Thursday, December 13, 2007

Musings on Writer's Block vol. 2

Here I am, come upon another freewrite. Struggling to write. It’s 8:58am, been up all night. I’ve written two short stories in the last 16 hours, that total about 9 pages between the two of them. I like the both of them. They both say very specific things about my experiences in Iraq. Unfortunately, that’s the problem. They’re both about Iraq. Neither is really fictional. Something more akin to embellished, refined, narrative-ized non-fiction…The problem is that this is a fiction class. I’m already worried about having to do some major rewriting to fictionalize them for my prof. But I’ve also written five Iraq stories total for this class. Only one is truly fictional. I used my emotions and put myself into a Dear John type situation and it turned out really well. Very cinematic. It’ll make a good short film whenever I’m able to cull enough resources for it…But that’s not helping me now.

I have one…last…story to write…before I can move on to working on a story for a different class!

I started writing a variation on the Thorn story that was beaten into a pulp in my Story & Animation class by two months of reiterations. This time I removed all of the magical elements and stripped it down to just the abstract visuals, replacing the magical thorn with shards of a broken mirror…and I couldn’t stomach it. Not the violence itself, but rather that there was no discovery in it. It felt like I was going through the motions. I knew exactly where the violence was going to end up, and what made me sick of it was that it was so senseless. I suppose that was part of the original point, but after having my nose rubbed in the filth of my own design for two months straight, I just didn’t have the heart to follow it through. That’s the thing. If I’d had the heart, if I’d felt like what I was writing was saying something worthwhile, or allowing a new discovery, rather than just depravity, I could have followed it through to its very bitter end. But not this time. I’m finished with that story. I’m ready to move on to illustrations and evocations of greater emotional complexity than a visceral, gut-wrenching reaction. I kept thinking about early Cronenberg and Lynch, and their films work on levels beyond the purely visceral. The visceral is reserved for shock horror, and that’s about it.

So. Do I continue to strip-mine my Iraq experiences? Or do I progress onto something more complex? More original?

On second thought, I may have found a way to get the fragmented story to work. If I make it a piece about heroism as deformative performance art. I think I can see it now. That was the problem. I couldn’t see it. Or what I saw wasn’t clicking. Now I see it. And it could be beautiful.

Ever see Perfume? Beautiful movie. My kind of movie.

Musings on Writer's Block

I’m afraid it’s a little self-indulgent, writing about not being able to write. But I suppose it’s a clever enough way of writing something. Someone, was it you?, once said that if you’re writing is blocked, then write about that write, just write. That is the key.

I feel like every idea I come up with is either ham-handedly personal—i.e. has to do yet again with Iraq—or it’s ham-handedly impersonal. Narratives that go nowhere. Conversations that exist simply to exist or to highlight some pompous philosophical issue.

For example:
3 priests. They all three have discovered their Bibles are literally empty. This prompts a crisis of faith in each. And each reacts differently. The first thinks that it doesn’t matter whether its phony or not, the fact is his congregation believes it and, moreover, they believe because they believe he believes. And he doesn’t feel he has any right to take that away, even if he wanted to, which he doesn’t of course. The second believes that even if the “Word of God” is nothing but empty phrases, they still matter as long as we choose to live by them. In his case, he feels he cannot lie about their being phony, but questions what phony really means. His quest is to make the “Laws of God” into the Laws of Man, by reconciling the phoniness of their supernatural nature with our need to continue to abide by them. He also seeks to reconcile the difference between the spiritual and the supernatural, that we no longer to justify the spiritual by falling back on the supernatural. The third priest agrees with both, but seeks something beyond the physical constraints of our imagination, something that needs no supernatural nor humanly explanation or justification. He seeks nirvana for himself, so that he may bring it to others.

Now, the ideas that I wish to address couldn’t be more topical or relevant, but it is the story that I’m attempting to hang them on that continues to crumble under the weight of a heavy hand. I mean really, three priests having a spiritual crisis? No shit. Why not make a story about three clowns having a humor crisis while we’re at it. I suppose I could transplant the thematic ideas onto three ordinary peoples’ lives, but then there is no story, only a dialectic.

Example 2:
Three guys are arguing about the importance of having a MacGuffin that determines the political future of their country. In this case, the MacGuffin really is nothing, and they discuss the relative importance of the non-object now that they know the truth. The conversation covers the same broad-strokes existentialism as the three priests’ conversation, just in dealing with politics instead of religion.

Example 3:
A character is told he is a character in a movie and where he can find the camera. The story ends with the character acknowledging that everything he says or does is merely a facsimile of some almighty author. His dramatic realization is that when the movie ends, so does he. This is really an expansion of a story I wrote for a short film I made recently. The object would be the camera, which the two characters’ conversation kind of beats around the bush about, without ever really specifying what exactly they’re discussing. The shortcomings of the film is that it never directly addresses the issue of being a character in a film. And the fact that the camera he finds is a security camera, only confuses things. It turns the story of the film into one about discovering a security camera, and not one about discovering you’re a character in a movie.

The real problem I have with all of these stories is that they exist to serve only two functions: I’m looking to create a conversation between characters; and I want a soapbox to preach from. Iraq is always a goldmine of vignettes, but I don’t think that’s the only thing I can do. The problem is that everything else I write is pretty worthless.

I feel like I need to be more creative and stop writing about shit that’s so personal. But everybody writes shit that’s personal, right? Isn’t that why shit’s good? I mean Cormac McCarthy saw a massive fire on a hillside above a motel he and his son were staying at in New Mexico and so he wrote a novel about a father trying to protect his son in a world on nuclear fire from the worst kind of predator, cannibals. That’s a really pretty simple, brilliant interpretation/extension of that inspirational event. I wish I could do the same.

I haven’t been experiencing anything lately, is part of the problem. I’ve been stuck in a ridiculous, extended grind of school and we all know that school isn’t really something dramatically captivating.

Maybe I’ll write about Iraq once more with feeling.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Sketch 1: a vignette


In lieu of "100% concrete, artistic production", today I filmed a vignette--I think "short film" would do both my video and the phrase a disservice--so it's "a vignette" by yours truly. I think what I like most about it is its simplicity. I wasn't reaching after some grand--grandly pretentious--ambition. I just wanted to play with the moving image, and allow myself to improvise a little with it both photographically and editorially.

The only guiding principle for this filmic vignette was that a journey would be shown only through the beautiful convex mirrors that decorate many of the garage stairwells on the UW campus. And by "journey" I don't mean anything unnecessarily complex, only that the character is going from one place...to another.

This was born out of a desire to further explore an image that cropped up in a short film I made about a year-and-a-half ago in those same stairwells. I had captured only one image (which you can see above) using one of the mirrors and today it is far and away my favorite part of the film. If you watch it, (called, painfully, "Shadow Way"), you'll notice that I looped that and two other shots three times at varying lengths. I did this in part because the character's journey down the stairwell was too short as it was with only those shots, but also because I just fucking loved how it looked.

So in a sense, I guess you could say that I'm simply indulging myself. So be it. In plain terms, my goal/ambition/hope for all of my DXARTS work isn't first to make something "good", but to "make". The "good" can follow. For the time being, I'm primarily concerned with forming productive habits. Though don't think that I simply don't care about something of mine being good. Au contraire, I perhaps sometimes care too much. To the point that I end up overthinking the project. That's happened plenty in my short artistic career, and it usually ends with me either dropping the idea entirely out of intimidation, or it ends with me pushing ahead with a bunch of half-baked ideas. I'm trying to un-learn that, and to re-learn how to appreciate the moving image. How to see my creations for what they truly are and not for what I wish them to be.

I am positive that without being self-aware, without being emotionally authentic and intellectually concise, I cannot create a work that compels others to be aware of it: it will lack authenticity and concision.

That's not to say that this vignette is concretely either of those ambitions or is even intended to be. They are the end goal, and this vignette is but a pebble on the path. It is on the path, to be sure, but a pebble it nevertheless is.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

This has been a killer week for me. I've been increasingly tired to the point that today, for the first time all quarter, I started nodding off in class. Though that's got to be some kind of a record for me, it's not because I haven't been getting enough sleep.

