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September 29, 2006

Second Week Down

I remember reading a profile of David Cronenberg, back around the time when he was shooting Crash. It described him quietly presiding over the set of the film, which happened to be a major highway that had been closed down for a night shoot. He was sitting in his director's chair, rimmed by the massive lights that were illuminating the stretch of elevated concrete, thinking about the scene as the crew worked around him. That, to me, in a way, was a sort of movie magic all its own; closing down a highway and making it your own.

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I thought about that yesterday. And also about how It's slightly difficult to put things in perspective, when you're shooting a scene of a film in a wing of a major international airport that has been closed down to accomodate your production and a gaggle of extras toting empty luggage swarm through the terminal as a camera crew pulls off a long, gorgeous dolly shot, and not feel feel as if you've reached some new level as a filmmaker. It's the sort of thing that shouldn't matter; but there, in the moment, it really does. Maybe it goes away after the first time.

All this, and it's not even my film! I wonder how Yen actually feels about it all.

ciao_onset1.jpg

Yesterday we shot two scenes from Ciao at the brand new Terminal D at DFW Airport. Yen always joked that he could shoot the scenes in his apartment (where the majority of his first feature, Happy Birthday, was filmed), but his vision was slightly more grand that that; and Jim, ever the great producer, was adamant in helping him realize it. As it turns out, we're the first feature film production to film at the terminal, which was cause enough for a few reporter to show up and cover the shoot.

Everyone arrived promptly at 7 AM. This was the first time we were working in such a volatile environment; even though we had the areas we were shooting in closed down and populated with background talent, the terminal was still in full operation, and there were countless things that could have derailed us - such as an unwieldy extra throwing a fit at security, or a baggage claim we were shooting at suddenly, unexpectedly, going into operation and a hundred passengers flooding the area to get their luggage, every last one of them looking directly at our rolling camera as they passed.

But in the end, nothing managed to throw us off. What we were shooting was essentially the beginning and ending of the film. There was no way to cheat these scenes. Everyone knew that we had to get them, and went out of their way to make it happen, and to keep things as relaxed as possible, and to have fun doing it. I think we were all just excited to be there. I know I was. I was even happy to be a stand-in again. Mark (our camera operator) said that people kept looking at me, trying to figure out who I was; after all, if you've got a film crew and a dolly following you, you must be someone important (which was what one woman said when she asked if she could take my picture).

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I had the editing system set up on the floor of the terminal, and I cut together two of the scenes on the spot. We were having trouble with the eyelines on one scene and with matching the fading daylight on another, and being able to look at a rough assembly while we were shooting proved more invaluable than ever. I kept editing up until all the gear was loaded and we were ready to wrap out. The last scene brought tears to my eyes; but then, I'm always a sucker for any scene where people say goodbye at airports or train stations. Especially when they hug.

Afterwards, we all went out to celebrate - not just the fact that we'd pulled off the shoot, but also that it was Jim's 29th birthday. I'm sure the fact that we didn't get kicked out was the best birthday present he could have asked for - at least I hope so, because I don't think anyone actually got him anything. Except for drinks.

One week left!

Posted by David Lowery at 6:55 PM | Comments (2)

September 27, 2006

A Day In The Life Of

Whenever I import and backup the footage from P2 cards, Final Cut Pro is tied up for approximately twenty minutes, which leaves me with a little bit of legitimate free time (in addition to the illegitimate free time I also manage to accrue). I told myself I'd try to use this time to write, but I've been distracted from that plan with Christine Vachon's new book, A Killer Life. I started it yesterday; I'll finish it tomorrow. One of the chapters is an hour by hour account of a day at Cannes; inspired by that, and considering the fact that Jim has fallen quite a bit behind (understandably) on the production blog, I thought I might give a similar breakdown of an average shooting day, from the editor's perspective.

10:00 AM - I arrive at the set. Plug everything in, open up Final Cut Pro and take care of some file management I let fall by the wayside while the rest of the crew gets ready for the first shot.

