Hey, BA. I did some poking around over here and found your latest film. You've obviously been spending a lot of time with MovieStorm! This film may be the best thing I've ever seen from you, which is saying a lot, considering your already impressive resume. You've come a long way since your flight sim days. I haven't seen much from outside of the flight-sim filmmaking community, but I don't believe I've ever seen a machinima film using human actors that has better cinematography and editing than this. I'm really impressed by what you've done with this project. Very nice.
The film is perfectly fine as it is. Unlike a lot of the work that appears in the Movie Makers Forum, there really isn't anything overtly 'wrong' to point out here. The only comments I can make relate to how you might have gone about doing some things a little differently. That is not to say you made bad choices, by any means. My comments are just food for thought and might shed some light on things you hadn't considered or heard of before. There are, of course, myriad ways to skin a cat, and these are just some possible alternatives, for whatever they're worth.
Keep in mind that I have never used MovieStorm, so I am not at all familiar with its limitations. (I tried once, but my 9-year-old rig about had a stroke trying to run it.) I do plan on playing with it once I get a new computer later this year, however. But for critiquing purposes, sometimes it's a good thing to be oblivious to the limitations the filmmaker had to work with; that can lead you to consider possibilities the filmmaker didn't but which can be achieved using a creative post-production workaround.
First off, your Blackace Productions logo looks great. It seems like a small thing, but I think it's worthwhile to get a decent logo like that. It at least starts a film off on a good note by making the production look professional from the opening frames.
The opening titles look nice, but I might have gone with a look and presentation that was a little more simple, given the genre here. A plain white font would work at least as well, and I think I would have just faded the titles in and out rather than have them rotate in and out. Not as nice looking as what you created, but maybe more fitting for this genre. The titles look great, but they have sort of a 'Terminator' feel to them, especially with the brushed metal font and the rotating action. Minor point, though.
The opening shots of a film are really important. Pictures alone can convey a lot of information if you compose the shots well. As a filmmaker, you don't have to rely on the dialogue to do all of the heavy lifting to tell the story. When you plan your shots, it might help at times to think of your movie as a silent film where the lens has to do ALL of the storytelling. That would force you to stretch even further to cram more information into the visual side of the film.
In your opening shot in the bedroom, I noticed you had some nice hints of a one-night stand: There is a wine bottle with an empty wine glass on one table, and another empty glass on the other table. On the floor are the guy's clothes and shoes. Great visual cues about the previous night's events, but the viewer has to work a little to spot those things, especially since we're watching this on a small computer screen and not a big-screen TV.
To help set the scene, you could have pointed those cues out more by opening with a couple of panning shots across those items dissolved together. Consider, for example, the following series of shots to open your film. No dialogue at all, but think about what these images combine to tell the viewer before any talking takes place:
*Start with an establishing shot showing the outside of the house. Fade in and out your opening titles with the house as your background (the house visually ties in with the whole 'daddy is home' bit, too). For a touch of foreshadowing, use a low camera angle with a few of the cemetery flowers in the foreground. Use a low camera angle so that the flowers fill a decent portion the screen (obviously, you'd keep the graves out of the frame). Fade to black or dissolve (your choice).
*Fade in or dissolve to the bedroom with a close-up shot slowly panning across the portrait of the mother and child. Start your soundtrack with the faint sounds of the baby cuing.
*Dissolve to a close-up pan across the clothes in a heap on the floor. You could even mix a trail of male and female garments leading to the bed to make the night's activities more obvious.
*Dissolve to a pan across the wine bottle and glass. If you wanted to get fancy, you could relocate the wine and glass to the table next to the window and show the rising sun shining through the wine bottle and glass. That would require some effects in post. I'm assuming this can be done without revealing the bars on the windows, although I noticed there were no visible bars on the windows in the opening scene. (I don't know if that was by design or if it was just a software limitation you had since I'm sure the bars you showed later had to be added in post.) Not only would showing the sun through the bottle/glass be visually interesting/artsy-fartsy shot, it would help establish the time of day.
*Dissolve to an establishing shot of the bedroom using your current opening shot with the camera pushing in on the bed. I would have the guy already sleeping on his side, facing away from the camera so we can't see his face yet. Stop the push-in at the end of the shot and hold for a second or two.
*Cut (no dissolve) to a close-up of the alarm clock about two seconds before the alarm goes off.
*Cut to your current 00:59 shot with the alarm still going off (which means axing the current 00:56 shot). That nice close-up as the male sits up would be the viewer's first look at his face.
I think going a route similar to that sets the scene up well and gets the viewer up to speed a little faster on what has transpired during the night. Takes a little bit longer to start out the film, but not that much, and I think the time spent would be worth it for the story's sake.
