February 29, 2008
Time Lapses, Weekends, Nights, Bats & Hats, etc.
I haven't started editing yet. I could, but I'm just not mentally ready. So I've spent this week doing two things:
- Hanging out on the set with a camera and a dolly, shooting things, getting the sort of isolated images and textural and temporal studies that are almost as important to me as the material with the actors.
- Going through nearly a terabyte of footage and naming and categorizing each shot. Which is a pain. Whenever I'm handling someone else's film, I import and name each shot according to the slate, or at the very least the scene in the script. Here, though, we were rolling constantly, usually with two cameras, and while we had enough scene numbers to put together a shooting schedule, those scenes would frequently permutate into other things, shift around, get replaced. So I'm just naming them as best as I can with some rough numerical system and the occasional exclamatory note (e.g. 30AT1_GREAT!). It should be just enough to make sense of things when I start cutting. Which I'm committed to beginning next week...
...and hopefully find a little bit of time to continue on throughout SXSW, which I'll be driving down in exactly one week. Am I being optimistic?
Speaking of which, I guess I should start paying attention to what's playing at SXSW this year. Part of my viewing schedule is going to be decided for me in advance (more on that later), but so far the only films explicitly on my radar are the ones my friends made (including Yeast, Present Company and Goliath, which I saw at Sundance but definitely want to see again) or are touting (Mike Tully has me very excited about Josh Safdie's The Pleasure Of Being Robbed). And then there's Joe's latest, Nights And Weekends, which will be the first film of his since Kissing On The Mouth that I'll be walking into blind. When he was down here shooting second unit St. Nick, I told him that having no idea what to expect was actually really refreshing - but then the trailer showed up online, and I couldn't resist watching it. It's gorgeous and, and as it turns out, being made entirely of footage cut from the film, it spoils nothing at all.
This and two other trailers are available in higher definition at the film's official website. This one's been a long time coming, and I can't wait for the premiere.
Oh, and lest I forget, the hands-down best film I saw at Slamdance is going to be playing in the Animated Shorts category. It's called I Hate You Don't Touch Me, or Bat and Hat, and it's directed by Becky James, who describes the work thusly:
At its core, the film is an exploration of what it means to lose that which we believe defines us. Purposefully or not, all people use personal signifiers to express who they are. These identity markers can be lost, co-opted, or confused; I am interested in what this corruption means for the identities tied to them.
Now just wait until you actually see it.
Posted by David Lowery at 12:50 PM
February 26, 2008
For some reason, I didn't like the text of my last entry. I guess I hate having to sum certain things up in so many words. So I took an editorial liberty and vamoosed it. Goodbye ethics!
Starting today I'm going out with the camera and shooting static shots of the location. Charting the passage of time. Rolling indefinitely. I can't wait for the pick-ups on Saturday and Sunday.
Posted by David Lowery at 11:16 AM
February 25, 2008
St. Nick: Sort Of Wrapped!
And that's that. Well, not really.
You Know You've Directed An Independent Film...
...when you're the one who has to return all the grip and lighting gear the morning after you wrap. I hate this part of the job!
More in a minute!
Posted by David Lowery at 2:59 PM
February 23, 2008
...going out to Aaron Katz and Brendan McFadden and Ronnie Bronstein and Craig Zobel at the Spirit Awards tonight. I'm looking forward to uncrossing my fingers when I get back from the shoot tonight.
Posted by David Lowery at 8:44 AM
February 22, 2008
St. Nick: Lunar Eclipse
Last night was sort of magical. I'd been looking forward to it for the whole shoot. I had written a small part for Mara Lee Miller (aka Bosque Brown) in the film, and last night she came out to set to film it. As she sat on the porch and sang some songs, the wind rustled through the trees and the moon vanished from the sky. Everyone gathered behind the camera. Fairly bewitched. It was an amazing feeling, capturing something like that on film. Or data or whatever.
I rewrote her scene right before we shot it, copying the sides out by hand on the back of scrap paper. I always know I've found good collaborators with when they can read my handwriting and turn it into something wonderful.
Posted by David Lowery at 2:01 AM
February 20, 2008
Last night we shot a scene that's made it into a number of scripts over the past few years. It was in the script that would become The Outlaw Son, and I think even in a few early drafts of that as well (I cut it out because, well, one piercing was enough). There was one script where the scene was limited to itself, its own encapsulated anecdote; I started to turn it into a short story once, too, but never finished it. In all those iterations, the scene was about a relationship, and when it first occurred to me that it might work well in this film, I resisted because it would be putting something very personal in an entirely different context.