12:30 PM - I finish a few changes to the promotional trailer I've spent the last two days cutting (cutting in new footage as fast as they can shoot it) and am in the process of spitting out a batch of downloadable Quicktime versions when Michael, the DP, asks me if I can call up a scene frame for reference. I cancel the export and pop open the requested shot. Between instant access to previously shot footage and the promise of newly cut sequences, I think the editing suite will eventually replace video village as the place to be on film sets.

1:30 PM - I leave set to go field a call to LA for the project I'm working on there. This is going to be a pretty regular interruption to my workflow, but it's a welcome one - the only problem is that the crew always inevitably needs me for something the moment I step out. I check my e-mail for a document that I need to offer notes on. It needs to be sent out to various parties by the end of the day, so it can be read over for a conference call tomorrrow. It was supposed to be in my inbox at 11:00 LA time (I set my computer two hours behind so that I can keep track of these dueling schedules) but it hasn't arrived yet. I go back to the set.

2:00 PM - Back at the computer, scanning this just-arrived twenty six page document for what seems like the millionth time. The changes made after the conference call we had yesterday have really tightened this thing up. I make a few perfunctory notes and sign off on it; there are a few things I'm not happy about, but I'm trying to learn how to pick my battles. I return to the set, where my input holds a bit more sway. Nothing has been shot yet.

4:00 PM - I get the first P2 card for the day (we like to call them mags). We just finished shooting the first setup for scene 64. We were supposed to finish this scene by 2:30. I haven't been paying attention to how behind we are. We break for lunch. I was going to head over to the Borders around the corner and pick up the new Cormac McCarthy novel, but instead I go back to check my e-mail and make a few phone calls. As I'm about to log out, I get an e-mail from a publicist, asking if I can interview John Cameron Mitchell on Monday. John Cameron Mitchell! My heart just about skips a beat. I fire back a quick e-mail. What time? Will it be a telephone interview? Will be he in town? Can he come do the interview on set, since I doubt I'll be able to leave? Okay, I didn't really ask that last one, but I tell Yen that I did, and that he is in fact showing up.

5:00 PM - I talk to the publicist. It'll be a telephone interview. I can do that from set. They're screening Shortbus for me on Friday. John Cameron Mitchell! I wonder what's going on downstairs on set?

6:30 PM - They finish scene 64. This is the furthest behind we've fallen, but it's really not as dire as it feels in the moment. When Jim was scheduling the shoot, he pushed the original twelve days into eighteen, and (inspired by tales of Clint Eastwood's sets) allotted eight or nine hours to each workday. It looks like we'll be going four hours over today, but that still leaves us only working an average twelve hour day. Nothing wrong with that. Still, even at twelve hours, we have to drop one of the planned scenes for the day, something I suspect we've been doing a little bit too frequently these past few dayss. The lead actor catching the flu and being unable to speak for two days threw a really big kink in the schedule, too. But back on the flip side, we've yet to compromise on anything. Jokes about 'handheld' and 'natural light' are flying a bit faster and more seriously these days. Of course, the only ones making them are me. And James. And sometimes Yen.

7:30 PM - I've been a stand-in for what feels like three hours now. The charm has officially worn off. I was working on the opening of the film when I heard the dreaded sound of my last name, bellowed across set by James, who hates being an AD but is doing a pretty good job at it. Especially when he gets all gangsta.

8:30 PM - Import complete. The shot I was standing in for is sort of jaw dropping. And by sort of, I mean completely. I'm glad to have been of service to such a lighting scheme.

9:00 PM - Jim offers his apologies to the crew for going late, but explains that there's no way around it. No one minds. We're all here in the first place because we want to be. Not that there would be too many people to mind, since our crew has dwindled this week. Nothing unexpected - people let us know going in that they had prior commitments. I have my business calls, other people have their own projects, some people are in school. PAs keep getting promoted, especially in the grip department.

