Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Is Disney's The Lone Ranger the New Munchausen? - How Film History repeats itself.



Is The Lone Ranger the New Muthe New Mnchausen?
By Abel Diaz

Since I wrote the original ‘Defending The Lone Ranger’ video & article, I’ve had the chance to go back and rewatch The Mask Of Zorro (1998), from Ranger scribes Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio, as well as the Terry Gilliam cult favourite The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1989), the latter I had brought up in the aforementioned work. Like Zorro, Lone Ranger uses the backdrop of real historical events (the building of the Transcontinental Railroad) against a tale of adventure & derring-do, while also having villains abusing the land and people for monetary gain: in Zorro, the corrupt governor was secretly mining gold in order to buy California from the Mexican government, and then fearing reprisals, planned to blow up the mine, along with all the workers. In Ranger, Cole and Cavendish find a hidden vein of silver, thanks to young Tonto, and massacre the local Comanche to keep it secret. 


However, it is Munchausen that Verbinski’s film owes a larger debt to, and shares similar fortunes with. Much like Ranger, it was a troubled film, enduring a chaotic production with an ever fluctuating budget, and even when released, was met with indifference by the public (though Ranger got the shorter, and considerably more vitriolic, end of the critical stick), and it’s not remotely hard to see why: it’s a very oddball fantasy, meshing various fantasies, like Central European folklore, Ancient Roman myth and even a dash of science fantasy, all wrapped up with Gilliam’s unmistakably anarchic sense of humour, going from dark comedy & innuendo to bright, Looney Tunes-ian slapstick and sight gags. Sound familiar?

There are, of course, other elements: it too was marketed rather ineffectively, in part due to in-company tensions & changes over at Columbia, with the changing of studio heads trying to bury the film as it was viewed as a symbol of the old regime. This is akin to how the combined failure of Andrew Stanton’s John Carter (2012) and Disney’s acquisition of Marvel killed Ranger’s chances of being taken even remotely seriously by Disney executives, in spite of Bruckheimer & Verbinski cutting down budgets and salaries, as well as exorcising a number of costly elements from the script, such as werewolf cowboys and an overall stronger presence of the supernatural. The times had just changed. Furthermore, both feature bombastic, lively scores by respected composers (Zimmer and Michael Kamen, respectively) that become especially, almost indulgently, operatic during the last major action set piece, with Geoff Zanelli’s reworked William Tell Overture pumping up the last Train chase in Ranger, while Kamen’s blaring music adds even more to the already larger-than-life madness as the Baron and his men singlehandedly annihilate the Turkish invaders in all its cartoonish glory.


But, as important as all this background and neat little trivialities are, what else could honestly link the dark, quasi-satirical Western and the bright, eccentric tale of a German noble together? Well, let’s take a butchers’ at the story & themes: Much like Tonto, the Baron is an eccentric older man telling a story, or rather, performing on a stage to an audience, and each chapter of the tale takes on a different dimension and flavour, much like Tonto’s incorporation of elements from what's around him in the museum or when the boy points out an inconsistency. Also like Tonto, the Baron does incredible, if not outright, impossible things, such as sail to the moon, meet gods and even have friends with varying superpowers, such as superhuman strength, tempest breath and dead-accurate sharpshooting (he even has a white horse that can leap and run incredible distances, much like Silver). And then the child, here a girl called Sally, is often used as the anchor point of reality and any semblance of sense against all these fantastical elements, reminding the Baron of the gravity of their situation, and to stay focused on saving her town. The films even open with both mens’ respective worlds being put on display as public amusement; The Old West in a carnival museum, and the Baron’s life in the form of a rather lanky stage production, and them, in turn, responding to the distortions, though Munchausen is considerably more vocal and upset about the play’s portrayal of his life as pure fiction, and takes more direct control compared to Tonto, who tells the story as more of a response to the boy’s doubts about the legitimacy of the Ranger than any need to correct the present belief.


And as for the thematic, both very much partake in an oddball skewering of ‘the Establishment’ and ‘the accepted view’, with Ranger jabbing at American History and the grand myth of the West, while Munchausen, much like Gilliam’s Brazil (1985), looks at the sometimes absurd mindsets of people in power, and how the power of individual imagination can stand up to that and aim for more in life than just the same, regulated, sanctioned and tame existence that those in authority would like us to lead, and in this case, inspire others, even when all hope seems non-existent. And to a certain extent, both contrast fantasy, in effect, an older world view & belief, with the need for progress and modernity, though this is more prominent in Ranger than in Munchausen, the world of ‘mysticism’ and Native Americans being cast out, even wiped out in battle, in favour of change symbolised by the Railroad’s construction and the new Industrial Age of Steel and Steam. In Munchausen, the town’s representative, played by Jonathan Pryce, is sort of like a computer, seeing everything in terms of logic and a sort of human mathematics, tossing out battle plans for ‘complexity’ and executing a heroic soldier because they do not ‘fit in’ with his design of the world and the mundane lives the townsfolk should lead. The Baron’s eccentricity and the inspiration he imparts onto the people threatens this careful balance in his mind, and thus he tries to take any opportunity to silence this sudden burst of ‘wild light’, this ‘new thought’ or ‘mood’ among his people, whether it be shutting down the play, shooting down the Baron’s balloon, or even ultimately trying to assassinate the Baron.


However, it is where the two deviate that becomes really interesting: in Munchausen, the story proves to be real and the Turks are destroyed, freeing the town. In Ranger, however, though Cavendish and Cole are dead, and the stolen silver is buried at the bottom of the local river, the heroes haven’t really made that great of a difference: the Comanche are still dead, the Railroad is still in operation and ultimately, progress continues, the populace ultimately none-the-wiser or aware of all the corruption and backstabbing, save for Cole’s attempted takeover, that was around them, and we see the after effects of that since the boy, and presumably the rest of the world, don’t know this darker side of the story, only the sanitized version of two men righting wrongs in the ‘Old West’. Furthermore, Ranger’s authenticity is more ambiguous, with Tonto’s final word to the boy being ‘Up to you’ when asked if it was real at all, reflecting the way myths and stories are created, as well as the known distortions of history in public consciousness, while Munchausen’s is ultimately true, humorously ironic as well as a little left-field considering the Baron’s image as an enormous liar, and his constant claiming that he never does so.

Wrapping up this affair, it’s always fun to see how history, especially cinema’s, has a wonderful habit of repeating itself in some shape or form, sometimes for the better (the constant attempt at reviving pirate films with the likes of Swashbuckler, Savage Islands and the especially infamous Cutthroat Island before Pirates of The Caribbean showed up) and well, sometimes for the worse (directors riding high on hubris then producing indulgent ego projects, like Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate, Verhoven’s Showgirls, Snyder’s Sucker Punch and most  recently, Burton’s Dark Shadows). In time, like Munchausen, I imagine Ranger will find its audience. It may not be flawless, nor does every single aspect work, but it’s a major motion picture unlike any other, pouring a sizeable budget into a strange blend of Sergio Leone and Tex Avery that, on paper, must’ve seemed more like an elaborate April Fools than anything. Regardless if you are among the many who reviled it, or the few who adored it, Verbinski and his team have created one of the most unique blockbusters in recent memory, and as Munchausen proved, things can change quite a bit in the aftermarket.

With that, thank you all for taking a read of my humble efforts, and well, till next time.

Yr2 Week 8 (Fri 6 Dec - Greenscreen induction)

Today, we had our induction for using Green-screen, though I had some past experience of using back in college, though it was only for tests and one short film that I helped out on. (The best part of that shoot was the actor who played the son of a cancer-stricken woman. His performance was just... well... 'outstanding'(!)).

