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Merry Christmas & happy holidays, etc!

This is an amazingly smart oner as “Christmas card.”  It’s as goofy as it is brilliant & funny. So many cinematic idioms – the blur pans, the reveals, silhouettes, pretty lights, extreme wide shots, close-ups, the Busby Berkeley over-heads, etc, etc, all in one seamless shot (and one cheat).  A million dollar budget couldn’t have made it more smart.

“One take. Two bees.

Filmed at: New 42nd Street Studios

Credit: Mariah Carey “All I Want For Christmas Is You”

Created by and Starring:
Alex Karigan and Zac Hammer
Members of Amy Marshall Dance Company”


WAR STORY (2001, Baumgartner)



All this commotion and hubbub about Michael Hazanavicius‘ gorgeous, new silent film The Artist has got me reminiscing about my silent movie, War Story, which L.A Weekly declared, if I may mention, “triumphs on all fronts” (L.A. Weekly, Nov. 2001, review here). This is the film I was referring to in my post on Chaplin. When I was first inspired to make this movie, I’d been so taken by Chaplin’s work, felt such an immediate kinship, that I had to create something in homage, while making it my own with a modern twist.  The little tramp character, in my film one Metly Moorville, would be gay and fall for a soldier heading off to WWI, who would return the ardor, but whose identical twin brother would be a violent homophobe. Naturally, comedy-of-errors hijinks would ensue.

I found one of the most challenging parts of making War Story was creating the details of the silent, physical comedy. While many gags I lifted from a wide array of Chaplin’s work, most still had to be invented. So I workshopped with a group of actors some two years before the cameras rolled. (This is one of the most prepped films I’ve ever done. Camera tests, make-up tests, set-design tests, models, storyboards, etc, all were undertaken in the two years it took my amazing producer on it, Susan Stoebner, to miraculously raise our financing.)

Making Silent Music, Chaplin Style

Today’s shot is one of those gags that came out of that workshop. I think we probably spent an entire evening working on its choreography and timing, a full two years before it would be filmed. Like many of the shots in the film, it was designed, rehearsed and shot as if it were dance, with counted beats cuing various actions (well before Mike Petrone’s ingenious original score would be heard). While much of it was created in advance with a group of actors who wouldn’t even ultimately appear in the film (two years is a long time to hang around) there were nonetheless lots of final tweaks on set. By the way, the waiter, played by Damon Huss, was inspired by Albert Austin whom Damon had an uncanny resemblance to once made up.

The bit is followed by perhaps one of my favorite gags in the film, something I patently stole from Chaplin’s Idle Class, a short he did early in his career for the Mutual Company: Metly’s knocked down twice by the big brute Eric, played by the incomparable Abraham Benrubi, only to cut his loses and just volunteer the third knock down. (Benrubi, like Huss, was destined to play this role which was based on one of Chaplin’s stock players.) The great joy of making this film was the mixture of stealing Chaplin’s best bits and inventing my own, while hopefully saying something brand new in the process. I’m honored to say that in 2004 War Story was selected to be preserved in the film print archives of the New York Public Library.

After the clip below is a short behind-the-scenes featurette by my talented filmmaker friend, Nick Louvel, with additional camerawork by the equally talented filmmaker Mika Johnson. In it you can see, among many other things, the Mitchell Standard 35mm hand-cranked camera we used.

Here’s the sequence in which Metly and Eric vie for the open waiter position. The shot’s at :48.


Here is the behind-the-scenes, please forgive the 10 seconds of silent black that precede it:

Shot4Shot VLOG



Youtube yanked the sample video of Temple of Doom (and others), so I was inspired to create my own, hosted by yours truly, to take advantage of Fair Use laws, and to maybe start expanding Shot4Shot into a youtube channel: Shot4ShotFilmBlog.

Vlog 1: Temple of Doom

Please check out the video below and let me know what you think.  You can also read the original blog entry on Temple of Doom here.  Behind scene pic below also.


Click to enlarge photo:


ROYAL WEDDING (1951, Donen)



I love a good in-camera effect, and the ol’ spinning set technique is one of my favorites. Whether it’s in a musical number (Royal Wedding), an action sequence (Inception) or a horror film (Poltergeist), it’s always a thrill. Today’s shot is the immortally famous dance number from Royal Wedding of Fred Astaire dancing on the ceiling, directed by then-26-year-old wunderkind Stanley Donen. Since all that is old becomes new again, we’ll have a glimpse at how Donen’s technique was used to great effect more recently:


But first and foremost, Stanley Donen. What an amazing career he had, having worked professionally in musicals from the age of 16. According to Donen, “I was lucky; everything came easy.” I was reminded of today’s shot by my recent obsession with the Directors Guild of America’s History Project. Slowly but surely, the guild is recording hours and hours of interview footage with film & TV greats after they retire (in most cases) but before they Retire. Some of the interviews are eight hours! This is like cat nip to me, of course, and I find myself joyfully falling down these anecdotal rabbit holes for hours at a time.

If you wanted to hear Stanley talk about today’s shot directly, go here, click on Chapter 2, and jump to 4:05. (Earlier in the chapter hear how no one in Hollywood ever wanted to work with Judy Garland a second time!)

Donen, Nolan & Hooper Hit the Ceiling

Back to the shot. I think movie-goers are well-used to this technique, but this perhaps was the very first application (although there must have been others – as Hugo has taught us recently, there wasn’t a single cinema trick that George Méliès, eg, hadn’t committed to celluloid. Maybe it was in one of his lost films.) Anyhow, I can’t imagine the gasps that Fred’s going vertical that first time must have elicited (no double entendre intended). Donen goes on at length about the importance of rehearsal, and seeing this shot, which is so easy to take for granted, you get an appreciation of how much coordination and expert timing it took to pull off.  (Example, the lights had to rotate with the set, which meant all the cables did, too, which must have complicated matters immeasurably.)

Here’s the number. I recommend starting at 1:55 (shot’s at 2:30), and be sure to have a look at the second video, too.


Even more exciting for me, I’ve found this wonderful clip on youtube where someone has rotated the film (I love that people do stuff) as the room spins to give us a behind-the-scene glimpse of how it really went down (or up) and what Astaire was really experiencing. This one looks best full screen:


Here’s the same youtube trick done on, probably, the most recent example of the rotating-set technique, the hallway scene from Christopher Nolan‘s Inception.  Swap out Fred Astaire for one Joseph Gordon Levitt:


And finally, this topic wouldn’t be complete without a look at the technique in Poltergeist: