On the Lot, the filmmakers' American Idol that premiered on Fox this month, has been tanking in the ratings to such an extent that television audiences might not get to see who wins the big prize. But even so, there is something worthwhile to be learned from it.
Filmmakers, learn to tell a story. Please.
Mass access to filmmaking technology today has redefined what an amateur production looks like. When I pursued screenwriting fulltime, I wouldn't have had the resources to make a professional-looking film. I wouldn't have had a clue how to make it look good, either, but presumably that's something I could study. But for the candidates on Lot, at least in the one-minute shorts produced in the round of 18, strong production values were the norm, even in work done on the fly.
But in learning how to film, these would-be directors seem to have abandoned any schooling in storytelling. Considering these were the finalists, even though it was a made-for-TV competition, it was shocking how little sense these people had of making their content worth watching, no matter how pretty it looked. The pieces were riddled with hackneyed elements in a way that made you think of Idol singers forgetting the words or letting their voices crack, without apology.
We at Variety were asked to write capsule reviews of the 18 shorts. I took on two myself, though I watched them all. In the end, I felt privileged to get to review one of the three or so out of 18 that showed discernable storytelling skill. Yes, it's hard to tell a complete story in a minute, but not so hard that so few should be up to the challenge.
Lot was not a strong showing for Hollywood's future, but it was a useful cautionary tale. If you're an aspiring filmmaker, make sure you're not spending too long fooling around with the gadgets. Learn to write, or if you're not going to write your own material, learn how to read. Film is a visual medium, but without worthwhile content, all you've got is the negative.