Just to go over the basic ground rules:
  • Film the background first, as that will determine the lighting, a crucial part of the process.
  • Check the screen for any wrinkles, creases, discolouration, holes etc, otherwise the process will not work properly.
  • Turn off the Sharpen function on your camera, and film in the most uncompressed format you have. 
  • Use a colour reference, and film a clean plate to be completely safe and ensure optimal accuracy.
  • Beware motion blur and excessive movements. To combat this, carefully measure the positions needed for the scene. Also, frizzy hair can present an issue.
  • For any type of tracking shots, use markers and use a wide depth of field.
To hit these points home, we then did a test shoot in groups of 3. We used pampa lights for the background, and a spotlight for our actor. Then, doing all the aforementioned procedures, we shoot a quick few seconds of footage, and then this was imported into the nearby computer where we were quickly shown how to do the basics (using the Keying option to remove the background after using the eyedropper to select a specific colour in the image to remove).

And well, that was that. As I said, this served more a refresher on my greenscreen skills, as I had done them before, though this was considerably more sophisticated, as well as the screens and room being larger than my past experiences. Though I myself have no immediate plans for using this tech, I feel confident enough in the basics to be able to pull it off to a satisfactory degree should it ever be needed.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Yr2 Week 8 (Thurs 5 Dec - Producing & Directing - Meet with David)

This is going to be very brief, as it was, effectively, a more dialed down, swear-free version of what we had gone through before with Eddie, only this time, with David i.e. paperwork, plans, lists, when we shoot, how we will shoot etc.

David seemed A-Ok with it all, in his typically benevolent Candian manner, and well, we all hope for the best come Saturday for the shoot. As I have seen from my work in Innovation, even the best laid plans can go TRULY astray, and tempers will probably flare. Let's just keep praying...

Yr2 Week 8 (Wed 4 Dec - Producing & Directing seminar & Film and Innovation)

No classes on Tuesday due to strike action.

For the morning seminar with David Heinemann, we looked at how a novel can be adapted into a screenplay. We began with an exercise where we read an exceprt from an opening scene (between two men on a train in Texas) of a then unnamed novel, and figure out all the important details. Some of the observations made included the following:
  • Older man is getting divorced but his wife is pregnant.
  • He is headed to Metcalf.
  • Meets a drunken younger man, Bruno, who is enroute to Santa Fe.
  • Older man does not think highly of the somewhat odd Bruno, who keeps trying to get into conversation with him.
Then, to look at what the visual imagery/directorial cues were/could be:
  • Train travelling across prairie, possible symbolism for the way life goes on and the possbility for a chnage/alteration in direction, much like the tracks.
  • The initials on his tie and his general clothing tells us the drunken Bruno could be of a wealthy background.
  • We may use narration or rework the conversation to disclose the men's problems and background.
  • Their differing behavior tell the audience about their class/social standing/view of each other.
After, David revealed the scene in question came from the 1950 book Strangers on a Train, which legendary film maker Alfred Hitchcock later turned into a film in 1951 (and recently, is being restaged as a play in London). We then looked at the same scene in Hitchcock's film, and made note of how he did it:
  • Opens with taxis pulling into a station, and the first sign of class difference is illustrated with tracking cameras on the men's shoes.
  • Furthermore, their faces are not show, creating a sort of suspense and intrigue about who they are.
  • They meet at the same time, with Bruno being awake and sober, but he still initiates the conversation.
  • They have lunch together, where Bruno proposes the plan for the double murder.
  • The other man is not an architect like in the novel, but rather a major tennis star who is marrying a senator's daughter.
Once done with that, we took a look at how British critic Robin Wood dissected this scene during a retrospective book on the works of Hitchcock. Wood has a very detailed writing style, and pretty much goes over the entire sequence scene by scene, pointing a lot of minor details that do indeed come together to form up/reinforce the film's themes and ideas. He also does comparisons and reference to other films to note how well/differently this film goes about its business.

Moving on to Helen's presentation, me and Hanna presented it, having posted it up the previous night and gone over the details. Our idea was for an apocalyptic government simulator, where you make gigantic decisions about the survival of a ruined world, and your choices could affect the lives of millions across the globe, making decisions about health, food, business, politics etc. You would be presented with a selection of options on the screen, and then  from there, your choices dictated what would happen next, popularity, civil unrest, warfare etc.

The feedback was that. though the idea was liked, further explorations about the morality, and the consequence heavy style of gameplay could be taken further, but also questions about how visceral and grim it should, and how it was aimed at. However, we pointed out the incredibly troubled development of this project, and all the things that had been going wrong in our group, so as to clarify certain unclear/underthought aspects. But we stool the criticism onboard, and felt much the same ourselves upon reflection, though alas, Lady Luck was not on our side this time (and its not much better on Guy's project either, in all frankness). Even the best laid plans can still go awry...

Speaking of which, my group for that, including Hana, had a quick meet after, and decided to fast track everything, posting up research by Friday on the FB group to help stimulate idea generation/refreshment.

Yr2 Week 8 (Mon 2 Dec - Screenwriting the Short Film)

Much like last week, both sessions were devoted towards revising and testing out scripts. The feedback for mine, the noir-slapstick farce Eye in The Shadows, was good, praising it for its wild & cartoonish humour, but there was a definite concern about to what extent I was bringing much new to the table (one of the gags involved a falling piano. Funny, but not exactly original or groundbreaking), as well as some minor feeding back on spelling and organizational errors. In all frankness, I was relieved that the script was working and generating laughs, but I certainly see the validity of the main criticism, and 'll try to go back and retool it so it feels a little fresher, but still have that 40s cartoon/slapstick vibe.

On a side note, I tried to have a meeting today for the interactivity presentation with Gergo and Hana, since the group was split for practicality, but due to Hana's family tragedy and Gergo's own private problems, I had to batten down and finish up the presentation for Helen, taking what we had discussed beforehand, and stringing that together. You'll know more in Wednesday's update.

Yr2 Week 7 (Fri 29 Nov - Pro Tools workshop)

Returning to DMW2, we looked at the program Pro Tools today, which is used for sound editing in a more comprehensive and detailed manner than what's available on most normal editing programs like FCP. Some the basics include:
  • The Bit depth refers to the dynamic range of the sound, measured in decibels (db). The ideal, for our needs i.e. DVDs is 144db/24 bit.
  • Last year, during sound induction, we discussed the sample rate (recording speed for sound), so just as a quick refresher, the ideal is x2 in hertz/kilohertz the needed i.e 20khz - 40khz. 48khz is the ideal for film.
  • I/O setting sin the program should be set to stereo mix (two channels), not mono (one).
  • The settings save together with the document in the program, unlike, say, FCP or other editing software.
Moving onto the program itself, the bar near the top left of the screen held the main controls for editing, including Zoom (do I have honestly have to say what it does?), Trim (this program's 'Blade'), Select (again, pretty blatant), Grabber and Scrubber (this is used to check for pops, clicks and other faults). Next to the toolbar is a box with four tabs displaying different modes in the program, such as Shuffle (The audio moves together when edited/cut), Grid (keeps the distance, but ensure supreme, on-frame accuracy) and Slip (which allows a clip to dropped anywhere). For even more detailed and specific controls, you can open up the sound mixer via Audiosuite.To export sound, be sure to have no track muted, have the correct range selected, and to select 'Bounce'. Good conversion is essential when going from one program to the other.

To close off, it was certainly a mouthful, and I'l probably need a refresher/another hands-on to fully acclimatise myself to all the functions, since sound is not my strong point, and I'm more used to mere volume adjustments when editing, but these are important skills to learn and elements to be aware, since they often make an invaluable difference between good and putrid films.

Friday, 13 December 2013

Yr2 Week 7 (Thurs 28 Nov - Producing & Directing adaptation update - Meet with Eddie)

So, after compiling all our paperwork for the adaptation short together into a portfolio (I assisted Jack with the shot list and shooting script), we presented ourselves to Eddie for a talk before we began shooting the following week. His thoughts?

