I dreamt of being a filmmaker long before I ever got around to making my first film. It is a preposterously complicated and expensive art form, so even though I knew I wanted to make films from a young age, it took many years to realize that dream. And believe me, I am still in the process of realizing it. When I was twenty years old, my father gave me a Minolta XE-7 to start taking pictures with. It was a completely manual 35mm SLR, which taught me all of the basics theories of shooting (aperture, focus, shutter speed, iso, framing, etc). I spent years taking still pictures before I ever picked up a video camera to make a film or video.
Recently I have started taking pictures again and I’m amazed at how much it is helping with the previsualization of film work. You see, with a photograph you have one shot and the image you capture has to encapsulate an entire story. A great photograph stands for the whole of the work (story, tone, mood, theme, character, emotion, etc) in nothing more than a single image.
At the end of last year I was constantly trying to capture the experience of the wonder of my son’s First Christmas from both his perspective and that of his Mother’s. I love this photo because the shallow depth of field makes the lights on the tree have a mystical quality that gives the sense my son is not sure of what he is looking at, but feels the general emotion of the season. As my wife teaches him the iconography of Christmas, she can’t help but see the lights of the tree through his eyes.
All of that is encapsulated in a single iconic image. In film you have so many tools to tell that same story. You can use the camera, the actors and dialogue, the music and sound to tell the tone/mood, the editing to juxtapose two images and make the derive meaning from the juxtaposition. But at its core visual filmmaking is about Iconic Imagery. The concept of coverage for a scene (Wide-Medium-CU, Shot/Reverse Shot) encourages filmmakers to think less about the iconic image that tells the story and more about covering their bases. I recommend picking up the still camera again because it truly makes one see the world as a series of iconic images.
- Chris McGilvray
Tree of Life Terrence Malick has been my favorite American Filmmaker ever since the Thin Red Line Days. After waiting through four painful years of Post Production and ages of speculation about release dates and reading multiple reviews I thought there is no way that this film would not be a disappointment. But then I saw it. And it really was the film it had been touted as. It is the perfect film to describe the human experience. It is meandering and beautiful, long and poetic, boring and engaging. It is the crowning achievement of cinema as a stream of consciousness. Malick doesn’t do coverage for a scene, every single shot is its own unit of time, so each cut is a literal cut in time. It is astounding to see how closely his films mimic the experience of memory. This film is like going to the art gallery, it is challenging and exhausting, and it encourages the mind to wander. This is probably the best editing work that has ever been done. Finally somebody has surpassed Eisenstein in the power and flow of the juxtaposition of images and in my opinion, cinema will never be the same because of it.
Melancholia Lars Von Trier has always been one of the most fascinating filmmakers to watch because you never quite know what he will do. This year he said some very naughty things, which is too bad because he also made what is likely his best film to date. I still can’t believe that he got a performance like that out of Kirsten Dunst of all people. I definitely didn’t think she had it in her, but her performance was so dead on that I gotta say it was my favorite female performance of the year. Also, he truly nailed the blend of meticulously crafted static imagery and the fresh improvisational style of performance. The film is a haunting study of fear and anxiety with each of the characters being a full rounded individual, which is particularly unique in a film that is essentially a character study based on two sisters and most of the other characters serve the purpose of solely filling out their motivations for them.
Drive Wow, I had a feeling Nicholas Winding Refn had it in him way back in the Bronson days, but I didn’t know he would be able to deliver like this. This is the coolest film I’ve seen since I can’t remember when and holds onto the greatest moment in cinema this year: that jaw dropping kiss in the elevator scene. I mean, there is so much going on in that scene it’s astounding (There are like 4 reversals without a single line of dialogue).
The Descendants Nobody can mix humor and tragedy like Alexander Payne. I loved this film because it constantly plays against your expectations. You find yourself laughing then crying then laughing again, which is preceisely how people oftenreact to the difficult life situations that they are thrown into. George Clooney completely plays against type as a man trying desperately to deal with a world that is spiraling out of control. He does it with anything but grace and leaves you marveling at the raw human being underneath.
Shame The title says it all. The opening of this film is truly incredible, it had me from the first image to the final. The tone of this film is haunted and grimy, but most importantly, it never quite satisfies the viewer with its narrative. All of the integral information about why these characters act the way that they do is left out. But that is the point. This beautiful piece of art puts the viewer in the Protagonist’s World, where there is not even the slightest hint of pleasure or closure.
Martha Marcy May Marlene This film got under my skin better than anything else this year. I mean, Cults are super creepy, and this film is made even creepier by having the time blend together seamlessly so that the audience doesn’t know if they are in the present or past until its too late. John Hawkes had me transfixed the whole way through and I couldn’t help but be caught up in the spell of his calm collectedness. Sean Durkin definitely has best Debut of the year with this one. Great way to blend reality and questionable memories.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo David Fincher is may favorite big name director for one very specific reason, he creates the most meticulously designed worlds. Now he also has one of the coolest Heroines ever in Lisbeth Salander. We could all learn a thing or two from her about not being made a victim. With the help of Trent Reznor and Atticus Fitch’s score, the film makes Research so damn exciting, that the almost three hour film feels rushed at parts. It also has the coolest Title Sequence of the year for sure.
