FINALLY. It's taken almost all week to get the system set up properly, but I started capturing and digitizing the tapes into Final Cut Pro. One thing after another: firewire 4- vs 6-pin, extensions for firewire hubs, replacement AC cable for the camera, the right hard drive (settled on the QPS M3, a truly portable 80Gb 7200rpm one).

In the mean time, there were taxes, joint brokerage account problems to deal with, and (happily) my wife's birthday (now that she's 16, I can openly call her my wife. And I won't have to drive her everywhere anymore.). Jonah had an installation in a show that opened tonight, so I ran over to see it. Looks amazing. Reminds me (as does the footage I'm logging in) how attuned he is to light. Gotta get the next batch. seeya.

March 5, 2002

Has it been that long?

Has it been that long? Jet lag's lasted longer than normal. Fall asleep during The Daily Show, up before NPR Morning Edition.

Jonah came back Sunday; picked him up at JFK (a very non-NYC thing to do, I know. Getting a car >> encroaching suburban mindset). He shot some more airport stuff on his own. He kept the camera through the weekend, partly because I had to carry back some precariously wrapped art I'd bought nearly two years ago from Chantal Crousel. Of course Chantal and Niklas were in NYC for the Armory Show. Alice gets back today; we're meeting to go through all the shot logs, expenses, etc.

Been logging our rushes, generating time code lists which we'll use to digitize the footage in a day or so. For audio, we mapped audio tracks to each take while on location. After we edit using the camera audio, we'll go back and lay down synchronized MiniDisc audio just for those scenes that make the cut. Right now it takes me about 90 minutes to log a 60-minute tape. It could go a little faster if I could get time codes to show up on my monitor. Any Sony VX-1000 experts out there who can tell me how to do this?

Music: Jonah and I talked about it again, and the current idea is for "pensive ambient carpeting." Anything too immediately identifiable is frowned upon right now. Saturday was Bjorkfest, where I filled in my CD collection and listened to all her albums straight through. Here's what I've found so far (in addition to the Morricone and Orozco songs mentioned below:

  • A couple of tracks on Debut
  • Visur Vatnsenda-Rosu, an Icelandic track not on any US album [will add links later]
  • Downtown, Bjork's cover of Petula Clark's classic (haven't found it yet, but I want to hear it and see)
  • Ambient/trance tracks from Planet Soma's Drone Zone stream on Shoutcast, like TUU's Shiva Descending
  • Circular 1's Drifting, and
  • DJ Food's Kaleidescope

    Purely for editing purposes, you understand (and to avoid driving Jonah crazy by camping out on his Mac), I thought I'd better cross the front lines myself and get a Mac. And a 100Gb external drive to walk the whole project around. Promptly seduced, I know own a G4 Titanium. I may never watch a DVD on my Thinkpad again. Oh, and I hate the new lamp-style iMac. Sorry.

  • Did I mention that Dodge, the main actor in the movie, was not, in fact, the main actor? I was at the airport in NYC, preparing to leave, and to meet Dodge the next morning at CDG, when he called from a military airbase. He's been stuck in Afghanistan, held there by his various employers (CBS News, Discovery Channel, etc.) and the US military for (it turns out) the launch of Operation Anaconda in the mountains near the Pakistani border.

    So, I ended up playing the American man in the movie, directing myself in the screenplay I wrote, based on an experience I had two years ago. Me, me, me, me, me. I think Greg has earned the right to talk about himself in the third person now. Besides, it'll be good practice for the press junket.

    March 1, 2002

    I'm home and damn tired.

    I'm home and damn tired. And I carried this sculpture back on the plane; it's been at the gallery in Paris for almost two years. It's six feet tall. Good night.

    February 28, 2002

    France Location Day 5: Fred

    France Location Day 5: Fred and Thomas went back to Paris Wednesday night. The rest of us stayed until Thursday morning. We got up at 7:00, checked out of our Twin Peaks castle, and rushed off to reshoot the approach to Thiepval. I wrote earlier that God was our co-pilot? Wrong. He was our key grip. The sun was at the exact height, with no clouds at all. As we drove up the empty hill, it came straight in the window of the car (Weíd sent the light kit back earlier, so as not to get hit with another dayís rental.). One take. Then we just popped over to the Memorial to see if we missed anything. Took a couple of fixed shots, on axis, very basic but very important.

    As we finished, the caretaker for the Memorial came over and asked if we were filming for TV. Technically, no, so we didnít need permission from the War Graves Commission. Then he offered to take us up to the top of the arch. (We had to leave the big camera behind, but I took my Elph digital camera, which shoots AVI movies.) A million spiral stairs later, we got to the top, where the whole countryside came into view at once. Crystal clear, with maybe 15-20 other memorials and cemeteries in view.

    The contrast between this pastoral landscape and the hellish condition it was in during the four years of fighting was amazing, but hard to visualize. Farmers and villagers moved back to pulverized villages within months, and restoration, reconstruction, and recuperation of the area took place on a massive scale. The resemblance between wartime accounts and photos and todayís rural farmland is extremely faint. Just as the red zone in Manhattan shrank and the skyline reset itself in peopleís minds. Do peopleís accounts and memories themselves become the real markers when the site of a cataclysm is reclaimed?