This film is sort of a horror/thriller flick. Every genre of filmmaking has its own style of cinematography, editing and lighting. Even color grading can be an issue, if you want to go that far. How filmmakers want to present their films is a personal choice based on their own artistic sensibilities. That said, I think, when tackling a new genre, it's worth studying some professional films from the same genre to note the artistic decisions pros made. A film like this lends itself well to things like odd camera angles, extreme close-ups, and maybe the occasional use of some Dutch tilt (slightly tilting the framing so that the horizon is not level--if not possible in MovieStorm, it could be done in post with some cropping of the frame). Don't overdo it with any of these things, but they are a few of the filmmaking conventions used in films of this genre.
Once the male gets up from bed to leave the room, you employ a lot of camera angles and cuts to get him out the door. That's not wrong, per se, but I don't know that you needed quite as many as you used. You're coming from a background of action filmmaking, so it's understandable that you're carrying over a lot of what you learned there. Action films tend to be faster paced, and shots are often shorter (at least during action scenes) to reflect that pacing. The 14-shots-per-minute guideline we talked about in the MMF originally came from a Hollywood editor (I forget his name now) who was referring specifically not just to action films but action 'scenes.'
Also, when editing, it's usually best to avoid putting shots together back to back that are less than (roughly) about 30 degrees off axis from each other. Doing so creates a 'jump cut' that tends to call attention to itself. I think there can be exceptions (particularly when you don't change the angle at all, only the level of zoom, such as when cutting from a long shot to an extreme close-up). But it's a good rule of thumb to keep in mind.
That said, shots held too long become boring visually. You can help lengthen their usable lifespan by having action take place during the shot or by panning the shot to change the POV, which sort of 'freshens' the visual info without technically cutting to a new shot.
A single panning shot could probably do the job of your three current shots from 01:21 to 01:27 as the man moves across the bedroom. How about a very-low-angle (from the floor) panning shot from near the window table, with an extreme close-up of a wine glass on its side in the foreground? More indications of a raucous night, and a unique/extreme camera angle that I think suits this genre.
One last point of editing theory: Try to 'cut on action.' What that means is when you edit your shots together, make the cuts at points where there is some sort of action or movement or even a loud sound in the shot. That 'action' can be something as small as the male standing up from the bed, as we see in this film. It can also be an opening a door or book dropping (or just the sound of those things) or even a character looking in a different direction. Of course, the action can also be much bigger: A car crashing, an explosion, etc.
The action cut is a fundamental principle of editing and has the effect of hiding cuts from the viewer while transitioning from one shot to the next. Ideally, the viewer should never be aware of any cuts in the film. The shots should all flow together seamlessly. If the cuts call attention to themselves, there's usually a problem. If you've done your job well, nobody (except experienced filmmakers) will even notice the fine work you've done. Viewers might praise your cinematography all day but say nothing about the quality of your editing. I think it's one reason editors are relative unknowns outside of the movie industry, even though they are critically-important members of the filmmaking team.
Anyway, I was able to see that you did not cut on action when the male stands up from the bed, which is where I would have put that cut. BTW, when I say 'cut on action,' that means (in this case) we would see the male just starting the action of standing up from the bed in one shot, and then we would pick up the action in the following shot, where he would fully stand up. It does NOT mean you cut immediately before or immediately after the action; you cut ON the action. Some of the action is seen in the outgoing shot and some in the incoming shot.
As the male leaves the bedroom, I really like how you used the baby monitor for a match cut to transition to the kitchen. I might have used a camera angle that was more similar for the two shots of the monitors, though. You could cut to a closer shot of the monitor in the bedroom as he leaves to accommodate that.
The first time you show a character in a film, it's sort of a clever bit of storytelling if you can reveal something integral about that character by what they're doing, without making it too obvious. The best foreshadowing is stuff that you only catch on subsequent viewings, not the first time around, which would give the story away (like showing the cemetery flowers in the opening shot of the house). When you transition to the shot of the monitor in the kitchen, you could pull back from the close matching shot of the monitor and then have a knife come slicing down perpendicular to the frame. As the camera pulls back more (or cuts to a different angle), we could see that the female is just preparing breakfast (cutting orange slices or something). That may be much easier said than done with the software, so disregard if it's too hard to pull something like that off.
It's worth talking about editing as a character walks in and out of a shot, such as you have when the female walks out of the kitchen to the bedroom. Again, you want to cut on action or movement. You usually let the character just start to exit the frame when you cut. I would make the cut at 01:52 just a split second sooner, just as her body is halfway out of the frame instead of completely out of the frame as you have it. When you cut again at 01:55, I might have the female get a tiny bit (a frame or two) closer to the left when exiting, and on the incoming shot, I would have her just entering the frame from the right. In the incoming shot at 01:55, I would say the female is too far into the frame at the start of the shot.
