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This is Tisch

Good evening, dear readers.

In less than a month I’ll head to Norway to direct my first short film on European soil. As you may already know, I did a number of documentaries in both Norway and South Dakota when I lived there, but this will be my first time exploring the actual Scandinavian film industry from a narrative filmmaker’s perspective.


With my former crewmate and dear friend, Jorge Sistos. Photo: Sharon Lee.

While we wait for our productions to take shape, we’ve spent some quality time with the Arri Alexa camera. Yes, that’s a crane sticking out of my back, and yes that’s a string holding the camera — it’s a heavy chunk of metal. Thankfully this so-called “easy-rig”-backpack will compensate for the hours we should’ve spent at the gym.


Photo: Sharon Lee.

I’ll shoot my film inside a prison, and there will be a car-speeding scene; which means I have a lot of pre-production work to do between now and November. I’ll also be producing two other short films — one in Florida and one in Lebanon — so I’m certainly not lacking things to put on my calendar.

Good thing I’m one of the weird few who likes that kind of stuff. I don’t see how else I would be able to do the no-days off, 16 hours a day-routine.

Seeing all the pieces come together gives me a rush, and in the midst of these long days I’m repeatedly reminded why I do this — I love it!

And judging by the pictures, I don’t think I’m the only one.


This is what happened during a four-hour tech class with no chairs #Squats4life

2018                                                                                      2017
    
According to these pictures, the camera has definitely upped its game. Now let’s hope the filmmaker has too.

Have a blessed evening,
Maria

 

Psalm 23.

The Beginning

Good afternoon!

I’m just taking a quick break from all the pre-production work for my next film and the approaching school year to let you in on what I’ve been up to.

Like you already know, I stepped away from social media almost three weeks ago, and I cannot explain how wonderful it’s been. I won’t go on and on about this, but he amount of uninterrupted work I get done in the absence of the 100 daily requests I get shot at me from all directions is just unbelievable.

Anyway, back to the project I promised to tell you about last time.

It’ll be a fictional short film inspired by real events, and I’ll shoot it here in my hometown in November with a crew from both NYU and Norway.

Producing a film outside the US will be a new experience for me, so these past days have been filled with all kids of meetings.

It’s been quite refreshing, honestly, because even though Norwegians have a reputation for being cold and unfriendly, I gotta say: New Yorkers are far worse. People actually want to help here, and I get so blown away every time that I want to hug them all.

Just realized that the statements above made me sound like a foreigner … but as a filmmaker in Norway I actually do feel like a foreigner — I don’t know the industry as well here, and I have to repeatedly remind myself why: I’m about to take on my fifth year in the US. I haven’t lived in Norway since July 2014. Gosh, time flies.

I’ll head back to NYC next week, and will continue sharing more about the project as I go.


Here a photo from my first ever short film in NYC.
Photo: Avi Kabir.

Have a productive and blessed day,
Maria

It’s a wrap!

Good evening, dear readers!

I know it may have seemed like I just disappeared from the world for a while: my social media accounts have remained untouched for almost a month, and I don’t even want to think about all the birthdays and events I’ve missed, the dozen Skype-calls I’ve promised to make and the postcards I haven’t responded to. I used to take pride in replying to texts within 10 minutes, but life in film school has forced me to take pride in other things instead — there’s simply not enough hours in a day to be on top of everything. Thankfully I have friends who understand.

Since last time, I’ve spent nearly a month out and about on film sets, crewing on my classmates’ films and–just now–shooting my very own short film. Read more HERE.

Behind the scenes: Here with the talented Lily Brooks O’Briant and Willow Eve. (Lily Brooks just won the award for Best Actress at the First Run Film Festival, and landed a recurring role in Amazon’s new big series THE TICK. Remember the name) Photo: Cinematographer Kai Torres.

As I may have told you already: Our class of 36 was split into groups of six and during the course of a month we’ll all direct the film we wrote and produced earlier this year. Each of us get a maximum of three days to shoot our films.

So far we’ve done two shoots in the lovely neighborhood of Ditmas Park in Brooklyn, one shoot in Upstate New York, another one in Staten Island, a 3-day overnight shoot in Lynbrook, and before we wrap up this year’s production period we’ll shoot one on Manhattan.

I’ve already told you about the preparations for my film; the intense location scouting in crazy traffic and the never-ending rounds of auditions, but I now have the tremendous pleasure of telling you that the production part is done!

Behind the scenes: Here with Willow Eve, who impressed everyone with her unflinching stamina in the tough conditions. This girl has a bright future on the screen. Photo: Kai Torres.

