Posted tagged ‘movie’

How not to use a soundtrack…

May 13, 2008

As an independent film maker, I am also a student of film and the techniques used to create it.  Subscription based video rental is one of the most useful tools I’ve ever seen for this, like Blockbuster Online or NetFlix.

I use NetFlix for one simple reason: instant online movie watching. Granted, it’s not their entire catalog, and many of the selections are old, but there’s still plenty there to keep my second monitor at work buzzing with distractions.

Today, I watched 9 1/2 Weeks. Not a bad little erotic/romantic romp. If Mickey Rourke being an asshole is your thing, you’ll be in heaven, although I was a little disappointed to find out that all of Kim Basinger’s nude scenes were performed by a body double.

If I had one real complaint about the movie, though, it’s the soundtrack, and if you’re a budding sound designer I’d strongly suggest you watch it to find out how NOT to create one.

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Movie Diaries 10

June 10, 2005

The Basement of the Hall Of Waters, 2

We left the boilerroom and returned to main area. Personally, I was mentally and emotionally escaping from the place; buried memories from a past life maybe, or just a simple empathy reaction of the plight of drowned persons everywhere, had wound me tight and I was ready for a fight, any fight.


Any fight but the one I got.

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Movie Diaries 9

June 8, 2005

In an earlier entry, I noted my belief that we are making a better movie than PD wanted. This is largely because he brought in a group of actors who were given the mandate to create their own collective universe and individual characters. We’ve taken the premise of the film seriously and refused, out loud, publically and more than once, to lower ourselves to the level of campiness that PD seems to want from time to time.

Changing The Tone

Had a scene go down one day that is some of the proudest work I’ve ever done. In just ten minutes Kate and I changed the entire tone of the movie, possibly the whole series (there will be three more films – as Evil Dead evolved to Army of Darkness, this series probably will go down the humor road, but that’s later).

My character, Bill, is met and phsically and psychically branded by the Bad Guy – BG shakes his hand and leaves his mark. Bill knows deep down that because of the contact he’ll eventually be used to betray the team. He wants to tell them in the worst way, but is under a compulsion not to that is excruciatingly painful. (He’s in a van a mile away, communicating with them via audio feed)

The person who confronts him is Kate, the empath. The two are very close – he’s the only “family” she’s got and she knows something’s wrong. When she tries to ask him directly what’s going on she can hear the pain in his voice, so they have to work their way around to it.

As you see it on screen, Kate’s in the scene, talking to the camera; I’m off camera.

K. Bill, what’s wrong.
B. (trying to keep it together – he’s still in real pain from the handshake) It’s okay, Kate.
K. Has something happened?
B. (panting. No answer)
K. Are you alone, Bill?
B. (pause) Now.
K. What happened?
B. There was someone…(gasp) I had a (panting, now, close to tears)
K. I retract the question…don’t answer…
B. Kate, you like medieval art, right? You’ve got all those books on your shelves…
K. Yeah Bill, that’s right.
B. Art books…Okay…okay…The Last Supper…you remember the last supper, right..? You know how all the painters put Judas on the other side of the table from Jesus..? He was always on the other side…you know?…okay…now Leonardo Da Vinci changed that…he painted Judas (almost crying now, torn between despair and rage) on the same side. Judas was on the s-s-same s-s-side…
K. I read you, Bill. Looking at those paintings, I’ve always wondered…
Both. What made Judas turn?

long pause

B. The devil shook him by the hand.

Realization dawns on Kate’s face

K. Fuck.
Gunslinger. (who hasn’t been in on the conversation) Kate..?
K. We’ll talk later.

The director gave a beat or two, said, very quietly, “Cut….very nice.” Silence. Nobody moved for damn near ten seconds. Then there was this collective intake of breath – I guess everyone on the set had stopped breathing – and applause. Big applause.

It’s been the only scene in the movie that we did in one take, on purpose anyway. Took me almost ten minutes to calm down from it – I’m glad we didn’t need a second take. What’s truly fun is that we made up the dialog – Kate and I, with input from GunSlinger – moments before the shoot; PD didn’t know how the scene was going to play out, only that we needed to convey what happened, and the depth of it floored him.

I was behind the microphone during the shoot, so my voice in the scene is muffled some. Since most of my dialog will be re-recorded in post-production anway, that’s alright. There are scenes that actors remember, that define their best and worst moments in their Craft. In a body of work that’s been little more than fluff, that moment was a good one, and I’ll always be grateful for the opportunity to have had it.

Movie diaries 6

June 2, 2005

The Twins

Most of the preproduction meetings were mostly about socializing, so I stopped attending. When you’re making a movie where all of the dialog and most of the action is improvised, there’s not much rehearsal involved, and we had all the important stuff after the first couple of meetings. (This I know in retrospect, and it took me a while to realize it.) There was one that stuck out in my mind, though: the meeting I took The Twins to.

