Frankly, I haven’t had a lot of forward momentum on organizing and writing out subsequent 30 Minute Film Schools like I’d like to. I have topics I want to cover but little first-hand experience in them, and so if I wrote articles on them I would mostly be researching other texts and relaying the information, which I don’t think is as helpful as trying to summarize the experience using the texts for the technical terminology.
So I thought over the next couple months to give some more material to the Garage, I would share some projects I worked on when I was a student. A few of them have been online for a while but many of them I’ve never shared. Each Monday I’ll post another video in some general order I couldn’t begin to explain, somewhere slightly balanced between chronological and process-of-learning which are not the same things.
Note that I am not sharing this out of a sense of showmanship, but as a record of defeats. I got the idea for this thread based on stumbling across some of my old projects, some of which I’ve completely forgotten, and realizing I have enough distance from them that I can talk about them from a more critical perspective. In fact, in some cases I’ve forgotten what it is I was trying, exactly, to do, which makes it all the more fun as I can blast myself for some stupid idea I may not have actually had. We’ll see.
So if you’re interested in slamming DiB the Younger, or at least feeling a little less lost in your own unguided tinkering of filmic language as you watch all these beautifully done but conceptually inert uploads posted from graphic design colleges and feeling like you’re watching your job options slip away in real time, check out all the nonsense I worked on before I actually managed to get myself a job in a real production office.
It should take me about an hour or so to post the first presentation.
I’m going to start with the first film I considered worth presenting to anybody, below, which is far from my first student film or anything like that but which I managed to get shown in a couple festivals (already forgotten) and even got myself an IMDb page for. The purpose, however, is to show its tinkering over time.
This was the first version of Kabuki Western, a film I made over 48 hours with my friends behind my apartment building and other places of immediate access. The voice overs are me and my friend Andy. This was the first film where I realized you can get quite a few people involved with the mere promise of alcohol, though later I tried a film using the same approach where I let them have alcohol before the shooting started and…. it didn’t work out.
The very purpose of the project was to make a short film in 48 hours, pre-production to distribution (uploading), a concept I learned from the 48 Hour Film Project . The 48 Hour Film Project however has a budget and a structure and infrastructure and support, and this was me running around with a Hi8 video camera.
This isn’t the first VO we recorded, we tried getting the same woman who played The Doll to sing an Indian style version of it, and it didn’t work out. In case you’re wondering, the VO is a series of haikus, because yes, that’s just how fucking amazing we thought we are and how fucking stupid we really were.
There was a second version where I rerecorded the VO with an actual VO actor, and I’ll be the first to say it was racist. I wanted this Engrish version of it and he was a comedian who played with Engrish accents because he’s Vietnamese American, but the fact is that he’s never been to Vietnam and spent more time abroad in Europe than the US, so that goes to show how Asian he really is. Anyway, I never posted his version and he’s removed it from his own site (understandably). The sound was cleaner but Andy’s redo on the vocolations were worse, and the only thing I miss about it is the score I had my friend record that brilliantly recreated my “Do do do!” shit and made it sound like a short film I love called Mount Head. I miss that copy but eventually…
So there’s Miles’ score, for preservation. And you’ll notice that whereas the movie itself may not have improved, it’s substantially less headrendingly obnoxious without the VO. It feels cleaner for that effect alone, which is one of the roughly three dozen times I’ve learned and relearned two basic truths:
1) Bad audio turns audiences off quicker than spitting in their faces, whatever your visuals are.
2) Movies are better with less dialog and less VO.
On that latter point, I think it’s a general process of mine, in retrospect, that I have this tendency to conceive of films with dialog/VO quite often and then as I edit them the words get cut, sooner or later. I think it’s because I was a reader before a film viewer, writer before a filmmaker, and so my movies are writing before they are movies.
Anyway, not bad for 48 hours of production and two years of tinkering over something I pretty much cannot watch anymore.
(True story, I had even posted this on the Garage in its early days and received later an e-mail informing me that it didn’t reach their quality standards. :) At this point in my life I consider e-mails like that to be challenges rather than rejections. I’m still working on making quality short films that pleases audiences as much as they please me, with the awareness that little that I do for myself pleases me. )
I saw the YouTube page for the original Kabuki Western. I sympathize…
YouTube is the current ironic joke about how bad/trollish commentators can be, so I moved from checking YouTube pages of commentators to see what they’ve made (nothing) to realizing even that is not worth the attention. Thanks for your sympathy but really the best bet is to ignore them.
Thought it was fairly good. I’d like to see what else you’ve got.
I’m going to try to remember to post a new throwback video here every Monday, so good timing on the comment to bump it. Thanks for your interest Rupert.