Director Kathryn Bigelow once said that “there’s nothing easy about shooting” … and I must say that I agree.

The fact that I got knocked out by a fever two days before didn’t help, or that half my crew felt sick on the first day of my shoot, or that 75% of all my background actors never showed up because they “had a death in the family”, or that it was so cold on set that I at one point actually thought we’d have to cancel the whole thing … None of that made it any less hard.


Photo: Kai Torres.

But, thanks to God’s grace, the amazing effort of my hardcore crew, the resilient and extremely talented actors and the steadfast discipline from the assistant director, Joe, we were able to complete the shoot — a full day earlier than planned.


Behind the scenes: Here with AD Joe, DP Kai, Sound Narine and parts of the cast. Photo: Mate Vincze.

We actually ended up getting two days worth of shots during that last day, so I’m more than happy and impressed by everybody’s work.

Behind the scenes: Willow Eve, Lily Brooks O’Briant, AC Mate Vincze and DP Kai Torres.

The rush of working under this kind of pressure, and seeing that things start to flow, and your vision comes to life — beautifully — must be one of the most satisfying things a human can experience. I had so much fun that I’m already looking forward to next time. I just now realized I might need to write a separate post about “directing as an experience” … because that’s what it is; an experience.

End of day 1: When you’re tired, have a cold and you’re struggling to breathe because the location is normally a cat-ghetto and you have a severe case of allergies towards those furry creatures, but you’re very happy things went well. Here with cinematographer Kai Torres and the amazing Melanie Little!

A sunburned, windburned and happy trio. We did it!

A very special thanks to the cast:
Lily Brooks O’Briant as ELIZABETH.
Willow Eve as CHRISTINE.
Melanie Little as MOM.
Chynna Holder as BRIANNA.
Ava Lattimore as SOCCER PLAYER.
Ellen Zheng as SOCCER PLAYER.
Sofia Espinal as SOCCER PLAYER.
Alex Wright as CLASSMATE.
Madeline Hettrick as CLASSMATE.
Arielle Nickerson as CLASSMATE.
All the parents, Hope O’Briant & Alison Humphries.

And the crew:
Co-producer and cinematographer — Kai Torres.
1st Assistant director — Joseph Longo.
2nd Assistand director, set dresser and gaffer — Drake Burnette.
Assistant Camera — Mate Vincze.
Sound mixer — Narine Sargsyan.

+ the NYU Tisch Faculty.

Now awaits a month of post-production editing. I do not expect things to get any less busy, but it’s funny how working on set for weeks makes you hungry for the calm of the editing room. I’ll do my very best to keep you posted along the way.

Here’s a screenshot for ya:

Have a blessed evening,
Maria

 

 

Onward

Throughout this (extra long) Christmas break, I’ve spent a significant amount of time reflecting over the past semester and all the things I’ve learned. And since this blog’s theme is, already, heavily influenced by my life at film school, I want to share some of the most important lessons I learned while directing and producing my first film as a grad student at NYU Tisch. At the bottom of this post I’ll tell you what’s next on my list of projects.

You can read an earlier posts about the film HERE


Starring the talented Sonya Vai. Photo: Avi Kabir.

It turns out that writing, producing and directing a 16mm film without color, dialogue or music, shot outside, without lights, with only two rolls of film and on a budget that barely made it to three figures was … a challenge, and here’s why:

Screenshot of actress Sonya Vai in action. DP: Qiying Lin.

1. You learn to respect the light
Shooting on film as opposed to digital sounds really cool (to film nerds anyway), but it’s actually an art of its own. Not only do you have to pretend to be a blind surgeon doing a heart transplant when loading the film into the camera mag. Because the light will kill your precious (and very expensive) film stock, you have to do the whole loading inside a light-proof changing bag that has decades of grad student-sweat inside it. You can’t see what your hands are doing, and knowing that even the tiniest light ray will ruin your film, your budget and your dignity only adds to the pressure of performing an already hard task.

Lin demonstrates how the infamous “changing bag” works. 

2. The camera shows no mercy
The Arriflex SR camera from the 1950s is a tough cookie, and YOU have to do everything your digital camera does for you. (WARNING! Technical terms ahead) We had to use light-meter to get the aperture right, neutral density filters to control the light and measuring tapes to get the focus right. It was easily a 2-3 person job to just get the camera ready for each shot.

Ready to roll: Getting the camera ready for each take was a mission of its own. Sonya Vai, Qiying Lin and me. Photo: Avi Kabir.

