There's A Storm Coming
February 11, 2014
I write now from Griffin, Georgia. Griffin is a small town about an hour South of Atlanta. Or perhaps it’s North, or West. I should look at a map and get my bearings, but I lean towards South because in the drive from airport I had the consistent feeling that we were getting deeper. I wouldn’t say we’re in the Deep South, the way I would about parts of Mississippi or Alabama, but I feel very much like we’re getting there.
One element that ties this town to the Northeast above us, however, is the cold. This cold, too, is deep. And it’s wet, and unexpected enough that as of a few hours ago the president of the united States declared a State of national emergency for the entire State of Georgia. Everything is expected to shut down. I was supposed to fly home today, but had my flight rebooked to later in the week. A loss of power is anticipated. Charge up your devices while you can, said the e-mail from the production office.
The production office. My reason for being here. In two weeks I will be directing an episode of a friend’s television show. Having never worked in television, I came to Griffin early to watch the first two episodes go into production. In industry parlance, this is called shadowing; it could also be described as hanging out, being a wallflower, absorbing. What I absorbed today was a production on its feet, dealing with what has been described (over speakerphone in the office) as an historic winter storm, the likes of which Georgia has scarcely seen (at least since two weeks ago, when Atlanta was shut down by two inches of snow). In the interest of crew safety, tomorrow’s shoot, the first day of the second episode, has been canceled. Everyone has been encouraged to go home, to stock up on food and water, to charge their peripherals, to stay warm and cozy.
So it was that at around four o’clock today I returned to the apartment complex half a mile away, where I and most of the crew have been housed. It’s the standard community of boxed units. It’s exactly the same type my wife and I lived in during the first year of our marriage. It’s every apartment I’ve ever lived in, my friend said when he stopped by the other day.
But there was something amiss today. The first sign of it was color. Brilliant blue, flashing amidst all the cold muddy brown. It was police lights, spinning through the barren trees, visible long before I even pulled into the drive. Turning into the complex, I saw a Constable’s car and a regular police car, parked outside of the unit that contained my apartment. There was another vehicle there, too. An oddly-shaped white van, the words Crime Scene Unit emblazoned upon it.
I already had my window rolled down in anticipation of a police officer approaching, telling me I had to move along, nothing to see, that my unit was off-limits. None did. But for the vehicles, all running, all curiously empty, there was no police presence at all. The only sign of life was a neighbor form a different building, who approached as I parked and got out to ask if I knew anything. I did not. She said she’d heard a gunshot around midnight the night before. I hadn’t heard anything, but I’d been asleep by midnight and am quite the sound sleeper.
Barring an actual reason to worry or to fear, I presume the average reaction to such circumstances would be the surge of curiosity I was already feeling. There was something thrilling about it all, something novel. I climbed the steps to my apartment, dropped my groceries on the floor and went out to the balcony to see what might transpire. I pulled out my phone and began to film things: the refection of those flashing lights on my wall, the crime scene van itself. I wanted to share what I was privy to. I entertained my own suspicions. I posted a video to Instagram and titled it Something Bad Happened In Apartment 22.
Eventually, two CID Inspectors appeared. They went to their van, donned rubber gloves and returned. By now I was thinking about what the neighbor had said about the gunshot she thought she’d heard, and about the domestic fight that I had definitely heard two nights prior, reverberating through the walls of my apartment. An onslaught of fuck you’s and slamming doors and other indecipherable yelling. I catalogued the inhabitants of the apartment I already was aware of - there was the director of the current episode of the show, below me, and a young woman with a big TV next to him. I now recalled that Apartment 22, the one directly across from mine, had been open when I left this morning. A moving truck was being unloaded into it. Perhaps they’d found something terrible in the closet.
The policemen with their blue latex gloves never went into that apartment, though. I was watching through the peephole in my door, camera at the ready, as they disappeared into one of the rooms in back, past where I could see. At one point I opened the door to see about asking them what was going on, and instead saw a woman and elderly man who seized the moment and asked me if I’d seen so-and-so; they mentioned a name, a girl’s name, which I’ve by now forgotten. I said I didn’t know who she was, or where. They looked worried. A few minutes later I saw them crossing the parking lot, and a few minutes after that a hearse arrived.
