I'm seeing RED

That is all.

The November election is a means, not an end

I originally posted this as a Facebook note, but decided that it was worth posting here as well (I recognize that politics may not be your thing and this is not a political blog, but I make no apologies about the fact that I will most likely be posting some political content leading up to the election):

I voted for Barack Obama because I believe in him, both as a powerful symbol and a policy-maker.

John McCain is a conscientious, experienced statesman who is advocating for policy that he believes is right. He is not four more years of George W. Bush.

The Republican party has no more ability or willingness to perpetrate election fraud than does the Democratic party. The Bush administration has no incentive to interfere with the elections, even if they had the stomach for it.

There is a statistically insignificant number of Americans who will vote against Obama because he is black. The fact that even a single vote should be cast out of racial prejudice is gravely disturbing.

An Obama presidency will not solve our country’s problems.

A McCain presidency will not destroy America.

A vote cast out of fear is a vote which should not be cast.

No matter the results of the November 4th election, we will all need to very quickly move beyond our personal reaction to the outcome and work towards concrete solutions to the massive problems facing our country and the world. Casting a ballot is not an abdication of responsibility.

That is all.

To make this post vaguely film-related, here are some tidbits:

I got a package from Movielab on Monday. Inside that package was 2140 feet of film—all the camera negative from Out the Window: processed, cleaned, and prepped for transfer.

So how does the footage look? I can’t tell you. No, it’s not because I’m being mysterious, it’s because I don’t know. I didn’t have Movielab do the transfer, because I’m trying out a new transfer house: Cinelicious in California offers outlandishly reasonable rates for transferring film direct to high-definition digital files. You just send them your film and a hard drive and they take care of the rest.

I’ve ordered a new terabyte hard drive (all my drives are full), which should get here in time for me to send it and the film out to California on Friday. But in the meantime, I don’t have any way of telling how the footage looks. It’s called working on the cheap, and it is the way movies happen when you’re a student.

By the way, that’s almost exactly one hour of film, in case you’re interested.

Something RED this way comes…

In exactly one week, I will post one image on this blog. Exactly one week after that, I will post something far more exciting.

The films of Todd Haynes

I have, for reasons that will soon become clear, introduced myself for the first time to the work of director Todd Haynes, the director behind the films Velvet Goldmine, Far From Heaven and most recently I’m Not There, the critically-acclaimed nontraditional Bob Dylan biopic. Prior to this Thursday I hadn’t seen any of his films. Since then I’ve watched Velvet Goldmine—a visually-indulgent rumination on Bowiesque glam rock starring Jonathan Rhys-Davies, Ewan MacGregor, and Christian Bale, and I’m Not There, a film which I now deeply regret missing out on when it was in theatrical distribution.


Musical interlude from Velvet Goldmine

I’m not going to write in great detail about my reaction to these two films because It’s only two points of reference in a far larger body of work, and also because I’m not a film critic and my observations are really just a jumping-off point for my own work, but what I see in these movies is first and foremost the work of someone who is having a great deal of fun. Velvet Goldmine especially often incorporates elements, be they cinematic devices, musical interludes, even plot points, that do not by any conventional criteria belong in the film, but rather seem to exist only because Haynes liked them. This seems to me to be a dangerous way to make films, and yet in the cases of both Velvet Goldmine and I’m Not There, I would argue that the inclusion of such elements is what makes the movies such a joy to watch. There’s also a real sense of playfulness within the storytelling form, mixing fake documentary and television footage with stylized visuals and also more traditional diegetic narrative. And all of this gives me exciting ideas.

Anyway, is anyone else out there familiar with Haynes’ work? If there was one question you could ask him, what would it be?

Bad Boyfriend Shoot

This Sunday was the shooting day for my intro to film music video. I did it to Adam Sandler’s song, “Bad Boyfriend,” from the album What’s Your Name? And I’ve got to tell you, it went phenomenally. I just finished a rough cut of it to show my class tomorrow and it is awesome. Here’s some photos from the shoot:

here is me in my director's chair. I am directing?

here is me in my director's chair, directing

flag that light, matt

flag that light, matt

actor LANDYN BANX as an angry girlfriend

actor LANDYN BANX as an angry girlfriend

Landyn again

Landyn again

LANDYN BANX as the slobby boyfriend

LANDYN BANX as the slobby boyfriend

Landyn gives his all, every time

Landyn gives his all, every time

So there’s that! Stay tuned for a final cut of the video in the coming weeks.

