It seems an opportune time to look back and dissect a particular aspect of our latest movie effort "Death in Venice". One decision that I personally believe to be crucial in setting the tone and mood was made about halfway - a month into production. At this time we had completed the first half of the movie, each scene separately filmed and connected to each other only in our minds. It was time to string these scenes together and see what beast we had created.
Our earlier mindset with the 10-20 minutes machinima "shorts" had been that the story had to be as efficient as possible. Kate crafted this script in 2006 which was lean and mean, in the sense that the information was fed to the viewer regularly and at an accelerated pace when compared to regular feature films. We were indeed cramming a lot of background information in a short period of time (e.g., five flashbacks within ten minutes), and expecting the viewers to keep up. Would this approach work?
In some movies in the past we plead to being guilty of information overload and expecting much from viewers. This is not a decision we've made casually, and it is one that we have debated and sometimes reverted. In case of "Death in Venice", we ended up slowing the pace for the first half of the movie to give the viewers a chance to breathe and catch up. The background information is necessary but it can be tasking. After all, this is the fragile point at which the viewer is still developing a connection with the characters and an understanding of the plot. Did our efforts fall short? It depends on who is watching and the attention they are granting the movie. It depends on the environment it is consumed in - low-end speakers or headphones, full screen or not, the bandwidth of the stream (or whether it is a download), the display monitor. These factors are out of our control, but we have to strive for balance and make a serious attempt at pleasing most viewers. The truth is, I cannot tell whether we succeeded or not, as I cannot watch this movie unspoiled as if for the first time. But I am glad we made the attempt.
Making a movie that doesn't connect to viewers can be a self-absorbed exercise in narcisism. At the same time, a 20-minutes drama machinima is not yet an established medium, one that some people still doubt even exists. I think of this movie making experience as an iterative and incremental experiment in which audience and filmmakers consciously or subconsciously adjust to each other, and meet in the middle where expectations are met and a connection is finally realized. "Death in Venice" was hopefully a step in the right direction for us.