Film 5: Scripted One-Take

NAME: Brittany Hanson

 

PLAN DUE DATE: 15 March, 2018

 

DP: Aaron Fisher

 

FILM 5: SCRIPTED ONE TAKE

DIRECTOR’S PLAN

 

This statement of intent is designed to train your mind, eye and heart to shoot purposefully. Prepare it well before shooting. Briefly—but thoughtfully and specifically—answer the following questions.

 

  1. Fill out the Director’s Schedule Worksheet and attach it.
  2. What film or TV show is this from?When Harry Met Sally 
    1. Have you ever watched this film?No
    2. Do you have the actual script of the film—not a transcript?Yes
  3. The world of the story (If the answers aren’t clear in the script, you must make the specific decisions!):
    1. Where does this story take place?The story mostly takes place in New York City. However, the scene I am shooting takes place at the University of Chicago campus.
    2. In what year does this story take place—be as specific as possibleThe story (and my scene) happens in 1977 as Harry and Sally graduate from college. However, the film takes place over a span of 11 years.
    3. In what month or season does this story take place?This scene takes place in/around June (late spring, early summer) – graduation time. The whole story spans 11 years and takes place in various months/seasons.
    4. Briefly describe the world—its rules, social dynamics, historical context (if it takes place in the real world, include some major world events of the time), anything else that might be relevant to telling this story. Do a bit of research if necessary.Harry and Sally graduate on the brink of a massive decade for pop culture entertainment: 1977 alone is memorable for Star Wars, the release of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors, Annie Hall, the evolution of punk and the rise of new wave music. Social dynamics were also evolving rapidly: The Equal Credit Opportunity Act was only three years old, the ban some states still had against females serving jury duty had only been lifted two years prior, and females still wouldn’t have the opportunity to become an astronaut for two more years. From sports to careers to personal finances, women were just barely being recognized by law as true citizens – and of course, wider acceptance on a day-today basis with the individuals one interacts with often takes much longer, since people’s beliefs don’t often change overnight, even if laws do. These real-world social dynamics are especially interesting to note in a film that explores whether men and women can be just friends.
  4. For each of the major characters in the story (if the characters in your scene are not major characters, you should also include them below):
    1. What is their full name?
    2. How old are they?
    3. Give a brief descriptive biography of these characters (what they look like—if it’s not in the script, what you think they look like, what is their personality, what is their inner life, what are some insights about their growing up, etc.):
FULL NAME AGE DESCRIPTIVE BIOGRAPHY (see above)
Sally Albright 21 “Very pretty, but not necessarily in an obvious way.” A dignified, precise, want-to-be journalist who yearns for something interesting and worthwhile to happen in her life: That’s why she’s moving to New York.
Harry Burns 26 “Jeans and a sweatshirt” law school graduate. He’s smart but prefers to act casually and spontaneously. He’s a bit of a rascal.
Amanda 20 “Long straight hair that she irons” – one of those naïve young college women who romanticize troubled men and fall passionately in love with the idea of love.

 

  1. After reading the entire script, in 3-5 sentences, what is the story—the beginning, middle and ending—of the entire film?Harry and Sally meet when Sally picks him up as a favor to her friend, to drive to New York to start their post-college lives (separately). They argue about whether men and women can just be friends. Over the next eleven years, they meet through chance again multiple times, and eventually attempt friendship while pursuing other relationships – but in the end, they fall in love.

 

  1. After reading the entire script, what is the theme or message of this film? (The theme is what the story means, it has a point of view. It is not a single word. It takes a position.)Men and women really do need each other after all – they fill gaps in their lives beyond a casual friendship type of relationship. (I’m going to be honest, I haven’t read the entire script from beginning to end yet, but I’m getting through it).

 

  1. In 3-4 sentences, what happened in the story immediately before your selected scene?

    An elderly couple sit on a couch. They discuss how they met, and how long they have been together (50 years). It is part of documentary footage.
  2. In 3-4 sentences, what is the story—the beginning, middle, and end—of this scene? In other words, what happens as the scene starts, as the action rises, and as it ends?Amanda and Harry kiss melodramatically. Sally pulls up in a car, waits for the kiss to end, and finally honks the horn to break up the couple. Harry is introduced to Sally, packs his things into the car, and the couple begin their never-ending goodbyes until Sally has to honk again to break them up. Harry and Sally drive off, the couple still waving their goodbyes.

 

  1. How does this scene develop or advance the plot?

We are introduced to the two main characters for the first time. We see that Sally is the sort of person who won’t put up with things she doesn’t have the patience for. She can stand on her own two feet. We learn that Harry was in a relationship with a much younger college student – and while he seemed to enjoy it, he was still willing to leave.

