Final Project and Semester Reflection

This semester, I evolved as a filmmaker in more ways than one. I worked on projects that I wouldn’t attempt otherwise, and I became stronger cinema student because of this. Our first project, the stop-motion PSA, was a huge step in my filmmaking career. Even though it was  a very short project, I learned so much about animation and about how I work as a filmmaker. This project was very challenging for me, as I don’t like working with too much detail. I’m kind of a perfectionist, so projects like animation or editing, where I’m in my own head, really stress me out. They become time-consuming because I’m so focused on making sure little things turn out right. The animation project, though stressful and, quite frankly, annoying to complete, helped me recognize that I can do projects that are outside my comfort zone, and that I’m more creative than I give myself credit for.

I used the burst of confidence I got from successfully completing the animation project to work on my next few projects with a positive attitude — nothing could be more frustrating and time-consuming than the first project of the semester. The experimental project was another challenge for me — again, I don’t consider myself to be super creative — but I surprised myself with the number of opinions and creative critiques I had when we edited the project together. I learned that I’m pretty good at creating an overall aesthetic “look” for a project, which is a good skill to have if I want to pursue a career in producing.

I am so proud of our documentary project. Often, I feel that collaborative projects don’t always reflect what I’m actually capable of as a filmmaker, but I felt that this doc really captured my abilities. I learned a lot about editing for a story in this project — we had three options for our story, and I think we picked the best one. I also figured out the types of people I like to collaborate with, and where I fit in on set personality-wise.

The last two films I worked on were fiction films, and I am very proud of both projects. My intention is to work on fiction films, and so it was great to have two opportunities to do so in class. Often, when I work as a producer on a fiction project, I’m not very involved with editing; however, with these projects I did do some editing, and again found that editing can really help the “look” of the piece. I feel more confident about my aesthetic choices and editing abilities after these two projects.

Overall, I am more confident about my abilities as a filmmaker after taking this class. I am more comfortable using equipment and lighting scenes, and more comfortable editing as well. The last few projects I’ve done in this class have affirmed to me that I can create really strong films, especially when I collaborate with the right people, and I am looking forward to only getting better in the future.

Fiction Film – Gone Fishing

Gone Fishing was such a fun film to create, in part because of the chemistry between our actors and crew. The film featured one main character, Chris, who was played by sophomore Alex Hager. Alex had worked with Ian, our cinematographer, before, and Ian, Hannah and I all knew him well. Therefore, he was very easy to work with even though he does not have a lot of acting experience. Coming on set, we already had a relationship with Alex, so the time a director and crew would normally spend getting to know and actor and making him feel comfortable was not necessary for this project — Alex was already comfortable! This shaped how we worked with him on set: if we needed Alex to make an adjustment, we felt more comfortable telling him, and telling him in a casual way, than we may have felt with an actor we did not know. He was better at taking criticism because he knew us already and understood that nothing we said about his acting was personal. In the past, when I’ve directed other actors, I sometimes have struggled to word my direction so as not to offend the actors or critique their performance too harshly. This, of course, caused me to overcorrect, and sometimes I’ve felt that  I didn’t get the performance I needed from an actor because I was so worried about offending them. That was not at all the case on the send of Gone Fishing; Alex was very understanding and took our direction well. I’m really happy with how the film came out, and especially happy with Alex’s performance.

I did a little bit of acting myself in this piece, which was fun as well. I found it easy to act in my cameo, not because I’m a phenomenal actor, but because I understood the tone of the piece, the characters and the plot before I even stepped foot on set. There wasn’t much of a learning curve for me, because I helped develop the script. The notes I needed were mainly from Ian, and were adjustments on where to stand. I thought it was a good experience to be directed by my peers and friends; even if I knew how they wanted me to perform before I acted on set, I got a better understanding of how actors may feel when I direct them. One thing I will say is that being organized, knowing exactly what you want from and actor and how to verbalize that, are really important qualities for a director to have. Especially if two people are co-directing, which happens a lot in student films from my experience, it’s really important for the director(s) to be on the same page about how they direct, and to be consistent in their direction. Overall, getting to be behind the camera as well as in front of it for this project was a really great experience, and I’m glad I had a chance to act (if only very briefly) in a student film.

