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.

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


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.