I've been wondering, then, whether I could get away with putting the same scene in multiple films - if a single scene could become a motif the way a certain style of shot does for other filmmakers (Wes Anderson's lateral slow motion dolly, Tarr's tracking shots, etc). The first filmmaker that springs to mind who's come close to doing this is Wong Kar Wai, who has frequently and quite literally recapitulated thematic content across the span of his oveure - secrets whispered in stones and eating to mend a broken heart and so on and so forth. Lots of pineapple. This isn't, to my mind, a case of going back to the well; rather, I see it as a filmmaker exploring a personal shorthand and pushing the very concept of style into a distinctly reactive, specifically physical mode.
So if I took it a step further and just shot this scene again sometime in the future, would I be accused of ripping myself off? Or would it be a distinct and exact enough reflection that audiences would recognize it as something more than that?
February 19, 2008
St. Nick: On The Ranch
On Sunday, we shot a lot of exteriors. We had three cameras and two units rolling the whole time. Boats were stolen, hands were frozen and our two young stars narrowly escaped being trampled by horses. It almost felt like we were making a real movie! And in spite of all the lighting and fake rainstorms and steadicam chases, I think the best material was when we snuck up on the kids in the last few minutes of twilight as they huddled up together and lit candles and tried to keep warm. The light dwindled and they forgot there were cameras around. I wish I could make that the whole movie.
Yesterday was another luxury: we spent the whole day on a single scene. After the first take, Tucker said he hated this scene more than anything else in the movie; I sat down with him and asked him why, and he said it was because it was just too depressing. I guess we're doing something right.
Tonight we move into two days of night shooting. It's prosthetic effects night!
February 16, 2008
For Real This Time
Today was the first day of the second week. It was hectic as hell. And cold as hell. I'm not really sure what we got today. I know we got something. Including the Britney Spears scene, which was awesome.That's all I'm gonna say about that.
But I need to catch up on the days that have elapsed. So here are things I learned during the first week of principal photography:
- If you set out prop trash piles on the sides of curbs, make sure you have someone watching it at all times. Otherwise it will vanish within minutes.
- If you're staying less than two miles from the set, you can survive with your gas light on for up to four days without getting stranded!
- I'm gonna need some reshoots.
We hit a stride on our fifth day of production, and while everything we got before that point was great, everything we've shot since has been on an entirely different level. The turning point was onn Tuesday, when Ellen and Jonathan (the art department) and I spent two hours building what we thought was an awesome fortress of a tent out of sheets and furniture. The next day we shot a handful of scenes in it, and then took it down so we could shoot some shots of the kids 'building' it. They ended up constructing, over the course of a forty minute take, an entirely different and vastly superior tent that was so awesome that we had to reshoot all the scenes we'd done earlier in the day the next morning. It put us a little bit behind, but at the same time it was really refreshing to just go with the flow and not be married to something that had the potential to be a million times better. There's no point in making something that's not great. We're too low budget to add more days to the schedule, but we're also low-budget enough to have the freedom to just keep improvising.
And now: pictures.
February 15, 2008
St. Nick: Week One Is Wrapped...
...but all I can think about right now is this amazing clip from Where The Wild Things Are.
Well, not really, but watching it was a nice reprieve from all the schedule wrangling we've been dealing with all afternoon (thirty-degree weather is great for our shoot, but thirty-degree weather with thunderstorms is not). I'll have a real update soon. In the meantime, enjoy the first installment of James' Beards Of St. Nick series right here!
Posted by David Lowery at 7:16 PM
February 12, 2008
Within a few hours, the SXSW Film Festival should have announced their short film lineup, so I'm guessing it's okay to mention that A Catalog Of Anticipations is going to be included in it. It's great to finally have a film there again - and a relief, too, because I doubt I'd have been able to afford to attend otherwise.
But that's not for another month. More immediately pressing is the North American Premiere of the entire Catalog triptych, in the form it was originally conceived as. This screening will be occurring next Monday, February 18th, at the Brooklyn Independent Cinema Series. It's included in a program entitled 'The Best Short Films Of The 21st Century,' curated by Mr. Michael Tully. I've seen all but one of the other works he's selected for the evening, and I truly mean it when I say that it's an honor to be counted amongst them. If I wasn't shooting this movie (and broke), I'd fly to New York just to see Weekend again.
The full triptych will then be appearing at other festivals in the coming months, which does my weary heart good. I'm glad that people above the equator line are responding to it. Meanwhile Part II will continue to make the rounds on its own. It played last weekend at the Dam Short Film Festival, and will be screening next week at the Mid Valley Video Festival, with a few more lined up after that...
I hope St. Nick does as well this time next year. Actually, is it okay if I say I hope it does better?