 

Thelma and Louise Critique

Over spring break I watched Thelma and Louise, a 1991 road trip film directed by Ridley Scott. In 2016, Thelma and Louise was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry. The film centers around two friends, the put-together waitress Louise and the submissive housewife Thelma, who embark on a weekend road trip vacation. Things immediately go south when they make a pit stop at a bar — a man rapes Thelma, and Louise shoots and kills him. Shocked and afraid, Thelma and Louise flee the scene and spend the rest of their “vacation” evading the police and committing more criminal acts as they drive across the desert in an attempt to escape to Mexico. While on the road, they manage to overcome a series of obstacles — namely, men — before being cornered by the police at the edge of the canyon. Deciding that they have nothing left to lose, Thelma and Louise drive their car off the cliff and plummet to their deaths. This film is action-packed, funny and emotional from start to finish. I would highly recommend this film — especially for a girls’ night!

Thelma and Louise are strong foils for each other; the choices Scott made to emphasize this only further develop their characters. For example, the packing montage at the beginning of the film highlights some differences between Thelma and Louise. Louise, who lives alone, packs very methodically, folding her clothes and placing them into plastic bags to keep them organized. She even washes the single cup in her sink before locking up the house. Thelma, on the other hand, throws her clothes haphazardly into her multiple bags, and brings unnecessary items like a fishing pole and a handgun. Before she leaves the house, she makes sure to set out a microwavable dinner for her husband, Daryl. Louise can take care of herself, whereas Thelma is less able to do so. This theme continues throughout the film, with Thelma repeatedly playing the damsel-in-distress role (she is raped by Harlan and stolen from by JD), and Louise bailing her out. However, toward the end of the film, Thelma becomes the caretaker. Louise is distraught after JD steals their money, so Thelma robs the grocery store to provide for them. This shows some character development — Louise, who is used to being in charge, learns to be vulnerable, while Thelma becomes more self-sufficient.

While Thelma and Louise’s story sounds almost too wild to be believable, the acting and direction makes their situation believable. The world that the actors and Scott create demands that these women fight rather than flee. Though they are initially unprepared to handle their situation, over the course of the film they toughen up. The audience sees Thelma and Louise slowly build up thicker skins and become hard; which is why, at the end of the film, they choose to die free rather than be taken to jail. As an audience member, you initially think “I could never do that,” and at the beginning of the film, neither could Thelma or Louise. But as their situation darkens, it makes sense that their characters darken as well. Thelma and Louise is as dramatic as it is fun, and I would definitely recommend this film.

Tabloid Documentary Film Critique

I recently watched Errol Morris’ 2010 documentary Tabloid, and I was immediately hooked. Tabloid depicts the story of Joyce McKinney, who in 1977 was accused of kidnapping and raping her Mormon ex-lover, Kirk Anderson in the UK. McKinney was arrested, but fled the UK for the United States before she could be tried for the crime. The British tabloids were fascinated with McKinney’s story, and while one paper, the Daily Mail, interviewed McKinney to get her side of the story, another paper, the Daily Mirror, did some digging into her past and painted a completely different, negative picture of McKinney’s life. Reporters from both papers appear in Tabloid for interviews, but McKinney herself is the star of this documentary. She recounts her side of the story — that she and Anderson were in love before he was kidnapped and brainwashed by Mormon missionaries in the UK — with enthusiasm. Tabloid premiered at the Telluride Film Festival and was met with anger from McKinney, who claimed the documentary portrayed her in a defamatory way. McKinney sued Morris, but the case was found in favor of Morris. Regardless of whose story you believe, Tabloid is a visually engaging, wild ride, and I would highly recommend it.

What really drives Tabloid, asides from the gossip the story creates, is the characters and their motives. Joyce McKinney, our lead, portrays herself as a simple, all-American girl. She’s a former beauty queen who goes on a mission to save her man when he gets “kidnapped” and taken to the UK by “the Mormons,” as she refers to them. McKinney tells her side of the story with such conviction that it’s difficult to believe that she’s lying; or, that, at least, in her mind, she’s telling anything other than the truth. She asserts that Anderson left the Mormon church willingly, had sex with her willingly, and that the two were in love. The Daily Mirror’s side of the story is different: McKinney is a former prostitute who kidnapped her ex-lover, brought him to a cabin in the English countryside, chained him to the bed and raped him. You would expect that McKinney’s explanation clears up these rumors, but it doesn’t — she just comes across as delusional. Clearly, her characterization in this documentary is what McKinney took issue with and the reason she sued Morris.

