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.
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.
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.
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.
The intention behind this exercise was to capture a scene developed from a script out of context. Originally, I had storyboarded these scene for a different room in the house I was using for the shoot, however, recent re-decorating prevented me from capturing exactly what I had storyboarded. My main focus in storyboarding was to avoid having the interaction of the two characters being simply a shot-reverse-shot sequence, which is generally unimaginative and would not be engaging to watch as a short scene. I decided to experiment with characters entering the scene from outside of the frame. I also decided that tracking shots which would be a good way to add dynamic movement and pacing, as well as build suspense.
My first challenge was adapting the storyboard to the space. The bungalow in which I shot this was an interesting space in the sense that there was a bookshelf built into the desk, as well as curtain, plants and other knick-knacks with which I could occupy the frame. It is, however, significantly smaller than the original space I had in mind which was an obstacle which had to be overcome. A key shot I wanted was to have one character in the frame already, looking about, then have the other character enter, creating a dynamic two shot. I ended up flipping the first frame of the storyboard, having the character enter from left of screen as opposed to the right because there was no space right of screen. The actor (Nadine) entered from offscreen where she was waiting in the doorway, I had her standing just off-screen rather than walking through the door because had she walked through the door it would have indicated she was coming from an outside space as opposed to being present in the room.
With the tracking shot, my intention was to have the character lift the book from the shelf and turn to lean against the bookshelf as she read. There was a couch just behind the actress and so she could not turn around in a way that would appear natural, so the final shot I got was an obscured shot of her face. This was not a huge compromise, although it is unfortunate that there isn’t a decent shot of the characters face in the short scene. Another issue which became more of a problem in post, was how to make the handing of the book appear natural and seamless. I opted to do a J cut as Roger passed the book to Esteban (the actors mixed up the names without me realising until after). The cut masked what would otherwise be an awkward cut of Roger standing, standing, finishing her line then passing the book to Esteban which would have appeared stilted and awkward. I opted for a two shot at the end of a scene, rather than a mid shot of Roger as she delivers her last line to book-end the scene and reaffirm the sense of space.
This exercise was useful in that it forced me to think on my feet on how the scene would look in sequence. The cramped space was challenging in how I could make the eye lines look natural. I also had a bit of fun with lighting. I had 3 lamps to work with. It made the space seem smaller and more intimate. For the mid shot of Esteban (Nadine) I turned one of them off and angled another away so as to not saturate her face. This was a useful experiment, as the light looks similar (if not the same) in the mid shot, but would have looked a lot worse had I not experimented with the lighting.