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Old March 7th, 2016, 03:54 AM   #1
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The value of critique and what to look for

As part of the Fine Arts course at varsity we were required to do life drawing. There was one particular student who was super talented. She had a very unique style of drawing and everyone tried to copy her because it was just so stunning. One afternoon towards the end of the session as we were finishing off we all suddenly stopped and sat down in absolute stunned silence. The lecturer - who was a famous South African artist and therefore carried some clout – suggested to this gifted student - to our shock and horror - that she tear up her exquisitely beautiful drawing.

Why on earth would she suggest something like that?!

Her reason – she explained – was simply that this girl’s style had become too precious to her – she had found a sure-fire recipe for producing beautiful drawings but was not trying anything else – not thinking out of the box. Well in the end she did not have to tear it up but it certainly got us all thinking – ‘don’t let your way of doing things become so precious to you that you limit your talent ’. I will never forget that lesson.

Constructive critique here at UWOL is an important part of getting us out of our own closed thinking. It is invaluable. Often we are fully aware of the problems with our entries but sometimes we get feedback that alerts us to problems we had not seen or recognized.

Sometimes when we are pushed for time we often fall back to the easy route but we should be trying new things – forgetting the judging. As far as I am concerned making comments and the voting here is as much of a lesson as the making of an entry. While winning is no longer the primary focus of this forum it is good to acknowledge those people who have done a good job. It incentivizes us to do better ourselves. It inspires us when we see the good work of others.

Giving feed-back on something is really easy. Giving useful feedback on a subjective artwork such as a film is extremely difficult but this forum is all about how we can develop as videographers, both technically and artistically.

Technical errors like critical footage being out of focus, are universally wrong, but artistic considerations are not universal. It concerns one’s style and aesthetic preferences which is the reason I took issue with a comment channeling us in a certain direction in another thread.

Having said that it doesn’t minimize the fact that in this forum there is a good representation of people with different styles and preferences; some focus on emotional impact and making a film with a personal touch others tend to be more objective and clinical in approach. There are all sorts of shades in between. We should seek the middle ground - become aware that there are emotional, artistic and technical considerations relating to film making and try to get out of our pet ruts.

So here are a few suggestions to start the ball rolling which I have found helpful which one can use when giving critique on a film. You may have other better things to add. The aim of this thread is to find better ways to improve the level of films submitted and level of critique given.

Films are to be judged on 50% use of theme and 50% production values so that’s a good place to start.

First note your emotional response to the film. Would you voluntarily watch this film a second time or recommend it to someone to watch?

How well does it use the theme; is it on theme? This carries half the weight in this challenge when it comes to voting so it is important.

Next consider the technical aspects: Camera work, focus, contrast, lighting, story structure, etc.

Next consider the artistic aspects: variety and relevance of shots and camera angles, colour use; framing; aesthetic impact, use of sound, etc

Decide what you like about it - be specific.
In general feedback should be specific not generalized. So, not ‘your lighting is good’ but ‘the way you used soft light and colours to enhance the feeling of tranquility worked well’ or whatever, where relevant.
This is helpful to all of us viewing these videos because we learn from each other’s comments. It has happened in the past that I have changed my mind about a film that I had initially dismissed as mediocre because someone here gave exceptional feedback in which they highlighted the strengths I hadn’t seen (which is one reason I have reservations about voting before giving feedback – it works both ways).

Consider those things you think would be worth improving in the film or worth considering for future entries.

Give your overall impression in conclusion.

Evaluate every comment you give and receive (both positive and negative) carefully and decide for yourself if it is valid.

When we dismiss negative comments as hurtful or wrong we deprive ourselves of an opportunity to improve. Yes – not all comments are valid but as long as you think it through and evaluate it against other comments that are given then you will know if it is valid or not and worth acting on.
I remember listening to a radio show once and the person being interviewed said that they take all comments critical of the radio show very seriously because for every one person who takes the time to submit a criticism there are at least a thousand others who are of the same opinion who didn’t. I am not sure if that was valid or not but I am convinced that if one person here brings up a problem with your film it is probably safe to say that there are many other viewers who are of the same opinion. Take all comments seriously.