10:00 PM - I send a text message to Michelle, our still photographer, to let her know we wrapped. She couldn't be on set today, but I try to keep her updated anyway. We're only three and a half hours and one scene behind. I only managed to edit forty seconds of the film itself today. I need to double my efforts. I feel like a slacker.

11:00 PM - I go home. I check my mail. Ramzi Abed has sent me a screener of the final cut of his upcoming Black Dahlia movie, titled, simply enough, Black Dahlia Movie. There was a big mixup in the Hollywood Reporter a few weeks ago, confusing Ramzi's movie with DePalma's. I was hoping to see the former before the latter opened, so I could reveiw both. I wonder if I could find time to watch it tonight.

12:30 AM - I go running. Have to work off that craft services.

1:00 AM - I pour a gin and tonic and sit down to finish my review of The Science Of Sleep, but decide to write this post first. I've got a handful of half-finished things waiting to go up. I really need to start writing on my downtime.

2:00 AM - I'm writing this sentence. Call time is at nine tomorrow. I imagine I'll have A Killer Life finished by noon. Yen has dibs on my copy; he already started reading it today, in between takes. I remember passing Vachon on the escalator at SXSW back in March and feeling somewhat daunted. Maybe I shouldn't have been - she seems so sweet in text! John Cameron Mitchell contributed a few pages to the book. I can't wait until Monday. I also can't wait until tomorrow. Movie sets are my favorite home away from home. People always say things like that when they write about making movies. "It's the best job in the world," or "I wouldn't want to do anything else." They've got good reason.

Posted by David Lowery at 1:12 AM | Comments (3)

September 23, 2006

Concentricity

I got home from the set yesterday to find an envelope with a check and a congratulatory card in it; apparently, Some Analog Lines actually won the Texas Show award at the DVF last month. I guess I should have gone to the afterparty where they announced it - but nonetheless, it was a wonderful surprise. Thanks, Bart and Laura!

And then James called to let me know that it looks like the same film will be taking us to the Austin Film Festival at the end of October. More on that later, but for now, I'll just say: thanks, James, for promoting my films for me, because I sure don't know how to do it myself.

* * *

Time for some personal parallelism. I was halfway aware that the table I grabbed on my way out the door that first morning of the production, and on which I set up my editing system on set, was one that I used for all my drawing and art projects when I was growing up in Wisconsin. Later that day, I realized how odd it was that I was sitting behind it once again (cross-legged on the floor where once I could stand upright).

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Odd, and strangely comforting, to be creating on the same surface that supported my work a full two decades ago. There's a note on the back of that first picture, dating it at 'Winter 1986.' If I was a little bit more trite, I'd say it's the only thing allowing me to distinguish the two.

Posted by David Lowery at 1:53 AM | Comments (6)

September 22, 2006

Six Days Down

We just wrapped the first week of production. These last two days, I've given up my alternate job as a stand-in, sequestered myself in whatever corner of our production location isn't being used for shooting and just focused on editing. Even at this early stage, the rhythm of the film is starting to emerge, and I'm beginning to figure out my formal approach to it. The first twenty minutes or so will be very slow , with very little use of coverage. At a certain point though - beginning with the restaurant scene I cut the other day - the pace will pick up.

I've got a little over fifteen minutes put together (about ten of which are consecutive), along with alternate versions of several of those scenes for Yen to consider. I'm lucky to have a director who trusts me to use my own instincts and try things - rearranging some scenes, intercutting others, working off the feel of the footage rather than the script (which I still haven't read). I show him things every now and then, when he's not busy, and thus far it seems we're pretty much in sync. Then again, we share most of the same tastes and sensibilities, so it's not too hard for me to discern his intentions the raw footage and, when appropriate, to come up with new approaches that may appeal to him. It's also not too hard for me to play cruel tricks. All I have to do is say, in a certain tone, "can you come take a look at something when you have a chance?"

Tomorrow is our twenty four hour weekend. I've got so many work-related things I could fill the day with, but I have a deep and urgent need to catch up on some movies. An early morning double feature of Half Nelson and The Black Dahlia sounds like heaven right now.

