Two free open-source movies

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This week I finally learned how to use Bit Torrent, and I downloaded two free-licensed open-source movies: Elephants Dream by the Orange Project and The Boy Who Never Slept by Solomon Rothmon (who is credited as Producer, Writer, Director, and who plays the title role). Both are interesting as first ventures into free-licensed open-source filmmaking, but the contrasts are more striking than the similarities, both technically and aesthetically.

The Boy Who Never Slept

I think you should realize that as an early venture into FLOS filmmaking, I really wanted to like this film. So when I say “It sucked", I really, really mean it!

In almost every aesthetic way, the film was just awful. I really suffered to sit through the whole thing. Right up to the voice over the final credits that notes (quite rightly) that if you didn’t enjoy it, well, at least it was free.

Seriously, though, the mere existence of this film, the fact that I can download and watch it, and the fact that all of the source material is there in case I wanted to try to improve on it, is all amazing stuff. It’s also true that this was shot on a $200 budget, which puts it well below the league of such illustrious filmmakers as Ed Wood (famous for Plan 9 from Outer Space, which is widely regarded as “the worst film ever released").

Given these kinds of limitations, making comparisons to “real" films is somewhat unfair. It’s almost like criticizing a child’s drawings because they fall short of Leonardo da Vinci. I know this, and I apologize up front. But releasing the film the way Rothman has done implies opening it up to direct and uncompromising criticism, and that’s what I’m going to do. But I want you to know that I feel empathy for the filmmaker and I respect what he’s trying to do by releasing the film in this way.

Certainly, the problems with the film, apart from those directly attributable to the budget, do not stem from the nature of the licensing. Indeed, many bad (probably worse) proprietary films have been made. The miracle is that such an unreviewed, unvetted film could even get onto my hard drive to view. That’s for two reasons here: 1) the nature of free-licensed distribution makes it relatively easy and makes it so I have little to lose by acquiring it and 2) the rarity of such films makes it stand out for novelty value.

The sordid and offensive plot

The film really ought to be called “Portrait of a Pathetic Internet Predator", since, in the end, it comes off as slightly incoherent advocacy for sexual irresponsibility and sleeping with underage girls. That would be the “offensive" part: the main character, who is presented in a sympathetic light and has all the earmarks of an “author avatar" is a criminal and immoral sex offender. By the end of this film, he belongs in jail. The fact that he is let off the hook strikes me as a miscarriage of justice, and a case of wish-fulfillment for the would-be offender. I seriously hope that, despite various autobiographical overtones, this story is fictional!

Fortunately, the film is so poorly written, directed, filmed, and acted that the apparent intent of the film as an apology for statutory rape is highly diluted.

It claims to be a “Sexy Dramatic Comedy" about “an unlikely love affair", but it contains neither real drama nor real comedy, being instead a dreary depiction of mediocre and unconvincing characters meeting in an “internet chat room" and having a purely superficial relationship, apparently because the man is a totally irresponsible loser who no adult woman would give the time of day to and the equally irresponsible girl is too young to know any better (and has very lax parents). Technically there is sex, but it’s not very sexy.

The parents do find out in the storyline, which is something of a relief. But only after we’ve already been through the sex and the close call with pregnancy. Daniel breaks through his writers block by writing a film script about the relationship and trying to get it approved. He doesn’t even bother to change the names though, and the script falls into the hands of Melissa’s father. Nevermind the implausibility of this coincidence, the real kicker is that after unmasking this, Daniel shows up and attempts to convince Melissa’s parents that it’s really “true love" and that they shouldn’t prosecute him for his crimes. He’s successful, and the film ends with Daniel in a business suit continuing his IRC relationship with Melissa.

La Nuit Americain ... NOT!

Now we come to the actual filmmaking.

This “film" is actually a video, apparently shot on a consumer CCD digital video camera. Now, if you’ve ever used one of these, you know that the CCD chip has a somewhat limited dynamic range—you can’t film very well in low light. The CCD response gets very slow and noisy, and you get artifacts.

Rothman doesn’t let this faze him, however—he just keeps on filming in the dark. So, I’m going to suggest to all you budding video filmmakers out there that you learn one of the oldest tricks in the book, called “La Nuit Americain" or “Day for Night". It’s really very simple: you shoot in sufficient light for your camera, then you either stop-down (as in the original technique) or you digitally tone the result (which is likely to be both more effective and easier with digital video). I haven’t actually investigated how to do digital toning on a PC editing system, but I’m sure this is well within the capabilities of CinePaint (a free-licensed GIMP variant designed for film work).

Had he done this, his night and darkened room scenes might have been comprehensible. As it is, however, they involve a lot of vague, possibly-human shapes milling about amidst static and MPEG artifacts.

Post-dubbing would be nice

Much of the original video sound was actually unusable. But Rothman uses it anyway.

