The Music, a short film review

The Music is the sixth film by award-winning New England director/producer/writer Mark Battle of Sweven Films – sequel to his second, The Janitor. Despite six years separating the two films, the cadence and tone have remained the same. However, something phenomenal has happened — Mark has accomplished what many filmmakers fail to pull off — the sequel transcends the first!

The Janitor (2013), winner of Best in Fest at the 2013 SNOB Film Festival, introduced us to Dominic, a cleaner for hitmen. Dominic is a quiet man, private and living modestly. In The Janitor, Dominic is faced with cleaning up a botched hit. In The Music, Dominic is still cleaning hits but he’s tired. He wants out.

Dominic is played by Michael Anthony Coppola. Michael, a handsome, broad-shoulder Gregory Peck-looking actor with a tousle of gray in his wavy dark hair, plays Dominic to perfection. He does not have many lines of dialogue – 20 lines – which he speaks in a low-pitched, slightly accented voice, sometimes in Czech. But what Michael doesn’t say, he expresses with movements of his eyes, hesitations, and facial expressions. Michael skillfully conveys Dominic’s story on his face. It’s an execution guaranteed to win awards.

The film is aptly titled. The music is not simply melody accompanying the story, rather it’s like a rudder on a boat changing the course of characters actions. When Dominic listens to music, he sails smoothly, methodically through the process of clean-up, but when the music abruptly stops, reality of his actions floods his consciousness. He heaves from the foulness of it all. When the character, Miklos, Dominic’s handler listens to music, his conduct is altered, outcomes are affected.

The Music is filmed in black and white, and as with every Mark Battle composition of genius, it is a work of art. The clarity and depth of each scene is stunning, like an Ansel Adams photo – pure and focused. The beauty of the visual backdrop against the anguished story plays in perfect harmony. And, Mark’s clever lack of color for literal interpretation – Dominic lives in a clearly defined black and white construct, despite his profession, burden, and legitimacy being muddled – is absolute brilliance!

The Janitor being my favorite among the Sweven Film oeuvre; it’s what began my admiration of Mark’s writing and cinematography. When I read that he was working on a sequel, I was ecstatic. It took a few years for the symphony to find its tempo, but it was well worth the wait! The Music now tops my list. Standalone, or as a sequel, it will be the short film that I guarantee audiences and film festival judges will be talking about this year.

Want to see The Music? Watch it in November in Concord, NH at the 18th Annual SNOB Film Festival! Dates & times TBA —


The Making of Merciless, a review

The Making of Merciless

From the intro to the last page, Mr. Stumpf has written a masterful page-turner. By the intro, that details his personal hardships and becoming a successful screenwriter — from learning the harsh realities of Hollywood, to his eventually selling and optioning his screenplays — you become engaged. Then, the screenplay, drags you into the twisting, horror-filled story with masterfully placed brushstrokes of wit and macabre. There is play of colors and opposites – the black polo shirt and the white hatchback, the light of day and the dark woods – as well as multi dimensional characters – Patrick, the rookie cop with an interest in film, and Gage, the film director with the underlying narcissistic tendencies. It is like Blair Witch had an affair with every Scream-inspired slasher film from the 21st century — the Making of Merciless is an original “found footage” screenplay with witty comic dialogue, interrupted chronology, and maximum savagery.

You can purchase your copy of The Making of Merciless on Amazon: CLICK HERE

About the Author

Bryan Stumpf

Bryan Stumpf has been college professor of film studies in Seattle, a digital media specialist at the 20th Century Fox in Los Angeles, and is currently the CEO and owner of Stumpf Farm Productions, based in Northern New York State. He has won writing and directing awards for his short films, Annulment and Ghost Walks.

Originally posted July 2016


Here Lies Joe, a short film review

Short film writer/director Mark Battle has amassed a solid roster of award-winning projects, including Victim (Best Regional Film, SNOB Film Festival), The Janitor (Best Thriller, SNOB Film Festival), and The Convict (Best Short Drama, SNOB Film Festival). All of Battle’s films are under the banner of Sweven Films, a New England-based production company.  His most recent short film, Here Lies Joe, co-written with his good friend Pamela Conway, is in the same master class as his previous efforts.

Here Lies Joe is a story about former English teacher Joe Barnes who is struggling with severe depression. He meets Z, a beautiful, young woman at a suicides anonymous meeting.  The taciturn Barnes and anarchic Z bond over their mutual desire to shuffle off this mortal coil — but will their budding friendship be enough for both to consider second chances?

The film is stunningly well-shot with sepia tones drenching each frame. And Battle’s dynamic cinematography – with angles, patterns, and contrasting shapes filling the frame – gives you the feeling you’re thumbing through a graphic novel.

Dean Temple, a ruggedly handsome actor with graying hairs in his tousled mane and scraggy beard, plays Joe.  At the opening of the film, we meet Joe as he duct tapes a Shop-Vac hose from his car’s passenger-side window to his tailpipe. Temple perfectly embodies the character of Joe — depressed, apathetic, and lost. The beautiful Andi Morrow, clearly a star on the rise, plays Z.  When Z storms the suicides anonymous meeting, dressed like a Bohemian punk, you might be quick to write her off as a just another quirky millennial, but Morrow imbues Z with a depth that makes her genuine, raw, and wise beyond her years.

Like Shawn Christensen’s Oscar-winning short film, Curfew, which deals with similar subject matter, writers Battle and Conway inject humor and humanity into the darkness. I was so invested in the story, I wished I learned more about the characters. But, like Curfew, Here Lies Joe leaves you with the feeling that everything will be okay, and confident that Sweven Films will have a bright future.

Originally posted January 2016