  • Poor treatment, with no mention of distribution, demographic or any specifications aside from synopsis.
  • Due to printing hiccups, our schedule was shrunk to a size that Eddie felt was unreadable.
  • Not enough time for proper editing and all the required stages, since we should have at least two weeks but condensed it down a lot.
Aside from that, though, he seemed fine with our whole shebang, and was less vocal than normal, so at least we didn't come out too scathed fortunately!

Yr2 Week 7 (Wed 27 Nov - Film and Innovation)

Taking a substitute lecturer today (though he had experience with interactive media, talking about past collaborations he had done with Helen and the university), we returned to the subject of interactivity, specifically narrative strategies. Frankly, how could new media transform the way we take in stories was the igniting question:
  • Non-Linearity, affecting in what order and when we come into contact with certain information about world, characters or plot.
  • Locative (Location, time, date), affecting when we may or may even not come into contact with the aforementioned information, depending on where we are (say there's a clue on a specific tree related to the mystery, and furthermore, that clue is in a certain ink that only shows under a certain type of sunlight).
  • Evolving Tech, always allowing us new possibilities for experimentation and trials, each time expanding a little further and further out there in what we can build and what the player/viewer can experience. The boom of the internet and portable tech like tablets and Ipads has given a tremendous boost to such thing in the past few years.
Furthermore, even with fancy gadgetry, what would be the design and development needed to create such ideas? Well:
  • The writer is crucial, otherwise the world, characters and general 'hook' created will not be sufficient to entice people to interact and engage.
  • Trials and testing - no matter how good you may think it is, always keep testing and testing, ironing out bugs and perhaps even discovering new tricks and ideas for extra bonuses/features for the player. Programming also ties into this.
  • Recording/Editing the material, ensuring maximum quality, but also considering the aforementioned possibilities and experiments.
  • Narrator? Paths? Characters? Style? What is the user generated aspect, if any? All of these, even when in development, must be constantly fine tuned and perfected, and they each bleed into one another, as well as offer reasons for further, if not actual, replaying.
We also briefly discussed the concept of the 'storyshape' (a circular model that showed the boundaries of the main elements, with the 'space' being the center, while outside dictated when the player entered and exited.) And then we quickly returned to main concept of interaction, and questions about the level of control/manipulation that a player should have, though this has been mentioned and talked about in past weeks. And well, that's a wrap for the day. Next week is the presentation, so I'll be pulling the team together for a final 'check' on ideas, and what we will go with for our proof-of-concept.

Yr2 Week 7 (Tues 26 Nov - Producing and Directing)

In today's screening, we watched the documentary The Kid Stays In The Picture, based on the autobiography of Hollywood producer Robert Evans, responsible for the revival of Paramount in the late 60s and early 70s, and greenlit cinematic opuses like Chinatown, The Godfather, Love Story and Rosemary's Baby. However, drug scandals in the 80s, and the lackluster performance of films like Robert Altman's Popeye and Coppola's The Cotton Club, brought his golden days to end.

The film is narrated by Evans, who brings this sort of well-worn, darkly humorous edge, often making self deprecational cracks about himself and some of the errors he made, but he has an energy to him, and a sense of bitter sweetness to his tone and writing, of someone who has lived this important and vibrant life, yet has regrets and lamentations, which gave this documentary a lot more heart and vibrance than your standard biographical fare.

After, in the seminar, we discussed more his background (He started as an actor, came from a business family, was offered to be a studio head by the owners of Paramount) and the time in which he worked (The New Hollywood, where directors had more control than ever before, and in which, standard conventions and acceptances were thrown out or pushed to one side). We talked about all of this in relation to our past discussion of the role of producer, given how much Evans gave in leeway to his directors, and how he gave the green light to a lot of unlikely projects/took chances, which is what, sometimes, one has to do in this business, both to prevent stagnation, but also to test one's mettle.

In closing, Evans was an incredibly fascinating figure, both for his achievements (as discussed before) and in his failures (Popeye is probably one of the most unusual family film, taking on a surreal aspect and aesthetic, bolstered by its sometimes schizophrenic songs). His career highlights offer a challenge to any one of us who wants to have a shot at film history, but his missteps warn us to be wary about our image, PR and relationship strength with those around us.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Yr2 Week 7 (Mon 25 Nov - Screenwriting for the Short Film)

Well, today marked the beginning of the midday workshop, replacing the morning lecture from past weeks. It's fairly straightforward: bring in your script/scenes thus far, read them, using classmates to play certain roles, and get feedback. And the Seminar now effectively served as a continuation of this, for those who did attend this specific workshop or came in late and could not share. Frankly, I don't have much to say personally, since we ran out of time on both occasions before we could get to mine.

That doesn't mean I went without any sort of thought: aside from some minor spelling errors, produced mainly due to my mind thinking and creating faster than my fingers can type, a recurring problem since childhood, I did feel the opening sequence showing the main character's backstory as an 'ordinary Joe' before he becomes a private eye-wannabe didn't mesh tonally with the Noir/Looney Tunes hybrid that I wrote the script of. So I scrapped it, and just went straight into the noir-style narration, squeezing in some of the background info as he began his speech over a vista of the city. Plus, I thought up of a new gag, involving an overweight cake delivery man, an uneven table and a large wedding cake (the joke should be self-explanatory). We'll see if that can be worked into future drafts, though the practical nature is a very different story!

Yr2 Week 6 (Fri 22 Nov - Grading & DVD Studio Workshops)

Starting at 2, we began with the workshop on Colour grading in DMW2. What is it exactly: measureable adjustment of colour within a picture, often done to broadcast safely, as well as correct errors during photography, or some other issue like wrong lighting, shadows, stylistic reasoning such as atmosphere/mood etc.

Some of the main elements when it comes to this part of editing center around the white and black points in an image (the extremes, and the many shades of grey between them that make up tone).  The wider apart they are, the higher the contrast levels in the image. Over exposure is no good either, since it will 'crush' the blacks in the image.

The way we can avoid either scenario is two fold: 1)use objects in the scene as colour references to ensure it looks right and 2) when in the editing programme (Final Cut Pro in this case), use the scopes in the Color Correction option to check over the levels. The scope involved include, most importantly, the Waveform (which deals with broadcastable colour, as well as the white balancing) and the Vectorscope (which, as its name implies, deals with the tones and saturation of the colours). The program DaVinci Resolve can do this beforehand, and allows more specificity and option when adjusting the colours (as well as a 3-way colour adjuster made up of wheels, it also allows you to change specific colours within the scene (the yellow of a glove, the blue of a cup, the pink of hat etc.) and ensure that, regardless of where the object moves, the new adjustment goes with it.

With that done, a quick break was taken, and at 4, we took the workshop for DVD Studio Pro in the same room: this was for Helen's project, exploring interactive possibilities.  Some of the basic ground rules when making any DVD here include:
  • Our video standard is PAL (which covers mainly Europe), as opposed to NTSC (America) and SECAM (Asia).
  • Setting it to SD (Standard Definition) DVD as opposed to HD DVD (Blu-ray or the titular defunct format) for pretty clear and dry reasons.
  • Video used should ideally be MPEG (Usually MPEG2) and the audio AIFF/AC.3.
As for the program itself, it offers timelines for video and audio (which can hold 9 video tracks and 8 of audio in total, as well as 32 subtitles) as well as a visualizer to show the 'mapping' of the video(s) to the menu(s). To import a video file after working on it in FCP, it should be compressed down to PAL (720X576 - the resolution). Moving onto designing the menu, the 'Palette' option enables you to select templates, as well as the button shapes (this also allows 'Easter Eggs to be made' with aid of a marker on the chosen video track for the button to pop up. Markers also allows for the creation of chapters, which can be linked back to the 'Scene Select' option common on nearly all DVDs, though is is done in FC beforehand).

