Author: djproject

A Different Kind of Art

Well … I am still here.  Things have changed and even somewhat slightly for the better.  But I have miles to go with little visibility in order to reach where I would really like to be.  Until then, I walk forward bearing a pain of a dream yet to be fulfilled.  But also, I propose to share something that may unstick the universe.

Along with music, another long time art form I have done for most of my life is poetry.  It was something that stemmed from both a personal curiosity and one of the easiest ways to realize something I envisioned in my head.  (I had very high ambitions for music when I was young.  Film was there too but I felt it was way beyond my reach and thus never really considered it.)  In childhood, I wrote poems every now and then.  But it was when I was in high school when I started writing poetry at very prolific rate.  In fact, I submitted twenty-three poems my junior year for the school’s literary magazine and twenty-four my senior (one and two made it in respectively).

It was Valentine’s Day 2001 where I wrote a poem that inadvertently begin a tradition that I continue to keep to this day.  I wrote “The Day the Heart Bled” as a reaction to what I saw around me in the hallways and my own romantic frustrations at the time.  Looking back on it, it does fall into the typical teenage poetry clichés at times.  But at the same time, I was honest and I figured that should forgive sins of immature craft.  Two years later, I coincidentally wrote another poem on Valentine’s Day where it was also a reflection of where I was romantically at the time called “The Day the Heart Healed”.  Thus, a tradition was solidified when I wrote another one in 2005 called “The Day the Heart Disintegrated”.  Now on odd number years, I write a poem on Valentine’s Day as a kind of “state of the heart” address.

So what does this have to do with these potential films?  Well, in 2011, I wrote “The Day the Heart Comprehended”:

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I

White
Grey white
Soot white
Earth white
Asphalt black
Grey black

Yet they fade away to make way for still relevant incandescence
To supplement another rectangle for continuous viewing
Never speaking a word to return home to remain silent
And navigating through a labyrinth of your own design
You collapse onto your poor man’s divan

And wish away another day

II

He moves through the city streets
Clutching onto a wound received
On a square survey foot battleground
Proceeds to drown the sorrow for night
And press on to meet another sunrise
To dampen a lingering reverberation
And move once more

Yet an encounter takes on his own cosmic significance
And thus draws him into a series of moments
Some pleasant
Some educational
Some amusing
Some insightful
Some profound
And some intimate
Where they at last take him to the places
The poet dared to venture and transcribed for us mere mortals

Yet great heights could yield great falls
And thus pushes him through a series of moments
Some distasteful
Some regressive
Some depressing
Some cataleptic
Some banal
And some isolating
Where they take him once more to the places
The poet dared to venture and transcribed for us mere mortals

So where does one go after the dervish?
Was there wisdom to gain in the ornate chambers?
Was there a new light to transfigure hidden eyes?
Did you – or could you – know at last the elusive name?

He moves through the city streets
Clutching onto a wound received
On a square survey foot battleground …

III

Incurred a debt
And thus demanding reconciliation
From a collective of new creditors
Who were never subject to the contract

All to prove a point
About mental runarounds
Never cementing a foundation
And yet form the bedrock of a modern faith

Play a game with end known yet results unknown
In order to see things anew
See a conclusion with self-apparent connection
Yet unknown to the other party

Thus progress turns to regress
Gathering turns to dispersing
Friendship breaks
Banishment ensues

So why hold on to the debt at all?
Why maintain the mask?
Has the point been proven already?
Isn’t there a ladder to climb?

IV

Silence before
Silence after
Silence amongst
Silence within
Silence alone

Then the catalyst changes the solution
Yet remains the same

Voices refined
Voices soaring
Voices connecting
Voices inspiring
Voices praying

Then the antibodies seek to expel an infection
Yet acts on a false positive

Love reaffirmed
Love understood
Love tested
Love prevails
Love grows

Then the blossom opens to a clean day
Yet continues to grow across a bridge at twilight

V

Aviary and atmospheric blue returns once more …
Was it all just a way to understand something deeper?

===

Get it? =]

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And Then This Happened …

It has been a long while I have written something.  As it should have already been established, I only write something here when there is something worthwhile to report in regards to this project.  In addition, I have been busy with many things, both personally (mostly in the dayjob realm) and creatively (a lot of other projects I’m trying to realize on top of this one).  But I have now some time to mention a few things that I have happened recently.

1) The Key and the Frame was selected to play at Byzanfest 2014, the first short film festival devoted to Orthodox Christian filmmakers.

