4.2 – A Reflection of the Studio

I would be lying if I said that this semester went off without a hitch. In addition to the expected mid-semester wall that usually hits every student, mine was plagued by a considerable amount of personal tribulations which affected my academic output.

That excuse aside, this semester has been a highly formative one. While the emphasis had been placed by Paul on the intricacies of a single scene, rather than the film as a whole, I found meaning through which to apply my learning to the entire process of filmmaking.

As a second-year student being paired alongside students in their final year of the course, The Scene in Cinema started off with an initial load of extreme intimidation. This level of intimidation gradually decreased over the months, as I came to befriend my peers and learnt to pace myself alongside their own skill level. Though I could never shake off how resolute and driven the best of them appeared to be. I saw myself as just a loser kid who liked Godard movies and wanted to learn how to make them, my older peers were Godards in their own rights.

The first half of the semester, as Paul intended, was a basic refresher for the more experienced students. For those who has just come out of a year studying media in a context unrelated to the film industry, this was more than just a crash course, it was a head on collision between an asteroid and the White House. Within weeks, I had gone from using consumer DSLRs to using Sony EX-3 cameras. Within weeks, I had gone from paying my friends to act in my works with promises of pizza, to engaging with professional actors contacted through casting calls. Was I intimidated by all of this? Did this throw me off my desire to become a filmmaker? Not in the slightest. Within weeks, I had gone from being sidetracked by other paths to being someone who lived, breathed, ate and slept shot construction, and blocking, and the movement of the camera, and whether or not we had the best lighting for the shot, and how these different shots would interact when together.

Now that we’ve established that the studio drove me to explore myself, how can I go about demonstrating it?

After the first half of the semester, spent shooting small scenes in small groups, the real part of the subject began. From that point on, every single thing that we did was an individual endeavour. Works were no longer collaborations. Strict hierarchies were formed as we learnt to become the director for every one of our productions, in addition to learning how to utilise our peers as valuable members of our production crew. This was most important for me, as this studio was not only about understanding how a scene is put together, but understanding how to put together a scene the way you’d like it to be. Auteurism plays a significant role in filmmaking for me, and this was something I wanted to demonstrate in my learning.

To compare the difference between how I operated within a collaborative work environment, and how I operate as an auteur, here are two different scenes made during the semester. To note is my individualistic use of editing and the post-production phase in general, which I treat as much of an element in film to share with audience than one would the acting and the mise-en-scene.

I was not responsible for the narrative, or the shot construction or anything related to the production phase of this video, all my influence occurs in post. Here you can see that everything is a lot more conventional when it comes to the acting and the blocking.

Juxtaposed with this is my own video, which I shot as a practise investigation. Here, I loosely adapted one of Paul’s prompt screenplays, casting my actors and choosing my set. The shot construction is accordance with my own intuition, and everything has been filmed in harmony with the post-production phase, with cuts and music in mind.

The culmination of my education in the studio can be found in this video.

I believe it is not impossible, but tedious and unnecessary to reflect upon all of my learning in one single post. I have dedicated an entire blog to documenting it. This video demonstrates what I have attached significance to as an aspiring filmmaker – my particular shots, my slow and steady pacing, my synergy with music and colours.

I have had an incredible few months being taught how to construct a scene, under the incredible tutelage of Paul Ritchard. Seriously, I can see why you keep him around here, it’s not just for his flamboyant shirts.

4.1 – A Reflection of my Final Investigation

As I stated in a previous blog post, my final investigative shoot was a challenge for my improvisational ability. I wanted to tap into my natural balls to the wall, gung-ho, ‘John McClane in the original Die Hard’ state of filmmaking I knew I had within me. My inspiration for my research investigation was Ingar Bergman, whose filmmaking involved clearing the set at the start of the shoot, and allowing himself to ‘vibe out’ the type of shots he wanted to construct for his films. This is what I myself aimed to achieve.

Arriving at Mia’s apartment on a Friday morning, carrying a litre or so of fake blood, I was as ready as anything to producing something creepy and entrancing. I knew the tone I wanted to convey, and the one particular shot I wanted to carry through the entire scene, all I needed to figure out now was the lighting and how I would direct the acting.

Our production started with Mia, my cinematographer, realising that she had forgotten her camera in Jan Juc, a small town near Geelong. Some would call this a major setback. I on the other hand, remained cool, calm and collected. I then locked myself in her bathroom for ten or so minutes, and only after coming out again, did I realise how much this would affect my shoot. After some deliberation, I caught the tram to RMIT, and within an hour and a half, I was back at the apartment with a Canon DSLR and a tripod. We were ready to go again.

I have to put this out there, I am not a fan of using professional, or in our case, aspiring professional actors. First AD’ing Mia’s shoot, I came to appreciate them, and learnt how to treat them as members of my crew, but my superfluid directorial style necessitated individuals who were capable with dealing with my extremely bizarre and spontaneous method. Some would call me a hot mess. It is for this reason that I was much more comfortable with using my peer Mitchell Pirera, a fellow second year Media student, who I had also directed in a ‘similarly themed’ single take shot we had made in 2014.

