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.