Jury Night: Independent Films (Article One)

Article by Caresse Singh.

Wednesday night, April the 2nd was the final chapter in this year’s ASIFA-East Jury Screenings. With 29 films averaging at about 4.5 minutes each, Independent Night was geared to be a promising and concise visual display of passion projects.

We saw films from some of the regulars as well as quite a few long-time-ASIFA-friends-first-time-submitters. Collectively, it was a strong screening with a definitive sense of direction. It was as though years of long nights together at Rodeo bar served to ferment and percolate ideas for the creative minds of the East Coast, encouraging the shyer amongst us to speak up and daring older traditionalists to try something new.

Most films were traditionally animated (hand drawn, either digitally or with pencil) and colored either manually or digitally designed to look manually colored.  The bulk of the films were narratives, which made the non-narratives stand out a great deal, particularly because the non-narratives were generally stronger. Understandably, some films were intended for that whole realm of low-budget-crude-humor-banking-on-goofy-dialogue-and-dirty-jokes.

I guess I would have had less of a hard time listening to 5 minutes of yapping if a) my attention span was longer and b) people checked their audio levels before rendering. Surprisingly the Student Films this year did not have this common audio problem, and for most part nor did any of the other films. But at least 3 films revealed a real weakness in sound design – and that’s too many in a category for people with at least some professional experience.

So to clear the air once and for all, I’m going to bestow upon you some pearls of wisdom that you should print out and glue to the wall of your bathroom door (because let’s face it, where else do you sit for an extended period of time with nothing else to look at?)

  • You shouldn’t really edit your audio in AfterEffects, but if you’re going to:
    • “L” = all your audio level keyframes
    • “LL” = your audio waveform
    • “Ctrl” + mouse drag = scroll through audio
  • If you fine tune your final pass in FinalCutPro7 (recommended):
    • “Option” + “command” + “W” = audio waveform
  • Use the aforementioned keystrokes to:
    • Ensure that audio never rises above 12 db.
    • NEVER have an audio track “cut off,” even if the intended sound has ended, KEY IT ON/OFF. Otherwise your audio “pops” on/off.
    • ALWAYS have a “noise” track at a low volume under everything else.

With that said, the films that adhered to these basic rules were engaging, thought-provoking, and well animated. Most submitters saw this as an opportunity to flex some real muscle, or to express an honest emotion or point of view. There was a lot of “throw back” to an older, more golden time of animation – walk cycles with real charm and personality, jazz music, and smooth pacing with stellar comedic timing.  Most importantly, the most successful films got to the freaking point in anywhere from 30 seconds to 5 minutes, even the more depressing subject topics were delicately and meticulously handled with the viewer’s attention span in mind.

There was little experimentation with other techniques – but we did see one hilarious stop motion short, a visually dazzling human stop motion short, shapes formed in silhouette as framed by light sparks, some entrancing CG, paper cutout animation and then some – how do I say this – uh “crude” CG.

We topped off the night by heading to – you guessed it, Rodeo bar, where the creators had the opportunity to discuss their process with members of the audience. Some of the film-makers were showered with well-deserved praise. Others were a little more frustrated with the reception of the films they worked on. It was generally agreed that the overall vibe of the films submitted was one of introspective sadness; that even the more humorous films were born from a place of loneliness.

Later that night, as I sat at the foot of my bed, smoking out of my bedroom window, the sound of laughter fading into memory, I thought of a hauntingly beautiful and relevant visual from one of the films, of a woman morphing into the ripples of wine. And the line from the song attached to this film stuck out and played on loop “there’s only so much wine you can drink in one life and it will never be enough to save you from the bottom of your glass.”

The independent journey is a difficult one, paved with the general pains of life on top of the struggle to stay inspired and to complete films with minimal to no funding. The most successful films of the night were succinct – in the face of daily obstacles, some creators found the time to a) think about what they wanted to say b) say it and c) edit it down. Such thought, such respect for the viewer’s time deserves more accolades than it unfortunately receives. Because these are the films that the wounded will stumble upon and be quickly reminded that even if times are a little dark, dark is beautiful too.