Film Class

‘Film Class’ is the author’s explanation of how each film will be reviewed on Indie Film Beat. This list is in order of importance to each review in the categories of Contemporary, Classic and Short Films. Both Documentary and Avant-garde films are classified distinctively and will therefore be reviewed independently of the other categories with their own review criteria (currently under review).

In the categories of Contemporary, Classic and Short Films
The review criteria for Contemporary, Classic and Short Films fall into six distinct review categories which are Writing (WRI), Director/ Directing/ Direction (DIR³), Cinematography and Production Design (CPD), Acting (ACT), Sound Editing and Mixing (SEM) and lastly, Film Editing (FED). Of course, each of these aspects of film are of incredible importance to the filmmaking process as these elements need to come together to create a film. In fact, many of the elements tend to overlap. However, for my purposes these criteria fall into a specific order during critique.

Each of these criteria are graded independently on a scale of 00.00 – 10.00, each score is then added together to find a total out of 60, which is then divided by the six categories to find the mean. The average is then applied to the grading system and administered a final letter grade. The letter grades go from a double positive A to a double negative F for exactness, but mostly because I’m just an asshole.

10.0 – 9.5 (A++)
09.4 – 8.9 (A+)
08.8 – 8.3 (A)
08.2 – 7.7 (A-)
07.6 – 7.1 (B+)
07.0 – 6.5 (B)
06.4 – 5.9 (B-)
05.8 – 5.3 (C+)
05.2 – 4.7 (C)
04.6 – 4.1 (C-)
04.0 – 3.5 (D+)
03.4 – 2.9 (D)
02.8 – 2.3 (D-)
02.2 – 1.7 (F+)
01.6 – 1.1 (F)
01.0 – 0.5 (F-)
00.5 – 0.0 (F–)

(WRI):  03.50  / 10.00
(DIR³): 08.50 / 10.00
(CPD):  09.25 / 10.00
(ACT):  07.25 / 10.00
(SEM): 09.00 / 10.00
(FED):  08.00 / 10.00
45.50 / 60.00 (.7583)
Average: 7.58 / B+

Dir. Score:
8.50 / 10.00 A

(WRI) Writing
The most important step in the filmmaking process starts long before a director is standing behind a camera, it begins with a pencil and some paper… or a laptop, either way it’s the writing of the screenplay/script.

This can be an ‘Original’ work such as:
Quentin Tarantino and Roger Avery’s “Pulp Fiction.”

Or an ‘Adapted’ work such as:
Joel and Ethan Coen’s adaptation of “No Country for Old Men” which is based on the novel of the same name by Cormac McCarthy (with Story by distinction).

A script is not merely pages upon pages of dialogue. A script also narrates the characters’ movements, their expressions, actions and provides for screen direction. It is the beginning, middle and end of a film. It is the entire story. It is also nearly impossible to produce a great film from a terrible script. It is also possible to lose a great script to the director, producers, studios and/or to general filmmaking constraints. Furthermore, a terrible script coupled with equally bad direction will create a film that is unwatchable.

This is why writing (WRI) is the first and largest part of each Indie Film Beat review. And like any successful writer knows, research is pivotal to the writing process. Therefore, the film must be heavily researched and analyzed. I take a look at any scripts I can get a hold of related to the film I am reviewing. Whether it’s an early draft compared to the final cut or the shooting script read along with the film — I use it in the critiquing process. I also scrupulously watch/read interviews, news and other reviewer critiques (of course, after an initial watch) to gain further insight into the film I am reviewing. Additionally, I compare the reviewed film to the directors’ and credited writers’ previous works.

Critique of Writing (WRI):

Plot and Plot Continuity, Dialogue, Narration, Cinematic Narratology — Symbolism and Thematic Content (how history, race, gender, sexuality, class and/or the environment are captured), Genre, Style, Region, Time Period (as social/societal critiques) and the Creator(s).

Note: Some film reviews include a detailed written synopsis. This is based on my own viewing(s) of the film being reviewed. This will typically be done as a correction to another sites film synopses’.

(DIR³) Director/ Directing/ Direction:

The second most important part the Indie Film Beat review is Dir Cubed — the films director, their directing and the final product of their direction, the film. A film director is a person who is in charge of film direction. Directors control the artistry and performance of a film. Directors conceptualize the writer’s script (if they themselves are not the writer) and assist the actors and technical teams in transforming the written word into moving pictures. They typically have the primary task of selecting the cast, crew, production and other creative teams to move the filmmaking process along.