  1. Briefly describe each character’s journey in the scene and how this scene impacts them. Specifically: How are they at the beginning of the scene? What do they do in the scene? What happens to them in the scene? How are they at the end of the scene? Why?

 

CHARACTER HOW ARE THEY AT THE BEGINNING? WHAT DO THEY DO IN THE SCENE? WHAT HAPPENS TO THEM IN THE SCENE? HOW ARE THEY AT THE END? WHY?
Sally Ready to get on the road. Breaks up a kiss by honking the car horn: Twice.

Offers Harry the first driving shift, shakes his hand.

Is forced to wait while the couple go through melodramatic goodbyes, is introduced to Harry. Impatient: This random guy has held up her road trip twice to kiss Amanda, and it’s annoying. She’s beginning to dread and maybe regret agreeing to drive her friend’s boyfriend to New York.
Harry Completely involved with kissing Amanda. Exchanges kisses and “I love you’s” with Amanda, shakes Sally’s hand, suggests she takes the first driving shift since she’s already in the driver’s seat, packs up his things, promises to call Amanda. Has his goodbyes interrupted twice with a car horn, is introduced to Sally, is asked to call Amanda. Melodramatic/sappy to Amanda, but fairly carefree for having just said goodbye to someone he was in a relationship with.
Amanda Completely involved with kissing Harry. Kisses Harry, exchanges “I love you’s”, introduces Harry to Sally, begs Harry to call her even before he gets to New York. Has her goodbyes interrupted twice with a car horn, is left behind by the guy she’s madly in love with. Already issing Harry like crazy, eager to hear any word from him as soon as possible.

 

  1. Describe the specific story details and/or character insights that must be clear to the audience in this scene in order to understand, remain oriented and engaged in the scene (as well as in the rest of the film). Describe the specific moments/details that you must be sure to shoot in order to communicate each piece of information? (Assume the audience will have seen the film up to this point, therefore, these are details the audience must see and that you must shoot in this scene in order for the scene to effectively serve its purpose.)
WHAT THE AUDIENCE MUST UNDERSTAND WHAT YOU MUST SHOOT TO COMMUNICATE THAT
Harry is leaving his university with Sally. Packed car with boxes of possessions: records, a TV, boxes of books, suit cases, duffel bags. Harry loads his own stuff into the car.
Harry and Sally just met each other for the first time: Their mutual friend is Amanda. Harry and Sally shake hands; “nice to meet you”; it’s Amanda who makes the introduction.
Harry’s relationship with Amanda isn’t all that serious; she’s just some melodramatic madly-in-love young college student: Their goodbyes should come across as funny rather than heartbreaking. Harry and Amanda’s goodbyes are pretty one-note: Just kisses and goodbyes that come across as entertainingly melodramatic, not genuinely emotional. Their behavior should suggest that they are starry-eyed about each other, but that there are no signs of deeper feelings on Harry’s part. No overwhelming sense of melancholy in his behavior, no tears. He’s able to act pretty matter-of-fact about this big change in his life in between his kisses with Amanda.
Harry and Amanda were college students –Harry is leaving a university. Recognizable university building/sign; maybe Amanda wears a university t-shirt, maybe Harry’s things contain random college paraphernalia. One of his boxes of books could contain law textbooks.

 

  1. Reread what you wrote above for the theme of this story. Keeping that in mind, how does this scene explore the theme of the film? Be specific.Harry is immediately introduced in a relationship – so when he leaves his girlfriend in Chicago, there’s a gap in his life. It implies that Sally, the girl who is forced to sit next to him/get to know him on the long drive to New York could potentially fill that gap – and the major question of the film is “Can men and women just be friends?” especially when they aren’t in relationships and that gap isn’t filled.
  2. What is the tension of this scene? This is the question that the audience is asking themselves as the scene begins and makes them participate in the story by anticipating what may or may not happen. The scene’s tension must be specific to this It should begin with “Will _____?” “Will Moss be ready for Chighur’s ambush?”)Will Sally ever get on the road (and get Harry to separate himself from Amanda?)
  3. A good scene is an emotional journey. What progression of emotions do you want the audience to experience during this scene? Why? What, specifically, will you shoot to do this?  

