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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MAD MEN: AN APPRECIATION

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In honor of, nay, in grieving for, the final episode of MAD MEN, I wanted to post about what the show has meant to me.  As luck would have it (for this blog post, at least), watching the show from beginning to end in preparation to watch the last season, part deux, I came upon a shot that I think sums up my feelings beautifully.  Like many people, I’ve had a deep connection to the show.  Sometimes it’s hard to put my finger on just why.  Often I tell people that the show allows me to both be furious with and forgive the generation that came before me.

The beginning of my life and the end of the show’s era had some real overlap.  So many of the archetypes and mores we see in the show were still very much in play when I landed upon this mortal coil and were still there even by the time I started recording long-term memories.  Indeed, it’s emotionally fitting, and the poetry of it is not lost on me, that the show might end just as I began – in 1971.  In a way, this era and my proclivity toward feeling something for Mad Men was “incepted” into me and many of us (much like the love of Disneyland, if you caught that bug), because it was there in my life at a very young age.  The air thick with dysfunctional tension and cigarette smoke?  Check.  The cardigans worn past their day by the older men whom I grew up around – check.  The pipe smoke and its sweet cherry scent hanging in the house.  The drinking.  The bench seats with no seatbelts.  The metal flake car paints.  All there, lingering in the death throes of the era, before the 80’s finally wiped it away with its own brand of vulgarity.

A few years ago, I remember I surprised myself, sadly so, when I came across a kodakrome slide photo of my being held as a one week-old by my mother.  A sweet photo.  But the first thought that popped to mind was a lament to my mom, “Oh, why’d you do it?”  That gut level reaction speaks volumes, I’m sure, of my early existence, shaped in no small way by That Era.  I believe I’ve gotten past that sad reaction that weighed me down thanks in a small but significant degree to Mad Men.  Again, it allowed me to both forgive and be furious with those elders who raised or plagued me (sometimes they were the same), shaping the world of my early life.  It helped me love them for who they were, in the world in which THEY were born.  Steeping weekly in the dysfunctions and culture of the time period, so viscerally & accurately, forced me to examine and face my baggage, to emotionally relive it, but this time, thankfully, from an adult’s perspective, helping me put it to rest.  That’s how I feel at least.

Which leads us to a shot from the season two episode titled “Three Sundays.”  Watching it, an image came on which made me feel that I’d found the exact epicenter of Matthew Weiner’s motivation and inspiration for the entire show.  Whether or not that’s true I have no idea, but I can say that it’s without a doubt the epicenter of MY appreciation and experience of the show — the lens through which I took the show in, processed it, and benefitted.  In the episode, Don and Betty are fighting, no surprise there, about Don’s absence, and Don for the first time, I think, is physically abusive to his wife, pushing her, even suggestively threatening to “throw her through the window” if he were to share with her what had happened at the office that day.  The weight of the argument, the threat of violence, all rings tragically true and parallels so many of my own memories.  With the 60’s set decoration and wardrobe, it’s a veritable flash back.  I’m there.  And where are Don and Betty’s kids?    Heartbreakingly, they are tiny, little, vulnerable humans, seen way down at the bottom of the stairs, in oppressive, dark shadow, looking up, lost.  Helpless, confused, and indelibly recording it in their minds.

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I see that image of the kids, as their parents come off the rails and threaten violence to each other (have they no damn consideration that the little one’s ears are nearby?), and I see a little Matthew Weiner down at the bottom of the stairs, hurting, and becoming obessed with an era, with a dysfunctional family dynamic, and with parents that never seemed within reach.  Admittedly, that’s projection.  What I really see is myself.  Reflected spot on in a show about advertising in the 60’s.  Of course, the show is about much more than just advertising in the 60’s.  And I’m sure it’s much more than what I’ve interpreted and confessed here.  But to me, for all the cigarettes, mid-century chairs, whiskeys, and extramarital affairs, it all boils down to that feeling of being lost, at the bottom of the steps, while the ones you love the most stand just out of sight at the top of the towering staircase, threatening each other with violence.  Powerless, all you can ask is “Why?”  To me, every week Mad Men asked “Why?” and every week we came up with, or attempted to come up with, our own answers.  And that’s what I will miss, and am incredibly grateful & all the better for.

BACK TO THE FUTURE (Zemeckis, 1985)

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Couldn’t have done this better myself, so I post it here.  This by the same guy, Jamie Benning, who created the fantastic “filmumentaries” on JAWS, RAIDERS, and STAR WARS, by exhaustively collecting existing interviews, behind-the-scenes footage, alternate takes, etc, and cutting them into the movie, for a mega “commentary track” type experience.

This is his short doc (3 min) on Zemeckis‘ gorgeously detailed and story-rich opening shot from BACK TO THE FUTURE, with Benning’s own interview with the special effects man, Kevin Pike, who had to build and execute all the zany mechanical elements and effects on the set.  Really makes you appreciate how inventive, complex, and delightful this opening shot is.

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I recommend watching all of Benning’s videos, each as fascinating as the next, which you can find on his Vimeo page.  If you got some hours to spare.

BTW, Kevin Pike has had a wonderfully successful career – having had this fortuitous beginning:

Kevin Pike started out as a local hire for Jaws (1975) for Universal. He had been working on Martha’s Vineyard as a busboy when the first of the crew arrived. He got a job working as a laborer, carpenter, painter and, later, helped out in special effects on the shark. After the location filming was completed, Kevin came out to Hollywood. – IMDB bio

ICONIC oner

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This shot is a no-brainer post, that is, I had to post it, because of its brilliance both in conception and execution. And what’s more, we get to see exactly how it was shot. A little master class. Iconic images from DaVinci to Daft Punk in less than a minute, and then a oner of how it was shot.  Enjoy!

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And the making of –

MERRY CHRISKWANZAKUH from Shot4shot!

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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”

Shot4Shot goes live!

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Thanks for visiting Shot4Shot: for the love of film, a film journal which will analyze and enjoy some cinematic brilliance one shot at a time.

As a director of television and film, I’m constantly floored & inspired by the inventiveness, freshness or just plain audacity of the camera work and staging by some of my favorite movie directors. These shots illuminate theme and create maximum story impact, often invisibly, with enormous economy.

For years, I’ve been keeping a log book of these shots, which I periodically flip through for inspiration.  This blog will include frame grabs of the shots (like little storyboards), a video link when possible, and an explanation of why I think the shot is so memorable, effective and worthy of inclusion.

The list of famous directors that will be represented here will be wildly eclectic – Lean, Leone, Cuaron, Minnelli, Cukor, Welles, Kieslowski, Kalatozov, Chaplin, Capra, Tarkovsky, Coppola (both dad & daughter), Lee (both Spike and Ang), etc, etc, and perhaps a few shots of my own!  (You may notice a wee disproportionate representation of Spielberg‘s movies.  What can I say?  It’s nearly impossible for the man to make an uninventive shot.)

This should be great fun – so check back often as I’ll be updating new shots all the time.

Happy viewing! Let me know what you think!

Johnny Baumgartner

www.JohnBaumgartner.com