When this happens on real movies, they “post-dub" the lines: you either play the original sound into the actor’s earphones or you let them watch the video, and they re-deliver the lines, synchronizing as much as possible with their lips (or the original delivery). It’s sometimes called “mickey-mousing" because it’s how cartoon voices are recorded (ironically, Disney usually does it the other way around, these days in order to capture actors’ ad lib performances better, although post-dubbing is still the prefered technique in Japan).

This would be a relatively easy thing for Rothman to fix if he can find the actors, since it’s post-production work. It wouldn’t be easy for anyone else, though, because they wouldn’t match the actors’ voices. You’d have to dub the entire movie if you wanted to fix this. This is one of many technical reasons why open-source doesn’t work as well for filmmaking as it does in software.

More substantial problems

Aside from these merely technical foibles, however, there are bigger problems. The script is poorly written. There is little characterization, and many character questions remain not only unanswered, but apparently unconsidered: who are Daniel’s parents? What does he do for a living? He can’t possibly be what he claims to be, which is a “writer", because he obviously can’t write. I find it highly implausible that he can be the kind of person who chats on IRC for entertainment, but prints in a spiral notebook when he wants to write.

I’ve met people like this, but they aren’t writers. They’re people who want to think of themselves as writers because they think it impresses girls. Now if Rothman were to play that angle up, he might’ve had something, but it’s all too obvious that this irony was not intentional.

The directing is better than the writing, but the cinematography is singularly unimaginative. It does manage to communicate the plot, but with no panache, nothing interesting to hold your eye. It might as well be an instructional video. In particular, it is mind-numbingly explicit in detail. Daniel and Melissa have an IRC conversation in essentially realtime, with each line voiced over as the character thinks about it, and then displayed by the cunning film technique of videoing the monitor in an oblique close-up. This would be less painful if the conversation itself held any interest, but it actually manages to be lower content than most randomly-selected IRC conversations between teenagers who have nothing of interest to say to each other. Daniel immediately steers the conversation to sexual issues, and Melissa totally fails to be alarmed by this, giving out her home address and phone number as if that were a perfectly normal thing to do with a stranger online.

I was somewhat relieved that there was no actual “sex scene" in the film, that might’ve been a bit too much to take. It is of course, a resort of some filmmakers to play up the prurient aspects of their film if they can’t actually make the film any good. Rothman thankfully avoids this pitfall.

Melissa is obviously a complete wish-fulfillment character. The story makes no sense from her point of view. Daniel is supposed to woo her with poetry, but it’s pretty unconvincing. And it’s quite hard to understand what she’s getting out of this relationship. Certainly if Daniel really liked her all that much, he ought to be willing to sustain the relationship until she reaches the minimum legal age of consent. You’d think so if this is “true love" as he keeps trying to convince us.

Ah... but it’s open source

Then, there’s the interesting part. This film is open-source (not just free-licensed!), so there is a download of the entire film footage, audio voiceovers, and music that was used in making the film. That means that anything that can be done in the editing and post-production phase can be re-visited by others. I could, if I have so many complaints about the film, fix it.

Several ideas did occur to me. The first was that the cut is extremely loose and boring. Maybe the subject matter could be made interesting just by cutting it down to 10 or 15 minutes of film?

As direct storyline, this script is both unconvincing and pretty creepy. You could turn that on its head by using it ironically. For example, what would this look like if re-cut with an ominous over-dubbed voice talking about the “evils of internet chat rooms"? Done that way, you could go “too far" to the other extreme and wind up with a pretty funny remix, along the lines of “Reckless Youth" skit in Amazon Women on the Moon (Carrie Fisher plays a young woman who falls into “bad company", in 50’s educational film style with ominous narrator warning about the dangers of “wild parties" and “social diseases").

It might make a halfway decent music video.

The girl playing Melissa doesn’t actually look 16. We could just snip that detail right out of the story and make Daniel not quite so creepy. Sure the “hard-hitting dialog" with Melissa’s parents at the end would be lost. But it wasn’t any good anyway (As a father myself, I can assure you that Daniel would’ve needed severe reconstructive surgery by about 15 seconds into this scene. He’s just not as charming as he obviously thinks he is—the scene as written is completely unrealistic!).

One of the problems with “fixing" the film, though is that, unlike a textual work such as a program or a book, a live-action films is composed of performances by live actors. As such, the recipient of the work is already at an immediate disadvantage. No matter how good a director I am, I can’t get Rothman to re-do any of his lines. I can’t fix bad writing or bad acting or even most of the directing (the part that happens during production). The kind of thing you can do is more like “sampling" than improvement of the work.

Brilliant production and marketing, though!

For US$200, though, this is a pretty well-done production. There’s a number of different locations. Indoor and outdoor shooting, and some difficult subject matter to shoot (such as the video screens). He had to convince people to act in his film for free.

