Sorry Belmondo, Jean has another man on her mind…
The Film: http://vimeo.com/13114431
I do not like In Time - or rather, hardly do I like In Time. There was over a month gap between Nocturne and this one. Basically, after making three films so quickly, I was hardly in the mood for making more movies with such limited equipment, and such limited locations. The thought even occurred to me not to make another film in the same vein as those I had done before, but I went with it anyway, one day, out of boredom (which, in some cases, can be good filmmaking juice; in this case, though, the opposite happened).
I had had an image in my head for some time, on of me sitting in the living room on the couch, more or less in darkness, while the light from the windows came in a little bit through the blinds (in a way, silhouetting me). I knew that I wanted it as a first shot, and that I would only then go into the title credit (changing it up from those films that had come before, where the title always was the first thing to pop up). From there, though, I did not know what to do. In the shot, I am clearly either bored or frustrated, or maybe I was annoyed and I didn’t want to get any work done. Whatever the case, I decided that the film should focus on my daily tasks, since I needed to clean the house anyway. That’s not such a bad film idea at all, so long as, in the editing, it’s handled right.
I tried to vacuum my bedroom, but, while I was shooting, the vacuum cleaner never started working (it wasn’t until after I ended the shot that I figured out that the particular socket I had plugged it into was broken, thus allowing me to vacuum my room soon afterward). I then dealt with my laundry, my desire to eat, shaving my face, etc., all in very long static takes. I expected the film to end up being quite long, looking at the footage I had. I was filming the tasks in their entirety, and I didn’t plan to really cut (kind of Jeanne Dielman it up, without any of the actual subtext of that great film) too much while editing. Right after I completed shaving, I came up with a way for the film to end, a way, really, to actually give the film some kind of meaning (as it would have been an incredibly meaningless and self-indulgent exercise otherwise). Since I had maintained a more saddened face for the entire film, I knew that it would be easy to show just what could bring this man joy: Movies.
I filmed images from the two posters I had hanging up in my bedroom (from What Time is it There?, Lee Kang-Sheng, and from Good Night and Good Luck, David Strathairn), and then I proceeded to film me choosing a film to watch and pulling it from my shelf. It ended up being a longer shot than I had anticipated, as I had a hard time getting the DVD out, and then a hard time putting some back on the shelf afterward. Because it was me, I, of course, did not even think to reshoot the shot, because, well, that might be lying (a bullshit reason, maybe, but a reason nonetheless). I then shot me putting the film in the PS3, starting it up, and then getting a big damn grin on my face as the opening rolled onto the screen. What joy the finished film of In Time should have ending as such! A joy that I, really, would never end up capturing, due to an insistence on a not-critical-enough approach to editing.
During the editing process, I allowed the shots to go on…and on…and on. I felt that what I was doing in the camera was interesting enough as to keep many individuals satisfied; hell, I’d seen plenty of films that had had such a similar way of being made that ended up as masterpieces, and so why shouldn’t I do something similar? Really, that was my big mistake. Those individuals who made those films knew what they were doing, had crafted everything rather perfectly, and so were able to edit and create rhythms easily. I, on the other hand, was not some kind of seasoned filmmaker - I was a more pretentious one, the type who thought he could easily get away with something such as that. It was a bold-faced lie I was telling myself, and everyone else, with that film. What did I think people watched such films for? For the boredom factor? To my credit, I did cut a few shots down, realizing that they’d likely make the film around twenty minutes long, and I didn’t want that the be the case. Sadly, though, I did not choose to cut down the shot of me pulling the DVD off of the shelf, and, instead, screwed up the entire more quick pacing of the last portion, where everything is supposed to be turning into joy after a hard day’s work (now that I think of it, a lot of the film doesn’t even make sense in the narrative way; if I had thought harder, I would have noticed that my idea to have a shot of me calling a friend only amounted to boredom, and not to hard work, and so why did I ever even wait to put on a film in the first place?).
