More Venting about Film Synopses

synopsisYesterday, I tweeted my frustration about the synopses I’ve been finding in the web for indie films. I decided to use more than the 160 characters of Twitter to vent a little further. The context is that we play a lot of independent films at Emerging Cinemas, and once a month we collect info on those films to use on our web site, on physical calendars that we have printed and on web blasts that are sent out to our affiliated venues. Month after month, we check the official web sites for the individual films, the web sites of the distributors, the IMDB, the web sites of various theater chains and on-line ticketing sites. In almost every case, the same synopsis is used in every location, indicating that it came from some official source (typically either the distributor or the filmmakers). The other thing they have in common is that they all suck. Invariably I find myself re-writing them, trying to make the films sound like something people might actually want to see. Don’t you folks realize that the synopsis is a very important marketing tool? Why do you make all these very compelling, stimulating films sound like work? They are either too academic sounding (particularly the docs), or focus on the disease of the main character or have convoluted point-by-point scene descriptions (this happens then this happens etc.) They include cast names (in parenths) that no one has heard of, which interrupt the flow of whatever plot they are trying to get across. They leave out background info that would be important selling points such as  festival awards, prior work by the director, etc. For all of you folks out there who are embracing the idea of DIY distribution, let’s try practicing writing a single paragraph about your film that makes audiences want to buy a ticket. OK. I got that off my chest.

7 thoughts on “More Venting about Film Synopses”

  1. Ok, I’ll bite. How about a master class?

    Current back of my DVD…

    “Eleven New Yorkers change course after catastrophic events force them to examine the dreams that drew them to the city. CLEAR BLUE TUESDAY follows their lives over seven Septembers as they relearn their city and themselves.

    Combining an ecclectic mix of original songs with an unconventional narrative style, Clear Blue Tuesday was developed by director Elizabeth Lucas and an ensemble of actor/singer/songwriters from the indie rock scene, comedy clubs and Broadway theatres of New York. Using personal journeys and improvisation to create fictional characters and narrative, the cast wrote the songs they sing. The result is a deeply personal journey of self-discovery, told with humor, humanity, and music.”

    Or should I use the first two paragraphs of my only review so far…

    “Of the many artistic works that have attempted to make sense of September 11, 2001, none has captured the New York perspective of the quietly hellish aftermath of the destruction of the World Trade Center better than Clear Blue Tuesday. The musical film, which was conceived, directed, and partially written by Elizabeth Lucas…examines the tragedy itself only obliquely. It focuses instead on the long-lasting effects of that violation of national and personal security on 11 New Yorkers, and through them you come to understand the day’s loss—and potential gains—in ways you couldn’t even if you were surrounded by CGI explosions. That’s no small feat for any dramatic presentation, let alone a low-budget film…Yet it is accomplished, with impressive clarity, seriousness, and even humor…” – Matthew Murray

    I’ve been trying to avoid 9/11 in my press description, but it’s clearly the context that the review focuses on. Thoughts?

  2. Great and pertinent rant..When I ran a film series eons ago – the most important task was distilling each film in the series into a crisp, appealing and informative summary. Because the published schedule had limited space, these summaries couldn’t waste a word and were all I had to draw people to relatively unknown American classics or obscure foreign films. It was a daunting but essential task -each word counted.

    But I was merely running a college film series, not a business. Respect your products – make them appealing to your potential audience!

  3. Ok…Elizabeth. I’ll take a stab at this, but please know that no one knows your film as well as you do…and all you other filmmakers, you are on your own.

    Pulling together the talents of an ensemble of actor/singer/songwriters from the indie rock scene, comedy clubs and Broadway theatre, Elizabeth Lucas creates a movie musical like no other. CLEAR BLUE TUESDAY is the story of eleven New Yorkers who are dealing with their sense of personal loss after 9-11. The result is a deeply personal, funny and moving journey of self discovery, set to an original musical score.

    I’d go see that!

  4. So I think your point is that a pitch or blurb is not a “review.” It shouldn’t talk about the film, or evaluate whether the film maker achieved the maker’s goal. A pitch should BE the film, not be “about” the film.

    Did I get that right?

  5. I wouldn’t characterize it that way. Just try and describe it in a way in which you are making people want to see it. I has to sound entertaining, provocative, compelling…SPECIAL.

  6. I agree. I’m consulting a couple of doc filmmakers now who’ve got genuinely exciting films, but you read the synopses (for their grant proposals) and you’d never know it, they sound so earnest and important and….dull. We are working on that!

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