Wednesday, March 18, 2009

In Review: LDSFF'09 Part 4: Edwards, Meyer, and Flynn

In order to prevent this series from going on forever, I'm going to consolidate a bit. This post will consist of highlights from two of the presentations at the festival. The first was by Annie Edwards and Sally Meyer, among whose contributions to the event this year was teen mystery film Minor Details. The second presentation was by veteran actor, director, and producer Michael Flynn.

Although Edwards and Meyer provided many insights into the production of Minor Details, I would like to focus on some of the more general film making tips they offered in the hopes that they may be useful to those who read them.

Being herself a ubiquitous name in screenwriting credits for this year's selections, Meyer had much to say on that topic. Edwards contributed other insights. I think a list may be the most concise form for the presentation of this advice, so here goes:

1. Write small scenes. This makes it easier to rearrange and cut things together in post-production, which keeps options open. Preserving your options is always a good thing.

2. Expose yourself to the work of others. Meyer said, "If you want to write, read, read, read."

3. As a writer, don't get in the way. To again quote Meyer, "Once you hand the script to the director you stand back because it's his vision."

4. Be aware of other productions being shot in your area or it may be difficult to schedule crew members, particularly where hair and makeup are concerned.

5. As a writer, don't force an interpretation on the director or the actors. Write in a way that enables their artistry instead of limiting it.

Such was the general thrust of the presentation, as I picked up on it. I hope these topics will inspire some discussion here, as I don't do justice to any one of them. This list doesn't represent the whole presentation, but I'll cover much of the rest of it in my review of Minor Details.

Those of you who have met Michael Flynn may agree with me that he has a powerful, but not necessarily threatening presence. When he speaks, it is easy to listen. Much of his subject matter was related to finding the passion in a film and in life (a distinction he hardly made), and he related the first section of it to acting specifically. According to Flynn, art is what is left over when all the uninteresting bits are squeezed out of life. Only the passion remains, and that is art. An actor, he claims, is paid to communicate that passion, and so must be capable of sensing the finest variations in it, be they related to vocal inflection, tone, or some other nuance. According to Flynn, this obligation extends to all participants in the production of a film. He says that when a particular scene doesn't "work," it is often because someone involved (an actor, the director, the editor, etc.) wasn't "listening" to its passion. With his perspective and presentation style, Flynn transported the process of making a film to a most paradoxical sphere in which participants are simultaneously floating in turbulent, volumetric clouds of emotional connections and bracing themselves in the solid, packed earth of technique, technicality, and realism. He insisted that rhythm helps a film transcend the ordinary, but also advocated the necessity of variation.

From here, Flynn's remarks took a turn towards LDS cinema in particular. He spoke to the high moral standard placed on Mormon filmmakers. "If the Mormons are doing the film," he said, "it has to be so unbelievably squeaky clean that it boggles the imagination." In saying this, Flynn was not disparaging cleanliness, but speaking to the artificial constraints sometimes placed upon LDS artists by others' ideas about what it is to be LDS.

This expectation may drive Church members in the industry who want to produce something other than institutional films to any number of measures, including producing films that have no LDS-specific content, but still hold to a theme harmonious with gospel standards. Flynn made an observation about this approach when he described the area between LDS specific content and popular emulations of Hollywood as "no man's land." The problem with staying away from too much LDS-ness, he says, is that Mormons don't care about these films because they aren't representative of them, and other people don't care because they don't recognize anyone associated with them.

After speaking to some of the difficulties involved with making financially sustainable films (a popular topic this year that I'll deal with in my summary of Christian Vuissa's comments), Flynn concluded with this thought: "It's a shark-infested pool..but the nice thing is, come on, you're making a movie!"

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