Category:souvenir (november 2001)

Now that the movie's finally done, I have a little breathing room, so I went to one of the websites we shot really quickly for insert shots in the wife's Google search scene. Of the dozens of sites we shot, we included maybe 5, for a fraction of a second each (with more screen time for Google, because it's integral to the story). The page: "MIT Architecture: 9-11 and its Aftermath," with a lecture/article by Prof. Hlne Lipstadt titled "The Monument does not Remember."


It was probably this combination of words that appealed to Jonah and caused him to include the shot of the page, but it seemed like a nice, oblique reference to the attacks and NYC's own questions about what comes after the World Trade Center, so we kept it in. The lecture's quite interesting, but even more interesting, is a memorial I'd never heard of, built within 72 hours (!) of the attacks at MIT. Called the Reflecting Wall, it was a full-scale model of a fragment of the WTC's distinctive column/window/column wall, executed in plywood. A remarkably moving and prescient gesture, it predated the emergence of images of the twisted, remaining fragment of the actual wall that became a familiar reference (and which doctrinaire voices rapidly included in any eventual memorial on the site).

April 25, 2002

First the good news: I

First the good news: I got my keyboard replaced, and now I have my beloved Trackpoint back. Things are looking up.


Bad news: Here is the list of picks for International Critics Week at Cannes. One short, The Day I Was Born, by Japanese director Manda Kunitoshi, features a "baby born on September 11 2001," so that may have filled the thematic slot I was targetting. There were no US shorts among the seven selected, though. In fact, there are no US films at all.


Good news: I got the no-subtitles version dubbed and submitted to the Edinburgh Film Festival, which cut me a week's slack while I tried to get the subtitled version outputted.


Bad news: I haven't gotten the subtitled version outputted yet. There are memory problems with Final Cut Pro, which doesn't seem to recognize the 30+ available gigabytes on my external drive. At this rate, though, I'll be able to sit next to everyone who watches it and translate the French parts for them.

Editing: Final tweaks over the weekend to get a distortion-free output version has now deteriorated into a major structural problem with Final Cut Pro. If I didn't have so much other stuff to occupy my mind, I'd be worried sick. The program shows that a dozen+ audio files are missing AND that they're required to play the finished sequence, even though they're not in the sequence. IDGI. Anyway, I've started going through every file, recapturing those that are in the movie, and deleting those that aren't. It's going to be a long week. And the submissions clocks are still ticking.


Submissions: Got a dear auteur fax from Quinzaine Realisateurs. Maybe I don't want people who don't know me to see it after all...


As I'm sitting here working, Rushmore is just ending on Comedy Central. Freakin' amazing. What IS that movie? I'm glad I didn't see it right before meeting Wes Anderson last week; id've been a blubbering idiot fan. As it is, I'm no more likely to EVER make a movie like that (at one end of the spectrum) than I am to make Weekend at Bernie's II (at the other). No prob.

I ended up making screening tapes from the DV master, since I have been having the same problems with output that we had before (ie., skipping, frozen frames). The movie may have found the maximum processing capacity of the G4 we're working with. Moral: don't go halfway on the memory or processing power. You'll use it all, so make sure it's enough.


Jean and I drove from DC to NC for the weekend, and talked through the rest of the Souvenir series. I'll post some of those notes after I get them typed up. Some general ideas around which stories may develop: remembering and returning to specific places, the differences between peoples' memories of the same event (more Chuck and Buck than Rashomon, though), remembering as talking vs. remembering as "experiencing," and a few more. Abstract enough for you? After hearing a 1992 interview with John Cage on WNYC yesterday, I'm pretty sure he'll have a role in the movie somehow. (besides the music in Souvenir November 2001, that is) Anyway, everyone goes to bed early in NC, so I'm outta here.

Making screening tapes: Groundhog Day all over again (which may be redundant, I know). I've been working to swap out the shot that annoyed Jonah and me (shooting into the sun=super-blown out exposure), finding one that (except for some coke can/coke bottle discontinuity) is way way better. Now, though, the same popping and frame snagging problem that nearly derailed us last week is back, even worse.


