Film Synopses - on entry forms

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Dave Watterson
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Film Synopses - on entry forms

Post by Dave Watterson » Thu Jun 25, 2015 6:08 pm

Our own IAC International Competition is one of many which include on the entry form space for a synopsis of your film. Our friends in the Austrian equivalent of IAC have recently been questioning its purpose.

At the recent Festival of Nations in Austria, the jury and audience sometimes made reference to the printed notes alongside each movie in the programme booklet. They spoke as if these were the treasured words of the film maker. I spoke up to say that some may be, but others come from the websites of other festivals and/or have gone through Google Translate and are not to be relied on.

Looking at films in our own competition the synopses are mainly written like programme notes and are determined not to give away any surprises. But in our case they were at one time intended to help judges who were having trouble understanding a film's intentions. (You might rightly say such a film is not good if you have to study the notes.)

What do others think such synopses should do?

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John Roberts
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Re: Film Synopses - on entry forms

Post by John Roberts » Thu Jun 25, 2015 9:25 pm

Interesting question, Dave! I would imagine the answer would depend on who read the synopsis.
Dave Watterson wrote:...the synopses are mainly written like programme notes and are determined not to give away any surprises. But in our case they were at one time intended to help judges who were having trouble understanding a film's intentions. (You might rightly say such a film is not good if you have to study the notes.)
I think there is little point in writing a synopsis that gives away the ending of a film to a judge, before the judge has even started his one and only viewing of the film. However, it might sometimes be useful to point out to a judge beforehand where the film's intentions lie, be it satire, experimental, is it a war film or an anti-war film etc. The majority of movie-going audiences will already have a good idea of the direction a film will take before paying good money to view it, so why should a judge enter a screening completely 'blind'?

Synopses could be as basic as a single word: documentary/fiction/music video etc, or a very brief explanation of any potential misunderstanding. Doing the latter doesn't necessarily give away any plot, nor mean that a film might be otherwise unfathomable.

To paraphrase John Truby: "...you have to know how to transcend genres so you can give the audience a sense of originality and surprise", which is great, but if doing so means the end result is less 'defined' then why not give the judges a pointer in the direction the producer of the film intended? If the producer then fails to convey that intention well enough, it should be judged accordingly. An (optional) synopsis written as a 'programme note' is fine, it would let everyone know what to 'expect' but without giving away any of the plot.

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Dave Watterson
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Re: Film Synopses - on entry forms

Post by Dave Watterson » Thu Jun 25, 2015 10:20 pm

I should have been clearer ... when I began BIAFF judging, many moons ago, the synopsis was only shown to the judges if they requested it after watching the film.

It can sometimes be useful to know if a film was a true documentary or clever fiction, for example. Though you might argue that if it makes an impact, does that matter?

Michael Slowe
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Re: Film Synopses - on entry forms

Post by Michael Slowe » Fri Jun 26, 2015 3:41 pm

I see nothing wrong in giving some advance information as an indication of what sort of film to expect. I always prefer to know before viewing whether to expect a documentary (and the subject), an animated story or an acted fiction. There is no need to divulge the story. I'm sure that competition judges welcome this, I surely would.

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Re: Film Synopses - on entry forms

Post by ned c » Fri Jun 26, 2015 7:27 pm

A short synopsis is helpful as a general introduction for initial judges viewing but is different from program notes. For DOCUTAH the film maker must write a short synopsis in the original submission and one of the screener questions is how close was the film to the makers synopsis? At DOCUTAH we have to write in program note warnings for potential viewers; e.g. nudity, medical procedures, sexual content, etc. as well as a very short description of the film so that audiences can make decisions about which sessions to attend.

ned c

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TimStannard
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Re: Film Synopses - on entry forms

Post by TimStannard » Fri Jun 26, 2015 10:07 pm

Fascinating discussion. Fascinating for me, anyway, because I'd never really considered it before. But I rather like the idea of informing judges what, if anything, the film is trying to convey as then they can honestly report on how successful they thought the film was in achieving hat objective.
Yes, as Dave says, many will think the film should do that without resorting to programme notes, but let's face it, from discussions here it is quite clear that many of us struggle to make sense of some films (eg at BIAFF) but they become clearer once someone has suggested an explanation and the skill of the film maker has become clearer.

No! Films do not necessarily have to stand alone. Indeed one might argue that all make cultural references. With absolutely no knowledge of the Bible, Shakespeare, or current affairs, many films become almost meaningless. Without any knowledge of social stereotypes or culturally acceptable behaviour (or indeed politics) most comedies would fail to amuse. It is unreasonable to expect a judge to be conversant with every subject under the sun (or indeed every film genre) and so a pointer is perfectly reasonable.
Tim
Proud to be an amateur film maker - I do it for the love of it

A.K. Williams
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Re: Film Synopses - on entry forms

Post by A.K. Williams » Sat Jun 27, 2015 2:59 pm

Re.: SYNOPSES

As John R. says I would not dream of paying to see a mainstream feature film or any film without knowing just what it was I was letting myself in for, likewise, I would want to know something about a film before I settled down to view whether it be amateur non-cost or whatever purely in order to adjust my expectations and in a number of directions i.e. duration, colour/black& white, genre and for the reasons Ned c. gives also. I personally think that to give a short summary of a competition entry allows the Competition Manager (any Competition Manager) to perhaps 'balance' the judging personnel at his disposal at any given time. Despite the fact that all judges strive to be impartial some are -surely?- perceived as being more impartial than others in certain areas and while we ought not to admit to it, it nevertheless is a fact.

To give the game away however, is something else entirely and is not a synopsis in my view, more a spoiler.

But, y'know, now that Dave mentions it, to go 'blind' on a film would be interesting if nothing else.

Tony Williams.

Brian Saberton
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Re: Film Synopses - on entry forms

Post by Brian Saberton » Tue Jun 30, 2015 12:46 pm

Tony makes a very good point about the usefulness of a synopsis for the competition manager. I know that David views all the BIAFF entries before allocating them into judging sessions so having a written synopsis prepared by each author must save him quite a lot of time. As a judge I would always jot down a brief synopsis of a film as an aide memoire before writing up my notes so I have always found it to be helpful to have this already provided. As far as fiction films are concerned a synopsis can be difficult to write, as you want to give a flavour of the story without giving anything away but it can be done. Personally I do like to know something about a film before I go to see it.
Brian Saberton

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