All of that considered, it doesn’t really look that bad. And there is a very nicely prepared movie “poster", titles, and a fairly nifty (if slightly ad hoc) website for distribution of the film. Rothman may not be much of a screenwriter or director, but he’s obviously a pretty capable guerrilla producer.

Rothman decided not only to release the film under a Creative Commons By-NC-SA license, but also to release all of the source material under the CC-By license. That makes the work meaningfully open-source, which is the reason I feel so obligated to give it every chance it can remotely deserve.

It’s a shame that the film takes a morally suspect stance and that it is executed with such poor aesthetic values, but then again, Birth of a Nation, the world’s first feature length film was a pretty suspect piece of work too (for those unfamiliar with film history, the film is one of the most racist ever made, as the nation in question is the Confederacy, and the heroes of the film are the Ku Klux Klan. Nevertheless, the film is important because of its technical and artistic (or craft) advances).

Elephants Dream

After watching The Boy Who Never Slept (BWNS), watching Elephants Dream (ED) was a fantastic experience. They are opposite in almost every way but their distribution. Both are free-licensed, open-source films. Elephants Dream, along with all of the files used to create it is released under the Creative Commons Attribution (CC-By) license. The only exception is the complete tracks of music which are available under a separate CC-By-NC license.

Elephants Dream, is of course complete 3D animated, using the free software 3D editing and animation application Blender. While BWNS is a classic loner guerrilla film, ED resulted from large-scale internet collaboration (although the actual production staff was pretty small in order to maintain a more intimate creative environment).

While BWNS is arguable too long, ED is too short: a mere 10 minutes in length. Every second of ED counts, because the imagery moves by so quickly. While BWNS is mired in a poorly scripted and far too explicit story, ED’s story is far too laconic, and as a result, ultimately rather incomprehensible.

My interpretation of what happened in ED is that Eemo and Proog are actually just slightly deranged street people, and that Proog, controlling, manic, paranoid, and delusional is dragging his friend Eemo through his fantasy world. Eemo consistantly says he can’t see anything, but Proog (and we) can.

Alternatively, Eemo and Proog are experiencing an alternate fantastic reality which they collectively create through their own thought processes. Proog is trying to convince Eemo to come to some consensus with him over the shared reality, but Eemo doesn’t cooperate (although he seems to be very efffectively altering that reality.

All of this is pretty incomprehensible, though, and not very much of a story. It also doesn’t strike me as a powerful insight or metaphor, so the script itself is not impressive. I still can’t figure out why it’s called Elephants Dream (nor whether that should really be Elephant’s Dream) unless it’s a reference to the story about the blind men who encounter an elephant and each draw different and conflicting interpretations of the “nature" of elephants based on the bit of the elephant that they touched.

Fortunately, however, the visual experience more than makes up for this lack. The production values of Elephants Dream are extremely high. The renderings are really excellent, as are the 3D creature and character designs.

One thing that probably could be better is the character movement. I have the impression that with motion-capture or reference-frame technique, it would be possible to achieve smoother, more natural movement. However, since the sources are provided, anyone wishing to try can go ahead and to improve the animation appropriately.

Visually, the film which moves through a fantasy environment, is like a demo reel of Blender 3D artwork and animation. It really is quite impressive, and the result is fun to watch, even if it isn’t clear what the heck Proog and Eemo are talking about.

Free filmmaking

Taken together, these two films represent a vast gamut of possible free filmmaking, precisely because they are so different. One is a guerrilla, small-scale, feature-length, live-action film, the other is a slick, animated film short. Both are shaking the assumptions that we have about the expense and organization of the filmmaking endeavor.

I hope we’ll see a lot more free-licensed open-source movies like these, even if I don’t always approve of them aesthetically.



Mauro Bieg's picture

I'm also quite excited about Open Movies and recently there showed up some derivatives of 'Elephants Dream'!

About the title of the film 'Elephants Dream' was said in the making-of that they first wanted to name it 'Machina' but couldn't agree on the pronunciation. Later-on they were talking about a dutch tradition where when a mother tells her child a bedtime story and can't come up with an ending, by the end of each story an elephant would suddenly appear out of nothing and with his long trunk, he blows the story away. Then someone in the animation-team said suddenly "elephants dream". Well, you know the rest. I guess the ending of the film is quite similar to the ending of such a bedtime story...

Terry Hancock's picture

Wow, that's pretty quick. I'll have to see if I can find those.

I deliberately reviewed both films before looking at any of the extras or director's notes: I wanted to review them as delivered, rather than through the lens of the director's intent.

However, now that I've written it, I'm going to have to go get the "extras" on Elephants Dream so I can read this stuff. Thanks for the explanation about the title: that really does make sense.

SolomonRothman's picture

Thank for very much for reviewing Boy Who Never Slept and for both the harsh and kind words.