Only in a tiny Southern town would an old-fashioned hearse be summoned to a crime scene. Two men in suits got out. They looked ready for a funeral, but for the blue latex gloves that they too donned. The CID Inspector met them, and they opened the back of the hearse and took out a gurney with a beautiful burgundy blanket atop it.
They wheeled it away. I couldn’t see them from inside my apartment, but I could hear them. I heard the door open and shut. I heard it open again not five minutes later. Heard those same wheels hit the concrete with a bit more weight atop them. I went to the balcony window and began filming through the glass. I noticed that my heart was racing. There could be no doubt about what would happen next. I realized that I’d been hoping for something this whole time. I’d been hoping for something sensational, for a story to tell, and it outweighed by an incomparable margin any separate hope that some stranger I already presumed dead might, in fact, be okay.
The men in suits made their inevitable return, pushing the gurney with a body atop it, draped in that red blanket. Or the shape of a body, at least. I would say the unmistakable shape, except that it wasn’t. Free of context, it would have just been a lump, scarcely recognizable in spite of its general shape and size. It was lifeless. It was a dead body. It would shortly become The Dead Body, as I spun its legend into shape in the text messages and phone calls that ensued. I didn’t know who it was, and I didn’t have much room to wonder. One half of the fighting couple; a body left in a closet and not found; someone else. I texted the video to my wife. I texted the story to other people on the production. My adrenaline ceased, as if expended. A strange cloud descended, and I went for a run.
When I was 10 or 11, I read The Shining. I hadn’t seen the film yet at that point, and didn’t know what to expect when Danny went to Room 237, or whichever room it was in the book. Never would a passage in literature frighten me so. I read the whole novel again right away, as I always did back then, and as I approached that chapter a sense of dread took hold of the space between me and the pages. When I arrived at the sequence in question, I skipped past it as quickly as I could, lest the chapter itself realize my transgression and come after me in the ensuing pages.
This is what I thought about, on my run, as I considered the video, the evidence, there on my phone, of this body being wheeled away. I wondered if I would be afraid to look at it again.
I wasn’t. It was something that happened to someone I didn’t know in a town I don’t live in as a winter storm blew in. The rain began to fall, and to freeze. Someone called me and asked if I felt safe staying in my apartment for the night and I realized I hadn’t even thought about it in those terms. It was over. Whoever that person was, he or she had reached their utmost conclusion. I hadn't thought - still don't think - of the mother or father or sibling or friend or child who was lost in some manner that surely was not natural, nor in any capacity good. He or she is finished. He or she is now a memory on the one hand and an it on the other, and I saw the it and it made me curious. There are others who will be affected by the memory, whose stories will go on and include this, or grow from this point forward and flourish. I am as unsettled as I am relieved that I am not amongst their numbers, and I hastily mark this all down here so that I don't forget that.
Posted by David Lowery at 10:30 PM
For Pete's Sake...
November 2, 2013
You'd think it'd be easier to keep up with posting a list of movies I see every week.
Posted by David Lowery at 10:09 PM
September 26, 2013
Beverly Hills Cop - dir. Martin Brest
The World's End - dir. Edgar Wright
Prisoners - dir. Denis Vilaneuve
The Retrieval - dir. Chris Eska
Joe - dir. David Gordon Green
Snowpiercer - dir. Bong Joon Ho
Sugarland Express - dir. Steven Spielberg
We Are What We Are - dir. Jim Mickle
Blue Ruin - dir. Jeremy Saulnier
Restrepo - dir. Sebastian Junger & Tim Heatherington
The Bling Ring - dir. Sofia Coppola
Greenberg - dir. Noah Baumbach
Dredd - dir. Pete Travis
Blue Jasmine - dir. Woody Allen
Star Trek Into Darkness - dir. JJ Abrams
The Friedkin Connection by William Friedkin
Sanctuary by William Faulkner
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami
The World Of Sex by Henry Miller
Breaking Bad (the rest of it)
Girls Season 2
Posted by David Lowery at 12:13 AM
Bob & Ruth
August 27, 2013
Last May, just before we went to Cannes, I cut these two teasers for the movie, one for Bob Muldoon and one for Ruth Guthrie. Much of the footage in each came from the cutting room floor - wonderful little moments that just didn't fit into the movie but deserved to be seen all the same.
I cut these with the intent that they be the very first glimpse of the movie released to the world. I felt they set the stage for the characters (and the film itself, with its dichotic structure) quite well. They were succinctly supplemental, too, which is something I always appreciate in marketing materials (is there a way to use appendices as an adjective? Appendectory? Appendicistic?).
Releasing them back then clearly never came to pass. I didn't fight it, but now that the film is out there, but I'm still proud of them and I'm happy to let them slip out, after the fact. Better late than never.
The passage that Casey is reading in the first teaser is from King Lear. It's a passage he sent me long before we started shooting, back when we would have long phone calls about the character. He thought it was applicable to Bob - or rather, that it might be something Bob would read and find applicable to himself. When we stole away to Texas for our Lone Star photography unit, I was determined to get it on camera, even though I had no idea if we'd be able to fit it into the movie.
Posted by David Lowery at 5:46 PM
August 23rd Quadruple Feature Giveaway
August 21, 2013
I'll be back with one final frame in my series of Ain't Them Bodies Saints images shortly, but in the meantime: the film opens wide this weekend. We'll be in every major market (except, for some reason, in Chicago, where it will open on the 30th). From a business standpoint, it is my duty to urge you to go see it.
However, as a fan of great films, it is also my duty to note that there is an alarming number of great movies opening in theaters this weekend. For starters, we have the debut of Destin Daniel Creton's overwhelmingly effecting Short Term 12, which broke my heart and sewed it back up at SXSW last March. Drinking Buddies, Joe Swanberg's smart and incisive comedy of manners, opens theatrically after a successful online debut last month. And lastly, Adam Wingard's phenomenally entertaining and almost impossibly satisfying You're Next finally hits the big screen. There are other great movies, like The World's End, but I want to focus on these three because - well, because my friends made them. And because I love them.
I want you to go see my movie. I implore you to see these others. Hence, I would like to propose a weekend quadruple feature. If seeing four great movies isn't enough, here is some further instigation: if you go see Ain't Them Bodies Saints, Drinking Buddies, You're Next and Short Term 12 this weekend, I will send you a custom-made prize in the mail.
That prize will be as follows. In my movie, there is a thick police file on Bob Muldoon, which Ben Foster's sheriff character peruses in one scene.
I will pull something from this file and augment it with an original handdrawn illustration. Maybe it'll be a newspaper clipping, or a mugshot, or crime scene photos. It could be a map. Or some of Bob's letters, carefully wrapped in evidence baggies. It might be one of the dirty cartoons that our prop guy slipped into the file to make the actors laugh. And as for what I'll do to it - you can get an idea of my crude artwork in this short film.
UPDATE: the producers of You're Next will also throw in a handpainted animal mask from the film, signed by director Adam Wingard! And Joe Swanberg will sweeten the deal with a signed Drinking Buddies coaster.
UPDATE 2: Short Term 12 is going to throw a signed soundtrack album into the mix. More to come. Please keep in mind that a While Supplies Last rule applies to all of these, although in the case of Ain't Them Bodies Saints, that police file runs pretty deep.
It's a small token, to be sure, and the real reward is what you're going to be seeing in the theater, but I hope this extra bit of kindling might light a few fires under excited cineastes and wary moviegoers alike. The only rules are that you have to see all four movies within a single weekend. To participate, just follow these simple instructions:
1. Go see the movies between a Friday and a Sunday.
2. Take a photo of the ticket stubs.
3. Tweet the picture to me at twitter.com/davidlowery. Tag it with #ATBSquadruplefeature.
4. E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org and send me your mailing address.
5. Look for your just reward in the mail, sometime after September 10th.
And because some of these movies are opening wider in the coming weeks, the expiration date for this offer isn't until September 29th! Check your movie theater's listings and mark your calendars now.
RULES UPDATE: All the movies need to be seen within the space of a single weekend, beginning August 23rd (midnight shows count). If you saw any of the movies beforehand, I thank you from the bottom of my heart, but we've got to have a hard starting line, and this is it (blame me for lack of foresight, as I just came up with this yesterday - although dare I recommend a repeat viewing?). Likewise, although several of these films will be available on VOD or iTunes, buying a ticket to the movie in a movie theater is another rule. This is why every weekend between now and the end of September is fair game, because the films will be expanding on a weekly basis (You're Next is already wide). You can see where Drinking Buddies is going to be playing right here and Short Term 12 here. Hopefully we'll have a complete list for Ain't Them Bodies Saints soon, but it's going to expand fairly wide. Obviously, NY and LA have it easy right off the top, but with any luck all these movies will all get within a stone's throw of you. Make a road trip out of it!
So there you have it. Please join me in having a magnificent weekend at the movie theater. And if you want my recommendation as to what order to see the films in, I would start with Ain't Them Bodies Saints so you can get the solemn sadness out of the way early, move on to Short Term 12, have a few beers before and during Drinking Buddies and then finish things off with You're Next as close to midnight as possible.
P.S. The distributors of any of these films have not endorsed this giveaway in advance in any shape, way or form. I'm trusting that they won't mind.
Posted by David Lowery at 4:08 PM
ATBS Frames, Pt. 9
August 13, 2013
This shot is the first shot of the end of the movie.
When I put together my first cut of the film, I broke the movie into three chapters, a prologue and an epilogue. I even had cards to denote this. This scene was the last one of chapter three; everything else that happened in the movie was an epilogue. Even though I wound up removing those cards, I still feel that the narrative breaks they denoted are very much in place. Hence, this is the end of the movie. If an audience member were to walk out after this scene, I would theoretically be okay with that. If some devilish producer had told me I had to chose between this or everything after, I would have rolled the credits when this scene ended. Certainly, the movie needs the epilogue. But the final shot of this scene, where the car drives off into the distance, is where Bob Muldoon's journey comes to an end.
But that's the last shot, and I'm here to talk about the first. This shot is very simple and very direct, which is why it's important. We shot it as we were driving back to base camp after finishing the rest of the scene. We put a 100mm lens on the camera and just rolled, grabbing fleeting little details, racking between Casey's hand on the gun and Rami's hands on the steering wheel, panning up and and then to an ECU of Rami's eyes.
When I first cut this scene, I got into it with a series of glimpses made up of this very footage. Three or four shots, all jittery and irresolute, which cohered into an impression of the circumstances at hand. A glimpse of a gun here, a frightened glance there. This is an editorial style with which I am completely comfortable - a decoupage approach, in which no frame needs to be perfect or direct or 100% clear, because clarity is going to come from the accumulated value of multiple images juxtaposed together in fluid fashion. The movie has very little of this type of editing, mainly because our visual approach doesn't completely support it. Which was intentional. But my brain naturally strays towards this type of cutting, and I was happy that this footage lent itself to such montage.
I've hinted here and there about my frustration with the editing process on this film. The comfort zone I looked forward to all through the shoot turned into a sticky mess of red tape that we never quite managed to cut through. It was (not through the part of any person) an unhappy and unproductive situation. In spite of this, there are things that my collaborators brought to the table that I am immensely grateful for, and this shot is one of them. After I had made my slipstream point of entry, Craig McKay took it and distilled it down to this single shot. Upon first glance I wanted to take thing back to the way I had them, but after thinking about it, I realized he had did what any good editor does, which is to let the picture speak. In this case, we had a very solid frame that told the audience everything you needed to know about the situation. There was a gun and it was being pointed. Nothing fancy, no slippery edits required. This is how we shot the movie, with strong images designed to do heavy lifting, and here was a muscular edit to match. I started referring to it as a John Ford cut. It made its point, and it actually made me think about the entire movie in a new and more direct light.
I'm glad I listened.
Posted by David Lowery at 1:57 AM