Whether or not Morris fairly portrayed McKinney in Tabloid is still up for debate, but there’s no doubt that Morris succeeded in finding an interesting subject. Not only was McKinney at the center of this story, she was also the first person to get her dog cloned in 2008. Of course, this brought McKinney back into the spotlight, though she used a fake name to try and hide from the press. Creating a documentary about this tabloid magnet is a no-brainer; McKinney’s story appeals both people who remember the stories about her from the late ‘70s and those simply interested in wacky people alike. Check out Tabloid for a snappy take on an already bizarre story.

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes Film Critique

 

Howard Hawks’ comedy Gentlemen Prefer Blondes became a classic when it hit theaters in 1953. The film centers around two showgirls, gold digger Lorelei Lee (Marilyn Monroe) and her sassy partner-in-crime, Dorothy Shaw (Jane Russell), who hop on board an ocean liner to meet Lorelei’s wealthy but dopey fiancé (played by Tommy Noonan) in France. The girls stir up hijinks on the way, partying with Olympic athletes, attending fancy dinners and singing fun musical numbers. Things turn sour when Lorelei attempts to woo another older, wealthy man, and Dorothy realizes that the man she has been crushing on (played by Elliott Reed), has actually been hired to spy on Lorelei by her fiancé. Things only get worse when they dock in France, when Lorelei is accused of theft and is sent to court; of course, since this is a comedy, Dorothy ends up impersonating her friend in front of the judge to buy them enough time to fix their problems. Malone, the detective, ends up saving the day, and the film ends in a double wedding: Lorelei marries her wealthy fiancé and Dorothy marries Malone. With catchy musical numbers like Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend and Two Little Girls from Little Rock, a wacky plot, and iconic stars, this classic film is a must-see for any film buff.

Since this movie was filmed at an indoor set in a Hollywood studio, there were no drastic changes in lighting throughout the film. For the most part, the lighting was not very dramatic or dynamic. However, the bright lighting works well for this type of film; after all, it is a comedy. The lighting sets the tone for the film: it’s lighthearted and fun. One scene in which the lighting does change dramatically is when Lorelei sneaks into Malone’s room to steal his camera, with which he took incriminating photos of her. This scene is rather tense, since Lorelei only has a limited time to get in and out of Malone’s room, and the lighting reflects that. It creates shadows all around the room, and an almost vignette-like effect at the edges of the frame. As Lorelei moves across the room, her shadow follows her, creating a dynamic image. This scene contrasts well with an intercut scene in which Dorothy distracts Malone over dinner. The Dorothy and Malone scene is more comedic, so it is better lit and warm, whereas the scene with Lorelei in the bedroom is cooler and shadowy. This dramatic lighting continues when Lorelei gets stuck in the porthole and is confronted by her older “friend,” Piggy. The continued shadows highlight the suspense of her cover nearly being blown.

Finally, the musical numbers are lit much like they would be on a stage. Some of the musical numbers, such as Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend and Two Little Girls from Little Rock, are actually supposed to take place onstage, so this lighting is very fitting and creates a sense of realism. It makes the audience feel like they are watching Lorelei and Dorothy perform onstage. In Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend, the costumes and set design are all shades of red and pink, and the warm lighting in that musical number creates an aesthetically pleasing performance.

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is a great example of a classic studio film — it’s comedic and fun, and is lit so that the actors hijinks drive the film forward.

Log Off Film Critique

Log Off, created by Jean-Charles Couty is a compelling piece on the dangers of “hyperconnectivity.” The film, which is just over four minutes long, won Best Experimental Film at the 2016 TMC London Film Festival. Log Off depicts the ways is in which social media and technology impact our generation; specifically, this piece centers around a young woman. In the film, she awakens alone in the woods and encounters a black mass made up of electricity and a dark cloudy fog. The film delves deeper into her psyche, and shows us the chaos inside. This film is both aesthetically and auditorily pleasing, with visually appealing production design and a moody electronic soundtrack. I would definitely recommend it, especially to the younger generation or to my fellow communications students, who have grown up with advanced technology and social media.

