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The Sphinx

Posted: Fri, 11th Apr 2008, 12:19pm

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Evman

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De-Evolution Studios' first attempt at adaptation, THE SPHINX is a short story from the f**ked up mind of Edgar Allan Poe. During the dread reign of Cholera in New York, our Narrator flees Manhattan to Upstate New York to stay with his Cousin. However, no matter the distance, our Narrator cannot escape the grip of insecurity and fear as he begins to sight odd occurrences- most notably, a Sphinx- around his Cousin's house. Initially conceived as a school project, The Sphinx morphed into something much more, becoming De-Evolution Studios' first film in almost a year.

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Posted: Fri, 11th Apr 2008, 12:40pm

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Simon K Jones

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Awesome. I really enjoyed this! It's not without quite a few flaws (which I'll come to in a moment) but overall I found it captivating throughout and enjoyable. Aside from anything else, it is incredibly refreshing to see something altogether different in the FXhome.com cinema. I really hope this will inspire other filmmakers to try riskier material and push into other genres.

Is Poe public domain now? If so, adapting one of his works is pretty crafty - it gives you a really solid, literary basis for your story, but without any of the usual copyright infringement issues. I wonder if other aspiring filmmakers would do well to look at older works of literature that are perhaps free of copyright issues for inspiration?

The story, of course, works well. Crucially, the ending works extremely well.

A few areas that need to be looked at for your next production:

- Audio: for such a dialogue and voiceover-heavy film, it was vital to get audio right. Unfortunately the levels went a bit wobbly at times, and some of the sound effects were quite jarring (specifically each time the bottle was placed onto the bar). The sound was always audible and easy to understand, it just lacked polish.

- Cinematography: some shots were pretty cool, but many had lighting and exposure issues, being either too dark or too bright. Having said that, I got a sense of what you were aiming to do with the visuals. There was a deliberate nature to a lot of it - the conversation in front of the windows, with the camera slowly pulling back and up was great (although ended to soon), and you kept the film nicely varied in terms of location. Actual composition was interesting, in terms of how you positioned actors within the frame, but it always felt 'just a little off'.

A little more technical care in the longer, more thoughtful shots would have worked wonders. And in some of the more introverted, voiceovery moments a bit more variety would have helped, perhaps cut-aways or close-ups etc. The cinematography here told the basic story, but could have been pushed a lot further, which would really have enhanced the general atmosphere of foreboding. Also, the shots looking out into the garden were very busy, due to the geography or trees/bushes/the hill/etc, which made it quite difficult to identify the Sphinx character (deliberate?).

- Voiceover: I've not read the short story, so I might be way off here - but I felt that there was a little too much VO. At times it felt like you were relying entirely on the VO to tell the story, while the visuals kind of idled a bit with nothing to do. If the adaptation had taken some of the voiceover and layered it more directly into the action and the scenes I'd have been happier. The VO also sounded a little too much like someone reading from the short story, rather than an actual character pondering on his life - in contrast to the rest of the film's acting, which was decent.

Overall, though, it worked, which is the crucial thing. It's more than the sum of its parts, so while the technicals need attention the overall film and story worked well for me. You guys are really, really maturing in your filmmaking and storytelling! More care, time and attention to technicals and you're going to produce something utterly fantastic any day now.

You planning to do any further adaptations? I think working from the framework of an existing story is a really good idea, as it gives you a solid base which you can wrap your film around, enabling you to really focus on the actual filmmaking.

Nice one chaps.
Posted: Fri, 11th Apr 2008, 1:08pm

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NickF

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Tarn wrote:

Is Poe public domain now?
Apparently so.
Posted: Fri, 11th Apr 2008, 1:59pm

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Mr Pencil

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Here's the original story for comparison.

The Sphinx

Last edited Fri, 11th Apr 2008, 8:01pm; edited 1 times in total.

Posted: Fri, 11th Apr 2008, 2:27pm

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Mellifluous

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I haven't read that particular Poe but this gets stars even before viewing. I love Fall of the House of Usher and Murders in the Rue Morgue.

The mood in this was great, it captured the mood of Poe and a bit of Lynch too. The locations, costumes and performances were all great - you should all do some more serious stuff as you and Louis do well acting straight.

The cinematography was one downside for me. The composition was good (e.g. shots from window, drinking shots, chandelier shots) but the shakiness and occasional zoom let it down. When doing handheld I weigh cameras down by leaving the tripod on.