Before I reflect on the rest of the shoot, I’m going to address how I felt about using nonprofessional actors following reflecting upon my footage. A part of me regrets it. Mitchell, and Mia, who I later incorporated as a figure in my scene, knew exactly what to do, and being my friends, they knew exactly how I wanted them to look. But seeing the way Mia’s actors worked during her shot, my actors couldn’t quite embody the spirit of the scene, as well as take on my directing in the manner that I wanted them to; perhaps this was due in part to my skills (or lack thereof) as a director.

My intentions for the scene developed only after I had cleared the set and allowed myself to vibe out the location. I saw it as small. Small enough to focus on a figure seated in the bathroom, but large enough to accommodate the presence of another individual. My scene was abstract as it could possibly be. There was to be no dialogue. All such sound was to be non-diagetic, a piece produced in Garageband would accompany the scene. As it was to be short, plot was to be no concern either. Everything was to be entirely driven by visuals. Here was where the fake blood came in; Mitchell, and the surrounding bathtub, was to be drenched in it. There was to be no backstory. You knew nothing about him. He would wake up and be accosted by an individual, played by Mia, whose faced would never be revealed.

Lighting played a very significant element in cinematography. Below are alternates forms of lighting we tried before settling on the final layout. Inspired by Mia’s use of an LED television to simulate the colourful lights of a party, I set up a small digital television playing an illuminating episode of The Mighty Boosh to light the set. However, there were not enough sources of light to fully capture the environment, and other setups were experimented with in favour of the shot not being too dark. Below, you can see a still of an alternate lighting setup. The lighting we settled upon was creatively less experimental. However, it provided a superbly clean shot that provided an incredible contrast of colours between the red of the fake blood and Mia’s bathroom’s pure, white interior.

As a single-take shot, I felt it was as best as it could be, while also remaining static and creatively capturing. Retrospectively, I should have shot a incorporated several other shots, but it would have ruined the single take nature of my scene. As such, it was my intention to limit what the audience could see, and how they reacted to the carefully constructed presence of the figures upon the screen.

As a final thought, I believe the entire scene is perfect. I’m proud of my work, and I know that I should be.

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4.1 – A Change of Plans

This is something unorthodox, and will probably elicit a disappointed fatherly frown from Paul, but I’ve been swayed by a creative outburst and I’ve changed my plan for my final investigative shoot. While this may seem completely wrong, it is exactly what I hoped for when I wrote my investigative brief. Here is a rehash of the brief, once more, for context:

Bound by technical and creative guidelines on how to approach filmmaking as a wannabe industry professional, I find my workflow stifled. Instead, I want to cast this aside and approach my filmmaking with passion, swayed by emotion, and completely incorrect. Much in the same way that Ingmar Bergman shoots a film, using his intuition, I want to shoot my scene with only an idea in my head, ‘vibing’ it out along the way.

My plans were immediately swayed while I assisted Mia as her first AD during her own investigative shoot. Shot in her kitchen, she utilised a large LED tv as a source of lighting, projecting phantasmic colours upon her actors as a source of lighting. This innovative approach to filmmaking, allowing the potential element of fantasy and surrealism, was exactly what I needed to complete my idea for a scene shot in Mia’s bathtub; it was the final piece of the puzzle.

I had also been thinking obsessively about a scene in Under the Skin, an art/horror/sci-fi film directed by Jonathan Glazer. It involves the protagonist luring one of several men into a dark void, where they are submerged in a pitch black liquid. The music set the tone for the exact atmosphere that I needed to achieve in my own scene. In making my scene, I will endeavour to produce my own musical piece to accompany the visual, akin to the music that accompanies the scene in Under the Skin.

While I was eager to shoot the scene that I talk about in a post below, which I briefly discussed with Paul, it is this scene, the screenplay of which can be found on my blog, that I finally feel completely satisfied and whole shooting.

4.1 – Reflections of What I’ve Learnt

Before shooting my final scene, I have endeavoured to investigate the screen through a multitude of screen tests. Besides one, none of these screen tests have any relevance to my work at the end of the semester. However, they have been integral learning experiences, and I have been taught very important filmmaking lessons.

Lesson 1:

The scene I shot in Mia’s living room, which can be found on my Google Drive, entitled Lord Knows Best, taught me the importance of planning and careful decision making. I started the day comfortable with my vague knowledge of what I was going to shoot and how I was to go about it. This backfired on me entirely. I had no idea what I really wanted to do, and only after minutes that seemed to drag on for eternity, spent humming and hawing, was I able to put a plan together. From this, I will learn to be completely in control of the shoot of my final scene, not only have I written a screenplay, but I will also involve myself in the storyboarding process, in addition to constructing a shot list and a schedule to keep me on time.