 

 

 

EMOTION & WHY WHAT WILL YOU SHOOT TO EVOKE THIS EMOTION
Blech – college student PDA, melodramatic/cheesy “I love you’s” Evidence of college campus (sign/building): Focus on the couple totally unaware of anything else but each other – hold the focus on them for a few beats, just long enough to feel how ridiculous this looks.
Empathy…. then “Hahaha, yes!” Focus on Sally when she drives up – watch her watch the couple (she’s the stand-in for the audience at this point as an outsider watching this uncomfortably long public display of affection.) Dolly in close to watch her lean her elbow on the horn to “accidentally-on-purpose” honk the horn.
Understanding/curiosity – figuring out that Harry is leaving with Sally even though he doesn’t know her, wondering where they’re going, who these people are. Harry’s stuff being loaded into the car– Harry’s law textbooks in a box that hasn’t been folded, maybe a sloppily-packed, partially unzipped duffel bag
Back to “blech” – we empathize with Sally, who is feeling impatient. Starry-eyed Amanda and Harry’s longing looks, Sally’s expression watching them
Amusement/relief The couple breaks apart at the sound of the car horn. Have Sally start the car almost before Harry’s fully closed the door.

 

  1. First and last images and why:

 

  DESCRIBE THE IMAGE WHY CHOOSE THIS IMAGE?
First A university sign Introduce the setting: College campus.
Last Car driving away Focus on the beginning of a journey, not the ending of one. (Not looking back at Amanda.) Also show Sally’s urgency to get on the road.

 

  1. Why is this scene personal to you? What specific personal experience(s) in your own life does it remind you of?I honestly think PDA is the most annoying thing – not because I’m anti-romance, but boy are people unintentionally obnoxious when they’re in love! I’m reminded of the times in high school when I was in a rush to get to my locker in between classes only to find two lovebirds directly in the way, leaning against my locker kissing sloppily. I remember having to be that impatient person who really doesn’t care at the moment how in love someone is and who really just wants to get a move on. It’s no fun in the moment, but it’s pretty funny to witness in a film. I would have loved to have a car horn to honk like Sally at some of those people who were too infatuated to hear a polite “excuse me” or a quiet clearing of the throat. Go Sally!
  2. Use evocative language to describe the lighting in this scene.
    a) How should it feel? (Include specific terms: Hard, Soft, High Key, Low Key, High Contrast, Low Contrast, Graduated Tonality, Top, Under, Side)
    High key rom-com.b) Reread what you wrote above for both the theme and the tension of this scene. How does your choice of lighting reflect, strengthen and/or emphasize the theme and tension?

    It renders the behavior amusing; lack of shadows and darkness avoids suggestion of melancholy or heartbreak. This isn’t a heartbreaking conclusion to the film’s question, it’s just the beginning, the prerequisite to posing it.

    c) Technically, what equipment might you need to achieve this look and feel?

    I’d like to use the natural softer light of morning since the scene takes place outdoors – have flags and bounces to shape the light.

    d) Include a couple of sample image(s). (Not from the actual film!)

    Harry wears jeans and a sweatshirt. Every aspect of him is chill/casual.

    Sally wears 80s-style blazers and pants – more casual and not matching in color/fabric because it’s a road-trip, not a business meeting, but she still expresses a certain dignity – she takes herself and her appearance seriously, in contrast to Harry.

  3. Select the two specific visual elements* you will use to purposefully communicate the emotion of the scene. (You will be graded on your execution of this plan.) How will you utilize the principles of contrast and infinity of these components to help build intensity in your purposeful telling of this story?
VISUAL ELEMENT* HOW WILL YOU USE IT? HOW WILL CONTRAST & AFFINITY BE USED?
Shape Sally = triangle. Dynamic, sharp, maybe a little rigid. Straight, dignified posture, triangles on neatly pressed blazer lapels

Harry = kinda slouchy oval, not necessarily in body type, but in dress. His sweatshirt and jeans are baggy rather than fitted.

Sally’s and Harry’s styles should contrast – one evokes dignity/precision/ practicality and the other evokes a more casual/carefree/spontaneous personality.
Space  I want to try some flat space when I’m trying to evoke Harry’s mentality the second time they start kissing – he isn’t seeing Sally, her desire to get on the road, or anything else besides Amanda, and the flat space created by a shallow depth of field will help create that.

Deep space when the car drives off: The start of a journey/a long road ahead.

Contrast: When looking at the couple from Sally’s perspective, the space should be less flat – to her, it’s just an obnoxious public display of affection that looks ridiculous from the outside, and it’s impeding the start of her journey.

*The specific visual elements are: line, shape, space, tone, color, rhythm, movement

  1. Describe three or four potential obstacles you may face in creating a successful scene. Describe how can you be prepared to overcome these? Be specific!
POTENTIAL OBSTACLE PLAN OF ACTION
Actors comfortable with acting like a melodramatic, passionate couple. Try to find a real-life couple to cast, send out casting call ASAP.
A place on campus a car can drive up to and stop multiple times without blocking traffic. Shoot on a Friday or Saturday when campus is less busy, get permission, start location scouting this weekend.
Car that works for the scene that the actor playing Sally is comfortable with driving/owner capable of lending if necessary Talk to whoever I cast as Sally to make sure she’s comfortable driving whatever vehicle we end up using. If the actor’s car won’t work for the part, find out ASAP so that I can borrow one that will.

