Final Project: “Der Schmerz”

Der Schmerz

This project is an amalgamation of introductory static movement and short film direction. Formatted like an old silent film, this short film investigates the direction of movement, characters as occupants of space, and the camera’s intimate approach to an abstract narrative.

Der Schmerz (meaning Grief), is a short film submission for my final project for my studio course, Ways of Making. My intention for this short is to explore the notion of static movement (i.e. cinemagraphs) and how its principles could be used to alter the outcome of a film shot in live-action. Beginning this project, my intention for this collaboration can be seen in this Alexandre Desplat-motivated 30 second sample I made here:

During the “initiative” stages of the studio, Paul invited us to investigate various approaches to filming scenes so we may have a first-hand feel of what grips us in a creative choke we do not want to be let go of.


Nevertheless, the direction of movement is choreographed by the director in regards to the mise-en-scène. 

Direction of movement and characters as occupants of space.
There are minimal movements throughout the film as I was more interested in how the actors would occupy the space around them as opposed to what they occupy. My DOP must have harboured such ill-feelings for me because I was incredibly picky when it came to production day. I constantly moved the camera and thus, him, to perfectly capture that shot.Screen Shot 2016-06-09 at 9.31.13 PMScreen Shot 2016-06-09 at 9.21.04 PM Screen Shot 2016-06-09 at 9.21.40 PM Screen Shot 2016-06-09 at 9.23.01 PM

I was interested in “tight” mid to close-up shots with as minimal use of negative space as possible. Negative space is as unnatural-looking as it is clunky and uncool. Ultimately, it looks quite the unprofessional.

Take a look at the difference between the first take and the last take of this scene:

Screen Shot 2016-06-09 at 9.34.34 PM Screen Shot 2016-06-09 at 9.22.25 PM

First take, the character of the wise old lady looks adrift from the frame as if she was superimposed over the shot of the character of the young man. Reflecting back on our class exercises, I find this to be my arch-nemesis. I always seem to find an excuse to capture “as much” as I can in a frame and in doing so, the supposed focus on a particular element on screen (i.e. a character) is lost. Of course, the use of a wide-shot is very commonly used in films, but their purpose is to establish and to convey a broader sense of space and place.

Por ejemplo:Screen Shot 2016-06-09 at 9.26.17 PM

Intimate approach to abstract narrative.
I purposely made the narrative of this short abstract as to not take away from the visuals. In the beginning, I thought that this ambitious thinking would yield outstanding visual results. To my dismay, I had not thought it through enough. I quote myself,

Miyazaki builds upon the innate ability of humans to sense movement and draws his viewers through this and the explicitness of it, thus making for a profound play on the senses.

Ultimately, I did not weigh in the repetitive value of a cinemagraph as opposed to the one-directional movement of a live action shot. Cinemagraphs are essentially, living images. It gives the viewers the illusion of watching a video (or a photograph) when in fact, they are watching a combination of both.

You see, cinemagraphs cannot be transitional unless I slow their speed/duration down to match the rest of the sequence’s pace. In doing so, however, would mean a distortion of the cinemagraph’s purpose of movement and will take away from its lifelike quality. A conundrum? A conundrum. This is why the only cinemagraph you see in the first cut of this film is at the very beginning. It established the reason as to why the young man was crying and grieving and established the backstory of his conversation with the old woman towards the end of the film. And unfortunately, that’s its one and only use.

At the editing suite.
I found myself dozing at half past twelve with bowls of honey oatmeal lying around my table and a dream sequence of my ambulating to receive my Academy Award. 

Three words: They are your best mates, never take them for granted.

I originally didn’t plan the film to be formatted like an old silent film but after finding an old found-footage documentary on Poland and analysing the bottled-up tears for my bleak attempt at colour grading that yielded zilch, I yelled eureka! I mean, why not format it into a silent film after all? It’s dusty, it’s grainy, it’s noisy and pitched at the highest quality of low. What better way to set a film in WWII by being attractively 1930’s? Below:

Screen Shot 2016-06-09 at 10.33.37 PM

Final Outcome.

