Jury Coordination and Notes

What a Disaster! * Unique Format, Engaging Challenges, Crucial Messages

November 28th, 2020

BS SoCal, Southern California’s home for new PBS program premieres, debuts an entertaining new spin on emergency preparedness with the special What A Disaster! The fun new game show hosted by Jay Jackson (Parks & Recreation) challenges three Southern California families to test their emergency readiness plans in the event of the next wildfire, earthquake, flood or other disaster. Viewers will follow the contestants’ progress through a series of fast-paced, exciting tasks that include comical twists designed to educate and teach critical, lifesaving guidance.

The competition-themed special seeks to raise awareness on the importance of disaster preparedness as well as equip viewers with an understanding of the “do’s and don’ts” in emergency situations. Produced during the COVID-19 pandemic, each family’s strategies will be judged remotely by two disaster response experts: El Sol Neighborhood Educational Center in San Bernardino’s Lulu Lopez and LISTOS National Program Director Liliana Encinas. The family with the most creative and resourceful solutions will be rewarded with a $1,000 cash prize. The other families with the least number of successes will be receiving a Disaster Preparedness Kit. KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Eshaan M. comments, “What A Disaster! is an enjoyable family watch, after which you’ll be prepared for any disaster that might come your way. The unique format, engaging challenges and crucial message all make this an amazing movie to watch over Thanksgiving!” See his full review below.

What A Disaster!
By Eshaan M., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 14

What A Disaster! is an enjoyable family watch, after which you’ll be prepared for any disaster that might come your way. The unique format, engaging challenges and crucial message all make this an amazing movie to watch over Thanksgiving!

What A Disaster! is a game-show style program hosted by Jay Jackson, centering around three Southern-Californian families (The Yang family, the Smith family and the Luna family) competing to be crowned the most prepared for any natural disaster that may come their way. They’re also competing to receive $1,000. The families are led through a series of challenges that include knowing where your utilities are and what to pack if you’re running out of a burning building.

As this is a PBS production, the 40 minute film is stitched together quite well.  The contestants are spontaneous and bring life to the film, especially the little kids! I also enjoyed Jay Jackson’s bubbly hosting. He looks upon these families as his neighbors, and the care he has is evident. There are some points where the contestants’ voices seem to echo or reverb, though. It is also a bit obvious that the judges are reading from a script, as their eye line is off-center. But overall, the production value does not drag What A Disaster! down.

As its title would give away, the film promotes disaster preparedness and staying safe in any situation. Also, this film endorses messages of sticking together, especially with family, and teamwork. This is an especially important message for 2020, given the wildfires that SoCal has suffered, and I’m super glad that PBS produced this program.

I give What A Disaster! 4.5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 7 to 18. Adults would enjoy this film as well. What A Disaster! premieres in Southern California this Thanksgiving on Thurs., Nov. 26 at 7 p.m. on PBS SoCal and encores on Sat., Nov. 28 at 8 p.m. on KCET.

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Mr. Soul! Focuses How Ellis Haizlip Used His Program To Show Black Talent In Positive Ways

September 11th, 2020

Mr. Soul! is right on time given the subject – Ellis Haizlip – and his accomplishments as America’s first Black nighttime talk show host during the Civil Rights Movement/Black Power Movement from 1968 – 1973.  It is a rich story that will resonate with audiences across the nation and across generations.  With Black Lives Matter and the current state of our country and our communities addressing racism in a meaningful manner – Haizlip’s story and his inspiration is now even more important.   Ellis was innovative, political and gay. In his personal fight for social equality, this man ensured that the revolution would be televised. Along with the incredible music performances from Gladys Knight, Al Green, Earth Wind & Fire, Stevie Wonder  and more; historical interviews with folks like Muhammad Ali, Sidney Poitier, Cicely Tyson, James Baldwin, Nikki Giovanni, Kathleen Cleaver, Stokely Carmichael, Harry Belafonte   and others; and performances from Sonia Sanchez, George Faison, The Last Poets, Alvin Ailey and more, MR. SOUL! captures this monumental movement in America, at a time when the whole nation was going through a change.  This time now feels very familiar. KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Tiana S. comments, “This movie focuses on African American music, dance and literature and how Mr. Haizlip used his program to show Black talent in positive ways.” See her full review below.