There are many types of film directors from different ‘schools’ of filmmaking (French New Wave, British New Wave, New Hollywood, etc…), as well as eras of filmmaking. There are also directors that are genre specific and genre spanning. Each director is different and their own influences affect their styles. Therefore, no two directors are the exactly the same, even with regards to filmmaking duos. Additionally, their approaches to directing vary widely. I believe there are four general types of directors. Now, some directors may fall into multiple categories of “director” at once, whilst others may refashion themselves over the course of their filmmaking careers. Of course, some directors may simply don a new pair of director shoes as an exercise in filmmaking, to find they don’t quite fit. The four (general) types of directors are:

1) The Actors Director: are directors that understand and accommodate the needs of their actors. This is either because these directors have a history of their own in either acting or theatre, or both. These directors choose communication over command when dealing with the cast and crew. These directors will alter a script to garner a better performance out the actor and are generally fine with improv (improvisation). Some won’t use a completed script, instead they outline or scaffold a general plot. Their films are geared towards the character and performance. Some of these directors enjoy acting in their own films.

2) The Poetic Director: are directors that understand how to experiment with film. This is because these filmmakers are artistic and try to mix their love of art with their love for filmmaking. These directors tend to experiment with structure, breaking general conventions to elicit something different in their films. Thus, these directors will often make polarizing films — dividing their audience. Their films will typically be categorized as one or more of the following: Abstract, Arthouse, Avant-garde, Cinéma Pur, Exhibitionist, Experimental, Exploitation, New Wave, Niche, Non-Narrative, Structural (Structural-Materialism), Surrealist Cinema, Underground, etc… Their films may require several watches before each layer can be fully absorbed, as their films generally aren’t surface.

3) The Visionary Director: are directors that understand animation, cinematography, production design, sound editing and/or visual effects. This is either because these directors have a history of working in those fields or are attracted to that particular field to express their unique creative visions. Their films, regardless of scope, pay close attention to detail. Even a visionary director’s worst film may have the redeeming quality of their expression shine through. These directors tend to be drawn to period pieces, elaborate costumes, set designs, etc… The overall atmosphere of the film is what is most important to the final result of their film, as they seek escapism through the cinematic experience.

4) The Auteur: are directors also known as the ‘writer-director,’ these directors understand the value of a good script and the importance of machinations. This is because these directors typically begin as writers or have a knack for writing their own scripts. Thus, they are viewed as being in their own heads and are by the book — their book. Their films are highly reflective of the director’s own creative vision. There is a french theory behind this specific type of director known simply as ‘The Auteur Theory.’ Under European Union Law the filmmaker/director is the author of the film and so, the original copyright owner. The Schreiber Theory holds that the screenwriter is the sole author of the film. Therefore, in my category of Auteur, the director must have complete creative control over the film — from its writing to its directing. This type of director is known for strong storylines, solid dialogue and blending the page with screen harmoniously.

• If you see a film director under ‘Director Bios’ that doesn’t bear one (or more) of the above four titles, they will appear as “Blacklisted.” Directors on this site that are Blacklisted will have mostly negatively rated films on ‘Indie Film Beat’ or these directors have done something terrible either within or outside the industry to obtain this unfavorable distinction. Very careful consideration goes into the Blacklist.

• The DIR³ score from each of the film directors movies gets averaged and given a fluid final letter grade that is then added the directors own page under ‘Director Bios.’

Each film is first viewed without any notes taken, it’s simply observed. The second viewing is when I rewrite the film — through drafting my own synopsis (which may or may not be posted on IFB), this is to better understand the narrative — this of course is compared against the film’s script (if it is attainable). Analyzation comes during the third viewing — after the film is taken in and the film’s synopsis is drafted. In this stage I perform a cinematic close reading, a ‘close watching’ if you will. My close watching of a film is the critical analysis of each shot and scene — in relation to the film’s entirety. I focus on the filmmaker’s patterns. I take the film being reviewed and compare it to the filmmaker’s other films (Note: I don’t review first time directors or films by Alan Smithee’s). In order to be able to critique a director, you need to understand who they are and why they are. So, following their interviews, reading their writings and viewing their filmography are all very important.