    With questions like these, I feel like Iím writing a combination of Band of Brothers and Sex in the City.

    The day ended there, basically, as we jammed back to Paris to settle up, get equipment back, etc. Everything will cost 50-100% more than you first thought. The Gursky show at the Pompidou was much nicer at first because it was more spread out than at MoMA. But it became apparent that it was smaller and less satisfying, too. The Madonna picture he did has a monitor with the NY Skyline in it, a seeming homage to the city he shouldíve been shooting on September 13.

    Music possibilities: Tough. So much is uncertain for me. Right now, Iím considering Gabriel Orozcoís ìClinton is Innocentî and Ennio Morriconeís track, ìMichelangelo Antonioni,î by Caetano Veloso, which WNYC said was for the soundtrack of Le Professionel, starring Jean Paul Belmondo (but it's not). Last night at dinner, a friend suggested Bjork, which seemed an immediately excellent and natural option. Weíll take a listen. Any suggestions? [That spate of namedropping ought to lure a few people from the search engines.]

    February 27, 2002

    France Location Day 4: The

    France Location Day 4: The big day, by default. We still have to shoot the major locations: the Crater at La Boisselle and the Thiepval Memorial itself. In addition, we need to pick up more montage dialogue in town. Iíd say the weather was perfect, but for production, ìperfectî means ìthe same the whole time,î and it most certainly was not that. It was brilliantly sunny, no clouds, and slightly cold.

    Lochnagar Crater: We jammed over to the crater, where weíd also planned to shoot scenes with neighbors of the crater itself. There was a bus full of students when we got there. (Weíd joked earlier that Wednesdayís School Group Day at these places; it ainít funny.)

    Shots 51-57 went really quickly and well. The sun was actually great. Glidecam worked well, and we got fixed position shots as well. The ground was extremely slippery and chalky (actually, it was chalk.), so we decided against climbing down into the crater to shoot up. Instead, we just did some lines up top. (After typing ìshoot up,î I had to make a cheap joke about doing lines. This will go down on my permanent record.)

    While we were shooting on the edge of the crater, a pair of French fighter jets suddenly flew just overhead. They continued to circle for about half an hour, flying in and out of the storm clouds that were moving towards us. Iíd never known what a flashback was like, but the sound of those jets put me straight back in New York in the days following the attack. It was wrenching. After almost six months, Iíve been able to not think of the attacks every time I hear a regular plane. Can we ever know in advance the triggers for our memories? Does knowing them help ease the shock or the surprise? How many Proustís madeleines are lurking out there for people in New York?

    Then Ken, the caretaker arrived from Dover, along with a writer friend. They hit their lines and then some, adding details of the bombing and the first morning of the attack as well as how the memory of the war stays alive in England. ìEvery family was affected directly,î Michael said, ìso even three generations later, people have a personal connection to what happened.î This relation between who a memorial is made for and its efficacy seems important. They also talked about the places that remain unaltered, like Lochnagar Crater and the nearby battlefield known as Glory Hole. As time passes, they become rarer and rarer, and gain importance as reminders. During their scenes (58-61) an icy storm broke; huge black clouds approached the camera rapidly, as if on some cue (donít look at me). Within ten minutes it was over. This is going to be a pain to edit.

    Albert: With the light back and the sleet gone, we headed back to Albert to pick up some insert shots and more dialogue scenes (36-39). Got some solid stuff; replaced the boulangerie with a Coke machine for scene 37. Lunch and some insert shots of the sky.

    Thiepval: It was around 4:30 when we got to Thiepval. The sun was low, with strong shadows across the lawn. People have commented before how the memorialís scale defies photography. Weíll see if lone figures walking toward and around it help. There was some kind of emptiness, though, in the place. Itís got a very transparent, old-fashioned sense of awe-inspiration, but I confess itís hard to tell if itís really moving. While we were there, a couple of cars pulled up, people got out, walked maybe 30 meters down the approach (still a good 150m away from the arch), and went back. Just checking it off their list, I guess.

    We got a variety of Glidecam shots, following the man around the place, and some fixed shots, too. Good, but we were losing light fast (another cloud bank took at least 30 minutes off our usable light). The last driving/approach shots ended up too dark to ever match the scenes at the monument. They looked beautiful, but again, unusable. The running joke was, we were shooting for the dream sequence, where nothing needed to match or make sense. Shot didnít work? Itís for the dream sequence. It was a rushed, hectic end to a very good day, and was the effective end of the location.

    February 27, 2002

    Today; it was announced that

    Today; it was announced that the Towers of Light will go on display March 11, six months after September 11.

    Feb 26 was the nine-year anniversary of the first bombing of the World Trade Center.

    February 26, 2002

    France Location Day 3: Weíd

    France Location Day 3: Weíd planned to shoot driving scenes and dialogue in the car in the morning, when we expected clouds and rain. Of course, it turned freakishly sunny, pumping the contrast between interior and exterior light too high.