The ending was too fast. I may have known that after finishing editing, or maybe I realized it later that night right before going to bed. I was very excited after I had finished the film, and I tried to show it to many people. That said, I also clearly knew that there was something a little disingenuous about it, because I already felt that I needed to get away from that type of movie-making. Still, it wasn’t until later that night when I realized, watching it for the second or third time, just how much of a blunder I had made. The first portion of the film, in which everything work/boredom oriented happens, was WAY too long, likely putting off an audience so fast it couldn’t tell where the film began. The latter portion was also, at its start, too long, and then it all ended too quickly. I did not get that sense of joy across at all. I end the film on an image of me smiling, but for what? I’m watching a film - great; after twelve minutes of tedium beforehand, that’s what I choose to do? It was a bad, bad film. I felt like I needed to re-edit it, but I was too lazy to do so, insisting, instead, on letting the film be, since I had already uploaded it and taken the time to put it together. It was a mistake of a film, and I had been pretentious enough to create it.
All of that said, I suppose I could have done worse things, and, in a way, I am glad that I made it, essentially because I think it really pushed me toward something more expressionistic for my next two films, one with no characters at all (basically), and one with simply one static shot meant to perturb anyone willing to sit through it. In Time might just be the worst film I’ve made (likely not, because other things I did in high school had gotten pretty damn bad at times), but, ah well; I made the damn thing, and so I will not shove it away into a drawer for no one to see. It is a piece of me, of my work, and so I want it to remain in existence for as long as possible. It is also a good example of just how wrong one can go when he decides to follow the same formula again and again (something that I fear is happening to me right now, too, with my documentaries). I am simply glad that I managed to break with that monotony eventually, pushing much of this completely out of my system. Hopefully all of that was able to come through in the following films.
The film: http://vimeo.com/12010824
To start, I had never done a tracking shot before. It was something I had seen a lot in different movies, sometimes used to incredibly great effect, and sometimes used for no reason other than to look pretty (in my opinion, that’s not a good enough reason). I am always afraid of committing the act of doing something simply because it “looks” good, and that’s why Nocturne, for me, has always been a kind of scary film; I ask myself constantly whether the use of the camera is, in this sense, justified, whether the movement helps get across the idea better. Now I am under the impression that it does, even if there’s really not so much a story to be told, nor really much to be gained from the film. Still, I find it interesting.
The idea for the movie came as I was on my roommate’s computer in his bedroom, while my other roommate, Ben, played the piano in the living room. It had not been very long since I’d made a film, but, of course, I was very much in the groove to do so. I went into the living room and noticed the distance from the doorway to the piano, and what kind of dramatic tension could be gained - if only I had a way to shoot across the floor! Remembering Remembrance, I knew that there was no way I could hold the camera steady enough while walking that could produce the type of image that I wanted. Then, though, an idea flew into my mind. My other roommate had a rolling chair located in his room! Why had I never thought of that before? In any case, I grabbed it as quick as possible and sat the laptop on it in an attempt to see how it would hold up under movement. It was not the most steady thing I’d ever seen, but it was passable if I held the laptop down as I pushed the chair. Also, the wheels creaked, but I could not get around that. Ah well.
I did a test run or two before I told my roommate that I wished to make a film with him, one that probably wouldn’t be too long, but which would start with him playing a tune as the camera pushed in on him from the hallway (originally, the shot was going to begin looking into the bathroom, but, because of the way I shot the film, it didn’t end up working that way). I had, again (as always), no idea where the film would go from there, but we’d work it out as we went along. I captured the first shot pretty well. We had decided that he would get frustrated at getting a certain portion of the tune wrong, and so he would stop. That seemed like a good place to cut, and so, after we finished the shot, we sat for a moment and decided what to do next. After a few moments of contemplating, we came up with the notion that he should be bored after finding nothing to eat, and that he should try to call up a friend, only to get his voicemail (he would leave a message). Then, he would get coffee, and he would go back to playing the piano after calming down and finish more of the piece, correctly this time.
The film basically worked as planned, although Ben never left the message on his friend’s phone as I had desired. As I look at it now, I realize that it was for the best. I would usually, in films, do something like that, where I would leave a message for someone after “not getting a hold of him,” and so there would be more interaction, even if there was no one there around me. But this was different - this was the actor doing what he thought best, and I find it interesting, because it imparts the idea that he literally is all alone. Also, there are no words spoken in the entire film, and it is, again, interesting to see what can be done through images and movement that words might have soiled.
