Sunday, March 02, 2003
Ryerson Application Written Statement
Throughout the past two years of University I have had the opportunity to critique current films for my University television station. Being able to watch and review over one hundred and ten films last year was a spectacular experience and provided many great experiences. One of these was the massive amount of Canadian films I was able to experience not in film festivals or university cinema but on the big screen at major theatres in Calgary. From locally produced films Fubar and Turning Page, to the beautiful Atanarjuat, to Ararat and Spider, or the documentary Gambling, Gods and LSD it was a banner year for Canadian film (Just to note that I do indeed understand that some of the films I viewed were released in earlier years but screened this year as larger releases). I do very much have an opinion on the state of Canadian film and how I intend to venture into its depths in four years but I am writing this statement to relate to you my thoughts about a Canadian filmmaker who has had a significant influence on my interest of filmmaking.
I will admit to you that my initial interest in filmmaking arose from American cinema, as I am sure it has many young filmmakers, as there is simply not enough interest or availability in today’s major theatres or major video chains for most children to be properly exposed to Canadian film. As my experience in film grew I began to notice what would be classified as the great Canadian filmmakers, such as Egoyan or Cronenberg. Later I discovered local talent including Robert Cuffley and Gary Burns and actually had the opportunity to interview them for a piece I did on Calgary film. One director I met during these interviews and the one I believe inspires me the most is a woman by the name of Brenda Turning.
The first thought that normally would come to mind is who exactly is Brenda Turning? I will answer this question with an answer that I believe applies to many Canadian filmmakers today. Brenda is a filmmaker now about 6 years out of film school who is currently in the process of getting funding for her first feature length film. Her only significant work finished outside of school is a short film, which screened at this year’s CIFF, titled Drown Proofing. What I love so much about Brenda is her drive and determination in finishing her scriptwriting process for her film while continuing to apply for funding so that she may eventually make her film. I am particularly impressed with her determination to remain true to her own vision of the film and not sacrificing that vision for allowing outside influences to break down her project and leave it unfinished. I also see in her writings, which are available on www.calgarymovies.com, that she seems almost afraid to finish writing so that she will have to face the huge mountain that is actually producing the film.
I see Brenda’s experiences as a foil for my own including a small project I had worked on titled Spanish 201 and as a foil for other Canadian filmmakers who wish to realize their distinct Canadian vision but must fight through a filmmaking environment that is in a growth stage and will hopefully allow young filmmakers to realize their experiences in film. I believe that my significant contributions to Canadian film will stem from these same experiences and that I can work within the Canadian environment to produce and direct beautiful and distinct works of Canadian cinema.
My letter to My professor over leaving Spanish 201:
I just like to make a quick comment on this point. Basically having surrounded myself in film culture for the last few years many truths have arisen. One that shows its face many times is the quantity of people that consider themselves filmmakers or people who know and understand film. Now I will disclaim that I don’t pretend to be a filmmaker myself, simply a student of film where in I feel I need to understand film and the filmmaking process fully so that it does not impede on the art of film production itself. I entered the program with the intention of selecting a script which I felt was artistically and technically sound and would be a good script with which to direct my first short production. I felt that I had reached a level of proficiency where I could feasibly produce the film and make it technically and artistically sound. IT would be something that I could be proud of and be successful with.
The description given to me when I signed on for the film program was that it was simply a 5 week program where I’d select a script and shoot my piece with some guidance from NUTV. The first limitation placed upon the program was the fact that the scripts were in fact themed, specifically the scripts were about budget cuts. Now I have a difficulty with the fact that these writers were restricted to a certain theme off the bat because most script writers I hope would cultivate their own ideas and experiences rather then pigeon holing them into a specific picture (possibly a wrestling picture). We sat down at the meeting and had 9 scripts presented to us. Of course with 9 people in program that left one script per director. I selected Spanish 201 because it garnered the best reaction of the people that were there and with only minutes to decide it seemed to fit into my type of thinking the most. Upon taking it to another director and a successful scriptwriter the 4 page script showed itself as a mess of wordings and situations that was honestly quite a horrible, generic, stereotypical story.
