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What makes a good student film?


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#1 Gabe Agoado

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Posted 18 May 2016 - 07:26 PM

I have crewed on a lot of student films in which the writing has been pure dog poop. Even if the writing is okay, a lot of the times the production ideas are very dull. "Lets make a movie about 2 characters falling in love and shoot it in my parents' house," that kind of poop. Then they go and shoot it like George Lucas shot the dialogue scenes in the Star Wars prequels. While I submit that a good director could make a good movie out of a dull concept, those are few and far in between.

 

I've also seen my share of "avante-garde" student films that are cliche and stupid.

 

The better or BEST student films I have been a part of have been action movies. Students actually seem to understand that a good action movie needs ACTION, but they don't seem to understand that any other movie also needs ACTION in it aswell. Science Fiction is often fun aswell, if anything for the incredibly low budget effects.

 

Aside from a good script, what student films have you seen that set themselves apart from the pack by being fun, interesting or inspired?

 

One of my favorites is Dark Star, which almost doesn't count because it had an actual budget.

My least favorite is probably the one I'm shooting now LOL. The script is about a boy being bullied for no reason and there's no character development. Just trying to polish the turd with good camera work.


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#2 Tyler Purcell

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Posted 18 May 2016 - 08:03 PM

I wouldn't separate student films from any other type of filmmaking, I think it's a mistake.

If you're going to make something, it shouldn't matter if you're a student or not. You have to take the project as if it's going to be just thing to work on.

One of my friends shot his thesis film on 35mm, his parents paid for it. The story was about the controversy of the electric chair, which was an interesting subject. He built a nice set, paid for the cast and crew, even catering. It was methodically done and wound up being a pretty nice little project. Unfortunately, it didn't go anywhere and he never worked in the film industry after graduating, which is a real shame. I use this as an example because he had everything, interesting story, lots of money and 35mm! Yet nothing came of it.

So the big question is, what are industry people judging your work on? Well... it would be a strong filmmakers vision, that's the key. You need to create a project that is powerful and insightful, with visual proficiency that shows anyone who watches that you're a real filmmaker. The hard part is, it needs to have some connection to reality. You can't just go completely left field, it has to reside in the zone of standard tropes, so people can associate. As a student, all you want to do is experiment and that's why you're at school. Experimentation is good, but you've gotta figure out clever ways to make your limited budget look good on screen. This is why so many people start by shooting on narrow-gauge film, because it hides poor art direction, poor makeup, bad lenses, etc. Plus, if you shoot on film, you will get recognition other students who shoot digitally, may not get.

My advice though is to create something without much dialog, focus on visuals and create a story that's simple, modern (discusses a modern topic) and holds the audience attention. Easy to type, hard to do.
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#3 Bill DiPietra

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Posted 18 May 2016 - 09:30 PM

This is why so many people start by shooting on narrow-gauge film, because it hides poor art direction, poor makeup, bad lenses, etc.

 

Is that so?...


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#4 Tyler Purcell

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Posted 18 May 2016 - 09:52 PM

Is that so?...


It is today!
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#5 Bill DiPietra

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Posted 18 May 2016 - 09:59 PM

I have crewed on a lot of student films in which the writing has been pure dog shit. Even if the writing is okay, a lot of the times the production ideas are very dull. "Lets make a movie about 2 characters falling in love and shoot it in my parents' house," that kind of shit. Then they go and shoot it like George Lucas shot the dialogue scenes in the Star Wars prequels. While I submit that a good director could make a good movie out of a dull concept, those are few and far in between.

 

I've also seen my share of "avante-garde" student films that are cliche and stupid.

 

Like most other students who have been gracing this forum as of late, you seem rather judgmental of your peers' work considering you too are still in school.  Maybe it's a generational thing, but when I was in college I had a very open mind about everything I watched or made or helped make.  That doesn't seem to be the case these days.  Sure, it's fine to think "Well, he did 'A' but I would have done 'B'."  It's important to start thinking critically.  Furthermore, if the films you've been working on are so weak in the fundamentals, what have you been doing to improve them?  It's a team sport.

 

You're in school.  You're there to learn.


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#6 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 18 May 2016 - 10:48 PM

I made dozens of silent short films in Super-8 because I wanted to learn to tell stories with visuals without the crutch of dialogue to clarify what was going on.  Action is certain cinematic and can be a good learning tool, again, because any good action movie requires a set-up to get the ball rolling, and it has to be made up of very short story elements within the longer action sequence.  But there are lots of good reasons to attempt other genres and styles as a student, even experimental ones.

