How to Find Royalty Free Music That Doesn’t Suck

If you’ve ever been a film school student or a no-budget independent filmmaker, then you know the pain. Finding high quality music to fit your movie for free is darn near impossible.

God bless Kevin MacCleod, but if I hear “Sneaky Snitch” in one more short film I’m going to throw something.

Before you get started on the journey of including royalty free music, be sure you understand the laws surrounding creative commons and licensed music. Every artist may have different stipulations for the use of their music in your film; many of them refuse it for commercial use (you would make a monetary profit from the video) and almost all will require you to credit their work.

“Royalty free music” does NOT always mean “free to use.”

Please have a firm understanding of what is required of you in using the artist’s piece before including it in your film. When in doubt, contact the artist and ask them directly.

Here’s a list of resources for your own short films and videos to help fill it out and bring it to life.

1. Incompetech

I literally warned you about “Sneaky Snitch” two seconds ago, however there’s no denying Kevin MacCleod’s music is iconic to the fledgling filmmaker. It can also be a great introduction into the world of royalty-free music for film. If you’ve never used any of his music, check it out!

However, don’t be surprised when you hear it in every other student short film known to humankind.

2. Free Music Archive

With a wide variety of music, some with lyrics and some without, this is a great one stop shop for all your royalty free music needs. All the music is free to download and easy to use. It has a great search engine to better find the kind of music you’re looking for.

Also, if you’re an up-and-coming composer, you can upload your works to this website for filmmakers (or whoever) to download.

However, like every royalty free music site, you really need to invest some time in separating the wheat from the chaff in terms of quality.

3. Bensound

Another website similar in style to Free Music Archive, but with a more limited library, Bensound is filled with royalty free music by French composer Ben Tissot. There is some great work on this site, but much like Kevin MacCleod’s works don’t be surprised to hear it in several other short films and videos.

4. YouTube Channels

Currently, YouTube provides me with the best royalty-free music on the internet, particularly if I’m looking for anything remotely resembling trap/club music.

You can find music one of two ways:

  • Look through the audio library and download the song you like directly from YouTube
  • Search YouTube the old fashioned way, find a channel with great royalty free music, and follow the channel’s instructions to download the track you like. Channels like RoyalTrax, AudioLibrary, and Argofox are great places to start.

You’ll find some familiar faces hanging out on YouTube as well (Bensound & Kevin MacCleod). The only downsides to using YouTube as a source are:

  1. It can be a complicated process downloading the track you like.
  2. Finding the specific style of music you’re looking for can be a bit more complicated than some of the other sites.

A FEW MORE OPTIONS….

Now before you start a download frenzy with the above listed resources, here are a few more options to think about.

5. Hire a Local, Up and Coming Composer For Free

Of all of the roles in film production, I’ve never had a group of people literally throw themselves at me like film composers. 60% of the messages we get as a production company asking for an opportunity are composers. I’m not kidding or exaggerating (if anything I lowballed the percentage).

There are people out there who are looking for a chance to score a film. Ask for their samples of previous works, and if you like what you hear, then you’re able to help them out as well as yourself.

6. Ask Your Musically Talented Friends to Help You

Other than downloading music from the interwebs, this is my go-to for finding music for my projects. Being a creative, I have no shortage of friends who are musical geniuses who have yet to make a break into the business.

They often appreciate the opportunity to stretch themselves in creating something, as much as I appreciate receiving some great music for my film.

Be sure to ask a friend however who is open to constructive feedback and direction. You don’t want to ruin a great relationship over a short film.

7. Audiojungle

If I find myself in a pinch, I bite the bullet and purchase a song from this comprehensive music library.

While there is plenty of mediocre music on the site, there is just as much of good quality. I’ve never been disappointed by a track I’ve downloaded, and to date I’ve never paid more than $20AUD for a track.

There is some great music out there, free for you to use. Happy hunting everyone, and don’t be afraid to find creative solutions.

 

Written by Brenden Bell.

“The Expanse” Will Make You Feel Lost In Space

BY KEATON J. EVANS

Netflix’s new show, The Expanse, is extraordinary, visually stunning, and has a gritty, realistic look which makes the show quite unique and creative when compared to other sci-fi shows.