2) I had a chance to talk with Chris Vlahonasios – who also initiated Byzanfest 2014 through his blog, Orthodox Filmmakers and Artists – about what I am trying to do here and it became the first episode of his podcast programme called The Moving Icon, distributed through the Orthodox Christian Network.  To access it directly, go here.

For more information about his blog and all of his various efforts, go here.

For now, it’s just moving forward as much as one can.  And remember: just because I have not written anything here does not mean I have not forgotten this project.  How can I?

The Key and the Frame

Introduction

I’m aware it’s been a year since I last wrote.  But there was a good reason for this.  I spent a year or so – on top of everything else in my life – working on a project that I hope will bring these films closer to realization.  The Key and the Frame was a way of initiating me into the film-making process from start to finish and is a stand-alone companion film to “The Relationship Triptych.”

Development

I got the idea indirectly from Sean Durkin, who wrote and directed Martha Marcy May Marlene.  He had made a short film, Mary Last Seen, which served as both a companion film and a stand-alone film.  For the former, it shared the same subject matter and in this case, it was set in a fictional cult located in the Catskill Mountains of New York.  For the latter, it had nothing to do with the titular character of the feature or her experiences.  (It even covers an aspect that is not present in the feature, which is how one is brought into that world.)  I thought that I should do something similar in regards to “The Relationship Triptych.”

(Interestingly enough, I had similar ideas early on such as concept trailers and even “deleted scenes.”  The approach I took that led to The Key and the Frame seemed to make the most sense at the time.)

The initial challenge was to find a way to encapsulate three films in one and demonstrate the general style and approach each film will take.  As they all are character studies – where dialogue and character’s actions drive the story – it would make sense to have characters interact that can also “represent” something about each film.  So, Deborah represents On Nights Like This, Arthur represents All That We Are and Lydia represents Walk in Silence.  Their present circumstance reflects something of their parent film: Deborah talks about “dealing with emotions,” Arthur has to deal with academic nonsense and Lydia is preparing herself to be received into the Orthodox Church.  Timothy is more of a summation of all the films and doesn’t lean toward any particular trait: emotional, intellectual, spiritual.

Having them interact through hookah smoking came directly from my own experience.  Nearly every week, I would go to a hookah lounge – Sheesha Lounge in Boston (Allston) – with people who attended nearby Hellenic College/Holy Cross School of Greek Orthodox Theology.  It was our way of unwinding, decompressing, venting, socializing, laughing, idea exchanging and so on.  It was something you didn’t see too often in films (at least American ones) and it made this “coffeehouse discussion” a bit more interesting.  Plus having each character take with the hose is akin to whoever was holding the flashlight around a campfire telling stories.

Pre-Production

It didn’t take too long to lay out a first draft in mid-April.  When I was done with a second draft around late April-early May, I started making my cast calls, assembling a crew and figuring out little by little the logistics needed to make this work.  Travis Gray (the DP) and Margaret Hutchinski (Lydia) were the only people I knew prior to initiating this production.  Everyone else came through a series of connections, either through other people I knew or through avenues like NewEnglandFilm.com

[Note: The other thing I’ve been doing in between writing posts is building a network.  This came from attending as many events and gatherings in the greater Boston area (and throughout the New England region) involving filmmakers as I possibly could.  It does often back to the idea that it’s who you know that will take you to where you want to go.]

Casting was a process of trial and error involving email and phone correspondences.  Once the cast was set, I had one rehearsal with all of them – though one of them had to appear virtually – at a hotel room I booked for myself in Bedford.  (There was no way my apartment could be a suitable rehearsal space.  Plus I needed an excuse to “get away.”).

The major setback prior to shooting was my original idea for a location wouldn’t have worked for a host of good reasons.  But as I reaffirmed, problems often do have solutions.  It was just a matter of finding them in a good amount of time.  (Also, this is where having a network helps.)  But even with the various bumps, all was set for shooting.

Production

Everything was shot on August 5, 2012 in Hingham.  Travis shot it with his own Sony NEX-FS100 while Casey Preston – seasoned actor and up-and-coming videographer – recorded sound.  Steven Higgins, whose sublet we were using as our location, served as our production assistant.  The day itself was very muggy (and that summer was quite nasty for anyone who doesn’t like humidity with their heat).  So imagine: a muggy day outside, a basement sublet with zero circulation, eight people in a room, a few lights (even though they were LED lights) … it was very easy to sweat.  Also I had trouble getting the hookah to work (another last minute acquisition in relation to the location revision).  In order to save face, keep going, avoid starting fires and not to add more to the already muggy atmosphere, everyone smoked a dead hookah.  Even with those snags, everyone got along very well – considering how none of us had worked with each other at all prior – and we were able to get everything in the can.