 

As a side note, I remember Alexander Mackendrick's first rule of filmmaking on the wall of his office at CalArts, which was: STUDENT FILMS COME IN THREE LENGTHS: LONG, TOO LONG, AND VERY, VERY MUCH TOO LONG.  Something to that effect...


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#7 Richard Boddington

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Posted 18 May 2016 - 11:07 PM

I remember my first semester at "film school" in the USA, 1986.  I was so excited to be there, sure I would make it and that I was a genius. Then they showed us a student film called, Chicken Thing (1985).  It was made by Todd Holland at UCLA:

 

http://www.imdb.com/...ref_=fn_al_tt_1

 

It was so good I was just floored. I mean it was just incredible!  I knew that I could never make anything that good no matter how hard I tried so I really began to question the point of me even being there.  I figured I might as well go home.

 

Point of the story, some student films are really incredible.  And this one hit all the right beats.  I really wish the owner would post in on-line somewhere.

 

R,


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#8 Dom Jaeger

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Posted 19 May 2016 - 12:14 AM

In 2009 we rented out a BL4 to this VCA (Victorian College of the Arts) student for his graduate film, which he wanted to shoot on a submarine that he had managed to find as a location. He shot it on 35mm, and subsequently won a swag of awards all over the world, including at Sundance and Cannes. He was the cinematographer on another student film that year that made it to Cannes, quite a talented guy.

 

He's gone on to shoot a feature here with Vincent Cassel.

 

This is the student short, "Deeper Than Yesterday", pretty impressive I thought:

 

https://www.shortoft...than-yesterday/


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#9 Macks Fiiod

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Posted 19 May 2016 - 12:23 AM

 

What makes a good film in general? There's your answer.

 

Also this:

Alexander Mackendrick's first rule of filmmaking on the wall of his office at CalArts, which was: STUDENT FILMS COME IN THREE LENGTHS: LONG, TOO LONG, AND VERY, VERY MUCH TOO LONG.  Something to that effect...


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#10 Brenton Lee

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Posted 19 May 2016 - 01:13 AM

In 2009 we rented out a BL4 to this VCA (Victorian College of the Arts) student for his graduate film, which he wanted to shoot on a submarine that he had managed to find as a location. He shot it on 35mm, and subsequently won a swag of awards all over the world, including at Sundance and Cannes. He was the cinematographer on another student film that year that made it to Cannes, quite a talented guy.
 
He's gone on to shoot a feature here with Vincent Cassel.
 
This is the student short, "Deeper Than Yesterday", pretty impressive I thought:
 
https://www.shortoft...than-yesterday/


That is absolutely epic. It didn't even feel like it went for 20 mins.

Nailed it.
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#11 Phil Connolly

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Posted 19 May 2016 - 06:30 AM

All the best student films start on a close up of an alarm clock, then the protagonist goes and makes breakfast for about 5 minutes before any plot kicks in...

 

NFTS seems to have a good hit rate on their student animation films, this is one of my favs: 

 

For the love of god

 

They even managed to get Steve Coogan and Gandalf himself to voice 


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#12 Gabe Agoado

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Posted 19 May 2016 - 11:44 AM

All the best student films start on a close up of an alarm clock, then the protagonist goes and makes breakfast for about 5 minutes before any plot kicks in...

 

NFTS seems to have a good hit rate on their student animation films, this is one of my favs: 

 

For the love of god

 

They even managed to get Steve Coogan and Gandalf himself to voice 

Don't joke about that making breakfast plot, I've seen it 3 times already. That animation is great.

 


This is the student short, "Deeper Than Yesterday", pretty impressive I thought:

 

https://www.shortoft...than-yesterday/

This is what a student film should be, find an interesting location, write a unique story, keep it simple but effective. I recently watched "Run Silent, Run Deep" and there's some of the brilliance of that movie in this.

 

 

  Furthermore, if the films you've been working on are so weak in the fundamentals, what have you been doing to improve them?  It's a team sport.

I show up on time and do what I am asked to do. If I am AC then I pull focus, set up the dolly or sticks, slate the shot, etc, but I'm not going to fix a bad script for someone or tell them how to do their job.

 

 

Like most other students who have been gracing this forum as of late, you seem rather judgmental of your peers' work considering you too are still in school.  Maybe it's a generational thing, but when I was in college I had a very open mind about everything I watched or made or helped make.  That doesn't seem to be the case these days.  Sure, it's fine to think "Well, he did 'A' but I would have done 'B'."