I think I'm just getting burned-out. Not because I'm doing too much per se, I love (most) of what I'm doing, more because I feel like the ratio between how much time and effort I'm dedicating to my schoolwork this quarter and what I'm getting back from it (i.e. grades) is pretty disproportionate.

I know I'm learning. At the moment I'm confident of this. And I'm also self-aware enough to know that that is the important part for me. Unfortunately, it's hard to see the forest when you're burrowing your head in a tree. I have so little time now to work on anything outside of animation, that my personal life is pretty much non-existent and even my DXARTS research studio is suffering a bit. Which is pretty shitty when you consider how hard I've worked to get into DXARTS: now that I'm here, I'm pouring all my effort into something else. To be fair, the Animation Capstone does count as a DXARTS sequence. Still, it's the principle of the situation that bothers me.

I'm not sure that by purging my thoughts on this situation I'll actually solve any of these issues, but some clarity if nothing else would be nice.

...more to come later...

Monday, November 05, 2007

sketch_Space vol. 5: Sketched Dimensions

dimensions

learning to see. again.

free of authorial intent

focuses on image composition, construction, capturing

a series of haikus, vignettes, exercises as preproduction

inspirations: d lynch ==> inland empire, d cronenberg ==> storyboard-free, blocking-dictated

culminates with a conversational sequence between actors/actresses (never filmed one)

blocking will dictate composition per cronenberg

modus operandi: make language and action meaningfully photographic

primary impetus: re-learn how to see what is in front of me; distinguish this from what i "place" there


secondary impetus: conversation construction, actor rehearsals, blocking

undercurrent(s): blur the line between ideation and creation; make the process the product and vice-versa

threads: haikus (complete cinematic agency) and taped rehearsals (photographically agentless) will be woven into a vignette in which both captor and captured will have mutual cinematic agency

to be transplanted to: students.washington.edu/eledrew asap

Monday, October 29, 2007

sketch_Space Vol. 4: Spaces for Sketching

Quick update: I've been working on an as-yet-bare bones sketchspace at my students.washington.edu/eledrew webspace and intended to have it online by tonight, but it seems I'm having some technical difficulties and I am afraid I'm in need of some sleep. So unfortunately, that's going to have to wait for tomorrow.

As far as my cultural webs go, I'm still working on breaking them down into categories, but it goes something like this:

-Arts
-Economics
-Ethics
-History
-Politics
-Society

And each of these may eventually have subdivisions within them. I think I may ultimately not have such broad categories, but this will be a project specific thing. I sort of see my cultural webs section as a place where I can link to and comment on anything apart from my own experiences that has nevertheless influenced them, my thinking, or my current project. I think I'll just use these broad categories as jumping-off points, general areas that ought to be considered when researching for a project. The 'referents' section will be a place that categorizes those personal experiences not directly related to easily identifiable external sources. It will serve as a more intimate place for thoughts, notes, and general, unifying principles.

Monday, October 22, 2007

sketch_Space vol. 3: on Word and Image

I wanted to share a few more thoughts about the sketch-space concept as I envisioned it in my last few postings. I still think the idea I illustrated would make a great, meta-medium for artists (and anyone else who develops multi-media "projects") to use as a site for their own art-research. But that said, I think it being built by myself may be somewhat out of the question.

I say that primarily because I think that the research, training, and man-hours that would be involved in creating a modifiable, web-hosted, 3-D environment would take me completely away from the art-research I ought to be doing. I have no doubt that the experience would be a fantastic learning experience for me, but I know myself all too well to think that my interests wouldn't circle back around to the image faster than I could type http://eledrew.blogspot.com. That fact remains that no matter how many different media I dabble in, it always, always comes back to film. Cinema or, in more artworld-friendly words, the "moving image", is where my heart is. Always has been, always will be. I didn't write short stories at age nine because I wanted to be a writer, I wrote short stories because I wanted to make movies only I didn't have the means. Even all those teenage years I spent wanting to be a novelist--it was because I thought that's how I'd get into movies. Same goes for film criticism. I didn't want to be a film critic indefinitely, I just thought it was a means to an end--like Godard or Truffaut.

Essentially, I'm saying that while I still very much like the idea, I don't think I'm the one to build it. And I say that not because I wouldn't enjoy it, but because it would take me away from working on art and push me towards creating a product.

Bottom line: I'm not a web-guru, I'm a filmmaker.

Which brings me back to the blog: although it's easy to see the blog as a cop-out, since it lacks so many bells and whistles and it's presentation is really quite uncreative, it is also so effective for that very reason. As you've read, my relationship with the word has always paralleled my relationship with the image, and so it shouldn't come as any surprise that I would be drawn to both of those as my primary means of expression. The word is fast, cheap, and out of control, so it beats the image for pure, stream-of-consciousness thought-processing (hence the preceeding and following). And since I'm interested in "storytelling through the moving image"--a really, really, really ashamedly pretentious way of saying "movies"--it makes sense that the de facto form of communication would figure predominantly in my ideation-creation, art-research process.

Monday, October 15, 2007

sketch_Space vol. 2: Titles

A few titles before I forget:

worXpace
worXhop
funXion space

sketch_Space vol. 1

I think my "sketchspace"--or whatever we end up calling the damn thing--will be built at my UW web site: students.washington.edu/eledrew, but seeing how confused I am on how we're to proceed with it at the moment, I'm going to settle for some bloggin'.

The specific assignment this week is several-fold:

1) REFLECT ON THE CONCEPT OF THE "SKETCHSPACE": My understanding of the sketchspace is that it is to be a web-hosted "environment" essentially, that serves as both workshop for the artist and document for the public. Process and product are to be one in it, hence art-research (a phrase which I'm actually really starting to like, if for no other reason than a purely aesthetic one: I like how it sounds, all badass and such). While we are expected to conduct our art-research through the medium/ia that the artifact is engaged in, the space itself must be a meta-medium (isn't that what the internet is, a medium that encompasses all media? Other than a series of tubes, of course...). It must be versatile: able to host the development of a project of any one or number of media, but once hosted, able to accommodate only those media engaged. A meta-media space that can transmute into a media-singularity, any media-singularity, and host such media exquisitely, as if the space was designed for only that media. To my mind, what this means is that the space has to encompass the different media I use in my ideation and creation processes. To wit: notebook/sketchbook, blog, video, stills, prose, a Google/wiki bar for quick searches, and audio-notes log. Not everyone uses all of these, some don't use any, so the space would have to be mod-able to fit the artist's own personal tastes. I think the most important thing though, is that it really needs to be convenient. The best thing about a notebook is it's backpocket convenience. The nice thing about a blog is that I can ramble on and on and work-out all of my thoughts. The nice thing about peers is being able to bounce ideas off of them. The nice thing about video is that it's the thing itself. And so on. If one has to manage this many different media, or more, I can imagine the temptation to get lazy and cease collating all of the data is quite apparent. So convenience, accessibility, clarity, are my primary concerns when it comes to how I would organize such a space. The first image that comes to mind is of a 3D octopus, similar to how we were taught to draw character traits in junior high lit classes. Character in the middle, with all of their traits springing off in various directions around. I'd imagine the hub of the site being the artist's name with their past, current and future projects springing off in 3D space around them. The user would click on whichever project he desired, and the octopus would morph from the artist to the project, with all the various media involved in the creation of it now replacing the projects in the tendrils.

This still leaves several problems: how to incorporate the tangibiles: notes, sketches, etc. short of manually scanning them in one by laborious one. Also, how to make the media itself, say video, dominate the art-research process.

This last question is the one that gnaws at me. Am I overthinking the sketchspace? Is it as simple as "doing" instead of "thinking about doing"? Probably somewhere in-between.

2) to establish an appropriate webspace where I will both document my art-research process, as well as build the space. Check, on that one.

