Cinematic Convolutions: Its Something

Thought I’d like to share the first ever thing I’ve ever filmed.

Its’s like that one old toy you had as a kid, it was ugly and kinda malformed by playing with it so often and of course you had no idea what you were doing, but holy moly it was yours and you were just proud to have it.

This all kinda started out sort of innocently, my friend John needed a cameraman for his rendition of a couple scenes from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s, “The Great Gatsby.” I assumed that it would be a quick thing; an hour maybe two at most.  Real easy, film it wide and tripod it, let the actors just talk, boring but expected.

But as I got going, I wasn’t satisfied with that. I mean, it was only a school project, I wouldn’t be vilified for a shaky, wide angle, no tripod piece of crap that everyone turns in. Hell, it wasn’t even my own project. But, after everything I’ve written here and all the things I’ve seen, filming like that made my blood boil. But all the other guys just wanted to film it and go home, so that’s how day one ended, with a bunch of bad footage.

But John told me they didn’t meet the minimum time amount, so we needed more footage. I could have gone back the second day and done more of the same. But I said no, I’m not gonna shoehorn this. I’m going to try my best with the knowledge I have , despite how small it is.

So for a good 5 hours, with no real prior experience, John and I just went to work, and we tried to do our best to create additional scenes while trying to limit the effects horrendous first day, which you can plainly see.  The difference between the quality scenes and the garbage ones is air apparent. Anyway, I hope you like it, its not much at all, but its mine.

I was the cameraman for all the scenes, and I guess the director of this thing, and John edited it with my supervision, so I played a part in all of it. So I guess I’ll do what I always do: break it down and apart. I’ll go over each segment of scenes, what I wanted to do, and how I did it, and also any mistakes I made. I suggest you watch it first and then come back and go piece by piece.

[0:00-0:20] So for context, this scene is where Nick Carraway is drunk, headed home from a smaller party. Its the middle of the night, so I wanted to set the scene. I did so by using establishing shots of lights in the night. And to set up the car light coming up next. Three bright yellow lights framed in the right side of the quadrant, followed by a jarring white light to the left of the quadrant: Bright Equilibrium.  However, these shots are too long, and I wish I had made them shorter. I also wished I had changed the sequence, putting the blurry one first. This scene was put in because for this project different groups do different parts of the movie.

[0:11-0:30] These are establishing shots for Nick’s car, showing the start up and the beginning of his tires moving to forward progression. When John first edited the video, all the cuts so far had been fade cuts, but fading away a scene implies passage of time, and using it that much reduces its effect. We re-edited it, and all the shots were regularly cut, I wanted those intro shots to be in the same “time space” and we only used the fade cut on the tires scene, because the passage of time effect makes sense. To get the tire shot, I actually hung out of John’s car as he drove and held the tripod which held his iPhone to get the shot. I wanted all the shots close and tight, you know its a car, but not who’s driving, what type, or where. That’s saved for the next scene.

[0:31-0:47] This segment is split into two parts: the first wide shot and pan of the car and the insert of John’s drunk behavior. For the first wide shot, I wanted to connect the previous close shots to now the whole car, and I wanted a quieter scene to contrast the louder tire scenes before. For the end, I wanted to do something called “matching scene transitions”. Its a technique to connect scenes together by cutting to similar images in both scenes. The most famous example is from Alfred Hitchcock:

The scene transition here is not exactly this, but instead is more a “leading transition”, the fading red light guides the audience’s eye from one scene to the next, leading into John’s arm. Doing so makes a smooth transition. For John’s scene, we tried to just re-emphasize the fact that Nick was drunk, but we both agreed that John should have been hiccuping instead of coughing and that he should have tried to act like he was driving more.

[0:48-1:21] We wanted a continuation of the car driving, after the insert of John’s drunk scene, so it was a simple wide shot again of John driving and parking, and getting out, trying to put a shirt on to match continuity with another scene that we shot the first day. I wished we had more lighting because its really hard to see John in this shot, and his brake lights would have been perfect, but we’d have to hold down his breaks with a brick or something, and brake lights don’t stay on. We also wanted to have a sense for his fall onto the curb, which is why I filmed this on a higher angle, he takes a tumble down in the lower right quadrant, like a diagonal line going down on a graph.

[1:22-1:56] This scene was to establish John putting his extra shirt, and also to place him in the tree where he will wake up in the next scene. Nothing fancy here, I start by placing John in the left quadrants since he fell from the lower right in the scene before, and just have him climb up to top right towards the tree. Fade cut to John finally reaching a tree, and a fly actually flew by my camera! I thought it was kinda cool so I didn’t say anything and used that take. John simply leans up against the tree and places a hat on his face, once again to match continuity for the next scene. It’s really dark in this scene too, and I wished we had more lighting, but art through adversity right?

[1:57-2:30] This is a three part sequence of scenes. Part one is the awakening of Nick at the tree, and begins the first voice over and dialogue for the film. Nothing fancy, just a tripod wide shot. Part two is the introduction and the set up of the mysterious Gatsby, which I filmed by laying in the dirt and placing the tripod upwards. Its then followed by an insert into an over the shoulder shot to further emphasize the mystery. There’s an audio mistake because someone talked during filming and we couldn’t edit it out. Part three is the intro of Gatsby’s presence, an assistant gives Nick an invitation to a party. Up until this point, almost all of the scenes had been cut and try tripod work, so I wanted a moving shot. In a typical David Fincher shot, this kind of scene would be two cuts, one of Nick to the door and then an insert of the note, so I combined them in a sort of Spielberg Oner, just much shorter, basically combining the two in one mobile handheld shot.

