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")..." --

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