For the last shot of the film, I turned off the hallway light (basically a continuity error, but I didn’t care), and had Ben walk into the darkness, then come to the piano, where he would look at himself, drink a sip of coffee, and then continue playing the piano as the camera tracked away down the dark hallway. The first take of the shot went all right, but I wasn’t completely satisfied after the editing was done (I was basically editing the film as it was being shot, especially since it only being three shots, all very structured, made it very easy). Thankfully, Ben was smarter than I. Whereas I was simply ready to call the film done, Ben said to reshoot it if I wasn’t fully satisfied, and so we did. This time, the shot worked much better, and I was thrilled to be working with someone who was willing to put in a little more work for something that would come out better. I very quickly finished editing the film, adding the credits, and then I uploaded it as soon as possible.
I think Nocturne is the film that more people like than any of my others, and, for a while, I was a little perturbed, because I thought the film had even less meaning than the previous two films. Essentially, I just thought people liked it because of its pretty camera. And maybe they did. That said, thinking about it again, I notice that the film does actually tell a complete story, one where the camera’s movement, and, at times, its lack of movement, actually helps to reinforce the state of the piano playing. When all is well, the camera glides virtually effortlessly around. But when the player is having issues, the camera almost stops dead. I am not going to say that the film is some kind of masterpiece, but I certainly enjoy it; the three shots that comprise the film are, for me, pretty cool to see, and I’m glad that I started experimenting in that way. Essentially, that’s all the film was, anyway - an experiment - but I think it works as a legitimate story, too, and so I’m quite pleased with it. And it was the last film I made for a while that was doing anything interesting at all.
Note: This film was supposed to, after I noticed a trend going on from this work and Remembrance, be the second part of a “Struggling Artists” trilogy, where my other roommate, Marcos, would play a guitarist who deals with procrastination. That film, though, was never made, and so now I don’t really look at Remembrance and Nocturne as being linked at all. Such is filmmaking!
The film: http://vimeo.com/11941968
After completing A Day Concerning Film, I wanted to make another movie as soon as humanly possible. And so, two days later, I grabbed my roommate’s laptop again, and, while most everyone was away, I began filming.
The first image in the film is one that had been in my head for a while - a dark room with just the lamp on a person sits unmoving with his back toward the camera, silhouetted by the window before him. I didn’t know what to do from there, though, because, while striking images are always interesting to have, if the image doesn’t mean anything, or does not have any context within the film as a whole, then what is the image really but a lie? Seeing as how my previous film had been concerning art, I decided to make this one about an artist who is stuck in a rut. I cleared off the desk, setting everything to the side next to my TV (in the profile shot, all my mess that had previously been laying there can be seen next to me), and I grabbed my sketch pad and a pencil and laid everything down before me.
I took a chair from our dining room and set it in the hallway directly outside my room, and I put the computer on top of it. The chairs themselves are kind of a pain in the ass, as they have the ability to rock back and forth without falling, but, in that way, it is hard to keep them stable. After making sure that everything was set, I went to record the shot. Still, I wasn’t exactly sure what was going to happen in it, or how long it should be. I pressed record, went to the chair, and sat for a bit. Then I leaned forward over the pad of paper, and, after a bit, I got up from my chair and paced around my room until I figured that I had enough material. I looked at the shot, how everything was timed, and it seemed pretty good. I wanted to cut another shot into it, though, seeing as how my first film, while having continuity editing, did not include a shot-reverse shot edit. I set the camera up on a few books to my right on my bed, and I did some of the actions that took place before I had stood up in the chair in the previous shot. The main issue was framing, and making sure that I wasn’t lopping myself completely out of the frame. After completing the shot, I checked everything over and found that it all looked quite well. Where, then, was I to go from there?
I didn’t really know what should happen, although I was acutely aware that, since my last film had taken place entirely within the confines of my apartment, I wanted to move the action outside. Also, watching some Apichatpong movies earlier in the year (most notably, for this film, A Letter to Unlce Boonmee) had convinced me that it would be cool to have slower shots that capture nature, and man within that nature. It was a little daunting at first, utilizing a laptop that wasn’t mine and filming outside - I wasn’t sure the safety of everything. That said, I wanted to make the film, and so I made sure that the computer would always be safe during my outdoor excursion.