Photos: Flat Space #2


That little green mark in the bottom left frame is distracting. But everything is pretty in-focus. The curved line of the plate just leads the eye back to the pizza. There is nothing but pizza.


This painting suggests little depth. It’s just a bunch of streaks on a blank white canvas – no changes in space or focus or any lines work to create the illusion of depth.


The shadow in the bottom right corner kind of ruins it, but the banana slice shot almost directly overhead so that you can’t see its three-dimensional shape and the uniformity of color help to eliminate any sense of depth. I was really hungry when I did this assignment, guys.

Photos: Deep Space #2

4:43 AM

So I pulled an all-nighter in the HFAC to get my fourth director’s plan done  early (among other homework) because I would be away shooting the capstone all day Friday, and I walked into the hallway and there were all these kids, and I was like, what, it’s 4AM, what are you doing here? And the picture looks like something taken after an all-nighter, or by someone slightly drunk, given its soft focus, but the line of lights and the people growing smaller in size down the hallway suggest deep space.

The line of tables growing smaller with the lines formed by the bench on one side and the chairs on the other lead the eye through the space to the back of the restaurant. The glowing exit sign and the yellow thing below it are pretty distracting, though. I also don’t like the people, signs, and other stuff in the mid-to-top right corner of the frame because they take away from the focus of the image.

Okay, I took this one back when I was location scouting for film #2, but I’m using it here now because I love how the lines formed by the intersection of each plane (floor, walls, ceiling) can be seen the whole way down the hallway. I like how the hallway is so long that the lights grow substantially smaller in size. DEEP SPACE!

Photos: Flat Space


This image would have been more flat had the calendar not cast a shadow, but let’s face it, my bulletin board is pretty flat. And boring. The success here is that I managed to do homework without getting out of bed.

The horizontal lines create flat space. What is this bottle filled with? I have no idea. Why is it conveniently placed against one of said horizontal lines? I put it there.

Affinity of color. Normally I edit photos from my phone, and I could have brought out that shadow more, but I intentionally kept the photo as high-key as possible because the shadow would suggest a bit more depth. Walls that fill the frame = easy way to create flat space.

Film 1: Evoking Childhood

TMA 285 DIRECTOR’S REFLECTION

I think I had some good ideas that were not sufficiently communicated. I’m proud of the intentional lighting and production design and thankful that my first attempt at post-sound wasn’t entirely disastrous. Mallory was such an awesome actor to work with! Cutting too much out of my story did not work the way I thought it would… I learned that people can’t read minds. Who would have thought.

This project emphasized the importance of sound design for me, and I’ve learned to think about it as thoroughly as I considered the lighting overheads – you can probably tell the parts where I was at a loss sound-wise, because the music starts speaking for the image and projecting onto it rather than complimenting it.

What, specifically, did you want to communicate? Were you successful? Why? Why not?

I wanted to show a girl using her imagination to deal with the anxieties she has in the real world and I don’t think I was successful for several reasons. I wasn’t entirely sure whether I wanted to include the bathroom scene because I was uncomfortable with re-visiting the actual anxiety disorder I dealt with and possibly having to talk about it in class, and that lack of clear/decisive vision definitely comes across. I made a much more innocent film than it could have been, but either way, I needed to link the scenes together, and I didn’t.

How, specifically, did you try to communicate this?

I had three separate pieces to the story that needed to connect: A girl with an open notebook builds an imaginary kingdom out of stuffed animals before turning the page to introduce another girl’s kingdom with creatures. She goes to the bathroom and sees shadows – after each shadow, a new creature (like the ones she drew) appears. She makes Eevee a warrior, is inspired by Star Wars to battle her imaginary nemesis with light-sabers, and loses. When we return to the girl, the blue pen is lying across the bed (almost) like the blue light-saber, and Umbreon stands over Eevee. The notebook is now closed.

  • A match-cut isn’t a match-cut unless it is actually a match-cut. If I’d arranged the blue pen in the same manner the blue light-saber fell, there would have been a stronger connection. That was simply a stupid mistake on my part… I should have made a note about that so I remembered, and I didn’t.
  • I got excited about the bat shadow because it looked cool, but a lot of people thought of it as an actual bat and not shadows, so I should have varied the types of shadows appearing on the walls of the tub. I had a nagging suspicion that this would be the case, but I ignored it. Whoops.
  • The creatures drawn in the notebook were not super obvious because they were in the corners of the frame. I should have shot a couple of different close-ups and made sure to direct the eyes of the audience rather than hoping they would pick out significant information that wasn’t easy to see in a matter of seconds. Not doing so negatively affected the audience’s ability to connect the bedroom scene and the bathroom scene because I’m not sure everyone saw the creatures in the notebook.

