Hi Sam, thanks for posting. A great effort. As a student of film you can expect harsher criticism here than we might dish out to amateur home movie makers. This is all done with the intention to help you get bettter grades (and so we can all learn). This was clearly not put together by a bunch of first timers so I'm going to be hyper critical - OK?
I thought this was an interesting piece though I have to admit I didn't "get" the end. We get a car crash and then - what? The significance of the keyboard standing in the corner and the meaningful glances from the mother were lost on me. Perhaps this is what you mean by not being happy with the ending?
Overall: Well edited and very well paced.
Good steady shots (there would be absolutely NO excuse for the trendy hand-held wobbly look in this piece).
Good mix of wide/mid/close shots and a few interesting angles.
Appropriate music - I particularly liked the way the music was both the background and part of the plot.
Nicely done titles.
Areas which you might consider for improvement.
1. Plausibility: A 15 y/o boy with a room full of cuddly toys and a "Thunderbirds" duvet? It's possibl that he is being ironic or is a bit what we used to call "backward" - but there's nothing in the script to suggest either of these.
2. Plausibility: The teacher sees him playing and is immediately able to arrange an audition at a music college? Unlikely. And easily solved by changing the script along the lines of "and she's going to look into arranging an audition". Sounds more plausible and doesn't affect the plot at all.
3. Bedside clock goes from 6:58 to 7:00 without a minute passing. This is an unnecessary distraction - and it is a distraction because if an audience is shown a time in a film it is taken to be significant. So we are distracted by wondering whether this is significant or not.
4. The first shot of the present is confusing. There's nothing else in the shot to give us a sense of its size. Maybe this is intentional and meant to add a sense of mystery, but I think not.
5. Exposure: The shots from the back of the car suffer from the mother and son being silhouetted against what we can see out of the windows - the sky. You have attempted to expose correctly for the characters, but the contrast is just too great and there is so much white sky it's distracting. One suggestion is you shoot this type of shot in an area with lots of tall buildingas and/or trees which will cut our the sky. Otherwise you need to get some light onto the talent. Reflectors?
6. Exposure and Colour. The shot of Timothy examining his present is a great shot spoiled by the colour and exposure. The background is brighter than Timothy's face and his face is lit by the blue reflection of the wrapping paper. Get another light on his face to remove both problems.
7. Generally I really liked the passing of time sequence as Timothy studies and practices the piano. I liked the fact that rather than show him playing progressively difficult pieces yoiu stuck to the one piece (which did get a bit busier half way through) but more importantly I liked the way you used just this for sound whilst his mother changes from pleased/proud to getting more and more irate. There's somethibg particularly dramatic about someone shouting when you can't hear it. This really worked for me in showing how immersed Timothy had become in the piano.
What I didn't like about this sequence was the reversing of the direction of the dolly shots for two reasons: (1) if you keep the dolly shots going in one direction this would give a better impression of progression rather than going back and forth (2) reversing direction was a bit reminiscent of the "hosing" seen in amateur home movies.
8. The nat sound in the external shots was poor. It sounded to me like there was wind noise, but even if this was genuine sound it seemed noisier than the scenery warranted. Irrespective the contrast between the background sound here and when he got into the car was too great.
9. Composition: A lot of the camerawork had shots where it was tilted at less than 10 degrees. In some shots it was OK but generally I found this a distraction. I'd be happy to be corrected by you or any "proper" filmmakers, but my undrestanding is that verticals should always be vertical unless you want to create a specific effect - in which case the tilt should be very noticable not a few degrees.
10. The playing of the piano. He was so obviously not playing the piece. I'm sure in retrospect, you'd have had this part of the music recorded first and got the actor to "learn" an approximation. This is actually very tricky, because even if it's close there will always be part of your audience to whom it will be obvious he's not playing - and this removes them from the magic and reminds them they're watching a film.
My favourite sequence was a rather straightforward sequence of three shots from 5:24 to 5:34 - running out of school and getting into the car. Aside from the sound mentioned before, this particular sequence for some reason stood out to me as looking very professional.
I hope these comments give you food for thought and I really look forward to seeing your next project.