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Production Journal, Page 9

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24 October 2006-
Having recently decreased my Rotten Tomatoes rating on "The Prestige" (originally **1/2, then seeing what I described look like a review for a movie one-and-a-half stars lower), it is interesting what happens when you hate a movie everyone else loves. The praise on the part of users was almost unanimous as the twisted look on our audience's faces.

One user asked if I hated the movie because I didn't get it.
Well, did I get it?

...yes and no. Yes, I understood what happened at the end of the movie. No, because the movie just got way too ridiculous for its own good, even for a something about magicians and magic. It's a well-made, well-performed movie structured in a so-so fashion by a poor script. The quality overall of the movie itself is, to me, * out of four, but it was never painful to watch, nor was it too boring.
"The Prestige" is probably a prime example of the term "fascinating failure". It is probably the worst movie I could tolerate sitting through a second or third time.

There's nothing that amuses me more than when people who claim to expand their horizons in cinema can't keep an open mind about other peoples'. The most tired accusations from this crowd of pretentious movie buffs came in:
-You just didn't get it, and
-You all have ADD. Go back to your Jerry Bruckheimer movies.
...and what's wrong with watching a movie to turn off your brain to? Defenders of "The Prestige" claim that it doesn't have to be believable, because it's a sci-fi/fantasy film. Well, not all movies have to be complicated. I like my share of complicated, artistic and- if I may- presitigious films, but I really can't be the only person who tires of eating at a fancy restaurant all the time! Come on, don't you want to feast on that junk food sometimes, just eating your food rather than admiring its beauty beforehand?
It's nice to have something good in your stomach, but sometimes you just wanna eat!
The film itself was a mess, and I didn't connect with it. There's good weird, and there's just plain weird. No, I didn't get "Eraserhead" (gee, did anyone?), but I liked it.
Lately, I've been enjoying a lot more intellectually-devoid popcorn flicks than I have art films. My guess is because the popcorn flicks don't have any delusions of grandeur and just focus on being entertaining (when they are- I've seen plenty of bland, lifeless popcorn flicks, too), while some art films might pretend to be profound but can't help resorting to conventions we're used to... just with fancier camera angles.
But there are also good art films. Great art films, though the most snobbish of film buffs (similar to the defenders of "The Prestige") might call them "not real indie" and "art for people who think they know art". Can't please everybody, but I'm certainly not going to try appealing to them. They who wish for all movies to be like real-life and use the F-word 230 times an hour because that's what's "realistic", while telling US to suspend disbelief because "it's a fantasy movie"?

I'll end this rant shortly. My personal view is that movies shouldn't be afraid of taking us to magical places that we wouldn't be able to go to in real life. Entertainment, and to enchant people. "The Illusionist" and "Big Fish", two movies I would have gladly paid double for, are close to what I'm describing, and I wish more movies were like them. "Billy Elliot" took place in a very bleak setting, but it was in those little moments that reminded me why I continue to watch movies- Billy dancing off to his opposing father was one of the most uplifting, magical moments of cinema, that will make your heart soar (or dance).
These are the high points which I hope to one day achieve as a filmmaker. To make audiences' hearts dance like mine was watching Billy.