What did you learn about storytelling:

Clarity isn’t going to hurt you. I was afraid it would be redundant to shoot a couple of brief scenes that would have connected each part of the story and explained the little girl’s motivation for making a stuffed animal become a warrior: For example, she runs from the bathroom back to her room after being frightened by the shadows and sees the Eevee, makes her a warrior in her notebook, then grabs the Eevee – the next shot is her watching TV with the Eevee. A sense of when this part happened relative to the bathroom scene and how the girl felt about it (her motivation) was missing.

What did you learn about working with actors and getting performance:

Letting Mallory actually write things in the notebook helped her thoughtfulness come across on camera, because she was actually coming up with things in the moment, like her character. She drew the creatures and nemesis herself after I gave a few suggestions, and I feel like that helped with authenticity. I’m terrible at drawing but probably would have thought too hard about how to make a drawing childlike and would have overcompensated by making something really sloppy. She had fun creating the creatures and it helped her get involved with the story. Describing how her character felt seemed to help, and she was able to imagine whatever memory or thought triggered the same emotion – the one time I suggested imagining something specific, it made her giggle rather than frown, so I realized that letting her come up with her own memories that matched whatever emotion I was going for worked better. Overall, Mallory was super easy to direct because she’s just so good on camera.

What did you learn about blocking the camera and actors?

Blocking in a tight space is hard! I’m still not super pleased with how I framed the first and last shots – they’re kind of looking up the actor’s nose, rather than looking down at her. I had to really think through the shots on the bed ahead of time to make sure they would work with how the stuffed animals arranged, because moving them later would cause continuity issues.

Framing Mallory so that what she was writing wasn’t always visible was an accident, but a really lucky one, because she could write whatever she wanted, and as a result, authentically looked like she was coming up with ideas on the spot. I’ll keep that in mind so it isn’t just good luck next time.

What did you learn about visual elements such as lighting, composition, framing, etc.?

I learned a lot about lighting on this shoot! I learned how to create a TV effect on an actor’s face by putting a blue fill light to the actor’s right side and moving an orange gel up and down in front of the key light. I also learned how to use hard light sources to create shadows and how lighting the left side of an actor’s face (the right side of the screen) feels disconcerting because we read from left to right. The eyelight was an accident but I’m glad it was there because it gave her a soul – next time, I’ll check to make sure it’s there intentionally. I actually really enjoyed designing overheads and making light tell a story, which was a cool thing to discover because I wasn’t really interested in gaffing before. Sam and I learned a lot about light on both of our shoots.

I also realized that I really need to spend some quality time with each of the lenses because I took time away from actually shooting trying to figure out which lens would create the look I was going for.

What did you learn about design and art direction?

I did some research about color palettes – how do you pick a range of colors that work together? I learned about dominant and accent colors and how to get three different colors with a range of shades to work together. I got really lucky and noticed that my roommate had a blanket that went well with a bunch of books I have. She was awesome to let me borrow the blanket, and I went from there to pick out an outfit and notebook that worked with the bed. I removed the BYU t-shirt from the sock monkey because I realized the bright white symbol would draw attention to information that was insignificant to the story. I tried to make the girl’s theme color blue – outfit, notebook, pen – to correspond with the blue light-saber.

I also picked Eevee and Umbreon to symbolize the girl and her imaginary nemesis because they were two similar stuffed animals representing light and dark that I happened to have access to, and while I think that could have worked, screening the film confirmed something I was worried about: That using both Star Wars and Pokémon references in the film caused fandoms to become a bit more of a focus than I would have liked.

What did you learn about the Production Process such as pre-production, collaborating with crew, securing equipment, etc.?

Pre-production is always terrifying, and it can be hard to keep the story in mind while dealing with practical issues, but it’s something every filmmaker has to master in order to craft intentional imagery.

Post-production: You’ll never regret getting usable sound on set. I hadn’t ever done true post-sound design before, and that was one heck of an adventure. I’m glad I got the opportunity to try it, but I used more music than I would have liked, and I felt that it sometimes tried too hard to speak for the imagery rather than work with it. Sound is really, really important for accentuating what is and isn’t significant and should be planned out as thoroughly as the imagery.

Always have at least one grip. Always.

The library’s large dolly is a frickin’ 6-ft. PVC board with wooden pegs attached. Next time, I’m using the actual (collapsible) dolly track from the FSSS and making sure it’s going to work with my location ahead of time.

What was it like to watch your film with an audience? Did they understand it? Miss the point? Why did they respond the way they did?

