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July 27, 2011

Two contextual notes

I've been parsing through the voluminous notes we've received on the script from our peers, and from James and Toby's stint at the Sundance Labs, and begun to apply them to the script, which sounds constructive, but is actually a bit the opposite. Not that it's deconstructive. Hewing is the right term. This morning I found a mostly-unused journal someone left at our old apartment and which I'd set aside to be taken out with the trash before it somehow wound up in my new office, and I've begun to simply write about the script. Which is probably the sort of thing a lot of people don't wait until they're over a dozen drafts in to start doing. The work itself is what it is, but the fact that it's aided so immeasurably by the practice of writing by hand, in ink, on paper, something I romanticize but am almost entirely incapable of doing, hit me as it always does like a ton of bricks. I eked out four pages today and felt like I changed the world.

* * *

I like buying books at the airport. They're quite nearly the only brick-and-mortar bookstores at which I'll buy literature at list price. I like to read when I travel, just as I like to read when I don't, but when I'm traveling there's a recognizable shift occurring in my life and I like to attach literature to those changes. To be sure, I also always drift into bookstores in the places I visit. When I'm in New York, I'll wind up at the Strand and have to pick up something. When I was in Ashland last spring, I spent an hour perusing a used bookshop and left with a collection of Dylan Thomas short stories, which I haven't read yet but which, but when I do, will add to the memory of that sojourn.

That I haven't read it yet is indicative of something else; the books I buy when I travel are rarely the books I wind up reading. I don't stay at hotels often; I stay with friends and collaborators, sleeping on their couches, and next to those couches are usually bookshelves towards which I inevitably gravitate. I'll find without fail something I've always wanted to read or started but never finished or never heard of but am suddenly struck by, and I'll read that instead. I won't finish these books. Such survey leaves me feeling richer, minus the guilt that normally bookmarks unfinished texts; I always have to leave at some point, after all. On a few occasions, I've asked to borrow a book. More often, I make a mental note to buy my own copy later, which, given all the fresh volumes always weighing down my backpack, I don't believe I've ever done.

This is why I've only just now finished Pynchon's Inherent Vice.

Posted by David Lowery at 1:15 AM

July 21, 2011

Counting Blessings

We've been moving into a new house this week, and haven't gotten our internet service transferred over yet. Normally, I'd view this as a welcome reprieve. But when it rains it pours, and this week I've had a million things that I've absolutely had to send and receive, and so I keep trucking over to the neighborhood coffee shop to get work done (I think I've killed their wi-fi once already, exchanging some Final Cut project files). It was in their parking lot, siphoning their signal before they opened yesterday morning, that I got word that the Filmmaker Magazine's 25 New Faces List was up. That was a wonderful way to start the day. Eleven summers ago, I was driving around downtown in a van with James and we told ourselves we'd be in that list someday (I think we probably said "next year" instead of "someday," but let's disregard that). Then we ran a red light.

James, of course, is up at the Sundance Institute with Toby this week. They've been calling me at night, slightly delirious, filtering through to me some tiny fraction of the massive amount of information they're being fed Ludovico-style, all of which will be utilized (or conscientiously not used) on our new film.

Meanwhile, Pioneer quietly had its European premiere in Spain last week at the Festival Internacional de Cortos Fib. It also quietly won the grand prize. The film is officially in the black!

Lastly, before this cafe closes: Autoerotic, a new film from Adam Wingard and Joe Swanberg that opens in New York this week via IFC, received a great review from A.O. Scott today. It's also available to rent on Amazon. I haven't seen the finished product yet, but I believe if you pay attention to the credits (at least according to the Variety review), you'll notice that I'm credited as doing the digital effects. This is true, and if you can spot the work I did on the film, you deserve more than the high five that I'll give you.

Posted by David Lowery at 7:07 PM

July 13, 2011

The New One

Sundance announced their 2011 Creative Producing Fellowships for 2011 yesterday. James M. Johnston and Toby Halbrooks are amongst the fellows, and our next feature together is one of the five narrative projects selected for support by the institute. That feature is called Ain't Them Bodies Saints, and as of yesterday it's on the record as the next movie we're making. We're all pretty darn excited.


Pictured above is a rejected title design. The title itself is one that I've tried out on various scripts over the past five years, until I finally found one that stuck. The synopsis on the Sundance press release is a little sparse, but that's sort of the gist of it.

If all goes well, we're shooting in the winter. In Texas, of course.

Posted by David Lowery at 12:13 AM

July 12, 2011

Location Scout (2011 version)


We went driving all over Southwest Texas last week looking for new locations. For now let's just pretend the entire movie takes place in fields of wheat. Will there be hands passing plaintively through the willowy grain? I hope we can avoid the temptation.

saints_location_scout3.jpg saints_location_scout2.jpg

That one there is me taking a piss in the sorghum. James took it.