3) EXTRACT FROM YOUR PROJECT/CRITIQUE SEEDS FOR NEW WORK AND DOCUMENT THEM IN THE CONTEXT OF STARTING POINTS IN YOUR SKETCHSPACE: It's really difficult to proceed on this step without answering some of those questions I posed in the first part of the assignment. But I suppose if there were a place to start, it would be in the critique of my project (uh, maybe like it says to do?). The critique was of "a product of my environment" and it was a pretty interesting one (read: harsh). The kind of critique that reminds me why I wanted to do DXARTS in the first place. It was essentially a critique of the incongruity between my Big Ideas for the piece and the piece itself. Noel railed on my artist's statement for being a series of post-rationalizations, which isn't entirely valid, but the reason he perceived them as post-rationalizations is 100% valid: they aren't there. The artist's statement isn't so much a post-rationalization, as it is a post-vocalization of pre-production intent. Of course, the fact that I'm the filmmaker has blinded me quite a bit (moreso than I'm comfortable with, really) to the flaws in the piece. I think what was most interesting about the critique is that it's completely different from the critiques I got in 452 when I first presented the thing. Rachel gave me a "whoa", Jim who I respect a lot (even though the bastard doesn't return my emails now) thought it was "the best video" I'd done in the class, and Noel's initial critique amounted to: "good cinematography, good editing, sound not so good, needed to be more drawn-out at beginning". We exchanged a few emails on this after class last week, but I think its interesting that he gave me one kind of crit, mostly positive, but constructive when negative, on his first viewing, and on the second totally ripped the film. As he said, he felt that ripping me the second time around would be good for me, whereas he may not have felt that way the first time around. If nothing else, I think it illustrates one of two things: the versatility of image-meaning (not necessarily my film's though), or the versatility of critical-perception. Probably somewhere between the two.

Either way, Noel was right. Bottom line: it was good for my soul. Unexpected, a little shocking, and stung the mane a tad, but it raised the bar for the class and for my motivation to improve. It's one less video I have to weave in my laurels, and now I don't think they can support my weight were I to rest on them. Thank Buddha!

Sunday, September 30, 2007

New (School) Year, New Classes, Same Goal: see above

I've long since returned from New York/New Jersey and the short of it is this: you can't fit a square peg into a round hole, especially when the square knows it's a square and tries to anyways. Trans: I'm not an assistant, knew I wasn't, but tried to hack it anyways. Whoops.

----------

Onto the business of the moment. I'm more or less a DXARTS major now, which is great. This year, my time is going to be dominated by the Computer Science dept.'s Animation Capstone series. The class is more story-centric than the DXARTS equivalent, and is designed to provide us with an immersive, industry-like experience during the production of a short animated film.

In tandem with the capstone class, I'm taking a Technology & Story class that is responsible for developing stories for the class-wide animated short we're to begin work on winter quarter. It's entirely story-focused, which will be great for me since I feel like last year's video sequence made me comfortable enough with the moving image as an artifact itself, for me to be able to focus more on just the act of storytelling itself. It's a process of give-and-take, I think.

On the DXARTS side of things, I'll be taking DXARTS 400 all year as well, which is a two-credit undergraduate research seminar. From what I've heard, it's a pretty open-ended experience, that is just supposed to allow us students to dream-up a project and follow-through with it. Needless to say, it should be pretty fun.

So, all that said, the subsequent posts in this here blog are going to involve either story ideation for animation, or for project ideation for DXARTS. And maybe a little cross-pollination of the two.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Mas photographicas

Taken at a bar in Jersey called the Big Apple. I think it's supposed to be ironic or something.

Brooklyn, NYC from Midtown Manhattan.
Tribeca, Manhattan, NYC, NY, USA, Earth from Hoboken, NJ:My room:
My new room.

Crises of Conscience


Last week was really rough, not so much because of the job, but because of the job. What I mean to say is that, there was nothing directly related to the job that was frazzling me, but in an indirect way, it was getting to me quite a bit last week. I just had, time and again, slip-up after slip-up. None except one were particularly major, but minor lapses in memory happening several times a day can add up pretty goddamn quick.

I finally found a place over the weekend, so I'm no longer crashing on Andy Meissner's couch. And I can already feel the difference my own space is having on my motivation. The place is quite close to work and the roommates are pretty cool (both are in the film industry as well, one an NYU alumnus)--BUT IT'S STILL IN JERSEY. Man, Jersey. Oh man. The stories are true. Rather, that there aren't many, is the real story. One of the film's casting associates had to hand-deliver to me a DVD of an audition for Brett to look at and she road the PATH (Port Authority Trans-Hudson) into Jersey from Tribeca--for the first time. I have no idea how long she's lived in NYC, but if I had to guess, at least two or three years. And she'd never been over to Jersey.

My advice: don't vacation here.

All that said, today, Monday, has gone better than all the wellness in last week combined. Not that today has gone spectacularly well or something, just that it hasn't gone spectacularly wrong. Or something.

On the bright side, Marie's going to be coming out to stay with me for three weeks in less than three weeks (still with me?). I love Seattle, but it's really the people, not the place that I miss. The girl, the fam, the friends. And the Catz.

On another bright side, I've seen the new Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, 28 Days Later, etc) movie "Sunshine" twice now, and I'm almost convinced that it's my favorite movie so far this year, just edging out Hot Fuzz. I think Hot Fuzz might ultimately be the *better* movie, but Sunshine so spectacularly caters to my baser tastes in cinema (without making me feel the least bit guilty about it), that there's no way I could not love it. And I love the shit out it.

While we're comparing movies, why not go the full half-mile (seeing that the year's more than half-over):
1. Sunshine
2. Hot Fuzz
3. ...

Was anything else released this year? I also saw the Steve Buscemi movie Interview that is quite good, if not good enough to "list". I really liked Knocked Up also, but again, can there really be only these few films? Ouch...

I suppose the best movie I've seen this year period is Lawrence of Arabia. And the best movie I've seen this year that I hadn't seen before would probably be Ivan the Terrible I&II.

At any rate, I'm hoping to punch-out any minute now. I'll be in touch.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Hoes, Hobos, and Hoboken

My phone died just in the nick of time yesterday--good excuse for me to buy an iPhone. And while I'm at it, why not the most expensive one too? Guess what, it's fucking awesome. Oh and there goes a week's pay that I haven't gotten yet. Oops!

Since all my love's been NYC-directed, and for good reason, I thought I'd share some Hoboken, NJ love too:

1. Hoboken is the birthplace of baseball, a sport that is much more fun to play than it is to watch
2. Hoboken is the birth place of Frank Sinatra. I think there's a reason he ended up in Vegas.
3. Hoboken is the setting of Elia Kazan's On the Waterfront. I think there's a reason that movie is so depressing. At least Brando coulda been a conteda: Hoboken neva wuhs.

Monday, July 16, 2007

The Streets of New York...


It may not be the Streets of Fallujah (TM), but it's the closest in two-and-a-half years I've felt to driving the old IED alley a.k.a "Iraqis get the fuck out of the way"

Daylight Is an Awful Film


So this is the Lincoln Tunnel, running along the riverbed of the Hudson, in transit to Manhattan. I'm pretty sure this is where the bad Stallone movie Daylight took place. Either this or the Holland Tunnel. Either way, it's still a bad, bad movie. And now I want to watch it.

Dr. Jekyll Capitulates to Mr. Hyde

Back in the New York groove

I'm doing alright. NYC is great of course, I'm living with Andy Meissner
right now, and he's been a really great friend. I'm trying to find a place
that isn't too far from the production office, won't break the bank, and is
without weirdo roommates, but so far, no such luck. Yesterday I struck out on
all three counts.

I spent my birthday stuck in traffic, doing laundry and taking
muffin orders for today, so I was really pretty miserable. Monday my first
day was the worst though. I seriously can't compare it to any other day
except reception at basic. I was carrying about 60 lbs of shit, wearing nice
but not functional in the least clothes, and walking around in 105 degree
heat. To add insult to that, I was twice given the wrong subway stop to get
off at, but proper directions from said stop, and ended up walking probably
over 5 miles--again, with shit and in nice clothes. To top that off, I came
in and got the "speech" from the line producer about the 1001 things to do
and the 100001 things not to do. I really couldn't write fast enough, it was
ridiculous. And then I didn't get to bed until 2am, and had to get up at 5am
after sleeping 3 hrs on the red-eye the night before. I wasn't expecting
sympathy when I got in, but neither was I expecting a complete disregard for
my situation. Oh well, right?