Screening anything for the first time is the absolute worst. Most people, although not all of them, missed the connection between the scenes because I didn’t connect them, so why would they?

If you could remake this piece knowing what you know now, what would you do differently?

I would incorporate moments that connect the three separate parts together – reaction shots are key to helping understand a character’s motivations. The fact that I had these connecting pieces in my original plan and then cut them later as I got closer to production tells me that I should have thought things through like an editor and trusted my gut as a writer. I’m writing a script next time, because I feel like I might catch those story omissions if they’re all together on a piece of paper.

Any other observations or notes:

The bad: I’m always frustrated when I think a thing had potential, and I squandered it. Many of the key issues I mentioned above I knew deep down while shooting and editing, and ignoring my gut cost my film its through-line.

The good (?): Almost every single issue a classmate came up with, I’d suspected while editing, so I’m glad we were all at least on the same page as to what was unclear and why.

 

Photos #3: Deep Space

This one has elements of both deep and ambiguous space. The angle is a bit disorienting, but once you realize those are lights, you’ll recognize that it’s a ceiling. The two elements that help create deep space are size and perspective. The walls lead our eyes to the back of the frame and the lights appear to grow smaller in size, signaling distance. I’m kind of amused that this one happened while I was lying on the floor doing nothing. Sometimes good things do happen with no effort.

This one is all about perspective. The walls of both buildings, the telephone lines, the cars, and the stream of water all lead toward a single vanishing point: the mountains. The receding cars and telephone poles grow smaller in size, allowing the viewer to grasp the length of the parking lot.

For this one, I wanted to mimic the three-point perspective example in the textbook, and the SWKT is pretty much the closest thing we’ve got to a skyscraper in this town. If I was a VFX wizard, I’d remove those two lights in the frame, especially the bright one, because they both draw the eye away from those awesome converging lines.

Photos #2: Point of Emphasis

I was wandering through my apartment complex during golden hour last week, when I turned around and saw this spectacular photo opportunity. The dark walls lead the eye to the main point of emphasis: the mountains, which are the brightest part of the photo and therefore the point of highest contrast, and also nearest to the center of the frame. The end of the tunnel created by the two walls serves as a frame-within-a-frame, further emphasizing the mountains within it.

 

I was actually trying to take a photo of something else in the dark, when I noticed a bluish source of light across the street. Cars were driving by, hence the out-of-focus, bright white, orange and red dots, but the grey circle in the center of the frame always stayed perfectly sharp. Because the frame is so empty, all of the dots in the center are vying to be the point of focus, especially that white one in the lower part of the frame because it is so bright, but ultimately, it’s the sharpest part of the image closest to the center that initially draws the eye. It is interesting to me to see how focus, placement, and brightness impact which part of a composition is most emphasized.

 

I have a super hard time making decisions, so here are two photos where the apple is the point of emphasis: It is bright, colorful, in-focus, and the central part of each image, contrasting sharply with the dark or light backgrounds. Obviously these are both very intentionally composed images, and I’m sure people were judging the girl randomly photographing an apple in the snow at 10 o’clock at night.

 

Photos #1 – Texture

With this photo, I was interested in how the contrast of light and shadow seen at close range emphasizes the rough texture of the brick wall in my apartment’s living room. I love the dappled light from the lamp shining from above and how the depth created by each brick’s inset casts shadows. There’s a warmth to it, which is fitting, because it is a piece of the walls that make up my home.

More bricks! Here I explored how using a shallow depth of field emphasizes the texture of the worn, rough brick structure in the foreground (complemented by the sleek black bars behind it) and smooths out the background. The contrast between a detailed foreground and blurred background allows the brick structure to tell its story in detail– The worn-away patches show signs of age and weathering. It’s a place that has clearly been home to more than just college students: Note the abandoned wasp’s nests in the top-right corner of the frame!

I was drawn to take this photo by the striking red light coming from the restaurant in contrast to the tree just outside the window. I took the photo in the evening twilight, and with a rather shaky arm from holding the camera for so long, and the result is a soft-focus that, paired with the unity of the color palette, feels almost painting-like. Although the tree nor the lights have a soft texture in reality, this photo demonstrates that low light and a soft focus can create an overall soft-feeling composition.

I like that the tree fully fills the frame, although I wish I’d gotten one with a bit sharper contrast between the tree and the window behind it, because the difference in textures could be interesting.

Ten Cool Things

1.) Mount Rainier

 

 

“Mount Rainier contains the most luxuriant and the most extravagantly beautiful of all the alpine gardens I ever beheld in all my mountain-top wanderings.” – John Muir

My spiritual home. I spent many summers growing up here: wandering, thinking, and deciding what sort of person I wanted to become. It is impossible to describe how beautiful Rainier is, so I’ll just share a few photos from my last visit in 2016. They’re pretty, but they hardly do it justice.

