So here it is, a shot from the ending location of my short film in the making. Out of the hours I spent scouting locations, this is the one I spent the most time framing. No surprise that this is the shot where someone saw me through their window and reported me. I know because I got a glance of them peeking from behind their curtain. A few minutes later a black-and-white cruiser pulled up to the curb, its spotlight on me as if this were a prison break.
I think it was worth giving up my discretion, don’t you? Try to imagine an actor standing or sitting somewhere in the frame. I would’ve posed myself, but I didn’t want to leave the camera.
Yes, several elements of this shot are post-processed; the same as what I did to The Thing at the End of the Hall, only less so. I recall the reaction of my cousin’s girlfriend when she saw the pictures of my trip to France. How did you get them to look so good? she asked. I tried to explain composition, exposure, the leading of the eyes, the staging of the subject and in general the rule of thirds, but when I topped it off with Photoshop she went Ohhhh Photoshop! as if that explained everything and nothing else was relevant.
By now it has become second nature of me to expose shots explicitly to raise the black levels, and I am getting better at estimating what the shadows will look like. I adore high contrast; it adds to the sensation of depth. You see, I don’t expose shots by adding lights. I expose them by adding shadows. I just think they’re more interesting and, for an amateur like me, much easier to control. Of course in a location like this I must deal with what I am dealt, and in this case, after rejecting three other locations, I finally found a parking lot with the right kind of lights: florescent, balls of florescent as opposed to tubes. They cast a diffused glow that, depending on the white balance, will give off a sickly green hue, which is what I did in an earlier short; but in one setup I had a warm lamp on the subject’s face, so their skin was preserved a fleshy pink.
Time to shop for a portable warm-toned light. In a close-up or a medium I can throw the warm tones on their face while the rest of the shot remains green. Solid separation without mutating the actor’s face into a Ninja Turtle.
I shouldn’t concentrate too hard on how it will look because that is a separate and altogether difficult process on its own (though it hasn’t stopped me from terrorizing suburban cities with a PMW-EX1). I do by the way have more of a lead on my story, and because I have included a shot of what is likely the ending location then clearly I have come a long way. The tone of the short is laid out, as is the subject matter. It will be a romance of some sort; though it will be more truthful to say that this is drama laced with romantic elements. Hmmm. I feel iffy about the word drama, possibly because it comes off as too highbrow for my abilities.
I read this Edith Wharton short story called “The Letters.” I won’t bore you with the details (even though Edith Wharton is not boring), but I admired the plotting. Everything is peachy and right as rain until the final few pages, where the protagonist’s life is suddenly flipped upside-down and everything dear to her is revealed to be a sham. The neatness of this revelation and the surprise that it delivers is a pleasure to experience, not due to the singular twist in and of itself, but due to how Wharton orchestrates the con: it is clean and bloodless, like yanking off a tablecloth with such swiftness so as to not spill the drinks.
Chaos is drama, and don’t assume that it is all bad, like negative energy, or, to use the layman’s word of choice, depressing. There is this essay by Philip K. Dick, written just before his death (and before Ridley Scott screened a workprint of “Blade Runner” for him) called, “How to Build a Universe that Doesn’t Fall Apart Two Days Later.” This is what the man had to say:
I like to build universes which do fall apart. I like to see them come unglued, and I like to see how the characters in the novels cope with this problem. I have a secret love of chaos. There should be more of it. Do not believe—and I am dead serious when I say this—do not assume that order and stability are always good, in a society or in a universe. The old, the ossified, must always give way to new life and the birth of new things. Before the new things can be born the old must perish. This is a dangerous realization, because it tells us that we must eventually part with much of what is familiar to us. And that hurts. But that is part of the script of life.
So there you have it. Everything falls apart in this story. Because I want it to. Because I want my characters to mean something. Because I dislike happy stories that begin happy, plow through a second act of more happy, and then end happy. Perhaps it is because they are afraid of what lurks out there in the banality of real, authentic life. Perhaps it is because they are the filmic equivalent of a stoner, so high on its own agenda that it numbs itself to pain. Or perhaps it is because they just don’t try very hard at being human. I am reminded of the wisdom behind Harris K. Telemacher, who said, “Let us just say I was deeply unhappy, but I didn’t know it because I was so happy all the time.”
And here is where I leave you with what I think will be the end music.