Category:souvenir (january 2003)

January 3, 2003

S(J03) Update


I'm logging and capturing footage for Souvenir (January 2003). So far, I've completed two of three tapes, for a subtotal of about 25 minutes, which takes about 10 Gigs. Oblique Strategy: Just carry on.

December 28, 2002

S(J03): Tape Logging Complete


Just finished logging in the third and final tape for S(J03), and I'm pretty relieved/excited. At first, three hours of footage for a 5-minute film seemed daunting, like we'd never be able to cull it down, but after watching it all, it's won't be a problem. That makes it sound like there's only 5 minutes of usable footage in the whole day, which is not the case at all. With a lot of long takes and exploring, there is more extraneous stuff; it's just that there are some shots which are so clearly good, you can flag them right away.

When we shot the ironing scenes at the hotel, for example, we went start-to-finish on three shirts. (Ironing? Huh? Read the script.) By the third shirt, Patrick, the cinematographer, had really gotten a feel for it; his intimacy and comfort with the camera come through as he shot the entire shirt in one continuous take.

As soon as I get the Powerbook set up for editing, I'm off. Detailed logging means I'll probably only capture about 20 minutes of video, which is very manageable.

December 27, 2002

The Best Boxing Day, EVER

New New Yorker Jason Kottke made my Boxing Day by including greg.org on his weblog's "not recommended at all" list. It's right under Gawker (who I'd come to imagine as a top, so that's unsurprising). Thanks, Jason! (And unless you're just a single clone hitting reload, welcome, all Kottkeians, to greg.org.)

December 27, 2002

Just One. Last. Shot


This morning, I ran off to shoot one more pre-sunrise shot of the mountains and highway for S(J03), a cold, dark 2.5 hour round trip from SLC.

With the sweet Powerbook that Santa brought me, I'll get some stills up this weekend or next week, depending on the editing schedule. Stay tuned for a rush course in short filmmaking!

What a way to spend Boxing Day. I logged two of the three hours of footage we shot Monday for S(J03), which took most of the afternoon. Now that I know what we have to edit, the question is, how can I best tell the story in the script? Technical issues and changes on the ground complicate things a bit.

Technical issues: Unstable monitor settings which we didn't solve until about 11AM means that some really good shots from the morning are just too dark to use. Others are too good not to use, even if they are a little dark. The solution: work the lighting into the story, using it to mark the passage of time. As it works out, this jibes well with the daily routine in the cleaners, which is staggered half-a-day from the dry cleaning process. (i.e., they do the first steps (cleaning and pressing) in the afternoon/evening and the last two steps (bagging and sorting for pickup) the next morning.) The light/shadow/darkness in our footage maps onto the process well.

Changes on the ground: In the script, the main character spends a day working at the dry cleaners. Rather than negotiate and explain this to Joe, the cleaners owner, over the phone, I just asked if we could shoot without disrupting their routine. Joe was nervous because Monday is their busiest day. Looking at the footage, an arc emerged: we started exploring the facility, then observing the people, then asking questions. After building up a degree of familiarity and trust, the man quietly and naturally offered to help. This evolution from observer to participant, and the growing trust it entails, was more satisfying than what I'd originally intended, so it became an organizing principle for the film.

Out of Sight, dir. Steven Soderbergh, image: georgeclooney.orgFinally, the J-Lo Factor. Watching the footage, there are so many wonderful details and vignettes, it feels like I'd have to make an hour-long documentary to include them all. Not gonna do it. With the basic structural principles in place (light>>dark, start>>finish rather than just day>>night, reticent observer>>trusted participant) a rigid narrative, sequential arc seems less imperative. The film is more reflection than narrative, we decided, especially in the dry cleaners. Pushing this forward, we came up with the idea of intercutting between two timestreams: ironing and driving, getting ready and going.

Steven Soderbergh, in what I still feel is one of the sweetest examples of this technique, just brings it home in the seduction scene in Out of Sight. I've mentioned this before. If my repetition bores you, by all means, clue me into other great scenes.

This all relates to notes I made on the table today at lunch. Check out a transcript here.

December 24, 2002

S(J03) Shooting, Day 1/1

Synopsis: A man travels to Springville, Utah to hang out in a dry cleaners owned by Joe, a Korean immigrant.

Cast & Crew: I directed. Artist/photographer Patrick Barth starred as cinematographer. Producer/assistant camera/astrophysicist Jean Cottam did everything else. Joe (presumably) makes his onscreen debut as himself. Patrick, a longtime friend, is working on his own film-based project for the Spring, and was interested in getting a feel for the Sony VX camera and the logistics of shooting; when we found out that we would all be in Utah for the holidays, I rushed together this one-day shoot.

Travelodge Provo, image: utahvalley.orgLocations: The simple script calls for just three locations: a hotel room, the man's car, and the cleaners. The Provo Travelodge served us well; we didn't spend nearly enough time in the richly appointed lobby (see left). Faced with such breathtaking mountain views, the Travelodge decided not to compete; their room decor is very pared down, which fit the aesthetic needs of the story. I'd known about the cleaners in Springville; you might say I'd location scouted it before.

Equipment: For this rather impromptu shoot, I kept equipment at a minimum. Probably too minimum, but any more'd mean more crew, more time, next thing you know there're unions involved, Della Reese wants a cameo, you get the idea.
Actually, I'd planned to mooch equipment from a friend in SLC, but schedules didn't match up, so at the last minute, I brought my old Sony VX-1000 and package from New York. It worked great, except when it didn't work. Overdue for its factory service, we had inexplicable outages, which we at first thought was the monitor (battery or cable). As they say in Provo, oh my heck, this thing is a piece of shizz.
Lighting, with a 2-live crew , we had to go with natural light; from my intense study of Soderbergh DVD commentaries (see Traffic School), I learned about replacing light bulbs. (Note to Travelodge: If you're wondering why room 217 uses 10x as much electricity as the others, check the bulbs.) What we didn't figure out until it was too late is to use natural wavelength or tungsten bulbs. As a workaround, I rewrote the script so that the golden hues of the small hotel room pay homage to Soderbergh's Mexico scenes. Option 2: Heck, we'll fix it in post.
Sound, we were screwed. I didn't get DAT/MD and a mic before coming out, so we ended up shooting all camera mic. This should be ok, since there's hardly any dialogue in the 5-min. film. The solution here: fix it in post. We took ample room tone in each location, and then did some scenes purely for sound, as if the camera were just a mic. The idea is to clean up these tracks as much as possible and construct the sound once we get the rough cut.

I've got some last minute Christmas shopping to do, so check back for some amusing anecdotes.

I haven't posted much about it at all, but I wrote a new short script, S(J03), which I'm going to do a rough shoot of Monday in Springville, Utah. If it goes well, we'll come back and shoot it in film during Sundance. It's about a guy who takes quiet pleasure in ironing. I imagine it'll be about 5 minutes long, and we'll try to get a rough cut ready to show the folks at Lincoln Center's New Directors/New Films by Jan. 8. Another self-imposed, ridiculously short deadline, which we have no reason to believe we'll meet.

Here is the location schedule for the one-day shoot. Check back for a blow-by-blow account.

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Since 2001 here at greg.org, 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 greg.org that time.

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Category: souvenir (january 2003)

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