Seminar series blog post #3

In the end, I thought our seminar went very well. The feedback was resoundingly positive, despite my anxieties on the day. We met up at about 2:30, discussed how we would go about doing things then split off into groups to collect furniture, technical equipment and meet guests. I went to grab furniture, which turned out to be incredibly frustrating, as we probably didn’t have enough people to help, I ended up doing most of the heavy lifting. I also had to make a second trip because we didn’t have a side table which was necessary for the set up we had envisioned. I also picked up a couple of fake plants, which we hadn’t originally planned. I thought this snap decision worked fantastically in our favour, as it filled the space on stage and framed the guests well.

Once inside the space, I set to work organising the set, projector, zoom recorder and popcorn machine (which people were panicking about but no-one was doing anything).  The time constraint was stressful, and my divided attention caused me to mess up and forget to double check the zoom recording, which ended up being off for the first half of the seminar.

As I stated at the beginning of this post, the seminar seemed to me to be a big hit. In no other seminar have I seen so many people sticking around to chat with the guests afterwards. And the guests were happy to oblige, which we were suprised but immensely grateful about. It took a long time before people started packing up, so I took the initiative and started returning furniture, which turned out to be more stressful than getting the furniture there, not least of all because I was doing it myself and we didn’t have a trolly.

Overall, I am very proud of myself and the group for what we accomplished. If I could do it over again however, I would be a little more on top of my other group members, as it seemed as though once people had organised themselves, they were content to sit back and wait till the seminar begin (though certainly not everyone). Massive props to Natalie, James, Jim, Dom and Henry for their efforts.

Seminar series blog post #2

It was a while before we began editing the trailer. In the meantime we had gathered ideas and footage from films we thought we would like to use in the trailer. These films included the rover, mad max, walkabout and a few others. Given that our seminar wasn’t until week 9, we were under no pressure to get the trailer done in a rush.

In the meantime, I attended meetings with the rest of the group. Putting forward ideas and helping troubleshoot any issues that were popping up. One thing which I feel i had a decent input in was in regard to the staging of the event. I insisted that we needed a lamp, as the group was quite reluctant to have any stage lights as other groups had done. Otherwise, I felt my role was to confirm and reassure others on there ideas and work, making suggestions on things such as the poster design and the guests were inviting.

Editing the video went very smoothly. While Dominic did the majority of the technical work, I assumed the role of the director, making decisions on the arrangement, what we should and should not include, and advising on where to make fine cuts. I also did the voice over which I was quite proud of. The end result was awesome, far better than any group before us (if I don’t mind saying so myself).

Seminar series blog post #1

The other week we divided up the tasks we thought we needed to complete prior to the seminar in week 9. I opted to join the group developing the video trailer for the event, as the whole reason I chose to be a part of this film seminar is I am more interested in making video content than anything else. After brainstorming a few idea, Dominic put forward a rough outline for a trailer, which was basically exactly what i’d had in mind. The idea was to make a satire of the standard kind of epic trailer which is all to common these days, complete with suspense, explosions, and a deep voice over. I contributed a few extra ideas I’d had which I wanted to see be in the trailer.

While most of the trailer is going to consist of found footage, we agreed that we should film some parts ourselves. For one, we thought it would be too easy and not much effort to rely entirely on found footage, and two, there was one shot that I thought we had to have; that is, Jim (our house) turning around, shrouded in darkness, wearing a hood, saying something corny. We rented some gear and hijacked an empty classroom. The shoot went very smoothly. In the end we had about 4 shots we were confident that we could use.

Scene in Cinema Final Post: Summary and Reflection

The “Scene in Cinema” studio has been surprising, engaging and inspiring. I had very little idea about what I could expect from the class, my only hint being a short paragraph, describing it as an in depth look into the construction of a scene. I had assumed that we would be looking at scenes from a theoretical stand-point, without any practical work. How wrong I was, first class had us group up and set out to shoot a single take scene given to us from a small vague prompt. This first class really foreshadowed what the rest of the semester would be like, even though the outline for the studio was exploratory and prone to change. For the early part of the semester, we would tackle these exercises with varying constraints and aims, before, in the latter half, given the initiative to set out on our own (dramatically speaking) to incorporate our knowledge and experience to produce scenes of our own.