    We did exterior driving shots instead, and we found a great scene when we were looking for the single roadside grave mentioned in shot 31 in the script. It was very windy, clouds and shadows moving rapidly across the fields. At the intersection, the man jumped out of the car and searched for the grave, climbing the embankments, looking around. The light was beautiful; the scene was pretty spontaneous, and the camera was great.

    Weíd set up a Glidecam, a counterweighted mount for smoothing out camera movement, and it worked pretty well. (As the shoot progressed, it became a challenge to NOT become addicted to the Glidecam; itís smooth, but moving shots are not the only game in town.)

    Into town to shoot 35-42. We added a montage of the man asking questions/directions of several people, not just the woman in v2.0 of the script. The woman (and her husband) were pretty good. They hit their lines in the script, with an unusual sense of urgency and concern. Light and wind were problematic sometimes, but thereís definitely usable stuff.

    After the scene, the couple was heading to lunch, and the woman said to me, ìNow, in New York, theyíll know what itís like here. To live surrounded by all these cemeteries your whole life.î I wished weíd caught it on camera. And the conversation afterward, when they met their friends at the table as well. There was a sense of real sympathy, but tempered with resignation. In addition to their own experience, locals have the 85-year stream of mourning/remembering visitors to deal with; the Somme has essentially professionalized the remembering business.

    Shot scenes in the car after lunch, including the third phone call between the couple (34), and various driving and approach shots (30, 32, 36, 43, 46, 49, 50, 63). It went pretty well. Weíre not going to lack for dramatic landscapes or smooth driving shots, thatís for sure.

    February 26, 2002

    France Location Day 2: We

    France Location Day 2: We wove our way back to the gas station, the first place the main character stops for directions. Got lost on the way several times. No rain at all; a glorious sky, with deep, textured clouds like a huge softbox diffuser. You can't buy clouds like that in LA (well, you can import them in post- now, I guess).

    The Total station was more perfect than I remembered. It's occasionally eerie; the degree to which aspects of this trip approximate my own experience, which is still so different in many ways from the script. The gas station owner readily agreed to the shoot and hit almost all his lines perfectly. What he changed, we can easily live with.

    Headed into Paris, to the office of Sycomore Films, our local production partners and frequent lifesavers. Jonah rigged up a narrow plywood sheet with screws threaded in at various points; it's now our camera mount and steadicam in one. Works perfectly in the car, espectially in combination zith the memory foam.

    A quick lunch (well, quick for France, anyway), and we were on our way to pick up the Miniflow light kit, which throws just enough natural daylight to even out the exposure within the car. AND it plugs into the car's cigarette lighter. All this time hit us, though, as we raced to get dialogue scenes done on the autoroute before the sun went down at 6:30. (Of course, Jonah kept shooting in the cloudy Magic Hour, which looked fantastic but doesn't fit into the story at all; it's supposed to be a single morning/afternoon, no dusk.)

    February 26, 2002

    Location Day 2 (actually; Day

    Location Day 2 (actually; Day 1 in France): Things are off to a good start. NYC crew arrived a bit early, as did I, so we began shooting in Charles deGaulle immediately. The French crew (prod. exec. and sound engineer) arrived an hour or so later, by which time we'd covered everything that didn't require dialogue/sound. Fred, the sound guy, got set up on a luggage cart (standard equipment on a shoot as faar as I'm concerned), and we were off. Got it done with no problem, really. CDG shoots so well, too; beautiful concrete, lots of reflections, very interesting.

    Hit the road with the intention to shoot --in sequence zith the script, basically--the phone calls between the couple. Unfortunately, the Audi didn't have the glass roof it was advertised with, so it was too dark to shoot inside, even in daylight. AND the camera was a bit unstable for dialogue, anyway. The memory foam pillow I'd brought to use as a car/hood mount proved invaluable for cushioning the camera, though, so we got great driving shots.

    Oh, did I mention the rain? It started out blindingly sunny on Sunday morning, then turned to downpour for the rest of the day. We'll have to work it into the story somehow; it's supposed to rain all week. We're staying in Albert at the Best Western; it's a classic hotel box with stone facing and turrets all over--a prefab castle. We were the only guests on Sunday night("Just like The Shining," I told the nervous clerk.)

    The landscape is tremendous; flat, featureless fields, slight rolling hills, narrow roads with large embankments blocking the view. There's a banal easy sublimity/awe which is tempting but difficult to capture. And it can kill a film. Town after town, all with buildings from the Twenties and Forties. Once you know the styles, you can't help noticing them everywhere. Everything dates to one of two distinct waves of (re)construction.

    Early dinner and a night reworking the schedule to fix the light and vibration problems and to make it through the rain.

    Since 2001 here at, I've been blogging about the creative process—my own and those of people who interest me. That mostly involves filmmaking, art, writing, research, and the making thereof.

    Many thanks to the Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Program for supporting that time.

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    greg [at] greg [dot ] org

    find me on twitter: @gregorg

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