MoMA Benefit: what a laff riot. Spent hours in the afternoon rehearsing with David O. Russell, Lily Tomlin, and a posse of movie and museum people. It was a blast. My co-chair, Muffy, didn't want to do any of the jokes I'd written for us (we were the fifth in a chain of intros and thank yous, and we introduced David and Lily, who interviewed him). Instead of Ben Stiller opening the evening, it was a clip from Flirting with Disaster, the one where Mary Tyler Moore lifts her shirt and shows off her aging-yet-still-firm breasts (let's see what search engines do with THAT description). So after four refined, diplomatic, but slightly uptight intros by other museum dignitaries, my joke about Russell making movies for a TV generation that grew up wanting Mary Tyler Moore to take her shirt off went over fine. As did the line about thanking my lawyers and my manager who got me this job (people were just about thanked out). Ben Stiller's appearance later, via "live" satellite hookup, was hilarious; he acted like he was accepting the award, then got confused and hurt when he was told it wasn't for him. Finally, Will Farrell showed up, as James Lipton, and pulled all the actors onstage to fawn over them strangely. I laughed, I cried, it became a part of me. Then we all ran upstairs for dinner (and, for the LA crowd, an American Spirit) and the party.


Here is a list of my new Hollywood friends (in Hollywood, if you hang out for a night, mentioning your respective projects, you can claim friendship.): Spike and Sofia (very nice. sat next to them.); the Leguizamos, Wes Anderson (very popular with the ladies, btw), Alexander Payne, and Glenn Fitzgerald. The agents were thick as thieves (in a good way), but, true to form, they don't have entries in IMDB, so no linking. Anyway, my friends'll understand if I have to get back to work. Let's get together for breakfast.

Been working on my schtick for tonight, where I am introducing David O. Russell and Lily Tomlin at a MoMA film benefit. MoMA is acquiring Russell's films for its permanent collection, and the fundraising group I co-chair is hosting the program/party. Given the crowd and the committee (almost all of whom are going to be there), I'm (Spike) Jonzin' to work the movie into the intro, no matter how tenuous the connection. Can't see it happening, though. And with Ben Stiller opening for me and the crowd of comedians in the program, I think the best I'll be able to do is not be a complete idiot. Paul Thomas Anderson'll be there, as well as Wes Anderson [a Wes Anderson blog, yet not by Wes Anderson.]; hopefully, we're seated somewhat alphabetically...

Details, details.

  • Worked on the dialogue transcript, which will morph into subtitles, which I assume I'll be able to put on after some book reading.
  • Need to add another screen of credits and acknowledgements. Right now, we just have one screen with the crew and principal cast. But since there are another nine people in the movie, we gots to get them in. AND, there are sponsors and people who helped out to be thanked. I learned how to do that, though.
  • There's one clip from inside the car, during one conversation, one line of dialogue, where the exposure's all whack. We'd shot it early in the morning, and the sun is coming right in the window. The problem is, I'm pretty sure that's the only take with that exact line. I've gotta go through all the tapes again and look for a better shot.
  • The sound needs to be remixed, I think. Basically, it's all there, and pretty good, but levels aren't quite right, there's some noise in places (although most of it's gone)...a real audio expert'll be able to do wonders, I think.


    That said, after rewatching Kieslowski's Dekalog--where there were tons of car interiors with overexposed landscapes and/or harsh shadows from a sun gun spotlight inside the car, and after seeing Y tu Mama Tambien, where the narrator's voiceover cuts abruptly into the ambient audio of the story, I'm a little less hung up about the last two. Our light's better than some of Kieslowski's, and our sound's better than some of Alberto Cuaron's. That's something. Not that I'm not going to fix these things, though, obviously.

  • Paris, lqnd of screzed up typezriters qnd keyboqrds% zell, qfter eight missed/rescheduled flights (including three yesterday, Tuesday), I got here with the < fingers making quote marks>finished< no more quote marks> version of the film, now officially titled, Souvenir November 2001. Dropped the screening copies off at Cannes Festival offices and the Director's Fortnight. Tomorrow morning I'll take the third copy to the Critic's Week competition; Qs you may know, the Cannes Festival is paralleled by two other events/series, Festival de Cannes being the most easily recognized. For a sense of the odds/competition, there are about 900 films in the pool for Cannes, most of which also submit to the other two competitions. (The others have about the same, I guess, but with some longer films as well; "short film" = <15 min. for Cannes, <60 min for the others. Academy Award category is cut off at 40 min.)