Take Shelter Nobody nails the feeling of impending doom like this film. Michael Shannon delivered the best performance of the year in this deeply expressionistic study of the pressures of life coming down on you. This is exactly what horror films can bring to working class drama as all of the fantasy sequences stick with you days after the film is complete.
50/50 One would think that nothing is funny about a Mid Twenties Man finding out that he has cancer. One would think. The beauty of this film for me is the tone. It is one of the funniest films I saw this year, yet done with the backdrop of this tragic event. Jonathan Levine does an impeccable job of balancing this complex tone so that we get to be just like the two main male characters, we laugh at the irony of the situation so that we don’t have to cry.
Hugo Martin Scorsese’s first venture into family films is maybe his most human. One of the great triumphs of this film is that even though he sets the events in this fantasy world, he places characters who deal with very real human emotions to relate to the story. On top of all of that, he gets to explore the true magic behind filmmaking in what has to be the best Production Design of the year.
Last Week I saw the newly released independent film Like Crazy at the Cinearts theatre in Palo Alto. I remember reading about the $250K film at this year’s Sundance when it sparked a bidding war that Paramount Vantage ended up winning for $4 million dollars. It is a Mumblecore style picture with professional actors shot in a style similar to Blue Valentine (detailed outline of the story, but all improvised dialogue). It was shot on the Canon 7D, which is one of the cameras that we use on many of our projects, so I was particularly interested in seeing how the film held up visually.
The film is very good. It channels the energy and confusion of young love in a long distance relationship. We often get so caught up in the theory of love, the concept of it, that we lose sight of whether or not we actually feel it. And how could we, leading a life of stopping and starting? You only get to experience each other on vacation, not in day to day life. You get so caught up in the commitment it has taken to keep the relationship going over time that you feel a pressure to continue. Breaking up would be a failure. The film captures that experience perfectly. Both Characters are the opposite of existentialists as they are never really living in the moment. The cinema verite style works very well with the Canon 7D as the focus issues and blown out highlights fit the aesthetic of the film. It is a piece of young, rough, vibrant art and the camera does the film justice. It is a great use of the camera’s limitations and another prime example of the fact that the camera is just a tool, how one uses it is where the real art comes in.
I always find myself impatiently waiting for the new Terrence Malick Film like a child who can’t sleep the night before Christmas. For The Tree of Life, I have been waiting for 4 years (about how long he has been editing it). When the trailer was finally released and ran before Black Swan, I went to see the film twice, largely to see the trailer in the theatre a second time. If you haven’t had a chance to see it, check it out here:
Last week it premiered at Cannes and won the Palme d’Or, so I’m guessing that it has been worth the wait. It comes out in San Francisco on Friday, June 3rd and I will be first in line with ticket in hand.
So why? What is the big deal about a film whose trailer confuses as many as it enthralls? For me, it’s simple; Terrence Malick’s view of Cinematic Language is very similar to where I would like to see the art form progress to. He makes what I would call truly cerebral cinema, and by that I don’t mean films for intellectuals that challenge the very fabric of our society and require an unprecedented level of cerebral involvement to comprehend and debate. Although his films are best served by that level of intellectual dedication, they are first and foremost transcendental experiences that elicit an emotional response, not a cerebral one. What I mean by cerebral cinema is that his films closely mimic the movements of the mind in all of its intricacies. His films exist in a place where connections are made through experience, not based on temporal or spatial constraints. For all of us, a large part of our daily experience is based on memory and nostalgia for the past and how it connects to the moment we are experiencing in the present and Terrence Malick’s films, much like Andrei Tarkovsky’s before him, speak to the nature of the mind’s experience in the world.
For me, Cinema has the greatest opportunity of any art to create the first person experience of a character for the audience. And the fact that Terrence Malick has such a strong cult following all over the world confirms to me that I am not alone in my interest for this language of cinema. I can’t wait to see this film as I have no doubt that it will open all of our eyes to the possibilities of cinema as an art.
Apologies for the sparse posing of late. We moved into our new office last week. Somehow we miscalculated how long it would take to move, despite the number of times we’ve moved personally and professionally. It’s the small details like hanging curtains, where to put the green screen, internet access, and cutting off your neighbor’s phone and internet connection that get you. The last part made us really popular our first day in the building. In the end the time and effort was well worth the investment. The location is fantastic and places at the crossroads of creativity and technology. We are in the SOMA district of San Francisco, right near the ball park and Current TV, and it already feels like home. In fact, it’s already been a great place for us to work on our latest project for our newest corporate client WeatherBill. They’re working on some really interesting technology that solves real world problems for the agriculture and travel industries.