Mr. Soul!
By Tiana S., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 11

The documentary Mr. Soul! is entertaining and touching! It is remarkably interesting and makes you want to research more about Ellis Haizlip. He made a huge difference in the way African Americans were shown on television by creating his own show called “SOUL!. This movie focuses on African American music, dance and literature and how Mr. Haizlip used his program to show Black talent in positive ways.

OK – 3/10/14

Mr. Soul! is a movie about Ellis Haizlip’s life as the creator, co-host and producer of an TV show featuring Black performers called SOUL!. It tells the story of Haizlip, the show, and the talent he showcased. You hear about his life and accomplishments from the performers he had on SOUL! and from his friends. You also see different footage from SOUL!, and pictures from Haizlip’s  personal life. The documentary also demonstrates how Haizlip went from being the producer of the show to also hosting it.

The main character is Ellis Haizlip. I love how kind he was and how he always made SOUL! fun for everyone. He gave so many differaent people opportunities to show off their talents on SOUL!. The director, Melissa Haizlip, is a talented storyteller. She uses different elements such as a narrator (Blair Underwood), videos from SOUL!, interviews from the shows’ guests, and testimonies from his friends to tell Mr. Haizlip’s incredible story. The movie includes great music from different Black culture genres such as Gospel and R&B. There are incredible dance numbers and bands shown that were also on the show. The film has some funny parts, and it will take you through different emotions, which makes it more interesting. I was incredibly surprised to learn that Mr. Haizlip was a television host before Oprah Winfrey and that he was a musician before he became a TV host.

The message of this film is that anything is possible and that sometimes you have to take risks to get where you want to be in life. For example, when Mr. Haizlip’s friend decided not to host the show anymore, Mr. Haizlip took a risk and became the host and made history. Parents might need to look out for the use of the “N-word” in the beginning in a short video clip from one of the show’s acts and mentions of suicide.

I rate Mr. Soul! 4 out of 5 stars and recommend it for kids 13 to 18. Adults will love it as well! You can find Mr.  Soul! playing in the America Black Film Festival, October, 2020

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Dragons: Rescue Riders: Secrets of the Songwing * Excellent Animation and Cast

July 21st, 2020

When a musical dragon with a beautiful voice hypnotizes the dragons and people of Huttsgalor, the Rescue Riders have to find a way to break the spell. KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Katie F. comments, “I really enjoyed this new, exciting film, Dragons: Rescue Riders: Secrets of the Songwing! The cast and animation are incredible!” See her full review below.

Dragons: Rescue Riders: Secrets of the Songwing
By Katie Francis, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 11

I really enjoyed this new, exciting film, Dragons: Rescue Riders: Secrets of the Songwing! The cast and animation are incredible!

The story follows Melodia (Renée Elise Goldberry), a songwing dragon who tries to hypnotize the town of Hudsgalore with her beautiful singing voice.  When Aggro (Marsai Martin) and Zeppla (Cassidy Naber) are hypnotized, the dragon gang have to help stop Melodia’s song. To the rescue come Winger (Zach Callison), Summer (Skai Jackson), Burple (Noah Bently) and Cutter (Andre Robinson) as they save their friends and the rest of the town of Hudsgalore. Alongside the dragons are brother and sister Dak (Nicolas Cantu) and Leyla (Brennley Brown) in this musical special that fans of Dragons:  Rescue Riders will love.

The animation in this musical special is excellent, although there are some parts where the sound seemed that it is out of sync with the character’s mouths a few times.

The message of the story is that you shouldn’t use one of your best qualities  — such as the gift of being able to sing like Melodia can — to trance everyone else and make them do what you want.