27 October 2006-
More MiniDV inspiration. I rented two films by Wim Wenders: "Land of Plenty", and "Paris, Texas".
Paris, Texas:: by far a masterpiece, filled with character development. If you watch a lot of movies, you'll expect certain formulas to start popping up, but they never do- the movie still has a clear path, though, and far from messy. Moving both faster and slower than its 143-minute runtime, it is fast because it's so involving, and slow because it's deeper and feels like it covered more ground than 143 minutes could ever cover.
"Land of Plenty" is another great film filled with character-development and performances; as a conservative, I sat patient as the movie went through the "paranoid Vietnam vet" stereotype; if the movie's good enough, I can suspend disbelief through political cheap-shots. Wenders only does so as far as the story supports, though, and never reverts to the "anyone who disagrees with my 'common sense' is a fascist" hostility that's so popular in modern Hollywood productions. The movie itself is still powerful.
As well, it's another sign of hope for MiniDV. Shot beautifully with Panasonic AG-DVX100As, it was apparently blown up to 2.37:1 Cinemascope ratio in theaters- the DVD opens up at 1.78:1 and appears to have more legroom- and is further proof of what the format is capable of. HD really isn't needed for low-budget filmmakers to have their films look "acceptable"; try some more stuff on MiniDV. It's better than you think, and it's getting better.
Which brings me to a "sharpness" discussion. It's commonly thought that the sharper an image is, the better it is. That's the basic seduction of shooting in HDTV against 35mm film (well, besides HDTV being more efficient and other things). But what I'm also noticing is, especially in the modified classic "Star Wars" trilogy, the technology is there to fix it but the CGI inserts are still glaringly obvious. Why?
Because the sharpness control wasn't toned down. The CGI characters have the advantage of having no optical degradation via camera. Even though the remastered DVD transfers were done from the very original negative, that's still one step of optical degradation for everyone else just by passing through a lens. If you have a sharp CGI character interacting with a softer human character, yes, people will be able to tell the difference.
"Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow" took the right step in blending everything in its environment, by filtering the image. Well, that was probably more for the sake of the style of the film itself, but it worked in blending the actors (passed through a lens) with the CGI environments and other goodies (directly in digital image).
Lucas might have gotten into a completely digital way of filmmaking because there's no optical degradation involved, but for the sake of seamlessness, sharpness will have to be sacrificed.
Now, to try and put this theory into practice. Anyone who puts CGI in their low-budget movies want to try to take the risk, and see if it blends in better? Maybe not entirely, but probably better.
Another one to try out: green/bluescreen and backgrounds. Quite the opposite- subjects soft (like normal), background sharper. I'm noticing plenty of unconvincing bluescreen shots are because the subjects are way, way sharper than the out-of-focus background. It looks like they're in front of it, not within it.
The next shoot for "ZOMBIS!!!" has been delayed, due to abrupt notice and pre-occupation with schoolwork on the part of many people (for once, myself included). This will probably take two more Saturdays to accomplish.

31 October 2006-
Well, it's Halloween, and obviously, "ZOMBIS!!!" is far from finished. In fact, I've concluded that the footage that was in my Optura60 will definitely have to be reshot. My camera probably won't be back for another month.

Having only my family's DCR-TRV315, I'm trying to think of grainy orange-tinted movies that would suit it. But that's another story.

Thinking that my vibrating hand is the cause of my problems- and even if the footage survived, plenty of the shots have slight but ever-so-present shakes- I decided I had enough and wanted to build a cheap Steadicam. For once, Google actually displayed something that suited my filmmaking needs:

$14 steadicam with metal pipes. It's good if you have a metal shop. My dad's workshop probably has plenty of these, but we'd defintiely need to buy more, and the time it takes for the garage to finally get organized is probably the same amount of time it would take to get my camcorder back.

Aniket commented that he could probably do something like this with PVC pipes.

Looking up Steadicam on Wikipedia to see what a professional one looks like (it looked weird enough to be part of the weapons in "Aliens", apparently), I get linked to "fig rig". Might as well.

Very small article, but a very inspiring link.

Well, there's your PVC pipes. A $10 rig, it's almost like a steering wheel with your camera in the middle of it. Your grip on the camera is the handles on the sides, with the only concern being the pipes randomly falling apart (camera strap around the neck as safety, probably). Being the compact locations we at Dead Moose, Inc. tend to use, a fig rig would probably be even better for our purposes. As well, it fits the vertical movements better.

Either way, I want something that won't kill Richie's camera, which we will be using for now the entirety of the film.

7 November 2006-
A week later, and the Optura60 is back. Immediately, I check to see if the footage has been salvaged.

To my amazement, it has. And to my amazement, it's crap, and I plan to reshoot it. The first scene, even before I got the footage back, I felt disastrous and was never done properly. The second, which I shot half of, was overacted and, of course, was consisently vibrating due to my shaky hand. It's unpleasant to view, and I know we can do better than this. It would be nice to be able to turn in all first takes, but my concern is delivering quality product. Dead Moose, Inc. has been on ice for six months now. The pressure is on.

"ZOMBIS!!!" will still be shot entirely on the Optura20, mainly because I'm not up for color-correcting between two cams.

