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.

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.