Friday, May 30, 2008

The Master Says 311

Technique has to enrich the action.

Francois Truffaut

Camera Points of View

There is one thing with regard to filmmaking where I've long agreed and possibily fallen under the spell of Mamet's didacticism. It is the idea that the fundamental art of cinema is montage - that the story is best told in the cuts. Therefore Mamet abhors the Steadicam. For a long time I too rejected it. My first experience directing with one opened my mind to its possibilities as well as confirmed and alerted me to its limitations.
For a long time now I've put a lot of practice into keeping the camera stationary. The fixed camera performs a double underlining of what it sees, both through the choice of its field of view and through the way in which it allows the elements in the frame to speak as and for themselves. There is great power and mystery in that stillness. Still waters run deep as it were. I've attempted to create a language that structures the world on the screen, inviting a dialogue with the viewer by inviting them into an autonomous cognitive process. Moving the camera about to create eye candy and show the viewer everything encourages a passive experience, an entertainment which has its place but something which I don't aspire to author.
At the same time I recognize the incredible power in discovering the cinematic space and altering point of view through movement. To do so organically and artistically requires discipline and imagination. I explored it in Dangerous Writing and I've been practicing more mise en scene movement. It's challenging to choreograph something both interesting and motivated. It's also a challenge to obtain the necessary dollies and other means of moving the camera without a budget.
I'm beginning an in-depth exploration of the Steadicam. I'll keep you posted. (potential Steadicam humor noted)

With an open mind,
Signore Direttore

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Master Says 310

Nothing is more odious than music without hidden meaning.


Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Bright Shiny Morning

Just read James Frey's new book on the flight home. Los Angeles is a magical place. It's cloudy today in Portland but the morning has been bright for me due to the time away. There's much down there that's objectionable, yet I always come away inspired in profound ways.
To work. To work. To work.