Critique of Director/ Directing/ Direction (DIR³):
Film Symbolism and related Thematic Content (how history, race, gender, sexuality, class and/or the environment are captured) in relation to the time the movie is released as social critique; Efficacy of Genre in relation to the films Genre and Setting; Mise-en-scène (Acting/Actors, Aspect Ratio, Composition, Costume/Hairstyle/Makeup, Film stock, Lighting, Sets, Space, etc…); and the Filmmaking Style, Format, Length and Production Type in relation to the overall essence of the film. Additionally, WRI, CPS, FE, ACT and SEM are all taken into account — after all, the director is responsible for blending all aspects of the filmmaking process together for the final product, the experience.

(CPD) Cinematography and Production Design:
There is a specificity to the art of filmmaking, this is called cinematography. Like rules of a language, there is a language to filmmaking. A cinematic language of Angles, Aperture, Color Palates, Depths of Field, Depths of Focus, Exposure, Frame Rate, Lenses, Lighting, Perspective, Shots, Shot Sizes, Sequences, Set Ups, Shutter Speed, etc… Cinematography tells you what to think and how to feel after the script is translated from letters and characters into the language of film. And, if cinematography communicates what to think and how to feel, then Production Design shows you what you are feeling and makes thought tangible. Production design takes you to the films location, stylizing it with costumes, props, sets, lighting and works in conjunction with cinematography to provide for camera angles and graphics — crafting what is pictured, framing it and then hanging the photo on the wall.

Cinematography and Production Design (CPD) are both incredibly important to the filmmaking process. Together, they take the world of the script and turn it into a three dimensional design, a tangible world ready to be filmed. And together, they provide a context within this world, within its atmosphere.

Critique of Cinematography and Production Design (CPD):
Quality of film stock in regards to the picture, whether it is poor or high quality and whether or not it adds to the overall feeling of the film purposefully. The chosen camera lens’ and the manipulation thereof. The movement and the duration/length of each shot/sequence. Lighting and chosen color palates. Mise-en-scène. Angles, framing, perspective, scale, shots and shot sizes of both stationary and mobile/moving cameras. The chosen depths of field and depths of focus.

(ACT) Acting:
Once the script is written, a world outlined, after some deliberation, a director is assigned. Both brought together, their imaginations combined, then the film crews work tirelessly to make a world refined — but it would all be for naught without a little touch of mankind. Actors and actresses are the artistic/occupational performers in movies, television and theatre.

Remember how it is both nearly impossible to produce a great film out of a terrible script and entirely possible to lose a great script to the director, producers, studios and/or to general filmmaking constraints? Well, it is also possible for the casted actors/actresses to both destroy an otherwise good script and redeem an otherwise bad script. The problem for actors and actresses is that they are always front-and-center, often making them the ones to blame for whether or not a film is successful — even though it may not entirely be there fault as filmmaking takes a village.

This is why so much attention is payed to how a film is critiqued on Indie Film Beat. Each part of the review is part of the whole. So, since each part is reviewed independently and then combined, the actors will be judged on the proficiency of their acting not on the content of their character. The kind of character they are portraying is not important, it is whether or not the actor makes that character believable.

Critique of Acting (ACT):
Voice as in the actors’/actresses’ articulation, projection, variety of tone/pace — as well as emotional voice of the character(s) — accent/language choice if applicable and authenticity/believability of accent/language — dimension of voice — cadence and manner of speech — their listening and responsiveness of and from the other characters onscreen (the connection to the voice).

Body as in effectiveness of the actors’/actresses’ facial expressions and hand/body gestures — character(s) specific mannerisms and bodily movements — sustainable 3-D character(s) — alteration of body for role (the connection to the body).

Emotion as in the actors’/actresses’ connection to both the real and implied others (chemistry) — active character objections and relatedness to goal from the actors and actresses — their emotional believability in relation to emotion in and of itself as well as in relation to both voice and body — where the actors’ and actresses’ empathetic and sympathetic to their characters as well as their characters own believable appeals to empathy and sympathy (the connection to the emotion).

Authenticity as in the actors’/actresses’ fully realized character(s), their overall commitment to their portrayed character(s) and their loss of ‘self’ in the role. The actors’ and actresses’ effectiveness in camouflaging themselves into the roles of their characters and the believability to the audience – effectiveness of portrayal/performance (the connection to overall character).

(SEM) Sound Editing and Mixing:
Unless you are watching a silent film or your TV is on mute the film you came here to read a review for probably has sound — as films are not just a visual experience they can also be a tonal one. From the dialogue to the sound effects to the film’s choice of music — someone has had a hand in assembling, creating, editing, mixing and selecting both the recorded and/or synthetic sounds.

In film, audio mixing is a process that mainly occurs post-production. At this time mixers and editors select and fine tune the audio of the dialogue/voice-overs, the ambient/atmospheric sounds, the sound effects and the music/score of the film.

