Friday, November 16, 2007

Revisiting Odets, Mackendrick and January oo7

I'm rereading Alexander Mackendrick's book on filmmaking. The main thing that sticks with me is his discussion of the opening scene in Sweet Smell of Success. Except the only thing that sticks with me is that it's something really poignant about making sure all the characters in a scene need something from one another. I still haven't gotten to that elusive wisdom in my rereading. But I am struck by some other discoveries as I reread On Film-Making. Mackendrick learned a lot from working with Clifford Odets, who rewrote Ernest Lehman's original script. While reading I came across a quote from Odets urging actors to play heavy dialogue fast. It seemed a good thing to share on the blog, but I had a feeling I'd shared it before. So I did search this blog for Odets and sure enough Playing It Fast (and Sappy) popped up.
What's interesting about reading something from the past, even just this past January, is how much I've learned. I don't say that in a boastful manner, especially since a lot of what I've learned is how much I've needed to learn to get somewhere in the vicinity of competent. I'm glad I write from where I'm at at any given time for it gives me a better perspective later on. For instance I was talking about trying to shoot Klepto in an operatic manner a la Sergio Leone. I have to laugh about that bit of pretense. I haven't seen Klepto on a big screen, but Leone it is not. In fact I should revisit it now that I've been reminded of that intention to learn where it fails to achieve that kind of scale. I think part of it has to do with the use of long lenses, something I didn't have the resources for with Klepto. Another thing with Klepto was that the main lesson seemed to be about working with a hostess tray in traffic and on an unexpectedly sunny day. We got going the morning of the shoot and I realized for the first time that my brand new ten thousand dollar camera package was hanging off the side of a truck. Just as Chris relieved my anxiety by handling the driving very well, I realized that the route I had meticulously planned for the driving sequences put the camera rig between the actors and the big bright sun, casting a very distinct shadow on Chris's shoulder. I also learned that we needed more batteries and P2 cards for the HVX if we were to shoot run and gun efficiently. So even though the film is not the film I hoped it would be it served its purpose of getting us familiar with the camera and testing us under fire, so to speak, in some new situations. And it's a finished project. I need some of those. One of these days I'll get to see it on a bigger screen in the dark which is how all films that don't depend on rapid-cutting eye candy want to be seen.
What else did I find interesting in the old post? The whole 35mm adapter debate which I've avoided this year. I think I'm at a place where making things look pretty is less a priority than making things work on a storytelling and performance level. I'm working with editors on two films that I directed that were shot on Super16. Both are beautiful. Both were very expensive to make. Both have problems. When I was in Maine last year, one of the hot-shot DPs up there called the HVX "film school in a box". And it is. You get an image that isn't distracting like DV can be that's closer to what a film camera can do for you like variable frame rates and the P2 media works kind of like film in that you don't want to just let the camera run like people do with tape. You can shoot a lot of stuff for cheap once you have the camera and P2 cards. When you shoot a lot, you learn a lot of lessons.
The other main thing that caught my attention was the corporate gig that I did. It paid very well and I was able to pay off a large chunk of my camera package nearly right out of the box. I did quite a lot of work on commercial projects as a technician last Winter and Spring. I thought that might be the way I would go. As it's turned out, I've moved decidedly away from doing anything like that, ever. It's helped me deepen my focus on the stories I am committed to telling and it's brought me much much closer to my family, especially my son. At first I felt the void of the activity of freelance work and wondered what would fill it. I didn't have to wait long before a major crisis in my son's young life came along that demanded my full attention. Being there for him has fulfilled me in ways that I believe will prove to be more lasting than anything else I could have done. Reading where I was at at the beginning of 2007 underscores just how much I value my development as a filmmaker and as a father.
I'm off to do some letter recognition teaching at my daughter's school.

Signore Direttore

1 comment:

Sokrates said...

I haven't seen Klepto on a big screen, but Leone it is not.

You mean my first film foray in years wasn't a masterpiece? Ouch!

Seriously, though, I really enjoyed working on "Klepto." It was a great experience for me -- frozen extremities, terrorism alerts, traffic-dodging and all.

More importantly, I'm glad you were able to help your son.