Tag Archives: filmmaking

and now for something comprehensive

As I have undoubtedly mentioned at some point in the last several months, I’ve devoted a lot of my filmmaking efforts in the first portion of 2012 to my senior thesis film (also known as comps at Carleton).  It’s an experimental piece called when you wish upon a star, essentially a mash-up of Lady Gaga music videos and Marlene Dietrich films with footage of myself, a (perhaps overly?) complicated and problematized exploration of persona, celebrity, gender performance, and the performance of identity in general.  It tries to be a film theory and critical analysis through film-making, a sort of “filmed theory” as I have termed it, asks questions about whether comparisons I have made and wanted to make were even acceptable.

It was truly a labor of love, and after more than four months of such loving labors, I finally completed and presented it two Fridays ago in the second round of the CAMS comps film symposium.  (For those of you who were there, thank you thank you thank you; I am of a mind that comps talks are a bit like funerals, in terms of attendance, so it was wonderful to see so many faces I love in the audience.)

Then, coincidentally, I discovered later that evening that the blog Marlene Dietrich: The Last Goddess had just published a post entitled “Lady Gaga, Marlene Dietrich, and…Anna Swanson?” — and aside from the immediate fact that it’s a massive ego-sweller to have my work as a filmmaker analyzed for the first time, I was also struck by the (for lack of a better word) accuracy with which Joseph, the blogger who wrote the piece, perceived exactly what I had intended to be taken from the film, meaning-wise.  Or rather, not ‘exactly’, but approximately, since the film is so much about the difficulty of pin-pointing meaning, and is very much intended to be interpreted through whatever lens each new viewer brings to the work.

I was particularly thrilled by Joseph’s reaction to how I was wrangling with whether to ascribe to Dietrich the mantle of queer iconography and feminism: “I can’t help but wish that all the folks who ever professed that Dietrich was their feminist icon would watch Swanson’s piece!”  And the comment thread that his reaction to my comps sparked was similarly intriguing and satisfying.  It even gets around to touching on the question of whether Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” is reductive in its treatment of gender/identity/sexuality/etc. — to which I would respond that ‘reductive’ is relative, and that this song may perhaps be the most effective (or at least the catchiest) example of strategic essentialism to be found today.

Lately, I’ve also been thinking seriously about how to exhibit and control the distribution of my work; I’ve been jokingly taken up the motto that I will require a second screening of a film immediately after its has ended, and force my audiences to watch it twice.  And in a somewhat related vein, I’ve been wondering about whether to make my work completely and publicly accessible online, which has been my M.O. for all my work in the past.  To that end, I recently decided to make the online version of when you wish upon a star private/password-protected, which I have been interested to note has been noticed by the blogger(s) at The Last Goddess — the entry on my work has a new heading:
EDITED MAY 7, 2012 TO ADD: Looks like the video has been made private. What a pity!

More flattery.  Goodness.

So, for now, while I wrestle with my (cough) burgeoning fame and (cough) burgeoning ego, I would just like to insert a shameless plug for an upcoming LIVE screening of this work of mine.  For anyone who missed my comps talk but is in the Carleton area this weekend, we will be hosting a screening of all 10 senior comps films in the Weitz Cinema at 8 pm on Sunday, May 13.  It will be a truly beautiful extravaganza of moving image pieces that have had the hearts, souls, sweat, blood, and tears of we brave artistic souls who are the graduating Carleton CAMS seniors of 2012.  I personally guarantee a good time shall be had by all.

lessons learned listening

: Or, a first manifesto.

For the past three weeks, the vast majority of my time has been devoted to shooting Tick Out of Time, the independent feature film that several of my fellow Carls have made happen this summer – this in itself a pretty amazing feat.  On July 17th the camera began speeding on the first take, and so many crazy days and nights of extreme heat and lost sleep later, we completed the martini shot, as they call it, in the late evening on Thursday, August 4th.  Wrapped.

