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July 23, 2013

ATBS Frames, Pt. 2


atbs_screenshot_2.jpg

This shot existed in every iteration of the screenplay, described on the page exactly as we photographed it, as seen above. I love the image of someone emerging from the woods, dwarfed by the nature around them. Something about diminishing a character in a frame like this felt right for the story (especially since this image in effect represents a major plot point, and the movie is all about diminishing plot points). It's a rebirth of sorts for Bob Muldoon, but I also wanted him to feel like a ghost, like someone who is in a strange place where he doesn't belong.

We shot this on the first day of principal photography, on July 9th of last year. It was the last shot of the day, and we timed it out so that the light would be at just the right point in the sky. Naturally, that also meant we had very little time to get it. The shot is actually a dolly shot, which begins pulling back from the woods, very slowly, before Bob emerges, and then gradually drifts left to the blacktop once he climbs out of the gully and crosses the road. It was a very specific move, but it took a while to get it right. I remember our camera operator having trouble understanding what it was that we were trying to achieve; we had all just started working together and weren't speaking the same language yet. He kept trying to follow the action, or find some movement on Casey's part to motivate the camera's movements, which is technically the proper thing to do but which rendered a shot like this one pretty pedantic. Bradford explained to him that the move was its own thing, that it needed to be perfect unto itself, that it was what the shot was about and that this barefoot guy in the woods just happened to move through it. A far more precise way of describing it than the hand gestures that I was probably trying to use to say the same thing.

I don't know if we ever got it 100% perfect. The take in the film is the second to last one, and it's just about there, but there's a slight bump early in the shot. On the subsequent take, one of the picture cars broke down, and after that we were out of light. But it's 95% there. And you can hide camera bumps in sound design.

There was record-setting rainfall the night before we shot this (and a fair amount during the day as well), and so the location that was dry as a bone when we scouted it had suddenly become a swamp. You can't tell from the image, but Casey is standing almost knee deep in water here. The woods were completely flooded. Dutch, our AD, braved the waters first to make sure they were safe of detritus and snakes. The brown leaves that offset the green ones on the left side of the frame were a great example of art direction in the wild. We hauled that branch in there to give a splash of color and break up the muted green of everything else.

This image is one of only a handful that had a direct precedent in another movie. There's a shot in Apichatpong Aeerasethakul's Tropical Malady that is probably one of my favorite shots of all time, or at least one that's hung around my head and inspired me more than most. It's a wide shot. A group of soldiers march towards the jungle. They all gradually exit screen left. After they've vanished from the frame, the camera slowly, slowly begins to push forward towards the jungle wall. It's a shot of sheer intention, and so full of mystery that I never get tired of thinking about it. I feel like it's had a major impact on everything I've done for the past six or seven years, since seeing that movie for the first time.

A few second past the frame captured here, there is an overt reference to another source of inspiration, that being the music of Joanna Newsom, and the song Only Skin in particular.

Also: this shot kicks of another montage. For those who haven't seen the film, there are a lot of montages in it. But I don't like to call them that. We structured the film in movements, and this is the prelude to one of the major ones.

Posted by David Lowery at July 23, 2013 12:02 PM