I am very critical of other students because I am very critical of myself. And I know that I can do a better job because in my criticism I'm looking at what they could have done better had they spent more time writing, planning and researching. The bad student films I've seen are just downright lazy.

 

 

As a side note, I remember Alexander Mackendrick's first rule of filmmaking on the wall of his office at CalArts, which was: STUDENT FILMS COME IN THREE LENGTHS: LONG, TOO LONG, AND VERY, VERY MUCH TOO LONG.  Something to that effect...

^This. I once sat through an hour long student movie that made fun of homeless people living in NYC. I would have walked out had I not been waiting to see my own movie.


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#13 Bill DiPietra

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Posted 19 May 2016 - 01:10 PM

The bad student films I've seen are just downright lazy.

 

That's a very different complaint than the one you mentioned in your original post.  At that level, the last thing anyone should be is lazy (especially in film school)...


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#14 joshua gallegos

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Posted 31 May 2016 - 04:02 PM

I have crewed on a lot of student films in which the writing has been pure dog poop. Even if the writing is okay, a lot of the times the production ideas are very dull. "Lets make a movie about 2 characters falling in love and shoot it in my parents' house," that kind of poop. Then they go and shoot it like George Lucas shot the dialogue scenes in the Star Wars prequels. While I submit that a good director could make a good movie out of a dull concept, those are few and far in between.

 

I've also seen my share of "avante-garde" student films that are cliche and stupid.

 

The better or BEST student films I have been a part of have been action movies. Students actually seem to understand that a good action movie needs ACTION, but they don't seem to understand that any other movie also needs ACTION in it aswell. Science Fiction is often fun aswell, if anything for the incredibly low budget effects.

 

Aside from a good script, what student films have you seen that set themselves apart from the pack by being fun, interesting or inspired?

 

One of my favorites is Dark Star, which almost doesn't count because it had an actual budget.

My least favorite is probably the one I'm shooting now LOL. The script is about a boy being bullied for no reason and there's no character development. Just trying to polish the turd with good camera work.

I disagree that a director could ever make a film out of a dull concept, a smart director knows that the screenplay is the first step into making a film that might turn out good. William Wyler said it was 80% script and 20% finding the right actors. I despise short films that are special effects heavy and rely on budgets that are over15k-20k. Any director can be made to look good if he surrounds him/herself with talented people. As for student films, I think the most important thing a young director could offer to his crew is his enthusiasm. I wouldn't surround myself with negative people that are looking over your shoulder and giggling about what you're trying to do. You have to understand that people who want to make films are trying to find a way to express themselves somehow, they might feel they have something to say and have no clue on how to do it, but student films should always be learning experiences. It sounds like you need to move up a level and stop working on student films, because you have to realize that student filmmakers have to be creative with no money, no acting talent, and to top it off there's crew people like you who make the experience all the more discouraging. 


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#15 joshua gallegos

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Posted 31 May 2016 - 04:24 PM

I wouldn't separate student films from any other type of filmmaking, I think it's a mistake.

If you're going to make something, it shouldn't matter if you're a student or not. You have to take the project as if it's going to be just thing to work on.

One of my friends shot his thesis film on 35mm, his parents paid for it. The story was about the controversy of the electric chair, which was an interesting subject. He built a nice set, paid for the cast and crew, even catering. It was methodically done and wound up being a pretty nice little project. Unfortunately, it didn't go anywhere and he never worked in the film industry after graduating, which is a real shame. I use this as an example because he had everything, interesting story, lots of money and 35mm! Yet nothing came of it.

So the big question is, what are industry people judging your work on? Well... it would be a strong filmmakers vision, that's the key. You need to create a project that is powerful and insightful, with visual proficiency that shows anyone who watches that you're a real filmmaker. The hard part is, it needs to have some connection to reality. You can't just go completely left field, it has to reside in the zone of standard tropes, so people can associate. As a student, all you want to do is experiment and that's why you're at school. Experimentation is good, but you've gotta figure out clever ways to make your limited budget look good on screen. This is why so many people start by shooting on narrow-gauge film, because it hides poor art direction, poor makeup, bad lenses, etc. Plus, if you shoot on film, you will get recognition other students who shoot digitally, may not get.

My advice though is to create something without much dialog, focus on visuals and create a story that's simple, modern (discusses a modern topic) and holds the audience attention. Easy to type, hard to do.