There’s a lot going on right off the bat, with colonies across the solar system, a futuristic Earth, a militant Mars, and plenty of water shortage on some smaller worlds. I would say there’s a lot going for the show.

This being said, there are also a few things which the show isn’t so great at doing. Below are some thing it does well and some things where it misses the mark. All points considered, you’ll feel lost in space watching this show.

Now whether that’s a good or bad thing is up to you.

The Worlds Are Incredible

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The production quality is the shows number one quality, hands down. The worlds and ships they show glisten with details and have almost a Blade Runner vibe especially on the Asteroid colonies.

The show also hits well on the realities of space and what could go wrong. One example, is the water shortage on the asteroid belt. There’s moments where shipments of ice are delayed and the people on the belt suffer because of it. It goes even farther to point out that if a second shipment is delayed then people will die.

It was refreshing to see so much thought put into the mechanics of world outside of earth, and see the messy reality, and complications which could arise. The visual aspects of the worlds and the realism they present are both excellent.

Seeing all these real intricate worlds allows you to get lost in them, a feeling which was a pleasant surprise.

Wait, Who Are These People?

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After watching The Expanse, I noticed the one thing I didn’t quite like: the character development. Probably the weakest aspect of the film. While the production design is quite superb, the characters fall short, especially in the beginning.

I thought about why this was. The characters are interesting enough, they live in incredible worlds, and the plot is good, so what gives. Well, here’s the deal. While the characters may be interesting, it’s hard to know because they rush the character development.

It feels like we are supposed to know who these people are as soon as we see the first shot. It almost seems like the beginning of the show is the middle of a show. Now, there is development of the characters, a little.

But for the most part, all the introductions are rushed and end up leaving you feeling  little connection with the people you are watching. I think to myself, “A spaceship explodes and people might die! Oh no! Wait, who are these people?”

If they want the events to hold any weight, they need to let us get to know the characters, and then put them into dangerous life-threatening situations, or we won’t care.

If you feel stranded and not quite sure how to feel then don’t worry, it’s an effect of rushed character intros.

Feeling Lost Could Be Either Good or Bad

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Both the best qualities of the show and the worst qualities of the show will make you feel lost. But which feeling sticks with you? Does the production design and visuals carry you through the hard-to-know characters, or do you feel not knowing the characters takes you out of the show?

Either way, it’s an inspiration to anyone who wants to make a science-fiction show.

Gavin Hood – Practical Advice and Inspiration from Eye In The Sky Director

Gavin Hood is climbing the ranks in the film industry, having directed some popular movies with tenacious morale.

I first noticed him after watching Eye in the Sky, which is about the disputes of modern warfare. I was thoroughly impressed. I don’t remember the last time I was on the edge of my seat for the duration of an entire movie. When I realized he’s a fellow South-African, I was intrigued even more – I have to admit I’m a bit biased…

The more I found out about him, the more reasons I found to acknowledge him and his work.

Gavin Hood is the kind of filmmaker who is in the business for the right reasons.

He is driven to create current and applicable content which is entertaining at the same time. When asked why he chose to direct Eye in the Sky, he commented: “It’s completely current and it’s about what’s really happening in modern warfare and it has elements of black comedy and farce that are grounded in real life.”

His choice to cast Helen Mirren (the role was intended for a male lead) as Colonel Katherine Powell was very strategic. He didn’t want to box the movie in as a war movie for guys.

He recounts saying, “I want it to be a movie about war but that it’s a conversation starter for men and women about a subject matter that I think is very topical.”

He’s also a filmmaker who works extremely hard to get where he is right now. When asked to give advice to aspiring filmmakers, he shared, “Unfortunately, […] there’s this notion that you can become famous and rich very quickly. It’s a curse I think. […]

The way you make it is by getting good at making films.

There’s no shortcut; just study the craft and practise and hopefully you’ll eventually connect with an audience. And if you don’t connect with an audience, you won’t have a career in this business.”

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It took a while for him to gain international recognition. Even though he wanted to be an actor, he followed his father’s advice and “took his big mouth and studied law” though he only practiced it for 4 months. He was already 30 when he actually started studying screenwriting, cinematography and directing.