So if you haven't gotten the idea, the job kinda sucks. I haven't done
anything particularly cool, except maybe transporting the director's photo
book collection which I had a few moments to browse through. At any rate,
I've got to go finish the director's laundry now...

Please shoot me. ;)

Friday, May 18, 2007

Concertina Prospectus

For my midterm/final in the Creativity class I'm currently taking (mostly as it relates to business however, not something I was warned of in advance) we were charged with coming with a creative Idea (midterm) and then taking the first step toward realizing it (final).

For mine, I proposed a short film that I may try to shoot sometime this summer, that I was kicking around as one of the possible projects for me to do as my video thesis. Of course I chose the more ambitious projects for my thesis, but I still quite appreciate this idea.

The pitch: A young man tries to protect a ball of bloody razor wire from a group of worshippers who would take it from him.

The first step: drawing three Anchor Images.

Diagnoses: on videos and westerns


Although I'm in a huge time-crunch with Invert at the moment, things seem to be going reasonably well with it. Except for final trimming and audio, it looks as if I'm pretty much finished with the first and last shots, which together amount to about 1/6 of the running time. So for two days spent on 1/6, that leaves me ten days to do the rest. That's not too bad. Although, I'm also hoping that now that I have After Effects a little more under control and my workflow down, that I'll at least be able to shave 1/4 that time off. I need to leave two days for the title sequence and end-credits, and two days for the audio--which leaves me 10 to finish keying and compositing. Not too bad. A little tight, but not too bad.

It seems I'll also be reshoots a shot or two this Saturday, and picking up two or three as well. My only worry is accomplishing that in three hours' time.

But that's pretty much it for the video--fingers crossed, it's all down hill from here.

My only other major concern is being able to finish my animation for the humanities class I'm in. But as video is my priority, that's where all of my effort's been going. We'll see what that bodes for getting into either of the animation classes next year--not that I have a choice.

Just watched: Seraphim Falls and there really is no excuse for Pierce Brosnan and Liam Neeson to be starring in an R-rated, independently financed Western that is essentially a two-hour chase sequence and for it to SUCK. Well, it's not awful. But man, oh man, is it ever lame. Never did I think that I was watching anything more than two modern actors (who are usually so much better) playing dress-up in New Mexico. Although I'm sure my reaction to this tepid western has something to do with recently reading Cormac McCarthy's savage Blood Meridian...

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Promised


Produced

The shoot went.

Mollie, Ryan, Collin, and Chris (Waldon) came through in a big way for me. Having such an intelligent, hard-working, enjoyable crew really made me feel like I was actually directing. It was exhilarating. And I don't mean that in a power-hungry way. Just that I was able to focus mostly on the creative aspect of the filming, while others capable and willing would translate my idea to reality. It was truly exhilarating.

Now this didn't last the whole time, only a couple of hours really, as staying for the whoole shoot was really out of the question for everybody except me--and my actor.

Speaking of which, Thomas Heasley also came through in a really big way. A self-described drama-dance artist, Thomas was one of two people to respond to my request for actors, and he was a perfect fit for a non-speaking, physically specific role.

He had no previous film experience after this short, he isn't too interested in much more--although, as he said, it gave him a new-found respect for film actors, as they have to stay in a moment over and over again when nailing a take. His one critique of me when we were finished was that in stage drama, it's considered bad form for a director to model how an actor is "supposed" to act, as it constricts their creative freedom. Observe:


On the other hand, he conceeded, film is different than the stage as there are specific shots that need to be acted a certain way. Not so on the stage, where an actor is free to "interpret" the material in their own way. So other than the practical lessons learned from my first extensive greenscreen process ("necessary evil" comes to mind), the biggie that I learned on this shoot is really about myself: for better or worse, I'm very hands on with directing actors.

As for the footage itself, I haven't actually captured any yet--I'm giving myself a day off. From memory however, some of it looks fantastic, some looks overlit, some under--but I don't think anything looks awful. My main concern at this point is that I still need to capture an underwater image and I may need to shoot an additional shot or two for the climax. More logistics, essentially.

We'll see what happens though. In the meantime, there are some fantastic movies playing that I'm going to try to make time to see (in-between work, or course) this week.

I'll put some more pictures up on my next post, and tomorrow I'll see if I can't put up a frame-grab.

Watching: The Incredibles

Thursday, April 26, 2007

in·vert
verb (used with object)
1.to turn upside down.
2.to reverse in position, order, direction, or relationship.
3.to turn or change to the opposite or contrary, as in nature, bearing, or effect: to invert a process.
4.to turn inward or back upon itself.
5.to turn inside out.
6.Chemistry. to subject to inversion.
7.Music. to subject to musical inversion.
8.Phonetics. to articulate as a retroflex vowel.
–verb (used without object)
9.Chemistry. to become inverted.
–adjective
10.Chemistry. subjected to inversion.
–noun
11.a person or thing that is inverted.

("invert" Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc. 26 Apr. 2007)

Decisions, Decisions

I'm supposed to shoot tomorrow. I have no actor. I have a crew of two, including myself.

That's what I have against me.

For me, I have a solid array of equipment. I have a soundstage (DXARTS' Fremont studio). And I have a pretty damn good idea.

I also have a ton of storyboards. Which brings me to now. I'm still boarding out my shots. I have 22 shots as of right now. I have four shots left to parse (iow, fill the 'tweens of the keyframes). And I'm stuck.

I'm not sure how to get from the guy climbing up the wall, to him leaping up to the ceiling. I'm really not. It's too sudden for it to occur right away. There has to be some logical bridge between the two. But not something throw away-able. Something that furthers the story.

So what's left to tell?

Conflict?

This would be a good place to start foreshadowing the end...But the foreshadowing can't come out of nowhere either. Foreshadowing needs to be foreshadowed.

Foreshadow 1: His wet hand in f/g as he fully opens his eye.

Foreshadow 2: (Now) When he goes up the wall, before he walks out of frame, we stay on the dark again.

Foreshadow 3: Reverse OTS as he reaches for the pool, transfixed.

End: Sits up into black, walks out of frame, leaving us to linger on black.

In the darkness, there is room, it is open. At the apex, there is only water and a reflection. A cramped space. Is his curse that he only travels toward the light?

Should the final shot be the darkness?

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Qualitative Distractions

I've been...not procrastinating...but avoidant on this project because of one simple reason: it frightens me. The sheer scope of what's involved in realizing the vision I have for this thing is daunting.

I'm daunted.

I've gotten some good support from my instructor and several classmates who are game to allow our mutually chromagreen sets to commingle, so I feel better now. But I still feel as if I haven't actually done a whole helluva lot on this thing. Part of it might be that after six months of three-week turnarounds on increasingly demanding projects, it feels terribly awkward to not be maintaining that same level of corporeal intensity.

The other part of it is that I'm finally, at long last trying to get my general studies degree off the ground at the UW, and it has been occupying most of my time at the beginning of this quarter. I got it approved by the board last week, and now tonight I put together one of two cover letters for the professors I have to obtain sponsorships from. It's stressful, to say the least. No blanket security of set benchmarks for progress, no assurance of acceptance due to my wildly variant academic record. I don't think either of them will be able to question my passion for cinema media. But there is the little matter of academic formalism. The very world implies formalism. Academic. Academia. I wouldn't blame Shawn for not wanting to attach his name to a student who has a 0-point-fucking-0 on his transcript. Shit, that's what...a whole 3.3 GPA points lower than my lowest grade in high school? And a whole 2.4 less than my next lowest grade in college (which still is a shitty grade though)? Even though I'm planning on retaking the class, I'm still frightened to death that I won't do much better the second time around. I really do not have the discipline, patience, or attention span for programming--and that class not only revealed my weaknesses, it assraped the chinks in my rusty armor with a lance whose splinters only grow more painful by the day with pussy infection.

Nice metaphor.