The other was the Sphinx. The look was fine, but making him more ethereal in editing (e.g. flash frames, some kind of strobing effect) would have been more effective, then at the end cut to his hood rather than face, then finally maybe a jump cut of his scythe slashing across the air.

Those are my only honest criticims. Otherwise, this was a new direction that you pulled off!
Posted: Fri, 11th Apr 2008, 8:31pm

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Atom

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I heavily agree with Tarn. In many ways this is a great if not uneven film.

The technicals were all well-played, but there are a few lighting/exposure issues as well as sound levels during the voiceover bits. (Is there a purposeful 'echo effect'? Odd, indeed) But overall, everything is pretty sturdy and strong in this area; including some good bits of grading.

My only main gripe with this I'll go into a little more in-depth so you know what I mean.

Where this whole thing gets a little off-cue is in the production design. You guys seem to want to do everything period-style, but then there are clear parts that aren't. There's a blender clear as day in the middle of a shot, then there's old-timey clothing and a study and such. There's modern glasses for booze but there's old-timey booze. There's an attention to certain small details to make the work 'period', but then other things- easily fixed like a kleenex box in a shot- that seem forgotten altogether. Supplementing this; the language, inflection, and accent in the characters fluctuate. This all stands to leave me slightly confused. And even while I know what period the Sphinx is set in and know what will happen, the movie appears 'timeless' in all the wrong ways.

Moreover, I simply can't tell what you're going for with it. Eerie, dramatic, poetic. Maybe altogether? The pacing, somewhat haphazard production design, and the music/acting cues at points left me completely puzzled with what you were trying 'go for'.

It's a clear and well-intentioned bridge into something De-Evolution Studios hasn't done. (Or that I haven't seen from you guys yet, Vivification aside) And as a whole it's interesting and commendable to branch out so differently.

For this, the clear effort, and some nice and eerie bits of cinematography, editing, and grading:

4/5
Posted: Fri, 11th Apr 2008, 9:23pm

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Jabooza

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I also, agree completely with Tarn. I think the major problem with this lies in the audio. One of the biggest problems with the audio that I'd like to point out is, in the shot where the two characters hug and pat each other on the back, when the shot cuts to a shot from behind, it is very clear that the audio cuts. You should try cutting it in-between pats and fade as much blank audio from the two shots together. Also, remember that whenever there is an audio track that is seemingly blank, instead of having start of stop abruptly, it still needs to fade in and out to disguise the fact that it's really starting or stopping. One other thing to help with the audio next time is using the same microphone for the narration as for recording the audio for what you hear on-screen.

What I do like about your films, is that you always to do a good job telling the story. Although there were some technical flaws in this, I really enjoyed watching it. Not because of fancy camera-work of grading (although, the grading was great wink ), but because it was a cool story, and it was being told brilliantly.
So, what you should focus on now is sharpening up the technicals (especially audio).


-Jabooza
Posted: Sat, 12th Apr 2008, 12:24am

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Plainly

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Hi Evman + Pencil,

I basically agree with everything that has been said here. I just have 4 things to add:

1- You made me jump bad at the end. Do NOT do that EVER again! evil
2- I like your acting (I think this has already been said, though)
3- I wasn't too crazy about how your music went on-and-off throughout the film, if you know what I mean. I don't really know how you could improve on it, though, with that much dialogue/VO. Maybe a more subtle BG music that lasts longer?
4- Your editing could have been a bit tighter at some points. I know that what you wanted to do is have a nice, slow pace, but at some points it got pretty long.

Anyway, overall, it was a nice film. I love how it was so different from the Woodsman (which is the only other film I've seen from you), and being able to do many different styles of movies is, IMO, very important. So kuddos on that. razz

Good luck on future projects!

Plainly
Posted: Sat, 12th Apr 2008, 3:21am

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Evman

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Thanks everyone for the comments so far, glad you all enjoyed it!

I agree with you on most points, that the technicals could be improved. Regarding the audio, which seems to be generating the most complaints - I was using a new shotgun mic that I had never used before and Final Cut Pro, which I had no experience editing sound in. If you hear the original sound compared to what it is now, you'll find it much more smooth and flowing than it was, but I recognize the complaints.

