Sunday, 30 January 2011

Establishing the conventions of the Independent film as a Genre

Knowing the difficulty we would have in bringing together two contrasting genres, with the subgenre of rom-com not usually connected with the idea of an ‘indie’ film, we thought it would be important to understand the camera techniques and other features which help to define the conventions of this form of film.
I felt it was important to trace this idea of an ‘indie’ movie as its own identifiable genre back to it’s origins by observing the work of John Cassavetes.                                                                                                              
John Cassavetes- The Godfather of Independent film
"People have forgotten how to relate or respond; what I`m trying to do with my movies is build something audiences can respond to."
As an Oscar nominated Director, writer and actor John Cassavetes is best known as the pioneer of American independent film who tried to peel away from the dominating Hollywood film industry he worked in to try to create films that were closer to truth and reality.
What defined his films from the mainstream of Hollywood wasn’t just their low budget value, it was their use of improvisation and attempts to capture realism through adopting a Cinéma vérité style.  Unlike in hollywood films he wanted the audience to be aware of the presence of the camera through the combination of naturalistic camera movement and more abstract, less generic use of editing and camerawork that is prevalent in ‘truthful cinema’.
Here is a clip from the 1968 film Faces. starring Cassavetes' wife Gena Rowlands it was only the second film that he both directed and financed independently. The film was nominated for 3 Oscars which shows the filmmakers high regard within the film industry. 

A closer look at Cassavetes filming style:

After observing the filming techniques Cassavetes used in his films and understanding his ethos, that would go on to establish certain conventions for the independent film we felt more confident in applying this to our own ‘independent film’ opening. Lingering on shots was a technique I think could work well in establishing the lack of excitement and unglamorous lifestyle of our young protagonist when filming the bedroom sequence that will introduce his character. Also by subverting character roles with the protagonist being an unlikable nerd we are complying with Cassavetes ethos of not creating an idea which is completely generic.

As part of our research into independent film, I thought it might be worth taking inspiration from one of Mike Leigh’s film’s Happy-Go-Lucky. Although british, and a more modern filmmaker, Leigh uses similar methods and processes to Cassavetes such as producing a script through improvisation with the actors and it is this single visioned filmmaking that has lead to his films classification as ‘indie’ films even if sometimes they are financed by large film studios and achieve commercial success.
As the director of critical hits such as Vera Drake, his films are often referred to as gritty and dark, so it was refreshing to see him produce a film that was equally complex with 3 dimensional characters but had a positivity and light hearted tone that also fitted with that of a rom-com.

Speaking at the New York film festival in 2008 Mike Leigh expressed his reasons for holding shots for long periods of time such as the two shot at the end of Polly’s first driving lesson in the film, was because he wants the audience to be aware of the organic nature of the performances.  I would agree with him that by giving the performers space to breathe in this way allows the audience to understand each character. I think that ultimately in order to create an opening which is both absorbing for the audience and which fits the conventions set by our brief we will need to use many of the filming techniques established by directors like Cassavetes and Leigh and also think about the overall tone of the film that is influenced by it’s genre.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

film opening: Research

For our idea of a dream sequence we wanted to get it very much from a single persons perspective as dreams often are. We wanted the scene to feel very vivid yet the camera shot to be completely different to those we would later use so as to set it apart as his fantasy not as part of his reality. To get his perspective we would need to use a POV shot that would help to capture people’s reaction to him. We imagined the camera pushes through a crowd of people capturing their adoring reactions to him whether as a boy giving a high five or a girl winking flirtatiously at him. We wanted a POV that matched the characters exact eye line so that the viewer felt like they were in his shoes.  We looked for examples of how this type of shot has been done to great effect before. The one example that immediately sprung to mind was the Channel 4 comedy series Peep Show which uses the pov shot when combined with narration to really put you in the head of the two main characters. Most of the show is shot from either Mark or Jeremy's POV even when both characters are involved in a shot reverse shot. By hearing their strange and disturbing thoughts and their view on the world it makes for genuinely original and hilarious show. 

However it was a different example that really captured our imagination. The music video to The Prodigy’s Smack My Bitch Up.

We all liked way in which they tricked the audience into thinking it was a male characters perspective when at the very end they reveal it to in fact be a girl. It made me think that if they were able to make us believe in the gender of the character just through the actions you see them doing then we would be able to make the audience believe that the person is attractive and the life and soul of the party without physically showing them. It is all in the camera movement and the other actor’s interaction with the camera. We liked how they jerked the camera from one point to the other reflecting the characters ever changing point of focus and the frantic nature of the whole video with time slowing down and speeding up as well as the camera spinning reflecting the persons wasted state. It was also effective having both the actor’s arms in shot and the interaction between the camera lens and what was in shot with water spraying the screen as the individual takes a shower or when a towel covers the screen when she is drying herself. It is these techniques that really make you see the screen as the persons eyes and face and that bring the action to life.

