Film - Sisters
They said it would be fun
If you read my previous post, you probably remember how I explained a day at the park as if it was the happening of the year: Two fresh-air-deprived film students who hadn’t seen daylight for weeks + a violently cold day + wet shoes + hours or location scouting in an abandoned park in Brooklyn = FUN!
You see, our complete lack of freetime forces us to find joy and relaxation in things that most people probably wouldn’t even find to be worthy of the three letters “F-U-N” — and that’s how these stories of park-exscursions and other expeditions come to life.
Don’t get me wrong, the most fun thing we do is called filmmaking, and we do it all the time — 17 hours a day, to be exact. It’s just that even film nerds need a moment to breathe sometimes.
Since Kai and I are producing each others’ films and neither of us seem to have the ability to write easy stories, we’ve both been on a desperate location-hunt for weeks. As a final resort, we decided to devote one more Saturday to scouting.
Since it’s highly discouraged to drive in New York City — especially for foreigners and out-of-towners — we decided to rent a car and drive until we found the locations we needed. The fact that I’m a foreigner and she’s from Florida didn’t get to have a say in that decision.
Nevermind our distorted smiles. Surveillance mirrors tend to make your face that way.
But it actually went so well that I didn’t mind spending the entire 12 hours in the driver’s seat. Yes, you heard right; we were on the road for 12 full hours, and must have visited every corner of New York State.
We drove so far upstate that things started to look like Canada, so deep into Brooklyn that we found a Target that looked like a Midwestern one, and spent so much time on Staten Island that we decided we’d never want to move there. Ever.
I looked at it, and it turns out that we could’ve made it to Chicago in that time. Or Indianapolis. Or Charleston in South-Carolina. Or Montreal and back.
As the sun set behind the Manhattan skyline, we headed home and returned the car with one less thing to be stressed about.
Now awaits heaps of paperwork, permit applications, meetings with park managers, acting rehearsals, logistics, budgeting and never-ending stream of problem-solving.
This is filmmaking.
They said it would be fun.
And it is.
Even if it doesn’t sound like it.
I just wanted to stop by for a second before I allow myself the two-hour “weekend” I’ve been longing for since my last post, where I plan on watching something silly on TV and go to bed early. Yup, you heard right; I used to be a vocal opponent of TV-shows, but now that I spend every breathing moment thinking about film, I have started to appreciate the low-quality sitcoms that allow me to turn off my filmmaking brain for an episode or two.
These past few weeks have mostly consisted of class, more class, shooting directing exercises, editing directing exercises, thinking about directing exercises, script-writing and pre-production work for my upcoming short film “Sisters,” which is–by far–my biggest project yet. I can’t wait to tell you more about it!
I have made time for some relaxing too — in the form of running my heart out at the track, ahh.
Like I’ve mentioned before, one of the first things we were told at Tisch was to avoid working with animals and children for our early projects, because of the extra challenges it has caused for student-directors in the past.
So, what did I do? Well, as you know, my first NYU-film was about a pigeon — and now I’ve somehow managed to write a script with three kids under 11 years old as the main characters for my spring project. But I’m SO EXCITED about it!
Where the inspiration came from? This. When my sister and I were young enough to rock the 2001-fashion.
Kai and I spent the entire weekend auditioning young actors, which turned into a great learning-experience. The fact that 136 actors submitted applications to be in MY film is just unbelievable. I’m not used to being able to observe, judge and pick actors from a pool this big, and I honestly don’t know how to feel about it. There are so many talented little kids and parents working hard to succeed in the industry, and I wish I could just cast them all.
Yesterday we went location scouting. Again, I could’ve made it easy for myself by setting the action inside one room, but since you know me pretty well by now, it should come as no surprise that I wrote a film that requires no less than three very different suburban locations. Good Lord. I’m praying I’ll find the right spots in time.
Anyway, as two tired grad film students who have lived inside the Tisch building for weeks with no days off, Kai and I found great excitement in traveling into the depths of Brooklyn on an ice-cold, windy and gloomy Sunday afternoon as we walked through miles and miles of marshy park-paths in wet sneakers.
The fact that our conversations started revolving around hypothermia and about how we couldn’t feel our faces did not significantly hamper our enthusiasm for this moment of fresh air.
I must say that this very moment is a special one. You see, the fact that I’m writing this post means I have 30 minutes to spare, and as a grad film student at NYU that is rare. Very rare. It’s actually so rare that I can’t waste any more time telling you just how rare it is.
Since classes started last week, I’ve spent more time at school than at home, and I’m not joking when I say that we’re talking about 2:1 ratio, but after a very productive Saturday I’ll indulge in a night off; an evening with just Netflix, Pizza and I. Ahhh!
Anyway, besides writing the script for my next narrative project, and attending 29 hours of class every week, I’ve been editing the Viking-documentary I mentioned last time. I don’t know what it is, but editing has a soothing effect on me, and I really quite enjoy the process of piecing together a story, frame by frame. It’s a nice way to relax while also being productive, so even if I’m busy I make sure to enjoy myself.
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But I have taken the time to socialize outside the Tisch building too.
Last weekend I had the pleasure of reuniting with one of my Augustana-sisters, Irene! She goes to grad school in Texas and was in the city for a track meet, so I jumped onto the train and headed for Columbia University where she raced.
For a moment, as we sat on the bleachers and talked and laughed, we traveled back to the time when we were both overwhelmed international students competing in our first college meet in the US. We had both arrived on campus a week before the rest of the school that first fall, and as two European girls with American dreams, we shared our joys, frustrations and English-issues in-between the grueling workouts and ice baths. So to catch up, almost four years after, in New York, at a track, was pretty special.
Have a blessed weekend,
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!
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.