The cinematography was once again, as always ends up happening, mostly out of my hands, and it's difficult to get people to redo shots if they look "good enough". I was very pleased with how the grading turned out, however. Tarn - mostly our intent with the cinematography was to go with some pretty stark contrast. In fact, the scene in the car at the beginning had only one shot where I was completely backlit, but we ended up liking the symbolism of that so much that I graded the rest of the shots to match that shadowy effect. A lot of the "too dark or too bright" stuff was intentional, but I'll of course admit that some of it wasn't!

Hopefully we'll try to do some more adaptations, as I've always loved taking a story from some other medium and finding ways to translate it into film. Especially comparing the two once the film is done, to see how it differs and is similar.

So did you guys think that the ending worked? Its a very different ending from the actual source text (well, a lot was changed anyway... in the short story, the Sphinx is larger than a cruise ship... but whatever!). I always laugh during that scene because I know the kid who plays the Sphinx and he's a complete goofball. That was actually intended to be the joke at the end, that the Sphinx is just our friend making a funny face... luckily we changed it and made it slightly more serious. Though he's still making the funny face! wink

Largely though, thank you guys. It's good to know that our movement into more serious films isn't being frowned upon. (But don't worry, AI3 is still in the works, so don't expect a complete abandonment of our old style... though we will hopefully try to update AI3 with our newly learned techniques... AI2 IS more than 2 years old now. wink )

Thanks for the comments, keep 'em coming!




EDIT:

Oh! I knew I forgot to address something!

Originally we were trying to keep a 1930s or 1940s appearance to the movie, and a lot of this ends up coming across (hopefully through the costumes and grading, mostly - don't understand why the glasses used aren't period though, they're quite old fashioned). But in the end we did try to make it a bit more ambiguous, and keep it somewhat "timeless"... Although the accidental Computer monitor and TV screen in one shot kinda went a bit too far! wink We were concious of the fact that it would be very very hard to do a complete period piece, so we purposefully made it a bit ambiguous.

The way I envisioned the back story at least, was a film set in the 1930s or 40s. We are actually playing people our age though, which might not come across, but we always try to play our age. Both cousins come from a wealthy family and I am a college student in Manhattan (probably at NYU wink ) and my cousin lives in a upscale house in upstate New York. I'm visiting him to escape a deadly plague that is sweeping the city.

Obviously this is different from the time period of the original story, which would have been in Poe's day and age. Our teacher kept urging us to modernize it to modern day terms, but I don't think we could have done the story justice in today's day and age. We ended up compromising, tackling a rough time period feel that we could manage.
Posted: Sat, 12th Apr 2008, 5:14am

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Serpent

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This is mostly a technical review as it's central idea, the story telling, was done very well and I can't say much constructive about it. The editing was decent, the only parts that suffered were caused by onset camera angle problems really, that led to some awkward cuts.

I liked the way this was done. It reminded me of The Assassination of Jesse James in terms of visual style and the way it was told, and that's a huge compliment as it was my second favorite film of 2007 (just short of Into the Wild). There were a few awkward cuts and the recording of the sound was terrible. I'd honestly dub it and in the future, bring head phones onto the set and make sure it sounds decent on set before the final audio mix.

Often the indoor shots had overexposed outdoor shots. I'm sure you were limited, but a fix would be more lighting indoors and then lowering the exposure on the camera. If you still want a slower shutter speed for the more filmic video look, just use your neutral density filter and close the aperture up a bit.

So I think the composition was brilliant in many parts, and it had some great camera work, but it didn't seem like a good lighting/exposure combo.

Music was fantastic for this piece. I don't know what you used, but well done or well implemented at least. I enjoyed myself all the way through, it kept interest. Costumes were great and sets were great for what you had (though family photos on the wall ruined the mood).

Ending scared the hell out of me, though it wasn't perfectly executed--as you said, kind of silly. So overall, I liked this, but I didn't love it. With what you had, it was very well done, and I dug the way you told the story, despite bad audio. The cuts that were awkward may have broken the 180 degree rule, but I'm not positive, it's late and I don't feel like looking back. I know it's a rule that can be broken, but if it was broken, it wasn't done well in this one. It was one of the staring out the window scenes.

Also, blatant auto exposure when you entered the home was bad. Either light the scene very well and have lower exposure as I mentioned earlier, or just have the outdoors overexposed the whole time. Exposure shifting in a shot looks bad. So anyways, 4/5. I really thought this was an interesting film and it was told really well. You lose the point because I wasn't like "zomg this is awesome and extremely awesome" and the (few) technical errors, for lack of better word.

