A ONER IS FUNNER: “MOVING OHM”

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Moving Ohm

I directed a short for some actor friends who were looking to make a film/have some footage for their reels.  There was no budget, and as I (only briefly) pondered if I should take on the project, it occurred to me it would be a great opportunity to explore some adventurous actor/camera blocking, to push myself to go a little further.  And give the friends some footage for their reels, hopefully.  The last two projects I’d done were comedy shorts for Funny or Die, which, due to the TV-comedy-styled rhythmic cutting, were filmed with standard coverage of close ups, wide shot, etc. to allow for maximum control of the timing of the jokes.  So this would be a fun, if pre-cast, change.

Orson Welles & Alfonso Cuarón shoot Gravity

So, I challenged myself to shoot the whole 5-page short as a oner, that is, one continuous shot.  To me, the magic of a great oner is its commitment to a single intention. That is, it’s not a lot of coverage (individual wide shots, close-ups, etc) that would permit multiple versions of the same scene.  Being bold and committed to that intention gives the scene a real gravity.

Speaking of which, Alfonso Cuaron, one of my favorite directors who currently draws air, has a long history of killer, story-and-theme appropriate oners.  This one from his film Gravity is no exception; it’s beautifully detailed (check out the lens distortions, just like we’ve seen in real NASA footage) and is gorgeously organic and enthralling in its build.

I can’t wait to have the chance to do one as crafted and action-packed as this, or this one from Children of Men.  As I blogged about beforeOrson Welles‘ long take in a single apartment in Touch of Evil is upwards of 5 minutes; it has real gravity and is a real inspiration (and unlike Cuaron’s, is done completely in-camera).  So here was a chance push myself to make an organic, living, one-shot movie, as modest and simple as it would be.

Cue 3 actors, 3 wireless mics, 2 Zoom audio recorders, and a flop-sweating me on a Canon 5D desperately trying to hit my focus marks and direct the actors.  All in all, we did 15 takes; the sweet spot was around take 11, which is the performance I chose as the final.  I will say the focus marks got better toward the later ones, but better to choose performance, I always say.

Not bad for a Sunday afternoon with $0 spent.  Thanks to Brian Majestic, Daniele Passantino, and Casey Unterman for a fun time and lots of patience.

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CHILDREN OF MEN (2006, Cuarón)

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Alfonso-Cuaron-On-Right

In terms of current work, Alfonso Cuarón is my favorite director.  There I said it.  Whether he’s posing for a faux promo pic (he’s above, right), directing a tiny character piece (Y Tu Mama Tambien)  or a huge franchise (Harry Potter), or spouting off on film theory, it’s honest, surprising, insightful, heartfelt, hilarious and/or terrifying and more often than not, just plain brilliant. Even his least successful film, Great Expectations, is worth the price of admission just for its first half.

I recently read a short interview with him in The Bagger’s New York Times article from 2006 when Children of Men was released.  I include this excerpt here, not particularly apropos to today’s post, but because once again Cuarón perfectly articulates something I’ve believed for a long time, but never boiled it down so succinctly.  It’s part and parcel to the intelligence and artistry he exhibits in today’s shot.

Alfonso Cuarón on Theme in Cinema

“What I hate is when cinema is hostage of narrative… let cinema breathe…narrative is an element of the cinematic experience, but it’s [just] an element, as acting is an element, cinematography is an element. Music and decors, those are elements. But right now? Cinema becomes just about seeing illustrated stories as opposed to engaging audiences in an experience in which you don’t explain [too] much….[it is a film’s exploration of themes, as opposed to its narrative, that determines its ultimate success.]”

I think that’s such an important point to make. If a film’s story is its body, then its themes are its nerves  – and a good director needles those nerves until by end credits, he’s hit them so directly as to light up the whole experience; make the body jolt to life.  If you ever want to enjoy what I think is a perfect exploration of theme, it’s Eastwood’s Unforgiven.  Gorgeous.

So, on to the shot.  Not to necessarily be pre-occupied with oners, because there are so many other elements (to borrow Cuarón’s phrasing from above) that go into to an amazing shot, but here’s another incredible example nonetheless!  In a single shot, Cuarón creates an entire experience, with beginning, middle and end.  It’s gripping, weighty, and exciting.  I’ll admit, the part with the ping-pong ball is a bit weird, but it does its job in the structure of the sequence.  This shot is so rich in action and story beats that upon first viewing of the movie, it’s nearly impossible to clock this scene’s all going down in one shot.  At least that was my experience.  There’s just so much being accomplished!

I would suspect this sequence wouldn’t be quite as impacting had there been cuts in place of the horrible nightmare that unfolds and escalates in real time before our eyes.  What do you think?

As Shakespeare wrote, “So quick bright things come to confusion.”