10th of November 2010. The Assessed Project finally arrived: A painting as an inspiration. Any painting, by any painter that has been published. The task has been set; a painting has to be found. I looked through Picasso, Dalí, Frida Kahlo, Velazquez, some of their paintings took my attention, but nothing really got my heart. Suddenly, in the most unexpected place with the most unexpected title: A blog and a painting: Strawberrying by Asher Brown Durand from 1854 got me. It did not look like “strawberrying” to me. A girl is lost in the middle of the woods. She wanted to be heard. And that is how everything started.
- “To my Author” written as a title in my notebook. A character is being commanded by her author: Do this, do that. She is just a Character and she must obey, that is what Characters do: Obey and serve their creators. But this Character is special, different. She is not quite happy by following orders. A Character should have the dimensions that their creators give them; they do not feel unless their creators say so. Characters are created as tools, as a way to tell a story, as a reason for doing something. They are objects that lead the action in order to develop a story. A Character is a tool. I wonder how many Characters are happy with that!
Not mine, surely. She does what she has been asked to do. She does it, but she does not like it. And she is getting more annoyed each second that passes by. Her initial scenes are in black and white (2); her existence is plain and lifeless. Her author takes her from one place to the other: Go to the streets! Go to the beach! Go to the chine! Go! Do! Go! But her Character is getting more upset, and she is starting to feel by her own (less white and black and more colourful shots of her). Nobody is telling her what to feel. She sees a bird and she likes it. It is weird and beautiful, she likes that feeling, she wants to feel and discover things by herself and she is going to let her author know that. After realizing the magic behind the sea and a sunset and those miracles from nature that we, human beings, take for granted, our Character decides to end it. “Let me free!” she shouts to her. Her shouting makes it to the “real” world, to her Author’s world. She hears it. And she let her free. Who follows whom now?
That is the story behind my Assessed Film Project. A Birth of a Nation by Griffith came into my mind. Parallels, two or more different actions happening at a time. That is how I planned the structure of this piece. Both actions needed to be clearly different from each other, so I decided that the shots of the Character should be handheld. The audience needs to feel that they are following the Character, not only by her creator, but also by them. The audience is there, next to her, just like her bag pack and its heavy weight. The shots of the Writer are set in a tripod. They should be rigid, detached from the audience.
The Character had to be a female. I knew that since the very beginning. She has to be dressed in colourful clothes, just like in the painting. She needs to be spotted in the massive forest. She needs to have some weight on her shoulders, she needs to carry something with her: A bag pack. A metaphoric way to show that she is carrying all this baggage that she does not want to bring with her. I looked for actresses in the Arts Institute. No answer. The day of the shooting was getting closer, and no actress was found. I found Muh-si, a Documentary Director, during a seminar. She acted in my classmate’s Character Exercise, she is my friend and I needed her to help me, and she did.
The Location. The story needed a chine, the streets, the beach, a forest and a house. I thought about my flat since the beginning. Everything that I needed was not far from there. Although, the forest. I needed a very deep forest, full of trees and green. I had been to the New Forest a while ago, and that was exactly what I had in mind, just like in the painting. But we only had a few hours to shoot, so I needed to be realistic and efficient. Somebody mentioned the university. I thought about it, but there were many locations to shoot, probably going back to university for the last shot was not the best idea. I needed to find a forest. A couple of days before, I decided to visit every location. The chine looked beautiful and the beach is only 10 minutes walk from there. I still needed a forest. And then I thought that the magic of filmmaking is creating new worlds, different realities. I had my forest in front of me: The Chine. You cannot tell that it is the chine if you look the other way around. My problem was solved.
The shooting day: December the 2nd, 2010. White. No green, but white. According to the news: The heaviest snow during December that Bournemouth had in 100 years. Lucky me, I thought. Time: 8am. Worried and astonished director looking through the window praying for her crew and actress to get fast and safe to location number one: Her flat.