I have known Kent and Kevin since high school. They were in my life when my father died. They were in my life when I nearly killed myself by rolling a Honda Accord, reducing it to something you could fit through the mail slot of a basement apartment. We shot bad movies together when I was in college. We did pretty good shows together at KCRF. I thought it might be fun to have them on this project, so I invited them along.

We arrived on time, or close to it. I still don’t know what that meeting was about, or supposed to be about. Producer/Director was, as always, unapologetically late. He carried a few DVDs. Popped “Kill Bill” into the player, and we watched the restaurant fight and death of O-Ren Ishii, listening to PD’s running commentary, the entire gist of which was “This is what I want to do in film three.”

Wearied of that, we watched the trailers for a couple of low budget Japanese films, listening to PD’s running commentary, the entire gist of which was “This is what I want to do in film two, possibly four.”

Then we watched the trailers for a low budget American film, listening to PD’s running commentary, the entire gist of which was “This is the look I want to have in films two, three, and four.”

The one bit of business that involved us in the context of the current film in any significant way was the decision that the cast was closed, so the only thing the Twins could contribute to the production for film one was set construction, which they agreed to.

As we drove home, the question floated around the car, finally settling in and making itself comfortable: shouldn’t we have been working on the details for this film. You know, the one that isn’t done yet?

Their first day on the set was their last, and gave us all a very clear picture of the man we’d all – with the exception of Kent and Kevin – be working with as a director in the coming weeks. Anyone who’s met the twins will tell you they’re hard to tell apart until you really get to know them. For my part after so many years, I don’t even see them as twins anymore, really. Not so, P/D. As they worked, putting in time – for free, mind you – putting together bits of a set that probably wouldn’t survive more than a day or two’s shooting, he said, and I quote, “I’ll just call you ‘twins’. That’s easy for me.”

One thing I learned early on, with K & K no more so than anyone else, twin or not, is that you don’t group them together and treat them as one person. They ask to be treated as individuals, not lumped together because of their mutual resemblance. They finished the job they were given (a mark of their own integrities) and walked away, never to be heard from again. At least, not for the movie.

P/D had some learning to do, and over the next several weeks of filming, got all the instruction he could handle.

Movie Diaries 3

May 3, 2005

The Oirish Witches

My friend Donal, a native Dubliner with a gregarious (sometime annoyingly so) personality and a great love for things technical has a phrase he uses to describe Americans who try to act Irish: “Irish with an ‘O’.” It refers to the awkward, Hollywood pronouciation of the long “I” sound, “oi”, and the fact that most Americans pronounce it wrong, and really have no idea what Irish really means. I’m proud to say that he told me one that I was one of the few Americans he’s met that “get it”: I don’t wear green to celebrate my irish-ness, I don’t wear a kilt on St. Patrick’s day, and I never, ever mention leprechauns in conversation.

This is all just exposition…

Written into the plot of the movie were two female characters, both Irish, one a born mage and the other a technical mage. It doesn’t matter which was which since, as annoyances go, they were pretty much interchangeable. And while it is admittedly unfair to judge someone by appearances alone, you couldn’t help but join the looks to the personalities and say to yourself, “Ah. No wonder.”

We’ll call them W1 and W2.

Forty-ish, W1 had that underfed, over-mascara’d look that is all the vogue in trailer parks all over our nation. Tight jeans, sweatshirt over a close fitting T, black beret with the little string-y thing on top, and platinum blonde hair with dark roots. She spoke little to the other members of the cast except to condescend. She had eyes only for PD.

W2 is harder to quantify and the subject of today’s story (W1 gets her own, later). An uneasy mixture of Margaret Hamilton, Billy Burke (15 years after the bubble ascended out of the Emerald City), and the Mayor of Munchkin City. Electric red hair, maybe not pushing 60 but definitely pulling 45 with a really long rope, short-ish. She was also obsessed with Leprechauns, which is the worst Oirish bit of BS as far as native Dubliners are concerned.

The real danger was this. When she spoke it was always at nearly ninety decibels, and she needed only one inducement to speak: someone within range, listening or not.

I engaged her in conversation the evening we met, because she seemed like an interesting person, and because I didn’t know about all the rest. The subject of coffee came up, and she name-dropped Bewleys. The one on Grafton Street, or St. Christophers? I asked, feeling her out to see if she really knew what she was talking about. (There is no St. Christophers that I’m aware of in Dublin) Ohhhh, she said in a singsongy “Oirish” tone, the two story one there on Grafton Street. Earned some points there – that’s the place. They’re closing it, I told her, Starbucks has come to the British Isles. We talked about that for a while.

What I hadn’t seen before this was Murphy’s look of warning: Bill, do not engage! Do you read me? Do not engage!

You see, once started, a conversation with her became this unbelievably large gelatinous cube, sliding unstoppably along, unheeding and unfeeling of the creatures being crushed under the onslaught and dying in the stickiness of it. Several times I tried to extract myself from the conversation, but the tendrils of – no, not conversation exactly, since by definition a conversation requires the participation of more than one individual, which in her case is entirely unecessary – talk, then, would extend outward, grab me by the ears and drag me back in.