October: a month for works in progress

First off, I sent out the negative for Out the Window today. Movielab in Maryland will be handling the processing. I’ve worked with them before and have great confidence in them, but still… it’s always a little scary sending out something so fragile. One bit of clumsy handling and there goes weeks of work and hundreds of dollars in film stock (needless to say, I wrote “DO NOT X-RAY” in giant letters all over the box). I found this little prayer on my film professor’s blog, and thought it was worth including here:

Everybody hope for the best, please.  Bless this negative as it travels FedEx to Maryland so that it is not wounded, x-rayed, or dropped.

Everybody put out a big giant hug around the negative, and protect it on its way.

It’ll probably be about a week or to until I get the film back (I’m a cheapskate, and MCAD doesn’t cover shipping costs for us anymore), but don’t expect to see any footage for quite a while after that; MovieLab is only doing the process/prep, then I have to evaluate my budgetary options and decide where I’ll be taking it for a transfer.

More work in progress: here are some highlights from my interview on limerence with Dr. Brenda Schaeffer, author of Is It Love or Is It Addiction?


Brenda Schaeffer discusses limerence from Andrew Gingerich on Vimeo.

I’m still looking for people who have been directly affected by limerence in their own lives. Please let me know if you have experienced anything like this, even if you’re not interested in being interviewed for the film. I want to know what you think.

War is over!

Director's Pass: Out the Window (part 4)

Every film shoot is blessed with one or two shooting days that just work out beautifully. This movie had two: last Sunday’s shoot in Ethan’s apartment, and last night’s shoot.

Last night was our final shooting day, and as per Gingerich’s Law of Time Discontinuity, we were shooting the first scene of the movie.

Our location was Pho’ 79, a Chinese/Vietnamese restaurant on Eat Street (2529 Nicollet Avenue—eat there!). Not only is it delicious food at microscopic prices, but it was the easiest time I’ve ever had securing a location. The management didn’t need any convincing, the owner was very accommodating, and he even got a signed location release back to me without me even needing to remind him.

This was our second day with Jim and Amity, who are really great people and bring a wonderful, cordial atmosphere onto the set.

ASIDE: I’m finding it difficult to write at length about yesterday because I don’t have anything to bitch about. So instead of complaining, I’m going to talk a little bit about performance and some of the fun things we did.

During rehearsals a couple weeks back, we decided that Jim’s primary performance characterization would be that he would take one phrase and repeat it over and over and over again, starting halfway through each of his scenes. On Sunday, his phrase was “We have to go.” Yesterday, it was “Is this about the job?” a question which he asks his son until he walks away, and then asks his wife. All the other characters ignore him. I’ll confess that the parents in this movie are a bit of a caricature, but I think it’s a very natural and honest exaggeration, rather than any kind of grotesque distortion. The parents are where the humor comes from, and they keep the story humble where it might be tempted into pretension.

Being that this was our last shoot and we had a bit of extra film, we were even able to play a bit, do a couple takes, shoot coverage, and execute some fun dynamic camera things, including a focus pull/slow zoom in on Jesse’s close-up! I do loves me some slow zoom in (I loves it on film, that is—on video it looks so… video).

We were on a skeleton crew—me, Matt, and Kathy. We took turns running sound, and did a damn fine and efficient job of it, if I do say so myself. I even had time to give myself a little cameo as a background extra to fill up the scene.

Watching a rehearsal. My directorial tell: I get a devilish grin on my face whenever I’m watching a performance I like.

We were shooting on a Frankencamera last night—made up of IFP’s SR body and magazines, and MCAD’s SR lens (for consistency, and also because IFP’s lens seems to vignette more than MCAD’s) and MCAD’s eyepiece. (The 16SR has a pressure-activated light trap built into the eyepiece that closes up when there’s no force against the eyecup—that’s great for many camera operators, but it makes it a real dog to try and run camera if you’re wearing glasses because you wind up smashing them into your face and fogging them up. There’s a way to lock the eyepiece open, but after much research I couldn’t figure out how, so I just took MCAD’s eyepiece, which is already locked open, and swapped it onto IFP’s camera. This fits into my overall life strategy of finding complicated solutions for simple problems.