I've read some things about birdwatching lately. Jonathan Franzen had a lot to say about it, and I know Terrence Malick is a fan. As a hobby, I never quite got it. It always seemed to me a somewhat unfulfilling pastime. But then there came the point last Friday where we were driving offroad down by the banks of the Blanco River (in whose waters I nearly drowned when I was ten but which this summer is too dried up to even engulf its own bed). I was in the back of a pickup truck, and there was a pair of binoculars there, and when the driver pointed out a blue heron perched on a limestone rock in the middle of the river I grabbed them and sized up that bird to take a gander. Looking at it, fleetingly, shakily through those twin lenses before it alit from its perch and flew off was thrilling in the most peculiar and liberating way. I felt an untapped primal instinct swell within me, something akin to the urge to collect but freed of all the proprietary and fetishistic trappings of ownership. An abstract transaction occurred in that moment, a proofless deed declared and filed away. It was completely impermanent, and completely out of my control and in its wake I detected another unexpected sensation: I was grateful.

So I get birdwatching now.

Posted by David Lowery at 1:22 PM

July 6, 2011

Editing Notes

I will edit your movie. I'll edit it well. I'll make good choices and do everything in my power to pull your film into perfect realization. I'll fight down to the frame for its integrity. You may not agree with all of my instincts, but I'll argue my case if I feel it's warranted before letting you make the final decision. And when we watch the cut and make notes, I will write things like

Adjust noise in scene with the trees.
and sometimes, I might actually know what I was talking about afterwards, even if just about every scene in the movie has trees in it.

The above is one of my favorite jottings from a rough cut screening of the film I've been cutting this summer. I am not a good note taker. I come very close very regularly to not having the faintest clue what I'm talking about. It's also true that I'm not entirely reliable when it comes to remembering scene numbers, character names or even common descriptive words and syntax. And I find that practical continuity like clothing is often for the birds. But when it comes to finding the right shot to cut to, and holding on it for the right amount of time, I stand by what I bring to the table. And I love working with a director who'll challenge that and make me realize I was wrong. Or right. Or wrong again.

I was asked something in an interview recently that made me say that I'd be happy to spend the rest of my career as a filmmaker editing other people's movies. Being an editor doesn't make me any less a filmmaker. And I like it. Let me get behind the camera every five years and I won't complain. I'll still be making great stuff in between.

Posted by David Lowery at 11:45 PM

July 3, 2011



The press out of Cannes collectively illustrated a number of ecstatic moments in Nicolas Windig Refn's Drive: a kiss in an elevator, a death by boot heel, a 96 fps gunfight of distended consequence. There was one scene, however, which stuck out to me more than these as the perfect illustration of the distilled machismo style Refn was after. It takes place in a strip club, as Ryan Gosling's nameless hero is tracking down a lowlife who's done him wrong.

The first shot: from inside a dimly lit building, we see Gosling approaching the back door. He's wearing a rubber face mask, which lends his already oblique persona a few more degrees of anonymity. He is simply a Man at this point. In the foreground is a shapely young woman texting on her phone, her lingerie suggesting the type of establishment this might be. Gosling enters. She scarcely looks up from her phone as he passes her, nor does she bat an eyelash at the hammer he wields his hand.

The next shot: we follow Gosling into a faux-lush backstage dressing room, where he finds his prey amidst a congregation of strippers, all of them topless, most if not all of them sporting noticeable breast implants. Gosling doesn't waste a beat. He grabs the perp and lays into him with the hammer, crushing his hand. As this brutal violence plays out, the most striking aspect of the scene is the way the strippers don't respond. They simply watch, more bored than bemused, and in their stillness they create a frieze of exaggerated femininity that is the equivalent of Gosling's badass posturing. Their presence lends credence to his machismo; their fake tits balance out his own vacancy.

Refn repeatedly draws our attention to these attributes, particularly in the last shot of the sequence, when Gosling relinquishes his victim - alive, and with a message - and leaves the club. The camera starts with one of the women framing the left side of the image. As we follow Gosling's actions, follow his exit, the camera pushes past her, zooming over the exaggerated swell of her breast so explicitly that it almost becomes a part of the action, rather than just a topographic element of the composition. Were these ladies screaming, hiding, in peril or otherwise reacting, this shot and most of those preceding it would be leering and misogynist (see: Transformers 3). And perhaps it is leering, but Refn undercuts his more primitive instincts with something decidedly more auteurist. Later, when Gosling finally sweeps up Carey Mulligan and her mousy sweater in that elevator embrace, we're inclined to understand exactly what it is he's hanging onto, and why he's taken aback when she reacts in shock to what he does next: he's acting outside his natural composition.

Posted by David Lowery at 3:25 PM