Filming a lit project, which was responsible for cancelling a potential "ZOMBIS!!!" filming session, I tested out a new "invention" of mine. A tripod I bought at the flea market, you see, broke. The head and the legs are separated now, so I'm using strictly the head for moving shots. While I was having the worst time with my new Torchcam contraption, it was better when I thought of what it would be like to shoot handheld. Far from rock-steady, but it's still better than shakycam.

...then I realize that I prefer the Optura20 when talking about size. It's bigger. People usually like to measure the quality of our technology based on its compactness, but bigger tends to be easier to handle.

After much persuasion, "SCHEDULE" is back on the map. It's really irritating how long this thing has been 89% complete... I don't know, we started shooting in February... most of our edits accomplished by May... the idea was pitched way, way back in April 2005... and provided it gets released after this Friday, the movie would have taken 19 months to get made, on-and-off.

Nowhere near as ridiculous as the 15-month period of "The Last Fight Movie in the Universe", or the still-unfinished "Mutants" (scripted February 2005, commenced filming July 2005)... which, at our current rate, we'll finish in 2011.

Status of "The Suite" is unknown. We'll finish it, we just don't know when.

Kevin is still eagerly talking about filming "Productivity" on winter break.

In addition to all those projects on ice, I have two film school projects to finish: an editing exercise, and my final project. Depending on the material, I might use those as opportunity to test out my new anamorphic lens. least I know those two will be finished in 2006.

11 November 2006-
Yesterday, Richie and I continued post-production on "SCHEDULE". Right when we saw our Flash animator (Aniket) had several spelling errors in his opening credits sequence, we knew we couldn't release the film right away. So, now to deal with what else we have.

There's progress. It went from the 82% complete status we've had for around 23 years now, to 96%. Without any of the black placeholder cards we had before, it's no longer on workprint status and technically is releaseable... but we don't want to underachieve here. The opening will be corrected, and some further tweaks done with the editing.

If I wasn't so reluctant to use my editing program (thanks to my ever-deteriorating computer- come on, I haven't even had this thing for two frickin' years!), I'd do the tweaking that I would otherwise want to do: color-timing and further sound mixing.

As for the editing, I'll admit it's really not my style. "SCHEDULE" is the kind of movie which is created almost entirely in the editing room, running like an instructional video from the future made of security camera footage, with robotic voiceovers. It doesn't leave much room for my preferred editing by what the visuals have to say, instead, obeying the audio.

Since we've determined the project isn't going to be finished immediately, we also discussed a section that we'd like to reshoot. Reshoots are a luxury we can rarely afford, but as time passes by, I feel they're more and more necessary. I'm planning to reshoot select parts of "ZOMBIS!!!", and for the sake of quality product, we can afford to reshoot parts of "SCHEDULE"... especially since the shooting is the easiest part of that kind of film.

The status on "ZOMBIS!!!" is: we all feel that releasing it around next Halloween is a good idea [my release date is October 26, 2007]... and it could very well commemorate the 5th anniversary of when I shot the original "ZOMBI!!!". However, while my film crew feels no need to rush it, I feel that shooting should be done immediately, so as to ensure that it will be done. We can rest when it comes time for post-production. So many of our frozen projects haven't completed shooting, but I'd like at least one in the can... so that if we are able to, we may release it.

The "Code of 'Con'duct" prequels are making slow progress, though I'm hearing they are making progress regardless. Jessica, from what I hear, seems to be the floor leader of the writing team, and she will focus deeply onto character aspects of individual scenes. If anything, I think she wants to make sure these prequels are worth making, let alone worth seeing. There's no point if they're carbon copies of the original. Richie and I joked (or worried- take your pick) that there's so little detail in the original when compared to the in-progress scripts that we just might end up having to remake it for the sake of flow and continuity.

For me, my main concern and priority is getting my film school projects done. Thanks to traffic school in a few weeks, I might only have time for shooting those. My editing exercise is due on the 20th, and seeing "Babel" last night has been a very inspirational experience. The required length is 1-3 minutes, silent, and I think I can fit interlocking stories within 3 minutes... though they'll be blocks, not light years, away. If I'm satisfied with the product, it will be released online. The same goes for my final project.

25 November 2006-
"SCHEDULE" is delayed until Aniket is able to complete our titles. However, we have gotten a film released, finally.

Last week Saturday, I shot my editing exercise, titled "N", available on our video providers:

Google Video-

This is the first completed project released since "The Last Fight Movie in the Universe" (a whopping 6 months), and also our first opportunity to test out the new anamorphic lens. There are noticeable sections where the image on the sides looks washed out, but I'm very happy with the new framing capabilities and look forward to filming more projects in our newfound Distortovision process in the future.

Apparently, so does Aniket. He wants me to videotape a classroom performance of a play next week with the lens, and has expressed interest in doing some of his own projects with it.

Color timing is an area that I still need to improve upon, as the color continuity is terrible. Shot across a two-hour span and ending very close to sunset (after 4PM). It was far easier to color-time "SCHEDULE", which despite its use of two different cameras, had less of a difference in colors. That, and my constant adjustment of exposure on "N" didn't help too much, either.

Screening the project in my film class, praise came from everyone for either the camerawork or the editing looking professional. Most of them demanded more close-ups, to an extent of which I agree. Of the more interesting comments I got were:

-"I didn't understand what card game they were playing, until I realized they were playing Blackjack wrong."

Guilty as charged. In the future, I should make time for technical consultants, as I have very little knowledge of [or interest in] card games. Most of my school buddies know more about card games than myself, though one of my actresses didn't have a clue what she was playing.

-"What were they fighting over? I didn't get that. Were you trying to be artsy? What was the relationship between the girls and the car?"

These are probably errors I'll never fix in my filmmaking. I hate spelling things out, and sorry to sound arrogant, but I give my audience more credit than to be treated like 8-year-olds. Spoon-feeding information has never been something I enjoyed experiencing while watching films, and it's something I hate doing. Sometimes, I do get carried away with how much I don't tell, which has the effect of being random, and it does infuriate me when people tell me that I need to outright explain the scene [this hissy-fit of mine being one of the reasons I dropped "Broadway Syndrome: a pilot"].

Upon reflection, they were probably right about "Broadway Syndrome", but with "N", plenty of other people understood it by the end.

...and just what is so important about superficial details like how the girls were related to each other and the car? If allowing people to use their imagination to fill in those blanks is what is called "artsy", then so be it. But there's just no fun afterward if there's nothing more to fill in.

These aren't plot holes. Thankfully, nobody complained about the ending, but I have a complaint to make about modern-day films, plenty of which feel the need to reveal every single detail at once about how the crime was really planned, or what happens to our lovers all up until they get old.

["The Usual Suspects" and the original Italian version of "The Last Kiss", for those of you wondering if I was pointing at anything specifically. I tend to prefer endings like "Paris, Texas", "The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada", as well as the American remake of "The Last Kiss" (one day, people will stop their anti-remake bigotry and see such films with an open mind).]

One complaint came outside the class, related to the film's utter lack of sound [this was an exercise in visual storytelling, therefore, sound was absolutely prohibited]:

-"Why silent? It made me feel deaf/Put some ragtime music over it/Release it in black-and-white."

A sound version, with better color timing in addition, might be in the works in the future. Films are about what's on the screen for me, but there's a couple of details I could add with the use of sound, and it's accessibility I can stand.

[I'd much rather reinstate every sound back in the picture than reveal what the girls and their relation to the car is]

The raggy-time music and black-and-white were probably tongue-in-cheek responses, but if I wanted to create an homage to 1920s cinema, I would have done so. Silence is something I'd like to experiment with more in the future, and admittedly, it did have its advantages during shooting, mainly:

Outside noise didn't ruin the take! At least three instances, a cellphone rang or someone was babbling in the background, all stuff we've had happen before. Not this time, when we pretended the noises weren't there during filming and just did the take normally.

As for my final project, I'm going to need to hurry on a concept, or get stuck in a group. I've deemed my current treatment, despite earning an "A-/B+", unacceptable due to the fact that so many editing exercises shown to the class fell for the same hackneyed "It was all a dream!!! ...NOT!" ending. Well, the next two weekends are blacked out due to SAT and traffic school, so I'm going to have to resort to after-school filming, which means looking for avaiable actors.

Fun, fun, FUN!

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