I grabbed a stool from my dining room and set it outside on our porch. I put the computer on it, but I realized that, in terms of framing, everything was wrong - it was all too low. I needed something to set on top of the stool, but under the computer, and so I grabbed a few pizza boxes that were still sitting on our counter, and it raised the computer up the necessary few inches it needed to achieve its proper height. I started recording, deciding that I would shoot a shot in which I walked out and sat at a table, and then, after doing so, I walked back to the porch pretty quickly to turn the camera off. I then took the camera and set it on another table to get a closer shot of me sitting; during the shot, I decided that I wanted to shoot on the tennis court, and so I made sure that, within the shot, I made it obvious that I was struck by something. I cut, and, after shooting a shot directly into the sky, capturing some clouds, I was kind of stuck.
Walking around with a laptop is not the easiest thing in the world, and what’s harder than that is having the camera on the laptop on while attempting to hold the computer still enough while moving to get a good steadicam-like shot. I knew that I needed a shot that got me to the tennis court, and that I didn’t want the film to feel repetitious in its structure, and so I thought that this kind of shot might break up any monotony that might have erupted onscreen. I did a run with the laptop that was incredibly shaky, and so I decided that, instead of walking all the way from the table to the tennis court, I would simply reference the table by having the camera facing toward that direction first, and then it would look over the fence into the tennis court (meaning that the camera only had to move a few feet rather than about a hundred, and not uphill, this time). I got the shot the way I needed, and then I put the camera down at the corner of the tennis court, hoping that, during the next take, I would be essentially center screen as I looked up in the sky. Fortune smiled down on me, because, after performing the take, I was able to watch and see that it came out virtually exactly as I had planned.
I figured that the film was basically done being filmed (I would use the hot of the clouds as the last shot of the film, hoping to leave the audience with some kind of existential feeling), but I decided to film my walk back into the house anyway, carrying the computer along with me the whole way. As I entered the house, I sat the camera down on the counter in my kitchen and grabbed myself a glass of Coke, which I drank pretty quickly, letting the camera continue filming me until I was done. A little bit later, I began the editing process, although, because of some issues (which I cannot fully recall - something to do with not being able to get the files onto iMovie, I think), I wasn’t able to start editing until later. I sat around my house for a while, just trying to put together all of the shots in my head, and where the film would go - it was like an after-pre-visualization - all so that my editing would be very quick so that I could upload the film as soon as possible (I actually do edit very fast, anyway, but it’s always nice to know where your footage is going beforehand).
Of course, I knew that the film really meant nothing - there was a kind of story, I suppose, in that some frustrated guy goes outside and then is obviously having some kind of connection with the world (now that I think of it, a different ending could have been created that would have fit more with the beginning of the film, and it would have been very easy; I didn’t go that route, though). That said, there wasn’t really any kind of revelation or resolution to be had. I was really fine with that, though, simply because I wasn’t too worried about telling any kind of story, so much as composition and editing (of course, I would have loved to have shoved meaning into every image, but I had been so dry on filmmaking for so long that making any movie at all was better than nothing).
Later, I started editing. I put the film together exactly like I had planned, and it actually worked out incredibly well. But, something didn’t seem quite right. I had this shot of me drinking soda, and, from the first outdoor shot, I had one of me heading back toward the direction of the house (which looked hasty and almost angry). Could those not be tacked on at the end, after a cut to black from the shot of the clouds? Might it add some kind of closure (something I don’t always find important, but, because of the thin material here, I felt may have been necessary). I tried out the two shots and realized that it was a good idea. What else, I realized that I needed a third shot, one that would end the film - a big closeup of me distressed and in thought. By this time, the sun had gone down, but that didn’t really matter, as a time cut as such was perfectly legitimate, tonally. I brought the camera into my room and put it on my desk. I turned on my bedroom lamp and noted that, when put almost directly above the camera lens, it produced a very hazy, gray effect, one that added an odd kind of mystique to the image, that I felt couldn’t hurt. I sat down and recorded myself for about thirty seconds, or so, shaking my head, and then calming down. I watched it, and it looked perfect. I imported it and stuck it on the end of the film, and then slapped credits on it that matched my previous film (when I had finally put credits on it later).
