How do you learn to make better films?

A forum for sharing views on the art of film, video and AV sequence making as well as on competitions, judging and festivals.
Jill Lampert
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How do you learn to make better films?

Post by Jill Lampert »

I’ve just written to ten experienced filmmakers to ask them whether they EVER find judges’ comments useful in the sense that they learn from the judges' comments how to make better films? I’ve had 9 replies though one said he wouldn’t say until he’d seen this year’s BIAFF results.

Most say they do sometimes. It seems that most people in my little sample are more likely to value comments on the story elements of their films. Not so much the technical – though some say they did when they were less experienced.

Several mentioned that whether or not they respected the judge affected how useful the comments were.

In the current FVM Ken Wilson mentions what a lot he’s learnt ‘by doing’.

For myself, I used to hang on every word the judges said – both about my own films and about other films entered in competitions. I think that over the years I’ve found them less useful, and that is probably because most of what the judges say is about technical things and at this stage of my development as a filmmaker I don’t find that interesting - whether that is in my own films or other people's films. I'm probably aware of most of the technical errors already. If it's my own film, there's probably a reason why I haven't put it right.

But if I receive comments from a judge who really seems to have understood and appreciated my film, then any suggestions about storytelling elements of my film may well feel useful – at least worth pondering over!

I think that, like Ken, I learn most by making films. I learn from experience. I learn from my mistakes and from my successes.

I learn from having 'pre-production' and editing discussions with other people, especially when I'm involved in a collaborative project.

I also learn from comments made by trusted friends who I've asked to view the film before the final version is finished.

And I learn from watching, analysing and discussing other people’s films.

How do you learn?
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TimStannard
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Re: How do you learn to make better films?

Post by TimStannard »

What I do..
Jill Lampert wrote: Mon Mar 29, 2021 3:08 pm And I learn from watching, analysing and discussing other people’s films.
What I should do more of ...
Jill Lampert wrote: Mon Mar 29, 2021 3:08 pm I think that, like Ken, I learn most by making films. I learn from experience. I learn from my mistakes and from my successes.
There is an argument that producing quantity results in improved quality. Howard Smith is a good example - there's little doubt that his films have improved. My problem is completing something once I see flaws, but I think I really need to push through that obstacle.

[EDIT] corrected crucial typo!
Last edited by TimStannard on Tue Mar 30, 2021 7:14 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Howard-Smith
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Re: How do you learn to make better films?

Post by Howard-Smith »

Tim Stannard said:
"Howard Smith is a god example - there's little doubt that his films have improved." (Sorry Howard I corrected Tim's typo - Dave)
Before you correct what might be a typographical error, Tim, I must thank you for elevating me to the status of a god. Perhaps I should start a new religion. Somebody else once told me I had a deity mind!
But... you assert that there's little doubt that my films have improved. Thank you for that, and yes I've managed to grab a Diamond this year for which I will be eternally grateful, but I don't believe there's been a dramatic improvement. It shouldn't be overlooked that I also churned out three 3 star award films this year, the same award that I got in 2008 for a film called CASHFLOW. I got my first 4 star way back in 2009 for a feature-length film MADDER, and my first 5 star award in 2015 for DARK HORSE (my only film that contains a graphic sex scene!)
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Howard-Smith
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Re: How do you learn to make better films?

Post by Howard-Smith »

I've learned a lot from watching a huge number of feature films over the years and not just watching them for entertainment but studying the director's style, the rhythm of the editing, camera placement, etc. and seeing if I can pick up some tips.
There's an interesting director called Joanna Hogg, whose films divide audiences. Her best film is ARCHIPELAGO, in which her actors improvise scenes (having been briefed on what they should be talking about) with long, very long, static shots and few close-ups. If such a technique were used in a film submitted to BIAFF, I have no doubt that the judges would recommend more close-ups and more camera angles. But this would be ignoring Joanna Hogg's deliberate individual style. (As it happens, I used the improvisation technique for the first half of CONRAD but I didn't copy her style of long static shots.)
There's the danger of judges to tell people how their film should have been made, when what they are saying is how THEY would have made it had it been their film. People should be allowed to develop their own individual style.
In 1976 I made my first thriller (on Super-8) called A GOLDEN CHANCE. I showed the film to a "friend" who was silent at the end. I asked, "Well... what do you think?" He said, "Run it again and I'll tell you how it should have been done." He then proceeded to painstakingly tell me how he would have done everything differently. This was someone who actually knew nothing about filmmaking and had no intention of ever making films. If this happened now I would feel insulted. I make my films for pleasure and I make my films the way I want them to be. As things turned out, A GOLDEN CHANCE had a pretty good review at The Ten Best, with a 3 star rating.
Having said all that, I'm always willing to learn and my films are sometimes marred by technical faults (eg. sound) which I need to be told about as I'm not always aware of them. I do actually send each new film to a friend who used to be a BIAFF judge years ago for his opinion and advice. Some years ago he gave me particularly detailed advice on how to improve a film called FACE/BOOK, improvements which helped it gain a 4 star award.
Last edited by Howard-Smith on Mon Mar 29, 2021 8:59 pm, edited 3 times in total.
Michael Slowe
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Re: How do you learn to make better films?

Post by Michael Slowe »

What you are saying is interesting but not, I'm afraid, new. Judges are looking at films from the point of view as film makers. I find that the best judges of films, by and large, are people who enjoy films, who read, who go to the theatre, but they are not film makers. There are exceptions of course but I invariably find it to be true.
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Dave Watterson
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Re: How do you learn to make better films?