Although he knew he was always going to go into film, he doesn’t regret having studied law, instead he recalls, “it trained me in terms of thinking and story and conflict and moral and ethical questions.”

He continually emphasizes the importance of making films in order to connect with your audience. He himself is drawn to stories compelling him to think. “I personally, with my background of being a lawyer and growing up in the turbulent times of the 80’s in South-Africa, I tend to be drawn to […] stories that somehow challenge me in a moral or ethical way.

“Don’t tell me what to think, but present me with something morally or ethically challenging.”

He started small by making short films; The Storekeeper was one I remember seeing in Middle School. It left a big impression on me, not only because of the dilemma it presents, but because it was so close to home. It was a South-African story which could be understood universally.

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This is another thing I appreciate about him; he bloomed where he was planted. He started where he was and then expanded, instead of limiting himself to the small South-African film industry.

Tsotsi was his breakthrough film which garnered him an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2006 – a film I highly recommend by the way…

It was again, an authentic story, but one exploring universal humanity.  

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“I really believe that we focus so much on differences and not enough on similarities. Most people, on a very basic level, have surprisingly similar needs. The need for companionship, dignity, love. And when these basic needs are not met, you find individuals developing a very distorted sense of the world.”

By now, he has other popular movies under his belt like Ender’s Game, X-Men Origins: Wolverine and Rendition.

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I celebrate people like Gavin Hood and believe there are many more like him out there who we simply need to discover.

Fellow filmmakers and actors, let us strive and work hard to tell stories worth telling. Stories that challenge people in their thinking to fight passivity.

Gavin Hood, I thank you for being an inspiration and persisting with a tenacious and creative spirit – all the best to you for your future projects!

Written by Annette Lange.

How to Discover the Subtext of a Script

BY KEATON J. EVANS

Subtext is arguably the most important focus for actors to grasp in their acting. The iceberg serves as a simplistic illustration, showing the subtext as the majority of ice which lays underneath the surface or words of the script.

The most common mistake for actors to make is to cling onto the top portion and go off the words alone. As soon as we read a script we figure out how the words should sound, instead of finding out the “why” behind the words. The “why” behind our actions.

This is how you find the why, and why it is so important.

There’s a million ways to say “hello”

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An example of subtext and not reading it comes from the classic line in a ton of scripts: “Hello”. Now here’s the scene: Jim meets Pamela at a train station and says the greeting.

Without digging and looking into the subtext of the scene, I would say hello like a greeting. That would naturally be the first thought most people have when they see the word. However, oops! plot twist. The “Hello” line was really a code to signal the sniper to hold their fire and spare the life of Pamela.

Thing is I would never know this just reading the line, I would need to do some digging to find the juicy piece of subtext meat. Here’s how.

Do some digging and ask the tough questions

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The best thing you can do in order to find subtext is by asking a bunch of questions. Ask questions about your character, about the circumstance, the relationships between the characters, and your motivations and goals.

To find out what’s really going on underneath the scene you need to comprehend how things actually work in life.

Using substitution will aid you in understanding the subtext of a scene. How would you personally react in this scene, or in these particular circumstances? Have you ever experienced something like this?

For example, I was workshopping a scene from the movie Wall Street, as part of a university project, and the subtext of the scene included the themes of betrayal and hurt between the characters. The girl and guy were previously in a relationship but now they differ when it comes to their work.

I thought about how I reacted when I felt betrayed by someone, similar to the guy in the scene, and it really helped me.

The hidden gem is your foundation

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From my personal experiences, I learned when you study the subtext and marry it with the physical action in the scene, you will remember your lines like there’s no tomorrow.

Here’s another thing to remember: when you’re in the scene you must trust the subtext you studied will remain with you during the scene. Let your focus be on the other people in the scene and what you’re doing and let go of the subtext. It’ll stay with you as you practice living in the moment.

The subtext, once learned, will be your foundation. Once you know the why, everything else will start to piece together.

Subtext is vital to learn. Don’t rush the process of studying your script, but ask the hard questions. It’ll take time to figure out what’s going on in a particular scene, it’ll take a little digging.