Thank God PD intervened with some questions for me. I stood, held my finger in front of her nose in a “hold on” gesture, and excused myself. What I remember seeing was the electricity switched off on an automaton: the tape ran down, the sound faded and died away, the eyes unfocused and the light went out, the machinery returned to center.

Waiting for the next Tarantella Dancer to begin the music, no doubt.

Movie Diaries 2

April 27, 2005

The Grand Vision

The movie has a simple premise: Cops meets X-Files meets Blair Witch meets Night of the Living Dead meets Aliens meets Uma meets Tarentino. It’s to be filmed like a documentary, we’re told, in the first person, so that the audience believes that they are watching reality. The actors are not to be told what’s going on until just before their scenes are shot, so that everything is “spontaneous”. No script, just a situation and an outline of the salient points that have to be introduced.

Sorry, love. Slipped up there. Did I say “simple?”

All of this was explained to us in the first meeting I attended. Met the producer/director, whom I shall refer to as PD for the purposes of this journal. He was forty-five minutes unapologetically late.

Before he arrived, a few reunions and introductions. A reunion with “Kate”, whom I hadn’t seen in nearly eight years. of course, who got me involved in the first place. Met the other cast members: Gunslinger, Scholar, Irish Witch 1, and Irish Witch II. The last two will probably get their own entries, or entry, as they are two of the most interesting and annoying people I’ve ever met. We all settled in with coffee and munchies.

I thought for a while listening to the admins talk that I was going to end up as set crew, or altering clothing for costumes, and if that had been the case I was prepared to walk; I wanted to be in front of the camera or not involved at all. Nothing narcissistic at all there: if I’m going to add another stress to my life, I want it to be for something I don’t already do day after day.

PD had been there an hour without acknowledging me, talking to each of the actors in turn, tossing ideas and notes around like a decorator with a stack of carpet squares. As I had yet to be addressed, I was reaching for my jacket and car keys to leave when he looked at me and said, “…and we need you for the quarterback.” He turns to the production manager (PM) and says “Put him down for the quarterback.” No audition, not really even an introduction. The rest of the night was spent talking about various production points, defining what “quarterback” means in this context (think Tom Arnold in True Lies), ironing out the many logistical pieces that constitute “pre-production.”

As we’re all getting our jackets on, getting ready to leave: Oh, by the way Bill, can’t believe I forgot to mention this… You’re just a voice, like John Forsythe on Charlies Angels. The audience doesn’t actually see you until the end of the movie.

“Ah.”

And, since you’re quarterbacking, I want you to design the control console for the truck. You know, buttons, screens, dials, all that. “Kewlness…what kind of truck?” What kind? “Yeah…Econoline 150…350…conversion…panel..?” Don’t know, we don’t have one yet.

So, I’m to design a fairly intricate set piece for a space whose dimensions I do not know, that the audience will never see?

I left wondering what I was involved in. A movie obviously: an ambitious faux documentary with only a few people on the cast and crew that I knew personally. Like many independent films, it’s being made up as we go along, “cross that bridge when we come to it” is The Logistical Reality.

I’m a late entrant, painfully aware of that, angst-ridden and unsure of my place in the universe. Still, I drive home that night, buzzing with possibilities and making up dialog. Which I thought was what I was supposed to be doing…

Movie Diaries 1

April 26, 2005

The challenge will be to tell the story without revealing too much of the actual plot,not that anyone who reads my stuff here is is in much of a position to spoil the surprise for the Wal*Mart-Discount-Rack-DVD-buying public. Plus, it’s not like we’re all going to be wearing enough makeup to hide our identities. A single look at the production stills’ll give that away. Still, you never know.

So, this email arrives in my Inbox. “Hey everyone, there’s this indie film going into production, and we need people to work on it. Need actors, set builders, costumers,makeup artists. If you’re interested, drop me an email at…”

I look at my schedule, the many irons I’ve got…so many that I’m going to have to consider building additional fires for them. I think, sounds like fun, but. I delete the email and move on.

A week later, I get a phone call from an old friend of mine named Sean. “Bill,” he says, “I’m working on this movie, I’d really like it if you’d work on it, too.” He goes on to explain the premise, and I listen politely, having already gotten the rundown but unwilling to take the pleasure of the telling away from him. He stops to breathe.

“No fucking way, man. Not happening. No time, no money. No.”

Okay, that’s what I thought. What came out of my mouth was, “Damn, that’s a great idea.I would love to work with you again.” Such is the force of Sean’s personality. Bastard’s impossible to say no to. Got cast in the last remaining role on the Good Guys’ side. Got the Big Picture at the first meeting, got the more honest picture in subsequent meetings.

In short, we have here a man of great drive and ambition who appears to have a really good handle on what he wants to do and has surrounded himself with good people who have the ability to make that happen. Now, if we could just let the recipe cook without over-stirring the pot…

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