's head, urging him deeper and deeper into his private inner darkness. The specter is never named, but he is unique-looking. A man, blindfolded (and yet he has no trouble seeing) and dressed in a fur-trimmed, floor-length pimp coat.

This movie tries to emulate the atmosphere of a European horror film. The pace is slow, snail slow, but intentionally so, as it takes its time building characters and atmosphere before turning on the horror. And when it finally does so, the filmmakers do not wallow in the gore. What blood scenes there are are handled with style and taste, milking plenty of raw power out of them.

The major problem, however, is that the payoff of the movie is stale and predictable, story-wise (though visually well-handled). This is a big problem, after having invested so much patience into it by this point. However, that I made it that far without being bored is a worthy feat in itself. The characters are all interesting and well-played, and hold our attention throughout. None of them is a two dimensional cookie-cutter character.

It's nice to see a micro budget film maker who takes the time and care to plan and execute his shoots so well. This is one of the slickest micro-budget movies I have ever seen, and one of the most promising young directors to come out of that arena in a long time.

INEXCHANGE will be released later this summer from Brain Damage Films, and is definitely worth looking for.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Shot Lists

Shot Lists: From Pre-Production through Post Production

By Peter John Ross

Like so many of us with a desire to eventually make movies for a living, I like to view my little DV shorts (aka Microcinema) as a training ground. Even when making a 5 minute camcorder short, the kind where you are the writer/director/producer/cameraman/editor, you can still prep for bigger shoots, and develop good habits. One of these habits is creating and maintaining a shot list.

A shot list is a list of all the camera angles for a shoot, including coverage and cutaways. This can be done from the script, on the fly during a shoot, or even AFTER the shoot, using the footage and just naming the shots that were obtained.

Shot lists in pre-production usually only blueprint a shoot. A basic shot list of MASTER SHOT, CLOSE-UPS (aka CU’s), et al help plan for time & basically outline what the shoot will consist of. Part of directing is deciding what shots best tell your story and elicit the emotional reaction from a viewer. Storyboards are a great second step for a shot list, but not everyone can draw or get storyboards, so a written list of shots can still achieve the real goal (which is organization).

Making a list of those shots from the script usually winds up being different than when you get there on the day and do the shoot. New shots can come up, two shots get fused into one, or you just don’t have time to get them all. During a shoot, LOGGING the shots can be a valuable tool for post-production (thinking ahead).
A “script supervisor”, the person watching the shot list and the script verifying everything from the script got shot, can scratch off each shot as they are completed, and take notes about each take and each shot. Details like which take the director liked, merged or changed shots, audio problems, time code, and as much as possible for notes for post production. Having a person doing this function can greatly increase the speed and organization of post-production.

Now after the shoot, and either the editor or the person who is doing it all need to be able to take all these shots and make editing choices from them. Again, if this is a small, simple shoot with the same person writing/directing/shooting/editing, you may not have made a shot list, but now that you have a tape full of shots that now have to be captured to the hard drive – you have to name the files and the shots in the computer in order to edit them. So, no matter what you still have a “shot list”.

Now, if you had created a shot list from the script, you can carry the same names through pre-production all the way through post-production. It can be any way you feel like organizing. I can’t tell you how to best organize your shoot, but the only thing that matters is that everyone understands it from writer to cameraman to editor. A basic shot list can consist of just saying “scene 04, take 02 Camera A” and abbreviated “S04T02A”, or any variation therein. Make up your own systems, whatever ways seem best to you.
The reason to be so detailed and to make consistent notes is because as your projects get bigger and more people get involved, there is a system in place for everyone to know what everything is in every department. You can find out where you are in the screenplay based on a shot list, or if one shot needs a title, or there was a slightly different angle – all of that information is systematically (and subsequently anally) organized and easily found.

Having worked as a post-production supervisor and lead editor on a feature film, I was dealing with a director who was the only person who had the notes and shot lists, but they existed in his memory. When capturing & trying to synch audio to his 16mm film transfers, I was trying to find shots like “George gets in car” or “Jenny at apartment”. So where in the script does that happen? How many times is George in a car? It became impossible to do anything without the director present at all times. We then devised a system and naming and assigned scene numbers, and shot lists after the fact and we were able to synch audio for the entire movie.

On the big movies & TV shows, the whole production team synchronizes by a shot list and all the way to the end. Even when you’re doing it all yourself, you can prep for eventually delegating to people like a different editor or cameraman by being organized with a shot list, and making it something everyone can understand. It makes it possible for everyone to be on the same page.

Friday, February 11, 2005


Review ATLANTIC CITY EXPRESSWAY - Written, directed by and starring Jeff Profitt.

This 38 minute would-be "inspirational thriller" was sent to me for review, so here goes. That is to say, you asked for it:

In this bore-fest director Profitt plays Andrew, a basically good boy who was raised by his bible readin' granny (Sylvia Hockenberry). Meanwhile, Andrew works for his bad Uncle Ray (Bernard Fiscus), who works in "Organized crime." Granny begs Andrew to stop working for Uncle Ray, but Andrew is too big a chump to tell his uncle he wants to quit. So he is torn morally, and soon is followed by FBI agents. What to do? What to do? Well, we all pretty much know Andrew will do the "right thing," but just to make sure, his Guardian Angel and Satan himself pay Andrew a visit to facilitate things.

I like all kinds of movies and, being a micro-budget movie-maker myself, I am very forgiving of the kinds of compromises we filmmakers sometimes need to make with our limited resources. But this is just numbingly bad. These amateur-hour filmmakers make every mistake that amateur filmmakers make. Eyelines are mismatched throughout. Lighting is mismatched in close-ups. Bad sound. The acting is beyond wooden. The direction is lifeless, devoid of passion or style. The script is sentimental, lumbering and just plain idiotic. It's black and white, old school morality is pedantic and annoyingly naive. This is, in fact, not a movie at all but a sermon disguised as something palatable to the "masses." And badly disguised at that. It is the cinematic equivalent of those repellent little comic books they always handed out at Sunday school. Or of lame-ass Christian rock.

Give me a good religious movie once in a while, but make it one with some passion. Mr. Gibson's PASSION... may be questionable in terms of my own belief system, but I do admire his ability as an artist to put the depth of his passion so agonizingly onto film. This dumbass piece of drivel, ATLANTIC CITY EXPRESSWAY, inspires nothing but yawns.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Not the Same Dog Pile?!

For those of you who have cruised by to look at the site, thank you. For those who remember the old site and still cruise by, we love you.

Yes, the Dog Pile has changed. Time moves forward; change is good; blah blah blah -- you know the routine. Doesn't change the fact that this is a different breed of dog. We've gone from the beautiful lounging canine to something akin to a street mutt, at least in how we look. We are leaner, and, once we get some more people working for table scraps, we'll be more active. Give us some time, and we hope to win over the old friends as well as new ones. Heck, given enough time and support, we'll even try to hop through a few burning hoops.

So click on the comment lines of the front page items. Tell us what you think, what you like or don't like, tell us what you want to see and read. We may not use any of your comments, but at least we'll know that people are out there, and they are reading.