Incredibly everybody made it on time. We gathered at the living room with hot cups of tea and started to review the plan for the day. It was a very tight schedule. The first shot is the shot that usually takes longer in every filming, and my first shot was the tracking one. The Hard/Simple shot. Simple: A tracking of me, “The Author”, writing down in a notebook sitting on a sofa in a Dolly in. Hard: Focusing. I did not book any lights. I did not want to make a fire in the house or leave my neighbors without electricity. The house lamps will have to do the job, I thought. I have to admit now: that was not the best idea. Finally, Sam found that playing with the iris, the light from the window and a reflector, was a better way to light the scene. Although, now that I am in the Postproduction stage I have to say: Do not take lighting so lightly. In the flat, some rooms were less illuminated that others and we needed to use a lamp. We had no gels. That is when Blue light meets Tungsten light and then, the Nightmare of correcting colours begins and never ends. “I will correct it in Postproduction” I said when I looked at the time and realized we needed to keep on going. It was Postproduction time and it wasn’t easy at all.
The time to go out in the snow and play arrived. The temperature: Minus five. There was snow everywhere. And I knew that my green forest would have to be white. Slight changes made by uncontrollable situations. You want green, but everything is white. What could you do but keep on moving.
It was Mus-hi’s first heavy snow ever and mine as well. And to be honest, everyone was delighted with the “Narnia” scenery. The chine was one the most beautiful things I have ever seen in my life. Mus-hi was happy and excited as well, and that was exactly what I needed. My Character is feeling and experiencing things for the first time, just like Mus-hi with the snow. She might be just walking with a neutral face at the beginning, but as the journey continues, her feelings start to grow and she starts to react to this overwhelming nature that surrounds her. I would like to continue with this thought a bit later.
The Chine. The Snow. The Kids? One of the advantages of shooting during a snowy day must be the absence of people walking in the chine, I thought. It is usually a very quiet place on weekends and even more in weekdays in the middle of the morning. But I didn’t take under consideration that schools might close and that there would be noisy children everywhere, and a camera and a boom are not the best way to keep them away. On the contrary, they turned out to be a magnet for kids; everybody wanted to see what we were doing. But kids get tired and it is freezing so they need to go home and we need to shoot. It was not as bad as it might sound, we just had to manage to get shots of the Character walking with no people around; it is also called the magic of editing.
I would not like to forget a subtle but recurrent symbol during the entire piece, and a very important one in this scene: The yellow bag pack. As I mentioned it earlier, she carries it during the entire journey. It is the weight that she has to carry on her shoulders, but she does not want to have it anymore. She drops it before she claims freedom. It is her way to rebel and be finally free. The fact that is bright yellow bag pack is not a coincidence either. Colourful again. It needs to be colourful, she is one of a kind. Her weight is one of a kind too.
Let me go back to Mus-hi’s first snow experience. After shooting in the chine we arrived to the beach. The camera is following the Character and it is discovering with her where her creator is taking her. She finds a playground just before meeting the sea with the snow hiding the sand. She wants to go to the playground to discover new things by her own .
We arrived to the sea. The sun was starting to set down and the snow was facing the sea. Mus-hi can’t believe what she has in front of her eyes, neither can I to be honest. This is the moment (in the story) where everything is so amazing that makes her want to take the decision of confronting her creator. She really needs to feel impressed about the beauty of the place and I tell Mus-hi about it. I tell her that it is her in that very moment. Mus-hi is looking at a white beach for the first time, she is happy and astonished. That is her, right there, right in that moment.
The Postproduction stage. The mood in the entire film is quite dark and weird. I decided to play with high contrast. I wanted to lose details in the blacks. For the Writer shots I decided to tint them to blue and green. Green is a colour that is not usually used. I wanted to portrait weirdness and I wanted to use a colour that might help me achieve that feeling.
Sound is very important. I think it is important that everything has a sound. The pencil in the piece of paper, my character getting ready, the bag, the stairs, the crunching feet in the snow, the sea, the birds in the beach. The music needs to outline every little subtlety that shows that my Character is starting to feel and think by herself through the things that she sees and happen around her. It should help the spectator to fully understand what is happening, to be aware of those subtle details. The music becomes a storyteller as well, that is how important the music is in this piece.
Strawberrying. I wonder what was Asher Brown Durand thinking about when he painted it. Probably he just wanted to portrait a realistic moment in life, an everyday activity. It is interesting and intriguing how a piece of an artist can lead, blossom and become something completely different. I think I’ve spoken too much! Here it is. Enjoy!
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