This method of learning was, and still is, very exciting to me. As I am in my third year of university, I am anxious about what comes after. My dream job is to direct feature films, and this studio struck me as a crash course in the fundamentals of quality shot construction. Furthermore, the entire studio experience felt very collaborative. More than simply working together on exercises, each of us were given the opportunity to contribute our individual ideas or anxieties to the class, through class discussion, an in-class presentation, as well as having access to one another’s blogs. These ideas didn’t need to be consistent with one another to be inspiring. For instance, Mia came up with a fantastic idea of experimenting with directorial methods of established directors such as Nicholas Winding Refn and Alfred Hitchcock. Rein’s style was particularly interesting to me, as I love his heavily stylised films, in how he shoots chronologically with very little storyboarding. While I like the security and clarity a storyboard affords, I also like to work in a spontaneous way. In contrast, Jason had the idea of exploring realism in cinema by working off a prompt, with little to no script or storyboards. This, as a creative and experimental method, was inspiring. Completely abandoning structured production in favour of obtaining an organic and immediate performance reinforced, for me, the idea that there is no one way to create film.

Through analysing scenes by filmmakers I admire, and working on specific elements of filmmaking, I developed a clearer understanding and vision as to how I work, how I would like to improve, and what kind of style(s) I would like to portray in my work. Moreover, through class discussion, I obtained a broader view of aesthetic styles and practices that would not have come to my attention otherwise. I have started a list, which grows faster than I can keep up, of films and directors I would like to watch or have been recommended to me by others. I often reflect that I do not expose myself to enough material outside of my immediate interest, so this is a good exercise for me to keep up throughout the rest of my life.

Unfortunately, unless I am working on something personal which I intend to make available for others to see (and judge), I tend to lack the motivation which was required of us this semester. I found maintaining a steady work ethic hard, procrastinating and also simply forgetting to keep up with my written reflection and analysis. This is a major shortcoming on my behalf and is not to say that I did not value the exercise. Reflection in one form or another is necessary in any profession, and having the blog as a visual historical reference of my thinking process has been as beneficial as the act of writing itself. Furthermore, the practical work of doing independent exercises has brought to light what I am good at and what I still lack. I feel as though I am am efficient director, who generally has a clear vision which I can generally obtain to some degree. I have acting experience and this helps me articulate my vision to the actors. Yet as I said, I can be lazy and complacent, and need to become better at networking and working with others if I want to be successful and produce quality work.

In the final part of the semester, we were asked to refine the ideas and aims we projected in a proposals. I had spoken on film coverage in production and post, and the relationship between the two. This was to general however, and to me just sounded like “how do you shoot and edit?” After a time, and a few independent exercises, I refined my aim to investigate the question: “How does coverage captured during filming influence coverage through editing? How do these different stages influence and dictate style?” I do not think that I have obtained the answer to this question, rather, I think that this is going to be a question I should reflect on for as long as I am making videos. In saying that, however, I have garnered some small semblance of understanding coverage and the post production process in terms of its practicality and influence on style. For instance, in one exercise I did everything in chronological order, and the shots I framed did not compliment a method in which I cover the scene from every angle. In contrast, in my second independent exercise, I shot an excessive amount of footage, covering the action and dialogue from a variety of different angles with different camera movement. In the end I axed the majority of footage in favour for simpler coverage, however the exercise emphasised the idea that more coverage obtained by the camera allows for a more creative post-production process.

Post “Scene in Cinema”, and post university, I intend to continue making video’s, as my ultimate goal is directing. I have given myself a vague outline of progression that this course, as well as other units such as TV 1 and 2, has helped me formulate. Immediately after graduating (or even before, I still need to work some things out,) I intend to make a short film (4-7 mins) and submit it to a variety of film festivals. Should I fail to be accepted, I will continue to make shorts with this time constraint until I get one accepted and screened. Once this happens, I intend to progressively increase the length of these films incrementally, only increasing should one get accepted. Following this trend, I will accumulate a solid show reel, excellent experience, a more confident and consistent style and hopefully identify and harness a group of people who I work well with.

My Method #(I’m not sure anymore; too many joint posts)

Something which I have become increasingly aware of is that I tend to work very quickly. I don’t like to dwell on the same shots for too long; for the sake of the actors, crew, as well as the point that I feel that often the best performances happen within the first few takes. This is a true observation, given that in all of the work I have done that has had some sort of deadline, I have generally finished exactly on time or earlier. I’m still not sure if this is a positive thing or not. Should I be more of a perfectionist with my work? Am I missing something, letting mistakes through unnoticed which will affect me further down the road? The important thing is that it seems to work for me, and those working with me can hardly complain about it.