Unfortunately I think you completely missed what I was trying to say, considering you're well outside my target audience, that’s expected. You seem to get seriously upset about the moral stance you believe this movie took.

FIrst, the story in this movie may not be ideal, but the theme reflects reality. Also you’ll be glad to know that the story isn’t autobiographical. I would also like to send a clear message to anyone reading this: PLEASE use common sense in your relationships, and I absolutely don't advocate sleeping with underage girls. I’m releasing the full script this week, I invite you to read it, and you may pick up on some of the subtleties you may miss in the movie.

Ideally I didn’t want to have to explain why I made this or that decision and leave it open to artistic interpretation and just welcome the controversy, but when my film is being mentioned next to Birth of a Nationand described as an advocacy for sleeping with underage girls, I think it’s important to explicitly state what this movie means and what some parts of it represent.

Watch any modern chick flick with a teenage girl target demographic (one by Hillary Duff or Lindsay Lohan will do). You’ll find it filled with “fate� “soul mates� and “meant to be� philosophy. These are very popular movies and represent the beliefs embraced by lots of teenage girls. I would even say the majority of teenage girls, but I don’t have the data to back up that strong of a claim.

There are many accounts of relationships, (some ending in marriage and children) where the girl met the guy and become “involved� before she was the current “official� age of 18 (or 17 if you're in Las Vegas). That is NOT a show of a support, just a note or social comment.

“Love conquers all� as long as you’re both within the right ages, so if one of you is 17 and the other just turned 18, then it doesn’t apply.

It's interesting how people often try to reconcile beliefs that, in practice, contradict eachother. If you believe in "true love" it's obviously not bound by minor age differences. If it makes you enjoy the movie more, think of Daniel as 19. Very little in the script would have to change. 23 was chosen arbitrarily. I just needed an age over 18.

“Fate brought us together�, but if everything else doesn’t coincide perfectly, then it’s not fate just ignorance.

We’re “Soul Mates� destined to be together; of course we could just be in a superficial relationship

One of the greatest love fantasies in movies, novels, and other artistic works is the “love conquers all� theme. Where two people meet by fate and come together despite social constructs, taboos etc. I gave you what this would really look like, not a beautiful fantasy story with a superfluously happy ending, but a lonely young man who lacked common sense and a normal teenage girl, both lonely and desperately wanting to find "love". Not just any love ,but the magical "love that conquers all" they see in the movies and read about in novels. If you ask an average teenage girl if she thinks “true love� between a 23 year old and a 16 year old is possible, I bet she’ll answer with a resounding yes.

One of the biggest points of my story that unfortunately didn’t come through strong enough for many people to pick up on was this:

I believe fiction highly influences reality, the philosophy ingrained in movies, novels, books etc, affects how people think and influences their character (I'm not saying this is bad or good; I'm just stating my belief). With this stated, I find it very interesting how people embrace, even love fiction that perpetrates philosophies completely opposed and in direct disagreement with their personal beliefs, and see no irony or hypocrisy in this. This is not in reference to “reality� or hyper realistic movies that are a reflection of real life, but fantasy based fiction.

Melissa’s father loved Daniel’s script, liked the sexuality and the uncompromising emotions and power of the “love conquers all� theme, but absolutely went crazy when he found out it was about his daughter.

It was a great script when it was about someone else, but when it’s about his daughter, it automatically becomes disgusting, and Daniel automatically becomes a sexual predator deserving of statutory rape. Notice that decision was made before he ever spoke to Daniel or even considered how they met, etc. So in fiction he endorses that philosophy, but in reality he is automatically opposed to the very idea and instantly labels Daniel a criminal. I find this somewhat hypocritical.

Why would Melissa like a "loser" like Daniel?

It is difficult to apply all their romantic ideals and notions of love they're inundated with to the average, immature teenage guy. Referencing Hillary Duff and Lindsay Lohan movies, for example, you'll notice that the male actors who ususally play the love intereste are all relatively mature compared to real teenage boys. In fact, the actors themselves are often quite a bit older than the actresses, further cementing the idea that an "older man" is more capable of "romantic" love.

Why did Daniel even start talking to Melissa?

If you have ever been in an internet chat room, you’ll notice that people chat with all kinds of different people and it’s not uncommon for individuals of all ages to be in the same regional chat room; thus Daniel meeting Melissa online was very probable.

You also mention a lack of substance in Daniel and Melissa’s conversations in your review. Please check out an internet chat room and you'll see people talking about very normal stuff. Most people in there are not having award winning intellectual chats - this is about real life, and people are lonely and mainly just want someone else to talk to. The subject of their conversations is of less importance then the emotional connection of having someone to vent to, to share their thoughts with and who appears to understand them. That's all it takes to inspire steps towards meeting and seeing if they connect in person.