Posted by David Lowery at 7:00 AM

September 18, 2006

All Of My Many Hats

We're on the third day of shooting Ciao. I've got my portable editing suite set up in the VIP Lounge of Nikita, our location for the day. This is probably the only time in my life I'll have priority access to a VIP Lounge at a trendy bar, so I should probably enjoy it.

The P2 workflow has been flawless thus far. Yen covers so many of his scenes with a single set-up that logging the footage while cutting a rough assembly hasn't been too dificult a task thus far; I've had plenty of time to play around with the footage and search through everything for the best parts of every take. In addition to handling the post pipeline, I've taken on a second role: professional stand-in. Getting to watch Michael Roy and his crew light each scene has been pretty educational; getting to watch the gorgeous results before anyone else has been icing on the cake.

Since beginning this post a few hours ago, I've actually made my way into the film as not one but three different background characters. Will future audiences realize that the patron who strolls leisurely through the restaurant and the bartender at the bar he passes are the same person? The answer is no, because the both characters are completely our of focus, as is the enthusiastic clubgoer I played in a later scene. Still, my repressed dreams of being a star have been satisfied for the day. Now it's back to editing.

Posted by David Lowery at 11:02 PM | Comments (3)

September 15, 2006

Incomplete

After the academic fervor of last year, I felt a bit let down when I realized I wouldn't be able to return to school this semester, and that, indeed, last spring might have been my last taste of collegiate life. Not that I'm complaining - I've certainly got a couple of great reasons to be otherwise occupied - but I can't hep but feel a tinge of regret that, now that I finally feel like getting a serious education, I don't have the time for it.

I gave my sister a lot of the books I had left over from my courses, since she'll be able to use them in hers. I, meanwhile, decided that I would put all the money I wasn't spending on textbooks towards a tome I've been wanting for a while: Taschen's The Stanley Kubrick Archives. It arrived yesterday morning: a coffee table book large enough to function as a coffee table itself. It's almost too big to read. Which won't stop me from reading it, of course.

Included in all first edition copies of the book is a strip of frames from Kubrick's personal 70mm print of 2001. The shot I got was of the Lunar lander descending to the moon base.

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The image on the actual frames has been tinted by the decades, and is somewhat hard to make out; but it has a sort of hypnotic power, and it brought back, just a little bit, that feeling I had when I visited the archives themselves. You feel just a little bit closer - not to Kubrick himself, necessarily, nor to his work, but maybe to that ephemeral genius that filled the space between them.

* * *

I've been scared lately - of what, I don't know, but it's preventing me from finishing anything. I've got the means and will to start project after project, but it seems like I can't complete a single one. I've a short film (that oen called Upheave) which for the past two months has only needed one or two pickup shots and some sound effects; a plethora of screenplays that have tapered out after page sixty or twenty or five; two music videos in various stages of completion; a Writers Guild membership form that hasn't been completely filled out; a website for Nick that needs to go online; long due e-mails that have gone long unwritten; books to read; movies to see. I've had the same three Netflix movies out since June. I still haven't finished my short review of The Science Of Sleep (which I guess is okay since I saw the film again last night and have a clearer perception of it). I have the desire to finish all these things, but something is stopping me, and I'm afraid that I'm shooting myself in the foot, and the hand, and possibly in the head. I've no shortage of inspiration; I just need someone to help me channel it. I need someone to slap some sense into me, is what I need.

So I suppose it's a good thing that I'm about to start a project where completion isn't an option, and where the schedule isn't open-ended or (more importantly) up to me. Jim wants a rough cut of Ciao ready two weeks after production wraps. Maybe this regimented schedule will be just what I need to restore the sense of discipline that seems to have evaporated over the course of this long, busy (and, thankfully, ending) summer.

Posted by David Lowery at 5:55 PM | Comments (1)

September 14, 2006

Feeling The Illinoise

Yen surprised us all this evening with tickets to the Sufjan Stevens show at the Lakewood. It was a wonderful way to have one last hurrah, so to speak, before cracking down on the three weeks of production that lay ahead of us (and however many months of post-production that will then ensue).