Grazie Los Angeles,
Signore Direttore

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Good Company

I've spent most of the past two days in my hotel room. I know what that might signify to one of my readers in particular, but I assure you this isolation has been very productive and social. First off, my hotel room is on the beach in Santa Monica and has a wonderful vista North up the beach to where it meets Pacific Palisades. Secondly, I've had some wonderful guests. I spent a lot of money on a nice hotel room and passed on renting a car while here. (The first night I was here, I stayed with a friend in the legendary El Royale Apartments.) Being in LA without a car works for me. There's not a central plan to Los Angeles, its proprietors and residents rely on people getting in their cars and driving everywhere. When I was younger I enjoyed racing around the city, but when I come here now I like to plant myself somewhere and keep a small footprint. The people that I want to see don't seem to mind coming to me and then they take me where they like to go. Los Angeles is full of hidden treasures that are impossible to stumble upon while driving on its major arterials. More than almost any city you have to go native. Which is impossible driving around by yourself in a rental car.
I brought my camera package along on this trip. No particular plan in mind. Maybe some roadside shooting on the drive down. I should clarify the drive down - my friend drove his car and I paid for gas and manned the ipod. I actually drove for only about three of the fifteen hour drive. (As soon as my kids are old enough to drive, I'm never getting behind the wheel again!) Anyway a possibility arose to shoot something with an actor friend and his wife. Sort of last minute. He's not super inclined toward improvisation so I wanted to come up with a script. My archives contained nothing that seemed appropriate. I made some notes but with the trip soon upon me I found no time to get something down on paper. I woke up early Thursday under the soaring ornate ceiling of my bedroom at the El Royale and being somewhat influenced by the previous night's Mamet experience, I was able to knock out a fourteen page screenplay in about an hour and a half.
Upon arriving at The Huntley Santa Monica that afternoon I was feeling very good about shooting this short film while here. There was never a firm commitment on the part of the actors I wrote it for, so the thought was growing in my mind that if they couldn't make it I would do it. An hour later he let me know that it wasn't going to work with their schedule this weekend. I would have liked to work with him again and with his wife for the first time, but I wasn't disappointed. I sent some emails to some actresses I know down here. Since I hadn't spoken to many of them for quite some time and with little time to spare I posted on Craigslist for the role as well.
The first person that responded was love at first sight - pretty in a simple and down to earth way. I wrote her a very candid message telling her of the Spartan way in which I often work. Which was going to be the leanest yet of all my films - cameraman and director-actor. We also shot it in a hotel room, which is one of those no-no red flag things for actors. I didn't hear back from her that night. All the other submissions were the typical shiny, breast-enhanced LA actress-model types. One of whom is somewhat famous. I tried to stress how tiny our production was going to be in a correspondence with her personal assistant, but I could tell that until I spelled it out for her that tiny meant like a crew of fifteen. Somewhat Famous couldn't meet me until Saturday morning, the day of her scene so I passed. I woke up Friday feeling a little like maybe it wasn't meant to be. I questioned how willful I wanted to get. i didn't have to wonder long before I heard from Naomi, the first one to respond. We met for coffee and decided to work together. It rained here on Friday, really just a few drizzles, but everyone was running around with umbrellas. The coffee shop where we met had put away all its outside tables so our meeting took place in a doorway in the rain. It was less than ideal, but being with her felt instantly comfortable and any awkwardness of venue went entirely unnoticed.
Brian was able to come up with a 35mm adapter for our shoot. It proved to be essential as shooting a ten plus minute film in one small room without shallow focus would have had grave limitations. When showing some of the footage last night to a friend that knows my work well, he said it's the prettiest film I've ever made. I've always been a it skeptical about those lens adapters. Until now. Working with the discipline of the fixed focal length and shallow depth of field of prime lenses was a welcome adjustment and challenge. I've done a fair share of working with cine lenses on my projects shot on film, but I've always had a few weeks to prepare and plan the shots. For this short, I had to write, cast, prepare to direct and play the lead role in less than twenty four hours. And I didn't have a chance to print the script out so I had to read and memorize my lines from the computer. Good thing I love a challenge.
I really enjoyed making the film. I like acting. I like working with Brian. We started shooting Friday afternoon, stopped shooting and went to sleep at 1am, woke up at 7:30 and got our first shot off by 8. Took a breakfast break from 10 to noon and wrapped at 7. During all of this there was but a moment of tension. We were shooting a scene wherein I was coming back to the room from a swim and dropped my swimming trunks to the floor before sitting at the desk to make a phone call. I was dripping wet in one of the hotel robes, becoming naked under the robe every few minutes. Not a big deal except that the actress whose trust I earned to come shoot in a hotel room with total strangers was due to arrive any minute. I really didn't want to greet her soaking wet and naked in a robe. Brian calmly stated in the most generous of tones that he didn't feel we were communicated very well. To which I admitted my mounting stress of the aforementioned circumstances. He understood. I reined in my stress and its attendant bitter tone and all was simpatico once more.
I was able to get some clothes on just as Naomi arrived. Our scene went great and as I walked her down to the lobby I was sad our new friendship seemed to be over so soon.
When we wrapped a little while later, I commented to Brian that it was somewhat odd that we would come to LA and work on a film in the way that we did. I said one of the main benefits was the elimination of distractions. He sagely remarked on the irony of that.
For my last evening in Los Angeles I was invited to a dinner party at the home of an old friend. I worked closely with Alexa for a little over a year in New York. First as her acting classmate and sometimes scene partner and then as her acting coach. I also cast her in a film and the strangest play I ever directed. I heard so much about her family that I was surprised there was but mom, dad and a sister. However it didn't take long to understand why her family loomed large in my imagination. They are perhaps the warmest, most interesting and talented families I've ever met. Their home was full of art curators, actors, a French director, writers, a prominent political activist, a film editor and a couple of eager dogs for the dinner party. Jordan was my date. We were made to feel instantly welcome. There's no joy like having a truly interesting person take an interest in you. It brings me to tears.
I'll tell you how good the company was - and if you know what a goddamn yakker I can be, this will say a lot - I sat for the first three hours of the party listening. I can't remember the last time that happened without feeling left out.
Later in the evening I was having a chat with Alexa's brother-in-law. We spoke of Portland and he told me an interesting story about a large scale environmental installation art project in Arizona. After openly and actively listening to his stories, I was able to answer his questions about my work with an easy articulation of my deepest values as a filmmaker. I wasn't trying to impress him in the least. I became almost self-conscious about my candor. Then he said, I also curate a film festival and your work sounds like the kind of stuff I love. I knew there were other film people out there that were interested, I just don't meet them very often. It seems that most independent filmmakers I know personally are trying to emulate Hollywood and break in or they make films about seaweed and kitchen appliances on Super8 which they develop and process in their bathroom.
Who would have thought that I would come to Los Angeles to work in privacy and socialize with people that inspire me to be myself? It's almost as surprising as the amazing week I once spent in Cleveland.