But the digging is worth it when you find out the precious subtext in the end. To me, finding the subtext in a scene is like finding buried treasure. It’s a precious gem just waiting to be discovered.

Subtext should act as your support. Don’t look to your words for your support. When you focus on the lines, they will try their hardest to escape you. But when you focus on the why of the scene, and everything that’s going on underneath the surface, you’ll find your anchor, and it will make a world of difference.

Actors, I cannot stress it enough: discover the subtext!

 

Anatomy of the Best Loglines

Knowing where to start in the creative process of writing can be daunting for a first time filmmaker. I know it was for me. I’ve tried building a story around every possible thing imaginable, and I found Blake Snyder’s longline method from his infamous book, Save the Cat, to be the most effective.

His argument centers around starting your writing process by creating something called a logline (your entire movie summarized in a sentence). He would say, if you can’t do this in a compelling way from the start, then you don’t have a story worth telling.

Many of you more seasoned writers may find this approach “formulaic,” however for writers starting out, this is a great place to begin.  

Ingredients for the best logline:

  • One Character
  • One Goal
  • One Source of Conflict with a dash of Irony

In short what you will be creating is the following equation:

Your hero is going for their goal, but something ironic happens to stop them.

If you cannot put your story within this simple formula, then perhaps your story is too complicated, OR missing a crucial element.

FOR EXAMPLE:

Disgraced pilot, E. Ripley is left with PTSD after her encounter with the xenomorph and tries to rebuild a life for herself. However, when a human colony is overrun with xenomorphs, Ripley may be their only hope.

From the film Aliens

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Element 1: Establish Your Hero

The first step is to insert your main character into your logline. This isn’t a place to go into great detail on their backstory; all that’s needed are one or two descriptive words. Sometimes the scenario they find themselves in is sufficient enough information.

As Blake Snyder says, you want to paint a clear enough picture in the minds of those who will hear your logline. They need to be able to see where your story is going. This includes who your character is.

In my example, I defined Ellen Ripley as a disgraced pilot with PTSD. We know she’s an underdog, and it will be easy for the audience to get behind her.

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Element 2: Establish Your Hero’s Goal

The next step is to show what the character is trying to accomplish before they are confronted by the story’s major conflict.

In Vertigo, Scottie is investigating Madeline for her husband (his goal) before he begins to fall in love with her (the conflict).

In Beauty and the Beast, Belle wants more than what her small town has to offer (goal) before she is held prisoner in an enchanted castle (the conflict).

Sometimes the goal can be something more passive, or simply keeping the status quo. For example, in Toy Story, Woody isn’t actively trying to do something new, but is enjoying the “status quo” of being the toy on top.

Don’t just tell us WHO your character is, but where we find them at the start of the story.

For Ellen Ripley, I have her trying to rebuild a life for herself.

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Element 3: Conflict with a Dash of Irony

Lastly, we introduce our story’s major source of conflict into the logline.

This is where people tend to struggle the most, either because they realize they have no real source of conflict throughout their story. Even if they do it’s lacking the crucial element of irony which gives a story it’s hook, edge, or bite.

Conflict is truly what starts your story and what moves it forward. Without this element, there is no story.

In my example from Aliens, the conflict comes from the xenomorphs overtaking a colony, forcing the corporation to turn to Ripley for help.

It’s conflict, because it’s both stopping her from starting a new life, while giving her an opportunity to gain her old life back.

Irony?

Before I explain how irony comes to play in this equation, let me explain what irony IS. There are two forms of irony: situational and irony of fate. Situational irony is when events defy expectations, while irony of fate is when it seems the gods, fate, the universe, etc are toying with humanity for their own amusement.

Situational irony would be getting robbed by a police officer (an amoral act practiced by someone who is sent out to stop such behavior). Jesus being crucified by the very people he was to save is another great example of situational irony. Both examples play on your expectations and subvert them.

Irony of fate is when something occurs with lasting consequence beyond a specific situation. A former athlete who is now paralyzed is an example of irony of fate. Beethoven, one of the world’s greatest composers lost his hearing. He can no longer hear the beautiful music he puts out into the world. Irony of fate.

