Found and Lost

In March, I was given the opportunity to work alongside some of my fellow filmmakers new and old on a student film called Found and Lost. At first I was beyond excited to work on a project that would see the light of day when all was said and done. Then, almost immediately, I was blindsided by an equally energetic sense of confusion and fear. I didn’t know what a script supervisor was, what they did or how they did it. All I knew was that I now had the job and it involved a chart with a lot of empty spaces.

The film is about a woman who comes to terms with her addictions and tries her best to over come them. It was a three-day shIMG_5260.JPGoot, though I was only present for only two of those days. They were hot days, they were long days, but they were great days. I met a ton of new people and learned a lot about how a proper set is run. It was akin to being at Disneyland for just under twenty hours and having the fast pass to everything. We started with the interior scenes, which presented us with the very interesting task of recording and filming in close quarters with about ten people, various props, and a variety of sound and lighting equipment.

My job during this entire process was to supervise the set’s continuity and check in with the sound unit, the camera operator, and the director. Now: It took me a relatively long time to figure out how to do this job right. I had issues understanding the language used on set, I had trouble keeping track of objects in the many shots and takes we took, I had even more trouble figuring out what information to tell (or not tell) the director when I was checking in. Being a script supervisor taught me an important lesson in how to identify true problems versus things that look like problems but really aren’t.
#Noteverythingisacrisis

The Sound Guys:

These guys were pretty awesome. In fact, they were probably some of my favorite people on set, because they were always nice and always quiet. For this part of my job I basically had to wait for the director to yell, ‘Cut!” then ask the sound techs something like this, “Hey was that good?” It was really that simple. Strangely enough, this was a hard thing for me to do and when I started asking my first questions I made it way more complicated than it needed to be. It all really is just a dialogue…no pun intended. After that question was asked, the sound mixer would either give me thumbs up with a verbal yes or he would say no and assign blame to passing airplanes, cars, a noisy refrigerator or whatever the issue was. (I was thoroughly surprised with the sensitivity of the boom mic we used. It picked up every noise possible from flies to dogs barking from across the street).

And for all of you who don’t know how the sound unit operates let me explain: There are two people, one with a bag containing a multi-channel sound mixer that can be manipulated on the spot. Another person holds a boom mic over the area in which the actor (or actors) operates from a distance. This person is attached to the sound mixer the entire time by cords that input the noise from the boom into that very mixer. It is as interesting to watch as it is funny.

The Camera Operator:IMG_5249.JPG

Now the camera operator, in this case, was a single person. A very smart and talented individual whom moves the camera, creates the desired image on the display, and manages many different types of lenses. For Found and Lost we stuck with both 15mm and 25 mm lenses. This detail was a hard one to pin down as the days went on, because more often then not I was behind a wall of reflectors, camera stands, techs and props. Which means that as the area became a more lived in space and the angles demanded a new lens or an even more intense angle of attack; I was not close enough to be keeping an eye on the camera much less the actors or the many other things I was meant to keep an eye on. Likewise, on the second day of filming I ended up writing down the wrong lens type for the entire day and never knew that I was doing it wrong!

That moment is a perfect example of what I meant when I said that I was unaware of the language that a film crew uses. Often the camera operator would talk about using another lens then just as soon decide not to. So, in my confusion I was under the impression that she was using the 15mm when really she was using the 25mm or vice versa! This sort of situation was a great situation to be in, because it forced me to distinguish a discussion from a decision, which is a hard thing to do with so many things happening at once.

The Director:

With the director my job got a little bit more complicated. Well actually…it got a lot more complicated. Let me tell you why. When you approach the director in the heat of the day, (half way through a shoot, possibly at wits end) they can be a different person than the one you got to know. This is not at all a bad thing; I mean everyone has, what I call, a work personality and a social personality, of which stand separated from one another. It is very important to know this and understand this, because if you don’t then your skin can become very thin and then every little thing can be taken the wrong way. With that in mind, I would definitely say that it took me a while to both know this and understand it. It’s hard to do. HIMG_5253onestly. I found myself being stung multiple times during the roughly twenty hours we spend filming. Could you believe that I might have even taken it personally at times as well?