I made Daniel a would-be writer not to “impress chicks,� but for the following reasons:

People fantasize about stronger than reality emotions. Perfect relationships, perfect people, perfect jobs, perfect etc. It seems like a normal part of life “fantasizing� about the ideal. Read any romance novel or watch any recent romantic movie. I find this to be especially true in the case of would-be artists like Daniel.

Despite the complex drama contained in their everyday life, they continually look to romanticized accounts and stories for inspiration. Like I said before, they fantasize about the ideal.

Daniel wants to be a writer, because he wants to experience this super emotional even “magical� view of life. The dark and dreary scenes are on purpose Daniel is stuck in a rut, and going nowhere, because he’s looking for something “magical� – his fantasy version of “love.�

He’s lonely and drinks a lot; it makes perfect sense that he would be intrigued by Melissa and what she represents. He’s not looking for reality, but wants to find something amazing, to be “blown away.� Many people don’t look for reality when searching for love, but hold off, at least secretly, for a super mate, or some kind of unstoppable love slike that so often portrayed in cinema.

Additionaly, Daniel was NOT trying to meet a younger girl; it simply happened, as it does every day.

You call their relationship purely superficial and that bring up two questions from me.

1. Can a teenage girl have a non-superficial relationship? I don't think most parents tell their children, “all your relationships will be meaningless until you’re 21�
2. What’s the difference between a real relationship and a superficial one and who should judge that ?

Many thousands of people have already seen the movie, and they range in all age/gender demographics. I generally receive responses in two categories:

1) Those that endorse the love conquers all philosophy and bought the characters, meaning they liked the movie and were glad Melissa and Daniel met each other (note that many in this category are female).

2) Those that don't believe in true love, bought the characters, and enjoyed the movie as a story of someone with no common sense and for its comedic value.

Out of the thousands of people who've already seen it, this is the first response I've found that so misinterpreted the intention and moral stance of the movie. It is the most completely negative response I've received, and the first negative response in regards to the story line.

Because of this, I wonder how much your own world view, your philosophy on love and morality, and the fact that you have a daughter played into the extremely negative response to the story line of the movie.

As for what I believe, I won't say. film is the art of storytelling. I want people to be able to enjoy the story without any more direct influence on my part than I've already given (again, I didn't want to write this article, but it is important to clarify when someone so wrongly interprets the moral stance of your movie).

I invite you all to comment on the movie directly on my website.
Just click on the comments link from the main site and please be respectful!!!

As for me, more movies are coming soon and some will contain slightly more traditional themes. I love screenwriting and filmmaking, it’s my life’s passion. I have 2 completed scripts and 10 more drafts ( I just worked all night on polishing up a horror script that should be really fun and very scary). So far I’ve received a very positive response to Boy Who Never Slept.

Last Note: Boy Who Never Slept was designed to be a movie anyone could made ($200 dollar budget all amateurs, etc). I wanted to inspire would-be filmmakers and to some degree I have from the comments I’ve received thus far. My next films will be of superior technical quality as I progress in my filmmaking abilities.

Terry Hancock's picture

I'm not aware of any law in the world that prohibits "true love" between a man and a young woman, even if he's 23 and she's 16.

If a man actually loves a girl, it follows that he wants what's best for her (that's what love is -- that other thing has a different name), and it is very unlikely that that includes sex under any circumstances, and absolutely under the ones depicted. That immediately puts the lie to Daniel's claim of "true love", as far as I am concerned.

Your objections to young girls' fantasies about love actually underscore the reason why we have the legal idea that minors are not truly capable of "consent" to sex. That doesn't mean they can't say "yes" -- it means that even if they do say "yes", they are not mature enough for their judgement to be trusted. Up to a certain age, we rely on the parents' judgement instead.

If Daniel actually loved Melissa, then he has two perfectly valid options: 1) he can maintain a solid relationship with her for the 2 years it's going to take for her to become "legal", before attempting to seduce her (if that's a problem, then once again, it ain't "true love"), OR 2) he can make the case to her Dad BEFORE acting irresponsibly, and get permission to MARRY her (and if that's a problem...). That is also legal.

You argue that it makes no difference if Daniel is 19 or 23, but that isn't quite true. We might argue that he might be forgiven for his transgression on the basis that he too has only lately reached the age of consent if he's 19 (as a matter of fact, I've learned that Texas law recognizes this as a defense). However, at 23, he's toast if he hasn't figured that out yet: he's definitely old enough to know better.

More to the point, the film itself makes it entirely clear that Daniel knows exactly what he's doing. He knows it's wrong, and he does it anyway. Rather than letting him take the fall, though, you arrange a serious of miracles to get him off the hook, so the film actually does have a "fairy tale" unrealistic ending.

That's why I say that the film comes off as advocacy. You, as the writer have manipulated events into an unrealistic outcome in which the offender receives no consequences for his actions. It's as if you want to reward him for his behavior.