I watched the movie, and I found it pretty interesting. At the end of last year, I considered it the best film I had made (or maybe second best, right after A Million Miles per Second) for the whole year, and I am still rather pleased with it. I originally thought that the film means nothing, and, while it still might not have a grand, life-affirming message, at least it does, in some way, tell a story: A frustrated artist leaves his house and recalls his past, which drives him into a fit. The title Remembrance came from the recognition of this alone - it was swirling memories that caused his stress. Does it mean anything? I don’t know. I don’t know that anyone can relate it to his or her own life, because it doesn’t tell one what to do when this type of thing occurs. The film merely shows that it does occur, and that attempting to solve one problem with another might only make things worse. In many ways, as vain as this might sound, I’m still kind of astonished by it. It’s not like I consider it some kind of masterwork, but I do find that, for me, it holds up very well.
The film: http://vimeo.com/11912436
It was interesting. A little over a year ago (about a year and two months ago, to be more precise), something finally kicked in. At the point, I hadn’t made a film since high school (two years before), and I was getting very annoyed - annoyed, because I was living in Austin, the place in which I’d dreamed of living for several years, and I was watching plenty of great cinema. Many people I knew online had gotten themselves Vimeo accounts, and their filmic outputs made me feel a little sad; I had a body of work that I had made in high school, but I had no way to share it, due to it all being burnt to DVDs, and my lack of know-how on ripping the files. I wanted to finally put myself back into work, to show what I could do given a little bit of time and a camera.
Of course, I had no camera. Also, I was running desperately low on money, and so, of course, I couldn’t even get something cheap. That said, though, I had shot a few videos to post of myself on Facebook utilizing my roommate’s laptop webcam; the footage wasn’t great, of course, but it was usable, and, if I worked okay with light, then I might be able to produce some interesting effects. And so, as I was sitting at this very table over a year ago, I started shooting A Day Concerning Film.
I didn’t know what the movie would be called originally, or what would happen in it. I captured a shot of me pouring a glass of Coke, and then walking out of the kitchen. It looked pretty good. I was hungry, and so I captured a shot of me going to the pantry to grab a few cookies, and then of me looking through my DVD collection that hung on the wall. I pulled out the film that I’d been wanting to watch earlier that day, Breathless, and I put it on. I kept moving the camera around the room as I would move between each action, getting closer in when necessary, moving further out, always trying to keep composition interesting, and to keep things looking continuous. The layout of the film was heavily Akerman-inspired (notably Jeanne Dielman), and I did nothing that I thought would compromise what was happening on screen. About halfway through shooting, I got a phone call from my friend Mark, and I decided to film that, too - of course, he didn’t know that he was actively participating in the creation of this film while it was happening. I kept repositioning the camera every time I felt it was right. Thankfully, the conversation stayed on the topic of film, and so it stuck with what it seemed like the movie would end up being about. After shooting for what I considered to be a reasonable amount of time, I stopped and decided to edit together what I had at my disposal.
The editing was a nightmare, initially. I didn’t know how to work the newest version of iMovie (the only editing software to which I had access), and so, for a little while, I was stuck. I imported the footage, and then I realized that I had no idea how to flip the footage - because it was shot on iPhoto, all of the videos imported backward. I kept checking for ways to flip the image, but none seemed to pop up. I was dismayed, but at least I had shot something, and, although it was backward, it was all still coherent. And so I put my backward footage on the timeline, and I went ahead with the editing. After figuring out how to make a cut, I noticed that, for some reason, my footage seemed cropped on the top and bottom. So it was. The webcam shot in 4:3, but the image displayed on the film was in 16:9. I figured out how to change it, but I recognized that it didn’t hurt the film to be in widescreen, and so I just left it. I didn’t really care, and I knew that, on future films, I’d be more prepared (also, I would make sure that my films would be shot in an almost necessarily 4:3 mode, the compositions being incredibly important).
(Note: The only films I’d made previously on iMovie had been in the tenth grade, before I was able to use Final Cut. After that, I vowed never to use iMovie again, because of its simplicity that actually caused it to be very hard to get anything done (like cutting to something else while keeping the audio from the original shot). Of course, though, when your only option is to edit on an inferior system, you take it anyway.)