Post by Dave Watterson »

The higher the standard of technique, the more I comment on the story/plot/audience-experience. For club contests or films at lower star levels I may throw in the occasional comment about technique, but only if the problem has distracted me from the content of the film.
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TimStannard
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Re: How do you learn to make better films?

Post by TimStannard »

Howard-Smith wrote: Mon Mar 29, 2021 7:51 pm Tim Stannard said:
"Howard Smith is a god example - there's little doubt that his films have improved." (Sorry Howard I corrected Tim's typo - Dave)
Typo, me?
Howard-Smith wrote: Mon Mar 29, 2021 7:51 pm But... you assert that there's little doubt that my films have improved. ... but I don't believe there's been a dramatic improvement.
I wouldn't have said dramatic either, and the improvement might have happened had you only produced one or two films per year, but I was short of examples.
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TimStannard
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Re: How do you learn to make better films?

Post by TimStannard »

Dave Watterson wrote: Mon Mar 29, 2021 10:43 pm The higher the standard of technique, the more I comment on the story/plot/audience-experience. For club contests or films at lower star levels I may throw in the occasional comment about technique, but only if the problem has distracted me from the content of the film.
Looking back over my most recently received critiques, I realise I rarely receive comments about technical issues, but when I do they are generally useful. Indeed Dave/Jan watterson commented on the framing of a shot in Cluedunnit? It showed a character hiding an object and the top of the character's head was cut off. In my mind it wasn't a shot of the character, but a close up of the object being hidden, and as a result my attention (being too close to the film) was not on the whole shot. So it was a useful comment, even though it was about one of the most basic aspects of film making.

The comment about distraction is an interesting one. Martine and I are seemingly at polar opposites when it comes to what distracts. I am massively distracted by colour changes between shots in the same scene, to the extent that it can become the only thing I see iwhereas Martine will only notice them if her attention is drawn to it. She, on the other hand, has a far lesser tolerance of poor audio mixes than me. (Surprisingly. as someone who puts as a great empahsis on audio, I can mentally note poor audio for comment and then disregard it).

So, I suppose what I'm suggesting is that a comment on technical aspects is worth mentioning even if you believe the film maker should be aware of it - as they might not be. Of course, this sort of thig should be picked up at the test screening (Which we all do, right? Yeah, right!)
Tim
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Michael Slowe
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Re: How do you learn to make better films?

Post by Michael Slowe »

I have long thought that Dave and Jan Watterson are the best judges within the IAC and it is precisely because of Dave's comment above, that it is the audiences reaction and enjoyment of a film that is one of the most important aspects. Technical faults are only relevant if they effect that experience. The example given by Tim when the Wattersons criticised a cropped head in a shot within a film of his is a good example. A mild jump cut or a fraction of a second out of focus might not be noticed by a non film maker engrossed in the film.
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TimStannard
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Re: How do you learn to make better films?

Post by TimStannard »

Another crucial point about the example I posted is Dave/Jan point to a specific example of the shot that is problematic. How much more useful is that than "compositon was not always perfect".
It is (probably) important to make a distinction between "several shots suffered from poor composition such as x and y" and "there are a couple of points where we thought the framing could be bettter - citing two examples". The former is a comment that there is a general problem with composition for several (probably more than two and possibly most) whereas the second example simgle out poor shots as exceptions.

David Newmans guidelines suggest being specific and Jill has drilled that into me during numerous discussions on the matter over the years and it is completely right. Yet we still see wooly, general comments. Stamp it out now!

As an aside, I'm very much of the opinion that the comments/analysis are far more important than the award received (although an award at BIAFF is better than most as it not awarded in direct comparison to another film, unlike the 1st, 2nd, 3rd places in a typical competition). Don't get me wrong, it's nice to win, but, as with when a film does poorly, it's only one judge's/panel's opinion.
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John Simpson
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Re: How do you learn to make better films?

Post by John Simpson »

I sometimes find the more you think about things the worse the film gets! Concluding that sometimes its good to trust ones intuition. The subconscious picks up lifes experiences and spits it out in thoughts and suggestions. The art people create in films says something about the film-maker and that can be great, or a disaster in other peoples opinions, perhaps the film broke conventions! - we tend to think that matters more than it really does
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Jameela M Boardman
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Re: How do you learn to make better films?

Post by Jameela M Boardman »

Depends what your aim is... A well told story? ...or a technically good film?

Easy to be at cross purposes here, with negative reaction!
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Howard-Smith
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Re: How do you learn to make better films?

Post by Howard-Smith »

I would suggest that the phrase 'a well told story' implies that the film is indeed well made, otherwise the story isn't well told and it's just a good story badly or indifferently done, a wasted opportunity.
The phrase 'technically good film' brings to mind a Diamond award winning film from a few years back. I won't name it but it comprised a room-by-room tour of a large stately home with a lengthy interview in each room. This long, long film was technically extremely well made with top notch photography, beautiful framing of shots, excellent sound recording ... but incredibly tedious, and I couldn't wait for it to end!
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John Simpson
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Re: How do you learn to make better films?

Post by John Simpson »

Was it Oscar Wilde who said the worst thing you can do is bore your audience!
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Howard-Smith
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Re: How do you learn to make better films?

Post by Howard-Smith »

I can’t actually find any record of Oscar Wilde saying that. What I DID find was this quote from Cecil Beaton: “Perhaps the world’s second-worst crime is boredom; the first is being a bore.”
As I recently said on my Facebook page, I was considering making a short film called THE ELECTRIC DRILL but it would be boring. :lol: On the other hand, a film entitled THE VICE would be gripping. :lol:
Last edited by Howard-Smith on Wed Mar 31, 2021 1:54 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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