Back to the topic at hand: in the next few days, I'm going to be completely boarding out my film, creating a storyreel, breaking down my shots into components, casting, crewing, equiping, planning, doubting, re-planning, crying, and finally, hopefully arriving at a gameplan that falls between the sometimes exclusive realms of possiblity and quality.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Storyboards for the Untitled







Apex of the series

I have been procrastinating on posting information here for the last two weeks. It doesn't help that a notebook is more convenient for ideas than a blog, but I'll do my best.

I am about to commence work on sketching up my key storyboards for the capstone piece I'm working on, those will be on here later, but first I wanted to take a few minutes and formally stretch my concept. Get in the game, so to speak.

Let me start by recapping the concept: there is a pyramid that exists Somewhere. This pyramid is hollow and the interior of each of it's four "walls" is really a Plane. Each Plane is a locus of special gravity. That is, a field of gravity is unique to each Plane. So essentially each Plane can be "down", "up", "right wall" or "left wall", depending upon which plane a person is standing on.

Such a person, in the form of a man--no offense, but I'm a man and it's easy to stay writing about the same sex--lands on one of the planes near the base of the pyramid as the short film begins. The "story" being told is of this man as he "walks" up the plane, toward the apex.

Speaking of which, the apex itself is obscured by the intensity of the white light that emanates from it. The interior of the pyramid is grayish-white: the further from the apex, the darker the shades of gray are, until they eventually crush into black; the closer to the apex, the brighter the shades of gray are until they eventually blow-out into impenetrable white.

Now this will not just be a monotonous "walk" in an obscure environment. The "conflict" of the piece is that as the planes of gravity converge toward the apex, narrowing as they do, their locuses of gravity begin to exert more of an influence upon the subjects of the other planes. As the protagonist goes along further, first his hair, then whatever clothing he has, and ultimately his body itself begin to be pulled toward the different planes. He is also able to first walk then jump to adjoining planes and, eventually, is able to leap "up" and land on the "ceiling" so to speak, which then becomes "the floor" making the initial "floor" now the "ceiling."

He ultimately reaches the top, attains enlightment, reaches the pearly gates, etc. but as he--and we--find out, nothing is quite as simple as that.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

a product of my environment

The short turned out reasonably well. Good cinematography, good editing, good acting, etc. The two flaws: I showed my cards entirely too soon in terms of the reveal (well, as it is, there is no reveal); and the sound is really not all that good.

If you want to check it out: myspace.com/eledrew

Just as the character is a product of his environment, the video is figuratively and, quite literally, "a product of my environment".

For whatever its worth, cheers.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Post Post 1

Well the shoot actually ended up going quite well. Jan came through in a pinch to be the lead, a Freshman named Jake that linked up with me through a post I put on craigslist ended up doing really well, and Jim and Collin came aboard to help me behind the camera in a big way. Since this was a location shoot, with multiple actors, there was no way I could have done this without their help.

As I said, the shoot went pretty well, we started filming about 630pm and wrapped at exactly 12a. The gennie ran out of gas on the third-to-last shot, but Collin was a sport and took me to fill it up. And then my car died on the last shot, so we had to push it into position for the last shot. Thankfully, it only ended up needing a jump.

I'm capturing the footage itself as I type this, and some of it looks really, really good. Some of it is iffy. But nothing that can't be massaged in FCP or, last resort, AE. But I don't think I have anything that looks bad--which is really miraculous. Especially considering that I was still not recovered from being sick, and that it was cold as balls out. Really fucking cold.

Hopefully, the effort that everyone put into my video will show. If not, the blame can only rest with me.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

What am I trying to communicate?

I am trying to remove the contextuality of violence. Violence never exists in a vaccum, it is always in reaction to something. No violence is unprovoked, whether that provocation is imaginary, accidental, or otherwise. Therefore, there is always context and pretext for violence. This can be distracting from the act itself I think. While I understand Noel's desire for something to connect with, that is not the point of this piece. I want to decontextualize the act itself by presenting a character who is able to become involved in something else without

I am also presenting a person who has no context.

What do I have? I don't know if I'm just can't think clearly at the moment or if I'm really just confused about the whole mess.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

I've Got Issues

I'm torn between feeling like there isn't enough in this piece, and like I might be trying to put too much into it. The problem I had with my first project this quarter was that I tried to put too much into it; I couldn't just let what was be, and because of that it ended up being a little cluttered, the "message" mixed.

In retrospect I don't know what I could have cut because the way I see it all flow now, I can't imagine it without any of the pieces. That's not to say that I think they should all be there, or that they're all necessary, only that at this point I don't see a way of cutting any of it. The shots flow together too well for any of them to be cut at this point. WHICH MEANS that if I'd simplified things at the story stage, I would have been able to keep my shots more focused at the shooting stage, and my edits more streamlined at the editing stage.

So with all of that in mind, that I find myself confronting those same tendencies again. Part of me feels like there isn't enough to carry a five-minute film, the other part of me says, "It's not what you say, it's how you say it." And I'm torn because I don't want to put all of my effort into something vacuous, but then by being afraid of that I may end up just making it unnecessarily complex.

I think what I need to do is ask myself what exactly I'm trying to communicate with this piece, and then structure everything around that. I know that sounds really simple, but it's really not. And as much an aphorism as that may be, it's also a truism. But like all truisms it can't just be applied to a situation, it has to be internalized so that then it will grow out of one.

The Specific Problem:

The problem is that there is really one crucial moment in the film--I've mentioned it before--it is the fulcrum about which the ENTIRE short swings. Which means that really, it should be the climax. Everything that follows is denoument. But it being a short film, there isn't enough before the climax to justify a "traditional" denoument.

DENOUMENT: The denoument in this should only be a denoument in the sense that it is the action that follows the climactic action. It need not resolve things. Nore need it end things. In fact, the denoument in this ought to imply that what will be occuring later is even more horrific than what occured before. This will be where we reveal the truly monstrous impassivity of the One character's conscience, and the herd mentality induced passivity of the Second character.

Should this end with the Second character looking at the One character? Should it go futher to have the Second character look back ahead? I definitely like that better than the first option. Or should it go all the way and have them turn the car out of frame and leave the camera to linger on the blurry alleyway, with the immobile body drowning in the light? I'm more inclined to end it on the two guys. We haven't left the car yet, so why should we? And isn't seeing the body out of focus in the background enough? Or do we need to linger on it? However, the car driving out of frame provides a greater feeling of resolution--or, if not resolution, at least more of an feeling of finality: "they will go on, we will not" is what that says. Is that appropriate to the film?... You know, it might really be the most appropriate...But in terms of ambiguity it still leaves something to be desired...Can a compromise be reached, an ending that maintains a certain level of ambiguity (although it just occurred to me that there is quite a lot already that is ambiguous) while still letting the car drive out of the shot?

I suppose, really, that I can film it all in one shot, and cut it earlier if need be...But then won't that undermine the finality of the cut if I end up cutting earlier? "If it's not intentional, then it's not art"?

CLIMAX: This really stretches out over several beats; there isn't any one moment that can be defined as THE climactic moment. 1) There is the knock on the window that shatters the stillness of the brooding character. 2) There is the whispered exchange and the writing on the (presumed photograph) that follows (audio in background). 3) The out-off-focus beating in the background behind the head of the character in the car--this is the shot that really establishes the different nature of the character.

BUILD UP: This is the toughest part, the part that I haven't worked out yet. This is especially problematic since I really don't see how this will carry through the better part of the film. Really, this about 2/3s of the film. Maybe 1/2. It also depends upon the length requirement for this project. I suppose I ought to just start writing and see how this turns out. But right now there is: 1) The cigarette; 2) The person; 3) The photo; 4) The car; 5) Questions: Why is he staring at the photograph? What emotion is he restraining? Why is he sitting in a car? Why is the car a piece of shit? *What is the metaphor that the cigarette represents or what does it come to respresent? Etc. These are all questions that need to be addressed, or need to appear as if they're being addressed.

I need to plot these out and start writing.

Just watched: Miller's Crossing--I'd forgotten how fucking amazing that movie is. And oddly enough, a really good object of admiration.

Notes:
Point isn't that these guys are definitively bad guys, that their actions are evil regardless of "who" they really are ==> see the missed opportunity of Pullo's murder of Cicero in Rome. What was wrong with that?