On Wednesday night we attended a lighting class at the Mid Peninsula Media Center in Palo Alto. We had heard about it from the volunteer instructor, Stan Ng, a Gaffer in Scary Cow who worked on our film, Damage. About 30 people showed up and we spent an hour going over the basics of three point lighting before getting into the more complicated intricacies of lighting in a digital world. There was a wide variety of people in attendance, from local community members with a general interest in lighting to industry professionals with years of experience. It was a great group because Stan led the class in an informal way such that we all got to share our experiences and help show each other how we had worked through difficult lighting situations on set. We loved contributing to this collaborative learning environment and look forward to more opportunities to do so in the future. We’ll keep you posted on our educational efforts.
Well it’s four days after the completion of the Sonoma International Film Festival and I’ve finally had the time reflect on the experience. Over all it was amazing. Despite some technical difficulties and some organizational issues the festival organizers put on an extremely entertaining festival. The weather held up to really showcase the beauty of the Sonoma wine country. There were many events where the filmmakers and attendees had the opportunity mix and mingle. And the caliber of the films was quite high. We met a few other independent filmmakers who produced some incredible films on shoe string budgets. In fact, this was probably the best part of participating in the festival, so I though I would share some of the names of these films and their Directors so you can the have the pleasure experiencing their work too.
A film called Absentia took the jury prize for best narrative feature at the festival and it was well deserved. Absentia is a quasi-psychological horror film that rates high on the creepy scale. It was written and directed by Mike Flanagan. You’ll find more information on the film and it’s talented director at the film’s official site http://www.absentiamovie.com
The short film program in particular really stood out. And I’m not saying this just because our film Damage was part of the program. There were really no weak films in the short category, but three films aside from ours really stood out.
The first was a quirky southern Gothic film called Foot Soldier which was written and directed by a UCLA MFA student named Jon Bryant Crawford. This film had a lot of heart and I really loved the protagonist’s journey. Not to mention it was beautifully shot. More information on the film and it’s talented director is available at the film’s official site http://www.footsoldierthemovie.com/
The second was a geek comedy film called Dungeon Master which was written and directed by brothers Rider and Shiloh Strong. The script and comedic performances were great. I saw it twice, and laughed more the second time I saw it than I did the first time. This film looks and feels right out of Hollywood. Perhaps that’s because the cast and crew were. More info on Dungeon Master and the bothers Strong can be found on their blog http://strongbrothersmagicshow.blogspot.com/
The third film is a beautiful film called touch which was directed by Jen McGowan with Colin Pink adapting his own one act play. It’s a film about isolation and how even the smallest act of compassion can make the biggest difference in someone’s life. With memorable performances, beautifully cinematography, and a moving script it is a brilliant execution of the less is more aesthetic. More info on Touch can be found on the official movie site http://www.touchthefilm.com/Touch/About.html
These are just a few of the fantastic films from the shorts program. They happen to be my favorites, but I encourage you to investigate them all!
Our most recent short film, Damage will be premiering at the Sonoma International Film Festival this weekend. It is a glimpse of a maturing relationship, the refusal to confront its change and the damage caused. We are very excited to show it to our Local Friends and Colleagues. It has been a long road to get here, but now we get a chance to celebrate another film complete. We will be heading up this Thursday and be there through the weekend, so come and check out the film and say hi if you get the chance. We play at 12:15p on Friday 4/8 and Sunday 4/10 in a block of shorts.
On my very first short film I had a complete vision. It consisted of some elaborate shots that would channel the great Westerns of Sergio Leone, Sam Peckinpah and John Ford. Then we started preproduction and tried to turn my vision into reality. As we looked into the feasibility of doing those shots we soon found that they were cost prohibitive. In fact, I was so limited by the budget of my project that I ended up reworking the visual design. I had to limit my vision by the technological constraints of the equipment I used. That meant no moving camera shots and no shots that played with focus.
I made two short films in this manner, The Silence and Grand Delusions. Then Scott & I found the Canon 5D Mark ii. It absolutely blew us away. For the first time I worked with equipment that could realize my vision. The Canon EF Lenses provide an image quality that will stand up to almost any project you will find. For the first time I got to pull focus exactly how I had imagined it in my head. The shallow depth of field added a professional feel to our work that we had never previously attained.
Then there is the low light capability. We shot nighttime driving scenes with only a small LED Light. We shot nighttime exteriors with simply available light and they look incredible. All with a digital SLR. The size of the camera was so compact that we shot at SFO without a permit and none of the security guards even noticed.
An entire new world of possibility is now open to us. We are witnessed the true democratization of the artform. The 5D makes the feature film aesthetic possible on all projects, no matter how tight the budget. Finally, filmmakers have the tool that can completely realize their vision.