The truth is that it is not personal, it’s just business. When you are working with someone who has not only the entire crew to worry about, but also the set, equipment, deadlines and whatever else you can think of. You (me) have to take a step back and see the whole picture. I am one part of this rather large machine and because of that I have to know that people are going to be tense, they are going to possibly be dismissive, but most importantly they are going to be invested, heavily. This is their vision. They have more riding on this film than arguably anyone else involved with it.

[I am proud to note also that I never had a moment on set where I felt like I wasn’t being heard and I never felt like I would rather be somewhere else.]

It gets complicated, because you have to express everything that you learned from each scene, from every department and tell the director in the most productive way possible. This dilemma led me through the timeless moral question of how much information is good information. Do I tell them that there was a barking dog recorded over the last scene? How do I tell the director that even though it is my job to keep continuity, I just can’t remember which red cup was used in that specific scene that we shot four hours ago? Do I even bother to mention that I wrote down the wrong lens information for every take of the last three scenes? Should I? How do I tell the entire crew that we have to film another take of a scene, of which we have already shot five times, because there is this one stupid fly that we cannot seem to kill and it keeps flying right past, into, on top of the damned boom mic? Et cetera. Et cetera. Et cetera.

The answer to these questions are simple really, you just say them out loud. I just don’t want to be hated for breaking this news over and over again. I don’t want to be that guy. But also it’s my job and it was a very fun job. I loved this job! Being a Script Supervisor taught me that it is so important to have a dialogue with the people you associate with. It really showed me that I need to be more communicative in my own life and that it is better to have said something than to not have and better yet it gave me better understanding of what to say and what not to say when it matters most.

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White Room

My experience with CMF (Campus Movie Festival) goes back to roughly a year ago when I participated in a short film called Jet Privado. Where, even though I came on at last minute, I was given the awesome opportunity to provide the score. And even though it was a wonderful experience, I felt that it was time to try and produce my own content, in which I had a hand in making the film itself and was not limited to musical composition alone. So, my friend and colleague Matthew Thrasher and I began the brainstorming process almost three months in advance.

You might ask why we started so early, and surely if the other contestants knew this they would laugh at the apparent over-abundance of effort involved in the submission.

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(Matt recording dialogue in our state-of-the-art recording studio).

(I mean after all CMF is about having fun with film, not obsessing over all the small details!) Well that is because this film could not be just ‘any film.’ It had to be the best that we were capable of. We wanted to do something unique in concordance with our youthful ideas of what our standards for filmmaking were.

Now, anyone who writes fiction can tell you that the most difficult part of writing is realizing not just a world, but characters and conflicts that grip both the audience and the author in a relatively small amount of time. And when each page counts as a minute of screen time that puts limits on what you are allowed and not allowed to do with a story. This problem is amplified one hundred fold when you have to conform to the structure of a short film. Which takes, what for a feature film would be ninety plus pages of space (i.e. 90 minutes of screen time), and condenses it to windows of time as small as five.

That was the case for our submission to the Campus Movie Festival, 2016.

Over the three months of planning and plotting I penned seven scripts, each of which we vowed to shoot. Yet, every time we though that we had something of value to bring to the screen our ‘youthful filmmaking standards’ got in the way.

At one point we wanted something that was the antithesis of the films that we had been witness to the year before. However, only days later we thought it would be more beneficial to play on the traditional three-act structure that the audience would be familiar with. Then not even a week later we might have decided that a film, that needed to be less than five minutes total (not a frame more), would suffer from something so stiff as a three-act narrative.

This was an adventure that led the two of us down the slippery slope of, “how to please the audience.” When, in reality, the audience most likely would not even be aware that we were trying to please them in the first place! And oddly enough, even armed with the knowledge that this was the most likely case, we still could not figure out what to do with the film and we had only a month (if a month!) to come up with a solution that we felt was satisfying!

The result was a script that essentially compiled everything that I had written previously into only four minutes and thirty seconds. A feat that was as impressive as it was unbelievable and all that we had left to do was film, edit, and score the film. (In other words, all of the most important and time consuming parts).