In addition to all the other work he's taken upon himself, Jim has courageously set out to document the entire process of making Ciao via his new blog, CiaoDallas. I don't know how he has the energy to update it every night (and am willing to take bets about how quickly it falls by the wayside once production actually begins), but he's done a terrific job thus far of conveying the Sisyphean ups and downs of producing an independent feature. Also included in his latest update arephotos from the concert this evening - the high point of which was the performance of The Predatory Wasp Of The Palisades Is Out To Get Us! Its gorgeous arrangements broke down in its final measures into some truly spectacular cacophony, turning the remainder of the set into (very lovely) filler.

I was really impressed, too, with the background video that was projected behind the band; I frequently found myself watching that as much as than the musicians on the stage. It was helpful to see it, since the post-heavy project I'm working on at the moment is going to be shown in exactly the same context - and very likely in the same venue - not too far down the road. If I can actually finish it, of course.

Posted by David Lowery at 1:14 AM

September 12, 2006

Don't Look Back

WORTH LISTENING TO, No. 1: Francis Ford Coppola's commentary track on the new Apocalypse Now: The Complete Dossier DVD. Coppola's a natural storyteller, and he effortlessly holds court for three and a half hours, regaling us with anecdotes from the famously nightmarish production as if we were guests sitting around his dinner table (a scenario which, he says more than once, is his favorite thing to film). His commentary provides a different perspective to the harrowing events presented in both his wife's published journals and the documentary she made with George Hickenlooper, Hearts Of Darkness - a perspective that has the benefit of an additional factor: time. Coppola laces every mishap and disaster with what I can only describe as a deeply exuberant sense of nostalgia. It's the same sensibility, I think, that is fueling his new film, Youth Without Youth (on the set of which the commentary was recorded). It's been about a year since he updated his journal on that film's website, but this commentary track is very much a focused extension of his writing there.

As an added benefit, listening to the commentary separates the film's visuals from the narrative, allowing one the opportunity to appreciate Vittorio Storaro's breathtaking cinematography on its own terms.

I wasn't quite nonplussed by the exclusion of Hearts Of Darkness from the DVD, but I really do hope that whatever legal troubles have kept it from being released are resolved soon, because I'm dying to revisit it. The first and last time I saw it was when I was about 12, on a VHS tape I got from the library. I watched it three times, all before I actually saw Apocalypse Now, intrinsically linking it in my head to the film it was about. I remember being overwhelmed by the chaos of it all. That was before I knew much at all about the technical ins and outs of a film shoot, and the scale of Coppola's production in concert with the lack of any apparent organziation made this neophyte filmmaker's head spin. Thirteen years later, of course, it all makes perfect sense to me; more and more, on my own films, I'm seeking some of that chaos out.

WORTH LISTENING TO, No. 2: Bob Dylan's Modern Times, which is just all around wonderful. I have a strong preference for Dylan's later work; I'm sure it's partially because Time Out Of Mind served as my introduction to his entire catalog, but in retrospect I think he achieved a new level of artistic clarity with that record, which he continued (minus the heavy bitterness) on Love And Theft and, now, this new album, so rich with analog texture and mellow epics like When The Deal Goes Down (which has a fine video from Bennet Miller to accompany it).

Posted by David Lowery at 5:04 AM | Comments (3)

September 9, 2006

Once Again, The Theater Fire

Our friends played a three-set show last night, during which they actually almost ran out of songs. Now they're in Austin, getting ready for another show, all of which will be preparing them for their cross country tour in a few weeks. But what I really wanted to mention here was their write-up in Entertainment Weekly. When NPR and Time Warner plug you, you're well on your way to making it. Now if only Pitchfork would get in on the action...

For non EW-subscribers (such as myself)...

