My Method of Working Part 7

I am beginning to think about how I am actually going to create my scene, in terms of the logistics of shooting anyway.I have started by talking to two friends who are both studying creative writing, one who is a third year at RMIT who is focussing on short story screen plays; and one who is a third year at Melbourne University who mainly writes for theatre but majors in cinema studies and is currently writing a television pilot for her screen writing class. Both are more than willing to let me use their scripts for my final assignment. The RMIT student has already emailed me one of her scripts for a short film, so I am just in the process of reading through it to see if there are any scenes I would like to cover.

In terms of casting, I’ve got a few acting friends who are willing to help me out for free (I’m sure they wouldn’t mind having some footage for their show reels as well though). Other than that, I think I will need to use actors who are willing to participate from Starnow.

I think the location will depend on what scene I end up going with. At the moment I have no idea what I even need to start looking for, so I think I will just worry more about that later.

My Method of Working Part 6

One of the biggest influences in my life is dance. I originally come from a ‘creative’ dance background (known to most people as interpretative/contemporary/improvisational dance), which I was involved in from about the age of 2 until I was 14. I guess the best way to think about this dance is that there is no defined choreography, you can essentially do whatever you want, (but often within some constraints). For instance, our concerts every year were based around some kind of narrative story and we were to ‘dance’ our way through a ‘scene’… our classes interpretation of the scene anyway. Each class would use their bodies to explain their part of the story. Although this sounds like it would be completely incomprehensible to an audience, somehow it worked. This time of my life not only taught me rhythm and how to move my body, it gave me the confidence and freedom to just dance, to just move how I wanted, to improvise. It was only when I started going to more conventional dance lessons (jazz, aerobics and hip hop) that I realised how invaluable these lessons had been to me. Dancing styles have ‘rules’, or at least ‘conventions’: stereotypical movements of that genre (much like cinema). Dancers who have grown up going to those lessons don’t really know anything different and (generally) struggle to just let go and ‘vibe’ the music when dancing. I definitely do not proclaim to being an amazing dancer, I was never going to make a career out of it. But I did realise I was quite good at choreography. Much to my coach’s frustration, I would often take over lessons where we were trying to make up new routines. It got to a point where if we (my team, my coach and I) were struggling to think of something new for our competitive routines, they would just leave me in a room with the music on repeat for a while until I came up with something through improvisation.

Which leads me to how this all relates to film. In many ways I think that the creation of dance choreography is a great analogy for filmmaking. Firstly, both art forms are primarily about how entities move through space and time. A director can be likened to a choreographer as both of these roles are essentially dictating how things will be positioned in space and time for aesthetic, emotional and story-telling effect. So what if I took a page from my own life: what if I began a filmmaking process through improvisation to generate ideas? And then after this process I really start to refine things, so that I end up with a unified, complex and detailed piece of work.

My Method of Working Part 5

I was chatting to a screenwriting student at work today, who told me about the filmmaking process of Drinking Buddies (Joe Swanberg, 2013, USA). Swanberg is most famous for his ‘mumblecore’ films, a genre I have only briefly heard about during cinema studies last year. These films are often based on improvisational acting and thus favour naturalistic dialogue over scripted conversations between characters. Like Nicholas Winding Refn, Swanberg also shoots his films chronologically, allowing for stories to naturally unfold.

Apparently Swanberg comes onto set with a general idea of how a scene will begin and what needs to happen or change by the end of the scene; but how this eventuates is ultimately up to the actors. I like this idea of naturalistic acting, because it makes the story seem much more ‘real’; however, I think this would be difficult to capture with a camera. This methodology doesn’t really leave room for multiple takes of shots and the camera work would need to be totally conceived on the day in reaction to the character action. I imagine that creating a continuous edit would also be a struggle. Nevertheless, I think if you had a very talented cinematographer and a close knit team of crew and actors this process would foster ingenuity and imagination. This production process reminds me of Boyhood (Richard Linklater, 2014, USA), which was filmed over a 12 year stint. Linklater never planned out exactly how the ‘story’ was going to develop or finish and so the final product is a very true to life representation of growing up, but does not necessarily have any narrative arcs (it definitely does not follow a traditional story structure).

These shooting methodologies are actually rather similar to the exercises we did in the first few weeks of this course. Instead of scripts, we received a ‘blue print’ of a scene, which enabled more naturalistic dialogue to emerge. I’m not sure if I could create a whole improvised film like Swanberg, but I do like the idea of some spontaneity…maybe just slightly structured spontaneity.

