Project Brief 3 – Project Pitch

I am interested in investigating black screens. More specifically, transitions to black, whether that be a fade to black or a straight, abrupt cut to black. I want to gain a perspective on what a black screen can mean, whether it can be the end of a movie, the end of a character or even just a transition. My interest came from watching a movie, “Code Unknown”, where it was essentially a bunch of separate story lines, all done in single takes that were separated by an abrupt cut to black. It was a really interesting concept as it completely changed how you would view the scenes compared to if they were just edited conventionally.

The cuts to black were usually placed right in the middle of the action, often at the emotional height of the scene, and it felt so much more impactful than if it had happened once the intensity of the scene had died down and it had used a fade instead. It also seemed to accentuate the beginning and ending of each scene, it gave it a sense of finiteness and life. That every new scene you were watching had a time limit, it had a distinct sense of beginning and end, and after watching the movie for a while, the expectation that came along with knowing that a scene was going to cut to black changed how you perceived what was coming next. The surprise factor of the concept faded away and you began to concentrate on these very self-contained moments, bookended by cuts to black.

So what I was thinking of doing was to follow the same concept, to film a bunch of seemingly disconnected scenes, and to see how a separation by a cut to black would change how the scenes are viewed, as well as their relation to each other. They may not even have a story to it, there won’t be any driving motivation to launch a narrative, but instead scenes that have been distilled into moments.

For subject matter I have decided to, instead of having a straight story, to instead pick a theme, and to have every scene fit into that theme. The theme I have chosen is family. The shots can be anything that will capture the feel of family, or home. This can be my mother cooking, a family gathering, or even my parents sitting around watching TV.

Although I am taking the concept from ‘Code Unknown’, I want the tone to be completely different. The subject matter will be very warm, and comforting, which is in large contrast to the very bleak and depressing subject matter in Haneke’s films. I think that despite how the black screen seemed to deliberately distance the character’s lives from one another in ‘Code Unknown’, the unavoidable distance also felt like a way to really make you pay attention to the relation of one scene to the next – and this strangely felt like some sort of unifier. It seemed to fit into the theme of family well, as it is a very large and universal idea, something so big that you needed something like a cut to black to really pay attention to the small moments.

Reflections on week 3 writing exercise

In class we did an unusual writing exercise where we wrote down a lot of different things that interested us. It was very strange at first because I increasingly began to wonder why I was doing this, why were we writing things that seemed non-consequential, daily actions that interested us? How could a door opening, a window closing, chopping an apple with a knife be interesting?

Then I started to think about it in a different way. I remembered my favourite film, ‘In the Mood for Love’, and the famous slow motion sequences set to moody violin. What I noticed about these sequences, about what was actually happening during these moments, were that they were extremely ordinary moments.

I came to the realisation that the most cinematic moments in the film were also the most ordinary moments – walking into a room, down a staircase, waiting for noodles, eating noodles. Why did Wong Kar Wai find these moments so interesting? I really don’t know why but they work somehow. Maybe it was a way of balancing the tone of a scene – during the films most heavy and emotional content, Wong Kar Wai shows a large amount of restraint, the most emotional moment of the film isn’t lathered with sensuous camera moves and slow motion, it is a static shot that succeeds a musical moment to create a deep, lonely silence. Both moments feel just as cinematic as the other, it didn’t matter what was actually going on in the scene.

I had to change my definition of what being ‘cinematic’ meant. The man driving a car around for an hour and a half in ‘A Taste of Cherry’ is just as cinematic as the Normandy Beach landing in ‘Saving Private Ryan’, as is a door opening, a window closing or chopping an apple with a knife.

The Second Initiative Post

Recently I have been re-watching The Sopranos, and it has gotten me very interested in the idea of episodic writing. On a side note, I was very surprised by the show on a visual scale. For some reason I had always thought of television, especially back then when long form dramas were starting to become really big – as a medium where the creators place all their efforts into the writing of the show – leaving the visual aspects almost as an afterthought, that it was only until more recently that shows started to pay a lot more attention to the visuals. However, when I watched The Sopranos, I really did see a distinct visual style. David Chase happens to be a full blown cinephile, and it comes out in the decisions that he makes both as a show runner in general and when he actually directs an episode. Although sometimes overbearing, it is nice to see a show care enough to shoot close-ups in extreme angles, to vignette frames or freeze the frame.

What I was really taken aback by was, of course, the writing. Pretty much every episode from a writing standpoint felt very strong, and it got me to think about what the writing process is like for a long form TV show. It was interesting to me because I started to think about the differences between shows (and writing) that focus heavily on either plot or character/story. To me, although there is a healthy balance of plot and character, The Sopranos really does feel like a show that focuses more on character. I had not realised this the first time that I had watched The Sopranos when I was very young, and I find it very interesting that the show was so immensely popular given that, not in any bad way whatsoever, not that much actually happens in terms of plot.

It’s interesting because usually these shows end up gaining a very specific audience, one that is more dedicated to the show and would push away a casual viewer. I had finished watching Mad Men not too long before this, and that was a show that, unsurprisingly given Matthew Wiener’s involvement with The Sopranos, was very heavy on character as opposed to plot. When I hear things about Mad Men, it always seems like the type of show that has a more specific dedicated fan base, and one that people sometimes can’t get into because ‘nothing happens’ in the show.

What I am trying to say, and what is really so interesting to me about The Sopranos and it’s reception is that, essentially it is a character driven show that takes a lot of risks – something that should result in a tailored and niche audience. But that’s obviously not that case, it’s one of the most popular shows of all time. So what is David Chase’s secret? How did he get people to tune in every week, how does he get the casual average TV watcher to sit down and watch a 20 minute, highly stylised dream sequence that asks more questions than it does provide answers? Maybe I’m trying too hard to find an answer to something that really is simple, because as David Chase said – “I just wanted to make something entertaining”.

Reflections on the expertise exercise

Last week we did the expertise exercise. My group and I had chosen to use and play around with a dolly track. I had never used a dolly track before, so this was completely new to me. It was exciting, but it made me realise how much I had to learn about the filmmaking process. The exercises that we tried out were very fun and turned out pretty well. One of the exercises that we did was a lateral tracking shot of three subjects. It was interesting to see the different ways that this could be done – either the straight forward way of literally tracking laterally, or by moving the dolly track further back from the subject to instead try panning across and imitating the dolly movement. We found that the first method of actually moving the camera along the dolly was much better and smoother.

Another exercise that we did was a dolly move that went forwards. At first it was just a simple start from Point A and finish at Point B which was closer to the subject, but we later thought that it would be more interesting and make more sense to have a second subject move towards the first subject along with the camera. When we changed the exercise to this it made the exercise more dynamic and it also made focusing easier, as we only had to set the focal length once and did not require a focus puller for it.

Lastly, we did a simpler, static shot exercise that focused on lighting. This one was very interesting to me as gaining a high proficiency with learning how to light a scene with purpose is something that I strive for.

Overall I found the expertise exercise to be very rewarding, feeling as if there was something gained out of the scenes that we shot, even if they were on a very small scale.