A problem that we were going to have to face if we were to go down the internet dating route in our opening was how to film someone on a computer and the website itself without boring the audience. A film I saw recently that did this well was The Social Network which focuses on what could potentially be quite a boring story cinematically, the creation of Facebook. Of course its an intriguing story otherwise no one would make a film about it but director David Fincher still had to solve the problem of filming long sequences of people just programming at computers.

He managed to overcome this through treating these moments as action sequences using close ups and quick editing between typing hands, looks of concentration and the computer screen itself. In this way he was able to bring energy to the scenes and capture the complete focus, quick thinking and drive behind the protagonist, Mark Zuckerberg that lead him to ultimately create Facebook. I think that although the protagonist in our film is very different from that in The Social Network we can still adopt a similar approach in trying to convey his escapism by creating a dynamic and engaging internet browsing sequence.

Film Opening: Initial Ideas

In order to create an interesting and engaging film opening we needed to have a good and original idea that was central to the narrative we would setup. After discussing different ideas in our groups the one that seemed to resonate most with everyone was the concept of an online dating romantic comedy. What attracted us to this idea was the thought of trying to bring an original slant to an often tired and unoriginal genre (Jennifer Aniston be warned!). Something as prevalent as internet dating and online interaction, as a relatively new phenomena, has yet to be fully exposed onscreen. The only films of any note on the subject being The Social Network and Catfish. By exploring this subject and by also subverting character roles with the youth protagonist, the hero, being an unconfident, unpopular nerdy kid rather than a handsome ultimately Hollywood style leading man, will hopefully help us to create an opening that will move away from the blockbuster, Hollywood film plot that  has defined the rom-com genre. By being original our film will be more in the tone of what small independent films are about, exploring new ideas that often hold up a mirror to society and use realistic characters that people from a specific area can relate to. An example of this is This Is England which focuses specifically on working class skin heads in the north of England in the 1980’s and is therefore will not appeal to world wide audience in the way Blockbuster films do.
Taking this core idea and how we wanted our young protagonist to be, we developed our initial idea into a vague scene-by-scene structure for an opening. We wanted to start with a very short dream sequence which falsely portrays the young protagonist as a hugely popular figure in which he walks through a party before flirting with the girl who would later be identified as the main love interest, this scene would then cut to the character in his bedroom either asleep or getting ready to go out as a nerdy, awkward teenage boy. By presenting two contrasting scenes straight away we hope to surprise the audience by setting up a profile for the main character, which leads the audience down one trail of what the style of the film is and its conventions before immediately challenging these expectations. It is vital that a film grips an audience straight from its opening and by catching the audience out in this way the viewer is far more likely to be intrigued by the film and its main character. Also by creating an illusion of the identity of the character it tied in nicely to one of the themes that fitted with the online dating aspect to the film, the idea that anyone can be someone online.
After briefly re- establishing the young protagonists identity we would introduce the online dating element with the character looking at his computer. We had thoughts on how this could incorporate into our opening credits, with each name being displayed as an online profile. It could also potentially introduce the love interest through a video post he watches on the website of her. Here we thought we could make use of our trip to New York, which would be a fantastic location to film a quick clip. With our film opening only being 2 minutes long it may be that this is all that we include with the young protagonist having an online profile on this dating website in which he falsely presented himself as a popular, attractive guy.  Interacting with the love interest online through a false identity. However if it fitted in we could potentially have the two characters bumping into each other at the very end of the opening, thus setting up the rest of a film by breaking the equilibrium.
As a group we also decided that we needed to come up with a rough outline of how the film would play out if we were to know if our idea had any potential. After all we were not just creating a 2-minute short film, there had to be enough substance to our initial idea that a whole feature length movie could feasibly spawn from. We came up with the idea that the young protagonist had something he couldn’t miss (something that is important to his future: an interview for Oxford/Cambridge say) but because he bumps into the girl he does miss it and this causes repercussions that develop the plot. Also to fit in with the genre conventions, there is a key hurdle that he has to overcome in order to win the girl. She doesn’t know he is the same person as the one she talks to online and this can be an area for humour with her thinking he’s gay or the problem of getting out of the ‘friendship’ category.
In discussing how the full feature length version of our film idea would play out it gave us confidence in our plan for the opening and that the idea was strong enough. I think the thing we are going to find hardest is being able to reflect the type of film wanted in our brief through a genre were the conventions do not match that of most independent, regionally financed films.

Our Brief: Film Opening

For our brief we had to create the opening 2 minutes to an independent film featuring a young protagonist and that appeared to be regional funding. This would mean that when coming up with ideas for our film opening we needed to think about the conventions implied by this brief and how are opening for a film will reflect this. For this project I will be working with Leah Beavis, George Russell and Alice Griffin.