Irony is all about subverting our expectations in an effort to hook us.

The irony in Aliens is drawn mostly from the situation Ripley finds herself in; she was seen as a pariah and a liability by the company at the start of the film, and becomes the very person who could save them.

That’s irony.

There’s no right way to go through the writing process, but by beginning with a logline my writing has grown simpler and stronger. I hope it helps you on your own writing journey. For more great film advice, check out Blake Snyder’s book, Save the Cat.

Written by Brenden Bell.

 

Top 10 Movies Every Actor Should Watch and Why

BY ANNETTE LANGE

Who hasn’t deeply been touched by beautiful cinematography, amazing performances by actors and successful adaptations of extremely creative and ingenious screenwriting?

Films speak to everyone on a deep, personal level. They reveal, celebrate and criticize humanity and are therefore a powerful tool.

If you’re an actor, you’re probably driven by the same desire to tell stories worth telling. I’ve compiled a list of movies that will challenge, inspire and help you in your endeavour to become a better actor.

1. Sophie’s Choice

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There are so many reasons to watch this film, if you haven’t already. Pay close attention to Meryl Streep and Kevin Kline’s performances. Their characters are so multifaceted, complicated and emotional, and both are able to portray them convincingly. Streep nailed not only the Polish accent when speaking English but also when she spoke German.

2. Wall-e

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This movie is an excellent reminder of the importance of story. The immense impact this film has on the audience is incredible. The actor is not the most important part – the story is. And it can be told without words. Films should be made to create a connection with the audience. The actors are merely servants of the director who carries the vision.

3. The Descendants

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In this film, director Alexander Payne chose to leave the camera on the cast longer than what would be a good point to yell ‘cut’. It’s fascinating to see how the actors explore this opportunity. You often hear the saying ‘the magic happens outside of our comfort zone’ and this is a perfect example.

4. Drinking Buddies

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Drinking Buddies is an example of successful mumblecore. What this means is, the performances are natural and more realistic because there are guidelines instead of scripted dialogue. Watching this will inspire you to really listen and react to your scene partner and see what happens. Don’t be scared of improvisation, it’s a breeding ground for magic to happen.

5. La Vie En Rose

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Marion Cotillard’s performance blew me away when I saw this film. No wonder it garnered her an Oscar. Her commitment and dedication to portraying Edith Piaf is inspirational. It’s a perfect example of Ugly Acting. She does not look flattering in her performance, she masters the degression of age and sickness and makes very bold character choices. I’m a strong proponent for watching foreign films as well, and to start with La Vie en Rose is an excellent choice.

6. Bronson

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Confidence is a key lesson that improved my acting, and Tom Hardy’s confidence in this movie is incredible. He seems to have completely forgotten the camera. His performance is raw and unforgiving. Also, Bronson is just one bizarre human being, and to understand his psyche and wrestle with the character development must have been a challenge.

7. Sunset Boulevard

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This is a classic black comedy and, even though it is an oldie, it still shows the ‘behind the scenes’ of Hollywood/Stardom quite plainly. It shows the extent and consequence of Norma Desmond’s love for fame, herself and greed. Stardom is fleeting, the fruit of pride is disgusting. Mommy Dearest explores this topic as well. It is definitely a topic every actor needs to grapple with for their personal life.

8. Singin’ in the Rain

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Whether you are fan of musicals or not, you must have seen this movie at least once. Film is first and foremost entertainment and should appeal to your audience. Gene Kelly is a wonderful example for his standard of excellence. Only dreaming for a breakthrough in acting will just continue to be a dream if you don’t work on your craft.

9. Amadeus

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Amadeus discusses many topics worth mentioning. But what struck me while watching the movie was observing how both Mozart and Salieri failed to steward their talents well and as a result, both their lives end tragically. Instead of composing for the love of music and others, Salieri chose to let comparison and jealousy get the best of him. And Mozart indulges so much in the futile pleasures of life, it results in a disgraceful death.

10. Kramer vs Kramer

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What’s fascinating about this movie is, it refuses to take sides. Humans are intricate, complicated beings. Their personalities and decisions change. There isn’t always a black and white, right or wrong. The focus is not on the child who suffers from his parents’ divorce, but on the ‘grown-ups’ who cry out for just as much attention and identity as the child does.