I recommend Dragons: Rescue Riders: Secrets of the Songwing for ages 4-13, but it is a family-friendly film so adults will also enjoy it. I give this film 5 out of 5 stars as it is very enjoyable. You can find this film on Netflix on July 24th. Dragons: Rescue Riders: Secrets of the Songwing is definitely worth the watch!

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Four Kids and It * A Wonderful Fantasy Film with Such Realistic Looking CGI

June 26th, 2020

A group of kids on holiday in Cornwall meet a magical creature on the beach with the power to grant wishes.

KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Lindalee R., comments, “Inspired by E. Nesbit’s 1902 serialized novel called Five Children and It,  the movie Four Kids and It is a wonderful fantasy film for all ages that brings the story alive. The CGI seems so real that I believed the Psammead (the creature in the film played by Michael Caine) was actually alive and right there with the actors on the set.” See her full review below.

Four Kids and It
By Lindalee R., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, Age 12

Inspired by E. Nesbit’s 1902 serialized novel called Five Children and It,  the movie Four Kids and It is a wonderful fantasy film for all ages that brings the story alive. The CGI seems so real that I believed the Psammead (the creature in the film played by Michael Caine) was actually alive and right there with the actors on the set.

Full of adventure, Four Kids and It is about two families. Each family has two kids and all four kids want their birth parents to get back together. When the two split families meet up for a vacation, the kids find out their parents are dating each other and they absolutely freak out. While being forced to play with each other and to get to know one another, they meet a magical sand creature called a Psammead who tells them that he can grant each of them wishes, but only one a day. Also, the wishes expire at sunset.

Throughout this movie the four kids get to know each other better, become much closer and start to bond more like a real family. There is a man named Tristan Trent (Russell Brand), who lives in a mansion on the island that they all go to for their vacation. For generations, Tristan’s family were hunters of rare and unique living creatures on Earth. Tristan and his ancestors have been trying to find the legendary Psammead for decades. When the kids come to the island, he knows that he could use them to track the creature down. If he can lure out and capture the creature, he can finally add it to his family’s collection of trophies…and hopefully get in a wish or two as well!

The scenes with the kids each coming up with their own magical wishes and living them out for the day are fun. It also made me wonder what I would wish for if I only had a day to experience a wish.

The message of this film is to be careful what you wish for, but also that sometimes change happens and no matter how bad it seems, that it can offer up new opportunities and maybe create something better than you ever had before.

I give Four Kids and It  5 out of 5 stars, and I recommend it for ages 6 to 18, and adults will love it too! I know my parents sure did.

The movie will be available on Digital, Blu-Ray, DVD and on-demand, as well as major digital platforms like Amazon Prime, Vudo and others, on June 30, 2020, from Lionsgate Film

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Floogals: Investigation Station * Funny, Original, Always Teaching Kids Ways to Explore

April 27th, 2020

Join the Floogals on a mission of discovery as they explore Earth and the funny “hoomans” who live there! KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Ethan P. comments, “I like Floogals Investigation Station because it is very funny, original and creative… I like that it is not just animation, as some parts are real life graphics.  I also like that it is always teaching kids to explore and experiment in every episode.” See his full review below.

Floogals Investigation Station
By Ethan P., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, Age 11

I like Floogals Investigation Station because it is very funny, original and creative.  It captured my attention the whole time.  I like that it is not just animation, as some parts are real life graphics.  I also like that it is always teaching kids to explore and experiment in every episode.

This DVD is about three purple lookalike aliens called Floogals – Captain Fleeker, First Officer Flo and Junior Boomer.  The Floogals learn new things and report back to their boss to inform him what they have learned on Earth.  This DVD contains six episodes about experimentation, discovery and observation.  Each episode has about 11 minutes of adventure and funny situations.  One of the funniest things of this show is that the aliens call the humans “hoomans.” 

