VCA MINI SAGA #4: DAYS OF BEING CHILD

Photo by Xue Rui

Tank full of gas. Spare shoes.

I wonder if Mei wants to come.

She’ll have to direct us.

If she cries: she’s on her own.

No time for that.

Time for everything else though.

I wonder if I’ll ever come back.

Or if there’ll be anything to come back to.

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VCA MINI SAGA #3: BIRTHDAY

Photo by Bernie Vander Wal

Is it possible to celebrate something you had no control over?

My parents did most of the hard work really.

I dressed myself today: maybe I can celebrate that.

Don’t think I feel that much different to be honest.

Still no letter from Hogwarts….

Maybe I’ll feel different next year.

VCA BLOG POST #4: EDITING AS WRITING

It’s often stated that the editing stage is one – if not the most – of the pivotal stages of filmmaking. To me, it absolutely is. The edit is where the filmmaker can collect and organise their scattered thoughts into a cohesive and comprehensible whole. The edit is where the filmmaker decides on pace and rhythm, which often comes down to a gut feeling for each individual. A good cut between shots is incredibly satisfying: a bizarre but welcomed by-product of film school.

I generally try and edit the film in my head when I’m writing a screenplay (essentially becoming the storyboards), so I can roughly gauge how long the finished cut will be. I made the error in first year to not think too much about this and as a result, had a rough cut twice as long as I expected. This time around, I’ve managed to get the film to the sufficient length without compromising the overall pacing of the film: a feat which I am inherently thankful for.

There’s always a danger when you get to the edit suites that there’s a chance you realise that your film doesn’t quite cut the way you thought it would. Fortunately, there weren’t any drastic changes made between the original storyboards and the final cut: although the composition of two shots was swapped around – it made no difference to the length of the film, but it did come down to the “gut feeling” again, as confirmed by my fellow editors. Cutting from a mid-shot to a two-shot just worked a lot better than cutting straight to a reverse mid-shot. I’m sure there’s a more technical explanation for this other than “gut feeling”, but then again: when you know, you know, you know?

The effect of sound design is also utterly invaluable. When you have a convincing sound mix, you should have a pretty convincing film. Sound often helps glue together scenes: although it should provide as an anchor to the imagery, and not a mask. But it was in that moment, when the last bit of music was added, that all the stars aligned. The shots flowed into one another, as if they were captured in the very two-and-a-half minutes the film runs for (at least I’d like to think so). When a film finally comes together, it’s reminiscent of a beautiful, singular piece of music, comprised with different instruments of varying timbres and tones.

A filmmaker that helped pioneer the effect of using editing as a storytelling technique is none other than magician-turned-filmmaker George Méliès. By cutting two separate sections of film together, he amazed audiences with the illusion of appearing and disappearing objects in linear time.

Here’s a great example from Méliès’ Le Livre Magique (1900):

It’s literally magic.

“In so far as sense of time is germane to the director’s innate perception of life, and editing is dictated by the rhythmic pressures in the segments of film, his handwriting is to be seen in his editing. It expresses his attitude to the conception of the film, and is the ultimate embodiment of his philosophy of life.”

– Andrei Tarkovsky, Sculpting in Time

 

VCA BLOG POST #3: IMAGINING STORY TO SCREEN

When I think about the scenes in film that have left a searing imprint on my consciousness, I find myself always coming back to the wonderful Green Line bus stop scene in Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums (2001).

Here it is:

When I first saw it, my heart stopped beating.  Even after subsequent endless viewings on YouTube, I still can’t get over this scene. If we strip back the cinematic elements, what we see is Richie Tenenbaum (Luke Wilson), reuniting with his adopted sister Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow), who we know Richie has a deep and unrealised affection for.

Anderson – the maestro that he is – utilises these cinematic elements to powerfully immerse us into the lovesick psyche of Richie Tenenbaum. He captures a perfect moment, using the wonderfully melancholy track “These Days” by Nico to provide as emotional anchor (I’m a sucker for good soundtracks). When we see Margot, time literally slows down for Richie Tenenbaum: and thus, for the audience. The resulting effect is utterly mesmerising.

The cherry-on-top is the beautiful husky narration (courtesy of Alec Baldwin), which provides us with details about the world which manage to be both specific and cryptic at the same time (“He had made a request for his usual escort – the one from his days on the circuit – to meet him by the pier by way of the green line bus“), as if from the perspective of a very keen historian. What Anderson grants us with on screen however, is a scene from within the consciousness of his characters. The with-holding of information in the narration alone further adds to the emotional wallop when it is revealed that his “usual escort” is indeed Margot Tenenbaum. A scene like this can only exist in cinema. Wes Anderson perfectly portrayed loneliness and longing in the space of ninety seconds.

Let’s watch it again:

VCA BLOG POST #2 – THE CINEMATOGRAPHY OF SLAWOMIR IDZIAK

In terms of cinematography, I’ve been very intrigued and beguiled of the work of the Polish DoP, Slawomir Idziak.