It takes either a very fine ear or a very obvious error to notice the failure of sound editing and mixing. For example: In the 2001 film, “Jurassic Park 3,” there is a scene where the characters are reunited by a satellite phone ringtone (sound) of a phone belonging to the children’s parents — it is revealed the father lent the phone to another character that had been previously eaten by the Spinosaurus, finally, the characters hear the ringtone to reveal a roughly 20 tonne dinosaur (Spinosaurus) standing not more than 30 feet away. Therefore, the satellite phone’s ringtone from within this large predatory dinosaur’s stomach is what alerted the characters, not the sound of a dinosaur that size closely approaching — but that’s not the only problem with that movie. Another notable example of sound editing and mixing errors comes from the 2014 visual-effects blockbuster, “Interstellar,” which coincidentally was nominated for Academy Awards in ‘Best Original Score,’ ‘Best Sound Editing’ and ‘Best Sound Mixing.’ Now, Oscar-winning composer Hanzs Zimmer’s score for “Interstellar” is not the problem, it is quite good. However, the sound editing and mixing for “Interstellar” takes his orchestral score and drowns out some of the dialogue — thus, making it hard to understand some lines of the film.

Critique of Sound Editing and Mixing (SEM):
Voice must fit the actors’ and actresses’ performance on screen in terms of both texture and synchronization — if this is off, personae may be lost to the inability to cement character dialogue to the performer in both sound linkage and quality. 
Synchronization is not only important for dialogue but also for matching diegetic sound to its source (such as the sound of an onscreen door closing) and non-diegetic or asynchronous sounds to the film (such as the sound of offscreen traffic in a film set in a city). It is also very important to note whether or not the choice of sound synchronized sound matches the film and is effective.

Another vital aspect to film sound is the films score and soundtrack. The score is the instrumental music made for the film and the soundtrack is established music used by the film. Mixed instrumentals are mostly used for non-diegetic sound. The soundtrack is used as either part of the films diegetic sounds such as a character playing, listening and/or singing along to the music in a vehicle (internal to narrative) or used as part of the film’s non-diegetic sounds such as a song that is played over an entire street race (external to narrative).

Additionally, when it comes to both the film score and soundtrack it comes down to sound choice — and whether or not it both matches and compliments the film.

(FED) Film Editing:
Film editing is the art and technique of film assemblage. This is the cutting and editing of a film into a finished product. What most people don’t realize, is that film editors (and sometimes auteur directors who self-edit their films or work closely with the editors) are not simply cutting and editing the stock film; they work with the actors and actresses captured performances, film chronology, the dialogue, images (shots and shots to sequences), the films pacing (rhythm or tempo), the sound and the narrative of the film. Film editors are the visual writers of the film and may often “rewrite” parts the movie to make it more or less cohesive.

Edits can shape the continuity of an otherwise linear film causing it to appear in non-chronological order or possibly even abstract (discretion of screenwriter and director). This is because film editing is often stylistic — from basic shot editing to crafting a sequence and cutting for continuity — there is also thematic montages and the abstract cutting.

Film editing requires a knowledge of how a film is supposed to or can function. The editors need to know how much cutting there may be and for what purpose — whether or not the footage is lengthy or fragmented — the point to the cuts (clarity, stimulation, to craft suspense, to display an emotion or idea through the visual, etc…). The editors need to know what to and when to manipulate the film. There also needs to be an understanding of film cadence and creating rhythm from shot to shot and sequence to sequence. The editors also need to know when to leave well enough alone as the directors own personality needs to remain reflective in the film.

Additionally, a film editors job becomes increasingly difficult when they are presented a film to edit out of chronology and the film itself has a nonlinear narrative such as in the case with films like Memento (2000) and Irréversible (2002).

A film editor can also change the context of a film and the MPAA rating of a film. Like my father told me when I was little, “The difference between hardcore and softcore pornography, is the film editing.

Critique of Film Editing (FED):
When it comes to film editing, the bottom line is: Does it work? I will not be breaking down the films shot for shot, however if the film editing doesn’t work on a fundamental level, if there are obvious issues with appearance from sequence to sequence, if the pacing of the film is off and/or if transitions do not flow, then the FED score will be affected. For movies that rely heavily on technical editing to serve the film such as with the case with nonlinear narratives, movies that break chronology or movies that have numerous flash-forwards and flashbacks, then the film editing will be looked at more critically.

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