[Note: This is my apology to any and all hookah aficionados.  Yes, the sparks you see when you blow the ash off from the coals can’t catch fire (unless you are near something flammable … in that case, you should definitely relocate =] ).  Yes, the hookah itself doesn’t generate that much heat (even with the red-hot coals).  And yes, I know it’s *very* obvious they are not smoking a live one as the exhale smoke is very prominent.  This is a case where 1) the idea of them doing it is more important than actually doing it and 2) I was erring on the side of caution as this would have been the first time I had to prepare everything myself.]

Post-Production

Post-production was all about pulling everything together.  A few weeks after shooting wrapped, I edited (as Frederick Morgenstern) while Travis worked on the final color grade/correction.  I used Adobe Premiere Pro, which ended up being more than I needed in the end.  Travis did the color grade using Final Cut Pro.  He also – bless him – managed to crop the image to a 1.66:1 aspect ratio, which is what I see for each of the films in “The Relationship Triptych.”  I also did the final sound mix in Adobe Audition, which was more about polishing and sweetening the production tracks.

[Note: The reason for the pseudonym is similar to how other filmmakers use it – think the Coen Brothers or Steven Soderbergh – and that’s because even “auteurs” don’t want to see their names on everything.  My rule is that anything else I do for on-set production will be under “William Jameson” and anything post-production will be under “Frederick Morgenstern.”  You heard it here first.]

Dan Kupka provided the original music for the first scene.  The idea was to create an impression of a music broadcast, whether it’s on the radio or via the Internet.  I would suggest various styles and he would work on it.  We would send SMS messages back and forth discussing what he had done.  One of those exchanges became the only discernible lyric you can hear: “If you can understand me, I can understand you.”

For the end credits, I used Boards of Canada’s “Open the Light.”  While this was because I felt it was a befitting piece of music, I also wanted to go through the process of getting a proper synchronization license as this will be something I would need to do for “The Relationship Triptych.”  I’m very grateful to all at Warp for their assistance in making that happen, both as a filmmaker and a long-time fan of their catalogue.

[Note: Those who know me will know that I have composed my own music.  Then the following question arises, “Why not make your own music?”  I have many reasons for this.  The biggest one is that when I make a film, I’m already investing a lot of energy into it.  Furthermore, I feel satisfied in expressing myself through film that I don’t need the additional layer of music coming from me.  Plus a lot of the time, I feel the music already exists that can best express what the scene is.  (And very often, a scene – or even whole films – will arise out of music that already exists.)  To me, anything original will feel like a second-rate imitation of something that already works.  That said, the original music here is original and does not depend on a specific reference.]

Presentation

After everything was completed in December, I submitted it to the Boston International Film Festival.  Admittedly, I was a bit naïve in doing this.  However, I felt I had accomplished something and I wanted the opportunity to show it.  I felt it was good enough to be submitted to a festival (and there should be more showings in the near-future as well).  Thankfully, I was selected to play along a hundred or so other films in the middle of April 2013.  It was held at AMC Boston Common 19, the same place where after I had seen an advance screening of Up in the Air I’d revisit On Nights Like This.  It’s also where I envision Christopher and Elena having one of their dates.  The accompanying feature was Black Marigolds, a first feature from Lance Malbon and starred Rachel Boston (also its executive producer) and Noah Bean.  Rachel Boston was also in (500) Days of Summer, a film that provided some vindication and revamp for On Nights Like This when I rediscovered it in late 2009.

And so, ladies and gentlemen, here below is the fruit of my labor:

(Please note that this edition is for general viewing outside of any film festival screenings and not my preferred rendering.  It has all to do with the end credit music.)

Final Thoughts

When the post-production was completed, I felt what I had achieved was a good start.  There were things I could have done differently as well as better.  And there were probably some things I needed to reevaluate.  But at the same time, it was very close to what I had in mind.  Furthermore, the fact that I could pull it off, it looks and sounds competent (at the very least) and it was my first effort, that’s sufficient reason to proud.  But the end is just a means to another end.  Hopefully, this will really start something grand.

We Compose Our Stories Like How We Compose Our Lives, Part 2

Continuing with the reveal of the “development playlists” …

In addition to thinking about what songs could illustrate a certain scene or state, I also made some guidelines that would take advantage of my personal music collection and not weight it toward a certain artist or style.

