Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Movie: "The Truth is Out There..."

Today I did something that I wanted to do already more than 25 years ago, but never had an opportunity to do so: I directed a movie.

The Leeds Met Staff Development Festival began today, in a scaled-down version compared to previous years. But nevertheless, there are great events, workshops, and activities throughout this whole week. One of these activities caught my attention back in summer when the schedule was announced: "Make a Film in a Day", organised by the Northern Film School of Leeds Met. I have been fascinated by the medium Film since the late 1970s when I began to get interested in the art of movie making. At one point during my last years at high school I even toyed with the thought of becoming a director, being inspired by such masters like Alfred Hitchcock, Francois Truffaut, Jacques Tati, Claude Chabrol, Werner Herzog, Robert Altmann, Billy Wilder, and the classic masters of film noir. But when it came to choosing a career, I opted out of this path as it seemed to me a bit too much high-risk. However, I kept a high regard for movies and movie-making, and while living near Los Angeles for nine years I enjoyed being so close to the movie production scene with its still vividly living history (of movie classics), with highlights of renting my old car (1971 Plymouth Fury Stationwagon) to movie and TV productions ("Almost Famous" 2000 by Cameron Crowe, although my car did not make it into the final movie cut) and with once meeting the actress Jane Russel and the TV host Robert Osborne from TCM.

So when I saw the "Make a Film in a Day" event, I did not hesitate and enrolled myself. So today at 10:00 I showed up at the Northern Film School in the "Electric Press" building in Leeds City Centre, together with 19 other like-minded colleagues. First we were taught a few of the basics and terminology of film making. Then we were divided into 3 groups: each got a task to make a short 3 minute long film. I got into the group "Leeds Metro Studio" which was given the task to produce a "Science Fiction Western", with the sentence in it "the truth is out there..." and with using the props of a space helmet, a cowboy hat, an American flag, and an alarm clock. We then divided the roles in the group. I was interested in the editing, but someone else took that first. The director's job was left - I first hesitated, but then thought about my long interest in movie-making, and volunteered for the director's job.

The first two hours were spent on outlining the story. Everyone in the group came up with ideas, from something like "Back to the Future III", "West World", "Kate and Leopold". It was hard to come up as a group with a consistent story line - each of us had very interesting ideas regarding the visuals, but it appeared difficult to include them all in a consistent story. But thanks to the help of screen writer / director Dan Meldon a story slowly evolved: a young woman, played by Victoria, exits an elevator/lift in a building, then sees something unbelievable: at the reception desk there sits the clerk Chip with a cowboy hat, played by Muthu. She thinks she is on the wrong floor, goes back into the lift, goes to another floor. There is Muthu again, this time wearing a space helmet. She asks if she can register here. Muthu sends her to the 52 floor, but not without giving her the helmet because "the air is thin up there". She goes up there, leaves the lift wearing the helmet, arriving at the ground floor of the newly opened Rose Bowl lecture hall where she is greeted by fellow colleagues who applaud her and take pictures of her with their mobile phones: she has arrived at the Staff Development Festival. A live chorus sings in the background. This latter thing actually was not planned, but it happened as we filmed in the Rose Bowl, because another event had the Leeds Met Singers in the background.

Pretty weird story, we wanted to make it quite surreal. Unfortunately we only had very little time for the actual filming. After we had the story sorted, we got an hour of specialist training, so the editor, camera and sound crew could do the job. The actors and directors of each group were told about some basic rules of filming, the different shots, and the "do not cross the line" rule. We got our props sorted, then went to the two locations: in the Civic Quarter buildings, and in the Rose Bowl. Filming time was set to only 1 h 15 minutes. The first scene took already longer than expected to shoot. We did several takes, with various shots: medium, closeup, and in different directions, to get the initial dialogue. I was the one saying "action" and "cut" - quite some fun. It was also my duty to coach the actors into great performances, and discuss with the camera woman the particular aesthetics of the shots, to preserve that intended surreal feel.

I really enjoyed this whole directing. Unfortunately time was running out, and despite of filming for a total of more than 2 hours, we could not film all the various shots we had planned.

But when then our editor put the scenes together in "Final Cut Pro", a very nice short flick developed. In the end we had a screening of all three films that were produced by the groups today: one had created a film noir murder mystery, the other had made a parody of a blackmailing mob movie.

Filming in Civic Quarter buildings of Leeds Met

Editing in the post-production

This was a great fun, and when later this evening I watched in the movie theatre Tarantino's "Inglorious Bastards" (very recommendable, if you can digest Tarantino's lack of inhibition against violence depiction), I could somehow more appreciate all the work that had gone into this movie.

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