[2:31-3-48] These scenes are all “party scenes” and is once again in a sequence of parts. Part one is just an establishing shot of the guests arriving that Nick is speaking about in the voice over, and its the last voice over in the film. I use another “leading transition” with the note that fades into the white car, setting up the audience’s eyes for the incoming car. Its another simple tripod pan and zoom out. Part two is just footage with a filter on it and music that creates the party mood and its continued in part three with the pool scene. Now the first edit of these two scenes had differing music, but I felt like the two scenes should have been united by one song to make it more coherent and connected. I liked our pool scene, except the really amateur flip up replacement frame transition, but it was necessary because that slow mo scene was shot on someone else’s iPhone that could do slow mo, so we had to use his footage and the jump in angle and quality was so sudden that the flip up transition was the only thing that could cover it up. That last pool scene ends in a pan out right with a fade show passage of time and show that the party scenes are over.

[3:49-4:26] These are literally the worst scenes of the entire movie. I don’t want to sound like I’m giving excuses, but the actors just wanted to get home and these two takes are the only we had. The first is a follow over the shoulder of our  “Jordan” to a poorly written  and awkward dialogue. This scene is titled into another awful scene: a handheld follow of “Jordan” and Nick asking around about Gatsby, involving two lines from two bystanders, who both looked into the camera. But thankfully the rest of the film is quality.

[4:27-4:42] In this scene I wanted to show Nick moving into the library to speak with Owl Eyes, but in the actual movie, its Jordan who speaks with Owl Eyes. I made an executive decision of interpreting the movie, and we had Nick talk to Owl Eyes instead, because a) we didn’t have another actor, it was just me and John because it was shot on the second day and b) because I felt it was more thematically appropriate since Nick has been the one so far to ask about Gatsby. I wanted it kinda to feel like Nick’s search. But Jordan is still involved so we had to do something, I call “dismissing the character.” I had John “talk” to Jordan off frame and give a reason for her absence. But to film this scene, I wanted to something a little different. I didn’t want another flat shot, so I climbed onto John’s washing machine and shot it from that down looking angle. After that, I had a cut into John opening the door from the flat angle, but there’s some errors, the main one being a huge continuity error since in the cut the bathroom door is closed while the angled shot its open. Another error is the slight difference in the audio as well as the timing of the cut, I should have cut it right when he touched the door knob. At the end of the scene, I hold the cut to let the sound of the door resonate to the next scene.

[4:43-5:11] This was a special scene for me, because I’m in it. Well beside from that its one of my favorite scenes in the whole movie. I wanted to find a good way to show the library. So while I think its a little cliche, I really liked this behind the bookshelf shot to intro my character, Owl Eyes, as his main interest is books. We did this by propping a book behind the others to prop up the phone against, and we used smaller books in the front so that it would be easier for me to pull them out. And when I did, my lines were straight from the book, to show the wonder of Gatsby’s possessions. Also, when I did clear the books, I didn’t clear the big red one, so I completely full up the right quadrant to put lighting and emphasis on me in the left quadrant. Its one of my favorite scenes in the entire film and a great use of the quadrant system.

[5:12:-5:25] The purpose of this scene is to intro Nick and Owl Eyes, as well as to give Owl Eyes’s new personality that I gave him. I wanted Owl Eyes to be all knowing and all encompassing, he would know all the things that Nick didn’t, but yet he wouldn’t reveal them which is why I laugh after Nick asks Owl Eyes where Gatsby is. This scene was a simple tripod set up, medium shot; we didn’t have another person there to do camerawork, and I don’t like other people doing camera work if they don’t have a passion for the nuances of film.

[5:26-6:10] This is probably the only coherent dialogue scene in the whole film. I wanted this to be another mysterious scene to build the aura around Gatsby. I tried to design the dialogue to be vague and broad, and really have Owl Eyes know things that both the audience and Nick don’t, and still not give it. I pushed it to the extent where Owl Eyes wouldn’t even shake Nick’s hand. I start this scene by keeping up the “criss cross” that Owl Eyes and Nick do in the previous scene. I also put in a little nod to the Gatsby movie, the book I’m holding is the collection of New Yorker cartoons, the movie takes place in New York, and the pages I’m flipping all have to do with the rich. Does anyone notice this? No way, but I do. And it helps me act and I guess its something I know. I feel like the little things are big to me. The filming is kinda boring, medium shot on a tripod. But there’s nothing we could have done because it was just us two. The only mistake is that John looks into the camera at the beginning of the scene.

[6:11-6:21] I wanted to show the shift in power from the previous scene. I do this by placing Owl Eyes in the left quadrant, much bigger than Nick, showing how he controlled the previous scene and showing Nick, defeated and still knows nothing about Gatsby. I wish I would have placed Owl Eyes much closer to the camera, making him even bigger as well as placing him more to the top left of the quadrant, and Nick to the bottom right; really giving the sense of dominance.

[6:22-6:26] This is just a connection shot to the last shot that we did on the first day of filming. Its a very simple shot for a very simple purpose. Just a medium shot panning right on the tripod to follow Nick.

[6:27- 6:41] This scene, among other ones is one of that I’ve gone over is a previous post. Here

I probably over-analyzed this little short thing, and I probably spent way too long making it and writing about it, but once again, its mine and I’m proud.. Doing this really let me discover that I like to make films. The process and the creative and artistic challenges make me adapt and force me to make art through adversity. I don’t know if I’ll do more film or not, but I’m glad I did this, I don’t know what I’ve started in me, but its something. Thanks for reading and watching.


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