Film - TENDER

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

On Neutral Ground

Good evening!

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.

Central Park.

Financial District.

Karen came all the way from Norway, and Brittany from South Dakota, so I guess we met on neutral ground this time.


Rockefeller Center.

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.

Greenwich Village.

Lova ya.
M

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)

Instagram: marialavelle1 & Lanoet
Snapchat: marialavelle

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!

Bless you,
Maria

“Hipster Bi*ch”

Good afternoon dear readers!

My roommate Alejandro and I had the tremendous privilege of having a part of our South Dakota “Fam” over for Thanksgiving. We had an absolute blast, and to our big surprise, we somehow managed to fit all our bodies into our ridiculously small apartment — mostly because none of us are afraid of intimacy, but still.

One of the highlights was the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Together with 3.5 million people, we dressed up in our best Dakota-coats and braved the cold.

With our friend SpongeBob. Jacob (Halfway cut out of the picture to the left), me, Jess (on my shoulders), Katelyn and Alejandro. Photo: Random stranger.

While parts of the group went to watch a Broadway musical on Friday, Jacob and I enjoyed a relaxing night at home. When we, at around midnight, decided to go grab a slice of Joe’s Pizza down the block, I was already in my pyjamas and decided to just jump into my boots and long winter coat instead of changing. I told Jacob that “We live in the hipster capital of New York, so I can totally get away with it. Nobody will even notice.”

Well, as we turned the corner a car with rolled-down windows slowly passed us, and out came the sounds of a person yelling:

“HEY, HIPSTER BITCH!”

Okay. Apparently, people did notice, and I did not get away with it, haha.

I honestly thought it was hilarious, and decided to take it as a sign of a successful integration process into the Williamsburg neighborhood.

Last time I made that same stylistic choice (at a motel in Minnesota when I had to escape from my friend Rachel’s apartment after a severe allergic reaction to her cat. Read more HERE) I was indirectly accused of being a prostitute, so I should’ve known it was bad news. Oh well, the things we learn.

Anyway, it was with a heavy heart that we had to send Jacob, Jess and Katelyn off at the airport last night. Thankfully, Gabi came flying in to fill the void.

Thanks for the best Friendsgiving evah, Fam. Love ya.

XOXO,
Maria

 

From Dakota with Love

After my previous post, “Expectation vs. Reality in NYC” some of you jokingly asked how I could possibly like this city when I made it sound so awful, so in this post I’ll try to explain how I really feel about this place called New York.

First of all, the post was meant as a satirical, yet accurate, depiction of the New York-lifestyle. It’s not comfortable, it’s not easy, but in return — so incredibly rewarding.

I realize that living in a closet-sized room on the fourth floor with no elevator, not owning a car and wandering in crowds of thousands inside dirty subway stations and smelly alleys may sound intimidating to some. It’s inconvenient, busy and yes, at times smelly (I thought so too when I visited the city for the first time in 2014.) I even told myself I would never ever want to live here. Read more about my first encounter with the big city HERE.

But crossing the Atlantic Ocean at 20, followed by three years in South Dakota changed me in ways I never anticipated.

Sioux Falls was amazing in every possible way (minus freeeeezing cold winters) and I believe my time there gave me the best possible preparation for this new chapter.

With Augustana president Rob Oliver and the incredibly talented Kofi Gunu & Matthew Watt. Photo: Becky Blue.

I had three of the best years of my life, thus far, at Augustana, and I’ll be forever thankful for everything the Augie-community gave me. I actually enjoyed it so much I was unable to see myself living anywhere else — until I suddenly one day could no longer ignore my heart’s whisper to apply to NYU.


With some of the finest people in the state of South Dakota — also known as “The Fam”

While I’m convinced Sioux Falls was the right place for me to be during those three years, I often felt a little restless; as if God was working on something with me. I always seemed to live in a pace of my own, in a constant hurry, working on a never-ending stream of projects with a calendar fuller than stomachs on Thanksgiving. It was exhausting, but in retrospect, I see that had it not been for all those projects I would never have gotten in to the grad film program at NYU, and had I not gotten used to having packed schedules I would likely have disliked the NY-lifestyle.

You see, New York is like a wave of fast-paced people trying to catch trains — but literally and figuratively — and inside that wave I find peace.

I suppose the city’s pulse beats in the same rhythm as my heart.

I cannot describe it in any other way, because it’s not logical. In fact, nothing about my journey to New York was logical; the strong calling I felt towards coming here went far beyond my own reasoning.

Looking back, I’m sometimes baffled by my decision of only applying to one grad school, especially since that very school also happened to be one of the most competitive ones in the world.

I’m not trying to pump my chest and give myself credit for taking a leap of faith, I’m just saying that the gravitation I felt towards New York was rooted in something much deeper than my own desire.

I believe that God led me here, and for what reason I have yet to know. In the meantime, I will embrace this journey and praise him for His grace.

I would not be here without Him, and I’m determined to do everything I can to glorify Him on my way.

Have a blessed day,
Maria

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