My favorite episode is “Project Popcorn.”  This episode is about the Floogals discovering a food called popcorn.  When a human accidentally lets go of the popcorn, it falls and the dog eats it, so they think it is dog food.  Later they start to realize what popcorn is.  Another one of my favorite episodes is “Project Sleep” which is about how a “hooman” girl invites her friends over for a sleepover.  The Floogals spy on the girls to see what a sleepover is all about.  The Floogals slowly learn about and process the word “sleepover,”  The Floogals do not realize that the whole time they are actually part of the sleepover.  The graphics are real live backgrounds and the Floogals are little animated aliens.  The animation is neat and very colorful.  The voiceover talent suits each character.  I like Junior Boomer’s character the most, because he is clumsy, funny, and always curious about learning new things.

The moral of this show is: don’t ever let someone stop you from doing what you desire.  Don’t allow anyone to discourage you from doing what you are capable of doing.  For example, Junior Boomer investigates this thing call “popcorn” and Captain Fleeker tries to stop him, but Junior Boomer still investigates.

I give Floogals Investigation Station 5 out of 5 stars and recommend it ages 6 to 18, plus adults.  By Ethan P., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic. For more reviews by youth, visit kidsfirst dot org.

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I Still Believe * A Sincere and True Love Story With Subtle Messages

April 16th, 2020

The true-life story of Christian music star Jeremy Camp and his journey of love and loss that looks to prove there is always hope. KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Arjun N. comments, “The message of this film is to always keep the faith and stay close to those you love. They make us for who we are, and unfortunately, tragic things can happen. It’s best that we stay close and not waste any day with them.” See his full review below.

I Still Believe
By Arjun N., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 18

I Still Believe is a sincere and true love story, held down by clichéd dialogue and plot development. The subtle messages and radiant leads stick their landing without feeling preachy. Adults and kids will admire this faith-based tale, perhaps in a matinee and a box of tissues.

This story brings the true-life story of Christian music star Jeremy Camp (KJ Apa) and his remarkable journey with his wife Melissa (Britt Robertson). Their faith in God is tested when Melissa is diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Still, Jeremy believes there is always hope and a faith worth sharing through his music and memories.

The two leads share great chemistry allowing for a believable relationship. KJ Apa, as Jeremy Camp, steps into the shoes of the Christian music singer, through his original music and devotion towards his wife Melissa. Speaking of which, Britt Robertson, as Melissa, is the best performance nailing the emotional gravitas of the real-life counterpart’s plight. She fares much better in emotional scenes, and while KJ has great screen presence, he could improve his emotional chops. Both characters absolutely deliver a heart-warming dynamic that makes the ending all the more tragic, but also reminiscing. Nathan Dean, as Jean-Luc, adds a love-triangle dynamic that feels more at home in a CW show than a dramatic real-life story. Still, his character is charismatic and relatable in his struggles. Gary Sinise, as Tom, is Jeremy’s father, adding more heart to Jeremy’s unwavering love and choices.

Directors Andrew and Jon Erwin return after directing the Christian film I Can Only Imagine. The Erwins have a good grasp on not being preachy and instead, focus on the human relationships that bind. However, this film’s first half panders with one instance of egregious product placement, unbecoming of its more mature second half. It feels tonally inconsistent in spite of KJ and Britt’s natural chemistry. There’s a scene involving a broken jar of pickles where the film becomes thoughtfully complacent about its conflicts. This is where the film began to click, and it ends up being moving and lyrically heartwarming.

The message of this film is to always keep the faith and stay close to those you love. They make us for who we are, and unfortunately, tragic things can happen. It’s best that we stay close and not waste any day with them.

I give this film 3.5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 8 to 18 due to strong thematic material. The movie is available now on Amazon Prime and elsewhere. Be sure to check it out.

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Emma * A Cheerful Adaptation of Jane Austen’s Beloved Novel

February 20th, 2020

Jane Austen’s beloved comedy about finding your equal and earning your happy ending, is re-imagined in this film. Handsome, clever, and rich, Emma Woodhouse is a restless queen bee without rivals in her sleepy little town. In this glittering satire of social class and the pain of growing up, Emma must adventure through misguided matches and romantic missteps to find the love that has been there all along. KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Arjun N. comments, “Emma is a cheerful adaption of Jane Austen’s beloved novel. Readers of Jane Austen can rejoice as her characters come to screen.” See his full review below.