February 11, 2008
St. Nick: Day Two
I've kept my copy of Bresson's Notes On The Cinematographer around the production offices (where I'm sleeping every night) and open it at random every night to read for a bit, just to clear my head. Tonight I turned to a page that contains the answer to the question everyone keeps asking:
Shooting. You will not know till much later if your film is worth the mountain range of effort it is costing you.
Nonetheless, I feel very happy, and I hope it's unfounded. I get a little giddy thinking about all the footage waiting for me already that I'm too lazy to start cutting together now. And while it's without a doubt a heck of a lot of work, we're all having an equal if not greater amount of fun. Making stuff up and goofing off and shooting things that feels right. We'll just see what happens.
A scant few snapshots from yesterday and today:
Okay, I'm collapsing now. Reading Bresson, by the way, is the perfect chaser to a day on set.
February 9, 2008
St. Nick: Day One
Today, in which we began the shoot with a big outdoor party scene with lots of extras, was serendiptious in a number of ways, not limited to the following:
- The weather.
- A parade of multi-colored bicyclers randomly riding through our shot at the most absolutely perfect moment.
- Art department finding a real dog skeleton under our location house, almost negating the need to actually place one there for the characters to discover (as per the scenario).
- Riding back from the set on the antique prop bicycle and having it break on me five minutes after we wrapped. Perfect timing.
- Getting all of the shots I need, plus a lot more that I wanted, plus even more that I hadn't planned on at all. But that's not actually serendipity.
On the other hand, I'm already sunburned. Where did my hat go?
One day down, fifteen to go. Or is it fourteen? I have no idea how long this shoot lasts. That's what I have great friends and co-producers like James for.
20 Minutes To Call Time
I'm sitting in my car outside of James' house, drinking coffee and thinking about stuff. I actually slept for over six hours last night, which either means I don't know what I'm doing or speaks volumes of my nonchalant confidence. Or both.
Here we go!
Posted by David Lowery at 8:09 AM
February 8, 2008
There Will Be Blood
*This post is both about a month late, and definitely unfinished. I'm going to go ahead and post it now, in this little bit of calm before the storm. In lieu of my own complete review, I'd invite you to check out those written by Zach Campbell and Darren Hughes, which both come to a similar conclusion on the film's actual subject matter.
In the summer of 2006, just before principal photography began on There Will Be Blood, Paul Thomas Anderson uploaded the first of a series of vague behind-the-scenes photos to the production's unofficial website, Little Boston News. Those photos are all long gone, but chief amidst that first batch was a snapshot of a page from Moby Dick.
Anderson, it turns out, was telegraphing something of his intentions from the get go, for he's created with There Will Be Blood an American epic possessed with the same mad scope of Melville's masterpiece, and in Daniel Plainview a protagonist cast very much in the likeness of the Pequod's captain. Plainview, like Ahab, is a man consumed by fierce myopia. Whether Ahab's defining hubris is just as squarely matched is a bit harder to discern, and although it might be easy to equate Plainview's black gold with Ahab's blanced leviathan, the truth of the matter is that Plainview's goal is an abstract, as intangible as that whale's whiteness.
PTA has described the film as boxing match, distilling it down to a central conflict between Plainview and the young preacher Eli Sunday; or, in the big picture, capitalism versus religion (a thematic stalemate born of the same timely concerns that might have lead to the naming of Plainview's son, H.W.). He's also called it a horror story, noting that he modeled Plainview after Count Dracula (which in turn reminds us that, in Stoker's original novel, Dracula's chief pursuit was simply real estate). Neither comparison, I think, ultimately describes the film that Anderson made which is a portrait of one man's manifestation into himself. Daniel Plainview is a man who does not change, who eventually topples under the weight of his own limitations and, in the eyes of some, brings the film crashing down with him. The last twenty minutes are certainly anticlimactic if they're viewed as the climax of a conflict between two men; as the resolution of a character study, on the other hand, they're a fitting denouement. Like Ahab going down with his whale, Plainview's reached his goal and come out on top, even though his triumph smothers him.
And even if those last twenty minutes are a mistake (I don't believe they are), one must give Anderson and Daniel Day Lewis the benefit of the doubt and assume that in creating a character so deeply realized that he trumps his creators' own definition, they've thought forwards and backwards through every choice leading to that realization, and that, on an intrinsic level, those choices are not, in fact, wrong. If I feel that Plainview's ultimate treatment of his false brother Henry is a misstep, can I assume that the problem is not with the script but with me? Indeed, this scene, this final fraternal encounter, is where I stopped empathizing with Daniel. Up until that moment, I saw an awful lot of myself reflected in him - so is the fact that I lost touch with the film at that point the fault of my own ego?
I don't actually think it is, and I'm not out to make apologies for a film that's at least a little flawed anyway you half it, and yet all the more fascinating for being so frustrating.
