I have no idea what phase cancellation is, but somehow Day 2 at this year’s FFF was full of phase cancellation–both literally and figuratively.
Robert Scott Wildes is an intense, up and coming filmmaker who reminds Number One Son of Ron Livingston. Imagine his excitement as he is selected as one of the 24 students of the prestigious AFI film school in California to make a short film. With his team of filmmakers he spends over a year helping to write the script, direct and edit the movie. The production is valued at over $60,000 worth of time and effort. He spends four months just mixing the sound. The title of the film is Thule. It’s his masterpiece–and it’s good. So good the movie gets accepted to screen at the prestigious Florida Film Festival. Robert flies 3000 to watch the audience react to, what is at this point in life, his crowning achievement.
Then something goes horribly wrong–phase cancellation.
Robert can’t believe it. At first, it’s a trickle. He knows there are violins playing during the opening credits. But as the movie begins, he can’t hear them. Then, it becomes a stream. The opening dialogue is missing. The audience can hear some of the sound–and it’s an impressive sound mix–but spoken words cannot be heard. Finally, it’s a deluge. Something is very, very wrong. The film the audience is watching is not the same film Robert shot.
I’m sitting in the theatre, exhausted. Last night’s final post was at 2am and today Number One Son and I are watching the first films of the day-Shorts Program #2. So far the films have been mediocre at best and I’m struggling to stay awake. SunnyStefani has not arrived yet.
The last film in the first shorts program we watch is Thule. The story revolves around an isolated Icelandic Air Base in 1962. The production elements are excellent and the sound effects are particularly striking–the howling wind, large clanking metal doors and shadowy blue lighting accurately convey the lonely, depressed isolation of this air base.
But I’m zoning out because there is limited dialogue and I can’t follow the story line. I assume it’s some novice director who seems to have mastered some technical elements but can’t put it all together into a cohesive story.
I scribble my short review of the film: Life on an isolated frigid Icelandic air base can be lonely and boring…and so can a movie about it.
I’m not an experienced enough film watcher to understand that something is wrong with the sound and I’m missing half the story–phase cancellation has occurred.
Meanwhile, SunnyStefani texts me. Shes lost on 527 and can’t find the theatre. She is new to town and I’m concerned. Between movies I try to discreetly text her directions but we are miscommunicating–phase cancellation of a different sort is occurring with LanceAround’s newest correspondent. She tries asking some locals for directions to the theatre but no one seems to know where it is. In frustration, she gives up and returns home.
Like the snow bound members of Air Base Thule, I’m on my own–phase cancellation seems to be the theme for today’s FFF experience.
As the film ends, Robert Scott Wildes comes up for Q&A. As he’s introduced, the FFF Staff member apologizes to the audience for the sound issues that occurred during the screening. It’s the first inkling I have that I did not see the movie that Robert made. Robert is gracious and tense. He offers to give everyone in the theatre a free copy of his movie.
Wow, what a generous offer. What’s going on here?
As a few more audience members ask questions and Robert explains, it slowly dawns on me how seriously this film got mangled. Then I think about Robert. He flew 3000 miles to come to this festival to watch a live audience appreciate his crowning achievement. It was his 15 minutes of fame. How must it have felt for things to have gone so terribly wrong? I can’t believe how polite and understanding he is. I would have been seething.
He is irritated, of course, but he has the good graces to not let it show. I introduce myself at the end of Q&A and ask him to get me a copy of his film. He promises to mail me one, but I tell him I’m posting later tonight and would like to screen his film. He says he’ll see what he can do. I doubt I’ll see him again tonight.
After the Q&A I run into Matt from the FFF. I ask about the sound issues and he tells me there was a phase cancellation. At this point, Bruce appears. He has done technical work for the FFF for many years. Like a patient school teacher, he tries to teach me about sound waves and the causes of phase cancellation. He explains that, in the end, he only had to turn one dial by about 10 degrees to solve the entire problem. But he does not discover this until after the shorts program.
His explanation is complex. I wish I understood it. He uses an example of being in a car and experiencing the subwoofer from the car beside you. To you, the thumping beat is disconcerting and the only thing you hear. This is what phase cancellation is like–you can only hear part of the sound. Inside the interior of the car beside you, all the sounds can be heard and the music plays as intended.
Similarly, the sound we heard in the theatre while watching Thule was like only hearing the subwoofer–in this case, we only heard a portion of the soundtrack, including some dialogue, which was mangled or missing.
I feel for Matt and Bruce. They work extremely hard during the FFF. For most of the shorts program, the sound was great. Once the problem was discovered, they worked tirelessly to solve it. It only took a few minutes, but by that time the damage was done. The rigorous schedule of the FFF and the disappearing audience made it impossible to go back and fix it for Robert.
It was like a Shakespearian tragedy playing out before us. Matt Bruce and Robert all fell victim to phase cancellation.
Here are today’s brief movie reviews from the first shorts programs I watched…
Shorts Program # 2: “Scales of Justice”
Inside Out-A screwball prison/therapist/family comedy. The audience seemed appreciative and laughed at all the right places. I thought the acting was so bad it almost made one miss the gaping holes in the script. It had a few moments, but not worth waiting for.