It didn’t take me so long to edit, and the title came pretty quickly, too. What am I doing in the film? I’m watching movies and talking about movies. And so the title A Day Concerning Film popped into my head, and I ran with it. After figuring out how to export it, I let it sit for a while, and then I finally was able to upload it onto Vimeo. After I had, I felt a sting of pride that I had finally accomplished something that I had been waiting years to do. It was a very simple film, one that was almost doing nothing, and saying less, but that made me very happy, anyway. I did notice later, regretfully, that there were issues with sound that I hadn’t noticed before, due to it being edited without headphones. Also, for some reason, I had neglected to add any credits at the end, something that’s pretty odd (although, since I made the film entirely by myself, I wasn’t too bothered). I went back after I had shown it around to people to edit it for a a few sound issues, and to add some credits at the end. That version is not online, but it was on a DVD I made for my sister at the end of last year.
It was the first film I had made in two years, and, while it was kind of meaningless, A Day Concerning Film was enjoyable to create, and I am quite pleased with it. Thankfully, it was the kick that I needed to get back into making more movies, a kick that I had been waiting to happen for a long time.
Damn, I don’t think I write enough on this mother-trucker.
Today, or rather, yesterday now, I signed up for Cinema 21 on The Auteurs for the role of leading a discussion on a filmmaker who has become big in the last twenty years. Who did I chose? Why, someone who I’ve seen no films by, of course! I chose Tsai Ming-Liang, the allegedly great Taiwanese director, who I am supposed to start receiving movies by very soon. I am excited to get to delve into his work, much of which seems fascinating (also, since his favorite movie is The 400 Blows, and since he has worked with Jean-Pierre Leaud, I can already say that he’s up there in my book). I just hope that I end up liking his stuff! A friend of mine asked me what would happen if I ended up hating his movies; while I don’t think that’s likely to happen (although I’ve been wrong before), I would still be able to lead a discussion on the man, especially after seeing virtually all of his movies.
I guess my only issue is with the research I must do on him; of course, I brought this on myself. Basically, I just do not want to have something that is very dull for people to read on the site, and I do not want to have lame discussions. I must learn as much as I can about the man and his films (perhaps watch the commentaries, if there are any, and any special features I can find). I do not want to fail on the task of enlightening individuals on a director who is highly regarded.
I am also, though looking very much so forward to the Cinema 21 project as a whole, because I will learn about some new filmmakers, myself, and I will most certainly participate in the discussions of Weerasethakul, Haneke (if I’ve seen his films by then), Hong, Jia, and a few others (maybe I’ll check out some Sono Sion before that, too). This is a very exciting project that was proposed for The Auteurs, and I’m glad that i can be a part of it (unlike my relationship with The Auteurs World Cup 2009).
I started school the other day; I think these classes will be very beneficial. While I am only taking two total (and only one right now; the other starts mid February), I must say that reading a bunch of short stories (and analyzing them) should be a lot of fun, and acting should help me to a very large extent with my directing. Hopefully when I make movies, I can have acting in them like Hong has in his films, because I have never seen a bad performance in his films. I just hope that I can figure out what to say to an actor to get what I’m looking for; I do not want to be the type of director who cannot communicate his ideas to his actors, and, subsequently, to his audience.
Having Netflix has been like a Godsend; I have now seen virtually every Weerasethakul film (except The Adventures of Iron Pussy), and I am very pleased to say that they have all been very good (although I am not fully sure of what to make of two of them…). Also, I now have the ability to watch Wenders, Hawks, Bahrani, etc., as well as many films I’d only heard of at some point in my life, incredibly easy through the instant watch. This has to be the best system for watching movies at home. I just wish that their selection was even bigger than it was; but do not think that I’m complaining, because, while Netflix does not have everything, but just taking a ride down the street, I can get to Vulcan Video which has virtually everything else that I cannot find elsewhere. Sure, it’s not like they’ve got Tale of Cinema, or The Turning Gate, but I can get myself a copy of Celine and Julie Go Boating from there, even if it’s on VHS, and I was able to procure a copy of The Mother and the Whore on DVD, even though there is no American DVD release of it at all. Really, if I can’t find a movie that I’m looking for around me, then it must be obscure out the wazoo.
I’m going to take a little time out from my logs about the films I’ve made and just make some general statements, thoughts, etc.
Lately, I’ve been trying to see much more Asian cinema. Up until very recently, I’d seen only about four or so films from that huge continent: Not One Less (Zhang Yimou, China), Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (Paul Schrader, Japan), Patriotism (Yukio Mishima, Japan), and Phantoms of Nabua (Apichatpong Weerastheakul, Thailand). Even then, essentially, Mishima is something I almost don’t consider a Japanese film, simply because of Schrader (while the film clearly is Japanese, it is still made by an American, thus making me not so sure as how to categorize it).