Emma
By Arjun Nair, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 18

Emma is a cheerful adaptation of Jane Austen’s beloved novel. Readers of Jane Austen can rejoice as her characters come to screen. Others might not find this to be their cup of tea.

Mia Goth (left) as “Harriet Smith” and Anya Taylor-Joy (right) as “Emma Woodhouse” in director Autumn de Wilde’s EMMA., a Focus Features release. Credit : Focus Features

In this adaptation the “handsome, clever and rich” matchmaker Emma Woodhouse (Anya Taylor Joy) pursues her adventures through matches and romanticism to find love.

Anya Taylor Joy, as Emma, gives the best performance. Anya has grown from a being newcomer and this demanding performance proves that, allowing for eloquent speaking and characterization. Her conversations with other characters are straight out of the classic Victorian tale; keeping in mind, she is American. Her love interests are Johnny Flynn as Mr. Knightley, a dashingly critical friend, and Callum Turner as Frank Churchill, a rich gentleman. I also enjoyed Mia Goth as Harriet, as she helps Emma find her match.

Johnny Flynn (left) as “‘George Knightley” and Amber Anderson (right) as “Jane Fairfax” in director Autumn de Wilde’s EMMA., a Focus Features release. Credit : Focus Features

Director Autumn de Wilde is artistic, but the pacing could be tighter. This is a slow movie as several scenes are long, drawn-out conversations. I feel this aspect is best achieved in books, though some movies can capture the audience’s attention like that. This movie really must be your forte for it to be enjoyable. The character’s parlance is always olden English, and there is a loss of stakes. The score by Isobel Waller-Bridge is authentically Georgian capturing the grounded roots of genteel women living in England.

The message of this film is to not rush love, as Emma and Harriet let time prove its worth after hasty pursuits. I give this film 4 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 7 to 18, due to brief nudity, even though younger kids might not be interested in watching this. The movie releases in theaters on February 21, 2020, so check it out.

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2020 Director’s Close Up: Week Five

February 19th, 2020

The final week of Film Independent’s five-week-long Director’s Close Up focused on one of the most crucial aspects of cinema, an aspect that easily makes up half of the movie-going experience, an aspect that the viewer rarely notices, but exists across nearly the entire run time of every film ever made. That aspect? Sound design and scoring. Benh Zeitlin, director of Wendy, and Dan Romer, composer of Wendy, unveil the massive impact of cinematic sound. 

Sound design involves the process of creating naturally occurring noises anyone would hear in the real world. This can include footsteps, creaking floors, squeaking doors, rustling leaves and far more. Even though such additions may seem minuscule in the long run, they have a tremendous impact on how realistic the cinematic world feels. Imagine watching Star Wars without the wooshes of TIE fighters, the hums of pod racers, or the buzz of lightsabers? The film would lose many of its immersive qualities. So, director Benh Zeitlin puts careful attention into sound design. As an example, in his previous film, Beasts of the Southern Wild, the sounds of Hurricane Katrina can be heard with the growling wind, the shrieking shaking shutters and the pounding rain. While very little rain or lightning appears on the screen, the audience feels terrified by the audible aspect of the hurricane. Such elements can also help keep the budget to a minimum as rain machines and lightning visual effects can increase the cost of production dramatically, but taking out a microphone and recording a thunderstorm has a near-zero price tag.

Composer Dan Romer does a similar job with the score of a film, a lengthy musical work that helps guides the emotional tone of certain scenes as well as the entire story. For Wendy, because it re-imagines the classic Peter Pan story of children who never grow up, the score mimics a child’s perspective. That means that it must be epic and orchestral when the children do seemingly minor things, like play in the mud or chase each other. Zeitlin stated that he took inspiration from his own childhood when he would mentally play the grand Indiana Jones soundtrack while he did the small task of looking for an ant in the grass. Dan Romer also tried to mimic a local band in the instrumentation of the orchestra, by having a mix of traditional symphonic orchestral instruments and instruments found in smaller bands such as steel drums. This gives it a grounded feeling that agrees with the world the children come from. Music can also reflect tone shifts in the film. In the beginning, when the story takes place in the normal world, the music has a searching, almost wanting quality. Yet, once it goes to the magical world of Neverland, it explodes in triumph. At times, assembling an entire orchestra can be outside of a film’s budget. So, Romer hired and recorded individual musicians and combined their performances on a computer. This allowed the entire film score to require only nine musicians and a small room, versus a dozen or more musicians and a symphony hall.

