Archive for the ‘The holy tasks’ Category

Daniel Henshall as John Bunting in Justin Kurzel’s Snowtown (Photo IFC Films)

I finally got around to watching Snowtown last night, after loads of people had told me to. Perhaps by myself in the dark at night wasn’t the best way to do it though. It was the performance of Daniel Henshall as John Bunting, Australia’s most infamous serial killer, which made it such a gripping and disturbing experience.

I flicked through the special features on the DVD, and I found the original casting clips of several of the characters. I watched Henshall’s and was impressed with his ability to carry the constant threat of violence, and lack of compassion even in audition. It is a chilling performance among many other great performances.

Throughout the film there was hardly a scene in which Henshall isn’t smiling, relishing in his power. The way in which he is shown manipulating all who are around him, and slowly tearing them apart is so much more horrifying for all the pleasure and lack of empathy he shows. He takes Jamie (Lucas Pittaway) to show him the bodies of Gavin and Barry, showing them off to him like trophies. This complete disconnection from the horror of his actions is confronting. He grooms Jamie to be a part of his sadistic, perverted lifestyle almost effortlessly; such is his charisma and ability to manipulate.

It is interesting to note that not once is the audience given a moment to feel sympathy, or a see a weakness in his character. He is positioned to be in control in every scene he is in. He is always loud, opinionated, and dominating in whatever conversation he is in. Yet, underneath his jovial and blokey manner, there is always the threat of violence, and the audience is enthralled, just waiting for him to explode. As the film is based on a true story, and a very well-known one at that, it is always a challenge to bring such infamous characters to life. Henshall creates the perfect portrait of a serial killer, exactly how I would have imagined him.

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So now back to our scheduled work…

BLOG TASK 3: (due week12 semester 1)

Given the screenwritingexercises you have been doing the for past few weeks you should by now be experts at discerning a stories central dramatic question, defining character choices and nominating ‘whose film’ it is.

I would like you to take a short film or substantial scene  and analysis it in the following ways:

1. Establish whose story it is?
2. What is the central dramatic question of the short film/scene? When is the question asked? When is the question answered? Is it answered in the positive or the negative? Is it answered at all? How does it (or not) reflect the thematic questions of the scene/short film?
3. What choices does the central character make that defines their journey through he scene/short film?

AND GO!

The vignette above, Cousins comes from the larger piece Coffee and Cigarettes, directed by Jim Jarmusch.  The scene revolves around the relationship between the famous Cate Blanchett, playing herself, and her fictional cousin Shelley.

Although we first meet Cate, waiting for Shelley, it is clear that this is Shelley’s story, as she attempts to reconnect with her cousin, as well as undermine her glamorous lifestyle. The central dramatic question is will Shelley gain the respect of Cate, and fit in with her famous life? Whist, yes, I know I should be trying to find something more ‘practical’, this seemed to be the only conclusion I could find.

The dramatic question is posed right near the start of the scene. Cate doesn’t not remember the name of Shelley’s boyfriend, and has not read any of Shelley’s letters. Shelley attempts to empathise with Cate about the frustrations of the paparazzi and being famous, but is in fact attempting to undermine her. The two women then continue to not connect, with Shelley undermining Cate and refusing to share her boyfriend’s music. Cate gives Shelley a bag of ‘swag’, failing to understand how frustrating her privleges are to those outside the glamour of showbiz. The answer to the question is a resounding no. Whilst Shelley initially tries to copy Cate and be like her when they order coffee, she is reduced to mocking her hand gestures by the end. The two promise to catch up again, but the chances of it happening for a long time are unlikely. It seems that the cousins will not be able to find a common ground.

At the conclusion, Shelley defies Cate after she has left, removing her glamorous fur coat, revealing a T-shirt. She orders a double tequila and lighting another cigarette. She is told she is not allowed to smoke in the lounge, despite doing so earlier with her cousin, again emphasizing the difference in class and lifestyle, and how irreconcilable their worlds are. Curious it is that Jarmusch chose to use Cate in both roles, perhaps hinting that the fame is really the only thing separating them.

Throughout the scene, Shelley is the far more active one, and her major actions are –

  • Offering Cate a cigarette and smoking with her.
  • Attempts to copy Cate whilst ordering coffee.
  • Adds five sugar cubes to her coffee.
  • Admits she has used Cate’s name to get into a club.
  • Confronts Cate about not reading her letters or listening to her boyfriend’s CD.
  • Refuses to share her boyfriend’s CD.
  • Admits she didn’t send a CD after all.
  • Subversively suggests her gift from Cate is swag.
  • Affirms Cate and thanks her, though she is really attempting to undermine her status.
  • Refuses Cate’s offer to go up to her room.
  • Takes off her glamourous coat, orders tequila and takes out a cigarette.
  • Puts away her cigarette.