The cinematography of Log Off is very strong. My favorite scenes are the ones in the forest, where the girl is shot at a diagonal angle. The camera captures her at an angle which causes her to point down, creating the feeling that she is going to fall or slide offscreen. In the scene where she encounters the black mass of electricity, the girl and camera are positioned further down the hill, looking up at the cloud. This makes the girl seems powerless in comparison to the cloud, which represents technology.

The second half of the film is shot mainly in a black room, where the girl is either lit from the front or illuminated with what looks like a projection of different scenes. She is facing the camera head-on in a series of medium shots and close-ups, which creates the feeling of vulnerability. The camera is in crisp focus when she is fully lit, making her movements seem almost unrealistic because they are in such sharp focus. When she is illuminated by the projection of different flashing lights, the shots alternate between medium shots, close-ups and extreme close-ups of her eyes during the short moments of darkness between them. This creates an eerie effect, because you never know how close the next shot will be.

During this sequence, the final extreme close-up of her eye shows a flashing light within it, which brings us back to the forest. After the woman falls to the ground, still on a downward slope, the film cuts to a wide shot of the empty, foggy mountains surrounding her. This contrasts greatly with the vivid imagery of the flashing lights moments before. The final shot is a pan up from the woman lying on the ground to a POV shot of her looking at the trees. This mirrors the beginning of the film, which pans from a shot of the trees down to the woman lying on the ground.

Log Off is thought-provoking and powerful. The cinematography aids in contrasting the calm of nature with the activity of social media, and effectively demonstrates this woman’s descent into the digital world.

Stop Motion PSA Reflection

I wanted to create a PSA that was more creative than it was aggressive, so my sound design had to reflect that. I used voice recording, Foley sound and pre-recorded music for this project’s audio. I chose not to use pre-recorded sound effects such as a car crash because I wanted to stay consistent in the feel of this PSA — since it looks very homemade, it wouldn’t make as much sense to include a big, dramatic sound effect such as a car crash.

To record the voiceover, I used a Zoom recorder and windscreen. I planned out a mini “script” of what I was going to say, and recorded in a small editing suite. I had to record this audio more than once for multiple reasons. Firstly, the editing suite where I recorded is quiet, but not silent. I had a couple of takes where I could hear people talking or moving outside of the suite. Second, I messed up a few times. I may have written the script, but that doesn’t mean I said it perfectly or in the right tone every time! Finally, my first few recordings were too close to the microphone, with the mic up too loud. My voice sounded tinny and kind of harsh in these recordings. I had to adjust where I was sitting, find a consistent volume to speak at and fiddle with the recording level a few times before I was satisfied with how it sounded.

I used Foley to record the crumpling of paper at the end as well as all of the texting sounds. This was also difficult, as I crumpled up the paper way too close to the microphone the first time and caused the audio to pop. I was able to use one of the smaller crumpling sounds I recorded, and brought down the volume a little bit on that. To record the texting sounds, I simply recorded audio of me texting, sending and receiving messages. I didn’t end up using the “receiving messages” sound, because it didn’t make as much sense in the context of the video. The “sending messages” sound was a great volume and was easy to just put into Premiere. The texting sounds themselves were a bit on the quiet side, but once I upped the volume all the way in Premiere they ended up sounding fine.

I spent a long time on the music database FirstCom searching for the perfect background music. I wanted music that would fit with the PSA style without being too peppy and up-tempo. I also didn’t want the music to be too somber and dramatic, since the PSA itself is not dramatic until the end. I typed in keywords like “introspective” and “thoughtful” to get to this song, and while I was not completely sold on any of the music I found, this song has grown on me. I had to take the volume down on the music, so that it didn’t overpower the quicker effects like texts or my voice.

Overall, I think the sound in my piece worked well, but if the PSA didn’t have a time limit of under 25 seconds, I think I could have made the transitions smoother and added some more dynamic components to the sound design.