A few weeks ago, though, I decided to dip my toes into Asia a little deeper, by finally getting around to looking at some of the film on The Auteurs World Cup, and some other films that have simply been recommended to me by some very knowledgeable people. I watched Kim Ki-duk’s 3-Iron, Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Syndromes and a Century, and Hong Sang-soo’s Woman on the Beach. The three films were clearly of very different styles, very different directors, as films from every country are, but they were endlessly fascinating, in a way that pleased me to no end. After witnessing these films, I only have intense hope for what comes next. I was fortunate to rent last night Yi Yi by Edward Yang, which is supposed to be some kind of masterpiece of Chinese cinema (really, of cinema altogether). I should be very pleased to see it, as it was one that was able to make its way into the American marketplace better than some other films (although those films are no less fantastic, I’m sure).
It is always interesting to look at and note which films were able to cross the threshold of cinema, those films that were able to make a name for themselves, even if they seemed to fly in from a country intensely under the radar (to American’s eyes, at least). Most people I know have not seen a film from Korea, or perhaps from China (some have seen films from Japan, usually Kurosawa), but it seems that, most often, people are almost locked into whatever becomes a big hit. Oldboy, for instance, is a film that is highly regarded (often) by both film buffs and the mass public (who have seen it, at least). It’s a film that was at least able to be shown in a wider distribution here than many other films like it.
But why is that? Why don’t more films make it to the US from other countries? I know that not every film made in another country must be a masterpiece by definition, but it is true that we, and most of the world, would love to have a different choice in the films we choose to see in theaters. Sure, there are plenty of good films that come out in America (or I believe, at least), but there are so many other films out there which almost are not even known by anyone, because they were shown in maybe one theater in the whole country, and no one really wanted to back it. I must say that, after watching Syndromes and a Century, I can tell that a film like that would only sell to select audiences; then, though, don’t those audiences deserve the chance to see it? Aren’t most films, in fact, geared toward a specific audience? Why should a film like that be any different? I have to say that, the more I think about it, the better it gets, and the more I want to see it again. I’m fortunate that I’ve been able to, but there are plenty of people searching for good movies who may not even have the opportunity to find it, since it’s only known in certain circles around here (and it is more difficult to find than your average film). It is annoying to me that I may never have the opportunity to witness the film with a vast audience, that a Thai director just isn’t on everyones’ radar.
It’s interesting, too, when I look at what is reviewed by critics; some of them attempt to see many, many films, particularly those not on peoples’ radars, but they are few and far between. When I search through a database and look for who reviewed what, I’m often disappointed to note that I can hardly find many good sources that have reviewed the film, or many places where I could possible read more about it (if I haven’t seen it). It bothers me that there are too few critics who aren’t able to see these movies, either; if there were, I must say that the public might be much more well-aware of what it was missing.
My third big film, A Dream of Life, is not a good movie. It is, in fact, one of the least effective films I’ve made, because it simply does not have the tension and life to it that it needed to work. For that, I feel bad, but I can say that, while the film is not good, I still think it is obvious that I made the film; also, it uses some of the longest takes I’d used up until that point, which is good, because I started actually letting the camera run, instead of simply cutting every time I felt like it. That being said, I wish I had thought it out more.
By this time in my film career, I’d written many scripts, but only one of them had actually been turned into a film, even if it was less than a third of the entire script that was used (Natural High). This time, it was virtually the same as Blood Money, in that I had an idea that I wanted to execute, but that it did not become fully fleshed out until the day of shooting.
The basis for my idea came from Richard Linklater’s Waking Life, a film I had seen recently, and which had an enormous impact on how I viewed life and film, in general. Frankly, it was probably the most out-there film I’d seen at the time, with its complete lack of a coherent story, or any semblance of actual characters. Really, my film was essentially just like it, although no where near as in-depth, or good, in that case.
The story, if it can be called that, is this: a young girl (my sister) goes home, and then goes to sleep on the couch. She wakes up in the woods, and then she meets a lady sitting at a table (my mom), who talks to her about dreams and reality. She then leaves the table and spots someone in the woods. She rushes in and finds a boy (myself), who turns to her and discusses that maybe she is really dead, that her dreams might be essentially the end of her life, her brain shutting down. She gets freaked out and wakes up back on the couch. The end.