One other thing - It is important to consider your audience. I get the feeling that many of us are making films for each other as a community rather than making self-standing films with a broader appeal or with a specific audience in mind like children or travellers. Whatever the film or audience it is important to evaluate the aim, methodology and the outcome not just the emotional appeal.

Oh yes - don't forget to thank the people who give you feedback - even if you don't agree with everything said. It takes time to evaluate a film.
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Old March 7th, 2016, 10:45 AM   #2
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Re: The value of critique and what to look for

Thank you for the feedback, we'll take it into consideration as the UWOL Challenge continues to develop.

Guidelines for voting are already described in rule 9.

Feedback can be given as detailed as described here, or as simple as "I like your film", or anywhere in between.
It is all perfectly fine!
Remember that the given feedback also depends of the knowledge and preferences of the individual who provides the feedback, in addition to what kind of feedback is requested.
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Old March 7th, 2016, 12:04 PM   #3
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Re: The value of critique and what to look for

A very interesting contribution, Marj.

We have had this discussion before, I know, but I think that learning to accept criticism is very important for us, in life, as in filmmaking - professionally, I have been in this situation (in the automotive industry) where I, on behalf of my company have had to accept both extreme criticism and then outside help to resolve a situation that was not of our making, and it was very hard to accept.

As an artist, and especially, as most of us work alone, it is even harder to accept sometimes, but it is an essential form of learning to improve our craft - I hope that as a group we can accept each others comments as constructive help, as if we were discussing together in a room - after all, its a far cry from the sort of mindless comment you get on YouTube!

Filmmaking is by nature a collaborative art, and Im sure, that if we are ever able to pull off a collaborative film, it will be tremendous, but in the meantime, the best we can do is to help each other to improve by commenting, in whatever form, on other entries - after all, whats the worst that can happen - you say ¨I know that! "¨, or better still thats a great idea, Ill try it next time, or how did you do that?

Lets hope that this years get together can help foster more collaboration - its good for all of us!
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Old March 26th, 2016, 03:29 AM   #4
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Re: The value of critique and what to look for

Hey Trond
If we were to give detailed feedback according to the considerations listed in my post above it would take a solid week to comment on a handful of films. There is no way any of us can spend that sort of time here. It’s not necessary to analyze each other’s films to such an excessive degree.

The aim of my post above was simply to encourage us to critique, firstly our own films and then others’ films, as objectively as possible by at least considering how the technical and artistic elements have been used to enhance the story. (My lists are incomplete as you can see.) I also accidentally forgot to specify the key thing to look for – i.e. Does it have a compelling story?!

While I find this ‘method’ helpful when reviewing the films submitted for the challenge, I personally do not comment on the use of every one of the elements – just consider how they have been used – and then try to be specific about the things that stand out. Unfortunately time often gets in the way and so giving only one line of feedback is fine but I’m convinced that if we at least consider how the different elements of a film are used to push the story along as well as how they aesthetically and emotionally enhance it (or not, as the case may be), it will help us all to better appreciate a film’s strengths and weaknesses and produce relevant feedback.

I have learned much from the feedback here so my post was definitely not a criticism of feedback quality here – it was meant only to emphasize that giving feedback on and judging a film is not that easy because in essence it leans heavily towards subjective preference or individual taste.

This way of doing things was highlighted in Meryem’s original parameters for judging (apply to feedback too) way back in November 2007 (currently pg 29 of this forum):

“50% of your judging should be weighed towards production values (shooting, editing, lighting, audio, composition, cinematography, motion, etc.)

50% of your judging should focus on the use of the theme (did the entry hit the mark, its creativity, the ability to work the theme, approach, etc.) . . . Remember that this is a nature and outdoors contest, and it is also important that the winning entry should also reflect the overall spirit of the event...”

(Not sure why the info in parenthesis has been omitted from our current rules.)