And well, that covers that. Really, it was a fairly brief affair, though it certainly opens up a lot of possibilities, especially the way easter eggs can be created, for how someone can interact with a DVD, which gives me some creative leeway in how I can take/alter the experience, or what things I can let the viewer experience. As for colour grading, it isn't much news to me, given my past experience with FCP, but it was an engaging refresher that helped me reinforce my skills a bit and remind myself of all the components.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Yr2 Week 6 (Thurs 21 Nov - Producing and Directing workshop)

Today made for one of the more fun sessions I've had in a good while: today, we looked at how actors prepare for a role/performance. We quickly looked at how the methodology for the process has evolved, from the basic guidelines set our by Moscovite Constantin Stanislavski, who brought in the importance of psychological realism, and this method was brought over to America by people such as Lee Strasburg in the early 20th century, where it evolved into what is known as the 'American Method', popularised by the likes of Brando, Hoffman, Streep and many other during the mid to latter part of the century, which very much focused on the idea of really immersing oneself into the part and becoming the character (DeNiro famously became a cabbie for a while to prepare for Taxi Driver).

Elements involved when one prepares for a role include the following:
  • Reading through the script thoroughly
  • Find the character's 'Before Time'/backstory
  • What are their objectives/superobjective?
  • The actions the character takes (I kill, I eat, I berate, always in 1st person)
  • The character's spine, thoughts, body language and expressions
  • Costumes/props needed
  • Research, if the character has a set profession (chef, school teacher, geologist, athlete etc.)
  • Emotional Memory (channel your own relevant experiences into the character) & Sense memory (The taste, smell, feel etc. of a place/situation)
  • Inner obstacle (what is it that prevents the character from getting what they truly want)
With all that in our minds, we then split into groups of four, with two performing a scene from a play while the other two direct, to be staged later in class: I and Pat directed, while Andrew and Ineta were our actors, playing out a scene involving a dissatisfied young man and a pregnant girl in an apartment. We went out to an open space on the second floor of the Grove building, and we began to rehearse, going over the script once together before we began to build on it and get real emotion and energy out of our actors, making corrections to things like postures, expression, intensity of reaction and volume of voice as the situation changed and increased/decreased in drama and tension.

Though we did not get a chance to perform it due to limited time, I had a lot of fun with the exercise, and it really gave me a chance to flex my dramatic muscles in a good long while: I mostly focused on Ineta and getting her to have the right sort of behavior befitting a somewhat spoiled, self confident teenager on the run, while Pat worked more with Andrew, who was frankly living a miserable existence and feuded with his own father. She was very very open to suggestions and changes, which made my life easier as I could then tweak the performance as much as needed to make it work and not have to deal with ego or pomposity or sass from her.

Yr2 Week 6 (Wed 20 Nov - Producing and Directing/Film and Innovation)

For the morning seminar on Producing and Directing, we followed on from yesterday and talked about performance styles, and how they have changed over the years as film has changed: we began by looking a an excerpt from Hammer's Horror of Dracula, when Lucy is staked. The class felt that the performance of her boyfriend (played by a young Michael Gough) felt more suited for the stage, taking on a stilted, almost mechanical aspect as he waited for his next line to deliver, and melodramatically moving his body around in a needlessly exagerrated manner.

Moving on in film history, we then looked at a scene from The Exorcist, specifically, one of the first major scenes detailing Regan's possession. We noted how there was a greater immediacy and more reactionary approach to the performances, which for the most part, meshed well with Friedkin's more grounded, realistic shooting aesthetic. I say most part, since the mother screamed in a somewhat more theatrical, overdone manner compared to the mere shock of the others.

Then, we looked a French offering from a while back, Bruno's Dumont's Haddovitch, which dealt with a former nun interacting with a group of Arab men in a Parisian cafe. While it lacked the stylisation of the other two, mostly being done in one long, continuous mid shot, we noted that the actors often made little gestures/fidgets with their fingers and hand, looked off camera slightly and other little moments of minor movement, which is probably the most realistic out of the performances viewed thus far, since in real life, we often fidget or make little gestures and movements when we speak and interact with, as opposed to standing still like Dracula from earlier.

We also took brief glimpses at the found footage grandaddy, The Blair Witch Project (where most of the performance had to be carried by the face and delivery, since it was at night time and the camera was zoomed in very close) and notorious 90s schmaltz-fest Jerry Maguire, where we noted a definite 'falseness' to the perforamnces of Zellweger and Cruise, lacking those little gestures mentioned aforehand and really tailoring themselves more to the needs of the script and situation (what David calls 'Indicating') than realism.

After, in Film and Innovation, we took a look at Non-linearity and how that can be applied to storytelling, and we did this, in our respective groups, making up spider diagrams/brainstorms to outline all the elements, possibilities and choices that such a method affords us: First, we took a crack at the tale of Little Red Riding Hood, and how that could be made interactive and play with plot progression. Our idea - make it a sprawling RPG, giving you the option of multiple paths by which to reach Grandma's house, and whether or not, or how soon, you come into contact with the Wolf, and this in turn, could affect the familiar ending.

Then, we looke dat how a memoir/biography could be done in this way. Our idea this time - choice bsed, so that depending on where you went in the house, a different type of accident would befall you (based one ach of our own true experiences), ranging from sending a cat to its death, to get trousers yanked off by a bike or falling through an icy pond etc.)

Once done there, we then really got down to discussing ways in which, when put into practice, how might we present a non-linear narrative, and get players engaged:
  •  Playing with dynamics of choice and order, as mentioned before.
  • How instructions are implemented to progress (diegetic or non-diegetic, depending on how immersed you want the player to be).
  • What are the parameters/means of navigation if you make such a sprawling and varied tale?
  • The use of easter eggs (little secrets) to entice exploration and possible repeat visits/playthroughs.
And with that. we capped off the day. Frankly, today was pretty straightforward, and I can't really evaluate much since I'm already familiar with differing performance styles thanks to my background as a film critic, and non-l;linearity is a concept I'm already familiar with, and the session served more as an amusing refresher than illuminating new concepts.


Thursday, 5 December 2013

Yr2 Week 6 (Tues 19 Nov - Producing and Directing + Adaptation update)

My team for the adaptation project had a quick meet, and ironed out the following details for the coming week:
  • Do a recce at the flat we had chosen as a location.
  • Take care of lighting and lighting tests.
  • Arrange future trials, tests and runthroughs.
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Moving along. in the lecture today, we watched the seminal horror classic, William Friedkin's The Exorcist, a stark and almost realistic look at the possession of a young girl by a demon, and the attempts to cast it out. From the aforementioned aesthetic, often taking on a dimmed, dulled hue, to the groundbreaking effects that still look solid to this day, to the sparingly used by really effective and unnerving score, The Exorcist is a ciompelling watch, though now scary less because of the possession itself, and more because the film treats the whole affair more like a medical drama than supernaturalo horror. Really, if you cut out the opening in Iraq witrh Merrin, the film could play as a story about a girl with a seemingly incurable disorder, and the failed efforts of the medical professionals of the day, to deal with that.

With that done, we took a look into the film's quite hectic production history: based off the novel by William Blatty, which in turn was sort of based on a real case from 1949, the rights were sold to Warner Bros, who at first, let producer Paul Monash takes the reins, but he wanted major changes and was ousted, leaving Blatty to take on the job of bringing it to the screen. He brought on Friedkin, a notorious maverick whom Blatty admired, but made Blatty retool the screenplay to suit his tastes and wants, drifitng away from the novel's heavy theological element.

Once into production, things did not get any better, with Friedkin often putting the actors through actually physical hardships, like refrigerating the set to create the effect of demonic power during the exorcism sequence, or throwing the actresses about on wires. And frankly, inexperienced and out of his element, Blatty had no power to stand up to Friedkin, and this led to budget increases and schedule overruns. And then, once completed and edited, Friedkin then changed the film some more after taking advise from a friend, which upset Blatty, taking out about 15 minutes.