My Method/Reflection

I have not been as diligent and pro-active as a should have been this semester. Ideally, I would have liked to have at least 3 practical exercises completed by this time, at least one of which was of a reasonably high quality. Instead, I have put off work, in part as a result of laziness, but also due to the convenience of those I have asked to help (generally friends, which I have discovered can not be counted on with work such as this). Though it is probably too late to have another exercise done by the time these posts are assessed, I still intend to wrangle some friends together this weekend to complete one final exercise (though I might tackle this in 2 different ways, or different locations). This is primarily because I do not want to embarass myself at the screening with just having one, somewhat, half-baked exercise to show.

In my screener, given that I will have less to work with than I would have liked, I will experiment with what I do have in premiere to create a different sense of “style”. I believe this will make for an interesting exercise as well as be more interesting for an audience to watch. I will play with things like colour, contrast, pacing and sound to create differing tones from the same footage.

Found Scene: A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

I’ve already written a post in reference to A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, an Iranian Vampire film by Ana Lily Amirpour. This time Ill be discussing a pivotal scene in the film in which The Girl makes her first on-screen kill by preying on the local drug dealer. The film is referred to as a vampire western, and is in black and white. The black and white functions both as a throwback to old school horror films, as well as promoting a comic book feel (there is a comic of the prelude to this film).

Prior to this scene, the drug dealer/pimp was abusing a hooker under his charge. Seeing a figure in his rear view mirror, the gangster gets spooked and leaves after throwing the hooker out of his car. The Girl targets him and engages him on the street. He invites her back to his place, unbeknownst to her identity as a vampire.

This scene begins with the two walking into his apartment. The scene opens with a shot of a fish tank, and has the two characters enter from off-screen. The gangster walks off-screen while the camera lingers on The Girl. As soon as the camera cuts to the gangster putting at the CD player, diegetic techno begins to play. diegetic music plays a big role in this film, as does soundtrack in general. The music is used as a powerful tool to set tone and build character.In the case of the drug dealer, techno music is generally associated with drug use, and throughout this scene the gangster is snorting lines of cocaine off the table.

The Girl, initially, is positioned on a higher level to the gangster, watching ominously in her robe in the background, like a predator about to pounce. Funnily enough, the entire apartment is decorated with predators and deer heads mounted on the wall, highlighting that both of these characters represent predators. After snorting a couple of lines of cocaine, and counting his money he moves back to the sound system and turns it up. At this point, the music slows down at a break in the music, at which point he is lifting waits and stares at the girl, trying to seduce and impress her. When the beat returns, he unzips his jacket and dances in front of her, peacocking. The camera cuts to The Girl, who looks down her nose at him in disdain, this however goes unnoticed by the drug dealer, who then returns to the couch to do more lines.

Sitting back on the couch, he offers her a line, which she ignores. instead she, positioned in the background of the frame, walks slowly around the corner, surveying the apartment. Positioning her in the background, and shrouded as she is, gives the impression that she is lurking about, giving off a threatening and tense atmosphere, which is communicated to the audience but escapes the gangster. The camera cuts to a tighter shot of the gangster, his head obscuring The Girl. At this point, the ringing of a cymbal disrupts the music and gets the attention of the dealer. The camera now cuts to the girl, who flicks the cymbal apathetically with her thumb. This a statement of the character that she disinterested in the gangsters actions and does not care about disrupting his ritual.  It also serves as a tool to call him over, the look in her eyes in the following shot seems to communicate that she is aware he is coming over and is expecting him. Also at this point, the “sex” tattoo on his neck becomes clearly visible and vividly communicates his intentions. The music also changes again, to sustained synth chords, building tension as the look at each other. He strokes her face and lips, communicating his supposed dominance over her. The power dynamic shifts significantly when her fangs protract (the first time they are shown in the film), startling him, he pulls his hand away. The sound of her fangs is abrupt and punctuates the event. Also, just before the fangs, a rumbling sound crescendo’s to further mount tension and suspense, also giving an ominous tone, something violent is about to happen. She also lets of an audible breath, which has a reverb effect, this contributes the to other worldly nature of the character, the vampire. Furthermore, the techno music fades into silence, building building building the tension.

She lulls him into a false sense of security by taking his finger and pricking his finger with it. He makes a exclamation sound, as if to say “I see, its just a body modification” though his face still conveys caution and suprise. She begins sucking on his finger. At this point it is clear she is a vampire, so at this point she is playing with her food, building his ego up to punish him more. With this in mind, she chomps down on his finger, accompanied by a loud crunching noise. As he starts to panic, The Girl growls like a tiger, further enforcing the implication that she is the apex predator. Music returns, this time as score. Disconcerting string synth sounds amplify the horror. He falls to the ground screaming, at one point it cuts back to The Girl, who flaps her cloak like a bat. A quintessential vampire reference. It continues to cut back and forth, with him retreating and her advancing, looking down on her prey. She rubs his dismembered finger against his lips, like some sort of unholy retribution and karmic consequence for his unsavoury character. After tormenting him, she finally lunges at his neck and begins drinking his blood, accompanied by grotesque chomping and sucking sounds. Drums begin playing and build as the life is visibly disappears from his eyes.


