The Montage

This 15-week course at nyfa.edu is intense. I had just completed my first project, the message, and I was feeling pretty good for having accomplished that despite all the issues I ran into. Overall, I was very satisfied with my first project but... project two needed to start.

The Parameters

We're learning different techniques for visual story telling and this second project had to have a montage set to music. I think the official definition of a montage is a series of shots that when put together convey a different meaning than if shown individually, or something like that. When I hear montage the only thing I think of are the training sequences in the Rocky movies. For this project our parameters were (1) It has to be a montage set to music, (2) No dialog, sound effects are okay but no dialog, (3) 3-4 minutes long. There are two additional parameters I would learn about later.

The Spark

I had no idea what I was going to do. I was again trying to think about how to do a horror short but all I could think about were Rocky movies. That's it. That was a severe blocker. Then late one Friday night, about 2.5 weeks from when we have to screen our movies in front of class, I decided to listen to music to get some inspiration. I started with Sigur Ros because let's be honest, their music is filled with so much emotion, I was bound to find inspiration by doing some deep Sigur Ros listening. My main goal for this movie was to tell a better story. I missed the master shot, setting the context in my last film and I wanted to get better. As I was listening to Sigur Ros, I thought about Kronos Quartet covering Sigur Ros's Flugufrelsarinn. That version of the song moves me so much. Goose bumps, hairs standing up, the whole nine-yards. I love that song and I love Kronos Quartet's interpretation. So I'm listening to it on Spotify and it's off a small EP called Kronos Quartet Plays Sigur Ros. I was lost in the music, writing some ideas down when the song finished and the next song on the EP played, the Star-Spangled Banner inspired by Hendrix. I had an immediate vision in my head of two brothers fighting over politics ending with one brother killing the other, standing over his body. Sick, right? I know, but that is what I saw at 1 am listening to this song. I had my spark.

The Story

Over the next two days I was playing around with ideas in my head on how to craft that scene into a story. We're going over basic screenplay / story structure in our screen writing classes, learning about a standard 3 act story, with 8 sequences in-between, at least for feature films. For short films, our teacher said that the story should be able to (1) Identify who the main characters are, (2) establish the inciting incident telling the viewer what the main character(s) want and needs, (3) establish the central dramatic question based on those wants / needs, and (4) answer the question with a resolution and depict the twist and aftermath. Cool, so working backwards from my final scene where one brother kills the other, what if I established the central dramatic question as "will the brothers reconcile their differences?" and I know the answer for the resolution; "no." I just need an inciting incident, some aftermath, then try to build suspense between the inciting incident and the resolution. So on Sunday night, i wrote a rough draft script and I felt confident in the story. How the hell do I execute it?

Working with Actors

My daughter did excellent in my first project, but we had one class on directing actors. Our teacher (Lea Brandenburg) talked about how working with people perusing their career in Acting is different than working with friends and family because they have different motivation. They are expecting to take 25 shots of the same scene. I wanted to push myself to work with Actors as the step in my filmmaking career so I posted 3 job listings on the Northwest Film Forum and Backstage.com, looking for people to play Brother 1, Brother 2, and the Mother. Lea talked about the importance of auditioning and showed us this clip of the Actor who played Elliot in ET and how Spielburg directed him at the setup of the audition. Now since my film contained no dialog plus I have no idea what I'm doing, I felt like I had no business conducting auditions. BUT, I had about 5 people apply for each role so I had to something. I have probably interviewed over 1000 people over my software career so I figure I can just borrow from there. I decided to do a 30-minute zoom call with each person to (a) let them know what they would be getting into since I'm so inexperienced, (b) discuss the plot / story - they had a rough draft of the script and (c) to see if I connected with them. I think probably one of the most important things is being able to work together. Given that I went from idea to rough script in ~48 hours, there were some holes and I didn't have all the pre-production materials created yet. I was looking for folks that would understand and be flexible in how we worked together. Oh, they also had to be available for filming that upcoming Saturday and Sunday since that was the only two days I had to shoot.

I went through a series of emotions on this journey, anywhere from imposter syndrome kicking in thinking I had no business wasting Actors time because I have no idea what I'm doing, to proud moments of patting myself on my back. I'm sure every career has these swings as I still experience both ends of the spectrum after 20 years working with Software. BUT, I was super proud of myself that most of the Actors I talked to seemed to get the story I was trying to tell just based on my rough draft script. I was able to convey that in a written narrative in a very short time, and I sorta followed the screen play structure.

Execution and Final Product

The rest is a blur. I put together all the pre production materials in less than 2 days, chose my 3 Actors. We filmed 160 shots in 2 days, following all COVID precautions. I had to arrange food, shooting schedules. I used my shot list and other pre production materials a bit more, and used an old Sony a6000 camera to shoot instead of my Samsung Galaxy 9 phone last time. I ended up missing some shots because It was so intense shooting, working with the Actors. I will say this, I feel like I chose my actors absolutely right. They had the perfect temperament and were just awesome to work with all around. I learned a ton by working with them and I think they all did an amazing job. We had an editing class the Thursday after I shot where I learned more about color grading, etc and within 2.5 weeks I want from idea to finished product. I received good feedback from my screening and I'm pretty proud of what I created in a short amount of time. Lots of room for improvement but I think it is a step up from my first project.

On to project 3 where I again have no idea what I'm going to do!


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