Movie jargon time, folks! If you go on a commercial film set, you may hear an assertive and unfortunately-dressed man or woman with a clipboard bellow the phrase “CHECK THE GATE!” from time to time. Let me explain what’s going on.

That fashion maven is the first assistant director, or AD. It is their job to run the cast and crew through their paces while the director is off drinking. When they shout “check the gate,” they are telling the first camera assistant (AC) to inspect the film gate (the window that the film presses against when it gets exposed) for debris. This is important because if a hair or something gets trapped in the gate, it will leave a black outline of itself on every frame of film. So the first AC (Kathy, in the case of our shoot) will pop off the lens and shine a light in behind the shutter for a visual inspection of the gate after every good take. If the gate is clear, the AC shouts “gate is good!” and the production continues. If there is an obstruction, the AC tells the AD (or in this case me, since there is no AD on this shoot—I have to do all my drinking on my own time), who then determines whether or not an additional take is needed. If there is something in the gate, the AC cleans it out with an orangewood stick (canned air is a no-no because it can blow dirt deeper into the camera, and orangewood is used because it is a hardwood that won’t splinter or leave residue).

I’ll have one more post in the next few days to reflect on the principal photography period for this film, but I’d just like to say that every new film is a challenge, we were confronted with problems that at times seemed insurmountable, but we made it, and I’m unbelievably excited to see this footage!

In case anyone important is reading this, I’d like to thank IFP, Brandon Boulay, Matt Kane, Kathryn Criston and the rest of my amazing cast and crew, Sayer Frey, and everyone else who saved this movie and my ass time and again over the last month.

Peace,
Andrew

Director's Pass: Out the Window (part 3)

Hey, so remember that last post where I said that MCAD had a second, fully-functional Arriflex 16SR?

Yesterday was a big shooting day for us. 8 AM to 8 PM, our final day at the house location, our final day with Mike, our final day with Melissa, our first day with Jim and Amity. We had… I don’t know how many scenes to get through, but it was a crapload.

Crew call was 8 AM. We got a lighting scheme set up in fairly short order, even though it was raining and we had to put up covers for the lights.

So remember that second SR? ‘Member?

Didn’t work.

Not a thing. Flipped the run switch, nothing happened. Took the battery out, took the magazine out, turned the inching knob, put the magazine back on, put the battery back on, took of the lens, checked the gate, put the lens back on, hit the test button… nothing. Well, I mean, sometimes it would run, but that only happened after you completely broke down the camera and put it back together again, and even then it only worked maybe one out of twenty times.

Anyway, short story? It was impossible to shoot with that camera. No frickin’ way. By 11:30 and we’d only been able to get one take. So Matt and Brandon and Kathy and I all whipped out our cell phones and started dialing everyone we could think of who might be able to get us a sync 16 camera on a Sunday afternoon.

My professor wasn’t answering her phone, and the other film professors we got in touch with didn’t have any leads, and Cinequipt is closed on the weekends, and nobody had any ideas, and so I told my actors to go home and come back for a panic day shoot in two weeks (not a fun prospect, but you gotta do what you gotta do). But just as Mike was walking out the door, Kathy got a call that sounded vaguely promising, so I told him to sit tight.

Turns out that having connections is a good thing, because Kathy knows a guy who knows a guy who works at IFP (Independent Feature Project) in St. Paul, and even though it’s closed on Sunday, the guy who knew the guy who knew Kathy said he could be at IFP in 20 minutes to let us in and check a camera package out to us.

So Matt and I leapt in the car and drove over there to pick it up, and even though nobody on our crew was a member they gave us a very good day rate (I don’t want to get too specific, but it was a number that started with zero and ended with zero), as long as we promised to seriously consider joining. Which I will do, as soon as I have money.

IFP’s camera worked.

We also discovered (or Brandon discovered, anyway) that MCAD’s camera COULD work, too, if the little battery connector doohickey were repaired (cheap, compared to the $10,000 that Arri quoted to MCAD many moons ago). I told this to media tech Alex today and he told me that although he thought that he may have broken his foot yesterday, MCAD has a battery belt that would bypass the problem entirely without even needing any repairs. Then he smiled ironically and limped off down the hall.