Gratefully Yours,
Signore Direttore

Saturday, May 24, 2008

SLUT - Set Photos

Jeremy (Brendan Robinson) has to go to the movies with his mom (Christy Drogosch). Things go from bad to worse when she wants to talk to him about sex.

Now that Jordan is out of the way, we can finally take some time to light things properly.

Tab Rocks! Misty cigarettes rock! Mom jeans rock! CHRISTY ROCKS!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Vaporized Disappointment

Los Angeles
City of Angels
That's not smog
It's vaporized dissapointment

- Miss Lola Belle

Here I am once more. Los Angeles. It's hard to come down here and not feel vulnerable. Some of the people that I'm fortunate enough to know and spend time with while I'm here are accomplished. Their careers are in play. Of course they want more success and more rewards, but they have crossed thresholds that I have not.
Much of what I know in theory about the craft and the business of making films, they practice. What I hold as ideals they sometimes reject as impractical, unlikely or simply naive.
My path is not the same as theirs and I don't know if our paths will ever cross. More so than ever I see that my ideas are my own and while they may be challenged by those that live and work within the industry they remain valid. I don't want to be a part of this at the expense of my own vision. There are people here with much skill and knowledge to be sure. I admire and envy their talent and experience. I'm even inspired by it. However, it is very apparent that what I want to do and what these people are doing are very different beasts. Cross-breeding is possible, but one must tread cautiously. Thinking of myself as a digital folk artist feels more and more appropriate.

Independently Yours,
Signore Direttore

Friday, May 16, 2008

The Master Says 309

I don't say that we ought to all misbehave, but we ought to look as if we could.

Orson Welles

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Glimpses of the Good Inside

In 1998, about a month after my mother died, one of my roommates from my junior year abroad at a Mexican university came to New York City for a visit. A couple of years later I apologized to Mauricio for not being more attentive to him during his visit. He rejected my apology completely. He reminded me of some of the things I had done for him during the visit, saying they were some of the best memories of his life.
Looking back, his visit was very full of excitement and I was quite generous toward him. I suppose the source of my remorse came from my disconnected spirit. My life was very full and successful on the outside. On the inside I was miserable, very full of grief from my mother's recent suicide. My grieving loneliness was accentuated by a string of failed relationships with women and an overall feeling that I was incapable of enjoying an authentic relationship with another human being. The buoyant enthusiasm of my days in Mexico were a thing of the distant past.
Others often see the good in us, thankfully. Especially when we are most blind to it. With some years behind me I too can see the good that was in me even when I wasn't at my best. This came to mind this morning while thinking about an upcoming road trip to Los Angeles. I was contemplating some places to stop and shoot some footage - texture or some storytelling, not sure yet. The Olive Tree came to mind, which is in the desolate valley alongside I-5. One mid-Summer long ago my girlfriend and I were driving to Portland from LA. It was hot. I mean hot. No relief. My little convertible didn't have AC. Putting the top down just made it hot and windy. We tried hosing ourselves down with the water at a gas station but the water was scalding. Finally we jumped into a motel swimming pool without checking in as guests. After awhile we huddled together in a corner of the pool and had sex. I don't know if it was the heat or what, but I totally lost all inhibition. We climbed out of the pool and made our way across the parking lot, feeling both sheepish and satisfied. As I was looking back to see if anyone had seen us this guy on a big Harley appeared out of nowhere. I think he had been there all along. He smiled at us and said hello. He was really nice looking. He seemed really calm. Kind of freaked me out. We said hey and kept walking toward the Tastee Treat. My girlfriend said that's Johnny Depp. Who's that? He's on 21 Jump Street. We got to the Tastee Treat and ate lunch. She said, we should have invited him to come eat with us. Yeah, maybe.
Then around the time Mauricio was in NYC, Johnny Depp was hanging around Lansky Lounge, the club where I promoted parties. He was pals with this infamous tattoo artist called Jonathan Shaw, son of the band leader Artie Shaw. I hired Mauricio to do our mailing list at the party that night. After the club closed Johnny Depp, JS, Chris Antista, one of the owners of the club, and some girls were sitting in a booth having drinks. A bunch of us were going on a late-night/early morning trip to Atlantic City in my 1950 Cadillac. Mauricio passed for some reason. So did Johnny Depp. Before we left, I wanted to ask Johnny if he remembered that afternoon in California, but it didn't seem appropriate somehow. Instead I used my five minutes with him to introduce him to Mauricio. The gesture and Johnny's simple but warm conversation blew Mauricio away.
I guess I'm not such an awful friend after all.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

The Master Says 308

Once they're in that starting position and ready to go, it's really a case of nurturing, and trusting, and letting them have a good time. I don't even mean, by having a good time, laughing on the set - although we have a lot of that at times. But what I mean is being allowed to make mistakes, being allowed to try things. The key is that you all agree that you're making the same film.