Best known for his work with director Krzysztof Kieślowski, Idziak has the incredible ability to bring out the beauty in the ordinary life. His choice in movement, framing and lighting displays a certain vibrant, yet intimate quality in the stories being told.

The following is an excerpt from Kieślowski’s beautiful The Double Life of Véronique (1991):

In the clip, we see the titular character Véronique leaving a cafe, to escape the person she’s fallen for. Up until this point, she’s been confused and struggling to understand herself: this scene is the tipping point for her anxiety, and as a result, she flees. The camera stays with Veronique, almost from the point-of-view of a bystander or a close friend, keeping an eye on her. The movement remains hand-held, maintaining a documentary type of feel. We then see her enter an apartment building, and go into her own POV.

It’s hard to put my finger on exactly, but somehow Idziak manages to perfectly capture the emotions of the protagonist at all moments. His use of close-ups seem to carry the weight of the world in their simplicity:

Whether it’s in a close-up of a character’s face…

…or shooting through glass objects…

…giving an ethereal sense of transparency.

He’s a cinematographer that truly respects story:

“Being a cinematographer is not simply to have a lot of ideas, but being conscious of how a certain style is going to be accepted by the audience. The way you are going to photograph a film affects the story; changing the style of the film changes the story as well so it’s something from the very beginning – from the script – trying to see which way to photograph it to support, to underline the story.” – Slawomir Idziak

To achieve the warm, fantasy-like look of Véronique, Idziak shot on 35mm film, and applied yellow filters on the lens, as well as ND grads. He also often used red and green lights to further add to the tone and texture of the film.

On using handheld as opposed to Steadicam:

“It’s something to do with a certain sense of rhythm, you adapt easily to the actors’ rhythm. The Steadicam dampens the rhythm between the actor walking and the cinematographer walking. So I am trying a different technique, I am trying to adapt my way of working to the actors. I am breathing with them, I am walking the same steps and in my opinion you are getting the identical effect, and much faster because you don’t need all the preparation, or a special operator.”

He mentions in an interview that “if the visual side of a film is not conceived before shooting, then it will never come into being.” I admire his philosophy of seeing cinematography not just as being technically astute, but seeing visuals as a form of storytelling language. I hope to follow in his footsteps.

 

Here’s a great interview with Izdiak himself, talking about his experiences: http://moviexpress.tripod.com/id10.htm

 

“The magic of cinema consists in the fact that we bid our life farewell for a moment, and a new life emerges for us.”

 

2014 VCA BLOG POST #1 (PART TWO)

It always comes back to Before Sunrise. Less than three years ago, Richard Linklater’s 1995 indie romance broke my heart and simultaneously reassembled all the pieces, but with a nice new coat of paint.

I could rant forever about the film: it’s a film that rewards multiple viewings even just to soak up each individual scene. One scene in particular stands out as a favourite of mine, and is probably one of my favourite scenes of all time.

Jesse and Celine, having already spent half a day in Vienna together, wind up in close quarters together in the listening booth of a record store. I couldn’t believe how powerful the scene is, and yet so wonderfully subtle.

The music; the lack of dialogue; the unbroken take; the physical performances; the shot itself: they create an incredible intimacy which, every time I watch it, drives me absolutely insane in the best way possible.

A short film in itself, It’s the scene I’m incredibly jealous I didn’t make.

I can still buy a plane ticket to Vienna though.

Watch for yourself:

2014 VCA BLOG POST #1 (PART ONE)

Looking back at my life, and what brought me to where I am today, I can’t really say that I ever had one of those holy cinematic moments that made me drop everything and think, “Heck, I’m going to become a filmmaker”.

It was a bit more organic than that.

I grew up in Canberra, playing guitar and dabbling in drama in high school. I never really viewed myself as an “artist” in any sense, but I loved the feeling of making people laugh. Who doesn’t.

It wasn’t until Year 11 when my band broke up that I had to find a new creative outlet (sounds more dramatic than it was). At this point I had always loved watching films, so it was a relatively easy transition to enrol in a Media class. I was lucky enough to have a teacher with a passion for film, who also taught us to shoot on Super 8mm.

And that was that. The spark was lit.

Editing 8mm film by hand was a dream and a nightmare combined.

I don’t think it was an accident however: I think it happened at a time when I was ready to explore everything I loved – but on an entirely different platform. Film had always amazed me: though at the time, I probably couldn’t articulate why. It was seemingly the perfect combination of visuals and music – and how together they could create a completely immersive experience. For two hours at a time, I could suddenly fall in love, be in the other side of the world, or I could travel 70 years into the past. I’d like to think I might’ve always just had a small void inside me that could only be filled or expressed through cinema. There was a wordless catharsis that spoke to me – and I suppose it just felt right to want to learn the language.

My love for film continues to blossom: what might’ve started as instinctual, has developed into the very fibres of my DNA. It literally changed my life. Nowadays, as soon as someone even mentions the word “movie”, my eyes light up like it’s Christmas day. Scrolling through imDb until 4am in the morning, I see the power film has to shape both society, and human consciousness in general.

It’s the closest thing we have to space-time travel: I can’t imagine doing anything else.