If it is recommended that we judge according to these parameters then surely we should be considering the production values (which are the technical and aesthetic elements that give shape and meaning to a film’s story) and not just judge according to our biased personal taste.

Hey Paul – thanks for your input.
I was thinking about what you have said – in my understanding the ‘criticism’ to which you refer and ‘art criticism’ or ‘critique’ are not quite the same.

‘Criticism’ is disapproval shown by pointing out shortcomings or faults. It is generally negative and judgmental. It can be hurtful. There is no place for ‘criticism’ in our context.

‘Art Criticism’ or ‘Critique’ on the other hand means to evaluate or analyze critically with the purpose of showing the impact, nature, strengths and weaknesses of a work of art (artistic or literary).
To do this effectively it is necessary to have some understanding of the basic concepts or fundamentals of art making (read film making).

In our context feedback should provide something constructive on which the person can work or build - to encourage the person to be the best they can be. This requires some effort and honesty as well as being specific when describing a weak or strong point, as opposed to making vague generalizations. This approach ensures feedback is constructive and positive.

. . . And you are right – [our feedback] is a far cry from the sort of mindless comment you get on YouTube!”
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Old March 26th, 2016, 12:55 PM   #5
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Re: The value of critique and what to look for

Quote:
Originally Posted by Marj Atkins View Post
This way of doing things was highlighted in Meryem’s original parameters for judging (apply to feedback too) way back in November 2007 (currently pg 29 of this forum):

“50% of your judging should be weighed towards production values (shooting, editing, lighting, audio, composition, cinematography, motion, etc.)

50% of your judging should focus on the use of the theme (did the entry hit the mark, its creativity, the ability to work the theme, approach, etc.) . . . Remember that this is a nature and outdoors contest, and it is also important that the winning entry should also reflect the overall spirit of the event...”

(Not sure why the info in parenthesis has been omitted from our current rules.)
This is correct. Not sure why it has dissappeared from the guidelines.
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Old March 26th, 2016, 11:28 PM   #6
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Re: The value of critique and what to look for

I today managed to read this,

Find it very interesting as it got a lot of structure into the critique .

Last week there was a course in the Film Institute of India about Film appreciation and critique , i missed enrolling in it. However the reason i brought it up was the course title is what makes it clear.

Film appreciation and critique , we appreciate things we like and then suggest how according to us some things might be better. Guess the later part is where the issue occurs most of the times that people feel about stepping on someones toes. However the level of feedback should stand a good guide for that.

i hardly have tackled the later part in my feedback most of the times as my film understanding aptitude is still in a forming stage as last year or so being here has helped me a lot on how to look at things.

Marj , you have really started a important topic here and been very detailed about it. appreciate it.

For me all i have learned over last year plus is due to the comments, critique and suggestions offered here.
( The only thing i have still been lacking is use of Voice-over and i still get petrified about it )

My current level of knowhow is not as big to offer any addition to here but i am learning , thanks to all of you.
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Old March 27th, 2016, 06:54 AM   #7
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The money shot

Marj,
Well done for bringing this up. Critique is a valuable tool for learning. On my last submission I almost didn't include a shot because the subject was out of focus, but when the comments came back for my submission it was the one shot that seemed to get all the attention. It garnered much appreciation, yet was a result of the cheap equipment I use that is definitely in the amateur camp.

Without that appreciation and critique of my submission I would not have been encouraged to try different things in my film making and would be "doing the same old thing" like the girl in your example.

Cheers

Tim
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Old March 27th, 2016, 10:27 AM   #8
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Re: The value of critique and what to look for

Great thread this one!!

I agree it is important to think about making constructive comments on other peoples work. We are all here to learn, & one of the really great things about the UWOL community is the willingness of everyone to help each other out in making great little films.

Personally i love to hear feedback on my films without anyone pulling punches. Knowing what others think of my work helps me make changes that might make it more appealing to a broader audience. Of course you can't please everyone all the time, so while i take note of everyone's critique, i may not necessarily change all of the things that have garnered the attention of those giving the feedback.

We must remember, these are our films, & we are making them for our own enjoyment first & foremost.

