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.