Anyway, we shot some scenes in the kitchen and then moved in to shoot a scene in the bathroom that Matt had already lit in our downtime, and just as we walked through the door, water started gushing from the ceiling, down onto the floor and our wired and running 300-watt light on its giant metal stand. Frenzied shouting ensued.

So that’s the kind of day we had.

Anyway, without going on interminably and to borrow a phrase from a friend, “all my hammers look like hammers, all my nails look like nails, and all my problems are identifiable and solvable.” Our shoot worked out, and Jim and Amity were amazing, and so were Jesse and Mike and Melissa, and it was Mike’s and Melissa’s last day, and everything turned out Fine.

Still, I’m hoping that today’s shoot (the final shoot of the film, on location at a restaurant this evening) is not quite so challenging. That being said… what would I complain about?

Director's Pass: Out the Window (supplemental: The Case of the Extra Arriflex)

PROLOGUE: This somehow turned into a very long post that I don’t have the will or patience to trim down. Probably best to just skip this one.

Here I am again, sitting home alone on a Friday night when I could be at the ridiculous and, in my humble opinion, largely unpleasant Black-and-White MCAD Ball (the theme this year? Dada and steampunk, somehow), and so I thought I’d take this opportunity to talk a bit about the technical challenges of shooting a 16mm sync sound film on a student budget.

As a disclaimer, I’ll be talking shop, and I have a tendency to make people’s eyes glaze over when I do that. However, I’m making it a personal goal with this post to use layman’s terms as much as possible and describe the process in a way that is understandable by everyone. So if you’re interested in the technical process of old-school FILMmaking, even if you don’t know a lot of the technical terms, read on. If, on the other hand, the tech stuff bores you, this is your stop. See you next week.

The way motion picture (film) cameras work is they’ve got a motor that drives a series of geared mechanisms that open the shutter and expose the film, close the shutter, pull the film down to the next frame, and open the shutter again. In the past hundred years, camera companies like Arri and Aaton have become quite good at making devices that do this reliably. The weak spot in the system is that camera motors are driven by direct-current batteries, and the current they give off is not constant. This variation in current isn’t enough to cause problems for the picture, but it does mean that the frame rate of most non-sync cameras tends to drift around a bit, meaning that the picture doesn’t stay synchronized with the sound.

NOTE: This isn’t to say that sound can’t be synchronized to a non-sync picture with a little patience. Here’s a proof-of-concept film I made with my spring-wound Super8 camera and Ethan’s Marantz field recorder this summer: Notes for an Unfinished Poem (this is actual sync sound, not re-recorded ADR). To achieve this, I had to take the sound recordings, sync them up as best I could, then chop up the sound into short phrases and slide them around to match up with the picture. It worked here, but it is not recommended for longer-form or more complex dialogue work).

The other major problem with non-sync movie cameras is that they are NOISY. This is a reference audio take recorded for Rum and Pancakes last semester, which was shot on an Arriflex SB with a 400-foot magazine. The advantage to shooting with a camera like that is that you don’t have to wait for your cinematographer to tell you the camera is rolling. You know the camera is rolling because there is a noise so loud that you can barely think. The disadvantage is that there is no way to record usable sound with the camera making that kind of racket. (For the record, the way I did the sound in Rum and Pancakes was to shoot “audio takes” without rolling film, and then painstakingly synchronize them in post.)

Arri 16s and blimp

Back long ago during the olden days of studio film and television, the way around this problem was to put the camera inside a “blimp” – basically a giant case that would surround the entire camera in noise-dampening foam. They work great, the problem is that by necessity, they are ENORMOUS. (image of an Arri 16S next to its blimp, from arri16s.com) And even when they WERE usable, that still left the problem of the sound drifting out of sync with the picture. For a very long time, the only way sync could be preserved was to run an umbilical “PiloTone” cable between the camera and the sound recorder to keep the motors of the two devices from drifting apart.

Well, someone came along to change all that by inventing the crystal sync camera, which keeps the film going at a constant speed by regulating the camera motor with a quartz crystal, the same way a digital watch works. Who do we have to thank for such a wonderful thing? Bob Dylan.

You see, what happened was that when D.A. Pennebaker set out to make his landmark documentary Dont Look Back, he really didn’t want to have his sound crew and camera crew tied together by some stupid little cable. And so he hacked a watch crystal into his camera, and a new era was born.