However, this isn't actually the problem. One could still tell a very convincing story about the idea, and my Birth of a Nation reference was to make the point that a film can be significant even if the ideas of the film are disturbing or offensive.

Unfortunately, BWNS falls short of that goal. It's characters are not well-enough developed, nor the situations well-enough conceived to pull off this kind of story. You're attempting a heavy dramatic weight, but the result has little impact. This is ultimately because of weak characterization (which in turn is largely due to a lack of context: we don't know enough about the characters or their situations in life for the images presented of them to have much meaning), poor detailed writing (the IRC chat, for instance, is unconvincing -- oh sure, I've seen online conversations this pointless, but I don't think they end in
anyone feeling they've found their "soul mate"), weak camera direction, and limited performances (due to amateur actors and director).

Please recognize that it is these problems (and not my mismatch to your target demographics!) that make the film fall short of communicating your intentions.

Now, of course, I'm very conscious of the fact that many of these problems are due to you being a new filmmaker and due to the extremely limited budget, and therefore limited casting possibilities. I have myself been involved in some pretty bad movies for similar reasons (movies which, with any luck, will never see the light of day -- there is actually a silent student film out there with me as an actor. Thankfully, I have never actually seen it, though the director did tell me that I should seriously consider keeping my career behind the camera!).

That's why it's not entirely fair to criticize the film on a "major league" basis. But on the other hand, publishing your work as an actual film release is asking for legitimate artistic recognition: you're stepping out of the zone of fan-fics and ego-petting and into the harsh light of day. It's no favor to a real artist to flatter them.

I hope that doesn't discourage you -- you probably just haven't quite "found your voice" yet, and that's nothing to be concerned about at this point. As Barbara Sher (Wishcraft) would tell you, you should start with the ambition of making "bad movies", and reserve making good ones as a later step. Or as they say, "most overnight successes were 20 years in the making".

The remarkable thing is that we even get to see what you've done at this level. I hope we do get to see more and better things from you.

I have some more comments on a more technical level, but I think I'll save that for a later opportunity. It's been suggest to me that I should do a follow-up on free filmmaking -- that may be the time.

Alan Berg's picture
Submitted by Alan Berg on

Wow with the fervent energy shown within this page open source movies can only be gaining momentum rapidly. What a nice renaissance period to have an Internet connection

Terry Hancock's picture

I think it's pretty cool that two such different films have been made, because that really demonstrates that there is enormous territory to explore.

There's also the point that as more material gets released in this way, a new type of "remixed" cinema will become more viable. One of the things that immediately struck me about both films as an artistic experience is that they invite you to take the pieces and improve upon (or adapt from) the work. You don't really get that feeling from mainstream, proprietary cinema.

Now I really am going to have to get around to upgrading that video card and installing a video editor. ;-)

Josephstalin's picture

Having tried both Jahshaka and Avidemux extensively, I can safely say neither comes anywhere close replacing After Effects or Final Cut Pro. Avidemux is essentially iMovie or a powerful Windows Movie Maker and Jahshaka is just filled cool gadgets with bugs and empty promises. Cinepaint, however, is a fantastic tool for a very specialized niche. I’d love to see an open source alternative to the big NLE’s but so far the closest is Cinelerra which is a LONG way to go.

SW1's picture
Submitted by SW1 on

This movie was realistic in many ways. If that offended T.H. he doesn’t live in the real world but in an isolated box!

I have a real life example that I will compare to this film. My sister was 15 years old when she met a 24-year-old guy. When asked how old she was, she lied. She said she was 17 and a half. The guy called her all the time, they developed a relationship and then he learned her real age….too late he said, he was in love, she confessed her love to him, and sure enough she got pregnant. Yes, my parents considered throwing him in jail. But what good would that have done? He had good intentions; he said his love was real. So the two got married. No surprise that after the second child they divorced but the real surprise came IN REAL LIFE when they got back together two years later and had 3 more children. They have been together since. I wouldn’t judge Rothman’s film as being anything but a portrayal of living in a society where people’s thoughts and dreams and expectations have been grossly shaped by the media and unrealistic romantic films.

Now I’ll really shock you Mr. Hancock. I am a Christian and I write Christian romance novels. I keep them clean and real. I’ve read far too many that have the same old cliches, the same old plots, the same unrealistic expectations, because that’s what sells; the Cinderella story or Sleeping Beauty.

Have you seen the movie “10 things I Hate about You?� Now that was realistic, and was certainly exploiting young women, but done in Hollywood fashion so as to make it a “comedy.�Visit sites like MySpace. Young people today are recreating themselves and representing themselves extremely sexually.

The real world that Daniel lives in is a world where young people are starting relationships on the Internet everyday…. and while some do become genuine friends, many have put themselves at risk, and others have developed relationships.

