ugh. rough cut done

S(J03) is done. at least the first cut is. 12’30” is a little long. I watched it all the way through once, and there’s definitely a minute I can trim. The rest, though, it’ll be tougher. Maybe 10 minutes isn’t so bad after all. Wed AM is trimming, audio levels (just for the rough cut; I’ve got to get it to the real sound editor before locking it) and output. There may be a Quicktime version available for a while online. If you’re interested in seeing a rough cut, gimme a holler.
I gotta go to bed. Weblogs weren’t even invented the last time I stayed up this late for so many nights in a row…

S(J03) Editing, Day 1.5

Day 1.5 is complete, and the first cut is about half done. Never mind that it’s five minutes long, which is about what I’d imagined the finished cut to be. I got the first act laid down and that was about three minutes. With that pace set, I blocked out the rest of the film; comes to around 10 minutes (10:20 with credits).
The first cut of S(N01) was about twice as long, but with that one, the target length (15 min.) was less flexible (it was the requirement for Cannes, which I knew would show it, even though it wasn’t quite done). Let’s see if this one settles in around 8 min.
Here is a quick html version of the outline I blocked out on paper this afternoon.

Editing, or Not

Editing, here I come. I finished logging and capturing all the footage I’ll use in S(J03); it seems like it’ll be tough to get it down to 5-6 minutes. The last tape I captured was all the ironing (three white dress shirts’ worth). As I mentioned before, the third shirt has such great, engaged shots, it almost doesn’t make sense to use anything else. The result: I’m going to try two different editing “tones.” For the ironing scenes, there’ll be long, continuous takes, maybe with a few dissolves; the car and cleaners scenes will have quicker cuts, jump cuts, a slightly more dynamic feel. That’s the plan, anyway. I start tomorrow (Sunday). ND/NF deadline is four days away.

Russian Ark, dir. Aleksandr Sokurov, image:guardian.co.uk
Russian Ark, dir. by Aleksandr Sokurov
image: guardian.co.uk

We just got home from seeing
Russian Ark, the single-take epic poem of Russian history directed by Aleksandr Sokurov. It was quite stunning for a while, then normal, then stunning again at the end. The Hermitage itself is the real star. Even without the tour de force (or gimmick, depending on your cynicism) of shooting with no edits, the film’s exploration of the centuries of momentous people and events witnessed by the building would be worth seeing. The insane staging (the credits list six stage managers and twenty assistants) required to pull the thing off in one 96-minute shot is just a layer of gold leaf on the film. And as the Hermitage demonstrates, everything’s better with gold leaf.
The impact and resonance of the continuous Steadicam/tracking shot seems to be changing, though. I have a theory, which I’ll try to expand on later, that the emergence of first-person shooter (FPS) video games is changing the meaning of the visual vocabulary for both film and games. When I play a Vice City for an hour, it’s a continuous take, visually, even if it’s not as bravura as Sokurov’s, Welles’, or Scorsese’s.
Comparing the edits in classic movie musicals (3 or 4 per number) to, say, Moulin Rouge (120 per minute in some songs), it’s clear that the meaning/significance of the long take has changed before. Technology is changing it once again.
Some links I’d start with: Machinima.com, turning “first person shooter” into “first person cinematographer.” A broad article at Polygonweb about cinema-game influences. Game Research briefly discusses point-of-view in games and film.

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.

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!

S(J03) Logging, Story Structure Notes, and J-Lo

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.

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.

New Short Film: Souvenir (January 2003) Location Shooting

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.