It sounds like one of the most important things for everyone is to clearly state the level of feedback you would like in your feedback thread. This will help others give the correct level of feedback without stepping on toes.

Lastly, i think it is also important to note the fact that this is a world wide forum. With people here from all corners of the globe. For many of those people english is not their first language, so expressing themselves clearly and the way they intend to can be a challenge in itself. Sometimes things get lost in the translation, & to say something in one language in a totally acceptable way, when translated directly, may sound very different to the way it was intended. (I am always reminded of this when i use google translate on a webpage!!)

I feel very lucky to be a part of this wonderful community of nature loving film makers.

Thanks to you all.
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Old March 27th, 2016, 10:53 AM   #9
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Re: The value of critique and what to look for

I think critiques are valuable but I also believe that you need to be true to yourself.
Critiques allow you to see your work from others points of views.

I also believe that you shouldn't change your work just to fit a mold.


Most people on this forum want the films to tell a story. I tried it just to do something different but I don't like it. So every time I enter a film without a story I know I'll hear about it but I'm fine with that.

Maybe I'll change it up and put in a story every now and then but I guess I prefer to sit in my comfort zone and do what brings me joy when I'm filming in nature.
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Old March 27th, 2016, 11:28 AM   #10
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Re: The value of critique and what to look for

Totally agree Kevin,
I love your work!!
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Old March 28th, 2016, 02:57 AM   #11
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Re: The value of critique and what to look for

Thanks to you all for your input – certainly adds to the discussion. It is very good to hear all your points of view. They are as varied and as valid as the films we get here.

Kevin as a professional you are in the enviable position of being able to do as you please and it will still look good. We appreciate your work – it is always an inspiration to us.
I hasten to add, however, that your ‘River’ film was your best - even if you don’t like storytelling - it had a good story and went on to win at a film festival.

The importance of storytelling is not something we have cooked up. Almost all the external judges that commented on our films in the past had the importance of storytelling as the recurring theme. Here are a few examples of their comments - there are plenty more if you wish to look up the ‘winning films’ for each challenge from way back.

Brant Buckland UWOL #9 - Some thoughts on my decision making process

Hi everyone,

I just thought I would give you a little insight into my decision-making process for judging your films.

My background has no doubt influenced my decision, so let me briefly shed some light on the situation. I studied biology as an undergraduate and went on to get a degree in natural history filmmaking, where they pounded the importance of storytelling into our heads. I went on to work in various aspects of wildlife filmmaking for several series on Animal Planet. Most recently I worked as a story producer and writer on the series Orangutan Island.

Because of all this, I hold a high importance on story structure. I think that a strong story will grab the viewer and hold their attention regardless of the quality of the footage. A strong story will develop characters and then make these characters face obstacles. The film should tease the outcome without giving it away. If this is done well, the audience will be dying to see how the characters react to the obstacles. Will they overcome them with success? Or will the obstacles get the better of them in failure? Typically, as a filmmaker you want to start with something really strong…introducing an obstacle up front to grab the viewer right away. Then the film should move to the climax…the moment of truth…that will determine the fate of the character. After this, the story should resolve fairly quickly. Of course there are no strict rules about this and any number of structures can work, but this is a tried and true method to keep in mind.

All that being said, of course I appreciate stunning imagery as well. Also, as a natural history filmmaker myself, I understand the difficulty of sitting and waiting patiently for a wild creature to do what you want it to do. So I tried to pay attention to these aspects as well.

As I watched each film I tried to take into consideration these qualities to determine who executed ALL of them the best.

Read ‘The Finalists’ UWOL #9 for more information from Brant


DJ Zupancic UWOL #4

I think everyone can think about sound design more. Think about the way sound [serves these stories.] Cutting to music is fine, but sometimes it is like putting a k-mart frame around a classic oil painting. I actually watched a few videos in this competition with the music turned off because I felt it so detracted from the potential of your images. . . .
It would be interesting to see/hear what you would come up with if you all worked with only natural sound-no voice over, no music. You could do whatever you want with natural sound in post, but start with what you get in the world through your mics. Just an idea.