Daniel is not a predator; if he was 30 or 40 than I could understand that assumption…but he’s college age, and most college campuses have 16, 17, and 18 year old girls walking through campus, going to football games and dating freshman. That’s the real world. And people like you tend to blame the guy and let the girl off the hook, saying she’s the victim. Melissa knew what she was getting into. She made the choice to pursue the relationship; she bared her chest on the net, so get off your soap box and visit the real world!!!

This film is one that ought to be viewed by parents who are out of touch with their kids…so they can better grasp an understanding of how powerful emotional feelings of “love� can overtake ones objectivity, and common sense. And I hope young people age 16 – 23 will watch this film; they could learn something from it.

As for maturity, most men/women don’t grow up until they are 25 and up; some take even longer!!

Terry Hancock's picture

This movie was realistic in many ways. If that offended T.H. he doesn’t live in the real world but in an isolated box!

What you are arguing here is that the premise of the film is realistic, with which I concur. It's certainly possible for this kind of situation to happen.

I've definitely let this slide too far into discussing the moral dimensions of the plot, but that was really just a side point.

Does the film tell the story well? Are the characters believably presented? I know I don't think so.

'Why not' is complicated. As I've mentioned below, it's mostly lack of context, which is a problem with the script-writing. There are also problems with the acting -- the actors are self-conscious and as a result, the viewer is constantly thrown out of the story. There are also a lot problems with video and audio quality which renders some lines incomprehensible. Some of these things can be fixed in post-production. As I suggested, it might be possible to cut it down to a much shorter film and make it more watchable. However, quite a bit of the problems go right down into the writing and would require re-shooting to fix.

Since my purpose here is to look at the implications of these works for free-licensed open-source filmmaking, I find that an important point. A work of text can be edited by anyone and thus even such fundamental problems can be fixed. Not so with live-action film. This is a severe artistic limitation, and I've run into it with audio production before: if you want to do a cast performance of something, you've got to have the writing nailed beforehand, or you have to have a long-term commitment from the actors. Because it's going to be a real pain if you rewrite after the fact and then have to get somebody else to do the lines. You're kind of stuck.

Even "realistic" drama is about more than simply "capturing life as it is", or we'd all watch security cameras for entertainment. So, there's a lot of craft that needs to be done right in order to make a story understandable and believable on film.

moculon's picture
Submitted by moculon on

ok, i think this is perhaps the worst movie review i've ever read as i absolutely loved this film. i'll qualify that by saying that i rate it at 8/10 taking into account the budget and the inability of all the actors to fully carry off their roles ie - if you read between the lines and allow yourself to imagine it as the scenes were intended, rather than listening to the words and moaning that they are too shallow.

i'll put into context the kind of movies i find interesting. the most recent few listed below.

a scanner darkly (can't wait for the release in the uk)
the final cut
eternal sunshine of the spotless minds
donnie darko
the butterfly effect
garden state (prob my fav film of 2004)

this film is very real. some of the 'guy' dialogue made me laugh as i've heard so many similar conversations in real life. perhaps the age difference is more important than you realise terry - although i don't for one minute want to imply that i can match your experience.

it's interesting to view this film from the perspective of an englishman. here sex with a 16 year old is actually legal. i must admit i was uncomfortable the only time i dated a girl that young as an 'older guy' (at only 19) and wanted to wait (because of her age, i was not a virgin at the time), she didn't so we split up, so i'm not supporting the guy in the film from personal experience. however i really don't feel that criticism of this film on the basis that the plot is 'sordid and offensive' is reasonable at all. in fact such comments suggest to me a lack of emotional maturity to some degree. although i fully understand the 'it's my daughter' feelings you have. but if you think what girls are often really like... the 16 year old i referred to earlier was so sexually aware it was scary to me at 19 then it puts a different perspective on things.

in the past i've had a girl send me semi naked images of herself and various similar events on the net. i'm definitely not a sick sexual preditor... but unfortunately it's something that actually 16+ girls seem pretty comfortable with in real life, and i'm going back 10 years to when i was that age, who knows how much further it's come since then as media and the continuing change in 'morality' in society futher changes things. imagine she's 17 which would be legal in some parts of the usa. i don't really see how you can justify such a pedantic application of age to classify him as an 'offender' who needs to receive some sort of punishment. i think he is too old for the case i remember reading about but similar cases have not been prosecuted despite the parents wishes in the usa so clearly there is some judicial support for a view of some common sense of consent from 'children' of an age where they can after all jump in a car, drive round the corner and kill someone in an 'accident' but heaven forbid they do something like make love to someone they have feelings for.

as for the lack of violence in the film... i'm sorry you're disappointed that the parents aren't a couple of common thugs. can't you hear the daughter crying for the guy she clearly has feelings for? how does lowering yourself to the level of a street criminal make you better than the guy in the film who falls in love? i don't even fully agree that the dialogue isn't fully convincing. it's carefree and fun like a lot of young ppls conversations. would you prefer they discuss the latest book by pilger (freedom next time) and the horrendous oppression of the palestine??

i liked the way the father loves the story until he realises it's his daughter. i think that's a clever and very true insight into the human mind. perhaps i wouldn't agree with the 'love' angle if it was my 15 y/o daughter and a 19 y/o guy. but one thing i'll definitely say is that prison is no place for someone in that situation, too youngsters in love.

apologies for being so sharp, but i was really expecting an awful film after your review, and gave it a chance after reading the directors rebuttal of your comments and i really was surprised with what i saw. looking forward to more of his work.