I think cinema is open to anything, there are no set of rules or standards, it's all about finding your own way of seeing the world. Offering your own unique vision of life through a lens. I watched Andrea Arnold's short film 'Wasp', and it's not a cinematographic marvel, it's a little shoddy, but the writing and performances are very strong. She adds a level of realism to her movies, and it basically deals with an impoverished family and a negligent mother who goes out on a date. So, you don't have to do anything that is forced, it just has to come from you. 


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#16 Gabe Agoado

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Posted 01 June 2016 - 10:29 AM

I'm not sure you understand my post. I am in the final steps of developing my thesis film, and the reason I asked if people have seen good student films is to get inspiration and motivation.

 

, because you have to realize that student filmmakers have to be creative with no money, no acting talent, and to top it off there's crew people like you who make the experience all the more discouraging. 

I'm sorry, I didn't realize the predicament of low budget creativity that I myself am having to deal with. Go read the second post I made, because I do clarify that I'm not criticizing others on the basis of budget or time, just what they chose to do with their budget and time. Honestly I love crews full of people like me, we spend the whole shoot arguing, but the movie comes out better and we all go out for drinks and laughs afterwards.

 

 It sounds like you need to move up a level and stop working on student film

I would love to, but if I actually want to do anything besides being a PA, I need a resume, and student films are great resume builders.

 

A bad movie is just a bad movie, no matter what level of budget or experience. I don't want to be sheltered from criticism because I'm a student, and I don't try to shelter others. If you've got some good student films to post about then please do, otherwise if you post something insulting me or making assumptions about me again, I'm just going to report it. Capisce?


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#17 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 01 June 2016 - 11:22 AM

Some student films have gone on to a have a longer term life in another form. "A Grand Day Out", although it does have a bit more complex background with an outside production company. "Electronic Labyrinth: THX-1138 4EB" is another, Exceptions, but student films can get you noticed: https://mic.com/arti...tors#.9as39mFsd


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#18 joshua gallegos

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Posted 01 June 2016 - 01:12 PM

My least favorite is probably the one I'm shooting now LOL. The script is about a boy being bullied for no reason and there's no character development. Just trying to polish the turd with good camera work.

It just seems you have an unsupportive attitude based on your first post. I mean if you agreed to sign up to do a project then why complain about how terrible it is? Makes no sense, this "turd project" you're working on will have your name on it. You have to give people a chance, they don't just become brilliant filmmakers overnight. If you look at the early short films of Darren Aronofsky you never would've guessed he would become the filmmaker he is today. And the failed first feature of Quentin Tarantino  that he never finished, which was pretty atrocious  (My Best Friend's Birthday). Filmmaking is incredibly difficult and I doubt you'll be inspired by watching good student films. You actually learn more from the bad ones you make. 

 

I've also seen most of Reed Morano's short films, because they're accessible on Vimeo, and she worked on some student films that weren't interesting, but I can tell she did the best she could on every single project she worked on, and grew from that experience. And one of my favorites she has done is a recent PSA she did with Olivia Wilde. 


Edited by joshua gallegos, 01 June 2016 - 01:12 PM.

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#19 Bill DiPietra

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Posted 01 June 2016 - 01:59 PM

I'm not sure you understand my post. I am in the final steps of developing my thesis film, and the reason I asked if people have seen good student films is to get inspiration and motivation.

 

If you've got some good student films to post about then please do, otherwise if you post something insulting me or making assumptions about me again, I'm just going to report it. Capisce?

 

 

This is the first time you've mentioned anything about this thread being in furtherance of a thesis.  If you'd started the thread out like that, I think the responses would have been quite different.  When you give limited information - especially on the internet - all people can do is make assumptions.

 

As to your original query - "What makes a good student film?" - it's kind of like asking someone what their favorite color is.  Everyone will give you a different answer.  As someone mentioned, you should be thinking about what makes a good "film" in general.  Don't limit yourself to student shorts.  The films that inspire me range from the early silents to some of today's indies.  I'm even inspired by some of the shorts I see on Vimeo, every now and then.  There are some interesting shorts on there.


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#20 David Edward Keen

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Posted 21 July 2016 - 12:48 PM

Reading this string reminded me of a similar topic in a music composition blog...inclined to agree with the notion that indeed it's best to strive for quality whether $100 million or $100...AND thanx to you guys i found out about Chicken Thing, which i'd never heard of, and they just got it in at the NY library of the performing arts for me so here i go to watch my 1st ever 16mm film! Tnx again folks!
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