My Method/Reflection: Scorsese

A long time ago I stumbled across this series, Dinner For 5, hosted by Jon Favreau, which sits 4 people from the hollywood community at dinner where they discuss filmmaking and the business in general. I recently re-dicovered the series and have found it very enlightening in the sense that these people are giving first hand accounts of their experiences. One episode I found particularly interesting is a special featuring Martin Scorsese, not at dinner but in front of an audience.

Here are a few nuggets of wisdom I drew from this interview:

Fevreau highlights a number of elements in Scorsese’s style, in particular, his  subjective camera style. Given that Scorsese’s films are so character driven, he generally shoots from there point of view, not always literally, but with an intimacy with the character that grounds his films in reality. This is different to what Scorsese refers as “classical style”, which is much more objective as opposed to subjective.

Another signature of Scorsese’s style is what Favreau refers to as “needle drops.” This means not using a score, but instead, sourced songs to instantly create a mood. Given that sourced songs are generally already known by the audience, they have a pre-association which grounds the film in reality, and are often used in juxtaposition with what is happening onscreen, for comedic purposes or otherwise. The right song creates immediacy and allows the audience to relate to the characters. Often score is overused, it is detrimental when the music undermines tension. Scorsese says that it is almost condescending for a filmmaker to insert music to relieve tension for the sake of the audience. Instead, Scorsese argues that if there is tension then it should remain tense, as that is the reality which should be portrayed. It is more honest. This attitude is reflected in the works of many other film makers I look up to, such as Tarantino.

Fevreau asks Scorsese to discuss the differences between story and plot, in reference to Scorsese claiming that he prefers story of plot. While Scorsese doesn’t make a specific point of the difference, he raises an interesting point. He argues that it is not plot, but character which is most interesting, and characters within the world they inhabit. He says that the movies which have deep character as apposed to a intricate plot are much more re-watchable, if you know the story, you are no longer interested.

A small but interesting point is that Scorsese often skips frames to make action look slightly unreal. He claims that it makes whatever is happen onscreen look hyper-real. This is a stylistic choice, and quite a bold one at that, for someone who champions realistic portrayals. its the energy, he argues, not the reality which he is trying to portray, which plays into his subjective style of filmmaking.

Scorsese is probably the most prolific auteur of our time, so any discussion he is involved in deserves our attention as student’s of film.

Found Scene: It Follows

The scene opens on an establishing shot of a street in middle class suburbia. This is apparent because of the trees lining the street, typical of well to do, middle-class neighbourhoods. The sound of birds chirping creates a tranquil tone, while also building suspense, based on the assumption that this is a horror movie. It appears to be twilight, setting the stage for the following few scenes, but also enabling a a kind of awkward starting point, being not quite day and not quite night, the audience is placed in a space and time which they do not immediately comprehend.

A slow pan reveals houses, until it rests on a red house, given prominence by the light on at the front porch, as well as the sub tone sound occurring at the same time the character opens the from door.

The character opens the door and runs to the middle of the street as the camera continues to pan. The deep tones continue, building the suspense. The character looks like she’s dressed for a night out, wearing high heels, the high heels serve as a tip of the hat to silly horror movies in which the characters do things that doesn’t necessarily make much practical sense. The high heels also serve as an audio cue. The fast pace as she runs, and the slow pace as she walks creates an interesting dynamic with pacing, and, given that there is very little dialogue, it keeps the audience engaged. Similarly, her heavy breathing implies that she is afraid of something; emphasis on “something” given the fact that we don’t know what she is running from.

It rests, on a long shot of the girl, centre screen, walking backwards. The camera tracks forward slowly, much like how the “monster” walks slowly toward it’s victims. Two characters, a neighbour and the girls father, talk to the girl from off-screen (the woman who talks is on screen but you can’t see her face). Given that they are not shown, it shows her isolation and the fact that she is focused on whatever it is that is scaring her. The dialogue, “are you ok? do you need some help” and “what are you doing?” make it sound as though there is nothing following that character, and that she is alone, aside from the other characters who speak.

The synth music kicks in when she starts running. Once again the camera pans to the right and follows her up then across the street back inside her house. The camera rests on the house for a few moments, which again creates tension. The audience would almost expect a cut to occur, until she runs back outside of the house. The music is the only thing driving the action at this point, keeping a steady but relatively fast tempo which continues to heighten the suspense.

