A screenwriter named Joe Link (Mason Heidger) known for ripoff “mockbusters” asks his successful former colleague Melanie Banks (KateLynn E. Newberry) for feedback on his first serious script.
When it comes to short films, they can be tough to criticize mainly because they do not have nearly as much screen time as feature films, and in feature films, a story can be deeply fleshed out with a lot of time to develop its characters, explore its themes, and tell a compelling story overall.
Shorts can be a bit of a mixed bag. Some that are five to ten minutes long can either be surprisingly effective that contains an exceptionally good story with characters that I can get invested in by the end. On the other hand, some shorts can feel relatively empty and flat, due to its lesser running time. At the end of the day, every filmmaker wants to make something that they are proud of, and they want to create something that everybody can enjoy.
Chris Stuckmann’s Notes from Melanie, his second short film following the success of his 2017 festival hit Auditorium 6, is a remarkably effective picture that manages to get you invested in its characters, make you laugh, and maybe even get a bit emotional.
When it comes to the positives here, the acting is definitely one of the strongest aspects. Mason Heidger portrays Joe Link, a screenwriter who is infamous for writing “mockbusters” – films that parody big budget films with a similar title. He makes a ton of films that nobody truly appreciates such as “Alien Stalker”, “Jurassic Universe”, and “Mission: Possibly – Really Hard”.
Although others do not appreciate his work, he views them as movies he is proud of. He is happy that he made these movies, and he shows it by hanging up a framed screenshot of one of his films receiving a perfect 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, which he surely photoshopped, and is a great easter egg for eagle eyed viewers.
But my favorite performance here comes from KateLynn E. Newberry, who portrays the titular Melanie. Even though I have never seen any of Newberry’s work in the past, from the moment she came on screen, it felt as if I were watching a legendary actress at work. The way she delivers her dialogue and the emotion and power she puts into every scene is amazing, and it becomes entertaining to just watch her act on screen because she is just so good.
It is also an impressively written and directed film as well. In fact, the writing is one of the best elements on display here. The movie can be extremely self-aware of film tropes at times and when Stuckmann pokes fun at this, it always makes for a good laugh, but never takes away from the film’s story as a whole. As I touched upon at the beginning, Notes from Melanie does not shy away from having a couple emotional beats as well, and they were quite effective.
In terms of negatives, it would have been nice to get to know more about the characters and to have just a little bit more character development. We get to know a bit about them, but it is only through the use of dialogue, and I wish we had seen a bit more visual storytelling.
Also, some sequences use computer-generated imagery and some shots just did not look quite right. It is not necessarily bad, it just looks a bit jarring and it is noticeable. Finally, the cinematography, while mostly good, does have a few missteps. Some frames have the tops of the actors heads cut off for a few seconds, and the lighting in some of these scenes could have been a bit better, as there were a few moments where the details in the actors’ faces did not quite pop.
But overall, this is an incredibly well-done short film that has a highly hilarious story to tell and proves that Stuckmann is an up and coming filmmaker to take notice of.
Notes from Melanie is a highly effective short film that boasts great acting, a clever and witty script, and is a great display of Chris Stuckmann’s writing/directing talent.
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