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Rosalyn Hunter's picture

I think that opensource movies are a cool idea, but I do wonder if they will really take off.
Movies are generally very director-driven. They have to be written and filmed. Now I can see someone taking open-source work from a writer and filming it, but I think that reediting a work is limited by what scenes are available.

Actually, I am curious to see where this artform will go. I've watched movies that I wanted to reedit. I remember wanting to take Star Wars Episode II and put back in the characterization scenes that Lucus cut out. I also wanted to reedit The Lord of the Rings to make special Frodo quest, Aragorn quest, and Arwen+Aragorn versions that were short enough to watch in one night. These were fantasies of mine, but with open source movies and a will, such things may be possible.

My first impression of the movies was that Elephant's dream looked cool, but was too short and artsy. I thought the boy who never slept was annoying to watch because I couldn't hear what they were saying. It also wasn't my genre.

But when I think of reediting it, I'm limited. I'd have to re-dub the entire thing with new voice actors to make up for the bad sound. I'd want to tighten up the editing because despite its short size, it felt too long.

If I did re-do this film, I'd probably make it an opera.

"I'm a bored and lonely guy____
Sleep with the girl and don't ask why___"

Terry Hancock's picture

My blog entries at Free Software Magazine may be reprinted with this notice:
Copyright (C)2004-2006 Terry Hancock / License CC-By-SA 2.5+
Originally at

Anonymous visitor's picture

A new revolution is taking shape in the movie industry that challenges traditional filmmaking to the core. Spurred by a newfound passion amongst movie lovers to create their own content, thousands are coming together to form communities that will create movies via collaboration over the web. There’s no stopping this wave, as community film budgets get bigger and bigger; an ostensible threat to filmmakers, who are already struggling to get their share at the box office.

There is no business like show business. There’s definitely no arguing that. But what happens when show business is not merely the prerogative of the elite, but calls for participation by “regular" folks like you and me, who—lets face it—would probably never get a chance to play any kind of a role in the entertainment business in a lifetime?

Welcome to the new world of User Generated Filmmaking – An exploding community of thousands of movie lovers who do not merely carry a license to “watch" movies, but rather, to make what they want to see, when they want it. Sounds too good to be true? Not really.

In a way, these communities are performing a role reversal, if you will, on filmmakers and traditional filmmaking. The output of their collaboration results in a movie, much like any other; but the way that these movies are made is where the difference lies. The community does everything. They call scriptwriters (a heady mix, ranging from professional scriptwriters who simply love collaborating, to housewives, hobbyists and the odd nana, all united by a common passion for movies and filmmaking). A moderator, or the “alpha male" is swiftly appointed and the collaborative scriptwriting process begins with frenzied and fanatic discussions on online forums: “You write the first scene and I’ll follow your lead. May be you are being a tad too adventurous here with the central character. This is NOT a sci-fi thriller so lighten up!"

Collaboration tools like MediaWiki (the same technology that powers the amazingly popular user generated encyclopedia Wikipedia) and the new gun in town, Basecamp, provide the perfect solution to help these communities thrive. Their simplicity allows even technophobes to participate without hesitation.

Once the script reaches a stage where characters have been sketched and dialogues written, casting for the film begins – again over the web! Anyone from anywhere in the world can audition online by uploading their talent audios and videos, which the community swiftly begins sifting through. Performances are rated, feedback is given, and the new stars of tomorrow are born.

Then, traditional filmmaking processes takeover – locations are decided, cast and crew grouped together and shooting begins!

A perfect example of such a revolutionary filmmaking project is the aptly titled “Lets Film" project ( The project aims to create an ambitious action-packed, high intensity movie (that would understandably need a big budget for special effects and stunts!) completely online. Although it is not clear who is investing in and backing the project, the site has already raced to forming a neat little community online that’s buzzing with excitement.

So, if you have dropped off the kids at school and have some time on your hands, why not make a movie in your free time?

Djamshut's picture
Submitted by Djamshut on

The nice thing about this is when you order you get everything they used to make the movie right there in the package(minus the artists). A lot of other open-source projects require searching around for hours to find everything you need just to play with it.

Author information

Terry Hancock's picture


Terry Hancock is co-owner and technical officer of Anansi Spaceworks. Currently he is working on a free-culture animated series project about space development, called Lunatics as well helping out with the Morevna Project.