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Marlboro Man

The cigarette is so much more expressive than the character himself , in this short, that I've decided it will be the motivator that carries us through the course of the piece. In fact, I am going to go so far as to have the cigarette be the character's proxy. Since one of my self-imposed constraints is to have impassive acting--no facial expression, no vocal inflection--this will be a great micro-metaphor for our changing perception of the character's states. I want to note that here I was tempted to say that it would make a great metaphor for the character's changing states, but that's not really true. As I have it, the character's states do not change, only our perception of them as more information is revealed over the course of the short.

One pragmatic issue that occurred to me is whether or not I'll be able to fulfill the 7-minute runtime requirement. This piece will function best as pretty tightly structured, which is not to say that it ought to be fast. Only that there is a certainly methodical structure to the thing, perhaps in the way a Hitchcock film is tightly structured, not the free-form structure of other films.

On the other hand, an interesting way of communicating structure might be to use a more free-form structure during the establishing moments at the beginning of the piece and the build-up to the "fulcrum moment"--the reveal--and to have the following, closing shots be structured tightly a la a Hitchcockian structure.

There are several issues raised by this: will there be enough "meat" following the reveal to allow for a noticeable/effective structural change? Really, now that I think about it, I think the structure ought to air-tight throughout, but perhaps to appear to be loosely structured at first and then to suddenly gain clarity and drive at that moment, which in turn reveals that the previous perception of a loose structure really did have a drive.

I think the key to this is, simply, to invest every shot with meaning. To ensure that everything, from the montage of the shots, through the shots, to the mise-en-scene within the shots, that everything is communicating. Which, come to think of it, is the what I was assigned to do in the first place. So really, I've run in a circle, only during my lap about the circuits of my ideation, I've gathered along the way the things I will be communicating, arriving back at the point of communication with what I need to communicate...if that makes any sense.

Back to the initial topic, the cigarette can not only function as proxy and metaphor, but as what I like to call "The-Kid-the-Pool" in Wes Anderson's "Rushmore". His character is not necessarily significant, but editorially it carries us through the scene, giving an extra-continuity to the whole piece.

Now that I've mentioned it, I think I'll go rent that tomorrow.

Listening to: The Departed soundtrack
Just watched: The Departed--which despite your initial impression, was not a movie I was crazy about when I first saw it. In fact, I was a little disappointed. But now that I've seen it three times--a testament to its watchability--I realize that it's not "A Martin Scorsese Picture" so much as it's a movie "Directed by Martin Scorsese". In short, I was expecting Taxi Driver when I should have just been expecting The Departed. It's not like any of his other films in that it's not trying to be profound, or really innovative even. Instead it's just really goddamn entertaining. Not great, not unique even. But a total blast, without a doubt.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Question of Mind

Just a quick thought that struck me after posting that:

I wonder why I needed precedent to make that lighting decision?

Lack Thereof

Progress. Or not.

I'm working on this damn fly film right now for SIFF and it is positively gobbling up my time. So much so that I am having trouble staying on top of all of my commitments. Especially this one, as it's the most time-consuming and abstract of all of them.

At this point, my largest dilemma is whether to shoot during the day, using natural light, or to shoot at night using highly stylized lighting. While I've had the most success with the latter scheme, the image that all of this is directly inspired by was during an overcast, rainy, grayest of grays day. And further, I love the natural light aesthetic. There's something organically beautiful about it. Probably my background in photo trying to maintain traction among my artistic sensibilities.

Now that I think of it however, my last project, arguably my best, inarguably the one I feel "best" about, was originally envisioned entirely in natural light. It was only when the logistics of shooting during daylight hours proved impossible that I had to resort to a complex lighting schematic--and that ended up being my favorite part of the whole damn thing, the part I had the most fun experimenting with!

Well, it seems I solved my dilemma. Now, the task of lighting cigarette smoke at night. I should probably check out equipment to test that out this weekend, which will give me Monday and Tuesday to finalize the shot list/storyboard/crew/talent list before shooting Wednesday and Thursday.

As for reserving the proper equipment for all of those days...

Sunday, February 18, 2007

The indie

The final project for this quarter is an indie--independent, free of restrictions--although I'm not sure if I'd mentioned that already or not.

I've come across a pretty solid Idea, thanks to the ideation session we were assigned to do--on that note, I think I'll add that I'm probably going to keep that sheet and use those guidelines whenever it's time for me to ideate and create, since it worked really fucking well. I actually didn't even do the whole thing. I started writing, came up with three ideas, one of which is awesome but too ambitious for a no-budget short film, it would probably make a pretty great feature length script though, and the other just a really great "idea", not really a story or anything, but a wonderful metaphor that is extremely malleable.

The third idea is based on an amazing visage that I studied while sitting in my car Friday, contemplating whether I should quit or finish my shifts at ol' BBV--incidentally, I finished my Friday one, but refused to go to Saturday's or Sunday's on grounds that I'm not going to divulge here. Suffice to say, it was a reasonable compromise I think that ended up with Dennis "cocksucker" Mott blacklisting me from Blockbuster premises indefinitely. That really wasn't necessary as I ethically object to the company and it's handling of the home video market, not to mention its employees. So, no great loss.

I digress.

I was pretty stressed, torn between my "principles" and doing what I knew what was really best for myself. So I smoked a cigarette--chainsmoked actually, which is the first time that's happened since last May. The windshield was covered with rain droplets, and since it was raining I had the window closed, so there was no air movement. And I didn't really feel like smoking, but I liked the comfort of it, so I just sat there with a cigarette between my fingers, clasping the steering wheel, while the smoked trailed up to the windshield, billowed-out and mushroomed back in on itself: the kind of image I could hold on for a really long time. Beautiful. I also blew smoke rings and watched while they too broke and dispersed on the ceiling, again a strong image. Not quite as strong, but strong nonetheless.

Now, the task of finding a story worthy of that awesome opening image. In line with Jim Emerson's thesis that a film's opening shot is the most important image of the entire film, that within that image is contained the entire film, all the way to it's end, and that they should be recalled at the end to give closure, I strove to make this image into a metaphor, and from that drag a story.

What I've got at the moment, is still pretty malleable though. There is the possibility of one shot. There is the possibility of a POV shot. Etc.

What I need to do at this point, is figure out exactly what I'm trying to communicate, who these characters are, what they want and esp. what they don't want, and that will help resolve a lot of the shot issues.

I was thinking of shooting this on film, but I really don't have the time to do that. I have two weeks. And here is my breakdown:

Shoot three days.
Edit two days.
Sound three days.
Post-post two days. (Color correction, etc)

I put an emphasis on sound because I know so little of it, and as I imagine it, the major "reveal" of the piece hinges on impeccable sound design. A lot of emphasis will be placed on this component.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Catch-up

I'll keep this one short:

Basically the last project turned out really well. I'll put a link to it up and some thoughts on its critique soon.

The follow-up project was a collaboration with two other people, which made decisions difficult to come to--which also explains why I haven't been writing in here about it, since all of the thinking through things happened in conversations.

Anyhow, we shot it last night...and man, oh man, was it the most miserable shoot I've ever been on or done. It was awful. Truly a test of stamina.

We filmed on a soccer field near the Aboretum, south of the Montlake area. Filming was supposed to last about four hours, but of course, we had a generator for lights that we had to keep moving around depending upon the lighting set-up. And it started raining. The shoot time blossomed from four hours...to well over eight.

Andrew was acting in it and Daphne was pretty much the AD, which left me in charge of camera and lights. And GlideCam.

And man. It's 10pm, it's wet, it's muddy. We're all cold, the lens is getting wet and fogging up. And I've got a fucking steadicam strapped to me. And we have to flip the housing upside down to get the camera low to the ground. Shit.

My back is still sore, even now. That was miserable. Misery incarnate.

And of course, we had to haul over 100lbs--probably closer to 250--more than 200 meters to the car in the darkness. Through the mud and the rain. It was shitty. It made me wonder how anyone ever lived up here in the NW before there was electricity and warmth. God it sucked.

More than a few times was I reminded of experiences at basic training. Just the sheer will involved...