    There's a whole story in the final final editing and outputting to video crisis, which will probably only interest someone who gets stuck with the same technical glitches we faced and is trying to overcome them. That tutorial can wait until I get back to a regular keyboard. Suffice it to say, Jonah the editor/DP rocked. rocks. we've still got some audio/music issues to iron out, but those can wait a few days. The last week has been like Groundhog Day, excruciating repetition of the exact same activities until we got it right. And the movie? I think it may not be half bad; there certainly are some really good moments, visually, aurally, or idea/emotionally. Someone else will have to say if it actually succeeds, though. Maybe if there was a big gathering of film experts somewhere, they could tell me...


    I plan on falling asleep somewhere in the 3-hour screening of Atanarjuat, the first Inuit-language film, which is an epic masterpiece, apparently (and which was awarded the Camera d'Or for best first feature at last year's Cannes). I'd downloaded their press kit a couple of weeks ago to use as a model for ours. It doesn't open in the US for another three months, and i (obviously) missed it at last weeks' New Directors/New Films in NYC.

    Editing, Last Day 3: Well, we go on, editing through the Friday 9PM shipping deadline. (There go my 80K miles. And because of the Easter holiday, I have to fly through London to deliver the tape by Tuesday.)
    Thursday night, we called a few friends over to screen the cut with fresh eyes, to see if it made sense, had any unintentionally unclear/unexplained parts. Good thing we did. A couple of key moments didn't come across as I'd hoped. People wanted to see more at the memorial itself, for one thing. While in one sense, the "shortchanging" of experience at the memorial was an intentional contrast with the preceding experience at the crater, it was apparently overdone, an unconscious underestimation of the audience's ability to identify the differences.


    On that note, there were moments and ideas caught by new eyes that I hadn't consciously considered. Dennis liked a physical contrast between the comparably scaled crater and the towering arch (positive/negative, raw/manicured, random/precise). Of course, Dennis is a sculptor, well attuned to such things. Patrick caught the naivete of the character's quest, the "not knowing what he'll find but needing to look anyway". And the emotional ambiguity of the end, being left to feel what you will, not just what you're made to feel. Andrew was the sharpest on spotting continuity & narrative flow issues, even spotting a sequence I'd put in of cutting back and forth from driving in the rain and searching online. "I want to see more rain. I know she's still searching; she just said it." And he was right. All in all, it was an extremely nervewracking but valuable session; if it's this tough to show something to someone I know, what's it going to be like to show something to the world? Or to the world that stumbles into the VFW hall where it screens on a Saturday afternoon?

    Editing, Last Day: Synched the sound, mostly. Almost halfway through cleaning up stray dialogue and sound (voices in the backseat of the car, feeding lines to the person onscreen, etc.), and always trimming down where it's obviously needed. The movie stands at 17.5 minutes, and we still hope that half of the cuts to come from general tightening, but aesthetic- and story-affecting cuts are getting tougher (and more necessary) to make.


    One phenomenon that came up yesterday: what people notice/latch onto in a movie. Jonah and I were tweaking the crater scene (2nd to last, an emotional money shot), and he wanted to cut away to a wide landscape shot for a bit during the caretaker's explanation of the crater. Doing so would've cut these gestures the caretaker was making that I really liked. After I pointed them out, Jonah said he'd never seen them, even after watching the footage a hundred times. (Needless to say, we kept the gestures, laying in the landscape at a different spot of the conversation.)


    Later in the day, we were laying music down on the airport scenes where the New Yorker calls home. He's riding a conveyor belt, and I made the comment that the people on the opposite conveyor are so perfectly spaced and cast they look like extras. Jonah said, "yeah, but almost every one of them looked at the camera." And it was true. I'd seen that shot "a hundred times," and I'd never noticed. Yet in the gas station scene, when the attendant glances at the camera for a split second, I caught it right away. How is it that people notice, remember, and give significance to things so differently? What tiny things do people remember from movies, and when (if ever) did the director decide to put it in?

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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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