Yeah, not so great, I know, but I guess it was more experimental than anything. And, anyway, it could have been good, had I actually had good acting from any of us, and well-written words for my mom and myself. I don’t think my sister had a line; her role was entirely reactionary. Basically, I just really wanted to film it, because it was mostly outdoors, and I had never shot that before (I’m sure I could have come up with a much better film to shoot in a forest, though).
Once I was able to get a camera from my film class, I wrote down the words that my mom would have to say, and what I would have to say. We started shooting with the opening credits sequence, which ended up being longer than the rest of the film itself, just because I was being way too self-indulgent, and I didn’t notice until after the film was completed just how ridiculous it was (I think someone sighed in class as we watched it, when the credits continued to go on). At the outset of the film, my sister is swinging on a swing. She jumps off, grabs her book bag, and begins a walk back to the apartment. It was very easy to shoot, but I did have too many shots to get in that sequence. We went inside and filmed her falling asleep and waking up, and then we went back outside and shot her in the dream world.
The big issue was with me. I had some okay shooting in this one, in terms of camera placement, but sometimes I just had no idea what I was doing. Also, my mom couldn’t remember her lines, and so I had my sister holding up the paper in front of her, which caused her eye-line to be off from the cutting between she and my sister. It’s so obvious she’s reading it off a paper it’s not even funny. Plus, my mom is a very emotive person, but she’s not an actress (she never wanted to be, anyway, so it’s not a big deal), and so her delivery is very poor. Lastly, the most bothersome thing was, when I ended up stitching the takes together (I did a few, actually, one of the first times when I actually had about four different takes to choose from) during the editing, I realized that I start with a medium shot of my mom, and then a close-up, and then even a closer close-up, all because I was trying to get her lines in there. It’s really rather horrible editing, some of the worst I’ve ever done.
After that, though, came two pains in the neck at once. I have a pretty good long-term memory, but my short-term memory is not so great, and so I forget lines and stuff like that rather quickly (since I had just written them that day). One of the next shots was supposed to be of the camera following my sister back into the woods, where she was to find me. I had a very specific way in which I wanted the camera to move, but I only had my mom to operate it. Frankly, I thought it was quite obvious what I wanted (I wanted her to stay a certain proximity from my sister, but to always be following her into the woods), but it was very difficult for my mom to get the shot right. I would wait in the woods, say action, and then I would notice just how far back my mom was in trailing my sister, or the spot she ended up at with the camera, which was completely not where I told her she needed to be as the shot ended. I even resorted to having my mom watch me film the shot myself to get a better understanding, but it still took a few more tries.
Finally, we got a take I wanted, and then it was time for my big speech, which was one shot of me, starting when I turn around and begin talking directly to the camera. I think we actually got it in one take, but from the method of my line delivery, everyone watching (I’m sure) can tell that I was sort-of making up my lines as I went along, based on the words I had written. The monologue itself isn’t really any good, although it becomes tense because I am, yes, talking directly at the camera, and the score I laid under it added quite a bit of tension (I assume).
This was actually the first film I made in which I used a completely original score composed by me on the computer. The one I did for Natural High used loops already installed; this one, though, just used the software instruments, which I played using the keyboard. The opening credits score is actually one of my favorite that I’ve ever written, simply because it actually gets across the tone exactly the way I wanted it. It’s sad, but it seems to have an air of mysticism to it, too, which was necessary for this film; it also is, in my opinion, rather beautiful.
All in all, the film is really just a slightly failed exercise into a genre I really didn’t know anything about. The ending is a complete cop-out, and the words don’t mean a thing. Sadly, I feel the film could have been much more, but I let a lack of preparedness get the better of me.
Then again, to be completely frank, I really do enjoy watching it. One time recently, I looked at it, and I went, “You know, this isn’t half bad; it’s not great, but you can tell it was by me, and I kind of like it.” Do I think I failed? Maybe, but somehow there’s something in the film that I do, in fact, like a lot, although I can probably never point it out to save my life. It will never be recognized as a masterpiece among my work (I hope), because it wouldn’t deserve that, but I am very glad I made it, and I will continue to watch it when I’m in that zone.