Sometimes, score and sound design merge as it does in Wendy, when the audience meets a large sea creature called Mother. This involved so many layers of sound design that the production of Wendy hired a sound designer from Animal Planet to create whale noises for the creature. On top of the sound design, Romer composed an ambient score that adds to the grandeur of the creature being displayed on the screen. Such challenges can require unconventional methods. For example, the score utilizes whirly tubes, a children’s toy that makes a humming sound when spun. This, on top of the whale sounds, creates a mysterious but peaceful atmosphere around the sea creature.

While it receives little attention in award shows, critiques or from the average moviegoer, the sound and score of a film make up half the experience. Benh Zeitlin said it best, “it’s impossible for the film to speak in any way” without the sound to assist in communicating the character’s perspectives, emotions and tone.

Wendy opens in theaters on February 28, 2020. For more information on Film Independent, go to https://www.filmindependent.org/

If you are interested in more information on sound in cinema, check out my interview with Midge Costin, director of the documentary Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound at https://youtu.be/zvlChCb138Y

By Gerry O., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, Age 17 

Gerry O., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 17
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2020 Director’s Close Up: Week Four

February 7th, 2020

How does a director make a film? How has filmmaking changed? Week Four of Film Independent’s Director’s Close Up answered those very questions. The panel featured Lorene Clermont-Tonnerre (Writer/Director of The Mustang), Alma Har’el (Director of Honey Boy), Lorene Scafaria (Writer/Director of Hustlers), Lulu Wang (Writer/Director of The Farewell) and Olivia Wilde (Writer/Director of Booksmart). All films share one common feature, a visible passion for the story being shown. Yet, to get to that stage requires dedication and painful patience.

The Farewell

Filmmakers must first choose what topics to bring to the big screen. Many take inspiration from the real world. Scafaria’s The Hustlers transforms an article on a criminal ring into understandable and relatable individuals. Wang’s The Farewell shows Wang’s true family tragedy and Har’el’s Honey Boy visualizes Shia Lebouf’s dark and painful past as a child actor.  

Whatever the topic may be, filmmakers must also ensure that investors feel the passion they do. For Wang, this took many, many years as The Farewell features a runtime almost entirely in Mandarin and a set almost entirely in China. This made any investor believe the film should be produced by a Chinese company, despite being from the perspective of an American. Scafaria had other issues in making Hustlers. After Scafaria’s script had been approved for production, it took close to a year to convince executives to even consider allowing Scafaria to direct the script she wrote. 

Booksmart

The challenge of making a motion picture has only begun once production begins. Wilde’s Booksmart featured many Steadicam shots with very few cuts. That meant every actor shown on camera had to recite as much as “four pages of scripts” at once, as well as every aspect of blocking and rhythm. For The Farewell, the problems only begun at long shots. Because the film’s production took place predominantly in China, many cultural contrasts became quickly apparent. China had no way to shut down streets, meaning production had to occur in public as individuals walked in and out of frame. Assistant directors (ADs), who traditionally keep production on schedule, have different roles in China. The film features scenes in Mandarin and English, so most actors and most of the production crew needed to speak both languages fluently. Other productions may have to struggle with animals – with The Mustang featuring dozens of horses and a lead actor who could not ride horses. Other films have to cast and write children into highly adult-oriented scenes, as Honeyboy did.