But that shouldn’t have been a problem because I was surrounded by some great filmmakers. I set out first to infuse my own ideas into the script. While I kept the dialogue the same I infused most of the subtext which was nowhere to be found as the writer came from what I believe a stage background and didn’t have the basic film scriptwriting skills other than basic form. I then sent it off to Matt in Australia who basically turned the now 5 page script into a ten page work of great art and cinema and was promptly submitted to Zoetrope online to see how it would do as critiqued by other scriptwriters. For the most part it was split down the line. One teacher actually took the script and showed it to his/her class and thought it was a perfect script while another just “didn’t get it”. I could accept people not “getting it” as I was confident that I had a succinct vision on what was to take place in the film. I will comment that I feel this is a common failing amongst many “film maker’s” is a lack of vision. The results of a film lacking a distinct vision are usually disastrous and of poor quality as have been many previous NUTV projects.
I was desperate to have a meeting with eh original writer in hopes of discussing the changes and getting his ideas in return. Unfortunately at what was supposed to be a general meeting between the scriptwriters and the directors where I’d meet my writer for the first time turned out to be disastrous. First the students had written these scripts sometime earlier and only 4 of the 9 writers remained. My writer had left the school. I felt this might provide more freedom on my end, unfortunately I was told by both Jon Joffe and Mr. Martini that absolutely no revisions were to be made to the script save if they were impossible sequences to shoot under budget or if technical mistakes occurred.
Knowing that the quality script was the one revised by Matt and that I was convinced I must shoot that revised edition I proceeded to basically hide the script from the rest of the people in the program knowing that I could discuss it with others in general terms while only revealing the specifics to members of the film crew and some close acquaintances. Matt’s revised edition script was formatted and stamped with the Final Shooting Script Label.
Early meetings also brought another major issue to the table. It was stated that the directors were not to get involved in casting and this would be handled by the writers. I found this proposition quite absurd. Not involving directors in the casting of major actors is preposterous but again I was willing to concede to a point just because I wanted to make the film. Of course I was also made well aware later on that the person casting the film was not in fact by writer but the writer who now supervised my script and had no attachment to it whatsoever. I pressed the issue with Jon Joffe and he said no to any involvement. I then wrote to Mr. Martini in an email explaining my concerns and describing the characters and what I felt would be good traits in the actors who were cast. I also mentioned briefly that I had a specific actor in mind for a specific role of the Authority Figure who was described to be an aging professor type. I felt that the department of drama couldn’t fulfill this role because of they are limited to younger actors.
Mr. Martini returned my email and agreed to my Authority Figure casting and said to mention if I obtained any others. I was quite pleased and I cast that actor immediately. I soon sent off another email which contained all the extras involved in the production that I needed including some character specific roles that were needed such as construction crew and henchmen. I was emailed back by Erin my script supervisor confused as to why I was requesting these people and that I didn’t need “them” for “my” film. Later in a meeting with Jon which I’ll detail later it became apparent that Mr. Martini was in fact angered by this.
Early in the projects life I made mention to Jon that my film would require a few things. First and foremost to get the proper environment I would need a lot of extras. Initially I was thinking in the realm of 300 people to fill a large classroom to really give the film grand cinematic feel. I also told him I would be using a crane or a jib within that environment to properly capture the environment and the character’s relations within it. Jon was hesitant but didn’t really say anything to disagree and I assured him that I was perfectly capable of handling the situation as I had jib experience and that I had gathered a production crew with extensive experience including Pat my cameraman and a D.O.P. that had used a crane on a shoot in the summer. In a later meeting I reassured him and thought I was still in the clear to use a jib.
I promptly ordered a jib from a custom company in the USA specifically designed for DV cameras and even more specifically designed for an XL1 which was the camera I would be using. The Jib when it was all said and done cost me around 1100 dollars and is now sitting at home and is really cool!