I like the cinematography of the two characters around the table. You did a great job there. I would have the table set with food on the plates if that is possible. That way, when you fade to the empty plate at 03:51, it will be more obvious that they've just finished eating.
The cut at 04:44 feels like a jump cut. The incoming shot varies very little in angle and composition from the outgoing shot, which calls attention to the cut. A head-and-shoulders close-up of the male, showing his reaction to her comment, even if from a similar angle, might have worked better. You maybe could have just held on the outgoing shot to get the male's dialogue in.
At 04:52, I would shave off the first few frames so that the female's head is already partly (forehead and above) visible in the frame as she stands.
The shot of his hand sans wedding ring is great at 05:04. A little Dutch tilt might look nice in that shot, especially since things in the story are starting to get a little strange at that point, anyway.
I know you weren't the screenwriter, but I would have the female knock the male out with a shovel over the head (an appropriate tool, given the story). It just seems unlikely that a female of her size, no matter how nutty, would be able to lay him out with a haymaker punch like that. Also, it would make the quantity of blood on the floor later seem more reasonable when he wakes up bound in the chair.
Nice composition at 07:42. Overlapping sound from one shot to the next is a good way to mask a cut, too. I would have the female start talking to the baby (heard through the baby monitor) in the outgoing shot. He would then turn towards the monitor to listen in the incoming shot.
When the male gets to the baby's room, instead of the machinima magazine, I'd have an ad for a dating service, which would be another piece of the puzzle. That would provide further details about how the female has been going about finding her victims.
The shot at 10:22 is nice, and is another that would lend itself well to some Dutch tilt. I would have the male turn on the light in that shot before he looks into the crib. There seems to be enough light in the room to see the skeleton without the light, yet he looks in the crib and doesn't react until he turns on the light.
For the shot of his reaction (a critical shot in the film), how about simulating the camera technique where the camera pulls away from a subject as the camera operator simultaneously zooms in? It causes the background to move back as the subject stays frozen in the frame. You would need more of a straight-on shot of his face, and you'd have to use layers in post, but I think it might work well for his reaction shot. Some sort of eerie Psycho-style sound effects (think 'eek-eek-eek') might also be fitting there.
On that note, sound is 50% of a film, and it's always worthwhile to ad the best sounds and sound effects you can find to a film to enhance the ambiance. I think most filmmakers spend a disproportionate amount of time on the video and end up neglecting the audio side of the equation. Not saying that's the case here at all, I'm just throwing that out there for others reading this.
While the male is still screaming from the bones, you could have him step back and fall to the ground, where he could then see the coffin next to him or under the crib instead of glancing up and seeing it in the corner.
As he walks down the hall, a camera angle high up in the corner of the ceiling with a fisheye lens effect might look kinda cool. At that point in the story, everything is totally crazy and such a lens effect might work well as we see him run down the hall. I don't know if MovieStorm can simulate lenses the way some 3D programs like Lightwave can, but I imagine you could create the effect in post somehow.
For the cut at 10:36, the outgoing shot shows the male walking down the hall to get out of the house, but in the incoming shot, he is at a dead standstill. I would have him emerging into the doorframe at the start of the shot and then stopping when he sees her with the gun. You could have the female out of the frame at the start of the shot and pan the camera to the left to pick her up, revealing to the viewer why he stopped, and have the composition at is currently.
I would have the first gunshot be to the male's leg. I know you'll have your voice actor reflect the pain from the first shot when you add the real dialogue, but it just seems very implausible that anyone could say much if anything after taking a blast to the chest from a 12 gauge shotgun. The shot to the leg could also be her attempt to wound him at first, but then, after hearing his comments following the blast, she realizes he's not a 'keeper' and finishes him off.
The final shot of that showdown scene is very important. The 11:03 shot is the last thing we see, but it doesn't feel like the best way to tie off the climax. I think the shot at 10:59 makes a better final shot. You could have the female speak her last line from that camera angle and then fire the shotgun. Since the gun is almost pointed right at the camera there, it is especially impactful for the viewer. You could then fade to black. There's no need to show the 11:03 shot with the blood splatter. Sometimes less is more.
It would be the screenwriter's call, but if you did create the dating service advertisement as I suggested above, you could have that in her hand at the very end. The final shot could be a close-up slowly pushing in on the ad after she tells the baby not to worry, she'll find a new daddy. I think that would be a little creepier.
You've done a great job with this film, BA. My comments are merely ideas about how to approach certain aspects of the film a little differently. I don't know if the video is set in stone yet or if you want to go back and try to redo some things. Either way, let me know when the final film is done. I'd like to see it again after the real actors' voices are added.
I'm just curious, what program did you use to make the actors' voices? I think Final Draft has a feature like that. And who is Pia the screenwriter? Is that someone from this community?