Despite all this, the film was a massive success, coming out during a turbulent time of youth revolt and uprising post Nam and nearing Watergate in the early 70s, which the film's nature and behavior of the young girl seemed to reflect in all its vulgarity and anger.

And so, that closes off today. Not much to say other than The Exorcist was pretty damn good as discussed above, though the possessed girl definitely elicited more laughs than screams, and all of the history perfectly complements the film itself, and it would've been a far bigger shock than anything in the film is it was a far smoother production.

Yr2 Week 6 (Mon 18 Nov - Screenwriting the Short Film & Production update)

Today's morning lecture was to be, in fact, our last, as from next week onwards, we would have workshops at a later hour instead (the regular seminars, however, carry on). Anyway, for this swansong, we looked at going from a treatment to a script.

We looked some of the core elements and that make up this transition, and how they can be done effectively. We started with 'the Scene', a dramatic unit where something happens/changes. To illustrate, we looked a scene ABOUT a scene from the 1976 adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Last Tycoon, where a studio executive (DeNiro) shows a writer (Pleasance) how to do a scene in film, describing a scene from a mystery involving someone finding a woman's black gloves (creating a sense of suspense/use of a 'Chekov's'). Another example used, this time more centered on dialogue was from a more recent effort, David Fincher's The Social Network (written by Aaron Sorkin), where our main character, Mark Zuckerberg, is talking to a girl, and ends up being dumped by him. During the conversation, Zuckerberg is speaks fast, throwing out a lot of information/answers to the girl's questions, leaving her sometimes befuddled and confused, and to an extent, also speaks with contempt, especially when he claims that she asked him what 'School would be the easiest, not the best, to get into' and she retorts by pointing out his almost mechanical nature. Being the opening scene, this instantly tells a lot about who Zuckerberg is/behaves without him having to state anything outright.

On the note of dialogue, an important aspect also brought up was never to 'write on-the-nose', where someone says what they mean overly plainly since 1) this is not how people usually speak, thus taking away credibility and believability, and 2) it detracts from possible 'Subtext'. In terms of writing, subtext can be divided up as four elements: The Physical (Where is it), The Personal (what is unsaid in a relationship between characters), The Political (the power relations/the hierachy/who is stronger) and The Thematic (how does this scene fit into the rest of the film's theme). Let's look at an example: in Billy Wilder's much beloved 1955 offering The Apartment, there is a scene where Jack Lemmon's character is summouned to his boss' office, believing he might be in for a promotion. However, his boss has gotten wind of his activities (giving away the key to his apartment to fellow employees to do 'private business') and grills him about it. In the end, he asks Lemmon for the key.

Some of the subtext to be drawn from this scene centers mainly on the Political (Lemmon is viewed with a sense of contempt by his superior, and at first, seems to be in complete control, and smashes down Lemmon's excuses). However, the scene was brought up more for use in an exercise for another important element when discussing scripts: 'Changes/shifts' within scenes, where expectations and thoughts can be subverted for different effects. We were paired up and given the aforementioned scene from The Apartment, and asked to look at the changes, and then to do some actioning (what is the character's superobjective/grand want, and then what are the objectives within the scene):
  • Lemmon's S.O is for a promotion, while his objective within the scene is to, seemingly, not get fired.
  • The Boss' S.O is to acquire the key, and his objective is to really drill into his employee and coax it out of him.
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In between sessions, my team for the Adaptation short had a quick meeting where we set on the filming date as being for the 7-8 December, and that would would have all the paperwork finished within the next two weeks.
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Moving along to the seminar, we got feedback for our our treatments: Mine was for a 1940s throwback short that mixed noir detective mystery with Three Stooges/Looney Tunes sight gags and slapstick. The class gave the consensus that, though funny, the ending was a bit conventional (the hero merely faints with disbelief at his own actions) and tone down the language used by an old lady during the first big setpiece, where our lead gets clobbered by her for seemingly being a peeping tom, to keep it more tonally consistent.

After, we did a quick but hilarious exercise where, in groups of three, two of us had to read a newspaper and try and make observations that could be used later as story/dialogue potential/ideas, while the third would write them down. Some of the following cam up:
  • No staples hold it together, making the paper obtuse to handle.
  • Huzzah for all Eastern Europe!
  • TOO MANY ADVERTS!
  • The English are awful at football puns!
  • Is Lady Gaga truly a male? 
  • American do not comprehend British Humour
  • Horoscopes are innaccurate tripe
  • Boardwalk Empire is irritatingly slow!

And well, that about sums it all up; both the seminar and the lecture bleed into one another, giving a good overview of what is required, and how much thought must be taken, to truly make a script stand out and work to the best of its abilities, and the variety of ways, as shown above, that can be utilised to do so.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Yr2 Nov Reading Week (Fri 1 Nov - Editing Workshop)

Today, we had an editing workshop for Dual Screen Editing for Guy (Film Innov) in Final Cut. We began with a quick revision of the sidebar tools (Roll for decreasing/increasing the time in a clip, Ripple which slides the edit point around between clips (or can also be type in), Slip which shows the beginning/end of clips, and can move them without cutting/altering the others, and finally Slide, which does the same but does alter the others to accommodate the increased/decreased size of the selected clip).

With that refresher done, We took to doing some multi-camera/screen work, using footage from a review show (oh the irony!), Two Monkeys, which was discussing the 2011 sci-fi western Cowboys & Aliens (and before any inquiry, no, I do not care for this one as much as Lone Ranger. It wasn't a terrible film, and had its moments of fun action and some amusing jokes, but was very paint by numbers in its script and directing). Here, we synced up the sounds of the clapperboard to each clip, and then cemented all three in Modify>Multi Clip, the result all playing in perfect union. Then, to cut to different shots, we marked the in point/out point, and then dragged that over to the second screen until another sidebar came up, and we dragged into there and voila. Done. I' actually surprised how straight forward it is, given that I assumed it would be a little more complex and perhaps would require some other kind of function/option on the programme, or even a crossover with another programme, but nope.

Another quick trick shown was that, by pressing Alt & clicking wice on a Sequence you could then having FCP play that as its own video, and then drag that to the right, again, and turn it into its own proper video. Again, I was relieved and surprised at how simple and straightforward it was, given how much Technobabble there can sometimes and how, if one is not full accustomed to/experienced, it can be easy to get a little lost, even with notes.

And well, that was that. The only other real comment of note to make was that there were only about four other people with me in the class, which, though it made tings quieter and more relaxing, was pretty surprising since this is something that we need for later in the course, and the fact that a a number of my peers can be so lax about is a little concerning.

Yr2 Nov Reading Week (Mon 11 Nov - Production Meeting/update - Producing and Directing)

Okay, today was fairly sort, so I'll get to the brass tacks: we met up in the Grove building, and got to talking about what we needed to do next to get our production off the round, now that Jack had gone back and reworked the script of Curious Dog:
  • Once he script was finalized, we would begin to storyboard it.
  •  Do a location scout of the flat we intended to use for our lcoation (belonging to Jesper, Alex and Harry), and work out floor plans.
  • Get on with casting, posting on the relevant websites who we needed and when (We would need a young boy circa late teens for our lead, and a woman to be the voice of his mother in flashback. The father had already been cast thanks to Jack utilizing an old contact.)
  • Future meetings would go over other details once all the basics were in place (props, food, risk assessments, costuming etc.)