I haven't looked at any of the footage yet and, frankly, I'm not even sure I want to. I have a pretty good feeling that it's going to look like shit.

I guess the biggest lessons learned here was the absolute necessity to plan everything out logistically and creatively, down to the last detail. We could have used more people, at least two. We should have had lens wipes, an electrical heater. A canopy. At least one more tarp. We should have gotten permission to drive out onto the field. We should have all had better clothing. And we should have had a fucking shot-by-shot STORYBOARD with shots numbered in the order we needed to shoot them.

In all honesty, Andrew is very talented, but I gave him the benefit of the doubt in terms of his experience with logistics and I really shouldn't have. I went against my gut instinct to plan every detail out because he didn't like the thought of that and if we had, it would have saved probably at least two hours of bullshit.

Now it's not really his fault. It's more my own fault. I have more experience, and deferred to the rest of the group "for the good of the group" when really the best thing for the group would have been to plan everything out to the fullest.

Fuck. Oh well. We'll see how it turned out later.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The Listerine Dilemma


While I still have not yet finished my script--I'm having trouble connecting A-W, to Z so to speak--I did extensive test shots last night, and should have a rough demo reel to show Jan Friday when he and I are going to rehearse, as well as help me realize anything that might not cut together. I'll do a quick edit of that later tonight.

Right now, my concern is with how I'm going to resolve several issues:

1. The Listerine bottle/label compulsion (although I have a potential alternate take on this below that is this close to gelling and solving a lot of my problems)
2. Wide-angle versus telephoto lenses: I am required by the parameteres of my individual assignment to use "far-away from the subject, highly-zoomed, telephoto" shots, not just long-duration shots and yet, after trying both the wide-angle and the telephoto lenses on every single shot that I tested, I found that the wide-angle created by far the most dynamic, compelling, thematically-resonant image in every single case except for maybe one. Because camera movement is very minimal and I am working with long shots, I need to cram as much information into each shot as possible, as much action as possible to keep it fresh and interesting. Plus there's something about a person losing their mind that seems to encourage the distortional effects of a wide-angle lens.
3. A more formalist question: How do I create a title sequence that works as an individual short film? I have the short film, all short films have credits, but as I learned last quarter, too many credits are indulgent. I don't have enough "real" credits to fill it out to the full running time, so what I'm considering doing is have the starring/directed by close to the beginning, the actual title at the end, along with any ancillary credits. I think this will make the sequence feel more complete, but it won't necessarily make it a real title sequence. I think what this issue boils down to is my desire to create a self-contained film and that that is conflicting with my desire to fulfill the parameters of the assignment. I think the ultimate goal however, is to create as good a short as possible, and if there are a few points where I have to bend the rules in service of the piece's integrity--so be it.

Guess that solves the wide-angle dilemma.

The problem with the Listerine bottle:

"The Listerine Loop": The listerine bottle is already stripped of its label when the character is brushing his teeth. But we see the character stripping off and eating the label after he has breakfast and then leaving the house. The point is to establish a cyclical continuum of anger, frustration. His destructive fetish with labels is how they represent the material world, the world of comfortable objects, a comfort that he desperately needs. So desperately that he eats these symbols in impassioned moments of near-ritualistic intensity.

The symbols of materiality become a sort of "comfort food" for him.

That's the overlording reasoning behind it. How then do I convey this cycle of material gluttony without being either a) heavy-handed, or b) without undermining the power of the revelation at the end? I think the key is to not have a big production of him eating it at the end. Just to hint to it through the jarring intrusions of this separate scene at a few key moments throughout the piece, and then to dolly/track past the shredded Listerine bottle at the end, before ending on the lone hair. Or should I even end on the lone hair? It feels like I have two possible endings: 1) ending on the lone hair; 2) ending on the listerine bottle w/ it's shredded pieces of wrapper fluttering around it. But he would have eaten all of the wrapper, so why would the whole crumpled thing be lying around it on the table? Maybe instead of a hair--which might be too heavy-handed in the first place (we already know someone is missing)--I should end on a small but decidedly indentifiable piece of wrapper lying on the table next to the listerine bottle, which reinforces the "comfort food" notion, as well as establishes the cyclical or at least non-linear arc of the film.

The film will hopefully feel linear, as in having a beginning, middle, and ending, but the beginning of the film does not necessarily have an end, nor does the end necessarily have a beginning. They are beginnings, middles, and ends that connect dramatically, but not logically.

Tangent. s.

Listening to: Real Gone, Tom Waits
Watching Later: Possessed

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Why Grief?

Thinking back on how my theme changed so quickly from addiction to grief, I think it was really matter of how realizing that the addiction, the compulsions, the absence, they are all signifiers; none of them are the actual issue at the heart of this character: under certain circumstances, compulsion and absence could be results of an addiction, but from my limited experience, addiction never comes from nothing, there is always a deeper issue at the heart of the problem.

Post-traumatic stress victims are known to self-medicate; people who suffer ailments like depression, grief can also be more susceptible to highly addictive substances. I'm not going to dispute that alcoholism is linked to genetics, I do not think that people are entirely, wholly responsible for their own actions, but I do think that issues such as depression, grief, trauma, physical illnesses, self-image issues, etc. have bearing on a person's ability to resist addiction.

Now I'll be the first to admit that I'm not a physician nor have I been addicted to narcotics at any point in my life, but reflecting on my own drinking/smoking, and especially adrenaline addiction, has influenced how I view addiction: it is a symptom of a larger issue.

I suppose there are plenty of cases where a person of excess has become addicted to high-value narcotics: coke, heroin, etc., but since I've never been in that kind of position, it's not one I can relate to. I've never been a "pusher" nor have I sought out drugs other than those available to public consumption, but have experienced some things akin to addiction, and having observed my girlfriend's (and to an extent, partaken in) grief over the death of her father, it is quite easy for me to imagine easily falling into the trap of an addiction. We never sought out illegal drugs after her father's death, nor did we drink particularly much, but we did smoke the shit out of our lungs. And when we finally came around to realizing how completely unhealthy and disgusting smoking is, she especially had a difficult time quitting.

The film Noel recommended I watch was "Permanent Midnight" and that is a perfect example of what I'm getting at: Jerry Stahl may have had some other issues, but his primary cause for addiction was excess. He had money to spend and access to whatever he wanted. I think of other drug/addiction stories: Requiem, Spun, Blow, The Doors, The Salton Sea, Drugstore Cowboy etc. and they are all stories that either deal with addiction and its effects, the drug trade, or excessive lifestyles--and sometimes all of the above. While there may be something I'm forgetting, nearly all of them neglect the reasons for addiction--unless it's because of excess. The mother's story in Requiem is probably the closest part that comes close to confronting the deeper issues behind addictions.

I don't mean to sound elitist--there are some people who simply have addiction-prone personalities--but I guess what interests me the most is self-medication, not simply "addiction", but self-medication because of something, and the only thing that would drive me to seek out highly addictive, highly numbing substances is a terrible, terrible loss: grief.

So I think what this really comes down to is my ability to cut to the heart of an emotional truth: I don't feel I could do something justice unless I can personally relate to it. And if you look at the things that have been successful and those that have failed in my filmography--and even outside of film--those things that have been failures are ones that I keep at a distance from myself. I don't do it intentionally. I wanted to make a chilling, surreal ghost story when I made Apparition, but I don't believe in the existence of ghosts. I didn't want to express my feelings on the matter through the medium of cinema, I just wanted to make something cool, scary, neat. Throw in a healthy dose of over-confidence and voila: a ripe recipe for failure. Take the horribly titled Shadow Way: it's not perfect, but it comes a lot closer to what I wanted to achieve than Apparition does, and those parts in it that are successful, "inspired", are those where I was trying to duplicate my own fear and trepidations when I happened upon that same hallway.

So, really, what this all boils down to is knowing my limits, and being true to my own breadth of experience.

Therefore, grief. What title?