My Method of Working Part 4

This week I watched a short documentary-like video about Nicholas Winding Refn, most famous for directing the film Drive (2011, USA). He is a Danish filmmaker, who never actually attended a film school and started directing at quite an early age (26). Interestingly, even though he attests to writing or co-writing a lot of his films, he is actually dyslexic. This may influence his ‘organic’, unconventional filmmaking style.

He is said to go on set without any concrete storyboards and instead finds his shots and plans his compositions on location with his actors. He does however use index cards to roughly plan out what he will shoot every day (opting for drawings rather than words, which he claims makes it easier to explain ideas to his others). I’m not sure if I could shoot an entire film without any storyboards or floor plans, but I think it’s a really good place to start collating ideas for a scene. Although he does not identify as just a director, at heart is an ‘actor’s director’. He is renowned for having loving relationships with his actors, working with them closely in terms of blocking scenes and character ‘building’. He believes that the actors need to have a say in the creation of their character; something that I strongly believe in as well. If an actor is able to assemble their own character type, they will undoubtedly feel a stronger connection with the entity the have to ‘become’, which adds to the complexity and believability of the character. Winding Refn attempts to move away from the ‘authoritarian’ role of the film director, leaving the story open to other’s ideas. Apparently his scripts are very loose, which also enables improvisation and last minute changes to the narrative.

Winding Refn also shoots his scenes and films in chronological order. After he heard that American indie pioneer John Cassavetes shot some of his films chronologically, Refn decided to take a similar approach. In an interview with Scott Foundas he says that ‘It’s like a painting—you paint the movie as you go along, and I like the uncertainty of not knowing exactly how it’s going to turn out’. I think Winding Refn’s organic style demands this order of shooting. I know that if I go into a shoot without much of a plan (i.e. no storyboards or definite script), I automatically opt for a chronological shooting order because it aids in the continuity of the scene and also helps to pave the way and set the tone for the rest of the sequence. I know that shooting in order is not always logistically possible, but I think it’s a great thing to do if it’s practical. In my opinion, Winding Refn’s films are tightly unified by their style and continuity and the characters seem to develop and grow with the narratives, which could be partly due to the organic and chronological way they have been produced. Drive-2011-ryan-gosling-28126856-1280-544

My Method of Working Part 3

In class we have been speaking a lot about taking pictures on our phones on location in preparation for shooting. I think this process is great because the portability of our phones enables a very free and experimental planning process. However, phone cameras are very different from the video cameras we have been using, so there is always going to be a slight problem in that you cannot exactly replicate the shots that have been taken on phones. Furthermore, the tripods and video cameras are physically much bigger and so they cannot fit into the same spaces that phone cameras can (thus shot types would invariably need to be adjusted in certain locations).

For week 4’s exercise we began by taking several photos on one crew member’s phone of the entire location i.e. not setting up shots properly. This was so we had a record of exactly how the location looked and worked if we needed to refresh our memories later on. We then started to block our ideas for how the scene would play out, using the phone camera to document the different shots. Even though a phone camera and a video camera have different lenses, they still show you what is ultimately unachievable. For example, we were trying to get a shot of one character’s reflection coming out of a door on an opposing glass wall and the other character hiding behind a corner. By being able to track the action through a camera, we realised that the angles were too difficult to capture and that even a fish eye lens would not be able to frame all of the action in one shot. If we had not known this, we would have wasted a lot of time in the real shoot.

One of our crew members also made a rough video of our scene on her phone camera. This was incredibly beneficial because it documented the character movements as well as the shot types. From these phone photos and videos we were then able to storyboard our scene and write up shot lists quite efficiently.

My Method of Working Part 2

I want many things from this course…

  • I want to understand cinema better.
  • I want to build my confidence in being a director/cinematographer/sound guy/editor so I ‘don’t look like a tool’ on set or in the editing suites. I essentially just want to improve my technical skills.
  • I want to know how to make scenes that can be taken into post production and easily edited to look continuous, but…
  • I guess why I’m doing this degree, and more specifically this course, is to learn how to make a film to a ‘professional’ standard. How does this occur? At this point I think it is a combination of EVERYTHING – directing, casting, scripting, storyboarding, lighting, camera work, location, editing, colour grading, sound, organisation, time and money.

So how I am going to help myself to get to a point where my work looks ‘professional’? What is professional? (I guess in the simplest of terms it is simply ‘good quality’ work).

I think a good way to start is to look at films that I really love, not for their story, but for their professional cinematography. Then, if I can find it, watch their ‘making of’ videos that are often in the special features on DVDs. This could help to explain exactly how scenes are created and shed light on the way various actors/crewmen/actors work. Subsequently, I might be able to further pull apart these scenes by analysing their camera coverage, like we have been doing in the past few weeks of The Scene. I would also like to research the different methodologies of directors and see if they themselves have written any accounts of their filmmaking processes.