We’re Leaving-Pet alligator in a trailer park that’s closing down. What’s a pet lover to do?
La Aalle De Jeux (The Playroom)-Well crafted and well acted with an unexpected and delightful twist. Enjoyable cinematography.
Captain Fork-The very disturbing topic of killing one’s child puts a damper on what otherwise is an amusing and well made short.
After The Snow-Rough and gritty slice of life about rape and murder. Good production values compensate for a weak story.
Spider Fang-Two minutes reminiscent of an Ed Wood Film or a movie like The Tingler but, mercifully, it was two quick minutes that are worth seeing, but wouldn’t have been if it lasted any longer.
Thule-Life on an isolated, frigid Icelandic air base can be lonely and boring–and so can a movie about it…(Wait, that’s not the correct review of this film. For the correct review, please refer to what I wrote at the beginning and end of this post!)
Shorts Program #4: “Loves Me Not”
California Romanza-Well acted Christmas romance. Not very intricate, but enjoyable to watch.
Una Carrerita, Doctor! (A Doctor’s Job)-Engaging drama about an honest Doctor accidentally thrust into a dishonest world.
God of Love-Fun & entertaining. This one was a joy to watch. Competently filmed in black & white. Well constructed, funny & touching.
The Strange Ones-Disturbing tale of strangers with nefarious intentions. Well made, disturbingly so.
Ex-Sex-Tender, realistic & graphic exploration of sex with an ex, maybe not an ex, yea, ex.
The Candidate-Films like this one are what make the film festival so enjoyable. Great acting, well directed, tight script and good editing. Builds to a wonderful climax.
During the Q&A we meet director Julio Ramos and Art Director Andra Arce from A Doctor’s Job! They talk about the challenges of shooting a car scene in Julio’s native Peru and give insights into the story arc of the film.
David Karlak, director of The Candidate, also talks about his film. This is one of the best films we’ve seen so far at the festival. He says the film costs around $60,000.
I ask him how he was able to land such a well known actor as Robert Picardo. He says he called a talented casting agency who helped him secure the actors. He originally cast James Cromwell in the role, but James had to back out. Robert Picardo stepped in and was able to memorize all the dialogue in just two days! Robert gave a magnificent performance that really made the movie.
After watching the films, Number One Son and I are sitting outside the theatre enjoying a pizza. Suddenly, David Karlak comes by and we share some pizza together.
We discuss his film in depth, particularly the concept of Picardo’s character. I explain how, given the script, I would have nuanced Picardo’s character in a slightly less sinister, more angelic light. David impresses me by being open to the feedback, yet competently defends his crafting of the character. It’s a wonderful conversation that can only happen at a place like the Florida Film Festival.
But it gets better.
Along comes Robert Scott Wildes. He has rushed back to his hotel, burned several DVDs of Thule and goes out of his way to make sure I get a copy. Impressive.
He and his companion join Number One Son, David and myself and thus begins an hour long conversation about filmmaking. Shortly into the conversation, David excuses himself because he wants to go back into the theatre to watch the newly released The Lincoln Lawyer.
The remaining four of us begin bantering about actors and directors. Not surprisingly, we find we have a lot in common. We enjoy comparing notes. Robert says they want to go see the Bobby Fisher movie playing next at the Enzian. They were going to grab a cab, but we offer them a ride and continue the conversation all the way into the Enzian and the start of the next movie.
We talk about the sound mishap that happened during the screening of Thule. I advise Robert that if such a thing ever happens again, he needs to assert himself and stop the playing of his film. David is still with us during this part of the conversation and he agrees wholeheartedly. “You’re an artist and your artwork was mangled,” I point out. “You have the right for your art to be shown as intended.”
Later that night, despite being completely exhausted, I fulfill my promise to Robert and Number One Son and I watch his new cut DVD of Thule. I wish I could report on how much I love the movie. But I can’t. Not because I didn’t love it, but because now I have no objectivity left.
I find that I feel so badly about Robert’s experience that I can’t help but want for this movie to succeed. Instead, I decide to be honest in my blogpost–Robert has worked hard to complete his film and had a very disappointing night. I would like to see my readers reach out to him with encouragement. Find the movie Thule. Order it, email Robert, tell him how much we need to support budding, young, energetic filmmakers like him!
The night ends with another delicious meal at the Enzian while I watch The Bowler short followed by Bobby Fisher Against the World.
The short was a charming enough documentary about a bowling hustler. The subject was actually in the audience. During the subsequent Q&A it was obvious that the filmgoers enjoyed his eccentricities in person as much as in the movie.
Bobby Fisher Against the World was a fine documentary chronicling the life of the most famous chess player in the world. Having risen to American champion at the unheard of age of 17, Bobby made history by defeating the Russian champion in 1972.
The movie explored the darker side of genius as Bobby’s erratic complaints about the lighting, cameras, etc. and his missing several matches as he simply disappeared gave some insight into his psychological struggles. In the end, he became quite reclusive and anti-Semitic. A powerful scene was a replay of his unprompted call to a radio station just after the terror attacks on the World Trade Center where he lauded the attacks as something that America deserved.
The film was informative, well scripted, well paced and very enlightening. I hope you get a chance to see it.