Film - TENDER
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!
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.
On Neutral Ground
I left you hanging in the foley-studio a little longer than I planned after my previous post, but I’ll attempt to share some of what I’ve been up to since then.
I’m officially done with my short film “TENDER,” and I survived the annual so-called “tomato-throwing event” at Tisch (aka the evaluation and feedback by the faculty) which actually turned out to be a great experience! We’ll have the open premiere tomorrow, but I’ll tell you more about all that later.
This past weekend I had the opportunity to step outside my film bubble for a bit, to reunite with two of my very best friends, Karen and Brittany. We haven’t been together as a group since they graduated from Augustana in 2016, so needless to say, this was a special weekend.
Karen came all the way from Norway, and Brittany from South Dakota, so I guess we met on neutral ground this time.
We made sure to enjoy New York’s finest attractions, finest pastries and finest milkshakes — so whatever weight I lost living off of cereal and leftovers this semester certainly found its way back on … in surplus, haha)
We walked until our feet hurt, and laughed until our abs got sore.
We also waited in line for 2.5 hours — outside in the cold — to get into Black Tap (an iconic milkshake place). Together with what must have been hundreds of people in line, the power of anticipation kicked into full overdrive, and at one point Karen said “This may be the peak of my life.” She wasn’t joking.
Click to play video. To put our behavior into perspective, I’d like to add that not a single drop of alcohol was consumed; we’re just that weird, haha.
O Foley Night
Woah! It’s been a while since you heard from me last (unless you follow me on Snapchat and Instagram, because like I’ve mentioned before, that’s where it happens these days)
Anyway, I’m glad you took the time to stop by! I’ll try my best to make it worthwhile.
We’re currently in the so-called post-production of our short films, which means I spend the majority of my time in the editing lab cutting, organizing, trimming, scrubbing, viewing, listening, loving and hating the 16 millimeter footage I shot in five weeks ago.
And to my big surprise, I feel that I’ve had more freetime than usual, but that turns out to be a subjective feeling. On Wednesday, for example, I came home from school at 1:15 AM … so I don’t have to elaborate much more on that. The bottom line is that while editing it’s less stressful than being on set, the hours are still the same. Anywhow, I love every part of it.
— Especially when I step out of the editing lab and I see this #nofilter
The infamous evaluation/premiere dates for our films are coming up soon, so most conversations at Tisch starts with “How’s your editing going?” and ends with “Yeah, I have to fix the sound too … ”
And speaking of sound; on Tuesday a part of Crew 7 spent a full day inside a small dusty sound-proof room. Okay, that sounds scary, but I’ll explain:
We did so-called “foley sound.” If you’re not familiar with the concept, “foley” is a technique used to reproduce sound effects in movies. It sounds amateurish and it looks silly, but it’s actually a legitimate Hollywood technique.
As you can see in the video below: We had a blast! I don’t know if it was the lack of oxygen in the room or what, but we laughed so much we could have created our own laugh tracks and sold them to an NBC sitcom.
You can only try to recreate the sound of faceplanting and nosepicking so many times before things get weird.
Click to play the video below:
Now I better go to bed. Tomorrow I’ll be helping shoot a short documentary about a 100-year-old woman!
A day on set
In my last post I told you that my crew and I had just completed shooting four out of six short films, and I’m happy to announce that we’re now one step closer to the finish line, with Jorge’s “Eyes Up” as the only remaining shoot.
However, I promised to tell you all about my own first experience directing a film as an NYU grad film student, so here we go.
This is my “Director-trying-to-visualize-a-good-frame face.” With Sonya Vai and Lin behind the tree. Photo: Avi Kabir
This project is a so-called MOS film; an exercise used to teach us how to tell stories without any of the normal aids that can help carry a film.
It’s shot on super 16mm film, has to be in black and white, shot outside, with no dialogue or music.
In other words, it’s kind of like trying to bake a cake with only butter and water.
If this doesn’t sound like mission impossible to you yet, I’d like to mention that we only get two rolls of film — unless we buy more on your own (Codeword: EXPENSIVE!) — so every take has to count. I, personally, tried to step into my high jumping-mindset “You only get three attempts (at each scene), but try to clear the bar the first time.” As an adrenalin junkie I found great pleasure in that.
This is my “Director-holding-a-green-folder-while-trying-to-balance-a-cup-of-ice-coffee-on-head face.” With Master Lin. Photo: Avi Kabir.
If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you’re probably aware of my financial situation, so I took it upon myself to make this production as cheap as humanly possible, for extra difficulty, you know …
But, you know what?! Thanks to God’s grace, Sonya Vai and my amazing crew it worked! We made a film! (Or at least, I think we did … I still haven’t seen the footage because it’s being developed, but one can always hope we actually did record something that resembles the film I had in mind.)
It takes a village! Just kidding, we were just eight people and one animal on my set, at most. (If you include the “dead cat” microphone in Pepi’s hand, we had two animals, but oh well.) Here with Pepi, Jorge, Lin and Sonya. Photo: Avi Kabir.
Here’s a fun fact for ya: Sonya, who played the lead character, was my AirBnB-host when I first moved to the city, and she was the only New Yorker I knew for a couple of weeks, haha. Besides being an awesome host, she’s also a super talented actress, and I’m so honored to have her in my film. Her co-star, Cleopatra, is a beautiful white pigeon that will get its own shout out later.
The two stars: Sonya Vai and Cleo! Photo: Avi Kabir.
My crew consists of the following rock stars:
Director of Photography – Lin (also known as Master Lin)
Assistant Camera – Jorge
Assistant Director and Grip – Kai
Sound – Pepi
Set photos and everything in-between – Avi
I haven’t had this much fun in a long time. Everyone worked exceptionally hard, and despite the rough weather nobody complained. We actually finished the whole film in less than eight hours spread over two days. Pigeon-Cleo was very well-behaved as well.
Here are some more photos from the shoot:
These two camera guys, Jorge Sistos and Qiying Lin, helped bring my vision to life. Photo: Avi Kabir.
Actress Sonya Vai warming up inside the car between takes. Photo: Avi Kabir.
I haven’t been OUT running, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been running. With Sonya and “Master Lin.” Photo: Avi Kabir.
The rain stayed away for our important shots, thank God! Lin and Sonya. Photo: Avi Kabir.
Sonya and Cleo’s first introduction. T’was love at first sight! Here with bird handler Eddie who was an absolute trouper/angel. He spent hours outside in the rain and didn’t even want an umbrella. What a hero! Photo: Avi Kabir.
Sonya and Cleo hanging out on location. Photo: Avi Kabir.
Avi did a great job capturing moments like these on set. I was actually so far into the directing bubble that I didn’t even notice that he was running around lika a paparazzo. Photo: Avi Kabir.
Jorge measures the light while Sonya and Cleo are waiting for the camera setup to be done. Photo: Avi Kabir.
With Lin and Jorge. Apparently I was very selfish and kept the umbrella all to myself. Sorry guys! Photo: Avi Kabir.
Also, if it wasn’t clear in any of the earlier photos: filmmaking isn’t glamorous. Here’s proof; I spent a significant amout of time crawling on the ground looking like a drowned weasel.
I’d also like to breifly mention that the tree-location was covered in poop. Human poop. So we had to throw away our shoes. But hey, what don’t we do for the art?
I want to give a huge thanks to everyone who helped us make this film possible! Now a month of editing awaits us before the premiere in December.
Bless you all,