Director: Nicholas F. Lavachek
Writer: Nicholas F. Lavachek
Cast: Trenton Whittaker, Sarah Doerner, Jace Ceyanes, Sam Uehling, George Esteban, Lexi Roa, Eden Ashkenazi
Running time: 14mins
As mentioned previously on Indy Film Library, despite the unfortunate preconceptions often directed at student film, it can be one of the most vibrant, creative and enjoyable facets of the independent cinema scene. The key strength which drives most student-led productions is that schools, colleges and universities are concentrated pools of up-and-coming talent that is often accessible free of charge! As a result, emergent talent can converge on a single project, creating a well-oiled machine bursting with fresh ideas and enthusiasm, without running up an astronomical bill in the process.
Simply having a wealth of talent to assemble a team from is not enough on its own to produce a polished end-product, however. Perhaps the greatest challenge facing young filmmakers like Nicholas F. Lavachek is that such a heady concoction of talent can lead you to bite off a little more than you can chew.
Restraint is the watch-word, as a Director in this environment must orchestrate a tight-knit harmony from the rest of the players, while also ensuring that the story created doesn’t move beyond the means of the production – however well-staffed it may be. Unfortunately, this is the main aspect of Blaze Beat Jitters which lets the production down. The lack of resources beyond a talented crew can mean that if a film overstretches, focusing itself on a complicated and grand set-piece, it can come across as glaringly amateur when contrasted with the bulk of the film – and so it is here.
Blaze Beat Jitters tells the story of a young group of musicians who are unexpectedly propelled to fame. Their sudden success seems to have caught leading man Danny Nova (the affable Trenton Whittaker) off-guard; having been unable to ease into fame he still suffers from frustrating bouts of anxiety during public performances – much to his band-mates’ ire. The issue comes to a head when the gang are invited to appear on TV by Richie Blaze (Jace Ceyanes) – and Danny soon finds his anxiety triggered by the expectations of the imperious host and his domineering Director (Sam Uehling). Only an ear massage in the style of Danny’s supportive partner Susan (Sarah Doerner) seems like it can save the day – but it seems unlikely that the booming Blaze is the right man to administer it, as the film draws to its feel-good (if slightly abrupt) conclusion.
The cast hardly puts a foot wrong in delivering the dialogue. As someone with a habit of angering others by spacing out under pressure, I can entirely relate to Whittaker’s glazed lead performance, while Uehling deserves particular credit for his show-stealing turn as Director Tim, who exhibits the kind of caffeine-fuelled fury many a filmmaker has become well acquainted during production – a process which is often best comparable to trying to herd cats.
Unfortunately, some of Danny’s band-mates come across as slightly one-note, partially as the story zips along at such pace that there is little opportunity to demonstrate their bond to the audience beyond depending upon each other to be rich and famous. Guitarist Fred Shred (George Esteban) in particular seems like a bit of a parasite, angrily turning on Danny at the first sign he might cost him a place on the passing gravy train. Because there is no foregrounding of why these people first came together – friendship, a mutual love of synth, anything – Fred just comes across as an arse, as opposed to the frustrated and conflicted collaborator he is supposed to be. It might have been worth either committing to a longer running time, or reining in some of the film’s other scenes in order to better expand on these characters in that case.
What really does for Blaze Beat Jitters, however – and ultimately sees it score fewer than four-stars – is that it is overtly trying to put on a bigger show than is in its means. Ceyane’s persona as Blaze might be big and bombastic, but his studio audience certainly is not. The set is noticeably small – so small in fact that it is not possible to show the entire band in the same shot – let alone a view of the ‘crowd’ (which consists of fewer than 10 people) and the performers. As we never see any contextual shots of people buying the band’s album, their popularity has to be signified by this performance – indeed, the whole plot hinges on the Blaze Beat show being a big deal, and portraying its host a musical king-maker, who you would do well to avoid disappointing. Sadly all the talent on display; the snappy writing, the excellent sound-design and wonderfully-80s-musical performances, is slightly undermined by this one central element.
So where does that leave Lavachek and his undeniably talented team? Well, this review might seem slightly disappointing to them on face value – everyone wants to hear that their work is already at a five-star level – but they should take great heart from this production. They evidently have the raw materials needed to make enjoyable and popular films in the future – they just need to smooth off some rough edges, and to be more patient with their story-telling until they have the budget to back that talent up.
Blaze Beat Jitters is a fun and engaging effort, with some strong central performances and a musical finale that will lift the spirits of even the most morose audiences. Providing its filmmakers learn from their mistakes this time, and better adapt to limited resources on future projects, they have the potential to really create something special next time around.
Submissions for the 2020 edition of the Indy Film Awards are now closed, and the new year of submissions will open in March. In the meantime, the very best of the films sent for review will be screened at a day-long event in Amsterdam. Tickets are available from FilmFreeway via the link below.