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August 27, 2013

Bob & Ruth

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 13, 2013

ATBS Frames, Pt. 9


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

August 12, 2013

ATBS Frames, Pt. 8


I have two favorite scenes in the film, which I love above all the others and which, to me, are real and true moments in a movie that is all about posturing. This week, as we lead up to the release, I want to highlight a few frames from the one that very often sneaks ahead in my favor.

This first one can be glimpsed in the trailer. Bob Muldoon, grievously wounded, waves down an approaching car, driven by a young man on his way to Oklahoma, and hijacks his ride. It sets up what is, to me, the last scene of the movie. It's not literally the last scene, but I'll get to what I feel like it is in a moment.

We shot this on the second day of principal photography, our one day with the great Rami Malek, who plays Will. As written, Bob's truck breaks down and he waits there in the cab until he hears an oncoming vehicle, at which point he gets out and strides out to the middle of the road. This was supposed to take place at the crack of dawn. Given all the other material we had to shoot this day, it was going to be a race to get everything done within the window of daylight we had. Jay Van Hoy came up with the brilliant idea of having Casey leave his broken down truck and set off down the road on foot, allowing us to make a time jump to shortly thereafter, with the sun already up. This way we could give ourselves some leeway and shoot the bulk of the scene with the sun still up, and then back up and shoot the truck breaking down with the last few moments of dusk simulating dawn (it also nicely emphasized the immensity of Bob's drive to get back home, come hell or high water).

This breathing room was still quite slight, and as the sun dipped down, we all raced over to the piney road on which we were set to shoot. Although we'd initially planned on using some Steadicam here, we ultimately decided to do everything handheld, so that we could bounce from one setup to the next and hopefully merge a few into one (that never quite happened). After shooting so slowly and laboriously up until this point, it was a joy to suddenly be running and gunning. Our biggest delay was when we were descended upon by a cross-country bicycle race.

This was also the first time I got in trouble for moving something. I think I grabbed a lens case to get it out of the way and received a slap on the wrist. I know unions have rules for a reason, but that sort of thing drives me nuts.

This particular shot was, I believe, the second we got. A 3/4 following shot that resolves itself into the above composition when Casey turns around. It's one of those moments where an image just falls into place without any planning. I didn't think about it for another two weeks, but this turned out to be the perfect bookend to one of the shots early on in the film, when Bob surrenders at the farmhouse, raising one bloody hand in the air (his left hand, as the right would have been too overt of a Nick Cave reference, although I wasn't thinking about that at all at the time). Here, he makes the same gesture, in what is, ultimately, a second form of surrender.

Speaking of blood, I recall looking over the call-sheet for this shoot the night before and realizing with some degree of panic that I hadn't told Malgosia (our costume designer) that Casey needed to be shot up and bloodied in this scene. I ran over to her trailer to let her know, to which she she said something like "of course I know, it's in the script" and showed me the racks of wardrobe all pre-shot-up and drenched in blood. I had yet to realize the extent to which, if you write something, your crew makes sure it's taken care of. My naïveté knew no bounds in those days, and likely hasn't improved much since.

Casey had to get into this wardrobe (and push himself to a state of near death) for the picture car portion of this scene, then change clothes and clean up for a quick scene with Nate Parker (shot just as the day's thunderstorm was rolling in), and then take himself back to the point of expiry and re-drench himself in corny syrup. This was also the day he had to shave his beard, which we were debating keeping for the whole movie all the way up until just before the cameras rolled. It just looked so good.

I mentioned above that I'd explain why this scene with Bob and Will is, to my mind, the last scene of the movie. I will, but I think I'll save it for tomorrow's shot...

Posted by David Lowery at 1:58 AM

August 5, 2013

Intake 8/5/13


In Another Country - dir. Hong Sang Soo
Can't Hardly Wait - dir. Deborah Kaplan and Harry Elfont
Southland Tales - dir. Richard Kelley
Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters - dir. Ben Shapiro
The Canyons - dir. Paul Schrader


Farther Away - Jonathan Franzen

Posted by David Lowery at 6:03 AM

August 2, 2013

ATBS Frames, Pt. 7


I did a Q&A for a screening in Boston the other night, and an audience member commended the film for its moments of levity. This was wonderful to hear. The movie is a pretty dour tale, but I did try to put a little bit of humor in there where I could, and I'm always delighted to hear folks respond to it. This leads me to today's shot, which isn't funny per se but can stand to be discussed on comic terms.

This actually isn't one of my favorite shots in the movie. It's solid, and pragmatic, but the value in presenting it here is that it's an indication of my perspective on what matters in a story like this. During post production, as this scene was taking shape, a handful of folks suggested that I cut this shot out. If you haven't seen the film, this occurs during a tense scene in which Ben Foster's Deputy character finds out where Bob Muldoon is hiding and very nearly catches him. Bob escapes through the window in the nick of time - as evidenced above - and Deputy Wheeler finds something else in his stead that actually matters a whole lot more.

The note I received was strong, constructive and technically very correct. If we cut out the shot of Bob escaping, the scene becomes more suspenseful because when the Sheriff enters the room, you don't know if Bob (with whom we've been tersely intercutting throughout the lawman's approach) has managed to abscond or not. He might still be under the bed. It's a classic tension-building technique, and there was no reason why it wouldn't work and be an improvement.

Naturally, I ignored this note and defused the potential for that extra bit of suspense, and my reason was this: Bob jumping out the window makes me laugh. It's silly and clumsy, and was conceived to be so. There's nothing cool about the action, nor about the shot itself. In the new trailer for The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty, there is a jawdropping shot of Ben Stiller jumping off a roof and through a window a few stories below. That is an amazing jump. This is not, and its clunkiness was something that I found charming, and that mattered to me more than ratcheting up the tension. Clearly, my concerns haven't changed, as I'm spoiling the moment right here. I figured that if people were really concerned with whether or not Bob had managed to escape, they were watching the wrong movie.

To those audience members who do have such concerns, I apologize, and I hope you still feel you were watching the right movie in spite of my willful druthers. The funny thing about such hemming and hawing is that, in the grand scheme of this scene, the tension in this sequence is already so thick that whatever the excision of this shot would have added would have been but a modicum; conversely, the jump ultimately lasts for exactly one second - almost too quick to think about, much less laugh at. But in the exploded moment of it all, it's still funny to me, and the scene wouldn't have been the same without it.

On the technical side of things, we shot the jump in two ways on two separate nights. Once was with a stuntman, jumping onto a pad. The second was with Casey himself. I asked him how he did his jump from the boulder in Gerry - another hilarious pratfall from a great height! - and we ultimately did exactly the same thing. It worked just fine, although in the finished film we used a combination of the two methods.

This scene takes place outside Sweetie's bar, the amazing location for which was found by Jade Healy after scouring every juke joint in town. The building was 100 years old, and it had an abandoned grocery store on the first floor and an active Masonic lodge on the second. It fit our needs for the location to a spectacular T, except that it wasn't out in the middle of nowhere. The trees and foliage that surround the building in the finished film are matte paintings. I'm calling them matte paintings even though they were digital. One of my outstanding goals is to make a film with classic glass mattes. When I was little, I would study the work of Harrison and Peter Ellenshaw and Ralph McQuarrie and try to paint my own matte paintings, albeit with tempra paints, and on cardboard.

Posted by David Lowery at 4:12 AM

August 1, 2013

ATBS / Rooftop Films

Posted by David Lowery at 11:48 PM