For me, making art is about tapping into what is commonly called the subconscious. Though, the very fact that I’m trying to, and at times successfully, tapping into my subconscious really calls into question Freud’s paradigm for what the subconscious is. I’m a bit of a Jungian, when it comes to that, but even he seems to leave it the realm of the spiritual, or collective unconscious, as it were.
But, this entry isn’t about spirituality, so I won’t go any deeper into that.
In previous entries I’ve mentioned that I like to leave room for creativity, that I create an environment where my creativity, and hopefully the creativity of whomever I’m working with, can flow. But, I don’t think creativity, or the muse, if you prefer, is some abstract spirit that ascends or descends into us and controls us to create works beyond our natural abilities. That said, if you don’t know what to look for, or more accurately, what to feel for, it can often seem mysterious or external. The more time I spend working with it, the more it seems a part of me. Make of that what you will.
During the script-writing phase I enter that creative state and let ideas I’ve been cultivating flow out in what I call the vomit draft. I also had a vomit draft of the video editing. A vomit draft is a disgusting but fairly accurate description of the process. I just let everything inside me flow out, onto the page.
Then, like a religious mystic, I sift through what came out and see if there’s a story there. There usually is, because for the past several creative works, I’ve been doing the vomit draft based on an outline. But, that’s not the interesting part. The interesting part is that in the vomit draft are core issues that are inside me, philosophical or political, religious or psychological, physics or sociological issues I’ve had on my mind. Those topics come out in my writing as metaphors, subplots, nuances of scenes that, once I’ve sifted them out, I can refine and polish them.
There’s a scene, Scene 125. It’s late in the movie and I’ve been wrestling with for a week or more. It’s a critical moment for the plot, the character development and the pacing. When I thought ALGORITHM had to be a techno-thriller, I tried cutting Scene 125 to the pacing of a thriller. But, it simply doesn’t work. In fact, after I cut it down to about 45 seconds, I couldn’t sleep that night until I realized my cut was a mistake.
As I wrote, Scene 125 is very important. I chose to shoot it from a locked-off (that means the camera doesn’t move) low angle (close to the ground) with a pretty wide lens (where the entire room is visible) and almost everything is in focus.
Phillip Matarrese was the producer on set that day, and he suggested we try and get some coverage (closer shots of other characters, or close-ups of the main characters in the scene). Philip was right to suggest coverage. What I was trying was dangerous. We don’t have money to do reshoots (possibly a mistake, but shooting ALGORITHM on an $8k budget was a huge risk and reshoots were less important than food). On top of that, the location we got for Scene 125 is a house that, seven days after we finished shooting in it, was going to be completely gutted and totally remodeled. In other words, the location for Scene 125 doesn’t exist anymore. So, even if we had the money, the location is gone. So, I took Phillip’s advice.
When I cut the scene together in the edit bay and showed it to some people in the screening, with the coverage included, it simply doesn’t work. It feels wrong. Maybe it’s the angle, maybe it’s the timing of the cut. But, I think it’s something else entirely. I spent hours rehearsing Scene 125 with the cast, getting their performances tight, blocking, everything.
Then, in that consciously-subconscious creative space, I placed the camera, as described above. In that moment, Scene 125 left the realm of merely being about capturing the action. I made that mistake in my first movie and I learned never to make it again. Scene 125 became more than simply capturing the action; everything about the scene says something.
The fact that the main characters are furthest from the audience, that they are barely in focus, that they are near a giant wall of windows that overlooks the inlet to the San Francisco bay, it all says something about their character, who they are inside, where they are in relationship to the plot, or to themselves in relationship to the plot of the movie.
There are three critical aspects of any scene, two of which should be present in every scene, and if they’re not, I cut the scene: 1. Character (Is the character being revealed in a way we haven’t seen, or changing into something other than what she’s been previously?); 2. Plot (is the story moving forward and is this scene making it move forward? Can we cut the scene and still have the plot make sense?) 3. Pacing (I can make ALGORITHM a non-stop rush of adrenaline, where the audience doesn’t have a moment to breathe. But, even Walt Disney said that there should be a tear for every laugh. That tear makes the laugh that much more meaningful.
(I feel like I got the pacing point wrong, but if I didn’t then these are the normal points. If I did, then these are my three points.)
* * *
Scene 125 doesn’t look like a typical Hollywood movie. It doesn’t feel right from the standard perspective of what we now understand the form of a movie to be. But, with that single locked-off, low-angle, wide-lens, omni-focus shot, I’m talking about something bigger than simply capturing the action.
* * *
Wonder Russell (an actor who lives in Seattle but who has the gusto to still make a go of being a movie actor and who I wish could have been a part of ALGORITHM) gave me some good advice last week during my trying-to-find-ALGORITHM’s-genre stage. She told me, “Make the movie you want to see.”
I want to see a movie that means something, that every frame is on purpose and says something more than just the words coming out of the characters’ mouths. I want to make a movie that is a dialogue with our current culture but has universal human themes. I wanted to make it my way without the interference of what normally called “notes” from executives but are actually a normalizing of the movie to the point where it will entertain at the expense of that cultural dialogue.
Doing that, going out on my own (with a lot of help from like-minded creatives to whom I’m incredibly grateful) is a risk. Staying with the vision is a risk. Making a movie I like is a risk because you might not like it and if you don’t, then I might not make enough money to keep making movies, and I very much want to keep making movies.
But, to put all that work into doing ALGORITHM independently, to find the creative space and live in it, to bring other brilliant men and women with me into that creative space and to create something new and different, and then to compromise a scene because it doesn’t fit that standard mold of what may or may not be popular right now? That, to me, would be failure. I want to entertain the audience who generously gives me the only limited commodity they have, their time, and reward them with more than simply a moment of escape. There’s a time for escapism.
That’s just not what I do.
I know plenty of great creatives who fill that gap and I’ll gladly recommend them to you if you’re interested. I have a lot of respect of them.
That’s just not what I do.
Scene 125 is my effort to tap into my so-called unconscious creative mind and say something meaningful. It’s scary because it’s not done this way, at least, not very often. But, then, most people don’t try to make a quality feature-length movie without money or permission.