Friday, April 25, 2008

All Agony, No Ecstasy: an email exchange

The following is an email exchange that took place over the last 24 hours between one of my teachers at DXARTS and myself. I think it holds a microcosm of personal and universal artistic agony, especially as it relates to filmmaking. I've replaced my instructor's name with "prof" and struck the name of one of the films that I reference just in case the person isn't comfortable being quoted directly.


Date: Thu, 24 Apr 2008 14:23:32 -0700
From: Prof
To: Erik LeDrew
Subject: Re: scripting troubles

yeah no problem, the most important thing is to make something, and the biggest obstacles are usually

1. agonizing over "is my idea good enough?"
2. ideas that are too ambitious for the reality of your timeframe/means

On Apr 24, 2008, at 2:20 PM, Erik LeDrew wrote:

ah. well...of course. :)

I guess I was thinking of that crazy way you went about hand-cranking your HD
footage from the cat and the owl.

Enough said. Thanks for hearing me out.

On Thu, 24 Apr 2008, Prof wrote:

you are misunderstanding me. all i'm saying is that when you're young, you
shouldn't agonize over the ideas so much. just decide on something and
execute it. that's how you'll get better.

On Apr 24, 2008, at 2:02 PM, Erik LeDrew wrote:
Hear, hear.
I'm not exactly a technical innovator though, as I'm sure you can tell.
And going back down the technical chain to a photochemical medium seems
less about innovation and more about just being an exercise for the sake
of experience -- which is what it was intended to be.
I've always thought content and ideas were my strengths, so making
something less about what and more about how seems counter-productive to
me -- even if I agree with you.

On Thu, 24 Apr 2008, Prof wrote:
Don't cancel your tests or your casting call, just write another little
scenario that kinda connects (i.e. uses the same character) but is
give yourself till tomorrow night to come up with the new concept.
when you're shooting on film, the story of a wet dude limping down the
street and talking someone into buying him a hamburger can be
sophisticated. it matters less what the film is about, more how you make
it, at this stage in your career. (that's my opinion more and more these
days, i think it's true for all of us while we're "nobodies")

On Apr 24, 2008, at 1:45 PM, Erik LeDrew wrote:
Monkey-wrench man, monkey-wrench.
Actually, I had considered that, but I ended up tabling it because
we're already going into the fifth week of the quarter and to start
from square one content-wise seemed like an unsafe endeavor.
You have a good point though. It would be nice to leave 202 having a
complete work. That said, at this point, how sophisticated can it
actually be? I've lost a month's worth of work.
At some point I have to draw the line. I mean, I could ideate and see
what I come up with, but I have already ordered film and my tests are
this weekend which can be pushed back but...fuck man. I don't know
what to do. I've already put out a casting call and everything...
I'll tell you what. I'm going to cancel camera tests this weekend.
I'll give myself until Sunday to have a new story conceived, written,
shot-listed, and sketched. If I don't have at least those first three
elements in place, I'm going to push ahead with the beach scene.

On Thu, 24 Apr 2008, Prof wrote:
you don't need to make something self-contained, but it might be
more satisfying ultimately, speaking from personal experience.
what about just coming up with a new idea altogether and waiting on
the current one until such a time when you can do it right?

On Apr 24, 2008, at 1:32 AM, Erik LeDrew wrote:
hey man --
i'm having trouble reverse-engineering a stand-alone piece out of
the two beach scenes. It loses a lot of its specific meaning
without the rest to contextualize it. It becomes ambiguous in a
way that i don't think is good. I'm wondering if i should just
shoot it as-written, with the intention of filming the rest.
I also don't really like how it essentially makes it a
naturalistic version of the video I made last year in 453. not to
mention that by removing the acting and narrative-driven elements,
it removes a lot of the things that I wanted to experiment and
challenge myself with in the first place.
I've come to this line of thinking after about five hours of
sitting, and thinking, and sitting and I don't really like where
I've ended up. i don't feel good about it, and i'm not intrigued
by it. so unless there's something lively and poetic that i'm
missing, i think the scene belongs as a piece of a larger film,
not a stand-alone.
if you're cool with it, i think what i'd like to do, is shoot the
scene the way i would want it to be in the finished piece, and
maybe storyboard out the rest of the film, and create a sort of
tempcut, substituting the storyboards for the two missing scenes.
do you think this would be satisfactory? or do i really need to
make a self-contained piece?
or am i going in the wrong direction entirely?
sorry for the bombardment -- erik

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

There and Back Again: a writer's tale

EDIT: I've pretty much decided against doing what I discuss in the below, pending approval of my instructor. I've tried to engineer something out of the beach scenes and they just don't resonate for me. I designed the piece with a specific idea supporting it, and without the other two scenes to contextualize it, the meaning is lost and it becomes ambiguous in a bad way.

