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.

 

One Reply to “Film 1: Evoking Childhood”

  1. • What camera did you use? Why?
    I shot on the Canon 5D. It was one of only three that we had access to, and we didn’t want a crop sensor because we were going to be shooting in some tight spaces.
    • What lights did you use? Why?
    Mostly we used the Boling LED kit so we could have soft and controlled light, and also lights that wouldn’t risk melting gels when we did the TV lighting. We had planned to use the Lowell Light Kit for harsher light in the bathroom, but actually just ended up using a phone flashlight.
    • What did you learn technically?
    I learned how to pull focus during a camera move (I had a tracking shot and a dolly as well as a pan that included objects of different heights). I learned how to use the Boling lights and at least one way to make it look like someone’s watching TV. I learned more about lenses and in the aftermath of shooting became aware of minimum focus distance.
    • What did you do well and what things can you improve on?
    Obviously making sure my focus is always right even when it’s so dark I can barely see is important. I need to be more flexible about changing lighting intensity and F-stops to increase my depth of field (that’s not reflex for me yet). I think I lit it pretty well for the most part and I did get some good shots.
    • What was it like to watch this with an audience? Was your work in focus? Did the director use your favorite takes? Why or why not?
    It was interesting, because I actually didn’t know exactly how it was going to be cut together even though I knew what the narrative was. A lot of it was in focus, but there were a couple issues, in the bathroom and with her close-up. Brittany actually mostly used my favorite takes, although since this was avant-garde and there were so many shots, oftentimes it was one and done or we moved on once we got it to work, so there may have not been too many alternatives.
    • Any other thoughts?
    This was my first time DPing anything, so it was kind of a baptism by fire. It will be interesting to see how I adjust to that role in future projects. Also, I had difficulty finding people to help, though there were some people there part of the time and it was much better to have extra hands, so I’ll try extra hard to do that in the future.

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