(Also - I did not read this topic, so I may be repeating some things).
Posted: Sat, 12th Apr 2008, 9:28am

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Simon K Jones

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Evman wrote:

A lot of the "too dark or too bright" stuff was intentional, but I'll of course admit that some of it wasn't!
I think that's my main issue with the film. One shot would seem brilliant, and 100% deliberate, then the next shot would feel a bit rushed and not as well executed. It keeps yo-yoing between spot-on, both artistically and technically, and slightly muddled.

If you can get the attention to detail to last through EVERY shot, then you'll be onto something special. smile The ideas and ability is definitely there, that's evident, you just need to employ a bit of quality control. razz
Posted: Sat, 12th Apr 2008, 4:39pm

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Evman

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Tarn wrote:



If you can get the attention to detail to last through EVERY shot, then you'll be onto something special. smile The ideas and ability is definitely there, that's evident, you just need to employ a bit of quality control. razz
Of course, yeah, I totally agree with you, and Serpent you're completely correct about the autoexposure and such. As I said though it's very hard to get people to do the shot again if to them it already looks good or "good enough".
Posted: Mon, 14th Apr 2008, 2:22am

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ben3308

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Hey man, I know this is going to sound sort of hypocritical, as this is an issue with a movie of mine as well, but any chance you can put up/send me a link to an .mov copy of this?

The FLV seems to be hit-or-miss for me, falling more on the 'miss' side.

Can't wait to see it, my brother tells me it's generally very good.
Posted: Mon, 14th Apr 2008, 2:36am

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Evman

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I'm uploading one in fact as we speak. Hopefully it'll be up on the movie page tomorrow (hint hint Tarn! wink ).

Hopefully that version will encourage more people to watch it! smile
Posted: Mon, 14th Apr 2008, 2:42am

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ben3308

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You want me to start the hype machine on it? biggrin
Posted: Mon, 14th Apr 2008, 2:44am

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Atom

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A 210mb flash file doesn't fare very well on the internet.
Posted: Mon, 14th Apr 2008, 4:01am

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Serpent

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Atom wrote:

A 210mb flash file doesn't fare very well on the internet.
Worked fine for me, and looked pretty too. smile

However it's always good to give people an option.
Posted: Mon, 14th Apr 2008, 4:14am

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ben3308

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Finally got the chance to see this after it loaded. Get ready for a classic 'wall of text'. wink

Well....I liked parts of it a lot and didn't like parts of it a lot. It was very hard to place for me. More towards the 'good' side, quite obviously, but I'm still trying to get my thoughts together about it. I don't want you thinking that I think it's bad, by any meaning of the word, but it's in sort of a grey area for me right now.

First things first, the technicals are generally very good. The production design, cinematography, and general 'style' to it is consistent, for the most part at least. The mise-en-scene of browns, whites and blacks with the clothing and everything looked great, if not harshly interrupted by a blender or monitor here and there biggrin

Essentially, you would've gotten major points from me if you'd found a way to nix the newer-age stuff. I know how hard this is, so I'm not taking off for it at all; just saying that while you gained some points for the design of it all, you didn't get as many as you could have had you gone all the way with the theme.

Now, on to the iffy parts. The audio, as has been announced is pretty weak. Not just the sound, which might be from the recording, but in part from the delivery. I know you're not a pro actor or whatever, heh, but while I enjoyed the later bits of voiceover, the earlier parts sounded hollow and, well, boring. It was relatively drab compared to what was going on, which, in and of itself, wasn't much. This is actually my main criticism: not much happens. While I'm fine with there being not a big plot in the movie, (as I'm sure you're familiar if you've seen Redemption) I'd like to see some stuff happen.

While I know the source material has a sort of 'slow crawl' nature to it in its foreboding-ness, I think on film that you didn't *quite* capture it. You got close, but the pacing for me left me feeling sort of empty. Again, this is likely a product of Poe's original story, but I basically felt like I was watching scenes that were, at length, disengaging simply for the sake of being disengaging. The tension built up in the end, but it could've been built better for a larger portion of the movie.

In short, I think you could've captured the brimming tension and paranoia seen in more extreme Poe works like "The Telltale Heart" and "The Cask of Amontillado" and brought them to this particular story because, as it stands now, the movie itself if sort of dull. I really hope you don't take this the wrong way: the foray into drama was a bold start, as were the technical improvements. I just think you might need to refine what you can do to make your movie more compelling and emotional, even in subtlety.

