Monday, November 21, 2005

The “Ben’s Letter” shoot: in which your courageous cineblogger masters many animal fears

So how did you spend your Sunday? I spent much of mine perched on a chair in a room in the Omni Hotel in downtown Austin, with nothing between me and twelve stories of empty atmosphere but a single pane of glass. Granted, it felt like good, sturdy safety glass. But I could still, you know, see through it.

I'd never art directed before (if that's what you'd call this), so I was looking forward to creating a fake "broken window" effect for this video for my pals in the band 54 Seconds. I love their music, which I generally find tuneful and upbeat, but I'm not sure about their predilection for really depressing videos. Their last video, for the song "Better?", ended blissfully with a girl shooting herself in the head but failing to kill herself, winding up instead institutionalized with brain damage. Now we have vocalist Spencer Gibb hurling himself angstfully from a high hotel window (they restrained themselves by not actually making Spencer do that bit), where his spectre then haunts the Omni lobby, eternally singing his plaintive song to confused passers-by. Goodness!

Anyway, the first step in my FX exercise was to put down a layer of tint, and cut it into the rough shape of broken shards. The idea was that the untinted glass would give a dazzling performance as the broken-out part.

As you can see, putting this into practice involved the lunatic act of standing on a chair directly in front of a twelve-story yawning chasm. I discovered many things this day. One of which was the axiom "Don't look down!", which is something we all think of as just a stupid thing people say in movies, actually does work when it has to. As long as I kept my eyes fixed on my work, there was just no time to dwell on how frickin' high up I was. As the work pressed towards evening and the lobby got a little dimmer, it got easier still. Essentially I just got wrapped up enough in the work that I gave myself no time to scare the hell out of myself. I felt like Kane in Kung Fu. You have mastered mind over matter, Grasshopper!

Okay, I didn't really feel like Kane in Kung Fu, but I enjoyed saying I did.

After laying down the film, I used acrylics, the most loathsome paints known to man (but quick-drying and easy to peel!), to create the jagged edges. Just keep looking straight ahead, Martin....

Almost done...just a few more edges to work time approaching four hours even.

The finished window...and I'm outta here, folks. Enough of this cruel world for me! And don't forget to tip your waitresses.

Since the shoot was scheduled as an all-nighter — a schedule with which my circadian rhythms were, for a change, not in tune — I went home, walked the dog, grabbed some shut eye, and then went back to the hotel around 4:45 a.m. to strike the set. Peeling everything off, which required nearly half a bottle of Goo Gone, was infinitely more of a hassle than putting it up. But I was told by director/DP Jen White it all looked spectacular on video! Which was the goal. I also got to see some terrific examples of filmmakers' homemade resourcefulness in action, including an amazing rig cobbled together by Jen and Bill Orendorff that suspended the camera face down from, I kid you not, about eight or ten helium balloons (and anchored with fishing poles) which floated up at least ten stories! This was used for Spencer's dead-on-the-ground shot, and ought to look amazing. To rent a crane that could've achieved the same effect would have cost thousands.

So by 7:30 a.m. on Monday, it was a picture wrap. Down and dirty overnight indie filmmaking, Austin style! Thanks to Bill for the photos, and everyone else on the crew for a good time. Some of you are racking up some impressive IOU's, which, rest assured, I will call in someday with all the ruthlessness at my disposal. And to you folks at home, I'll let you know when the video is ready for viewing.

1 comment:

Chris said...

The window looked awesome - you did a fantastic job. Thanks so much for helping out. This video is gonna be wicked!