I stopped writing about here. I probably would have gone on to talk about how Paul Thomas Anderson has been more influential to me than just about any other filmmaker and I don't feel like I can accurately critique his work, before continuing to critique it anyway and eventually making it back to Moby Dick and all that whiteness on the page and the equivocal blackness on the film. I wish I could write all that now. But heck, I've got a film to make.
Posted by David Lowery at 12:57 AM
February 6, 2008
Quiet City, Dance Party USA & One Gorgeous DVD
Aaron Katz's two feature films, Dance Party USA and Quiet City, are now available in a sun-drenched double disc edition from Benten Films, the boutique distributor who've made good on the promise of their inaugural release, Joe Swanberg's LOL, with a gorgeous set that's very clearly just as much a labor of love for the distributors as its contents were for the filmmakers.
Quiet City fittingly gets top billing here. It was one of the benchmarks in last summer's New Talkies series, and of all the films lumped together under the dreaded 'M'-word, it received the warmest welcome; the general critical consensus could be best summed up by Stephen Holden's review in the New York Times, in which he deemed the film a "fully realized work of Mumblecore poetry," and the film earned Katz and producer Brendan McFadden an Independent Spirit nomination (and, hopefully, an award when the ceremony occurs the end of the month). I would add that, in addition to its many other graces, it contains one of the best haircut scenes ever.
The film is augmented here by a strong selection of features, including a lovely commentary by the two stars, Erin Fisher and Chris Lankenau, and a Bizarro World version of the movie directed by Joe Swanberg (all the funnier because of the back story). But the best feature on the entire set, to my mind, is the feature film on the second disc: Katz's first film, Dance Party USA. This 65 minute masterpiece had a substantial enough festival run back in 2006, but it never accrued quite the acclaim that its successor would. Now's it's time to shine, and packaged as it is with a more well-known picture, maybe it'll have the chance to sneak up on people the way it did on me.
Let me say now that I outright love Dance Party USA. It's a great film, and part of it's greatness lies in the way it manages to capture the onset of nostalgia without indulging in a single note of sentimentality. Allow me this: the first time I saw the film was on a screener, when I was sick with the flu. My girlfriend at the time came over to take care of me; she braved my germs and squeezed into a chair next to me and we watched the movie together. It was one of those nights, and so the best compliment I can pay Dance Party USA is that it's better than my memory of seeing it for the first time.
So. The DVD is available here.
Posted by David Lowery at 10:14 PM
Family Photos And Orthodontics
There's something wrong in this photo:
Yesterday, in keeping with a tradition started on The Outlaw Son in which I convinced the lead actor to have his tongue pierced, we had braces put on the young star of St. Nick.
I decided the character needed to have braces back in early November, when I first started casting. I'd been in touch with the parent of a child who I wanted to see for the part, and she let me know that her son had braces, just in case that had any effect on my decision. I was opposed to it at first, but then I started thinking about it more and more, and certain ideas (that shall remain unspoken for now) began to attach themselves to this possibility. Before too long, I was obsessed; this character had to have braces. It was an unavoidable tenet of his character. I set about figuring out how we'd do this. I figured there had to be some sort of cosmetic appliance that could just snap into place with a little bit of dental glue...
...but I was wrong. The only way to get braces, fake or otherwise (and without risking arrest in Thailand) is to have the real thing put on by an orthodontist. There are specialty companies in LA that create custom dental work for actors, but they were out of our price range. So Adam made some phone calls and one thing lead to another until yesterday, when we found ourselves at the Baylor School Of Dentistry yesterday, watching the Chairman of the Board of Orthodontics apply braces to our actor's upper teeth. It was rather surreal. The brackets will remain on for a week, throughout the first four days of shooting, and then we'll have them removed.
So that's one more thing off the checklist. Today I've got to go buy a bicycle and some vintage lad mags.
Posted by David Lowery at 11:37 AM
February 4, 2008
Apologies for all the downtime: things have been a bit hectic upon the return from Park City, mostly because there are only five days to go until we start shooting St. Nick. Hopefully, before then, I'll get around to posting all the loose ends that should have gone up weeks ago, like a closer look at There Will Be Blood and a review of the Quiety City / Dance Party USA DVD; but the vast majority of this week will be dedicated to crossing items off our last minute to-do list (on the docket for today: a dead dog, and tomorrow: getting braces put on the lead actor) and hopefully, finally, kicking this nasty illness that's managed to hang around my lungs and manifest itself in various forms, like laryngitis. Trying to push through the last bits of pre-pro without being able to actually talk is annoying, to say the least.
Posted by David Lowery at 12:24 AM
February 1, 2008
First Trip To Park City
...I fixed it.