Friday, January 12, 2007

Night Cap

One last note: the label peeling compulsion is so weird that it might signify mental distress in the sense that this could just be a person who is mentally ill, not someone who is grieving. I'll need to be aware of that, because leaving it more open-ended than grief could prepare the audience for an ambiguous ending, one wherein we don't reveal the nature of his actions. I think that would be a cop-out though. There is a difference between having ambiguity and being non-committal.

Alt Tats

Reading over the last post to get a more clearer picture of my train of thought, it struck how banal the tattoos seem without the pretext of addiction. I still like the idea of having tattoos though, so here are a few alternate ideas:
-"a priori" -- from the former; In everyday speech, it denotes something occurring or being known before the event.
-"amor est vitae essentia" -- love is the essence of life
-"annus mirabilis" -- "wonderful year" VS "annus terribilis" -- "dreadful year"
**"cetera desunt" -- "the rest is missing"(b) VS "compos mentis" -- "in control of the mind"(f)

The key with all of these is that is has to serve three functions at once: 1) It has to tell us something about the character; 2) It has to tell us something about the themes of the story; 3) It has to tell us something about how to read the structure of the story.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

From Addiction to Grief in Approx. One Post

The character is not a drug dealer. Or rather, he could be I suppose, but I've changed the main thrust of his afflication to being an addiction, not enabling others'. I've decided this for the cheif reason that I know nothing of drug dealing, but having been by turns a heavy smoker, a heavy drinker, and an adrenaline junkie, I feel closer to the character if I envision him as suffering not just an afflication of conscience, but a literal one as well. Whatever his addiction is, I won't be explicitly showing it.

I don't want to depict an addiction, I want to sketch an addict.

Addiction has been done plenty of times--Requiem for a Dream most notably, but also Spun and to a lesser extent Drugstore Cowboy. But I think DC was closer to what I want to acheive than the previous two. Less the subjective, "Drug Addiction POV" schitck and more of an objective exploration of who and what an addict is.

I don't want to pity this character, I want to observe: the routines, the habits, the compulsions. In particular, this person has developed a compulsive habit to rip off the labels of all of the "products" in his abode. A listerine bottle without a Listerine label, a tube of toothpaste without the Aquafresh, condiments without their labels, a tie without the manufacturer's label, etc. A half-empty environment.

Half-empty glasses, bottles--a half-empty soul.

His environment will be defined not by what is there, but by what is not--and by who is not.

A queen-mattress, occupied by only he. A second sink cleaned of stuff, but not of dust, skin, soap, hair. A half-empty life.

He will have "Nothing in Excess" tattooed across his chest so that people who look at him can read it, but so that it reads backwards when he looks at himself in the mirror. It was an ideal he lost, along with something else. "Know thyself" is tattooed across his back: for all intents and purposes, he's forgetten it's there.

The environment will be fairly barren. Not the trash-strewn mess of a slob, but the emptiness of someone who is himself empty.

I am visually constrained by the following: 95% of my shots must be longer than 10 seconds; they must all be highly-zoomed shots. Using these constraints, I will try to create an impression of the person and his environment by focusing on details, on parts of objects, creating a fragmented view of a fragmented person.

Shawn suggested inserting a few shock edits for visceral effect. I suppose if the short was without a few jarring moments, it might lack a climax, an emotional payoff, or it might be just fucking boring--who knows.

I think I'll shoot the inserts, and edit the piece with and without them, see how I feel about it, get some feedback from a few others, and see how it plays both ways basically. As far as the inserts themselves, I'll be showing a few different things: him stirring on the empty bed, occupying half of the frame; while cleaning himself at his sink, the empty sink next to him occupies an equal part of the frame; the barren, pathetic breakfast table as he passively eats on one side; two closets, he only opening one. I can't think of any others without going overboard, and I'm not even sure if I'm going to necessarily use all of them, but they all serve the same purpose. I do want to establish this as a motif,

I think I'll be using these moments to objectively illustrate the absence, the half that is missing, hence the empty halves of the frame.

Shock edits begin to bleed over into these moments of objectivity, ultimately dominating them, before he closes the door, the camera tracking past the listerine bottle we see him destroying, past a few more de-labeled objects in the b/g, to the empty sink where a single hair--not his--still sits.

Okay, this sou
nds more like grief than addiction, very true. So now I've got to backpedal and find where the addiction gets illustrated here.

Maybe there is no addiction. Maybe the tattoos are there to show how pervasive a thing grief can be. The addiction can stay outside the frame, just barely there. A hint of a bottle (or whatever), not the whole bottle, as Shawn said. Grief can bullrush even your most strongly felt ideals. Maybe the tattoos could even be a little runny, a little teary--just slightly, but enough to show that their colors are running, and linking to the character's intense internal turmoil.

An interesting issue:
If the listerine bottle is seen OTS without a label while he is brushing his teeth--all of the products are seen without labels--and the shock edits are of him ripping off the label in an intense state of mourning, continuity dictates that those shock edits are then "flashbacks", that they are taking place prior to the present, which is brushing his teeth. But if we pullback from the character as he is getting ready to rush out the door to go to work, and track past the recently shredded listerine bottle, how is it that it was already shredded in the previous scene? This could imply some sort of moebius strip architecture of time, where the events appear to be progressing linearly, but begin to contradict themselves and lead to a re-establishing of the various shots as discontinuous by the short's end. I would want to plant various little continuity mishaps throughout the rest of the short that wouldn't be noticeable upon first viewing, but cue us subconsciously into an undercurrent that isn't quite representing continuity. That way, by the time we arrive at the final dolly/pan/tracking shot, we are prepared for the discontinuity, even if we weren't aware that we were.

All that said, the point is the emotional state; the time-loop, the absence, the label peeling compulsion, the empty half-frame inserts, the shock edits, etc., these are all there only to serve the illustration of a grieving person.

Watched: Sanjuro
Listening to: silence

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Know Thy Character

"Supposedly carved into the temple were the phrases γνῶθι σεαυτόν ("know thyself") and μηδὲν ἄγαν ("nothing in excess")..." -- Wikipedia.org

So for this current assignment, I've managed to create a character--or, at least, a shade of a character--that really intrigues me:

A male, mid-to-late twenties, has tattooed across his chest "Nothing in Excess", and has "Know Thyself" tattooed across his back. He is a drug dealer of some sort--whether he is symbolically or literally a drug dealer I'm not yet sure--but somehow, he enables others' excesses and does so with little conflict of conscience. Clearly, he does not know himself. And yet, he believes in these two aphorisms enough to have them carved into his flesh. Does he really mean them? Does he really care? Perhaps he did at one point. Obviously he must have. But maybe he did not care in the sense that he knew truly what they meant, only that they were social ideals to aspire to. He did not understand why he should aspire to them, nor did he truly attempt to engage with what it meant to have nothing in excess, and to know thyself. Therefore, they have been easily forgotten, and now serve only decorative purposes.

I'm tempted to frame the character's journey as one wherein he re-learns these lessons. Where he is reborn. But, this seems to incredibly pat. Too linear an arc. Perhaps the real journey is the audience's as they learn the value of aspiring to these two ideals, but that we are brought to them through the character's downfall. When we meet him, he is already well on his way down. It's a moral tale in the sense that Roger Avary considers his films moralist cinema: they are moralist not because the characters have morals, but rather because they do not, and his films judge them as such. He shows why not having morals is bad...Is that what I really want to do? More complex perhaps than taking the character on the journey to a positive end, is making the character's journey's end the antithesis to morality, but nevertheless, it too seems to reduce human complexity down to bipolar disorder. Where are the shades of gray?

What is his journey to be then? What is his name to be then?

Some points to consider:
-Is "Nothing in Excess" tattooed so that he can read it in a mirror, or so that someone else can read it?...It would be in keeping with his character's superficiality that he would not be able to read it when looking at in a mirror--that is not the important part: it's a declaration, not a reminder.
-When did they stop becoming reminders, and start becoming declarations? (Have a shot of the letters rearranging themselves?)
-Is there any metaphor to be had in equating the character to the Oracle at Delphi? Since the gateway to Delphi was marked by these two aphorisms, perhaps we can equate the character to the gateway, just as he is the gateway to the temple of addiction. A false happyness, a false truth. Temporary, elusive relief.

Watching: Yojimbo