Along with the Jib I was insistent on shooting the film in Widescreen. Specifically I would shoot in 4:3 framing for 16:9 and then matte the image in post. Again I met no resistance on talking about this so I prepared my storyboards based on this approach. Everything seemed to be moving just fine when it came crashing down on Friday, February 14, the day I was originally supposed to go visit my mom in Ottawa but had cancelled in order to focus on my film.
I walked into NUTV like any other day to hang out. Jon hauled me into his office to discuss my film. He sat me down and told me in specific terms that I was NOT to shoot the film on a jib as he deemed it too difficult and that it would drag MY film. He stated that he had extensive experience with this equipment and that it was a nightmare to use. I understood his complaint but insisted that I was in full control and the jib I had purchased was made specifically to be easy to use because of its design and its build for smaller cameras. I was shut down and told I was to not in any circumstance use a jib.
Furthermore I was not to shoot the film in widescreen. His excuse was quite honestly pathetic and insulting to my intelligence as he stated that widescreen matting in post requires a second render and effectively takes up twice as much space in post production. Unfortunately for him I’m a computer geek and I now my compression. Basically when I enter my film into the computer it is compressed at 10-1 under NUTV’s requirements for independents or NUTV film projects. The amount of space available on the hard drives when no information is on them is 80 gigs. At 3-1 compression which is what our stories are under the drives can hold about 160 min of footage. That’s of course around 500 mb’s a minute. At 10-1 compression that volume moves to 166 mb a min. My film was to total about 10 minutes of length meaning that I would require 1.66 gigs for my film. Matted would double to 3.3 gigs. Our regular show has each story at about 2 minutes at 3-1 compression meaning a regular story would be about a gig of space. My finished film would take about 6 minutes of regular space up and being that this space was not on the production computer but a second computer with space exclusive to our projects and the fact that 3 were being edited at my time that left even with the expectation of other projects also on the computer well over 10 gigs for my project. In fact with my storyboarding I would upload and include only what I need so that I would actually use LESS space than the other two projects.
Finally I was talked to about my casting. Apparently Mr. Martini had air a grievance to Jon on my request for others in casting. I was told that in fact my emails, which I said sent in confidence, were in fact being sent to Jon so that he could see what I was up to. My grievance on this point is that A if the Drama department requests or agrees to cast the films and if I am told not to interfere then I should be able to expect that all my parts will be cast without complaint and that it would not confuse Mr. Martini and Erin when a film involving many extras requires many more actors than the principal 3. I received an email saying that the writers had discussed this and stated that in fact WE the directors were to cast those parts even though I had been told they were casting. I was not put off by this because I had more control over acting with this. Mr. Martini had in fact emailed Jon saying that he felt that I was overextending the program and asking them for things they couldn’t provide. I was then told to write a letter of apology to Mr. Martini because he didn’t want relations hurt. This was a little much for me and I wrote a letter to NUTV and the Drama department the next day removing myself from the program.
In summary I believe I just was a little too advanced in vision and experience to be involved with NUTV on this project. I was not told when I applied that I would be restricted to the original script, would not be able to cast my actors and then not be able to request other actors when my control was removed, that I would not be able to film the picture the way in which I felt would best suit the film and be restricted with the jib and my choice of aspect ratio when that responsibility lay on me not NUTV, and to have my emails sent to people with which they weren’t intended was disrespectful basically saying that I had no ability in what my job description was director to know what I want and to request it. This is what the entire argument comes to was I in fact ever truly aloud to direct. As I found out in NUTV’s description specifically Jon’s is that the director only basically directs the actors and that’s it. If I wanted to focus specifically on actors I would do stage and not concern myself with the beauty and freedom that film provides, especially in the visual department. I think in the end the program could have had a film called Spanish 201 that would make the program proud and could showcase what NUTV could produce, instead I believe they cut of the blood supply that began and ended with my involvement and now sits dead on the side of the road.
Sorry for the length! :)