Titles and text- Don’t let them interfere with your images. Don’t let them over-compensate. And choose nice colors and fonts that compliment the image they are sharing the screen with. I am a fan of simple and readable. I think for short pieces, a title at the end only can let the story unfold.

Tony Ptrick-Davies Uwol #17
Final notes
It would have been easy for me to judge the UWOL 17 videos and wrap everyone in cotton wool by simply congratulating everyone on their marvellous efforts and how wonderful each video viewed was. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and like all things in life, each and everything we view is through our own eyes and different eyes viewing the same scene often draw completely opposite conclusions.
The main aspects which help a judge to truly offer a fair ruling and constructive criticism is through previous experience, and I hope that my experience has leant a guiding hand to help me make the best judgements to find a final and worthy winner in this contest

Larry Elmore Uwol #18

As you all know too well I’m sure, filmmaking is not an easy task to do well, especially when you’re the writer, director, cinematographer, editor, sound engineer, narration talent and sometimes even the composer and musician. A tip of my hat to all of you. The films were all worthy of merit. Unfortunately, my challenge as judge is to select a winner and a couple of runner-ups. The only problem I found is that I had more winners than awards to give.

When people ask, “What do you do?”, I have one simple answer, “I tell stories.” So as a judge, I looked first at the story you were telling.

Second, was the story aligned to the . . theme?

And third, I looked at all of the technical elements that contribute to a successful film. What does it look like? If there are actors, do they sell their part and does the director do his or her job? Is it edited well? Do the script, cinematography, and the VO narration work together? Does the natural sound and music work to enhance the mood of the film? And finally I gauge the emotional impact, “How does this film make me feel?”
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Old March 30th, 2016, 02:04 AM   #12
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Re: The value of critique and what to look for

The need of a story .

i remember when i started editing my current documentary one of my mentors asked me "so whats the story", even though i knew how i wanted the doc to look like i had not written a story outline and that pegged me back around a mile from the starting line, guess i was avoiding writing a story and trying to assume it would be all right.
I realised it when i started editing and it was all in pieces something without a flow . Thats the time i was again asked "so whats the story line" and it then hit me like a big shock . The realisation then was that i don't know how to write a story and hence i guess i was avoiding it, however it wasn't helping me at all as there were too many things dependent on it.
So decided to leave the editing to the side and put down a story, it was surely difficult as i had no one to ask how a story is written. The way i did it was in a way Finance guy would write one, i opened a excel sheet :)
Now the decision was should this be a story in general or should it be tied to a specific time frame , should it be any year or a specific year, Making these 2 would give a direction .
So decided on it to be a specific year and a timeframe in that year. Now i had a timeframe to the story.
As still writing a story was a mystery i divided the excel sheet into months and days for the full time scale and just wrote down fall of event s as they happen .
Doing that i remembered that once there was a mention of a Beginning , Middle and End.(incorporated that) Also needed "The protagonist" and "An antagonist" this was a interesting choice and i made it. So now i had a story in Excel sheet.
it helped me in many ways.
1) Got my editing timeline organised
2) helped me to write the Voice over narration
3) helped me decide if the Voice over was to be first person or not
4) Many other editing decisions.
For deciding about the Voice over to be first person or not i wrote to my mentor and he again asked "so whats the story line" and this time i was able to write a brief story and he could advice me about how the VO should be. it became easier.

As the topic came up here of having a story or not, i thought i would share this experience of mine, may or may not be helpful .

I also got a story structure of Pixar and that was helpful to construct my story
"Once upon a time there was.....................
"Every Day ...........................
"Until one day ........................
" Because of that ........................
" Because of that ........................
"Untill Finally ........................

As i never went through a background of Filmmaking this was how i evolved from things i knew.
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Old April 1st, 2016, 05:11 AM   #13
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Re: The value of critique and what to look for

That's fantastic Vishal !!
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Old April 7th, 2016, 01:37 AM   #14
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Re: The value of critique and what to look for

Quote:
Originally Posted by Mick Jenner View Post
. Since we moved away form an independent judge to us all being judges I have found it difficult to understand how a person can judge an entry without being subconsciously influenced by others opinions.