Through these actions the viewer can trace Shelley’s awe and jealously for Cate, which slowly turns to contempt. She has attempted to fit in with the glamourous lifestyle, talking about her boyfriend’s band, and discussing a club she has been to, but she finds herself ultimately disgusted by the lifestyle: “It’s just funny, don’t you think? When you can’t afford something, it’s like really expensive, but then when you can afford it, it’s like, free. It’s kinda backward, don’t you think?”

Hello everybody and welcome back! It’s now time for the second instalment of The Tasks.

Part a) Choose a cinematographer that you think has a visual style that might suit the film you wish to make this year. I want you to post (or link to) a clip or two of their work that most excites your creative imaginations. Discuss the artistic decisions made by your chosen cinematographer and how you think they help the tone, clarity, detail, meaning (or a million other things) of the story.

Part b) I’d also like you to do some research into the technical approach of that cinematographer. What did they do technically to achieve the look they were after? Did they use candle light and panty hose, did they retro fit a toy helicopter to fly their camera across rooftops or did they source old lens to create a particular feel?

Alright, first of all, I haven’t yet considered the visual style of my major film this year (naughty, naughty!). I hope that I might be able to explore my two-minute film? Or at least, I am, since I have posted this. Also I am mixing up parts a and b, because I don’t think I can talk about one without the other.

At its most basic, my two-minute film, tentatively entitled Beat, is about two police officers waiting around at a crime scene for the cleaners to arrive. In my mind, it is set in a busy suburban area, with lots of colours, lights and visual detail. I want the city itself to be as much a character as the police officers, and want to depict a gritty, real, 24-7 living city. I’m seeing browns and oranges and greens contrasted against the night, people moving around. Not quite in a documentary style, but as though the viewer is being invited in to see a moment in the day of this place, one story out of the countless many.

If you want to read a current draft, here it is: https://theprocrastinatingfilmstudent.wordpress.com/2012/03/21/2-minute-film-script-draft-2/

So with that over, now I need to find a cinematographer. Being that my cinematographer knowledge is roughly zero, this shall be a mission of discovery!

There are two films I think have a “look” that I am interested in exploring. Firstly, Night on Earth, directed by Jim Jarmusch, with cinematography by Frederick Elmes. I have chosen to specifically talk about the New York segment of the film, both the most relevant, and my favourite.

Beginning of the “New York” segment

The opening of each segment is always still shots of the city in question. Usually not the glamour or the landmarks either, but closed shops and signs and back streets. This is ‘macro’ view of the world, before the characters Yoyo and Helmut are introduced in the ‘micro’ world.  Jarmusch and Elmes create the feeling that the characters are only small players in a moment of time in the city. The shots have been deliberately chosen to show the viewer the ‘real’ side of the city. Most shots are not romanticized nor purposely gritty and rough. They are to create the world that the characters live in, and to offer the viewers a glimpse of a real world at a time alien to them.

The still, slowly paced out shots give an atmosphere of quiet observation. The camera and editing don’t tell the story, the city does.  This is highly effective at offering the film’s viewers the opportunity to look in and observe the world for themselves, but never does the film stop to judge. The world and the characters are what they are. The all the shots in this segment sit quietly with the characters as they go about their lives.

In all the segments, the view of the world shifts from the outer in the city, to the inside of the taxi (the world of the character) and then back out again. I think this is important in carrying the film. You ask yourself what (if anything) has changed, and you are reminded that this is only one of the countless stories within the city. This shift of perspective through the camera shots brings a satisfying conclusion to each story. The shots change to being out in the real world again, and we leave the characters forever.

A second film that has inspired me is the Australian film Balibo, directed by Robert Connolly, with cinematography by Tristan Milani.

The reason the cinematography grabbed me in this film is because of the stark contrast between the ‘current’ world with the characters Roger East and Jose Ramos-Horta  and the past world of the Balibo Five.

Trailer featuring both cinematography styles.

Cinematography is fairly conventional throughout Roger and Jose’s investigation, though the use of actual locations and shots of East Timor bring realism to the film. The parallel action in the film follows approximately the same locations and action. It is confronting to see a peaceful village in the past instantly destroyed and overrun with soldiers in the present. What strengthens each section is the contrast between them. The realism of the ‘present’ time, with its consistent time span and uncovering of the mystery causes the candid, documentary-style ‘past’ time section of the film seem much more idyllic, yet constantly threatening.