Thus, an entire feature film has been captured on an endless series of re-formatted CF cards, and I was privileged enough to be a part of it – or rather, two feature films.  The first, the intended narrative fiction of Tick Out of Time, the second my own documentary-narrative interpretation of the process.  I originally came on board with the project, at the passing suggesting of the illustrious John Schott in early June, as the film’s documentarian.  The idea was that I would basically hang around and take stills and some footage of the process – auditions, discussions between the three members of the creative team, work meetings, location scouting, rehearsals, all the aspects of pre-production, production, and post-production, with a sort of vague intention of creating a documentary film, or at least a making-of movie.  (I also shot and edited this short promotional videofor the IndieGoGo page.)

It went as described, but as shooting arrived, my role transformed to something of a documentarian-digital imaging technician-social media maven-assistant camera-sound two operator-featured extra-production assistant extraordinaire, a getter of many birthday cakes and hotdogs and light bulbs and whatever else we needed at any given moment while sweating slowly to death in our interior location on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.  I somehow ended up giving my life to this project for three weeks, and in the meantime, juggling two other internships and, despite the many other tasks I was fulfilling, valiantly finding ways to keep shooting for my documentary, which the idea of actually producing in some extended and meaningful form was becoming more and more interesting to me.  I’m still trying to synthesize everything that I received in return for the life I have given to Tick Out of Time – beyond some travel expenses covered and a great deal of craft provided, I’ve learned more in this short, hectic, brilliant, stressful process than I probably could in any production class at Carleton.

  1. What a budget can accomplish – even a small one.
  2. Pre-production is one long series of phone calls.
  3. Mobilizing your friends and family to help make your movie can work.  Sometimes.
  4. Shooting in the summer means you will sweat.  Always.
  5. The new Final Cut Pro X may actually be pretty good.
  6. A well-crafted file structure and digital organization are a must with so many shots and takes.
  7. You cannot make a movie [of this nature] alone.
  8. That yes, filmmaking with a crew will attract attention on the streets of a city.
  9. Talent release forms: you can never have enough of them.
  10. What technical approaches to apply for certain aesthetic choices in sound recording and cinematography.
  11. Sometimes aesthetic choices are forced by technical constraints — and this can be frustrating or incredibly catalytic for making a better movie.
  12. At some point, you realize that all the sleepless nights and sweltering afternoons and early mornings have been entirely worth it.

I’ve also had some revelations of a more personal nature, or at least relating to my own conceivable future practice in film.  I’ve realized that some of my hesitancy to be in what I see as the “mainstream” mode of film production (even in the no-budget world of the indie flick) — with 90-page screenplays, directors, producers, talent, caterers, set designers, DPs, crews, key grips, and such — has been a sense of not having access to the technical experience or organizational power that this requires.  To some extent, working on this film has thrust me into those technical and organizational roles, brought me to the realization that I can’t wait for some special permission to ‘be’ a filmmaker.  I must simply begin.

Me on set.

At the same time, not because any great misogyny has been perpetrated by Mother’s Favorite Pictures (quite the contrary — I have had sensitive and meaningful discussions regarding gender and the film industry with Gabe in particular), the whole process and my realizations about the almost subconscious avoidance of the undeniably ‘masculine’ power structures and mechanical/technical aspects of production has redrawn my attention to the overall gendering of the industry, the art world, and the opportunities presented to me in general as a young female aspiring filmmaker.  Because on many levels, film is as much business as it is art, and the money and power required to produce it are historically located in the hands of (white upper class) men.

(I beg no forgiveness for any feminist polemics that begin to emerge, because such self-excusing only serves to keep the power of the female artist in check.  At the same time, I make no direct accusation toward individuals and wish to make no enemy – my enemy is, at the risk of simply ‘blaming the system’, the embedded social constructions that no one of us has created and no one of us can single-handedly rework.  That is the long road down which we have progressed far, indeed, but not far enough – The Farthest Shore still winks in the distance.)