As a judge you should mark on what you see and enjoy not on what others may have drawn to your attention, which can happen now.

We all have different views and opinions on what is right, wrong, what works and what does not etc. We all learn from advice and critique but, techniques, styles etc change i.e once everything had to be rock steady, now wobbly pov camera work is an excepted art form.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Paul Wood View Post
I have been writing down comments on paper, as well as voting points for composition, theme and production value for a few rounds now.

Since Mick's original post I don't look at any feedback comments, only the ¨watch them here page. I normally watch all entries full screen and make notes as I go, then refer back if I need to to clarify anything for my voting.

The only downside is that I sometimes need to modify my comments if someone has already made a point.
As Paul points out there is a way around being influenced by the comments of others. Ever since I started here I have written my comments before looking to see what others have said.

In general I don't have a problem with the way the judging has gone on UWOL. In fact many of my initial misgivings have completely evaporated. There is only one time I can think of where I was unhappy because the person who won was not strictly on theme. As long as we all agree to respect the voting parameters we will be fine.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Mick Jenner View Post
.
We all have different views and opinions on what is right, wrong, what works and what does not etc. We all learn from advice and critique but, techniques, styles etc change i.e once everything had to be rock steady, now wobbly pov camera work is an excepted art form.
Not sure, but to me this seems to indicate that you are unhappy that some folk don't know what is and what is not an acceptable art form and will influence people by making a wrong call or a comment based on ignorance. I am sure that if someone raises a problem with a players film that is not accurate another player will counter it with a valid argument.

Talking of wobbly shots - one has to be careful to distinguish between sloppy camerawork and purposeful use of wobbly footage. It's use is fine in the hands of professionals and those who know what they are doing. When it comes to animating photos or graphics stuff it is almost imperative to add some wobble to make it look natural. It depends on the context and what is being filmed. I believe there should be some establishing shot to precede the wobbly footage to justify it.

Wobbly footage falls into the same category as using a series of short, sharp variable shots to make up a sequence - something I do often and that has equally as often been criticized here. It has become an acceptable art form especially among the younger generation - what Steve refers to as films with their 'tiny little attention spans'. I try lots of things in this forum. Some work some don't. Some like them some don't. That's exactly the purpose of submitting here - to get the reaction of an audience to your film and to learn from others' comments. That way we are better able to make an informed evaluation.
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Old April 7th, 2016, 02:05 AM   #15
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Re: The value of critique and what to look for

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bryce Comer View Post
Personally i love to hear feedback on my films without anyone pulling punches. Knowing what others think of my work helps me make changes that might make it more appealing to a broader audience.
That's the way to do it.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bryce Comer View Post
It sounds like one of the most important things for everyone is to clearly state the level of feedback you would like in your feedback thread. This will help others give the correct level of feedback without stepping on toes.
Exactly! And that's why it was implemented in Rule 9, with the feedback levels 1, 2 or 3.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Marj Atkins View Post
This way of doing things was highlighted in Meryem’s original parameters for judging (apply to feedback too) way back in November 2007 (currently pg 29 of this forum):

“50% of your judging should be weighed towards production values (shooting, editing, lighting, audio, composition, cinematography, motion, etc.)

50% of your judging should focus on the use of the theme (did the entry hit the mark, its creativity, the ability to work the theme, approach, etc.) . . . Remember that this is a nature and outdoors contest, and it is also important that the winning entry should also reflect the overall spirit of the event...”

(Not sure why the info in parenthesis has been omitted from our current rules.)

If it is recommended that we judge according to these parameters then surely we should be considering the production values (which are the technical and aesthetic elements that give shape and meaning to a film’s story) and not just judge according to our biased personal taste.
These details will be implemented in the rules again as soon as I have time to do it. Not sure why they got lost in space, but the 50/50 is still very valid.
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