Talking about the process of film-making is my favorite thing in the world, so I've included a few notes about our production.
1) Cinematography: The camera is the least important part of cinematography, but people ask, so: we shot Red RAW 6k. (We wanted to shoot 4k, there’s no reason for anyone to shoot an indie film 6k, but on this camera that would have required cropping into the sensor and changing the field of view, so we stuck with the 6k.) Lighting is the most important part of cine, and we had a philosophy of really embracing shadow and trying to shape the light deliberately whenever we could, even though we worked with an incredibly limited G+E package. I think the most interesting part of our look is the lens package; we shot almost the entire film on old Soviet lenses in a PL mount but not rehoused (our focus puller hated me for this). We used long lenses almost exclusively (54, 85, 135, and 180mm), though on occasion we used a 35mm, and for 2 shots (both in the trailer) we had to use the Rokinon 14mm. Lens tests revealed that the Soviet glass got a little soft wide open, so we shot at a 2.8/4 split for most of the film. I’m fanatic about a consistent grain structure and low noise, so we shot at in ISO of 200 throughout (though the RED’s ISO is more of an EI). We also frequently used a close-up filter (+1, +2, and +4 diopter) for the macro shots, and we used a split field diopter for a few images as well (in the film, not the trailer). We also frequently used a blue streak filter (noticeable on the right side of the split screen shot in the trailer) because it created both depth and haze. The rental house double checked that we really wanted that filter, as no one had rented it before.
2) Post on Set: For no-budget filmmaking, the single most important place to put your money is on SOUND. The second is on crafty. But when you’re fortunate enough to have any real budget at all, I always say that getting on on-set editor is key. I won’t do a film without it. In this case, we had both an editor and an AE/DIT person. Their jobs didn’t break down like a normal set, but in our case, the AE imported the footage, dropped a LUT on it, synched audio and video, and rendered proxies every night. The next day, our editor could cut the footage together. The implications of this are huge for a director who previously only ever dumped the footage and reviewed it all only after we wrapped. On one occasion, the editor was able to tell me I missed a crucial piece of coverage, so I was able to go back and get it. I didn’t watch the cut dailies, I don’t like to, but three days after we wrapped, the producers and I were able to watch a rough cut of the entire film. It was absolutely a rough rough cut, but it built enough enthusiasm to secure more funding and passion for the project. We spent a long time editing this film after that, working to get the frequent split screen and macro shots right. Pacing was essential, and so we cut the story to its bone, from like 110 minutes to 90 to make it as lean and powerful as possible.
3) Directing: This is my job and my passion, but it’s also the most difficult to discuss because it’s so all-encompassing. I’ll share a few tidbits, then happy to answer any questions, if they come up. My initial influence for this film was actually twofold: Bergman’s film “Persona” and a novel called “Infinite Jest.” I’m mostly interested in trying to find novel ways of visual expression, and so I worked hard on this film to try and strain the visual grammar of traditional American audiences through both shooting and editing choices. In terms of my process, I adamantly refuse to write shot lists or draw storyboards. I find that shot lists are really pernicious for two reasons. For one, if you have a list of shots you’re going to do, many crews will treat this like a checklist, and if you realize you want to add a shot here or there, they tend to grumble. What’s worse is if you finish the shot list, they’ll mentally be ready to go home / wrap that location. You never want that. A little uncertainty and chaos on set is healthy. More than that, though, is that shot lists limit you. They’re a crutch, especially because I think it’s impossible to know how to film a scene until you know the blocking, and you can’t know the blocking until the actors put it on its feet. You could rehearse at location, sure, but I’ve found that does more harm than good, as (at least on my films), the actors engaging with the material for the first time often brought really unexpected actions, and I never wanted rehearsals to blunt the excitement of discovery of these beats. Having said that, do I have two guiding principles on set when I direct. The first is “don’t be boring.” Films, first and foremost, must entertain. The second rule is: “whatever your first instinct is, ignore it. That’s also the audience’s first instinct, and they have no need to pay us to entertain them if we give them what we expect. Push beyond to find the unexpected and the creative.” Lastly, I’ll say that the most important quality for a director to finish a film is enthusiasm and passion, but the most important quality for quality is stubbornness. Fight for your ideas, and don’t be afraid to see them through even if the whole crew thinks you’re nuts. Listen to and carefully consider criticism, but only change your mind if you think you were wrong, not because you’re afraid or someone with more experience tells you to.
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