04 March 2008
uber-indie: short films by Keith Snyder
Sell in Hell
starring: Blake Arnold and Daniel McFeeley
cinematography by: Patrick Knisely
written by: Blake Arnold and Keith Snyder
directed by: Keith Snyder
6 min/Hollywood, CA
There's only one job in Hell, and that's telemarketing. So says Keith Snyder's short Sell in Hell, and it's hard to argue with that theory. Done in mostly one shot and starring a heavily made-up Blake Arnold (horns, fake teeth, and all that goes into the classic demon look), the film looks pretty much exactly like a telemarketing instructional video, only with more interesting lighting. It's somewhat humerous and somewhat annoying. Most of all, it's pretty much what you'd expect, given that scenario. I'd write more, but Sell in Hell isn't nearly as interesting as the other two shorts.
starring: Larry Picard
cinematography by: Andamion Murataj
original music by: Larry Picard and Keith Snyder
written and directed by: Keith Snyder
9 min/Brooklyn, NY
Apparently God is bald.
That seems odd, considering the whole omnipotence thing. I know if I were all-powerful, I'd ensure I at least had a full head of hair, but such are the limitations of working with a small budget. Even God has to cut corners somewhere.
Thankfully for Keith Snyder's Credo, God has more important priorities, such as an operatic bass singing voice that works perfectly for this 9 minute musical. That's right, we've got ourselves a musical. And if you're thinking to yourself that uber-indie musicals are pretty rare, you'd be right. So it takes a few minutes to realize that's what's happening, that the singing isn't just an interesting opening, but the film's overall narrative.
Larry Picard, a classically trained singer, stars as a God looking to distance Himself from the activities of some of His alleged followers. This isn't exactly a new idea, as God has been doing this nearly as long as there's been people invoking His name, but not usually with a trace of sacrilege:
"Blessed art I, the Lord thy God,
King of the Universe. Who loveth thee.
Who desireth to make thee happy.
Who apologizes for His misguided example,
And the lamentable results of His interference.
Who withdraweth His endorsement of murder,
And seeketh thy forgiveness for His terrible mistake."
I include these lyrics not to spark some sort of religious debate, but to give you an idea of the film's tone. This is, after all, a film review and not a discussion of theology and the nature of God.
What's most interesting about Credo isn't the message, but how that message is delivered. None of Picard's singing was done in post-production, but instead was performed entirely a cappella on set, with nothing but a small keyboard as assistance. The rest of the score was then recorded later to match Picard's vocals. This is not nearly as easy as it sounds. Synder himself gives an in-depth description of the process in the two articles he wrote for Recording Magazine.
The end result is a compelling little musical, some editing problems aside. Andamion Murataj's cinematography does a nice job of using the church's natural lighting is his design, and gives the film an effectively solemn look, which is a nice thing to have, especially when your main character is a deity.
I Love You, I'm Sorry, and I'll Never Do It Again
starring: Peter Linari, Larry Picard, Paul Romanello, Frances Toliver, and Kathleen Haaversen
cinematography by: David Berliner
written and directed by: Keith Snyder
14 min/New York, NY
A shlub of a man, in hot water with the mob, discovers the payment he hid in a toolbox is missing. He calls his wife, only to realize he's in even more trouble at home. The mobsters, sympathetic to his plight (as all men are), teach him the three steps to placating an angry wife: say simply, "I love you, I'm sorry, and I'll never do it again". While some might call it an over-simplification, others would call Keith Snyder's I Love You, I'm Sorry, and I'll Never Do It Again a key step in the daily crusade against sleeping on the couch. Personally, I like to think of it as an entertaining little film that works more often than it doesn't. And in the uber-indie world, that's a rarity.
The film is primarily structured around a series of fantasy musical numbers where the two mobsters detail the Biblical applications of their theory. That is, we see where Sampson, Adam, and others apologized right off the bat, rather than risk a fight. Neither of the mobsters seem to have spent much time counting calories, so the sight of them dressed up as Adam and Eve and, later, Sampson and Delilah (complete with a costume to rival a belly dancer), finds that sweet spot of being so over-the-top that it becomes sublime.
It also serves as a nice visual counterpoint to the main story, which is mostly shot with shadows and cigarette smoke and other themes befitting a factory at nice. The musical numbers, however, are bright lights and brighter colors, full of gaiety and whimsy. Much credit goes to cinematographer David Berliner who moves easily between the two styles and is able to accomplish a lot of narrative goals with his compositions. Really, it's a startlingly effective piece of work.
Moreover, Snyder's script and direction is able to be both funny and serious, all the while telling a coherent, logical, and utterly absurd story within the confines of a fourteen minute musical. Think, for a minute, about what that entails. It's one thing to try and do a surreal musical dramedy, but to have it work, and work so well on a small budget....well....that's just crazy.
And I think maybe Snyder is crazy. He'd almost have to be. But, it's the kind of insanity we need more of in indie cinema. In short, we need more filmmakers like Keith Snyder.
 In the weeks between watching this film and writing this review, I've learned that this does not always work. At least, not for me. Maybe I'm doing it wrong.
You can check out the thoughts of Keith Snyder at his blog. Or, check out his films here and here. Or, go to his IMDb page.