I was going through my Evernote to catch up on stuff I’ve saved but haven’t had time to digest and this Tony Zhou video came up. I realized that I already posted it but it’s worth posting (and watching) again, as are all of his video essays.
Having just directed a short film that relies mostly on physical comedy, and certainly using (or trying to use) it in The Deadline, I’ve really developed a profound appreciation for Keaton and the filmmakers he collaborated with. It’s insanely hard to pull of physical gags and requires a lot of good camera technique as well as performer technique. And rehearsal. And props. And special stages in Keaton’s case.
For the last short, I have people bumping heads on the sidewalk to pass out. Choreographing that was not easy, although it wasn’t impossible either. I’m still not 100% sure how it will turn out, but it looks good so far, at least in the long takes. I really didn’t want to use cheap tricks to get people to fall on the ground (hard pavement in this case), like cutting from the head bumps to the bodies on the ground. So we had to devise special padding that blends in with the sidewalk for the actors to fall on, which required the ingenuity of Jim Jarosz of Channel Awesome.
This was the third short I’ve directed and I would say 70% of my stress was around the physical humor — would it play well, would it look silly (in a not funny way), would anyone get hurt. 15% of my stress was the weather because we were outside and at the mercy of the rain, which fortunately the film Gods smiled upon us. The other 15% was the usual ever-present suspicion that everything would fall apart at any moment.
Last month I met with a DP to set a date for shooting a short film on June 10th. I wrote it and I’m going to direct it. And I’m producing it as I don’t have a go-to producer yet, a real partner to handle the big picture stuff of securing locations and finding talent and all that.
It’s not fun. I don’t hate it but it is not fun. What I don’t like about casting and hiring and finding locations and arranging all the resources to be on a certain day is this: it’s asynchronous. It’s a big spreadsheet with a lot of pending items. You can’t brute force it. You can’t spend 12 hours straight just knocking it out.
You have to wait for people to get back to you with someone’s email and then they do and you email that person and then you have to wait to hear back from them and they say “no, sorry, we don’t want you to film in our bar” and then you have to find another one.
It’s loose ends all over the place. Interlocking pieces that depend on other pieces, and endless if/else’s branching out in the rows and columns. It makes me slightly insane.
But there’s a date set, an immovable date slowly creeping toward you. Having gone through it a few times now, I know that on that date, everything will be there. Maybe not the way I hoped, but everything we need will be there.
The only thing that keeps me up at night is rain.
The possibility that it will rain on June 10 and that not everyone will be available for the rain date of June 11. Or that the Gods just decide that it will rain all that weekend and I have to decide if we’re going to make a mess in the mud and put everyone through a rainy production (if that’s even possible?) and scramble for tents at the last minute, or if we have to call the whole thing off and re-schedule.
On the bright side, it gets better. Going through this with The Deadline was crushing. There wasn’t a day from January 1 to March 22, 2016 when I didn’t feel like it was all going to fall apart at any moment. Now, it’s not so bad. It’s stressful, but I know that it will work out. If an actor drops out at the last minute, I’ll find another one. If the DP falls ill the morning of, I’ll figure something out.
You plan as best you can and then when shit goes sideways, you just take a deep breath and say “ok, what are our options?” It’s a kind of zen-like clarity that I actually enjoy in way. Once you’ve decided completely that you will make this thing happen, the setbacks don’t seem to matter. There’s no time to care or be angry.
The ship is moving and there’s no stopping it. When the ship springs a leak, do you jump overboard? No, you get a bucket and start bailing out the water. When your first mate mutinies, do you curse his lack of loyalty? No, you push him overboard and promote someone else. OK maybe this analogy is getting out of hand.
Anyway, it’s not life or death. It’s just comedy or art or whatever you want to call it. Once I’m done with this fucking spreadsheet, it will all be fun again.
My taste, I mean if I had to pick one movie, which I would never want to do, I keep thinking about “La Strada,” because there’s such a total commitment to those people and the movie never puts itself above any of the people in it. It’s a very Franciscan approach to the drama, and to me that’s very beautiful.
[Author] George Eliot said “the purpose of art is to extend our sympathies” which I think is very beautiful. Kubrick wished all movies were “more daring and more sincere.” A lot of directors today are focusing on what is daring, but are not really focused on what is sincere.
This week I found out that I was nominated for best director (for Off Book) at the Portland Comedy Film Festival:
I would say it’s humbling but it’s not, it’s the opposite, and I hate when people say things are humbling when they are the opposite. Getting rejected over and over by festivals for The Deadline is humbling. Getting foreclosed on is humbling (which did happen to me as a result of my own hubris). Getting nominated for awards feels amazing.
I really enjoyed this. Lots of good stuff in here on working with low budgets and getting the most out a little money, production-wise.
A few takeaways:
- He started with black and white to eliminate a lot of variables and work faster.
- He started with a scene where he could control the camera tightly, so that the first scene would be high quality and later shots in uncontrolled environments would register as a choice and not an accident.
- He did the same for sound, getting high quality sound in the first scene so that people weren’t immediately alienated by the quality of the sound.
- By the time people realized how cheap the film was, they were already into the story.
- Working in film noir or a crime film gives you a lot of creative freedom because the audience knows you’re going to get back to that main story, enabling you to take quite a few leaps and experiment without compromising the comprehensibility of the film.
Going through stuff saved in Evernote.
He passed away earlier this week.
Here’s an interview with some of this thoughts on filmmaking. I admire him and his work a great deal, but don’t agree with everything he says:
There are no rules in filmmaking. Only sins. And the cardinal sin is dullness.
I still love and find great joy in filmmaking. The part of the job that I love the most is being on set. Thanks to the 50 unlucky people that work with me all the time, they make my joy. When I start shooting I am surrounded by these technicians and actors who do nothing but to make me happy and to share my dream. What can I want more?
Luckily the cinema of filmmaking did not stop with La Nouvelle Vague. Of course there are many young directors that are avant-garde nowadays. I think all over the world there are two kinds of filmmakers: those who have the inner need to make films and those who just want to be in the film industry. The second category doesn’t interest me at all, while the first one is always very interesting. Having said that, I see a lot of movies and two or three per year are very good, but the rest you can forget.
The question “What is this movie about?” will be asked over and over again throughout the book. For now, suffice it to say that the theme (the what of the movie) is going to determine the style (the how of the movie)… I work from the inside out. What the movie is about will determine how it will be cast, how it will look, how it will be edited, how it will be musically scored, how it will be mixed, how the titles will look, and, with a good studio, how it will be released.