3. Non-human actors …
The first thing they tell you when you become a grad film student at NYU is:
“We don’t recommend you work with kids or animals. They WILL slow down your production.” So … what did I do? Well, I wrote a script with a pigeon in a leading role. Writing one is easy, finding one is not. I think I talked to every casting agency for animals in New York City (yes, they exist), and I must have visited every bird rescue center and every pet store on Manhattan before I stumbled upon Eddie in Brooklyn. As a pigeon enthusiast and with 80 pet pigeons, he turned out to be an angel in disguise. He showed up with his beautiful white dove, Cleopatra, for free, and he didn’t even want coffee or an umbrella in the storm. What a trooper!

Sonya and Cleopatra’s first interaction was interrupted by the sudden rain. Here with Eddie. Photo: Avi Kabir.

4. Adrenalin for days
You only get two rolls of film, which equals 22 minutes of actual recording time. That means we only got two attempts on each shot, sometimes just one — depending on the length of the action. Combine that with stormy winds, crazy rain and a ticking clock, and you have enough adrenalin for a week.

With director of photography, Qiying Lin. Photo: Avi Kabir.

5. Film is expensive
Some students bought extra rolls of film for a more relaxed shooting experience, but I had to prioritize spending that money on food for the remaining part of the semester. Oh well, the life of a starving artist in the big city.

Screenshot of “TENDER” with actors Sonya and Cleo. DP: Qiying Lin.

6. You have to feed your folks
The director pays for everything on his/her set, and there are rules for how often the cast and crew need to be fed. Thankfully I got everything donated from local stores and was able to shave $400 off my budget, yay!

Screenshot of “TENDER” with actors Sonya and Cleo. DP: Qiying Lin.

7. Rain, thunder, wind …
Our $75,000 worth of camera gear, our bodies and our food was soaked. The only dry creature on set was Cleopatra the bird. In retrospect I see that the rain made my film less bad; it worked with the story and I was pleasantly surprised with the effect it had on the tone of the film.

Not even the rain could interfere with the good moods on set. Here with Sonya, Avi Kabir, Lin and Jorge Sistos. Photo: Kai Torres.

I’m forever grateful for the amazing efforts by the very best, crew 7.

Assistant Director: Kai Torres.
Director of Photography: Qiying Lin.
Assistant Camera: Jorge Sistos.
Sound: Pepi Ginsberg.
Set Photographer and Swing: Avi Kabir.

All in all I’m very proud and happy with how it went, and I can’t wait to tackle our so-called “Spring Narrative film” in a few months. First, I just have to finish the documentary I’m making here in my hometown, and start writing a script for the spring and fly back to the US early next week.

I’ll tell you all about how the documentary is coming once I’m done with the final day of shooting — this coming Sunday.

PS! Some of you have asked if I will publish “TENDER” here, and I regret to inform you that it won’t be posted online. I’ll get back to you with more info.

Now I’ll go prep the equipment for this weekend.

Have a blessed day!
Maria

Happy New Year!

I made it back to Norway shortly after a successful semester-ending at Tisch, where all of us 1st year students got to show our work at an open screening. I could not be happier with the reaction from the audience, but more importantly, as I sat in my seat and watched 35 other black and white MOS-films, I was almost touched to tears by the feeling of absolute gratitude. The opportunity to learn the craft of filmmaking at one of the world’s most preeminent film schools is enough to bring out that feeling in itself, but I realized that none of that would’ve been the same without the amazing bunch I now have the privilege of calling my classmates and friends.

To see the films they’ve all worked so hard on these past few months just added another layer to our bond as a class, and I think we all left the screening room with different perspectives on both ourselves and each other.

From our first week together. This is not even half of us, but you get the idea. Photo: Flynn Yang.

The day was completed with a premiere party and dinner with my dear Crew 7.

Now, after about a week of doing nothing at all, I’m ready to bring this blog back to life.

You see, this is actually the first real vacation I’ve had in years, so I wanted to make the most of it. By “real” I mean no working or reporting, no intense training sessions in preparation to half-marathons or other extra curriculars, no social media, and no pressure from anywhere or anyone. It’s been pure bliss and very necessary, but now I’m ready to get back to work.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Years from the Lavelles! Photo: Gerd Dagsland.

I have to produce and shoot a short documentary before school starts in mid-January, so I better get that started asap, but I just wanted to stop by and say hello.

Have a blessed New Year.

Much Love,
Maria

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