After editing, coloring, VFX, sound editing and so much more has been completed, the director sits down with the composer to create the music for the film. Some films create stunning original soundtracks, others license them from modern artists. Some filmmakers decide to go to the music of centuries ago, as Scafaria did by having the The Hustlers score consist of music composed by Frederic Chopin, the 1800s pianist and composer. Sadly, Chopin’s genius requires the most talented pianists and, because of that, few recordings exist. So, production went on a copyright-riddled Easter egg hunt of trying to hunt down Chopin pianists to acquire rights for his treasured pieces. Wang’s The Farewell has classical pieces as well, which made sense as Wang then revealed she has a background in Classical piano – specifically Chopin.

Gerry O., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 17

While cinema has always had the passion and talent seen today, change can be seen in every way. The process of production has become faster and faster, with some panelists quoting 60 day production schedules or even 29 day production schedules. The lengthy steady-cam shots seen in every film featured would not be possible without modern stabilization technology. Har’el’s Honeyboy incorporates Wi-Fi-powered lighting setups, allowing the gaffer to turn on and off lights while a scene occurs, giving far more flexibility to the cinematographer and director.

Most of all, filmmaking has changed socially. This panel consisted entirely of female directors, a sight that could never be seen twenty years ago, and a sight that shall become increasingly common as the next generation of filmmakers make their first films. 

For more information on Film Independent, go to https://www.filmindependent.org/

By Gerry O., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, Age 17

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2020 Film Independent’s Director’s Close Up: Week Three

January 31st, 2020

Week Three of Film Independent’s Director’s Close Up ventures into the mysterious world of television. Unlike feature films, television has directors with little authority, writers with all the power and story arcs that can last decades. Directors Kyle Patrick Alvarez (The Stanford Prison Experiment13 Reasons Why), Silas Howard (PoseThis is Us), Marvin Lemus (Gentefield) and Lynn Shelton (HumpdayThe Morning ShowGlow) reveal what happens behind the camera of the most popular television shows.

The role of the director in film contrasts with television directors. In feature films, the director has unlimited creative authority in every single department. In television, some directors may experience a limited amount of authority, but many cannot adjust the script in any way or have little control of the final edit of the episodes.

Wendy Calhoun, Marvin Lemus, Lynn Shelton, Silas Howard, Kyle Patrick Alvarez

Directors will often direct a single episode while crew members, writers, and producers generally stay on the same show for years. Silas Howard compared it to “throwing a party at someone else’s house” and moderator Wendy Calhoun compared it to the relationship between a substitute and a teacher. To help get to know the crew, some directors will greet and speak with every member of the crew or utilize unconventional methods such as bringing the crew candy or baked goods (which, according to the panel, has an impressive success rate). To help initiate directors, “shadowing” sometimes occurs wherein a possible future director will “shadow” the current director to learn the feel for the production and style of the show.

The show writers have so much creative influence that the medium has become known as the “writer’s medium.” The writers ensure that, not only does each episode have an interesting, entertaining and original story, but that the world maintains consistency throughout every episode as well. For some shows, this becomes more complicated when writers must also consider overarching intertwining subplots such as the highly acclaimed Game of Thrones, which throughout its seven seasons had dozens of plot lines with dozens of characters that ranged from a few episodes long to multiple seasons long.

Kyle Patrick Alvarez, Lynn Shelton, Wendy Calhoun, Silas Howard, Marvin Lemu

To assist in production, writers create “show bibles” that give basic information on the characters, settings and other aspects of the world being portrayed. Sometimes, the production also creates “look books” which use a series of photographs, color pallets and more to convey the tone of the show. Showrunners, which lead the production of a show,  meet with directors to discuss each episode in meetings called “tone meetings,” that can last as long as nine hours. 

Recently, the world of television has begun to lose its strangeness as film and TV have merged more and more. Filmmakers now create “cinematic universes” which resemble the styles of TV and TV networks such as HBO develop shows where each episode can last over an hour and the greater show-wide plot has a large singular central conflict, similar to most feature film plots. Perhaps eventually it will be the world of film that seems mysterious, as television and instant streaming shows grow in popularity worldwide. 

For more information on Film Independent, go to https://www.filmindependent.org/

By Gerry O., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, Age 17

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