When I first started talking to people about my desire to become a filmmaker, I really had no idea where to start and I considered even family camcorders to be precious, adult-money things that only the rich kids in the neighborhood could play with (I was wrong, but I also grew up without network television and my family on the edge of debt, so hang with me here a moment). My sister was already off in college and she bought me a Sony Hi8 camcorder off of eBay for my birthday. I was pretty stoked, to underrate my reaction.
I pretty much went to work immediately with the thing, but not narratively. I was afraid of trying to shoot anything I didn’t know how to shoot so I started with the functionality of the camera itself. I started just shooting my cats and my room and all that stuff you have around to shoot when you have nothing to do.
My initial interest in film however dealt with a lot of dark, disturbing movies and neonoir, so I immediately got interested in shooting in low light whenever possible. As a result a lot of the material you see above was me seeing just how little or how much my Hi8 camera could record, and what exposure/gain/shutter/program settings I could tweak to create in-camera effects. As I went to college I would take technical concepts or ideas I learned in class and try it out on Hi8, just to show myself I could do it.
None of this footage was shot with the idea of showing to anybody. It was for my use only. However, one time I took this experimental film history class where the professor sort of used the history of experimental film to showcase what was getting lost in digital cinema. Even though it’s only been three years since I graduated, I would like to state for historical purposes that I was in school back when the ‘can video ever do anything comparable to film?’ debate was a thing in the sense that nobody felt certain that all these miniDV feature length films would ever be embraced by Hollywood’n’stuff. Now Kodak is pretty much out of business. But anyway, I decided to edit together a showcase of this video stuff I edited to show how that type of experimentation wouldn’t necessarily be lost, it would just change the nature of how the light reacted to the camera, sometimes in remarkably pretty ways. This video is 15 minutes long and I can still watch it with a straight face.
It was actually somewhat successful in the class in the sense that a few other students liked it and my professor gave me a good grade for it (I did this video instead of write a final essay, which more film students ought to do). So in terms of target audience it’s successful. I did find out though that it looks terrible projected in comparison to how it looks on the computer — a lot of the gradients are lost. Take what you can out of that for digital projection comparison and debate, what’s worth noting is that this extremely small compressed file I put online for your viewing pleasure looks a lot better and higher def on a computer LCD or LED than any form of projection I’ve tried. So in my artist’s statement I submitted to my professor when I finally turned it in after the presentation in class, I pointed out that historically many experimental filmmakers would give viewing instructions with their works and that the viewing instructions for this one is that it is made to be watched on a computer or digital device.
I do actually like this piece. It has some shooter cliches that I didn’t know were cliches, but I kept them in the edit because they were Hi8 in nature instead of film. When I was at the Alternative Film and Video festival in Belgrade, there was a lot of conversation around this idea of ‘educated’ experimental filmmaking versus personal film and amateur film. I can see this as my sort of amateur educated filmmaking — I wasn’t trying to do anything significant, semiotic, symbolic, structural, or whatever, but when I finally actually used the footage it was for a direct statement. The movie is ‘experimental’ in that it is literally a guy who doesn’t know what he’s doing toying around with the camera to experiment with what it does, but also ‘experimental’ in that it seeks to communicate a visual, non-narrative point.
I like it. I can’t say it’s particularly notable in comparison to the rest of the history of experimental cinema.
Oh and by the way I still have and use that Hi8 camera.
^I don’t know if the embed up there still works for most users since I had to go through and clean up my Vimeo page for project-related purposes. They are still there but by linked-invite only. Here’s the link:
Anyway, back to YouTube. Eventually I used the low-light stuff from above purposefully for a semi-narrative school project. The assignment was to make a music video from an artist not heard of by anyone else in class (in order to avoid the other students bringing their own associations into their criticism of the video). This wasn’t even a film class, but a digital/electronic arts class.
I asked a music theorist friend of mine to send me some stuff, since I’m not the most knowledgeable, and amongst the samples I discovered an album meant to be the soundtrack to a non-existent movie. So basically Nine Inch Nail’s Ghosts I – VI, but you know, not mainstream.
Good part of this story is I e-mailed AGF asking her for permission to post this video and she gave it to me. Yay cool artists! She shares a lot of her stuff online for free, and I enjoy listening to it, so shout-out/recommendation included here.
Student critique of this was ambivalent and nobody likes the end. We ended up having a very long discussion about whether the song should have been edited shorter or if it was good that I kept going, I suppose if I had come up with a different ending it wouldn’t have been a debate but it is interesting to consider music video edits and what composes an entire ‘piece’.
I like the dissolves between the shelves but sometimes tried recreating it in other parts of the movie and it didn’t work. ‘Happy accident’, or, unskilled random good part not a credit to my craftsmanship. Glad it happened at all, though.