Wednesday, June 20, 2007

On the Lot: nowhere to go but up

Could it be that the producers of ON THE LOT are taking heed of the criticisms being lobbed at the show? No, they didn't replace host Adrianna Costa or suddenly find brilliant filmmakers. They've gotta dance with the ones that brung them to this point. Fortunately someone behind the scenes had the good sense to dispense with the protracted "drama" of declaring some directors safe and withholding the dismissal until the end of the program. There was no "_____, you are safe" and "the person going home is...going to find out after the break" nonsense. The show starts, Marty is told to pack his bags--good riddance--and on we go to the final five directors and their "new" films.

ON THE LOT still has loads of problems, but compared to the awful other episodes, the June 19 edition deserves accolades for an evaluation of "poor" or, if one's feeling generous, "mediocre". The show's pacing continues to sag, but it was tightened up some. There was less beating around the bush of which director might debut his or her film next. (Really, though, why should there be any? It's not like the order matters.) This week's entries were marginally better, although don't hold your breath waiting to see the feature credit "un film de ON THE LOT champion".

First up was family man Will Bigham, whose GLASS EYE was in the same silent film vein as his first short. I pegged him as one of the favorites, and I stick by that prediction. Unlike some of his competition, he knows where to put the camera and should get a lot of mileage out of his modest personality. His story of a man who gets a new way of seeing things when his glass eye falls out takes awhile to get going, but it's sort of cute and a cut above most of what we've seen from the other directors. Will is adept at delivering live action Pixar-lite shorts. I didn't find this to be all that funny. The story doesn't exactly add up either. At least I can see why he was cast...but careful with the aw-shucks demeanor, buddy. It's going to wear thin.

In his intro package Jason Epperson, the sideways ball cap-wearing Kentuckian, testified to his faith and a desire to not make films glorifying sex and violence. Naturally, BLOOD BORN was about a drug addict and frequent blood donor who likely gets killed in a drive-by shooting. He rightfully took some heat from the judges for saying one thing and doing the other, but I'll give him some benefit of the doubt since he was trying to use the elements to tell a redemptive story. (The guy's blood heals the sick.) That's the only pass I'll give him, though. The "edgy" style--color processing of the shots and aggressive, handheld camerawork--was distracting, and the confused narrative earned laughs from the studio audience when the shooter drives up at the end. What I would give for the directors to do something in locked down master shots and tell stories they know from their lives...

Zach Liposvky's SUNSHINE GIRL found him wowing the judges again with his technical skills. Zach introduced his film as being about a little girl who is afraid of the dark, which you don't quite get from the finished product. He has an eye for composing shots and pulls off some neat special effects. The girl's herky-jerky moves when she's plucked the sun from the sky lead me to believe that whatever equipment he's using has its limitations. Visually Zach has manipulated the images so they're excessively glossy. With so many tools at their disposal via computer editing, new filmmakers tend to use them all regardless of if it's merited. Shortcoming aside, like Will, he's one I projected as a favorite out of the gate. That won't be changing.

Mateen Kemet led into his short LOST by talking about how his work is more mature. By mature he must have meant boring because the restaurant conversation between a formerly dating man and woman was boilerplate romantic drama through and through. The way it was cut doesn't work, and the lack of tripod use was just annoying. It was slow moving and, in the grand scheme, didn't follow narrative logic. This way lies thousands of indie relationship movies that no one ever sees but festival programmers. I'd say he's the most likely to go except...

Jessica Brillhart's THE ORCHARD, a horror short from a tree's perspective, was strictly dullsville. As with Zach's film, if the director hadn't told us what it was about in the introduction, there's a good chance we'd be confused by what we're seeing. Jessica captured better images than Mateen, and I'll go out on a limb and guess that she might make more interesting failures than him. She's flopped spectacularly whereas Mateen's missteps are pedestrian.

As they've done in previous weeks, the judges mostly pulled their punches or prefaced their criticisms with "I liked your film". To no one's surprise, Jessica took the most lumps. The guest judges have usually been more forthcoming with their appraisals, but Wes Craven held back. Whether he knows anything about filmmaking or not, ON THE LOT needs Gordon Ramsay of HELL'S KITCHEN to stop by and read the riot act to these directors. There's nothing wrong with trying to be encouraging. Maybe the producers hope that the judges' muted positivity will convince the audience that these films aren't that bad. But come on. Even the best of these shorts hardly seem like top notch thesis films, and none of them would earn viral video status on YouTube.

I finally figured out what's so bothersome about host Adrianna Costa. Speaking loudly and opening her mouth as widely as possible, it's as though she thinks we have impaired hearing.

The producers and director continue to block the cameras in ways that don't work. Why have the host looking straight ahead and then take a shot from her side? Even worse, Adrianna and the director on the spot stand side by side, yet she is supposed to look forward while the contestants must face their left. Every time both are on camera together, the directors are looking another direction. Please, enough of the close-ups of the directors and their frozen grins as Adrianna rattles off the phone number for voting. Those shots are really unnerving.

Next week should bring another format change. Six directors are supposed to present comedy shorts, with the following week promising horror shorts from the other six. Oh boy!


  1. You are a saint for blogging about this so assiduously. The question of the week is: Who thought a filmmaking reality show with NO BEHIND-THE-SCENES FOOTAGE would be a good idea? Once again next week and the next, we'll see comedy and horror films that, for all we know, have sprung full-grown from their creators' heads. That's compelling television!

  2. Thanks Donna. You may be onto something with your sainthood comment considering that watching the show is akin to self-flagellation. :)

    What I want to know is whether this week's show earned it a stay of execution on the DVR from Noel. As much as you know you should look away, a part of you wants to keep watching.

    I didn't plan on blogging the show regularly, but it's wretchedness provides plenty of blog fodder. It's also given me a regular thing to write about once a week, so that's good for the mechanism.