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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 August 2, 2013 4:12 AM