Tuesday, June 10, 2014

screenwriting versus direction

There is a world of difference from screenplay to production to finished film. (This is not a new thought and has been expressed/covered in multiple forums most cogently in the maxim: a film is made 3 times - screenplay, production, and in editing).  This is not to discount the primacy of screenplay because I, in part due to my background as a once aspirant screenwriter, think it's vital. But I used to think the script was at the top of hierarchy, the tree the other limbs sprang from instead of how I see it now: the embryo that grows the complex organism. Essential but not ultimate.

The screenplay for the black sea went through multiple iterations and drafts across many years until it finally was nailed down. It's a complicated, slightly dense thing - amusing since i set out to write/direct something straightforward and easily digestible for my feature debut - but every word of prose and every bit of dialogue was to my liking and moved with an economy I found satisfying as we moved across pre-production and into shooting. It worked. 

On set there were minor adjustments here and there, growing pains, adjustments and reconfigurations particular to production. A line altered here. A line ad libbed there. Bigger: A plate of chocolate (seen in the dinner table shot below), and one character's animated refusal to take any was meant to happen in the background, under the dialogue, to be a foreshadowing for later things. It's tiny and small but important to the world of the film. Further, it worked on the page. But in directing this (to me) complicated scene was subsumed by the on-set machinations of eyelines and 2-shots and covering 5 pages of dialogue shooting a 4:1 ratio (on Super 16). The plate of chocolate and its import became diminished so the animated refusal was not even shot. A perfect example of how production can overwhelm/alter the screenplay. The writer in me might have fought for the plate of chocolate but the director in me cut it loose to better get through the day. Perhaps this is a case of directorial inexperience.

A bigger example of screenplay v. film came in a another scene that worked on the page. We see character 1 sitting by the window, looking at the ocean and then cut to a flashback where he meets character 2 at a bar. However the scene ended w/ jump cut to later in the night, at same location w/ Character 2 on phone w/ Character 3, Character 1 long gone. Then we cut back to Character 1 sitting by the window. Believe it or not it worked on the page in a lyric poetic way, the words and prose guiding the reader's POV so that it made sense in terms of text. It had a flow and the reader could understand what the screenwriter was attempting to do. So I directed it and we shot it. But once we were in post, we could not make it work. All the lyric prose in the world can't shoe-horn two opposing POVs across the cut. Perhaps directorial inexperience again but I also like to think it is a remnant of my dependence on the written form instead of the filmic one.

A screenplay is made of words so it's easy to confuse with literary forms.  But the image and what it says/does-not-say is more enduring and vital than any well-turned phrase in the prose of the screenplay. It's taken me a long time to realize/admit this.

cross posted at bags of wind

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

random thoughts from screening

a wk ago tonight was the premiere for TBBD. i had a battery of fears going in that haunted and taunted me: screen too small, projector bulb might explode, people might walk out in droves and/or hurl tomatoes provided they showed up at all, i might spontaneously collapse and/or combust and so on ad nauseum.

after my day job ended around 5 pm I had 2 hours to kill. went to the mall and browsed. by browsed of course i mean walked around random stores and waited until the staff gave me curious looks before moving on to the next merchant. after what must have been 1/2 hour I checked my watch: i had killed a total of 7 minutes. such it is pre-screening. a mix of nervous flutter and (in this case) excitement that my sense of proportion and time goes all funny.

 arrived at venue w/ hour or so to spare. my lead actor was there so we shared a glass and talked shop. and then people began to trickle in. and then flow in. and then suddenly it was crowded and i was on stage watching myself speak. and then the movie was playing and i was in the very back leaning against the wall, excited for it all to be over. the movie ended and was met with good cheer and support. I stayed in the venue for an hour or so meeting people, saying hi, and hello and how do you do and thank you very much. 

some time later i was having a drink w/ two old friends and a friend - who was unable to attend screening - was able to meet us briefly. I felt a mix of emotion but mostly a profound sense of relief that film was over. this is not because of any lack of faith in the film or the actors or anything like it but only because the act of screening your film is not unlike (I'm just guessing here) standing naked on a stage and asking everyone to evaluate your shortcomings some of which you're deeply aware of. I'd made it through.

 my friend gigi gives her assessment of the the film/screening here

Thursday, December 15, 2011

TBBD Trailer

The Big Black Dark is narrated by portland vocal talent Andrew Feinberg. Shortly after we recorded all the narration he sent me - totally unsolicited mind you - a sound file of him narrating the trailer. I left it untouched, added a few pictures and voila, here's a teaser trailer for the movie

picture lock

great celebratory pic from editor came two nights ago. fantastic feeling but it also comes bundled w/ a whiff of melancholy for me. hard to articulate but i think something to do w/ moving from a wealth of possibilities to one final verifiable thing. years of work and research and planning and the whole bit and now it's over. a death of sorts. a million choices and considerations and decisions all made, considered, decided. ocean reduced to teacup. i'm very proud of the teacup, don't get me wrong, just lamenting this part of the process.

when these moments hit i try to keep one word on my lips: onward. first onward will be the premiere screening in less than a week. 12/21/11 Someday Lounge, Portland Oregon. By coincidence the day is the shortest, darkest, blackest day of the year. the next onward is the feature. more on that in the days ahead.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

close, close

many experiences and details of post production have occurred since i last updated this blog. I'll have to bullet-point them since memory is a fuzzy beast and time is tick-tocking.
- film transferred to digital files
-hard drive sent to editor in los angeles
-rough cut of film done in final cut pro in sept 2011
-subsequent cuts and tweaks done in avid
- hunt for composer lead across the wilderness of the internet, finally ending in ithica ny by way of eastern oregon
- cut of film revealed that one rear-projection sequence not tenable. I did only one take on set (bound as i was by limited film stock and the mistaken presumption that rear projection plates were bright enough). reshoot options discussed.
- reshoot for sequence scheduled. opted to shoot on HD even though rest of film was shot on super 16mm. this for the sake of ease on the camera front, the editorial front, the fiscal front.
-actor talked into reshoot, especially since it necessitated him shaving off his well-tended and blossoming beard
- reshoot in early november. used still photos in bg plates instead of looping HD video. seemed to work
- talked w/ great band about using some songs for film
- talked w/ old pal about doing opening titles for the movie. (the above is one possible mock-up)
- searched for venue to screen movie
- found venue to screen movie
-continued final tweaks, changes, alteration
-worked on closing titles
- now begins the countdown to 12/21/11 Someday Lounge, Portland Oregon

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

transfer complete

Monday early AM we drove up to Seattle. blissfully light traffic so we got to Lightpress w/ 20 min to spare. went back to one of the suites, discussed some particulars then went reel by reel, or rather, roll by roll, identifying issues and concerns and ideas. was awesome to see the film, albeit on a smaller screen.

Matt Sipes and Todd Tschida in truck
took about 2 hrs to get thru 7 rolls. we then moved into a room w/ a large screen and got to see the footage up close and personal. (below are shots from DP's iphone). got out of there in early afternoon and went to union station. DP went on to Bellingham, I took Amtrak back to portland

Christine Calfas, mid-martini