Tag Archives: indie film

back to school // back to reality

Summer is over, and it is time to go back to school. I graduated from Carleton last spring (an event, oddly enough, about which I continue to have recurring anxiety dreams), but while I am now something like a real adult with a Bachelor’s degree, I am back-to-school as well, in that I am working as the Educational Associate (also known, colloquially, as “5th Year”) for the Carleton’s Cinema and Media Studies department. This is a one-year position, and basically entails managing the filmmaking, audio, and media equipment, assisting the faculty in a variety of ways, and (hopefully) expanding a series of evening technology and cinema studies workshops, labs, and seminars that I am calling “CinemaTechs.” So at least for my first year of frightened post-collegiate existentialism, I am somehow lucky enough to have gainful employment in my field (and in the exact department where I became relatively qualified in my field!). That’s a lot to be excited about — and on top of that, there are some pretty awesome film-art-related opportunities coming into my life as a result of my role in the CAMS department (which I will write about in due course, as they arise).

Brief back-pedal to summer. In a (completely non-exhaustive) list, Summer 2012 for me as a perceiver and a creator consisted of: reading and listening to John Cage, discovering the joys of collaboration with a non-filmmaker artist (my sculptor friend Eliza), interpreting Debussy on film, revisiting phenomenology (David Abram’s The Spell of the Sensuous), shooting an indie feature called Lucidity, studying sound design//ProTools, finally watching Lar’s von Trier’s Melancholia and feeling no particular sadness in response to it, and developing a debilitating addiction to the song “Payphone” by Maroon 5. All that, and the privilege of slowing the pace of my often overcommitted and crazy lifestyle to explore Minneapolis with my wonderful girlfriend Gwen.

Reading David Abram’s The Spell of the Sensuous on the set of our indie film, Lucidity.

But to return to this idea that my job at Carleton is presenting me with some pretty sweet opportunities — one such is to continue to audit courses at the college, and I have jumped at the chance to take CAMS 286: Animation.

Thus far, Animation is taking me completely out of my depth, in a way that isn’t scary, but is rather enthralling and full of potential — we’ve begun the course with a return to the physicality of media, a thing that sometimes gets lost in the digital age of cinema. Our first exercise was to create a 5 second hand-made film on 16mm. I did mine on black leader, using pushpins to scratch Japanese kanji characters into the malleable, dust-producing, physical film itself, beginning what I hope will be a love and fruitful love affair with the medium. (Digitization forthcoming, I hope!) Our second exercise was a hand-drawn cel animation that linked together 48 transforming frames by each member of the class to create a minute’s worth of metamorphosing images, which (in my capacity as 5th Year) I compiled into a little video which you can check out on Vimeo!

As a filmmaker who fancies herself an ‘artist’, this return to the physical stuff of the world in my creation is suddenly and palpably addictive; and something about listening to Murakami Haruki’s A Wild Sheep Chase at 3am, drawing cel after cel of a squirrel transforming into Sir John Cage puts me in a delicious post-modern meditative state. There is a strange balance struck between a clearing of the mind and a productive fixation of the mind on certain ideas and feelings that such a repetitive, detailed activity allows.

Perhaps animation, or any more physical, slow-paced form of filmmaking (like handmade 16mm scratch films) is a perfect mode of production for an artist who also wants to be a theorist — a way to create physical real art and to think abstract complex//simple thoughts at the same time, through finding some synchronicity between these thinking and making processes.

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.

on the twelvth day of shooting

image

#13

Another day spent
Making mother’s favorite
Cinema happen.

_______

#14

At Anthology
At Walter the clockmaker’s
At last the graveyard.

_______

#15

(Check IndieGoGo:
We have a dream that only
YOU can keep alive…)

playing catch up!

It’s been a while since my last post, I know.  And a lot — I mean a LOT — has happened in the interim.  My parents visited, my girlfriend (whoa, my non-heteronormativity is revealed at last!) visited, her mom and sister visited…there was much visiting and rejoicing and theatre and good food to be had by all, for about two glorious weeks.  In that span of time, I also worked my first film festival and saw a fantastic documentary about Bill Cunningham, I experienced an astounding amount of great theatre for pretty decent prices and apparently survived the hell that is Times Square, I enjoyed some Super 8 experimental film by Rachel Rahme at Microscope Gallery in Bushwick (a block from my house, literally), I lost my internet but gained a smart phone, and I turned 21 in style after seeing the opening night preview of Hair at the St. James theatre and watching the sun rise from the window of Yaffa Cafe in St. Mark’s Place.  A great deal of visual culture that I will re-muse on when I have more ample opportunity. 🙂

But now the visitors have all gone home, and I am back to the daily grind of interning at Anthology and the other things that I like to do with my time here in the cultural capital of my rapidly expanding world.  And what, you might wonder, do I do in my ‘spare’ time?  When I’m not traipsing around lower Manhattan picking up Brakhage 35 mm films at the Filmmaker’s Co-op or delivering new Anthology Film Archive calendars to various coffee shops and bookstores, I’ve been spending a number of hours hanging out with the awesome kids who are Mother’s Favorite Pictures.  We are making a (shockingly low-budget, please donate here!) feature film this summer, and I have been honorably tasked with the role of official meta-videographer/documentarian/assistant rush-editor/extra-who-drunkenly-throws-a-Solo-cup, which means I get to be around the set of Tick Out of Time pretty much allthe time, gathering footage for my meta-movie (AKA making-of feature).  After swearing that I didn’t want to do production, I am plunging into in the guise of being a documentary filmmaker…and I’m kind of loving it.

Joey shows Dan, one of our lead actors, our IndieGoGo page; Dan is duly impressed.

