Our project goal is essentially to create an evocative short film that effectively communicates our theme of loneliness, and the idea of filling the resulting void through something questionable or unhealthy. To be more story-specific, we plan to tell of a man aged around 19 who is struggling with loneliness and emptiness after finishing high school, where he wasn’t so much a loner as he was just a person who had several acquaintances, but mostly flew under the radar. Upon finishing high school then, the reality that he had no real friends in his life became clearer. The way in which he tries to fill this void is the focus of our film, as he devotes himself wholly to a local band.
Our film will explore the early stages of this devotion, as it slowly heads towards more of a dangerous obsession. A way of looking at our project could also be to depict the time prior to the more familiar archetype of a ‘stalker fan’. We certainly do not want to fall into a stereotypical view of the character, and do not want to come off as teasing or judging his lifestyle – more just presenting it. One of the places that this reluctance to judge comes for me personally, is the work of Paul Thomas Anderson, specifically The Master, where a character that could be compared to the leader of Scientology – a very easy target for judgement or villainy – is presented so sincerely that we’re almost forced to care about him, even if we do think he’s a con artist (Anderson, 2012). While this doesn’t translate directly to our character, I do feel that it can be a useful reference point for my thinking of how to depict him. Another more specific example of a character that has inspired our own is Robert DeNiro’s Travis Bickle from Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (Scorsese, 1976). Drawing particularly from Travis’ character in the early stages of the film, before he has become more explicitly crazy, the aspects that I feel our character could share include voyeuristic nature as well as the very quiet manner and sad expressions that subtly hint at a sense of instability.
A way in which we tried to get further into this idea of an obsessed fan was to look into studies on celebrity culture and worship. One strong example of these studies was Melissa Murphy’s journal entry titled The Psychology Behind Celebrity Worship. As the title suggests, Murphy goes into the psychological origins of the different types of celebrity worship. In explaining some of the reasons celebrity worship exists, she states that ‘celebrities are able to tap into the basic emotions of people and give them a reprieve from their everyday lives’ (Murphy, 2015). This idea has clearly become integral to our project, as it really taps into how we hope to present our character, while the factual evidence adds to the authenticity and realism.
Once we had a fair grasp of our theme and ideas, I wrote a short script, which should work well as a sort of guideline for the time being, that we can gradually flesh out and change as a group. A definite aspect of our project is that we are more focused on this character than we are on plot. With this in mind, we have been sure to keep the plot very basic, with the central concept being to present a typical day in the life of the character, leading up to seeing the band play in the evening. This allows for a reasonable amount of flexibility in what situations he can find himself in, but most importantly – particularly for a <9 minute short film – keeps our ideas from getting too complex or convoluted, from a plot perspective.
From here, we began to think about from where our inspiration was coming for these ideas, as well as what could be used to inspire further development. Each of us brought some very useful material to the group, with inspiration based around elements like sound, cinematography and tone. An example of Jenny’s was a short video titled Depression Isn’t Always Obvious, which has informed us on how we may like to frame our film, with aspects like symmetry being noted. The video also had an overall melancholy tone, which we certainly hope to capture in our own film.
This melancholy tone, as opposed to an outright dark or sinister tone, is evident in several of our pieces of inspiration, another example being Louis CK and Zach Galifinakis’ TV series, Baskets. This show tells the story of a man who dreams of becoming a professional clown, regardless of what those around him think (CK, Galifinakis, 2016). Similar to our idea of filling the void left by loneliness with extreme fan devotion, the character in this show is in many ways using this dream of being a clown to cope with his father’s suicide from when he was young. A specific clip from Baskets that we drew inspiration from was a scene in which the main character, Chips, goes to a sort of street rave party to see his brothers. The mood of this scene is again very melancholy, but it is the lighting and sound that I find most interesting. Appropriately, the lighting includes several different coloured flashing lights, but perhaps less appropriate for a rave scene is the sound. Rather than typical club-like music, a very slow and even uplifting synth-piece is played. This technique of using non-diegetic music in a scene where there is otherwise diegetic music playing is something I feel could work well in our film, specifically in a scene where our character is watching the band perform.
Another strong source of inspiration was the opening 15 minutes of Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher. The opening sequence of this movie is almost wholly focused on establishing the character of Mark Schultz, a lonely Olympic wrestler who lives in his older brother’s shadow (Miller, 2014). Using wide shots of Mark with no soundtrack at all and minimal dialogue, we are let into the apparent sadness of his existence, without ever having to blatantly state it. This kind of minimalist approach is definitely a direction I see our short film heading in, especially the parts heavily focused on establishing character.
With all of these inspiration and concept-based aspects to our preparation, we then took a leaf out of Rabiger’s book, and ‘just [did] it’ (Rabiger, 2006). As a group we set out to shoot several rough versions of some of the shots we see ending up in our final film. Despite thinking these different shots were pretty well imagined in our heads, to actually properly create them was extremely productive and also worked as a way of confirming that our cinematographic ideas were solid. Some of the things we were focusing on in these short videos included conveying the loneliness of our character visually. Using some of our sources of inspiration as well as our group discussions, the main way in which we attempted to do this was through wide shots where the subject is very distant from the audience. While very brief at this stage, the footage we have been able to compile is very exciting and reassuring for what is hopefully to come.
Baskets. (2016). (video) USA: Louis CK, Zach Galifinakis.
Depression Isn’t Always Obvious. (2016). (video) USA: BuzzFeedYellow.
Foxcatcher. (2014). [film] USA: Bennett Miller.
Murphy, M. (2016). The Psychology Behind Celebrity Worship. [online] Celebrities.knoji.com. Available at: https://celebrities.knoji.com/the-psychology-behind-celebrity-worship/ [Accessed 22 Mar. 2016].
Rabiger, M. (2006). Developing story ideas. Burlington, MA: Focal Press.
Taxi Driver. (1976). [film] USA: Martin Scorsese.
The Master. (2012). [film] USA: Paul Thomas Anderson.