At the same time, the camera makers were working on making their wonderful machines quieter, developing camera housings that absorbed their own noise (“self-blimped” cameras). The culmination of this research and development, at least in terms of Arri’s 16mm camera line, was the Arriflex 16SR, first released in 1975. The SR is a beautiful camera: quiet, lightweight, a breeze to load, and reliable. (Pictured: behind-the-scenes photo from Who Is Landyn Banx?)

The problem is that all that quiet dignity inside a 16SR comes with a hefty price tag; heavily-used SR1 packages routinely go for upwards of $15,000 on eBay. Lucky me, I pay my tuition and so I get to use it for FREE! The problem being that cameras sometimes break, or start acting up (or just get dirty inside) and need to go in for servicing. More on that in a moment. Right now I’m going to go on a tangent and tell you a little gothic mystery:

It was a dark and stormy Friday afternoon. The sun was shining, the birds were singing, the MCAD infestation of bunny rabbits all joined hands and engaged in intricate, synchronized frolicking in piles of strategically-placed daisy petals. And yet, somehow, it was dark, and it was stormy. I had just checked out the SR for the first weekend of shooting on Out the Window, and Matt was helping me cart it back to my apartment.

“Hmm. That’s strange,” said Matt.

“What’s that?” I replied.

“This box is labeled ‘Arri SR #2.'”

“But MCAD’s only got one SR.”

“Yeah.”

A chill wind swept across the courtyard. The bunnies dashed for cover. The clouds rolled in. Ravenous vultures circled overhead. A murder of crows took flight from a nearby tree, pursued by a winged shark of some kind.

“Weird.”

“You mean… the winged shark, or…?”

“No, the SR.”

“Oh.”

It wasn’t until I returned the camera on Monday that I discovered the secret: When I complained to Alex, the media tech in charge of the SR and such things about the presence of those godawful collapsible cores in the magazines instead of normal core rollers like God intended, he let it slip that MCAD did, in fact, have another SR—a broken SR, kept alive suspended in a jar in formaldehyde, from which he could harvest replacement parts if needed.

And so was solved the mystery of the extra Arriflex. Or so I thought.

You see, when I returned the SR, I also reported that poor Ingrid was dead (the SR batteries are all named after movie stars of yore), and that there was some kind of gunk on the leading edges of the shutter blades—the SR features a mirrored shutter that spins to expose the film, and the corners of the shutter had picked up some old grease. It wasn’t a problem, but it needed to be serviced at some point.

So Alex, with the best of intentions, took the camera to Cinequipt to have it cleaned. Problem is, Cinequipt was all backed up because these dudes are in town shooting a movie and apparently Cinequipt is doing their camera servicing for them, and so Friday rolled around and the camera wasn’t ready yet, and I was scheduled to shoot with it that weekend.

Baron Von Gingerich, understandably distraught by the news, pitched a little hissy fit in his bedroom, from where he marched forthwith to confer with the better angels of his nature, who advised him to burn the building down. The good Baron rationally elected instead to go plead with the media center for help and guidance.

And so it was that Alex revealed unto me the truth: Arriflex SR #1 actually worked, it just wasn’t in circulation, and if I was a good boy and didn’t blame him if my footage came back upside-down or something, I could have that camera for the weekend. Apparently what had happened was that MCAD used to have both cameras in circulation, and then a student dropped SR #1 and broke its lens, and it was taken out of circulation until its damage was assessed. The lens was replaced and the camera was sent to Arri for a repair estimate, where they were quoted the price of $10,000, even though the only problem was a minor “lazy shutter” issue that didn’t effect the operation of the camera. And so it got boxed up until the then-media tech quit and a new media tech came on who decided that the best thing to do was to just leave it out of circulation, and then there was a media tech who was a really nice guy but he was a digital video person and didn’t know anything about the SRs and so he probably just ignored it, and then Alex came on the job this year and inherited this pretty little problem.

Anyway, this whole post is just a long way of saying that due to a series of completely reasonable decisions, a perfectly good $20,000 camera package—not just the camera, but a 400-foot magazine, Zeiss zoom lens, matte box and filters—has been sitting unused in a storage room for upwards of three years, and this chills me to the very core of my being.

FADE TO BLACK
THE END

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