Monday, May 2, 2011

Remove the obstruction!

My wife is vetting movies for a horror film festival here in Los Angeles called Shriekfest. Her own short film appeared in Shriekfest in 2006, and she's volunteered one other year (2008 I think) as a person who reviews submissions and weighs in on what should make the final cut. I watched three features with her in that context, two of which were terrible and one of which was not half bad.

We're off to a slightly better start this time. Each of the past two nights we watched movies that looked like they could be terrible, and both ended up either pretty good (Amphibious 3D) or very good (Wilderness).

However, something bothered me about the experience of watching Amphibious, and I wanted to address it today.

Those of you who have received/watched a screener copy of a movie -- which is most of you I'm sure -- know that the studio/production company needs to stamp the movie with some kind of text that will keep it from becoming pirated. Sometimes this is the occasional scrolling of text along the bottom, explaining that this is for awards consideration and not for public display, or sometimes, as in Wilderness, it's the occasional appearance of a claim to ownership ("Property of Wildreness, LLC " is what the text read).

Amphibious took a different approach, an approach that nearly killed the viewing experience for me.

Amphibious was produced/financed/purchased/whatever by a company called Celsius Entertainment. I know this because their logo was on screen for every single moment of the movie, in two-inch-high, translucent letters, smack dab in the middle of the screen.

Here's how it looked:

Except the letters weren't green. As discussed, they were translucent.

So you could see the action behind. Except you couldn't see it as much as you wanted to see it. Each time your eyes had to fight past this unwanted graphic element that had been introduced into the middle of the action. "In an effects movie, too," my wife commented. Good point -- when there are special effects on the screen, it's even more important not to have your view obstructed by a watermark intended to prevent illegal copying.

And the effects in Amphibious were indeed somewhat special. I'll do the people at Celsius Entertainment a favor by not revealing what this movie's monster is, but it's a fairly original type of monster for this type of movie, created using fairly credible means. Given my previous experience with Shriekfest entries, I was conditioned to expect something absolutely terrible from a movie called Amphibious 3D, whose one "famous" actor is Michael Pare, star of such 80s movies as Eddie and the Cruisers and Streets of Fire. (Though shit, the guy hasn't stopped working -- he's been in a steady stream of straight-to-video schlock throughout his career, with occasional diversions into films you've heard of, such as The Virgin Suicides, Bloodrayne and The Lincoln Lawyer.) But hey, it was entertaining, if you get past the post-dubbing of all the dialogue, some of which was not particularly convincing.

Yet it works against your stated goal of getting into a film festival if you protect the movie so much that the people vetting it have their experience affected. There's a weird kind of contradiction going on here -- on the one hand, you are asking someone to admit you to a festival where genre fans will see your movie and potentially hype it by word-of-mouth. This is, by definition, a position in which you lack strength, in which you lack the confidence that you really have what it takes. Then on the other hand, you think you've got such a hot product on your hands that you have to go to extreme lengths to protect it from a black market eager to churn it out by the dozen to salivating customers on the street. If you've already got that level of demand for it, why do you need the film festival in the first place?

The other thing I wondered about Amphibious 3D, beyond the curious decision to burden us with the Celsius logo throughout, was how a film intended to be viewed in 3D (we of course did not view it that way) was marginal enough that it was struggling to make it into this film festival. (As of this typing, my wife has not decided if she's going to recommend it.)

My standard way of thinking about film festivals is that the production company is trying to use the festivals as a means of exposing their film to distributors. A movie with a done distribution deal does not need a film festival -- it just needs to sit back and let the distributor do its work.

Therefore, it seems like 3D movies should have already gotten to that point. Yes, 3D TVs are becoming more prevalent, but the majority of prospective viewers of a 3D movie are still going to need to go to the theater to see it. Therefore, it seems like a losing financial bet to make a movie in 3D if you don't already know that it will go to theaters. In fact, having watched Amphibious 3D, it seems there's a better than average chance that it will not ever show in theaters -- it may not be half bad, but that's with our standards adjusted downward. It's certainly a B movie, and not an intentional B movie like Piranha 3D -- it's a B movie because it stars B actors and essentially has very meager prospects of reaching a large audience.

In this country anyway. Who knows if it has the potential to play in 3D in the Netherlands, from whence came the financing, or Indonesia, where it was filmed.

At least the people in those countries will only have to see the word Celsius twice -- at the beginning and at the end.

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