Today was our first day of rehearsals with the three main actors, and their utter commitment to the project is incredibly inspiring.  They spent a lot of time discussing the back stories of their characters, read through the whole screen play, and rehearsed one of the opening scenes a number of times.  The attention to their craft was really exciting to have the chance to capture on film — I’m fully looking forward to more amazing shoots in the weeks to come.

In the mean time, you can check out what we’re doing on Facebook and IndieGoGo — we’re making a movie, and a meta-movie, kids.  Watch out!

the rise and fall of the unparalleled band

The first film I decided to see on Wednesday evening was a new offering from young director Hiranami Wataru, whose previous work Scherzo (2008) was screened at Pia and whose upcoming filming Eine Kleine Nachtmusik (2011) will be released this year.  This was the international premiere of the film, so Hiranami-san and lead actor Tsuchiya Takeshi were in attendance to introduce the film and field questions after the screening, through a Japanese-German translator.  (Thank god I speak Japanese; as they say, mein Deutsch ist nicht sehr gut.)

From right to left: actor Tsuchiya Takeshi, German-Japanese translator, and director NHiranami Wataru.

I was of course immediately struck by the utter Japaneseness of Hiranami-san and Tsuchiya-san, who seemed mildly embarrassed before the room full of anticipation and sounds of Japanese beer bottles clinking, and who bowed incessantly throughout their introductions and answering sessions.  This kind of “Oh look, Japanese people being Japanese” observation will undoubtedly lose its novelty as I grow re-accustomed to the demeanor and body language that tends to accompany the Japanese culture, and it’s probably just a factor of my recent deprival of most things 日本的 (nihonteki, or ‘Japan-like’), and the odd but fascinating experience of re-encountering that foreign yet familiar culture in a country that is halfway around the world from East Asia, yet is equally foreign to me.  In fact, I feel more comfortable being at Nippon Connection than being in Germany at large.  This is an interesting example of how concepts of uchi/soto become subjective in the face of shifting contexts — just as how during the Q&As I laugh during the original Japanese answers, and am lost and quiet during the German translations, when the locals around me and chuckling appreciatively.  In reality though, since my understanding is nowhere near the level of native, I exit more in a liminal space of being Western but not German, Japanese-speaking but not Japanese — in this encounter between Germany and Japan, I am in some ways uchi to both groups, and in some ways soto to both groups, which affords me an interesting position as critic, observer, academic, and lover of Japanese film.  I’ll be working through feelings of both alienation and inclusion over the next several days, but it’ll be interesting and mildly post-modern, so bear with me.

Nippon Connection seems to be characterized by an intensely pink attention to detail this year.

But now to the intended topic of this blog post: The Rise and Fall of the Unparalleled Band, or 青すぎたギルティ (Aosugita giruti), which tells the story of a mediocre (fictional) rock band in Tokyo, from their first successful concert to their slow break-up, structured along the 12 tracks of their only record and narrated in oddly broken English by a Nepalese gaikokujin (‘foreigner’).  Think mockumentary meets J-Rock meets student film.  Think This Is Spinal Tap meets Japan.

The members of The Guiltys charge at the camera.

The original title directly translates to “The Guiltys that were too blue/young/fresh”.  My first reaction was to wonder whether perhaps it was not the only the film’s fictional band, but it’s executors who were ‘too young’.  From the opening shots, I felt a mild resistance to the aesthetic of the film — it felt very much like a student production, giving the sense that it had funding to match (a fact that Hiranami-san did acknowledge in his introductory comments).  But about a third of the way into the film, there is a fantastically shot sequence which revealed, I think, some of the deliberateness with which the amateur aesthetic of the film was crafted.  At this point in the film, the bassist Sato has been cast in an independent film, and the entire band is on set.  Turning his camera on his own genre of jishu eiga, Hiranami-san creates a hilariously self-reflexive vignette within the larger narrative that shows a brutally violent, disaffected, self-absorbed director and quirky actors, a rather bumbling crew of over-earnest PAs and technicians, creating a brilliant satire-within-satire that made me see the whole film in a new light.  This light, however brilliant, though, did not make up for the inconsistency of the actual lighting in the film (and the foley, for that matter…) — I’ll forgive them their low budget, but a couple of C-stands and china balls wouldn’t have broken the bank for some of those woefully underexposed shots.  The reality of filmmaking is a balance of the economic, the expressive, and the technical, and in this case the neglect of the technical does, I think, detract from the emotional impact of what the program notes describe as a film that “confronts us with a truly energetic and impressively dynamic, yet thoughtful impression of today’s youth and pop-culture in Japan”.

That being said, the film succeeds on several thematic levels – it treats on issues of stalking, suicide, and the sad slipping away of success with a mix of slapstick humor and surprising poignancy.  The primary actress in the film, whose name I think is Kotori, also deserves a nod for her portrayal of heavy-drinking, hardcore replacement bassist Midori, of all the exaggerated performances in the film, hers had the most realism and emotional depth.  (I will hopefully return to her character for more extensive analysis as soon as I can – I think she presents, along with lead-singer Yamada’s girlfriend and an occasional trio of fangirls, interesting visions of the modern Japanese woman.)  So, while not without its faults, The Rise and Fall… stands, I think, at the vanguard of the new generation of jishu eiga filmmaking.  Here’s hoping Hiranami-san can parlay this international exposure into a little extra cash for C-stands and full-time foley artists in his next feature.

My Ratings for the film

Acting/Direction: 5/10
Script: 6/10
Lighting/Cinematography: 3/10
Editing: 8/10
Overall: 4/10

For those of you who were in attendance, weigh in below — how did the film measure up to your expectations?