Yr2 Week 5 (Thurs 7 Nov - Producing and Directing workshop)

Today was centered on 'Director's Homework', the planning and thought that goes into directing before we even think about shooting. In a nutshell, its the detective work that a director must do to do full justice to the screenplay he is given. Below are the steps and elements that must be considered, if we are to effectively and thoroughly, understand what the script is conveying:
  • Read the script inside and out, leaving nothing untouched.
  • Find the film's 'spine' - the main action that drives the piece.
  • Find the character 'spine' - what is their superobjective/end goal
  • Find 'the want' - what is the immediate objective in a scene
  • Find the 'Actions' - active/action verbs and transitives, like 'to greet'
  • Find the 'Activities' -  What does someone do/interact i.e. light a cigarette, shake a hand etc.
  • The Circumstances - where did the characters come from, and what are the expectations for them when going towards the next scene
  • Acting Beats - Each new action is another beat
  • Narrative Beats - the stylistic choice that highlights the theme of the piece
  • Dramatic blocks - each time the overriding idea changes, its another block
  • Fullcrum - The moment when things can go either way.
To try and understand some of these better (I myself never go into the this much detail when I normally direct, keeping more towards the practical side while also having a general understanding of the overall themes of the piece) we went off in groups and examined a scene from Alfred Hitchcock's Notorious (19) and see if we could find all of these pieces. Frankly, the exercise was problematic, since I struggled, not because I didn't understand, but because some of them (such as actions and activities) tended to blend together and have similar meanings, and it wasn't until I saw the scene that it came together and I could say 'okay, now I see the difference between this and that'.

During Reading Week, we were to read the next 3 chapters of 'Directing', as well as get cracking with our individual productions. Really, I can't say much as a conclusion, since I voiced my main issue above, but I'm sure with time and practice, I'll adjust. I suppose part of my difficulty with comes from my background in standard media, where there's often a 'get on with it, and on time too' mentality, which doesn't always lend itself to the more artistic side of the film medium, but again, that will probably change.

Also, just as a reminder/refresher, my team is me, Jack, Tara and Patrick. Just to be on the safe side.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Yr2 Week 5 (Wed 6 Nov - Producing and Directing seminar & Film and Innovation)

In our P&D seminar, we talked over our treatments for the 4 minute short film with David & the class, and got feedback from it. Ours was Jack's idea for an adaptation of an early segment from The Curious Incident of The Dog in the Night Time, where our protagonist, a young boy, searches for his diary, and ends up coming across hidden letters from his mother. The class seemed fine with the idea, but felt that it needed trimming down in order to work for the limited time (the motivation for why he's searching for the diary being a major point of issue). Furthermore, we mentioned details of the possible execution (using text on screen to highlight important details and the boy's abnormal thought process ala BBC's Sherlock) and these were immediately panned as unworkable and bordering on spoonfeeding/info-dumping/cheap afterthoughts, as was the possibility of using splitscreen during a scene with the boy reading one of the letters, and having his mother appear on screen alongside him, writing it.

Later, in the seminar with Helen on F&I, we continued on the discussion of interactivity with arguably the most famous example of interactive entertainment: games. The subject inherently brings up the question of Cudology (playing, participating) vs Narratology (the narrative), and whether the two can find a happy medium, or always be polar opposites. This debate, speaking a gamer myself, has gained a lot of stem in the last decade, with a number of franchises taking on whole worlds and mythologies as opposed to cut and dry levels to beat (Mass Effect, Final Fantasy, Assassin's Creed, Kingdom Hearts, Warcraft, The Elder Scrolls etc.) and recent games like Bioshock Infinite and Beyond Two Worlds have received stellar praise for their writing and characters (the latter utilizing motion capture to get a direct performance out of the actors for the game).

But, casting this debate of narrative in games aside for a moment, why exactly are games popular and what do they offer over other mediums, likes books & film? Well, some of the following come to mind:
  • Interaction, being able to manipulate and control what happens in the game actively, rather than passively observing like on other mediums.
  • Allows for more complexity than other mediums, both in narrative terms (with alternate paths & routes, as well as the concept of 'Choice') as well as in the gameplay (read below).
  • Multiple paths/replay values, enticing to play the game over to find other paths to the goal or even extra goodies, like secret weapons, trivia, artwork or other unlockables ('easter eggs').
  • Direct investment and 'feeling' like YOU are on the adventure, which can take hours, days, weeks if not months to complete, and feeling a tremendous sense of satisfaction at the end when you've completed the final game/defeat the last boss/save the world.
Also, this brought us to what we had been reading over the past week, 'Riddles', which invite someone to solve them (right answer = reward/satisfaction), and you can see how this type of play = satisfy would play into games later, even in the early days of video games (we went through part of a rather humorous text adventure game called, well, 'Adventure', where we had to type in directions and commands to advance). Naturally, as the medium evolved from there over to the 8 bit, 16 bit, 32 bit and HD eras, other questions and possibilities arose (Multiplayer with friends or the computer, larger and more expansive worlds to explore no longer limited by hardware, the evolution of computer A.I in games and thus, affecting the difficulty of the enemies, bosses and puzzles in the game and, in the last decade, the rising of online communities of fans and players who devote many hours towards the adventure, 'grinding' for experience, money and better weapons/items).

But, beyond just screens, in real life, we are seeing manifestations of this interactivity, with activities like 'geocaching' (a sort of world-wide treasure hunt) gaining -popularity as the internet grew, building the aforementioned communities into fully operational, organized events and networks. In the end, what can we truly learn from all of this? Well, the giving the player/consumer a role can have very powerful creative possibilities, even if authorship and original intent may be lost. Furthermore, it gives a new, refreshing outlook on entertainment and the way we can use our imaginations and share them with other in a more direct and open fashion than a lot of the older, traditional mediums.

Our assignment for Reading week was to go off and begin coming up with ideas for a 'proof of concept' for an interactive piece in our groups. So, what is there left to be said about today? The morning served as a good wake up call and affirimer of personal concerns with Jack's vision for the story, and hopefully we can start hacking it down and finding the core 'meat' of the tale. As for the afternoon, well, it was probably the most obvious thing to go with, but it worked, and holds possibly more relevance than ever thanks to some of the aforementioned names in the field that are very much challenging stereotypes about the medium and what it can do.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Yr2 Week 5 (Tues 5 Nov - Producing & Directing)

In the screening, we watched Roman Polanski's acclaimed neo-noir, Chinatown (1974), which dealt with the uncovery of a conspiracy involving Los Angeles' water supply and real estate by the private eye Jakes Gittes (Jack Nicholson). The film, my second viewing in fact, was truly terrific, with a solid, confident performance from Nicholson, alongside a rather turbulent & emotional Faye Dunaway as his love interest, and a bombastic, scene-chewing John Huston as the film's defacto villain. Making surprising use of color for such a dark story, and terrifically scored by the one and only Jerry Goldsmith with a terrific use of sax in the main theme, Chinatown transcends mere homage by making its own statements about societal corruption and how, sometimes, good does not always triumph.

Afterwards, we got to talking about the film's production: Robert Evans (the producer) had been rising to the top, turning around the fortunes of Paramount with hits like Coppola's The Godfather (1972), wanted to produce his own film, and knowing Robert Towne, a popular script doctor, got him to write the script for it. Furthermore, Evans brought on European auteur Roman Polanski, who had also scored a hit for Paramount with Rosemary's Baby (1968), who worked with Towne on streamlining, and changed the ending to a more realistic and, well, unhappy one. Towne never liked this, but he still got an Oscar for Best Screenplay.

Then, we got down to talking more about the story and its ideas: the Chinatown of the title, for example, is only visited briefly at the end of the story, and is more of a reference to a never-changing state of mind, or how Gites shares similarities (a code of honour, sticking his neck out and promptly getting whooped by outside forces for it, falling for the client) and differences (he's slicker, better dressed, slightly younger) than the types of detectives & private eyes that inspired his creation. Also, we touched on the visual style the film went for (having gone through three cinematographers), such as the frequent references to seeing devices like binoculars and glasses (nodding to the way the story messes with our perception of events and who is who), or the aforementioned contrasting of widescreen and colour against the period setting & dark nature of the tale, and of course, many classic noirs, and the camera even opts for a first person perspective, again differing itself from its iconic predecessors..