For the score I enlisted the skills of a fellow student and colleague, Alex Rhodes. About a month before the presence of the finalized script Alex and I met to discuss the nature of the film’s musical atmosphere. Ultimately, we settled on a modern noir that substituted sullen trumpets for rhythmic synthesizers and large jazz-based ensembles for soft pads and simple harmonies.

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In fact, I requested that not a single part of the score be performed by any organic instrument. I did though ask him for a melody that would exemplify the protagonist’s state of mind.

melody

So, while we waited for the competition to start, Alex went to work creating the perfect sound for the imperfect world of a film that would be known as, White Room. Alex never got to see a cut of the film though, because we only had four days to film and edit the film to completion. All he got was a string of unfinished dialogue sound bites as a basis for his ever-growing composition. It was only after the film was uploaded by CMF to YouTube that Alex even saw the finished project.

Big Chords.png

Which brings me to the most important part of this part of the story: Despite not having seen the film, and the film’s dialogue having been reorganized before the final edit. Alex’s composition fit so perfectly that it was both astonishing and concerning how close he came to matching the final cut of White Room never having seen it himself. (My personal favorite moment is the spike in music when Matt places his head on the wall, claiming that he could hear the literal writing on the wall speaking to him. None of that was coordinated, it just happened that way. He might as well have read my mind!)

The filming and the editing of White Room happened, as I have mentioned before, over roughly four days. CMF is a competition that takes place in one week, starting on the day that you get the equipment, however, being students, Matt and I had to wait for the weekend. That gave us Friday, Saturday and Sunday to film on and around campus. Leaving Monday to be the only day that we had to edit it all together.

Almost seventy percent of the film was shot in our apartment in a corner, where we tried to capture probably the most difficult part of the film to capture, the white room. We did not have access to anywhere at the University of Arizona that fit the description of the room from the script. img_5072We also did not have the time to rewrite these scenes into something more palatable and easy to create. Presenting us with the opportunity to be as creative as possible in an attempt to film the dimensions of a whole room from the vantage point of a single corner. On top of the physical difficulties of dealing with the white room, Matt and I struggled with maintaining the lighting and angles of the cameras.

Whether it was Jose Toro’s aptitude as a cameraman, or his seemingly natural intuition, which helped him keep up with the constantly shifting environment that Matt and I had created during filming. It is without a doubt that I say that the white room itself would be impossible without him. A friend of Matt’s before the filming of White Room, I met him just a day before shooting began.

The three of us were filming a separate submission to CMF, for a mutual friend of ours where we played extremely exaggerated caricatures in a soap opera. It was a great icebreaker for the two of us considering that we soon ended up filming for eight plus hours together none stop the very next night.

img_5074(That was before we took a break to go see Doctor Strange, which is a completely professional thing to do. Right?) Anyway, thank you Jose for your decision to abandon your Friday night plans and deal with Matt and I through the whole night! You are the real MVP.

Lucky for us we made it! Only two hours out from the submission deadline, Matt and I had finally put the damned thing together. Both of us getting about ten hours of editing under our belts by the time it was over. I never understood how important every branch of a film crew was until I ended up splitting the job of thirty people between two. I WILL NEVER UNDER ESTIMATE the EFFORT that EDITORS, DIRECTORS, ACTORS, WRITERS, ET CETERA put into producing their art EVER AGAIN. I will also most likely never edit anything again. Though that realization is less important than the fact that in the end, I learned my lesson and my views of filmmaking were put into perspective. Feel free to watch, White Room here: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8rTIYj_jbL4)

Likewise, if you are a film score enthusiast I encourage you to take a look at the score for White Room at http://www.alexrhodescompositions.com (Theme from White Room, Strange Curiosities)!

Making, White Room, was an incredibly difficult job, but it was one of the most satisfying things I have ever done. I think that I can speak for everyone involved, this turned out better than we could have ever imagined. And because of that, it is so important to thank everyone involved once more:

Director: Matthew Thrasher

Camera Man: Jose Toro

Composer: Alex Rhodes

Writer: Jaime Bennington

And Emily Hansen for giving acting a shot and being patient with Matt and I, you were great!