Digressing, though I appreciated the technicals in the camera, the grading, and the contrast(!!!!), I do think there are a few things to be changed. The audio, as I mentioned briefly, could be brushed up. The rule of 180 degrees and the rule of thirds could be observed a bit more. These two generally fault each other in simple ways in 'The Sphinx', so it's not as big of a deal. Aperture could probably be adjusted better, as Tarn has stated, but again, this isn't the biggest deal either. I wouldn't use autoexposure, though, if it was used in a few shots that I suspected. Still not too big of a deal, but something to improve upon in the future.

All-in-all, a solid effort and a good entrance into a new genre. To be honest, I didn't particularly like it a whole lot, but I respect what you were trying to do.

For that, a 4/5.
Posted: Mon, 14th Apr 2008, 4:22am

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Coureur de Bois

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Ben,
You should include a brief synopsis of your "wall of text" posts at the beginning or the end. For, you know, people that can't be bothered to read the whole thing. wink
Posted: Mon, 14th Apr 2008, 4:26am

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ben3308

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I like to critically review things, that's generally what cinema movie threads are for.

You can read three people say similar things broadly for three posts, or you can read what I say specifically for one post. Equal length, different things to say. Take from it what you want, I just prefer to be specific so as to avoid misunderstanding. wink
Posted: Mon, 14th Apr 2008, 6:07am

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Aculag

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ben3308 wrote:

The FLV seems to be hit-or-miss for me, falling more on the 'miss' side.
This is the same thing that's been happening for me. Looking forward to a new version!
Posted: Mon, 14th Apr 2008, 9:56pm

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Evman

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Aculag wrote:

ben3308 wrote:

The FLV seems to be hit-or-miss for me, falling more on the 'miss' side.
This is the same thing that's been happening for me. Looking forward to a new version!
You needn't look forward any longer.

It seems that Tarn has posted the downloadable Quicktime file, so go ahead and enjoy!
Posted: Tue, 15th Apr 2008, 7:24am

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B3N

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This was pretty good, the start was possibly the best bit for me, less talking, more body language. Grading was alright and the camerawork was good, however there were some problems with the white balance but that could be something to work on for your next film. Sound was also an issue where there were some moments where the voices were quiet and some where it was quite loud. But nevertheless it was a great film to watch so, 4/5 wink

B3N
Posted: Wed, 16th Apr 2008, 11:01pm

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Aculag

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The biggest problem with this was the voiceover, and the out-of-period items, especially the car.

I feel like if you had done more updating of the text, and taken it further out of the period, it would have worked much better. The voiceover monologue seems very anachronistic when all we're seeing on screen are fairly modern amenities. Not much you can do to make it look REALLY period, so you may as well try to update the original work as much as possible, if you ask me. wink

I think I would have liked to hear some more background music in the whole thing, because it's pretty quiet for the most part. Even some ambient background noise would make the scenes a little more interesting.

Those are pretty much my only problems with it, other than some kinda iffy shots here and there (Lou's ECU, for example...), I definitely liked it. Not as much as other De-Ev stuff, but that's okay.

4/5

Edit: Also, Evan, when you get out of the car at the beginning, you look straight into the camera. Just thought I'd point that out. Heh.

Last edited Sat, 19th Apr 2008, 5:31am; edited 1 times in total.

Posted: Thu, 17th Apr 2008, 12:25am

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Bryce007

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ben3308 wrote:

All-in-all, a solid effort and a good entrance into a new genre. To be honest, I didn't particularly like it a whole lot, but I respect what you were trying to do
My thoughts exactly
Posted: Sat, 19th Apr 2008, 4:32pm

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jmax

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I enjoyed this. It did a good job of capturing the Poe-style twighlight-zoney mood. This is what I tried (and didn't come nearly as close) to do with my Hauntfest submission "The Case".
The things I didn't like about this were, as mentioned, the inconsistnancy of the appearance. In some shots, the color palette and lighting were excellent, and others looked far less polished. (Exposure, framing, and white balance issues) Some of the stand-out good ones were the afore-mentioned rising-and-dollying out shot as the pair stood by the window, and the VO'd shot of the messenger speaking of a recent deaths (great rim-light).
The ending totally got me. I think it was the slow-burn pacing up until that point that lulled me into a sense of security. Then that violin stab coupled with the revealing final shot... My heart really did skip a beat or two