Read Roger Ebert’s review for a further exploration of the film.

Bear in mind

This is a very limited list and not ranked in any way from best to worst or vice versa.

My advice to you – watch ‘em all. But be strategic with your choice of movies. Watch good ones, watch bad ones, popular movies and unpopular ones, independent and foreign ones – but watch them all with a healthy dose of skepticism and awareness and take away from them what you can and apply to your own craft.

How to Decide if a Movie is Good or Bad

Written by Brenden Bell.

There are so many creative and wonderful films out there; some we love and some we hate. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference. What makes a movie good? What makes it bad?

If you’re confused, this article is for you. I’m going to give you some practical tools to assess a film based on both subjective and objective factors, and then take you through a film so you’ll be comfortable doing this yourself in private.

Download the worksheet here as a PDF: An Objective Journey into Subjectivity.

Then, follow along as we learn how to decide if we think a movie is good or not. The analysis of the film is based on a point system. Each positive answer is given one point, while negative answers are given zero points. The final section asks you to rate your answer on a scale of 1-5; the point value is equal to this scale.

If a movie got more than 16 points it’s probably a movie you’re ok with watching, more than 21 then it’s probably a good film. More than 30?? Probably an all time favorite for you.

Let’s test it shall we?

I’m going to take you through it with one of my least favorite films: The Phantom Menace.

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Our first step is to fill in the information in the text box in the left corner of the worksheet. You’ll reference back to these as needed.

If you’re confused about how to tell who your main character is, it’s usually the character who is the most changed at the end of the film.

The theme/thematic material is the big idea behind the film; the idea the filmmaker wants you to take away from the film. If you’re still confused, check out this blog to explain it a bit more.

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Once this is done you can move on to the next several sections of questions; you want to answer as honestly and fairly as you can. They revolve around story, character and theme.

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  • the first question refers to your ability to write the story in a sentence from the previous section. If you’re unable to do so simply (as I was for this movie, then the answer is no). The rest are fairly self-explanatory.
  • The next two sections play fairly similarly, both with one question taken from the information you gave in the first written portion.

The next section of questions is a bit more objective, focusing in on the artistry/craftsmanship involved in the various departments involved in the filmmaking process. Movies you love can be made poorly, and films you hate can have good aspects to them. This section helps add a bit of objectivity to your subjective opinion of a film.

Rather than YES/NO the positive distinction is HELP while the negative distinction is DISTRACT. Ask yourself, did the following aspects of filmmaking HELP tell the story, or did they DISTRACT from the story and feel out of place? If you didn’t notice either way, then you can assume they were natural and helped tell the story.

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For this section, when I had mixed feelings (such as production design), I decided to go positive. Your levels of grace and compassion are totally up to you.

The last section, and perhaps the most important. There is always a part of a movie for me which is indescribable and separate from the story, and other elements of filmmaking. I call this… THE X-FACTOR.

Ultimately, this section is a way to measure how much this film resonates with you on a personal level. A movie can be poorly made but resonate with you, causing you to generally enjoy it as a result. A movie can be executed brilliantly from a technical standpoint, but if it doesn’t resonate with you, then it’s not going to become one of your favorites.

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  • Each section should be filled out on a scale of 0 – 5: 0 meaning not in the slightest, and 5 meaning absolutely.
  • For the final question in this section, the emotion I am referring to should stem from the story and the contents therein, and should be divorced from poor quality in filmmaking or storytelling. If you’re angry at poor quality, then the answer would be no. If you’re angry because of the subject matter or the character’s choices or how the story turned out, then this film had an impact on you and the answer is yes… and is something you should unpack.

Final score for The Phantom Menace? …5/32.

According to my scale this means I “absolutely hate this movie to the point of offense.” This test is pretty accurate.

Now you try; think of a movie you’re unsure how you feel about and run it through this test.

Perhaps you’ll learn it’s a good film but you just didn’t connect with it emotionally. Try out a few different popular movies or some not so popular ones and let us know what points you gave them in the comments below.