Lesson 2:

While I still had it in my head that I wanted to shoot a scene in Mia’s bathroom for my final investigation, I did in fact shoot a screen test, using Mia as my model, sitting in her bathtub. The aim for this screen test was to achieve the imagery that I had spent so long achieving in my head. Whilst the conditions were perfect, with the lighting, and camera positioning exactly what I wanted, it did not compare to the almost mythical look that I had been thinking about for weeks. I learnt the necessity to compromise one’s vision for screen realism. If not compromise, then at least an honest understanding of the abstract nature of one’s own imagination. I believe that it is through multiple screen tests, going back and forth between bringing your vision to screen and altering it in your head, than one is able to achieve supreme satisfaction.

Lesson 3:

Another one of my screen tests, the one with least relevance at all to my investigation, involved practising vertigo zooms. Regardless of my ability to actually capture one perfectly smooth and working zoom, it was an immensely rewarding experience. This taught me about how one should properly utilise one’s crew and equipment. The complexity of the shot required me to coordinate my camera operator with the movement of my makeshift dolly operator, along with the zoom and focus puller. This was intensely intricate, and while we were not able to pull it off, the proximity to achieving it taught me that it can easily be done with the right equipment and full teamwork.

4.1 – The Final Stretch

Beginning upon the final stretch of this studio, I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to set out to investigate. I did in fact have a structure in which to pursue this investigation; I wanted to be driven by a complete sense of control and independent direction. I even had a slight idea of the scene I wanted to shoot. But there was no fuel for the engine to run. I had no clue as to what I wanted to ask myself. How was I supposed to work out the answer?

What I didn’t know, was that hiding within myself, traversing through underground tunnels of passing thought, I was in fact running on full steam.

I had set guidelines for wanted I wanted to shoot. It was to be set in a single location, the confines of Mia Zen’s bathroom, starring one (possibly two) actors, with the hopeful use of a dolly in order to explore the space of the set. While many people talk about creativity flowing under the pressure of limitations, I found it to be the exact opposite. My brain was constantly shifting, on edge, trying to piece together fragmented ideas, possible dialogue, and characters to bring to life. This was something I had to accomplish, my mind had been set upon it from early on in the semester. But I was so focused on created something perfect, technically, stylistically, even academically, that nothing I came up with was ever good enough, even if it might have been.

Now, through all of our studio sessions, during every period spent in our room on level three, I couldn’t help but be fixated by the windows outlooking Bowen Street. They were large, imposing, like frames in an art gallery. In the right light, during Melbourne’s atmospheric golden hour, 5-6PM, the whole room would be shrouded in darkness, save for the haunting blue light shining through. Were people to be placed in front of the windows, they would become absolutely entrancing silhouettes, abstracted, characterised only by their movements, shape and form.

Absolutely tired of trying to shoot something in Mia’s bathroom, I had a moment of clarity, where I finally knew what my research question was to be, and what I was to create.

This was what I was to investigate:

The world of filmmaking seems to be driven by two different streams. Those who create based on the deliberation of their brain, and those who create based on the whims of their heart. I want to make films that follow what I feel, using this as a strength, rather than an impairment.

This is what I want to create:

A single shot scene, involving a male and a female conversing in front of the windows. They will be nothing but silhouettes. I have written a screenplay, and it can be found on my blog.

Project Brief 4.2 – A Plan

While I will make time for a showcase of the work I’ve done, my significant blog post will focus on the intense internal development that has taken place over the course of the semester. I’m going to write about my relationship with filmmaking, and how that has been fractured, rebuilt, deconstructed and reconstructed in a matter of weeks.

With the studio showcase at the end of the semester being a chance for me to exhibit my work, I will use my significant blog post as a ‘home base’, in which to display a more thorough culmination of my research project. Whereas the showcase will be constrained within the span of 40 seconds, my blog post will be able to fully explore not only my research questions, but an extended cut of the scene I choose to present as well.

The Game Plan

As we near the end of the semester, and we must start to materialise the culminations of our hard work, I’ve struggled to decide upon what I want to show for myself and my own research endeavours. Finally, I’ve worked out what I need to do. This is my game plan.

My research project centres upon the method of filmmaking reminiscent of Hitchcock and Kubrick, particularly in regards to their pre-production process, which involves intense planning and research. In short, perfectionism.

The scene I present at the end of the semester will be a product of this method of filmmaking. I will spend the preceding weeks working on the script, deciding upon every shot and storyboarding them, preparing the sets and every detail present on screen, as well as collaborating with the actors in order to attain the best possible performance. Every step of mine will be presented on my blog.

The most enjoyable part for me will be the rough copy I will produce before shooting the final polished scene. In the same way that The Karate Kid shot test footage of every scene, resulting in a very lo-fi, seemingly non-budget version of the film. I will test the practicality of my shots and storyboarding by utilising friends (non-actors) to play out the scene for my liking. This will result in me producing two scenes at the end of the semester, one a test, the other refined, detailing my process of intense planning and self-improvement.