So I think what I'm going to do is film the beach scenes as-is, and storyboard out the rest of the film. And then put together a reel mixing the footage with storyboards for the missing scenes. This would also save time if I'm going to finish the piece this summer.

I've felt pretty off about the whole stand-alone process and now that I've made this decision, after a legitimate amount of work might I add, I feel pretty good once again.

We'll see if I get the big OK.


I ended up writing a pretty decent three-act, 11-page piece. Unfortunately, it's way too ambitious for the amount of time I have to do it. More so because I'm tackling a technical challenge as well as a dramatic one.

So the decision has been made to take the first scene, the scene that the rest of the piece was born out of, and try to make that a self-contained short film. If all goes well, it will either be expanded this summer by filming the remaining two scenes, or those two scenes will be added to and embellished to for a separate-but-related short film.

Either way, the beach scene must become its own animal. I'll not make a short film that can't stand on its own two legs, even if that means transforming it into a different kind of film.

So that's where I am at the moment. Thoughts to flesh it out:

Transitional moments need to be added to go between the morning and midday scenes.

If this thing is to become completely a metaphor for human history, then adding a night scene might be the proper way to end it as well. That would have to be done day-for-night -- unless dusk would be more appropriate...but then wouldn't we want to show the sun rising?...At some point, as in: in the next few minutes, a decision will have to be made.

A concluding night scene would also require a transitional moment between midday and night.


I'm getting indecisive. Is this about nature moving on without man? Or about man's place in nature? The latter I think. So it ought to end with nighttime, man having disappeared.

There can always be some sort of insert shot of the sun rising if it feels like we need something like that...although how can we end with the camera roll stopping? Maybe that should be reserved for the full piece.

Taken on its own, this scene is without a conclusion unless we trace it straight into night, and allow the sun to rise again.

Time to write.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Super- & 16mm Film & Bolex Camera Info

History of 16mm:

Movies shot on 16mm:

Overview of Bolex:

Modifying a Bolex Rex3, Rex4 and Rex5:

Modern S16mm:

S16mm Testimonials:

More on S16mm:

Bolex Website:

Bolex manuals:

Bolex Features and History:

How does one perform performance capture?

The plan: shoot an 8 - 15 minute short film on 16mm -- FILM film. It will be three scenes averaging between 2 and 5 minutes each, with an epilogue that returns to the first scene. Yes, this will be a non-linear story. Surprise surprise. But that's okay, because it's part of the point this time around. I'm not sure if I'm using non-linearity as a crutch this time around, but it at least serves a genuine purpose in the story.

The purpose: to both a) engage the viewer by offering a mysterious proposition in the opening scene; and b) to force the viewer to continually recontextualize their perceptions of the characters and their actions based on the information they receive and the order in which they receive it.

Questions I hope to provoke: Is the main character good or bad? Are his actions justified? Does he deserve our sympathy? Does he represent the whole of the human race? If not, are the dinner guests or rioting prisoners any different? How?

The kinds of art I admire in an aspirational sense present situations and characters that compel viewers to ask questions, without providing them with discreet answers. While my short film will draw some sort of conclusion, I think if effectively handled it won't be perceived as an answer, but as more of a concluding question. Food for thought sort of thing.

The problem I have at the moment is that while the broadstrokes of the story and characters, and some of the specifics, have been developed, I feel like it has the possibility of being dead in the water. Leaden under the weight of its own pomposity. It needs to have a certain fleetness, even while not losing any of the serious over- and under-tones.

My teachers believe the best way to attain this sensibility is to "perform your film" -- any way you can. My interpretation of this is to make the film feel as if it were crafted with the kind of craft only human intuition can achieve. The way an experienced stage actor will vary their performance depending upon an audience's reception. The way an experienced camera operator (read this article now) can in Brett Simon's words "breath with an actor". Or the way a camera operator can hand-crank a camera, slowing and speeding up the amount of film exposed, depending upon the moment-to-moment feeling they have of being in the scene. Performance, as I see it, is a way of making a work of any kind feel made by human hands -- esp. in this increasingly automated world we live in. It is a way of avoiding the clinical, the precise. It makes things a little more messy, a little more human -- even if the subject matter is about the end of the human race (see Children of Men). Which, come to think of it, makes the human element all the more imperative. Even a movie as (wonderfully) crass and (delightfully) low-brow as Crank has a feeling of the performed -- manic, depraved, and gleefully carefree as it may be. I think that's why I like the movie so goddamn much, actually. David Lynch with Inland Empire is another fantastic example of how the varying, digressing, fundamentally human touch can elevate even the most grueling of filmic experiences.

Speaking of human digressions...

I want to perform my film. I don't know how.

That's where I am.