Digital filmmaking class weblog 2011--Day 8: grim citified grunge
After a morning of showing off scenes of Godard and Rohmer at work, teaching three point lighting techniques, and taking inventory, I let the two remaining film crews shoot scenes all day. In a way, teaching this kind of class is effortless. The students will learn from the experience of shooting badly, and Lord knows they had trouble coming up with a simple conversation between two characters in the lunchroom.After 12 takes, Eva had ground up her bagel into small pieces, but she still labored at looking shy and withdrawn (because she isn't), just as John took many takes to speak his lines more slowly, with natural pauses, and keep himself within the camera's frame. Shooting a given shot teaches one to appreciate the artistry and professionalism of any established film crew. How do they figure out how to not cut off people at the waist when they stand up? How do they get rid of every ambient noise--a crash of dishes in the distance, a coach talking as he walks by? Shooting helps one appreciate both sun (and the extreme brevity of good outdoor lighting) and quiet. Who knew that a heating vent can ruin a scene?
I spent much of the day hanging out with Afterglow films. The lead actor Alex reminded me a little of Travis Bickle with his green army jacket and '70s mirror shades. The residue of melting snow and ice added a grim citified grunge to the scene as Alex muttered hackneyed dialogue on his cell phone with his dealer: "I don't know. . . . gin, vodka, (sniff) Do you think you could get me some of the usual, man?" Where to place the microphone? Over his shoulder? We then travelled to the alley where Afterglow will shoot their stabbing scene tomorrow at dusk. The students were smart enough to ask permission at the local police station to use the alley at 4:30 tomorrow, and the policeman on duty was very nice about it.
For a time we considered various movies for them to make during an independent study next semester: a Blair Witch-esque documentary of a local abandoned warehouse? or how a doc about a local murder at a feed store? How about remakes of films made in previous classes, but this time limited to point of view single shot versions? Isn't it about time somebody shot a musical? We all agreed that really only one kind of film absolutely needs to be made, of course: a dream heist zombie romantic comedy.
By later afternoon, I followed the school minibus to a student's house, where Afterglow used the last sunlit moments to shoot a crass encounter between Erica and Steve. Erica just wants to use Steve to get liquor from his coke-addicted brother, so after some sweet talk and a kiss of the cheek, she obtains what she's after. This film has two murders (a stabbing and a shooting), a cocaine deal gone bad, a manipulative femme fatale, and one sap who just wants to not eat alone in the cafeteria.
When Afterglow ran the storyline past one of my colleagues, he asked "Why are you making this?" It was a good question. Because the movie portrays illicit behavior for a jaded, terminally distracted audience in need of cheap sensation? Perhaps. But it still seems right to be on the side of the few who make the spectacle instead of the many who merely succumb to it.