The visitor’s center at Paradise, Mount Rainier

 

2.) A Sense of Humor

Ask anyone who knows me well: I can find almost anything funny. My tendency for deadpan confuses those who don’t know me on a regular basis, and occasionally those who do. But I’m also cheesy as h*ck and I like bad puns.

Intentional goofiness, for me, is survival. Wait, you say, this post is literally about a sense of humor, and that sounded awfully serious. Hear me out. I’m gonna get super un-funny about humor for a sec, because sometimes, laughter is more than silliness: it is love.

And love is being trapped in a cramped hotel room (where everything is within earshot) during your 12-yr-old brother’s first chemo treatment, while he’s having some very noisy diarrhea, and he’s giggling, because even in this moment of misery, farts are still funny, and soon he’s got everyone laughing until their guts are sore. And even as I’m cracking up, I’m in awe of how he’s choosing to face this humiliating circumstance that marked the beginning of more than 3 brutal years of treatment.

Once, right after Bryan’s diagnosis, a guy from our ward posted a rather puzzling comment for him on Facebook: “Kirk Cameron’s butt!” It was quickly followed by an apology explaining that autocorrect had changed the phrase from “Kick cancer’s butt,” and I’ll never forget how the three of us kids erupted into laughter. Our new encouraging phrase of choice became, “Hey. Hey Bryan! KIRK CAMERON’S BUTT!!”

Death, the void, the unknown – we face it, and sometimes we laugh in its face. Other times we mark the universe with a moment of bravery, when we coexist alongside what we fear, and smile. That’s what my little brother taught me to do.

So about those Stranger Things valentines: I would never give them to Joyce Byers, and I would never find it funny if she was my friend in real life. But this isn’t life here, this is art, a place where we go to deal with our demons, and repackage them into things we can grapple with. Because when we can face hard things and laugh, we have conquered; in that moment we regain control over chaos; we have the upper hand.

That said, we make art out of life, and we have every right to find humor in the darkness of our own reality – as long as that humor stems from a place of empathy and not denial or complacence, we’re healing instead of hurting.

It is not mindless silliness. But sometimes, something just tickles you, and you don’t need to know why, because the act of laughter is joy, because in that spontaneous moment, you feel. And as someone whose depression tends to numb, I intend to feel as often as I possibly can.

3.) Hamilton

“My Shot” – Lin-Manuel Miranda

“I’m only 19, but by mind is older.” – Alexander Hamilton, “My Shot’

I was 19 when Hamilton first arrived on the Broadway scene with the dumbest premise ever: A rap musical about the United States’ first Secretary of the Treasury. Um, what? Turns out, it speaks for itself, but here are a few things I love about it:

The unexpected relatability of its villain, Aaron Burr.

“I am the one thing in life. I can control. I am inimitable. I am an original.” -Aaron Burr, ‘Wait For It’

The masterful libretto with its complex rhyme schemes and its Shakespearean joy in word-play. Its all-inclusive vision for America and its celebration of the immigrant. Its conflicting, passionate driving forces of ambition, survival, and love (for one’s country, for family, for one’s ideals and dreams).

“I’m past patiently waitin’. I’m passionately smashin’ every expectation. Every action’s an act of creation! I’m laughin’ in the face of casualties and sorrow. For the first time, I’m thinkin’ past tomorrow”- Alexander Hamilton, ‘My Shot’

In most musicals, songs slow down the number of words able to be communicated within a given moment, but utilizing rap, Hamilton’s words often flow faster than normal speech, and yet none are wasted – each line packs a meaningful, musical punch, whether it is spoken, sung, or somewhere in between.

And unlike most musicals, the whole plot is there in the album. If you haven’t yet, take a couple of hours sometime and give it a listen. (And pull up the lyrics to follow along when you do!)

4.) Flying

Photo of the cockpit I took while inside the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress.

When I was little, I wanted to be an astronaut. In first grade, I thought Anakin Skywalker was the coolest dude in school because he could fly a pod-racer. I earnestly watched an old videocassette tape about NASA  and was blown away by my first IMAX movie, which demonstrated zero gravity in 3D.  I love planes so much that in Writers Room, the guys started building Top Gun references into their scripts and would eagerly look at me during table reads to make sure I caught them (I did.) My favorite plane is an SR-71 Blackbird, one of the fastest planes in the world. For reasons I can’t explain, I start to tear up at the sight of a shuttle launching into space. It’s an entirely visceral reaction.

