Director: Raman Amaravadi
Expected Rating: PG for adult concepts
Distribution: IDream Media, Teluguone, YouTube
Genre: Silent Film/Crime/Noir
Release Date: April 20, 2014
Official Website: Click Here
Trailer: Click Here
Online Version: Click Here
Running Time: 19 minutes 15 seconds
Critique Issue: #120 (2/16)
Critiqued By: Jeremy T. Hanke
Final Score: 6 (out of 10)
Dave Shaw (Deepak Ravella) and his wife, Amy (Ami Sheth), live the high life, despite Dave’s addiction to gambling and narcotics. Dave is recovering from a drunken gambling spree the night before when his business partner Sonny (Sonny Chatrath) comes to their house. He explains to Amy that the business is going under and that their building is being foreclosed on.
While they try to figure out how to salvage things, Dave comes up with a plan to stay afloat by blowing up the company warehouse and fleecing the insurance company for $5 million. Everything seems to be going according to plan, until things go off the rails for Dave and all those around him.
The overall storyline of “5M” was really creative, with the writer, Siva Somayajula, crafting a tale with a number of twists and turns. The final endings had some nice reveals, as well, that reminded you of shows like the Twilight Zone.
However, the choice to make the film a silent film without using any title cardsTitle Cards are white text over black backgrouds that are generated in post to show dialogue in silent films really confused a lot of the storytelling, because it forced the use of overly complex graphics at times (like a busy excel spreadsheet) or, on the opposite extreme, overly simplified props (like sheets of paper with a person’s finger slowly tapping each word or a huge check for an insurance payout ala the Publisher’s clearinghouse) and extremely melodramatic acting (think William Shatner doing charades).
These issues (combined with a few other technical issues) led to a first pass of a Straight Shooter review of this film, in which we got just over halfway through the film. On the critique, I had to stop and rewind a number of things to make sure I was grasping things which I likely didn’t need to fully grasp—but, because the pertinent information wasn’t properly identified, I couldn’t tell what I really needed to know.
Simply including clear title cards in post for some of the key points of dialogue would have made the film much easier to understand and to follow for new viewers. (Ironically, the one notable use of title cards in the film, after the initial disclaimer, was at the beginning to tell people that both smoking and drinking are dangerous to one’s health. Considering the movie clearly shows that these are negative throughout the story, the use of these title cards is totally unneeded. Many of us as filmmakers feel like we have to have a message that we preach at people in our film, but people are far more receptive to messages if they’re just part of your film’s actual story and not shoehorned in.)
This film was shot with a Red Epic, which is an incredibly powerful and expensive camera for a short film. And the overall look and style that cinematographer, Murali Pallikonda, managed to get with it in low-light was impressive.
With that said, there were a decent number of color grading issues in the film (where the color tint and shade would change noticeably), as well as one shot (where Dave is building a bomb) that was green-screened that was slightly off in its tone so as to be noticeable. These issues, along with some props that looked extremely fake (such as clearly plastic dynamite in a bomb–rather than a white brick of play-doh to mimic C4) could be greatly improved by simply releasing a new cut of the film which has been desaturated to black and white. (This would make more thematic sense with the fact that it’s a silent film—especially if the title cards mentioned before are included.)
[Author’s Note: I actually exported out a clip from the film in black and white, and even with no other changes, the film looked, felt, and worked much better. Not to mention, the dynamic range of the RED footage is actually more apparent in black and white.]
Use of Audio
The score in this film, from composer Srikanth Devarjan, was quite nice, helping to keep the dramatic tension throughout.
Unfortunately, the music was detracted from rather strongly by the strange choice to include realistic sound effects in a silent film. I can appreciate the creative idea to try this, but it was extremely jarring to the viewer—creating a sonic disconnect throughout. (When sound effects that correlate to movement are added to a silent film, the human mind no longer perceives it as a silent film, but as a broken regular film; one in which the dialogue track has been accidentally muted by an absent minded editor.)
If the sound effects are simply muted, the score (and the film itself) becomes far more effective and easy to follow.
Use of Budget
$14,000 is a lot to spend on a short film, frankly, especially when it’s a silent film with essentially three actors and a handful of locations.
With that said, it was shot with a RED Epic. Considering the cost of renting it along with the cost of the folks associated with using it, it makes sense that that would take a decent budget (although, strangely, part of the production budget was for recording audio, which might mean that the choice to become a silent film was later in the game–or that they wanted to record sound effects on location). Then the costs for editing the footage, color grading, and everything else come into play, which would be greater due to the amount of storage and RAM required to work with RED Raw footage. The fact that the cast, not just the crew, was compensated in a short film like this is impressive, as well.
With that said, using a video DSLR to shoot the film and working with locations that are more readily accessible to the creators could help keep costs down for future films.
As a novel approach to a silent film, “5M” is interesting. However, do I have a desire to watch it again as it is now? No. Do I have a desire to show it to others? Not really.
The idea behind “5M”—following a group of scheming people who are trying to trick their way out of their problems through crime—isn’t terribly original, but the orchestration of it is interesting, as is its finale. As an artistic exploration, this film’s intriguing—but, ultimately, it tries to reinvent the round wheel by creating a square one, instead.
After getting a preview of what an alternate cut could look like, I’d love to see a second cut of the film released with conversion to black and white, addition of title cards, and the removal of the sound effects. With it being released nearly two years ago, that’s unlikely, but, either way, I’m curious to see what Mr. Amaravadi and his team come up with in the future.
Use of Audio
Use of Budget
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