Martin Scorcese

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Screening Party Revelation

I screened five of my short films for my in-laws the other night after a wonderful dinner at Wildwood. I noticed that there's a common element in my films of a type of visual gag where things end up being much different than anticipated. A clever little twist. Having seen it in four of five films, I felt, I don't how I felt exactly. Like , Oh I didn't realize I was doing that so often. Kind of like an actor's bag of tricks. I guess I wanted to work on that for awhile and now that I have, I want to leave it be for awhile. It's not like some cheap party trick or anything, it's just something I've noticed now that I have a a few finished projects.

Signore Dirretore

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Reshoots, Actor-Students and In-laws

I'm knackered. The kind of tired that's bone deep physically and a fog has rolled in mentally that seems will never lift. Which isn't to say I'm unhappy. We reshot some scenes from But A Dream today. It went really well and was well worth doing. It was all just boots on the ground, but all of our stuff in that category was pretty shite. Usually cutaways to feet would be weird, but in a film about the fear of taking a step forward lest you be blown to smithareens, cutaways to boots are pretty important.
I guess it was meant to be because the weather was absolutely perfect until we were loading the gear and Greg was unloading the mags. It started sprinkling and it was pouring as we drove home from Sauvie Island. We had a soft, even cloud cover for all of our shots. Beautiful. Brendan did a great job standing in for Joey who is now in NYC. He got the all of the movements and took direction wonderfully. Not only was he efficient but he got the sort of fearful awkwardness that Joey brought to the role. I was concerned a stand-in would miss that part of it and see it just as move here, move there, but Brendan took it seriously and wanted to get the inner life of the role. It shows.
I have to thank Heath as well. He came out there for half a day just to do one shot. He also helped schlepping the gear and gave Greg a hand with the camera.
The biggest thanks of all go to Greg. He brought out his Arri 235 and an Optimo for the shoot. We were going to use a set of primes that was available to us, but the longest lens was an 85. I really wanted something longer but I couldn't really spend the dough. Greg surprised me with the Optimo this morning. Which was great as we used the longer end of the zoom for many of our shots. I think our shortest focal length was 100. When we talked about rehoots initially there was just one shot that really stood out as needing to be replaced. So Greg said just get a 200' short end. I added some shots to optimize our day of reshoots and didn't really buy enough film. Once again Greg came through with two additional short ends. We used only the second, but it saved the day. I could have sweated out everything on the 320' short end I bought, but it was much better to have a little breathing room to make sure I got what we needed.
I got in my truck this morning at 5:45 and checked my email as the engine warmed up. First up: a message from one of my students backing out of class this month but wanting a refund. I want to be fair. I'm certainly not looking to rip anybody off, but I'm feeling ripped off. It's the kind of shit that gets under my skin and a big reason why teaching is a big pain in the ass sometimes. I've been preoccupied with it all day. Aside from when we were shooting, thankfully. This month I had eleven people tell me they wanted to take class. As of now, four of them will be in class on Tuesday. This unpredictable inability to commit on the part of actor-students really turns me off. It saps my energy for the craft. I think the solution is to set the policy and stick to it, letting go of the coddling and emotional investment. Enrollment may go down in the short run, but may preserve the joys of the teaching experience in the long run. I'm going to give this student a credit as she's new and hasn't been signed a contract detailing the terms of enrollment. Everybody will be given those this week and the co-dependence will come to a gentle end.
Lastly my in-laws have been here for the past week from Scotland. We've spent a day at the coast and and an evening at Timberline Lodge. Oregon is a breathtakingly beautiful place. I'm happy to share it with them and growing more proud of my native connection to this earthly paradise.

I'm not blogging much anymore. I miss posting things like seeing Dreyer's Ordet last week. But my life is better for spending less time on the interweb.

Signore Direttore