What will the outcome be? Will the transition be too jarring? Or will it punctuate the emotional resonance I am trying to achieve in this scene? And if it turns out incongruous and incompatible, could the application of 2D animated static-movement techniques (i.e. Studio Ghibli films) help even this out?

Above is the question I posed in regards to the the transitional use of static movement. In the film, I used the cross-dissolve effect for the “transition to be too jarring” problem. Did the cinemagraph punctuate the emotional resonance I was trying to achieve in the scene? I believe it did, and I deliberately made the length of the cinemagraph scene longer because of such.

I want to focus now on the “application of 2D animated static-movement techniques (i.e. Studio Ghibli films)” to help to even out the incompatibility of cinemagraphs and live-action. Because I want to continue the project further down the track, my next investigation is the use of lighting/colour and continuity.

  • Lighting/colour

For my next attempt, I will “mute out” the “still” parts of the video and add more vibrancy to the moving elements of the image like above.

  • Continuity:  Cinemagraph (repeating) CUT TO live-action shot of the footage before it was turned into a cinemagraph.
    This particular edit, I think, would work well in regards to transition.

Final thoughts.
Ways of Making met my expectations and more. What I enjoyed and appreciated the most was the creative freedom we had to investigate and eventually make a film/sequence/media that we were most interested in. The practical exercises helped in my understanding of the use of cameras and capitalising their attributes and functions to best suit our needs and at the same time, leaving enough room for exploration and investigation.

I enjoyed working with a talented bunch of kiddos who I know will do so well in their own careers as media-makers and I am now even more equipped to use this visual medium to write, produce and direct as much as I possibly can.

short film production day + pics!

It’s been pre-production madness for Grief (working title) the past couple of weeks when 1. you’re a broke university student who cannot afford to hire the perfect location of your dreams and 2. I’m getting ahead of myself because 3. when you’ve got a superstar of a production manager who can find the perfect location in a span of a couple of hours, you know everything will be A-OK *thumbs up emoji*

Yesterday’s production schedule went super smoothly with the fun of a thousand elephants at a watering hole that I even found myself tampering with the footage as soon as I got home and friends, that’s saying a lot for someone like me who prefers to nap out than sort out.

Here’s a couple of cool BTS stills/picz!

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Shoutout to LaMarcus Aldridge, Stephanie and Alaine for being the troop de troupe crew of endless patience and resilience for my innate ability to be like Amy Santiago from Brooklyn Nine Nine (everyone go watch it).

To-do list:

Monday = cinemagraphs
Tuesday – Thursday = putting everything together.

Pray for a friend. It’s going to be a long one. #TeamNoSleep



Experimental Short: The Caretaker


What happens when all that is left is the quietness? No pounding of gavels or black robes and unwashed wigs harassing the hallways? Of murderers on trial, of justice-seekers and curious peepers? No one really knows, but the old man who cleans, cleans, cleans.

Length: 3 mins 37 seconds

In the eyes of the Caretaker, the great Magistrates’ Court is nothing but a place wherein he succumbs to his loneliness.

The project is my first foray in the Experimental Film genre. The piece is a poetic, abstract reverie of what the place is to the invisible character of the Caretaker. I wanted to give meaning to the space and the place occupied by the building itself (the walls, halls, doorways, rooms) and how the Caretaker gives meaning to the place that has become mundane to him for he is always never seen; in the silences, when the doors are locked and no other soul is about.

The short film is to be incongruous, hence, it being experimental in its genre. There is no narrative to follow, but the clips, both found-footage and recorded, are deliberately placed to allow the viewers to freely interpret what is being told.

Produced, edited and directed by me.
Thank you to the Ghosts of RMIT team on the day of the shoot for helping with camera problems (there were heaps).

The making of this short film definitely came with its problems. My first dilemma was where exactly to place the captured clips and videos in a sequence that will encapsulate the concept I have of putting meanings to the spaces through the eyes of the Caretaker. This was my biggest challenge in the production of this film. I went about in finding a resolution to this by going through some of my video inspirations with an addition of Ballet Mecaniqué by Fernand Leger, who gave me the idea of repetition as a motif to represent the distress the Caretaker is experiencing in his bouts of imagination due to his lonely job.