Yr2 Week 5 (Monday 4 Nov - Screenwriting the Short Film)

There was no session on Thursday due to a teacher's strike.

In today's lecture, we took a look at the concept of Ideology (the values/themes/principals/agendas of a piece), and how this is applied to film. We began by taking a look at a clip from Alfred Hitchcock's much acclaimed Psycho (1960), where Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) is spying on Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) as she undresses. What could be the ideas here at work, even in a few seconds of film?

-The supremacy of Patriarchy (male authority), since he has the power within this scene, and of course, we know what he'll do next to her, taking the ultimate decision of life or death for this woman, which she is completely oblivious to.

After, we began to really break down cinematic themes into a set of groups, such as the Controlling Idea (the ultimate idea of a tale, determined by is value+cause i.e. in Death Wish; Society will be Okay once Criminals are dead), which we had discussed last year, as well as how Classical Cinema would project these ideas unto the audience (identifying with the characters and thus, getting to understand their world view, the imagery evoking a certain atmosphere or mood upon the subject, the use of cause + effect to demonstrate the effectiveness/ineffectiveness of a certain idea/belief etc.)

Also, as one is writing the actual story, it can become very much a/the philosophy, and from there, the C.I can arise from there organically, as opposed to being crow-barred in by the writer, blended seamlessly yet inseparably from the narrative. As another demonstration of this in action, this time within a short film, we watch the 1996 French short, A Summer Dress. where two young men are out on holiday the country, one of them gay, and the other, irritated by his companion's camp attitude, goes for a bike ride. He ends up meeting a girl there, and they have sex in the nude. However, his clothes go missing and he is loaned her dress. At first irritated, he grows more comfortable in the outfit, and upon returning home, has sex with his companion, taking on the more submissive role and even referring to himself a s a 'girl'. The following day, he returns the dress.

What s the ideology here? Some of the ideas thrown up by the class included:
  • Life is short, so don't limit your choice or variety of 'pleasures'.
  • Human desire is complex, and what we may want is not always clear at first.
  • It takes a woman to truly help a man find his 'preference'.
  • The narrative favors a heterosexual (straight) couple, since they get more screen time than when he is with another man.
Then, in the seminar, well, not much happened: we listened to the remaining pitches for our shorts from the past week, and then just only briefly touched on the step outlines, running out of time before we go into real details or discussion. The assignment for this (well, for 2 weeks, since nxt week was Reading Week) was to go away and write  a treatment of up to 1200 words, fully detailing out story and all the key events.

Today was a mixed bag, with the lecture standing head & shoulders above the rather meager seminar (though, in fairness, this session was more of a mop-up, and the leftovers from last certainly hurt it quite a bit). The lecture was where the day's major ideas were discussed, and it certainly was interesting how even a few seconds of film, or even a short one, can convey a lot of ideas with having to out and out spell it out or be made for a specific agenda. Given my background as an internet reviewer, I'm no stranger to the concept of themes/ideas in a piece, and often discuss them when talking about the film's artistic merits/ambition, and how the dialogue and plot construction either helps or hinders the presentation of these ideas (for a example, recently I reviewed the 2012 historical, For Greater Glory, which had a very pro-Christian message, but the clumsy narrative, flat characters and stagey, bland dialogue did nothing to help it present them with any sort of grace.) Full review here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FAS3HB9x5mw

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Yr2 Week 4 (Wed 30 Oct - Film and Innovation)

Today's seminar marked the return of Helen Bendon as our lecture, who last year had taught us, along with Eddie, the basics of Film Production(not without some bumps along the way, with a particularly hilarious guff at the very start of term with first assignment. Read those entries if you wish to know more.) Anyway, she was here to get s talking about the other half of this module: Interactivity.

Interactivity forms part of that 'what is Innovation' question: how do we change the way people can experience a film, and what the boundaries of cinema are. In this case, what is Interactivity?
  • Giving the audience a means of control/manipulation with a piece of media, and what it can do because of said manipulation.
  • A more direct and personal engagement with a piece of media than just sitting back and watching it on a screen.
  • Invoking other senses than just sight, especially touch (this is a core element of interactive exhibitions at museums as well as video games).
  • This can have both negative and positive repercussions, since, on the one hand, you can offer a unique experience that can change each time you interact with the media. However, this can also lead to a loss of authorship, and the choice can interfere with conventional narrative functions.
One of the emerging forms of interactivity online is known as Hypertext, a concept that dates as far back as 1945, where multiple pages can linked through words (famous examples of this include online encyclopedias like Wikipedia, but there are a number of interactive fiction sites and competitions where, depending on what you click, you can change the outcome of a tale or learn more about a certain part, like a character's back-story). The beauty of his type of work is that is it can offer a bigger, broader than conventional narrative and media, as you can acquire a lot more information in not only less time, but without having to get other volumes/books or papers together.

In fact, that brings me along to the other topic covered in this lesson: Alternative structure, which interactivity, by its very nature, can afford us, and it cna provide fresh and exciting new possibilities with how stories are told and how the audience can digest them (already, in the print form, works like 'B.S. Johnson's The Unfortunates and William Burroughs' Cut Ups have played with the nature of structure and what part of a story can go first, and when each part can be read), and hypertext already affords us that technique in a less cumbersome fashion, as well as one not confined by things like pricing and material costs.

Our assignment for the following was to read up a section on riddles that Helen provided us, discussing how riddles relate to and can be applied to modern interactive fiction. So, in closing, while I would've preferred to keep on going with Guy so that we could, week by week, discuss and iron out all the 'bugs' with our work, this has certainly been an illuminating seminar on interactivity, something which, because we so often use in day-to-day life, we never really examine with much depth or thought because it is just 'there', and this project certainly affords a number of interesting and creative possibilities that I look forward greatly to trying.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Yr2 Week 4 (Tues 29 Oct - Producing and Directing)

Today was the big one: today we had our lecture with acclaimed British filmmaker and rising star of the industry, Ben Wheatley (Kill List, Sightseers, A Field in England). He was a large gentlemen, sort of brawling with a large beard (much like Alan Moore), but very frank and not afraid to tell it like it is, even mixing dashes of dark, ironic humour as he spoke about his life & career: He had a lot of false starts, going to art college, and wanting to do things like comic artistry and sculpture. However, during his studies, he made friends with individuals who practicing film making, and regularly assisted them out in their projects, dabbling in editing and camera work. Afterwards, he would drift around, working in graphic design, then commercials and television before making a break into features with Down Terrace, which we watched and discussed the previous week.

Afterwards, he gave us some tips on low budget film making and how we could do our first features:
  • Keep costs down where possible, with the only real investment being good sound equipment, and use deferred payment methods to save even more.
  • Go over storyboards and know your film inside & out before you shoot, to save more time and know what you want, since there won't be sufficient time for rehearsal.
  • Make something interesting happen every seven pages to keep the audience regularly hooked, and make sure the script is clear and concise.
  • For the first feature, think like and use people more versed in documentary film making, since they know how to shoot fast but still make something presentable and can easily adapt to any situation.

Afterwards, we got to ask him questions and some even took pictures with him: I asked him about independent distribution: He said that Studiocanal and Metrodome were good sources, since they regularly partake in the independent scene, but it might be better and cheaper to self distribute and market (which may work to my advantage, since I have a Youtube channel with several hundred subscribers, so that could be a very useful asset.) And, well, that about wraps it up; it was a really interesting and engaging talk, and I wish Ben all the best in his future works, and the advice he gave us will be of great use I can assure you, especially once we longer have the resources of the university at our disposal, but need to break in to the business and have to very much rely on what we have at hand and be light, quick and cheap. All the style and flash can wait for Hollywood!