What I found most interesting was Milani’s use of gritty 16mm to capture the journey of the Balibo Five, emulating the cameras the journalists themselves carried, as well as offering a journalistic, documentary style to the film. The dramatic tension throughout is high, as the viewer is plunged straight into the action, moving with the journalists at all times.

“Final Showdown” scene for the Balibo Five

There is almost constant movement and candid action in these shots, as there would have been in the real footage of the journalists. The viewer is made to feel like they are looking in at a long-lost moment in time, especially when all of the journalists’ equipment and stock is burned at the end.

The Balibo Five sections of the film carried a great deal of poignancy, especially during some of the happier scenes when they get to know the locals in a village and when they go swimming. As their tragic fates have already been sealed in the other, later section of the film, the viewer is left to feel helpless, watching on as though everything has already happened. The grainy, nostalgic, newsreel feel gives a feel of observance, and the viewer feels helpless to change anything.

The following scenes are taken from the 2005 Australian Western The Proposition, directed by John Hillcoat and written by Nick Cave.

The  scene depicts Mikey Burns being lashed for crimes of rape and murder, cut with scenes of his two brothers, Charlie and Arthur,  and other outlaws deep in outback Australia.

What grabbed me the first time I saw this film, let alone this scene, was the poignancy of all the characters’ stories. In what is portrayed as an uncivilized wasteland, all the characters have carved out enough of a living just to get by. This, along with the sharp juxtapositioning of shocking violence of this world create an engaging conflict.

When I saw this scene for the first time, I felt very uneasy. The beautiful singing Samuel, who turns out to be one of the most violent characters in the film, sets a conflicting, heart wrenching tone to the flogging of Mikey, the most innocent and child-like of all the characters in this film. The music creates connection between the brothers, despite their physical distance and differences.

The mise-en-scene is stunning. The harsh reality of the place is captured in the worn and dusty costumes, the thousands of flies, the endless brown surrounds. Wide angle shots let the viewer become immersed in the world, and the people looking on. It is almost like a close study. You can see the weariness in their eyes, the flies on their backs, the pool of blood splashing onto the ground.

Ultimately the horror of the scene is the moment the music ends. The viewer is plunged straight into the audience of townspeople, watching indifferently the violent punishment. Forty lashes, and blood is being squeezed into the dust. The dull thud of the whip and the incessant counting the only sounds now. The beauty of the singing, the longing and the loneliness, make the real world seem very cruel and bleak.

It’s this violent, captivating scene that is a major turning point in the story. All is lost for Stanley, who is left feeling guilty for punishing a likely innocent man, breaking his promises and finding himself jobless. Charlie, who has struggled in his loyalty to his brother Arthur, has not killed him, breaking his promise. This cruel, indifferent world has reached breaking point, and so have the characters, leading them to their final showdown.

It’s these sorts of scenes that although make me feel very uncomfortable, stay with me for a long time. So bravo, Mr Hillcoat. You’re just lucky Nick Cave found you first.

I decided I wanted to make stories on film around about when I was seventeen; at some stage between filming my friends jumping up and down on a trampoline on a metaphorical musical acid trip and being crushed by a human wall of death whilst recording a local hardcore gig (evidence of both are unfortunately available of YouTube).  I can’t say it was ever a conscious decision, but I began to realize my love for creating stories through film when I started staying up all night and spending all weekend editing school movie projects and drawing storyboards just for the fun of it.

What appeals to me is both the immersion and the economy. With film, unlike any other art form, I have the ability to direct my audience into my own world, the movement, images, music and sound, are all cohesive in creating a world to share with others, no other is quite so sensually engaging . And it can happen so quickly. The power of all those elements together can turn an epic story into a single glance. You can write for pages about a sunset, or a busy street or a dying old man or anything, but nothing compares to taking the audience into your world and giving them the real thing.

First, and foremost, I love writing and telling stories. I have ever since I learned how to write, and my primary school years were filled with ghosts, friendly monsters, one-eyed aliens, thieves and isolated Antarctic communities. I loved the way I could use language to express feeling and images and thoughts. A tree was always more than a tree, every word could be loaded to have many meanings, and there is so much that a reader can imagine and interpret in a good story. It was always a creative challenge I loved doing for as long as I can remember. This just naturally progressed through my years at high school to sounds and moving pictures.

I won’t lie, it’s definitely the spectacle of film which I think triumphed over other storytelling. At school, every kid had to write a short story or a poem at some point. Whether it was any good is up to interpretation, but there wasn’t anything nearly as impressive as being able to dim down the lights, and have everyone absorbed in your creation.  The sounds and colours and images and everything just draw people in, and excite them. They are in your hands until the final credit rolls. This is how I want to share my stories.