As soon as she runs out the front door towards the car, the music builds again, with synthetic string sounds reminiscent of Hitchcock’s Psycho, another tribute to classic horror. Now the camera pans to the left, most likely just to follow the action, however it does make for an interesting change, altering the pacing and our expectation from what has been presented to us.

I generally struggle with criticising scenes or thinking about how I would do it different. I suppose this is because, in my short history in scene analysis, I generally analyse scenes which I enjoy. The same stands for this, it’s style is consistent throughout so changing this changes the flow of the movie. Regardless, as an individual scene, it would be interesting to begin with the same shot, instead of panning, just jump cut to the house, then cut to inside the house with the girl running out, followed by her father. Then reverting back to the road, keep the pan and the tracking backwards, as it implies that she is being watched by something.

My Method/Reflection: A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

I recently watched the Iranian-vampire-western film A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, the feature debut of director Ana Lily Amirpour , and was blown away and inspired. The film is a powerful yet simple story of a female vampire who lives in the fictional town of Bad City who meets and consequently falls in love with a boy. It is heavily stylised, in black and white, with an amazing soundtrack which drives the film. Indeed, Amirpour has directed a number of music videos which definitely comes across throughout the film. I found this interview from vice, who helped fun the film, fascinating and inspiring, so I made a few notes of inspiration and advice to take away:

Amirpour came up with the character when she tried on the costume which the vampire wears in the film. It was a traditional Iranian garb which an extra wore in a short film she made a few years prior. Amirpour speaks about how the costume made her feel like a badass, and that she immediately felt compelled to skateboard (which is incorporated into the film). This illustrates the unlikely places which inspiration can come from. It came from a feeling, which was then given a character, context, and finally a story.

Amirpour and Sheila Vand, the lead actress who plays the vampire, discuss how they new each other for 5 years before making this film. Later in the interview Amirpour says as an aside that she knew all the actors, though this is probably an exaggeration. The fact stands that Vand’s performance is confident and powerful, and this is perhaps a reflection of her commitment to Amirpour and consequently her commitment to the story and character. This made me reflect on how important it is to form strong relationships with actors. Many film-makers use the same actors over and over again, most likely because they know each others method and can communicate easily. This highlighted the importance of engaging with actors and remaining in contact with ones that I find particularly good and hard working which would consequently make the casting process much easier and the production process more inspiring and enjoyable.

The research and development process for this film was deep and precise. An example is that Amirpour had created a timeline, complete with significant events for the character of the vampire. According to Vand, she had stack upon stacks of DVD’s from which she gathered inspiration. It is also mentioned that Amirpour knew exactly what song would go with what scene prior to production (and possibly prior to the final draft). This reaffirmed the idea that research and development is crucial to the creating a script or film of quality and substance.

Very briefly, Amirpour states that she has 12 scripts that she has written, and was considering making a film the normal “shitty” way, that is by giving a script to a studio which would then make arrangements for casting etc. etc. Instead she asked herself, “What is cool? what do I love?” and wrote A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, cast her friends and bypassed the “shitty” method by avoiding studios and working with a smaller budget. This illustrated that the means by which one can make a film are not set, and that there are other ways by which one can achieve their vision, potentially more effectively and generally better than the normal “shitty” way.

It is mentioned that a short was made first. This is exciting to me as my focus now is on making short films. Obviously I do not have the reputation or the money, let alone the experience, to make a feature film, so I find it gratifying to know that this film existed as a short first. I can use more short films as blueprints of inspiration for my future endeavours.

The crux of the film, is about what each character is going through and why. Characters have to be real people, each of them have a story. This is excellent advise for a writer AND director. Too often films introduce characters who serve no other purpose than to allow for exposition or to motivate an action, however we know very little about who the character is and way. All the characters in A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night have a purpose and motivation.

The interviewer later asks if Vand was finishing a sentence that Amirpour had started. And responds in the affirmative, in a way. Saying that it is the role of the actor to become the character, to give part of yourself to the character, a thing which the director cannot do FOR the actor.

Finally, A very basic, and corny, idea which comes out is that they argue that the best stories are always about love. It’s easy to shun this statement but it carries a lot of weight. What motivates us? generally its others more than events or circumstances. As a writer, this is important to keep in mind when developing plot and character. For a film maker it is important when constructing a shot, and directing your actors. To have an ultimately complicated story to be rooted on a singular abstract concept, it helps root the film and keeps it on track.