The production began quite smoothly. I followed the work timeline I prescribed to myself stringently albeit with the surfacing of aforementioned dilemma of the delivery process. Nevertheless, the filming went really smoothly. On the day, I took as many shots as possible of the interior of the Magistrates’ Court but what I found that inevitably helped in my final storyboarding and editing process was the visit to what is known as “The Plant Room.” It was an old, decrepit storage room located in the far recesses of the main court behind two supposedly locked doors and an eerie gaol cell to fit the bill. It was an atrocious sight and Jackie and I would not have dared to enter the room if not for Rachel (thank you, kindly) and a fellow student, Linh, who ventured on, turning the lights along the way.

The room was forlorn, dusty and a treasure trove for all things old-fashioned. But what got me the most was the single chair that sat in view of the open door. It was curious, it was lonely, and I knew then and there that the Caretaker, his character, his soul, whoever he may have been in the past, was an incredibly lonely character.

This epiphany drove me to evaluate my draft storyboard, which then also allowed me to appropriate the concepts I learned in class to the differences between space and place with place as a space that has meaning. In my video, I applied the techniques of opacity and scaling to the very extent of my skill in such. I’m thankful to our guest lecturer, Jeremy Bowtell for the basic tutorial for Adobe Premiere Pro, but mostly, I thank this class for allowing me to test my skills, add on to, and really push myself to my editing limits (and that is an incredibly short limit, f.y.i.).

The final outcome, eventually, after much harassment from a very neutral-looking editing suite, turned out as hoped and planned and even more. The chosen music, ghostly and haunted with the appropriate title of “At the end, everyone dies” by the ingenious Kai Engel (I bow to you for the royalty-free) was inspired by Abigail Belfrage who made certain that I think about what fits well with the overall thematic I had. The colours are minute black-and-white, easier to manipulate to encompass the ghostly, almost macabre message I had in mind with the Caretaker’s loneliness. It also worked really well with the found-footages.

An abundance of improvements include mastering Adobe Premiere Pro as the go-to editing suite. Finding out how plug-ins works, particularly subtitles, is a must too. I was to include subtitles in this piece as opposed to narration (in the final film, I utilised titles as subtitles), but Premiere’s built-in closed captioning were stiff and incredibly frustrating to handle. I decidedly gave up, but I plan on experimenting with that medium in the near future. I uses titles and “subtitles”, albeit vague, to give the piece texture as well. And the only colour is during the “poisons” scene…appropriately. And before I forget, incorporating images would be quite helpful too.

The class has taught me to appreciate spaces and places in a whole different way. Through The Caretaker, I was able to give meaning to places as opposed to simply admiring its architecture and the echoes of its past. I was able to wander through the halls and assess the cracks and fissures, the importance of the little nooks and crannies and what they are used for and most importantly, the people who give meaning to the space, particularly, the caretaker in the Old Magistrates’ Court in this case.


Found-footage Manipulation – dilemmas, dilemmas

Over the weekend, I’ve inundated myself with various Experimental Films, the found-footage kind. A Movie by Bruce Conner, aptly named, is a juxtaposed, almost-antithetical use of found footage to demonstrate the destructive nature of man by drawing on two different time periods: the modern-day present and the western-world past.

The film is a conglomeration of all things abstract and at times, ironically comedic, but what I mainly took note of was the sequence of scenes edited together. I previously mentioned in my Caretaker Project that I plan on creating a film that relies less on narrative sequence than spatial representation. What I want to present in my film is the nuances of the place, how the place itself gives the Caretaker his identity as the custodian of the great institution.

As such, I’ve come down to a bit of a conundrum: I do not know exactly how I go about in structuring my scene-by-scenes. I have collected some footage (still more to go) that I believe, represents my purpose and thematic element, but now, I am not quite sure how I could go about in storyboarding this without the narrative thread behind it to reign it in together.

Some questions to ponder:

  • Would a narrative thread help in alleviating the problem of storyboarding? And if so, how could I make it as implied as possible and as ambiguous as possible?
  • Would narration work instead of a narrative thread? And what would it do to the overall thematic of my film?

Hmm, lots to think about before the main shoot this coming weekend!