5.) “Under Pressure” by Queen and David Bowie

Two of my all-time favorite artists. One of my all-time favorite songs. Our world could use it right about now:

“Turned away from it all like a blind man
Sat on a fence but it don’t work.
Keep coming up with love but it’s so slashed and torn
Why – why – why?
Love, love, love, love, love
Insanity laughs under pressure we’re breaking

Can’t we give ourselves one more chance?
Why can’t we give love that one more chance?
Why can’t we give love, give love, give love, give love
Give love, give love, give love, give love, give love?

Because love’s such an old fashioned word
And love dares you to care for
The people on the  edge of the night
And love dares you to change our way of
Caring about ourselves
This is our last dance
This is our last dance
This is ourselves under pressure.”

6.) Batman

As a kid, I wanted a skateboard for my birthday. I couldn’t imagine anything cooler than an electric blue skateboard with the Batman logo on it. There must have been some miscommunication somewhere, because I ended up with a Barbie board with a training handle attached to it. How could I show up to the skate park with a board like that?! I thought. How humiliating.

Batman’s always been my hero. On 9/11, I remember waiting to go to school, only to be sent to my room all of a sudden. I’m from Washington, so by the time my parents woke up and checked the news, New York was already in total chaos. I’ll never forget the weight of my dad’s footsteps as he slowly trudged up the stairs from the basement, where we kept our TV. When I got to school, some kid next to me had clearly seen it all and was spouting off about how these giant twin towers had collapsed after planes flew into them. I remember hoping that the people on the planes would be okay, and though I didn’t really believe it, I fantasized that Batman would save them. To a five-year-old from Washington, in faraway New York, anything seemed possible.

To top that off, I also have a weird fascination/fear of bats (long story). Spiders are fine. Snakes, too. But bats?!?!?! Heck no. (But I still think they’re cool!) So I really do relate to Bruce’s thing with bats.

And yes, Batman Begins was and is the fulfillment of all my childhood dreams.

7.) Lin-Manuel Miranda 

 

Yeah, okay, so I referenced Hamilton as one of my cool things and now I’m listing its creator. But guys, even though I’m making a list about things I think are cool, I’m like, the most un-cool person ever. I HAVE NO CHILL. I’m cheesy and intense and sometimes kind of awkwardly pretentious (but not really, I just love The 400 Blows and discussing existentialism). So it’s super inspiring to me to see a great, successful, kind writer who, despite his fame, still freaks out like a little kid when he meets his idols. He’s still got a sense of wonder. I hope I always will too.

8.) Drum Corp 

I loved the four years of my life that I devoted to marching band – telling a story with musical and visual elements, dance and shapes formed on the turf under the stadium lights. I know I’m un-cool, but if you thought marching band was just for nerds, check this fantastic performance by Carolina Crown – a drum corp much better than my high school band that nevertheless explains why I had something resembling a six-pack my senior year (I’m not kidding, marching while playing a wind instrument is INTENSE, y’all). Anyway, watch for a performance that spans from  2001: A Space Odyssey to Philip Glass’s trippy, abstract Einstein on the Beach, and explores the eternal nature of love in an ever-changing universe. And get this: All the performers in drum corp are 21 or under.

If you don’t have time for a full performance, check out these short clips from a couple of my other favorites:

9.) Curiosity 

I once accidentally caught a banana on fire at 1 AM. Ok, it was a slice of banana, which I was roasting over an oven burner with a fork, because I was bored with marshmallows and wanted to know what it would taste like.

I also once freaked a roommate out a couple of years ago by creating a giant burst of plasma in the microwave, using grapes. (See video clip above).

The thing is, I’ve never Googled how to create the largest burst of plasma, because in my opinion, the fun of it is figuring it out on my own. It’s the joy of gaining knowledge through experience. And it’s much more fun than just eating the grapes.

10.) The Unknown

The Unknown as represented by the the animated TV show “Over the Garden Wall”
This is the flip side of Cool Thing #9. I want to know and understand everything, and yet I’m so grateful I don’t. Imagining a universe where there is nothing left to learn fills me with a sense of dread. Maybe that’s why I’m so fascinated with outer space. Maybe it’s the reason I can never own enough books or watch too many movies. Maybe it’s why my whole body resists sleeping at night, because I can’t stand wasting one second of this crazy, wonderful experience.

Of course, with the unknown comes the threat of an end we can’t fully predict or understand. At least for me, though, the hope that we do continue on counteracts that threat, and makes this whole existence all the more thrilling.

“We all know that something is eternal. And it ain’t houses and it ain’t names, and it ain’t earth, and it ain’t even the stars . . . everybody knows in their bones that something is eternal, and that something has to do with human beings. All the greatest people ever lived have been telling us that for five thousand years and yet you’d be surprised how people are always losing hold of it. There’s something way down deep that’s eternal about every human being.”

– Thornton Wilder, “Our Town”