Yr2 Week 4 (Mon 28 Oct - Screenwriting the Short Film)

In today's lecture, we discussed the subject of, well, Fantasy (alongside elements such as Surrealism and Mysticism). And to get ball rolling, what better place to start than one of the main sources of human fantasy - Dreams:
  • Freud (and, on a sidenote, through my own observations, having dabbled with mental therapy and psychoanalysis before) said that dreams often represent our deepest desires and fears, the imagery often representing our subconscious wants for wish-fulfillment. And in by proxy, nightmares are arguably used a means to confront and solve that problem head on i.e. facing our darkest fears and taboo wants.
  • The irrationality and oddity produced by dreams has lead to movements like the Dada and Surrealist artists, who attempted to channel their dreams into their work, often using to represent deep seated anxieties and concerns, allowing the viewer to read in and see what was being said through the strange images.(For example, a number of Dali's paintings make reference to various real world events and issues, notably Soft Construction with Boiled Beans, which depicts a creature fighting with itself, much like Spain did during the brutal Spanish Civil War in the mid 1930s).
  • Under certain circumstances, however, dreams can, in part, lead to certain neurosis, a n over protective defense mechanism that can lead to more harm than good. For example, a case Freud studied involved a young boy, Hans who was traumatized by the collapse of a white horse, and this same horse would appear in his dreams, attacking him.
When looking at dreams, one has to consider the manifest content (content of a surfaced dream) vs latent content (what the manifest is based on), and this turn can be distilled as four key ideas, or operations:
  • Condensation/Synedoche - Combination or part of a whole
  • Displacement/Allusion - What the latent is replaced by
  • Representation - transformation thoughts into imagery
  • Symbolism - what the relation is between dream and representation
Building upon this, we got to watching the 1943 short Meshes of the Afternoon, which, frankly, takes on a very 'strange' dimension, and is a little tough to describe while doing it justice: its essentially  dealing with a woman who is reliving the same events again and again within this dreamlike context; picks up a floower from a hooded flower, goes into house and then goes upstairs. Eventually she seemingly wakes when her husband arrives, although she ends smashing 'him' to pieces like a mirror, and it reveals her bloodied corpse.

The class drew a number of different meanings from this, such as the transformation of the house key to a large knife being symbolic of the danger she feels within the household (mine), as well as possibly a bad relationship, the repetition perhaps indicating a monotonous relationship and how the flower is meant to mean some sort of spark or desire she wishes to bring her life, and the constantly ringing phone and frequent reference to upstairs perhaps indicating some type of affair, either hers or one she suspects her husband of having.

And on the note of the strange, we then moved along to discussing actual Surrealism, a movement that emerged from the aforementioned Dada in the 1920s, and very much used the irrational and bizarre to find and express some type of meaning, and the absence of conventional reason or morality. (there are many famous individuals who really ran with this concept, such as the aforementioned Salvador Dali, as well as many film makers, most notably David Lynch (Eraserhead instantly springing to mind with its bizarre, nightmarish visuals and how they are used to talk about that fear of parenthood) and Luis Bunuel (last year, we looked at some of his work, mainly The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie and how it played with story ordering and conventions).

Following this right up, we looked at the short, Copy Shop, another surreal short dealing with man who starts seeing copies of himself after he deals with a malfunctioning copy/printer. Throughout the short, the film made use of its 'copier' aside from its core idea, with the idea often strobing or crosscutting akin to the way the machine works, and the sound of said device was used throughout the short film to reinforce its central idea and the appearance of new clones. Furthermore, the film very much used the 'copying idea' as a sort of commentary on the mundane nature of day-to-day life, where each day can feel similar (a fact that was exploited for a major visual joke in Edgar Wright's Shaun of The Dead, with far grislier results).

Moving on to the seminar, this was considerable more streamlined and basic: all it amounted to was feedback for the pitch we went away to produce: Mine was for a more comedic short, where a young man suspects his girlfriend of cheating, and using his film fandom, dons the manner of a 1940s private eye to track her down, which leads to a number of Looney Tunes/Three Stooges style mishaps i.e. getting attacked by old ladies as a peeping tom, being blown by a discard skinhead bomb, getting runover by a senile older driver etc. until he has enough and confronts her, only to reveal she was working on an art project. The feedback was pretty positive, the only criticisms being a stronger, more darkly comic ending, and perhaps tightening ot down due to the short film's length.

And with that, we were then given our assignment for the following week: do a 100 word synopsis and step outline (all the key dramatic events of the story). To conclude, today was pretty meaty, and gave me a lot to sink my teeth into; the lecture got my intellectual curiosity really aroused and had me really thinking about the way films can convey ideas and views, and really reminded of how powerfully even simple imagery can be, while the seminar was a good confidence boost, given how well my idea went down (at the time of it, it was the only comedy out of the group, as everyone else went for more darker, grittier drama).

Monday, 4 November 2013

Yr2 Week 3 (Thurs 24 Oct - Producing and Directing workshop)

To get the session rolling, Eddie immediately threw us a task - look at the opening of the first episode of Sons of Anarchy, and find six things that as a producer, you'd need to consider when prepping:
  • Vehicle hire (motorbikes for the cycle gang)
  • Location scouting (finding a long stretch of free road, as well as shops and cafes for the bikers to attack)
  • Actor hire
  • Costumes
  • Music rights, since a rock song plays over the montage
  • Permits to shoot in the particular area/part of town/city/state
Throwing up our ideas on a board, the class covered a vast spectrum of things needed, though frankly, it was only scratching the surface of the needs of a project like this one. In fact, the next question he threw us was just that: What is A Producer? Some threw out some more extravagant words (big daddy, God, Magician) but no less true than others (the rock, parent, supervisor, safety net, boss), being the role upon which everything hinges upon, and ensuring it comes together and gets done, on time and on budget.

Naturally, some felt they weren't quite straight up 'producer material', but Eddie pointed out that everything has, on some level, skills and qualities that could make them good or even great producer, and to really encourage us, he got us to write up some of our best personality traits and skills on the white board. Mine included:
Personality -
 -Fast learner
 -Efficent
 -Paitent
Skills
 -Time concious
 -Team Player
 -Hard Worker

Afterwards, we went through a quick rundown of what a producer does (gets equipment, fiances, casts, crews etc. been down this road a couple of times), but this time put special emphasis on the post-production phase and all the steps involved:
  1. 1st Assembly
  2. 1st rough cut
  3. 2nd rough cut
  4. Final rough cut
  5. Fine Cut
  6. Sound mix
  7. Colour grading
  8. Mastering 
  9. Backing up
 Then, as a final bit of wrap up, Eddie took us through an internet spider diagram of the elements that comprise producing (all the stuff discussed above), just so that we were all clear on the sheer weight and size of the task ahead. Speaking of which, were given our first major assessment assignment brief: in groups of four, were to make a 4 minute short based on an outside work (novel,  play, short story etc.) I was put in with Tara, Jack and Cat, and we decided to go off and look up different works, rendezvousing on Monday with all our suggestions and then deciding upon the final work, mostly on practicality and conscious of the limited time available.

Frankly, what can be said in conclusion, other than this will certainly be a daunting job ahead of us, mainly due to A) 4 minutes give us very, very little time to adapt a full scene, especially since a lot of the interesting and character-oriented scenes tend to be both later on and also fairly lengthy, so finding an ideal scene that isn't setup will be quite a challenge, and B) This limits our scope to mainly drama and comedy, since other genres like action, sci-fi, horror and mystery need more time to really allow the audience to enter in and soak in all the details, so it's a bit of shame that we can't yet expand our palette. However, I've worked with these people before, and I have faith vthat with their help, we can make our short a good one. Knock on wood!