One condition I had was that an artist would appear either once or in all three.  Slowdive, Tearwave and Vangelis are examples of this.  The Cure, Joy Division and Gary Numan may appear twice, but each provided the titles for each of them.  For an example, The Cure provided the title for On Nights Like This and thus Joy Division and Gary Numan appear in the playlist.  The only exception to the “all or nothing” rule was with Harold Budd and Brian Eno providing “First Light” and “Failing Light” on the On Nights Like This playlist.

There are a few songs that I always intended to be the actual cues for the scene.  There are also a few that would become a potential cue.  There are finally a few that would lead the way to a potential cue.  I’ll leave it at that for now =].

See the playlist for All That We Are (more…)

We Compose Our Stories Like How We Compose Our Lives, Part 1

I’m someone who likes to listen to music whenever I do things.  This also applies whenever I write (like several writers and even screenwriters).  I find that having music helps inform, inspire and gauge what you are doing, especially when you have a sense of what it should be.

When I was developing each story, its characters and its script, I would listen to a playlist I designed specifically for that potential film.  It maps the general arc and each song reflects either a particular scene or a character’s state of mind.  They provided for me the means of experiencing the journey and the world of these characters, their lives and their choices over a span of time.  In turn, I hope that this transferred onto the page and potentially on film.

These next few posts will cover those playlists I made and used for the writing and development stages.  I have included, wherever possible both the iTunes and the Amazon links (both US stores) for the individual song and its corresponding source (either the exact one I used or its closest readily available one).  The links in the artist column will direct you to their official page/site (or barring that, their Wikipedia page).  I also included a brief explanation about the song’s “function” in the story as well as any other relevant information.

See the playlist for On Nights Like This (more…)

We Compose Our Stories Like How We Compose Our Lives, Part 3

Concluding the reveal of the “development playlists” …

The songs were all sourced from my own personal CD collection (yes, I still buy those) that’s in turn transferred onto my iPod (affectionately called “i-djproject”). As a musical artist myself, I appreciate any and all support so I can continue doing what I enjoy doing and, in turn, can provide the fruits of my own labour for you, the listener. I know this sentiment is shared by all artists as well. Please support them as much and as often as you can. If you do this naturally, thank you.

See the playlist for Walk in Silence (more…)

Some Days It Feels Like Screaming into the Wind

I want to apologise for the tone of the last post … and this includes an explanation.

Basically I was in a bad mood. I was in a bad mood because I was doing some self-reflection – something that happens when you are mostly alone and mostly working a day job to support yourself – and I didn’t like what I saw. I also didn’t like the gap between where I am and where I want to be. So that – and I’m sure some other trivialities – led to a sour frame of mind and thus affected its tone.

I understand that life is often plagued with disappointments and shortcomings. A good portion of it can be self-generating. This is especially the case if you have high expectations of yourself and of life and of anything else worth measuring. I know it’s “easy” to let things be and have some content with life. Not everyone can attain all their dreams or aspirations. And to believe you can is to set up yourself up for disappointment and failure.

But at the same time, I retort with the words of Robert Browning: “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?” Furthermore, there is an intense desire to do this. Interestingly this fulfils something Pierre-Auguste Renoir told his youngest son Jean (yes, the same Jean =] ): “Never just make a film. Do it only because you have to do it.” And then he compared it to the strong urge to urinate. Though crude the comparison is, it’s quite apt.

The difficulty right now is: 1) I’m inexperienced and 2) I’m pushing for a set of films that are not the most commercially viable … in a very obvious way. Personally I see both of them as excuses. The first one can be addressed … and I would love to address it. But given that I’m busy and not the most easily outgoing guy, it’s always difficult to initiate something out of me. (And yes, this first point can also lead me into a bad mood).

As far as the second, I’m sick of things being made purely for money. I understand it’s structured like a business because the investments made and the return desired. But what you are ultimately investing in is art. This is not some empty idealistic talk; that’s what film ultimately is … an art medium. Art has its own rules and its own character … and it resents a needless confinement … and certainly a limited and shallow goal. Plus I feel we are over-saturated with films made for money … can’t there be a breath of fresh air?

Basically I’m proud of what I’ve done far and I want to take it further. And I’m asking for in the end is your help and support. If you believe in this as much as I do, please help.

And I’ll conclude with something that I’m going to try to do. I will do everything I can to make this happen. This also includes making this a little bit better. I can’t see right at this moment how … but that’s the goal. Just like the films.