Kicking Up The Darkness: A dusty mystery of a song from this well-worn country group finds the narrator awaiting a shadowy stranger. ''Should I wear a flower or a gun?/ Should we stay to greet or should we run?'' he wonders as a lonesome slide guitar adds haunting pathos. With its ambiguous messianic themes, ''Kicking Up the Darkness'' questions the unknown with honest wonder. Download The Song Here.

And now I've got to get back to laying some visuals over their music - something I've been doing quite a bit of lately.

Posted by David Lowery at 5:51 PM | Comments (1)

September 7, 2006

About A Son

AJ Schnack's new documentary, Kurt Cobain About A Son, will be premiering in Toronto on Sunday. Ever since I discovered AJ's blog last year, I've been following the progress of this project with a great deal of excitement. As you might gather from this recent interview with Schnack and Cobain biographer Michael Azerrad, it's not a typical documentary; the promise of this unique, elegaic form, in concert with its subject matter, has put this at the top of my to-see list.

Over the past few months, AJ has been posting a series of entries on the process of making the film. In a recent conversation with his cinematographer, he included an image of a dead bird - which reminded me of an image from my first attempt at a feature film, Lullaby.

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Lullaby had ties to Kurt Cobain as well - or rather, it touched on my personal feelings on the man and his myth and what he meant to all those kids, a few years older than me, who had heard his voice and practically worshipped at his feet. It was only an allusory connection, and I had longstanding plans to deal with the subject more throuroughly in another film - but then Van Sant made Last Days, and then I learned about AJ's documentary, and I gradually realized that the film I had in my head wasn't a film at all but merely an ephemeral desire to explore an idea and capture a feeling, an essence, an answer to some question I wasn't quite sure how to word. Maybe I'll figure it out someday, or maybe (and more likely) little figments of the intentions behind this phantasmagorical project will seep into other films I make. For the time being, I'll leave the specifics to filmmakers who actually know what they want to say.

Which is why I can't wait to see Kurt Cobain About A Son. Best of luck to AJ this week, and next.

* * *

As an experiment of sorts, I made my final cut of The Outlaw Son available for download through its MySpace page for the last three weeks. It was downloaded a total of thirty three times before I removed the link last night. I hope those folks liked it, in spite of the 320x240 Quicktime file; that sort of resolution does a film like mine no favors at all.

I'm starting to let more people see it. Kat Candler watched it last week and gave me a glowing endorsement, which really made my day (especially her comment on the performances). One of the people who inspired the film also saw it recently, and thought it was gross. I sorta saw that coming, but I was hoping for a slightly better adjective.

Posted by David Lowery at 12:56 AM | Comments (3)

September 5, 2006

I've Been Feeling Feverish

I'll tell you, there's no better cure for a mind-splitting flu than spending a weekend cooped up on a set, collaborating non-stop for two days on as many hours of sleep and making something so optically complex (by my standards) that there's no way of telling whether or not it'll turn out until post-production begins.

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Which it has, barely, and it looks like it might work, at least slightly. I've got miles of matte lines to wrangle before I sleep. I wish my head would stop hurting.

Things I've been meaning to mention:

Now I'm going to go log footage, eat vitamin C and wait for the reviews of Lynch's Inland Empire to roll across the waves from Venice.

Posted by David Lowery at 1:00 AM | Comments (5)

September 1, 2006

Quotes

I spent the day today (yesterday) cutting trees of varying heights and sizes out of cardboard for a video performance piece that I've been invited to contribute to. It won't be occurring until October, but as timing would have it, this coming weekend is about all we can afford to dedicate to it (at least as far as shooting goes).

While I was cutting away, I watched Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind. At a certain point I just wanted to pause the movie and put my arms around it and hug it. But since I couldn't, I took that frozen frame and posted it here, where it will be robbed of all its contextual poignancy but will remain, nonetheless, with its implicit suggestion of secrets imparted and tender moments shared, pleasant to look at. It makes my day, at the very least.


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I've still got that Science Of Sleep review coming...but in the meantime, I've got to go build a bedroom.

Posted by David Lowery at 4:49 AM | Comments (4)