As a student of film, I have also been drawn to the experimental and avant-garde forms of cinema, historically more artisanal and intimate, requiring less of that masculinized money and power with the artist working alone or in concert with one or a few others.  Historically, perhaps, a more feminized mode than that of the ‘mainstream’ film production, but nonetheless a male-dominated realm of the arts as well.  But I wonder, a bit, whether some of my interest in the avant-garde arises from both my oppositional feminist leanings and a subsequent desire to be subversive, to be ‘avant-garde’ in its most oppositional sense, and from my desire to make film being diverted by fear of the ‘masculine’ large-scale production mode toward the more accessible ‘feminized’ personal, intimate, artisanal tendencies of the historical avant-garde.  The genre can carry a sense of the immediate, a made-by-hand style that resonates with me, but this summer has made me question, to some extent, the true nature of my affinity for this type of film, and how this affinity functions within the discourse of gender that is inherently part of my relationship with the world.  Likewise, documentary, cinema verite and the essayist modes of Chris Marker and Agnes Varda have grown increasingly influential in my own storming brain, sparking lightning bolts of thoughts as to what I may want to do with my filmmaking.

So that is the clearest lesson of all: that I ought to be making films.

I suppose I have known this all along, or since the moment I walked out into the magical starry October night after screening In the Mirror of Maya Deren, a sophomore in college calling home to declare that I had found my calling, pacing the streets of Northfield and waxing eloquent (sophomorically, perhaps) on the virtues of Meshes of the Afternoon.  Or perhaps much earlier when my thirteen-year-old self painstakingly produced a documentary of my grandfather’s life, what now seems a clunky Ken Burns imitation redeemed by sheer luck and purity of emotion into an essayist paean to the deeply personal experience of death at a young age.  Or perhaps even earlier, when I, the ever-wakeful preschooler, would desperately will myself to sleep during naptime, knowing that a successful afternoon sleep was the prerequisite for watching a movie with my parents on any given night in our wilderness wooden enclave on the outskirts of Park City – a feisty four-year-old yearning for films and blithely unaware of the strange magic being worked upon me by growing up within the shining aura of Sundance.

This summer has been a reminder that I wanted to declare my major four terms early; a summer devoted to the moving image, its production, consumption, consideration.  A summer of sitting steeped in the history of ‘essential cinema’ at Anthology Film Archives, of exploring the horizons of new media and video art at Eyebeam and on W. 14th street, of keeping my camera rolling on a daily basis, and of course, experiencing full immersion into the world of the making of the independent film.  I have been flirting aggressively with psychogeography, but I think now it is time to realize that psychogeography needs a means of translation, and that I can make that means of translation this medium to which I am renewing my vows.  I have been flirting with feminism (or at least the academic study therein associated), but this too, can be in concert with my camera — a choreography of life that is filmic and focused on understanding myself and the world through the twin lenses of my gender and my Nikon.

Luckily, there is no requirement that I choose one mode or genre of film and cut ties with all others — to be experimental, to be mainstream, to be experimentally mainstream, to work with narrative, to work with documentary, to work with narrative documentary and the liminal spaces between the constructed reality and the supposition of ontological truth in chemically or digitally images, to be a psychogeographer and a feminist and a Japanese scholar and a filmmaker — all roads are open.

I am committing myself to making no commitments, except to the need to express.  So long as I am breathing film, I think I can come close to finding all the frustration and happiness that will fulfill and sustain me.

And so, I am incredibly grateful for the experience of being a part of Tick Out of Time — as the post-production process kicks in, I will undoubtedly still be around and perhaps take on the co-editor role the guys have offered me, eager now for experiences that bolster my ambitions.  And I do, in truth, have a special love for this project that keeps me coming back in spite of constraints on my time and wonderings as to whether I should be working on more of my ‘own’ work.  Rather like an anthropologist, I am steeped in this participant observation.  As I continue to shoot this documentary (and I will, in the post-production phase as well), I become more convinced that it may be something bigger, a subjective realist narrative of my own awakening, the unconventional screenplay for which may be this very blog post.  I see a film infused with the artisanal and the intimate, a film that does not abandon feminism or psychogeography or theory but builds its foundations on a mental montage of all this and more, a film that attempts irony and humanism and rejects all universals.

This is the art, as Jonas Mekas says, that we do for our friends and for ourselves.

when i make movies, i can only write haiku.

#8. This is my life now/except when I am doing/many other things.

#9

Time divorced itself
From reality to find
Us, living the dream.

_______

#10

God must have shot a
Movie in Manhattan to
Create the oceans.

_______

#11

(that’s how much we sweat,
but like they say, you can’t smell
in the cinema.)

_______

#12

I will go deaf to
Perchance dream of sound speeding
Fast as second sticks.